Bajaur Taleban say they will lay down their arms

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Islamist militants in a north-western tribal district in Pakistan have vowed to lay down their arms and renounce violence. The vow was taken before a jirga or tribal meeting in the Mamund area of Bajaur, a Taleban stronghold.

Bajaur is a crucial hub for insurgents, with access routes to Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan.

It was also decided that people who sheltered foreign militants would be punished.

Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan’s Bajaur chief, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, was represented at these talks by two of his senior commanders.

Most of the Taleban leadership comes from this sub-district. The headquarters of the Islamic courts set up by the Taleban were also based here.

I guess this qualifies as good news. If it’s true, it certainly is; but, getting accurate information from a region decidedly hostile to journalists ain’t the easiest trick in the bag.

ExxonMobil profit soars to record $14.8 billion

In what might be the high watermark for corporate profits, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil, reported another blowout quarter Thursday, after oil prices hit a record this summer.

Exxon said its quarterly income rose by 58 percent to $14.8 billion, well above what analysts had expected.

The quarter includes an after-tax gain of $1.6 billion for the sale of a natural gas transportation business in Germany. Excluding one-time items, Exxon’s profit was $13.4 billion, still a record quarter for an American corporation…

“This is a good outcome, but some investors will be disappointed by the sluggish production volumes,” said Tony Shepard, an analyst at the broker Charles Stanley in London. “Given the fall in the oil price, an issue for all oil and gas companies is current levels of capital expenditure.”

So, uh, have you had very much of these enormous profits trickle down onto your household?

Designer babies: does creating a more perfect child scare you?

Would you be comfortable selecting what cosmetic features you want your baby to have..?

Does this sound like a scary thought?

With rapid advances in scientific knowledge of the human genome and our increasing ability to modify and change genes, this scenario of “designing” your baby could well be possible in the near future…

British scientists last week developed a “genetic MoT” test, which offers a universal method of screening embryos for diseases using a new technique of karyomapping, which is more efficient than previous processes.

The test would be taken on a two-day-old IVF embryo and is yet to be validated, but it could mark a significant change; allowing doctors to screen for gene combinations that create higher risks of diabetes, heart disease or cancer…

Furthermore, the developing technologies of genetic alteration open up a whole new set of possibilities — which could result in so-called “designer babies.”

This could potentially irreversibly alter the human species. So, the obvious question arises: should we be doing this?

The Center for Genetics and Society is trying to encourage debate on the topic — as soon as possible.

Terrific article. Raises more questions than answers – for most folks. Which is exactly why they should be asked.

I’m already convinced of the libertarian side of the argument. I don’t agree with limiting the scientific and technical portion of the discussion because of timorous politics. Societies, big and small, will certainly press on and make whatever decisions they think adequate to the questions. No doubt, well beyond suitable limits – given our predilection for fear and trembling.

But, lets get started, folks. Hiding in the dark and cobwebs ain’t helping.

Is this the sleaziest Republican ad in the election?

Politics is not for the faint of heart, especially in the final days of a tight race. Still, amid all the attack ads on the airwaves competing to out-ugly one another, we think we’ve found a winner.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican of North Carolina is trying to hold onto her seat in an extremely close race, and to that end, she is attacking the religious faith of her opponent, Kay Hagan. Listen to the ad…

Yeah, you heard that right: “There is no God.” The only problem is Kay Hagan never said it. Never. Just a picture of her face over someone else’s audio. Kay Hagan is a member of the Presbyterian Church. She is a former Sunday school teacher.

The fundraiser the ad mentions was not hosted by the Godless American Political Action Committee. A member was one of 40 different co-hosts.

The information in this ad is so ridiculously misleading, and yet, Dole is standing by it and continuing to raise questions about Hagan’s so-called “godlessness” on the campaign trail. Is this really what it comes down to?

Yes, I think we might qualify as a 21st Century nation if silliness like this didn’t count. Do you know any voters who would be affected by tripe like this?

In practice, you actually get what you voted for

If you think candidates never keep their promises and will say anything to get elected, you’re certainly not alone. And you’re not right, either.

The perception is largely untrue, says Tracy Sulkin, a University of Illinois political scientist, who has conducted an extensive study, apparently the first of its kind, comparing the campaign ads and legislative records of recent congressional officeholders.

Candidates’ words generally match their deeds, according to Sulkin. The issues candidates say are priorities in their commercials are likely ones they care about and will take action on through the introduction and co-sponsoring of legislation, she said.

Whether they are vague or specific on an issue doesn’t matter, Sulkin found. “There turn out to be no differences in subsequent activity among people who just say they care about an issue and people who lay out a specific plan. … Specificity, which we seem overly concerned about, isn’t actually a signal that you care more about the issue,” she said.

My problem is the schmucks I didn’t vote for – who were elected, anyway – always deliver the misery they promised.

Atari threatens non-pirate “pirates”

Dangerous criminal gamers?

Games firms are accusing innocent people of file-sharing as they crack down on pirates, a Which? Computing investigation has claimed.

The lawyers in the Atari case turned to anti-piracy firm Logistep, which finds those people illegally sharing files via their IP address – the unique numbers which identify a particular computer.

In the case of the Murdochs, a letter was sent giving them the chance to pay £500 compensation or face a court case.

Gill Murdoch and her husband, aged 54 and 66 respectively, told Which: “We do not have, and have never had, any computer game or sharing software. We did not even know what ‘peer to peer’ was until we received the letter.”

Pirate Bay makes no secret of the fact that it inserts the random IP addresses of users, some of who may not even know what file sharing is, to the list of people downloading files, leading investigators up a virtual garden path.

Do you think that may have had something to do with this? And shouldn’t corporations have to come up with more proof than the unproved record of an IP address?

Yes we can

I’ve spent the majority of my life as a musician, a performing artist. Not what I did for a living you understand. I always had a day job.

But, starting as a child playing classical piano, through a few years of introspective jazz in brass, through decades of singing behind my own guitar, music has been as personally rewarding for me to perform – as it has been to listen.

Virtually every form and style appeals to me. Part of the delight in my marriage is being able to share my love of music with the woman I love – who loves music as much as I do.

Over those years of performing, one thing I was able to do – that gave me the most satisfaction – was being able to comment lyrically about this world and what we might do to change ourselves and our world for the better.

I love this video.

Online financial fraud up 20% in Britain

Cybercrime in the UK rose overall by more than 9% in 2007, according to a new report.

Online identity firm Garlik’s cybercrime report claims that more than 3.5 million online crimes were committed in the UK last year.

In 2007, the sharpest rise was in online financial fraud, with more than 250,000 incidents reported in 2007; a 20% rise on the previous year.

The report highlighted a growing professionalism among online criminals, with personal and credit details being traded online. Garlik said that the information black market had doubled, with more than 19,000 illicit traders identified…

I like the part where they speak of cybercriminals using “sophisticated and professional techniques”.

The #1 strategy remains – find someone gullible. There is no patch for stupidity.

Former political prisoner wins pro-democracy election

Daylife/AP photo by Sinan Hussain

After 30 years as the undisputed President of the Maldives, Asia’s longest-serving ruler has been ousted by a former political prisoner in the country’s first democratic elections.

Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, won 54 per cent of the vote to 46 per cent for President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

As the results were announced hundreds of Mr Nasheed’s supporters danced and cheered and honked car horns in the streets of the congested capital, Malé, to celebrate the dawn of a new era in the Indian Ocean archipelago. “We’ve been waiting so long for this,” said Aishath Abbas, 28, a student. “It feels like a new world.”

“I don’t think we should go for a witch hunt,” Mr Nasheed said in a joint press conference with his former rival and one-time jailer, whom he has accused of having him tortured repeatedly in custody. “That will not happen because it will not help democracy.”

He reassured voters and the international community that he planned to push forward with democratic reforms, including greater media freedom, before holding parliamentary elections, which are due by February. He also promised to tackle the issues of rising sea levels, a heroin crisis and the potential impact of the global financial meltdown…

Mr Nasheed is expected to be sworn in on November 11 — 30 years to the day after Mr Gayoom took office in 1978.

Getting to democracy may seem like the hard part; but, it’s only the beginning. We wasted decades and centuries on the machinations of those in North America who considered their greed superlative to the common good.

There always is a stalwart class of profiteers who think their existence lives or dies on power alone. They will manipulate the instruments of freedom to try to turn back the clock – every chance they get.

I wish the people of the Maldives well.