Saturday, October 11, 2014

‘Seen’ in New York: Edward Snowden on the run again

Edward Snowden may not have a Nobel Prize or be able to go home, but he’s got a statue in Manhattan and a blockbuster new documentary, where he tells the behind the scenes story of his decision to go public with terabytes of classified government docs.

New Yorkers got a strange surprise on Friday when a 9-foot hunk of white drywall appeared in Union Square in an art piece dedicated to Edward Snowden, the man who told the world just how much the US government is watching and listening in on our every move.

New Yorkers can also catch him on the big screen - the documentary about his massive document leak, "Citizenfour" debutedin the city on Friday. The film gives hope for his love life, as it depicts him reunited with his dancer girlfriend in Moscow.
Edward Snowden (AFP Photo / NBC News / Handout)

Briefly on display in Union Square Park in lower Manhattan, the NSA whistleblower’s statue was positioned awkwardly with his hands slumped in his pockets and an inquisitive look on his face.

Snowden stood opposite a statue of President Abraham Lincoln for precisely two hours, until the artist, Jim Dessicino, was evicted for not having the proper license. The exhibition was scheduled to run until Sunday.

Delaware resident Dessicino was impressed with Snowden’s decision to reveal the massive amount of spying the US government conducts on its own (and other countries’) people.

"What he did is possibly the most significant act of anyone from my generation," Dessicino told New York-based Business Insider. "He put truth over the rule of law and committed a huge self-sacrifice."

Snowden, who now resides at an undisclosed location in Moscow, left his family, friends, and home when he leaked the information about US surveillance programs, flying to Hong Kong and eventually to Moscow.

“It’s a bigger philosophical issue about history and how people are represented through sculpture,” the artist said.

Naturally, one of the first people to see the statue was Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who (along with filmmaker Laura Poitras, the author of “Citizenfour” documentary) first took Snowden’s NSA spying story public with The Guardian.

The towering statue, which will continue to travel to other parts of the city, is part of the festival “Art in Odd Places,” which, unsurprisingly, shows… art in odd places.

'Steel-melting temperature, wind speed of sound': Astronomers create weather map of extreme exoplanet

Despite temperatures that can melt steel and winds the speed of sound, an extreme exoplanet located 260 light years from Earth has vaporized water in its atmosphere, according to the most detailed-ever weather map created by the Hubble Telescope.

Astronomers combined two methods of analyzing exoplanets to create a temperature map of the Jupiter-size Wasp-43b alien planet, which by all definitions turned out to be a place where nothing is done by halves. The study by a dozen researchers from different universities and research institutions, led by astronomer Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago, was published in the journalScience.

Wasp-43b, first discovered in 2011, is extremely close to its orange dwarf host star – which it always faces on one side in a phenomenon known as “tidal locking” – and completes an orbit in just 19 hours.
WASP-43b orbits and its parent star in one of the closest orbits ever measured for an exoplanet of its size.(AFP Photo / ESA)

“The blink of an eye compared to the 365 days it takes Earth to orbit the sun,” study co-author Jean-Michel Désert, of the University of Colorado Boulder, said.

It is a mystery how Wasp-43b got so close to its parent star, although the abundance of water vapor suggests it formed in an orbit close to that of Jupiter in our own solar system. But in case of our Jupiter, little is known about the amount of water it has, as it is locked away as ice.

“These observations allow us to determine the abundance of water in the planet’s atmosphere, which is a major element involved in planetary formation,” the co-author of the project, Jean-Michel Desert, of the University of Colorado, said in a statement. “Basically it is like taking a planet like Jupiter into a giant laboratory, then warming it at such a high temperature that all of the atoms and molecules comprising its atmosphere are in a gas phase.”

Wasp-43b is a lifeless world of extremes with temperatures soaring to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and plunging to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit at night. There are no oceans or continents on Wasp-43b, which is just a hot ball of gas, mostly hydrogen. Only the severe temperature difference allowed astronomers to remotely observe the passage between day and night.

Scientists managed to get an idea of the inhospitable world of the exoplanet by measuring temperatures at different layers of the planet’s atmosphere, and were thus able to trace the amount and distribution of water vapor.

The astronomers carried out three days of observations with the Hubble Telescope. As there is no planet anything like the Wasp-43b in our solar system, the research provided a unique opportunity for scientists to get a better knowledge of planetary physics and how such planets are formed.

At 260 light tears from Earth, Wasp-43b is too far away to be photographed, but astronomers were able to observe regular dips in the light of its parent star as the seething planet passed in front of it.

“Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map of the exoplanet’s thermal structure,” Stevenson said. “These maps can be used to constrain circulation models that predict how heat is transported from an exoplanet’s hot day side to its cool night side.”

Astronomers used a technique known as spectroscopy, where they divided the planet’s light into its component colors. This allowed them to determine the temperatures in the atmosphere and the amount of water in it. And by scrutinizing the planet’s rotation they could also see how water was distributed at different longitudes.

“These measurements have opened the door for new kinds of ways to compare the properties of different types of planets. The big picture is by making these precise measurements of thermal structure and abundance of chemical species [in the atmosphere], it becomes useful to do comparative studies amongst the planets outside our solar system,” a co-author of the research, Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago, told

The scientists said that their research will be useful one day when instruments exist to look for water vapor and other signs of life in smaller planets the size of Earth.

'Terror on American soil': #FergusonOctober stages 4-day rally as shooting anger rages

Protests in the suburbs of St. Louis kicked off a weekend-long series of rallies against racial law enforcement profiling that has left two black teenagers dead. Activists confronted police decked out in paramilitary gear, but the night ended peacefully. Locals dominated the crowds, but people from around the country joined the vigil held in honor of Michael Brown, who was shot dead by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug 9. The vigil was held on West Florissant Avenue, where protesters gathered 60 days ago to demonstrate. Protesters stand-off against police during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri October 10, 2014. (Reuters / Jim Young)Protesters stand-off against police during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri October 10, 2014. (Reuters / Jim Young) The protest has been planned for a long time,but tensions were fueled since Wednesday, when another black teen, 18-year-old Vonderrick Myers Jr, was shot dead by an off-duty white police officer, reportedly up to 17 times in the St. Louis suburb of Shaw. Police claimed Shaw fired on the officer who shot him, but residents insisted he was unarmed. The death of the two teenagers has sparked a dialogue on racial tensions in the city and the institutions and power that enable such tragedies to occur with such frequency. At Friday night’s demonstrations, a group of protesters took over the Ferguson Police Department parking lot. Protesters held up a mirrored casket in front of the line of police officers. "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?" the protesters screamed, as many onlookers recorded the events for social media around the world to see. Policed blocked radio communication and transmission from the public, in order to “ensure the safety of the 1,300 officers of this department, as well as the citizens we serve," St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said. The channels will be blocked to the public for the duration of the protests, police said. A protester demonstrates in front of a police line in Ferguson, Missouri October 10, 2014. (Reuters / Jim Young)A protester demonstrates in front of a police line in Ferguson, Missouri October 10, 2014. (Reuters / Jim Young) “Here in Ferguson, our community has come to know terror on American soil,” the organizing group, #FergusonOctober, wrote on their website. “A public slaying so gruesome it harkened images of the lynchings from the most heinous moments in history, for young and old to see," the announcement says. Ferguson Protestor Open Letter 10.7.14 by dmckesso By half past midnight, the protests in Ferguson had calmed down, with many participants heading home to and others heading to neighboring Shaw, to exercise their First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Brown’s killing on August 9 triggered weeks of civil unrest in the district of St. Louis, which has a mainly black population, while its police department and city leadership is mostly white. Police resorted to using tear gas and rubber bullets to control the August crowds. Protestors will gather again Saturday morning at 10 am in a “Justice for All” march and rally, to be held in downtown St. Louis. Events are being held October 10-13 for the “Weekend of Resistance.”

US steps up Ebola screening at New York’s JFK airport

US has enhanced special screenings for the deadly Ebola virus at the New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Squads armed with thermal guns and carrying questionnaires will test everyone arriving from the worst affected countries in West Africa. JFK is set to become the first of five major airports to carry out the checks, aimed at travelers arriving from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the countries where the majority of the 4,000 Ebola deaths happened. Almost all travelers from these countries to the US – approximately 150 a day – land in five airports: JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta. Other airports are set to join the measure next week. The special squads will be armed with infrared thermal guns aimed at checking elevated temperatures among passengers. Monitors will also evaluate whether any of the passengers have Ebola symptoms and ask them if they have been in contact with Ebola patients. Then, if a person demonstrates fever or other symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be to decide on the next steps. The person may be sent to hospital for further testing and treatment, and/or quarantined and isolated under federal law. Medical personnel at the Ebola treatment centre at Island hospital in Monrovia (Liberia) disinfect people who had brought patients suspected of having the Ebola virus (AFP Photo / Pascal Guyot)Medical personnel at the Ebola treatment centre at Island hospital in Monrovia (Liberia) disinfect people who had brought patients suspected of having the Ebola virus (AFP Photo / Pascal Guyot) It’s not the only move that the US authorities intend to undertake in the fight with the fatal virus, the CDC said. "Because we want to protect the American public, we are taking a tiered approach," CDC spokesman Jason McDonald told Reuters. He added that the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is to carry out the airport checks under CDC direction. Some critics say that fever monitoring has proved ineffective in the past: Lawrence Gostin, from Georgetown Law School, told Reuters that the new measures are “unlikely to keep us safe” and “have virtually no effectiveness.” He explained that passengers could easily take medications against the fever during the flight, and not tell monitors about contacts with Ebola patients. Currently, screenings take place when passengers leave the Ebola-hit countries. Over two months, just 77 of 36,000 passengers who were screened were denied boarding, according to CDC data. Some of them were later diagnosed with malaria, not Ebola. A possible Ebola patient is brought to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on October 8, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Thomas Eric Duncan, the first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the U.S., died earlier that day. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP)A possible Ebola patient is brought to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on October 8, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Thomas Eric Duncan, the first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the U.S., died earlier that day. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP) The United Nations has recently been addressing the Ebola plight, and the concerns that fatalities will increase quickly if nothing is done. The UN’s special envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, told the UN General Assembly on Friday that the number of cases was doubling every three to four weeks, and the response needed to be 20 times greater than it was at the beginning of October. He added that without mass mobilization of global resources to support the affected countries in West Africa, “it will be impossible to get this disease quickly under control, and the world will have to live with the Ebola virus forever.'' The General Assembly also heard via satellite from Dr. Abubakarr Sulaiman Fofanah, Sierra Leone’s health minister, about the conditions that medics and patients face in the country. Apart from not having enough space to accommodate and isolate the patients, “customized laboratories are too few in numbers” and “specimens are queueing for days in the laboratory.” “As a result, our holding centers becoming breeding grounds for propagating the epidemic,” the minister said.

'Citizenfour': Documentary shows Snowden reunited with dancer girlfriend in Moscow

Edward Snowden is not "skulking" in a secret Russian bunker but is living an ordinary life in Moscow with his longtime girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. “Citizenfour,” a documentary about the whistleblower, premiered Friday at the New York Film Festival. It has been three months since Lindsay Mills, whom Snowden had to leave behind in Hawaii in May 2013, was reunited with him in Moscow in July, “Citizenfour” reveals. The documentary was directed by investigative journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras, an associate of former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who has been Snowden’s primary media contact throughout the NSA revelations campaign. Image from Lindsay Mills' instagram (lsjourney)Image from Lindsay Mills' instagram (lsjourney) More than a year ago, in August 2013, Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the media that his client had no immediate plans to leave Russia and was really missing Mills, his girlfriend since 2009. Mills, a former nightclub dancer, kept a blog titled, “Adventures of a world-travelling, pole-dancing superhero,” in which she wrote after Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May 2013 that she felt “sick, exhausted and carrying the weight of the world”. Mills took the blog down shortly afterward, however. It was nearly a year before Mills traveled to Moscow to join her "spy" boyfriend, who currently lives in an undisclosed location in the Russian capital. In August 2014, Snowden received a three-year residence permit in Russia after his previous, year-long temporary asylum permit expired. Three weeks before the New York screening of “Citizenfour,” Poitras visited Snowden in Moscow to show him a preliminary cut of the film. There she filmed Snowden and Mills cooking dinner in their Moscow apartment, and the scene was added to the film’s final cut. Making of ‘Citizenfour’ The much-awaited documentary about the former NSA contractor will be released internationally on October 24. Produced, among others, by renowned Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh, the documentary is a production of the Weinstein Co.'s boutique label Radius. When Edward Snowden first contacted Greenwald and Poitras to go public with his revelations, the former NSA contractor used the alias “Citizenfour.” The codename was used as the title of an unprecedentedly intimate video about Snowden and how he got his message out to the world. From the very beginning, Snowden had no illusions about the dangers of the game he was getting involved in, Poitras and Greenwald say. Filmed as an intelligent and determined person, the documentary reveals the (sometimes paranoid) precautions he had to take to avoid being detected before arriving in Russia: unplugging the phone in his hotel room, checking fire alarms for bugs, and ensuring secrecy of electronic communications. Image from Lindsay Mills' instagram (lsjourney)Image from Lindsay Mills' instagram (lsjourney) “Put the target right on my back,” Snowden told the filmmakers. “I already know how this will end for me. And I accept the risk.” Were Snowden to return to the US today, he would face charges on at least three counts under the Espionage Act – unauthorized communication of national defense information, theft of government property and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. “Citizenfour doesn't aim to be an unbiased documentary about a controversial figure, but rather seeks to depict the stealth buildup of government surveillance in the wake of September 11 and the people who have fought to uncover it,” Poitras said after the film’s premiere, AP reported. “This was a film about people who take risks and come forward.” Greenwald and Poitras themselves only dared to travel to the US after the Pulitzer Prize for public service was awarded to The Washington Post and The Guardian for their NSA publications. Still, for fear of having her footage seized in the US, Poitras edited the film in Berlin, where she currently resides. “This was a film we had to make as privately and secretly as we could,” Poitras said. “So much has been said about Edward Snowden: a lot of it bad, but a lot of it really good,” Greenwald said after the film premiere. “I felt like this was really the first time that people could see who he really is in an unmediated way.” “The most powerful part of the story was not going to be the documents and the revelations but the power of the story and the acts of this very kind of ordinary young man, who decided very consciously to sacrifice his whole life for a political principle,” Greenwald said Friday, Reuters reported. But the world is also set to see Snowden’s story from a more James Bond-like perspective. In June, celebrated US film director Oliver Stone announced he intends to shoot a movie about Snowden. A week later, it was reported that for his film Stone had acquired the movie rights to a book about Snowden written by the former intelligence contractor’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena. The film, with the working title “The Snowden Files”, is set to star rising Hollywood actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role. “The Snowden Files” is scheduled to hit cinema screens in 2016.

Image from Lindsay Mills' Flickr stream

Pregnant Austrian teen who ran off to join ISIS says she 'made a mistake'

Two Austrian teenage girls who ran away to Syria to join Islamic State fighters are beginning to regret their decision. Security service insiders told Austrian media that the girls have managed to contact families and one wants to go home. The pair left home to join Islamic State (also known as ISIS, or ISIL) in April. Little information was immediately known, aside from that one had been 16 and one 14 at the time of their departure. Both reportedly married Chechen fighters after their arrival in Syria and became pregnant. Samra Kesinovic and her friend, Sabina Selimovic, are originally from Bosnia, but grew up in Vienna. The Daily Mail reports that their parents were from Iraq. On their departure from Austria, they left a note, telling their parents: “Don’t look for us. We will serve Allah – and we will die for him.” Since their departure, pictures have emerged online of the pair brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and wearing the full niqab. However, Austrian police have claimed that their social media accounts were overtaken and manipulated by IS. “It is clear that whoever is operating their pages, it probably is not the girls, and that they are being used for propaganda,” a security expert told the Austrian Times. Interpol released images of the two girls in April, after they disappeared. Both sets of parents have been attempting to make contact and unconfirmed reports have stated that communication has been established. Both are currently believed to be in Rakka, in northern Syria. According to Vienna-based newspaper Österreich, Samra wants to return home as the horrors of Syria “have become too much.” The newspaper, which is known for its close links both to the security services and the children’s families, says that death is a “constant companion” for the girls. There is some hope for women wishing to flee IS, however. In recent days, a Syrian woman fled from IS to Turkey. However, Sabina was reportedly “not yet ready to return.” Anyway, they may find attempts to return difficult. “The main problem is about people coming back to Austria. Once they leave it is almost impossible,” said Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry.

Reuters / Khaled Abdullah

Life after death? Scientists gather 'out-of-body' evidence in 'largest-ever' study

It seems that scientists have finally offered evidence that consciousness after death really could exist, as the largest-ever study into the issue showed that patients could recall intricate details despite being officially declared clinically dead. Researchers based at the UK’s University of Southampton, who were involved in the AWARE (“AWAreness during REsuscitation”) studypublished in the journal Resuscitation, claim that almost 40 percent of people who survived clinical death described some kind of “awareness” during the time before their hearts were restarted. The study, led by Dr. Sam Parnia, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, spanned four years and involved 15 hospitals in the US, UK and Austria and more than 2,060 cases of cardiac arrest. While a high proportion of patients were eliminated from the study on account of death, fatigue or leaving a stage two interview incomplete, two very specific cases stand out in the study - enough to throw doubt on the fact that all consciousness completely ceases upon declaration of death. "I was up there, looking down at me, the nurse, and another man who had a bald head…I couldn’t see his face but I could see the back of his body. He was quite a chunky fella… He had blue scrubs on, and he had a blue hat, but I could tell he didn’t have any hair, because of where the hat was," one cardiac arrest patient recalled. A post script in the study notes that : "Medical record review confirmed the...the medical team present during the cardiac arrest and the role the identified “man” played in responding to the cardiac arrest." The second, albeit unverified, recollection states that: "At the beginning, I think, I heard the nurse say ‘dial 444 cardiac arrest." “We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” The Telegraph reported Parnia as saying. “But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.” Parnia's team tracked down 330 patients who survived heart attacks; 140 of whom were willing to talk about their experiences. Of those who were interviewed, 61 percent said they didn’t remember anything, but the rest did. AFP Photo / Spencer PlattAFP Photo / Spencer Platt Parnia says that one patient described everything that was happening in the room while he was receiving CPR, even after his heart had stopped. “The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three-minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for,” Parnia said. “He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.” The probe into the life-after-death realm showed that 46 percent experienced a broad range of mental recollections and 2 percent showed full awareness of their out-of-body experiences. From those interviewed, 13 percent claim they felt separated from their bodies. A few recurring themes in memories were established, most common ones being fear, violence, and “a feeling of being persecuted.” Patients also experienced after-life images of family, animals and a bright light. Researchers believe that the newest study shows a need to explore the subject area further. “Estimates have suggested that millions of people have had vivid experiences in relation to death but the scientific evidence has been ambiguous at best,” Parnia said. “These experiences warrant further investigation.”

Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly

AFP Photo / Spencer Platt

Hawk 1, Drone 0: Bird of prey attacks quadcopter, takes down from skies (VIDEO)

An irate hawk reclaimed its patch of sky from an antagonistic drone this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, knocking the buzzing recording device out of the sky as easily as its normal prey. YouTube user and software developer Christopher Schmidt had been flying the Phantom FC40 quadcopter drone around the city’s Magazine Beach Park, when the giant bird of prey took exception to his activities. In Schmidt’s words, the bird “wasn’t too happy” with its presence. The footage shows the predator skillfully swooping into the camera before swiping at it with its enormous talons and knocking it out of the sky. “As soon as he flew at me, I throttled down the props to try to minimize any harm to the bird,” Schmidt wrote alongside his upload of the video on YouTube. The drone then tumbles to the ground and rests upside down on the park’s football pitch. “As far as I could tell, the juvenile red-tailed hawk came out unscathed, and having defeated his prey, was happy to retreat,” Schmidt said. This isn’t the first time that local wildlife has attacked invasive drones. In June 2013, researchers at the University of Maryland, funded by the US Army, faced a similar problem. The lifelike Robo-Raven – the wings of which can flap independently of each other – was also attacked by a hawk on one of its flights. Last December, YouTube user Buddhanz1 also filmed a scenario where a whole flock of birds dive-bombed his DJI phantom drone.

Screenshot from youtube video by Christopher Schmidt

Battle for Baghdad: ISIS now within 8 miles of airport, armed with MANPADS

Islamic State’s offensive on the Iraqi capital intensified as the jihadist fighters advanced as far as Abu Ghraib, a suburb only 8 miles away from Baghdad’s international airport. The outer suburb of Abu Ghraib is also the site of the infamous prison the US military used to humiliate and torture Iraqi detainees. There are reports by the Iraqi military that the militants are in possession of MANPAD anti-aircraft missiles. The short-range, shoulder-fired missiles can shoot down airplanes within a range of 15,000 feet. The Iraqi military, aided by US military personnel, have so far failed in foiling the advance toward Baghdad of the Islamic State militia (also known as ISIS, or ISIL), which has expanded its control of huge swathes of Iraq and Syria despite the increase in US-led airstrikes. Google MapsGoogle Maps A total of 60,000 Iraqi soldiers are assigned to defend the capital, alongside 12 teams of American advisors, an Iraqi officer told CBS News. Meanwhile, undercover IS militants active within Baghdad are setting off bombs and carrying out attacks. Swift advances have also been by the jihadist militia in Anbar, where Iraqi officials have made an open plea for military aid, warning the city will soon fall to IS. The situation in Anbar, a town due west of Baghdad, is “fragile” a US official told AFP. IS has seized army bases in Anbar province, and has been shelling the provincial capital, Ramadi, 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Baghdad. CNN reported that Iraqi troops in Anbar are in danger of being bottlenecked, citing a senior US defense official. "We do see ISIL continue to make gains in Anbar province and [are] mindful of how Anbar relates to the security of Baghdad," another senior US defense official said. Anbar province is home to Iraq's second biggest dam at Haditha, a major source of water and electrical power. The dam is currently controlled by Iraqi forces, and US airstrikes have targeted IS forces in the area . It has been stated both by the US and Iraq that preventing IS from capturing the area is a key objective, as is holding Baghdad. In Syria, IS forces are vying for control of Kobani, which they now control 40 percent. Kobani is on the Syria-Turkish border and has a Kurdish majority. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura warned Friday that if Kobani falls to ISIS, civilians there would “most likely be massacred.” In June, ISIS insurgents quickly captured Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul, north of Baghdad. When they took the city, they seized a large amount of military US equipment originally given to the Iraqi army.

Reuters / Str

Google Maps

LIVE: Battle for control of Donetsk airport coming to a close

LIVE camera is now placed in the north-west of Donetsk (Kievskyi district), pointed towards Donetsk airport. According to latest reports, neither side is currently in control of the airport.