Archive | May, 2010

Let Convicts Make Calls, They Break Fewer Laws

26 May

Not someone you want calling you. Photo: Wired

Last year I did a piece for Wired about cell phones in prisons – how they’re being smuggled in by the thousands and are being used for literally everything from calling Mom to ordering murders. Prison reformers opined that the best way to beat the problem is to make it easier for inmates to call their loved ones more easily. In most lockups, their only option is artificially overpriced collect calls. Cheaper legit calls would reduce demand for smuggled mobiles, goes the thinking, and the result would be fewer handsets floating around for bad guys to use for evil ends. Well, according to Nebraska correctional authorities, it’s true. As the Omaha World-Herald reports,

State Corrections Director Bob Houston said Nebraska has made it so cheap for prisoners to use the regular prison phone system that there’s no monetary incentive to smuggle in phones.

Only six cell phones were confiscated from Nebraska inmates during the past year, Houston said. He attributes the low number to a decision made years ago not to seek profit from inmate phone calls.

In Nebraska, inmates pay only 50 cents for a local telephone call on the regular prison lines….By contrast, Iowa charges $2 per local call.

Safer prisons, happier moms – but sad news for phone companies, which rake in millions from overpriced inmate calls.

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Sensory Overloader

26 May

Eye candy in the form of a short piece I’ve got in the new Wired. When you really need a good look at the interior of a 30-foot-high human brain,  or to watch the movements of subatomic particles blown up to the size of Volkswagens, you need the Allosphere, a three-story-tall aluminum sphere with a catwalk running through the center and six hi-def 3-D video projectors that spray 360-degree images onto a spherical screen. Worth checking out just for the visuals.

This is your brain in the Allosphere. Courtesy UC Santa Barbara.

Qadhafi Jr. and the Hollywood Jew

25 May

One’s a suburban American Jew, the other’s the son of an Arab tyrant, but hey – everyone loves movies! As the Wrap reports, Saadi Gadhafi, middle son of the famously wacko Libyan dictator, is putting $100 million in financing into a film company run by one Matt Beckerman, a New Jersey-born Jew.

“He loves movies,” explained Beckerman. “He’s seen ‘Lost’ 30 times. He has stacks of DVDs of American films.” OK, but will he come for Shabbat dinner at Matty’s mom’s house?

Matty and Saadi. Courtesy of The Wrap.

Jamaican Drug Lord Takes on Government

24 May

Seems Mexico isn’t the only North American country where drug gangs aren’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with security forces. When the Jamaican government tried to extradite alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke (yep, apparently his real name), his gang soldiers attacked three police stations and have so far killed two cops and injured more. Authorities have declared a state of emergency in parts of Kingston. U.S. prosecutors say Coke sells loads of cocaine and marijuana  in the States, where he uses the proceeds to buy guns to send home to Jamaica. Good thing pot is illegal but guns aren’t, eh?

Bouncing Back Five Years After the Tsunami

20 May

A rare bit of good news in the massive international disaster category: five years after the tsunami, Banda Aceh, one of the hardest-hit parts of Indonesia is in some ways doing better than ever, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail. In a nutshell, not only did the billions of dollars in foreign reconstruction aid actually help, but the catastrophic destruction pretty much ended the 30-year war between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement. Since then, “about 140,000 new houses have been built, along with 1,700 schools, as well as hundreds of mosques, airports and government buildings.”

Bottom line, writes the Globe’s Mark MacKinnon: international aid “has transformed an impoverished, war-torn hellhole into a bustling city of 210,000 people who believe the world cares about them.”

Aceh before and after the tsunami.(image from Digitalglobe)

Souder Resigns, Stoner Students Rejoice

18 May

Goodbye, Mr. Souder

I’m not only enjoying Republican Rep. Mark Souder’s resignation – after he was outed for having an affair with a staffer – because he’s another moral hypocrite caught in the act. I’m also delighted because now we can say goodbye to one of Congress’ most hardhearted and bullheaded Drug War cheerleaders. As the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim says,

“Souder championed and vigorously defended perhaps the least forgiving law on the federal books: the denial of federal student aid for any student convicted of drug possession, no matter how minor.”

That law cost at least 20,000 kids their student loans. Way to teach America’s youth a lesson, Mark.

U.S. Military Retreats from Haiti

17 May

The American military is getting out of the helping-Haitians business. U.S. soldiers hit the ground within hours of the earthquake, and played a crucial role in the emergency relief effort, getting the airport back in business, delivering tons of aid and maintaining order. There were over 20,000 of them in-country or on nearby ships by the end of January. But that number has dropped to some 850 and will soon be down to eight, according to my confreres at Wired.com’s Danger Room.

Now, I’m rarely someone who cheers for American military involvement in other countries. It tends not to work out well either for us or for them, and it’s usually them that get the worst of it. And of course what with Afghanistan and Iraq still dragging endlessly on, it’s understandable that the Pentagon would want to disengage as quickly as possible from a third theater of operations. But. There are still over a million Haitians living in tents, and the hurricane season starts soon. Personally, I wouldn’t mind taking a few troops off Taliban-hunting in Helmand so we could deploy more of them for nation-building in Haiti.

Photo courtesy of Stacy Bourne, stacy.haiti@live.com