Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

E-Stonia: where the free internet now flows like water


Photo: Bruce Sterling

First things first: oh, you world travelers, for pleasure or for work, never, ever fly Baltic Airlines. First they will stiff you by making you pay sixty euros to carry regular-sized hand luggage. You will note their particular eagerness to pounce on innocent non-Baltic travellers, especially haplessYankees with credit cards.

During the flight you can expect to be charged for the air you breathe, since they don't even give free water.

Finally, god forbid if something goes wrong with your flight and ticket, for Baltic Airlines will gladly maneuver you into buying a heavily-priced new one. Fleeing home via Baltic Airlines beats prison and deportation, but not by much.

Read the rest

Whatever happened to Russia's Moon lander?

The United State won the race to put a man on the Moon. But we weren't the first to land anything on the Moon. That prize went to the Soviet Union, which successfully put Luna 2 on the surface of the Moon in 1959.

Their later missions were less successful and the USSR never made it past unmanned moon landers. Even some of those failed. Last week, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the remains of two of these Luna missions, still sitting on the Moon. At Vice, Amy Teitel talks about the Luna program and what NASA has learned about why it failed.


Luna 23 met a similar fate. Launched on October 28, 1974, it malfunctioned halfway through its mission and ended up crashing on the surface in the Mare Crisium (the Sea of Crisis in the northwest on the Earth-facing side). The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth after its hard landing, but it couldn’t get a sample. Mission scientists expected the spacecraft had tipped over as a result of its landing, but without a way to image the moon at a high resolution, they weren’t able to confirm, and the mystery endured.

It turns out they were indeed right. The whole spacecraft is still on the surface, its ascent engine never fired, and high resolution image from LRO’s cameras show the spacecraft lying on its side.

Read the rest at Vice

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)

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:

Read the rest

Chernobyl disaster, 25 year later: commemoration around the world

It's early morning on April 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened exactly a quarter century ago. On this day in 1986, reactor number four at the plant exploded, setting off a catastrophe that still reverberates far beyond the 30-kilometer exclusion zone.

Demonstrations are taking place throughout Europe. In Tokyo, anti-TEPCO protests mark the occasion and its parallel to the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima. The "liquidators" who were sent in to clean up the radioactive mess at Chernobyl back in 1986 received medals Monday from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but controversy still surrounds the health impact of the dangerous work they performed. The so-called "sarcophagus" surrounding the disaster site in Kiev is leaking, and world leaders have pledged "to provide $780 million for the construction of a shelter designed to house the toxic remains for another century." But even if and when that new container is finally in place, the radioactive mess will remain active—and hazardous—for many thousands of years more.

Maggie pointed to this recent report from Chernobyl for PBS NewsHour by Miles O'Brien— it's embedded above in this post, and worth another view on this day. [video link, or watch on PBS.org, photo gallery].

doll_slideshow.jpg

Read the rest

Anti-piracy enforcers claiming to represent Microsoft used to shut down dissident media in former USSR

Danny O'Brien from the Committee to Protect Journalists sez, "The Kyrgyz government used anti-piracy heavies (including a guy who is president of 'Kyrgyz Association for Defense of Intellectual Property Rights' and who works with Microsoft) to shut down Stan TV, an independent web TV news channel in Kyrgyzstan. They said they were investigating unlicensed Microsoft software and seized all the journalists' laptops and work computers, shutting down the station. When the President was ousted two weeks later, Stan TV got it all back without explanation. Apparently there's a long history of governments using Microsoft's name and piracy charges to squelch independent media in Russia, too."
Selective enforcement of alleged software infringement is being used with some frequency in the former Soviet republics as cover to harass independent media. Local law enforcement officials have been given broad powers, in the name of fighting piracy, to raid premises and seize hardware. For the most part, Western companies and governments have encouraged this broadening of powers--but they have not insisted on checks to ensure such powers are not misused. As a result, abuses of power are being committed in the names of those companies.

Stan TV employees told CPJ that police were accompanied by a technical expert, Sergey Pavlovsky, who claimed to be a representative of Microsoft's Bishkek office. According to the journalists, Pavlovsky said he had authorization papers from Microsoft but was unwilling to show them. After a cursory inspection of the computers, they said, Pavlovsky declared all of the equipment to be using pirated software. Stan TV's work computers, as well as the personal laptops of journalists, were seized; the offices were also sealed, interrupting the station's work.

Microsoft, piracy, and independent media in Kyrgyzstan

Update: Danny adds, "Just to be clear, Microsoft says they knew nothing about this raid. Here's their statement on the matter: 'The raid against Stan Media was initiated by the Kyrgyz police without any involvement from any Microsoft employees or anyone working on Microsoft's behalf. The identified local lawyer has been representing Microsoft in a few enforcement actions targeting resellers of pirated software, but at this time he was asked to assist the police to identify possible unlicensed software in the role of a technical specialist from the local 'Association of Right Holders of Intellectual Property Protection'. No claims were filed on Microsoft's behalf and any suggestion that Microsoft approved or supported this police action is inaccurate.'

(Thanks, Danny!)

(Image: Microsoft sign outside building 99, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from scobleizer's photostream)