Monday, December 27, 2010

Rationing Health

The Beeb pointed me to this website about the different ways of controlling healthcare spending in the UK, South Africa, India, Zambia.

It is aimed at a US audience. Pertinently it asks ...

Who lives? Who decides?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Does the NHS need this?

... and for that matter does the public need this?

Our new government is to do away with Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities. "Government to press ahead with radical NHS reform plans". More bureaucratic upset and confusion in the NHS. Haven't we had enough of "radical NHS reform plans"?

And who is going to replace the PCTs and the SHAs?

Of course, it's obvious ... the GPs!


What the fuck?

The CIA has set up a Wikileaks Task Force!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet died on Friday last.

The art of the disposessed?

Don Van Vliet, known under his musical pseudonym as "Captain Beefheart", has been a hero of mine, (along with Frank Zappa - a close friend and collabarator), since the tender age of 14 years. Just as Punk was emerging, with the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Siousie and the Banshees etc, my school colleagues were into Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull etc etc. In 1976-77 only a very few of us turned on to punk. But even then I couldn't turn them on to Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.

The few obituaries I have seen (Rolling Stone, Guardian) emphasise his music and not his visual art.

His drawings and paintings, many done after his "retirement" from music, are as significant as the music. And the words to the music are poetry.

I was fortunate to see him perform at Wakefield Town Hall (of all places!) on his last UK tour in the early '80s (around the time of the "Doc at the Radar Station" album). I am fortunate to have three original paintings.

I am listening to Trout Mask Replica now. My children, my neighbours' children dance to Bat Chain Puller ... and I look at the paintings on my wall.

What should I quote?

The poet Ian McKellen recently chose "Moonlight in Vermont" on the BBC's eternal Desert Island Disks.

Obviously I cannot choose an instrumental ... I could give you Ant Man Bee, Ella Guru, Bat Chain Puller but I'll give you two less famous ditties ...


I walk, I talk
but nobody cares

I walk, I talk
but nobody hears

I walk, I talk
but nobody's there

And if they are
they give me
the parachoke stare

I walk
I don't know where

Everywhere I go I get
the parachoke stare


Apes Ma, Apes Ma

Your cage's too dirty Apes Ma

Remember when you were young Apes Ma
You used to break out of your cage
You know you're not strong enough to do that anymore

And Apes Ma
The little girl that named you years ago has died now
And you're older Apes Ma

Remember when your name was in the paper Apes Ma

Apes Ma, Apes Ma
You're eating too much
You're going to the bathroom too much, Apes Ma

And Apes Ma
Your cage isn't getting any bigger, Apes Ma

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Assange granted bail

Julian Assange, founder of Wikipedia, has been granted bail!

Congratulations to all!


A long time since I blogged anything about leukaemia and medicine.

However, I have been pointed (thanks Andy - didn't realise until today you had commented way back when!) to this report on the Beeb about research just published in The Lancet regarding the highly successful use of Mitoxantrone in the treatment of relapsed childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. So successful in fact that the trial abandoned use of the traditional medication, Idarubicin - "Randomisation was stopped in December, 2007 because of differences in progression-free and overall survival between the two groups".

And seemingly the drug is cheap as well!

Cá Kho Tra

My friend and erstwhile employer, Morais, took me for a business lunch with a client last week to the end of the road at the fishing village of Sta Catarina. We were both on the look out for fresh fish and, in my case, fresh tuna (I had been eyeing not so fresh albacore on the city market for a week!). And I found one!

Why was I looking for fresh tuna? Because I had come across this simple but fascinating recipe from Vietnam in Alan Davidson’s Seafood of South-East Asia:

“This dish is best made with tunny, but other fish with a relatively high fat content, for example Spanish mackerel, may be used. One effect of the tea is to balance the fat. The tea itself may be ordinary black tea if lotus tea (that is to say, tea containing the little white glands from lotus flowers) is not available.

800 grams tunny, in steaks

cooking oil

lotus tea

100 grams pork, diced (optional)

1 small onion, sliced

1 ½ soupspoonfuls nuoc nam (fish sauce)

½ teaspoonful black pepper

1 ½ soupspoonfuls sugar

Heat the oil and cook the tunny steaks in it until they are beginning to turn brown. Reserve them. Meanwhile make a pot of quite strong tea.

Put the fish and pork in a roomy casserole, pour the tea over them, add all the other ingredients and let the whole mixture simmer over a low flame for 40 minutes (or longer if the steaks are very thick).”

I used one tuna steak of perhaps 1 ½ cm thick and black tea – other ingredients as above. The Nuoc Nam is I think essential. If you’ve gone to the expense of buying good tuna, buy good rice to accompany.


Morais asked me for the recipe today so here it is!

Good luck and Bon Appetit!

Aphorisms XI

A long time since I posted an aphorism - I'm not changing the header but here's a good one from an 1897 letter by perhaps the Master of Aphorisms, Oscar Wilde.

“I would sooner have fifty unnatural vices than one unnatural virtue. It is unnatural virtue that makes the world, for those who suffer, such a premature hell.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange update

Julian Assange has been refused bail and will remain in custody until 14 December. Beeb here.

Wikileaks, Bahnhof, Switch

Seemingly Bahnhof as yet has received no threats of legal action - a bit of a surprise given Sweden's efforts to "get" Julian Assange of Wikileaks over previously dismissed sex offence accusations and Sweden's equivalent of the MPAA's former efforts to "sting" Bahnhof over file-sharing (see previous posts).

The Swiss Internet company Switch is also resisting pressure ...

From the Guardian:

"WikiLeaks site's Swiss registrar dismisses pressure to take it offline

Swiss registrar Switch says there is 'no reason' why WikiLeaks should be forced off internet, despite French and US demands

WikiLeaks has been fighting to stay online since releasing a cache of sensitive diplomatic cables to five international media organisations.

WikiLeaks received a boost tonight when Switzerland rejected growing international calls to force the site off the internet.

The whistleblowers site, which has been publishing leaked US embassy cables, was forced to switch domain names to yesterday after the US host of its main website,, pulled the plug following mounting political pressure.

The site's new Swiss registrar, Switch, today said there was "no reason" why it should be forced offline, despite demands from France and the US. Switch is a non-profit registrar set up by the Swiss government for all 1.5 million Swiss .ch domain names.

The reassurances come just hours after eBay-owned PayPal, the primary donation channel to WikiLeaks, terminated its links with the site, citing "illegal activity". France yesterday added to US calls for all companies and organisations to terminate their relationship with WikiLeaks following the release of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables.

The Swiss Pirate Party, which registered the domain name earlier this year on behalf of the site, said Switch had reassured the party that it would not block the site.

An email sent by Denis Simonet, president of the Swiss Pirate Party, to international members of the liberal political group said: "Some minutes ago I got good news: Switch, the registrar for .ch domains, told us that there is no reason to block"

Laurence Kaye, leader of the UK-based Pirate Party, tonight told the Guardian: "International Pirate Parties now have an integral role in allowing access to WikiLeaks. I wish some of our other politicians had the same guts.

"We support the WikiLeaks project as access to information is the prerequisite for an informed and engaged democracy."

Julian Assange

Julian Assange handed himself in to London police at 0930 this morning and is expected to appear in a magistrate's court later.

Meanwhile hackers (Operation Payback) brought down the website of PostFinance on Monday night and are threatening to the same to PayPal - what about Mastercard? However, as I write the PostFinance website is back up.

Wikileaks Donations

Yesterday I wondered on how Wikileaks would continue to receive donations since PayPal shut its account down (and now its Swiss bank Post Finance and Mastercard - see here).

Here's how.

In other news it seems that Julian Assange is going to turn himself in today, will appear in court and apply for bail.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks - technical

Various bits and pieces about how Wikileaks is getting past Amazon and EveryDNS blocks and how you can help (if you have a server).

The list of Wikileak mirrors is here. And how to set up a Wikileaks mirror is here.

From the Guardian we have an explanation of the Wikileak IP trail.

Would like to know how the Paypal donation block is going to be got around.

Wikileaks and censoring the US Government

From the Juan Cole post I cited earlier:

"The Obama administration is forbidding government employees to call up the wikileaks documents on government computers, including those at the Library of Congress and on military bases. That policy is just plain stupid, and unworthy of Obama’s renowned intellect. I don’t want my intelligence analysts not knowing about the fall-out from the wikileaks cables!"

I confirmed this with a US government source in the International Broadcasting Bureau (the USG's media bureau - Voice of America, Radio Marti etc etc) this morning:

I believe there is an Executive Order prohibiting any unauthorized USG computer from accessing Wikileaks. That would cover VOA reporters too."

Shooting yourself in the foot?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wikileaks update

The weekend seems to have been relatively quiet on the Wikileaks front.

Only two real breaking stories but some interesting commentary and background.

The breaking stories are that the latest release of US State Dept. cables includes one requesting an inventory of strategic points of interest to the US in each country where it is represented.

In this story the lawyers of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claim they are being hassled by the security services.

Some interesting background and commentary:

First up is Swedish ISP Bahnhof's role in keeping Wikileaks online (from CNN! and pointed out to me by friends at Bahnhof who are also the technical contact for the São Tomé e Príncipe domain).

Then we have Marc Ambinder in the US National Journal questioning the IT systems that allowed how US military private Bradley Manning had access (in Iraq at the time) to so much classified material.

You can no longer donate to Wikileaks using Paypal.

Finally, extremely well-argued commentary from Juan Cole (which I don't entirely agree with) on Informed Comment.

EveryDNS and Wikileaks Part II

The Beeb has picked up on the story of Wikileaks being thrown off the EveryDNS service. So Wikileaks relocated to a server at IP address or http:/ (in Switzerland). Meanwhile a whole bunch of Wikileak mirrors have cropped up - list available at

Ironically, and to quote from the BBC,

"One web expert explained that Wikileaks had managed to re-establish web access via a different address,

"Users visiting the website appear to be directed via a Swedish website on to a server in France which is now hosting their main website," explained Sebastien Lahtinen, director of web hosting firm NetConnex.

In a surprising twist, the .ch address is also hosted by EveryDNS.

"It seems a strange choice given that they pulled the plug on the .org address just a few hours ago," said Paul Mutton, a security analyst at internet services firm Netcraft. "It could be that Wikileaks is quite happy to play a cat and mouse game with them," he added."

EveryDNS and Wikileaks

So here is the EveryDNS press release on its suspension of Wikileaks ...

"All systems are functioning normally. provided domain name system (DNS) services to the domain name until 10PM EST, December 2, 2010, when such services were terminated. As with other users of the network, this service was provided for free. The termination of services was effected pursuant to, and in accordance with, the Acceptable Use Policy.

More specifically, the services were terminated for violation of the provision which states that "Member shall not interfere with another Member's use and enjoyment of the Service or another entity's use and enjoyment of similar services." The interference at issues arises from the fact that has become the target of multiple distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. These attacks have, and future attacks would, threaten the stability of the infrastructure, which enables access to almost 500,000 other websites.

Thus, last night, at approximately 10PM EST, December 1, 2010 a 24 hour termination notification email was sent to the email address associated with the account. In addition to this email, notices were sent to Wikileaks via Twitter and the chat function available through the website. Any downtime of the website has resulted from its failure to use another hosted DNS service provider."

Amazon and Wikileaks

So we are told here by Amazon why they took down Wikileaks - of course not political pressure!

Bahnhof and Wikileaks

Wikileaks principal host was on servers. Amazon stopped hosting earlier this week. But Wikileaks had back-up servers including at Bahnhof one of Sweden's largest ISPs and a partner in São Tomé's national domain holder. Wikileaks used the firm everydns ( to provide DNS services (i.e. resolving web addresses to IP addresses).

I am in formed that everydns has stopped providing DNS services for them early Friday morning due to Denial-of-Service attacks and hence Wikileaks is offline.

I also noted this morning that the UK Guardian newspaper's Wikileaks blog was offline but seems to be back up now ...

I am assured that they will switch dns-provider.


Strange I cannot find anything on the Siemens website about Stuxnet.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stuxnet again

Reading the heavily technical Symantec report on Stuxnet. It gets stranger and stranger ...

From what I understand first the Siemens PLC needs to be infected via Siemens proprietary Step 7 Windows-based software. Then the PLC needs to connect to "Command and Control" servers via an Internet link. Only then can a programmer change the code in the PLC. Symantec has monitored infections through connections to these Command and Control servers.

The apparent sudden cessation of Iranian infections in August is probably due, according to Symantec, to the Iranians shutting down Internet connections between PLCs and the C & C servers, rather than a real end to infections.

What I haven't fathomed yet is why/how come Iran bought so heavily into Siemens PLC and Step 7 technology and why other countries with the same Siemens PLCs have not been so affected ... is Siemens marketshare so much smaller? ... surely other countries are just as prone to IT security lapses as Iran? ... was Siemens part of the story? ... is there something in Symantec's technical discussion missing e.g. deliberate geographical targetting?

More as I read more ...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wikileak Saudi-Iran Cable

As we said yesterday, Iran claims this is CIA disinformation:

See paragraphs 10 and 11:

DE RUEHRH #0649/01 1110847
O 200847Z APR 08
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 000649




E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/19/2018

Classified By: CDA Michael Gfoeller, Reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (S) Summary: US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and
General David Petraeus met with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd
al-Aziz, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, General
Presidency of Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrin bin Abd
al-Aziz, and Interior Minister Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz during
their April 14-15 visit to Riyadh. The Saudi King and senior
Princes reviewed Saudi policy toward Iraq in detail, all
making essentially the same points. They said that the
Kingdom will not send an ambassador to Baghdad or open an
embassy until the King and senior Saudi officials are
satisfied that the security situation has improved and the
Iraqi government has implemented policies that benefit all
Iraqis, reinforce Iraq's Arab identity, and resist Iranian
influence. The Saudis evinced somewhat greater flexibility
regarding the issues of economic and humanitarian assistance
for Iraq and debt forgiveness. In a conversation with the
Charge' on April 17, Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel
al-Jubeir indicated that the King had been very impressed by
the visit of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, and
al-Jubeir hinted that the Saudi government might announce
changes to its Iraq policy before the President's visit to
Riyadh in mid-May. End Summary.

Positive Signs in Iraq

2. (S) In all their meetings with the Saudi royals, both
Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus conveyed the progress
in Iraq and confirmed the negative role Iran is playing in
Iraq. They characterized the recent ISF-led operations in
Basra and Baghdad as having a striking effect against the
Shia militias, most importantly turning Iraqi public opinion
away from the militias. While Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki's decision to take action against the militias was
described as hasty and not well-planned, Ambassador Crocker
and General Petraeus emphasized that any tactical shortfalls
were overshadowed by the greater positive effect of unifying
Iraq and demonstrating the GOI's, and most specifically
al-Maliki's, determined resolve to take on the Shia militias,
especially Jaysh al-Madhi. Concurrently, these operations
unequivocally demonstrated Iran's subversive activities in
Iraq and its broader regional ambitions. Throughout all
their discussions, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus
stressed the importance and urgent need for the Saudis to
join us in supporting Iraq.

The Saudi Embassy Issue

3. (S) King Abdullah, the Foreign Minister, and Prince
Muqrin all stated that the Saudi government would not send an
ambassador to Baghdad or open an embassy there in the near
future, citing both security and political grounds in support
of this position. The Foreign Minister stated that he had
considered dispatching an ambassador and had sent Saudi
diplomats to Baghdad to identify a site for the Saudi
embassy. However, he said. "the King simply forbade us to go
any farther." King Abdullah confirmed this account in a
separate meeting with Ambassador Crocker and General
Petraeus. The King asserted that the security situation in
Baghdad was too dangerous for him to risk sending a Saudi
ambassador there. "He would immediately become a target for
the terrorists and the militias," he said.

4. (S) The King also rejected the suggestion that by sending
a Saudi ambassador to Baghdad he could give essential
political support to the Iraqi government as it struggles to
resist Iranian influence and subversion. He expressed
lingering doubt on the Iraqi government's willingness to
resist Iran. He also repeated his frequently voiced doubts
about Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki himself by alluding to
his "Iranian connections." The Saudi monarch stated that he
does not trust al-Maliki because the Iraqi Prime Minister had
"lied" to him in the past by promising to take certain
actions and then failing to do so. The King did not say
precisely what these allegedly broken promises might have
been. He repeated his oft heard view that al-Maliki rules
Iraq on behalf of his Shiite sect instead of all Iraqis.

5. (S) However, in a potentially significant move, the King
did not reject the idea of dispatching a Saudi ambassador to
Baghdad completely. Instead, he said that he would consider

RIYADH 00000649 002 OF 003

doing so after the Iraqi provincial elections are held in the
autumn. The conduct of these elections would indicate
whether or not the Iraqi government is truly interested in
ruling on behalf of all Iraqis or merely in support of the
Shia, King Abdullah asserted.

Grudging Acknowledgment of Change in Iraq

6. (S) The Foreign Minister signaled another potential
softening in Saudi policy by saying that the Kingdom's
problem was not with al-Maliki as a person but rather with
the conduct of the Iraqi government. The King himself
admitted that the Iraqi government's performance has improved
in recent months and grudgingly accepted the point that
al-Maliki and his security forces have indeed been fighting
extremists, specifically Shia extremists in both Basra and
Baghdad and Sunni extremists and Al Qaeda in Mosul. However,
the King and the senior Princes argued that more time would
be required to judge whether the recent change in Iraqi
behavior was lasting and sincere. The King suggested that
much of the Iraqi government's improved performance is
attributable to US prodding rather than change in Iraqi

7. (S) The Foreign Minister also suggested that the USG
should prod Ayatollah Sistani to speak out in favor of a
unified Iraq and national reconciliation among different
Iraqi sects and groups. "You have paid a heavy price in
blood and treasure, and Sistani and his people have benefited
directly. You have every right to ask this of him," Prince
Saud al-Faisal said.

Possible Saudi Economic Assistance

8. (S) The King, Prince Muqrin, and the Foreign Minister all
suggested that the Saudi government might be willing to
consider the provision of economic and humanitarian
assistance to Iraq. Prince Muqrin asked Ambassador Crocker
and General Petraeus to send him a list of the kinds of
assistance that the US government would like to see the
Kingdom provide Iraq. Al-Jubeir later told the Charge' that
this assistance would be separate from the USD 1 billion in
aid that the Saudi government had promised at the Madrid
Conference but still not delivered due to security worries.
He said that the Madrid commitment consisted of $500 million
in trade credits and $500 million in project assistance with
strict conditionally, along the lines of what the World Bank
would require. Al-Jubeir added that the assistance the Saudi
government might provide via Prince Muqrin would initially be
in the range of $75-$300 million.

Possible Debt Relief

9. (S) The King noted that Saudi debt relief for Iraq "will
come at some point," although he did not say when. Al-Jubeir
told the Charge' that debt relief is a real possibility. He
also noted that the Saudi government might make changes to
its Iraq policy, perhaps including both assistance and debt
relief, prior to the President's visit to Riyadh.

The Need to Resist Iran

10. (S) The King, Foreign Minister, Prince Muqrin, and
Prince Nayif all agreed that the Kingdom needs to cooperate
with the US on resisting and rolling back Iranian influence
and subversion in Iraq. The King was particularly adamant on
this point, and it was echoed by the senior princes as well.
Al-Jubeir recalled the King's frequent exhortations to the US
to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons
program. "He told you to cut off the head of the snake," he
recalled to the Charge', adding that working with the US to
roll back Iranian influence in Iraq is a strategic priority
for the King and his government.

11. (S) The Foreign Minister, on the other hand, called
instead for much more severe US and international sanctions
on Iran, including a travel ban and further restrictions on
bank lending. Prince Muqrin echoed these views, emphasizing
that some sanctions could be implemented without UN approval.
The Foreign Minister also stated that the use of military
pressure against Iran should not be ruled out.

RIYADH 00000649 003 OF 003

12. (S) Comment: Saudi attitudes toward Iraq, from the King
on down, remain marked by skepticism and suspicion. That
said, the Saudis have noticed recent events in Iraq and are
eager to work with the US to resist and reverse Iranian
encroachment in Iraq. The King was impressed by Ambassador
Crocker's and General Petraeus' visit, as were the Foreign
Minister, GPI Chief, and Interior Minister. Cautious as ever,
the Saudis may nevertheless be willing to consider new
measures in the areas of assistance and debt relief, although
further discussions will be required to make these ideas a
reality. End Comment.
13. (U) This cable was reviewed and cleared by Ambassador
Crocker and General Petraeus.

A Digital Defeat

Win one, lose one.