Israeli settlers fire on Palestinian demonstrators while army and police stand around watching

A video released by an Israeli human rights group appears to show settlers shooting at a group of Palestinian protesters while police and soldiers stand by.

The incident was filmed by Palestinians from the West Bank village of Asira al-Qibliya on Saturday afternoon. A 24-year-old Palestinian, Fathi Asayira, was taken to hospital with facial injuries following the shooting.

According to B’Tselem, which uploaded the footage to YouTube, a large group of settlers, some masked and armed, approached the village from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar and began throwing rocks and starting fires. After a group of Palestinians gathered and threw rocks in return at the settlers, Israeli police and soldiers arrived on the scene…

“The video footage raises grave suspicions that the soldiers present did not act to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and firing live ammunition at the Palestinians,” said B’Tselem. “The soldiers did not try to remove the settlers and in fact are seen standing by settlers while they are shooting and stone throwing.”

In a statement, the Israeli defence forces said it was investigating the shooting.

That will do a lot of good. Witness the course of the nation our government says is leading the way to democracy in the Middle East. Just about as well as we’re doing with the same task in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’ve only wasted 10 years or so at it. The Israelis have been doing this for over a half-century.

Milestone: Launch of private rocket heralds new era

A new era in space exploration dawned Tuesday as a slender rocket shot into the dark Florida sky before sunrise, carrying the first private spacecraft bound for the International Space Station…

The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:44 a.m., carrying 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and scientific experiments on a demonstration mission to gauge the company’s ability to safely and efficiently deliver supplies to astronauts staffing the orbiting station…

Tuesday’s launch marks the culmination of six years of preparation to bring commercial flights to the space station following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet last year. It’s backed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal…

The rocket launched without a hitch following a flawless countdown that came three days after a faulty valve on one of the rocket’s engines forced a last-second postponement.

At 180 feet tall and 12 feet around, the Falcon 9 rocket is tiny in comparison to the football-field-long Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo spacecraft into orbit. It carries the company’s Dragon cargo capsule capable of carrying 13,228 pounds of supplies into orbit…

The capsule is scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers that should bring it within reach of the space station’s robotic arm on Friday. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the crew will use the arm to attach the capsule to the station and begin unloading supplies, according to SpaceX.

It will remain attached to the station for two weeks before it plummets back into the atmosphere and splashes into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.


Report Card on 1,000 American high schools that make the grade

Good news: despite shrunken state coffers, the quality of public schools is by many measures improving. In the decade-plus since Newsweek began ranking the top public high schools, the national graduation rate has increased 4 percent, federal expenditure per student has risen an adjusted $1,400, and the number of Advanced Placement (AP) tests given per school has more than doubled. The gold standard, of course, is college readiness, and the numbers are bright there too: between 1999 and 2009, the proportion of 18-to-24-year-olds enrolled in college rose by 14 percent…

The schools that made our top 1,000 tend to be relatively small and concentrated in metropolitan areas. Seventy-four percent have fewer than 2,000 students, and more than one quarter are located in or near New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. The collective student body at these schools is better off financially than the national average: only 17.5 percent receive free-or reduced-price lunch, compared with about 40 percent nationally.

Nearly 77 percent of the 1,000 admit students through open enrollment, with no admissions restrictions. But many of the highest spots were claimed by selective schools—where students are let in by academic achievement, admissions testing, or lottery—which makes sense given the growth of magnet, charter, and other specialty schools around the country: seven out of the top 10 schools on our list are either charter or magnet…

To reach these rankings, we factored in six criteria. Three of those—the four-year graduation rate, college-acceptance rate, and number of AP and other high-level exams given per student—make up 75 percent of the overall score. Average SAT/ACT and AP/college-level test scores count for another 10 percent each, and the number of AP courses offered per student is weighted as the final 5 percent. Because most of this data isn’t centrally available, we collected it from high-school administrators directly—about 15,000 of them—and received 2,300 responses.

Few topics spark more conversation among friends and family than the state of education in America. In general, I think we’d be pleased if we could say our local public schools are offering “education that doesn’t entirely suck!” Living in a 3rd-world state like New Mexico doesn’t aid that experience. There are no schools from New Mexico on this list.

I could pull age rank on everyone. I attended high school in a small New England town transitioning from rural to suburb not very gracefully. Still the school had over 1000 students tucked inside 4 years – and a graduation rate of 99.6%. I have no accurate idea of how many applied to/went on to college. That was mostly a function of family income for us – back then.

I feel that we learned to think as well as acquired some knowledge back then. This was before the Freudian ethos overwhelmed American colleges of education and we began to adhere to systems where the students decided if they felt like learning anything, their parents demanded an automatic pass at the end of each year – regardless of capabilities.

Read through the list. Systems for searching are contained within the page listing the 1000 schools.

Court rules that Bush and Blair’s pre-Iraq conversation must be disclosed to the public

“You big mug – give me a kiss!”
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Extracts of a phone conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush a few days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed, a tribunal has ruled.

The Foreign Office lost an appeal against an order by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to disclose records of the conversation between the two leaders on 12 March 2003. Graham’s order was made in response to a freedom of information request by Stephen Plowden, a private individual who demanded disclosure of the entire record of the conversation.

“Accountability for the decision to take military action against another country is paramount,” Graham had said in his original order.

Upholding that ruling on Monday, Judge John Angel, president of the information tribunal, said Foreign Office witnesses had downplayed the importance of a decision to go to war, a view the tribunal found “difficult to accept”.

The tribunal added: “Also in our view, particularly from the evidence in this case, the circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war.”

It said parts of the phone call between Blair and Bush recording what the former British prime minister said must be disclosed. The two men are believed to have discussed UN resolutions on Iraq and a television interview given by Jacques Chirac, then French president, on 10 March 2003. Blair repeatedly blamed Chirac for the failure to get a second UN security council resolution backing an invasion of Iraq…

Angus Lapsley, a Foreign Office official responsible for US-UK relations, argued against disclosure on the grounds that Britain had “a uniquely close and privileged relationship with the US“. He added that there was “no comparator” in terms of the “breadth and depth” of the UK’s relationship with the US, which was vital to Britain’s national interests.

That’s a long and incredibly polite redefinition of the word “lapdog”.

As criminal as were the decisions made by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to invade Iraq – the Yes Man routine played to the hilt by Tony Blair was a significant asset to the whole despicable venture.

Longest, smartest, humorous commercial I’ve seen in a long time


This is one of those days where I have an abundance of material worth posting. I still have to get out and enjoy a few more walks with Rally, take a few more pictures of the Buffalo Gourds exploding into growth down by the bosque. Fortunately [!] there’s a break in proper football until Euro 2012 starts. Easy to stay away from the TV except for Tom Keene’s show on Bloomberg TV.

I’ll squeeze a few of these in between usual posting times.


Thanks, Ursarodinia

Over 2,000 false convictions in past 23 years in the United States

Sylvester Smith

In 1984, two North Carolina girls, age 4 and 6, were molested. They told police their abuser was Sylvester Smith, who was dating the mother of one of the girls, and he went to prison for the crime.

Twenty years later, the victims recanted, saying their grandmother told them to blame Smith, and his conviction was overturned.

But the person they say who really molested them — their cousin, who was nine at the time — could not be prosecuted because he was under age at the time of the alleged crime. He is, however, serving a life sentence for another crime he committed in the meantime: murder.

Smith’s case illustrates the fallout from false convictions: He lost roughly 20 years of his life to prison, while the alleged perpetrator was free to commit other crimes.

Smith’s discarded conviction is one of nearly 900 such cases filed in the National Registry of Exonerations, a database of prisoners exonerated in the U.S. of serious crimes since 1989, that was made public on Monday. To qualify as an “exoneree,” an individual must have been convicted and later relieved of all the legal consequences.

In compiling the database, researchers became aware of more than 1,100 other cases in which convictions were overturned due to 13 separate police corruption scandals, most of which involved the planting of drugs or guns on innocent defendants. Those exonerations are not included in the registry.

I’d love to include the names of the Police Departments and coppers involved, though.

Continue reading

Tall, red and green: Housing scheme sells energy back to the grid

Look up this project on the website of its architects, ACXT, and you will find that it goes by the rather understated name of 242 Affordable Housing Units in Salburúa (Salburúa being a neighborhood in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz). In many ways the downplaying of the name is in keeping with ACXT’s quiet approaches to sustainable design. Though there may be no obvious green bells and whistles such as wind turbines or photovoltaics, passive architectural methods combined with on-site generation contribute to what ACXT claims is a “considerable reduction” in the building’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Though largely a residential development the building, completed in 2011, incorporates nine shops at ground level. From there, it’s social housing all the way up: between four and seven stories for the horseshoe-shaped block that forms the building’s footprint, rising to 21 stories for the tower that rises above one end of that horseshoe.

Why the variation in height in the main block of the building? It’s all to do with daylight, or specifically sunlight – the two being subtly different things. By limiting the height of the development to the south (we’re in the northern hemisphere, needless to say), more apartments are granted a direct view of the sun. It’s an arrangement the building appears to have borrowed from its closest neighbors, and though the tower, being located at the building’s south-western corner, inevitably casts a shadow, the photographs suggest that an impressive proportion of the building’s facades are bathed in sunlight at any given time. In any case, the positioning of the tower to the south inevitably means that more apartments are granted a south-facing aspect, and though direct sunlight can be problematic, it’s also a very nice thing to have – especially at home…

More central to the building’s sustainable efforts is the cogeneration system which produces 70 kW of electricity and 109 kW of heating on site. A relatively unglamorous technology, cogeneration…is nevertheless a tremendously important weapon in a building designer’s arsenal. In this case, effectively an on-site gas-fired power station…it’s the proximity of the power generation to end use that sees CHP offering significant energy savings over grid-scale gas fired power, because a vast amount of the heat generated as a by-product can be put to use very near to where it is generated. Plus it’s heat that doesn’t have to be generated by other means, as would otherwise be the case. In a triumph of localism, cogeneration can almost be seen as putting the fuel to work twice in one go.

ACXT reports that the building is able to produce electricity to sell back to the grid, which suggests that, for some of the time at least, the cogeneration system is producing more electricity than the building needs: a good thing.

Bravo! They don’t discuss it in the article; but, I imagine the plumbing and what HVAC there is – is all home run rather than traditional right angles and elbows. You can save about 30% of the energy required to push water and air around a multi-story building.