Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners since the year began 40 days ago -

Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners since the year began 40 days ago - 

A human rights group expressed alarm Thursday at the pace of executions in Iraq and called for Iraqi authorities to abolish the practice.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch noted that Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners since the year began 40 days ago. Fifty-one of the executions occurred in January and 14 so far this month, it said.
"The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system."
The organization said it was particularly concerned that Iraqi courts use coerced confessions as evidence. "The government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions," Human Rights Watch said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed shock late last month over reports that 34 individuals, including two women, had been executed in Iraq on January 19 following their convictions for crimes.
"Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day," Pillay said.
"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offenses for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure."
More than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death since 2004, though the number executed is not known, she said. The death penalty can be imposed for some four dozen crimes, including damage to public property under certain circumstances, she said.

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Google to pay users to browse - so the search giant can watch every link they click -

Google to pay users to browse - so the search giant can watch every link they click - 
Google is watching you

Google is to pay computer users to browse the web so the search giant watches every link they click. 
'Panelists' in the new Google Screenwise programme will be paid up to $25 in Amazon gift cards.
The payments offer an insight into how much web users' private data - usually harvested by giants such as Facebook and Google without payment - is worth. 
Users have to download a browser extension, which allows Google to monitor which sites they visit and how they use them.
Popular blog Search Engine Land said, 'The timing of this program seems odd, especially considering the backlash that Google has faced over the upcoming changes to its privacy policy.'
'Even though this Screenwise program is completely opt-in, some critics are bound to question why Google needs more data about web searchers and the websites they visit.'
European regulators wrote to Google CEO Larry Page last week calling on the search giant to halt the introduction of its new 'one-size-fits-all' privacy policy
The policy was due to come into effect on March 1, and would allow Google to share what it knows about users between services such as Google Search, Gmail and YouTube.
The move horrified privacy advocates and bloggers - tech site ZDNet said that Google would 'know more about you than your wife does' and said the policy was 'Big Brother-ish'.
The Screenwise page says that the company is currently 'overwhelmed' by interest in the programme. 
'As a panelist, you'll add a browser extension that will share with Google the sites you visit and how you use them. What we learn from you, and others like you, will help us improve Google products,' says the company. 
Users are given a $5 gift card for signing up, then receive further $5 cards every month as long as they remain signed up.

Teacher Accused of Spraying Febreze on "Fishy" Student - Mother received written apology -

Teacher Accused of Spraying Febreze on "Fishy" Student - Mother received written apology - 

This time the teacher got a time out.

An elementary school teacher in Newfoundland, Canada has reportedly been put on paid leave as district officials investigate a claim she sprayed a student with an odor eliminator to mask his fishy-smelling lunch.

Patti Rideout told CBC News she was “very hurt and very angry” after learning the teacher of her 10-year-old son, Christian Roberts, had put him in the hallway then sprayed him with Febreze last week.

Other kids at Twillingate Island Elementary School had teased him over the fried capelin meal she’d made him, she said.

"I feel like he's been embarrassed, bullied, and I think what she [did] was very disgraceful," Rideout told CBC News. "I think my son was treated not like a human being — I think he was treated like a dog, or a cat … I'm very hurt and very angry over this."

Rideout told CBC that when she first called her son’s teacher for an apology she hung up.

After taking her concerns to the school board, Rideout received a written apology from the school’s principal and vice principal, St. John’s newspaper The Telegram reported.

“The teacher has offered to make an apology to your son in front of the class,” the letter said. 


U.S. Postal Service said Thursday that its QUARTERLY Loss widened to $3.3 Billion - $3.3 Billion -

U.S. Postal Service said Thursday that its QUARTERLY Loss widened to $3.3 Billion - $3.3 Billion - 

The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday that its quarterly loss widened to $3.3 billion amid declining mail volume and mounting costs for future retiree health benefits as it struggles to stave off bankruptcy.

From October through December 2011, losses were $3 billion more than the same period a year ago, even though that quarter is typically the strongest due to increased holiday shipping. The mail agency said that at this rate, it will run out of money by October.

The Postal Service is seeking new leeway from Congress to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, raise stamp prices and reduce health and other labor costs.

Also at stake are roughly 100,000 jobs, part of a postal cost-cutting plan to save up to $6.5 billion a year by closing 252 mail processing centers and up to 3,700 post offices. At the request of Congress, the cash-strapped agency agreed to wait until mid-May to begin closures so lawmakers would have time to stabilize its finances first.

Prospects for immediate congressional action remain uncertain.

"Passage of legislation is urgently needed that provides the Postal Service with the speed and flexibility needed to cut costs that are not under our control, including employee health costs," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.


White 'Cobwebs' Found in Nuclear Waste Pool - "'Mutant' spider fears at nuclear waste lab" -

White 'Cobwebs' Found in Nuclear Waste Pool - "'Mutant' spider fears at nuclear waste lab" - 
Eight-legged freak? ... scientists find strange cobwebs on canisters of nuclear waste

Radioactive nuclear fuel rods at Savannah River National Laboratory. White cobweb-like material appears near top of some containers. Image: U.S. Department of Energy.
At the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina, where, among other things, spent fuel rods from nuclear power reactors are stored, workers last fall reported a white substance, similar to cobwebs left by spiders, in one of the pools of water where the radioactive rods are kept.
"We observed it, it was unusual, it appears to be biological in nature but we don't know that for sure," said Will Callicott, the lab's manager of executive communications. "It doesn't seem to be doing any harm."
It has, though, prompted some blaring headlines in tabloids in the U.K.
"'Mutant' spider fears at nuclear waste lab," said The Sun.
"Could Spider-Man become a reality?" asked the Daily Mail.
If you're not into superheroes, Spider-Man was a teenager who took on extraordinary powers after he was bitten by a radioactive spider. In reality, scientists say they still have many questions about what radiation does to living things.
It is certainly harmful in large doses, breaking down tissue and damaging DNA, but American scientists who studied the evacuated wasteland around the Soviet Chernobyl nuclear plant after the 1986 accident there said they got a surprise. At least 135,000 people were forced to move - but the area they abandoned became a haven for wildlife.
"If I were going to be a moose," said Robert Baker of Texas Tech University, "I would want to live in the exclusion zone." Baker and a colleague, Ron Chesser, tracked the plants and animals around the wrecked nuclear plant in the decades after the accident.
"They're going to live a lot longer lives, because humans are worse for them than the radiation was," Baker said.
Staff members at Savannah River say they have taken a small sample of the "string-like growth" found on the ends of the spent fuel racks, but Callicott said they will not have a full report until March on what it is.


Washington Footing Cell Phone Bill for Millions of Low Income Americans - $1.6 billion to cover 12.5 million phones -

Washington Footing Cell Phone Bill for Millions of Low Income Americans - $1.6 billion to cover 12.5 million phones - 

Last year, a federal program paid out $1.6 billion to cover free cell phones and the monthly bills of 12.5 million wireless accounts. The program, overseen by the FCC and intended to help low-income Americans, is popular for obvious reasons, with participation rising steeply since 2008, when the government paid $772 million for phones and monthly bills. But observers complain that the program suffers from poor oversight, in which phones go to people who don't qualify, and hundreds of thousands of those who do qualify have more than one phone.
Last summer, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story shed some light on a government program that relatively few Americans knew existed. (Read more about it here.) The Lifeline program provides low-income Americans with free cell phones (basic ones such as those made by Tracfone, not smartphones) and covers up to 250 free minutes each month. As many as 5.5 million residents in Pennsylvania alone could qualify for the program, which is funded primarily by the Universal Service Fund fee added to the bills of land-line and wireless customers.
The program came to be after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, and the FCC created the Universal Service Fund to help "to promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates," among other things. All telecommunications carriers must pay into the fund, and many do so by tacking on a fee to each of their customers' bills. It's probably added into your monthly wireless bill and your landline bill, if you still have one.
The Universal Service Fund provides discounts on phone services, or in some cases, entirely free services to low-income Americans. The fund helps pay for landlines or cell phones, whichever the recipient prefers. There's also a one-time discount of up to $30 to cover an installation fee or a cell phone. Considering how cheap some cell phones are nowadays, the money more than covers the costs of a basic phone. Then, the fund covers phone bills to the tune of $10 a month, which typically translates as 250 minutes for wireless plans of the types of phones we're talking about. Americans who receive food stamps, Medicaid, or other federal aid, or who earn up to 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, qualify for the program.


Hundreds Of Thousands Could Have Been Exposed To Measles At Super Bowl Village -

Hundreds Of Thousands Could Have Been Exposed To Measles At Super Bowl Village - 

Hundreds of thousands of people at the Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis could have been exposed to the measles.

The Indiana State Department of Health confirms that a person infected with the highly contagious disease went to the Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis on Feb. 3, but did not say what time the person was there. WISH-TV reports that 200,000 people were there that day. Health officials said the infected person did not go into the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center.

Indiana is currently working with health officials in New York and Massachusetts to warn them of a potential measles outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also been notified.

Indiana health officials said in a statement to CBS Cleveland that two cases of measles in Hamilton County have been identified and there are two probable cases in Boone County.


LA County OKs $1,000 Fine For Throwing Football, Frisbee On Beaches -

LA County OKs $1,000 Fine For Throwing Football, Frisbee On Beaches - 

When you head down to the beach for a little fun this summer, county officials want you to leave the pigskin at home.

The Board of Supervisors this week agreed to raise fines to up to $1,000 for anyone who throws a football or a Frisbee on any beach in Los Angeles County.

In passing the 37-page ordinance on Tuesday, officials sought to outline responsibilities for law enforcement and other public agencies while also providing clarification on beach-goer activities that could potentially disrupt or even injure the public.

The updated rules now prohibit “any person to cast, toss, throw, kick or roll” any object other than a beach ball or volleyball “upon or over any beach” between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Exceptions allow for ball-throwing in predesignated areas, when a person obtains a permit, or playing water polo “in or over the Pacific Ocean”.

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