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Saturday, July 30, 2011

US cutting military aid to Pakistan

Ever since the US military action that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden and which was done without the knowledge of the country of Pakistan in that country relations between the USA and Pakistan are more than strained.

The United States have accused the Pakistani secret service to have been in the know as to where Bin Laden was hiding and, in fact, protecting him. This may not be all that far fetched for it is somewhat unbelievable that he was living so plainly in Pakistan without the knowledge of someone high up in the Secret Intelligence Service of Pakistan.

In addition to that Pakistan recently threw out US military and is, as far as the USA are concerned, a little on the recalcitrant side at present.

If this act of cutting military aid, though most likely very much welcomed by the ordinary American, could make relations between the USA and Pakistan worse what then? Take out Pakistan?

This may not be all that far fetched, dear readers.

The way some American officials seems to be talking that is exactly what they consider to do. The Af-Pak war and an occupation of Pakistan would have Iran fully in a pincer. Is that the aim? It would appear so.

We must note that the Afghan conflict became, in the last year or so, the Af-Pak war, or conflict. However, since when is there anything happening in Pakistan, other than the Taliban having bases there and the US attacking them, illegally, with drones.

However, and I am sticking my neck out here somewhat and playing the devil's advocate and some might say that I have been reading too many wrong books.

Looking at the area of the former Ariania – of which Iran retains part of the name – then the only thing needed in order to get Iran (Persia) into a pincer proper, as we already have the -stans above, is full and unhindered access and operational permission in Pakistan, especially in the province(s) that border Iran.

If that can be achieved then Iran is surrounded by American and “allied” forces and can then put pressure on Iran to change its political structure so as for the US and others to get their hands on the oil.

And oil is the only reason any and all of those “wars” are being fought, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan – bugger “Enduring Freedom” and human rights, etc. – and latest Libya. If it would really be the rights of the people we would be interested in, our governments that is, then we would be in Syria right now and would have been in Rhodesia a long time ago.

Far from bringing any enduring freedom to Afghanistan, or to Iraq, or to Libya, the aim is to “liberate” the oil supplies of Iraq, Libya, and via a pincer attack from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and the -stans of the former USSR, Iran.

That black sticky stuff makes people do awful things and often under the guise of humanitarian action.

U.S. Cuts Military Aid

U.S. Suspends Military Aid

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House rejects Senate Democratic debt bill

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House on Saturday rejected a Senate Democratic bill to raise the nation's debt limit just three days before the deadline to avert an unprecedented U.S. financial default. President Barack Obama and lawmakers remained at loggerheads on any possible compromise.

With tensions high at a rare weekend session, the legislation failed on a 246-173 vote that was largely symbolic. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

Saturday's result, however, could pave the way for negotiations on a compromise with Tuesday's deadline on the government's ability to pay its bills fast approaching.

Shortly after the House vote, Obama stepped back into the debt-ceiling talks, calling Congress' top two Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to the White House for a meeting Saturday afternoon.

"We now have a a level of seriousness with the right people at the table,'' Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference, where he was joined by House Speaker John Boehner.

Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, warned that "there is very little time" and pleaded with both Republicans and Democrats to stop political gamesmanship.

"The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now," Obama said.

Earlier in the week, after a speech from the Diplomatic Room at the White House urging compromise, Obama reiterated his call to action on Twitter: "The time for putting party first is over. If you want to see a bipartisan #compromise, let Congress know. Call. Email.Tweet. --BO".

Pelosi, for her part, told the House on Saturday it was "time to end this theater of the absurd. It's time for us to get real."

Resolution remained elusive. Some 43 Senate Republicans said they opposed the Democratic bill by Reid. His alternative measure would raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion while cutting spending by $2.2 trillion.

In a letter to Reid, they wrote that the bill "fails to address our current fiscal imbalance and lacks any serious effort to ensure that any subsequent spending cuts are enacted." The 43 are enough to block passage of Reid's bill.

Setting the stage for the high-stakes weekend, Senate Democrats late Friday killed a House-passed debt-limit increase and budget-cutting bill less than two hours after it squeaked through the House. Reid set up a test vote for the wee hours of Sunday morning to break a GOP filibuster on his own legislation.

Saturday's debate in the House was heated and sometimes nasty, with occasional efforts to shout down speakers. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., railed against the "pernicious nonsense" from Republican Rep. David Dreier of California.

Freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., said, "This Harry Reid plan offers no real solutions to the out-of-control spending problems."

Countered Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.: "The clock is ticking and Republicans are continuing to play political games."

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., read a statement that then-Sen. Barack Obama had delivered years ago against raising the debt limit.

House Democrats said they would put aside their resistance to legislation that makes deep spending cuts and back the measure in a show of strength that could improve Reid's leverage in negotiations.

"There are some misgivings, but it's the only game in town," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., as he emerged from an hour-long closed door meeting.

Democrats, Republicans and the White House, meanwhile, were expected to be deep in conversation in hopes of a potential compromise. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was likely to play a pivotal role.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told MSNBC's "The Last Word" that McConnell had said he will not negotiate with Reid, just with President Barack Obama.

The outcome of the weekend endgame was anything but clear as Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over how to force lawmakers to come up with additional budget savings later this year beyond the almost $1 trillion in agency budget cuts over the coming decade that they basically agree on.

At the start of the Senate's session Saturday, Reid appealed to Republicans to work with him on his proposal, particularly McConnell.

"We're willing to listen to Republican ideas to make this proposal better, but time is running short," Reid said.

First Read: Democrats in retreat?
McConnell said the Reid plan wasn't "going anywhere. Senate Republicans refuse to go along with this transparently political and deeply irresponsible ploy to give the president cover to make our debt crisis even worse than it already is."

After a brutal week on Wall Street — investors lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the markets lost ground every day — pressure is intense to produce an accord before the Asian markets open on Sunday afternoon.

Story: Global concern over US debt ceiling disagreement

The House measure squeaked through on a 218-210 vote, with 22 Republicans joining united Democrats in opposing the GOP measure, which pairs an immediate $900 billion increase in U.S. borrowing authority along with $917 billion in spending cuts spread over the coming decade.

Friday's roll call came after Boehner had been forced to call off a vote slated for Thursday in the face of tea party opposition to the measure. He added a provision requiring that a second, up to $1.6 trillion debt increase be conditioned on House and Senate passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, which would require an unrealistic two-thirds vote by each chamber to send it to the states for ratification.

Boehner's move only cemented Democratic opposition to the measure and complicated prospects for a weekend compromise that could clear both houses and win Obama's signature by next Tuesday's deadline. And by appeasing the tea party by adding the balanced-budget amendment poison pill, Boehner seemed to hand endgame leverage to Reid and Obama.

Boehner said the House bill — before the addition of the balanced-budget amendment — mirrored an agreement worked out with Reid last weekend.

Story: Benefit recipient? Disruptions may be coming

Still, as soon as the measure reached the Senate side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats scuttled it. The vote was 59-41, with all Democrats, two independents and six Republicans joining in opposition.

Reid's alternative measure would raise the debt limit by up to $2.4 trillion, enough to meet a demand by Obama that the increase be sufficient so that Congress doesn't have to wrestle with it again until 2013.

Administration officials say that without legislation in place by the end of Tuesday, the Treasury will no longer be able to pay all its bills. The result could inflict significant damage on the economy, they add, causing interest rates to rise and financial markets to sink.

Executives from the country's biggest banks met with U.S. Treasury officials to discuss how debt auctions will be handled if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit before Tuesday's deadline.
Boehner: Obama needs to pull U.S. from financial 'cul-de-sac'

Pelosi: House GOP debt stance 'perfectly absurd'

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Friday, July 29, 2011

U.S. ends 'constructive' talks with N.Korea

NEW YORK — The United States concluded "constructive" talks with North Korea on Friday and will consult with Seoul and other allies on possible next steps toward reopening discussions of Pyongyang's nuclear program, the State Department said.

U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth held two days of talks with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, their first such interaction since 2009.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the talks were "constructive", but stressed that it was too early to say what decisions Washington might take on resuming six-nation nuclear negotiations suspended since 2008.

"These were exploratory talks. We were clear-eyed going into them," Toner told a news briefing in Washington. "We're going to assess next steps, but we're going to do that in consultation with our partners."

U.S. officials have emphasized they are in no rush to restart the arms-for-disarmament negotiations that collapsed in 2009 when North Korea quit the process after new U.N. sanctions were imposed following a new nuclear test by Pyongyang. North Korea also tested an atomic device in 2006.

Washington and its allies Seoul and Tokyo have been pressing North Korea to take real steps to demonstrate its sincerity ahead of any new negotiations, saying they are not interested in simply holding talks for talks' sake.

Story: US-N. Korea nuclear talks: Why return to table now?

Toner said that Robert King, the Obama administration's special envoy for human rights, joined the talks on Friday but could give no further details on what was discussed.

The so-called "six party talks" include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China as well as North Korea and the United States.

China, Pyongyang's chief international backer, has been urging a resumption of the broader negotiations.

In 2005 the six parties signed a document spelling out a process in which North Korea would scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and energy aid and diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan.
North Korea has called for a peace treaty to replace the truce that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The current talks follow signs that tensions between North Korea and South Korea are easing since two attacks last year blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans.

South Korea has softened its demand for an apology from North Korea over the 2010 attacks as the precondition for resuming dialogue.

Foreign ministers from the two sides met on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Indonesia Saturday for the first time since 2008.

The United States and China have agreed on a three-stage process to resume the six-party talks. The first stage is the two Koreas engaging bilaterally, the second involves talks between the North and the United States, and the third stage is the six-party talks.

President Obama & South Korean President Lee

President Obama and President Lee of the Republic of Korea Talk to the Press

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Bush explains 9/11 classroom reaction

Image: Poster promoting  National Geographic Channel documentary marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks.LOS ANGELES — Former President George W. Bush says what some people took as his apparent lack of reaction to the first news of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was actually a conscious decision on his part to project an aura of calm in a crisis.

In a rare interview with the National Geographic Channel, Bush reflects on what was going through his mind at the most dramatic moment of his presidency when he was informed that a second passenger jet had hit New York's World Trade Center.

Bush was visiting a Florida classroom when Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered into his ear , "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." The classroom scene was caught on TV film and has often been used by critics to ridicule his apparently blank face.

"My first reaction was anger. Who the hell would do that to America? Then I immediately focused on the children, and the contrast between the attack and the innocence of children," Bush says in an excerpt of the interview shown to television writers on Thursday.

Bush said he could see the news media at the back of the classroom getting the news on their own cellphones "and it was like watching a silent movie."

Bush said he quickly realized that a lot of people beyond the classroom would be watching for his reaction.

"So I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm," he said of his decision to remain seated and silent.

"I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm," he added.

The National Geographic Channel will broadcast the hour-long interview on Aug. 28 as part of a week of programs on the cable network called "Remembering 9/11" that mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

The interview was recorded over two days in May, without any questions being submitted in advance, the channel said.

Lawmakers seek to restore 9-11 Commission

National Geographic said Bush gives "intimate details" of his thoughts and feelings in a way never seen before. Most of the interview is about the first minutes and hours of the day that Islamic militants hijacked four planes and crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Executive producer and director Peter Schnall said Bush, who has adopted a low public profile since leaving office in January 2009, brought no notes to the interview.

"What you hear is the personal story of a man who also happened to be our president. Listening to him describe how he grappled with a sense of anger and frustration coupled with his personal mandate to lead our country through this devastating attack was incredibly powerful," Schnall said.

U.S. television networks are planning a slew of specials to mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks. Those on National Geographic also include a documentary on the continuing U.S. war on terror, and stories of ordinary people on Sept. 11, 2001, called "Where Were You?"

Ten Minute Vid of Bush in Classroom on 9/11

Bush Watched First Plane Impact

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Soldier arrested near Fort Hood in 'terror plot'

An AWOL U.S. soldier facing a court-martial was gunning for "military personnel" when he was arrested with bomb-making materials near the U.S. military base at Fort Hood, Texas, authorities said Thursday.

Killeen, Texas, police arrested Pfc. Naser J. Abdo, 21, of Garland, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon at a motel near Fort Hood, Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said Thursday afternoon. He was arrested without incident and was being questioned at the Killeen City Jail by police and officers from Fort Hood's Criminal Investigative Division.

Confirming a report by NBC News early Thursday, Baldwin said at a news conference that "military personnel were targeted" at the base, where a gunman killed 13 people in 2009.

"I would call it a terror plot," he said, adding: "We would probably have been giving a different briefing here if he had not been stopped."

Abdo, an infantryman with the 1st Brigade Combat Team (Rear Provisional) of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., was arrested at an America's Best Value Inn on South Fort Hood Road, initially on child pornography charges stemming from an investigation at Fort Campbell.

Abdo went missing this month after he was recommended for a court-martial on those charges. Abdo, who has mounted an extensive public campaign to leave the Army, has denied he was involved in child pornography.

Tip from gun store

U.S. officials told NBC News that police went to Abdo's motel room on a tip from a gun dealer who said Abdo was asking suspicious questions about smokeless powder, a component often used in pipe bombs. Explosives were found in the room and in a backpack, the officials said.

A U.S. military official said Abdo was overheard saying he wanted to attack Fort Hood and that he repeated the statement after he was in custody. Authorities said it was not clear whether his alleged intended targets were soldiers in general or specific individuals on the base.

In an in-house alert it sent to Army facilities worldwide, the Army Operations Center said the suspect "admitted to planning an attack on Fort Hood." He had a bomb, a gun, a "large quantity" of ammunition and an Army uniform, said the alert, which was first reported Thursday morning by The Army Times.

Authorities would not confirm that Abdo had a uniform with him.

Police and the FBI said Abdo — pronounced AB-doo — would likely be charged with possession of bomb-making materials and transferred to federal custody.

The threat "has been eliminated and mitigated, and there was nothing to indicate he was acting with anyone else," said Erik Vasys, a spokesman for the FBI in San Antonio.

Baldwin agreed, saying, "We are not aware of any additional threats."

Child porn charges block discharge as conscientious objector

Abdo sought conscientious objector status last year, arguing that his Muslim beliefs prohibited military service. The Army approved his application in May, then, two days later, it charged him with possession of child pornography, which put his discharge on hold, he said on a Facebook page.

The page has since been removed, but Fort Hood confirmed Thursday that Abdo's conscientious objector application was approved "in May 2011" and that he was then charged with possession of child pornography on May 13.

"Since he is in the custody of civilian authorities, jurisdiction over any potential new charges is yet to be determined," the base said in a statement. "If returned to military control, he may face additional charges including AWOL."

Shortly before the Article 32 hearing last month that recommended he face a court-martial, Abdo told NBC station WSMV-TV of Nashville, Tenn.: "I did not put child pornography on the government computer." He said the timing of the charges "sounds pretty fishy."

A spokesman for the military said the charges were "completely unrelated" to Abdo's conscientious objector application.

Abdo's campaign to leave the Army got considerable coverage beginning in August, when he gave several televised interviews.

Child porn charges block discharge as conscientious objector

Abdo sought conscientious objector status last year, arguing that his Muslim beliefs prohibited military service. The Army approved his application in May, then, two days later, it charged him with possession of child pornography, which put his discharge on hold, he said on a Facebook page.

The page has since been removed, but Fort Hood confirmed Thursday that Abdo's conscientious objector application was approved "in May 2011" and that he was then charged with possession of child pornography on May 13.

"Since he is in the custody of civilian authorities, jurisdiction over any potential new charges is yet to be determined," the base said in a statement. "If returned to military control, he may face additional charges including AWOL."

Shortly before the Article 32 hearing last month that recommended he face a court-martial, Abdo told NBC station WSMV-TV of Nashville, Tenn.: "I did not put child pornography on the government computer." He said the timing of the charges "sounds pretty fishy."

A spokesman for the military said the charges were "completely unrelated" to Abdo's conscientious objector application.

Abdo's campaign to leave the Army got considerable coverage beginning in August, when he gave several televised interviews.

"As my time came near to deployment, I started asking the question more seriously whether God would accept what I was doing and whether I was really meant to go to war, as opposed to the peace that Islam preaches," he said in an August interview with Headline News. He made similar comments in interviews with al-Jazeera.

As recently as June, Abdo was pursuing his battle on the Facebook page, where he described himself as "engaged in a struggle against religious discrimination and for freedom of conscience in the US Army."

The last update was June 21, thanking his supporters. In his next-to-last update, posted nine minutes earlier, he says he could not find a way to delete the account and so "after this update I will be leaving." He did not say where he was going.

James Branum, the lawyer who represented Abdo during his proceedings at Fort Campbell, told the New York Daily News that he had not heard from his client "for quite a while."

"I'm not sure what to think about this," Branum said.

Fort Hood, the largest U.S. military base in the world, was the scene of a mass shooting that killed 13 people in November 2009. The arrest Wednesday raised concerns that a possible repeat attack may have been in the works.

The American-Statesman reported that the gun store where Abdo was first identified by a clerk was the same Killeen store where the suspect in the 2009 shootings, Maj. Nidal Hasan, bought a gun, ammunition and laser sights that he allegedly used.

"We are aware at this time that Killeen Police Department arrested a soldier yesterday," Fort Hood said in a statement. "We continue our diligence in keeping our force protection at appropriate levels."

Ft. Hood Plot Arrest
Fort Hood

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Military in full control when China's Su-27s crossed centerline: MND

Taipei, June 25 (CNA) The military reacted in accordance with emergency response regulations when two Chinese Su-27 jet fighters were spotted over waters west of the Taiwan Strait centerline on June 29, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said Monday in a statement.

The ministry was responding to a United Daily News report on the same day that a People's Liberation Army Su-27 crossed the Taiwan Strait centerline late last month when it was chasing a U.S. U-2S high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

The Chinese fighter turned back to the mainland after two Taiwanese F-16 fighters scrambled to the nearby airspace, the newspaper said.

The MND confirmed the report, but added that the brief traverse was not a deliberately provocative act.

The statement further said the military has consistently kept a close eye on Chinese military aircraft's activities in skies over the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan and mainland China.

"As long as any emergency situation is detected, the military has never hesitated to send our Air Force aircraft to the region for precautionary warnings," the MND statement said.

In taking such actions, the MND stressed that it has followed the "no provocation" principles in dealing with relevant situations. The ministry further said it will continue emergency preparedness and readiness to ensure airspace safety. (By Hsieh Chia-chen and Sofia Wu) enditem/ly

F-16 V.S. Su-27

Fighter Jet Su-27

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Suicide spikes among middle-aged women

At 23, Julie Boledovich Farhat decided to leave her boyfriend, three siblings and beloved hometown in Michigan to focus on saving her mother.

After watching her mom, Gail Boledovich, battle schizophrenia for three years and suffer from hallucinations and delusions, Julie resolved to take an engineering job in Bowling Green, Ky., and buy a house where her mom could live with her and have a beautiful garden and even an art studio to create her mosaics. Gail would be spared the stress of having to work or pay bills. Everything would work out, Julie thought.

Image:Boledovich familyBut Gail Boledovich never made it to Kentucky. She took her own life on May 1, 2005, two days before her 49th birthday. She died from an overdose of prescription-strength Benadryl pills that doctors had prescribed to her to help her sleep at night. Boledovich took the lethal dose in the middle of the day.

Farhat’s mom could have been anyone’s mom, or aunt — or wife.

A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a 49 percent increase in emergency department visits for drug-related suicide attempts for women aged 50 and older.

And women aged 40-69 are more at risk of killing themselves than other women, according to new research on age-specific suicide rates between 1998 and 2007. In 2007, this age group made up 60 percent of the 7,328 suicides reported among women.

But why middle-aged women?

It could just be a question of numbers: One in four adults in the U.S. has a treatable mental health condition, and middle-aged women are one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

Or it may have something to do with baby boomers’ higher rates of substance abuse, an important risk factor in suicide, said Julie Phillips, Ph.D., a social demographer and associate professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Phillips calculated the age-specific rates from data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau. And during the nine-year time period she studied, suicide rates are fairly stable for women younger than 40, and for women older than 70, suicide rates are actually on the decline.

Women over 50 may also be in crisis because pain and sleep disorders — common problems with aging — can lead to an increased use of prescription drugs, according to Albert Woodward, Ph.D., the project director of SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network. According to the SAMHSA report, suicide attempts involving drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia increased 56 percent. Woodward adds that older women may experience depression because of health changes and other negative life events.

Loneliness and depression are also suicide risk factors. "Older women especially in the U.S. are more isolated and separated from daily human contact outside of work and the internet," says Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychology at San Jose State University and the editor of the journal Women & Therapy.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker in Sarasota, Fla., has found through her online surveys, lectures and focus groups a startling increase in suicide attempts with women ages 45 to 54. Women are susceptible to depression but older women may also be suffering from pre-menopause hormone fluctuations that can affect mood changes and depression. Also, existing long-term illnesses such as lupus or multiple sclerosis can worsen and breast cancers and other cancers might be diagnosed.

Dr. Wish also says middle-aged women are more aware of their mortality and may be disappointed and disillusioned that it’s too late for happiness. Transitioning to becoming an empty nester can also be stressful for women.

“Mental illness is a real debilitating illness,” Farhat says. “But unlike someone who is physically disabled, no one holds the door open for a person on the street having hallucinations.”

In honor of her mother, Farhat, now 30, and her three siblings started Mind Over Matter (MOM), a small nonprofit aimed at promoting mental health awareness and raising money for research and suicide prevention in Michigan.

“Society puts so much emphasis on how these people die, but I loved my mom — the way she died had nothing to do with the person she was.”

Suicidology part 1

Part 2

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Toyota’s New In-Car Technology: A Steering Wheel Heart Monitor

By Yoshio Takahashi

Toyota Motor Corp.’s former president Katsuaki Watanabe once said that the auto maker wanted to develop the ideal dream car of the future – the more you drive, the healthier you become. A dream, but maybe no longer a pipe dream.

This week the country’s biggest auto maker showed off something it called “emergency-response technology,” a system to prevent major accidents caused by sudden changes in the driver’s physical condition. Toyota said it is working on the system to make it commercially available in future.

The space-age sounding system was one of a number of safety technology systems demonstrated to reporters Thursday at Toyota’s state-of-the-art Higashifuji technical center located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

The media tour of the facility, which was initially scheduled in late March but postponed after the March 11 earthquake, comes as the car maker looks to shore up its vehicle safety record after it came under fire for its global recall woes last year. The facility in Susono city, Shizuoka was opened to the media for the first time since 2007.

And the driver monitoring system? In a survey of more than 170 fatal accidents, about a fourth were caused by sudden changes in drivers’ physical condition, of which 70% were related to heart disease, according to Minoru Makiguchi, a project manager in charge of the new system.

The system monitors the driver’s cardiovascular functions through the person’s grasp of the steering wheel, in which an optical sensor is mounted, and detects risks of heart problems. In the experimental system installed in a Prius, the chart of the driver’s heartbeat and electrocardiogram can be viewed on the display of the in-car navigation system.

If the system detects unusual heart movement, a message appears on the display to advise the driver to go see a doctor, or a warning to head straight to a hospital if the condition is likely to become critical.

Mr. Makiguchi said the system could be used to check other health conditions, though he didn’t elaborate on other possible items that could be added. But if a driver can monitor his or her health every morning on the drive to the office, it could effectively become something to help the driver get healthier, just as Mr. Watanabe dreamed.

Still, there are some challenges that the company would need to overcome that a car maker doesn’t usually face.

“We will have to get approval from the health ministry if this is considered as medical equipment,” Mr. Makiguchi said.
Tokyo Motor Show 2007

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And the next mars rover goes to...

By Alan Boyle

Scientists have decided to point NASA's next Mars rover toward a mountain of layered minerals inside Gale Crater, after a process they compared to picking a favorite flavor of ice cream out of 30 choices. One big reason Gale won out is because it's like Neapolitan ice cream, offering a yummy combination of flavors.

Like the strawberry-vanilla-chocolate ice cream, the 3-mile-high (5-kilometer-high) mound inside Gale Crater offers multiple possibilities — intriguing geological sites at different elevations that could document a billion years of Mars' climate history, and perhaps its habitability as well.

"Gale Crater is interesting to explore because it crosses what we think is a major time boundary on Mars that’s recorded in its mineral history," Brown University's John Mustard, a planetary scientist who helped with the early stages of the selection process, said in an emailed comment. "That boundary marks a change from an early wet, hospitable environment that would have been suitable for life to a middle period where conditions may have become more hostile. We believe that at Gale Crater, we have located that boundary where life may have sprung up and where it may have been extinguished."

In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the Curiosity rover could shed light on Mars' future as well as its past. "Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet," he said.

$2.5 billion mission to Mars

The Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is a mobile robot as big as a Mini Cooper automobile, bristling with scientific instruments and a camera capable of taking high-definition, full-color video at a rate of more than five frames per second.

The $2.5 billion mission is due for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on an Atlas 5 rocket, as early as the day after Thanksgiving, with landing on Mars set for August 2012. The rover is designed to be lowered to the Martian surface by a rocket-powered "sky crane" system that's never been used before for interplanetary probes.

NASA expects Curiosity to operate for a "warranty period" of one full Martian year, the equivalent of two Earth years, and to rove for 13 miles (20 kilometers or more). John Grotzinger, Curiosity's mission scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, estimates that it would take about two years for the radioactivity-powered rover to work its way up to the summit of Gale Crater's mountain — and he's already hoping for as much of a decade's worth of extra exploration.

After all, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars were designed to operate for 90 days — but seven and a half years after they landed, Spirit only recently gave up the ghost, and Opportunity is still going strong. "If history is a predictor of the future, we expect to have future life to go," Grotzinger said today at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, where the site selection was announced.

The 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) Gale Crater should provide a spectacular backdrop for Curiosity's cinematography. Scientists compared the terrain to the Grand Canyon and Utah's Monument Valley. The mountain inside the crater rises higher than any peak in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, but it has channels that should give Curiosity a chance to make a slow ascent to the top.

"This might be the tallest mountain anywhere in the solar system that we can climb with a rover," Grotzinger said.

How the choice was made

The selection process leading to today's announcement started five years ago, when more than 100 scientists sifted through about 30 potential landing sites. Four top candidates were selected in 2008, and earlier this year, that "Final Four" was whittled down to two: Gale Crater as well as Eberswalde Crater, which scientists believe contains the remains of an ancient river delta. (Eberswalde was the favorite of Cosmic Log readers in an unscientific poll we offered last week. Sorry, folks.)

The final recommendation was made by the Curiosity mission's science team and approved by senior NASA officials. Grotzinger said choosing from among the Final Four sites was a matter of taste, like choosing between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. "When you come down to four landing sites, that's basically what it comes down to. ... In the end, we picked the one that felt best," he said.

NASA's strategy for past Mars probes has been to "follow the water," on the assumption that areas where liquid water once flowed would be prime places to look for evidence of past habitability. In NASA's announcement, Grotzinger said that was one of the factors that made Gale Crater so attractive.
"It’s a huge crater sitting in a very low-elevation position on Mars, and we all know that water runs downhill," he said. "In terms of the total vertical profile exposed and the low elevation, Gale offers attractions similar to Mars’ famous Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system."

'Great novel' focuses on Martian past

The other keys to Gale's appeal are the minerals layered throughout the 3-mile-high mountain inside the crater.

Curiosity will be targeted to land on an alluvial fan that was apparently formed from sediments carried down the mountainside by water. Then the rover will make its way up to higher levels, where orbital observations have spotted the types of clay minerals and sulfates that are typically formed by the interaction of rock and water.

Different types of geological formations are accessible at different elevations, reflecting different epochs in Mars' history. Grotzinger said Curiosity could survey samples from a vertical range extending for hundreds of meters (yards), far more than the roughly 20 meters of vertical range sampled by the Opportunity rover. He compared the vertical variation to chapters in a book, and said Gale Crater promised to be a "great novel."

Curiosity's instruments are capable of detecting organic carbon in ground-up rock samples, and Grotzinger said the rover has "a shot at potentially discovering organic compounds." He emphasized that the instruments cannot definitively pick up the presence of life. However, confirming the presence of organic compounds on Mars would represent a significant advance in the decades-long search for evidence of life on the Red Planet.

Dawn Sumner, a geologist at the University of California at Davis, said she and her colleagues were looking forward to the adventure. "Geologists like climbing up cliffs," she said at the National Air and Space Museum, "and we get to go to those places with this rover for the first time on Mars."

For the next couple of decades, robots will be the only earthly things climbing up those cliffs, but that may not always be the case. NASA's current vision for space exploration calls for sending astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s, and some believe the job could be done earlier. When, if ever, will humans follow in Curiosity's wheel tracks? What might they find? Feel free to add your comments below.

Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site

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Police: Utoya shooter was local man

UPDATE 5:22 p.m.: Police say the gunman is a Norwegian.

Witnesses described the suspect as "blond" and "Nordic-looking." Late Friday, Knut Storberegt, Norway's royal minister of justice and the police, confirmed that he is a Norwegian; the BBC, citing police, said he was from Utoya. Police said he is also believed to have been involved in the bombing that killed seven people earlier in the day in Oslo, about 25 miles away.

Magnus Ranstorp, a specialist in militant Islamic movements and research director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College, cautioned that widespread assumptions that the attacks were connected to international terrorism could be wrong.

The description of the suspect and his possible involvement in bombing national government offices "point to an internal rather than external extremist," Ranstorp told Nettavisen.

"Intuitively, the bombing is al-Qaida-related, but with this attack on Utoya, this could just be a crazy person," Ranstorp said.

UPDATE 4:07 p.m. ET: Oslo police say that with the gunman in custody, Utoya island is now safe.

Inspector Bjorn Erik Sem-Jacobsen of the Buskerud police district told state broadcaster NRK that the investigation was difficult because witnesses and others who were on the island when the gunman opened fire had good reason to be suspicious of anyone in a police uniform.
"We are working to ensure that the young people out there have confidence that we are real police," Sem-Jacobsen said.

UPDATE 3:50 p.m. ET: Police said they could confirm only nine deaths in the shooting at Utoya. A police spokesman said a 10th person might may have been killed, but that was "uncertain."

Previous reports quoted multiple witnesses as saying as many as 20 people may have been killed.

Norwegian authorities said at a news conference that the gunman was not connected to the police and "has no relation to us."

UPDATE 3:35 p.m. ET: Police said they were confident they had been able to identify the gunman, whom they had in custody. They did not release his identity, but they said they had confirmed that they had "reason to believe" he was connected to the Oslo bombing.

NRK reporter Astrid Randen quoted witnesses as saying the man — described as "tall, blond and Nordic-looking" and speaking Norwegian — wore a police uniform and summoned youth campers to gather around him before he "just executed them."

People in at least 20 pleasure boats converged on the island to help with the rescue operation. One of them, André Skeie, told NRK that he saw at least a dozen "lifeless bodies" floating in the water.

Skeie said he helped remove more than 15 injured people from the island. Many of them were shot in the stomach, he said.

"It's absolutely awful. It looks like a war zone," Skeie said by phone.

UPDATE 3:12 p.m. ET: NRK is quoting witnesses as saying at least five and perhaps 20 or more people may have been killed at Utoya, some of them shot as they tried to swim to safety from the island. It stressed that police had not confirmed the accounts.

UPDATE 2:53 p.m. ET: NRK quotes police as saying they now suspect one or more bombs may be at the scene at Utoya.

UPDATE 2:51 p.m. ET: The Norwegian news agency NTB quotes witnesses describing a scene of "complete panic."

A witness said in a text message that "we are very afraid," the agency reported. "We do not know what to do. Many people are injured. We are afraid. We are waiting for help. Some are seriously injured. We cannot do anything."

Posted 2:45 p.m. ET: As speculation raged that the bombing of government buildings in Oslo, Norway, could be Islamist terrorism, a "tall, blond and Nordic-looking" man dressed as a police officer opened fire with a machine gun on a political youth conference 25 miles away, police and eyewitnesses said.

Police told NRK television that preliminary reports were least five people were injured in the shooting on the island of Utoya, which they said they believed was linked to the bombing earlier in the day.

NRK and other Norwegian media said the government had sent an anti-terrorism unit to evacuate the island, where the scene was described as chaotic. NRK reported that some terrified campers were trying to swim back to the mainland from the summer gathering, which was organized by the country's Labour Party.

"The situation's gone from bad to worse," said Runar Kvernen, a spokesman for the national police.

Oslo Explosion Shots Fired


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Norway reels after bomb blast, youth camp attack

OSLO, Norway — Twin terror attacks rocked Norway on Friday when a bomb wrecked government buildings in the capital, including the prime minister's office, and a gunman dressed as a police officer opened fire at an island youth camp.

Police said the two attacks were linked.
At least seven people were killed and others injured in the blast in the center of Oslo, NBC News reported. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not in his building at the time of the explosion, which happened around 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT), Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported.

Separately, a man in a police uniform opened fire at a Labor Party youth camp on an island near Oslo, Norwegian media said. Investigators told local media they suspect a link between the shootings and the blast. Eyewitnesses told Norwegian broadcaster NRK perhaps 20 or more people had been killed on the island of Utoya. Police confirmed at least nine deaths on the island. Police said they have arrested one person after the shooting.

“The situation’s gone from bad to worse,” Runar Kvernen, spokesman for the National Police Directorate under the Ministry of Justice and Police, told The New York Times. He added that most of the youngsters at the camp were 15 and 16 years old.

Police confirm nine dead on island

Stoltenberg had been scheduled to attend the event on the island, but was not there, police said. The island is in a lake about 25 miles northwest of Oslo.

"Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland. Others are hiding," Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke with teens on the island, told The New York Times. "Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

NRK reporter Astrid Randen quoted witnesses as saying the man — described as "tall, blond and Nordic-looking" and speaking Norwegian — wore a police uniform and summoned youth at the political gathering to gather around him before he "just executed them."

The island is about one-third of a mile from shore at its closest point, and has no bridge to the mainland.

Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said the shooter had also been spotted in Oslo just before the blast.

In Oslo, police confirmed at least seven dead in the blast. At least 10 injured people were admitted to Oslo University Hospital, a hospital spokesman told Reuters. The toll could be higher, with the police chief saying there have been “a lot” of casualties and reports of people trapped in the building.

Oslo police said the explosion was caused by a bomb, the NTB news agency said.

Why would terrorists want to attack Norway?

The blast blew out most windows on the 17-story building housing Stoltenberg's office, as well as nearby ministries including the oil ministry, which was on fire.

"It exploded — it must have been a bomb. People ran in panic ... I counted at least 10 injured people," said bystander Kjersti Vedun, who was leaving the area of the blast in Oslo.

Heavy debris littered the streets and a tall plume of brown smoke rose over the city center. The tangled wreckage of a car could be seen near the blast site.

The Reuters correspondent said the streets had been fairly quiet in mid-afternoon on a Friday in high summer, when many Oslo residents take vacation or leave for weekend breaks.

Officials were trying to confirm reports of people trapped inside buildings, government minister Hans Kristian Amundsen told BBC.

"We are trying to stay focused, and we are focused, on the rescue operation," he said.

'Lingering smell' like 9/11

Olaf Furniss, a freelance journalist in Oslo, told BBC News that people he had spoken to feared it was a terrorist attack.

The BBC reported residents as saying there was a smell of sulfur in the air and asked Furniss about this.

"I was in New York three weeks after 9/11, there was still a lingering smell [and] I would compare it to that, it's very similar to that," he replied.

Furniss told the BBC that he was in a cafe when the blast went off, but he had not realized how big it was until he went outside.

One witness in Oslo, who spoke to the BBC and was identified only as Ella, said "We are the good guys; stuff like this doesn't happen to us."

Story: Militant attacks in Europe

NATO member Norway has sometimes in the past been threatened by leaders of al-Qaida for its involvement in Afghanistan. It has also taken part the NATO bombing of Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi has threatened to strike back in Europe.

Story: Norway attack: Likely suspected groups

However, political violence is virtually unknown in the country.

"There certainly aren't any domestic Norwegian terrorist groups although there have been some al-Qaida-linked arrests from time to time," David Lea, Western Europe analyst at Control Risks, said. "They are in Afghanistan and were involved in Libya, but it's far too soon to draw any conclusions."

John Drake, a senior risk consultant at London-based consultancy AKE said the attack may not be "too dissimilar to the terrorist attack in Stockholm in December which saw a car bomb and secondary explosion shortly after in the downtown area."

"That attack was later claimed as reprisal for Sweden's contribution to the efforts in Afghanistan," he said.

'People covered with blood'

A journalist with the NRK media organization, Ingunn Andersen, told The Associated Press news agency that the main office of newspaper VG was damaged in the blast.

"I see that some windows of the VG building and the government headquarters have been broken. Some people covered with blood are lying in the street," he told the AP. "It's complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by."

Tom Erik Sundbye said in a tweet that he was just over 4 miles away and "my office building was shaking."

Lise Sand expressed her shock in a series of messages on her Twitter account.

"I've never seen an explosion like this," Sand wrote. "I can't believe how well we felt it. We're pretty far away."

"Our windows shook, and we could actually feel the shake," she added. "The whole area is evacuated. Sirens everywhere."

Craig Barnes, a British man who was in the center of Oslo when the blast happened, told the U.K.'s Sky News that he had "put my foot down" on the accelerator of the car and got to a friend's house.

"It's absolute chaos, there are many people injured," he told Sky.

"There's debris over at least half a kilometer (546 yards) ... total chaos," Barnes added. "It's absolutely mad."

Bomb Explode

Olso Norway

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

No more '123456' passwords for Hotmail users

Scratch "123456" and "password" as your Hotmail password choices. They're not going to work anymore, says Microsoft, which says it is going to forbid users of the email program from choosing such passwords in an attempt to bolster security.

"We will now prevent our customers from using one of several common passwords" to prevent email accounts from being hijacked, wrote Dick Craddock, Hotmail group program manager, on a Microsoft blog.

"Having a common password makes your account vulnerable to brute force 'dictionary' attacks, in which a malicious person tries to hijack your account just by guessing passwords (using a short list of very common passwords). Of course, Hotmail has built-in defenses against standard dictionary attacks, but when someone can guess your password in just a few tries, it hardly constitutes 'brute force.' " ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Craddock said common passwords "are not just 'password' or '123456' (although those are frighteningly common), but also include words or phrases that just happen to be shared by millions of people, like 'ilovecats' or 'gogiants.' "

Hotmail's new password feature will be "rolling out soon," he said. And, if "you're already using a common password, you may, at some point in the future, be asked to change it to a stronger password." (For other password tips, read ESET researcher Paul Laudanski's blog, "No chocolates for my passwords please!")

The change is needed, because account hijacking is a "big problem," Craddock said. Weak passwords are part of the issue; another is when a user's account is hijacked, "their friends often find out before they do, because the hijacker uses their account to send spam or phishing email to all their contacts."

And if you wind up getting such an email from someone who has hijacked a friend or contact's email, you may let them know directly, but Hotmail now is also making it easier for you to report it directly to Hotmail, by adding a "My friend's been hacked" option on the drop-down, "Mark As" menu.

"You can also report an account as compromised when you mark a message as junk or otherwise move a message to the Junk folder," Craddock wrote.

If you report a friend's account has been compromised, Hotmail "takes that report and combines it with the other information from the compromise detection engine to determine if the account in question has in fact been hijacked," he said. "It turns out that the report that comes from you can be one of the strongest 'signals' to the detection engine, since you may be the first to notice the compromise. So, when you help out this way, it makes a big difference."

"What's especially warming about this initiative is that it's not just a Hotmail to Hotmail thing," wrote Sophos Security's Graham Cluley. "Hotmail is also sharing these notifications with Gmail and Yahoo, which means that you could still be helping a hacked friend even if they don't also use Hotmail. Let's hope we see other web email providers follow Hotmail's lead and offer similar ways for their own users to report possible account compromises."

Once a Hotmail account is marked as compromised, it can no longer be used by a spammer. That's the good news. The less-good news is that the real account-user is "put through an account recovery flow that helps them "take back control of the account," Craddock said.

Hotmail also would like users to provide "proofs," which include "an alternate email address, a question and secret answer, and, even a mobile number where we can reach you via text message."

To learn more about account proofs, check here.
All of this can be a time-consuming and annoying process. But it's far less annoying than having your account hijacked.
Hotmail Hack 2010

Hotmail Password Hacker

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