31 May 2009

World condemns North Yorkshire nuclear test

Radio Five Live has reported on the worldwide disapproval of the recent nuclear test in North Yorkshire. "There has been widespread condemnation of North Yorkshire's decision to carry out an underground nuclear test. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, says he is deeply worried."

In an address from the presidential bunker in Ri Pon, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Yorkshire (DPRY), T’Leader Ken John Arkwright stated that this was a triumph for workers and anti-imperialists across the world:

“It is indeed a great achievement that has made the imperialists tremble with fear and has shattered the arrogance and pride of the imperialists. The stock markets and currencies have fallen.Meanwhile the crazed imperialist politicans yap yap endlessly “ he said. “We have turned the DPRY into a mighty power that can defeat any enemy and can defend itself in any situation against any aggressor”

Unsurprisingly the Yorkshire Friendship Association were fulsome in their praise. The people of South Yorkshire were, by comparison, deeply concerned..

African immigrants swarm to Britain

They come literally in their millions and yet the mainstream media ignore this story. The country is in the midst of an invasion of African migrants. The immigrants invade our public spaces and take food with no regard for the laws of this land

Mercifully the only people likely to be up in arms are the lepidopterist section of the BNP. The new arrivals are painted lady butterflies and the only resources they will devour are nectar and thistles. (I doubt a member of the Bastard Nazi Party could spell lepidopterist though although they might scream that they are “coming here and stealing our nectar”)

According to a recent article in the Guardian this year’s migration could be the biggest in years. Up to 18,000 were spotted sailing on the breeze across Scolt Head Island on the north Norfolk coast: 50 arriving every minute according to Natural England nature reserve staff.

The mass migration began about 10 days ago when large numbers were seen off Portland Bill in Dorset. Since then thousands of painted ladies have turned up everywhere, from central London to Dumfries and Galloway.

A painted lady in Romford

Painted ladies reach our shores every summer, but the last major migration was in 1996. This year, rumours of an impending invasion began circulating in late winter. Scientist, Constanti Stefanescu, reported seeing hundreds of thousands of them emerging in Morocco in mid-February after heavy winter rains in north Africa triggered the germination of food plants devoured by its caterpillars. Aided by favourable winds large numbers were seen in Spain during April. A few weeks later, they had reached France.

"We've had reasonable migrations before, but nothing this sudden," says Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation. "All the signs are it could be one of the biggest ever."

On the coast, all you may see is a flash of orange whizz past at head height. When they settle on garden flowers they are as striking as their less adventurous relatives, the red admiral and the small tortoiseshell. Certain weeds should be very afraid: painted lady caterpillars feast on thistles before emerging as a new generation of adult butterflies in August.

Come September, the painted ladies will be off again: the British-born generation begin an epic reverse trip back to North Africa.

The photo is one I took in our front garden a couple of days ago. I think it’s a painted lady rather than a native butterfly...

30 May 2009


Until yesterday I had never heard of this but according to Space.com the sun will set tonight in exact alignment with the cross streets of Manhattan's street grid,

This is apparently known as Manhattanhenge.34th Street and 42nd Street are good viewing locations and the ball of the sun will be half above the horizon (Tomorrow, the whole sphere will be above the horizon at 817pm), half below. There is another opportunity to see the alignment at 825pm EDT on 11 (whole sphere) and12 July (half sphere)

Manhattan's street grid was laid down by the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, which was adopted by the New York State Legislature. New York isn't the only city that can have its own "henge" events: Any city crossed by a rectangular grid has days where the setting Sun aligns with the streets. But a clear view of the horizon and straight streets are needed, and New York might be the only city that fits the bill.

I'll, probably never get that chance to see the winter solstice sunrise light up the passage grave in Newgrange but this looks like something worth seeing one day.

Photo Hunt - books

Book Spines

Book cover

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is books.

The second photo is the cover of the Folio edition of my favourite novel - the Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.

28 May 2009

A Black Tommy at the Somme

Saturday’s Independent carried a photograph (above) featuring three artillerymen. It is a very rare example of an image of a black British soldier from WWI.

The photograph is one of almost 400 snaps of British soldiers on the eve of, and during, the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The photographs, all of which are preserved on glass plates, lay undisturbed in the attic of a ramshackle barn 10 miles behind the Somme battlefields for more than 90 years. When the barn changed hands in 2007, they were thrown on to the street. Passers-by collected a few and eventually the historical value of the plates, some in perfect condition, some badly damaged, was realised.

Recently the photographs have been assembled and their images printed, scanned and digitally restored by two local men, Bernard Gardin and Dominique Zanardi. M. Gardin, 60, is a photography enthusiast, while M. Zanardi, 49, owns the "Tommy" cafe, which sits in the heart of the Somme battlefield in the village of Pozières.

An amateur photographer, possibly a local farmer, is believed to have taken the photographs in the winter of 1915-16 and the spring and summer of 1916. The unknown photographer presumably made a crust by charging British soldiers a few francs to take a snap which they could send home to their loved ones. The collection forms a record of the British army on the eve of and during the Battle of the Somme The identity of the soldiers is, and may always remain, a mystery.

The image of the black Tommy in possibly the most historically significant. There was a small black community (about 20,000 strong) in Britain during WWI, mostly living at sea ports. Black Britons are known to have volunteered and fought on the Western Front but photographs of them are extremely rare.

The British First World War historian, Michael Stedman, has identified the three soldiers in the photograph as members of the Royal Regiment of Artillery or Royal Garrison Artillery. "Look at the chalk dust on their boots and general cleanliness of their kit," he explains. "Chalk dust only arose in the summer campaigning on the 1916 Somme battlefield as the terrain dried out. My bet is that this photo was taken in the summer of 1916 (probably August/September). The men look worn, gaunt, frayed and very fit and lean, from relatively little food and an open air existence. I suspect they have been in action for some time ... They are clearly friends – hands on shoulders and all that."

There were West Indian and Gold Coast (Ghanaian) units in the fighting on the Western Front but the story of black British soldiers scattered in otherwise white front line units has been sparsely recorded. Relations between white and black soldiers were reported to have been good although there was a riot – fomented by white South Africans – between white and black soldiers recovering from their wounds at a hospital in Liverpool in 1918.

In this image, though, there is none of that potential for animosity visible: only the natural brotherhood of three men thrown together by a brutal war, and relying on each other to survive.

Those with a knowledge of the history of black Britons will know that Walter Tull (above) who became the first black person to be commissioned in the British Army. He died in action in 1918. Interestingly his brother Edward is believed to be Britain’s first black dentist

Civil War veterans to be given Spanish citizenship

As recognition goes it may be rather tardy but it definitely a case of better late than never - the Spanish government is awarding citizenship to the surviving members of the International Brigades. Seven British pensioners will receive their citizenship at the Spanish Embassy in London on June 9. An eighth survivor, Les Gibson, 96, has declined because of poor health; the award is of course too late for veterans Jack Jones and Bob Doyle who died earlier this year.

Jack Edwards (centre) with the late Bob Doyle (left) and Jack Jones (right)

Jack Edwards, 95, who gave up selling newspapers in Liverpool in 1937 to head for Spain said that he was “elated” at the Spanish recognition. Mr Edwards, who was shot in the leg during his service, said that despite the hardships he had seen and experienced, he had no regrets. “You were fighting for rights. You were fighting for something you believed in.”

According to the the Spanish government have overcome political sensitivities to implement legislation that granted citizenship to the volunteers from more than 50 countries who came to combat the rebel fascist forces. Only a few hundred men and women remain alive to benefit from the citizenship offer.

Penny "English Penny" Fiewel

Over 2,000 British men and women joined the fight against Franco. Most had minimal, if any, military training and all were poorly equipped. They formed the International Brigades. Deployed to towns and villages along the front line, thousands of International Brigaders died, including 525 Britons.

Lou Kenton

Lou Kenton, 101; Sam Lesser, 95; Joseph Khan, 94; Paddy Cochrane, 96, from Ireland; and Penny Feiwel, 100 will also receive passports next month

27 May 2009

And now some German pagan folk

Souad Massi - Hayati

Expenses and scandal 19th century style

Sir William Hamilton

Sir William Hamilton was famously cuckolded by one of Britain’s greatest heroes, Lord Nelson (although perhaps cuckold is not quite the right word for the relationship between Lord Nelson and Lady Emma and Sir William Hamilton – it was with sir William’s consent). Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton met in Naples in 1798, where Sir William was British envoy, The three lived together as in London, eventually in Merton Place, south London following the birth of Horatia). Emma Hamilton was a remarkable woman who went from rags to riches and back again.

The relationship between Nelson and Sir William was apparently cordial. According to the Telegraph not only did they share Emma, they also pooled their resources to cover the huge sums necessary to meet her expensive tastes.

Emma Hamilton as painted by George Romney

A set of household accounts covering the period of the unusual domestic arrangement, which is up for auction next month, show that Lord Nelson and Sir William split many bills evenly. They paid out up to £156 4s 4d a week – around £11,000 in today's money – to local tradesmen for treats such as fresh meat, fish and oysters, to which Lady Hamilton was particularly partial.

Lord Nelson

The naval commander's infatuation proved to be an expensive business; a document uncovered two years ago suggests that he paid his wife Lady Nelson the equivalent of £18,000 a year after abandoning her.

Lady Hamilton remained with Lord Nelson following the death of her husband in 1803, but ended her life in poverty (she died of Amoebic dysentery in Calais) after he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar two years later.

The accounts, signed by both Lord Nelson and Sir William's steward Francis White, are expected to fetch up to £9,000 at Christie's in London on June 3.

Horatia married a clergyman, had ten children and lived to a ripe old age.

26 May 2009

25 May 2009

What caused the original sardonic grin

Last week the Telegraph carried this fascinating article regarding the origin of the sardonic grin. I had never given this matter a millisecond of thought and it never even occurred to me that 'sardonic' has its roots in the name Sardinia or that a plant commonly found on the island was used in potions which gave corpses a grimace after death.

Researchers have established that chemical compounds in the plant, tubular water-dropwort (left), cause muscles in the face to contract, producing a strange rictus grin. The plant is known in Latin as Oenanthe crocata but to Sardinians as water celery. It is related to carrots and parsnips but is highly poisonous.

"Our discovery supports what many cultural anthropologists have said about death rituals among the ancient Sardinians," said Mauro Ballero, a botanist from Cagliari University in Sardinia. ..According to ancient historians, elderly people unable to support themselves were intoxicated with the herb and then killed by being dropped from a high rock or by being beaten to death...The facial muscular contraction induced by the sardonic herb mimicked a smile, and the expression risus sardonicus (sardonic smile) to indicate a sinister smile is well documented in the Latin and Greek literature and in most modern European languages."

The discovery may have applications in medicine today, the research team believe. Its properties could be adapted so that instead of causing muscles to contract, they would cause them to relax – helping people with facial paralysis.

O crocata is not just indigeneous to Sardinia but to the United Kingdom too. According to Botanical.com which reproduces online “A Modern Herbal” by Mrs M Grieve, the plant is known as Water Hemlock, Horsebane, Dead Tongue’ Five-Fingered Root, Water Lovage and Yellow Water Dropwort. The most dangerous part of the plant is the root.

It would seem to be one of the most poisonous of our indigenous plants and has been responsible for many fatal accidents. Mrs Grieve notes, for example, the deaths of workmen who mistook the roots for parsnips - death occurred within three hours.

Unsurprisingly the plant has never been used to any extent in medicine, though in some cases it has been taken with effect in eruptive diseases of the skin. The root has been used in poultices for whitlows and to foul ulcers...

Hmm I am glad that alternative medications exist, but it is good to live and learn!

North Korean nuclear test

North Korea says it has staged a "successful" underground nuclear test more powerful than the first one conducted by the stare in October 2006. (according to the BBC and just about every other news source)

An official communiqué read out on North Korean state radio said another round of underground nuclear testing had been "successfully conducted... as part of measures to enhance the Republic's self-defensive nuclear deterrent in all directions". The test had been "safely conducted at a new high level in terms of explosive power and control technology" and would "contribute to safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism.”

The North gave no details of the test location, but South Korean officials said that a seismic tremor was detected in the north-eastern part around the town of Kilju - the site of North Korea's first nuclear test. The US Geological Survey said a 4.7-magnitude quake was detected at 0054 GMT, 10km (six miles) underground.

Russian news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying said its systems had detected a blast of "between 10 and 20 kilotons" - making it much bigger than the 2006 test, which the US said was less than a kiloton.

The test has prompted international condemnation and an emergency session of the UN Security Council is being convened by Russia, which currently occupies the council's rotating presidency.

Hmm I daresay there will be more expressions of condemnation but the deed is done and it does look like the North Koreans have worked out how to do it properly this time. I daresay that others will analyse this event far better than I ever could

but I will sum up my thoughts in two words – “not good”. It was interesting, however, to see what the useful idiots at the Korean Friendship Association had to say. I was pleasantly surprised to see one use the word "calumniated". I had never seen it used before!

24 May 2009

Merlin – I belong to Glasgow

According to the BBC Merlin (he of Arthurian legend) has joined Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Adam Smith as being on a list of famous Glaswegians famous Glaswegians

A council spokeswoman said: "Recently an amateur historian has pointed to the fact that the legendary Merlin lived a 'comfortable life', with his wife Gwendolyn, in Partick, not Camelot and I'm sure most Glaswegians think that's just magic."

Tradition has it that King Arthur's magician was either English or Welsh but in his book Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend, author Adam Ardrey claimed he actually hailed from Scotland.

Hmm... I can just hear a Merlin asking Gwendolyn to get out the wire brush and Dettol so he can deal with his piles. But then again perhaps it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Merlin was a Glaswegian. After all, a fellow Glaswegian or renown did posit that the New Testament was incorrect and Jesus was from Gallowgate and not Galilee. Here he is expounding his thesis:

According to today’s Times, Sir Peter Viggers, the Tory MP for Gosport, who tried to put the £1,645 cost of a floating duck island on parliamentary expenses yesterday admitted that he had made a “ridiculous” claim. “I have made a ridiculous and grave error of judgment,” he said. “I am ashamed and humiliated and I apologise.”

The 5ft (1.53m) high duck house was modelled on an 18th-century building in the Stockholm. He bought the feature to protect ducks on his Hampshire estate from foxes. The Commons fees office, surprisingly(!), refused the claim.
Ironically the ducks had never took to their new home and the island feature was no longer being used. “I paid for it myself and in fact it was never liked by the ducks and is now in storage,” he said. Viggers, also claimed £30,000 for gardening costs, including £500 for manure.

The backbencher has said he will stand down at the next general election; David Cameron, the Tory leader, is believed to have told him that he could either quit or be fired.

I suppose there is a pun about ducks, bills and perhaps at a stretch financial quackery but I will leave that to others!

23 May 2009

Photo Hunt - Plastic

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is plastic. I really don't have much to fit this theme so here is a photo of Bebe and a plastic talking doll.. The figure is of Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar in the 60's comedy Carry on Cleo.

The Carry on films were a mainstay of British Comedy cinema from the later 1950s until the 1970s... A few of the films were actually funny (although most were pretty poor stuff)

Julius Casear says fifteen phrases from teh film including Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! (see below)


Casear: Friends, Romans

Mark Anthony Countrymen?

Caesar I Know!

The next clip includes that phrase and gives an idea of the silliness of Carry On Cleo

I'm not feeling too well today. I will visit when I can

22 May 2009

Anthony Steen reveals brass neck and sheer arrogance

Yesterday Tory MP, Anthony Steen launched a “spirited and controversial” (for that read downright stupid and arrogant) defence of the parliamentary expenses system. In his view it is public "jealousy" that has fuelled the recent storm over expense claims (if jealousy describes downright anger. He also stated that taxpayers have no right to see the details of individual MPs' claims.

Mr Steen made his comments in a BBC interview shortly after announcing that he would be standing down at the next election. It had emerged that he claimed £87,729 over four years to maintain his Devon country house. The payments included money to inspect some of the 500 trees surrounding the property and to guard his shrubs from rabbits.

"I think I have behaved impeccably. I have done nothing criminal. And you know what it's about? Jealousy. I have got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral, but it's a merchant's house from the 19th century," he said. "We have a wretched Government here that has completely mucked up the system and caused the resignation of me and many others, because it was this Government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act and it is this Government that insisted on the things which caught me on the wrong foot."

He compared the recent stream of revelations to a soap opera, he said: "What right does the public have to interfere in my private life? None. Do you know what this reminds me of? An episode of Coronation Street. This is a kangaroo court."
Unsurprisingly Tory chiefs are less than pleased that wealthy MPs are seen to be milking the expenses system (and for the record, as a Labour party member I am bloody furious about the greed of a Labour MPs) has undermined attempts to modernise the party's image. Steen has been warned to stay silent in future or be stripped of the party whip.

Steen later issued an abject apology, saying: "I was so deeply upset with the situation, which resulted in me overreacting. I am sorry that in the heat of the moment I said inappropriate things... about the Freedom of Information Act, which I entirely support."

If Steen had had any sense he would have made a few words of contrition, paid the money back, then shut the hell up until he stood down next year. In the meantime Parliament could have gotten on with urgent Augean-stable style cleaning (as it must do of course)

I know the expenses scandal has been news for several weeks now and has seen the downfall of a rather mediocre Speaker (and hopefully the deselection of some greedy Labour MPs) but Steen just takes the biscuit. I don’t bother much with political posts (even though the Poor Mouth was initially intended to be at least partly a political blog) but I didn’t think things could have hit a lower point... until he opened his mouth.

I wonder when the public will start to hold politicians in higher regard than dog turds.

Robyn in flower pot

Felis hirsuta var. Robynus

This was the very first cat photo posted on the Poor Mouth three years ago when Robyn was just a twelve year old and I had more hair (sighs). This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

21 May 2009

Be like rodents or die - Men face extinction

According to the Telegraph we men are on the road to extinction as the number of genes on our Y chromosome shrink and fade away.

Mercifully we are not looking at the year after next but according to researcher Professor Jennifer Graves the Y chromosome is dying and could run out within the next five million years.

In a lecture, entitled The Decline and Fall of the Y Chromosome and the Future of Men at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) in Ireland, Professor Graves sad: "You need a Y chromosome to be male," she said “Three hundred million years ago the Y chromosome had about 1,400 genes on it, and now it's only got 45 left, so at this rate we're going to run out of genes on the Y chromosome in about five million years. The Y chromosome is dying and the big question is what happens then."

The male Y chromosome has a gene (SRY) which switches on the development of testis and thus determines maleness. She said it was not known what would happen once the Y chromosome disappeared. "Humans can't become parthenogenetic, like some lizards, because several vital genes must come from the male," she continued. "But the good news is that certain rodent species - the mole voles of Eastern Europe and the country rats of Japan - have no Y chromosome and no SRY gene. Yet there are still plenty of healthy male mole voles and country rats running around. Some other gene must have taken over the job and we'd like to know what that gene is."

Professor Jennifer Graves said men may follow the path of a type of rodent which still manages to reproduce despite not having the vital genes that make up the Y chromosome.

Given the number of women who consider men to be rats then that should not be a problem!

Let’s get McGonagall on a stamp!

The Gem of the Day service from McGonagall Online is a treasure. Every morning one of William Topaz’s fine poetic works is sent direct to my inbox for my delight and utter delectation.

It was only today that I noticed that there is a petition for McGonagall to be commemorated on a Royal Mail stamp.The text reads as follows:

"We the undersigned urge the Royal Mail to release a commemorative stamp to honour the memory of Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902). Mr. McGonagall was an exemplar of optimism, having travelled on foot over fifty miles to petition Queen Victoria for the position of Poet Laureate, despite being unburdened with even the most basic understanding of fundamental poetic principles such as scansion. Nonetheless his poems, principal among them his masterwork “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, remain with us today, overshadowing the works of many more technically gifted poets of his time. His life stands as a testament to the irrepressible nature of the human spirit, and we ask you to make this gesture in celebration of the life of one of the greatest eccentrics Britain has ever known. "

Hear, hear, I say! McGonagall was a wonder of his age and deserves far greater recognition. I will be putting my name to this wonderful petition forthwith. I would urge poetry lovers everywhere -especially lovers of bad poetry - to do the same.

If you are unfamiliar with his work here is the jewel in his crown, so to speak.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

'Twas about seven o'clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem'd to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem'd to say-
"I'll blow down the Bridge of Tay."

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers' hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
"I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay."

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers' hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov'd most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How the disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed

20 May 2009

Bigfoot stole my aliums

Not suspected of alium theft

Itar-Tass has reported that the Shor people in Kemerovo Region, Siberia, are concerned that that something is stealing the wild leek crop (a staple of their diet). The thieves leave behind large footprints with clearly defined toes.

Apparently sightings of a Bigfoot/yeti- type creature are common in the region. A local district administrator has recently received a number of written reports of a creature 1.5-2 meters (5-6.5 feet) tall and covered in reddish black fur.

Although she has publicly stated that she particularly likes leeks Shania Twain is not suspected of the thefts despite a number of private visits to eastern Russia.

Another dictator deficient in the testicle department?

Perhaps there is a reason for his baleful stare

The question of whether Adolf Hitler had one less than the normal complement of testicles was dealt with in depth on the Poor Mouth last year (here and here). Although the jury is out on the number of knackers in Der Fuhrer’s draws, it now seems that Spanish dictator Franco possibly had one lump rather than two.

According to the BBC a new book claims that when he was a captain Franco lost a testicle as a result of a battle injury sustained at El Biutz, near Ceuta in North Africa, in June 1916.

In a new book, Historian Jose Maria Zavala states that Dr Ana Puigvert had been informed of Franco’s condition by her grandfather, Antonio Puigvert. A urologist, Puigvert is known to have treated Franco as a patient. "Franco was monorchid - he had only one testicle," she said.

Were they both members of the One-Bollock Brotherhood?

Apparently biographers have speculated whether this injury had affected his reproductive organs of the dictator. If so it did not stop him fathering a daughter Carmen Franco y Polo, in 1926. (unless he was of course cuckolded by a plucky little private!)

So there we are. I wonder which dictator will be next to be shown to have a meat and one veg. Here is a selection of current odds from Paddy Power:

  • Mussolini 3/7 (fav)
  • Pol Pot 2/1
  • Salazar 5/2
  • Pinochet 100/30
  • Idi Amin 5/1
  • Stalin 7/1
  • Papa Doc Duvalier 15/1

18 May 2009

From Private Schulz to the misplaced trust of Elyesa Bazna

One of the few advantages of my ruptured tendon is that I have finally gotten around to watching some of the DVDs that I have been given as birthday and Christmas presents. I have recently finished watching Private Schulz, a wonderful comedy-drama that was shown on the BBC in early 1981. It was only recently released on DVD.

Fortunately Private Schulz was every bit as good as I remembered it. The first episode alone featured Schulz, a fraudster:
  • being released from prison and impressed into the Sicherheitsdienst (or SD, the intelligence arm of the SS),
  • Participating in the Venlo Incident, an SD operation to kidnap two British SIS (MI6) agents from a Dutch border town in November 1939
  • Working as an eavesdropper at the infamous brothel Salon Kitty
  • And finally, participating in Operation Bernhard, an attempt to destroy the British economy by flooding the country with forged bank notes
Needless to say it ends in farce. Schulz was played by Michael Elphick and the series featured Billie Whitelaw and the late Ian Richardson.

But I digress, it was while looking up Operation Bernhard that I came across the name Elyesa Bazna(aka Ilyas Bazna) . Codenaned Cicero, Bazna was an Kosovan Albanian was an agent of the Reich in Turkey.

Bazna moved to Turkey when very young. In 1942 he took employment as the valet of the British ambassador Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen. Bazna started to photograph secret British documents the following year. He approached Ludwig Moyzisch, an attache at the German Embassy, seeking money for the documents he initially photographed. He was taken on as a paid German agent.

Bazna leaked important information about many of the international conferences, bombing raids and even some (“fuzzy”) information about Operation Overlord. Mercifully neither the German Foreign Office nor the Abwher considered his information unreliable. Cicero still continued to provide information and the money rolled in. It was not until he provided documents that predicted an air raid on Sofia that he was considered a reliable agent

Meanwhile increased security at the British Embassy made it more difficult for him to obtain documents.I n addition Moyzisch had hired a new secretary who was in fact spying for the Allies. After the secretary defected to the United States in early 1944, Bazna left Sir Hughe's service.

Anyway, to cut a long story short Bazna received £300,000 for his services. However, when he tried to bank the money after the war he discovered that he had been paid in counterfeit notes produced during Operation Bernhard.He did try to sue the West German government for outstanding pay. Unsurprisingly he was not exactly successful...

There is a moral in this tale I am sure. Bazna’s motive was not ideological but stemmed from a desire for cold hard cash. Well it was cold hard cash he got... of a sort!

British jobs for American models

The BNP may demand "British jobs for British workers," but not when it comes to its election leaflets. According to the Independent a photograph portraying "British" builders are not home-grown: they are from Oregon, in the United States. So much for the claim the the BNP "will protect British jobs... every time"

A BNP spokesman said the models had been paid on the understanding that "their image could be used in any legal manner". He added: "You can't get real supporters to do this, as there are strict rules regarding the depiction of people in genuine professions... [like] the police as well as the clergy."

Hmm perhaps it was better than paying a few of their knuckle dragging supporters to put on hard hats and arse-revealing work trousers. I suppose they didn't want to frighten the horses...

Mocking the Nazi vermin is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Yet I fear that the backlash against the mainstream parties will send one or more BNP scumbag to Europe. I can only hope that voters are not stupid enough to elect them.

17 May 2009

Did early modern humans have a bit of Neanderthal in them?

According to today’s Observer the disappearance of the Neanderthals may have been solved (or perhaps not). Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.

The suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone that had apparently been butchered by modern humans. The leader of the research team believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.

Fernando Rozzi, of Paris's Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique, said the jawbone had probably been cut into to remove flesh, including the tongue. Crucially, the butchery was similar to that used by humans to cut up deer carcass in the early Stone Age.

Some researchers believe Neanderthals may have failed to compete effectively with Homo sapiens for resources, or were more susceptible to the impact of climate change. But others believe our interactions were violent and terminal for the Neanderthals. According to Rozzi, the discovery at Les Rois in France provides support for that argument. "For years, people have tried to hide away from the evidence of cannibalism, but I think we have to accept it took place," he said
But not every team member agreed. "One set of cut marks does not make a complete case for cannibalism," said Francesco d'Errico, of the Institute of Prehistory in Bordeaux. It was also possible that the jawbone had been found by humans and its teeth used to make a necklace, he said.

"This is a very important investigation," said Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London. "This does not prove we systematically eradicated the Neanderthals or that we regularly ate their flesh. But it does add to the evidence that competition from modern humans probably contributed to Neanderthal extinction."

Hmm One jaw does not a banquet make. I wonder if we will ever see more evidence or perhaps it was all eaten....

Eurosong 2009

Ah well another year and another Eurovision. A totally forgettable song from Norway won (nothing new there), the UK entry actually obtained a few points. Sadly there were few songs that were in any way remarkable (in their badness of course). Here are a few of the highlights... or should that be lowlights?




Alas not even the presence of Dita von Teese could prevent the German entry from bombing

16 May 2009

It's Eurovision Song Contest time!

The social highlight of the year comes around again. Beer will be consumed, laughs will be had and there will be jeering at the fixed voting.... We can be fairly sure that NONE of the following will be contestants:

Arch Enemy - Sweden

Sparks-= USA but could represent anyone

Laibach - Slovenia

However some famous singers did do a Eurovision entry early in their careers and went on to better things, particularly Ofra Haza (and Celine Dion too, sadly).

Photo Hunt - Painted

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is paint or painted. This struck me as an excellent opportunity to put up some works by my friend Elahe Heidari. Elahe is an Iranian artist who is well regarded in her home country and who is beginning to gain international exposure. More of her work can be seen at elaheheidari.com

Examples of Elahe's work at an exhibition of Iranian artists in London

Promotional flyer from a solo exhibition in Iran

Early work given to me by the artist

Also stretching the point a little here are a couple of Elahe's drawings that I own:

15 May 2009

Where are they now part 1 - David Lucas

One of the earliest posts on the Poor Mouth was called Once a Jolly Hangman. It was about a Suffolk farmer called David Lucas who chose not to supplement his agricultural income by providing bed and breakfast or selling local craft wares. Instead he found a more gruesome and more lucrative way of augmenting his income - by selling execution equipment to countries including Zimbabwe.

A product range which included single gallows costing £12,000 each, and mobile "Multi-hanging Execution Systems" (up to six executions at a time) were popular (very popular with the tyrant who wishes to ensure that terror is cost effective I'm sure!).

Anyway it seems that Mr Scumbag, sorry, Lucas has found a way to lower him even further in my personal esteem - by standing as a BNP candidate in the forthcoming Euro elections. I am sorry I missed this piece of news earlier but last month Lucas was arrested on suspicion of selling illegal firearms. He was released on bail. BNP officials said he would still stand in the election.

Hmm what more to say..... (without use of invective and multiple expletives)

Bebe on her furry pillow

This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

14 May 2009

Burmese regime find new excuse to extend Aung San Suu Kyi's detention

Perhaps it comes as no surprise, given the nature of the Burmese regime, that Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with violating terms of her house arrest following the arrest last week of John Yettaw. She could face a prison sentence of up to five years.

Suu Kyi was taken to a prison compound where she will be tried in connection with Yettaw’s (for the want of a better word) trespass. He was arrested on 6 May after swimming across a lake to her house and staying there secretly for two days. Suu Kyi’s trial will almost certainly be used to justify another extension of Suu Kyi's illegal detention which officially ends on 27 May.

"Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems," a Suu Kyi lawyer, Kyi Win, told reporters. "He's a fool." The lawyer said the incident was merely a breach of security in the lakeside area where authorities normally keep close watch over Suu Kyi and her household.

Kyi Win said Suu Kyi would be held in a house inside Insein compound, a prison holds both common criminals and political prisoners and where, according to human rights groups, torture and mistreatment of prisoners are common. Also to be tried are Suu Kyi's two helpers, Khin Khin Win, 65, and her daughter Win Ma Ma, 41, who have lived with her since her current detention began in 2003.

Suu Kyi, 63, has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years including the past six in detention without trial for her non-violent promotion of democracy, despite international pressure for her release

I daresay that Yettaw is viewed as a godsend by the Burmese regime given that they were probably down to using “wearing a loud shirt in a built up area at night” as a justification for her continued detention ... not that they needed an excuse I suppose.

The oldest fertility figure?

Scientists believe that a rather grotesque carving in mammoth ivory may be the world's oldest depiction of a human figure. According to the Times the 6cm-tall (a bit under 2.5 inches) figurine, which portrays a woman with huge breasts, big buttocks and exaggerated genitals, is thought to be at least 35,000 years old. It was found in Hohle Fels Cave in southern Germany.

The Venus of Hohle Fels was found in six fragments in September 2008. It is still missing its left arm and shoulder, but researchers are hopeful these will emerge in future excavations of the cave's sediments. The figurine does not have a head. Rather, it has a carefully carved ring located off-centre above its broad shoulders.

The polished nature of the ring suggests the Venus was probably suspended as a pendant.The hands have precisely carved fingers, with five digits clearly visible on the left hand and four on the right hand. The pronounced breasts, buttocks and genitals familiar in later Venuses are usually interpreted to be expressions of fertility.

The Hohle Fels object is of an age where radiocarbon dating techniques are uncertain. Scientists say, however, that it is unquestionably older than finds associated with, for example, European Gravettian culture which from between 22,000 and 27,000 years ago. The most famous item from this era is the Venus of Willendorf (above) which was discovered in 1908.

13 May 2009

Rebecca Jane York - Britain's last convicted witch

Notorious as her case was Helen Duncan was not the last person in Britain to be convicted as a witch (or at least under the provisions of the Witchcraft Act of 1735*).

The last person was Jane Rebecca Yorke, a medium from Forest Gate in East London. Yorke was arrested in July 1944 following reports that she was defrauding the public through exploiting wartime fears. She was found guilty in September of seven counts against the Act, fined £5 and placed on good behaviour for three years, promising to hold no more seances. The light sentence was due to her age of 72.

* The purpose of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was to deal with persons pretending to have the power to call up spirits, or foretell the future (It was thus aimed at fraudulent mediums). People convicted under the Act were subject to fines and imprisonment rather than execution. It was superseded by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.

Oldest human hair found in..... Hyena dung

Previously the oldest known human hair belonged to a 9,000-year-old mummy disinterred from an ancient Chilean cemetery. However a recent discovery pushes the record back some 200,000 years.

According to Live Science a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand, who were excavating in Gladysvale Cave, near Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered an ancient brown-hyena latrine. The coprolites appeared to contain uncannily hair-like structures. Palaeontologist Lucinda Backwell took several coprolites back to the lab for examination. It was found that human hairs best matched these hairs.

The cave's limestone layers showed that the dung had been deposited sometime between 257,000 and 195,000 years ago. During that period, both early Homo sapiens and a relation, H. heidelbergensis, roamed the South African landscape.

How did human hair end up in hyena dung? One shudders to think but Lucinda Backwell thinks it most likely that a brown hyena scavenged an ancestral human's remains rather than taking a lump out of a live one.

Fascinating stuff... well I find it fascinating anyway!