Category Archives: healthandsafety

Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

I loved this story well put together by Tom Lamont in the Observer this weekend. My keep-fit-mad 17 year old son is a prime candidate for this US survivalist stuff. Hand him an AK47 and wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Abandon any notion of surviving the apocalypse by doing anything as boringly obvious as running for the highest hill, or eating cockroaches. The American firm Vivos is now offering you the chance to meet global catastrophe (caused by terrorism, tsunami, earthquake, volcano, pole shift, Iran, “social anarchy”, solar flare – a staggering list of potential world-murderers are considered) in style.

Vivos is building 20 underground “assurance of life” resorts across the US, capable of sustaining up to 4,000 people for a year when the earth no longer can. The cost? A little over £32,000 a head, plus a demeaning-sounding screening test that determines whether you are able to offer meaningful contribution to the continuation of the human race. Company literature posits, gently, that “Vivos may prove to be the next Genesis”, and they are understandably reluctant to flub the responsibility.

Should you have the credentials and the cash, the rewards of a berth in a Vivos shelter seem high. Each staffed complex has a decontamination shower and a jogging machine; a refrigerated vault for human DNA and a conference room with wheely chairs. There are TVs and radios, flat-screen computers, a hospital ward, even a dentist’s surgery ready to serve those who forgot to pack a toothbrush in the hurry. “Virtually any meal” can be cooked from a stockpile of ingredients that includes “baked potato soup” but, strangely, no fish, tinned or otherwise. Framed pictures of mountain ranges should help ease the loss of a world left behind.

Vivos says it has already received 1,000 applications. Continue reading Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

People are now dying to get on cheap flights.

Only in Liverpool. Two women try to smuggle a corpse onto their easyjet flight, The Ottawa Citizen reports. Obviously these low cost flights are now producing some stiff competition.


LONDON — Two women allegedly put their dead relative in a wheelchair, dressed him in sunglasses and claimed he was simply asleep as they tried to check in at Liverpool airport for a flight to Germany.

The women convinced a taxi driver that 91-year-old Curt Willi Jarant was well enough for the 45-minute drive to the airport.

However, when they arrived, staff at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool noticed something was wrong.

Andrew Millea, a worker who greeted the group with a wheelchair, said one of the women asked for help lifting her father from the car.

“I did my best to help by lifting the man from his seat,” he said. “To my horror his face fell sideways against mine, it was ice-cold. I knew straight away that the man was dead, but they reassured me that he ‘always sleeps like that.’

“I could see the driver of the taxi was shocked too, he was white as a sheet and looked very shaken, so I placed the body into the wheelchair and pushed the man to the back of the easyJet queue.”

Millea contacted security who tried to check the man’s pulse, but were ushered away by the women. He claimed the younger woman, who was with two children, “encouraged them to ’tell the man that’s how your grandad sleeps’”.

When officials established that the man was dead, one of the women asked if she could still board the flight.

The German women are thought to have decided to sneak Jarant — thought to have died of natural causes — on the flight rather than pay up to $7,650 in repatriation fees for the body.

Police arrested Jarant’s wife, Gitta, 66, and his stepdaughter, Anke Anusic, 44, on suspicion of failing to give notification of death.

Police sources suggested that Mr Jarant died from natural causes on Good Friday – 24 hours before his arrival at the airport. Anusic said: “They would think that for 24 hours we would carry a dead person? This is ridiculous. He was moving, he was breathing. Eight people saw him.”

Impossible dream – the small big bang is quietly fading away today.

The Hadron Collider uses a special kind of liquid helium that is incredibly expensive to produce – even worse it is physically very difficult to contain – across 27 kilometers of its run I would say it’s next to impossible. No surprises this morning when they tried to run it again it had to stop within minutes. 2.6 billion quid. The Telegraph covers it more kindly than I would today.

Dubbed the world’s largest scientific experiment, the giant atom smasher holds the promise of revealing details about theoretical particles and microforces, scientists say.
But initial attempts on Tuesday were unsuccessful because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working on the massive machine.

That meant that the protons had to be “dumped” from the collider and new beams had to be injected.
“It’s a very complicated machine and we have ups and downs,” said Michael Barnett of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Right now we have a down.”
Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy in opposite directions around the 27-kilometer (17-mile) tunnel under the Swiss-French border at Geneva.
The beams were pushed to 3.5 trillion electron volts in recent days, the highest energy achieved by any physics accelerator — some three times greater than the previous record.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is trying to use the powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of particles.
They could have been successful immediately, but such huge machines can be so tricky to run that it could take days.
When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that few will collide at each crossing.
Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology, describes the challenge of lining up the beams as being akin to “firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way.”
He said the problems on Tuesday started with a power supply that tripped and had to be reset. The second time, the system designed to protect the machine shut it down.
That was likely to have been a misreading by the system rather than any basic problem, said Barnett.
The collisions will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.
CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be Continue reading Impossible dream – the small big bang is quietly fading away today.

Metre long alien worms burst from your body

I found this amazing article in New Scientist magazine. It’s about a parasitic worm that lives in your body for a year, grows to a meter in length then bursts out of your body just like in the film Alien. And you thought you had it bad.

guinea worm infection

IT STARTS with a painful blister – a very painful blister. It feels, people say, like being stabbed with a red-hot needle. When the blister bursts, the head of a worm pops out, thin, white and very much alive.
The rest of the worm, about a metre long, remains inside your body. It can take up to two months to pull it out, inch by agonising inch, during which time it may be impossible to walk. In extreme cases, you may host up to sixty of them, anywhere on your body. The worms can cause paralysis or lethal bacterial infections, and even if you survive mostly unscathed, next year it can happen all over again.
The guinea worm (Dracunculus, or little dragon) is probably the closest living equivalent to the monsters in the Alien movies – except we’re beating this enemy. Guinea worm was once widespread in Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia. In 1986, there were nearly 4 million cases a year in 20 countries across south Asia and Africa. Last year, there were just 3142 in four countries in Africa. The worm could be extinct by 2012, making dracunculiasis the second human disease ever to be eradicated – the first being smallpox.
Guinea worms start out as minuscule larvae living inside water fleas of the genus Cyclops. These millimetre-long crustaceans live in stagnant water, and people can swallow them when they drink from ponds, ditches or shallow wells. Stomach acids dissolve the water fleas but can leave the larvae untouched. The free larvae then burrow out of the intestine and cross to the chest or abdominal wall, where the male and female worms mature and mate. The males eventually die, but the growing females tunnel imperceptibly to, and then under, the skin.
Even as the females grow up to a metre long, their hosts remain unaware of their presence. The worms prevent pain by secreting opiates and dodge the immune system by coating themselves with human proteins. It may be just as well people don’t know they are infected as nothing can help at this stage. Continue reading Metre long alien worms burst from your body

Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

This story just had everything: social networking, police, anti-banks, riots, drink, drugs, parties you name it it’s all there. Quite a few papers ran it at the end of the week — — the version I’ve chosen is from the Telegraph

A Facebook-organised party at a squat in a Park Lane town house was broken up by police after hundreds of youths caused havoc in the streets around the £10 million property.
Riot police dispersed crowds in the streets and cleared the building after partygoers pelted them with bottles and bricks from the roof and balcony.

Officers had been summoned to the party, allegedly organised by two teenagers from London, at 11pm after a wave of complaints from terrified neighbours.

Two members of the public were thought to have been injured as the partygoers jumped on cars, threw fire extinguishers and plant pots from windows and drew graffiti before the chaos subsided in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The property was bought for £10m in 2007 by Continue reading Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

Britain deals superbly with a couple of centimetres of snow.

I was drinking with two neighbours last night who were off to Germany today using …yes…Eurostar. Why do I mention it? Germany commonly copes with six foot of snow, let alone a couple of inches. Yet here we are massively disrupted by a not unexpected outbreak of fairly mild wintry weather as seen in today’s Telegraph, Ho hum.

All Eurostar services remained suspended for a third consecutive day, while airports and domestic rail networks across the country suffered delays.
As bus replacement services were put into action, the AA warned that some minor roads had effectively turned into “ice-rinks”.
At least four people died in car crashes related to the bad weather over the weekend, while extra breakdown patrols were out in force in more remote areas.
With temperatures forecast to remain below freezing until Christmas Eve, there seems little respite from the chaos.
The three days of cancellation by Eurostar has left 55,000 people with travel plans in tatters as they try and find alternative transport at one of the busiest times of the year.
The company is encouraging those who don’t have to travel in the next few days to Those whose trains were cancelled have been offered refunds, aas well as the costs of any hotel accommodation – up to three star – transport and meals.
But that provides little comfort for those Britons stranded in France, and those trying to get home to France and Belgium for the holiday.
Several flights arriving from the US – where there is also considerable snow – were delayed arriving into London Heathrow and Gatwick.
Some passengers at Manchester Airport were still waiting to take off on flights which were due to have taken off on Sunday, while cancellations and delays continued at Bristol, Luton, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness airports.
A Manchester airport spokeswoman said: “We are trying our best to get the backlog cleared up. It has been a constant battle with snow and freezing temperatures.
“The snow has stopped falling now and the forecast looks clear but the problem now is clearing the runway of ice. The current temperature out there is minus 4 degrees. We have ordered in 50,000 litres of de-icer today to help with that.”
To try and ease the congestion between London and France, British Airways said it was operating larger aircraft on many flights both ways between Heathrow and Paris, including a 340-seater Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
BA was operating an additional flight from Heathrow to New York this evening.
UK carrier Flybe said it was increasing capacity to help stranded Eurostar passengers – laying on larger aircraft from both Birmingham and Southampton to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for the next four days.
However, budget airline easyJet, which had to cancel a number of flights today, reported that French aviation authorities had imposed flight restrictions on easyJet at Charles de Gaulle Airport and that the airline was experiencing delays and cancellations to Paris.
Ferry operator P&O said it had laid on a fleet of coaches to get the passengers across the Channel and on to Paris or Brussels.
Spokesman Chris Laming said: “At one point we had 500 Eurostar passengers at Dover and at Calais.
“We’ve spoken to Eurostar about this arrangement and they’ve agreed to pick up the tab, and we’ll certainly send them the bill.”
Rail services were delayed in Surrey and Buckinghamshire, while London Midland services between London and Tring in Hertfordshire were cancelled and there were delays to Virgin West Coast trains.
Bus replacement services were put in place by Southern railways and Kent and Sussex suffered from the continuing poor weather.
On the roads, a jack-knifed lorry led to a lane closure on the M6 in Lancashire and another accident resulted in two lanes of the M6 in Cumbria being closed.
The AA said it had extra patrols out on duty and was putting extra snow-busting Land Rovers in place to rescue people in inaccessible areas.
AA president Edmund King said: “Many minor roads are treacherous – they’re like ice rinks – with numerous shunts and cars stuck in ditches.”

Don’t get ill in August. A new doctor might see you.

The second medical story of the week. If you fall ill in August your chances of recovery are significantly less. Because that’s when the newly qualified doctors are on the wards. So BBC news and The Guardian would have us know.

There is never a good time to have a heart attack, but the wise person afflicted with clogging arteries might want to be especially careful in future to avoid stress and watch the diet as August rolls around.

The NHS, it is revealed today, has its very own black Wednesday, when death rates go up by an average of 6%; and there is a somewhat disturbing underlying cause – the arrival on the wards of a new intake of junior doctors.

On the first Wednesday in August every year, a freshly qualified set of junior doctors arrives on the wards. Pristine and eager and brilliant they no doubt are, but while they are finding their way around something unexplained and slightly perplexing appears to happen.

Researchers from the Dr Foster unit and the department of acute medicine at Imperial College London say there has been a suspicion for years that more people die on the day the new doctors arrive, but for the first time they have established that it happens – although they say the rise in deaths is very small.

They do not blame the doctors’ inexperience or confusion in the hospital and say it is also possible that only the severest cases are admitted in that week, because of the changeover.

Their study has international implications, the researchers say. “A similar effect has been recorded in the US (known as the ‘July phenomenon’),” they write in their paper, published today in the open-access journal PloS (Public Library of Science) One. But previous studies have looked only at a few hospitals.

The Imperial study is far bigger, scrutinising data from nearly 300,000 patients in 175 hospital trusts between 2000 and 2008. It compared death rates on the first Wednesday in August with the last Wednesday in July. The difference was most marked in medical cases, such as heart attacks and strokes, where there was an 8% increase in deaths; there was no difference in surgical cases.

“We wanted to find out whether mortality rates changed on the first Wednesday in August, when junior doctors take up their new posts,” said senior author Paul Aylin. “What we have found looks like an interesting pattern and we would now like to look at this in more detail to find out what might be causing the increase.

“Our study does not mean that people should avoid going into hospital that week. This is a relatively small difference in mortality rates, and the numbers of excess deaths are very low. It’s too early to say what might be causing it.”

Shree Datta, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctor committee, said the study had to be judged alongside others looking at mortality rates before and after junior doctors start their new jobs, but added: “Clearly even a small increase in death rates is of great concern and we need further research to see whether this is a real effect or an anomaly.”

You haven’t got cancer, don’t worry. Oh, hang on a minute….

I found this appalling story in The Independent this week. Fancy being told you were all clear then – oh surely some mistake, you have got cancer after all….

Fourteen women in Britain have been told they have breast cancer after a hospital radiologist wrongly gave them the all-clear.

The unnamed member of staff at Accrington Victoria Hospital, Lancashire, was responsible for 355 screenings that later came under scrutiny.

A total of 85 women were asked to have a second breast examination and of these the 14 were found to have cancer.

They have yet to learn whether the late diagnosis will affect their chances of survival.

A further four patients were found to have abnormal cells. However, health officials said the prognosis in each of these cases was unaffected by the radiologist’s errors.

Senior officials at East Lancashire NHS Trust have confirmed that the radiologist has since left the hospital.

Accrington Victoria carries out breast cancer screenings for the whole of East Lancashire.

The women affected by the error are understood to live in and around Burnley, Blackburn, Darwen, Accrington, Rossendale and the Ribble Valley.

Rineke Schram, the trust’s medical director, issued an apology “for any distress and anxiety caused.”

She went on: “The delay in identifying the women with breast cancer does mean there has been a delay in these cancers being treated.

“It is unfortunately not possible to state with certainty whether this delay in treatment has affected the prognosis, other than to state that early-stage breast cancers have a good prognosis.

“The cancers have been picked up through screening, albeit with a delay.”

Regional breast cancer experts were drafted in to Accrington after the initial concerns were raised last year.

An independent review concentrated its attention on the work carried out by a single radiologist over a period of three years.

Officials have refused to reveal the extent of the delay between the original scans and the eventual diagnosis in each case.

It is known that the radiologist involved in the alert carried out his last screenings in December. He left the trust in April.

Mrs Schram said: “The work of the trust’s other breast screening radiologists has been independently assessed and found to be of a high standard.

“The trust will be commissioning a further independent review to provide further assurance and ensure lessons are learned.”

Dr Ellis Friedman, director of public health for NHS East Lancashire, said: “The incident team, which I chaired, has thoroughly reviewed the incident and will ensure that lessons will be learned.”

Man survives driving over 200ft cliff.

I heard this story on BBC radio this morning and here it is from the Daily Telegraph. I have more details to add: the man’s dog was in the car and survived and walked home. The driver apparently has two broken legs. I love this North Devon spot at Hartland Point and have walked there often with my family.

 

Police called the coastguard just before 5am this morning after the car was seen to drive over the precipice.

Hartland and Westward Ho! Coastguard Rescue Teams began searching for the car and any occupants. At 5.24am the car was found on the beach below.

Lights and equipment were set up on scene and the fire service was called to help. A rescue helicopter was also scrambled along with an ambulance.

Two coastguard cliffmen were placed on a line and lowered to the site of the silver car, where they found one man inside alive.

A winchman was lowered onto the beach from the helicopter. The man was freed from the car and flown to North Devon District Hospital.

The extent of his injuries are not yet known, although he was able to communicate with his rescuers.

Steve Jones, the watch manager, said: ”We are still uncertain as to the circumstances of why the car was driven over the cliff. However the single occupant was alive when extracted from the car and able to communicate with our rescue team.

”Fortunately the weather was benign this morning which helped the extraction. The car is in no danger of being overtaken by the tide and a plan will be drawn up on how to remove the vehicle from its present position.”

Get rid of that tiresome nuclear contamination with Cillit Bang.

Thanks once again to the heroic Richard Dean for this story – which ran in the Daily Telegraph originally. Apparently a huge nuclear plant in Scotland is being effectively cleansed of plutonium deposits using Cillit Bang – which also did a very good job on the greasy deposits in my cooker extraction hood last weekend incidentally. Hmm I wonder whether Cillit Bang do affiliate links……


Decontamination experts at the former nuclear site at Dounreay, northern Scotland, are using the Cillit Bang household cleaner to remove radioactive plutonium stains.The huge site in Caithness is in the process of being decommissioned but workers found their normal cleaning fluid was slowing down the job of dismantling an experimental chemical plant used in the 1980s to recycle plutonium liquor.

One of the team suggested £1.99 Cillit Bang after watching a television advertisement that shows dirt being stripped from a 10p coin.

The four-storey chemical plant consists of a series of vessels, pipes and boxes made from steel and toughened glass. The solutions which ran through it left the steel stained with plutonium, creating a hazard for the team taking it apart.

David Hanson, project manager with Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, said the efficacy of Cillit Bang was helping drive down the £2.6 billion cost of demolishing the site.

He said: “We need to decontaminate as much of the surfaces as possible before we can cut them up. The normal agents we’d use on steel and glass need time to dry and this slowed us down.

“The acids that had been used years ago also created problems. It meant we had to think carefully about the most effective way to wipe the plutonium from the steelwork before we could cut it up.

“One of the guys suggested Cillit Bang. He remembered seeing it dissolve the grime on a coin in an advert on TV and thought it was worth looking at. I’m very glad we did. We tested it and found it very effective.”

The 15-strong clean-up team wear whole-body plastic suits with their own oxygen supply and often need four or even five layers of gloves to protect them from radiation.

Mr Manson added: “The ductwork is stainless steel and contamination levels have been significantly reduced following spray and wipedown with Cillit Bang.”

Bosses at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, which is also being decommissioned, are among those who have been in touch to learn more about the discovery.

82 year old saves 400 lives with cups of tea…or a beer.

My friend Richard Dean pointed me towards this story in The Sydney Morning Herald. What a great guy Don Richie is. Hope I can stay like him as I grow older.

HE IS the watchman of The Gap. A former life insurance salesman who in 45 years has officially rescued about 160 people intent on jumping from the cliffs at Watsons Bay, mostly from Gap Park, opposite his home high on Old South Head Road. Unofficially, that figure is closer to 400.

Some, at his urging, quietly gathered their shoes and wallets, neatly laid out on the rocks, and followed him home for breakfast. Others, tragically, struggled as he grabbed at their clothes before they slipped over the edge.

Still others later sent tokens of thanks, a magnum of champagne or an anonymous drawing slipped into his letter box, labelling him ‘‘an angel walking among us’’.

Don Ritchie, 82, spends much of his time reading newspapers, books and scanning the glistening expanse of ocean laid out before him. His days of climbing fences are gone and he admits some relief that most visitors now carry mobile phones and are quick to contact the police if they see a lone figure standing too close to the edge, too deep in contemplation.

For its part, Woollahra Council has been campaigning for $2.5 million to install higher fences, motion-sensitive lights, emergency phones and closed-circuit television cameras, but Mr Ritchie is ambivalent.

‘‘People will always come here. I don’t think it will ever stop,’’ he says, with a shrug.

Some deaths have been recorded in his diary, others are eternally etched in his mind.

One summer evening he spotted a young man perched on a thin ledge, beyond the fence.

‘‘I went over and I tried to talk to him, asking him questions about where he was from. He wouldn’t talk much, just kept looking straight ahead. I was talking to him for about half an hour … thinking I was making headway. I said ‘why don’t you come over for a cup of tea, or a

beer, if you’d like one?’ He said ‘no’ and stepped straight off the side … his hat blew up and I caught it in my hand.’’ Later, Mr Ritchie discovered the 19-year-old had grown up next door, playing with his grandchildren.

Years later, Mr Ritchie encouraged a ‘‘nervous and confused’’ woman, sitting on a ledge, shoes by her side, to follow him home. Over tea and toast, she revealed she was unhappy with medication she had been prescribed for depression. Mr Ritchie’s wife suggested she seek a second opinion. ‘‘A couple of months later she came up the path with a bottle of French champagne. We later got a Christmas card from her, and a postcard. It said ‘I’ll never forget your important intervention in my life. I am well’.’’

Despite his bravery and compassion, Mr Ritchie has steered clear of the limelight. He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his services to suicide prevention but is all too aware that any publicity attracts more depressed and disturbed people.

In the weeks after the Channel 10 newsreader Charmaine Dragun jumped to her death outside his house in November 2007, Mr Ritchie’s wife is adamant six more followed.

‘‘But what do you do? Not talk about it?’’ he asks. ‘‘It’s the truth. It’s what goes on here.’’

It has long been a haunting dichotomy for rescuers, families and media. To speak out in a bid to have the area made safer, risking more people becoming aware of it, or to keep quiet, letting the deaths go on.

But for an anti-suicide campaigner, Dianne Gaddin, whose daughter Tracy jumped from The Gap in 2005, the answer is easy. If the issue is not aired, the problem will never be solved.

She has written four letters in the past month to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, urging him to act. While her pleas go unanswered, her desperation balloons. She knows Mr Ritchie will not be standing guard forever.

‘‘Sometimes just a smile and a greeting is all it takes to change the mind of the would-be suicider. I don’t believe people want to die, but living is just too hard. To me, Don is a guardian angel.’’

“Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.”

This one really pulled my heart-strings, written by Maria Glod at the Washington Post
40,000 dead bodies lie waiting to be identified across the US. The Namus system attempts to identify them. I’ve included more about that system at the end of this article.

Authorities in Virginia have identified the body of a teenager who went missing 14 years ago in their first success using a new nationwide database that seeks to put names on thousands of dead people who have gone unidentified, sometimes for decades.

Prosecutors in Maryland hope to use the same system to finally close a homicide case that has resulted in a mistrial and a hung jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is an online tool aimed at naming the countless John and Jane Does whose remains have been shelved in the offices of medical examiners and police forensic labs across the country. It matches missing persons cases with the nameless bodies or skeletons.

Police, medical examiners, coroners and family members all have access to the database, and they try to take information from the years-old missing persons reports and match them to details from the dead bodies.

In the Virginia case, a detailed description of Toussaint Gumbs’s body — down to a scar on the 16-year-old’s thigh — was entered on the site. A volunteer surfing the Web flagged the similarities with reports of Toussaint’s disappearance in Richmond. Using the latest DNA technology, officials helped confirm the teenager’s death and finally gave his family an answer.

For Robert Gumbs, who was convinced that his son had gotten into drugs and run off with friends, the truth brought pain but also a chance to mourn.

“I just started screaming in my room,” said Gumbs, who lives in New York and learned of his son’s death in recent weeks. “I never thought that he was dead. The last words he said to me was, ‘Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.’ ”

Kristina Rose, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, said the potential for NamUs is extraordinary. “Instead of having this fragmented system where people go to coroners, to medical examiners, to law enforcement, we have everything in a central repository,” she said. “People can participate in identifying their loved ones. They are the ones who are going to work late into the night to go through the case files.”

Each year, about 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains turn up in parks, woods, abandoned houses and other places, according to a 2007 federal report. Although authorities quickly identify most of them, about 1,000 are still unknown a year later. Estimates of the total vary widely, from 13,500 to 40,000.

The Web site linking the rolls of the missing with the descriptions of the dead is growing daily as authorities and family members add entries. It is a sad catalogue of clues, some gruesome, some mundane. A woman who died in Rock Creek Park in February 2008 carried lip balm and a bag of wrapped hard candy in the pocket of her blue winter coat. A young man killed in a fiery 1983 car crash in Montgomery County had a mustache. In 1976, a woman’s headless, fingerless body, naked and bound, washed up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay.

“There are mothers and fathers that, for years, wake up every day wanting to know what happened to their child. That’s why we do this,” said Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which works to identify remains and provides free DNA testing to family members of the missing.

The database gives hope to people such as Darlene Huntsman, who has never stopped searching for her sister, Bernadette Caruso. One day in 1986, Caruso, among the more than 100,500 people reported missing nationwide as of this month, left her job at a Baltimore County jewelry store. The young mother has not been seen by her family sinceHuntsman painstakingly entered each known detail of her sister’s disappearance in NamUs, knowing that any fact could be the one to trigger a match. Caruso probably wore her Mickey Mouse watch. She was dressed in a black tank dress, with a pink tank underneath, and pink flats. She left Eastpoint Mall about 5:05 p.m. that September evening.

Huntsman and other family members also gave genetic samples to be compared to those from bodies and skeletons. “It makes you feel like you are doing something for that person,” Huntsman said. “You feel that she knows that you are still trying.”

The concept of the database was born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, when the challenges of matching missing people with human remains became clear. Medical examiners and coroners began to enter descriptions of unidentified remains in 2007, and there are now 5,225 in the database, including 273 from Maryland, Virginia and the District. This year, missing persons cases were added; there are 1,772 open cases.

This month, NamUs began automatically comparing profiles and sending alerts to law enforcement or families when a missing persons report bears similarities to unidentified remains. But so far, successes have largely come from family members of victims, or others, who scan the site.

Those possible matches are critical to forensic sleuths, who can then work to match facial features or dental records, said Kevin Whaley, a Virginia assistant chief medical examiner. At the same time, the latest DNA testing allows scientists to extract genetic material from bones and compare it to samples from surviving family members.

In Virginia, the Department of Forensic Science and the medical examiner’s office have been awarded a $443,682 federal grant to help identify almost 100 sets of human remains stored by medical examiners in the state and investigate an additional 177 cases dating to the 1970s.

Brad Jenkins, a Department of Forensic Science analyst who worked on the Toussaint Gumbs case, said that by using mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists might be able to get answers where traditional genetic testing falls short. “We have bones and skeletons that are 10 or 20 years old,” Jenkins said. “We can go back and revisit those cases.”

NamUs might have provided an answer, and more evidence, for Anne Arundel authorities who twice have tried to prosecute a homicide case without the body of a 21-year-old man authorities say was killed in 2007. The first attempt ended in a mistrial, the second in a hung jury.

A forensic scientist looking at the database noticed that a partial skeleton found last year in Baltimore that had an orthopedic screw in the leg seemed to match a description of Michael Francis. Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state’s attorney’s office, said there are indications that the remains are Francis’s but that her office is awaiting the results of DNA tests.

“We have taken this case to trial without a body, and we are prepared to do that again,” Fleckenstein said. But she added that seeking a murder conviction without a body “does present a hurdle.”

For Bernadette Caruso’s family, July marks a sad milestone: She has been missing for as long as she had been with them. Caruso would have celebrated her 46th birthday July 2.

“We never thought it would take this long to find out what happened to her,” Huntsman said. “We’d like to see her remains be found. We’d like to give her some justice.”

The NamUs System

There are perhaps 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains held by medical examiners and coroners across the country, according to government estimates. A patchwork of record-keeping policies govern the related data.

With that in mind, the Justice Department has created the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a searchable database of “unidentified decedents,” in hopes of matching remains to missing persons, an estimated 100,000 of which exist in the U.S. at any given time.

The more information in a NamUs profile, the more likely a match can be made. NamUs has created a five-star rating system indicating how much information is in a file, a hint at how likely it might be that the remains can be identified. Information about the system for rating profiles of unidentified persons is below.

The Rating System (click through to see the real thing)

1-star
One-star listings include the location, date and condition of a found body (or body part).
See an example.

2-star
Two-star entries require distinctive physical features, clothing or jewelry.
See an example.

3-star
Three-star listings include fingerprint data, dental information or a facial photo (or artist’s rendering).
See an example.

4-star example
Four-star ratings add a DNA profile to the information required for a three-star profile.
See an example.

5-star example
Entries with five stars include a recognizable face along with a photo, artist’s rendering, fingerprint, DNA and dental information.

Health Secretary says swine flu cases could reach more than 100,000 per day by the end of August.

Today’s Daily Telegraph runs a short feature quoting the UK Health Secretary Andy Burnham predicting a real surge in the swine flu numbers. We’ve had this illness in our house already – but that doesn’t mean we’re immune as the virus mutates.

Andy Burnham has warned that swine flu could reach 100,000 cases a day by August

The UK has moved past the stage of containing the swine flu outbreak and into the “treatment phase”, he said.

“We have reached the next stage in management of the disease,” Mr Burnham said on Thursday.

“The national focus will be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.

“We will move to this treatment phase across the UK with immediate effect.”

There are now 7,447 laboratory-confirmed cases in the UK, he said.

London and the West Midlands have already had sufficiently high numbers to move towards a policy of outbreak management, which saw people with swine flu clinically diagnosed rather than being confirmed by laboratory reports.

Mr Burnham said that last week saw a “considerable rise” in swine flu cases.

“There are now on average several hundred new cases every day,” he said.

“Our efforts during the containment phase have given us precious time to learn more about the virus.

“We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely and at some point we would need to move away from containment to treatment.”

He added: “We have now signed contracts to secure enough vaccine for the whole population.”

The first will become available next month, with 60 million doses available by the end of the year.

Half of 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians or cyclists.

Half of 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, cyclists or motor cyclists. So I found out by reading a recent report by the World Health Organisation while I was researching background information on a job for a client.


The first global assessment of road safety finds that almost half of the estimated 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. While progress has been made towards protecting people in cars, the needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met.
The Global status report on road safety published today provides the first worldwide analysis of how well countries are implementing a number of effective road safety measures. These include limiting speed, reducing drink-driving, and increasing the use of seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the report presents information from 178 countries, accounting for over 98% of the world’s population. It uses a standardized method that allows comparisons between countries to be made.

“We found that in many countries, the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. And even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “We are not giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists many of whom end up in clinics and hospitals. We must do better if we are to halt or reverse the rise in road traffic injuries, disability and deaths.”

“Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death, particularly among young people 5 to 44 years of age,” said Mr Michael R. Bloomberg. “For the first time, we have solid data to hold us accountable and to target our efforts. Road safety must be part of all transport planning efforts, particularly at this moment of focus on infrastructure improvements and road building by many countries around the globe.”

Road traffic death rates increasing
While road traffic death rates in many high-income countries have stabilized or declined in recent decades, research suggests road deaths are increasing in most regions of the world and that if trends continue unabated, they will rise to an estimated 2.4 million a year by 2030. In addition, road crashes cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal injuries every year and are an important cause of disability. In many countries support services for road traffic victims are inadequate. These avoidable injuries also overload already stretched health-care systems in many countries.

The report documents numbers of registered motorized vehicles in each country and action being taken to invest in public transport and encourage non-motorized travel such as walking and cycling. Vehicle manufacturing standards and requirements for road safety audits were also reported, as well as the existence of formal pre-hospital care systems, including emergency telephone numbers.

Accurate statistics are crucial for understanding the state of road safety and measuring the impact of efforts to improve it. The report found that underreporting of deaths occurs in many countries, and that few countries have completely reliable data on road traffic injuries. The highest death rates are seen in the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions. The lowest rates are among high-income countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Less than a third of countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas.
  • Less than half of countries use the recommended blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.05 grams per decilitre as a measure to reduce drink-driving.
  • While helmet laws exist in more than 90% of countries, only 40% have a law that covers both riders and passengers while also requiring that helmets meet a specified standard.
  • Only 57% of countries have laws that require all car occupants to wear seat-belts. This figure is only 38% in low-income countries.
  • Half of all countries do not have laws requiring the use of child restraints (e.g., child seats and booster seats). This figure masks considerable variation, with relevant laws in 90% of high-income countries but only 20% of low-income countries.
  • Only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws which address all five of these risk factors.
  • Where laws on these risk factors are in place they are often inadequately enforced, particularly in low-income countries. For example, only 9% of countries rate their enforcement of speed limits as over 7 on a scale of 0 to 10, while the corresponding figure for enforcement of seat-belt laws is 19%.
  • “More than 90% of the world’s road deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, while these countries only have 48% of the world’s vehicles,” said Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. “Our roads are particularly unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who, without the protective shell of a car around them, are more vulnerable. These road users need to be given increased attention. Measures such as building sidewalks, raised crossings and separate lanes for two wheelers; reducing drink-driving and excessive speed; increasing the use of helmets and improving trauma care are some of the interventions that could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

    The report also shows that road traffic injuries remain very relevant in high-income countries. “Even the top performers globally are often stagnating and still have considerable room for improvement in achieving a truly safe road transport system,” Dr Krug said.

    Washington Post reports the city’s worst train smash.

    This excellent “traditional” reporting from Washington Post writers Rosalind S. Helderman and David A. Fahrenthold speaks for itself, in telling the story of the Metroline’s worst ever train crash in Washington earlier today. Anyone who commutes is made to think and consider for a moment or two.

    In the first car of the six-car Red Line train, on a sunny-day evening commute, passengers heard a message familiar to any Metrorail rider: The conductor said they were holding for a moment — there was a train ahead.

    The train started moving again, picking up to moderate speed.

    Then, without even the squeal of brakes as a warning, there was a crash and the feeling of being lifted up as the train hit one that was stopped.

    In the moments after the crash, passengers made tourniquets out of T-shirts, struggled to pull debris off others and sought to calm the hysterical and the gravely wounded. Inside the worst-hit car, waiting on ambulances and the “jaws of life,” an Anglican priest led a group in the Lord’s Prayer. On the ground below, a civilian Pentagon employee told a wounded girl that he wouldn’t accept her last wish, that she was going to live.

    Inside the car, there was dust and broken glass and blood. Seats had been ripped from the floor and thrown around: One man was trapped between two of them, with a leg that appeared broken. A woman was screaming, invisible, buried beneath a pile of seats.

    But the most incredible thing was the floor itself. It was gone, peeled away. Passengers could look down and see the grooved metal roof of another Metro train.

    “The front of the train just opened up,” said Marcie Bacchus, 30, who was among a handful of passengers in the car at the center of the deadliest accident in Metro’s 33-year history.

    The crash happened about 5 p.m. on an aboveground stretch of track that runs through neighborhoods between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations. Authorities said one Red Line train rear-ended another, hitting with such force that its first car was thrown on top of the other train.

    Brianna Milstead, 17, a high school student from Waldorf, was in that car. She could see out the front window, and she saw the other train getting closer, but it was too late to react.
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    “It happened so quick,” Milstead said, looking at her ash-covered hands. “The floor smushed up. It was lifted up. I saw the debris flying toward me. I was choking on the smoke.”

    Dave Bottoms, 39, had just left his job as an Army chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Anglican priest was in the back of the front car that slammed into the stopped train. When he saw the train buckling, it looked just like it would in the movies, he said.

    “It felt like it was going in slow motion,” he said. “I started praying.”

    In the chaotic moments after the crash, he went to a young woman who had been pinned between seats. She was hysterical, he said, but he began calming her.

    Meanwhile, the emergency exit and the doors were jammed. A middle-aged man on the train grabbed a fire extinguisher to break one of the car’s windows.

    When first responders arrived, Bottoms and two others initially refused to get off the train, wanting to continue to comfort the young woman pinned between the seats.

    “I just talked with her,” he said. “I told her to pray.”

    Passengers in other cars on the two trains said they felt a jolt, then opened the door and saw the wreckage: a car in the air, a man on the tracks. Some said they didn’t know what to do. Should they stay? Should they get off? They worried about the electrified third rail. In one group, a man said, “I’m getting off” and jumped out.

    Mike Corcoran, 39, who was in another car, said someone burst into his section after the impact and said help was needed at the back of the train. He ran back and saw a man and woman pinned between seats.

    Blood splattered the train’s windows, he said. Another woman was standing, he said, but her foot was bleeding profusely.

    Corcoran pulled off his polo shirt, quickly yanked off his undershirt and tied it around the woman’s foot as a tourniquet. He told her to keep pressure on it until help arrived.

    In the surrounding neighborhoods, residents were jolted by the sound of the crash and drawn to the scene, near where New Hampshire Avenue NE crosses over the Metro tracks.

    “The folks were beating on the windows, trying to get out. I saw some of them on their cellphones. You can tell they didn’t know what was going on, but they knew something had happened,” Jervis Bryant said. “They were just scared.”

    Linda Dixon, a Northeast Washington resident, was drawn by the sirens. She said she saw rescuers pull a man out of the wreckage on a stretcher, place him on the ground and pull a white sheet over him.
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    Two hours later, the black van of the medical examiner’s office arrived. By then, the white sheet was stained with blood.

    “Oh God, it’s just horrible. I feel so terrible because you just know there’s somebody waiting for him to come home. He’ll never get there,” Dixon said.

    The crash’s impact rippled across Washington’s transportation network, crowding buses, stranding some travelers and leading others to commute on foot.

    “It was confusion. A lot of confusion. You had people trying to bum rush the buses,” said Anthony McLemore, 41, of Takoma Park, who got on the Red Line at Farragut North not knowing that there had been a crash. More than two hours later, he arrived at Fort Totten, trying to catch his second bus of the day. The commute “was horrific,” he said.

    Others across the region faced a different kind of wait, trying to figure out what happened to loved ones on the train.

    Sharon Hodge was standing behind police lines at Oglethorpe Street NW and Blair Road, searching for her son, when an ambulance drove by. She was screaming out, “Corey, Corey, can you hear me? You in there? Mama’s here!” Her cellphone rang shortly thereafter. It was Corey. He was being taken to Washington Adventist Hospital. The 26-year-old had been on one of the trains with his aunt.

    Afterward, passengers talked about coincidences, little things that had taken them just out of harm’s way. Savannah Green, 16, usually walks to the front car of the train to be closer to the exit at her destination. But yesterday, she was “too lazy” and got in the third car. She was not injured.

    After surviving 6,000 ft fall, man threatened by Russian hospital hygiene.

    This story from today’s Guardian should be fiction but isn’t.

    A stunt skydiver and cameraman who survived a 6,000ft (1,829 metre) fall on to a remote Russian mountain when a parachute jump went wrong has told of his miraculous escape.

    James Boole, 31, suffered a broken back, a cracked rib, a bruised lung and several chipped teeth following the jump last month when he hurtled to the ground at approximately 90 miles per hour, landing in a snowdrift.

    Boole, a veteran of 2,500 skydives, was filming for a television documentary with another skydiver in the remote Russian region of Kamchatka when the accident happened. He and the other skydiver were disorientated by the snow and were unable to judge the altitude as they came to land on the final jump of their 10-day trip.

    Boole said that in the two seconds before he hit the ground, he was aware that there was not enough time to open his chute and thought he was about to die.

    “I didn’t panic or freak out,” he said. “In those two seconds I just thought of my wife and young baby and the sadness of not seeing them again plus the loneliness of my death.”

    His parachute partially opened, but far too late, and he landed on his back and was briefly unconscious from the impact.

    Then he faced an agonising half-hour wait in sub-zero temperatures before a helicopter was able to reach him. It was three hours before he was able to reach the nearest hospital.

    “I opened my eyes and was immediately elated to be alive,” he said. “I did not think I would survive the fall. Breathing was incredibly difficult, there was blood in my mouth and I was in excruciating pain from my spine. My first three instincts were to breathe, vomit and scream.”

    He was concerned as there was quite a lot of gurgling from his airways and about the difficulty of accessing medical treatment in such a remote area of Russia.

    “There was no Hollywood moment of my life flashing in front of me as I fell, there was no glory that jumpers sometimes fantasise about if they are facing death,” he said.

    “During that half hour, I was going through great highs and lows of emotion. I was glad to be alive and just wanted to see my wife and daughter but was thinking I wouldn’t ever be able to work again and would never recover from my injuries.

    “In the end I thought those thoughts weren’t very useful and just had to focus on my immediate problems as my broken rib was making it difficult to breathe.”

    Boole was taken by helicopter and ambulance to the nearest hospital at Kamchatsky city.

    The hospital was primitive “with paint peeling off walls, the filaments visible in lightbulbs, patients in corridors, smoking allowed on wards and blood on the x-ray machines”. As for the food, he says it was “absolutely disgusting”.

    Within 48 hours, he discharged himself from hospital and transferred to Moscow for further treatment. “I got to hospital and immediately had a CT scan, which was able to get a diagnosis.”

    He flew back to the UK for further medical treatment at a hospital in London and is now home with his family in Tamworth, Staffordshire, where he is enjoying spending time with his daughter.

    “Thanks to the back brace I was able to stand up after six days,” he says. “Over the last three weeks I have been taking my first tentative steps again.”

    He has given up skydiving with a camera but will continue with the sport for fun. “I have re-evaluated my life and it is not something I want to ever do again with a camera,” he added.

    “However, I have my own motivation to jump for fun and I will continue to do that.”

    Poisoned by one of our pies? Your fault for bad cooking

    In this “can’t cook” society – can it be right that food manufacturers are relying on the fact that consumers have to get foods to the right temperatures to kill the bugs inherent in their products? This article in the New York Times shows that 27,000 people in the States were affected by salmonella in just one incidence this year. Nine died. Me, I make my own pies.

    The frozen pot pies that sickened an estimated 15,000 people with salmonella in 2007 left federal inspectors mystified. At first they suspected the turkey. Then they considered the peas, carrots and potatoes.

    The pie maker, ConAgra Foods, began spot-checking the vegetables for pathogens, but could not find the culprit. It also tried cooking the vegetables at high temperatures, a strategy the industry calls a “kill step,” to wipe out any lingering microbes. But the vegetables turned to mush in the process.

    So ConAgra — which sold more than 100 million pot pies last year under its popular Banquet label — decided to make the consumer responsible for the kill step. The “food safety” instructions and four-step diagram on the 69-cent pies offer this guidance: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”

    Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

    Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

    In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like Nestlé and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer. General Mills, which recalled about five million frozen pizzas in 2007 after an E. coli outbreak, now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens. ConAgra has also added food safety instructions to its other frozen meals, including the Healthy Choice brand.

    Peanuts were considered unlikely culprits for pathogens until earlier this year when a processing plant in Georgia was blamed for salmonella poisoning that is estimated to have killed nine people and sickened 27,000. Now, white pepper is being blamed for dozens of salmonella illnesses on the West Coast, where a widening recall includes other spices and six tons of frozen egg rolls.

    The problem is particularly acute with frozen foods, in which unwitting consumers who buy these products for their convenience mistakenly think that their cooking is a matter of taste and not safety.

    Federal regulators have pushed companies to beef up their cooking instructions with the detailed “food safety” guides. But the response has been varied, as a review of packaging showed. Some manufacturers fail to list explicit instructions; others include abbreviated guidelines on the side of their boxes in tiny print. A Hungry-Man pot pie asks consumers to ensure that the pie reaches a temperature that is 11 degrees short of the government-established threshold for killing pathogens. Questioned about the discrepancy, Blackstone acknowledged it was using an older industry standard that it would rectify when it printed new cartons.

    Government food safety officials also point to efforts by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a nonprofit group founded by the Clinton administration. But the partnership consists of a two-person staff and an annual budget of $300,000. Its director, Shelley Feist, said she has wanted to start a campaign to advise consumers about frozen foods, but lacks the money.

    Estimating the risk to consumers is difficult. The industry says that it is acting with an abundance of caution, and that big outbreaks of food-borne illness are rare. At the same time, a vast majority of the estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness every year go unreported or are not traced to the source.

    Home Cooking

    Some food safety experts say they do not think the solution should rest with the consumer. Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said companies like ConAgra were asking too much. “I do not believe that it is fair to put this responsibility on the back of the consumer, when there is substantial confusion about what it means to prepare that product,” Dr. Osterholm said.

    And the ingredient chain for frozen and other processed foods is poised to get more convoluted, industry insiders say. While the global market for ingredients is projected to reach $34 billion next year, the pressure to keep food prices down in a recession is forcing food companies to look for ways to cut costs.

    Did plain clothes police incite crowds to violence at the G20?

    I have to say I didn’t expect to find a story like this in The Observer. The International Times maybe, or some other scurrilous lefty rag from the 1970’s might have run a piece about how the police planted plain clothes men in the crowd of protestors at the G20 summit, inciting other crowd members to throw stones and bottles…….I don’t believe that, said my 16 year old – here it is in the Observer I said……..apparently witnessed by an MP…..

    An MP who was involved in last month’s G20 protests in London is to call for an investigation into whether the police used agents provocateurs to incite the crowds.

    Liberal Democrat Tom Brake says he saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards.

    Brake, who along with hundreds of others was corralled behind police lines near Bank tube station in the City of London on the day of the protests, says he was informed by people in the crowd that the men had been seen to throw bottles at the police and had encouraged others to do the same shortly before they passed through the cordon.

    Brake, a member of the influential home affairs select committee, will raise the allegations when he gives evidence before parliament’s joint committee on human rights on Tuesday.

    “When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police,'” Brake said. But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.

    Brake has produced a draft report of his experiences for the human rights committee, having received written statements from people in the crowd. These include Tony Amos, a photographer who was standing with protesters in the Royal Exchange between 5pm and 6pm. “He [one of the alleged officers] was egging protesters on. It was very noticeable,” Amos said. “Then suddenly a protester seemed to identify him as a policeman and turned on him. He ­legged it towards the police line, flashed some ID and they just let him through, no questions asked.”

    Amos added: “He was pretty much inciting the crowd. He could not be called an observer. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories but this really struck me. Hopefully, a review of video evidence will clear this up.”

    The Independent Police Complaints Commission has received 256 complaints relating to the G20 protests. Of these, 121 have been made about the use of force by police officers, while 75 relate to police tactics. The IPCC said it had no record of complaints involving the use of police agents provocateurs. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We would never deploy officers in this way or condone such behaviour.”

    The use of plain-clothes officers in crowd situations is considered a vital tactic for gathering evidence. It has been used effectively to combat football hooliganism in the UK and was employed during the May Day protests in 2001.

    Brake said he intends to raise the allegations with the Met’s commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, when he next appears before the home affairs select committee. “There is a logic having plain-clothes officers in the crowd, but no logic if the officers are actively encouraging violence, which would be a source of great concern,” Brake said.

    The MP said that given only a few people were allowed out of the corralled crowd for the five hours he was held inside it, there should be no problem in investigating the allegation by examining video footage.

    For the first time in forty years, road traffic falls.

    My week has been disrupted by health issues – so apologies to regular readers for the non-appearance of stories in the past fourteen days. I may well post a separate story about this – as it is interesting – still under consideration.

    This story in the Independent  caught my interest. Road traffic levels – ie the number of cars and lorries actually using the road has dropped for the first time in nearly forty years. Some commentators have said that this points to real problems in the road haulage business – there’s no doubt that’s true. However, one of the dads watching school sports with me the other week told me that his car (a vintage Mercedes) had been stolen from outside his house a couple of weeks ago and after much discussion they had decided not to replace it. My kids have been pressing me for a year now on the vehicle issue. I wonder how much of the current decline is due to impulses like this – as well as the obvious economic pressures?

    Traffic on Britain’s roads is decreasing significantly for the first time since the three-day week of the early 1970s, suggesting the car economy is heading for a crash, official figures revealed yesterday.

    In a sign that the country is already in recession, fewer car and lorry journeys on motorways, rural and urban roads were made over the last six months compared to the same period a year ago.

    The Department for Transport (DfT) recorded two consecutive quarters where road traffic has decreased year on year – the first time for more than 30 years. If the trend continues to the end of the year, it will hugely undermine the “great car economy” championed by Margaret Thatcher.

    At the same time, sales of new cars have fallen by 23 per cent and are at their lowest since 1996. The motor industry is suffering across the world, with Volvo, the Swedish giant, selling just 115 heavy trucks over the past few months, compared to 41,970 during the same period last year – a 99.7 per cent fall.

    And the jobs of 3,700 people at two UK car plants are at risk after General Motors warned it would be bankrupt within months unless it received a bailout from the US government.

    The new traffic figures emerged as the Government prepares to announce car-related tax cuts as part of Gordon Brown’s strategy to get Britain through the recession. Planned vehicle excise duty increases for older cars are expected to be scrapped, while ministers are examining plans by the German government for tax reductions on green vehicles. On Friday the Prime Minister said he would work with other EU leaders on fiscal policy to support economic growth – a signal that tax cuts to reinvigorate the economy are being considered.

    As Mr Brown and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, battle it out over the economy, a poll today puts the Conservatives 13 points ahead of Labour. The ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph suggests that despite Labour’s surprise win in the Glenrothes by-election, the “Brown bounce” could be short-lived.

    Besides the three-day week in 1973 and two world wars, traffic has steadily increased since the beginning of mass production of the motor car more than a century ago. But the new DfT figures show a 2.2 per cent decrease between July and September this year. This followed a 0.5 per cent decrease between April and June. The decline runs against the official predicted trend of an increase in traffic of 1-2 per cent a year.

    Traffic congestion has also decreased on motorways and A-roads. The average vehicle delay on the slowest 10 per cent of journeys was 3.67 minutes, down from 3.95 minutes for the year ending September 2008.

    Britain is in the early stages of a recession, with unemployment rising and industry shrinking, leading to fewer cars and HGVs on the roads. But during the recession of the 1990s, traffic remained static, suggesting there are other reasons for the decline.

    It would appear thousands of motorists are giving up driving, either because of soaring fuel costs, rising parking and car taxes or because of the environmental cost.

    Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “It is too early to say there is a definite long-term trend here, but there is no doubt these are the best figures we have to go on suggesting a decline in traffic.”

    Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth said: “The Government must help people to use their cars less – and tackle climate change – by giving them better public transport alternatives, and making it safer and easier to cycle and walk.”

    Adrian Ramsay, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “It’s good to see that people are making better use of other travel options as they feel the pinch of the rising cost of using the car. There will be a limit to how many people can make this choice. Too many towns and cities have such poor and expensive public transport that people are stuck using the car.”

    When she was Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher hailed the car-based economy as the ultimate expression of the individual over the state. In the 1980s and 1990s, road traffic rose substantially from 215 billion vehicle kilometres in the year 1980 to 378.7 billion in 2000. Last year traffic reached 513 billion vehicle kilometres.

    Car ownership has steadily increased over the past decade, with the proportion of households in Britain without access to a car falling from 30 per cent in 1997 to 25 per cent in 2007. Homes with two or more cars outnumber those with no cars, increasing from 25 per cent to 32 per cent.

    Road transport produces around a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly 60 per cent of this is from cars. This summer petrol reached 118p a litre, but many retailers have since lowered this to below £1 a litre after criticism from the Prime Minister.

    Gary Mahoney, 50, from Liverpool, works for the council’s environmental protection department. He gave up his Toyota Corolla seven months ago.

    “The car was something of a family heirloom and I used it for the five-mile trip to work, as well as to take my mum round for her shopping. The car died about seven months ago and I decided to scrap it. I was sentimentally attached to it but it was the right time to get rid of it. I was increasingly uncomfortable with having the car because of my job. I am aware of the damage cars can do, particularly in terms of air pollution.

    “Now I cycle to work, car-share with a colleague, or I take the bus and I walk a lot more than I did before. I feel a lot fitter physically and I get to work feeling a lot more alert than I used to. I also feel better about myself and better about the environment. I would encourage people to think about doing the same as me, if their circumstances allow it. I don’t miss having a car at all.”

    Ian Griggs

    Pentagon Cyber-Command about to be put in place. Remind you of anything?

    Spencer S. Hsu tells us today in the Washington Post  that “A Pentagon Cyber-Command Is in the Works”. The story is dry and factual. But……anyone think of Isaac Asimov? Or something more recent perhaps?

    The Obama administration is finalizing plans for a new Pentagon command to coordinate the security of military computer networks and to develop new offensive cyber-weapons, sources said last night.

    Planning for the reorganization of Defense Department and intelligence agencies is underway, and a decision is imminent, according to a person familiar with the White House plans.

    The new command would affect U.S. Strategic Command, whose mission includes ensuring U.S. “freedom of action” in space and cyberspace, and the National Security Agency, which shares Pentagon cybersecurity responsibilities with the Defense Information Systems Agency.

    The Pentagon plans do not involve the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for securing the government’s non-military computer domain.

    But President Obama must approve the changes and Congress must be notified of them before they can be implemented, said this source, who has spoken with several White House and military officials. This individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is still “in motion.”
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    The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plans last night.

    One question is whether the new command’s leader would be a military commander with a four-star rank. The NSA is currently led by Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who has three stars.

    News of the proposal comes on the heels of a 60-day White House review of cybersecurity efforts. Federal agency deputies are expected to meet Friday to consider the recommendations of the review team.

    Tornado coming. You have seven minutes to get out.

    I read this story this morning by Kari Lydersen in The Washington Post.  Apparently the current tornado warning system in the States gives ordinary people an average of  13 minutes warning. That means some people only get 7 minutes to get out. Presuming you are fit and able of course.

    When a tornado is about to cut a devastating swath through an American town, those in its path get a warning lead time of 13 minutes on average to try to reach shelter.

    “If you live in a trailer community, is 13 minutes enough to wake your family and get them bundled up and outside?” asks tornado researcher Joshua Wurman, head of the nonprofit Center for Severe Weather Research. And “if you are elderly or handicapped, you’re going to have a hard time getting to a shelter in 13 minutes,” he said.

    And that’s the average; many times people are warned about six or seven minutes earlier. That is because although scientists know that certain kinds of “supercell” thunderclouds can spin off tornadoes, they know very little about the exact conditions that indicate a tornado will occur and whether it will be a mild twister or a violent killer.

    In the mid-1990s, a two-year study called Vortex had a phalanx of scientists chasing tornadoes around the Great Plains, inspiring much public fascination, daredevil amateur tornado-chasers and the 1996 movie “Twister.”

    Vortex (which stands for Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment) resulted in significant advances, including the revelation that tornadoes can occur on smaller time and space scales than previously thought and that sometimes they do not show up on radar. Knowledge gained from the study led to an increase in average warning times, but it did not unlock the secrets of exactly when and why tornadoes form.

    As a result, predictions about tornado occurrence are successful only about a quarter of the time.

    “Sometimes people will choose not to take shelter even if they’re told to,” said Yvette P. Richardson, a meteorology professor at Pennsylvania State University. “In general, the more we can reduce the false-alarm rate, the more seriously the public will take warnings.”

    Now comes Vortex2, a five-week tornado-chasing project beginning next month that scientists hope will finally provide the knowledge to accurately predict when and where a tornado will develop.

    “Ultimately we’d like to get to the point where we can put sufficient data into our models so we know when a tornado will happen,” said Stephan P. Nelson, a program director in the atmospheric sciences division of the National Science Foundation, which, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provided the $12 million funding for Vortex2. “Then you can get first responders to be better prepared — police, fire, medical personnel, even power companies. Now, that’s not even remotely possible.”

    As part of Vortex2, about 80 veteran scientists and graduate students will chase storms across a wide swath from South Dakota to Texas and from eastern Colorado to Iowa and Minnesota, with their nerve center in Norman, Okla.

    They will be armed with a host of tools, including lasers that measure raindrops, Doppler radar mounted on trucks, high-tech balloons, unmanned aircraft and instruments on tripods anchored in the tornadoes’ path.

    “We’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it,” said Wurman, who has chased 141 tornadoes over 14 years. “We’ll have a whole potpourri of instruments surrounding the storm, all measuring different things in different ways.”

    The technology available this time is far superior. The inaugural Vortex used Doppler radar on planes, which would pass over a tornado at about five-minute intervals. Now radar mounted on trucks, which can get within two miles of a tornado, will provide uninterrupted data.

    “We will be able to distinguish between rain, hail, dust, debris, flying cows,” said Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma and member of the Vortex2 steering committee.

    Two ingredients are necessary to form the supercell thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes: a source of buoyant energy, namely warm and moist air near the ground, and a rotational force generated by winds at the surface blowing at a different speed or direction than winds high in the atmosphere.

    A typical thundercloud develops as warm air rises into colder air masses above, then usually dissipates quickly once rain falls. Supercell thunderstorms, by contrast, can last for hours and can move rapidly, tracking over 100 miles. Supercell thunderstorms may also create “mesocyclones,” swirling winds embedded within the larger thunderhead that can be as much as six miles in diameter.

    About five to 10 percent of these storms actually spin off tornadoes, which are typically about 500 feet in diameter. Scientists know what forms a mesocyclone, but they are largely lost when it comes to understanding which ones will spawn tornadoes and how violent they will be.

    “A number of things have to happen sequentially and at the same time and in the right order,” said John Monteverdi, a meteorologist at San Francisco State University who has been chasing tornadoes for 24 years. “You have to start knocking the dominos down to find out what happens in that last stage. I think we’re getting close, and this project should help.”

    Risky though it appears, members of the project note that their crews have never logged a death or severe injury. But they say amateur tornado-chasers who follow scientists around with video cameras are endangering themselves and others. Not only do these adrenalin junkies put themselves in harm’s way, the scientists say, they often speed and park their cars in the middle of the road, endangering other motorists and distracting highway patrol officers.

    Scientists warn that it is only a matter of time before a major tornado sweeps through a densely populated urban area and causes horrific damage and loss of life.

    Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, in particular, are in regions prone to violent tornadoes. Wurman said in a 2007 study that a tornado cutting through Chicago could kill 13,000 to 45,000 people and cause tens of billions of dollars in damage.

    “Tornadoes have a great beauty to them sometimes,” Wurman said. “There’s a great elegance to the vortex itself. But when you see it going toward a town or city, there’s a quick change in your impression, and it’s like a tiger: Something beautiful becomes deadly.”

    Antisocial media. Would you like some snot with that fast food?

    Two employees of Domino’s video themselves horribly messing up food they are about to deliver to people and post it on YouTube. The result isn’t very funny – and it’s not even interesting viewing. However, it does totally wreck Domino’s carefully nurtured brand image, according to this story published in the New York Times. The thing about “social media” like YouTube is that it gives everyone a voice and the chance to publish their views to millions of people. I think anyone who works on the internet knows the downside of this. How many times have we had to consider how to deal with people who think it’s funny to be totally obscene to other undeserving people for no good purpose. Call me conservative. I don’t think I am. I’m certainly no fan of fast food. I’m certainly no defender of “big name brands” at all costs. I’m not sure where this leaves me with my view of social media – other than that perhaps we should rename it antisocial media. Or perhaps – media that reflects society like it really is, and it’s too much to bear.

    When two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed a prank in the restaurant’s kitchen, they decided to post it online. In a few days, thanks to the power of social media, they ended up with felony charges, more than a million disgusted viewers, and a major company facing a public relations crisis.

    In videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere this week, a Domino’s employee in Conover, N.C., prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration.

    The two were charged with delivering prohibited foods.

    By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. References to it were in five of the 12 results on the first page of Google search for “Dominos,” and discussions about Domino’s had spread throughout Twitter.

    As Domino’s is realizing, social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises. In November, Motrin posted an ad suggesting that carrying babies in slings was a painful new fad. Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it, and bloggers followed; within days, Motrin had removed the ad and apologized.

    On Monday, Amazon.com apologized for a “ham-fisted” error after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared — and, since Amazon took more than a day to respond, the social-media world criticized it for being uncommunicative.

    According to Domino’s, the employees told executives that they had never actually delivered the tainted food. Still, Domino’s fired the two employees on Tuesday, and they were in the custody of the Conover police department on Wednesday evening, facing felony charges.

    But the crisis was not over for Domino’s.

    “We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, who added that the company was preparing a civil lawsuit. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

    In just a few days, Domino’s reputation was damaged. The perception of its quality among consumers went from positive to negative since Monday, according to the research firm YouGov, which holds online surveys of about 1,000 consumers every day regarding hundreds of brands.

    “It’s graphic enough in the video, and it’s created enough of a stir, that it gives people a little bit of pause,” said Ted Marzilli, global managing director for YouGov’s BrandIndex.

    The Domino’s experience “is a nightmare,” said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the United States crisis practice at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. “It’s the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis.”

    Mr. McIntyre was alerted to the videos on Monday evening by a blogger who had seen them. In the most popular video, a woman who identifies herself as Kristy films a co-worker, Michael, preparing the unsanitary sandwiches.

    “In about five minutes it’ll be sent out on delivery where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them, and little did they know that cheese was in his nose and that there was some lethal gas that ended up on their salami,” Kristy said. “Now that’s how we roll at Domino’s.”

    On Monday, commenters at the site Consumerist.com used clues in the video to find the franchise location in Conover, and told Mr. McIntyre about the videos. On Tuesday, the Domino’s franchise owner fired the employees, identified by Domino’s as Kristy Hammonds, 31 and Michael Setzer, 32. The franchisee brought in the local health department, which advised him to discard all open containers of food, which cost hundreds of dollars, Mr. McIntyre said.

    Ms. Hammonds apologized to the company in an e-mail message Tuesday morning. “It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!!” she wrote. “I AM SOO SORRY!”

    By Wednesday evening, the video had been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim from Ms. Hammonds. Neither Ms. Hammonds nor Mr. Setzer were available for comment on Wednesday evening, said Conover’s chief of police, Gary W. Lafone.

    As the company learned about the video on Tuesday, Mr. McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations,” he said.

    In social media, “if you think it’s not going to spread, that’s when it gets bigger,” said Scott Hoffman, the chief marketing officer of the social-media marketing firm Lotame. “We realized that when many of the comments and questions in Twitter were, ‘What is Domino’s doing about it’ ” Mr. McIntyre said. “Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter.”

    By Wednesday afternoon, Domino’s had created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the comments, and it had presented its chief executive in a video on YouTube by evening.

    “It elevated to a point where just responding isn’t good enough,” Mr. McIntyre said.

    Man sprays his own toxic waste over food in shops

    This story is from this week’s  Birmingham Post. I had driven past the Air Balloon pub near Cheltenham just yesterday where this chap did some of  his dirty work. I had to think why this story had caught my attention. Something about the way cats and dogs behave….something about a personal statement about our society….I don’t know. Nowt as strange as folk as the people in Yorkshire say.

    An unemployed chemist was jailed for nine years today for contaminating food and wine by spraying his own urine and faeces in supermarkets in Gloucestershire.

    Algerian Sahnoun Daifallah also sprayed the slurry over children’s books and in a pub as he carried out his foul campaign by concealing a 1.5 litre weed killer container in a lap top bag modified to allow the nozzle to poke out. And it was revealed that he intended to bring his campaign to Birmingham.

    Daifallah, 42, was last month found guilty of four counts of contaminating goods at Tesco, Morrisons, Waterstones bookstore and a pub in Gloucestershire on May 14 and 16 last year.  The incidents caused £700,000 of damage to products and in lost businesses when the stores had to close.

    When police searched his house they found stockpiles of the mixture and plans to spread the muck in other cities including Bristol and Birmingham.

    Daifallah, who had fantasies about biological weapons to cause public alarm, was also found guilty of having an offensive weapon, namely a catapult with marbles.

    Judge Carol Hagen said security agencies had labelled Daifallah, who has a degree in industrial chemistry, a very high risk to public safety. She sentenced him on Tuesday at Bristol Crown Court to concurrent sentences of three years, five years and two of nine years for the contamination offences and 12 months for possession of a weapon.

    She told him that during the seven day trial, in which he had represented himself, she found him to be “arrogant and inflexible” in his thinking.
    She added that she had wanted to jail him indefinitely but the law would not allow her to.

    “Your actions showed a callous disregard for public safety and you caused considerable alarm and anxiety,” she said. “You caused substantial police and forensic involvement given that the nature of the substances were not known.”

    Proceedings to deport him have begun.

    Daifallah first visited the Air Balloon Pub near Cheltenham at 12.45pm on May 14 where police were called after he made offensive comments to a barmaid.

    When officers arrived Daifallah was no longer there but he had left a trail of stench behind him which was his ‘calling card’.

    He then moved on to Waterstones bookstore in Cirencester where he sprayed the brown substance all over a toilet in the coffee shop.

    Staff noticed the smell but it was not until after he had left that they discovered a 20 metre area of 38 shelves, from the classics to the children’s section, had been doused in the foul substance.

    In total 706 books were contaminated, most of them in the children’s section.

    Two days later at 11am Daifallah visited the Tesco store in Quedgley where a shopper saw him reach into his bag and produce a jet of brown fluid over the frozen chips.

    He then moved on to the wine section where a member of staff saw a fine vapour come out of his bag and on to the wine, leaving the brown substance over the shelves.

    Daifallah then drove four miles to the Morrisons store in Abbeydale where an employee in the wine section noticed him acting strangely and gagged at the overpowering stench.

    Both supermarkets were cordoned off and shoppers were locked in for safety reasons while the source of the contaminant was traced. The stores were closed for two days for cleaning and shoppers reported skin rashes and nausea.

    Police officers called by staff at Tesco identified Daifallah on CCTV and arrived at his home in Bibury Road, Gloucester, while he was still spraying in Morrisons.

    On searching the flat they found several bottles of the noxious mixture and several plastic sachets containing excrement marked with the names of cities on them.

    They also found messages scrawled over the walls referring to biological weapons, smuggling uranium into Britain and micro-organisms being spread.

    One of the messages said: “The ants get out to every direction to get food, then they bring it back to Tesco and Asda. If you poison those then you kill the ants.”

    A map of Gloucester with ‘Contaminated 83% Ammonia’ written on it was also found in his bedroom.

    His house was sealed off for two weeks while forensic scientists worked out what was in the packages.

    Daifallah was questioned by police about another four incidents in February last year when brown liquid was sprayed at four pubs in Stroud.

    Blitz mentality sadly lacking according to the States

     This story appeared on the website boing boing this week.I was quite taken aback by the tone of it at first and then found it interesting – because naturally there’s quite a strong liberal American consumerist feel to the site….but surely they don’t feel an affinity with bomb-makers?

    The London police have bested their own impressive record for insane and stupid anti-terrorism posters with a new range of signs advising Londoners to go through each others’ trash-bins looking for “suspicious” chemical bottles, and to report on one another for “studying CCTV cameras.”

    It’s hard to imagine a worse, more socially corrosive campaign. Telling people to rummage in one another’s trash and report on anything they don’t understand is a recipe for flooding the police with bad reports from ignorant people who end up bringing down anti-terror cops on their neighbors who keep tropical fish, paint in oils, are amateur chemists, or who just do something outside of the narrow experience of the least adventurous person on their street. Essentially, this redefines “suspicious” as anything outside of the direct experience of the most frightened, ignorant and foolish people in any neighborhood.

    Even worse, though, is the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing. It’s the extension of the ridiculous airport rule that prohibits discussing the security measures (“Exactly how does 101 ml of liquid endanger a plane?”), conflating it with “making jokes about bombs.”

    The British authorities are bent on driving fear into the hearts of Britons: fear of terrorists, immigrants, pedophiles, children, knives… And once people are afraid enough, they’ll write government a blank check to expand its authority without sense or limit.

    What an embarrassment from the country whose level-headed response to the Blitz was “Keep Calm and Carry On” — how has that sensible motto been replaced with “When in trouble or in doubt/Run in circles scream and shout”?

    A third of Brits anticipate Athens style riots in London in coming months.

    According to the Independent a normally reliable poll shows that almost  40% of Britons anticipate serious rioting in city centres in the coming months. Hmm. Could be right. The picture shows December’s Athens riots as a taste of what we’re in for.

    More than a third of voters believe the Army will have to be brought in to deal with riots on British streets as the recession bites, a poll showed today.

    The widespread fear of serious unrest was disclosed as a senior police officer warned activists were planning a “summer of rage” and could find rioters easier to recruit because of the credit crunch.

    Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan Police’s public order branch, said known activists were planning a return to the streets centred on April’s G20 summit of world leaders in London.

    And intelligence shows they may be able to call on more “footsoldiers” than normal due to the unprecedented conditions – which have led to youth violence in Greece and mass protests elsewhere in Europe.

    YouGov polling for Prospect magazine found 37 per cent thought such “serious social unrest in several British cities” was certain or likely – although a slim majority (51 per cent) disagreed.

    Almost three quarters (73 per cent) said they feared a sustained return to mass unemployment.

    And a clear majority (64 per cent) also favoured forcing the under-25s to do a year of full-time, modestly-paid community service such as working with the sick and elderly or helping with environmental projects.

    Labour MP Frank Field told Prospect the main political parties should join forces to develop the idea.

    “The time has come to look at this idea. A new bipartisan commission should be established to look into how it could be done, perhaps led by figures as respected as David Blunkett or David Davis,” he said.

    Although the biggest support for a compulsory scheme was among the older generations, a majority of 18-30 year olds (52 per cent) also gave it their backing.

    Talking about the prospect of disorder, Mr Hartshorn told the Guardian: “Those people would be good at motivating people, but they haven’t had the ‘footsoldiers’ to actually carry out [protests].

    “Obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest.

    “We’ve got G20 coming and I think that is being advertised on some of the sites as the highlight of what they see as a ‘summer of rage’,” he told the newspaper.

    Gordon Brown’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s view on this is that of course he understands people’s concerns and he also understands that people are angry, for example about the behaviour of some of the banks.

    “That’s why he is absolutely determined that the Government does everything possible to deal with those concerns and help people and businesses get through what is a global recession.”

    YouGov polled 2,270 people between February 10-12.

    Chinese snakeheads on skunk

    I found this story in the Scotsman yesterday – but the background story behind it featured below is even more interesting, reminding me of a novel by Timothy Mo called Sour Sweet – well worth a read if you are interested in Triad  activity in England (or in Scotland as the case may be)

    MORE than 600 cannabis plants, with a street value of £180,000, were seized by Tayside Police yesterday in a raid on a flat in the Perthshire village of Alyth.
    The raid on a flat at the Old Mill Buildings in the village’s Banff Road was carried out as part of an intelligence-led operation by the Tayside force. A 25-year-old Chinese man was detained.

    (back ground story by MICHAEL HOWIE)
    THE Scotsman today reveals the massive scale of cannabis production by Asian gangs in Scotland – an expanding and increasingly violent trade generating hundreds of millions of pounds for organised crime.
    Scotland has, for the first time, become gripped by illegal drug production on a huge scale, with hundreds of Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian gangs operating a network of cannabis factories.

    Police have smashed 143 factories run by south-east Asians since the gangs set up business in Scotland two years ago.

    But detectives say the problem is getting worse, with more cultivation being set up, increased violence between rivals, and stronger links emerging with human trafficking, prostitution and counterfeit goods.

    Houses, flats, farm buildings and disused warehouses have been taken over, with “gardeners” going to extreme lengths to cover their tracks.

    Nearly 70,000 plants capable of producing £21.6 million worth of the drug have been recovered. But senior officers say this is “the tip of the iceberg” and have stepped up the fight against the Chinese-led gangs, who have increased their stranglehold on the drug trade in recent months.

    A national task force has been set up in response to the problem. Its job will be to track down the “Mr Bigs” at the top of the organised crime chain.

    Some 127 people from south-east Asia have been arrested since the gangs set up business in October 2006. But police admit a clampdown, known as Operation League, has failed to bring down the most senior figures. Despite judges setting tough sentencing guidelines for those involved, the number of new cannabis factories appears to be increasing.

    Detectives do not know if the “skunk” cannabis – an extremely potent variant of the drug – is being produced for the domestic market or for export. But what has become clear is the increasingly violent tactics employed by gangs to protect their illegal enterprises, including abductions and attempted murders.

    IN NUMBERS

    143
    number of cannabis farms uncovered in Scotland run by south-east Asian gangs.

    69,583
    number of cannabis plants found.

    5
    number of years growers face in jail if caught.

    £21.6 million
    potential yield of plants seized.

    2,502
    number of plants recovered from Scotland’s biggest cannabis farm, in a warehouse in Ayr.

    127
    number of people arrested.

    A growth industry hidden in suburbs

    IT HAS become the growth industry that no-one wants. No-one, that is, except the Chinese gang leaders making millions of pounds from the production of cannabis on an unprecedented scale in Scotland.

    The drug factories could not be more unassuming – or unlikely. The production lines in what has fast become one of Scotland’s biggest criminal enterprise are typically found in quiet suburban housing estates.

    From the outside, few people would guess what lies inside the modern, detached houses favoured by the gangs. Inside is an astonishing sight, as whole rooms are transformed into hothouses, with hundreds of cannabis plants covering almost every inch of floorspace.

    Sophisticated growing systems are installed to create perfect conditions for the plants to flourish. A morass of wires powers a complex array of growing equipment, including feeders, lamps and ventilators. Each factory costs about £15,000 to set up. But the profits can be immense, with each plant capable of producing more than £300 of cannabis.

    In June, police uncovered a massive cannabis factory in a house near Dornoch, in the Highlands, that contained more than 1,000 plants – capable of producing more than £300,000 of drugs.

    A complex network of criminals is employed by each cannabis gang, each with a specific role. Detectives say they resemble a business, with various departments overseen by a “board of directors”.

    “There are various levels of the organisation,” says Detective Chief Superintendent Stevie Whitelock, head of intelligence at Strathclyde Police and the man who led Operation League. “They will have individuals responsible for identifying the property for lease, going round looking for vacant warehouses and vacant houses. There will then be individuals who will come in and do the joinery work, the electrical work. Then you will find people coming in to set up the cultivation, the lights, the plants.

    “After that you have the gardeners who tend to the plants and harvest the commodity. You will then have a group of people who come in to take the commodity away, sell it on. There are also individuals responsible for moving the money about.”

    Police have significant successes at the department level, closing in on a number of managers as well as scores of rank-and-file workers. But the directors, on the whole, remain elusive. It is not yet known whether they are operating within Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or from their power bases in south-east Asia.

    The operations are understood to be headed by Chinese, with an army of Vietnamese and Malaysian “foot soldiers” carrying out the risky dirty work. Many are illegal immigrants living in cramped, squalid conditions inside the factories.

    The recent emergence of serious violence among those involved – including arson attacks on cannabis factories – has led police to believe turf wars have broken out between rival gangs in Scotland.

    Some of these gangs are known to have links to cannabis factory operators south of the Border. Police in Scotland initially feared the gangs had been displaced from England as a result of detectives there getting wise to their operations. But the phenomenon has become a global issue – with Italy, France and Australia among those hit by the cannabis crime wave.

    In response to the explosion in production in September the Home Office announced the appointment of the UK’s first cannabis factory co-ordinator. Mark Matthews, a former Merseyside chief superintendent, is spending the first few weeks in the job getting to grips with the true extent of cannabis cultivation.

    Last year, police discovered some 3,000 operations in England and Wales – almost all found in anonymous, ordinary homes.

    Police say the lives of the gardeners, and unsuspecting neighbours, are seriously threatened by the risk of fire. Since late 2006, five serious fires have been reported at cannabis factories in Scotland, although no-one has so far been injured.

    One way the gangs keep their costs down, as well as their profile, is by tapping directly into the electricity mains. It is thought each factory is effectively stealing an average of £24,000 a year – costing power companies millions of pounds.

    One way the criminals have evaded detection is by thoroughly insulating their factories so that heat-seeking cameras cannot pick up the intense heat given off by the growing lamps that send temperatures in the factories soaring above 40C.

    Factory operators are also placing mothballs near letterboxes and keyholes to disguise the pungent smell given off by the plants.

    The industry has shown a remarkable growth since a cannabis farm was found in the Kilmarnock area in 2006. Within a short time, more were discovered in Lanarkshire, Paisley and Glasgow.

    But they have since spread. While 95 Asian-run cannabis factories have been uncovered in Strathclyde, another 13 have been discovered in Grampian, 11 in Lothian and Borders, ten in Tayside, seven in the Highlands, five in Fife and two in the Central Scotland police area.

    “I’m convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg, not only for Scotland but across the UK,” says Mr Whitelock.

    Those involved in cannabis growing are also involved in other organised crime activities. “We have had indigenous crime groups for many years but what we have here is crime groups who are using Scotland as a base to produce cannabis.

    “But it’s not just about cannabis – they are also involved in the DVD markets. The money from these activities is going into the coffers of organised crime and will be used to facilitate human trafficking, including the prostitution of young girls from south-east Asia.”

    Eyewitness accounts of the Australian bushfires

    These first-hand accounts of the fires which almost inevitably occur when the temperature outside reaches 47 degrees C are from the Australian radio station ABC.

    With the cool change that swept across the state late yesterday came a shift in direction of the wind, which then sent the fire eastwards towards Whittlesea then Kinglake and other sub-alpine communities, about 60 kilometres north-east of Melbourne. It grew alarmingly from a 4000-hectare blaze to one covering 30,000 hectares in just a few hours. At least 500 firefighters on 100 trucks battled the inferno. Mr Mitchell said last night that he was with about 200 residents holed up in the local hotel and fire vehicles could no longer get into the town. Thousands more residents in the region were sheltering wherever they could find cover as authorities warned them that the worst was to come overnight. Firefighter Kevin Davy earlier told of his horror as the ferocious Kinglake fire rushed over his crew’s truck while they worked to protect a house. “It swept up the hill in a second. BRENDAN TREMBATH: The wind is whipping up around you as you speak. MICHAEL VINCENT: The wind is still causing problems; it’s going at about 60 k/ph. The CFA have had had to put out a couple of spot fires this morning. They’ve still got 20 trucks in the area whizzing about, going to various spots to try and keep those fires at bay. They are threatening some properties, but it is nothing, nothing like Saturday where a wall of fire, some people describe, has swept through and destroyed swathes and swathes of houses. The people here are, I mean this community meeting – I was here overnight – there was a couple of hundred people who came to this community meeting and one moment, it was just heart breaking, there were two women, they looked at each other, they said, one of the them said, “Yeah, I’m here.” That really summed it up that people are still reuniting with their friends. Another guy who stayed overnight was Charles Exton, he’s a farmer. He’s lived here for 100 years, well no his family have been in the area for 100 years. He spent last night with nothing. He had his clothes on his back and his car and he’s been trying to organise water supplies to come in and out and he’s still helping, handing out sandwiches and the like. He spent last night basically with the clothes on this back and his 16-year-old son Bradley. CHARLES EXTON: We stayed out here and we slept in the ute, well we didn’t sleep, we tried to sleep, but there’s just too much on our minds and I’ve got about seven, eight a head of sheep that I had to worry about, and the cattle and the horses and went up the roads and there’s been no animal losses on my farm or anyone’s I know of at this stage. We drove back just praying for everyone at Kinglake. The fire came so quickly there was not time for everyone to evacuate, which is why people died on the roads, in their cars and in their houses. On the television lots of contact numbers are given out all day for people to call, but there are so many people affected it’s almost impossible to get through on the phone, so I had to drive to my local area’s relief centre to register and to let them know I was safe

    Not far away in Kinglake, the dawn revealed another horrific scene – a jumbled collection of burnt-out cars lining the roads out of the doomed township. These cars were carrying the families who never made it out of the town. Some had crashed into each other in their panic to escape the inferno that had surrounded their town. Others had their only escape route blocked by fallen trees as the fiery apocalypse enveloped them. By the time rescuers reached these cars they were incinerated wrecks. Some had bodies in them. Others had been abandoned by their owners as the fires roared around them in a moment of unimaginable fear. Where are the men, women and children who were in these abandoned cars? Did they live? Did they die? Right now, no one knows. These same questions are being asked about dozens of missing people across Victoria today as the full horror of the worst day in the state’s history becomes apparent. The southeasterly change, about 3pm, instantly doomed dozens of lives. It blew the fires from their predicted paths faster than anyone expected, confounding firefighters and suddenly posing a deadly threat to farms and townships that had appeared safe. Firefronts exploded, racing up hills with inconceivable speed, swallowing all in their path. The most deadly were those closest to Melbourne, in the Kinglake and Wandong area, where people say sheer walls of flames surged towards the small communities. In Wandong, locals spoke of how black smoke in the distance suddenly morphed into flames that roared up through the grass paddocks on the outskirts of their town, exploding trees and creating a fireball. Chris Isbister lost his home and almost his life, being forced to hide under wet hessian blankets with his father and two mates as they watched the fire destroy hishome. “We thought this was it,” he said. Ali said a family friend in the town had told of being trapped in Kinglake on Saturday with no one allowed in or out. “There were spot fires everywhere, roads blocked, roads covered in fire,” she said. “A lady said she was driving, she could see the fire in front of her and she just turned around. As soon as she turned around the fire went straight across the road on the other side. She had to drive straight through the fire to get out. She got out.” Dr Harvey said the family was lucky to be alive – the only reason he and his wife Charo were not at home is because they were picking up Ali from the airport, and Victoria was in Melbourne – but they are devastated to have lost a pet dog and rabbit, a family photographs and other memories. “We had an acre and a third on top of the mountain, picturesque views,” he said. The road to Kinglake, Whittlesea Road, has been blocked off about 15km to 20km before the town after it was surrounded on all sides by fire on Saturday. Scores of Kinglake residents were parked on the side of the road, blocked from returning on Sunday afternoon to see if their homes survived.

    Mr Mitchell said there was no-one to fight the fire because fire crews were already fighting other fires across the state. He was forced to leave his home to shelter at the local fire station. “The whole of Kinglake is ablaze, I live a couple of out of town, I heard explosions, by the time I got to the road there were fires everywhere,” he said.

    Roads on low salt diet

    This story is from the BBC news site. Britain is running out of road salt apparently. Watching my neighbours attempting to use their large expensive vehicles on a sheet pan of ice would have been amusing were it not quite so dangerous. For once an SUV might be appropriate in London. If only they knew how to use the four wheel drive. Shouting helps, I believe.

    The gritting salt keeping Britain’s roads clear of snow and ice is running out amid a warning from the AA that some roads are becoming “death traps”.
    Many councils in England and Wales are having to ration supplies and have stopped using salt on minor roads.

    The AA wants the government to lead a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

    The Highways Agency, which grits all motorways and some A-roads, said it was doing what it could to assist councils struggling to keep roads gritted.

    The head of its National Traffic Control Centre, Steve Crosthwaite, said: “We’ve already written to all local authorities, saying we will take any requests and have a look at them in each merit.

    Running on empty

    “Obviously that has to be compared to what our local situation’s like, to make sure that we’ve got sufficient [salt] to keep the motorways and major trunk roads running. But if we have got surplus we will help out local authorities and indeed we have been doing that in some places.”

    The Highways Agency is putting 25,000 tonnes of salt on main roads a day, but producers can only deliver 30,000 tonnes a week.

    The AA said in a statement that several local authorities, who grit everything from the smaller A-roads, all B-roads and minor roads and streets, had either “run out of salt or have such low stock levels that very few roads are being gritted.”

    It said the worst areas appeared to be Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Derbyshire and parts of Wales.

    AA’s president Edmund King added: “The harshest winter for almost two decades has left some highway authorities running on empty as regards salt stocks. Many are desperate to re-stock their road salt but supply chain pressures from mine to highway depot looks like resulting in some areas running dry.

    “The government should step in to assess the situation and ensure that salt stocks are maintained in the places at immediate risk from snow and ice over the coming days.”

    He added: “This is a very serious situation, with some roads becoming death traps.”

    RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink added: “The number of roads that haven’t been gritted is a big concern and has a serious impact on driver safety.

    “With UK motorists giving the government £45 billion a year in taxes, they will feel pretty annoyed there isn’t enough cash to keep all the road networks moving.”

    Bristol City Council has admitted that grit supplies are starting to run low. It has just 200 tons left, having used 70 on Wednesday night.

    Warwickshire County Council has confirmed it is rationing gritting, while in Wiltshire only main routes are being gritted.There, smaller roads have become extremely icy in patches and some have been blocked by jack-knifed lorries or double-deckers stuck in the road.

    Gloucestershire County Council said it had halved its salting operation to preserve stocks as it tries to hunt around for alternative supplies.

    In Surrey, sand is being used to treat secondary roads and pavements to conserve supplies of salt for main roads. The county council said sand was a “highly effective way of providing traction” and would be used on pavements next to main roads, in town centres and around some secondary schools.

    Unprecedented demand

    Transport secretary Geoff Hoon said: “We are taking action across the country to ensure that in those areas where salt is in short supply we are getting round to those areas to make sure it’s available.

    “We cannot expect to keep every side road right across the country open given the very serious weather conditions we have faced over the last few days.

    “Clearly, if the weather continues to be difficult as it has been in the past few days then we are putting down on to the roads far more salt than can physically be produced by the suppliers.”

    He added that it was also “perfectly possible” that the country could have more snow ploughs at its disposal.

    “But we would all then have to consider the cost of that – do we want to maintain large numbers of snow ploughs in storage for an event that occurs only every 18 years?”The deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, Richard Kemp, said there had been an unprecedented demand on gritting salt because of the severity of the weather.

    He told the BBC News channel: “Basically, we have a storage capacity. You can’t just dump the grit on a piece of waste space.

    “It all has to be under cover, and we’re going well beyond the worst contingency plans of local government. We plan for normal, we plan for abnormal, what we can’t plan for is the exceptional that we’re getting at the moment.”

    Britain’s biggest salt supplier, Cheshire-based Salt Union, said staff were working round the clock but still could not meet demand.

    Low-grade

    The firm said: “We have been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week since the beginning of January and are extracting 30,000 tonnes per week but the unexpected and unusual weather means that, even working at this level, demand is outstripping supply.”

    The biggest supplier in the West Midlands, DA Baldwin and Son in Wolverhampton, has completely run out of supplies, while a Teesside mine, Cleveland Potash in Saltburn, is importing 40,000 tonnes of salt from a sister company in Spain.

    The British Salt depot in Middlewich, Cheshire, has 100,000 tonnes of low-grade salt available, a stockpile that has accumulated over the last 15 years as a by-product in the manufacture of table salt.

    A queue of 200 lorries was forming on Thursday to collect much-needed supplies.

    This surgeon will nip off your love handles and use them to power his vehicle

    I heard about this just before Christmas Eve and thought it was a joke, then found the story on Forbes.com – about the US surgeon (Mr Bittner) who used the fat he sucked from patients to power his vehicle – and his girlfriend’s SUV too. The writer has tagged his story “biofuels.” Only in America.

    Liposuctioning unwanted blubber out of pampered Los Angelenos may not seem like a dream job, but it has its perks. Free fuel is one of them. For a time, Beverly Hills doctor Craig Alan Bittner turned the fat he removed from patients into biodiesel that fueled his Ford SUV and his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator. Love handles can power a car? Frighteningly, yes. Fat – whether animal or vegetable – contains triglycerides that can be extracted and turned into diesel. Poultry companies such as Tyson are looking into powering their trucks on chicken schmaltz, and biofuel start-ups such as Nova Biosource are mixing beef tallow and pig lard with more palatable sources such as soybean oil. Mike Shook of Agri Process Innovations, a builder of biodiesel plants, says this year’s batch of U.S. biodiesel was likely more than half animal-derived since the price of soybeans soared.A gallon of grease will get you about a gallon of fuel, and drivers can get about the same amount of mileage from fat fuel as they do from regular diesel, according to Jenna Higgins of the National Biodiesel Board. Animal fats need to undergo an additional step to get rid of free fatty acids not present in vegetable oils, but otherwise, there’s no difference, she says.Greenies like the fact that waste, such as coffee grounds and french-fry grease, can be turned into power. “The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel–and I have more fat than I can use,” Bittner wrote on lipodiesel.com. “Not only do they get to lose their love handles or chubby belly but they get to take part in saving the Earth.” Bittner’s lipodiesel Web site is no longer online.Using fat to fuel cars might be environmentally friendly, but it’s definitely illegal in California to use human medical waste to power vehicles, and Bittner is being investigated by the state’s public health department.

    What a cough looks like.

    The New York Times ran a story today about what a cough actually looks like. As everyone I know has one at the moment….I thought you should take a look. And there’s interesting stuff about Schlieren photography, which I had never heard of before…

    The image, published online Oct. 9 by The New England Journal of Medicine, was created by schlieren photography, which “takes an invisible phenomenon and turns it into a visible picture,” said the engineering professor, Gary Settles, who is the director of the university’s gas dynamics laboratory.

    Schlieren is German for “streaks”; in this case it refers to regions of different densities in a gas or a liquid, which can be photographed as shadows using a special technique.

    “In my lab we use this technique a lot,” Dr. Settles said. “Often it’s used for other things, like in supersonic wind tunnels, to show shock waves around high-speed aircraft.”

    The process involves a small, bright light source, precisely placed lenses, a curved mirror, a razor blade that blocks part of the light beam and other tools that make it possible to see and photograph disturbances in the air. In the world of gas dynamics, a cough is merely “a turbulent jet of air with density changes.” Though coughs spread tuberculosis, SARS, influenza and other diseases, surprisingly little is known about them. “We don’t have a good understanding of the air flow,” Dr. Settles said.

    To map a cough, he teamed up with Dr. Julian Tang, a virus expert from Singapore. A healthy student provided the cough. The expelled air, traveling at 18 miles per hour, mixed with cooler surrounding air and produced “temperature differences that bend light rays by different amounts,” Dr. Settles said.

    He went on: “The next thing is, you get a couple of people in front of the mirror talking, or one coughs on another, and you see how the air flow moves, how people infect one another. Or you look at how coughing can spread airborne infection in a hospital. This is really a suggestion for how we might study all that. The techniques used in wind tunnels can be used to study human diseases.”

    Other schlieren images show the churning air and shock waves that emanate from a pistol’s firing; an Airedale sniffing a small flower; and the unseen, shimmering world around a candle burning in a breeze.

    The final photograph, in a full-scale mock-up of an aircraft cabin, captures in microseconds the flash of an explosion under a mannequin in an airplane seat and the propagation of shock waves into the cabin. The blast was a re-creation of a terrorist’s attempt in 1994 to bring down a Philippine Airlines flight with a nitroglycerin bomb. The plane did not crash, but the explosion did kill the passenger seated over the bomb. The simulation used a less intense explosion than the actual bombing.

    “The simulation helps to understand how the energy of an onboard blast reverberates around the cabin,” Dr. Settles said, “and it is also useful to check the results of computer blast simulations.”

    Don’t shake hands with a Northerner.

    The further north you go in England, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands. And if you’re using the London Tube (underground railway) it’s an even bigger pile of sh*t than you ever thought. This story by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that one in four commuters have faecal bacteria on their hands. So the North-South divide is perhaps more fundamental than we realised.  And I speak as a Northerner. Are my hands clean? Does a bear go to church? Does the Pope……..

    The further north you go, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands, especially if you are a man, according to a preliminary study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

    But women living in the South and Wales have little to feel smug about. In London, they are three times as likely as their men folk to have dirty hands, and in Cardiff, twice as likely. The men of London registered the most impressive score among all those surveyed, with a mere 6% found to have faecal bugs on their hands. Overall more than one on four commuters have bacteria which come from faeces on their hands.

    The Dirty Hands Study was conducted in order to provide a snapshot of the nation’s hand hygiene habits, as part of the world’s first Global Handwashing Day today. Commuters’ hands were swabbed at bus stops outside five train stations around the UK (Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Euston and Cardiff).

    The results indicated that commuters in Newcastle were up to three times more likely than those in London to have faecal bacteria on their hands (44% compared to 13%) while those in Birmingham and Cardiff were roughly equal in the hand hygiene stakes (23% and 24% respectively). Commuters in Liverpool also registered a high score for faecal bacteria, with a contamination rate of 34%.

    In Newcastle and Liverpool, men were more likely than women to show contamination (53% of men compared to 30% of women in Newcastle, and 36% of men compared to 31% of women in Liverpool), although in the other three centres, the women’s hands were dirtier. Almost twice as many women than men in Cardiff were found to have contamination (29% compared to 15 %) while in Euston, they were more than three times likelier than the men to have faecal bacteria on their hands (the men here registered an impressive 6%, compared to a rate of 21% in the women). In Birmingham, the rate for women was slightly higher than the men (26% compared to 21%).

    The bacteria that were found are all from the gut, and do not necessarily always cause disease, although they do indicate that hands have not been washed properly.

    Dr Val Curtis, Director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, comments: ‘We were flabbergasted by the finding that so many people had faecal bugs on their hands. The figures were far higher than we had anticipated, and suggest that there is a real problem with people washing their hands in the UK. If any of these people had been suffering from a diarrhoeal disease, the potential for it to be passed around would be greatly increased by their failure to wash their hands after going to the toilet’.

    For more information, or to interview the investigators, please contact Gemma Howe in the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Press Office on 0207 927 2802 or gemma.howe@lshtm.ac.uk

    Notes to Editors:

    Global Handwashing Day was initiated by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (www.globalhandwashing.org), which is dedicated to promoting handwashing with soap to reduce diarrhoea in developing countries and implement large-scale handwashing interventions by combining the expertise and resources of the soap industry with the facilities and resources of governments. Global Handwashing Day activities are being implemented in more than forty countries and focus on raising awareness among policymakers and the public about the role handwashing plays in public health.

    For more information about Global Handwashing Day, please go to:
    www.globalhandwashingday.org. All materials on the website are available to be downloaded, or can be used in publication.

    How the charity Apopo uses trained rats to detect and clear mines.

    I read about this on the internet today then found that the Guardian had reported on it – and included an astonishing and slightly disturbing video – click here to see it. The article is from Apopo’s own website.

    To speed up the process of demining, mine detection rats are used to directly indicate the positions of buried landmines. On average, it takes a rat less than half an hour to search a 100m2 box.

    The rat is guided by a search string, which is connected between its two trainers. The rat moves systematically up and down the search string, processing lane by lane through the suspected box. Both trainers take position at opposite sides of the box in the safe lane, fixing the search string to the lower leg. When a rat reaches the end of the box, the operators make a lateral step, and the rat moves into the next lane. A box or lane system provides the safe access lanes for the trainers. APOPO is using 5 by 20 meter boxes, which means that the rat has to search 40 lanes of half a meter to clear one box.

    The rat indicates the position of a landmine by scratching the surface at the spot. Being lightweight, they do not set off the explosive devices. In a training situation, the trainer clicks upon a correct indication by the rat and the animal will moves to the trainer to get its reward. A second person, the observer, takes notes on the behavior and performance of the rat while working.
    Typically, one to three rats are used consecutively to search an area. The number of rats to be used depends on the operational scenario and the combination with other search techniques. Quality control behind other detectors or a confirmation search behind a mechanical clearance will require less animals compared to primary detection.
    After the rat has been fully trained on the training fields in Tanzania, a series of blind tests is carried out to assess its performance. If the animal meets the desired requirements, it will be selected for de-mining operations. As with dogs, the rats are re-calibrated on the specific mines found in the demining operations, before being deployed.

    Heath Ledger was not alone. Self-medication deaths have risen by over 3,000 percent in recent years

    I found this story published by UCSD – San Diego, University of California – with the story written by Paul Mueller – the first thorough study looking at what happens when we, the general public, are left to monitor our own medications. The answer is simple, thanks to a variety of causes including (and I’m not saying this is what happened with Heath Ledger because there is no evidence) accidental combinations with street drugs or alcohol – which happens a lot with ordinary people apparently – stands to reason really.

    Asking patients to monitor their own medications can be fatal, as exemplified by the recent death of actor Heath Ledger. In the first large-scale study of home medication consumption, sociologists at the University of California, San Diego have found a 3,196 percent increase in fatal domestic medication errors involving alcohol and/or street drugs.

    Their study examines nearly 50 million U.S. death certificates from 1983 to 2004, and focuses on a subset of 200,000 deaths from medication errors. The study appears in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, an official journal of the American Medical Association.

    “The decades-long shift in the location of medication consumption from clinical to domestic settings,” the authors say, “is linked to a dramatic increase in fatal medication errors.”

    “Increasingly,” says principal author David P. Phillips, professor of sociology at UC San Diego, “people take their medications at home, away from hospitals and clinics. But most studies of fatal medication errors have focused on those clinical settings. We wanted to know three things: how many of these fatal errors happen at home; how many involve alcohol and/or street drugs; and are these numbers going up?”

    Phillips and his co-authors Gwendolyn E.C. Barker and Megan M. Eguchi, all at UC San Diego, examined trends in four types of fatal medication errors. They note that the increase in fatal errors varies by astonishing amounts based on where the errors occur and the particular combinations of drugs.

    Type 1 errors – deaths at home from combining medications with alcohol and/or street drugs – skyrocketed by 3,196 percent.

    In sharp contrast, type 4 errors – non-domestic fatal errors not involving alcohol or street drugs – show the smallest increase, just 5 percent.

    The intermediate types of errors increased by intermediate amounts. Type 2 errors – domestic medication fatalities not involving alcohol or street drugs – increased by 564 percent. Type 3 errors – non-domestic medication fatalities involving alcohol and/or street drugs – increased by 555 percent.

    “Thus,” the sociologists say, “domestic fatal medication errors, combined with alcohol and/or street drugs, have become an increasingly important health problem.”

    In addition to possible changes in policy and clinical practice, Phillips says, “it also seems advisable to expand research on medication errors. Much of this research has focused on elderly patients and clinical settings. The present findings suggest that more research should be devoted to middle-aged patients and domestic settings.”

    The study was supported in part by a grant from the Marian E. Smith Foundation.

    Ledger, the actor, was cast as the Joker in the current hit movie “The Dark Knight,” shortly before dying, on January 22, 2008, from an accidental prescription-drug overdose at age 28.

    A PDF of the paper is available here

    The voices in my head made me do it…

    I read about this first in Wired, but the original story is from New Scientist. The Wired article suggests that this device might be used to beam subliminal advertising messages directly into your brain. The voices in my head made me buy it…..The picture is by uberpup

    A US company claims it is ready to build a microwave ray gun able to beam sounds directly into people’s heads.

    The device – dubbed MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio) – exploits the microwave audio effect, in which short microwave pulses rapidly heat tissue, causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears. A series of pulses can be transmitted to produce recognisable sounds.

    The device is aimed for military or crowd-control applications, but may have other uses.

    Lev Sadovnik of the Sierra Nevada Corporation in the US is working on the system, having started work on a US navy research contract. The navy’s report states that the effect was shown to be effective.

    MEDUSA involves a microwave auditory effect “loud” enough to cause discomfort or even incapacitation. Sadovnik says that normal audio safety limits do not apply since the sound does not enter through the eardrums.

    “The repel effect is a combination of loudness and the irritation factor,” he says. “You can’t block it out.”

    Sadovnik says the device will work thanks to a new reconfigurable antenna developed by colleague Vladimir Manasson. It steers the beam electronically, making it possible to flip from a broad to a narrow beam, or aim at multiple targets simultaneously.

    Sadovnik says the technology could have non-military applications. Birds seem to be highly sensitive to microwave audio, he says, so it might be used to scare away unwanted flocks.

    Sadovnik has also experimented with transmitting microwave audio to people with outer ear problems that impair their normal hearing.

    James Lin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois in Chicago says that MEDUSA is feasible in principle.

    He has carried out his own work on the technique, and was even approached by the music industry about using microwave audio to enhance sound systems, he told New Scientist.

    “But is it going to be possible at the power levels necessary?” he asks. Previous microwave audio tests involved very “quiet” sounds that were hard to hear, a high-power system would mean much more powerful – and potentially hazardous – shockwaves.

    “I would worry about what other health effects it is having,” says Lin. “You might see neural damage.”

    Sierra Nevada says that a demonstration version could be built in a year, with a transportable system following within 18 months. They are currently seeking funding for the work from the US Department of Defence.

    Wired guy David Hambling says

    Dr. Sadovnik also makes the intriguing suggestion that, instead of being used at high power to create an intolerable noise, it might be used at low power to produce a whisper that was too quiet to perceive consciously but might be able to subconsciously influence someone. The directional beam could be used for targeted messages, such as in-store promotions. Sadovnik even suggests subliminal advertising, beaming information that is not consciously heard (a notion also spotted on the US Army’s voice-to-skull page). While the effectiveness of subliminal persuasion is dubious, I can see there might be some organizations interested in this capability. And if that doesn’t work, you could always point the thing at birds. They seem to be highly sensitive to microwave audio, so it might be used to scare flocks away from wind farms — or shoo pigeons from city streets.

    Branded.

    I found this story about adverts tattooed onto people’s bodies often in conspicuous places on a blog called divine caroline in which she cynically and ironically (too harsh for me to laugh out loud out, though) details other ways in which you can make money with your body parts and fluids which are – shall we say – a bit off the beaten track. After a little more reading I found a whole host of these tattooed ads. Look at it. Wonder. But Don’t do it.

    What was that? Oh, yes, ten grand for the forehead job. US dollars, not pounds.

    Technorati Profile

    Travellers turn to revellers in one easy move.

    Liverpool Street station this Saturday night – not rush hour, but a whole evening of boozy behaviour as a horde of people “celebrate” the last night on which drinking in public on the London travel system is legally allowed. It all got a bit out of hand apparently – especially round the Circle line (the event was called last Round on the Circle Line (geddit?) – various members of London Transport staff were assaulted – as this article in the Independent tells us.

    For thousands, it was the chance to be part of a Facebook-inspired “flash mob” – a spontaneous group of partygoers enjoying the last night of legal drinking on the London Underground. But for sober Tube travellers, Saturday night’s journey was the stuff of nightmares.

    Police arrested 17 people for a range of public order offences and closed six Underground stations, with several trains taken out of service because of vandalism. The Circle line was suspended for a time.

    Four train drivers and three other London Underground staff were assaulted, with another 50 further staff verbally abused or spat at. A police vehicle had its tyres slashed, two officers were assaulted and another was injured. Organisers had called on attendees at the “Last Round on the Circle line” – a celebration of the final night before Boris Johnson’s ban on carrying or drinking from open containers of alcohol came into force – to follow in the good natured footsteps of other flash mobs.

    But as the Tube carriages filled and broken glass from discarded bottles covered the floors, what began as a good natured knees-up was marred by fighting, vomiting and vandalism. Liverpool Street station was closed for several hours because of overcrowding.

    As the lead train made its way through the City and on towards west London, the atmosphere was boisterous but friendly, with three carriages full of people dancing on the seats and singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. At Victoria station, a bemused, elderly, American couple hesitated to board the train before passengers grabbed them by the arms and pulled them on, pouring each of them a large brandy.

    However, as the train progressed on its 22-stop circuit, some of the crowd began ripping maps and posters off the walls. With some drinkers pouring beer into their mouths through funnels, vomiting soon became common. One man dressed as a Star Wars character urinated between the doors to the adjoining carriage, on to the electrified tracks below, cheered by others.

    At Notting Hill, shortly before 10pm, passengers broke the doors on one carriage, putting the train out of service. The Circle line was suspended soon afterwards. Elsewhere, Euston, Euston Square, Aldgate, Gloucester Road and Baker Street stations were also closed.

    Desmond Fitzgerald, 48, a photographer from Croydon, south London, said: “At first the atmosphere was happy but anarchic. Then a fight broke out between about five people but because we were so tightly packed it soon spread through the carriage.”

    Supt Ellie Bird, of British Transport Police, said: “Saturday night’s event showed the negative impact of alcohol and we took action to arrest those whose behaviour was disorderly and criminal.”

    RMT, the rail union, blamed the chaos on Mr Johnson and said his plans – a manifesto commitment – were “imposed with haste without consultations”.

    Is it OK to use brain-boosting drugs to enhance your academic performance?

    I first heard this story on BBC Radio 4 when they were discussing the use of cognitive brain enhancers to boost academic performance. It appears to first come from an article in Nature magazine by Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir – but I found a version published here.Basically, you’re about to take an exam – would you like an espresso with a double shot of methylphenidate…..or just soft brown sugar?

    Would you boost your own brain power? Cognitive-enhancing drugs are increasingly being used in non-medical situations such as shift work and by active military personnel. This is where the debate about their use begins
    in earnest. How should the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs be regulated in healthy people? Should their use always be monitored by healthcare professionals? If offered by a friend or colleague, would you, the reader, take a pill that would help you to better focus, plan or remember? Under what conditions would you feel comfortable taking a pill, and under what conditions would you decline? The answers to such questions hinge on many factors, including the exact drug being discussed, its short-term and long-term benefits and risks, and the purpose for which it is used. There are instances in which most people would agree that the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs should be prevented or at least regulated and monitored, such as by healthy children or in competitive settings (including entrance exams to university). There are also situations in which many would agree that the use of drugs to improve concentration or planning may be tolerated, if not encouraged, such as by air-traffic controllers, surgeons and nurses who work long shifts. One can even imagine situations where such enhancing-drug-taking would be recommended, such as for airport-security screeners, or by soldiers in active combat. But there are no straightforward answers and any fruitful debate must address each situation in turn.
    How would you react if you knew your
    colleagues — or your students — were
    taking cognitive enhancers?
    In academia, we know that a number of our scientific colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom already use modafinil to counteract the effects of jetlag, to enhance productivity or mental energy, or to deal with demanding and important intellectual challenges . Modafinil and other drugs are available online, but their non- prescription and long-term use has not been monitored in healthy individuals. For many, it seems that the immediate and tangible benefits of taking these drugs are more persuasive than concerns about legal status and adverse effects. There are clear trends suggesting that the use of stimulants such as methylphenidate on college campuses is on the rise, and is becoming more commonplace in ever younger students.
    Universities may have to decide whether to ban drug use altogether, or to tolerate it in some situations (whether to enable all-night study sessions or to boost alertness during lectures).
    The debate over cognitive-enhancing drugs must also consider the expected magnitude of the benefits and weigh them against the risks and side effects of each drug. Most readers would not consider that having a double shot
    of espresso or a soft drink containing caffeine would confer an unfair advantage at work.
    The use of caffeine to enhance concentration is commonplace, despite having side effects in at least some individuals
    Often overlooked in media reports on cognitive enhancers is the fact that many of the effects in healthy individuals are transient and small-to-moderate in size. Just as one would hardly propose that a strong cup of coffee could be the secret of academic achievement or faster career advancement, the use of such drugs does not necessarily entail cheating. Cognitive enhancers with small or no side effects but with moderate enhancing effects that alleviate forgetfulness or enable one to focus better on the task at hand during a tiring day at work would be unlikely to meet much objection.
    And does it matter if it is delivered as a pill or a drink? Would you, the reader, welcome a cognitive enhancer delivered in a beverage that is readily obtainable and affordable, and has a moderate yet noticeable effect
    on your concentration and alertness?……
    Technorati Profile
    Technorati

    I will be looking for more threads on this story in coming weeks.

    You have twenty seconds to comply.

    I heard Noel Sharkey – robotics and artificial intelligence expert, talking on BBC Radio 4 this morning prior to his address to the National Institute. He was speaking about robotic weapons which we are actually already using – not some futuristic Terminator style scenario. Interesting, but very, very scarey. Yahoo News ran the same feature today.

    robocop Increasingly autonomous, gun-totting robots developed for warfare could easily fall into the hands of terrorists and may one day unleash a robot arms race, a top expert on artificial intelligence told AFP.

    “They pose a threat to humanity,” said University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey ahead of a keynote address Wednesday before Britain’s Royal United Services Institute.

    (To watch the original movie, click on the picture – not suitable for young people, or those who don’t like to watch “intelligent” robots gunning innocent people down)

    Intelligent machines deployed on battlefields around the world — from mobile grenade launchers to rocket-firing drones — can already identify and lock onto targets without human help.

    There are more than 4,000 US military robots on the ground in Iraq, as well as unmanned aircraft that have clocked hundreds of thousands of flight hours.

    The first three armed combat robots fitted with large-caliber machine guns deployed to Iraq last summer, manufactured by US arms maker Foster-Miller, proved so successful that 80 more are on order, said Sharkey.

    But up to now, a human hand has always been required to push the button or pull the trigger.

    It we are not careful, he said, that could change.

    Military leaders “are quite clear that they want autonomous robots as soon as possible, because they are more cost-effective and give a risk-free war,” he said.

    Several countries, led by the United States, have already invested heavily in robot warriors developed for use on the battlefield.

    South Korea and Israel both deploy armed robot border guards, while China, India, Russia and Britain have all increased the use of military robots.

    Washington plans to spend four billion dollars by 2010 on unmanned technology systems, with total spending expected rise to 24 billion, according to the Department of Defense’s Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032, released in December.

    James Canton, an expert on technology innovation and CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, predicts that deployment within a decade of detachments that will include 150 soldiers and 2,000 robots.

    The use of such devices by terrorists should be a serious concern, said Sharkey.

    Captured robots would not be difficult to reverse engineer, and could easily replace suicide bombers as the weapon-of-choice. “I don’t know why that has not happened already,” he said.

    But even more worrisome, he continued, is the subtle progression from the semi-autonomous military robots deployed today to fully independent killing machines.

    “I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination terrifies me,” Sharkey said.

    Ronald Arkin of Georgia Institute of Technology, who has worked closely with the US military on robotics, agrees that the shift towards autonomy will be gradual.

    But he is not convinced that robots don’t have a place on the front line.

    “Robotics systems may have the potential to out-perform humans from a perspective of the laws of war and the rules of engagement,” he told a conference on technology in warfare at Stanford University last month.

    The sensors of intelligent machines, he argued, may ultimately be better equipped to understand an environment and to process information. “And there are no emotions that can cloud judgement, such as anger,” he added.

    Nor is there any inherent right to self-defence.

    For now, however, there remain several barriers to the creation and deployment of Terminator-like killing machines.

    Some are technical. Teaching a computer-driven machine — even an intelligent one — how to distinguish between civilians and combatants, or how to gauge a proportional response as mandated by the Geneva Conventions, is simply beyond the reach of artificial intelligence today.

    But even if technical barriers are overcome, the prospect of armies increasingly dependent on remotely-controlled or autonomous robots raises a host of ethical issues that have barely been addressed.

    Arkin points out that the US Department of Defense’s 230 billion dollar Future Combat Systems programme — the largest military contract in US history — provides for three classes of aerial and three land-based robotics systems.

    “But nowhere is there any consideration of the ethical implications of the weaponisation of these systems,” he said.

    For Sharkey, the best solution may be an outright ban on autonomous weapons systems. “We have to say where we want to draw the line and what we want to do — and then get an international agreement,” he said.

    Big and small brother are watching you.

    The civil rights group Liberty are in the news today with a statement about intrusion into people’s private lives brought about by the ready accessibility of cheap CCTV kits. Maplins the electronics retailer – see this 5 mm square beauty for £25 there – reports a 260% rise in sales of these kits last year. When I looked for more info, I found this good story on the subject written by Jay Rayner from the Observer . It’s over 12 months old but it hits the nail on the head better than today’s stories.

    I am walking through London Bridge Underground station when a public announcement brings me to a halt. It starts politely – ‘Ladies and gentlemen …’ – before lurching into something a New York shrink might well call passive-aggressive: ‘Please be aware that, for your safety, this station is monitored with closed-circuit television.’ You do not need to be a professor of linguistics to be intrigued by the circumlocutions of that one. There’s the stern tones of ‘please be aware’ chased by the motherliness of ‘for your safety’. Finally, there’s the blatant threat of the hardware. This was clearly two messages in one. What I was supposed to hear was: ‘This place is safe.’ What the criminals thronging around me were supposed to hear was: ‘Oi! Bad people: don’t even think of doing anything dodgy in our station because we are watching you.’

    And they are. I scan the ceiling and quickly find more than a dozen cameras, some obvious in their rectangular white housing with the tube logo on the outside, others disguised behind black domes. I should not be surprised to find them here. There are more than 6,000 CCTV cameras across London’s tube network, which transport bosses say will rise to 12,000 over the next five years. I step outside the station and look up at the ‘CCTV Zone’, that space six feet above our heads, between ground and first floor, where the cameras seem to grow like so much mould on year-old jam. Again they are everywhere: peering down at bank doorways and over cash machines; looking down the aisles of my local supermarket; tucked into the ceiling at the newsagent’s. There is a man near where I live who has one on the outside of his house.

    Again, I shouldn’t be surprised. Britain is CCTV nation. We have more of them than anywhere else in the world. How many more nobody can say. It has been claimed, time and again, that there are four million cameras in Britain and that we are each of us likely to be caught on them 300 times a day, though even the academic who came up with those numbers admits he doesn’t know for sure.

    Ask the Austrians whether they think CCTV is a good thing, and only 24 per cent of them will say yes. Ask the British the same question and 90 per cent will give the thumbs up. More than half of us are happy to have them in public toilets, as against just 1.5 per cent of the Austrians. Two-thirds of us want them on our street. We like to be watched. We want to be watched. Or at least you do. Me, I’m not at all happy about it. Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re not up to anything bad you shouldn’t have a problem with being on camera. ‘In terms of providing people both with security and a sense of security, this is a good investment,’ Lord Falconer has said, on behalf of the government.

    Surely, though, there are levels of naughtiness? Yes, if I’m mugging old ladies or car jacking, I should be in fear of the law. But what if this impeccably liberal Observer journalist wanted to sneak out and buy a copy of the Sun or Nuts magazine so I could look at pictures of girls in their pants without anyone knowing? Or slack off to KFC to load up on the Colonel’s fat-and-carb combo, as a little light relief from the prissy platefuls I have to swallow as a restaurant critic? These aren’t criminal acts, but they are things I might not wish anybody to know about. And yet I probably couldn’t get away with them today because somewhere there will be a camera watching me. I suddenly feel like my private space has shrunk and that the Great British Public has allowed it to happen. And I want to know why.

    Croydon might be able to offer some answers. at its peak, Croydon council operated a network of nearly 500 cameras, reputedly the largest single system in the country, though, as ever with CCTV, no one is entirely sure. ‘We don’t blow our own trumpet,’ says Norman Whalley, the council’s systems officer, ‘But yes, it’s pretty big.’ When he came here 13 years ago there were just 30 cameras, but he has built it up gradually over the past decade at a cost of £7m. Recently, National Car Parks took back the management of around 200 of those cameras, but Whalley still oversees 96 fixed and 145 so-called ‘pan, tilt and zoom’ cameras, which can be directed from the security control room at the council offices here in the centre of Croydon.

    He talks enthusiastically about the various systems used. Those that are close by broadcast on microwaves straight into the control room. Others come in on the equivalent of broadband. Some of the cameras are the council’s own. Others belong to Transport for London and are used for traffic monitoring, or enforcement of bus lanes, but they can all be watched here. The police have access to them, too. Next to us, Paul, who has worked here for 19 years and his colleague Vince, who has done it for three, flick between screens: traffic rumbling through the suburbs, or mothers pushing toddlers in buggies. Beside us is a wall of video tapes, six feet high and the same across. Whalley says they hold everything for 31 days.

    Nevertheless, is it really possible to catch everything that’s happening, sat in front of the monitors hour after hour? ‘You don’t focus on the same image all day,’ Paul says. ‘You’re flicking with your eyes all the time. After a while it becomes intuition. What draws your attention is someone’s walking pattern.’ Whalley agrees: ‘If a man is walking too close to a girl it might be a pickpocket,’ he says, and the others nod. ‘You notice things other people don’t,’ says Vince. ‘People just lead their lives going from A to B. They don’t see what happens in between.’

    They talk about the crimes they have seen and the way they can tell the police exactly what’s going on, if a fight breaks out on a Saturday night, so they know how many officers to send over. It helps them deploy resources. Paul isn’t there to interfere with what people are doing, he says. He’s looking after them. Sometimes in the early hours on a weekend he’ll see a group of young women, clearly drunk, on their way home. Often one will peel off to go home alone. ‘I stay with her,’ Paul says. ‘Following her on each camera as she passes by it, just making sure she’s OK.’

    Norman takes me to the new control room, and lets me operate a camera. These are powerful pieces of kit, as they should be at over £4,000 each. The pictures are in colour and are almost of broadcast quality. ‘Each camera has the ability to identify someone of 1.5m in height at a distance of 150m,’ he says, proudly. We use one to close in on the menu outside a cafe. The camera is more than 100m away from the sign but I can still tell that lasagne and chips costs £3.90. Now I pick up a woman walking down the street towards the lens. Simply because I can, I begin to follow her, using the joy stick to pan down.

    I don’t admit it to Norman, but there is something deeply intoxicating about being able to do this; to sit here so many miles away, moving a camera to watch in detail as someone goes oblivious about their day. It feels somehow as if I am not just controlling the camera, but controlling the woman, too. Norman rests his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘I think you should stop that.’ I shove the camera away from the woman so it looks back up the street. I think about Paul, looking out for those lone women on their way home, an electronic version of the angels in Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. And I wonder whether the problem is not with CCTV or the way it is used but with the way that I, with my tendency to paranoia, imagine it might be, which is a different thing entirely.

    And then I remember Sally Anne Bowman. Sally Anne, a promising model, was sexually assaulted and knifed to death last September, a short distance form her home in South Croydon. There was CCTV footage of her that evening: she was seen at Lloyds Bar in Croydon. She was seen leaving a club at about 1am. She was seen coming back into Croydon by taxi, where she was picked up by her ex-boyfriend who drove her home. All of this was captured on CCTV. After that, the pictures stopped. Sally Anne was killed on a quiet street where there were no cameras. Police are still hunting for her killer.

    Though the cameras failed to help in the case of Sally Anne, CCTV is still seen as a Very Good Thing and, to understand why, we have to go back 13 years to the murder of Jamie Bulger. ‘When the abduction happened and we got those incredibly grainy images of Bulger being led away,’ says Peter Fry of the CCTV User Group, ‘the cameras became a major player in a horrific event.’ For a week, those pictures came into our homes and we came to understand that, through these images, the police had been able to establish that the toddler’s abductors were children.

    Clive Norris, professor of sociology at Sheffield University, has undertaken detailed research into the use of CCTV in Britain. ‘A moral panic about rising crime rates and what could be done about it accompanied the Bulger case,’ he says. ‘But those pictures also held promise.’

    Up to that point, CCTV was rare in Britain. A few cameras were introduced in the Fifties to watch traffic and, by the early Nineties, a couple of local authorities, led by entrepreneurial local politicians, had introduced small schemes. Now, officials within the Crime Prevention Unit of the Home Office began looking at what CCTV could do for them. In 1994 a set of guidelines called CCTV Looking Out For You was published by Michael Howard’s Home Office. On the back cover it announced a city challenge competition, offering a fund of £2m for new CCTV projects which had to be matched with local money. ‘We were completely overwhelmed with applications,’ says Philip Edwards, a former Dixons executive who had been seconded to the Home Office and who co-wrote the guidelines. So there were more competitions and each one was over-subscribed. Between 1994 and 1997 £45m of government funds was pledged to CCTV, all of which had to be matched locally. Since then, New Labour has spent another £170m.

    ‘This is one of the reasons CCTV grew so strongly here as against in other European countries,’ says Norris. ‘It was centrally funded.’ The other reason was a complete lack of regulation. In places like Germany or Scandinavia a right to privacy is written into the constitution. Here, the only legislation that affected CCTV was a relaxation of the planning laws. Among other things the legislation was designed to make it easier to put up mobile-phone masts to help the networks spread. As a result, the CCTV cameras spread, too. ‘The planning laws also resulted in the death of town centres,’ says Norris. ‘And out-of-town shopping centres became the icon of the age.’ Town centres wanted to look as shiny and secure as the out-of-town shopping centres to attract the retailers back. A thrilling CCTV system seemed to be the best way to make that impression. It was Norris who, in 1998, came up with the estimates of how many cameras there then were in Britain – more than 4m – and how many times each of us might be caught on them – 300. ‘It’s interesting to see those numbers repeated in the media, because they can be described only as guestimates,’ he says.

    In the Nineties, before heading up the CCTV User Group, Peter Fry was director of operations for Hart District Council in Northamptonshire. ‘We had a lower-than-average crime rate but our local councillors were still very keen on having CCTV.’ The story was repeated across the country. It didn’t matter whether it actually did reduce crime – they wanted it anyway. In 1996, after Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children in Dunblane, Philip Edwards at the Home Office received countless requests for CCTV to be installed in schools. When he asked why, they said it would stop another Dunblane happening. ‘I told them it wouldn’t. All it would have done at Dunblane was let you watch it happen. CCTV doesn’t solve problems. It’s the people who catch criminals, not the cameras.’

    The statistics on crime bear this out. It is true that since 1995 overall crime rates have been dropping in the UK. But a major survey of 14 CCTV schemes published last year showed their impact on local crime rates was either negligible or that crime rates actually went up. At the same time fear of crime has also gone up. Meanwhile, clear-up rates – the number of crimes that the police solve – have gone down.

    Of course, only a fool would argue that CCTV can have no impact on crime. We all saw the images after the London bombings of 7 July. Rarely does a week go by without an aspect of some grisly outrage or other being picked up on cameras. As Norris puts it, ‘If you ask leading policemen whether they would rather have CCTV than not, they will always say yes.’

    All that aside, one thing is certain: we, its subjects, genuinely do like some of what those cameras pick up. In 2001 an enterprising video producer released Caught in the Act!, a compilation of people shagging in doorways, as recorded by CCTV cameras. It sold very nicely, thank you. Likewise TV shows full of footage of drivers doing stupid things on the roads get huge audiences and then came the phenomenon that is Big Brother. Indeed, CCTV may be one of the first pieces of technology to have directly influenced fashion: after all, what better way is there to hide your identity from the cameras than inside a hoodie?

    To see the future of CCTV we need to go to Spitalfields in east London, where the Shoreditch Trust, a local regeneration agency, is piloting a new initiative: CCTV for the masses. Instead of the images only being seen by the likes of Norman Whalley and his team, local residents will be able to watch them, too, on a broadband connection. For all its hip associations, the area is actually the second most deprived in London. The Shoreditch Trust, set up under the government’s New Deal for Communities programme, works with residents to improve everything from education and housing to opportunities for businesses.

    One of the problems is that, because of low incomes, few households have access to technology. Hence the Digital Bridge, a cheap broadband connection offering everything from video on demand to email to, yes, CCTV images of the local community. The hardware and all the services will cost around £3.50 a week.

    The cameras are part of a channel called Safe and Sound. In the pilot there will be 11 cameras. Eventually there will be up to 400 across the area. ‘The demand for this comes directly from the residents,’ says Dan Hodges of the Shoreditch Trust. ‘Crime is falling but fear of crime is rising and the moment we suggested we could do this the response was really positive. It surprised us.’ In the middle of the screen is a shot of a local high street. At the bottom are other images which the viewer can bring up. But here’s the thing: they will not be able to zoom in using the cameras. They will not be able to tilt and pan. They can only look at what they’re given and that’s not very much. ‘There have to be safeguards,’ Hodges says. ‘People won’t be able to watch each other’s homes. There are clear civil liberties issues involved.’

    Later, I go for a walk around the area with Michael Pyner, chief executive of the Shoreditch Trust. He wants me to understand what this patch of the city looks like; that it’s really not just warehouse apartments and design consultancies. ‘This is an opportunity for people to empower themselves,’ he says of the CCTV project. ‘We’ve had accusations that it’s Big Brother, but it’s not. It’s Little Brother. Everyone gets to look.’ Except that, because of the restrictions, it won’t actually help solve crime. ‘No, but it may help solve the fear of crime. Look, it may not work. In two years’ time people may still be scared. At which point we’ll say this wasn’t the solution.’ Now, though, local residents are very keen.

    Afterwards I return to Haberdasher Street, one of the roads which will be part of the scheme. It seems to me a CCTV camera is only a substitute for being able to stand in that location watching what’s going on for yourself. Thus, Christopher Isherwood style, I will be a camera. I want to see what is so intriguing about this street, what exactly will make it so damned watchable. I stand there for half an hour. It all seems pretty innocent.

    Then I realise there is something suspicious here: it is a large, dark man in a black jacket. He has a notebook in his hands and he is staring up and down the street. That man is me. Other than that Haberdasher Street is now empty. No people, let alone any crimes. It’s time to go home.

    CCTV nation: you’ve been framed

    February 2003
    Geoffrey Peck receives over £7,000 in compensation from his local council because they gave the media CCTV images of him taken on a night he wandered along Brentwood High Street, in a depressed state, and attempted suicide. The council wanted to publicise the value of CCTV. Mr Peck argued successfully that his privacy had been infringed.

    July 2004
    London nightclub Sound in Leicester Square loses its licence after cameras record footage of its own security guards assaulting clubbers. ‘The men were all licensed as door supervisors,’ says a police spokesman, ‘but clearly they were not doing what they should have’.

    April 2005
    A unnamed member of the Scottish parliament is caught on CCTV ‘with a male aide performing a sex act on him,’ according to the Scotsman. ‘He is not thought to be openly gay’.

    August 2005
    A man is convicted for stealing a £650 computer from a shop selling CCTV cameras. The robbery is picked up on the shop’s cameras. The shop’s owner reports a surge in business following the conviction.

    September 2005
    Two thieves are caught on CCTV digging up nine Leylandii trees in Leicestershire, a year after they were planted, to replace others stolen in an earlier theft.

    November 2005
    Wayne Rooney is caught at a club, allegedly kissing a woman who isn’t his girlfriend. The images end up in the Sun.

    March 2006
    A Sheffield man’s £50 fine for having oral sex in a bank foyer is quashed in the appeal court. His lawyer argued ‘there had been no act which outraged public decency since there had been no public to outrage’. The only witness was a CCTV camera.

    Thank you Jay, nicely written.

    Cliff top hero falls to health and safety issue

    A volunteer coastguard who in my view is a hero and was nominated for an award for risking his own life whilst rescuing a schoolgirl from a cliff has resigned after a subsequent row over health and safety.The original story is here on gazettelive

    The Skinningrove Coastguard Cliff Rescue Team was called out, along with the emergency services in January 2007, after three girls became trapped by rising tides.

    Faye Harrison, 13, attempted to climb up the cliffs, but when a ledge gave way she was left hanging on to tufts of grass by her fingertips for 45 minutes and was about to fall 200ft (60m) at Salburn-on-Sea, Teesside

    Mr Waugh was one of three team members who arrived at the scene on foot, as their vehicle was trapped behind locked gates a field away.

    They left safety equipment in the vehicle because they wanted to reach the scene as quickly as possible.

    The 44-year-old from Skelton Green climbed down and held on to her for 30 minutes until she could be winched to safety.

    Faye said “I think he is a big hero. I think I would have died if he hadn’t been there.

    “I was thinking about my funeral. I thought no-one was going to come.”

    He said: “I understand I broke a rule, but I felt it was a matter of having to because she only had minutes to live. She said that herself.

    “When you see a little frightened face looking up at you, all you want to do is help.

    “There’s no way I’m going to stand back and watch a 13-year-old girl fall off a cliff.”

    Faye later nominated him for a life saver award as her “guardian angel”.

    However, Mr Waugh, who has been with the MCA for 13 years, was later told that the organisation had carried out an internal investigation into the team’s handling of the incident.

    The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was not looking for dead heroes.

    He said: “I’m leaving now due to the hassle I’ve had over the last nine months. In fact, I’ve been depressed over it.

    “Yes, fair enough, I broke a rule, but when I started my training a long time ago, I was told, one time, you’ll work outside the box. And in this case I had to help her, she was ready to fall.

    He added: “I’m very, very sad. It’s a shame I’m having to go.”

    ‘Minimise risk’

    The MCA said in a statement that it had not received an official notification from him, but was very grateful for his past activities and wished him well in the future.

    The statement said: “Our responsibility is to maintain the health and welfare of those who we sometimes ask to go out in difficult and challenging conditions to effect rescues.

    “As such we ask our volunteers to risk assess the situations they and the injured or distressed person find themselves in, and to ensure that whatever action they take does not put anyone in further danger.

    “We are proud of our safety record and we will seek to maintain the safety of our volunteers, and minimise risk in what can be inherently difficult situations.”