February 27th, 2011
By Barry Secrest
While plying through a typical Sunday night routine, finishing the evening with a liberal dose of "Meet The Press" from my trusty DVR, I found myself amazed at a graphic display that seemed "slightly off" in its accuracy--to put it mildly.
David "die you nutty Birther" Gregory was expounding on US foreign policy with some info-chick from the Obama administration (Amb. Rice) about the brewing Islamic Caliphate in the Mideast. As the two were discussing the various nations' Democratic "birthing pains," a graphic was flashed up on the screen about the nation of Bahrain.
Bahrain is an island nation which is about three times the size of Washington, DC at 665 square miles. It contains a US Naval base that is home to the Fifth Fleet, which was part of the focus of Gregory's interview with the Obama info-chick. As the two were discussing foreign policy, I was quite struck that the dear lady had little if any facial expressions at all, by the way. It was as if she had been universally Botoxed and then forced to sit through a dizzying number of Obama's State of The Union speeches for days on end, then force-fed a flatulence-inducing meal of black beans and rice with red cabbage, just prior to the interview, in order to get her rather stony-while-strained facial expressions just exactly right for the anti-Birther man.
At any rate, Gregory was trying to induce a mild-spate of panic, this time by saying that the US Naval base might be kicked off the Island. Right. Then, dutifully flashed up on the screen was the graphic in question as seen in the above picture. According to "Meet The Press" little, tiny Bahrain has a population of 1.2 Billion people...I thought Huh??
One of the most overcrowded places on the planet, New York City, has a population density of approximately 5,500 per square mile. Bahrain, according to "Meet The Press," would have a population density of 55,416 people per square mile. Getting a little crowded over there, huh? And they even have room for a US Naval fleet? Maybe they are just, like, really small over there, the Islamic equivalent of Lilliputians, one must suppose. Perhaps instead of calling themselves Bahrainians, they might consider Islamaputians.
In fact, according to "Meet The Press," Bahrain would make Cairo look like Death Valley in its population composition considering the tiny size of its area. Bahrain, to those of you over at "Meet The Press" who apparently don't think very much, has a total population of about 791,000 people.
Which is a far cry from what would be a "Meet The Press" population total for Bahrain that rivals both the largest populations of the world. China has a total population of 1.3 Billion people while India is just behind at 1. 2 Billion people.
Now, what was that you all were saying about Obama's birth certificate?
February 27th, 2011
CTV.ca News Staff
Online calls for peaceful Chinese protests to resemble Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" have ended with a number of reporters and citizens being bundled into Chinese security vehicles.
The protests had been planned via anonymous messages left on a U.S. website in China, and called for people to rally against the government in 13 cities including in Beijing and Shanghai to mirror the ongoing Mideast democracy movement.
Instead, a mix of protestors and onlookers in Beijing's tourist area, where the 2 p.m. Sunday protests were to take place, saw a heavy clampdown, in which police checked passers-by and warned away foreign journalists.
"Today showed that whether or not Chinese security believed this is a real threat, they are certainly going to act like it," CTV's Ben O'Hara-Byrne told CTV's News Channel from Beijing.
"The idea that there is opportunity and that people will lead better lives in China certainly seems to be a lot more impressive than it was in Egypt or Lybia or than Tunisia. That being said, there is still a lot of inflation here, prices are going up, wages are too. But the prices of food went up by 10 per cent last month alone so people are feeling the pinch. There are a lot of people here upset by the perception of corruption… and the government knows that."
During the day, police used a number of tactics to quell potential protests, such as shrill whistles and street cleaning trucks, but were thrown off by the fact that supposed protestors mixed with tourists and shoppers.
Near Shanghai's People's Square, uniformed police blew whistles non-stop and shouted at people to keep moving, though about 200 people -- a combination of onlookers and quiet sympathizers who formed a larger crowd than a week ago -- braved the shrill noise.
In Beijing, trucks normally used to water the streets drove repeatedly up the busy commercial shopping district spraying water and keeping crowds pressed to the edges.
Foreign journalists met with tighter police controls. In Shanghai, authorities called foreign reporters Sunday indirectly warning them to stay away from the protest sites. Police in Beijing followed some reporters and blocked those with cameras from entering the Wangfujing shopping street where protests were called.
Plainclothes police struck a Bloomberg News television reporter, who was then taken away for questioning.
Police also detained several Chinese, at least two in Beijing and four in Shanghai, putting them into vans and driving them away, though it was not clear if they had tried to protest.
While it isn't clear how many people -- if any -- came to protest, the outsized response compared with last week shows how the mysterious calls for protest have left the authoritarian government on edge.
Online posts of unknown origin first circulated on an overseas Chinese news website Boxun.com 10 days ago. They called for Chinese to gather peacefully at sites every Sunday, in a show of people power meant to promote fairness and democracy.
However, China's extensive Internet filtering and monitoring mean that most Chinese are unaware of the appeals, effectively limiting the audience.
Police have questioned, placed under house arrest, and detained more than 100 people, according to rights groups. At least five have been detained on subversion or national security charges -- in some cases for passing on information about the protest calls.
Senior politicians from around the country converged on the capital this week for the legislature's annual session and a simultaneous meeting of a top advisory body -- events that always bring high security.
Police seemed to outnumber pedestrians at Wangfujing. Groups of men with earpieces crowded the seats near the window of a KFC outlet scanning the street outside.
After blocking entrances to Wangfujing, police took away foreign news photographers, camera crews and reporters from The Associated Press, the BBC, Voice of America, German state broadcasters ARD and ZDF, and others. They were taken to an office, where they were told special permission was needed to report from Wangfujing.
With reports from CTV's Beinjing bureau chief Ben O'Hara-Byrne and the Associated Press
February 27th, 2011
A new Texas non-profit plans to extend scholarship support to those they say are undersupported in higher education: white men.
The group, called the Former Majority Association for Equality, was formed by Texas State University student Colby Bohannan and others and hopes to provide four $500 scholarships to white men by July (donations are being accepted via the group's website).
The group's mission statement says that it wants to "provide monetary aid to those that have found the scholarship application process difficult because they do not fit into certain categories or any ethnic group."
Bohannan told Reuters that the group's goal "is actually just to help students."
"We are not trying to jump on any political agenda or bandwagon," he said.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Bohannan is in fact in the minority in Texas, where non-Hispanic whites compose less than half the populace.
Bohannan told the Statesman that he felt "excluded" when applying for college scholarships,
"If everyone else can find scholarships, why are we left out?" he said.
As of press time, the group has received $581 in donations.
More From Huff
February 27th, 2011
Wall Street Journal
By AMIR EFRATI
Google Inc., long considered the gold standard of Internet search, is changing the secret formula it uses to rank Web pages as it struggles to combat websites that have been able to game its system.
The Internet giant, which handles nearly two-thirds of the world's Web searches, has been under fire recently over the quality of its results. Google said it changed its mathematical formula late Thursday in order to better weed out "low-quality" sites that offer users little value. Some such sites offer just enough content to appear in search results and lure users to pages loaded with advertisements.
Google generates billions of dollars from advertising linked to its search engine, whose influence as a front door to the world's online content and commerce continues to grow by the year. Google's power over the fortunes of so many other companies has made it a target of competitor complaints. It has also faced government investigations, including scrutiny by regulators in the U.S. and Europe.
The Silicon Valley company built its business on the strength of algorithms that yield speedy results. The company constantly refines those formulas, and sometimes takes manual action to penalize companies that it believes use tricks to artificially rise in search rankings. In recent weeks, it has cracked down on retailers J.C. Penney Co. and Overstock.com Inc.
Last month, Google acknowledged it "can and should do better" to beat back sites that "copy content from other websites" or provide information that is "just not very useful" but are ranked highly anyway.
"I've never seen Google be attacked on the relevancy of their results the way they have these past couple of months," said Danny Sullivan, editor of a widely read blog about the field called Search Engine Land.
The debate about Google's results was sparked by a recent blog post by Vivek Wadhwa, a former technology executive and a visiting scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. He wrote that his students had trouble finding basic information about the founders of start-up companies on Google.
"The problem is that content on the internet is growing exponentially and the vast majority of this content is spam," or of little use, he wrote. "Google has become a jungle."
On Friday, Mr. Wadhwa said in an interview that he had previously "written Google off" but is now "optimistic they may well get this under control," though it will take time to see whether there are improvements. "It's not rocket science; they know who the bad guys are, they compensate the companies" by letting them post Google ads and share revenue, he said.
Google search engineer Amit Singhal said in an interview that the company added numerous "signals," or factors it would incorporate into its algorithm. Among those signals are "how users interact with" a site.
It also used feedback from hundreds of people it regularly hires to evaluate changes. These "human raters" were asked to look at search results and decide whether they would give their credit card number to a site or follow its medical advice, Mr. Singhal said.
On Thursday night, Mr. Singhal and a colleague wrote in a blog post that most of the changes would be "so subtle that very few people notice them" but "it's a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results."
About 12% of U.S.-based queries would be affected by the change, Google said, and the changes would expand to non-U.S. users in the near future.
Google didn't give examples of Web pages that rose or dropped in its rankings for certain queries, setting off a wave of speculation by professionals whose job it is to help sites rise in Google's results.
"It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down," the Google engineers wrote, adding that sites with original content "such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on" will move up.
Many sites rely on Web traffic from Google, and even a small drop in the rankings could have a large impact and potentially reduce revenue. On Friday some large content creators, such as HubPages.com and ChaCha.com, said they noticed significant changes to traffic for some of their pages.
Demand Media Inc., which recently went public and runs large content sites such as eHow.com and Answerbag.com, said "we haven't seen a material net impact."
Mr. Sullivan, the blogger, said an eHow page with what he characterized as "shallow" content previously appeared as the first Google search result when users searched "how to get pregnant fast." Since Google's change Thursday, the eHow page has dropped out of the top results.
Thursday's move was an example of Google's tremendous influence over the Web, which has drawn scrutiny from U.S. and overseas governments that have launched probes to see whether it is involved in anticompetitive behavior. More recently, some websites have complained that Google is placing links to its own services ahead of Google's competitors.
Google says it acts in the best interest of users, and frustration by some sites is understandable.
"Google has an enormous amount of power to make or break businesses," said Scott Jones, chief executive of ChaCha Search Inc., a question-and-answer site, who said he was seeing some negative effects from Thursday's algorithm change, especially for Web pages on his site that have short, "bite-sized" content.
"It's unfair, I think, that Google made some wide, paint-brush decisions here in their algorithm that didn't take into account a site like ChaCha that does have unique content created at fairly high cost," he said.
Paul Edmondson, chief executive of HubPages.com, which shares ad revenue with writers that publish Web content about a variety of topics from making scarves to Mexico's Day of the Dead holiday, said it was too early to tell how his site, would fare under the changes.
Web traffic sent by Google to a HubPages article about nose piercing rose by 40% since yesterday, he said, while traffic to an article on "what happens if you abandon your home and let it foreclose" dropped by 80%.
Google said the effort that resulted in the latest search change has been underway for about a year. In order to learn which sites users find to be of poor quality, Google earlier this month began offering software for its Chrome browser that allows users to block sites from their search results if they deem them to be low quality.
Once blocked, the sites won't appear during future searches. Google on Thursday said that while it didn't use data from the experiment to influence the changes it made to its algorithm, it found that the algorithm change covered 84% of the Internet sites that were the "most-blocked" by users.
One new competitor to Google, start-up search engine Blekko, relies on its users to weed out what they believe are poor sites in categories such as health, cars and personal finance.
"Overall Google has done a great job and there are very few cracks in the system," said Seth Besmertnik, chief executive of Conductor Inc., a company that helps companies such as General Electric Co. and Federal Express rank highly on search engines. "But spammers are getting smarter and Google needs to keep getting smarter."
More From The WSJ
Write to Amir Efrati at firstname.lastname@example.org
February 27th, 2011
Forces fighting to oust the Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi have seized the city of Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) west of the capital, Tripoli.
The Libyan government took journalists to Zawiya on Sunday morning.
But instead of a show of government force, reporters saw opposition fighters manning the barricades in the city centre and flying their flag.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose sanctions on Col Gaddafi's regime.
Eastern Libya has fallen to the uprising, which began on 16 February in the wake of revolutions which toppled the long-serving leaders of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
However the Libyan capital Tripoli remains in the control of Col Gaddafi, who is facing the biggest challenge to his 41-year rule.
At least 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in nearly two weeks of violence.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says nearly 100,000 migrants have fled to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt in the past week.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi Muammar Gaddafi's son
"They are saying we have money in Europe or Switzerland... It's a joke”
It warns of a growing humanitarian crisis. Many of the migrants have no way to get home and are sleeping out in the open.
'Ready to fight'
Pro-Gaddafi forces are surrounding Zawiya, which saw fierce fighting last week.
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, who was on the government-organised trip to Zawiya, says the centre of the city and its immediate outskirts appear to be wholly in the control of anti-Gaddafi forces.
Pro-Gaddafi forces have tried a couple of times to enter the city, local people have told him, but the rebellion has been going on since 17 February, and they say it is going to continue.
Some of the demonstrators in central Zawiya fired weapons into the air, saying they were protesting peacefully but were ready to fight.
"This is our revolution," some, quoted by Reuters news agency, chanted.
A number of protesters stood on top of a captured tank while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun, Reuters added.
In a televised speech on Thursday, Col Gaddafi addressed the people of Zawiya, saying young people were being duped with drugs and alcohol to take part in "destruction and sabotage".
The BBC's Firas Kilani in Tripoli says the situation in the capital is calm, and hundreds of people are gathered in front of banks to receive cash the Libyan leader recently granted to each family.
The Security Council unanimously backed an arms embargo and asset freeze on the Libyan government. It also voted to refer Col Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam denied that the leader had any assets abroad.
"We are a very modest family and everybody knows that," he told ABC News. "They are saying we have money in Europe or Switzerland... It's a joke."
He also commented on the senior government officials and diplomats who have joined the anti-government camp, calling them "hypocrites".
"Its' good we get rid of them," he said.
US President Barack Obama has said the Libyan leader should step down and leave the country immediately.
Italy - which has close ties to Libya - said on Sunday that the end of Col Gaddafi's rule was "inevitable".
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also said a friendship and co-operation treaty between the two countries was "de facto suspended".
Discussions on forming an anti-Gaddafi transitional government are reportedly under way in Libya.
Mustafa Abdel-Jalil - who resigned as justice minister in protest against the excessive use of force against demonstrators - said a body comprising military and civilian figures would prepare for elections within three months, Libya's privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported.