Sunday, March 01, 2015

Why your smartphone records everything you say to it...

After controversy earlier this month over televisions recording owners and sending the clips to third parties, smartphone owners are now discovering that companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are also recording voice commands and storing them for up to two years.

Modern televisions are able to change channels, alter volume or even look up information on films via voice command. But controversy erupted on internet forums earlier this month when it was noticed that the terms and conditions for some such services – invariably skipped over due to their length and impenetrable language - allow companies to send recordings of tricky commands to third parties for interpretation.

Often these recordings are not encrypted, so are potentially vulnerable to hackers, and the recordings will capture personal conversations as easily as legitimate commands.

 The privacy policy for South Korean manufacturer Samsung states: "Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party." Full story...

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Zimbabwe's white farmers targeted for new Mugabe land grabs...

When war veterans arrived to claim Craig Edy’s farm during Zimbabwe’s violent land invasions, he simply refused to budge from his tin-roofed home on his newly-acquired cattle farm.

The raiders eventually gave up, leaving Mr Edy to build up his business on the 1,500-acre plot in Fort Rixon, a dusty farming region in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland province.

This week, however, the spectre of land grabs returned, in the shape of a beady-eyed official from the lands department who arrived and started building a house on the farm. He even confiscated the keys for the farm’s generator when Mr Edy was in town on business.

When Mr Edy sought the help of a cabinet minister he knew, he was arrested and accused of threatening the land official with a gun.

 “It was rubbish,” he told The Telegraph by crackly phone line from Bulawayo, where he, his wife and mother-in-law have moved while they wait for a resolution. Full story...

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Boris Nemtsov: 'I'm afraid Putin will kill me,' Russian opposition politician said weeks before being shot dead...

The Russian opposition politician shot dead in Moscow had spoken of his fear that Vladimir Putin would have him killed weeks before his murder.

Speaking to Russia's Sobesednik news website on 10 February, Boris Nemtsov said: "I'm afraid Putin will kill me. I believe that he was the one who unleashed the war in the Ukraine. I couldn't dislike him more."

Friends said he had received anonymous death threats over the internet.

"Boris periodically received anonymous threats on social networking sites...Boris was worried," said opposition politician Ilya Yashin.

"He said he was under threat but never wanted additional security. (He said) if they want to kill (me) they will kill (me).”

Mr Nemtsov was shot four times in the back by a gunman in a car as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin just before midnight on Friday, police said. Full story...

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The airport that launched a thousand conspiracy theories...

No airport in the world has been the subject of such persistent conspiracy theories as Denver International, which celebrates its 20th birthday today.

Soon after the first flight – United’s service to Kansas City – left the tarmac, the murmurings began. They initially focused on the view of the airport from above.

Why, asked some, does it so uncannily resemble a swastika? Surely this is evidence of some evil right-wing plot?

A coincidence, surely? Many airports, particularly those with four or more runways, must look like this from above? Well, not really.

(...)

But there’s more. Conspiracy theorists soon turned their attention to the airport’s interior. Over the years Denver International has made strides to fill its terminal building with artwork. There was Mustang, by El Paso artist Luis Jiménez. The giant sculpture actually killed poor Jiménez in 2006, two years before Denver adopted it. A section of it fell on him, severing an artery in his leg. Full story...

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Excuse me Mr. Kanthaswamy...

3 women risk torture in secret UAE detention over ‘I miss my brother’ tweet...

Three women questioned and detained by UAE police in February are “at risk of torture or other ill-treatment,” Amnesty International says. The sisters tweeted in support of their brother, a prisoner of conscience.

The women – Asma, Mariam, and Alyaziyah Khalifa al-Suwaidi – disappeared after they were taken to a police station in Abu Dhabi on February 15, the human rights watchdog said in a Friday report. Prior to that, the three spoke out on social media to draw attention to their brother’s unfair trial.

“Shortly after posting a tweet that said ‘I miss my brother,' Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi and her two sisters were summoned by police and now have vanished as if into a black hole,” Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, said in a press release.

The sisters' mother received a brief phone call the day after her daughters didn’t return home. A person claiming to be a state security official said: “Your daughters are fine,” with no further details. The sisters are believed to have no access to a lawyer, or to their family.

 Issa al-Suwaidi, the brother of the three women, is among 69 activists convicted in a 'UAE 94' trial after being held in secret detention for an alleged attempt to overthrow the government in 2013. Full story...

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Now this Indian girl knows how to handle a street-harasser...

You’re walking down the street, perhaps thinking about your day and what you plan to accomplish. Then you hear a voice yelling at you, perhaps mixed with whistles or noises, saying something about your body or appearance. Sometimes it feels unclear whether or not you are allowed to feel offended by whatever was said, and sometimes it’s perfectly clear that the words are meant to reduce you to an object for sexual gratification. However, what’s almost never clear is exactly what you should say or do in this situation. Just ignore them? Tell them that their commentary is unwelcome? Or go even further and seek justice?

This dilemma is familiar to women the world over, but in India, it’s so ubiquitous that, according to one study, 95% of women reported that their mobility was restricted because of fear of male harassment in public places, and the majority of these women fail to report such harassment because it has been taken for granted that nothing can be done about it.

Distance and scorching heat were not the only things that made Rajkumari dread her long journey from her village of Nagla Mai to her secondary school in the neighboring village of Mai. Each day, a boy in the neighboring village would harass Rajkumari with lewd comments as she passed. While many girls just try to ignore these kinds of comments, Rajkumari did not shy away from confronting the boy. She made it clear to him that she would not tolerate this kind of disrespect.

As a part of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, Rajkumari attended life skills classes where topics like confidence, self-respect, initiative, and tenacity feature heavily in the discussions. Rajkumari brought up her problem with her class-mates and mentor. Full story...

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Google does u-turn on blog site porn ban...

Google has changed its mind about banning porn from its Blogger service - just two days after announcing the policy.

It revealed the climbdown after reviewing "a ton of feedback" received after announcing the policy on Wednesday.

The plan was to switch any sexually explicit blogs on the Blogger network to a private setting from 23 March, limiting who could see it.

However it said commercial pornographic content would remain prohibited, and users with adult blogs still needed to mark them as such.

A message posted to Google's support pages on Friday said: "This week, we announced a change to Blogger's porn policy. Full story...

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'Every chicken could give you food poisoning'

Every home-cooked chicken poses a food poisoning risk because supermarkets are acting too slowly to eradicate a dangerous bug, officials have said.

Tests over the past nine months found 73 per cent of chickens in supermarkets contained campylobacter, which makes 280,000 people ill every year and can cause death.

Almost one in five birds was highly dangerous, figures published on Thursday showed. In almost 7 per cent of cases, the bacteria were present on the outside packaging of fresh whole chickens.

In a statement supported for the first time by the Office for National Statistics, food safety officials concluded that "all chickens, no matter which retail outlet they are sold from" were at risk of being contaminated. They urged families to take particular care during handling and cooking whole chickens at home.

The Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for protecting the public from poisoning, criticised supermarkets for taking too long to cut contamination levels. Full story...

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The devil with a blue (or white) dress...

A seemingly simple photo of an apparently blue-and-black dress has stumped millions of netizens over what color the garment is. So what hues do you see?

For some, it’s mildly amusing. For others, it breeds crippling existential dread.

But one thing is certain: The dress is most definitely white and gold. Right?

Well, maybe not.

An innocuous photo of a dress posted to Tumblr on Wednesday has created an astonishing ado. A blogger with the moniker Swiked had modest but urgent hopes: Settling a debate between friends.

“Guys, please help me,” she pleaded. “Is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the fuck out.” Full story...

Simon's cat in Butterflies...

Too much screen time raises kids’ blood pressure...

Lack of physical activity and getting more than two hours of “screen time” significantly increases the risk of high blood pressure in children, according to the results of a recent study.

The claim was published in the February issue of the International Journal of Cardiology and relies on the analysis of data gathered on over 5,000 children from eight European countries, examined by 15 researchers from Spain and Brazil.

They found a “worryingly high” incidence of high blood pressure in children – 110 cases per 1,000, or double the expected rate of five percent. Spending more than two hours a day in front of a screen, whether watching television or playing computer games, increased the probability of high blood pressure by 30 percent. The article also noted that anything less than an hour per day of physical activity increased the probability by 50 percent.

High blood pressure in childhood can lead to serious cardiovascular problems later in life, including heart attacks and strokes. Full story...

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Hong Kong woman jailed for six years for abusing Indonesian maid...

A Hong Kong mother of two who punched her maids, beat them with mops and threatened to kill their relatives was jailed for six years on Friday in a case that triggered outrage and exposed the plight of millions of domestic helpers across Asia.

Former beautician Law Wan-tung, 44, looked stunned as the sentence was passed after being found guilty of 18 of 20 abuse charges. She was also ordered to pay a fine of HK$15,000 ($1,934).

The charges included inflicting grievous bodily harm and criminal intimidation against Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and an another maid, also from Indonesia.

Law looked emotionless as she was led out of court. She had pleaded not guilty to the 20 charges but had admitted one of not buying insurance cover for her maid.

Erwiana had told media she would forgive her former boss and her family. Full story...

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American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh...

A prominent American blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death with machetes by unidentified assailants in Dhaka, police said, with the atheist writer’s family claiming he had received numerous threats from Islamists.

The body of Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation, was found covered in blood after the attack which also left his wife critically wounded.

“He died as he was brought to the hospital. His wife was also seriously wounded. She has lost a finger,” local police chief Sirajul Islam said.

The couple were on a bicycle rickshaw, returning from a book fair, when two assailants stopped and dragged them onto a sidewalk before striking them with machetes, local media reported citing witnesses.

Roy, said to be around 40, is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004. Full story...

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Film by street artist Banksy highlights plight of Gaza...

The short film begins like a glossy travel commercial. "Make this the year YOU discover a new destination," urges the text on screen, against the backdrop of an airplane wing and fluffy clouds.

"Welcome to Gaza," it continues. "Well away from the tourist track."

But it soon becomes clear that this is a rather different kind of trip. The camera appears to plunge down a poorly lit tunnel, emerging into a scene where children wander among rubble.

The film, less than 2 minutes in length, is the latest work by the elusive British street artist Banksy, whose identity remains unknown.

Making use of sharp irony, his own artwork and the rubble-strewn streets of a territory shattered by last summer's conflict between Israel and Hamas militants, he shines a spotlight on the suffering of ordinary Palestinians.

"The locals like it so much they never leave. (Because they're not allowed to)," the film, posted on Banksy's official website, continues. More + video...

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Adultery is no longer illegal in South Korea...

Adultery is no longer illegal in South Korea, after the country's Constitutional Court struck down a more than 60-year-old law.

Violators of the law could previously be imprisoned for up to two years, and its validity had already been unsuccessfully challenged in the court four times.

On this occasion, seven of the nine justices on the bench determined the 1953 statute was unconstitutional.

"Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," presiding justice Park Han-Chul said.

"Public conceptions of individuals'
rights in their sexual lives have undergone changes." Full story...

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French policeman shoots suicidal man to save his life...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Savile 'abused 63 people at Stoke Mandeville Hospital'

Jimmy Savile abused 63 people connected to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but the one formal complaint made was ignored, an independent report has found.

It found Savile's reputation as a "sex pest" was an "open secret" among some staff - but allegations probably did not reach managers.

The formal complaint - made in 1977 by a victim's father - should have been reported to police, it added.

A separate report said "elements of the Savile story" could happen again.

The Stoke Mandeville report said the victims, abused from 1968-92, were aged eight to 40.

Sexual abuse by Savile ranged from inappropriate touching to rape - including the rape of children under the age of 12. Full story...

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India: Muslim boy beaten for posing for a photo with 'Hindu' female classmates...

A Muslim student was brutally beaten by a vigilante group for posing for a photo with a group of girls believed to be Hindu, police in southern India have said.

Mohammed Riyaz, 20, was attacked after an image of him posing with two other boys and five of their female classmates at a college in Surathkal, near the southwestern city Mangalore, was circulated online.

According to news site The News Minute, Riyaz is seen sitting on the far left of the group in the photo while one of his friends, Mohammed Swali, lies on the girls' laps.

The snap was reportedly posted on Facebook with the caption: "Hindu Girls Muslim Boy" and soon went viral through messaging app WhatsApp.

This display of affection between students of a different sex and religion outraged a local Hindu gang, which decided to punish the young men for what they perceived as an immoral behaviour. Full story...

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Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew sedated, on life support...

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's 91-year-old founding father, remains on life support in intensive care being treated for severe pneumonia, the government said Thursday.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said Lee is sedated and on mechanical ventilation. His doctors have restarted him on antibiotics, and are continuing to monitor him closely, it said.

Lee was admitted to Singapore General Hospital on Feb. 5.

Singapore's first prime minister, Lee ruled for 31 years until 1990, and has been credited with transforming the city-state from a sleepy tropical port to a wealthy, bustling financial hub with one of the highest incomes in the world.

In his 2013 book, "One man's View of the World," Lee said he signed a legal document informing doctors not to keep him alive if his death is imminent.

"Some time back, I had an Advanced Medical Directive done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit. I had it signed by a lawyer friend and a doctor," he said.

He said: "There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach. In such cases, one is little more than a body." Full story...

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How Stephen Hawking, diagnosed with ALS decades ago, is still alive...

On April 20, 2009, a moment arrived that doctors had foretold for decades. Stephen Hawking, a scientist who overcame debilitating disease to become the world’s most renowned living physicist, was on the cusp of death. The University of Cambridge released grim prognoses. Hawking, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, was described as “very ill” and “undergoing tests” at the hospital. Newspapers ran obituary-esque articles. It seemed time was up for the man who so eloquently explained it.

But, as is his custom, Hawking survived.

Hawking shouldn’t be able to do the things he now does. The 73-year-old shouldn’t be able to deliver meditations on the existence of God. He shouldn’t be able to fret over artificial intelligence or humanity’s capacity for self-destruction. And he most definitely shouldn’t be able to attend the BAFTAs — Britain’s academy awards — settled inside the wheelchair that has carried him for decades, expressing admiration for a recent biopic that paid homage to his struggle. But yet, he is. And he does.

It’s difficult to overstate the lethality of ALS, the condition with which Hawking lives. The disorder can befall anyone. It first brings muscle weakness, then wasting, then paralysis, ripping away the ability to speak and swallow and even breathe. The ALS Association says the average lifespan of someone diagnosed with the condition is between two and five years. More than 50 percent make it past year three. Twenty percent make it past year five. From there, the number plummets. Less than 5 percent make it past two decades. Full story...

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UN says ex-Yemen president Saleh stole up to $60billion...

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's former president, is believed to have amassed between $32bn and $60bn through corruption during his 33 years in power, a UN report has said.

A panel of experts reported on Wednesday to the UN Security Council that Saleh's assets were stashed in at least 20 countries, and the team is investigating the ex-leader's connections with businessmen helping him to hide the funds.

The 15-member council in November imposed sanctions, including an assets freeze, on Saleh, who was forced out of power in 2012 under a Gulf-sponsored deal.

The council also blacklisted Saleh for obstructing peace in Yemen, notably for backing the Shia Houthi rebels that have seized power in Sanaa.

The report said Saleh built up his personal wealth through corruption, by demanding kickbacks for oil and gas contracts, stealing public funds and other schemes. Full story...

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Queensland student Ai Takagi arrested in Singapore under sedition laws...

An Australian woman has been arrested in Singapore under "draconian" sedition laws, which carry a jail term of up to three years.

The 22-year-old, who several Singaporean media outlets named as Brisbane student Ai Takagi, was arrested along with a 26-year-old Singaporean-Chinese man, named as Robin Yang.

Their arrests appear to have stemmed from a letter from a reader published on Singaporean citizen journalism website The Real Singapore detailing alleged police brutality during Thaipusam, a symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by the country's Tamil community.

The article alleged the brutality occurred after a Filipino family asked police to enforce an existing ban on musical instruments because a nearby drummer was upsetting their child.

It provoked a long stream of comments in which several people voiced their anger at Filipinos and foreigners in general. Full story...

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All percussion kids music class plays Zeppelin's "Kashmir"


‘One of the biggest scandals of our age’: MI5 accused of covering up sexual abuse...

MI5 HAS BEEN accused of covering up sexual abuse at Kincora Boy’s Home in Belfast.

Alleged victims are taking legal action to force an independent inquiry into their claims, with the power to compel witnesses to testify.

Amnesty International branded the cover-up at Kincora “one of the biggest scandals of our age”, citing longstanding claims that MI5 “blocked one or more police investigations into Kincora in the 1970s in order to protect its own intelligence-gathering operation”.

The home was run in East Belfast by a member of a Protestant paramilitary organisation.

Allegations have persisted for decades that a paedophile ring at the home was allowed to operate in order for MI5 to blackmail politicians and establishment figures. Two former military intelligence officers have alleged that the security services blocked police investigations into the child abuse. Full story...

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Unhappy Meal: €1 billion in tax avoidance on the menu at McDonald's...

Today in Brussels, a coalition of European and American trade unions, joined by the anti-poverty campaign group War on Want, unveiled a report about McDonald’s deliberate avoidance of over €1 billion in corporate taxes in Europe over the five year period, 2009-2013.

The report outlines in detail the tax avoidance strategy adopted by McDonald’s and its tax impact both throughout Europe and in major markets like France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. The practice essentially consisted of moving the European headquarters from the UK to Switzerland as well as using intra-group royalty payments and channeling them into a tiny Luxembourg based subsidiary with a Swiss branch.

Between 2009 and 2013, the Luxembourg-based structure, which employs 13 people, registered a cumulative revenue of €3,7 billion, on which it reported a meager €16 million in tax.

 “It is shameful to see that a multibillion euro company, that pays low wages to its workforce, still seeks to avoid its responsibility to pay its fair share of much needed taxes to finance public services we all rely on. Rather than supersizing profits and minimising taxes, McDonald's should change its recipes to ensure that Corporate Citizenship is at the core of its menu,” said EPSU General Secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan.“We call on the European Commission and respective national tax authorities, as well as the European Parliament's newly formed Special Committee on Tax Ruling, to look closely into McDonald’s tax practices and take appropriate measures.” Full story...

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Jamaica passes act decriminalizing small amounts of pot, paves way for medical marijuana...

Jamaican lawmakers on Tuesday night passed an act to decriminalize small amounts of pot and establish a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry on the Caribbean island.

After several hours of debate, legislators in the lower House on Tuesday gave final passage to drug law amendments that make possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana a petty offense that would not result in a criminal record. Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises would be permitted in Jamaica, where the drug has long been culturally entrenched but illegal.

The law paves the way for a "cannabis licensing authority" to be set up to deal with regulations on cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes.

Rastafarians can also legally use marijuana now for religious purposes for the first time on the tropical island, where the spiritual movement was founded in the 1930s. And tourists who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad will soon be able to apply for permits at a cost authorizing them to legally buy small amounts of Jamaican weed, or "ganja" as it is known locally.

 Peter Bunting, the island's national security minister, said authorization of the law does not mean that Jamaican government plans to soften its stance on transnational drug trafficking or cultivation of illegal plots. Full story...

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Actress Emma Thompson and her husband refuse to pay 'a penny more' in taxes until HSBC tax evaders go to jail...

Greg Wise, the actor married to Oscar winner Emma Thompson, has said he and his wife will refuse to pay tax until those involved in the HSBC scandal go to prison.

Wise spoke of his disgust with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the bank after the Guardian and other news organisations published leaked details of 100,000 accounts held by HSBC’s Swiss arm which showed how the bank had helped clients to move cash out of the country.

“I want to stop paying tax, until everyone pays tax,” Wise told the Evening Standard. “I have actively loved paying tax, because I am a profound fucking socialist and I believe we are all in it together. But I am disgusted with HMRC. I am disgusted with HSBC. And I’m not paying a penny more until those evil bastards go to prison.”

Wise, who is rehearsing for Kill Me Now, his first play in 17 years, said Thompson was willing to go along with his act of civil disobedience. Full story...

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe...

A man who posted a video online of himself ripping up a Koran and beating the shredded holy book with a shoe is to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for renouncing his Muslim faith.

The unnamed prisoner, in his 20s, was given the death sentence by the country’s Sharia courts for the offence of apostasy – abandoning Islam – the Saudi Gazette reported.

Deviation from the nation’s enforced Sunni faith is harshly punished, according to Human Rights Watch.

Public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam is banned and anything deemed an insult to the faith can be treated as a crime.

The country’s interpretation of Wahhabism demands capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery and drugs smuggling. Full story...

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Ukraine lies are Iraq lies all over again...

This is Iraq all over again. I'm talking about the deception of the American people about a threat that may not even exist. Iraq had its "weapons of mass destruction." Ukraine has its alleged "invasion" by Russia and threat to the rest of Eastern Europe. I busted this myth in my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs. What I found in my research is that those trying to convince us of Putin's dastardly role are lying.

In all honesty I don't know whether or not Russia has played the role it's been accused of. But I did find that those who are trying to convince us of that rely upon fabrications. I've got evidence of that.

Blaming the media for all this is like blaming the messenger. With Iraq, sure, many news people played along like puppy dogs. And they're jumping through the same hoops now. It's true that there are a handful of media commentators and a few media outlets that have made Russia bashing their forte. But that's not what's been propelling this story. There needs to be more focus on exposing the brains (or lack of brains!) behind the false stories about Ukraine.

In the U.S., the fabricated storyline about Russia's role has been bipartisanly embraced. Jump back to the Council on Foreign Relations report of 2006. It was titled "Russia's Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do." The task force that produced it was chaired by John Edwards (D) and Jack Kemp (R). Again, bipartisan. Full story...

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Guinness World Record: The world's shortest cow

Are conspiracy theorists nuts?

Democracy and free market capitalism were founded on conspiracy theories.

The Magna Carta, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and other founding Western documents were based on conspiracy theories. Greek democracy and free market capitalism were also based on conspiracy theories.

But those were the bad old days …Things have now changed.

That all changed in the 1960s.

Specifically, in April 1967, the CIA wrote a dispatch which coined the term “conspiracy theories” … and recommended methods for discrediting such theories. The dispatch was marked “psych” – short for “psychological operations” or disinformation – and “CS” for the CIA’s “Clandestine Services” unit.

The dispatch was produced in responses to a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times in 1976. Full story...

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Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say...

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.

These findings reinforce drug-safety rankings developed 10 years ago under a slightly different methodology. So in that respect, the study is more of a reaffirmation of previous findings than anything else. But given the current national and international debates over the legal status of marijuana and the risks associated with its use, the study arrives at a good time. Source...

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Anwar Ibrahim's family seek Malaysia royal pardon...

The family of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim say they have sought a royal pardon over his conviction for sodomy.

Anwar was jailed for five years earlier this month in a case which he has always maintained was brought to keep him out of politics.

He has widely been seen as the only real threat to the ruling coalition.

His family said he was a political prisoner who had been "tyrannised" and that his health was at risk in prison.

"The court may have pronounced a guilty verdict but our father is innocent," Anwar's daughter, Nurul Nuha Anwar, said in a statement on behalf of the family. The statement said the conviction had been a miscarriage of justice.

"We placed our confidence in the constitutional process and believe that justice will prevail when all the facts are scrutinised without political intervention." Full story...

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Google bans explicit photos from public Blogger sites...

Users of the Google blogging platform Blogger, have been warned that they must remove explicit photos from their pages.

The new rules, announced with just one month to go until the take effect, mean users of the blogging platform must remove all “sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video” by 23 March, or their blogs will be made private.

Private Blogger pages are only visible to page admins and those who have had the page shared with them.

Google assured users that the majority of bloggers will see no difference from the new rules, but the move has been criticised by some who suggest that Google should choose whether freedom of expression will be allowed on the site.

Previously, blogs with adult content were allowed by Blogger, but ” All blogs marked as ‘adult’ will be placed behind an ‘adult content’ warning interstitial.” Full story...

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India's Pachauri steps down as head of UN climate panel...

India's Rajendra Pachauri stepped down as chair of the U.N. panel of climate scientists on Tuesday after allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied.

Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 2002, pulled out of an IPCC meeting in Kenya this week after Indian police started an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Pachauri has denied the allegations, according to an Indian court order. Pachauri, who has been chair of the IPCC since 2002 and whose term had been due to end in October 2015, has also suffered cardiac problems.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Pachauri said that his inability to travel to Kenya showed he may be unable to ensure the "strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair" needed by the panel.

"I have, therefore, taken the decision to step down from my position as chair of the IPCC some months before completion of my term," he wrote.

He collected the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC in 2007. Findings by the IPCC about global warming are the basis for action by almost 200 governments which have agreed to work out a deal in December 2015 to combat climate change. Source...

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Outrage in India as NGO leader accuses Mother Teresa of only helping the poor 'to convert them to Christianity'

The leader of a right-wing volunteering organisation in India has accused Mother Teresa of only seeking to help poor people in order to “convert those she served to Christianity”.

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) NGO, have sparked controversy in India just one week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a call for greater harmony and “complete freedom of faith” across the country.

Filmed while inaugurating an orphanage and women’s home in Bharatpur during a tour of the north-western state of Rajasthan, Bhagwat was quoted by a number of media outlets including the Press Trust of India as saying that the facility would “not provide a service like that rendered by Mother Teresa”.

“Mother Teresa's service might have been good,” he said. “But there was a motive behind it – to convert the person being served to Christianity. Full story...

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fluoride in drinking water may trigger depression and weight gain, warn scientists...

Fluoride could be causing depression and weight gain and councils should stop adding it to drinking water to prevent tooth decay, scientists have warned.

A study of 98 per cent of GP practices in England found that high rates of underactive thyroid were 30 per cent more likely in areas of the greatest fluoridation.

It could mean that up to 15,000 people are suffering needlessly from thyroid problems which can cause depression, weight gain, fatigue and aching muscles.

Last year Public Health England released a report saying fluoride was a ‘safe and effective’ way of improving dental health.

But new research from the University of Kent suggests that there is a spike in the number of cases of underactive thyroid in high fluoride areas such as the West Midlands and the North East of England. Full story...

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Malaysia media circus over Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case...

As many expected, a Kuala Lumpur-based “telephone press conference” didn’t come off with convicted murderer Sirul Azhar Umar, who is sitting in an Australian detention center and has hinted to the independent news portal Malaysiakini at the identities of higher-ups who allegedly said they would pay him to kill the Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006.

In what is rapidly becoming a media circus, officials of the fundamentalist opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia [PAS] made 15 calls, as a horde of reporters looked on, to Sirl’s phone in the Villawood high-detention facility but got only his voicemail. A second attempt later got through to the former elite police commando, who was convicted last December in Federal Court along with another police official, Azilah Hadri, of the murder of the 28-year-old expectant mother and translator but he refused to talk. Sirul fled to Australia last year after he and Azilah were temporarily freed by an appellate court on the murder charge. Azilah, however, stayed in Malaysia and is now in custody.

The story of the death of Altantuya has evolved into arguably one of the biggest scandals in Malaysian history, involving not only murder and adultery but massive bribery in the purchase of weapons by the Defense Ministry when Najib Tun Razak was deputy prime minister and defense minister. Seven years of trials in the high court, appellate court and Federal Court have all appeared designed to hide the motive and identity of whoever had hired the two to kill the woman.

Now it has evolved again, with PAS, which is bidding for primacy in the three-party opposition coalition with the vacuum left by the January jailing for sodomy of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, seeking to seize the reins in the case, first via the attempt to engineer the teleconference with a horde of reporters present. Full story...

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Australia kept mum on Sri Lanka rights abuses in exchange for asylum deal - report...

Australia agreed to turn a blind eye to Sri Lanka's alleged human rights abuses to secure cooperation with Colombo on stopping asylum-seeker boats heading to Australia, Sri Lanka's new prime minister said in an interview.

Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's close relationship with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was voted out of power last month, was "a mystery" to Sri Lankans.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper, published on Monday, the leader of Sri Lanka’s centre-right United National Party said that "people connected to the previous government" had taken part in people-smuggling operations.

"It was being done by people with Rajapakse connections, but once this deal was done between Australia and the Rajapakse government, where you looked the other way (on human rights abuses), then the secretary of defense got the Navy to patrol," he told the newspaper at the prime minister’s official Temple Trees residence in Colombo.

"You could not have got anyone out of this country without someone in the security system looking the other way, the police or the Navy." Full story...

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