Monday, December 31, 2007

Bhutan elections

The Kingdom of Bhutan holds today its first democratic elections. I don't know the results and I have no idea about the local politics. (For those interested, the results can be found here).
My interest in the country stems from the fact that the former king adopted as a measure of prosperity of the country, not the gnp or any other similar economic index, but the index of happiness! The index is called Gross National Happiness (GNH) and it is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product. The former king of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined this term in 1972. He wanted to build an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. (Wikipedia provides a detailed article on the subject).

Comparison of Europe's and US research performance

An interesting article appeared recently (Dec 20, 07) on the web, entitled Europe’s poor research performance, that uses the Highly Cited Scientists data of the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), to compare research performance in Europe and the US. (The full article can be found here).

I have some reservations on the approach they use that I have posted in their site. My reservations are appended below.

I find your article, and the idea on which is based, interesting. However, I feel that your method fails to capture important aspects of the data used, thus arriving at comparisons/conclusions that are not necessarily representative of the true situation. The reason is that the ISI HCR’s index, assigns a scientist -and the totality of his output/achievements- to the latest Institution he is affiliated with, and to the country where this Institution is located. This may, sometimes, be accurate but quite often not entirely true. While such an index is certainly an indication of the quality of an institution (a good scientist would choose to go to a good place), it does not take into account the fact that the scientist may have been “nurtured” elsewhere.To give a real example I came across, Lopez-De-Silanes Florencio, an economist HCR “from” the Netherlands, has a Mexican origin (and first degree), got his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, was a Professor at Yale for 4 years, and has advised more than 10 governments around the world, before joining the University of Amsterdam in 2006. Seventy-eight of his 104 papers (contributing to his total number of citations) were published before he joined the University of Amsterdam. How can such a scientist be counted (solely) as a “European” in the US-Europe comparison? A similar problem of course arises with other indices used for scientific ranking, for example indices that give a substantial weight to the number of Nobel Prize winners affiliated with an institution. However a Nobel Prize winner, who is now at University X but did his award winning research at University Y, cannot be entirely “credited” to University X. Obviously, most of these indices favour the wealthiest institutions (beyond the obvious confounding effect).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Health care in California

This is a major step forward, if indeed goes through.

With Congress stalled on enacting a nationwide plan, individual states are starting to take matters into their own hands. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has just won approval from legislators for a major health-care reform which will expand coverage to most of the state's uninsured. It took nearly a year of sometimes fractious haggling, but legislators in America's most populous state have done what many predicted they could not. They have approved a bill to extend health insurance to virtually everyone in the nation's most populous state - all 36 million of them.

University ranking in the US based on scholarly productivity

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an interactive ranking of Departments with Ph.D. programs in US Universities. The ranking is based on what is termed Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index and is available for 2007 and for 2006. The 2007 index compiles overall institutional rankings on 375 universities that offer the Ph.D. degree. The index examines faculty members who are listed on each Ph.D. program's Web site, and includes a total of 217,254 names. The faculty's scholarly productivity in each program is expressed as a z-score, that reveals how far and in what direction a value is from the mean. ( A z-score of zero indicates that the program is at the national mean for the discipline).

The 2007 index for Statistics Departments is as follows:


Stanford U.



U. of California at Berkeley



Duke U.



U. of Wisconsin at Madison



Harvard U.



Carnegie Mellon U.



U. of Washington



Columbia U.



U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor



Yale U.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Highly Cited Countries

Several of the shortcomings of the science citation index as a measure of the impact of scientific research (to which I referred in my previous post), may be overcome when the highly cited countries (or highly cited scientists) measure is used.
An interesting finding regarding countries is the following: Among the top 20 most cited countries in the world in all scientific fields in the last 10 years (January 1997-31 August 2007), when it comes to measuring citations per paper (cpp), Switzerland is first in the list with 14.32 cpp. United States is second with 13.63 cpp, the Netherlands third with 12.85 with England and Sweden fourth with 12.16 ccp.
This is surprising, given the supremacy of the US in science, the language issue and the fact that the vast majority of scientific journals are based in the US.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Citations and Quality of Research

From the THES (14/12/07): The quality of academics' research cannot be judged on the basis of the number of times their papers are cited by peers, a leading higher education think-tank has said.The Higher Education Policy Institute says in a report this week that "there must be real doubt" over the validity of plans by funding chiefs to allocate about £1.4 billion a year in "quality research" funding on the basis of journal article citations, as is planned after next year's research assessment exercise.
Hepi's report on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's proposed research excellence framework (REF) also implies that Hefce may be ignoring the advice of its own "appointed experts" in pursing the change. "Citation analysis does not measure quality, so there must be real doubt about whether it can be used as a basis for allocating QR (quality research funding)," the report says. "This is awkward in light of the commitment of Hefce to continue to allocate research funds on the basis of quality."
Hepi's director, Bahram Bekhradnia, who as a former Hefce director was the architect of the current RAE, said this conclusion "merely reiterated" what had already been said by a group of academics from the University of Leiden who were commissioned to undertake a scoping study on bibliometrics for Hefce. The Leiden group said that citation analysis measures research impact, not quality, and that it should be used only to allocate funding in conjunction with peer review. In the report, Hepi argues that the results of citation analysis and the current RAE, which most agree does measure quality, should be considered side by side to see how closely they match up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ANC in S. Africa and Liberal Party in the UK

Two new leaders emerged today.
In SA, a popular (for a long time) leader (Nbeki), although president of the country, lost his party support -and the party leadership- to a controversial politician (Zuma).
In the UK, another Blair-style politician with only 2.5 years of experience as an MP, will try to win support from the public which two succesive leader after Charles Kennedy did not manage to achieve.
The ANC result is one more indication that parties go for change when they feel that their leader does not offer the leadership they expect.
With the Liberal Party we see the adoption of Tony Blair's style by the Liberal Party (after the Conservative party), after failing in his own party.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali agreement on tackling climate change

A new agreement on tackling climate change was forged late this afternoon when the United States caved in and agreed to support the Bali roadmap, according to Sydnay Morning Herald.
The US concession - 14 hours after the initial deadline passed - came after two weeks of talks and a day of high drama, in which conference head Yvo de Boer stormed out in tears and American delegates were booed and jeered.
"We will go forward and join consensus," US lead negotiator Paula Dobriansky told the 190-nation meeting to cheers and applause from the exhausted delegates.
Delegates rose to their feet and clapped and cheered as conference president Rachmat Witoelar banged down his gavel and declared that the roadmap had been adopted.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Press in the world

World opinion is divided on the importance of having a free press, according to a poll conducted for the BBC World Service. Of those interviewed, 56% thought that freedom of the press was very important to ensure a free society. But 40% said it was more important to maintain social harmony and peace, even if it meant curbing the press's freedom to report news truthfully.
Pollsters interviewed 11,344 people in 14 countries for the survey. In most of the 14 countries surveyed, press freedom (including broadcasting) was considered more important than social stability.

The strongest endorsement came from North America and Western Europe, where up to 70% put freedom first, followed by Venezuela, Kenya and South Africa, with over 60%. In India, Singapore and Russia, by contrast, more people favoured stability over press freedom. In those countries, around 48% of respondents supported controls over the press to ensure peace and stability. Around 40% expressed the view that press freedom was more important.
People were also asked to rate how free the press and broadcasters were in their country to report the news truthfully and without undue bias. Perceptions varied widely among developing countries, ranging from 81% giving a high rating in Kenya, to 41% in Mexico. In India, 72% of respondents thought their media were free, compared with just 36% in Singapore. But some developed countries which strongly believed in press freedom were critical of their own media's honesty and accuracy.
In the United States, Britain and Germany, only around 29% of those interviewed thought their media did a good job in reporting news accurately.
The survey also identified concern in some countries over the concentration of private media ownership in the hands of fewer large companies.
In Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Britain, more than 70% of respondents agreed with the suggestion that ownership was an issue because the owners' political views emerged in the news. Germans had a particularly poor view of their private media companies - with just 18% giving them a high rating for accurate news. But overall, publicly-run news organisations were viewed slightly more negatively than ones run for profit. Only in Egypt, Germany, Russia and Singapore did people rate the public media more than privately-owned media companies.

The poll was conducted by the international research firms GlobeScan and Synovate, as part of a season of programmes marking the 75th anniversary of BBC World Service.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The 2007 corruption barometer

I have reservations about the method used to set up this barometer. However, as always, I believe that it is always possible to improve the methodology for any index devised, once it becomes available.
Here is this years results by Trancarency International.

Here is an extract of their press statement.
The public opinion survey, published today ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, also found that citizens in countries across the globe continue to see political parties and parliaments as the institutions most compromised by corruption.
The Barometer, which surveys 63,199 respondents in 60 countries, offers a broad spectrum of data on common experiences of corruption, including which institutions most frequently demand bribes, where citizens see the greatest degree of corruption, and how they see both the future development of corruption and their governments' efforts to eradicate it.
“This year’s Global Corruption Barometer has made it clear that too often, people must part with their hard-earned money to pay for services that should be free”, said Transparency International Chair Huguette Labelle. “And they do not see enough commitment when they look to their governments and leaders. We are heartened though, that the public is increasingly demanding the accountability of the very institutions that most affect their lives, as this is a powerful driver of change.”

Windows XP for the $100 laptop

This is good news. It shows that once more that Universitites and private industry can find common grounds to their mutual benefit (and the benefit of society).

Microsoft is to begin field tests of Windows XP working on the so-called $100 laptop, or XO, early in 2008. It has not committed to offering XP on the XO laptop but hopes to release the operating system in the first half of 2008 if the trials succeed. The work, undertaken as part of the firm's plans to widen access to technology, forms part of a project to run Windows on flash-based machines. The Negrponte group has taken its first orders, with 100,00 bought by Uruguay and 40,000 by Peru, with an option for a further 210,000. The availability of Windows on the XO could boost take-up of the machine. There have been reports that some countries have been cautious about signing-up to the project because it does not run Windows, the world's most popular operating system. For Microsoft the challenge in porting XP to the XO machine has been in re-writing many drivers for the operating system that control functions like the laptop's webcam and wireless connections. "The potential payoff for students and schools from this work, of course, is that the tens of thousands of existing educational applications written for Windows can potentially run on the XO," said Mr Utzschneider.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Free wireless internet for students and staff

I found this piece of news very interesting. I don't know if such a convenience exists in any US state.

Students take note: you can now surf free-of-charge in restaurants, railway stations – or on park benches.


SWITCH and its partners, Monzoon Networks, Swisscom, TheNet and The Public Network are now offering free surfing at more than 2000 public hotspots.

Students and staff of the SWITCH PWLAN Universities can now surf the internet free-of-charge at more than 2000 public hotspots – something that has been made possible by the “SWITCH PWLAN” project set up by SWITCH. SWITCH PWLAN is being conducted jointly with the Wireless Internet Service Providers of Monzoon Networks, Swisscom, TheNet und The Public Network (TPN).
Wherever, whenever: surf, study and work free-of-charge all over the country
Popular hotspot locations are to be found at all the big railway stations, at airports, hotels, restaurants and cafes, in all branches of McDonald's and Starbucks restaurants and also on public squares or along entire roads.
This represents attractive added value for the Universities. Students and staff have free internet access at a large number of key points between their home and the University. The customers of the Wireless Internet Service Providers too, however, will also benefit from a considerable extension of the reception area at the Universities. Someone attending a conference at the University of Berne, for example, will now have internet access there.

Unique in Europe
For Christoph Graf, Head of the Security division at SWITCH, this cooperation between Universities and the business world is unique in Europe. The Swiss University community has thus achieved a further key milestone en route to location-independent networking.

SWITCH is planning to extend the project to all the Universities in Switzerland.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

PISA 2006, Reading

Reading is the area with the largest gender gaps. In all OECD countries in PISA 2006, females performed better in reading on average than males. In twelve countries, the gap was at least 50 score points. In Greece and Finland, females were 57 and 51 points ahead respectively, and the gap was 50 to 66 points in the partner countries Qatar, Bulgaria, Jordan, Thailand, Argentina, Slovenia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and Croatia.

• Across the OECD area, reading performance generally remained flat between PISA 2000and PISA 2006. This needs to be seen in the context of significant rises in expenditure levels. Between 1995 and 2004 expenditure per primary and secondary student increased by 39% in real terms, on average across OECD countries. However, two OECD countries (Korea and Poland) and five partner countries/economies (Chile, Liechtenstein, Indonesia, Latvia and Hong Kong-China) have seen significant rises in reading performance since PISA 2000.

• Korea increased its reading performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006 by 31 score points, mainly by raising performance standards among the better performing students.

• Hong Kong-China has increased its reading performance by 11 score points since 2000.

• Poland increased its reading performance by 17 score points between PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 and by another 11 score points between PISA 2003 and PISA 2006 and now performs at 508 score points, for the first time clearly above the OECD average. Between the PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 assessments, Poland raised its average performance mainly through increases at the lower end of the performance distribution. As a result, in PISA 2003fewer than 5% of students fell below performance standards that had not been reached by the bottom 10% of Polish students in PISA 2000. Since PISA 2003, performance in Poland has risen more evenly across the performance spectrum.

• The other countries that have seen significant performance increases in reading between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006 – Chile (33 score points), Liechtenstein (28 score points), Indonesia (22 score points) and Latvia (21 score points) – perform, with the exception of Liechtenstein, significantly below the OECD average.

• A number of countries saw a decline in their reading performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006, comprising nine OECD countries (in descending order) – Spain, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Italy, France, Australia, Greece and Mexico, and the partner countries Argentina, Romania, Bulgaria, the Russian Federation and Thailand.

PISA 2006, Mathematics

The results on mathematics for PISA 2006.
Some comparisons with the 2003 results.

In Mexico mathematics performance was 20 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003 but at 406 score points it is still well below the OECD average. In Greece, mathematics performance was 14 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003. In Indonesia, mathematics performance was 31 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003 and in Brazil it was 13 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003.
Mathematics performance in 2006 was significantly lower in France (15 score points), Japan (11 score points), Iceland (10 score points) and Belgium (9 score points), and in the partner country Liechtenstein (11 score points).
Overall gender differences in mathematics were less than one-third as large as for reading, 11 points on average across OECD countries. This has not changed since PISA 2003.

PISA and the USA

Some interesting findings for the USA.
There was no measurable difference on the combined science literacy scale between 15-year-old male (489) and female (489) students in the United States. The OECD average was higher for males (501) than females (499) on the combined science literacy scale.
On the combined science literacy scale, Black (non-Hispanic) students (409) and Hispanic students (439) scored lower, on average, than White (non-Hispanic) students (523), Asian (non-Hispanic) students (499), and students of more than one race (non-Hispanic) (501). Hispanic students, in turn, scored higher than Black (non-Hispanic) students, while White (non-Hispanic) students scored higher than Asian (non-Hispanic) students.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Rudd and the Kyoto Protocol

Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Australia's new PM, and immediately signed documents to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This is the true meening of delivering election promises.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

PISA results 2006 (Science)

OECD has just released the tables for the 2006 PISA survey on science skills of the 15-year old. (See the table on the left). I am also attaching below an extract of the relevant OECD news release.
Although some people critisize this kind of ranking, I consider this exercise an important tool in the effort to improve an educational system.

The PISA survey, based on tests carried out in 2006 in 57 countries that together account for nearly 90% of world GDP, is the most comprehensive and rigorous international yardstick of secondary-school students' attainments. After focusing in 2000 on reading skills and in 2003 on mathematics, PISA 2006 tested students on how much they knew about science and their ability to use scientific knowledge and understanding to identify and address questions and resolve problems in daily life.
Comparisons between the results of the 2006 tests and those of previous years are not strictly valid.

PISA is a three-yearly survey of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in OECD member countries and partner countries and economies. The product of collaboration between participating countries through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it draws on leading international expertise to develop valid comparisons across countries and cultures.
In 2006,
PISA assessed the competencies of 15-year-old students in 57 countries with an extensive two-hour test. More than 400,000 students from 57 countries making up close to 90% of the world economy took part. The focus was on science but the assessment also included reading and mathematics and collected data on student, family and institutional factors that can help to explain differences in performance.
The table summarises the performance of 15-year-olds in science.
It shows three main pieces of information:
The average score of the country on the science assessment. Across the 30 OECD countries the scores are statistically standardised to have an average of 500 points. The scores are also standardised so that approximately two-thirds of the students score between 400 and 600 - that is the standard deviation is 100. The colour coding in the list of the countries in the first column gives an indication of whether the country's score is statistically significantly above, below or not different from the OECD average.

  • The rank of the country compared to other OECD countries. When a sample of students represents all students in a country, it is not always possible to state with 100% accuracy what the exact rank of the country is compared with other countries. For this reason, OECD calculates, with 95% confidence, a range of ranks that the country falls within. For example, in the list above, OECD is 95% confident that New Zealand ranks between 2nd and 5th of all the OECD countries.
  • The rank of the country compared to all the countries which participated in PISA 2006. The same 95% level of confidence is applied when comparing a country's position to all the other countries. For example, the list above shows, with 95% confidence, that Croatia ranks between 23rd and 30th position of all the countries which participated in PISA 2006.
  • For further background reading, see :
Assessing Scientific, Reading and Mathematical Literacy, A Framework for PISA 2006,
Sample test questions from the PISA 2006 assessment

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gandhi's ten principles of nonviolence

I found them in the home page of Dean Foster (There many more interesting things in it).

  1. Humiliating or deliberately provoking your opponent invites violence;
  2. Knowing your facts and arguments well helps avoid violence;
  3. If you are open about your cause your opponent is less likely to be violent;
  4. Look for common ground between you and your opponents to promote trust and understanding;
  5. Do not judge others harder than yourself (alternatively do not judge others);
  6. Try to trust your opponent. They will sense this trust;
  7. Compromise on inessential items to promote resolution;
  8. Sincerity helps convert your opponent;
  9. By making personal sacrifice you show your sincerity;
  10. Avoid exploiting weakness in your opponent. Aim for integrity, not simply to win.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Australian Election

I just realised that the labour party is -at last!- winning an election in Australia and that John Howard is loosing his seat!
This sounds like good news for Australia!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Commonwealth, Musharraf and Bush

The suspension of Pakistan from the councils of the Commonwealth and statement of G.W. Bush that all is fine in Pakistan raises a question: Are tha facts different or they are interpreted differently?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Israel Lobby in the US

There is a lot of controversy about the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt .
In the book rating (at the moment this is posted) is 4 stars. Interestingly, this average is the result of plenty 5- star and a few 1-star reviews.
A rebuttal entitled "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and The Myth of Jewish Control" was written by Abraham H. Foxman. Here, the Amazon average rating is 2 stars (so far), in this case consisting of plenty 1-star and a few 5-star reviews.
An interesting (and lengthy) comment by Henri Astier can be found on the BBC web site.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Migraine brains 'are different'

Those who have experienced this problem know how important this development is.

Scientists have discovered differences in the sensory areas of the brains of people who develop migraines.They found a part of the cortex is thicker than in people who are free from the debilitating headaches. What is not clear is whether the difference causes, or is the result of migraine attacks. The Neurology study, by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, suggests the changes may make patients hyper-sensitive to pain in general. The researchers, from the hospital's Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, compared 24 people who get migraines with 12 who do not suffer the condition. They found the somatosensory cortex area of the brain was up to 21% thicker in the migraine sufferers.
The full story from the BBC.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazon's digital book reader

From the BBC: Online retailer Amazon has unveiled an own-brand wireless electronic book reader called Kindle. The paperback-sized device is on sale immediately in the US for $399 (£195). It can store up to 200 books in its onboard memory.Kindle does not need a PC to be loaded with books, blogs or papers - instead content arrives via wireless.Amazon said 90,000 books, including bestsellers priced at $9.99, were available for Kindle at launch.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An inconvenient truth about eating meat

A very interesting article in the NYT with the same title refers to the argument by the animal rights groups that raising animals for meat contributes more to global warming than all the sport utility vehicles combined. It is well documented and emphasizes the fact that Al Gore hardly makes reference to the issue.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Robots and Biological communities

Mini-robots designed at EPFL managed to integrate themselves into a community of cockroaches, interacting with them and influencing their collective decision-making behavior. (The relevant article appeared in science magazine).
I consider this development as one of the most important advances of science with far-reaching implications.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Israel Factor: Ranking the US Presidential Candidates

I wish I could see a similar ranking in a Greek newspaper with reference to Greece's interests. (The ranking in Haaretz is updated every month!).

Man marries bitch to beat curse

A bbc story:
An Indian man has married a female dog, believing the union will help him atone for stoning two other dogs to death. Selvakumar, 33, said he had been cursed since the killings, suffering paralysis and a loss of hearing.The wedding took place at a Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu state. The "bride" wore an orange sari with a flower garland and was fed a bun to celebrate.Superstitious people in rural India sometimes organise weddings to animals in the hope of warding off curses.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hillary and Bill Clinton in California

From a Field Poll taken Oct. 11-21 of 579 registered state voters.
Overall, 70 percent of California voters surveyed have made up their minds about how they would vote if Clinton emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee - 36 percent would definitely support her and 34 percent definitely would not.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said the survey showed "there's really been a solidification of voter opinions on Hillary" and what he called "a negative drag" unique in the presidential race - the solid third who don't like her, won't support her and see her negatively.
"Judging from the length of time we've seen the same proportions, I don't think there's a high probability they will change their minds," he said.
That means Clinton, in order to carry the state, has "a more limited playing field than other candidates would have ... she almost has to write off at least a third of the voters who are unlikely to vote for her," DiCamillo said. "No other candidates have this kind of solidification of negative votes."
But there are positives for Clinton, too, in the current polling - including the way her husband influences the campaign. The former president is more favorably viewed than his wife in California - with a 56 percent to 37 percent favorable-unfavorable rating. More than two-thirds of state voters across the political spectrum believe he will be an asset to her campaign and her presidency if she is elected in 2008.
The full article.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Teach For America

From an e-mail I received. An impressive -and effective- initiative.

In her senior thesis as an undergraduate student at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp outlined a plan to recruit outstanding recent college graduates to teach for two years in America's neediest urban and rural schools. Upon graduation, she founded Teach For America, a national corps that would
have an important impact on the nation's education system, putting a dent in the lingering problem of educational inequity. She has spent the past 18 years developing the corps into a prestigious, highly regarded program that attracts some of the nation's brightest young men and women.
Today, 5,000 corps members reach approximately 440,000 students in low-income communities across the country. They join more than 12,000 Teach For America alumni who are assuming significant leadership roles in education and social reform. These alumni are running some of the most acclaimed schools in low-income areas, advising governors and senators on education policy, and marshalling the resources of companies and law firms toward education reform.

Monday, October 29, 2007

UK Minister detained at US airport

I cannot beleive this story (from the BBC). I would have thought that ministers of the UK government (at least), give advance notice to the US government for their travel plans, to save embarrassments like this one.

Britain's first Muslim minister, Shahid Malik, says he is "deeply disappointed" that he was detained by airport security officials in America.The international development minister was stopped and searched at Washington DC's Dulles airport after a series of meetings on tackling terrorism. Mr Malik, MP for Dewsbury, West Yorks, had his hand luggage checked for explosives when returning to Heathrow. He said the same thing happened to him at JFK airport in New York last year. On that occasion he had been a keynote speaker at an event organised by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), alongside the FBI and Muslim organisations, to talk about tackling extremism and defeating terrorism.

Mr. Malik said he had received numerous apologies and assurances from the US authorities after that incident. But he was again searched and detained by DHS officials on Sunday. Mr Malik said two other Muslims were also detained. "I am deeply disappointed," he said. "The abusive attitude I endured last November I forgot about and I forgave, but I really do believe that British ministers and parliamentarians should be afforded the same respect and dignity at USA airports that we would bestow upon our colleagues in the Senate and Congress. "Obviously, there was no malice involved but it has to be said that the USA system does not inspire confidence."

Stem cell issues in California

Today's main news in the SF Chronicle raises important questions about stem cell research and practices.

A San Carlos startup is offering to create "personalized" stem cells from the spare embryos of fertility clinic clients on the chance that the cells, frozen and stored away, may some day help a family member benefit from medical breakthroughs.
The novel business plan of StemLifeLine Inc. - which started promoting its service to fertility patients earlier this year as "insurance for the future" - set off a flash fire of protest from stem cell research opponents and supporters alike.
Some of the most fervent denunciations of StemLifeLine came from vigorous supporters of embryonic stem cell research. Two Stanford University critics aired their complaints in newspaper editorial pages. A prominent Stanford ethicist challenged UC San Francisco scientists who are advisers of the company to sever those ties. These critics accuse StemLifeLine of trying to profit from the promise of stem cell research in the present, even though the work may not yield medical treatments for decades, if ever.
"These companies are essentially taking advantage of people's ignorance and fears to make a buck," said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The oldest leaving creature

From the BBC.
A clam dredged up off the coast of Iceland is thought to have been the longest-lived animal discovered.
Scientists said the mollusc, an ocean quahog clam, was aged between 405 and 410 years and could offer insights into the secrets of longevity.
Researchers from Bangor University in north Wales said they calculated its age by counting rings on its shell.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

James Watson retires

I read the following article in the SF Cronicle. Interestingly, Watson is the second nobel winner that makes such a claim. (The first, was the Californian Physisist William Shockley. I remember listening to him making this claim in 1980 in a lecture at the University of Columbia-Missouri).

James Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, announced his retirement Thursday after controversy erupted over comments he made suggesting that black people are less intelligent than whites.
"The passing on of my remaining vestiges of leadership is more than overdue," he wrote in a statement about his departure from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, which he joined as director in 1968 and helped build into one of the world's leading genetic research institutes. "The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired."
Watson, 79, was quoted in the Sunday Times Magazine of London on Oct. 14 as saying he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa," because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."
He subsequently issued a statement saying, "There is no scientific basis for such a belief."

The full aricle.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Berkeley going solar

From the SF Chronicle.
Berkeley is set to become the first city in the nation to help thousands of its residents generate solar power without having to put money up front - attempting to surmount one of the biggest hurdles for people who don't have enough cash to go green.
The City Council will vote Nov. 6 on a plan for the city to finance the cost of solar panels for property owners who agree to pay it back with a 20-year assessment on their property. Over two decades, the taxes would be the same or less than what property owners would save on their electric bills, officials say.
"This plan could be our most important contribution to fighting global warming," Mayor Tom Bates said Thursday. "We've already seen interest from all over the U.S. People really think this plan can go."

The full story.

"Cool" schools in the US

Sierra magazine has named the Top 10 "coolest" schools for their efforts to stop global warming.
A new generation looks beyond the Ivies and party schools to colleges that teach how to change the world. Better yet, some are already changing it.
The top 10 .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hillary Clinton Campaign

I found this message, sent to Berkeley students, interesting as a way to recruit students to the election campaign.

I am an associate with the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign and also a student at UC Berkeley. We are currently in need of several interns to help us with our campaign, and we were hoping that you might have a listserv or some way of posting information for students within your department to inform them of this opportunity. If so could you please forward this message to that list, or tell me
the proper procedure for posting this information? Thank you very much!
Interning in a Political Campaign is a great way for students to get involved in politics and get their voices heard. No matter what your major or background is, if you are ready to make history, we would love for you to join our team. This campaign is a once in a lifetime opportunity and interns in California have an especially unique opportunity to get involved, since there are only eight staff members within the state and we rely very heavily on our interns and give them a great deal of responsibility. Our interns do anything and everything, including contacting voters, preparing for and running events, organizing volunteers, office work, phone reception, meeting political leaders, registering voters, and running tables at events.The more time you put in the more rewarding your experience will be, and this experience will be a huge asset on any resume and scholarship application.
Our San Francisco office can be easily reached by BART, and is only a few blocks away from the Civic Center/ U.N. Plaza station. There is also a carpool list, as several of our interns are from the UC Berkeley/Oakland area.
If you are interested please e-mail your resume to ... or call our office...


Monday, October 22, 2007

Swiss elections

A summary of what happened in the Swiss elections yesterday (Oct. 22) can be found in he San Fancisco Chronicle (copied below).
I believe that the nationalist party and the Greens, increased their support because they had a simple and clear message to the voters (different messages of course). The socialist lost big, because they did not have such a message. And this is the problem that the socialists faced in other countries too(e.g France, Greece etc).
Can the progressives change that? They should probably listen to Lakoff. They don't seem to have found other approaches so far.

The nationalist Swiss People's Party received the highest vote ever recorded for an individual political party in Switzerland after a bitter campaign blaming foreigners for much of the country's crime.
But although many saw the campaign as tainted by racism or xenophobia, the Swiss also elected their first black parliament member Sunday.
The Federal Statistics Office put the People's Party at 29 percent after the national parliamentary elections. That topped the 1919 performance of 28 percent achieved by the pro-business Radical Democrats when Swiss elections were reorganized immediately after World War I.
The Social Democrats were the big losers, dropping to 19.5 percent from 23.3 percent.
The People's Party added seven seats to bring to 62 its total in the 200-seat National Council, the lower house of parliament, also edging out the Radical Democrats' 1919 record of 60.
People's Party president Ueli Maurer and other party leaders pledged to continue working among the four major parties in the long-standing Swiss system of consensus politics that covers the wide range from Social Democrats on the left to People's Party on the right. All four parties share in the governing Cabinet, without a prime minister and with the president only a figurehead.
The People's Party claims foreigners are responsible for much of the crime in the country. In the campaign, the People's Party called for a law to throw out entire immigrant families if a child violates Swiss laws — the most recent variation of the party's anti-foreigner theme.
Party posters featuring white sheep kicking out a black sheep sparked outrage that was blamed in part for a riot two weeks before the election.
Despite the tension, Ricardo Lumengo of the Social Democrats, an Angolan who arrived in Switzerland as an asylum seeker the 1980s and subsequently became a legal expert, became the first black parliament member elected by the Swiss.
Switzerland's population of 7.5 million includes about 1.6 million foreigners, including many workers from southern Europe and refugees from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Applicants for Swiss citizenship typically must wait years and clear administrative hurdles before they are granted Swiss passports.
The Social Democrats have 43 seats, a drop of nine. The Green Party added six to its 2003 performance, bringing its total to the party's best showing of 20 seats, reflecting concerns for the environment on the left.
"I'm very happy with the result," said Ruth Genner, president of the Greens. But she noted that the party appeared to be just short of its goal of 10 percent. If it had reached that figure, it had said it would ask to join the four major parties in the Cabinet.
The two center-right parties, the Radical Democrats and the Christian Democrats, each had about 15 percent of the vote — about the same as in 2003 — but the Radical Democrats will lose five seats for a total of 31. The Christian Democrats will gain three seats for the same total.
Nearly 4.8 million Swiss voters were eligible to cast ballots Sunday for the two-chamber National Assembly: the National Council and the 46-seat Council of States. Results for the upper chamber were incomplete because a runoff will be held Nov. 25. The full assembly will then determine the makeup of the seven-member Cabinet on Dec. 12.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

A country that works

I got the following from a friend:

Sunday in Lausanne Switzerland. Not much going on and it seems like a sleepy town.
A car leaking oil has just passed through a small stret leaving a slippery trail of oil behind it. Within half an hour, a police car has blocked the entry to the road, and a municipal truck is unloading sand on the oil trail for slippage avoidance. About an hour later, a cleaning van from the mnunicipality is cleaning the mess. All this at 16.00 on a Sunday!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Turkey's Lobbyists Fund Presidential Campaign

On FARA online one can find the text of the contract in which DLA Piper agrees, for a fee of $1.2 million/year, to provide lobbying and governmental relations services to Turkey including, but not limited to: “Preventing the introduction, debate, and passage of legislation that harms turkey’s interest or image.”
Preventing the debate? How about this for a country that wants to be a member of the European Union. I wonder of course how the US law allows this.
The contract.
I found -and I copy below-the following interesting information on the contract and the donations of the company.
The contract is signed by Matthew Bernstein who has (according to OpenSecrets) given $8,900 to Presidential candidates this year ($4,600 to Clinton, $2,000 to Dodd, $2,300 to Biden)[here I corrected a previous error--I initially wrote that he gave $1000 to Edwards, which he has not], and John Merrigan, who has given $11,500 to the campaigns ($4600 to Clinton, $4600 to Dodd, $2,300 to Biden). All told, DLA Piper has given half a million to candidates in the 2008 cycle—I didn’t parse out the Presidential ones. Dick Gephardt and his wife have donated $4,600 to Hillary Clinton. David Mercer, named in the contract, has given $4,600 to Clinton. John Zentay, whose name is also on the contract, has given $2,000 to Clinton.
In fact, DLA Piper has given nearly $300,000 to Clinton’s campaign, and I’m sure that number undershoots it—when I looked up John Merrigan, only some of his contributions were tagged as DLA Piper contributions. He has personally bundled over $100,000 for Clinton.
It is, of course, illegal for a foreign principal “directly or through another person” to contribute to an electoral campaign in the United States. But what is “through another person,” really?
Is it possible that John, Matt, and Dick acted on their own?
And as for the inflammatory headline...I thought about it, but I decided to keep it, because its true. I welcome the world into our political conversation, but I think the laws limiting foreign contributions to political campaigns are necessary for self-government, and when it looks like they might be using campaign contributions to do a runaround on those limitations, we should note it.
DLA Piper also represents the UAE, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, in separate contracts.
Thanks to those who have been working to get FARA online. It truly transforms the role of the citizen in digging deeper, and a model for how a general lobbying database could work.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nobel prize 2007 in Economics

Three Americans have won the 2007 Nobel Prize for economics: Leo Hurwicz from the University of Minnesota; Eric Maskin of Princeton University; and Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago. The U.S. academics won for their work in Mechanism Design Theory, which studies the efficiency of the marketplace by looking at factors such as the quality of information made available to market participants.

The Nobel committee has published a document called "Information for the Public" that attempts to explain their accomplishments in laymen's terms. A more academic background paper on Mechanism Design Theory is also available online.

If you're really interested, the Nobel committee has also published citations for the key academic papers that brought the winners to prominence.
The link for the above information.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007

What does George W. Bush have to say about this?
Mario R. Capecchi,USA, University of Utah; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Salt Lake City, UT,USA Sir Martin J. Evans, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom Oliver Smithies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
"for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Gordon Brown

I received the following from a friend and I thought it was very good!

A young man named Gordon bought a donkey from an old farmer for £50.
The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day, but when the farmer drove up he said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news... the donkey is on my truck, but unfortunately he's dead. Gordon replied, "Well then, just give me my money back."
The farmer said, "I can't do that, because I've spent it already. Gordon said, "OK then, well just unload the donkey anyway. The farmer asked, "What are you going to do with him?" Gordon answered, "I'm going to raffle him off."
To which the farmer exclaimed, "Surely you can't raffle off a dead donkey!"
But Gordon, with a wicked smile on his face said, "Of course I can, you watch me. I just won't bother to tell anybody that he's dead."
A month later the farmer met up with Gordon and asked, "What happened with that dead donkey?"
Gordon said, "I raffled him off, sold 500 tickets at two pounds a piece, and made a huge, fat profit!!"
Totally amazed, the farmer asked, "Didn't anyone complain that you had stolen their money because you lied about the donkey being dead?" To which Gordon replied, "The guy who was the raffle winner only found out about the donkey being dead when he came to claim his prize. So I gave him his £2 raffle ticket money back plus an extra £100, which as you know is double the going rate for a donkey, so he thought I was great guy!!
Gordon grew up and eventually became the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and no matter how many times he lied, or how much money he stole from the British voters, as long as he gave them back some of the stolen money, most of them, unfortunately, still thought he was a great guy.
The moral of this story is that, if you think Gordon is about to play fair and do something for the everyday people of the country for once in his miserable, lying life, think again my friend, because you'll be better off flogging a dead donkey.

Money in Switzerland

I was told by a Swiss banker that 27% of the money available in the world is located in bank accounts in Switzerland. Is this correct?

Friday, October 05, 2007

More on the Reader's Digest rating

Some more info from this study.

How Countries Rate
Top 5
1. Finland
2. Iceland
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Austria

Bottom 5
137. Chad
138. Burkina Faso
139. Sierra Leone
140. Niger
141. Ethiopia

Air Quality
Rates concentration of several pollutants in urban areas
1. Moldova
8. Finland
63. United States
126. Ethiopia
141. Guatemala

The World's Greenest, Most Livable Cities
Using different data, we analyzed 72 major international cities and ranked them in terms of being green and livable. The sources included The Millennium Cities Database for Sustainable Transport (2001) by Jeff Kenworthy and Felix Laube of Australia's Murdoch University, the World Bank's Development Economic Research Group Estimates, and our own reporting on local environmental laws, energy prices, garbage production and disposal, and parkland.

5 Best
1. Stockholm
2. Oslo
3. Munich
4. Paris
5. Frankfurt

5 Worst
68. Bangkok
69. Guangzhou
70. Mumbai
71. Shanghai
72. Beijing

How U.S. Cities Rate
15. New York
22. Washington, D.C.
23. Chicago
26. San Francisco
36. Atlanta
43. Denver
46. Houston
55. San Diego
57. Los Angeles
60. Phoenix

Water Quality
Rates pollutant levels as well as other factors that affect water purity
1. Norway
2. Finland
22. United States
127. Ethiopia
141. Morocco

Greenhouse Gases
Rates carbon emissions per capita and by GDP
1. Chad
18. Ethiopia
75. Finland
107. United States
141. Turkmenistan

Energy Efficiency
Rates conservation efforts and use of renewables such as hydropower
1. D.R. Congo
17. Ethiopia
66. Finland
106. United States
141. Trinidad & Tobago

Environmental Health
Rates childhood mortality, disease; deaths from intestinal infections
1. Austria
8. Finland
125. Ethiopia
16. United States
141. Turkmenistan

Best countries to live in

From reader' s digest
The first 51 greenest, most livable places.
Countries Overall
1. Finland
2. Iceland
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Austria
6. Switzerland
7. Ireland
8. Australia
9. Uruguay
10. Denmark
11. Canada
12. Japan
13. Israel
14. Italy
15. Slovenia
16. France
17. Netherlands
18. Portugal
19. New Zealand
20. Greece
21. Germany
22. Latvia
23. United States
24. Lithuania
25. United Kingdom
26. Belgium
27. Argentina
28. Croatia
29. Spain
30. Hungary
31. Albania
32. Estonia
33. Slovakia
34. Costa Rica
35. South Korea
36. Cuba
37. Belarus
38. Czech Republic
39. Bosnia and Herzegovina
40. Brazil
41. Panama
42. Armenia
43. Chile
44. Paraguay
45. United Arab Emirates
46. Macedonia
47. Bulgaria
48. Poland
49. Kuwait
50. Oman
51. Russia

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kythera weather, Monthly averages

Monthly Normals

January February March April May June July August September October November December
High Temperature (F/C)
55/13 55/13 58/14 63/17 71/22 79/26 84/29 83/28 78/26 70/21 64/18 58/15
Low Temperature (F/C)
48/9 48/9 50/10 54/12 61/16 68/20 72/22 72/22 69/20 62/17 57/14 51/11
Precipitation (in/mm)
4.07/103.3 2.67/67.7 2.34/59.5 1.11/28.1 0.41/10.5 0.07/1.9 0.09/2.4 0.09/2.3 0.44/ 11.2 2.13 / 54.2 3.37 / 85.6 4.54 / 115.2
Cloud Cover (out of 8) 4.9 4.9 4.4 3.9 3.1 1.6 0.7 0.7 1.6 3.3 4.3 4.8

Monday, August 06, 2007

Plagiarism on the web?

Facebook, the US-based social networking website, attempts to get a lawsuit against it thrown out of court in Boston. Three founders of a rival site, ConnectU, say Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the site while they were all at Harvard.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Academics oppose Israel boycott

When academics get into real politics…(A news item from the BBC). (For more information on the vote see haaretz).
The complete list of those who have signed the petition can be found on the SPME website).

Thousands of academics from around the world have condemned plans for a UK boycott of Israeli institutions over its treatment of the Palestinians. More than 10,000 academics have signed a declaration saying they would not join any project which barred Israelis. The group, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), said the boycott plans attacked academic freedoms. The UK's University and College Union voted in May to debate a boycott, and suspects this has been misunderstood. Thirty-two Nobel prize winners were among the thousands who signed the condemnation of the UCU boycott plan. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who drafted the statement for SPME, said the signatories represented a cross-section of academics from around the world. "The message of the signatories is crystal clear," Mr Dershowitz said. "Should the UCU go forward with a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, the end result will be a self-inflicted wound on British academia." At its annual conference in May, union members were urged to consider the "moral implications" of links with Israeli universities. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt had urged delegates not to support the boycott call, saying she did not believe the majority of UCU members supported an academic boycott of Israel. But delegates voted in favour of a motion to further discuss an all-out boycott. Ms Hunt has since written to UCU members outlining the process needed to conduct a debate over the proposed boycott, including nationwide appearances by Palestinian and Israeli academics.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bush, Public Health and Education by Fidel Castro

On many sites, ( e.g. this),one can find a very interesting article by Fidel Castro written on July 14, 2007, with the above title.
He makes some very impressive claims about the results of Cuba’s policies in public health and education. We should probably study these policies and their financing more closely.

Some extracts from the article:
The International Labour Organization has indicated that "47 percent of people born abroad that complete their Doctorate in the United States stay in that country." Yet another example of the plunder: "There are more Ethiopian physicians in Chicago than in all of Ethiopia."
In Cuba, where healthcare is not a commodity. Third World countries do not have the resources to set up scientific research centers, while Cuba has created these even if her own professionals have often been enticed and encouraged to defect.
Our Yes I Can method of teaching people to read and write is today available to all Latin American countries, free of charge, and the countries that choose to use the program receive support to adapt it to their own characteristics and to produce the printed materials and the corresponding videos. Countries such as Bolivia are implementing the program in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara. The numbers of those who have learned to read and write there in just one year exceed the number of those who have been taught to read and write by the empire in all of Latin America, if indeed there is anyone.
Yes I Can is of benefit to other societies outside the Western Hemisphere. Suffice it to say that New Zealand is using the program to eradicate illiteracy in their Maori population.
Instead of having one training center for medical professionals in
Central America, which has trained about 100 -and we're glad for this-- our country today has tens of thousands of students from Latin America and the Caribbean on full scholarships who spend six years training as doctors in Cuba, free of charge.
We cooperate with Venezuela in the education of more than 20,000 youths, who study medicine and train in clinics in the poor neighborhoods, tutored by Cuban specialists, so that they can get acquainted with their future and difficult job.
The Comfort, with over 800 people on board, that is, medical staff
and crew, will not be able to look after great numbers of people. It
is impossible to carry out medical programs episodically. Physical therapy, for example, in many cases requires months of work. Cuba provides permanent services to people in polyclinics and well-equipped hospitals, and the patients can be cared for any time of day or night. We have also trained the necessary physical therapy specialists.
The eye surgery also requires special skills. In our country ophthalmologic centers perform more than 50,000 eye surgeries on Cubans each year and look after 27 kinds of diseases. There are no waiting lists for cornea transplants which need special arrangements. Let an active investigation be done in the United States and you will see how many people really need to be operated on there; since they have never been examined by an ophthalmologist they will attribute their eye problems to other causes and run the risk of becoming blind or of having their vision seriously impaired. You would find out that there are millions.
In the abovementioned figure I did not include the hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans and Caribbean people some of whom are operated on in Cuba, but most in their respective countries, by Cuban ophthalmologists. In Bolivia alone, they are more than 100,000 each year. In this instance, Bolivian doctors educated in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) take part in the surgeries alongside our Cuban specialists.
Let's just see how the Comfort will make out in Haiti, providing health services for a week. There, in 123 of the country's 134 communes there are Cuban doctors working alongside ELAM graduates, or Haitian students in the last year of medical school, fighting AIDS and various tropical diseases.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Kenyan deputy ministers 'bored'

Why is this BBC item newsworthy? I am sure thare are many governments in the world with the same problem...

At least 30 assistant Kenyan ministers have written a letter to the president, complaining they have no work to do. "I just go to the office and read newspapers," said Abu Chiaba, an assistant fisheries minister. His counterpart in the wildlife and tourism ministry said he learnt of policy decision in the press.
President Mwai Kibaki promised a lean government when he took power in 2002, but instead increased the number of jobs to reward his coalition partners. Kenya has 50 assistant ministers serving in 33 ministries, as some ministries have two appointed assistants. The government spends more than $9m a year to meet salaries and allowances for the assistant ministers.

Friday, June 29, 2007

David Miliband's blog

A very nice personal blog of the new British Foreign Minister. Unfortunately, "We have suspended the ability to comment on this blog for the time being" .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

E-vote 'threat' to UK democracy

An interesting article in the BBC

British democracy could be undermined by moves to use electronic voting in elections, warns a report.

The risks involved in swapping paper ballots for touch screens far outweigh any benefits they may have, says the Open Rights Group report.

It based its conclusions on reports from observers who watched e-voting trials in May's local elections.

The group called for a halt to e-voting until it is reliable, easy to oversee and has proven its integrity.

...continues here!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Joe Trippi with John Edwards

The internet guru of political campaigns Joe Trippi has joint John Edwards campaign team. Will the success of Trippi as campaign manager of Howard Dean, mainly because of the use of the internet campaign, help Edwards too? It will be interesting to see the effect he will have this time. Will he be able to win the netroots for JE?
It has been reported that former Bush Campaign webmaster Patrick Ruffini argues that bringing Trippi on board effectively "solidifies Edwards as the candidate of the netroots."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gordon Brown on Education

The following refers to the views of Gordon Brown on Education. Important point are the setting up of a Council of Education, the emphasis on discipline in schools, and the diversity in schools. (from the BBC).

Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown has outlined plans to make British education "world class", in order to meet the challenges of globalisation. In his Mansion House speech to the City, Mr Brown said businesses should be involved in every school and backed the city academies programme. The chancellor pledged more focus on discipline, setting by ability and to review literacy and numeracy teaching. He said there was "too much potential untapped, too much talent wasted". The chancellor had said that if Britain was to meet the challenges of globalisation, improving education and skills had to be the priority.
There would be "no place in the new Britain we seek for complacency and no room for inadequate skills, low aspirations". "I want a Britain where there is no cap on ambition, no ceiling on talent, no limit to where your potential will take you and how far you can rise," he added. To achieve this he outlined plans to keep children in schools or training until 18, and offer them a "clear pathway" to a career - either through further education or through an apprenticeship.
Business partners
A National Council for Education Excellence is being set up to bring together business, education and voluntary sector leaders, he said, to see how businesses and universities can help schools. "In future every single secondary school and primary school should have a business partner - and I invite you all to participate," he said. BBC political editor Nick Robinson said it appeared Mr Brown was "ploughing on in much the same direction as Tony Blair".
Setting by ability
Education policy would focus on "standards and rigour" in teaching - particularly literacy and numeracy. There should be more "setting by ability" in maths, English, science and languages in all schools, he said. While "setting" groups pupils in terms of ability for certain lessons only, "streaming", favoured by Conservative leader David Cameron, puts them in hierarchical groups for all lessons. Plans for small group after-school tuition for pupils with a particular interest in certain subjects, extra support for gifted pupils and business "mentors" for those at risk of dropping out, were also outlined by Mr Brown.
Teachers 'in control'
And he pledged to champion "greater diversity" in education, adding he "applauded" city academies and wanted to make it easier to expand them. He also said he would consider "employer led" skills academies to improve vocational provision. The government would champion "excellence in teaching" and try to attract more "inspirational graduates" into teaching. And Mr Brown added teachers had to be "in control in every classroom". Further steps would be taken to "stamp out" bullying and Ofsted would be asked to "raise the bar" on what is considered acceptable behaviour. Mr Brown said: "We will champion discipline. I know parents and employers expect us to do more to help schools recognise the vital role of discipline in developing children and young people and they are right to do so."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Efron wins National Medal of Science

Efron, the Max H. Stein Professor and Professor of Statistics and of Health Research and Policy, was cited "for his contributions to theoretical and applied statistics, especially the bootstrap sampling technique; for his extraordinary geometric insight into nonlinear statistical problems; and for applications in medicine, physics and astronomy."

He invented the bootstrap method, a general computer-based way of attaching plus-or-minus values to a statistical estimate (as in, for example, "57 percent of the public plus or minus 3 percent are in favor of subsidizing public utilities"). His focus on methodologies useful in diverse fields has helped make Stanford's Department of Statistics America's top-ranked department in the discipline.

Efron, 69, is one of the world's most often-cited mathematical scientists. He earned his doctorate in statistics from Stanford in 1964 and joined the Stanford faculty in 1965. Winner of a 1983 MacArthur Prize, he has served as president of the American Statistical Association and of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

The other 2005 National Medal of Science laureates are Jan D. Achenbach (Northwestern University), Ralph A. Alpher (Dudley Observatory), Anthony S. Fauci (National Institutes of Health), Tobin J. Marks (Northwestern University), Lonnie G. Thompson (Ohio State University) and Torsten N. Wiesel (Rockefeller University).

"The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields, including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral and engineering sciences, that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge," said a White House statement.

Clinton opens campaign song vote

US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is asking the public to choose her 2008 campaign song in an online vote. Now the New York senator has posted nine songs on her website, asking people to select their favourite tune.
U2 - City of Blinding Lights
U2 - Beautiful Day
KT Tunstall - Suddenly I See
Smash Mouth - I'm a Believer
The Temptations - Get Ready
Dixie Chicks - Ready to Run
Shania Twain - Rock This Country
Jesus Jones - Right Here Right Now
The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Obama's Internet Campaign

(From the SF Chronicle)

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has raised $25 million in the first quarter of 2007, bolstered by an innovative Internet campaign that has helped him expand his appeal to a wider base of donors than his Democratic presidential rivals.
The Illinois senator's fundraising between Jan. 1 and March 31 brought in nearly as much as the $26 million raised by Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. But his base of 100,000 supporters surpasses the combined donors of Clinton, with a reported 50,000, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, whose campaign announced he had raised $14 million from 40,000 donors.
Though the Obama campaign has not released official numbers, sources close to the campaign say the senator raised considerable cash in California -- as much as $1.2 million in the Bay Area and surrounding counties, $2 million in Southern California and another $300,000 elsewhere in the state for a total of about $3.5 million during the first three months of 2007.
Official campaign finance reports are not due to be filed with the Federal Election Commission until April 15. Many of the other candidates released their overall fundraising amounts earlier this week. Obama's campaign released its numbers on Wednesday.
Leading Silicon Valley insiders noted that Obama raised nearly $7 million on the Internet thanks to an aggressive effort involving bloggers, social networking and other activities that far outpaced the endeavors of other leading Democratic candidates. It includes 4,000 groups, 9,000 Obama bloggers and 50,000 online donors.
Experts say Obama's strategy in California, the ATM of political fundraising, helped make him a surprising contender in the first-quarter "money primary,'' a crucial measure of strength and viability in the early presidential race.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Text of the Berlin Declaration

Declaration on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome

For centuries Europe has been an idea, holding out hope of peace and understanding. That hope has been fulfilled. European unification has made peace and prosperity possible. It has brought about a sense of community and overcome differences. Each Member State has helped to unite Europe and to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Thanks to the yearning for freedom of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe the unnatural division of Europe is now consigned to the past. European unification shows that we have learnt the painful lessons of a history marked by bloody conflict. Today we live together as was never possible before.
We, the citizens of the European Union, have united for the better.

In the European Union, we are turning our common ideals into reality: for us, the individual is paramount. His dignity is inviolable. His rights are inalienable. Men and women enjoy equal rights. We are striving for peace and freedom, for democracy and the rule of law, for mutual respect and shared responsibility, for prosperity and security, for tolerance and participation, for justice and solidarity.
We have a unique way of living and working together in the European Union. This is expressed through the democratic interaction of the Member States and the European institutions. The European Union is founded on equal rights and mutually supportive co-operation. This enables us to strike a fair balance between Member States' interests.
We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its Member States. We are enriched by open borders and a lively variety of languages, cultures and regions. There are many goals which we cannot achieve on our own, but only in concert. Tasks are shared between the European Union, the Member States and their regions and local authorities.


We are facing major challenges which do not stop at national borders. The European Union is our response to these challenges. Only together can we continue to preserve our ideal of European society in future for the good of all European Union citizens, This European model combines economic success and social responsibility. The common market and the euro make us strong. We can thus shape the increasing interdependence of the global economy and ever-growing competition on international markets according to our values. Europe's wealth lies in the knowledge and ability of its people; that is the key to growth, employment and social cohesion.

We will fight terrorism and organised crime together. We stand up for liberties and civil rights also in the struggle against those who oppose them. Racism and xenophobia must never again be given any rein.

We are committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the world and to ensuring that people do not become victims of war, Terrorism and violence. The European Union wants to promote freedom and development in the world. We want to drive back poverty, hunger and disease. We want to continue to take a leading role in that fight.

We intend jointly to lead the way in energy policy and climate protection and make our contribution to averting the global threat of climate change.


The European Union will continue to thrive both on openness and on the will of its Member States to consolidate the Union's internal development. The European Union will continue to promote democracy, stability and prosperity beyond its borders.

With European unification a dream of earlier generations has become a reality. Our history reminds us that we must protect this for the good of future generations. For that reason we must always renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times. That is why today, 50 years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we are united in our aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009.

For we know, Europe is our common future.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bill Gates keeps close eye on kids' computer time

Is this the result of the evaluation of evidence?

The following piece of news in not conclusive.

Just because you're the daughter of Bill Gates does not mean you get to play on your computer all day long.
The Microsoft founder said his 10-year-old daughter, his oldest child, was not a hard-core Internet and computer user until this year, when she started at a school where the students use tablet computers for almost everything.
"She became very avid and discovered a lot of computer games, including one that runs on the Xbox 360 called Viva Pinata, where you take care of your garden," he told a business audience in Ottawa.
"She could spend two or three hours a day on this Viva Pinata, because it's kind of engaging and fun."
Gates said he and his wife Melinda decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time she needs for homework.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Obesity in the world. WHO ranking

There are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world, according to the World Health Organization. That number is projected to grow by 40% over the next 10 years. The following list reflects the percentage of overweight adults aged 15 and over. These are individuals who have individual body mass indexes, which measures weight relative to height, greater than or equal to 25. Obese is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
Rank Country %
1. Nauru 94.5
2. Micronesia, Federated States of 91.1
3. Cook Islands 90.9
4. Tonga 90.8
5. Niue 81.7
6. Samoa 80.4
7. Palau 78.4
8. Kuwait 74.2
9. United States 74.1
10. Kiribati 73.6
11. Dominica 71.0
12. Barbados 69.7
13. Argentina 69.4
14. Egypt 69.4
15. Malta 68.7
16. Greece 68.5
17. New Zealand 68.4
18. United Arab Emirates 68.3
19. Mexico 68.1
20. Trinidad and Tobago 67.9
21. Australia 67.4
22. Belarus 66.8
23. Chile 65.3
24. Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 65.2
25. Seychelles 64.6
26. Bahrain 64.1
27. Andorra 63.8
28. United Kingdom 63.8
29. Saudi Arabia 63.5
30. Monaco 62.4
31. Bolivia 62.2
32. San Marino 62.1
33. Guatemala 61.2
34. Mongolia 61.2
35. Canada 61.1
36. Qatar 61.0
37. Uruguay 60.9
38. Jordan 60.5
39. Bahamas 60.4
40. Iceland 60.4
41. Nicaragua 60.4
42. Cuba 60.1
43. Germany 60.1
44. Brunei Darussalam 59.8
45. Slovenia 59.8
46. Peru 59.6
47. Vanuatu 59.6
48. Finland 58.7
49. Jamaica 57.4

50. Israel 57.3
51. Saint Lucia 57.3
52. Austria 57.1
53. Azerbaijan 57.1
54. Turkey 56.8
55. Tuvalu 56.6
56. Dominican Republic 56.5
57. Slovakia 56.3
58. Cyprus 56.2
59. Saint Kitts and Nevis 56.1
60. Costa Rica 55.8
61. Colombia 55.6
62. Antigua and Barbuda 55.5
63. Switzerland 55.4
64. Montenegro 54.9
65. Serbia 54.9
66. Serbia and Montenegro (The former state union of) 54.9
67. Albania 54.8
68. Fiji 54.8
69. Bulgaria 54.2
70. Luxembourg 54.2
71. Croatia 53.9
72. Bosnia and Herzegovina 53.8
73. Portugal 53.8
74. Armenia 53.3
75. Grenada 53.3
76. South Africa 53.3
77. Iran (Islamic Republic of) 53.2
78. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 53.2
79. Lithuania 53.1
80. Lebanon 53.0
81. Czech Republic 52.9
82. Syrian Arab Republic 52.8
83. Spain 51.8
84. Hungary 51.6
85. Panama 51.4
86. Tunisia 51.0
87. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 50.6
88. Brazil 50.5
89. Belize 49.8
90. Sweden 49.7
91. Norway 49.1
92. Russian Federation 49.1
93. El Salvador 48.7
94. Lesotho 48.5
95. Suriname 47.8
96. Paraguay 47.7
97. Guyana 47.5
98. Poland 47.5
99. Latvia 47.3
100. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 47.2
101. Ecuador 47.1
102. Turkmenistan 46.8
103. Ireland 46.6
104. Belgium 46.3
105. Marshall Islands 46.2
106. Netherlands 46.0
107. Uzbekistan 46.0
108. Denmark 45.8
109. Mauritius 45.6
110. Oman 45.6
111. Italy 45.5
112. Iraq 45.4
113. Georgia 44.8
114. Ukraine 44.8
115. Solomon Islands 44.0
116. Botswana 43.6
117. Honduras 43.5
118. Equatorial Guinea 43.0
119. Morocco 42.9
120. Dem. Republic of Timor-Leste 42.7
121. Mauritania 42.5
122. Estonia 42.2
123. Republic of Korea 42.0
124. Swaziland 41.8
125. Kazakhstan 41.4
126. Republic of Moldova 41.1
127. Bhutan 40.9
128. France 40.1
129. Cameroon 39.9
130. Maldives 39.9
131. Algeria 39.8
132. Dem. People's Republic of Korea 39.4
133. Kyrgyzstan 39.2
134. Romania 39.1
135. Lao People's Democratic Republic 38.9
136. Cape Verde 38.2
137. Tajikistan 37.3
138. Gabon 36.5
139. Myanmar 36.3
140. Liberia 35.6
141. Sierra Leone 33.4
142. Haiti 32.8
143. Zimbabwe 32.1
144. Thailand 31.6
145. Papua New Guinea 30.2
146. Malaysia 29.9
147. Ghana 29.2
148. China 28.9
149. Benin 28.5
150. Comoros 28.0
151. Angola 27.5
152. Nigeria 27.1
153. Yemen 27.0
154. Senegal 26.4
155. Philippines 25.2
156. Djibouti 24.9
157. Mali 24.1
158. Togo 24.0
159. Guinea 23.5
160. Sudan 23.1
161. Cote d'Ivoire 22.9
162. Singapore 22.9
163. Japan 22.6
164. Namibia 22.5
165. Pakistan 22.2
166. Sao Tome and Principe 21.4
167. United Republic of Tanzania 21.2
168. Malawi 19.3
169. Congo 18.9
170. Niger 17.6
171. Madagascar 17.4
172. Mozambique 17.3
173. Guinea-Bissau 16.7
174. Gambia 16.6
175. Indonesia 16.2
176. India 16.0
177. Somalia 15.8
178. Chad 15.6
179. Afghanistan 15.1
180. Uganda 14.8
181. Kenya 14.3
182. Burkina Faso 14.1
183. Rwanda 13.7
184. Zambia 13.0
185. Burundi 12.9
186. Central African Republic 12.9
187. Cambodia 11.3
188. Dem. Republic of the Congo 9.1
189. Nepal 8.4
190. Sri Lanka 7.4
191. Viet Nam 6.4
192. Bangladesh 6.1
193. Ethiopia 5.6
194. Eritrea 4.4