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Deadly Russian Drug “Krokodil” Hits Germany’s Streets

October 21st, 2011 1 comment

It might sound like a William Gibson invention, but the street drug “Krokodil” just a toxic substance made from existing drugs…one that appears to cause ghoulish effects that make the most hopped-up anti-drug urban legends in the States sound like cakewalks. Worldcrunch.com calls the Russian substance a “designer drug,” but it’s technically something entirely different. A “designer drug” is a drug specifically invented to bypass drug laws that haven’t caught up with it yet. Designer drugs usually mimic similar substances that are already illegal.

Krokodil, on the other hand, does not sound like it’s a a designer drug — it’s described by Wikipedia as desomorphine, made from codeine and…STUFF. Weird stuff. Awful stuff. Dangerous stuff. It’s sold as a heroin substitute — which seems bizarre to me, since in California not long ago, heroin could sometimes be cheaper than weed. Europe, however, has often seen heroin prices climb much, much higher than the United States.

Krokodil has now been reported in Germany, and as Worldcrunch puts it — re-reporting an article in German — it’s a serious menace:

Codeine, benzine, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid and red phosphorus – that’s what goes into “Krokodil,” a drug that originated in Russia and is believed to have now hit Western Europe. In Germany, workers in drug cafés have reported seeing “disastrous skin conditions and damage to soft tissue” among Krokodil users.

Police in Frankfurt and Bochum have so far been unable to confirm the presence of the drug, but experts say that the physical reactions observed in certain addicts indicate that they are caused by the drug.

…In Russia, cough medicine and headache medication containing codeine can be bought without a prescription, allowing addicts to mix the drug cocktail themselves.

The name crocodile is believed to be derived from the infections around the injection areas where the skin turns green and dies. The scaly green condition spreads to the rest of the body and the toxic drug also [affects] bone tissue, eating away at users from the inside. Amputations are sometimes necessary, but users usually don’t live for more than two to three years after starting to use this highly addictive drug.

Use of the drug is growing in Russia because it is cheap: one dose costs about 5 euros (as opposed to 50 euros for heroin), but the resulting euphoria is similar to that experienced by heroin users. Many heroin addicts who can no longer afford that drug switch over to “Krokodil,” even though the effects last for less than two hours.

[Link.]

You can read a Google Translation of the original German-language article here, and Time had a piece on it back in June. Time also uses the term designer drug to describe Krokodil. Regardless of whether you read either article, I strongly caution you not to do an image search for Krokodil — what you get is an avalanche of rotted-away limbs on people who can’t be much older than twenty-five…with bones exposed. Whether there are photo hoaxes involved I don’t know — but it’s not one source; its many. Many, many. At first glance it appears real, and what gets seen with image searches like this can’t be unseen. The drug appears to produce what looks like a one-stop dermatological pathology textbook and even strong stomachs are advised to stay away. It makes bath salts look like…bath salts.

The misuse of the term “designer drug,” incidentally, is potentially dangerous. Krokodil is poison, pure and simple — a drug cut with chemicals that fuck you up. There’s nothing “designer” about it. That term “designer drug” has a certain cache, and a sense of romance that’s scary enough when you use it for drugs it applies to. I don’t particularly like the term because it sounds like an ’80s fantasy…not the procedure of putting weird, untested chemicals in your body in the hopes of getting high.

The currently most common example of a “real” designer drug — one designed specifically to circumvent drug laws — is the exceedingly dangerous drug known as bath salts, which exploded in the southern Midwest earlier this year — while the local press in those regions went nuts, spreading fear and unsubstantiated horror stories without ever seeming to know much about street drugs, how they’re proliferated, what the effects are or how drug laws are (or should be) enforced.

Bath Salts has therefore been the source of much hysteria in the media without many critical questions being asked — and plenty of law enforcement interest, but little effective legislative or regulatory action that means anything. Bath salts mimics the action of methamphetamine, but it is still sold over the counter in some states, as well as over the internet. Unfortunately, it appears to be far more unpredictable and impure even than street-level meth.

I first reported on bath salts in February, and it’s has continued to sweep the nation without any significant Federal action — despite the fact that the DEA announced an “emergency ban” on bath salts that was supposed to take effect this month. Ohio just instituted a bath salts ban, and other states are in the queue, but the DEA has continued to be somewhat opaque about its real intentions regarding bath salts.

Regardless of what the DEA does with bath salts, I sure as hell hope Krokodil doesn’t cross the pond.

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“Less Lethal” Weapons

August 10th, 2011 No comments

Public Domain image of US Navy pepper spray demo.

After viewing the likely-to-be-censored Al Jazeera documentary “Bahrain: Screaming in the Dark,” it’s particularly creepy to read this August 1 article from Alternet about less lethal weapons available to or anticipated by the military and police around the world. The technologies include blinding lasers, microwaves and sound weapons. Of course, I knew about them all from watching The History Channel. But then, I’m not some Alternet hippie, now, am I?

Here’s Alternet’s Rania Khalek with her take:

The demand for non-lethal weapons (NLW) is rooted in the rise of television. In the 1960s and ’70s the medium let everyday Americans witness the violent tactics used to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Today’s rapid advancements in media and telecommunications technologies allow people to record and publicize images and video of undue force more than ever before. Authorities are well aware of how images of violence play out publicly. In 1997, a joint report from the Pentagon and the Justice Department warned:

“A further consideration that affects how the military and law enforcement apply force is the greater presence of members of the media or other civilians who are observing, if not recording, the situation. Even the lawful application of force can be misrepresented to or misunderstood by the public. More than ever, the police and the military must be highly discreet when applying force.”

The global economic collapse coupled with the unpredictable and increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change and resource scarcity, along with a new era of austerity defined by rising unemployment and glaring inequality have already led to massive protests in Spain, Greece, Egypt, and even Madison, Wisconsin. From the progressive era to the Great Depression to the civil rights movement, Americans have a rich history of taking to the streets to demand greater equality.

[Link.]

 

Chinese Prisoners Forced to Work as World of Warcraft Gold Farmers

May 29th, 2011 1 comment

 

World of Warcraft Cosplay Girls in Taipei, by Swanky.

 

A former prisoner at a labor camp in China claims he and other prisoners were routinely forced to play online games like World of Warcraft until their eyes crossed, to make money for gold farmers. According to an article in The Guardian:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali…says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”

…”If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

It is known as “gold farming”, the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games’ makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

[Link.]

The Guardian quotes figures from the China Internet Centre estimating that 80% of the world’s gold farmers are in China — 100,000 of them doing it full-time. These figures place the amount of make-believe currencies traded in China alone at well over £1 billion.

You don’t need to look very far to find the weirdness here. But in case your brain is not completely tweaked by hearing that prisoners in a real prison were really beaten for not generating enough fake online money, consider this: China has one of the most tightly controlled currencies in the world. The Chinese yuan is very different than the US dollar and the British pound. Those two currencies are traded freely internationally, and fluctuate based on world events ranging from wars to trade agreements to unemployment numbers to commodities futures to…whatever. In very basic terms, the dollar and the pound are regulated by the market.

Way back in 2006, NPR explained it as follows in an article about pressure on then-President Bush to insist that China stop undervaluing its currency:

China’s central bank simply declares an exchange rate and forces, by law, all market players to observe that rate. The yuan is allowed to fluctuate a tiny bit, but not much — and certainly not enough to accommodate the constantly changing pressures of the global marketplace. The Chinese have pegged the currency so that one U.S. dollar buys a little bit more than 8 yuan. Put the other way, one yuan is worth a bit more than 12 cents.

…By keeping the yuan artificially low in value, China is effectively giving U.S. consumers a discount on all Chinese exports. Why? Let’s say a Chinese factory can make a profit selling DVD players for 800 yuan. That means they can then sell it to someone in the United States for $100. If the yuan were allowed to appreciate in value, that 800 yuan DVD player might suddenly cost, say, $115. If an American factory makes a similar player for $110, then that change in the value of the yuan can make the difference between business success and failure for the U.S. manufacturer.

So, by keeping its currency undervalued, China is discounting its own exports. That’s good for U.S. consumers, who get to buy cheaper clothes and electronics and other items. But it’s horrible for many U.S. manufacturers who find they can’t compete with low Chinese prices. Some U.S. manufacturers, though, have adapted by buying many component parts at a lower cost from China. The ability of a manufacturer to adapt depends on the company and the product — and even on the level of globalization in that industry.

[Link.]

If you’ve watched the international economic news even a tiny bit, you’ve probably heard about this issue. American manufacturing jobs have migrated overseas for a number of reasons, but one of the most important reasons manufacturing has gone to China is the currency undervaluation. It’s utterly disingenuous to suggest that the differential is “horrible for many U.S. manufacturers.” Who it’s horrible for are U.S. workers, who are expected to adapt to a virtual world where computer jobs, healthcare and service jobs are the core of the economy. It’s also horrible for U.S. manufacturers that actually make things in the U.S..

But many companies that we think of as “U.S. manufacturers” long ago found it most expedient to move their manufacturing endeavors to other countries. China is far from the only country they moved to. When one says “U.S. manufacturers,” one needs to be clear what one is talking about — and the migration of U.S. manufacturing jobs to other countries can’t be blamed on China. That can only be blamed on U.S. companies, and the U.S. government that started favoring offshoring over keeping jobs at home, because it looked (and looks) better for corporate bottom lines.

But as for gold farming, if it’s true, as it’s said, that 80% of gold farmers are in China, it’s not just because of prisoner abuse. Such practices may cast an ever more disturbing pall over the already creepy practice, but back in May, 2010, Rowenna Davis wrote about organized gold farming in China in her Guardian article Welcome to the New Gold Mines. The rhetoric has a rhythm that I find disturbingly similarly to this May’s article:

Li Hua makes a living playing computer games. Working from a cramped office in the heart of Changsha, China, he slays dragons and loots virtual gold in 10-hour shifts. Next to him, rows of other young workers do the same. “It is just like working in a factory, the only difference is that this is the virtual world,” says Li. “The working conditions are hard. We don’t get weekends off and I only have one day free a month. But compared to other jobs it is good. I have no other skills and I enjoy playing sometimes.”

Li is just one of more than 100 workers employed by Wow7gold, an internet-based company that makes more than £1m a year selling in-game advantages to World of Warcraft (WoW) players. Customers may ask for their avatar’s skill level to be increased (“power levelling”), or for a virtual magic sword or precious ore to be obtained. As one player put it: “Where there’s a demand, China will supply it.”

…For thousands of Chinese workers such as Li, “gold farming” is a way of life. Workers can expect to earn between £80-£120 a month which, given the long hours and night shifts, can amount to as little as 30p an hour. After completing his shift, Li is given a basic meal of rice, meat and vegetables and falls into a bunk bed in a room that eight other gold farmers share. His wages may be low, but food and accommodation are included.

These virtual industries sound surreal, but they are fast entering the mainstream. According to a report by Richard Heeks at Manchester University, an estimated 400,000 Asian workers are now employed in gold farming in a trade worth up to £700m a year. With so many gamers now online, these industries are estimated to have a consumer base of five million to 10 million, and numbers are expected to grow with widening internet access.

[Link.]

 

What bugs me about the earlier article is that its obsession with worker conditions in gold farms in China reflects, as usual, First World public ignorance (or, at least, short memory) about worker conditions in other industries. What’s even more disturbing is that Liu Dali, the 54-year-old imprisoned in the first story and forced to gold farm, was imprisoned for “illegally petitioning” the government about corruption. How much more obvious does a corrupt government need to be before the international community, and the U.S. in particular, says boo to it?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/mar/05/virtual-world-china
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Oi, CNN! Conspiracies. You’re Doing ‘Em Wrong.

April 22nd, 2011 1 comment

Public Domain Image.

A CNN article this week addresses “11 Political Myths and Conspiracy Theories” — how can a guy like me not click that shit? The 11 myths “debunked” are Presidential in one form or another, with a single exception: Gary Condit and the murder of Chandra Levy.

The list is mostly a warmed-over retread of other squibs CNN has published over the years — they seem to trot this stuff out in time for every presidential election. But one aspect of it really bugs me this time.

They’re doing a crappy job of debunking at least a few of these myths. Let’s start by putting a few 6.5 mm Carcano slugs in some barrel-grown Presidential salmon, shall we? Here’s CNN:

 

#9 The theory: Someone besides Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK.

The facts: Decades after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, the shooting and the events that followed continue to fascinate many Americans.

Much of that interest rests on the theory that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy — not the act of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Theories include that Kennedy “was killed by CIA agents acting either out of anger over the Bay of Pigs or at the behest of Vice President Lyndon Johnson,” by the KGB or by “mobsters mad at Kennedy’s brother for initiating the prosecution of organized crime rings,” according to Time magazine.

But the Warren Commission, established to investigate the assassination, found that Oswald was the lone gunman — and that there was not a second shooter.

 

Ba-da-bing! Zing! Hibbity-skibbity-yow! Who knew it was that simple? Read more…

Pranknet Goes to the Big House

February 1st, 2011 No comments

James Tyler Markle, mug shot via The Smoking Gun.

If you’ve missed the ongoing war between The Smoking Gun and a loose online collective of crank-callers known as “Pranknet” (and occasionally as “Prank U”) you’ve missed a horror story of epic proportions.

TSG’s insanely detailed account of the vicious series of “pranks” played on a patron and desk clerk in a Motel 6 is a revolting chronicle of human emotional sadism, as is their account of the “pranking” of an ESPN reporter who was supposedly convinced to throw the lid of her toilet tank out the window of her room at the Hilton.

Back in August, TSG made the decision to track down and “out” the so-called leader of the group, Canadian Tariq Malik, who uses the moniker “Dex” in homage to his role model, the Showtime serial killer Dexter.

Now, the latest news is that Pranknet hoo-haw James Tyler Markle, who was sentenced late last year to five years in prison for convincing the staff of a McDonald’s to set off the fire suppression system and then break out all the windows at the restaurant, has arrived at Texas’s Huntsville Prison to begin serving his sentence.

According to TSG, this harmless prankster, this lovable yet misunderstood 20-year-old, also pled guilty in 2005 to sexual assault of a five year old girl during church services in Diboll, Texas. Let me repeat: During. Church. Services.

Wait, what the hell am I saying? Does it make it worse that it’s during church services? No, what makes it worse is that Markle, who according to TSG threatened to kill the girl’s parents if she told anyone, was free to commit the McDonald’s “prank,” and a similar one at an Arby’s — not to mention one at a Wendy’s for which he was already on probation from a Louisiana parish — because he only served 30 months for the aggravated sexual assault of a child.

In claiming his innocence in the series of phone “pranks,” Markle told the Lufkin Daily News, “I’m a good person. I haven’t done anything wrong. … I don’t go anywhere. All I do is go to church and home.” Canadian Malik, aka “Dex,” is still at large.

If you’ve got a strong stomach and absolutely nothing better to do with your time, you can read all the Pranknet stories at TSG here. And I mean ALL of them — there are a lot.

I’ll be busy taking a shower…ew. Just…ew.

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Gambino Craigslist Sex Trafficking Ring’s Unhappy Ending, Now With Anti-Semitic, Homophobic Conspiracy-Theory Action!

January 10th, 2011 No comments

FBI photo.

An FBI press release published today announced the guilty pleas of the final two defendants in a trial that includes a total of fourteen members and associates of the Gambino crime family, one of New York’s notorious Five Families.

Pleading guilty to various counts of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics trafficking, sex trafficking, and gambling-related crimes, the 14 defendants received sentences ranging from 5 years for 70-year-old capo Daniel Marino (for a single count of conspiracy to commit murder) to 30 years for 34-year-old Gambino associate, Thomas Orefice who, yes, I’m sorry, it’s my duty to inform you that Mr. Orefice is the pimp.

Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t probably a lot of perfectly respectable, stand-up men and women out there named Orefice who do things like fix washing machines, teach college, pilot commercial airplanes and say mass. Hell, my last name isn’t exactly Lovejoy. I’m just saying. His name’s Orefice. He’s a pimp. It’s kind of creepy.

Anyway, according to the FBI press release, Mr. Orefice pled guiilty to “racketeering conspiracy, with objects including extortion, sex trafficking, loansharking, gambling.” Orefice is the one who hatched the scheme to recruit females from strip clubs to work as prostitutes for $200 a session. However, he also recruited a 15-year-old runaway, who is unnamed because of her age.

That led to the sex trafficking charge and a shitstorm of bad publicity for Craigslist, including a highly-publicized ambush raid by a news crew that accompanied the most delirious moral panic I’ve ever seen on television. (Some reporter got a cookie for that one).

Remember how Craigslist pulled all its adult services ads? Thank Orefice!

What’s more, if you want to see just how far John Q. Public’s moral outrage can go, feast your eyes on this lovely thread from the forums on the website of secret-society conspiracy theorist David Icke, where a user posts this little gem in response to the Marino-Orefice et al case:

And in case you’re wondering — no, there’s no conversation prior to that indicating Newmark is gay or Jewish. (I have no idea if he is either — though he does have a BEARD…). The poster’s got some complicated reason that has to do with magic. I think it’s about human sacrifice. Apparently the kidnapping and human sacrifice of blond-haired, blue-eyed girls is related to being gay and/or Jewish, which you can tell by whether someone has a beard and/or wears glasses.

Speaking of moral outrage, let’s get back to the criminals who actually, you know, committed crimes and stuff. All that explosive press coverage by reporters who had apparently never looked in the back of any of the six zillion alternative newsweeklies in the United States came right after the charges were filed in April, 2010, when the New York Daily News headlined its story on the matter “Mafia hits ‘new low,’” quoting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Barhara.

FBI Photo.

The rhetoric is right out of a J. Edgar Hoovers speech — good to see the Feds are keeping the Hoov’s legacy alive:

“No crime seems too depraved to be exploited if it was a moneymaker, including the sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old,” added FBI Special Agent in Charge George Venizelos

The scheme to recruit girls from strip clubs to work as hookers was hatched by Gambino soldier Thomas Orefice, the feds said.

He personally looked over the 15-year-old, a 10th-grade runaway, and consented for his goons to sell her for sex, prosecutors charge.

“[She] looked much younger,” a law enforcement source said. “Like she wasn’t old enough to be even a Girl Scout, like she still played with dolls.”

But speaking of reaching a new low, according to the April 2010 FBI press release:

The defendants also made the women available for sex to gamblers at a weekly, high-stakes poker games that OREFICE and his crew ran.

…and when that happened, the gamblers reportedly put the $200 into the pot, instead of giving half of it to the girl. Just like stiffing your cocktail waitress when you get a free Captain Morgan’s and Diet Coke for gambling your kids’ college fund away at Circus, Circus or Harrah’s Reno!

Wow, I’m just glad this thing couldn’t get any sleazier. But wait! It can!! In October Orefice’s lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, was banned from a Manhattan federal prison facility after he brought pot when coming to visit his client (Ginsberg swears he wasn’t smuggling the pot to Orefice).

But bizarrely, amid all this moral outrage the one thing Dan Marino, the Capo of this operation, pled guilty to was conspiracy to commit the murder of Frank Hydell, his own nephew, who was shot to death in a strip club because he was suspected of being an informant. For this, Marino got 5 years. He was originally accused of plotting the murder of suspected informant Thomas Spinelli, but those charges were dropped. Reportedly, Dan Marino “kept clear” of the sex trade, according to court records. For what it’s worth, you wanna know who got twice as much time as Marino? Suzanne Porcelli, whose job, according to the FBI itself, was to coordinate the appointments. She got 10 years.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the Gambino family is John Gotti’s old family. His real family, thankfully, is much classier.

The Gambino Family was one of the original Five Families set up in New York City by Lucky Luciano in the ’30s, when it was called the Mangano family. It was thereafter called the Anastasia family, for boss Albert Anastasia, who was murdered in 1957. Under the authority of boss Carlo Gambino in the 1960s and ’70s, the Gambino crime family rose in prominence in the 1960s and 1970s until it was widely considered the most powerful of NYC’s Five Families. Gambino gave the family its current moniker, because he was boss at the time mob informant Joseph Valachi testified before the U.S. Senate, so that was the name by which Valachi knew the family.

After John Gotti assassinated Gambino’s hand-picked successor Paul Castellano in a widely-publicized hit in front of Sparks’s Steak House in midtown Manhattan in 1985, the family briefly recovered its prominence, owing partly due to Gotti’s flamboyance — but lost it when Gotti went away for murder after the flipping of his underboss, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. After Gotti’s incarceration, the family had a succession of bosses, none of whom has been able to stop the steady hail of law enforcement attention. Other families in the New York area have, reportedly, picked up the slack and muscled in on the Gambino territory.

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Boardwalk Empire’s Astounding Digital Effects (Brainstorm Digital)

January 1st, 2011 No comments

If you’ve gotten hopelessly hooked on Boardwalk Empire the way that I have, you’re going to love the video that special effects company Brainstorm Digital recently uploaded to their Vimeo channel. I had heard that the effects were unbelievable (you really can’t see any fakery when you watch the show), but I had no idea just how genius – and flawless – they really are.

It’s a nice thing to help with the Boardwalk Empire withdrawals, which I’m already experiencing as the show has finished its first season. Up there with Mad Men and True Blood, it is one of the only currently running TV shows (HBO) that I go out of my way to watch; it reminds me of Deadwood. It’s that incredible. In short, it’s a white-knuckle crime drama series set during America’s prohibition era, chock full of gangsters, a glorious range of female characters, and compellingly flawed anti-heroes. The acting is faultless, the violence and sex are unapologetic. The writing is off the hook, its dialogue is utter genius. It’s hard to watch Boardwalk Empire and not want to be in it, while at the same time feeling like you’re glad you didn’t have to live during that time.

That said, HBO really needs to do online streaming. I’d gladly pay to watch this show online.

(Brainstorm Digital is also on Twitter.)

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The Night They Burgled the Spy Store

December 27th, 2010 No comments

Screenshot from Spymicro's website.

Personally, I consider it in mildly bad taste to laugh at “stupid criminals,” unless they’re Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run.

So I’ll tell you from the outset that in this case I’m not laughing. I feel this incident reflects an important shift in the history of surveillance.

Remember when Google CEO Eric Schmidt told us if we didn’t want someone to know we were doing something, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place? Well, in much the same way that the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 warrantless wiretap program was clearly illegal, widely covered in the press AND failed to produce a single actionable piece of intelligence, this incident shows that all the cameras and/or news coverage in the world can’t necessarily stop someone from getting away with it.

In short, if it’s not on YouTube, it didn’t happen, but even if it is, it may not matter. Crimes committed in public can go unpunished.

Well, the two burglars in the footage via the San Gabriel Valley Tribune are on YouTube, or at least its mainstream-news-media Southern California equivalent. Their careers in burglary took them to Spymicro on Ramona Blvd in Irwindale — a store that sells surveillance equipment. The proprietor apparently leaves the cameras on overnight.

A total of four cameras captured the late-night action as the burglars, who were not wearing masks, stole a total of eight video cameras and two DVRs, for a total take of no more than $2,600 (plus about a thousand dollars to the front door, according to the owner). Sounds like it was probably a couple of their value-priced four-camera packages, eh?

The whole thing lasted for two minutes, and even so, store owner Jerry Chen feels he didn’t get either burglar’s good side:

Chen said he plans to place additional cameras outside his store, and install a sturdier door leading into his showroom.

…which just goes to prove my point that crimes committed in public may go unpublished, ’cause, y’see:

…Though the video feeds have clear shots of the suspects’ faces, police have not been able to identify them and are hoping a member of the public will recognize them.

…Which seems like a pretty weak endorsement of the whole concept of video surveillance as law enforcement — but hey, it’s not like we’re British, right?

Somali Pirates Uncover Ukranian Arms Deal With Sudanese Rebels

December 9th, 2010 No comments

Public domain US Navy photo of Somali pirates attacking the MV Faina in late September, 2008.

Wikileaks, Soviet tanks, Christian/animist rebels in Southern Sudan, Somali pirates, secret arms shipments, a diplomatic cover-up. You’re making this up just to get me all excited, right?

Apparently not; it’s all real, or what passes for it in African diplomatic circles. It goes like this:

Back in February, 2009, a Ukrainian ship, the Faina, was towed into Mombasa, Kenya after Somali pirates were paid $3.2 million in ransom for the ship and its cargo.

That’s business-as-usual for Somali pirates, but what was strange about the Faina is that its cargo included 32 Soviet T-72 tanks, 150 grenade launchers and 6 anti-aircraft guns. The cargo was destined for the regional government in southern Sudan, which is in open revolt against that nation’s government in Khartoum.

At the time, according to today’s New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman and Michael R. Gordon, both Ukraine and Kenya claimed the tanks were for the Kenyan Military. The Kenyans even went so far as to have a spokesperson tell the press “This is a big loss for us.”

That was a little white lie, apparently. Says the Times:

According to several secret State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, the tanks not only were headed to southern Sudan, but they were the latest installment of several underground arms shipments. By the time the freighter was seized, 67 T-72 tanks had already been delivered to bolster southern Sudan’s armed forces against the government in Khartoum, an international pariah for its human rights abuses in Darfur.

Cables cited by the Times establish that the Bush administration government knew about the shipments, and the Obama administration protested only after the taking of the Faina made the shipments public. Furthermore:

The revelations about the tanks — the ones taken by the pirates are now sitting in Kenya, their fate unclear — come at one of the most delicate times in Sudan’s history, with the nation, Africa’s largest, on the verge of splitting into two. On Jan. 9, southern Sudanese are scheduled to vote in a referendum for their independence from northern Sudan, representing the end of a 50-year war. Huge quantities of weapons have been flowing to both sides, mainly to the north, turning the country into one of the most combustible on the continent…

…Southern Sudan, mostly Christian and animist, fought even before Sudan’s independence in 1956 to split with the Arab government in Khartoum. More than two million people were killed and government-sponsored militias, similar to those that raped and pillaged in Darfur, swept across the region, razing villages and massacring civilians. In 2005, the two sides signed a peace agreement, which granted the south autonomy and the right to vote on secession next year.

The agreement also allows southern Sudan to buy arms to transform its guerrilla army into a defense force, and the United States has also publicly said that it has provided communications and other “nonlethal” equipment and training to the southern army, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or S.P.L.A. The cables suggest that effort has gone further than the United States has publicized.

[Link.]

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Murder in Celebration: Axe Bludgeoned in a Time of Artificial Innocence

December 6th, 2010 No comments

Help Us Street SignFor Autumn, the lampposts lining the streets of downtown Celebration, Florida belch out leaf-shaped confetti onto the sidewalks to simulate the falling of leaves that mark Winter’s approach. After this, the Disney-built town switches the leaves for soap flakes to simulate snow, adding water so soap bubbles create imitation snow drifts. Somewhere between the seasonal artifice, one man spent Thanksgiving beating another man to death with an axe and leaving the body on the kitchen floor over the holiday weekend; two days later in an unrelated incident another man held a standoff shootout with armored police until he concluded it with a suicidal shot to his own head.

Today a homeless man was arrested for the axe bludgeoning.

At which I read, and scratched my head thinking, there are homeless people in Disney’s Celebration?

Princesses, certainly. Misunderstood monsters, of course. But while my visions of Celebration includes conjured images of Stepford smiles and nuclear shelter milking machines, the only homeless personalities I imagine might be cute little mice in threadbare waistcoats. Hey – right now it is “snowing nightly” in Celebration, Florida. I expect the homeless people to break into song and dance routines, not into my house for a scene out of The Crazies.

Fourteen years ago the Walt Disney Company established the Celebration Company to create a master planned community – its own city – in Florida near the Walt Disney World resort. Disney’s early brochures marketed the town to would-be inhabitants as, ”a place that takes you back to that time of innocence.” Along with the timed, manufactured seasons, the company “imagineered” an idyllic town and established strict guidelines for inhabitants to reflect the values of the simpler – better – time they imagineered.

The focus is on appearances. Celebration is designed to “look like a town,” music is piped onto the streets (right now it is Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin for the holidays), the white picket fences are plastic and pillars are artificial, a contract of rules and covenants strictly governs that every homeowner must follow regulations regarding the appearance of houses, lawns – and include details from front-yard shrub selection to the colors of curtains visible from the street. The Celebration Company decided which businesses came to town and were allowed to set up shop in the pastel-colored business district. Celebration is divided not into neighborhoods, but “villages.”

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