Pakistan crackdown sends refugees into Afghanistan


AP Photo by Ijaz Muhammad

Fighting arising from a military crackdown in one of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas has driven 20,000 refugees into Afghanistan across the tense border.

The exodus, from Bajaur, a district in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, into Kunar, a province in eastern Afghanistan, echoed earlier waves of war-driven migration across the border, but in the opposite direction.

The flow of refugees into Afghanistan has its origins, at least in part, in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Many refugees who fled Afghanistan for Pakistan in the 1980s have now returned home. But many of the militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are fighting the NATO force that seeks to pacify Afghanistan, operate from sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas.

Many border tribesmen have never reconciled themselves to the Durand Line, the 19th-century border by which the British divided the mainly Pashtun tribes of the area between India – later, Pakistan – and Afghanistan. These strong affiliations have survived largely undisturbed, at least until recent times, under the policy of successive Pakistani governments that have allowed the tribal areas to operate largely outside the ambit of Pakistani law.
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Sprint XOHM (Mobile WiMAX) up and running…

XOHM is supposed to usher in a new era of high-speed, Internet-connected everything. Based on the WiMAX 802.16e standard, which is heavily backed by Intel, XOHM should be compatible with WiMAX laptops, handheld devices, and even digital cameras and home security systems, somewhere down the road.

For now, Sprint is simply aiming at existing ISPs. The carrier is pushing XOHM as an alternative to cellular Internet for laptops, and as a possible substitute for cable or DSL broadband for home users. This technology has the potential to shake up the ISP market.

XOHM currently exists only in Baltimore, Maryland, though I also detected the network in Philadelphia. Sprint says that coverage in Chicago, Washington D.C., Providence, Boston, and Dallas is in the works, with more cities to follow…

I tested XOHM over a one-day period in six scattered locations across Baltimore: Downtown, Harborplace, Penn Station, Owings Mills, and two spots in Mount Washington…
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Microsoft will soon release ‘Windows Cloud’ OS. Oh, the anticipation!

Steve Ballmer has revealed a few details of a forthcoming operating system that will help developers write Internet-based applications.

Within a month, Microsoft will unveil what Ballmer called “Windows Cloud.” The OS, which will likely have a different name, is intended for developers writing cloud-computing applications, said Ballmer, speaking in London to an auditorium of IT managers at a Microsoft-sponsored conference.

Ballmer was short on details, saying more information would spoil the announcement. Windows Cloud is a separate project from Windows 7, the OS Microsoft is developing to succeed Windows Vista.

Ballmer was quick to point out that Microsoft doesn’t envision products such as the Office productivity suite to move entirely off desktop PCs and onto the Internet.

But Microsoft is working on a service that would let people do “light editing” of Office documents at places such as a public Internet kiosk, Ballmer said.

“That’s all I can say on that,” Ballmer said. “Otherwise, we have no drum-roll announcement in a month.”

Has it been Microsoft all along planting stories about cloud computing? Has all this been a successful PR stunt?

Are we witnessing yet another Microsoft-climbs-on-board-the-second-bus?

Scrap-metal thieves target veterans’ cemetaries

Happening, again – the theft of metal memorial markers from the graves of veterans. It’s nothing new, but veterans officials say it seems to be happening more frequently as metal prices rise and the economy falls. Markers made of bronze (copper and tin) and brass (copper and zinc) have been supplanted by aluminum ones, but aluminum is fetching more on the scrap metal circuit these days.

And the markers, which serve as flag holders, can’t always be replaced quickly, as the Lehigh County Veterans Affairs office discovered recently when it was asked to replace one for a veteran of the War of 1812…

Scrap metal can be turned into quick money, and targets range far beyond cemeteries. Bronze, for instance, is worth about $1 a pound on the scrap market, so the thieves who hauled away the 1,200-pound bronze angel from the Padre Pio National Center in Barto, Berks County, last week stand to get a tidy sum if they can move the piece…

But grave markers, which weigh a couple of pounds including the pole and base, are especially enticing because they are easily removed and cemeteries typically aren’t guarded. Family members and veterans who replace grave flags are usually the first to notice they are missing

Thieves don’t always stop at markers. Last year, in Fayette County and at several cemeteries in New York, heavy brass memorial plates were pried off gravestones and walls.

I think this is another occasion for my favorite solution: open season, small-bore, nothing necessarily lethal – for creeps like this. Helps to keep the old eye in sync.

Electronic voting works in Brazil. Why not in the U.S.?

Brazilians have been voting electronically for more than a decade and with local elections scheduled for 5 October, thousands of voting machines are being deployed to schools and libraries around the country…

We introduced the digital ballot in 1996 and by the year 2000, 100% of our elections were conducted using this system,” said Antonio Esio from the Regional Electoral Office…

To make the voting machines easy to use a numeric keyboard was chosen as the main interface – something familiar to anyone who has made a phone call.

“It’s quite easy to use because voters only need to type in a number for the candidates and they can also see the picture of the person they’re voting for,” said Mr Esio.

“So this system helps illiterate voters, because they can identify their candidate by a number, and that was a great advance,” he added.

The government also set a challenge to ensure that the cost did not exceed $1000 per machine.

Brazil is introducing fingerprint ID for the machines, as well. To control the possibility of voter fraud. That would probably panic the “liberty lobby” in the United States.

Of course there’s an easy way around requirements for universal fingerprinting. Use standard law enforcement fingerprint ID software to analyze the votes. That will identify duplicates needing to be challenged.

And the cost? Well, that’s not important in the United States. Right?

Beauticians bristle over waxing. Har!

French beauticians have launched street protests to demand the right to update their techniques from wax and tweezers. They are angry that the law does not allow them to use more modern hair-removal techniques on their clients.

It follows a series of prosecutions for professional misconduct against beauticians for using laser and “intense pulsed light” treatments. Under a 1962 decree these more sophisticated methods are the preserve of qualified dermatologists.

But France’s National Confederation of Beauty Institutes (CNAIB) protests that customers nowadays expect the latest epilation technology, like “flash lamps”.

On Monday hundreds of beauty workers – estheticiennes – demonstrated outside the health ministry in Paris to demand that the industry’s governing regulations be brought up to date

“French beauticians are the only ones in Europe not to have the right to use light treatments – even though we are by far the most qualified,” said CNAIB president Michele Lamoureux. “We are forced to use techniques that date from the time of Cleopatra,” she says.

Money is always more important than health. Frankly, I have friends on both sides of this conflict.

Personal experience? Well, the United States won’t allow civilians to have derm work performed by anyone “less” than a dermatologist. If you’re in the U.S. military, though – you can see a derm tech for just about anything. They’ll pass you up to a doctor if they spot something needing a “licensed” analysis.

Brazilian government faces criminal charges over Amazon deforestation


Soybeans aren’t as lovely – or necessarily as useful as rainforest

The Brazilian government faces criminal charges after a report found that the Amazon rainforest is being deforested three times faster than last year as rising food prices encourages more illegal logging.

A study by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research found that destruction of the Amazon had increased 228% in August compared with the same month a year ago. The steep rise in deforestation is a sharp reversal after three years of decline in the rate of destruction…

Carlos Minc, the Brazilian environment minister released a list of the 100 worst individuals or companies responsible for most of the deforestation since 2005. The Brazilian government’s land and agrarian reform agency, Incra, was accused of being the worst.

Minc said the environment ministry will bring criminal charges against all of them. The government will also create an environmental police force with 3,000 heavily armed and specially trained officers to help combat illegal deforestion…

Minc said Incra was responsible for destroying 544,000 acres of the world’s largest rainforest in the past three years.

Sounds like they’ve taken lessons in environment management from our own neocon hustlers. There was a time when “conservative” was rooted in conservation.

Udder Madness leads to Moo-ving Violation

Michele Allen, 32, will spend the next month in jail after admitting to a wild drunken weekend dressed in this silly cow outfit, said Middletown, Ohio, authorities.

Wall sentenced Allen to 30 days in jail for her oddball escapade.

She had been hired to wear the outfit to advertise for a local “haunted trail” theme park. While at work Saturday evening, Allen hit the sauce hard and then stumbled into the streets – blocking traffic and chasing kids, said Police Major Mark Hoffman.

Allen also urinated in a nearby yard during the drunken grazing, cops said.

Coppers had to take 2 pictures to get the whole effect.

You can’t make this stuff up…

Iran’s influence? You can hear it on Iraqi streets


Currency preferred by John McCain

In the holy Iraqi Shi’ite city of Najaf, Iranian tourists throng the streets, speak to shopkeepers in Farsi and pay in Iranian money. Farsi chants blare from speakers at a nearby shrine.

The scene would probably horrify both the United States and Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors, who suspect Shi’ite non-Arab Iran of nefarious and subversive influence in Arab lands. Even some of Najaf’s citizens are wary of Iranian leverage.

But the city, a center of religious and political power in Shi’ite-majority Iraq, benefits from Iranian tourism and aid.

The uniforms of rubbish men sport Farsi inscriptions, as do their gleaming new Iran-donated rubbish trucks. Iranian builders toil at the site of a new Iranian-sponsored hospital.

Iranian donations pay for the renovation of Shi’ite holy sites, and Iran has offered cash and expertise to boost electricity capacity in Iraq’s Shi’ite south…

Ordinary residents say Iranian influence is there, and they don’t necessarily mind.

“There’s an Iranian hand in Najaf, but it’s a positive hand. They’ve help develop the city, the hospital, the tourism,” said Hussein Abbas, who works in a Najaf toy shop. The province’s current administrators will get his vote in the provincial elections, he added, despite the whiff of Iranian backing…

People being helped at the grassroots level – by nations, organization and individuals our governments don’t approve of. Have you ever considered that our leaders may have motives for that political stance which don’t have a damned thing to do with your own needs or our nation as a whole?