September 2005

Brian Faler, Special to The Washington Post, reports:

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights leaders denounced conservative commentator William J. Bennett yesterday for suggesting on his syndicated radio show that aborting black children would reduce the U.S. crime rate.

The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday that “if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” Bennett quickly added that such an idea would be “an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do.” But, he said, “your crime rate would go down.”

A western gorilla uses a stick
A western gorilla uses a stick to test the water for depth in the Republic of Congo. The photographs are the first documentation of gorillas using tools in the wild. (Photograph © Thomas Breuer/Wildlife Conservation Society)

John Roach for National Geographic News reports:

Researchers have observed and photographed wild gorillas using sticks and stumps to navigate a swampy forest clearing in the Republic of Congo. The images provide the first documented use of tools among wild gorillas.

In one instance, a female gorilla named Leah tried to wade across a pool of water but found herself waist deep after just a few steps. She retreated, grabbed a branch sticking out of the water, and used it to gauge the water’s depth before wading deeper.

According to the researchers, Leah repeatedly tested the depth as she walked about 33 feet (10 meters) out into the pool, before returning to shore and her wailing infant.

In another instance, a female named Efi detached a stump from a bush and used it for support as she dug for herbs. She then made a bridge with the stump to help her cross a muddy patch of ground.

ROBERT A. GUTH , Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, reports:

REDMOND, Wash. — Jim Allchin, a senior Microsoft Corp. executive, walked into Bill Gates’s office here one day in July last year to deliver a bombshell about the next generation of Microsoft Windows.

“It’s not going to work,” Mr. Allchin says he told the Microsoft chairman. The new version, code-named Longhorn, was so complex its writers would never be able to make it run properly.

The news got even worse: Longhorn was irredeemable because Microsoft engineers were building it just as they had always built software. Throughout its history, Microsoft had let thousands of programmers each produce their own piece of computer code, then stitched it together into one sprawling program. Now, Mr. Allchin argued, the jig was up. Microsoft needed to start over.

By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad, The Independent (UK), reports:

One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq’s defence ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country’s army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.

The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared.

“It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history,” Ali Allawi, Iraq’s Finance Minister, told The Independent.

Ireland Online reports:

British forces in tanks and helicopters stormed an Iraqi jail tonight to rescue two service personnel who were arrested after allegedly shooting dead a local policeman and wounding another, the governor of Basra said.

The two men had been taken to the Basra jail after violence erupted earlier today in the southern Iraqi city.

Image: Real-Time Graz
City-Medium-City. Kunsthaus Graz
Oct 01, 2005 – Jan 08, 2006
(Visual analysis of Graz)

SENSEable City Lab, MIT Carlo Ratti (coordinator), Daniel Berry, Andrea Mattiello Eugenio Morello, Andres Sevtsuk Design team: David Lee, Xiongjiu Liao, Jia Lou, Sonya Y Huang, Daniel A Gutierrez In collaboration with A1 – Mobilkom Austria writes:

> The city demands continuous interpretation
Today the experience, infrastructure and morphology of the city are more closely related than ever before. The profusion of handheld electronic devices with increasingly powerful networking capabilities offers its users new modes of interaction within the urban environment. It also provides designers, artists, and theoreticians a new means for engaging and understanding the city. Therefore, forget old ways to describe cities!

> Real-Time Graz
Digital Derive harnesses the potential of mobile phones as an affordable, ready-made and ubiquitous medium that allows the city to be sensed and displayed in real-time as a complex, pulsating entity. Because it is possible to simultaneously ‘ping’ the cell phones of thousands of users – thereby establishing their precise location in space at a given moment in time – these devices can be used as a highly dynamic tracking tool that describes how the city is used and transformed by its citizens. The polis is thus interpreted as a shifting entity formed by webs of human interactions in space-time, rather than simply as a fixed, physical environment. Digital Derive provides a platform upon which the contemporary city can register the flux and traces its self-constructing and open-ended nature. Previous initiatives, notably Laura Kurgan’s ‘You Are Here: Museu’ (1996) and the Waag Society’s ‘Amsterdam Real-Time’ (2002) initiated this process by exploring the qualities and potential of GPS technology. Digital Derive builds on an expands these efforts by using cell phone technology, for the first time, to radically increase the interactive capacity and number of users involved in the mapping of the city. Digital Derive (re)presents the city displayed simultaneously in the Kunsthaus Graz and in a publicly accessible website.

The BBC reports:

Software giant Oracle is buying US rival Siebel Systems in a deal worth $5.85bn (£3.2bn) in cash and stock.

Oracle is offering $10.66 per Siebel share, 16.8% more than Siebel’s closing share price on Friday.

Siebel makes software to help companies manage their relationships with clients. The takeover by Oracle had long been predicted by analysts.

It is the latest acquisition by Oracle which bought another rival, Peoplesoft, in December last year for $10bn.

Board backing

“In a single step, Oracle becomes the number one CRM [customer relationship management] applications company in the world,” said Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison.

“Siebel’s 4,000 applications customers and 3.4 million CRM users strengthen our number one position in applications in North America and move us closer to the number one position in applications globally.”

Wolfgang Gruener, Senior Editor, Tom’s Hardware Guide, reports:

London - Ebay today announced that it will purchase VoIP company Skype in a deal valued between $2.6 and $4.1 billion. The acquisition will allow the online auction leader to access Skype’s 54 million users and further diversify its revenue streams with Skype’s VoIP services - while free PC-to-PC-based calls will continue to be offered.

The acquisition comes after rumors about a possible deal between the two companies surfaced in the past week and confirms the mainstream appeal of VoIP communications for the business world. According to a statement released on Monday, Ebay intends to integrate Skype into its marketplace and payments platform. “Skype, Ebay and PayPal will create an unparalleled ecommerce and communications engine for buyers and sellers around the world,” a statement said.

Skype, barely two years old, did not come cheap for Ebay. The online auction house pays $2.6 billion in cash and stock - roughly 371 times the revenue Skype achieved in 2004 - plus a performance-based bonus, which could amount to $1.5 billion and will be due in 2008 to 2009 time frame.

Giles Whittell in Washington for The Times Online (UK), reports:

A PRESIDENT of the United States would be able to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against enemies planning to use weapons of mass destruction under a revised “nuclear operations” doctrine to be signed in the next few weeks.

In a significant shift after half a century of nuclear deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation, the revised doctrine would allow pre-emptive strikes against states or terror groups, and to destroy chemical and biological weapons stockpiles.

Presidential approval would still be required for any nuclear strike, but the updated document, the existence of which was confirmed by the Pentagon at the weekend, emphasises the need for the US to adapt to a world of worsening proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in which deterrence might fail. In that event, it states, “the United States must be prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary”.

Red Herring reports:

The Shenzhen branch of China Telecom, China’s largest telecommunications carrier, has begun blocking VoIP calls in a possible effort to stanch the massive loss of revenue it could sustain if a substantial percentage of that country’s 100 million Internet users switch their long-distance calling to services like Skype.

The BBC reports:

Internet giant Yahoo has been accused of supplying information to China which led to the jailing of a journalist for “divulging state secrets”.

Reporters Without Borders said Yahoo’s Hong Kong arm helped China link Shi Tao’s e-mail account and computer to a message containing the information.

The media watchdog accused Yahoo of becoming a “police informant” in order to further its business ambitions.

Photo: Bob Denver as Gilligan

Reuters, via BoingBoing, reports:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Bob Denver, the actor who played goofy island castaway Gilligan in the 1960s television show “Gilligan’s Island,” has died of complications from cancer treatments, his agent Mike Eisenstadt said on Tuesday.

Denver, 70, died at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, Eisenstadt said.

“Gilligan’s Island” aired from 1964 to 1967, and became one of TV’s most enduring comedies in re-runs.

BoingBoing via BBC News:

“They killed a man here last night,” Steve Banka, 28, told the Reuters news agency before he left on Sunday.
A body lies face down in water next to the Superdome. Death was everywhere, both inside and outside the Superdome

“A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them. He jumped up on the truck’s windscreen and they shot him dead,” Mr Banka said.

Photo: Southern Decadence Parade
Candice Jameson, 21, holds her umbrella as she celebrates Sunday’s Decadence Parade in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. (RICK BOWMER / AP)

ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press, reports:

NEW ORLEANS — In the absence of information and outside assistance, groups of rich and poor banded together in the French Quarter, forming “tribes” and dividing up the labor.

As some went down to the river to do the wash, others remained behind to protect property. In a bar, a bartender put near-perfect stitches into the torn ear of a robbery victim.

While mold and contagion grew in the muck that engulfed most of the city, something else sprouted in this most decadent of American neighborhoods - humanity.

“Some people became animals,” Vasilioas Tryphonas said Sunday morning as he sipped a hot beer in Johnny White’s Sports Bar on Bourbon Street. “We became more civilized.”