Few details as Israel eases Gaza blockade

JERUSALEM: Israel has agreed to loosen its land blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, hoping to quell growing international criticism following its deadly raid on an aid convoy.The office of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a statement yesterday that said the security cabinet had approved a plan to ease the three-year-old blockade. However it released few details about the changes, and it was not clear whether any firm decisions had been made, despite two days of cabinet meetings.The only item singled out in the statement was a plan to allow in desperately needed construction materials for civilian projects, but only under international supervision.Israel has barely allowed the entry of materials such as cement and steel, arguing that Hamas militants could use them to build weapons and fortifications. That policy has prevented Gaza from rebuilding after Israel’s fierce war in the territory last year.There was no mention in the statement of any change in other damaging aspects of the blockade, such as bans on exports or allowing in raw materials used in industrial production.The naval blockade will remain. The statement said Israel would ”continue existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materiel”. Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that if the naval closure is lifted, Hamas would turn Gaza into an ”Iranian port”.Israel has been scrambling to find ways to ease the blockade since its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla on May 31 turned deadly. The deaths of nine Turkish activists on board one of the ships drew international attention to the blockade and provoked much anger against Israel worldwide.The 15-member security cabinet said it expected the international community ”to work towards the immediate release of Gilad Shalit”, the Israeli soldier snatched by Gaza-based militants in June 2006.Israel first imposed the blockade after the corporal’s capture, but it was tightened significantly – with Egypt’s co-operation – after Hamas forcibly took over the Palestinian enclave a year later.However, the blockade failed to stem the flow of weapons to Gaza or weaken Hamas. A network of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border became a conduit for weapons and for commercial goods sold at black-market prices. Gazans sank deeper into poverty, turning their anger against Israel and not their Hamas rulers.The partial lifting of the siege did not satisfy Hamas. ”We want a real lifting of the siege, not window-dressing,” said a Hamas MP, Salah Bardawil.In the West Bank, the rival pro-Western Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas also rejected the Israeli decision. Its chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the siege ”is collective punishment and it must be lifted”.Amid the heavy international criticism that followed the Israeli naval raid, Egypt opened its land border crossing with Gaza. But most Gazans remained confined to the crowded territory because Egyptian officials say they have let in only about 10,000 people with special travel permits, such as students and people with foreign passports.Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

Sorrowful BP boss hints others were also at fault for spill

WASHINGTON: The chief executive of BP says he is ”personally devastated” by the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, but that it is too early to decide what caused the mishap or to nominate with certainty when the leak will be plugged.In prepared remarks that were to be delivered overnight to a House of Representatives’ energy and commerce subcommittee in Washington, Tony Hayward said he understood the animosity that Americans feel towards him and his company.The explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig ”never should have happened and I am deeply sorry that they did”, he said.”My sadness has only grown as the disaster continues.”None of us yet knows why [the accident] happened. But, whatever the cause, we at BP will do what we can to make certain that an incident like this does not happen again.”BP confirmed on Wednesday that it will set aside $US20 billion ($23 billion) over four years to compensate those hit by the disaster, a coup for President Barack Obama, who has been trying to assure Americans he will force the company to pay ”every last dime” of the clean-up.The amount has not been capped, nor have the rights of individuals or states to sue BP, meaning the cost to the oil giant can be expected to escalate.The company is also providing $US100 million immediately for workers affected by a six-month moratorium imposed by the government on new deepwater exploration in the gulf .Mr Obama welcomed the payout. ”What this is about is accountability … At the end of the day, it’s what every American wants and expects,” he said.Mr Hayward’s appearance before the committee is his first since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and sank the Deepwater Horizon. Earlier this week, executives from other oil companies appeared before Congress and sought to distance themselves from BP.But Mr Hayward’s statement, while agreeing that BP was the responsible party in the matter, hinted that others could be drawn into a legal fight.”This is a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures. A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early to understand the cause.”Mr Hayward was less confident of success in attempts to cap the leak, saying BP could not ”guarantee the outcome of these operations”.”But we are working around the clock with the best experts from government and industry.”Two relief wells being drilled to take over from the crippled well were not expected to be completed before August, but represented ”the ultimate solution to stopping the flow of oil and gas”.BP expects to be able to siphon about 90 per cent of the oil flow into tankers by mid-July, as much as 80,000 barrels a day.However, some observers feared the operation could further weaken the structure of the well, which has been damaged by attempts to staunch the leak.Mr Hayward was sure to face condemnation from the House subcommittee.Responding to his planned testimony, committee member Bart Stupak, a Democrat, said: ”It’s not going to ring true with me or the American public … He’s just going to say, ‘I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen again’. It’s not good enough.”

Weight of the nation a big issue

In Japan, being thin isn’t just the price you pay for fashion or social acceptance. It’s the law.So before the fat police could throw her in pudgy purgatory, Miki Yabe, 39, a manager at a major transportation corporation, went on a crash diet. In the week before her company’s annual health check-up, Yabe ate 21 consecutive meals of vegetable soup and hit the gym for 30 minutes a day of running and swimming.”It’s scary,” said Yabe, who is 160 centimetres tall and weighs 60 kilograms. ”I gained two kilos this year.”In Japan, already the slimmest industrialised nation, people are fighting fat to ward off dreaded metabolic syndrome and comply with a government-imposed waistline standard.Metabolic syndrome, known here simply as ”metabo”, is a combination of health risks, including stomach flab, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.Concerned about rising rates of both in a greying nation, Japanese legislators last year set a maximum waistline size for anyone age 40 and older: 85 centimetres for men and 90 centimetres for women.The experience of the Japanese offers lessons in how complicated it is to legislate good health.Though Japan’s ”metabo law” aims to save money by heading off health risks related to obesity, there is no consensus that it will.Doctors and health experts have said the waistline limits conflict with the International Diabetes Federation’s recommended guidelines for Japan. Meanwhile, ordinary residents have been buying fitness equipment, joining gyms and popping herbal pills in an effort to lose weight, even though some doctors warn they are already too thin to begin with.The number of ”food calories which the Japanese intake is decreasing from 10 years ago”, said Yoichi Ogushi, professor of medicine at Tokai University and one of the leading critics of the law. ”So there is no obesity problem as in the USA. To the contrary, there is a problem of leanness in young females.”Under Japan’s healthcare coverage, companies administer check-ups to employees once a year. Those who fail to meet the waistline requirement must undergo counselling.If companies do not reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 per cent by 2012 and 25 per cent by 2015, they could be required to pay more money into a healthcare program for the elderly. An estimated 56 million Japanese will have their waists measured this year.Healthcare costs in Japan are projected to double by 2020 and represent 11.5 per cent of gross domestic product. That’s why some health experts support the metabo law.Though the health exams for metabolic syndrome factor in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight and smoking, waist size is the most critical element in the law – and perhaps the most humiliating.On the day of her exam, Yabe arrived at the clinic at 8.30am. The tests lasted an hour. The result: her waist was 84 centimetres – safely under the limit. She had shed 2.95 kilograms thanks to her diet and exercise.A week later, however, Yabe was back to eating pasta and other favourite foods. ”I want to keep healthy now, but I don’t know,” she said. ”Maybe in December I will have many bonenkai [year-end parties]. And next summer I will drink beer, almost every day.”

How justice works in pirates’ favour

Of the 15-strong gang who held me prisoner in a cave in Somalia, a tough, skinny lad named Fraisal is the one I remember best. He always made sure I had enough tea and cigarettes, could cook a half-edible goat stew on the campfire, and, when not issuing death threats, would tell me tales of how he came to choose piracy as a career.Regaled in a mixture of pidgin English and charades, it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for his story. Orphaned when his parents had been killed in Somalia’s civil war, he’d tried and failed to smuggle himself to Europe, before being ”adopted” by the gang’s Fagin-like leader, who had kidnapped me on the orders of a local warlord.Yet the gun that was at Fraisal’s side could not disguise a certain childish naivety. On one occasion, he asked if I had an email address, so that we might stay in touch after I was released. On another, he mentioned a sister studying at college in Liverpool, and suggested I drop by to say hello.Since my release in early January 2009, I have not heard from Fraisal again. Despite his plan to try to board a people smugglers’ boat once more, and his pledge to ”come and say hello” if he ever joined his sister in England, there has been neither an email nor, thank God, a knock at my door.A few others in his line of work, however, look set to achieve his dream of making it to Europe – courtesy not of the people smugglers’ boats, but of the multinational anti-piracy force charged with tackling them.That is the extraordinary story that has unfolded in recent weeks in Room 35 of the maximum security court building in Rotterdam, where five Somali pirates, dressed in borrowed clothes and looking variously confused, bored and cheerful, have sat in front of a judge, lawyers and a contingent of armed policemen.It is fair to say they are not the most formidable buccaneers of their time; they were arrested by a Danish warship after a crewman on the freighter they tried to hijack set their skiff ablaze with a well-aimed petrol bomb.They are, however, assured a place in pirate folklore. After being picked up they were taken to the Netherlands, where they are the first pirates to stand trial in Europe in living memory. The Netherlands, which brought the case because the warship, the Samanyolu, was registered in the Dutch Antilles, hopes it will show that the West is serious about the Somali piracy problem. It is prosecuting the men for attempted ”sea robbery”, under laws first drafted in the 17th century. But the problem is that, 300 years on, the official message that piracy is a mug’s game is somewhat less clear than it used to be.After all, back in the days of sail, when pirates were last a serious threat to maritime commerce, official thinking was quite literally of the ”hanging’s too good for ’em” school. At the old Admiralty court in London, for example, pirates would drop from a rope that was cut deliberately too short to break their necks. After slowly asphyxiating – and doing a grisly leg-thrash known as the marshal’s dance – their bodies would be taken to a gibbet, and displayed as decaying, maggot-riddled warnings to others.By contrast, when the Rotterdam case finished yesterday, the worst they received was five years in a comfortable Dutch prison, where each will have a private cell complete with television, lavatory and shower. Prosecutors asked for a seven-year sentence, but the judge said he took into account the difficult conditions in Somalia that led the men to piracy. Once they are freed, moreover, they will be able to apply to stay in the Netherlands – the very chance that my old acquaintance Fraisal used to dream of.Small wonder, then, that those in the dock in Rotterdam have begun to think that things haven’t worked out quite so badly after all. ”When I first spoke to my client, he said being here was like heaven,” Willem-Jan Ausma, a lawyer who represents Farah Ahmed Yusuf, 27, said. ”For the first time in his life he didn’t feel he was in danger, and he was in a modern prison with the first modern lavatory and shower that he’d ever had.”The case is just one illustration of the difficulties the West is having in posing any real deterrent to Somalia’s pirate armadas, which continue to terrorise shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Since the problem first began escalating in 2008, an international fleet of warships has been patrolling the waters off Somalia, policing a ”safe transit corridor” and advising ships on how to take evasive measures.Yet the chance to share in a multimillion-dollar ransom ensures there is a never-ending influx of desperate people willing to join the pirates’ ranks. Attempted hijackings went up to 217 last year, nearly double the 111 recorded in 2008, and while a smaller proportion of them were successful – roughly one in four last year, compared with one in three the year before – an estimated 200 sailors still languish as hostages. On Friday, the Eastern European crew of the British-flagged Asian Glory were freed after six months in captivity following the payment of a ransom.As I sat in the public gallery of the court in Rotterdam recently, I wondered whether I was that impartial an observer. The face of one defendant bore a passing resemblance to one of my own captors, and when I heard about the crew fending them off with a petrol bomb, I almost muttered a cheer.All the same, listening to the pirates’ defence, it was clear how little most of them felt that they had to lose. Like many other men from the dirt-poor fishing communities that dot the Somali coast, they turned to piracy after rumours swept their villages about the multimillion-dollar ransoms that could be gained. While their testimony has at times seemed exaggerated – one claimed that Somalis ate their children through hunger – all five claim to have been simply ordinary family men looking to put food on the table. ”I would not have done this if I hadn’t had so much trouble of my own,” said Abdirasaq Abdullahi Hirsi. ”Before I was arrested, 18 people depended on me. They now have no home or food or family to fall back on.”For all their concerns about their extended families, none now seem keen to return home. Instead, all five have asked to remain in the Netherlands, and to bring their families to join them upon release from jail.The court told them that they are here to ”answer for their crimes” rather than seek asylum. Mr Ausma points out that the Netherlands, like Britain, deems Somalia too dangerous to repatriate people to. ”When it is not possible to send them back to their own country, the judge will just have to set them free, like thousands of other Somalis who are here already,” he said.Lenient though their treatment may be, however, the ”Rotterdam Five” have at least seen the inside of a courtroom. The vast majority of pirates being apprehended by the international naval force never even get close, thanks to the controversial ”catch and release” policy, under which only those caught directly in the act of hijacking are generally taken into custody. Others simply have their weapons confiscated and are told to go on their way.The justification is that prosecutions in foreign courts are too time-consuming and expensive, and that it is more practical simply to disrupt the pirates’ activities. But critics in the shipping industry, which has paid out nearly $200 million ($232 million) in ransoms in the past two years, have likened it to catching an armed robber on the way to a bank and letting him off with a caution.Until recently, one alternative had been to take the pirates to Kenya, which undertook to try suspects arrested by Britain and other nations. Eight pirates detained by a Royal Navy vessel were recently jailed there for 20 years, and most diplomats agree that an African prison is likely to be more of a deterrent than a Dutch one. But in April, the Kenyan government announced it would not be accepting any more, amid concerns about overloading the system and the fallout of becoming the ”Pirate Guantanamo Bay”.Which means that people like my old friend Fraisal will no doubt continue to find piracy an attractive career option, offering as it does fairly reasonable odds in the lottery of life. If they don’t get a share in a multimillion-dollar ransom, the worst they risk is a slap on the wrist from a foreign navy. Or – if they are really lucky – the chance to start a new life in Europe.As I left the court, I couldn’t help wondering whether the Rotterdam Five might prove to be the luckiest pirates on the high seas – and whether, one of these days, I might get that knock on the door from Fraisal.Telegraph, London, and AAP

Accused tried to kill girls with car, police say

A MAN has admitted he tried to kill two schoolgirls with the car he was driving so police would stop pursuing him after a violent rampage through western Sydney, a court was told.Charlie McGee, 24, has been charged with four counts of attempted murder and 23 other offences after a series of crimes across five suburbs and eight locations over an hour on Wednesday afternoon. Ten people were assaulted or threatened, police said.The attack began with the alleged bashing of a man with a hammer at Lalor Park at 2pm and ended after the pursuit in Doonside in which Mr McGee allegedly ran into the two girls aged 14 and seven.Police documents tendered to Blacktown Local Court yesterday said he admitted he did so deliberately, aiming to kill the girls so the chase would be called off.The pursuit continued and Mr Gee was arrested a short time later. The girls suffered only minor injuries.While reluctant to discuss pursuit policy yesterday, Superintendent Mark Wright, from Blacktown police said the decision to continue the chase was in the community’s best interest.”We have to ask if police didn’t intervene at that point, bearing in mind the history and circumstances leading up to it, who is to say this individual was not going to drive through that school zone and target individuals?” Superintendent Wright said.”That posed a greater risk and that’s the balance that police have to decide at a split second.”The Minister for Police, Michael Daley, said pursuits were necessary to send a message ”that criminals will not evade arrest by putting the foot on the accelerator pedal”.The Greens MP Sylvia Hale said the harsher penalties now available under a recently introduced law encouraged people to try harder to evade police. ”It was more good luck than good management that no one was killed,” she said.Police allege Mr McGee had admitted that if he had been armed with a gun ”he would have killed multiple persons during his rampage”.Mr McGee is also accused of stealing a ute and trying to violently take four other vehicles.He is also alleged to have pulled over and asked a 65-year-old man to look under the ute for any damage. When he bent over, Mr McGee allegedly hit him with the ute. He suffered minor injuries.The ute was dumped at the McDonald’s restaurant in Woodcroft, where Mr McGee allegedly stole a Toyota Paseo from a TAFE student, Jonxha Fejzullahu.”I was afraid for my life …” Ms Fejzullahu said. ”It could have been a lot worse. I could have died … I’m very lucky.”A psychiatrist told the court Mr McGee had shown ”psychotic symptoms” and was a risk to himself and others. Mr McGee did not apply for bail and is due in court again on August 13.

Fugitive to leak secret airstrike video

A SECRET Pentagon video showing a bloody airstrike in Afghanistan which killed dozens of children is set to be released by the fugitive founder of online iconoclast WikiLeaks.The Australian-born Julian Assange, the face of the web group, has been in hiding since last week amid claims US authorities were hunting him.US media reported that Pentagon investigators were trying to find him and discourage him from publishing confidential diplomatic cables allegedly leaked to him by a disillusioned intelligence analyst.While Assange’s location is unknown – he may still be in Australia – he has continued to send email and Twitter messages to supporters.In an email sent on Tuesday, he suggested he would soon release a secret Pentagon video of a US airstrike on Granai, a small town in western Afghanistan, in May last year.The US President, Barack Obama, and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have apologised for the bombing, which left as many as 100 people – mainly children and teenagers – dead.In the email, Assange confirmed the website was ”still working on” the ”Garani [sic] massacre”.This year WikiLeaks, which has posted on its website more than 2100 confidential documents and videos in its three-year existence, published footage of a US army helicopter gunning down civilians in Iraq in 2007.In late May the US Army arrested one of its soldiers based in Iraq after he boasted online about leaking the so-called ”Collateral Murder” video.In a series of online conversations with a former hacker, Private Bradley Manning said he had also sent the Granai video and hundreds of thousands of confidential State Department cables to Assange.”i cant believe what im confessing to you,” Private Bradley wrote. ”ive been so isolated so long […] smart enough to know whats going on, but helpless to do anything … no-one took any notice of me.”The jailing of Private Manning was also referred to in an article last week in The New York Times, which suggested the Obama administration was proving to be the most aggressive in US history in seeking out and punishing whistleblowers.WikiLeaks has published a 2008 US Army report which described the site as a ”potential … threat to the US Army”.The report discussed exposing the site’s ”insiders, leakers and whistleblowers”[email protected]南京夜网.au

PM’s anger no mine of laughs

At last year’s press gallery ball the then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull stole the show with his veiled threats to the Labor staffer Andrew Charlton about the perils of lying about what became the OzCar scandal. At this year’s ball, with Turnbull away at another function, the threats, this time even more thinly veiled, were left to the Prime Minister. ”Can I say, ‘Guys, we’ve got a very long memory,” Rudd told guests from the mining industry, apparently in jest, although the joke, like much of Rudd’s speech, seemed to fall strangely flat. Rudd devoted much of his speech to trying to debunk through self-deprecating humour the thesis of the Herald writer David Marr, in a recent Quarterly Essay, that the Prime Minister is singularly motivated by anger. ”A few people have asked me … what I think about David’s analysis … I’ve told them to get stuffed. Each and every one of them.” The speech by the Opposition leader Tony Abbott seemed to be received a little better, particularly a gag about his days training for the priesthood. ”As a journalist I was a frustrated politician; as a politician I’m a frustrated journalist; in the seminary I was just frustrated,” he said. Abbott used precisely the same line when interviewed by Annabel Crabb at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. With that in mind, we are thinking of asking readers to give generously to help buy Abbott a new joke.COLD ON ABBOTT… In another matter related to Tony Abbott and midwinter balls, the Afghan refugee Riz Wakil had to ask what budgie smugglers were before his surfing date with Abbott – the highest-priced item at the Midwinter Ball’s charity auction. ”When I got the explanation I said, ‘No way’. I will just wear the wetsuit and that will be fine,” Wakil said yesterday. The lobby group GetUp! raised $16,100 for his private lesson and breakfast with the Opposition Leader, writes Yuko Narushima. Wakil arrived in Australia by boat in 1999. He spent nine months in Curtin detention centre, in Western Australia, before he was released on a temporary protection visa, since abolished. Abbott has pledged to bring them back. ”The main issue is to talk to Tony Abbott about what he’s planning to reintroduce,” Wakil said. ”I spent time in a detention centre. I ended up getting a temporary protection visa which did not allow me to study, which did not allow me to reunite with my family.” Wakil is now an Australian citizen and runs a printing company in Fairfield. For his part, Abbott was eager to hit the surf. ”Look, I’m always happy to have a conversation. I try to be open and collegial, and I’m looking forward to the day.”GORE AFFAIR DEBUNKEDA woman said to have had an affair with Al Gore, the former US vice-president, has denied the claim. Laurie David, a prominent climate change campaigner and the former wife of the Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David, said the story was ”completely untrue”, London’s Daily Telegraph reported. The claim had been made by the US tabloid magazine Star. Gore announced two weeks ago that he and his wife, Tipper, were separating after 40 years of marriage and said no one else was involved. The Gores, who have four children, said that they had made a ”mutually supportive decision following a process of long and careful consideration”. In a statement to the website Huffington Post, Laurie David said: ”The story is completely untrue. It’s a total fabrication. ”I adore both Al and Tipper. I look at them both as family. And I have happily been in a serious relationship since my divorce.” A source close to the Gore family told the website that Gore and his wife were still ”very close” and would be together with their family this summer. Another friend of the Gores, quoted by the New York Daily News, rubbished the report. Laurie David worked as a producer on Gore’s Oscar-winning climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth.GRAVE CONCERNSThe NSW Minister for Lands, Tony Kelly, announced yesterday that he would be opening Sydney’s first natural burial ground at St Francis Field, within the grounds of Kemps Creek Cemetery, in Sydney’s west. It will use, he said, ”’biodegradable coffins and will not be marked by traditional headstones”. That is, it will be a field. Not to worry though: ”The latest GPS technology is used to ensure the location of the deceased is noted and recorded.” (Otherwise you’ll be using a metal detector, presumably, to find Grandma). With tenure ”limited to 30 years” Kelly said he hoped ”St Francis Field might become a sustainable burial ground for Sydneysiders for generations to come.” The state MP for Liverpool, Paul Lynch, added: ”No doubt natural burial grounds will become a popular option for many families over time.” We just wonder if ”popular” is quite the right word.A BIG DAY FOR RICHARD BRANSONExtravagance did not reward the billionaire Richard Branson yesterday when a gaudy celebration of the 10-year anniversary of his airline’s London-to-Las Vegas flight route backfired. Riding a jet ski to a pontoon in front of the Bellagio resort in sin city (where he was just going to, y’know, conduct the fountains), Branson lost control of the vehicle and took a dive along with Virgin stewardess Vicky Lewis. It capped off a relatively quiet week for the mega-mogul who fondled burlesque star Dita Von Teese on the wing of a Virgin Atlantic plane, unveiled a new video gaming company in Los Angeles and joined the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis.STAY IN TOUCH  …WITH ABBA’S SECRETSTWO weeks ago an important letter arrived in the mailbox of the Australian author Christopher Patrick from Abba HQ in Sweden. Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Frida Lyngstad had given his book, Abba: Let the Music Speak, a rarely given approval to be part of the band’s official merchandise for Abbaworld, a multimillion-dollar touring exhibition which opens in Melbourne tomorrow. The only other official book is a children’s story by Bjorn. In what he believes is a world first, Patrick, 47, spent four years pulling apart every Abba song to determine how the group put them together in the first place. He hoped it would help him understand the band’s universal and long-lasting appeal. The secret is simple, he says. ”The songs are joyful but there is an underlying melancholy because of the long, dark, cold Swedish winters,” he says. ”That combination of joyful painted with a melancholy brush is what makes them so irresistible.” The band also typically used ”musically economical” hooks that only involved a couple of notes and  would add much more elaborate verses and arrangements. The chorus to S.O.S uses three notes, Dancing Queen uses four, and the same four as Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. While the glittery jumpsuits and ”revolutionary” album production added to their fame, the foundation was a simple musical formula. Frida was enamoured with the book. ”I am so happy to at last read a book that mainly concentrates on our music, and not on gossip,” she wrote to Patrick. He said he was proud as punch.WITH ALTERNATIVE WORLDSTHERE will be much ”cosplay” and ”glomping” going on today when the Supanova Pop Culture Expo kicks off at Sydney Olympic Park. Fans of sci-fi, anime, comic books, video gaming and fantasy will congregate for ”a big melting pot of alternate, imaginary worlds,” said the event’s organiser, Daniel Zachariou. Many will be in cosplay, which is short for ”costume play”, which is the alternative-world term for ”fancy dress”. It is common for fans to dress in elaborate costumes to pay homage to their favourite characters such as Star Wars storm troopers and Sailor Moon. Glomping – a greeting that is a cross between a hug and a gentle tackle – is also common, particularly among anime fans. Zachariou stressed that Supernova would not tolerate unauthorised glomping. ”We have rules about glomping,” he said. ”You must know the person you are glomping and they must be of the type of person who allows glomping. You can’t have random strangers glomping. Sometimes people will wear placards saying ‘glomping allowed’. That’s acceptable. And heaven forbid anybody who gets in the way between a glomp.” Genre and cult celebrities such asDollhouse’s Eliza Dushku and Twilight’s Chaske Spencer will appear but have not confirmed whether they will glomp.WITH COOL KIDSSOMETIMES kids really do need to chill out. Finley Burton was 16 weeks old when he underwent surgery on his heart. The baby, from County Durham in England, then developed a potentially fatal heart rate of about 200 beats a minute. To bring it down, he was cooled in a special blanket filled with chilled air for four days, while he was still sedated. He was treated a month ago, and since then has made a ”super” recovery, said Paddy Walsh, a specialist children’s cardiac nurse at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle. Finley’s parents, Donna Link-Emery and Aaron Burton, were first concerned when he was 10 weeks old because he was not putting on weight. His mother told reporters: ”Now he’s doing really well and has already put on lots of weight.” Aaaah.GOT A TIP?Contact [email protected]南京夜网.au or 92822350

Mediation to be pushed in childcare court cases

MORE childcare and protection cases will be resolved through mediation and conferences, sparing vulnerable children and families the trauma of court hearings, the state government will announce today.Alternative dispute resolutions will be introduced into the Children’s Court so families and children can be involved in decisions that affect them.The initiatives follow recommendations from the special commission of inquiry into child protection services conducted by the former NSW Supreme Court judge James Wood in 2008.The initiatives will promote alternatives to court hearings at every step of the process, including family group conferencing, dispute resolution conferences and Legal Aid external child protection. Five new children’s registrars will be appointed to four courts: Broadmeadow, in Newcastle; Wagga Wagga; Lismore; Parramatta.Associate Professor Judy Cashmore, who was part of an expert working party into alternative dispute resolutions said: ”It’s really tough on families when a child is going to be removed from them, and if it can be done where they feel they are not being blamed or ostracised it does make a difference.”The aim is to get the family engaged in the process and not get their back up because someone’s imposing something on them that’s completely unfair or unreasonable.”These practices are actually consistent with a move pretty much across the Western world to work towards mediation both with family courts and across the board, trying to avoid getting to the court process, A, because it’s adversarial and difficult for the people involved and, B, because it’s expensive.”The NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, said the initiatives would empower children and families, leading to better informed outcomes accepted by all parties.The family group conferencing will be run by an independent facilitator, allowing families, relatives and community elders to plan together for child protection concerns before a case is considered for court.The Community Services Minister, Linda Burney, said: “Family group conferencing originated in New Zealand and variations of the model are operating in most Australian states and territories, with results showing that many child protection issues are being resolved without the need to go to court.”The Legal Aid external child protection pilot will begin in Bidura Children’s Court, in Glebe, with 100 cases initially, the family law director of Legal Aid NSW, Kylie Beckhouse said.A neutral mediator would facilitate discussions between Community Services, parents or guardians, lawyers and other parties, Ms Beckhouse said.”Particularly with care and protection issues, you’re looking at people who are socially and economically disadvantaged; they might have impairments, like an addiction, and are challenging people to work with,” she said.The dispute resolution conference is an opportunity for parties to agree on an action to be taken and allow for family participation.Both pilot programs will begin in the second half of the year.

Legislative delay threatens to put issue before voters

LEGISLATION to split Telstra could be stalled until late August, possibly exposing it to a federal election, unless the bill is given priority next week.Federal Parliament has four sitting days left before an eight-week winter break begins. Parliament resumes on August 24, but the government could call an election before that date.As the federal Opposition has promised to scrap the national broadband network and abandon the legislation to structurally separate Telstra, this would make telecommunications a key election issue.The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate committee process, but the second reading has been adjourned four times.The proposed change gives the government authority to prevent Telstra from buying the wireless spectrum it needs to offer new mobile phone services, unless it separates its wholesale and retail companies and sells a 50 per cent stake in Foxtel. The government still needs to persuade two independent senators and five Greens senators to vote for the bill.A spokeswoman for the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the government hoped the bill would reach debate next week.”Passing the bill and delivering the important consumer reforms it contains remains a priority. There are always challenges with the Senate legislative program, with so many important bills to be considered.”The bill was fifth on Monday’s agenda, but a spokesman for the Family First senator Steve Fielding said it was unlikely to reach debate. Senator Fielding had yet to be contacted by either of the two main parties and he usually received calls lobbying his vote days before a bill was debated, the spokesman said.The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the delay affected the government’s talks with Telstra over its role in the national broadband network. ”The effect [of delay] is we have negotiations going on with no legislative framework and no accountability.”A select committee report on the network tabled yesterday reiterated calls for a cost-benefit analysis, and recommended that an offer by Professor Henry Ergas to conduct the analysis free be accepted.”The lack of such an analysis remains a significant barrier to being able to assess whether the project will provide value for taxpayers’ money,” the report said.”The committee believes the public are not in a position to test whether the government’s NBN project is the most appropriate model for delivering effective, affordable broadband services to Australians.”❏ Telstra issued $150 million worth of 10-year bonds yesterday, its first domestic issuance since 2006. The issuance was led by National Australia Bank and sold at 7.75 per cent at $99.47.

FFA denies player rift with Verbeek

Pim VerbeekAS BORED journalists fire up the predictable rumours of a split in the Socceroos’ camp, midfield enforcer Vince Grella has a typically forthright message to his teammates on how to deal with the tension: ”Be a man about it.”

After being routed and humiliated by Germany in Durban, Australia’s World Cup hopes – not to mention the reputations of coach Pim Verbeek and his players – go on the line against Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday night. Anything less than a win and the Socceroos will be heading home into a firestorm of recriminations.

Fact is, there is no split in the camp – only a coach looking into the mirror for the first time, and a group of players dealing with bruised egos. But there’s little doubt the team is under pressure, and it’s how they deal with it that matters.

Be a man … midfielder Vince Grella attempts to tackle Germany’s Thomas Muller in Durban. Photo: Steve Christo

Reports on Wednesday indicated there was a rift between Verbeek and a group of players, including Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano and Grella. The players had allegedly complained to FFA about Verbeek’s selections and tactics. But the FFA has denied the rumours and said Kewell in particular was upset at the reports.

Grella, hooked at half-time against the Germans as Verbeek essentially admitted he had got his tactics wrong, has never been one to hide from responsibility.

”We’ve all got to be men about it, forget the bullshit and get on with it,” he said. ”Of course we can turn it around. That’s the beauty of football, and that’s what we’ve got to look to do. We have to fix the wounds and play a massive game against Ghana. If your maths is as good as mine, we can still get six points, and then we go through. Simple.”

Pressed on Verbeek’s surprise tactical switch against Germany, Grella replied: ”Hindsight is an easy thing. Whether the players were OK with it or not, it’s the manager’s call. We follow the game plan the coach’s put out there, and we have to respect his decision.”

While Verbeek hasn’t conceded he got his tactics wrong against the Germans – it was the first time he had started with a 4-4-2 structure since his first game in charge 2½⁄ years ago – there’s little doubt he will revert to his usual 4-2-3-1 against Ghana.

But while the formation will be familiar, the personnel might not be. Grella is one of several senior players under scrutiny, and for the first time the shadow players are applying genuine selection pressure.

Three regular starters unused against Germany – Josh Kennedy, Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell – are also clamouring for a recall but it’s the so-called ”second-tier” players, among them Brett Holman, Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak, who are leading the charge. With no margin for error, the media tasting blood and disillusioned fans agitating behind the scenes, the heat is on Verbeek to get it right.

Defender Luke Wilkshire, one of the few to emerge with any credit in Durban, is convinced the team can turn it around.

”We’ve definitely got the character in the team and the spirit,” he said. ”We know that we can do better. We know there’s a possibility there, and we’re going to be fighting to the end.”

Midfielder Brett Emerton, who also had a good game, added: ”I still feel we’ve got a good team but for some reason against Germany we weren’t at it. That’s football. The best thing we can do is try and forget about it, learn from our mistakes and try to improve on that next time.”