2005-05-26

Glasgow Launches World's 1st City Internet TV Channel

Glasgow will today launch the world's first city internet television channel to a potential global audience of one billion people in 817 million homes. Using the latest broadband technology developed in the USA, the city believes it is 'a year ahead of the game' compared to any other big city, some of which are still only at the talking stage. A soft launch of Glasgow.tv, broadcasting cultural and sporting events, has attracted hits from more than 50 countries around the world. A 'major terrestrial television channel' has offered to provide news coverage and five international companies have inquired about advertising, which would wipe out the 40_000_GBP start-up cost overnight. Glasgow.tv will be run by 'The Glasgow City Marketing Bureau' (GCMB), a council-run promotions company. GCMB believes its potential is limitless. The benefit in increased tourist numbers and more conventions is incalculable, according to the council. 'City's web TV leaves superhighway rivals behind, Jim Mcbeth, The Scotsman, 2005-05-26, Th Links: http://player.narrowstep.tv/?player=glasgowtv Glasgow.tv

Stats & Money: 'American Idol' Phenomenon

Country singer Ms.Carrie Underwood was crowned 'American Idol' on Wednesday at the end of a nationwide search for a new pop star that has captivated millions of TV viewers. Ms.Underwood, 22, who was raised on an Oklahoma farm, beat fellow finalist Mr.Bo Bice, 29, to win the top-rated televised singing contest, which was decided by votes sent in by the public via telephone and text message. 'Thank you America!' said Ms.Underwood, fighting back tears. Ms.Underwood, who won a recording contract, was the fourth singer chosen as 'American Idol' since 2002 in what has become a television and recording industry phenomenon that shows no sign of running out of steam. Ms.Underwood, whose warm smile and girl-next-door looks won hearts, and Mr.Bice, a long-haired rocker who looked as if he were born performing, were whittled down from some 100_000 'wannabes' who auditioned last summer in seven US American cities. The winner was announced during a two-hour live finale in Hollywood that also featured performances by Mr.George Benson, saxophonist 'Kenny G', Southern rock band 'Lynyrd Skynyrd', country band 'Rascal Flatts' and an appearance by former 'Baywatch' star Mr.David Hasselhoff. 'American Idol' has been America's most-watched TV show for five months drawing audiences of around 23 million per episode and giving 'Fox TV', which is owned by 'News Corp.' , a weekly ratings hit. A fifth season has already been announced for 2006-01. The viewer-driven format was pioneered in Britain and has now been exported to more than 30 countries worldwide. 'There is tremendous curiosity about the winners. You end up getting to know them, having an investment in them. You go out and buy the record because you like them and identify with their aspirations,' said Mr.Jeff Pollack, CEO of the music and media consultants 'Pollack Media Group'. Judge Mr.Simon Cowell, whose acid tongue has been fundamental to the show's winning formula, said 'American Idol' has an honesty that is rare on television. 'It is not sanitized, It is not designed to make everyone look good.' Mr.Cowell dubbed one of Ms.Underwood's early outfits 'Barbie meets the Stepford Wives' and once told Mr.Bice he sounded like any lead singer from any aspiring rock cover band. The past three American Idols -- Ms.Kelly Clarkson, Mr.Ruben Studdard and Ms.Fantasia Barrino -- went on to make platinum albums and hit singles at a time when the music industry is struggling from online piracy, price pressure and competition from video games and DVDs. Runners-up have also made careers as singers in genres that range from pop to dance and R&B. Ms.Underwood's win extends that appeal to country music. 'The bigger the show and the more successfully it crosses into other genres, the more it will continue to revitalize itself,' said Mr.Pollack. 'Carrie Underwood crowned 'American Idol'', Reuters/VNU/Yahoo! News, 2005-05-26 07:09 Th

Intolerance: Rio's Musical Sexual Revolution

A female sexual revolution driven by a thumping bass and racy lyrics is shaking Rio de Janeiro's slums. Poor women are quitting their jobs as maids and gas station attendants to become singers of 'Funk Carioca', a musical style born in the tough 'favelas' or slums of the famed Brazilian seaside city. Known as 'Masters of Ceremony', or MCs, they draw huge crowds to hear them sing raunchy songs about casual sex. And their earnings have given them the financial independence to make their own demands -- in bed or out.
'Women got into "Funk Carioca" as dancers, but they refused to stay there as ornaments,' says filmmaker Ms.Denise Garcia, who has made a documentary about the MCs called 'I'm Ugly but Trendy.'
The phrase is a mantra of funk diva Ms.Tati Quebra-Barraco (Tati Home-Wrecker), the movement's most prominent singer. Aged 25 and married with three children, Tati lives in 'City of God', the poor neighborhood where the Oscar-nominated movie of the same name was set. Her lyrics describe almost all the positions in the 'Kama Sutra', the ancient Indian book of love. They include such suggestive lines like 'I don't like small lollipops' or 'Call me your kitty and I will go woof, woof.' Unattractive and overweight as a teen-ager, Tati said she used explicit sexual overtures to attract men's attention.
'Being neither beautiful nor thin, when I was a teen-ager I could not find a boyfriend,' she says. 'But after I started singing these things, they got better,' she says, smiling and showing off a slim profile crafted with recent plastic surgery.
She is also an example of economic success for the women of her community, where there are more than 2_000 bondes, or funk groups. As the most prominent of the funkeiras, Tati can make up to 5_000 reais (2_000_USD) for a show, whereas other lesser known singers get from 100_reais to 500_reais (40_USD to 200_USD) per concert. Brazilian funk was inspired by 'Miami Bass', the style of hip hop extolling the virtues and vices of sex with repetitive choruses and high speed beats made famous in the USA by groups like '2 Live Crew' and '69 Boyz'. It was modified in Brazil with a stronger drumbeat called 'tamborzao' and double-entendre lyrics typical of other genres of Brazilian popular music. In hillside slums overlooking Rio's beaches, the funk parties draw more than a million people during weekends, says Mr.Silvio Essinger, author of a new book on Rio funk.
'This is the real Rio; this is how young people have fun. It's not samba for the older generation,' he said.
Funk has other subgenres besides the sexually explicit, he said, including one that praises the gangs that rule the favelas. The movement's main ambassador, 'DJ Malboro', has performed at New York's 'Summerstage Festival' and Barcelona's electronic music festival 'Sonar'. His daily radio show, where he plays tamer versions of erotic funk, is hugely popular. FAME AND FREEDOM Singing offers the women a glamour profession in poor communities with few idols.
'Nowadays women make their own money, so they don't feel bad about themselves. They work and they have their children. And when you sing or dance you also have a name,' said MC Ms.Valesca dos Santos', 26, from the group 'Gaiola das Popozudas', or 'Cage of the Big Butts'.
A woman MC can easily get 10 times more money than working a regular job as a maid, for example, which has a salary of about 150_USD/month. Ms.Tati Quebra-Barraco now performs outside the slums, sometimes for rich people at the legendary 'Copacabana Palace Hotel' or nightclubs in Sao Paulo. She has more than 200 pairs of expensive 'Gang' jeans, a must-have in the funk world because of their butt-lifting tight cut and lycra. Most of the 'funkeiras' need to perform several times a night to make good money. Their managers drive them in vans from one slum to another all night long. There are plenty of venues as Rio has more than 600 slums among its 6 million inhabitants. TRAMPS VERSUS FAITHFUL WIVES The latest craze in the funk movement pits 'tramps' against 'faithful wives' -- a rivalry sparked by a male singer whose mistress betrayed him to his girlfriend. The vocalist, from 'Bonde dos Magrinhos', then wrote a song calling the mistress 'nothing more than a late night snack.' For 'MC Nem', or Ms.Alessandra da Silva Carlos, 19, it was a call for war.
'If you think we are a snack, remember we eat you too,' she now sings in defense of extracurricular girlfriends.
However, if MCs want to go beyond their communities, they have to play down the sexy lyrics. This means recording a CD and having a song played on 'DJ Malboro's' radio show, which can make the link to popular TV shows and mainstream media recognition. By Adriana Garcia, Yahoo! News, 2005-05-25, We 2:56 PM ET

2005-05-25

Intolerance: It's Not Easy Being Green

Article by Lydia Slater & Jessica Kiddle: As I staggered through the rain in hot pursuit of an organic onion that had escaped from one of my slowly disintegrating carrier bags, I began to wonder how on earth anyone lives a green lifestyle with any dignity. The recycled cardboard soles of my linen sandals had become dangerously slimy, my bicycle had fallen over and I was unpleasantly aware that the lemon I'd squeezed into my armpits as a deodorant substitute was not quite as effective as I'd been led to expect. Ever since the birth of my daughter, I've been trying to lead a slightly more eco-friendly lifestyle. We now walk everywhere we can, eat organically most of the time and our green recycling bin goes out on the doorstep every Wednesday. On the other hand, we use disposable nappies. When I had Asya, I considered using real ones but was dissuaded by my mother, who muttered darkly about nappy rash and constant washing. Nevertheless, often, as I removed the unnaturally swollen, luridly coloured disposable and put it in its sickly scented plastic bag, I felt I'd made the wrong decision, for us and for the planet. Even the recent report indicating that the environmental cost of disposables may be no greater than real nappies - once you factor in the washing and drying - has not consoled me. How much more aesthetic, not to mention comfortable, are the ecru-coloured organic cotton nappies you can find in expensive eco-shops. And when I was asked to try being a green parent for the weekend, I was convinced that this was the push I needed to transform my life for good. On Friday night, I switched off all the electric appliances that normally sit on stand-by, then logged onto Climate Care, an eco-website that offers a calculator to work out how much carbon dioxide you are personally contributing to the environment. Our recent holiday flights to Italy produced 1.78_tonnes, so I paid up 11.57_GBP, which would be invested in reforestation and renewable energy projects. It seemed a small price to pay for a virtuous glow. As I was going to be biking and walking everywhere, I naturally woke up to a Saturday morning of torrential rain. Oh, for an eco-friendly Toyota Prius. Skipping a morning shower to save water, I smeared my armpits with a cut lemon. I had a momentary pang on realising that the lemon was non-organic, but decided to use it nevertheless as it was surely better for the planet than throwing it away and buying another one.
'Does this work?' I asked my husband. 'You smell like a kebab,'he grunted sourly.
I put it down to grumpiness at the edict I'd just sprung on him to flush the loo only when absolutely necessary. After making organic tea, doing the washing up with the excess hot water and setting up a recycling bin for our future compost heap, I climbed onto my borrowed bike and wobbled up the road, first to the nearest supermarket for organic cleaning products and some veg. Trying to be extra virtuous, I'd brought my own recycled paper carrier bags, but realised this was a stupid idea on the way home when the rain worsened and the shopping started to escape. Equally annoying was my next excursion to the garden centre (on foot, carrying the baby in a backpack). I wanted a compost bin but the only one they had was so huge you'd need a lorry to get it home. Then I decided to take the plunge with reusable nappies, and picked up the bare weekend real-nappy minimum of two flannel nappies for day and a thick towelling one for night-time, plus a nice cover with teddy bears on it and some liners. It cost me an eye-watering 50_GBP. Even factoring in some organic toothpaste and baby wash, it was obviously not quite the budget option I had imagined. (In the end, of course, you fork out far more for evil disposables, but at least you don't have to do it all at once.) Still, my visions of doing origami with a towel and safety pins were thankfully far off the mark. Without mishap I lined the nappy, wrapped it around Asya's bottom and secured it with the Velcro-fastening nappy cover. The effect was adorably bottom-heavy, and I sat there admiring her goofily until there was an ominous rumble. Perhaps it was my technique, but the whole nappy was so filthy I found myself having to hold it down the loo and flush it repeatedly, before I could bear to put it into the washing machine. (A friend who's a real nappy aficionado says you should just scrape off the mess with a handful of recycled loo-roll, then soak it, but I didn't have sufficient nappies to allow myself any delay.) As I wasn't allowed to use the tumble dryer and it was still raining, I then had to drape the nappy elegantly over a chair back. It wasn't an experience I was keen to repeat. To paraphrase Kermit, it's not easy being green. Still, I have made certain changes, in the teeth of my husband's complaints. I climb into the baby's bath after she's finished, our TV, stereo and computers are switched off at the plug, and we line-dry - weather permitting. Even in our sooty garden, our laundry smells glorious. But, for the sake of my marriage, I'm sticking to proper deodorant. And the real nappies have gone straight into the recycling bin. TEN EASY WAYS TO GO GREEN TODAY 1 MAKE A PLEDGE: To coincide with World Environment Day on 5 June The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is running a campaign to encourage people to incorporate one green principle into their lives. Log onto to www.sepa.org.uk and pledge to go green. 2 SAVE WATER: Although power showers can use up as much water as a bath, by having a quick shower, and by turning it off while you shampoo, you can minimise the amount of water used. Likewise when brushing your teeth, don't leave the tap running. 3 SAVE ENERGY: When a light bulb blows replace it with an energy-saving version. These may cost more, but they use less electricity than normal bulbs. 4 SWITCH YOUR DEODORANT: While lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda are recommended alternatives to deodorants, there are some more practical options. Pitrok Crystal Deodorant, a natural mineral salt crystal deodorant, is £5.95 from the online green shop www.ecotopia.co.uk 5 CLEAN THE NATURAL WAY: Instead of harmful chemicals, tea tree and lemon juice are antibacterial and just some of the natural ingredients you can use for cleaning your house. 6 MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST: Reduce the amount of rubbish you throw away - and help your garden grow - by making your own compost. Buy a compost bin for the bottom of the garden and throw in any biodegradable material such as fruit and vegetable scraps. 7 RE-USE YOUR PLASTIC: Re-use your plastic bags. Instead of filling up a multitude of bags at the supermarket invest in the Bags for Life scheme at Sainsbury and by a large re-useable bag for 10p. 8 BUY A PLANT: Air Fresheners are loaded with chemicals. Instead buy house plants such as English Ivy which help remove smells, or grow potted herbs like basil for your windowsill. 9 GO ORGANIC: While supermarkets now stock organic produce, the local farmers' market is a good place to pick up some environmentally sound foods. The next farmers market in Edinburgh is on 28 May at Castle Terrace. For more information www.edinburghcc.com 10 SOOTHE YOUR GUILT: Log on to the Climate Care Trust website (www.climatecare.co.uk) to work out how much greenhouse gas emissions your daily commute causes. It will then tell you how much you need to pay towards their environmental projects for the equivalent amount to be replaced. 'It's not easy being green', Lydia Slater & Jessica Kiddle, The Scotsman, 2005-05-25, We

Stats: Scotland's Rapid Recycling

Scotland is on the way to shedding its unwelcome reputation as the 'dirty man of Europe', new figures have revealed. Waste statistics from 2005-01/2005-03 reveal that just under 19 per cent of the country's domestic refuse is now recycled and composted. The remarkable climb from the bottom of the European recycling heap to a level which is above that of England, Greece and Portugal, has been achieved in little over 12 months. Scottish MSPs made available more than 230_million_GBP in 2003 as part of 'The National Waste Strategy' to increase recycling. The majority of that money has now been allotted. As a result, about 70 per cent of people north of the Border now have access to kerbside recycling schemes. Experts believe the target of recycling 25 per cent of municipal waste by the end of next year is now easily achievable, and their sights have already been set on a 30 per cent target for 2008. The combined recycling and composting figures have yet to be finalised, but early indications from 'The Scottish Environment Protection Agency' (SEPA) suggest a figure of 18.9 per cent, based on the 20 Local Authorities that have returned their figures so far. Average rates for the previous three-quarters of 2003 sit just short of 17 per cent, demonstrating the speed at which the country is changing the way it disposes of its waste. Similarly, there has been a substantial fall in the amount of waste going to landfill in Scotland in recent years, which has halved from approximately 14_million_tonnes in 1997 to about 7.88_million_tonnes in 2003. Future funding of 145_million_GBP to reach the 2008 target has already been allocated, and will also be aimed at providing the necessary infrastructure to meet 'landfill directive targets' to reduce 'biodegradable' waste 'landfilled' to 75 per cent of that produced in 1995. Ms.Clara Mitchell, a spokesman for SEPA, said:
'We started from a low base in Scotland in terms of recycling and composting rates; 25 per cent represents a "sea change" in how we deal with municipal waste, and the "Executive", "SEPA" and Local Authorities are all working hard to achieve the target.'
Mr.Ross Finnie, the environment minister, said:
'We are very pleased with the progress.There is no room for complacency however, and we must continue to work together to ensure that we reach the 25 per cent target.'
A spokesman for 'The Green Party' was more circumspect, although he did acknowledge that
'it does appear that some progress is being made at last.' He added:
'However, the waste mountain is still growing year on year -- so increases in recycling are really only a "sticking plaster" on the big problem of increased waste levels.'
Although 77 per cent of householders will have access to kerbside recycling by the end of this year, attaining the more ambitious goal of recycling 55 per cent of domestic waste by 2020, and within the same timescale reducing 'biodegradable' municipal waste 'landfilled' to 35 per cent of 1995 levels, will be altogether more difficult. Professor Mr.Jim Baird, of 'The Caledonian Shanks Centre for Waste Management' at 'Glasgow Caledonian University', said:
'At some point we are going to have to face up to some hard truths about whether we adopt energy from organic and biodegradable waste as part of an integrated solution for Scotland. 'The most risk-free way to do that over the next decade would be to burn it in incineration plants and recover energy from it to power our homes.'
'Scotland no longer rubbish at recycling', James Reynolds, The Scotsman, 2005-05-25, We Links: Friends of the Earth Scotland

Intolerance: Godcasting

A pleasant voice laced with humor recounts how he once concocted a Christmas story in which 'Star Wars' robots 'C-3PO' and 'R2-D2' visit Baby Jesus. Later in that same podcast -- a seven-minute audio snippet designed for listening on iPods and other digital music players -- Father Roderick Vonhogen compares hearing from a fellow 'Star Wars' junkie to 'getting a personal e-mail from the Pope himself.' Although he ends his monologue with 'God Bless,' it's the 'Star Wars' theme song that triumphantly wraps up the program. Clearly, Father Roderick, of the Archdiocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands, is not your typical Roman Christian priest, and his broadcast is no ordinary sermon. Even Fr.Vonhogen's 'podcast home page' eschews the ecclesiastical. It's a play on the hip Apple (APPL) ad., the one with a silhouette of a figure dancing to the music of an 'iPod', shown in contrasting white. Only, Fr.Vonhogen's dancer also wears a priest's white collar. FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLYING. Welcome to the world of 'Godcasting,' where religious and inspirational podcasts come from Presbyterians, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists and, yes, even pagans. Depending on your point of view, these programs may strike you as fun, convenient, or blasphemous. But they're rarely boring. 'Godcasts' have multiplied faster than most other types of podcast programming and have emerged as one of the genre's most popular. Fr.Vonhogen's 'Catholic Insider' program ranks as No. 3 -- ahead of programs with streaming jazz, rock songs, or general news -- on portal PodcastAlley.com, which lists 2_884 podcasts. And 'Catholic Insider' keeps on moving up in the charts. So are many of the other 171 religious and inspirational podcasts out there that bear such names as 'Wired Jesus Podcast' (a program for tech-savvy Christians) and 'Outchurched'. The latter features Mr.Ryan King and Mr.Dan Tripp, both of whom once aspired to the ministry but became disillusioned with the church. They created a blog and podcast aimed at one of the largest Christian demographics: people who have left the church. In one 'podcast', Messrs.King and Tripp discuss why they stopped attending services. 'Both of us wouldn't care if the church died,' says Mr.Tripp. And the 'Pagan Power Hour podcast' includes information about casting magic spells and proper foods to cook for pagan holidays. INTERNATIONAL REACH. Most religious organizations have no official position on 'Godcasting'.
'The church encourages the use of all forms of media to spread the Gospel message,' says Mr.Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the US American Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. (A call to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the USA. and Canada elicited, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.')
Most 'Godcasts' are more mainstream than the 'Pagan Power Hour'. They're typically produced by preachers looking to spread the word beyond their small congregations. About 1_900 people from as far as Belgium and Vietnam tune in to hear the Reverend Mr.Tim Hohm, whose Central Assembly of God in El Sobrante, USA, has only 100 parishioners. How does Mr.Holm explain his global appeal?
'I am upbeat and inspirational,' he says.
Each 15-minute 'RevTim' show offers advice, such as how to keep one's temper in the workplace or how to carve out more time to spend with the kids. The latter has turned into a challenge for Hohm now that he does podcasts in addition to performing his regular duties. ASSEMBLING A NETWORK. The programming isn't all talk. The Reverend Mr.John Butler, pastor at 'Beal Heights Presbyterian Church' in Lawton, USA has channeled his lifelong passion for psalms (he has collected more than 5_000 of them) into his 'Psalmcas't. Using a home-built PC and a headset from his son's 'PlayStation 2' video-game console, Mr.Butler spins church music from choirs and bands from as far away as Ukraine and Australia -- and he does it like a pro. Before the seminary, he worked as a DJ at a radio station, playing everything from country to gospel. For those looking for a younger voice, 8-year-old Ms.Rachel Patchett, still not quite able to pronounce all of her R's, plays a Christian song she selects then reads a Bible verse in her weekly podcast, 'Rachel's Choice'. Up to 1_500 fans tune in to each show, produced by her father and fellow 'Godcaster', Mr.Craig Patchett. The elder Mr.Patchett is a powerhouse in the 'Godcasting' world. A few months ago, he began assembling 'The GodCast Network', a portal offering 14 different religious podcasts, including 'RevTim' and 'Rachel's Choice'. Mr.Patchett hopes his network will turn others on to Christianity, though he has scored no converts so far. DOWNLOADABLE MEDITATION. While the converts may be hard to come by, money isn't. Like a lot of religious programs, these podcasts often rely on the charity of listeners. Mr.Roy Harvey, who lives in Orlando, USA and runs the 'LamRim podcast' for Buddhists, says he has received cheques for as much as 500_USD. So far, he has collected 750_USD -- more than enough to keep his 'podcast' going. Once every few months, Mr.Harvey, a video-game producer, takes time off to travel and record important Buddhist religious leaders giving speeches, which account for most of his programming. Interested listeners also can download meditations but, Mr.Harvey admits, 'they are just a lot of dead air.' 'Need a Lift? Try a Godcast', Olga Kharif, Yahoo!Business News, 2005-05-25 We 13:41

2005-05-21

The Glasgow Meteorite Memorial

The meteorite that fell to earth on Glasgow and unlocked five-thousand-million-year-old secrets of the solar system, has been commemorated at last on the spot where it landed. A commemorative stone was unveiled yesterday on Possil Marsh as part of the 200th anniversary of a phenomenon which is, with typical Glasgow humour, known as the 'space oddity'. The rock is 5_000_million years old, as old as our solar system, and the High Possil meteorite was one of three at the time -- the others fell on Yorkshire and France -- which revolutionised scientific thought. The composition of the High Possil meteorite revealed how the early solar system was made up and proved that meteorites did fall from above. Until the 19th century, it was believed that they were already present and merely thrown up by freakish weather. However, on this occasion, there were witnesses who could testify that it did fall out of the sky. Scotland's first recorded meteorite stunned not just the scientists but the workers at High Possil quarry who were also terrified by its arrival. Three workmen were alarmed by a 'singular noise'. At first, it sounded like the report of a cannon, but evolved into a violently whizzing noise before the rock landed 'with very great force on the surface of the earth'. The men, along with two boys and a dog, ran for their lives 'in a great fright', one of them screaming it was a 'judgment coming upon us'. When they recovered, the elder boy examined the site and described 'such a reek' when he found pieces of stone that were 450_mm across. Two parts of the meteorite were kept by Mr.Robert Crawford, the land owner, and they were pored over by Glasgow University professors. Following Mr.Crawford's death, the pieces were inherited by his sister who, in 1810, presented them to the meteorite collection in 'The Hunterian Museum' of 'The University of Glasgow', where they remain on display. Mr.John Faithful, the curator, said:
'This meteorite was the first ever recovered in Scotland, and one of the very first scientifically verified falls anywhere. 'This important scientific event has at last a fitting memorial.'
The meteorite is one of the very oldest things on earth, the same age as the formation of the solar system, according to Mr.Faithful. He added:
'This was one of the very first meteorites that was known to be a meteorite. After the one in Yorkshire, one guy got obsessed with the idea, but people thought he was mad. 'But after the ones in France and High Possil, it became accepted.'
Along with the falls in Yorkshire and France, the High Possil meteorite marked the beginning of the modern science of meteorites, which now provides us with our detailed knowledge of the solar system. There are meteorite monuments around the world, but Glasgow's is the first in Scotland and only the second in Britain. Although extra-terrestrial in origin, the High Possil meteorite is mostly made up of minerals which also occur on earth. The major constituents are similar to those of basalt - orthopyroxene, olivine, plagioclase feldspar and diopside. About 9 per cent of the meteorite consists of nickel-iron alloys, with traces of other minerals such as troilite, whitlockite, chromite and copper 'Memorial stone to mark spot where meteorite landed', Jim Mcbeth, The Scotsman, 2005-05-21, Sa Links: European Space Agency NASA China National Space Administration British Astronomical Association

2005-05-20

Stats: Environmental Nappy Debate

There is no significant difference between the environmental impact of using 'disposable' and 're-usable' nappies, according to a new government study. Guilt-ridden parents who use 'disposables 'have effectively been purged of their 'environmental sins' by the report -- which found there was little, or nothing, to choose between the two varieties. But, although the 'green credentials 'of the two types of nappy were found to be the same, the report by 'The Environment Agency' claims there is still plenty that manufacturers and parents can do to protect the 'environment'. The agency claims that 'disposable' nappies -- which accounted for 94 per cent of the market in 1999 -- are responsible for 40_000 tonnes of the UK's annual waste. Most are deposited in 'landfill sites'. There were 2.5 billion nappies sold in the UK in 2001 (nearly seven million nappies a day) but they account for only 2.5 per cent of annual household waste. Ms.Tricia Henton, the director of environmental protection at 'The Environment Agency', said:
'Although there is no substantial difference between the "environmental impacts" of the three systems studied (disposable, home-use re-usable, and commercially laundered re-usable), it does show where each system can be improved. 'We hope manufacturers of "disposable" nappies will use this study to improve the "environmental" performance of their products, particularly the quantities going to "landfill".'
The study's findings will surprise many parents who use 're-usable' nappies; 60 per cent of whom told researchers they did so for 'environmental reasons'. But Ms.Henton said they could still 'do their bit' for the environment, saying:
'If parents using re-usables want to "improve" the "environment" they will need to look more closely at how they launder nappies. 'For instance, can the nappies be washed in a bigger load at a lower temperature?'
The main 'environmental impact' from 're-usable' nappies comes from the electricity and fuel used when washing and drying them.
For each nappy type studied, all the materials, chemicals and energy consumed during manufacture, use and disposal were identified, and the resulting emissions to the environment accounted for.
About 675_000 children are born each year in the UK and they wear nappies until they are two years and two months old, on average. Ms.Liz Sutton, of 'The Women’s Environmental Network' (WEN), which has run a national campaign informing people of the alleged 'environmental harm' done by 'disposable' nappies, dismissed the report as 'flawed', claiming it was 'based on poor-quality data' and 'misses the point of its own findings'. She said:
'The biggest impacts it identifies are all to do with energy production and use, yet if parents use 24 ['re-usable'] nappies ,and follow manufacturers' instructions to wash at 60C using, an A-rated washing machine -- they will have approximately 24 per cent less impact on "global warming" than the report says.'
'Parents' nappy choice not so rash', James Reynolds, The Scotsman, 2005-05-20
Links:

2005-05-19

Intolerance: TV and Video Games Make People Smarter?

Video game junkies, rejoice. Reality TV fans, stop feeling guilty; 'pop' culture is good for you -- according to a new book that has a lot of people wanting to believe it. 'Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter' argues that video games, television and movies help children develop problem-solving & reasoning skills and emotional intelligence. Author Mr.Steven Johnson says the reaction has been intense.
'I've had a few people who were filled with rage,' he said in an interview this week.
But for the most part the book published 2005-05 seems to have tapped into a 'guilty pleasure' that many are happy to think is not-so-guilty after all.
'My gut feeling is people were tired of getting scolded all the time for what they were doing,' Mr.Johnson said.
The premise of the book is that in the past 30 to 40 years, television and movies have become dramatically more complex, with programs like 'The Sopranos' juggling dozens of characters and plot lines. In comparison, older, simple, linear shows like 'Dragnet' and 'Starsky and Hutch' made few demands on viewers. At the same time, video games have developed from simple repetitive games such as 'Pac-Man' to games like 'Zelda,' which depict complicated and challenging interactive worlds demanding innovative and imaginative reasoning from players. Mr.Johnson emphasizes that he is not arguing that children should watch television or play video games for six hours a day, just that moderate exposure to them is not bad in itself. 'IT'S ABOUT THE MENTAL WORKOUT, NOT THE MORALS' Ms.Melissa Caldwell of the lobby group 'Parents Television Council' said the theory lacked scientific proof -- and even if it were to have some validity, it overlooked the damage to children from indecency and violence that she said was prevalent on US American television.
'Whatever good could be said to come out of these shows in terms of brain development, surely it doesn't compare with reading a book or learning a musical instrument,' she said. 'If he's neglecting to look at the potential negative consequences from watching these programs, he's overlooking a major element,' Ms.Caldwell said.
Mr.Johnson said he was not aiming to address the question of whether modern entertainment has too much sex and violence.
'It's about the mental workout -- not the morals,' he said. 'I'm really not talking about values, I'm not talking about what the life lessons are, about what you're getting on how to live morally in the world.'
Mr.Johnson said the loudest criticism had come from 'liberal intellectuals' who bemoan the 'dumbing down' of popular culture, from reality television to Internet blogs.
'Maybe "the right" will pick up on it and they'll start being upset too,' he added. 'This book is uniquely designed to annoy people on both sides.'
In one controversial passage he imagines a parallel universe where kids had been playing video games for centuries and then suddenly books were invented. Reading books 'chronically understimulates the senses' and books are 'tragically isolating' and 'discriminatory,' he says, while hastening to add the passage is not serious.
'I do not actually believe that about books,' he said.
''Everything Bad' book taps into guilty pleasures', Yahoo!News, 2005-05-19, Th 15:35

2005-05-18

Intolerance: The Missionary Position

Religious zealots, Florence Nightingale types and fire and brimstone preachers - the word missionary conjures up a number of images, few of them positive. But these days, you're more likely to find a missionary in Juicy couture and sunglasses than a peaked cap and smock, for modern missionaries are adopting an altogether more softly softly approach to spreading the word of God. The role even has a new name.
'The term "mission partner" rather than "missionary" is used now,' says Mr.Dave Richards, Rector of 'St.Paul's and St.George's' Protestant Christian Church in Edinburgh. 'This is, in part, is to distance the word from its imperial connotations, but also to recognise the change that has taken place in world mission.'
Ms.Sarah Anderson is one young missionary who subscribes to the view that mission work is no longer the one-dimensional vocation it once was. In 2005-01 she spent six weeks in Cambodia, where she visited a number of church communities in the southern Takeo Province and worked in a Protestant Christian orphanage in the capital Phnom Penh.
'You need to meet people's needs,' says the 25-year-old. 'When you see a child who has nothing, you want to make sure that they have shelter and food. I want to tell them about Jesus because I know it can make a huge difference to their lives, but missionary work is more than just words.'
This evolution has been a slow process. Sent out by churches to 'bring the light of the gospel' to the yet unchartered parts of the world, Western missionaries in the 18th century were on a crusade to convert. While the benefits of this single-minded pursuit can be questioned, its success in spreading Christianity throughout the globe cannot. Enduring opposition from local governments, imprisonment and bouts of potentially fatal tropical diseases, missionaries often worked for years before seeing their first conversion. Now, because of their efforts, the Protestant Christian church in countries such as Kenya and Brazil is thriving. By the 19th century things were beginning to change. Englishman Mr.William Carey, regarded as the leader of the modern day Protestant Christian missionary movement, had an ambitious plan to spread the gospel to India. To this end he set up 'The English Baptist Missionary Society' and travelled to India in 1793. When he died in 1834 he had not only opened India's doors to Protestant Christian missionaries but had attempted to do so in a culturally sensitive way -- translating the 'scriptures' into Bengali and more than 40 other languages and creating an education system establishing more than 100 schools and colleges. In the 1840s Dr.David Livingstone also went far beyond his preaching remit and drew on his medical training to treat patients. He learned local customs and languages, campaigned for the abolition of slavery and in doing so converted many to Protestant Christianity. Messrs.Carey and Livingstone were ahead of their time and it was their strategy of ministering to body, mind and soul that provided the building blocks for the Protestant Christian missions of today.
'We are looking at mission now in a more "holistic" way,' says Mr.Richards. 'While we want to address people's spiritual needs, we also want to care for them emotionally and physically. [Protestant] Christians still want to share their faith but not in an aggressive way because in the past that has been unhelpful.'
Ms.Liz. Russell is the regional secretary for Asia for 'BMS World Mission' -- a direct descendant of Mr.Carey's organisation and one responsible for helping Protestant Christians (primarily 'Protestant Baptist') embark on mission work abroad. She believes this change in attitude is reflected in the type of work missionaries do.
'Because mission work is no longer just about evangelism and church planting we have professionals coming to us looking to serve God with the skills they have.
'In this way scientists, doctors and teachers can work and fulfil a need abroad and be witnesses to Christ in the work they do and the way in which they do it.'
Ms.Anne Roemmele is one woman who would agree with this methodology. As one of ten 'mission partners' supported by 'St.Paul's and St.George's Church', she is currently working as a humanitarian worker in Sudan with the Protestant Christian NGO 'Medair'.
'There is not much difference between a Christian NGO and a non-Christian one -- you still do the same kind of work, but maybe it is possible to have more of a spiritual input into the work with a Christian organisation,' says the 42- year-old. 'I am a [Protestant] Christian, but I also have a job to do. It's harder for missionaries to get into a country now unless you have a job -- they don't want you unless you are going to do something useful,' she says.
Having trained as a nurse in Glasgow she has lots of skills that she is seeking to share during her two-year contract in Kenya and Sudan.
'From our base in Kenya I help run four main primary healthy care units in Sudan and other more remote clinics that are staffed by local community health workers. They are very simple and we only have basic medicines but people come for miles around to see us -- we always get a huge response. 'I am not the preaching type, but I believe my faith comes across through my words, actions and beliefs. It can spark changes or thoughts in people that I meet who may then seek out faith themselves.'
Not all missionaries share Ms.Roemmele's moderate approach however. At the end of 2003 an article in 'The Telegraph' highlighted the fact that some US American Protestant Christians had seized the US American military presence in Iraq as an opportunity to 'save' Muslims from their 'false' religion, promptly sending aid workers to the country with Arabic printed Protestant Bibles and videos. The benefit of going abroad and converting a person to another religion is a hotly disputed issue, but it is the methods and language of these hard-liners that really courts controversy. In general, aid work is not regarded by missionaries as a covert way of converting, but merely a way to live out Protestant Christian values by providing relief and support to those in need.
'You can't just dive in thinking "we have all the answers",' says Ms.Anderson. 'I didn't go to Cambodia with the sole mission to convert as many people as possible -- it wasn't like that. 'Obviously it was at the heart of what I was doing but you can't go over to somewhere like that and just shout "Jesus loves you" and expect that to be enough. 'It is about meeting people where they are at, learning about them and their lives rather than forcing your culture and your ideals onto others.'
Now back home in Edinburgh, Ms.Anderson is hopeful she fulfilled her role as a short-term missionary well.
'I hope that our visit brought encouragement to the [Protestant] Christians already there -- they don't have money and they are in the middle of a drought. 'There is so much basic need out there that although I couldn't achieve that much in six months I hope my presence encouraged them. 'Most of the children who I worked with knew I was a [Protestant] Christian too, so I hope in some small way I touched their lives and helped them get to 'know' Jesus.'
There are a number of mission organisations like 'BMS World Mission' that now offer a number of different kinds of programmes to accommodate the changing nature of mission work. They help those who want to spend their whole life abroad as well as those, like Ms.Anderson, who wish to try it for a few weeks. At their peak in the 19th century, 'BMS Mission World Mission', then called 'The English Baptist Missionary Society', sent out 600 missionaries. Last year they sent out 450. It is perhaps the efforts of organisations like these which make mission work as flexible and accessible as possible. Compared to the decline in church attendance, mission work is still going strong. But these numbers do not show the whole picture. According to Mr.Richards, there are now as many mission workers coming to the UK as there are leaving.
'The whole picture of [Protestant] Christianity has changed worldwide in the last 50 to 100 years,' he says.
'The church in the developing world is stronger than in "The West" -- there are more "Anglicans" in Uganda than in the whole of Europe. 'But in Scotland the majority of the population no longer attend church, which means that the need to hear about Jesus is far greater here than in the countries that traditionally we sent missionaries to.
'There are currently missionaries from Brazil in Edinburgh and "mission partners" from Africa working in Manchester and London.'
Facing a secular society and operating with limited funds, Protestant Christian churches in the UK are challenging the view that it is only possible to be a missionary thousands of miles way.
'It's all about living by example,' says Mr.Richards. 'Somebody working in "The Royal Bank of Scotland" or "Standard Life" is as much a missionary as someone who is working in Afghanistan. 'It has everything to do with the lifestyle choices you make and the love, care and compassion you show people, and nothing to do with where you are.'
With this emphasis on love and compassion and the adoption of a gentler approach to spreading their religion perhaps now the 'M' word will not conjure up as many negative images in the future. 'More holistic than holy', Jessica Kiddle, The Scotsman, 2005-05-18 We

2005-05-17

Intolerance: Childfree and Loving It

From the book: 'Childfree and Loving It' by Ms.Nicki Defago: It seems extraordinary that in this new century, women who openly say that they don't want children can find themselves treated as social misfits. Didn't many of our grandmothers crave a life away from domesticity and child rearing? Yet in the supposedly modern world, to seize the advantages of alternatives to motherhood can still mark you out as a radical feminist, a hard-bitten career woman or -- bizarrely -- an object of pity. When my husband, Jim, and I married five years ago, we didn't know if we wanted children. As with any big decision (and they don't come much bigger than bringing a new life into the world) we thought carefully about it. Both of us had vaguely assumed we'd become parents one day -- it's what people tend to do -- but taking a practical approach to the matter made us realise how much we liked our lives as they were. We travel, we pop out for dinner on a whim, our work/life balance is great and we're equal partners in our marriage. We have plenty of friends and family -- seven nieces and nephews and six godchildren between us. I tried to research the subject to see if any older women had written about regretting, later in life when it was too late for them, the decision not to have a baby. Though bookshops were piled high with titles about the wonder of babies and the joys of parenthood, there was nothing for someone like me who was seeking support and reassurance that it's OK to say 'no'. The absence of any dissenting voices made me curious enough to embark on my own research. As I thought, there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way as I do. And it soon became apparent why they weren't speaking out. I am now 39, Jim is 38, and we have never made any big announcements that we have decided not to have children, but in social situations people inevitably ask, and we've always been up front. We'd never think that other people shouldn't have children -- it's a raison d'etre for plenty of them, although research has found that one in five women are actively choosing not to become mothers. There's so much social pressure to conform that I wonder how many have children solely because they feel they ought to. The moment the confetti touches the ground you're asked when (never if) you intend to start a family. Older parents demand to know when the grandchildren will arrive and new parents try to recruit you to their way of life with the intensity of pyramid sellers on a high commission. People love their children and, of course, that's how it should be, but unless you're particularly self-assured it's hard not to feel that a decision to remain child-free is constantly being undermined. Single women are leaned on just as much, with endless portrayals in the media and advertising that suggest true fulfilment can only be found on the arm of a man. We talked about children a lot at first, but once our minds were made up, it was liberating to be able to discard the issue and instead plan the life we would carve out for ourselves. We have organised our lives to work hard over the summer and take a couple of months off to travel in the winter. This year we went to Patagonia for a slice of the great outdoors. We've bought a little house in Spain which wouldn't have been financially feasible if we had children. When we're in London we soak up city culture and feel relieved we're not tied to babysitters or school timetables. It's harder not to have children than to have them, I think. But it's great to feel confident that you've made the right choice. The result is a new direction and a new lease of life -- much like starting a family is for others. I have no problem saying that sometimes I wonder about the nice aspects of parenting but it doesn't mean -- as many people seem determined to think -- I'm in denial and must want a baby after all. It simply means I have an imagination. Modern life presents us with many choices and what's important for our personal well-being is that we make decisions that feel right for us. None of us has a crystal ball -- neither parents nor non-parents can know how they'll look back on their lives in a few decades. As for potential regret -- well, I could have had grown-up children by now, but I'm not sorry I don't. Of course, there are plenty of women who would love to have a baby and are prevented by circumstance -- not meeting a partner or infertility. Being childless is different to being childfree and I know I'm lucky to have had the choice. What's hard to understand is why it matters so much to other parents that I won't be having a baby. Reactions have been so hostile. Within moments of meeting, new acquaintances have told me I'm selfish, but one person's selfishness is another's freedom. I may be able to arrange my days as I please, but people have children because they want them -- not for the greater good of society. If they do end up spending their days driving between schools, ballet and music lessons, it's because that is the lifestyle they chose for themselves. Mother Teresa didn't have children but she wasn't selfish, was she? It's hard to know how to react when people are rude. It's best to be assertive, but not defensive. There's certainly no need to be apologetic. I tend to say that I hope they're enjoying their life with children as much as I'm enjoying mine without. Most important of all, hang on to the thought that you've made a considered and entirely valid decision. Other parent propaganda includes telling me I'll be lonely when I'm old, but there's no guarantee your children will look after you in later life -- and it doesn't seem fair to have them just in the hope that they will. Some assume that I 'chose my career over children' and yes, I have always had a good job (as a BBC journalist), but most of my colleagues are parents and I'm not glued to a computer screen late each night. Women don't have it all these days, they just do it all. Most childcare responsibilities still fall to the female partner -- and the way I see colleagues being torn between home life and work makes me appreciate my situation. Our decision was made on practical and emotional levels. In the end, we trusted our instincts that parenthood just wasn't for us. We've never looked back. 'Childfree and Loving It', Nicki Defago, The Scotsman, 2005-05-16,Mo Links 'Childfree and Loving It' by Nicki Defago at Amazon

Intolerance: When Medicine and Religion Clash

Graham is 15 years and nine months old. He and his family are practising 'Jehovah's Witnesses'. Graham is admitted to hospital, and it transpires he may need a blood transfusion. Both he and his parents firmly reject this option on the basis of their faith. Despite full explanation from the doctors of the potentially life-threatening effects of this refusal, the family continues its objection, and insists only non-blood products be used.
This case hinges on a number of important considerations. First is the question of competence or legal capacity. At under 16 years of age, Graham is not technically an adult. However, in Scots law, if he is deemed to be competent by his doctors he can both consent to and refuse medical treatment. To be competent, he broadly needs to be able to understand the implications of his decision and use the information provided to make a considered decision. At his age, it would often be the case that -- in the absence of evidence to the contrary -- he would be thought able to make his own healthcare choices. However, in cases where life-saving treatment is refused, there is an inclination to ask questions about capacity which would probably not be asked if the young person accepted the treatment. Although the attribution of legal capacity doesn't rest on people making 'rational' choices, when children and young people are involved there is an understandable desire to achieve the 'right' result, and this may be done by questioning the young person's legal capacity. Graham's situation is further complicated by the fact that it is based on his religious faith. On one argument, people both are and should be free to practise their religion, including its manifestations. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by 'The European Convention on Human Rights' and 'The Human Rights Act 1998'. Accordingly, decisions based on faith should be respected. However, some would also wish to argue that Graham has had no real choice but to adopt his parents' faith. On this approach, it might be said that his decision is not free from duress; either from his parents or his religion. Courts have traditionally -- and unsurprisingly -- struggled with these kinds of cases. On the one hand, they wish to protect freedom of religion; on the other, they are reluctant to see a young person face a potentially unnecessary death. As we have seen, one way of resolving this issue is to hold that the young person lacks legal capacity. This leads then to the question of the legal standing of his parents' decision. Were Graham an adult, the views of his parents would be completely irrelevant. However, he is technically still a child for legal purposes, and generally speaking his parents' views (if he is not deemed to be competent) would prevail. However, the parents also want no blood-based treatment to be given. Even if Graham is not competent -- and the parents therefore have decision-making authority -- their judgment, too, may be challenged on the basis that their authority extends only to acting in the best interests of the child. The remaining question, then, would be whether or not it could ever be in the best interests of the child not to receive potentially life-saving treatment; would he be better to die with his faith intact or suffer the consequences of an unwanted transfusion? This stark and difficult decision is ultimately for the courts, but medicine can also help by developing and refining life-saving techniques which would be able to accommodate the genuinely held views of this religious group. 'What guides decisions if our religion and medicine clash? ', Sheila Mclean, The Scotsman, 2005-05-16

2005-05-16

Science & Stats: Relationships and Annoying Habits

Leaving a wet towel on the bathroom floor may seem a minor issue but it could be a ticking timebomb when it comes to relationships, scientists have warned. New research in the USA has identified a list of the most annoying habits that can cause rifts between couples. Minor irritations in domestic life can mean that people become 'allergic' to a partner's foibles. These may include such crimes as laughing at one's own jokes or fiddling with the pre-set controls of the car stereo. Among the most annoying habits are failing to hang up towels, leaving a new loo roll on top of the empty one and using a fork as a backscratcher. Cringe-inducing endearments such as 'babykins' also can cause an adverse reaction when aired in public. When behaviour is repeated, a couple can reach breaking point, said Mr.Michael Cunningham, who led the research.
'The basic notion that things become more irksome over time has never been looked at before,' he said.
'Relatively minor, unpleasant behaviours appear to affect a partner's emotions in a way that resembles how physical allergens function.
'The first experience is likely to produce a small negative reaction, but repeated contact increases sensitivity. 'Wet towels on the bathroom floor cause mild irritation.
'But the reaction gets stronger each time it happens.
'Through repeated exposure it may produce a "social allergy" -- a reaction of "hypersensitive annoyance" or disgust.'
Many of the habits detailed in the study -- published in the academic journal 'Personal Relationships' -- are the obvious areas of conflict within relationships. They include nose-picking, burping and tatty clothes in men, and lateness, verbosity and demands for re-assurance about clothing in women.
The study, funded by the US American government's health research arm and conducted in 'The Department of Communications' at 'Louisville University', Kentucky, charted the grim 'deromanticisation' of more than 160 people's relationships.
It also compared what was termed 'social allergen frequency' (nasty habits), with relationship satisfaction and failure in a further 274 people.
The resulting report, 'Social Allergies in Romantic Relationships', aims to establish the nature of the link between nasty habits and nasty divorce, though some of the issues raised will provide bored couples with a new range of things to complain about. It highlights the irritation caused by fabricating anecdotes to enliven dinner parties and the reading of e-mails while holding a conversation about the mortgage. The researchers suggested women were also more likely to complain about uncouth behaviour and 'norm violations', such as drunkenness or flatulence, while men would withdraw and eventually leave. British researchers agree that childish bickering is common to relationships. It is when there are underlying problems that the minor irritations take on unmanageable proportions. Ms.Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor with the charity 'Relate', said:
'Minor niggles can seem trivial, but if they are left unchecked [then] they can cause problems.
'We have so many couples saying to us they argue over everything and nothing.
'Communication is the key.
'If a minor habit causes bother, it should be "no big deal" to change it.'
Stop Doing it! A number of dangerous niggles for relationships have been identified:
  • Fabricating anecdotes in a desperate effort to liven up a dinner party.
  • Using cringe-making terms of endearment such as 'babykins' in public.
  • Displaying fear during horror films (if male) -- this is a turn-off for women.
  • Racking up excess luggage charges by going over the top with holiday packing.
  • Making a partner spend far longer than they want to on shopping trips.
  • Laughing at your own jokes, oblivious to the fact that no-one else is.
  • Complaining about partner's clothes.
  • Changing preset controls on the car stereo.
  • Tipping clutter from coffee table on to floor to make way for TV dinner.
  • Failing to replace loo roll when it is finished.
  • Leaving wet towels around.
  • Scattering clothes about the bedroom.
  • Reading e-mails while claiming to be conducting an important discussion about the mortgage or similar subject.
  • Using a fork as a backscratcher.
  • Nose-picking.
  • Burping.
  • Clipping toe-nails, even if newspaper is spread on floor to catch clippings.
  • Wearing tatty clothing.
  • Getting drunk despite lack of any obvious excuse.
  • Failing to control flatulence.
  • Being late.
  • Asking for explanations of TV dramas, causing partner to miss plot twist.
  • Obtaining reassurance about clothing, then changing it anyway.
  • Making any attempt to complain about any of the above.
'Love is ... not picking your nose and burping', Edward Black, The Scotsman, 2005-05-16,Mo

2005-05-15

Money: Investing in Emerging Europe

A year on from the accession of ten new countries to the European Union, Central and Eastern Europe could offer significant growth potential for the long-term investor. Set against the background of a lower cost base, attractive equity valuations and the forthcoming European Monetary Union (EMU) membership of recent EU entrants, the outlook is compelling. Foreign investment flooded into the region in anticipation of an enlarged EU from 2004-05-01. That was priced into equity markets. But, stock market growth -- as well as overseas investment, robust exports and economic performance -- has continued. From a low point in 2001-10, 'The Nomura Central East European Index' -- the benchmark for the region -- has risen three-fold: 100_GBP invested in the index at the turning point would be worth 277_GBP today, slipping from a peak of 311_GBP in 2005-03. With the exception of Russia and Croatia, all markets within emerging Europe have achieved gains in the year to end-March. The three largest Central European countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, have made significant headway -- up 59.3, 56.5 and 44.7 per cent respectively. Mr.Stuart Richards, manager of 'Baring Emerging Europe', said:
'The strategic investment case remains strong. 'The weakness we're expecting in the USD [US American dollar] should help support sentiment towards the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, as they're not implicitly linked to the dollar.'
Mr.Alastair Reynolds, an investment director at 'Scottish Widows Investment Partnership' (SWIP), said:
'A sharp bout of profit-taking and a focus back to the uncertain domestic political climate in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have seen ... investors in as uncertain a mood as they had been 12 months earlier.'
So, which Central and Eastern European markets have the best growth prospects? And where do the greatest risks lurk? The economies of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, with their low-cost, but highly educated labour forces, are enjoying stronger economic growth than Western Europe. In the run up to them joining the EMU, they will have to comply with 'The Maastricht Treaty' criteria, governing inflation rates and public sector deficits. That should bode well for equity investors, said Mr.Plamen Monovski, co-fund manager of 'Merrill Lynch's' 'Emerging Europe Fund'. Spain, Portugal and Greece joined the EMU in the late 90s, an event that brought with it 'spectacular' stock market performance. Others, however, are more bearish; valuations remain attractive, with Hungary and Poland trading on 2005 price-earnings (P/E) ratios of 12, against around 15 in the USA and Western Europe. But SWIP's Mr.Reynolds, who manages 'The Butterfield Central and East European Fund', added:
'One of the main things that has driven Central European markets was that valuations were even cheaper. They're now pretty similar to other European countries.'
He is more optimistic on the prospects for Eastern Europe's largest economy -- Russia. The country has been attracting increasing attention of late, on the back of high energy and commodity prices and rock bottom equity valuations. Many investors are sitting on the sidelines, after being burnt in the well-mapped 'Yukos Affair' of 2003. The oil giant went from an envied position as the world's fourth-largest company to a firm on the verge of bankruptcy almost overnight. Its chief executive, Mr.Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- whose political ambitions incurred the wrath of Mr.Vladimir Putin -- was jailed, and the firm's main oil-production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz, auctioned to pay Yukos' 1_800_million_GBP ($3.4bn) tax bill. That served as a warning to investors, said Ms.Joanne Irvine, head of emerging markets, excluding Asia, at 'Aberdeen Asset Management'.
'"Yukos'" management had Westernised itself,' she said. 'It cleaned up its act, had the strongest growth performance and was one of the most successful companies from an investment point of view. 'But the company went to rack and ruin. 'It reminded investors of the dangers of investing in countries like Russia.'
As the world's biggest oil producer and second-largest exporter after 'OPEC', Russia's stock market is heavily dominated by oil companies. Just as Russia's economy collapsed in 1998 on the back of an oil price crash, it is today riding high on strong commodity prices. But political risk, concerns over corporate governance and transparency problems remain. 'Lukoil', claims Ms.Irvine, is one of the few free from the latter. Last year, 'ConocoPhillips' bought the government's remaining 7.59 per cent stake in the firm and, two months later, America's third-largest oil business increased its stake in Russia's No.2 and said it might seek representation on its board. Mr.Agne Zitkute, manager of 'Pictet's Eastern European Trust', however, remains underweight in energy, which could be 'vulnerable to further correction'. Instead, she is looking for interesting plays in the consumer sector. The upcoming initial public offering of 'Pyaterochka' -- the largest food retailer in Russia -- could be one. But, Mr.Zitkute is also watching the domestic gas market with interest, following the long-awaited start of liberalisation. Overall, emerging Europe is at the start of an lengthy upswing. Closing the economic gap with Western Europe could take some time.
'Catching up with GDP [gross domestic product] per capita will take another 20 to 30 years,' said SWIP's Mr.Reynolds.
That, however, yields opportunity for long-term investors.
'Emerging Europe is a good way to increase diversification and give investors access to a high-growth region,' added Mr.Monovski. 'Despite short-term volatility, we believe the region has embarked on a multi-year re-rating process.'
'How the sun rose in the east on emerging Europe ', Jennifer Hill, Yahoo! Business News, 2005-05-14, Sa, 03:00

Health: Glasgow and Food Excellence

Glasgow's school dinner ladies have proved they have no need for Mr.Jamie Oliver's help after scooping a food award for transforming the eating habits of the city's children. The Local Authority's school meals service won 'The Catering in Scotland Excellence' healthy eating award for its innovative efforts in persuading Glasgow's 70_000 schoolchildren to improve their dietary choices. The council was pitted against all areas of the catering industry, including hotels, restaurants, other school authorities and community healthy eating initiatives. However, the introduction of 'fuel zones' -- as the revamped school canteens are known -- in all of Glasgow's schools impressed the judges with the measurable impact it had on the number of children opting to eat school meals instead of heading to the local chip shop. Before 1996, when 'fuel zones' were introduced, just 32 per cent of pupils ate school dinners. In 2004, this had more than doubled to 76 per cent. Over the period, the number of pupils choosing healthier options doubled to 60 per cent, while the consumption of chips fell from 80 per cent to 45 per cent. Instead, children are choosing sandwiches, baguettes or wraps for lunch. The council's budget for school dinners is 16_million_GBP, of which 2.3_million_GBP is used to provide free breakfasts for primary pupils, and a total of 46_000 meals are served daily. Efforts by Scottish Local Authorities, such as Glasgow's, to improve diets were praised by the celebrity chef Mr.Oliver recently during his high-profile campaign to transform school dinners in the country of England & Wales. A spokesman for 'Glasgow City Council' said the 'linchpin' to the scheme had been creating an attractive environment for the children:
'The canteens are no longer set up like the old-fashioned school dinner halls. Instead, they have more in common with fashionable diners. 'We've set up salad bars, there's wide access to water and a choice of menus.
'There are still hamburgers and chips available, but a variety of food is there for pupils to choose from and the statistics show that pupils are spending their money on healthy meals. 'The award shows Glasgow is ahead of the game. Jamie Oliver has already acknowledged the efforts we've made.
'But this award is contested by the likes of "The Gleneagles Hotel".
'The healthy award was won last year by "The Peebles Hydro Hotel", so this is really significant for us.'
Mr.Steven Purcell, convener of the council's 'Education Services Committee' and chairman of its 'Health and Diet Working Group', added:
'The poor health and dietary record of Glasgow is, sadly, well-documented and much of this is down to habits that are formed by young people when they are growing up.
'So we're delighted that work that we started long before Jamie Oliver started the campaign to improve school diners has been recognised with this prestigious award.'
Ms.Frankie Phillips, a registered dietician and spokesman for 'The British Dietetic Association', said that environment was a vital component in encouraging healthy eating among young people.
'The surroundings in which you eat have an immense impact upon how you perceive the food you're eating.
'I think people have to understand that schoolchildren are just the same as adults, and that it's just as important that the environment in which they sit down and eat should be just as good as any restaurant or caf�. 'I think the idea of introducing something that has a "fast-food" outlet feel is excellent, but as long as young people understand that, outside school, fast-food outlets are not the best place to find healthy food.'
Glasgow also received a second culinary plaudit yesterday, when it was named runner-up as 'Curry Capital of Britain'. Having already won it twice in recent years, the city was beaten by Birmingham. 'City school dinners beat restaurants to healthy food prize', Craig Brown, The Scotsman, 2005-05-14, sa

2005-05-14

Science: First New Mammal since 1974

A new species of rodent has been discovered -- for sale on a food stall in a market in south east Asia. The rock rat -- or kha-nyou -- is unlike any rodent seen before by scientists, reports 'New Scientist' Magazine. It was spotted by conservation biologist Mr.Robert Timmins in the Khammouan region of Laos. He said:
'It was for sale on a table next to some vegetables, and I knew immediately it was something I had never seen before.'
Mr.Timmins, of 'The Wildlife Conservation Society', said locals prepare the rodent for eating by roasting it on a skewer. Mr.Timmins and his team have subsequently trapped the animal with the help of local people, but have never seen it alive either in the wild or in the market. The creature looks something like a cross between a large dark rat and a squirrel, but is actually more closely related to guinea pigs. It is not closely related to any other rodents and researchers have had to create a whole new family, the Laonastidae, to accommodate it. The last new mammal family was created in 1974 with the discovery of the bumblebee bat. 'New rodent discovered -- on food stall', Ananova, 2005-05-14, sa

Intolerance: Racist Police

Police are to introduce complex psychological tests to stop racist applicants joining the force. The move comes amid fears that racism within the police has been 'driven underground' due to heightened awareness of the issue. Scotland's police chiefs commissioned the new psychometric tests in response to the 'BBC's' 'Secret Policeman' TV documentary, which exposed racism among several trainee police recruits in 2003-10. The programme, which showed a recruit at a 'Greater Manchester Police' training college wearing a 'Ku Klux Klan'-type hood, led to separate reviews of the police and race relations in Scotland and England & Wales. 'The Commission for Racial Equality Scotland' is due to report its findings in the summer and sources have said that several 'areas of concern' will be raised. The new tests will allow interviewers to detect under-lying racist attitudes more effectively than the current, more direct question-and-answer approach, which police admit racists can too easily dodge. The project, which is costing 55_000_GBP, is being developed by 'The Clinical Psychology Department' at 'The University of Strathclyde' and will be introduced to all eight Scottish police forces in the autumn. Under the new tests, candidates will be presented with a selection of policing scenarios to which they will be asked to respond. By comparing answers, police will hopefully be able to expose racist views which candidates would otherwise try to hide. Up to 100 different scenarios will be drawn up, making it nearly impossible for all the 'correct answers' to be passed on to would-be recruits. Mr.Andrew Cameron, the 'Chief Constable' of 'Central Scotland', who is Chairman of 'The Personnel and Training Committee' at 'The Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS), said he hoped the new system would assure ethnic minority communities that police forces were taking racism within the ranks seriously.
'We already have a focus on finding out what people are about in terms of attitudes at the recruitment stage, but we are exploring ways of being even more robust when it comes to screening out people who do have wrong attitudes about race. 'We want to reassure people from the ethnic minority population that we are doing everything we possibly can to not recruit people with racist attitudes. 'It is difficult to identify people with racist views -- when we recruit people into the police service in Scotland we are recruiting what is reflected in our society. 'But we are already trying our best to undermine it [racism] and, with the assistance of academics, hopefully we can send out a very positive message about how seriously we take this issue.'
Mr.Peter Thickett, the training committee secretary, said that the new system would give recruiters 'better quality assurance':
'The "design brief" is to produce something that is not susceptible to cheating, so it is not just a question of giving correct answers which we know will just be posted on the internet before too long. 'It won't give us a pass or fail but it will throw up questions which need to be asked in the final interview.'
He said a 'library' of crime and general policing scenarios would be drawn up by officers in conjunction with Strathclyde University. Some of the scenarios would involve "black" and "Asian" people, and would-be recruits would be asked how they would respond to different situations. Mr.Thickett said:
'The smartness of it is there will be scenarios, some of which will throw up race or gender issues, which will test critical thinking. 'We can compare what a candidate's attitude is in a scenario involving a black person to ones where all the people are white. 'For example, they could be looking at a situation where a black man has committed a robbery and is carrying a gun. 'What we want to know is whether they see the black man before they see the gun.'
He said the tests would be used by human-resource staff and officers at various stages in the recruitment process, including interviews and background checks. Police also intend to use the tests to tackle 'sexism' and find out candidates' attitudes to 'risk-taking'. Mr Thickett added:
'I don't think we have a particular problem with racism. 'We have had relatively few people knocked out of the service on those grounds. 'It's about quality assurance, it's about saying we would like to have an additional check.'
It is understood a number of investigations in several forces across the UK are ongoing into alleged racist behaviour. Last year an officer was fined 5_000_GBP for using racist language. Almost two out of five 'Metropolitan' police officers last year failed a secret 'Scotland Yard' 'mystery shopper' test of their attitude to complaints about racism. Officers posing as members of the public went to police stations across London to make complaints about alleged racist behaviour by police. In nearly 40 per cent of cases, the complainants were fobbed off and ignored. 'Semper Scotland', a support group for non-white police officers, welcomed the tests and said tough action was needed. Ms.Sandra Deslandes-Clark, a spokesman, said minority ethnic officers were still reporting racist abuse across Scotland's forces, four years after Strathclyde Police was branded 'institutionally racist' over its handling of the murder of Mr.Surjit Singh Chhokar, a waiter.
'We are delighted that the police are doing something positive and responding to a problem that is clearly out there,' she said. 'I'm pleased they have acknowledged this is an issue and I see this as a first step. 'We look forward to working with them to eradicate racism within the police altogether.'
Ms.Deslandes-Clark said officers frequently told 'Semper' about racial abuse from colleagues, but that many others were afraid to speak out.
'We have people who say they have been called 'Paki' and other names, and other officers who heard it have not backed them up. 'People are scared to say anything because they think it may damage their careers. 'Racism's still there, it's just gone underground. 'People have become more cautious. It's up to "ACPOS" and ourselves to drive it out. 'A lot of people feel they have been held back because of their accents, because for a lot of them English is not their first language. 'Recruitment and progression in the police is based on being white and male.'
Forces across England & Wales have already introduced psychological 'integrity tests' to weed out racist applicants following 'The Secret Policeman', which featured undercover reporter Mr.Mark Daly, a former Scotsman journalist. Applicants undergo a series of role-playing and written tests followed by a full interview. 'Scottish police recruits to face racism tests', Michael Howie, The Scotsman, 2005-015-14, sa