Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Say NO to Nuclear

There appears to be a sudden resurgence of thinking around Nuclear Power. The concept now being introduced is that it could help to resolve the energy crisis. Little do most people know that almost 78% of the power produced in the UK is lost through the energy production process, I wonder if the same is true all over the world! In addition, with so many household and commercial electrical units on standby, energy is being wasted every second of the day.

The new nuclear message is also being ‘sold’ on the basis of ‘next generation’ nuclear power stations. However, I fear that their risk is still imposing on society. Maybe I’m being too paranoid but could it be that a political agenda with big money is being hidden from the public eye. Nuclear power has too many risks to humanity and this includes future generations. With so many accidents (lets just not get started on 3 mile island or even Chernobyl) and their long term impact, it appears that humankind has not learned from its past mistakes. Has anyone released yet that we will have to fund these new stations through taxes and that they could take over 14 years to build – what do we do in the meantime?

The other argument against going nuclear again is the risks associated with disposal, security, volatility and health. With regard to the latter point, we have to all be honest with ourselves and admit that nuclear power stations leak. This leakage affects the air, water and life forms within its vicinity.

What is needed is a radical redesign of how we live and the houses that we build. I remember when I was younger the number of government sponsored advertisements that attempted to tell us to save energy for future generation. Did the world suddenly find a new energy source when these advertisements stopped?!An energy strategy needs to be built upon exploring greater opportunities for renewable sources. I’m not suggesting that wind power alone should be relied on. What could help is offering a multitude of sources (Wave, Wind, Solar and Hydrogen) and an investigation into why so much waste occurs in the energy development process. In addition, why can’t businesses/factories be encouraged / rewarded for being innovative in their use of diverse power sources? There is a great opportunity for innovation if only the incentive was there. Corporations have to have a social responsibility too.We need to ask ourselves where are yesterday’s heroes that fought for CND – The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Surely, the issues they struggled for are still the same. At the time they stood against the build-up of weapons, especially during the backdrop darkness of the cold war. The story is the same today. Nuclear power is a threat to everyone because the energy source is just too risky to work with.

There is an alternative to nuclear power; we cannot wait for the new stations as they are a long term liability both financially and to humanity. We have renewable sources around us, lets innovative to accumulate.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Society of contradictions

Yesterday the 77th Royal variety performance took place in Wales (UK), in the presence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. This charity event takes place on a regular basis and can also be considered as a showcase of popular talent.

However, I have difficulty in coming to terms with the report that the general public (what does that mean?) stood outside the venue in the freezing cold for several hours to spot the stars or celebrities. This is a topic that I have written about before but it is something I feel very strongly about. Just because certain people have musical talent does this make them role models? The answer has to be no. It is almost as if society has moulded itself into a hierarchical existence. The 5% at the top appear to be chosen through inconsistent, contradictory and glamorous criteria.

Interestingly, the BBCTV (UK) has been broadcasting a terrific series on the developing city of Dubai called Dubai Dreams. Dubai is now a leading tourist resort and has had a major infrastructure and construction development for the last 20-30 years. Their shiny skyline shows years of investment and new settlement. When I visited Dubai a few years back the roads were clean with drivers seriously adhering to traffic disciplines. The sand was white, the people were friendly, the hotels and shopping centres were plush and the tours are extremely fun. With regard to the latter, if you ever visit do take the sand safari trip (NB only if you love 4 wheel drive jostling). Last nights episode featured an American lady originally from Seattle who had married an Arab and had spent the last 20 years in Dubai. She is also passionate about helping children and many women that may have been caught-up in the unfortunate net of trafficking humans and abuse.

The pace of the programme was fast as it attempted to keep-up with this lady’s support activities: rescuing children, setting-up a shelter and meeting-up with the Body Shop founder to collaborate to support its charity. In my mind this is an example of commerce coming together with Charity. It shows us that there is another way to help people. Clearly, government support is also essential but many selfless volunteers are not appreciated. One of the questions asked by the Body Shop founder to this lady was, ‘Do you have a web site’? The answer was no. Hey! Clearly a web site could help but the situation on the ground is the true reality.

It is the same with the Pakistan relief fund. Only $120M of the overall pledged amount has been received.

We are in a society of contractions. A night out at the theatre or rushing out to watch the latest Harry Potter is a sense of escapism from the reality of life. I’m certainly not suggesting guilt or the removal of personal pleasure. I would like a society where true heroes are acknowledged and the theme of equality rises high in our minds, motivating us to help others and support those that challenge evil.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Smoking really does kill

Unfortunately, smokers are still in disbelief that that they are not immortal. I see it everyday, especially and increasingly amongst the less than 20 age range. A fresh face person will suddenly blot out their face with a cigarette. I have written about this subject before, especially in the context of the need for a ban on public smoking and by providing some statistics showing the predicted worrying burden on future health care.

Last week I was shocked to hear that one of the founders and producers of ‘Have I got news for you (UK BBC1 TV) died of passive smoking at the age of only 45. Statistics, facts and preventative approaches through numerous anti-smoking campaigns are continuing to fail.

Interesting, although commercial advertisements have now been banned for both smoking and alcohol, the use of these substances continue to be featured and glamorised in plays, movies, situation comedies and during chat show banter. For example American comedies often depict the smoking of cigars as a way of showing opulence or a decedent lifestyle. Clean and ethical living is positioned as boring and the domain of the weak. Could it be that the very same writers that depict such negativity themselves lack confidence and are insecure about their own addictions?

The statistics speak for themselves:

Non-lethal illness
Smokers face a higher risk than non-smokers for a wide variety of illnesses, many of which may be fatal (see “Deaths caused by smoking” below). However, many medical conditions associated with smoking, while they may not be fatal, may cause years of debilitating illness or other problems. These include:

Increased risk for smokers
Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (gum disease)
Muscle injuries
Angina (20 x risk) Neck pain
Back pain Nystagmus (abnormal eye movements)
Buerger’s Disease (severe circulatory disease)
Ocular Histoplasmosis (fungal eye infection)
Duodenal ulcer Osteoporosis (in both sexes)
Cataract (2 x risk) Osteoarthritis
Crohn’s Disease (chronic inflamed bowel)
Depression Psoriasis (2 x risk)
Diabetes (Type 2, non-insulin dependent)
Skin wrinkling (2 x risk)
Hearing loss Stomach ulcer
Influenza Rheumatoid arthritis (for heavy smokers)
Impotence (2 x risk) Tendon injuries
Optic Neuropathy (loss of vision, 16 x risk)
Tobacco Amblyopia (loss of vision)
Ligament injuries Tooth loss
Macular degeneration (eyes, 2 x risk)

Symptoms worse in smokers
Asthma Graves’ disease (over-active thyroid gland)
Chronic rhinitis (chronic inflammation of the nose)
Multiple Sclerosis
Diabetic retinopathy (eyes) Optic Neuritis (eyes)
Disease more severe or persistent in smokers
Common cold Pneumonia
Crohn’s Disease (chronic inflamed bowel)

Deaths caused by smoking
One in two long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking – half of these in middle age. The most recent estimates show that around 114,000 people in the UK are killed by smoking every year, accounting for one fifth of all UK deaths. Most die from one of the three main diseases associated with cigarette smoking: lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease (bronchitis and emphysema) and coronary heart disease.

Maybe in a world of reality TV we need programmes to cover the life of a cancer victim. It certainly won’t be glamorous or form part of one’s drone like ‘entertain me’ attitude. However, it will publicise the seriousness of the issue.

Many countries have been serious enough to ban smoking in public places in a number of Capital cities. In the UK we need a stronger commitment instead of going for pleasing voters through fudge tactics.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Communicate to congregate for change

The other day I stood at the entrance of a giant Supermarket. For some reason the whole store had been refitted to show ‘strength through stock’. What I mean by this made phrase is the following: Imagine rows and rows of square shaped buckets each piled high with fruit and vegetables. The obvious logistical nicety for the supermarket is that stocks are easy to replenish but what a great subconscious marketing message, i.e.: ‘Come and shop exclusively with us as we have plenty to satisfy your demand and desires’

As I gazed at the newly fashioned entrance I couldn’t help mutter under by breath ‘Is it not an outrageous that in our part of the world (London, UK for international readers) there is so much but in many parts of the world there is virtually nothing. Some readers may now be thinking that I’m back on my anti-poverty rant yet again. Maybe I am and what I would say in defence is that we should all be on a mission to make a global change for the sake of equality. We cannot just rely alone on issue awareness seeking programmes (essential as they are too) that ‘hit’ our screens. For example, on Thursday’s 3rd Nov’05 at MTV Europe music awards Sir Bob Geldof was presented with an award. He spoke of the need to carry on his mission to eradicate poverty. Some of you may have read my 2 part ‘I was there’ article on Live8 where I appreciated the nature and sentiment of the gig but was disappointed with issues such as special access areas, press and reporting arrangements. I’m certainly not belittling Bob’s mission but I just feel we should all ‘feel and contribute for the people’

I believe there is a missing element amongst us all – The power to be confident that we can make a change. I condemn the action of drug taking hippies in the 1960s. However, many of them in the US and internationally protested against the Vietnam War. Take another example; there are more Sikhs that sacrificed their lives for the freedom of India. It was Sikhs that gave India religious freedoms and smashed the Mogul campaign of ethnic cleansing.

What will it take for us to be confident of not just passively hoping for change but to demand action?

I always thought that the Internet was free but increasingly it is becoming commercialised. If we feel that not enough is being done for a particular cause we should use the power of email and the potential to communicate to congregate. Do it now before this medium changes!

This morning I heard that not enough money is available for the thousands that are stranded in the highlands of Pakistan due to insufficient short-term funds. The World Bank audit announced on Tuesday 8th Nov’05 that over 86,000 people have been killed due to this disaster. Unfortunately many of the victims died in the earthquake and within days of its wrath. Many victims have had parts of their bodies amputated due to infections / lack of treatment. Money is needed now to prevent further deaths due to the approaching winter.

In today’s world where some have so much and others so little, don’t we owe it to our fellow brothers and sisters to pay a tax, say call it a global relief fund to help fund potential disasters and the current world disaster of inequality.

If insufficient funds is an issue, why not use the power of email to demand change and suggest greater awareness to the media of such events - so that its presence does not continue to distract us all to ignore the suffering of those around us.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why do Sikhs celebrate Diwali?

What a wonderful time of year we have now embarked upon. In the UK and for many in the Northern Hemisphere we will obviously have to adapt to it getting darker earlier and a possible turn in the weather - a turn in the downwardly direction in terms of temperature! It won’t be long before the memory of chipping ice of your windscreen will come rushing back. Those winds will be cutting our faces in a reminder that winter is here. Let us all hope that it will be safe for us all.

2005 is quite interesting as so many festivities are co-inciding: Bon Fire night, Eid for Muslims, Festival of Lights for Hindus and also a time when Sikhs celebrate a special event.

There was a time when our sixth Guru, Guru Har Gobind and Emperor Jahangir (son of Akbar) were friends. Over time, Jahangir became dictatorial. These emotions were combined with opportunist ministers who wished to protect their own positions and interests. Amongst them was Chandu who gave false information and unfounded accusations against our Guru. The Emperor ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Guru Har Gobind at the fort of Gwalior.

The Sikhs in Delhi and Amritsar protested at the foul play. Chandu wrote to Har Das, the commander of the Gwalior fort, ordering him to poison or murder the Guru; he was promised a large reward. Har Das had become a devotee to the Guru and placed all Chandu's letters before the Guru.

There were many Rajahs and princes in the same prison. Queen Noor Jahan felt the unfair imprisonment of the Guru and convinced him to release the Guru. The Guru refused to leave the fort unless all the princes were released as well. The Emperor agreed and the Guru was hailed as 'Sandi Chhor'. The news spread all over India.

After the release, the Guru went straight to Amritsar. On the way people sprinkled water on dusty roads, started Langars (free kitchens) and placed earthen lamps on their housetops at night. When he reached Amritsar, thousands of Sikhs thronged to see the Guru, and on the night of his arrival, placed lamps in the streets and on housetops and distributed sweets. This day is still celebrated every year, which coincides with Diwali.

Another event took place in 1737 and is also known as Bandi Chhorh Diwas (Diwali) . Bhai Mani Singh transcribed the final version of Guru Granth Sahib upon dictation from Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1704 at Damdamma Sahib. After heavenly abode of Guru Sahib in 1708, he took charge of Harmandir Sahib's management. In 1737, invitations were sent to the Sikhs all over India to join Bandi Chhorh Diwas celebrations at Harmandir Sahib. A large tax of rupees had to be paid to the Mogul governor of Punjab, Zakariya Khan. Bhai Mani Singh Ji later discovered the secret plan of Zakariya Khan to kill the Sikhs during the gathering. Bhai Mani Singh Ji immediately sent message to all the Sikhs not to turn up for celebrations. Zakariya Khan was not happy about the situation and he ordered Bhai Mani Singh's assassination at Lahore by ruthlessly cutting him limb-by-limb to death. Ever since, the great sacrifice & devotion of Bhai Mani Singh Ji is remembered on the Bandi Chhorh Diwas (Diwali).

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