31 January 2008

Now for some Music Machine

The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly. Not gassy and my toe hurts like buggery!

This site, Beyond The Beat Generation, looks like it's well worth perusing

I think it's gassy!

Pushin' too Hard by the Seeds featuring the inimitable Sky Saxon

Music fo a crappy day and a big toe the size of a grapefruit......

Titan prisons are a mistake... yes... err, but they are going ahead.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons is usually fiercely independent and is not afraid to ladle out uncomfortable truths to governments regardless of political persuasion. In the 1990s, Judge Stephen Tumin was so outspoken that Michael Howard appointed a military man, presumably thinking that he would take a no nonsense, hardline approach to prison conditions. He couldn’t have been more wrong! General, Sir David (now Lord) Ramsbotham marked his independence from the very start and he remains in retirement a strong advocate for prison reform as can be seen in this Comment is Free column in yesterday’s Guardian . The current Chief Inspector Anne Owers is by no means as high-profile as her predecessor but that does not mean that she is any less independent.

In her annual report published yesterday Ms Owers criticises plans to build three "super-prisons".

Not only does she paint a grim portrait of conditions behind bars (A 40 per cent increase in suicides last year, continuing overcrowding and the plight of mentally ill inmates) she blames government policies for last year's record prison population, which forced ministers to order the use of police cells to hold detainees and to approve the early release of non-dangerous inmates. "That crisis was predicted and predictable, fuelled by legislation and policies which ignored consequences, cost or effectiveness, together with an absence of coherent strategic direction." She says

She warns that the plans that government proposals for a vast expansion in jail places, mainly by building "Titan jails", would be counterproductive. "On the horizon loom the Titans – 2,500-strong prison complexes, flying in the face of our, and others' evidence, that smaller prisons work better than larger ones," she says. "They may be more efficient, but at the cost of being less effective."

Although a Labour blogger I rarely discuss politics these days. There are plenty of other people left and right who do a far better job of political blogging it than I ever could. However, the “Titan” jail plans are of particular local interest, Rainham being a prime candidate for the one sited in London. The plans caused a furore locally last year. Doomed Tory MP for Hornchurch, James Brokenshire (the constituency is being broken up and Rainham will move to Dagenham) was highly outspoken in his opposition. Although protests have subsided, Rainham remains a prime site. Ms Owers’s report may have come as some relief to protestors.

The relief was short-lived, however. Although Justice minister Jack Straw appeared to indicate that the government was having second thoughts about “Titan” jails, Gordon Brown confirmed that the government would go ahead with them "We will go ahead with these prisons following the consultation that [Straw] said would take place," he told MPs.

I will be interested to see what John Cruddas has to say about this subject as he is most likely to be Rainham’s MP after the next election.

What do you see?

What you see in these images is determined by whether you are left or right handed.

Because the brains of left- and right-handers are organised are organised differently, left-handers see and think differently and can get some very different results from various "brain tests". Left -handers tend to do well on tests that involve creative thinking or unraveling complex images and manipulating 3D images.

In the first image a right-hander may just see a hodgepodge of disconnected shapes, but a left-hander will tend to make sense of the shapes. Left-handers are more likely to see the dalmatian shiffing the ground.

The second image is a Kanizsas triangle. If you can see the white triangle - the one with its apex pointing up - it's because your left-handed brain has created that triangle to unify what is otherwise simply a collection of angles and PacMan shapes. There is, in fact, no white triangle there.

Taken from a post for International Left Handers Day 2007

30 January 2008

Second Childhood?

The UK's first playground specifically for older people has opened near Manchester. An "older people's play area" in Dam Head Park, Blackley, in north Manchester, features six pieces of equipment - featuring the slogan "Never too old to play" - designed to provide gentle exercise.

The playground, which officially opened yesterday after being tested by locals aged over 70, cost £15,000 to build. Established by the Dam Head Residents Association, it includes equipment for upper body exercise, training leg muscles, hip exercise, and stomach and leg training. Some of the equipment is accessible to wheelchair users. The equipment was installed after Peggy Yuill, treasurer of the residents association, saw a newspaper article about a similar facility in Germany. Funding was provided from Northwards Housing, which runs the local estate.

Gordon Lishman, director general of the charity Age Concern, said the playground could help older people maintain good physical and mental health. "A well-designed fitness park could be a great way to encourage older people to exercise and socialise. Exercising a few times a week can make a big difference to someone's health and doesn't have to be strenuous. Equally, socialising with others can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression. Many older people aren't exercising enough and we are really keen for local authorities to offer a range of accessible and affordable facilities that promote physical activity in later life."

What a great idea. I always thought swings and roundabouts were wasted on kinds. Only 25 years until I hit 70, I can’t wait!

Fly Trans Nude Airways

A German travel agent has come up with the ultimate in no-frills flying - a charter flight for passengers who want to fly naked. Apparently naturist holidays are particularly popular among east Germans, who particularly like to stretch out on a beach in the nude. "The flight can be enjoyed as God intended," said a spokesperson from Ossi Urlaub, a company specialising in selling to holidaymakers from the former east. "For the first time, passengers in Germany can fly completely in the nude."

FKK, which stands for Freikörperkultur (Free Body Culture), is a German movement which became widespread in the German Democratic Republic. Today most German beaches or lakes, east or west, have sections clearly labelled "FKK" or "textile beach" to avoid confusion. Enrico Hess, head of OssiUrlaub, said his business plan was inspired by the enthusiasm for naturist holiday breaks back in the days of communism. "FKK holidays were a popular way of spending the best weeks of the year. Now we want to make this freedom possible above the clouds."

Its plane will fly from the city of Erfurt to the Baltic island of Usedom, returning on the same day. Tickets cost €499 (£370). Mercifully for other users of Erfurt airport passengers will only be allowed to get undressed aboard the flight.. Pilots and cabin crew will remain clothed "for security reasons".

I am surprised nationals security agencies have not adopted the idea of all nude flights. After all, no clothing means no shoe bombers and nowhere to hide other hijack weapons. I am sure we will see airborne nudity made compulsory the day after the first underpants bomber....

29 January 2008

WW - Marigold winter survivor

This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

Getting in the mood for Robyn Hitchcock

The not-wife and I are off to see Robyn Hitchcock tonight. This will be the first time she's seen him since his 50th birthday concert in 2003. Tonight he will be playing his 1984 acoustic album "I Often Dream of Trains" plus a selection of other goodies.

Youtube provides a video of the album's title track (the man with the lightbulb head is from his 1985 album Fegmania).

28 January 2008

Come on you Barack!

I don’t normally read the Sun but I was on the tube this morning. I had just finished a fascinating book about the Barbary corsair raid on the Irish village of Baltimore in 1631 (more on this later) and I didn’t really want to start my next book, the Air Loom Gang by Michael Jay and there wasn’t a copy of the Metro lying around.....

Page three was of particular interest (and not for the bare breasted beauty than graces that page, honest!) as it contained an interesting news item about Barack Obama. On the basis of this article I would wholeheartedly recommend that all Americans vote for him...

Why would I say such a thing? Well it seems that Senator Obama is a West Ham fan and has been following them since a UK five years ago. His sister married an Englishman whose family are ardent Hammers fans.

His campaign team recently revealed he is a massive soccer fan and a nifty player himself while a student at Harvard Law School. Apparently he watches Premier League games whenever his schedule allows. A campaign source said last night: “Obama is a big sports nut and loves his soccer. He never really followed it, though, until he was told all about the passion of West Ham fans by some of his English relatives. He’s always keen to find out how his adopted club are getting on.”

Well there you have it. It is common knowledge that all West Ham fans are upright citizens who drink moderately, never swear and always give up their bus seats to old ladies. A supporter of the boys from the Boleyn Ground would thus make an ideal President!

I look forward to hearing “I’m forever blowing bubbles” sung at the White House (a song that has nothing to do with the activities of Michael Jackson and his chimp). On the other hand the song has the lines “just like my dreams they fade and die, fortune’s always hiding....”

Robert Capa’s lost treasure trove found again

An article in yesterday’s Observer will have more than piqued the interest of photographers (from the top professionals to rank amateurs like me) worldwide. A lost treasure trove containing thousands of negatives by Robert Capa, has been recovered. Quite rightly hailed as the as the 'holy grail' of photojournalism, the discovery of the long-mourned cache of photographs after almost 70 years has sent shockwaves through the photography world.

'This is the formative work of a photographer who, in a century defined by warfare, played a pivotal role in defining how war was seen, bringing its horrors nearer than ever,' said Brian Wallis, chief curator at the International Centre of Photography in midtown Manhattan, which was founded by Robert Capa's brother, Cornell.

The discovery of the pictures is being hailed as a huge event, partly because it is hoped that the negatives could settle once and for all the question that has dogged Capa's legacy: whether what may be his most famous picture - and one of the most famous war photographs of all time - was staged. Known as 'The Falling Soldier,' the sequence of photographs shows a Spanish Republican militiaman reeling backwards at what appears to be the instant a bullet strikes his chest or head, on a hillside near Córdoba in 1936. When the picture was first published in the French magazine Vu, it created a sensation and helped crystallise support for the Republican cause.

Doubts about the authenticity of the sequence emerged after Phillip Knightley pointed out in his book, The First Casualty, that at the moment of death the soldier was still clutching his rifle. Knightly also argued that a companion photograph, apparently showing the same soldier lying on the ground, proved the photograph was staged. Richard Whelan, Capa's biographer, later made a persuasive case that the photograph was not faked but doubts have persisted. A negative of the shot has never been found and the discovery of one could end the debate.

The lost negatives were photographs that Capa took during the Spanish Civil War. They were left behind in a Paris darkroom after the photographer fled Europe for America in 1939. He assumed they were lost during the Nazi invasion and he died in 1954, on assignment in Vietnam, still believing that to be the case. Then, in 1995, Jerald R Green, a professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, received a letter from a Mexico City film-maker saying he had inherited three suitcases of negatives from his aunt and had identified the contents as Capa's masterpieces. Last week, after years of negotiations over where they should be kept, the legal title to the negatives was transferred by the film-maker, who has asked to remain anonymous, to the Capa estate.

'The full story of how the negatives made their way to Mexico might never be known but Capa apparently asked his darkroom manager, a Hungarian photographer named Imre Weisz, to save his negatives in 1939 or 1940, when Capa was in New York and feared his work would be destroyed,' said Wallis.

27 January 2008

False flag ops and old news?

Today’s Sunday Times carried an article alleging that Margaret Thatcher was behind a False flag operation against Sweden in the 1980s.

According to a new book by Ola Tunander, a research professor at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (the article does not mention the title of this book), Mrs Thatcher ordered the Royal Navy to make incursions into Swedish territorial waters during the 1980s and early 1990s. The incursions were designed to heighten the impression around the world of the Soviet Union as an aggressive superpower. Sometimes the boats landed commandos, but often their job was to fool the Swedes by mimicking the sonar signals given off by the Soviet vessels that stalked the same waters.

Tunander claims that there were more than 4,000 reported detections of foreign submarines in Swedish waters between 1982 and92. The West claimed the vessels were all Soviet, probing the country’s defences. Tunander, however, believes that many were part of a CIA-run operation by Britain and America that continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union. He reached his conclusions after speaking to former Royal Navy submariners and CIA officials. One British naval captain told him: “Margaret Thatcher signed approval for every single operation.” The operation took advantage of an incident in 1981 when a Whisky class submarine ran aground near the Swedish naval base Karlskrona

Tunander said he had once sat next to a British admiral at dinner and questioned him about the operation. He replied that it was “none of my business”, Tunander said. “The admiral then added jokingly, ‘Don’t people fall under buses sometimes?’ ” This weekend Sir Keith Speed, navy minister from 1979 to 1981, was asked if the missions had happened. He replied, “Yes,” but added: “I cannot say any more as I am bound by the Official Secrets Act until the day I die.”

A senior Swedish source said the submarine incidents had been fully investigated and that Tunander’s claims were “completely untrue”.

False flag operation do happen an will almost certain continue while humans make war against each other (eg the Gleiwitz incident ) although they probably do not happen with the frequency imagined by lunatic conspiracy theorists such as the late Joe Vialls (who seemed to pin every event, including the murder of Cock Robin, on Mossad). As for this one, I would be surprised if Royal Navy submarines didn’t enter Swedish territorial waters, but landing commandos on Swedish soil many times? Any operation of this type will go wrong from time to time. Imagine what would have happened if they had been caught red handed. This seems unlikely to me.

One this that does puzzle me is why is this story in the Times now. Tunander wrote his book The Secret War against Sweden in 2004. Perhaps it was a slow news day...

Obtaining hippo sweat in Africa while wearing more than your body weight in armour

A cute cuddly image of a hippo

Hippos may look vaguely comical but they are very dangerous animals to be around - far more people are killed by hippos than lions or other large mammals. However they do secrete an oily red sweat that is believed to have powerful antiseptic and sun blocking properties. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely when you consider that a hippo’s bite is several times more powerful than that of a Great White!) nobody has ever collected a sweat sample from a wild hippo, or at least not before it had dried.

A hippo skull shows a Hippo's vicious dentition

Dr Brady Barr has just returned from a mission in Zambia to harvest sweat samples from hippos in the quest for a new type of sun cream. To protect him he wore a 14 stone (196lb or about 90kg) Hippo suit consisting of a steel-ribbed tube wrapped in bulletproof material and topped with mouldings taken from a female hippo. The suit was reassembled in the African bush, finished off with a daubing of mud and dung to disguise Barr’s scent. Barr would then wait for a hippo to pass then, tap a hippo with a long pole and scoop off fresh drops of its sweat. Well that was the plan anyway...

“I have long believed that hippo sweat can provide breakthroughs in waterproof sun block and antiseptics,” said Barr. “It works for them in some of the harshest environments in the world; it could work for us. But extracting it did not prove to be as easy as we hoped.”

On the first day he was ignored, except by a curious lion and a juvenile elephant, which mock-charged. On another day he was trapped in mud while being eyed by a lone male. A park ranger, Boston Chulu, risked his life trying to squeeze Barr through an escape hatch, but it jammed. The scientist had to crouch inside sweating until the real hippo became bored and wandered off. His mission failed but, Barr said, “we shall be going back to Africa as soon as we can”.

I’m sure that the scientific benefits of Hippo sweat will be worth all the problems (not least being bitten in half by a 3 ton mammal!) but one question springs immediately to mind. Why on earth does he not go off to a zoo and scrape the sweat off a captive animal? Apparently wild animal sweat is rather denser and thus will probably contain more active ingredients,

The things we do (err someone else does) for science!

Cleck here for a video of Dr Barr's adventure

26 January 2008

Photo Hunt - Old fashioned

The subject for this week's entry for Photo Hunt is old fashioned. Last summer I took a trip to Tilbury Fort, a 17th century fort on the Thames about 22 miles east of London. While there I spent some time watching boats go by, including this Thames sail barge. Barges used to be a very common sight on the river in the days when London was one of the world's major ports. Times change: containerisation and the closure of the London docks meant that these boats were no longer needed. A few have been preserved and are now used as pleasure boats. I quite fancy taking a trip on one in the Summer.

Jodrell Bank to become a world heritage site?

Jodrell Bank has been identified as a contender to win World Heritage Site status under new rules designed to recognise the importance of scientific installations. New guidelines on how World Heritage Sites should be selected are being drawn up and will be debated in the summer. The new rules would allow scientific centres such as Jodrell Bank to line up alongside Hadrian’s Wall and the Giant’s Causeway

Since it was established as an observatory in 1945 Jodrell Bank it has been credited with the discovery of quasars and gravitational lenses, which assist in identifying planets and far distant stars. It led research into pulsars and in 2006 scientists using the observatory announced that they had proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with 99.95 per cent certainty.

Jodrell Bank was one of only two scientific installations cited at the meeting this week as being of the type of scientific installation that would be important enough to qualify. The other was Cern, the European laboratory for particle physics on the Franco-Swiss border. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is one of the few scientific centres included among the 851 existing World Heritage Sites recognising places of outstanding natural or cultural importance. Similarly, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been made a World Heritage Site, but neither achieved the status because of its scientific achievements alone.

Christopher Young, head of world heritage for English Heritage, which advises the Government on the suitability of sites, said: “The World Heritage Convention is about cultural heritage and science is one very important part of that. The sort of place we might be looking at for would be a place of major importance in advancing understanding of the world around us. A good example of that is Jodrell Bank. It’s clearly very important.” Tim O’Brien, an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank, said: “We are flattered to be considered in such a way. I would agree such sites are an important part of our cultural heritage and I think we would certainly be worthy of such a designation.”

The UK is already host to 27 world heritage sites/areas (including those on overseas territories). There is no doubt in my mind that Jodrell Bank fully deserves to join the likes of the Tower of London, Avebury, and the Jurassic Coast. Perhaps Bletchley Park, the home of the Enigma code breakers and Colossus may be considered in the fullness of time

Blyth Power - On the Viking Station

25 January 2008

24 January 2008

You’re going home in a &£8^@~#” popemoblile!

A Vatican-backed football tournament for Rome seminarians and priests has been forced to crack down on rowdy supporters in the stands. Neighbours living near the ground complained of noise sothe, trainee priests supporting their teams in the Clericus Cup tournament have been told that they will be barred from entering the ground if they continue to show up armed with drums, megaphones, trumpets, maracas and ghetto blasters (knuckledusters and flicknives are presumably okay...).

Loud chanting, sometimes in Latin, will also be discouraged to avoid "disturbing the peace", the organisers said. (I wish I knew what “You’re going home in a f*****g ambulance” was in Latin)

Drum-beating fans of the Mexican players of Maria Mater Ecclesiae College were singled out for particular criticism while African seminarians turning out for Urban College have been backed by loud reggae music. American seminarians from the North American College ( nicknamed the NAC), have been chanting "Come on you Knackers, kick some caboose," at games before singing Doo Wop numbers (hmm they have a long way to go before they match West Ham’s ICF....).

On the other hand, supporters of the current cup holders, Redemptoris Mater Seminary, have said they will continue to sing a hymn from the stands before each game.

The Clericus Cup brings together 18 teams of 51 nationalities, plus lay members working for religious organisations. Pope Benedict XVI said this month that football should promote "honesty, solidarity and fraternity". This year the competition is hosting a British squad for the first time. British College United, comprising students and priests from two English seminaries and a Scottish one, features the cup's oldest player, 57-year-old Scot John Breen, dean of studies at Beda College. "We bring a small British support which tends to express itself with the odd shout of encouragement," Breen said (I wonder if assertions about the marital status of the referee are included in the shouts of encouragement).

Here's hoping there's no fighting on the terraces...

23 January 2008

Afghan reporter sentenced to death

Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, has been sentenced to death by an Afghan court for distributing "blasphemous" material. He has been arrested in 2007 after downloading material from the internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies.

A primary court in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan said that Kambakhsh had confessed to blasphemy and had to be punished. Shamsur Rahman, the head of the court, told Reuters news agency: "According to... the Islamic law, Sayed Perwiz is sentenced to death at the first court, however, he will go through three more courts to declare his last punishment."

Balkh province's deputy attorney general, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, warned other journalists that they would be arrested if they attempted to support Kambakhsh. But Agence France-Presse reported that journalists were gathering outside the home of the condemned reporter.

International human rights groups. Reporters Without Borders said it was "deeply shocked" by the trial and appealed to President Hamid Karzai to intervene "before it is too late". In a statement, the group said the trial was "carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution. Kambakhsh did not do anything to justify his being detained or being given this sentence."

Kambakhsh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, said the verdict was "very unfair" and appealed for help from the international community,

What can you say? I bloody well hope that the international community responds. I hope that the Afghan authorities take notice.

22 January 2008

Well I’m convinced!


NASA scientists are apparently puzzled by a life-like image taken by one of the rovers currently active on the planet. The alien figure was pictured at the far left of one of the panoramic photographs taken by the exploration rover, Spirit, from the top of a low plateau in late 2007

Cidona, I suppose there's a face somewhere in there

The picture will certainly be well received by conspiracy theorists and other (Richard Hoagland presumably will be telling the world that NASA have photographed one of the builders of theCidona face; the Alternative Three nuts must be pretty happy too!)..

I don’t know if it’s just me though but the image looks a bit like the Patterson Bigfoot. This of course can only mean one thing.... Bigfoot is actually a Martian... Well that’s what I think anyway (Honest!)

WW - St Andrew's Churchyard

This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

21 January 2008

Last Polish WWI veteran dies

Poland's last surviving World War I veteran, Stanislaw Wycech , died in his sleep on 12 January. He was 105.

Wycech was born into a family of Polish independence activists in June 1902 near Warsaw. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Poles were drafted into the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian armies. Wycech had been too young for the draft, but in 1915 became a messenger with the Polska Organizacja Wojskowa (POW), or Polish Military Organisation, an underground movement seeking freedom for the country. In February 1917, he was admitted to the POW's "adult" wing.

Paxman berates M&S for dodgy gussets

Jeremy Paxman tackles the important topics of the day as a Newsnight presenter, but today it seems he has become the champion of a cause dear to the hearts of men: the declining quality of Marks & Spencer underpants.

In an E-mail to M&S chief executive Sir Stuart Rose he explained that Marks & Sparks pants "no longer provide adequate support". Yesterday afternoon, he added: "This is not just about the weak gusset issue. It is about the separation of the cotton from the elastic, a very common problem. When I first noticed this some time ago I thought it might be a detergent problem. In fact, they are simply not being made to the same standards they used to be. I have spoken to loads of people, from Peers of the Realm to gardeners, all men who use these vital items of equipment, and we agree."

M&S insists, however, that its male customers' complaints about underpants are at a "five-year low".

"But the problem is not the design!" said Paxman. "I've no problem with the design and never have. It's purely about the manufacture. It's very interesting they are being cagey about where they manufacture them now."

Paxman had considered his complaint a private matter and is irritated that his email was leaked. "This was never supposed to be public," said Paxman, "but someone needs to speak up on behalf of British men, because we are being let down, both figuratively and metaphorically. We deserve more attention."

Sir Stuart Rose has invited him to lunch promising a goody bag of assorted undergarments for Paxman to trial.

20 January 2008

So I'm a high nerd...

NerdTests.com says I'm a High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

ON the other hand the not-wife thinks dickhead is a far more appropriate title....

And now for some Cholmondley-Warner

Methods of Self Defence

The Working Class

Spike Milligan - The Great McGonagall

In a comment on my previous post Aileni asked me if I remembered William McGoonagle as voiced by Spike Milligan. The Goons were before my time but Milligan did star in a film called the great McGonagall which also featured Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria! I found this clip on Youtube:

It's pretty typical of Milligan's bizarre humour which could be very hit and miss (with a lot of miss in my view)

19 January 2008

Alcohol: the Demon Drink or the Workman’s Friend?

As I have mentioned in previous posts I receive a daily helping of William Topaz McGonagall, courtesy of McGonagall Online. Today’s offering is a plea for temperance, written, of course in William Topaz’s inimitable (or should that be excruciating ?)


My parents were sober living, and often did pray
For their family to abstain from intoxicating drink alway;
Because they knew it would lead them astray
Which no God fearing man will dare to gainsay.

Some people do say that God made strong drink,
But he is not so cruel I think;
To lay a stumbling block in his children's way,
And then punish them for going astray.

No! God has more love for his children, than mere man.
To make strong drink their souls to damn;
His love is more boundless than mere man's by far,
And to say not it would be an unequal par.

A man that truly loves his family wont allow them to drink,
Because he knows seldom about God they will think,
Besides he knows it will destroy their intellect,
And cause them to hold their parents in disrespect.

Strong drink makes the people commit all sorts of evil,
And must have been made by the Devil
For to make them quarrel, murder, steal, and fight,
And prevent them from doing what is right.

The Devil delights in leading the people astray,
So that he may fill his kingdom with them without delay;
It is the greatest pleasure he can really find,
To be the enemy of all mankind.

The Devil delights in breeding family strife,
Especially betwixt man and wife;
And if the husband comes home drunk at night,
He laughs and crys, ha! ha! what a beautiful sight.

And if the husband asks his supper when he comes in,
The poor wife must instantly find it for him;
And if she cannot find it, he will curse and frown,
And very likely knock his loving wife down.

Then the children will scream aloud,
And the Devil no doubt will feel very proud,
If he can get the children to leave their own fireside,
And to tell their drunken father, they won't with him reside.

Strong drink will cause the gambler to rob and kill his brother,
Aye! also his father and his mother,
All for the sake of getting money to gamble,
Likewise to drink, cheat, and wrangle.

And when the burglar wants to do his work very handy,
He plies himself with a glass of Whisky, Rum, or Brandy,
To give himself courage to rob and kill,
And innocent people's blood to spill.

Whereas if he couldn't get Whisky, Rum, or Brandy,
He wouldn't do his work so handy;
Therefore, in that respect let strong drink be abolished in time,
And that will cause a great decrease in crime.

Therefore, for this sufficient reason remove it from society,
For seldom burglary is committed in a state of sobriety;
And I earnestly entreat ye all to join with heart and hand,
And to help to chase away the Demon drink from bonnie Scotland.

I beseech ye all to kneel down and pray,
And implore God to take it away;
Then this world would be a heaven, whereas it is a hell,
And the people would have more peace in it to dwell.

William Topaz is firmly in the temperance camp. However, the great Flann O’Brian takes a contrary view about alcohol. In his view it is truly the workman’s friend:

The Workman’s Friend

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -

When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare -

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life -

So there you have it. McGonagall sees alcohol as a demon, while Flann considers it to be the balm that soothes the ills of the working man. To be honest I must go with Flann on this issue but only in moderation of course. Sadly O’Brian did not treat a pint (or 12) of plain as just a friend; it was also his lover and constant companion....

Saving a Language - Nepal

Soma Devi Dura is blind, partly deaf and in failing health. At the age of 82 she is also the last direct link to one of the hundreds of Asia's indigenous languages threatened by extinction. She is believed to be the last remaining speaker of Dura, the language once spoken by the Nepalese ethnic group from which both she and the language she alone can speak take their names. The only other known speaker of Dura died last August. Researchers are seeking to obtain medical treatment for Mrs Dura both to help her and to give them more time to finish their work completing a dictionary of the language and compiling a record of Dura culture. With her agreement they intend to bring Mrs Dura to Nepal's capital Kathmandu, from her home in the west.

Kedar Nagila, a linguist who wrote a PhD thesis on the endangered language, said 1,500 words and 250 sentences in Dura had already been documented. By bringing Mrs Dura to Kathmandu and using specialist hearing equipment, he hopes she will be able to provide even more information. "They are planning to come next month," he said. "The lady is the last speaker of Dura."

The ethnic Dura live mainly in the hilly farm country of the Lamjung district of Nepal. The demise of their language has been a gradual process, exacerbated by a "one-nation, one-language" policy instituted by the Shah dynasty, which has ruled Nepal since the late 18th century. "This policy made Nepali the only dominant language used in administration, education and media at the cost of other languages. As a result, minority-language speakers like the Dura gradually shifted to Nepali, thereby giving up their mother tongues," said Professor Yogendra Yadava, head of linguistics at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University. "This is the critical stage of language endangerment applicable not only to Dura but also several other minority languages such as Kusunda, Dumi, Raji, Raute and Baram spoken in Nepal where 96 per cent of 126 Nepalese languages are facing extinction."

Mrs Dura's husband, son and five daughters do not speak Dura and she has no alternative but to speak with them in another Nepali language. Asked what Mrs Dura's death would mean for the Dura language, Professor Yadava said: "It'll certainly be a great loss to the Dura community as they will lose the symbol of their identity. This will also mean a significant loss to the world's knowledge as every language is unique in expressing concepts and thoughts."

"Sadly, we do not have sponsors for publishing of the research book on our language," Kishor Dura, a senior Dura official told The Kathmandu Post. "We are on the verge of losing our identity with the loss of our language and yet no one seems to be sensitive enough to realise the fact that with our language lost we will lose the cultural values it carries for our community."

A handful of other Dura sources exist in the form of word-lists and government reports. Most of these are now held at the Himalayan Languages Project at Leiden University in the Netherlands. The project's director, Professor George van Driem, said the historically low status of the Dura people had also been a factor in accelerating the loss of the language. He said it was ironic that the Shah dynasty – poised to be ousted by Nepal's parliament – was descended from the Dura people. Despite the challenge confronting the activists in Nepal, he believes Dura can be rescued for future generations. "Dying languages can indeed be saved," he said. "If people resume raising the children in the ancestral tongue, then the language can be saved. Documenting a language can help, but documented languages can also die, and some dead languages are quite well documented. The key is raising the children in the native tongue of the community and not in the national language."

18 January 2008

Photo Hunt - Important

The subject for this week's entry for Photo Hunt is Important. So what's so important about a few bits of rotting concrete you may ask. The photos are of two of only nine (I think) remaining Tett turrets anywhere. Four of them (again I think) can be found in a local country park which was the site of RAF Hornchurch, a famous Battle of Britain fighter station.

The Tett turret was one of those hasty and desperate measures devised to protect Britain when there was a genuine (or at least a perceived genuine) threat of German invasion. It was big enough for just one man and a light machine gun. The illustration below gives an idea what it would have been like inside one.

So why this choice of subject? Even if it looks unimpressive, the preservation of our past IS important.....


Mimi is four today. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats

17 January 2008

A darker shade of black

If you are a Father Ted fan you will know that the only truly black clothes you can get are from Habit Hat (ntbcw Habitat of course). Anything else is merely very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue. If you are not a Ted fan of any stripe then that reference is utterly meaningless (a bit like an American referencing Gilligan’s Island to a Briton). However, an American laboratory has apparently created the darkest ever substance known to science.

According to researchers the material, which was created from carbon nanotubes, is the closest thing yet to the ideal black material, which absorbs light perfectly at all angles and over all wavelengths. The discovery is expected to have applications in the fields of electronics and solar energy.

An ideal black object absorbs all the colours of light and reflects none of them. In theory, it should be possible to make something that approaches the "perfect absorber". But it has proved difficult to construct an object that does not reflect light at all. A team led by Dr Pulickel Ajayan built an array of vertically aligned, low-density carbon nanotubes. The roughness of the material's surface was tuned to minimise its optical reflectance. experiments showed that this "forest" of carbon nanotubes was very good at absorbing light, and very poor at reflecting it.

Reporting their findings in the journal Nano Letters, Dr Ajayan and colleagues say the reflectance of the material is three times lower than previously achieved which makes it the "darkest man-made material ever".

"The periodic nanotube structures make an ideal candidate for creating superdark materials, because it allows one to tailor light absorption by controlling the dimensions and periodicities of nanotubes in the structure," said Dr Ajayan. Commenting on the study, Professor Sir John Pendry, who first predicted that such a discovery might be possible, said "The application will be to things like more efficient solar cells, more efficient solar panels and any application where you need to harvest light," he added.

Oh and socks that aren’t very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue.....

Mission of Burma - That's When I reach for My Revolver

I love this song. MoB deserved a lot more success than they got.

16 January 2008

The best of Blogpower 2007

To celebrate Blogpower's first birthday, JMB of Nobody Important has complied a list of the best posts of 2007 as chosen Blogpower members themselves. I copped out and offered a compilation of some of my favourite photos of the year.

It's an eclectic bunch of posts and well worth checking out.

A 50 year clerical error

A man has been released from prison in Sri Lanka after being held on remand for 50 years without conviction. DP James was 30 years old when he was arrested for stabbing and wounding his father and sent to jail. He is now 80. He was moved to a psychiatric hospital shortly after entering prison in 1957, and returned to jail in the mid-1980s, where he seems to have been forgotten.

Mr James was released on bail with the court's apologies. His lawyer hopes the case against him will be dismissed. Mr James is due back in court next month. A claim for compensation is now being considered.

It was an extraordinary case for the Magistrates Court at Kurunegala in Sri Lanka - an 80-year-old man appearing for a bail hearing 50 years after he was remanded in custody. The lawyer who organised his defence in court, Dharmawijaya Seneviratne, says his client did not complain because he was from a village and ignorant of the law. DP James might have ended his days in prison, but in December he was taken to hospital again for medical treatment. Prison officers who went to collect him after his recovery checked his documents and realised the error.

Naps boost memory

New research conducted by brain researcher Avi Karni of the University of Haifa in Israel indicates that naps help lock in fleeting long-term memories. "We still don't know the exact mechanism of the memory process that occurs during sleep, but the results of this research suggest the possibility that it is possible to speed up memory consolidation," Karni said.

Karni, who co-authored the study in a recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, instructed participants to learn a complex thumb-tapping sequence, then split the study subjects into two groups: one that napped for an hour, and one that didn't. The people who took an afternoon snooze showed sizeable improvement in their performance by that evening. "After a night's sleep the two groups were at the same level, but the group that slept in the afternoon improved much faster than the group that stayed awake," Karni said.

An additional leg of the study showed just how much faster a 90-minute nap could help lock in long term memory. "Daytime sleep can shorten the time 'how to' memory becomes immune to interference and forgetting," Karni said. "Instead of 6 to 8 hours, the brain consolidated the memory during the 90-minute nap."

Hmm I must try this. I’m not sure how my boss will take to me sleeping to “improve” my memory! He will probably think I am sleeping off a night on the pop...

15 January 2008

WW - Stone barges, Rainham

This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

If you head down to the Thames at Rainham you will see a number of abandoned concrete near the Tilda rice premises. The barges played their part in history. They originally formed part of the mulberry harbours built to support the allied invasion of Normandy. In 1953 they were used to shore up river defences following the great floods of 1953. Now they are rotting away but provide excellent nesting sites for birds.

A bizarre disaster in Boston

There is a folk belief in Boston that on a summer day in some of the older neighbourhoods a faint, sweet smell wafts up from cracks in the pavement. This is said to be the smell of ancient molasses....

The folk belief may be untrue but 89 years ago today there was a strange disaster in Boston . On 15 January 15, 1919, an unseasonably warm winter day (the temperature was above freezing) a giant tank full of molasses ruptured emptying its entire contents in the space of a few seconds. The result was nothing less a flash flood along Commercial Street consisting of millions of gallons of sweet but deadly goo.

The Boston Evening Globe published a description based on eyewitness accounts later that day:

Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood began to crumple up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from under them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins, some dead and others badly injured.

The explosion came without the slightest warning. The workmen were at their noontime meal, some eating in the building or just outside, and many of the men in the Department of Public Works Buildings and stables, which are close by, and where many were injured badly, were away at lunch.

Once the low, rumbling sound was heard no one had a chance to escape. The buildings seemed to cringe up as though they were made of pasteboard.

A "wall of molasses" at least eight feet high rushed through the streets at a speed of 35 miles per hour. It demolished entire buildings, upended vehicles and buried horses. People tried to outrun the torrent, but were overtaken and either hurled against solid objects or drowned where they fell. More than 150 people were injured. 21 were killed.

The clean-up took weeks. Once that was done, the filing of lawsuits began. More than a hundred plaintiffs lined up to seek damages from the tank’s owner, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. Hearings went on for six years. Several "expert witnesses" for the defence tried to argue that the explosion had been the result of sabotage, rather than negligence on the part of the company. In the end the court found that the tank had been overfilled and inadequately reinforced. No evidence of sabotage was ever found. All told, the company was forced to pay out nearly a million dollars in damages — a bittersweet victory for survivors of one of the strangest disasters in American history.

14 January 2008

The smell of socialism – Catalan style

Election campaigns can turn up some curiosities but it is unlikely that any party has ever created a scent before. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) launched its own perfume today.

The scent mixes Mediterranean herbs and fruits such as Bergamot orange and white tea with base notes from the Orient. The creator, Albert Majós, said that it was neither a "perfume nor air-freshener" but the aromatic representation of socialism's values”. One journalist, however, said the smell was so strong that he was practically overwhelmed and left feeling faint

The vice-president of the PSC, Manuela de Madre, argued that overall "it would be no bad thing if Catalan politics could relax a little using this fragrance" and recommended "the aromatic and relaxing herbs" to the conservative opposition People's Party (PP). De Madre said the PSC would be sending a sample to all the political parties in the Catalan parliament. A spokesman for the PSC said it could also be used in offices to create a pleasant environment of equality and fairness.

The Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, dissolved parliament today, officially announcing a general election, which will take place on March 9. Whether or not the smell of socialism will help the left win a second term remains to be seen.

NATO considered Italian coup

Britain and its Nato allies considered organising a coup in Italy in 1976 to prevent the Communist Party from coming to power. The documents, made public after 30 years, were found by an Italian researcher in the government archives at Kew, Surrey.

After 30 years of rule by the Christian Democrat party (DC), the country seemed ready for change. However the only party strong enough to beat them was the Partito Comunista Italiana (PCI), led by the moderate Enrico Berlinguer. In 1976, there was a strong chance the PCI would beat the Christian Democrats into second place.

A secret Foreign Office memo dated 6 May 1976, entitled Italy And The Communists: Options For The West, floated one possible course of action as "action in support of a coup d'etat or other subversive action". The authors admitted: "By its nature, a coup d'etat could lead to unpredictable developments." But they added that, in theory at least, "it could be promoted. In one way or another, the force of the right could be counted on, with the support of the police and the army". The idea of a coup to remove the PCI or stop it coming to power "could be considered attractive" – but the idea was rejected as "unrealistic".

The growth of Italian communism had worried politicians in the West. In January 1976, Kissinger told Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor, of his "strong anxiety" for the developing situation. The "political nature" of Nato, Kissinger said, would change if communists seized power of a Nato country. The rest of the alliance shared his worries. For all its reformism, Berlinguer's PCI was still close to Moscow. The biggest fear was about what would happen to Nato's nuclear security if the PCI came to power. "To put it crudely," as the Ministry of Defence put it, "sensitive documents could end up in Moscow."

n the event it was academic: the PCI finished second in the election, with 34.3 per cent of the vote to the DC's 38.7 per cent

13 January 2008

Saving a language

Guernsey has introduced urgent measures to protect its native Guernésiais language before it dies out altogether. The Channel island acted after research revealed that fewer than 1,300 islanders - or 2 per cent - can still speak it fluently, and most of those are aged more than 65. The States of Guernsey government also sees it as imperative that written Guernésiais is archived before it becomes extinct, and has appointed a development officer to ensure the language's survival.

Guernésiais is often referred to, rather disparagingly, as a 'patois', or as Guernsey French. But, say local experts, it is not a cannibalised version of French but a Norman language in its own right. A hundred years ago, most islanders would have spoken Guernésiais as their first language, alongside passable French and English.

Not much of a story perhaps, but The Channel Isles once had four distinct Norman dialects of: Guernesias; Jerrais (Jersey); Sercquais (Sark) and Auregnais (Alderney). Auregnais died out by WWII and there are now fewer than 20 speakers of Sercqauis. Jerrais has about 3,000 speakers.

There are about 6,000 languages spoken across the world, between 50 and 90% of them could become extinct but the end of the 21st Century. Here’s hoping that Guernesais does not go the way of Norn, (the Norse language of the Orkneys and Shetlands) and or Yola (A middle English dialect of south eastern Ireland) both of which died out by the 19th century.

Another date for the diary.

At present, the British Museum is host to an exhibition of terracotta artefacts from the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi. It will be followed by an exhibition about Emperor Hadrian, the first to be staged anywhere in the world. Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus became emperor AD117 When Rome was perhaps at its zenith – The Empire expanded from the south of Scotland to Mesopotamia (modern- day Iraq). Hadrian’s first move was to withdraw his troops from Mesopotamia and fortify the empire's boundaries by building his eponymous wall in northern England and others in the Danube and the Rhine valleys, ushering in a new era of peace.

Interestingly, several of the artefacts relate to his male consort, Antinous, who accompanied him on his travels around the empire. These items include a poem written on papyrus, featuring the two men hunting together, and new finds that include memorials to the dead lover at Hadrian's villa in Tivoli. Although it was not uncommon for his predecessors to have taken gay lovers alongside a female spouse, Hadrian was unique in making his love "official" in a way that no other emperor had before him. When Antinous drowned in mysterious circumstances, Hadrian was so distraught that he chose to commemorate the young Greek by naming an Egyptian city in his honour. Thorsten Opper, curator of the exhibition, said what was unusual in Hadrian's attitude towards Antinous was the way in which he publicly deified him.

"He had to marry, and he had a politically arranged marriage to Sabina, who was the great-niece of the former emperor Trajan, which in effect, set up his succession. But clearly, it was a loveless marriage with no children. What was unusual is that he had a lot of flings, and then after his lover drowned in the Nile AD130 he made him a god. Hadrian was clearly bereaved and he had lots of images put up. When a city was founded close to the spot where Antinous drowned, he named it Antinopolis. It was a sort of hero cult-worship of Antinous," said Mr Opper

The emperor's sexuality was by no means the only unusual aspect of his reign. The decision to pull his troops out of Mesopotamia might have been frowned upon in an empire that had built its might on a bellicose foreign policy, but Hadrian's charisma won over the masses.

Mr Opper said there were similarities between second-century Mesopotamia and present-day Iraq, with the Roman occupiers finding themselves in a hotbed of violence and resistance. "We must not mistake Hadrian's motives for pulling his troops out of Mesopotamia. He didn't really have a choice. It had just been conquered by his predecessor and there was a lot of guerrilla warfare, which is eerily just like modern times. What he did was give the empire breathing space and while he was a very experienced military leader, we also get the impression he was very cultured and he fostered Greek identity and made them partners in leadership."

At times, however, even Hadrian's Rome played the role of violent occupier. During a suppression of a Jewish rebellion in Judea, Roman warriors were dispatched to take control of the region, leading to the death of 580,000 Jews. "It was probably as a punishment that he changed the name of Judea to Palestine," said Mr Opper.

The exhibition, which runs from 24 July to 26 October, will display sculpture, bronzes and architectural fragments. Highlights include the Vindolanda tablets from Hadrian's Wall and a bronze head of the emperor discovered in the Thames in 1834. Other highlights are a bronze bust from Israel found in 1975, a papyrus fragment of Hadrian's autobiography from the Bodleian Library that has never before been on public display, fragments from Hadrian's tomb and gilded bronze peacocks measuring two metres lent by the Vatican's Museum for the first time.

12 January 2008

999 - Homicide

Photohunt follows

Musical Interlude

Photo Hunt follows.

My internet conection (plus my cable tv) has been out all day thanks to a local area fault. I'll be back tomorrow (internet connection permitting of course).