About Saronimo

Sara is a freelance writer living in London. She graduated from the University of Nottingham where she studied Mathematics, the language of nature. Since then, she has worked in the world of high finance and is an investment writer and has written business articles and bar restaurant reviews. Her interests outside of that include travel, snowboarding, learning and sensual pleasure. She thinks if she speaks about herself in the third person; it makes her sound more authoritative.

Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

On the Tracks of a Coyote - Martin Cooper

On the Tracks of a Coyote - Martin Cooper, Urban Wildlife

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition returns to the Natural History Museum for its 47th year. In the company of the winning entries, I moved through the sky, the sea, met animals in their habitat, devoid of colour and saw the creatures through urban eyes. 

Owned jointly by BBC Wildlife Magazine and The Natural history Museum and with over 41,000 entries from 95 countries, the £10,000 prize is much coveted. But not more so than being named the Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the year by the esteemed judging panel. 

Eased in gently with our kin, the mammals, the images are faultless in their skill, as well as plunging us into the sea with Polar bears and a glistening blue whale feasting on krill. 

A notable category for me was Wildscapes – a selection of the finest landscapes on earth. The ethereal glow from Stephane Vetter’s winning shot Celestial Arch combined with the Denis Budkov’s shot of the Klyuchevskaya eruption in 2009 make for an unworldly and explosive category. 

Nature in Black and White strips away everything but composition, quality and intensity. The winner of the category is the Irish photographer Peter Delany with Big Foot, a subtly lit shot of an elephant’s foot detailing each wrinkle and hair. 

The animals stare unnervingly back at us in Animal Portraits. The winning image, Sinuousness, by Marc Colombo, contrasts the sharpness of the grass snake with the motion blur of the water caused by a long shutter speed, showing he is not just adept with a camera, but light on his feet. The runner up, Trust, by Klaus Echle is a personal favourite of mine. A female fox gazes expectantly at the viewer with no indication of aggression or fear. 

The Young Photographers are split into three sections, under 10, 11-14 and 15-17. Each one could perhaps only be picked out as a young photographer by the naivety of the image, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. While the adult photographers will wait for days to catch one ant on a leaf, children don’t have the patience. What they do give us is birds sharing an oyster, animals cooling off underneath an irrigation system in the middle-eastern, midday sun and a bee tentatively entering a magnolia flower.  Lessons of detail and enjoyment as good as any we can learn from children. 

The overall winner of the competition is Daniel Beltrá, from Spain, whose shot Still Life in Oil is a portrait of eight pelicans cowering in a corner of a box at the bird rescue facility centre inFort Jackson,Louisianaafter the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Beltrá also won the Photojournalist of the Year award with a portfolio of five other images from the same disaster. The rest of the images are taken from the air and show the magnitude of the oil spill, magnificent in its disaster. Erik Sampers, judge comments of the shots: “With a poignancy made more shocking by their beauty”. 

While the content is a humbling commentary on whom we share this precarious earth with, the atmosphere understates the majesty of the pieces. A sombre mood greets us at the entrance.  Dark walls, generic lighting and the mounting of the images create an almost stark feeling which, despite the implied undertones of the sponsor, only serve to remind the viewer how far removed we are from nature and the environment in which these photos are taken.

To book tickets click here

To browse images click here

Tot visit the BBC Wildlife Section of the website click here

 

Direct Democracy… a Possibility?

I received this tweet yesterday, after slagging off Meg Hillier MP and posting my rant reply to her group email:

@Saronimo Hi – I’m your local independent candidate.
Fed up with an MP who ignores her constituents?
Check out my site: http://getavote.org

So naturally I decided to check out the website of a local independent, Denny de la Haye. Seems quite interesting: he pledges to implement a constituency wide ‘referendum’ for each instance where he is called to vote in Parliament with 3 exceptions: he will always vote for laws that 1. Improve equality, 2. Improve civil liberties and 3. Improve democracy.  Well who wouldn’t, right? *Cough* #DeBill *cough*.

This greatly improves on the current voter power of the constituency to which I belong which is, according to this website 0.039% and, assuming that I’m either voting with the mobile vulgus or Denny de la Haye himself (in the case of the mob voting against democracy, equality or civil liberties), would mean being part of a Shoreditch-wide ‘direct democracy’.  How very Bohemian.

This got me thinking. With the prevalence of the Internet in the second decade of the 21st century, this kind of electoral reform could work – the kind that utilises the power of this world-wide, instantaneous, ubiquitous communication tool.

There would be an issue, of course, of proving your identity when it came to casting your vote. No more, in reality, than there is currently. (Turning up to the polling station with your voting card is hardly foolproof!) Just as an example,  we could all be provided with a polling identity number which we would use to log onto our local MP’s secure server along with, say, passport number (NOT ‘ID card’ number – let’s keep cost to a minimum!) as a double layer of entry and voila! cast your vote. [Caveat: possibly not foolproof either, but I’m writing this in my lunchbreak!]

I’m sure every generation say this, but times have changed. Whereas the #Trafigura super-injunction against The Guardian was reported, (wiki)leaked and posted, re-tweeted, blogged about and generally disdained just in time for elevenses, a Parliamentary debate can last hours and predominantly consists of personal attacks and farmyard animal noises (the irony of which I’m sure escapes them). In other words 20 years ago it would have been impossible to undertake referenda in a country our size because of timing issues, but now: definitely not.

In short: we need electoral reform. Direct democracy should not be discounted.

Please feel free to comment and share thoughts on the practicalities/technical side of anything I have written!

I should probably say that, along with my (in hindsight) clear preference in my views on the ‘Science in the General Election’, I am not aligning myself with a particular candidate here. The search continues…

Reply (finally) from Meg Hillier MP on the Digital Economy Bill

After 2 emails to Meg on this issue alone, finally I get a group response. Please see below for the vague, non-committal, generic email.

Thank you for contacting me about the digital economy bill. Please accept my apologies for the group response. I have had a great number of e-mails about this bill.

I agree with you that the bill should have time to be properly debated in the House and I have raised my concerns about the timing of the progress of this bill.

When Parliament is prorogued (i.e suspended before the election) all remaining bills are put into what is commonly called the wash up. This is a process which requires both major parties to agree which bills they pass into law. Early signs are that the digital economy bill may be agreed between Government and opposition.

A number of people have also written to me specifically about the copyright of ‘orphan works’. I am concerned about how this part of the bill will affect photographers (professional and amateur) and I have spoken to the minister personally about this.

I have been reassured somewhat that even if the bill is passed next week, the measures effecting photographers need not be enacted in regulations (legislation after a bill becomes law to enforce certain parts of it) if photographers do not want it. This means that even if it’s passed, we can work to stop the proposal being enacted and I would take this up after May 7th if returned to Parliament.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about this issue. I will keep you updated with any developments.

Yours sincerely

Meg Hillier MP

****** New: I replied today – see below:*******

Good afternoon Meg,

Thank you for your reply.

It is good to know that you are concerned with the timing of the progress of this bill. I appreciate you voicing your concerns and speaking to the minister personally about the issue of orphan works. I am glad to see that, after the second reading, clause 43 of this bill has been dropped, that was something that would further distort the balance of intellectual property in favour of those with deeper pockets.

Something I am still concerned about, however, is the amendment to clause 8. In particular, the wording: “…is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”. One angle of the problem is obvious – the wording ‘is likely to be used’ could include sites like wikileaks, as argued by John Hemming at th second reading, or even sites which have *not yet* committed copyright infringement. (I’m sure I don’t have to quote article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or even use the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’.)

The other side of the coin is the growing number of free anonymity software available. I’ll leave you to research these in your own time, but these essentially mask IP addresses in different ways and are widely available and will have the effect of send illegal downloading underground. (This is an important factor as to why any monitoring of Internet activities is not only a breach of human rights, but a pointless and very expensive waste of resources).

As you said yourself, many people are upset by this, and also feel very strongly about it (please see WWW.TWOMONTHSNOMUSIC.BLOGSPOT.COM for more details, this is a blog written by Patrick (twitter handle @patrickolszo) that I found through reading other people’s views on twitter. He is a music fanatic has decided to boycott music for 2 months as a personal protest to the digital economy bill.)

In light of your comments and assurances that you were worried too, I’d like you to explain to me why you did not attend the second reading of this bill, please? You said in your email that many people had contacted you about this bill; you said yourself that you were concerned and worried by the timing and the fact that you were not able to debate it in Parliament and so this leaves me with a sense of confusion as to why you were not present.

I should remind you that you work for us. You are our elected representative and I question your ‘sincerity’ that you did not turn up to a reading of a bill you know provokes strong reactions in the constituency. This is fast becoming an election issue for many, especially of the younger generation, and so I welcome your explanation.

Yours sincerely,

Saronimo
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Science and the General Election 2010

The third in the series of debates about Science and the General Election 2010, the panelists were Lord Paul Drayson (Labour), Dr. Adam Afriyie (Conservatives) and Dr. Evan Harris (Liberal Democrats) and was chaired by Susan Watts, editor of BBC Newsnight.

All three of the panelists came at the debate from a different angle. Although they are all vying for our vote, Labour has a recent track record and a corner to defend, The Conservatives are ‘the opposition’ and Liberal Democrats were in the enviable position of being able to make what appeared to be clear and specific policy.

Lord Paul Drayson kicked off the introductions by stressing the importance that Labour feel science plays in the future prosperity of our country. Since coming into power the have doubled the science budget and British citizens have received more Nobel prizes than any other country, outside the USA. Lord Drayson said he would like to see the ‘transformation’ of jobs in science, but also claims Gordon Brown ‘gets’ science and has the ability to look at the big and the small and, together with his predecossor, Blair, they have all presided in a ‘renaissance’ in British Science.

Dr. Adam Afriyie was the next to outline his Party’s position: fixing the economy… After a drawn out few minutes discussing various Labour failings in the economy (including the relevant facts of STFC cutting research grants by £1bn and withdrawal from 26 projects) Afriyie moved onto science by linking it into the new economic mode proposed by the Conservatives. We heard from him a 3 point plan: 1. Education – curriculum and incentives. 2. Stable Funding – ring fencing and a multi-year science budget and 3. Delivering the right conditions for innovation – ensuring strong jobs for science.

Dr. Evan Harris was the final panelist to deliever his introduction. After a bit of light banter with the crowd he started by informing us of some statistics rebuking Labour’s claim of a 50% increase in the science budget- citing a corresponding growth in GDP which results proportionally in less growth in real terms than Labour is claming, but still more than ever happened under the Conservatives. Not to mention many other items coming under the umbrella of the science budget than previously had done. Harris commented that we are above only Italy in the G7 countries in science budget and compared out stimulus of a VAT cut to that of Germany, France and USA, all of whom have invested in science and technology. He then moved onto their proposals, which centered heavily around education: cutting tuition fees; cutting graduate debt, looking after postgraduates, post doctorates and science teachers; ensuring that science is a feasible career for women to continue to work in and ensuring that universities use our tax money to fill their science places before inventing more media degrees to fill. He then discussed libel law and how they are being used to silence scientists… and then he ran out of time!

The debate quickly moved onto a few questions from Susan Watts of newsnight, including, predictably, one about a hung Parliament in which the panelists were largely in agreement with one another that this would not necessarily be a disaster for science – it is a unusual area for policy in that respect. Watts followed this up with a question aimed specifically at Afriyie, attempting him to specify whether cuts would be made in attempt to ‘shore up’ the economy. All three panelists ha a chance to speak, but it unhelpfully became a series of ‘he said-she said’ – although by this point it was become increasingly clear that, in many ways, Labour and Lib Dems are on the same side of the [ring] fence on this issue.

We saw questions from the floor, including from a first time voter about investments into space programs (at which point it was revealed that Dyson manufactures his vacuum cleaners in Malaysia, unlike the satellite manufacturers who have prospered under Drayson, who have factories in the UK); a question about students loans; a question from Sense about Science asking whether the panelists support proposals being embedded into ministerial code (which was followed by political bickering when Afriyie said he ‘would love to see this’ and was accused being non-commital); a question asking whether panelists would approve of a science advisor in the Treasury (Afriyie claimed that he had been lobbying for a ‘evidence based policy approach instead of policy based evidence’ and that he would like to see new MPs being given ‘science induction lessons’ – to which Harris suggested starting with current MPs and cited the recent Chris Grayling knife crime statistical fail as an example. He then used the opportunity to enter into a soliloquy chastising the recent use of statistics to distort facts and, conversely, the ignorance of statistics that have resulted in the recent dismissal of Professor Nutt on drug policy. Harris received the only spontaneous applause of the night.); following that was a question about women in science, which warranted almost typical answers in all panelists (Drayson suggested picking out women as ‘one to watch’ and ensuring the money follows them and they are presented as role models, Harris gave a thoughtful answer suggesting target them young, breaking stereotypes and finding where the discrepancies between women going into science and women continuing it for years arises and Afriyie suggested career advice and diverged away from women almost immediately going back to his self-promotion on his lobbying, suggesting studies on what policy actually affects peoples’ decisions.) we then heard a question from Martin Taylor of the Royal Society who asked about ‘long term maintenance’ of science, (which promted Afriyie to suck up to Martin Taylor and the other 2 to shoot Afriyie down; bickering ensued. This was halted by Watts who turned back to Taylor to ask him if he had a clear enough answer or if he would like clarificaton! He said he would like it, but I fear did not get it!)

Having spoken to some ladies who worked for Cancer Research UK and having looked at the various comments on twitter, it seems that funding is a specific area that needs some serious work yet wasn’t given the address it deserved, and so desperately needs, by panelists on the night, but, as we were reminded by all three panelists, (and a fair point it is, too) it isn’t for politicians to decide where the funding goes. Perhaps a debate for another day?

By the time their summary came round, I was able to form an opinion based on what I had seen from the candidates.

Lord Paul Drayson for labour had to toe the party line and defend his corner. He has only been in the role for 18 months and, while I’m sure the sentiment is not unanimous, from where I am standing he hasn’t done that bad a job in that short time. It was clear that he would like to be given the chance to continue on the role. As Harris pointed out, there were examples of fudging statistics in the claim that science spending had gone up by 50%. Nothing new there.

Dr. Evan Harris was clear, passionate, made specific suggestions about specific questions and I don’t think I heard once ounce of rhetoric from him. Of course, Lib Dems are in the position to be able to be seen to be making these promises having been in perpetual third place, but science is something they obviously hold in high regard, which is where it should be.

Contrasting with Harris, Dr. Adam Afriyie for Conservatives can barely talk the talk, let alone walk the walk. He carries himself well and is a good orator, generally speaking, but as we all know, science is not an area where being ‘general’ is accepted. He avoided answering questions directly, was non-committal without acknowledging that he was being non-committal (quelle surprise for a politician, I know!) and seemed, in actual fact, out of his depth talking about science issues.

In my eyes, Dr. Evan Harris won that debate. I think he engaged with the audience, was specific, passionate and was clearly a scientist first and politician second. The problem is, as we know, that scientists sometimes have problems interacting with the general public, and there might be a chance that Afriyie will charm the masses – which will result in the science budget being cut, of course, unlike with either of the other 2 parties.

However, the election is not just about science, and is not to be fought between just the three main parties (as I must keep reminding myself, we are in a democracy!) so the quest continues!

Tragic Facebook Murder and the Raging Privacy Debate.

The sentencing of Peter Chapman this week for kidnapping, raping and murdering teenager Ashleigh Hall has, quite rightly, led to numerous articles and commentaries in the mainstream media.

From what I can gather this man was a registered sex offender who was released on license on the proviso he complied with a strict set of instructions. In Jan 09 officers visted his home to find him not present, and then subsequently attempted to discover his whereabouts. In September 09 – 8 months later – they then issued a wanted alert. Mersyside Police have since submitted themselves to IPCC for investigation.

What does concern me is the angle that some articles have chosen. Namely this in The Telegraph, this in The Daily Mail and even this in The Guardian.

Firstly may I say that this is an absolutely tragic crime. My heart goes out to the friends and the family of Ashleigh Hall, whose grief and pain is unimaginable; to Ms Hall herself, whose final, harrowing moments need no further portral of despair; even to the individual officers of Mersyside police, who will be feeling guilt and shame – so much so that they referred themselves to be investigated by the IPCC. I do not in any way mean to diminish the severity of this crime.

But this crime is not a characterisation of the modern world; this is not a new crime. It is a heinous crime, yes, and its exact method would not have been seen 20 years ago. But policing the internet and monitoring emails is not the answer.

Facebook may well introduce a panic button, but this crime would not have happened if this man had not gained the trust of his victim – panic button or otherwise. Sex offenders emails may well be monitored, but we’ve seen how things can be overlooked when monitoring is supposed to be taking place. Surely education is the answer, for young people especially? IT as a core subject; introduce a module into the new ‘compulsory’ sex education bill on the internet; alert parents via a school newsletter and alert children to the dangers of being too trusting.

We can’t let ourselves be manipulated into giving up our privacy and freedom. It will start with the ‘high-risk’ parts of society but, make no mistake, a lazy, controlling government will see this rolled out nationwide in no time at all.

Stilton and Apricot Omelette

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

1/2 courgette, diced (alternative: baby leeks)
1 shallot
A handful or two of washed spinach leaves
2/3 eggs (depending on preference)
‘Some’ Stilton – this really has to be to your taste as Stilton can be quite overpowering!
5/6 dried apricots cut into halves/quarters
A few leaves of fresh basil
A dash of milk
Salt/pepper
A lump of butter
A handful of grated cheddar/parmesan.

Method:

Break eggs into bowl and whisk, adding milk and seasoning to taste. (I personally don’t use salt as the eggs and stilton provide enough saltiness for me, but each to their own!) Add in the stilton and apricots, tear up the basil into small pieces and add to egg mixture.

Melt butter in a heated frying pan and add courgettes and shallot and stir until browned. Throw in spinach and keep stiring until wilted. Spread out evenly in pan and pour in the egg mixture. Leave for 2 mins, or until edges of omelette are browning.

Sprinkle cheese over the top and put under grill for 2 mins, or until cooked on top.

Eat.

Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to have made any of these recipes up from scratch, but nor do I cook from books.

Butternut Squash and Dolcelatte risotto

Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time 30 mins
Serves: 3-4

Good with: Ciabatta, salad, wine

Ingredients:

300g Arborio rice
‘Some’ dolcelatte (you can add to your own taste – the more the merrier, I say!)
Glass of white wine (in addition to the one you’ll be drinking while making it)
Zest of 1 lemon
‘Some’ Parmesan (same comment as dolcelatte!)
1 white onion
A ‘hunk’ of butter
Black pepper

1 small butternut squash
Fresh thyme
Vegetable bouillon – 3 tsp
1.5 litres of water

Method:

Cut the Butternut squash into small pieces (sizing at your own preference, the larger they are the longer they’ll take to cook). Add it to the water, with the bouillon and fresh thyme. Bring to boil until cooked. Remove squash but save water.

Put the butter into a pan, wait for it to melt. Add the onion and cook until translucent, but not browned. Add the rice and stir until butter covers rice. Add the wine, while stirring continuously. NB – make sure your butternut squash is cooked, as you will need the water to add to the risotto rice.

Start adding the water in small parts and stirring constantly. Add more water when all water in pan has been soaked up by the rice. By the time you’ve used up your water, it will be likely that the risotto is cooked (this will probably take about 20 mins if you like it al dente, but make sure it’s to your taste).

Once the risotto is cooked to your taste, take it off the heat and add in the butternut squash, dolcelatte, parmesan, black pepper (to taste) and lemon zest, keeping the stirring action and ensuring all cheese is melted and zest/pepper is evenly spread.

Serve. (And probably add more parmesan if you’re anything like me.)

Serving suggestion: Griddled Asparagus spears wrapped in parma ham.

Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to have made any of these recipes up from scratch, but nor do I cook from books.