Tsunami death toll reported at over 120,000

Reuters have reported the latest death toll figures for the Tsunami:

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has soared above 120,000 as millions scramble for food and fresh water and thousands more flee in panic to high ground on rumours of new waves.

Aid agencies warned on Thursday that many more, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, could die in epidemics if shattered communications and transport hampered what may prove history’s biggest relief operation.

Rescue workers pressed on into isolated villages shattered by a disaster that could yet eclipse a cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1991, killing 138,000 people.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for an emergency meeting of the Group of Eight so that the rich nations club could discuss aid and possible debt reduction following “the worst cataclysm of the modern era”.

The total toll had shot up more than 50 percent in a day with still no clear picture of conditions in some isolated islands and villages around India and Indonesia.

So it seems the death toll will probably rise even further. Serious questions must be asked as to whether and how the death toll could have been avoided via e.g. an early warning system. In the meantime the aid efforts continue.

Concerned British readers are directed to the Disasters Emergency Committee for making donations, in addition to the organisations I referred to in an earlier article.

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BT reported to have doubts over bidding for ID cards contracts…

The Register reports that British Telecom is having doubts over whether to apply for ID card related contracts:

British Telecom may not bid for ID card contracts because of concern that its involvement would make it seem like a ‘Big Brother’ company in the eyes of the public. According to This is London, BT has been talking to consultants and public bodies, including Liberty, in order to gauge how close involvement with the ID scheme would be perceived.

Later the article suggests a further reason why BT might have doubts:

BT is currently claiming that it hasn’t yet decided whether or not to bid, but any hesitation may not stem entirely from the Big Brother factor. The company is already involved in the the NHS National Programme for IT, and it might view that as enough headaches for the moment. Nor are large UK Government IT contracts viewed by industry with undiluted enthusiasm these days. Bad planning and moving goalposts can make project failure a near certainty, and it’s generally the contractor that ends up being blamed. Add the Government’s determination to push down prices to this and you might reckon winning a UK Government contract boiled down to very publicly trashing your own reputation while tearing up five pound notes.

Will the ID card scheme end up as a government white elephant?

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The Asia earthquake

With a death toll now reported at over 50,000, the Asia earthquake and it’s accompanying tsunami must surely count as one of the worst disasters in human history. It is a reminder that for all our technological prowess, nature is still a force to be reckoned with.

I hope that this incident spurs the development of early warning systems for tsunamis so that in future the awful death toll we’ve seen with this quake can be averted.

For the moment though, sending aid is the best we can do, a list of British charities involved in the effort can be found here.

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Churchill on Xmas (circa 1941)

The Auroran Sunset quotes Churchill on Xmas:

quote of the day: something christmasy from churchill

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

And so, in God’s mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.”

–winston churchill, dec. 24th, 1941

Sentiments which I can only echo.

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Season’s Greetings!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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The govt’s hostility to Freedom of Information shows again

The BBC is reporting that civil servants have stepped up the shredding of official documents, ahead of the Freedom of Information Act coming into force:

From a series of parliamentary answers Dr Julian Lewis, the Conservative spokesman for the Cabinet Office, says he has discovered a huge acceleration in shredding.

The Department of Work and Pensions destroyed nearly 37,000 files last year – up 22,000 on four years ago when the Act was passed.

The number of files destroyed by the Ministry of Defence and the departments of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Trade and Industry has also risen dramatically.

Dr Lewis has called for an investigation by the information commissioner Richard Thomas

This follows on from the recent reports that the govt has ordered internal emails more than 3 months old to be deleted.

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Michael Howard on ID cards & further ID related links

I was going to do a critique of Michael Howard’s piece on ID cards in the Telegraph.However, Stephen Robinson writing in the Telegraph, has done such a good job I decided it better to refer people to it instead:

If you like the idea of all this and can afford the £400 or so it will cost your extended family (the Tories could have said), then vote Labour and help Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, get one over all those he accuses of “liberal woolly thinking”. On the other hand, if you are sceptical of grandiose government in general, and of ID cards in particular, the Tories might have said, then vote for us.

Mr Howard might have added that he would take the billions that Labour will spend on this scheme, and use it to improve border controls, to put more police on the streets, and bolster the security services.

He might have pointed out that we face a real and immediate terrorist threat and that ID cards will not be fully operational for at least seven years, even assuming the technology works. The Tories might have remarked on how America’s Department of Homeland Security, no slouchers in the war on terror, have no plans for a national ID card, but prefer to concentrate their efforts on border control and intelligence.

They might have mentioned that the real terrorist threat we face might actually come from within the pool of 26 million short-term visitors to British ports and airports every year, and that, if none of these foreigners needs an ID card, then why should your elderly parents in Cheltenham?

The Tories might, heaven forbid, have said they would not raise or spend the billions the ID scheme would cost because Conservatives believe in small government and want to cut taxes, not raise them.

But Mr Howard could not bear the thought of looking “weak on terror”, so preferred to make his front-bench team seem ridiculous yesterday in forcing them to fall in line behind a scheme that will cost billions, make us no safer and ultimately prove highly unpopular. He has deprived millions of people like me with an innate scepticism towards government of a real choice next year. At the very moment when one senses that voters are growing uneasy at the controlling instincts of New Labour, the Tory front bench has endorsed Big Government on stilts. (Emphasis added)

Also, a few more critiques of Charles Clarke’s defence of ID cards have appeared. The ever excellent Spy.org.uk has produced a good critique here.

Henry Porter also provides a good critique in Friday 17th’s edition of the Guardian. A particularly good passage reads:

To be anonymous, to go privately, to move residence without telling the authorities is a fundamental liberty which is about to be taken from us. People may not choose to exercise this entitlement to privacy, or see the point of it, but once it’s gone and a vast database is built, eventually to be accessed by every tentacle of the government machine, we will never be able to claw it back. We are about to surrender a right which is precious, rare even in western democracies, and profoundly emblematic of our culture and civilisation.

A further point Porter raises is that we currently have many ways of identifying ourselves if we wish. The point of the ID card is for the government to identify us.

That is why the ID cards bill contains e.g. £1000 fines for failing to notify the govt of a change of address and other similarly draconian requirements on people to fill forms in correctly. It is also why there will be an audit trail recording every use of the card, enabling the government to monitor all our lives in incredible detail, as stated in my earlier article.

Spy.org.uk have also produced a clause by clause analysis of the ID cards bill that is well worth reading. Spy.org.uk has become an immensely useful resource on all things civil liberties, privacy and surveillance related.

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