May 2005

The Associated Press, via, via reports:

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - Authorities ordered the slaughter of 17,000 chickens after 6,000 chickens died from a mysterious respiratory illness in a central western Brazilian state, officials said.

Sanitary authorities do not know what kind of disease the chickens had, but expect to identify it by the end of this week, Gladys Raquel, an animal sanitation manger with the state government of Mato Grosso do Sul state, said Tuesday in a statement.

A Casa 235 about to take off from Ruzyne Airport in Prague on a flight to Afghanistan operated by the C.I.A.-connected Aero Contractors. (Pavel Horejsi for The New York Times)


SMITHFIELD, N.C. - The airplanes of Aero Contractors Ltd. take off from Johnston County Airport here, then disappear over the scrub pines and fields of tobacco and sweet potatoes. Nothing about the sleepy Southern setting hints of foreign intrigue. Nothing gives away the fact that Aero’s pilots are the discreet bus drivers of the battle against terrorism, routinely sent on secret missions to Baghdad, Cairo, Tashkent and Kabul.

When the Central Intelligence Agency wants to grab a suspected member of Al Qaeda overseas and deliver him to interrogators in another country, an Aero Contractors plane often does the job. If agency experts need to fly overseas in a hurry after the capture of a prized prisoner, a plane will depart Johnston County and stop at Dulles Airport outside Washington to pick up the C.I.A. team on the way.

Aero Contractors’ planes dropped C.I.A. paramilitary officers into Afghanistan in 2001; carried an American team to Karachi, Pakistan, right after the United States Consulate there was bombed in 2002; and flew from Libya to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the day before an American-held prisoner said he was questioned by Libyan intelligence agents last year, according to flight data and other records.

While posing as a private charter outfit - “aircraft rental with pilot” is the listing in Dun and Bradstreet - Aero Contractors is in fact a major domestic hub of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret air service. The company was founded in 1979 by a legendary C.I.A. officer and chief pilot for Air America, the agency’s Vietnam-era air company, and it appears to be controlled by the agency, according to former employees.

Opheera McDoom, Reuters, reports:

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan arrested the local head of an international aid agency on Monday over a report on hundreds of rapes in Darfur in the first such action against a top relief worker since a rebellion in the area began in 2003.

ALBERT SALVATO, The New York Times, reports:

Early on Sunday morning, the authorities say, Mr. Moody, 18, got out of bed, loaded his .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, walked a quarter mile to his grandparents’ home and shot them to death as they made breakfast. He returned home, reloaded the rifle and went from bedroom to bedroom, shooting people as they slept, the authorities say. Mr. Moody, who was to graduate from high school that day, then shot himself.


Photo: John Welch

Josh Welch stands at his front door where he was shot with a Taser by a sheriff’s deputy. Welch argued with deputies for not rushing to get medical aid for his father, who had slashed his own wrists.

Palm Beach Post reports:

In a sheriff’s report, the deputy wrote that Josh “came at me with a lit cigarette in a threatening manner.”

Josh, who is working toward his GED, admits he mouthed off at deputies. He said he did walk onto his front porch with a cigarette but didn’t threaten anyone.

From just a few feet away, a deputy fired two Taser probes into his chest, “right over his heart, no less,” his father says. Josh remembers the pain and how his body “just wobbled around and stuff” on his front patio.


Traffic Stop Tasing
Boynton Beach officer Rich McNevin is shown in a department video using a Taser on driver Victoria Goodwin, who was charged with driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest without violence. She had berated officers and refused to get out of her vehicle. Police officials back McNevin’s choice. (video)

Dani Davies, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, reports:

BOYNTON BEACH — Victoria Goodwin’s spirits were high as she sped through Boynton Beach in her SUV that Friday morning.

She had just dropped her daughter off at day care and was heading to her mother’s house to get her hair and nails done. On Monday, she would fly to Jamaica to be a contestant in a modeling competition.

He pulled her over.

Five minutes later, the young mother was squirming on the ground, her body electrified twice by 50,000 volts from McNevin’s Taser.

Photo: Unidentified Bartender
This bartender, who prefers not to be identified, was hit by a Taser shot after she yelled at officers for not arresting a customer who had thrown a drink in her face.

The deputies repeatedly told the bartender to calm down and lower her voice. She didn’t. Standing outside the club, she continued yelling at them.

One standing several feet away hit her with his Taser. One prong lodged in her left breast. The other went into her abdomen. She fell to the sidewalk, flailing.

“I thought he had shot me with a gun. I actually looked down to see if there was blood,” she said, calling the pain indescribable.


David Cyranoski, Nature, in Tokyo reports:

Concerns over the presence of a dangerous strain of avian flu virus in Indonesia’s pigs are growing, as government tests confirm the existence of infection. In some areas, the H5N1 virus could be infecting up to half of the pig population, without causing any signs of disease.

The initial discovery was made earlier this year by an independent researcher working outside national and international surveillance systems. Chairul Nidom, a virologist at Airlangga University’s tropical-disease centre in Surabaya, Java, found the H5N1 virus in five of ten pigs tested from Banten in western Java.

The presence of the virus in pigs is a particular worry because the animals can harbour both bird and human flu viruses, and act as a ‘mixing vessel’ for the emergence of a strain of avian flu that can easily infect humans. There are now signs that the virus could be spreading unchecked through the pig population.

Robert Block, The Wall Street Journal, via Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pa), reports:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Before Sept. 11, 2001, when federal law-enforcement officials asked FedEx Corp. for help, the company had its limits. It wouldn’t provide access to its databases. It often refused to lend uniforms or delivery trucks to agents for undercover operations, citing fears of retribution against employees as well as concerns about customer privacy.

Then came the attacks on New York and Washington and pleas from the government for private-sector help in fighting terrorism. Suddenly, the king of overnight delivery became one of homeland security’s best friends.

FedEx has opened the international portion of its databases, including credit-card details, to government officials. It has created a police force recognized by the state of Tennessee that works alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The company has rolled out radiation detectors at overseas facilities to detect dirty bombs and donated an airplane to federal researchers looking for a defense against shoulder-fired missiles.

Moreover, the company is encouraging its 250,000 employees to be spotters of would-be terrorists. It is setting up a system designed to send reports of suspicious activities directly to the Department of Homeland Security via a special computer link.

FedEx’s newfound enthusiasm for a frontline role in the war on terror shows how the relationship between business and government has changed in the past few years. In some cases, these changes are blurring the division between private commerce and public law enforcement.

Reuters, via MSNBC, via Slashdot, reports:

MOSCOW - Electricity was suddenly cut off to swathes of Russia’s capital on Wednesday bringing large sections of the public transport system, including underground train services, to a halt.

Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, speaking in parliament, said the breakdown had been caused by an explosion at a electricity substation but he did not say what caused the blast.

Moscow’s main stock exchange was suspended. The MICEX foreign exchange bourse stopped trading for one hour because, though it had power, many of its clients did not.

Trams and trolleybuses ground to a standstill and traffic lights stopped working, causing a flurry of road traffic accidents, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The underground train system was halted and suburban commuter trains on several routes in and out of the city were also affected. Water supplies to homes were also disrupted.

The outage also affected large parts of the nearby Moscow and Tula regions.

Amnesty International, via NPR, reports:

The US administration’s attempts to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak such as “environmental manipulation”, “stress positions” and “sensory manipulation”, was one of the most damaging assaults on global values.

Despite the US administration’s repeated use of the language of justice and freedom there was a huge gap between rhetoric and reality. This was starkly illustrated by the failure to conduct a full and independent investigation into the appalling torture and ill-treatment of detainees by US soldiers in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the failure to hold senior individuals to account.

“The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity,” said Irene Khan.


Emma\'s picture was projected on to the flats
Emma\'s picture was projected on to the flats

BBC NEWS, via BoingBoing, reports:

Detectives hope it will help to turn up clues about the death of Emma Caldwell, whose body was found in woods in South Lanarkshire on 8 May.

The image was displayed for four hours on the multi-storey flats in Cumberland Street, Hutchesontown on Monday night.

Police said the site had been chosen as it was visible across areas frequented by Emma and other prostitutes.

The picture, which shows Ms Caldwell half smiling but looking gaunt on a family day out in the countryside, was released by police last week.

Detective Superintendent Willie Johnstone, who is leading the investigation, said: “This is an innovative way of putting a fresh appeal over to the public and it will be very eye-catching.

Duane DeFreitas and the Rupununi Express
Duane DeFreitas and the Rupununi Express

Paul Rubens, BBC NEWS, reports:

Taking a break from setting up a small network, I head outside to see if the nearest building is likely to be able to pick up a wireless network signal. “Make sure you turn right at the bottom of the stairs,” says my host, “or the jaguar will eat you.”

Welcome to the surreal world of Duane DeFreitas, an adventurer and guide living in the tropical rainforest of Guyana.


Cartoon fan David Mackenzie has been on the Internet griping about a cartoon called “Gorilla My Dreams,” recently released as part of a DVD collection of 60 restored Looney Tunes classics from Warner Bros.

Mr. Mackenzie, an 18-year-old film student in Glasgow, Scotland, says there’s something missing from the seven-minute cartoon, about a motherly primate who takes Bugs Bunny on a romp through the jungle: Pause the DVD, and as the two get ready to swing through the air, a piece of vine seems to dissolve.

The glitch is easy to miss. But hardcore animation fans say the case of the vanishing vine is only the latest example of technology gone awry.

“Casual fans will think it’s just people nitpicking, but it’s really not,” Mr. Mackenzie says. “If Gene Kelly’s arm disappeared while he was dancing in ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ everybody would notice.”

As studios release more classic movies and television shows on DVD, they are increasingly using digital restoration to smooth over scratches and dirt specks on old film. But the process can also remove some of the lines that make up the animation — for example, blurring Tom’s face in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, or erasing lines in Woody Woodpecker’s fast-moving beak.

Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, reports:

Loic sez, “The very official French ‘Journal Officiel’ has just decided what we, French should say when we say ‘weblog’. We should say ‘bloc notes’ which would translate back in english to ‘note pad’. The short version should be ‘bloc’ instead of ‘blog’.” Link (Thanks, Loic!)

CNN, via Slashdot, reports:

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Bank of America Corp. and Wachovia Corp. are among the big banks notifying more than 670,000 customers that account information was stolen in what may the biggest security breach to hit the banking industry.

Account information on the customers was illegally sold by bank employees to a man identified as Orazio Lembo, whom police said was doing business by illegally posing as a collection agency.

When police in Hackensack, N.J., first announced arrests in the case on April 28, they estimated that more than 500,000 people were affected. That number was raised to 676,000 Friday. Because some people have more than one account, Hackensack Police Chief Charles “Ken” Zisa says the number of accounts breached may top 1 million.

Vienna streetcars haul in-city freight

Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, reports:

The Vienna streetcar system (which is excellent, efficient and clean as a whistle) has created an in-city freight service that hauls all kinds of weighty loads around town. Link (Thannks, Alex!)

In Vienna, they’ve started running freight over the tram system. The Wiener Linien, the public transport authority, runs perhaps the best system I’ve ever met (especially as they haven’t discovered the ticket barrier yet), including an intricate network of tramways carrying a variety of different trains that I’m not sick enough to detail. The plan, now, is to carry goods needed to maintain the system on goods trams like the one shown, and then perhaps also deliveries to businesses in the city, waste for disposal, and maybe also post. Link (in German) and more pics: here.

The trams are known as “bims” from the sound of the bell that invites the unwary to stand clear, as they go like a bat out of hell at the slightest provocation. For some reason, in my experience, the further east you go in Europe the faster the trams get - the Bratislava ones are quicker, and the huge ones in Budapest are a public menace rivalled only by the cars.

DAVID PACE, Associated Press Writer, via Slashdot, reports:

(05-19) 14:06 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) –

Internet phone providers were ordered Thursday to begin supplying reliable 911 emergency call service after regulators heard an anguished Florida woman describe how she was unable to summon help to save her dying infant daughter.

The Federal Communication Commission gave companies 120 days to certify that their customers will be able to reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911. Also, dispatchers must be able to tell where callers are located and the numbers from which they are calling.

Graphic: Chicago Crime Map

On Boingboing, Mark Frauenfelder, writes:

If you want to know where to buy street drugs or hire the services of a prostitute in Chicago, this web site, which pinpoints the location of crimes using Google maps, would certainly be helpful.
Link (Thanks, kev!)

The BBC reports:

A spoof video of the song (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, performed by British soldiers in Iraq, has crashed Ministry of Defence computers.

Troops in the Royal Dragoon Guards shot a home video at their Al Faw base of their version of the video sung by Tony Christie and mimed by Peter Kay.

They e-mailed it to Army friends in London, but so many tried to download it that the MoD server could not cope.

The MoD said the spoof was “brilliant” and the crash did not cause problems.

A spokesman said: “The soldiers maintaining their morale on operations is always important.

“The fact that it proved so popular in the office and caused the system to crash is unfortunate, but this did not affect operations and the system is up and running again.”

A 13-year-old girl is hit at least twice with a stun gun while handcuffed in a caged patrol car.
A 13-year-old girl is hit at least twice with a stun gun while handcuffed in a caged patrol car. reports:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An officer has been suspended for zapping a 13-year-old girl at least twice with a stun gun while she was handcuffed in his caged patrol car.

An internal report by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Llahsmin Lynn Kallead was handcuffed and in the back seat of the patrol car when Officer G.A. Nelson stunned her, the Florida Times-Union reported for Tuesday editions.

Nelson and his partner had been called to the apartment Kallead shares with her mother Rosie Vaughan because they were fighting.

Vaughan wanted police to help get medical help for her daughter, who had been hospitalized for observation in the past for emotional disorders, the newspaper said.

Nelson, a 6-foot-2 officer weighing 300 pounds, allegedly used the low-setting stun mode when the 4-foot-8 Kallead wormed the handcuffs from behind her back and would not do as directed. “The situation was under control at this point,” the internal report said.

Sgt. D.E. Smith, who was called to the scene, said, “Please don’t tell me this is the person you Tased.”

Department spokesman Ken Jefferson said Nelson has been suspended for three days.

“A supervisor questioned the judgment of the officer, and he began the investigation process,” Jefferson said Monday.

Nelson did not violate written guidelines on using stun guns, but his actions showed poor judgment, the report said. He had been trained to use Tasers and received training as an instructor in January.


NOAA: Sun Soho 2005-05-15
Image of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity taken May 15, 2005, at 7:50 a.m. EDT.

NOAA, via Slashdot, reports:

May 15, 2005 — Forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., observed a geomagnetic storm on Sunday, May 15, which they classified as an extreme event, measuring G-5—the highest level—on the NOAA Space Weather Scales. (Click image for larger view of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity taken May 15, 2005, at 7:50 a.m. EDT. Click here to view high resolution version, which is a large file. Click here to view latest images. Please credit “SOHO.”)< "This event registered a 9 on the K-Index, which measures the maximum deviation of the Earth's magnetic field in a given three-hour period," said Gayle Nelson, lead operations specialist at NOAA Space Environment Center. "The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest. This was a significant event."

Possible impacts from such a geomagnetic storm include widespread power system voltage control problems; some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage. Spacecraft operations may experience extensive surface charging; problems with orientation; uplink/downlink and tracking satellites. Satellite navigation may be degraded for days, and low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours. Reports received by the NOAA Space Environment Center indicate that such impacts have been observed in the United States.

NOAA forecasters said the probability of another major event of this type is unlikely, however, other minor level (G-1) geomagnetic storms are possible within the next 24 hours.

This event was forecast by NOAA as the result of a solar flare that occurred on Friday, May 13.

By Hugh O’Shaughnessy, The Independent (UK), reports:

Washington’s “war on drugs” in Colombia is collapsing in chaos and corruption, and the drug producers are winning. The so-called Plan Colombia, which has cost the US more than $3bn (£1.6bn) in the past five years, is being abandoned, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced.

Last year, the hugely expensive effort to poison coca bushes - whose leaves are the source of cocaine - by aerial spraying ended in failure. More bushes were flourishing in January this year than in January 2004.

Meanwhile, complaints have multiplied about the damage done by the chemical poisons to the health of humans, especially children, as well as to livestock, fish and the environment.

Andrew Buncombe, The Independent (UK) , reports:

Sergeant Kevin Benderman cannot shake the images from his head. There are bombed villages and desperate people. There are dogs eating corpses thrown into a mass grave. And most unremitting of all, there is the image of a young Iraqi girl, no more than eight or nine, one arm severely burnt and blistered, and the sound of her screams.

Last January, these memories became too much for this veteran of the war in Iraq. Informed his unit was about to return, he told his commanders he wanted out and applied to be considered a conscientious objector. The Army refused and charged him with desertion. Last week, his case - which carries a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment - started before a military judge at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

“If I am sincere in what I say and there’s consequences because of my actions, I am prepared to stand up and take it,” Sgt Benderman said. “If I have to go to prison because I don’t want to kill anybody, so be it.”

Robert X. Cringely writes:

It’s an expression made popular in Silicon Valley years ago by Andy Grove of Intel: “inflection point.” It’s that abrupt elbow in a graph of growth or decline when the new technology or paradigm truly kicks in, and suddenly there is no going back. From that moment, the new stuff takes off and the old stuff goes into rapid decline, whether it is a new standard of modem, a new video game, a new microprocessor family, or just a new idea. I think we’ve just hit such an inflection point and — though most of us still don’t realize it — the personal computer, video game, and electronic entertainment businesses will never be the same.

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