31 December 2006

A Titanic Landmark

Lillian Asplund

2006 saw the death of the last Titanic survivor to have memories of the sinking. Lillian Asplund, aged 99, died on 6 May 2006. Lillian Asplund was not the last survivor: she is survived by Millvina Dean and Barbara West Dainton but both were infants at the time and thus too young to have memories of the catastrophe.

While some survivors such as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown are well remembered (and quite rightly, she was a remarkable woman once you cut through the myth), spare a thought for Violet Jessup. She is perhaps the most remarkable, and possibly the luckiest of all of the Titanic survivors.

Violet Jessop serving as a Red Cross nurse during WWI

Violet Constance Jessop, commenced employment as a stewardess for the White Star Line serving on the Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic. She was aboard the Olympic when it was seriously damaged in a collision with the cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight in September 1911. She subsequently transferred to the Titanic...

According to her memoirs she was comfortably "comfortably drowsy" in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the Titanic hit the iceberg: ''I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe” She and the other survivors in Lifeboat 16 were rescued by the RMS Carpathia eight hours later.

During WWI Violet served as a Red Cross nurse and was aboard the Titanic’s other sister ship, the Britannic, when it hit a mine and sank in the Aegean Sea in November 1916. After the war she resumed work as a stewardess for the White Star Line serving again on the Olympic. Mercifully she was no longer a White Star employee when the Olympic collided with and sank the Lightship Nantucket in 1934.

Violet Jessop died in 1971 aged 83.

Encyclopedia Titanica is an excellent site for Titanic related subjects.

Also of interest is this site which devoted to the White Star Line

Over 88 years after WWI ended there are still over 50 known veterans alive across the world. Wikipedia lists 53 veterans from the UK(7), France(8), Germany(9), US(10), Italy(10), Canada(4), Poland (3), Australia and Romania (One each).

Not all would have seen combat - at least one of the British survivors was in training in November 1918. Even so I was surprised to see so many veterans still alive so long after the war’s end. Given that there were nearly 100 alive this time last year, it will not be long before they are all gone.

30 December 2006

Patti Smith

Patti Smith is 60 today. This of course gives me an excuse to post a number of videos of one of my favourite musicians... enjoy!

Dancing Barefoot


Privilege (Set me free)

People have the power
Saddam Hussein was executed at 6am local time. No tears shed here.

I doubt that his execution will make Iraq a happier or safer place though.

29 December 2006

What a difference 30 years makes

As is usual at this time of year the press is carrying numerous stories relating to the opening of Cabinet papers from 1976. It is ironic to think that a previous Labour government was considering scrapping the Polaris fleet (the predecessor to Trident), albeit to help stave off financial meltdown.

The Irish State papers for 1976 are also opened today. One item in today’s Irish Independent shows how the Irish government’s finances were so stretched at the time that it could barely afford to pay fares for a visit by the Taoiseach to the US.

The US Government had agreed to pay the costs of an Irish delegation to attend St Patrick’s Day celebrations. The only thing not covered was the delegation's air fares. The cost the tickets was such an issue that the Government decided not afford to present a copy of 'The Orderly Book of General Burgoyne for the Saratoga Campaign' worth £5,000 as originally planned. A present worth just £160 was given instead and the rest was spent on the tickets.

Not much of a story perhaps and certainly not earth shattering but consider Ireland’s change in fortunes since then. Since the 80s Ireland has transformed itself into a vibrant and prosperous nation.

Genocidaires no longer in suburbia?

Genocidaires in suburbia Genocidaires still in suburbia also refer. Today’s Guardian reports that four Rwandans , including Charles Munyaneza and Celestin Ugirashebuja, have been arrested after Rwanda sought their extradition in connection with its 1994 genocide. The other men detained are Vincent Bajinya and Emmanuel Nteziryayo.

According to the provisional extradition warrant issued earlier this week, they are accused of killing and conspiring to kill groups of Tutsis "with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, that group" between January 1 and December 12 1994.

Munyaneza and Ugirashebuja, were town mayors in provinces of southern Rwanda where many killings took place. Mr Munyaneza is accused by prosecutors of playing a part in killings of Tutsis in Gikongoro, southern Rwanda. Prosecution witnesses claim he wore a military uniform, carried a gun, and visited roadblocks set up to catch Tutsis.

Human rights groups have expressed exasperation at the slow progress in bringing to justice Rwandan genocide suspects who have settled in Europe. When the Guardian revealed the whereabouts of Mr Munyaneza and Mr Ugirashebuja in May, they had yet to be contacted by the British authorities. Had they been investigated when they first arrived in the UK in 2000, the men could have been sent for trial to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania. However, no further indictments are being issued by the tribunal.

28 December 2006

Ted and Bebe

The sticker may say fragile but Bebe isn't

Ted's face is full of hope for a happy 2007 for all... that or the turkey my mum gave me

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

Three from the Clash

London Calling

Straight to Hell

(White man) in Hammersmith Palais

Still nothing much to say...

27 December 2006

26 December 2006

Three Bowie songs

I've got nothing to say and I have no plans to bore anyone with how my Xmas day went (actually very well) so have a few Bowie vids instead...

Drive in Saturday

Ashes to ashes

The man who sold the world live on the Reality tour

22 December 2006

Happy Christmas

This is me done blogging until after Xmas. I would like to wish you happy band of philospopher princes (and princesses) who enjoy or endure my drivelsome musings a merry Luminos... err happy Winterval... dammit! a merry Christmas (or a Happy Hogswatch if a Terry Pratchett fan).

Jams O Donnell

British Expeditionary Force, Friday December 25th 1914

My Dear Mater,

This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us - wishing us a Happy Christmas etc ... Some of our chaps went over to their lines. I think they’ve all come back bar one from 'E' Co. They no doubt kept him as a souvenir.

There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as to day we are all on top of our trenches running about ... We also had some of the post this morning. I had a parcel from B. G's Lace Dept containing a sweater, smokes, under clothes etc. We also had a card from the Queen ... After breakfast we had a game of football at the back of our trenches! We've had a few Germans over to see us this morning. They also sent a party over to bury a sniper we shot in the week ... About 10.30 we had a short church parade the morning service etc. held in the trench ... Our dinner party started off with fried bacon and dip-bread: followed by hot Xmas Pudding. I had a mascot in my piece. Next item on the menu was muscatels and almonds, oranges, bananas, chocolate etc. followed by cocoa and smokes. You can guess we thought of the dinners at home.

Just before dinner I had the pleasure of shaking hands with several Germans ... I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics. We also exchanged smokes etc. and had a decent chat. They say they won't fire tomorrow if we don't so I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday - perhaps ... We can hardly believe that we've been firing at them ... it all seems so strange.

With much love from Boy.

The author of this description of the 1914 Christmas Truce is untraceable so his fate is unknown. The letter was purchased in an auction by singer Chris de Burgh in November (click here for a report).

Festive(ish) felines

Mimi astonishes the world by being the only cat that can sit under a Christmas tree and not attack the decorations

Ted's nuts roasting by an open (gas) fire or they would if he still had them, that is...

Bebe and Mimi jostling for the big fellow's attention

wel this card amused the not wife and me

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

21 December 2006

A little Komodo lay down its sweet head

The Komodo Dragon is one of the largest reptiles on the planet. A huge monitor lizard found on a handful of islands in Indonesia its razor-sharp, serrated teeth are so teeming with bacteria that one bite can prove fatal

However, According to today’s Guardian, scientists have discovered that the Komodo dragon can reproduce by parthenogenesis. Dragons at London and Chester zoos have laid eggs without having mated. Four eggs at London zoo have already hatched while anothereight at Chester zoo are due to hatch within weeks.

Although it has been seen in other species of lizards it is the first time that parthenogenesis has been documented in Komodo dragons. "We've ruled out any potential father," said Richard Gibson at the Zoological Society of London, who has been monitoring the progress of the fatherless baby lizards at London zoo. Not that a male could get in with a female without someone noticing, but just to make sure that everyone was completely convinced we DNA fingerprinted everybody and everything." Kevin Buley, Chester zoo's curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, added: "We will be on the lookout for shepherds, wise men and an unusually bright star in the sky over Chester zoo."

A captive-bred female called Sungai laid a clutch of 22 eggs at London zoo in 2005; four babies hatched in March this year. Sungai last had contact with a male called Kimaan two and a half years previously. But genetic tests on the offspring ruled Kimaan and all the other males at London zoo out as potential fathers. Now the focus has turned to the eggs of Flora, a female at Chester zoo. Flora has never had any contact with a male. She was brought to the zoo aged around one year and females do not reach sexual maturity until four or five.

Flora laid a clutch of 25 in May of which eight eggs still survive. Similar genetic detective work has ruled out the influence of any other male. The tests suggest that instead of having two different sets of chromosomes from a mother and father, the offspring have two identical sets of chromosomes, both from their mother. "It's not very clear exactly what happens and we don't know whether it has occurred in the wild. But the fact that it has happened twice in such a short space of time with two unrelated females suggests that it is more common than we think," said Mr Gibson.

Parthenogenesis is common in invertebrates such as wasps, aphids and water fleas but it is rarely found in backboned animals. A handful of reptiles and fish can do it and it has also been found in turkeys.

20 December 2006

Warming seas are driving marine species north

Climate change is forced seashore creatures around Britain to relocate according to a new study - warming seas are pushing many species of barnacles, snails and limpets north in search of cooler areas of coast.

The MarClim project tracked the distribution of 57 species at more than 400 sites around the UK coastline. The data was then compared with earlier records from the same areas. Researchers found that some marine species adapted to cold water were migrating away from warming seas, and were moving faster than their terrestrial counterparts. Some cold water species, such as the tortoiseshell limpet, have almost disappeared from Britain's shores.

Increased global temperatures have also confused birds this winter: robins, thrushes and ducks that would normally fly south from Scandinavia have only been turning up in Britain in December - long after snow usually drives them south. According to ornithologists, Bewick's swans, which usually arrive in Britain from Siberia in October, seemed to have stopped for longer than usual in countries such as Estonia or the Netherlands because of plentiful food there.

Some species are thriving in the warmer seas. Topshells, a type of warm water snail, have extended their range in Britain by up to 50 miles since the end of the 1980s. Warmer seas have also brought invasive species with them. A type of Japanese seaweed called Sargassum muticum was brought to Britain in the 1940s in the ballast water of ships, and in the last 20 years it has expanded its range rapidly.

The MarClim researchers will continue their new work in a project called IndiRock. This will monitor entire ecosystems on the shoreline, rather than individual species.

19 December 2006

Chim chim cherite, we are the bastards in yellow and white

The Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone hopes the Vatican may one day field a football team good enough to compete with Italy's top flight sides.

The 72-year-old Juventus fan was speaking after he launched the Clerical Cup, a 16-squad tournament for priests and trainee priests in Rome, said "I would not rule out the Vatican putting together a top notch team in the future that would be on a par with Roma, Inter, Genoa and Sampdoria." He suggested that Brazilian seminarians alone would be enough for a "magnificent" Vatican team, while African and Argentinian students are also reportedly in demand by priest-managers ahead of the Cup.

Italian football has been plagued by match-rigging. Who knows, it might receive a moral boost form having a Vatican team in the top flight! It would certainly open the floodgates for a whole series of religious football puns such as the God squad while opposing fans may start singing “you’re going home in a fucking Popemobile”..

There actually is a Vatican City team but it has only played one “international” and that was against Monaco (not the successful French league side though).

Election setback for Ahmadinejad

The Iranian president seems to have faced electoral embarrassment as his supporters failed to make an impact in last Friday’s elections for the Assembly of Experts and local councils.

According to numerous reports (including the Guardian and the BBC) early results suggest that his Sweet Scent of Service coalition had won just three out of 15 seats on the Tehran city council. This result appears to be mirrored elsewhere, with councils throughout Iran returning a majority of reformists and moderate fundamentalists (if that is not a contradiction in terms) opposed to Mr Ahmadinejad.

In addition Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Mr Ahmadinejad defeated in last year's presidential election, received the most votes in elections to the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered to appoint and remove Iran's supreme leader. By contrast, Ayatollah Mohammed-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, Mr Ahmadinejad's presumed spiritual mentor, came sixth.

"The initial results of elections throughout the country indicate that Mr Ahmadinejad's list has experienced a decisive defeat nationwide. They were tantamount to a big 'no' to the government's authoritarian and inefficient methods," a statement from the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front said.

The Tehran Times focuses on the high turnout for such an election (around 60%) quoting Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi who described the election as a “national jihad”

While the election results certainly don’t mean that Iran is about to change overnight into a liberal democracy where women are not third class citizens it does seem to show that there is a fair degree of disenchantment with Ahmadinejad. He may play to the gallery but slogans are no substitute for effective policies.

18 December 2006

Time flies...

It was 25 years ago today that I first met the not-wife. Where has the time gone since I met a quiet 17 year old at a pub in Gidea Park?

The painting is a take on Waterhouse's Ophelia and was done by my friend Suzy for the not wife's 37th birthday.

Elasticwaistbandlady did a sweet tribute to us in her own inimitable style over at the Smiling Infidel She is quite right the not wife endures the poorly aimed piss stream laughs courteously at my lousy jokes that are repeated ad nauseam and yet she can usually best me in an insult match. On the other hand I do know my place and that is below her, Robyn, Ted, Bebe, Mimi, the spider in the kitchen and the wood lice in the bathroom. At least I still outrank the cat fleas...

Here's to another 25 years. Perhaps we will astound ourselves and tie the knot!

17 December 2006

A few more Robyn photos (or Robyn go sleep now)

Robyn Hitchcock at the Three Kings

Here are two photographs I took of Robyn performing at a benefit for Medecins Sans Frontieres at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. It was touch and go whether I would be well enough to attend - My rib had bee pretty painful all week. Fortunately I was. Robyn's MSF benefits are particularly entertaining as the sets consist entirely of covers. Last year it was the White Album, a year before it was naff 70s hits (nobody does Funkytown better than Robyn!). This year he covered Piper at the Gates of Dawn and threw in a selection of Syd Barrett covers for good measure.

It was paricularly nice to meet for the first time a number of people I had gotten to know through the Vegetable Friends Yahoo group, including Tulloch, Grimble and Percy the Ratcatcher.

16 December 2006

Florida and California suspend the death penalty

Florida has temporarily suspended executions following a ruling earlier this week that a officials had botched the execution of Angel Nieves Diaz subjecting him to a prolonged and an apparently painful death

Florida’s state medical examiner, William Hamilton, said Diaz, 55, took twice as long to die as usual - 34 minutes - because prison officials punctured veins in his arms, which meant the toxic drugs entered the flesh instead of going directly into his bloodstream. Witnesses said Diaz appeared to grimace and mouth words. He also had 12-inch chemical burn on his right arm and an 11-inch burn on his left as a result of the drugs entering his flesh. Gobernor Jeb Bush has created an 11-member commission to study the administration of lethal injections, and suspended all executions until the report on March 1.

In addition a judge in California has ruled that that state's method of administering lethal injections risked violating constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment. The state has had a moratorium on executions since February but the ruling will probably mean that no execution will take place in the sate for the foreseeable future. "Implementation of lethal injection is broken" in California, said US district judge Jeremy Fogel in his ruling. But he added: "It can be fixed."

Mr Fogel ruled that the last six prisoners to be executed suffered excruciating deaths. He has ordered doctors to administer sedatives to the condemned, but no physicians have been willing to participate in executions

Execution by lethal injection was introduced across America during the 1990s to replace the use of the gas chamber and electric chair, reportedly because it was more humane and reliable. But concerns have grown about the use of lethal injection - especially after one of the chemicals used in the cocktail of three drugs was banned from veterinary use.

Here’s hoping that the moratorium in both states becomes permanent. also in Missouri which has also recently suspended the death penalty.

15 December 2006

Vegetarians have higher IQs?

The not-wife was delighted this morning to read a BBC report that researchers from Southampton University have found that people who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10.

The study involved over 8,000 people whose IQs were tested at the age of 10. Of these 366 said they were vegetarian, although more than 100 reported eating either fish or chicken.

Both men and women who stated they were vegetarian had an IQ score five points higher than non-vegetarians. Interestingly there was no difference in IQ score between strict vegetarians and those who said they were vegetarian but who reported eating fish or chicken.

Lead researcher Catharine Gale said: "The finding that children with greater intelligence are more likely to report being vegetarian as adults, together with the evidence on the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet on heart health, may help to explain why higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life." However, she added the link may be merely an example of many other lifestyle preferences that might be expected to vary with intelligence, such as choice of newspaper, but which may or may not have implications for health.

Dr Frankie Phillips, of the British Dietetic Association, said: "It is like the chicken and the egg. Do people become vegetarian because they have a very high IQ or is it just that they tend to be more aware of health issues?"

The story was of interest to the not-wife because, unlike me, she was vegetarian well before the age of 30. .. Another rod to beat me (sighs).

Ted plus

Ted contemplating some act of unbridled evil

Ted maintaining his dignity despite showing off his soft white underbelly

Also meet Gertie who, along with Albert, ensures my friend Suzy is under the thumb... She looks just like Ted when he was a kitten

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

14 December 2006

Rios Montt

Patrick Daniels, co-chair of the Guatemala Solidarity Network has written a piece in the Guardian’s Comment is free section about Efraín Ríos Montt , Guatemalan dictator between 1982 and 1983 and the possibility that he will face justice for his crimes.

During a 36 year civil war between 1960 and 1996 approximately 200,000 people, mainly Mayans were killed or disappeared –responsibility for the overwhelming majority of these deaths rests with the Guatemalan military and militias under its command... The violence was its greatest during Rios Montt’s regime when the number of killings and disappearances exceeded 3,000 per month.

Rios Montt seized power in a coup on 23 March 1982. He immediately suspended the constiution and began a campaign against political opponents that included kidnapping, torture, and extra-judicial assassinations. In the countryside he unleashed a vicious campaign (known as frijoles y fusiles or beans and guns) against the nation’s indigenous Mayan population He was overthrown in a bloodless coup in August 1983 by General Meija Victores. After his removal he attempted a political career but was banned from running in presidential elections in 1990, 1994 and again in 2003.

In 1999 Nobel Peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú and a group of Spanish and Guatemalan NGOs filed a suit in the Spanish national court against several senior Guatemalan officials, including Ríos Montt. The defendants were accused of terrorism, genocide and systematic torture.

In September 2005, the Spanish constitutional court ruled that Spanish courts had jurisdiction over crimes of international importance - such as torture, crimes against humanity and genocide - regardless of the nationality of the victims and perpetrators. An extradition warrant for the arrest of Ríos Montt was submitted the following month, and the Guatemalan constitutional court is currently considering the request.

Whereas Pinochet cheated justice Rios Montt may well face justice in Spain.

13 December 2006

Behind a chilling photograph

In 1980 a chilling photograph depicting a line of 11 blindfolded Kurds being executed by firing squad was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Uniquely in the history of the Prize it was awarded anonymously. After more than a quarter of a century later, the photographer has been identified as Jahangir Razmi.

The photograph was originally published by the Iranian newspaper Ettela'at on 27 August 1979, but the editor chose not to credit the photo out of concern for the photographer's safety. The picture was distributed by United Press International and within a few days it appeared in newspapers across the world.

Ramzi’s identity remained a secret until 2 December when he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

He decided to break his silence partly because he had been long disappointed at not being credited for the picture, and partly because he was annoyed that others had tried to take credit for the picture. Given also that there was now little likelihood of reprisal he felt that "There's no more reason to hide,"

12 December 2006

Hawkwind- Spirit of the Age

Promo video for last year's non -hit single. features daytime tv presenter Matthew Wright on vocals. If only the 1977 original featuring Robert Calvert on vocals was available as a video..

Another band I am looking forward to seeing soon.

Robyn Hitchcock - Madonna of the Wasps

Recorded on a David Letterman Show appearance. This is one of my favourite Robyn songs. It is a pity there is no footage of him performing Airscape, the song that would be my desert island disc.

I am very much looking forward to see him play a Medecins sans Frontieres benefit on Saturday.

11 December 2006

Pardew sacked

Alan Pardew has been sacked as West Ham manager. This news comes as no huge surprise given the team’s performance so far this season

Although Pardew took West Ham to ninth place in the Premiiership last season and to within minutes of a famous FA Cup win over Liverpool, this season has been disastrous: four wins out of 17 Premiership games and early elimination from the UEFA Cup.

First-team coach Kevin Keen will act as Caretaker Manager pending appointment of a successor. Alan Curbishley a former West Ham player, has apparently been touted as the favourite to take over.



I finally got to watch a film that I have being meaning to see for some time now. The film in question is Margarethe Von Trotta’s Rosenstrasse which deals with an incident in Berlin in 1943 which showed that non violent protest can sometimes win in the face of tyranny.

In early 1943 about 1700 Berlin Jews, mainly men married to non-Jewish women, were rounded up and taken to Rosenstrasse 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin, pending deportation to extermination camps. However, the wives and other relatives got wind of their spouses eventual destination and appeared at Rosenstrasse, first in ones and twos, and then in increasing numbers.

Joseph Goebbels, who was also Gauleiter of Berlin, was fully aware that shooting the women down in the streets would simply create antipathy to the regime and jeopardise the secrecy of the Final Solution. He therefore authorised the release of the Rosenstrasse prisoners and also ordered the return of 25 men who had already sent to Auschwitz.

The protesters and their elatives were not harmed, and most survived until the end of the war. By any standards it was an astonishing victory.

I had hoped the film would be of the stDownfallandard of or Sophie Scholl – the Final Days but it is not. It not bad but it is overlong and it does ad at least one fictional element to the protest (qv). That said, it did not deserve the panning it got from some critics including the New York Times

The film starts in New York with a Jewish widow Ruth Weinstein sitting Shiva. Ruth’s daughter learns that Ruth was taken in as a child by a woman called Lena after her own mother was deported to a concentration camp..

The daughter finds Lena in Berlin and interviews her pretending to be a researcher. Lena tells her the story of her own husband’s detention at Rosenstrasse and how the protest by the wives and family members secured their release

The film takes one irritating and fictional turn when Lena, who is from an aristocratic family, meets Goebbels himself. The film intimates that Lena was able to obtain the men’s freedom through sexual favour. This is utterly unnecessary.

One commenter on imdb states that von Trotta worked on the film for eight years and had to make compromises including adding the present day fictional element in order to have her film produced. This is a pity as I think this is unfortunate as it adds nothing to the film at all.

Detail from Block der Frauen

The website The Topography of Terror further information including personal accounts of those taking part and extracts from Goebbels own diary. The photograph above is a detail from "Block der Frauen" the memorial to the Rosenstrasse women. Click here for more pictures of the memorial

Sea: the final frontier

The latest findings of a nine-year ocean census have just been reported. Needless to say researchers have come up with some astonishing finds including:

  • Living specimens of Neoglyphea neocaledonica, aka the "Jurassic shrimp", a species that was believed to have become extinct 50m years ago, were found on an underwater peak in the Coral Sea, north-east of Australia

  • A hairy crab that was discovered Near Easter Island that requires its own taxonomic family family. The crab Kiwa hirsuta is named after its own hairiness and the Polynesian goddess of shellfish

  • A shoal of eight million fish observed off the New Jersey coast that was bigger than the area of Manhattan island.

The census was launched in 2001 to map life in the most under-explored environment on earth and uses half of the world's large research vessels and submersibles. Destined to finish in 2010, the £500m project involves 1,700 scientists in 73 countries.

"By 2010 we'll have a representative picture of what lives in the oceans from top to bottom and around the world," said Ron O'Dor, senior scientist on the project. "Everywhere we go we find more life than we'd imagined. When we started there were views that as you went deeper the oceans turned into deserts and there was nothing living down there, but that certainly isn't true."

Two species of fish unknown to science are being discovered each week and scientists believe that they are still far from documenting all the different marine species. Advanced sonar equipment that can map oceanic areas 10,000 times larger than previously possible recently detected a shoal of eight million fish in a school the size of Manhattan off the coast of New Jersey. Images of the shoal revealed it pulsating, fragmenting and reforming as the fish moved through the water.

When the census is completed it will form a snapshot of ocean life that scientists will use as a reference to monitor the impact of the fishing industry and environmental change, such as global warming.

10 December 2006

This post has been rated certificate puerile

I do not have a subtle sense of humour so I certainly enjoy fart jokes and the like. Perhaps it is no surprise I laugh like a drain at rude place names. Here is a selection found on a rude name page on the i-r-genius website. I will stick with locations in the English speaking world. India may have places called Cumbum and Dikshit but I am sure both have a totally different meaning in the local language. We should know better than to call a place Felch!

Here are a few of my my favourites

Cuckoo’s Knob, Wiltshire (yes I know knob also means prominent hill, but I am being puerile here)

Felchville. There are Felchvilles in Vermont and Maryland

Humptulips, Washington. According to Wikipedia the name is derived from a local native American language meaning “hard to pole”…

The Bastard, near Campbeltown, Scotland

Twatt. There are Twatts in the Orkneys and the Shetlands (there are twatts everywhere of course!). The word is derived from the Norse for “small parcel of land”. Still it makes for an amusing road sign!

And my all time favourite:

Wanker’s Corner. Here is the website of the Wankers Corner Saloon

Sensible posting will resume shortly

What topped the charts when I was born

I first saw this on the The Virtual Stoa.

If you enter your date of birth into the Hit40 Birthday calculator you can find out what was the UK's number one single on your birth date (if you were born after 15 November 1952 that is).

In the hope that the number on on my birth date would be something that di not suck I duly entered the relevant information. Did I get the Stones or the Beatles? Did I hell! The UK chart topper was the forgotten Shadows instrumental Foot Tapper. Ah well. Just to show you how medoiocre it is, here they are performing it on datyime tv (I think)

What Happened on my Birthday?

I saw this on Jo’s Journal so I thought I would have a go myself

What you do is:

1. Go to Wikipedia

2. Type your birth month and day but not the year in the search box

3. List three events that happened on your birthday, two important birthdays and one death and finally One holiday or observance (if any)

So here is what happened on my birthday:


1461 - The Battle of Towton , the bloodiest ever happen on British soil

1857 - Mangal Padney's revolt, an action that seems to have sparked off the Sepoy Revolt (or First Indian War of Independence)

1974 – First fly by of Mercury by Mariner 10


1899 - Lavernti Beria (Ugh Jesus!)

1943 – The Prince of Greyness

Bugger it! Just for that I am going to have a third one so I choose Lucy Lawless of Xena fame and who can now be seen from time to time in Battlestar Galactica playing a cylon


1751 Thomas Coram as in the famous foundling hospital

Feast Day

Not a lot here – I’ll choose Saint Bertold. It’s a shame he is not the patron saint of some embarrassing ailment, not like dear St George who is also patron saint of syphilitics and people with nasty skin conditions.

I really wish I had thought of this

Where there's muck there truly is brass (apologies for the cliché) according to today’s Observer

Pieces of Irish dirt are being bought by Irish-Americans so that they can grow authentic Irish roses, or throw handfuls of soil from the home country on their loved ones' coffins. A Belfast entrepreneur, Alan Jenkins, and Pat Burke, an agricultural scientist from Tipperary, have already shifted around $1m (£512,000) of Irish muck to the United States.

Their company, called Official Irish Dirt, has also received online contacts from people all over the world keen to get their hands on dirt from back home. “It's been unbelievable. It's such a simple idea - even the girl in the US Patents Office said so - and it was the first time it had ever been done.” Said Pat Burke

Jenkins came up with the idea during a visit to see friends in Florida where he heard some Irish-Americans at a meeting of the Sons of Erin, a community organisation for people with Irish ancestry, saying they would like to have some Irish sod placed on their funeral caskets. Soon afterwards he met Burke, who worked at the Irish Department of Agriculture, at a dinner party and the business grew from there.

'This is a full-time job for both of us now,' he said. 'We first put the feelers out in July 2006 when we visited New York. The response everywhere was just overwhelming and I thought, "right, that's it". I'm a young man with no ties, and I didn't want to look back in 20 years and think, "why didn't we do it"?' The company also offers shamrock seeds so that customers can grow their own luck

Ach I suppose this would be an opportunity to have a go at Irish Americans and sentimentality about Ireland but sod it! If they want Irish soil and someone is happy to provide it at a reasonable price, who are we to sneer?

Official Irish Dirt website

09 December 2006

Fainting Goats

In contrast to fainting schoolgirls, fainting goats do not suffer from mass hysteria, rather they have a genetic condition called myotonia congenita which makes the goats appear to faint when stressed. If you don't believe me here is some footage.

here is a website devoted to fainting goats

Mass Hysteria in Barnsley, Holinwell, Mattoon, Halifax, Egypt...

Friday’s Times reported a fortean event in Barnsley in which a school was evacuated after a on human biology apparently sparked mass hysteria. More than 30 pupils, aged from 11 to 13, as well as a teaching assistant were taken to hospital after three children initially told teachers that they were feeling unwell.

When an entire class began feeling faint and nauseous, they called in the emergency services, fearing a gas leak. All students and staff were then assembled in the hall and sports hall before it was decided, on the advice of paramedics, that everyone at the 627-pupil school should be removed.

Eventually 32 pupils were taken by ambulance and patient transfer vehicles to Barnsley District Hospital for check-ups, as emergency services monitored the school. A hospital spokesman said: “The children were brought into our emergency department. We checked their blood pressure, pulse and blood sugar levels. I have never come across anything like this before.”

Kay Jenkins, the head teacher, said: that no gas leak had been found and that there were no experiments taking place in the science laboratory at the time. “We are still unsure about what happened, but a group of 30 students were watching a human biology video which is regularly shown in a science class,” she said. “It is about the human body and how it works and no blood is shown on the screen. “Three children asked to leave and came down to the medical room feeling a bit queasy. Then another couple came down and at that point, as a few pupils were showing similar symptoms. We contacted the ambulance service and on the advice of the emergency services the school was evacuated as a precaution. “

Not much of an incident you may think but outbreaks of mass hysteria are not uncommon. The Times article mentioned two other incidents: the collapse and hospitalization of 300 children in Holinwell while competing in a brass band competition. And an outbreak of paralysis among nurses at the Royal Free Hospital in London in 1955. That the Royal Free Hospital incident was caused by mass hysteria is contested in an interesting paper by psychologist EM Goudsmit. It is well worth reading if interested in such matters.

Two of my favourite “mass hysteria” stories are the Mad Gasser of Mattoon and the Halifax Slasher. Both are fascinating tales and deserve full posts in their own right.

Another incident which was well reported, particularly in my favourite magazine the Fortean Times, was a spate of fainting fits among Egyptian schoolgirls

Back in 1993 there were reports coming out of Egypt of hundreds of teenage girls fainting en masse in classrooms, breaking out in sobs and complaining of unpleasant smells and nausea. The girls were taken hospitals, where doctors run batteries of tests that yield no physical evidence to explain their symptoms. Dozens of schools were closed and Army experts in chemical warfare inspected school buildings and reviewed the medical tests.

"There is no clinical reason for it," said Dr. Ahmed Rasheq of the Agouza Hospital, at the time "It's just hysteria. We have carried out blood tests, urine tests, every kind of test we can think of and nothing has shown up."

More than a thousand young girls between 12 and 18 suffered attacks in some 40 schools across the country Islamic fundamentalist leaders blamed the Israeli secret service for the spells.

Health Minister Ragheb Dewidar said that neither medical nor environmental tests had found any contaminant and that the cause was psychological. "If one girl who is popular or a leader feels faint for some reason," he said, "the others start believing that they are suffering from the symptoms."

Then the fainting stopped and hysteria moved on to crop up in other countries This is based on a New York Times article. I should stress that fainting schoolgirls are not to be confused with fainting goats - More on fainting goats later.

The non-existent war on Christmas

About ten days ago the Standard ran a report on a campaign to save Christmas from pc interference. This story related to the Christian Muslim Forum and a letter it wrote to councils pleading for an end to the suppression of Christmas and the restoration of its Christian meaning. Needless to say the report cites Birmingham’s Winterval festival and Luton’s Luminos celebration as proof positive that local authorities are acting to stamp out Christmas.

This sort of story abounds, particularly in the toilet press (which includes for this purpose the Mail and the even nastier Express). The problem is that stories about councils etc declaring a PC war on Christmas are pretty much a pack of lies The Guardian had an interesting story on this phoney war yesterday

Christmas obviously banned in Luton

The truth of course is that Luton Council does not have a festival called Luminos instead of Christmas – in November 2001 it held a Harry Potter themed weekend called Luminos but it then had its usual Christmas celebrations. As for Birmingham the truth is that it did run a Winterval festival in 1997 and 1998 but as a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham's newly regenerated town centre. Much to the chagrin of the press (if it could be bothered to check its facts) Birmingham still had its Christmas lights, Christmas trees and carol-singing.

Birmingham declares war on Chrismas

That is not to say that some stories do not have a grain of truth: a member of staff at a High Wycombe library did refuse to display an A4 poster for a carol service in 2003 because of a rule excluding religious or political posters from a notice board but this seems very much the exception than the rule.

As far as I am concerned the War on Christmas stories are largely the product of a lazy and mendacious press. They are no different to the old “loony left council” stories about banned nursery rhymes and more seasonal that lies about the EU.

08 December 2006

Lawnless in Lakewood – the Movie

Back in July I posted an item called Lawnless in Lakewood about the Foti family and the conversion of their front lawn into a vegetable patch - a move that was not totally welcomed by their neighbours. Treehugger TV has made a short film (see below) about the Edible Estates initiative. It is well worth watching.

Both the not-wife and I love the idea of doing similar to our front garden (if we could call it that) but it is tiny and covered in concrete (not by us, I should state) We could try some container-grown produce but what won’t be nicked would probably be pissed on by people en route home from the pub. Ah well we do have the back garden which is much bigger.

New York Times article about the Fotis

Edible Estates

Fashion Victims

I know there is nothing new in a report on Western companies sourcing goods from factories where the workers are paid starvation wages to work long hours in appalling conditions. Still, it was heartening to see that the following story is still highly newsworthy. It was a top item on the BBC breakfast news and it is widely reported in the British press.
War on Want issued a report today on the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories. These factories provide garments for Tesco, Asda and Primark. The following is an extract from the Independent report.

According to the report some Bangladeshi workers making cheap clothes for Asda, Tesco and Primark are paid as little as 3p an hour. Basic pay in factories that cut and sew fabric for budget chains can be just £8 a month for an 80-hour week. With overtime of around £3 a month, some workers were receiving just £11 a month for a week’s work - 3.1p an hour. This is half the living wage in Bangladesh. Workers have also complained that joining a trade union was banned and being cheated by bosses of overtime pay. Beatings and sexual harassment were also said to occur.

War on Want interviewed 60 workers from six factories for its report, Fashion Victims. The charity chose the six factories at random to highlight conditions at suppliers for the budget end of British fashion. All six supplied Asda, four Tesco and three Primark.

Asda, Tesco and Primark are members of the Ethical Trade Initiative, whose code of conduct imposes a 48-hour week for workers and stipulates they should have one day off. Overtime shall be voluntary and not exceed 12 hours a week. However, the report said: "Investigation for this report shows that, in reality, working hours in factories supplying all three retailers far exceed this maximum. Across all six factories, most workers told us that they work from 12 to 16 hours per day and regularly work 80 hours a week."

The report said factories passed audits by the Western retailers by intimidating staff to lie. Many auditors gave factories 20 days' notice, plenty of time to clean dormitories, coach the workers and falsify records. The report said: "Retailers like Asda and Tesco often point to the audits they use to check working conditions. But these kinds of bulk auditing systems provide only a superficial assessment."
Dr Liu Kaiman, of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen, China, was quoted as saying: "The retailers and their suppliers are playing an elaborate game. They only want to reassure customers, not to improve conditions."

Primark said that if War on Want provided details of the factories, it would investigate. "Our low prices are the result of technology, efficient distribution and supply, bulk-buying and the fact that we spend almost nothing on advertising," said a spokesman. Asda said only organisations like War on Want and the retailers were trying to help workers and promised to introduce more unannounced audits and free phone lines for whistleblowers.

I doubt that this report will have much effect on Asda, Tesco and Primark sales. What do to? What would force such companies to improve pay and working conditions? Perhaps the only thing that may have any chance of working in the short term is to continue to shame the companies into action given that an egalitarian socialist society that encompasses the world is a long, long way off…
The full report is available from the War on Want website


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

07 December 2006

Water on Mars?

Photographs of one of the Mars crater

I know I am a little late in blogging this story but being a nerd I couldn’t pass it up. It may add up to nothing but if it does turn out that there is water on Mars then it is possibile that there could be life, albeit of a primitive kind.

Scientists appear to have discovered evidence of water gushing down gullies on Mars. If this is confirmed then it massively increases the possibility that some regions of the planet might still be capable of harbouring life.

Pictures taken by the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting the planet for 10 years, reveal distinctive streaks of what could be water bursting out of crater walls and flowing around boulders and other rocky debris strewn across the surface. Researchers have previously found evidence that ancient lakes once dotted the Martian landscape, and vast quantities of water ice are known to be locked up in sheets of permafrost at the planet's frigid poles. But this is the first evidence that liquid water, crucial to nurture life, might still be found on the planet.

Nasa scientists compared pictures of the Martian landscape taken between 1999 and 2006 and looked for signs of recent changes on the surface. They identified two craters where light streaks suggested water had erupted from the walls and poured down the slopes, leaving mineral deposits for hundreds of metres. The first crater was in a region on the planet's southern hemisphere called Terra Sirenum. Images of the crater taken in April 2005 revealed an apparent burst of water from the north-west wall of the crater that were not visible in an image taken in December 2001. The second crater was also in the southern hemisphere in a region called Centauri Montes. Here, images taken in February 2004 suggest a liquid flowed down the crater's north wall and left deposits that were not seen when the crater was previously photographed in August 1999. However, because of the extremely thin atmosphere on Mars, any water that did erupt from the ground would quickly boil and evaporate.

If they are right, the images add weight to the theory that liquid water remains buried beneath the Martian surface. Sudden impacts from asteroids would leave craters with cracked walls from which subsurface water could easily erupt. Another possibility is that the markings are caused by jets of liquid carbon dioxide, an explanation that some scientists favour because previous computer models suggested liquid water could only exist several kilometres below the crust.

Scientists have long wondered whether life ever existed on Mars and Nasa's mantra in the search for extraterrestrial life has been to follow signs of water. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Among the planets in our solar system, only Earth has a more hospitable climate than Mars, and some scientists suspect Mars once sheltered primitive, bacteria-like organisms. Previous missions found evidence that the red planet at one time boasted ample quantities of water, and the question is whether liquid water is still present.

Helen Duncan is Innocent?

Following on from my recent post about Helen Duncan , the last person to be tried under the Witchcraft Act, there is now a campaign to have her pardoned.

According to the BBC Duncan’s grand-daughter "When she first came back home after prison she was never the same. She always had a bit of a glow about her but she seemed to have lost that. Some people said it was treason. My grandmother had two sons and two son in laws in the forces ... and there is no way she would have given anybody information."

Campaigners to pardon Mrs Duncan have set up an online petition. The campaign is backed by the British Society of Paranormal Studies.

Helen Duncan was a charlatan but her sentence was ludicrous, the result of paranoid times. I doubt the campaign will have any effect though.

My thanks to Hak Mao for drawing my attention to this story.

06 December 2006

Santa Claus is on the dole

Following on from my earlier Santa related post I couldn't resist checking Youtube to see if they had the old Spitting Image song Santa Claus is on the dole... and they do, enjoy!

I don't really wish Santa ill, honest!

NASA plans Moon base

I know this has been extensively reported and extensively blogged but the story that NASA has plans to set up a permanent human settlement on the moon by 2024 is could not be passed by.

The chosen site will be at or near one of the moon's poles, probably the South Pole, because of the long periods of sunlight those regions enjoy. That would permit solar power generation, and the production of electricity, in keeping with NASA’s aim of "living off the land". The South Pole has a special attraction: the suspected nearby presence of key elements, most notably helium-3, a lighter form of the gas that can be used for nuclear power. There have also been some signs that deep craters could contain ice, which would provide water and fuel.

The rockets and landing capsules - the Ares I and Orion programmes will be exclusively American, but the agency wants to bring in other countries. The key question, unanswered by NASA officials this week, is how much the base might cost. Unofficial estimates put the price tag at around $100bn (£50.8bn), compared with NASA’s present annual budget of $18bn.

NASA claims the end of the Shuttle programme in 2010, and the winding-down of the space station, mean that the lunar base can be funded within existing budget ceilings. But critics dispute that, arguing that less high-profile but highly valuable scientific programmes will have to be scaled back, if the agency is to avoid going cap in hand to Congress for extra money.

The programme appears to have broad support on Capitol Hill, even with Democrats in charge from next month. The hope is that the public interest in space will be rekindled by the prospect of men actually living on the moon.

I know it is expensive but I would dearly love to see the plan become a reality. I only hope that NASA does not look back to Space 1999 for ideas.

05 December 2006

Santa Raus!

Czechs are once again rebelling against a new invader. This time the invader is Santa rather than the USSR.

The Creative Copywriters' Club, a leading advertising association in the Czech Republic, has launched a campaign to eliminate the US-style Santa Claus. Its website, Anti-Santa.cz, features the Virgin Mary suckling the infant Jesus adorned in full Santa garb, replete with a pom-pom-topped hat. "

“This stupid, fat guy with the red outfit has been taking over our television ads and we say it's enough," said Martin Charvat, the creative director at the BBDO agency in Prague and one of the campaign's supporters. “Cardboard Santas were popping up in the Czech capital's Old Town like daffodils in spring. We have our own way of celebrating Christmas with baby Jesus - Jezisek - delivering the gifts. This American Santa is just confusing our children."

The Czechs are not alone in expressing irritation over this American invader. According to the Scotsman and Ananova Germans have also given Santa the sack
The Santa-Free Zone group has printed off thousands of flyers and stickers and is handing them out in towns across Germany. Celebrity newsreader Peter Hahne is championing their campaign to ban Santa. He said it was time that Germany ditched Santa, who has commercialised Christmas, in favour of traditional Yuletide figures such as the Christkind and St. Nicholas.

"St. Nicholas is not Father Christmas. The values associated with the former are selflessness, charity, solidarity, giving and sharing. He is perfect for getting across the Christmas message.

"Santa Claus on the other hand is a product of a consumer society. He is a symbol of shopping and has got nothing to do with Saint Nicholas, who still teaches us today that giving does not make you poorer, but richer," said Hahne.

Even our Father Christmas has changed over the years. Although his dress should be different to Santa (a long rope with hood rather than tunic and cap) it used to be green once. Hmm, perhaps this is the special relationship in action….

Ahmadinejad in a spot of bother?

In one of those schadenfreude moments President Ahmadinejad of Iran has been accused of undermining Iran's Islamic revolution after television footage appeared to show him watching a female song and dance show according to today’s Guardian

Ahmadinejad has been criticised by his own allies after attending the lavish opening ceremony of the Asian games in Qatar. The ceremony featured Indian and Egyptian dancers and female vocalists. Many were not wearing veils (Oh the horror!). Women are forbidden to sing and dance before a male audience under Iran's Islamic legal code. Officials are expected to excuse themselves from such engagements when abroad but TV pictures showed Mr Ahmadinejad sitting with President Bashar Assad of Syria and Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, during last Friday's ceremony in Doha.

Religious fundamentalists are asking why he attended a ceremony that violated his own government's strict interpretation of Shia Islam. Baztab, a website, which is apparently linked to powerful sections of Iran's political hierarchy, said Ahmadinejad's presence had offended Shias. "The failure of Ahmadinejad to object and his constant presence has damaged the image of Iran's Islamic revolution and its commitment to Islamic rules in contrast with the Arab countries in the Gulf," it said.

Although the president's aides insist he was not present during the singing and dancing. Baztab posted footage which purported to show Mr Ahmadinejad in his seat after the show. Jalal Yahyazadeh, a rightwing MP, said: "We have heard from some sources that Ahmadinejad was in the stadium at the time. Those who created the conditions for his presence should be investigated as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile the Iranian press appears to be curiously silent over the matter: A check of Iran’s English language news sites report that Ahmadinejad visited the Iranian sports camp in Doha where he told the participants that they were "the ambassadors of morals and culture of Iran.” There is also an report about Iran’s influence for peace, brotherhood, development of nations but nothing about unveiled dancers…

I know this story is probably an awful lot of very little but given the crap he heaps, it is nice to think that he will be getting crapped on himself.

04 December 2006

Dead Can Dance - Cantara

Performed live in the USA in 1994.

More censorship in Iran

In a move intended to “purge” western culture Iran has shut down access to some of the world's most popular websites including Amazon and YouTube. Similar edicts have been issued against Wikipedia, the internet encyclopaedia, IMDB.com, and the New York Times site. Attempts to open the sites are met with a page reading: "The requested page is forbidden."

The clampdown was ordered by senior judiciary officials in the latest phase of a campaign that has seen high-speed broadband facilities banned in an attempt to impede "corrupting" foreign films and music. Critics accuse Iran of using filtering technology to censor more sites than any country apart from China. Until now, targets have been mainly linked to opposition groups or those deemed "immoral" under Iran's Islamic legal code.

Last week Mohammed Tourang, head of the information bureau's cultural committee, warned Iranian websites of stricter rules by announcing steps to stamp out "immoral and illegal" content. He said site owners would be given official reminders to eliminate forbidden material. Special attention would be paid to content judged to be a threat to national unity or insulting to sacred religious texts and symbols.

The purge mirrors a rising tide of censorship in Iranian publishing which has resulted in the banning of hundreds of books, including western classics. Illegal satellite dishes have also been seized.

From today’s Guardian

03 December 2006

Worth watching - Offside

Football films are usually of the quality of Escape to Victory: ie, an utter turkey (except for Saint Bobby Moore’s performance which was of course a tour de force!). Offside, on the other hand is in a different league (I promise no more football related puns, intentional or otherwise). There is no football action as such rather it is a compelling, and actually quite funny film about young Iranian women arrested when trying to attend a key qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup.

Dressed in various disguises, including one in military uniform, the girls are apprehended and held in a small pen where they can hear the roars of the crowd as the match progresses. The girls still share the same anxiety and joy as the fans inside the stadium while at the same time pleading with their captors (mainly young conscriptees) to let the go free. Iran win their match and Qualify for the World Cup finals. Needless to say everyone is euphoric, including the girls even though they are facing punishment at the hands of the Iranian Vice Squad.. You will just have to see the film to see exactly how it ends.

One of the greatest strengths of this film is his use of non professional actors, mostly students. The director asked the girls in the film to turn up with their own idea of how they would disguise themselves as a boy and what is seen in the film was the girls' own attempts. I would also like to point out an Afghan film called Osama which used also used non-professional to astonishing effect

Director Jafar Pahahi was interviewed in the Telegraph before Offside’s UK release in June

“Whatever happens in front of my camera should be realistic," he says. "When I watch professional actors, I remember what the actor was doing before and therefore make other connotations and it gets removed from the realism that should be in the film."
As with Panahi's previous films about the struggles of ordinary Iranians - The White Balloon, The Circle and Crimson Gold - he has had a battle with the censors, and Offside has yet to be shown in Iran. The wonder is that Panahi was given permission to film at all. He shoots on the hoof. Using a single handheld camera, much of the film was made in real time during the qualifying match. While they filmed a fictional group of women banned from the game in one part of the stadium, "on the same day, about a 100 other women had been kept out. A number of them threw themselves in front of the reporters and some even in front of the bus of the Bahraini players. They were arrested."

Like the rest of Iran, Panahi had no idea if the national team would win and provide the film with a happy ending. "The truth is, if the fate of the game had been different, this would also have affected our film. But I was hoping that Iran would win so that we could have the celebrations at the end."

The issue of women attending football matches tends to rear its head only when the national team is thriving, and Iranian football has made few headlines abroad. When Iran qualified for the 1998 finals the team was welcomed home by a huge crowd in the stadium, among them 5,000 women. "Many others were barred," recalls Panahi. "There was a great deal of discussion regarding how women can take part and watch the games they want to in the stadium. But the issue subsided gradually until once again Iran succeeded in getting to the World Cup."

In June President Ahmadinejad made announced that Iranian women would be allowed into sports stadiums from now on. From a film festival in South Korea, Panahi issued a sceptical statement in response. "Many clerics have opposed his remarks," he said. "I am not very hopeful, because in Iran there are many powers that take the decisions and nothing can be predicted." Sadly his pessimism was borne out. The following week Ayatollah Khamenei slapped a veto on the president's decision. From Vienna, Panahi made another statement: "If there was some hope earlier on, at the moment there is no hope left at all. I will try again to see if the film can be shown in Iran. I know it is a futile effort."

Cameron in a bit of trouble?

According to today’s Observer there are warning signs about David Cameron's ability to lead the Tories back to power. An advanced copy of a survey of party activists apparently shows signs of rebellion over Cameron's latest move to reposition the Conservatives, by embracing Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee's views on poverty.

A series of other polls timed to coincide with his leadership anniversary will also make sobering reading. An ICM survey in today's News of the World reveals that Gordon Brown, is the preferred choice for Prime Minister for 29 cent of people, with Cameron trailing on 25 per cent. (That said there is still considerable comfort for the Tories in a 9% poll lead). A focus group conducted by the political consultant Frank Luntz for the Sunday Telegraph indicates that Cameron does appeal to floating voters but he alienates Conservative voters. Luntz warned, however, that Cameron could be 'one poorly conceived stunt away from disaster'.

According to the Observer the survey of Tory activists, by the website Conservativehome.com, seems to confirm the rumblings of discontent among some traditional Tories, even though Cameron has built a steady lead over Labour in opinion polls over the past year. It found a sharp drop in the approval rating for his leadership.

The survey - conducted by a website viewed by Cameron aides as a key barometer of Tory opinion - reveals the depth of unhappiness over his repositioning of the party. Though a comfortable majority still backs him as leader, his 'satisfaction' rating has fallen since last month's survey from 76 per cent to 67 per cent. Asked more generally about Cameron's campaign to change the party, about half the respondents said he had the 'pace and extent' about right, and 11 per cent felt he should go even further. But 43 per cent said he had 'gone too far'.

On the other hand I could be just clutching at straws with this sort of news. Time will tell but perhaps Gordon’s gravitas will win through in the end. I don’t doubt that Cameron is well intentioned (it is strange to hear a Tory leader say things that don’t make me puke) but his delivery may well count against him. Whatever he does, I hope he stands by George Osborne - his crass attacks on Brown must be worth a few votes to Labour...