SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Unless space debris is actively tackled, some satellite orbits will become extremely hazardous over the next 200 years, a new study suggests.
The research found that catastrophic collisions would likely occur every five to nine years at the altitudes used principally to observe the Earth.
And the scientists who did the work say their results are optimistic - the real outcome would probably be far worse.
To date, there have been just a handful of major collisions in the space age.
The study was conducted for the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.
This is the global forum through which world governments discuss the issue of "space junk" - abandoned rocket stages, defunct satellites and their exploded fragments.
The space agencies of Europe, the US, Italy, the UK, Japan and India all contributed to the latest research, each one using their own experts and methodology to model the future space environment.
They were most concerned with low-Earth orbit (that is, below 2,000km in altitude). This is where the majority of missions returning critical Earth-observation data tend to operate.
All six modelling groups came out with broadly the same finding - a steady increase in the numbers of objects 10cm and bigger over the 200-year period.
This growth was driven mostly by collisions between objects at altitudes between 700km and 1,000km.
The low-end projection was for a 19% increase; the high-end forecast was for a 36% rise. Taken together, the growth was 30%. These are averages of hundreds of simulations.
For the cumulative number of catastrophic collisions over the period, the range went from just over 20 to just under 40.
Somewhat worryingly, the forecasting work made some optimistic assumptions.
One was a 90% compliance with the "25-year rule". This is a best-practice time-limit adopted by the world's space agencies for the removal of their equipment from orbit once it has completed its mission.
The other was the idea that there would be no more explosions from half-empty fuel and pressure tanks, and from old batteries - a significant cause of debris fragments to date.
"We're certainly not at 90% compliance with the 25-year rule yet, and we see explosion events on average about three times a year," explained Dr Hugh Lewis, who detailed the research findings at the 6th European Conference on Space Debris in Darmstadt, Germany, on Monday.
"It is fair to say this is an optimistic look forward, and the situation will be worse than what we presented in the study," the UK Space Agency delegate to the IADC told BBC News.
"So one message from our study is that we need to do better with these debris-mitigation measures, but even with that we need to consider other approaches as well. One of the options obviously is active debris removal."
Research groups around the world are devising strategies to catch old rocket bodies and satellites, to pull them out of orbit.
Previous modelling work has indicated that removing just a few key items each year could have a significant limiting effect on the growth of debris.
Most ideas include attaching a propulsion module to a redundant body, perhaps via a hook or robotic clamp.
One UK concept under development is a harpoon. This would be fired at the hapless target from close range.
A propulsion pack tethered to the projectile would then tug the junk downwards, to burn up in the atmosphere.
When the BBC first reported this concept back in October, the harpoon was being test-fired over a short range of just 2m.
The latest testing, to be reported at the Darmstadt conference this week, has seen the harpoon fired over a much longer distance and at a more realistic, rotating target.
"Our tests have progressed really well, and everything seems to be scaling as expected," explained Dr Jaime Reed, from Astrium UK.
"We've now upgraded to a much more powerful gun and have been firing the harpoon over 10m - the sort of distance we'd expect to have to cover on a real debris-removal mission.
"Our harpoon also now has a shock absorber on it to make sure it doesn't go too far inside the satellite, and we've been firing it with the tether attached. It's very stable in flight."
There are some 20,000 man-made objects in orbit that are currently being monitored regularly. About two-thirds of this population is in Low-Earth orbit.
These are just the big, easy-to-see items, however. Moving around unseen are an estimated 500,000 particles ranging in size between 1-10cm across, and perhaps tens of millions of other particles smaller than 1cm.
All of this material is travelling at several kilometres per second - sufficient velocity for even the smallest fragment to become a damaging projectile if it strikes an operational space mission.
Two key events have added significantly to the debris problem in recent years.
The first was the destructive anti-satellite test conducted by the Chinese in 2007 on one of their own retired weather spacecraft.
The other, in 2009, was the collision between the Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33 satellites.
Taken together, these two events essentially negated all the mitigation gains that had been made over the previous 20 years to reduce junk production from spent rocket explosions.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Information Center at the Ministry of Health in Ramallah said that cancer was the second-leading cause of death in Palestine during the last year, after heart disease. Cancer had been the third-leading cause of death for many years.
The Information Center at the Ministry of Health issued a statement in February 2013 according to which 12.4% of the total deaths in Palestine were caused by cancer in 2011, compared to a rate of 10.8% in 2010. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights indicated in a report issued in June 2012 that deaths resulting from cancer in the Gaza Strip amounted to 12% of all deaths, making cancer the second-leading cause of death in the Gaza Strip after heart disease.
Uranium is the main reason
Dr. Khalid Thabet, head of the Oncology Department at the government-run Shifa Hospital, said in a meeting with Al-Monitor that he expects the rate of cancer patients to double over the next five years in the Gaza Strip, due to the uranium used by Israel in its attacks against the Gaza Strip during the 2008-2009 war.
While Israel denied in Jan. 2009 that it had used depleted uranium in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, an investigation by French NGO Action of Civilians for Nuclear Disarmament (ACDN) shortly after the war found the use of depleted uranium "highly probable."
"After several months of investigation carried out in close liaison with the people concerned and with the help of Jean-François Fechino, a consultant on diffuse pollution and an expert accredited to the UN Environment Program (UNEP). ACDN ... produced a 33-page report concluding that the presence of dozens of tonnes of Depleted Uranium (perhaps as much as 75 tonnes) in the soil and subsoil of Gaza is highly probable.
"In April 2009, a four-person mission including Jean-François Fechino went to Gaza under the auspices of the Arab Commission for Human Rights. The samples of earth and dust that they brought back from Gaza were then analysed by a specialist laboratory, which found in them elements of depleted uranium (which is radioactive, carcinogenic, teratogenic), particles of cesium (which is radioactive and carcinogenic), asbestos dust (which is carcinogenic), volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which are fine particles which endanger health, especially the health of children, asthmatics and old people), phosphates (from oxidation of white phosphorus), tungsten (which is carcinogenic), copper, aluminium oxide (which is carcinogenic), and thorium oxide (ThO2, which is radioactive)."
Thabet said that once humans are subjected to uranium, tissue cells need five to ten years to change and develop into a tumor, whose size is initially one cubic centimeter. He said that each year there are a thousand new cancer cases in the Gaza Strip.
During a meeting in his office at the hospital, Thabet said the Gaza Strip was left with 70 tons of uranium after the first war, an environmental catastrophe endangering the lives of all citizens. He explained that the reason behind the spread of these quantities is the fact that the buildings bombed during the war on the Gaza Strip are being used once again. He added that the debris is being processed and reused in construction efforts, thus contributing to the spread of uranium over wide areas. Only time can deplete the amount of uranium in the environment.
Thabet gave as an example the increasing number of cancer patients after the Balkan war in Yugoslavia, the second Gulf War and more recently in Iraq after its occupation by the US, noting that this uranium — be it radioactive or chemical — is a major cause of cancer and can deform fetuses.
The Goldstone Report
According to paragraph 68 of the report issued by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone report, "The long-term health impact of … weapons containing substances such as tungsten and white phosphorous, remains a source of concern.”
Paragraph 49 of the report notes, “While the mission is not in a position to state with certainty that so-called dense inert metal explosive (DIME) munitions were used by the Israeli armed forces, it did receive reports from Palestinian and foreign doctors who had operated in Gaza during the military operations of a high percentage of patients with injuries compatible with their impact ... these raise specific health concerns.” The same paragraph also notes, “the mission received allegations that depleted and non-depleted uranium were used by the Israeli armed forces in Gaza. These allegations were not further investigated by the mission.”
Eman Shanan, Director of the Help and Hope Association for the Care of Cancer Patients and Survivors, confirms that wars on the Strip are one of the main reasons behind this disease, pointing out that the percentage of cancer cases has increased this year since last November’s war. "But there are unfortunately no medical Palestinian or foreign reports that examine the soil and the environment to see the size of the impact of these wars and weapons and the risk of this disease, which led to the failure of some women who are sick with cancer in their attempts to file a lawsuit against Israel at human rights centers,” Shanan added.
Dr. Thabet says that oncology has three foundations: surgical treatment, which consists of eradicating the tumor and is mostly carried out in Gaza; chemotherapy, a type of treatment that is not always available; and radiation, which is not available at all, despite that a device was set up in the hospital six years ago for this purpose but is now damaged. This delays treatment and leads to a deterioration in the patient's condition, not to mention the physical and mental suffering that patients endure due to the trips they have to make.
Thabet said the rate of cancer in the Gaza Strip is the same in Egypt, Jordan and among Arab citizens of Israel — i.e., 60 to 70 cases per 100,000 citizens — pointing out that transferring patients for treatment abroad costs the Ministry of Health about $30 million annually.
For her part, Shanan said during a meeting in the association that the absence of a general culture concerned with the importance of periodic inspection and early detection, especially for breast cancer, which can help save patients’ lives by up to 98%, has contributed to many deaths. Moreover, she added that the hospitals in Gaza lack computed tomography or devices and materials for diagnosing the disease. There is also a shortage in medical staff amid fear of the society's perception of patients who admit to suffering from this disease.
Shanan emphasized that one of the other serious reasons behind the development of this disease is the lack of control on pesticides that come from cross-border tunnels and that are used to spray vegetables. Moreover, there is the contaminated water in the Gaza Strip, which is not suitable for human use, as international reports indicated.
She explained that the failure to provide appropriate medications and the idea of sending patients sometimes abroad for a drug worth $24 on a trip that costs hundreds of dollars is disastrous, stressing that with some coordination between the health ministries of Ramallah and Gaza, the number of those referred for treatment abroad could be reduced by half. Patients are unfortunately falling prey to division and the blockade.
Shanan said the way they are dealing with cancer patients in their last stages is sad, but said the association has a "beauty house," where women can choose cosmetic breasts, rather than be forced to cover their flat chests with their hands while in public. This helps to restore confidence in many of the patients. There is also a program called the Love Mat, whereby women write down all their feelings concerning their illness, collect the cards and link them together like a mat.
My husband left me
Safaa al-Taweel, 48, is a cancer surivor. She told Al-Monitor, "I discovered that I had cancer eight years ago while I was breastfeeding my son. I noticed my right breast was bleeding. They had to remove it, but then the cancer spread to the other breast, which was also removed. I remember I was so afraid of the disease and I felt like I was going to die, but now I discovered that it is normal and it is possible for a person to live with it. What hurt me the most is that my husband left me and married someone else, although he stood by me during the first years.”
Her friend Farha al-Fayoumi, 48, unlike Safaa, has her husband taking care of her and saving money to be able to buy medicine for her and travel with her to Egypt for treatment, but he died two months ago due to heart disease. Now she has lost the only person who had been easing her suffering, caused by five years of dealing with breast cancer.
Fayoumi and Taweel say that people's pity is what hurts them the most; they are normal and can work and raise their children like any other mother.
A report issued by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights indicates that males make up 47% of cancer patients in the Gaza Strip, whereas females account for 53%. According to the report, breast cancer is the most common disease, accounting for 16.5% of all cancers. Moreover, it is the most common disease among women. Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer, accounting for 9.7% of all diagnoses, and is the leading form of cancer among men.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Monitor
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) --Historians, it is true, have become increasingly uncomfortable with narratives of decline and fall. Few now would accept that the conquest of Roman territory by foreign invaders was a guillotine brought down on the neck of classical civilisation. The transformation from the ancient world to the medieval is recognised as something far more protracted. "Late antiquity" is the term scholars use for the centuries that witnessed its course. Roman power may have collapsed, but the various cultures of the Roman empire mutated and evolved. "We see in late antiquity," so Averil Cameron, one of its leading historians, has observed, "a mass of experimentation, new ways being tried and new adjustments made."
Yet it is a curious feature of the transformation of the Roman world into something recognisably medieval that it bred extraordinary tales even as it impoverished the ability of contemporaries to keep a record of them. "The greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene, in thehistory of mankind": so Gibbon described his theme. He was hardly exaggerating: the decline and fall of the Roman empire was a convulsion so momentous that even today its influence on stories with an abiding popular purchase remains greater, perhaps, than that of any other episode in history. It can take an effort, though, to recognise this. In most of the narratives informed by the world of late antiquity, from world religions to recent science-fiction and fantasy novels, the context provided by the fall of Rome's empire has tended to be disguised or occluded.
Consider a single sheet of papyrus bearing the decidedly unromantic sobriquet of PERF 558. It was uncovered back in the 19th century at theEgyptian city of Herakleopolis, a faded ruin 80 miles south of Cairo. Herakleopolis itself had passed most of its existence in a condition of somnolent provincialism: first as an Egyptian city, and then, following the conquest of the country by Alexander the Great, as a colony run by and largely for Greeks. The makeover given to it by this new elite was to prove an enduring one. A thousand years on – and some 600 years after its absorption into the Roman empire – Herakleopolis still sported a name that provided, on the banks of the Nile, a little touch of far-off Greece: "the city of Heracles". PERF 558 too, in its own humble way, also bore witness to the impact on Egypt of an entire millennium of foreign rule. It was a receipt, issued for 65 sheep, presented to two officials bearing impeccably Hellenic names Christophoros and Theodorakios and written in Greek.
But not in Greek alone. The papyrus sheet also featured a second language, one never before seen in Egypt. What was it doing there, on an official council receipt? The sheep, according to a note added in Greek on the back, had been requisitioned by "Magaritai" – but who or what were they? The answer was to be found on the front of the papyrus sheet, within the text of the receipt itself. The "Magaritai", it appeared, were none other than the people known as "Saracens": nomads from Arabia, long dismissed by the Romans as "despised and insignificant". Clearly, that these barbarians were now in a position to extort sheep from city councillors suggested a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Nor was that all. The most bizarre revelation of the receipt, perhaps, lay in the fact that a race of shiftless nomads, bandits who for as long as anyone could remember had been lost to an unvarying barbarism, appeared to have developed their own calendar. "The 30th of the month of Pharmouthi of the first indiction": so the receipt was logged in Greek, a date which served to place it in year 642 since the birth of Christ. But it was also, so the receipt declared in the Saracens' own language, "the year twenty two": 22 years since what? Some momentous occurance, no doubt, of evidently great significance to the Saracens themselves. But what precisely, and whether it might have contributed to the arrival of the newcomers in Egypt, and how it was to be linked to that enigmatic title "Magaritai", PERF 558 does not say.
We can now recognise the document as the marker of something seismic. The Magaritai were destined to implant themselves in the country far more enduringly than the Greeks or the Romans had ever done. Arabic, the language they had brought with them, and that appears as such a novelty on PERF 558, is nowadays so native to Egypt that the country has come to rank as the power-house of Arab culture. Yet even a transformation of that order barely touches on the full scale of the changes which are hinted at so prosaically. A new age, of which that tax receipt issued in Herakleopolis in "the year 22" ranks as the oldest surviving dateable document, had been brought into being. This, to almost one in four people alive today, is a matter of more than mere historical interest. Infinitely more – for it touches, in their opinion, on the very nature of the Divine. The question of what it was that had brought the Magaritai to Herakleopolis, and to numerous other cities besides, has lain, for many centuries now, at the heart of a great and globalreligion: Islam.
It was the prompting hand of God, not a mere wanton desire to extort sheep, that had first motivated the Arabs to leave their desert homeland. Such, at any rate, was the conviction of Ibn Hisham, a scholar based in Egypt who wrote a century and a half after the first appearance of the Magaritai in Herakleopolis, but whose fascination with the period, and with the remarkable events that had stamped it, was all-consuming. No longer, by AD 800, were the Magaritai to be reckoned a novelty. Instead – known now as "Muslims", or "those who submit to God" – they had succeeded in winning for themselves a vast agglomeration of territories: an authentically global empire. Ibn Hisham, looking back at the age which had first seen the Arabs grow conscious of themselves as a chosen people, and surrounded as he was by the ruins of superceded civilisations, certainly had no lack of pages to fill.
What was it that had brought the Arabs as conquerors to cities such as Herakleopolis, and far beyond? The ambition of Ibn Hisham was to provide an answer. The story he told was that of an Arab who had lived almost two centuries previously, and been chosen by God as the seal of His prophets: Muhammad. Although Ibn Hisham was himself certainly drawing on earlier material, his is the oldest biography to have survived, in the form we have it, into the present day. The details it provided would become fundamental to the way that Muslims have interpreted their faith ever since. That Muhammad had received a series of divine revelations; that he had grown up in the depths of Arabia, in a pagan metropolis, Mecca; that he had fled it for another city, Yathrib, where he had established the primal Muslim state; that this flight, or hijra, had transformed the entire order of time, and come to provide Muslims with their Year One: all this was enshrined to momentous effect by Ibn Hisham. The contrast between Islam and the age that had preceded it was rendered in his biography as clear as that between midday and the dead of night. The white radiance of Muhammad's revelations, blazing first across Arabia and then to the limits of the world, had served to bring all humanity into a new age of light.
The effect of this belief was to prove incalculable. To this day, even among non-Muslims, it continues to inform the way in which the history of the Middle East is interpreted and understood. Whether in books, museums or universities, the ancient world is imagined to have ended with the coming of Muhammad. Yet even on the presumption that what Islam teaches is correct, and that the revelations of Muhammad did indeed descend from heaven, it is still pushing things to imagine that the theatre of its conquests was suddenly conjured, over the span of a single generation, into a set from The Arabian Nights. That the Arab conquests were part of a much vaster and more protracted drama, the decline and fall of the Roman empire, has been too readily forgotten.
Place these conquests in their proper context and a different narrative emerges. Heeding the lesson taught by Gibbon back in the 18th century, that the barbarian invasions of Europe and the victories of the Saracens were different aspects of the same phenomenon, serves to open up vistas of drama unhinted at by the traditional Muslim narratives. The landscape through which the Magaritai rode was certainly not unique to Egypt. In the west too, there were provinces that had witnessed the retreat and collapse of a superpower, the depredations of foreign invaders, and the desperate struggle of locals to fashion a new security for themselves. Only in the past few decades has this perspective been restored to its proper place in the academic spotlight. Yet it is curious that long before the historian Peter Brown came to write his seminal volume The World of Late Antiquity – which traced, to influential effect, patterns throughout the half millennium between Marcus Aurelius and the founding of Baghdad – a number of bestselling novelists had got there first. What their work served to demonstrate was that the fall of the Roman empire, even a millennium and a half on, had lost none of its power to inspire gripping narratives.
"There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one but owed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last half-century in which that could be said." So begins Isaac Asimov's Foundation, a self-conscious attempt to relocate Gibbon's magnum opus to outer space. First published in 1951, it portrayed a galactic imperium on the verge of collapse, and the attempt by an enlightened band of scientists to insure that eventual renaissance would follow its fall. The influence of the novel, and its two sequels, has been huge, and can be seen in every subsequent sci-fi epic that portrays sprawling empires set among the stars – from Star Wars toBattlestar Galactica. Unlike most of his epigoni, however, Asimov drew direct sustenance from his historical model. The parabola of Asimov's narrative closely follows that of Gibbon. Plenipotentiaries visit imperial outposts for the last time; interstellar equivalents of Frankish or Ostrogothic kingdoms sprout on the edge of the Milky Way; the empire, just as its Roman precursor had done under Justinian, attempts a comeback. Most intriguingly of all, in the second novel of the series, we are introduced to an enigmatic character named the Mule, who emerges seemingly from nowhere to transform the patterns of thought of billions, and conquer much of the galaxy. The context makes it fairly clear that he is intended to echo Muhammad. In an unflattering homage to Muslim tradition, Asimov even casts the Mule as a mutant, a freak of nature so unexpected that nothing in human science could possibly have explained or anticipated him.
Parallels with the tales told of Muhammad are self-evident in a second great epic of interstellar empire, Frank Herbert's Dune. A prophet arises from the depths of a desert world to humiliate an empire and launch a holy war – a jihad. Herbert's hero, Paul Atreides, is a man whose sense of supernatural mission is shadowed by self-doubt. "I cannot do the simplest thing," he reflects, "without its becoming a legend." Time will prove him correct. Without ever quite intending it, he founds a newreligion, and launches a wave of conquest that ends up convulsing the galaxy. In the end, we know, there will be "only legend, and nothing to stop the jihad".
There is an irony in this, an echo not only of the spectacular growth of the historical caliphate, but of how the traditions told about Muhammad evolved as well. Ibn Hisham's biography may have been the first to survive – but it was not the last. As the years went by, and ever more lives of the Prophet came to be written, so the details grew ever more miraculous. Fresh evidence – wholly unsuspected by Muhammad's earliest biographers – would see him revered as a man able to foretell the future, to receive messages from camels, and to pick up a soldier's eyeball, reinsert it, and make it work better than before. The result was yet one more miracle: the further in time from the Prophet a biographer, the more extensive his biography was likely to be.
Herbert's novel counterpoints snatches of unreliable biography – in which Paul has become "Muad'Dib", the legendary "Dune Messiah" – with the main body of the narrative, which reveals a more secular truth. Such, of course, is the prerogative of fiction. Nevertheless, it does suggest, for the historian, an unsettling question: to what extent might the traditions told by Muslims about their prophet contradict the actual reality of the historical Muhammad? Nor is it only western scholars who are prone to asking this – so too, for instance, are Salafists, keen as they are to strip away the accretions of centuries, and reveal to the faithful the full unspotted purity of the primal Muslim state. But what if, after all the cladding has been torn down, there is nothing much left, beyond the odd receipt for sheep? That Muhammad existed is evident from the scattered testimony of Christian near-contemporaries, and that the Magaritai themselves believed a new order of time to have been ushered in is clear from their mention of a "Year 22". But do we see in the mirror held up by Ibn Hisham, and the biographers who followed him, an authentic reflection of Muhammad's life – or something distorted out of recognition by a combination of awe and the passage of time?
There may be a lack of early Muslim sources for Muhammad's life, but in other regions of the former Roman empire there are even more haunting silences. The deepest of all, perhaps, is the one that settled over the one-time province of Britannia. Around 800AD, at the same time as Ibn Hisham was drawing up a list of nine engagements in which Muhammad was said personally to have fought, a monk in the far distant wilds of Wales was compiling a very similar record of victories, 12 in total, all of them attributable to a single leader, and cast by their historian as indubitable proof of the blessings of God. The name of the monk was Nennius; and the name of his hero – who was supposed to have lived long before – was Arthur. The British warlord, like the Arab prophet, was destined to have an enduring afterlife. The same centuries which would see Muslim historians fashion ever more detailed and loving histories of Muhammad and his companions would also witness, far beyond the frontiers of the caliphate, the gradual transformation of the mysterious Arthur and his henchmen into the model of a Christian court. The battles listed by Nennius would come largely to be forgotten: in their place, haunting the imaginings of all Christendom, would be the conviction that there had once existed a realm where the strong had protected the weak, where the bravest warriors had been the purest in heart, and where a sense of Christian fellowship had bound everyone to the upholding of a common order. The ideal was to prove a precious one – so much so that to this day, there remains a mystique attached to the name of Camelot.
Nor was the world of Arthur the only dimension of magic and mystery to have emerged out of the shattered landscape of the one-time Roman empire. The English, the invaders against whom Arthur was supposed to have fought, told their own extraordinary tales. Gawping at the crumbling masonry of Roman towns, they saw in it "the work of giants". Gazing into the shadows beyond their halls, they imagined ylfe ond orcnéas, andorthanc enta geweorc – "elves and orcs", and "the skilful work of giants". These stories, in turn, were only a part of the great swirl of epic, Gothic and Frankish and Norse, which preserved in their verses the memory of terrible battles, and mighty kings, and the rise and fall of empires: trace-elements of the death-agony of Roman greatness. Most of these poems, though, like the kingdoms that were so often their themes, no longer exist. They are fragments, or mere rumours of fragments. The wonder-haunted fantasies of post-Roman Europe have themselves become spectres and phantasms. "Alas for the lost lore, the annals and old poets."
So wrote JRR Tolkien, philologist, scholar of Old English, and a man so convinced of the abiding potency of the vanished world of epic that he devoted his life to conjuring it back into being. The Lord of the Rings may not be an allegory of the fall of the Roman empire, but it is shot through with echoes of the sound and fury of that "awful scene". What happened and what might have happened swirl, and meet, and merge. An elf quotes a poem on an abandoned Roman town. Horsemen with Old English names ride to the rescue of a city that is vast and beautiful, and yet, like Constantinople in the wake of the Arab conquests, "falling year by year into decay". Armies of a Dark Lord repeat the strategy of Attila in the battle of the Catalaunian plains – and suffer a similar fate. Tolkien's ambition, so Tom Shippey has written, "was to give back to his own country the legends that had been taken from it". In the event, his achievement was something even more startling. Such was the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, and such its influence on an entire genre of fiction, that it breathed new life into what for centuries had been the merest bones of an entire but forgotten worldscape.
It would seem, then, that when an empire as great as Rome's declines and falls, the reverberations can be made to echo even in outer space, even in a mythical Middle Earth. In the east as in the west, in the Fertile Crescent as in Britain, what emerged from the empire's collapse, forged over many centuries, were new identities, new values, new presumptions. Indeed, many of these would end up taking on such a life of their own that the very circumstances of their birth would come to be obscured – and on occasion forgotten completely. The age that had witnessed the collapse of Roman power, refashioned by those looking back to it centuries later in the image of their own times, was cast by them as one of wonders and miracles, irradiated by the supernatural, and by the bravery of heroes. The potency of that vision is one that still blazes today.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- For Net-A-Porter chief executive Mark Sebba this is the busiest time of the year. The company sells high-end fashion online.
At the heart of all e-commerce operations lies the warehouse, and the process of picking products to fill customer orders.
"The most important person in the whole chain is the customer," says Mr Sebba.
The most important person in the whole chain is the customer”
Mark SebbaCEO, Net-A-Porter
"If we don't focus on the customer, then we're lost. So what does the customer want? The customer wants an absolutely impeccable service and she or he wants the product really as soon as she or he can possibly get it."
When your company is selling to the world from distribution centres based in London and New York (and soon Hong Kong) - and you don't have the benefit of a non-union 24/7 elf workforce - what's the answer?
For Net-A-Porter it was automating the process with vast banks of robot pickers.
Hidden away in an industrial estate, bordering a slightly down-at-heel area of south London, is a collection of non-descript industrial units surrounding a small cul-de-sac.
The only clue as to what lies inside is a huddle of small, black vans with the words 'Net-A-Porter' picked out in white.
Once inside you realise this is a fashion retailer, with white walls and minimalist fittings, and a meeting room complete with chandelier looking out towards the robot pickers.
In the clean and surprisingly warm warehouse, vast towers of black boxes are stacked side by side.
In between the robots swish up and down, packing new products away or selecting boxes - or totes - and delivering them to a conveyor belt.
"As the business grows and volumes increase and capacity becomes paramount, it lends itself to introduce automation into a facility," says Bill Duffy, global director of operations.
"And particularly in a building such as this where you have very high ceilings, it's very important to us to take advantage of the full cube of the facility, the height, as well as the depth and width for the storage of the product."
The robots themselves are the brainchild of logistics specialists TGW, whose engineers are on site 24/7 to make sure nothing slows the process down. They can move at speeds of up to 30mph, picking and packing simultaneously.
Bow to the inevitable
The pickers are integrated into Net a Porters own stock tracking and distribution system, which was developed in-house.
Orders are taken on the website, and the information relayed via the stock system to the robot pickers. Goods are picked and delivered to people to on the floor above. The system directs how the orders need to be put together using a simple light and switch system, and then the goods proceed for packing, with every item being tracked via barcode.
According to Mr Duffy, the whole process - or pick rate - is over 500% faster.
The system currently deals only with flat goods - items that don't require hanging. But that is set to change, with a semi-automated system to deal with goods on hangers (GOH) about to start construction.
This type of automation was inevitable, says Mark Sebba.
"The growth of the business would not have been possible without the automation, but I didn't see the automation leading the growth of the business.
"I see the automation fulfilling the growth requirements."
Manual picking is a labour intensive - and sometimes controversial - business. But investing in robotic systems is expensive, and can set you back millions rather than thousands of pounds.
Amazon solved their automation problems by going out and buying their own manufacturer - Kiva Systems - for the slightly heftier price tag of $775m.
While isn't something to think about while operating your eBay shop front from your garage, you don't have to be a multinational giant.
Autostore is a system designed to grow incrementally. Instead of banks of boxes, stock is held in a vertical grid system, with robots running across the top on rails.
The system works out what is most in demand, and holds that at the top of the stack, with the least sought after at the bottom.
The robots at the top of the grid look ahead and work out the best way to access stock, digging down and arranging boxes as efficiently as possible.
Swisslog's James Sharples says the system should result in a 40-50% reduction in floor space needed for storage, as well as other benefits.
"There is a productivity benefit in terms of the pick rates that people would achieve within a manual warehouse," he says.
"Normally that involves a lot of walking. You are having to go from one location to the next location to the next location.
"And the productivity rate you achieve, the number of items somebody would pick per hour can be limited because really half the time they are walking."
Companies using the system include retailers Asda and Ocado, and Swiss paper and packaging material distributor Antalis.
Meanwhile research continues apace.
In Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute is working on a project to develop autonomous warehouse vehicles using the movement of ants.
This "swarm intelligence" means the robots themselves will decide how to move around the space to best efficiency.
For those looking at embracing the rise of the robotic warehouse, Net-A-Porter's Bill Duffy has some advice.
"Do your homework. Because there are different degrees of expertise. And that partner you choose, is a very costly investment, and you plan it - you're getting married to that partner," he says.
"That technology you've invested in is for the long-term and when things need to be adjusted, enhanced, expanded, you got to go back to the same guy. It's very hard to integrate a new player into existing technology."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Attacks and hostile rhetoric against Muslims in France have sharply increased, a phenomenon largely blamed on the resurgence of the far-right in the southern European country, a new report has found.
“All forms of racial and religious intolerance are contrary to the values of the French Republic and should be dealt with accordingly,” Abdallah Zekri, President of the National Observatory of Islamophobia, told FRANCE 24.
A new report by the Observatory found that anti-Muslim attacks in France have sharply increased in 2011.
It showed that racist attacks against French Muslims rose by 34% in 2011.
“The figures do not include acts of discrimination against Muslims or Islam generally, such as the rhetoric and declarations of certain politicians and their parties who openly stigmatize the Muslim faith, or in protests by “Identity” groups chanting slogans that are openly hostile to Islam,” the report said.
The Observatory also cited a 42-percent increase in racist attacks and assaults on French Muslims in 2012.
It said that 175 Islamophobic acts were reported in France in the period between January and October.
“What is happening in 2012 is alarming,” the report said.
It cited the occupation of a mosque in the western city of Poitiers by a group of far-rightists in protest at the building of the Muslim worship place.
France is home to a Muslim community of six million, Europe’s largest.
Earlier this month, Claude Dagens, the Bishop of Angouleme, lamented the rising sentiments against Muslims in France and within the Roman Catholic Church.
A recent IFOP poll found that almost half of French see Muslims as a threat to their national identity.
It showed that 43 percent of respondents opposed the building of more mosques in France, up from 39% in 2010.
The poll also revealed that 63% of respondents oppose the wearing of Islamic headscarf in public, compared to 59% two years ago.
Officials blamed the rising anti-Muslim sentiments on the resurgence of the far-right in the European country.
The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in France could be partly explained by “the tense socio-political atmosphere in France being driven by a resurgence of the far right,” Zekri said.
The popularity of the far-right has grown in France and many European countries in recent years over the current economic crisis in Europe.
In the May presidential election, far-right leader Marine Le Pen came third, winning 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round, a record for the party.
Zekri also blamed the inflammatory rhetoric by politicians against French Muslims to win votes for the rising Islamophobia in the European country.
“This tension has also contributed to a radicalization of the political rhetoric of some mainstream politicians who exploit racial tensions for populist political gains,” he said.
Zekri also blamed the debate on “national identity that was launched by former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the law banning the wearing of face-covering Islamic veils.”
Sarkozy had adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.
In 2004, France under Sarkozy banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.
France has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.
The French government also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
French Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.– www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Susan E. Rice was playing stand-in on the morning of Sept. 16 when she appeared on five Sunday news programs, a few days after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would have been the White House’s logical choice to discuss the chaotic events in the Middle East, but she was drained after a harrowing week, administration officials said. Even if she had not been consoling the families of those who died, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Mrs. Clinton typically steers clear of the Sunday shows.
So instead, Ms. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, delivered her now-infamous account of the episode. Reciting talking points supplied by intelligence agencies, she said that the Benghazi siege appeared to have been a spontaneous protest later hijacked by extremists, not a premeditated terrorist attack. Within days, Republicans in Congress were calling for her head.
In her sure-footed ascent of the foreign-policy ladder, Ms. Rice has rarely shrunk from a fight. But now that she appears poised to claim the top rung — White House aides say she is President Obama’s favored candidate for secretary of state — this sharp-tongued, self-confident diplomat finds herself in the middle of a bitter feud in which she is largely a bystander.
“Susan had a reputation, fairly or not, as someone who could run a little hot and shoot from the hip,” said John Norris, a foreign-policy expert at the Center for American Progress. “If someone had told me that the biggest knock on her was going to be that she too slavishly followed the talking points on Benghazi, I would have been shocked.”
At the United Nations, and in posts in President Bill Clinton’s administration, Ms. Rice, who turned 48 on Saturday, has earned a reputation as a blunt advocate, relentless on issues like pressing the government in Sudan or intervening in Libya to prevent a slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
She was a Rhodes scholar, has degrees from Stanford and Oxford, a Rolodex of contacts and a relationship with Mr. Obama sealed during his 2008 campaign. So her ascension to lead the State Department would be less a blow for diversity — she would, after all, be the second black woman named Rice to hold the job — than the natural capstone to a fast-track career.
Yet the firestorm over Benghazi raises more basic questions: Is Ms. Rice the best candidate to succeed Mrs. Clinton as the nation’s chief diplomat? Does she have the diplomatic finesse to handle thorny problems in the Middle East? And even if Mr. Obama gets the votes for her confirmation, has the episode so tainted her that it would be hard for her to thrive in the job?
Ms. Rice’s supporters say she has compiled a solid record at the United Nations, winning the passage of resolutions that impose strict sanctions on Iran and North Korea. Diplomats praise her energetic negotiating style, though her peremptory manner has bruised some egos. But even those who back her tend to emphasize factors like her ties to Mr. Obama, an advantage that Mrs. Clinton, for all her celebrity, did not have.
“Given that he’s probably the most withholding president on foreign policy since Nixon, if anyone can get him to delegate, not dominate, it’s Rice,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “That would be good for her, and for our foreign policy.”
While some in the State Department are wary of her, recalling her blustery style as assistant secretary for African affairs in the Clinton administration, Ms. Rice has a core of support among Mr. Obama’s aides, particularly those who worked with her on the 2008 campaign. They insist that Benghazi will not derail her chances. Some analysts said Mr. Obama’s defense of her at a news conference last week was so impassioned that he had left himself little room to put forward an alternative, like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Still, other longtime Washington observers question if Mr. Obama would risk a battle over his secretary of state when he needs to cut a deal with Republicans on the budget and taxes.
Certainly, the vitriol between him and Senator John McCain, who charged last week that Ms. Rice had misled the public and called her “not qualified” for the State Department post, suggests that a confirmation vote for her would be a toxic affair. She has other powerful defenders, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said that Ms. Rice had done nothing wrong and was a victim of character assassination.
Ms. Rice, who has kept a low profile since her TV appearances, did not comment for this article.
“The attacks are patently unfair and mean-spirited,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “Susan’s record at the U.N. is exceptional.” In addition to Ms. Rice’s early support and advice on foreign policy, he said, she had been a friend of Mr. Obama’s for a long time.
A scrappy point guard in high school — she was also valedictorian at the National Cathedral School — Ms. Rice is one of several basketball players in Mr. Obama’s inner circle. He and his wife, Michelle, recently invited Ms. Rice and her husband, a Canadian-born television producer, Ian Cameron, to the White House for a celebratory, postelection dinner with Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and other friends.
Even before such invitations, Ms. Rice had an entree to elite Washington. The daughter of Emmett J. Rice, a Federal Reserve System governor, and Lois Dickson Rice, an education policy expert, Ms. Rice spent her childhood mixing with family friends like Madeleine K. Albright, another secretary of state.
At 28, she was an aide in President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, where she once questioned embracing the term “genocide” in Rwanda because it could put Mr. Clinton in an awkward position in midterm elections. At the State Department, diplomats recall her lecturing leaders in Africa decades her senior.
As a campaign surrogate in 2008, Ms. Rice could be withering. When Mr. Obama made a trip to the Middle East, she mocked an earlier visit Mr. McCain had made to a market in Baghdad, during which he wore body armor. She said of her candidate, “I don’t think he’ll be strolling around the market in a flak jacket.”
Ms. Rice’s relationship to Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state also began on chilly terms, officials said, in part because Ms. Rice embraced Mr. Obama’s candidacy rather than Mrs. Clinton’s. In the early days of the administration, one former aide said, their offices would occasionally issue competing statements on the same topic.
But over time, representatives of both women say, they have developed a good rapport. They see plenty of each other, with Ms. Rice keeping an office at the State Department and commuting between New York and Washington, where she and Mr. Cameron have two children. Her schedule has led to some criticism that she has missed debates in New York.
While there, Ms. Rice has had little use for the bland artifice of diplomatic language. When Russia and China blocked a resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria, Ms. Rice wrote on Twitter, “Disgusted that Russia and China prevented the U.N. Security Council from fulfilling its sole purpose.” At the White House, she tangled with Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, J. Scott Gration, and became so immersed in that country’s looming split that subordinates termed her the “Sudan desk officer.”
By her own account, Ms. Rice’s fervor is fueled by the Clinton administration’s inaction in Rwanda. Years later, she told Samantha Power, then a journalist writing about the episode, that “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
Last year, working with Ms. Power (now herself in the National Security Council), Mrs. Clinton, and other officials, Ms. Rice helped persuade the president to back NATO military intervention in Libya.
In some ways, friends say, Ms. Rice’s appearance on the Sunday shows underlines how she has evolved from a headstrong young staffer into a disciplined senior member of Mr. Obama’s team.
“She’s really tough, but there is a difference in how she’s tough,” said Harold H. Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser. “During the Clinton administration, there was a feeling that she had to be tough to earn her place at the table. Now she’s more comfortable.”— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Ny Times
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Canadians should expect to pay more at the pumps and to heat their homes this winter as demand is expected to outstrip supply for all of the energy sources, the National Energy Board warned Wednesday.
The NEB’s latest Winter Energy Outlook says Canadians should expect unleaded gasoline to average between $1.20 and $1.40 per litre.
“As a result of U.S. refinery outages in the autumn, including the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and low inventories in the U.S., Canadians can expect to pay slightly more for their gasoline this winter,” it said.
The NEB expects crude prices to be between $85 (U.S.) and $95 a barrel.
Aside from paying more to fill up this winter, the NEB believes consumers will also pay more to heat their homes.
Despite abundant supply, a seasonally normal winter weather forecast and a slow-growing North American economy, natural gas prices are expected to be higher this winter as demand grows, it said.
Prices are expected to range between $2.75 and $3.25 per gigajoule.
Natural gas prices hit a 10-year-low this spring as production increases in the U.S. and an unseasonably warm winter last year resulted in a supply glut. In response to the low prices, demand increased from the U.S. power generation sector and that brought demand and supply into balance by the middle of the year.
Heating oil prices are also expected to rise as refinery outages in the U.S. have reduced inventories, the NEB said. The average heating oil price in Canada, including taxes, is expected to average between $1.15 (Canadian) and $1.35 per litre this winter.
The National Energy Board is an independent federal regulator of several parts of Canada’s energy industry. Its purpose is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: The Globe and Mail
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Three years ago a small team at Google decided to start releasing data on the requests they receive from governments to share or remove data from the Internet. At the time, savvy Internet users might have understood that governments do make these requests, but having any sense of the scale of the problem -- let alone whether it was getting better or worse -- fell beyond what was knowable from public information.
Since that time, Google has been releasing updates to its Transparency Report twice a year, and a clear trend has emerged. "Government surveillance," Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou writes, "is on the rise." The chart above tracks the changes in government requests for user data since Google began its report.
In addition to that gradual uptick, Google noticed a more sudden leap in the number of requests worldwide to remove content altogether -- this after two years of relative stability.
Unfortunately, because Google doesn't speculate as to the causes or provide detailed descriptions of the requests, it can be hard to know why we're seeing this trend. Simply more aggressive governments? Natural outcome of increased global Internet use? Some sort of particular political situation that resulted in increased censorship? We don't know.
One thing that is clear is that by far the leading reason cited in a request to take down material is defamation, as Google revealed in this graph:
Additionally, Google's compliance rate has fallen dramatically -- not, one expects, because its standards have tightened (they've always been pretty tight) but because governments are just getting more aggressive in the kinds of materials they see fit to request.
As always, Google has filled out its report with some country-specific notations, and this report's section contains several examples of Google turning down requests to remove content critical of government officials, a practice so critical to freedom of speech worldwide it cannot be underestimated.
That Google should have such power is perhaps unsettling; that it is using this power to protect political speech is hopeful.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — U.S. consumers will have to dig deeper into their pockets next year to pay for costlier healthcare, more expensive grocery bills and higher taxes, an extra drag on the country's already slow-moving economy.
The additional outlays look set to test the resilience of consumers, whose spending accounts for around two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
"We think it's going to be a difficult six to nine months," said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody's Analytics. "If anything, conditions are likely to get worse, particularly at the start of the year."
The strength of consumer spending has surprised some economists, given unemployment near 8 percent and anemic wage growth. Consumer spending has cushioned the blow to the United States from slower foreign demand for its goods.
U.S. households have shed about $880 billion in debt since the peak in the first quarter of 2008, according to Federal Reserve data. That has put many consumers on a path back to financial health.
But an expiration of payroll tax cuts in early January and a spike in food prices could wipe 0.8 percentage point off U.S. economic growth next year, according to some economists.
The economy is now expected to expand 2 percent in 2013, down from 2.1 percent in 2012, a Reuters poll showed.
Consumer groups are noting caution on the part of households when it comes to such things as taking on more debt, retirement savings and gasoline prices.
"People are very concerned about what is going to happen next year because they are already seeing price increases that are affecting their budgets," said Bruce McClary, a spokesman for Clear Point, a nationwide credit counseling organization that helps consumers experiencing problems with debt.
"They are also worried about any kind of changes that might be happening with regard to their income tax, that they are going to have less disposable income to work with," he said.
Economists at JPMorgan say expiration in January of a temporary 2 percentage-point cut in the payroll tax would reduce household spending by $125 billion and lower gross domestic product by about 0.6 percentage point next year.
Still, loss of the payroll tax cuts would be only one aspect of the "fiscal cliff," a popular name for automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases that would suck about $600 billion out of the economy next year.
U.S. lawmakers are expected to find a way to soften the blow of most scheduled tax hikes, including income taxes, and spending cuts due to take effect from Jan. 1. But if they don't, the tax increases and spending cuts could result in the most severe belt-tightening in the United States since a tax increase in 1969 to pay for the Vietnam War.
FOOD, HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION
Another area of concern for consumers is food prices. Rises in the prices of corn and soybeans and other field crops as a result of drought this year in the U.S. Midwest are expected to feed through into food prices late this year and in early 2013.
U.S. soybean prices jumped 40 percent over the summer, while wheat shot up about 50 percent. Prices have eased a bit since then, but the increases are expected to filter down to consumers.
"We are starting to see evidence of food prices moving up so that's definitely going to be a drag on disposable incomes," said Hoyt of Moody's Analytics.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sees food price increases of 3.5 percent to 4.0 percent next year, greater than this year.
Hoyt says that could cut 0.2 percentage point from economic growth over the winter, when food prices could peak.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — As he knelt in prayer to mark one of Islam's holiest days, Ali Raza Qurban saw a childhood friend and dozens of others die in a suicide attack on their Shiite mosque. Sunni militants were again targeting minority ethnic Hazaras in this city of narrow streets and wide-open hatreds.
Qurban decided it was time to leave. He found an agent who would hook him up with a smuggler in Indonesia and, for $8,000, get him to Australia.
But he never made it to Australia. He disappeared on Dec. 17, 2011, aboard an overcrowded, rickety wooden boat that capsized within hours of leaving the Indonesian shore.
Four months had passed since the suicide bombing at the mosque in Quetta, where the violence has spawned a vibrant human smuggling business. The smugglers operate out of small, unidentified shops. Selling promises of a safe and better life in Australia, they largely capitalize on the fear and desperation of the Hazara, a largely Shiite community that is facing attacks not only here but in neighboring Afghanistan.
In Quetta, Shiite leaders say many of the attacks against Hazaras are carried out by the Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Janghvi, which they contend is backed by elements within Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry and a panel of three judges last month ordered authorities to investigate allegations that vehicles illegally imported by the ISI were used in suicide bombings targeting Shiites.
Most of the Afghans who cross into Pakistan with the intention of going on to Australia and elsewhere are thought to be Hazara.
"Every month hundreds of Hazaras leave Afghanistan for another country," said Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul-based Center for Strategic Studies, a privately funded think tank. In the last two months more than 20 Hazaras have died in targeted killings blamed on the Taliban, he said.
Hazaras, who were massacred by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban in the late 1990s, fear that the religious militia will return to power after the departure of U.S. and other NATO service members in 2014, according to Rahmani.
"With 2014 getting closer, most of the Hazaras think that the history will repeat again," he said. "So that is why they risk their lives for illegal immigrations to Australia and other places."
Many choose Australia because it already has an established Hazara community.
The trip to Australia usually begins in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, stopping either in Thailand or Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia's East Java province, according to testimony of survivors and local Malaysian authorities.
"Asylum seekers from Pakistan often fly either from Karachi or Lahore to Kuala Lumpur and sometimes enter through Malaysia's northern border with Thailand," said a Malaysian home ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. He said laws have been tightened in the last two years, sea patrols increased and cooperation has been stepped up with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"The people-smuggling groups that facilitate them are generally Pakistani, but Malaysians are sometimes hired for logistics to help in transportation," said the official.
Once in Indonesia's East Java, asylum seekers are packed into boats bound for Australia.
The booming business is confounding the governments of Indonesia, which has hunted down and arrested some smuggling kingpins, and Australia, which is being bombarded with more refugees than it is willing to accept. Australia is trying to discourage prospective asylum seekers with new laws and with offers to take more refugees who choose to enter the country legally.
In August, Australia reintroduced offshore processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Asylum seekers who are sent there will not be let into the country without going through the same process as those legally seeking protective asylum in Australia.
"The strategy underpins the key message that asylum seekers should think twice before getting on a boat to Australia, because they will be risking their lives at sea for no advantage," according to Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
In 2011 four boats sank, killing 109 people. So far this year 23 boats have capsized with 200 people still missing and 2,225 people rescued. Most of the passengers have been Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians.
Afghans, mostly ethnic Hazaras, make up the largest number of so-called boat people, according to a report by Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship. In the first three months of this year, 797 Afghans sought asylum after arriving in Australia aboard dilapidated smugglers' boats. Iranians were a distant second with 132.
For those who seek refugee status entering Australia mostly by air, the odds are long. In the first three months of this year, Australia granted 215 primary protective visas and rejected 1,126, according to the report. The majority applying for those protective visas were from Pakistan and Iran.
And so many turn to smugglers.
In documents acquired by The Associated Press, the Pakistan government was told last year that Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, had become a thriving human smuggling hub. The documents, which originated from Pakistan's Embassy in Jakarta, were based on interviews with the 49 survivors of the boat that capsized Dec. 18.
More than a third of the passengers were ethnic Hazaras, including Ali Qurban, said his father, Saeed Qurban, who had gone to Indonesia's East Java in search of his son.
The elder Qurban, who cradled a framed photograph of Ali throughout an interview with The Associated Press, rifled through a small folder stuffed with newspaper clippings and documents. Several Indonesian newspapers featured front-page photos of Saeed Qurban crying as he searched rows of coffins.
The Pakistan Embassy document, based on interviews with survivors, said there appears to be "a mafia working in Quetta who is using the incidents of target killings and sectarian violence, unleashed against the Shia community particularly the Hazara tribe as a tool to instigate, motivate and persuade the youth to seek asylum in other countries."
"This mafia seems to be deep rooted and has an extensive network in different countries," the document said.
It described interviews with more than 25 Pakistani Shiites languishing in immigration detention centers in Indonesia after failing to reach Australia. The refugees all told of the same terror that drove them to leave Pakistan. None was willing to return to Pakistan, preferring to stay in jail in Indonesia in hopes of getting refugee status, said the document, which was given to the president and prime minister's office.
Yet the trade flourishes.
"Quetta is full of agents. Every day boys are trying to get to Australia," said Fauzia Qurban, Ali's older sister, occasionally burying her face in her hands and weeping as she struggled to tell her brother's story in an interview at her home.
Several agents refused to talk to the AP, and Fauzia Qurban feared for her family's safety if she approached those who helped her brother flee Pakistan.
But she had the name of the kingpin, Said Abbas, who she said orchestrated her brother's journey. Abbas operated out of Indonesia, hiring a phalanx of agents to recruit asylum seekers in Quetta, and is currently serving a 2 ½-year prison sentence in Jakarta for human smuggling.
Abbas, an Afghan national from eastern Ghazni province, was initially arrested in Jakarta in May 2010 but was released on bail. His involvement in the Dec. 17 tragedy was revealed by an Indonesian soldier, Ilmun Abdul Said, who went on trial in East Java for his part in arranging the smuggling expedition in which Ali Qurban died.
The boat that went down was 82 feet (25 meters) long and designed to hold 150 to 160 passengers. There were 249 on board when it sank. Ali Qurban was just 22 years old.