Fast radio burst may point to the first “blitzar” we’ve observed

ARS Technica - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 08:34
Image of a radio telescope against the night sky.

Enlarge / The CHIME telescope has proven adept at picking up fast radio bursts. (credit: Andre Renard / CHIME Collaboration)

By combing through a collection of data, researchers may have discovered evidence that we've already observed the first "blitzar," a bizarre astronomical event caused by the sudden collapse of an overly massive neutron star. The event is driven by an earlier merger of two neutron stars; this creates an unstable intermediate neutron star, which is kept from collapsing immediately by its rapid spin. In a blitzar, the strong magnetic fields of the neutron star slow down its spin, causing it to collapse into a black hole several hours after the merger.

That collapse suddenly deletes the dynamo powering the magnetic fields, releasing their energy in the form of a fast radio burst. The researchers who performed the analysis suggest that this phenomenon could explain the non-repeating forms of these events.

Too big to live

How big can a neutron star get before it collapses into a black hole? We don't have a good answer, in part because we're not sure what happens to the bizarre forms of matter inside one of these massive objects. We don't even know if the neutrons that give the star its name survive or fall apart into their component quarks. It's one of those annoying questions where the answer includes the phrase "it depends."

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Categories: Tech News

First Directly Elected UAW President Vows 'War Against Our One and Only True Enemy: Multibillion Dollar Corporations'

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 08:25

The new president of the United Auto Workers Shawn Fain—who ran as part of a reform slate with the slogan “No Corruption. No Concessions. No Tiers.”—began his tenure by vowing the union is readying itself “for the war against our one and only true enemy: multibillion dollar corporations and employers that refuse to give our members their fair share.”

The UAW—officially known as the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America—is a wide-ranging union representing more than 400,000 active members and 580,000 retired members with more than 600 local unions and 1,750 contracts. (Full disclosure: I am a member of ACT-UAW Local 7902 in my role as an adjunct professor at New York University.)

Fain is the first UAW president to be directly elected by the union’s membership. Prior to this election, the union’s senior leadership was chosen by delegates at a convention, a closed process that encouraged cronyism and corruption that often didn’t represent the will of the rank-and-file. Since 2017, 16 former officials have been convicted by the Department of Justice with corruption-related crimes. General Motors accused Fiat-Chrysler, now named Stellantis, of racketeering in negotiating its 2011 and 2015 contracts with the UAW (an appeals court threw out the case but GM is trying to take it to the Supreme Court). Two consecutive UAW presidents, who were in office from 2014 to 2019, were sentenced to jail time. A federal monitor overseeing the union in the wake of the corruption scandal ordered the UAW directly elect its leadership.

Fain, a member of a reform group called UAW Workers United, ran as an underdog against Ray Curry, who had been UAW president since 2021, but was perceived as being too close to the old guard wrapped up in scandal. Not only did Fain win, but the UAW Members United slate swept the table and now have majority control of the UAW International Executive Board, according to a statement put out by UAW Members United.

“Our entire union family now needs to come together to take on the Big Three and the many other challenges facing the UAW,” the statement said. “A new day is dawning for our union.”

Categories: Tech News

Tears of the Kingdom lets you make weapons, rafts, and more from component parts

ARS Technica - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 08:14

For a major game that was first announced nearly four years ago and is set to launch in less than two months, we've seen remarkably little gameplay footage from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom beyond some very sparse trailers. Nintendo set out to partially fix that today, releasing a new video in which Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma showed off some of Link's new abilities in a guided 10-minute gameplay presentation.

The most impactful new ability on display was called "Fuse," which lets Link put together two disparate objects to create a new one with a brand-new effect. In the simplest example of this, Aonuma fused together a basic tree branch (which breaks incredibly easily even during simple fights) with a rock, creating a makeshift hammer with a lot more power and durability.

Tree branch + boulder = makeshift hammer.

Tree branch + boulder = makeshift hammer. (credit: Nintendo)

Unlike in Breath of the Wild, where Link had to hunt for the most powerful weapons, the focus here will be on creating those weapons from component parts, Aonuma said. Fusing a long stick with a pitchfork can give you a longer attack range, for instance, and fusing various materials to arrows can create useful side-effects like freezing powers or a homing capability.

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Cartels Are Smuggling Fentanyl on Passenger Buses

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 08:01

MEXICO CITY — The recent arrest of two bus drivers carrying four kilos of fentanyl and a kilo of heroin in Mexico highlights the use of commercial passenger routes for trafficking drugs towards the United States.

Authorities discovered the drugs stashed in the siding of the bus next to the passenger seats last week. 

The two men, identified by their first names Jose and Ruben, were detained in the border state of Sonora traveling on a highway that connected with Sinaloa, home of the eponymous Sinaloa Cartel.

Passenger buses have long been used by Mexican drug cartels to traffic drugs around the country, and north towards the U.S. In December, authorities seized over 58 thousand fentanyl pills hidden inside a cooler on a bus traveling from Sinaloa, through Sonora on its way to Tijuana—just south of San Diego. In August, two bus drivers were arrested for attempting to smuggle nearly 21 thousand fentanyl pills through Sonora as well.

Perhaps, most notoriously, one of the principal theories about the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 may have involved drugs being hidden inside a bus. 

Students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in the southwestern state of Guerrero commandeered several buses on September 26 2014 to transport their peers to a protest in Mexico City. The practice of commandeering buses by Ayotzinapa students, which has a long tradition of activism in the region, is generally tolerated by local transportation companies.

But soon after, the buses came under fire from local police and civilians allegedly working for the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel. The Mexican government still has not confirmed a motive for the disappearance of the students, but text messages previously released by the government showed that at least one of the buses expropriated by the students was potentially being used to traffic heroin towards the U.S. The students were then mistaken for rival cartel members trying to steal the merchandise, at least initially, when the bus was attacked.

Categories: Tech News

Oh, Snap. openSUSE downloads increasing, and Leap 15.5 is coming soon

The Register - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 08:01
Could have something to do with Ubuntu kicking Flatpak. Meanwhile, SUSE may be pulling up closer to rival Red Hat

openSUSE is doing well: downloads are increasing, and a new version of the stable-release-cycle openSUSE, Leap 15.5, is coming soon.…

Categories: Tech News

Nexperia claims Newport Wafer may close if sale goes ahead

The Register - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 07:05
Staff may head for exit, followed by customers, it would 'decimate' ops, says CEO

Newport Wafer Fab may become commercially unviable if UK government insists on its sale under national security legislation, according to current owner Nexperia, which is challenging the decision in court.…

Categories: Tech News

A front-runner emerges in the European small launcher race

ARS Technica - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 06:55
Isar Aerospace tests its Aquila rocket engine.

Enlarge / Isar Aerospace tests its Aquila rocket engine. (credit: Isar Aerospace)

There are essentially three areas in the world where clusters of private companies have started to develop small launch vehicles.

The first such cluster emerged in the United States nearly two decades ago with SpaceX, which was then followed by Rocket Lab and about a dozen other serious companies. Next came China, with a profusion of quasi-private companies leveraging technology from the country's state-owned launch enterprises with private funding. The final region that has emerged in the last five years is in Europe.

This European small launcher race has essentially followed a US model, with venture capital and investors backing a number of privately led efforts to develop commercially viable small satellite launchers. Much of this activity has been clustered in Germany and Great Britain, but Spanish and French companies are also in play.

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DEA Report Finds DEA Foreign Operations Are Going Great

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 06:43

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been having a rough patch, with scandals piling up across Latin America and fentanyl deaths soaring in the United States. But according to a new $1.4 million report the agency commissioned to scrutinize itself, everything is going just fine.

The DEA published its “Foreign Operations Review” on Friday afternoon last week, releasing a 50-page document that was more than a year and a half in the making. The report, co-authored by a former DEA chief and an ex-federal prosecutor, essentially calls for continuing business as usual, ignoring recent dysfunction and corruption in the agency’s Mexico operations.

Congressional leaders responsible for oversight of the DEA expressed concern over the cost of the undertaking and the lack of recommendations for meaningful reform. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who recently demanded answers from DEA leadership about the agency’s relationship with a Mexican official convicted in February of narco-corruption, told VICE News he intends to push forward with his own investigation and called for whistleblowers to speak up.

“For spending two years and nearly $1.5 million in tax dollars on a so-called independent review, this report is stunningly vague in its actual evaluation of known problems at the DEA and remedies to fix them,” Grassley said. “This speaks to the agency’s broader effort to evade oversight.”

In February, a VICE News investigation revealed how the DEA’s former top official in Mexico opted to quietly retire rather than be fired after coming under investigation for disobeying orders, meeting with defense attorneys who represent cartel leaders, and requesting taxpayer funds to pay for a lavish birthday party that featured a mariachi band.

Have a story about DEA international operations? Contact the author

But the name of former regional director Nick Palmeri is not mentioned in the DEA’s “Foreign Operations Review.” The report does acknowledge “there have also been several recent instances of individual misconduct by DEA personnel assigned to DEA’s foreign offices,” and lists several examples, including the case of former DEA special agent Jose Irizarry, who was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for conspiring to launder money with a Colombian cartel to, as the Associated Press put it, “fund a decade’s worth of luxury overseas travel, fine dining, top seats at sporting events and frat house-style debauchery.”

“In the past, there have been critical incidents involving the DEA’s foreign operations in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, and Haiti,” the DEA report said. “Certain of these incidents have involved corruption, compromised intelligence, and civilian death.”

But the report offers no fresh details or insights about the root causes of foreign operations gone haywire, instead focusing on ways the agency can streamline communication between offices, part of an approach dubbed “One DEA.” The authors called for the DEA to rename its “foreign regions” as “foreign divisions” to match terminology used domestically. They also urged the agency to continue “breaking down information silos” and increase “compliance training.”

The authors, Jack Lawn and Boyd Johnson, did not respond to inquiries from VICE News. The DEA acknowledged receiving questions about the report but did not provide a response.

Lawn, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s “chief drug law enforcement strategist,” and Johnson, who once oversaw international narcotics prosecutions in Manhattan federal court, were never expected to hammer the DEA. But Adam Isaacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, told VICE News he was hoping for more transparency and accountability.

“It's not at all a useful document on how these foreign operations have gone wrong,” Isaacson said. “We don't have a good explanation of why the scandals keep coming so rapidly.”

Absent the DEA fixing its own mess, Isaacson called for federal lawmakers to step up and push change within the agency. 

“Congress has to get mad about the frequency of corruption scandals,” Isaacson said. “The DEA's sort of the hidebound way of working led them to sort of miss the rise of fentanyl. They are so focused on sharing information with a small number units and taking down kingpins, which we know makes no impact on drug supplies, that they miss out on big trends.” 

Categories: Tech News

Generative AI set to affect 300 million jobs across major economies

ARS Technica - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 06:30
Empty cubicles in office

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Barwick via Getty)

The latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence could lead to the automation of a quarter of the work done in the US and eurozone, according to research by Goldman Sachs.

The investment bank said on Monday that “generative” AI systems such as ChatGPT, which can create content that is indistinguishable from human output, could spark a productivity boom that would eventually raise annual global gross domestic product by 7 percent over a 10-year period.

But if the technology lived up to its promise, it would also bring “significant disruption” to the labor market, exposing the equivalent of 300 million full-time workers across big economies to automation, according to Joseph Briggs and Devesh Kodnani, the paper’s authors. Lawyers and administrative staff would be among those at greatest risk of becoming redundant.

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For the Love of God, AI Chatbots Can’t ‘Decide’ to Do Anything

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 06:00

The incessant hype over AI tools like ChatGPT is inspiring lots of bad opinions from people who have no idea what they’re talking about. From a New York Times columnist describing a chatbot as having “feelings” to right-wing grifters claiming ChatGPT is “woke” because it won’t say the N-word, the hype train seems to chug along faster with every passing week, leaving a trail of misinformation and magical thinking about the technology’s capabilities and limitations.

The latest is from a group of people that knows so little about technology, last week it considered banning TikTok because it uses Wi-Fi to access the internet: politicians. On Monday, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted an alarming missive claiming that “ChatGPT taught itself to do advanced chemistry.”

“It decided to teach itself, then made its knowledge available to anyone who asked,” the senator wrote ominously. “Something is coming. We aren't ready.”

As many AI experts pointed out in the replies, virtually every word of these statements is wrong. While it’s true that large language models like ChatGPT aren’t specifically trained to perform every possible task, it’s not because these AI tools “decided” to brush up on their chemical equations.

This phenomenon is known as in-context learning, and it’s something AI researchers have been studying for a while. Essentially, language models can use their previous inputs and outputs to extrapolate knowledge and make new—and often correct—predictions on tasks they weren’t explicitly trained for.

Researchers have hypothesized this is because the models are building smaller models inside the “hidden layers” of their neural networks, allowing them to generalize their predictive abilities. But this is the result of a predictive model adapting to new tasks in response to human prompting—not becoming sentient or “deciding” to do anything on its own.

The ability of language models to accomplish these tasks has also been greatly overstated. Several chemists and scientists commenting on Murphy’s tweet noted that ChatGPT’s understanding of chemistry is “superficial and often wrong”—a major flaw that is shared by other language models. Galactica, a model designed by Facebook’s parent company Meta to answer science questions, was taken down after users found it was generating plausible but dangerously inaccurate answers, including citations linking to scientific papers that don’t exist. ChatGPT has also been known to give these fake scientific citations, and was banned from coding forums for its tendency to generate believable but dead-wrong answers to programming questions.

Large language models can produce believable (and sometimes accurate) text that often feels like it was written by humans. But in their current form, they are essentially advanced prediction engines that are really good at guessing the next word in a sentence. OpenAI’s recent announcement of GPT-4 and its ability to pass exams like the Bar has led to all kinds of speculation on whether we are steps away from sentient AI. This is a bit like being shocked that a computer can ace a test when it has the equivalent of an open textbook and the ability to process and recall information instantly.

Even when it’s fun to imagine, the idea of language models as a nascent superintelligent AI benefits the corporations creating them. If large swaths of the public believe that we are on the cusp of giving birth to advanced machine intelligence, the hype not only pads the bottom line of companies like Google and OpenAI, but helps them avoid taking responsibility for the bias and harm that result from those systems. After all, what better way to brush off the well-documented impacts of AI bias than by having people believe these systems will soon become artificial general intelligence (AGI)— as OpenAI has suggested multiple times recently?

So far, it is all just software. It can do impressive things, and it can cause a lot of harm in the same ways Motherboard has documented for years. But it doesn’t and can’t “decide” to teach itself anything. If anything, the fact that these systems produce answers that sound correct and intelligent to humans—including to people who write laws—may be the most dangerous aspect of all.

Categories: Tech News

Arms Manufacturer Says TikTok ‘Cat Videos’ Are Keeping It From Making Ammo

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 06:00

The Norwegian defense company Nammo said it can’t expand its factory and make new ammunition because TikTok’s new data centers nearby are using up all the electricity.

As reported by the Financial Times,  Nammo is a large defense company that’s co-owned by the Norwegian government and a defense company in Finland. The war in Ukraine has spiked demand for ammunition and Nammo is looking to expand, but it says it can’t because of a new neighbor: “We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos,” Nammo’s chief executive, Morten Brandtzæg, told the Financial Times.

Kyiv is firing ammunition, especially artillery shells, faster than NATO can produce it. Russia is also running out of ammunition and, according to the Pentagon, is breaking out old and unstable reserves. According to Brandtzæg, artillery shell demand is 15 times higher than normal and Europe needs to spend more than $2 billion to keep up.

In this case, Nammo is blaming the outdated and reductive notion that TikTok (or any internet video platform) is made up primarily by cat videos. The local energy company confirmed, however, that it couldn’t keep up with demand and had promised its electricity to TikTok.

TikTok is building three data centers in Norway with an option to construct two more by 2025. Panic around TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, has reached a fever pitch in the U.S. and Europe. On Friday, France became the latest country to ban TikTok on government devices. Norway passed a similar ban on Thursday. The U.S. is considering a nationwide ban.

The panic is fueled by some legitimate concerns about TikTok’s data privacy and its connections to the Chinese Communist Party. But TikTok’s data privacy is no better or worse than many Western companies like Facebook and Google, which routinely harvest and sell the data of its users.

There is a growing paranoia in the west about China, one Brandtzæg betrayed when the Financial Times asked him if he thought TikTok’s data centers stopping the production of ammo in Europe was a pure coincidence. “I will not rule out that it’s not by pure coincidence that this activity is close to a defense company. I can’t rule it out,” he said.

Categories: Tech News

For whom the bell polls: Twitter voting is for Blue users only now

The Register - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 05:55
Is there a role for a poll for just Blue Tickers, not proles, or is this troll a social media own goal?

Opinion  Even those who do spend $7* a month to get (or keep) that treasured blue tick next to their name on Twitter may be peeved to find out that soon only verified users will be allowed to vote in polls on the platform. Bring it on: electronic ballots where only 10 people click.…

Categories: Tech News

Half-Black Student in Japan Segregated During Graduation For Wearing Cornrows

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 05:09

A Black and Japanese teenager in Japan was pulled away from his classmates during his graduation ceremony because he showed up with cornrows, according to local reports.

The unnamed 18-year-old, who has black and curly hair, wore braids because his high school graduation was a special occasion, Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun reported on Tuesday. He wanted to show up with “neat hair” to the February ceremony, so he asked his father—a Black researcher from New York—about the hairstyle.

But his public high school, located in the western prefecture of Hyogo, said his cornrows were against the rules. Administrators made him sit on the second floor, segregated from his classmates. Teachers also told him he wasn’t allowed to respond to his name when it was called.

The episode has prompted a debate about Japan’s notoriously strict school rules, known as burakku kousoku, as well as discriminatory actions against racial minorities in a country with a 98 percent ethnic Japanese population.

“I was surprised to see a response similar to the old U.S. racial segregation policy of ‘separate but equal.’ Why do you have to worry about the hairstyle? It’s a graduation ceremony,” Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, tweeted. He added that Japan needs to be better at accepting diversity in education.

In an interview with Mainichi Shimbun, the student’s father said: “Braiding is a way for Black people to arrange their hair, the same way that Japanese people part their hair. It’s discriminatory to assume that a hairstyle with roots is a violation without any reason.”

Schools in Japan have repeatedly come under fire for imposing draconian school rules on their students. Among the many restrictions, some institutions dictate sock and skirt length, underwear color and eyebrow shape.

Hair is heavily regulated as well, with some schools demanding photographic proof that a pupil’s locks aren’t naturally black and straight. One school went so far as to edit a student’s yearbook photos so her brown hair would appear darker.

Asao Naito, an associate professor of sociology from Meiji University who has studied burakku kousoku, was unsurprised by the school’s reaction to the student’s cornrows.

Japanese schools place far greater importance on the school’s image as a whole than a student’s individualism, Naito said. To do this, institutions impose strict regulations in ways that would seem totally unreasonable by society’s standards.

As a result, the regulations emphasize the collective and begin to make the school feel like a cult, Naito said. “They strictly enforce obedience in the form of hairstyles, skirt lengths, underwear colors, and so on, as an act of showing that the human being belongs entirely to the school and is a servant of the school,” he told VICE World News.

Motoki Sugiyama, a former middle school teacher, said Japan takes for granted that the majority is Buddhist, black-haired, heterosexual and Japanese by ancestry. That’s why there’s limited understanding of other cultures, an issue that’s reflected in how schools deal with non-Japanese pupils, he said.

“Unless the Japanese people change, restrictions on appearances in schools will not disappear,” he told VICE World News.

Restrictive school rules in Japan date back to at least the 1870s, when the central government began regulating education institutions. Attention to such regulations heightened in the 1970s and 1980s, when students increasingly protested against burakku kousoku. Educators were also passing stricter rules to crack down on bullying and school violence during this period.

Now, some institutions are getting rid of the repressive regulations. Southern Japan’s Fukuoka City plans to eliminate all school rules considered to be unreasonable—such as ponytail bans—by the new school year in all of the city’s junior high schools. More schools are also offering genderless uniforms to respect pupils’ gender diversity and sexual identity.

The rules of the school in Hyogo, which hasn’t been identified, reportedly stipulate that hairstyles should be “clean and appropriate for high school students, without being influenced by fashion trends.” Boys must make sure their hair doesn’t cover their eyes, ears or shirt collars. Though bleaching, dyeing, and hair-drying are prohibited, braiding is not explicitly specified.

When asked why the student was restricted from participating in his graduation, the school simply said the hairstyle wasn’t allowed and that it didn’t mean he wasn’t allowed to attend—he just had to sit somewhere else.

Reflecting on the incident, the graduate told Mainichi Shimbun: “This hairstyle is part of my father’s roots and is my culture as a Black man.”

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories: Tech News

British Prime Minister Sunak’s plans for UK NFT on ice

The Register - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 04:51
Consultation with the Treasury puts non-fungible token proposals under review

In what can only be described as a typically British piece of dithering, the Treasury said it has decided to put plans for the Royal Mint to launch an NFT — announced with great fanfare last year — on hold.…

Categories: Tech News

Modi’s Biggest Rival Called Him a Thief. Now He’s Going to Jail.

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 04:22

The leader of India’s main opposition party, who analysts say had the best chance of challenging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 2024 general elections, is no longer qualified to do so. 

In a move that many are calling a blow to Indian democracy, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress (INC), was disqualified from his parliamentary seat on Friday after a local court convicted him of defaming Modi and sentenced him to two years in jail. 

Sidharth Luthra, a senior Supreme Court advocate and former Additional Solicitor General of India, told VICE World News that the imposition of a two-year sentence for Gandhi is “unusual and unprecedented.” 

“Defamation cases ordinarily don’t end up with a maximum two-year sentence,” he said. “It appears that at no stage was any jurisdictional or substantial challenge carried to the higher courts that has led to this result.”

The 52-year-old is out on bail and his sentence has been suspended for 30 days to allow for an appeal. Protests erupted across the country following the conviction, with people carrying “Democracy in Danger” banners. 

India’s reputation as the world’s largest democracy is on shaky grounds as human rights reports document growing stifling of dissent, often through archaic, colonial-era laws. Gandhi is the scion of India’s most prominent political family, and is also Modi’s loudest critic. 

india, rahul gandhi, prime minister narendra modi, bharatiya janata party, democracyMembers of the Indian National Congress and other opposition parties hold a "Democracy in Danger" banner at a protest march in New Delhi, India. Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In the 2019 speech that got Gandhi convicted ahead of that year’s general election, which he lost, he accused Modi of corruption and crony capitalism. 

“Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi, Anil Ambani, Narendra Modi, they’re a group of thieves,” Gandhi said. Nirav, Choksi, Mallya and Lalit are all fugitives accused of large-scale financial fraud. “How are the names of all these thieves ‘Modi?’”

Gandhi’s conviction stems from the defamation case registered by Purnesh Modi, a politician from Nerandra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, who said Gandhi’s speech hurt the reputation of the wider “Modi” community. In India, surnames are assigned by one’s caste, the ancient Hindu practice that creates social hierarchy based on occupation. 

“The facts of the case are quite weak when it comes to criminal defamation,” Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told VICE World News. 

“The bad joke Gandhi is being prosecuted for, the way the complainant delayed the proceedings and then suddenly sped things up, and how the parliament moved hastily to disqualify Gandhi—all of this suggests some degree of political motivation.” 

Though potentially a politically motivated move, Modi’s popularity far exceeds Gandhi’s, with the prime minister winning two consecutive terms in 2014 and 2019 with an overwhelming majority. The INC controls less than 10 percent of the elected seats in parliament’s lower house. Despite Gandhi’s attempts to overhaul his image, his popularity remains low. Surveys based on voter preferences show that Modi is a favourite for the 2024 elections too. 

Soon after his disqualification, Gandhi said he’s being targeted because “the prime minister is scared of my next speech.”

“He is scared of the next speech that is going to come on Adani,” he is quoted as saying. "I am not scared of this disqualification. I will continue to ask the question, 'what is the prime minister’s relationship with Mr Adani?’

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, recently lost $60 billion and his position as the world’s second richest man, after US-based Hindenburg Research accused him of detailing decades of “brazen” stock manipulation and accounting fraud. Adani denies the allegation. 

Opposition politicians condemn Gandhi’s disqualification as “personal vendetta.” 

“This is a great example of the Modi government's politics of vengeance, politics of threats, politics of intimidation and politics of harassment,” politician Jairam Ramesh, a member of the Indian National Congress, told the media last week. 

Indian laws make it mandatory for lawmakers to be immediately disqualified once being convicted of offences. 

In the last few days, different opposition parties beyond the INC have united to condemn Gandhi’s conviction and disqualification. 

But Vaishnav says the verdict and disqualification shows how powerful the BJP can be and its determination to get rid of any threats to its influence. 

“This has changed the narrative of Indian politics in the sense that the focus on allegations of crony capitalism and corruption will now be shifted to Gandhi,” he said. 

“But it will further sharpen BJP’s fortunes in the coming elections.”

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.

Categories: Tech News

Rackspace racks up job cuts amid market downturn and talk of offshoring

The Register - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 03:45
Everything from inflation, to war in Ukraine and high interest rates 'point to recession', says CEO in memo to staff

Exclusive  Cloud reseller and integrator Rackspace Technology is kicking off a restructuring process involving the loss of nearly 4 percent of the global workforce due to a slowdown in cloud computing growth rates.…

Categories: Tech News

New Source of Water on the Moon Estimated to Hold 270 Trillion Kilograms of Water

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 03:43

Scientists have found a new source of water on the moon: trapped in tiny glass beads formed millions of years ago when asteroids and other impactors hit the lunar surface.

In a study published in the Nature Geoscience journal on Monday, researchers estimated that the glass beads—pellets the width of strands of hair that are ubiquitous on the surface of the moon—collectively may hold up to 270 trillion kilograms of water. Enough to fill 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, this reservoir of water can potentially supply astronauts in future space exploration.

“The moon is constantly bombarded with impactors—for example micrometeoroids and large meteoroids—which produce impact glass beads during high-energy flash-heating events,” Sen Hu, a co-author of the study, told VICE World News. The spheres were formed as material melted under the kinetic energy from the collisions and hardened as it cooled, added Sen Hu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Geophysics.

The dozens of impact beads analyzed in the study were hand picked from a lunar soil sample obtained by China’s Chang’e-5 moon mission in 2020. The unmanned spacecraft, which collected 1.5 kilograms of material with a mechanical scoop and a drill, delivered new lunar samples to Earth in December that year—more than four decades after the Soviet Union’s Luna program and the U.S.’ Apollo missions.

While the presence of water on the moon has been known for decades and confirmed through many studies, scientists were baffled by how water appears and disappears over the lunar day on the moon, which suggested there was a reservoir of water that had yet to be identified in the lunar soil.

This latest finding provides an answer. While the beads are tiny in size, ranging from a few tens of micrometers to a few millimeters, they have a water content of up to 0.2 percent of its weight.

Analyzing their hydration profile, researchers traced the origin of the water to the solar wind, a continual stream of protons and electrons that flows outward from the corona, the sun’s outermost layer of atmosphere, through the solar system. The solar-wind hydrogen reacts with oxygen present at the surface of the lunar glass beads, producing water that diffuses into the orbs, Hu said.

These beads also release their entrapped water into space, which explains the water cycle on the lunar surface, Hu said.

The finding of substantial water contents in these beads has implications for other airless bodies, such as the planet Mercury and the asteroid Vesta, where impact craters have also been detected.

Researchers are also looking into ways of collecting the water from the beads, which can pave the way for in situ resource utilization—the use of local material obtained and manufactured on astronomical objects—and missions further into the solar system.

“Knowing how water is produced, stored and replenished near the lunar surface would be very useful for future explorers to extract and utilize it for exploration purposes,” Hu said.

Follow Rachel Cheung on Twitter and Instagram.

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Couple Arrested After Letting a 3-Year-Old Boy Smoke Meth

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 03:12

Vietnam police arrested a couple on Sunday for drug possession after allegedly allowing a three-year-old to smoke methamphetamine.

Last week, videos of the toddler on social media—including one where he’s seen smoking from a meth pipe, wearing nothing but a diaper—sparked widespread concern in Vietnam about the child’s safety.

Following a police report from the boy’s biological father on Friday, police launched an investigation into the child’s caretakers, who are his mother and her boyfriend. Ho Chi Minh City police arrested the couple at a house in the Cu Chi District, where they also found meth and drug paraphernalia, local media reported.

Police are investigating the boy’s mother, Nguyen Thao Nguyen, detaining the 23-year-old on Sunday. Her 44-year-old boyfriend, Le Van Bam, is also being investigated for drug possession and child abuse. In other videos, Bam is seen threatening the boy with a hammer and pliers.

When questioned by the police, the couple said that they had “only let the boy use meth once just for fun.”

When presenting the incriminating videos to the police last week, the boy’s biological father, identified in local reports only as Tai, said they were likely filmed four to five months ago. Tai discovered the videos of his son recently when he logged into Nguyen’s Facebook account to sell items.

Besides filing a police report, Tai also posted the videos on social media, hoping that public attention would help him to rescue his child, he told local media. As the videos garnered widespread anger, the Ho Chi Minh City Children's Rights Protection Association urged police on Saturday to investigate the case and find out if the boy was abused.

Vietnam has some of the world’s harshest drug penalties, where drug possession may be punishable by life imprisonment. However, Vietnam is also a major trafficking hub for drugs coming out of the Golden Triangle, one of the world’s largest drug-producing areas across Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Tai told police that he has two children with Nguyen, a five-year-old girl and the boy in the video. Two years ago, Nguyen left him, taking the children to live with Bam.

Bam tested positive for drugs, while the toddler tested negative. The three-year-old is currently staying at a children’s hospital, where he’s reportedly in stable condition.

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A Mom Stopped Paying Her Bills Because of the QAnon Queen. She Lost Her Home.

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 03:00

Shortly after police forcibly removed her from her home, Bonnie sat in her car, surrounded by her animals, and frantically posted in a Telegram chatroom for the QAnon Queen of Canada. 

“They don't care,” she wrote. “They threw us out with no clothes, no food, nothing at all. The cats, birds, and my daughter are in the vehicle. My other daughter is at school. Please, we need your help!”

“Please, Queen! They just removed me from our home. We have no place to go.”

Over a year ago, Bonnie stopped paying her mortgage and other bills because Romana Didulo, a QAnon figure who has named herself the queen of Canada, declared all utilities and mortgages free under a “royal decree.” So Bonnie ignored all warnings that her payments were due and her home was being foreclosed upon. She thought the pedophilic cabal—the evil group Didulo’s followers believe she’s secretly battling—was just trying to scare her. 

Then on Feb. 17, a bailiff knocked on her door alongside multiple Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and forcibly removed Bonnie and her family. In  an area where temperatures routinely drop to -20 degrees Celsius, they couldn’t even bring winter gear with them, she wrote. More than a month later, Bonnie and her family remain without a home. 

Her queen, in return, has done nothing. 

Bonnie is not the woman’s real name. VICE News will not be naming her or identifying the town she lived in. Bonnie did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, and when VICE News first reached out to her, she called the reporter a “traitor.” 

But court documents reviewed by VICE News and interviews with people familiar with Bonnie’s situation confirmed that her home was indeed seized and that she hasn’t been allowed back.

Didulo is a conspiracy figure who arose from the QAnon movement. She’s not only convinced hundreds of people across Canada—and even some internationally—that she’s royalty, but also an interdimensional being in contact with aliens. Until recently, Didulo was on a year-long cross-country RV trip with several of her followers, hosting meet-and-greets in small towns along the way. Now, the group is holed up on one of her follower’s properties in Nova Scotia, apparently building a compound. 

While experts and former members (some of which have raised serious allegations of abuse) worry about those living with Didulo, Bonnie is a clear example of the damage the queen’s rhetoric and teachings are causing on the internet as well. 

“She doesn't seem to really care. She claims to be benevolent, but she seems to be anything but,” Christine Sarteschi, a professor of social work and criminology at Chatham University, who closely follows Didulo. “It's a shame. It's sad. People are being harmed by somebody who is a fraud.”

Followers of Didulo, including Bonnie, have had their electricity shut off because of Didulo’s preachings. Others have disclosed to their fellow supporters that they, too, are being foreclosed upon. One woman whose home is set to be taken over by the bank imminently sent a cease and desist notice in Didulo’s name as a last ditch effort. 

It did not work.

In the same Telegram chat where Bonnie begged for help after she was evicted, she chronicled the events leading up to her losing her home. For months she wrote about how banks attempted to get her to pay, and she repeatedly asked Didulo for advice. In the end, however, she outright refused to pay. And when she was foreclosed upon, she refused to give up her property. At one point in December, she was called to go to court to dispute the foreclosure. 

“I never attended because Queen Romana said it’s nil and void [sic], but they foreclosed anyhow and threatened to evict me by force if I don’t comply,” Bonnie wrote in the Telegram chat. “They let a realtor in my home (threats as usual).”

“I stood strong because Queen Romana is the real deal and the Kingdom of Canada is amazing,” she added later.

“I stood strong because Queen Romana is the real deal and the Kingdom of Canada is amazing.”

Didulo and those traveling with her not only ignore the suffering she inflicts on her most diehard believers, they constantly pester her followers for money. In the past two years, they've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Didulo.

Didulo’s latest gambit involves gathering donations for what she calls “loyalty money.” The currency—comically large pieces of paper with Didulo’s purple flag on them—is supposedly worth 100,000 (of what, no one knows). But it’s, obviously, not usable anywhere. Her followers, however, celebrated the livestream releasing the currency. One of Didulo’s followers, who’s currently unhoused, even hopes to use the loyalty money to put a roof over their head. Bonnie has also since requested the loyalty money but has yet to receive it. 

In the days following Bonnie’s removal from her home, Didulo’s followers asked what happened to her and if their queen would intervene. 

“This is a tragedy,” wrote one supporter. “Queen Romana needs to deploy the military.”

The comment, however, and many others, including some of Bonnie's, were removed from some of the chats. Sarteschi said that isn’t unusual; the queen’s moderators will typically clean up anything that even remotely questions Didulo’s power. 

"I remember the day that Bonnie was posting all those messages about losing her home and her family being out, they did a live stream later that day. They never mentioned her,” Sarteschi said. “There was never any apology or 'Let us help you.' There's never anything like that.” 

“I do think there's a lot of families affected who we never hear from,” she added. 

Still, Didulo has such a strong grasp on her followers that even terrible occurrences won’t break it. Since being removed from her home, Bonnie remains sporadically active in the chat. She doesn’t mention specifically what's going on but says it’s “awful.” And despite everything that has happened, she remains in service to her queen. 

“I want to help you as much as I can as soon as we are back in our home,” she recently wrote to Didulo. “It's been a long month dealing with our situation.” 

As always, the message went ignored. 

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Indonesia’s Crazy Rich Public Servants Are Being Exposed by Online Sleuths

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 03/28/2023 - 02:51

When 20-year-old Mario Dandy ​​Satrio heard that his 15-year-old girlfriend had been mistreated by an ex-boyfriend, he got in his jeep and confronted the ex at a residential complex in Jakarta.

In a graphic video of the confrontation on Feb. 20 that has since gone viral, Mario is seen kicking and punching 17-year-old Cristalino David Ozora Latumahina, who lay motionless on the ground. David has spent the past month in intensive care after falling into a coma. His uncle said on Saturday that the teen’s condition has improved recently with physiotherapy, but David remains unable to recognize his parents due to severe brain injuries he sustained during the attack.

Meanwhile, Mario was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, an offense that carries five years in prison. He may also be charged under child protection laws for assaulting a minor.

As the video of the assault sparked anger across Indonesia, public attention soon turned to Mario’s penchant for expensive vehicles—including a Harley Davidson motorcycle and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon he had driven to confront David—which he would flaunt on social media. This raised questions about the extraordinary wealth of his public servant father, Rafael Alun Trisambodo.

The initial anger over the attack has now morphed into a campaign against suspiciously wealthy public servants in Indonesia, who have long been an open secret. The campaign, in which internet sleuths have scoured social media to expose the luxurious lifestyles of public servants, shows little sign of waning, as more officials find themselves in the crosshairs facing widespread public anger.

Vishnu Juwono, an associate professor of public governance at the University of Indonesia, says that Mario Dandy’s case has amplified what the public has long known about Indonesian public servants’ shady wealth.

“It’s secret public knowledge that tax officials have unrealistic assets. It shows in the lifestyle of their families,” he told VICE World News. “Now in Indonesia there’s growing usage of social media, especially in Mario Dandy’s case—social media [content] related to luxurious lifestyles.”

Within a week of Mario’s assault, Rafael was suspended from his post as the authorities launched a probe into his source of wealth. The government’s anti-money laundering agency also froze the family’s bank accounts.

Last year, Rafael, a mid-level tax official, reported 56.1 billion rupiah ($3.7 million) in personal wealth to the Corruption Eradication Commission—almost as much as that of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, local media reported.

But his actual wealth may be far higher. During the probe by the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, investigators found that the sum across dozens of Rafael’s suspected bank accounts may total up to 500 billion rupiah ($33 million). However, Rafael has denied that he underreported his wealth.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, said that they have since received more tip-offs about disproportionately wealthy public officials.

“This just happens to be one incident. But there are actually many government officials whose wealth reports do not match their profiles or their job as a civil servant,” KPK deputy chairman Alexander Marwata said in February.

Public officials who have been called out have either retreated into the shadows or offered weak rebuttals.

Last week, embattled by criticisms of his wife’s designer handbag collection and her luxurious holidays to Europe, Riau Province Regional Secretary SF Hariyanto tried to set the record straight at a press conference.

“These are fake,” he said of his wife’s designer handbags, adding that she would stay in budget-friendly apartments and take public transportation during her trips.

One of the sleuths at the forefront of the campaign is the Twitter account @PartaiSocmed, which scours social media for suspiciously wealthy public officials and their families, and shares their findings to their 373,000 Twitter followers.

“The public response has been very positive and supportive, perhaps because they are already fed up with the corruption that is displayed openly in this country,” the account owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, told VICE World News.

“[Public servants] are known publicly as corrupt and lazy, although many are also good. Without generalizing, the public believes Indonesian public servants must be bribed first to serve the community.”

As a social media movement called for the boycott of taxes in response to the perceived corruption of tax officials like Rafael, snowballing public outcry has sparked concern from even the country’s top officials, who have publicly spoken out against the lavish lifestyles of their subordinates.

When netizens pointed out the existence of BlastingRijder, a luxury motorcycle club formed by tax officials, finance minister Sri Mulyani urged on social media for the club to be disbanded.

“A hobby and lifestyle of riding large motorcycles create a negative perception and a suspicion from the public as to where DJP employees get their riches from,” she wrote in an Instagram post, describing the behavior as “unbecoming.”

As more officials come under fire for their lifestyles, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told ministers this month to clean up the acts of their subordinates and urged other public officials to refrain from flaunting their wealth.

“[The public believes] the public service has been poor, and the government officials are behaving arrogantly, flexing their power and wealth, and are hedonistic,” he said, adding that he was not surprised that people were disappointed with these officials.

According to the Corruption Eradication Commission, it had long harbored suspicions about Rafael’s wealth and has been working with the finance ministry to look into his case since 2020. But it took the torrent of public anger to accelerate their investigation before Rafael was dishonorably discharged earlier this month.

Vishnu, the associate professor, says the investigation and dismissal of Rafael is a “rare” case of accountability for Indonesia’s senior officials. Public scrutiny and media attention has proven useful in bringing justice to officials whose misdeeds would have otherwise slipped under the radar, he added.

“This will be a good precedent,” said Vishnu. “But the dismissal of Rafael still leaves a huge problem within the Ministry of Finance and the bureaucracy in Indonesia overall.”

“The next couple of months will be a crucial period for the Ministry of Finance [to show that] they do take this seriously and they have to do more in terms of bureaucratic reform and improving internal supervision.”

Jonathan Latumahina, David’s father and a prominent figure in the non-profit Islamic organization Ansor Youth Movement, is still hoping for justice to be served for his son, who now faces a long road to recovery. Days after the attack, Jonathan wrote in a tweet that he had accepted the apology from the perpetrator’s family after a visit from them in hospital.

But on March 22, exactly 30 days after David was battered into a coma, his father rescinded his forgiveness in another tweet.

“I am writing here, in front of my son who is currently unconscious, still struggling due to severe damage to his brain nerves…” he wrote.

“I am not willing and there is no forgiveness whatsoever. Ask your God for forgiveness.”

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