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