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rpannier's Journal
rpannier's Journal
October 29, 2019

Soviet-Era Dissident Vladimir Bukovsky Dies Aged 76

Prominent Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who helped expose the Soviet Union's abuse of psychiatry to silence critics, has died in Britain aged 76.


During the 1960s and 1970s, Bukovsky spent 12 years in Soviet prison camps and psychiatric clinics on charges of "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda."

He was among the first to report the Soviets' use of psychiatric institutions to punish political prisoners.

He lived in Britain since 1976, when the Soviet government exchanged him for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan.


October 27, 2019

Honduran inmate who linked president's brother to drug deals killed (not trump)

An alleged drug dealer with knowledge of drug shipments involving a brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez convicted this month for drug trafficking, was killed on Saturday in prison, his lawyer said.

Magdaleno Meza, who had been in the El Pozo prison since June 2018 on charges of money laundering, was shot dead during a fight between inmates of the facility, the deputy director of the national penal authority, German McNiel, told reporters.

Meza’s lawyer, Carlos Chajtur, told Reuters his client was attacked by two armed men trying to stop him from talking about the information about drug deals he had in several notebooks in case he was called to testify in the United States.


Authorities seized the notebooks from Meza when he was arrested in 2018 on suspicion of narcotics trafficking. The notebooks had information linking Tony Hernandez to drug deals, according to documents from the attorney general’s office.


October 26, 2019

Watch: Scientists have taught rats to drive - and they love it

A team of researchers at the University of Richmond have taught rats to drive mini-cars - and not only are the rodents good at it, they enjoy it too.

The scientists built the rat-sized vehicles out of clear plastic food containers, with three copper bars that served as a steering wheel.


“We already knew that rodents could recognise objects, press bars, and find their way around mazes, but we wondered if rats could learn the more complex task of operating a moving vehicle,” said Kelly Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond.


The study found that the rats actually felt more relaxed after driving, with heightened levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the hormone that counteracts stress.


More relaxed after driving? I'll have to unlock my inner rat after driving, because I certainly am not

on edit: the video is kind of cute

October 24, 2019

Nusrat Jahan Rafi: 16 sentenced to death over Bangladesh murder

Sixteen Bangladeshis have been sentenced to death for the murder of a 19-year-old student, Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was burned to death in April after complaining of being sexually harassed by her school principal.

Among those found guilty were former members of the school’s administration, teachers and pupils – 12 of the 16 having confessed to participating in the killing in which Rafi was lured on to the school’s roof, doused in paraffin and set alight.

The case was heard at the women and children repression prevention tribunal in Feni, where the judge, Mamunur Rashid, delivered the verdicts to a packed, chaotic courtroom after a fast-tracked trial.


Rafi had been a student at the Sonagazi Senior Fazil Madrasa when she complained of being harassed by Siraj ud-Daula, on 27 March. After she first went to the police to report the sexual harassment a video was leaked showing a police chief registering her complaint but dismissing it as “not a big deal”.

Despite this, the headteacher was arrested and sent to jail, while his family pressured Rafi’s family to drop the complaint.


October 23, 2019

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed (One of them, grab some rocks and try hitting again)

1. Franco's remains to finally leave Spain's Valley of the Fallen

Spain’s socialist government is finally set to fulfil one of its key promises on Thursday when the remains of General Franco are exhumed from the austere splendour of the Valley of the Fallen and transferred to his family mausoleum outside Madrid.


The government said the dictator’s remains needed to be moved as they could no longer “remain in a public mausoleum that exalts his figure”, adding that the removal would “symbolically close the circle of Spanish democracy”.

The move has been bitterly opposed by the Franco family, the foundation that bears his name, and the Benedictine abbot who presides over the basilica.


A private family service will be held inside the Franco mausoleum, where the dictator’s widow, Carmen Polo, was buried following her death in 1988. At the family’s request, mass will be said by Ramón Tejero.

The priest is the son of Antonio Tejero, the Guardia Civil lieutenant colonel who led the failed 1981 military coup that sought to seize control of the country after its return to democracy following Franco’s death.

(last bit pretty much covers just how f&ck3d up the Franco's are)


2. Song Mocking Ex-Central Bank Chief Sparks Outrage In Ukraine

A song appearing to make flippant fun of an arson attack on the home of former National Bank chief Valeria Hontareva was seen by many in Ukraine as bad enough


The timing couldn't be much worse for Zelenskiy, who is facing renewed questions about his ties to Kolomoyskiy as the billionaire steps up efforts to overturn the central bank's decision in 2016, when Hontareva was its director, to take over the bank he owned, PrivatBank.


Kolomoyskiy, who has taken jabs at Hontareva recently, was defiant, applauding the performance aired on his 1+1 station on October 20 and arguing that it was not in bad taste.

"What, is her house the only one that has burned down? How many homes in the Donbas have burned down?" Kolomoyskiy said in comments to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, referring to the section of eastern Ukraine where Russia-backed separatists hold parts of two provinces and their war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.


3. LGBT In Turkmenistan: Go To Jail Or Live A Lie

To his friends and colleagues in Turkmenistan, Kamil is a successful cardiologist working at a prestigious clinic and an eligible bachelor from a well-connected family.

Only a few people in his close family circle are aware of Kamil's real struggle: He is secretly gay.

In Turkmenistan, where homosexuality is a crime and shunned by the Central Asian country's conservative society, being gay means having to choose between living a lie or facing up to two years in prison and a lifetime of disgrace.


Turkmenistan hasn't dropped a Soviet-era law that criminalizes homosexuality. Along with Uzbekistan, they are the only two countries among the 15 former Soviet republics that consider being gay a crime.


4. Hungarian opposition MP holds 'lies' sign during Orban's parliament speech

The Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orbán was interrupted in parliament on Monday by an opposition MP denouncing Orban's "lies" and Hungary's "corruption".

The MP, Ákos Hadházy, carried two signs that read: "He must lie because he stole too much", and "Stop propaganda, stop corruption".

Hadházy, one of the most vocal MPs in the Hungarian opposition, chose to hold his protest during the first plenary session since Hungary's municipal elections, in which Orban's party Fidesz lost the capital, Budapest.


Ákos Hadházy gained influence in Hungarian politics last year when he staged a demonstration in the Hungarian state TV headquarters to protest the new "slavery law", which brought to 400 the number of extraordinary working hours that employers can ask their employees.


5. The Brief: New British MEP stands out amongst the rest

According to some, Magid Magid is one of coolest MEPs.

He is outspoken and unapologetic, but he's not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Somali-British Green smashing political stereotypes in Brussels.


"Matteo Salvini is a coward, a coward because what kind of grown man watches a child drowning gasping for breath and turns his back," Magid said about the former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy.


"...when it came to the European elections that we weren't meant to have to begin with, it was like, you know what, I refuse to believe that the future authors of our country belong to the people like Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, and I felt that we, as individuals, there were a lot more people that could be actually better than Farage and actually try to put a better vision of hope for the country," Magid explained.


October 21, 2019

Toad disguises itself as deadly viper to avoid attack

The Congolese giant toad, a triple cheeseburger-sized prize for any predator, may use its ability to mimic the highly venomous Gaboon viper to escape being eaten. The viper has the longest snake fangs in the world and produces more venom than any other snake.

"Our study is based on ten years of fieldwork and on direct observation by researchers lucky enough to see the toad's behavior first-hand. We're convinced that this is an example of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species avoids predators by pretending to be a dangerous or toxic one," says Dr. Eli Greenbaum from the University of Texas at El Paso. "To fully test our hypothesis, we'd have to demonstrate that predators are successfully duped, but this would be very difficult in the wild, where the toads are only encountered rarely. However, based on multiple sources of evidence provided in our study, we are confident that our mimicry hypothesis is well-supported."


Some mimics are exclusively visual, but for the Congolese giant toad, getting the look right is only part of the impersonation. If a Gaboon viper feels threatened, it will often incline its head and emit a long, loud warning hiss before it actually makes a strike. Similarly, Congolese herpetologist Chifundera Kusamba observed the toad emitting a hissing noise resembling the sound of air being slowly released from a balloon. Over a century ago, American biologist James Chapin observed a bow display by the toad, where the front limbs no longer prop up the viperine-shaped body, which looks similar to the cocked head of a snake threatening to strike.


October 21, 2019

Julian Castro speaks with Democrats Abroad - Oct 22

October 22nd, 11:00am DC time to your calendar and join a call with Julián Castro! He'll spend time with Democrats Abroad sharing his policy stance on Americans abroad issues (and other issues too, time permitting).

October 20, 2019

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

1. Not La Dolce Vita: Chocolate Shoplifting Case Highlights Plight Of Russian Orphans

SAMARA, Russia -- Two parliamentary deputies, the rapper Ptakha, and thousands of ordinary Russians have come to the defense of Igor Shamin. The 20-year-old faces nearly 3 years in prison for stealing a 1,600-ruble ($25) box of chocolates.


In addition, federal Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin announced on October 15 that he was sending a team of investigators out to this Volga River city 850 kilometers southeast of Moscow to look into Shamin's claims that he was beaten by police during his interrogation.

The case has put a spotlight on the unenviable fates of thousands of young Russians released from orphanages each year, usually without housing, jobs, or even basic survival skills. Only 10 percent of the country's orphans live to reach the age of 40, according to an estimate by the nongovernmental aid organization Arifmetika Dobra.


"[Russian channel] REN-TV requested an interview with him," said Anton Rubin, who heads the local volunteer organization Home of Childhood -- which provides assistance to youths released from state-run orphanages when they grow up -- and is helping Shamin. "He was taken to the administration and gently instructed to sign a refusal. They promised to transfer him to a better cell."


It's really worth the read

2. North Macedonia PM calls for snap election after EU membership talks blocked

North Macedonia should have a snap general election, the country’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Saturday, after a bid to start EU membership talks were blocked.

The European Council said on Friday it was not going to begin formal talks with North Macedonia and Albania on joining the bloc.

This was a major blow for Zaev, the progressive leader of Macedonia’s social democrats whose main goal since coming to power in 2017 was gaining EU and NATO membership.


Zaev commented that the decision left him “disappointed and angry” and called it a “huge historic mistake on the part of the EU”.


3. Thousands take to streets in Rome for far-right rally

Thousands of Italians descended on Rome for a far-right rally labelled “Italy pride”, evoking connotations to the “march on Rome” held on 27 October 1922 that marked the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s rise to power.

The rally on Saturday had been in the making since Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, was spectacularly ousted from government in late August.


He was flanked on stage by Giorgia Meloni, who leads the smaller far-right party, Brothers of Italy, and Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time former prime minister and Forza Italia leader. The trio recently revived their coalition in a show of unity against the current left-leaning government.

“We’re here to say ‘no’ to the most leftwing government in history,” said Berlusconi.


'Most leftwing in history'? Insanity, Cognitive Decline or just plain Moron. Or all 3. I guess he found time away from his bunga bunga parties to show he's still an ass

4. Baku Police Detain Dozens As Opposition Rallies

BAKU -- Police detained dozens of opposition activists before and during a protest in the Azerbaijani capital on October 19.

According to police, a little over 200 people participated in the demonstration and 60 were detained. Police said 42 of those detained were released with a "warning."


The protest was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella group of Azerbaijani opposition groups, and was not authorized by the authorities.


In the run-up to the demonstration, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova said police also blocked three subway stations in an apparent attempt to thwart protesters from reaching the rally site. She also said Internet service had been blocked in most of the city.


5. The future of burial: inside Jerusalem's hi-tech underground necropolis


Cool air from deep inside the mountain lightly wafts through cavernous arched tunnels. Along the walls of the subterranean passages, rows of human-sized chambers have been dug into the rock. It is unmistakably a catacomb.

Yet this mass tomb is not a relic of the Roman empire. It was made with huge electric diggers, and the walls are lined with concrete. People will enter by lift, and those with limited mobility will be able to use a golf buggy to traverse the necropolis.

Facing a dire shortage of land, the city of Jerusalem is preparing at the end of this month to revive an ancient custom of underground burial. A four-year project has dug out a mile of labyrinthine tunnels into a hillside on the outskirts of the holy city to accommodate 23,000 bodies.


The Kehillat Yerushalayim burial society, the biggest group overseeing Jewish burials in Jerusalem, has financed the project, which cost upwards of £45m. It has strict rules, including a ban on cremation and also that the deceased be physically connected to the earth, allowing their bodies to return to the ground.

October 18, 2019

Dark web: Largest ever online child porn bust leads to 337 arrests

Three-hundred and thirty-seven suspects were arrested after a massive, international multi-agency operation knocked out a horrific child abuse site.

Welcome to Video, a dark web site hosting over 250,000 videos featuring brutal child abuse, was being run from South Korea by 23-year-old Jong Woo Son, the British National Crime Agency uncovered in a press release announcing hundreds of arrests. The website's content amounted to almost eight terabytes of data containing sexual abuse images, that were sold on a bitcoin-centred marketplace worth over 730,000 dollars.


The individuals were identified by following a trace of presumably untrackable digital currencies that had been used to buy illegal child pornography videos. "The website monetized the sexual abuse of children and was one of the first to offer sickening videos for sale using the cryptocurrency bitcoin," the NCA explained.


The global operation was conducted by a task force set up by the NCA in collaboration with the United State's Homeland Security Investigations and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, South Korea's National Police and Germany's Federal Criminal Police. The arrests were made in 38 countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States


October 18, 2019

Five Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

(Sorry for not having posted in a while, Typhoon Hagibis kept us all pretty busy and didn't give me time to look for new stories)

1. First Flag: Kosovo's Would-Be PM Takes Serbian Heat For Favoring Albanian Banner

When Albin Kurti and his Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) party declared victory in Kosovo's snap elections earlier this month, it was unclear how the dramatic rise in Pristina of a 44-year-old Albanian nationalist might affect Kosovo's biggest international challenges.

Primary among them are stalled negotiations on normalizing relations with neighboring Serbia, whose resolution could boost Kosovo's decade-long pursuit of full recognition in the United Nations and eventual membership of major European institutions.


Then there was a reminder of Kurti's insistence on displaying Albanian national symbols and his repeated calls in the past for a referendum on Kosovo's unification with Albania.


2. Orban says would have to 'use force' if Turkey 'opens gates' to refugees

Hungary would "use force" at its southern border with Serbia to protect the European Union's frontier if Turkey follows through on its threat to open the gates to Europe to refugees, Hungary's Viktor Orban said.

The Hungarian prime minister put up a fence on the country's border with Serbia to block the Balkan route of migration, where hundreds of thousands of people marched through from the Middle East to western Europe at the peak of the crisis in 2015.


"If Turkey sets off further hundreds of thousands on top of this, then we will need to use force to protect the Hungarian border and the Serbian-Hungarian frontier and I do not wish for anyone that we should need to resort to that," he said.


(Sounds like he's planning on using force against refugees, not Turkey)

3. Dutch police arrest father of family held in farm basement

Dutch police have arrested the father of a family kept for nearly a decade in a farmhouse, saying they were investigating whether a “certain belief in faith” was behind the case.

The 67-year-old was suspected of depriving people of their liberty, harming the health of others and money laundering following the discovery of the family in the northern village of Ruinerwold, police said.

He is the second person to be arrested. The 58-year-old tenant of the farmhouse, an Austrian man, appeared before an examining judge on Thursday on similar charges and was ordered to be detained for two weeks.


4. Bulgarian National Radio Chief Sacked In Free Speech Row

Bulgaria's broadcast regulator has sacked the chief of Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) for taking the channel off the air for several hours last month in a row with a presenter known for covering the country’s corruption-prone judicial system.

The five members of the Council for Electronic Media on October 17 voted to oust Svetoslav Kostov as BNR general director, saying that briefly suspending a live talk show for five hours represented a “grave violation” of Bulgarians' right to information.


The September 13 shutdown occurred after BNR the previous day decided to suspend journalist Silvia Velikova from her job, claiming she had violated her contract by urging listeners while on air to join a protest over the appointment of Bulgaria's next chief prosecutor.


5. Eurostar enjoys busiest August as passengers seek alternative to flying

Eurostar has reported its busiest August ever, with more than a million passengers travelling on the cross-Channel train service in that month.

The service appears to have benefited from increasing demand for an alternative to flying - a trend highlighted in Eurostar’s advertising campaign.


“We have seen positive momentum over the summer, with strong growth in the number of North American passengers choosing to travel by high-speed rail,” he said.


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