Iraq expels 250 ex-Blackwater staff – fraud exposed stateside!

The Iraqi interior minister has said he expelled 250 former employees of the US security firm Blackwater, whose guards were charged with killing unarmed civilians in Baghdad…

Making the announcement on Thursday, Jawad Bolani, the interior minister, said: “We have sent an order to 250 former Blackwater employees, who today are working with other security companies in Iraq, to leave the country in seven days and we have confiscated their residence permits.

“All of those concerned were notified four days ago and so they have three days to leave. This decision was made in connection with the crime that took place at Nisur Square.”

Bolani was referring to an incident at the busy Baghdad square in September 2007, when five guards employed by Blackwater were accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in a gun and grenade attack, and wounding 18 others.

In another development, the Washington Post newspaper reported on Thursday that a husband and wife who once worked for Blackwater said – in newly unsealed court records – that they had personal knowledge of the company falsifying invoices, double-billing federal agencies and charging the government for personal and inappropriate items whose real purpose was hidden.

The paper quoted the couple as saying they witnessed “systematic” fraud on the company’s security contracts with the state department in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the homeland security department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

Old George W. did us a real service hiring these creeps on a juicy no-bid contract.

Oh, they kept a hooker on the payroll in Afghanistan – part of their Morale Welfare Recreation budget.

Climate scientists hit out at ‘sloppy’ melting glaciers error

Climate scientists who worked on the UN panel on global warming have hit out at “sloppy” colleagues from other disciplines who introduced a mistake about melting glaciers into the landmark 2007 report.

The experts, who worked on the section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that considered the physical science of global warming, say the error by “social and biological scientists” has unfairly maligned their work. Some said that Rajendra Pachauri, the panel’s chair, should resign, though others supported him.

The IPCC report combined the output from three independent working groups, which separately considered the science, impacts and human response to climate change, and published their findings several months apart.

The report from working group two, on impacts, included a false claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035, which was sourced to a report from campaign group WWF. The IPCC was forced to issue a statement of regret, though Pachauri and senior figures on the panel have refused to apologise for the mistake.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several lead authors of the working group one (WG1) report, which produced the high-profile scientific conclusions that global warming was unequivocal and very likely down to human activity, told the Guardian they were dismayed by the actions of their colleagues.

Naturally the public and policy makers link all three reports together,” one said. “And the blunder over the glaciers detracts from the very carefully peer-reviewed science used exclusively in the WG1 report…”

The scientists were particularly unhappy that the flawed glacier prediction contradicted statements already published in their own report. “WG1 made a proper assessment of the state of glaciers and this should have been the source cited by the impacts people in WG2,” one said. “In the final stages of finishing our own report, we as WG1 authors simply had no time to also start double-checking WG2 draft chapters.”

They added: “The sad reality is this whole manufactured climate controversy is like arguing over the dinner menu on the Titanic as it sinks. The fact is, the climate is warming. Do we want to deal with this problem or not? Do we owe anything to future generations who are not here today to be part of the decision-making process…”

Bravo! No need to be Mister Nice Guy when colleagues drop the soup on the floor – and curs lap it up.

Hairs trace Greenland human history

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

For the first time, scientists have deciphered the genetic code of an ancient human from a long-gone culture, using the DNA from just a few tufts of 4,000-year-old hair preserved in Greenland’s permafrost.

Thanks to the rapid advance of gene-sequencing technology, researchers could tell the hair belonged to a brown-skinned man whose ancestors came to the New World from Siberia around 5,500 years ago, during a previously unknown migration. And that’s not all.

The genetic evidence suggests that the man, nicknamed “Inuk,” had the kind of eyes, teeth and even earwax associated with modern-day Asians and Native Americans … and that he might have been going bald…

Scientists have been analyzing ancient DNA for years – and in fact, they’ve found out enough about the extinct Neanderthals’ genetic code to conclude that at least some of them were redheads. But the study of Inuk (a name that comes from the Greenlandic word for “human”) sets a new standard. The Neanderthal genome is only in rough-draft form, while Inuk’s genome has been checked 20 times over (20x, in genomic parlance). That’s about as good as it gets, even for modern-day genome sequencing…

Eske Willerslev is no stranger to Arctic artifacts and ancient DNA analysis: His past projects include studies of mammoth DNA preserved in Alaskan permafrost, as well as fossilized poop from Oregon, so it was natural for him to try to see whether such genetic techniques could be extended to ancient humans in the Arctic…

Archaeological studies had determined that the hair and bone came from an individual of the Saqqaq culture, a now-extinct people who were among Greenland’s earliest residents. Anthropologists have long wondered whether the Saqqaq were the descendants of “First Americans” who crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia 10,000 to 14,000 years ago – or whether they were part of a different migration…

“The closest contemporary population he is associated with is in fact not Inuits or Greenlanders or Native Americans in the New World, but three Siberian populations,” Willerslev said. And when the team looked more closely at the DNA comparison with those three groups – the Nganasans, Koryaks and Chukchis – they determined that Inuk’s ethnic group probably split off a mere 5,500 years ago.

That suggests that Inuk and his kin came to America during a previously unknown wave of migration. At that time, the Bering land bridge didn’t exist, so Willerslev and his colleagues assume that the migrants must have crossed either by sea or over winter ice.

RTFA. Lots of interesting detail, paleontology, paleo-anthropology. No angels dancing on pinheads.

Are you coulrophobic?

They wear silly clothes, have comedy hair, and are traditionally hired to entertain children. So why are clowns so damn scary?

In Blackpool, the organisers of the Showzam circus festival have decided the phenomenon of coulrophobia — fear of clowns — warrants some investigation…

Coulrophobia is one of the top 10 most common phobias. It even has celebrity sufferers: Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, Johnny Depp, and even rap star P Diddy are all said to have the fear, so much so in Diddy’s case that he is reported to have once demanded a “no clowns” clause in a contract.

Depp, whose phobia dates back to having nightmares as a child in which he would see clowns’ faces leering at him, once explained that it was the painted faces and fake smiles that upset him. “There always seemed to be a darkness lurking just under the surface, a potential for real evil,” he said. “I guess I am afraid of them because it’s impossible — thanks to their painted-on smiles — to distinguish if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off.”

Showzam’s director, Claire Turner, agrees that it often seems to be the barrier created by the facepaint that’s the problem, so the workshop will start with participants meeting the man behind Mooky, the festival’s star clown, without his make up on, in his normal clothes.

By the end of the session, third generation circus performer Laci Endresz Jnr will be in full costume, in a process of graded exposure recommended by Peter Kinderman, a professor of clinical psychology at Liverpool University. “The clown phobia seems to come from terrifying clowns like the one in Stephen King’s It,” Turner says.

“At the workshop people will gradually see Laci’s transformation to Mooky, as well as getting an explanation about clowns, what they do and where they come from.”

When I was a kid I actually ran away from home to join the circus. Met some truly cool clowns – and that was about it. Everything else turned out to be a niche market business.

How much will Google’s fiber network cost? And why build it?

Google has announced an audacious plan to build what is essentially the most cutting-edge broadband network in the United States. While it is being mis-portrayed in certain segments of the media as an ISP effort, in reality it is nothing more than an experimental network, much like Google’s early efforts to provide municipal Wi-Fi in the city of Mountain View, Calif. It will be a trial-only network, not Google’s entry into telecommunications services. Google’s planned network won’t be cheap, but in the end it is worth the price.

The idea behind the network: provide bandwidth and see if it fosters new user behavior and thus innovations. I admire Google for creating a real-life laboratory that will provide intelligence to predict not only the future of the web, but also help it develop new products to stay relevant. By announcing this network, Google also showed why it is quite distinct from its onetime peers such as Yahoo and AOL.

When I said that Google’s plan was audacious, I said so because this is not going to be cheap. For starters, Google wants to offer 1 gigabit per second speeds to about 50,000 to 500,000 people. At 2.6 people per household, that roughly translates to between 20,000 to 200,000 homes. Our friend Ben Schachter, Internet analyst with Broadpoint.AmTech, estimates that it will cost Google between $3,000 to $8,000 per home, or roughly $60 million to $ 1.6 billion, depending upon the final size and footprint of the network. If they reach, say, 100,000 homes, it would cost them about half a billion dollars…

Is spending this much money — even for Google, which has about $25 billion in cash — a good idea? I think so: Just as car companies spend their R&D dollars on Formula One Racing teams to get a better idea of what new features could be included in their commercial vehicles, a company such as Google needs to explore the outer limits of broadband.

In addition, “Google has a secondary motivation here and that is to also push the FCC to accelerate its examination of using TV white spaces for wireless broadband,” says Jeff Heyman, Analyst, Broadband and Video for Infonetics Research. He points out that if “Google can make this endeavor successful for a number of communities, why couldn’t they do so for even more using white spaces? This FTTH initiative, in other words, could be a proving ground for Google as infrastructure provider.”

Like Om, I’m a bit doubtful that this will ever result in a national or international alternative to the Internet – or Internet2, for that matter.

But, pushing competitors, pushing the government, ain’t ever an unreasonable tactic in accelerating the rate of change in an essentially stodgy and conservative society.

Reuters photographer exits American prison – never charged!

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The U.S. military freed a Reuters photographer in Iraq on Wednesday, almost a year and a half after snatching him from his home in the middle of the night and placing him in military detention without charge.

The U.S. military has never said exactly why it detained Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed — who worked for Reuters as a freelance TV cameraman and photographer — and locked him away for so long, saying the evidence against him was classified.

“How can I describe my feelings? This is like being born again,” Jassam told Reuters by telephone as he was greeted emotionally by his family.

U.S. and Iraqi forces smashed in the doors of Jassam’s house in Mahmudiya town, south of Baghdad, in September 2008 and whisked him away, first to Camp Bucca, a desert prison on the Iraq-Kuwait border, then the smaller Camp Cropper detention center near Baghdad airport.

Jassam is one of several Iraqi journalists working for foreign news organizations who have been detained by the U.S. military, often for months at a time, since the 2003 U.S. invasion. None has ever been charged, triggering criticism from international journalism rights groups.

“I am very pleased his long incarceration without charge is finally over,” Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger said.

“I wish the process to release a man who had no specific accusations against him had been swifter…”

The U.S. military still has almost 6,000 detainees who must be handed to Iraqi authorities. If they face Iraqi criminal charges they will be tried, if not they will be freed.

The Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled in 2008 that there was no case against Jassam.

As ever, military justice is to justice as military music is to music.

Dubai diners can’t get enough of new ‘camel burger’

You’re eating who?

A new fast food sensation has hit the Emirates’ culinary scene. Right now, Dubai diners can’t seem to get enough of the “camel burger.”

“It’s a sensation,” Ramesh, restaurant manager at “Local House” the restaurant chain behind the burgers told CNN. “Everyone’s bored of beef and chicken. So, as soon as the word got out, we had queues of customers eager to give it a try.”

Not only are the exotic burgers a novelty, they are also a healthier alternative to their beefy American cousins, the restaurant claims. The $6 “camel quarter-pounder” is virtually fat and cholesterol-free, according to Ramesh.

Not only are they super healthy, but the flavor is amazing,” he told CNN of the centuries-old Bedouin delicacy they have given a 21st century twist.

Instead of the familiar sesame bun, they serve the burgers with freshly-baked “khameer” — a popular and yeasty regional bread. “It also comes with melted cheddar cheese, our very own burger sauce and a portion of fries,” Ramesh said.

The restaurant’s novel burgers have so far been a runaway success with inquisitive tourists and local Emirates alike.

Rock on – Dubai!