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June 30, 2011

Wikinews interviews US National Archives Wikipedian in Residence

Wikinews interviews US National Archives Wikipedian in Residence

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wikimedia-logo.svg This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Dominic McDevitt-Parks speaks during a January 2011 Wikipedia Campus Ambassador training event.
Image: Sage Ross.

The National Archives at College Park, Maryland, known informally as Archives II, was built due to space constraints at the main building in Washington, D.C..
Image: National Archives and Records Administration.

Dominic McDevitt-Parks, a prolific contributor to Wikipedia and a graduate student in history and archives management, agreed to answer a few questions about his new role as “Wikipedian in Residence” at the US National Archives and Records Administration.

“Wikipedians in Residence” are volunteers placed with institutions, such as museums and libraries, to facilitate use of those institutions’ resources on Wikipedia.

According to a Pew Internet report, 42 percent of Americans use Wikipedia as an online source of information. The online, collaborative encyclopedia boasts more than 3.5 million articles in English and versions in over 250 languages. Given the website’s vast readership, the Archivist of the United States has proclaimed himself “a big fan of Wikipedia” and emphasizes the need for the National Archives to work with the project. The Archives posted the internship listing in March, expressing its desire for an employee who “will work as a community coordinator and strengthen the relationship between the Archives and the Wikipedian community through a range of activities”.

McDevitt-Parks, who describes himself as a “history buff, a word nerd, a news junkie and an occasional pedant,” is a 24-year-old graduate student at Simmons College in Boston. On Wikipedia, he has contributed for more than seven years under the username “Dominic”, his work focusing mostly on Latin American history.

He began his work at the Archives in late May, and since then he has undertaken numerous projects, including uploading onto Wikipedia 200 photos taken by Ansel Adams for the National Park Service. Although those photos have always remained in the public domain, accessing their high-definition versions could be problematic. Researchers who wanted to view the files had to visit the Archives facilities in College Park, Maryland.

McDevitt-Parks is also preparing a “Today’s Document challenge” on Wikipedia, where works featured as “Today’s Document” on the Archives’ website are also the main focus of newly written or expanded encyclopedia articles displayed on Wikipedia’s home page. The first — and so far only — winner of the challenge was the Wikipedia article “Desegregation in the United States Marine Corps“, which incorporated an Archives-held photo of the first African-American recruit to the US Marine Corps. Before the challenge, according to McDevitt-Parks, “a thorough history of desegregation in the U.S. Marines didn’t exist in Wikipedia’s knowledge ecosystem. The topic wasn’t totally ignored, but simply split among related entries; a devoted, focused article never existed solely in its own right.”

The “Wikipedian in Residence” position falls within the Archives’ social media staff within the Open Government division of Information Services, since the institution’s goal is to distribute as much content to the widest audience possible. The internship is 40 hours per week from mid-May to late August.

Interview

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, has been very supportive of Wikipedia. He is shown here welcoming Wikipedians to the Archives to celebrate the project’s tenth birthday.
Image: Sarah Stierch.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Before you started your internship, how close of a relationship did the National Archives have with Wikipedia?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDominic McDevitt-ParksWikinews waves Right.pngThere was no official relationship, however the National Archives has long been supportive of Wikipedia. Earlier this year, for instance, the National Archives hosted a meetup in the main DC location in honor of Wikipedia’s tenth anniversary. The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, is incredibly friendly to Wikipedia, as are many of the National Archives’ staff. As he wrote after WikiXDC, “As an agency, I look forward to our staff learning more about the fabric and culture of Wikipedia and how to get involved.” He also penned a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation offering support from the National Archives for the successful Washington D.C. bid for Wikimania 2012. In all likelihood, this is not a relationship that will end after this summer, either.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Why is it important that institutions like the National Archives foster this sort of relationship with Wikipedia?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngArchives and other such institutions preserve our cultural heritage not just for the sake of keeping them, but so that we may access and use them. In the 21st century, accessibility is about more than just having exhibitions or a public research room; it is about having a digital presence and proactively delivering content to people with an information need, whether or not they were looking for a particular document from an institution’s holding. Wikipedia and its sister projects are perfectly suited for this purpose in a number of ways. The most obvious is visibility. There is no institutional web site in the world that is more popular among general web users than Wikipedia, which is one of the top 10 ranked web sites according to volume of traffic. Its article on a given topic will nearly always rank higher in search engine results than any institution’s page, even one about a document actually held by that institution. In general, Wikipedia is the first and often only place online searchers will go to learn about the issues and items in which an institution might specialize. This means that there is no better way to reach the public than Wikipedia, and there is no better way to make one’s holdings accessible and—just as important—discoverable than by making it directly available on Wikipedia. The pervasiveness of Wikipedia also means that work to improve it will have much more impact than many other education and outreach programs.

Wikimedia’s projects can do more than just reach people, though. It’s not merely a content host or a forum, like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Wikimedia is a community with an intellectual mission. It will not only make holdings findable, but it will add value to them. They write encyclopedia articles related to the holdings of cultural institutions, or to subjects for which holdings are valuable source material or illustrations; they organize, categorize, and even sometimes digitally restore images; they transcribe and proofread textual documents. They are doing this for their personal fulfillment, nearly always without the knowledge and cooperation of associated cultural institutions. Indeed, thousands of Wikimedians are already engaged in their own little projects which donated content or expertise can help along; both parties are interested in adding value to their work by partnering with the other.

Finally, Wikimedia is unique among the major online fora and hosts for cultural content in that it shares cultural institutions’ commitment to open access and public education. Wikipedia is a non-profit, and creating free public knowledge is its sole purpose. All original content is released under a free copyright license so that it can be widely disseminated without permission or fee. In fact, its commitment to freedom of information is so strong that it often cannot even accept works from some cultural institutions which restrict their use in some way (such as by disallowing derivative works or requiring non-commercial use), and making institutions truly free and compatible with Wikipedia is one of the jobs of Wikipedans in Residence. Wikipedia is not just a venue for presenting our cultural heritage, it is an active ally for all institutions that seek to do so.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What aspect of having a Wikipedian in Residence is seen as most valuable to the National Archives? What would you, personally, say is the greatest benefit to any cultural institution from engaging with the Wikimedia community?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngFor the National Archives, all of the above apply. This is about public outreach and increasing access and use. NARA wants to find users where they are, not just wait for them to visit, and the people are on Wikipedia. According to David Ferriero, the National Archives would like this collaboration with Wikipedia to exemplify their “commitment to the Open Government principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration.” Wikimedia partnerships are so promising because they can be extensions of any institution’s mission in a number of conceivable ways.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png You have already told The Washington Post that other institutions have hired Wikipedians in residence, including the British Museum, the Museu Picasso, and the Archives of American Art. Do you know of any other institutions that may develop similar relationships with Wikipedia in the near future?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngYou can see a listing of other Wikipedian residencies here. There have been several, but still less than ten, and each situation has been unique. I can’t really speak to any specific future collaborations being worked on, as I am not privy to those negotiations. However, I will say more generally that these relationships are only going to become more common. Wikimedians and chapters around the world have been in touch with various institutions interested in working with us. I saw and met many of these people firsthand at GLAMcamp NYC, which was attended by dozens of excited representatives from cultural institutions attracted by the prospect of a relationship with Wikipedia and just as many incredibly motivated Wikimedians who are involved in reaching out to these institutions.

The National Archives is reaching out to other crowdsourced projects for scanning and transcription. During a program on citizen archivists, Jessica Zelt (North American Bird Phenology Program), Matthew Knutzen (New York Public Library), and Darla Adams (Ancestry.com) are shown with moderator Meredith Stewart (National Archives).
Image: National Archives and Records Administration.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Are there other — non-Wikimedia — opportunities online you feel the National Archives should look for?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngThe goal of cataloging, describing, digitizing, and transcribing the entire holdings of the National Archives is an impossible one using traditional methods and within traditional budget constraints. Cultural institutions need to engage the interested public to become active partners in preserving cultural heritage, rather than simply consumers. The work with Wikimedia is an important aspect of that new thinking, but there are all sorts of allied projects out there that would also make good partners. This includes similar crowdsourced projects for scanning and transcription, which the National Archives is already seeking out, as well as other specialized groups interested in digital history or particular topic areas.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How have your experiences — both in school and in Wikipedia — prepared you for this job?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngI am a history geek and an archivist-in-training. In my life off of Wikipedia, I have an undergraduate history degree, have worked in library/archive settings before, and am currently pursuing master’s degrees in both history and library science (archives management). I think these real-life experiences in their field are one of the main reasons that the National Archives was comfortable letting me on to their staff. I hope to be able to relate to the people and the practices here on a higher level than the average Wikimedian. I believe strongly in the work and the mission of the National Archives completely apart from how it syncs up with Wikipedia.

As a Wikimedian, I have been deeply immersed in various aspects of the project for many years now. I first started back in 2004, and have been an administrator since 2005. Along the way, I served as arbitrator, CheckUser, oversighter, and OTRSer, gaining a useful perspective on some of the project’s inner workings and (for lack of a better word) governance. I’ve also done outreach to real people as a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador for university students in Boston. I am cross-project Wikimedian, having also been very involved in Wiktionary over the years, where I am also an administrator. I have written content ranging from dictionary definitions of modern colloquialisms to articles on Chilean revolutionaries. But, most importantly, I hope that my familiarity with the culture and practices of Wikimedians will help facilitate this National Archives collaboration.

This photo, taken by Ansel Adams at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, was provided by the National Archives as part of its partnership with Wikipedia
Image: Ansel Adams.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Having worked in the National Archives for a few weeks now, has your approach to or perception of your work in Wikipedia or the National Archives changed in any way?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngI really wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here. The staff have all been exceedingly welcoming and cooperative which is a major relief. The real work has been figuring out what I can do and where best to spend my time. Most of the National Archives’ documents are not digitized, and possibly not even cataloged on the item-level. Those certainly include some items that Wikimedians would like to use for their projects, but it remains to be seen how much I can realistically do in one summer with those documents. I do want to get as much digital content as possible on Commons, but aside from the technological challenges we face at Commons in trying to figure out how to do mass uploads, the situation with the National Archives’ scan files is just as much of a barrier. They are often confusingly named, difficult to locate, or incomplete. I hit the ground running with the upload of an important batch of Ansel Adams photographs, but it turns out that that was actually the lowest-possible hanging fruit.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What challenges do you foresee having to face in your work?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngThe real challenges are about organization, both of documents—as I mentioned—and of people.

One of the biggest challenges is that we need Wikimedians to get on board with the project in a big way. This is an incredible opportunity for us as a project, but it requires a special community effort to take full advantage of it. We need volunteers to tag articles, to categorize media, to help with templates and coding tools, to write related article content, to transcribe and proofread texts, to add new images to articles, to digitally restore images, and so on. I can personally serve as the point of contact between the National Archives and Wikimedia, but it needs to be much more than that to be a successful project. At this point, the project spaces I am creating on-wiki are my attempt to create an inviting and useful infrastructure to serve as a hub for this effort, but they are not organically grown like most Wikimedia projects. I, and various helpers with templates and coding, have magicked them into existence in the last few weeks. They need participants to sign up and adopt them as their own so we can really get the ball rolling.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The New York Times reported in January that less than fifteen percent of Wikipedia’s contributors are women. The article raised concerns that this gender gap has affected the relative emphasis of topics covered on the encyclopedia. In what ways would this problem affect your own efforts to organize the Wikipedia community, and how do you plan to address it?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngThis is an issue that I care strongly about. (And somewhat relatedly, I served, and will continue to serve, as Campus Ambassador at a women’s college, and it was a wonderful experience.) The problem is really about more than gender imbalance; it’s about having a community that represents a diversity of backgrounds, viewpoints, and personalities. Those of us who work in the humanities can also sometimes feel like a minority on Wikipedia, as one would expect from a male-dominated culture. There is a lot of room for improvement on Wikipedia of articles related to women’s history—as well as the history of minority and non-Western peoples—and the National Archives has some incredible resources for these topics. One of the things that I would like to be able to do at the National Archives is to tap their existing pool of volunteers and funnel them towards NARA-related volunteerism on Wikimedia projects. As a national organization with various facilities and presidential libraries throughout the country, there is a lot of potential for various local volunteer communities to get involved. Institutions like the National Archives have volunteers eager to help their cause, but who would otherwise not get involved in Wikipedia, and this group of people likely has a very different demographic makeup than Wikipedia as a whole. I can attest that the library/archives community is certainly not male-dominated. The National Archives is interested in collaborating with Wikipedia not because it wants to lay work at the feet of the Wikipedia community specifically, but because it wants Wikipedia to be a platform for the public at large to be able to become active participants in preserving and interpreting their cultural heritage. This plan also means organizing a corresponding corps of Wikipedian volunteers to welcome and mentor such new editors.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Which aspects of this particular internship attracted you more than any other job opportunity you could have obtained?

Wikinews waves Left.pngDMPWikinews waves Right.pngI am a longtime, obsessive Wikimedian with a passion for history who is studying to become an archivist. Every aspect of the opportunity attracted me as soon as I learned about it. 🙂

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Report finds teen substance abuse is top public health problem in US

Report finds teen substance abuse is top public health problem in US

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

US teens increasingly abuse tobacco, among other drugs.
Image: Geierunited.

A report issued Wednesday by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University finds the top public health problem in the United States is teen drug abuse, including the use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, marijuana and other controlled substances.

According to the study’s authors, “The study looks at how American culture increases the risk that teens will use addictive substances and how the messages sent by adults, and glamorized by the tobacco and alcohol industries and the media, normalize substance use and undermine the health and futures of our teens.”

Cquote1.svg Addiction is a disease that in most cases begins in adolescence … We rightfully worry about other teen health problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in fact prevent. Cquote2.svg

—Susan Foster, CASA vice president

CASA found that 90% of adults who have addictive disorders started using substances before the age of 18. In comparison, only 4% of Americans who abuse as adults started using these drugs when 21 or older.

Further, the consumption of these substances by American teens is rising. Currently almost half of American high school students smoke, drink alcohol or use other drugs, according to the study, and 1 in 5 meet the medical criteria for addiction. Seventy-five percent of all high school students have used addictive substances including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine at some point. Over 65% have used more than one.

The researchers found social factors related to the risk of American teens use of addictive substances included parental, community and school acceptance of these substances and the positive media portrayals of drug use as harmless, fun and attractive. Advertising of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes also contributes to the positive image of drug use.

The researchers used online surveys filled out by 1,000 high school students, 1,000 parents of high school students, 500 educators, as well as information from five focus groups and reviews of 2,000 scientific articles and reports, according to US News.

“Addiction is a disease that in most cases begins in adolescence, so preventing or delaying teens from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs for as long as possible is crucial to their health and safety,” said Susan Foster, CASA’s vice president in a news release. “We rightfully worry about other teen health problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in fact prevent.”

The study’s authors pointed out that the teenage brain is not fully developed and the use of drugs during the teenage years hampers further development of the brain, impairs judgment and increases the risk of addiction as an adult. Heavy substance abuse harms the developing brain far more than the already developed adult brain. They concluded their data shows that adolescence is the critical age period for the onset of substance abuse and its repercussions.



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June 29, 2011

US Supreme Court rules video games are protected speech

US Supreme Court rules video games are protected speech

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the case.
Image: Huebi.

In a 7-2 decision handed down on Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down California’s violent video game law and ruled that video games are protected speech covered by the First Amendment. The California law banned the sale and rental of violent video games to minors.

The underlying question was whether the violence in video games has the ability to affect children more than violence in other media, such as books, movies, plays and other forms of entertainment.

Cquote1.svg Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. Cquote2.svg

—Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said that depictions of violence have never been regulated by the US government. Thus violent videos are not to fall under government control as does pornography but is to be accorded the same First Amendment protections as other forms of entertainment. The sale of violent video games is not to be criminalized and California’s attempt to do so was “unprecedented and mistaken.” Scalia noted, referring to fairy tales, that “the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore.”

Cquote1.svg [T]he books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Cquote2.svg

—Justice Antonin Scalia

The beginning of the decision states, “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And ‘the basic principles of freedom of speech…do not vary’ with a new and different communication medium.”

“The most basic principle—that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content, Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 535 U. S. 564, 573—is subject to a few limited exceptions for historically unprotected speech, such as obscenity, incitement, and fighting words. But a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test.”

The justices were not convinced by the existing research that the interactive nature of video games pose a greater risk to society because of their interactive nature. None of the results of the existing research put before the court showed that violent games cause violent behavior. “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly under-inclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint.”

According to Nadine Kaslow, professor and chief psychologist at Emory University Department of Psychology and Grady Hospital, the evidence regarding the effects of violent video games is mixed. While there is evidence to suggest that exposure of children to violence results in more aggressive and less pro-social behavior, some studies show there is no negative effect, she said. She point out that toy guns were popular and parents monitored whether toy guns were allowed in the home.

This ruling does not prevent private retailers from placing restrictions on their sale of video games. The video game industry currently has its own rating system, much like that used for movies, and educates retailers in using the rating system to prevent minors from buying mature-rated games. According to PC World the industry’s compliance is better than that of other entertainment industries. Further, parental controls have been added to game consoles.

The view of the Entertainment Software Association that a better strategy is the education of parents rather than court battles.



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Google introduces the \’+1\’ button

Google introduces the ‘+1’ button – Wikinews, the free news source

Google introduces the ‘+1’ button

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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On Monday, Google added the “+1” button to its search results. It works similarly to the Facebook “Like” button. Today, Google began planning to add it to text ads, globally known as “AdSense“.

Google Product Manager Nick Radicevic commented at Google’s AdSense blog: “Today, +1’s will start appearing on Google search pages globally. …. We’ll be starting off with sites like google.co.uk, google.de, google.jp and google.fr, then expanding quickly to most other Google search sites soon after.”

Individual websites also can use this feature. People with a Google account can add a “+1” button to their personal websites. If a large number of readers click the button, the site will move closer to the top in Google search results.

Google also plans to eventually add the “+1” button to its text advertisements, globally known as “AdWords“. A user would be able to add rank to an ad and optionally make it available at their Google profile.

Google expects the experiment to be useful to improve search results and to combat poor websites and content farms.



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Debris narrowly misses International Space Station

Debris narrowly misses International Space Station

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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Space debris passed within a short distance of the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday, forcing the crew to enter their escape capsules to be ready to depart in case of a collision. The debris ultimately missed the orbital outpost and passed within 260 meters (853 ft) of the station at 12:08 UTC (8:08 EDT).

International Space Station (ISS)
Image: NASA.

Approximately half an hour after the closest approach of the debris, the crew were given the all-clear to reenter the space station from their escape capsules.

Under normal circumstances and had mission controllers known about the collision threat sooner, the crew would have used the station’s thrusters to maneuver out of the path of the oncoming debris.

The size of the debris that threatened the station and its crew in this instance was not immediately known; however, even small fragments can become a major concern due to their high speed.

Had the debris struck the ISS, the crew would have sealed their Soyuz spacecraft and departed the station.

There are six people aboard the ISS and two Soyuz spacecrafts docked to the station. Each Soyuz contains accommodations for three people.

This is not the first time that debris threatened the ISS and its crew. A similar incident occurred in March 2009. Estimations show that there are more than 300,000 pieces of debris in Low-Earth orbit over 10 centimeters (4 in) in length, which travel several thousands of kilometers per hour.



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June 28, 2011

Wall collapse kills twelve in Chhattisgarh, India

Filed under: Archived,India — admin @ 5:00 am

Wall collapse kills twelve in Chhattisgarh, India

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Twelve people have died and twenty more were wounded following the collapse of a wall in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. At the time of the collapse Tuesday, the wall was supporting a shed under which residents were seeking shelter from heavy rain.

“I have been told that a shed of my bungalow collapsed where daily wagers gather every day seeking work,” said police superintendent OP Pal. He is away from his house in Ambikapur, where the incident occurred, taking leave in Uttar Pradesh. Chhattisgarh authorities have promised Rs100 thousand (US$2.22 thousand, £1.39 thousand) to compensate each death, and Rs25 thousand (US$555.18, £346.92) for those injured.

The shed was used as a bus shelter. The victims had been hoping to travel out of town.

Ambikapur mayor Prabodh Minj said the 10-foot (3.05-metre)-tall outer wall &nbdash; built for security &nbdash; had been unmaintained for years. However, he attributes the cause of its collapse to the rainfall.



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Greek workers strike over austerity measures

Greek workers strike over austerity measures

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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Greek prime minister George Papandreou

Workers in Greece have gone on strike in protest against the government’s second round of austerity packages. Greek prime minister George Papandreou announced €28 billion in cuts Monday; loans worth up to €155 billion from the European Union and International Monetary Fund depend on the measures passing.

Tens of thousands of workers are planning to march through Athens and five thousand police officers have been brought into the capital to supervise the strike. Most public services in Greece are affected, including hospitals, ambulances, trains, buses, ferries and even air traffic control. The Athens metro will remain open “so as to allow Athenians to join the planned protests in the capital.” Thanassis Pafilis, an MP with the Greek Communist Party, said that the budgetary measures “are a massacre for workers’ rights,” adding, “It will truly be hell for the working man. The strike must bring everything to a standstill.”

With a sixteen percent unemployment rate in Greece, between 70 and 80 percent of Greek citizens oppose the cuts. The measures are “tough and in many respects unfair,” said Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, but the government continues to push for austerity measures, as failure to secure credit may force the government and banks of Greece to default as early as July on the €380 billion in debt owed to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Switzerland, Japan and Spain.



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Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed as Chinese Premier Wen visits Britain

Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed as Chinese Premier Wen visits Britain

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hu Jia
Image: Stevenliuyi.
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The Chinese government released human rights activist Hu Jia from prison on Sunday after he had served over three years for subversion. His release, which had been scheduled in advance, occurred just days after controversial artist Ai Weiwei was unexpectedly released on bail after three months of detention.

Hu was released on the same day that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began his visit to Britain, the first country on his three-nation Europe trade tour.

Described by the Irish Times as a “mild-mannered, slight figure who suffers from liver ailments”, the 37-year-old Hu is a prominent Chinese dissident who had spent years campaigning for civil liberties, environmentalism, and on behalf of suffers of HIV/AIDS before his imprisonment. He was imprisoned in April 2008 for “inciting to subvert state power” by writing articles about human rights in the period before the 2008 Olympic Games. He had also given many interviews to foreign news media and government embassies. He was first detained in December 2007 and his arrest came after he had spent more than 200 days under house arrest. In 2008 while in prison, he won the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, awarded by the European Parliament.

Hu’s wife Zeng Jinyuan said via Twitter that her husband lost his political rights upon his release and cannot speak to the media for a period of one year.

Cquote1.svg (My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don’t confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country’s absolute power to violate people’s dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful. Cquote2.svg

—Hu Jia, human rights activist

Hu was briefly interviewed on Sunday via telephone by Hong Kong’s Cable TV, and indicated that despite the danger, he would not give up his work. “(My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don’t confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country’s absolute power to violate people’s dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful”, he said.

Although recent releases of high-profile dissidents such as Hu and Ai may seem to some that China is loosening its repressive policies against dissidents, activists and academics said yesterday that the determination of the Chinese government to silence dissent has not lessened and those speaking up continue to be rounded up and detained.

Huang Qi, a dissident released this month from prison and interviewed by telephone, said, “We closely follow dozens of rights’ defense cases, and I’ve found that that at the grassroots and lowest levels of society in China, the rights defense environment has not seen any fundamental improvements.” He warned, “One cannot count how many ordinary people are being locked up or taken away every day.”

However, Wan Yanhau who is a Chinese activist living in the US said there might be a short term diminishing of the crackdowns on human rights activists. He suggested the government could be realizing that the harsh treatment of dissidents has not stopped recent episodes of unrest. The riots by migrant workers in the Guangdong province and protests by ethnic Mongolians are recent examples. Further, China is receiving harsh criticism from European countries with which it wants to increase trade.

But illegal detentions are increasing, according to Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch, and are signs that China is not moving toward compliance with international norms.



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June 27, 2011

Ryan Dunn twice over drink-drive limit at time of fatal accident

Ryan Dunn twice over drink-drive limit at time of fatal accident

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Televison star Ryan Dunn was twice over the legal drink-drive limit at the time of last Monday’s car accident that killed him and a friend. The pair died when Dunn’s Porsche left the road and crashed into a tree causing the car to burst into flames. Police have determined that the vehicle was travelling at speeds between 132 and 140 mph.

The accident occurred in West Chester, Pennsylvania where the legal drink drive limit is a blood alcohol reading of 0.08. Toxicology results show that Dunn had a blood alcohol level of 0.196. The star had previously been caught drink-driving in 2005.

Dunn made a name for himself after appearing in the television series Jackass. He starred in the TV series as well as the three follow on films that were produced. Recently he had also began to present his own television shows Homewrecker and Proving Ground.

Tributes have been paid Dunn by several of his co-workers and friends. Creator of Jackass Johnny Knoxville described him as a “brother” and rock band Kings of Leon asked fans to raise a glass to Dunn during a concert on Wednesday. The band’s bassist, Jared Followill, said on Twitter he was “devastated” by the death of his friend.



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Internet hacking group LulzSec disbands

Internet hacking group LulzSec disbands – Wikinews, the free news source

Internet hacking group LulzSec disbands

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Monday, June 27, 2011

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The computer hacking organization Lulz Security disbanded yesterday, said the group in a statement. Released via Pastebin, it states “[o]ur planned 50 day cruise has expired, and we must now sail into the distance.”

The announcement comes a day after The Guardian released leaked IRC logs of private conversations between LulzSec members and days after the arrest of a British teenager in connection to the group.

With the announcement the group released previously unseen private information. Included was AT&T and AOL internal data, Battlefield Heros Beta user account data, and user information from the NATO bookstore. In total over 810,000 people’s user information was present in this final release.

LulzSec became known after they allegedly hacked the Play Station Network, rendering the service unusable. The group allegedly proceeded to hack US federal government websites such as those of the FBI and CIA. One of their last hacks targeted the Arizona Department of Public Safety in which they allegedly copied hundreds of confidential documents.

While LulzSec has disbanded, there are copycat organizations in Italy and Brazil.

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  • “LulzSec attacks Nintendo server” — Wikinews, June 7, 2011
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