Daily Archives: August 24, 2009

Fibre optics to detect sound of terror and protest

It is hoped the technology will be rolled out to enhance security arrangements at major gatherings of world leaders such as during the G8, which has become an increasing magnet for protest movements.

Scientific breakthrough will use global cable network to protect oil and gas pipelines – and politicians

Independent | Aug 21, 2009

Scientists have perfected a new technology that can transform a fibre optic cable into a highly sensitive microphone capable of detecting a single footstep from up to 40km away.

Guards at listening posts protecting remote sensitive sites from attackers such as terrorists or environmental saboteurs can eavesdrop across huge tracts of territory using the new system which has been created to beef up security around national borders, railway networks, airports and vital oil and gas pipelines.

Devised by QinetiQ, the privatised Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), the technology piggybacks on the existing fibre optic communication cable network, millions of miles of which have been laid across.

Related

New fiber cable can hear footsteps 25 miles away

Trials have already been staged in Europe to use the OptaSense system, which evolved out of military sonar and submarine technology, on railways to prevent vandals or thieves trespassing on high-speed lines as well as to counter terrorism. It has been deployed by several blue chip oil companies to protect energy pipelines which run through some of the most lawless and remote regions of the world.

Oil and gas companies lose millions of pounds each year through “hot tapping” in which thieves siphon off oil to sell. The process can be dangerous, resulting in explosions which have claimed hundreds of lives as well as causing serious environmental damage. Its creators say the system can also safeguard against accidental damage caused by builders and farmers working close to pipelines in Europe and North America. But it is hoped the technology will be rolled out to enhance security arrangements at prestige sites, among them Heathrow’s Terminal 5 or the Olympic Games and to protect major gatherings of world leaders such as during the G8, which has become an increasing magnet for protest movements.

The system works by picking up tiny seismic waves detected under the ground by the fibre optic cable which carries an optical pulse sent from a central computer. Virtual “microphones” created remotely every 10 metres along the cable register the vibrations through the ground. The patterns caused by the disturbances are then matched to digitally pre-sampled sounds such as footsteps, cars or diggers and the information fed back to a command centre where security personnel are able to deploy drones or even armed response teams to check out the threat.

The system is sensitive enough to detect sounds 40km away, along the line of the cable. It can also pick up sounds perpendicular to the cable: the sound of someone approaching on foot 30 metres away or a vehicle 50 metres away.

At present, the microphones are not able to pick up the sound of human speech. Magnus McEwen-King, managing director of OptaSense, said: “We take a standard telecoms cable and, without changing its structure, install our technology to create thousands of virtual microphones along the length of the cable.

“What you get is an intelligent hearing device, buried underground, which can monitor borders, perimeters or property for intruders. Optasense not only detects but identifies an approaching threat and alerts you to the location so that you can take necessary action to prevent intentional or accidental damage.

“People are amazed when they see that it can be configured to tell different types of vehicles apart? or tell if a person is walking or running towards the area you are monitoring.”

Big Brother Surveillance State cameras solve only one tenth of one per cent of crimes

big brother cameras

“CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness. It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.”

Former shadow Home Secretary David Davis

CCTV cameras help to solve one in every 1000 crimes

Press Association | Aug 24, 2009

Just one crime is solved a year by every 1,000 CCTV cameras in Britain’s largest force area, it was claimed today.

A senior Scotland Yard officer warned police must do more to head off a crisis in public confidence over the use of surveillance cameras.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville said officers should up their game when it comes to making captured images count against crooks.

He said there are more than a million CCTV cameras in London and the Government has spent £500 million on the crime-fighting equipment.

But he admitted just 1,000 crimes were solved in 2008 using CCTV images as officers fail to make the most of potentially vital evidence.

Writing in an internal report, Mr Neville said people are filmed many times every day and have high expectations when they become victims of crime.

But he suggested the reality is often disappointing as in some cases officers fail to bring criminals to justice even after they are caught on camera and identified.

Mr Neville said CCTV played a role in capturing just eight out of 269 suspected robbers across London in one month.

Critics of Britain’s so-called “surveillance state” will seize on Mr Neville’s comments as further evidence CCTV is not working in the fight against crime.

The Government is considering whether every camera should be registered on centrally-held CCTV maps.

Earlier this year a Home Office report found camera schemes have a “modest impact” on reducing crime.

Researchers found cameras were most effective in preventing vehicle thefts and vandalism in car parks.

Some local authorities have been forced to make freedom of information requests to police forces to try and work out if CCTV cameras are effective.

The Metropolitan Police is piloting a scheme, known as operation javelin, to improve the use of images from existing cameras.

Staff in 11 boroughs have formed dedicated Visual Images Identification and Detection Offices (VIIDO).

They collect and label images before passing them to a central circulation unit that distributes them to officers, forces and the media.

Some 5,260 images have been viewed so far this year with identification made in more than 1,000 cases.

Mr Neville said the scheme should be expanded to force-wide as officers make the investigation of CCTV evidence as professional as fingerprints and DNA.

Former shadow Home Secretary David Davis said it is “entirely unsurprising” that the report highlights some shortcomings of CCTV.

He said: “It should provoke a major and long overdue rethink on where the Home Office crime prevention budget is being spent.

“CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness. It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.

“The Metropolitan Police has been extraordinarily slow to act to deal with the ineffectiveness of CCTV, something true both in London and across the country.”

Detective Superintendent Michael McNally, who commissioned the report, said improvements in the use of CCTV can be made.

He told Sky News: “There are some concerns, and that’s why we have a number of projects that are on-going at the moment.

“CCTV, we recognise, is a really important part of investigation and prevention of crime, so how we retrieve that from the individual CCTV pods is really quite important.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The Metropolitan Police is currently the only police service to employ this method of CCTV tracking.”

Power-broker Nat Rothschild at the centre of a web of international intrigue

Nathaniel Rothschild

For years Nat Rothschild appeared destined to be yet another scion of the rich and famous who had it all and blew it all – mainly through partying. (Rex Features)

From Libya to London: the world of a wild child turned power-broker

The financier Nat Rothschild is at the centre of a web of international intrigue, reports Lewis Smith

Independent | Aug 24, 2009

Once again, the name of Nat Rothschild has emerged at the centre of web of intrigue, with questions over his links to Libya, his friendship with Peter Mandelson and his alleged role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Indeed, his name seems to be linked with almost every influential, rich and powerful person on the globe, from billionaires to presidents and royalty. But it wasn’t always like that. For years Nat Rothschild appeared destined to be yet another scion of the rich and famous who had it all and blew it all – mainly through partying.

At some point in the mid-1990s he underwent an almost Damascene conversion into a responsible financier, who managed to channel his gambling instincts into money-making investments for a hedge fund.

As his skills in handling investments helped turn the Atticus hedge fund into a multibillion pound concern, so his personal stock rose – in the 13 years he has been with Atticus he has built up his own multimillion pound fortune, quite apart from the £500m he is expected to inherit one day from his father, Jacob, the fourth Baron Rothschild. He has also become an increasingly influential figure not just in the world of finance but in political circles.

Influence is something deeply familiar to the Rothschilds, whose banking concerns have been a force in Europe for two centuries, but for the member of the Bullingdon Club who once rolled an occupied portable loo down a slope, it seemed an unlikely future. Instead of partying with models and socialites, these days he is more likely to be found hob-nobbing with some of the world’s richest and most powerful people.

His sphere of influence, it has been revealed, now extends even into Libya, which during the 1980s and 1990s was reviled as a terrorist state. Seif Gaddafi, President Muammar Gaddafi’s son, was the guest of honour at a party held by the financier in New York in 2008 and this year he allowed his home in Corfu to be the venue for a meeting between the Libyan and Lord Mandelson.

The meeting took place earlier this month, just a week before it emerged that the Scottish executive was considering the release from prison of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. Lord Mandelson has accepted that Megrahi came up in the discussions but he strongly denied any suggestion he interfered in the decision to release the prisoner.

Nat Rothschild’s interests are further thought to overlap with those of Seif Gaddafi in Montenegro, where he has been linked to investments in the £500m Porto Montenegro project, which is intended to give the country a leading marina. Gaddafi is thought to be keen, signing up to a range of deals in Montenegro to benefit Libya.

Prior to winning friends in Tripoli, the former wild child had built up enviable contacts and deals with Russian oligarchs. Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, is reported to be one of Rothschild’s closest friends and he has been appointed as an adviser to Oleg Deripaska, the owner of Rusal, which became the biggest aluminium company in the world as part of a merger deal with two other companies that Rothschild helped to put together.

Deripaska, described as Russia’s richest man and the Kremlin’s favourite oligarch, had a fortune estimated at more than £16bn in 2007 and is believed to be close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister. It was Deripaska whom George Osborne, the Conservative front-bencher, was said to have spoken to about a £50,000 donation to the Tory party. The MP admitted he discussed a donation but denied asking for or receiving any money.

The row blew up when Mr Rothschild accused Mr Osborne of approaching the oligarch for a donation. He is thought to have been prompted by a breach of etiquette on the MP’s part by leaking the story of Lord Mandelson meeting the oligarch on a yacht – the two politicians were Rothschild’s guests. The row soured a friendship between the MP and the financier which dated back to contemporary membership of the Bullingdon Club.

Mr Rothschild’s success in recent years has come as a surprise to many who knew him in his wilder days. Peter Munk, the founder and chairman of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer, recalled meeting the future fifth Baron Rothschild in the lobby of a London hotel in 2001.

The financier was hoping to persuade Mr Munk to invest in Atticus but failed to impress at first hearing. “He did not carry the halo of being the future of the family. I wanted to get rid of the boy,” said the gold producer who now has him on his own advisory board.

It is thought that as a young man Nat Rothschild was intimidated by the prospect of having to live up to the achievements of his father and ancestors. Now, he is seen as a man who may well set new high standards for his family. Mr Munk added: “This kid is special. It’s back to when they [the Rothschilds] were ruling the world.”

“He is one of the few sons of great men who has enhanced the family stature and created his own wealth,” said Charles Phillips, who supervised him when he worked at the investment firm Gleacher & Co.

___________

Spheres of influence: Rothschilds connections

Business associates

Oleg Deripaska

The Russian oligarch owns Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminium company. Rothschild has won a position as an adviser to Deripaska and one of his select inner circle.

Seif al-Islam Gaddafi

Investment interests thought to overlap in Montenegro. He recently hosted a party with guests including Rothschild Prince Albert of Monaco and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Roland Rudd

Atticus employed Finsbury, which is run by Rudd, as its PR firm. Rudd is a friend of Lord Mandelson and Oleg Deripaska is another of Finsbury’s clients.

Timothy Barakett

The founder of the hedge fund Atticus took on Rothchild in 1995. The two have never looked back. Atticus is now a multi-billion concern and its success has enabled Rothschild to make his own fortune instead of relying on his father’s money.

Friends

Roman Abramovich

The Russian oligarch and billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club is a close friend of Rothschild. It was through Abramovich that Rothschild met Deripaska.

Peter Mandelson

The depth of the friendship is uncertain but Lord Mandelson has been linked to Rothchild on several fronts, including as a guest at his Corfu home.

George Osborne

Having known each other for years relations soured when Rothschild accused him of seeking donations for the Conservative Party from a Russian oligarch.

Matthew Freud

Rothschild was a guest at the 40th birthday party that Freud, the PR guru, threw for his wife, Elisabeth, Daughter of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, in Corfu last year.

Love Interests

Annabelle Neilson

Rothschild married the model and friend of Kate Moss at a ceremony in Las Vagas after eloping. The marriage lasted less than three years, with a divorce being agreed in 1997.

Petrina Khashoggi

The daughter of Jonathan Aitken, Ivanka Trump, the socialite and businesswoman daughter of Ivana and Donald Trump, and the actress Natalie Portman are among the women Rothschild has dated.

Princess Florence von Preussen

The great great granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor, is the latest women to be romantically linked to the financier.

Sophomore Killed in Fraternity Hazing

courthousenews.com | Aug 21, 2009

By DAN MCCUE

Theta_Chi_coat_of_armsDURHAM, N.C. (CN) – Theta Chi Fraternity’s violent hazing of pledges “to see what they are made of” killed a 19-year-old sophomore during “hell week” at Lenoir-Rhyne University, his family claims in Superior Court.

Despite state laws, university rules and fraternity guidelines that ban hazing, officials at the school in Hickory, N.C., did little or nothing to rein in hazing, sending students the message that it’s acceptable there, the complaint states.

Harrison Kowiak, of Tampa, Fla., was attending the university on golf and academic scholarships, when he decided to pledge the Theta Chi fraternity.

On the night of his death, in November 2008, he and another pledge were blindfolded and driven to an off-campus farm, where they were told to cross a field and retrieve “sacred fraternity rocks,” a symbol of initiation into the organization. As they proceeded across the field, they were repeatedly punched, shoved and tackled by members of the fraternity, and because the fraternity brothers were dressed in dark clothing and the field was dark, the pledges couldn’t see which direction the blows were coming from, the family says.

The assault by fraternity brothers, many of whom were on the university football team, exacted a terrible toll on the much smaller Kowiak. After being struck several times, he collapsed, wheezing and gasping for breath, and did not respond to attempts to revive him.

Despite realizing he was injured, the fraternity brothers failed to get Kowiak prompt medical attention, his family says. They drove him to a hospital and tried to cover up what had happened by telling authorities Kowiak was injured in a flag football game, according to the complaint.

Airlifted to the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Kowiak died of his injuries that night. An autopsy revealed he died of blunt head trauma, and had sustained numerous bruises and abrasions on his back.

Plaintiff Guy Crabtree, court-appointed administrator of Kowiak’s estate, is represented by David Kirby of Kirby & Holt LLP in Raleigh, N.C.

Masonic Lodges Open Those Mysterious Doors

Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts

Now open to the public, the Chamber of Reflection at the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, in Boston. Roger Appell/ Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

New York Times | Aug 20, 2009

By EVE M. KAHN

A replica of a mildewed 14th- century scroll has been unfurled and displayed at a library in New York. An eagle clutching arrows and ribbons, on a tattered flag made around 1803, has just been restored and framed for viewing at a Philadelphia museum. Near Boston a museum exhibition decodes cryptic symbols like compasses and columns embossed on metal badges and embroidered onto aprons.

That the public is now being enthusiastically shown these previously hidden-away items indicates that Freemasons in America are trying to shed their reclusive, somewhat fusty image. Tour guides at the groups’ lavishly ornamented lodges, mostly built around 1900, are explaining ceremonial rituals in newly restored rooms with murals of ancient builders polishing stones and vitrines full of gold pendants and domed velvet hats.

“We’re trying to help more people hear our story accurately,” said H. Robert Huke, the communications and development director at the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, an 1899 state headquarters in downtown Boston covered in sunburst mosaics. When curiosity seekers get to visit Masonic rooms, he added, “they’re less inclined to think we’re trying to control the world and run the banks.”

Freemasons have been portrayed as conspirators in books like Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol” (due on Sept. 15) and the “National Treasure” movies starring Nicolas Cage. The truth is less entertaining. Founded around 1600 by British stonemasons, the men-only clubs hold closed sessions mainly to teach ecumenical ethics codes and raise money for charity, especially medical care. On their lodge walls and ceremonial clothing, motifs like eyes, beehives and drafting tools refer to virtues like steadfastness, tolerance and industriousness.

As befits an organization set up by builders, the clubs are now spending millions of dollars repairing their architectural splendors. In the last year the Masons in Boston have restored spaces with gilded, coffered ceilings and imposing names like the Chamber of Reflection and Corinthian Hall.

Last fall the main Philadelphia lodge finished redoing its turreted roof, granite exterior, murals of woodlands and an early 1800s flag. The public now enters via the forbidding 17-foot-tall front doorway, formerly accessible to Freemasons only.

In Washington, Masons are overhauling a pyramidal building based on a Greek mausoleum while planning new galleries for videos and displays of “magnificent regalia,” said Arturo de Hoyos, the group’s archivist. He added, “We want to create a coherent presentation on the origins, development and meaning of Freemasonry.”

As curators bring dusty Masonic objects out of storage and acquire new ones, docents are explaining the symbolism to noninitiates, men and women. (Many lodges now have Web sites announcing tour times and some even offer 360-degree views of the interiors.)

At 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan, officially called the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, guides now point out the library’s modern copy of a 1308 transcript from papal heresy interrogations of Knights Templar and to a meeting hall’s portrait of a black man in a fur anorak; he’s Matthew Henson, a Freemason, who accompanied Robert Peary on Arctic expeditions.

The Massachusetts Masons own so many artifacts — about 12,000 at last count — that in the last few years they have lent them to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. Through Oct. 25 highlights of the lodge treasury are on view at the museum, including a gold urn and silver ladle by Paul Revere. (In the 1790s, he was the group’s most worshipful grand master.) A show opening Sept. 26 will survey anti-Masonic screeds from the last three centuries that accuse members of plotting against royalty or propping up Communism.

“There will always be people who are suspicious” of Freemasons, Mr. de Hoyos said. “But even if we’re mentioned negatively, that gets people asking questions and coming here. It opens doors.”

GRANT WOOD RELICS

Ninety feet of cornfield murals, which Grant Wood painted at an Iowa hotel ballroom in 1927, are being reassembled. Torn out and scattered in 1970, the canvas vistas of bundled cornstalks, wooden fences and farm buildings have been found in attics and offices all over the state.

“This is like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again,” said Laural Ronk, the executive director of the Bluffs Arts Council in Council Bluffs, where the former Hotel Chieftain, now converted into apartments for the elderly, contained the pastoral ballroom. The arts council has located 29 mural segments so far; the nine that it has acquired are being sent for treatment to the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, a division of the Nebraska State Historical Society in Omaha. Reattaching loose paint and preparing the canvases for storage, among other repairs, will cost about $120,000.

A few mural sections are temporarily stored at Ms. Ronk’s home and her office. “One is folded and shrink-wrapped, and we’re afraid to even open it,” she said. “I’ve been collecting any flakes that fall off.”

The arts council has been contacting government officials about potential display spaces for the restored landscape. “This could be an icon for our community, and a tourism draw,” she said. “We’d like to be added to the Grant Wood trail.”

WHITE HOUSE HISTORY

Few parts of the White House interior actually date back to its early 19th century origins. Harry S. Truman’s chief architect for renovations, Lorenzo S. Winslow, gutted the place, reinforced it with concrete and then installed new crown moldings, fluted columns and carved eagles, stars and shields. The house turned into an “eerie modernized avatar” of its former self, Ulysses Grant Dietz and Sam Watters write in a history due next month, “Dream House: The White House as an American Home” (Acanthus Press).

Evidence of Winslow’s heavy-handed approach will be for sale on Thursday at James D. Julia Auctioneers in Fairfield, Me. One lot, estimated to bring $12,000 to $16,000, contains 23 drawings from Winslow’s office for new reception rooms, staircases, corridors and family gathering spaces. Owned by an unidentified consignor in Maine, the pages are three or four feet long, and their ripped edges and handwritten measurement notations suggest they were used at the construction site.

William G. Allman, the White House curator, said workmen in the 1950s probably took home many such drawings as souvenirs. “I don’t think,” he said, “there was an official policy, the kind there would be from the Secret Service today, that something like this could not leave the premises.”

James Cameron on ‘Avatar’: Like ‘Matrix,’ ‘This movie is a doorway’

cameron avatar

LA Times | Aug 10, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: PART 1 of the HERO COMPLEX interview

“Go ahead, fire away, I’m your guy.” That’s the first thing James Cameron said to me, and I had to smile – I certainly had plenty to ask him about. I had just sat down and watched about 35 minutes of footage from “Avatar” and, to put it bluntly, I was dazzled. I saw more footage than fans at Comic-Con International (I saw, for instance, a tense scene toward the end of the film as Sam Worthington’s character, Jake Sully, is made a prisoner on the alien world of Pandora) and even found out how the film ends (don’t worry, no spoilers here). But let’s get to it — this is Part 1 of the Hero Complex interview with Oscar-winner Cameron, the 54-year-old Canadian filmmaker whose 20th Century Fox sci-fi epic “Avatar” reaches theaters on Dec. 18.

GB: Jim, congratulations on the film, it’s very, very compelling. I’m excited to see it in its entirety and even more excited to talk to you about it.

JC: Well, thanks; I’m really glad you liked it. And that’s what we were hoping for. We’ve been working like crazy on this for a long time. And what we want is for people to like it, so that’s nice to hear.

GB: I have to say it was refreshing to see a big, special effects film that was not based on a bestselling novel, a comic book, toy, old television show. That’s rare these days, and it’s a treat to go in, sit down and have no idea where the plot and the characters were going to go.

JC: It’s simultaneously one of the great strengths and one of the potential weaknesses. We have no brand value. We have to create that brand value. “Avatar” means something to that group of fans that know this film is coming, but to the other 99% of the public it’s a nonsense word and we have to hope we can educate them. Well, I shouldn’t say a nonsense word – it doesn’t mean anything specific in terms of a brand association. And in fact there may be even a slight negative one because more people know about the Saturday morning cartoon, the anime, than about this particular film. We’ve got to create that [brand] from scratch. On the other hand, ultimately, it is probably the film’s greatest strength in the long run. We’ve had these big, money-making franchise films for a long time, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” you know, “Harry Potter,” and there’s a certain sort of comfort factor in that; you know what you’re going to get. But there’s no kind of shock of the new that’s possible with that. It’s been a while since something that took us on a journey, something that grabbed us by the lapels and dragged us out the door and took us on a journey of surprise.

AVATAR – International Teaser Trailer

GB: “The Matrix” immediately springs to mind…

JC: Yes, yes, that’s a very, very good example. That’s something where we had no real way of knowing what that film was going to be about and it really just took us on a great ride.

GB: And like “The Matrix,” this movie presents this immersive experience. The alien world and the technology you’re using to tell the story, it’s a big movie .

JC: The story is told very much from character. You go on Jake’s journey with him. It actually starts quite small. It starts close to him, in his apartment with him, and it just expands and expands in scope as it goes along.

GB: I smiled at the “You’re not in Kansas anymore” line when the main character reaches the alien world. There really is this “Wizard of Oz” sense of transportation when the story reaches the planet of Pandora.

JC: Yeah. It’s my favorite movie; I had to get it in there somewhere. The production designer was Rick Carter, who actually played that out. He thought how it was, in some ways, like Dorothy’s journey. I didn’t quite get as much of that [when I first wrote it]. You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you’re not even aware of. I’m always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as taping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base. I don’t question what I’m doing if it feels right. There might be some other references there I might not be aware of.

GB: You wrote the first script for this film almost 15 years ago. While you were waiting for technology to reach the point where it could be made, I’m curious how much of that very earliest story remained intact.

JC: I had to rework to make it possible. My treatment was so expansive and novelistic that it needed to be necked down just to make it something that could be done on the screen. This film is done on an epic scale, but it’s done within the parameters of a Hollywood movie. What I found is that instead a script I had written the outline of a novel, and it was just too much story, too much back story, too many secondary characters … but look, sometimes lightning just strikes; you have write everything down, get it done. Better to weed it out later and not miss an idea. It was essentially the longest script, in terms of the amount of time it took me to get a workable draft. The first time I tried, it ended up being more than 200 pages, so I had to go back and throw out big chunks, a lot of ideas went out. But I have to say the essence of all the big ideas stayed and I felt pretty good about that.

GB: The heritage of the project and the mystery of it, since it’s not an adaptation, have created this fairly intense interest among the fanboy sector. That was obvious with the interest leading up to Comic-Con International. Do you feel you have to win fans over now to create the sort of success you want for this movie?

JC: I think there are no real negatives because we aren’t going to get prejudged like “Watchmen” or even a Batman or Spider-Man movie because you don’t have all that history and that huge, brand-based mythology that you have to live up to. We aren’t going to piss anybody off because they don’t know what this thing is. Nobody read the novel, nobody read the graphic novel, we’re not going to be playing against expectation. They aren’t going to be viewing us as a disappointment or letdown before the movie even starts. This is a doorway and they don’t know what’s on the other side. We’re going to open it for them.

There are a lot of fans of this kind of science fiction and fantasy film, and I think it’s pretty fertile soil for us. I don’t want to sound like, you know, ‘Pride goeth before the fall,” or too much hubris, but I think we get those fans to support this. I think our greater challenge is the wider public, which isn’t as predisposed to embrace the movie like those fantasy and sci-fi fans. We need to talk to that audience and make them believe that this is a must-see even if they aren’t sci-fi fans. And I’m not putting down Comic-Con fans. When I go down there I’m among my peeps. It’s a great place to unveil “Avatar.”

‘Green’ Germans hoard traditional bulbs to beat ban

Germans have been stockpiling vast numbers of energy-hungry lightbulbs

Daily Mail | Aug 24, 2009

By David Derbyshire

light bulbGermany’s green credentials have long made it the spiritual home of tree-huggers across the world.

But those who actually live there seem reluctant to embrace the eco-warriors’ latest symbol  –  the energy-saving lightbulb.

Germans have been stockpiling vast numbers of old-fashioned energy-hungry lightbulbs of the kind pictured left ahead of next week’s EU ban on many of them.

Sales of conventional incandescent bulbs shot up 34 per cent in the first six months of this year as consumers hoarded the dwindling supplies.

In most other European countries, sales fell over the same period. In Britain, where big retailers introduced a voluntary ban on 100 watt bulbs in January, sales are down by a fifth.

Brussels is banning all pearl or frosted traditional bulbs and clear 100 watt bulbs from September 1 as part of its drive to cut carbon dioxide emissions and tackle climate change.

Stocks are expected to run out in most towns by the end of next month, forcing householders to buy energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or low-energy halogen bulbs.

The figures highlighting Germany’s unwillingness to switch to CFLs have surprised some in a country with such a strong green movement and which brought the world the eco-friendly repairable Birkenstock sandal.

Christian Schraft, head of the consumer division at bulb manufacturer Osram, admitted he was taken aback by the figures from the German consumer research group GfK.

But he said: ‘Germans are often sceptical about innovations and in difficult-economic times, in particular, they tend to stick to what is tried and tested.’ In Austria sales of traditional bulbs more than doubled in the first six months of the year, while in Hungary they increased by 24 per cent.

Mr Schraft said critics of CFLs, who say many are ugly, expensive and produce a harsh light, are out of touch. ‘People think about lamps that take a long time to switch on and resemble the light of train stations’ lavatories,’ he said.

‘But in fact with today’s technology nobody is able to tell the difference between the light of incandescent and energy-efficient bulbs.’

The lightbulb ban is the first big test for politicians determined to force homes into cutting energy use.

Hans-Georg H‰usel, a psychologist who uses brain science to explain consumer behaviour, said: ‘ Germans do not trust energy-saving lamps. There is a fear that they could destroy the snug atmosphere of their homes, which ranks very highly in Germany.’

The Libyan despot’s son, the Rothschilds and other questions for Lord Mandelson

Mandelson Jacob Rothschild in Corfu

Lord Mandelson with his host Jacob Rothschild in Corfu. The Business Secretary talked briefly about the Lockerbie bomber to the son of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, who was also staying at the Rothschilds’ villa. Photo: Evening Standard

The Rothschild villa on Corfu and the oligarch-rich coast of tiny Montenegro have once more hosted what could easily be mistaken as a Mandelson-orchestrated salon of mutual backscratching.

Daily Mail | Aug 24, 2009

ANALYSIS: The despot’s son, a Corfu soiree and yet more questions for the Fixer Supreme

By Richard Pendlebury

Mutual connections, ‘chance’ meetings and social back channels are often what make the diplomatic and economic worlds go round. But Lord Mandelson’s Adriatic vacations with his rich friends are in danger of becoming an annual cause celebre.

Last summer they resulted in ‘ Yachtgate’ – his vicious spat with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne over what was said on their high seas holiday in Corfu with controversial Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

This year the Business Secretary faces growing speculation over his part in the release last week of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people.

The backdrop to this fresh controversy is a very familiar matrix of exotic faces and locations.

We have the involvement of Mr Deripaska, the Russian oil and metals baron, and British financier Nat Rothschild – two Mandelson cronies who were also central to Yachtgate.

The Rothschild villa on Corfu and the oligarch-rich coast of tiny Montenegro have once more hosted what could easily be mistaken as a Mandelson-orchestrated salon of mutual backscratching.

But the crucial new figure this year is that of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, second son of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, whom he is widely expected to succeed.

Lord Mandelson denies that he had any influence over Megrahi’s release and triumphal return home, which has so infuriated the United States.

But he has already had to admit that the matter was discussed at least once in private with the urbane Saif, who then declared on Libyan TV: ‘In all commercial contracts for oil and gas with Britain Megrahi was always on the negotiating table.’

It is worth remembering that last year it took some little time before Lord Mandelson admitted that he had known Mr Deripaska for at least two years longer than his office had previously let on.

Will the forgetful Business Secretary have to make similar admissions this time round? There is no doubt that Saif is the coming man on the Libyan scene and already an international player in both politics and business.

If his one-time pariah father has managed a remarkable rehabilitation in the West – thanks in no small part to the 44billion barrels of oil as yet untapped on Libyan territory – then the London School of Economics- educated Saif, who has exhibited as an artist, appears to be the regime’s more palatable future.

And it is a future which offers immensely lucrative trade deals for the UK – one hint of the emerging relationship between Libya and Britain came with the news this weekend that Saif has just purchased a £10million mansion in Hampstead, North London.

Saif’s official role is that of running a Tripoli-based family charitable foundation. Last year he foreswore any active part in Libyan public life.

He declared that democracy was the only way forward and that North African politics – Libya aside – was a ‘ forest of dictatorships’. Such noble utterances are greeted with scepticism by Libyan dissidents.

It is difficult to tell the truth about what Saif’s true politics and intentions are,’ says Ashour Shamis, a leading London-based Libyan opposition activist.

‘Saif says he wants a new beginning and for the country to be run with more freedom. We shall see. Do not forget that in Libya there is no opposition, only Gaddafi and his sons. They treat Libya as their own possession. Its assets belong to their family.

‘Saif is not rebelling against this regime. He is part of it. I place no credence in his saying that he has no interest in succeeding his father.’

Another Libyan exile was even more cynical: ‘Saif is his father’s son. The idea that anything dramatic will change under him is laughable. He is very good at presenting himself as a reformer and blaming the excesses for people around his father. But I for one do not believe him.’

Saif is not the only son of a head of state to appear in this circle of friends.

Our own Prince Andrew, the UK’s special trade envoy, is a friend of his, having met him on a number of occasions in private and public capacities. Saif has also been a guest at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

The Gaddafi family are particularly keen to nuture this connectionit seems. Another boost for them on the global stage.

And what a small world it is. In March this year, Andrew went to Montenegro to open the new British embassy there.

During the trip he took time out to be shown round the £500million Porto Montenegro marina which is being developed on the coast near Tivat.

Two of the main investors in the project are Mr Deripaska and his financial adviser Mr Rothschild. Indeed, the former’s business interests make him the largest private employer in Montenegro.

Early last year, when he was still EU Trade Commissioner and not yet ennobled, Peter Mandelson announced that he had secured a bilateral agreement with the tiny Adriatic nation.

‘Today’s signature is an important milestone,’ he declared at the time. Montenegro’s progress toward becoming a reliable world trading partner had been ‘ remarkable’. Mr Deripaska must have been delighted.

It later emerged that during Lord Mandelson’s tenure as commissioner, there had also been two cuts in EU aluminium import tariffs, which has benefitted Mr Deripaska’s company Rusal – the EU’s biggest importer of the raw metal – by tens of millions of pounds a year.

In June this year what was described as the most lavish celebration ever held in the Adriatic took place near the Tivat marina.

Saif Gaddafi had chosen the Splendid hotel in Becici as the location for his 37th birthday party. Among the guests, who flew in on a fleet of a dozen or more private jets, were Prince Albert of Monaco, Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild.

Saif is said to be interested in investing in Montenegro. Presumably he and Mr Deripaska had plenty to talk about – the Russian also controls the oil company Russneft and Libya is looking for foreign investors in the energy industry. Business and pleasure combined in one ostentatious display.

August came and the Mandelson circus arrived back on Corfu. Displaying his trademark rhino hide, he brushed off the 2008 imbroglio and returned once again as a guest at the Rothschild villa.

No Mr Deripaska this time. But sharing the Rothschild hospitality for 24 hours of his holiday was someone with the potential to be equally if not more controversial: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

Lord Mandelson has admitted to having met the despot’s son at least once before, in May this year. On Corfu they chatted. And, inevitably, the subject of Megrahi came up.

Within the month the convicted mass murderer was free and being welcomed at Tripoli airport by a jubilant Saif.

There were no linked trade deals, we are asked to believe by the Foreign Office. And no input by Lord Mandelson, the man himself claims.

Unfortunately experience has taught us to be more than a little circumspect about the Business Secretary’s declarations.

His soiree with Saif on Corfu, at a time when the Megrahi affair was about to reach a crisis, leaves too many questions unanswered from the fixer supreme.

For the moment there is only one clear beneficiary of the affair: Saif’s father. ‘Gaddafi is reaching a crescendo of success as he approaches his 40th anniversary,’ says Mr Shamis.

‘He is the chairman of the African Union, has visited most of the European and world capitals that were once closed to him and now he has freed Megrahi. He has achieved most of the things he wanted to do.

‘Lord Mandelson and other politicians in the West have fallen completely into his lap.’

Lockerbie bomber release could topple Scottish government

London Times | Aug 24, 2009

Scotland’s government faces a fight for its survival as the furore over its decision to free the Lockerbie bomber escalated last night.

Opposition parties north of the Border are preparing to hold a confidence vote over the decision by Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, to free Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi. Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has confirmed that he would resign if the Holyrood vote went against him.

The development comes after a weekend of fierce criticism from the United States of the decision on the ground of compassion to return al-Megrahi to Libya, where he was fêted as a hero on his return.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was appalled by the freeing of al-Megrahi, echoing the earlier attack by Robert Mueller, the FBI Director, who accused Scotland of “making a mockery of the rule of law” and giving “comfort to terrorists around the world”. Threats by Americans to boycott Scottish goods and services on the back of the al-Megrahi decision are being taken seriously by the British Government.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who is standing in for the Prime Minister, has told aides that the prospect of an American boycott was of concern and “something that we need to keep an eye on”.

Mr Brown has been criticised by David Cameron, the Conservative leader, for refusing to make any statement on al-Megrahi. The Prime Minister had discussed the possible release when he met Muammar Gadaffi, the Libyan leader, at a G8 summit in Italy last month.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is also facing questions about his interests in al-Megrahi’s release after it emerged that he had met Saif Gaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader, twice in the past four months.

As al-Megrahi, who is suffering from prostate cancer and has been told he has only three months to live, was being flown home on Friday, Saif Gaddafi apparently told him: “You were on the table in all commercial, oil and gas agreements that we supervised in that period. You were on the table in all British interests when it came to Libya.”

Al-Megrahi is writing a tell-all autobiography to “proclaim his innocence” by disclosing new information behind Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack, The Times has learnt. Abdurrhman Swessi, Colonel Gaddafi’s official envoy to Scotland, said that the freed bomber was working on a book that would detail his life behind bars and reveal everything he knows about the 1988 Pam Am 103 bombing.

Lawyers had collected masses of evidence for an appeal against the conviction of al-Megrahi, which he dropped last week in order to qualify for release on compassionate grounds.

The Scottish Parliament has been recalled from its summer recess for the Justice Secretary to make a statement after Mr MacAskill’s decision last week. Although there will not be a vote today on the decision, opposition politicians said that this would be only a reprieve.

All three main opposition parties at Holyrood have condemned the freeing of al-Megrahi and with the minority SNP government able to muster only the votes of its 47 MSPs in the 129-MSP Parliament, Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill would be certain to lose such a vote. If the Justice Secretary refused to resign he would then risk a confidence vote. Both Labour and the Conservatives said that they could not discount this “nuclear option”.

Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The SNP’s credibility at home and abroad is in tatters. Scotland’s must not be allowed to follow with it.”

Mr Salmond, who appeared chastened by the global criticism of his administration, explained the decision in a radio interview.

He said: “We understand the upset. We understand the disagreement. But we have to do what is right in terms of our legal system, not on the basis of commercial or political interests. That is what we are duty-bound to do. We didn’t do it to court popularity.”

Lord Mandelson, his wealthy friends and the Libyan connection

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secreatry, is facing growing questions over his links with Saif Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi, following the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.

Telegraph | Aug 23, 2009

By Andrew Alderson and Alastair Jamieson

In a destination that developers predict will soon make the tax haven of Monaco look “second rate”, it was described as the most glamorous party ever seen in the Adriatic.

As the champagne flowed, fireworks lit up the night sky, a dozen private Lear jets were parked on a nearby runway and giant yachts were moored offshore.

The fabulously wealthy guests at the appropriately-named Splendid Hotel included Prince Albert of Monaco and Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate.

Also at the resort were Oleg Deripaska, the Russian entrepreneur, and Nat Rothschild, the British financier – both close allies of Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary. The billionaires held a business meeting the following morning.

And who hosted the 37th birthday party in June in one of the trendiest locations in Montenegro – a newly-independent nation whose cause Lord Mandelson has repeatedly championed?

The unlikely host – hundreds of miles from his African homeland – was Saif Gadaffi, the son of the Libyan leader, who, it emerged last week, has met Lord Mandelson twice in the past four months.

At at least one of those meetings, the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, was discussed.

It was Mr Gaddafi too who, much to the anger of the US and some victims’ relatives, stood alongside Megrahi and ensured he was given a “hero’s welcome” as his plane touched down in the Libyan capital of Tripoli late on Thursday night – just hours after he was released by the Scottish government from a life sentence handed down in 2001 for the terrorist attack that claimed 270 lives in December 1988.

Intriguingly, Mr Gaddafi has publicly thanked the British – as well as the Scottish – government for Megrahi’s release.

The celebrations in Libya, condemned by President Obama, appeared this weekend to be running the risk of provoking a backlash from Western governments.

Before gaining his freedom, Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, dropped his second appeal against his conviction: indeed some suspect this was a secret condition of his release.

His second appeal began in 2007 after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission uncovered six separate grounds for believing the conviction may have been a miscarriage of justice.

Under Scottish law, Megrahi’s family could have continued the appeal posthumously, raising the prospect of an acquittal that would cause embarrassment in Scotland over the handling of the original trial and raise fresh questions over who was really responsible for the bombing.

It was only last year, after being once again caught out misleading the British electorate, that Lord Mandelson, who has twice been forced to resign from Government, publicly pledged to choose his friends more carefully.

In October 2008, just days after his return to the Cabinet to shore up Gordon Brown’s ailing leadership, Lord Mandelson admitted that his links to Mr Deripaska, the billionaire Russian oligarch, stretched back years more than he had earlier admitted.

In a letter to a national newspaper, Lord Mandelson, the former EU Trade Commissioner, wrote: “I should point out that in managing my department’s business as Secretary of State I will, of course, in line with the Ministerial Code, ensure that no conflict of interest, or perception of such, arises from any of my past or indeed future contacts.”

On Saturday, however, just 48 hours after Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds by Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, Lord Mandelson’s critics were again questioning his judgement, and his choice of foreign friends and acquaintances.

Lord Mandelson, who denies acting improperly or trying to influence Mr MacAskill’s decision, most recently met Mr Gaddafi “fleetingly” at the Rothschild’s family’s Greek £30 million estate on Corfu – just a week before it emerged that Megrahi was set to be freed because he is suffering from aggressive and terminal prostate cancer.

According to Lord Mandelson’s spokesman, the Business Secretary also met the met the man tipped to be the next leader of Libya at an official engagement in London in May this year.

Less than a decade ago Libya was a pariah nation that was not only blamed for Lockerbie but also had a long history of sponsoring international terrorism.

It had also committed another atrocity on British soil, the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

However, Tony Blair and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the leaders of their respective nations, pragmatically put their mutual antagonism to one side six years ago. Britain and the West’s sanctions had worn Libya down economically and diplomatically, while Britain was eager to exploit Libya’s massive oil reserves.

So, shortly after Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack in 2003 and agreed to compensate the families of the victims, Britain put down a resolution to remove the sanctions and, the following year, Mr Blair extended “the hand of friendship” to Colonel Gaddafi, who has now ruled Libya for 40 years. Huge trade deals followed for BP, Shell and others.

More recently, Britain has gone out of its way to embrace Libya. The Duke of York, Britain’s Special Representative for Trade and Investment, has forged close links, visiting the country three times in the last year alone.

Aides say Prince Andrew “quite possibly” discussed Megrahi’s case with Libyan officials in the past, but they deny the Queen’s son pushed for his release.

His plans for a further trip to Libya are in doubt following British anger at Megrahi’s joyful reception in Libya last week.

Saif Gadaffi, 37, the favoured of Colonel Gadaffi’s seven sons, is an architect, businessman and politician, who was educated at the London School of Economics.

Although he heads a substantial family-run charitable foundation, he has also inherited his father’s ruthless streak: two years ago he admitted that six Bulgarian medics who were imprisoned for allegedly deliberately infecting children with Aids had been tortured into giving “confessions” because they had previously told “lies”.

The medics, who later withdrew their admissions, were pardoned on their return to their homeland.

In recent years, however, Mr Gadaffi has forged a firm friendship with Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild, Lord Mandelson’s friends.

Mr Rothschild hosted a party Mr Gaddafi in New York late last year. More recently, Mr Gadaffi has developed personal links with the Business Secretary himself.

Indeed, Lord Mandelson’s spokesman said this weekend that he hopes to see more of the Libyan politician in the coming months.

What is not known is the extent of the personal business interests that Mr Gaddafi, who has a penchant for pet tigers, now has in Montenegro, a nation that Lord Mandelson has supported during its three years since gaining independence.

Libya has significant business links in Montenegro, and judging from his recent birthday party, Mr Gaddafi is clearly quite a “player” in the country.

Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild have invested heavily in the £500 million-plus Porto Montenegro project to make the country the “premier marina destination in the Mediterranean”.

Lord Mandelson, as EU Trade Commissioner, championed Montenegro’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) saying last year: “Montenegro has made remarkable progress in preparing for WTO entry…. The EU is a strong supporter of Montenegro’s entry into the WTO, and is proud to be the first partner to conclude bilateral accession talks.”

But, crucially, did Lord Mandelson, who in 2006 ended EU trade tariffs on aluminium thereby hugely benefiting Mr Deripaska’s business interests, lobby for Mr Megrahi’s release?

Definitely not, insists his spokesman: “Peter Mandelson had no input,” he said, stressing suggestions of a conflict of interest were “farcical”.

Yet Norman Baker, the Lib Dem MP, feared Lord Mandelson had been guilty of “back-channel diplomacy” and The Sunlight Centre for Open Politics, a campaigning group, has reported the Business Secretary to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, for an alleged conflict of interest contrary to the Ministerial Code.

A spokesman for the group said: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arise, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”

He added that with such an emotive subject as Lockerbie many Britons would see Lord Mandelson as interfering in an issue that was best left to diplomats.

Tory MPs are also concerned by the Business Secretary’s actions. Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Harwich and Clacton, said: “It looks like Lord Mandelson’s array of rich and powerful friends involved with this project have all benefited from decisions he made when he was Trade Commissioner.

“People will rightly ask what decisions he has made as Business Secretary and whether he has once again allowed his private life to mix with controversial political decisions.”