Who needs a gym membership? Work out in the park!

Peckham Rye in south London has just become home to the country’s latest outdoor gym. The equipment in the park is green and shiny and huge. So they’re a vast improvement on the wooden parallel bars that have been a feature of the park since for ever and made you look like you’re exercising in a Carry On film.

Free outdoor gyms began appearing in Britain’s parks and public spaces last autumn and are steadily spreading across the country. They were inspired by gyms installed throughout China, to ready the nation for the Beijing Olympics, and have been developed over here by the Great Outdoor Gym Company, whose Georgie Tarrant and Matt Delaney were formerly of Sport England.

Most of the outdoor equipment requires you to push against gravity or your own bodyweight, so there are no weights to select. Charlotte Tarrant explains: “The load is gauged to be 30-40% of your bodyweight, so it would never be too strenuous for anyone…”

Different councils throw the gyms up for different reasons – London’s five Olympic boroughs all have one to prove that they are taking 2012 seriously, I guess. Strathclyde police organised one in an area rife with gang membership, hoping to combat antisocial behaviour, and have seen an 8% drop in crime.

Eric Firth, the councillor who was the driving-force behind the outdoor gym in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, wanted something specifically for older users, and indeed, there’s a picture of an old person, heartily enjoying the facilities in the gym company’s promotional literature. In Peckham, I would say that the mean age was nearer 13. Smith and Reese, both 13, said that they use the stuff on their way to football. They both really liked it; they would both like free gym membership, too. They are profoundly sociable young men, but that must, surely, predate their resistance workout.

Some communities it will never work. The city of Albuquerque has put up systems which – unfortunately – were flammable. Local gangbanger idiots put paid to that.

OTOH, I’ve seen systems in steel with concrete roots. Kids love ’em. So do adults. Ain’t going to do anyone any harm to exercise in their neighborhood park.

Illegal immigrants detained – then freed to work on a temporary basis

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

After 11 years of living illegally in the United States, it was not until Gerardo Arreola Gonzalez was nearly deported that he finally received permission to work here.

Arreola was one of 28 illegal immigrant workers arrested in February after agents from U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement raided a car engine repair business. According to the immigrants, a small army of federal agents surrounded Yamato Engine Specialists in Bellingham Washington, and began searching for workers who could not show they had authorization to work in the United States.

“My blood ran cold,” Arreola said in Spanish. “We went to the back door, but they were waiting for us. There was a bus already there, and they put us on it…”

Typically, cases like Arreola’s end in deportation. However, the Bellingham raid was the first of its kind to take place during the Obama administration. But Rosalinda Guillen said people in the pro-immigrant rights community were heartened by the fact that shortly after Napolitano ordered a review of the Bellingham case the immigrant workers who were still in immigration detention were released.

“I was just flabbergasted,” Guillen said. And the same immigration agents who had arrested the workers, she said, now promised them visas that would allow them to work temporarily in the U.S.

A tale with no clearcut beginning or end. RTFA.

On one hand, I can sympathize to some extent with folks poor enough to travel thousands of miles from home to get a job. On the other, I have no sympathy for employers who are using illegal migrant labor as scabs – using undocumentados just to cut wages and increase profits.

China’s holdings of U.S. T-Bonds continues to increase

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

According to Shanghai Securities News, China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury Bonds (T-Bond) increased despite the drop in its foreign exchange reserves during the first two months of this year. The official Web site of the U.S. Treasury Department released the latest statistics on April 15, showing that China’s holdings of U.S. treasury bonds hit 744.2 billion U.S. dollars by the end of February, about 4.6 billion more than it was a month ago.

According to the Web site, China’s holdings of U.S. T-Bonds have constantly increased since February 2008, with a growth of 267.3 billion U.S. dollars over the last year.

In contrast, China’s foreign exchange reserves increased by only 7.7 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of this year, about 146.2 billion U.S. dollars less than the growth during the same period last year. As for monthly statistics, China’s foreign exchange reserves dropped by about $32.5 billion in January, compared with that at the end of December. In February, the decline reduced to 1.39 billion U.S. dollars…

Hu Xiaolian, administrator of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), said recently that China would not adjust its foreign exchange reserves policies because of the short-term fluctuations in the forex market. She said that China would constantly buy U.S. T-Bonds considering the lower overall credit risk.

Here we are with all the losers from the last election whining about the solvency of the United States and our biggest creditor continues with steady investments.

Either we’re all going down the tubes together or the Chinese government may just have a little better understanding of economics than the average reactionary wingnut. Har!

Pay up – or your engine stops running!

With consumer credit ratings plummeting, more American car owners could soon be driving around with an electronic Big Brother on board.

Business is booming for makers of shut-off devices, which turn engines off when car payments are late. Sales at one manufacturer, Littleton, Colorado-based Passtime, are up 33 percent over last year. CEO Stan Schwarz says the company is cranking up production to meet the demand…

While the devices have mostly been used in the subprime auto loan market, other lenders are looking closely at the technology, manufacturers say. It’s no mystery why interest in the gadgets soaring: the creditworthiness of American consumers is declining as they lose jobs in record numbers and find it harder to tap into home equity…

Consumers could increasingly find themselves in cars with shut-off devices if their credit turns bad and they are forced to shop at dealerships serving the subprime market. These sellers range from small mom-and-pop, “Buy Here, Finance Here” outlets to major dealerships…

The products also include global positioning, or GPS, to speed up the repossession of the vehicle, if necessary.

I still wouldn’t want to be the guy who shows up to repo the car.

New York’s governor fights to extend civil rights to gay marriage

Daylife/Getty Images

New York State, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg observed on Thursday, is where Susan B. Anthony began her struggle for women’s suffrage. It is the state where the N.A.A.C.P. was founded. Now New York can finally honor its historic commitment to personal freedoms by becoming the next state to end discrimination against civil marriage for same-sex couples.

As he reintroduced a bill that will give same-sex couples the right to marry, New York’s governor, David Paterson, issued an appeal at once personal and universal. Mr. Paterson, the state’s first black governor, compared the fight for same-sex marriage to the battle to end slavery and discrimination. “Anyone who has ever faced intolerance of any kind,” he said, “knows the solemn importance of protecting the rights of all people.” And he reminded listeners that gay couples are often denied health benefits, the right to visit loved ones in the hospital and spousal rights to inherit property.

What could be even more important was his response to New York’s new archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who said Wednesday that he would speak out against same-sex marriage. “This is a civil government,” the governor — who is Catholic — said. He is right. Religious organizations can make rules for marriage, but the state is separate and must treat people equally under the law.

Overdue. In the whole country.

Can any other Republican beat Rick Perry at hypocrisy?

$300 worth of haircuts in one photo
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

With the fiery rhetoric of a prairie populist, Gov. Rick Perry calls on “Texas patriots” to protest against “bailouts, all this stimulus, all this runaway spending” in the nation’s capital.

For weeks, the Republican governor has ratcheted up his railing against the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. Perry’s call for “states’ rights” and a suggestion that Texas could leave the union if it wanted to made national news this week.

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh gave Perry an “Amen, bro,” and host Glenn Beck said he was “thrilled” by Perry’s stand on states’ rights.

The last time Texas did this was when they joined the Confederacy in secession from the Union – opposed to the freeing of slaves.

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The Force is represented in Scots police force

Eight police officers serving with Scotland’s largest force listed their official religion as Jedi in voluntary diversity forms, it has emerged.

Strathclyde Police said the officers and two of its civilian staff claimed to follow the faith, which features in the Star Wars movies.

The details were obtained in a Freedom of Information request by Jane’s Police Review.

Strathclyde was the only force in the UK to admit it had Jedi officers.

She added that the force monitored “six strands of diversity” – age, disability, gender, race religion and belief, and sexual orientation.

The force said the information was provided voluntarily and securely stored.

About 390,000 people listed their religion as Jedi in the 2001 Census for England and Wales. In Scotland the figure was a reported 14,000.

The Office for National Statistics did not recognise it as a separate category, and incorporated followers of Jedi with the atheists.

Rock on Strathclyde! Bet they’re still divided for an Auld Firm Derby.

Pirate Bay guilty – are they sunk?

Four men connected to The Pirate Bay, the world’s most notorious file sharing site, were convicted by a Swedish court Friday of contributory copyright infringement, and each sentenced to a year in prison.

Pirate Bay administrators Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and Peter Sunde were found guilty in the case, along with Carl Lundström, who was accused of funding the 5-year-old operation.

In addition to jail time, the defendants were ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) to a handful of entertainment companies, including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Bros, EMI and Columbia Pictures, for the infringement of 33 specific movie and music properties tracked by industry investigators…

The verdicts are a significant symbolic victory for Hollywood, the record labels and the rest of the content industry that claims online piracy costs them billions of dollars in lost sales.

“The Pirate Bay has claimed all the time that their activities are legal,” Henrik Pontén, a lawyer who represented the film and computer game companies in the trial, told the Swedish media. “Now that it has been proven illegal we presume that they will stop.”

Henrik Pontén, the MPAA lawyer, must live in Cloud Cuckoo-land.

Prevent terrorism by terrorising tourists – in London

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city’s sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as “modern sculpture”.

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was “strictly forbidden”. The policemen also recorded the pair’s details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

In a letter in today’s Guardian, Matzka wrote: “I understand the need for some sensitivity in an era of terrorism, but isn’t it naive to think terrorism can be prevented by terrorising tourists?…”

A spokeswoman for Metropolitan police said: “It is not the police’s intention to prevent tourists from taking photographs and we are looking to the allegations made.” The force said it had no knowledge of any ban on photographing public transport in the capital.

London is New York is London is New York is London is New York…