Tuesday, 18 June 2013

G8 2013: Syria, Tax And Impact Investment On The Agenda.....

Leaders from eight of the most powerful nations in the world have begun two days of talks in Northern Ireland, where they will discuss such things as tax transparency and the Syrian conflict as part of the annual G8 summit.
The UK is hosting the Group of Eight (G8) meeting for the first time since 2005, with discussions being held at Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US will also be in attendance.

In an exchange of letters with Pope Francis, David Cameron recently said he would “aim to help secure the growth and stability on which the prosperity and welfare of the whole world depends” through the event.

On the agenda will be negotiations over Syria, which Cameron and Russian president Vladimir Putin have disagreed on in the past. According to the Financial Times, during discussions between the two men on Sunday, Putin said Russia was “supplying arms to the legitimate government of Syria in line with international law”.

However, both are said to want to end conflict in the region.

Issues surrounding tax, trade and transparency, as well as social impact investing, are also on the table. The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), the sustainable investment industry’s trade body, has welcomed the inclusion of both topics, and urged leaders to make progress in encouraging long-term responsible investment.

It also called for better corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting by large companies.

Integrating long-term sustainability factors into companies’ business strategies could help increase the quality and flow of information which lets investors make the informed and long-term decisions vital for the global economy, environment and society”, said Simon Howard, UKSIF chief executive.

We hope that G8 leaders will return from the summit and strengthen their dialogue with the responsible investment community on how best to utilise key movements such as social impact investing to reshape capital markets for a more sustainable future.”

In the run-up to the G8 summit, Cameron has been vocal in promoting social impact investment. He said in a speech that it was “a great force for social change on the planet”. Meanwhile, last Friday, the Department for International Development (DFID) revealed two new measures to help promote impact investment in the UK.

Discussions around tax transparency come after a number of big brands were found to have paid very little corporation tax, despite making billions in revenue. The anti-poverty campaign group Enough Food for Everyone IF claimed last week that global hunger would be eradicated by 2025 if G8 leaders clamped down on tax avoidance. IF spokesperson Melanie Ward called on attendees “to [make] public and automatically [share] the information poor countries need to collect their missing billions.”

In her annual speech to parliament in May, the Queen said, “My government will use [its G8 presidency] to promote international security and prosperity”. However, a notable hole in the G8 summit agenda has been left by climate change – arguably one of the most prominent threats to international security and prosperity.

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said, “G8 policies are not only failing to tackle major international crises like climate change, world hunger and the trashing of our natural resources; they often make them worse.

Proposals at this year’s summit would accelerate corporate control of the world’s food system and do little to end our fossil fuel addiction.

The world’s richest nations must stop pursuing economic growth at any cost and build economies that allow us all to live sustainably and equitably within the planet’s limited resources.”

Energy Saving Measures Improve The Value Of Properties, Government Says....

Energy efficiency is a key feature in increasing the value of properties in England, according to new research on house sales released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Adding green or energy saving features to houses can bump up their value by 14%, but up to 38% in some parts of the country, according to the DECC report. Energy minister Greg Barker said, “We have long known the benefits of making energy saving improvements to the home, but this study is real evidence of the huge potential rewards.“Not only can energy efficient improvements help protect you against rising energy prices, but they can also add real value to your property.”

The study analysed 300,000 property sales in England between 1995 and 2011 and found out that energy efficiency influences the house price. Improving its Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) from band G to E, or from band D to B, would add more than £16,000 to the sale price.

In northern areas, this amount could be as much s £25,000. Barker said that the merit needs to be given to the green deal as it is “helping more people make these types of home improvements, reducing high upfront costs and letting people pay for some the cost through the savings on their bills”.However, recent figures revealed that the green deal has caused installations of cavity wall insulation to drop by 97% compared to last year, as the government’s scheme requires homeowners to apply for a loan to get the financial assistance for energy saving measures.

We're Still Ethical, Says Co-op Bank Chief After Unveiling Rescue Plan.....

The Co-operative Bank has unveiled measures to overcome the £1.5 billion shortfall in its balance sheet, but has been urged not to surrender its ethical values in the process.
For the first time in its 141-year history, shares in the mutually-owned bank will be floated on the stock market through a so-called ‘bail in’ process. This will see the bank offer bondholders shares in an effort to raise capital.

It is aiming for £1 billion this year and £500m in 2014. Co-op Group chief executive Euan Sutherland said the news means the group “can now look to the future with confidence”.

But the Co-op’s announcement has led many to question whether the ownership structure and core principles of the largest ethical bank in the UK will change as commercial investors take on stakes.

However, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on Monday, Sutherland insisted there would
be “no change to our ethos or the way we run our bank”.

This is something backed up by other members of the alternative finance industry.

The Co-operative Bank has been an ethical pioneer in banking and one of the reasons it has been able to stand out is that it is owned, ultimately by its customers. The new capital injection doesn’t change that”, said Ed Mayo, secretary-general of trade body Co-operatives UK.

It is true that it is expected to involve the issue of a minority of shares to outside investors, but this is a model that has been tried in different co-operative settings around the world and there are good lessons on how to make a success of this.

These moves ensure a substantial financial cushion that can underpin commercial success and the ethical values that have underpinned that. British banking as a whole is better off as a result of these actions to safeguard the Co-operative Bank.”

The Co-op Bank’s problems came to light after the collapse of a deal to buy 632 Lloyds branches in April – a deal that was lauded as “the biggest shake-up in high street banking in a generation” and which would have seen the bank treble in size. As it was, former Co-op Group chief executive Peter Marks said the transaction posed too high a risk.

The Guardian reported on Saturday that Lloyds customers were unhappy with being dumped. The banking group had instead decided to offload the 632 branches to the highest bidder.

Speaking to the BBC about the Co-op Bank’s bail in decision, Martin Shaw, chief executive of the Association of Financial Mutuals said that customers will not see any difference”.

Meanwhile, Laura Willoughby, chief executive of campaign group Move Your Money, said, “It’s great news for customers and the economy that they have found a solution to their problems without resorting to the public purse.

As the biggest ethical bank they provide choice and demonstrate that banking can be different. If a solution does threaten their mutual and ethical status then we call Co-op Group members to step-up and question the bank about what this really means.”

When recycling is the second-best option....

On a warm summer's night they came, bearing the damaged and broken, to the place where old things are healed and made whole again.

This time they came to the Camden Town Shed, in north London, but next time it could be a church hall, market stall or community centre near you.

Ugo Vallauri and Janet Gunter are the co-founders of The Restart Project, which aims to stop people throwing away broken gadgets and other electrical items and, instead, get them fixed by taking them along to a Restart party.

At these gatherings, damaged and broken devices and gadgets are taken apart, and hopefully repaired, by the teams of fixers that the project brings together.
Bamboozling jargon
The idea came out of work Mr Vallauri has done with Computer Aid, a charity that refurbishes old computers for use in developing nations.

"They fix almost everything in those places," he said, "they just don't have the money to buy them new."

By contrast, he said, in developed nations people have lost the will to fix broken gadgets. A combination of convenience and cultural pressure leads people to buy new rather than repair.

"Also people have lost trust in commercial repairs. They do not know who to go to and who they can trust, especially when it comes to electronics and electrical goods."

Just as when people take their car to a mechanic, people often fear that when they take their broken gadgets to a repair shop they will be overcharged or bamboozled by jargon.

The idea with Restart is to overcome that fear by getting people involved with the repair process themselves.

Opening up a kettle, coffee grinder or laptop and helping to take it to pieces is a powerful way to get over that fear, said Ben Skidmore, one of Restart's roster of regular fixers.

That fear tends to evaporate completely if the item in question gets fixed, he said.

The fixers at Restart parties include people like Mr Skidmore who have been tinkering as a hobby for years, to others such as Francis Dove who runs an electrical repair shop.

When someone walks in to a Restart party with a damaged or broken gadget, it goes through a "triage stage" during which its owner describes the symptoms and people offer their opinions about what's wrong.

Then, more often than not, it is put on a tabletop, taken to pieces and the repair work begins.

"The best technicians are nosy," said Mr Dove, peering at the exposed circuit board of an LCD TV.
Boombox beats again

On average about 20-25 people bring along something in need of repair to a Restart party, said Mr Vallauri.

Electronic waste About a quarter of electrical and electronic waste will work again

In Camden, the fixers got to grips with, amongst other things, an LCD TV, a boombox, a digital car radio, a laptop, two digital cameras and a pair of headphones.

On the night some, such as the boombox, were easy to fix. The boombox's radio tuner looked broken, but when the case was cracked open it emerged that the piece of plastic that moves when the tuning wheel is turned had simply slipped out of sight.

In moments, it was returned to its track and the repair was done.

Others were trickier. Mr Dove instantly spotted dodgy capacitors on the circuit board of the LCD TV that were responsible for putting it into an eternal standby mode. Ripping them out and replacing them should solve the problem, he said.

For Mr Vallauri, the failing capacitors are symptomatic of the way modern electrical equipment is built. Manufacturers could choose to use components that cost a fraction more and radically lengthen the life of the average gadget, he said.

Instead, he said, more often than not they go cheap and produce goods that have obsolescence built in.

Fixing items that suffer this manufacturing neglect is straightforward even though few people know it. Mr Vallauri quoted research which suggests that about 23% of the waste electrical equipment in recycling centres could be refurbished and repaired easily.

Unlocking the value in that could prove a huge boost to local economies in financial and social terms, he said.

Unfortunately, he said, that value is hard to realise because most recycling policies involve local authorities signing a deal with a contractor to manage the waste.

That divorces people from being involved with what they discard, said Mr Vallauri. The undoubted convenience comes at a high social cost.

Getting between the authority and the waste management firm is hard, he said, but would reap real dividends.

"We don't like it when we see things that end up in a skip, or even recycled by our councils, when they could have a second or third life if only we use some basic repair skills," he said.

FIND OUT MORE: The Restart Project...

Monday, 10 June 2013

Let's Beat Cancer Together!!

A close friend of mine's daughter was diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago - she was 25 months old.

Ever since then 'little' Naomi (and her family) has been bravely battling this evil monster with the help of her best friend and sister Lorelai. Caroline has stopped working to be with her girls, administer daily chemo meds, weekly blood tests are carried out during our friendly home invasion by their community nurse, not to mention the monthly chemo and steriods....And lumbar punctures.
Anyone who knows me will know that from May 2012 I have had an enormous amount of ill health including 3 heart attacks/depressions, 3 strokes, multi-segmented bilateral bloog clots in the lungs, an atonic bladder along with seizures/blackouts and a worsening of a condition I've had for 14 years - Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. I have had 22 hospital admissions in the last 10 months. I was in a wheelchair for most of the year. In March I decided I'd had enough of the wheelchair, and bought a tri-walker. With some determination and a lot of pain I managed to start walking alone again - I'm lucky to have the support of my amazing husband. I still need the walker from time to time, but generally I try to manage without. In just under two weeks time I am taking part in the Race For Life (Basildon) 5KM with Caroline so we can battle cancer together! I have not even reached my tiny target of £50 - only £10 more to go. It's been a massive effort to get this far, and I + cancer would love your support... so please, I know times are hard, but if you can spare even £1 - it all helps! Sorry for the rambling! :)

Artist Of The Day: Maurice Sendak....

Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away last year, but today is his 85th birthday. In his honor, Google has posted an animated Doodle running through some of Sendak's classic books.
The Doodle has already appeared on New Zealand's Google, and I expect the rest of us will be seeing it on our home Google pages as June 10th comes upon us. The animation takes us through Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Sendak's 2011 book Bumble-Ardy. Happy Birthday, Mr. Sendak.
Maurice Bernard Sendak (/ˈsɛndæk/; June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012) was an American illustrator and writer of children's books. He became widely known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963. Born to Jewish-Polish parents, his childhood was affected by the death of many of his family members during the Holocaust. Besides Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There, and illustrated Little Bear. In later life, he became an atheist and in 2008, announced he was gay.
Sendak died in 2012 after suffering a stroke.
Sendak was born in Brooklyn, to Polish Jewish immigrant parents Sadie (née Schindler) and Philip Sendak, a dressmaker. Sendak described his childhood as a "terrible situation" because of his extended family's dying in The Holocaust, which exposed him at an early age to death and the concept of mortality. His love of books began at an early age when he developed health problems and was confined to his bed. He decided to become an illustrator after watching Walt Disney's film Fantasia at the age of twelve. One of his first professional commissions was to create window displays for the toy store F.A.O. Schwarz. His illustrations were first published in 1947 in a textbook titled Atomics for the Millions by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff. He spent much of the 1950s illustrating children's books written by others before beginning to write his own stories.
His older brother Jack Sendak also became an author of children's books, two of which were illustrated by Maurice in the 1950s.
Sendak gained international acclaim after writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are. The book's depictions of fanged monsters concerned some parents when it was first published, as his characters were somewhat grotesque in appearance. Before Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak was best known for illustrating Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series of books.
Sendak later recounted the reaction of a fan:
A little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children's letters - sometimes very hastily - but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, 'Dear Jim: I loved your card.' Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said: 'Jim loved your card so much he ate it.' That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
When Sendak saw a manuscript of Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, the first children's book by Isaac Bashevis Singer, on the desk of an editor at Harper & Row, he offered to illustrate the book. It was first published in 1966 and received a Newbery Honor. Sendak was delighted and enthusiastic about the collaboration. He once wryly remarked that his parents were "finally" impressed by their youngest child when he collaborated with Singer.
His book In the Night Kitchen, originally issued in 1970, has often been subjected to censorship for its drawings of a young boy prancing naked through the story. The book has been challenged in several American states including Illinois, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Texas. In the Night Kitchen regularly appears on the American Library Association's list of "frequently challenged and banned books". It was listed number 21 on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–1999".
His 1981 book Outside Over There is the story of a girl, Ida, and her sibling jealousy and responsibility. Her father is away and so Ida is left to watch her baby sister, much to her dismay. Her sister is kidnapped by goblins and Ida must go off on a magical adventure to rescue her. At first, she is not really eager to get her sister and nearly passes her sister right by when she becomes absorbed in the magic of the quest. In the end, she rescues her baby sister, destroys the goblins, and returns home committed to caring for her sister until her father returns home.
Sendak was an early member of the National Board of Advisors of the Children's Television Workshop during the development stages of the Sesame Street television series. He also adapted his book Bumble Ardy into an animated sequence for the series, with Jim Henson as the voice of Bumble Ardy. He wrote and designed three other animated stories for the series: "Seven Monsters" (which never aired), "Up & Down", and "Broom Adventures".
Sendak produced an animated television production based on his work titled Really Rosie, featuring the voice of Carole King, which was broadcast in 1975 and is available on video (usually as part of video compilations of his work). An album of the songs was also produced. He contributed the opening segment to Simple Gifts, a Christmas collection of six animated shorts shown on PBS TV in 1977 and later issued on VHS in 1993. He adapted his book Where the Wild Things Are for the stage in 1979. Additionally, he designed sets for many operas and ballets, including the award-winning (1983) Pacific Northwest Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, Houston Grand Opera's productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute (1981) and Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (1997), Los Angeles County Music Center's 1990 production of Mozart's Idomeneo, and the New York City Opera's 1981 production of Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen.
In the 1990s, Sendak approached playwright Tony Kushner to write a new English version of the Czech composer Hans Krása's children's Holocaust opera Brundibár. Kushner wrote the text for Sendak's illustrated book of the same name, published in 2003. The book was named one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Books of 2003.
In 2003, Chicago Opera Theatre produced Sendak and Kushner's adaptation of Brundibár. In 2005, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, in collaboration with Yale Repertory Theatre and Broadway's New Victory Theater, produced a substantially reworked version of the Sendak-Kushner adaptation.
In 2004 Sendak worked with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra in Boston on their project "Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale". This Klezmer version of Sergei Prokofiev's famous musical story for children, Peter and the Wolf featured Maurice Sendak as the narrator. He also illustrated the cover art.
Sendak also created the children's television program Seven Little Monsters.
Sendak chose the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be the repository for his work in the early 1970s, thanks to shared literary and collecting interests. His collection of nearly 10,000 works of art, manuscripts, books and ephemera, has been the subject of many exhibitions at the Rosenbach, seen by visitors of all ages. Sendak once praised Herman Melville's writings, saying, "There's a mystery there, a clue, a nut, a bolt, and if I put it together, I find me." From May 6, 2008, through May 3, 2009, the Rosenbach presented There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak. This major retrospective of over 130 pieces pulled from the museum's vast Sendak collection is the largest and most ambitious exhibition of Sendak's work ever created and is now a traveling exhibition. It features original artwork, rare sketches, never-before-seen working materials, and exclusive interview footage. The exhibition draws on a total of over 300 objects, providing a unique experience with each set of illustrations.
Exhibition highlights include the following:
·         Original color artwork from books such as Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, The Nutshell Library, Outside Over There, and Brundibar;
·         "Dummy" books filled with lively preliminary sketches for titles like The Sign on Rosie's Door, Pierre, and Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!;
·         Never-before-seen working materials, such as newspaper clippings that inspired Sendak, family portraits, photographs of child models and other ephemera;
·         Rare sketches for unpublished editions of stories such as Tolkien's The Hobbit and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, and other illustrating projects;
·         Unique materials from the Rosenbach collection that relate to Sendak's work, including an 1853 edition of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, sketches by William Blake, and Herman Melville's bookcase;
·         Stories told by the illustrator himself on topics like Alice in Wonderland, his struggle to illustrate his favourite novels, hilarious stories of Brooklyn, and the way his work helps him exorcise childhood traumas.
Internationally, Sendak received the third biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 1970, recognizing his "lasting contribution to children's literature". He received one of two inaugural Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards in 2003, recognizing his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense". The citation called him "the modern picture-book's portal figure" and the presentation credited Where the Wild Things Are with "all at once [revolutionizing] the entire picture-book narrative ... thematically, aesthetically, and psychologically." In the U.S. he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 1983, recognizing his "substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature".
·         Caldecott Medal from the ALA as illustrator of "the most distinguished American picture book for children", Where the Wild Things Are, 1964. (Sendak was one of the Caldecott runners-up seven times from 1954 to 1982, more than any other illustrator, although some have won multiple Medals.)
·         Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's book illustration, 1970
·         National Book Award in category Picture Books for Outside Over There, 1982
·         Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, 1983
·         National Medal of Arts, 1996.
·         Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children's literature, 2003
Sendak was honored in North Hollywood, California, where an elementary school was named after him.

Boundless Informant: the NSA's secret tool to track global surveillance data.....

The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance). Note the '2007' date in the image relates to the document from which the interactive map derives its top secret classification, not to the map itself.
Revealed: The NSA's powerful tool for cataloguing global surveillance data – including figures on US collection

The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorizing the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, "What type of coverage do we have on country X" in "near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure."

An NSA factsheet about the program, acquired by the Guardian, says: "The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country."

Under the heading "Sample use cases", the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: "How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country."

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map" seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
boundless heatmap The heat map reveals how much data is being collected from around the world. Note the '2007' date in the image relates to the document from which the interactive map derives its top secret classification, not to the map itself.

Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America's closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.

The heatmap gives each nation a color code based on how extensively it is subjected to NSA surveillance. The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance).

The disclosure of the internal Boundless Informant system comes amid a struggle between the NSA and its overseers in the Senate over whether it can track the intelligence it collects on American communications. The NSA's position is that it is not technologically feasible to do so.

At a hearing of the Senate intelligence committee In March this year, Democratic senator Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

"No sir," replied Clapper.

Judith Emmel, an NSA spokeswoman, told the Guardian in a response to the latest disclosures: "NSA has consistently reported – including to Congress – that we do not have the ability to determine with certainty the identity or location of all communicants within a given communication. That remains the case."

Other documents seen by the Guardian further demonstrate that the NSA does in fact break down its surveillance intercepts which could allow the agency to determine how many of them are from the US. The level of detail includes individual IP addresses.

IP address is not a perfect proxy for someone's physical location but it is rather close, said Chris Soghoian, the principal technologist with the Speech Privacy and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If you don't take steps to hide it, the IP address provided by your internet provider will certainly tell you what country, state and, typically, city you are in," Soghoian said.

That approximation has implications for the ongoing oversight battle between the intelligence agencies and Congress.

On Friday, in his first public response to the Guardian's disclosures this week on NSA surveillance, Barack Obama said that that congressional oversight was the American peoples' best guarantee that they were not being spied on.

"These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress and they are being fully briefed on these programs," he said. Obama also insisted that any surveillance was "very narrowly circumscribed".

Senators have expressed their frustration at the NSA's refusal to supply statistics. In a letter to NSA director General Keith Alexander in October last year, senator Wyden and his Democratic colleague on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Udall, noted that "the intelligence community has stated repeatedly that it is not possible to provide even a rough estimate of how many American communications have been collected under the Fisa Amendments Act, and has even declined to estimate the scale of this collection."

At a congressional hearing in March last year, Alexander denied point-blank that the agency had the figures on how many Americans had their electronic communications collected or reviewed. Asked if he had the capability to get them, Alexander said: "No. No. We do not have the technical insights in the United States." He added that "nor do we do have the equipment in the United States to actually collect that kind of information".

Soon after, the NSA, through the inspector general of the overall US intelligence community, told the senators that making such a determination would jeopardize US intelligence operations – and might itself violate Americans' privacy.

"All that senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the inspectors general cannot provide it," Wyden told Wired magazine at the time.

The documents show that the team responsible for Boundless Informant assured its bosses that the tool is on track for upgrades.

The team will "accept user requests for additional functionality or enhancements," according to the FAQ acquired by the Guardian. "Users are also allowed to vote on which functionality or enhancements are most important to them (as well as add comments). The BOUNDLESSINFORMANT team will periodically review all requests and triage according to level of effort (Easy, Medium, Hard) and mission impact (High, Medium, Low)."

Emmel, the NSA spokeswoman, told the Guardian: "Current technology simply does not permit us to positively identify all of the persons or locations associated with a given communication (for example, it may be possible to say with certainty that a communication traversed a particular path within the internet. It is harder to know the ultimate source or destination, or more particularly the identity of the person represented by the TO:, FROM: or CC: field of an e-mail address or the abstraction of an IP address).

"Thus, we apply rigorous training and technological advancements to combine both our automated and manual (human) processes to characterize communications – ensuring protection of the privacy rights of the American people. This is not just our judgment, but that of the relevant inspectors general, who have also reported this."

She added: "The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programs."

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Government plans could allow communities to reject wind farms....

Government proposals to give communities more say over onshore wind developments could make it easier for vocal minorities to prevent projects from happening.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said on Thursday that communities would be financially rewarded – through discounts on their energy bills – for living near wind farms. This would mirror an incentive scheme put in place by 100% renewable electricity firm Good Energy, who featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013.

However, critics have claimed that anti-wind motives were seated deep within its plans.

Onshore wind, the cheapest and most developed form of renewable energy the UK has at its disposal, is crucial in the transition to a low-carbon economy. As one commentator noted, as a result of the government’s proposals, we “have decided to make tackling climate change much more expensive.”

John Hayes, the anti-wind former energy minister who is now a senior adviser to David Cameron, told the Daily Mail,No longer will councils and communities be bullied into accepting developments because national energy policy trumps local opinion. Meeting our energy goals is no excuse for building wind turbines in the wrong places.”

Hayes, along with a fellow anti-wind Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, was praised by his Conservative peers in the House of Commons on Thursday for leading the campaign against wind farms from the inside.

Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, said, “I congratulate my honourable friend the member for Daventry [Heaton-Harris] on leading the campaign against wind farms in this House, and I have a sneaking feeling that I can detect the hand of my right honourable friend the member for South Holland and the Deepings [Hayes] in this new revised policy.”

Unlike renewables, which are already subject to planning permission, local communities have no say in oil, gas, coal, nuclear or fracking developments. The environmental concerns regarding the latter is likely to draw significant opposition once drilling sites have been approved.

The likes of Hayes, Heaton-Harris and Bone seem to have no issue with councils and communities being bullied over these developments.

Reacting to the proposals, Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at campaign group Friends of the Earth, said, “Another day, another government attack on efforts to tackle climate change.

Earlier this week the Liberal Democrat leadership helped torpedo proposals to clean up the power sector, now they’re allowing the Conservative right to scupper onshore wind.

Communities should have a say on wind farms and get direct benefits for hosting them, but rigging the planning system to allow a vocal minority to block turbines would be a disaster.”

Pendleton also called on the government to give greater power to communities on other forms of energy, such as carbon-intensive fracking for shale gas.

BBC urged to promote flourishing social business sector in The Apprentice....

A high-profile group of social entrepreneurs and business leaders have written to the BBC, urging it to widen the reach of The Apprentice so that it focuses more on social business.
The campaign, co-ordinated by the national body Social Enterprise UK, describes the hit reality show as “out of touch” with modern day business. It claims that there is a noticeable shift towards not-for-profits or firms with a distinct social or environmental benefit, and this should be reflected in the BBC’s programming.

The letter, addressed to acting controller of BBC One Charlotte Moore, has been signed by the likes of Big Issue founder John Bird, Social Enterprise UK chief executive Peter Holbrook and former Apprentice winner Tim Campbell. The entrepreneurs call on the BBC to do more to promote social enterprises – namely through The Apprentice.

Bird said, “We need more TV shows about social entrepreneurs and enterprises.

Though at times the sector is overlooked, more and more people are buying into the idea that we need business and social need to come together. There are a lot of very exciting stories and a lot of interesting people doing astonishing things.”

According to the group, there has only been one social entrepreneur on The Apprentice: Melody Hossaini, who appeared in the sixth series of the show.

Hossaini, who is founder and CEO of youth development business InspirEngage International, said, “Figures show that The Apprentice is responsible for inspiring a wave of entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. But, while this is positive, the series does not show the social values that exist in modern business.”

The Apprentice, based on a US show of the same name, first aired on BBC Two in 2005. It stars business magnate Lord Sugar, who fires a contestant each week before crowning a winner in the last episode, with whom he subsequently enters a business partnership.

At the G8 Social Impact Investment Conference on Thursday, David Cameron described social investment as “a great force for social change on the planet”. He announced that the government would be offering tax breaks for social investment and greater help for communities in buying local assets.

He also unveiled a Social Stock Exchange, in an effort to connect investors with publicly-listed social businesses.

World Oceans Day: 2013....

June 8th 2013 is World Oceans Day, and in recognition thereof, groups and individuals around the world are holding events - from cleaning up a wetland in Cape Town, to "creature observation" on the tidal flats of Japan's Shiba City, to a day-long festival in Santa Barbara - of oceanic celebration and education.

It's great that the ocean has a day all of its very own, of course, and even better that the United Nations has given the day its official imprimatur. But there's a case to be made that, frankly, every day should be ocean day. After all, Earth is the only planet known to have liquid water on its surface and the only planet known to have life. These facts are not coincidental.

Not only did life on Earth began in the ocean; more than 3.5 billion years later, the ocean and atmosphere are engaged in an interplay that continues to make continued life on Earth possible. The ocean is the engine that drives our planet's climate systems: without it, Earth would be intolerably hot during the day and frozen at night.

Pretty good reason, all by itself, to be thankful for the ocean, right? In celebration of its one officially-recognized day, here are some other blow-your-mind nuggets about the magnificence of the ocean realm:

We all know that the ocean covers approximately 71 percent of the surface of the planet (more than 80 percent in the Southern hemisphere). But it also constitutes over 90 percent of the habitable space on Earth, because whereas on land, almost all life clings to the surface, in the ocean it is found from top to bottom, from the sunny surface to the cold, dark depths.

How much water is in the ocean? About 260 million trillion gallons. Which, for the record, is enough to fill roughly 20 million trillion bathtubs.

There is approximately 220,000 miles of coastline in the world, almost enough to reach from Earth to the Moon. More than half of that coastline is in Canada, which has almost four times as much as the runner-up, Indonesia. In contrast, tiny Monaco has just 2.5 miles of coast.
The largest animal that ever lived on Earth lives in the ocean: the mighty blue whale, the largest known example of which measured over 100 feet from tip to tail and weighed more than 190 tonnes.

But the most numerous lifeforms in the ocean are microbes - which, if added together, would weigh more than 200 billion African elephants. There are so many marine viruses in the ocean that, if stretched end to end, they would reach farther than the nearest 60 galaxies! Just one drop of seawater may contain as many as 350,000 microbial lifeforms, which means there are many, many more of them in the sea than there are stars in the entire Universe.

Thanks to the efforts of the Census of Marine Life, the estimated number of known marine species presently stands at around 250,000. However, a 2011 study suggested that the ocean may contain 2.2 million species - which means roughly 90 percent remain undiscovered.

Many marine species travel great distances across the ocean. The largest migrations of any mammal on Earth are undertaken by humpback whales that swim from Antarctica to the waters off Costa Rica - a journey of almost 5,000 miles. But even the mighty humpbacks must take a bow in the direction of the bar-tailed godwit, which flaps its wings furiously as it flies from the coast of Alaska to New Zealand without once pausing for food.

Humans have been taking advantage of the ocean's bounty for a long, long time. There is evidence of early humans in southern Africa taking shellfish as far back as 164,000 years ago. People may have been hunting tuna off the coast of Australia 42,000 years ago.

Today, 41 percent of the world's population lives within 62 miles of the coast. Fish accounts for approximately 15 percent of the world’s animal protein; it provides more than 1.5 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of such protein.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are roughly 4 million fishing vessels in the world, from the largest industrial trawlers to small boats powered by sails and oars; between them, they catch over 140 million tonnes of fish a year.

But our fondness for the ocean and the life it contains has come at great cost. For example, a 2011 study estimated that 28-33 percent of all fish stocks are over-exploited, and that 7-13 percent have collapsed.
April 18, 2013, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, Cat island in Barataria Bay three years after the BP oil spill is now barren. Before the spill it was vibrant bird rookery for pelicans egrets and roast spoon bills. BP oil washed up on the shore killing birds and then over time killing the mangrove trees and marsh grass leaving the island vulnerable to coastal erosion, a process already jeopardizing the island and other barrier islands protecting the Gulf Coast.
Coastal marine habitats also are feeling the pressure. Since 1980, an area of seagrass meadow the size of a soccer field has disappeared every 30 minutes - or one-third of the time it takes to complete a game of soccer. Globally, about 35 percent of mangrove forests have disappeared in the same time frame, while 34 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been destroyed or are in imminent danger of collapse, with a further 20 percent at risk of loss within 20-40 years.

The ocean may be vast, but it is not indestructible. As famed scientist James Lovelock has observed, “Although the weight of the oceans is 250 times that of the atmosphere, it is only one part in 4,000 of the weight of the Earth.” If the Earth were a globe 12 inches in diameter, Lovelock noted, the average depth of the ocean would be no more than the thickness of a piece of paper, and even the deepest ocean trench would be a dent of a third of a millimeter.

So, bear that in mind - on World Oceans Day, and every day - when you consider what fish to eat, whether or not to buy that plastic bottle of water, and whether to throw away your trash or recycle it.

Happy World Oceans Day, and remember this famous quote from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke: "How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean."

Cutting back deforestation will save coral reefs.....

As the world celebrates World Oceans Day, a new study has suggested that deforestation, more so than global warming, can put coral reefs at risk because of the sediment that is washed down to the coast.
Australian research, led by a team from Macquarie University, says that clearing forest for land use might have a severe effect on coral ecosystems.

The consequences on corals caused by deforestation would be even greater than those caused by manmade climate change, the study adds.

Coral reefs systems are facing greater sediment supply due to the conversion of forests to other land uses. This causes the water to be shadier and the corals less likely to receive light.

The researchers suggested that by tackling deforestation, coral reefs will receive benefits as well.
Lead author Joseph Maina, said, “Efforts to set conservation goals have been hampered, because managers have no data on how reforestation will benefit reefs.

Our study not only captures this important relationship, but also demonstrates that watersheds can behave very differently to one another, and so conservation goals should be tailored accordingly.
In analysing coral reefs and land use in Australia and Madagascar, scientists found that the adverse effects of climate change were outweighed by the impact of deforestation.
“We initially expected climate change to aggravate the sedimentation problems”, Maina added.

However, climate projections suggest overall decreases in rainfall and increases in temperature, which creates a negative water balance. This places far more emphasis on land use.”

Meanwhile, another study – this time from Plymouth University in the UK – has found that corals take a long time to recover from catastrophic weather events.

Yesterday, June 8, the UN celebrated World Oceans Day, a global event to remind governments and people of the important role that the oceans play in ensuring life on the planet and balancing our ecosystem.

This year, the organisers have launched the ‘Make a promise to the Oceans’ initiative, urging people to commit to doing something for the oceans and post a picture of their promise on social media.

Visit www.worldoceansday.org and get involved on Twitter using the hashtag #WorldOceansDay.

Learning More About The Mind & Brain: Stress....

It's been a couple of weeks since our last blog post, this was due to an enormous amount of stress placed on us by the things in life you just can't control. Stress affects millions of people the world over, so we thought we would concentrate our thoughts towards how and why it happens, as well as managing it.

What is stress?

We all sometimes talk about stress, and feeling stressed, usually when we feel we have too much to do and too much on our minds, or other people are making unreasonable demands on us, or we are dealing with situations that we do not have control over.

Stress is not a medical diagnosis, but severe stress that continues for a long time may lead to a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, or more severe mental health problems.

You can reduce the effects of stress by being more conscious of the things that cause it, and learning to handle them better, using relaxation techniques as well as other lifestyle changes.

What causes stress?

Situations which are recognised to be very stressful are associated with change, and with lack of control over what is happening. Some of the causes of stress are happy events, but because they bring big changes or make unusual demands on you, they can still be stressful.

Some of the most stressful events are:
  • moving house
  • getting married
  • having a baby
  • bereavement
  • serious illness in yourself or a friend or family member.
Stress is also caused by long-term difficult circumstances, such as:
  • unemployment
  • poverty
  • relationship problems
  • caring for a disabled family member or friend
  • difficulties at work
  • bad housing
  • noisy neighbours.
Not having enough work, activities or change in your life can be just as stressful as have too much activity and change to deal with.

Is stress harmful?

Stress can have a positive side. A certain level of stress may be necessary and enjoyable in order to help you prepare for something or to actually do it – e.g. if you are taking part in a performance, taking an exam or you have to do an important piece of work for a deadline – it will be stressful even if you enjoy it, and the stress itself will keep you alert and focussed.

Our physical reactions to stress are determined by our biological history and the need to respond to sudden dangers that threatened us when we were still hunters and gatherers. In this situation, the response to danger was ‘fight or flight’. Our bodies still respond in this way, releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

The release of adrenaline causes rapid changes to your blood flow and increases your breathing and heart rate, to get you ready to defend yourself (fight) or to run away (flight). You become pale, sweat more and your mouth becomes dry.

Your body responds in this way to all types of stress as if it were a physical threat. You may merely be having an argument with someone, but your body may react as though you were facing a wolf. If the threat is physical, you use the effects of the adrenaline appropriately – to fight or to run, and when the danger is passed your body recovers. But if the stress is emotional, the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a long time. If the causes of stress are long-term, you may always be tensed up to deal with them and never relaxed. This is very bad for both your physical and your mental health.

The other stress hormone, cortisol, is present in your body all the time, but levels increase in response to danger and stress. In the short-term, its effects are positive, to help you deal with an immediate crisis, but long-term stress means that cortisol builds up and creates a number of stress-related health problems.

Short-term positive effects:
  • a quick burst of energy
  • decreased sensitivity to pain
  • increase in immunity
  • heightened memory.
Long-term negative effects:
  • imbalances of blood sugar
  • increase in abdominal fat storage
  • suppressed thyroid activity
  • decreased bone density
  • decreased muscle mass
  • high blood pressure
  • lowered immunity
  • less able to think clearly.
People’s tolerance of stress varies. A situation that is intolerable to one person may be stimulating to another. What you feel is determined not just by events and changes in the outside world, but how you perceive and respond to them.

The important point is that you can learn to recognise your own responses to stress and develop skills to deal with it well.

What's the best way to handle pressure?

If your stress is caused by the pressure of being too busy and trying to fit too much into the day, you will need to plan each day, with time for work and other tasks, and time for relaxation. Making time for leisure, exercise and holidays is just as essential as spending time on business or home worries.

Remember that a little stress is good for the body and alerts the mind. But it needs to be short-term and to be followed by a period of relaxation.

Manage your time

  • Identify your best time of day (you may be a morning person or an evening person) and do the important tasks that need the most energy and concentration at that time.
  • Make a list of things you have to do. Arrange them in order of importance, and try to do the most urgent ones first.
  • Try to vary your tasks in a day. Vary dull jobs with interesting ones, tiring jobs with easier ones.
  • Try not to do too many things at once. You could try to start something else if you have to wait for the next stage in a previous task, but if you have too many things going on at the same time, you will start to make mistakes.

Act positively

  • Once you've finished a task, take a few moments to pause and relax. Maybe have a healthy snack, spend a few minutes looking at the sky, or try a relaxation exercise.
  • Have a change of scene. A short walk can make a big difference to how you feel, even if it’s a simple walk round the block. Try to focus on what is happening around you, rather than thinking about your worries.
  • At the end of each day, sit back and reflect on what you've achieved, rather than spending time worrying about what still needs to be done.
  • Try to get away every so often, if you can, even if it’s only for a day out.
  • Develop an absorbing hobby or interest – an activity that uses your brain in a completely different way from your everyday work can be a great release. It can also be a great way to make new friends. This is sometimes easier when you are focussing on a shared activity with others, and not on yourself.
  • Make time for your friends. Talking to them about your day and the things you find difficult can help you keep things in perspective – and you can do the same for them. Smiling and laughing with them will also produce hormones which help you to relax.
  • Practise being straightforward and assertive in communicating with others. If other people are making unrealistic or unreasonable demands on you, be prepared to tell them how you feel and to say no.
  • If you find yourself in conflict with another person, try to find solutions which are positive for them as well as for you. Try to find the real cause of the problem and deal with it.

Try to accept things you can’t change

It isn’t always possible to change the things you don’t like or find difficult, but you can try and change your own attitude to them so that you don’t build up feelings of resentment or start taking your feelings out on others.

How can I learn to relax?

Relaxation is the natural answer to stress. Everyone should make time in the day to relax, whether we feel under stress, or not.

People often confuse relaxation with recreation. However, if hobbies or other activities – including exercise – become excessive, and make you feel even more driven or pressurised, they cease to be relaxing. If you are already exhausted in daily life, trying to relax by doing even more is not the answer.

The first thing is to become more relaxed in daily life and not to waste energy on things that don't require it; such as fidgeting impatiently while you wait for the kettle to boil, or getting impatient with the photocopier. Instead take the opportunity for a few moments of calm.

The second is to learn some breathing and relaxation techniques.


Relaxation starts with breathing. Many people – especially those who are under stress – have a tendency to take shallow breaths, using only the top part of their chest to breathe, and not their stomach muscles. Learning to breathe more deeply can make you feel a lot calmer and increase your sense of wellbeing. Making your out-breath longer than your in-breath is especially calming.

To improve the way you breathe, try this simple exercise:
  • Sit down, or lie down on your back. Make sure you are comfortable, and loosen any tight clothing.
  • Notice how you are breathing, how fast, how deeply, and how regularly.
  • Put one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach, just below your belly button.
  • Slowly breathe out (count to 11)
  • Gently breathe in (count to 7), so that you feel your stomach rise slowly under your hand.
  • Breathe out again (count to 11), feeling your stomach fall.
  • Pause for a few moments and then repeat the process again.
If you find that only the hand on your stomach moves, then you are breathing correctly. There should be little or no movement in your upper chest; your hand should stay still. Once you have learned to breathe this way, you may find you get into the habit of it all the time, and not just at chosen relaxation times.

Relaxation techniques

There are three important parts to relaxation techniques:
  • Preparation – this means making time for relaxation, choosing a suitable position and making sure you are comfortable.
  • Method – this should follow a logical sequence, and it will be more effective if you stick to the suggested order.
  • Recovery – this should be part of any exercise you do. Make sure you include time for this part in your plans.


With regular practice and repetition, relaxation will become second nature.
  • If possible, plan to set aside a specific time each day
  • If you can, choose a quiet place. It's easier to learn if you are not interrupted.
  • If you have young children, see if they will join in doing the exercises and then snuggle up to enjoy the peace and stillness.
  • It's impossible to relax if you are cold, so make sure you are comfortably warm.
  • Avoid practising relaxation when you are hungry or just after eating a meal.
  • If you use a CD or MP3 player have it close by so that you can operate it without difficulty.
Don't worry about whether you're doing everything correctly; just do what you can, and enjoy the feeling.

Whichever relaxation technique you use, how you position your body is crucial to it working effectively.

Effective positions for relaxation
  • Support your head, neck and knees
  • Head should be level, not tilted back or pushed foreward
  • 'Old' recovery position
  • Support under head and knees
  • Good if pregnant
  • Support under pelvis
  • Good if overweight or with large/heavy bust
  • Knees high enough to reduce tension in stomach muscles
  • Legs on chair sideways
  • Support right up to behind knees
  • Good for relieving lower backache
  • Ensure table is close and arms are not stretched out
  • Alternatively, kneel beside a bed
  • Back fully supported by chair
  • Chin and thighs parallel to the floor
  • Feet and hands resting easily
Based on drawings by Michael Atherton, previously used in the now discontinued The Mind guide to relaxation


A simple relaxation exercise
Try this every now and again, especially when you feel under pressure. It should take you no more than five to ten minutes.
  • Have a stretch. Then let your shoulders and arms relax into a comfortable position.
  • Notice any tension in your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, chest, arms, shoulders and neck.
  • If you are sitting in a chair, or on the floor, allow yourself to feel as if the chair or the floor is supporting your whole weight.
  • Try to be peaceful; loosen your jaw and face.
  • Follow the breathing technique described above.
  • Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful scene, then imagine that you are really there.
Like many other things, relaxation takes practice, but it is possible to learn how to relax, even for short periods during your working day.

Simple muscle relaxation exercise
  • Once in a comfortable relaxation position, close your eyes and listen to your breathing.
  • Try to slow down your breathing and make it deeper, following the suggestions above.
  • With each out-breath, relax each part of your body, in turn, from your feet to the top of your head.
  • As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation.
  • When you have reached your head, just listen to your breathing and enjoy being still and comfortable.
  • After 20 minutes, take some deep breaths and stretch your body.
Other relaxation exercises may involve actively tensing your muscles in turn and then relaxing them, starting from your feet and working up to your head.

You may relax so completely that you fall asleep. This is fine, so long as you don’t sleep for too long and cause yourself problems. If there is a risk of this happening, you might want to consider setting an alarm, though you want it to be a gentle one and not a startling noise.

Imagery is about imagining. This could be in the form of taking yourself in your mind to a place where you feel relaxed. This can be anywhere you like: a warm beach, a green meadow, a building or room you like and feel comfortable in. The more immersed you become in this place in your mind, the more relaxed you will feel.

Imagery can also take the form of imagining your worries being locked up in a box and put away somewhere, or imagining that the tension is flowing out of your body.


After a relaxation or breathing exercise, all your body rhythms will have slowed down, so avoid jumping up quickly as you may become dizzy. Always stretch, yawn, wriggle and have a lazy look around you. Say to yourself, 'I will keep this feeling of calm for as long as I can'. Then move, speak and breathe a little more gently than usual.

Relaxation leaves muscles softened, and it's important to be gentle when bringing them back into action. Remove any cushions that are giving you support. If lying down, don't pull yourself up using your stomach muscles, but roll on to your side and push yourself into a sitting position, using your arms. Then stand up slowly.

What if relaxation doesn't work for me?

If you have tried relaxation and find it isn’t helping, it may be because:
  • You are trying too hard, and in pressurising yourself you are losing the opportunity to relax.
  • You haven’t found the right relaxation method for you.
  • You are so tense or in crisis, that letting go, even for a little bit, is impossible for you at the moment.
  • You haven't been through the three stages – preparation, relaxation and recovery – in full.
  • You are taking up a poor physical position for relaxation.
  • You are uncomfortable; for example, feeling hungry.
  • You can’t concentrate during practice: just listening to a teacher or CD will have no benefit, if your mind is elsewhere.
If you start any relaxation technique and feel uncomfortable or disturbed, do not continue.

We hope this guide helps.....