Monday, October 10, 2011

North High jumps into effort to break world jumping jacks record

Students from two physical education classes at Denver's North High School will jump into national effort to break the Guinness World Record​ for the largest number of people doing jumping jacks in a 24 hour period.

To break the record, more than 20,425 people must do a solid minute of jumping jacks sometime between 1 p.m. Tuesday and 1 p.m. Wednesday. North students will get their jump going at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The record-breaking work is sponsored by National Geographic Kids and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! project to encourage better nutrition and fitness among kids.

"We're kicking off Michelle Obama's Let's Move in schools and supporting Colorado House Bill 1069 passed this summer," said Jeff Taylor, chairman of the Governor's Council for Physical Fitness in Colorado. "Doing jumping jacks is great because no equipment is needed. We hope it shows kids they can do something active and fun, like breaking a Guinness World Record."

The event is organized and supported by the Colorado Governor's Council for Physical Fitness, Colorado Association For Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance and the Colorado Special Olympics.

It's not too late to organize a jump of your own. Find the details and rules at National Geographic Kids:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Civil society's double standards exposed

Two recent incidents, one in Lahore and the other in Kerala, have virtually been ignored by the national media. And the utter indifference of the self-proclaimed civil society to these incidents has brought to fore the double standards it has been practising for long. For them, it is the religious complexion of either the victim or the perpetuator of the crime, or both, that determines their response. The values they profess to uphold and fight for are subordinate to their ideological agenda. Could there be a bigger farce in public discourse?

On July 14, goons belonging to the Church of South India (CSI), and the police belaboured mediapersons at the diocesan headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram for exposing the illegal admission of students in the church’s medical college in return for million of rupees as capitation fee. At least three mediapersons from two TV channels had to be hospitalised. Under public pressure, the state Government was forced to suspend two policemen, including an assistant police sub inspector, for colluding with the miscreants and attacking the newsmen. The gang, which thrashed the Asianet News TV at the diocesan office premises included the church staff and a member of the Thiruvananthapuram district Congress Committee. After beating the mediapersons, the church employees destroyed their camera and stole the tapes that had the visuals of the attack. When other journalists turned up to help their colleagues and demand action against the goons, they were met with more violence. The local media has been writing about the underhand dealings of the church-run medical college for some time, but without any tangible results.

Students with abysmal academic records and deep pockets have been granted admission under the management quota. Obviously the dreams of more meritorious students, whose parents could not afford millions, did not count with the church. Some students who had gained admission in exchange for moolah ranked below 47,000 in the common entrance examination held by the government.

Did you see any nation-wide uproar over this? Was there any protest in Delhi against the attack on the media? Why this deafening silence on the part of rent-a-cause civil society activists? What would have been their reaction if such a deplorable incident had taken place in an organisation run by a Hindu trust and worse still, in a state ruled by the BJP?

The secularists would have painted the town red and the national TV channels would have debated 24X7 the danger posed by the ‘Hindu Right’ to the democracy and widespread corruption in the institutions run by the Hindus. Rationalists and secularists of various hues would have forcefully argued for the state takeover of the guilty institution. By now, irrepressible Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh would have led the secular pack against “fascist Hindus” and linked the attack on media and the admission scam with his favourite target, the RSS.

In Pakistan on July 14, the miniscule Sikh community was barred from organising a religious ceremony to commemorate an 18th century saint at a historical gurudwara. Their musical instruments were thrown out and entry barred at the instance of Dawat-e-Islam, a Barelvi proselytising group. Gurudwara Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh at Naulakha Bazar was built to honour the memory of Bhai Taru who was executed in 1745 on the orders of the then Mughal governor of Punjab, Zakaria Khan, for his refusal to convert to Islam.

This is not an isolated instance of persecution of Hindu-Sikh population in an Islamic Pakistan. It’s part of the country’s state policy. No wonder, the share of Hindus and Sikhs has fallen to 1.5 per cent of the total population from about 20 per cent at the time of Partition. But have you ever seen secularists protesting against this ethnic cleansing? They are too busy protecting the rights of Palestinians and have no time for the next door hapless Hindus and Sikhs. Why such double standards?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Innocent man and his family members were tortured by police officers at the behest of a third party

According to the information received by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Mr. George Jayakody (55) of No: 24, Kundalagama, Kundasale, Kandy is married and the father of two sons. Mr. Jayakody decided to sell his house and move to Kandy and accordingly advertised that his house was for sale.

On 23 September 2008 Ms. Chandra Kumari Madawala from Galaha came to meet Mr. Jayakody and expressed her interest to buy the house. Then both parties came to an agreement on the purchase of the property. In accordance with the agreement Ms. Chandra paid an advance of Rs. 50,000/= to reserve the house which was valued to be worth Rs. 1.5 Million and promised to pay the balance by the end of the year. However, she failed to fulfill her obligation in accordance with the agreement and requested for a further six months to settle the agreement.

However in June 2009 she informed Mr. Jayakody of her inability to pay the balance and requested that the deposit she had paid earlier be returned. This was strictly in variance with the terms and conditions of the contract. Mr. Jayakody replied that he wanted her to come to the lawyer's office (who wrote the agreement) to have a conversation on the legal issues and settled the matter. Meanwhile Ms. Chadra contacted the officers of the Manikhinna Police Station where her Brother-in-Law was stationed and tried to obtain their assistance to get her deposit back from Mr. Jayakody.

As a result, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Manikhinna Police Station called Mr. Jayakody and threatened him to return the money immediately. In response Mr. Jayakody explained the terms and conditions of the legal agreement to the OIC.

However, ignoring the legal ramifications of the contract the OIC called Mt. Jayakoday to the police station in September 2009 along with Ms. Chandra and once again threatened him to hand over the money before the 31 December 2009.

Despite being fully correct under the terms of the contract Mr. Jayakoday consulted his lawyer and asked him to inform Ms. Chandra that he would repay the deposit in three installments. This was informed to Ms. Chandra in a letter dated 14 December 2009.

In the meantime the OIC continued to threaten Mr. Jayakoday. On the 31 December 2009 at around 4 pm Chandra came in a van with her Brother-in-Law, police officers from the Manikhinna Police Station, his brother who is an Air Force officer, some family members and about eight unidentified persons believed to be notorious criminals. This gang assaulted Mr. Jayakoday, his wife and their two sons severely with boots & poles and damaged the furniture of the house. They broke the windows and severely damaged the property. The police from the same station arrived at the scene in answer to a call from Mr. Jayakody but, not surprisingly, they did not take any action to initiate an investigation or arrest any suspect.

Mr. Jayakoday's wife was severely injured and three of her fingers were fractured and her spine was injured during the assault. The son Madushan was also severely beaten and was warded at the Kandy Teaching Hospital for 2 days from the 31 December 2009 to 2 January 2010. As Mr. Jayakoday's wife, Pearly, was not able get urgent surgery at the Kandy Teaching Hospital she was transferred to the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital. She eventually underwent an operation for her injuries.

Mr. Jaykody states that as a police officer, the Brother-in-Law of Ms. Chandra assaulting him and his family members in his official capacity this constitutes the crime of torture under the CAT Act, Act No: 22 of 1994.

Although Mr. Jayakody made complaints to the Police Station of Manikhinna no action was taken by the police until February 2010. At that time Mr. Jayakoday complained to the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and the Superintendent of Police (SP) of the Kandy Police Station. Several weeks later he learned that when the senior police officers inquired of the Manikhinna Police on their inaction and disrespect of the law and the Departmental Orders their reply was that the matter was settled.

Then Mr. Jayakody complained to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) on 3 February 2010 regarding the incident during a 'Dayata Kirula Exhibition' (where a mobile reporting police service was offered). As a result the police officers filed a case in the Magistrate's Court of Panvila. But Mr. Jayakody leaned that even in the court the OIC of the Manikhinna Police had not properly reported the incident and details of the crimes committed by the perpetrators including his own officers. Mr. Jayakody states that the report of the OIC was intended to mislead the court and bring his complaints to an end by the use of judicial process.

Mr. Jayakody and his family feel that the OIC of the Manikhinna Police Station and other police officers acted contrary to the law by violating their fundamental rights. Further these police officers used their public office and official capacities to fulfill the whims and fancies of a private party (Ms. Chandra). Furthermore, Chandra's Brother-in-law used his official powers to suppress the legal proceedings and assault innocent civilians living in his division.

Further, Mr. Jayakody states that the OIC of the Manikhinna Police and the senior police officers ignored their official responsibilities in failing to provide legal redress to a victim of a crime. Instead they worked to protect the wrong doers provided them with impunity. Therefore Mr. Jayakody calls for an independent inquiry into the matter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

India's population grows to 1.2 billion

Preliminary census figures show that India grew by 17.6%, gaining 181 million people in a decade, putting it on course to surpass China as the world's most populous nation sometime after 2030.

India's population is now more than 1.2 billion, an increase of 181 million in a decade, putting it on course to surpass China as the world's most populous nation sometime after 2030, according to preliminary census results released Thursday.

Though India's population growth rate slowed significantly to 17.6% over the last decade, putting it on target to double in size in about 50 years, the nation added almost enough people to match the biggest country in South America.

"We have added almost one Brazil to our population in the last one decade," C. Chandramouli, India's census commissioner, told reporters Thursday.

The combined populations of just two states, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, exceed that of the United States.

Continued migration is expected from rural to urban areas, as is a slowing in overall population growth as the economy improves, said K. Srinivasan, professor emeritus at Mumbai's International Institute for Population Sciences.

Another wrinkle is the changing gender breakdown. India has 623 million males and 586 million females, underscoring a continued preference for boys that, activists say, plays out in the abortion of female fetuses and other illegal gender-selection methods. Chandramouli characterized the statistic as "grim."

India now has 914 girls younger than 6 for every 1,000 boys, down from 927 girls to 1,000 boys a decade ago.

"The appearance is that India has a lot of economic growth," said Sudha Sundaram, general secretary of the Delhi-based All India Democratic Women's Assn. "But a large sector, women and those in rural areas, are not gaining."

Because dowry and wedding costs have skyrocketed along with India's booming economy, girls are seen as an even greater burden in many areas, Sundaram said.

Census data show that 74% of Indians are literate, an increase of 10 percentage points from a decade ago.

"This is a welcome step," said Avinash Kumar, a campaigner with Oxfam aid group. "But often if you can write your name, you're considered literate. Many can't write one complete sentence in their mother tongue."

Despite a pledge to spend 6% of its budget on education, the government has spent only 3.1%, analysts said, and many eighth-grade students can't read or do math at first-grade levels. And many teachers can't pass eighth-grade level exams.

"There's a lot of talk of the population dividend of a young population," Kumar said. "If they're not employed usefully, how are you going to compete on the global stage vis-a-vis China? Obviously you don't have the productive muscle."

Conducting the census was a mammoth task in its own right. Training manuals were published in 18 languages as 2.5 million census workers fanned out to 640,000 villages and 7,300 towns and cities. The 10-month exercise grappled with millions of homeless people, Maoist insurgencies and extremely remote locations. Full results are expected in 2012.

A major debate centered on whether to ask for information on castes, which hadn't been done since the 1930s.

According to Hindu teachings, people are born into the caste of their parents, which assigns them a position in the social hierarchy for life. The four broad groupings, in order of status, are: Brahmins, or priests; Kshatriyas, or warriors; Vaisyas, merchants and farmers; and Sudras, manual workers. About 6,000 subcastes are delineated, made even more complicated by regional variations.

Critics feared that census questions about caste would increase caste-based discrimination, which is illegal under the constitution but nevertheless widespread. Newspapers carry pages of classified matrimonial advertisements each weekend listed by caste and sub-caste, often with the not-so-subtle message that so-called lower castes need not apply.

Supporters countered that a mapping of the caste landscape would give a more accurate picture of Indian society and help deliver aid to those most in need, including dalits, or so-called untouchables who fall outside the caste system, and tribal groups.

The governing Congress Party, which for decades had resisted the idea, reversed its position in an apparent bid to placate the many caste-based parties that wield growing clout in national and regional politics, and it was included.

During the last caste-based census, conducted under British rule, respondents tended to inflate their caste in an effort to improve their social status. With so many social programs now aimed at lower castes, experts fear the opposite, namely that people will understate their position to qualify for government benefits.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Centennial celebrations: ‘Faiz’s revolution yet to come’

A large number of Pashto poets, civil society members and students gathered in Swat Press Club on Sunday to pay tribute to Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

The event was jointly organised by Global Peace Council, Svastu Arts and Culture Association and Socha Likwal as part of their celebrations for the legendary poet’s centennial birth anniversary.

Renowned Islamabad-based poet and writer Tahir Bhatti and Dr Riaz Majeed from Faisalabad participated as special guests.

Professor Waris Khan said, “As the editor of Pakistan Times, Faiz tried to lead the masses towards true democracy and individual freedom. He did not spare any social issue, and that is why the establishment turned against him.”

Svastu Arts and Culture Association Chairperson Usman Ulas Yar said his early days of writing verses lush with love and beauty led him to his greatest works, which highlighted the social and political issues of the day.

“He held up a beacon of light and carried it through the darkness of evils. He was a man of modern approach and will be remembered throughout ages,” Yar added.

Bhatti said, “Though darkness kept changing forms, the light spread by Faiz outshined them all.”

He added, “He will not only be remembered with mere literary programmes but by his thoughts and mission, which will, one day, be implemented in our society.”

Fazal Mahmood Rokhan summed up the discussion and said, “The revolution of Faiz has not come yet. When it does, it will not be this Pakistan but a Pakistan with moderate mentality which will join the queue of the developed nations.”

Dr Majeed said that the gathering is a reflection of the fact that Faiz was not a poet of any single language, area or race. “The social issues highlighted by Faiz were practically experienced by Swati people today. He merged romanticism with revolutionary ideas and proved to be a shield in front of the dictators and did not bow before them.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Maine gets first state waiver from healthcare law provision

Maine health insurers are getting a temporary waiver from the health reform law's requirement that they spend at least 80 percent of premiums on care, federal regulators decided Tuesday.

Maine is the first state to get a waiver. Three other states — New Hampshire, Nevada and Kentucky — have pending waiver applications.

The law requires plans in the individual market to meet an 80 percent medical loss ratio threshold or offer rebates to enrollees for the difference. The Maine Bureau of Insurance in December asked to retain its existing 65 percent ratio, arguing that a higher ratio would disrupt its market.

The Department of Health and Human Services agreed with those arguments in a letter sent Tuesday to Superintendent of Insurance Mila Kofman, a supporter of the law. The waiver is good for three years, but the last year is conditional on getting 2012 data that shows a continued need for the waiver.

The decision is "rooted in the particular circumstances of the Maine insurance market," the letter reads.

Specifically, HHS points out that three insurers make up the bulk of Maine's individual insurance market: Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine (49 percent), MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company (37 percent) and HPHC Insurance Company (13 percent). MEGA had told Maine during preliminary discussions that it "would probably need to withdraw from this market if the minimum loss ratio requirement were increased."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Department of Insurance recovers $63.8M for consumers in 2010

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Monday the California Department of Insurance recovered $63.8 million last year through consumer complaint investigations and market conduct examinations of Golden State insurance companies.

In 2009, the department recovered $89.1 million -- 28.4 percent more than 2010’s tally. The department said about 20 percent of the 2009 total came from resolving cases where investigations started in 2007 or 2008 involving huge wildfires.

“I’m proud to announce that our hard work has led to us recovering more than $63 million for consumers for calendar year 2010,” Jones said.

The bulk of the money recovered, more than $52.3 million, came from consumer complaint investigations completed last year. Another $10.7 million came from audits by the DOI’s Market Conduct Division. Finally, $565,000 came from market conduct penalties, which are returned to the state’s general fund.

The CDI’s Consumer Services and Market Conduct Branch has two divisions – one focused on helping consumers directly and the other on auditing insurance companies’ actions. The consumer services unit operates the Consumer Communications Bureau, which handles the (800) 927-HELP consumer hotline; the Claims Services and Rating and Underwriting Services bureaus investigate and resolve complaints filed with the Department by consumers and others, officials noted.

The consumer hotline annually receives 200,000 calls.

The Market Conduct Division examines insurance company claims, underwriting, rating and marketing practices to ensure they are complying with the law and regulations, the department said.

Read more: Department of Insurance recovers $63.8M for consumers in 2010, down from 2009 | Sacramento Business Journal

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our view on China: U.S. must get its own house in order

With the first U.S.-China summit in 14 months underway in Washington, here's something to think about: As China rises, the United States' two-decade reign as the world's only superpower is slowly coming to an end.
That is not necessarily something to fear. But the form the transition takes will decide whether the two nations become peaceful competitors or, more ominously, opponents in a new Cold War.

Either way, the transition is inevitable. At current growth rates, China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy sometime in the 2020s. What no one knows is whether the energetic upstart will evolve into a responsible world leader, or instead will continue the self-absorbed nationalism that has fueled its extraordinary growth.

Abandoning practices that have lifted millions out of poverty and vastly enhanced China's power is not exactly a natural thing to do, which helps explain the tensions President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, are discussing today.

Atop the list are China's self-serving economic practices. China artificially depresses its currency to make goods more competitive on world markets, throws up barriers to U.S. businesses seeking to operate there and tolerates — even encourages — theft of intellectual property. All three increase U.S. joblessness. But from the Chinese perspective, they lift living standards and add social stability.

What's needed is gradual rebalancing of the currencies, which is happening already because of Chinese inflation, coupled with measures to create a Chinese consumer economy open to foreign competition. That would benefit all but won't come naturally.

A mix of friction and common interest can be seen on other issues as well.

China resists U.S. pressure to crack down hard on its reckless neighbor, North Korea, because the two countries have a long-standing relationship, because it fears a flood of immigration, and because it is uncomfortable with the prospect of a reunified Korea. But it also can't be entirely comfortable with a belligerent, nuclear armed neighbor that can destabilize its region.

Similarly, China is reluctant to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program because it wants Iran's natural resources, but it grudgingly agreed to limited sanctions after being convinced that a nuclear threat in the Middle East posed a national threat.

Disagreement over human rights has a sharper edge, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently has been honing. Surely, the oddest contrast of the summit will be past Nobel Peace prize winner Obama standing beside Hu, who is imprisoning the most recent winner.

In human rights and other areas, the U.S. should prod China to fulfill its obligations. What it must not do is fall into the trap of making China an enemy.

The outlines of potential superpower conflict are already emerging. China's military is growing rapidly, and because it has its own funding sources, it's not necessarily under Hu's control. He appeared visibly surprised last week when the military tested a new stealth fighter while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was visiting.
This will stir defense contractors and politicians hungry for an enemy to arm up in response. But U.S. military spending is still five times China's. What's needed, instead, is something else, and that "something" is fully under American control. To compete, the U.S. must get its own house in order.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen recently said that the greatest threat to the nation's security is its exploding national debt. Paying interest on the debt, which already costs $250 billion a year, drains money that will be need for other purposes. And we're paying much of that money to China, our biggest creditor.
China, meanwhile, is running a massive budget surplus, and with foresight that seems to utterly elude American policymakers, it is using the money to acquire the world's increasingly scarce national resources, develop an alternative energy industry and improve education. China's smart moves only highlight the foolishness of our own inaction.

Regardless of the summit's outcome, whether China's rise harms us or helps us is far more in our hands than in Beijing's.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wesley Snipes makes game from prison

Convicted criminal and erstwhile movie star Wesley Snipes is involved in the creation of a new game, even though he's still behind bars for tax evasion.

The Blade star has been doing porridge since just before Christmas and isn't due to be released until the middle of 2013. But that hasn't stopped him from planning a new video gamecalled Julius Styles: The International.

Rather than the action spectacular you might have imagined though The International is a puzzle game for the iPhone and iPad; with Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Android versions due to arrive sometime later.

The game is being made by Lapland Studio, whose only pervious game is the not very good WiiWare title Lead The Meerkats.
According to comments made to website IGN the game, "was inspired by my desire to bring my Art of War, Murder at 1600 and Passenger 57 characters into the game world.'

'Julius Styles will offer something for both the mind game strategist and the kick-ass special ops warrior lover,' said Snipes - presumably on visitor day.

'I love games that challenge my mind and reflexes,' he added. 'Julius Styles pits your street knowledge survival skills with your academic intellect and spiritual intuition.'

Snipes is also planning to make a film based on the Julius Styles character, but that will obviously have to wait until he's paid his debts to society (and the IRS).