Chart of the day II: The Ebola epidemiology curve


The latest trend line from the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control:

Distribution of cases of EVD by week of reporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, weeks 48/2013 to 43/2014

Distribution of cases of EVD by week of reporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, weeks 48/2013 to 43/2014

Sci Fi with a twist: From European Space Agency


Starring Lord Peter Baelish — er Aiden Gillen — and Aisling Franciosi and using the latest in CGI technology, the video promotes a landmark upcoming rendezvous in space, the 12 November attempt to land an instrument package on a comet as it hurtles through space.

From the European Space Agency:

Ambition

Program notes:

Ambition is a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA. Directed by Tomek Bagin’ski and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi, Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, and screened on 24 October 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London.

More from BBC News:

The European Space Agency has released a short scifi movie to promote its audacious Rosetta comet mission.

Called, suitably, Ambition, it stars Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen and actress Aisling Franciosi as master and apprentice on an alien world.

In the seven-minute drama, the pair discuss the presence of water on planets and the origin of life.

These are themes Esa’s Rosetta probe hopes to address in its study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Next month, the spacecraft will drop a small robot on to the surface of the 4km-wide ice body to analyse its chemistry.

Theory holds that comets may have been responsible for delivering water to the planets early in the Solar System’s history. They could even have delivered important chemistry that helped to kick-start biology. The mission intends to test these ideas.

Like all cinematic releases these days, the film comes with it’s own “making of” featurette:

The making of ‘Ambition’

Program notes:

The making of the short film Ambition, a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA. Directed by Tomek Bagin’ski and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi, Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, produced in Poland, and screened on 24 October 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London.

Chart of the day: A notable social shift


From the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Pot

Quote of the day: America’s imperiled kids


From the abstract of a stunning new analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics:

Children account for 73.5 million Americans (24%), but 8% of federal expenditures. Data on health and health care indicate that child well-being in the United States has been in decline since the most recent recession. Childhood poverty has reached its highest level in 20 years, 1 in 4 children lives in a food-insecure household, 7 million children lack health insurance, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds, and 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese. Five children are killed daily by firearms, 1 in 5 experiences a mental disorder, racial/ethnic disparities continue to be extensive and pervasive, and major sequester cuts and underfunding of pediatric research have damaged our global leadership in biomedical research and hobbled economic growth.

Inside the Ebola ward: The struggle in Liberia


Another superb video report on the Ebola crisis from Ben C. Solomon of the New York Times, this time from inside an ETU [Ebola Treatment Unit] near the Liberian capital.

One of those featured is Colin Banks, a Stanford University emergency room physician who says he was impelled to come on hearing of the extent of the crisis.

From the New York Times:

Inside the Ebola Ward | Virus Outbreak 2014

Program notes:

Workers at the International Medical Corps treatment center in Suakoko, Liberia, use faith, hard work and caution as they face a stream of sick people in this remote hilltop east of Monrovia.

Produced by: Ben C. Solomon

California drought: Still dry as a bone


From the U.S. Drought Monitor [click on the image to embiggen], and with no change from last week:

BLOG Drought

InSecurityWatch: Terror, war, Mexico, Hong Kong


And lots more. . .

First up, from the Associated Press:

2 dead in shooting attack at Canada’s Parliament

A gunman with a scarf over his face killed a soldier standing guard at Canada’s war memorial Wednesday, then stormed Parliament in an attack that rocked the building with the boom of gunfire and forced lawmakers to barricade themselves in meeting rooms. The gunman was shot to death by the ceremonial sergeant-at-arms.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the rampage the second deadly terrorist attack on Canadian soil in three days. “This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere,” Harper said.

He added: “We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”

Canada was already on alert at the time of the shooting rampage because of a deadly hit-and-run assault Monday against two Canadian soldiers by a man Harper described as an “ISIL-inspired terrorist.” ISIL is also known as Islamic State.

More from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Federal sources have identified the suspected shooter as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a man in his early 30s who was known to Canadian authorities.

Sources told The Globe and Mail that he was recently designated a “high-risk traveller” by the Canadian government and that his passport had been seized – the same circumstances surrounding the case of Martin Rouleau-Couture, the Quebecker who was shot Monday after running down two Canadian Forces soldiers with his car.

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau has a record in Quebec in the early 2000s for petty crimes such as possession of drugs, credit-card forgery and robbery. He was also charged with robbery in 2011 in Vancouver.

The soldier who was killed was identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, according to his aunt. Cpl. Cirillo, who was a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a regiment of Reserve Forces based in Hamilton, was training to join the Canada Border Services Agency, his aunt told The Globe and Mail.

On to the Mideast with Reuters:

Consumed by Islamic State, Iraq’s Anbar province a key battleground again

In recent weeks, the world has watched the battle to save Syria’s border town of Kobani from Islamic State. But the radical jihadists have for longer been engulfing another strategically more vital target – Iraq’s western Anbar province and its road to Baghdad.

The vast desert region – where Sunni tribes rose up in 2006 and 2007 to drive out al-Qaeda with the Americans – has throughout 2014 been parcelled up, city by military camp, before the Iraqi government and U.S. forces could act.

Now Anbar’s largest airbase Ain al-Asad, the Haditha Dam – a critical piece of infrastructure – and surrounding towns are encircled by Islamic State to the west from the Syrian border and to the east from militant-controlled sections of Ramadi.

Droning on with Old Blighty via the Guardian:

UK to fly military drones over Syria

  • Government says Reaper drones will be deployed soon to gather intelligence, but insists move is not a military intervention

Britain is to send military drones over Syria to gather intelligence in a move that will deepen its involvement in the campaign against Islamic State (Isis), Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, has revealed.

Downing Street insisted that the flights did not amount to military intervention and said there was a clear legal case for drone surveillance in Syria under the principles of “national and collective defence”.

The Reaper drones have already been active in Iraq, after parliament gave its approval for Britain to take part in air strikes against Isis. However, this will be the first time they will have ventured into Syrian territory, where David Cameron has not sought approval for military action because of fears it would be blocked by Labour and some within the prime minister’s own party.

From the London Daily Mail, that old-time religion:

ISIS releases sickening video clip showing Syrian woman being stoned to death by group of men – including her own father

  • Shocking footage understood to have been filmed in Syrian city of Hama
  • Cleric seen ranting at woman and accusing her of committing adultery
  • Woman told to be ‘content and happy’ at stoning as it is ordered by God
  • She pleads for her life before asking if her father could ever forgive her
  • He responds telling her not to call him father, then orders murder to begin
  • A man was also stoned to death for adultery in a separate incident

From the Guardian, before the fall:

Life inside Kobani before Isis attacked

Program notes:

New video footage filmed inside Kobani shows what life was like for the Kurdish civilians living there just a few days before Islamic State, or Isis, attacked the city.

In footage obtained by the Guardian, local journalist Moustafa Ghaleb records candid interviews with friends and family, as coalition air-strikes buzz overhead and the Isis advance prompts people to evacuate to the Turkish border.

From SciDev.Net, demanding science:

ISIS besieges universities but allows scientists’ return

Scores of students and professors have left Iraqi universities as the militants of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) continue to advance in Iraq and Syria — but now the group appears to want the researchers to come back.

“We grant all teachers … whose place of work or residence is within the caliphate [an Islamic state], a maximum period of ten days from the date of this statement to return and resume their work. If they fail to do so, their moveable and immovable property will be confiscated,” reads a leaflet, reportedly distributed by ISIS on 3 October.

Having captured large swathes of Syria and Iraq, in late June ISIS stated it had created a caliphate stretching from Aleppo in Syria to the province of Diyala in Iraq. The group has reportedly replaced the name ‘Republic of Iraq’ on some universities and research institutions with ‘Islamic State — Knowledge Bureau’.

And from MintiPress News, hints of a hidden hand:

Erdogan: The Man Pulling The Strings In A Middle Eastern Puppet Show

Turkey certainly didn’t invent ISIS, but the Turkish government under former Prime Minister, current President Erdogan has been stoking Islamic radicalism to further its own political goals — namely, the fall of Assad and the return of something reminiscent of the Ottomans

As noted by Veli Sirin in a report for the Gatestone Institute, “Turkey under a stronger Erdogan presidency may become more Islamic, more neo-Ottoman, and more directed to the East rather than the West.”

“Neo-Ottoman” and “Islamic” seem very much the order of the day when referring to Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign agenda, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which later merged with the Nusra Front and ISIS — especially vis-a-vis the rise of ISIS in the greater Levant.

According to many, Erdogan’s alleged shadow games with ISIS represent little more than the manifestations of a desire to see rise a new Ottoman Empire, the impetus of which will be fed by ISIS crusaders. Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement in September, slamming Erdogan for his promotion of terror in the region. The statement read, “The Turkish President, who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organizations … Whether political support or funding or accommodation in order to harm the interests of the peoples of the region to achieve personal ambitions for the Turkish president and revive illusions of the past.”

Even more damaging was the April publication of Seymour Hersh’s work, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” in which the veteran journalist argues Turkey would have orchestrated the Ghouta sarin gas attack in order to drag the United States into a war.

The Christian Science Monitor points to the unseen obvious:

America’s Saudi problem in its anti-IS coalition

  • Saudi Arabia sentenced dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr to death. That’s trouble for a strategy that rests on ending sectarianism in Iraq

Following two years in jail, most of that time in solitary confinement, Saudi Arabia sentenced dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr to death [15 October] for leading demonstrations and “inciting sectarian strife.” Mr. Nimr’s predicament – and that of at least 5 other Shiite activists Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death this year – illustrates a problem for the US strategy for taking on the so-called Islamic State in Iraq.

The Obama administration believes that a non-sectarian government in Iraq is the key answer to the country’s problems. There’s little doubt that the Shiite dominated politics that emerged after the US invaded Iraq in 2003 has fueled support for IS among the country’s Sunni Arabs.

But with country’s like Saudi Arabia in the coalition the US is trying to build against IS, you have one of the greatest forces for sectarianism in the region. Nimr has long been an influential figure among Saudi Arabia’s repressed Shiite minority, who are concentrated in the country’s oil-rich east.

While the Washington Post covers a problem for the press:

New Afghan government investigates newspaper for ‘blasphemous article’

Top staffers at an Afghan newspaper are being investigated for blasphemy after the publication of an article that questioned whether Muslims should embrace the possibility that more than one God exists.

The investigation, apparently being led by intelligence and cultural affairs officials, came at the request of Afghanistan’s new president and chief executive officer.

Afghan officials stressed Wednesday that no arrests have been made.

More domestic blowback from the Associated Press:

FBI: Denver girls may have tried to join jihadis

The FBI said Tuesday that it’s investigating the possibility that three girls from the Denver area tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State extremists.

An FBI spokeswoman says agents helped bring the girls back to Denver after stopping them in Germany. Spokeswoman Suzie Payne says they’re safe and have been reunited with their families.

She didn’t identify the girls or provided other details.

The announcement comes one month after 19-year-old Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colorado, pleaded guilty to charges that she conspired to help militants in Syria.

And in Germany, via CNN:

From Jewish football to jihad: German ISIS suspect faces jail

At first Alon Meyer thought it was a bad joke.

When Kreshnik Berisha, the first suspected member of ISIS to stand trial in Germany, was arrested upon his arrival back in Frankfurt in December after spending six months in Syria, youth team football coach Meyer was left shell-shocked.

The coach thought for a while and then it slowly sank in — this was the same boy who had once stood by his side and taken the field in the shirt of Makkabi Frankfurt, Germany’s largest Jewish sports club.

Meyer’s phone began to buzz with journalists trying to ask him whether he remembered Berisha, a 20-year-old born in Frankfurt to Kosovan parents.

And to toss another ingredient into the stew, this from BBC News:

Iraq Blackwater: US jury convicts four of 2007 killings

A US federal jury has found four Blackwater security guards guilty of killing 14 Iraqis in a square in Baghdad in 2007.

One former guard was found guilty of murder with three others guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

A further 17 Iraqis were injured as the private contractors opened fire to clear the way for a US convoy.

The shootings sparked international outrage and a debate over the role of defence contractors in warfare.

From intelNews, interesting:

Iran announces arrest of alleged spies at Bushehr nuclear plant

Senior Iranian government officials have announced the arrest of a group of alleged spies in Iran’s southwestern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s only nuclear energy plant. Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi told the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday that the spies had been “identified and sent to justice”.

Located along Iran’s coastal Persian Gulf region, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has a long history. Its construction initially began in the mid-1970s by German engineers. But work on the plant was halted in 1979, immediately following the Islamic Revolution. Iraqi forces repeatedly bombarded the site during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But the government began to rebuild it in the 1990s with the help of Russian technicians.

In September of 2011, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated in a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by several Russian officials, including Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko. The completion of the facility made it the first civilian nuclear power plant anywhere in the Middle East

A spooky anti-Snowden valedictory from the Guardian:

Outgoing GCHQ boss defends agency activities after Snowden revelations

  • Sir Iain Lobban uses valedictory address to praise extraordinary job of staff with ‘mission of liberty, not erosion of it’

Sir Iain Lobban, the outgoing director of Britain’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ, has used his valedictory address to deliver a full-throated defence of its activities in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a speech referencing cryptographer Alan Turing and wartime codebreaking efforts, Lobban praised GCHQ staff as “ordinary people doing an extraordinary job”, and said his agency’s mission was “the protection of liberty, not the erosion of it”.

The usually secretive agency has been under unprecedented scrutiny since June 2013 when the Guardian and other news organisations revealed how it and its US counterpart, the NSA, were scooping up vast quantities of internet and phone traffic.

More from the London Telegraph:

GCHQ chief: Internet has become refuge for plotters

Sir Iain Lobban, the outgoing head of GCHQ, says that the idea the internet doesn’t need policing is a flawed ‘Utopian dream’ as he argues the security services need ‘strong capabilities’ to stop those who want to harm Britain

The Internet has become a refuge for the “worst aspects of human nature” and the security services are making huge sacrifices to protect the public from “plotters, proliferators and paedophiles”, the outgoing head of GCHQ has warned.

In his valedictory speech Sir Iain Lobban said that his staff are “ordinary people doing an extraordinary job” who have been “insulted time and again” by allegations that they carry out mass surveillance.

But he warned that the “Utopian dream” that the Internet should remain a “totally ungoverned space” is “flawed” and said that Britain needs “strong intelligence and cyber capabilities” to identify those who “would do us harm”.

Severance from Reuters:

Exclusive: Ex-spy chief’s private firm ends deal with U.S. official

Former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander has ended a deal with a senior U.S. intelligence official allowing the official to work part-time for his firm, an arrangement current and former officials said risked a conflict of interest.

Reuters reported on Friday that the U.S. National Security Agency had launched an internal review of the arrangement between NSA Chief Technical Officer Patrick Dowd and IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, which is led by Alexander, his former boss.

On Tuesday, Alexander said: “While we understand we did everything right, I think there’s still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company,” that it was best for him to terminate the deal.

U.S. intelligence officials past and present said the agreement risked a conflict of interest between sensitive government work and private business, and could be seen as giving favoritism to Alexander’s venture, even if the deal was approved by NSA lawyers and executives.

Vice News makes a telling point:

We Can’t Properly Debate Drone Casualties Without Knowing The Names of Those Killed

The most important question to ask of the Global War on Terror should be the most simple to answer. Instead, it is a perennial shadow cast over US counter-terror operations since 9/11.

We still don’t know, and still must ask: Who exactly is the enemy?

In 2001, the Authorization of Military Force Act told us that the enemy was whoever perpetrated the September 11 attacks and their affiliates. In 2013, President Barack Obama stated that this meant “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and its associated forces.” But associated forces was not defined. Administration officials told the New York Times that Obama’s method for counting combatants “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone.” A Justice Department memo released this summer told us that US citizens, too, could be legitimate targets. Then, the Islamic State, a terror group actively disaffiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, were included as “the enemy.”

“The enemy,” then, is whomever gets targeted as the enemy. The validity and legality of these targets is debated post hoc, often after they are dead. A chilling illustration of this comes in the form of a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based organization that tracks US drone usage and the victims of drone strikes. The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project makes clear quite how little we know about the casualties of these strikes, which stretch the notion of “targeted” beyond recognition.

The Washington Post gets testy:

Panetta clashed with CIA over memoir, tested agency review process

Former CIA director Leon E. Panetta clashed with the agency over the contents of his recently published memoir and allowed his publisher to begin editing and making copies of the book before he had received final approval from the CIA, according to former U.S. officials and others familiar with the project.

Panetta’s decision appears to have put him in violation of the secrecy agreement that all CIA employees are required to sign, and came amid a showdown with agency reviewers that could have derailed the release of the book this month, people involved in the matter said.

The memoir, which is almost unfailingly complimentary toward the spy service where he served as director from 2009 to 2011, was ultimately approved by the CIA’s Publications Review Board before it reached store shelves.

But preempting that panel — even temporarily — carried legal risks for both Panetta and his publisher. Other former CIA employees have been sued for breach of contract and forced to surrender proceeds from sales of books that ran afoul of CIA rules.

And from the Guardian, a resource chiller:

Russia prepares for ice-cold war with show of military force in the Arctic

  • Vladimir Putin sends troops and jets to oil- and gas-rich region also coveted by Canada, United States, Norway and Denmark

Yaya is a very small Arctic island, barely one metre above sea level and covering only 500 square metres. Russian pilots discovered it at the beginning of October. With the Admiral Vladimirsky research ship having confirmed its presence in the Laptev Sea, Yaya will soon be added to the map of the Arctic Ocean and will become part of Russian territory, the RIA Novosti state news agency announced. In its determination to defend its interests in this icy waste, Russia is no longer content to leave its mark, as it did in 2007 when it planted a Russian flag, in a titanium capsule, 4,200 metres below the north pole. Now it is engaging in large-scale militarisation of the Arctic, a vast area coveted by itself and its four neighbours: Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark.

RIA Novosti says that former Soviet bases are being reactivated in response to renewed Nato interest in the region. According to the Russian authorities, the airstrip on Novaya Zemlya can now accommodate fighters and part of the North Fleet is establishing quarters there. A new military group will be formed in the far north consisting of two brigades, totalling 6,000 soldiers, deployed in the Murmansk area and then the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region. Radar and ground guidance systems are also planned for Franz Josef Land (part of Novaya Zemlya), Wrangel Island and at Cape Schmidt. The federal security service plans to increase the number of border guards on Russia’s northern perimeter.

During the recent Vostok 2014 full-scale military exercises – the biggest since the end of the Soviet Union – Russian troops carried out combat missions in the Arctic, using the Pantsir-S and Iskander-M weapon systems. Such moves may bring back the atmosphere of the cold war, when the region was the focus of US and Nato attention, as they were convinced that it would be a launchpad for nuclear strikes.

After the jump, Swedish sub anxieties and a declaration of force and purse strings opening, secret dealings in Germany, Germany arms deal secrecy, unfriending the Feebs, hacking Flash, an epidemic of cybercrime in Old Blighty, posting an award for those missing Mexican students amidst a massive manhunt and a mayor named as the instigator of the disappearances and a human rights chief’s ouster demanded, a Chilean Dirty War murder suspect busted, provocative bluster Down Under, a Malaysian jibe at Canberra, then on to Hong Kong and a frustrating meeting followed by charges and a threat plus a provocative protest, Beijing stakes an insular claim, Japan/South Korean feelers and posturing, agreements and dissent over American military bases on Japanese soil, Continue reading