31 January 2009

Charles Fort - A Radical Corpuscle

NB Photohunt follows

A satirist and collector of anomalous information Charles Hoy Fort's names lives on in the expression Fortean, to wit: "One who investigates anomalous phenomena; Of or pertaining to anomalous phenomena". Essentially forteans are benign sceptics (as opposed to sKeptics). This is the general thrust of the Fortean Times (the journal of strange phenomena - truly a case of no FT, no comment!).

Fort himeslf is best known for his non fiction works (The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo! and Wild Talents). His fiction is now largely forgotten. His one printed novel, the outcast manufacturers sold dismally. Most of his short stories are lost. One of his more curious tales was reprinted some time age and is preserved on the siteMr X consulting Resologist. I doubt sincerely that the story is still under copy right so enjoy!

A white corpuscle, of venerable and intellectual appearance, dug a claw into the lining of an artery and paused.

Past him surged millions of his fellows, all intent upon doing what they believed they had been sent into Man to do, which was to earn a living; tired mother leucocytes, staring out upon the day's work dragging small leucocytes after them; young leucocytes, with not a care in the world and never a thought for tomorrow; serious-looking leucocytes, weighed down with responsibilities.

Here and there were some whose individuality would attract attention--that old fellow with the prominent proboscis, forced along in the rush, as others were, but at the head of an association formed by him, so benevolent to himself that he got all the white meat, while the workers divided the pickings, of every disease germ captured. There had been battles with an invasion of diphtheria germs, skirmishes with germs of typhoid, small-pox, and scarlet fever. The leucocytes had overcome every enemy, and they were a triumphant, arrogant race.

The venerable corpuscle might have clung where he was, all day without interfering with traffic, were it not for a peculiarity of the corpuscles. A very hungry white corpuscle, coursing ravenously, noticed the venerable old gentleman and paused. Stronger than even hunger was his feeling that he should have to learn why the old gentleman was standing on a corner, instead of pouncing, grabbing, and struggling. Small leucocytes, with messages to deliver, paused and gaped; and, because they paused and gaped, such a crowd gathered that a burly corpuscle, with a stout club, came along, and growled:

"G'wan, now! Don't be blocking up this artery."

But the wise old corpuscle had provided himself with a permit.

He began: "Fellow leucocytes--"

"Hooray!" from irresponsible, small leucocytes.

"Fellow leucocytes, I look around and see among you some who may remember me. These may recall that a long time ago I withdrew from the activity and excitement of our affairs and may wonder where I have been. I have been secluded in the land of gray soil at the upper end of our world. In a remote convolution of this gray matter I have lived and have absorbed something of a strange spirit permeating it--the spirit of intelligence--and I have learned much from it. I feel that I have a mission among you. Let me start it abruptly with a question. Fellow leucocytes, do you know why we are placed here in this Man?"

"To get all we can out of it!" answered a sleek, shiny corpuscle.

The others laughed good-naturedly, agreeing that this was their sole reason for being.

"Out of it!" cried the wise old corpuscle. "Why not out of him? Then you don't believe that the Man we inhabit is a living creature? You think that because his life is not like our life, he has no life? And you think that, when you can feel the element of him that we inhabit, pulsate?"

"Oh, that's only the tide!"

"You have never heard his voice?"

"Nothing but thunder!"

"You think he never moves?"

"Nothing but a manquake, now and then."

"You doubt that he is kept alive by internal heat, just as we are? For, without heat, there could be no life."

A studious white corpuscle had become so interested that he permitted a plump pneumonia germ to pass him without pouncing upon it. He stepped forward and said, learnedly:

"Yes, there is internal heat in the world we inhabit, but we are taught that the Man was once a ball of fire and is now gradually cooling off. It is ridiculous to say it is alive like us. Look how fine and delicate is our flesh; see the Man made of course, rough substance forming banks along every river we navigate. Think of how tremendous its heat is, when it is great enough to keep these teeming millions of us from perishing! Could any living creature produce such heat? You say we can feel it move? It must move very infrequently then, for these manquakes are far apart. And you regard as a pulsating, the coming and going of the tide? Why, our hearts beat thousands of times in the span of one ebb and flow of the tide we are familiar with!"

Said the wise old corpuscle: "I say that not only is this Man alive, but that he, and millions like him, inhabit a world as vast to him as he is to us."

"Oh, let the old fellow rave!" laughed good-natured leucocytes.

But the financier-corpuscle, with the prominent proboscis, coming along with a germ under each arm, rolling half a dozen others in front of him, muttered, savagely:

"Another of those accursed agitators!"

"This wide Man of ours," pursued the cursed agitator, "is between five and six feet in length, according to his system of measuring. The world that he inhabits is twenty-five thousand miles in circumference. Telepathy has told me so; I have been able to interpret throbs of his intellect to mine. He calls his world Earth. I say that he is a white corpuscle to the Earth, as we are to him. He will not accept this belief. He argues as you do. Flesh that he lives upon is so gross that he calls it rock and soil; as rivers and brooks he looks upon arteries and veins. He knows of a tide and sees it pulsate. During one ebb and flow, his own heart beats thousands of times. He says the Moon causes the tide. Perhaps; then the Moon is the Earth's heart. He feels agitations similar to those we know as manquakes. They are very infrequent. He knows that there is heat in the Earth, but can not conceive that it is a source of life, because of its extreme degree. He has no sense of proportion. He can not conceive that a tremendous creature with an existence of ages must move, breathe, and throb in proportion to bulk and longevity, and be sustained by heat that would consume him."

"Too deep for me!" cried a group of young leucocytes. "Oh, he's some kind of fake! Start in advertising something, in a minute!" Each jumped on a red corpuscle and went sliding down hill.

But the studious white corpuscle again stepped forward.

"Friends," he said, "let us not deride this old person. Let us, rather, point out his astonishing errors to him. Be tolerant, I say! Be tolerant, by all means, even when we are opposed. Sir, we'll admit that there are many Men instead of only this one, and that all inhabit some vast creature that they call the Earth. But what for? We are here for pleasure, profit, and to store up germs."

"Are we? For a long time it has been my theory that we are here solely for the welfare of the Man we inhabit; that our food and our enemies are elements inimical to him; we remove them in his behalf."

"Vile agitator!" The financier-corpuscle, coursing around again, was so agitated that he nearly dropped a germ.

"Let him speak!" urged the studious corpuscle. "His views differ from mine, but I will be tolerant! I have arguments that will silence him soon. Now, then, my friend, if our reason for being is such as you describe, and you liken Men to us, these many men you speak of must occupy a relation to their Earth similar to ours to this Man. Do they pounce upon and destroy every organism malignant to their creature?"

"I have no doubt of it!" cried the old corpuscle. "I believe that, existing with those that are workers, are others, similar to them but idle or weak, or, at any rate, of no value to the Earth. I do not say that these worthless ones are pounced upon and eaten, but I do believe that in some way those of no value are forced out of existence; perhaps, besides weak and idle individuals, there are whole tribes who are being exterminated, unable to survive in the struggle with the fit."

"What industrious, unselfish beings these Men must be to do so much for their Earth!" sneered a doubter.

"Now, let him speak!" urged the tolerant philosopher. "I have arguments that will destroy his views, in a moment. Let there be freedom of speech, by all means!"

"Industrious and unselfish?" repeated the old corpuscle. "Are we? Industrious, yes; but unselfish, no! For our own existence we are working in this Man's behalf. We are not philanthropists. For the necessities of life we perform our appointed functions, most of us never dreaming that we are laboring in the interests of the Man we inhabit. So it is, I believe, with them! I can't imagine what their beneficent tasks are, but perhaps they till the soil, as we till the soil of this Man, keeping the Earth's system in good order, doing everything in the belief that they are working only for themselves."

"Pursue your analogy!" cried the rival philosopher. "If we populate a living creature, then the creature inhabited by Man must itself be a corpuscle floating in the system of something inconceivably vaster. We are leucocytes to Men; Men are to the Earth; then hordes of Earths are to a Universe? You speak of many Men. Are there hordes of Earths?"

"You have expressed a thought of my own! I believe that there are other creatures like the Earth. Perhaps they are faintly visible to the Earth. Perhaps they revolve and have orbits and course through a system just as we do."

"There," cried the old corpuscle's opponent. "I've got you! Be tolerant to him, my friends; I'll silence him in a moment. My friend, then these vast revolving creatures like the Earth are remote from one another? They float in nothingness, then? But you have called them corpuscles, or tiny parts of a whole. How can they be parts of a solid, when they are widely separated bodies floating in nothingness?"

"Take an object of any kind," was the answer. "Of what is it composed? You call it a solid, but I have lingered long enough in this Man's brain to catch glimmers of what he calls the atomic theory. This doctrine is, that all matter is composed of ultra-microscopic particles known as molecules. These molecules are not stationary; they revolve; they have orbits; in everything you think solid and dead, tiny specks of itself are floating and are never still. A myriad worlds like the Earth, are only molecules floating in ether, forming a solid, just as the molecules of any substance you are familiar with forma solid. Only comparatively are they far apart, as to a creature microscopic enough, the molecules of a bit of bone would seem far apart and not forming a solid, at all. To the molecules nearest to him he would give names, such as Neptune or Mars; like Men, he would call them planets; remoter molecules would be stars."

"Wretched nonsense!" cried the other philosopher-corpuscle. For he had no argument left. "Subversive of all modern thought! You ought to be locked up for promulgating your wild views! I'll be the first to hang you, if someone will bring a rope! You have it that all existence is a solid, then? That a myriad worlds like your fancied Earth are molecules to an ultimate creature? But there can, then, be no ultimate creature; he, in turn is but a microscopic part of-- Beware of him and don't listen to him, my friends!"

Suddenly a number of rough-looking corpuscles began to circulate through the crowd, paid in typhoid germs by the wrathful financier-corpuscle, who, standing farther down the artery, could not control his excitement, as he cried:

"Vile agitator! Already there is too much murmuring against my invested rights!"

"You tell us," shouted a rough-looking corpuscle, "that we, the conquering inhabitants of this Man, fresh from a war in which we were gloriously victorious, are placed in this Man only for his welfare?"

The crowd muttered indignantly.

"Fellow leucocytes," said the old philosopher, earnestly, "I do tell you that! Through our own selfish motives we do our best to benefit him, but each one of us for himself only, haphazard and without system. Then never mind what Man's relation to his Earth may be, and never mind what his Earth's relation to its Universe may be; let us think only of our relation to this Man. Let us have done with our grabbing and monopolizing, and study and find out just what is best for us to do in our appointed task of taking care of this Man. With that view, let us all work together and overcome that egotism that makes the thought of our own true humble sphere so repellant--"

But, excited by the defeated philosopher-corpuscle and the emissaries of the financier-corpuscle, the crowd had become a mob. Angrily it shouted:

"And he says that we, with our great warriors and leaders, our marvellous enterprises, our wondrous inventions, are only insignificant scavengers of this Man we inhabit? Down with him! Or, if we're too civilized to tear him apart, put him away where he belongs!"

And the fate of the wise old corpuscle would have been a fate common enough in the tragedies of philosophy, were it not that a few disciples hurried him away, seeking refuge in a tiny vein far from battle, struggle, and selfishness.

"He says we were made for the Man!" jeered the few leucocytes who gave the distasteful doctrine another thought. "But we know, and have every reason to know, that this Man was made for us!"

Steve Earle - Guitar Town

30 January 2009

Photo Hunt & .Friday Cat blogging - Furry

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is furry. Woohoo no need to stretch this theme with four cats! This is also my entry for this week's for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. Posting early as I will be indispoed until Saturday. (All of these have been posted before. I haven't had any time for photography recently)

29 January 2009

Social Vertigo

I saw 3 Daft Monkeys supporting Hawkwind at the Astoria in December. I liked them and was pleased that they were well received my the audience (I've seen the reception other support bands have had over the years!). Silly name but a great sound

A bit of McGonagall

It's been a while since I've posted a gem from the Tayside Tragedian so here goes. Don't forget that McGonagall Online is there to cater for your William Topaz requirements... after all it's the only poetry you'll ever need!

The Burial of Mr Gladstone
The Great Political Hero

Alas! the people now do sigh and moan
For the loss of Wm. Ewart Gladstone,
Who was a very great politician and a moral man,
And to gainsay it there's few people can.

'Twas in the year of 1898, and on the 19th of May,
When his soul took its flight for ever and aye,
And his body was interred in Westminster Abbey;
But I hope his soul has gone to that Heavenly shore,
Where all trials and troubles cease for evermore.

He was a man of great intellect and genius bright,
And ever faithful to his Queen by day and by night,
And always foremost in a political fight;
And for his services to mankind, God will him requite.

The funeral procession was affecting to see,
Thousands of people were assembled there, of every degree;
And it was almost eleven o'clock when the procession left Westminster Hall,
And the friends of the deceased were present- physicians and all.

A large force of police was also present there,
And in the faces of the spectators there was a pitiful air,
Yet they were orderly in every way,
And newspaper boys were selling publications without delay.

Present in the procession was Lord Playfair,
And Bailie Walcot was also there,
Also Mr Macpherson of Edinboro-
And all seemingly to be in profound sorrow.

The supporters of the coffin were the Earl Rosebery,
And the Right Honourable Earl of Kimberley,
And the Right Honourable Sir W. Vernon he was there,
And His Royal Highness the Duke of York, I do declare.

George Armitstead, Esq., was there also,
And Lord Rendal, with his heart full of woe;
And the Right Honourable Duke of Rutland,
And the Right Honourable Arthur J. Balfour, on the right hand;
Likewise the noble Marquis of Salisbury,
And His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, of high degree.

And immediately behind the coffin was Lord Pembroke,
The representative of Her Majesty, and the Duke of Norfolk,
Carrying aloft a beautiful short wand,
The insignia of his high, courtly office, which looked very grand.

And when the procession arrived at the grave,
Mrs Gladstone was there,
And in her countenance was depicted a very grave air;
And the dear, good lady seemed to sigh and moan
For her departed, loving husband, Wm. Ewart Gladstone.

And on the opposite side of her stood Lord Pembroke,
And Lord Salisbury, who wore a skull cap and cloak;
Also the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Rutland,
And Mr Balfour and Lord Spencer, all looking very bland.

And the clergy were gathered about the head of the grave,
And the attention of the spectators the Dean did crave;
Then he said, "Man that is born of woman hath a short time to live,
But, Oh, Heavenly Father! do thou our sins forgive."

Then Mrs Gladstone and her two sons knelt down by the grave,
Then the Dean did the Lord's blessing crave,
While Mrs Gladstone and her some knelt,
While the spectators for them great pity felt.

The scene was very touching and profound,
To see all the mourners bending their heads to the ground,
And, after a minute's most silent prayer,
The leave-taking at the grave was affecting, I do declare.

Then Mrs Gladstone called on little Dorothy Drew,
And immediately the little girl to her grandmamma flew,
And they both left the grave with their heads bowed down,
While tears from their relatives fell to the ground.

Immortal Wm. Ewart Gladstone! I must conclude my muse,
And to write in praise of thee my pen does not refuse-
To tell the world, fearlessly, without the least dismay,
You were the greatest politician in your day.

28 January 2009

And a terrible joke

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?," they asked, as they moved off."Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

Aye thangyou

Scrotumgate scandal rocks the House of Lords

The House of Lords is facing its greatest ever crisis following the reveleation that one peer A scandal involving a member of the House of Lords and a hoax medical disorder was exposed today.

According to the Independent Baroness Elaine Murphy (left), a cross-bench peer and former Professor of Psychiatry at Guy's Hospital, has confessed to manufacturing a medical condition which only existed in her imagination.
In a letter to the British Medical Journal published in 1974, the young Dr Murphy claimed to have discovered "cello scrotum", a painful affliction which only affected male players of the instrument. The spoof letter was written in response to an earlier one about "guitar nipple" from a Dr P Curtis, which the young Dr Murphy thought likely also to be a spoof.
Their secret was kept for more than three decades until a researcher writing in the 2008 Christmas issue of the BMJ cited cello scrotum among the health problems of musicians in an article entitled "A symphony of maladies". In a letter to the BMJ published today, the Baroness and her co-conspirator said the citation of their "discovery" in the Christmas BMJ prompted them to confess to their youthful prank. "Reading Curtis' letter on guitar nipple, we thought it highly likely to be a spoof and decided to go one further by pretending to have noticed a similar phenomenon in cellists. Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim," they write.

Their letter continues: "We have been dining out on this ever since. We were thrilled once more to be quoted in "A symphony of maladies". The BMJ has dubbed the episode "Scrotumgate" in a tribute to the political scandal that had engulfed Washington DC the previous year.

Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ, said: "It seems the BMJ has been deliciously hoaxed. It is wonderful it has been going all these years and no one realised. We frown on misconduct and medical fraud is taken very seriously. But in this case I hope I am right in saying that no harm has been done." The letter is illustrated by a cartoon of a naked cellist in pain – caused by his instrument, or by being the butt of a 34-year-old jape.

Scrotumgate indeed! How many young men have been put off the cello and become bankers for fear of knackering their knackers? As far as I am concerned she should be hand drawn and quartered.... in a nice hotel of course. Seriously this story gave me a damned good laugh!

26 January 2009

Forgiving Mengele

In 2005 Der Spiegel ran an article by Roman Heflik on Eva Kor. As Eva Mozes she and her twin sister Miriam survived experimentation by Joseph mengele. They were in a small minority of the twins that fell into the hands of the Angel of Death. But despite almost being murdered, Eva forgave the Nazis.
Eva and Miriam Mozes

It was the spring of 1944 when Eva Kor, along with her twin sister Miriam and her mother, arrived in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the family climbed down from the train, an agitated SS guard ran up to them yelling “Twins! Twins!” A few moments later, Eva and Miriam were torn away from their mother. They never saw her again.

Fast forward more than 60 years, and the young girl Eva is now an old woman of 71. On her left forearm, her tattoo from Auschwitz is still easily visible: A-7063. Yet while the fact that Eva is still alive may be astounding enough. At the time of the article Mme Kor was in Hamburg the invitation of the Körber Foundation for the debut of a documentary film about her life -- that really takes one’s breath away. The film was called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” Because that is exactly what Eva Mozes Kor did.

Her story, though, came close to ending prematurely. After being selected from among the new arrivals, the sisters were brought to Mengele. Mengele had a standing order for twins; he needed them for his “medical experiments.” Most of the time, he injected one of the twins with poison or with a bacteria or virus and then documented the development of the disease and the onset of death. As soon as the test patient died, he and his assistants would then immediately murder the twin sibling -- usually with an injection in the heart -- before performing simultaneous autopsies. Some 1,400 pairs of twins fell victim to Mengele’s barbaric experiments.

Eva Kor in Auschwitz (front right)

And it was exactly this that he intended to do with them twins. “But he had another thing coming,” Eva says defiantly. Thanks to an iron will -- and a strong immune system -- Eva survived the disease Mengele had injected into her veins. “I just kept thinking, ‘If I die, then Miriam will be murdered as well.’”

On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau and brought their nightmare to an end. Not too much later, the Kor twins emigrated to Israel. Eva then moved on to the United States, started her own family and became a real estate broker. But the suffering stayed with them. Miriam, too, had apparently received an injection from Mengele, but nobody could figure out what she was suffering from. Her kidneys, though, were failing. Once again, Eva did what she could to save her sister’s life and donated one of her own kidneys. But the disease could not be stopped and, in 1993, Miriam died in Israel.

Since then, however, Eva’s story has become one of forgiveness and personal healing. It is about a woman who made peace with those who exterminated her family and who tried to exterminate her. Kor’s path to peace began with a trip to Germany. Only a few weeks after the death of her sister, Eva flew to Germany to meet with a German doctor. Hans Münch was his name, and he had worked alongside Mengele in Auschwitz.
After World War II ended, the SS-medic faced war crimes charges, but was found not guilty. In contrast to his colleagues, it was found that Münch had not carried out any experiments on his patients.

She was incredibly nervous when she finally found herself standing in front of Münch’s door, Kor says. But then, an elderly gentleman with snow-white hair, a carefully trimmed beard and a shy smile opened the door. Yes, he admitted, he had been there during the gassings. “And that’s my problem,” he went on. He still suffers from depression and nightmares as a result. Kor had gone looking for a monster, but found a human being instead. “I then decided that I would write Münch a letter in which I forgave him,” Kor says.

Eva Kor today

But the resolute Auschwitz survivor went even further than that. When, in January 1995, the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was celebrated, Kor brought Münch along. On the snow-covered site of the former extermination camp, she read a confession of guilt from Münch to the gathered press. She saw it as an important statement from an eye-witness that could be used to contradict those who would deny the Holocaust. But then, she said, “In my own name, I forgive all Nazis.”

The other former concentration camp prisoners were horrified. “We have no right to forgive the perpetrators in the names of the victims,” was the formulation often used. Kor’s private amnesty was shocking, said one woman who had also been a victim of Mengele’s experiments on twins. And ever since Kor’s personal clemency, a number of Auschwitz survivors have done their best to avoid her. The pain and anger is just too deep. Can one really forgive pure evil? By doing so, does one not exonerate the murderers and torturers who ran the camps?

She is certain that she did the right thing. “I felt as though an incredibly heavy weight of suffering had been lifted,” she says. “I never thought I could be so strong.” She says that because she was able to forgive her worst enemies, she was finally able to free herself from her victim status. But, she is quick to add, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. “What the victims do does not change what happened,” she says. But every victim has the right to heal themselves as well as they can. “And the best thing about the remedy of forgiveness,” she says, “is that there are no side effects. And everybody can afford it.”

In 1984 Kor founded CANDLES (An acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experi¬ments Survivors). She and her Miriam located 122 individual survivors of Dr. Mengele's experiments, living in ten countries, and four continents. In 1995 she founded the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. The original museum was destroyed in an arson attack in 2003. White supremacist vermin were suspected.

Eva Kor will celebrate her 75th Birthday on Friday 31 January. She is a remarkable woman who found the strength to forgive despite what she endured in Auschwitz. I sincerely doubt that I could have found the same strength

Go and play with a Nintendo you little brat

Today’s BBC carries a report about vile little brat who has earned a dubious record. Aged 11 Mexican Michelito Lagravere Peniche became the youngest matador to kill six young bulls in a single fight

The controversial spectacle was given a last minute go-ahead by the authorities despite pressure from child protection and anti-bullfighting campaign groups. Merida's mayor had suspended the record attempt, saying it was illegal for youths under the age of 18 to take part in high-risk public performances. But the state prosecutor's office overturned the ban just hours before the fight after Michelito's father - a former French bullfighter - launched an appeal.

Some 3,500 people, including many children, reportedly gathered to witness the fight at the ring in the eastern city of Merida in Yucatan state. The child matador is already an international star in the world of bullfighting. He first entered the ring when he was four, killed his first bull calf two years later and has since taken on dozens of animals around the world.

"The bullfighting opponents shouldn't stick their nose in things they don't like," he said ahead of his record attempt. No-one is forcing them to watch bullfights or to keep informed about them. It's as if I told a boy who does motocross not to do it, it's very bothersome."

Last year, the child prodigy (PRODIGY?) caused a public outcry in France while he was touring the bullfighting circuit there. Several cities banned him from killing animals during his appearances after anti-bullfighting activists waged a high profile campaign. They said they had targeted him over other younger matadors because "he fights in corridas [bullfights] aiming to kill".

To be honest I will not shed a single tear if this little brat gets gored by one of the bulls – after all it is an occupational hazard of the so-called sport. As far as I am concerned bullfighting is a barbaric spectacle that should have been consigned the dustbin of history a long time ago. Michelito should go off and do something far more productive with his time like whacking off and playing video games.

25 January 2009

Political Spectrum

I saw the link to the US version of the Political Compass test (although it is called the Political Spectrum test). over at Tygerland. Unsurprisingly I was placed in the libertarian left - no surprise there....

My Political Views
I am a left social libertarian
Left: 5.06, Libertarian: 4.1

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -3.34

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -5.56

Political Spectrum Quiz

Any test of this sort is going to be far from perfect but at least it tries to add a dimension to the left/right split.

According to the original Political Compass test, my scores are pretty similar on the left/right split but I appear to be a bit more libertarian.. make of that what you will.

It did pass a bit of time on a wet Sunday

Did Mengele continue his perverted work in Brazil?

The Angel of Death

If someone ever deserved the sobriquet "Angel of Death" it was Joseph Mengele. As a doctor at Birkenau from 1943 until his flight in the face of the Red Army in January 1945, he conducted appalling experiments (although what the evil bastard did could hardly be called scientific), mainly on twins but also on others including the dwarf Ovitz family. He once attempted to create conjoined twins from two Roma children. Essentially he represented a clinically callous evil. Click here for more details of his ghastly deeds.

Mengele's subjects rarely if ever had the benefit of anaesthetic

After the war Mengele escaped capture and justice (although death would have been far too good for him) or possibly the fate meted out to amoral scum like Werner von Braun or the utterly evil Japanese Unit 731 - to be taken in to the service of the USA or the other allies, He lived the rest of his life in South America dying from a stroke while out swimming in 1979. It is believed that the sharks refused to touch his body.

According to an article in the Telegraph last week a historian claims believes that Mengele's ghastly experiments may have borne fruit: for years scientists have failed to discover why as many as one in five pregnancies in a small Brazilian town have resulted in twins – most of them blond haired and blue eyed.

The twins of Candido Godoi

But residents of Candido Godoi now claim that Mengele made repeated visits there in the early 1960s, posing at first as a vet but then offering medical treatment to the women of the town.

In a new book, Mengele: the Angel of Death in South America, the Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa, a specialist in the post-war Nazi flight to South America, has painstakingly pieced together the Nazi doctor's mysterious later years. After speaking to the townspeople of Candido Godoi, he is convinced that Mengele continued his genetic experiments with twins. After working with cattle farmers in Argentina to increase their stock, Mengele fled the country after fellow Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, was kidnapped by Israeli agents. He allegedly found refuge in the German enclave of Colonias Unidas, Paraguay, and from there, in 1963, began to make regular trips to another predominantly German community just over the border in Brazil – the farming community of Candido Godoi. And, Mr Camaras claims, it was here that soon after the birthrate of twins began to spiral.

"I think Candido Godoi may have been Mengele's laboratory, where he finally managed to fulfil his dreams of creating a master race of blond haired, blue eyed Aryans," he said. "There is testimony that he attended women, followed their pregnancies, treated them with new types of drugs and preparations, that he talked of artificial insemination in human beings, and that he continued working with animals, proclaiming that he was capable of getting cows to produce male twins."

Some of Mengele's victims

The urbane German who arrived in Candido Godoi was remembered with fondness by many of the townspeople. “He told us he was a vet," said Aloisi Finkler, a local farmer. "He asked about illnesses we had among our animals, and told us not to worry, he could cure them. He appeared a cultured and dignified man." Another farmer, Leonardo Boufler, said: "He went from farm to farm checking the animals. He checked them for TB, and injected those that were infected. He said he could carry out artificial insemination of cows and humans, which we thought impossible as in those days it was unheard of."

A former mayor and town doctor, Anencia Flores da Silva, set out to try to solve the town's mystery. He interviewed hundreds of people, and discovered one character who crept on cropping up: an itinerant medic calling himself Rudolph Weiss. Dr da Silva said: "In the testimonies we collected we came across women who were treated by him, he appeared to be some sort of rural medic who went from house to house. He attended women who had varicose veins and gave them a potion which he carried in a bottle, or tablets which he brought with him. Sometimes he carried out dental work, and everyone remembers he used to take blood."
The people of Candido Godoi now largely accept that a Nazi war criminal was an inadvertent guest of theirs for several years in the early 1960s. The town's official crest shows two identical profiles and a road sign welcomes visitors to a "Farming Community and Land of the Twins". There is also a museum, the House of the Twins.

"Nobody knows for sure exactly what date Mengele arrived in Candido Godoi, but the first twins were born in 1963, the year in which we first hear reports of his presence," he said.

Again I have no idea whether this is all a load of nonsense but it is intriguing. It is the greatest tragedy that Mengele did not answer for his crimes. Having said that when I think of his sort I really hope there is a hellish afterlife, despite being a very lazy atheist. I am sure eternity would be painful for him....

Eva Kor, a victim of Mengele's experiments who has found it in her heart to forgive. More on her in a later post.

24 January 2009

Hamlet and the death of the noseless astronomer

Continuing with the Shakespearean theme yesterday’s theme (albeit a slightly tenuous link to the theme!) Times reports on the possible resolution of a 400 year old murder mystery. Researchers believe that they open the tomb of Tycho Brahe, the Danish astronomer, there will be proof that he was murdered by a contract killer.

A beast, that wants discourse of reason

Archeologists are waiting for permission to open the tomb in the Tyn Cathedral, in Prague. Brahe was the first astronomer to describe a supernova and is famous for his incredibly accurate measurements of celestial movements in the pre-telescope era and for having catalogued more than 1,000 new stars. He is also famous for wearing a prosthetic nose of gold and silver after losing his own at the age of 20 in a rapier duel resulting from a row over a mathematical formula.

A new theory by Danish scholars claims that Brahe was poisoned with mercury on the orders of Christian IV, the King of Denmark, because the astronomer had an affair with his mother. It is even suggested that Shakespeare used the alleged liaison as an inspiration for Hamlet,

Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king

Brahe was celebrated across Europe and served as personal astrologer of King Friedrich II of Denmark. He was held in such regard that more than 5 per cent of Denmark's gross national product went into his projects. When the King died and his son Christian IV ascended the throne, Brahe fell from grace and had to flee the country. In 1597 he settled in Prague, where he became the court astrologert of Emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg, but died soon after, aged 57. According to an account by his assistant Brahe died because he was too polite to leave the table at a banquet until his bladder “became twisted”.

A little more than kin, and less than kind.

Peter Andersen, a Danish scholar at the University of Strasbourg, believes that Brahe was poisoned by his cousin Count Eric Brahe, a Swedish diplomat in the service of the Danish Crown. Last year Professor Andersen found the diary of the alleged murderer, in which he records many meetings with Hans, the brother of Christian IV, on whose orders he is believed to have gone to Prague to murder his cousin.

Professor Andersen believes that his cousin slipped mercury into Brahe's drink. Tests on his hair showed mercury levels one hundred times above normal as a result of ingesting a large quantity of the liquid metal about 13 hours before his death, coinciding with the visit from his cousin.

Prospero revealed?

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep

According to today’s Times an amateur historian may have identified the person who was the inspiration for The Tempest’s Prospero, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. (Left is John Gielgud as Prospero in Prter Greenaway's Prospero's Books)

Until now no one has been able to say with certainty what, or who, inspired the creation of the exiled Duke of Milan though many of Shakespeare's characters were based on real people and events. Retired policeman Brian Moffat, claims to have said he stumbled upon the basis for Prospero after he and his wife bought an old chest that turned out to be the marriage trunk of Francis Stewart, the Earl of Bothwell, whose extraordinary antics and rebellious behaviour caused a political and religious scandal.

Now does my project gather to a head: My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time Goes upright with his carriage. How's the day?

Stewart believed that his cousin, James VI, should invade England to avenge the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. When the King refused to consider it, he turned against him. Stewart was implicated in plots to kill the King and was rumoured to be heavily involved in witchcraft and sorcery. In 1590 he was said to have dressed as the devil during a witches' sabbath, and cast a spell, summoning up a storm - just as Prospero did - in an attempt to wreck the king's ship. He failed, and James survived to ascend the English throne as well 13 years later. Stewart was imprisoned.

Mr Moffat believes that Shakespeare may have heard the stories of his eccentric behaviour from King James's jester, Archie Armstrong, a high-ranking member of the king's court who is thought to have inspired the character of the fool in King Lear. “In 1590 Francis Stewart appeared in a pulpit at North Berwick Kirk dressed as the devil and summoned a storm to sink the King's ship,” said Mr Moffat. “That incident is the starting point of The Tempest. There you have an exiled nobleman, who is also a necromancer, who summons up a storm to sink the ruling Duke's ship. The similarities between the accounts and Shakespeare's plot are striking. It is very likely Stewart is the inspiration for Prospero.”

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nurture can never stick.

Like Prospero, Stewart was finally exiled by his political rival, James VI. He was charged with treason for his part in a plot to abduct the King from Holyrood Palace in 1589, and also stood trial in 1591 on charges of witchcraft after the North Berwick Kirk incident. In 1594 he fell out with the King again. He was finally exiled in 1595 and died penniless in Naples in 1612.

Dr Sarah Carpenter, who lectures on Shakespeare at the University of Edinburgh, said Moffat's theory could not be proved beyond doubt, but a link with Stewart was possible. I have no idea whether there is any truth in this or not but it is an intriguing idea. but now:

There, sir, stop: Let us not burthen our remembrance with A heaviness that's gone

23 January 2009

Photo Hunt - Chipped

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is chipped. Rather than lok for one of our many chipped mugs I thought I would go for a stone found in Derrynane Co Kerry in Ireland. The vertical cracks are quite natural but along the edge of the stone are deilberate horizontal marks. This is an ancient Irish script called Ogham. I can't remember what the inscription says though

Robyn and ....2

Robyn and the not-wife again

22 January 2009

Motorhead - Overkill

Passion, Precision, Pint - Holding up the league

I’ve often wondered which team is the strongest football team in England? Not the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea etc but the one which is at the rock bottom of the English football hierarchy? For some reason I never bothered looking for the answer until a couple of days ago and, quite surprisingly, it was easy to find.

The English Football League system consists of 24 tiers starting with the Premiership, going down through the Football League Championship then the League divisions, the Conferences and so on down to tier 24 which is represented by just one league division – the Bristol Downs Football League Division 4

According to the BBC the team propping up division 4 is Tebby AFC reserves.

It is but a few years’ work to work up through the four division of the Bristol Downs league, the six divisions of the Bristol and District league, the two divisions of the Bristol Premier combination, the Gloucestershire County League, the two divisions of the Toolstation Western Football League, the British Gas Southern leagues, the Conference leagues and finally Divisions 2,1 and Championship then the Premiership....

With a fair wind Tebby AFC reserves could be in Europe by the time I’m 70....

In the meantime don’t forget Tebby’s mantra “Passion, Precision, Pint” It’s what the game is really about.

21 January 2009

Chemical Warfare ancient style?

Think of chemical warfare and like me you would probably think of the use of chlorine or mustard gas on the Western front during WWI, or perhaps Saddam’s murder of Kurds in Halabja at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. According to a BBC report, however, a researcher claims to have found evidence that the Persian Empire used poisonous gases on the Roman city of Dura, Eastern Syria, in the 3rd Century AD.

The theory is based on the discovery of remains of about 20 Roman soldiers found at the base of the city wall. A study shows that the Persians dug a mine underneath the wall in order to enter the city. They then ignited bitumen and sulphur crystals to produce dense poisonous gases, possibly using underground bellows or chimneys probably to help generate and distribute the fumes.

"For the Persians to kill 20 men in a space less than 2m high or wide, and about 11m long, required superhuman combat powers - or something more insidious," said Simon James of the University of Leicester "The Roman assault party was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes. It is clear from the archaeological evidence at Dura that the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans,"

Although the mine failed to destroy the structures, the attackers eventually conquered the city. Dura was later abandoned, and its inhabitants were slaughtered or deported to Persia.

Mehmet Aygun RIP

Mahmut Aygun was one of those unsung heroes who made life just that little bit better in one way or another. Some people create great art, others are great scientists; Mehmet Aygun, who died in Berlin at the age of 87, was a culinary master who ensured that drunks had something spicy to eat (and puke) after a night on the pop..

Known as the "kebab king" Aygun born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16 to open a snack stall. He invented the doner kebab nearly 40 years ago. Although kebab meat, consisting of roast lamb and spices, had traditionally been served with rice, Mr Aygun saw that the future lay in putting the meat inside a pitta bread.

Mr Aygun once said: "I thought how much easier it would be if they could take their food with them."The first of the new snacks was served on March 2, 1971, at Hasir, his restaurant in Berlin.It was called a doner kebab after the Turkish word "dondurmek" which means a rotating roast.

Mr Aygun went on to invent the yoghurt sauce often served with a doner kebab. In Berlin his death was greeted with sadness and one headline read: "Thanks, Mahmut!"

Mahmut Aygun, we salute you!

At one point Myr Aygun was challenged by a group from the United States which claimed that the kebab had in fact been invented in California in 1846. However, the Truckee Lake Society was deemed not to have put forward sufficient proof that the Donner Kabob (as they called it) used similar seasonings or served the meat in a pitta. Furthermore it was considered that the Doner should use lamb and not Long pig....

19 January 2009

John Cale - Venus in Furs

Nico - Chelsea Girls

Beating Blue Monday?

Today is Blue Monday, the darkest, dreariest and most depressing day of the year. It’s the day when weather, post Xmas impecuniousness and the like come together to make us feel utterly miserable. But fear not! According to yesterday’s BBC a group of optimists will attempt to banish "Blue Monday"

The Optimists' Society want to reclaim the "most depressing day of the year" as International Optimism Day. The society will send cheer packages to celebrities such as Jeremy Paxman, and will host a free comedy show in London. James Battison, founder of the "loose-knit social-action group" said: "As an optimist you get to bathe luxuriously in your own good-feeling, while also sparking some fun and laughter in others. It's a win-win way to live. I highly recommend it! The key to feeling positive lies in taking action and making other people smile. Remember, life could always be worse, but with positive action things will always get better."

Cheer packages are also being sent to Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys, famously straight-faced comedian Jack Dee and the cast of the BBC soap EastEnders. In London, a free lunchtime comedy show will be held at the Comedy Store, featuring a motivational session from comedian Neil Mullarkey.

The Optimists Society describes itself as "a social-action group promoting positivity and helping people make a difference to themselves and others through simple actions".

Lifting the gloom of the general public is all well and good and I wish them well but making that sanctimonious sod Paxman smile? I would have thought the only way you could do make him smile is with a chisel.....

18 January 2009

Boddam – the real home of the monkey hangers?


The people of Hartlepool appear to be proud of the sobriquet monkey hanger (although I won’t put it to the test by calling the first person from the Pools I meet that name....) to the point that the local football club mascot is called H’angus. This is the former job of the current mayor...

The name stems from the Napoleonic era when a French ship was wrecked off Hartlepool in the Napoleonic Wars. A monkey found in the water was hanged by fishermen fearing it was a spy.

However it would seem that Hartleppool should not have claim to the sobriquet: according to the BBC an Aberdeen University study claims the tale originated in Scotland. Fiona-Jane Brown, a folklorist at Aberdeen University's Elphinstone Institute, suggests the Hartlepool legend stems from a similar incident off the village of Boddam, near Peterhead, in 1772.

A song of the time recalls how a monkey survived a shipwreck off Boddam. The villagers could only claim salvage rights if there were no survivors from the wreck, so they allegedly hanged the monkey. Ms Brown claims the song was adapted over many years as it travelled down the east coast, eventually spawning a Hartlepool version and embedding the monkey myth in Teesside culture.

"On Teesside, the legend has been generally adopted as a positive marker of social identity which survived on the football field. She said "But in Scotland, the Boddamers have refused to accept what they see as a slur against their community, a bad memory of bitter rivalries of the past."

I suppose it’s lucky for the people of Hartlepool that the Boddamers are in no rush to wrest the title of monkey hanger...

Where everyone is a trillionaire!

That money can’t by you everything is an eternal Truth. However it is not a good situation when you money can’t buy you anything....as is the case in Zimbabwe.

According to the BBC on Friday Zimbabwe is introducing a Z$100 trillion note. This will be worth initially £30 (but this is likely to reduce fast) 10, 20 and 50 trillion dollar notes are also being are also being released to help Zimbabweans cope with hyperinflation.

The latest annual figure for inflation, estimated in July last year, was 231m% - the world's highest. "In a move meant to ensure that the public has access to their money from banks, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has introduced a new family of banknotes which will gradually come into circulation, starting with the Z$10 trillion," Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper quotes a bank statement as saying.

But previous issues of new banknotes - and the dropping of several zeros from the currency - have done little to help Zimbabweans cope with inflation. On Tuesday, a 50bn Zimbabwean dollar note was issued, less than a month after a Z$500m bill was released.

Prices can double every day, and food and fuel - for those without US dollars - are in short supply. Some shops are licensed to sells goods in foreign currency but everyone from vegetable sellers to mobile phone service providers peg their prices to the US dollar. Most groceries are brought in by Zimbabweans from neighbouring South Africa, Botswana or Zambia, further driving up prices.

MOAB - The Mother of all bank notes

If there is one crumb of comfort to be derived it’s that Zimbabwe, while in an utterly disastrous state, has not quite gotten to the level of hyperinflation that Hungary saw post WWII. For now the highest banknote will be for:

100 000 000 000 000 Z$

The highest denomination banknote issued in Hungary was for:

100 000 000 000 000 000 000 Pengos

The way Zimbabwe is going it wont be long before notes of these size are issued....

17 January 2009

Twelve Fountains of Blood - Simin Bebhahani

(For what sin was she slain?)

On her shirt flowed the blood from twelve fountains of blood.

In the dust of madness laid her twin jasmine braids.
streams of blood ran down her body as if not from wounds.
her mouth was open, as if an angel had made her smile.
It was as if her clothes were not sprinkled by a tyrant’s lead,
but the sky had sprinkled starts in the cup of her body.
She who sat in my class, politely, for a year, has fallen.
She does not mind me anymore.
What would Ahriman want from an angel so pure?
His kiss and death have branded her breast,
even though the two buds there had not yet blossomed.
Who has the heart to surrender to a shroud
a body like porcelain, once accustomed to wearing silk?
Her presence will never again light up her father's eyes.
Brothers, what happened to her shirt in the thick of the night?

What was her sin? Tell me. It must be asked.
Don't keep it a secret, if you hear anything about it.

From a Cup of Sin - Selected Poems.

Written in 1985 the poem was inspired by the death of one of her students during a crack down of dissidents. The 12 fountains refers to the number of bullets in a clips used by semi automatic weapons used by Iranian armed forces at the time.
The quote at the top is from the Qoran (The Sura of Darkening) "When the seas shall be boiling, when the souls shall be paired with bodies, and when the girl who was buried alive shall be asked for what sin was she slain"

The Blog Opium and Saffron has a superb post on Simin Bebhahani. It is well worth a read

Photo Hunt - Hats

Picasso painting at L'Orangerie, Paris

Fleet Air Arm memorial, London

Archbishop Luwum of Uganda, murdered by Idi Amin and commemorated at Westminster Abbey

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is hats. I don't wear a hat and the not-wife doesn't outside of weddings so here are a few photos of subjects with hats.

16 January 2009

Guinness World Record shot down in flames?

I remember the name Vesna Vulovic from the Guinness Book of Records as a child. Miraculously she survived a 33,000 feet (10km) fall and became (cue Roy Castle) a record breaker by surviving the highest fall without a parachute.

On January 26 1972 Vulovic was a flight attendant on JAT flight JU367 from Stockholm to Belgrade which exploded in mid air. The other 27 persons on board were killed. At the time the Yugoslav Government claimed that the explosion had been the work of Croatian nationalists.

However the official account has been challenged by two journalists who claim it was a fabrication by Communist authorities to cover up a mistake. According to Tuesday’s Guardian, Peter Hornung and Pavel Theiner, investigative journalists in Prague, JU367 was probably mistaken for an enemy aircraft and shot down by a Czechoslovakian air force fighter, causing it to fall and break up at a much lower height than previously believed.

Based on secret documents, mainly from the Czech civil aviation authority, unearthed after more than a year of research, Hornung said he did not believe the aircraft was blown up by Croatian nationalists. "It is extremely probable that the aircraft was shot down by mistake by the Czechoslovak air force, and in order to cover it up the secret police conceived the record plunge," he said. "No doubts have ever been expressed regarding the fall. The story was so good and so beautiful that no one thought to ask any questions."

Black boxes were never found.

According to an official version of events Vulovic had been in the tail section of the plane, even though eye witnesses have repeatedly said they found her in or around the middle, above the wings. She suffered a fractured skull, broken legs, and three broken vertebrae.

The new investigation says villagers from Srbská Kamenice, the Czechoslovakian village near the East German border where the JAT DC9 fell, reported having seen the plane intact but on fire below the clouds before it broke up. That and the small area of crash debris indicated the plane had disintegrated at around 800 metres. A second plane was also spotted.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his East German counterpart Erich Honecker were reportedly in the air at the time after a conference in Prague, supporting the theory that the DC9 was mistaken for a military threat to them.

Vulovic has no memory of the crash and can only recall boarding the Zagreb-bound flight before it took off in Copenhagen. When interviewed recently she said she would not be disappointed if the world record turned out not to be true. After recovering from her injuries she took a desk job at JAT, but she was fired from her job in 1990 after expressing opposition to Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and taking part in rallies against his rule.

Vesna Vulovic in 2008

Vulovic, 59, lives in Belgrade and is still considered a heroine throughout the former Yugoslavia. She continues to have an active but low-key role in politics, protesting against Serb nationalism. In an interview with the New York Times last summer, she said: "I am like a cat ... I have had nine lives. But if nationalist forces in this country prevail, my heart will burst

I have no idea whether Hornung and Theiner have put on their tin foil hats or not but it is an interesting idea. More over I do admire Vulovic’s stance on nationalism. More of her sort might have consigned Milosevic to the dustbin of history sparing large parts of the former Yugoslavia years of death and destruction.

It's that damn camera again

Robn is not happy to be woken up and photographed

15 January 2009

Swedish cows make lousy earthquake detectors- Official!

According to The Local (an English language Swedish news website) data gathered during a recent Swedish earthquake has determined that that cows in Skåne are frankly rubbish at detecting earthquakes. They were so bad they hardly even noticed the shaking beneath their feet, thus disappointing researchers who suspected the animals had an innate ability to detect natural disasters.

Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) had hoped that sensors placed on a number of cows from a herd (totalling eight cows) in southern Sweden would reveal interesting clues about how the animals behaved before and during the quake. “Very little, almost nothing, points to the cows having any advance awareness of or feeling the effects of the earthquake,” said the SLU’s Anders Herlin . “One can probably say that, as a species, cows are not the world’s most earthquake-sensitive animals,”

Ah well perhaps chickens will do better....

Kim Jong-il declares successor..... possibly

Just 10 days after noting that the Dear Leader had apparently placed a moratorium on discussion of his succession (see post here) there comes news that he has changed his mind, or had his mind changed for him, or possibly time passes more quickly in what is surely heaven on earth (and I wrote that with a straight face - amazing!).

According to the Times (and presumably lots of other papers) Intelligence sources in Seoul have suggested that Kim has chosen his third and favourite son, Jong Un, to take over the family business-cum-personality cult that is the DPRK.

Kim Jong Un is thought to be no more than 24 years old was educated in Switzerland and is the child of Kim’s third marriage. In the regular and heated speculation among North Korea watchers over the shape of a world without Mr Kim, Jong Un has been routinely dismissed as a likely successor because of his youth. Little about his upbringing is thought to make him suited to the task of following in the dynastic footsteps. And if he does take control he will preside over a dead economy and an agricultural crisis that annually pushes the country dangerously close to famine.

Analysts at the Korea Institute for National Unification said that the critical date to watch was the parliamentary election on March 8: if Jong Un is suddenly given a seat on the powerful National Defence Commission that will be a sign that he is begun the grooming process required before he can succeed his father. Experts in North Korean propaganda said that the selection of young successor was a logical step for the regime: the cult surrounding the “Dear Leader” has consistently presented him as vigorous and hearty. If, as many suspect, Mr Kim has suffered a stroke and is actually rather frail, the only way to present that reality to ordinary North Koreans, said one government source in Seoul, is with his young, vigorous son at his side.

Rumours of the anointment have been greeted with scepticism in some intelligence quarters, as were suggestions that the political and military hierarchies had already been asked to pass the heir apparent’s name down through their ranks to prepare people for an eventual handover - Many observers believe that South Korean intelligence “scoops” on the subject are liable to be flawed.

Questions began to arise last September when Mr Kim failed to make an appearance at a huge public parade for which participants had been rehearsing for more than a year. As suspicions mounted that the Dear Leader might be critically ill or dying, so too did worries over a possible power vacuum at the top of the notoriously unpredictable regime. If he died without selecting and grooming an heir, said US intelligence sources in December, the risks of instability were substantial.

The succession question had been complicated by the lack of an obvious heir. Kim’s eldest son, Jong Cartman, sorry, Nam, is believed to have put himself out of the running with a series of blunders including an attempt to enter Japan with a forged passport - he had allegedly been attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland. According to a biography written by his former sushi chef, Kim considers his second son, Jong Chol, too weak to be in the running as successor.

So There you have it. As I said just 10 days ago this could be baseless speculation but it is, nevertheless, interesting. It does say something about the DPRK that Kim's daughter, Kim Sul-seong, who is apparently a trusted confidante and already holds a senior post in the ruling Workers Party, is unlikely to get a look in.

There is burning question: if Kim the First was the Great Leader and Kim the Second is the Dear Leader, what will Jong Un be called? The Cute Leader? The Moderately Priced Leader? The Bless his Cotton Socks Leader? I wait with bated breath

14 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan died yesterday aged 80,

Bill Stone dies

Bill Stone, one of the last veterans of WWI, died on 10 January at the age of 108. Stone joined the Royal Navy on 23 September 1918. He was still in training at the time of the Armistice but while serving on HMS Tiger he witnessed the scuttling of the German Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919.

Stone also served in WWII. He participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk which he described as: ” the worst experience of my life ... I saw hundreds of people killed in front of me. Some had no clothes on and were shot and bombed as they swam out to boats. There were oil tanks burning, ships sinking and hundreds of soldiers lined up on the beaches” He also served on the Arctic convoys and participated in allied the invasion of Sicily. He left the Royal Navy in 1945 and set up a barber’s shop.

Stone made his last public appearance on 11 November 2008 (the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI) when together with fellow veterans Henry Allingham and Harry Patch he laid a commemorative wreath for the Act of Remembrance at The Cenotaph.

His daughter described him as a "very determined character “ and “a man of great faith”

There are now just seven WWI veterans alive

Lasantha Wickramatunga - Chronicle of a Death Foretold

I normally avoid Newspaper comment sections like the plague but once in a while an article is impossible to ignore. Lasantha Wickramatunga was the editor of the Independent Sri Lankan newspaper the Sunday Leader. The Sunday Leader has a reputation for independent news coverage in a country where press freedom is curtailed and the wages of journalism can often be death. Wickramatunga was shot by four gunmen while on the way to work on 8 January. On 11 January the Sunday Leader published a posthumous editorial. This edited version appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free yesterday:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces - and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the last few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print institutions have been burned, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories, and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be the Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists; tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood.

Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries.

Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.
But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For instance, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urge government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens.
For these views we have been labelled traitors; and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that the Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition, it is only because we believe that - excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the United National party was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred.

Indeed, the stream of embarrassing expositions we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE is among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery - much of it unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self-respect. Do not imagine you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the postwar era. The wounds of war will scar them for ever, and you will have an even more bitter and hateful diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my compatriots - and all the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended.

In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and I have been friends for more than a quarter-century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining to routinely address him by his first name and use the familiar Sinhala address - oya - when talking to him.

Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the Sri Lanka Freedom party presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air.

Then, through an act of folly, you got involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, urging you to return the money. By the time you did, several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well, my sons and daughter do not have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry.

But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life but yours too depends on it.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice.

As for the readers of the Sunday Leader, what can I say but thank you for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view.

For this I - and my family - have paid the price that I had long known I would one day have to pay. I am, and have always been, ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remained to be written was when.

That the Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before the Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your president to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemöller. In his youth he was an antisemite and an admirer of Hitler. As nazism took hold of Germany, however, he saw nazism for what it was. It was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view.

Niemöller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, he wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, let it be this: the Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.