30 September 2008

WW - face

Another image from the Pere Lachaise cemetery This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

29 September 2008

Health and Safety at the World Conker Chamionships

The World Conker Championships has found a possibly unlikely sponsor - a health and safety organisation. According to the BBC the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is backing the event in a bid to lose its spoilsport image.

The event, held annually in Ashton, Northamptonshire, has been organised by the village's conker club since 1965. About 500 entrants from Jamaica, the US, Brazil, the Philippines, Benin and mainland Europe are among those due to compete to be crowned conker champion. The health and safety organisation is also entering a team in the event, held on 12 October.

It says the suggestion they asked children to wear goggles when playing conkers was a myth. IOSH president Ray Hurst said: "We do not, and never have, required children to wear goggles to play conkers. Health and safety doesn't require goggles at conker matches, and it doesn't ban goggles from swimming pools," he added.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website says that it was a headteacher that suggested children should wear goggles to play conkers; other schools then banned the game on health and safety grounds. The HSE said the safety risk from playing conkers was "incredibly low and not worth bothering about".

Mr Hurst added: "I'm looking forward to captaining my team to glory at the championships to show that health and safety people are not spoilsports. You just have to manage the risks, not ban them into oblivion."

Fears for Barbary Ape after it offers Romford MP a sound bite

according to the Mirror and the Sun there are grave fears for the health of a Barbary ape (actually a Macacque and therefore a monkey and not an ape) after Romford MP Andrew Rosindell (actually a tunicate and therefore not an Homo sapiens)

Apparently Rosindell wandered too close to one of Gibraltar's famous monkeys as she nursed her baby. The monkey gave him a clear sign he wasn't welcome but Romford’s least wanted did not take the hint and was bitten. "It firstly tugged at my sleeve to say clear off. Then about 10 seconds later it went for me. It bit me on my left arm. There was a lot of blood, it was quite bad” said Rosindell.

The shaken monkey was rushed to hospital where it was tested for rabies, BSE, Scrapie and the Marthambles. In a statement vetinarian Maria Bossino stated “Visiting British MPs are a major threat to the Barbary ape population. In the last three years there have been 27 cases of apes succumbing to psychosis and delusions of adequacy after biting MPs. Mr Rosindell, a frequent visitor to Gibraltar, has been viewed as a particular risk to the colony.”

Perhaps next time Rosindell will have the wit not to go near a nursing monkey or at least heed its warnings but then again, perhaps not.

28 September 2008

Minoo Emami's war gallery

The second link on my side bar is to the website of the Iranian artist Minoo Emami. Minoo lives and works in Tehran. She is a highly regarded artist who has exhibited extensively both in Iran and abroad.


It is her war art that particularly impresses me. The paintings and collages are deeply personal images, inspired by her husband's experiences during the Iran-Iraq war, an eight year long conflict started by Saddam Hussein which cost over one million lives. Her husband was an officer in the Iranian Armyand lost a leg during the conflict. Like Simin Behbahani's poem the necklace the images of false limbs and combat fatigues are in their own way as damning an indictment of war as the poetry of Wilfred Owen.



Minoo reminds us of that we should not just dwell on what is produced by American or European artists. There is an enormous wealth of talent elsewhere in the world. Although I have not met Minoo I was delighted to be able to meet fellow Iranian artist Elahe Heidari in Paris in May. I was also fortunate to meet other extremely talented Iranian artists Shiva Sanjari, Negareh Ayatollahi and Nasila Moghadan in Paris too.

Bad prose – The Eye of Argon

The The Eye of Argon is a novella chronicling the adventures of the barbarian Gringr. Written in 1970 by Jim Theis the Eye of Argon is considered the very worst piece of Science Fiction/Fantasy prose ever written.

Theis was 16 when he wrote the story and it was first published in OSFAN (the journal of the Ozark Science Fiction Society) #7. He remained upset that a piece of juvenilia became an object of derision amongst the Sci-Fi community and he never tried to improve upon his very shaky start. He died in 2002. Reading the story with a straight face is a popular challenge at conventions.

Science Fiction is a genre that is full of examples of abysmal writing (and even worse films) but the Eye of Argon really is atrocious. Perhaps it is a little unfair to mock a piece of juvenilia but then again it was published, albeit in an obscure fanzine.

Here is the first part of the Eye of Argon... Enjoy!

THE EYE OF ARGON


By Jim Theis


The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked

climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the

Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting

sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of

earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense

from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small

rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily

accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three

heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome

cargoes of their struggling overseers.

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of

hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.

"Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death,

wretch!" returned Grignr.

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive

barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust

forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers

vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his

saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust

with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

The enthused barbarian swilveled about, his shock of fiery

red hair tossing robustly in the humid air currents as he faced

the attack of the defeated soldier's fellow in arms.

"Damn you, barbarian" Shrieked the soldier as he observed

his comrade in death.

A gleaming scimitar smote a heavy blow against the

renegade's spiked helmet, bringing a heavy cloud over the

Ecordian's misting brain. Shaking off the effects of the

pounding blow to his head, Grignr brought down his scarlet

streaked edge against the soldier's crudely forged hauberk,

clanging harmlessly to the left side of his opponent. The

soldier's stead whinnied as he directed the horse back from the

driving blade of the barbarian. Grignr leashed his mount forward

as the hoarsely piercing battle cry of his wilderness bred race

resounded from his grinding lungs. A twirling blade bounced

harmlessly from the mighty thief's buckler as his rolling right

arm cleft upward, sending a foot of blinding steel ripping

through the Simarian's exposed gullet. A gasping gurgle from the

soldier's writhing mouth as he tumbled to the golden sand at his

feet, and wormed agonizingly in his death bed.

Grignr's emerald green orbs glared lustfully at the

wallowing soldier struggling before his chestnut swirled mount.

His scowling voice reverberated over the dying form in a tone of

mocking mirth. "You city bred dogs should learn not to

antagonize your better." Reining his weary mount ahead, grignr

resumed his journey to the Noregolian city of Gorzam, hoping to

discover wine, women, and adventure to boil the wild blood

coarsing through his savage veins.

The trek to Gorzom was forced upon Grignr when the soldiers

of Crin were leashed upon him by a faithless concubine he had

wooed. His scandalous activities throughout the Simarian city

had unleashed throngs of havoc and uproar among it's refined

patricians, leading them to tack a heavy reward over his head.

He had barely managed to escape through the back entrance of the

inn he had been guzzling in, as a squad of soldiers tounced upon

him. After spilling a spout of blood from the leader of the

mercenaries as he dismembered one of the officer's arms, he

retreated to his mount to make his way towards Gorzom, rumoured

to contain hoards of plunder, and many young wenches for any man

who has the backbone to wrest them away.


You can find the Eye of Argon in its full glory here

27 September 2008

James McIntyre - Canada's poet laureate of Cheese

PHOTO HUNT FOLLOWS

When it comes to bad poetry, Willam Topaz McGonagall is arguably the king. However it does not mean that he is not without challengers. One of the prime contenders must be James McIntyre.

Born in Forres, Scotland in 1828 McIntyre moved to Canada at the age of 14, settling first in St Catherines and later Ingersoll, Ontario. Ingersoll which was then the heart of the Canadian dairy country. It was Ingersoll's major industry that inspired McIntyre to write poetry, including this masterpiece which was written to celebrate a 7,000lb cheese produced 1866:

ODE ON THE MAMMOTH CHEESE

We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze --
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees --
Or as the leaves upon the trees --
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World's show at Paris.

Of the youth -- beware of these --
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from baloon,
You'd cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon



McIntyre was a well loved member of the Ingersoll community. His poetry continues to be celebrated to this day in the form of an annnual poetry contest. It is not too late to submit entries for the 2008 contest if you feel so inspired. The closing date is 9 October.

Photo Hunt - View

Ballaghbeama Gap
Derrynane House

Somewhere in Kerry

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is view. Here are some more photos from Ireland.

26 September 2008

Stanislav Petrov - the man who saved the world

There are few people who can say that they have saved the world but Stanislav Petrov is one of them. 25 years ago today a calm and collected Petrov ensured that large swathes of our planet were not turned into radioactive dust. The following is taken form an article in the First Post

When Lt Col Stanislav Petrov arrived to work at the secret command bunker near Moscow from which the Soviet Union's early warning satellites were monitored, he was anticipating another routine stint. But shortly after midnight on September 26, 1983, alarms started blaring and a red button on the console in front of Petrov began to flash the single word: "Start". This signified that an American ballistic missile had been launched and was heading towards the USSR: then the computers linked to the satellites reported that four more missiles were on the way.

As commander of the bunker, Petrov was responsible for deciding whether the data was accurate. If it was, standing orders required immediate notification of the Soviet high command, which would then consult the Kremlin about initiating a swift and massive retaliatory strike against the US. After five minutes of frantic activity Petrov concluded that the incoming launch reports were almost certainly false. In his judgment, nobody would carry out a first strike with just five missiles: he was also aware the system had a history of malfunctioning. "My gut feeling was that we were experiencing another systems failure, so I made the decision to report a false alarm."

Petrov's hunch was subsequently confirmed by an official investigation: the satellite alerts that might have created a holocaust were triggered by an unusual combination of sunlight and high-altitude cloud formations, wrongly interpreted by the computers as a missile launch. Although Petrov's conduct initially drew high praise an official investigation later accused him of serious disciplinary offences. Petrov was formally reprimanded, demoted and shuffled into a much less responsible post

It was not until the late-1990s that the story of that dramatic night in the bunker became public knowledge in Russia. An American expert on Soviet defence doctrines during the Cold War described the incident as "the closest we've come to an accidental nuclear conflict". By then, Petrov was surviving on a meagre military pension in a squalid apartment block in a town near Moscow, drinking too much and mourning the death of his devoted wife from cancer. He would tell Western journalists that he did not consider himself a hero, just a conscientious officer who did his duty at a moment of great peril for mankind.

In my view Petrov is a hero. If it were not for Petrov many of us would have been living Threads in 1983 and not watching it the following year. A less composed commander may well have concluded that it was not a glitch but a real nuclear attack. The Soviet high command and leadership were convinced that the USA planned a pre-emptive strike on the USSR and would not have hesitated in launching a retaliatory strike which would have devastated North America and Western Europe. East/west tensions were even higher than usual – not least because KAL007 had been shot down less than four weeks before and the Able Archer nuclear exercise was set to take place just over a month later.

Tell anyone I'm purring and you're dead meat human


Ted is happy for once...

24 September 2008

A pathfinder and an idiot

Scroll down to the post after next (or click here) and you will see a group photo of some of the remaining RAF Pathfinders. Sadly I was unable to accompany dad and mum to this year’s event. My sister and her husband went in my place and an excellent time was had by all.

The Pathfinders were an international force. The commander, Don Bennett, was Australian. There were representatives from many former dominions (including not a few from neutral Eire, including my father of course) and colonies, not to mention the odd American and other nationalities (although the only German RAF pilot, Hugo Adam, flew fighters).

At the back you will see an elderly West Indian. This is Ulric Cross, one of over 250 Trinidadians who served in the RAF during WWII of whom 52 were killed in action. Ulric Cross flew 80 ops as a navigator and rose to the rank of Squadron Leader. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. He subsequently became a high court judge in Trinidad and the nation’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

This year’s Pathfinder Sunday event was the first time my father and Ulric Cross got the chance to meet. They were in different squadrons - Ulric in 139sqn, my father in 109sqn and then on detachment to squadrons in North Africa, Italy and finally Burma. For both of them issues of colour, creed, nationality or class are irrelevant. What counts to them was that they were comrades in arms. Both knew what it was like to fly on air raids, to fly in their beloved Mosquitos, to use the bubble sextant and other tools of the navigator’s trade and of course to be part of an elite force.

According to a news item from the Trinidad Express reprinted on his website, Ken Follett was inspired by Ulric Cross’s wartime experiences to include a black Squadron Leader called Charles Ford in the prologue of his book Hornet Flight. This was not universally well received: one Alan Frampton, who claimed to have been an RAF pilot in the RAF between 1942 and 1946, wrote an angry letter to Follet from Zimbabwe. Frampton described the inclusion of the Ford character as a "sop" to black people who may read Hornet Flight.

In his letter Frampton said he became infuriated after reading a few pages of Hornet Flight and came upon the character Ford, the Black Squadron Leader, who at the time had 15-plus missions to his credit. He said he threw down the book in disgust. "For the life of me, I cannot recall ever encountering a black airman of any rank whatsoever during the whole of my service.... In my book, Charles (Ford) is not a credible character and I suspect he was introduced as a 'sop' to black people who may read your book. He certainly aroused my indignation, remembering as I do, the real heroes of that period in our history, who were not black.... I regard myself as a realist but certainly not an apologist for my race. I have read several of your books and enjoyed them. This one I threw down in disgust."

Follet's reply to Frampton concluded by saying: "With true-life heroes as he (Cross), there's no need for a 'sop' to black people, really, is there?" Cross received copies of both letters from his daughter. Although was not annoyed or shocked over the claims from a fellow member of the RAF, he said he just could not understand how Frampton did not know about him and the other black members of the RAF. "He must be living in a strange world," he said "I am old enough to have a certain amount of tolerance. People believe what they need to believe. For some reason Frampton needs to believe that. When you know what you have done, what people think is irrelevant”

Cross’s dignified response contrasts strongly with my father’s opinion of Frampton: “Well he’s a fucking liar... wanker” were his exact words but then again my father was an electrician and not a diplomat!

Make of this story what you will. Me? I consider Cross to be a brave man who served this country during its gravest hour and he was by no means alone. My father, for example, was one of 60,000+ citizens of neutral Eire who did likewise.

I am sure that there are some who would think that highlighting this tale is an exercise in political correctness on my part. The second word of my response to them is “off”.

Click here to see a photograph of Cross during WWII

Burmese junta releases Win Tin

The release of Burma’s longest-held prisoner of conscience is reported in today’s Times and widely reported worldwide too. In a move that damns the nation’s brutal regime with faint praise he was released yesterday in an apparent (and futile) attempt to improve its image a year after its brutal crackdown on democracy demonstrations.

Win Tin, a 78-year-old former journalist, was released after 19 years in Insein prison in the city of Rangoon. For much of the time he was held in solitary confinement, including a period in a room intended for prison dogs.

“I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country,” he said in Rangoon, a few hours after his release. He was still wearing his blue prison overalls as a symbol of rejection of the spin put on his release by the Government — that it was part of an “amnesty” of 9,002 prisoners to “turn them into citizens to be able to participate in building a new nation. I did not accept their terms for the amnesty,” Mr Win said. “I refused to be one of 9,002. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years."

Mr Win, a poet and former magazine editor, was an adviser of Aung San Suu Kyi. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 1989 during a crackdown on government opponents. In 1996 he received an additional seven-year sentence for writing a testimonial on torture and lack of medical treatment in Insein, and sending it to the UN. As a punishment he was forced to sleep in a room intended for military dogs and was deprived of food and water.

At least six other political prisoners were released yesterday, at a time when Burmese are remembering the brutal suppression of democracy demonstrations last year. The amnesty may be an attempt to pre-empt commemorations of the peaceful uprising with a move that will win approval from Western governments and human rights groups.

Amnesty International estimates that there are 2,100 political prisoners in Burma. “These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released,” Benjamin Zawacki, of Amnesty International, said.

While it it pleasing to see Win Tin released it is only a drop in a bucket – a token gesture. The people of Burma will not see better times until their regime is swept into the dustbin of history.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi remains under close arrest.

23 September 2008

WW - Pathfinder Sunday 2008


The march of time means that fewer and fewer pathfinders are alive or well enough to make the annual pilgrimage to RAF Wyton, formerly the HQ of 8 Group (the Pathfinders). The Pathfinders were an elite group of RAF squadrons responsible for marking targets to be attacked during bombing raids in WWII. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

My father is in the centre. He is wearing a suit rather than a blazer.

21 September 2008

So Bin Laden’s - a piece of sewage and a poet to boot

It is well known that the war criminal Radovan Karadzic found time to pen poetry when not presiding over the slaughter of Bosniaks. Well poetry is a generous description for the crap he produced. Here is an example:

Sarajevo

I hear the misfortune threads
Turned into a beetle as if an old singer
Is crushed by the silence and turned into a voice.

The town burns like a piece of incense
In the smoke rumbles our consciousness.
Empty suits slide down the town.
Red is the stone that dies, built into a house. The Plague!

Calm. The army of armed poplar tree
Marches up the hill, within itself.
The aggressor air storms our souls
and once you are human and then you are an air creature.

I know that all of these are the preparations of the scream:
What does the black metal in the garage have for us?
Look how fear turned into a spider
Looking for the answer at his computer.

BBC translator said his poems were as "bad in the original as they sound in the English translation"

If that was not bad enough the Times poetry reports that Osama Bin Laden is to be published next week by an Oxford-educated academic, who discovered that he had once been in great demand as an after-dinner speaker.

Bin Laden’s recitals at wedding banquets and other feasts during the 1990s were recorded on tapes recovered from his compound in Afghanistan in 2001. They have been studied by Professor Flagg Miller, who teaches Arabic poetry at the University of California, Davis. He said: “Bin Laden is a skilled poet with clever rhymes and meters, which was one reason why many people taped him and passed recordings around, like pop songs.”

“They reveal Osama Bin Laden as the performer, the entertainer with an agenda,” Miller said. “He told gory tales of dead mujaheddin from the villages where he was speaking, which was often the first time their families had learned of their fates. He mixed this news up with radical theology and his own verse based on the traditions of hamasa - a warlike poetic tradition from Oman calculated to capture the interest of young men.” Miller said Bin Laden was calculating. “He crafts his words to excite the urban dissatisfied youth, offering them escape from their elders and villages. Instead, many just die in terrible ways.”

Other Arabic specialists are unhappy that the tapes have come to light. “They seem adolescent and brutal, like a video nasty, composed with minimal skill to win over the susceptible mind of the young and bloodthirsty male,” said one academic, who did not want to be named.“Whatever else Bin Laden is, he is now exposed as a disgrace to two millennia of Arabic culture.”

Here is an example of his work.

Tomorrow, William, you will discover which young man [will] confront your brethren, who have been deceived by [their own] leaders.

A youth, who plunged into the smoke of war, smiling

He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red

May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent

Humans, should they fall, Djinn, should they ride

[And] lions of the jungle, whose only fangs

[Are their] lances and short Indian swords

As the stallion bears my witness that I hold them back

[My] stabbing is like the cinders of fire that explode into flame

On the day of the stallions’ expulsion, how the war-cries attest to me

As do stabbing, striking, pens, and books.

In my view it is ugly and brutal fare. I would not offer up a line of verse by Farrokhzad for the complete works of this evil man. That said I’m sure there will be a few who will appreciate this crap. I can just picture a certain ersatz Mexican getting an orgasm over it though.

The Fallen Soldier


In January I posted an item regarding the discovery of what was described as the “holy Grail” of photojournalism - the discovery of a large cache of photos and negatives of photos taken by the great Robert Capa.

It’s enormous importance aside it was hoped that the discovery would settle the one question that has dogged Capa's legacy: was 'The Falling Soldier,' staged? I was therefore interested to see in today’s Independent that an exhibition at the Barbican in London aims to have the last word on the matter. It will show for the first time in the UK every image taken by Capa the same day.

The Falling Soldier, officially known as Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, made 22-year-old Capa's reputation but for years arguments have raged as to whether he set up the picture or whether he had in fact captured a soldier meeting his violent death. An audit of all the negatives held by the International Center of Photography in New York has turned up previously unknown film taken by both Capa and his lover Gerda Taro the same day the Falling Soldier was photographed including other images of the soldier, Federico Borrell Garcia, a 24-year-old textile worker. The new material shows, the curators believe, that Garcia was shot, but not in the heat of battle. They believe that a re-enactment of events at the front line near Cordoba attracted enemy interest.

The new images were researched by Capa's biographer Richard Whelan. After Mr Whelan's death last May, his work was taken over by Cynthia Young, who curated the exhibition. "There are new photographs. They had been lying in the archive for years. Richard was going through all the pre-1939 images and all of these early negatives and contact sheets were in a mess. They were misdated over years. But he recognised these as being taken on the day of the Falling Soldier. No one knew that these negatives existed. It was assumed they had all gone missing. There were 35mm prints taken from Capa's Leica and Rolleiflex negatives, the camera used by Gerda Taro, which proves beyond doubt for the first time that she was with him on that day.

"There have been various theories about whether the soldier was actually shot in battle. Looking at the photos it is clear that it is not the heat of battle. It is likely the soldiers were carrying out an exercise either for Capa or themselves. The images are ordered according to the numbers on the back of the negatives, so it's the best sequence we can put together and from that we can deduce the story."

There is no doubt the soldier was shot, however. Mr Whelan believed Garcia died almost instantly from a bullet to the heart.

So it now seems that the Falling Soldier was indeed genuine. That it was taken during a re-enactment is of no consequence – we are looking at the days before embedded journalists and the like. The Falling Soldier is an iconic image and will remain so. The exhibition is in my diary as a must-see event.

20 September 2008

Forough Farrokhzad - To My Sister


Sister, rise up after your freedom,
why are you quiet?
rise up because henceforth
you have to imbibe the blood of tyrannical men.

Seek your rights, Sister,
from those who keep you weak,
from those whose myriad tricks and schemes
keep you seated in a corner of the house.

How long will you be the object of pleasure
In the harem of men's lust?
how long will you bow your proud head at his feet
like a benighted servant?

How long for the sake of a morsel of bread,
will you keep becoming an aged haji's temporary wife,
seeing second and third rival wives.
oppression and cruelty, my sister, for how long?

This angry moan of yours
must surly become a clamorous scream.
you must tear apart this heavy bond
so that your life might be free.

Rise up and uproot the roots of oppression.
give comfort to your bleeding heart.
for the sake of your freedom, strive
to change the law, rise up.

Photo Hunt - Road

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is road. I don't have many good road photos so here is a picture of Comeenatrush waterfall and a small section of road that leads towards it

19 September 2008

Women outnumber men in Rwandan parliament

According to the BBC Rwanda is set to make history by becoming the first country where women will outnumber men in parliament. Women have taken 44 out of 80 seats so far - The number could rise if three seats reserved for the disabled and youth representatives go to females.

Rwanda’s post-genocide constitution ensures a 30% quota for female MPs, already held the record for the most women in parliament. In the outgoing parliament, 48.8% of MPs were women – This was already the world's highest rate. It is now set to be at least 55%.

Women who stood in seats reserved for female candidates were not allowed to represent a party. "The problems of women are understood much better, much better by women themselves," voter Anne Kayitesi told the BBC's Focus on Africa.

"You see men, especially in our culture, men used to think that women are there to be in the house, cook food, look after the children... but the real problems of a family are known by a woman and when they do it, they help a country to get much better."

Although proportion of women in the Rwandan parliament is assisted by a quota it is still an important landmark. Sweden has the second highest representation with 47%; Cuba is third at 43.2% (There is little worth, however, in being elected to a toothless rubber-stamping assembly whether male or female). Just 19.5% of British MPs are women while female representation in the US Congress and Senate stands at 16.8% and 16% respectively. Ireland trails the likes of Djibouti and Cameroon with just 22 female TDs out of a total of 166.

Click here for a comprehensive list female representation by nation.

18 September 2008

17 September 2008

El Nino/Al Nino

I’m not sure what made me think of this old story but when I first read about it in the Fortean Times years ago it certainly amused me.Back in the late 90s a retired naval pilot from Nipomo in California was accused by more than a few people of being responsible for El NiƱo simply because his name was Al Nino!


According to the BBC Alphonso Nino was deluged with telephone calls accusing him of being the cause of all the climatic trouble. He said he has been blamed for torrential rain and a farmer's failing strawberry crop - one man even accused Mr Nino of causing his daughter to lose her virginity (though it is not clear what the weather might have had to do with that). Needless to say Al had never met the woman in question.


"Some of them absolutely curse me out and others just ask me, in a rather grudged way if I can just stop the rain." I told one man who'd called me to ask me to stop the rain, that I'd stop it for him. He called me three days later to thank me for making the rain stop I've rather enjoyed it, I'm thick skinned ... I'm an old Navy man so I like to trade barbs with the people that call."


I still find the story funny, but I cannot believe that some people were stupid enough to think that an elderly pilot was the cause if a major weather phenomenon!

Crows outthink chimps?

According to the New Scientist crows seem to be able to use causal reasoning to solve a problem, something that no other animal can do (humans excepted)

Alex Taylor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and his team presented six New Caledonian crows (birds with a prove track record of performing feats which require a degree of reasoning) with a series of "trap-tube" tests. A choice morsel of food was placed in a horizontal Perspex tube, which also featured two round holes in the underside, with Perspex traps below. For most of the tests, one of the holes was sealed, so the food could be dragged across it with a stick and out of the tube to be eaten. The other hole was left open, trapping the food if the crows moved it the wrong way.

Three of the crows solved the task consistently, even after the team modified the appearance of the equipment. This suggested that these crows understood that if they dragged food across a hole, they would lose it.

The team then presented the crows with a wooden table, divided into two compartments. A treat was at the end of each compartment, but in one, it was positioned behind a rectangular trap hole. To get the snack, the crow had to consistently choose to retrieve food from the compartment without the hole.

A recent study of great apes found they could not transfer success at the trap-tube to success at the trap-table. The three crows could, however. "They seem to have some kind of concept of a hole that isn't tied to purely visual features, and they can use this concept to figure out the novel problem," Taylor says. "This is the most conclusive evidence to date for causal reasoning in an animal." Three of the crows did fail at both tasks, however. The team plans further work to investigate why.

I love crows. It’s good to see more evidence that they are far from being bird brains!

16 September 2008

15 September 2008

Noel Edmonds talks balls, err orbs

Apparently Noel Edmonds has a new tv show on Sky 1 about needless bureaucracy in the UK. I won’t be watching this programme – NTL doesn’t carry Sky anymore... While promoting the show though he has claimed that he has two “orbs” bouncing on his shoulders – and they contain the souls of his dead parents.


In an interview in the Daily Mirror he asked “Don’t you know about orbs? Orbs are little bundles of positive energy and they think they can move between 500 and 1,000 miles per hour. They look like little round planets but they come in all shapes and sizes.”


Edmonds stated that he he was introduced to the phenomenon by his current girlfriend. Together they have picked up the presence of two balls that Noel believes are his late parents – Dudley, who died in 1990, and Lydia, who passed away in 2004. “Conventional photography can’t pick them up but digital cameras can,” Noel says earnestly. “My belief is that these are something to do with some form of spiritual energy. And possibly because I miss my parents like mad, I like to think they are them.I’ve got loads of photos of me at home with two orbs that visit me.


“The two that I have are about the size of melons. One sits on my arm and the other is usually in the back of the shot, sitting just over my right shoulder. They like very happy occasions and positive environments, so if you are a positive person you will undoubtedly have orbs around you. We are all made up of energy – we vibrate all the time. It’s inconceivable to me that when we die, that energy just disappears. That energy has to go somewhere. That’s what orbs are. I’m absolutely certain now that there is something else out there because I’ve got the proof.”


Well at least he isn’t claiming to be the new messiah (David Shayler and David Icke are ahead of the game there). He talks about melon size orb? I can only imagine that he’s hallucinating about Mr Blobby again.

Hell goes round and round

According to today’s Times two United Nations doctors working on a polio vaccination campaign for children were killed by a suicide bomber yesterday in the first significant Taleban attack against the organisation in Afghanistan.

The men died with a driver when the bomber rammed their UN vehicle in the market town of Spin Boldak, close to the border with Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar. The attack was the first to single out marked UN vehicles

A statement issued by the Taleban on their website claimed responsibility for the attack: “This morning Taleban conducted a martyrdom attack by a hero, Abdul Salaam, in the centre of Spin Boldak against a convoy of Unama [UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan]. Two Land Cruisers of the convoy were targeted and eight high ranking foreign officials were killed.”

In a statement the UN special representative in Kabul said: “This attack was on innocent civilians working only for the people of Afghanistan, and is beyond comprehension.”

Beyond comprehension indeed.


14 September 2008

The Scholars

William Butler Yeats

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,

Old, learned, respectable bald heads

Edit and annotate the lines

That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhumed out in love's despair

To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.


All shuffle there, all cough in ink;

All wear the carpet with their shoes;

All think what other people think;

All know the man their neighbor knows.

Lord, what would they say

Did their Catullus walk that way?


Meanwhile some reassurance

It is with great thanks to fellow Flannobrienophile Sean Jeating that I can find out at any time whether the Large Hadron Collider has destroyed the world. At present the site says no so I can therefore go about my business in the knowledge that I and the planet still exist...

13 September 2008

And another rotten joke

There is a specialist tea shop in Liverpool called (unsurprisingly) the Mersey which can provide any sort of tea. If it's out there then Mersey has it. One day a man goes into the shop and asks to try their rarest tea. He is told that this is the famous Australian Koala tea from Coober Pedy and that he would be welcome to try a cup.

He is presented with a cup of dark but cloudy tea. The man finds it very palatable but there is something wrong with the texture. He is distreessed to find bits of hair and other unidentifed lumps in it so he points this out to the shop,s owner. The owner replies

"Surely you know that the Koala tea of Mersey is not strained."

Another rotten joke

Did you hear about the Swami who refused anaesthetic at the dentist? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

I'll get my coat...

12 September 2008

Photo Hunt - Wild

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is wild. I have new wildlife photos so here's Mimi who's wild about cheese:

Cheese?


All your cheeses are belong to me human



Gimme cheese you b*&£%"d!


Frankly some cats have no dignity

DPRK doggerel fest

The Korean Central News Agency is a treasure trove of news about the greatest nation on this planet and the most steadfast, fearless and peace loving leader.. and by far the fittest and healthiest too. Its convoluted, nay tortured, prose style is an utter delight to read. (long live Sorghum! death to the enemies of Touche! and so on and so forth – Wow, I managed to write this paragraph with a straight face!)

It is with, ahem, great pleasure to note that KCNA reported that an award ceremony was held as part of the DPRK’s 60th anniversary for international works books “praising the greatness of the three generals of Mt. Paektu and introducing and giving publicity to the greatness of the Songun politics of the Workers' Party of Korea and the true picture of the DPRK”. Apparenty 600 such works were created in more than 40 countries

Prize recipients included Alejandro Cao de Benos, chairman of the Korean Friendship Association and S. Surenjav, president of J. Sambuu Herders Development Fund of Mongolia. An appeal to the writers and progressive people of the world loving justice and conscience was adopted at the awarding ceremony.

I have previously posted examples of juche poetry from Cao de Benos and from Britain’s own Dermot Hudson. It is execrable stuff created by utter idiots (although the DPRK considers them useful idiots, I’m sure) but to give you a flavour of the sort of sheer rubbish that receives prizes here’s a poem by American Songum junkie John Paul Cupp in praise of Kim Il Sung

We are the masses.
You were the masses' leader.
We are the driving force of history.
You were the best in all of us.
You were the Father of Juche;
a reminder to the poor and wretched ones
that anything but unshakled (sic) independence is untolerable (sic).

Protecting the dignity with Guns!
A brilliant Iron-willed Supreme Commander.
A Guerrilla of Genius and Merit.
Japan will never rule Korea, again!
Even the US was forced to leave Korea in defeat!
An example for freedom fighters, everywhere.

Oh, how much we love and venerate you,
Great Leader KIM IL SUNG!!!
You will always be our red-glowing sun shining!

Heroic Communist who held the Party's flag aloof!
You truely (sic) loved the people,
and the people in turn rallied behind you!
This is the relationship of a new kind,
between the masses and their leader,
and without such a leader their will never be a revolution.
Great Leader, I only desire to be a Communist of the KIM IL SUNG-TYPE!

Compare Cupp’s dogshiterel with this poem by Osip Mandelstam.

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches

All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
The murderer and peasant-slayer.

His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,

His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam.

Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders -
fawning half-men for him to play with.

The whinny, purr or whine
As he prates and points a finger,

One by one forging his laws, to be flung
Like horseshoes at the head, to the eye or the groin.

And every killing is a treat
For the broad-chested Ossete.

The poem is about Stalin but change Kremlin for Baedku and Ossete for, let’s say, Korean and we have a far better description of the Dear and Great Leaders than Cupp’s (or cao de Benos’s or Hudson’s) propagandist rubbish.

Thanks to the comments section on this Portland Indymedia post for the comparison between Cupp and Mandelstam.

10 September 2008

Jason Stuart


I was sad to hear about the death of Jason Stuart, Hawkwind keyboard player since 2004. He died of a brain haemorrhage on Monday. He was 39.

09 September 2008

WW - detail

A detail from a grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

08 September 2008

Tears Run Rings

Another old joke...

A beggar asked a man if he could spare £40 for a cup of tea.

"That's a lot of money just for some tea" said the man

"Well I'm putting all my begs in one ask it"


I think I saw this one in a collection of Cassandra columns....

07 September 2008

New documents on the death of Georgi Markov

The murder of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in September 1978 is one of those cases which seems to have lingered in the collective memory. Other cases are quickly forgotten but this Markov’s death seems to remain – perhaps it was the nature of his murder – a ricin pellet shot into Markov from a modified umbrella. He was murdered by Bulgarian intelligence with KGB assistance.

According to the Sofia Echo new documents have confirmed that the murder of Georgi Markov (code name “Wanderer”) was indeed a topic of discussion between the KGB and the Bulgarian intelligence services. The subject of these discussions was the planning of how to disarm the playwright.

The documents confirm that agent Francesco Gulin (Agent Piccadilly) was specially trained in 1978, sent on a mission and subsequently invited to holiday in Bulgaria, where he was presented with medals by the country’s then-secret police State Security. A secret agreement between the KGB and the Bulgarian communist-era intelligence services to provide Bulgaria with access to fast-acting poisons and devices for their delivery has also been discovered.

The most important documents will be published in Bulgarian-language Dnevnik daily in a series of articles starting on September 8. Dnevnik’s investigative journalist Hristo Hristov, was granted access to the dossier of agent Piccadilly after a three-year legal battle. Hristov had been initially refused access to key archives containing information about the murder of Georgi Markov by the director of NIS, General Kircho Kirov. The court battle ended in the Supreme Administrative Court, which issued an unprecedented ruling in favour of Hristov.

Documents from the Piccadilly dossier were requested by the British and Danish authorities in 1993 in order to arrest Gulino, but Bulgaria refused to provide them and the man disappeared from Copenhagen, where he had been based by Bulgaria’s intelligence services since 1975. In May, the Metropolitan Police again requested the Piccadilly files as providing the most important evidence in Markov’s case; at present, it is not clear whether the Bulgarian authorities have agreed to provide them.

In addition to the Piccadilly dossier, Hristov came across an agreement between the KGB and State Security for access to fast-acting poisons and mechanical devices for their silent delivery. The agreement was signed between the Bulgarian and Soviet intelligence services in 1972 by the their then-directors, Bulgarian Dimitar Kyosev and Russian Fyodor Mortin. The document required the Soviet intelligence services to provide experience and facilities for the selection and training of agents who would perform the so-called serious operations (sabotage, kidnapping, murder). After the fall of communism, the former director of “K” department of the Soviet intelligence services, General Oleg Kalugin, publicly admitted that Zhivkov had made a request for KGB technical assistance in the liquidation of Markov, but the successors to the KGB in Russia today have denied these allegations.

The archives of the Bulgarian intelligence services also reveal documentary evidence that the operation led by Bulgarian intelligence services against Markov, ie, Wanderer, was a topic of discussion in the KGB. During the investigation, it became clear that the intelligence services had planned a detailed study of the Wanderer situation for the purposes of performing a “serious operation” (SO) and the “disarming of the target”. Other documents discovered by Hristov in the Markov investigation used the term “neutralised” as opposed to “disarmed”.

The new disclosures comes 30 years after Markov’s murder and only days before the Bulgarian investigation into the case will be closed because of the expiry of the 30-year statute of limitations for criminal investigations. In recent years, the investigator into the case, Andrei Tsvetanov has been promoting the theory that Markov’s death was a result of medical error by the doctors treating Markov in 1978. At the same time, Tsvetanov ignored all the evidence gathered in the case by the previous investigative team (including the Piccadilly files) that prove that the murder had been prepared and carried out by the First Chief Directorate with KGB assistance. The new disclosures have raised the question of whether the Bulgarian authorities’ investigation into the Markov murder has been sufficiently objective and why the new archive evidence has not been included in it.