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 Sri Lankan dailies go to town over India’s UN vote

COLOMBO, March 23: India’s vote against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council grabbed the headlines here on Friday.

India on Thursday voted for a US-backed resolution urging Sri Lanka to probe rights abuses in the war on the Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka expressed outrage after the resolution won majority support at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. The UNHRC adopted the resolution with 24 votes in favour, 15 against and eight abstentions.

The Daily News said: “Only one vote majority for resolution; 24 say ‘yes’, 23 decline to support”.

Calling it “misconceived, unwarranted and ill-timed resolution”, the daily said: “Those who live in glass houses are best advised to exercise caution before throwing stones.”

“Geneva: Lanka fails to beat the odds,” was the headline at

Another website said that voting at HRC was “determined by strategic alliances and domestic issues”.

“It is a matter of great satisfaction to us that 15 countries voted with Sri Lanka, despite the intensity of pressure, in a variety of forms, exerted on them all,” it said.

The headline in the Island daily said “Geneva: Lanka fails to beat the odds”.

It mentioned that the resolution amended again at India’s behest to include key operative words, “in consultation with and with the concurrence of the government of Sri Lanka”.

The report noted that although “India succumbed to US pressure to vote for the resolution, key Asian countries, including those representing SAARC and two UN Security Council members voted against it”.

“Lanka defiant despite losing vote,” said the Sunday Leader.

It said that the Sri Lankan government remained defiant despite losing a key vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

External Affairs Minister GL Peiris said that most countries which voted with Sri Lanka were acutely conscious of the danger of setting a precedent which enables ad hoc intervention by powerful countries in the internal affairs of other nations.

“The most distressing feature of this experience is the obvious reality that voting at the Human Rights Council is now determined not by the merits of a particular issue but by strategic alliances and domestic political issues in other countries which have nothing to do with the subject matter of a resolution or the best interests of the country to which the resolution relates.

“This is a cynical negation of the purposes for which the Human Rights Council was established,” he said in a statement. (IANS)


 ‘WikiLeaks bid for transparency derailed’

WASHINGTON, March 23: Many considered the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures as ripping the culture of secrecy that cloaked governmental functioning and heralding a new world of ‘radical transparency’. But a law and public policy academic argues that claims that old-style secrecy is over are an illusion, and that Wikileaks’ advocates have overstated their scale and significance.

“They also overlook many ways in which the simple logic of radical transparency - leak, publish, and wait for the inevitable outrage - can be defeated in practice,” says Alasdair Roberts of Suffolk University Law School, Boston.

WikiLeaks’ aim is to challenge ‘increasing authoritarian tendencies’ in government and the growth of unaccountable corporate power, the journal International Review of Administrative Sciences reports.

By the end of 2010, WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief and founder, Julian Assange, were in the eye of a media storm, with few doubting the significance of the extensive leaked material, according to a Suffolk statement.

Roberts also suggests that the 2010 leaks actually revealed the obstacles to achievement of increased transparency, even in the digital age. The leaks’ sheer size in terms of volume of pages was cited as proof of their significance - these were the largest set of confidential documents ever leaked to the public.

Roberts observes that: “The incidents revealed by WikiLeaks might not even be construed as abuses of power at all. On the contrary, they might provide reassurance that the American government is willing to act ruthlessly in the pursuit of American interests, and that it actually has the capacity to act ruthlessly.”

Yet in quantitative terms, the data’s significance as a fraction of the total number of confidential documents is no greater than previous leaks during other eras. The sheer quantity of this type of data held by governments is constantly increasing.

On the Internet, commercial and political considerations compromise the free flow of information, just as they did when we relied on earlier communications technologies.

When WikiLeaks released US State Department cables in November 2010, several companies that Wikileaks used, including Amazon Web Services,, PayPal and Apple, cut off their services, citing contractual violations or threats to their own businesses that would hinder other customers. (IANS)


 US working with India to reduce dependence on Iran oil

WASHINGTON, March 23: The United States has said it’s “working hard” with India to see if it can help reduce its dependence on Iranian crude and find alternative sources of supply, but no decision has been taken on imposing financial sanctions.

“Our conversations continue with all the other countries that want to talk to us who continue to have issues with the amount of Iranian crude that they import,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the status of India, China and 10 other nations excluded from an exemptions list.

“India is one of those countries. And we are working hard with India to see if we can help with regard to reducing India’s dependence and the dependence of any of the other countries on Iranian crude, and looking at alternative sources of supply as well,” she said.

Iranian crude oil accounts for about 12 per cent of India’s current oil imports, the second largest supplier after Saudi Arabia.

Asked if the US was contemplating any action against the holdout nations, Nuland said: “I don’t have anything to announce, and our bilateral consultations continue with a whole raft of countries that have not yet been exempted.”

The United States on Tuesday exempted Japan and ten European nations - Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom - from US sanctions for having significantly reduced purchases of Iranian crude oil. (IANS)


 Why meditation makes our brain smarter?

WASHINGTON, March 23: Meditation does make the brain smarter, allowing it to process information faster and improve decision making, according to the latest study.

Eileen Luders, assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles Lab of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (folding of the cortex, which may allow the brain to act faster, with a host of benefits) than non-meditators.

Further, the amount of gyrification and years of meditation were found to be directly linked, offering more proof of the brain’s adaptability to environmental changes, the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reports.

The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of neural (brain) tissue, which plays a key role in memory, attention, thought and consciousness.

Hence, the greater the gyrification or folding, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth, according to a California statement.

“Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration,” said Luders. “That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.”

The researchers took MRI scans of 50 meditators, 28 men and 22 women, and compared them to 50 non-meditators matched for age, handedness and sex. The scans for second group were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues.

The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types – Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain. They found pronounced group differences. Perhaps most interesting, though, was the positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of gyrification. (IANS)


 China tea costs more than gold!

BEIJING, March 23: A type of tea called Longjing or Dragon Well in China hit a record presale price of 3,60,000 yuan ($57,024) per kilogram this year, higher than the price of gold, which is currently about $53,000 per kg.

The Longjing tea is one of China’s best green teas. It has been a favourite among wealthy buyers.

The tea is harvested prior to Qingming festival, usually in the first week of April, in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, the Shanghai Daily reported on Friday.

It is produced from the first spring shoots. Skilled workers pick every leaf by hand.

Zhu Baichang, a dealer who sold the tea at the record price in the presale, said this year it will cost 80,000 yuan per kg on the market, up 10,000 yuan from last year.

“The 3,60,000 yuan per kg for the pre-Qingming tea was just a single case for presale promotion and we will donate the money to a local art group for deaf people,” Zhu said.

People who bought the tea at the presale rate were mostly government officials, he said, adding that the market price was still very high for common people to afford.

Another variety called Moutai, served at official banquets, used to sell for about 600 yuan four years ago, now it costs around 2,000 yuan.

The Qingming Festival or tomb-sweeping day, is a traditional Chinese festival where people go to family graves to sweep the tombs and honour their ancestors. (IANS)


 Exercise helps astronauts protect heart in space

TORONTO, March 23: Astronauts who exercise regularly and intensively on extended space missions mitigated the effects of low-gravity environment on their cardiac health, a study reveals.

Researchers reported these findings after examining the cardio-health of astronauts who followed a rigorous exercise regimen on board the International Space Station (ISS) as little was known about their effects.

RL Hughson, DK Greaves, PP Pereira-Junior and D Xu of the University of Waterloo; JK Shoemaker of the University of Western Ontario and others collected data from six male astronauts, aged between 41 and 55 years, who stayed on ISS missions from 52 to 199 days.

A month before they embarked, the research team collected a wealth of data on each subject’s cardiovascular health, the Journal of Applied Physiology reported.

This data was collected during spontaneous and paced breathing, both sitting up and lying down, to reflect a variety of conditions and cardiovascular stresses, said the university statement. (IANS)


 Hoard of Roman coins discovered

LONDON, March 23: More than 30,000 silver Roman coins have been found by archaeologists at the site of a new city-centre hotel in Britain. The hoard, believed to date from the third century, was unearthed about 450 feet from the historic Roman Baths, The Telegraph reported on Friday. Experts believe the “treasure trove” is the fifth largest hoard ever discovered in Britain and the largest from a Roman settlement. The coins, which have now been sent to the British Museum for further analysis, are fused together in a large block. This makes identification and counting difficult and conservators at central London Museum expect the task of analysing the coins to take up to 12 months. (IANS)


 Nude iPhone photos spark privacy fears in China

BEIJING, March 23: Smartphones like iPhones may not be well equipped to protect the owner’s privacy as a woman in China found out the hard way. Photos and other data deleted from these phones can be easily recovered using a software, the Shanghai Daily reported on Friday. A twenty-year-old woman was recently shocked to find her naked photos at a store in Ningbo city in eastern China. She had taken her phone to the store for repairs. Her friend said the technician copied the photos from her iPhone onto one of the store’s sample phones. The incident has sparked a heated online debate on privacy of iPhone users. (IANS)


 Anxiety helps people sniff out danger

WASHINGTON, March 23: Anxiety heightens the sense of smell in people when it comes to sniffing out a threat or danger, a study says. The sense of smell is an essential tool to detect, locate and identify predators in the animal world. The mere presence of predator odours can evoke potent fear and anxiety responses among different species. Smells also evoke powerful emotional responses in humans. Elizabeth Krusemark and Wen Li from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hypothesized that in humans, detection of a particular bad smell may signal presence of a noxious airborne substance, or a decaying object that carries disease, the journal Chemosensory Perception reported. They exposed a group of young adult participants to three types of odours: neutral pure odour, neutral odour mixture, and negative odour mixture. They asked them to detect the presence or absence of an odour in an MRI scanner. During scanning, the researchers also measured the skin’s ability to conduct electricity (a measure of arousal level) and monitored the subjects’ breathing patterns, according to a university statement. They found that as anxiety levels rose, so did the subjects’ ability to discriminate negative odours accurately - suggesting a ‘remarkable’ olfactory acuity to threat in anxious subjects. The skin tests showed that anxiety also heightened emotional arousal to smell-induced threats. The authors uncovered amplified communication between the sensory and emotional areas of the brain in response to negative odours, particularly in anxiety. This increased connectivity could be responsible for the heightened arousal to threats. Krusemark and Li concluded: “This enhanced sensory-emotional coupling could serve as a critical mechanism to arouse adequate physiological alertness to potential insults.” (IANS)


 Depression peaks in those living alone

HELSINKI, March 23: The number of people living alone has not only doubled over the last three decades, thanks to the breakdown of the family system, but they are also experiencing heightened levels of depression, a study reveals. New research shows that the incidence of depression, as borne out by anti-depressant use, is almost 80 per cent higher for those living alone compared to people living in a social or family group. Laura Pulkki-Råback and her team from Finnish Institute of Occupational Health followed 3,500 working-aged men and women for seven years, the journal BMC Public Health reported. They compared their living arrangements with psychosocial, socio-demographic and health risk factors, including smoking, heavy drinking and low physical activity, to antidepressant use, said a university statement. Pulkki-Råback explained: “Our study shows that people living alone have an increased risk of developing depression. Overall there was no difference in the increased risk of depression by living alone for either men or women.” For men, the biggest contributing factors included poor job climate, lack of support at the work place or in their private lives, and heavy drinking. For women a third of this risk was attributable to socio-demographic factors, such as lack of education and low income. (IANS)


 Doctor held for injuring ‘demon-possessed’ kid

MOSCOW, March 23: A paediatrician in Russia faces a criminal case for injuring a child who the doctor insisted was possessed by demons, officials said. The incident took place in the town of Beryozovsky in Sverdlovsk region. Ivan Yeryomin, a 26-year-old doctor, made a house call to check on an ill three-year-old child, the news website reported. While examining the child, the doctor tried to shove his hand down his throat, causing him to bleed and faint, the report said. When the boy’s father stopped the doctor and called the police, the medic said he was trying to exorcise demons from the child. The doctor also insisted he was sent to Earth by unspecified powers to prevent the Apocalypse. The accused faces battery charges, punishable with a fine of 40,000 rubles (around $1,350) or three months in jail. The child was hospitalised with serious injuries and trauma. The doctor was taken to a psychiatric hospital after apparently having suffered a nervous breakdown, investigators said. IANS


 French killer said he posted murder videos on web

PARIS, March 23: Mohammed Merah, the main suspect in the Toulouse and Montauban shootings who was killed during a police operation on Thursday in Toulouse, said shortly before his death that he had filmed the murders he had committed and posted the videos on the web, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told RIA Novosti. “He (Merah) said he had posted videos on the internet but we don’t know where and when,” Molins said. The prosecutor said French police found a bag with a video camera, which contained three videos featuring killings of paratroopers in Montauban and Toulouse and the murders in the Jewish school, where Merah shot three children and a rabbi dead. Molins said that one of the recordings showed a conversation between Merah and a man of North African origin who was selling his scooter. Merah subsequently shot the man in the head, crying: “You kill my brothers, I will kill you.” Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent, was killed on Thursday as the police stormed his apartment in Toulouse after almost a 30-hour standoff. (IANS)


 Indian student says he was ‘stupid’, but didn’t cause roommate’s death

WASHINGTON, March 23: An Indian American student convicted of spying on his gay roommate with a webcam said he did some stupid things but didn’t cause the fellow pupil’s suicide days after the incident. Former Rutgers New Jersey State University student Dharun Ravi, 20, told ABC’s “20/20” that he did some stupid things, but Tyler Clementi, who killed himself by leaping off the George Washington Bridge, had other problems. “Even though I wasn’t the one who caused him to jump off the bridge, I did do things wrong and I was stupid about a lot of stuff,” Ravi told the news show. The former computer science student was convicted on 15 counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and other crimes after using a webcam to watch Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man in their dorm room. Ravi said he did some soul-searching after Clementi’s death, but concluded it wasn’t his fault. “The more and more I found out, it would be kind of obnoxious of me to think that I could have this profound effect on him,” Ravi said. Ravi said Clementi left a suicide note behind that authorities never released. “The fact that we weren’t allowed to read it, that they said it didn’t have anything to do with this, that gave me comfort also because I figured if it has nothing to do with me . . . it must have been something else that was going on,” he said.

“I’m very sorry about Tyler,” Ravi told The Star-Ledger. “I want the Clementis to know I had no problem with their son. I didn’t hate Tyler and I know he was OK with me.” (IANS)


 Facelift for over 300-year-old Tibetan monastery

BEIJING, March 23: A 303-year-old Tibetan monastery in northwest China’s Gansu province is to get a facelift, an official said on Friday. The 300-million-yuan ($47.6 million) project will begin at Labrang Monastery in the second half of 2012 and last five years, said Sonam Je, deputy chief of culture and sports in Xiahe county, where the temple is located. Labrang Monastery, built in 1709, is one of six prestigious monasteries of the Gelugpa Sect, also known as the Yellow Hat Sect, of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite occasional repairs on the monastery in recent decades, the mud and wood structure is in urgent need of reinforcement due to cracks in the walls and rainwater leaking through its roof, Sonam Je told Xinhua. These problems affect the life of the monastery’s more than 1,000 lamas and may disrupt the religious observances of local Tibetan Buddhists, he added. The problems also threaten the monastery’s heritage pieces, including more than 30,000 Buddha statues, 65,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures and a rich collection of sutras and murals. The renovation will reinforce the heritage buildings without making alterations to their original looks, according to Sonam Je. The renovation project has already begun on three halls, with an initial funding of 10 million yuan allocated last year, he said. “We’ll also refurnish the lamas’ residences, pave the paths within the monastery compound, build a car park and revamp the sewage system,” the official added. Architectural designers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University presented a renovation plan in 2009, and authorities are ready to solicit bids from qualified engineering companies, Sonam Je said. (IANS)


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