Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Month of Bad News.....

Is it just me, or is the news over the last month been a bit more depressing than usual? I don't even mean the economic situation, or global warming. I've just seen too many stories about species extinction , religious conflicts, inhumane governments and even steps to giving robots powers to control humans....

Global, Oct 6th:

Nearly a quarter of the world's land mammal species are at risk of extinction, and many others may vanish before they are even known to science, according to a major annual survey of global wildlife.

At least 1,141 of the 5,487 known species of mammal are threatened, with 188 listed in the highest risk "critically endangered" category. One in three marine mammals are also threatened, according to the five year review.

The "red list" assessment, conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), involved more than 1,700 experts in 130 countries, and confirms the devastating impact of forest clearing, hunting, fisheries, pollution and climate change on the populations and ranges of the world's most studied class of animals.

Ivory Coast, Oct 17th:

The population of the endangered West African chimpanzees in Ivory Coast has fallen by about 90% in less than 20 years, a study has suggested.

Researchers found 90% fewer nests than a similar audit carried out in 1990, which suggested the chimp population had crashed from 12,000 to about 1,200.

Increased levels of deforestation and poaching were likely to be main factors for the decline, they added.

Details of the survey's findings appear in the journal Current Biology.

Ivory Coast, thought to be one of the last strongholds for the species (Pan troglodytes verus), was believed to be home to between 8,000 and 12,000 individuals.

India, Oct 19th :

Hundreds of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been forced to renounce their religion and become Hindus after lynch mobs issued them with a stark ultimatum: convert or die.

The wave of forced conversions marks a dramatic escalation in a two-month orgy of sectarian violence which has left at least 59 people dead, 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches burnt to the ground. As neighbour has turned on neighbour, thousands more Christians have sought sanctuary in refugee camps, unable to return to the wreckage of their homes unless they, too, agree to abandon their faith.

Last week, in the worst-affected Kandhamal district, The Observer encountered compelling evidence of the scale of the violence employed in a conversion programme apparently sanctioned by members of one of the most powerful Hindu groups in India, the 6.8-million member Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - the World Hindu Council.

Afghanistan Oct 20th:

Taliban militants have stopped a bus travelling on the Afghanistan's main highway, seized about 50 people on board and slaughtered around 30 of them.

A Taliban spokesman said the militia's fighters carried out the attack in the country's south and that they had killed 27 Afghan army soldiers riding on the bus. However, Afghan officials said no soldiers were aboard and that the militants had killed civilians.

The bus was travelling in a two-bus convoy in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, a Taliban-controlled area about 40 miles (60 kilometers) west of Kandahar city.

USA, Oct 24th

"The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to 'develop a software/hardware suite that would enable a multi-robot team, together with a human operator, to search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject. The main research task will involve determining the movements of the robot team through the environment to maximize the opportunity to find the subject ... Typical robots for this type of activity are expected to weigh less than 100 Kg and the team would have three to five robots.'"

Iraq. Oct 25th:

The full scale of the persecution of Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul became apparent last night when the UN's refugee agency said about 13,000 had been hounded from their homes this month - more than half of the city's Christian community.

The UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) said it was sending aid to thousands of Christian refugees fleeing Mosul after a three-week campaign of killing and intimidation. About a dozen Christians have reportedly been killed in the recent violence, prompting many members of the community to seek sanctuary in churches and homes in outlying villages, or in Syria. "Many left with little money and need help," said Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesman, in a briefing from Geneva. Christian neighbourhoods had been bombarded with threatening phone calls, letters and messages pinned to doors for months, but the killing began a few weeks ago, he said.

Zimbabwe, Oct 26th:

Mr Mambo's wife Mary was one of them, diagnosed with a kidney ailment and in desperate need of treatment which he could easily afford.

But in the cruel and surreal world of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe the devoted husband could not withdraw his savings from the bank in time to pay doctors for the care that could have saved her life.

The hospital told him that he had to make a Z$20 million down payment before they started treatment (the equivalent at black market rates of around £7.20) - but the banks have a withdrawal limit of just Z$50,000 per day. Then he was told to buy drugs from private pharmacies to save her at the cost of Z$30 million. By the time he got special clearance from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, hyperinflation had forced up the cost of the drugs to Z$50 million.

On Thursday she died as he knelt beside her bed. But his agony wasn't yet complete. He had to transport her body back to their hometown of Chinhoyi, 80 miles away, where their three children were waiting, this time at the cost of $40 million.

"The doctors have been criss-crossing this place, watching her waste away without care," he said. "She was not a candidate for death, I have my money in the bank but they have been cruel enough to deny me access to that money."

Mr Mambo's tragedy was barely noticed in Parirenyatwa Hospital, named after the nation's first black doctor. That man's son is now the Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa, a Mugabe crony who has been accused of orchestrating violent attacks against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wouldn't It Make Elections More Interesting If Everyone Could Vote For Themselves?

A true story from Minnesota in Politico:

A woman questioned the accuracy of the certified election results for president in 2004. It turns out she wrote herself in as a candidate for president of the United States. The Secretary of State’s office informed Joy Elaine Pendergast that her “single vote was counted, reported, canvassed and certified according to Minnesota law.” Unfortunately, the deadline for an official recount had passed. When I checked the results, indeed, a single write-in vote for Joy Elaina Graham-Pendergast is recorded in Minnesota’s official election results for 2004.

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Intelligent Assessment of The American Election

Not by a politician, but by a physicist - Alan Scott from Wisconsin. It's worth listening for seven minutes to hear his sober non-partisan analysis.

This is part of the VoteforScience You-Tube challenge

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Clegg And Blue Touchpaper

Although it's in my blogroll, I don't actually look at the Light Blue Touchpaper blog very often. It's from security research scientists at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory.

But I did have a look this week and what do I see? "

Liberal Democrat leader visits our lab

This week, Nick Clegg, leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party, and David Howarth, MP for Cambridgeshire, visited our hardware security lab for a demonstration of Chip & PIN fraud techniques.

They used this visit to announce their new party policy on protections against identity fraud. At present, credit rating companies are exempt from aspects of the Data Protection Act and can forward personal information about an individual’s financial history to companies without the subject’s consent. Clegg proposes to give individuals the rights to “freeze” their credit records, making it more difficult for fraudsters to impersonate others.

A party leader visiting a lab? Make's a pleasant change from reading about creationist US politicians, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

At Fifty : Favourite Politician That I've Met

When I was about 16, Rayleigh Liberals invited Clement Freud to our town to speak and I wandered along to listen.

Only about 15 people turned up, but Clement spoke at ease and with aplomb, and I asked a question (though I can't remember what it was). He shook my hand after the meeting and I took his photo. I was still a young Heathite Conservative back then.... it took a while for me to realise that he was on the cover of Band on The Run (see my previous post).

So he's my favourite Liberal MP that I've ever met (with Ros Scott being my favourite baroness). I still enjoy listening to him on Just A Minute.

I like his story about how he got elected:

"Politically, I was an anti-Conservative unable to join a Labour party hell-bent on nationalising everything that moved, so when a by-election occurred in East Anglia, where I lived and live, I stood as a Liberal and was fortunate in getting in. Ladbrokes quoted me at 33-1 in this three-horse contest, so Ladbrokes paid for me to have rather more secretarial and research staff than other MPs, which helped to keep me in for five parliaments."

And about his family :

During his time as a Member of Parliament, he visited China with a delegation of other MPs, including Winston S. Churchill, a grandson of the wartime leader of the same name. Freud noticed that the Communist Chinese hosts regularly gave Churchill larger, or higher status, accommodation than him. Tactfully he enquired why and was told it was because of the status of Churchill's namesake. Freud observed that this was the first time ever that he had been 'out-grandfathered'

Monday, October 20, 2008

One Day To Fifty - Some Favourite Music

Three songs that bring back happy memories, with a couple of versions of each...

Playing this on my cassette player when I was getting ready to go out as a teenager....

Playing when I got up on my first election day.....

And this has been played a lot ever since I got married..... in a happy way...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Days To Fifty: Favourite TV

Here's a series I always used to enjoy watching - pity there weren't more episodes made.

The show is "Shoestring" starring Trevor Eve. After having a mental breakdown he has become a "private ear" for a local radio station.....

This particular episode is called "Circle Of Uncertainty".

And then there was the justly famous Hill Street Blues - I remember watching this in the house I shared when I was a student....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three Days To Fifty: Two Favourite Books

I'd be interested to know how many people have heard of "Little, Big" by John Crowley.

I describe it as 'a favourite' and I normally re-read my favourites, yet I have only read it the one time, about 20 years ago. (I still have the book, protected in a plastic cover). It's just too dense a book to pick up for a casual re-reading.

It's a fantasy that's hard to accurately describe (especially after two decades!) At it's heart is an American family who live on the edge of magic for several generations. The individual family members more or less know that something magical may be going on but aren't really sure what it is. Sons are unhappy that their fathers don't tell them more. Fathers wish that they could find the right moment to tell their sons the little they know.... All is by described with a writer with a wonderful gift of language. It's a work of beauty, and I was totally gripped by it deep, veiled richness.

I really am going to have to read it again....

A book that I have read and re-read is Lois McMaster Bujold's "A Civil Campaign".

Its science fiction - with more than a hint of Jane Austen about it. Bujold has written about a dozen books featuring a character called Miles Vorkosigan, who is an aristocrat from a conservative, militaristic world named Barrayar. Miles has the advantage of coming from the second most important family of his whole planet, and has tremendous charisma. However he has the disadvantage of having brittle bones and a dwarfish physique - in a society which is repelled by deformity or mutation.

After some years as a mercenary leader operating under a pseudonym, Miles has a respectable role as one of the Emperor's investigators. All he wants to do now is settle down and marry the woman he loves, a widow called Ekaterin. However she has no idea of his feeling towards her - and a previous career as a mercenary leader doesn't exactly give Miles the right training for wooing...

The book is extremely funny in places, and the characters and the dialogue are splendid. Plus there are several serious sub-plots - Barrayaran women have about as many rights as early Victorian women, and Miles has an opportunity to improve things a little...

You can actually read the first half of the book here.

A Battleground For Her Heart

"The truth is.... I need you, I need you now more than ever"

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, October 17, 2008

Four Days Before Fifty Years -Sport

Here's one of my favourite sporting memories - the 1991 World Athletics championships. Black, Redmond, Regis and Akabusi take on the USA....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Five Days Before Fifty Years

Hmmmmm. I celebrate the big Five-Oh next Tuesday ,so I'm going to be a bit self-indulgent over the next few days and post stuff about a few personal favourites.

To accentuate the alliteration of "Five Days Before Fifty Years" , I'll begin with a Favourite Film - "Frequency"

It's underated, perhaps because it's a Science Fiction / Thriller crossover that is really a film about family bonds. It can have a certain effect on grown men who lost their father when they were young.....

In this extract, John, a 1990 New York detective, has been called to a crime scene. He's feeling edgy and unhappy because he knows the following day will be the 30th anniversary of his fireman father's death.

Meanwhile in 1960s New York there's a guy who's really puzzled how someone on his ham radio could predict the details of a baseball game....

Why I'm 4 Ros

My reasons for supporting Ros Scott are very simple. I've only met her once, when she came to a small party event in Basildon back in 2006. She was warm, witty, intelligent and downright inspirational.

I can't think of anyone I'd rather see representing and galvanising our party. If only we could get her on TV every day....

Obama's Organisers

I found an article here by Al Giordano on how the Democrats are organising themselves at the grassroots level.

It's interesting stuff for political campaigners anywhere. Here's a sample:

Now that Debrah has settled into her role as one of Obama's Toledo Community Directors, she's amazed at the sophistication of the Obama structure. As a Community Director, she oversees three Neighborhood Team Leaders, volunteers who comprise the heart of Obama's volunteering infrastructure. Each neighborhood team, in turn, has up to five different coordinators: (1) the canvass coordinator; (2) the phonebank coordinator; (3) the volunteer coordinator; (4) the data coordinator; and (5) where applicable, the faith coordinator.

In Ohio, Campaign for Change State Director Jeremy Bird told us, there are 1,231 defined neighborhoods, as of August 25 there were about 800 in place, and as of Saturday approximately 1,100 NTLs had been tested and were up in operation. By "tested," Bird said, each NTL had undergone and met a series of specific challenges the field organizers had presented.

First, can the potential NTL organize a group of people? Whether by hosting a house party, a faith forum with a church group, or some other type of organizational meeting, the potential NTL needs to show they can lead the organization of their neighbors.

Second, can the potential NTL pass the voter contact test? Can he or she lead a canvass, can he or she build a group phonebanking night? It's a leadership test, built around voter contact.

Third, are they willing to make the final commitment by attending specific training for their role? Debrah Harleston smiled as she told us about the imminent blooming of satellite offices throughout the Toledo area so that neighborhood teams can begin running right in the neighborhoods autonomously.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tuvok and Barack

When I saw this biting video by American Comedian Sarah Silverman telling people to go to Florida and get their Jewish grandparents to vote Democrat....

..... I knew I had seen her somewhere before:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Never Mind the Buzzcocks....

A song that sums up my awkward teenage years is turned into something simply delightful...

I don't know who these people are , but this is just lovely.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

An Impressive Speech

From last July - American Trade Union leader Richard Trumka makes the most memorable speech I've heard in a long time, as he attacks racism against Barack Obama.

Hat-tip : Andrew Sullivan
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