Daily Archives: June 10, 2008

Pope to host Bush in unusual Vatican setting

Reuters | Jun 9, 2008

Pope Benedict will unusually host talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in a restored medieval tower on Friday, to repay him for a warm reception at the White House, the Vatican said.

The pope usually receives heads of state in his private study in the Apostolic Palace, overlooking St Peter’s Square.

But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the change was to repay Bush for “the cordiality of the meeting at the White House” when the pope visited the United States in April.

St. John’s Tower is a round structure on a hilltop inside the Vatican gardens that is sometimes used as a residence for important guests.

After their private talks, Bush and the pope will stroll in the gardens to see a statue of the Madonna.

The late Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, restored the tower as a place where he could work in peace.

Bush will be in Rome from Wednesday to Friday as part of a trip to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and Britain.

France to create Euro Army

French soldiers operate in Serbia, as part of a NATO peacekeeping force. There have been new calls for an EU army to respond to crises in Europe.

Daily Mail | Jun 7, 2008

By  Matthew Hickley

Moves to create a European Army controlled from Brussels have been revealed.

France is pushing for a new dedicated military headquarters and more fighting formations.

The French take over the EU presidency next month and will use their six-month term to drive forward ambitious plans to develop Europe’s own military structures – a move which critics claim will undermine Nato by excluding the U.S.

Gordon Brown was forced to make a hurried denial, playing down the prospects of a Euro Army, as the fiercely divisive issue returned to the political agenda.

Critics in the UK are deeply suspicious of strengthening the EU’s military identity – fearing that the French see it as a way to challenge Washington’s world dominance.

Federalists, however, see a Euro Army as a key building-block of a future super-state.

As MEPs debated EU military policy yesterday, the chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee called for the Union to develop more ‘hard power’ military capability and spend more money on a European Army.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski called for ‘a common foreign and security policy, including a European army’.

He said MEPs should in future have the final say on military missions under the EU flag – a move which would strip member states of a fundamental responsibility.

France, which along with Germany and Poland has spearheaded support for greater EU defence capability, has already indicated that the issue will feature heavily in its presidency, starting next month.

The Eurocorps badge

The French are expected to call on member countries to boost defence spending and commit more helicopters and aircraft.

The proposals, to be unveiled by President Nicolas Sarkozy, will urge the creation of more of the rapid reaction formations – each consisting of 1,500 troops from member countries – which take turns to be on stand-by for EU peacekeeping or humanitarian missions abroad, wearing the Eurocorps badge.

Enthusiasts for these ‘EU Battle Groups’ see them as the most likely basis for a future European Army. There are currently 15, including one all-British formation, but the French are expected to push for a dramatic increase.

Opponents in Brussels responded by attacking current joint EU military efforts as ‘impoverished and amateurish’.

Andrew Duff, a Liberal Democrat MEP and member of the European Council on Foreign relations, said many member states’ armies were archaic and hamstrung by ‘miserly’ military budgets, so talk of ‘ burden-sharing’ was often meaningless. He said recent research showed only a fifth of the two million troops across EU countries were in a fit state to be deployed abroad.

Critics believe an EU Army would be crippled by deep divisions among allies and the failure of member states to match U.S. levels of defence spending.

The U.S. spends around 4 per cent of its GDP on defence, compared with under 3 per cent in Britain and France and even less in some EU states. There are also fears that moves towards an EU army would undermine Nato and weaken Washington’s links with Europe on defence and security.

Tory defence spokesman Liam Fox said: ‘The idea of a standing European military force under EU command or the creation of an EU defence budget is wishful but dangerous thinking.’

He added: ‘This is another example of the EU getting involved in an area in which it has no business’.

Downing Street sought to defuse the row. Mr Brown’s spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister’s view is that there will not be a European Army. It is important to remember that the European Parliament has no role in policy in this area.’

Criminal prosecution handed down for miniscule bus fare errors

Criminal record for 90p bus fare ‘error’

Telegraph | Jun 9, 2008

By John Bingham

A bus passenger is launching a legal challenge after being handed a criminal record amid a dispute over a 90 pence fare.

Tom Usher believed he had paid the charge by swiping his Oyster travel card as he boarded the bus in December.

But a spot check by an inspector found that the payment had not been debited.

Although Mr Usher, 37, still had £1.30 on his card when challenged and maintains that he offered to pay it as soon as the oversight was discovered, he was ordered before magistrates, found guilty of failing to pay the fare and fined £90 with costs of £100.

But Mr Usher, a builder from Harlesden, north-west London, is now appealing the conviction at Kingston Crown Court.

The case echoes that of Rachel McKenzie, the secretary to the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, who was told she was being prosecuted for a 20p shortfall in her bus fare, also when she paid by Oyster card. Transport for London (TfL) later dropped the matter.

Mr Usher said he caught the Number 18 bendy bus home from Warren Street, central London, swiping the card over the reader and took his seat.

As he neared home a ticket inspector got on, checked his card and accused him of failing to pay the fare.

“I did not really take much notice when the inspector got on because I thought I had nothing to fear,” he said.

“When he told me I had not paid for the trip, I was really surprised and said it had to be a mistake because I had swiped the card.

“I had only just started using an Oyster card for the first time, so when he insisted I had not paid I apologised and said I was still getting used to using it.

“I said to him that I was covered anyway because I had the fare on the card but he … made me get off the bus.

“He kept me off the bus for 15 minutes while everyone on it watched me and he got two police officers to help check my address.

“I felt very intimidated but I never thought it would end up with a criminal prosecution.”

He was ordered to appear before Wimbledon magistrates’ court where he represented himself and pleaded not guilty but was convicted.

He has since appeared before Kingston Crown Court ahead of an appeal due to be heard in August.

A spokeswoman for Transport for London said: “Fare evasion costs passengers using public transport millions of pounds each year.

“All passengers are required to touch in and ensure they have paid the fare when travelling on London’s buses.”

Mind reading by MRI scan raises ‘mental privacy’ issue

Mind reading device is now a possibility

Brain scan lie detectors ‘may already be in use’

Telegraph | Jun 9, 2008

By Roger Highfield

Employers, the military and intelligence services may soon be using computerised mind-reading techniques and there is a need for a public debate about “mental privacy,” a leading neuroscientist said yesterday.

Scientists have taken MRI scanning equipment normally used in hospital diagnosis to detect lying, racism, and even identify which image a person is looking at, suggesting one could visualise scenes from a person’s dreams or memory.

At the Cheltenham Science Festival, backed by The Daily Telegraph, Prof Geraint Rees of University College London said that, although hospital patients and experimental volunteers are protected, there is a need for debate about, for example, whether employers could use mind reading methods to decode brain activity to screen job applicants.

Another possibility raised by studies of how the brain encodes memories and other information is that these methods could be used by intelligence agencies: a suspect’s brain could be interrogated against their will. “There are obvious military activities and the CIA and so on are known to be interested too.”

And it could be possible to reveal unconscious prejudices: a person who claims not to be a racist could be revealed to be one, if their amygdalae, almond shaped structures linked with disgust, go into action when shown a picture of a black person, raising the nightmarish possibility of interrogation for “thought crimes”.

Although “conceptually possible,” Prof Rees says say this is currently firmly in the realm of science fiction because these mind reading methods, which typically detect tiny changes in blood flow in the brain, currently have to be adapted to each individual during hours of training while in the scanner.

“You need an all purpose lie detector that would work with many people,” he says. “That is quite challenge, given people’s brains are different shapes and sizes, and lies come in many variations too, from my CV to how I got here.”

However, he warned about potential privacy issues in the future when scanning techniques improve, so they could be used to evaluate brain scans, even those taken years earlier that have been stored in medical archives. “We have to think about this now, because we are going down this road.”

And, though much more distant, there is also the possibility that technology may be developed to read minds from afar: current methods require people to wear a high tech hair net, to measure flickers of electrical activity, or to put their heads in a large machine to detect magnetic activity, or changes of blood flow.

Another possibility is that, as was shown in the sci fi classic film Blade Runner, it may be possible to use the pupil of the eye, and the way it constricts, to shed light on what people are thinking about when asked questions.