Six powers invite Iran to join nuclear talks

The United States and five other powers invited Iran on Wednesday to a meeting on its nuclear program after Washington dropped its opposition to direct talks with Tehran in a major change of policy.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said in a statement they would ask European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Tehran to the talks to find “a diplomatic solution to this critical issue.”

Breaking with past U.S. policy of shunning direct talks with Iran, President Barack Obama’s administration said the United States would join in nuclear discussions with Iran from now on.

“We strongly urge Iran to take advantage of this opportunity to engage seriously with all of us in a spirit of mutual respect,” the six powers said after a meeting of senior diplomats in London.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would be a “full participant” in major power talks with Iran.

“Obviously we believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense. There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Clinton told reporters in Washington.

Truly, most of the article is Big Power agitprop. I imagine that will remain as a continuous drone until [and if] Obama manages to make qualitative changes to U.S. foreign policy. As most Third World and developing nations well know, there generally is no essential difference between conservative and liberal governments in the White House once you cross that border outside the United States.

President Obama has figured out how to dazzle the TV talking heads with centrist verbiage and politics that function left of whatever is center in the U.S., this week. Who knows? Maybe he’ll change the State Department/CIA/NSA endless loop into something productive?

Disabled protest Kindle 2’s read-aloud limits

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A group representing the blind and other people with disabilities protested limitations to the new read-aloud feature on Inc.’s latest Kindle electronic reader Tuesday, arguing that the restrictions unfairly limit their access to e-books.

The feature, which reads text in a stiff-sounding electronic voice, is still available for all books on the new Kindle, which was unveiled in February. But the Authors Guild has expressed concern that the feature will hurt sales of audio books, so Amazon plans to give publishers and authors the ability to silence the text-to-speech function for their books.

That is what prompted the newly formed Reading Rights Coalition, whose supporters include the National Federation of the Blind and the American Association of People with Disabilities, to stage what it called an “informational protest” outside the office of the Authors Guild in New York.

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said the protest was the first of several to come around the country, in the hopes that Amazon will change its stance. The group started with the Authors Guild because it “caused the trouble” with the text-to-speech feature, Maurer said.

There’s nothing new about operating systems reading the text onscreen to a computer user. That’s why I was bemused by the brouhaha over the Kindle’s newfound skill.

OTOH, there’s was nothing surprising about a guild of moneygrubbers limiting access to their work – to keep prices and profits as high as possible. They’ve obviously learned the “benefits” of behaving like the RIAA.

Microsoft says 3rd-party apps are a bigger danger – than Microsoft


Microsoft claims third-party applications are now a bigger security threat than its own software.

The company was speaking following the launch of its latest Security Intelligence Report, an annual compilation of security trends and threats. Cliff Evans, security and privacy lead at Microsoft UK, says third-party developers are being increasingly targeted by malware writers. Only 5.5% of browser-based exploits target Microsoft software on Windows Vista machines, although that figure rises to 40.9% on Windows XP…

The report points the finger squarely at Adobe, which saw attacks on its PDF format rise sharply in the second half of 2008, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft’s claims the vast majority of attacks on its own software are exploiting unpatched applications: 80.3% of the successful attacks on Office 2003 were found on machines that were still using the RTM software, for example.

Has Microsoft considered enforcing security updates on users of its own products? “Someone like me might say yes,” said Ed Gibson, chief cyber security advisor at Microsoft UK. “The problem with that is how do we then work with major enterprise companies who have written specific applications for their particular needs and they feel they have to do testing on security updates. They wouldn’t want to have those updates forced on them.”

Gibson admits the malware writers are blatantly ripping off the look and feel of Microsoft and third-party security products to give their malware an air of authenticity. “They’ve definitely become cleverer in terms of their approach,” he said. The fake software is largely emanating from Western countries such as the US and Spain. “Organised crime is using that [virus attacks] as a scare tactic to give you pop-ups that look legitimate,” he warned.

He said the company was working with law enforcement agencies to hunt down the perpetrators.

As much as I agree with all of the OS producers about unpatched 3rd-party software – and just plain buggy, uncertified 3rd-party software – Apple and Ubuntu and others have proved their OS can have security regeimens built-in that are robust and sufficient for the average user.

District of Columbia vote recognizes non-D.C. gay nuptials

The District of Columbia Council has voted to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, joining a number of states easing restrictions on the unions.

The District’s preliminary vote was Tuesday, the same day Vermont became the fourth state to recognize same-sex marriages and a week after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized such unions, reported The Washington Post.

D.C. lawmakers said they expect a final vote on the issue May 5. Domestic partnerships are legal in Washington but Tuesday’s vote recognizes weddings of gay couples married in U.S. states.

Observers said Tuesday’s vote was the first salvo in what is expected to be a battle for the city’s gay marriage bill, expected to be introduced soon and would pit the city against opponents in Congress, which has the final say in the District’s legislative matters, the Post said.

D.C. Council Member Jim Graham told the Post “the writing is on the wall” that the city will approve gay marriage.

“We are now taking the issue directly to Congress, and no one else can do that,” said Graham, who is gay.

Another step in the process of normalizing what, after all, is the process of bringing our political structure up to reasonable compliance with sound knowledge and practices. Probably a half-century late or more. But, that’s about typical.

“Better late than never” ain’t the way to build-out Broadband

You have a question?
Daylife/AP Photo

The federal stimulus-aided U.S. rollout of broadband Internet service is happening too quickly and without sufficient planning, critics say.

With private telecommunications companies claiming the $7.2 billion set aside in the $787 billion stimulus bill, the FCC is only now embarking on a yearlong plan to provide broadband Internet access to every home in the United States, leading to worries that its rollout will happen haphazardly, The Washington Post reported.

“This is a huge deal,” acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps told the Post. “Broadband is the central infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century. If done right, it will be the most formative proceeding in the FCC’s history.”

The stimulus money is being dispersed by the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which aren’t working together off an overarching plan.

And then there is…

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Weird story of the day!

Gets to be a daddy after all

A mother has been given permission to take sperm from her dead son so she can have the option of carrying out his wish to have children. Nikolas Colton Evans, 21, died on Sunday in hospital after a fight outside a bar in Austin, Texas…

I want him to live on. I want to keep a piece of him,” she told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper

Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled she could collect the sperm after an emergency hearing requested by the mother.

Court documents said the sperm had to be collected within 24 hours of Mr Evans being removed from life support unless the body was cooled to no more than 4C.

Judge Herman ordered the county medical examiner to continue storing the body at the proper temperature until the sperm could be collected.

So, uh, anyone ask his mom who’s gonna get to use the sperm?

Red Cross says doctors assisted in torture of U.S. prisoners

Health workers violated medical ethics when they helped interrogate terrorism suspects who were tortured at secret CIA prisons overseas, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The medical workers, thought to be doctors and psychologists, monitored prisoners while they were mistreated at CIA prisons and advised interrogators whether to continue, adjust or halt the abuse, the ICRC said in a report based on interviews with 14 prisoners in 2007.

One prisoner alleged that medical personnel monitored his blood oxygen levels while he was subjected to waterboarding, a simulated drowning designed to induce panic and widely considered to be torture, the ICRC said.

Other prisoners said that as they stood shackled with their arms chained above their heads, a doctor regularly measured the swelling in their legs and signaled when they should be allowed to sit down.

The ICRC interviewed 14 men who had been held in secret CIA prisons overseas before being sent to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006…

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Motorist survives three accidents. And only two were her fault!


A German woman was involved in three car accidents in less than an hour that left a total of seven vehicles damaged but she suffered only slight injuries from the series of mishaps, police said Tuesday.

The 69-year-old woman from Berlin first crashed into three cars while trying to pull out of a supermarket car park on the Baltic resort island of Usedom.

Then, she accidentally stepped on the accelerator and sped across a lawn before crashing into a nearby house, police said. She was taken to hospital in an ambulance but that vehicle was then hit by a truck.

“She was actually fortunate that no one was seriously hurt in any of the accidents,” said Zinnowitz police spokesman Axel Falkenberg. “The accidents were a little bit like dominoes toppling.”

Let me know if she ever plans on visiting Santa Fe on holiday. I’ll stay indoors.

Microsoft to allow Windows 7, erm, downgrades to XP

Microsoft officials have confirmed that it, along with PC partners will allow users of its upcoming Windows 7 the option to downgrade to both Windows Vista as well as Windows XP.

The last few days have been fraught with rumors that Microsoft will be offering users the opportunity to downgrade to Windows XP. Those who don’t like the look of Windows 7 and are afraid it’s their only alternative can rest easy; ZDNet asked Microsoft for a little clarification and the a spokesperson revealed that XP would also be on offer when it came to downgrades.

When asked if Microsoft had downgrade rights for Windows XP planned as part of Windows 7, the Redmond company responded with a resounding yes. The spokesperson went on to detail that this would not the first time that Microsoft has offered downgrade rights to a version other than its immediate predecessor and the company’s volume-license customers can always downgrade to any previous version of Windows.


Ready to replace your Hummer with a couple of Segways?

You know how the oil companies are all trying to become energy companies now? The new PUMA (aka, the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project) from GM and Segway shows one way that auto companies could shift over to being transportation companies if they wanted to. At an unveiling of the enclosed Segway for two this morning in Manhattan, GM and Segway reps talked about how the PUMA represents a big evolution of the automobile. GM vice president of research and development Larry Burns said the PUMA “is about fundamentally reinventing the automobile”…

The battery-powered PUMA is wholly functional, and we’re still trying to figure out if it’s more or less dorky looking than a Segway. Whatever the case, we still kind of like the two- (or six-, depending on how you’re counting) wheeled design and are looking forward to the fall, when the media will actually be able to test drive the little buggers and next year, when some models with body panels and stylish looks arrive – yes, the renderings that GM showed today do look a little like a Toyota i-swing with two wheels. The PUMA is 1/6th the size of a standard cars (and half the size of a smart fortwo) and should be about a third or a fourth the cost of a normal vehicle to operate, including insurance, running costs, etc.

With a top speed of 35 mph, a 35-mile range, and the ability to recharge for 35 cents (or so GM says), there’s got to be a market for city dwellers who think bikes are a good idea, but just too sweaty.

Or something like that. If this was a Toyota or Honda project, I’d have some confidence that the end product would look at least as attractive as a kinetic sculpture. With GM doing the styling – all bets are off.

And since it’s pretty much only an urban product, I’ll keep waiting for the SMART or Fiat500 version of a pickup truck.