Iraq celebrates U.S. withdrawal – of course

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a new dawn on Saturday as Iraq celebrated the departure of American troops at a ceremony held amid tight security and without Maliki’s key political rivals…

Saturday marked the end of the 2008 security pact agreed by then-President George W. Bush and was the last day for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq, nearly nine years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and allowed the Shi’ite majority to take power.

Except for a small military contingent attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the last of the American troops departed nearly two weeks ago.

“I declare this day, the 31st of December, on which the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq is complete, as a national day,” said Maliki in a televised ceremony, surrounded by security officials in dress uniforms.

“It is Iraq’s day. It is a feast for all Iraqis. It is the dawn of a new day in Mesopotamia … Your country is free.”

Maliki said he would work to maintain freedom and “respect political, intellectual and religious diversity…”

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Om Malik suggests 12 stories to read this weekend

So here we are — the last day of 2011 and the end of the first year of me writing my occasional newsletter, Om Says. Being on a break, I decided to not read the web and instead go analog and read a lot of books to nourish my mind. For me, it was an enjoyable year of writing these newsletters and I have picked out 12 stories from the archives that I feel are something you might want to revisit during the New Year’s weekend. Happy 2012, everyone.

The top story of 2011 that impacted me personally:

Steve Jobs and the sound of silence

Steve Jobs left a big hole not only for his company, but also for the tech industry. In a time when so many companies focus on short-term decisions, Jobs taught us that real success is in taking the long view…

I’d already ordered Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs before it became clear he was dying. That didn’t change the experience of the read – though the book arrived after his death.

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Wedding ring lost 16 years ago – found on carrot from the garden

A Swedish woman’s recent toiling in her garden turned up a rather unexpected harvest when she pulled a carrot out of the ground ‘wearing’ the wedding ring she had lost back in 1995.

After 16 years, Lena and Ola Påhlsson, who reside near Mora, Dalarna, in central Sweden, had given up hope of ever finding Lena’s lost wedding ring. The ring, which Lena had designed herself, went missing after she had put it on the kitchen counter in midst of a holiday baking session back in 1995.

But as Lena was about to gather the last of the carrots from the family vegetable patch…she pulled out a carrot that had something attached to it. As the carrot was so small, she was about to throw it away when she realized what it was that appeared to be “growing” around the finger-sized vegetable.

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2011 Bad Science list — Bachmann to Polizzi, the worst examples

From whale sperm to colon cleansers to the shape of a woman’s foot when she has an orgasm, celebrities did not disappoint during 2011 with their penchant for peddling suspect science in the world’s media.

In its annual list of what it considers the year’s worst abuses against science, the Sense About Science (SAS) campaign named reality TV star Nicole Polizzi, Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann and American singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro as top offenders, with their dubious views on why the sea is salty, the risks of cervical cancer vaccines and the colon.

“I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleanser powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference,” Quatro told the Daily Mail newspaper.

But SAS was keen to dispel such myths. It asked qualified scientists from various disciplines to comment on some of the worst celebrity science offences…

While the review is partly about entertainment, the campaign group stresses it also has a serious aim – to make sure pseudo-science is not allowed to become accepted as true.

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Manchester coppers failed to contact father about his son’s murder — before he read about his death on Facebook

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Police have apologised after it emerged that the father of a student shot dead in Manchester on Boxing Day found out about his son’s murder on Facebook.

Anuj Bidve, 23, was shot in the head at point-blank range as he walked with friends near their hotel in the inner-city Ordsall district of Salford in the early hours of December 26. The murder of the Indian student is being treated by detectives at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) as a hate crime which may have been racially motivated.

Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley, who has overall command for the investigation, confirmed that Subhash Bidve, the victim’s father, read a post on the social networking site before officers were able to get in touch to deliver the news first.

She said: “That is not the way anyone should have to find out something so devastating and we completely understand how upset the family are. Social networking is instantaneous and we have no control over when and what people post on such sites, but no one should hear such tragic news in this way.”

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Want to be the next geek/handyman for Stephen Hawking?

Think you could be the next Technical Assistant? Graduate Assistant to Stephen Hawking

The salary is expected to be in the region of £25K; the exact value will be confirmed in the near future.

Disclaimer: This is not an official job applications page, however similar it may look! The official applications process will be started when the post has been properly advertised, probably in mid-January. We will not be able to offer the post to anyone on the strength of this unofficial submission alone; we can only direct people to apply through the official channel. However, if you fit our requirements, we would like to hear from you.

The post is more accurately described by the title “Technical Assistant to Stephen Hawking.” It is not a PhD or Post-Doc position for academics looking to study physics, but a purely technical post to allow Prof. Hawking to function within the physics community and as a public speaker.

…The job…now includes:

Managing national and international travel for Prof. Hawking and his care team. Expect to spend around 3 months per year abroad!
Development and maintenance of Professor Hawking’s communication and speech systems
Procurement and maintenance of his wheelchairs and accessible van
Preparation of lecture graphics and public speaking
Dealing with the media and press
Answering inquiries from the public and maintaining the website
The post requires a wide range of skills, most importantly:
Ability to work under pressure
Maintenance of “black box” systems with no instruction manual or technical support
Computer literacy
Electronics knowledge
Ability to speak to a large audience
Ability to show others how to use complex systems

The role of ‘Graduate Assistant to Professor Hawking’ is funded as a research post at the University of Cambridge. Normally it has been under a 12 month contract, although recent graduate assistants have stayed on for several years.

For the application form, click here. I wish I was about 30 years younger.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Greek coppers jail Abbot for embezzlement, money laundering

If they get hard up for Euros they could always convert to condos

Greek authorities…jailed the abbot of a 1,000-year-old Greek Orthodox monastery pending trial for what officials said was a key role in a land deal with the state that became a major political scandal.

Investigators have said the deal, which was revealed several years ago, was weighted in favor of Vatopedi Monastery in northern Greece and cost taxpayers the equivalent of about $131 million. Two ministers in a previous, conservative government lost their jobs over the deal, which was ultimately canceled, although legal issues have delayed full restitution.

The scandal nonetheless contributed significantly to the conservatives’ 2009 general election defeat.

Abbot Efraim, 55, was led to the Korydallos prison in Athens after spending the night in the capital’s police headquarters. He had traveled 370 miles from the Orthodox monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos, from which women and female animals have been banned since 1046…

Female animals, eh? We know what that’s about.

No trial date has been set, and the abbot’s lawyers are expected to apply for his release. Under Greek law, suspects can be jailed for up to 18 months pending trial.

Greek politicians embroiled in the scandal will not stand trial, as Parliament ruled this year that the statute of limitations had expired.

Vatopedi Monastery has a treasure trove of medieval artifacts and books. It has attracted large numbers of male guests, including Prince Charles of Britain, who is a frequent visitor to Mount Athos.

But, no women guests, no female pets. I guess.

“MOVE YOUR DOMAIN DAY” inflexible – GoDaddy wins > losses!

GoDaddy gained more domains than it lost on Move Your Domain Day, a reaction to the company’s former support for the Stop Online Piracy Act. According to DailyChanges (via TechDirt), the combined domain transfers in and new registrations outstripped transfers out by a large margin. Still, the numbers were big enough for GoDaddy: the company went on record as opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) midway through the day.

The GoDaddy boycott began December 21 on reddit (Ars’ sister site) in the face of GoDaddy’s support for SOPA, an act that has been derided by opponents for its potential to infringe on First Amendment rights. GoDaddy backed off its support of SOPA on December 23, but refused to make any statements actively opposing it. Midday Thursday, the company officially announced its opposition of the act in response to “a spike in domain name transfers,” said Warren Adelman, CEO of GoDaddy.

But the movement appears to have made fewer people think “I need a new domain host” than “that reminds me, I need to make a website”: 43,304 new domains were registered with GoDaddy…in the 24-hour period preceding 1am PST on December 30, while 14,492 were transferred out. 35,907 more domains were deleted, and 27,843 domains were transferred in, for a net gain of 20,748 domains…

Inflexible insurgent political movements end up being viewed as sectarian religions, vainglorious quests, by ordinary folks. That includes geeks.

Much like Greenpeace irrevocably attacking companies which actually lead movements of businesses concerned with environment and organize their peers into bodies which change working and living conditions – the Reddit/Occupy folks who organized Move Your Domain Day missed a chance to [1] claim victory on the spot; and [2] demonstrate gracious acceptance of that victory.

Honda crushing new cars ruined in Thailand floods

After floodwaters receded at the Honda factory in Ayutthaya province

In an effort to prove that no flood damaged vehicles will be sold to customers, the Honda factory in Thailand’s Ayutthaya province began destroying over 1,000 cars. The factory was one of the hardest hit by the several months of record flooding, which only receded a few weeks ago. The devastating floods were the worst the country experienced in 50 years and left over 700 people dead. According to AFP, the scrapping process is expected to take one month.

Honda’s production was disrupted from the floods and only recently returned to normal. According to AP, American Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel says it will not be until March that dealers will be fully restocked.

Aerial images of the submerged cars in the Honda lot provided powerful visuals of the effects of the severe flooding on businesses…The area is home to large production centers for global car and computer industries. According to Bloomberg, Toyota had to suspend local production of its Camry and Prius lines, and Apple faced delays in parts used for Mac computers. Western Digital shares hit a year low in October and is now working to regain their losses, according to Reuters.

Not that anyone in the United States would have to worry about buying a car leftover from a flood, eh?

The call for a single body to investigate crimes of the Troubles

Northern Ireland’s first police ombudsman has called for a single unified body to deal with all the unsolved crimes of the Troubles and arrest suspects even in cases that are decades old. Nuala O’Loan, who as ombudsman from 1999 to 2007 exposed the state’s use of informers who killed while in the crown’s pay, said such an inquiry unit should also be granted full powers of prosecution.

Most of the 3,269 murders committed during the conflict since it began in 1969 remain unsolved. More than 30,000 people were injured, many seriously.

In an interview with the Guardian, O’Loan said she was convinced that the police had deliberately destroyed evidence in “a lot” of killings involving the security forces. “That will inhibit the possibility of a full investigation…”

“It is not a truth commission because it would require that all the parties to the conflict tell the truth and I see no evidence that the parties are ready for that yet. And I am not sure that they ever will be.”

The victims were owed something, she said, and that should be a single independent historical investigations unit…

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