News & Current Affairs

September 9, 2008

US to review Afghan attack case

US to review Afghan attack case

US forces in Afghanistan are to review an inquiry into an air raid last month after new video evidence emerged indicating scores of civilian deaths.

The US had earlier said that no more than seven civilians died in the attack on the western province of Herat.

However, the Afghan government and the UN said up to 90 people were killed, including many women and children.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says such attacks are eroding support for the government and foreign forces.

HRW says civilians deaths from international air strikes nearly tripled between 2006 and 2007.

Disturbing footage

The US general in charge of NATO-led troops (Isaf) in Afghanistan said at the weekend that he was requesting the US military’s Central Command to review the investigation into last month’s air raid.

Gen McKiernan said Isaf realized there was “a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by US and Afghan National Army soldiers, and local people”.

The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan
Rachel Reid
Human Rights Watch

The US military subsequently said it would “appoint a senior US military officer to review the investigation into the combined Afghan National Army (ANA) and US forces operation”.

A US military statement said: “This review will consider new information that has become available since the completion of the initial investigation.”

Disturbing video footage – apparently of the aftermath of the raid – has been seen by top military figures and diplomats in Kabul.

The shaky footage – possibly shot with a mobile phone – shows some 40 dead bodies lined up under sheets and blankets inside a mosque.

The majority of the dead are children – babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they are barely recognizable.

The covers are removed for the camera one by one: a little girl of perhaps four with brown curly hair; a boy with his eyes still eerily open; another girl with huge injuries on the side of her head.

Graves being prepared Azizabad for people killed in last month's attack by US forces

Villagers say up to 90 civilians died in last month’s attack by US forces

Another boy has his hand up as if to protect his face which was crushed under the rubble.

Clearly heard on the tape is the crying of relatives and the survivors of the bombing raid.

US forces had originally said seven civilians were killed in a “successful” US raid targeting a Taleban commander in Azizabad village in Herat’s Shindand district.

However, the UN, the Afghan government and an Afghan human rights group said the number of civilian deaths was far higher.

Their estimates of the number of civilians killed varied between 76 and 90, with the UN eventually concluding that children accounted for 60 of the dead.

The dispute over the figures had escalated into a fierce behind-the-scenes battle behind the UN and the Pentagon.

Warning over deaths

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday that decreased reliance on ground forces and greater use of air power was leading to “mistakes” that had “dramatically decreased” support for the Afghan government and international troops.

“Civilian deaths from air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taleban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement.

Hamid Karzai visiting Azizabad

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad after the air strike

The group found that in 2007 at least 321 Afghan civilians had been killed in international air strikes – a rise from at least 116 in 2006.

This figure was much lower than the number of civilians killed in militant attacks, the group said. Nearly 950 people were killed by insurgents in 2008, compared with 700 in 2006.

HRW said most of the air strike casualties occurred in unplanned raids, when air power was called to give support to troops on the ground.

“The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan,” HRW’s Rachel Reid told the BBC.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned the US and Nato that civilian deaths undermine his government and damage the reputation of foreign forces in the country.

Declaring love boosts sex appeal

Declaring love boosts sex appeal

attraction

The secret to successful flirting is letting someone know how you feel

Telling someone you fancy ‘I really like you’ could make him or her find you more attractive, research suggests.

Making eye contact and smiling have a similar effect, says Aberdeen University psychologist Dr Ben Jones.

His study, involving 230 men and women, found such social cues – which signal how much others fancy you – play a crucial role in attraction.

The work will appear in Psychological Science and will be presented at the BA Festival of Science in Liverpool.

Romantic success

Dr Jones said singletons could use his findings to help prevent wasting time chatting up people who were clearly not interested.

“Combining information about others’ physical beauty with information about how attracted they appear to be to you allows you to allocate your social effort efficiently,” he said.

In other words, avoid wasting time on attractive individuals who appear unlikely to reciprocate.

Maybe one of the ways you learn your level of attractiveness is through how other people behave towards you
Dr Lynda Boothroyd, a psychologist at the University of Durham

In the study, 230 men and women were asked to look at flash cards picturing a face with different expressions – making eye contact or not and smiling or not.

The volunteers were then asked to rate how attractive the faces were.

The preference for the attractive face was much stronger when people were judging those faces that were looking at them and smiling.

Dr Lynda Boothroyd, a psychologist at the University of Durham, said: “We like it when attractive people seem to be behaving positively towards us.

“And we seem to end up with people who are on our level in terms of attractiveness.

“Maybe one of the ways you learn your level of attractiveness is through how other people behave towards you.”


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August 31, 2008

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

D-Day landings

Britain wanted to fuel false rumors of an invasion

British spy chiefs drew up secret plans to use pigeons to spread false rumors about the impending D-Day landings.

The plot in 1943 to drop the birds into German-occupied France is revealed in newly declassified MI5 files released by the National Archives.

Germany had been intercepting pigeons carrying Allied notes, the files say, so MI5 moved to drop false information.

It planned to put extra pigeons over the west coast of France to give the impression the invasion would be there.

The revelations come in newly-released files on World War II called “Channels for deception”.

‘Quite delighted’

One letter to a Capt Guy Liddell said: “On average about 10% only of the birds dropped on the Continent return to their lofts in this country – it must be assumed that a great number fall into German hands.

“During the past few weeks I also understand there has been a great concentration on the Brest and Brittany areas.

“It might therefore be possible to deduce that we have considerable interest in this region.”

It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day
Professor Christopher Andrew
MI5’s official historian

The deception operations surrounding the Normandy landings are considered by some historians to be the most important of World War II.

Codenamed Operation Fortitude, they were overseen by the London Controlling Section (LCS), a special unit formed in 1942 within the Joint Planning Staff at the War Cabinet offices.

LCS controlling officer Col John Bevan was said to be “quite delighted” with the pigeon plot, according to the files.

The first mention in the documents of using pigeons to thwart the enemy comes from MI5’s Lt Col Tommy Robertson.

He said: “The pigeon is sent in a cardboard container – which can quickly be buried or burnt – with a little bag of corn and a questionnaire.

“These birds are dropped over a chosen area in the hope at least some of them will fall into the hands of… supporters of the Allied cause.

“It occurs to me that this is a possible means of putting deception over to the enemy by the careful framing of the questionnaires as presumably the Germans must, if they capture some of these birds, take notice of the type of question asked.”

MI5 letter

Letters can be viewed at the National Archives in Kew, west London

The documents make it clear arrangements were made to go ahead with the plan, but it is unclear if it was carried out.

The official historian of MI5, Cambridge Professor Christopher Andrew, told : “Because pigeons are used to pass on messages, it’s understandable someone thought of this.

“It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day.”

The use of pigeons in intelligence has its origins in World War I when the British dropped pigeons inside baskets attached to parachutes and balloons to gather intelligence.

The D-Day invasion of German-occupied France took place on June 6, 1944 and marked the start of a major Allied counter offensive in Europe.

Members of the public can view the 152 newly-released files at the National Archives in Kew, west London.

August 30, 2008

Website maps surnames worldwide

Website maps surnames worldwide

David Beckham

There are more Beckhams in the United States than Britain

A website which maps global surnames has been launched to help people find the origins of their name and how far it may have spread.

The Public Profiler site plots eight million last names using data from electoral rolls and phone directories.

The site covers 300 million people in 26 countries, showing the origins of names and where families have moved to.

David Beckham, for example, has an English name, but there are more Beckhams in the US than Britain.

But the region of the world with the highest concentration of people called Beckham was even further from the footballer’s east London origins – in the New Zealand province of Northland.

The site – http://www.publicprofiler.org/worldnames – also reveals which of the five million forenames are most closely associated with different surnames and lists the top regions and cities for each surname.

A name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are
Professor Paul Longley

It was developed by a team of geographers from University College London.

Professor Paul Longley, one of the researchers, said: “The information is not just historical but geographical.

“We can link names to places – a name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are.”

Most surnames originated in specific places in the world and remain most frequent in those areas, but have often spread to other countries because of migration, the research showed.

Searches for Britain’s three multi-gold medallists at the recent Olympics and the leaders of the three main political parties revealed some mixed results.

• Swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Cyclist Chris Hoy’s surname is Irish but more common in Denmark

• Cyclist Bradley Wiggins’s surname is most popular in the US

• Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s surname tops the list in Australia

• Conservative leader David Cameron’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s surname is still most common in Britain

Prof Longley said that the site was currently struggling to cope with demand.

“We are being deluged with requests and we ask people to be patient. There is obviously a lot of interest in family names and family history globally,” he said.

August 28, 2008

August 21, 2008

Web browser to get ‘privacy mode’

Web browser to get ‘privacy mode’

Screengrab of IE8 webpage, Microsoft

Trial, or beta, versions of Internet Explorer 8 are already available

Microsoft is planning a “privacy mode” for the next release of its Internet Explorer (IE) web browser.

By clicking a button, users of IE8 will be able to limit how much information is recorded about where they go online and what they do.

Microsoft watchers have spotted two patent applications covering ways to manage the amount of information a browser logs.

When introduced the privacy mode will match features found on other browsers.

Medical test

Australian blogger Long Zheng has found two patent applications made by Microsoft on 30 July for ideas it calls “Cleartracks” and “Inprivate”.

The applications deal with methods of erasing data that browsing programs log, turning off features that record sites visited or notifying users of what sites are doing to log a visit.

While many browsers already have menu options that let people alter security settings and clear history files it typically has to be done on a use-by-use basis.

Users may wish to turn on the privacy mode if they are planning a surprise party, buying presents or researching a medical condition and do not want others users of the same computer to find out.

Internet Explorer 8 is due to go on general release late in 2008 though early trial versions are already available.

By comparison Apple’s Safari browser already has a privacy mode and developers working for Mozilla, creators of Firefox, are reportedly working on a similar feature for future versions.

Other browsers, such as Xerobank, take a more thorough approach to privacy and try to anonymise all web use.

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