UK chancellor George Osborne was confronted on his government's decision to charge value-added tax (VAT) on hot take-away food like pasties. Labour MP John Mann asked Osborne when he'd last had a pasty from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries. Osborne couldn't recall. But PM David Cameron was ready for the question when it next arose at a press conference, stating "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too."
The West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet at Leeds station has been gone for two years; there was another pasty baker there, the Cornish Bakehouse, but it closed last week. Patrick Wintour and Martin Wainwright explain in the Guardian:
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Despite U-turns on most things this week, Downing Street stuck to its line and insisted that the prime minister had eaten a pasty at Leeds station, but the date was unclear, and possibly the purveyors had not been West Cornwall Pasty Company.
This was just as well, since Gavin Williams, the ungrateful boss of David Cameron's favourite pasty-makers, was not interested in Cameron's endorsement of his product. He wanted "clarity and leadership" from the prime minister.
But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.
Bruce Schneier was invited to testify about the TSA to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but at the last minute he was disinvited, after the TSA objected to having him in the room.
Congressional Testimony on the TSA
On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it's pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it's easier for them to do that if I'm not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failed -- video at the 10:50 mark.)
The committee said it would try to invite me back for another hearing, but with my busy schedule, I don't know if I will be able to make it. And it would be far less effective for me to testify without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.
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Please always be visiting the TOM THE DANCING BUG WEBSITE, and when you are not, please always be following RUBEN BOLLING on TWITTER. Read the rest
Yesterday, I wrote about Jon Corbett's video, in which he demonstrates a method that appears to make it easy to smuggle metal objects (including weapons) through a TSA full-body scanner. The TSA has responded by saying that they still trust the machines, but they won't say why, "for obvious security reasons."
As Wired's David Kravets points out, Corbett is only the most recent critic to take a skeptical look at the efficacy of the expensive, invasive machinery. Other critics include the Government Accountability Office ("the devices might be ineffective") and the Journal of Transportation Security ("terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines by taping explosive devices to their stomachs").
Corbett responded to the TSA's we-can't-tell-you-or-we'd-have-to-kill-you rebuttal with "You don't believe it? Try it."
“These machines are safe,” Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.
In a blog post, the government’s response was that, “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field.”
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Dr Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre sez, "I did a really sophisticated and complex data visualisation. I think you might enjoy it. There's definitely a pattern in there, I just need to decide what statistical tests will best extract the signal from the noise."
Who is, and is not, invited to Cameron's emergency NHSbill summit? A data visualisation.
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The @Vikileaks30 account on Twitter has been publishing embarrassing personal information about Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is pushing for a domestic spying law that would require ISPs to gather and retain your personal information and turn it over to police without a warrant. The Vikileaks account kicked off with excerpts from the affidavits from Toews's very ugly divorce, including his ex-wife's allegations about his abuse of his official government expense accounts. The account created a nationwide stir over the domestic spying proposal, and has caused a rare (and possibly strategic*) climbdown from the majority Conservative government.
Now The Ottawa Citizen newspaper has tricked the person behind the anonymous account into visiting a website that it controls, and have traced back the IP address used in the trap to the House of Commons, suggesting that Toews's nemesis works for the federal government. The Citizen claims that the IP address has also been used to "frequently" edit Wikipedia "[give] them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias" (the New Democratic Party is the left-leaning opposition party in Parliament).
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While it's impossible to say who is actually the using the address without a full-scale investigation undertaken by the House of Commons, a trace of the IP address shows it is also used by an employee of the House to post comments on a website for fans of the musician Paul Simon.
When reached by phone, the employee said that while he frequents the Paul Simon website he has nothing to do with the Vikileaks30 Twitter account.
A Canadian Conservative MP has asked for an end to medium-wide camera shots in the broadcasts of Parliament on Friday afternoons. Fridays are when many MPs travel to their home ridings (districts) and Parliament empties out. The medium-wide shots used by Parliamentary broadcasts reveals a largely empty House of Commons. Worried about how bad this looked, Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski chaired a committee to revise the broadcast rules, and asked the CIO's office to end medium-wide shots, because it reflected badly on Parliament. The CIO turned him down.
Tom Lukiwski said he has heard concerns from colleagues that the empty seats picked up on camera make politicians look bad. "That kind of concerns a lot of members that it frankly doesn't look good for Parliament," he said. Friday is usually a light day in the House, as many MPs vacate Ottawa to return to their constituencies. A House of Commons committee reviewing the broadcasting rules this week heard from Parliament's chief informa-tion officer, who said wide-angle shots have been permitted since 1992 to provide some context for viewers at home. "You are on camera," Louis Bard told the committee. "If I have to focus on the chair and the member behind is sleeping, there's not much I can do."
Conservative MP worried empty seats make the House of Commons look bad
(via As It Happens)
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: "The U.S. federal government's main procurement agency is issuing iPhones and Android-based devices to some of its 17,000 workers." (Reuters) Read the rest
Conservative legislators in India resigned Wednesday after being caught enjoying mobile phone smut during a session of parliament.
Karnata state's Minister for Cooperation Laxman Savadi and Womens' and Childrens' Development Minister C.C. Patil were broadcast on TV sharing the porn clip, according to Reuters' Nila Bhalla. A third minister, the owner of the phone, also quit.
"We live in a country where there already is this social mindset that women are disposable commodities and are seen as transferable properties," Renuka Chowdhary, a former federal minister for women's development and a member of the Congress Party. "It really is troubling that the people who are in positions of power and have the responsibility to change things actually have the same mindset and are busy watching porn."
India ministers quit after caught watching porn in parliament [Reuters]
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The streets of Poland have erupted in protest on the eve of the country's signing onto ACTA, the secretive copyright treaty that is being rammed through many European Parliaments this year. Members of Parliament showed up for work wearing Anon-style Guy Fawkes masks to show their disapproval.
After the signing, protesters rallied in the Polish cities of Poznan and Lublin to express their anger over the treaty. Lawmakers for the left-wing Palikot's Movement wore masks in parliament to show their dissatisfaction, while the largest opposition party — the right-wing Law and Justice party — called for a referendum on the matter.
Poland signs copyright treaty that drew protests
(Image: downsized thumbnail snipped from a photo by Alik Keplicz/AP)
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Here's a terrific article by Gilles Frydman at e-patients.net
advocating for opposition to H.R. 3699, aka The Research Works Act (RWA). The bill before Congress would seriously impede "the ability of patients and caregivers, researchers, physicians and healthcare professionals to access and use critical health-related information in a timely manner." (@timoreilly via @epatientdave) Read the rest
The US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is hosting a Healthy New Year Video Challenge with cash prizes of up to $2,000. They're soliciting short videos with the theme of a New Year’s resolution for improving your health or the health of a loved one, through technology.
"Videos must show how you will use information technology to achieve your resolution and how you plan to maintain it," according to the contest website. The sort of topics one might address (one per video) include obtaining your health records from your doctors and learning how to read and understand their contents, finding online support communities for a specific illness, or direct health improvement actions like using an electronic pedometer to track physical activity, or an iPhone app to count calories or monitor sleep cycles.
Submissions are accepted through February 16. You have to be a US citizen over 18 to participate. More rules here. (thanks, Lygeia Ricciardi!)
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Image: A Dimock, Pennsylvania resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. Dimock is one of hundreds of sites in Pennsylvania where energy companies have raced to tap the massive Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. Residents say the drilling has clouded their drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. Picture taken March 7, 2009.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a commitment to deliver safe water to residents of Dimock, PA, a small village where natural gas drilling operations have poisoned water supplies. Why? So far, federal officials won't explain why.
Only 24 hours after promising them water, EPA officials informed residents of Dimock that a tanker truck wouldn't be coming after all. The about-face left residents furious, confused and let down — and, once again, scrambling for water for bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets.
Federal Agency Cancels Water Delivery to Pa. Town - ABC News.
In ProPublica's extensive reporting series on fracking in America, Dimock has been mentioned often. Christopher Bateman's 2010 Vanity Fair piece on fracking in rural Pennsylvania is another good read, and focuses on Dimock.
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House Speaker John Boehner's office ordered CSPAN to switch off its camers during a fellow Congressman's scathing dressing-down over the Speaker's refusal to entertain further debate on unemployment benefits. The Speaker asserts control over CSPAN's cameras and has made it clear that Americans can only expect to see their government in session when he believes it is in their interest to do so.
“We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country, and that is the continuation of the middle class tax cut, the continuation of unemployment benefits for those at risk of losing them, and a continuation of the access to doctors for all those 48 million seniors who rely on them daily for help.”
And that’s when the audio cut out. Seconds later, footage faded to a shot of the capitol from outside.
Moments later, someone at C-SPAN took to Twitter and explained: “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras – the Speaker of the House does.”
It’s for reasons just like this, one might infer, that Boehner told C-SPAN back in February it would not be allowed control its own cameras.
Boehner’s office cuts off C-SPAN cameras as GOP takes verbal beating
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Four years after their initial Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has received and published 4,500 pages' worth of detail on the way that mercenaries from Blackwater and other defense contractors conducted themselves in Iraq. Their basic procedure appears to have been to shoot any car that attempted to pass or tailgate any of the convoys they guarded, especially if the driver was a "military aged male." Then, with no followup (or very little), they would conclude that the driver was unharmed and drive on, filing a report later. One victim of a Blackwater mercenary shooting was a judge, who was wounded in the leg (though the mercs' report claimed he was unharmed). The State Department backed the mecenaries on this; in Gawker's words, 'The State Department determined that shooting at judges for driving too fast in their own country is "within the established Department of State policy for escalation of force."' Other drivers were shot because they carried passengers with "devices" in their hands -- such as mobile phones.
When Blackwater teams were caught lying about their roadside battles and executions, they faced little or no discipline. The State Department officials supervising the mercenaries' behavior were told that discipline "would lower morale" among the mercenaries, and seemed to accept this at face value.
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A July 2007 email from one State Department official to several colleagues—apparently in reference to the judge's shooting—openly worried about contractor teams indiscriminately shooting their way around Iraq:
When was the last time we...looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq?
The UK government has officially apologised to computing giant and war hero Alan Turing for forcing him to take hormone injections as "therapy" for being gay (driving him to suicide), but now a petition has been mounted to get an official pardon Turing's 1952 for "gross indecency."
We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of 'gross indecency'. In 1952, he was convicted of 'gross indecency' with another man and was forced to undergo so-called 'organo-therapy' - chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41. Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he'd done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.
Grant a pardon to Alan Turing
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Police officers at Britain's Houses of Parliament have been caught telling protesters that political material may not be brought into the government's deliberative house; reports say this wasn't the first time.
“As she arrived at security, a police officer confiscated her lobby briefing material and told her that she was not allowed to have anything of a political nature. In fact, she was told that this was a direction from the House authorities. The officer then spoke to a senior officer, who gave the same response.”
Police attempt to ban “political materials” from House of Commons
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