The Edhi Foundation — synonymous with humanitarian work — was robbed over the weekend in Karachi. Over $1 million was stolen. Pakistanis are shocked that the respected group would be the target of such a crime.
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In the summer of 2011, American journalist Suki Kim got a job teaching English at the elite, all-male, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
Kim, who was born in South Korea and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at age 13, is a fluent Korean speaker and secretly took notes during her six months at the university. This formed the basis for her new book, Without You, There Is No Us.
Though the university is geared for the privileged few, the students, like all North Koreans, are tightly controlled. The young men were closely monitored by female guards, they were not allowed off campus except for group outings, they were discouraged from asking about the wider world.
On the day before Kim left the country in December 2011, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Il died, sending the nation into mourning.
The next morning, the students “looked as though they’d been crying all night, as though their souls had been sucked out of them, as though they’d just lost a parent,” said Kim.
She spoke with Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep about her rare insider’s glimpse of the reclusive country.
On speaking about the country’s leader
You don’t talk about Great Leader [Kim Il-Sung, the country's founder] by name. You certainly never, ever bring up anything about the outside world. The fact that I travel outside, really, is not something that I was supposed to talk about. But then, you live together for months and months and share three meals a day together. Then, suddenly, things start happening where you ask things.
On what the students asked
One time, a student did ask me about a national assembly. I think it was a word he picked up somewhere.
There was no way you could discuss that without bringing democracy into a conversation. And once I began talking about it, I got very nervous because the students were all watching each other and reporting on each other. After we discussed democracy at the table, later, another student, who’s a roommate of that student, told me that he’s with me. Meaning, he thinks like me. And that really scared me, because I thought, then, some of them are questioning the system.
Suki Kim is also the author of The Interpreter, a novel.
Ed Kashi/Courtesy of Crown
Ed Kashi/Courtesy of Crown
Ed Kashi/Courtesy of Crown
On how cut-off the students were from the wider world
Some were more sheltered than others. Whatever the reason was, on [the] surface, because it is a system so based — built on fear, they’re not supposed to admit it, even if they knew. They were never supposed to admit to knowing what’s going on outside. So for example, we talked about the way they celebrate birthdays.
Usually, they go back to their dormitory after dinner and they start singing songs, one by one. And they all always claimed, the Great Leader’s songs, or songs about friendship. One time, one student said, “Rock ‘n’ roll.” The minute he said that, the whole table went quiet. The student just looked out instantly, as if some horrible thing was just admitted. And then someone changed the topic and I realized, this is the fear. It was a kind of reality that is so impossible to imagine for us Americans, and I thought it was important to humanize North Koreans.
On how the elite fear they could be purged
I’ve covered North Korea for over a decade, interviewed so many defectors, and this was the other extreme of the society, and they had no freedom.
I don’t know how they absolutely keep that control. But we just saw, you know, [current leader] Kim Jung-Un getting his uncle executed, Jang Song Thaek, at the end of 2013. And that is [the] No. 2 man in North Korea for decades, who is a relative of the Great Leader.
I think it’s just a different system. I had assumed, also, that maybe the elite — you know, maybe the images that those people control – that they have so much freedom, but that just simply was not true.
On the ubiquitous female guards at the university
It is so controlled. The guards were only women — young women in their early 20s — and they never mixed words with the staff. I tried, but they wouldn’t talk back to me. And they were minders, minders living in the faculty dormitory on the ground floor, and all they ever did was just guard us. It was very, very systematically controlled. …
I did ask about that several times to the foreign teachers, “Why is this the case?” The answer that I got was that in the beginning of the school, they had put men there — soldiers — but they realized that maybe it just looks too threatening, so they changed the soldiers to women soldiers.
On whether the students and the guards ever fell in love
That would make a really good Hollywood movie. And I did imagine that because these were just, you know, 19-, 20-year-old beautiful boys. But then, I realized also, at some point, I learned that they come from a completely different social strata that it just wasn’t possible, supposedly.
On what she took away from her six months at the university
This was my fifth visit in North Korea and I felt the incredible sorrow in my last time more so than ever because I spent so much time, and I got to observe so many things first hand at the school. And because they were so young – 19 and 20 – and I think from that, really loving them, to a degree, and understanding their world, it made me really think what a claustrophobic and inhuman place North Korea is.
You know, it’s kind of like thinking my kids are trapped there. It was heartbreaking on a daily basis. And also to leave, and also knowing that’s the world that they will possibly be the leaders — they’re the future leaders of North Korea.
Updated at 4:45 a.m. ET.
Three teenage girls from the Denver suburbs were taken into custody by German authorities over the weekend at Frankfurt airport while trying to travel to Turkey, U.S. officials reported on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Citing unnamed officials, the AP and CNN report that investigators in the case believe the girls may have been trying to join a wave of foreigners from dozens of nations who have used Turkey as a route into Syria to fight with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Police in Arapahoe County had originally treated the girls’ disappearance as a standard runaway case, Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee tells our Newscast Desk. Two of the girls, age 15 and 17, are sisters. Their father had reported his daughters missing, along with their passports and $2,000. The third girl, age 16, is an acquaintance of the sisters. Her father reported her missing when the school called to say she had not been in class that day.
The three girls are now home with their families in Aurora, Colo. It is not yet clear whether they will face any charges.
The 16-year-old’s family is from Sudan and the sisters are of ethnic Somali origin, according to The Denver Post. Reuters reported that Colorado has a large population of refugees from Somalia who work in meatpacking plants.
The girls are not the first young women from Colorado this year to be stopped while attempting to travel overseas to join the Islamic State. A 19-year-old from Arvada, Colo., pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy charges after trying to travel to Syria in April. She planned to meet and marry a Tunisian man there who claimed to be fighting with the Islamic State. The two had met online.
FBI Director James Comey said in an interview on the CBS News broadcast 60 Minutes that the American government knows of about a dozen U.S. citizens fighting alongside militants in Syria. Comey said a big concern with these citizens is what they plan to do once they return home.
“Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport’s revoked, is entitled to come back,” says Comey. “So someone who’s fought with ISIL, with an American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully.”
China Central Television has a guide for helping people pick alternative English names for those studying the language or working for international firms. Among its warnings: “Many Chinese like to pick names that are in fact, not names.”
Tuesday in Pretoria, South Africa, Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend.
Track star Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to five years in prison for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius, an Olympic and Paralympic athlete, was given a verdict of culpable homicide by a judge in South Africa in September — a conviction that could have put him in prison for 15 years. As we reported at the time, Pistorius was found not guilty of the more serious charge of premeditated murder.
The Two-Way reported:
“[Judge Thokozile Masipa] said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the notion that Pistorius, 27, knew that Reeva Steenkamp was behind a locked toilet door in his home when he fired several shots on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2013.”
China Unicom’s tailor has set up a sewing machine, ready to alter concerned customers’ pants so that the larger version of the phone will fit in their pockets.
Steve Inskeep talks to NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about how Nigeria and Senegal were able to rid their countries of Ebola, despite the ongoing outbreak in West Africa.
Reverend Dr. Herman Browne voluntarily quarantined himself for 21 days after his wife’s friend tested positive for Ebola. On Sunday, he returned to his church, Trinity Cathedral, to preach to his congregation about Ebola prevention.
Night clubs have shut their doors. Soccer leagues have been suspended. And a strict curfew is keeping the streets empty at night.
But there’s one place in Monrovia where people continue to gather despite the threat of Ebola: Sunday church service.
Priests use tweezers to deliver the Holy Communion wafer at Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia to prevent the spread of Ebola.
Since Ebola began in Liberia’s capital city, more people have started coming to Sunday service at Trinity Cathedral, says the very Reverend Dr. Herman Browne. And like many priests across Monrovia, Browne has been spreading the word about Ebola prevention through his sermons.
But Browne’s message this week was personal. It came from his family’s encounter with the virus.
For the past three Sundays, the reverend had been under a volunteer quarantine. This week he returned to the pulpit and explained to his congregation what happened.
It all began when his wife, Trokon Browne, went to see a close friend. “The friend … broke down, fell on the floor and started to cry,” Herman said. “Some illness had returned to her, and she was explaining it to Trokon.”
These were warning signs about Ebola. Trokon knew that. But her nurturing instincts kicked in. She embraced and fed her friend anyway.
“I said that was a crazy thing to do,” Herman said to his congregation, “because the lady was vomiting and had diarrhea.”
Two days later, the Brownes learned that the friend had Ebola.
One of the reasons Ebola continues to spread in Liberia is that people who know they’ve been exposed to the virus often keep it a secret until they’re desperately ill and highly contagious. They fear the embarrassment, the stigma and the prospect of losing their income.
But the Brownes went public.
Since the Ebola epidemic started, attendance at Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia, Liberia, has risen by about 20 percent, a church leader says.
“I left work immediately, wrapped up everything, called the treasurer, the bishop, my colleagues,” Herman said. Then Trokon and Herman quarantined themselves for 21 days.
Even their children we’re not allowed to come upstairs until the couple knew they did not have Ebola.
Herman said he was hoping his congregation would learn a powerful lesson from his family’s experience: “Once you slip mentally, in terms of being aware and conscious, the smallest slip could cause you grave harm,” he said after the church service.
That’s a message Liberians have heard constantly from the government. But many people in Monrovia say they don’t trust a government. They consider it corrupt. So the messages can have more of an impact when they come from a spiritual leader.
Reverend Browne begun educating his congregation about Ebola long before it affected the family directly. And it’s clear the message has been received at the church. People sanitize their hands before entering the cathedral. A priest delivers the Holy Communion wafers with tweezers. The church program tells the congregation: “Do not hide sick persons.”
But Trokon Browne says those are relatively easy steps. What’s harder, she says, is to keep a safe distance when a friend or family member is sick, perhaps with Ebola.
“I cannot see my husband sick and not touch him. Or I cannot see my child sick,” she said. “Ebola might as well kill us. So it’s still very hard. Trust me it’s still very hard.”
It’s also hard for some people to accept the way Ebola appears to punish those who are trying to follow Christian teachings, Herman Browne said. That’s why some in his congregation consider the disease demonic.
“Those who don’t care and those who don’t want to express their care are those who survive. Those who actually care are those who die,” he said. “At the heart of it, for some of us with religious eyes, is an anti-care, anti-love message. And that can be very draining.”
This time, the message is less harsh. Trokon wasn’t infected. And her sick friend was one of the lucky ones who survived Ebola.
Before Sunday’s Beijing Marathon, smog levels were 12 times above what is considered safe for humans. But organizers refused to cancel. Instead, they handed out sponges to clean exposed skin.
An artist’s rendering of the flyby with Mars orbiters taking cover. Note that the image says “spacecraft not to scale.”
Mars is about to get a visitor that comes around only once in a million years or so.
The arrival of a “mountain-sized” comet, Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that humans — who were busy refining their stone-tool-making skills the last time such an event might have occurred — now have spacecraft from multiple countries at the Red Planet to see it happen.
“Think about a comet that started its travel probably at the dawn of man and it’s just coming in close now,” Carey Lisse, a senior astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said at a news briefing about Comet Siding Spring last week. “And the reason we can actually observe it is because we have built satellites and rovers. We’ve now got outposts around Mars.”
As the nucleus of the comet passes about 80,000 miles from the Martian surface The nucleus of the comet will make its closest approach to Mars at 1:32 p.m. ET on Sunday, orbiters from NASA, Europe and India are all being repurposed to quickly observe the comet flyby and then beat a retreat before the comet’s tail swings by.
As The Associated Press writes: “The orbiting craft will observe the incoming iceball, then hide behind Mars for protection from potentially dangerous debris in the comet tail. NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be shielded by the Martian atmosphere. They should have the best seats in the house.”
Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor for The Planetary Society, says: “There are tons and tons of scientific observations planned by Mars orbiters, Mars rovers, and Earth-based observatories. In fact, most of the facilities that are planning to observe Siding Spring have already begun their work, and will continue observation for days after the encounter.”
Lakdawalla adds: “It’s not like a Mars landing; there won’t be a single moment when a bunch of serious-looking engineers suddenly erupt into cheers. Instead, there’ll be many smaller, non-televised moments as instrument teams receive their data from far-flung spacecraft and telescopes, spread out over the next several days. For the most part, the images of the comet won’t be instant classics; many will show only a single pixel, or a faint smudge. Some of the data won’t even arrive on Earth until the middle of next week.”
As astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Slate, notes:
“The NASA comet page says the coma (the big fuzzy cloud of gas surrounding the solid nucleus of the comet) is about 20,000 km across. At closest approach, that means that if you were standing on Mars, the comet would appear to be over 8° across! That means that if you have a big hand, you could just barely block it with your upraised fist.
“That’s astonishing. What a view that would be! And while the astronomer part of my brain is envious and wishes we could see something like that from Earth, the human part of my brain is screaming obscenities at the astronomer part of my brain. In real life, it’s probably best comets keep their distance from us.”