Egypt is infamous both for the sexual harassment women endure and the government's lackluster response to the problem. Now, a private venture called HarassMap will allow women to instantly report incidents of sexual harassment through text messages. Victims will receive a reply offering support and practical advice, and reports will be compiled into a larger map of harassment hotspots. The project is set to launch next year, and utilizes open-source mapping technology, which was also used earlier this year to help relief efforts after the Haitian earthquake.
According to the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, a Cairo-based NGO, 83 percent of Egyptian women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment, including groping, lewd comments, and stalking. Almost half reported harassment on a daily basis. And belying popular belief, harassment incidents do not seem to be linked to revealing outfits -- three-quarters of victims were veiled at the time of incident. There are currently no laws prohibiting harassment. Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, has even said that the media exaggerates the threat posed by sexual harassment.
The most recent statistics available place Egyptian mobile phone users at around 40 percent of the population and the female literacy rate at about 60 percent. While HarassMap could be important on a practical level for those women able to access it, those working on the project think it could change societal norms.
Rebecca Chiao, one of the volunteers behind the project told Britain's Guardian.
"In the last couple of years there's been a debate in Egypt over whether harassment of women on the streets is a serious issue, or whether it's something women are making up. So HarassMap will have an impact on the ground by revealing the extent of this problem. It will also offer victims a practical way of responding, something to fight back with; as someone who has experienced sexual harassment personally on the streets of Cairo, I know that the most frustrating part of it was feeling like there was nothing I could do."
U.S. cities, including New York and Washington, and entire countries like Britain and Australia, already have similar maps where citizens can report incidents by e-mail. Hollaback, first started in New York, is also in the process of launching an iPhone app.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
Writing for Nature,
Owing to a 2008 law passed by Congress, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has until 15 October to decide which agency will be responsible for protecting the planet from an asteroid strike. Members of the task force say NASA expects to be given part or all of that responsibility. To meet it, the panel discussed the creation of a Planetary Protection Coordination Office (PPCO) within NASA, with an annual budget of $250 million–$300 million. It would detect and track asteroids — and develop a capability to deflect them. "You want to use a proven capability when you're talking about an actual threat," says Rusty Schweickart, a former astronaut and the other panel co-chair.
The PPCO would also challenge other countries to fund defence against asteroids, perhaps through the United Nations. Canada already plans to launch the NEO [near-earth objects] Survey Satellite in 2011, and Germany's AsteroidFinder is slated for launch in 2012, but neither is expected to come close to the NEO-logging goal by 2020.
The U.S. currently spends about $5.5 million per year to track NEO's and less than a million on researching ways to counter them, but is falling far short of asteroid-detection goals. Some might say that's already too much, given the more terrestrial problems the U.S. faces. On the other hand, the United States spends more than $1 billion -- the amount NASA says it needs to meet its goal of detecting all potentially dangerous objects by 2020 -- on far less lofty goals than saving humanity from the fate of the dinosaurs. Even an asteroid just one kilometer in diameter would be enough to cause worldwide crop failures and a shift in the earth's climate. One just a few meters wide could wipe out a major city.
But why, in this supposedly post-American world, is the United States expected to take the lead on this? Unlike, say, missile defense, asteroid detection and deterrence benefits all countries -- if NASA does detect a potentially dangerous asteroid, chances are it's probably going to hit somewhere else. And unlike global warming, smaller developing countries can't say that the United States should accept more of the blame for asteroids. (Though Hugo Chavez could certainly try.)
Scientists have been urging the United Nations to coordinate international asteroid detection efforts for years. But despite coordinating work by the the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs (yes, there is one), progress seems to be slow-going.
There are some promising signs of other powers starting to take the lead. The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a conference on international asteroid tracing earlier this year. Russia's space agency has also proposed a joint asteroid monitoring project with the European Union.
The good news is we probably have some time. An object big enough to wipe out a sizeable portion of the earth's population only hits about twice every million years. But the international community's recording in coordinating the international response to much more immediate dangers like global warming its not encouraging for those who would prefer not to rely on Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman when the big one comes some day.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may be on Twitter, but he was not amused when Kirov's regional governor Nikita Belykh decided to post his thoughts during yesterday's State Council session. (Many thanks to the Wall Street Journal for translating the highlights.)
The bizarre story, which really could have only happened in today's Russia, began when Dmitry Zelenin, governor of Russia's Tver region, noted "State Council. 1 Minute to session." But it was Belykh's furious pounding out 140-character messages that made things interesting. He first noted:
10-15 people at the State Council are sitting with iPads. They used to sit with laptops. Darned stenographers ;)
(He immediately followed his own tweet by asking if they were in fact "doing other things.")
As Medvedev spoke, Belykh posted the tweet that started the brouhaha:
I support your idea of presidential Lycees, Dmitry Anatolievich. Kress. Actually, that was my idea ;(
At this point, Belykh was publicly reprimanded by Medvedev, who had got wind of the governor's feelings: "Nikita Yurievich Belykh is posting something on his Twitter page right now, during the State Council session, as if he has nothing else to do." You'd imagine, at this point, that Belykh would stop Tweeting and pay sharp attention to the rest of the session. You'd also be wrong, as Belykh blamed Medvedev's adviser Arkady Dvorkovich for narking on him:
There you go ;(. Dvorkovich leaked my reports to the President. Such are the costs of the information society ;(
It's clear that Dvorkovich himself was paying more attention to his feed than his boss as he playfully chided Belykh:
At least the record was set straight :)
Other attendees got in on the act, claiming that Belykh's list of followers was destined to rise as a result of the exchange. After the meeting, Medvedev responded to Belykh on his own (Russian-language) feed:
Yes, those are the costs of the information society. The important thing is that they don't distract from work, right?
As a side note, Medvedev's English-language feed follows President Barack Obama, the White House, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Kremlin's Russian feed, but only Obama and the White House have returned the favor.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
If you know anything about the Ebola virus, you're terrified by it. The disease, euphemistically dubbed a haemorrhagic fever, essentially causes one's innards to turn to mush, and blood begins to leak out of a patients eyes, nose, ears -- everywhere. It's only turned up sporadically in remote Africa in humans, but when it does, it has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
Think that sounds scary? How about this prospect: that disease engineered as bioweapon. Right. That's what the Department of Defense thought in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. So they have been researching drug therapy treatments ever since.
Yesterday, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and a private firm, AVI BioPharma, published the results of studies that show that their treatment does have a helpful effect in monkeys. That's a huge leap, particularly since the reserachers were given clearance to start limited human testing. The partnership won a Defense Department grant of up to $291 million last month for that phase.
It's an interesting reminder of just how many technological advances have come out of such army research -- and who knows, maybe more disease treatments will be down the pipeline. Now, if only they would start researching malaria . . .
Claude Mahoudeau/AFP/Getty Images
Following the UAE's recent admonition of BlackBerry smartphones, the country will prohibit three of BlackBerry's web operations starting on Oct. 11 -- e-mail, instant messaging between BlackBerry phones, and the web-browsing program -- citing security concerns. Later this month, Saudi Arabia will also ban instant messaging between BlackBerrys.
A Saudi official revealed that the move is intended to strong-arm Research-in-Motion, BlackBerry's Ontario-based company, into conceding information, which it has already done for Russia and China. In 2007, RIM provided its encryption keys to a Russian telecommunications agency, which then passed it to the Federal Security Service. A year later, RIM's handset came out in China, but was delayed because the company "needed to satisfy Beijing that its handsets posed no security threat to China's communication networks."
The ban won't be lifted "until these BlackBerry applications are in full compliance with UAE regulations;" and it comes at a time when countries all around the world, are attempting to restrict the many freedoms provided by the Internet.
BlackBerry phones may be unwelcome guests at dinner parties, in class, or at the movies, but in the UAE, the smartphones have recently been labeled a "security threat."
"As a result of how Blackberry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain Blackberry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions," an authority from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority declared.
Despite what may appear to be honest "social [and] judicial" concerns, Emrati officials are annoyed because they can't access BlackBerry users' personal data. Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerrys, stores their customers' data overseas - outside of the UAE's jurisdiction.
But, this is just the latest attempt at censorship. A year ago, the country's biggest state-run mobile provider Etisalat, promoted an update to the phone that would have allowed the company to access users' personal data like emails and text messages; but it was met with fierce opposition. More recently, Bahrain banned BlackBerry's "Urgent News" app which aggregated stories from the country's six main newspapers.
Reporters Without Borders listed the UAE as an "Enemy of the Internet" and recently stated that the UAE "regards the services offered by BlackBerry, especially its instant messaging, as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance."
The era of the BlackBerry (or CrackBerry, its affectionate nickname) may be over, according to recent figures: In America, R.I.M's share of the smartphone market fell to 41 percent in the first quarter, down from 55 percent last year. But its sales are still increasing overseas. If Dubai still wants to become the financial capital of the world, they're going to have to embrace the CrackBerry.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Of all the photos documenting the effects of the oil spill (and there are some true stunners), the images of oil-soaked pelicans are among the most arresting and disheartening. One shows an immobile bird making a futile attempt to flap its wings. Another captures a brown and slimy creature opening its beak wide in what looks unmistakably like a shriek -- the avian equivalent, perhaps, of the desperate expressions on the faces of Gulf fishermen. At least, you tell yourself, these poor pelicans get picked up, cleaned up, and sent on their way -- feathers ruffled, daily routing upended, but not all that worse for wear (oil contaminates the birds but, if properly removed, doesn't cause permanent damage).
If you've been reassuring yourself with this rosy rescue story: think again. Silvia Gaus, a German animal biologist, has spoken out to advocate a "kill, don't clean" approach to handling the damaged birds. She's been joined by a chorus of scientific and environmental experts, including spokesmen for the World Wildlife Fund, who say that the low rates of survival for the birds -- estimated by Gaus to be a mere 1 percent -- mean that life-saving attempts just aren't worth the effort. The stress experienced by birds, they say, is simply too much: most, they predict, will go on to die of kidney or liver failure.
An editor at the Anchorage Daily News offered a less scientific perspective:
"Somewhere in America today, a child is going hungry while well-meaning people go to great lengths trying to save oiled Alaska birds destined to die shortly anyway...Why? Because rescuing these birds makes some people feel better about themselves."
If you don't buy either argument (and many don't: the executive director of the International Bird Rescue and Research Center called them "completely bogus"), there are a few facts you might bear in mind about the challenges of cleaning and saving oil-contaminated birds. In order to wash a single pelican, you'll need four pairs of hands (one bird rescue expert says with horror that she'd "never wash a bird alone"), a soft baby toothbrush, a handful of q-tips, a bottle of Dawn detergent (proven through "twenty years" of research to be the most effective de-oiling product), 300 gallons of hot water, and 45 minutes of your afternoon. Now multiply that by about a thousand.
This debate is just one of many unfolding between experts of all kinds in the aftermath of the spill. But it isn't hard to imagine how this tug-of-war between optimism (think "Save the Pelicans" bumper stickers) and fatalism ("just euthanize") might start to infiltrate other dimensions of the response effort. That is, if it hasn't already.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
It's from a firm called Covalence that calculates companies' ethical reputations and, on a neat mapping tool, tracks them against the amount of attention the companies are receiving in the media. (Methodology here.) From this report, a look at how different international industries have fared over the past half-decade, as the volume of information about them has generally increased:
Not only is the oil and gas industry in the basement, but it's one of the only industries whose reputation gets actively worse the more we know about it. For the largest oil and gas companies, the relationship is even starker -- spikes in attention track closely with drops in reputation.
On one level, this is probably just a measure of the very different reasons that different industries find themselves in the headlines. (When a tech company is in the news, it's because it's launching the iPad. When an oil company is in the news, it's because it has befouled a major ecosystem for a generation.) And energy companies are often particularly bad actors on the world stage.
But I suspect it's also a testament to the degree to which both the oil industry and the global public that depends on it are more comfortable when the latter knows less about how the former does its work -- the business of energy production is rarely pretty. Which is why all the unflattering attention is important: The best case for drilling domestically in the United States, rather than somewhere like Nigeria, is that the added scrutiny that operations here receive -- from the government, the media, and environmental organizations -- makes companies behave better than they do in the Niger River Delta, where oil operations are estimated to have leaked an amount comparable to the Gulf oil spill since the 1970s, and garnered a fraction of the international outrage.
U.S. Coast Guard
If you're the type of commuter who starts to sweat inside a crowded subway car, just reading about the latest development of the Mars500 project may be enough to make your stomach queasy. Today, six astronauts sealed themselves off in a space ship simulator "destined" for Mars, marking the first of 520 days they will spend shut off from the world around them. (To fully appreciate the claustrophobia they will endure, note that the "Habitable Module" where they will live is a mere 20m long.) Their mission is part of a project at Moscow's Institute for Biomedical Problems designed to study the effects of space travel to the mysterious Red Planet, where so far only robotic feet have tread.
Technically speaking, the team's journey is even shorter than your commute: all 18 months of the project will take place inside a stationary craft at the Institute. This fact constrains the mission in a few important ways. For one thing, the crew won't actually experience the feeling of weightlessness. (Apparently for some this isn't the only lure of becoming an astronaut.) But scientists have gone out of their way to ensure that the simulation is as realistic as possible. The project will include a month of "surface operations" in which three crew members will enter the craft's so-called "surface module," a chamber that mimics the conditions on Mars.
Lest the remaining 490 days seem too terrestrial, the project's organizers have taken additional measures to enhance the authenticity of the experience. For one thing, the astronauts "will have to cope with limited consumables." (Read: they'll be hungry.) In addition, their one mode of communication with the outside world-email-takes the "instant" out of instant messaging. Scientists say they will simulate a 20 minute delay in email exchange-what they would expect if the astronauts were millions of miles (instead of just a few feet) away. Sounds like a throwback to the days of dial-up to me.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Governing Norway? There's an app for that.
Prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, like thousands of others, has been stranded by the volcanic cloud hanging over Europe. But he seems to be managing:
Stoltenberg, who was in town for President Obama's nuclear summit, was due to return to his country Thursday. But thousands of flights to northern Europe were cancelled because of volcanic ash from the exploding Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
His solution? Stoltenberg pulled out the iPad he's presumably just bought and has started to govern his country with it.
"Due to the delays, I'll be working from New York," Norwegian newspapers reported the president as saying.
Israel is justifiably proud of its cutting-edge high-tech sector, so Israelis were a bit surprised this week when the government began confiscating iPads from travelers attempting to bring them into the country. No advance notice of the policy was given. Here's the government's official explanation:
The iPad device sold exclusively today in the United States operates at broadcast power levels [over its Wi-Fi modem] compatible with American standards. As the Israeli regulations in the area of WiFi are similar to European standards, which are different from American standards, which permit broadcasting at lower power, therefore the broadcast levels of the device prevent approving its use in Israel.
It certainly makes sense that Israel wouldn't want to allow devices with U.S. standards to be sold in Israel, but would a few brought in from abroad -- only about 10 have been confiscated -- really do that much damage to the country's wireless network?
In any case, Israeli Apple fetishists are going to have to wait a bit longer. The iPad's international launch has been delayed a month.
Data rockets across South Korea's broadband network at an average clip of 14.58 megabits per second. This makes the country's network the fastest of any in the world. (In comparison, the average American broadband connection chugs along at a sluggish 3.88 megabits per second, almost four times slower than what you'd find in Seoul.)
While South Koreans have been quick to embrace the many benefits fast broadband internet connections provide, increased use of a quicker, more efficient internet has brought with it new problems for South Korean society. Chief among such problems is an addiction to internet video games. According to a Washington Post article, in 2006, approximately 2.4 percent of 9 to 39-year-olds in South Korea suffered from full-blown addiction; another 10.2 percent were classified as borderline addicts.
Apparently the situation has only gotten worse. In 2005, a South Korean man died after a marathon 50-hour video game session, and in March, 2010, a South Korean couple allowed their three-month old baby to starve to death while they were occupied playing an on-line video game. In response, the Korean government has begun experimenting with a teenage video game curfew that will block young gamers' access to 20 different popular on-line role-playing games (RPGs) for 6 hours a day, every day.
Whatever happened to the good old days of underage drinking and loitering?
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Google's January investigation into Chinese hacking of over twenty companies and the emails of dozens of human rights activists has highlighted an increasingly potent form of espionage:
"Cyber espionage is the great equalizer. Countries no longer have to spend billions to build globe-spanning satellites to pursue high-level intelligence gathering, when they can do so via the web..."
That is from a joint report released today by the Information Warfare Monitor and Shadowserver Foundation called "Shadows in the Cloud". It details how China-based hackers stole secret documents from the Indian Defense Ministry, the Dalai Lama's offices and the U.N over the past year. Although the report acknowledges no Chinese government link to what they dub the "Shadow Network," the information harvested is unlikely to be of much benefit to individuals. It includes secret assessments of India's security in regions bordering Tibet, Bangladesh and Myanmar; missile systems; information on the domestic Maoist insurgency; and embassy assessments of Indian relations with West Africa, Russia, former Soviet republics and the Middle East.
Reuters neatly summarizes the report's conclusions into how the attackers operated:
"The cyber-spies used popular online services, including Twitter, Google's Google Groups and Yahoo mail, to access infected computers, ultimately directing them to communicate with command and control servers in China"
Although the Chinese government has denied any involvement and made clear that it views hacking as an international crime, it will be interesting to see if it investigates such hacker networks operating from its territory. There is surely enough evidence to do so. On the other hand, it is no secret that the U.S. also hosts a large number of the world' cybercriminals; a recent report from Symantec's Message Labs showed that while the bulk of the world's targetted email attacks (28 percent) originate in China, 14 percent originate in the U.S.
In fact, since the Google-China debacle exploded, grievances in the American media have seemed to focus on freedom of speech and freedom from censorship rather than on issues of espionage. The Indian press also seems somewhat unconcerned -- the report has gotten little attention there and the Chinese government has brushed it off as media hype. It just seems that all parties are resigned to the fact, at least tacitly, that this is the way things work nowadays.
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works. (And, in honor of World Water Day on March 22, check out our special water quiz from last year.)
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
How many Wi-Fi hot spots are there in the world?
a) 97,000 b) 197,000 c) 297,000
Answer after the jump ...
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
We thought the cover image of our March/April "War Issue" -- an iPhone loaded with apps like "instaCOIN"and "DroneWar" -- was a joke, but it turns out not to be that far-fetched. Danger Room's Nathan Hodge reports:
In a discussion yesterday with reporters, Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army’s Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, said that around 200 soldiers would receive an “iPhone-like device” with digital apps installed.
Walker said the devices would have “various apps for system maintenance, instruction manuals — that we can all remotely upgrade. Also, we’re working to allow soldiers to have a distributed way of getting feedback to us on the equipment, where they can do Wikipedia-style upgrades to tactics, techniques and procedures, and comments on performance of hardware and software.”
Further down the road, Walker said he could envision tactical applications, like an app with GPS capability that could pinpoint the user’s location, or a digital tool that would allow troops to analyze terrain.
We had a good time coming up with the apps for our phone, so Walker is welcome to get in touch if the army needs ideas.
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
What percentage of the world's cell-phone accounts are in developing countries?
a) 25 percent b) 50 percent c) 75 percent
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foundation
In case you just thought that Iran launched a rocket today just to remind everyone about their rockets, they also sent up some unfortunate animals on a scientific mission:
On Wednesday, Press TV said, the Iranian Aerospace Organization said live video transmission from latest launch would “enable further studies on the biological capsule — carrying a rat, two turtles and worms — as it leaves Earth’s atmosphere and enters space.”
I'm pretty sure Laika already covered this ground in 1957. Then again, if the rat starts training the turtles in martial arts, it will all have been worth it.
Google might be getting out of China, but international investors are going all in on Chinese search giant Baidu, the company that likely stands to gain the most for Google's departure. Here's a report from UBS via the FT's Alphaville blog:
Baidu would benefit most from Google’s departure. The Chinese search engine market is a duopoly with Baidu and Google together accounting for 90% of revenue and 95% traffic market share (Baidu itself has 62% and 74% respectively). Baidu would emerge as the dominant player with even more bargaining power with its customers. And even if Google can successfully solve this problem and continue its presence in China, in our view Baidu will still benefit incrementally from advertisers’ concerns over spending on Google.cn.
We upgrade Baidu to Buy from Neutral and PT from US$380 to US$523. This incorporates a 50% probability weighting to our new base case valuation of $453 (assuming Google continues to operate in China) and 50% weighting to our bullcase valuation of $593 (assuming Google closes its Chinese operations).
Investors don't feel it's likely that another foreign search engine, such as Microsoft's Bing, will step in to fill the void since local affilates are going to be wary about collaborating with another foreign company.
As a weird coda to this story, Yahoo, whose executives were lambasted as moral "pygmies" on the floor of congress two years ago for their role in the arrest of a Chinese dissident, for once look like they've outsmarted their arch-rival. TechCrunch writes;
In retrospect Yahoo has played China far better than Google. It pulled out of the country years ago, knowing it wouldn’t win and owns nearly 40% of the [Chinese internet portal] Alibaba, a company that very definitely knows how to grow in China. Entrepreneur and angel investor in China Bill Bishop —who hasn’t always agreed with my China coverage in the past—pointed this out, adding “Not often Yahoo looks smarter than Google.”
My colleagues here have been weighing in on Google's "bombshell" revelation that China has been spying on dissidents and human rights activists, trying to crack open their Gmail accounts, presumably with the aim of monitoring and disrupting their activities. A lot of commentary is so far focused on the immediate issue at hand -- China's crushing censorship and Google's controversial policy of accomodating it in the hopes of gaining market share (see Jordan Calinoff's excellent dispatch on how this policy has largely failed). Of course, we already knew China did this sort of thing, but having the details so dramatically thrust into the public sphere is shocking. This is going to be a huge, ongoing story, not only because Google and China are two of the biggest and most widely debated news topics in the world, but also because nearly everyone's going to sympathize with the people whose privacy and peace of mind has been violated.
There's a larger story developing though, of a very tense year in relations between China and the West. Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer made that prediction earlier this year, and it's probably happening even faster than he imagined. In addition to this Google story, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already jumped on, there's also a brewing U.S.-China fight over arms sales to Taiwan, China's recent missile test in retaliation, and a guerrilla trade war that now seems more likely to develop into a full-blown trade conflict.
By overplaying its hand with the activists, and messing with a huge global company with a massive ability to get its message out, China has foolishly just thrown away whatever goodwill it has built up over the years through its "charm offensive" -- at least in the West. Now, those arguing across a range of issues that China is a bad actor have been handed an enormous rhetorical club to beat Beijing over the head with. It's going to get ugly.
Y2K has finally hit... about ten years late. Millions of Germans are currently coping with the effects of a systemic breakdown in the country's credit and debit card services. The episode is -- amusingly, except to those affected -- reminding many of the much-feared millennium computer bug.
"A piece of software on the affected cards, programmed by our suppliers, is defective, and cannot correctly recognize this year's number, 2010," the German DSGV banking association said on Tuesday.
Germans have been caught without massive supplies of bottled water, canned food, flashlights and first-aid kits -- but it seems life will go on. Fewer than half of German cards are affected, though that's little comfort to the many that've had their credit card eaten by the ATM.
Banking officials are claiming the problem will be fixed by next week.
JOHN MACDOUGALL AFP/GETTY IMAGES
New reports of 11,000 people killed by Brazilian police over the past six years are perhaps one indication that violence in the super-star Amazon country has gotten a wee bit out of hand.
Never fear, there is a long term solution already under consideration: prohibit "offensive" video games, with the option to punish their distribution with jailtime. In all honesty, Brazilian Senator Valdir Raupp probably did not have human rights violations in mind when he proposed the bill, which was recently approved by Senate's Education Committee. It follows on the ban last year on violent computer role-playing games "Counter-Strike" and "EverQuest," and Venezuela and China's bans on warlike and mobster-glorifying games respectively.
CNET's Dave Rosenberg has lambasted Brazil's move, suggesting they deal with "larger social issues, including lack of parental oversight," instead. They praise the US system of industry self-regulation, which relies on ratings to isolate children from violent games.
The Brazilian law is probably overkill, but lets not get all starry eyed about the glories of free-market entertainment violence. Did nobody notice a few years back when U.S. generals begged Hollywood producers to stop showing torture in a favorable light, since troops were getting inspiration on prisoner treatment from 24?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
We've reached a very strange point in human history when it is assumed that people who don't have access to food will have working cell phones:
In a test project targeting 1,000 Iraqi refugee families, the United Nations agency will send a 22-dollar (15-euro) voucher every two months by SMS to each family, who will be provided with a special SIM card.
The beneficiary can then exchange the electronic voucher for rice, wheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil, canned fish, cheese and eggs at selected shops.
Addressing concerns about mobile phone ownership among the refugee population, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said all the 130,000 Iraqi refugees currently receiving food aid from the agency in Syria have mobile phones.
Update: UN Dispatch's Matthew Cordell has more.
Say what you will about Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the man does not want to mislead the public about rocks. Grandpa Wen wrote this self-correcting letter to Xinhua this week:
In my article "Teachers Are the Pillars of Our Education," which was published by your agency yesterday, the categories of petrology ought to be "sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic". I wish to make this correction and to express my apologies to all readers.
Wen had originally written "volcanic" instead of "metamorphic". Danwei.org's Eric Mu writes:
Needless to say, the apology burnishes the established reputation of Wen as a humble, down-to-earth, grandfatherly leader, even if, as a graduate of the Beijing Institute of Geology, he really ought to have known such basic information.
I can think of a few things I'd rather the Chinese premier apologize for, but I guess this is a start.
“The Taliban have really been latecomers to the world of online video, and their initial forays haven’t been terribly successful,” Kohlman tells Danger Room. While the group has used YouTube in an official capacity before, placing video of captured America soldier on the site, Kohlman says that the use of embedded YouTube video on their site is a first. In other words, the Taliban is actually more dinosaurish about social media than the Pentagon. Way to be Web 2.0, Mullah Omar!
So what finally pushed the Afghan insurgent group onto YouTube? Bandwidth, Kohlman explains.
“Recent efforts to distribute high-resolution jihadi media in standard formats — RMVB, AVI, MPEG — have simply overloaded their web servers and exhausted their bandwidth. Now, it appears that the Taliban webmasters have finally come around and recognized the merits of YouTube, using the U.S.-based service to test out directly embedding video into their sites. By turning to YouTube, the Taliban gain a free, highly-reliable video broadcast service with the potential to reel in a vast, viral audience.”
And that's not the Taliban's only foray into Web 2.0. The "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" Website allows readers to share posts via Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and other social networking services.
The YouTube channel isn't much right now. Just a few non-narrated montages of car bombings and gun battles set to music (Judging from the soundtrack, the Taliban has also embraced auto-tuning.) But it will be interesting to see if YouTube moves to shut it down.
If Nobel prizes are any indication of a country's relative academic strength, the U.S. doesn't have much to worry about. With Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson winning the economics Nobel today (or the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel if you're not into the whole brevity thing) Americans have won or partially won all the prizes this year with the exception of literature.
The literature prize has earned something of a reputation for anti-Americanism recently with only one U.S. author (Toni Morrison) winning in the last 20 years despite a number of perennial contenders like Phillip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.
One small step for science, one giant step for international treaty lawyers. Or something like that anyway.
Amateur astronomers squinted to see the anti-climactic "explosion" Friday morning, but others were far more concerned about the potential impact (and legality) of NASA's scientific experimentation.
The UN Moon Treaty (technically the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies), states that:
In exploring and using the Moon, States Parties shall take measures to prevent the disruption of the existing balance of its environment, whether by introducing adverse changes in that environment, by its harmful contamination through the introduction of extra-environmental matter or otherwise."
Only people with colonized minds believe these things are positive, or that this type of "progress" can be beneficial to anyone beyond a small circle of exploiter-elites."
NASA investigators attempted to allay environmental concerns, albeit without addressing the potential international law issues:
The impact has about 1 million times less influence on the moon than a passenger's eyelash falling to the floor of a 747 [jet] during flight," said an investigator.The response won't satisfy the pacifists, but it should reassure the many moon property owners as to the continuing worth of their land.
Say goodbye to your Wii, say hello to Internet Eyes, the novel new game which will allow you to spot crime in real life, and win up to 1,000 pounds in prize money. Vigilantism has never been easier.
It's run by a private company, which will stream live footage from the CCTV camaras of shops and business (who actually pay to be included in this scheme) straight to the computers of players -- yes, it's marketed as a game.
Some are celebrating the novel use of footage which, as they point out, is already recorded anyway. Britain has one camara for every 14 people, a total of 4.2 million -- however, only one in a thousand of these is actually watched by law enforcement officials at any given time. Some online sites are even celebrating the democratic nature of the game saying it puts Big Brother in the hands of the people.
Unsurprisingly privacy groups are far less thrilled by the creation of a "snoopers paradise" and worry about a society in which people are encouraged to "spy and snitch on each other." The Guardian points out that even supporters of the controversial CCTV camaras, aren't totally convinced by these plan.
Although, in order to safeguard "privacy" the camaras are assigned to players randomly, without any identifying geographic information, shopgoers might want to be careful -- don't get caught buying buying inappropriate magazines by your wife, much less your mother-in-law.
Even Michael Laurie, head of Crimestoppers, foresees a 'wide range of opportunities for abuse and error' in what is, for him, 'essentially no more than a commercial venture exploiting some people's baser characteristics.'"
When a giant clock reached 09:09:09 on 9/9/09, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, swiped a personalised plastic card at a ticket barrier and took his place as the first passenger on a network that will, when finished, have cost an estimated Dh28 billion (US$7.6bn).
The first two trains were filled by VIPs but eventually, lucky members of the general public were allowed to take part in the festivities.
A little later, a third train left the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station with 400 members of the public, the winners of “golden tickets”, picked from about 10,000 people who entered an online competition.
One of them, MV Martin, said: “I can’t believe I am going to be part of history.”
With all the layoffs in Dubai and abandoned luxury cars everywhere, the Metro could provide a cheaper transport option. Or maybe abandoned cars are still available for bargain prices?
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
Americans wanted the OLPC. We fell in love with its tremendous promise and adorable shape. (note: I own an OLPC) We were the first market it conquered. OLPC launched a give one-get one promotion that let individuals pay $400 to donate one laptop and receive one for themselves. It was a huge success, except that OLPC wasn’t set up for that kind of customer order fulfillment. Laptops arrived far later than promised, and several thousand orders were simply lost.
Once the laptop finally started arriving in the developing world, its impact was minimal. We think. No one is doing much research on their impact on education; discussions are largely theoretical. This we do know: OLPC didn’t provide tech support for the machines, or training in how to incorporate them into education. Teachers didn’t understand how to use the laptops in their lessons; some resented them. Kids like the laptops, but they don’t actually seem to help them learn.
It’s time to call a spade a spade. OLPC was a failure. ...
As Shaikh suggests, OLPC is a classic case of a development program more tailored to the tastes and interests of its funders, than the needs of the people it was supposed to help. Back to the drawing board.
PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.