Sunday, 31 January 2010

Our planet, our future

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It is difficult to appreciate and understand the scale of the warnings given by what seems like a majority of eminent and senseable scientists (and some politicians and business people). 
Hilary Benn, MP and Environment Secretary warned recently that we are reaching the point of no return for biodiversity. He stated that, "So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago will continue." He went on to give examples of what is going wrong:-

  • More than seven million hectares are lost worldwide to deforestation every single year.
  • The burning of Indonesia's peat lands and forests for palm oil plantations generates 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and demand is predicted to double by 2020 compared to 2000.
  • Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the mid-1970s.
Hilary states he is 'optimistic' about the future but the figures seem dramatic and there is a sense that no one really knows the longer term effects of how humans are using and abusing the planet.
The pendulum seems to be swinging against the scientists who have set out the case for climate change and the dire effects of human's insatiable greed for consumption. A Nature report this week tempers some the worst predictions but confirms (again) the ongoing increases in average temperatures. Does that mean that the film The Day after Tomorrow was Hollywood scripting based on an environmental theory fast forwarded and compressed into pure hogwash? Maybe. The BBC's summary of the Nature report goes on to say that "The report's lead author, David Frank from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, told BBC News that many of the calculations for the IPCC assessment report did not include an integrated carbon cycle. He said that if the results his paper were widely accepted, the overall effect on climate projections would be neutral."
The question is that whilst the Nature report seems to conclude that the past variations in CO2 and temperature are small, when temperatures start to increase will their model continue to hold true? In other words finding that the increase in CO2 due to human activity may not have quite so bad effect on the natural carbon cycle of the plant.  Great, except if as the report acknowledges temperatures are still going to rise significantly, we still need important and dramatic changes to minimise the effects of the rising temperatures. 
It doesn't help that there have been strong criticisms about one page of a 2007 report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report made claims on the Himalayan's glaciers disappearing by 2035, which was based on poor science. The reaction from the critics of the mainstream theories on climate change and some elements of the media seemed to be joy that mistakes had been found in the 935 page report. They could not challenge the overall findings or the confirmation of continued warnings about human effects on the climate.
Since, there is little prospect after the Copenhagen Accord, that the world's nations are prepared to take aggressive actions against the rising temperatures, my children and grandchildren face a daunting world of erratic and increased flooding, drought and devastation. 
The Lancet with University College London Institute for Global Health Commission have produced a expert paper on the health effects from climate change. It noted that "Climate change will have its greatest effect on those who have the least access to the world’s resources and who have contributed least to its cause." With 10 million children dying every year now from dirty water, lack of food and medicines the effects of climate change will result in more hunger and more deaths. 
Given President Obama's domestic difficulties will probably result in him having to concentrate on reform of the banks, job creation and the healthcare system. Without strong determined leadership by the world's superpower it is unlikely that other nations will collectively change their behaviour. 
Climate change is real and the effects are being felt now. Yet is the sun setting on the time we have to make real changes to mitigate the worst effects on our environment?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

2010 – A Conservative victory?

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There seems to be a general presumption amongst the majority of the public that David Cameron will be installed as the next Prime Minister with a comfortable majority. With poll leads of 14%, why should he worry?
Yet with the Conservatives needing roughly 10% just to gain a majority of just one in the House of Commons, it demonstrates the scale of the task for Cameron. No wonder he repeats the mantra of "no complacency".
So what are the current forecasts?
YouGov who have a strong track record on predicting elections only show a 9% lead for the Conservatives in their latest poll for The Sunday Times.
The BBC Tracker is showing a 11% lead for the Conservatives but doesn’t predict what that means for a majority.
However, the UK Polling Report is showing a Conservative majority of 20 on 11% lead. 

ForecastUK is predicting a large 90 majority based on 14% lead.
Full Forecast
Since 2005
Since Prev
Lib Dem
Plaid Cymru
Conservative Majority
But every poll or poll of polls or poll tracker has to be treated with caution. There is usually a +/-3% polling margin for error which can significantly change a headline figure for seats for parties. Then there are the rogue polls as one company found when conducting on a bank holiday. Poll methodology is a BBC webpage that links to different polling companies to help explain the details.
So whilst a Labour majority still looks a tall order, the race is far from over. If Cameron trips up between now and May 6th then he could quite easily (if we believe the polls) be denied an outright victory.
One week is an awful long time in politics so four months is an eternity. In spite of a dreadful recession with the employment trend up (give or take odd months), an unpopular Prime Minister, two wars and repeated attempts to oust Brown as Labour leader, the next election is no means a foregone conclusion. If the economy is picking up and if Labour can get home its key economic messages of jobs, health and show that it has new policies it can drag itself back to a respectable position.
Will the headlines be :
  •          The Lib Dems waiting in the wings knowing that Nick Clegg could be kingmaker with a seat at the cabinet table.
  •          Possibly the first Green MP for Brighton & Hove – Caroline Lucas could be elected.
  •          Will the dreaded BNP come through like they did at the last European elections and grab a seat?
  •          Will the turnout of 61% in 2005 rise higher?
  •          125 MPs have already declared they are standing down, so with election losses there could be over one third of the Commons with fresh faces.
  •         Will we have a second general election within a year if Cameron has a minority government?
It will be an interesting election night.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Tomorrow is the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I remember back in 1988 as the Teesside Polytechnic's Communications Officer battling to get such a day remembered. My thanks to other officers that we succeeded and we held a special memorial in the S.U. bar (at lunchtime when there was a better chance the students would listen). They did listen and they did remember the dead.

I hope that schools around the country will be remembering the horrors of the Nazis and the murder of six million Jews and around five million others from minority groups.

Teachers can find guidelines available at The Holocaust Educational Trust:-

If you want children to find out what it was like to be Jewish and living in Germany in the 1930's then please visit The Holocaust Centre not far from Nottingham. The Journey exhibition is a 'safe' environment to teach children without any horrific images. It takes children and adults through rooms decorated in the style of a German home from that period and follows the story of little Leo and the changes he encountered as the Nazis preached hatred against the Jews. A second exhibition downstairs is more for adults but gives an insight into the people behind the headlines. It is the only holocaust museum in the UK and it is vital that it goes from strength to strength. It is the creation of Stephen, James and Marina Smith and a tribute to their dedication in making such a place a reality.

For me the Holocaust Remembrance Day is about people. Not the Nazis who posed for pictures. It is about those dignified human beings persecuted and murdered.

The photo of Arnold and Liliane Buschel walking down a street in occupied Antwerp burns deep in my mind. A brother and sister walking down the street in perhaps 1942. The only clue are the Stars of David neatly sewed onto their clothes.

As the Yad Vashem database records:- "Liliane Buschel was born in Berlin in 1932 to Karol and Helene nee Mahler. She was a child. Prior to WWII she lived in Lvov, Poland. During the war she was in Antwerpen, Belgium. Liliane perished in 1943 in Auschwitz, Camp at the age of 11."!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_FL/.cmd/acd/.ar/sa.portlet.VictimDetailsSubmitAction/.c/6_0_9D/.ce/7_0_V9/.p/5_0_P1/.d/0?victim_details_id=6546076&victim_details_name=Buschel+Liliane&q1=5rOoAwgc0VE%3D&q2=RqyMikmGSryk258v%2BQlDXJUuqliEn65Z&q3=v1k3X20kNts%3D&q4=v1k3X20kNts%3D&q5=naSys4xfr14%3D&q6=H6ZOmVKqKV4%3D&q7=sgYqPMstojefqXjD%2BuLt0dRaMQ2E4V5D&frm1_npage=1#7_0_V9

Liliane was murdered in the gas chambers on 30th September 1943.

But when you type in Arnold Buschel, into the database of three million names no details appear.

Did Arnold survive the Holocaust? Is he still alive today or did he have a long happy life? Does he have a wife, children and grandchildren? Or tragically, did he die and not have his details recorded? I want to know. Arnold Buschel has a right to have his details recorded for posterity, if he was was murdered. Otherwise, I hope he has had a long life and his sister's memory burns bright forever.

These are the real people behind the awful stories and terrible images. It is the real people. the innocent, who we must remember.

Tomorrow on 27th January, I shall remember Arnold and his sister Liliane and say a little prayer for them.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

United Nations poor communications - Malawi

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Whilst the UN staff work incredibly hard on the ground trying to save people's lives and sort out the mess in this world left by poorly conceived governments' foreign policies, I deplore the way the seem to be utterly incompetent when it comes to basic communications.

Malawi is one of the poorest nations on earth with the average age around 44 years and an average income of $240 dollars. There is a huge injection of hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the country from umpteen UN agencies but they can't provide up to date information. there are honourable exceptions but a few examples:-

The latest press release is January 2009 - one year ago:-

The link to the Road Map to Maternal Mortality seems to be broken:-

The Equity in health and healthcare in Malawi report is now over three years old (Oct 2006):-

Are the Human Development Index Trends up to date (I appreciate there can be a time delay with this sort of data)?

The UN monthly newsletter was last updated in July 2009:-

I can't see any future UN events listed for Malawi, which is greatly concerning:- 

UNICEF last updated their press releases in December 2007 

World Food programme last updated its News in September 2009 

The UN Business Plan 2008-09 is now out of date:- 

Now you can argue that helping people on the ground after repeated earthquakes in Malawi is much more important and you would be right. But does that mean that someone somewhere within the bureacracy can't put together a regular news release or update a report? No, sorry poor excuse. The consequence is that a) it makes the UN look like an incompetent bureaucratic, disorganised machine and b) businesses wonder what kind of organisation would they find on the ground to help them invest, to create jobs and improve the quality of lives. 

Malawi has a bright future in spite of its many problems, but please UN come on, get your act together and keep us all informed of the great job you are doing. 

A friend.

A poem in memory to those in Haiti

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The risks are very high writing poetry but it's there in the soul. The chances are that few will ever read this. penned at a time of strife.

Thought of this today when I read some of the stories of those trapped in Haiti. Thought back to those days in Malawi and seeing the dying. May they rest in peace.

He’s arrived

January 2008 

A light crept in through the open door;
Lilting sounds wafted into my hiding place.

The cold tear of sweat ran down my back.
My breath rasped out of my terrified body. 

Then there in the doorway stood the nemesis.
No running hare from a savage beast.
No broken heart of a lover’s wailing anguish.
No haunted last look of a mother losing her child,
Could ever recognise my awful dread. 

Here stalked death demanding, nay expecting my pathetic being.
I stood from hiding place.
I leaned forward and placed a trembling hand on an arched chair back.
He did not bother to look my way.
He was quite calm and patient.
He knew I would come. 

My little boy’s laughter haunted my head.
What would he be told? A mad father? 
A tortured soul who knew only hate?
Or would he be comforted that deep in the heart of insanity lay his hope?
Fear bid me farewell and I entered Hell with a smile. 

Thursday, 21 January 2010


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I have added my directory listings to Twellow -

No idea so many applications available to extend your reach through social media.Twellow is like a Yellow Pages for Twitter users. Are they Twitterists or Twitterers? The question with all these sites is: will they take off? In years to come will the stack of yellow telephone directories landing on your doorstep be a thing of the past? Already with they are increasingly becoming redundant for those in society with access to the Internet. Yet there are still many people who are not inclined or unable to go online. It has become part and parcel of daily social and business life and we don't think about those who don't have a computer or point blank refuse to use one. They are entitled to their opinion and life is easier without this technology in some ways, but the advantages to the world wide web are overwhelming in my view.

The difficulty is separating out the key sites (listings) to invest so much time inputting your details and wondering if within 6 months that site's popularity will have plunged and you have found yourself backing the equivalent of the Betamax video in the 1980's. Like with all new technology there is an explosion of new products and services before the marketplace consolidates the winners into at least medium term robust positions.

In the meantime, I will continue to try out some of these applications. I wait to see if I build a critical mass of hits that produce something tangible. Will we see harmonisation and a settling down of key sites with niche sites being used by small groups? Google now seems invincible but so did Lehman Brothers.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Twitter links with TinyURL

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I am beginning to understand this social media phenomena. Beginning mind you, so please don't test me as I have a very long way to go.

Yes I know I sound like one of those old fogies but I am 41. It reminds me of the time a secretary from my former workplace at Taylor Woodrow was sent on a new course to migrate her away from the typewriter to use something called a newfangled box called a computer. She was asked to start with (something easy to get her and the other trainees practicing) to move the mouse around the screen. All seemed to be going well until the instructor moved along the rows of computers and found she had lifted the mouse off the table and placed it vertically on the screen. She protested that it was still moving it!

Today's problem for my social media challenged brain, was to work out how to shorten those infuriatingly long hyperlinks into something more manageable. When you are tweeting away you don't get many words out before you see the dreaded minus red number appear and you have to start editing your beautifully constructed contribution to the world's opinions back to within 140 characters.

Oh, the power of the Internet:

By copying and dumping my long winded link into the box it cleverly spits it back out in a fraction of the length. Seeing is believing, as I wondered if it could provide the same unique link and lo and behold it could.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Coffee from Malawi

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Ok, since I had found a great story about new tea from Malawi I thought it was only fair to seek out some of their coffee! Malawi is the smallest coffee growing nation in Africa but has received some great reviews for the quality and taste.

Now I can't vouch for the taste (not yet) but as a lover of coffee I will be trying out one or more of these speciality coffees.

First up - a coffee shop dedicated to coffees from Malawi!

The Coffee Project of Sheffield
"The Coffee Project is a Sheffield based charity raising funds to support education and poverty-relief projects in Malawi. Funds are raised by importing coffee from Malawi and selling it in the UK."

D.R. Wakefield of London
"Agaro, Bourbon & Geisha are commonly grown and lately some quality Catimors."

J. Atkinsons & Co of Lancaster
"Malawi AAA"

Gourmet tea from Malawi

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Listened to an interesting piece on the BBC iPlayer (which I am starting to understand and appreciate) about new teas pervading into the highly competitive tea 'industry' in the UK.

The presenter, Henrietta Lovell highlighted, The Rare Tea Company and a new Fairtrade tea from Malawi - 'Lost Malawi'. This afternoon tea is grown in the highlands, which makes it better for the environment requiring less irrigation and produces a distinct taste.

Also check out Malawi's green tea:-

This is the kind of innovation into a mass market where quality and branding can affect the consumer marketplace.

Great authentic music, provides a backdrop to the discussion on the process of making 'Lost Malawi'.

A small but important success story showing how the high quality products of Malawi can influence the British palate and provide important jobs for local people. Very best of luck for the tradein Malawi tea!

Lost Malawi growing © Rare Tea Company Ltd.

Lost Malawi growing © Rare Tea Company Ltd.

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Friends of Malawi

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Within a few days of launch the LinkedIn, 'Friends of Malawi Group' has become the largest country group for this small African Nation. Yes, it is still very modest with 38 business people joining but with 17 groups listed for this country, we have still gone to number one within three days. It just shows how the profile and business opportunities in Malawi needs to be better publicised.

I am very grateful for LinkedIn business colleagues speedy support to make it the largest group. We hope to build up continuing support and interest amongst a wide range of business people. In the past week I have been surprised and pleased that there have been genuine inquiries about real estate investment, carbon trading and employment opportunities.

Clearly many people have a strong affection for this country of around 13million whose average age is a mere 44 years and the average income per year is $240. It is tiny and is slightly smaller than the size of the State of Pennsylvania in the USA. One third of the GDP is derived from agriculture and Malawi ranks number ten in the world for HIV/AIDS deaths. As such, it is rarely mentioned in the media in truly positive terms. If people in Europe and North America have heard about Malawi it is usually in connection with Madonna adopting children and building a school.

However, as someone who visited Malawi in 2002 during the height of the southern African famine, I have fond memories of the warm welcome I received from the people and the long term commitment I have given to assist the people.

It is a genuine democracy with a healthy interest in daily politics. There is real progress with new investment from countries such as China helping to build a new national stadium with a $65million loan and a new parliament building.

There is a proposition to use the extensive natural resources of the Lake Malawi and its rivers to radically improve the crop yields so Malawi could become self sufficient in basic foodstuffs.

Technology is starting to grow in usage helping th devleopment of the country. For instance, rapid SMS is assisting with data collection for health services.

Now with Zain rolling out its Zap services, financial transactions can be carried out on mobile phone anytime and anywhere. This sort of mobile micro-financial accessing system will help with wealth and job creation.

A special thank you needs to go to the Scotland-Malawi Partnership scheme. The SMP has been around for four years and has been a fantastic coming together of two countries for mutal benefit. The latest newsletter can be found here:-

Please join the Friends of Malawi group on LinkedIn and help the people of Malawi to build a sustainable future.