Thursday, April 5, 2007

YouTube user removes clip mocking Thai king

The anonymous creator of a 44-second video clip mocking Thailand's revered king removed it from the YouTube video-sharing Web site on Thursday after torrents of abuse from outraged Thai viewers.

The relevant page on YouTube said simply the video had "been removed by the user".

However, Communications Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said Bangkok's army-backed administration would continue to block YouTube ( as two images deemed offensive remained.

"We want those photos off the site too," he told Reuters.

Earlier, Sitthichai accused YouTube, owned by Internet search engine Google Inc, of being heartless and culturally insensitive for refusing to remove the file.

"We have told them how deeply offended Thais were by the clip, but they said there was much worse ridicule of President Bush on the site and they kept that there," he said.

"I don't think they really care how we feel. Thailand is only a tiny market for them."

The video showed grainy pictures of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch whom many of Thailand's 63 million people regard as a semi-divine "father of the nation", with crude graphics superimposed on his face.

The most offensive image to Thais was the imposition of a pair of woman's feet, the lowest part of the body, on his head.

YouTube, which has dominated the user-generated online video market since it was founded in February last year, said it was disappointed by Bangkok's move and was "looking into the matter".

"YouTube reaches a wide global audience and strives to provide a community where people from around the world can express themselves by sharing videos in a safe and lawful manner," the company said in an e-mail response to Reuters.

Criticising or offending royalty is a serious crime in Thailand. Those found guilty of lese majeste can be jailed for up to 15 years.

Last week, a 57-year-old Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spraying graffiti on pictures of the king on his birthday in December, a rare prison term for a foreigner.

However, the generals who ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup last September have also used the lese majeste laws to stifle criticism of themselves or their actions.

Several Web sites calling into question the southeast Asian nation's 18th coup in 75 years of on-off democracy have been shut down by the army-installed government.

When reports of the offending royal YouTube clip emerged in Thailand, the number of views rocketed by 50,000 in less than 24 hours, according to the site's own data.

It generated a lively debate about freedom of expression although the main reaction from Thais was shock and outrage - and torrents of abuse at the clip's creator, "paddidda", who is based in the United States.

Google turns to users for online maps

Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) is calling upon its millions of users to chart a new direction for its online maps. As part of an initiative being launched Thursday, the Internet search leader will provide free tools designed to make it easy for people to share their knowledge about their neighborhoods and other favorite places by creating customized maps that can assemble information from a variety of sources. The map creators will be given the option to make the content public or keep it private. Thousands of hybrid maps, often called 'mashups,' are already available on the Web, documenting everything from local housing markets to active volcanos. But cobbling together an online map typically requires some computer coding skills. Google has tailored its tools for a mass audience, making map mashups as easy to produce as pointing and clicking a computer mouse. The Mountain View-based company is hoping the simplicity will generate millions of highly specialized maps that can be stored in its search index. Until now, Google's two-year-old maps had primarily been used for driving directions and finding local businesses. The more personal maps should open up new avenues as users share insights about their favorite vacation spots or a wide range of academic subjects, said Jessica Lee, product manager of Google maps. 'This is a big change,' Lee said. 'Even if we cut loose all our developers, we could never create maps with the same depth and quality as our users can.' While testing the new tools, Google's own engineers created maps focused on U.S. Route 66, the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Major League Baseball stadiums and voting patterns in the 2004 presidential election. If Google succeeds in its effort to build a vast storehouse of customized maps, its Web site could become an even more popular Internet destination. Achieving that goal would give Google even more opportunities to display the online ads that accounted for most of its $3.1 billion profit last year. The feature also could drive more traffic to Google's YouTube because the new toolkit also includes an option to embed video into the customized maps. Google's maps already are a big draw, with 22.2 million U.S. visitors during February, according to the most recent data available from comScore Media Metrix. That ranked Google maps third in its category, trailing AOL's Mapquest (45.1 million visitors) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) (29.1 million visitors). The concept of mapping mashups was popularized by a computer animation engineer, Paul Rademacher, who charted apartment listings from Craigslist. Google has since hired Rademacher to work in its mapping department. Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Warming 'already changing world'

Climate change is already having major impacts on the natural world, a UN report is set to announce.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes there is also a discernible, though less marked, impact on human societies.

The IPCC is to release a summary of its report on Friday but talks on wording have continued late into the night.

Officials said there were differences between various countries on the strength of the language.

"The Europeans want to send a strong signal. The US does not want as much quantification," one official told the French news agency AFP.

China and Russia had also raised concerns over some passages of the 21-page summary, the official said.

The last-minute wrangling is likely to affect the degree of certainty in the final version, the BBC's Richard Black reports, but not the overall direction.

Water shortages

Draft versions seen by BBC News warn it will be hard for societies to adapt to all the likely climate impacts.

The report is set to say that a temperature rise above 1.5C from 1990 levels would put about one-third of species at risk of extinction.

More than one billion people would be at greater risk of water shortages, primarily because of the melting of mountain glaciers and ice fields which act as natural reservoirs.

The scientific work reviewed by IPCC scientists includes more than 29,000 pieces of data on observed changes in physical and biological aspects of the natural world.

Eighty-five percent of these, it believes, are consistent with a warming world.

Growing certainty

Since the IPCC's last global assessment in 2001, the amount of scientific work on observing and collating changes to the natural world has vastly increased.

In parallel, computer models which project the Earth's climatic future have grown ever more sophisticated, though there are still uncertainties in their forecasts and they remain unable to model some physical processes accurately.

The combination of more observational evidence and better models allows scientists to paint a much more detailed picture of what is happening in different regions of the world, and what they believe is likely to happen in the future.

"What we find is that evidence of the impacts of climate change is much sharper, much more reliable," said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri.

A fisherman drags fish at the drying Dongting Lake on January 11, 2007

"Many of the uncertainties have been resolved; and they confirm that the poorest of the poor are most likely to be hit by the impacts of climate change."

Fresh water is perhaps the most serious issue for human societies.

The world's great mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas, Rockies, Andes and Alps, act as natural reservoirs, trapping winter rain and snowfall as ice, and releasing it gradually in the summer.

Evidence suggests that glaciers are shrinking in all of these ranges. One recent study predicted that 75% of Alpine glaciers would have vanished by the end of this century.

As the ice disappears, spring and autumn floods become more likely, with an increased risk of drought in summer. The IPCC is expected to say there is "very high confidence" that these trends are already occurring.

It will also project a higher risk of flooding for many major cities on or near the coast.

Carbon cuts

Some observers of climate issues have long maintained that action on climate change should focus on protecting societies and natural systems against impacts such as floods and drought, rather than on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Dealing with drought

The IPCC, however, is set to conclude that "adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long run as most impacts increase in magnitude".

Poorer societies are likely to be hardest hit, as they lack the resources to set up protective measures and change their economic base.

Adapting to climate impacts, in the IPCC's view, should go hand in hand with reducing emissions.

This is the second in a series of IPCC reports coming out this year, together making up its fourth global climate assessment.

The first element, on the science of climate change, was released in February, concluding it is at least 90% likely that human activities are principally responsible for the warming observed since 1950.

The third part, which comes out in May, will focus on ways of curbing the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations and temperature.