Category Archives: law

45 million fake £1 coins in circulation – and how to spot a fake pound coin.

This great feature came from The Bolton News. They show you how to spot a fake £ coin after the BBC announced yesterday there were as many as an eye-popping 45 million of them in circulation


WITH about 45 million fake pound coins in circulation and a suspected counterfeiter on the loose in Bolton, we have put together a handy guide on how to spot a forgery.

It comes as chancellor George Osborne announces that a new £1 coin, designed to help reduce counterfeiting, will be introduced in 2017.

Spotting a fake £coin

Mr Osborne revealed plans to introduce the new coin — billed by the Royal Mint as “the most secure coin in the world”— in his budget statement to the House of Commons.

In the meantime, check the pound coins in your own wallet and look for these tell-tale signs of a fake:

  • The date and design on the reverse do not match (the reverse design is changed each year).
  • The lettering or inscription on the edge of the coin does not correspond to the right year.
  • The milled edge is poorly defined and the lettering is uneven in depth, spacing or is poorly formed.
  • The obverse and reverse designs are not as sharp or well defined.
  • Where the coin should have been in circulation for some time, the colouring appears more shiny and golden and the coin shows no sign of age.
  • The colour of the coin does not match genuine coins.
  • The orientation of the obverse and reverse designs is not in line.

Panorama: Did Fifa officials and Jack Warner protest too much over bribes? |

I had to say I was surprised that the BBC panorama team had chosen this exact moment to publish their findings about corruption within the FIFA organisation. We are a mere 48 hours away from the 2018 World Cup decision. They could have revealed the story last month, or in one month’s time. Enough to make you think that the whole business has been engineered to thwart England’s chances of hosting the World Cup in 2018 — and if not then what other motive from intelligent people like the BBC panorama editorial team?

Whistleblowing may be all the rage at the moment, but this Panorama exposé was dividing opinion long before it aired on Monday night.

Did the programme actually present new evidence, or was it just a facetious re-hash of existing information timed to damage England’s chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup?

In the opening moments, Jeremy Vine admitted that allegations of bribery within the organisation were nothing new, but he promised that the fearless Andrew Jennings had damning new evidence against Fifa.

And he had indeed obtained a document that apparently listed almost two hundred secret payments made in the 1990s by a sports marketing company called International Sports and Leisure (ISL) to Fifa.

One of the Fifa officials named was Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz – but as Jennings conceded, he has already been exposed as having accepted two previous bribes, so this was not exactly brand new information.

Fellow Fifa bosses Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira also came under fire, but it was Vice-President Jack Warner who was presented as the real villain, accused of involvement in the re-sale of World Cup tickets on the black market.

Jennings ran around the world, haranguing the accused and getting nothing but vitriol in return. Warner even called Jennings ‘garbage’ and expressed his desire to spit on the journalist in a stunning display of over-defensiveness.

However, since Jennings mentioned that he had already uncovered Warner’s underhand activity following the 2006 World Cup, once again the allegations hardly constitute new information.

Compelling evidence it may have been, but the revelations simply weren’t revelatory enough to warrant Jennings’ smugness at having televised them.

So, will Fifa prove its annoyance at this English journalist and deny his countrymen victory in three days’ time?

The truth is, the significance of this Panorama programme may not yet be apparent.

via Panorama: Did Fifa officials and Jack Warner protest too much over bribes? |

Lesbian parents produce above-average children

Children of lesbian parents do better than their peers according to New Scientist magazine in this interesting article written by Jim Giles.

The children of lesbian parents outscore their peers on academic and social tests, according to results from the longest-running study of same-sex families.

The researchers behind the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study say the results should change attitudes to adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples, which is prohibited in some parts of the US.

The finding is based on 78 children who were all born to lesbian couples who used donor insemination to become pregnant and were interviewed and tested at age 17.

The new tests have left no doubt as to the success of these couples as parents, says Nanette Gartrell at the University of California, San Francisco, who has worked on the study since it began in 1986.

Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.

A previous study of same-sex parenting, based on long-term health data, also found no difference in the health of children in either group.

“This confirms what most developmental scientists have suspected,” says Stephen Russell, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Kids growing up with same-sex parents fare just as well as other kids.”

The results should be considered by those who oppose the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, adds Gartrell. A handful of states, including Florida, prohibit same-sex or unmarried couples from adopting, although many of the state laws are being challenged in the courts.

“It’s a great tragedy in this country,” says Gartrell. “There are so many children who are available for adoption but cannot be adopted by same-sex couples.”

Over 100,000 children are awaiting adoption in the US, says the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy organisation based in New York. The institute estimates that just 4 per cent of all adopted children – around 65,000 – live with gay or lesbian parents, despite research suggesting that same-sex couples may be more willing than heterosexual couples to adopt.

Journal reference: Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3153

Veil blocked.

Hmmm. The French resolves weakens on the burkah issue according to the Guardian. Instead of forcing other people to wear French couture in public the French have relented a little….

France will today take the first step towards barring Muslim women from wearing the full veil when using public services, but will stop short of calling for an outright ban after critics argued that such a move would be socially divisive and hard to enforce.

A cross-party committee of MPs was set up last year to explore the controversial issue in France of burkas and niqabs. The committee will recommend to ­parliament that Muslim women should be allowed to continue covering their faces in the street.

Its final report will, however, recommend that anyone covering their face be barred from entering public sector property, including hospitals and schools, or using public transport.

“The full veil is the visible part of this black tide of fundamentalism,” said Communist MP André Gerin, the committee’s president, in an interview last week. Eric Raoult, a rightwing MP heavily involved in the report, said yesterday that the imposition of a full ban – if it were to occur – would have to wait. “We have tried to do something that is coherent and enforceable,” he said, adding that a ban that was unenforceable would “make everyone look ridiculous”.

Under the proposals, a woman who fails to remove her veil inside when using any realm of the statethose public servicin such cases would not face a fine for breaking the law, but would be refused access to the service. She would not, for instance, be allowed to collect her child benefit payments or take the bus.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has repeatedly said that the full veil “is not welcome” on French soil, is believed to favour this partial legislation, rather than more radical suggestions from recalcitrant members of his rightwing UMP party.

The president has been warned that an outright ban on the full veil could be found to be unconstitutional and almost impossible to put into practice. Sarkozy, who has stressed the need to find a solution in which “no one feels stigmatised”, is also keen to play down speculation that his policies are doing more to aggravate social divisions than to bridge them.

Steps to ban the burka, which have been opposed by the Muslim Council of France and other religious groups, have coincided with the French government’s “big debate” on national identity. Critics of the government, from the left and right, have accused Sarkozy of encouraging dangerous rhetoric which has seen the country’s 5 million Muslims become the object of increasing critiques.

Tomorrow’s cross-party report – whose contents were leaked to the French press last week – looks likely to recommend the ­passing of a non-binding parliamentary resolution setting out the country’s “symbolic” opposition to the full veil.

After that, steps should be taken to vote into law a series of “separate, but multiple bans” which would make clear the garment’s practical incompatibility with French values of sexual equality and freedom, the report will say.

“We have to make life impossible for them in order to curb the phenomenon,” one MP told the French daily Le Figaro. However, opponents have said that banning the full veil either outright or partially would serve merely to reinforce the isolation of women already partially alienated from mainstream society.

The 32-member panel, which has been meeting and questioning experts on the issue for the past six months, was set up by Sarkozy last summer after he declared that the full veil was “a sign of subservience [and] debasement”.

Gerin has not made any secret of his desire to see a ban on what he has denounced as a “walking prison”. His feelings have tapped into growing concern in France over an item of clothing worn by a small minority of Muslim women.

According to police figures, no more than 2,000 women – most of them young and a quarter of them converts – wear a face-covering veil. But in a country which places a high value on laïcité – secularism – and which in 2004 banned headscarves in schools, it is unsurprising that such an overt display of religion has raised eyebrows. The major political parties, leading feminists and even one prominent imam have made clear their dislike for the full veil, which they view as an affront to women’s rights and a sign of an emerging strand of fundamentalist Islam.

Despite wide-ranging opposition to the garment and polls showing that most French citizens favour a ban, opinions have differed on how to go about discouraging women from covering their faces.

The Socialist party, while condemning the full veil, refused to support a ban.

The UMP’s Jean-François Copé, a politician with half an eye on the 2012 presidential elections, grabbed the headlines with a proposal to outlaw the full veil anywhere on French streets and to fine wearers €750 each – a suggestion rejected by the committee.

Now just where did I bury the body? I know, I’ll put it on the sat nav.

I read this story on the BBC News service this afternoon. It’s a bit grim – but hmmmmm.

A man accused of strangling a woman recorded the rough area of where he buried her body in the memory of his car’s sat nav system, a jury was told.

Lukasz Reszpondek, 30, had been seeing Ermatati “Tati” Rodgers, 41, Mold Crown Court heard.

Mr Reszpondek, who denies murder, said she died of natural causes and he had buried her near Wrexham in a panic.

But the prosecution told the jury that “quite simply” innocent people did not bury bodies. The case continues.

Mr Reszpondek, a Polish national and married man, has admitted preventing Ms Rodgers’s “lawful and decent burial”.

At the opening of the trial, the jury was told he had buried her but tried to dig her body up again as police closed in on him.

But he could not recover the body and went to the police.

Ms Rodgers was missing for 14 months before her body was eventually found by police in March 2009.

Prosecuting barrister Michael Chambers QC said Mr Reszpondek killed Ms Rodgers, who was originally from Indonesia, on the day he returned early from Poland by car without his family on 4 January, 2008.

He said he had lost his temper and strangled her “against a background of the emotional and conflicting demands of the eternal triangle of a wife and another woman”.

The defendant watched the police looking for the body from the top of a nearby slag heap, hiding in bushes, wearing camouflage clothing and using binoculars

He then set about disposing of the body and might well have got away with it if he had not made certain fundamental errors, the prosecutor claimed.

Quite simply, innocent people do not bury bodies, Mr Chambers told the jury.

Mr Reszpondek and Ms Rodgers met in the summer of 2004 when they both worked together at a dairy at Marchwiel near Wrexham.

They formed a close relationship which continued after the defendant’s wife came over from Poland to join him in Wrexham.

At Christmas 2007 the defendant – a father of two – returned to Poland. His family travelled by plane but he went separately by car.

He returned to Wrexham on 4 January, 2008 and took Ms Rodgers to his house in Rhostyllen after a 900-mile car journey. It was there that he killed her, said the prosecutor.

In police interview, Mr Reszpondek claimed he had gone upstairs to take a shower and had come back down to discover her collapsed and dead.

He claimed that he had buried the body because he had panicked, the court heard.

The following day he bought a spade, a large suitcase and other items which he used to help him bury the body, with his credit card which police were able to trace.

He then recorded the approximate area of the burial site in the memory of his car satellite navigation system and named it “Tt”, the court was told.

Police surveillance found he kept returning to that area and when they began digging in the surrounding fields looking for her body, “the defendant made the error of taking the bait”, said Mr Chambers.

“The defendant watched the police looking for the body from the top of a nearby slag heap, hiding in bushes, wearing camouflage clothing and using binoculars,” he said.

“What he did not know was that the police were watching him, watching them.”

By Sunday afternoon, 22 March, the police digging was getting close to the actual field which contained the body, Mr Chambers told the jury.

“The defendant must have thought that on the Monday morning they were likely to move into the actual field and find the body,” he said.

“So on that Sunday night, he tried to move it.

“However it was more difficult that he anticipated so after about three hours he had to stop.

“It was only at that stage that he went to Wrexham police station.

“He gave the account that she had suddenly collapsed and died, he had panicked, and buried her.”

Home Office pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers conducted a post-mortem examination and he said that there was no sign of any natural causes which would have explained her sudden death.

But he did find bruising and a fractured thyroid cartilage consistent with strangulation.

Mr Chambers told the jury that police had found deleted “glamour photographs” of Mrs Rodgers on his digital camera which included her in under-wear and semi naked poses.

That, he said, indicated the nature of their relationship.

He said that it could be inferred that the defendant lost his temper and strangled her in the “context of the emotional and conflicting demands of the eternal triangular relationship of wife and another woman.”

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.

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.”

You get more than kicks on route 36.

Thanks again to Richard Dean for this story from the Guardian – it’s a bar in Bolivia where they serve you a drink and….yes a toot of your choice. Hmmmmmm. I have seen something similar in Thailand but of course it wasn’t a toot on offer. Coming soon to a British city of your choice? To be honest, despite my determinedly liberal outlook part of me hopes not.

Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram.” The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. “We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM,” says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months. Behind the bar, he goes back to casually slicing straws into neat 8cm lengths.

La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,900m above sea level – an altitude where even two flights of stairs makes your heart race like a hummingbird – is home to the most celebrated bar in all of South America: Route 36, the world’s first cocaine lounge. I sit back to take in the scene – table after table of chatty young backpackers, many of whom are taking a gap year, awaiting a new job or simply escaping the northern hemisphere for the delights of South America, which, for many it seems, include cocaine.

“Since they are an after-hours club and serve cocaine the neighbours tend to complain pretty fast. So they move all the time. Maybe if they are lucky they last three months in the same place, but often it is just two weeks. Route 36 is a movable feast,” says a Bolivian newspaper editor who asked not to be named. “One day it is in one zone and then it pops up in another area. Certainly it is the most famous among the backpacker crowd but there are several other places that are offering cocaine as well. Because Route 36 changes addresses so much there is a lot of confusion about how many cocaine bars are out there.”

This new trend of ‘cocaine tourism’ can be put down to a combination of Bolivia’s notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic “anything goes” attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current. In early July, the largest ever cocaine factory was discovered in eastern Bolivia. Capable of producing 100kg a day, the lab was run by Colombians and provided the latest evidence that Bolivia is now home to sophisticated cocaine laboratories. The lab was the fourth large facility to be found in Bolivia this year.

Nowhere in South America is cocaine production growing faster than Bolivia. Reports by the UN show that in Colombia, production dropped 28% last year [2008], while in Bolivia it rose nearly 10%. “There is more interest and and investment in purifying coca paste here and exporting it, rather than sending it to Colombia for purification,” Oscar Nina, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official, said recently.

As the US and Colombian military put pressure on drug traffickers, operations are migrating into nearby countries, especially Bolivia, where the turf for illegal operations is as fertile as the valleys where the locals have grown coca for the last five centuries. Stopping cocaine tourism in La Paz could be as difficult as keeping Americans from drinking during prohibition.

Down in Route 36’s main room, the scene is chilled. A half-hearted disco ball sporadically bathes the room in red and green light. Each table has candles and a stash of bottled water, plus whatever mixers one cares to add to your drink. In the corner, a pile of board games includes chess, backgammon, and Jenga, the game in which a steady hand pulls out bricks from a tower of blocks until the whole pile collapses. If it weren’t for the heads bobbing down like birds scouring the seashore for food, you would never know that huge amounts of cocaine were being casually ingested. There’s a lot of mingling from table to table. Everyone here has stories – the latest adventures from Ecuador, the best bus to Peru – and even the most wired “why-won’t-he-shut-up?” traveller is given a generous welcome before being sent back to his table, where he can repeat those stories another 10 times.

“Everyone knows about this place,” says Jonas, a backpacker who arrived two days earlier. “My mate came to Bolivia last year and he said, ‘Route 36 is the best lounge in all of South America.'” It is certainly the most bizarre and brazen. Though cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, Route 36 is fast becoming an essential stop for thousands of tourists who come here every year and happily sample the country’s cocaine, which is famous for both its availability, price (around €15 a gram) and purity.

The scene here is peaceful; there seems no fear that anyone will be caught. (“The owner has paid off all the right people,” one waiter says with a smile.) A female backpacker from Newcastle slips on to one of the four couches arranged around the table. “We’ve brought some [cocaine] virgins here. This will be their first time, so we are just rubbing it on their lips. But they are lucky – you could never get such pure coke back home. In London you pay 50 quid for a gram that’s been cut so much, all it does it make your lips numb and sends you to the bathroom.”

Travellers’ blogs also give the place a good writeup. “I travelled the world for nine months, and for sure La Paz was the craziest city and Route 36 the best bar of my entire trip,” writes one, while another says, “Like to burn the candle at both ends? Well, here you can bloody well torch the whole candle.”

And torch your brain as well. Cocaine, as everybody knows, is highly addictive, destructive and easy to abuse. The rationale for outlawing cocaine was to protect public health – but instead the now 40-year experiment in prohibition has done little to protect the lives of millions of users worldwide who will snort whatever white substance is placed before them. The billions in annual profits have corrupted governments worldwide, and La Paz, without intending it, seems to have mutated into the front line of this failed drug war.

A tale of two brothers.

This story is about a pubic school educated terrorist, found in today´s Telegraph

The picturesque village of Frenchay on the edge of Bristol with its expansive green and imposing Grade II listed church, backing onto open countryside should have been the perfect setting for Andrew Ibrahim to grow up. His father, an eminent consultant pathologist at the nearby hospital and lecturer at the university, had bought an imposing Victorian stone house at the end of a private lane and could afford to send his two sons to the 300-year-old Colston’s private school, housed in a former palace of the Bishop of Bristol in nearby Stapelton.

For one son it was a recipe that led to success in athletics, school prefecture, Oxford University, bar school and a career with a US law firm in the City of London.

For the other it led to a series of obsessions with drugs, computer games, Islam and terrorism, and eventually to the dock of Winchester Crown Court.

“The two brothers could not be more different,” a senior police officer involved with the case said. “It’s a perfect example of nature versus nurture.”

Their father Nassif, 61, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, is a collector of antique pottery, stamps, coins and, his son says, Nazi memorabilia.

His wife, Victoria, known as Vicky, originally from West Yorkshire, is a church-going Christian who took the children on coach holidays and works as an administrator at Bristol University Medical School.

Andrew was always in the shadow of his older brother Peter, six years his senior, and reacted by constantly seeking attention.

Overweight but far from stupid himself, he played the class fool so successfully that he was expelled from a series of private schools, becoming every middle class parent’s nightmare.

He smoked cannabis at the age of 12, became hooked on “role playing” computer games, and used his father’s computer to look up material on Osama bin Laden and explosives alongside his Latin homework.

“I didn’t like football,” he said. “It’s difficult to know how to put it, it made me feel cooler. I didn’t have friends or a social life and it made me feel better about myself. I felt not such a sad loser.”

His parents moved him from Colston’s junior school to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, an even older public school in the centre of Bristol which boasts the Queen as its patron, where they hoped he would escape from the shadow of his brother.

Instead he hung around with older pupils and started taking cannabis to be “different from the other kids of that sort of age,” he said.

He bragged about using drugs to his fellow pupils, leading to his suspension on January 24 2002, the day before his 13th birthday.

Returning to Colston’s, Ibrahim’s weight and lack of sporting ability helped other pupils label him a “loser” and his increasingly unruly behaviour led the school to ask him to leave in December 2002, shortly before his 14th birthday.

His next stop was Downside, a Catholic boarding school near Bath founded in 1606 that counts the journalist Auberon Waugh and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte among its old boys.

Bullied and laughed at, he again turned to cannabis and experimented with ecstasy, sneaking out at night and inviting local boys back to his dormitory, leading to his suspension.

Ibrahim joined Bristol Cathedral School in September 2004 – then the bottom of the heap of Bristol private schools and now a government academy – but the school helped him pass eight GCSEs in June 2005, including English language at grade A, five at grade B and one each at grades C and D.

But he had once again alienated fellow pupils and by the end of the year he was experimenting with drugs again, this time magic mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine.

Ibrahim had also become addicted to on-line computer games involving “role playing” such as Diablo II, Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid.

During the school holidays he would play from 7am until midnight but after leaving school, the addiction led to him dropping out of City of Bristol College where he was supposed to be studying for A-levels.

His father became increasingly exasperated with his behaviour and asked Vicky to move out with their son when Ibrahim came home drunk from a party with his eyebrow pierced.

Mother and son moved into a flat nearby but Ibrahim walked out when his mother found ecstasy and ketamine tablets in the flat.

Despite his increasing addiction, his parents stood by him, splitting the rent with him on a flat in Kingswood, a suburb in North East Bristol, with his mother doing a weekly food shop for him.

At the flat, Ibrahim had videos of women’s feet he had taken on his mobile phone at college without their knowledge, which he admitted were part of a “sexual interest” and he had searched for pictures of Kiera Knightley’s feet on the internet.

He had become hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, using the drugs several times a day and stealing to fund his habit.

He was reprimanded by police for possessing heroin in May 2006 at the age of 17 and warned for shoplifting on two occasions in September and October 2006.

By the end of 2006, Ibrahim had lost what little he had built up around him – his girlfriend of 18 months, teetotal and clear-headed, eventually walked away when he started injecting heroin in front of her.

“In the end she didn’t want it any more. I was quite upset, I was heartbroken,” he said.

He was still holding down a job at Lloyds Bank but turned to a new addiction  steroids, attending the Empire Gym in the run down area of St Paul’s in Bristol where he took up body building and started injecting Deca-Durabolin and Sustanon 250.

Alongside his various addictions, Ibrahim had five tattoos done during 2005 and 2006, including “Hardcore” across his stomach and “HTID” on his right bicep to represent “Hardcore Till I Die” after a style of rave music.

He also had a variety of hairstyles and colours along with a series of facial and intimate piercings.

On his Myspace internet account in April 2006, Ibrahim was pictured with spiky red hair and described himself as “Andy” and his religion as “Muslim.”

By early 2007, Ibrahim was forced to move into the St George’s House hostel in central Bristol because he was not paying the rent.

He sold the Big Issue magazine for the homeless on the street, using the money to fund his £60-a-day drug habit.

When his father came across him outside the Broadmead Shopping Centre he started meeting him once a week to buy him food and take him for a meal.

Already struggling with their son’s various obsessions, his turn to Islam came as yet another blow to Ibrahim’s parents – his mother’s reaction was simply: “Don’t start that now.”

Ibrahim said he traveled to Birmingham in the summer of 2006 with a friend of his father’s and converted at the Green Lanes mosque around the time of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings.

He decided to study to be a Muslim scholar in the Yemen but instead settled on a seven year course in Birmingham, which his mother agreed to pay for.

By December he had grown a beard and was wearing white robes, sandals and an Islamic headscarf.

But he soon dropped his interest and returned to drugs until, returning to City of Bristol College to study for AS and A-levels in chemistry, biology, history, English language, and science of public understanding, he started praying again with fellow students at a room at the college.

Ibrahim said, he “wasn’t so much interested in Islam as the politics” particularly Palestine and Iraq and he used a college computer to download videos of US troops being killed in Iraq, along with speeches by the jailed cleric Abu Hamza.

But his most serious obsession became that of the suicide bomber, looking at the videos made by the July 7 bombers and Asif Hanif, Britain’s first suicide bomber who died in Israel.

“I did spend a lot of time looking at [internet sites]. It was an obsessive interest, I accept that,” he said.

He was eventually given a council flat in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol where he began building bombs.

Ibrahim had been playing the computer game Assassin’s Creed and claimed he was just “role playing” the part of a terrorist.

As he struggled to come off drugs, he said he decided to make a suicide vest to “occupy my time,” using a video he found on the internet for instructions.

“I wanted it to look good because I was going to film it like I did with the explosives and put it on YouTube,” he added.

That’s what I call a Movie Premiere.

Hooray! A first ever inclusion for the Sydney Morning Herald – who give us the news today that Saudi Arabia is showing its first public movie in the cinemas for many a year. Thanks to Richard Dean for drawing my attention to this story.

Riyadh goes to the movies – for the first time
June 8, 2009 – 6:27AM

A few hundred Saudis braved a small band of religious hardliners to take part in an historic event on Saturday night: the first public showing of a commercial film in decades in the Saudi capital.

With bags of popcorn and soft drinks in their laps, the men-only crowd of more than 300 in Riyadh’s huge King Fahd Cultural Centre cheered, whistled and clapped when the first scenes of the Saudi-made Menahi hit the screen and the film’s score erupted in surround sound.

“This is the beginning of change,” said university student Ahmed al-Mokayed, attending with his brother and cousin.

Businessman Abdul Mohsen al-Mani, who brought his two sons to the film, was ecstatic, after being denied public cinema for some three decades.

“This is the first step in a peaceful revolution,” he said.

“I don’t want my two sons to grow up in the dark … I told them that in the future they will talk about today like a joke,” he added.

It was long in coming — and no one is certain that it will launch a thriving public cinema industry, with strident opposition from clerics who regard film, music and other entertainment as violating Islamic teachings.

Police at the venue had to fend off a small band of conservative Muslims who warned that films were bringing disasters on the country, citing a recent series of minor earthquakes in western Saudi Arabia.

“Allah is punishing us for the cinema,” one said. “It is against Islam.”

“Menahi”, a comedy about a Saudi country bumpkin getting lost in the big city, was shown in December to huge crowds in the relatively free-wheeling Red Sea city of Jeddah.

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.

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.

The battle for the legality of gay marriage in the US takes a fresh turn in Iowa

Time magazine reported in a very even-handed manner on a key legal battle in the state of Iowa this weekend with regard to the battles of the Republican-led far right pressure groups against the ongoing march of gay marriage.

When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that gays can marry in the Hawkeye State, gay marriage became not just a coastal thing. Deep in the rural heartland, a straightforward opinion — written by a justice appointed by a conservative Republican governor — methodically eviscerates one argument after another that for decades has been used to keep marriage the sole preserve of straight couples. “This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?” Justice Mark S. Cady asked.

The answer? It can’t.

“I would say the mood is one of mourning right now,” Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, told the Associated Press, even as he promised to lobby legislators hard to begin an amendment process. But that process, in Iowa, is a lengthy one — and unlike in California, the constitution can’t be amended by a simple vote of the people. Both houses of the legislature must approve it, and most legal experts agree that the process could be put before voters no sooner than 2012. (See TIME’s video: “Iowa: Gay Marriage in the Heartland”)

The decision came at a pregnant moment in what has become one of the defining legal battles of our time. It offers hope to supporters of gay marriage just when they were feeling lowest. Last year’s ruling by the California Supreme Court issued a broad new justification for gay marriage — the Republican-dominated court declared forcefully that California may not discriminate against gays in any way, giving the ruling more legal force and sweep than any decision of its kind ever has. Thousands of couples flocked to clerk’s offices to be wed. Months later, in November, however, that jubilation turned sour, when Californians voted to change the constitution to forbid gay marriage. Soon after, some gay activists from across the country were asking for a time out, arguing that the marriage activists had pushed too fast and too hard — and that the backlash in more conservative states would undo any progress enjoyed in places like San Francisco or Boston. “Marriage was never our issue,” one activist from south Florida told TIME last November. “It was thrust upon us by the other side, and they’ve done a very good job of beating us up over it.”

But after Friday those calculations look timid. Now three states require full marriage for gays, and Vermont is on the brink of becoming the first state where gay marriage would be made legal by lawmakers, rather than the courts — a significant milestone. The Vermont House passed a law allowing gay marriage on Friday, and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Monday. Gov. Jim Douglas has promised to veto it, but an override fight will quickly follow, probably by next week.

There might even be good news in the Iowa decision for gays in California, where activists are fearfully awaiting the justices’ ruling on Prop 8, which is likely to be issued in coming weeks. The Iowa decision cited the California case eight times and borrowed its reasoning again and again. That kind of homage from a sister court — and one that, like California’s, has a long history of breakthrough civil rights decisions — may strengthen the resolve of the majority in the Golden State and turn aside the narrow vote of the people.

But for now, the power of the Iowa decision can be measured on its own terms. It did not speak with the historic sweep of the California court, perhaps because the justices there know Iowa’s court is less often seen as a harbinger of legal trends than California’s. And in one important aspect the decision stopped short of following California’s lead. In California, Chief Justice Ronald George declared that from now on, any laws that discriminate against gays in California are presumptively unconstitutional and will be subject to “strict-scrutiny” analysis by the courts — a burden that is reserved in every other state for cases involving discrimination against religion or immutable characteristics such as race. By extending it to homosexuals, the California court made clear in a way that no other state court has that gays are deserving of fundamental protections.

The Iowa decision’s precedent is less forceful. (Read the full decision) Iowa decided, instead, that the statute banning gay marriage fails a subordinate level of constitutional analysis, what courts call “intermediate scrutiny,” an approach usually used with cases involving discrimination on the basis of gender, for instance. Because the statute could not even meet that standard, Cady ruled that there was no need to decide whether a higher level of scrutiny should be required in the future.

But in other ways, the Iowa decision was every bit a match for the California ruling. It took up each argument against gay marriage and dispatched them with a minimum of bombast. An exception was the vivid language employed by the court to cement its position that gays have indeed been discriminated against as a class — a traditional test for whether a group deserves the protection of heightened constitutional scrutiny. “The County does not, and could not in good faith, dispute the historical reality that gay and lesbian people as a group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The long and painful history of discrimination against gay and lesbian persons is epitomized by the criminalization of homosexual conduct in many parts of this country until very recently. School-yard bullies have psychologically ground children with apparently gay or lesbian sexual orientation in the cruel mortar and pestle of school-yard prejudice.”

But the true power of the decision lies not in its equal protection analysis, though it is rooted there. Instead, what sets this decision apart is the frank way in which it raises the issue of religious objections to gay marriage. As the Supreme Court did in Lawrence v. Texas, its seminal 2003 ruling striking down sodomy laws, the Iowa court says that mere moral opprobrium or deeply held values are not enough to warrant legal sanctions or the denial of legal rights. The court then subtly raises the issue of religious opposition to gay marriage, even though the legal briefs by the other side did not.

“Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief,” the court said, before adding that religious views are nonetheless mixed on the subject. “As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”

Religious opponents to gay marriage were not convinced. “We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Iowa, strongly disagree with the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court which strikes down Iowa’s law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman,” the bishops said in a statement issued Friday. “This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children.

English, the spokesman for the conservative family group, said he’s already begun lobbying for an amendment campaign to outlaw gay marriage again. “The first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote,” he said.

But until that comes to pass, observers on both sides considering the opinion will likely find the strongest language in the decision to be its final four words: “AFFIRMED. All justices concur.”

Home Secretary no longer looks at home.

As if the provision of porno movies for her husband being claimed on government expenses were not enough – this afternoon it turns out the Jaqui Smith claims £23K on her second home allowance – nearly the max amount allowable. Surely some coincidence. I predict she’s out of a job by the end of the week. What a great photo of her in the Guardian, who also provide this story written by Allegra Stratton and Deborah Summers . Having Gordon Brown rallying behind you must make you feel a whole lot better….

Jaqui Smith claimed £22,948 in 2007-08 – almost the maximum permitted amount – from the allowance to help MPs run a second home, it was revealed today.

The revelation came as Gordon Brown appealed for Smith to be allowed to get on with her work as home secretary after she apologised for claiming the cost of pornographic films on her parliamentary expenses.

As she left her London residence this morning, the beleaguered minister declined to respond to reporters’ questions about the films, watched by her husband, Richard Timney, at their family home in Redditch, Worcestershire, while she was away.

Amid mounting speculation that the incident could cost Smith her government post, the Conservative leader, David Cameron, described the latest revelations as “deeply embarrassing” for the home secretary, but stopped short of calling for her resignation.

Brown offered his support, insisting that she was doing “a great job” and had “done the right thing” by paying the money back.

Before the revelation about pornographic movies, Smith was already under investigation for using the additional costs allowance (ACA) to meet costs associated with her family home in her constituency. When she is working in London she stays with her sister.

Smith’s arrangements are controversial because she treats her sister’s home as her main home for expenses purposes, allowing her to claim for the property in Redditch, on the grounds that she spends most of her time working in London.

Smith has accepted that the claim for two pornographic films was wrong and she has agreed to pay the money back.

But she has not accepted that there is anything wrong with her decision to use the ACA to claim money in relation to her home in Redditch. She has strongly insisted that this arrangement is within the rules.

Today the full extent of her ACA claim for 2007-08 was made public. She claimed £22,948, close to the maximum of £23,083.

Smith’s total expense claim, including travel, office and staffing costs, was £145,331, according to the chart produced by the parliamentary authorities showing figures for all MPs for 2007-08.

Earlier the prime minister was asked at a press conference in 10 Downing Street whether he still had confidence in Smith, who is under investigation for claiming second home expenses on her family house in her Redditch constituency while living as a lodger with her sister in London.

Brown said: “The home secretary is doing a great job and I do not think this issue should be allowed to detract from everything she is doing to ensure we protect the public and keep our neighbourhoods safe.

“She has done the right thing by taking steps to rectify the mistake that was made as soon as she became aware of it.”

Brown added: “This is very much a personal matter for Jacqui. She has made her apology; her husband has made clear that he has apologised.

“The best thing is that Jacqui Smith gets on with her work, which is what she wants to do.”

Timney, who is employed by the home secretary in her constituency office, submitted a claim for a £67 Virgin Media bill last June for a television in the couple’s family home in Redditch. The bill included two adult films, at a cost of £5 each, as well as two viewings of the heist movie Ocean’s 13 and one of Surf’s Up, a children’s film about a rockhopper penguin.

Last month Smith was revealed to have claimed taxpayer-funded allowances for her family home while living with her sister in London. She is due to explain that to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, John Lyon.

The new row brought an immediate climbdown from the Smiths. Within hours of the story being published in a Sunday newspaper, Timney appeared outside the family home to give a brief statement.

Barely looking up, he said he had submitted the claim for the television package “inadvertently” alongside a legitimate claim for his wife’s internet connection. Timney said: “I am really sorry for any embarrassment I have caused Jacqui. I can fully understand why people might be angry and offended by this. Quite obviously, a claim should never have been made for these films, and as you know that money is being paid back.”

Smith, who employs her husband on a salary of £40,000 a year to run her office, was said to be “mortified” after she was forced to apologise for the claim. A close friend of Smith’s said Timney would be “sleeping on the sofa for a while. To say she’s angry with her husband is an understatement.”

Although parliamentary rules on expenses allow MPs to claim the cost of their television package alongside their internet connection, the friend said Smith planned to repay the entire amount. The committee on standards in public life has announced it will look at the system of expense claims by MPs, but it is unlikely to report until after the general election.

Cameron today called on Brown to speed up the review of the whole system of MPs’ pay and allowances announced last week, saying that there needed to be “complete transparency” in relation to claims by MPs.

Speaking on GMTV, the Conservative leader said he believed Smith had “questions to answer” about her reported claim of at least £116,000 in second home allowances on her Redditch family home.

But asked if she should resign, he said: “I do not think this individual thing is the issue.

“I think she has got some questions to answer about the second home issue. It does seem to me pretty incredible to claim that the home where her family is, that is not her main home.

“I think this goes to a deeper problem which is the second home allowance for MPs. The prime minister has ordered a review but he has sort of kicked it into the long grass.

“The review doesn’t start until September, it is not going to report until after the next election. That is hopeless. We have got to get on with it … Have a quick review, right now, sort it out and come up with an answer.”

However, backbench Conservatives cast doubt on Smith’s ability to continue as home secretary. David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said: “I do think on this circumstance the sympathy for her will be even less than it otherwise would have been because she is not that good at her job.”

Apologising for the wrongful claim, Smith said: “I am sorry that, in claiming for my internet connection, I mistakenly claimed for a television package alongside it. As soon as the matter was brought to my attention, I took immediate steps to contact the relevant parliamentary authorities and rectify the situation. All money claimed for the television package will be paid back in full.”

There are rumours in Whitehall about how details of the Smiths’ television bill emerged. It follows a run of recent expenses scandals involving Labour MPs, suggesting that stories are being leaked from the parliamentary office for expenses claims.

YouTube prevented from broadcasting key music videos

I heard comments about YouTube yesterday on BBC radio 4 which surprised me. YouTube has overtaken Yahoo and MSN as the search engine of choice. Mainly because people are looking not just for music videos, but for things like DIY videos, and recipes, which makes sense – especially when you consider that the “how to” market has grown incredibly rapidly on the internet. However, this Performing Rights development looks quite serious with regard to music’s future on YouTube….as reported in the Guardian today

YouTube in the UK is to be stripped of its most popular music videos after the site failed to agree a new licensing deal with the Performing Rights Society for Music, the trade body that collects music royalties.YouTube said today that after the expiry of its former deal, PRS had proposed new payment terms that would be financially prohibitive for the site and would require YouTube to pay out more than it makes from the ads next to each video. It also said that PRS would not agree to identify which artists and songs are covered by which licence, something essential for YouTube’s content ID system to identify and reimburse rights holders for each song that is viewed.”We value the creativity of musicians and song writers and have worked hard with rights-holders to generate significant online revenue for them and to respect copyright,” said parent company Google in a statement.

“But PRS is now asking us to pay many, many times more for our licence than before. The costs are simply prohibitive for us – under PRS’s proposed terms we would lose significant amounts of money with every playback.”

Google said it is still negotiating with PRS but in the meantime, premium videos from artists on EMI, Universal, Warner and Sony BMG and some indie labels have started to disappear for UK viewers and will be systematically removed over the next few days. YouTube’s has separate deals with the major labels who control the sound recording rights but PRS controls licencing for the music and lyrics, without which live or pre-recorded songs cannot be performed.

Patrick Walker, YouTube’s director of video partnerships, said he couldn’t give a figure for the proportion of site traffic generated by music videos, but that music videos are some of the most popular content on the site and generate a lot of activity including remixes and on music blogs.

“This is about long-term viability,” he said. “If the next Arctic Monkeys is going to surface we need to get this to work. It’s in the interest of the music industry – we’re not just doing this for us. The record industry needs a new business models so it’s kind of a shame that this has happened. But sometimes you have to step back to step forwards.”

PRS said today that Google’s announcement was made without any consultation and in the middle of negotiations, and that it is “outraged on behalf of consumers and songwriters that Google has chosen to close down access to music videos on YouTube in the UK”.

But it also appeared to contradict Google’s claim that PRS had asked much more money for the new licence, saying the tech giant wants “to pay significantly less than at present to the writers of the music on which their service relies”.

“We were shocked and disappointed to receive a call late this afternoon informing us of Google’s drastic action,” said PRS chief executive Steve Porter. “… which we believe only punishes British consumers and the songwriters whose interests we protect and represent.”

Clearly pre-empting the fury of YouTube users, PRS emphasised that it did not ask YouTube to remove the videos and “urges them to reconsider their decision as a matter of urgency”.

But even if PRS is completely squeaky clean in this episode, it comes soon after the closing days of the Pirate Bay trial and for web-savvy consumers it will confirm the gulf between the traditional music industry and the technology they love.

It also follows some bad press for PRS over licence chasing; PRS has allegedly been pestering small businesses demanding licences if, for example, they have more than two staff and listen to the radio.

Cast of thousands.

This plaster cast was made entirely of cocaine.

I have to say I was amused at the audacity of this smuggler who made a “plaster cast” out of cocaine in order to smuggle it through Spanish customs. This story is from Yahoo news today. His broken leg was genuine however – which makes me think he’d broken it in pursuit of his goal….

Spanish police said on Friday they had arrested a 66-year-old Chilean at Barcelona airport after discovering his broken leg was supported by a “cast” made out of cocaine.
The man, who had hobbled off a flight from Santiago, was carrying more of the drug in fake beer cans and two hollowed-out stools.
“The man had a fractured leg and the ‘plaster cast’ that was immobilising it was entirely made from cocaine,” a statement said.

He “displayed an open fracture of the tibia and the fibula, and has been transferred to a clinic for an operation.

“Investigators are examining the possibility that these injuries were brought about voluntarily… to facilitate trafficking through security checks,” the statement said.

Spanish police are particularly wary about so-called “hot flights” from South America and had their suspicions about this man, which proved to be well-founded.

In total, the Chilean had 4.85 kilogrammes (10.7 pounds) of cocaine stuffed in the cans, the stools and forming his would-be “cast”, police said.

Spain is one of Europe’s main points of transit for cocaine from South America, mostly from its former colony Colombia, the world’s top producer of the drug.

The country has become the biggest consumer of cocaine in continental Europe, and is one of the world’s top users of the drug, according to a 2008 United Nations report.

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.


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

number of cannabis plants found.

number of years growers face in jail if caught.

£21.6 million
potential yield of plants seized.

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

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.”

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 – 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 “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.

Teen gang rape. Part of everyday life in Hackney.

Recently in our house we have been watching the HBO series The Wire. When I say watching I should say gripped or even addicted given the subject matter. Ever since I saw creator David Simon talking about his idea on the Culture Show and I decided to give the series a chance, I have admired the way it gets to grips with the dirty side of everyday reality. I have even thought how distant it was from our comfortable lives here in the UK. Then a story like this comes along which I read in Saturday’s Guardian. I felt sad. I felt this is life, like in the Wire, with the place names changed.

A judge ordered yesterday that seven teenagers who gang raped a 14-year-old girl in a brutal “punishment” attack should be identified in a bid to deter other young men from similar crimes.

Judge Wendy Joseph QC warned the defendants, some of whom were as young as 13 at the time of the incident, that they faced jail sentences for the attack in Hackney, east London, as the court heard that the victim been driven to attempt to kill herself.

She was singled out because she had insulted the leader of a local gang, the Kingzhold Boys, the prosecutor, Nicola Merrick, said. She was dragged by her hair between a succession of tower block stairwells and landings in an ordeal that lasted around an hour and a half.

She was taunted, hit, threatened and orally raped by an ever-growing crowd of teenagers summoned to the scenes by mobile phone. By the time they reached the final scene, 15 boys were present. Some of the attacks were filmed on phones and shown to others later that night.

Merrick asked for the order which usually bans the identification of juvenile defendants to be lifted. “Those young people who become members of gangs, should know the outcome of this trial, that they will not mete out punishments as a gang with impunity and not ultimately retain their anonymity.” The judge lifted the order after hearing the crown argue that the community and public should know what had happened. “Naming and shaming is something this procedure is not designed for,” Joseph said. “That’s different from deterring others.”

She left the order in place in relation to two others who were also convicted of rape because they were part of the gang, but did not actually assault the girl.

The seven who can be named are: O’Neil Denton, 16, the leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16, and Jayden Ryan, 16, who were all convicted of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment, and Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; and Cleon Brown, 15, all convicted of rape and false imprisonment. Denton, Ibraham and Raymond had all pleaded guilty.

The two who cannot be named are now aged 14 and 16. They will all be sentenced on Monday.

Reading from a victim impact statement, Merrick told the court the victim said her life had been turned upside down. She now lived in a police safe house out of the area and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The girl said in the statement: “I feel like a prisoner, having to look over my shoulder everywhere I go. I used to find the unexpected fun. Now the unexpected is frightening and not exciting like it used to be.”

She also blamed herself for not doing more to resist the attacks by screaming and fighting back, but was frozen with fear, the court heard.

The court heard the victim had told the girlfriend of Denton, who was known by the nickname Hitman, she thought he was a “tramp”. After the girlfriend passed this on to him, he threatened the victim on the phone and in the street, scaring her so much she went to stay with her grandmother out of the area.

But on the day she returned, April 30 2007, Denton was waiting with Ibrahim, Raymond and Ryan and the rape began. At one point, she spotted someone she had known for years: a friend. But as she turned to Cleon Brown he looked her in the eye and said: “I can’t help you now, I’m with my boys.” Soon afterwards he too raped her.

After the boys were convicted, Detective Constable Jonathan Burks, who led the investigation, said the boys were trying to impress older men. “You have the elder gang members who run the gang and the younger ones who will try to emulate the elders, and do what they’re told,” he said.

On the rundown estates, where everyone’s business is public, threats and incidents of intimidation were rife in the run-up to the trial. One witness has been moved out of the area and others have had panic buttons connected to police installed. Several people who saw parts of the attack refused to give evidence, put off by the fear of reprisals. Before the boys were charged, the victim was intimidated verbally and via texts and MSN messages, police said.

The family says a car someone thought belonged to her stepfather was smashed up and the gang’s name was penned above the lift entrance where she was last attacked.

In the end it was another boy who had come to see what all the fuss was about who stepped in to end her torment. Even then the other boys tried to hold him back, but he managed to grab her clothes and phone and escort her out, closely followed by the gang.

Back at the entrance to the block her stepfather, alerted to the situation by girls who knew she had been taken, was waiting angrily. The commotion that ensued swiftly attracted the attention of uniformed police who were searching nearby on an unrelated matter.

Had they not been on the scene anyway, it is possible the attack would never have been reported, detectives said. The suspects were rounded up within two days thanks to CCTV footage, on which officers were able to identify well-known faces.

Police said the defendants had seemed shocked at being found guilty. “I can only assume they never thought this would get this far,” said Burks, who led the case. “There’s been no remorse shown by anybody.”

The victim was determined not to let the attack “destroy her life”, Merrick said.

But putting the attack behind her would be a “mammoth task”. “She refers to herself as still in a state. I suspect that is an understatement.”

Guilty of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment

O’Neil Denton, 16, leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16; Jayden Ryan, 16

Guilty of rape and false imprisonment

Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; Cleon Brown, 15

Monumental issues in Utah.

I found this great article in The New York Times which ran at the start of the week. In Utah’s Pleasant Grove City Park, there’s a monument which bears the Ten Commandments on public display. So….. why shouldn’t other religions – under the American Constitution – also have the right to put up their own monuments in public places, bearing their own key aphorisms or sayings? Good question. So thinks the Summum church anyway – with an interesting set of religious beliefs rather like a Gnostic/Egyptian hybrid.  Personally I’m a fan of Gnostic thinking but then again….ah…um….perhaps best for me to stick to reading the suppressed gospels of St Thomas. Known as the doubter for good reasons. Adam Liptak in his well written article is a little less kind – but undeniably amusing.
I couldn’t find a list of all the Summum aphorisms – any contributions from readers would be welcome – but I do have a list of Seven Summum Principles: Psychokinesis, Correspondence, Vibration, Opposition, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender. The Summums believe that “knowledge does not come from things such as the intellect or obedience or faith, but from revelatory experience.” Could be. I could buy that. The photo shows Summum leaders, Bernie Aua, Su Menu and Ron Temu, at their headquarters in Salt Lake City.

PLEASANT GROVE CITY, Utah — Across the street from City Hall here sits a small park with about a dozen donated buildings and objects — a wishing well, a millstone from the city’s first flour mill and an imposing red granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Thirty miles to the north, in Salt Lake City, adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood and metal pyramid hard by Interstate 15 to meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.

In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, “similar in size and nature” to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments.

The city declined, a lawsuit followed and a federal appeals court ruled that the First Amendment required the city to display the Summum monument. The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments in the case, which could produce the most important free speech decision of the term.

The justices will consider whether a public park open to some donations must accept others as well. In cases involving speeches and leaflets, the courts have generally said that public parks are public forums where the government cannot discriminate among speakers on the basis of what they propose to say. The question of how donated objects should be treated is, however, an open one.

Inside the pyramid, sitting on a comfortable white couch near a mummified Doberman named Butch, Ron Temu, a Summum counselor, said the two monuments would complement each other.

“They’ve put a basically Judeo-Christian religious text in the park, which we think is great, because people should be exposed to it,” Mr. Temu said. “But our principles should be exposed as well.”

Su Menu, the church’s president, agreed. “If you look at them side by side,” Ms. Menu said of the two monuments, “they really are saying similar things.”

The Third Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

The Third Aphorism: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

Michael W. Daniels, the mayor here, is not the vibrating sort.

Sitting with the city attorney in a conference room in City Hall, Mr. Daniels deftly drew several fine lines in explaining why the city could treat the two monuments differently.

Only donations concerning the city’s history are eligible for display in the park as a matter of longstanding policy, he said, and only when donated by groups with a long association with the city. The Fraternal Order of Eagles, a national civic organization, donated the Ten Commandments monument in 1971.

The donations, Mr. Daniels went on, are transformed when the city accepts them. “Monuments on government property become government speech,” he said.

Under the First Amendment, the government can generally say what it likes without giving equal time to opposing views; it has much less latitude to choose among private speakers.

Asked what the government is saying when it displays the Ten Commandments, Mr. Daniels talked about law and history. He did not mention religion.

Pressed a little, he retreated.

“The fact that we own the monument doesn’t mean that what is on the monument is something we are espousing, promoting, establishing, embracing,” Mr. Daniels said. “We’re looking at, Does it fit with the heritage of the people of this area?”

Brian M. Barnard, a lawyer for the Summum church, said the city’s distinctions were cooked up after the fact as a way to reject his client’s monument. The local chapter of the Eagles, Mr. Barnard added, had only been in town two years when it donated the Ten Commandments monument.

“We have a city that will allow one organization to put up its religious ideals and principles,” Mr. Barnard said. “When the next group comes along, they won’t allow it to put up its religious ideals and principles.”

Last year, the federal appeals court in Denver sided with the Summum church and ordered Pleasant Grove City to erect its monument.

Although the case appears to present questions under the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the appeals court said the case was properly analyzed under the amendment’s free-speech protections. That distinguishes it from most cases concerning the display of nativity scenes and the like on government property.

The city, supported by more than 20 cities and states, along with the federal government, has told the Supreme Court that the upshot of affirming the appeals court decision would be to clutter public parks across the nation with offensive nonsense.

A town accepting a Sept. 11 memorial would also have to display a donated tribute to Al Qaeda, the briefs said. “Accepting a Statue of Liberty,” the city’s brief said, should not “compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny.”

The brief for the Summum church said the relevant dispute was much narrower. “The government,” it said, “may not take sides in a theological debate.”

Governments seeking to avoid accepting donations they do not want have several options, the Summum brief contended. They can choose to display nothing. They can speak in their own voice by creating or commissioning their own monuments. And they can adopt the messages conveyed by donated monuments as their own, but only if they do so expressly and unequivocally.

The Ten Commandments monument here stands in Pioneer Park, which pays tribute to the city’s frontier heritage, one that is mostly Mormon. The two sides differ about how best to honor that heritage.

Mayor Daniels said the monument broadly reflected local history. Mr. Barnard, the Summum lawyer, said the Ten Commandments did not play a central role in the Mormon faith. “If they wanted to quote from the Book of Mormon,” he said, “that would, at least, relate to the pioneers.”

“Mormons came to Utah because of religious persecution,” Mr. Barnard added. “The pioneer heritage in Utah has to be escape from persecution.”

The Summum church was founded in 1975, and it contains elements of Egyptian faiths and Gnostic Christianity. “Summum,” derived from the Latin, refers to the sum of all creation.

Followers of Summum believe that Moses received two sets of tablets on Mount Sinai and that the Ten Commandments were on the second set. The aphorisms were on the first one.

“When Moses came down from the mountain the first time, he brought the principles of creation,” Mr. Temu said. “But he saw the people weren’t ready for them, so he threw them on the ground and destroyed them.”

Summum’s founder, Corky Ra, says he learned the aphorisms during a series of telepathic encounters with divine beings he called Summa Individuals.

Mr. Barnard has represented the Summum church for many years. “They’re odd,” he said of his clients, with an affectionate smile. “They’re strange. They’re different.”

Bernie Aua, the church’s vice president, said the court case should not turn on how his religion was viewed.

“We have this thing called the Constitution,” Mr. Aua said. “The fact is, it’s a public park. And public parks are public.”

The Chinese search engine that’s a rival to Google.

Rather than run a story today about the demise of Lehman Brothers or the financial problems of AIG, or the imminent coming of a second 1930’s style recession – in my view these have all been well covered by the mainstream media and perhaps later in the week I shall pick a particular aspect of them to comment upon……….

I had dinner with friends in the banking sector  two weeks ago. They are not prone to using the word “Armageddon” very often – so I guess I will have to include some financial sector stories soon enough.

In the meantime I was interested to read about something new today, a rival for Google in China called Baidu – which works in a different way from our oft-used engine –  this very good and full account below is written by Andrew Orlowski for website The Register. Andrew’s well-written article gives more detail if you want to visit the original feature. Baidu is huge and different – and I had never even heard of it before.

Baidu is renowned as China’s glittering internet success story, and as the start-up that gave Google a bloody nose. It dominates the web in the world’s second biggest economy with 70 per cent market share, and on Wall Street carries a market cap of almost $12bn.

But Baidu’s success comes at a price, for the legitimate music business, for the development of China and of its intellectual property (IP) law, and for any internet company wishing to do business in China.

Baidu owes its success to its MP3 Search service, which takes surfers directly to music. It’s known as “deep linking”, and early this year, sound recording owners represented by IFPI filed a copyright infringement case against Baidu, claiming damages worth $9m.

Yet the scale of Baidu’s operation, uncovered by a forensic six-month investigation conducted in China for The Register, has surprised the music business.

“Although we already had some doubts about Baidu mp3 search, when we saw the investigation results presented, it was really a shock,” Susanna Ng, EMI Music Publishing Managing Director, Asia Pacific told China’s Fortune Times.

Music searches using Baidu return results that are heavily skewed in favour of unlicensed music, while they rarely return search results for licensed music sites. Meanwhile, the unlicensed MP3s appear to systematically move around a complex network of domains in response to infringement notices.

Chinese web surfers may be forgiven for missing the news. Baidu fails to link to news stories critical of the company, including some of the findings below; these have been covered only by a handful of publications within China. It’s a chilling reminder of the ability of a web search engine to control and shape public discourse.

We’ll explain what Baidu does, and why it’s in trouble. And the grim prospects for anyone hoping to build an internet business in China – with an unstoppable Baidu.
What does Baidu do?

Most full-length recorded music in China is unlicensed, infringing material. Some estimates put the figure as high as 98 per cent. A popular act can expect to sell as few as 2,000 copies. Yet China is not quite the lawless frontier these figures suggest.

In March this year, another Chinese top five music search engine, Zhongsou had its servers seized and subjected to the maximum fine for copyright infringement by state administration authorities. This was the first public case of a music search engine being convicted for hosting MP3 files. Government appointed bodies such as the Music Copyright Society of China (MCSC) and the China Audio-Video Copyright Association (CAVCA) are both active in attempting to support businesses that reward the creators. Baidu’s notorious MP3 Search is the biggest problem they face.

MCSC’s Director of Legal Services Liu Ping used the following real life analogy to describe deep-linking:

“If Google’s search works as a guide by giving directions and telling you the address while taking you right to the door of your destination, Baidu’s search brings you directly through the door, right inside the room and helps you take away the CD from shelves without the owner’s permission.” Liu Ping considers this to be beyond the scope of a search engine, and a practice which moves Baidu into the area of transmission of music.

Baidu has amassed numerous lawsuits over the practice, with MCSC and the IFPI involved in a number of these. Baidu’s defence is that as a network service provider it cannot be responsible for the legality of the sites it indexes and is therefore not liable for damages. Nevertheless, Article 23 of China’s Copyright Law says that it is jointly liable “where it knows or has reasonable ground(s) to know” that the linked works are infringing material.

However, our investigation suggests close enough linkage between Baidu’s business and the infringing material for it to be viewed as something more than ‘just’ a network service provider.

Baidu’s MP3 Search was monitored for six months at the end of last year, analyzing search results using 600 songs spread across multiple genre. A number of areas that seemed incongruous to a pure and neutral search engine were discovered, and three details emerged.

Firstly, a network of mysterious sites with closely related domain names contributed more than 50 per cent of the search links returned by Baidu. The songs hosted on the mystery sites were unreachable except through the Baidu search engine. Furthermore, infringement notifications resulted in unlicensed songs simply moving from one of these domains to another.

Secondly, Baidu does not link to the two leading paid download sites in China, 9Sky and Top100. While Google for example will return results for a song search to licensed providers (7Digital, Amazon, eMusic or even iTunes) as well as Torrent trackers, Baidu is much more selective.

Thirdly, music blogs and forums naturally form a significant source of music search links for any search engine. But with Baidu, these contributed to only 30 per cent of the music search links on Baidu’s MP3 Search.

The cumulative effect is to keep the “free music flowing” for Baidu’s users – with devastating consequences not just for creators, but for rival internet businesses.

11 charged in Grand Theft from an Auto – the biggest identity theft ever.

This article was written by Brad Stone and appeared in the New York Times.
I loved it because it gives us a really fascinating insight into how one might go about stealing 41 million different credit card numbers using such techniques as “war driving” “sniffing” and fake VPN’s or virtual private networks.

Federal prosecutors have charged 11 people with stealing more than 41 million credit and debit card numbers, cracking what officials said on Tuesday appeared to be the largest hacking and identity theft ring ever exposed.

The thieves focused on major national retail chains like OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, BJ’s Wholesale Club, the Sports Authority and T. J. Maxx — the discount clothes retailer that first suggested the existence of the ring early last year, when it said its systems had been breached by hackers.

Underscoring the multinational, collaborative aspect of organized crime today, three of the defendants are United States citizens, one is from Estonia, three are from Ukraine, two are from China and one is from Belarus. The name and whereabouts of the final defendant are unknown.

Federal officials said a principal organizer of the ring was Albert Gonzalez, a man from Miami who was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Boston on charges of computer fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy and other charges. If convicted on all counts, Mr. Gonzalez would face life in prison.

Mr. Gonzalez and several in his cohort drove around and scanned the wireless networks of retailers to find security holes — known as “war driving,” according to prosecutors. Once the thieves identified technical weaknesses in the networks, they installed so-called sniffer programs, obtained from collaborators overseas.

Those programs tapped into the retailers’ networks for processing credit cards and intercepted customers’ PINs and debit and credit numbers that were stored there. The thieves then spirited that information away to computers in the United States, Latvia and Ukraine.

Officials say the conspirators sold credit card numbers online and imprinted other stolen numbers on the magnetic stripes of blank cards so that they could withdraw thousands of dollars from A.T.M.’s.

“Computer networks and the Internet are an indispensable part of the world economy. But even as they provide extraordinary opportunities for legitimate commerce and communication, they also provide extraordinary opportunities for criminals,” said Michael B. Mukasey, the United States attorney general, at a news conference in Boston to announce the indictments.

Mr. Gonzalez was first arrested by the Secret Service in 2003 on similar charges. He was subsequently placed on supervised pretrial release and became an informant to the agency in its campaign against organizers of ShadowCrew, a bulletin board where hackers traded stolen financial information.

But prosecutors said that Mr. Gonzalez continued his criminal activities and tried to warn one of his conspirators, Damon Patrick Toey, to ensure that Mr. Toey would not be identified or arrested in the operation against ShadowCrew. Mr. Toey was among those indicted on Tuesday in Massachusetts.

“As soon as we became aware that Mr. Gonzalez was also working with criminals and getting them information, we immediately took action,” said Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service.

A lawyer for Mr. Gonzalez could not be located.

To sell card numbers on the black market, the group turned to Maksym Yastremskiy of Ukraine and Aleksandr Suvorov of Estonia, who were also charged, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Yastremskiy, thought to be a major figure in the international sale of stolen credit card information, was apprehended in July 2007 on vacation in Turkey and is in prison awaiting trial on charges including credit card theft. The United States has asked Turkey to extradite him.

The indictments shed more light on the breach into the stores of TJX, the owner of T. J. Maxx. In 2005, Christopher Scott, another man who was charged, compromised wireless access points at a Marshalls in Miami and used them to download payment information from computers at TJX headquarters in Framingham, Mass., prosecutors said.

The following year, prosecutors said, the conspirators established a virtual private network connection into TJX’s payment processing server and successfully uploaded a sniffer program.

In public financial filings, TJX said it had spent around $130 million on matters related to the break-in, including legal settlements, and it expected to spend an additional $23 million in the 2009 fiscal year.

Federal officials did not have an overall tally for the amount of money stolen by the ring, but they offered some glimpses into its profitability. In the indictment against Mr. Gonzalez, federal officials asked that he be forced to forfeit more than $1.6 million, among other assets.

“These guys were obviously sophisticated and organized,” said Toby Weiss, chief executive of Application Security, a database security firm. “In this economy, we can’t have people afraid to spend.”

An invasion of privacy for web surfers?

Hmmm. Personally I don’t like anything which impinges upon the privacy – and rights to browse without policing- of the individual – but as a marketing person I can see where this idea is coming from. Difficult, but interesting. This article appeared in the Economist and enjoys their usual high standard of reporting and writing. I’ve asked my ISP whether they have signed up for this. I don’t expect a reply.

IS IT a worrying invasion of privacy for web surfers, or a lucrative new business model for online advertising? A new “behavioural” approach to targeting internet advertisements, being pioneered by companies such as Phorm, NebuAd and FrontPorch, is said to be both of these things. The idea is that special software, installed in the networks of internet-service providers (ISPs), intercepts webpage requests generated by their subscribers as they roam the net. The pages in question are delivered in the usual way, but are also scanned for particular keywords in order to build up a profile of each subscriber’s interests. These profiles can then be used to target advertisements more accurately.

Suppose a web user is idly surfing a travel blog one Sunday afternoon. He visits pages containing words such as “holiday”, “flight” and “hotel”. The behavioural-targeting software watching him inside the ISP’s network registers and categorises this apparent interest in travel. Later, when he logs on to a social-networking site to see what his friends are up to, advertisements for an airline or hotel chain pop up alongside the postings and photos. The depressing prospect of having to return to work the next day prompts him to click on an advertisement and book a minibreak for the next weekend.

To advertisers, this all sounds great. Behavioural-targeting firms are doing the rounds in Europe and America offering the prospect of working out what web surfers are thinking, perhaps even before they know themselves. If this really works, advertisers will be prepared to pay more to place ads, since they are more likely to be clicked on. That in turn means that websites will be able to charge more for their advertising slots. A small cut also goes to the ISP that originally gathered the profile information.

The companies involved suggest that internet users will welcome all this, since more accurate targeting will turn internet advertising from an annoying distraction into a genuinely helpful service. “This idea that we don’t provide a service by doing this is as far from the truth as it’s possible to be,” says Kent Ertugrul, the boss of Phorm. “It creates a situation where there’s less rubbish bombarding you.”

But not everyone likes the idea. Opponents of behavioural targeting have kicked up the biggest fuss in Britain, which is where the technology seems to be making the most progress: the three biggest ISPs (BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk), which together account for around 70% of the market, have all signed up to use Phorm’s technology. Since news of their plans emerged in February, over 13,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the system. Legal and networking experts have argued that it constitutes an unauthorised wiretap, and is therefore illegal. Richard Clayton, a computer-security expert at Cambridge University who has taken a close look at Phorm’s systems, did not like what he saw. Proponents of behavioural targeting, he concluded, “assume that if only people understood all the technical details they’d be happy. I have, and I’m still not happy at all.”

Phorm, which is now trying to get American ISPs to adopt its technology too, emphasises that consumers will be given the option to opt out of the system if they do not wish to use it. It points out that information about individuals’ surfing habits remains within the custody of the ISP (which already has access to such information anyway), and that user profiles merely associate keywords with an anonymous serial number, rather than a name. Its profiling system ignores sensitive pages, such as those from online-banking sites, and will not be used to target advertising for pornographic sites.

Critics worry, however, that behavioural targeting fundamentally undermines the trusting relationship between ISPs and their subscribers, by allowing a third party to monitor what millions of people are doing. They also worry about Phorm’s previous behaviour. Until last year it was known as 121Media, and it gathered information about internet users’ interests by getting them to download “adware”, which was included in bundles with other pieces of software. This software then monitored users’ surfing habits and used the resulting data to target “pop up” advertisements of the kind that once blighted the web.

All this was legal, but it won 121Media few friends among PC users, who found its software difficult to remove from their machines. The revelation that the company, since renamed Phorm, conducted a secret trial of its new technology with BT in 2006 and 2007, monitoring thousands of customers without telling them, has not helped its image.

As the controversy swirls, Google, the 800-pound gorilla of the internet-advertising industry, is quietly watching. ISPs around the world have looked on jealously as Google has grown rich on their subscribers’ web-browsing, while the ISPs have been reduced to “dumb pipes”, ferrying internet traffic for subscribers but unable to win a share of their online spending.

Phorm and its ilk promise to change that, by offering ISPs a chance to get their hands on a slice of the fast-growing online-advertising pie. Behavioural-targeting firms also like to portray themselves as feisty underdogs taking on mighty Google, which is itself the cause of concern about online privacy. Phorm points out that its system does not retain detailed information about web usage as it builds its user profiles—in contrast to Google, which keeps records of users’ search queries for up to two years. (The European Commission recently called upon Google to delete such information after six months.) “If people knew what was stored right now, they’d be shocked,” says Phorm’s Mr Ertugrul. His company’s system, he says, is “the model for privacy online”.

Even so, most web users are happy to strike an implicit deal with Google: it provides an excellent free search engine in return for the ability to display relevant advertisements. The quid pro quo with behavioural targeting, says Mr Ertugrul, is that ISPs will start making money from online advertising, which they can then spend on upgrading their networks, without raising prices for subscribers. “This is a way of funding the internet,” he says.

Behavioural targeting is not necessarily a bad idea, but imposing it without telling people is likely to annoy them when they find out about it. Without adequate disclosure, an “opt out” system looks like snooping; but an “opt in” system, given all the fuss, now looks like a tough sell.

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

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

Sunbeds = skin cancer, Australia acts to ban them.

The ABCDs of melanoma skin cancer are:

* Asymmetry. One half doesn’t match the appearance of the other half.
* Border irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
* Color. The color (pigmentation) is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to a mottled appearance.
* Diameter. The size of the mole is greater than 1/4 inch (6 mm), about the size of a pencil eraser. Any growth of a mole should be evaluated.

These are the classic signs of melanoma or skin cancer – if you’re worried about it yourself this is a useful source of information.
I heard this morning that sunbeds are to be totally banned in Australia, and that moves to put the legislation in place are actually happening. Further from the Sydney Morning Herald which puts more flesh on the bones of this story (sic) (k)

The Australian Medical Association and NSW Greens criticised the State Government this week for not acting sooner after both Victoria and South Australia introduced regulations earlier this year and Western Australia announced last week it would soon follow.

But yesterday the Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), Verity Firth, said NSW would have “a comprehensive set of regulations in place for the solarium industry by the end of this year”.

A spokesman for Ms Firth said if the Radiation Health Committee did not speed up the process for national standards in the next few months, NSW would “jump ship”.

The spokesman said under-18s and those with sensitive “Type 1” skin would be banned from solariums. Type 1 includes those who burn and never tan.

The frequency of visits would also be limited, probably to no more than once every two days, he said. Coin-operated sunbeds would also be banned.

Research published in January showed that NSW teens were the highest users of solariums, with a prevalence rate of 12 per cent.

Below is a picture of Clare Oliver … the anti-solarium campaigner who died of sunbed-inspired cancer last year.

The study by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research also showed that solarium users aged under 35 had almost double the risk (98 per cent) of developing melanoma than those who did not.

The study’s co-author, Louisa Gordon, said yesterday there was no such thing as safe tanning.

“The sunbeds can emit very strong levels of radiation, stronger than the midday sun in Brisbane,” Dr Gordon said.

She said about 3 per cent of the population had used a solarium and less than 1 per cent of all UVR-caused melanoma deaths in Australia were attributable to solarium use each year.

Dr Gordon said there had been a fourfold growth in the solarium industry since 1992.

The Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the Premier, Morris Iemma, was waiting too long to act.

Radio 4 are doing a feature on this this afternoon which I haven’t heard yet but you can access it here after 2pm today (21st April)

Olympic torch goes out.

Heard this story from Reuters Paris just now and it summed up events for me in a way. After a day of hearing radio and tv news bulletins about incidents involving protests about the Olympic torch and China’s human rights record particularly in Tibet, and an hour or so spent personally musing about how big a percentage of all British manufactured goods is sourced directly from China, this morning I heard a leading policeman, Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Met Police, on Radio 4 differentiating between pro and anti torch demonstrators – in a “goodies and baddies” kind of fashion. The pro demonstrators were “lawful” and the anti were not, apparently. I suppose the law exists to protect property at the end of the day. But……..Chinese property? British property manufactured in China…….? All I can say is, despite the presence of Chinese security guards protecting the torch, I couldn’t help but think (as Jane Austen would say) that you couldn’t protest in anything like this way if you were actually in China. And the lights were going out all over Europe……..

Security officials extinguished the Olympic torch on Monday on the Paris leg of its journey, disrupted by protesters against China’s crackdown on Tibet.

A police source said organizers were forced to put the torch on a bus to protect it from the hundreds of protesters who swarmed the procession after it set off from the Eiffel Tower.

The torch had to be extinguished because of a technical problem, a police spokesman told Reuters. After a brief interruption the relay resumed with the torch alight.

A member of the French Greens party had earlier been restrained by police when trying to grab the torch from the first of 80 torch bearers, former world 400 meters hurdles champion Stephane Diagana.

Escorted by security, Diagana was wearing a badge reading “For a better world”.

Several hundred demonstrators waving banners gathered on the Trocadero esplanade, just the other side of the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower, where the relay got under way at 6:35 a.m EDT.

France has deployed more than 3,000 police officers, some on roller blades, along the 28-km (17 miles) Paris leg of relay, to the Charlety stadium, on the southern edge of town, where the torch was due to arrive at 11:00 a.m EDT.

“Boycott Chinese goods” and “Save Tibet” read some of the banners held by the demonstrators, watched by police in riot gear and prevented by barriers from getting near the courseWe are doing our best but it will take the world to put pressure on China to help bring democracy and human rights to Tibet,” said Phurbu Dolker, a 21-year-old Tibetan refugee.

Thousands of protesters waving Tibetan flags and shouting “Shame on China” tried to disrupt the torch’s run through London on Sunday, the British leg of the international relay billed by Beijing as the “harmonious journey”.

French human rights minister, Rama Yade, denied on Saturday that President Nicolas Sarkozy would boycott the Games’ opening ceremony unless China started talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and released political prisoners.

The Olympic flame is expected to remain a magnet for anti-Chinese protests ahead of the August Games in Beijing.

The flame is due to return to Beijing on August 6, two days before it will be used to light the cauldron at the Olympic opening ceremony.

Ipod’s DRM hacked by DVD

I read in the Times Online today that the protection system which stops users from copying iTunes has been circumvented by a hacker called DVD Jon. Whatever you think about the morality of the issue, I love the fact that DVD Jon looks like an inoffensive mild-mannered Clark Kent kind of character. There’s a big entry about his life story and track record of strange hacking achievements here. Robin Hood? Hyper villain? Does Steve Jobs have enough money? Do you?

A notorious Norwegian hacker known as DVD Jon is preparing for another run-in with the music industry after he released software that lets iPod owners copy music and videos bought from iTunes and play it on other devices.

The program allows people to drag and drop songs from iTunes into a folder on their desktop, which in turn copies the files to other devices such as mobile phones and games consoles via the web.

In doing so, the software breaks the copy protection – known as ‘digital rights management’ or DRM – that is built into all music that is bought from iTunes. Music bought from iTunes can be played only on the iPod.

DoubleTwist, DVD Jon’s company, maintains that its service is legal, but lawyers said that Apple would almost certainly seek to shut it down because the law now specifically targeted technologies which attempted to circumvent measures such as DRM.

The $299 headest will read facial expressions and simple thoughts such as ‘lift’ or ‘drop’ to control in-game actions

The hacker has previously enabled iPod owners to play music bought from websites other than iTunes.

DoubleTwist’s new software will initially enable files to be copied to Nokia N-series mobile phones, Sony Ericsson’s Walkman and Cybershot handsets, as well as any smartphone powered by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

The program gets around Apple’s DRM software by replaying a song in fast-forward and taking a copy of the audio track, using a process similar to that by which a CD is ‘ripped’ – or copied – to a computer.

About a hundred songs can be converted in half an hour, doubleTwist said, although there is a 5 per cent loss of sound quality – about the same as when a CD is copied.

A spokesman for the San Fransisco-based company said that its software was legal, because it only allowed a user who has already purchased music to copy it. “All we are facilitating are friends sending things to one another,” Monique Farantzos, doubleTwists’s chief executive and co-founder, told Reuters.

Lawyers today cast doubt on Ms Farantzos’s claims, however, saying that the law had taken steps to protect Apple’s efforts to control the way its music could be played, and that anyone circumventing measures such as DRM risked being found guilty of copyright infringement.

“I would be astonished if doubleTwist doesn’t get a call from Apple,” Paul Jones, a partner in intellectual property law at the London-based firm Harbottle & Lewis, said.

DVD Jon, whose real name is Jon Lech Johansen, has been an arch-enemy of the music and film industries ever since he released software which broke the copy protection on Hollywood films, aged 16.

In 2003, Mr Johansen, now 24, developed the first of several programs which attempted to bypass the system developed by Apple for synchronising its iTunes store with iPods, leading to one of a series of run-ins with the firm.

Antidisestablishmentarianism revisited.

Of course we all know that antidisestablishmentarianism means
a political philosophy opposed to the separation of a religious group (“church”) and a government (“state”), especially with regard to the belief held by those in 19th century England opposed to separating the Anglican church from the civil government.At times like this when the head of the Church of England starts to pontificate (sic) about shariah law in England (today’s Sun headline : What a burkah), the issue of homogeneity of church and state is brought to the fore. Especially when you read this very clearly written piece about the subject from a specialist blog from Denis J. Wiechman, Jerry D. Kendall, and Mohammad K. Azarian who I believe study at the University of Illinois:

The most difficult part of Islamic Law for most westerners to grasp is that there is no separation of church and state. The religion of Islam and the government are one. Islamic Law is controlled, ruled and regulated by the Islamic religion. The theocracy controls all public and private matters. Government, law and religion are one. There are varying degrees of this concept in many nations, but all law, government and civil authority rests upon it and it is a part of Islamic religion. There are civil laws in Muslim nations for Muslim and non-Muslim people. Shar’iah is only applicable to Muslims. Most Americans and others schooled in Common Law have great difficulty with that concept.The U.S. Constitution (Bill of Rights) prohibits the government from “establishing a religion.” The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded in numerous cases that the U.S. Government can’t favour one religion over another. That concept is implicit for most U.S. legal scholars and many U.S. academicians believe that any mixture of “church and state” is inherently evil and filled with many problems. They reject all notions of a mixture of religion and government.

The blog that comes from is here.

I invite you to contrast the lucid and clear quality of that with the liberal intellectual tones of “our own” church spokesperson, as published in the guardian where you can read the text in full if you so please.

arch of cantThe first objection to a higher level of public legal regard being paid to communal identity is that it leaves legal process (including ordinary disciplinary process within organisations) at the mercy of what might be called vexatious appeals to religious scruple. A recent example might be the reported refusal of a Muslim woman employed by Marks and Spencer to handle a book of Bible stories. Or we might think of the rather more serious cluster of questions around forced marriages, where again it is crucial to distinguish between cultural and strictly religious dimensions. While Bradney rightly cautions against the simple dismissal of alleged scruple by judicial authorities who have made no attempt to understand its workings in the construction of people’s social identities, it should be clear also that any recognition of the need for such sensitivity must also have a recognised means of deciding the relative seriousness of conscience-related claims, a way of distinguishing purely cultural habits from seriously-rooted matters of faith and discipline, and distinguishing uninformed prejudice from religious prescription. There needs to be access to recognised authority acting for a religious group: there is already, of course, an Islamic Shari’a Council, much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK; and if we were to see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity, we should need a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resource and a high degree of community recognition, so that ‘vexatious’ claims could be summarily dealt with. The secular lawyer needs to know where the potential conflict is real, legally and religiously serious, and where it is grounded in either nuisance or ignorance. There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples.

The second issue, a very serious one, is that recognition of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women. The ‘forced marriage’ question is the one most often referred to here, and it is at the moment undoubtedly a very serious and scandalous one; but precisely because it has to do with custom and culture rather than directly binding enactments by religious authority, I shall refer to another issue. It is argued that the provision for the inheritance of widows under a strict application of sharia has the effect of disadvantaging them in what the majority community might regard as unacceptable ways. A legal (in fact Qur’anic) provision which in its time served very clearly to secure a widow’s position at a time when this was practically unknown in the culture becomes, if taken absolutely literally, a generator of relative insecurity in a new context (see, for example, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights. Tradition and Politics, 1999, p.111). The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens; and while a legal system might properly admit structures or protocols that embody the diversity of moral reasoning in a plural society by allowing scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions, it can hardly admit or ‘license’ protocols that effectively take away the rights it acknowledges as generally valid.

You might find him a wishy washy liberal, but IMHO he is well read and at least he had the balls to raise the issue in the first place – whilst others are only keen to bluster in his wake.