Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Troll Snowman GIF - Troll snowman

Sirhan Sirhan Alleges Mind Control

Attorneys for Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968, have asked that he be released from prison, alleging that he was a victim of "mind-control" and never actually shot Kennedy. Less than a week after the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Sirhan's lawyers have presented their own Kennedy conspiracy theory, alleging that in Sirhan's 1969 trial the court ignored evidence that there were actually two shooters in RFK's assassination. Sirhan's legal team is also arguing that the revolver found on Sirhan was not responsible for the gunshots that killed Kennedy. "Though the practice of hypno programming/mind control is hardly new, the public has been shielded from the darker side of the practice," Sirhan's court filings say. "The average person is unaware that hypnosis can and is used to induct antisocial conduct in humans."

Attorneys William F. Pepper and Laurie D. Dusek argue that Sirhan at least deserves a new trial, alleging that the original 1969 proceeding were marred by fraud when the court allowed a substitute bullet to be used in place of the real bullet removed from Kennedy's neck. In addition, Sirhan's attorneys say recently discovered audio recordings provide evidence that as many as thirteen gun shots were fired at the time of Kennedy's assassination assassinated. As CNN explains, the details get even stranger from there .The attorneys further assert that Sirhan was hypno-programmed to be a diversion for the real assassin and allege that Sirhan would be easily blamed for the assassination because he is an Arab.

Sirhan, 67, is a Christian Palestinian born in Jerusalem whose parents brought him and his siblings to America in the 1950s .Sirhan "was an involuntary participant in the crimes being committed because he was subjected to sophisticated hypno programming and memory implantation techniques which rendered him unable to consciously control his thoughts and actions at the time the crimes were being committed," court papers said.

The California attorney general's office has so far declined to comment on Sirhan's court filings. Sirhan Sirhan has long claimed that he cannot remember the actual assassination. Harvard Medical School hypno-programming expert Daniel Brown recently worked with Sirhan, claiming to successfully help him remember the assassination for the first time. Brown says Sirhan claims that due to "mind control," Sirhan believed he was at a gun range shooting at circular targets.

Pepper and Dusek also represented Sirhan during his recent unsuccessful attempt to win parole from Pleasant Valley state Prison in Coalinga, California, where he is currently serving a life sentence.
I love a new conspiracy theory. So many possibilities. Of course this one is a load of horse hockey  but the ingenuity of defense lawyers never ceases to amaze me.

Article compliments of Yahoo

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Starfish-Inspired 'Soft' Robot

 A "soft" robot inspired by squid and starfish can crawl, undulate, and squeeze under obstacles. Built by a team at Harvard University, this robot has several advantages over those with treads, wheels and rigid parts - which have a limited repertoire of movements and may have trouble navigating difficult terrain.

The sea creature-inspired creation was manufactured with soft materials and its motion is driven by compressed air.  Professor George Whitesides, Robert Shepherd and their colleagues from Harvard University in Cambridge, US, said the work was inspired by animals such as squid and starfish that lack hard skeletons.

The pneumatically-driven robot is built using flexible materials known as"elastomers". Contained within the elastomer layer is a series of chambers that inflate like balloons to enable motion. The robot can adopt different patterns of movement (gaits) during locomotion and its limbs are capable of fluid motions, the Harvard engineers explain.

They put their creation through its paces on an obstacle course which, they say, would hinder some rigid, metallic robots. The flexible robot was made to squeeze underneath a glass plate elevated 2cm above the ground in less than a minute by executing a combination of co-ordinated movements.

Soft robots are more resistant than more rigid designs to damage from some common hazards in a real-world setting, such as falling on rocks, or receiving bumps and scrapes from other hard objects. But the authors concede that the vulnerable elastomer "skins" of soft robots make them more susceptible to punctures from objects such as broken glass or thorns.

I  wonder what the purpose of this amazing robot may be. I can think of quite a few applications myself, like 'search and rescue' in difficult places. The possibilities are many and varied.

Syria's Security Forces Commit 'Crimes Against Humanity'


Paulo Pinheiro: "Torture, sexual violence and ill treatment were inflicted on civilians"

Syria's security forces have committed systematic "crimes against humanity" in their crackdown on anti-government protesters, a UN report says. The study by an independent panel says civilians - including children - have been murdered, tortured and sexually assaulted.  Syria says it is fighting armed gangs. More than 3,500 people have reportedly died in the violence since March.

Meanwhile, Syria condemned the Arab League's imposition of sanctions. At a news conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem described the league's move on Sunday as a declaration of "economic war" on Damascus, and said the country had already withdrawn 95% of its assets from Arab countries. The sanctions include an asset freeze and an embargo on investments.

Syria's state TV showed footage of a huge rally in Damascus of supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, who denounced the sanctions.  In the latest violence, at least 23 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, activists say.

Human Rights Council findings
  • Security forces guilty of systematic human rights violations
  • Soldiers were ordered to "shoot to kill" unarmed demonstrators
  • Pattern of summary executions, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances
  • Extensive practice of torture indicate state-sanctioned policy
  • Men and boys sexually abused at military facilities
  • At least two children killed as a result of torture by security forces

The claims cannot be independently verified as most foreign media are banned from entering Syria.
  The three-member UN commission released its 39-page report at a news conference in Geneva on Monday. "The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations" in Syria, the document says. The panel says it interviewed 223 victims, witnesses, and army defectors to investigate human rights violations from the end of September until mid-November 2011. However, the investigation team members say they were denied entry into Syria itself. The report contains allegations of abuse, summary executions and sexual violence against civilians detained during protests.

Army defector's testimony
"On Friday 12 August, we received orders to go to the Omar al Khattab Mosque, in Duma (Damascus governorate), where about 150 people had gathered.
"We opened fire. A number of people were killed. I tried to aim high. Later, I realized that security forces had been taking pictures of us. I was pictured firing in the air. I was interrogated.
"I was accused of being a secret agent. Members of the Republican Guard beat me every hour for two days, and they tortured me with electroshocks."

Some of those interviewed told of "shoot-to-kill" orders to crush demonstrators.  The report also accuses the security forces of killing at least 256 children during the unrest. "The sheer scale and consistent pattern of attacks by military and security forces on civilians and civilian neighbourhoods and the widespread destruction of property could only be possible with the approval or complicity of the state," the document says.

The commission - which was set up by the UN Human Rights Council - urges the Syrian government to end the violence immediately and punish those responsible.  Syria has so far not co-operated with any UN requests.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Global Warming 'Confirmed' by Independent Study

Weather station at airport

Data gathered from forty thousand weather stations around the world

The Earth's surface really is getting warmer, a new analysis by a US scientific group set up in the wake of the "Climategate" affair has concluded. The Berkeley Earth Project has used new methods and some new data, but finds the same warming trend seen by groups such as the UK Met Office and Nasa.

The project received funds from sources that back organizations lobbying against action on climate change. "Climategate", in 2009, involved claims global warming had been exaggerated. Emails of University of East Anglia climate scientists were hacked, posted online and used by critics to allege manipulation of climate change data.

The Berkeley group says it has also found evidence that changing sea temperatures in the north Atlantic may be a major reason why the Earth's average temperature varies globally from year to year.

Saul Perlmutter
Dr Paul Perlmutter - Nobel prize winner 2011
The project was established by University of California physics professor Richard Muller, who was concerned by claims that established teams of climate researchers had not been entirely open with their data. He gathered a team of 10 scientists, mostly physicists, including such luminaries as Saul Perlmutter, winner of this year's Nobel Physics Prize for research showing the Universe's expansion is accelerating."I was deeply concerned that the group [at UEA] had concealed discordant data," Prof Muller said. "Science is best done when the problems with the analysis are candidly shared."

Funding came from a number of sources, including charitable foundations maintained by the Koch brothers, the billionaire US industrialists, who have also donated large sums to organizations lobbying against acceptance of man-made global warming.

The group's work also examined claims from "sceptical" bloggers that temperature data from weather stations did not show a true global warming trend. The claim was that many stations have registered warming because they are located in or near cities, and those cities have been growing - the urban heat island effect.

The Berkeley group found about 40,000 weather stations around the world whose output has been recorded and stored in digital form. It developed a new way of analyzing the data to plot the global temperature trend over land since 1800.

What came out was a graph remarkably similar to those produced by the world's three most important and established groups, whose work had been decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles.
Berkley group's record of land temperatures

Two of those three records are maintained in the US, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). The third is a collaboration between the UK Met Office and UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), from which the e-mails that formed the basis of the "Climategate" furore were hacked two years ago.

"Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK," said Prof Muller. "This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change sceptics did not seriously affect their conclusions. These initial findings are very encouraging, and echo our own results and our conclusion that the impact of urban heat islands on the overall global temperature is minimal."

The Berkeley team has chosen to release the findings initially on its own website. They are asking for comments and feedback before preparing the manuscripts for formal scientific publication. In part, this counters the accusation made during "Climategate" that climate scientists formed a tight clique who peer-reviewed each other's papers and made sure their own global warming narrative was the only one making it into print. But for Richard Muller, this free circulation also marks a return to how science should be done. "That is the way I practised science for decades; it was the way everyone practised it until some magazines - particularly Science and Nature - forbade it," he said.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director for the Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and the Environment in London, said the warming of the Earth's surface was unequivocal.  "So-called 'sceptics' should now drop their thoroughly discredited claims that the increase in global average temperature could be attributed to the impact of growing cities," he said.

"More broadly, this study also proves once again how false it was for 'sceptics' to allege that the e-mails hacked from UEA proved that the CRU land temperature record had been doctored. "It is now time for an apology from all those, including US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who have made false claims that the evidence for global warming has been faked by climate scientists."

The Berkeley group does depart from the "orthodox" picture of climate science in its depiction of short-term variability in the global temperature. The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is generally thought to be the main reason for inter-annual warming or cooling. But by the Berkeley team's analysis, the global temperature correlates more closely with the state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) index - a measure of sea surface temperature in the north Atlantic.

They emphasize that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) driven by greenhouse gas emissions is very much in their picture. We found that the prior rise was confirmed. That means that we do not directly affect prior estimates." The team next plans to look at ocean temperatures, in order to construct a truly global dataset.
So global warming is really happening people. Confirmed over and over again by studies of respected scientists. No more skepticism. Now go find out what you can do about it.

Stradivarius Violin Sold For $15.9m at Charity Auction

Lady Blunt Stradivarius of 1721. Photograph by Robert Bailey, Tarisio 
A well-preserved Stradivarius violin has been sold in an online auction for $15.9m to raise money for disaster relief in Japan.

The violin was made in 1721 and is known as the Lady Blunt after Lord Byron's granddaughter Lady Anne Blunt who owned it for 30 years. It was sold by a music foundation in Japan for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

The price is more than four times the previous record for a Stradivarius.Proceeds will go to the Nippon Foundation's Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

The Lady Blunt is admired by experts for its exceptionally good condition. The violin was offered for sale by the Nippon Music Foundation, owner of some of the world's finest Stradivari and Guarneri instruments. Foundation president Kazuko Shiomi said: "While this violin was very important to our collection, the needs of our fellow Japanese people after the March 11th tragedy have proven that we all need to help, in any way we can. "The donation will be put to immediate use on the ground in Japan." London auction house Tarisio, who organized the sale, described the foundation's decision to sell "what is considered the finest violin of their collection" as a "gesture of profound generosity".

The violin is one about 600 instruments made by Italian Antonio Stradivari still in existence. It has also been owned by several well-known collectors and experts including WE Hill & Son, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, the Baron Johann Knoop and Sam Bloomfield.

The identity of its new owner has not been revealed.
The Lady Blunt fetched a then-record £84,000 when it was last auctioned at Sotheby's in 1971.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Windows to a Bygone Era and Menu from the Sixties

Menu from the sixties
On second thought...I'm not sure if it is the fifties or sixties.Can anyone remember the prices for sandwiches and a coke back then??

Survived by His Wife

Classic routine!
We have posted this video before but it's fun so play it again folks.
 Alan King was one of the great monologists of all time. He was a true comedic talent. There's nobody out there like him now. Takes place at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas

Amazing or What ??

Old 'Geezers' just keep gettting better at some things
'Rock On' my friend

     "Be who you are and say what you feel because
those that matter don't mind, and those that mind... don't matter."

MSL -The Biggest and Best Mars Mission

Gale crater elevation model An elevation model of Gale crater made using data from Europe's Mars Express orbiter. MSL lands on the lower, nearside of the central peak, which rises more than 5km above the crater floor

The delivery of Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory rover, known as Curiosity, to the surface of the Red Planet is a mouth-watering prospect.  The $2.5bn robot is by far the most capable machine ever built to touch another world. Consider just the history of wheeled vehicles on Mars.

In 1997, the US space agency put the toy-sized Pathfinder-Sojourner rover on the surface. It weighed just over 10kg.  This was followed seven years later by the 170kg, twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit. Their instrument complement combined (5kg + 5kg) was equal to the total mass of Sojourner.
Now, we await Curiosity - a 900kg behemoth due for launch this Saturday. Its biggest instrument alone is nearly four times the mass of that teeny robot back in '97.

"It's the size of a Mini Cooper with the wheelbase of a Humvee," is how project scientist John Grotzinger describes the rover. So, we're expecting great things from Curiosity. A big machine to address some big questions.


A roving laboratory for Mars

  • General equipment: MSL equipped with tools to remove dust from rock surfaces, drill into rocks, and to scoop up, sort and sieve samples
  • Mast Camera: will image rover's surroundings in high-res stereo and colour; wide angle and telephoto; can make high-def video movies
  • ChemCam: pulses infrared laser at rocks up to 7m away; carries a spectrometer to identify types of atoms excited in laser beam
  • Sample Analysis at Mars: inside body; will analyse rock, soil and atmospheric samples; would make all-important organics identification
  • Chemistry and Mineralogy: another interior instrument. Analyses powdered samples to quantify minerals present in rocks and soils
  • Mars Hand Lens Imager: mounted on arm toolkit; will take extreme close-ups of rocks, soil and any ice; details smaller than hair's width
  • Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer: Canadian arm contribution; will determine the relative abundances of different elements in samples
  • Radiation Assessment Detector: will characterize radiation environment at surface; key information for future human exploration
  • Mars Descent Imager: operates during landing sequence; high-def movie will tell controllers exactly where rover touched down
  • Rover Environmental Monitoring Station: Spanish weather station; measures pressure, temperature, humidity, winds, and UV levels
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons: looks for sub-surface hydrogen; could indicate water buried in form of ice or bound in minerals

Mike Meyer is the lead scientist on Nasa's Mars exploration effort: "MSL plays a central role in a series of missions of looking at Mars and determining whether or not it has the potential for life. It is capable of going to a region and exploring that region, and telling us whether or not it has been, or may even still be today, a habitable place - something that could support microbial life."

Engineers have designed a new entry, descent and landing system they say can put the roving laboratory down on a button. OK, so this button is 20km wide but the accuracy being promised is an order or magnitude better than previous technology, and it has allowed researchers essentially to go where their heart desired.  They've chosen a near-equatorial depression called Gale Crater. It's one of the deepest holes on Mars - deeper even than Valles Marineris, that great scar that tears across one quarter of the planet.

Scientists believe Gale will be the geological equivalent of a sweet shop - so enticing and varied are the delights it appears to offer. "This crater is about 100 miles across and it has a central mound that's about three miles high," explains Grotzinger. "The important thing is that the central mound is a series of layers that cut across the history of Mars covering over a billion years. So, not only do we have high-resolution images showing we have layers in this mound, but also because of the spectrometers we have in orbit flying around Mars, we can see minerals that have obviously interacted with water."

The intention is to put MSL-Curiosity down on the flat plain of the crater bottom. The vehicle will then drive up to the base of the peak.  In front of it, the rover should find abundant quantities of clay minerals (phyllosilicates) that will give a fresh insight into the very wet, early epoch of the Red Planet. Clays only form when rock spends a lot of time in contact with water.

Above the clays, a little further up the mountain, the rover should find sulphate salts, which relate to a time when Mars was still wet but beginning to dry out. Go higher still, and MSL will find mostly the "duststones" from the cold, desiccated world that Mars has now become.  But even before all this, MSL will land on what looks from orbit to be alluvial fan - a spread of sediment dumped by a stream of water flowing down the crater wall.

If the science on this fan proves productive, it could be many months before MSL gets to the base of the mountain.  The rover has time, though. Equipped with a plutonium battery, it has the power to keep rolling for more than 10 years - time enough to scout the crater floor and climb to the summit of the mountain.

Mars maps 

"We are not a life detection mission," stresses Grotzinger.  "I know that many of you would like to know when we're going to get on with doing that. But the first and important step towards that is to try to understand where the good stuff may be. And in this case a habitable environment needs to be described.  "This is an environment that contains a source of water, which is essential for all life as we understand it on Earth; we need a source of energy, which is important for organisms to do metabolism; and we also need a source of carbon, which is essential to build the molecular structures that an organism is composed of."

You may be wondering why these sorts of missions don't look directly for life, and the reason is pretty straightforward. Those types of observations are actually quite difficult to make, and the truth is we don't really expect to find microbial communities thriving at the surface of present-day Mars. The conditions are simply too harsh.

But go back further in time, and the situation may have been very different. It seems pretty clear now that when life was getting going on Earth more than three billion years ago, conditions on Mars were also warm and wet.  But the traces of those ancient lifeforms on our own planet are now very hard to read, and often require instruments that would fill a room. Not even a machine the scale of Curiosity could carry them. So, MSL will restrict itself to the habitability question, and it will do this using a combination of 10 instruments.

The rover has instruments on a mast that can survey the surroundings and assess potential sampling targets from a distance. These include cameras and an infrared laser system that can excite the surface of a rock to betray some of its chemistry. It's also got instruments on the end of a 2.1m-long arm for close-up inspections. These include a drill that can pull samples from up to 5cm inside a rock.

And MSL has two big lab kits inside its body to do detailed analysis of all the samples it takes from rocks, soils and even the atmosphere. One eureka moment for this mission would be if it could definitively identify a range of complex organic (carbon-rich) molecules, such as amino acids.

Previous missions, notably the Viking landers in the 1970s, have hinted at the presence of organics. It would be good if Curiosity could bury all doubts. But it will be tough. Even in Earth rocks where we know sediments have been laid down in proximity to biology, we still frequently find no organic traces. The evidence doesn't preserve well.

So, getting a positive result on Mars would be a triumph for the MSL team. 

Robotic Prison Wardens to Patrol South Korean Prison

Prison guard robot prototype

Robot wardens are about to join the ranks of South Korea's prison service.

A jail in the eastern city of Pohang plans to run a month-long trial with three of the automatons in March. The machines will monitor inmates for abnormal behaviour. Researchers say they will help reduce the workload for other guards.

South Korea aims to be a world leaders in robotics. Business leaders believe the field has the potential to become a major export industry. The three 5ft-high (1.5m) robots involved in the prison trial have been developed by the Asian Forum for Corrections, a South Korean group of researchers who specialise in criminality and prison policies.

It said the robots move on four wheels and are equipped with cameras and other sensors that allow them to detect risky behaviour such as violence and suicide. Prof Lee Baik-Chu, of Kyonggi University, who led the design process, said the robots would alert human guards if they discovered a problem. "As we're almost done with creating its key operating system, we are now working on refining its details to make it look more friendly to inmates," the professor told the Yonhap news agency.

The one-month trial will cost $1bn won and is being sponsored by the South Korean government. It is the latest in a series of investments made by the state to develop its robotics industry. It said the aim was to compete with other countries, such as Japan, which are also exploring the industry's potential.

In October the ministry said the Korean robot market had recorded 75% growth over the past two years.  Success stories reported by the Korean media include Samsung Techwin's sale of a robotic surveillance system to Algeria and shipments of the humanoid Hubo robot to six universities in the US.

The South Korean defence company DoDAAM is also developing robotic gun turrets for export which can be programmed to open fire automatically. Within the country English-speaking robotic teaching assistants are already being deployed in some schools to help children to practice their pronunciation.

The Joongang Daily newspaper reported in August that a company called Showbo had begun mass producing a robot that bowed to shop customers and told them about promotions on offer. Other firms say they hope to start selling robots to help care for the elderly before the end of the decade, and personal assistant robots further down the line.

The government is also building a Robot Land theme park in the north-west city of Incheon to help highlight the country's success. Planners say they hope 2.8 million people will visit each year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade - And Video of Santa

Black Friday...Helping American Economy

Thanksgiving is a big holiday: 3.5 million people watched Thursday's New York parade, and 152 million are expected to shop on the weekend. US retailers hope hordes of bargain-hunters can lift the economic gloom as the holiday shopping season begins.
After polishing off Thanksgiving turkeys, millions of Americans will head to the shops on Friday for the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday - so-called as it is when many retailers head out of the red and into the black - sees many stores open at midnight, or even earlier this year.

Half of the entire US population is expected to hit the stores this weekend. The National Retail Federation (NRF) said 152 million people would visit stores in search of bargains this weekend, up 10% from last year.  Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of US economic activity. Economists and business executives will be watching the 2011 retail bonanza closely.

For the past six years, a combination of increasingly early opening times and an array of discounts have helped make the day after Thanksgiving the biggest shopping day.  Between 25-40% of annual US retail sales take place during November and December. Analysts say a powerful start to the shopping season could stimulate more hiring of staff by the retail industry, which supports about one-quarter of all jobs in the US. Retail hiring for the season has still not yet rebounded to its 2005 pre-recession peak of 642,000 workers, according to the NRF.

"A bad holiday season would raise recession fears again, whereas a strong one would start to dispel those fears," said Scott Hoyt, of Moody's Analytics. Black Friday usually sees shopping chains thrown open their doors in the early hours. But this year that rush has crept into Thanksgiving Day itself.
Wal-Mart, which opens many of its "super-centres" 24 hours a day, will also open the rest of its stores  on Thanksgiving.  About 1,000 Gap stores will be open on Thanksgiving and several large retailers, including Target, Best Buy and Macy's, will open at midnight

On Thursday,  President Obama officially proclaimed the holiday, which celebrates the Pilgrims' first harvest in what is now the state of Massachusetts. An estimated 43 million Americans are expected to travel by road and air before and after Thanksgiving, the highest number since 2007. Meanwhile, the annual Thanksgiving parade made its way on Thursday through the crowded streets of a sunny New York. About 3.5 million people were expected to join the route, with an estimated 50 million watching from home. The event - which began in 1924 - this year featured more than 40 giant helium balloons, 27 floats, 800 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders.

Elsewhere in New York, Occupy Wall Street protesters were marking the holiday with an "open feast" of 3,000 individually wrapped plates of food at Zuccotti Park.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Occupy Spray Tan

Occupy Spray Tan GIF - Occupy Spray Tan

Thanksgiving in America

George Washington declared November 26 a day of public thanksgiving. This photo is from around 1910.

Americans consume 46 million turkeys every holiday season. The president gave a pardon to two grateful turkeys on the Whitehouse  lawn.

Last year Julia botello 84 are her turkey dinner on the steps of the bank which evicted her  from her home. Sign of the times we live in.

Black Friday shoppers looking for bargains

Macy's Department store

President Obama and his mother-in-law distribute food to the needy.

Bill Clinton in 1992 with homeless kids from a shelter in Little Rock Arkansas

Churches feed poor and homeless people

During the Great Depression Social Services handed out tons of food. This is New York around 1930.

Thanksgiving in Afghanistan

Egypt Unrest: Military Apologizes for Protesters' Deaths

Egypt's ruling military has apologized for the deaths of protesters in clashes with police, as unrest in Cairo and other cities enters its sixth day. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it regretted "the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt's loyal sons".

The unrest, which began on Friday, comes days before the first elections since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. At least 35 people have been killed. Protesters have rejected a pledge to speed up transition to civilian rule. They have vowed to continue their protest until the country's military rulers stand down.

On Wednesday street battles continued late into the night, and were heaviest around the fortified interior ministry off Tahrir Square in Cairo. The clashes were followed by a lull. But the protesters vowed to continue occupying the square until their demands are met. "He goes. We won't," one banner read in a reference to the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

In Alexandria protests have been smaller than in Cairo, but one protester said clashes were continuing early on Thursday outside the security headquarters. The clashes are the longest outbreak of violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak in February. The violence threatens to overshadow next week's parliamentary elections. He says public opinion on the protests is divided. Some Egyptians want elections to go ahead unhindered while others believe the military must be swept from power first. The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not supporting the protests and expects to do well in the elections.

Earlier on Wednesday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned the "clearly excessive use of force" by Egypt's security forces during the clashes. She called for an independent inquiry into deaths.
Groups of stone-throwing demonstrators have been locked in pitched battles in the streets between Tahrir Square and the interior ministry since the weekend.

The protests have continued despite an attempt by Field Marshal Tantawi to defuse the situation by promising presidential elections by the end of June, six months sooner than planned. He also accepted the resignation of military-appointed civilian cabinet. But in his address on Tuesday, Field Marshal Tantawi offered no apologies for the violence.

Seven Men Arrested Over Amish Hair-Cutting Attacks

Samuel Mullet
Three of Mullet's sons

Seven men have been charged with hate-crime in the US state of Ohio following a number of hair-cutting attacks in the Amish community. Amish men and women have had their beards and hair cut in a spate of assaults that have been blamed on a breakaway group in the community.

Group leader Samuel Mullet, 66, and three of his sons are among those detained, prosecutors said. Authorities held a news conference to explain the charges. Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla told journalists that Amish communities had been terrified by the attacks. "You've got Amish all over the state of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana that are concerned. We've received hundreds and hundreds of calls from people living in fear," Mr Abdalla said. "They are buying Mace, some are sitting with shotguns, getting locks on their doors because of Sam Mullet."

The men were asleep in their homes in eastern Ohio when police arrived before dawn on Wednesday. Mr Abdalla said that the men initially refused to leave their rooms but were eventually arrested without incident. The suspects are: Samuel Mullet, Johnny Mullet, Daniel Mullet, Levi Miller, Eli Miller and Emanuel Schrock, all from Bergholz; and Lester Mullet, of Hammondsville, according to an affidavit from the Department of Justice.

They are accused of carrying out "religiously motivated physical assaults" and causing injury by use of a dangerous weapon. The criminal complaint charges them with "wilfully caused bodily injury... or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person".  It is alleged that they "forcibly restrained multiple Amish men and cut off their beards and head hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers", according to the Department of Justice.
The affidavit alleges that the men took photographs of their victims as evidence of the hair-cutting.

The incidents are viewed as particularly offensive in the conservative Amish community, where women do not cut their hair and men grow beards once they marry. In the most recent attack this month, a man in his 70s was set upon by his own son, who wrestled his father to the floor and cut the hair on his head and beard.

The affidavit says the feud has been simmering since 2005 when Samuel Mullet excommunicated about eight families who had moved away from Bergholz because of disagreements over his religious leadership. Community elders later overturned Mr Mullet's decision. It is alleged that Mr Mullet had imposed "extreme physical punishments" on those in the community who defied him.
These are said to have included making them sleep in a chicken coop on his property for days at a time.

One of the seven accused, Levi Miller, was himself once kept in the chicken coop for 12 days, according to the affidavit.  It also says that Samuel Mullet had been taking married women from the Bergholz clan into his home so that he could "cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy".

In one attack this month, it is alleged that Emanuel Schrock invited his father - referred to as Victim 4 in the affidavit - to visit him at his home.  Mr Schrock sent three letters by post to his father inviting him to come to his home, promising he would be safe, according to prosecutors. It is alleged that Mr Schrock and others then pounced on Victim 4, cutting his hair and beard, while Victim 4's distraught wife was restrained by another woman. According to the affidavit, Victim 4 reminded Mr Schrock of his written assurances that no harm would come to them, to which the accused is said to have replied: "I guess I lied."

In an interview with the Associated Press in October, Samuel Mullet denied ordering the attacks, but said he had not prevented his sons and others from carrying them out. He added that the aim of the assaults was to make the Amish community feel ashamed for the way they had treated him and the rest of his group. He was quoted as saying: "You have your laws on the road and the town - if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish the people. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?
"I just let them run over me? If every family would do just as they pleased what kind of church would we have?"

The Amish, a tiny Christian community also known as the Plain People, generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, televisions and cars. It is estimated that around 61,000 Amish live in Ohio, mainly in rural communities to the south and east of Cleveland - second only to the Amish in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gold Rush in Colombia - Drug Cartel Diversifies to Mining

An illegal gold rush has developed in Colombia after armed gangs diverted their attention from the cocaine industry to another, very profitable one. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said the high price of gold has also meant a high price for the environment.

US 'Super-Committee' fails '... No Agreement

Barack Obama: ''At this point they [Republicans] simply won't budge''

A US congressional committee tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.2tn (£762bn) has failed to come to an agreement. The panel of six Republicans and six Democrats confirmed after the New York Stock Exchange had closed that its work had ended without a deal. The outcome means automatic cuts outlined in the bill that created the committee should take effect from 2013. The US national debt has just risen above $15tn.

The panel was set up in August, the result of a last-minute deal between the two sides in Congress to raise the debt ceiling and avert a default on US debt payments. "After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee's deadline," Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative  Jeb Hensarling said in Monday's joint statement. "We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee's work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy," it added.

In a White House news conference later on Monday, President Barack Obama said it was Republicans' fault. "There's still too many Republicans in Congress that have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise," he said. President Obama said he would veto any attempt to reverse the automatic cuts to government spending. They are to be applied over the next 10 years, split between defence and domestic budgets. A few programmes are to be protected, including Social Security and Medicaid.

Now, supposedly, the so-called sequestration cuts kick in. They start in 2013, more than a trillion dollars worth, half of which will come from the military budget, the rest distributed across the federal government. These cuts are a sort of fiendish Plan B. They were designed to come into effect only if the super-committee failed. Nobody really wants them. Some in Congress are already muttering about undoing them. President Obama says he will force them through.
So look for fierce clashes over the future of those tax cuts enacted by President George W Bush. Look for ferocious lobbying by the defence industry. Look for howls of anger at cuts in federal education funding, and medical and welfare benefits for the elderly and poor. And much, much more. The deficit battle has been joined, and on this terrain will the presidential election be fought.

 As the reductions triggered by Monday's announcement are not set to take effect until January 2013, lawmakers have the time to change or repeal the automatic cuts. Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are already working on legislation that would undo the automatic defence reduction, replacing it with cuts across the federal government. The panel's work was contentious from the beginning, with Senator Murray's request that the negotiations should not be leaked to the press largely ignored. Congressional approval ratings in recent polls have been at historic lows