Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Afghanistan

Voice of America:
Poppy production in Afghanistan grew to an all-time high in 2013 despite the United States spending some $7 billion in eradication efforts over the past 10 years. 
A report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said Afghan farmers grew 209,000 hectares of poppies in 2013, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007. 
It said one reason for the increase was more affordable deep-well technology that has allowed farmers to turn some 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land over the past 10 years.   
It added that high opium prices around the world and high poverty levels in Afghanistan helped to feed the renewed drive towards cultivating poppies, which are used to make heroin. 
The report said the United States has spent approximately $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan through various initiatives funded by the Department of Defense, the State Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Rhino Horn

University of Helsinki (Finland):
The extinction in the wild of the southern white rhino population could be prevented by letting local communities take responsibility of the animals and giving them permission to harvest horns in a controlled manner through a legal trade. Rhino horn is made of the same material as human hair and fingernails and grows back in 2–3 years.  
In 2013, more than 1,000 rhinos were killed illegally for their horns in South Africa. Rhino horns are being used in Asia for traditional Chinese medicine and personal prestige. Now, a new study based on ecological and socioeconomic models has found that the white rhino population in South Africa could go extinct in the wild in less than 20 years unless anti-poaching effort and monetary fines are increased to levels that would deter poachers. South Africa is more or less the only place where the white rhino remains in the wild.   
The funding for rhino protection could be generated by a legal trade in rhino horn — something that has been banned since 1977.    
"Our results suggest that enhancing rhino protection to levels that will discourage poaching will require raising tens of millions of dollars year after year just for rhino conservation when endless other uses for conservation resources exist," says Enrico Di Minin, research fellow at the University of Helsinki, Finland.   
"The funding generated from a legal trade in rhino horn, instead, could be used to cover protection costs of rhino and other biodiversity and to generate sustainable income to poor local communities," he continues. 
"Rhino horn could be harvested from individuals that die of natural causes; it can also be harvested from live animals with minimum risk to the rhinos, as the horn is compressed hair, and it grows back if harvested," says Atte Moilanen, professor at the University of Helsinki.   
Yet, the authors of the study, including conservation scientists and practitioners from South Africa, Finland and the United Kingdom, warn on potential pitfalls. "Policy makers in South Africa should be careful in advocating to lift a 35-year-old ban on rhino horn products unless the funding generated from the trade is reinvested in improved protection of the rhino population," says Rob Slotow, professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  
"An important contribution that the legal trade could make is to cover enhanced protection costs, at least in the short term, until other measures over some longer period lead to a reduction in demand from users in the Far East," concludes Di Minin.

Long, Long Ago


(Image credit: Robert Bakker)

Russia

Voice of America:
The head of French oil giant Total was killed late Monday when his private jet collided with a snow plow on a Moscow runway. 
Christophe de Margerie, 63, and three crew members died in the crash, which Russian transportation officials said happened during takeoff at the capital's Vnukovo International Airport. 
Total confirmed de Margerie's death on their website Tuesday. The company said the four victims were pronounced dead at the scene. 
Known for his bushy moustache and thin, round eyeglasses, de Margerie took over as chief executive officer of Total in 2007. He added chairman to the title three years later. 
The company operates with nearly 100,000 employees in more than 130 countries.
Related: BBC News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola

Richard Preston, The New Yorker:

Australia

Australian Broadcasting Corp.: "A Darwin snake catcher called out at two in the morning was shocked to find a rare and highly venomous sea krait hundreds of miles from its known habitat."

Book

Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War
Nonfiction book by Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso
Publication Date: February 3, 2015

Random House:
Bestselling crime writers Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso reveal the final years of Canada's top mafia boss, Vito Rizzuto, and his bloody war to avenge his family and control the North American drug trade
Until Vito Rizzuto went to prison in 2006 for his role in a decades-old Brooklyn triple murder, he ruled the Port of Montreal, the northern gateway to the major American drug markets. A master diplomat, he won the respect of rival mafia clans, bikers and street gangs, and criminal business thrived on his turf. His family prospered and his empire grew — until one of North America's true Teflon dons finally lost his veneer. As he watched helplessly from his Colorado prison, the murders of his son and father made international headlines; the killings of his lieutenants and friends filled the pages of Canadian news; and the influence of the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian Mafia, spread across Montreal faster than the blood of Rizzuto's crime family. In 2012, Vito Rizzuto emerged from prison, a 66-year-old man who could carefully rebuild his criminal empire or seek bloody revenge and damn the consequences. From the events leading to his imprisonment to his shocking death in December 2013, Business or Blood is the final chapter of Vito's story.

Mummies

John Wiley & Sons:
Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease that causes inflammation in the spinal joints and was thought to have affected members of the ancient Egyptian royal families. Now a new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), refutes that claim, finding instead a degenerative spinal condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) in royal Egyptian mummies from the 18th to early 20th Dynasties.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book

Saltwater Cowboy: The Rise and Fall of a Marijuana Empire
Nonfiction book by Tim McBride with Ralph Berrier Jr.
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
In 1979, Wisconsin native Tim McBride hopped into his Mustang and headed south. He was twenty-one, and his best friend had offered him a job working as a crab fisherman in Chokoloskee Island, a town of fewer than 500 people on Florida's Gulf Coast. Easy of disposition and eager to experience life at its richest, McBride jumped in with both feet.  
But this wasn't a typical fishing outfit. McBride had been unwittingly recruited into a band of smugglers — middlemen between a Colombian marijuana cartel and their distributors in Miami. His elaborate team comprised fishermen, drivers, stock houses, security — seemingly all of Chokoloskee Island was in on the operation. As McBride came to accept his new role, tons upon tons of marijuana would pass through his hands.  
Then the federal government intervened in 1984, leaving the crew without a boss and most of its key players. McBride, now a veteran smuggler, was somehow spared. So when the Colombians came looking for a new middleman, they turned to him. 
McBride became the boss of an operation that was ultimately responsible for smuggling 30 million pounds of marijuana. A self-proclaimed "Saltwater Cowboy," he would evade the Coast Guard for years, facing volatile Colombian drug lords and risking betrayal by romantic partners until his luck finally ran out. 
A tale of crime and excess, Saltwater Cowboy is the gripping memoir of one of the biggest pot smugglers in American history.

Sex

Flinders University (Australia):

United Kingdom

London Fire Brigade:
Four fire engines and 21 firefighters and officers have dealt with a small fire at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. A small part of the ship was damaged by fire. 
Station Manager George Vost, who is at the scene, said: 
"Firefighters worked incredibly quickly to get this small fire under control and minimize damage. Crews carried out salvage work on the ship."
The Brigade was called at 0721. Fire crews from Greenwich, Lewisham and East Greenwich fire stations attended the incident. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Related: BBC News

China

In Henan Province on Saturday, a nine-year-old boy tried to feed a caged bear at a zoo. The bear savaged the boy's right arm. Doctors cut off the appendage after the boy's arrival at a hospital.

Book

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance,
Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
Nonfiction book by Bill Browder
Publication Date: February 3, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
A real-life political thriller about an American financier in the Wild East of Russia, the murder of his principled young tax attorney, and his dangerous mission to expose the Kremlin's corruption. 
Bill Browder's journey started on the South Side of Chicago and moved through Stanford Business School to the dog-eat-dog world of hedge fund investing in the 1990s. It continued in Moscow, where Browder made his fortune heading the largest investment fund in Russia after the Soviet Union's collapse. But when he exposed the corrupt oligarchs who were robbing the companies in which he was investing, Vladimir Putin turned on him and, in 2005, had him expelled from Russia. 
In 2007, a group of law enforcement officers raided Browder's offices in Moscow and stole $230 million of taxes that his fund's companies had paid to the Russian government. Browder's attorney Sergei Magnitsky investigated the incident and uncovered a sprawling criminal enterprise. A month after Sergei testified against the officials involved, he was arrested and thrown into pre-trial detention, where he was tortured for a year. On November 16, 2009, he was led to an isolation chamber, handcuffed to a bedrail, and beaten to death by eight guards in full riot gear. 
Browder glimpsed the heart of darkness, and it transformed his life: he embarked on an unrelenting quest for justice in Sergei's name, exposing the towering cover-up that leads right up to Putin. A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Mexico

ABC News (USA): "A murder at a New Mexico zoo has taken the life of a Tasmanian devil, an endangered species threatened with extinction."

Personal Comment

Murder is the crime of deliberately killing a human being. People don't murder deer, rabbits, or Tasmanian devils.

Saudi Arabia

"Customs at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh foiled an attempt to smuggle a quantity of African ivory abroad though the kingdom," the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported today.

"The ivory, 588 pieces of different shapes and sizes weighing about 490 kilograms, was found hidden within the luggage of a passenger on a flight coming from one of the African countries and bound to an East Asian country," the agency said.

Book

88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary
Nonfiction book by Robert L. Grenier
Publication Date: January 27, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
The First American-Afghan War, a CIA war, was approved by President George W. Bush and directed by the author, Robert Grenier, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. Forging separate alliances with warlords, Taliban dissidents, and Pakistani Intelligence, Grenier launched the "southern campaign," orchestrating the final defeat of the Taliban and Hamid Karzai's rise to power in eighty-eight chaotic days. 
In his gripping narrative, we meet: General Tommy Franks, who bridled at CIA control of "his" war; General "Jafar Amin," a gruff Pakistani intelligence officer who saved Grenier from committing career suicide; Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's brilliant ambassador to the U.S., who tried to warn her government of the al-Qa'ida threat; "Mark," the CIA operator who guided Gul Agha Shirzai to bloody victory over the Taliban; General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, a cautious man who became the most powerful man in Pakistan, struggling with Grenier's demands while trying to protect his country; and Hamid Karzai, the puzzling anti-Taliban insurgent, a man of courage, petulance, and vacillating moods. 
Grenier's enemies out in front prove only slightly more lethal than the ones behind his own lines. This first war is won despite Washington bureaucrats who divert resources, deny military support, and try to undermine the only Afghan allies capable of winning. Later, as he directed the CIA's role in the Iraq War, Grenier watched the initial victory squandered. His last command was of CIA's Counterterrorism Center (CTC), as Bush-era terrorism policies were being repudiated, as the Taliban re-emerged in Afghanistan, and as Pakistan descended into fratricidal violence.

Friday, October 17, 2014

United Kingdom

NPR: "In the heart of London's Soho sits a gleaming new restaurant — Tincan. The premise is simple: No kitchen, very few staff, and the menu all comes out of a can. Specifically, canned fish."

California

Reuters: "A man who died outside his rural Northern California home had his corpse dragged away and eaten by a black bear that was sheltering nearby."

New York

U.S. Justice Department: "Two Connecticut men pleaded guilty today to bribery charges, admitting that they participated in a scheme to obtain confidential, internal law enforcement documents and information from a former FBI special agent in White Plains, New York."

Book

The Story: A Reporter's Memoir
Nonfiction book by Judith Miller
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
Star reporter for the New York Times, the world's most powerful newspaper; foreign correspondent in some of the most dangerous fields; Pulitzer winner; longest jailed correspondent for protecting her sources, Judith Miller is highly respected and controversial. In this memoir, she turns her reporting skills on herself with the intensity of her professional vocation. 
Judy Miller grew up near the Nevada atomic proving ground. She got a job at the New York Times after a suit by women employees about discrimination at the paper and went on to cover national politics, head the paper's bureau in Cairo, and serve as deputy editor in Paris and then deputy at the powerful Washington bureau. She reported on terrorism and the rise of fanatical Islam in the Middle East and on secret biological weapons plants and programs in Iraq, Iran, and Russia. She covered an administration traumatized by 9/11 and an anthrax attack three weeks later. Miller shared a Pulitzer for her reporting. 
She turns her journalistic skills on herself and her controversial reporting which marshaled evidence that led America to invade Iraq. She writes about the mistakes she and others made on the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. She addresses the motives of some of her sources, including the notorious Iraqi Chalabi and the CIA. She describes going to jail to protect her sources in the Scooter Libby investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and how the Times subsequently abandoned her after twenty-eight years. 
The Story describes the real life of a foreign and investigative reporter. It is an adventure story, told with bluntness and wryness.

Ebola

Associated Press:

Belarus

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
It's a point of pride for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka: No toilet paper in our sausage.  
Lukashenka says that's one thing that makes Belarusian products better than Russian ones. 
He told Russian reporters on October 17 that Russia had lowered its food-quality standards after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union "while we, thanks to Lukashenka, retained state standards." 
"Belarusian [food] is of substantially higher in quality. There is no toilet paper in the salami and never was," he said. 
He added that "such facts have been discovered at Russian enterprises — toilet paper, soy, all kinds of additives." 
Both toilet paper and sausage were in short supply in the final years of the Soviet Union.

Back in the UK

BBC News:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brazil

AFP-JIJI: "Brazilian police said Thursday they have arrested a suspected serial killer who admits to slaying 39 people in a four-year killing spree, including 16 young women."

Book

The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Global Narco-Terrorism
Nonfiction Book by Edward Follis and Douglas Century

Penguin Group (USA):
A highly decorated veteran DEA agent recounts his incredible undercover career and reveals the shocking links between narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
What exactly is undercover?  From a law-enforcement perspective, undercover is the art of skillfully eliciting incriminating statements. From a personal and psychological standpoint, it's the dark art of gaining trust — then manipulating that trust. In the simplest terms, it's playing a chess game with the bad guy, getting him to make the moves you want him to make — but without him knowing you're doing so. 
Edward Follis mastered the chess game — The Dark Art — over the course of his distinguished twenty-seven years with the [U.S.] Drug Enforcement Administration, where he bought eightballs of coke in a red Corvette, negotiated multimillion-dollar deals onboard private King Airs, and developed covert relationships with men who were not only international drug-traffickers but — in some cases — operatives for Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Shan United Army, or the Mexican federation of cartels. 
Follis was, in fact, one of the driving forces behind the agency's radical shift from a limited local focus to a global arena. In the early nineties, the DEA was primarily known for doing street-level busts evocative of Miami Vice. Today, it uses high-resolution-optics surveillance and classified cutting-edge technology to put the worst narco-terror kingpins on the business end of "stealth justice" delivered via Predator drone pilots. 
Spanning five continents and filled with harrowing stories about the world's most ruthless drug lords and terrorist networks, Follis's memoir reads like a thriller. Yet every word is true, and every story is documented. Follis earned a Medal of Valor for his work, and coauthor Douglas Century is a pro at shaping and telling just this kind of story. The first and only insider's account of the confluence between narco-trafficking and terrorist organizations, The Dark Art is a page-turning memoir that will electrify you from page one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mexico

A camel killed a man in Quintana Roo.