Terror strike in Lahore on Sri Lankan cricket team

Click on photo for Guardian’s early live feed
Daylife/AP Photo

At least a dozen heavily armed gunmen remain at large after launching the commando-style assault on the Sri Lankan team, killing six policemen and two bystanders, and injuring seven players and officials. The driver of one of the buses in the team’s convoy was also killed.

In scenes reminiscent of the terror attacks on Mumbai in November, the gunmen opened fire with AK-47s, grenades and a rocket-launcher, spraying the team’s bus with bullets as it drove to the 60,000-seater Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. Television footage showed the assailants running through the streets, firing towards police lines.

The head of Pakistan’s interior ministry, Rehman Malik, said the country was “in a state of war” and the authorities were investigating whether the attackers had intended to take hostages. “The way they came prepared and in large numbers indicates such a plan,” he said.

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Brits start to fight back

The government and the courts are collaborating in slicing away freedoms and pushing Britain to the brink of becoming a “database” police state.

In a day of speeches and discussions, academics, politicians, lawyers, writers, journalists and pop stars joined civil liberty campaigners to issue a call to arms for Britons to defend their democratic rights.

More than 1,500 people, paying £35 a ticket, attended the Convention on Modern Liberty in Bloomsbury, central London, which was linked by video to parallel events in Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast, Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff and Cambridge. They heard from more than 80 speakers, including author Philip Pullman; musicians Brian Eno and Feargal Sharkey; journalists Fatima Bhutto, Andrew Gilligan, Nick Cohen and Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger; politicians Lord Bingham and Dominic Grieve; a former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald; and human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy.

In her speech Kennedy said she felt that fear was being used as a weapon to break down civil liberties. “There is a general feeling that in creating a climate of fear people have been writing a blank cheque to government. People feel the fear of terrorism is being used to take away a lot of rights.”

She said that voters were anxious that their communities were ‘being alienated’ by the use of powers designed to protect national security being applied outside their original remit, and that there was now an open window of opportunity for the electorate to make their feelings known to government before the next election: “People are fearful of the general business of collecting too much information about individuals…

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Sea level rise will not halt because pundits so ordain

Daylife/AP Photo by Luigi Costantini

Global sea level is rising, and faster than expected. We need to honestly discuss this risk rather than trying to play it down.

Measurements from tide gauge stations around the world show that the global sea level has risen by almost 20cm since 1880. Since 1993, global sea level has been measured accurately from satellites; since 1993 figures have shown levels rising at a rate of 3.2cm per decade.

The two main causes of this rise are extra water entering the ocean from melting land-ice and the expansion of ocean water as it gets warmer. Both are inevitable physical consequences of global warming. Both contributions can be estimated independently from satellite and other data, and their sum is consistent with the observed rise. Depending on the time period considered, 50% to 80% of the rise is due to melting ice.

Despite knowing the causes, we cannot predict future sea level rise very well. Particularly uncertain is how ice sheets will respond to warming, as this involves complex flow processes. For example, warming ocean waters destroy the floating tongues of ice that form when glaciers meet the sea. These ice tongues are pinned to rock outcrops and hold back the glacier behind them. When the ice tongue goes, the glacier speeds up its flow. This has happened to the Jakobshavn Isbrae and other glaciers in Greenland as well as many outlet glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that sea level has been rising 50% faster since 1961 than its computer models predict…

Even after we have stopped global warming, sea level rise set in motion by our emissions of the coming decades will continue for centuries. Such is the inertia in the response of the deep ocean and the ice sheets to warming. While we can bail out banks, there is no way to turn back sea level — our only chance is to stop the warming soon enough to keep it within manageable limits.

Hopefully, with full understanding and cooperation – by the end of the century or sooner.

Public safety report: 1 in 100 doin’ time

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety.

As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise. Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before. However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years. And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole…

The report points out the necessity of locking up violent and repeat offenders, but notes that prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the nation’s population at large. Instead, more people are behind bars principally because of a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing laws, imposing longer prison stays on inmates.

As a result, states’ corrections costs have risen substantially. Twenty years ago, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds—their primary discretionary dollars—on corrections. Last year, they spent more than $44 billion in general funds, a 315 percent jump, and more than $49 billion in total funds from all sources. Coupled with tightening state budgets, the greater prison expenditures may force states to make tough choices about where to spend their money. For example, Pew found that over the same 20-year period, inflation-adjusted general fund spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.

We’ve posted on some of these questions. More is needed. To view the entire report visit the Public Safety Performance Project‘s web site.

Stop thief! Software lets stolen laptops shriek

When a thief opens your laptop, he could get a shock when it starts to shout “Help, I’ve been stolen!” or, perhaps, something ruder. But that’s one of the options provided by Front Door Software’s $30 Retriever program for Windows XP and Vista.

The software displays your contact details and lets you make the finder or thief an offer, such as “$50 for my safe return”. However, if you log on to a web site to say your PC is missing or stolen, that message will appear in a red and yellow on the laptop’s screen. It reappears every 30 seconds, to be really annoying. You also get the option to switch on a second password prompt.

In the background, Retriever tries to connect via Wi-Fi to report its loss.

And now it has the option to sing out a pre-recorded message: “Help, this laptop is reported lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now.” If you want something stronger, you can record it yourself.

I think I would have it shout. “Stop me. I’m being used for child porngraphy!”

Saving the children always works in Congress. Har!

Can you hear me now?… Mobile phone use passes milestone

The speed and scale of the world’s love affair with mobile phones was revealed in a UN report that showed more than half the global population now pay to use one…

By the end of last year there were an estimated 4.1bn mobile subscriptions, up from 1bn in 2002. That represents six in 10 of the world’s population, although it is hard to make a precise calculation about how many people actually use mobile phones.

Africa is the continent with the fastest growth, where penetration has soared from just one in 50 people at the turn of the century to 28%.

Much of the take-up is thought to have been driven by money transfer services that allow people without bank accounts to send money speedily and safely by text messages, which the recipient – typically a family member – can cash in at the other end. Vodafone’s M-Pesa money transfer service was launched in Kenya in 2007 and now has 5 million users.

Developing countries now account for about two-thirds of the mobile phones in use, compared with less than half of subscriptions in 2002.

The world’s traditional Telcos have been stuck in the mud of monopoly and complacency for so long they’ve dropped straight out of competitiveness. Their only salvation – and it’s likely for the biggest – is to buy up and absorb wireless cell providers.

Still, the Establishment mindset is a hard drug habit to kick. The new breed of wireless entrepreneurs may still continue to run right past “old greed” with nimble access to the Web.

Rush vs. Steele — Har!

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

After Michael Steele referred to Rush Limbaugh’s rhetoric as “incendiary”–sparking a storyline of “Steele vs. Rush” that spread throughout the blogosphere–Limbaugh unloaded on the RNC chairman in an extended diatribe on his radio show.

Incendiary? You bet. As I noted earlier, Steele actually defended the thinking behind Rush’s desire for President Obama to “fail” during the interview in question–but from Limbaugh’s corner, the fight is on.

The back-story: CNN’s D.L. Hughley confronted Steele about Limbaugh’s speech this weekend at CPAC, in which Limbaugh reiterated his “fail” sentiments and brought down the house at the conservative conference. Hughley also asserted that Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP–a point Steele contested.

“How is that different from what was said about George Bush during his presidency?” Steele said, defending the “fail” sentiment. And then: “Let’s put it in the context here. Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. His whole thing is entertainment…yes, it’s incendiary, yes, it’s ugly.”

Rush’s response: to throw down. Limbaugh asserted that Steele is not the leader of the Republican Party, the RNC is a failure, Steele wants Obama to fail, Steele is off to a “shaky start” as RNC chairman, and Steele had perhaps underestimated the intelligence of conservatives and of Limbaugh’s listeners as a whole.

I’m not wasting space on Rush’s evangelism. You can click the link to Chris Good’s article. But, I do think the battle for the hearts and mindless of America’s neocons is hilarious. It may turn out to be as unproductive as I believe it will be.

If the Republican Party completes the transformation into the Republikan Party – it may set the scene for something more than the good old boy traditional 2-party wimpery we’ve been accustomed to.

Although Steele’s latest requisite groveling before Limbaugh Appears to leave Rush alone in charge of what remains.

Leave a message at God’s answering service


God is taking calls.

Dutch artist Johan van der Dong has set up a local telephone number in the Netherlands, where he urges people to leave messages for God on his answering machine…

Callers dialing 06-4424-4901 (or +316-4424-4901 if calling from outside the Netherlands) from March 7 will hear.

Hi, you are speaking to God. I’m not in right now so leave a message after the beep.”

I wonder if he sounds like Charlton Heston? I’ll have to try the number after the 7th.