25/07/2014


algeria plane missing

A flight operated by Air Algérie carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria‘s capital disappeared from radar early on Thursday, the plane’s owner said.

Air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 1.55am GMT the official Algerian news agency said. That means that flight AH5017 had been missing for hours before the news was made public.

The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers wasn’t immediately clear. Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali, where unrest continues in the north.

Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane carrying 110 passengers and six crew left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 1.17am GMT on Thursday but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 5.10am GMT.

Swiftair said it has not been possible to make contact with the plane. The company said it was trying to ascertain what had happened.

It said the crew included two pilots and four cabin staff. “In keeping with procedures, Air Algérie has launched its emergency plan,” the APS news agency quoted the airline as saying.

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If there’s one lesson we learned from the 2014 EU and local elections, it’s that voters are fed up with politics and politicians.

They stay away from the polls in droves, and when they vote for minority parties, it’s only when those parties have enjoyed such sustained notoriety – and generous coverage from the national media – that they seem “electable.”

The referendum on alternative voting was the only positive outcome that I’d hoped for from the coalition – and watching the Tories knife the Lib Dems in the back over it (“alternative voting: totally undemocratic and unfit for purpose, except that we use it to choose our own leaders”) was a heartbreak.

You could ask for no better example of the arrogance, corruption and complacency that “first past the post” elections breed than the #Drip stitch-up, in which the party leaders decided in a smoke-filled room to create a bunch of sweeping, illegal powers for government, declared a fake emergency, lied to the public about the substance of the legislation, whipped their MPs to vote for it, and predicted – correctly – that MPs in the run-up to an election are unlikely to rebel and risk losing the whip when they’re about to start campaigning to keep their jobs.

These are the actions of parties who know that so long as they are all equally terrible, none of them will lose votes to the other – and since no one would throw away a vote by balloting for a minority party, there’s no risk to any of them from acting in such a manifestly undemocratic fashion.

First past the post polling is a horrendous collective-action problem. If the party you really support has no hope of taking office, the “rational” thing to do is to vote for the major party you hate least, to head off the party you hate the most. This is something that every doorbell-ringer for a minority party knows all too well.

“I’m Mr Notachance from the Yellow Party, and I’d like to ask for your vote on election day.”

“Yellow Party! Well, I love what you stand for, but come on, you haven’t got a snowball’s chance. It’s throwing away my vote.”

“May I ask how you will vote?”

“Oh, I used to hold my nose and vote Labour, but honestly, who can bear it anymore? To be honest, I’ll probably stay at home and throw up into a bucket.”

You hear variations on this theme a lot – no one wants to vote for the minority party because everyone knows that no one wants to vote for the minority party. As time goes by, the number of people willing to vote at all declines, so that a smaller and smaller number of ever-more cynical people elect representative that are answerable to fewer and fewer voters, and policy gets more and more corrupt.

Now, if there’s one thing the internet’s good at, it’s collective action problems. Reducing the cost of working together is at the center of the Internet’s biggest success stories, from Wikipedia to GNU/Linux to Theyworkforyou. It may be that with the right code, we could crudely bodge a kind of AV system into the establishment-friendly, incumbent-favouring first past the post system.

Here’s how that could work:

“Yellow Party! Well, I love what you stand for, but come on, you haven’t got a snowball’s chance. It’s throwing away my vote.”

“Oh, I’m not asking you to vote for me! Not quite, anyway. All I want you to do is go on record saying that you would vote for me, if 20% of your neighbours made the same promise. Then, on election day, we’ll send you a text or and email letting you know how many people there are who’ve made the same promise, and you get to decide whether it’s worth your while.

“The current MP, Ms Setforlife, got elected with only 8,000 votes in the last election. If I can show you that 9,000 of your neighbours feel the same way as you do, and if you act on that information – well, we could change everything.”

This threshold-style action system is at the heart of Kickstarter (pledge whatever you like, but no one has to spend anything unless enough money is raised to see the project to completion) and it’s utterly adaptable to elections.

In democracies all over the world, voting is in decline. A permanent political class has emerged, and what it has to offer benefits a small elite at the public’s wider expense.

We hear a lot from tech circles about “disruption” of complacent, arrogant and entrenched industries. Politics is the foremost example of such an industry and it’s overdue for disruption.

UK’s Drip law: cynical, misleading and an affront to democracy

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The cliché most often attached to the Labia is that walking into its dark interior is like “stepping into a bygone era”. The experience is certainly nothing like the slick, soulless operations of the major multiplexes. Tickets are purchased from an old wooden booth. A bar will serve you a beer or glass of wine to take inside one of the cinema’s four screens. Most of the staff have been clipping tickets and loading up projection reels here for well over two decades.

The seats could be more comfortable; the sound quality more distinct. But the Labia’s patrons overlook these aspects in favour of the slightly dishevelled romance of an establishment which turned 65 this year.

The story goes that the Labia’s premises started life as a ballroom for what was once the Italian embassy next door, bearing the sign of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome and Benito Mussolini’s hallmark.

“It’s quite a sketchy history,” admitted owner Ludi Kraus. “I’m not quite sure whether everything is factual.”

What is beyond doubt, because it is commemorated with a plaque on the wall to this day, is that the building was converted into a theatre by Italian aristocrats the Labia family, and declared open as a place for the performing arts by Princess Labia in May 1949. Count Natale Labia – later granted the title of prince – was a diplomat who was dispatched to South Africa in 1917, and prospered under Mussolini’s regime, though he allegedly tried to talk Mussolini out of invading Abyssinia.

Part of the reason why the family built the Labia Theatre, the Mail Guardian reported a few years ago, was out of gratitude to the South African government at not detaining them during the second world war.

It is through its Italian roots that the cinema acquired its unusual name. Kraus concedes that it raises eyebrows, but says the name is “too much part of it” to consider changing.

Labia south Africa
The Labia opened in 1949 Photograph: flickr

“I don’t know if South Africans catch the connotations that quickly, maybe because they’re less … medically-minded,” Kraus says “visitors tend to be far more alert. Some come in here expecting it to be a porn cinema.” He joked that a friend once suggested naming two screens the majora and minora.

Arts journalist Bruno Morphet traced the history of the Labia to commemorate its 60th birthday, writing that the original theatre played host to well-known South African playwrights until the mid 70s. At this point, a film distributor used the premises for a once-off avantgarde film festival, which proved such a success that the Labia developed a new purpose as a dedicated cinema.

Critic Trevor Steele Taylor arranged the weekly film roster, where “you could expect to find anything from Fassbinder to the Marx Brothers being offered on the elaborate hand-printed programmes”, Morphet wrote. As you’d expect from any independent cinema worth its salt during the apartheid years, there were tussles with the Film and Publications Control Board: Steele Taylor was once removed by police during a screening of The War Is Over, a film about the Spanish communist revolution.

Kraus took it over in 1989, when the cinema had already seen better days. “It was still quite popular, which was amazing because it was dark, it was dingy, it was dirty,” Kraus recalls.

Kraus was no stranger to the world of the cinema: his father had owned a movie house in Namibia. He used a crane to bring the movie screen forward and installed better projectors. A rehearsal room upstairs became a second screen, with a third and fourth following.

Kraus says it took him 21 years to make the Labia work, maintaining the cinema’s reputation for screening independent films and hosting small film festivals, while also bringing in some bigger commercial hits to keep the box office ticking over. “The biggest change has been that the audience has got younger in the last three years,” he says. “It’s become a cooler place. When I programme now I have to take that into account.”

Over the past years, the cinema has seen the likes of John Cleese, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell pop in for a screening. The Western Cape premier, Helen Zille, likes the odd Labia film too.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Last year the Labia had to close its two separate screens on Cape Town’s Kloof street after the building’s new owners decided to discontinue them. Kraus says he has given up on any attempt to expand beyond the Orange street premises. In 2012, the cinema was embroiled in controversy over Kraus’s decision not to screen a pro-Palestinian film because he “didn’t want to get involved in politics”, which led to a call to boycott the cinema.

Today Kraus stands by that decision, though he calls the ensuing fracas the “most unpleasant experience of my life”. He claims that the cinema did not experience a drop in support as a result of it.

But today the Labia faces its biggest challenge to date: the fact that the cinema has to convert its operations to digital. The necessary components for the Labia’s old equipment are no longer available. Film distributors have just stopped providing movies on celluloid. British costume drama Belle, currently showing at the cinema (and starring half-South African Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is the last film Kraus can expect to receive on celluloid. The Labia has to adapt or die – but the costs are astronomical.

Labia south Africa
Going digital is the Labia’s biggest challenge to date. Photograph: Ben Sutherland/flickr

“If you want to play, you need the equipment,” Kraus says. “There is no choice. We’re in the penalty shootout phase.”

As with many other ventures these days, the cinema is turning to crowdfunding as a possible solution, using local startup Thundafund. Launched in June last year, the website aims to replicate the success of international models like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter (on which an enterprising young man recently raised over $40,000 to make a potato salad).

The Labia is aiming to raise R150,000, to go firstly towards digital projectors and renovations to fit them, but also towards a general rejuvenation of the cinema. The range of rewards that donors will receive in exchange will only be unveiled on Thursday, but Kraus hints that they will include everything from free move tickets to naming rights on the cinema screens.

A version of this article first appeared on Daily Maverick

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Gaza crisis: Palestinian death toll passes 700

Posted by MereNews On July - 24 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The controversy engulfing the death penalty in the United States escalated on Wednesday when the state of Arizona took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using an experimental concoction of drugs whose provenance it had insisted on keeping secret.

Joseph Wood took an hour and 58 minutes to die after he was injected with a relatively untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. The procedure took so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency court motion in an attempt to have it stopped. For more than an hour, he was seen to be “gasping and snorting”, according to the court filing.

The attempt to execute Wood had begun at 1.52pm, with sedation of the prisoner confirmed five minutes later. The office of the Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne, announced at 3.49pm local time that Wood was dead.

According to the emergency motion, Wood was seen to be still breathing at 2.02pm, and the next minute his mouth moved. “He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” his lawyers said. When the officials in charge of the execution checked the prisoner at 3.02pm – an hour and 10 minutes after the procedure began – he was confirmed still to be alive.

One eyewitness, Michael Kiefer of Arizona Republic, counted the prisoner gasping 660 times. Another witness, reporter Troy Hayden, told the same paper that it had been “very disturbing to watch … like a fish on shore gulping for air.”

Mauricio Marin, a television reporter with Kold News 13, told the Guardian that Wood had appeared to be sedated with his eyes closed. But he said in an email that Wood was “gulping or gasping for air. His stomach moved at times while the gulping/gasping for air as if one would while breathing laying down.”

Wood, 55, was put to death for the 1989 murders in Tucson of his former girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father Eugene Dietz. The duration of the execution was extreme even in the contexct of recent botched judicial killings in the US. Clayton Lockett, who writhed and groaned on the gurney in Oklahoma in April, took 45 minutes to die – less than half the time it took in Wood’s case.

Lockett’s death provoked a nationwide and international outcry. In the fallout, President Obama was prompted to launch a review into the practice of the death penalty in the country that is still ongoing.

The hours leading up to Wood’s execution were marked by a frenzied legal battle over the secrecy imposed by state officials on the source of the drugs. It was put on hold several times – first by a federal appeals court, then by the state supreme court of Arizona. On Tuesday the US supreme court removed the stay, allowing the execution to go ahead.

Joseph Rudolph Wood.
Joseph Rudolph Wood. Photograph: AP

Wood’s legal team had argued that as a member of the public, he had a right to know under the first amendment of the US constitution about the source and nature of the drugs that were being used to kill him, as well as about the qualifications of the officials who would administer the lethal injections. The ninth circuit federal court of appeals ordered a stay of execution to give time for proper legal reflection.

The US supreme court lifted that stay on Tuesday, without giving any explanation.

Within a few hours of Wood being pronounced dead, senior officials in Arizona had begun a damage limitation exercise in which they tried to reassure the public that his execution had been painless. The governor, Jan Brewer, ordered an investigation but said the death had been lawful, adding that “by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims – and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

The state corrections department that carried out the execution insisted that it had followed protocol and that he had been in “deep sedation” throughout.

State officials came under pressure from the courts to preserve evidence. A federal court ordered the state to preserve Wood’s body and to draw down blood from six locations on it by a deadline of 8pm, as well as take tissue sample from his brain, liver and muscles. The supreme court of Arizona also stepped in and preserved that the labels on the bottles of drugs used be kept for future examination.

In an impassioned statement, Wood’s lawyer, Dale Baich, said: “Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror – a bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

Baich said the state’s investigation would be insufficiently independent. “Because the governor and the highest law enforcement official in Arizona have already expressed their view that Mr Wood did not suffer, and because the state of Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect the extreme secrecy surrounding its lethal injection drugs and execution personnel, the only way to begin to remedy this is with open government and transparency,” he said.

In a later interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Baich said that he had witnessed 11 executions but never any that took so long. He accused Arizona of carrying out an experiment on his client even though state officials had been fully aware of a previous botched execution that had taken place in Ohio using the same drug combination. He pledged to continue the effort to find out who made the drugs used in the execution of his client.

The chief judge of the ninth circuit federal appeals court, Alex Kozinski, told the Guardian that he was not surprised by what had happened. “I have seen this coming for a long time. It’s hard to watch these executions and not realise that these blunders are bound to happen,” he said.

In his dissenting opinion to the stay of execution issued by the appeals court this week, Kozinski argued that the use in executions of drugs designed to help sick people was an “enterprise doomed to failure”. On Wednesday, he told the Guardian that he had thought about the problems with lethal injections for a long time, and that though his criticisms were not geared specifically to the Wood case in particular, he had decided it was time to speak out.

The use of such drugs was, he said, “a complicated process that is not designed for executions. I had no idea how this would go down in the Wood case, but it’s obvious that this is the kind of process where there tends to be these kinds of problems.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been campaigning against death penalty secrecy in several states, said that Arizona had violated the first amendment, the eighth amendment and the bounds of basic decency.

“Joseph Wood suffered cruel and unusual punishment when he was apparently left conscious long after the drugs were administered. It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s capital punishment project.

The Wood execution is certain now to provoke renewed debate about the concoctions of drugs used by death penalty states, as well as about the secrecy with which those states have shrouded the procedure. So far this year seven states have carried out executions – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas – and all seven have introduced varying degrees of secrecy around their execution drugs.

The controversial measures followed a European-led boycott of the US death penalty that has blocked key drugs used in executions from reaching departments of correction. As supplies have run short, and expired, states have resorted to untried improvisations while insisting on hiding the identities of their suppliers in order to keep supply lines open.

Numerous legal challenges have been attempted in the courts arguing that such secrecy puts prisoners in danger because it prevents them from ensuring that the drugs being used to kill them are of sufficient strength and efficacy to do the job humanely without breaching their eighth amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Successive courts – including the US supreme court, most recently on Tuesday night in the Wood case – have dismissed that argument as lacking in substance.

But the spectacle in Arizona of a prisoner taking almost two hours to die after he was administered drugs, the origin of which was kept secret, will can only bolster the cases of lawyers and anti-death penalty campaigners.

The midazolam-hydromorphone combination used on Wood was also used by Ohio in January to put to death Dennis McGuire. Expert anaesthetists had warned that the state was using too weak a dosage, yet Ohio officials went ahead – with the result that McGuire took 26 minutes to die.

Midazolam was also used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett by Oklahoma in April.

In the runup to the Wood execution, Arizona refused to divulge any information about the drugs it intended to use. It only revealed that it had obtained federally approved medicines, signaling that the sedative and painkillers had been produced by licensed manufacturers.

Only two manufacturers of midazolam in America – Akorn and Sagent, both headquartered in Illinois – have failed to put distribution controls in place that prevent the chemical being sold to US corrections departments for use in executions.

Witness to an Arizona execution: Joseph Wood’s 660 gasps

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Health officials must do more to prevent the spread of variant CJD, the human form of BSE, say MPs. They warn that the ongoing risks of infection are not being taken seriously enough.

Some hospitals may have put patients at risk by failing to decontaminate surgical tools used on people with vCJD, and it was impossible to know if the national blood supply was clear of the infectious agent, they said.

The MPs go on to accuse ministers of complacency and to call for a fresh effort to develop better sterilisation procedures and the establishment of a large blood-screening trial in the next 12 months to reveal the scale of the “silent infection”.

Andrew Miller, chair of the Commons science and technology committee, said that while the government took a precautionary approach to vCJD infections in the past, its recent policies were based more on “economic prudence” and “a hope that the storm has now passed”.

Variant CJD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by the build up of abnormal “prion” proteins in the brain. Since it was first detected in 1995 the disease has killed 177 people in Britain. Most are thought to have developed the disease after eating meat contaminated with BSE.


CJD WEB
CJD WEB

While infected meat was withdrawn from the food supply, around 24,000 adults in the UK may be infected with the agent that causes vCJD. Tests on appendices removed in UK operations suggest that around one in 2,000 people are unwitting carriers. While they experience no symptoms, they can still pass the infection on through donated organs, blood, or by contaminating surgical tools when they are in hospital. Some carriers may go on to develop the disease later in life, but there is no way of knowing who will, or when their first symptoms may strike.

The NHS and national blood service have introduced measures to reduce the risk of vCJD spreading, but even with these, between January 2010 and March 2013 there were 43 incidents when hospital patients may have been exposed to vCJD because infection control guidelines were not properly followed. Only four cases of vCJD are known to have arisen from blood transfusions, and all were in the 1990s, but the MPs’ inquiry heard that infections could be more widespread, but not yet causing people to have symptoms.

In a report published on Thursday, MPs take the government to task for what they see as a string of failures to reduce the risk of vCJD infections spreading. The report criticises ministers for not doing more to help DuPont, the chemical firm, persuade the NHS to adopt its sterilisation product that deactivates dangerous prions, even after government called on companies to develop the technology and funded the work. Instead, ministers relied on sterilisation guidance that it knew was only partially effective, and was not even followed in some hospitals.

The MPs express further dismay that the government sank public money into a prototype blood test of vCJD at the MRC prion unit at University College London, but had failed to use the test. “To cut off support now, when the task appears to be nearing completion, would be a false economy,” said Miller. The report recommends that the government commission a full risk assessment of the UK national blood supply.

The MPs were particularly unimpressed with advice and support given to people who are told they are at heightened risk of vCJD. Many had a letter and leaflet, but not face-to-face counselling, a situation the report calls “totally inappropriate”. Christine Lord, the mother of a vCJD victim, Andrew Black, described the news as “a sword of Damocles hanging over these people’s heads”. Mark Ward, the secretary of a charity called Tainted Blood, said being told he is at risk was like “walking around with a loaded gun pointing to your head”. The MPs said all people found to be at greater risk of vCJD should hear the news verbally from a doctor, nurse or CJD specialist.

John Hardy, a neuroscientist at University College London, said: “Clearly, vigilance needs to be maintained to prevent the disease’s re-emergence through medical infections and it is appropriate the Commons committee is maintaining scrutiny of this important issue.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Variant CJD is a devastating disease that we take extremely seriously. That is why we are providing ring-fenced funding of over £5m each year for research and surveillance. We are continuing work with independent experts and researchers to make sure any risk to the public is minimised, especially in relation to blood tests and instrument decontamination. We will respond to the report fully in due course.”

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The controversy engulfing the death penalty in the United States escalated on Wednesday when the state of Arizona took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using an experimental concoction of drugs whose provenance it had insisted on keeping secret.

Joseph Wood took an hour and 58 minutes to die after he was injected with a relatively untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. The procedure took so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency court motion in an attempt to have it stopped. For more than an hour, he was seen to be “gasping and snorting”, according to the court filing.

The attempt to execute Wood had begun at 1.52pm, with sedation of the prisoner confirmed five minutes later. The office of the Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne, announced at 3.49pm local time that Wood was dead.

According to the emergency motion, Wood was seen to be still breathing at 2.02pm, and the next minute his mouth moved. “He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” his lawyers said. When the officials in charge of the execution checked the prisoner at 3.02pm – an hour and 10 minutes after the procedure began – he was confirmed still to be alive.

One eyewitness, Michael Kiefer of Arizona Republic, counted the prisoner gasping 660 times. Another witness, reporter Troy Hayden, told the same paper that it had been “very disturbing to watch … like a fish on shore gulping for air.”

Mauricio Marin, a television reporter with Kold News 13, told the Guardian that Wood had appeared to be sedated with his eyes closed. But he said in an email that Wood was “gulping or gasping for air. His stomach moved at times while the gulping/gasping for air as if one would while breathing laying down.”

Wood, 55, was put to death for the 1989 murders in Tucson of his former girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father Eugene Dietz. The duration of the execution was extreme even in the contexct of recent botched judicial killings in the US. Clayton Lockett, who writhed and groaned on the gurney in Oklahoma in April, took 45 minutes to die – less than half the time it took in Wood’s case.

Lockett’s death provoked a nationwide and international outcry. In the fallout, President Obama was prompted to launch a review into the practice of the death penalty in the country that is still ongoing.

The hours leading up to Wood’s execution were marked by a frenzied legal battle over the secrecy imposed by state officials on the source of the drugs. It was put on hold several times – first by a federal appeals court, then by the state supreme court of Arizona. On Tuesday the US supreme court removed the stay, allowing the execution to go ahead.

Joseph Rudolph Wood.
Joseph Rudolph Wood. Photograph: AP

Wood’s legal team had argued that as a member of the public, he had a right to know under the first amendment of the US constitution about the source and nature of the drugs that were being used to kill him, as well as about the qualifications of the officials who would administer the lethal injections. The ninth circuit federal court of appeals ordered a stay of execution to give time for proper legal reflection.

The US supreme court lifted that stay on Tuesday, without giving any explanation.

Within a few hours of Wood being pronounced dead, senior officials in Arizona had begun a damage limitation exercise in which they tried to reassure the public that his execution had been painless. The governor, Jan Brewer, ordered an investigation but said the death had been lawful, adding that “by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims – and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

The state corrections department that carried out the execution insisted that it had followed protocol and that he had been in “deep sedation” throughout.

State officials came under pressure from the courts to preserve evidence. A federal court ordered the state to preserve Wood’s body and to draw down blood from six locations on it by a deadline of 8pm, as well as take tissue sample from his brain, liver and muscles. The supreme court of Arizona also stepped in and preserved that the labels on the bottles of drugs used be kept for future examination.

In an impassioned statement, Wood’s lawyer, Dale Baich, said: “Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror – a bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

Baich said the state’s investigation would be insufficiently independent. “Because the governor and the highest law enforcement official in Arizona have already expressed their view that Mr Wood did not suffer, and because the state of Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect the extreme secrecy surrounding its lethal injection drugs and execution personnel, the only way to begin to remedy this is with open government and transparency,” he said.

In a later interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Baich said that he had witnessed 11 executions but never any that took so long. He accused Arizona of carrying out an experiment on his client even though state officials had been fully aware of a previous botched execution that had taken place in Ohio using the same drug combination. He pledged to continue the effort to find out who made the drugs used in the execution of his client.

The chief judge of the ninth circuit federal appeals court, Alex Kozinski, told the Guardian that he was not surprised by what had happened. “I have seen this coming for a long time. It’s hard to watch these executions and not realise that these blunders are bound to happen,” he said.

In his dissenting opinion to the stay of execution issued by the appeals court this week, Kozinski argued that the use in executions of drugs designed to help sick people was an “enterprise doomed to failure”. On Wednesday, he told the Guardian that he had thought about the problems with lethal injections for a long time, and that though his criticisms were not geared specifically to the Wood case in particular, he had decided it was time to speak out.

The use of such drugs was, he said, “a complicated process that is not designed for executions. I had no idea how this would go down in the Wood case, but it’s obvious that this is the kind of process where there tends to be these kinds of problems.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been campaigning against death penalty secrecy in several states, said that Arizona had violated the first amendment, the eighth amendment and the bounds of basic decency.

“Joseph Wood suffered cruel and unusual punishment when he was apparently left conscious long after the drugs were administered. It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s capital punishment project.

The Wood execution is certain now to provoke renewed debate about the concoctions of drugs used by death penalty states, as well as about the secrecy with which those states have shrouded the procedure. So far this year seven states have carried out executions – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas – and all seven have introduced varying degrees of secrecy around their execution drugs.

The controversial measures followed a European-led boycott of the US death penalty that has blocked key drugs used in executions from reaching departments of correction. As supplies have run short, and expired, states have resorted to untried improvisations while insisting on hiding the identities of their suppliers in order to keep supply lines open.

Numerous legal challenges have been attempted in the courts arguing that such secrecy puts prisoners in danger because it prevents them from ensuring that the drugs being used to kill them are of sufficient strength and efficacy to do the job humanely without breaching their eighth amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Successive courts – including the US supreme court, most recently on Tuesday night in the Wood case – have dismissed that argument as lacking in substance.

But the spectacle in Arizona of a prisoner taking almost two hours to die after he was administered drugs, the origin of which was kept secret, will can only bolster the cases of lawyers and anti-death penalty campaigners.

The midazolam-hydromorphone combination used on Wood was also used by Ohio in January to put to death Dennis McGuire. Expert anaesthetists had warned that the state was using too weak a dosage, yet Ohio officials went ahead – with the result that McGuire took 26 minutes to die.

Midazolam was also used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett by Oklahoma in April.

In the runup to the Wood execution, Arizona refused to divulge any information about the drugs it intended to use. It only revealed that it had obtained federally approved medicines, signaling that the sedative and painkillers had been produced by licensed manufacturers.

Only two manufacturers of midazolam in America – Akorn and Sagent, both headquartered in Illinois – have failed to put distribution controls in place that prevent the chemical being sold to US corrections departments for use in executions.

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José Mourinho said he was prepared to make one of his two top goalkeepers “not happy” in the forthcoming Premier League season, even though he said the delicate decision leaves Chelsea in a “fantastic” situation.

Petr Cech made his comeback from injury in a 1-1 draw in Austria against RZ Pellets after three months out and impressed his manager, while Thibaut Courtois waits to regain fitness having only just returned to the club from his post-World Cup holiday. He was the Belgium No1 as the Red Devils reached the quarter-finals in Brazil.

Cech injured his shoulder in the Champions League semi-final at the end of April and Courtois returned to the club this summer from his loan spell at Atlético Madrid, meaning Mourinho will have to choose between one of them to start the Premier League campaign.

The Chelsea manager said: “My situation for the season is fantastic. To have Cech and Courtois, the best young goalkeeper in the world and one of the top three or five experienced keepers, for me and Chelsea it’s perfect. There’s no story. One will play and Chelsea will be in safe hands for good because both are very good players. One won’t be happy. But the Chelsea supporters will be happy and they’re more important than the players.”

Cech, 32, has been at the club for ten years but his position is under threat from the Belgium No1. Mourinho said: “The window is the window, but I’m so happy with the situation.” Mourinho gave a debut to Filipe Luís who joined last week for £15.8m from Atlético Madrid.

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Under saltire-blue skies and in the kind of temperatures that could melt girders to a syrupy liquid, Glasgow welcomed the athletes of a significant chunk of the planet on Wednesday to what was being sold as the city’s “biggest ever party”, the opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

Two years after London threw a little shindig of its own, the Scottish city was determined show that while these four-yearly Games might not quite match their Olympic cousins in scale, when it came to its ambition and the warmth of its welcome, Glasgow would not be outdone.

Had the 2007 vote of the Games’ organising federation gone differently, the athletes from 71 countries and territories would have been parading this week into a stadium in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Instead, 28 years after Edinburgh staged the Games, it fell to Glasgow to host the 22 events over 11 days of competition.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, had promised the ceremony would “show the world the very best of Scotland“, and on that count it amply delivered, so long as your definition of the country’s greatest output includes pipers, dancing Tunnock’s teacakes, Scottie dogs and Susan Boyle singing Mull of Kintyre.

Opening ceremonies are marketing expos as well as son-et-lumière spectaculars, however, and while some Scots might have bristled at the kilts-and-shortbread portrayal of their country, there was no denying the overwhelming exuberance and good humour of the event.


Glasgow Commonwealth GAmes opening ceremony
Singer John Barrowman is carried on a carpet of heather. Photograph: Andrej Sakovic/AFP/Getty Images

At times as the 4,851 athletes paraded into the stadium, and particularly after audience members were asked to donate by text to Unicef and the thousands in the stands spontaneously raised their mobiles to display a constellation of pinpricks of light, it managed to be genuinely moving. A moment of commemoration for the victims of flight MH17 was observed in absolute silence.

There was an element of quiet subversion, too, when the Scots-American actor John Barrowman, during the opening number, kissed another man during a tribute to Gretna Green. Homosexuality, as gay rights campaigners have stressed in the leadup to the Games, is criminalised in a majority of Commonwealth countries.

A bizarre early plan to demolish one of the city’s derelict housing blocks live during the ceremony having been shelved, it fell to Rod Stewart to provide the early big bangs, though even the veteran crooner could not hold his own against the Queen, whose entry with the Duke of Edinburgh in a limousine was accompanied by a flypast by the Red Arrows. Was it significant that, contrary to the promises of the ceremony programme, the smoke trailed by the nine Hawk aircraft was not blue and white alone, but red, white and blue? These are days where such things matter.


The Red Arrows fly over Celtic Park
The Red Arrows fly over Celtic Park. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

For his part, Salmond had promised to steer clear of questions of independence for the duration of the Games, and despite an interview on Wednesday in which he did nothing of the sort, he was true to his word during the ceremony, heralding the “commonwealth of nations” with: “Fàilte gu Alba! Welcome to Scotland!”

Fears of nationalist ill will among the crowds, too, proved very wide of the mark, with the English delegation receiving a huge cheer, topped only by the demented roar when the Scottish team, their tartan outfits every bit as appalling as promised, made their entry.

It was wildly unrealistic to expect these Games only to be about sport, all the same. Glasgow is a city, like the rest of Scotland, convulsed by the independence question; whether charmed by the Games or irritated by its transport inconveniences and expense, the conversation of locals invariably returns to the issue.


Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
The Loch Ness Monster takes centre stage. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Nor are local people the only ones with an eye on September’s referendum. Outside Celtic Park was a gathering of perhaps 100 Tamils, protesting at the inclusion of “genocidal Sri Lanka” in the event. “Referendum for independence is a right of every nation,” read many of their placards. The resonance of a group of nations, many of them former British colonies, gathering in a country that will shortly vote on whether to leave the UK is not considerable.

For all the inevitable politics around an event whose very makeup is intensely political, it was impossible not to be struck by the overwhelming spirit of festivity that has seized parts of Glasgow. In George Square earlier, undeterred by the hairdryer temperatures, hundreds queued for hours to pick up last-minute tickets.

Nicola Taylor and her daughter Keri Cassidy-Taylor, from Lisburn in Northern Ireland, had tried eight times to collect their ceremony tickets from the square, having been deterred each time by the alarming length of the wait. But even that could not dim their enthusiasm.

“I think it’s the intangible stuff that makes it, the atmosphere, everybody wishing everybody well,” said Taylor. “There are lots of very happy people walking around.”


Scotland at Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
Scottish athletes arrive at the stadium. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

And in a city where sport is often deeply divisive – Celtic Park may have been favoured for the opening ceremony, but fear not: Ibrox, home of Rangers FC, will host the rugby sevens – Glasgow will hope that is one legacy that will last well beyond 3 August.

Metres from the queue, a kilted piper was playing an exuberant reel. An elderly woman began to twirl a boy of about six, while a group of women wearing Botswana T-shirts formed a spontaneous circle and broke into something between a jig and an African dance.

The best of Glasgow – and the best of what the Queen would later call “the diverse, resourceful and cohesive family” of Commonwealth nations – will take more than a couple of hours to capture.

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Last week, I gave a talk about older women, style and confidence, and had a moment’s mental absence. Not a “senior moment” – instead it struck me that my audience was as stylistically diverse as it was possible to be. How wonderful, I thought, to be this age and to wear what best expresses you. Self-expression through style is where confidence comes from, isn’t it? Wearing what makes you happy also makes you comfortable in your skin and this, to me, is where what’s currently offered to older women misses its target by a country mile. If we want something different, particularly in summer, we are forced into clothes designed and made for a much younger market; clothes that don’t fit and feel uncomfortably junior. I hate the term “age appropriate” as much as I hate the question “Am I too old for?” but it’s either that or the greige ennui of a company’s “classic” line. It’s quite hard to feel confident about personal style given the apparently limited imaginations of manufacturers. And yet, somehow, we do.

We mid-to late-50s baby boomers were teenagers at a time straddling not only traditional female role models but the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch – diametrically opposed ideals. My recollection is of feeling torn between an inculcated wish to emulate my mother with her swishy skirted, clickety heeled, neat brand of femininity and the call of the wild that arrived via teenage magazines and the television. My 16-year-old self was looking to Biba, Quant, Ossie Clark and Jean Muir for inspiration. That usually meant taking ideas from others and adapting my own clothes – stitching star-scattered inserts into pair of jeans to make mega-flares for example.

I took it further, finessing my look with smaller details. I swear my fondness for gin and Sobranie cigarettes was down to an extremely glamorous aunt; the long cigarette holder an affectation acquired from films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My out-of-control hat addiction came, I think, partly from my mother but also from Diane Keaton in Annie Hall who is also responsible, along with Katharine Hepburn, for a marked preference for Oxford bags, braces and mannish tailoring. Biba’s style has stayed with me, and particularly the later Derry Toms years in all its fish-tail hemmed, satin striped, velvet clad, sooty eyed, bee-stung decadence. I collect petticoats, umbrellas, bags and waistcoats. The old linen and lace truffled out in markets often becomes part of my wardrobe, reminding me of my nan. This season’s socks-and-sandals look? Pah, I was doing that 40 years ago with candy-striped lurex socks in bottle-green lizard-skin stilettos. Would I do it now? Depending on how I’m feeling, yes, I would. Because if the clothes are right, I can conquer the world …

Biba  fashion
‘Biba’s style has stayed with me.’ Photograph: Duffy/Getty Images

Having something to wear that you know gives you confidence is very important – it can be a kind of lucky charm. A man who has to wear black for work told me that when he needs a boost he puts on bright orange underpants. It’s a good point, because the underpinnings must be right for however you’re feeling in order for you to be comfortable – and if you’re not comfortable, you’re not confident. My recent weight loss means I can once again wear my “lady bras”: the pretty ones that didn’t fit for a couple of years. The confidence bestowed by spectacular underwear can never be underestimated. I love red for the same reason – red shoes, red lipstick or red nail polish – red is a colour that shouts “confidence” to other people, but the message is much more potent to the wearer. What’s more, now that I’ve thought about it, I’ve started to notice that women in the public eye do indeed practise this – Helen Mirren will often deploy a lacy something beneath a buttoned tailored jacket, Emily Maitlis makes a feature of earrings while Kirsty Wark successfully pushes colour and pattern boundaries not often seen on television. Nigella, though so often in black, also wears a lot of vintage-inspired, brightly coloured dresses. For Fiona Bruce it’s sharp tailoring and a favourite necklace. For Jenny Eclair, statement specs. For Jo Brand, a scarf tied around her hair. Nobody is slavishly copying anyone, but we are, all of us, somehow finding the things that please us. Long may we continue to do so.

Follow The Invisible Woman on Twitter @TheVintageYear

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