Tracy, Calif. residents to now pay for 911 services

The Tracy Press:

On Tuesday, the council approved via a 4-1 vote (with Councilman Steve Abercrombie dissenting) a contract with ADPI-Intermedix, based in Oakland, to send the bills. The city expects to have a billing system ready next month, but doesn’t yet know when it will actually start charging.

Residents will pay $300 for every fire department response to a medical emergency. Non-residents can expect to pay $400. There is no set cost for a fire department visit to a car accident.

The city is working out an option so that households can pay an annual membership fee of $48, which would cover the cost of any emergency aid given during the course of a year, said David Bramell, who is acting as fire chief while Chief Chris Bosch is on administrative leave.

. . .

[Councilwoman Suzanne] Tucker said one person joked if her husband has a heart attack, she’ll be tempted to light the kitchen table on fire to dodge the fees.

[via Thomas Friedman, The New York Times and CBS13]

Dear Switzerland: WTF?

Dear Switzerland,

You welcomed me with open arms as a child immigrant from 1997-1998. You unknowingly shaped my life in immeasurable ways. I attended your schools and played in your community bands. In short, I love the cheese and wine you produce, not to mention your beautiful landscapes. I’ve even made a lifelong friend.

I get that you have this image of yourself of being all progressive and such. Sure, you helped broker the peace between the United States and the United Kingdom after their help in the construction of ships like the CSS Alabama, an process that lead to the creation of the League of Nations, hosted in Geneva. You also host many of the world’s premier international institutions and are held in high esteem worldwide.

I mean, ok, you didn’t give women the right to vote until 1971, and heck you didn’t join the United Nations until 2002 (despite the fact that you host a large portion of UN organizations), but whatever.

And, while I knew this was probably coming, I was a bit surprised when I heard today that you decided to ban new minarets. You’re freaked out by Muslims, even though they’re roughly five percent of your population.

But I was even more baffled when I read this in The New York Times:

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.

So you’re freaked out by four minarets across 40 thousand square kilometers of territory? Really? Are you that insecure? You do realize that that’s an average of one minaret per 10,000 square kilometers, right? (That’s like the size of Lebanon.) Further, apparently NONE of them do the call to prayer. You do know that, right?

Was propagandist crap like this really necessary?

Sadly, I guess it worked.

When I make classic Swiss fondue with a caquelon that I bought in Geneva a few years ago, I’ll give a thought to how I hope you’ll one day change your mind.

Bisous de la Californie,


Pith helmets: cool again in California

John and Andy (in order of geographic proximity to me)–

As an unfashionable Californian, I’m a little bit ashamed to think that some high-end California hat store is now selling pith helmets. I wish I was joking.

As the Los Angeles Times reports:

While I didn’t think it was quite the appropriate headgear for that evening’s black-tie wedding, it fits in nicely with the explorer/desert military vibe that labels like Versace and Galliano had embraced for their Spring/Summer 2010 men’s runway collections in Europe earlier this year.

Now, I’m not advocating that when next spring rolls around everyone should chuck that stingy brim fedora and go all safari, but if global warming trends continue, a tree bark topper is certainly one low-tech, old-school option for keeping a cool head with a dash of retro-explorer style.

This is exactly why I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore — because people there think pith helmets “fit in nicely with that whole explorer vibe.”


Yours in non-pithed buglarity,

-Cyrus (suh-ROOS)
Oakland, California

African Renaissance statue in Dakar angers locals

Apparently, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has commissioned a 160-ft high bronze statue commemorating the “African Renaissance.”

The statue, “shows a muscular man in a heroic posture, outstretched arms wrapped around his wife and child, who is balanced on one of his biceps,” reports the Associated Press. Plus, the entire group is coming out of a volcano. (Last I checked there weren’t any volcanos anywhere close to Senegal.)

Senegalese media reports that the statue will be dedicated in a grandiose ceremony on December 12, 2009, with various African leaders and Brazilian President Lula Ignacio da Silva in attendance.

There’s also apparently a poetry contest, too, on the theme of “African Renaissance,” open to “all of Africa and its diaspora”.

Poems can be written in any of the continents three major languages: French, English or Arabic. The first three winners in each language will receive a prize of one, two and three million CFA, respectively. That’s about $2,200, $4,400 and $6,600.

You can compete by sending your entry to:

Ministère de la Culture et de la Francophonie
Building administratif, 3ème étage
BP : 4001 Dakar

Or email:

Deadline: Friday, October 23, 2009, 16h00 GMT

The AP adds that the statue costs $27 million to build (the President insists entirely through private donations).

If all of that wasn’t weird enough, here’s where it gets really weird:

– President Wade, according to the AP: “[maintains] he is entitled to 35 percent of any tourist revenues it generates because he owns “intellectual rights” for conceiving the idea, with the rest to go to the government.”

– AP adds: “Nearly 50 North Korean workers from the state-run Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang were brought in to build the statue because of their expertise with bronze art, and some Senegalese have complained of its communist-era design.”

Huh? WTF?

In other North Korea news, the DPRK soccer team, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966, will be training and playing exhibition games in Nantes, France from Oct. 5-15.

AFP reports: “[North Korea] will take on second division side Nantes at La Roche-sur-Yon on October 9 and the Congo national team on October 13 at Le Mans.

The date for a third game, probably against a French footballer’s union side, is being arranged.”

And finally, China is getting deeper in Senegalese affairs: “We can say that China has done more for Senegal in four years than what the Western countries have for her in 10 or 20 years,” the Chinese ambassador to Senegal, Lu Shaye, said on Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

January 14: Cyrus on PRI’s The World

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my radio piece on the launch of the new BBC Persian television service is airing today.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

New York – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

You can also find it on The World’s site later in the day and on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my boss, Clark Boyd. It comes out every Friday.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Update: Audio is here.

WashPost: “Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official”

The Washington Post, January 14 2009, by Bob Woodward:

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

And also in today’s Post:

A former military prosecutor said in a declaration filed in federal court yesterday that the system of handling evidence against detainees at Guantanamo Bay is so chaotic that it is impossible to prepare a fair and successful prosecution.

Darrel Vandeveld, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, filed the declaration in support of a petition seeking the release of Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who has been held at the military prison in Cuba for six years. Jawad was a juvenile when he was detained in Kabul in 2002 after a grenade attack that severely wounded two U.S. Special Forces soldiers and their interpreter.

Vandeveld, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the lead prosecutor against Jawad until he asked to be relieved of his duties last year, citing a crisis of conscience. He said the case has been riddled with problems, including alleged physical and psychological abuse of Jawad by Afghan police and the U.S. military, as well as reliance on evidence that was later found to be missing, false or unreliable.

Vandeveld said in a phone interview that the “complete lack of organization” has affected nearly all cases at Guantanamo Bay. The evidence is often so disorganized, he said, “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the U.S. Not even rudimentary organization by date or name.”

A disturbing spam email

I just got an obvious spam email:

I am in a hurry writting this mail to you, I had travelled to United Kingdom for official purposes yesterday, Unfortunately for me all my money was
stolen at the hotel where i lodged, I am so confused right now, I dont know what to do or where to go,I didnt bring my phone here and the hotel telephone lines was disconnected during the robbery incident,so i have access to only emails, Please can you send me 2,000 pounds today so i can return home, As soon as i get home i would refund it immediately.Write me so i can let you know how to send it. Please keep this to your self only please!!.

But, the disturbing part is that it originates from an acquaintance in Korea, and includes his legit contact information in the signature file at the bottom of the email. If spammers are impersonating legit email accounts and somehow are getting access to sig files, phishing is definitely going to become a bigger problem.

Seems I’m not the only one who has gotten this email.

On the canceling of Search Engine

Dear Mr. Stursberg [Richard.Stursberg at] and Ms. Mitton [Susan.Mitton at],

I am appalled at the decision that was made to cancel Search Engine.

I have been a longtime listener and fan of the show down here in the Lower 48 ever since it won Best of 2007 iTunes Podcasts. I didn’t know the show existed until then and since, have been a loyal fan and devotee.

As a producer and reporter on American public radio, I understand the difficulties, financially and logistically, of getting good stuff on the air. I also understand that public radio is having a hell of a time attracting a younger audience, and yet, you seemed to be doing that in droves. There are many public radio shows down here that would kill for that kind of attention, not to mention winning awards and being at the top of the iTunes charts.

Brown and his crew brought a smart and witty discussion about the day’s tech culture issues to a wide audience, and it was an utmost pleasure to listen to the show. The Prentice interview on the last episode is prima facie of that. The fact that the blog and the podcast will continue to exist is not good enough. Why change a winning formula?

I urge you to reconsider this awful decision.

Thanks so much,


Oakland, CA, USA

Fist Bump? Seriously? This is news?

Please, gag me with a flag pin.

I know I’m not the first to say this, but please, NYT: “closed-fist high-fives” it is not. Terrorist fist jab, it is not. Fist bump, fist pound, or dap are the acceptable nomenclature.

Props to Gawker for this deft analysis:

These are kids (meaning “18-35-year-olds across the entire nation), white and black, for whom respect knuckles are second nature. And Obama’s bump and shoulder-brush, probably simply because he’s such a natural actor, don’t reek of pandering. Pandering is when, say, Representative Jack Kingston inexplicably and incorrectly appropriated “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.”

Obama’s acting cool, but relatably cool. Like a Cool Uncle! He’s younger and hipper than dad, but still serious and Grown Up. And this is probably his best defense against crazy old Grampa McCain.

Can we move on now?