Tuesday, 30 June 2015

London criminal legal aid strike from 1st July

The statement below is taken from the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association. There are plenty of other criminal legal aid groups around the country also meeting and voting to take action. After 20 odd years of cuts or freezes they may finally be cracking. Still I fear too little too late, the same as the criminal bar.

Lawyers in London met last night to discuss the future of the criminal justice system in the light of the Government's decision to impose a further 8.75% cut on solicitors from 1st July. Both solicitors and barristers have experienced falling fee levels since the 1990s. The meeting was unanimous that the levels of funding about to be introduced are untenable and that together with the ill conceived Two Tier contract scheme the MOJ risk irreparable and unconscionable damage to the Criminal Justice system.

The solicitors' firms have confirmed they will not act in Legal Aids cases after 1st July, as it will be uneconomical to do so to a required and acceptable standard. Other firms not present have indicated support, and the remainder are expected to follow suit. Any firm acting for clients under a Legal Aid Order at the rates set after July 1st, must be either running at a loss, or not properly representing their client to the appropriate professional standard.

LCCSA President Jon Black has said:-

"we have overwhelming support for this action, which regrettably is necessary as a result of the governments intention to implement cuts and the proposed further cuts amounting to over 50 % on some cases for January 2016 , without carrying out the promised meaningful review. Had the government listened to our representations they would know that these cuts are not only unnecessary but dangerous . We have drafted a protocol, and firms that seek to act in breach of this are letting themselves, their professional colleagues and their clients down."

Attendances as duty solicitor will initially continue, although that is also under review.

The independent Bar in London as represented at the meeting confirmed that they would not be prepared to undertake any work on any case with a Representation Order dated on or after 1st July in recognition of the damage that these cuts will have upon the Independent Bar. It was further proposed that the bar would re-introduce the No Returns policy for all existing cases in the Crown Court from the 1st July.

We read with interest the speech made recently by the Lord Chancellor and wish to make it known that we are keen to embrace innovation and change that leads to increased efficiencies.

We are not resistant to new ideas however we simply cannot understand how the Lord Chancellor envisages reforming a system in which he is cutting beyond a viable level, the fees of the very people who are essential for delivery and implementation.

We are aware of a large number of areas that have held similar meetings around the country. We join them in the hope that the Lord Chancellor will re-consider implementing these cuts. If he is in any doubt as to how strongly we feel then we would invite him to meet with us prior to the 1st July 2015.



Very Olde England: Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle - Where the Berkeley Family live is an ancient fortress home where they have lived since their ancestor, Robert Fitzharding, completed the Keep in the late 12th Century.

The history played out within Berkeley Castle’s walls make it one of the most remarkable buildings in Britain.

Home of the Berkeley Family for 850 Years. Yep a mere 850 years. The most remarkable thing about the Castle is that for nine centuries, the building, the Berkeley family, the archives (which go back to the 12th Century), the contents, the estate and the town have all survived together.

Its place in history is significant, not just because it is still intact, but because the Berkeley family and their home have played an important part in the power struggles of so many centuries.

Built for War - The Castle is one of the March Castles, built to keep out the Welsh.

It has all the trappings to match: trip steps designed to make the enemy stumble during an assault, arrow slits, murder holes, enormous barred doors, slots where the portcullis once fell, and worn stones where sentries stood guard.

It is also a fairytale Castle with its warm pink stone that glows in soft sunset light. Outside, the battlements drop some 60' to the Great Lawn below; but inside the Inner Courtyard, the building is on a human scale, with uneven battlements, small towers, doors and windows of every shape and size. The surrounding land would have been flooded for defence.

Where History is a Home - The Family are the only English family still in existence in England that can trace its ancestors from father to son back to Saxon times. English history has been lived out within these walls - and by this family. The Castle is the oldest building in the country to be inhabited by the same family who built it.

For centuries, the Berkeleys were close to the throne, able administrators and fighters who supported their king or queen (as long as they could), backed the winning side, and married well. The Castle, naturally enough, is full of stories.

The archives, which are still housed in the Castle, date from 1154. They comprise around 25,000 documents relating to the estate, of which about 6,000 date from before 1490. These earlier records have all been catalogued: they consist mainly of title deeds and manorial accounts. The archives do not contain any personal records of the family.

Berkeley Treasures - The Contents of The Castle are items that have been chosen, collected and treasured by members of the Berkeley family throughout the centuries, and many reflect the history of the place.

They include Francis Drake's cabin chest, Queen Elizabeth I's bedspread, and the banner that the 4th Earl of Berkeley took with him to the Battle of Culloden. Many of the unusual tapestries, paintings, ceramics and silverware, have their own story to tell.

The Estate - The Estate consists of 6,000 acres, and includes one of the best examples of a mediaeval deer park in the country, 18 tenant farms, a stretch of the River Severn and the land on which the famous Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge is situated.

Berkeley town itself goes back in time as far as the Castle, and evidence suggests that there was a large Saxon settlement and possibly, a Roman Temple.


Monday, 29 June 2015

What does Greece owe? €323 bn

Wall Street seemingly regards the Greek economy as a statistical rounding error. It's a small economy and in the great scheme of things the debt is not vast. It's the politics of it all that is the issue. If Greece leaves the Euro what happens next?


Poets Corner: Look Closer (The cranky old man)

LOOK CLOSER (The Cranky Old Man)

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?

What are you thinking, when you look at me,

A crabbit old woman, not very wise,

Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,

Who, quite unresisting, lets you do as you will,

With bathing and feeding the long day to fill.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,

As I move at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I’m a small child of 10 with a father and mother,

Brothers and sisters, who loved one another.

A bride now at 20 — my heart gives a leap,

Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At 25 now I have young of my own,

Who need me to build a secure happy home,

At 50 once more babies play around my knee,

Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,

I look at the future, I shudder with dread,

For my young are all busy with young of their own,

And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.

The body it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,

There is now a stone where I once had a heart,

But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,

And now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,

And I’m loving and living life over again,

I think of the years all too few — gone too fast.

And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,

Not a crabbit old woman, look closer — see ME.

The article: The Sunday Post first discovered the poem "The Cranky Old Man" – more than 40 years ago.

It’s the Facebook phenomenon seen by millions around the world.

But today we reveal the remarkable true story behind "The Cranky Old Man" poem — and the role The Sunday Post played in bringing the touching rhyme to the world.

Many readers will be familiar with the verse after it swept the internet in recent weeks.

The latest version claims to have originated in Australia. But the truth is it was written by a nurse in a Scots geriatric hospital and shot to prominence after being printed in The Post more than 40 years ago.

The deeply moving poem is a plea by an elderly patient to a nurse.

It urges the carer to see beyond the frail and confused old person before them and to consider the life they’ve lived, full of hopes and dreams, triumphs and tragedies.

The version of its origin doing the global rounds on online social networking sites claims the poem was left behind by an old man who died in a nursing home in a rural Australian town.

The story goes that the elderly gent passed away leaving nothing of value. While clearing possessions from his locker, staff came across the work on a scrap of paper.

They were so impressed they had copies made, and thus the poem gradually came to the world’s attention. It’s a nice story — but completely false.

The original poem was called Look Closer and was about a crabbit old woman — obviously for an international audience the guid Scots word "crabbit" had to go. It was written by a Montrose nurse, Phyllis McCormack, in 1966.

The work was brought to the attention of the Post in 1973, when a copy was found in the possession of an old woman who died in a geriatric hospital.

The poem caused a sensation when published. In those pre-internet days we were inundated with requests for copies.

We had thousands printed, which were given away free to those who wrote in. Requests kept coming for decades!

We re-printed the work in 1980, when we told how an American company was considering making a film based on the poem in connection with an elderly care scheme being set up by then President Jimmy Carter.

It’s believed this leap across the Atlantic is when "crabbit" became "cranky" and, for some reason, the old woman became a man.

How our Australian cousins got in on the act is anyone’s guess.

So next time the Cranky Old Man poem arrives in your inbox, by all means "like" and re-post it — but make sure you tell everyone the real story behind the verse!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Radical Scottish Land Reform is coming

For the SNP and many others besides the history behind who owns Scottish land is a major grievance. For many much of the land that is in private hands (and that's a lot) was nicked by English types and their supporters long ago and that should be corrected. In addition the land is under utilised and could be made more economically efficient. Nicola Sturgeon publicly tries to avoid the "land grab" correcting history theme and focus on the economy and making the land "for the many not the few". But the history is a heavy burden.

On the other side of the coin "pro countryside" types point out that there is still quite breathtaking countryside because of estate management, there is huge local employment through it and removing a certain tax exemption would destroy shooting estates and cause unemployment. Instead of pursuing a historical grievance the SNP should focus on the rural economy and help with broadband, roads and general infrastructure.

The history of the land grab doesn't make pleasant reading and can easily be used to wind people up. However it is history and any land reform now must avoid destroying the rural economy. If it needs to be done it should be done slowly. If it's perceived as a land grab more money will flow out of Scotland as it did before the referendum. The Scottish Government is already working very hard to keep the financial community in Scotland and shouldn't want to pick another fight. Land reform will be a very tricky issue to navigate.

The SNP appear to be simply brilliant as pushing all the red buttons that get passions going and sustain the SNP. It's a high risk high reward strategy -

From the BBC on 23 June 2015 - The Scottish government has published "radical" proposals aimed at widening the ownership of land across the country.

It has been estimated that half of the privately-owned land in Scotland is controlled by 432 people.

The Land Reform Bill will end tax relief for shooting estates and force the sale of land if owners are blocking economic development.

However, it has been described as a "land grab" by opponents.

Landowners on sporting estates stopped paying business rates in 1994 after being given an exemption by then prime minister John Major's Conservative government.

The Scottish government had previously said the tax exemption was unfair and must end.

"The introduction of the bill is a significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland".

Aileen McLeod, Scotland's Land Reform Minister

It has proposed using the additional money raised by ending the tax exemption to treble the Scottish Land Fund - which is used to help support community buyouts of land - from £3m this year to £10m a year from 2016.

But landowners have claimed re-introducing the rates could make some sporting estates unprofitable and force gamekeepers out of work.

Nicola Sturgeon set out the land reform proposals shortly after becoming Scotland's first minister in November of last year.

She said at the time that "Scotland's land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few".

Other proposals in the bill include:

measures to clarify information about land, its ownership and its value, with a Scottish Land Reform Commission being set up to make recommendations on future reforms.

encouraging better information and greater transparency on the ownership of land, through the land register

strengthening regulations where land owners are failing to take their deer management responsibilities seriously

improvements to both systems of common good land and right to roam.

The Scottish government has set a target of doubling the amount of land in community ownership from the current 500,000 acres to one million acres by 2020.

It has held a 10-week consultation on its proposals.

Scottish land reform vision and Bill


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Delamere Forest

Woodland cover in the UK is now only around 3 million hectares, equivalent to 13% of the total land area. The public forest estate makes up almost 30% of total forest area. Delamere is an example of what was.

Delamere Forest or Delamere Forest Park is a large wood near the town of Frodsham in Cheshire, England. The woodland, which is managed by the Forestry Commission, covers an area of 972 hectares (2,400 acres) making it the largest area of woodland in the county. It contains a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees.

Delamere, which means "forest of the lakes", is all that remains of the great Forests of Mara and Mondrem which covered over 60 square miles (160 km2) of this part of Cheshire. Established in the late 11th century, they were the hunting forests of the Norman Earls of Chester. Order was maintained under forest law. However this governance limited the agricultural potential of the area for centuries. It was not until ownership passed to The Crown in 1812 that the ancient ordnances were abolished. In 1924 the woodland came under the control of the Forestry Commission.

The area also includes Old Pale hill, the high point of the northern mass of the Mid Cheshire Ridge, and Blakemere Moss, a lake around 1 km in length. Black Lake, a rare example of quaking bog or schwingmoor, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and forms part of an international Ramsar site; Linmer Moss has also been designated an SSSI for its fenland habitat. The white-faced darter, a species of dragonfly rare in the UK, and marsh fern and white sedge, wetland plants that are rare in Cheshire, are found here.

A popular recreational area, Delamere Forest is used by walkers, cyclists, mountain bikers and horse riders. The forest is also a venue for outdoor concerts.

We have some amazing woodland but for many reasons including population density we are nothing compared to elsewhere in Europe. However like Europe and unlike the rest of the world our woodlands are now expanding again.

Source: Woodland Trust and Wikipedia


Friday, 26 June 2015

Top 20 visited UK websites from Alexa

Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California-based subsidiary company of Amazon.com which provides commercial web traffic data. Founded as an independent company in 1996, Alexa was acquired by Amazon in 1999. Its toolbar collects data on browsing behavior and transmits it to the Alexa website, where it is stored and analyzed, forming the basis for the company's web traffic reporting. According to its website, Alexa provides traffic data, global rankings and other information on 30 million websites, and as of 2015 its website is visited by over 6.5 million people monthly.

Here are the most recent UK top 20 rankings (see here for top 500):

  • 1


    Enables users to search the world's information, including webpages, images, and videos. OffersMore

  • 2


    A social utility that connects people, to keep up with friends, upload photos, share links and More

  • 3


    Enables users to search the world's information, including webpages, images, and videos. OffersMore

  • 4


    YouTube is a way to get your videos to the people who matter to you. Upload, tag and share yourMore

  • 5


    Online retailer of books, movies, music and games along with electronics, toys, apparel, sportsMore

  • 6


    Person to person online auction site where you can buy or sell new and used items.

  • 7


    The BBC Homepage - Your gateway to BBC Online

  • 8


    A major internet portal and service provider offering search results, customizable content, chaMore

  • 9


    A free encyclopedia built collaboratively using wiki software. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShMore

  • 10


    Search engine from Microsoft.

  • 11


    Social networking and microblogging service utilising instant messaging, SMS or a web interface.

  • 12


    A networking tool to find connections to recommended job candidates, industry experts and businMore

  • 13


    Established in May 2012, theladbible.com has rapidly grown to become a top 20 UK website and thMore

  • 14


    National tabloid offers news, sport, entertainment, and horoscopes.

  • 15


    Online payment service for individuals and merchants. Allows users to send money and bills to aMore

  • 16

  • 17


    Home of the Guardian, Observer and Guardian Weekly newspapers plus special-interest web sites. More

  • 18


    Properties online, pictures and prices included. Searchable database.

  • 19


    User-generated news links. Votes promote stories to the front page.

  • 20


    Amazon.com seeks to be Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discMore

  • 21


    Portal for shopping, news and money, e-mail, search, and chat.

  • 22


    International online news from the United Kingdom paper.

  • 23


    Features plot summaries, reviews, cast lists, and theatre schedules.

  • 24

  • 25


    Reach the right audiences through our extensive network of partner sites.

The sites in the top sites lists are ordered by their 1 month alexa traffic rank.

The 1 month rank is calculated using a combination of average daily visitors and pageviews over the past month. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked #1.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

A bank is born: Atom

The other day Atom Bank was granted a banking license. It could be the start of a banking revolution. We have had lots of new ways of carrying out transactions from now established PayPal to newer Apple Pay or Travelex Supercard. But there haven't been many new, if any, ways to bank.

The Telegraph notes how things have been helped, finally, by the Bank of England: "The current licencing system was established to make it easier to set up a new bank. Previously, a catch-22 situation meant that would-be banks could not get authorised until they raised enough capital and hired suitable executives, but investors and staff were reluctant to join before the licence was granted.

The new two-step system is designed to overcome this hurdle, and appears to have succeeded – the Bank of England said it authorised five new banks in the 2014-15 financial year, and is in talks with 25 other prospective banks." More of the article here.

PocketLint summarises the story well:

Atom Bank will be the UK’s first bank without its own branch, just an app.

Atom Bank will be the UK’s first bank without its own branch, just an app

The UK is about to get its first bank which doesn't have its own branch, but runs entirely from an app. Atom Bank is that app.

At the moment the cutting edge banking service has simply been granted the right to operate in the UK. The app should launch later this year.

The plan is to offer the best technology can manage and to set a new standard for tech in banking. The app will use biometric security, 3D visualisations and even gaming technology.

The only real world interaction customers can have with Atom Bank will be through a third-party. The app bank is going to partner with a high street bank so that branches will be available for paying in cash and cheques. Who that is remains to be seen.

Atom Bank will have a website but it won't work for banking, rather as an entry point to the experience. Customers will be able to download an app onto their desktop for banking from a computer.

The company rasied £25 million last year and will be run by CEO Mark Mullen who previously ran HSBC's telephone banking branch First Direct.

Little else has been revealed about how the app works or what it offers. Mullen says he doesn't want to give away what is planned for the competition to copy.

Expect to hear more soon as the Atom Bank app comes to market.

- To my mind a very interesting idea that I think will do well. It has very experienced leadership. I like the fact it's based in Durham far outside the London bubble. However it's not a complete break from the old as it intends to still rely on one of the old physical banking networks for when you need to go and pay in a cheque and alike. Finally it still needs to raise a bit more more to meet capital requirements.

Best of luck to them.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Silbury Hill - Purpose Unknown

Silbury Hill is a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire. It is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At 30 metres (98 ft) high, Silbury Hill – which is part of the complex of Neolithic monuments around Avebury, which includes the Avebury Ring and West Kennet Long Barrow – is the tallest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe and one of the largest in the world; it is similar in size to some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids of the Giza Necropolis. Its original purpose is still highly debated. Several other important Neolithic monuments in Wiltshire in the care of English Heritage, including the large henges at Marden and Stonehenge, may be culturally or functionally related to Avebury and Silbury.

It's MASSIVE about 4750 years old and we aren't sure why so many people spent so much time building it or what's it's purpose was.

See Wikipedia or better still English Heritage for more info.



Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Website of the week: The Poke

I had never taken note of it but it has some pretty funny content. This is the website that did the Nick Clegg "I'm sorry" You Tube song.

The Poke is a British satirical website. It was launched in 2002 as a fanzine distributed at the Edinburgh Festival and independent music stores. The website is known for producing viral videos, which are often Auto-Tune edits of British current affairs.

The Poke says of itself: "The Poke is the biggest humour site in the UK with over 5 Million unique users globally viewing up to 10 Million videos, stories and pictures per month.

Our aim is to administer an antidote to the daily grind delivering a mix of homemade and hand-picked distractions. A mash-up of memes, reader challenges, spoof news stories and photoshop magic.

Original content on the site is produced by a collective of up-and-coming writers, performers, designers and video mixologists."

Nick Clegg: http://youtu.be/KUDjRZ30SNo


Monday, 22 June 2015

The Greek debt crisis summed up by Matt

It seems hopeless. Tonight the conclusion to the 7 year old Greek saga was once again delayed.

At some point surely someone will admit Greece may have been hopelessly corrupt, should not have been allowed to join the Euro but cannot possibly hope to repay the debts now so either they leave the Euro or the EU writes off a very large chunk of the Greek debt.

People are seriously struggling now in Greece. The health system has collapsed etc etc.

The whole thing is mad.


In other news: The Hungarian connection

When it comes to the EU migration situation much of the media focus on Greece and Italy. Fair enough. But it seems there are many other routes and stories. Hungary is one such option which the Guardian article below highlights. The numbers are getting really quite large when you add them all up. I have no idea what the solution is. Just accepting everyone will surely only encourage more yet "intervening" in Iraq, Syria, in fact anywhere hasn't really worked out recently or in the past. Remember who created Syria and alike etc effectively daft European diplomats especially French and British ones.

The Guradian article: Migrants on Hungary's border fence: 'This wall, we will not accept it'

Yama Nayab with his daughter and other migrants in a makeshift camp in the fields and brush of an abandoned brick factory in the outskirts of Subotica, Serbia.

on the Serbo-Hungarian border

Crouched in the darkness, 500 metres from the Hungarian border, 15 Syrian refugees whisper about how they should cross into the EU. A few miles back, they switched off their phones. Then they picked up sticks to protect them from local gangsters. Now they’re organising into pairs: going two-by-two means they might not trigger the heat sensors on the border. And it is at this moment that a 23-year-old pharmacist, Mohamed Hussein, absent-mindedly decides to light a cigarette.

“Put it out!” comes the collective hiss, betraying a rising sense of fear. Several in this group have previously been jailed for a fortnight by the Hungarian police after crossing the border, before being returned to Serbia. Now they’re trying again.

“The border between Greece and Macedonia was very easy,” whispers Selim, a 36-year-old Syrian sales manager, whose home in old Aleppo was destroyed by an army rocket. “But this is the most difficult bit, the Hungarian border.”

And it is about to get a lot harder. Last week, Hungary’s illiberal government began drawing up plans to stop people like Selim and Hussein – by building a four-metre high fence along its 110-mile (177km) border with Serbia.

“This is a necessary step,” the government’s spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, told the Guardian by phone from Budapest. “We need to stop the flood.”

Rights groups see the move as the obvious conclusion of a wave of government-led xenophobia. In recent months, Kovács’s colleagues have conflated immigrants with extremists, announced a national consultation on the twin themes of migration and terrorism, and floated the idea of placing all migrants in what would be some of Europe’s first internment camps since the second world war.

But Kovács argues that a fence is a legitimate response to a huge spike in migration that has this year turned Hungary into a hidden frontline of Europe’s migration crisis. Most of the media coverage centres on Italy and Greece, which have borne the brunt of the maritime arrivals. But Kovács claims that the onward movement of mainly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi migrants from Greece through the Balkan land route has quietly made Hungary “the most affected EU country in absolute terms. Over 50,000 have entered Hungary illegally since January. Italy and Greece are lagging behind by a couple of 2,000.”

With hundreds arriving in all three countries every day, Kovács’s figures cannot be confirmed. But certainly Hungary must contend with a migrant influx that is comparable to that faced by Mediterranean countries. And this forest, lining a river that leads to the Danube, is one of the main secret thoroughfares into the country from Serbia – particularly for Syrians. “People start gathering here around four or five in the afternoon,” says Abu Khalil, a Syrian doctor waiting in the last town before the border. “And then they walk through the night.”

A group of Syrian migrants make their way through the woods hugging a river outside of Kanjiza, Serbia.
A group of Syrian migrants make their way through the woods hugging a river outside of Kanjiza, Serbia. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

As the sun sets, huddle after huddle of Syrian refugees, travelling together for protection, edge north along the bends of the river. At other points along the border, migrants pay smugglers to get them across. But here, everyone guides themselves, using tips passed on by those who passed through in previous weeks. There are doctors and businessmen walking, as well as children and old men. Every so often, in the distant darkness, you can hear a baby cry.

They say that not even a wall will put them off. “We are Syrians,” says Mohamed Hussein, a fortnight after he spoke to ITN as his boat landed on the Greek island of Lesvos. “We can solve anything. We made the first written language, so we can break the wall. If they use electricity, we will take gloves and cut it.”

Hussein’s perseverance is a case in point. On his left wrist he has a tattoo that honours Pink Floyd – “I love progressive rock!” – and on his right wrist, an image of a ship. It’s to remind him of the boat he tried to take from Turkey to Europelast December. He says it ran into trouble on New Year’s Eve, and coastguards took him back to Turkey.

So the Hungarians, Hussein concludes, are “not going to solve migration like this. They need to solve the real problem and get rid of Bashar al-Assad and Isis.”

But right now these particular Syrians face a more pressing concern. On the dyke above the river, still a couple of miles from the border, they can make out two mysterious cars. Are those the local thieves they’ve heard about – or the police? “Man, I’m so stressed,” says Nizam, a young computer scientist who left Syria after his father died in a bombing last year. “Keep your voices down,” Selim interrupts. “And hide in the woods.”

A group of Afghan migrants gather at a makeshift camp awaiting people smugglers or money to move northwards through Hungary.
A group of Afghan migrants gather at a makeshift camp, awaiting people smugglers or money to move northwards through Hungary. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

Twenty miles to the west, another group of refugees are arguably in even more desperate straits. The Syrians usually stay in a couple of cheap hotels. But many Afghans, who largely enter Hungary by a more westerly route, hide out in the overgrown grounds of a disused brick factory.

“This is a famous place,” says Rahman Niazi, an 18-year-old Afghan student. “Every Afghan goes through here, because here there’s always people who speak their language – and then they walk to Hungary.”

Migrants first started trickling here in 2011, when the annual number of arrivals to Hungary was around 4% of what it is now. Four years on, around 200 migrants now gather here every day, estimates Tibor Varga, a local priest who hands out food at the factory several times a week.

The casual visitor would find it hard to find them. The refugees hide in a vast stretch of overgrown sweetcorn fields nestling between a sewage works and a rubbish tip, where the crops have long knotted with nettles and grass flowers. Migrants call the space the jungle, and it is not hard to see why. It’s very easy to get lost.

An Afghan migrant walks among the fields surrounding an abandoned brick factory on the outskirts of Subotica, Serbia. Migrants call the space the jungle.
An Afghan migrant walks among the fields surrounding an abandoned brick factory on the outskirts of Subotica, Serbia. Migrants call the space the jungle. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

Weaving through the tall and thick foliage, to a soundtrack of crackling crickets, you can hear the voices of different clusters of refugees, and step across the detritus of migrants past. But finding them happens almost by chance. A small hollow will suddenly open up in the undergrowth to reveal a huddle of a dozen Afghans – often waiting till nightfall before making for Hungary.

Here they camp in the open air and hoist their water from an old well – but still try to create some kind of normality. “Please at least take this,” Yama Nayab, an Afghan surgeon, says to a passing stranger, holding out a cup of dirty well-water. “In Afghanistan, it would be our duty to offer you food as our guest.”

The migrants are forced to camp in the open air and hoist their water from an old well.
The migrants are forced to camp in the open air and hoist their water from an old well. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

Today, the irony of Nayab’s ingrained hospitality could not be starker. Stabbed four times in the chest by the Taliban earlier this year, he recovered and fled the country with his wife and two toddlers. Since then, they have walked and bussed through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia to find somewhere that will offer them a future.

“Wherever I find a safe place,” Nayab says, “a country that accepts me and gives me a chance, I will start my life there.” Today, he’s just discovered that Hungary wants to build a wall to stop him doing that.

Not that a wall will deter him. “In Afghanistan, life is not safe, and every human who wants a safe life will make a hole in that wall, or find another way,” he explains, and uses his own story to illustrate his point. A surgeon with the Afghan army, he says he was approached by a Taliban fighter as he returned home one day near the start of this year.

“Why are you working for the government?” the man said to him. “Here in Afghanistan. the Americans and the pagans made a government – and you are working for that government.”

A group of Afghan migrants walk along the train tracks.
A group of Afghan migrants walk along the train tracks. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

Then the man got out a knife. “And then he did this,” says Nayab, pulling up his shirt to reveal four pink scars circling his heart.

It’s tense in the jungle. Many of the people here are waiting for instructions from the men they call their chief. These are the smugglers to whom they pay around €10,000 (£7,170) before they depart from Afghanistan. At every stage of their odyssey to Europe, they call this man, who then gives them a set of new directions. Sometimes it’s a GPS coordinate for the next place they should walk to. Sometimes it’s a bus route. Occasionally, the chief will send them a car. Once, as they prepared to walk to Iran, his men gave Niazi the first western clothes he’d ever worn. “He has a deputy in every country,” the student explains.

Syrian migrants make their way through the woods outside of Kanjiza, Serbia.
Syrian migrants make their way through the woods outside of Kanjiza, Serbia. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

While they wait for his call, everyone fears an attack from the police. Attempting to walk from Iran to Turkey, two of Niazi’s companions were shot by Iranian border guards. In Bulgaria, he says he was beaten and robbed by the local police.

In a nearby thicket, an Afghan kickboxer says the constant tension has made him take up smoking. “Usually I don’t smoke,” says Ajmir, 21, who fled Afghanistan after he says a fellow kickboxer was killed for playing a sport deemed to be too western. “But here it’s so dangerous, I’m so nervous. We don’t have any papers. I don’t want to be fingerprinted. So now I am smoking.”

Back on the border with Hungary, Syrian Mohamed Hussein hurriedly puts out his own cigarette as his friends take their last breather before crossing the border. They whisper encouragement to each other, to gee themselves up.

“If we stick together, we can do this,” Hussein tells Nizam, with whom he’s travelled since Turkey. Then the group rises, and walks towards the invisible line where Hungary’s wall will shortly stand.

“This wall, we will not accept it,” says Hussein, and bounds over the border.

Migrants walk through Kanjiza, Serbia, northwards to Hungary.
Migrants walk through Kanjiza, Serbia, northwards to Hungary. Photograph: Sima Diab for the Guardian

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Stranger than fiction: 8 million dead dogs mummified

8 million dog mummies discovered in Egyptian temple to god of death.

A 48-million-year-old 'sea monster' vertebrate might not even be the strangest thing researchers found in an ancient Egyptian temple built in honor of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead. The award for 'creepiest find' belongs to the eight million mummified dogs also uncovered.

Ancient Egypt's Saqqara was a busy community between about 747 and 332 B.C., with an economy sustained by the animal cults in the region, according to lead researcher Paul Nicholson. Saqqara's newly uncovered temple and catacombs served as the region's burial ground, decked out with mummified hawks, mongooses, cats, foxes, baboons, bulls — and millions of dogs.

Some of the luckier canines might have lived in the temple, but others, Nicholson said, were likely bred solely for the purpose of mummification. Carved out around the fourth century B.C., the catacombs that hold the mummies are "a very long series of dark tunnels," according to Nicholson. "There is no natural light once you've gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It's really quite a spectacular thing."

The spine of a long-extinct marine vertebrae — something like a modern-day manatee — was also uncovered in the catacomb's ceiling, although Nicholson is uncertain the Egyptians knew it was there.

Source: Jeva Lange of The Week




Friday, 19 June 2015

Website/Twitter of the week is - Politwoops

The Politwoops website says "Even politicians post things they regret later. You can see the tweets they posted first, and deleted after on Politwoops."

There is also an EU version.

There is some hidden gold in there and it's a useful resource for journos and no doubt not admired by politicians aware of it. Tweet as an MP but it will never be erased.

Tweet in haste repent forever.

The Twitter feed is - @deletedbyMPs



Thursday, 18 June 2015

Google Nest launches home camera

Wikipedia: "Nest Labs is a home automation company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, that designs and manufactures sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, self-learning, programmable thermostats and smoke detectors. Co-founded by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers in 2010, the start-up company quickly grew to have more than 130 employees by the end of 2012.

The company introduced its first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, in 2011. In October 2013, Nest Labs announced the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

On January 14, 2014, Google acquired Nest Labs for US$3.2 billion. Nest Labs will continue to operate under its own brand identity. Nest Labs continues to grow quickly with more than 460 employees in mid-2014."

Now below is a very clever idea with the obvious, if deliberate flaw, that you have to pay to store the footage. It is also yet another way Google could be used to spy on you. They can read your emails etc, listen to you a number of ways, know your precise location and more - now they can watch you in your home day and night. It's not that it will happen but that we are blind to its possibility and consequences. As a society we claim to be concerned about privacy but simply are not:

From Techcrunch: Remember when Nest bought Dropcam? The first fruits of that purchase are finally dropping today: Nest has just announced the Nest Cam, an oh-so-Dropcam like security solution.

At first glance, the Nest Cam looks like the Dropcam that we all already know. At second glance… it… still looks like a Dropcam. It’s a bit more slim and its curves are a bit curvier — but the base idea is the same: an ultra simple, plug-and-play WiFi security camera.

But what’s inside?

Here’s what we know so far:

1080p video (The last Dropcam was 720p)

It has a built-in tripod mount

Its base is magnetic, allowing it to be mounted to your fridge

8 built-in infrared LEDs for night vision.

Like the Dropcam, the Nest Cam uses a cloud-based DVR to store video. Alas, also like the Dropcam, it sounds (so far) that that’s the only option for recording video— meaning if you want to record and store video (rather than just stream it) you’re looking at paying $100-$300 a year on top of the cost of the device. 10-days of video archiving will cost $10 a month; 30-days of archiving will cost $30 a month

You can mix Nests Cams and older Dropcams in your home, if you so choose. They’ll both appear in the newly designed Nest app for iOS and Android.

The Nest Cam will ship next week, and cost $199.