Archive for September, 2009

Tommy Tiernan – A Storm in an Espresso Coffee Cup ?

2009-09-29:  I don’t have any time for anti-Semitism … but is the current controversy – weeks after the actual event (!) – about Mr. Tommy Tiernan’s remarks during a public Hot Press interview at the Electric Picnic, with Mr. Olaf Tyaransen, just a storm in an Espresso Coffee Cup ?

For a moment … let us taste a different grim, brutal reality …

” At 11.30am on 27 December 2008,  without warning, Israeli forces began a devastating bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip codenamed Operation ‘Cast Lead’.  Its stated aim was to end rocket attacks into Israel by armed groups affiliated with Hamas and other Palestinian factions.  By 18 January 2009, when unilateral ceasefires were announced by both Israel and Hamas, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins.

Much of the destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attacks on civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks that failed to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilian objects.  Such attacks violated fundamental provisions of international humanitarian law, notably the prohibition on direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects (the principle of distinction), the prohibition on indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, and the prohibition on collective punishment.

Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons – air-delivered bombs and missiles, and tank shells.  Others, including women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers.  Aerial bombardments launched from Israeli F-16 combat aircraft targeted and destroyed civilian homes without warning, killing and injuring scores of their inhabitants, often while they slept.  Children playing on the roofs of their homes or in the street and other civilians going about their daily business, as well as medical staff attending the wounded were killed in broad daylight by Hellfire and other highly accurate missiles launched from helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, and by precision projectiles fired from tanks.

Disturbing questions remain unanswered as to why such high-precision weapons, whose operators can see even small details of their targets and which can accurately strike even fast moving vehicles, killed so many children and other civilians.”

          … Those were the first paragraphs from the Introduction to an Amnesty International Report … “Israel/Gaza: Operation ‘Cast Lead’ – 22 Days of Death and Destruction’ “, published just a little earlier this year (2009), back in July.

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The Full Recommendations of the Report read as follows …

Given the evidence of serious and extensive violations of international law by all parties to the conflict during Operation ‘Cast Lead’, and the lack of any meaningful measures towards accountability by either Israeli or Palestinian authorities, there is still a need for a full, independent and impartial investigation and for appropriate measures to bring perpetrators to justice and provide reparation to the victims.

Amnesty International calls on the international community to take the following actions:

  • It should provide full support to the international independent fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, which has taken on as its mandate to investigate violations of international law by all parties and is due to report in the coming months.  The report of the mission’s findings should include recommendations aimed at ending and preventing further violations and at ensuring justice, truth and full reparations for the victims, including restitution, rehabilitation, compensation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

In order to allow the mission to perform its tasks effectively, it must be provided with sufficient resources to accomplish all its tasks effectively and promptly; obtain access to all relevant documents, other evidence and persons; and be in a position to protect from reprisals all persons who provide information.

  • It should impose immediately a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons or munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law.
  • It should act immediately at the level of individual states to suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions, as well as those which may be diverted, to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  The suspension should include all indirect exports via other countries, the transfer of military components and technologies and any brokering, financial or logistical activities that would facilitate such transfers.
  •  Also at the level of individual states, it should start criminal investigations in national courts, exercising universal jurisdiction, wherever there is sufficient evidence of war crimes or other crimes under international law, and seek to arrest alleged perpetrators and bring them to justice in proceedings that fully respect international fair trial standards.

Amnesty International calls on the Israeli authorities to:

  • Ensure national, impartial and thorough investigations, in accordance with international standards, of the evidence indicating that its forces committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict, including war crimes, and wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute any alleged perpetrator in proceedings that fully respect international fair trial standards ;
  • revise its interpretation of the rules and principles relating to the concepts of military objective, military advantage and proportionality, to ensure that these concepts are fully consistent with international humanitarian law ;
  • ensure that the Israeli military comply fully with the duty to take precautionary measures when carrying out attacks, as well as in defence, and do not carry out attacks as a form of collective punishment ;
  • publicly commit not to use artillery and white phosphorus weapons in densely populated areas ;
  • provide full reparations for the consequences of its unlawful acts and omissions ;
  • immediately end the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is collectively punishing the entire population of Gaza, in breach of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law ;
  • co-operate fully with the international independent fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council, led by Richard Goldstone; and with other international investigations into violations of international law by all the parties to the conflict ;
  • ratify Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions without reservations and make a declaration under Article 90 accepting the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission ;
  • ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC, without making a declaration under Article 124 – which would exclude for seven years the jurisdiction of the Court over war crimes – and making a declaration pursuant to Article 12(3) that its jurisdiction encompasses the Operation ‘Cast Lead’.

Amnesty International calls on the Hamas de facto administration to:

  • publicly renounce its policy of unlawful rocket attacks against civilian population centres in Israel ;
  • ensure that no armed group operating in the areas under its de facto control carries out rocket attacks against Israeli civilians or commits other violations of international humanitarian law ;
  • ensure that Hamas’ fighters comply fully with the need to take precautionary measures in attacks and in defence, including the need to distinguish themselves from non-combatants to the maximum extent feasible ;
  • undertake to hold accountable those responsible for the rocket attacks, according to internationally recognized fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty ;
  • co-operate fully with the international independent fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council, led by Richard Goldstone; and with other international investigations into violations of international law by all the parties to the conflict.

What are the views of Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D. … and the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland … concerning the use by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), authorized by the Elected Government of Israel (a polity scarred by the Holocaust) … of measures and methods equivalent to those used by the German army and authorized by the Nazi Regime of Germany, in Europe, during the 1930’s & 1940’s ?

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The current controversies about Iran’s Nuclear & Missile Programmes …

Israel, alone in the Middle-East, has possessed for many years aggressive nuclear capabilities which are undeclared and not subject to international controls.  These extensive capabilities have constituted a permanent threat to peace and security in the region … and an arms race was inevitable.

Israel has ignored countless Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council … as well as the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  It refuses to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons … and it stubbornly refuses to place all of its nuclear installations under IAEA safeguards.  Why is that ?

And when will Israel understand that its geographical location is outside Europe … in the Middle-East ?   Is it not time that it behaved in a neighbourly manner … with its own close neighbours ?

We demand an Independent Palestine NOW !

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No Budgetary Control at FÁS – What About Technical Controls ?

2009-09-12:  Headlines in Ireland’s News Media, very recently, have concerned a lack of proper budgetary control … make that ‘any’ budgetary control … in FÁS (Foras Áiseanna Saothair) – the Irish Training & Employment Authority.

FÁS operates under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and has functions in relation to the training of people with disabilities and the unemployed, the up-skilling of the employed and the administration of apprenticeships.

Special Report No.66 (dated 12th June 2009), from the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General in Ireland, examined:

  • advertising and promotional expenditure by FÁS in the period 2002-2008 ;
  • budgetary control over FÁS’s advertising and promotional expenditure ;
  • general strategy under which advertising and promotional expenditure was spent in FÁS ;
  • the extent to which the effectiveness of this expenditure was evaluated ;
  • procurement of advertising and related services in FÁS.

Overall Examination Findings

Advertising, which accounted for almost half of the overall promotion expenditure by FÁS, is the largest in the non-commercial State sector.  The examination found that

  • Advertising and promotional activities lacked strategic direction insofar as a marketing and communications strategy had not been developed by FÁS despite longstanding commitments to do so.
  • There was a substantial and prolonged breakdown in budgetary control in the area of promotional expenditure in the period under review with expenditure exceeding budgets by 38%.  This lack of control was particularly evident in the area of general advertising where expenditure exceeded budgets by 66% over the seven-year period.
  • Much of the advertising was ineffective in increasing an awareness of the services provided by FÁS.
  • There was nugatory expenditure of €622,000 as a result of a series of transactions for which there was no evidence of goods or services having been provided.
  • There was also considerable non-effective expenditure including over €600,000 spent on producing TV advertisements that were not broadcast and payment of €9,200 for a car that was not delivered.
  • The rates FÁS paid for advertising were reasonably in line with industry norms.

Internal financial control was insufficient to ensure that all commitments were recorded and captured, and that procurement was conducted in accordance with public service norms and within expenditure authorisation limits.  In particular, the examination found that 

  • Commitment controls did not function when agents were used to effect transactions.  Procurement of certain goods and services by Corporate Affairs through contracted agencies meant that the Finance section only became aware of certain commitments when invoices were presented for payment.
  • FÁS was exposed to probity risks through a failure to meet public sector procurement requirements.  Exposures arose from the purchase from contracted agencies of goods and services that were not contemplated within the scope of their contracts and the potential consequences of FÁS playing a role in the selection of third parties by the agencies to provide services.
  • Expenditure authorisation limits were circumvented through the splitting of payment claims into a series of invoices.
  • There was a lack of clear accounting trails in regard to proceeds from the sale of exhibition space.

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Why has it taken so long for this Report to enter the public domain ?

And … if there was no proper/any budgetary control in FÁS … is it reasonable to surmise that there were no proper/any technical controls either ?

  • In reality … how well trained were apprentices ?   When the construction industry started to go ‘wallop’ in Ireland, and our economy then nose dived into the ground, what happened to those apprentices … and where are they now ?
  • How well trained were people with disabilities ?   Did they get a fair deal ?   What was the quality of their employment, after the FÁS training ?   Are they still employed ?
  • How good/effective were FÁS’s training courses dealing with, e.g. ‘safety on construction sites’, or ‘radon protection of buildings’, etc ?   Was it a case of jobs for the ‘boys’ ?

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Concrete Testing Fraud in New York – 1 World Trade Center

2009-09-09

Background & Verification

Early 2008 … a New York Inquiry into the Concrete Testing Industry begins.  At issue is the Structural Reliability of Current Major Public Works Projects in the City, including many Tall Buildings.

Current Internet Search: ‘New York Concrete Testing Inquiry’ … to discover the full measure of fraud and corruption.

I wonder how the U.S. Model Building & Fire Code Organizations … including the U.S. International Code Council … are responding to this growing scandal in New York.   Are they responding at all ?   AND … do they discuss this sort of issue openly, as they heavily ‘promote’ the adoption of U.S. Codes in Developing Countries around the world ?

What is the position of the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH) ???

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2009-09-08 … by Niki May Young, News Editor, World Architecture News(.com) …

Robert LiMandri, New York’s Buildings Commissioner, has announced that concrete tests are to be carried out on 82 New York buildings following safety concerns arising from the indictment of Testwell Laboratories in January and a further firm in July.  Testwell were accused of falsifying concrete mix design reports for the high profile Freedom Tower Project (now 1 World Trade Center), Yankees Stadium, Jet Blue Terminal and a number of other projects and had their license suspended.  Stallone Testing Laboratories were also indicted for falsifying concrete mix design reports in July.

The indictment of Testwell led to a lack of confidence in the safety of over 100 buildings in New York.  Following investigations, 82 buildings are to be re-examined.  The investigations come as part of an announcement by LiMandri of a new comprehensive program to increase the oversight and evaluation of concrete testing at construction projects throughout the City, including projects funded by the City and private developers.  The program includes plans to build a city-owned and operated concrete-testing laboratory and the creation of a new Concrete Unit at the Department Of Buildings (DOB).

The new City laboratory, which will be operated by the Department of Design & Construction (DDC) and is expected to open as early as January, will offer testing services to all City agencies responsible for construction projects.  New York City has 35 private concrete-testing firms currently licensed to do business in the City and the new facility will also make it possible to audit these firms.

“Concrete testing is a critical component of concrete operations, and the results should affirm the strength and quality of materials used for a building under construction,” said LiMandri.  “However, the integrity of concrete-testing practices has come into serious question, and this new laboratory, as well as a new Concrete Unit and re-testing protocol, are three significant measures to ensure concrete testing procedures are lawful and the concrete used meets a project’s specific design requirements.”

DOB denied Testwell’s application to renew its concrete-testing license but a State Supreme Court Judge rejected DOB’s denial of the license renewal.  DOB is now appealing that decision.  Last Friday, DOB revoked Stallone’s concrete-testing license, prohibiting them from testing concrete in the City.  The Department Of Buildings is currently working with property owners named in the Stallone indictment to determine whether a project’s final test results meet the structural design requirements.  If they do not, the affected property owners will also be required to follow the re-testing protocol.

“New Yorkers must be confident the City’s buildings have been built to exacting standards and that the concrete, not usually visible, was mixed to proper construction specifications,” added Design and Construction Commissioner Burney.

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‘Sustainable Fire Engineering’ – Important Indian Presentation !

2009-09-08:  It is really enjoyable to be back behind my desk, here in Dublin.  Apologies for the prolonged absence.

Since the middle of June last, my travels have taken me to Turkey, France, Italy, the south-west of Ireland to attend my cousin’s wedding in Cork … and back again to Bengaluru (Bangalore) in Southern India to make an important Keynote Presentation at the 2009 Fire & Safety Association of India (FSAI) National Fire Seminar: ‘Engineering a Safe & Secure India’, which was held on Friday, 28th August, at the Leela Palace Hotel.

My Presentation Title & Abstract

Sustainable Fire Engineering: Fire Safety, Protection & Evacuation for All

India, like other economically advanced developing countries, is at an important crossroads.  Difficult, resource-dependent decisions must be made in the next few short years concerning the rapid implementation of a Sustainable Built Environment across a vast country, i.e. one which must serve local needs and meet regional performance requirements during a long life cycle … one which will be adaptable to climate change, variability and extremes … will be in harmony and dynamic balance with the Natural Environment … and, not least, will be super energy-efficient.

Citizens of Developed Nations also have legitimate expectations.  They will express anger when they witness recently constructed buildings in seismic zones collapse, in an earthquake, like a deck of cards (China 2008, Italy 2009) … or they discover that federal/state authorities having jurisdiction, which are funded by their taxes, are ill-prepared to respond effectively to intentional traumatic disruptions to the Social Environment (New York 2001, Mumbai 2008).  Retaining the public’s confidence in national institutions is a fundamental political priority.

In the case of all new High-Rise Buildings, Iconic Buildings, and Buildings of Innovative Design or having a Critical Function … Trans-Disciplinary Building Design Teams must, at a minimum, properly respond to the Recommendations of the 2005 & 2008 NIST(USA) Final Reports on the 9-11 WTC 1, 2, and 7 Collapses.  In practice, the majority of these Recommendations should be applied to the design of all new buildings !

Fire Engineers, competent concerning the processes of ‘real’ building design and construction, must begin to understand the ‘real’ people who occupy or use buildings, every day of every week, in all parts of India … and that they each have widely differing ranges of human abilities and activity limitations.  Just as they are different from each other, they will react differently than expected in a ‘real’ building fire emergency.

Based on a Keynote Presentation before International Council for Building Research (CIB) Working Commission 14 : Fire and Sub-Committee 3 & 4 Members of ISO Technical Committee 92 : Fire Safety, at Lund University in Sweden … and his fire safety texts which have been fully incorporated into International Standard ISO DIS 21542 on Accessibility-for-All, currently under development and due for publication before the end of 2010 … CJ Walsh’s Presentation, at the FSAI National Fire Seminar in Bengaluru, will focus on ‘Fire Safety, Protection & Evacuation for All’.

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