Sunday, 18 September 2011

Updates - Continuing Bad Weather

Over the last year, I've posted on a number of incidents and issues that in many instances continue to be in the news, but here is a short round up of some of the stories and issues that were either less prominent to begin with or which faded from news coverage (often in spite of their importance), and what has happened since the original post.

Good news on the story of Rania Abdechakour. Rania was the little 5 year old Algerian girl with cerebral palsy who had been living with her aunt and uncle in Lancashire for several years. Back in May, the British Government decided to expel her, in spite of the lack of medical facilities or a secure home for her back in Algeria. After a lot of hard work by her aunt and uncle and others, she was granted the right to remain in late August and they are now formally adopting her.

The "Ground Zero Mosque" - remember the fuss about something that was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero? For weeks the media was filled with protests and reams of commentary about how the proposed Muslim cultural centre in New York was an affront to the people who had died in the Twin Towers, dreadfully conflating all Muslims with the handful of men who led the attacks on 9/11. Since last year, the centre has progressed slowly in terms of development - planning obstacles have slowly been overcome and designs for the front of the building which incorporate the Jewish Star of David and the Christian Cross suggest that its intention remains what its sponsors have all along insisted - a centre for faith reconciliation, not some victory monument. Given that some 70 innocent Muslims died in the carnage of the Towers (and tens of thousands in the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan since), why in any case should there be no Islamic content to marking the losses of that day?

An ice free North Pole may now be barely 5 years away...
Not so good news on climate change....Britain had its most severe winter in decades last year amidst speculation that the warming "Atlantic conveyor", which brings the mild climate from the Mexican Gulf, had slowed down or even stopped. After millenia of Britain enjoying a much warmer climate than its latitude warrants, at least one expert in the field believed the Gulf Stream, as it is called, had turned off, at least temporarily. Without confirming anything, the Government did acknowledge that the weather was much worse than normal for the second year in a row and decided to ask the Chief Scientist if there had been a "step change" in our climate. He has yet to report, but Britain's summer has now been cooler than normal in spite of a continuing global rise in temperatures - and more and more extreme weather events around the planet as man-made carbon emissions continue to rise faster than ever. Climate change does not simply mean constantly warmer weather everywhere - although the longterm trend is upwards. The impact of global warming could mean cooler temperatures in Britain and western Europe for a time if polar ice melts and the cooler water from the Arctic melts into and diverts the flow of warmer water from the south-west. The latest prognosis from the Arctic is bad - summer ice melt has reached record levels this year and is proceeding at roughly double the anticipated rate, with an ice-free North Pole anticipated during the summer by sometime as early as 2016 rather than the 2030s as previously predicted.

Meanwhile, in the USA, climate activist Tim DeChristopher continues to languish in jail under a two year sentence of imprisonment for disrupting an auction of land to the oil and gas industry by falsely bidding. At his trial, he argued that he had been forced to choose the lesser of two evils - acquiesce to the land auction going ahead and the damage the resulting oil and gas exploration would cause; or commit a crime by bidding falsely in order the disrupt the land sale. He has lodged an appeal against his conviction, but for now remains in prison for a crime that harmed no one and no organisation - in fact, the auction itself turned out to be an invalid process because of procedural irregularities, so Tim has been imprisoned without technically committing any crime at all.

But better news for bees: in the UK at any rate, the general consensus seems to be that it has been a good year for our stripey pollinating friends. Colony Collapse Disorder has decreased and there is now some evidence to support a diagnosis that agrochemicals are responsible for their recent, often mysterious declines. Even the bad winter didn't deter them and there has been a bumper honey crop this year as a relatively mild spring let them get busy. However, with no consensus on how to tackle CCD and the chemical industry keeping a close involvement in the beekeeping world in defence of its own interests, bees are still in longterm decline - the number of UK bee species has fallen by 50% in the last sixty years; so our little friends are not out of the woods and into the flowery meadows yet.

In spite of all the violence of the Arab Spring and the apparent shaming of Britain and other western states over their longterm association with Arab dictators and kelptocrats, our Government's lust for profit from blood remains undiminished. UK Premier David Cameron behaved appallingly when he took a group of British arms merchants on a tour of Cairo's Tahrir Square where people had died protesting against a regime funded by America and supplied by the British arms industry. But just days later, we were at it again, with a big UK delegation out in the Gulf at the IDEX Arms Fayre in Abu Dhabi which took place hours after the Bahrain Government machine-gunned protestors on the streets of its capital. 

Cameron later welcomed the Crown Prince of Bahrain to Downing Street, while it was with clear reluctance that the British Royal Family cancelled the King of Bahrain's invite to the Royal Wedding at the end of April. In September, in spite of their mealy mouthed condemnation of dictatorships and the embarrassment caused when Libyan rebels found evidence that the Con Dem Government had been selling sniper rifles to the Gaddafi regime right up to the start of the civil war,  Ministers supported the huge Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London - where one company was exposed by Amnesty International to be selling illegal leg irons. Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, tabled an early day motion in the Commons condemning the exhibition and calling for an end to arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records.

And mention of the Royal Wedding brings back memories of perhaps the most confused newspaper page of the year, if not longer. Clinging on to the last of the big wedding story of the year but wanting to move onto the big breaking news story, the Daily Telegraph's international edition ended up with one of the most bizarrely tasteless front pages in newspaper history...

In June, Greenpeace used Star Wars as a theme to attack Volkswagen car company for its lobbying against reductions in carbon emissions in spite of its advertising promoting it as an allegedly environmentally aware company. Stung by being likened to Darth Vader's planet-destroying Death Star, VW  deployed its employees in a counter-demonstration when Greenpeace unfurled one of their signature banners at a car show: the result can be seen here, but you do have to look closely to see the staff holding up their blue placards.

And lastly, back in May, I blogged on how police had very brutally arrested and carted off a film maker and a handful of others who were silently dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. They were held under anti-terror laws, a ludicrous over-reaction by the authorities to a perfectly harmless activity - all of it filmed here.

The following week, in a challenge to authoritarianism's assault on peaceful activity, hundreds of people turned up to dance, though a little less silently...

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