Archive for November, 2011

Irvine, California

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

We didn’t actually get to Irvine until the afternoon on Wednesday. We decided to see more of Los Angeles before we headed south.

We drove across the city up La Cieniga until we hit Wilshire Blvd. At that point, we stopped in a coffee shop and had a cup and listened and looked at the world around us.

Wilshire Bvld, AKA the Miracle Mile. A place where high finance gurus and movie moguls and many wanna-bes hang out. I found it all fascinating to watch and to listen as deals were being sought and attitudes revealed. Money, arrogance, desire and poverty all swirled aroiund us like the creme in my coffee.

We took a 20 minute walk through a Beverely Hills residential neighborhood to see what that was like.

Then we back tracked a mile or so and parked just by Rodeo Drive and went for an hour’s walk there. Interesting indeed, but less so for me that actually listening in on the coffee shop conversations. But, I wouldn’t have missed it.

Then we took Sanata Monica Blvd east thinking we’d pass through the classic on Hollywood and Vine area but my map reading ws off and I think we by passed it.

We did get to see lots of the underbelly of Los Angeles, though. After going east, Santa Monica Blvd carried us quite close to the LA downdown and we went down into the belly of that beast and all throught the jewelery / Gold district and then out to the south into the “old downtown”.

Further on, we can to a major Salvation Army Mission area and the number of walking wounded we saw camped on both sides of the street for two blocks was astounding.

We continued a bit more but then I began to worry that with me driving blindly, we might find ourselves in south-central LA and that’s not a good place to be at any time, IMHO, so I cut east into the Little Japan area and then thrashed until I came up with a freeway. I knew that once I was on one, I could fake my way to Orange County easily.

An hour or so later, after a fast rip across the LA basin, we were driving into Invine and into an entirely different world.

Entirely too much happened at my son’s house to try to recount. Suffice to say, it was all lovely. Colette was introduced, hugs were passed about and we all talked for hours. Cody and Eden, my two grandchildren were and are just wonderful. I always enjoy them so.

In line with mentioning things I’m learning along the way, I had a discussion with my son, Dan, Wednesday evening that opened my eyes a bit.

I was holding forth about the fact that I really don’t ‘get’ relationships in which people fight like dogs and cats all the time and yet stay together.

Dan said that he thinks that folks like that love each other so deeply that they can afford to fight and fully express themsleves and still know that they can depend on their other half to still be there. Whereas, he said, people that don’t argue with passion – perhaps they are really indifferent to each other and just don’t know it.

I’m still thinking about that one.


Los Angeles, California

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

We arrived about 9:30 in the morning after an overnight flight from Sydney. All uneventful. I read about half of Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol. I recommend it highly.

We picked up our rental car and went to the Days Inn where we were booked but they weren’t resdy for us so we decided to drive to the beach. We took Manchester west until it hit the coast a bit south of Marina del Rey. From there, we worked north to Venice Beach and then we parked for a look around. We liked it and rented two bikes and took a ride all up through Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier and back again. What a fun, insane and interesting area.

We came back and checked into our room and I called my friend, Charles, whom I’ve known since University days. He came and took us to a Brazilian restaurant which had great food and, best of all, it was quiet so we could talk easily.

Charles has been involved with politics for many years so talking with him is always a pleasure. He said several things which gave me pause for thought.

He said that the first thing to realize, if you are a liberal, is that the other side are not doing what they are doing from greed. They are genuinely doing it because they believe it the rights of the individual.

He also said that one of the reasons why many poorer folks in the USA vote for the Republicans is that Americans, unlike many other peoples, vote based on their asperations rather than on some pragmatic equation resuting from their actual circumstances. So, they vote for the interests of the rich because they hope to be rich someday.

And he said that the way change comes, politically, is not the way most of us would hope it would come. But it comes. Decades ago, civil rights and women’s liberation and the pill and all of that were on the edge as subjects. Now, we largely take them for granted.

So, today’s discussions and complaints by the Occupy Wall Street movement people in which they question why there is such a huge disparity between the richest and poorest of us may become part of ever man’s consciousness and thus part of the national thinking about what’s fair and right – rather than a strange idea – as it seems to currently be percieved to be.

A lot more was discussed as it always is when old friends get together. I’ve known Charles for nearly 40 years now.

Today, we’re going to drive north up the 405 and cross over on the 2 into the Beverley Hills area for a look around. Then we’ll continue through West Hollywood, north of downtown L.A., proper, and then swing around and begin heading south to my son, Dan’s, place in Irvine down in Orange County.

It’s November but the weather’s very comfortable here in Southern California. 22C/72F and sunny and dry. Perfect.


Saudi woman driver to be whipped

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

A Saudi woman was sentenced yesterday to be lashed 10 times with a whip for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, the first time a legal punishment has been handed down for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again.

But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Making the sentence all the more upsetting to activists is that it came just two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015.

Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

The mixed signals highlight the challenges for Abdullah, known as a reformer, in pushing gently for change without antagonising the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

Abdullah said he had the backing of the official clerical council. But activists saw yesterday’s sentencing as a retaliation of sorts from the hardline Saudi religious establishment that controls the courts and oversees the intrusive religious police.

“Our King doesn’t deserve that,” said Sohila Zein el-Abydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights. She burst into tears and said: “The verdict is shocking to me, but we were expecting this kind of reaction.”

The driver, Shaima Jastaina, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission, activist Samar Badawi said. The punishment is usually carried out within a month. It was not possible to reach Jastaina, but Badawi said she had appealed against the verdict.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women – both Saudi and foreign – from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the US$300 ($382) to US$400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them around.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Activists say the religious justification is irrelevant.

“How come women get flogged for driving while the maximum penalty for a traffic violation is a fine, not lashes?” Zein el-Abydeen said.

– More…


Rivers of ice: Vanishing glaciers

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Stunning images from high in the Himalayas – showing the extent by which many glaciers have shrunk in the past 80 years or so – have gone on display at the Royal Geographical Society in central London.

Between 2007 and 2010, David Breashears retraced the steps of early photographic pioneers such as Major E O Wheeler, George Mallory and Vittorio Sella – to try to re-take their views of breathtaking glacial vistas.

The mountaineer and photographer is the founder of GlacierWorks – a non-profit organisation that uses art, science and adventure to raise public awareness about the consequences of climate change in the Himalayas.

– To the article and pictures…

Researchers warn of new Stuxnet worm

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Researchers have found evidence that the Stuxnet worm, which alarmed governments around the world, could be about to regenerate.

Stuxnet was a highly complex piece of malware created to spy on and disrupt Iran’s nuclear programme.

No-one has identified the worm authors but the finger of suspicion fell on the Israeli and US governments.

The new threat, Duqu, is, according to those who discovered it, “a precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack”.

Its discovery was made public by security firm Symantec, which in turn was alerted to the threat by one of its customers.

The worm was named Duqu because it creates files with the prefix DQ.

Symantec looked at samples of the threat gathered from computer systems located in Europe.

Initial analysis of the worm found that parts of Duqu are nearly identical to Stuxnet and suggested that it was written by either the same authors or those with access to the Stuxnet source code.

“Unlike Stuxnet, Duqu does not contain any code related to industrial control systems and does not self-replicate,” Symantec said in its blog.

“The threat was highly targeted towards a limited number of organisations for their specific assets.”

In other words, Duqu is not designed to attack industrial systems, such as Iran’s nuclear production facilities, as was the case with Stuxnet, but rather to gather intelligence for a future attack.

The code has, according to Symantec, been found in a “limited number of organisations, including those involved in the manufacturing of industrial control systems”.

Symantec’s chief technology officer Greg Day told the BBC that the code was highly sophisticated.

“This isn’t some hobbyist, it is using bleeding-edge techniques and that generally means it has been created by someone with a specific purpose in mind,” he said.

Whether that is state-sponsored and politically motivated is not clear at this stage though.

“If it is the Stuxnet author it could be that they have the same goal as before. But if code has been given to someone else they may have a different motive,” Mr Day said.

He added that there was “more than one variant” of Duqu.

“It looks as if they are tweaking and fine-tuning it along the way,” he said.

The worm also removes itself from infected computers after 36 days, suggesting that it is designed to remain more hidden than its predecessor.

The code used a “jigsaw” of components including a stolen Symantec digital certificate, said Mr Day.

“We provide digital certificates to validate identity and this certificate was stolen from a customer in Taiwan and reused,” said Mr Day.

The certificate in question has since been revoked by Symantec.

– More…


Climate change ‘grave threat’ to security and health

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Climate change poses “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to health and security around the world, according to an expert conference in London.

Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases.

A statement from the meeting adds that humanitarian disasters will put more and more strain on military resources.

It asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

The annual UN climate conference opens in about six weeks’ time, and the doctors, academics and military experts represented at the meeting (held in the British Medical Association’s (BMA) headquarters)argue that developed and developing countries alike need to raise their game.

Scientific studies suggest that the most severe climate impacts will fall on the relatively poor countries of the tropics.

UK military experts pointed out that much of the world’s trade moves through such regions, with North America, Western Europe and China among the societies heavily dependent on oil and other imports.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, climate and energy security envoy for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that conflict in such areas could make it more difficult and expensive to obtain goods on which countries such as Britain rely.

“If there are risks to the trade routes and other areas, then it’s food, it’s energy,” he told BBC News.

“The price of energy will go up – for us, it’s [the price of] petrol at the pumps – and goods made in southeast Asia, a lot of which we import.”

– More…