German city spared disruption over WW2 bomb. It ain’t a bomb!

What the neighborhood looked like in 1945

German authorities have scrapped plans to cordon off part of the city of Stuttgart and shut its main station after discovering a suspected World War II bomb was actually an old water pipe.

Officials had announced that the station, a major railway hub, would be shut for several hours Sunday while experts defused the bomb, found in a nearby park. But city police said experts – on closer examination early Sunday – had determined the object was actually a cast-iron pipe that wasn’t marked on any map.

That meant authorities no longer needed to evacuate a 325-meter radius around the site or ask local residents to leave.

Unexploded World War II bombs are still found frequently in Germany, sometimes leading to large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

By the end of WW2, the whole country had so much new metal here and there we’re lucky it didn’t tilt the Earth.

Microsoft leads raids on criminal hackers

Digital forensic examiners: J-Michael Roberts and Ashim Kapur

Microsoft employees, accompanied by United States marshals, raided two nondescript office buildings in Pennsylvania and Illinois on Friday, aiming to disrupt one of the most pernicious forms of online crime today — botnets, or groups of computers that help harvest bank account passwords and other personal information from millions of other computers.

With a warrant in hand from a federal judge authorizing the sweep, the Microsoft lawyers and technical personnel gathered evidence and deactivated Web servers ostensibly used by criminals in a scheme to infect computers and steal personal data. At the same time, Microsoft seized control of hundreds of Web addresses that it says were used as part of the same scheme…

Microsoft’s involvement in what had been considered largely a law enforcement function — fighting computer crime — is the brainchild of Richard Boscovich, a former federal prosecutor who is a senior lawyer in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit. That group watches over fraud that could affect the company’s products and reputation…

On Friday, Microsoft was attacking its most complex target yet, known as the Zeus botnets. The creators of Zeus offer their botnet code for sale to others and, depending on the level of customer support and customization of the code that clients require, charge them $700 to $15,000 for the software, Microsoft said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn on March 19.

That, in turn, has resulted in many variants of Zeus botnets, making them harder to combat. Most of them are aimed at perpetrating various financial scams against online victims. Mr. Boscovich of Microsoft said he had a “high degree of confidence” that the unnamed culprits behind Zeus were in Eastern Europe…

Microsoft does not believe the operators of the facilities it raided on Friday, which rent space to clients on computers connected to the Internet, are in league with the people behind the botnets. And those operators said they had no idea that equipment inside their facilities was being used to issue commands to Zeus…

Mr. Boscovich said he did not think the Friday sweep would be as big a blow to Zeus as Microsoft’s previous actions against botnets, but he said it was just the beginning of actions aimed at raising the cost of doing business for the botnet’s masterminds. “The plan is to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt,” he said.

This may not be a giant arrest; but, folks I know in banking and finance IT applauded the effort. Even when firms are diligent enough to succeed at keeping these cruds out of their system – out of their clients’ systems – they still are a distraction from doing ordinary business as usual. Useless thugs.

Another snazzy new car we won’t get to buy in North America

With the cost of fuel hitting family budgets harder and harder, Ford of Europe has commenced production of its most fuel efficient (and lowest CO2 emissions) passenger car ever. The company’s new Fiesta ECOnetic Technology is powered by a 1.6-liter Duratorq TDCi diesel engine providing 205 Nm of torque that offers fuel economy figures of 71 mpg US…with CO2 emissions of 87 g/km.

In addition to the diesel engine that features bespoke calibration and optimized gear ratios, the car’s fuel-sipping specs come courtesy of a variety of ECOnetic technologies. These include Auto-Start-Stop, which shuts down the engine when the vehicle is at idle, Smart Regenerative Charging, which feeds back energy captured when braking to the vehicle’s battery, Eco mode, which provides the driver with feedback about their driving style, and a gear shift indicator in the instrument cluster that signals the optimum time to change gear…The company says half of all Ford cars sold in Europe will be ECOnetic Technology models by the end of the year, increasing to two-thirds in 2013.

North American motorists hoping ECOnetic Technology models will be showing up in showrooms across the pond seem to be out of luck with a 2009 article in Business Week saying Ford wouldn’t be able to sell enough of the vehicles at a cheap enough price, due to exchange rates. Additionally, upgrading its Mexico plant to produce diesel engines would cost more than US$350 million. The company doesn’t believe there is a sufficient market for diesel cars in North and South America to justify such an outlay.

Which is baloney – if they looked at what the Germans are doing. You can buy cars sized from the VW Golf to the Audi A8 and Mercedes E-class. Plus the Ultimo crowd at BMW. They all have waiting lists for diesel-power. That includes cars starting at under $23K with diesel engines.

These ain’t your father’s oil-burner Oldsmobile – and neither is the ECOnetic Ford Fiesta. Mullaley needs to get on board.

The American Festival of Lies about the Middle East

The heart of American foreign policy

The historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.

“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”

And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.

And Israel’s quest for lebensraum.

This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.

So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that…

Continue reading

President Molina of Guatemala urges his peers in Central America to legalize drugs

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Guatemala’s president made a formal pitch to his fellow Central American leaders over the weekend, urging them them to sign on to a regional security plan that would include legalizing drugs.

President Otto Perez Molina proposed several options for dealing with drug-related violence in Central America, including creating a regional court to try drug trafficking cases, getting economic compensation from the United States for seized drugs and decriminalizing the transport and consumption of drugs.

The leaders did not come to an agreement during Saturday’s meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, but Perez Molina described the summit as a success. “It was as successful as we were hoping, successful in that we got rid of these taboos and myths that before kept the leaders of the region from talking or debating ideas, ideas that for a long time could not be talked about openly,” he said…

Perez Molina said Saturday that the leaders aimed to bring up the issue at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, next month. The proposal could pave the way for a significant policy shift in a region where brutal drug violence is a daily reality…

“This has been an academic debate and it has also been a scientific debate, an issue that has been studied. And bringing it back into political debate, I think, is important,” Perez Molina told CNN en Español last month.

The 61-year-old former military general pledged to rule Guatemala with an iron fist when he ran for office last year. He caught many Guatemalans off guard last month when he said he wanted to legalize drugs.

What I have done is put the issue back on the table,” Perez Molina told CNN en Español shortly after he first floated the idea. “I think it is important for us to have other alternatives. … We have to talk about decriminalization of the production, the transit and, of course, the consumption.”

Some skeptics have suggested…blah, blah, blah de blah, blah!

If you need to know what official backwardness has to say about the proposal, just watch for it on your local fair-and-balanced Republican TV station. Not that the independent-minded network stations will be far behind at covering their buns from any suggestion of support for reality, science, modern human affairs or thoughtful research.

Meanwhile, it’s a positive that this conservative ex-military politico looked around at what exists and what might be better for everyone. And had the nerve to say it in public while in office.

James Cameron dives to the deepest point in the oceans

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Hollywood director James Cameron has plunged nearly 11km (seven miles) down to the deepest place in the ocean, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific.

He made the descent alone in a prototype submarine called “Deepsea Challenger”, taking around two hours to reach the bottom.

Once he reached a depth of 10,898 metres, his first words up to the surface were: “All systems OK.”

His craft is kitted out with cameras and lights so he can film the deep.

This is only the second manned expedition to the ocean’s deepest depths – the first took place in 1960. The earlier descent was made by US Navy Lt Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard…

Before the dive, the Titanic director told the BBC, that making the descent was “the fulfilment of a dream“.

He said: “I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction at a time when people were living a science fiction reality…People were going to the Moon, and Cousteau was exploring the ocean. And that’s what I grew up with, what I valued from my childhood…”

Cameron spent the last few years working in secret with his team of engineers to design and build the craft, which weighs 11 tonnes and is more than 7m long. He describes it as a “vertical torpedo” that slices through the water allowing him a speedy descent.

The tiny compartment that the filmmaker sits in is made from thick steel, which is able to resist the 1,000 atmosphere of pressure he will experience at full ocean depth.

The sub has so many lights and cameras that it is like an underwater TV studio – with Mr Cameron able to direct and film the action from within…It also has robotic arms, allowing him to collect samples of rocks and soils, and a team of researchers are working alongside the director to identify any new species. He says that science is key to his mission.

Bravo, James Cameron! We’re all watching for a safe return.

Here’s the National Geographic website – and here’s the Twitter stream.