Michael D Higgins will be Irelands next president

Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The poet, peace campaigner and president of Galway United football club Michael D Higgins is poised to become Ireland’s next president after rivals conceded defeat in the most fractious campaign in the country’s history.

The Irish Labour party candidate was on course to win at least 40% of the first preference vote. Of the first eight constituencies to declare, Higgins was leading in seven of them.

The 70-year-old enjoyed a late surge of support, putting him well ahead of the former frontrunner Seán Gallagher. Martin McGuinness, whose candidacy turned the spotlight on his past as the IRA’s chief of staff and his role in many prominent atrocities during the Troubles, was almost certain to come third.

Leaders of other parties and rival candidates conceded on Friday afternoon that Higgins was on course to win the presidential contest. Micheál Martin, the leader of the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, congratulated Higgins on his performance “which will see him elected the ninth president of Ireland”…

Sinn Féin appeared to acknowledge the damage that his IRA legacy had inflicted on McGuinness’s bid. He had hoped to achieve about 20% but may only get around 15% – the same as the party polled in February’s general election…

The main party in the current government, Fine Gael, had a disastrous election. In Roscommon, the early morning tallies reported that in some ballot boxes there were only four votes for its candidate, the Euro MEP Gay Mitchell. The party also appeared likely to suffer another loss in the Dublin West byelection, caused by the death of Ireland’s former finance minister Brian Lenihan. The Irish Labour party appeared poised to win the seat.

Bravo. In a land with many political currents represented in a democratic election, Higgins’ victory is significant in size and breadth.

New bee discovery offers clues to an unknown geologic history

Two new bee species shed light on Panama’s history as a land bridge between South and Central America…

The two sister species, one from Coiba Island in Panama and one from northern Colombia, descend from a group of stingless bees that originated in the Amazon and moved north over millions of years, eventually to Mexico.

The bees have a limited migration range, since worker bees must build a new nest before a virgin queen will move in to form a new colony.

“It’s really impossible for them to get across a water barrier,” said David Roubik, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and one of the researchers who discovered the bees. So it must have been a land connection — presumably the Panama isthmus — that allowed for this migration, he said…

Most researchers believe that the Panama land bridge arose about three million years ago from tectonic and volcanic activity, connecting Central America to South America. But Dr. Roubik and his colleagues believe the ancestors of the new bees originated in the Amazon about 22 million years ago and moved north into Central America about 17 million years ago.

The bees, as well as other fossil findings, indicate that there must have been an earlier land connection, Dr. Roubik said. And that connection is millions of years older than previously thought.

There was an earlier chunk of land that linked Colombia to Costa Rica,” he said. “These are signs of a very old connection.”

I love this stuff. Someday – only in my dreams – there should be a system invented which allows cosmic viewing back in time of a planet’s evolution. Including the flora and fauna. Better than television any day.

Police cars get the dreaded boot while coppers guard the Queen

A ”belligerent” clamper placed clamps on two unmarked police cars which were providing security for a visit by the Queen and refused to remove them despite an officer showing his warrant card, a trial heard.

Gareth Andrews, 39, of Fareham, Hampshire, denies a charge of wilfully obstructing a police constable in the execution of his duty.

Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court was told that the Queen had made an unannounced visit to Portsmouth, Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 25. Colin Shackel, prosecuting, said that Pc Mark Cox and a second officer, both in plain clothes, had parked their unmarked cars at the Gunwharf Quays marina retail complex that the monarch was visiting…

Mr Shackel said that the parking spaces allocated for the officers were temporarily being used by a delivery lorry so, after consulting security staff, they placed their vehicles in adjacent spaces, the court heard.

Mr Shackel said that one of the police officers had gone to consult colleagues and, while Pc Cox was talking to security staff, two clamping vehicles arrived. He described how Andrews and his colleagues then clamped the two vehicles, an Audi and a BMW, and he refused to remove them when confronted by Pc Cox.

The court heard that the two cars had been parked for about 15 minutes in the restricted spaces enforced by Shoal Enforcement.

Mr Shackel said: ”It’s not just a plain clothes officer speaking to the defendant, there’s uniformed security guards from Gunwharf, other officers arrived and identified themselves, even then Mr Andrews said he didn’t believe he was dealing with real police officers.

”By the time you have been shown a warrant card and security guards are involved, it would be clear to anyone that it was real officers who weren’t just trying to avoid a clamping charge and had duties to perform.”

Petty punks with a public service job – who think they are little tin gods – should be required to spend time training to be a thoughtful human being. Or at least thoughtful.

Congress prepares to declare war on the internet

Many internet users in the United States have watched with horror as countries like France and Britain have proposed or instituted so-called “three strikes” laws, which cut off internet access to those accused of repeated acts of copyright infringement. Now the U.S. has its own version of this kind of law, and it is arguably much worse: the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House this week, would give governments and private corporations unprecedented powers to remove websites from the internet on the flimsiest of grounds, and would force internet service providers to play the role of copyright police.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a post on the proposed legislation, the law would not only require ISPs to remove websites from the global network at the request of the government or the courts (by blocking any requests to the central domain-name system that directs internet traffic), but would also be forced to monitor their users’ behavior in order to police acts of copyright infringement. Providers who do not comply with these requests and requirements would be subject to sanctions. And in many cases, legal hearings would not be required…

In addition to using what some are calling the “internet death penalty” of removing infringing websites from the DNS system so they can’t be found, the proposed bill would also allow copyright holders to push for websites and services to be removed from search engine results and to have their supply of advertising cut off — and would require that payment companies like PayPal and ad networks comply with these orders. If you liked what PayPal and others did when they shut off donations to WikiLeaks, you’re going to love the new Stop Online Piracy Act…

The bottom line is that if it passes and becomes law, the new act would give the government and copyright holders a giant stick — if not an automatic weapon — with which to pursue websites and services they believe are infringing on their content. With little or no requirement for a court hearing, they could remove websites from the internet and shut down their ability to be found by search engines or to process payments from users. DMCA takedown notices would effectively be replaced by this nuclear option, and innocent websites would have to fight to prove that they deserved to be restored to the internet — a reversal of the traditional American judicial approach of being assumed innocent until proven guilty — at which point any business they had would be destroyed.

Just as our Congress has become the kind of legislative body that would make any corporation happy and content, this bill would make for the kind of internet that would increase smiles and profits for media conglomerates — regardless of the stifling blanket dropped on the whole Web.

FCC forms Connect America fund — broadband for rural America

All Americans will have broadband access to Internet and telephone services by the end of the decade under new rules adopted by U.S. regulators. The rules also reform a broken system of phone charges fraught with inefficiency and should result in $2.2 billion in savings passed down to consumers, the Federal Communications Commission estimates.

The FCC voted unanimously on Thursday to modernize its universal service program, aiming to help the 18 million Americans who have no access to broadband where they live and work.

The new rules will shift the roughly $4.5 billion in public money spent annually to subsidize telephone service for rural families to high-speed Internet in rural America and costly-to-serve areas…

“We are taking a system designed for the Alexander Graham Bell era of rotary telephones and modernizing it for the era of Steve Jobs and the Internet future he imagined,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the agency’s open meeting.

Broadband buildout to unserved areas could begin in early 2012 under the plan, bringing high-speed Internet to hundreds of thousands of homes in the near term.

The plan approved on Thursday would phase out funding for landline phone service over a period of years as companies move to a competitive bidding process for securing funds for broadband. Companies now receiving phone service subsidies would get first dibs in some areas to receive support for deploying broadband service.

The rules will also reform the complex system of payments among carriers called intercarrier compensation, gradually reducing per-minute intercarrier compensation charges…

The new Connect America Fund created by the rules will have a firm $4.5 billion a year budget, the first budget constraint ever imposed on the program.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said the fund will not be able to exceed its annual $4.5 billion cap through 2017 without agency approval. “It is my hope that competitive forces will flourish and the development of new technologies will create additional efficiencies throughout the system,” McDowell said.

We all know how well Congress and the corporations sharing their beds strive for competitive forces.

Actually, politicians and administrative hacks may be stuck with the democratic basic premises of legislation that goes back to FDR and the Communications Act of 1934. Republicans hated it, then – I imagine they still do; but, they’re stuck with the egalitarian premises.

Japanese knotweed invasion destroying couple’s dream house

Invading a truck in Massachusetts

The price of a couple’s Hertfordshire house has dropped by more than £250,000 because Japanese knotweed has invaded it, according to an independent surveyor.

With its value falling from an estimated £305,000 to £50,000, experts have told owners Matthew Jones and Sue Banks from Broxbourne that, unless action is taken, it will be impossible to sell.

They have been told 10ft of soil needs to be removed from beneath the foundations to remove the plant.

The invasive weed was discovered in the garden of their new-build house in April 2009 after they had been living there for about a month.

A couple of months later it was found growing in the dining room…

Mr Jones, 38, explained that he first discovered the climbing plant outside one evening after it had made its way from a nearby field over the garden fence.

“I was out in the garden and I noticed some stems coming through the lawn,” he said.

“They were like asparagus tips but they had a reddish tinge to them. I had never seen anything like that before so I didn’t touch it, I went to bed and in the morning it had grown a couple of inches.”

Broxbourne Borough Council sent an environmental specialist along who identified Japanese knotweed straight away and advised the couple to contact a solicitor immediately.

Just two months later it had forced its way into the house through the flooring and skirting boards.

Experts have advised that demolishing the house and removing the soil will provide a permanent eradication.

Right now, they’re stuck in the middle of negotiations with the homebuilder over warranties that supposedly are standard in the UK – but, you can guess happy the contractor is about sorting out a problem of this magnitude.