Ahead of the curve: The next 7 days
December 4th, 2011
04:28 PM ET

Ahead of the curve: The next 7 days

Here is a look at some of the stories that CNN.com plans to follow this week:

WikiLeaks founder to face British high court

Julian Assange takes his fight against Swedish extradition before Britain’s Supreme Court on Monday.

He is expected to argue that his case raises a question of general public importance and so should be decided by some of the country's most senior judges.

Assange lost a high court battle against removal last month but has announced he wants to continue the fight against a European arrest warrant that has been outstanding since last December. A Supreme Court hearing would be the third stage of the 40-year-old Australian's appeal against extradition to face allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion by two women he met on a visit to Stockholm in August 2010.

Assange has been under house arrest for nearly a year.

The secret life of Julian Assange

The euro needs a hero

Investors in the U.S. and abroad will be looking to Europe to determine how to bet on the markets.

The big difference this week: Investors have a newfound faith that central bankers and politicians will work together to keep the markets from falling into disarray.

There's that much more pressure on the leaders of 27 European Union nations to give the market answers to how the sovereign debt crisis can be cured when they meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

And investors will be listening carefully to whether Mario Draghi, the newly installed president of the European Central Bank, will consider buying bonds to help the European economy following the bank's regularly scheduled policy meeting Thursday.

Inside the Mad world of cartoonist Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee, who will be 91 in February, is known for his artistic contraptions, many designed during his long relationship with Mad magazine. There's the Mad Fold-in, the magazine's inside back page, which cleverly turns one Jaffee work into another by folding one portion over another. There's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," in which a humdrum question leads to several unexpected sarcastic responses.

Jaffee’s anchor has always been art. He thought he was “just being very silly” - he didn’t realize he was paving the way for The Onion and Jon Stewart.

In this week's Monday Profile, CNN.com's Todd Leopold unwraps the quirky intellect behind the even more quirky artwork, as well as his relationship with Mad mastermind Bill Gaines.

Germany to host summit on Afghanistan’s future

Nearly 100 nations will gather in Bonn, Germany, on Monday to chart the peace process for Afghanistan. The summit comes amid fresh tensions after the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO airstrike.

Amid a backdrop of economic troubles for most Western nations, Afghanistan officials will look to get assurances from world powers that long-term commitments to the war-torn country aren’t forgotten.

Pakistani family mourns soldier’s death

Amy Winehouse album to hit stores

Universal Republic is set Tuesday to release Amy Winehouse's “Lioness: Hidden Treasures,”  the spirited posthumous album from the troubled British singer.

While early reviews have been cordial, critics say it is readily apparent that the 12-track collection, featuring original and alternate versions of classic songs, was cobbled together rather quickly.

The album comes days after a dress the singer wore for her "Back to Black" album cover fetched $67,120 at auction.

To build buzz for the album, the Winehouse camp recently released via YouTube Winehouse’s version of the 1960s’ hit by Ruby and the Romantics, “Our Day Will Come.”

Heisman vote is Saturday

College football's most prestigious individual award, the Heisman Trophy, will be awarded Saturday to the best player in the nation. This figures to be one of the tightest Heisman races in years as several players have turned in stellar seasons, including Alabama's Trent Richardson, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Stanford's Andrew Luck. The event will air live on ESPN.

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Filed under: Economy • Politics • U.S. • World
Muhammad Ali is ‘home, well, happy’
A spokeswoman said Friday that reports of Muhammad Ali's illness were "blown out of proportion."
December 2nd, 2011
04:19 PM ET

Muhammad Ali is ‘home, well, happy’

Muhammad Ali is not down for the count, contrary to reports.

Rumors swirled Friday about the boxing legend's health after news articles reported that he had collapsed at his home and was rushed to the hospital.

A spokeswoman at the Muhammad Ali Center in the Champ's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, confirmed that "early reports were blown out of proportion."

“While Muhammad Ali was treated for dehydration on November 19, he is currently at home, well, happy and carrying on with his daily routine,” Jeanie Kahnke said in a statement.

On Friday, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper quoted Ali's longtime friend and radio personality John Ramsey as saying that the Champ was “home and well, for a person who has had Parkinson’s since the 1980s. He may not be going in the direction you or I like, but no one is on alert. That’s the truth.”

Still, Internet forums and social networking sites had plenty of well wishes for Ali, who will be 70 in January.

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Filed under: Sports • U.S.
Does Occupy have an anthem? It might now
Protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park play music last month as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
December 2nd, 2011
03:18 PM ET

Does Occupy have an anthem? It might now

The most powerful social movements come accompanied with music - gospel-tinged chants for the civil rights movement, psychedelic rock for the hippie era of the late 1960s. But what about Occupy? Does the recent protest against corporate greed have a beat?

While artists such as Kanye West were visible at protest sites early on to lend support, musical content specifically addressing the movement has been sparse. Along with the debut of OccupyMusic.org in October, recent stirrings across the country show that a soundtrack, as fluid and organic as the movement itself, is being woven alongside the protest.

Third Eye Blind released “If There Ever Was a Time” last month. Lyrics included a direct call to action: "If there ever was a time to get on your feet, take it to the street, come on and meet me down at Zuccotti Park."

The bridge between the movement and music was further strengthened recently when producers announced a compilation album was in the works called “Occupy This Album.” Artists such as David Crosby, Lloyd Cole, Jackson Brown, Devo, Third Eye Blind and Yo La Tengo have signed on to the project, the producers said in a statement.

Exclusive: Inside the offices of Occupy Wall Street

You would think a movement born of disillusionment would yield somber music, but instead of dirges about economic woes the compositions coming out of the Occupy camps strike upbeat chords and fuel optimism.

Atlanta student and activist songwriter Ariel Root Wolpe is part of the musical movement. Her song “Occupy” has gotten positive reviews from listeners around the city.


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Filed under: Occupy Wall Street • Politics • U.S.
Spy Files: WikiLeaks releases files on global surveillance industry
Wikileaks, the controversial whistle-blower site founded by Australian Julian Assange, released a trove of documents Thursday.
December 1st, 2011
07:44 PM ET

Spy Files: WikiLeaks releases files on global surveillance industry

WikiLeaks on Thursday released 287 documents of what it called “the Spy Files,” a trove of files exposing the reach of the global surveillance industry.

The documents - brochures, manuals, catalogs and other literature - offer a glimpse into the clandestine world of spying technology used by governments and the companies that supply them.

While some of the information was previously published in a Wall Street Journal piece about the burgeoning retail market for surveillance tools, Thursday's release in conjunction with six other organizations paints a composite of just how difficult it is for the world's citizens to truly protect their privacy.


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Filed under: Espionage • Julian Assange • WikiLeaks • World
Man shot after dog causes gun to go off
A duck hunter in Utah ended up on the wrong end of his shotgun over the Thanksgiving weekend.
December 1st, 2011
12:15 PM ET

Man shot after dog causes gun to go off

A Utah hunter was on the mend Wednesday after surviving a gunshot wound from man’s best friend - yes, a dog.

While authorities don't know all the particulars, this much is certain, hospital crews had to extract 27 pellets of birdshot from the man, according to news reports.

The incident happened over the weekend when two men and a canine set up to go duck-hunting in the Great Salt Lake near a bird refuge outside Brigham City, according to CNN affiliate KSL.

Before the hunting could commence, one of the men, a 46-year-old from Brigham City, got out of his boat and laid his 12-gauge shotgun across the bow of the vessel, KSL reported.

From there, it gets weird.

"The dog got excited, was jumping around inside the boat and then it jumped on the gun. It went off, shooting the (man) in the buttocks," Box Elder County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kevin Potter told the Salt Lake City Tribune. The man was apparently setting up decoys when the gun went off, said Potter.

But how – exactly – did this happen?

The dog "did something to make the gun discharge," Potter told KSL. "I don't know if the safety device was on. It's not impossible the dog could have taken it off safety," he was quoted as saying.

Sunday's accident wasn't the only strange occurrence over the Thanksgiving weekend involving outdoorsmen. In North Carolina, fishermen encountered a great white shark - but it didn't shoot them.

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Filed under: Animals • Dogs • U.S. • Utah
After toddler's death, Good Samaritan rules drafted in China
Wang Yue, 2, is treated at a hospital in China in October after being hit by two cars. She later died.
November 30th, 2011
08:02 PM ET

After toddler's death, Good Samaritan rules drafted in China

Good Samaritan guidelines drafted in a China province aim to make it easier for bystanders to come to the aid of the distressed, the China Daily reports.

The rules are expected to encourage citizens who are inclined to assist people in need and stifle fears of litigation. Public opinions were being solicited Tuesday in the Shenzhen special economic zone in China’s Guangdong province, the paper said.

“Finally, we are reassured to help others without taking a picture or shooting a video to record the scene first,” a public servant surnamed Hu was quoted as saying.


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Filed under: China • World
For college football, mess of a BCS in the works
Coach Les Miles and his LSU Tigers will likely be a shoo-in for the BCS title game, providing the team beats Arkansas on Friday.
November 25th, 2011
10:23 AM ET

For college football, mess of a BCS in the works

The chase for the college football crown has come to this fateful weekend. And the BCS – that would be the Bedlam, Controversy and Squabbling – has never been messier.

Friday’s LSU-Arkansas game may all but decide 50% of the national championship, but the variables, plots and subplots that make the case for other title contenders are as interwoven as the laces on a football.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: LSU will likely be a shoo-in for the BCS title game, providing it beats a loose-playing, freewheeling Arkansas team that isn’t afraid to play like, well, wild hogs.

LSU-Arkansas preview

And they’ve sort of owned LSU recently, winning three of the last four games, including a memorable three-overtime, 50-48 victory over the then-No. 1 ranked Tigers in 2007. Interestingly, that two-loss LSU team still got the nod to compete for the national title, where it beat Ohio State.

Sports blogger J. Danielle at playerperspective.com  said the Tigers may even be able to play for the national championship with a loss, considering that they will have faced an unprecedented eight top 10 teams (SEC East champion Georgia will likely make the top 10 after this weekend), including suspensions for key players at one time or another.

“I think this LSU team could potentially be considered as having one of the best runs in college football history,” she said. “Obviously Alabama is LSU’s most likely opponent right now.”

But what about Oklahoma State? Where is Boise State in this thing? And Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Yes, the BCS is a mess.


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Filed under: Sports • U.S.
November 22nd, 2011
01:49 PM ET

More youths surrender in SAT test-taking scandal

Several current and former high school students suspected of having participated in a SAT and ACT cheating ring surrendered to the Nassau County district attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday, according to news reports.

An investigation at one high school uncovered at least nine youths who allegedly paid test takers to take the SAT or ACT for them, according to Newsday.

The alleged offenses occurred between 2008 and 2011, according to news reports.

The case stems from a probe in September that resulted in seven arrests of former students involved in a college admissions test scheme, including Emory University student Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, of Great Neck, New York. Tuesday’s arrests bring the number of youths implicated to 20, said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, according to news reports.

Samuel Eshaghoff

Eshaghoff is facing felony fraud charges that could result in four years in prison if he's convicted, the Nassau County District Attorney's Office said.

Four of the youths arrested Tuesday are accused of accepting from $500 to $3,600 to take tests for high school students for college admissions requirements, NBC reported.

A lawyer for one of the defendants criticized prosecution of the youths, according to NBC.

"When we glorify Wall Street guys who make money cheating and baseball players who take steroids, how can we condemn kids trying to achieve that same success?" attorney Michael DerGarabedian said, according to NBC.

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Filed under: Crime • U.S.
Penn State sports merchandising down 40%, experts say
In a State College, Pennsylvania, storefront, a T-shirt reads "Coach Paterno - Only One Thing: Thank You." Sales of Penn State memorabilia are down.
November 21st, 2011
02:11 PM ET

Penn State sports merchandising down 40%, experts say

Sales of Penn State sports merchandise are down about 40%, sports analysts and marketers say, and the typical antidote – winning – does not apply this time.

“Winning is the ultimate driver of team sales,” said Brian Swallow, vice president of business development at Fanatics LLC, a sports merchandiser.

“I think that while it’s the last thing on anyone’s mind right now as we’re all concerned about the victims (of the child sex scandal) and their families, Penn State merchandise sales will rebound as soon as the university has a clearly communicated direction and its alumni and fans are ready to move past this terrible situation.”

And that will take some time, analysts say.

Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually molesting eight boys he befriended through his charity. In an interview last week with NBC’s Bob Costas, Sandusky denied the charges and insisted he is not a pedophile.

Jerry Sandusky's 'make-believe world'

The scandal has taken an obvious toll on the alleged victims and their families and communities, but the collateral damage has also been extensive: Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in Division 1 college football, was fired, sparking a student riot. Penn State’s President Graham Spanier also lost his job, and two administrators face criminal charges.

Across the nation the impact can be felt at cash registers at large and small sports retailers as consumers turn away from Penn State’s dark royal blue jerseys. "We are seeing similar drop-offs across all categories," Swallow said. "All (Penn State) apparel and merchandise, including T-shirts, fleece, women and kids, collectibles, etc."

And make no mistake, the monetary loss is significant. NCAA-branded merchandising is a $4 billion business, with Penn State pulling in about $80 million per year in sales, according to Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, a sports research organization.

Former FBI director to lead Penn State sex abuse inquiry

Winning on the field usually means winning at the bank as well. The college football Bowl Championship Series title-holder usually is tops in the sale of merchandising for the year. Swallow said the University of Texas was No. 1 for the past few years.

When a scandal hits a college football program, the loss in sales is usually offset by support from the fan base and student body, Powell said.

“Like when Ohio State went through their problems, the fans actually rallied around the school and sales went up,” he said.

Not so with Penn State.

Because of the gravity of the allegations, merchandising sales are evidently not being buoyed by the Nittany Lion fan base. “This is the first time I’ve seen that,” Powell said.

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Filed under: Crime • Sports • U.S.
Blogosphere unrelenting on Penn State, Paterno
Joe Paterno, who had coached at Penn State for 45 years, is not facing charges in the case.
November 10th, 2011
03:26 PM ET

Blogosphere unrelenting on Penn State, Paterno

The Internet and much of the nation Thursday was abuzz with talk of Penn State and the ouster of its legendary coach, Joe Paterno.

As fans, observers and pundits come to terms with the child sex abuse allegations in Happy Valley and Paterno's unceremonious firing, the head scratching has begun.

Interim coach takes helm at Penn State with 'mixed emotions'

Social-networking sites and Internet forums were full of musings about Penn State, the coach, his legacy and the allegations, while TV's talking heads and radio piled on about the scandal. Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football, has faced withering criticism over his response to the child rape charges against ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

NPR's Michel Martin questioned a society that has stood idly by one time too many.

"Can I just tell you? It's easy to sit here and condemn these people, rage against them. And I will confess I've spent more than a few minutes composing in my head the insults I'd like to deliver to them all. If you've ever been victimized, is there anything worse than knowing that someone knew, that someone could have helped you, and didn't?" she asked.


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Filed under: College football • Crime • Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Penn State • Sports
Joe Paterno to retire at season's end
Joe Paterno, who has coached at Penn State for 45 years, is not facing charges in the case.
November 9th, 2011
10:28 AM ET

Joe Paterno to retire at season's end

Legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno will retire at the end of the season, he said Wednesday in a statement. Paterno's move comes in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach.

“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case.  I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief,” he said.

iReport: What's your reaction?

“I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.

"That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can."

The Nittany Lions’ starting tailback Silas Redd tweeted Wednesday that he first learned of Paterno's retirement from the Internet. “Crazy how twitter knew before the squad did,” Redd said on the social-networking site.

Paterno expressed regret for not acting with more urgency after learning of the abuse allegations against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

"This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," he said. "My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university.”


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Filed under: College football • Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Penn State • Sports • U.S.
Oregon the first to use iPad for touch-screen voting
Oregon launched a pilot program Tuesday that allows senior voters and those with disabilities to cast a vote using the iPad.
November 8th, 2011
02:31 PM ET

Oregon the first to use iPad for touch-screen voting

Oregon on Tuesday became the first state in the nation to use the iPad in the election process, allowing citizens in five counties to vote using the touch-screen tablet.

Although voting apps have popped up recently in the mobile phone market, Oregon is believed to have the first state program to offer the technology to some of its residents, according to election officials.

The pilot program allows senior citizens and voters with disabilities to use the sleek Apple interface to access a touch-screen ballot, adjust text size and color if necessary, and select their candidate by typing or by filling in “the bubbles with a pen,” State Elections Director Steve Trout told CNN on Tuesday.

It's all about convenience, Trout said, and making sure that voters with limited mobility can put their constitutional rights into practice.

And because it is less expensive than the system the state was using, the program saves dollars while it makes sense, he said.

“In government, it’s all about trying to do more with less,” Trout said.


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Filed under: Oregon • Politics • U.S.
October 24th, 2011
04:04 PM ET

'Nakusa' no more: 220 Indian girls participate in renaming ceremony

What’s in a name? Everything, for girls in India’s Maharashthra state who recently got new names in an unprecedented ceremony that allowed them to shed a label with a bad meaning.

More than 220 girls in the district of Satara received the new names after being labeled “Nakusa” – unwanted – by families desperately wanting a male child.

Bhagvan Pawar, the district health officer who organized the renaming ceremony, told CNN Monday that he started working on the project one year ago and that he saw it as an obligation to help restore some self-esteem to the young girls.

"The parents, they don't want a female, they want a male child," he said. "But we did this to help them (the girls). We are trying to get them beyond this."

Video of the girls, as posted on Youtube, showed long lines of women and girls holding placards in support of the initiative.

Social mores about the enormous expense heaped upon families who have to marry off girls is just one reason they are seen as unwanted, Pawar said. Also contributing to the negativity are the census numbers that show the district’s sex ratio is about 980 females per 1,000 males, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At the renaming ceremony, the girls were allowed a name of their choosing, Pawar said - and they're doing well now. "Most of them are in school," he said. “We have scheduled 30-minute follow-ups with them,” Pawar said.  “They are good now. They are very happy with their new names.”

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Filed under: India • World
Condoleezza Rice in new book: Gadhafi depicted me as 'African Flower'
Then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2008 in Tripoli.
October 21st, 2011
04:24 PM ET

Condoleezza Rice in new book: Gadhafi depicted me as 'African Flower'

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says in her new book that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed Thursday, once played her a video montage of herself set to a tune called “African Flower in the White House,” the Daily Beast reports.

“It was weird, but at least it wasn’t raunchy,” Rice says in an exclusive excerpt from her book obtained by the Daily Beast.

Rice' s trip to Libya attracted considerable attention from the media (In a CNN interview afterward, she called it an "extraordinary moment.").  Not only was it the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to the North African nation in more than half a century, but Gadhafi also was known to have a serious crush on Rice.

Earlier this year, rebels ransacking his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli found an album of photos of the former Bush administration official.

The New York Times described the album: "There she is, in one (picture), smiling off to the side, her flip-do accented perfectly for the camera. And there she is in another, smiling next to you-know-who during that visit to Tripoli. … She looks more businesslike in a gray pinstripe suit with white pearls, her flip-do having given way to a page-boy bob."

In her book, "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington," Rice said the meeting was the culmination of years of negotiations, including a condition that the North African nation renounce its weapons of mass destruction program.

Rice said she had leverage in Tripoli because of the traditional reasons, but also because Gadhafi “had a slightly eerie fascination with me personally, asking visitors why his ‘African princess’ wouldn’t visit him,” the Daily Beast reports.

Against the wishes of her security detail and an aide who had overseen the arrangements of the trip, she accepted an invitation to join the Libyan strongman in his private kitchen for dinner.

“I thought I could take care of myself and went in. At the end of dinner, Gadhafi told me that he’d made a videotape for me. 'Uh oh,' I thought, 'what is this going to be?' It was a quite innocent collection of photos of me with world leaders - President Bush, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, and so on,” she said, according to the Daily Beast.

Rice’s book goes on sale November 1.

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Filed under: Libya • Politics • U.S. • Uncategorized • World
Surfer survives near shark attack on Oregon beach
Bobby Gumm, shown with what's left of his surfboard, is doing OK after an encounter with a great white shark at an Oregon beach.
October 21st, 2011
12:40 PM ET

Surfer survives near shark attack on Oregon beach

An Oregon beach remained open but officials urged caution Friday, a day after a surfer survived a near-shark attack just off the shore.

Bobby Gumm, out surfing with friends about 200 feet from the beach, got the surprise of his life Thursday when he was suddenly launched into the air by an apparent great white shark, witnesses told local media.

“All the sudden I saw a 2-foot fin coming out of the water and it lifted up my friend in the air," Ron Clifford told CNN affiliate KPTV. Clifford was in the water when the incident happened. "I was scared for my life. I've never seen anything like that. It was like witnessing an almost murder," he was quoted as saying.

Chris Havel, spokesman for South Beach State Park where the incident happened, said warning signs were posted immediately after the incident.

“We acted on it right away because it was very obvious and proven, and it came from an experienced and knowledgeable person,” Havel told CNN on Friday.

Also there was the matter of a huge 23-inch chunk of the surf board missing.


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Filed under: Animals • Oregon • Sharks • U.S.
20% of Detroit in the dark, paper says
Many of Detroit's light poles are antiquated, making quick fixes nearly impossible because of the costs, city officials say.
October 19th, 2011
06:03 PM ET

20% of Detroit in the dark, paper says

About 20% of Detroit is without working street lights, and in some areas up to 50%, the Detroit News reports.

A combination of problems, including an aging infrastructure, a shrinking city budget and criminal activity - both real and perceived - have made public lighting a problem, officials say.

“I know you heard that 50% of the city is in the dark. I wouldn’t say that high, but it is a great number,” City Councilman James Tate told CNN Wednesday. “And I don’t care what side (of town) you’re talking about - east, west, more affluent - you see lights out everywhere."

Strapped for cash like most cities, Detroit officials are trying novel - and controversial - ways to fix the longstanding issue:  The Detroit Works Project proposed by Major David Bing would shift the city’s resources to the more vibrant neighborhoods, prioritizing working lights, water systems and trash pickup to areas that are heavily invested. On the other hand, blighted areas – huge swaths of the city  - would be divested of resources in a bid to encourage residents to move out of those parts of the city.

“What it does is try to encourage density in certain areas of the city,” Tate said, “because in these areas that have pretty much no one on the block now the challenge is if you have one person who lives there, you’ve got to provide the services, all of them, garbage collection, water, lighting,” he said.

Another plan would have the lighting department privatized.

In any case, city leaders are angry. This past summer, several leading clergy members took Wall Street to task over contributing to blight by letting foreclosed properties fall into disrepair.


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Filed under: Michigan • U.S.
MIT researchers devise see-through-wall technology
MIT researchers Gregory Charvat, left, and John Peabody have devised radar technology that can "see" through walls.
October 18th, 2011
05:10 PM ET

MIT researchers devise see-through-wall technology

Through the use of microwaves, MIT researchers have devised technology to see through walls in real time.

The radar array system, created by Gregory Charvat and John Peabody at the university's Lincoln Laboratory, sends microwave signals that bounce off objects and ultimately return radar images to a screen. The waves can even penetrate concrete walls.

Charvat said Tuesday that the project has been in the works for a while.

“It originally started out as my dissertation, where I developed a very slow prototype,” he said. “When I moved to Lincoln Lab, I teamed up with another colleague (Peabody) who was working with technology used for imaging human tissue” in medical environments such as hospitals.

Almost all of the microwaves - 99.4% - bounce off the first object they encounter, like a wall, while only 0.6% make it through to the object on the other side, creating an admittedly weak signal, Charvat said.

X-ray would be perfect for this application, but "it's ionizing radiation," too dangerous, he said. "We use microwave technology that’s about as powerful as a cellular phone, so it’s very weak. So, microwaves work. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done."

The system creates a real-time image at the speed of 10.8 frames a second, according to the MIT website.

But the system has its limits. It can penetrate only a little more than half a foot.

“Eight inches is all we’ve been able to do,” Charvat said. Visibility “may be able to be increased by more transit power or lowering the frequency. The lower you go in frequency, the better it is, but it becomes a resolution issue."

But the technology could be a boon for the military, he said. "It can basically tell if there may be a threat inside of a building without having to go inside there. It’s for increasing the situational awareness of the urban war fighter."

But privacy advocates say that is exactly why they are wary of it.

Kade Crockford, privacy rights coordinator for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said she was "extremely concerned" about technology that could make spying easier, especially with the inevitable application of its use against an urban populace.

ACLU of Massachusetts spokesman Chris Ott, in an e-mail, referenced the use of military technology being potentially co-opted for use against civilians as an increasing threat to liberty.

“Technology is developing at a rate that far surpasses Congress’ ability or willingness to adapt our laws to ensure that ordinary people are protected from the vast new powers these tools provide to the government," Crockford said. "This is an alarming trend, and this case is a perfect example of it. We urge lawmakers to get ahead of the curve to protect our privacy before it is too late.”

Charvat, for his part, said he didn't see any other application for the system other than military. “I can’t really think of any civilian use. Maybe it could be used in reconnaissance robots, for navigation for them, but it would be a totally different application.”

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Filed under: Technology • U.S.
Due to solar energy use, power costs in Australia may go ... up?
Solar panels, similar to this one in Leigh Creek, Australia, are overloading the electricity grid, power companies say.
October 12th, 2011
04:58 PM ET

Due to solar energy use, power costs in Australia may go ... up?

Australian power companies say skyrocketing solar panel use is overloading their power lines, according to news reports.

In the wake of new limits set by Australia’s energy industry on solar panel installation, one power company said it may raise power rates to ease system strains created by the reverse flow of electricity, according to the Australian.

The issue stems from the increase in homes and businesses using photovoltaic cells, which feed electricity back into networks. The upsurge is creating “consequences for appliances and equipment in customers' homes," energy provider Ausgrid said in a letter to the New South Wales pricing and regulatory body, the Australian reported.

Ausgrid, one of the largest power providers Down Under, warned of the “significant likelihood" that costs would need to go up due to the solar craze, which has taken off in parts of Australia.


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Filed under: Australia • Energy • World
Radioactive sediment found miles from Japan nuclear crisis zone
Residents in the nuclear crisis zone undergo radiation screening tests last month in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture.
October 12th, 2011
02:46 PM ET

Radioactive sediment found miles from Japan nuclear crisis zone

Officials in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, are investigating soil samples after a radioactive substance was found in sediment atop an apartment building about 155 miles (250 kilometers)  from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to news reports.

The discovery has raised concerns that leaked radiation from three Fukushima reactors that suffered meltdowns after the March earthquake and tsunami may be more widespread than thought, The Japan Times reported Wednesday.

The findings come after a travel alert issued by the U.S. government last week, warning Americans in Japan to avoid areas near the stricken reactors.

The alert recommends that U.S. citizens stay away from areas within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the nuclear facility. The State Department also admonished Americans to stay away from territory northwest of the plant in a zone that Japan calls the "Deliberate Evacuation Area." The zone includes Iitate-mura, the Yamagiya district of Kawamata-machi, Katsurao-mura, Namie-machi and parts of Minamisoma.

The radioactive isotope strontium-90 was detected on a rooftop by a private agency responding to a resident's request, The Japan Times reported.

Strontium-90 has been found in Japan at concentrations up to 20 becquerels before the nuclear crisis, The Japan Times said. The latest discovery found the strontium-90 level at 195 becquerels, according to the paper.

Since strontium-90, which has a half-life of 29 years, is widely dispersed in the environment and the food chain in trace amounts, external exposure is minimal, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With internal exposure at high concentrations, strontium-90 can accumulate in the bones and is “one of the more hazardous constituents of nuclear wastes,” according to the EPA.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the embattled utility whose territory includes the nuclear crisis zone, held a disaster drill at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power, according to news reports.

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Energy • Environment • Japan • Nuclear • World
Critics call radio station's 'Win a Baby' contest exploitative
Hot 89.9's "Win a Baby" contest has raised awareness over in vitro fertility in Ontario, Canada, some say.
October 12th, 2011
08:09 AM ET

Critics call radio station's 'Win a Baby' contest exploitative

A radio station promotion that awarded five couples in vitro fertility treatments Tuesday as part of a “Win a Baby” contest has drawn the ire of Canadians on both sides of the issue.

Hundreds entered the contest held by Ottawa station Hot 89.9 for a chance to win a round of IVF treatments. After several weeks of having hopefuls campaign and write essays on why they should be chosen, the station whittled the competition down to five couples.

Hot 89.9 assembled the families in a room Tuesday, as posted on the station's website, and announced the award after a tense setup. “You’re all getting up to three fertility treatments. Congratulations!” radio host Jeff Mauler said as loud sobs from the women can be heard in the background.

“There's not a dry eye in the house,” Mauler said.  "A lot of hugs and a lot of tears," he said describing the emotional scene in the room. “Once again with 'Win a Baby' all five of our finalists are getting three fertility treatments, up to three fertility treatments, and hopefully having their dreams come true.”

The contest has touched a political vein in Ontario, where residents - unlike their neighbors in Quebec   - don't get government-funded IVF coverage. In July 2010, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in North America to fund IVF. Last month a Canadian survey showed that 75% of Ontario residents supported health insurance coverage for in-vitro fertilization treatments.


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Filed under: Canada • Health Care
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