Monday, May 11, 2009

News of Interest 5/11/09

For Somali Pirates, Worst Enemy May Be on Shore

Mr. Boyah, who lives in a simple little house, explains: “Don’t be surprised when I tell you all the money has disappeared. When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes.”

He claims that his estimated take of several hundred thousand dollars disappeared down a vortex of parties, weddings, jewelry, cars and qat, the stimulating leaf that Somalis chew like bubble gum.
Also, because of the extended network of relatives and clansmen, “it’s not like three people split a million bucks,” he said. “It’s more like 300.”

Oh, Mr. Boyah added, he also gives 15 percent to charity, especially to the elderly and infirm.
“I’d love to give them more,” he said.

Over all, he seemed like a man on a genuine quest for redemption — or a very good liar.
-New York Times

U.S., Europe Are an Ocean Apart on Human Toll of Joblessness
The little German town of Hohenlockenstedt, where Mr. Butt worked, also used to be a manufacturing powerhouse. In the 1970s it had more industrial jobs than inhabitants; factories had to bus workers in.

Today, hardly any industry is left. In December, the auto-parts factory where Mr. Butt worked for eight years, HWU GmbH, announced its own shutdown. Workers protested, occupying the factory for a week. Mr. Butt, a burly 42-year-old, participated as employees barricaded the gates with forklifts and slept in the factory's canteen. Their demand: Save our jobs.

It was hopeless. Mr. Butt found himself out of work in January.
Normally, German workers get severance pay in large-scale layoffs, but HWU didn't have enough money. As a result, Mr. Butt's benefits are about as bad as it gets for a laid-off German factory worker. Still, compared with the U.S., it's a lucrative package. First, he (and everyone else) got a job at a so-called "transfer" company, a private business that offers training and job-hunting advice with funding from the state and the former employer.

Through transfer companies, German workers can receive the bulk of their former salary for as much as a year before they even have to apply for unemployment. Mr. Butt is getting four months at 80% of his old salary of €2,700 (roughly $3,600) a month. After tax, he's taking home about €350 less than before.
-Wall Street Journal

The masterpiece that killed George Orwell

The circumstances surrounding the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four make a haunting narrative that helps to explain the bleakness of Orwell's dystopia. Here was an English writer, desperately sick, grappling alone with the demons of his imagination in a bleak Scottish outpost in the desolate aftermath of the second world war. The idea for Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternatively, "The Last Man in Europe", had been incubating in Orwell's mind since the Spanish civil war. His novel, which owes something to Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian fiction We, probably began to acquire a definitive shape during 1943-44, around the time he and his wife, Eileen adopted their only son, Richard. Orwell himself claimed that he was partly inspired by the meeting of the Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference of 1944. Isaac Deutscher, an Observer colleague, reported that Orwell was "convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world" at Tehran.
-The Guardian

A Pocket-Size Leveler in an Outsize Land

The cellphone appeals, too, because it plays into the Indian need to place people. Cellular differences today perform the role that forehead markings and strings around torsos and metal bracelets once did: announcing who outranks whom.

Small people have small phones, and big people have big ones. Small people have numerical-soup numbers, and big people have numbers that end in 77777 or something equally important-sounding or easy to remember. Small people have one phone, and big people have two. Small people set their phones merely to ring, and big people make Bollywood songs play when you call them.

The cellphone, in short, has made itself Indian. There are 65 times more cellphone connections than broadband Internet links, and the gap is widening. And so those who wish to influence Indians are not waiting for the computer to catch on, but are seeking ways to adapt the cellphone to the things Westerners do online.

Indian companies have invented methods, via simple cellphone text-messaging, to wire money to temples, pay for groceries, find jobs and send and receive e-mail messages (on humble phones with no data connection).

But the most intriguing notion is that cellphones could transform Indian democracy.

Even in this voting season — the results of a four-week election will be announced May 16 — Indians are famously cynical about their senior-citizen-dominated, dynastic, corrupt politics. The educated often sit out elections. But with cellphones becoming near universal, experiments are sprouting with the goal of forging a new bond between citizen and state, through real-time, 24-hour cellular participation.
-The New York Times

Prison radio station is nominated for four national awards
Although prison radio has been around since the mid-1990s in Britain, when Feltham Young Offenders Institute started a station, there is now one in every seven prisons.

The aim is to provide communication at a place where conditions are poor, and where prisoners, who are on remand awaiting trial on allegations ranging from credit card fraud to murder, arrive with a typical reading age of about 11.
Nominated in the speech category at tonight’s awards is Prisoner’s Voices, a discussion programme in which inmates interview each other — and where Mark (not his real name), who has “a lot of hate and dislove for myself”, talks about cutting his wrists and says that his arms “to be honest, look a mess”.

A prisoner harms himself every other day at HMP Brixton, and while most incidents are trivial, seven inmates killed themselves between 2006 and 2008, at a jail that the chief inspector described as one that “exemplifies all the problems of our overcrowded prison system”.

-Times of London

DOJ Budget Details High-Tech Crime Fighting Tools

Another high-tech program includes the development of the Biometric Technology Center, a joint Justice, FBI and DoD program. Building the center will cost $97.6 million and will serve as a research and development center for biometric technology.

Last year, the FBI announced it would partner with the University of West Virginia to establish the center.
Eventually, the Biometric project will be a vast database of personal data including fingerprints, iris scans and DNA which the FBI calls the Next Generation Identification (NGI).

The FBI has awarded the NGI contract to Lockheed Martin to update and maintain the database which is expected to come online in 2010. After being fully deployed the NGI contract could cost up to $1 billion.

DOJ's budget request also mentions an INTERPOL program called Project Vennlig, which is a terrorist information sharing program run by the international anti-crime organization. The Defense Department initiated the program to obtain criminal information about insurgents killed or captured in Iraq.

The DOJ budget request notes the program gathers information from insurgents' cell phones and documents found in their possession: "The purpose of the initiative is to obtain and integrate collected information for the use of INTERPOL member countries and U.S. law enforcement agencies in proactively targeting terrorism."
-ABC News

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