Blown for Good author discusses life inside international headquarters of Scientology

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wikinews interviewed author Marc Headley about his new book Blown for Good, and asked him about life inside the international headquarters of Scientology known as “Gold Base“, located in Gilman Hot Springs near Hemet, California. Headley joined the organization at age seven when his mother became a member, and worked at Scientology’s international management headquarters for several years before leaving in 2005.

Buddhist relic collection tours North America and world

Saturday, November 25, 2006

With the hopes of funding the creation of a statue in northern India that would end up dwarfing the Statue of Liberty, an unprecedented collection of Buddhist artifacts continue crisscrossing American, Europe, and Asia in three different, but related collections.

The Maitreya Project, the brainchild of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, seeks to build a monument and development dedicated to Buddhism at Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh in northern India. The centerpiece of this massive development will be a 152m (500 ft) bronze statue of the Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of the future.

Buddhist belief says that there have been Buddhas in the distant past and there will be Buddhas in the distant future. The historical Buddha, the one who was born in India about 2500 years ago, is known as Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhist belief says that sometime in the distant future the teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha brought to Earth will fade away. At that point the Maitreya Buddha will be born and gain enlightenment in order to refresh and renew Buddhist teachings.

Along with the statue, the development is also planned to include temples, exhibition halls, parks, a museum, library, and a theater as well as a hospital and educational center.

In order to move forward with this project the Maitreya Project has created collections of artifacts that are touring the world. Once the statue is built these artifacts will be housed in it for viewing.

Buddhist artifacts are usually associated with the body of the person involved. While they can be such things as bone and teeth, usually they are pearl-like objects that are found and collected after the enlightened person is creamated. These pearl-like objects are called ringsel.

There are three collections of artifacts currently touring American, Europe, and East Asia. They include relics from the immediate past Buddha, called Kasyapa, the historical Buddha, five of his original disciples, several Tibetan and Zen masters, and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

Wikinews reporter Richard Kinne spent three days with the relics when the North American tour came to Ithaca, NY a few weeks ago. The relics travel with two caretakers, one of whom is always in close proximity to the relics. Setup for the relics display can take about four hours depending on the venue. Taking it down takes a bit under two hours.

Each morning of the tour the relics are taken out of their padded case and placed in clear plexiglass display cases. The relics are displayed individually in small containers called stupas. Some containers appear very full, while others contian just one very small object. Each evening the process is reversed and the padded case stays with the relic caretakers.

Between the morning and the evening people from all walks of life come to see the relics – believers, people who are curious, academics, Buddhist monks and nuns, both older folks and small children. While the Heart Relic Tour just does deals with displaying the relics, the sponsoring venue can add to the display in various ways such as lectures, meditation classes and demonstrations, or various other rituals.

The tour in North America reaches Jacksonville, FL during the first weekend of December. From there it will go to Miami between the 9th to the 11th, and then to Phoenix, AZ between the 15th to the 17th. In Asia the tour spends time in Malaysia in the first part of December.

Labour politician Tony Benn dies aged 88

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn, British Labour Party politician and left-wing campaigner, died this morning at his home in west London at age 88. Benn’s health had been declining since a stroke left him hospitalized in 2012.

Benn’s father and both grandfathers were MPs (Members of Parliament) in the Liberal party; his father defected to Labour and became a Cabinet Minister. Benn grew up in London and was a pupil at Westminster School before studying politics, philosophy and economics at New College, Oxford. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force for two years, then went back to Oxford to finish his studies. He worked as a BBC radio producer.

Tony Benn became an MP in November of 1950 and was a member of the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. In 1981, Benn ran for deputy leadership of the Labour Party but lost. He also had a role in shaping the 1983 Labour manifesto. He went on to become a diarist and speaker, as well as joining in the anti-war movement and speaking out strongly against the Iraq war. The Sun newspaper once referred to him as “the most dangerous man in Britain” because of his strong left-wing political views.

Benn’s son Hilary also joined Labour and is an MP for Leeds Central. He distanced himself from his father’s views by saying he was “a Benn, not a Bennite”.

Benn’s children released a statement following his passing: “We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the NHS [National Health Service] staff and carers who have looked after him with such kindness in hospital and at home. We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives. But we are comforted by the memory of his long, full and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Benn was an “iconic figure of our age”, “a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician”. David Cameron said on Twitter: “Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.”

Research focuses on orchids mimicking female wasps

Friday, August 24, 2007

Anne Gaskett, a PhD student from Macquarie University in Sydney, has been conducting new research into the nature of the relationship between five species of native Australian tongue orchids and the orchid dupe wasp (Lissopimpla excelsa).

The research builds on an original discovery in the 1920s that the orchids convince male wasps that the flowers are actually females of the same species. The wasps then attempt to mate with the flowers, before moving on, often to another orchid, thus pollinating them. The discovery received worldwide attention at the time.

“I wanted to know what it was about the five orchids that could persuade the male that they were all a female [wasp],” she says, adding that the flowers all look very different to the human eye, and that usually only one species of insect pollinates one species of plant.

“I have accumulated the first compelling evidence of an ongoing and escalating arms race between orchids and their unwitting insect pollinators,” Gaskett, says, “Over generations the insects learn to avoid having sex with orchids, and this means only the most persuasive orchids reproduce, which drives the acceleration of orchid subterfuge.”

Gaskett has discovered that the wasp, however, quickly learns to avoid the orchid, meaning that “…only the most persuasive orchids will continue to reproduce,” she says. She has also discovered that the flowers have various structures that feel like parts of a female wasp to a male, including mimic ‘love handles’, which the male would normally hold on to during mating. Gaskett says of this particular discovery that the flowers have “curves in all the right places”.

Gasket has also used a spectrometer to analyse the colours of four of the orchids and a female wasp, and found that, although they look very different to humans, they actually match almost exactly.

Gasket’s research is important to the conservation of the orchids, and to developing sensitive control methods for use against agricultural pests. She says of the wasps “these insects might be fools for love, but their role as orchid pollinators makes them indispensable.”

Gasket has currently turned her attentions to the role of scent in the process, and is testing the effect of the perfumes of the orchids on the antennae of the male wasps.

ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.
It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.
First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
((WN)) As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

((WN)) As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
((WN)) Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
((WN)) Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
((WN)) And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

((WN)) How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?
  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
((WN)) What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
((WN)) Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
((WN)) In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
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((WN)) The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
((WN)) How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
((WN)) Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
((WN)) Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
((WN)) Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
((WN)) Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.

‘Bright’ idea lights its way to win NASA contest

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NASA Tech Briefs INSIDER newsletter 02/05/08 reports that the winner of the $20,000 first prize in the agency’s “Create the Future” contest is an invention called “Litroenergy”, the luminous output of micro particle “Litrospheres.” Their self-luminance reportedly endures for over 12 years. The spheres are inexpensive, making them useful in many ways. The emitted light is said to be equivalent to a 40 watt bulb, sufficient for reading.

The invention is reported to safely encapsulate a small quantity of electron-emitting tritium with light emitting phosphors inside a robust microscopic sphere. Mixed into paints, plastic films or adhesive tape the spheres can be applied to surfaces for under a dollar per square foot. The maker suggests they will find first use in safety applications such as exit signage and aircraft corridor marking.

Sulpicio Lines asks court to stop BMI investigation into ‘Princess of the Stars’ disaster

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Philippine shipping company Sulpicio Lines has asked a court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) from proceeding with its investigation into the loss of MV Princess of the Stars. The passenger ferry capsised and sank off Sibuyan island on June 21 during Typhoon Fengshen (known locally as Typhhon Frank) with hundreds of casualties.

Sulpicio told the Manila Regional Trial Court that both Republic Act 9295 and the Domestic Shipping Development Act of 2004 removed the BMI’s power to investigate maritime incidents and that the investigation the board launched on June 25 is “irregular, illegal, and null and void”. They say only the Maritime Industry Authority is allowed to investigate accidents at sea.

Sulpicio also described the investigation as an ‘inquisition’ that was biased against Sulpicio from the start. They say “prejudgment” has increased the “pervasive negative publicity” surrounding the line, since negative accusations are most often published in newspapers. The company says one comment the board made was “Your vessel is not stable!” “You have no business being a safety officer!”

As a result Sulpicio is seeking ?650,000 from the BMI. This is split down as ?500,000 in moral damages, ?100,000 lawyer’s fees and ?50,000 further costs.

The House Committee on Transportation also launched its own inquiry into the disaster today. The case for the TRO will be heard tomorrow.

Wikinews interviews Frank McEnulty, New American Independent Party nominee for President of the United States

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

So far, the news on the U.S. presidential election has been dominated by Republican Party and Democratic Party nominees John McCain and Barack Obama. However, recently, some “third party” candidates have begun to gain notoriety, namely Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr and independent Ralph Nader.

Unbeknownst to many, there are several other minor party candidates in the race. One of them is New American Independent Party nominee Frank McEnulty. McEnulty has been interviewed several times by Wikinews over the past few months, but in one held earlier this week with reporter Joseph Ford, he went into detail on why he’d be a good president, why its necessary to support a third party candidate this year, and most importantly, why you should give him your vote.

The interview can be read below.

Che Guevara’s ”Motorcycle Diaries” companion dies

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Alberto Granado Jiménez, the Argentinian biochemist who was Che Guevara’s companion on his transformative motorcycle trip through South America, died in Havana on Saturday, reported Cuban state television. He was 88 and died of natural causes.

The politically active Jiménez met Ernesto “Che” Guevara, then a medical student, in Hernando, Argentina where Guevara had gone to play rugby. Both were intellectually curious and interested in exploration. In 1951 they set out on an eight-month motorcycle trip through South American that exposed them to the poverty in which most South Americans lived. The pair worked in a leprosy colony and met wtih destitute miners and indigenous people. Both men kept diaries which served as the basis for the 2004 film, The Motorcycle Diaries, produced by Robert Redford and directed by Walter Salles.

According to the Guardian, “Their road trip awoke in Guevara a social consciousness and political convictions that would turn him into one of the iconic revolutionaries of the 20th century.” The trip is widely believed to have inspired Guevara to go to Cuba and join Fidel Castro in his 1959 revolt against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

By the time the two men met again eight years later, Guevara was a revolutionary hero and chief of Cuba’s central bank. Jiménez, who had remained in Argentina working in a clinic, accepted Guevara’s invitation to move to Cuba in 1961 and founded a medical facility in Santiago. Later he moved to Havana where he continued his medical work. The two remained friends although they did not always agree. Jiménez rejected Guevara’s belief that social reform in Latin America had to be accomplished through guerrilla warfare.

The book The Motorcycle Diaries was published in the 1990’s. Jiménez said of the book that it inspired the image of the young Che as a romantic figure.

Jiménez authored the book Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary, published in 2003.

Taliban resurgent in Pakistan on enforcement of Sharia law

Friday, May 4, 2007

“Pakistan was un-affected by Talibans and al-Qaeda (in my opinion) until the US flushed them out of Afghanistan. So 9/11 and WTC and the post WTC attacks by the ISAF (read American, for the locals) forces have led to the present condition in NWFP. At least that is the way the people there see it,” wrote Riaz A Hakeem in one of a series of email exchanges with Wikinews.

Mr. Hakeem, 58, left the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) at the age of 25 and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. Now a businessman who is active in Texas politics, he shares some views as a person who is in touch with his family and friends who remain in the region. He travelled throughout portions of Pakistan at the end of last year.

What is the current situation in the NWFP?

The Pashtun people are or were renowned for their hospitality. Many westerners commented on it. Some with suspicion NOT willing to believe some people so poor could be so generous. It was almost a character flaw. One could travel without fear of personal danger as long as you followed local protocols.

That was the sort of mind set among the people. An ageless paradigm of self satisfaction: this is enshrined in the code of the Pashtuns way of life.

The Islamic radicalism is in reality nothing but the Taliban movement. Not all Pashtuns are Taliban (obviously), but most Taliban are Pashtun. Of these, most belong to the FATA. Of these, most were affected by their cousins from Afghanistan coming over. Mingled with them were Arab-Afghans, Uzbeks and some Tajiks and even Chechens. Some of these married within the tribes and formed a bond with the locals. Marriage bonds go back in history.

This Talibanization shows itself in the content of the Friday sermons at the mosque. Now it shows in the popularity of growing beards, especially since the MMA – the coalition of religious political party’s – won power. More recently in their showdown with the Pakistan army in North and South Waziristan – where according to my sources, people prefer going to the Taliban for justice rather than the older system of Maliks and Political Agents. The latter are known as corrupt. In Pakistan, in general, people are sick of the amount of corruption.

Bannu, from where hails the Chief Minister of the NWFP, Mr. Durrani, is now in Taliban control in the sense that there is a parallel government that they have established which is functioning quite well and is popular among the people.

Has Taliban influence caused a stricter intrepretation of Sharia law in the NWFP?

Yes. The Maliks, or tribal elders, consider themselves quite conservatively religious. Even so, they had a laid back attitude towards enforcement of religious doctrine.

The Taliban emulated the Saudi system of having a department concerned with citizens’ morals (even the name is the same: the department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) and this department has, as in Saudi Arabia, an enforcement police, called mutawwa’in, a morals law-enforcement agency.

Is there a shift from tribal elders to clerics, as the main interpreters of law?

There has been a movement in that direction, but it has started a power struggle between the clerics who traditionally have been at the lowest strata of the social structure. Now when they have seen a bigger role for themselves, first from the Taliban in Afghanistan – but also the government of the MMA in the NWFP, who are nothing more than glorified clerics themselves, only a little smarter in exploiting religion politically.

The MMA is largely non-Pashtun, which is a source of discontent in that they stand in the way of Pashtun nationalism, such as it is, because it only rears its head when non-Pashtuns start to usurp power over what the Pashtun consider their turf.

The deal made between Pakistan’s central government and the North and South Waziristan provinces, where tribal leadership was given the pivotal role in dealing with militants, has been criticized as a failure. What caused this initiative to fail?

First off, I don’t agree with the premise of the question, that the “deal” is a “failure” – for the following reasons:

  1. In the first place the Pakistan army (govt – same difference) did not have many options. This was the least worst option they had.
  2. And most importantly, I have said this before, this area is literally in a time warp – which means they proceed at (what seems to us in the west) a glacial pace. I will give an example from the folklore:

    The story goes that a Pashtun had to repay (badal) an enemy for a crime against his family and he waited patiently for 20 years (some say 50 years), after this time, he exacted his revenge – but soon after was depressed because he wondered “Did I act too hastily?”

    So one part of Pashtunwali is to “pay back” – (Badal: literally to exchange) which most people translate as revenge. Yes that is the form that is most visible, but badal is also played out in the exchange of gifts at wedding and other celebrations, and in the exchange of favors like in politics. The rules can be arcane, unwritten and hard to follow — who did what to whom, when, and so on, and what is the proper recompense — this same give and take would occur in a peace process pursued by the Tribal Maliks, who rule by consensus. There is no actual leader in the western sense, because all the Maliks, in fact all the others are de facto, so many co-equals is a mind set, a paradigm foreign to the uninitiated, as the concept of consensual gay sex is to the Wazir in Waziristan.

  3. The agreement has not failed, because it has not been given enough time, in Wazir time reference, not American time presidential election cycle controlled. I do not have a crystal ball, but if I did, I would see NATO troops in Afghanistan long after Iraq is over. Afghanistan can be a success ONLY if we accept one thing, the time warp these people live in — by my reckoning its still 1700 CE over there.

Is the Talibanization of Pakistan partly due to a perception of corruption among the system of Maliks and Political Agents?

The corruption is in the ISI, the Pak army and the Pak system of Political Agents (PA) assigned to these tribal zones (FATA & PATA).

These PA have budgets that are much like the CIA in that they are a single line item in the national budget, there is no accountability of where or how the PA spends the money. If one followed the IRS rules and looked at the lifestyles of the PA and compared them with their income, you would soon understand what was going on.

Musharraf critics are a larger issue. Republicans have coddled Pakistan with the belief that “as long as they are pro America” then democracy in Pakistan will come in due course. Democrats have, I think, insisted Democracy first, and then we can discuss the other issues later.

The Talibanization of Pakistan has more to do with graduates of “Raiwind“, a place near Lahore, where the “Tablighi Jamaat” conducts brainwashing camps. It was graduates of this place, in my opinion, that are responsible for Britain’s 7/7 attacks as an example.

Corruption amongst the Maliks is self limiting because of the egalitarian society they live in and because of Pashtunwali.

What is your view on Musharraf suspending judge Iftikhar Chaudhry?

I believe, and this is widely held belief, that Musharraf has no constituency of his own for his power base. He wanted legitimization from the Supreme Court, and Mr Choudhry as Chief Justice (their system is not like ours) would not give it.

So Musharraf has had to hang on to his Army Chief of Staff position to get his power from the Army. If some one else were Chief of Staff, that person could refuse to support Musharraf.

The Justice favorable to the general is Justice Iqbal, who was not the next in line for Chief Justice. The next in line is a Hindu. That presented problems of its own for Musharraf. So when the Hindu judge went for a trip to India, Iqbal became the “available” senior most Supreme Court judge, and hence the haste and lack of decorum with which Justice Chaudhry was removed.

What is the prevailing sentiment regarding Pakistani government efforts in the provinces and the international effort in Afghanistan to combat Taliban and affiliated militants?

In my dealings and inquires, one thing stood out like a sore thumb – the conspiracy theories vis-à-vis anything having to do with America. I mentioned to one of my close friends that events that were previously ascribed as acts of God were now considered acts of the CIA. Some even believed that the Earthquake in the northern areas was because of some sort of underground secret “bomb” used by the CIA. Lack of evidence is further proof that the CIA did it. I was flabbergasted, and started to give this kind of thinking as an example in speaking to “educated” Pakistani’s – and among these, those that did agree that the earthquake was NOT the work of the CIA, they would start giving other examples, notably the Blow up of the plane carrying Zia ul Haq an ex President of Pakistan, in which the US Ambassador also perished. When I would point this out, the response would be that that is the sort of thing they do to take away suspicion from themselves.

In a nutshell, the impression I came away with is, there is NO war of civilizations going on. What is going on is a war between literacy and illiteracy.

Taliban are not visible in the areas I visited, but the militants handiwork clearly is – as elsewhere, the common criminals are taking advantage of this situation, and crime is up significantly. One new crime is Cell phone “snatching” – it’s easy and nobody wants to pursue it. If some one is using a Razr phone, he can expect to be hit soon if he uses it in public. So people have two cell phones, one fancy to show off, and one for use in public places.

Insofar as “foreign” militants are captured and identified, that is to say non-Pashtun (including non Afghan Pashtun or Pak Pashtun) – then the people are obviously in agreement with the government that these people don’t belong here and need to go.

The problem is this: the foreigners are usually in the FATA and have been there since the Soviet war times. Many of them have taken local wives and now have a family. The local have accepted them into their family. Now for the Pak govt to ask them to kick them out, the locals are thinking what am I doing to my grandchildren’s father, etc. Again the edicts of Pashtunwali also play a role.

What is the relationship, if any, between the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

Al Qaeda is mostly composed of Arabs, they do not trust any one else. While they might use others as couriers or in lowly position as servants, for second rate Al Qaeda officials, the Top guys ONLY deal with Arabs and are served by Arabs.

The Taliban are mostly Pashtun tribesmen. Mostly they are graduates of madrassa’s. Mostly illiterate by any world standards. The better educated among them will know how to speak a few words of English, such as their Information minister. There might be one or two notable exceptions of which I am not aware.

However, while Al Qaeda does not trust the Taliban, the Taliban look up to Al Qaeda top leadership. We saw this situation in Iraq where initially Al Zarqawi had no direct link with Qaeda but was keen to form one. It would be conjecture on my part to state that in the end he did indeed succeed in forming that connection. In the press at least that impression was prevalent.

So the lines of interest proceed ONE way, like one way traffic. Extremist want to be affiliated with Qaeda, in my opinion, while the latter does not, so as to maintain its hideout.

The Qaeda supply lines are hampered, new recruits would have to be Arabs, and they would have to travel a long way through tight Pakistani security to reach here, or suffer hardship over a long and arduous land route through Balochistan and the Tribal area’s – NOT all of which are accommodating.

So as is becoming clear, Qaeda is having trouble replacing people they loose meaning those that were captured or died. They only trust Arabs, and that also a certain type of Arabs, (not all Arabs are the same, not all Arabic is the same – for example they would never trust a Syrian, in fact Qaeda folks consider Syrian brand of Islam an apostasy – but that is another story).

Whatever remains of the Qaeda, are not in a position to set up training camps, since they are in a survival mode. The Taliban resurgence helps them get a little warm and fuzzy in this survival mode, since they feel a little bit more secure with their partners-in-arms doing some evil stuff, blowing up people and causing mayhem.

What makes the North-West Frontier Province competent to administer money sent as foreign aid?

This is the central question. Much like California has taken a separate initiative on stem cell research – as an analogy – the NWFP is central to the war on terror, not Pakistan.

The NWFP was central to the fight and aid to the Afghans during the Soviet occupation, not Pakistan.

This small distinction is lost on Washington, and it is the main reason, in my opinion, why so much of the Aid was “lost in transit” was because the Punjabi army officers could not bring themselves to dispense such large sums to an ethnic group which it considers anti-Pakistani.

All the FATA is contiguous to the NWFP. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are holed up somewhere either in the FATA, or across the Durand Line in Afghanistan; the Durand Line has never been recognized by the locals as an international boundary. Even today, the Pashtun travel from Peshawar to Kabul by road with out a passport or visa, and it has been like that for eons.

The present governor of the NWFP belongs to the Orakzai tribe (he spells his name Aorakzai) and it is my opinion that that he was picked partly because he belongs to one of the FATA as well as he is a retired General of the Pak Army.

The Frontier Constabulary (FC) is a force which primarily recruits from the FATA. All or most of its forces are from the various tribes. In the eyes of the tribes this is a bona fide force and service with the FC is considered an honorable thing. The US has already allocated some funds for increasing recruitment, but far less than what it would take to counter the Taliban and far less than what the economic need is. The US spends a thousand times more on a battalions sent to monitor activity over there. Plus why endanger the lives of our troops and spread our forces thin when a more effective job can be done by the FC. The FC has over history shown that they will attack and use force against the tribes that create trouble. There have been no instances of insubordination or mutiny.

Even the US Embassy is protected by a contingent of the FC! That goes to show their trustworthiness and discipline.

The “tribal” Pashtuns in the FATA are not educated or trained and hence not employable right now. I propose that we fund directly the Director of Emigrants, Mr. Azhar Arbab in Islamabad, to set up training facilities in Concrete laying, iron work, pipe work, welding etc, which would then qualify these tribesmen to obtain jobs in the Gulf. As such we would remove them from the scene altogether. They would not be available in the labor pool to the Taliban or anyone else. I might add here, that a number of these individuals have very high innate intelligence, which is one reason they make formidable foes.

Now the central reason why the NWFP ought to do this is because they are themselves most affected by the scourge of Talibanization. They are highly motivated in carrying out these policies because it is to their own benefit.

How many men does the FC field currently?

The FC currently has about 23,000 men in total.

How much do they get paid?

They are paid the equivalent of $60 per month per person -Pak Rupees 3665, where Rs61= $1. They do have some fringe benefits but life is very spartan for these soldiers.

What the US could get in return is a huge bang for a buck, no pun intended.

I think we ought to double the number of these soldiers with one proviso that the FC maintains its high standards of recruits.

Compare this with our costs in the War against Terror; just Halliburton’s bills will have you reeling. I think that it would be foolish, NOT to do this.

The Frontier Constabulary is an Institution with a long and glorious history within the Frontier Province.

The recruits come strictly from the tribes of the various FATA and so they are very familiar with the people, the bad guys the terrain.

They speak the Pashto dialect of the locals. The Pashto language has many dialects, and you can tell where someone is from based on which dialect he speaks. So if you do not speak the correct dialect, you are immediately identified as an outsider. This is one reason why these tribes are impossible to penetrate, there are other reasons as well, that are beyond the scope of the current discussion.

How can the FC help prevent attacks like the suicide bombing attempt on Sherpao in Charsadda last weekend?

In essence your question is how can anyone prevent a suicide attack? And frankly if I knew the answer to that I think the US military – and several other groups – would be knocking on my door. I think the Israeli Army has had the most experience with this sort of thing. The suicide bombing as a tactical weapon was invented by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and even today in terms of statistics they use it in far greater numbers.

So to summarize neither the FC nor anyone else can prevent a suicide bombing. We could attempt to improve our intelligence to find out about an imminent attack, but so far these have not been very successful in Pakistan.

In the Lal Masjid Case the government avoided a suicide killing by negotiating with those two Mullah brothers – but I don’t know if that counts. But it does make for an interesting story. Both Washington, DC and Islamabad now have Madams threatening to publish the list of their clients unless they are given protection. Who would have thunk?

Going back to your question: In my opinion what ought to be done is to make a Policy change, and address the issues that are producing these suicide bombers, that is the only way to stop this phenomenon.

In this part of the world this is relatively new because prior to 9/11, suicide bombing was unheard of. Moreover it is not the FC’s job to provide security to the Minister of the Interior, that is the job of the Police force, because this Ministry is equivalent to the Department of Homeland Security.

You don’t expect Border patrol to provide body guard duty to the Secretary of the department of Homeland Security.

I am making these analogies so the American readers would relate to what is happening, and understand the difference in nomenclature. –RHakeem 20:13, 3 May 2007 (UTC)

This interview consists of excerpts taken from the full content and context of Mr. Hakeem’s replies. The complete and uneditted version is found on the Interview archive page.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.