31 December 2007
Earlier this month Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness met Edward Kennedy during a US visit. Previously Paisley would have vilified Kennedy, for his allegiance with Irish Catholics but now he thanked him for his support of successful peace talks. Kennedy on his part called Paisley and McGuinness "almost idealist" in seeking to move their country forward.
I know the Poor Mouth would have to bulk up even to make flyweight in the political blogosphere but if I had to choose one political item that has made me a little less world-weary (as opposed to the thousands of things that have sent my weltschmerz levels thought the roof) it must be the Paisley/McGuinness collaboration.
Let’s face it. who really would have thought this time last year that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would be in the same room as each other, let alone be visiting the USA as the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland? I can imagine that there are a lot of people as pleasantly surprised as I am at this turn of events. Who would have thought that Paisley and McGuinness would be praising the Irish cricket team’s success at the World Cup (or that McGuinness liked cricket – I can imagine that admission had some GAA diehards spluttering into their stout!) Who would have thought that they would have been dubbed the Chuckle Brothers (not the real Chuckle Brothers, mind you)
Seriously, the two have put serious differences aside and have worked damned hard in their new roles. The smiles may seem a bit contrived at times but they do seem to have developed a good working relationship. I am sure there will be plenty of scope for disagreement and argument as time goes by but right now they represent stability and that can only be good for Northern Ireland in terms of continued peace and of course prosperity – Northern Ireland must appear a far more attractive place for investment than it has for a very long time.
Although nothing is ever absolutely certain, I do hope that 2007 is a watershed year for Northern Ireland
These are the known surviving veterans:
Henry Allingham (British) - at 111 the oldest living WWI veteran
Harry Patch (British) - the last surviving British soldier to fight in the trenches on the Western Front
Bill Stone (British)
Claude Choules (British)
Syd Lucas (British)
Glady Power (British)
Lazarre Ponticelli (Italian)
Delfino Borroni (Italian)
Francesco Chiarello (Italian)
Frank Buckles (USA)
Harry Landis (USA)
Raymond Cambefort (French)
Louis de Cazenave (French) - the last surviving French veteran of the Western Front
Franz Kunstler (Hungarian - ethnic German) Last surviving veteran of the Austro-Hungarian army
Erich Kastner (German) - Last known German veteran
John Babcock (Canadian) - Last known Canadian veteran
Yakup Satar (Turkish) - Last known veteran of the Ottoman Army
Stanislaw Wycech (Polish) - Served in the Polish Military Organisation. Last known Polish veteran
John Campbell (Australian) - Last surviving Australian veteran
In a few years there will be none left. France and Canda will hold state funerals for the last veterans. In Britain there will be a national memorial service in Westminster Abbey.
30 December 2007
1. Good health for my parents. My father turns 82 next week, my mother turns 80 in the summer. They are in reasonable shape for their age but both need to undergo procedures in the coming months. I hope that these procedures ensure they continue to have a good quality of life.
2. Better health for me in the coming year. That means, inter alia: no cracked ribs, no lingering chest or eye infections, no sebaceous cyst problems and no thinking I’ve put my foot on a stair only to find it’s a cat..... with the back pain that causes.
3. The favourable resolution of some work related issues
4. West Ham to be in the 3rd round draw in next season’s UEFA cup
5. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness continue their close working relationship. Their close collaboration has been one of the most pleasant political surprises for me this year.
6. Peace in Darfur, the Congo, peaceful regime change in Burma and Zimbabwe. Far too many people in the world deserve better prospects. The people of these nations certainly do.
7. Labour to find its way again.
8. A marked increase in the amount of drivel spouted here....
Who to pass this on to?
29 December 2007
We don’t have any children of either gender and we don’t have any young nieces so on the whole Hello Kitty is something that has given the not-wife and myself a very wide berth. We are aware that Hello Kitty is nauseatingly twee and is aimed at young girls and teens.
However, times must be hard for Sanrio, the company that makes Hello Kitty as they are about to launch a range of T-shirts, bags, watches and other products targeting young men. "Young men these days grew up with character goods," said a spokesman. "That generation feels no embarrassment about wearing Hello Kitty." (I am sure this can be translated as we’re on the skids so we hope to hell boys and idiot students will by our tat too)
The new line goes on sale in Japan next month, and will be sold soon in the US and other Asian nations. If this was not enough Sanrio also recently launched a slightly raunchy range where Hello Kitty displays her knickers (that’s really going to rope in the FHM and Nuts readers.....A bare breasted version that looks like, say, Abi Titmuss might just get those wallets opening.... but I digress).
There are some things on this planet that say “young girl” Perhaps I’m out of touch with trends but there’s no way I could see any pre-teen or teenage boy wanting to get their hands on Hello Kitty.. on the other hand there was a young woman I knew called Kitty....
Meanwhile, in Bangkok, Hello Kitty armbands have been used to punish police officers for minor transgressions. The armband is large, bright pink and has a Hello Kitty motif with two hearts embroidered on it. "This is to help build discipline. We should not let small offences go unnoticed," said Police Colonel Pongpat Chayapan "Guilty officers will be made to wear the armbands in the office for a few days, with instructions not to disclose their offences. Let people guess what they have done."
The Catholic Church has vowed to "fight the Devil head-on" by training hundreds of priests as exorcists. Father Gabriele Amorth (82), the Vatican's Exorcist-in-Chief, has announced the initiative amid the Church's concerns about growing worldwide interest in Satanism and the occult.
Under new plans each bishop would have a group of priests in his diocese who were specially trained in exorcism and on hand to take action against "extreme Godlessness" Fr Amorth said: "Thanks be to God that we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on. Now bishops are to be obliged to have a number of established exorcists for their diocese. Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a proper, trained exorcist. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI believes in the existence and danger of evil." (Or should this be read “Whoopee! my job’s safe for another few years”)
Fr Amorth added that Pope Benedict XVI wanted to reinstate use of the prayer to St Michael the Archangel, believed to be the prime protector against evil: "The prayer is useful not only for priests but for lay people. For example if a lay person knows someone who is possessed and there is no exorcist available they can intervene by saying this prayer, commanding the demon to leave that person." (A DIY exorcism tool?)The prayer to St Michael the Archangel was sidelined in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII during the Second Vatican Council.
Fr Paolo Scarafoni, another exorcism expert who lectures at the Vatican, said interest in Satanism and the occult had grown as people lost their faith in the Church. He added: "People suffer and think that the Devil can help solve their problems."
The Vatican is concerned that young people are being exposed to Satanism through the media (It’s true! the real name of the BBC is Beelzebeeb) , rock music (I knew Westlife were affiliated with the dark side) and the Internet (quite right – just look at this site ).
The annual release of state papers can turn up some fascinating pieces of information. Today’s Irish Independent reports that Lord Mountbatten wished for a united Ireland. In 1972 he is said to have told Donal O'Sullivan, the then Irish Ambassador to London, in 1972 that he would he would be happy to help with efforts to secure a lasting peace.
Mountbatten was hopeful that political developments under the Heath government would lead to reunification. According to O’Sullivan "Lord Mountbatten said he wished me to know that he and many of his friends have been deeply impressed by the positive Dublin reaction to the Heath initiative...They hope that this can be developed into a 'major advance towards the final solution'. Reunification is the only eventual solution. If there is anything he can do to help he will be most happy to co-operate."
In addition O’ Sullivan claimed that Terence ‘Neill, the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, also believed a united Ireland was inevitable. He paraphrased Lord O'Neill words: "What we in the South must realise is that there are no Wolfe Tones among the Northern Protestants and we should, therefore, do everything we can to discourage any idea that there is a speedy path towards reunification. It will come but in its own time."
Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in 1979.
28 December 2007
As is well known by now, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated yesterday when leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi. A gunman shot her in the neck and set off a bomb killing about 20 other people. Ms Bhutto, who had previously served had served as prime minister from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, had been campaigning as leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ahead of elections on 8 January.
Her death was murder was a senseless act and will almost certainly be huge setback for stability in Pakistan. With Bhutto’s death can next month’s elections go ahead? Even if they do will they achieve anything now? Even though Al Qaeda has claimed that it was responsible for the attack, Musharraf will be the main target of anger – Bhutto’s murder took place in a secure garrison. If she was to be safe campaigning anywhere she should have been safe in Rawalpindi. It is likely to spur on anti-Musharraf campaigners. Musharraf may counter by re-imposing a state of emergency but this is likely to fan the flames of opposition. His goose looks like it is well and truly cooked whatever happens
The PPP is likely to be a major loser. Benazir Bhutto had large grass root support. Without her the PPP must surely be thrown into severe disarray, splitting into factions and thus becoming a far less potent political force.
Sadly it looks as if the only winners from this will be the Islamic extremists.
27 December 2007
According to figures from the Internet Media Retail Group, sales by companies that operate online were on course to finish December at £7.4 billion, up 106 per cent on the same month in 2006. Sales through web stores, including high street retailers’ websites, over the past three months are expected to have topped £17.5 billion – a jump of more than 80 per cent from last year.
I wonder whether there is scope to harness the desire to shop for bargains with religious worship. On future Christmas days we will see midnight mass at St Amazonius the patron saint of long tails; Jesus may appear on the road to Ebayus. It would be no difficulty for Marks and Spencer to convert itself into St Michael’s. I’ll stop at this point I need not dwell on American imports such as the Burger King of Kings.... Gah, this is poor stuff even by my own low standards!
Leigh Bowery was an Australian clothes designer, perfromance artist, club romoter. He also modelled for several Lucien Freud paintings. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1994 when he was 33 years old. The above clips is from a BBC1 programme, the Clothes Show.
Leigh Bowery interviewed by the woefully untalented Bananarama (How the hell did they ever become successful?).
I don't have much to say at the moment. I just felt like posting something weird.
23 December 2007
"Christmas week has come and gone. It has been a week of watching and waiting, of deliberate resignation and confidence. The days were filled with the noise of battle and there were many wounded to be attended to. I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna and how much it means to me."
"The picture looks like this: the mother's head and the child's lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize 'security' and 'mother love.' I remembered the words of St John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent. When we opened the 'Christmas Door', as we used to do on other Christmases (only now it was the wooden door of our dug-out), my comrades stood spellbound and reverent, silent before the picture that hung on the clay wall. A lamp was burning on a board stuck into the clay beneath the picture. Our celebrations in the shelter were dominated by this picture, and it was with full hearts that my comrades read the words: light, life and love."
This is an extract of a letter by Kurt Rauber, a pastor and a medical officer with the Sixth Army in Stalingrad. It was his last letter from the city before his capture. He died in Soviet POW camp in 1944. The Madonna survived and is now on display in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin. There are also copies in Coventry cathedral and a Russian Orthodox church in Volgograd.
A small gesture can remind people of their humanity, even in the jaws of Hell. On this note I will take a short break for Christmas. I would like to thank my small but happy band of regular readers a happy Christmas. I promise that there will be lots more drivel in 2008.
The letter extract is from the Feldgrau website
22 December 2007
Wrote Wasteland of the Free one of the angriest songs I've ever heard. This version is her and piano. It is still a powerful song (btw it was written in 1996, so it is not a protest against Dubya).
On a much lighter note here's another outing for In Spite of Ourselves, a wonderful duet with John Prine
The Times has a report of a potentially devastating asteroid collision next month. However, it’s not the Earth in danger, it’s Mars and the probability of collision is less than 1.5%.
The newly discovered space rock known as 2007 WD5 has a one in 75 chance of colliding with Mars on January 30. While the probability of an impact is slim, the odds have been cut from one in 350 when the object was first identified, and they are much shorter than is usual for new asteroids. If 2007 WD5, which is about 100 metres in diameter, does strike Mars on January 30, it would cause an explosion equivalent to several megatonnes of TNT.
“These odds are extremely unusual,” said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. We frequently work with really long odds when we track threatening asteroids. We know that it's going to fly by Mars and most likely going to miss, but there's a possibility of an impact.”
If the asteroid does hit, it would give astronomers a rare opportunity to study the effects of such a strike. The object is broadly similar in size to the one that hit Tunguska in Siberia in 1908, which felled an estimated 80 million trees over 810 square miles. Had the Tunguska rock hit a city, it would have wiped it out.
The likely impact would be on the threshold of visibility from the largest of Earth's observatories, but its effects would readily be seen by probes orbiting the Red Planet such as the European Space Agency's Mars Express. The asteroid would probably hit a spot near the Martian equator, close to the point where Nasa's Opportunity rover has been exploring since 2004.
Not much of a story, perhaps, but it would be very useful to see the effects of a large strike without running the risk of major destruction on Earth...
21 December 2007
I won't tag anyone but if you want to take part, follow these rules:
This is a first annual 2007 Christmas Tree Blog Parade meme created and conceptualized by OTWOMD of Bluepanjeet.Net The purpose of this meme is to enliven the Christmas spirit by showing to the world our very own Christmas trees. They say that it is on the Christmas tree that best describes how a person celebrates Christmas. So here are the rules:
1. Copy the Logo of this meme (Download it on the sidebar and resize it that will best fit your blog or according to your desire) and post it on your entry.
2. Take a photo of your Christmas tree inside your house. A whole shot is the most appropriate photo. And post it on your entry
3. Tell something about your Christmas tree like who decorated it, what are the ornaments and accessories, or what is the theme and meaning of your Christmas tree this year.
4. You can put any title on your meme but don’t forget to include this “2007 1st Christmas Tree Blog Parade”.
5. Do the link train history. Put the link of your previous bloggers who tagged you and your own link, Example: Tag History: Bluepanjeet - “you” -
The link train will provide clue on “who tagged who” and at the same time a reference of data for the creator of this meme.
On The feast of Three Kings on January (The official ending of the Christmas Season), Bluepanjeet.Net will launch a mini site that will feature all of the participant’s Christmas trees for 2007 with a link back to their site. That is why it is very vital that you maintain the link history so that your Christmas tree will be included in the Christmas tree blog parade of 2007 and will be a part of history.
So tag now, you only have one month to spread this meme.
I was also presented another award by Siani. Thanks Siani! I'm glad you like the Poor Mouth
20 December 2007
At 5pm the Queen became the oldest ever British monarch, overtaking Queen Victoria who lived to be for years, seven months and 29 days.
The Queen has reigned for 55 years, making her the fifth longest reigning monarch in Great Britain. Her reign is surpassed by Henry III (56 years), James VI of Scotland and I of England (almost 58 years), George III (59 years) and of course Victoria (63 years). Given the longevity of her mother there is a good chance that she will beat Victoria’s record. If she lives to 98 years she will become Europe’s longest serving monarch, beating Louis XIV 72 year reign. She is very unlikely to beat Pharaoh Pepi II who clocked up (a disputed) 94 years on the Egyptian throne
The shows will feature Marc Abrahams, If Nobel Prize organiser and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research. There will be the performance of a mini-opera, and also The How-to-Give-a-Bad-Science-Lecture Contest. Speakers include Kees Moeliker, who won the 2003 Ig Nobel Biology Prize for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck, and Chris McManus who wrote the study “Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture,” for which he received the 2002 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize.
Tickets will be free but limited to two per applicant. How could anyone with an interest in science pass up on this opportunity?
19 December 2007
Silver Machine sung by Arthur Brown who guested with the Hawks for a couple of years
Spirit of the Age featuring talk show host Matthew Wright on vocals
Arrival in Utopia (Harvey Bainbridge's monologue goes on a bit). Kris Tait tones down the fire eating in the tv studio.
Angels of Death
18 December 2007
17 December 2007
The culture and Islamic guidance ministry has given De Burgh permission to stage a concert in Tehran next year. He is expected to play in a 12,000-seater venue with an Iranian band, Arian, with whom he has recorded a song, A Melody For Peace. Approval for the concert comes amid growing intolerance of western culture under president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. CDs by internationally popular acts have become harder to obtain while the government has pressed state broadcasters to favour Iranian over western music, some of which has been denounced as satanist. However, De Burgh's anodyne persona has persuaded the authorities to draw a distinction between him and more exotic performers (like James Blunt?). They may also have been persuaded by his description in 2002 of Iran as "one of those countries I would love to visit, not only for historical reasons but also for the fact that I believe that music is an international language and deserves to be heard all over the world".
Pop concerts are rare in Iran and have to be approved by the culture and Islamic guidance ministry, which scrutinises lyrics and musical style for "un-Islamic" influences. Many artists only perform instrumental pieces to avoid giving offence. Some bands also play illicit gigs in "underground" venues, such as car parks, an offence that can result in imprisonment.
I can only imagine that the Argentine born, Irish resident is part of an American plan to punish Iran over its nuclear programme. Realising that a military offensive is unfeasible, the US is resorting to a less lethal but method of Iran’s leaders toe the line. De Burgh is merely a warning shot - failure on the part of the Iranians to comply with American demands will result in a Michael Bolton/Barry Manilow salvo (If Germany joins a new coalition of the willing then Guildo Horn may be sent too). Further non compliance on Iran’s part may cause the ultimate weapon to be unleashed – Celine Dion Oh the horror!.
My thanks go The Norfolk Blogger where I saw the story first
16 December 2007
Shame I can't get the animation to work.
This year’s crop is as good as ever and includes, bible hip flasks (full of the holy spirit I’m sure), Madonna and child print thongs and the Pope’s Cologne (made to a formula created for Pope Pius IX 150 years ago). My favourites have to be these though:
Christ on a bike is now no longer a figure of speech but a delightful figurine that will take pride of pace on any sideboard. The company that produces this (they are devout Christians and mean no disrespect at all) also have Jesus surfing, skateboarding and even doing a wonderful scissor kick.
The best of all though is this:
I'm surprised that nobody has ever thought of a St Sebastian pin cushion before. There you have it. If you are fast you may just add a bit of extra magic to your Christmasfestivities!
According to the Sunday Times, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is facing legal action over plans to cut the pensions of Gurkhas by discharging them three years before they are due to leave the army. The move means that the MoD will avoid having to pay an ordinary Gurkha soldier more than £200,000.
The policy was introduced by civil servants after they were forced to increase the Gurkhas’ pay and pensions to bring them into line with the rest of the army. An official briefing document on the new pension scheme shows that 80%-85% of Gurkhas will be discharged early, so missing the better payments. The soldiers will lose out not only on the immediate pension they would get after 18 years’ service but also on a lump sum departure payment of the equivalent of three years’ pension. The full pension will be worth around £6,500 a year for a rifleman, the basic Gurkha rank – plus the one-off departure payment. In the past, most Gurkhas served only for 15 years, after which they received an immediate pension that was much smaller and worth only about £1,200 a year for a rifleman. But Gurkhas on the new scheme will now get nothing until they are 65, if the MoD decides they are among the 80%-85% who are to be thrown out at 15 years. For most Gurkhas who join the army at 18, that will deprive them of a total of 32 years’ pension money, £208,000 for a basic rifleman, and far more for an NCO.
The briefing document says the army will recruit far too many Gurkhas if they are allowed to serve to the 18-year point, so most will be discharged after 15 years with no immediate pension and no departure payment. The ready availability of recruits for the Gurkhas among young Nepalese men has led the MoD to decide to discharge older soldiers early rather than cut the number of recruits. A “manning control scheme” was used from the late 1990s until 2002, in an attempt to cut the MoD’s pension liability by preventing some soldiers serving to the point at which they received an immediate pension. But its deliberate intent to cut pension payments was exposed in 2002 after a series of cases in which highly experienced soldiers with extremely good reports were thrown out at a time when the army was desperately short of such men. Ministers ordered civil servants to stop using the scheme to discharge good soldiers and it has not been used since. It has been revived specifically to control the numbers of Gurkha soldiers. Doug Young, the BAFF chairman, said it was staggering that “the MoD should consider reintroducing their discredited manning control policy for anyone, let alone for Gurkha soldiers only. This raises several important legal issues, not only racial discrimination, serious as that would be”.
If this story is true it is an utter disgrace. There was a huge fight to give the Gurkhas the same pay and pension rights as other soldiers and now that good work is being subverted. How can a department that has wasted (and will certainly continue to waste) enormous sums on half baked programmes (remember the Nimrod Awacs development?) pinch pennies in such a way? It also beggars belief that the MOD would wish to discharge good and experienced soldiers at a time when the armed services are facing serious recruitment problems. Would it not make sense to retain these soldiers? I would have thought so. If recruitment problems persist would it not be a good idea to expand the Gurkha contingent? After all, there are plenty of young Nepalese men and women who would willingly serve in our army.
15 December 2007
According to today’s Independent The British National Party is gripped by civil war amid bitter personality clashes and claims of dirty tricks by rival factions (my heart bleeds). The leader, Nick Griffin, is facing vehement criticism of his stewardship.
Tensions within party ranks came to a head when two key organisers were accused of plotting a coup against Mr Griffin and sacked for "gross misconduct". But they have been backed by at least 50 activists and councillors, setting the scene for a struggle for control of the party.The rebels insist they are loyal to the BNP, but some observers suspect another extreme right-wing grouping could emerge to challenge the party.Activists' anger focuses on two of Mr Griffin's allies – Mark Collett, the party's director of publicity, and Dave Hannam, its regional organiser – and the BNP leader's support for them.
The criticism has been led by Sadie Graham, the head of group development, and Kenny Smith, head of administration. The pair were removed from their posts following an investigation by the BNP's "intelligence team" which was alleged to have tricked its way into Ms Graham's home and taken away computers. She and Mr Smith were dismissed for setting up an "anti-BNP smear blog" and for plotting a "spectacularly ill-timed and amateurish alleged coup attempt". Simon Darby, the BNP spokesman, said last night: "They have been caught out getting involved in some very unsavoury business. You have to have discipline in a political party or you have chaos."
The exiles have retaliated by calling for a grassroots revolution to take control of the party. They say that, despite record numbers of councillors, BNP morale has hit an all-time low. They are calling on sympathisers to stay in the BNP, but to resign from party positions and not to renew their membership for the moment. Councillors are urged to quit the party whip and describe themselves as "independent Nationalists". The rebel faction says: "This fight is for our country and our people as much as it is for the party we love."
Mr Darby insisted that 90 per cent of BNP members were not interested in the in-fighting and that the storm would "blow over". Nick Lowles, spokesman for Searchlight, said: "This is a very serious split and one I cannot see being reconciled. One side or another is going to leave the party.
Oh how my heart bleeds for the BNP! At this point it is essential that the factions air their grievances in public as loudly and as vehemently as possible. After all the public has a right to know... The sooner this rabble tears itself apart the better.
14 December 2007
The subject for this week's entry for Photo Hunt is small. Here is a Morning Glory from the height of (a rather wet) summer. It blooms in the morning and is usually dead by the afternoon. It may have a small life (well okay it should be short, strictly speaking) but it is large in terms of pleasure
13 December 2007
The Black Corridor; Aerospaceage Inferno; Space Love (a new song); The Awakening; Orgone Accumulator with You Know You're Only Dreaming in the middle section; Paradox; Robot; Abducted; Alien I Am; Master of the Universe; Time We Left; The Age of the Micro Man; Lighthouse - performed by Tim Blake; Arrival in Utopia; Death Trap; Damnation Alley; Sonic Attack (sung rather than recited); Welcome To The Future.The encores were Flying Doctor and Silver Machine
It sounds wonderful. I’ve never heard some of these songs performed live before. It’s also great to see Tim Blake back and playing with the band again. He was with the band the first time I ever saw the Hawks at the Electric Ballroom in Camden back in December 1979. I was also concerned that Alan Davey’s departure would leave hole that would be hard to fill. Mr Dibs, who used to be their roadie and who has guested with the band before sounds like he is filling the bassist role admirably.
Roll on the 19th!
Terry Pratchett, the author of the wonderful Discworld books, has announced that he is suffering from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's. In a statement posted on the website of discworld illustrator, Paul Kidby, Pratchett calling the diagnosis "an embuggerance". However he is taking the news "fairly philosophically" and "possibly with mild optimism". He expects to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments.
Earlier this year Pratchett underwent medical investigations after he started having problems with hand-eye coordination and dexterity. An MRI scan showed some areas of dead tissue and the suggestion was that he had suffered a "mini-stroke" some time in the past few years, and that he was now living with its legacy.
Although I am no fan of the fantasy genre I wish I had not resisted reading Pratchett for so long. The Discworld is a delightful creation filled with a host of wonderful characters (I have a soft spot for Gaspode the talking dog – it must be tough having licky end, a disease normally confined to pregnant sheep!). His books are the perfect antidote to a dull winter day – that and a nice glass of Christmas cheer....
12 December 2007
Scientists in the US have presented dramatic forecasts for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. Modelling studies presented at an American Geophysical Union meeting indicate that ithe northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers as early as 2013
Summer melting this year reduced the ice cover to 4.13 million sq km, the smallest ever extent in modern times. But this low point was not even incorporated into the model runs of Professor Maslowski and his team at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. The figures used data sets from 1979 to 2004. Other teams have variously produced dates for an open summer ocean anywhere between about 2040 to 2100. But Maslowski believes these models have seriously underestimated some key melting processes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN-led body which assesses the state of the Earth's climate system, uses an averaged group of models to forecast ice loss in the Arctic. But it is has become apparent in recent years that the real, observed rate of summer ice melting is now starting to run well ahead of the models. The minimum ice extent reached in September 2007 was much lower than the previous record for ice withdrawal set in 2005, of 5.32 million square km. This compares with an average minimum, based on data from 1979 to 2000, of 6.74 million square km.
Professor Peter Wadhams from Cambridge University, UK, is an expert on Arctic ice. He has used sonar data collected by Royal Navy submarines to show that the volume loss is outstripping even area withdrawal, which is in agreement with the model result of Professor Maslowski. "Some models have not been taking proper account of the physical processes that go on," he commented. "The ice is thinning faster than it is shrinking; and some modellers have been assuming the ice was a rather thick slab. Wieslaw's model is more efficient because it works with data and it takes account of processes that happen internally in the ice. The loss this year will precondition the ice for the same thing to happen again next year, only worse. There will be even more opening up, even more absorption and even more melting. "In the end, it will just melt away quite suddenly. It might not be as early as 2013 but it will be soon, much earlier than 2040."
The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) collects the observational data on the extent of Arctic sea ice, delivering regular status bulletins. Its research scientist Dr Mark Serreze was asked to give one of the main lectures here at this year's AGU Fall Meeting. Discussing the possibility for an open Arctic ocean in summer months, he told the meeting: "A few years ago even I was thinking 2050, 2070, out beyond the year 2100, because that's what our models were telling us. But as we've seen, the models aren't fast enough right now; we are losing ice at a much more rapid rate. My thinking on this is that 2030 is not an unreasonable date to be thinking of, and yet Dr Maslowski has the view that it may be as early as 2013. He's on the record now. We'll see how that pans out."
11 December 2007
10 December 2007
Spider silk is one of the strongest fibres found in nature. Scientists in Japan have found a way of harnessing its power. Researchers at Shinshu University have succeeded in injecting spider genes into silkworms to create a thread that is stronger, softer and more durable than conventional silk. A Japanese manufacturer is already experimenting with the thread, and spider socks, stockings and even fishing lines are expected to appear on the market within a few years.
Spider “farming” is impossible because of their territorial and cannibalistic nature. Five years ago American geneticists devised a way of generating spider silk by extruding it from the udders of female goats. However, the Japanese technique employs a much more manageable creature - the silkworm. Silkworm eggs are injected with the genes of the golden orb spider. The silkworm caterpillars that emerge from the eggs weave cocoons, of which 10 per cent consist of spider proteins. These are spun into silk. It is hoped that the proportion of spider thread material will be increased to 50 per cent.
Although it is likely to have many applications in the future the only company developing commercial applications for the spider silk is Okamoto, a business based in Nara, central Japan, which plans to release extra-thin and durable spider socks by about 2010.
Just another little bit of proof that nature is wonderful!
09 December 2007
James Watson, DNA pioneer and Nobel laureate, is most definitely a distinguished scientist. However, he has courted controversy throughout his life, mainly from a tendency to shoot from the lip when expressing opinions. His final remarks which suggested that black people were genetically less intelligent that whites generated a backlash which forced him to retire as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory on Long Island NY.
It was ironic to see an article in today’s Sunday Times which states that an analysis of his genome shows that 16% of his genes are likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. (This compares with 1% in most people of European descent. “This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African,” said Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, whose company carried out the analysis. “It was very surprising to get this result for Jim.” The analysis also shows a further 9% of Watson’s genes are likely to have come from an ancestor of Asian descent
Sir John Sulston, the Nobel laureate who helped lead the consortium that decoded the human genome, said the discovery was ironic in view of Watson’s opinions on race. “I never did agree with Watson’s remarks,” he said. “We do not understand enough about intelligence to generalise about race.”
The great work done by Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and of course Rosalind Franklin (who died in 1958 and was thus ineligible for a Nobel prize nomination) laid the foundations for all subsequent DNA research. If it wasn’t for their work it would not be possible to decode his genome and find that he has more African genes than usual for a person of European descent. To be honest there is so much we don’t know about our genome, or how it may determine intelligence. That said, the 16 % of African genes did not put a crimp on Watson’s abilities and that says a lot to me.
It is definitely a bad time to be a bear. Just as the furore Mohammed the bear has died down another bear is in the spotlight. The BBC reports that Paddington bear will be arrested and interrogated over his immigration status.
Paddington Here and Now, due to be published in June 2008, will mark the 50th anniversary of the bear’s appearance. In this book Paddington, who arrived in the country as a stowaway, is interviewed about his right to stay in England. He has no papers to prove his identity as his Aunt Lucy arranged for him to hide on a ship's lifeboat from Peru when she went to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima.
Unless the Home Secretary can be persuaded to let him stay there is a serious risk that the next Paddington Bear book will be set in Peru, a nation he has not known for half a century, and surely has no surviving family connections. I would write to my MP forthwith but Andrew Rosindell would probably demand he be flogged to within an inch of his life before deportation. I wonder if the Mail or the Express will take up his case?
08 December 2007
Stout Life is one of my favourite Not the Nine O'Clock News Sketches - I definitely identify with the stouts having squeezed out of the closet years ago. Needless to say I don't go down the street in my underpants shouting "Look at me! I'm enormous!"
07 December 2007
There was an interesting item in Monday’s Guardian. A genetic survey of men living in the Liverpool area indicates that they have Viking ancestors.
The research focused on people whose surnames were recorded in the area before its population underwent a huge expansion during the industrial revolution. Among men with these "original" surnames, 50% have Norse ancestry. The find backs up historical evidence from place names and archaeological finds of Viking treasure which suggests significant numbers of Norwegian Vikings settled in the north-west in the 10th century.
The researchers used historical documents, including a tax register from the time of Henry VIII, to identify surnames common in the region. They then recruited 77 male volunteers with "original" surnames, and looked for a genetic signature of Viking ancestry on the Y chromosome. They report in Molecular Biology and Evolution that a Y chromosome type, R1a, common in Norway, is also very common among men with original surnames.
This is a very interesting discovery. Archaeological evidence eg the longboat recently found, rather rediscovered, at the Railway Inn in Meols on the Wirral and the place names in the area (Kirby, Thingwall etc) are an indication that the area was settled by Vikings.
In 2001 there was a fascinating series called Blood of the Vikings which looked to see if the Vikings had left a genetic trace in the British population Over 2,000 DNA samples were taken from people across the British Isles. The results found that a significant percentage of men in the Orkneys and the Shetlands have Viking ancestry (no surprise there; the islands were under Danish control until 1469 and the indigenous language, Norn, didn’t die out until the end of the 18th century. The picture in England wass very difficult, however: Only Penrith in Cumbria was any significant race of Viking DNA found. The tests done in and around the Wirral found virtually no trace at all. It would seem that this new survey has discovered evidence missed by the earlier search focussing on a narrower sample.
The DNA survey conducted for the programme were the subject of a paper by Cristian Capelli et al of University College London called A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles . Showed that the indigenous Britons were not totally supplanted by the Saxons except at the Cornish and Welsh fringes. Many people in England have indigenous ancestors, although the number dues rise as you head west. Also the DNA samples of indigenous Britons are very similar to those in Ireland. This would have indicated that a lot of Britons have Celtic ancestors. However, there is a marked similarity between “Celtic” DNA and Basque DNA. This would indicate that the people described as Celts were not Iron Age immigrants but have been in the islands for many millennia. If this is the case then Celtic influences were more likely to have come via through cultural transmission. But that is a whole different post
PhotoHunt. The subject for this week is long. So here goes....
06 December 2007
Frank Willer, the museum's chief restorer, said researchers came across the glue while removing a tiny sample of metal from the helmet with a fine saw. The heat from the tool caused silver laurel leaves decorating the helmet to peel off leaving thread-like traces of the glue behind.
Analysis shows that it was made of bitumen, beef tallow and pitch. However, researchers have failed so far to recreate the adhesive. It is believed that sawdust, soot or sand might have to be added to complete the process. "When we finally manage to remake the superglue, it will easily compete with its modern equivalents," Mr Willer said. "After all, which of today's glues stick for 2,000 years?"
I know this news is not exactly a burning issue but it does add another thing to the "What the Romans did for us" sketch...
05 December 2007
The Turkish publisher of a British writer goes on trial today accused of publishing books “insulting Turkishness”. Ragip Zarakolu is facing up to three years in prison for publishing a book that promotes reconciliation between Turks and Armenians - by George Jerjian, a writer living in London. The Truth Will Set Us Free was translated into Turkish in 2005. It chronicles the life of Jenjian’s grandmother who survived the early 20th century massacres of Armenians thanks to an Ottoman soldier.
Zarakolu is being tried under Turkey's 301 article of law, the same legislation that was used against Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk in 2005. However, senior officials in Turkey's current administration have promised to rescind the notorious piece of legislation. Yesterday the Turkish justice minister, Mehmet Ali said that "freely expressed views that neither promote terrorism nor violence should be protected".
While Turkish diplomats admit that the law has probably done more damage to Ankara's efforts to join the EU than any other single piece of legislation, there has been little headway made over reforming the spirit and letter of the law. State prosecutors and police officials continue to level charges against artists, musicians and writers perceived to publicly denigrate However, the unveiling of a new constitution later this month will be a significant turning point in the campaign to overturn the law.
04 December 2007
This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday. The gnarled but dignified black poplars at the nearby Chase nature reserve seem to be covered in faces.
03 December 2007
On the face of it translating the Bible into Lolcat does seem to be a little pointless. I’m not sure if there are any cats out there who can actually speak it, let alone read it (but what do I know? There may be whole tribes of kitty pidgin speaking cats just waiting to hear the good news...).
This is how Psalm 23 translates into Lolcat:
1 Ceiling Cat iz mai sheprd (which is funni if u knowz teh joek about herdin catz LOL.) He givz me evrithin I need.
2 He letz me sleeps in teh sunni spot an haz liek nice waterz r ovar thar.
3 He makez mai soul happi an maeks sure I go teh riet wai for him. Liek thru teh cat flap insted of out teh opin windo LOL.
4 I iz in teh valli of dogz, fearin no pooch, bcz Ceiling Cat iz besied me rubbin' mah ears, an it maek me so kumfy.
5 He letz me sit at teh taebl evn when peepl who duzint liek me iz watchn. He givz me a flea baff an so much gooshy fud it runz out of mai bowl LOL.
6 Niec things an luck wil chase me evrydai an I wil liv in teh Ceiling Cats houz forevr.
All harmless stuff but personally I like to think our four masters would use Received Pronunciation (I have always imagined Ted speaking in clipped tones a la George Sanders and Bebe sounding like Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter) and would thus prefer to read the King James bible if they were ever that way inclined....
I would imagine, however, that translating the Koran into Lolcat would raise more than a few hackles... “Thayrz no Ceiling cat but... “ Err I think, somehow, that it would go down like a brick budgie.
Ms Gibbons did nothing to offend Islam. She should never have been imprisoned in the first place. It's good to see some sense.in what has been a ridiculous case.
02 December 2007
A macabre 17th century book is being auctioned today. A copy of “A True And Perfect Relation Of The Whole Proceedings Against The Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet A Jesuit And His Confederates”, believed to be bound in Garnet’s skin and which appears to bear an image of his face on the cover, will be sold today by Wilkinson’s auctioneers in Doncaster. The book which is an account of the death of Garnet, an alleged Gunpowder Plot conspirator, is described by experts as "rare and macabre". It was printed by Robert Barker, printer to the king, and published in 1606, only months after Garnet's execution.
Henry Garnet's involvement in the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was controversial. He claimed he knew about the conspiracy but was not involved. Some scholars now believe that he was most likely trying to prevent the action against James I rather than conspiring against him. He was found guilty of treason and executed in May 1606. The king ordered his hanging but he was spared the cruelty of being drawn and quartered. According to legend, a piece of bloodstained straw found at the scene of his execution started to develop an exact image of the priest's face, which auctioneers now believe has happened to the centuries-old book.
Last week Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan presented details of the scheme - named Desertec - to the European Parliament. 'Countries with deserts, countries with high energy demand, and countries with technology competence must co-operate,' he told MEPs. The project has been developed by the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Corporation and is supported by engineers and politicians in Europe as well as Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan and other nations in the Middle East and Africa. Europe would provide initial funds for developing the solar technology that will be needed to run plants as well as money for constructing prototype stations. After that, banks and financial institutions, as well as national governments, would take over the construction programme, which could cost more than £200bn over the next 30 years.
'We don't make enough use of deserts,' said physicist Gerhard Knies, co-founder of the scheme. 'The sun beats down on them mercilessly during the day and heats the ground to tremendous temperatures. Then at night that heat is radiated back into the atmosphere. In other words, it is completely wasted. We need to stop that waste and exploit the vast amounts of energy that the sun beams down to us.' Scientists estimate that sunlight could provide 10,000 times the amount of energy needed to fulfil humanity's current energy needs. Transforming that solar radiation into a form to be exploited by humanity is difficult.
One solution proposed by the scheme's engineers is to use large areas of land on which to construct their solar plants. In Europe, land is costly. But in nations such as Morocco, Algeria, and Libya it is cheap, mainly because they are scorched by the sun. The project aims to exploit that cheap land by use of a technique known as 'concentrating solar power'. A CSP station consists of banks of several hundred giant mirrors that cover large areas of land, around a square kilometre. Each mirror's position can be carefully controlled to focus the sun's rays onto a central metal pillar that is filled with water. Prototype stations using this technique have already been tested in Spain and Algeria. Once the sun's rays are focused on the pillar, temperatures inside start to soar to 800C. The water inside the pillar is vaporised into super hot steam which is channelled off and used to drive turbines which in turn generate electricity. 'It is proven technology,' added Knies. 'We have shown it works in our test plants.'
The Desertec project envisages a ring of a thousand of these stations being built along the coast of northern Africa and round into the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. In this way up to 100 billion watts of power could be generated: two thirds of it would be kept for local needs, the rest - around 30 billion watts - would be exported to Europe. An idea of how much power this represents is revealed through Britain's electricity generating capacity, which totals 12 billion watts.
But there is an added twist to the system. The superheated steam, after it has driven the plant's turbines, would then be piped through tanks of sea water which would boil and evaporate. Steam from the sea water would piped away and condensed and stored as fresh water. 'Essentially you get electricity and fresh water,' said Knies. 'The latter is going to be crucial for developing countries round the southern Mediterranean and in north Africa. Their populations are rising rapidly, but they have limited supplies of fresh water. Our solar power plants will not only generate electricity that they can sell to Europe, they will supply drinkable water that will sustain their thirsty populations.'
There are drawbacks, however. At present electricity generated this way would cost around 15-20 eurocents (11 to 14p) a kilowatt-hour - almost twice the cost of power generated by coal. At such prices, few nations would be tempted to switch to solar. 'Unless it is extremely cheap, it won't stop people using easy-to-get fossil fuels,' John Gibbins, an energy engineer at Imperial College London, told Nature magazine last week. However, Desertec's backers say improvements over the next decade should bring the cost of power from its plants to less than 10 eurocents a kilowatt-hour, making it competitive with traditionally generated power. Other critics say the plants would be built in several unstable states which could cut their supplies to Europe. Again, Knies dismisses the danger. 'It's not like oil. Solar power is gone once it hits your mirrors. It would simply be lost income.' The European Parliament has asked Desertec to propose short-term demonstration project.
This sounds like a brilliant idea. Europe will get a large chunk of its electricity needs. Desert states will get electricity and fresh water. Why am I thinking that it will not get off the ground? The two main drawback are cost and location. A large chunk of the world’s oil production comes from volatile or potentially volatile nations. Would there be a will to place a large chunk of Europe’s energy requirements there too? On the other hand Europe is substantially dependent on external energy sources would this make much difference?