Indian boy mirrors plight of millions of kids

 

NEW DELHI – Arun Kumar was born to disabled parents, beaten by his grandparents, ran away from home, got a job in a garment factory and had all his savings stolen by the police.

He was only 11.

Today, at 13, he shares a cramped, dingy shelter with 63 other runaways and former street kids in New Delhi.

He is one of the lucky ones.

Twenty years after the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, multitudes of children across the globe are still suffering from poverty, abuse and disease.

Each year, 4 million babies die before they are a month old, 150 million children are engaged in child labor, more than 500 million have been affected by violence and 51 million have fallen so far through the cracks they have not even had their births registered, according to the United Nations.

In China, infant mortality rates are five times higher in rural areas than in the wealthier cities. In Mexico, more than a million children under the age of 14 are working.

The U.N. convention, adopted Nov. 20, 1989 and ratified by every country except the United States and Somalia, calls on nations to protect children from abuse and sexual exploitation, reduce child mortality and give children access to health care and education.

There have been successes. Fewer young children are dying or underfed, more are attending school and getting vaccinated and dozens of countries have adopted laws recognizing child rights.

In Russia, an epidemic of homeless children in the 1990s was beaten back by a concerted government effort. In South Africa, some children infected with HIV are getting lifesaving medicines that were out of reach only a few years ago.

President Bill Clinton’s administration signed the convention but never submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification because of claims that it infringed on the rights of parents and was inconsistent with state and local laws. But President Barack Obama says he wants to try again for ratification.

The convention “has had positive impacts across the world, but we need to say it hasn’t had as much impact as we’d have hoped,” said Jennifer Grant, a child rights specialist with Save the Children in London. “Children are not a political priority for governments.”

Some of the worst abuses play out every day on the dusty streets of India, where government and aid groups’ efforts to help children are overwhelmed by the staggering poverty and the dislocation of millions of rural villagers who flood the cities in search of jobs.

Two million children under 5 die every year, more than 20 million are not in primary school and child marriage is routine. Children, some as young as 3 and clutching baby siblings, work the traffic-clogged streets begging for money. Others are constantly on the move, living on the construction sites where their parents work, with no access to education.

Arun was born in the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh to parents who cannot hear or speak, and grew up in his grandparents’ crowded house. He was so ignored his family thought he had inherited his parents’ disability, until at age 7 his grandfather sat down with Arun and taught him to speak.

As he grew older, Arun, a short, slight boy, began skipping school and fighting with his younger cousins, who teased him about his parents and his own late development.

“I used to make mistakes,” he said of his behavior. And the abuse began. His grandmother would hit him with her hands. His grandfather, who had so patiently taught him to speak, used a stick, he said.

“Suddenly he started beating me. All the love was gone,” he said.

One Sunday when he was 10, he took the family goats to the pasture and left them to graze while he went off to play with friends. When he returned, one of the goats had disappeared.

His grandmother viciously beat him, he said, looking at the floor, biting his nails and nervously cracking his fingers.

He had finally had enough. He took 2,000 rupees (about $40) he had collected over nearly three years by saving the tiny sums his parents gave him for treats and he fled to Delhi.

“I had no plan. I just got on the bus,” Arun said.

Many runaways become street children, picking pockets, begging or scavenging to survive. Others end up in the sex trade. But Arun had the good fortune to befriend an older boy on the bus, who brought Arun to a garment factory in New Delhi, the capital, where they both got jobs.

Arun was trained on a sewing machine and stitched together jeans. He was fed, given a place to stay and wasn’t beaten, he said — relatively good conditions for a child factory worker.

After a year, he collected his 13,000 rupees (about $260) in earnings, gave 2,000 ($40) to his friend, and quit. He bought new clothes, shoes, a small radio, and treated himself to a lavish meal of chicken curry and rice, he said.

At the end of the day, a police officer confronted the 11-year-old, frisked him and stole his remaining 9,000 rupees ($180), he said. Arun was then sent to a shelter that he compares to a prison.

Finally, after insisting on going back to school, he was moved to a boys shelter run by the Salaam Baalak Trust in Paharganj, a slum.

Now he lives with 64 other boys in a gray room on the second floor of a dank community center. A world map is painted on one wall. A mural of Batman, Spiderman and Superman is on another. Dozens of thin mattresses are stacked in the corner.

At mealtime, the boys roll out long mats on the floor, sit cross-legged and eat. During the day, they pull out desks and take classes. In the evening it becomes a recreational room and at night, they scatter the mattresses across the floor and sleep.

“This is their home, and we are their family,” said Anjani Tiwari, the shelter’s director.

The children get supplemental schooling and vocational training at the center, and some have gone on to work as photographers, tailors and cafe workers, he said.

Everything that is Arun’s — clothes, books, a karate poster, a broken camera — is jammed into a tiny rusted locker hidden in the corner of a stairwell.

“I’m going to show you one of my favorite things,” he said with a smile. He dug through his locker for several minutes, but couldn’t find what he was looking for — a small toy elephant.

“Maybe I left it outside the locker last night and someone took it, or maybe I lost it,” he said quietly.

Quick restart of Big Bang machine stuns scientists

GENEVA – Scientists moved Saturday to prepare the world’s largest atom smasher for exploring the depths of matter after successfully restarting the $10 billion machine following more than a year of repairs.

The nuclear physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider were surprised that they could so quickly get beams of protons whizzing near the speed of light during the restart late Friday, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The machine was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault in September last year.

Some scientists had gone home early Friday and had to be called back as the project jumped ahead, Gillies said.

At a meeting early Saturday “they basically had to tear up the first few pages of their PowerPoint presentation which had outlined the procedures that they were planning to follow,” he said. “That was all wrapped up by midnight. They are going through the paces really very fast.”

The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

CERN, as it is known, had hoped by 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) Saturday to get the beams to travel the 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border, but things went so well Friday evening that they had achieved the operation seven hours earlier.

Praise from scientists around the world was quick. “First beam through the Atlas!” whooped an Internet message from Adam Yurkewicz, an American scientist working on the massive Atlas detector on the machine.

“I congratulate the scientists and engineers that have worked to get the LHC back up and running,” said Dennis Kovar of the U.S. Department of Energy, which participates in the project.

He called the machine “unprecedented in size, in complexity, and in the scope of the international collaboration that has built it over the last 15 years.”

Later Saturday the organizers decided to test all the protection equipment while there still is a very low intensity proton beam circulating in the collider at 11,000 times a second. The tests will take 10 days, Gillies said.

The current beam has relatively few protons to avoid damage to the LHC should control of them be lost.

Gillies said CERN decided against immediately testing the LHC’s ability to speed up the beams to higher energy or to start with low-energy collisions that would help scientist calibrate their detection equipment.

In the meantime CERN is using about 2,000 superconducting magnets — some of them 15 meters (50 feet) long — to improve control of the beams of billions of protons so they will remain tightly bunched and stay clear of sensitive equipment.

Gillies said the scientists are being very conservative.

“They’re leaving a lot of time so that the guys who are operating the machine are under no pressure whatsoever to tick off the boxes and move forward,” he said.

Officials said Friday evening’s progress was an important step on the road toward scientific discoveries at the LHC, which are expected in 2010.

“We’ve still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this milestone we’re well on the way,” CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said.

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to the magnets and other parts of the collider.

Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators, said the improvements since then have made the LHC a far better understood machine than it was a year ago.

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world’s current most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming years.

This will allow the collisions between protons to give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

When the machine is fully operational, the magnets will control the beams of protons and send them in opposite directions through two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses. In rooms as large as cathedrals 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground the magnets will force them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom’s nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles. And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and supersymmetry they want to answer with CERN’s new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger than the LHC, but in 1993 the U.S. Congress canceled it after costs soared and questions were raised about its scientific value

Gillies said the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 trillion electron volts some time next year, which will be 3 1/2 times as powerful as Fermilab. The two laboratories are friendly rivals, working on equipment and sharing scientists.

But each would be delighted to make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretically gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

More than 8,000 physicists from other labs around the world also have work planned for the LHC. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers Japan, India, Russia and the U.S. that have made big contributions.

Obama trumpets Asia trip as boost to US economy

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s eight-day trip to Asia produced no tangible wins for the United States, though he is citing talks with Asian allies that he says could help create thousands of job and open new markets for American goods in the future.

Citing progress on a trip that took him from Tokyo to Seoul, Obama noted that “Asia is a region where we now buy more goods and do more trade with than any other place in the world — commerce that supports millions of jobs back home.”

“I spoke with leaders in every nation I visited about what we can do to sustain this economic recovery and bring back jobs and prosperity for our people — a task I will continue to focus on relentlessly in the weeks and months ahead,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address taped while he was in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and released Saturday.

The president pitched his trip as a way to reintroduce the U.S. to those trading partners, including China.

The Chinese government is the United States’ biggest foreign creditor with $800 billion of federal U.S. debt, which gives it extraordinary power in the relationship. And Beijing feels the global recession, sparked by U.S. financial industry excesses, vindicates its authoritarian leadership.

Obama told Americans that there can be no solutions to climate change or energy without the cooperation of Asian and Pacific nations. Repeating a theme he used abroad, Obama told the U.S. audience that the discussions directly affect U.S. national security.

“We made progress with China and Russia in sending a unified message to Iran and North Korea that they must live up to their international obligations and either forsake nuclear weapons or face the consequences,” he said.

Obama’s trip included a town hall-style event with students in Shanghai and discussion about a coming climate summit in Copenhagen. He also prodded China to loosen restrictions on Internet access and increase freedoms of speech and religion.

Obama repeatedly has said the United States does not wish to contain China’s rise. Instead, on Saturday, he said that if the United States can increase exports to the Asia-Pacific region by 5 percent, then the markets would create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs as a trading partner.

“Even though it will take time, I can promise you this,” Obama said. “We are moving in the right direction … the steps we are taking are helping and I will not let up until businesses start hiring again, unemployed Americans start working again, and we rebuild this economy stronger and more prosperous than it was before.”

1st Senate vote looms on health legislation

WASHINGTON – A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president’s prestige.

Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote “yes,” and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.

Most everyone would be required to purchase insurance under Reid’s legislation, and billions in new taxes would be levied on insurers and high-income Americans to help extend coverage to 30 million uninsured. Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with medical conditions or drop coverage when someone gets sick.

The two holdouts are Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. A third centrist, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, announced Friday that he’d be supporting his party on the test vote, while cautioning that it didn’t mean he’d be with them on the final vote.

“It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill,” Nelson said. “It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don’t like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it?”

If that same reasoning holds with Lincoln and Landrieu, Reid, D-Nev., will have the 60 votes he needs to prevail in the 100-seat Senate. The 40 Republicans are unanimously opposed.

Landrieu has made comments suggesting she’ll support the move to debate, but Lincoln, who faces a difficult re-election next year, carefully avoided taking any public position Friday.

Republicans used their weekly radio and Internet address to slam the legislation, calling it a government takeover of health care that would increase taxes and raise medical costs.

“This 2,000-page bill will drive up the cost of health care insurance and medical care, not down,” Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said in the address. “This is not true health care reform, and it is not what the American people want. This bill will result in higher premiums and higher health care costs for Americans — period.”

Democrats said their legislation could make historic and necessary improvements in the country’s social safety net.

“Prices of health care are marching relentlessly upwards, and so too many people don’t have coverage,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. “The purpose of all of this is to try to get a handle on it somehow.”

The White House issued a statement late Friday praising the Senate measure. “This bill provides the necessary health reforms that the administration seeks — affordable, quality care within reach for the tens of millions of Americans who do not have it today, and stability and security for the hundreds of millions who do,” the statement said.

The action in the Senate comes two weeks after the House approved a health overhaul bill of its own on a 220-215 vote. After the vote Saturday night, senators will leave for a Thanksgiving recess. Upon their return, assuming Democrats prevail on the vote, they will launch into weeks or more of unpredictable debate on the health care bill, with numerous amendments expected from both sides of the aisle and more 60-vote hurdles along the way.

Senate leaders hope to pass their bill by the end of the year. If that happens, January would bring work to reconcile the House and Senate versions before a final package could land on Obama’s desk.

The bills have many similarities, including the new requirements on insurers and the creation of new purchasing marketplaces called exchanges where self-employed individuals and small businesses could go to shop for and compare coverage plans. One option in the exchanges would be a new government-offered plan, something that’s opposed by private insurers and business groups.

Differences include requirements for employers. The House bill would require medium and large businesses to cover their employees, while the Senate bill would not require them to offer coverage but would make them pay a fee if the government ends up subsidizing employees’ coverage.

Another difference is in how they’re paid for. The Senate bill includes a tax on high-value insurance policies that’s not part of the House bill, while the House would levy a new income tax on upper-income Americans that’s not in the Senate measure. The Senate measure also raises the Medicare payroll tax on income above $200,000 annually for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Both bills rely on more than $400 billion in cuts to Medicare.

The Senate bill was written by Reid in private negotiations with White House officials, combining elements of two committee-passed bills and making additional changes with an eye to getting the necessary 60 votes.

Along the way, Reid sweetened the pot for individual senators, adding federal funds for Louisiana and agreeing to support an amendment written by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would expand eligibility for the purchasing exchanges.

How Twitter is ruining comedians’ career

The curious case of Twitter: Comedians claim that their stand-up routines are being pilfered by viewers who then reproduce their work online.

 Comedians are fuming as their jokes are being plagiarised on Twitter and other websites.

Comics have complained that the reason some of their gags were falling flat was that many people in the audience had already read them online.

They claim that their stand-up routines are being pilfered by viewers who then reproduce their work online.

Legal experts have suggested that comedians should save their jokes on computer as soon as they write them and record the date to provide evidence to fight potential copyright cases.

An up-and-coming British comedian has raised the issue after becoming embroiled in a row with a comedy website.

Gary Delaney noticed that a number of his one-liners had been posted without attribution on Sickipedia.org, a huge online joke compendium. When he contacted the site and requested that they be taken down, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse at the hands of its users.

The comedian was first alerted to the situation when he noticed that crowds seemed to know what he was about to say, even while he was performing relatively recent material.

Delaney told the comedy website Chortle: “A couple of jokes, I can tell from the audience reaction, have very quickly started to get around.

“A joke I had… I could tell that sometimes the audience knew it before I did the punchline, when I hadn’t even been doing it that long.” Delaney also said that his work was being devalued by people posting his jokes on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

“If I post a joke on Twitter, I can’t get annoyed if people post that round because I’ve already done it on a public forum,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“But the jokes from my club set are how I make my living, my best and biggest jokes. It used to be the case that a comic’s set would last decades. But now I’ve got jokes I wrote in May, June and July that aren’t working by October because they’ve been absolutely trashed around the Internet,” he added.

New software for sharing quick pictures on networking sites

JOY OF SHARING: Developed by US-based firm AirMe Inc, photoWall enables users to take photos, instantly tag them and send to their Flickr or Facebook accounts.

Internet social networking is set to enter a new phase with the launch of a new photography software that allows sharing of pictures taken through mobile phones instantly.

Developed by US-based firm AirMe Inc, photoWall enables users to take photos, instantly tag them and send to their Flickr or Facebook accounts.

Users can also create an instant photo album on the web with respect to a context, to which multiple people can contribute from their mobiles.

PhotoWall, to be launched tomorrow, has been created to be “a global platform for sharing real time user generated mobile content”, Apporva Ruparel, co-founder and Vice-President Strategy and Marketing of AirMe, told PTI.

“PhotoWall is the only of its kind in the world which uploads pictures from mobile phone and can sync it to other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”, he said, adding it is “a free and light downloadable” application.

PhotoWall users can also add a seven-second voice tag, describing their click in their own voice, Ruparel said.

Being a country of people with very close social ties and a huge geographic spread, applications like photoWall bring family and friends closer, he said.

To a question he said, “PhotoWall has been field tested successfully in India on low end phones and our media upload performances have been benchmarked in low speed 2G networks.”

“PhotoWall’s quality control process does not allow any inappropriate content to be shared,” he added.

New handheld camera uses microwave signals to bring invisible into view

In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized to address many critical inspection needs. A normal handycam at a showroom

 A group of researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology in the US has developed a handheld camera that uses microwave signals to non-destructively peek inside materials and structures in real time.

The compact system can produce synthetically focused images of objects – at different planes in front of the camera – at speeds of up to 30 images per second. A laptop computer then collects the signal and displays the image in real-time for review. The entire system, powered by a battery similar to the size used in laptops, can run for several hours, rendering it portable. “In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized to address many critical inspection needs, including detecting defects in thermal insulating materials that are found in spacecraft heat insulating foam and tiles, space habitat structures, aircraft radomes and composite-strengthened concrete bridge members,” said Dr. Reza Zoughi, the Schlumberger Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Missouri S and T, who is leading the research effort.

The technology could help medical professionals detect and monitor a variety of skin conditions in humans, including cancer and burns. It could also help Homeland Security personnel detect concealed contraband (such as weapons). Even homeowners could see a direct benefit from the technology as it potentially could be used to detect termite damage.

The idea for developing a real-time, portable camera came to Zoughi in 1998 while he was on sabbatical in France. In 2007, Zoughi’s research group completed the first prototype and has spent the past two years increasing its size and overall efficiency.

“Unlike X-rays, microwaves are non-ionizing and may cause some heating effect,” Zoughi said. “However, the high sensitivity and other characteristics of this camera enables it to operate at a low-power level,” Zoughi added.

Currently, the camera operates in the transmission mode, meaning objects must pass between a transmitting source and its collector to be reviewed. The team is working on designing and developing a one-sided version of it, which will make it operate in a similar fashion to a video camera.

“Further down the road, we plan to develop a wide-band camera capable of producing 3D or holographic images,” Zoughi said.