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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Favourite TV: Spooks

After airing more that 50 episodes this spy based series is some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. Based around the lives of members of Section D of MI5 the BBC has managed to keep me on the edge of my seat (and often shouting at the screen in joy and frustration) for 6 years now.

I’ve just finished watching Series 5 on DVD and loved it as much as the first time I saw it. About the only thing I find slightly unreal about it is that the stress of saving the country on a weekly basis doesn’t push more of them over the edge. Whilst it’s true that one of the main characters Adam Carter (played by Rupert Perry-Jones) suffers in Series 5 from serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death as well as being shot later himself – by a person he trusted – most of the other cast seem to shrug off their regular escapes from death and destruction which can’t help but give a feel of unreality about things. Saying that though, the inventiveness of the storylines and the quality of the acting raise this spy series head and shoulders above anything I have seen in years. In the times we live in it would have been easy to base the whole thing on the West versus fundamentalist Islam and leave it at that. But being the BBC with its ‘notorious Left-wing bias’ things could never be that simple. Of course there are indeed many storylines involving both foreign and domestic Islamic terrorists. Some American viewers in particular though may find the sympathetic portrayal of these characters rather disturbing. While in no way endorsing their actions they are normally portrayed as complex three-dimensional people rather than the stereotypes I have often seen in US shows. What I actually found far more interesting is the many other security threats handed by Section D – from Eco-terrorists, ex-IRA bombers now working freelance, fundamental Christian killers bent on starting a Holy War, Mossad, the CIA and, my personal favourite, a Right Wing plot to take over the UK Government from within (with the active help of MI6).

This show is wonderfully complex and deliciously cynical – so much so that I have often wondered how close the inevitable exaggerations for entertainment value are to the truth of what really goes on in the Intelligence Community! I do wonder if real Spooks get a kick out of watching their fictional counter-parts and wonder just how did they knew that particular piece of information…. [laughs]

I have become quite attached to some of the characters over the years and still miss some that have fallen by the wayside – either through resignation (Tom Quinn played by the very talented Matthew Macfadyn), murder or being framed for a crime they did not commit (Ruth Evershed played by the quite superb Nicola Walker who I quite honestly fell in love with). Special mention must be made of Hermione Norris who plays ex-MI6 operative Ros Myers (previously seen in the excellent series Cold Feet) one of the coldest most manipulative kick-ass bitches on TV today. A woman that ruthlessly efficient and beautiful just has to be admired – from afar!

All in all an excellent series which hardly ever fails to entertain and shock in equal measure. If you like tough contemporary drama with a hard cynical edge this is the stuff of your dreams.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Volunteers help in giant makeover

From the BBC

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Volunteers have started work to restore Dorset's Cerne Abbas chalk giant to its former glory. Conservationists began a makeover on Saturday to re-chalk the 180ft (54m) ancient fertility symbol, which has become obscured by vegetation and moss.

The increased growth has been blamed on the wet summer and shortage of sheep farmers lending their flocks. The National Trust usually borrows about 100 sheep in May and September to graze the club-wielding figure. Rob Rhodes, National Trust head warden for west Dorset, said: "It is lovely to see the giant emerge from the countryside. "You can see his head and club more clearly and see him coming down the hill. We have used members of trust staff and hundreds of volunteers with 18 tonnes of chalk being carried up and down by hand. It is so important for the village of Cerne Abbas and an icon for the whole country."

Many people believe the figure, which dates back to 1694, is a symbol of ancient spirituality and fertility. The last re-chalking was in September 2001 but it was brought forward to this year because of the erosion caused by the wet summer.

[Impressive....]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Money Shot by Christa Faust

Called back to do one last job, ex-porn star Angel Dare ends up beaten, raped, shot and left for dead. After being tortured for information she does not possess she is determined to find out exactly why a group of strangers have just tried to kill her. Relying on the only man she can trust and hiding both from the police and her would be assassins, Angel must re-enter the sleazy world of cheap porn in order to uncover the identities of the people behind an illegal underage trafficking ring after one of the victim’s calls on her for help. Leaving a trail of bodies in their wake Angel and her ex-cop friend slowly make their way up the criminal hierarchy. But can they survive long enough in what has become literally a cut-throat business?

This was my first foray into the Hard Case Crime series of books. Despite looking forward to the 50’s writing style I actually decided to start with Faust’s book which was first published in 2008. I think that I definitely should have had the courage of my convictions because Money Shot didn’t really float my boat. It was readable enough and the character of Angel Dare was fairly well constructed but did it drag quite a lot in more than one place. All of the elements of a good thriller were present but there seemed to be a decided lack of pace or a sense of much danger. Saying that, I did think that some of the set-pieces where well done and Angel was given some good one liners to use whenever confronted with a bad guy she needed to take down a peg or two – usually just before she shot them. A reasonable read though I’m hoping that the rest of the series is better than this single example.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meme.....

Where you named after anyone?

Apparently I was named after a character in a Paul Anka song. Unfortunately for the planned naming I turned out to be a boy so the name had to be changed at the last minute. I wonder if that goes part way to explain why some people have thought that I was gay.

When was the last time you cried?

Can’t remember. Years ago for a good sobbing though probably only months ago for a welling up of tears probably due to a movie.

Do you like your handwriting?

Only when I take my time over it. Normally it’s an almost unreadable scrawl.

What is your favourite lunch meat?

I’m a Veggie – I don’t eat meat for lunch or at any other time.

Do you have kids?

None that I know of.

If you were another person would you be friends with yourself?

Definitely. I’m a great person to know although it can take time and effort.

Do you use sarcasm a lot?

On an hourly basis.

Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes.

Would you bungee jump?

No way. I was offered the opportunity once in New Zealand and said no. I couldn’t understand the desire to pay good money to be terrified. I certainly don’t need faux dangerous experiences to feel alive. I know I’m alive already.

What is your favourite cereal?

Either Crunchy Nut Cornflakes or Frosties – both rather bad for me in a number of ways.

Do you untie your shoes before you take them off?

Normally.

Do you think that you are strong?

Physically not at all. Mentally and psychologically I think that I’m reasonably tough.

What is your favourite ice cream?

The best ice cream I’ve ever had was coconut flavour Italian gelato from a shop near the Trevi fountain in Rome. It ruined my taste buds for years afterwards.

What is the first thing you notice about people?

I have a thing about eyes – especially women’s eyes. I tend not to notice men very much to be honest.

Red or Pink?

Red. Supposedly my favourite colour – but I much prefer Blue.

What is the least favourite thing about yourself?

I am a terrible procrastinator.

Who do you miss the most?

Carol….. and Kim.

What colour shoes are you wearing?

I’m not wearing shoes. I’m at home.

What was the last thing you ate?

Four cheese thin crust pizza.

What are you listening to right now?

I was listening to Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – but it’s just finished.

If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?

Midnight Blue

Favourite smells?

Vanilla, cut grass and freshly baked bread

Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

Probably someone at work with a problem to be solved.

Favourite sports you watch?

I have no interest in sport.

Hair Colour?

Grey.

Eye Colour?

Blue.

Do you wear contacts?

No. Not my thing. I’m really not that vain.

Favourite foods?

Italian followed by Indian.

Scary movies or happy endings?

Neither. Scary movies bore me and happy endings make me want the throw up.

Last movie you watched?

The Terminator.

What colour shirt are you wearing?

I don’t wear shirts as a rule. The T-shirt I’m wearing is light grey though.

Summer or Winter?

Both for different reasons though I prefer Spring and Autumn.

Hugs or kisses?

I love kissing and have indulged in that pastime for hours on end. Hugs are OK too though.

Favourite dessert?

Greek or Ice cream.

What book are you reading right now?

Yet another SF plus a few non-fiction.

What is on your mouse pad?

Nothing – apart from the mouse. It’s dark blue with a wrist rest.

What did you last watch on TV?

Spooks Series 5 on DVD.

Favourite sound?

A cat purring.

Rolling Stones or Beatles?

Both though I might have to settle for the Beatles.

What is the farthest you have even been from home?

Australia/New Zealand.

Do you have a special talent?

I’m sure that I have many talents – though how many of them are actually ‘special’ I couldn’t say.

Where were you born?

Liverpool, England.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spitzer Searches for the Origins of Life

From JPL 13th June 2007

Astronomers suspect the early Earth was a very harsh place. Temperatures were extreme, and the planet was constantly bombarded by cosmic debris. Many scientists believe that life's starting materials, or building blocks, must have been very resilient to have survived this tumultuous environment.

Now, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has learned, for the first time, that organic molecules believed to be among life's building blocks, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, can survive another type of harsh setting, an explosion called a supernova. Supernovae are the violent deaths of the most massive stars. In death, these volatile objects blast tons of energetic waves into the cosmos, destroying much of the dust surrounding them.

The fact that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can survive a supernova indicates that they are incredibly tough – like cosmic cockroaches enduring a nuclear blast. Such durability might be further proof that these molecules are indeed among life's building blocks. Achim Tappe of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass., used Spitzer's infrared spectrograph instrument to detect abundant amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons along the ridge of supernova remnant N132D. The remnant is located 163,000 light-years away in a neighboring galaxy called, the Large Magellanic Cloud. "The fact that we see polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons surviving this explosion illustrates their resilience," says Tappe.

These intriguing molecules are comprised of carbon and hydrogen atoms, and have been spotted inside comets, around star-forming regions and planet-forming disks. Since all life on Earth is carbon based, astronomers suspect that some of Earth's original carbon might have come from these molecules – possibly from comets that smacked into the young planet. Astronomers say there is some evidence that a massive star exploded near our solar system as it was just beginning to form almost 5 billion years ago. If so, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that survived that blast might have helped seed life on our planet.

Tappe's paper was published in the December 10, 2006, issue of Astrophysical Journal.

[Yet another indication that life could be common throughout the Universe.]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels is a mercenary in Atlanta, a city changed beyond all recognition by the return of magic. Magic and technology are forced to co-exist in a new age where waves of magic make most technology obsolete and where technology only works when magic periodically retreats. The great architectural edifices have collapsed and new Agencies have grown up to cope with the sudden shifts in power. In a reality where anyone with talent can conjure demons and where your next door neighbour could be a werewolf or worse, people like Kate are always in demand for protection or retribution – as long as it pays the bills. But when her friend and guardian is killed and both the vampire and werewolf communities are implicated, Kate must find the killer before all out war erupts on the streets.

Yet another urban fantasy novel I’m afraid. There are so many of these around at the moment that it’s pretty hard to avoid them – unless you’re not into fantasy novels of course! I picked this up on spec because it looked slightly different from the others. It certainly pushes all the buttons though, a modern city, a strong female central character with a troubled past and a dark secret, a life threatening quest that brings out her abilities and increases her confidence, strong male characters (though not always human) who she can lust after and wise-crack with and, of course oodles of magic. I liked the central character Kate but she’s my kind of woman – feisty. Though I’m confident that a woman that feisty in real life would both pass me by and totally intimidate me. As a first novel though this wasn’t half bad. It did wobble a bit in places to begin with but found its feet and its style fairly quickly. Andrews didn’t exactly hit it out of the ballpark on this one but showed enough talent that I haven’t regretted already buying her second novel even before I’d read this one. If she doesn’t lose her focus (unlike Laurell Hamilton) I can see Ilona Andrews going a long way. Certainly not a great book – even within its sub-genre – but this showed an interesting amount of potential.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Favourite Movies: The Terminator

This is, of course, an obvious choice for me. You would’ve heard me talk before about how much I love the Terminator ‘franchise’ and how much I’m already looking forward to the second series of The Sarah Connor Chronicles as well as the next three Terminator movies.

But it all started back in 1984 with James Cameron’s breakthrough movie (after Xenogenesis and not to be forgotten Piranha Part Two: The Spawning) made on a comparatively tiny budget from an idea that apparently came to him in a nightmare. For those of you who were away on Mars at the time the story revolves around the waitress ‘nobody’ Sarah Connor who, unknown to her, will sire the saviour of mankind – her as yet unborn son, John. Unfortunately for her (and I guess the rest of us) the machine intelligence known as Skynet has developed time travel technology on the eve of its destruction by human forces led by John Connor. Determined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat Skynet sends a cyborg infiltration unit called a Terminator (played robotically by Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill her, thereby preventing its own destruction in the future. The resistance manage to send a lone soldier (Kyle Reese played by the superb Michael Biehn) back to stop it and thereby ensuring that John is born to ‘smash the metal mother-fuckers into junk’. The rest of the film is basically a chase sequence as Reese and Sarah (played by Linda Hamilton) try to avoid and later ‘kill’ the implacable Terminator assassin.

Made almost 25 years ago this film has dated quite badly – especially with its then cheap (but state of the art) SFX. Despite that its still a great story told fairly well. What I loved most about this film (as well as T2 and T3) is the concept of Terminators and the inevitable “War Against the Machines” brought on by Judgement Day. These are, I believe, very powerful ideas. The parts of the movies that particularly gripped me where the scenes based in the future as John and his army of human survivors fought against robotic machines directed by the evil Skynet bent on their extermination. I longed for a full movie made after the nuclear war pitching man against machine in the ultimate battle. By the looks of things my wishes have been answered and there are THREE movies planned to be filmed during the War. Needless to say I’m having a hard time actually waiting for them and worry that they won’t live up to my high expectations. But I can hope [grin].

As I said this film besides being dated and ‘so’ 80’s it hurts is a truly iconic movie and still, despite its many faults, remains one of my all time favourite movies. Too obvious I know but then again – sometimes I am.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

God Is Not...Well, He's Just Not

By Susan Jacoby

I am not too fond of absolutist ex cathedra statements, even when they come from someone who is definitely not the pope and with whom I am in total agreement about the irrationality of all faith in the supernatural. Modify the noun "religion" with the adjective "fundamentalist," and I'll sign on to that sentiment.

All belief in the supernatural; ie., that which contradicts the laws of nature, is irrational by definition. But there are many religious denominations that are no longer violent, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children. You know which ones they are. These are all, as Sam Harris has pointed out, religions that have allowed themselves to be modified by secular knowledge. But I respectfully disagree with Harris, Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, who have all suggested that "moderate" religion is even more dangerous than fundamentalist religion because moderate religion is the stalking horse for the worst forms of religious fanaticism. Nonsense. It is fair to say that all religion originated in ignorance and tribalism, but I don't think this has much to do with all of the peaceful Unitarians and Reform Jews who invite me to lecture to their congregations today. However, one of the most disturbing religious developments throughout the world today is that the most literal, anti-rational, and anti-intellectual forms of religion are gaining converts at the expense of faiths that have been open to secular knowledge.

Nevertheless, making a sweeping generalization about all religion is the equivalent of saying the same sort of thing about Communism -- which, in fact, American ignoramuses regularly do. (I wonder if Hitchens's generalizations have become broader as a result of his having become an American citizen. Inflammatory generalization is an American disease, although the Brits do it in more witty fashion.) "Communism is violent, irrational, intolerant...." Well, Stalinist Communism and Mao's Communism certainly were. But that doesn't mean that all communist and socialist (small "c," small "s") ideas are without merit, in spite of the fact that our dim-witted president regards universal children's health insurance as the first step toward a Kremlin-run health care system. The outrage among many religious people at the success of Hitchen's book, however, is a manifestation of a widespread American phenomenon of which I was not fully aware until the publication of my own book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. That phenomenon is a near-pathological hatred of both atheism and atheists.

I continue to be dismayed, although I am no longer shocked, by the intense and often highly personal hostility, expressed by many bloggers on this site [Note: Not this site but the site I downloaded this article from], toward atheists. I have never been exposed to this sort of venom in the past, because I almost never wrote about atheism until I was asked to participate in the On Faith panel. Freethinkers was an attempt to restore historical knowledge of the undervalued secular contribution to the American nation. There is almost no discussion of atheism in this book, because the most prominent 18th and 19th century advocates of secular government, and of separation between church and state, were not atheists but deists--believers in a disinterested Providence that set the universe in motion and subsequently took no active part in the affairs of men. Moreover, some supporters of America's secular government were deeply religious people who believed that entanglement between church and state was as bad for religion as for government. Some bloggers imagine that I make a sumptuous living by "promoting" atheism. Sorry. Over the years, I have written about Russian culture, women's issues, education, Renaissance art, American history, and aging. That's how I pay my bills. On the other hand, one blogger mocked me last week for not having written a "bestseller" about atheism and suggested that I must be excluded from the "boys' club" represented by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. How sharper than a serpent's tooth to have an ungrateful reader trying to tweak one's feminist pride....

Promoting religion, however, is much more profitable than writing about either atheism or American history. Harris's and Hitchens's books have sold several hundred thousand copies, while books about religion -- ranging from inane faith-based self-help books to the Left Behind series predicting the end of the world, sell in the millions. The atheist-bashers don't seem disturbed that the hucksters of religion make millions of out selling their beliefs in the supernatural and the anti-rational. In the marketplace of ideas, everyone has a right to speak--and to make money if enough people what to read what they have to say. In February, my forthcoming book The Age of American Unreason will examine the anti-rationalist and anti-intellectual American trends of the past four decades, and fundamentalist religion is one--but only one--of the many subjects I discuss. If the book does make money, it would indeed be nice to know that my bank account was fatter because I spoke out against anti-rationalism. The real question is why so many religion fanatics are threatened by the fact that some Americans, albeit a minority, are paying attention to what secularists and atheists have to say.

The chief insulting comment about atheists, repeated ad nauseam on this thread and elsewhere, is that they are amoral or immoral. To be an atheist, in this view, is to be a member of the devil's party. Without a God to strike us dead, we must all be potential murderers. This strikes me as a form of projection, in the clinical psychological sense of the term, on the part of religious fanatics who are so terrified about what is inside them that they cannot imagine behaving decently without a vengeful God to keep them in line. While I reject the theology of all religions, I would never claim that goodness or evil has anything to do with whether people agree with my own views. There are good people who believe in all sorts of gods or no god. Why are atheists so threatening to so many Americans that the only way to deal with -- or, more precisely, to not deal with -- our arguments is to demonize us as human beings? Finally, I have absolutely no wish to "convert" religious believers to atheism. How would I do that anyway? I can't threaten you with a hell or promise you a heaven in which I don't believe. Only religious believers have made a business out of converting people by threatening them with damnation or promising them eternal rewards (and, oh yes, by killing them if all else fails). For all of Hitchens's mean words about religion, he doesn't promise that the faithful will be devoured by flesh-eating locusts and thrown into a fiery pit for their beliefs.

The atheist-bashers really hate freedom of speech. They would have preferred a Constitution that guaranteed freedom of religion but not the freedom to speak out against religion. They lost that battle when the Constitution was written in 1787, and they have never gotten over it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Picture Time.

Blame Wunelle for this one... He started it.... [grin] Oh and click on the image (as usual) for your enhanced viewing pleasure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Tale of the Thunderbolt by E E Knight

The Year is 2070. The alien Kurian Order has held power over most of the Earth for 48 years. Known in legend as Vampires these creatures feed off the life force of any sentient being in order to extend their own lives apparently indefinitely. But they are not without opposition. Patches of resistance are emerging. Armed with crude weapons and aided by Lifeweavers (sworn enemies of the Kurians) they are striking back at the aliens and their human collaborators. One such resistance fighter is David Valentine. Young, strong and talented he works behind enemy lines to undermine the Kurian domination. Hearing of a ‘super-weapon’ on the island of Haiti he is tasked with infiltrating an enemy gunboat, sailing to the island and recovering the weapon. But Valentine should know by now that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. For the weapon is what he least expects it to be and the person holding it is the last creature on the Earth that Valentine can trust.

This was the third book in the Vampire Earth series which continues to entertain and thrill me. Valentine is a great hero having enough flaws and doubts to make him interesting and believable but retaining enough qualities to make the reader keep turning pages to see what he will do next. As I have come to expect from E E Knight this volume is tightly plotted, surprisingly adult in its content (and I don’t just mean sex) and brave enough to confidently challenge the reader’s expectations. I particularly liked the way that the rug was pulled out from under the main characters at the end leaving everything suitably up in the air for the next installment – which I almost went straight on to read in order to find out just what was going to happen! I’m so glad that I bought the original 3-4 of these books on impulse from Amazon. I’m really enjoying them and look forward to the next 5-6 I have so far acquired. Highly recommended for anyone who likes gripping adventure stories, combat SF, vampire fiction or just a damned good read.

Monday, September 08, 2008

US tells lies about torture, say MPs

Tracy McVeigh for The Observer

Sunday July 20 2008

Britain can no longer believe what Americans tell us about torture, an MPs' report to be published today claims. They also call for an immediate investigation into allegations that the UK government has itself 'outsourced' the torture of its own nationals to Pakistan.

In a damning criticism of US integrity, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said ministers should no longer take at face value statements from senior politicians, including George Bush, that America does not resort to torture in the light of the CIA admitting it used 'waterboarding'. The interrogation technique was unreservedly condemned by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said it amounted to torture. A change in approach would have implications for extradition of prisoners to the US, especially in terror or security cases, as the UK has signed the UN convention which bars sending individuals to nations where they are at risk of being tortured. During waterboarding, a person is tied to a board with their feet raised and cellophane wrapped around the head. Water is then poured on to the face, causing the victim to start to drown.

Today's committee report said there were 'serious implications' of the striking inconsistencies between British ministers continuing to believe the Bush administration when it denies using torture. 'The UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the government does not rely on such assurances in the future,' said the committee. 'We also recommend that the government should immediately carry out an exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques on the basis of such information as is publicly available or which can be supplied by the US.' It also urges the government to press the US authorities for information on whether any American military flights landing in the UK were part of the 'rendition circuit', even if they did not have detainees on board at the time.

The government has repeatedly accepted US assurances that UK territory has not been used for 'rendition', the extra-judicial transfer of suspects between countries. But in February, Miliband told the Commons he had been informed by the US that two rendition planes refuelled on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The MPs also urged the Foreign Office to investigate a Guardian report that six British nationals claimed to have been detained and tortured by the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, where they were also interrogated by British intelligence officers. Foreign Minister Lord Malloch-Brown told the committee: 'We absolutely deny the charge that we have in any way outsourced torture to Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] as a way of extracting information, either for court use or for use in counter-terrorism.'

The report also called on the Foreign Office to seek consular access to all British citizens, including those of dual nationality, detained in Pakistan and asked for an explanation from ministers why one of those detained was apparently denied consular access but was visited by a British official, who may have been an intelligence officer.

[Torture – What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!]

Friday, September 05, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Quantico by Greg Bear

In the second decade of the War on Terror things are not going well. A plot to release deadly Anthrax on US soil has been uncovered but political interference is hampering the investigation. Before long the identity of the terrorist is uncovered – one of the FBI’s own, scared by 9/11 and the even more devastating 10/4 he vows to wipe the slate clean by threatening to touch off a viral Armageddon. On his trail are three agents fresh out of the Academy each one with something to prove both to themselves and their superiors, but can they stop a madman who knows them better than they know themselves?

Although readable enough I did find myself struggling with this near-future political techno-thriller. Despite being based only 10 or so years ahead I found the technology used to be just too far fetched. I did find the characterisation to be fairly good though mostly two dimensional and too stereotypical to feel any emotional connection with. The plot was pretty straight forward yet gripping enough to keep me turning pages. Saying that I didn’t feel overly interested in what was going on most of the time. This was certainly not one of Bears best books by a long way and was probably the source of much of my disappointment with it. I know that he is much more capable than this book would suggest. All in all a rather dull and uninspired (and uninspiring) thriller that was rather short on thrills.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Individual Privacy Under Threat In Europe and US, Report Says

Associated Press

Monday, December 31, 2007

LONDON: Individual privacy is under threat in the United States and across the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and controlling borders, an international rights group has said in a report Greece, Romania and Canada had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by Privacy International, which is based in London. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst. Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of “endemic surveillance societies.”

“The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. “Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire.” In the United States, the administration of President George W. Bush has come under fire from civil liberties groups for its domestic wiretapping program, which allows monitoring, without a warrant, of international phone calls and e-mail messages involving people suspected of having terrorist links. “The last five years has seen a litany of surveillance initiatives,” Davies said. He said little had changed since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago.

“We would expect the cancellation of some programs, the review of others, but this hasn’t occurred,” Davies said. Britain was criticized for its plans for national identity cards, a lack of government accountability and the world’s largest network of surveillance cameras. Davies said the loss earlier this year of computer disks containing personal information and bank details on 25 million people in Britain highlighted the risks of centralizing information on huge government databases. The report, released Saturday, said privacy protection was worsening across Western Europe, although it was improving in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe. It said concern about terrorism, immigration and border security was driving the spread of identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to individual privacy. The report said the trends had been fueled by the emergence “of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes.”

The survey considers a range of factors, including legal protection of privacy, enforcement, data sharing, the use of biometrics and the prevalence of closed circuit TV cameras. “People shouldn’t feel despondent about the results,” Davies said. “Our view is that privacy-friendly systems will emerge in coming years and that consumers will soon begin to see privacy as a political issue.”

[I wonder if the idea of Privacy will be dead in my life time – at least for working stiffs like me. Such possibilities barely threaten our so-called ‘betters’.]

Monday, September 01, 2008

My Favourite Movies: To Have and Have Not

Made in 1944, this clear precursor to Casablanca has been in my top 10 movie list since I first saw it. Starring Humphrey Bogart and introducing the world to the phenomena that is Lauren Bacall, this romantic drama still makes me gasp at just how brilliant a movie it is. Based on the Caribbean island of Martinique not long after the Fall of France it centres on Bogart’s character of fisherman for hire Harry Morgan. Morgan is an American with a shadowed past who, through circumstances beyond his control, puts his considerable talents to work in the struggle between the Free French and the forces of Vichy. Thrown into the mix is the amazingly talented and quirkily beautiful Bacall (then a mere 19 years old) who bewitches Bogart with her considerable charm. The obvious spark between them is a highlight of the film and their highly quotable banter still delights over 60 years later. One of the things that most intrigued me about the movie is that throughout Bacall consistently called Bogart’s character Steve despite his name being Harry. Everyone else did indeed call him this and no one corrected Bacall. It was all very strange.

As with films of the era the cinematography is outstanding – these people really did paint with light – and although clearly designed as a throw-away propaganda piece it actually holds up as a pretty good movie. Supported by a cast which included the seemingly unchanging Walter Brennan and the beautiful Dolores Moran (who Bacall had some great sparing moments with over Bogart’s affections) it also starred the hugely talented Hoagy Carmichael as the bar pianist Cricket.

If you haven’t come across this movie before I suggest you rent it on a wet Sunday afternoon, take the phone of the hook, put your feet up and enjoy one of the best wartime movies ever made.