Boing Boing 

RAW quote: in other words, if you think you know what the hell is going on, you're probably full of shit.

"Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a religious Faith or a secular Ideology (Ideologies are the modern form of Faiths) and just stopped thinking."

-- Robert Anton Wilson

Fnord

Crew of 170 people needed to keep Predator drone airborne for 24h

A Freedom of Information request reveals that aerial drones are rife with expensive technical problems.

The aerial disasters described draw attention not only to the technical limitations of drone warfare, but to larger conceptual flaws inherent in such operations. Launched and landed by aircrews close to battlefields in places like Afghanistan, the drones are controlled during missions by pilots and sensor operators—often multiple teams over many hours—from bases in places like Nevada and North Dakota. They are sometimes also monitored by “screeners” from private security contractors at stateside bases like Hurlburt Field in Florida. (A recent McClatchy report revealed that it takes nearly 170 people to keep a single Predator in the air for 24 hours.)

Nick Turse: The Crash and Burn Future of Robot Warfare (via Warren Ellis)

Why SOPA/PIPA protests should matter to people outside the USA

Michael Geist sez,

While there is little that people living outside the U.S. can do to influence SOPA and PIPA, there are many reasons why it is important for everyone to participate in tomorrow's SOPA protest.

First, the SOPA provisions are designed to have an extra-territorial effect in countries around the world.

Second, non-U.S. businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA. The bill grants the U.S. "in rem" jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection.

Third, millions rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on Boing Boing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If non-Americans remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation.

Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries. SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue.

Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest

Frontline post-Fukushima documentary "Nuclear Aftershocks" airs tonight

[Video Link]

"Nuclear Aftershocks," the PBS Frontline documentary which Maggie described in a Boing Boing review as "brilliant," airs tonight online and on local PBS stations at 10pm. I've seen an advance copy, and I agree that it's excellent—though I'm admittedly biased, since I love everything Miles O'Brien does, and collaborate with him creatively from time to time. A preview of the documentary is above. They have some cool web extras up at the Frontline site, including a map of how much nuclear power each US state relies on.

Physically protest tomorrow to protest SOPA and PIPA

Jonathan from Hackers and Founders sez, "We're planning SOPA/PIPA protests in SF, NYC, DC and Seattle on Wednesday the 18th to coincide with the blackouts."

Recall election in Wisconsin: It's probably on

Wisconsinites needed 500,000 signatures in order to authorize a recall election against Governor Scott Walker. They got 1 million.

A doctor responds to Seth Roberts' guest post about tonsillectomy

We recently ran a guest post by Seth Roberts, detailing the case against tonsillectomies as a regularly prescribed treatment for sore throats. I was able to read Roberts' post before it went up here, and comment on it. And Roberts made several changes to the post, which I had suggested, before it ran.

In general, I'm a big fan of basing medical treatment on evidence, rather than conjecture, tradition, or mythology. And, while I have a big problem with woo-woo (shorthand for attempts at medical treatment that are based primarily on conjecture, tradition, and mythology), I do think it's important to point out that woo-woo doesn't always come from hippies. Local doctors don't always follow the evidence, either. In fact, that's one big reason why "evidence-based medicine" has to be called that, rather than just medicine. So while I didn't agree with everything Roberts had to say, I thought his key point—tonsillectomy as a treatment for sore throats isn't actually strongly supported by evidence—was a valuable one.

That said, I R NOT A MEDICAL EXPERT. And neither is Roberts. Steven Novella, however, is a medical doctor and a clinical researcher. He has a very good blog post up that points out some important flaws in Roberts post. Here's the gist of what he has to say: Roberts seems to have misunderstood some of the studies he linked to, and assigned too much importance to others. "Evidence" can mean a range of different things. Some evidence is better than others. Just because a study was published doesn't mean it's evidence worth paying attention to. And it is very easy for people to get confused by this distinction when they start trying to treat themselves with the help of Google.

For instance, Roberts provided a laundry list of potential complications of tonsillectomy and asked why the evidence-based Cochrane Review didn't talk about any of them. The problem:

He seems to take the approach of listing any possible hypothesized risk as if it is established.

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New MAKE podcast: Make Talk

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Make-Talk Here's the first episode of MAKE's new podcast, Make Talk. In each episode, I'll interview one of the makers from the pages of the magazine.

We created Make Talk because we wanted to find out about the people who write the how-to articles in MAKE. As you might guess, MAKE's makers are often as interesting as the projects they build. In Make Talk, you'll find out why they make things, how they acquire skills, where they go for inspiration, and what's on their workbenches.

Our Maker this week is Steve Hoefer of Grathio Labs. Steve's uniquely appealing projects in MAKE include the Dizzy Robot, the Secret Knock Gumball Machine (above). He also wrote a how-to article in MAKE 29 about a device called the Tacit that allows you to feel objects at a distance. Steve is one of my favorite makers, and in this interview, you'll find out why!

Download Make Talk 001 as an MP3 | Subscribe to Make Talk in iTunes | Subscribe via RSS | Download single episodes as MP3s

In praise of skeuomorphs

I reflected today on the fact that my four-year-old makes a "click" sound when she's playing with a toy camera because that's the MP3 that my phone plays when I take her picture. A number of people pointed out that this is an example of a skeuomorph, "a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original." The Wikipedia entry on the subject's fascinating in the extreme:

* Decorative stone features of Greek temples such as mutules, guttae, and modillions that are derived from true structural/functional features of the early wooden temples
* Ornamental pylons framing modern bridges, such as the twin 89 metre pylons at each end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They do not support anything, and are there only to frame the structure itself and make it look more like a traditional bridge.
* An early pottery butter churn, at the Jaffa Museum, shaped rather like an American football, imitating the shape of its predecessors, which were made of hide.
* Injection-molded plastic sandals that replicate woven strips of leather
* Artificial film grain added to digitally-shot movies to give a softer, more expensive effect and the expected "shimmer" of the grain pattern between successive frames
* Various spoke patterns in automobile hubcaps and wheels leftover from carriage wheel construction

Skeuomorph

(Image: Chevy Volt Skeuomorph, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tylerbell's photostream)

2600 to go PIPA-dark, too

Emmanuel Goldstein sez, "The websites for 2600 will go dark on Wednesday, joining many others around the world in protest against the potentially devastating effects of bills like SOPA and PIPA."

Yahoo co-founder, former CEO Jerry Yang resigns from board and "all other positions"

Yahoo announces that Jerry Yang has resigned from the internet company's Board of Directors "and all other positions with the company, effective today." Yang has also resigned from the Boards of Yahoo Japan Corporation and Alibaba Group Holding Limited, effective today. Yahoo's official statement is here.

Photo: Co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. Jerry Yang applauds during the announcement of a commitment pledge at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 22, 2010. (REUTERS)

The greatest running shoe never sold, by Bob Parks

My friend Bob Parks has a great story in Bloomberg Businessweek about the sad fate of a new kind of running shoe that promised to be better than any other running shoe on the market.

Screen Shot 2012-01-17 At 1.51.24 Pm(Photo by Daniel Shea) Three days before the 2002 Chicago Marathon, Hann bought industrial carbon fiber fabric and baked it in his kitchen. Once the fumes dissipated, he cannibalized the uppers of a pair of New Balance 763 running shoes for his proto-types. As he hacked off layers of EVA foam from the sneakers with a table saw, his hand slipped and the blade cut deeply into his thumb, embedding bits of blue foam into the wound. Hann rushed to the emergency room, then assembled the shoes the next day.

Hann believes his prototype was responsible for shaving 17 minutes off his record in the marathon. He immediately made more. A member of his pace group wore them, reporting her legs felt “full of energy.” Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running in Naperville, Ill., delivered a tougher critique: “pretty good,” he said, but “a bit slappy.” The transitions between midstance and toe-off were “rough.” A shard of carbon fiber came loose, slicing Hartner’s calf.

All the same, Hartner, who has a master’s in biomechanics, took Hann’s concept seriously. When New Balance owner Jim Davis visited the shop, Hartner said he should check out Hann’s shoes. Hann met with New Balance and secured an investor, who contributed $300,000. Hann and the investor made prototypes in Korea, paid an attorney to patent the shoe, and hired an exercise laboratory to test it. The facility found that runners in Hann’s prototypes consumed an average of 2.2 percent less oxygen. That may not sound like a lot, but it pointed to a significant reduction in energy when running long distances.

The greatest running show never sold, by Bob Parks

Free PDF of the first Diesel Sweeties comic collection


The delightful R. Stevens is distributing the first Diesel Sweeties webcomic collection as a DRM-free, free PDF, in celebration of his birthday. "Pocket Sweeties, Volume 1," is a sterling example of the demented, bitter humor that Rich pulls off so well, and we're a lucky Internet for getting this great gimmee from him. He's got loads of merch and books for sale, too.

diesel sweeties: DRM-free ebooks

Pocket Sweeties, Volume 1 (PDF), Torrent

(via CNet)

MPAA issues statement slamming SOPA/PIPA "blackout" protests as "dangerous gimmick"

Former Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA), pooh-poohs the January 18 internet blackout protests over SOPA and PIPA:

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

PDF link to entire statement.

On Wednesday, January 18, Boing Boing will be participating in the dangerous gimmick.

(Image: Shutterstock)

Why the ‘Check Engine’ light must be banned

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"Check engine" lights suck! Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik asks you to sign a whitehouse.gov petition to "require automakers to replace the nearly useless Check Engine Light with a display that actually explains what's wrong."

The continued use of a generic, uninformative "check engine" light in cars keeps car owners in the dark about the condition of their vehicle, and ensures they stay dependent and subordinate to car dealers and mechanics. The frustrating thing is it doesn't have to be that way.

Let's look at exactly what the "check engine" light does in a car, and how it works. To understand it, first we need to understand what On Board Diagnostics (OBD) are — I know for many Jalops this is review, but bear with me.

Every car sold today has an on-board computer system that monitors many, many sensors and conditions in a car's drivetrain, and reports back when there is an error. This has its roots, of all places, in the 1969 Volkswagen Type III, one of the first cars with electronic fuel injection. The "electronic" part of that meant that there was a crude computer brain that managed the system, and could scan for error conditions. Other manufacturers soon had their own systems, and by 1996 an actual, standardized system, called OBD-II, was developed and mandated by law for inclusion in all cars sold in the USA.

OBD-II is actually a terrific system. A global standard for helping to diagnose car issues, with standard connectors and error codes? What's not to like?

What's not to like is that when something goes wrong, all the average motorist sees is that little drawing of an engine bisected by a lightning bolt. And all that tells them is basically nothing. The "check engine" light is the MIL (Malfunction Indicator Light) of the OBD-II system, and illuminates whenever a fault is detected. To see exactly what sort of fault takes a "special scanner" that plugs into the OBD-II connector. These scanners are almost always owned by mechanics or dealers. Independent people can buy scanners as well, or cables to connect laptops, smart phones, etc., but people who will do that are not the ones who need to worry about the check engine lights.

Why The ‘Check Engine’ Light Must Be Banned

One more response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, by Some Guy from Georgia

People walk past graffiti on a street in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Jan. 13, 2012. (REUTERS)

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs responded with a statement, which we published in full. A Boing Boing reader from Georgia also asked to respond to the anonymously-sourced wisecrack, with which he takes issue. Like the wisecracker, this person requests anonymity.


The police in Georgia are definitely not fat or lazy. They are not corrupt on the street level, either. But the whole system still retains elements of corruption  (in enforcement, in the judiciary, and in the legislative realm). The problem lies more in the definition of corruption: the fact that you can no longer bribe the policeman in the streets or at the sovereign borders does not mean everything is crystal-clean.

The fact that citizens are still afraid  of police in Georgia as if they were monsters is still an expression of the damage of corruption. The fact that you can be imprisoned for smoking pot weeks before actually being tested by cops (because you might seem suspicious to them, not because you've been caught smoking pot) is a kind of corruption, I believe.

There is a terrible feeling of vulnerability in Georgia. Police are still used as a tool to terrorize people and make money, but these days, paying bribes to individual policemen is no longer normal.


Georgian policemen stand to attention during a daily shift change at the Interior Ministry in Tbilisi, Jan. 12, 2012. (REUTERS)

There are lots of pros and cons about the reforms in Georgia, but still, no—the "fat lazy cops" comment was not fair. The police have changed greatly for the positive.

At least you don't have to pay mandatory bribes to drive around any more; the government fought very effectively against organized crime and turned Georgia into what is almost a drug-free country. In the past, the city was covered in used syringes. You could buy heroin as easily as bread.

Now, the city is clean, and it is very hard to buy any kind of drugs. I really appreciate this, as may of my friends have stopped using heavy drugs over the past two or three years.


An employee assembles a "Police Pad" at the production line of the Algorithm factory in Tbilisi January 11, 2012. Five thousand police officers will receive portable field computers assembled at this factory, according to local media. (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

TSA-compliant cupcakes: "I am not a gel"


Inspired by Rebecca Hains' harrowing tale of cupcake confiscation by the Las Vegas TSA, Providence, RI's Silver Spoon Bakery is selling "TSA-compliant cupcakes." These have exactly three ounces of frosting, and come in a ziplock baggie with a boarding card and a little Richard Nixon badge bearing the legend, "I am not a gel."

Bakery's TSA Compliant Cupcake is latest volley in Cupcakegate (via Digg)

Brain Rot: Hip Hop Family Tree, The Blackout of 1977

Part 1 of The Hip Hop Family Tree

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A neat finding about pseudonymous commenters—and why you should question it

Here's some interesting data that I would like to believe is true—mainly because it matches up with what I've experienced here at BoingBoing. Many of you use some kind of pseudonym in the comments, whether it's first-name-only, an Internet handle, or a completely fake name. My experience here has taught me that, despite this, you all are perfectly capable of writing fascinating, informative, worthwhile comments and having good discussions that add to the usefulness of the original post. (That doesn't always happen, as I'm sure Antinous will attest. But it happens often enough that I talk y'all up to other journalists and bloggers who are nervous about having a comments section on their site.)

After an analysis of 500,000 comments, Disqus now says that pseudonymous commenters are the most prolific commenters—and that the quality of their comments are actually a little better than the quality of comments from people who logged in through Facebook, using their real names.

If this is correct, it's pretty cool. It might not be correct, though. So do think about that before you start touting this as absolute fact in the #nymwars. For instance, the key measure of quality here is whether or not a post generates "likes" and replies, and, if so, how many. Another thing I've learned from watching the comments on BoingBoing: Likes and replies are not necessarily indicative of actual quality. Likewise, the measures that branded a post as "low quality" seem designed to really only address the worst-of-the-worst: Comments that get flagged, deleted, or marked as spam. There's a lot of room left over for comments that are low quality, but not outright trolling/spam.

Another issue: "Real identity," in this case, means "logged in through Facebook. I can think of several of you, off the top of my head, who I know use real names in the comments, but don't log in through a social media site.

Finally, I can't find anything about where the 500,000 comments were pulled from. Depending on the site(s), this may or may not be a representative sample. After all, the site you're posting on—what the content is, what the community is like, how well moderated it is—probably does a lot to influence how you behave there.

So, basically, what I'm saying is this: Disqus has published an infographic confirming my personal beliefs. Hooray! The problem is, I don't really feel like I can trust it.

Image: jack masque, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from speculummundi's photostream

Stop-motion animation of 3D-printed people

In celebration of the new Makerbot Replicator 3D printer, a stop-motion animation that depicts the birth-by-printer of a sweet girl and the heartbreak she experiences thereafter.

This all new stop-animation music video was made with Michael Curry’s playset characters and a number of other MakerBot-made pieces! The princesses story was written by MakerBot CEO and co-founder Bre Pettis and the song was written and performed by local Brooklyn musicians Scary Car (Bryan Scary and Giulio Carmassi). It’s fun, it’s catchy, and incredibly awesome!

The Replicator Stop Motion Music Video (via Wonderland)

Torture common again in post-Saddam "democratic" Iraq

"Iraqi state security officers are systematically arresting people on trumped-up charges, torturing them and extorting bribes from their families for their release." Guardian UK via Richard Engel.

How traffic jams are born

A couple of years ago, Cory posted a really interesting story about the mathematics behind seemingly cause-less traffic jams. It's pretty interesting. Shorter version: The researchers think jams like this are caused by one person braking, and the response to that slow down moves through dense traffic in a way that is mathematically very similar to the shock wave from an explosion. Once you have enough density of cars on a road, jams are inevitable.

Cory's post included a simulation, showing what the mathematics might look like in the real world. Basically, a computer algorithm figured out how drivers would behave if the mathematical theory were correct and turned that behavior into a little cartoon of cars moving around a track.

But here's the really cool thing. This effect has actually been demonstrated in meatspace. Yesterday, a friend sent me a video from 2008, showing real life drivers behaving in almost the exact same way as the simulation video from Cory's post. That's what you see posted above. Now, these are not exactly real-world conditions. A flat circular track may, or may not, be a good representative for what happens on the highway—I, for one, would be interested in seeing how on/off ramps, hills, and curves change the patterns. Also, the drivers in this case were other students and faculty from the Nakanihon Automotive College, and the study doesn't say whether they knew why they were driving in circles. Again, these details could affect the outcome.

I've not been able to find any studies that test this mathematical model by documenting real-world traffic flows. But if you've got links, I'd love to see them! The idea behind this theory certainly makes sense and it would be interesting to know whether it matches up with the reality you and I experience.

Video Link

Thanks, Andrew Balfour!

Titanic Tales: The Costa Concordia

Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)

When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.

My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.

But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.

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Sluggo's figure drawing

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Mitch O'Connell said it had taken "a full minute to realize that Sluggo had drawn a 'three.'" Same here!

Update: Boyo5's sense of humor is as infantile as mine!

Google opens new Los Angeles campus

Above, a man walks through a tunnel of Google homepage logos at the Google campus near Venice Beach, in Los Angeles. Below, Googler Katharine Ng zooms in to Paris on panoramic Google Maps screens. And, a man walks past the iconic pair of giant binoculars designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen at an entrance of Google's new LA home. The 100,000 square-foot campus was designed by architect Frank Gehry. Around 500 employees develop video advertising for YouTube, parts of the Google+ social network and the Chrome Web browser at the site. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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Makerbot playsets: free, downloadable 3D files for dollhouses, dolls and accessories


MakerBot has announced "MakerBot Playsets," a series of freely downloadable dollhouses, furnishings and dolls for your 3D printer. Whip up as pieces as needed, on demand, and amaze the wee ones (and compulsive hoarders) in your life.

MakerBot’s own design superstar Michael “Skimbal” Curry, creator of such Thingiverse megahits as the Turtle Shell Racers and Gothic Cathedral playset, starts the ball rolling by architecting a pair of MakerBot Playset buildings. Introducing two new Thingiverse superstars: Cushwa and PrettyLittleThings are doing a tremendous job furnishing these playsets with their imaginations.1

So without further ado, straight from the soundstage backlot of Annelise’s Replicator music video, The Right Heart, we present you with the MakerBot Fairytale Castle Playset and the Damsels!

The collection has to be seen to be believed.

Introducing the MakerBot Playsets: MakerBot Fairytale Castle

Stuff scientists say

Finally, a science-themed entry in the "Shit ______ say" meme. Science journalist Ferris Jabr and friends put this together and it's pretty funny. Reminds me a conversation I had earlier this week with a friend about her brother's social insect research. Another thing scientists say, "The hissing cockroach experiment is not going according to plan."

Bonus: Watch for a slide that references a previous scienceLOL you may remember.

Video Link

NYC's Authorized Drone Strike Zone


@BaLueBolivar snapped this picture advising NYC residents that 26th and 11th was now an Authorized Drone Strike area.

The coming of drones to every neighborhood. NYC. 26th and 11th (via JWZ)

The science of glow sticks

I stumbled across this randomly on YouTube today and had to share. The first 3/4 of the video are a chemistry experiment breakdown of what goes into a glow stick and what each of those ingredients is meant to do. But what makes me LOVE it is that, at the end, all of this coalesces into a fine explanation of the difference between light-absorbing dyes and fluorescent dyes. Come for the glow-stick "how to", stay for the better understanding of how light works and how it influences what you see!

Video Link

Response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has responded with a statement, which we are more than happy to publish in full.

Georgian Police: Model for Successful Transformation

The article published on [Boing Boing on] January 12, 2012, about the initiative by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to introduce new portable field computers (so called “Police Pads”) ends with an anonymous quote declaring that "100% guaranteed those crooked, fat, lazy cops will be using these devices primarily for porn and Russian gambling services."

Stereotypes like this are easy to toss out—but are quite simply incorrect. This quote does not reflect the productivity, effectiveness, transparency, and reliability of the police force in Georgia today, but rather the bygone era of the 1990s, a reality that has drastically changed thanks to an ambitious and successful reform process.

The reform process in Georgia began immediately after the 2003 Rose Revolution. The new government inherited a completely corrupt and bloated law-enforcement system. The systemic corruption and the high level of crime throughout the country resulted in a very low level of public trust: fewer than 10% of Georgians had confidence in the police, according to 2003 polls. And the very low average policeman's salary (approximately $68 per month) made the soliciting of bribes routine. 

Georgia has since made the creation of an efficient and modern police force a national priority, undertaking a series of reforms that sought to rebuild the national police force literally from the ground up. The entire national police force was fired, and a new force hired, trained and deployed with the aim of meeting the highest international standards of professionalism.

These reforms are widely regarded as an unqualified success. Having reduced corruption and bribe taking to levels comparable to those in Europe, the police in Georgia have earned the trust and respect of the public they serve:

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