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Archive for April 2012

Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan home being sold brick by brick

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Osama bin Laden’s last home is being sold off brick-by-brick after his secret Pakistani hideaway was demolished.

Two baths and a homemade TV aerial have also been put on sale by the enterprising contractor who bulldozed the three-storey home in February.

While Pakistan’s political and military leaders are keen to obliterate any memory of how the world’s most wanted man evaded capture for so long, Shakeel Ahmed said his salvage yard in Abbottabad had become a tourist attraction for visitors looking for a souvenir.

“These bricks can be used by people to build new houses,” he said, pointing to a heap of some of the 180,000 bricks he collected from the site. “Some come here looking for just one as so they can have them as a gift…”

In recent months the country has tried to obliterate his memory. Bin Laden’s three widows, along with their children and grandchildren were flown to Saudi Arabia last week and the house itself is now nothing but a pile of bricks in Mr Ahmed’s yard.

As one of the best-known contractors in the town, he was hired to flatten the compound.

The rubble was put up for auction but with other builders too frightened to bid, he said, he scooped the lot for 500,000 rupees or about £3300.

Now the bricks are on sale for anyone who wants to negotiate a deal for 1000 or more – at little more than £20 a lot.

He also snapped up two olive trees, cooking oil and window blinds but fears that his role in disposing of bin Laden’s house could attract the attention of Islamist militants…

The flattened site has become turned into a makeshift cricket pitch for dozens of children who live nearby as the town tries to forget its recent notoriety.

Which all goes to reinforce the questions still asked about the political sense of maintaining Pakistan as our sham ally.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm

The granny cloud helps children in India, Colombia and more

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Jackie Barrow isn’t a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.

She did and today, three years on, she is reading “Not Now Bernard” via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.

They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday.

The Granny Cloud project is the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra, best-known for his hole-in-the-wall computer scheme which put basic PCs into some of the poorest parts of India.

Prof Mitra installed the first such computer on the wall of his south Delhi office, opposite a slum. He was amazed to see that the children, initially curious about the machine, soon became self-taught experts…

Prof Mitra noticed they did best when an adult was present offering advice and encouragement over their shoulders. There was, he reasoned, no-one so encouraging as a granny and so the idea was born.

The official name of the project is Sole (self organised learning environments) but it is more commonly known as the granny cloud.

The grannies, or e-mediators as they are officially known, are not teachers and the sessions they conduct with the children in India are not lessons.

Instead they read stories to the children and talk about things relevant to them and to the UK. The point, said Prof Mitra, was that they provided encouragement and praise and became a “virtual granny” to the children…

There were now around 300 “grannies” involved in the scheme and it was growing all the time, Prof Mitra told the BBC…

The scheme has now been extended to four schools in Columbia, South America where, said Prof Mitra, it was doing very well.

It is also being used in schools much closer to home.

RTFA. It’s long and has interesting anecdotes, failures as well as success.

The project benefits senior citizens taking part as thoroughly as it does the children – just differently. I find it interesting, useful, a bit of useful addition to lives regardless of borders. Which is proper in what this cloud-based world is becoming.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Does this girl look like a terrorist to anyone but TSA?

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Four months after the Transportation Security Administration launched a program to help airline passengers with disabilities, a New York family found out just how little “TSA Cares.”

Traveling from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Florida, the Frank family was yanked out of line as it boarded the plane in a dispute over how 7-year-old Dina had been screened. The little girl, who has cerebral palsy, walks with crutches and leg braces…

With her crutches and orthotics, Dina cannot walk through metal detectors and instead is patted down by security agents. The girl, who is also developmentally disabled, is often frightened by the procedure, her father said.

Marcy Frank usually asks the agents to introduce themselves to her daughter, but those on duty on Monday were exceptionally aggressive, Joshua Frank said, and he began to videotape them with his iPhone.

“And the woman started screaming at me and cursing me and threatening me,” he said.

Eventually, a supervisor decided it was sufficient to inspect Dina’s crutches and allowed the family to leave for the gate.

They were there for an hour before the agents reappeared with a manager to tell them that proper protocol had not been followed, and that Dina had to be screened after all, the Franks said. After initially offering to pat her down at the gate, they insisted she return to the security area, Joshua Frank said…

With Dina now in her wheelchair, Frank raced her across the JetBlue terminal, but by then, the family had missed its plane. The Franks caught a subsequent flight.

The TSA did not respond to a request for comment.

Officious, incompetent petty bureaucrats. The breed that tarnishes every civil servant’s reputation.

Part of the problem is the level of education and experience required to be hired. Damned little.

Part of the problem is the dimwits hired to manage a program that is by definition a useless exercise in harassing ordinary citizens — just to reinforce the make believe security the Feds have been trying to build into air travel since 9/11.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

BMW sued over bike-induced erection – yes, in California!

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A fellow blogosphere editor in Oz emailed this. I imagine the US press will discover it, today.

A Californian motorcycle enthusiast has taken legal action after a bike seat gave him long lasting erections.

Straight from the “only in America” files comes this – a Californian man is suing BMW North America over a seat that gave him a severe case of priapism (a persistent, lasting erection) that has lasted for 20 months.

Henry Wolf claims his 1993 BMW motorcycle, or more specifically the bike’s “ridge-like” seat, gave him a “severe case of priapism” when he took it for a four-hour ride on May 1, 2010, according to the Courthouse News Service.

Wolf is suing BMW North America and the seat’s manufacturer, Corbin-Pacific, in a product liability lawsuit in the California Superior Court in San Francisco, claiming the “negligent design, manufacture and/or installation of the seat” has caused the painful condition.

Narrow, “banana” style seats similar to the one reportedly fitted to Wolf’s motorcycle have been associated with problems such as genital numbness and even erectile dysfunction, however Wolf’s case is the first known to tackle the opposite side of the problem.

The court notes state that Wolf “has been experiencing continuing problems since his motorcycle ride” including “substantial emotional and mental anguish” and the inability to engage in sexual activity…

The comments at the site in Oz are predictably wry – mostly with guys my age asking if they can buy the motorcycle or at least the seat.

Har!

Thanks, Honeyman

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

Feel extra safe with anti-aircraft missiles stationed on your roof?

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Training Video

Residents in east London are due to have missiles placed on their roofs this week to protect the Olympic Games from airborne terrorist attacks.

Military planners at the Ministry of Defence have decided to fit high-velocity rockets with a range of 5km to several apartment blocks close to the Olympic Park. This weekend they informed the occupants of the Lexington Building apartment complex in Bow that a missile battery would be installed this week.

The weapons are capable of shooting down aircraft and can counter “pop-up strikes” by helicopters, according to the MoD. During the Games, they will be controlled around the clock by 10 unarmed soldiers, who might be guarded by armed police…

Who gets to guard the police?

An MoD spokesman said fewer than 10 locations had been selected to host missile batteries in areas around the Olympic Park. Not all of them were on residential buildings and no final decisions on locations had been taken…

The decision to locate missiles above occupied homes sparked concern among the residents of the Lexington Building, part of the former Bryant & May match factory that was regenerated to create the Bow Quarter, containing more than 700 apartments…

The MoD said the weapons used were likely to be Star Streak high-velocity missiles, which travel at more than three times the speed of sound and use a system of three dart-like projectiles to allow multiple hits on a target.

It’s yet another lose-lose situation courtesy of Homeland Security paranoia. Political dweebs have build new careers founded on shitting your pants everytime terrorism is mentioned.

Even if there is a miniscule chance of any sort of attack tons of taxpayer money can be funneled into something like this rooftop Maginot Line. If nothing happens – which is likely – the justification is that it might have happened. If something does happen – frankly the least likely circumstance – the generals and elected hacks will respond by asking for even more funds. The world’s latest greatest money pit.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

The cost of Zero Tolerance — and no accomplishments

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There is no proof that the zero-tolerance policing adopted by New York and other cities in the 1990’s had anything to do with the decline in violent crime across the nation. Crime also dropped in jurisdictions that did not use the approach.

Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people’s lives. Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by error-ridden criminal records.

The human toll is evident in New York City, where last year 50,000 people — one every 10 minutes — were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The city downplays the significance, saying these cases are typically dismissed and the record sealed if the person stays out of trouble for a year. But getting tangled in the court system is harrowing. And the record-keeping can be unreliable and far more porous than the city suggests.

An analysis by the Legal Action Center, which assists 2,500 people with criminal records each year, has found that nearly half of its clients’ rap sheets have errors. Defense lawyers say that too often the courts and police fail to report to the state about dismissals and other outcomes favorable to defendants.

As for “sealed” records, background-screening companies working for private employers can harvest data at the time of an arrest and there is no guarantee that they will update to reflect dismissals — or expunge the information when records are sealed by the courts. While it is illegal to exclude people from jobs based solely on arrest or convictions, unless there is a compelling business reason for doing so, many employers quickly write off applicants who are flagged in these databases…

…The fact that 87 percent of those arrested are black or Hispanic suggests that the police are deliberately singling out minority citizens for arrests that push some of them permanently to the very margins of society.

An arrest, even without a conviction, can swiftly unleash disastrous personal consequences. Consider the 2011 case of a 26-year-old single mother from Brooklyn whose lawyers say she was arrested after the police forced her to reveal a small packet of marijuana hidden in her purse. The judge said the charges would be dismissed if she stayed out of trouble for a year. A week later, the woman had been fired from her job as a janitor with the New York City Housing Authority. She has not been rehired…

Employers and government agencies also have a responsibility here. They must not rush to their own judgment about minor offenders.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg needs to recognize that zero-tolerance policing is not the panacea his Police Department seems to think it is. The police need to spend more time tracking down serious crime and less on minor offenses. There is nothing minor about a record that can follow people for the rest of their lives.

What NYC coppers say they believe in – for the benefit of the media and budget considerations – rarely has anything to do with reality. Making noises like a tough cop, stacking up arrests regardless of cause or conviction looks great when standing before a council budget evaluation.

More of the same old corrupt practices fit tightly into the actions of people who are supposedly part of the fight against corruption.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2012 at 2:00 am

Kidnapped Red Cross doctor found beheaded in Pakistan

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Khalil Rasjed Dale
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The beheaded corpse of a British aid worker has been discovered in the Pakistani city of Quetta, almost four months after he was kidnapped.

The body of Khalil Rasjed Dale was left on a road outside the city, in southern Baluchistan province, with a note attached which said he had been killed because a ransom had not been paid to his captors.

Dale, who had been working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was kidnapped in January while driving near the organisation’s Quetta office. He was abducted by gunmen as he made his way home in a clearly-marked ICRC vehicle on 5 January. His assailants are said to have bundled him into a car about 200m from an ICRC residence.

At the time, police in Quetta said Dale was abducted by unknown assailants…following a visit to a local school. He was travelling with a Pakistani doctor and a driver, who were not seized.

Quetta police chief Ahsan Mahboob said the killers’ note read: “This is the body of Khalil who we have slaughtered for not paying a ransom amount.”

Dale had been a Muslim convert for more than 30 years…

We are devastated,” said ICRC director general Yves Daccord. “Khalil was a trusted and very experienced Red Cross staff member who significantly contributed to the humanitarian cause.

“All of us at the ICRC and at the British Red Cross share the grief and outrage of Khalil’s family and friends.”

One can only have the strongest contempt for lowlife thugs who commit crimes against humanity like this. They may pretend to have political motivation, they may pretend to be Pakistan’s answer to Robin Hood. They are nothing less than the scum of the earth and deserve to be treated as such.

Whether or not Pakistan’s papier mache police do anything – is another issue, another question.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Awkward Merit Badges

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Sheesh! I qualify for lots of these.

Thanks, Ursarodina

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Pic of the Day

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Workers harvest soybeans in a farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil
Reuters Pictures used by permission

From the slideshow “Expanse of the Earth” by Reuters photographers.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Texas Air Force Base aids children caught at border — nutballs pissed off!

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Not exactly the Ritz; but, better than mean streets

SAN ANTONIO — At lunchtime, teenage boys in red and blue T-shirts stood in line as they entered a hushed cafeteria for hamburgers and hot dogs. Just days earlier, many of them risked their lives crossing the border from Mexico into the United States, but now they were spending their time in spotless, orderly rooms, with police officers ensuring their safety, registered nurses monitoring their health and a host of board games, movies and outdoor activities keeping them entertained.

How these children were being cared for was not unusual. Where they were being held was — at an Air Force base here.

Thousands of immigrants under the age of 18 are arrested every year illegally crossing the border on their own, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.

They often flee their countries to join relatives in the United States or to escape abuse and neglect at home. A majority are male, 14 to 17 years old and come from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, with a smaller number from Mexico. They are usually detained in shelters while they wait for their cases to be resolved.

But this month, federal officials began housing 200 of these children at Lackland Air Force Base here, turning a vacant dormitory that was once the living quarters of basic training recruits into an emergency shelter for young illegal immigrants.

It is the first time that this subset of immigrants — a particularly vulnerable population, some of whom are as young as 8 or 10 and have been physically or sexually abused — has been housed on a military base.

The use of the Lackland building is only temporary — no more than 60 days, officials say — and in response to what federal authorities describe as an influx of these children. But the move has raised concerns among state officials, immigration advocates and some conservative opponents of current immigration policy

Officials with the Administration for Children and Families said the licensed shelters in the Southwest where these children would typically be sent are at capacity. They said 7,000 to 8,000 of these children are served annually, but this fiscal year, the number has already reached 6,300, from October through April. In October, 709 were added to the program. In March, new arrivals rose to 1,390…

“We’re seeing emergency shelters becoming more and more of a norm because they just don’t have a plan, either to stop this at the country of origin or to handle this once the children are here,” Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said of the federal government. “You’re seeing them having to scramble to mitigate the effects of having an unsecured border.”

I beef as much as anyone about undocumentados brought into regions as scabs to lower wages in one or another industry. Meatpacking and home construction being two significant examples where wages have been depressed 25-50%.

That ain’t what this article addresses, what essentials of humane treatment are involved here. Frankly, I’m as happy to see these kids housed at a military base as a private charity scrambling for every penny in the slums of some Texas town or other. As dumb and illegitimate are most uses of military forces – the attitude of most of our servicemen and women towards children in harm’s way is to reach out and offer aid and love. As they should.

When our government kicks in and helps that process – all’s well and good. Of course it upsets the nutballs on the Right.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

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