Sunday, July 31, 2011

Breast Ironing Rampant In Cameroon

Every morning before school, nine-year-old Terisia Techu would undergo a painful procedure. Her mother would take a burning hot pestle straight out of a fire and use it to press her breasts.

With tears in her eyes as she recalls what it was like, Terisia told reporters that one day the pestle was so hot, it burned her, leaving a mark. Now 18, she is still traumatized. Her mother, Grace, denies burning her daughter. But she proudly demonstrates the method she used on her daughter for several weeks, saying the goal was to make her less desirable to boys -- and stave off pregnancy.

A study found that one in four girls in Cameroon have been affected by the practice. The U.S. State Department, in its 2010 human rights report on Cameroon, cited news reports and said breast ironing "victimized numerous girls in the country" and in some cases "resulted in burns, deformities, and psychological problems."

There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon with different norms and customs. Breast ironing is practiced by all of them. Some mothers use hot stones or coconut shells to flatten their daughters' breasts. Doctors believe improved diets have resulted in young Cameroonian girls going through puberty early. Many of them are also becoming pregnant early.

Mothers who want their children to finish school before becoming parents have resorted to this drastic measure, and many see nothing wrong with it. In 2006, a German nongovernmental organization exposed the practice, which at the time was done mainly in secret. Now, charities have embarked on campaigns to educate mothers in Cameroon that sex education -- not breast ironing -- is the solution to ending teenage pregnancy.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

One Step Closer To A Federal Police State

Crime prevention off military bases is the responsibility of civilian police, not the military. In 1878, following Reconstruction, the Posse Comitatus Act was passed. It limited the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement. The statute prohibits Army and Air Force personnel and units of the National Guard under federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress.

Problem is, the military police in Homestead, Florida don't think that applies to them.  Recently, military police from the Homestead Air Reserve Base-– known as Security Forces patrolmen – have begun responding to emergency calls and detaining criminal suspects.   The Homestead Air Reserve Base has also established its own crime hotline, saying on its website: “If you know of a crime that has been committed, if you see a crime in progress, or if you see a suspicious person, vehicle, or situation that makes you feel a crime may be occurring, call the Security Forces Crime Stop Hotline.”

The firewall between military and civilian police duties was demolished with the passage of H.R. 5122, also known as the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. It allowed the president to declare martial law under revisions to the Insurrection Act, and take charge of United States National Guard troops without state governor authorization when public order has been lost and the state and its constituted authorities cannot enforce the law.

The bill was repealed in 2008, but this has not stopped the military, numerous federal agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security from blurring the distinctions between military, federal and local police responsibilities.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chinese Officials Bury Evidence To Deflect Public Criticism Over Handling Of Train Crash

Criticism within China over a high-speed train accident that killed 35 has shifted from attacks against a lack of safety measures to accusations of a government cover-up. Early on July 24, less than a day after the accident on the Hexie (harmony) train line, seven loading shovels were seen digging a hole to bury the front car of the bullet train that had rear-ended a train that had stopped due to a power outage caused by lightning.

While the "Hexie" name and "CRH" letters (indicating the train was part of the high-speed railway system) were visible at first, the loading shovels crushed the car to eradicate the markings. "Is this an attempt to not inform us about the real cause of the accident?" said a 37-year-old woman who was injured in the accident and whose friend's daughter died.

During the three hours when the front car was being buried, there were no signs that any expert entered the car to investigate the cause of the accident on the line that Chinese officials claim is the world's fastest. "In order to determine the cause of the accident, the train driver's seat should normally be thoroughly investigated," said a photographer for a local newspaper who covered the scene. But a railway official claimed the investigation "was completed by that time [less than 24 hours after the accident]."

An editorial in the Jinghua Shibao (Beijing Times) criticized the central government for ignoring safety in its bid to promote a high-speed rail service. "The train is not running in a laboratory," the editorial said. "It is a public service in which the lives of the people are at stake."

The unusual criticism of the government followed similar but much more heated comments that appeared on the Internet after the Railways Ministry said only that the cause of the accident was lightning. "I cannot ride on a train that will malfunction every time there's a lightning storm," one poster said.

Another post said, "This is a human disaster caused by corrupt bureaucrats." Others posts said the underlying cause was China's rush to become No. 1 in the world, even at the expense of safety. "It was all done to overtake the gross domestic product of advanced economies and people's lives were used," said one.

Concerning the burying of a train car so quickly after the accident, a Japanese official who investigates train accidents said, "Investigative agencies in China are not very independent, and I have heard that in many cases they are influenced by what the government wants done."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in Saudi Arabia

When the severed head of a wolf wrapped in women's lingerie turned up near the city of Tabouk in northern Saudi Arabia this week, authorities knew they had another case of witchcraft on their hands, a capital offense in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

Saudi Arabia takes witchcraft so seriously that it has banned the Harry Potter series by British writer J.K. Rowling, rife with tales of sorcery and magic.

Agents of the country’s Anti-Witchcraft Unit were quickly dispatched and set about trying to break the spell that used the beast’s head. The unit is charged with apprehending sorcerers and reversing the detrimental effects of their spells. A hotline encourages citizens across the kingdom to report cases of sorcery to local officials for immediate treatment.

In the case of the wolf's head, the Anti-Witchcraft Unit in Tabouk was able to break the spell. The Saudi daily Okaz reported on Monday that the unknown family that had fallen victim to the spell had been "liberated from the jaws of the wolf.”

The belief in sorcery is so widespread in Saudi Arabia, that it is even used as a defense in criminal court cases. Last October, a judge accused of receiving bribes in a real-estate project told a court in Madinah that he had been bewitched and is undergoing treatment by Quranic incantations, known as ruqiyah, a common remedy for the evil eye.

In other cases, however, false accusations of witchcraft are made against foreign domestic workers in order to counter their charges of sexual harassment within a Saudi household. Defendants will often say that the female domestic worker bewitched the Saudi into falling in love with the servant.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Double Digits

Akshat Saxena, who was born with 34 fingers and toes, set a Guinness World Record for most digits.

The Indian boy had seven fingers on each hand and 10 toes on each foot when he was born in India in 2010, a Guinness spokeswoman said. "I was so happy to see my baby as it was our first child," his mother Amrita Saxena told reporters. "But later, when I saw his fingers, I was shocked and surprised."

Doctors recently amputated the excess appendages in a series of surgeries and now Saxena has the typical five digits per limb, the Guinness spokeswoman said. The prodigious polydactyl wasn't born with thumbs, but doctors planned to create them with pieces of the extra fingers, the Hindustan Times reported.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dharma Kharma Is A Bitch

At Mughai Express, an Indian restaurant in Edison, New Jersey, a tray of vegetable samosas costs $35-- but a simple mistake may cost them much, much more than that.  A group of Hindu customers said the restaurant served them meat samosas, harming them emotionally and spirituality.  A state appellate court has now ruled that they can sue for the cost of travel to India to purify their souls.

A group of vegetarians led by Durgesh Gupta and Sharad Agrawal were accidentally served meat samosas by a local Indian restaurant and having done so, the group of Hindus believed that they were complicit in inflicting death and injury to God's creatures.

What the 16 Hindus want is compensation for a trip to the holy town of Haridwar, India, where the Ganges begins its downward flow to the ocean. There, they want to take dips in the river and, by Hindu belief, cleanse their souls of sin.

And they want the restaurant to pay for it all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DOJ Wants To Force Citizens To Surrender Passwords

The Colorado prosecution of a woman accused of a mortgage scam will test whether the government can punish you for refusing to disclose your encryption password.  The Obama administration has asked a federal judge to order the defendant, Ramona Fricosu, to decrypt an encrypted laptop that police found in her bedroom during a raid of her home.

Because Fricosu has opposed the proposal, this could turn into a precedent-setting case.  No U.S. appeals court appears to have ruled on whether such an order would be legal or not under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which broadly protects Americans' right to remain silent.

In a brief filed with the court, Fricosu's Colorado Springs-based attorney, Philip Dubois, said defendants can't be constitutionally obligated to help the government interpret their files. "If agents execute a search warrant and find, say, a diary handwritten in code, could the target be compelled to decode, i.e., decrypt, the diary?"

To the U.S. Justice Department, though, the requested court order represents a simple extension of prosecutors' long-standing ability to assemble information that could become evidence during a trial.  In their motion, DOJ claims that failure to compel disclosure of the encryption password would "serve to defeat the efforts of law enforcement officers to obtain such evidence through judicially authorized search warrants, and thus make their prosecution impossible."

Much of the discussion has been about what analogy comes closest. Prosecutors tend to view encryption passwords as akin to someone possessing a key to a safe filled with incriminating documents. That person can, in general, be legally compelled to hand over the key. Other examples include the U.S. Supreme Court saying that defendants can be forced to provide fingerprints, blood samples, or voice recordings.

On the other hand are civil libertarians citing other Supreme Court cases that conclude Americans can't be forced to give "compelled testimonial communications" and extending the legal shield of the Fifth Amendment to encryption passphrases. Courts already have ruled that that such protection extends to the contents of a defendant's mind, so why shouldn't a passphrase be shielded as well?

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the Justice Department's request be rejected because of Fricosu's Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment says that "no person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."


"Decrypting the data on the laptop can be, in and of itself, a testimonial act--revealing control over a computer and the files on it," said EFF Senior staff attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Ordering the defendant to enter an encryption password puts her in the situation the Fifth Amendment was designed to prevent: having to choose between incriminating herself, lying under oath, or risking contempt of court."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Salon Were Head Massages Are Free

A Russian man who tried to rob a hair salon ended up as the victim when the female shop owner overpowered him, tied him up naked and then used him as a sex slave for three days.

32-year-old Viktor Jasinski admitted to police that he had gone to the salon in Meshchovsk, Russia, with the intention of robbing it. But the tables were turned dramatically when he found himself overcome by owner Olga Zajac, 28, who happened to be a black belt in karate. She was able to take down the would-be robber with a single kick.

Then, in a scene reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Zajac dragged the semi-conscious Jasinski to a back room of the salon and tied him up with a hair dryer cable. According to reports, she then stripped him naked and, for the next three days, used him as a sex slave to 'teach him a lesson' - force feeding him Viagra to keep the lesson going.

The would-be robber was eventually released by the salon owner, who told the thief that he had finally learned his lesson. Jasinski went straight to the police and told them of his back-room ordeal, saying that he had been held hostage, handcuffed naked to a radiator, and fed nothing but Viagra. Both were arrested.

When police arrived to question the salon owner, she said: 'What a bastard. Yes, we had sex a couple of times. But I bought him new jeans, gave him food and even gave him 1,000 roubles when he left."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Austrian Man Really Using His Noodle

An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-license photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear".  Niko Alm first applied for the license three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional (i.e., religious) reasons.

After the photo was rejected by authorities, Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion. The idea came to Alm as a way of making a serious, if ironic, point.  Alm has admitted that he took up his cause in protest to the government's recognition of religious headgear in official photos (at the exclusion of other types of headgear).

A self-confessed atheist, Alm now says he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted, U.S.-based faith whose members call themselves "Pastafarians". The group's U.S. website states that "the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma".

After public pressure forced the Austrian police to allow the picture, authorities then lashed out with one final gesture of defiance-- they required Alm to obtain a doctor's certificate to prove he was "psychologically fit" to drive.

The next step, according to Alm, is to apply to the Austrian authorities for pastafarianism to become an officially recognized faith.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

U.S. Needs To Turn Up The Heat On Murdoch

Former hooker-loving NY Governor Eliot Spitzer wrote a piece on Slate reminding everyone why the News Of The World scandal in the U.K. should be relevant to us in the U.S.

[It's] hard to believe that the misbehavior in Murdoch's media empire stopped at the water's edge. Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans—Pacific as well as Atlantic—it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain.

Much more importantly, the facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment. While one must always be cautious in seeking government investigation of the media for the obvious First Amendment concerns, this is not actually an investigation of the media, but an investigation of criminal acts undertaken by those masquerading as members of the media.


[Note: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was written in the 1970s to prevent American corporations from "bribing overseas officials in order to secure business deals . . . to bring some baseline of ethics to international business.]

Acts in Britain by British citizens working on behalf of News Corp. create liability for News Corp., an American business incorporated in Delaware[.] ... The rampant violations of British law alleged—payments to cops to influence ongoing investigations and the hacking of phones—are sufficient predicates for the Justice Department to investigate. Indeed, the facts as they are emerging are a case study for why the FCPA was enacted.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword

Investigative star Chris Hansen is best known for exposing Internet sex perverts via hidden camera on "To Catch A Predator". But now Hansen has found himself on the receiving end of his own hidden camera tactics, after the married NBC anchor was secretly filmed on an illicit date with a blonde television reporter 20 years his junior. For nearly four months, sources say, the father of two has been cheating on his wife with a news anchor at NBC affili­ate WPTV in West Palm Beach, FL.

Hansen was caught on tape taking Miss Caddell on a romantic dinner at the exclusive Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manalapan, before spending the night at her Palm Beach apartment. Secret cameras filmed the couple as they arrived at the hotel for dinner and then drove back to her apartment - where the pair left, carrying luggage, at 8am the following day.

Hansen lives in Connecticut with his 53-year-old wife Mary, but he has been spending more and more time in South Florida investigating the disappearance of James 'Jimmy T' Trindade - and allegedly sleeping with Miss Caddell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gender Vendors

Hundreds of girl children in Indore, India are being operated on to turn them into boys. Such surgeries -- on children as young as 1-5 years old -- are rampant in Indore's clinics and hospitals. Genitoplasty experts in the region admit that each of them have turned 200-300 girls into "boys" so far. The low cost of surgery ($3,300), relatively easy and unobtrusive ways of getting it done, and vague laws are even attracting parents from Delhi and Mumbai.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) has called for the formation of a medical board of experts to decide on the need for such a surgery in every case, and stringent checks in all cities. "There should be a medical board to decide if the surgery is medically required. It has to be a responsible decision made by a panel and not a decision between a parent and a doctor,” said Professor Gautam Sen, member of the MCI board of governors.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bunnies Boot The Gong

Police in Brandenburg, Germany discovered a large plot of cannabis-- but when they called on the neighboring house they found an 84-year-old woman who had been feeding her rabbits with the plants.

“The rabbits really like it,” the woman told officers who called on her in the village of Golzow near Belzig, according to press reports.

She told them that she had not grown the plants herself, but that they had simply started growing there, and had proven to be excellent rabbit food. Not only did the rabbits love eating the plants, they grew back very quickly after she cut them down, she told the investigating officers.

A spokesman for the Brandenburg police said her explanation had sounded plausible, but the officers could not leave her with the plants unfortunately-- instead, they cut them all down and took them to the forensics laboratory for testing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

TSA Ignoring Cancer Scare Among TSA Employees

Fearful of provoking further public resistance to naked airport body scanners, the TSA has been caught covering up a surge in cases of TSA workers developing cancer as a result of their close proximity to radiation-firing devices.

After Union representatives in Boston discovered a “cancer cluster” amongst TSA workers linked with radiation from the body scanners, the TSA sought to downplay the matter and refused to issue employees with dosimeters to measure levels of exposure.

“The Department, rather than acting on it, or explaining its position seems to have just dismissed. I don’t think that’s the way most other agencies would have acted in a similar situation if they were confronted with that question,” said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the organization that obtained the TSA documents.

According to other documents obtained by EPIC, a Johns Hopkins study has actually revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit,” contradicting repeated claims by the TSA that Johns Hopkins had validated the safety of the devices.

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