Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home from Home

Caroline Irby's original photo-journalism project for the Guardian/Observer newspaper group/Channel 4 TV appeared as four (disappointingly) short (3+ minutes) documentary programmes on television earlier this month under the above title.

Each of the episodes has a theme - Arrival, Finding my Feet, Looking Back, The Future.

Basically, a collage of her still photos - each child (187 nationalities resident in the UK
of the 192 nationalities in the world) was shown - with excerpts from her interviews with some of the children. Jaime appeared for about 30 ms as many other children -and only those whose interviews were quoted had their countries of origin named - a shame.

Even though there was not time to produce the audio from all of Caroline's interviews many of the children/young adults, it seems each got a soundbite.

Jaime's, (which I missed the first time round) ... "It was busy and dark and cold".

Another favourite quote from an unidentified source in the first episode "When I first arrived, there were so many white people!"

My favourite interviews from the four episodes are those from the first episode with two Liberian and Mongolian young adults. They are eloquent and intelligent. All these young people have much to offer the UK, their own countries and UK foreign relations.

So many of the soundbites speak with the regional accents of the area of the UK in which the child resides - I have certainly noticed that as Jaime has been learning English it is with a Rochdale accent!

I speak the language of my adopted country fluently, incorrectly and with a decidedly British accent. Speaking English to non-UK colleagues (including Americans), as opposed to drinking companions at the local pub in Rochdale (even though I was brought up in the south rather than the north), I codeswitch (a Linguistics term) to Standard English and "Received Pronunciation" rather than "ain't" and double negatives - "I ain't got no money" - which are perfectly understood in Rochdale.

The nationals of my adopted country codeswitch all the time between the official colonially-imposed language and various creoles (hmm ... another future post on this subject) .

I digress ...

Unfortunately, I cannot show you the programme ... copyright! Nrgggh!

Very Small

An update from my friend Rosie ...

"I had my first op yesterday, and they have confirmed that yes, there is a malignant tumour right on the back of my tongue, so far back it's actually in my throat.

The good news is that it is small - 'very small' as the consultant put it. My favourite phrase this week is 'very small'.

Naturally, the hope is that this is the primary tumour, and the lump on my neck is the secondary, and that it hasn't spread.

I won't find this out until the MRI scan (tomorrow, Weds, they have brought it forward, hurrah).

Then I get the results from the whole shebang next Tuesday, when I find out what treatments are going to happen, and in what order.

I want to thank you sooooo much for the love that's been coming from you. I can't begin to say how much it is treasured - well, I CAN begin, so there. Here I am beginning to say how much it means to me.

talk again soon - but it may be email rather than phone, as I'm pretty croaky today. No surprise as I had a large Maglite shoved down my throat for 2 hours yesterday morning. Any further fnarr fnarr jokes cheerfully accepted.

love to you, & the family

Rosie xxx"

Monday, March 30, 2009

From my best friend

you're a long-standing friend, so I want to share this with you, although the news ain't good.

I've not been well since last Sept, and noticed a lump on my neck which I went ot the GP about and initially he said it was nothing to worry about.
Anyway, it wasn't going away, so I went back 2 weeks ago & he decided he didn't like aforementioned lump at all.

He sent me to a consultant... 6 hours at the hospital, Needle biopsy, camera down my throat, being poked with sticks, x-rays, ultrasound, you name it...

the results aren't good I'm afraid, as I have cancer.

It is a malignant tumour on the back of my tongue. Apparently the lump on my neck was a red flag, indicating something dodgy going on out of sight. They are doing an investigative op on my tongue next next Monday, and an MRI scan on Wednesday.

They are being cautiously optimistic, and are using phrases like 'we are aiming for a cure'.

I have decided that I am NOT going to bugger about on the internet scaring myself crapless, and I shall divert that energy into being optimistic myself.

This has come as a shock (no sh*t).

But this isn't priviledged information: if people ask you & want to know where I am, I believe in telling the truth (rather than having some big secretive drama). So please share where feels appropriate.
I'm telling people.

more news as I get it Angus, and love to you & the family.

Rosie x

Thursday, March 26, 2009

C-NOMIS revisited

I'm not going to go much more into this further government IT fuck-up - read the NAO report about prison/probation serve IT (and other) reforms for yourself if you so wish.

But I enjoyed this euphemism from the NAO report:

"Managing C-NOMIS as an IT project required the Project Board to coordinate up to 40 individual workstreams, something it delegated to the project team. While the workstreams had their own plans, a report by Internal Audit found each was operating as
a functional silo."

For more information on the chaos of the NHS Connecting for Health IT project I would thoroughly recommend the e-Health Insider website - it provides much more information than Dr Crippen, Dr Rant, Tom Reynolds, myself etc etc could provide in months.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An International Bear

"The reason for this e mail is to see if you could possibly help us out with a school project. The school is hoping to be awarded International School Status at the end of this school year. In order to receive this government award we have to submit a portfolio of evidence showing the international work we have already undertaken and also to complete further International projects.

One of these projects is called 'Where oh where are our School Bears' . We have some small beanie teddy bears wearing a school T shirt. We are hoping to get these to as many countries in the world and then display photos of them in their new countries on a world map in school. We already have bears living in France, Romania, South Africa, India and New Zealand and one is off to Vietnam, Thailand and Australia this week.

Which led me to thinking if you could possibly give one a home in Sao Tome? All we ask is that you could take one or two photos of the teddy in it's new environment, preferably with something in the background such as a sign, flag, or building which would show it is in Sao Tome. We could then add the photos to our world map display.

We would pay for posting the bear to you, it doesn't need to be returned (perhaps you could find a local school who would like it?) and it would also be great for Jaime and Kezia to see.

If you are in agreement it would be nice to take a photo of Jaime and Kezia holding the teddy at Meanwood School before it sets off on its journey to Sao Tome.

If this sounds ok and you could help school out then please let me have an address to which to send the bear and I'll post one out to you straightaway."

I will present it to the local primary school Jaime attended before he left to the UK.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Medical Update

Kezia had her routine check-up today. Didn't see our consultant but neutrophils at 2.85 which is acceptable. Down from last time.

Seemingly, the next appointment will be at the new RMCH in the centre of Manchester - she said Pendlebury was already showing signs of packing out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

BBC iPlayer, Channel 4OD and ITV Programme Streaming Overseas - an update

I previously stated that I believed my streaming of BBC programmes using Tor, Privoxy/FoxyProxy and Firefox plugin IETab had failed. Well, I did a complete reinstall of Tor and the Vidalia bundle last week and found I could once more stream BBC programming.

However, when I attempted to stream the Ben Goldacre/Norman Lamb interview on ITV about the MMR vaccine and EDM 754, despite using Privoxy and UK Tor Exitnodes, it recognised my IP address as being overseas. I then tried Channel 4's streaming (as I would really like to see Jaime in Caroline Irby's Home from Home documentary scheduled for next week). Same thing. Strange I thought ...

Then I found this paper on discovering IP address location in spite of using Tor and a proxy server. Rather technical, the coding examples are rather beyond me, but it seems that a website using Java coding, FlashPlayer etc can tunnel back through Tor servers to find the originating IP address and hence location. Disabling ActiveX, Java etc would probably disable Channel 4, ITV streaming, although I haven't tried this yet.

Clearly, ITV and Channel 4 are using one or more of these techniques to discover your geo-location ... but it is a mystery why the BBC is just using a simple geo-IP look-up and not one of these more sophisticated techniques?

Of even more concern, is that in countries that censor access to websites and where users are dependent on Tor and proxies, it would seem to be easy for governments to monitor Tor traffic and trace users. If the "hostile" government setup a website on an overseas server e.g. if the Chinese government set up a pro-Tibetan independence website on an overseas server, using such coding, it could trace pro-Tibetan dissidents resident in China using Tor and a proxy server to connect to such a site. Conversely, a western intelligegnce service could create a "spoof" jihadi website and an unwitting Muslim extremist Tor user could still be traced.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the US Department of Defense originally developed the technology behind Tor, put it in the public domain since to be taken up by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) - if the EFF is serious about Internet anonymity, then it must come up with something technologically more rigorous than Tor.

What is going on?

Friday, March 13, 2009

EDM 900 - More than my illness and care for children with cancer

House of Commons Early Day Motion 900

That this House notes that children with cancer say that it is important for them to be able to go home during their treatment; expresses concern that a lack of community children's nurses and social workers means that nearly half of parents say they do not get the support they need for their child to be able to go home safely; welcomes the release of CLIC Sargent's report More Than My Illness: Delivering quality care for children with cancer, published in February 2009 to outline the case for better, equitably available community-based care and support; highlights the report's recommendation that every child and young person with cancer should be allocated a key worker better to co-ordinate, plan and support every aspect of their support; welcomes the child health strategy Healthy Lives, Brighter Futures, which acknowledges the need for more and better community-based care and support and for more community children's nurses; and encourages service providers across the UK to ensure a more co-ordinated and holistic approach to delivering social, emotional, financial, educational and clinical support for sick children and their families.

MMR Vaccine - Sweet Revenge?

Regular readers will recall my recent postings on the case of Dr Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog's reviews of Jenni Barnett's recent LBC FM radio programme promoting widely-discredited research about a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, that has resulted in a massive decrease in the uptake of the MMR vaccine, that has resulted in a massive increase in measles cases amongst UK children (and, personal interest declared, directly threatens the life of my daughter). When he posted the programme, he was threatened by LBC lawyers with litigation for copyright abuse and was forced to withdraw the programme from his blog.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for North Norfork, tabled parliamentary Early Day Motion 754 motion objecting to sensationalist media coverage of this discredited research. It has now been signed by119 MPs and ranks as no. 34 of the 1161 EDMs put forward in the current parliamentary session. (As an aside it is interesting to note how many MPs from each party represented in parliament have signed this EDM).

Jeni Barnett's irresponsible journalism has now been widely published on the web both in audio and transcript form. LBC - are you going to sue us all?

Dr Ben Goldacre and MP Norman Lamb (who had never before met) responded to Jeni Barnett and LBC when they were interviewed by a major UK TV channel this week (youtube video here - and I don't imagine ITV will sue!).

C-NOMIS - another IT fuck-up

This time a grandiose Ministry of Justice IT project, C-NOMIS, to create a national centralised database to track offenders in Her Majesty's penal institutions, comes under the critical eye of the National Audit Office (NAO). Full report here.

I will quote the NAO's press release:

"The project to provide an IT system to support a new way of working with offenders was to be introduced by January 2008, and had an approved lifetime cost of £234 million to 2020. By July 2007, £155 million had been spent on the project, it was two years behind schedule, and estimated lifetime project costs had risen to £690 million. The Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice called a halt to the project while options to get the budget under control were sought.

Many of the causes of the delays and cost overruns could have been avoided with better management. There was inadequate management oversight and the technical complexity of the project was significantly underestimated. Budget monitoring was absent and change control weak. In addition, the main supplier contracts were designed in such a way that sufficient pressure could not be brought to bear on suppliers to deliver to time and cost.

In January 2008, the National Offender Management Service began work on a rescoped programme with an estimated lifetime cost of £513 million and a delivery date of March 2011. They opted for the lowest cost approach, which would deliver the Service’s revised needs, although this option did not have the best benefit to cost ratio.

The full financial impact of the delays is uncertain, but it is likely to be at least £41 million; £15 million of which has been spent on aspects of the project which have now been cut from the design. £226 million has been spent on the project so far and roll-out of the system to prisons is expected to commence in April 2009."

The core software is SAP's BusinessObjects XI Release 2. "The C-NOMIS Case Management system is based on a COTS package called TAG from Syscon Justice Systems Ltd under contract with EDS". See article here. And here are links to SAP, EDS (a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard) and its summary of its work with the UK prison service and to Syscon (who interestingly are in the business of prisoner medical records as well - surely the NHS should involve them?).

The NAO is not impressed. I am sure questions will be asked in Parliament.

So Dr Crippen, Dr Rant, Dr Goldacre et al ... don't think the NHS is the only one being taken for an IT ride.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part V: The Dogs of War

My boss has gotten interested in the funny goings-on in this part of the world and has gone out and bought Tropical Gangsters by Robert Klitgaard, Adam Robert's' The Wonga Coup and Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War.

The former relates the experiences of a World Bank representative in Equatorial Guinea (EG) in the late 1980ss. I thoroughly recommend it - as it relates much about the horrors of the Macias Nguema regime and the only slightly lesser horrors of his successor and nephew Obiang.The Wonga Coup seems to have been updated since its original publication in 2006, I assume to include updates on Mark Thatcher's fate and Simon Mann's extradition from Zimbabwe to the notorious Black Beach prison in the Equatorial Guinean capital Malabo.

As I have loaned him several books over the last few years, he offered to loan them to me. As I have read the former and latter fairly recently and having only recently learned of Forsyth's admitted knowledge of or involvement in a 1973 coup attempt in EG I opted to borrow Forsyth's Dogs of War first published in 1974. I haven't read it in 20 or more years so, with my current knowledge, it will be gripping - and if he was ever to write an autobiography or permit someone to write a biography, it would make interesting reading.

Just opening the first two pages are chilling in their dedication and epigrams ...


"For Giorgio, and Christian and Schlee,
And Big Marc and Black Johnny,
And the others in the unmarked graves.
At least we tried.".

In the novel's introductory epigrams he reproduces two quotes:

"Cry "Havoc" and let slip the dogs of war" - Julian Caesar, William Shakespeare.

"That ... be not told of my death,
Or made to grieve on account of me,
And that I not be buried in consecrated ground,
And that no sexton be asked to toll the bell,
And that nobody is wished to see my dead body,
And that no mourners walk behind me at my funeral,
And that no flowers be planted on my grave,
And that no man remembers me,
To this I put my name."

Thomas Hardy.

Unrelated (?) regional developments: The French judicial system has frozen the substantial French bank accounts of Africa's (currently) longest-serving president, Omar Bongo, of our nearest continental neighbour, Francophone, Gabon.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part IV

Well, we must be grateful that our political on-goings do not approach those of another ex-Portuguese colony in Africa, Guinea-Bissau, where the military chief was assassinated with a bomb, and the army, blaming the president, has promptly assassinated him.

Meanwhile, I learn that the novelist Frederick Forsyth, who wrote the famous novel The Day of the Jackal and then the The Dogs of War, the latter fictionally based on a planned coup d'etat in a mineral-rich African country, was actually involved, in a coup attempt. In an interview last year he admitted to his involvement in a planned 1973 coup in Equatorial Guinea. I don't actually condemn him for this as he was a BBC correspondent during the Biafran War in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, whose Igbo people suffered much and emigrated to Equatorial Guinea only to suffer more under Equatorial Guinea's first president Macias Nguema,

In a media interview last year he gave his professional opinion that Simon Mann's attempt to execute a coup d'etat by air was dumb. He has a website and comes across as a right-wing git but it would be hard to be more extreme than Macias Nguema.

In related news ... I've just read that famous French mercenary Bob Denard who is most reputed for his involvement in the Comoros islands on the other side of the continent, but was involved in much more over the years, died last year - not in violence but of old age.

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part III

This is a bit of a miscellaneous post to add a few minor miscellaneous details and anecdotes from the previous two posts on the same theme.

You might wonder what "Wonga" means? According to Adam Roberts book I previously referenced, Wonga is an old Romany word which originally meant coal but latterly then attained the meaning money.

Two white South African acquaintances, long term residents here, were questioned by local security forces after the alleged coup attempt here - the first I phoned denied knowing anything about it (which I believe), wouln't talk about it and didn't mention he had been questioned. The other I phoned on Monday but is doing a job on our sister island returning on Thursday, admitted he'd been contacted by the security services and agreed to talk to me about it this coming weekend.

The aforementioned acquaintances once worked here for another interesting South African Cristoph Hellinger, who once owned luxurious hotels on both islands and still runs a large (in terms of a small island state) construction company here. He is the owner of a vineyard and estate in Stellenbosch near Cape Town. Hellinger was not a great friend of the apartheid regime and got rich running diamond mine logistics operations for the MPLA in Angola during the civil war with Savimbi's UNITA and, given our first president's support from/for the MPLA, used Sao Tome as a staging post.

I have heard anecdotes of Filipino workers recruited by Hellinger hiding in the roof-spaces of their accomodation of MPLA-controlled diamond mines under attack from Savimbi's UNITA.

Anyway, Hellinger earned plenty from the Angolan MPLA in diamonds or diamond-money and paid our first president plenty for long-term leases on two prime pieces of land on our two islands, where on our sister island he built a luxury hotel. His admin complex and local construction company HQ remained on our island and he established the first national airline. He also got a contract to manage the state-owned luxury hotel constructed in the late '70s/early'80s by Yugoslavia (before it fell apart). However, the first democratic government here annulled this contract, awarded it to a Portuguese company which let it fall apart and it was then handed over to a member of Germany's aristocracy who sold it to a multinational Portuguese company a couple of years ago. In the meantime, Hellinger built another luxry hotel here.

In South Africa Hellinger had employed S. African B. and Filipino R. as an accountant in his hotel business there - they were both marvellous - and supported us 200% during the beginning of Kezia's leukaemia.

B. once told me how Hellinger would hide his staff in a top Cape Town hotel he owned. Black and Coloured people were not permitted to serve whites in public places under the ica, apartheid regime. Classified as "Coloured" (as her maternal grandmother was black although she looks as white as "Whites" come) under the apartheid regime and thus not allowed to serve white people. she would have to run as well.

Moving on ...

A work colleague tells me the security services didn't actually find an AK47 in the hands of ex-Buffao, leader of insignificant political party FRNSTP, Adelecio Costa, but just a magazine and 300 bullets.

Our president has threatened to resign stating he is fed up with political instability + I don't blame him but has since addressed the nation in a rather strict and paternalistic tone urging the population and political class to be more disciplined ...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

EDM 754 - Response from the Secretary of State for Health

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health requesting him to sign EDM 754 regarding uptake of the MMR vaccine and media coverage. Although parliamentary guidelines advise that cabinet members do not normally sign EDMs, the guidelines do not forbid them from doing so. Here is Alan Johnson's response ...


Dear Mr Gascoigne,

Thank you for your email of 13 February to Alan Johnson about the Early Day Motion (EDM) 754 on the MMR vaccine. As I am sure you will appreciate, Mr Johnson receives a large volume of correspondence and it is not always possible for him to respond personally. Your email has been forwarded to me for reply.

The EDM supports the Government’s position that all children should be vaccinated with two doses of MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. You ask why Alan Johnson, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown have not signed the EDM. It may be helpful if I explain that Ministers and whips do not normally sign EDMs. Further information on who can and cannot sign EDMs is available on the UK Parliament website at www.parliament.uk (type ‘EDM’ in the search bar and follow the links).

The scientific community has been convinced for a considerable time that there is no link between MMR and autism. Just recently, three US judges who are experts in vaccine claim hearings concluded that there is no association between vaccines and autism. The overwhelming weight of evidence shows that MMR is the safest way to protect against measles, mumps and rubella, and the number of studies demonstrating this is growing. A list of the key studies examining MMR can be found on the NHS immunisation information website www.immunisation.nhs.uk, by selecting ‘The Vaccines’, followed by ‘MMR’ and ‘Research timeline’.

The Department of Health’s most immediate concern is that cases of measles are on the rise due to poor vaccine uptake over the past decade. The Department has an MMR catch-up programme now in progress and have provided extra funding to Primary Care Trusts, as well as additional supplies of the vaccine.

The message that the Department is promoting is that MMR is the safest way to protect children against measles, and that it will also protect them against mumps and rubella. Furthermore, it will also help protect those children who cannot have vaccinations for medical reasons.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Your sincerely,

Deepa Shah

Customer Service Centre

Department of Health

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

EDM 754 - MMR vaccine and the Media update

Early Day Motion 754 how has 100 signatures.

Proud Father

Just received this from Jaime's school ...

Dear Mr Gascoigne
Miss Rowcroft has asked me to contact you with regards to the Rochdale Childer Award. Every school in Rochdale has a Rochdale Childer Award which consists of a spectacular trophy, which remains on permanent display in school, as well as a medal and certificate to be kept by each year's recipient. There is also a special award's evening held at the Town Hall in Rochdale, which all school's attend in attention to the individual presentation within a school assembly.
The idea behind this annual award scheme is that a pupil from (name of school omitted) should be recognised for the contribution they have made to our community. This can be an act of charity work, caring for the elderly or a disabled friend or relative or even over coming some form of adversity and yet still being an inspiration to others.
With this in mind we would very much like to award this year's trophy to Jaime. Considering all he has been through in the last few years, with Kezia's illness and of course the move from Sao Tome to Rochdale and having to adjust to a completely different way of life, his dad still remaining in Africa, a new language to learn and having to make new friends.
Seeing it written down in black and white really makes us realise what an incredible 'journey' he's been on this last couple of years and through all of that he has never complained. He is the most delightful boy whom all his teachers consider a 'dream pupil'. His command of English is now amazing considering his starting point in Year 3.
We're sure you will agree with us that this award is an excellent way to recognise Jaime's achievements. If you are in agreement please let me know by return e mail. We will then formulate a 60 word statement explaining the reasons for Jaime's award which will be published in the award winners' booklet alongside the statements from other schools' award winners and to arrange a date and time for the award to be presented in school. We hope Jaime's mum will be able to attend this along with any other guests you may wish to invite. We also usually invite the Rochdale Observer to take a photograph, again if this is ok with you. The date of the award evening at Rochdale Town Hall is Thursday 18th June, again guests are invited to attend.
I hope to hear from you soon. If there are any further questions you have please feel free to ask. We do need to let the Rochdale Childer committee know the name of our award winner by Friday 20th March at the latest.
Kind regards
Mrs Jane Higgins

Giv - the most expensive soap in the world

Well, not exactly ... but it does promise me Refreshing Beauty with Pearl Extract

Pearl Extract?

Yup, you heard right - it's even in the list of ingredients!

And it claims on the side of the benefits of Pearl Extract - Natural sea minerals that cleanse your skin gently along with a Refreshing Perfume for dynamic personality as well as what you might expect in a bar of soap - Sodium Soap, Water, Glycerin, Titanium Dioxide, Teta Sodium EDTA and CI 42051.

Made in Indonesia, I imagine impoverished pearl divers selling their pearls, and rather than embellishing the necks of rich western women, earning a pittance from the soap manufacturer.

Is there a glut in the pearl market?

Observing the rather charming young lady on the packaging, she must be using Pearl Extract toothpaste as well. I hope she can tell this man (and myself for that matter) what brand of toothpaste she uses.

If any of my readers, especially Ben Goldacre and Dr Crippen (please promote it to your patients, write to NICE so it can be prescribed in two years or so as a treatment for teenage acne), would like to sample the benefits of Pearl Extract, send me 20 Euros or an equivanlent hard currency to to allieve your consciences about impoverished Indonesian pearl divers, and the father of a daughter with leukaemia (come on there - I'm going to take a 5% cut for the trouble!).