Daily Archives: November 10, 2012

British government seeks a million ‘Dementia Friends’


Britain is seeking a million “dementia friends” who will be trained to understand the illness and help those living with it, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Thursday.

A quarter of hospital beds are already occupied by someone with dementia. Number of people with dementia is expected to double in the next three decades.

latimesblogs.latimes.com | Nov 8, 2012

Britain is seeking a million “dementia friends” who will be trained to understand the illness and help those living with it, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Thursday.

The plan is one of a host of measures aimed at dealing with dementia as the country braces for the side effects of longer lifespans. British government officials say a quarter of hospital beds are already occupied by someone with dementia; the number of people with dementia is expected to double in the next three decades.

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“There are already nearly 700,000 sufferers in England alone but less than half are diagnosed and general awareness about the condition is shockingly low,” Cameron said.

The British numbers mirror global trends that are putting new pressures on health systems and families worldwide, as better healthcare leads to longer lives and more cases of ailments associated with aging.

Earlier diagnosis of dementia can help patients find ways to cope with the illness and reduce costs for care, health researchers have found, but stigma often steers people away from diagnosis.The World Health Organization estimates that even in wealthy countries, only 20% to 50% of cases are routinely recognized.
“Through the Dementia Friends project we will for the first time make sure a million people know how to spot those telltale signs and provide support,” Cameron said.

The program is modeled on a similar effort in Japan, which faces a dramatically aging population. By 2015, the British government aims to recruit 1 million Dementia Friends through free “awareness sessions.” Participants will get forget-me-not badges to show they are knowledgeable about dementia.

“We’ll equip you with an understanding of dementia and how you can help, and the rest is down to you,” the newly launched Dementia Friends website says.

The effort will cost roughly $3.8 million. Besides launching the Dementia Friends program, Britain will also spend nearly $80 million to design better facilities and devote more than $15 million to expanding a biobank with thousands more brain scans to research why people develop dementia.

China’s Communist Party: Tibetans are contented as happy cows in practically utopian conditions, self-immolations aside

“The sky is the bluest, the clouds are the whitest, the water is the cleanest and the people are the happiest, and there are harmonious ethnic relations.”

latimesblogs.latimes.com | Nov 9, 2012

BEIJING — As far the Communist Party is concerned, Tibet is the happiest place in China and dissatisfaction is stirred up by outside agitators.

So pronounced Tibet’s top delegates at the 18th Communist Party congress, which is convening this week in Beijing. They dismissed the rash of self-immolations by young Tibetans and accompanying protests by thousands of students as the work of outsiders manipulating Tibetans for political gain.

Since Wednesday, at least six Tibetans, mostly teenagers, have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

“Overseas separatists entice victims. Those people who support Tibetan independence call their deeds a heroic act and these people heroes,” said Lobsang Gyaltsen, vice governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is under Chinese rule. He blamed the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, for the immolations. “It is actually an act of murder to entice somebody to commit suicide …. The Dalai Lama group is sacrificing other people’s lives to achieve their evil goals.”

In a conference room of the Great Hall of the People, decorated with fanciful floor-to-ceiling Tibetan landscapes, Tibetan delegates praised the Communist Party for raising living standards, bringing electricity, running water, television and free education to formerly nomadic people. Though Tibetans, the delegates identified themselves by their Chinese names and spoke with reporters at the news conference only in Chinese. The Communist Party secretary for Lhasa, Che Dalha, said the Tibetan capital had been voted the happiest city in China, and recited lyrics of a song.

“The sky is the bluest, the clouds are the whitest, the water is the cleanest and the people are the happiest,” he said, adding, “and there are harmonious ethnic relations.”

In protests against Chinese rule in Tibet, nearly 70 Tibetans have immolated themselves since last year. Eight cases have taken place in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and the rest in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces which have equally large Tibetan populations.

On Friday, more than 1,000 Tibetans, mostly students and young monks, marched through the central square of the western Chinese town of Tongren — Repkong in Tibetan — to commemorate an 18-year-old former monk who had immolated himself Thursday afternoon. It was the second day of large protests in the town.

Tongren, home of a 600-year-old monastery, lies at the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai province, where the collision of Chinese culture has piqued Tibetans’ fears of losing their identity. In 2010, there were major protests in the town as well about the reduction of Tibetan language education in the schools. There have been three self-immolations in the town this month alone, including that of a 23-year-old young mother who left behind a 5-year-old son.

Earlier this month, a U.N. human rights envoy, Navi Pillay, urged China to allow independent human rights monitors to visit Tibet. That suggestion was promptly rejected by the Chinese government.

“We welcome everybody to Tibet, but if people investigate issues like human rights, we don’t think that is appropriate,” said Lobsang Gyaltsen, the vice chairman.

Poll shows many Americans happy to have their body cavities searched, wear shock bracelets, humbly submit to the TSA


TSA checkpoint Credits: Getty Images

New poll shows extent Americans are willing to submit to TSA humiliation

Examiner |  Nov 9, 2012

By Ryan Keller

A recent survey conducted by the Web site InfoWars, along with Harris Interactive, found that large percentages of Americans are willing to be even more humiliated than they already are at airports and elsewhere by agents of the TSA, according to an article posted on Thursday.

In one example, the survey found that 30 percent, one-third of the population, answered “’willing’ or ‘somewhat willing’” to the question: “Given the recent reports concerning the threat posed by terrorists who plan to implant bombs within their own bodies, how willing, if at all, would you be to undergo a TSA body cavity search in order to fly?”

Fortunately, a majority, 57 percent, answered “’completely’ or ‘somewhat unwilling’” to the question. Thirteen percent answered with “don’t know.”

Another 57 percent, however, answered that a law making it illegal to disobey a TSA agent anywhere, not just in airports, is “’completely’ or ‘somewhat reasonable.’” And don’t think that party makes a difference for this hypothetical forced submission. The survey found that a majority of both Republicans and Democrats were in favor of this, with a slightly larger number of Democrats in favor. “Surprisingly given their traditional distrust of big government,” writes Paul Joseph Watson, “60% of Republicans thought it reasonable compared to 64% of Democrats and 46% of Independents.”

In another sign of willing submission, 35 percent said they were willing to wear “shock bracelets” in order to fly. These bracelets, considered for use back in 2008, would act like a stun gun attached to the wearer’s wrist and could be activated remotely. Of course, it would only be used on terrorists and not on anyone with, say, a “bad attitude.”

Despite the will to submit, a majority showed opposition to having their genitals grabbed by agents during pat downs, as “a full 65% of American adults found TSA workers touching genitals ‘completely’ or ‘somewhat unacceptable.’” Thirty-five percent said that it was reasonable.

Even with the disdain for being groped by agents, however, 77 percent said that the agency is doing an “excellent, good or fair job.” Only nine percent said the agency was doing a “bad job.” More Democrats than Republicans approved of the agency by 84 percent to 73 percent.

This reflects numbers from an earlier poll. Back in August, Gallup found that 54 percent believe that the TSA is doing a “good or excellent job,” and 30 percent believe that it’s doing a “fair job.”

The TSA is doing such an excellent job that these people might have their items stolen by agents the next time they fly. Between 2003 and 2012, 381 agents have been fired for stealing from passengers. Agents have also been accused of committing a myriad of other crimes, such as drug smuggling and raping children.

So how far are the people of “the land of the free” willing to go in order to fly, or travel by any means or go anywhere, as the TSA isn’t just going to be in airports or train stations for very long? They’re going to be in malls, hotels and on highways, as well as tracking peoples’ every move.

FEMA sending more sketchy trailers to Superstorm Sandy victims

latimes.com | Nov 9, 2012

By Joseph Serna, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Shashank Bengali

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — In a sign of how long the rebuilding effort in the Northeast will take, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is shipping in temporary, manufactured homes for displaced residents.

About 317,000 people across the region have registered for FEMA assistance, and an estimated $314 million has been allocated for about 61,000 recipients, mostly for rental assistance. The cost and number of registrants is expected to grow.

At least 110 people were killed and thousands displaced since Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in damage and economic loss from the Carolinas inland to the Ohio Valley and all the way north to Maine. The storm, combined with a nor’easter that knocked out more power and buried recovering cities in snow Wednesday, will be the second-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina, according to National Weather Service statistics.

The recovery is going slow, particularly in New York and New Jersey. By Thursday evening, more than 735,000 people remained without power in those two states alone.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo castigated power companies for their slow response, in particular the Long Island Power Authority and the National Grid on Long Island.  “I believe they were unprepared,” Cuomo said. “I believe the system is archaic.”

In Middletown, where residents evacuated ahead of Wednesday’s nor’easter, Nilsa Colon was back volunteering at a disaster relief center Thursday.

Colon, 42, and her husband piled clothing and food into a van at the Middletown Assemblies of God Church and drove around nearby Keansburg, a hard-hit waterfront town where debris was piled in front of homes and alongside the waterfront amusement park where storm-damaged roller coasters, bumper cars and other rides sat abandoned.

Storm victims are “flooded out and they have no cars. That’s why we’re sending vans in there,” she said.

Colon has been trying to find housing for church members who lost everything. A few people slept stretched across chairs in the sanctuary after the storm. The nearest FEMA assistance center is in Union Beach, about five miles away, and many storm victims lost their cars to flooding.

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Colon says she knows FEMA has offered some of the displaced people housing, but miles from their neighborhoods.

“It’s not doable if you put them a mile and a half out. They have to have transportation to their job. [FEMA wants] to offer help, but it has to be helpful to the person,” she said, especially storm victims with children in school who value their community. “They lost their house already; now they’re going to lose everything else.”

About 40 manufactured homes were headed to the region, although no state has requested the homes yet, FEMA said. Where the mobile homes will end up is anyone’s guess.

The states and FEMA work together to determine what kind of homes are needed and where they go. Residents can live in the mobile homes for up to 18 months, according to FEMA guidelines.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said during a Thursday morning conference call with reporters that these are not the same temporary shelters used during Katrina, when some were found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde. The latest ones adhere to Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, Fugate said.

Since Sandy made landfall Oct. 29, thousands of storm victims found temporary refuge in American Red Cross and Salvation Army shelters. It’s unclear, however, how many will be able to return to their homes anytime soon.

Utility companies have to go door to door to evaluate the damage to equipment and buildings to see whether they can reconnect power and gas. If they can’t, homeowners may need a more long-term solution.

FEMA said 1,600 people are already using the agency’s help to live in motels or hotels. With 107,000 people qualified for similar accommodations, many places could soon be jam-packed if displaced Sandy victims don’t stay with friends or family.

On New York’s battered Staten Island, many victims have left to stay in shelters or with loved ones. In Midland Beach, Norma McCarthy, a mother of two teenage boys, said she remained in her flooded home because her relatives’ homes in New Jersey and Queens also were without power.

“We don’t really have anywhere else to go,” McCarthy said.

She applied for FEMA assistance the day after Sandy hit, but said she hadn’t heard back.

Britain’s crackdown on Web comments sparks Police State fears, free-speech debate

Police  went knocking on the door of a 17-year-old boy who tweeted an insulting message to Olympic diver Tom Daley, saying that he had let down his dead father by failing to win a gold medal. He was arrested, but released and given a warning.

Facebook and Twitter have landed several Britons in court and even jail recently. Critics decry the trend as a worrisome overreaction.

Los Angeles Times | Nov 8, 2012

By Henry Chu

Matthew Woods of Chorley, England, was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for making offensive comments about two kidnapped girls on his Facebook page. (Rex Features, Associated press / October 8, 2012)

CHORLEY, England — Everyone agrees that his “jokes” making fun of two kidnapped girls crossed the line. Matthew Woods swiftly became an object of contempt after he posted the crude and offensive comments on his Facebook page.

But did he deserve to be locked up for them?

A judge thought so, and ordered the 19-year-old to spend 12 weeks in jail, essentially for overstepping the bounds of good taste. Woods now sits behind bars — and also in the middle of a growing clash in Britain between freedom of expression, societal mores and the digital revolution.

Woods is one of several people whose use of social media has landed them on the wrong side of the law. They’ve been arrested, tried in court or otherwise subjected to public censure for posting distasteful opinions or malicious statements online, remarks that would’ve earned them little more than disapproving looks if they’d said the same thing over a pint in their corner pub.

One man angry about the war in Afghanistan was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service for declaring on Facebook that “all soldiers should die and go to hell.” Police also went knocking on the door of a 17-year-old boy who tweeted an insulting message to Olympic diver Tom Daley, saying that he had let down his dead father by failing to win a gold medal. He was arrested, but released and given a warning.

While deploring such sentiments, civil liberties groups and prosecutors alike have registered alarm over the rash of arrests and investigations, concerned about an erosion of free expression here in one of the world’s oldest — and most raucous — democracies.

“We are seeing a criminalization of speech that wasn’t there before,” said Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of the London-based nonprofit group Index on Censorship. “It’s seriously worrying.”

The source of the controversy is a 2003 communications law that, among other things, makes it a crime to send messages deemed “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” through a public electronic network.

Critics note that provision actually comes from an older version of the law from the 1930s and was aimed at protecting telephone operators from abuse. The 2003 act kept that passage, but it was in a world before Facebook, Twitter or other online social networking sites, at a time when the phrase “going viral” hadn’t yet gone, well, viral.

Yet the law continues to govern a completely new media landscape encompassing the Internet and its offshoots, an anachronistic situation that critics say should be urgently addressed but probably won’t be, given the current government’s focus on reviving the British economy.

“The recent spate of arrests shows us that the law is having unintended consequences,” said Damian Tambini, an expert on media policy at the London School of Economics. The communications act needs revision, he said, “but legislative reform will not happen for at least two years.”

Beyond the law, some observers also detect something deeper at work in British society, what Hughes calls “the beginning of a culture of people thinking they have a right not to be offended.”

The trend is evident not just online, they say. Recently a man was sentenced to four months in jail for wearing a T-shirt in public on which he’d written “One less pig” after two policewomen were killed in an ambush in a nearby city. The statute cited was a different one: a breach of public order.

Such punishments can seem shocking to Americans, for whom freedom of speech — even (or especially) odious and hurtful speech — is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Britain has no written constitution, though it boasts its own long, proud tradition of free expression as embodied in the popular tourist attraction Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, where anyone can get on a soapbox and release his or her inner orator.

The Digital Age has complicated matters.

In a world where mass communication is available not just to licensed broadcasters but anyone with an Internet connection, musings that might originally have been intended for private consumption can reach an audience of millions in the blink of an eye. And words that would quickly disappear into thin air when spoken aloud, even in a public place, can remain alive forever and endlessly shared.

“There are issues with new technology, obviously: We’re all publishers now, we’re all citizen journalists and all the rest of it. And things going viral and being retweeted and reposted is a whole set of technological and social challenges,” said Hughes. “But I think we certainly shouldn’t overreact…. If we try to patrol, through law and regulation, every tweet and every Facebook post, we’re shutting down the potential the Web is giving us.”

That hasn’t stopped Britons from complaining to authorities about offensive electronic messages and material, from the trivial to the truly outrageous.

Last year, police were called out to investigate nearly 2,500 such cases, the BBC reported recently. Some police officials have complained that this is not a good use of their time.

The chief prosecutor for England and Wales, Keir Starmer, appears to agree. His office is now consulting police, attorneys and academics to come up with guidelines on what kinds of cases should merit investigation and prosecution under the 2003 law.

One possible marker is whether the messages are actually harassing or threatening, rather than simply distasteful.

“The law prohibits grossly offensive messages, and we’ve got to work within the law as it is,” Starmer told the BBC. But “if there are a lot of prosecutions, it would have a chilling effect on free speech, and I think that’s a very important consideration.”

Matthew Woods had no inkling that his upsetting comments about the two kidnapped young girls would bring both public opprobrium and judicial punishment down on his head in such heavy measure.

In what he said was a drunken state, the unemployed teen sat at his computer in Chorley, an old mining town in northern England, and tapped out tasteless jokes that he’d found on the Web.

“Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?” he wrote about one of the kidnap victims, a redheaded tyke. Other comments posted on his Facebook page included repulsive sexual references.

Angry responses streamed in almost immediately after he pressed the “send” button. Public vitriol escalated to the point that a mob of about 50 people reportedly gathered outside Woods’ house, causing police to take him into custody for his own safety.

His lawyer, David Edwards, said that Woods was suddenly cast as “Public Enemy No. 2,” behind the suspected kidnapper of one of the missing girls. Barely 48 hours later, Woods pleaded guilty in court, hoping for leniency. But the magistrate called Woods’ action a “despicable crime” and handed down the 12-week jail sentence.

“It’s pretty much the maximum that the court guidelines allow. It surprised me no end,” said Edwards.

He agrees that Woods’ comments were appalling. But he noted that the two people who complained to authorities had actively sought out Woods’ Facebook page when they’d heard of the “jokes,” then called police afterward.

“There should be a huge distinction drawn between that and directing the comments personally to anybody,” Edwards said.

Whether Woods would be subject to prosecution under the new guidelines being drawn up by Starmer’s office remains to be seen.

“The threshold for prosecution has to be high,” Starmer told the BBC. “We live in a democracy…. People have the right to be offensive; they have the right to be insulting. And that has to be protected.”