29 February 2008

Photo Hunt - Party

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is party. The problem is that it's ben ages since I went to one. The last one was for my mum and dad's golden wedding anniversary. Their parish priest made it extra special by presenting him with a benemerenti medal. Sadly those photos are stuck on a broken external HDD. Ah well so it's going to have to be something insect related instead. Our garden in June and July is a magnet for insects. It sometimes feels like it's a party and and most of the phylum arthropoda is invited!

Hover fly

Bumble bee

The ever present crab spider


And finally a couple of lily beetles in the process of creating more lily beetles

A fitting tribute to Ted

Not to Ted the cat but to Father Ted star Dermot Morgan. It was ten years ago yesterday that Morgan died a heart attack suffered at his home in Richmond, Surrey. He He was three days short of his 46th birthday. Yesterday, a foundation in his name was launched to provide bursaries for emerging comedy writers. Appropriately, it was announced on the back of a milk-float -- central to an unforgettable 'Father Ted' episode 'Speed 3' -- at Eyre Square in Galway.

A graduate of University College Dublin Morgan spend two years as a teacher before leaving the profession in 1976 to pursue comedy. In 1979, he got his big break from Mike Murphy as a hurley-wielding GAA fanatic on 'The Live Mike'. His alter-ego of Fr Trendy was soon born and he appeared as the religiously hip young curate for the next four years.

His career slumped in the mid-1980s, but in 1986 he recorded a surprise Christmas number one hit with 'Thank you very much, Mr Eastwood', parodying boxer Barry McGuigan and manager Barney Eastwood. Three years later he set up his own company, Cue Productions, which produced 'Scrap Saturday' for RTE Radio. But in 1991 the show was suddenly cancelled by RTE and Dermot Morgan was both angry and frustrated at the decision.

Father Ted appeared on TV in 1995. He had just completed his third season of the show when he died. He was honoured with a posthumous award at the BAFTAs in 1999. The first fundraising event for the Dermot Morgan Bursary, An Evening Without Dermot Morgan, will be held in Dublin on June 9.

Father Ted is in my view second only to Black Adder as the funniest sitcom ever to appear on TV. This of course gives me an excuse for a few clips (as if I ever needed an excuse). Enjoy!

Ted and Dougal escape from Ireland's largest lingerie department

Dougal describes the Beast of Craggy Island

Mrs Doyle ruins Ted's breakfast

The dreaded leap day

29 February is a day to strike fear into the hearts of men, it being the day when women can propose. I took to my bed with the duvet over my head (although that may also be due to a chest infection making me feel like crap) but the not-wife assured me that she had not proposed on any of the leap days since we first met in 1981 and she had no intention of breaking with that tradition....


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

28 February 2008

Opening the Book of Life

I was delighted to see that the Encyclopaedia of Life has just been unveiled . So far it contains just 30,000 pages but the aim is to create an enormous online database that catalogues every one of the planet’s 1.8 million species.

The Encyclopaedia of Life (EOL) - described as the "ultimate field guide" - is to encompass all six kingdoms of life, and even viruses - which many researchers do not consider to be living organisms. Those behind the sprawling database say it could help scientists assess the impact of climate change on animals and plants. It may also help foster strategies for slowing the spread of invasive species and allow the spread of disease to be tracked. Another stated aim is to raise consciousness of biodiversity at a time when our planet is said to be in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.

The immense amount of information in the encyclopaedia is being drawn from a variety of sources, including several existing specialist databases such as AmphibiaWeb and FishBase.

"The thing that makes the encyclopaedia possible now, when it would not have been possible five years ago, is that there are many online resources that have been developed which we can draw upon," said Dr James Edwards, executive director of the Encyclopaedia of Life. "Secondly, information technology has reached a point where you can pool bits of information from different sources and present them in the way that, for example, Google News does... we're using the same kind of approach. If someone were to sit down and start writing, from scratch, an encyclopaedia of life, it would take them about 100 years to complete. But we think we'll be able to do it in one-tenth of that time," explained Dr Edwards.

The project began in spring 2007. The encyclopaedia now has placeholder pages for one million species, of which 30,000 have been populated with detailed information. There are also about a dozen highly developed multimedia pages giving a taster of what to expect in time from the EOL. All 1.8 million entries are due to be complete by 2017.

"On every page, there is information provided by the World Conservation Union on [a species'] status, showing if it is threatened, endangered or extinct," said Dr Edwards, "We think it is important to serve information on organisms that are doing okay, but also those that have been recently extinct."

The encyclopaedia’s creators also aim to get information online as soon as possible when new species are identified.

The project will solicit the help of users to submit photos and information for assessment by an authentication team. Although the idea of a catalogue of life has been around for some time, this particular version can trace its origins to an article written in 1993 by the celebrated Harvard University biologist Edward O Wilson. In it he argued that the biological sciences needed the equivalent of a "Moon shot". In 2006, Wilson wrote a letter to the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation outlining his idea, which helped secure preliminary funding for the project.

I think I’ll be accessing this site quite often. Let’s see... Grey Seal, Leopard Seal, Harbour Seal, Baikal Seal, Harp Seal, Spotted Seal... Elephant se... Hmm I’m not sure I should open up a seventh seal! Seriously this is a brilliant idea. Although there’s plenty of utter crap on the internet (this blog included) the Encyclopaedia of Life will be just the sort of resource that makes it worthwhile.

The tears of Comrade Duch

I have already posted twice about Comrade Duch (aka Kang Guek Eav or, Kang Khek Ieu. Click here and here for my earlier posts) , who is standing trial for his role in the Khmer Rouge regime. Duch himself played a major part in this atrocity as head of Tuol Sleng prison – only Twelve out of over 20,000 souls who entered the prison came out alive. Only four of these are still alive today.

Two days ago he was taken back to the Killing Fields where between one and two million Cambodians were butchered and buried in mass graves between 1975 and 1979. "It was emotional, of course, and very quiet," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal that is hearing Duch’s case "Everyone was very quiet."

The best-known site of mass graves, littered with bones and pieces of ripped clothing, is Choeung Ek, about 10 miles south of Phnom Penh. Duch, a born-again Christian, was taken there in a heavily guarded convoy with up to 80 tribunal staff, judges, lawyers and four witnesses who served as Khmer Rouge guards at Tuol Sleng."The four witnesses explained what had happened in front of the accused, Duch," said Mr Sambath, who said he was not permitted to reveal details of the testimony. "He also explained what had happened there as well. Everything was recorded."

After the testimony had been given Duch broke down, first as he passed a tree bearing a sign that said babies' heads were smashed against its trunk, and second, as he made his way back to his car and stopped at a Buddhist stupa that contains the skulls of more than 8,000 of the Khmer Rouge's victims. "He kneeled on the ground and paid his respects and prayed for the souls of those who were killed," said Mr Sambath. "He cried ... When he got to the car he also paid his respects to the skulls behind the glass. He also knelt on the ground and prayed."

I don’t know whether his contrition is sincere or not. Personally I hope it is as his certain inevitable punishment will be more meaningful than if he had continued to justify his behaviour. It is scant comfort to the victims of such a monstrous regime

The trial of Duch is scheduled to begin in July.

27 February 2008

Leviathan’s big brother

Last year Norwegian scientists unearthed a fossilised Pliosaur on the arctic island of Spitsbergen. It was not until earlier this week that the bones of the 150 million year old specimen were fully assembled. It turns out that it is the largest marine reptile known to science, a full 20% larger than the previous biggest marine reptile - a pliosaur from Australia called Kronosaurus.

Nicknamed "The Monster", the immense creature would have measured 15m (50ft) from nose to tail. Dr Jorn Hurum, from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, said "We have carried out a search of the literature, so we now know that we have the biggest pliosaur. It's not just arm-waving anymore. The flipper is 3m long with very few parts missing. On Monday, we assembled all the bones in our basement and we amazed ourselves - we had never seen it together before."

Pliosaurs were a short-necked form of plesiosaur, a group of extinct reptiles that lived in the world's oceans during the age of the dinosaurs. A pliosaur's body was tear drop-shaped with two sets of powerful flippers which it used to propel itself through the water. "These animals were awesomely powerful predators," said palaeontologist Richard Forrest. "If you compare the skull of a large pliosaur to a crocodile, it is very clear it is much better built for biting... by comparison with a crocodile, you have something like three or four times the cross-sectional space for muscles. So you have much bigger, more powerful muscles and huge, robust jaws. A large pliosaur was big enough to pick up a small car in its jaws and bite it in half."

"There are a few isolated bones of huge pliosaurs already known but this is the first find of a significant portion of a whole skeleton of such a giant," said Angela Milner, associate keeper of palaeontology at London's Natural History Museum "It will undoubtedly add much to our knowledge of these top marine predators. Pliosaurs were reptiles and they were almost certainly not warm-blooded so this discovery is also a good demonstration of plate tectonics and ancient climates"One hundred and fifty million years ago, Svalbard was not so near the North Pole, there was no ice cap and the climate was much warmer than it is today."

The Monster was excavated in August 2007 and taken to the Natural History Museum in Oslo. Team members had to remove hundreds of tonnes of rock by hand in high winds, fog, rain, freezing temperatures and with the constant threat of attack by polar bears. They recovered the animal's snout, some teeth, much of the neck and back, the shoulder girdle and a nearly complete flipper. Unfortunately, there was a small river running through where the head lay, so much of the skull had been washed away. A preliminary analysis of the bones suggests this beast belongs to a previously unknown species.

Carve their name with pride.... in lard

All of Scotland will be proud to hear of a group of catering students from Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy swept the boards in a contest to carve statues out of fat. 11 students took away prizes in the competition at Hotelympia, a trade fair for the hospitality industry, in London. The gold trophy winner carved an 18in model of Mickey Mouse. While the silver medallist created a statue of two horses with a rider on one of the animals. Another creation was a sculpture of Ozzy Osborne (above).

Winning student Leanne Sword said: "I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting to get something but I never thought for a minute that I'd get the gold." Her fat Mickey Mouse took three months to create. "I'd say the belt was the most difficult [part] and possibly the ears, just to get them right and the same size."

Catering lecturer Tom Pratt travelled to the event with his students and has been overjoyed by their success. "These fat sculptures would be placed on a buffet table in high class hotels. They would be put onto shop windows to grab people's attention, in butchers shop's windows, places like that. It shows the skill of the chefs who create these things."

To be honest it’s not a medium I would ever have thought of. Then again if Chris Ofili can use elephant dung then fair play to them!

26 February 2008

WW - Dandelion

Well okay, a heavily manipulated picture of a dandelion

If abstrat dandelions are not to your taste here's a Hebe which is in full bloom at the moment. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

25 February 2008

Another outing for a much loved joke

I'm too tired to do a post that requires me to tax my brain so why not wheel out my all time favourite Irishman joke. I love it for the sting in its tail:

In the days before the Celtic tiger was even a cub an Irishman came to London looking for work. He went to a building site where the Foreman told him that he could have a job if he could answer this one simple question, namely:

"What is the difference between a girder and a joist"

The Irishman looked the foreman in the face and said:

"That's simple. Girder wrote Faust and Joist wrote Ulysses"


Meet the new Castro, not very different to the old Castro?

It was no big surprise that Fidel’s younger brother Raúl Castro has been named as Cuba’s President.

In his acceptance speech Raul acknowledged that Cuba faced problems and he spoke of the need for economic reform he declared that he would consult his ailing brother on all important decisions. “I accept the responsibility I have been given with the conviction I have repeated often: there is only one Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel is Fidel and we all know it well.” The National Assembly, appointed hardliner José Ramón Machado Ventura as Raul’s Castro’s deputy. Moderniser Carlos Lage, 56, had been tipped for the post.

Raúl was responsible for the execution hundreds of opponents after his brother’s defeat of the Batista regime in 1959. He has a reputation for being more politically repressive than his brother. He is more pragmatic on economic matters and is said to admire China’s model of economic reform while retaining strict political control. He is also said to be an efficient manager and good delegator - “Fidel is the political brother. Raúl is the practical one,” said his niece Alina Fernández who lives in Miami.

Raul Castro inherits a run-down country which a crumbling infrastructure. How he governs in practice remains to be seen. The indications are a bit more economic liberalism but no improvement in human rights. An improvement in US-Cuban relationships is unlikely.

24 February 2008

Monsieur Gaddafi? I’ll be the son of a (top) gun

Colonel Muammar Gadaffi has just left Paris after a five-day visit. He even pitched a tent, err pitched his Bedouin tent in the grounds of a Paris hotel not far from the Elysée Palace. Whether he was a welcome guest or a pain in the arse he had a sort of last laugh on the French who were reminded of the possibility that their recent guest is the son of a French war hero.

According to a legend circulating in Vezzani, Corsica, Gadaffi’s father was Albert Preziosi, who in 1941 was stationed in the Libyan desert. While he was there, the story goes, he had an affair with a local woman who gave birth to a son – Gadaffi. Preziosi was shot down and killed over Russia in 1943. As a member of the famous Normandy-Nieman squadron, he has been celebrated in Vezzani ever since. Vezzani’s mayor, Jean-Pierre Pagni, is convinced. “Nothing contradicts it,” he said, pointing to a framed photograph of the aviator, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Gadaffi as a young man.

Gadaffi’s origins have always been mysterious. The Italian occupation of Libya destroyed all records. Officially, he was born in 1942 into a bedouin family. Last week a magazine, digging into the French air force archives, uncovered an exchange of letters between senior officers about Gadaffi’s alleged paternity. It showed that in 1999 General Silvestre de Sacy concluded that the Corsican connection was untrue. In 1941-2, Preziosi was based 400 miles from Gadaffi’s birthplace. Besides, war was a serious business when “personnel would not have been distracted by the presence of women”.

The only way to settle the mystery is with a DNA test ... .

This is probably just a legend and I can’t imagine Gadaffi submitting to a DNA test. Hold on! “personnel would not have been distracted by the presence of women”. Hmm... I won’t say it!

Mugabe smears Makoni

Robert Mugabe yesterday smeared presidential candidate Simba Makoni by labelling him a "prostitute". Former finance minister had declared himself a candidate two weeks ago

“I have compared him to a prostitute,” he said , referring to Mr Makoni’s willingness to appeal to disenchanted members of the ruling ZANU(PF) party, as well as members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. “A prostitute could have stood (as a presidential candidate). He is saying, I have so many boyfriends, some in the MDC, some in ZANU(PF), so I can go for nomination (as a candidate). But a prostitute could have done better, because she has clients.” He and his interviewer on state television doubled up with laughter (ah the joys of an independent media).

Mr Makoni, 57 is one of the longest surviving senior members of Mr Mugabe’s party but he is not tainted with the corruption and brutality of nearly all the rest, He declared that he was standing against Mr Mugabe because of his “failure of leadership”. Mr Makoni’s decision has caused major upsets within ZANU(PF) triggering unprecedented signs of rebelliousness. Most of his officials feel the distress of blackouts, water cuts, streets flowing with sewage and the worst inflation in the world as much as other Zimbabweans.

Mr Makoni signalled the start of his election campaign by grinning boyishly in a full-page advertisement in a critical weekly newspaper, with the motto, “Simba for the people!” Godfrey Chanetsa, his spokesman, said he had tried to insert the same advertisement in the state-controlled stable of weeklies and dailies, but was told they were “fully booked”. Mr Mugabe’s “prostitute” slur came in a numbing hour-long interview - the first of two - on state television to mark his 84th birthday on Thursday. There were scores of advertisements inserted by bankrupt government agencies in the government-controlled radio, television and press. The main daily newspaper, the Herald, had two birthday supplements that lauded Mr Mugabe as “the collective consciousness of revolutionaries the world over”, and praised his “visionary leadership”. Each hourly news bulletin was preceded by a version of “Happy Birthday”, composed for the occasion.

I daresay Mugabe’s already got the stuffed ballot boxes on standby...

Go Dustin!

Dustin the Turkey has been chosen to represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade in May. He won Eurosong 2008 with his song 'Irelande Douze Pointe'.

Dustin will now compete in the first Eurovision semi-final on Tuesday 20 May. If successful he will appear in the final on Saturday 24 May. Bookmakers William Hill have installed Dustin the Turkey as the 10-1 favourite to win Eurovision.

The company's spokesman, Tony Kenny, said: "These days you have to be either from the old Eastern Bloc or have a great gimmick to win Eurovision - and a singing turkey will possibly be one of the most bizarre things that a Eurovision audience will ever see. He'll go to Belgrade on a wing and a prayer and, fingers crossed, he'll ruffle a few feathers when he gets there,"

Here's the song -

GO Dustin. He'll be getting my vote!

Sold American

The Kinkster performing Sold American with Bob Dylan. From Kinky's album of the same name

23 February 2008

Lucky Number

Lucky Number. The last I heard of her was providing backing vocals on the Hawkwind song Angela Android and on their re-recording of Spirit of the Age in 2005.

Robyn Hitchcock - It sounds great when you're dead

As seen on Later with Jools Holland earlier this month

Photo Hunt - Wood

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is wood so here (for once!) I've chosen some subjects that are wood (and not just an excuse for a cat or a flower photo...)

This is a Black Poplar taken at the Chase nature reserve in Dagenham near where I live. Balck Poplars were once a common sight in England but became very rare. There are six Black Poplars at the Chase
This is St Andrews in the Essex village of Greensted. It is remarkable for being the oldest surviving wooden structure in Europe.

The oldest wooden part of the church (the nave) dates back to the time of the Norman conquest. The steeple is 17th Century

22 February 2008

Jabba the Uzbek increases his stake in Arsenal

Red and White Holdings, the investment firm co-owned by Alisher Usmanov (tireless advocate for the oppressed, friend of small animals everywhere, winner of Mister Universe seven years in succession) has increased its stake in Arsenal football club to 24%.

Not a major news item but I daresay he remains about as popular as a Big Mac at a Vegan convention across a large chunk of the blogosphere....

Inflation passes the 100,000% mark in Zimbabwe

The official rate of inflation in Zimbabwe gone past the 100,000% barrier, according the the state central statistical office. The nation with the next worst inflation is Iraq with a rate of around 60%. In a brief statement, the statistics office said inflation rose to 100,580% in January, up from 66,212% in December. The new official figure is below the rate calculated by independent analysts - approximately 150,000%.

Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket, is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and most basic goods in an economic meltdown blamed on disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000, accompanied by political violence and turmoil. Economic hardship is a key issue in national elections scheduled for March 29. Inflation, food shortages and the crumbling of power, water, sanitation, roads, phones and communications and other utilities have fuelled deep divisions in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

Gross domestic product in Zimbabwe fell from about $200 in 1996 to about $9 a head last year.

Nice one Mugabe

I'm pleasantly plump lard boy!

This is TC (one of my sister's cats) who has an "I'm fat and don't give a stuff" attitude to life in general. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

21 February 2008

Ladder-proof tights? Oh Brave New World!

A research team has created an elastic substance that can mend itself for up to a week after being broken thanks to its arrangement of molecules. Such a material will have have many applications of course - increasing the durability of artificial bones, the production of unbreakable glass and unchippable paint. Perhaps the greatest application of all will be tights that repair themselves after laddering.

“I think it will have all sorts of uses,” said Professor Ludwik Leibler, one of the researchers behind the invention. “It’s just a matter of using your imagination. We have only just begun to think of what can be done with it. Stockings are a very good idea. It could be used in glass vases so they don’t break when your children knock them over - it could make the glass bouncy.” Professor Leibler and his colleagues at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution in Paris are convinced that it has potential for use in a wide range of applications. They are most hopeful of adapting the technology in medicine, where self-healing properties would be invaluable for artificial bone and cartilage.

The technology could also be applied to paint and other coatings, saving householders and car owners the expense of repairing chips and nicks. Its use in pipes would make plumbing repairs easier, perhaps sealing leaks before they became serious. The substance, which has taken five years to develop, is ready for commercial use, Professor Leibler says. This is expected to be in plastics.

The material mimics the elastic qualities of rubber but with the advantage of having “sticky ends” when a break occurs. The substance has small molecules arranged in a network that stretch but will return to its original shape. Once the broken ends are pushed together they start healing because the molecular make-up is such that the surfaces have lifelike attributes and seek to form bridges.

The research team reported their invention of the “supramolecular rubber” in the journal Nature. “These materials can be easily processed, reused and recycled. Their unique self-repairing properties, the simplicity of their synthesis, their availability from renewable resources and the low cost of raw ingredients bode well for future applications.”

They added that the material behaved like a rubber but “exhibits unique self-healing properties: when a sample is broken or cut into pieces and the pieces are brought into contact together for some time at room temperature (20C, 68F) they self-heal without the need to heat or press strongly. The process of breaking and healing can be repeated many times.”

The maximum time the ends can be left before it becomes impossible for them to repair themselves reduces as temperatures rise. At 23C they can be left for more than a week but at 40C the time falls to 48 hours. The longer the surfaces are left to fuse, the stronger the repair, but even after 15 minutes of bonding the material could still be stretched to three times its normal length before snapping.

I have a one word comment – Wow!

Major disease outbreaks have become more common around the globe in the past 40 years, according to a major investigation into emerging infections. Zoononses (diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans) are an increasing threat to human health, while many infections have now become resistant to antibiotics. Tropical regions are likely to become a future hotspot for new diseases.

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London, the Wildlife Trust and Columbia University analysed databases of outbreaks and found 335 cases of emerging diseases between 1940 and 2004. Of these, 60.3% were infections which also affected animals, and 71.8% were known to have triggered disease in humans after spreading from wildlife. The research, published in Nature, identifies "hotspots" where new diseases are expected to come from wildlife, driven by the proximity of dense human populations and high levels of biodiversity.

The global pattern of diseases was closely linked to regions with high rainfall and biodiversity, alongside rapid growth in the human population. Europe and North America have experienced high numbers of outbreaks, but much of that is because those regions have invested heavily in detecting early signs of disease. Other countries, scientists fear, are less able to spot new diseases as they arise.

More diseases emerged in the 1980s than any other decade, according to the study. This was likely to be because of the emergence of HIV, which put vast numbers of people at risk of contracting other diseases. The great majority of outbreaks were triggered by bacteria and viruses, with 20% caused by antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Dr Kate Jones, of the zoological society, said areas of rich biodiversity harboured pools of pathogens, which were readily able to spread. "Humans are impacting on these areas and developing them, coming into contact with wildlife through bush meat, farming, domestication of animals. We're increasing our human impact on these areas and exposing ourselves to potential pathogens." Preserving wildlife-rich areas could help to protect people from new diseases, in the same way that conservation ensures cleaner water supplies and so on...

There doesn’t seem to be much greatly new in the findings of this research: I doubt anyone would be surprised to read that there had been an increase in outbreaks of new diseases, or that there are disease hotspots. On the other hand it is useful to have the obvious thrust under our noses.....

20 February 2008

Swans - Love will tear us apart

Gira, Jarboe et al covering Joy Division



A 70-million-year-old fossil of a giant frog has been discovered in unearthed in Madagascar. According to its discoverers it would have weighed about 4kg (9lb). Amusingly, the fossil has been nicknamed Beelzebufo or "frog from hell".

Details of the discovery are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). A team from University College London (UCL) and Stony Brook University, New York, said the frog would have had a body length of about 40cm (16 inches), and was among the largest of its kind to be found.

"A relative of today's horned toads, it would have been the size of a slightly squashed beach-ball, with short legs and a big mouth," explained co-author Susan Evans, from UCL's Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. If it shared the aggressive temperament and 'sit-and-wait' ambush tactics of horned toads, it would have been a formidable predator on small animals. Its diet would most likely have consisted of insects and small vertebrates like lizards, but it's not impossible that Beelzebufo might even have munched on hatchling or juvenile dinosaurs."

The researchers added that the discovery of the fossil supported the theory that Madagascar and the Indian and South American land masses could have been linked until the Late Cretaceous Period (75-65 million years ago). "Our discovery of a frog strikingly different from today's Madagascan frogs, and akin to the horned toads previously considered endemic to South America, lends weight to the controversial model," Professor Evans explained.

19 February 2008

WW - Narcissus

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

Castro resigns

BBC Breakfast News has just reported that Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuban president. There aren't any other details at present

18 February 2008

A song for Snoopy Doggy Dog?

A Very Silent Night was a Christmas number one in New Zealand and raised nearly £9,000 for the country's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. However, none of the people who bought the record would hear a thing as the CD was recorded at a frequency inaudible to humans but audible to dogs

The makers hope it will be a worldwide hit.

Minutes of silence? Infinitely preferable to Britney Spears in my view...

Charlatans tarnish a celebration of big bottoms

A national dance craze in Ivory Coast has spawned a black market in treatments claiming to increase one's bottom size. The dance was inspired by a hit song by DJ Mix and DJ Eloh's Bobaraba, which means "big bottom" in the local Djoula language. It is a song guaranteed to fill any Ivorian dance with people shaking their booties.

While the dance has been embraced by both sexes, DJ Mix says it was inspired by women. "We made it as a tribute to women, because African women are defined by the shape of their bottoms," he says. "Move your bottom, jump, you see, it's alive."

Kady Meite, one of his dancers, says the song is a message for women."There are women today with large bottoms who are embarrassed, so it's to say don't be ashamed - be comfortable," she says.

The message seems to have been taken on board - so much so that some women are now going in search of a "bobaraba". In the sprawling Adjame market just north of the city centre in Abidjan, women sell "bottom enhancers". "You need to inject this liquid into your bottom once a day," says a market trader, showing a vial of coloured liquid labelled "Vitamin B12". If you do not like the sound of injections, the same amount of money will also get you a small tub of cream. There is no description of what the product contains or how to apply it; just the words "Big bottoms and big breasts", and two illustrating pictures.

Most women preferred to avoid the treatments. "Me? I prefer to be natural so you can know your true value. It's best not to use these medicines. It's not good - it's actually very dangerous," one said. Another woman was happy with what came naturally. "I do the bobaraba because I already have a big bum. When I dance, everyone looks at me."

As far as I am concerned I am all for the shaking of booties, be they big or be they small!. There’s no need to enhance them at all!

A listed privy

Why should I be remotely interested that a small oak weather boarded structure in Benenden, Kent is set to de declared a Grade II listed building this week? The weather boarded structure in question located close to an attractive Georgian farmhouse happens to be a toilet.

The official report by English Heritage for the Department of Culture declares it "a rare surviving example of a late 18th century privy, even rarer because it is a three-seater

"It is the most glorious little building," its proud owner said. "It faces towards the evening sun, and it is the most delightful place to sit in the evening with a glass of wine and the door open, and just be peaceful and think." The owner adds that that it is no longer in practical use, though she suspects it was in until the 1960s.

The privy is believed to date from 1775, when the main house was rebuilt after a fire. Although dozens of privies have been listed, most are Victorian. Three-seaters are very rare.

A three-seater toilet? I suppose in those days families were far more communal, sharing duties and also sharing necessities... I wonde if it’s safe to say that the family that lays cable together stays together?

17 February 2008

More of my father's stories

I have recently finished reading Nemesis, Max Hastings’s account of the final year of the war against Japan. It’s well written and definitely worth reading. One anecdote stuck particularly in my mind: USAAF B29s attacking Japan would often hit thermals bouncing the aircraft about. On one aircraft the thermals loose the toilet which emptied on a crewmember. Thereafter he became known as Pisspot Smith.

This reminds me of two of my father’s wartime stories. One occurred when he was on stand down near Basra before onward posting to Burma. For a short while he was assigned as a navigator on a C-47 Dakota. On a couple of occasions they had to fly a particularly unpleasant officer on inspection visits to Indian Army Service Corps deports in the region. He must have been particularly offensive for dad and his crewmates to wait until the officer went to use the aircraft’s chemical toilet before encountering “thermals” - at least that’s what they told their commanding officer, who accepted their explanation.

My dad is friends with a fellow Pathfinder, “Chappy” who served as a flight engineer in 582 Squadron which flew Lancasters. Over one target his Lancaster was coned – caught by several searchlight beams. A coned aircraft was usually dead meat unless urgent evasive action is taken (and usually still was). It was standard procedure to dive to gain speed then turn violently to escape the beam. The pilot did this and luckily the plane survived. During the escape Chappy was thrown to the floor and felt a hard, painful blow to his head. He then felt what he thought was blood trickling down his face. A crew member checking whether he was seriously wounded noticed that the liquid was not blood but urine. What happened was that the pilot’s urine bottle had come loose and hit Chappy. For a while he was known as “Pisshead”.

It was particularly amusing to hear Chappy’s wife tell the story at a Pathfinder Day at RAF Wyton a couple of years ago.


As expected Kosovo's parliament has endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia. The declaration, read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, said Kosovo would be a democratic country that respected the rights of all ethnic communities. The US and a number of EU countries are expected to recognise Kosovo. Serbia's PM denounced the US for helping create a "false state". Russia, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting.

The declaration was approved with a show of hands. No-one opposed it - Kosovo's 10 Serbian MPs had boycotted the assembly session in protest at the declaration.
"We have waited for this day for a very long time," Mr Thaci told parliament before reading the text, paying tribute to those who had died on the road to independence. From today, he said, Kosovo was "proud, independent and free. The independence of Kosovo marks the end of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia."

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the US which he said was "ready to violate the international order for its own military interests. Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state.... Kosovo is Serbia,"

While the US, UK and most EU states are expected to recognise Kosovo, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia will not follow suit In the case of Cyprus the decision is presumably based on fears that the Turksih republic of North Cyprus will be granted international recognition. Romania’s opposition may have a lot to do with a change in the status of Transnitria, a breakaway state from its neighbour Moldova.

Whatever happens next, I hope to god it’s peaceful. I still fear we will see more bloodshed in the Balkans though.

Kosovo independence imminent

According to the BBC celebrations have begun in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, in anticipation of a expected declaration of independence sometime today. Thousands of Kosovars have been dancing in the streets, setting off fireworks and waving Albanian flags. A few minutes ago Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has requested an emergency session of parliament to discuss a declaration of independence from Serbia. Mr Thaci said parliament was to meet at 1100 GMT to discuss the motion - as well as a new set of state symbols. Independence is supported by the US the UK and several EU countries but (unsurprisingly, given that is it a province of the nation) it is bitterly opposed by Serbia and also by Russia

In the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, Nato peacekeeping troops have laid concrete and razor-wire barriers to separate Serbs from Albanians. Lieutenant-General Xavier de Marnhac, the French commander of the Nato peacekeepers, said his troops would react swiftly to any provocation from the Albanian or Serbian side of the divided town. Local and UN police, as well as the Nato troops, are maintaining a high profile to reassure all the citizens of Kosovo that they have nothing to fear. On Saturday, the EU approved sending a police and justice mission to Kosovo. The 2,000-strong mission, known as Eulex, will begin deploying from next week and is expected to take over from the United Nations by early June. It is tasked with helping to prevent human rights abuses and ensure that Kosovo's fragile institutions are free from political interference.

Serbia has threatened to use diplomatic and economic measures against Kosovo, though it has ruled out using force. Russia's foreign ministry has indicated that Western recognition of an independent Kosovo could have implications for the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (presumably it will also have consequences for the Moldovan breakaway state of Transnitria.)

A UN plan for Kosovo drawn up by special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, an experienced Finnish diplomat and politician, would give Kosovo independence - but with limits, and under international supervision. It would open the way for Kosovo to join the UN and have its own flag and national anthem - but it would prevent Kosovo from amalgamating with Albania, or having its Serb areas split off and be part of Serbia. Faced with a veto threat from Russia, the UN Security Council has failed to endorse the blueprint.

There seems to be an inevitability to Kosovan independence but despite the best intentions of Nato and the UN, I can’t help but imagine it will be the trigger for more violent conflict in the region: Although Kosovo is overwhelmingly Albanian (see the above map) the northern parts are majority Serb. Will they want to stay in Kosovo? I somehow doubt it. Will the Balkans see a new outbreak of ethnic cleansing and civil war? Will Serbia go to war over the loss of a province. I think both are pretty likely despite the nation's assurance that it will not undertake military action.

I know I am rather pessimistic about world affairs but the recent precedents all point to more bloodshed in the near future. Sometiems I wonder if the not-wife is right when she hopes for an even that will wipe the human race off the face of this planet...

16 February 2008

No life on Mars after all?

Mars was too salty to sustain life for much of its history, according to evidence gathered by the NASA Opportunity rover. High concentration of minerals in water on early Mars would have made it inhospitable to even the toughest microbes, a leading Nasa expert says.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Dr Andrew Knoll, a member of the rover science team he said conditions on Mars in the past four billion years would have been very challenging for life. "It was really salty - in fact, it was salty enough that only a handful of known terrestrial organisms would have a ghost of a chance of surviving there when conditions were at their best," he explained.

Ah well, so no little green men. Perhaps we should settle for little green extremophiles instead?

MP Selection 18th Century style

From Blackadder - possibly the finest sitcom ever made. I wonder if the same application is used for aspirant MPs today....

15 February 2008

Photo Hunt - Free

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is Free. The lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, is a wild flower that grows in abundance in the garden. Some people would consider it a weed, we consider it an attractive pnat we get for free courtesy of mother nature...

I'm posting my entry early this week as I am out on today and I won't be back until fairly late on Saturday.

Mimi enduring yet another photo

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

14 February 2008

Hamas TV – poisoning the minds of children

A jew-eating rabbit named Assud has become the newest star of a militant Palestinian children's television show after the death of his "brother". The Pioneers of Tomorrow children’s series produced by Palestinian group Hamas and made famous by a Mickey Mouse-looking character declaring jihad on Israel and the US, introduced Assud the Bunny.

Assud - who said in his first episode that he would “get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and… will eat them up” - replaced his brother, Nahoul the Bee, according to the translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute.
In an interview with the program’s host, a young girl purportedly named Saraa Barhoum, Assud talked about martyrdom.

"We are all martyrdom-seekers, are we not, Saraa?” Assud said on the show. Saraa said: “Of course we are. We are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our homeland. We will sacrifice our souls and everything we own for the homeland."

According to the program’s plotline, Nahoul died because he could not leave Gaza to seek medical treatment from neighbouring Egypt. Nahoul himself replaced the program’s original star, Farfur the Mouse, who was “killed by an Israeli soldier”.

Again I shake my head in disbelief. That’s not entertainment it’s just plain sick.

Saudi woman faces execution for witchcraft

Human Rights Watch has appealed to Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft. In a letter to King Abdullah, the rights group described the trial and conviction of Fawza Falih as a miscarriage of justice. Ms Falih, an illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read. Among her accusers was a man who alleged she made him impotent.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms Falih had exhausted all her chances of appealing against her death sentence and she could only now be saved if King Abdullah intervened. The group is asking the Saudi ruler to void Ms Falih's conviction and to bring charges against the religious police who detained her and are alleged to have mistreated her. Its letter to King Abdullah says the woman was tried for the undefined crime of witchcraft and that her conviction was on the basis of the written statements of witnesses who said that she had bewitched them.

Human Rights Watch says the trial failed to meet the safeguards in the Saudi justice system. The confession which the defendant was forced to fingerprint was not even read out to her, the group says. Also Ms Falih and her representatives were not allowed to attend most of the hearings. When an appeal court decided she should not be executed, the law courts imposed the death sentence again, arguing that it would be in the public interest.

What a bloody disgrace. What more can I say?

It being Valentine's Day and all that

what better excuse do I need to wheel out once more the nearest thing that the not-wife and I have to an "our song"

13 February 2008

End of an aviation era.

The Douglas DC3 (Better known in the UK as the Dakota) is one of the great aircraft of all time. It first flew in 1935 and have seen extensive military and sicilian service since (my father served briefly on Dakotas during WWII during a stand down in Iraq - between active service in Italyand later action in Burma)

Sadly the Dakota will carry its last passengers in Britain later this year, after EU air safety regulations made it too costly to keep the last two British survivors going. Mike Collett, chairman of Air Atlantique Classic Flight in Coventry,said he was saddened but fitting requirements such as weather radar was not viable financially. Over the next five months the Dakotas will embark upon a final tour of 18 British airports.

The sad thing is that these aircraft are sill perfectly airworthy and will probably be able to soldier on for years yet.

Cranach advert banned on the underground

A nude figure of Venus dressed in nothing but a necklace and a little gauze was intended as the main poster for the Royal Academy's show on the German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. The 16th Century artist was noted for his sensuous nudes despite and was a close friend of Martin Luther. However, the design has been thrown out as the poster, which was planned for display in scores of tube stations across London, was about to go to the printers.

"Millions of people travel on the London Underground each day and they have no choice but to view whatever adverts are posted there. We have to take account of the full range of travellers and endeavour not to cause offence in the advertising we display," a spokesman said. London Underground advertising is vetted by a firm called CBS Outdoor, and Venus seems to have fallen foul of the guideline that advertising should not "depict men, women or children in a sexual manner, or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context".

Six years ago the National Portrait Gallery had to create a special, more modest poster for the underground of a 17th century painting by Lely of the Countess of Oxford with one breast bared (above). However, the academy doesn't have a Venus under wraps. "We don't have a version B where she's got her clothes on," a spokeswoman said. "We're just hoping they change their minds and accept her."

Although Venus is nude it does not strike me as being particularly provocative. It certainly is not offensive to me. People will get to see plenty of adverts with far more overt sexual top, middle and bass notes than this painting

Two Trips to the hardware store


Two Ronnies style

Fry & Laurie style

12 February 2008

11 February 2008

The banality of evil - Cambodia

Kang Khek Ieu was a Khmer Rouge torturer who oversaw the deaths of 17,000 people. An interview with him featured in today’s Independent. If Hannah Arendt had not already coined the phrase banality of evil, someone would surely invent it for this man. Better known by his nom de guerre Duch, Kang Khek Ieu was one of Pol Pot's trusted henchman.

Asked whether he had any moments of uncertainty, any doubts or feelings of rebellion while he set about wiping out his country's entire intellectual class, he answered: "There was a widespread and tacit understanding. I and everyone else who worked in that place knew that anyone who entered had to be psychologically demolished, eliminated by steady work, given no way out. No answer could avoid death. Nobody who came to us had any chance of saving himself. All the prisoners had to be eliminated. We saw enemies, enemies, enemies everywhere. If I had tried to flee, they were holding my family hostage, and my family would have suffered the same fate as the other prisoners. If I had fled or rebelled it would not have helped anyone."

Of the Khmer Rouge’s two million victims, more than 17,000 musicians and dancers, were brought to a former school in the heart of Phnom Penh that had been converted into a torture centre. Only six came out of it alive. Codenamed S-21, the centre was run by Duch, a former maths teacher who had become the head of the regime's secret police. In the former classrooms, over a period of 40 months, Duch oversaw the extermination of the entire Cambodian intellectual class with mathematical rigour.

Confessions were extracted by primitive torture: prisoners were strapped to iron beds, suspended upside down from ropes, threatened with drowning, tormented with knives and pincers, locked in tiny cells. Then, at night, they were taken by lorry to the outskirts of Phnom Penh and killed in the rice fields. The Khmer Rouge were obsessed with killing by night.

Duch, the nickname he assumed when he was young and joined the guerrillas, told me that the torture centre at Tuol Sleng was set up in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, and began work two months later. "I was given the task of creating it and starting it up, although I never found out why they chose me. Before 1975, when the Khmer Rouge lived in hiding, in the jungle, or in the liberated zones, I was the head of Office 13, I was the chief of police in the special zone bordering on Phnom Penh."

"Every day I had to read and check the confessions. I read from seven in the morning until midnight. And every day, towards three in the afternoon, Professor Son Sen, the minister of defence, summoned me. I had known him since my time as a high school teacher. It was he who had asked me to join the guerrillas. He would ask me how my work was going. Then a messenger would arrive, an envoy, who collected the confessions that were ready and took them to Son Sen. These messengers were the only links between one office and another."

"I obeyed. The work carried on until 7 January 1979, when the Cambodian liberation forces, supported by the Vietnamese, conquered Phnom Penh. There was no escape plan, no pull-out plan " After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the executioner blended back in among his countrymen, and disappeared, as so many did in the post-war chaos, swallowed up by the void.

Many years later he was converted to Christianity by American missionaries. His true identity was discovered in 1998 and soon afterwards he was arrested. After years of argument between the Cambodian government and the United Nations, the surviving members of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy are finally being brought to justice. They will be tried under a hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; the pre-trial hearings began in November and are still going on. Pol Pot, is long dead as is the bloodiest of his comrades, Ta Mok, died in 1996. But five senior leaders including Khieu Sampan, the Khmer Rouge president, await trial.

Duch made his first appearance in court in November when his lawyer asked for him to be let out on bail because his "human rights had been violated, even if he was not beaten or tortured". A ripple of ironic laughter ran round the courtroom. The request was rejected.

What more is there to say but hope he his remaining years are long and miserable?

10 February 2008

Ireland to choose a turkey for Eurovision?

While it is usual for Eurovision songs to be turkeys no actual turkey has yet performed a song in the competition. However, that may change if the people of Ireland choose Dustin the Turkey to perform Irlande douze points at the final. Sung in a North Dublin accent Dusting urges the contest judges to “give douze points to Ireland, for its lowlands and its highlands, for Terry Wogan's wig and Bono's leather pants. We brought you Guinness and Westlife, 800-years of war and strife, but we all apologise for Riverdance.”

Glove puppet Dustin, who appears on RTE children’s show the Den, has already had several hits in Ireland but his flippant attitude has not gone down well in certain quarters. Frank McNamara, who wrote two of the Irish Republic's seven winners, said that the selection of Dustin by RTE, the state broadcaster, as one of the six acts was “giving two fingers to Irish songwriters”. Shay Healy, who wrote Johnny Logan's Eurovision winner 'What's Another Year?” questioned “how any bunch of grown-ups could come up with this as a solution”.

It looks as if some people take Eurovision too seriously. As far as I’m concerned it’s a great excuse to have some friends around for beer and a bloody good laugh!

Nicholas Winton nominated for Nobel Peace prize

A 98-year old Briton has been nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. The person in question is Sir Nicholas Winton who in 1939 arranged for the transport of nearly 700 Czechoslovakian Jewish children to the UK

In the spring of 1939, the young Nicholas Winton cancelled a skiing holiday in Switzerland and, at the urging of a friend, went to Prague instead. Nicholas Winton was particularly shocked by the condition of the children: many of them he found living in squalid - and freezing - refugee camps. With a group of others he drew up a list of children whose parents would agree to send them to Britain until the emergency - however long it was to last - was over.

He lobbied the Home Office in London. They said he could bring as many children as he liked, provided he could find foster families for them, and provided they went home when it was safe to do so. He then organised a series of closed trains to take the children from Prague directly to Liverpool Street station in London.

For nearly 50 years Winton lost contact with the children he had brought to Britain, including director Karel Reisz and Labour politician Lord Alfred Dubs. He did not even tell his wife Grete what he had done. It was not until 1988 when she found a scrapbook in their attic, with all the children's photos, names, and letters did she learn the whole story (The scrapbook is now held at Yad Vashem)

By the time his deeds became known there survivors and their descendants numbers over 5,000 "Normally events that happened a long time ago diminish in importance as time goes on," Sir Nicholas has said "This story is the opposite - it keeps on growing, because there are more and more people. They keep breeding, you see!"

Perhaps it is time for a self effacing hero to be awarded this high accolade. He is far more deserving that quite a few previous recipients.

My thanks to Snoopy the Goon for drawing this story to my attention

So I'm an Orwell book then

You're 1984!

by George Orwell

You have this uncanny feeling that you're always being watched. Thus
life has become a bit of a show as you try to portray yourself as much more reputable
than you actually are. All around you, people seem to accept an unending stream of lies
and propaganda without flinching. Your only hope may be a star-crossed love affair, but
pain seems stonger than love. If you have any older brothers, be very wary of

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Make of that what you will. Hat tip to fellow Flann O'Brien fan Sean Jeating for this quiz.

09 February 2008

Motorhead - Bomber

Another not so guilty pleasure....

But no flu jabs at the tattoo parlour

German scientists claim that tattooing could be the best way to deliver vaccines into the body. In tests undertaken with mice, tattooing was much more effective in provoking a response from the immune system.

Researchers say that the rapidly vibrating tattoo needle could be a useful way of delivering vaccines under the skin instead of insoluble ink. In studies with mice, tattooing a vaccine produced 16 times more antibodies than a simple injection into muscle tissue.

Dr Martin Mueller, one of the researchers behind this work, says that the greater damage to the body caused by the tattoo needle may explain the better immune response. The scientists say that the tattoo needles would never be suitable for preventative vaccines, such as measles, in children as the pain would be too great. But there may well be a role for the technique in the routine vaccination of animals.

Hmm for a moment I had an image of people getting BCG tattooed on their fingers instead of ACAB. Ah well....