Trouble around the world

May 14, 2008

A cyclone in Burma and an earthquake in China.

Natural disasters are just that.  Natural.

It doesn’t mean that we should be any less sympathetic or charitable.  Luckily China has, in it’s own ways, the resources to deal with a disaster of this scale.  However, with possibly hundreds of thousands dead or dying and damage to infrastructure beyond comprehension hopefully they will be more open to outside help than the dictatorship that is Burma.

I have been reading in newspapers, online and hearing over the radio how this secretive state is blocking foreign aid at almost every turn.  Either simply not letting aid and aid workers in, or placing unreasonable conditions on the aid agencies involved.  The ruling military power is taking the abuse of human rights to new levels and we as a civilised world should not take their ‘no’ for an answer.  Forcing aid in via peaceful means should be considered.

The world is at a stage in it’s life, with us as the dominate species, where nobody should go hungry, nobodies human rights should be infringed on and we should be looking after our fragile planet.  Even more so in a time where millions of litres of water has to be shipped in to Spain, just for people to be able to drink, due to never before seen levels of drought.  Sceptics beware, global warming may just be rearing it’s head enough to bite.

Sadly, even in times of desperate need, lives that could be saved through the goodness and charity of others is refused and the human race suffers needlessly.

Our evolution stutters in the face of adversity and our right to call ourselves civilized should be called in to question more often than not.

We fail to act over atrocities like genocide in Africa.  Yet fall over ourselves to initiate a wars over oil and imaginary WMD and terrorists, killing those we profess to save.

I hope with all my heart that the influential Super Powers of the world are subject to the political changes necessary to rip up the rotten foundations of our political morality and that grass roots voters open their eyes and minds to the reality of our existence.

We are one species, one human race on one small planet.


When I was 12

April 10, 2008

Large rocks, severed heads, and flaming pots of oil rained down on Baghdad, capital of the vast Islamic Empire, as its weary defenders scrambled to reinforce gates, ditches, and the massive stone walls surrounding the fortress city’s many brick and teak palaces. Giant wooden manjaniq catapults bombarded distant structures while the smaller, more precise arradah catapult guns pelted individuals with grapefruit-sized rocks. Arrows flew thickly and elite horsemen assaulted footmen with swords and spears. “The horses . . . trample the livers of courageous young men,” lamented the poet al-Khuraymi, “and their hooves split their skulls.” Outside the circular city’s main wall—100 feet high, 145 feet thick, and six miles in circumference—soldiers pressed forward with battering rams while other squads choked off supply lines of food and reinforcements. Amid sinking boats and burning rafts, bodies drifted down the Tigris River.

The impenetrable “City of Peace” was crumbling. In the fifty years since its creation in A.D. 762, young Baghdad had rivaled Constantinople and Rome in its prestige and influence. It was a wildly fertile axis of art, science, and religion, and a bustling commercial hub for trade routes reaching deep into Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. But by the late summer of A.D. 813, after nearly two years of civil war (between brothers, no less), the enlightened Islamic capital was a smoldering, starving, bloody heap.

In the face of disorder, any human being desperately needs order—some way to manage, if not the material world, at least one’s understanding of the world. In that light, perhaps it’s no real surprise that, as the stones and arrows and horses’ hooves thundered down on Baghdad, the protected core of the city hosted a different sort of battle. Within the round city’s imperial inner sanctum, secure behind three thick, circular walls and many layers of gate and guard, under the luminescent green dome of the Golden Gate Palace, Muhammad al-Amin, the sixth caliph of the Abbasid Empire, spiritual descendant of (and distant blood relation to) the Prophet Muhammad, sovereign of one of the largest dominions in the history of the world, was playing chess against his favorite eunuch Kauthar.

A trusted messenger burst into the royal apartment with urgently bad news. More inglorious defeats in and around the city were to be reported to the caliph. In fact, his own safety was now in jeopardy.

But al-Amin would not hear of it. He waved off his panicked emissary.

“O Commander of the faithful,” implored the messenger, according to the medieval Islamic historian Jirjis al-Makin. “This is not the time to play. Pray arise and attend to matters of more serious moment.”

It was no use. The caliph was absorbed in the board. A chess game in progress is—as every chess spouse quickly learns—a cosmos unto itself, fully insulated from an infant’s cry, an erotic invitation, or war. The board may have only thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, but within that confined space the game has near-infinite depth and possibility. An outsider looking on casually might find the intensity incomprehensible. But anyone who has played the game a few times understands how it can be engrossing in the extreme. Quite often, in the middle of an interesting game, it’s almost as if reality has been flipped inside out: the chess game in motion seems to be the only matter of substance, while any hint of the outside world feels like an annoying irrelevance.

The messier the external world, the more powerful this inverted dynamic can be. Perhaps that is why Caliph al-Amin, who sensed that his hours were numbered, preferred to soak in the details of his chess battlefield rather than reports of the calamitous siege of his city. On the board he could see the whole action. On the board he could neatly make sense of significant past events and carefully plan his future. On the board he still might win.

“Patience my friend,” the caliph calmly replied to his messenger standing only a few feet away and yet a world apart. “I see that in a few moves I shall give Kauthar checkmate.”

Not long after this, al-Amin and his men were captured. The sixth Abbasid caliph, victor in his final chess game, was swiftly beheaded.

Chess lived on. The game had been a prominent court fixture of Caliph al-Amin’s predecessor, and would voraciously consume the attention of his successor—and the caliph after that, and the caliph after that. Several centuries before it infected feudal Christian Europe, chess was already an indelible part of the landscape adjoining the Tigris and Euphrates. This simple game, imbued with a universe of complexity and character, demanded from peasants, soldiers, philosophers, and sovereigns an endless amount of time and energy. In return it offered unique insights into the human endeavor.

And so, against all odds, it lasted. Games, as a general rule, do not last. They come and go. In the eighth century, the Irish loved a board game called fidchell. Long before that, in the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians played a backgammonlike race game called senet. The Romans were drawn to duodecim scripta, played with three knucklebone dice and stacks of discs. The Vikings were obsessed with a game called hnefatafl in the tenth century, in which a protagonist King attempted to escape through a ring of enemies to any edge of the board. The ancient Greeks had petteia and kubeia. These and hundreds of other once popular games are all now long gone. They caught the public imagination of their time and place, and then for whatever reason lost steam. Generations died off, taking their habits with them; or conquering cultures imposed new ideas and pastimes; or people just got bored and wanted something new. Many of the games fell into such total oblivion that they couldn’t even make a coherent mark in the historical record. Try as they might, determined historians still cannot uncover the basic rules of play for a large graveyard of yesterday’s games.

Contrast this with chess, a game that could not be contained by religious edict, nor ocean, nor war, nor language barrier. Not even the merciless accumulation of time, which eventually washes over and dissolves most everything, could so much as tug lightly at chess’s ferocious momentum. “It has, for numberless ages,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1786, “been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these States.”

The game would eventually pass into every city in the world and along more than 1,500 years of continuous history—a common thread of Pawn chains, Knight forks, and humiliating checkmates that would run through the lives of Karl Marx, Pope Leo XIII, Arnold Schwarzenegger, King Edward I, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible, Voltaire, King Montezuma, Rabbi Ibn Ezra, William the Conqueror, Jorge Luis Borges, Willie Nelson, Napoleon, Samuel Beckett, Woody Allen, and Norman Schwarzkopf. From Baghdad’s Golden Gate Palace to London’s Windsor Castle to today’s lakeside tables at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, chess would tie history together in a surprising and compelling way.

How could a game last so long, and appeal so broadly across vast spans of time, geography, language, and culture? Endurance is not, of course, a magnificent accomplishment in itself, but a compelling sign that something profound is going on, a catalytic connection between this “game” and the human brain. Another sign is that chess was not just played but also integrated into the creative and professional lives of artists, linguists, psychologists, economists, mathematicians, politicians, theologians, computer scientists, and generals. It became a popular and pliable metaphor for abstract ideas and complex systems, and an effective tool through which scientists could better understand the human mind.

The remarkable scope of this game began to infect my own brain after a visit from an old family ghost in the fall of 2002. My mother had sent on some faded newspaper clippings about her great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, a diminutive Polish Jew named Samuel Rosenthal who immigrated to France in 1864 and became one of its legendary chess masters. Family lore had it that Rosenthal had impressed and/or somehow secured the gratitude of one of the Napoleons, and had been awarded a magnificent, jewel-encrusted pocket watch. No one in the family seemed to have actually seen this watch, but they’d all heard about it. Four generations down the line, this story, retold to a boy from the Ohio suburbs, was just exotic enough, and just hazy enough, to set the mind racing. I had begged Mom for years to tell me more about the great S. Rosenthal and his lost watch.

As I combed through the records on my mother’s mother’s father’s father’s achievements, wondering what spectacular (if still hidden) intelligences had filtered down through the generations, I also became reacquainted with the game itself, which I had not played since high school (and then only a handful of times). Stumbling through a few dozen games with friends at home and with strangers over the Internet, I found that I was just as ambivalent about chess as I’d been twenty years earlier—charmed by its elegance and intrigued by its depth, but also put off by the high gates of entry to even moderately serious play. Graduating from patzer to mere competence would require untold hundreds of hours of not just playing but studying volumes of opening theory, endgame problems, and strategy. Years of obsessive attention to the game might—might—eventually gain me entry into reasonably serious tournaments, where I would no doubt be quickly dispatched by an acid-tongued, self-assured ten-year-old. Chess is an ultimately indomitable peak that gets steeper and steeper with every step.

I was also repelled, frankly, by the forbidding atmosphere of unforgiving rules, insider jargon, and the general aggressiveness and unpleasantness that seemed to accompany even reasonably casual play. I recalled one of Bobby Fischer’s declarations: “Chess is war over the board,” he proclaimed. “The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” Fischer was not alone in his lusty embrace of chess’s brutality. The game is often as much about demolishing your opponent’s will and self-esteem as it is about implementing a superior strategy. No blood is drawn (ordinarily), but the injury can be real. The historical link between top chess play and mental instability stands as yet another intriguing feature about the game and its power. “Here is nothing less,” writes recovering chess master Alfred Kreymborg, “than a silent duel between two human engines using and abusing all the faculties of the mind. . . . It is warfare in the most mysterious jungles of the human character.”

Still, much to my wife’s dismay, I got hooked. It is an intoxicating game that, though often grueling, never grows tiresome. The exquisite interplay of the simple and the complex is hypnotic: the pieces and moves are elementary enough for any five-year-old to quickly soak up, but the board combinations are so vast that all the possible chess games could never be played—or even known—by a single person. Other parlor games sufficiently amuse, entertain, challenge, distract; chess seizes. It does not merely engage the mind; it takes hold of the mind in a way that suggests a primal, hardwired connection.

Even more powerfully, though, I became transported by chess’s rich history. It seemed to have been present in every place and time, and to have been utilized in every sort of activity. Kings cajoled and threatened with it; philosophers told stories with it; poets analogized with it; moralists preached with it. Its origins are wrapped up in some of the earliest discussions of fate versus free will. It sparked and settled feuds, facilitated and sabotaged romances, and fertilized literature from Dante to Nabokov. A thirteenth-century book using chess as a guide to social morality may have been the second-most popular text in the Middle Ages, after the Bible. In the twentieth century, chess enabled computer scientists to create intelligent machines. Chess has also, in modern times, been used to study memory, language, math, and logic, and has recently emerged as a powerful learning tool in elementary and secondary schools.

The more I learned about chess’s peculiarly strong cultural relevance in century after century, the more it seemed that chess’s endurance was no historical accident. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, there was something particular about the game that made it continually accessible to generation after generation. It served a genuine function—perhaps not vital, but often far more than merely useful. I often found myself wondering how particular events or lives would have unfolded in chess’s absence—a condition, I learned, that many chess haters had ardently sought. Perhaps the most vivid measure of chess’s potency, in fact, is the determination of its orthodox enemies to stamp it out—as long ago as a ruling in 655 by Caliph Ali Ben Abu-Talib (the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law), and as recently as decrees by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1981, the Taliban in 1996, and the Iraqi clergy in post-Saddam Iraq. In between, chess was tamped down:

in 780 by Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur
in 1005 by Egypt’s al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah
in 1061 by Cardinal Damiani of Ostia
in 1093 by the Eastern Orthodox Church
in 1128 by St. Bernard
in 1195 by Rabbi Maimonides
in 1197 by the Abbot of Persigny
in 1208 by the Bishop of Paris
in 1240 by religious leaders of Worcester, England
in 1254 by King Louis IX of France (St. Louis)
in 1291 by the Archbishop of Canterbury
in 1310 by the Council of Trier (Germany)
in 1322 by Rabbi Kalonymos Ben Kalonymos
in 1375 by France’s Charles V
in 1380 by Oxford University’s founder William of Wickham
in 1549 by the Protohierarch Sylvester of Russia
and in 1649 by Tsar Alexei

But like the Talmud, like the theory of natural selection, like any organized thought paradigm that humans have found irresistibly compelling, chess refused to go away. Why were sixty-four squares and a handful of generic war figurines so hard to erase from the human imagination? What was it about chess that drew simultaneous devotion and disgust, and sparked so many powerful ideas and observations over many centuries?

This is what I set out to understand, through a close survey of chess’s history and a fresh look at the game.

Excerpted from The Immortal Game by David Shenk Copyright © 2006 by David Shenk.

Well it starts earlier than aged 12 for me really.

When I was in Primary School I had a fascination with Chess, I was indeed Chess champion back then.

Then I went off to Secondary School where peer pressure and trying to fit in made me lose my love of the game.  However I found out soon after starting there that my skills had not been totally lost.

I went to Germany with school as part of my German class and stayed with a family there for a week.  During that time the father of the household asked me if I would play with him.  The best of three as it turns out.  I lost the first, but won both of the next, much to the fathers displeasure I might add, proving to myself, as most kids that age think, that I was master of the universe.

I have lost any proper knowledge I had of the game from back then, even to the point of being afraid to really sit and think about playing someone who knows a little of the game. But being settled and content as I am with my life now, I think it is time to renew the love affair with the game.  So here I am writing this blog having placed a book about the history of Chess next to me and I am about to delve back into my childhood and much further into the human mind apparently.


Mario/ Duty/ Optical/ Eee/ CIWayhey/ UK1US0/ , and breath

December 16, 2007

Call of Duty 4 Outsells Super Mario Galaxy

[spoiler]

November 2007 Software Sales
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360) — 1,570,000
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) — 1,120,000
Assassin’s Creed (Xbox 360) — 980,000
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PlayStation 2) — 967,000
Wii Play w/ Remote (Wii) — 564,000
Mass Effect (Xbox 360) — 473,000
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PlayStation 3) — 444,000
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Wii) — 426,000
Halo 3 (Xbox 360) — 387,000
Assassin’s Creed (PlayStation 3) — 377,000

[/spoiler]

I own both games, Mario wins hands down with game play over graphics. That’s not to say that COD4 isn’t a brilliant game, but when it comes down to it…..

Student Arrested After Cutting Food With Knife

[spoiler]

An elementary student in Marion County was arrested Thursday after school officials found her cutting food during lunch with a knife that she brought from home, police said.
The 10-year-old girl, a student at Sunrise Elementary School in Ocala, was charged possession of a weapon on school property, which is a felony.
According to authorities, school employees spotted the girl cutting her food while she was eating lunch and took the steak knife from her. The girl told sheriff’s deputies that she had brought the knife to school on more than one occasion in the past. Students told officials that the girl did not threaten anyone with the knife.
The girl was arrested and transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

[/spoiler]

It’s the end of the world as we know it. All common sense is lost, and our generation has ring side seats.

Inside the CIA’s notorious “black sites”

[spoiler]

A Yemeni man never charged by the U.S. details 19 months of brutality and psychological torture — the first in-depth, first-person account from inside the secret U.S. prisons.

By Mark Benjamin

The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as “black sites.” But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on — there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation — one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.

It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words “I am innocent” in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.

So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

On several occasions, when Bashmilah’s state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. “What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me,” Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. “One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breath”
Last June, Salon reported on the CIA’s use of psychologists to aid with the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But the role of mental health professionals working at CIA black sites is a previously unknown twist in the chilling, Kafkaesque story of the agency’s secret overseas prisons.

Little about the conditions of Bashmilah’s incarceration has been made public until now. His detailed descriptions in an interview with Salon, and in newly filed court documents, provide the first in-depth, first-person account of captivity inside a CIA black site. Human rights advocates and lawyers have painstakingly pieced together his case, using Bashmilah’s descriptions of his cells and his captors, and documents from the governments of Jordan and Yemen and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to verify his testimony. Flight records detailing the movement of CIA aircraft also confirm Bashmilah’s account, tracing his path from the Middle East to Afghanistan and back again while in U.S. custody.

Bashmilah’s story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.

“This really shows the human impact of this program and that lives are ruined by the CIA rendition program,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, an attorney for Bashmilah and a professor at the New York University School of Law. “It is about psychological torture and the experience of being disappeared.”

Bashmilah, who at age 39 is now physically a free man, still suffers the mental consequences of prolonged detention and abuse. He is undergoing treatment for the damage done to him at the hands of the U.S. government. On Friday, Bashmilah laid out his story in a declaration to a U.S. district court as part of a civil suit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing accused of facilitating secret CIA rendition flights.

Bashmilah said in the phone interview that the psychological anguish inside a CIA black site is exacerbated by the unfathomable unknowns for the prisoners. While he figured out that he was being held by Americans, Bashmilah did not know for sure why, where he was, or whether he would ever see his family again. He said, “Every time I realize that there may be others who are still there where I suffered, I feel the same thing for those innocent people who just fell in a crack.”

It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally — as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. “My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators,” said Bashmilah.

Realistically, psychiatrists in such a setting could do little about the prisoners’ deeper suffering at the hands of the CIA. “They really had no authority to address these issues,” Bashmilah said about his mental anguish. He said the doctors told him to “hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family.” The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn’t much else they could do. “They also gave me a Rubik’s Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles,” Bashmilah recalled.

The nightmare started for him back in fall 2003. Bashmilah had traveled to Jordan from Indonesia, where he was living with his wife and working in the clothing business. He and his wife went to Jordan to meet Bashmilah’s mother, who had also traveled there. The family hoped to arrange for heart surgery for Bashmilah’s mother at a hospital in Amman. But before leaving Indonesia, Bashmilah had lost his passport and had received a replacement. Upon arrival in Jordan, Jordanian officials questioned his lack of stamps in the new one, and they grew suspicious when Bashmilah admitted he had visited Afghanistan in 2000. Bashmilah was taken into custody by Jordanian authorities on Oct. 21, 2003. He would not reappear again until he stepped out of a CIA plane in Yemen on May 5, 2005.

Bashmilah’s apparent innocence was clearly lost on officials with Jordan’s General Intelligence Department. After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. The told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it. “I felt sure it included things I did not say,” he wrote in his declaration to the court delivered Friday. “I was willing to sign a hundred sheets so long as they would end the interrogation.”

Bashmilah was turned over to the CIA in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2003. Jordanian officials delivered him to a “tall, heavy-set, balding white man wearing civilian clothes and dark sunglasses with small round lenses,” he wrote in his declaration. He had no idea who his new captors were, or that he was about to begin 19 months of hell, in the custody of the U.S. government. And while he was seldom beaten physically while in U.S. custody, he describes a regime of imprisonment designed to inflict extreme psychological anguish.

I asked Bashmilah which was worse: the physical beatings at the hands of the Jordanians, or the psychological abuse he faced from the CIA. “I consider that psychological torture I endured was worse than the physical torture,” he responded. He called his imprisonment by the CIA “almost like being inside a tomb.”

“Whenever I saw a fly in my cell, I was filled with joy,” he said. “Although I would wish for it to slip from under the door so it would not be imprisoned itself.”

After a short car ride to a building at the airport, Bashmilah’s clothes were cut off by black-clad, masked guards wearing surgical gloves. He was beaten. One guard stuck his finger in Bashmilah’s anus. He was dressed in a diaper, blue shirt and pants. Blindfolded and wearing earmuffs, he was then chained and hooded and strapped to a gurney in an airplane.

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul. (Records show the plane originally departed from Washington, before first stopping in Prague and Bucharest.) After landing, he was forced to lie down in a bumpy jeep for 15 minutes and led into a building. The blindfold was removed, and Bashmilah was examined by an American doctor.

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake.

Cells were lined up next to each other with spaces in between. Higher above the low ceilings of the cells appeared to be another ceiling, as if the prison were inside an airplane hanger.

After three months the routine became unbearable. Bashmilah unsuccessfully tried to hang himself with his blanket and slashed his wrists. He slammed his head against the wall in an effort to lose consciousness. He was held in three separate but similar cells during his detention in Kabul. At one point, the cell across from him was being used for interrogations. “While I myself was not beaten in the torture and interrogation room, after a while I began to hear the screams of detainees being tortured there,” he wrote.

While he was not beaten, Bashmilah was frequently interrogated. “During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel,” he wrote in his declaration. One interrogator accused him of being involved in sending letters to a contact in England, though Bashmilah says he doesn’t know anybody in that country. At other times he was shown pictures of people he also says he did not know.

“This is a form of torture,” he told me. “Especially when the person subjected to this has not done anything.”

In his declaration, Bashmilah made it clear that most of the prison officials spoke English with American accents. “The interrogators also frequently referred to reports coming from Washington,” he wrote.

After six months he was transferred, with no warning or explanation. On or around April 24, 2004, Bashmilah was pulled from his cell and placed in an interrogation room, where he was stripped naked. An American doctor with a disfigured hand examined him, jotting down distinctive marks on a paper diagram of the human body. Black-masked guards again put him in a diaper, cotton pants and shirt. He was blindfolded, shackled, hooded, forced to wear headphones, and stacked, lying down, in a jeep with other detainees. Then he remembers being forced up steps into a waiting airplane for a flight that lasted several hours, followed by several hours on the floor of a helicopter.

Upon landing, he was forced into a vehicle for a short ride. Then, Bashmilah took several steps into another secret prison — location unknown.

He was forced into a room and stripped naked again. Photos were taken of all sides of his body. He was surrounded by about 15 people. “All of them except for the person taking photographs were dressed in the kind of black masks that robbers wear to hide their faces,” Bashmilah wrote in the declaration.

He was again examined by a doctor, who took notations on the diagram of the human body. (It was the same form from Afghanistan. Bashmilah saw his vaccination scar marked on the diagram.) The doctor looked in his eyes, ears, nose and throat.

He was then thrown into a cold cell, left naked.

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

<a href=”http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/news/content/large.html@x10″><img src=”http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/news/content/large.html@x10″ width=”300″ height=”250″ border=”0″ alt=”” /></a>The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. “I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me,” Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.He was interrogated more. Bashmilah recalls an interrogator showing him a lecture by an Islamic scholar playing on a laptop. The interrogator wanted to know if Bashmilah knew who the man was, but he did not. It was in this facility that Bashmilah slashed his wrists, then went on his hunger strike, only to be force-fed through a tube forced down his nose.

The CIA seems to have figured out that Bashmilah was not an al-Qaida operative sometime around September 2004, when he was moved to another, similar cell. But there was no more white noise. And while his ankles were shackled, he wasn’t bolted to the floor with a chain. He was allowed to shower once a week. He was no longer interrogated and was mostly left alone.

Bashmilah was given a list of books he could read. About a month before he was released, he was given access to an exercise hall for 15 minutes a week. And he saw mental healthcare professionals. “The psychiatrists asked me to talk about why I was so despairing, interpreted my dreams, asked me how I was sleeping and whether I had an appetite, and offered medications such as tranquilizers.”

On May 5, 2005, Bashmilah was cuffed, hooded and put on a plane to Yemen. Yemeni government documents say the flight lasted six or seven hours and confirm that he was transferred from the control of the U.S. government. He soon learned that his father had died in the fall of 2004, not knowing where his son had disappeared to, or even if he was alive.

At the end of my interview with Bashmilah, I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know. “I would like for the American people to know that Islam is not an enemy to other nations,” he said. “The American people should have a voice for holding accountable people who have hurt innocent people,” he added. “And when there is a transgression against the American people, it should not be addressed by another transgression.”

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Asus Eee PC 701 Review

The little machine i own gets more glowing reviews. Stuck on what to buy someone this xmas, or even a treat for yourself? Look no further, that is if you are lucky enough to find somewhere that has them in stock….

Which side is the window on?

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Answers on a postcard please…. or the comments section.

Just…… wow!

And finally: UK 1 – USA 0

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Yesterday, the World Bank reported that the US has lost its status as the largest donor to the Bank’s main fund for poor countries, as Britain secured a record amount of aid with a pledge of increased funding.
Britain pledged $4.2 billion for the period from July 2008 through June 2011, after negotiations that began in March in Paris and ended with two rounds of talks in Berlin.
What does it mean to the US? Firstly, losing its position as the top donor could weaken Washington’s influence over the World Bank, which is the largest provider of development assistance to poor countries, and over policies that determine the cash flow.
The US pledged a very substantial contribution but is now down to second place after Britain,
A total of 45 donor countries, the highest number ever, promised a record total of $25.1bn at the Berlin talks, with a further $16.5bn coming from the bank and previous donor pledges. The total of $41.6bn represents an increase of $9.5bn over the previous funding period and will support around 80 countries, with a focus on African countries.
Read
“The donor community has demonstrated its full commitment to helping countries overcome poverty and achieve sustainable growth, especially in Africa,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said.
However, contributions by some other countries also appear inflated when calculated in the US currency—which is running currently on a weakening dollar—and the talks were also complicated by slowing economic growth in rich nations. In the meantime, the bank’s mission is widening, with governments demanding more help in developing sophisticated economies and markets.
The US, despite having an economy six times as big as Britain’s, has been keen to hold on to its number one spot as the bank’s largest donor but has also been struggling in recent times with stretched budgets caused by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The US spends enough money bombing and invading places, then rebuilding what they have bombed. Why should we expect them to spend more money!

Unless…….

It’s to bomb, invade and kill people and pay for the repairs. Or at least give the repair job to friends of the administrations companies so they can get rich… I mean richer.

Bin Ladens men in Iraq? Not till Sadam was taken out for possessing weapons that didn’t exist….. Don’t get me started lol


Some News…

December 15, 2007

Top 11 Warmest Years On Record Have All Been In Last 13 Years

ScienceDaily (Dec. 13, 2007) — The decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record, according to data sources obtained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F.

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The University of East Anglia and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre have released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850.
Other remarkable global climatic events recorded so far in 2007 include record-low Arctic sea ice extent, which led to first recorded opening of the Canadian Northwest Passage; the relatively small Antarctic Ozone Hole; development of La Niña in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific; and devastating floods, drought and storms in many places around the world.
The preliminary information for 2007 is based on climate data up to the end of November from networks of land-based weather stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continually collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) of WMO’s 188 Members and several collaborating research institutions. Final updates and figures for 2007 will be published in March 2008 in the annual WMO brochure for the Statement on the Status of the Global Climate.
WMO’s global temperature analyses are based on two different sources. One is the combined dataset maintained by both the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office, and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK, which at this stage ranked 2007 as the seventh warmest on record. The other dataset is maintained by the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which indicated that 2007 is likely to be the fifth warmest on record.
Since the start of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74°C. But this rise has not been continuous. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment (Synthesis) Report, 2007, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”
2007 global temperatures have been averaged separately for both hemispheres. Surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere are likely to be the second warmest on record, at 0.63°C above the 30-year mean (1961-90) of 14.6°C/58.3°F. The southern hemisphere temperature is 0.20°C higher than the 30-year average of 13.4°C/56.1°F, making it the ninth warmest in the instrumental record since 1850.
January 2007 was the warmest January in the global average temperature record at 12.7°C/54.9°F, compared to the 1961-1990 January long-term average of 12.1°C/53.8°F.
Regional temperature anomalies
2007 started with record breaking temperature anomalies throughout the world. In parts of Europe, winter and spring ranked amongst the warmest ever recorded, with anomalies of more than 4°C above the long-term monthly averages for January and April.
Extreme high temperatures occurred in much of Western Australia from early January to early March, with February temperatures more than 5°C above average.
Two extreme heat waves affected south-eastern Europe in June and July, breaking previous records with daily maximum temperatures exceeding 40°C/104°F in some locations, including up to 45°C/113°F in Bulgaria. Dozens of people died and fire-fighters battled blazes devastating thousands of hectares of land. A severe heat wave occurred across the southern United States of America during much of August with more than 50 deaths attributed to excessive heat. August to September 2007 was extremely warm in parts of Japan, setting a new national record of absolute maximum temperature of 40.9°/105.6°F on 16 August.
In contrast, Australia recorded its coldest ever June with the mean temperature dropping to 1.5°C below normal. South America experienced an unusually cold winter (June-August), bringing winds, blizzards and rare snowfall to various provinces with temperatures falling to -22°C/-7.6°F in Argentina and -18°C/-0.4°F in Chile in early July.
Prolonged drought
Across North America, severe to extreme drought was present across large parts of the western U.S. and Upper Midwest, including southern Ontario/Canada, for much of 2007.  More than three-quarters of the Southeast U.S. was in drought from mid-summer into December, but heavy rainfall led to an end of drought in the southern Plains.
In Australia, while conditions were not as severely dry as in 2006, long term drought meant water resources remained extremely low in many areas. Below average rainfall over the densely populated and agricultural regions resulted in significant crop and stock losses, as well as water restrictions in most major cities.
China experienced its worst drought in a decade, affecting nearly 40 million hectares of farmland. Tens of millions of people suffered from water restrictions.
Flooding and intense storms
Flooding affected many African countries in 2007. In February, Mozambique experienced its worst flooding in six years, killing dozens, destroying thousands of homes and flooding 80,000 hectares of crops in the Zambezi valley.
In Sudan, torrential rains caused flash floods in many areas in June/July, affecting over 410,000 people, including 200,000 left homeless. The strong southwesterly monsoon resulted in one of the heaviest July-September rainfall periods, triggering widespread flash floods affecting several countries in West Africa, Central Africa and parts of the Greater Horn of Africa. Some 1.5 million people were affected and hundreds of thousands homes destroyed.
In Bolivia, flooding in January-February affected nearly 200,000 people and 70,000 hectares of cropland. Strong storms brought heavy rain that caused extreme flooding in the littoral region of Argentina in late March/early April. In early May, Uruguay was hit by its worst flooding since 1959, with heavy rain producing floods that affected more than 110,000 people and severely damaged crops and buildings. Triggered by storms, massive flooding in Mexico in early November destroyed the homes of half a million people and seriously affected the country’s oil industry.
In Indonesia, massive flooding on Java in early February killed dozens and covered half of the city of Jakarta by up to 3.7 metres of water. Heavy rains in June ravaged areas across southern China, with flooding and landslides affecting over 13.5 million people and killing more than 120. Monsoon-related extreme rainfall events caused the worst flooding in years in parts of South Asia. About 25 million people were affected in the region, especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Thousands lost their lives. However, rainfall during the Indian summer monsoon season (June-September) for India was, generally, near normal (105% of the long-term average), but with marked differences in the distribution of rainfall in space and time.
A powerful storm system, Kyrill, affected much of northern Europe during 17-18 January 2007 with torrential rains and winds gusting up to 170km/h. There were at least 47 deaths across the region, with disruptions in electric supply affecting tens of thousands during the storm.
England and Wales recorded its wettest May-July period since records began in 1766, receiving 406 mm of rain compared to the previous record of 349 mm in 1789. Extensive flooding in the region killed nine and caused more than US$6 billion in damages.
Development of La Niña
The brief El Niño event of late 2006 quickly dissipated in January 2007, and La Niña conditions became well established across the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific in the latter half of 2007.
In addition to La Niña, unusual sea surface temperature patterns with cooler than normal values across the north of Australia to the Indian Ocean, and warmer than normal values in the Western Indian Ocean, were recorded. These are believed to have modified the usual La Niña impacts in certain regions around the world.
The current La Niña is expected to continue into the first quarter of 2008 at least.
Devastating tropical cyclones
Twenty-four named tropical storms developed in the North-West Pacific during 2007, below the annual average of 27. Fourteen storms were classified as typhoons, equalling the annual average. Tropical cyclones affected millions in south-east Asia, with typhoons Pabuk, Krosa, Lekima and tropical storms like Peipah among the severest.
During the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane season, 14 named storms occurred, compared to the annual average of 12, with 6 being classified as hurricanes, equalling the average. For the first time since 1886, two category 5 hurricanes (Dean and Felix) made landfall in the same season.
In February, due to tropical cyclone Gamède, a new worldwide rainfall record was set in French La Reunion with 3,929 mm measured within three days.
In June, cyclone Gonu made landfall in Oman, affecting more than 20,000 people and killing 50, before reaching the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is no record of a tropical cyclone hitting Iran since 1945.
On 15 November, tropical cyclone Sidr made landfall in Bangladesh, generating winds of up to 240 km/h and torrential rains. More than 8.5 million people were affected and over 3,000 died. Nearly 1.5 million houses were damaged or destroyed. Often hit by cyclones, Bangladesh has developed a network of cyclone shelters and a storm early-warning system, which significantly reduced casualties.
Australia’s 2006/2007 tropical season was unusually quiet, with only five tropical cyclones recorded, equalling the lowest number observed since at least 1943-44.
Relatively small Antarctic ozone hole
The 2007 Antarctic ozone hole was relatively small due to mild stratosphere winter temperatures. Since 1998, only the 2002 and 2004 ozone holes were smaller. In 2007, the ozone hole reached a maximum of 25 million square kms in mid-September, compared to 29 million square kms in the record years of 2000 and 2006. The ozone mass deficit reached 28 megatonnes on 23 September, compared to more than 40 megatonnes in the record year of 2006.
Record-low Arctic sea ice extent opened the Northwest Passage
Following the Arctic sea ice melt season, which ends annually in September at the end of the northern summer, the average “sea ice extent” was 4.28 million square kms, the lowest on record. The “sea ice extent” at September 2007 was 39% below the long-term 1979-2000 average, and 23% below the previous record set just two years ago in September 2005.For the first time in recorded history, the disappearance of ice across parts of the Arctic opened the Canadian Northwest Passage for about five weeks starting 11 August. Nearly 100 voyages in normally ice-blocked waters sailed without the threat of ice. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now approximately 10% per decade, or 72,000 square kms per year.
Sea level rise continues
The sea level continued to rise at rates substantially above the average for the 20th century of about 1.7 mm per year. Measurements show that the 2007 global averaged sea level is about 20 cm higher than the 1870 estimate. Modern satellite measurements show that since 1993 global averaged sea level has been rising at about 3 mm per year.
Global 10 Warmest Years Mean Global temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1961-1990)
1998 0.52
2005 0.48
2003 0.46
2002 0.46
2004 0.43
2006 0.42
2007(Jan-Nov) 0.41
2001 0.40
1997 0.36
1995 0.28
UK 10 Warmest Years Mean UK Temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1971-2000)
2006 +1.15
2007 (Jan to 10th Dec) + 1.10
2003 + 0.92
2004 + 0.89
2002 + 0.89
2005 + 0.87
1990 + 0.83
1997 + 0.82
1949 + 0.80
1999 + 0.78
Adapted from materials provided by World Meteorological Organization.

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More fuel for the metaphorical fire.

PS3 one ups Xbox 360 with its DivX support

The Xbox 360 may have beaten Sony to to the punch with regards to supporting the DivX format but it seems that the PS3 will have the last laugh on the matter. First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified meaning it will get full DivX functionality. This even allows for developers to utilize the solid form of compression for various in-game cut scenes.

quote:

Last month, DivX announced that the PS3 will soon support DivX, and, this month, Gizmodo met with the company, which shared some interesting details on the big move.

First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified. While Microsoft’s console can only playback some DivX files, the PS3 will get full DivX functionality. This includes the ability for game developers to use the very efficient compression format for in-game cut-scenes.

This means DivX video cut scenes will reduce stress on the machine, theoretically allowing for better load times, less power consumption, and less heat output.

News Source: Blorge

Hurrah!  Well ok, I’m not a PS3 fanboy per say, but I do own one.  So in the interests of keeping the inter console wars fresh…. Hurrah!


Climate change will significantly increase impending bird extinctions

December 6, 2007

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Where do you go when you’ve reached the top of a mountain and you can’t go back down?

It’s a question increasingly relevant to plants and animals, as their habitats slowly shift to higher elevations, driven by rising temperatures worldwide. The answer, unfortunately, is you can’t go anywhere. Habitats shrink to the vanishing point, and species go extinct.

That scenario is likely to be played out repeatedly and at an accelerating rate as the world continues to warm, Stanford researchers say.

By 2100, climate change could cause up to 30 percent of land-bird species to go extinct worldwide, if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Land birds constitute the vast majority of all bird species.

”Of the land-bird species predicted to go extinct, 79 percent of them are not currently considered threatened with extinction, but many will be if we cannot stop climate change,” said Cagan Sekercioglu, a senior research scientist at Stanford and the lead author of a paper detailing the research, which is scheduled to be published online this week in Conservation Biology.

The study is one of the first analyses of extinction rates to incorporate the most recent climate change scenarios set forth earlier this year in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Price with Al Gore.

The researchers modeled changes to the elevational limits of the ranges of more than 8,400 species of land birds using 60 scenarios. The scenarios consisted of various combinations of surface warming projections from the 2007 IPCC report, habitat loss estimates from the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (an evaluation of the planet’s ecosystems by 1,360 experts around the world), and several possibilities of shifts in elevational range limits.

The worst-case scenario of 6.4 degrees Celsius surface warming combined with extensive habitat loss produced the estimate of 30 percent of land bird species going extinct by 2100. Increasing habitat loss exacerbates the effects of climate change because organisms seeking more suitable conditions will be less likely to find intact habitats. Even with an intermediate 2.8 C warming, 400 to 550 land-bird extinctions are expected.

”Vegetational shift is the key issue here,” Sekercioglu said. ”Birds will follow the shift in habitat.”

All plants have certain temperature and precipitation requirements they need to flourish. As lowlands become too warm for some species, higher slopes that were formerly too cool become better suited to their needs, and the distributions of plants slowly move upward. That shifting of populations renders bird species vulnerable to a host of complications.

Topography itself is a major issue. Each bird species is only found between specific elevations, limits based mainly on the temperatures at which it can survive and the presence of the plants, insects and other animals on which it feeds. Temperature decreases as one goes up a mountain, so as the lowlands become warmer, plant and animal communities need to move higher in order to remain in their required microclimates. Most bird species live in the tropics, mostly in lowland environments. In many of these areas, there may be no significantly higher slopes to which they can retreat. But even the presence of hills or mountains does not guarantee the survival of a species.

As one moves upslope, the extent of the area encompassed by a given elevational range almost always decreases. It’s a matter of simple geometry. The circumference of a mountain is typically smaller near the summit than at its base, so a range of, say, a hundred vertical meters occupies a far smaller band of area near the top than it does down at the base.

And once the summit of a mountain becomes too hot for a species or its preferred vegetation type, the habitable area is reduced to nothing.

”It’s like an escalator to extinction. As a species is forced upwards and its elevational range narrows, the species moves closer to extinction,” Sekercioglu said.

In some instances, species can expand their ranges, which the authors also considered in their models. If warming is limited and a species adapts, only the upper limit of a species’ elevational range might rise. As warming continues, however, the lower bound is likely to rise, as well.

Additional threats include interactions between the rising temperatures and other environmental factors. For example, as Hawaiian mountains get warmer, mosquitoes carrying avian malaria, to which most native bird species have no immunity, are moving upslope, invading the last refuges of birds already on the brink of extinction. In Costa Rica, toucans normally confined to lower elevations are colonizing mountain forests, where they compete with resident species for food and nesting holes, and prey on the eggs and nestlings of other bird species.

In addition, plant species that currently share a habitat may not all react the same way to temperature and moisture changes. Some species may be forced upslope while others are able to linger behind, tearing apart plant and animal communities even if all the species survive. Differences in soil composition can further disrupt plant communities. If soils at higher elevations are inhospitable to some plant species, those species will be wedged between a fixed upper bound and a rising lower bound until they are squeezed out of existence.

Until now, highland species have been less threatened by habitat loss and hunting, simply because most people live in flat lowlands instead of the steeper highlands. Compared to lowland birds, however, highland species are not only more sensitive to temperature changes, but their populations also are more isolated from each other, as mountains effectively constitute habitat islands surrounded by a sea of hotter lowlands.

The study also has shown that sedentary birds, which comprise over 80 percent of all bird species, are much more likely to go extinct from climate change than are migratory birds. That suggests that many sedentary mountain species currently thought to be safe are actually jeopardized by global warming. All in all, climate change is likely to be especially hard on the hundreds of bird species endemic to tropical mountains.

But in part because of the remoteness of the mountains and in part due to a lack funding for ornithological studies in most tropical countries, there are few data on these birds’ responses to climate change. Crucial remote sensing data are also becoming less available, as government satellites like Landsat age and as image distribution moves increasingly to the relatively expensive private sector.

”To effectively monitor the rate of change as warming progresses, especially in the species-rich tropics, we need a lot more data on birds’ distributions and on the speed and extent of birds’ elevational shifts in response to climate change,” Sekercioglu said.

Perhaps the most worrisome finding is that each additional degree of warming will have increasingly devastating effects. The authors estimate that an increase of 1 C from present temperatures will trigger roughly 100 bird extinctions. But if the global average temperature were to rise 5 C, from that point on an additional degree of warming, to 6 C, would be expected to cause 300 to 500 more bird extinctions.

”This emphasizes the importance of any measure that reduces surface warming, even if we cannot stop it altogether,” Sekercioglu said. ”Even a reduction of 1 degree can make a huge difference.”

”Giving up the fight against global warming would be the true disaster,” he added.

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Communities Across the Globe Getting to Grips with Climate Change

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UN Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility Report Points to Real Possibilities for Climate Proofing Economies, Livelihoods and Infrastructure

UN Climate Convention – 2 to 14 December – Bali and Beyond

Bali/Nairobi, 4 December 2007 – The way farmers in the Sudan, flood-prone communities in Argentina and dengue-challenged islands in the Caribbean are beginning to adapt to climate change are distilled in a new report launched today.

The five-year Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change provides new and inspiring examples of how vulnerable communities and countries may ‘climate proof’ economies in the years and decades to come.

In doing so, the assessments lay a foundation upon which at-risk nations and the international community can build and fund a credible and timely response to the climate change that is already underway.

Choices – the Tortoise and the ‘Hare’

The report underlines that factoring climate into development strategies is do-able but that in some cases hard choices may have to be made.

In a modern re-run of Aesop’s famous fable, it highlights the case of tortoise and the rabbit rather than hare.

One study in South Africa’s world famous Cape Floral Kingdom – a unique and economically important ecosystem – indicates that climate change is likely to increase the risk of extinction of the highly endangered riverine rabbit.

However, adaptation measures might conserve the padloper tortoise highlighting how across sectors – from biodiversity to agriculture, water and infrastructure – investments in adaptation will need to be intelligently and cost-effectively targeted.

The more than $ 9 million assessment has been funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by the START secretariat in Washington DC and TWAS, the Academy of Science for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy.

Twenty-four case studies were carried out under the AIACC project, including eleven in Africa. They encompass food security in the Sahel; smallholder farmers and artisanal fishing communities in South America; coastal townships of small islands in the Pacific; pastoralists in Mongolia; rice farmers in the lower Mekong basin.

More than 350 scientists, experts and ‘stakeholders’ from 150 institutions in 50 developing countries and 12 developed ones took part. Pilot adaptation programmes have been drawn up in some cases and some of these have already been tested with many encouraging results.

The findings, stories and recommendations from the AIACC case studies are presented in two newly published books, Climate Change and Vulnerability and Climate Change and Adaptation. Results of the project are also summarized in the final technical report and detailed in a number of supporting reports available at http://www.start.org.

Community Involvement and Early Warning

A key success of the assessment has been the increased awareness among the scientists, governments and local communities as to the importance of adaptation.

It also highlights in many cases the need to develop early warning systems especially, but not exclusively in Africa, where weather and climate monitoring networks remain sparse, under funded or poorly maintained.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “2007 has, as a result of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), been a year in which the science of climate change has reached a finality – it is happening, it is unequivocal”.

“2007 has also seen clear and cost effective strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions put on the table from improved energy efficiency in buildings to ones that address deforestation and agriculture,” he added.

“One of the big missing links has been adaptation, both in terms of adaptive strategies and in terms of resources for vulnerable communities. This assessment, involving experts across the developed and developing world, lays a solid and much needed foundation – a foundation upon which adaptation can become part of country development plans and built into international assistance including overseas development aid,” said Mr Steiner.

Monique Barbut, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the GEF, said: “The GEF has a long history working with the world’s most vulnerable countries

that want environmentally-friendly ways to adapt to changing climate without sacrificing key development goals”.

“As this wide sweeping assessment shows first hand, we are moving forward in a very focused way to weave adaptation strategies into daily practice. GEF money is working today to ensure that food security, access to drinking and irrigation water, sound public health and other basic needs are protected now and into the future,” she added.

Neil Leary of the International START Secretariat in Washington, who along with the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, have executed the project said: “Adaptation to climate hazards is not new. People have always been at risk from the climate and have continually sought ways of adapting. Still, variations and extremes of climate regularly exceed abilities to cope, too often with devastating effect, and give evidence of what has been called an adaptation deficit”.

“Now climate change threatens to widen the deficit, as shown by the AIACC studies. But the AIACC studies also find and document a variety of adaptive practices in use that reduce vulnerability. Building on and improving many of these practices can serve as a good starting point for adapting to the growing risks from climate change. Reducing emissions of the gases that cause climate change is necessary. But adaptation is necessary too,” he added.

The decision to carry out the assessments was at the request of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC said the peer reviewed reports had made a significant contribution to the IPCC’s landmark fourth assessment report published this year.

Highlights – Africa

South Africa

The Berg River dam was commissioned in 2004 to supply Cape Town, South Africa with water for uses such as drinking and irrigation. Climate change is likely to put increased stress on water availability over the coming decades in the Western Cape region.

The researchers looked at various costs and benefits linked with a variety of adaptation measures including increasing the capacity of the dam to creative water markets. They conclude that “substituting water markets for the existing allocation system substantially increased the simulated marginal cost of water to urban users and led to reduced consumption”.

The researchers add that such a system would have to take into account the impact on poor households in the Cape Town area.

Another study has looked at cost effective adaptation opportunities in parts of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape – a biodiversity hotspot and major tourist attraction.

By 2050, climate change may result in loss of habitat for over 10 per cent of species and six per cent would need to move to new locations. Wildlife corridors will help.

One option might also be to expand the conservation network including reserves. Overall however a more cost effective option will be to pay farmers to manage land for conservation or to encourage more environment-friendly farming, the study concludes.

The Gambia

Some projections of climate change suggest steadily declining rainfall from 2010 to the end off the century in West Africa. Should a drier climate come to pass, millet, a key staple crop, would undergo a gradual decline in yields unless adaptation measures are taken.

The researchers looked at four responses including the introduction and extension of irrigation, the introduction of new crop varieties and the use of fertilizers.

The findings show that millet crop yields can be increased even in a climate constrained world with harvests improved by 13 per cent if new varieties are deployed; up to a third if fertilizers are made available and increased by 37 per cent if irrigation is introduced.

The analysis indicates that new varieties and expanded use of fertilizer can be cost effective measures for maintaining grain yields in a drier climate. However, the adoption of irrigation is found to be too costly to be economically viable for growing relatively low valued grains.

The actual income for poor farmers might fall without assistance as irrigation will require the purchase and maintenance of diesel-powered water pumping kit. Solar-powered pumping could reduce the costs by perhaps 60 per cent.

Sudan

Here three case studies were undertaken in the dry, drought-prone and often degraded lands of Bara Province of North Kordofan; Arbaat, Red Sea State and El Fashir, North Darfur to see if communities can be made more resilient to climatic shocks.

The findings indicate that relatively minor but well thought out interventions, if supported by community involvement and involving in many cases the empowerment of women and services such as veterinary to micro-credit, can boost livelihoods and reduce vulnerability.

In Bara, a pilot to develop sustainable livelihoods has been tested under an UN Development Programme-GEF initiative called the Community-Based Rangeland Rehabilitation for Carbon Sequestration’.

Small-scale irrigated vegetable gardens, pest management, a switch from goats to sheep, sand dune stabilization and other measures have been tested as adaptive measures.

The project in Bara has seen land rehabilitation rise by close to 60 per cent; the carrying capacity for livestock rise by over 45 per cent and forage production climb by 48 per cent.

In Arbaat, various practical and institutional measures have been tested including the deployment of rainwater harvesting and tree planting alongside micro credit schemes, adult literacy for women and training for improved agricultural practices.

The work in Arbaat has led to land productivity increasing by 12 per cent and crop productivity by almost a fifth with improvements in both water quality and quantity.

In El Fashir, the community has developed their own response to a changing climate now supplemented by outside assistance.

Utilizing a water collection system known as trus alongside earth dams.

Responding to the encroachment of sand over fertile soils by adopting magun cultivation involving the sinking of regular placed holes five to 15 cm deep in which to plant melon and other seedlings.

Diversifying crop production including pumpkin, okra, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cucumbers, tobacco, millet and sesame.

The establishment of trades union – the Traditional Farmers and Fruits and Vegetable Unions – to organize production, harvesting and distribution.

The project has registered a 50 per cent improvement in productivity of the land as a result of dramatically increased water harvesting.

Asia

Mongolia

A study of livestock – a key mainstay of the Mongolian economy – indicates that climatic impacts are already affecting productivity.

Over the period 1980 to 2001, the average weight of sheep, goats and cattle have fallen by an average of 4kg, 2kg and 10 kg. Wool and cashmere production are also down.

Models forecast increasing impacts as a result of climbing air temperatures including a spread of the desert area to the north by 2080. The weight of ewes in the summer is expected to decline by 50 per cent by the same date as a result of factors including heat stress.

The area of land in Mongolia suitable for grazing may decline from 60 per cent now to 20 per in 2080.

There is also concern that climate change may intensify weather extremes from drought to a phenomenon called dzuds – sudden spurts of heavy and long-lasting snowfall that bar animals from access to grazing land.

In 1999-2000 a dzud event saw herders losing more than a quarter of their livestock forcing Mongolia to request international assistance.

A suite of adaptation measures are pinpointed ranging from insurance systems and risk funds to buffer herders against climatic shocks up to improved forecasting of extreme weather events.

The revival of traditional pasture management, reforestation of flood plains and irrigation of pasture lands are also proposed alongside the provision of animal shelters.

Studies on climatic impacts and possible adaptation strategies have also been carried out for Indonesia.

Here the Citarum watershed emerges as highly vulnerable to climate change with more extreme floods and droughts likely over the coming decades.

Studies indicate that many of these impacts can be minimized if forest cover is kept above 25 per cent. The authorities and the private sector are now looking at paying communities upstream to maintain rather than fell the forest – a system known as payment for ecosystem services.

“The electricity company Indonesian Power is also willing to support community reforestation activities through a community development programme. With these efforts, it is expected that a minimum forest cover of 25 per cent could be achieved to ensure a continuous supply of water during dry season and extreme drought years,” says the AIACC report.

China

A further study in Asia has focused on the Heihe River Basin in Northwestern China – an area where water supplies are already heavily utilized if not overtly utilized and where conflict of water is already occurring.

The study forecasts that that average temperature rises of between 2.5 degrees C and 6.5 degrees C could occur by 2050.

A vulnerability assessment has also been undertaken indicating a range of serious emerging risks as a result off climate change including very severe water shortages; increased floods and droughts and impacts on food supplies.

“Ecosystem vulnerability to climate change in the Heihe River Basin is also high. The degree of vulnerability is highest in the lower reach of the basin which is largely unmanaged grassland,” says the report. Indeed, it warns that increasing pressure from climate, population and over use of nature-based resources could trigger ecological collapse in some areas.

The researchers have drawn up a list of adaptation options that might assist the communities of the Heihe River Basin.

These include water-saving irrigation strategies; leak reduction from irrigation channels; conserving soil moisture by plastic films, straw and deep plowing methods up to the establishment of market mechanisms such as water permits and water allocation policies.

Latin America

Argentina and Uruguay

One AIACC study here has focused on the likely impact of climate change on floods and storm surges on coastal and estuary lands on La Plata River.

Strong winds, high tides and the natural features of the La Plata mean flooding occurs already with vulnerable areas identified as Samborombon Bay and up stream as far as Buenos Aires and its surrounds.

The researchers modeled likely future floods as a result of climate change including effects on storm surges and sea level rise.

It is likely that the level of the La Plata will rise higher than average sea level rise because of changes in wind patterns with the increase higher on the Uruguay coast and greater up the river’s estuary.

The report estimates that, as a result of climate change and a modest one per cent per year increase in population, the population at risk of floods could be 1.7 million by 2070 – more than three times the current numbers at risk of floods.

Around a quarter of a million people will be at risk of flooding each year or six times the current number at risk.

Property and infrastructure losses for the period 2050-2100 could range from five to 15 billion US dollars. Part of the loss calculation is based on the assumption of a single storm surge surging into the Metropolitan region of Buenos Aires.

The findings have been presented to the governments concerned alongside recommendations that include a review of coastal and city defenses and of early warning systems and flood response strategies.

The report also flags up concern that a traditional adaptation strategy is being ignored with increasing numbers of poor settlements and ‘gated communities of upper middle class people’ being sited on very low coastal lands.

The Caribbean

Dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome are forecast to increase in the tropics and sub tropics as a result of climate change.

In the Caribbean cases have climbed from a few hundred a year in the 1980s to as many as 8,000 a year since the early 1990s.

There are concerns that rising cases of dengue could impact on the economically-important tourism industry which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of GDP in Antigua and more than 10 per cent on most other islands.

The researchers estimate that a two degree C temperature rise in the Caribbean could, by the 2080s, triple the cases of dengue.

This AIACC study not only assessed the likelihood of dengue increasing but pin pointed measures that can reduce the risk.

It found, for example, that pupae of the dengue-carrying mosquito favour breeding in 40 gallon drums commonly used for outside water storage. The study also concluded that informal settlements and poor households, often headed by a single unemployed woman, were at greatest risk.

Education on the disease and its transmission, targeted at these households, is suggested as one important adaptation strategy, alongside measures to deal with the breeding grounds.

A pilot early warning system has also been developed and the findings and recommendations discussed with several countries including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

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Gore shares Nobel win with U.N. climate panel

October 12, 2007

OSLO (Reuters) – Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. climate panel won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their part in galvanizing international action against global warming before it “moves beyond man’s control”.

Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) won “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

They were chosen to share the $1.5 million prize from a field of 181 candidates.

“He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted,” the committee said of Gore.

“The IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming,” it said.

“Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control,” the citation said of rising temperatures that could bring more droughts, floods, rising seas.

It was the second prize to a leading Democrat during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush.

The 2002 prize went to former President Jimmy Carter, which the Nobel committee head at the time called a “kick in the legs” to the U.S. administration over preparations to invade Iraq.

But chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said the prize to Gore was not meant as criticism of Bush. “A peace price is never criticism of anyone, a peace price is a positive message and support to all fighting for peace in the world.”

Since leaving office in 2001 Gore has lectured extensively on the threat of global warming and last year starred in his own Oscar-winning documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” to warn of the dangers of climate change and urge action against it.

It was the first Nobel Peace Prize to climate campaigners, though the 2004 prize went to Kenya’s Wangari Maathai for her work to get women across Africa to plant trees — an earlier expansion of the concept of peace to environmental work.

OVERWHELMED

Gore, age 59, said he was deeply honored to win and said he would donate his share of the prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization.

“This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s preeminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis — a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years.”

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said he was overwhelmed.

“I can’t believe it, overwhelmed, stunned,” Pachauri told reporters and co-workers after receiving the news on the phone at his office in New Delhi.

“I feel privileged sharing it with someone as distinguished as him,” he added, referring to Gore.

The IPCC groups 2,500 researchers from more than 130 nations and issued reports this year blaming human activities for climate changes ranging from more heat waves to floods. It was set up in 1988 by the United Nations to help guide governments.

In the run-up to the announcement, speculation that Gore could win the Nobel prize prompted questions about whether it could lead Gore to join the 2008 race for the White House.

Monica Friedlander, founder of the group http://www.draftgore.com seeking to get Gore to run, said it would now “be very difficult for him to say no”.

“He’s in a position to make a big difference,” she said.

The scope of the prize established by the 1895 will of Swedish philanthropist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel has expanded over the decades from its roots in peacemaking and disarmament to human rights from the 1960s, to work for the environment and the fight against poverty.

Congratulations poured in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barros, U.N. Environment Program chief Achim Steiner, environmental groups and others.

The Nobel prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.54 million) and will be handed out in Oslo on December 10.

All I can say really is well done.  I have seen his film, ‘An Inconvienient Truth’ and although it is pretty much an idiots guide to the basics of climate change he is putting the information out there, and for a Nobel Prize to go to someone promoting the issues that arise from climate change shows that the world is taking note.

On BBC News 24 today there was a small discussion about the prize, with one of the neigh sayers disputing man made climate change.  I wish I could have been on that program simply to dispute his ‘changes in solar activity’ point, which was his only point.  I think it was pointed out in a post I made recently that even the scientists involved in the solar research admit that man made greenhouse gases are causing the disaster that is happening now.  Read back if you are interested.

Well done Mr Gore, if for doing nothing other than promoting the issues.


How climate change will affect the world

September 20, 2007

The effects of climate change will be felt sooner than scientists realised and the world must learn to live with the effects, experts said yesterday.

Martin Parry, a climate scientist with the Met Office, said destructive changes in temperature, rainfall and agriculture were now forecast to occur several decades earlier than thought. He said vulnerable people such as the old and poor would be the worst affected, and that world leaders had not yet accepted their countries would have to adapt to the likely consequences.

Speaking at a meeting to launch the full report on the impacts of global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Parry, co-chairman of the IPCC working group that wrote the report, said: “We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it’s us.”

He added politicians had wasted a decade by focusing only on ways to cut emissions, and had only recently woken up to the need to adapt. “Mitigation has got all the attention, but we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world.”

The international response to the problem has failed to grasp that serious consequences such as reduced crop yields and water shortages are now inevitable, he said. Countries such as Britain need to focus on helping nations in the developing world cope with the predicted impacts, by helping them to introduce irrigation and water management technology, drought resistant crops and new building techniques.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said: “Wheat production in India is already in decline, for no other reason than climate change. Everyone thought we didn’t have to worry about Indian agriculture for several decades. Now we know it’s being affected now.” There are signs a similar shift is under way in China, he added.

The summary chapter of yesterday’s report was published in April, after arguments between scientists and political officials over its contents. Prof Parry said: “Governments don’t like numbers, so some numbers were brushed out of it.”

The report warns that Africa and the Arctic will bear the brunt of climate impacts, along with small islands such as Fiji, and Asian river megadeltas including the Mekong.

It says extreme weather events are likely to become more intense and more frequent, and the effect on ecosystems could be severe, with up to 30% of plant and animal species at risk of extinction if the average rise in global temperatures exceeds 1.5C-2.5C. The consequences of rising temperatures are already being felt on every continent, it adds.

Prof Parry said it was “very unlikely” that average temperature rise could be limited to 2C, as sought by European governments. That would place 2 billion more people at risk of water shortages, and hundreds of millions more will face hunger, the report says.

So there we have it, spelled out.

A couple of my books arrived the other day, I’ve started on Environment Ethics and I have to admit it isn’t as easy a read as a few others I have started and finished recently, but thats the point of studying, to challenge and push yourself. Despite it not being totally straight forward I am enjoying it and am learning and exploring ideas that wouldnt have come to me as easily as some other concepts that I come across daily on my travels. We’ll see how it goes of course.

In other news The Special One has left Chelsea and it’s a really dark day. I can’t see any other manager in the future being able to bestow the level of success he has in his time with us. Anyway I’m working on a tribute video which I will published as soon as it’s ready. That’s really all I want to say on the subject.