Northern Ireland power-sharing deal ready to move forward – UPDATED

Talks to save Northern Ireland’s power sharing government have ended and the basis for a deal now exists, Sinn Féin’s junior minister, Gerry Kelly, said today.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) have been locked in talks for two weeks to try to agree a deal at saving power-sharing in Northern Ireland despite disagreements over devolving policing and justice powers from London.

The outcome now depends on the reaction of the DUP

The DUP leader, Peter Robinson, is expected to address assembly colleagues as the focus now shifts to whether his party can sign up to the agreement.

The two parties have been involved in 10 days of discussions at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, along with representatives of the British and Irish governments…

It emerged yesterday that Gordon Brown had warned unionists that the government would call a snap assembly election in Northern Ireland if they failed to reach a deal with Sinn Féin.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, also warned yesterday that failure to reach a deal between the parties would put at risk the £800m package to pay for the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Stormont assembly.


UPDATE: Resumption of the power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein accepted by the DUP.

Spam, Spam, Spam – in Afghanistan

After a helicopter carrying supplies was shot down, army chef Corporal Liam Francis was faced with six weeks of keeping hungry troops satisfied with tins of the famous, some might say infamous, chopped pork and ham product.

In the best traditions of the army, Francis managed to provide a wide-ranging menu based just on Spam…

I was surprised what we could do – sweet and sour Spam, Spam fritters, Spam carbonara, Spam stroganoff, Spam stir-fry … ”

For a month and a half the supply line remained disrupted, during which the ingenuity of the 26-year-old, his co-workers and the patience of the troops was put to the test before fresh supplies finally got through.

Francis said: “On the first day I prepared battered Spam sausages, chips and curry sauce. The sergeant major said it was the best meal he had ever had – he’d never seen morale so high…”

With helicopter flights now far more regular, fresh food is getting into most of the forward operating bases in Afghanistan…

Spam first arrived in the UK from the US following the passing of the lend-lease act by the US government in 1941. The aim of the act was to aid allied forces in Britain and Russia during the second world war.

Spam was an interesting addition to the diet of a public struggling by on rations, but as lampooned in the Python sketch, Britain has had a love-hate relationship with the product.

My wife will shoot me for saying this; but – I like spam. It was our most reliable animal protein source aside from family-raised chickens during World War 2. Fortunately, my Mom was as innovative a cook as Corporal Francis – so, it worked.

Study finds cognition in some vegetative patients

Patient answers five yes-or-no questions using his mind

Some people thought to be in a vegetative state–a persistent lack of awareness following brain injury–may be more aware than previously thought, even able to communicate, according to new research… published today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

In 2006, Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge, England, and colleagues published a startling discovery. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, an indirect measure of brain activity, revealed that a patient who showed no outward signs of awareness several months after a car accident could mentally respond to a complex series of commands in much the same way a healthy person could….

In the current study, patients diagnosed as either vegetative or minimally conscious were asked to either imagine playing tennis–a motor task–or to imagine walking through the streets of a familiar city or their home–a spatial task. In healthy people, each of these tasks activates a characteristic part of the brain, allowing scientists to determine just from the brain scan which of the two situations the person is visualizing. The task is also cognitively complex: the patient must comprehend the command, remember it during the test, and then carry out the visualization.

The researchers found that five of 54 patients presumed to be in a vegetative state were able to willfully control their brain activity…

The team went on to show that in one patient, a 22-year-old man who had been diagnosed as vegetative after a car accident five years prior, this imagery task could be used to communicate. The patient was instructed to imagine playing tennis if the answer to a question was yes, and to imagine his house if the answer was no. He was able to answer five of six questions, and answered them all correctly. Scientists did not know the answer to the questions prior to the test, confirming them later with the patient’s mother. For the last question, rather than giving an incorrect answer, he showed no brain activity at all. Researchers say he might have fallen asleep, lapsed out of consciousness, or chosen not to answer.

Not startling, to me, but riveting, yes. It should prove so to all but those medical personnel whose curiosity ends with receipt of payment.

France denies citizenship over veil

The French government has refused to grant citizenship to a foreign national on the grounds that he forced his wife to wear the full Islamic veil.

The man, whose current nationality was not given, needed citizenship to settle in the country with his French wife.

But Immigration Minister Eric Besson said this was being refused because he was depriving his wife of the liberty to come and go with her face uncovered.

In a statement, Mr Besson said he had signed a decree on Tuesday rejecting a man’s citizenship application after it emerged that he had ordered his wife to cover herself with a head-to-toe veil.

“It became apparent during the regulation investigation and the prior interview that this person was compelling his wife to wear the all-covering veil, depriving her of the freedom to come and go with her face uncovered, and rejected the principles of secularism and equality between men and women,” he said.

Later, the minister stressed that French law required anyone seeking naturalisation to demonstrate their desire for integration.

The interior ministry says only 1,900 women wear full veils in France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority.

France is serious about being a secular state. They don’t pick and choose among religions for acceptable and not-so-acceptable the way many nations do.

Indian police target Valentine ‘obscenity’

Why show religious nutballs who slander India? Here’s a celebration of love in China…
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Limit displays of affection as you celebrate Valentine’s Day or face prosecution, authorities in western India are warning the public.

Police have banned what they call shows of obscenity, noisy celebrations, and the use of liquor and colored powders from Wednesday till February 15 in the city of Pune, in Maharashtra state.

Indians often celebrate festive occasions by playfully splashing one another with colored powder.

Maharashtra has been the scene of violent protests on past Valentine’s Days, by Hindu nationalist activists who say the event corrupts Indian culture. Maharashtra is home to the country’s financial hub, Mumbai.

The police ban, which applies to public and private locations, also restricts gatherings of people.

Go ahead. Arrest people for celebrating my birthday.