Search team for lost tourist turns up seven corpses!

A rescue team which failed to find a missing visitor at a tourist hotspot in northern China got a nasty surprise when it stumbled upon seven corpses instead.

The team had been scouring the peaks around Taishan Mountain in Shandong province for the Beijing tourist who vanished on April 28, the Qilu Evening Post said.

“We accidentally found seven corpses during our search over the past few days,” the newspaper quoted one of the rescuers as saying.

The report did not say, however, how the seven may have died nor who they were. The tourist is still missing.

Does that qualify as an “Oops!”

Iran reformers face Ahmadinejad and sectarian intolerance


Daylife/Getty Images

Two leading reformist challengers to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have registered to run against him in 12 June presidential election.

Former PM Mir-Hossein Mousavi, backed by former President Mohammad Khatami, is seen as the leading challenger. Former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi has also put down his name – a day before the deadline expires.

They join President Ahmadinejad and the former Revolutionary Guards chief, Mohsen Rezai, in the race so far…

“I have come to establish better ties between Iran and the world by removing tension and through constructive interaction,” said Mr Mousavi after submitting his bid to the interior ministry…

Mr Karroubi, the other reformist challenger, is one of the few Iranian politicians who has criticised Mr Ahmadinejad over his dismissal of the Holocaust as a “myth”.

Mr Karroubi – who lost to Mr Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election – also demanded that the Revolutionary Guards “not interfere” in this year’s election. He had blamed his previous defeat on “illegal interference” by the Revolutionary Guards and their Basij militia.

Both the Left and Right run the risk of splitting their natural bases. Hopefully, more so, the Right.

Just as the United States badly needed someone to lead this nation out of the wilderness of sectarian politics, Iran has double the challenges – both electoral and religious.

Neighbours help neighbours in the high Pyrenees

Madame Genis shouts a greeting in her strong Catalan accent as she strides past my house.

A sunburned 75-year-old, she is clad, as always, in her working gear of an ancient blue and white checked pinafore and an old pair of men’s leather boots.

She carries a sharp knife – not for repelling attackers, or even the wild boar which roam these hills – but for cutting reeds to support the runner beans she will plant now spring has come at last. She never buys anything if she can grow it herself or forage for it, and she knows where to find wild asparagus and strawberries…

Madame Genis’ immaculately neat patch of land produces enough vegetables for her and her son. Any surplus is swapped for a pot of honey with a beekeeping neighbour, or sold off from a box outside her front gate.

Land which is not planted with vegetables is piled high with what looks to me like junk, but which she insists might come in handy – rusty oil drums, old metal bed frames and ancient gateposts.

Nothing is wasted. Which is as it should be. Life not unlike life here in northern New Mexico once you’re away from subdivisions with convenants intended to transform rural casual into suburban tidy…

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States, municipalities beginning to use GPS to track abusers

When Theresa, a 51-year-old mother of two living near this coastal town, filed for a restraining order against her husband, she thought it would help put an end to the beatings, death threats and stalking that had tormented her family for years.

She won the order, but her husband, Joel, a West Point graduate with a master’s degree who police reports say hid 17 guns in their home, did not seem to care. He violated the restraining order three times, she said.

“He’d come to our child’s school and beat both of us up in front of everyone,” Theresa said.

In Massachusetts, where about one-quarter of restraining orders are violated each year, according to the state’s probation office, a recent law has expanded the use of global positioning devices to include domestic abusers and stalkers who have violated orders of protection. A judge ordered Joel to wear a Global Positioning System monitor, alerting law enforcement officials if he went near his wife’s house, her work or their children’s school.

It was the first time I could turn my house alarm off and feel O.K.,” said Theresa, who has since been divorced and who insisted that only her first name be used, to protect her children’s privacy.

Twelve other states have passed similar legislation — most recently, Indiana this week — and about 5,000 domestic abusers are being tracked nationwide, said George Drake, who oversees Colorado’s Electronic Monitoring Resource Center, which gathers data from equipment vendors…

“Using GPS monitoring to enforce an order of protection makes the order more than just a piece of paper,” said Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a longtime advocate of using GPS in domestic abuse cases. “It’s a way of making the criminal justice system treat domestic violence as potentially serious. By detecting any escalation in the behavior of a batterer, GPS can prevent these unnecessary tragedies.”

Not a cure-all; but, every step forward means a safer, freer life for the abused.

Hopefully, those who support blanket rights of privacy will grow to understand that self-defense isn’t just limited to firearms – and the electronic tools of the state can play a useful role.

Obama continues virtual fence – with Border Patrol input, testing

In announcing the resumption of a “virtual fence” on the U.S.-Mexican border, the Obama administration sent a powerful message of continuity with President George W. Bush, who included a pledge to secure the border as part of a 2006 effort to persuade Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

Much as Bush aides did three years ago, administration officials in the Department of Homeland Security described a five-year, multibillion-dollar plan yesterday to link a chain of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance equipment over most of the 2,000-mile southern frontier. As before, the network of cameras, radar and communications gear is intended to speed deployment of U.S. Border Patrol officers to intercept illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and other violators, yielding greater “operational control” over the vast and rugged area.

What is different, DHS officials said, is that they have learned lessons from the technical problems that dogged the Bush administration’s first, 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson. What remains unclear is whether the ambitious technology will encounter fresh setbacks that would embarrass President Obama, who has urged Congress to streamline the immigration system and work out a way to deal fairly with the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, analysts said…

Susan Ginsburg, director of the mobility and security program at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, agreed that “the jury is out” on whether the virtual fence design makes the most sense. But she said the undertaking is necessary as much to thwart terrorism and organized crime at the border as to foil illegal immigrants looking for work, if not more so…

The government has made many changes since a $20 million pilot rushed off-the-shelf equipment into operation without testing, relied on inadequate police dispatching software and ignored the input of Border Patrol officers, who found that radar systems were triggered by rain, satellite communications were too slow to permit camera operators to track targets by remote control, and cameras had poor visibility.

Mark Borkowski said DHS has paid $600 million to its prime contractor, Boeing. It is using new software, radar, cameras and sturdier towers, and has simplified camera operation and added more thorough testing by Border Patrol officers.

None of these security systems are rocket science. They work well in a broad range of environments, commercially and in the military. The latter being closer to the reality of border security. Frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to understand how Bush’s flunkies screwed it up.

I guess that last sentence answers itself.

Murdoch will charge for access to all his newspaper websites


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Rupert ­Murdoch expects to start charging for access to News Corporation’s newspaper websites within a year as he strives to fix a ­”malfunctioning” business model.

Encouraged by booming online subscription revenues at the Wall Street Journal, the billionaire media mogul said that papers were going through an “epochal” debate over whether to charge. “That it is possible to charge for content on the web is obvious from the Wall Street Journal’s experience,” he said.

Asked whether he envisaged fees at his British papers such as the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World, he replied: “We’re absolutely looking at that.” He said that moves could begin “within the next 12 months‚” adding: “The current days of the internet will soon be over…”

News Corp has cut 3,000 jobs over the last year, although Murdoch said very few affected journalists or “creative” personnel. Its filmed entertainment division enjoyed an 8% rise in profits to $282m, while Fox News Channel in the US helped push profits from cable subscription networks up by 30% to $429m.

Poisonally – I think he’s whistling in the dark. The situation with the Wall Street Journal is that it has very few competitors and they, like the Financial Times for example, also charge for access. Someone comes along with a business plan to tie a cable TV financial channel to a free-access online site [done well, of course] and Murdoch’s plan is toast.

He talk about his business plan as if it’s distinct from – yet leading – this communications behemoth called The Internet.

Has he considered that the Guardian keeps winning best news website in the world and he wins nothing, nada, nuttin’ honey!

Prepaid wireless could spur a price war – we can hope, can’t we?

The prepaid cell phone market has finally hit the U.S. in a big way as economically strapped consumers flock to inexpensive pay-as-you-go services. The result will likely mean that big cell phone providers may be forced to slash prices on contract service plans to keep consumers from defecting.

This is good news for consumers, who could see lower prices on both prepaid and post-paid service plans. But it is very bad news for cell phone operators, which make more money from their post paid customers than they do from prepaid customers.

They losing money, folks. So, don’t feel too sorry for them.

For years, the post-paid business model has dominated the U.S. cell phone market, providing strong growth for U.S. wireless operators. Meanwhile, the prepaid market in the U.S. has been largely left to consumers who are young, price-sensitive, or considered credit risks…

Now, it looks like the tide is turning. First-quarter earnings from all of the major cell phone operators indicate that consumers are flocking to new all-you-can-eat prepaid plans instead of the contract-bound post-paid plans.

Post-paid subscriber growth came to a “virtual halt” in the first quarter of 2009, Moffett noted. He estimates that net additions of post-paid customers across all major carriers fell 58 percent from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009.

Meanwhile, prepaid customers are on the rise. A year ago about 50 percent of new cell phone users signed up for prepaid cell phone service, Moffett said in his note. But in the first quarter of 2009, about 80 percent of cell phone subscriber growth came from prepaid plans…

But with more than 80 percent of the U.S. population already using a cell phone service, it’s getting harder to sell wireless service to people who don’t already own a cell phone. That means that wireless operators are already trying to steal each other’s existing customers.

Stealing from robber barons doesn’t feel too bad. No guilt in this household.

We dropped our landline for Skype and cell coverage years ago. We dropped post-paid contracts for no contract and prepaid a couple years ago with T-Mobile. No looking back.

Anaconda wave-power generator starts pilot tests

Giant rubber sea snakes could harness the plentiful clean power off Britain’s coasts within five years, according to the inventors of a new type of wave-energy generator.

Checkmate Sea Energy has unveiled the final stages of a proof-of-concept trial of its Anaconda device, seen by many experts as at the forefront of the next generation of robust, cheap wave-power machines that could slash the costs of making renewable electricity.

Made from a composite of fabric and natural rubber, the Anaconda rides oncoming waves and uses the motion to drive a turbine in its tail. The test device is nine metres long but its developers say that a full-scale device could be up to 200m in length and be capable of producing 1MW of power, enough for a thousand homes, and cost £2m to build. Farms of 50 or more could be placed underwater a few miles from the coast…

“It’s a completely new kind of wave power machine,” said Rod Rainey, a chief engineer with engineering design consultants Atkins and inventor of the Anaconda. “The beauty of wave energy is its consistency. However, the problem holding back wave energy machines is they tend to deteriorate over time in the harsh marine environment. Anaconda is non-mechanical: it is mainly rubber, a natural material with a natural resilience and so it has very few moving parts to maintain.”

Each Anaconda device is tethered to the sea floor and positioned head-on into the coming waves. Floating under the sea surface, the water-filled rubber tube swims with the waves – as a swell hits the front of the device, it creates a bulge that travels to the back of the tube, in the same way a pulse of blood travels along an artery. When the bulge wave reaches the Anaconda’s tail, the energy is used to drive a turbine and create electricity…

Their analysis of the technology concluded that, because of this simplicity, Anaconda could create a “step-change” in how soon wave devices became commercial. Their research showed that, while wave energy in general costs around 25p per KWh to make, the anaconda had the potential to bring prices down to around 9p per KWh. Mains electricity today form fossil fuels costs around 6p per KWh.

Bravo!

Too much sunlight – and suicide

Too much sunlight in places like Greenland where long summer days often cause insomnia appears more likely to drive a person to suicide, say Swedish researchers.

Despite a belief that suicides tend to rise in late autumn and early winter months because of darkness, the new findings suggest that places where constant sunlight in summer seasons is a fact of life may be just as dangerous. “During the long periods of constant light, it is crucial to keep some circadian rhythm to get enough sleep and sustain mental health,” Karin Sparring Bjorksten and colleagues just reported…

Scientists have previously linked sleep disturbances to increased suicidal risk in people with psychiatric disorders and in adolescents but it is unclear whether the association also exists in the general population.

The Swedish team studied the seasonal variation of suicides in all of Greenland from 1968 to 2002 and found a cluster of suicides in the summer months. This seasonal effect was especially pronounced in the north of the country — an area where the sun doesn’t set between the end of April and the end of August.

“We found that suicides were almost exclusively violent and increased during periods of constant day,” Bjorksten said in a statement.

“In the north of the country, 82 percent of the suicides occurred during the daylight months.”

Most of the suicides involved young men and were violent — such as shooting, hanging and jumping from high places. These kinds of deaths accounted for nearly all, about 95 percent, of the suicides.

Chemical imbalances derived from screwed-up circadian rhythms may be a contributing factor. I tried living and working in the dark for a couple years at a time – and that sucked. I can imagine the obverse.