- 20 May: Twin bomb attacks killed at least 122 people in the central city of Jos
- 18 May: Suicide blast on a busy street in northern city of Kano kills four, including a 12-year-old girl
- 5 May: Boko Haram militants slaughter more than 300 residents in the town of Gamboru Ngala
- 2 May: Car bomb claims at least 19 lives in the Nigerian capital, Abuja
- 14 April: Twin bomb attack claimed by Boko Haram kills more than 70 at an Abuja bus station; the same day, the group abducts more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote northern town of Chibok
Saturday, May 31, 2014
A modern day Christian martyr. Let's hope they free her and Obama allows her here to join her American husband.
Sudanese authorities are to free a woman who was sentenced to death for having abandoned the Islamic faith, a foreign ministry official says.
Meriam Ibrahim, who gave birth to a daughter in custody, will be freed in a few days, the official told the BBC.
Abdullahi Alzareg, an under-secretary at the foreign ministry, said Sudan guaranteed religious freedom and was committed to protecting the woman.
Khartoum has been facing international condemnation over the death sentence.
In an interview with The Times newspaper, British Prime Minister David Cameron described the ruling as "barbaric" and out of step with today's world.
The UK Foreign Office this week said that it would push for Ms Ibrahim to be released on humanitarian grounds.Apostasy debate
Ms Ibrahim, 27, was brought up as an Orthodox Christian, but a Sudanese judge ruled earlier this month that she should be regarded as Muslim because that had been her father's faith.
She refused to renounce her Christianity and was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy.
On Wednesday, she gave birth to a daughter in her prison cell - the second child from her marriage in 2011 to Daniel Wani, a US citizen.
The court said Ms Ibrahim would be allowed to nurse her baby for two years before the sentence was carried out.
The court had earlier annulled her Christian marriage and sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery because the union was not considered valid under Islamic law.
Sudan has a majority Muslim population and Islamic law has been in force there since the 1980s.
The ruling has revived a debate over apostasy, with liberal and conservative scholars giving different opinions over whether - and how - the act of abandoning the Islamic faith should be punished.
This piece explaining the VA scandal starts out obscure but ends with a spotlight focus on institutional corruption
Posted By Richard Fernandez
The first thing a database developer learns to fear is data corruption . “Data corruption refers to errors in computer data that occur during writing, reading, storage, transmission, or processing, which introduce unintended changes to the original data.” If left unchecked, data corruption eventually renders a database completely useless; not only useless, but harmful.
A useless database only fails to give you answers. A harmful database actually gives you consistently wrong answers. This was exactly what happened to the Veteran’s Affairs, according to the Washington Post .
About two years ago, Brian Turner took a job as a scheduling clerk at a Veterans Affairs health clinic in Austin. A few weeks later, he said, a supervisor came by to instruct him how to cook the books….
This is how it worked: A patient asked for an appointment on a specific day. Turner found the next available time slot. But, often, it was many days later than the patient had wanted.
Would that later date work? If the patient said yes, Turner canceled the whole process and started over. This time, he typed in that the patient had wanted that later date all along. So now, the official wait time was . . . a perfect zero days….
But all this was apparently a secret to Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, perched 12 levels above Turner in the VA’s towering bureaucracy. Somewhere underneath Shinseki — among the undersecretaries and deputy undersecretaries and bosses and sub-bosses — the fact that clerks were cheating the system was lost.
The Post’s David Farenthold says VA corruption began with the Republican Warren Harding, who nominated his poker buddy, Charles Forbes, to head the agency in 1921. Forbes, however, was a scoundrel. Harding, on being tainted by the scandal, apparently took things into his own hands, if one may pardon the pun, in the most politically incorrect of ways.
Eventually, Forbes was caught. The president was unhappy. In 1923, a White House visitor opened the wrong door and found Harding choking Forbes with his bare hands.
“You yellow rat! You double-crossing bastard!” Harding was saying, according to historians. When he noticed the visitor, he let go of Forbes’s neck.
But the damage, Farenthold seems to imply, had been done. A “culture of corruption” had taken root in the VA and it lingered like a miasma in the corridors – the Washington Post story goes on to say — until the reformer Bill Clinton arrived to clean house. He would banish the culture of corruption by instituting The System. Clinton appointed Kenneth Kizer to exorcise it with computers, performance measurements and regulation.
Seventy years after Forbes was gone, the place was still wrapped in that red tape.
That was clear on the day that Kenneth Kizer — a reformer appointed by President Bill Clinton — arrived at the VA’s health service.
“I had to approve reimbursement of a secretary . . . purchasing a cable for her computer. I think it was something like $11 or $12,” Kizer said. There was a form. He had to sign it personally. “Here I’m running this multibillion dollar organization with — at that time — 200,000 employees. And I’m having to approve reimbursements for somebody.”
Kizer set out to change that. He cut back on staffing at VA headquarters in Washington and at regional headquarters. He cut out layers in the chain of command. And he embraced the idea that statistics could allow the agency’s leaders to peer around those middlemen and see the bottom from the top.
In place of the clerk approving the reimbursement, Kizer substituted the System. But somewhere along the line Kizer forgot the Primitive. Somewhere deep down in the foundations of his 12 story bureaucracy, after you got past the shiny front end, some relay clicked, some bit was flipped or someone typed something that all made it work.
But whereas Forbes knew the whole edifice to be founded on the corrupt Primitive, Kizer’s shiny machinery elided that fact under 12 layers of bureaucracy. The statistics oozed out of the layers, anonymized, disinfected by its passage through software until it landed on the administrator’s desk.
The Primitive was forgotten. And so were the ghosts. The fact was that somewhere in the VA the “culture of corruption” had survived the fumigation. Because it was everywhere and nowhere to begin with. The Star Trek universe gave us perhaps the best description of the culture of corruption. It works like the Borg Mind, which is a property of the collective.
Gunman, militants everything but who they are and what they want. Nigeria is the frontline of Islamist expansionism.
A high-ranking traditional leader has been killed in northern Nigeria after his convoy came under attack by suspected Boko Haram militants.
Gunmen shot dead the Emir of Gwoza, Shehu Mustapha Idris Timta, in his car.
Boko Haram has waged an increasingly bloody insurgency since 2009 to create an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to wage "total war" against the group, which has been held more than 200 girls captive since last month.
"They shot the emir of Gwoza. He died on the spot," Wali Ibrahim, an aide to the emir, told the BBC Hausa service.
"After he died we reversed back from that area and we went to the army checkpoint," he added.
Two other emirs, who were also in the convoy that was attacked in north-eastern Borno state, escaped unhurt.
They were all on their way to the funeral of the emir of Gombe, who died recently in London.
Borno state government confirmed the attack and said the gunmen were believed to be Boko Haram members, Reuters news agency reports.
BBC Nigeria analyst Naziru Mikailu says traditional rulers have been targeted for assassination by Boko Haram before, but attacks on them are rare.
Emirs, who command a lot of respect in the north, have taken a stand against the militants, he says.
In January 2013, suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked the convoy of the emir of Kano, one of the country's prominent religious leaders, as he returned from a mosque to his palace in Kano city.Escalating attacks
Mr Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May 2013, deploying more troops to the three northern states where Boko Haram is most active - Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
Boko Haram retaliated by stepping up its bombing campaign in cities and launching mass attacks on small towns and villages.
Correspondents says since the kidnapping of the schoolgirls from their school in Chibok, the attacks have become an almost daily occurrence.
A resident of Koma in Adamawa state told the BBC that at least 17 people were killed in an attack on his village near the border with Cameroon on Thursday morning.
Earlier this week, the BBC learned that the government called off a deal to swap some of the girls for Boko Haram fighters in custody.
The US, UK, China and France are among those countries to have sent teams of experts and equipment to help to locate the girlsNigeria under attack
Not to worry this eruption will be categorized as man made global warming so more draconian laws can be imposed
Continue reading the main story
Huge ash clouds thrown up by an Indonesian volcano have forced airlines to cancel all flights to and from the northern Australian city of Darwin.
Mount Sangeang Api began erupting on Friday and plumes of ash have been sweeping south towards Australia.
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia have all cancelled flights. Services between Australia and the province of Bali have also been hit.
The authorities say other airports could be affected in the coming days.'Rather significant'
Hundreds of passengers have been caught up, with disruption expected to continue until at least Sunday.
"The volcano is undergoing a sustained, rather significant eruption at the moment," Emile Jansons, manager of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre told Reuters news agency.
"For the last 10 hours we've been observing large masses of volcanic ash being generated.
"Nobody has a very good handle on what this volcano is likely to do in the next 24 hours or beyond."
Some flights between Perth and Bali were cancelled on Saturday.
Volcanic ash can be extremely dangerous to aircraft as the fine particles can damage engines.
The cloud is now sweeping south towards as Alice Springs, officials say.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said it could take days for Australian services to return to normal.
"Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days," he said.
The island of Sangeang Api has no permanent residents after they vacated following an eruption in 1988. Farmers nearby have reportedly been told to leave the area.
Indonesia lies across a series of geological fault-lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
There are about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
Tens of thousands of people fled their homes and several people were killed after a volcano erupted in east Java in February.
The chief minister of a northern Indian state where two teenage cousins were gang raped and hanged has recommended a federal inquiry into the incident.
The move comes after alleged police inaction sparked outrage in Uttar Pradesh state.
Three suspected attackers have been detained, along with two policemen accused of dereliction of duty and criminal conspiracy.
The girls were found hanged from a tree in Badaun district earlier in the week.
The victims' families say it took police more than 12 hours to respond to reports they were missing.
The father of one victim earlier told the BBC he was ridiculed by police when he sought help in finding his daughter.
He said that when policemen found out he was from a lower caste, they "refused to look for my girl".Deep divisions
"The chief minister has decided to recommend a probe into the Badaun incident as demanded by family members of the victims," the office of Akhilesh Yadav said on Saturday.
He had come under attack for earlier remarks mocking female journalists who asked about the rising number of rape cases at a news briefing.
"You are safe, why are you bothered?" the chief minister had said.
Saturday's announcement follows a pledge by the government to set up a fast-track court to deal with the case.
Divisions between India's castes run deep, and violence is often used by upper castes to instil fear in lower castes, correspondents say.
Although both the victim and the accused in the latest case belonged to a group known as "Other Backward Classes", the victims were lower in that hierarchy.
The girls, thought to have been 14 and 15, went missing on Tuesday night. They had apparently gone out to relieve themselves as they had no toilet at home.
Their bodies were discovered the following day. A post-mortem examination confirmed multiple sexual assaults and death due to hanging.
Campaigners have highlighted the lack of sanitation in rural areas as being a risk to women's security as well as their health, as they are often attacked when having to go out to use the toilet, particularly at night.
Scrutiny of sexual violence in India has grown since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus.
The government tightened laws on sexual violence last year after widespread protests following the attack.
Fast-track courts were brought to the fore to deal with rape and the death penalty was also brought in for the most extreme cases.
Some women's groups argue that the low conviction rate for rape should be challenged with more effective policing rather than stiffer sentences.
Friday, May 30, 2014
VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania accused Russian warships of harassing civilian vessels in Lithuanian waters in the Baltic Sea on Friday in a protest amid worries in the region about Moscow's assertiveness in Ukraine.
Military activity has increased this year in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave, which borders Poland and Lithuania and houses Russia's Baltic military fleet.
And the United States has sent 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states to reassure them after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March.
"The Ministry of Foreign affairs expressed concern due to recurring Russian military fleet actions in the Lithuanian exclusive economic zone, which violate the sovereign rights and freedoms of Lithuania and other countries," the ministry said after the acting head of the Russian embassy was summoned to the ministry on Friday.
"We encourage Russia to keep to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international law consistently and ensure that such incidents would no longer occur," the ministry said.
Lithuania's defense ministry said Russian warships were found ordering civilian vessels off Lithuania to change course twice this week and once in April, referring to safety concerns due to military exercises in nearby Russian waters.
Modern Russian warships, capable of hitting targets 150 kilometers (95 miles) away, were involved in policing this week. The ships left immediately after a Lithuanian warship arrived on the scene, the ministry said.
A vessel involved in laying an electric cable on the floor of the Baltic sea between Lithuania and Sweden was ordered to move in one of incidents, the ministry said.
On Friday the Financial Times published what, even in the stodgy world of global economics, has to be considered a bombshell.
According to an investigation by Chris Giles and Ferdinando Giugliano, French economist Thomas Piketty made a number of errors in his surprise best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
After looking at Piketty's research, Giles says the French economist "appears to have got his sums wrong" - errors that he alleges "skew his findings":
The central theme of Prof Piketty's work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the First World War. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty's original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Giles details what he identifies as "transcription errors from original sources" and "incorrect formulas". He also alleges that Mr Piketty engaged in cherry-picking some data and filling in missing information to fit his conclusions.
This results, Giles writes, in numbers that indicate trends that cannot be supported. For instance, he says, Mr Piketty's European figures, when corrected, "do not show any tendency toward rising wealth inequality after 1970".
In a response to the allegations, which the Financial Times publishes alongside its original story, Mr Piketty notes that he has made all his data public in order to "promote an open and transparent debate about these important and sensitive measurement issues".
He says that because the data on wealth are from a variety of sources, he had to make a number of adjustments to make them comparable from country to country.
"I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future," he writes. "But I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long-run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements."
On Saturday, as the Financial Times's piece became more widely circulated, Mr Piketty sharpened his reply. He told Newsweek's Leah McGrath Goodman that he was ambushed by Giles, and not provided all the information they were going to publish or given sufficient time to respond.
"What's really dishonest is that the small corrections that they make to my series (and with which I disagree) do not make any difference to the overall evolution and to the overall analysis proposed in the book ... and they try to pretend the opposite," he said.
The Financial Times's investigation has sparked a quick reaction from the same cast of commentators and analysts who had debated Mr Piketty's book when it first burst on the US scene in April.
Reuters's Richard Beales says that Mr Piketty's mistakes show a "haphazard" employment of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which would "embarrass the greenest investment-banking analyst".
Data collection is never flawless, writes FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver. Although it's easy to assume numbers in a chart are "pure and clean", he writes, they're either entered or programmed by humans who are capable of making mistakes.
"If researchers kept scrubbing data until it were perfect, they'd never have time for analysis," he says.
Despite some apparent errors, writes the Economist's Ryan Avent, Mr Piketty's conclusions appear to be sound:
First, the book rests on much more than wealth-inequality figures. Second, the differences in the wealth-inequality figures are, with the exception of Britain, too minor to alter the picture. And third, as Mr Piketty notes in his response, Chapter 10 is not the only analysis of wealth inequality out there, and forthcoming work by other economists (some conclusions of which can be seen here) suggests that Mr Piketty's figures actually understate the true extent of growth in the concentration of wealth.
"The Financial Times blew the data issues it identified out of proportion," writes the Manhattan Institute's Scott Winship, who notes that he is no fan Mr Piketty's work. "Giles discovered a couple of clear errors and a number of adjustments that look questionable but have barely any impact on Piketty's charts."
The National Review's Patrick Brennan, on the other hand, says that Giles's analysis unearths "real problems".
"Piketty set out to do something much more audacious than prove that income inequality is rising in the United States and in most wealthy countries - that's relatively easy to prove, even if the increase has been substantially overstated," Brennan writes.
In order to reach the policy prescriptions Mr Piketty advocates, however - such as a global wealth tax - "he needs wealth inequality not just to appear high or to be rising, but to be returning to 19th-Century levels as a matter of economic inevitability".
Given the evidence unearthed by Giles, he contends, Mr Piketty "hasn't yet justified his dramatic conclusions".
On Wednesday Giles blogged a response to the reaction to his article. He says his piece was not a "premeditated attack" or part of a "political agenda".
He adds that he's concerned by those who defend errors in Mr Piketty's work.
"Academic economists have got themselves into a bad spot if undocumented data, errors and tweaks are considered by some acceptable research practise," he writes. He also expresses surprise that economist have been "more forgiving" than the Financial Times over liberties Mr Piketty takes with constructed data.
He then explains why his findings matter:
If someone is claiming to have found a fundamental contradiction of capitalism, predicts the result is a rising share of wealth inequality and uses apparent recent rises in recent wealth inequality as evidence that his theory is correct, those data lie at the core of the book's argument.
Without the rising wealth inequality data across all advanced economies, I would submit that Prof Piketty has a theory without all the necessary evidence.
Mr Piketty, his critics and his defenders rely on a great deal of dense information, charts and economic theories in their debate over his conclusions. It's quite easy for the layperson to be overwhelmed and throw up his or her arms in confusion.
The reality, however, is that the subject of the discussion - whether there is an increasing wealth gap that is creating permanent imbalances in modern society - is a topic of great concern. And the policy remedies, if any are necessary, are the people's responsibility to enact.
Or at least, in a democracy, they should be.
Leading neurosurgeon tells the Hay Festival cycling helmets are 'too flimsy' to be beneficial
A leading neurosurgeon has controversially claimed that cyclists who wear helmets are wasting their time.
Henry Marsh, who works at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, London, said that many of his patients who have been involved in bike accidents have been wearing helmets that were ‘too flimsy’ to be beneficial.
He made the comments while speaking at the Hay Festival during a discussion with Ian McEwan, whose latest novel Saturday centre's around a neurosurgeon.
He cited evidence from the University of Bath that suggests that wearing a helmet may even put cyclists at greater risk. The research showed that drivers get around 3 inches closer to cyclists who wear helmets because they perceive them as safer.
He said: “I ride a bike and I never wear a helmet. In the countries where bike helmets are compulsory there has been no reduction in bike injuries whatsoever.
“I see lots of people in bike accidents and these flimsy little helmets don’t help.”
Mr Marsh said that he had been riding his bike for 40 years, wearing a cowboy hat, and had only fallen off once.
“I have been cycling for 40 years and have only been knocked off once. I wear a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. I look completely mad."
Cyclists travel around 3.1 billion miles each year in Britain. Lights and reflectors are a legal obligation after dark, and reflective jackets an increasingly common sight.
But helmets are not compulsory in the UK, unlike in Australia and parts of the US, yet the government encourages cyclists to wear one.
Research conducted by Dr Ian Walker, a professor of traffic psychology at the University of Bath, showed that motorists drove around 8cm closer when overtaking cyclists with helmets.
He suggested that drivers think helmeted cyclists are more sensible, predicable and experienced, so therefore the driver doesn't need to give them much space when overtaking.
Non-helmeted cyclists, especially non helmeted "women" are less predictable and experienced, according to this study and so motorists give them more room.
However, Mr Marsh's comments are likely to anger cycling safety campaigners, who believe that helmets provide essential protection on Britain's busy and narrow roads.
James Cracknell, the Olympic rowing gold medalist, was nearly killed while cycling in 2010 after he was hit by a petrol tanker.
He has said that he only survived the accident because he had been wearing a helmet and has described those who do not wear one as "selfish" as their actions can impact their loved ones.
"From a personal point of view I would be dead if I hadn't worn a helmet," he said. "A wing mirror smashed into my skull at 70mph.
"There is no downside to wearing a helmet except having messy hair. And you have to remember that eight out of ten kids who have cycling accidents are not on the road.
"Even if you don't care enough about yourself to wear a helmet other people care about you."
A Department of Transport study has shown that helmets could prevent 10-16 per cent of cyclist fatalities, although this was also an estimate based on a small study.
Angie Lee, Chief Executive of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust said: “I hope he is going to take responsibility for the cyclist who gets injured because they take their helmet off following his comments.
“This may be his opinion but there are a lot more neurosurgeons and surgeons who would counter that argument.
“My advice would be the same as the Department of Transport’s which is that helmets have a place in protecting the head.”
Marsh, who retires in March, also admitted jumping red lights to get ahead of the traffic.
“It’s my life at risk,” he said, ‘So I regularly cross over red lights.”