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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Venezuela Expels Top US Diplomat

The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela on Tuesday defended three diplomats expelled by President Nicolas Maduro, rejecting charges they were involved in espionage and accusations Washington is trying to destabilize the OPEC nation.
In the latest spat between the ideological foes, Maduro on Monday ordered out three U.S. diplomats including Kelly Keiderling, temporarily in charge of the mission.
He alleged they had been meeting with "right wing" opposition leaders and encouraging acts of sabotage against the South American nation's electricity grid and economy.
The expulsions throw a wrench into cautious efforts this year to restore full diplomatic ties that were frayed for most of the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
The U.S. government was evaluating its response and may take reciprocal action in accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, a statement from the embassy said.
"We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government," it added.
"We likewise reject the specific claims against the three members of our embassy."
In an address to the nation, Maduro repeated his accusations on Tuesday, saying the three Americans had been handing over money and stirring up plots in southeastern Bolivar state.
"You can see the hand of the gringo conspiracy ... they talk of a Benghazi," Maduro said, referring to the cradle of revolt against late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Maduro showed a video of the three in a special TV broadcast all local channels were obliged to show live.
To a backdrop of dramatic music, the video showed images of diplomatic vehicles, a flight manifest and the three diplomats entering and departing what appeared to be offices of pro-opposition groups in Bolivar.
"Until the U.S. government understands it has to respect Venezuela as a sovereign nation, quite simply there will be no cordial relations, nor cordial communications," Maduro said.
The U.S. Embassy statement said the diplomats were in Bolivar state on entirely "normal" business.
"We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum," it said.
"This is what diplomats do. Venezuelan diplomats in the United States similarly meet with a broad range of representatives of our society."
Maduro, who is Chavez's successor and part of a Latin American leftist alliance including Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, named a new acting head of Venezuela's U.S. diplomatic mission shortly after his April election.
Many took that as a sign of warming relations.
That official may now face expulsion in the tit-for-tat style retaliation that has characterized similar incidents in the past.
Chavez in 2008 expelled Ambassador Patrick Duddy over what he called Washington's involvement in violent protests in Bolivia. In 2010, he blocked the nomination of diplomat Larry Palmer over comments that there were "clear ties" between members of Chavez's government and leftist Colombian rebels.
Venezuela's opposition says Maduro is continuing a Chavez-era tactic of inflating and inventing diplomatic crises to distract attention from economic and social problems affecting the nation's 29 million people. Read related news here
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Worm Kill King

King Richard III. See More Pictures Here
See More Pictures Here
Not only was Richard III one of England's most despised monarchs, but it now turns out the hunchback king was probably infected with parasitic worms that grew up to a foot in length.
Researchers who dug up Richard III's skeleton underneath a parking lot in Leicester last year now report they discovered numerous roundworm eggs in the soil around his pelvis, where his intestines would have been. They compared that to soil samples taken close to Richard's skull and surrounding his grave. There were no eggs near the skull and only traces of eggs in the soil near the grave.
In a study published online Wednesday in the journal Lancet, experts say that suggests the eggs near the skeleton's pelvis were from an infection during the king's life, even though it's unlikely the worms did him any serious damage. In children, roundworm can lead to stunted growth and a reduced IQ but for a well-fed English king, the parasites were just a minor annoyance.
"Richard probably had more than enough food that he could share with his worms," said Piers Mitchell, a professor of biological anthropology at Cambridge University, one of the researchers. Mitchell said it was the first time any English monarch had been shown to have been infected with worms.
Still, the deposed king would have suffered some symptoms of worm infection, which typically occurs after someone eats the eggs in contaminated food. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae travel to the lungs and throat, where they get ingested back down into the small intestines.
"As the worms migrate through the body, they can cause a cough and an unpleasant feeling as the worm is swallowed," Mitchell said. He said the king's doctors wouldn't have linked those symptoms to the worms and probably would have prescribed treatments including bloodletting. Mitchell doubted the worms would have worsened Richard III's spinal deformity; William Shakespeare's play depicts him as a hunchback regent who had his two young nephews murdered so he could claim the English throne.
It's also possible Richard's worms made a gruesome appearance when he died on the battlefield in 1485 as the last English king killed in war. In adults infected with roundworm, traumatic events like car crashes can cause the worms to pop out of peoples' noses and ears.
"The worms get shocked and they move quickly," said Simon Brooker, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not part of the study. He said it was possible the many blade injuries suffered by Richard before his death could have prompted the worms in his body to make a hasty exit.
Brooker said there are about 820 million people worldwide who are infected with roundworm, who could be cured with a cheap, one-dose pill. Read more details here.
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Same-sex pairs shake up tango championship in Argentina

Same Sex Tango
The sexy, sensual world of tango is experiencing a shake-up, as same-sex couples compete for the first time in the world championships in Argentina, where the dance was born.
The crowds in this traditionally conservative bastion of machismo culture, surprisingly, seem to embrace the change.
Enthusiastic cheers and massive applause rang out in a Buenos Aires exhibition hall for Juan Pablo Ramirez and Daniel Arroyo, as they danced to a 1940s classic.
"It takes two to tango," Ramirez told AFP, elated after his successful performance, "but they don't necessarily have to be different sexes."
Ramirez, a 34-year-old Argentine professional dancer, and Arroyo, 18, are among four same-sex couples -- including three male pairs and one female -- competing in the 11th annual world championship.
"There is a macho culture," Arroyo conceded. "But there are older people who appreciate us.
"We aren't doing anything transgressive," he said, adding "society isn't ready. It's a slow change, with pauses."
The dance partners said they are trying to excel in the wider world of tango, not just a gay subculture. "Our goal is for people to say, 'what good dancing!'" Ramirez said.
Although same-sex couples are now seen as out of the ordinary in the milongas (dance halls) where tango is celebrated amid a cult of masculinity, the origins of the dance tell a different story.
Born in the brothels of the 19th century, the dance was at that time performed by pairs of men -- women were initially prohibited from participating in a dance considered prostitute-like, historians say.
Gustavo Mozzi, a musician and composer and director of the tango championship, told AFP that same-sex couples were never officially barred from the competition, though they never entered in the past.
This year's entries show "there is a relaxation in the tango and milongas circuit. An opening," Mozzi said.
The development is perhaps another sign of Argentina's increasingly open attitude on questions of gender, in a country that has been a pioneer in Latin America in legalizing gay marriage and whose capital is well-known as gay-friendly.
Music swelled again and couples began striding and circling the stage in the deliberate tango motions as the audience cheered for Marlene Heyman and Lucia Christe .Read full articles . Read more story here

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Taiwan a 'testing ground' for Chinese

TAIPEI - Taiwan is the frontline in an emerging global battle for cyberspace, according to elite hackers in the island's IT industry, who say it has become a rehearsal area for the Chinese cyberattacks that have strained ties with the United States.

The self-governing island, they say, has endured at least a decade of highly-targeted data-theft attacks that are then directed towards larger countries.

"We've seen everything," said Jim Liu, the 28-year-old founder of Lucent Sky, a Taiwanese internet security company specialising in resolving dangerous software vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit in order to gain access to a system.

"We'll see a specific attack signature here, and then six months later see the same signature in an attack on the States."

A Pentagon report in May accused China of trying to break into U.S. defence computer networks. It followed another report in February by U.S. computer security company Mandiant that said a secretive Chinese military unit was probably behind a series of hacking attacks that had stolen data from 100 U.S. companies.

Beijing dismissed both reports as without foundation. But Taiwan experts say that hacking methods such as those outlined in the Mandiant report are the same kinds of security breaches that they had seen several years earlier.

Regarded by China as a renegade province it must recover, by force if necessary, it is easy to see why Taiwan might be an ideal target for Chinese hackers: it is close to the mainland, Mandarin-speaking and boasts advanced internet infrastructure.

This cyberwar playing out across the narrow Taiwan Strait first came to public attention in 2003, when a Taiwanese police agency realized hackers had stolen personal data, including household registration information, from its computer system.

These attacks differed from traditional hacking attempts - where many casual hackers attempt to disrupt their targets' systems, these hackers went in stealthily, with the intention to plunder rather than destroy.

"Back then it was very rare to see these kinds of social network attacks," said hacking specialist Jeremy Chiu, a contract instructor in IT for Taiwan's intelligence agencies. "They were very, very well organised."

Other indicators, including the ease with which the hackers penetrated an email system written entirely in Chinese, painted a picture of the culprits as a large, coordinated group of mainland Chinese hackers.

"One thing that indicates government support for these attacks is just the sheer volume - how many agencies are being attacked on a daily basis," said Benson Wu, postdoctoral researcher in information technology at Taiwanese think-tank Academia Sinica and co-founder of Xecure Lab, which focuses on responding to advanced persistent threats.

Interviewed at his downtown Taipei office, Wu's set-up fits the classic hacker image: dimly-lit, strewn with wires and humming with computers.

On a projector screen he displayed a list of emails, written in Chinese, with subject headings like "meeting notes", "dinner attendance" and "questionnaire".

"These are all hacking attempts," Wu explained. Once the documents have been opened, they plant a backdoor allowing the hacker virtually unfettered access to the network.

One such "spearphishing" attack was reportedly used on the White House in October. A Taiwan expert in cyberespionage interviewed by Reuters estimated that thousands of Taiwanese high-level government employees receive as many as 20 to 30 of these emails a month.

"We've been following these Chinese hackers for so long, we can track their daily work schedule," said the expert, who asked not to be identified.

"People expect hackers to be night owls, but these guys work very normal hours - on Chinese national holidays, for example, we don't see any hacking activity at all."

Tracking the exact source of the attacks, however, remains a slippery game of internet sleuth.

"We take the IP address culled from the attack as a springboard, then track it through the internet - perhaps the same IP address was used in a forum registration, or to register a QQ handle," he said, referring to a popular Chinese chat program. "It depends how good they are at covering their tracks."

China denies being behind hacking attacks on other nations and insists it is a major victim of cyber attacks, including from the United States - an argument that Beijing sees as strengthened by revelations last month from a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, about top-secret U.S. electronic surveillance programmes.

The United States and China held talks focused on cyber issues last week.
According to internet platform Akamai, 27 percent of worldwide hacking activity during 2012 originated in China. The same report, however, also placed Taiwan among the top five digital attack originating countries in 2012.

"Taiwan is one of the key countries where we see a lot of activity," said Singapore-based malware researcher Chong Rong Hwa of network security firm FireEye Inc.
A report issued by SecureWorks, a network safety arm of PC maker Dell Inc, said Taiwan government ministries are swarming with a particularly malicious form of data-nabbing computer virus.

In one year, the Taiwan National Security Bureau encountered more than 3 million hacking attempts from China, according to statements given by bureau director Tsai Teh-sheng in March in response to questions from lawmakers.

Military and technology intelligence was included among the pilfered data. A representative from the bureau declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

"Taiwan will continue to be the battleground for lots of cyber attacks; it's like we are on our own," Wu said. "China has a huge pool of talent and technical resources. Read more story here

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Miss USA uses Supreme Court knowledge in pageant win

 It takes more than beauty and grace to be the winner of the Miss USA pageant. Last night, Erin Brady wowed the judges with her explanation of the Supreme Court’s recent DNA decision in the last round of the competition.

 Of course, if Justice Antonin Scalia or any number of civil libertarians had been on the judge’s panel, runner-up  Mary Margaret McCord of Alabama or another contestant could possibly wearing the tiara on Monday.

Instead, Brady had get the approval of comedian Mo Rocca, designer Betsey Johnson, and cast members of “Real Housewives” and “Duck Dynasty.”

Brady and five other contestants were in the final round of the televised competition from Las Vegas.

Here is the winning question posed by the judges:  “Miss Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal suspects can be subjected to a police DNA test after arrest. Do you agree or disagree with this and why or why not?”

Brady agreed with the court’s majority decision two weeks ago and made an important distinction.
“I would agree with this,” Brady said. “I think if somebody is being prosecuted and has committed a crime that’s that severe, they should have a DNA test. I think there are so many crimes going on in this world, that if that is one step closer to figuring out who has done it, I think we should absolutely do so.”

The court in its decision in Maryland v. King said that DNA samples could be taken for people arrested under probable cause in serious crimes.

The “Last Question” is considered to be the toughest test in any high-profile pageant and especially at Donald Trump’s Miss USA .

Critics noticed that Brady’s quick answer seemed like a winner.

“She sounded like she knew what she was talking about the most,” said the official blogger at the TV gossip site Zap2It.

Another site, Hollywood Gossip, agreed. “Brady agreed with the Supreme Court of the U.S. on the complex issue, supporting testing and sounding like she knew what she was talking about,” the site said.

It turns out that not only does Brady have a Finance degree from Central Connecticut State University—her minor was criminal justice.

McCord’s question was about the recent revelations of government surveillance of phone calls and Internet transmissions.

“I would rather someone track my phone messages and feel safe wherever I go than feel like they’re encroaching on my privacy,” said McCord. That also won’t thrill civil libertarians, who could look to Megan Pinckney as an alternative to Brady.

Pinckney, as Miss South Carolina, was asked about former CIA analyst Edward Snowden and others who leak classified documents. Read full article here

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

150 arrested for burning Christian Houses

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Police have arrested around 150 people accused of burning dozens of Christian houses in eastern Pakistan after a non-Muslim was accused of making offensive comments about Islam's Prophet Muhammad, police said Sunday as Christians rallied against the destruction.
The Christian demonstrators blocked a main highway in Lahore and police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters who demanded assistance from the government.

Government spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed promised the government would help hem rebuild their houses, but the Christians expressed dissatisfaction with the way the government was handling the incident.

"I have been robbed of all of my life's savings," Yousuf Masih said, standing close to his burned house. He said the government's announcement that it would give 200,000 rupees ($2,000) compensation to each family was a joke.

The incident began on Friday after a Muslim accused a Christian man of blasphemy — an offense that in Pakistan is punished by life in prison or death. On Saturday, a mob of angry Muslims rampaged through the Christian neighborhood, burning about 170 houses.

The Christian man is in police custody pending an investigation into the allegations.
Those who rioted are being investigated for alleged arson, robbery, theft, and terrorism, said police officer Abdur Rehman. The Pakistani police usually arrest rioters to tamp down public anger, but those accused are rarely convicted.

The law is often misused to settle personal scores and rivalries.

Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community, said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men — one Christian and one Muslim — than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.

Such accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it's difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials and politicians do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.

Last year, there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local cleric where she lived was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail. Read the full articles here.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Siti has been raped and murdered..

PETALING JAYA: Mohamad Nor Arshad, the traumatised owner of Siti, a five-year-old mare which is believed to have been “raped and murdered” by an Arabian stallion, wants to know what really happened to his pony.

“I am very upset at what happened as I love horses.

“I hope other horse lovers do not have to go through this ordeal,” said the 35-year-old businessman.
He said the news of his animal's horrific death on Jan 21 had caught the attention of several animal rights groups including the Malaysian Equine Council.

“It is keeping tabs on the progress of this case as they are interested in the outcome, too,” he said, adding that he had not lodged a report with the council.

He said he decided to house Siti, a pony breed at the Sungai Ramal Dalam stables on Jan 15 after it was given to him by a friend.

“I was so glad when a friend offered his pony recently as he could no longer care for it.
“I sent Siti to the stables for a two-week rehabilitation but was shocked to learn of her death six days later.”

Fortunately, Mohd Nor said Siti's five-month-old filly, named Sydney, was spared the stallion's alleged vicious attacks.

“Siti died the very same day I decided to name the foal Sydney,” he said, adding that he had put the filly under the care of a different stable following the incident.

It was reported that Mohamad Nor, from Kampung Pandan Dalam, lodged a police report on Jan 21 over the “rape and murder” of Siti by a stallion, named Al-Walid, believed to be owned by a “Datuk” from Kuala Lumpur.

Mohammed Nor said he had heard there were other similar incidents at other stables where aggressive horses had attacked other horses.

“Such incidents are rarely highlighted,” he said.

A check at the stable revealed that it was business as usual with several workers saying they were unaware of the incident.

A caretaker of the stable had found Siti lying on the ground and shivering at about 8am on Jan 21 with injuries on the head, bite marks on the back and the private parts bleeding profusely.

Veterinarians from the Cheras Veterinary Department and Universiti Putra Malaysia tried to save the mare but it died about three hours later.

Preliminary checks by the veterinarian from UPM showed the mare was probably “raped and killed” by the forcefulness of the stallion.

Based on the police report, the stallion was apparently placed in the mare's enclosure for a day due to space constraints at the stable.

Selangor CID chief Senior Asst Comm Mohd Adnan Abdullah said the case was not under the jurisdiction of the police but under the Veterinary Department.

 Read full articles The Star,

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