Unlike Murdoch, the BBC won’t charge for online news

The BBC has today said it has “no intention” of charging for online news, in a declaration that is unlikely to please James Murdoch and his father Rupert as they prepare to start charging for News Corporation content on the internet.

Sir Michael Lyons, the BBC Trust chairman, said the corporation has “no intention of diluting BBC commitment to universal access to free news online” as he outlined the areas director general Mark Thompson’s ongoing strategic review will cover.

The BBC’s internet news operations came under fire in August at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival from James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia, who accused the corporation of “throttling” the market and preventing its competitors from launching or expanding their own services online.

News International, the News Corp subsidiary that owns the company’s British newspapers, including the Sun and the Times, is planning to start charging for its journalism online.

Lyons said today that the BBC Trust “recognises external concerns over scale and growth of BBC online operations”. But he added: “Equally, it’s an immensely popular service with audiences and an important tool for the economy…”

One would hope the Beeb also realizes their reach is well beyond the UK or the Dominion. They have an intact newsgathering organization that is replacing the role of many other news media operations – that have become dedicated to News as Entertainment. Which requires little or no journalistic skill.

Just ask anyone who used to enjoy CNN.

Obama: Educate to Innovate

“We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

Those were some of the inspiring words by President Barack Obama at the launching of the new “Educate to Innovate” campaign…this week. This initiative aims to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy amongst students to improve our national standing from average (or in some cases, below average) to the top. $4.35 billion in Federal grants will be offered to schools who can innovate in STEM education and the private sector is stepping up with an additional $260 million in related funding and programs.

And this all couldn’t come at a better time. A recent survey by Intel showed that parents would rather talk to their kids about drugs than math and science. And while public and private sector funding is nice to have, one key to this initiative are the innovative new programs that reach out to inspire both kids and parents looking to get more involved. At the start of this campaign, five public private partnerships were announced which vary in terms of content and outreach in an effort to reach the broadest spectrum of young people possible…

It’s also great to see that the White House will continue to be a platform for increasing visibility on STEM education through hosting events that involve and challenge students to excel. A couple of months ago the White House held an Astronomy Night that not only focused on stargazing but focused on young students who had made important astronomical discoveries. And going forward there are plans to begin hosting a science fair that showcase national winners. Events like these that focus on and involve students and the important contributions they can make even at an early level can be an inspiration to young people everywhere…

The consensus is that this is a step in the right direction. Additional funding – especially funding tied to merits of new ideas and not just performance – will help foster innovation in how we teach the next generation of kids about math, science, engineering and technology. And these partnerships with the private sector will hopefully succeed in offering additional exposure to students both in the classroom and after school.

Read additional information about “Educate to Innovate” at whitehouse.gov.

Overdue – is hardly the word. It’s been 40 years or more since American students stopped learning to read. Encouraging science and math – praiseworthy – will likely affect less than 5% of the potential base.

Purity Test for Republicans

A group of conservative Republican leaders is proposing a solution to the internecine warfare over what the party should stand for: a 10-point checklist gauging proper adherence to core principles like opposing government financing for abortion and, more generally, President Obama’s “socialist agenda.”

In what was being dubbed a purity test when it leaked out to reporters, the proposal would require the party to withhold campaign money and endorsements from candidates who do not adhere to at least seven principles on the checklist…

Its introduction increases pressure on the party chairman, Michael Steele, as he tries to maintain a balance between those in his party who have been saying the road to a Republican comeback is to include divergent views and appeal to the political center, and those who say the party needs to more fully embrace conservative principles.

But it was also likely to inflame moderate party members who have been urging the party to resist pressure from activists — spurred by commentators like Glenn Beck on the Fox News Channel and leaders of the diffuse Tea Party movement — to move against those deemed insufficiently conservative or lose their grass-roots support altogether.

Continue reading

Chess vs. Taliban in Kandahar

Under the Taliban, chess was forbidden.

Residents of Kandahar have been taking part in a chess tournament in an attempt to revive one of the city’s former cultural pastimes.

Under the Taliban, chess was forbidden, but the city’s older residents hope this tournament will reintroduce the game to a younger generation.

The event was held at the Kandahar Coffee Shop which also hosts other cultural activities.

Kandahar is a key battleground for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

But Rahim Akrami, a local journalist in the city who watched the tournament, says it is important for younger people to rediscover this once forbidden activity….

“It is very important for us to have something recreational to do that enlightens the mind and is fun as well,” [Aman Ullah, a member of the Kandahar Students Organisation] told the BBC World Service….

A poster saying: ‘It’s better to battle with minds than fists and bullets’ lines the wall.

Mohammed Naseem, the owner of the Kandahar coffee shop, says he wants to provide a place for young people in the city.

“I am trying to create an atmosphere where the youth can hang out and learn something,” he says….

We are trying to show the world that this kind of thing can be done.”

Of course the Taliban would oppose chess, a game of rational thought where, as Lasker said, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long.

“Coma” patient screamed for help – unheard – for 23 years


After 3 years of therapy, Rom Houben communicates via touchscreen – with 1 finger
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

For 23 years Rom Houben was imprisoned in his own body. He saw his doctors and nurses as they visited him during their daily rounds; he listened to the conversations of his carers; he heard his mother deliver the news to him that his father had died. But he could do nothing. He was unable to communicate with his doctors or family. He could not move his head or weep, he could only listen.

Doctors presumed he was in a vegetative state following a near-fatal car crash in 1983. They believed he could feel nothing and hear nothing. For 23 years.

Then a neurologist, Steven Laureys, who decided to take a radical look at the state of diagnosed coma patients, released him from his torture. Using a state-of-the-art scanning system, Laureys found to his amazement that his brain was functioning almost normally.

Laureys…discovered that although Houben was completely paralysed, he was also completely conscious — it was just that he was unable to communicate the fact…

Houben realised when he came round after his accident, which had caused his heart to stop and his brain to be starved of oxygen for several minutes, that his body was paralysed. Although he could hear every word his doctors spoke, he could not communicate with them.

I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,” he said, via his keyboard…

Laureys concluded that coma patients are misdiagnosed “on a disturbingly regular basis”. He examined 44 patients believed to be in a vegetative state, and found that 18 of them responded to communication.

“Once someone is labelled as being without consciousness, it is very hard to get rid of that,” he told Der Spiegel.

Here is a medical instance where extra attention, additional testing over time, may produce dramatic results. Very different from care designed only to extend the process of dying.

The story is terrible – of course – 23 years trapped inside indifference because no one knew he was alive and conscious within a dysfunctional body. RTFA. And join the world of praise for Steven Laureys whose care and curiosity reopened the door to life for Rom Houben.

Brits arresting people to get their DNA on the database

Illustration by Jordan Pote

Police officers are now routinely arresting people in order to add their DNA sample to the national police database, an inquiry has alleged.

The review of the national DNA database by the government’s human genetics commission also raises the possibility that the DNA profiles of three-quarters of young black males, aged 18 to 35, are now on the database.

The human genetics commission report, Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?, says the national DNA database for England and Wales is already the largest in the world, at 5 million profiles and growing, yet has no clear statutory basis or independent oversight…

The commission says the policy of routinely adding the DNA profiles of all those arrested has led to a highly disproportionate impact on different ethnic groups and the stigmatisation of young black men, with the danger of their being seen as “an ‘alien wedge’ of criminality”…

The chairman of the commission, Prof Jonathan Montgomery, said: “It’s now become pretty routine to take DNA samples on arrest. So large numbers of people on the DNA database will be there not because they have been convicted, but because they’ve been arrested.”

He said the commission had received evidence from a former police superintendent that it was now the norm to arrest offenders for everything possible. “It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the change in practice is so that the DNA of the offender can be obtained,” said Montgomery, adding that it would be a matter of very great concern if this was now a widespread practice.

The report…argues the database creates “pre-suspects” who are the first to be checked whenever a new crime is entered. This leads to a “no smoke without fire” culture that may be pervasive and hard to overcome.

This is a chilling admission of how far – everything that civil liberties campaigners feared – has come. A cabal of neo-Nazi police superintendents wasn’t required. Dopey useless politicians – not slimey right-wing nationalists – provided the framework.

There’s even a bit of techno-jargon to cover the process. Function creep.

Grubby children get a head start on health


LIFE Magazine

For parents too stretched to make sure their offspring are perfectly turned out at all times, it may just be the scientific cover they’ve been waiting for.

They will now be able to answer the disapproving tuts of their more fastidious friends by pointing to research which gives biological backing to the old adage that the more germs a child is exposed to during early childhood, the better their immune system in later life

Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California found that being too clean could impair the skin’s ability to heal. The San Diego-based team discovered that normal bacteria that live on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt. These bugs dampen down overactive immune responses which can cause cuts and grazes to swell, or lead to rashes, according to research published in the online edition of Nature Medicine…

The pressure group Parents Outloud, which campaigns to stop children being “mollycoddled” and “oversanitised” by health and safety regulations, welcomed the research. “Hopefully research like this will help parents realise that it’s natural and healthy for children to get outdoors and get mucky and that it doesn’t do their health any harm,” said a spokeswoman, Margaret Morrissey.

At last, I realize why I came down with Mono in my high school years. It was after we moved into a home which actually had a hot water heater and all-over bathing wasn’t limited to Saturday night and heating endless buckets of water on the stovetop.