Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Norway - We Choose Love ...

[Sometimes I try to write a blog post about a major news event and fail - usually after reading someone else's post which puts things so much better than I ever could. So this post is from 'SkandiaGirl'. I don't know who she is, and I'm sure she won't mind me reposting her piece. Because it's just beautiful.]


If one man can show so much hate, think about how much love we can show together...

Norway has experienced Hell.

This weekend, a monster with beliefs bombed the capital and killed several dozen youths.

I am not going to write about him. I might write about him later, but then again, I might not. I don’t want to spend energy on him. It is the the victims and the survivors in the Oslo bombing and even more so; the young victims and survivors from Utøya who are worthy of my attention.

What has happened is too cruel to completely understand. Several youth, most of them only teenagers, have been ripped away from our lives for no good reason. I don’t want their memory to be that of hatred. Hatred did this, and no hatred can make this undone. But love can help us through this, and love can prevent this from ever happening again.

The bomb in Oslo killed administrators within the government. The massacre on Utøya was aimed towards political youth. Political youths from all over Norway whose main agenda is anti-racism, solidarity, involvement in society, respect for nature and democracy. Several of these people have already made an imprint on the ruling powers of every city or town they came from. They are active and they are well schooled. They are the future leaders of Norway. Some of them have made older, more experienced politicians to rethink their own views, and with that changed the political course of Norway.

But most of all they are young people of Norway. Many of them probably found their first love at Utøya this year. Their first kiss. Many of them have been looking forward to this camp for a year; since last year’s camp ended. I have been to Utøya myself. Not as a member of that political party, but as a representative for an environmental protection group. I was 15. I have also been to several other political summer camps and ideological summer camps with the environmentalist group. I know how beautiful and wondrous it is. You learn, you meet like-minded people from all over the country. You fall in love. You find strength within yourself, and you find you can walk on your own feet and trust in yourself and your own opinions. You learn to fight for what is right.

And in the aftermath of what’s happened, the survivors from Utøya show just how extraordinary they are. Young people who have gone through Hell manage to focus on love, manage to face the media in order to tell their story – their experiences. They manage to face their own fears, manage to look past the terror and they promise: We will be back at Utøya. Such strength, such determination, such wonderful, admirable courage. I cry for the lost ones. And I cry in admiration and sympathy for the survivors.

I am proud of how Norway as a country and as a people deal with this crisis. We are sad, but we are not afraid. We refuse to live in anger, and we deny society to be driven by fear, monitored and forcibly held quiet. We want a humanitarian, open society driven by the belief in freedom, justice, the good in human and with trust in each other. We want to strengthen our democracy, not start to distrust our neighbours. We choose love.

In our grief, one message is quietly driven forth; love each other. Take care of our community. Support each other. Stand together. The survivors from Utøya tell a tale of tremendous fear. Of a meeting with hatred so strong and so blind, that even imagination cannot create such a monster. Still. A message from the survivor Stine Renate Håheim in a phone interview to CNN shows the essence of our reaction. She quoted a good friend of her with these words: “If one man can show that much hate, think of how much love we can show together.”

The attentions from the international community is heart-warming and welcome. The German Der Spiegel have this to say about how Norwegians have reacted:
“Even in their deepest sorrow the Norwegians don’t get hysterical. They resist the hate. It is amazing to see how politicians and the whole country reacts. They are sad to the deepest thread of their souls. They cry in dignity. But nobody swears to take revenge. Instead they want even more humanity and democracy. That is one of the most remarkable strengths of that little country.”

Thank you. There is no comfort. There is no hate left. There is only grief, and the support in each other. To fight hatred, we must love.
[Words fail me. Beautiful writing.]

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mark Cavendish, The UK's Best Athlete ... ?

By Matt Slater, reposted from BBC WebSite, originally here

Mark Cavendish is David Beckham big in Belgium. In fact, he isn't David Beckham, he is Mark Cavendish. And not just in Belgium, but also France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain ... pretty much everywhere they love cycling. The Isle of Man, too. Definitely there.

In the rest of the United Kingdom? Not so much. But I think we will get there. After all, we say rower Sir Steve Redgrave is our greatest Olympian, we went nuts for curling a few years ago and track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, another minority sport knight of the realm, sold breakfast cereal thanks to his pedalling antics.

So we love winners - and Cav is definitely that.

His victory in Sunday's final stage of the Tour de France was his third straight win on the Champs Elysees. Nobody else has even won it back-to-back.

It was also his fifth stage win in this year's race and his 20th Tour success overall, good enough for sixth on the all-time list, only two behind Lance Armstrong's tally and 14 off the legendary Eddy Merckx's record. Cavendish is still only 26.

This year, there was something different about Cavendish's glorious gallop up one of the most famous streets in the world - he did it in green. That's the colour worn by the leader in the Tour's points competition, which is the race's most consistent high-finisher. Typically, the wearer of the green jersey is the best sprinter in the field.

Cavendish's previous victories in Paris were spectacular but they were also slightly Pyrrhic. Another man was in green and the Cav-alry charge came too late to take it off them. There was an element of controversy on both occasions, a hint of misfortune and perhaps even questions about the Manxman's strategy for success.

But, of course, there is no changing the past, let alone Cavendish.

With a slightly different scoring system, this year was different, although the man himself, so he told us, was exactly the same.

In truth, this was only half right. Cavendish is still utterly focused on crossing the line first. That is what gets people out of the chairs at home. It is what people remember. He has lost nothing of his bravery and keen sense of timing either. But he is also slightly lighter than he has been. A compromise with his body has been reached. A few pounds of fast-twitch muscle have been sacrificed in order to help him get over the mountain passes slightly easier.

This has kept him in the bunch for longer on non-sprint days, enabling him to pick up points for the intermediate sprints he used to ignore.

After making his now customary slow start to the season (remember, this guy is a superstar, so it is all relative), he was moving comfortably through the gears by the time he took two stage wins in three days at the Giro d'Italia.

You don't keep doing this, however, without attracting the attention of every other would-be winner in the peloton. Cavendish is the most marked man in professional cycling.

So when he got boxed in and missed his chance in the Tour's first bunch sprint, those questions were asked again. We did not have to wait long for the answer.

As well as winning the 21st and final stage, he also snaffled the sprints in the fifth, seventh, 11th and 15th stages. This degree of domination is unprecedented in recent cycling history.

I managed to catch a few words with British cyclist David Millar after the teams had completed their laps of honour. He was clutching a plastic glass of champagne and generally looking like a man who didn't have to ride his bike again tomorrow.

So just how good is Cav? I asked.
"He is Britain's best athlete right now and probably the best sprinter in the history of cycling," the 34-year-old veteran said. "I know it's always a big claim when you start calling people the best ever but he is that good and it is a shame that people at home don't quite realise that yet."
I have already written about why this might be but I was heartened by the number of British fans I saw amongst the estimated 250,000-strong crowd in Paris, all vying for a vantage point along the barriers. Cavendish is catching on.

Moments after I left Millar to make his plans for a mighty rehydration session this evening, Cavendish swung around the corner, a three-legged Isle of Man flag and Union Jack wound around his neck.

Immediately, there was a rush of autograph-hunters, phone-snappers and well-wishers towards the man in green but he stopped for a quick chat and patiently signed everything that was thrust under his nose.

As per usual with this apparently most individual of talents, he was quick to praise the "incredible guys" in his team and thank them for "finally" helping him to the prize he wanted most. He admitted the new scoring system, with its emphasis on stage wins, had helped but denied there was any hint of panic on his part when he was forced to change his bike with 30km to go on the final stage.

He rode effortlessly back to the field, efficiently through it and, well, we saw the rest.

But unlike Millar, whose other half is expecting a baby very soon, Cavendish's season is not over. For him, there will only be moderate celebrations given that there are World Championships to prepare for.

Victory in Copenhagen in September, on a course seemly designed with Cavendish in mind, would further enhance his standing and bring even more recognition.

He may not get a personal call from the prime minister to discuss the suitability of calling a national holiday, as Australian yellow-jersey winner Cadel Evans got from Julia Gillard, but Cavendish might start to get some of that Belgian love back home.

He has earned it.

By Matt Slater, reposted from BBC WebSite, originally here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Digital Clutter ...

[Guest post from fellow cyclist John Kirk,
who's personal blog can be found here.]

When I was at school, I read a book about time management; one useful tip related to incoming post. I have a tendency to pick up post when I come home, take a quick glance to see whether there's anything important, then put everything else to one side to deal with later. The author's advice was to open every envelope immediately, then decide right away whether I actually want to keep it or dump it. That way, I can avoid having a big pile of junk to sort through. I don't always follow this advice, but I know that it makes sense.

I've found that a similar principle applies to my helmet camera. When I record in HD, it uses roughly 1 GB every 15 minutes (i.e. 4 GB/hour). The camera came with a 2 GB memory card, but that's too small for my purposes: I often cycle for more than 30 minutes in a single journey. I can swap memory cards while I'm out and about, but I need to plug the camera into a computer to delete files. So, I bought 3 x 16 GB cards; they should handle 12 hours of cycling, and I wouldn't want to do more than that in a single day. (During my LEJOG attempt, my longest day involved about 11 hours of cycling.)

My basic policy is that I use the camera on every journey; after all, I don't know in advance what will happen. However, if it's all routine then I'll delete the video afterwards. I only keep videos where something significant has happened: this could be good (e.g. scenic views) or bad (e.g. a collision). Even when I do need to keep the video, I probably only need a few minutes' excerpt rather than the whole thing.

It's important to be diligent about dealing with these video files. If I do it right away, while the trip is fresh in my mind, it's easy to know whether I can delete it. If I want to keep it, I should make a note, e.g. "saw unicycle about 10 mins in". Otherwise, these things quickly fill up the memory card. I can move them to my hard drive, but that only delays the inevitable. I now have a collection of videos that I need to sort through to free up space, which is a tedious job.

So, if you get a helmet camera, learn from my example: stay on top of the data before you drown in it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse - Limited Compassion ... ?

Amy Winehouse: I admit it. I'm struggling to feel much compassion for her. Sorry.

Flame me if you will, but every day I see and deal with ordinary people living good lives on very low budgets. Yes, Amy Winehouse was talented, unbridled and outspoken - but she was also rich enough - and weak enough - to inject most of her money into her veins and smoke or drink the rest. She had warning after warning, from everybody around her..

Addiction is an illness, I know (I work with recovering alcoholics and drug users.) But most people, with support and determination, can overcome the addiction - If they want to. Seems to me, she just didn't want to. Regardless of her music (which I'm not a big fan of, btw) Amy's extreme hedonistic lifestyle took it's price.

Her death is no less painful to her family and friends than any other death of a young person in their twenties.

Should we mourn those soldiers in their twenties (and teens) who are killed in Helmand more, or less? Those teenagers in Norway? We should mourn each death equally.

But I must admit, I find it hard to do so.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Google+ Off To A Flying Start ...

Wow. Google+ has hit 10 Million users - real, regular users - in just 16 days - a total it took FaceBook 852 days to achieve....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Benefits (?) Of PTSD ...

An article in todays Guardian suggests that those with the condition might actually benefit from their experience.

Homeless charities have reported that a very high proportion of the homeless in London – perhaps as much as 50% – used to be in the armed services.

It has been shown, too, that many weren't able to readjust to ordinary society after combat; they either mutated into vagrancy or found themselves locked up. These people came out of the combat zone, having killed or seen people killed: that became their conditioned behaviour. If they are not allowed to readjust back into society where the rules are different, if there's no rite of passage for coming back in, then the potential for trouble in their life is high.

However, "Recurrent flashbacks, although extremely distressing, are faithful memories that give repeated opportunities to learn precisely what happened – and in a group therapy setting, where those experiences can be shared, my own observation has echoed George's: that not only is recovery likely, but that you can grow from it as well."

Read more here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Today's Circus Leaves Us No Further Forward ...

Did we really expect anything else but obfuscation and avoidance?

There was so much media build-up to today’s events in both committees that it was almost as if people were expecting the Gates Of Hell to open up for the senior police officers involved, followed by the Murdochs, and finally by our favourite villain of the piece, Rebekah Brooks. In the end, did we actually learn anything? Not really.

The senior police officers (and the police media chief) all came across as relatively confident that the evidence they were giving was either true, or could not be disproved. Either way, little responsibility was taken by any of the parties, other than the standard, expected apology – less on their behalf and more on behalf of the police forces involved. Personal responsibility it seems, is a thing of the past in the Police Force.

As it is within News International. The Murdochs were all too well briefed; their legal teams are quite capable of analysing the panels and judging what questions would be asked, in what manner (and probably in what order). Occasionally both Murdochs could be seen to glance down at their notes, and answers were given with little hesitation and firm eye contact. “We are not lying”, the eyes said.
"It’s hard to even place ‘Murdoch’ and ‘humility’ in the same sentence."
Murdoch (Snr) also relied rather heavily on the explanation that “the News of the World was such a tiny part of our [News Corporation] business.” It may well be so, but he is known to have a particular affinity not only for the News Of The World (at least until he closed it) but for Brooks.

But mainly, bear in mind his misleading mention of the newspaper itself; the issue here is no longer the toxic News Of The World but News International itself, and it’s potential suggested involvement in covering the hacking issues, but News International; certainly not “a tiny part” of News Corporation, and headed by his son. One would have thought he’d at least try to keep tabs on what his boy was up to. It turned out to be his most misleading answer.

Rupert Murdoch’s statement at the close of his own questioning gracefully contained the right words, but was delivered in a rather monotone, unconvincing manner. Did anyone believe that he actually experienced the ‘humility’ he spoke of? It’s hard to even place ‘Murdoch’ and ‘humility’ in the same sentence.

And then Brooks arrived on scene; I think most of us had committee fatigue by then. She was extremely careful (understandably when she is still the focus of police attention) and she had rather a habit of rewording questions to her liking before answering – a point on while particularly Tom Watson picked her up on.

But her statements were of minimal value in gaining a clearer understanding of the big picture. The committees did their jobs – within their rather limited briefs and powers – but we are little further ahead. One wonders whether todays circus is more for public entertainment rather than a serious attempt to move forward.

[Also published on Hackery Blog here.]

Monday, July 18, 2011

Personal Experience Of Being Hit By A Car ...

We all know that cycling carries with it an inherent risk.

Although statistically, cyclists are rarely at fault, when you have a http://search.creativecommons.org/vehicle-cyclist collision, it is almost always the cyclist comes off worst. I have read, tweeted and blogged about cycling accidents - and fatalities - in London, but nehttp://search.creativecommons.org/ver actually experienced it myself until Saturday evening just passed.

On my way back from the brilliant Shoreditch Festival, where I was volunteering as a Safety Marshal, I was cycling to Waterloo Station to catch my train home, along Hopton Street, when an stationary car (with a minicab logo in his back window) without looking or indicating, decided to do a u-turn - just as I was slowly overtaking him. I was thrown clear, just before he ran over my cycle.

I came round after a few minutes with a group of people taking caring of me in the middle of the road. Thankfully there were half-a-dozen witnesses who all came rushing over, including a wonderfully strict teacher called Kim, and a doctor from Indianapolis (on vacation) called Roger.

Then it all got a bit blurry - ambulance, police, etc. I was eventually discharged from St Thomas' Hospital with thankfully no breaks or fractures.

So, I'm in one piece, shocked, sore, bruised and battered, with my pride and joy - what's left of it - locked up in storage at a police station. It's my first experience of being ran into. To be honest there's a gap of five or ten minutes that I can't account for, but I recall the rest quite clearly.

So what happens now?

My Claud Butler getting a check
from the Dr. Bike guys at
The London Green Fair
My main concern is my bike. Compensation is straightforward if you've bought a bike from a shop and have a receipt. Mine's not like that. I've spent countless hours building and rebuilding my dream ride, obtaining parts by swapping, bits from cycle fairs, other bits from other places. The frame - an English hand-made Claud Butler - was given to me. So how do I account for that? I have photos, sure, lots of them - but with minimal paperwork, I'm not looking forward to the haggling process.

I'm concerned that frankly I'm going to get screwed on compensation for the cycle because the legal/insurance system may not be able to reasonably assess the value of this kind of machine.

Any legal eagles out there have any suggestions?


Post Script: Collected the cycle from Walworth Police Station (thank you, guys!) : Remember, I was riding this just before it went UNDER the car wheels...

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hard Men Of The Tour De France ...

Radioshack's Janez Brajkovic
As sports fans we're all a bit pissed off when a football player goes down as if shot by a sniper, or rolls on the ground in feigned agony after a 'tap' on the ankle.

The riders in the Tour De France are a bit different ...
Johnny Hoogerland tangles with a barb-wire fence and loses

Team Vacansoleil rider Johnny Hoogerland was not only forced off the road by a French TV car yesterday in Stage 9 of this years Tour, but somersaulted into and over a barbed-wire fence, resulting in the injuries you see above.

Hoogerland in the wires
Then.. he got back on his bike and completed the stage, arriving at the days finish to applause. He will continue on the Tour, starting Stage 10 tomorrow as scheduled.

It's been a brutal Tour so far, numerous accidents and injuries, several top riders out of the Tour, including Britain's Bradley Wiggins with a broken collar bone.

This is routine for the hard men of the Tour. They expect it, and they are not dissappointed.

This is the reason pro-cyclists have their legs shaved - nothing to do with aerodynamics, just that it's easier to apply and remove the multiple bandages they need every season.

Football players, hang your heads in shame.

Sky's Bradley Wiggins

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Launch of the Rock, Paper Politics Blog ...

A few months ago several Twitterers (many part of the famed #pufflesmassive (don't ask) jointly had the idea of a new Blog project, where some of us with generally centrist-to-left-wing stances could write on a chosen theme from several different viewpoints, to reach a wider audience and to contrast our standpoints.

I am very pleased to say that Rock Paper Politics went live about an hour ago.

The first theme was 'Beyond Party Politics' - a subject I have wrote about before, and I am honoured to be one of the first initial contributing writers.

In his introduction, editor Steven Sumpter writes:
We intend to be a bit like a magazine with a theme for each issue. We will decide the theme through discussion on our forum and commission articles from anyone willing to write about it. We are not party affiliated, although many of us are towards what many would call the left end of the political spectrum. And that leads me to our first topic; beyond party politics. We have six articles for you to read and discuss, and we look forward to the debate.
You can read all six articles here, and my own article is here.

Please feel free to read, comment and criticise as you see fit. Many of you will disagree with our writing; we expect that.

Actually, we're looking forward to it.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tour De France: Reflections In A Cav ...

Such a cool photo. Mark Cavendish's team-mates reflected in his Oakleys at a Prep Meeting. Posted on Cav's Twitter account.

[Select image for very big version!]