Friday, August 31, 2007

A better day for wildlife - and wildlife photographers

You might remember a few weeks ago I wrote about the Yangtze River Dolphin potentially becoming extinct. Turns out that this might not be the case after all...

As was pointed out in the comments by Darren - who has used this as the starting post for his new blog on life as a wildlife photographer. Please take some time to visit his blog and follow our journey as Darren adds more stories and photos. It's going to be quite exciting.

And coincidentally it's just 200 hours now until we go to Kenya.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Theatre Review - Absurdia

So I decided to be clever and move my theatrical visits on from the musicals. And I took my friends along to expand their minds too. A non-musical play. That's what we needed.

So on the whim of an attractive looking e-flyer from the London Theatre Newsletter I picked Absurdia. A play about absurdities in life. Starring Peter Capaldi. And you got a free toy elephant when you booked. What could go wrong?

Well, the script for a start. Maybe I'm not clever or middle class enough but it was rubbish. Mr and Mrs Paradocks (or whatever they were called) were unhappy that the elephant they had delivered was too big. And where were the gum boots? And could Mr P please form a government. And on and on with the inane ramblings. Other people laughed. They seemed to get it. We were the only ones who appeared to be lost. It was bad, bad, bad.

The first member of our group walked out after 50 minutes. The next two found the tea-cosy on the man's head after witterings about why was the wallpaper pushed up against the wall the final straw. The pub down the road from the theatre provided an enjoyable place to spend the night. I've never walked out of the theatre before and felt really bad about doing so but on the other hand - life's too short.

If you like French absurdist comedy, or you're just a bit poncy, then this might be the play for you. For us it was a waste of hard earned cash. I'm going back to see Avenue Q - it's the only thing to scour the experience out of my head.

Also - I never got my elephant.

Remembering Raphael Lemkin

Today is the 48th anniversary of the death of Raphael Lemkin - the man who created the concept and word "genocide".

Lemkin was a Polish-Jewish lawyer who became interested in the as yet unnamed crime of mass murder and extermination of specific groups. His interest was first raised by the events in Armenia and the experience of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

Lemkin first presented his theory of a crime of barbarity as a crime against international law to the League of Nations in 1933. The same year Hitler came to power in Germany.

Following the Holocaust which decimated Lemkin's family he continued with his fight to have genocide - the word he created in 1943 - recognised as an international crime.

He died at the age of 59, having seen the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide come into force in 1951. Only 7 people attended his funeral.

Today we should all remember Raphael Lemkin - he gave a name and a definition to a crime which have previously not been defined. We honour Raphael Lemkin by recognising where genocide is taking place and working to stop it.

Protect Darfur
Massacre of Assyrian Christians
Genocide Watch

Friday, August 24, 2007

Call to Action - Urgent

This from Harry's Place, c/o Iain Dale.

"Pegah Emambakhsh is an Iranian national who sought asylum in the UK in 2005. Her claim was rejected and she was arrested in Sheffield on Monday 13th August 2007. She is scheduled for deportation to Iran on 27 August 2007.

If returned to Iran, she faces certain imprisonment, likely severe lashings and possibly even stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orientation - she was in a same-sex relationship.

Ms Emambakhsh escaped from Iran, claiming asylum, after her lover was arrested, tortured and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. Her father was also arrested and interrogated about her whereabouts. He was eventually released but not before he had been tortured himself.

Ms Emambakhsh has a more than well founded fear of persecution if she is returned to Iran. She belongs to a group of people - gays and lesbians - who, it is well known, are severely persecuted in Iran.

According to Iranian human rights campaigners, many lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs came to power in 1979.

In 2006 a German court ruled that an Iranian lesbian could not be deported as she risked death because of her sexuality.

The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) have chosen not to believe that she is in danger if returned to Iran, even though the UK government are well aware of the dangerous situation that gay people face there.

The BIA will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross human rights violation if they insist on Ms Emambakhsh's deportation.

The Asylum Seeker Support Initiative in Sheffield are now getting Pegah new solicitors in order to make a fresh claim for asylum based on new evidence and expert testimonies. A stay of deportation is needed to give Pegah time to prepare and submit this fresh claim.

Pegah's MP, Richard Caborn, has already won one stay of deportation and is working secure another postponement of deportation on 27 August.

You can help. Please write or email asap the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and to Pegah's British constituency MP, Richard Caborn (see details below).

Pegah Emambakhsh's Home Office reference number is: B1191057. This number must be quoted in any letter, so the Home Office can identify
and access her case.

Letters need to be sent TODAY by first class post to arrive tomorrow, Friday 24 August, at the latest. If you can't send a letter, a fax is a good alternative, and an email is certainly better than nothing. Mark all correspondence "For the personal attention of..."

Please write to:

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary,
2, Marsham St,
London SW1P 4DF

Fax no: + 44 (0) 207 035 3262 or +44 (0) 207 035 2362

Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP,
Sheffield Constituency Office
2nd Floor, Barkers Pool House
Burgess Street
Sheffield S1 2HF

Fax: + 44 (0) 114 275 3944

Please don't let Pegah be quietly deported to face torture or death. Our letters can make all the difference."

As I have only found the story it is too late for a letter but please do consider sending an email or a fax - no matter how basic it is. The Labour Party has a good record on LGBT rights - don't let something like this shame the Government or the country.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You'll Win On Health - Just Get It Right

There are three subjects that the electorate care about - health, crime, education. Get those three right and no matter what else is happening you'll win the election. Other issues will have an impact but if you don't get these three core issues right then you're dead in the water. William Hague knows that - about 90% of the country backed the Save the Pound campaign in 2001, people queued up to sign the petition but in the end it didn't change their vote. People care about the environment but will choose who to vote for based on who'll get the yobs off their streets, not who'll save the polar bears. And try being in the line of fire when parents don't get their first choice schools - county councils change hands over these issues.

David Cameron is absolutely right to take Brown on over the Health Service. It's in a shocking state and people care and will choose who to vote for based on who they trust on health. Telling people that despite the spin local hospitals and services are under threat and pledging to protect them is a winning strategy. As long as people have faith you will act on it. Nicola Sturgeon can vouch for that one.

But for god's sake get it right. You had a great start to the week - I bet members loved the thought of a bare-knuckle fight on such a key issue, then it all went wrong. Turns out the research wasn't good enough, local MPs weren't fully on board and then an idiot researcher (probably the same one who bollocksed up in the first place) got bullied into apologising. Things like this detract from the strong central message.

A couple of tips - get your research right from the start and double check the work of 17 year old Emily and Tarquin, make sure the local MPs/PPCs know what's going on in their area and are fully behind it, know that the vested interests (the Trust managers) will come back at you and be ready to take them on too, never apologise to them and for god's sake keep going. Use Andrew Lansley more - he's attractive and appealing to the general public. Oh and yes - keep banging on about health.

Health, crime, education. Might never be the causes de jour - but will always be the things the swing voters care about.

Assault with a cocktail sausage

The "you couldn't make it up" brigade is having a little paddy at the moment. Some little cretin has been charged with assault for throwing a sausage roll or a cocktail sausage or some finger buffet food at a man.

All very innocent apparently and how dare the evil police take this poor delicate little angel into custody? Wasting tax-payers money and making a mockery of our courts?

Here's how:

1 - The man was in his 70s and had been subject to intimidation from gangs of feral little brats. He thought he had been hit by a stone and reported it to the police.

2 - The innocent little hero of our story was charged because he had already faced three reprimands for his behaviour. Not quite the little saint mumsy would have us believe apparently.

3 - The weapon of choice doesn't actually matter. What does matter is that people are scared to go out of their houses because of the behaviour of children aged 11 and 12. Big brick or cocktail sausage the intent behind the abuse is the same - to bully, to intimidate and to stake out areas as uninhabitable for anyone except the gangs.

I'm only sorry the little thug didn't get sent down for 6 months. One less of the little bastards on the street.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Women - Beware This Man

This is Colin Read. Colin is 25, soon to be divorced and earning £90,000 per year. Colin isn't that bad looking. But women, do take care not to get involved with Colin. He's a violent, wife-abusing thug.

Colin's wife committed the vile offence of not making his sandwiches. Colin slashed her feet while she slept. When a few days later his wife tried to speak to him about it he beat her up again. Stupidly she hadn't learned her lesson and didn't iron his shirt for a work function. He branded her on the back with an iron.

His wife had to be summonsed to be court to give evidence against him. He was found guilty of ABH. The sentencing recommendation was for a community service order.

Colin was handed a £2,000 fine. As he and his abused wife are getting a divorce "the circumstances of the marriage" which led to the attacks no longer exist so a prison sentence would "help no-one". Because Colin has a job with long hours the Recorder didn't think he could fit a community based punishment into his busy schedule.

So girls, if you see this man in a pub or a club and you think he looks nice, protect yourself against him. The courts will do nothing to protect you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Classic FM - Broadening The Mind

I've taken to listening to Classic FM while reading in bed. It's all fairly standard, "famous" classical music - nothing experimental here, just right for winding down while reading.

The other night though I learned two new things:

1. The soundtrack to the film Trading Places is mostly based on Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"

2. Billy Joel's This Night is based on Beethoven's sonata Pathetique.

Of course Classic FM didn't tell me that - I had to get up at 11.30 and google it when I heard the Beethoven and was lying in bed saying, "but it's Billy Joel, what's going on, it's Billy Joel".

Classic FM - educating philistines the world over.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Time to close Chessington Zoo

The foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey has led to part of Chessington World of Adventure's "petting zoo" being closed and included in the exclusion zone.

Let's take this opportunity to close what to me appears to be an entirely cruel animal hell-hole. I've visited Chessington Zoo once and I was brought to tears at the sight of the animals in their enclosures. A "family" of lions was in a pretty small area, not much bigger than the office I work in, and since when is a natural family unit of lions a male lion, one lioness and two cubs? Visitors are also subjected to the patronising spin on their signs telling us that the pacing and excessive grooming is natural behaviour. No it's not - it's abnormal and it's caused by their imprisonment.

I'm dubious about the role of zoos at all but Chessington is the worst I have ever seen, the animals in this zoo are nothing more than features in a theme park, kept behind glass to keep the visitors happy while they queue for the more exciting rides. I can see no conservation or education value whatsoever. In my opinion it's time to close it down.

Visit the Born Free Foundation website for more information on Zoos in the UK.

Good on you hen

One of the things that really annoys me is lottery winners being all smug and sanctimonous and "It won't change my life, all I want is a little second hand Ford KA, I'll stay in my job" etc, etc. Bugger that.

I play the lottery to change my life. If I won £5million quid I would get a new house, I'd get that Jaguar XKR or Aston Martin DB9 that I keep being told that I couldn't drive because it's too big for me, I'd have the holiday home in Barbados and much as I love my job it would be Adios King's Cross.

So I was really pleased to hear that a woman who has just won £30something million on the Euromillions Draw has quit her job and is looking for a villa in Italy.

Well done on your win and have a fabulous life with no more money worries.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Are The Unionist Parties Scared to Talk?

I was really quite annoyed to see the three unionist parties in Scotland come out in opposition to the Independence White Paper. Of course they don't agree with the White Paper, they are unionists, they don't want to see independence but I don't see what the problem is with a White Paper or with the "national conversation" that Alex Salmond has suggested.

My views on independence are mixed. In the past couple of years I have moved towards thinking it's a good idea. I've joined the SNP but not just out of a desire for independence but also because on issues like civil liberties the SNP view is closest to my own. And there's the family connections too. If I lived and voted in Scotland I would be exactly the kind of person the conversation would be aimed at. I would have voted SNP this year, I was delighted to see the SNP become the largest party in both Holyrood and Local Government but ask me if how I'd vote in an independence referendum and I'd really struggle.

I get so angry when people say that Scotland COULDN'T be a successful independent country. Of course it could. It's a country of intelligence, talent and a solid base of natural resources. When I hear the English argument of "we fund them Scotch they should be grateful" I get so wound up and feel like singing Corries songs until the cows come home.

There are questions that need to be answered on both sides. A couple of quick examples off the top of my head:

What would happen about the Royal Family? I'm not a commited Unionist these days but having a Republic of Scotland would be a crunch for me.

Why are the SNP so keen to leave one Union but will happily sign up to deeper union in Europe? It seems a contridiction to me.

Why are the Conservatives happy to support a referendum on Britain in Europe but not Scotland in Britain?

I think both sides of the debate have persuasive arguments. Neither has anything to fear - although the Unionist knee-jerk, debate-stifling reaction would imply that they are scared. Putting their fingers in their ears and shouting la-la-la won't stop the White Paper being published and it won't stop people thinking about it.

Politics should be about great debates - this could be one of the greatest ever. It would be a shame if only one side was talking.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not a Good Day for wildlife

So if you're a wildlife lover yesterday pretty much sucked.

First the news about the Yangtze River Dolphin. Another species extinct and let's be blunt, more are on the danger list including tigers, pandas, polar bears and many more that aren't quite so famous or popular.

Then the horrendous story from the Democratic Republic of Congo about the shooting dead of four mountain gorillas. Not for their meat, or their skin, or anything else that might drive desperate people to poach animals, but just because a human had a gun and could shoot them.

Man may be the most advanced animal on the planet, but sometimes when you see what we're doing to our fellow creatures it just doesn't seem like it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The things you learn....

...when you're surfing the internet instead of working.

Anson Williams who played Potsie in Happy Days is the second cousin of Dr Henry Heimlich, of Heimlich Maneouvre fame.

There you go...

Friday, August 03, 2007

My Annual Problem

As part of my job I have to write resources for people to use and I'm very lucky that I have some colleagues who can offer support and informed advice which always makes what I write better. But every year the same problem comes - how do I incorporate everyone's excellent comments and suggestions and simultaneously keep the word count down?

If anyone knows how to square this circle I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Scotland loses an MEP - World Keeps Turning

So the Electoral Commission (spit, spit, curses upon them) have recommended that Scotland - along with most other UK regions - should lose an MEP.

I should care. My newly-found Nationalism should be rearing up in several respects. Scotland isn't just a region of the UK it's a country. While the number of MEPs Scotland has is proportionate to other UK "regions" it isn't to other countries in the EU. Slovakia and Finland have roughly comparable population to Scotland and both have 14 MEPs - double Scotland's current quota. This is clearly another case of Scotland being done down by being in the Union. I really should care.

I don't. The number of politicians a country has doesn't interest me in the slightest. Add Europe to the equation and I start to rock back and forth in boredom. Yes it's appalling that Scotland is under-represented, yes the European institutions control 99.99999999% of our laws, yes it's all very important. But really - I couldn't care less.

Do any of us get a good deal from our MEPs? Are the seven current Scottish MEPs earning their whack as it is? Okay, I live in Surrey so can't really speak with great authority on the coverage of Scottish MEPs in the local press and TV but the only one I've seen getting any sort of coverage is Struan Stevenson and his excellent animal fur campaign. The rest all seem to be a bit anonymous.

So yes, I'm sure it's all very important, but wake me up when there's an interesting politics story in the headlines.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Designer Babies

I'm concerned about the potential for "saviour siblings" and the relaxation of the rules which MPs are apparently calling for. "Saviour siblings" is a highly biased way of describing these babies, it makes it sound all very cuddly, innocent and positive. Of course "designer babies" is equally as biased and has less positive connotations. The idea sounds positive enough, allow embryoes to be developed which will help to cure illness in children. But what is the cut-off? What will happen if the babies born turn out not to be as helpful as had hoped? What is the extent of their usefulness? Blood transfusions? Gene therapy? Organ harvesting?

To me this is a dangerous precendent to set and there are many, many more questions to be answered before such a move could be allowed.

Babies are not a commodity be it in monetary or genetic terms.