Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Liberia gets all-female peacekeeping force

A unit of United Nations peacekeepers with a difference has arrived for work in Liberia - they are all women. More than 100 female peacekeepers from India are there to work as an armed police unit to help stabilise Liberia which, after years of war, is trying to rebuild its own police force from scratch.

Stepping off the chartered plane in immaculate blue uniforms and berets, the 103 women were immediately on parade and probably bewildered by the media frenzy. It is just a coincidence that the first all-female peacekeeping force is in Liberia, the first African country to elect a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Crime is high especially in Monrovia and the war has left a degree of violence simmering just below the surface.

But having served in turbulent areas, including parts of northern India, the commander Seema Dhundiya says they are well prepared.

"These girls are experienced and have been trained. They have worked in areas of India where there was insurgency. They will do a good job and the Liberian ladies will get motivated and inspired to come forward and join the regular police."

Excellence, excellence, excellenece

Non-learners 'may lose benefits'

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has said he would seek to take away benefits from young people who refused to take up education or training opportunities. In a BBC interview he advocated a "carrot and stick" approach - education maintenance allowances balanced by "compulsion if necessary".
He wanted to ensure all aged 16 to 18 were in some form of education, as part of a drive to improve the UK's skills. His priorities would be "excellence, excellence, excellence", he said.

Earlier this month, the Department for Education and Skills confirmed plans to raise the school leaving age in England, in effect, by 2013.
Statistics indicate 267,000 of those aged 16 and 17 are not in education or training.

Mr Brown said young people must realise they could not receive benefits unless they were "contributing to their own training".
He also called for employers to take a more active role in training young people.
Read the whole text: BBC NEWS.

UK sees second warmest January

This January is on course to be the second warmest in the UK since records began and the fifth warmest in central England for 350 years.
The average UK temperature so far for the month - which experts say is unlikely to change - is 5.9C (43F). The average Central England Temperature (CET), which has been measured since 1658, is 7.1C (45F). The Met Office began recording UK weather in 1914, with the warmest January since that time coming in 1916.

During that record month, the average temperature was 6.3C (43F).
The Met Office said temperatures had been pushed up by winds blowing warm air in from the west.

This month's average is 2.5C above the Met Office's long-term January average, measured between 1971 and 2000.
This January has also seen 17% more sunshine and 21% more rain than normal.
Read the BBC story here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ice storms in the USA have given people wonderful chances for extraordinary pictures.
See more BBC photos here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Can chewing gum be used to tackle obesity?

Scientists are looking at whether an appetite-suppressing chewing gum could be used to tackle obesity. The Imperial College London team are developing a drug based on a natural gut hormone that mimics the body's "feeling full" response. An injectible treatment could be available in five to eight years, but the long-term goal is to produce a form that can be absorbed in the mouth.

One in five adults are obese, but that could rise to one in three by 2010.

The hormone in question is called pancreatic polypeptide (PP), which the body produces after every meal to ensure eating does not run out of control. There is evidence that some people have more of the hormone than others, and becoming overweight reduces the levels produced. A vicious circle then results, causing appetite to increase, an inability to resist the temptation of food, and further increases in weight.

Early tests have shown moderate doses of the hormone, pancreatic polypeptide (PP), can reduce the amount of food eaten by healthy volunteers by 15% to 20%.

The team have now been given funding of £2.2m from the Wellcome Trust to take it forward. As well as chewing gum, they believe it could be incorporated in a nasal spray.

Lead researcher Professor Steve Bloom said: "We have got a problem and we don't know what to do about it.
"We hit on the idea of a chewing gum because obese people like chewing."

BBC story - Read more here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jaywalking and crossing roads in the UK and USA

Distinguished historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, visiting professor of global environmental history at Queen Mary College, University of London, tried to cross the road while in Atlanta for the conference of the American Historical Association, only to find himself in handcuffs and surrounded by armed police.

"I come from a country where you can cross the road where you like," said the visiting professor of global environmental history at Queen Mary College, University of London. "It hadn't occurred to me that I wasn't allowed to cross the road between the two main conference venues."

The bespectacled professor says he didn't realise the "rather intrusive young man" shouting that he shouldn't cross there was a policeman. "I thanked him for his advice and went on."

The officer asked for identification. The professor asked for his, after which Officer Leonpacher told him he was under arrest and, the professor claims, kicked his legs from under him, pinned him to the ground and confiscated his box of peppermints.

Professor Fernandez-Armesto then spent eight hours in the cells before the charges were dropped. He told the Times that his colleagues now regard him as "as a combination of Rambo, because it took five cops to pin me to the ground, and Perry Mason, because my eloquence before a judge obtained my immediate release".

Not every jaywalking Brit abroad will be similarly blessed, nor enjoy the intervention of the city mayor.
Just because you can do something in the UK doesn't mean it's OK in another country. Jaywalking is an offence in most urban areas in the United States - although enforcement varies between states - and Canada, and in places such as Singapore, Spain, Poland, Slovenia and Australia.

Read the whole BBC story here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

EU plans 'industrial revolution'

The European Commission has unveiled a new energy strategy, calling on member states to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 20% by 2020.

EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said there must be a common European response to climate change. New policies were needed "to face a new reality" - to make Europeans' energy supplies more secure, he said.

The urgency of the change was stressed by Russia's oil row with Belarus which hit EU states Germany and Poland.

The EU's civil service wants more investment in renewable energy, arguing that the old fuels have a political as well as clear environmental cost.
"We need new policies to face a new reality - policies which maintain Europe's competitiveness, protect our environment and make our energy supplies more secure," said Mr Barroso.
"Europe must lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say, post-industrial revolution, the development of a low-carbon economy."

But the EU should also adopt a unilateral commitment to reduce EU greenhouse emissions by at least 20% by 2020 as compared to 1990 levels.
"This will send a clear signal on how seriously we take the future of our planet," Mr Barroso added. Mr Barroso also said it was unacceptable that the supply of energy from Russia through transit countries should be interrupted without prior consultation.
He said this raised a real problem of credibility and Europe must act to guarantee that it did not happen again.

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth said the policy was "completely inadequate" and that it "failed to provide the low-carbon blueprint that is urgently required"."If the EU is serious about tackling climate change it must make far greater cuts in its carbon dioxide emissions. The proposed 20% cut does not demonstrate any intention to stay below the two degree limit," Catherine Pearce, the group's international climate co-ordinator, said.

There are three central pillars to this integrated energy policy, Mr Barroso said.
-A true internal energy market
-Accelerating the shift to low-carbon energy
-And energy efficiency through the 20% target by 2020
Read more ….BBC story here

Monday, January 08, 2007

Japanese mark Coming of Age day

Japan has been marking Coming of Age day, celebrating the transition into adulthood of those who turned 20 last year.

But in another sign of the country's demographic difficulties, the number of youths being honoured is the smallest in nearly two decades.

Twenty is the age when you can vote and drink alcohol legally here.
The celebrations take place at city halls, temples and other public venues like Tokyo Disneyland. Many of those taking part wear formal outfits, such as traditional kimonos, to mark the occasion.
This year though, there is more evidence of the country's declining birth rate. Official figures show that just under 1.4m adults turned 20 over the last 12 months. That is only 30,000 more than the smallest group ever, recorded in 1987.

In fact, taken as a percentage of the total population, the 2006 group is the smallest ever.
That is why experts say the government has to find new ways to persuade these young adults to have families of their own.

Japan is facing a labour shortage and a pensions shortfall. This is the year that millions of the country's baby boomers start to retire. Many of them who have had jobs for life will be looking forward to a relatively comfortable retirement.
The generation who have just entered adulthood will probably find life is much harder.

BBC story

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Playing rugby wearing size 18 boots

A teenager forced to quit rugby because his feet were too big is playing again, thanks to size 18 boots from America.

Carl Griffiths' feet grew while taking life-saving medication for leukaemia and the 14-year-old was relegated to water-carrier for his team.

Well-wishers helped by bringing Carl, from Trimsaran, Carmarthenshire, large boots and trainers from the US. The 6ft 4in teen, who was given the all clear last month, said: "I'm just glad to be out there again. I'm chuffed."

Rugby-mad Carl, whose feet are now nearly size 19, was forced to quit playing for the Trimsaran under-15s team for a year because he could not find boots to fit him.

"It was frustrating because I couldn't play with all my friends on the pitch," said Carl, whose team face Ystradgynlais on Sunday.

Carl still struggles to fit into size 14 socks - the biggest his parents can find. His mum Michelle Griffiths, 34, said: "They're the biggest available, but we have to replace them all the time because his heels go through them. We can't find any others.
"The hospital has said he's coming to the age where his growth should be slowing down, but there's no sign of that happening yet."

Carl's 11-year-old sister Shannon takes size eight women's shoes and his brother Matthew, who is 6ft 1in, has size 13 feet. Their father Wayne is 6ft and takes size 12 shoes and Mrs Griffiths has size nine feet.
Trimsaran Under-15s team coach Martin Evans welcomed Carl's return to the team.
"His very presence in the line-out, being head and shoulders above the rest, is intimidation itself," Mr Evans told the South Wales Evening Post.

To understand shoe sizes go here.
BBC story