Dispatches from the Cuckoo’s nest

In England – they are spying on the trash.

A pro-privacy group in the United Kingdom is warning citizens that the government has placed microchips in trash receptacles to monitor how much trash people throw away, claiming it’s an attempt to fine those who toss too much.

According to the advocacy group Big Brother Watch, as many as 2.6 million chips have been outfitted onto household trash bins by many local government councils. The group discovered the program through a series of Freedom of Information requests, although it appeared the devices were not yet activated.

Supporters say the microchips are being used to push for better recycling measures from its citizens, but opponents are none too happy.

In Switzerland – some want dogs to have lawyers.

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal to introduce a nationwide system of state-funded lawyers to represent animals in court.

Animal rights groups had proposed the move, saying that without lawyers to argue the animals’ case, many instances of cruelty were going unpunished.

But the measure was rejected by around 70% of voters in a referendum.

Opponents had argued that Switzerland did not need more legislation.

In Venezuela, an oil producing country, the army is replacing everyone’s lightbulbs to tackle the worst electricity shortage in 50 years.

Outside the warehouse, a platoon of soldiers is standing to attention for their colonel before being dispatched to hand out the lightbulbs in one of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods. …

Unloading the low-energy bulbs into their knapsacks, the troops have been joined by volunteers from the local community council – pro-government teams set up under President Hugo Chavez.

These small groups of red-clad Chavez supporters and soldiers in green uniforms, referred to as “civic-military partnerships”, are heading into San Augustin, one of the city’s roughest parts…

The president of Corporelec and vice-minister for electrical energy, Javier Alvarado, is confident that the current crisis is helping change public attitudes.

“For many years, we have had the huge oil income and, you know, you kind of get spoilt. You get used to an easy life,” he says.

Faced with such apathy and indifference among Venezuelans, he says the government has launched a ferocious public education campaign, to be combined with a carrot-and-stick policy for industrial and major domestic energy consumers.

Fines and rewards were applied last weekend.

But many are critical of the government’s response.

“It’s ironic that a country blessed as it is with the energy resources that Venezuela has, in both hydrocarbons and fresh water for hydroelectric power, is in the dire straits that we’re in right now,” says the general manager of the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce, Carlos Tejeda.

The basic problem is that electrical capacity has not kept up pace with demand over the past 10 years, he says.

“The fact that we’re in these circumstances points to a lack of management, a lack of planning. That’s evidently the case.”

The business community is concerned that the government’s energy-saving initiatives, such as forced blackouts and heavy fines for any company which does not cut its electricity consumption by 20%, will cripple Venezuelan productivity.

Some companies can reduce by 5%, or maybe 8% tops,” says Mr Tejeda. “But to cut by 20%, you can only do that by lowering production itself.”

And in the US – Jane Ferrigno doesn’t have a clue about the size of either Texas or Alaska.

Give us a sense of how much ice [on the Antarctic peninsula] has been lost over the past, say, 10 years.

Ms. FERRIGNO: I think I’ll go back 20 years, and in the last 20 years,I would say at least 20,000 square kilometers of ice has been lost, and that’s comparable to an area somewhere between the state of Texas and the state of Alaska.

Is it indeed? But why would she know – she’s only a “scientist” with the US Geological survey.

Sigh.

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