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    Monday, May 4, 2009

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    Old Japanese maps on Google Earth unveil secrets

    When Google Earth added historical maps of Japan to its online collection last year, the search giant didn't expect a backlash. The finely detailed woodblock prints have been around for centuries, they were already posted on another website, and a historical map of Tokyo put up in 2006 hadn't caused any problems.

    But Google failed to judge how its offering would be received, as it has often done in Japan. The company is now facing inquiries from the Justice Ministry and angry accusations of prejudice because its maps detailed the locations of former low-caste communities.

    The maps date back to the country's feudal era, when shoguns ruled and a strict caste system was in place. At the bottom of the hierarchy were a class called the "burakumin," ethnically identical to other Japanese but forced to live in isolation because they did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves.

    Castes have long since been abolished, and the old buraku villages have largely faded away or been swallowed by Japan's sprawling metropolises. Today, rights groups say the descendants of burakumin make up about 3 million of the country's 127 million people.

    But they still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived. Moving is little help, because employers or parents of potential spouses can hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry through Japan's elaborate family records, which can span back over a hundred years.

    An employee at a large, well-known Japanese company, who works in personnel and has direct knowledge of its hiring practices, said the company actively screens out burakumin job seekers.

    "If we suspect that an applicant is a burakumin, we always do a background check to find out," she said. She agreed to discuss the practice only on condition that neither she nor her company be identified.

    Lists of "dirty" addresses circulate on Internet bulletin boards. Some surveys have shown that such neighborhoods have lower property values than surrounding areas, and residents have been the target of racial taunts and graffiti. But the modern locations of the old villages are largely unknown to the general public, and many burakumin prefer it that way.

    Google Earth's maps pinpointed several such areas. One village in Tokyo was clearly labeled "eta," a now strongly derogatory word for burakumin that literally means "filthy mass." A single click showed the streets and buildings that are currently in the same area.

    Google posted the maps as one of many "layers" available via its mapping software, each of which can be easily matched up with modern satellite imagery. The company provided no explanation or historical context, as is common practice in Japan. Its basic stance is that its actions are acceptable because they are legal, one that has angered burakumin leaders.

    "If there is an incident because of these maps, and Google is just going to say 'it's not our fault' or 'it's down to the user,' then we have no choice but to conclude that Google's system itself is a form of prejudice," said Toru Matsuoka, a member of Japan's upper house of parliament.

    Asked about its stance on the issue, Google responded with a formal statement that "we deeply care about human rights and have no intention to violate them."

    Google spokesman Yoshito Funabashi points out that the company doesn't own the maps in question, it simply provides them to users. Critics argue they come packaged in its software, and the distinction is not immediately clear.

    Printing such maps is legal in Japan. But it is an area where publishers and museums tread carefully, as the burakumin leadership is highly organized and has offices throughout the country. Public showings or publications are nearly always accompanied by a historical explanation, a step Google failed to take.

    Matsuoka, whose Osaka office borders one of the areas shown, also serves as secretary general of the Buraku Liberation League, Japan's largest such group. After discovering the maps last month, he raised the issue to Justice Minister Eisuke Mori at a public legal affairs meeting on March 17.

    Two weeks later, after the public comments and at least one reporter contacted Google, the old Japanese maps were suddenly changed, wiped clean of any references to the buraku villages. There was no note made of the changes, and they were seen by some as an attempt to quietly dodge the issue.

    "This is like saying those people didn't exist. There are people for whom this is their hometown, who are still living there now," said Takashi Uchino from the Buraku Liberation League headquarters in Tokyo.

    The Justice Ministry is now "gathering information" on the matter, but has yet to reach any kind of conclusion, according to ministry official Hideyuki Yamaguchi.

    The League also sent a letter to Google, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press. It wants a meeting to discuss its knowledge of the buraku issue and position on the use of its services for discrimination. It says Google should "be aware of and responsible for providing a service that can easily be used as a tool for discrimination."

    Google has misjudged public sentiment before. After cool responses to privacy issues raised about its Street View feature, which shows ground-level pictures of Tokyo neighborhoods taken without warning or permission, the company has faced strong public criticism and government hearings. It has also had to negotiate with Japanese companies angry over their copyrighted materials uploaded to its YouTube property.

    An Internet legal expert said Google is quick to take advantage of its new technologies to expand its advertising network, but society often pays the price.

    "This is a classic example of Google outsourcing the risk and appropriating the benefit of their investment," said David Vaile, executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

    The maps in question are part of a larger collection of Japanese maps owned by the University of California at Berkeley. Their digital versions are overseen by David Rumsey, a collector in the U.S. who has more than 100,000 historical maps of his own. He hosts more than 1,000 historical Japanese maps as part of a massive, English-language online archive he runs, and says he has never had a complaint.

    It was Rumsey who worked with Google to post the maps in its software, and who was responsible for removing the references to the buraku villages. He said he preferred to leave them untouched as historical documents, but decided to change them after the search company told him of the complaints from Tokyo.

    "We tend to think of maps as factual, like a satellite picture, but maps are never neutral, they always have a certain point of view," he said.

    Rumsey said he'd be willing to restore the maps to their original state in Google Earth. Matsuoka, the lawmaker, said he is open to a discussion of the issue.

    A neighborhood in central Tokyo, a few blocks from the touristy Asakusa area and the city's oldest temple, was labeled as an old "eta" village in the maps. It is indistinguishable from countless other Tokyo communities, except for a large number of leather businesses offering handmade bags, shoes and furniture.

    When shown printouts of the maps from Google Earth, several older residents declined to comment. Younger people were more open on the subject.

    Wakana Kondo, 27, recently started working in the neighborhood, at a new business that sells leather for sofas. She was surprised when she learned the history of the area, but said it didn't bother her.

    "I learned about the burakumin in school, but it was always something abstract," she said. "That's a really interesting bit of history, thank you."

    CNN - Ammo hard to find as gun owners stock up

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    Ammo hard to find as gun owners stock up

    Gun shops across the country are reporting a run on ammunition, a phenomenon apparently driven by fear that the Obama administration will increase taxes on bullets or enact new gun-control measures.

    "In the last two months it's gotten very, very difficult to find ammunition," says Richard Taylor, manager of The Firing Line, a gun shop and shooting range in the Denver, Colorado, suburbs.

    "There are a lot of rumors floating around that the present government would like to increase taxes on ammunition. I think [there is] just a lot of panicked buying going on."

    While campaigning for the White House, Obama supported re-enacting the now-expired ban on assault weapons. But there is no indication that the administration will take up that measure -- or any other gun-control initiative --anytime soon.

    Nonetheless, some gun owners aren't taking any chances.

    Two weeks ago, The Firing Line was forced to impose a four-box-per-customer limit on ammo. Before that, the shop was selling 10,000 rounds of 9 mm handgun ammunition a day.

    Some calibers of ammunition have been unavailable for months.

    "Currently no .380 ammunition -- I haven't seen any for about four months ... .38 special, it's been at least a couple of months," Taylor says. "It's just that there's been a huge demand and it's far outweighed supply right now."

    Taylor says plenty of people are still coming to the range to shoot, but are gun owners hoarding ammo?

    "People are buying cases or whatever they can get their hands on and putting it away, absolutely," he says. "The only way that this shortage can have to do with it is that people are buying and hoarding."

    Karl Roos, a physician, stopped by the range to do some shooting with his Smith and Wesson .357-caliber Magnum, using some rounds from his personal stock of ammo.

    "I have yet to see .38 special or .357 Magnum ammunition on the shelf. The stuff I'm shooting I've had for several years. I just haven't seen it for the last several months," says Roos, who adds he is always on the lookout for fresh sources of ammo. "As I'm doing the rounds of the local stores that carry ammunition, if I see something on the shelf I'll buy it."

    "I'm not too worried about things being banned or anything like that," he says. But he notes that many of his fellow gun enthusiasts are scared: "There's definitely a lot of fear."

    Jim Minardi, a gun dealer in Lakewood, Colorado, says only a few people are actually hoarding. But they are buying up so much ammo that there isn't much left on the shelves.

    "The minority of our customers are stockpiling ammunition," Minardi says. "The majority are standard shooters buying what they can."

    Wal-Mart is one of the largest ammo dealers in the United States. In an e-mail exchange, a Wal-Mart spokesman confirmed that ammo sales have been brisk.

    "Some Wal-Mart stores have experienced an increase in demand for guns and ammo and for those locations, we are working closely with suppliers to replenish shelves," says William C. Wertz, the discount chain's divisional director for public affairs and government relations. "In some situations where demand is high, so that we can better serve all customers, we will place a limit on the amount of a product that can be purchased."

    "It's no different with ammo than other products (toilet paper, batteries, etc.) that may be in short supply for one reason or another."

    Each year U.S. ammo manufacturers make about 8 billion rounds, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry. Current production data won't be in until late May, but the foundation expects the numbers to be way up.

    "In order to keep up with demand for ammunition, manufacturers are working at full capacity, 24-7," says Ted Novin, an NSSF spokesman. "Currently demand for ammunition is outpacing supply."

    Novin says he believes the reason is clear.

    "The increase in demand for firearms and ammunition is largely attributable to gun owner concerns regarding the current political climate," says Novin, referring to the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress.

    "Many of the lawmakers in power have a long history of supporting legislation that violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans," Novin adds. "Gun owners recognize this and are reacting accordingly."

    Ammunition manufacturers have been scrambling to keep up with demand.

    A message from Steve Hornady, president of Hornady Ammunition, on the company's Web site reads:

    "Here at Hornady Manufacturing we are breaking our own production records in an attempt to keep up with customer demand. We have added extra shifts, machinery and we are also in the process of expanding our manufacturing plant."

    Winchester Ammunition posted a similar statement:

    "Winchester Ammunition, like other ammunition manufacturers, has seen the demand for our products increase significantly since last fall. To meet that increased demand, our operations are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

    Andrew Arulanandam, communications director of the National Rifle Association, says the "unprecedented ammo shortages are widespread, and they affect small and large retailers."

    "We have heard from members across the country in cities and in small towns from California to Maine," Arulanandam says. "There is a fear that Congress or the new administration will push for a firearm or an ammunition ban, or for a significant increase in excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. We hear this from hunters, target shooters and even from first-time gun owners who fear that there will be an effort to incrementally curtail and eventually dismantle this freedom."

    Back at The Firing Line's gun range, pilot Ron Cardwell is working on his target shooting with his 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. He loves to shoot and hopes the ammo crisis ends soon.

    "I have three or four boxes of 9 mm left at home and a couple of boxes of .45," he says. "I'm just buying as much as I can whenever I can."

    CNN - Joint Chiefs chairman: Afghanistan now top priority

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    Joint Chiefs chairman: Afghanistan now top priority

    The U.S. military's primary focus needs to shift immediately from Iraq to Afghanistan, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday.

    "We remain committed to the mission we've been given in Iraq -- make no mistake. ... But Afghanistan has been an economy of force operation for far too long," he said at a Pentagon news conference.

    Mullen said he is "gravely concerned" about recent Taliban and al-Qaeda gains across much of southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

    "This isn't about 'can do' anymore. This is about 'must do,' " Mullen said. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are "recruiting through intimidation, controlling through fear, and advancing an unwelcome ideology through thuggery. ... The consequences of their success directly threaten our national interests in the region and our safety here at home."

    Mullen's remarks came less than a week after the release of a State Department report indicating a dramatic spike recently in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

    The report stated that al Qaeda and its extremist supporters have moved across the Afghan border "to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier, where they have used this terrain as a safe haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with their followers, plot attacks and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan."

    It noted that the largest number of attacks occurred in Pakistani provinces near the Afghan border, including Balochistan, the North West Frontier and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where extremists have sought to challenge the government and extend Islamic law.

    President Obama is also "concerned about the situation," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

    The president, who is meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan later this week, wants an "understanding that not just the United States faces security concerns, but each individual government has security concerns about extremists in the area," Gibbs said.

    Mullen noted that while Obama's decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan "provides commanders more manpower and more resources ... we need a commensurate commitment from a civilian side.

    He said that "more concerted pressure" was needed from the Pakistani government as well.

    Pakistan's military recently launched an assault on militants in Taliban-held areas, after the Taliban seized territory in violation of an agreement signed this year by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

    The deal, criticized by the United States, allowed the Taliban to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in the region in exchange for an end to fighting. The recent operations are part of the Pakistani army's intensified drive against the Taliban in its restive tribal regions.

    The Pakistani government has been criticized for not cracking down on militants along its border with Afghanistan. As a result, the U.S. military has carried out airstrikes against militant targets in Pakistan. The strikes have rankled relations between the two countries.

    Mullen said that while the United States is concerned about recent Taliban and al-Qaeda gains inside Pakistan, he remains confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure.

    "The worst downside with respect to Pakistan is that those nuclear weapons come under the control of terrorists," he said.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called Taliban gains in Pakistan an "existential threat" to the country.

    Reuters - BlackBerry Curve seen better than iPhone

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    BlackBerry Curve seen better than iPhone

    Monday, May 04, 2009 8:2PM UTC

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Research in Motion Ltd's BlackBerry Curve moved past Apple Inc's iPhone in the first quarter to become the best-selling consumer smartphone in the U.S., research group NPD said on Monday.

    RIM, which already dominates the corporate smartphone market in the United States, also had three of the top five best-selling consumer smartphones in the period, with the Storm at No. 3 and the Pearl at No. 4, NPD said.

    T-Mobile's G1 ranked No. 5.

    The iPhone was the top-selling consumer smartphone in the U.S. in both the third and fourth quarters of 2008. The Curve was second and the Palm Inc's Centro was third.

    NPD credited a "buy-one-get-one" promotion by Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc -- for helping push the Curve past the iPhone.

    "The more familiar, and less expensive, Curve benefited from these giveaways and was able to leapfrog the iPhone, due to its broader availability on the four major U.S. national carriers," said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at NPD, in a news release.

    The iPhone is only available through AT&T Inc. Apple launched its second-generation 3G iPhone last July.

    RIM's consumer smartphone market share climbed 15 percent from the previous period to nearly 50 percent in the first quarter, as Apple's and Palm's share both fell 10 percent.

    More than half of RIM's 25 million subscribers now fall into the non-corporate category, according to the company.

    But the smartphone battle is just starting to heat up. Apple is widely expected to unveil a new iPhone in the next few months, while Palm's highly-anticipated Pre smartphone is set to launch during the second quarter.

    The smartphone market as a whole continues to grow, even as the larger handset market stagnates. The devices made up 23 percent of U.S. handset sales in the first quarter, NPD said, up from 17 percent in the year-ago quarter.

    Shares of Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM rose 3 percent in late afternoon trading on the Nasdaq to $74.43. Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple were up 3.4 percent to $131.63 on the Nasdaq.

    (Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

    Reuters - EU urges Internet governance revamp

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    EU urges Internet governance revamp

    Monday, May 04, 2009 11:18AM UTC

    STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The body in charge of assigning Internet addresses such as .com and .net should be shorn of its U.S. government links from October and made fully independent, the European Union's information society chief said on Monday.

    The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a not-for-profit organization set up in 1998 but operates under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Commerce, a set-up that raises concerns for some as the Internet is seen as belonging to a wider constituency.

    Pressure in the past on ICANN from right-wing politicians to stop .xxx from becoming a domain name for pornography, worried some policymakers. ICANN's operating agreement with the U.S. government expires at the end of September.

    "This opens the door for the full privatization of ICANN and it also raises the question of to whom ICANN should be accountable, as from 1 October," EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.

    She urged U.S. President Barack Obama to agree to a "new, more accountable, more transparent, more democratic and more multilateral form of Internet governance."

    ICANN decides on what names can be added to the Internet's top level domains (TLDs) such as .com but Reding wants it to become completely independent, overseen by an independent judicial body as well as a "G12 for Internet Governance" to discuss Internet and security issues.

    "In the long run, it is not defendable that the government department of only one country has oversight of an Internet function which is used by hundreds of millions of people in countries all over the world," Reding said.

    Such a "G12" would include two representatives from each North America, South America, Europe and Africa, three representatives from Asia and Australia, as well as the chairman of ICANN as a non-voting member.

    The European Commission holds a public hearing on Wednesday in Brussels to debate future governance of the Internet.

    Despite Dept of Commerce concerns, ICANN agreed last year to relax the rules on TLDs, the suffixes, such as the ubiquitous .com, .net and .org, among others.

    (Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by David Cowell)

    Reuters - HP and RIM form alliance on BlackBerry

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    HP and RIM form alliance on BlackBerry

    Monday, May 04, 2009 3:3PM UTC

    (Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard Co and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd said they have formed an alliance to provide services for the BlackBerry.

    Among the services are HP CloudPrint for BlackBerry smartphones, which allows users to print e-mails and documents at the nearest printer using the Internet.

    The services include support for BlackBerry's Enterprise Server 5.0, which was launched on Monday.

    HP's enterprise customers can also use the PC maker's ProLiant servers to run the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, the companies said.

    BlackBerry handsets have become a staple of executives, lawyers, politicians and other professionals who use them to send wireless e-mail securely.

    (Reporting by S John Tilak and Ajay Kamalakaran in Bangalore; Editing by Derek Caney)

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