Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Development of Shafia Case

Top row...convicted murderers...Bottom row...victims

Story taken verbatim from Yahoo:

KINGSTON, Ont. - When the call first came in on the morning of June 30, 2009 about a car in the locks at Ontario's Kingston Mills, police thought they might have a stolen car on their hands, or maybe even a teenage prank.

They had no way of knowing at that moment that inside the car were the bodies of three sisters and their father's first polygamous wife, the victims of an elaborately planned but clumsily executed "honour killing," the details of which would soon shock people across the country.

Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, were each found guilty Sunday of four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths. And Kingston police say now it didn't take long for them to become suspicious of the unlikely proposition it was an accident. Once they turned their attention to the Shafias and started digging into their family dynamics, it became clear quite quickly they were dealing with a chilling multiple murder.

The "honour killing" label would come later, as detectives talked to family, friends, boyfriends, social workers and school authorities, and finally as they listened to the rants straight from Shafia's mouth, placing the value of his honour higher than the value of his daughters' lives.

The morning the car was found, Const. Brent White arrived on scene around 10:30. He thought first of pranksters, because he looked at how the lock gate and a wooden beam formed a small triangle, with barely enough clearance for a vehicle to slip through into the water. "I'm thinking, 'This is pretty difficult to get that vehicle in that narrow spot,'" he testified. "It had to be driven there on purpose."
Then divers went into the canal to scope out the underwater scene and found four bodies floating in the car. They would be identified as sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52.

The case became a sudden death investigation that fell under the coroner's authority, and police officers began to collect information at the scene, including pieces of broken head light that would soon become the key to the whole case.

At the same time, a couple and their 18-year-old son showed up at the Kingston police station to report three daughters and a woman missing. The Shafia family from Montreal had been staying in Kingston for the night at a motel and when they woke up they discovered three teenage sisters and a woman described as their father's cousin were missing, along with their car. They said their eldest daughter Zainab had taken the car keys and must have taken the other three for a joy ride that somehow turned tragic.

While police were taking statements from Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed — the police had found a Farsi interpreter to help with the parents' interviews — the Nissan Sentra was being hoisted out of the canal, and some of what police found didn't quite fit with the accident scenario. The car's ignition and lights were off and it was in first gear with the front seats reclined all the way back and the driver's window open. The findings weren't initially indicative of murder, but they were suspicious.

The angle of the seats would make it nearly impossible to drive, and it certainly wouldn't have been comfortable. Even an inexperienced driver would know they should have the gear shift in D for drive. And all indications were the car fell into the water in the middle of the night. Why were the lights off?
As one of the divers pointed out, why did it appear as though nobody tried to escape through the open window? The only logical possibility, the Crown would later argue at trial, is that the four victims were already dead, drowned first then put in the car to stage an accident.

In the family's initial interviews with police they said they were on their way home from a vacation to Niagara Falls when they stopped in Kingston for the night. The family of 10 had been travelling in two cars: a Nissan Sentra and a Lexus SUV. The police found it odd though, that Shafia, Yahya and Hamed had driven to the police station in a Pontiac minivan.

Hamed said he had decided not to stay at the motel that night with his family and instead drove through the night back home to Montreal so he could get his laptop and conduct some business, meeting with retail tenants at the strip mall his father owned.

Kingston police called colleagues in Montreal to make some initial inquiries about the vehicles and were startled to find that Hamed had reported a collision between the Lexus SUV and a parking barrier in a near-empty lot that very morning in Montreal. He had asked the officer who took his collision report if the damage could be repaired immediately. Hamed had neglected to mention these details in his interview when he talked about leaving to go to Montreal. By the end of Day 1, police already had their suspicions, but they still had a long way to go to build a case against the family.

The next day Const. Steve Koopman got consent from Shafia to search the Lexus and pieces of broken Lexus head light, presumably from Hamed's parking lot collision, were taken to be analyzed. Const. Rob Etherington was busy trying to reconstruct the head light with pieces from the Montreal collision, when he discovered what would be the turning point in the investigation. Tiny pieces of plastic collected at the scene where the Nissan was found were the missing pieces of the Lexus head light. Only, according to the family's story, the Lexus was never at the scene that night. Investigators on the case were informed July 4 that it was now a homicide investigation.

The theory eventually presented by the Crown in court was that the Shafias thought the Nissan carrying the bodies of the girls and Rona would go into the canal under its own power in first gear, but that the front-wheel drive car got hung up on the canal ledge. With the wheels spinning someone reached in through the open window to turn the car off, the Crown said, then the Lexus was used to push the Nissan all the way into the canal, explaining the damage to both the back of the Nissan and the head light of the Lexus. "In essence it could almost be described as the murder weapon," Koopman says. The Nissan had been purchased used for $5,000 just one day before the family left on their trip, the police learned.

Police then also began to gather their first clues that it might be an honour-based crime. They talked to relatives scattered all over the world and they kept hearing the same themes — Shafia cares deeply about his honour and he had problems with Zainab and some of the other daughters. They also learned then that Rona was actually one of Shafia's two wives and not a cousin, even though Shafia continued to assert she was a cousin when confronted with their wedding photo. He dismissed it as a birthday celebration.

"Even though the prosecution doesn't have to prove motive, it's always going through our heads, 'Why would they do something like this?'" Koopman says. "When we were in touch with the family members, especially from overseas, we started to understand the bigger picture. We started to understand this might have been done in relation to their honour."

Police received cellphone records on July 14, and were surprised to find that on June 27, right in the middle of their family vacation to Niagara Falls, Hamed's cellphone was pinging off a tower in the Kingston area. Records show he or someone using his phone drove 4 1/2 hours from Niagara Falls to Kingston and back the same day.

It was an odd finding, and Shafia would later testify he took Hamed's cellphone and was driving back to Montreal in the middle of the trip when Sahar called asking him to come back as he happened to be passing through Kingston. So, he said, he turned around and drove back to Niagara.

The Crown says it was both Shafia and Hamed who drove to Kingston that day to do some reconnaissance on the site they had picked for murder. Some of the most sensational evidence from the trial, which formed the basis for the "honour killing" theory, was collected in the days leading up to the Shafias' arrests.

Police asked the three to come from Montreal so they could pick up some personal items that had been in the motel rooms that could now be released back to them. Police also suggested they go look at the scene with investigators, so they could explain how they thought the car had fallen into the water.
When they got there, police told them they had found a camera at the site, so they were going to analyze it and hope it had captured the car going into the water.
What Shafia, Yahya and Hamed didn't know was that was a lie, a ruse designed to get them talking. What the Shafias also didn't know was that during their visit to Kingston that day the police had bugged their minivan so they could intercept and record their conversations.

The camera trick worked. Shafia and Yahya talked the whole way back to Montreal, apparently quite concerned that if there was a camera it would show they had been there before. Hamed was mostly silent, though he curiously warns his parents only at the end of the long conversations that police could bug their car and secretly record their conversations.
"That night, there was no electricity there," Shafia says. "It was pitch darkness. You remember, Tooba?" "Yes," she replies.
The family was speaking their native language of Dari, but Kingston police had brought two Farsi-speaking Toronto police officers into the investigation to assist with interpreting the wiretaps. Dari and Farsi are two very closely related dialects, akin to American and British English, court heard.

Over the next few days came angry rants from Shafia, cursing his dead daughters as whores for having boyfriends, and saying, "May the devil (defecate) on their graves." He brought up his concept of honour about half a dozen times. "Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows...nothing is more dear to me than my honour," Shafia says in one conversation.
"This is my word to you: Be I dead or alive, nothing in the world is above than your honour," he says in another.

The pre-arrest phase culminated in a search warrant executed on July 21, 2009, when the Shafias first learned from the language on the order that they were being investigated for four counts each of first-degree murder. During the search, police found a diary written by Rona in which she alleged beatings and mistreatment from Shafia and Yahya, as well as other items that would prove to be crucial at trial.
One of those items was a laptop used mostly by Hamed. It was seized and, when a thorough analysis was completed many months later, investigators couldn't quite believe some of the searches that had been made.  "Where to commit a murder" was probably the most shocking, Koopman says. Also of note were searches inquiring if a prisoner could retain control over their real estate, searches about Montreal jails, for "facts and documentaries" about murder and a large number of searches and photos viewed for bodies of water.

By that point, police had started talking to school officials, social workers and police to whom the girls had complained about their home life and a picture of the dysfunction in the Shafia household began to emerge.
It was all beginning to add up for Kingston police, especially after they learned from motel manager Robert Miller that even though the Shafias swore everyone in their family of 10 was alive and well at the motel, Hamed and Shafia had checked in for six people.

Shafia, Yahya and Hamed have been in custody since their arrests on July 22, 2009, and will have to spend at least 25 years from that date behind bars before they can apply for full parole. The investigation didn't finish with the arrests. A tireless team of police led by Staff Sgt. Chris Scott poked into every corner of the Shafias' lives for the past 2 1/2 years to scrutinize every piece of physical evidence in minute detail. After the verdicts were delivered, Scott praised both investigators and prosecutors.

"What that verdict says is that (after) 2 1/2 years of police work and Crown work, if some evil individual decides they're going to undertake such an enterprise, we're going to put (out) all our resources and we're going to do everything we can and justice is going to be served," he said.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Heart Dropped on Ground is Successfully Transplanted

A heart that was dropped on the ground while being transported to a hospital has been successfully transplanted into a 28-year-old hair stylist.   However Dr. Jaime Saldivar said Erika Hernandez doesn't yet know that her new heart made national news when a medic stumbled and the plastic-wrapped heart tumbled out of a cooler onto the street two weeks ago. Saldivar said it would be up to the family to tell her.
A rosy-cheeked Hernandez spoke briefly with reporters on Tuesday and thanked the donor's family, saying "I have no words to express what I'm feeling right now." Hernandez was born with a congenital heart defect. She received the heart of a man who died in a car accident. The heart was taken from Guanajuato state to Mexico city, a distance of 280 miles, traveling in an ambulance, then a plane, and then a helicopter, according to The Guardian newspaper. The nation's media followed every step of the journey.

Mexico City police had described the operation to deliver the heart as a "rapid, precision maneuver."
Everything appeared to be going smoothly as traffic was stopped to allow the helicopter to land near the hospital. However, after leaving the helicopter one of the two medics wheeling the cooler that contained the plastic-wrapped heart stumbled. The lid of the cooler came off and the heart fell out onto the street.
The medics are seen on video hurriedly pushing it back inside, leaving some ice packs behind, and continuing the short journey to the hospital.  In one of the more printable online comments made after the incident, newspaper reader Christian Sabido said that, "Anybody can make a mistake, but with this type of thing you should be careful."
At the time, doctors said the transplant operation had gone ahead, but added that they wanted to wait to confirm it had been successful.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Canada 'Honour' Killings: Shafia Family Found Guilty

Mohammad Shafia (front), Tooba Yahya (centre), and their son Hamed Shafia arriving at court in Kingston, Ontario (28 January)

 The three members of the Shafia family convicted were sentenced to a minimum of 25 years each in prison

Three members of an Afghan immigrant family in Canada have been convicted of murdering four female relatives in a so-called "honour" killing.  The bodies - three teenage girls and their father's first wife - were found in a car submerged in a canal in the city of Kingston, Ontario, in 2009.

The girls' father, brother and mother will serve at least 25 years in prison.  Prosecutors said the father was angered that his two eldest daughters wanted boyfriends, in defiance of his values. The court heard how Mohammad Shafia had become increasingly angry and upset with his three teenage daughters for having secret relationships with boys and wearing revealing clothes.

The prosecution relied heavily on wiretap recordings that revealed the level of Shafia's anger and comments in which he referred to his dead daughters as whores. "The apparent reason behind these cold shameful murders was that four (victims) offended your twisted notion of honour," the judge, Justice Robert Maranger, told Shafia and his two co-accused, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed.

The BBC's Lee Carter, in Toronto, says the three-month trial riveted the country. After the verdict was read out, Mohammad Shafia, speaking through a translator, said, "We are not criminals, we are not murderers, we didn't commit the murder and this is unjust.'' The bodies of sisters Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13, were found along with the body of their father's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, in the Rideau Canal in June 2009. They had been on a visit to Niagara Falls and were returning home to Montreal when they stopped for the night near Kingston.  The prosecution alleged Mohammed, Tooba and Hamed drowned their four victims, placed their bodies in the car and then pushed it into the canal with the family's other car.

The court heard the girls lived in an abusive home and received frequent death threats, in part over the fact that the two eldest daughters had boyfriends without their father's approval. The jury was told the decision to murder the four women was taken after 19-year-old Zainab took refuge in a shelter, defying her male relatives. The defence said their deaths were the result of a joyride gone wrong after Zainab took the wheel

Ms Mohammad, 52, wanted a divorce and supported the girls' wish to live according to Western norms.  The prosecution presented wiretap evidence, including one conversation where Mohammad Shafia said his daughters "betrayed us immensely." In other recordings, he was heard calling them treacherous and whores and calling on the devil to defecate on their graves.

The 10-member Shafia family left Afghanistan in 1992. They came to Canada in 2007, having previously lived in Australia, Pakistan and Dubai.  Shafia married Tooba Yahya because his first wife was unable to have children.  She was living with Shafia and Yahya at the time of her murder. The polygamous relationship, if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation.

Testicular Zap 'May Stop Sperm'

A dose of ultrasound to the testicles can stop the production of sperm, according to researchers investigating a new form of contraception.
A study on rats published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology showed that sound waves could be used to reduce sperm counts to levels that would cause infertility in humans. Researchers described ultrasound as a "promising candidate" in contraception. However, far more tests are required before it could be used.

The concept was first proposed in the 1970s, but is now being pursued by researchers at the University of North Carolina who won a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They found that two, 15-minute doses "significantly reduced" the number of sperm-producing cells and sperm levels. It was most effective when delivered two days apart and through warm salt water.

In humans, the researchers said men were considered to be "sub-fertile" when sperm counts dropped below 15 million sperm per millilitre. The sperm count in rats dropped to below 10 million sperm per millilitre.  Lead researcher Dr James Tsuruta said: "Further studies are required to determine how long the contraceptive effect lasts and if it is safe to use multiple times."

The team needs to ensure that the ultrasound produces a reversible effect, contraception not sterilization. As well as investigate whether there would be cumulative damage from repeated doses.
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: "It's a nice idea, but a lot more work is needed." He said that it was likely that there would be recovery of sperm production, but the "sperm might be damaged and any baby might be damaged" when sperm production resumed. "The last thing we want is a lingering damage to sperm," he said.
Geez Louise, I think a lot more testing and research is required if there is any chance we will produce mutant offspring. But at least it is a step towards making men as responsible for birth control as women.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Greeks Reject German Plan for EU Budget Commissioner

Young Germans carrying paper replicas of the euro, Munich (file photo, 2001)

 Many Germans fear Greece will need even more than the 130bn euros foreseen for its second bailout

Greek officials have reacted angrily to a leaked German proposal for an EU budget commissioner with veto powers over Greek taxes and spending.  The Greek government said it must remain in control of its own budget.  The European Commission says it wants to reinforce its monitoring of Greek finances, but Greece should retain sovereign control.

Meanwhile, Greece and its private investors are close to a deal which will pave the way for a second bailout. Negotiators say a tentative agreement could be finalized next week.  Greece must reach agreement in the next few days in order to receive the next tranche of funds from its first bailout. It needs the money to pay off a significant number of bondholders whose bonds mature in March. Without the bailout funds, Greece could be forced into an uncontrolled default from the euro.

"Given the disappointing compliance so far, Greece has to accept shifting budgetary sovereignty to the European level for a certain period of time," the Financial Times quotes the German plan as saying.  Under the proposals, European institutions already operating in Greece should be given "certain decision-making powers" over fiscal policy, a German official told the Reuters news agency. He was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Greek government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said Greece's budget must absolutely remain its own responsibility. The spokesman for the centre-left Pasok party, one of the parties in Greece's coalition government, said a similar idea had been raised before and should be avoided.

The German plan was leaked ahead of a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Monday, when they will discuss a new fiscal pact.  Anyone looking for a clear sign that Germany and its fiscally conservative allies are losing patience with Greece should look no further.

Because Greece has repeatedly failed to meet earlier fiscal targets, and has made little progress on public-sector reforms, there is concern that even with a deal on the next bailout, Athens may need more than the 130bn euros agreed last October, our correspondent says. Meanwhile, Greek officials and private investors struck an optimistic note as talks wound up on Saturday, saying they were close to reaching agreement. They were discussing a debt swap, under which private creditors take a 50% cut in the nominal value of their Greek bond holdings, in return for cash and new bonds.

The swap would relieve Greece of about 100bn euros of its total debt of 350bn euros. "We must do everything that will restrict the recession and will begin the cycle of growth. The coming days will determine the coming decade," Finance Minister Evangelis Venizelos told reporters as the talks broke up on Saturday.

In return for the first bailout, Greece agreed to sharply reduce public spending, including cuts in pensions and wages for public-sector workers. However, it has repeatedly fallen short of its targets. Last year, the budget deficit went up, not down.  The austerity measures have angered many Greeks. In Athens on Friday, protesters tried to blockade inspectors from the "troika" of institutional lenders - the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) - into their hotel. Elections in Greece are due to take place in April.

Snowy Owls Soar South From Arctic in Rare Mass Migration

SALMON, Idaho... Bird enthusiasts are reporting rising numbers of snowy owls from the Arctic winging into the lower 48 states this winter in a mass southern migration that a leading owl researcher called "unbelievable."
Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts.
A certain number of the iconic owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter but rarely do so many venture so far away even amid large-scale, periodic southern migrations known as irruptions. "What we're seeing now -- it's unbelievable," said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana. "This is the most significant wildlife event in decades," added Holt, who has studied snowy owls in their Arctic tundra ecosystem for two decades.

Holt and other owl experts say the phenomenon is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. The largely nocturnal birds also prey on a host of other animals, from voles to geese.
An especially plentiful supply of lemmings last season likely led to a population boom among owls that resulted in each breeding pair hatching as many as seven offspring. That compares to a typical clutch size of no more than two, Holt said.

Greater competition this year for food in the Far North by the booming bird population may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal. Research on the animals is scarce because of the remoteness and extreme conditions of the terrain the owls occupy, including northern Russia and Scandinavia. The surge in snowy owl sightings has brought birders flocking from Texas, Arizona and Utah to the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, pouring tourist dollars into local economies and crowding parks and wildlife areas. The irruption has triggered widespread public fascination that appears to span ages and interests.

"For the last couple months, every other visitor asks if we've seen a snowy owl today," said Frances Tanaka, a volunteer for the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Olympia, Washington.
But accounts of emaciated owls at some sites -- including a food-starved bird that dropped dead in a farmer's field in Wisconsin -- suggest the migration has a darker side. And Holt said an owl that landed at an airport in Hawaii in November was shot and killed to avoid collisions with planes.
He said snowy owl populations are believed to be in an overall decline, possibly because a changing climate has lessened the abundance of vegetation like grasses that lemmings rely on.

This winter's snowy owl outbreak, with multiple sightings as far south as Oklahoma, remains largely a mystery of nature. "There's a lot of speculation. As far as hard evidence, we really don't know," Holt said.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Davos 2012: Bill Gates Commits $750m to Fight AIDS

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed a further $750m (£479m) to a global fund to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. "These are tough economic times, but that is no excuse for cutting aid to the world's poorest," said Microsoft founder Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The Global Fund is a 10-year-old public-private partnership. The fund says it saves 100,000 lives a month. The WEF's annual gathering is being held in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. More than 2,600 delegates - including world leaders, economists and business chiefs - are attending the conference.

"By supporting the Global Fund, we can help to change the fortunes of the poorest countries in the world," said Mr Gates. "I can't think of more important work." The Gates Foundation has given $650m since the Global Fund was launched 10 years ago at Davos.  The Global Fund has faced controversy after it reported a "grave misuse of funds" in four countries last year, which caused major donors such as Germany to freeze their donations. The current head, Michel Kazatchkine, will step down in March and former banker Gabriel Jaramillo is to take over. Mr Gates said at Davos that some corruption is inevitable in large-scale charitable endeavours such as this, and it should not overshadow the good work of the Global Fund.

The Fund says that it has provided medical treatment to 3.3 million people, detected and treated 8.2 million people with tuberculosis, and provided 230 million bed nets to families to prevent malaria.
On Wednesday, Mr Gates said that "the world is better off" because of capitalism. "We're going through a tough period, but there is no other system that has improved humanity,"

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given $26bn to fund health,

BP Must Cover some Transocean Liabilities for Oil Spill

Crews fight the deadly fire aboard BP's Deepwater Horizon rig

The explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20 April 2010 killed 11 people and caused the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

BP must cover some but not all of oil rig owner Transocean's liabilities for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a US judge has ruled.US District Judge Carl Barbier said that Transocean was shielded by its contract with BP from having to pay many pollution claims.But Transocean must cover its own legal fees and is not exempt from paying punitive damages and civil penalties.

A trial on damages from the oil spill will begin next month. The trial, which will also involve oil services firm Halliburton who made the cement cap on the well which blew, is expected to apportion blame and quantify damages arising from the incident. BP said that the ruling made it clear that contractors would be held accountable for their actions.

"Under the decision Transocean is, at a minimum, financially responsible for any punitive damages, fines and penalties flowing from its own conduct," the company said in a statement. "As we have said from the beginning, Transocean cannot avoid its responsibility for this accident."

In his decision Judge Barbier said: "The court defers ruling on BP's arguments that Transocean breached the drilling contract or committed an act that materially increased BP's risk or prejudiced its rights." He added that the court "does not express an opinion as to whether Transocean will be held strictly liable, negligent, or grossly negligent".

BP has spent $14bn  so far in its spill response and cleanup operation and has set aside a further $20bn for damages claims. It has been locked in legal battles with both Transocean and Halliburton over who should pay for costs and damages arising from the spill.

Steven Tyler - Dream On - 1973

Every time that I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face gettin' clearer
The past is gone
It went by like dust to dawn
Isn't that the way
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay

I know what nobody knows
Where it comes and where it goes
I know its everybody's sin
You got to lose to know how to win

Half my life is in books written pages
Live and learn from fools and from sages
You know its true
All the things come back to you

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, if its just for today
Maybe tomorrow the good lord will take you away

Dream on, dream on
Dream yourself a dream come true
Dream on, dream on
Dream until your dream come true
Dream on, dream on, dream on...

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter and sing for the tears
Sing with me, if its just for today
Maybe tomorrow the good lord will take you away

Steven Tyler wrote "Dream On", lyrics and music.
He has sold over 180 million albums
A rock icon

Dark Energy

Dark energy

In the 1990s, scientists studying exploding stars called supernovae in far-flung galaxies discovered that the Universe's expansion is accelerating, not slowing as theorists predicted. This discovery led them to the conclusion that some unknown process was causing the Universe to speed up, and they named it dark energy.
One of the biggest goals in science is to explain this mysterious energy, which is thought to make up about 70% of the energy density of the Universe.
Image: A Chandra X-ray Observatory image of the distant galaxy cluster Abell 2029. Astronomers use images like this to better understand dark energy's effects. (credit: NASA/CXC/IoA/S.Allen et al.)

UN Concerns Over Libya Militias and Secret Detention

Bani Walid still a 'Gaddafi stronghold'

Libyan militias are out of control and holding thousands of people in secret detention centres, while the weak interim government struggles to assert its authority, the UN has heard. The Security Council was told recent violence in Tripoli, Bani Walid and Benghazi highlighted the problem. More than 8,000 pro-Gaddafi supporters are being held by militia groups, amid reports of torture, UN officials said.

Four died in clashes in Bani Walid, a former Gaddafi stronghold, on Monday. The UN's Libya envoy, Ian Martin, told the Security Council in New York on Wednesday that those clashes between armed residents of Bani Walid and revolutionaries had been misreported as pro-Gaddafi forces retaking the city. Nevertheless, he said, it highlighted the challenge of reconciling the former leader's supporters and the rebels that had defeated them.

Militias were responsible for fatal clashes in Tripoli and fighting in other towns this month, he said. "The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy," said Mr Martin. He described that legacy as "weak, at times absent, state institutions, coupled with the long absence of political parties and civil society organizations, which render the country's transition more difficult".

Mr Martin said some steps had been taken towards demobilizing ex-combatants. But the government was struggling to establish its legitimacy, he added, with weapons freely available and various armed brigades having unclear lines of command and control. While authorities had so far successfully contained any outbreaks of violence, they could escalate and widen in scope, he warned.

 UN human rights chief Navi Pillay meanwhile raised concerns about detainees being held by revolutionary forces, saying there were some 8,500 prisoners in about 60 centres. "The majority of detainees are accused of being Gaddafi loyalists and include a large number of sub-saharan, African nationals," she said.


"The lack of oversight by the central authority creates an environment conducive to torture and ill treatment. My staff have received alarming reports that this is happening in places of detention they have visited." She urged the authorities to take control of these informal jails, review the cases, and deal with the prisoners in a legal framework.

Libyan Defence Minister Osama al-Juwali, who has been negotiating with militiamen in Bani Walid, told reporters on Wednesday that the situation was stable. As he arrived, National Transitional Council (NTC) forces - loyal to the new government - gathered outside the town. They were heavily armed and apparently poised to attack if talks failed, although one commander insisted they were there for "reconciliation". Fighters in the town have reportedly expelled NTC forces into the surrounding desert.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Monday, January 23, 2012

Costa Concordia: Bodies Found as Fuel Pumping to Start

There is no decision yet on when fuel pumping will begin but the civil protection agency has said it is likely to start within the next 24 hours. Civil protection official Franco Gabrielli told reporters on Giglio there was no risk the Costa Concordia would drop down to a lower seabed.  "We are ready to go," an official from the Dutch salvage company Smit told the BBC. "As soon as we get the green light, we start the work".

 The salvagers must first attach steel moorings to the front of the ship. They will not want to start pumping in the dark, she says, so work is likely to begin on Tuesday. Smit must also install a double containment boom around the ship to limit any spill, instead of the single boom originally envisaged.  "Booms are commonly used to reduce the possibility of polluting shorelines and to help make oil recovery easier," Smit said in a statement.

The Costa Concordia crashed on the first day of a seven-day cruise around the Mediterranean, when it was carrying a full load of fuel.  Although there has been no leak so far, the civil protection agency says there is pollution in the water from solvents and disinfectants which were on board the vessel.
The area around Giglio is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, which describes itself as the largest marine park in Europe. It is home to rare flora and fauna, including tree frogs, finches, and geckos.

Italian Admiral Ilarione Dell'Anna predicted it would take 28 days to remove all of the fuel, without any interruptions, the Associated Press reports. Search and rescue work has been suspended several times owing to bad weather.  Coastguard and navy divers have been blasting their way into submerged areas of the vessel using explosives in an effort to find those unaccounted for. Emergency officials said on Saturday they would not end the search until the whole ship had been examined.

The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest in his home town of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, while his actions are investigated. He is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated. He denies the allegations. Capt Schettino tested negative for drugs, his lawyer said on Monday.

Eighteen people are still missing, but fears that extra, unregistered passengers may have been on the ship have now diminished. A Hungarian woman whose name was not on the passenger list was initially said to be missing after having contacted her family from the ship on the day it set sail.
However, the Hungarian foreign ministry has told the Italian authorities its inquiries show the individual who declared her missing did so using a false identity, that of a person who has been dead for three years.

Confirmed dead: Sandor Feher, Hungary, crew; French nationals Pierre Gregoire, Jeanne Gannard, Jean-Pierre Micheaud, Francis Servil, passengers; Italian Giovanni Masia, passenger; Spaniard Guillermo Gual, passenger; Peruvian Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, crew.
Missing: 18 people including seven unidentified bodies. Nationalities include German, Italian, French, American, Peruvian and Indian nationals

Mitt and Newt Attack Each Other in Florida (what Else is New)

New polls show a drop in support for Mitt Romney

US Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have moved their campaigns - and attacks on each other - to Florida. Mr Gingrich's campaign said it received $1m (£643,000) in 24 hours following his primary win in South Carolina. Meanwhile, his rival Mitt Romney said Mr Gingrich engaged in "potentially wrongful activity" on healthcare policy after leaving Congress.

In two polls released on Monday, Mr Gingrich's lead among likely Florida voters grew to as much as 9%.  He won a decisive victory in South Carolina on Saturday, taking 40% of the vote. The Florida primary will be held on 31 January 2012.

After being forced to endure a tough night in South Carolina, Mr Romney went on the attack in Tampa, Florida, ahead of Monday evening's debate between the four remaining Republican candidates.  Mr Romney suggested that Mr Gingrich worked for companies that potentially benefited from the passage of a prescription drug benefit in 2003. At the time, Mr Gingrich was no longer a member of the House of Representatives, and did not register as a federal lobbyist. However, he continued to advocate on Capitol Hill as he ran a variety of foundations and private groups.

Mr Romney demanded that Mr Gingrich also release consulting contracts he struck with government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Mr Gingrich denied he was lobbying and said he was working to release information about his relationship with Freddie Mac. "It's not true," Mr Gingrich said of Mr Romney's assertions. "He knows it's not true. He's deliberately saying things he knows are false."

He told reporters the decision to release the documents rests with the Center for Health Transformation, which he founded but no longer owns. Two former Gingrich companies earned $1.6m over eight years from Freddie Mac. Mr Gingrich himself spent the days before the South Carolina primary calling on the former Massachusetts governor to release his tax returns - something Mr Romney has now said he will do on Tuesday. The Gingrich campaign's new infusion of cash will help in a state where television ads are crucial, but his campaign is still under-funded compared to Mr Romney. Texas Congressman Ron Paul will skip the state, focusing on other upcoming primaries.  Mr Santorum, however, will campaign in Florida in an attempt to stay in the race after a third-place finish in South Carolina.

Mr Gingrich followed his upset in the Palmetto State by saying he now expects attacks to come from all sides. "I think you're going to see the establishment go crazy in the next week or two,'' he told ABC News on Monday. Mr Romney's supporters continued to characterise Mr Gingrich as highly erratic - focusing on both his ties with Freddie Mac and his time leading the House of Representatives.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the Republican race in August and now backs Mr Romney, told reporters in a conference call that he completely rejected Mr Gingrich's claim that he served as a "historian" for the company. "The notion that he was paid $1.7m dollars as a historian for Freddie Mac is just BS," said Mr Pawlenty.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told NBC News on Sunday that Mr Gingrich has embarrassed his party in the past. "Whether he will do it again in the future, I don't know," Mr Christie said, adding he didn't want "another legislator in the Oval Office who doesn't know how to use executive authority".
Mr Christie is often speculated as a potential running-mate for Mr Romney if he wins the nomination.

With Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina, the nomination contest is now expected to continue into the spring.  The eventual Republican candidate will face President Barack Obama in the general election in November. Stop bickering guys. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

Iran Says Oil Embargo is 'Unfair' and 'Doomed to Fail'

Iran has said an oil embargo adopted by European Union foreign ministers over the country's nuclear programme is "unfair" and "doomed to fail". The measures would not prevent Iran's "progress for achieving its basic rights", foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

The sanctions ban all new oil contracts with Iran and freeze the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU.
The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports. "European officials and other countries which are under America's political pressure... should consider their national interests and not deprive themselves of Iran's oil to help US officials achieve their secret aims," Mr Mehmanparast added.
He accused the US of trying to create "problems with energy supply requirements in countries which are America's economic rivals".

The sanctions were formally adopted at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
Iran had "failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme", British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement. "We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region," the leaders added.

The measures were "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran", US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog has confirmed it is sending a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January "to resolve all outstanding substantive issues".  Last November the IAEA said in a report that it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device". Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon said the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a British Royal Navy frigate and a French warship, had passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf without incident, following Iranian threats to block the trade route.

The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July. Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran's petrochemical sector is also banned.

So once the new measures are in place how successful will they be? Even western diplomats are uncertain. There is no doubting that the Iranian economy will suffer. But the nuclear programme is a matter of national pride and ultimately national security.
Iran has seen the demise of regimes in Iraq and Libya and noted the survival of that in North Korea - the one so-called "rogue state" that has nuclear weapons.
Iran's rulers may well believe that having at least the potential for a nuclear bomb is something that could secure the country against outside threat.
Seen in this light one can imagine the Iranian authorities being willing to absorb considerable economic pain to pursue their nuclear research effort.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Owner of Newspaper Suggests Assassination of Obama

Andrew Adler, the owner of local publication the Atlanta Jewish Times, has apologized after suggesting that assassinating President Obama is an option that should be considered by the Israeli government.
As reported by Gawker, Adler's article, written earlier this month, describes the urgency in protecting the Israeli people from threats such as Hamas and Hezbollah and argues that there are essentially only three options available: attack Hamas, beat back Hezbollah, or assassinate Obama.
From Adler's column, which is not available online, but which Gawker uploaded to the web:
"Yes, you read "three" correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don't you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel's most inner circles? Another way of putting "three" in perspective goes something like this: How far would you go to save a nation comprised of seven million lives ... Jews, Christians and Arabs alike? You have got to believe, like I do, that all options are on the table."
In a subsequent interview with Gawker, Adler seemed hesitant to stand by his words, saying he had written them just to "see what kind of reaction I would get from readers."
Now, however, Adler has issued a full apology.

Obama Serenades Supporters at New York Fund Raiser

NEOShield to Assess Earth Defence

Artist's impression of an asteroid approaching Earth
NEOShield is a new international project that will assess the threat posed by Near Earth Objects (NEO) and look at the best possible solutions for dealing with a big asteroid or comet on a collision path with our planet. The effort is being led from the German space agency's (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, and had its kick-off meeting this week. It will draw on expertise from across Europe, Russia and the US.

It's a major EU-funded initiative that will pull together all the latest science, initiate a fair few laboratory experiments and new modelling work, and then try to come to some definitive positions.
Industrial partners, which include the German, British and French divisions of the big Astrium space company, will consider the engineering architecture required to deflect one of these bodies out of our path.  Should we kick it, try to tug it, or even blast it off its trajectory?

"We're going to collate all the scientific information ," explains project leader Prof Alan Harris at DLR. "What do you need to know about an asteroid in order to be able to change its course - to deflect it from a catastrophic course with the Earth?" It's likely that NEOShield will, at the end of its three-and-a-half-year study period, propose to the politicians that they launch a mission to demonstrate the necessary technology. The NEO threat may seem rather distant, but the geological and observational records tell us it is real.

On average, an object about the size of car will enter the Earth's atmosphere once a year, producing a spectacular fireball in the sky. About every 2,000 years or so, an object the size of a football field will impact the Earth, causing significant local damage. And then, every few million years, a rock turns up that has a girth measured in kilometres. An impact from one of these will produce global effects.

The latest estimates indicate that we've probably found a little over 90% of the true monsters out there and none look like they'll hit us. It is that second category that merits further investigation.  Data from Nasa's Wise telescope suggests there are likely to be about 19,500 NEOs in the 100-1,000m size range, and the vast majority of these have yet to be identified and tracked.

New telescopes are coming that will significantly improve detection success. In the meantime, the prudent course would be to develop a strategy for the inevitable. The strongest mitigation candidates currently would appear to be:

Kinetic impactor: This mission might look like Nasa's Deep Impact mission of 2005, or the Don Quijote mission that Europe designed but never launched. It involves perhaps a shepherding spacecraft releasing an impactor to strike the big rock or comet. This gentle nudge, depending when and how it's done, could change the velocity of the rock ever so slightly to make it arrive "at the crossroads" sufficiently early or late to miss Earth.
Can a gravity tractor be relied upon to work for as long as its effort is needed?
"The amount of debris, or ejecta, produced in the impact would affect the momentum of the NEO," says Prof Harris. "Of course, that will depend on what sort of asteroid it is - its physical characteristics. What's its surface like; how porous or dense it is? This is really something you would want to test with a demonstration mission."

"Gravity tractor": This involves positioning a spacecraft close to a target object and using long-lived ion thrusters to maintain the separation between the two. Because of gravitational attraction between the spacecraft and the NEO, it is possible to pull the asteroid or comet off its trajectory. "It's like using gravity as a tow-rope," says Prof Harris. "It's not straightforward of course. Can you be sure those thrusters will keep working for the time they're needed - a decade or more? Do you have confidence that the spacecraft can look after itself autonomously all that time? These are the sorts of technical problems we will look at."
Kinetic Impactor
In both scenarios, the effects are small, but if initiated years - even decades - in advance should prove effective enough.  What we've learnt about asteroids, however, is that they are not all the same. Different rocks are likely to need different approaches. One method often discussed but about which there is great uncertainty is "blast deflection" - the idea that you would detonate a nuclear device close to, or on the surface of (even buried under the surface), an incoming rock.

The Russian members of the NEOShield consortium will take a close look at the option.  Delivering the device to just the right place would prove very difficult, and the outcomes, depending on the composition and construction of the NEO, would be very hard to predict. But some better numbers than we have currently are required and TsNIIMash, the engineering arm of the Russian space agency (Roscosmos), will gather all the available data.

"We will look at the spectrum of techniques, trying to see which ones might be applicable in different cases. And then taking it to a level where we can work on a possible mission to demonstrate one or more of these techniques,"commented Dr Ralph Cordey, from Astrium UK.
And Prof Harris added: "At the end of this, we want to be able to say to the space agencies 'if you're interested in asteroid mitigation, this is what we think. We have six countries represented in our consortium and we're all agreed this is the way to go'.  The politicians would then have everything on a plate. All they have to do is decide whether or not to execute the mission."

Huffington Post Weird News - Man Marries Dead Girlfriend

Friday, January 20, 2012

Andrea Bocelli - Nessun Dorma - 2007

I love Andrea, wonderful voice, beautiful man. 

 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin Italy

Andrea and Sarah...Live in Tuscany

Captain Dining With 25 Year Old Woman Shortly before Crash

Domnica CemortanThis image taken from Il Secolo's website reportedly shows 25-year-old Domnica Cemortan. The Moldovan woman is believed to have been the blonde female seen dining with Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino shortly before the ship crashed Friday night, according to the newspaper. Cemortan, who may have been a guest of either Schettino or another officer, may emerge as a key witness to Friday night's events, though Italian prosecutors have not confirmed any reports about her.

Five more bodies have been found in the capsized cruise ship off the coast of Italy, bringing the death toll to 11. Teams have been searching the ship for passengers and crew missing since the Costa Concordia struck rocks Friday evening and capsized. The ship, operated by Genoa-based Costa Cruises and owned by Carnival Corporation, was carrying more than 4,200 people when it struck a reef and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio late Friday. Schettino made an unauthorized diversion from his programmed route and strayed into the perilous waters. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Monday that he may have sailed close to the rocky shores of Giglio to please his head waiter who comes from the island. Officials and witnesses said earlier that the disaster may have been caused by a risky practice of close-passing the island of Giglio in a foghorn-blasting salute to the local population.

Divers resumed their search for the missing on Thursday, but rough seas forecast for later in the day added an element of uncertainty to the operation and plans to begin pumping fuel from the stranded vessel. Also Thursday, a new audiotape emerged of the first contact between Livorno port officials and the Costa Concordia -- and Schettino is heard insisting that his cruise ship only had a blackout a full 30 minutes after it had rammed into a reef.

The recording between Schettino and port officials began at 10:12 p.m. Friday, more than 30 minutes after the ship violently hit a reef and panicked passengers had fled the dining room to get their lifejackets.  Schettino is heard assuring the officer that he was checking out the reasons for the blackout. But he doesn't volunteer that the ship had hit a reef. Rather, the port officer tells Schettino that his agency had heard from a relative of one of ship's sailors that "during dinner everything fell on their heads." That was an apparent reference to the plates and glasses that slammed down onto passengers in the main dining room. "We are verifying the conditions on board," Schettino replies. Asked if passengers had been told to put on life jackets, he responds: "Correct." Crew members and passengers alike have complained about the chaotic evacuation and the lack of direction from the ship's management.

Meanwhile, divers were focusing on an evacuation route on the fourth level, now about 60 feet below the surface, where five bodies were found earlier this week, Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TG 24.   Officials restarted the search after determining the ship had stabilized after shifting on the rocks 24 hours earlier.  The ship's sudden movement also postponed the start of the operation to extract the half-million gallons of fuel on board the vessel, as Italy's environment minister warned Parliament of the ecological implications if the ship sinks."Today is an important day, the weather forecasts are negative, rough sea, we'll have to see how the ship reacts to that," firefighter spokesman Luca Cari said Thursday.

Also Thursday, seven of the dead were identified by authorities: French passengers Jeanne Gannard, Pierre Gregoire, Francis Servil, 71, and Jean-Pierre Micheaud, 61; Peruvian crew member Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza; Spanish passenger Guillermo Gual, 68, and Italian passenger Giovanni Masia, who news reports said would have turned 86 next week and was buried in Sardinia on Thursday. Italian authorities have identified 32 people who have either died or are missing: 12 Germans, seven Italians, six French, two Peruvians, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India and Spain.

Authorities on Wednesday identified the first victim: Sandor Feher, a 38-year-old Hungarian musician working aboard, who a fellow musician said helped crying children into lifejackets, then disappeared while trying to retrieve his beloved violin from his cabin. Among the missing are an Italian father and his 5-year-old daughter. The girl's mother issued a fresh appeal to speed the search and for passengers who saw the pair to come forward to help determine where they were last seen. Other missing include retirees Jerry and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minn.. The couple were treating themselves after putting four children through college. The Heil children said in a blog post Wednesday that their parents were not among the passengers whose bodies were recently recovered, and they were praying that weather conditions would improve so authorities could resume search operations.

Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, was placed under house arrest Tuesday, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.  The ship's operator, Crociere Costa SpA, has accused Schettino of causing the wreck by making the unapproved detour, and the captain has acknowledged carrying out what he called a "tourist navigation" that brought the ship closer to Giglio. Costa has said such a navigational "fly by" was done last Aug. 9-10, after being approved by the company and Giglio port authorities. However, Lloyd's List Intelligence, a leading maritime publication, said Wednesday its tracking of the ship's August route showed it actually took the Concordia slightly closer to Giglio than the course that caused Friday's disaster. "This is not a black-and-white case," Richard Meade, editor of Lloyd's List, said in a statement. "Our data suggests that both routes took the vessel within 200 yards of the impact point and that the authorized route was actually closer to shore."

New audio of Schettino's communications with the coast guard during the crisis emerged Wednesday, with the captain claiming he ended up in a life raft after he tripped and fell into the water. I did not abandon a ship with 100 people on board, the ship suddenly listed and we were thrown into the water," Schettino said, according to a transcript published Wednesday in the Corriere della Sera paper. Initial audio of Schettino's conversations made headlines on Tuesday, showing an increasingly exasperated coast guard officer ordering Schettino back on board to direct the evacuation, and the captain resisting, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping. The officer's order, "Get back on board, (expletive!)" has entered the Italian lexicon, becoming a Twitter hashtag and adorning T-shirts.