30 March 2008

The Double D Scalp?

If April 1 hasn’t come came early for the Mail on Sunday then it would appear that the world of cosmetic surgery has found another way to make people part with their cash. A Spanish surgeon has found a way to add up to two inches (5cm) to a person’s height using a silicone head implant.

Dr Luis de la Cruz developed the procedure to help people who would normally be too short for jobs with a minimum height. He claims would-be soldiers, police officers, air hostesses, models and fire fighters are queuing up for the surgery at his Madrid clinic. During a 90-minute operation an incision is made in the side of the head and the implant squeezed in between the skull and the scalp. Patients are usually released from hospital the next day. and the only sign they have had surgery is a small scar and a wallet that is lighter to the tune of at least £4,000

Dr de la Cruz, 47, has already carried out the operation on 17 patients. He said: "It is a relatively simple procedure that can have a wonderfully positive effect on the patient's life. Like most good ideas it came to me in a flash. I was approached by a young woman who had always dreamed of becoming an air stewardess. She was rejected for being half an inch too small and asked if there was any technique to add to her height... The woman who sparked my interest was the third to have it done. She is very happy with the result and is now an air stewardess."

The Clinica La Luz in Madrid is thought to be the only place in the world where the operation is performed. But people with long, thin heads are advised against the surgery as the result can look odd.

Ah the modern world! Does this mean the end of shorter folk wearing platform shoes and top hats?

On the other hand...


As long as I'm not attacked by 25 or fewer fof the little darlings, I'll be fine.. Just so long as they don't attack me on the Moon!

Hat Tip again to Grendel for this one

Well that's me doomed


If I was stranded on the moon then I'm toast by looks of it! Hat tip to Grendel for this quiz

29 March 2008

45 Today

45 and I remain exactly 20 years younger that John Major, the erstwhile Prince of Greyness. Not only that but it is still the anniversary of Towton, the bloodiest battle on British soil while Lucy Lawless is still five years younger than me.

That these things have not changed comes as a major relief.....

Photo Hunt - High

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is high. The London Eye certainly fits the bill even if it is no longer the world's biggest ferris wheel. It certainlyis a London landmark I like very much

28 March 2008

Porn East German style

It is a general rule (with exceptions of course) that the further left one goes, the more prudish and sexually repressed one becomes – Maoists can make Pandas look like sexual Olympians! Most regimes exercise hypocrisy on social mores (more like “dog-in-a-mangery”) . Take East Germany. Western pornography was banned under communism, but the armed forces had its own “pornosec” making sex films for senior officers and politicians.

Evidence of the former communist state's secret porn industry surfaced in a documentary made by eastern Germany's MDR television channel. It showed original film clips of nude subalterns kissing, and female army privates in helmets posing semi-naked on parade.The programme, Pornography made in the German Democratic Republic, revealed that the East German army, which at the time was one of the most feared in the Warsaw Pact, ran a 160-man film unit which had a secret amateur circle of 12 porn enthusiasts.

Dietmar Schürtz, 57, a former sound technician and actor in the porn film circle, who works in the reunited German army's media department, said in an interview that the unit was set up in 1982. It managed to make a total of 12 erotic films before the collapse of communism in 1989. "All of the films were made in secret but partly with the permission of senior officers," he said, adding that the premieres were an event not to be missed by the country's ruling elite: "All the bosses came to these showings – either because they were just inquisitive or simply out of pure lust," he said.

Mr Schürtz said the movies were shot on 16mm film cameras and that a military hospital was used as a studio. Most of the apparently sex-hungry women who starred in the films were civilian employees of the army. "We asked them whether they wanted a role and nearly all of them said yes immediately," he said.

The style of the erotic film clips shown in the documentary was reminiscent of early Scandinavian pornographic cinema. Perhaps surprisingly for a former front-line Warsaw Pact state, the films were not without humorous jabs at the failures of communism. One scene depicted a male worker in a medical consulting room waiting to be seen by a female doctor. She enters and orders the man to strip to the waist. "But I am your mechanic!" insists the male worker. The doctor immediately unbuttons her white coat and offers the worker instant sex because she is so grateful to have found somebody to repair her car in a country almost devoid of mechanics.

The secret clips included "Carry On" film-style shots of a female army private in a helmet exposing herself on a parade ground to the command "Breasts Out !" The scenes are in marked contrast to the atmosphere of public prudery that prevailed in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Although nudism and naked bathing were permitted, the regime banned Western sex films and visitors to the country who dared to try to import erotic magazines from the West would have the publication confiscated by border guards and risked being denied entry.After 1989, one of the first addresses for many East Germans visiting the West was a porn cinema or a sex shop.

I hasten to add that I am no connoisseur of pornography but I would imagine that their output was on par with other East German triumphs such as the Trabant

Phonoautograph beats Edison to first voice recording

American researchers have pieced together a 10-second audio clip of a French folk song which they believe is the oldest recognisable recording of the human voice. The recording appears to be of a young woman singing a couple of phrases from the 18th century folk song Au Clair de la Lune. It was made in 1860 by Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and librarian, on a device he called a "phonautograph".

The recording was made 17 years before Edison's famous recording of himself reciting 'Mary had a little lamb' in 1877 and 28 years before the first playable recording - a performance of a Handel oratorio at Crystal Palace in 1888.

The recording was discovered earlier this month at the French Academy of Sciences by David Gioavannoni, an "audio historian" who led the effort to find Scott's original "phonoautograms". Mr Giovannoni had found earlier recordings at a Paris patent office, dating back as early as 1857 but he told the newspaper that his "eureka moment" came when he found the immaculately preserved 1860 recording on a sheet of rag paper measuring nine inches by 29 inches. "It was pristine," Mr Giovannoni said. "The sound waves were remarkably clear and clean." (the sound is far from pristine but hey, who’s quibbling!). Mr Giovannoni sent scans of the recording to the Berkeley Lab where they were painstakingly converted into sound by scientists using technology designed to salvage historic recordings.

That technology allows the voice of a young French woman, recorded in Paris in the months before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as President of the United States, to be heard again

Were they ever really that small?

Robyn as a kitten in 1994 and Ted in 1998. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

27 March 2008

A Broccoli Ocarina

A little while ago Steve over at Yellow Doggerel Democrat posted a video of the Vegetable Orchestra. You Tube has a wonderful collection of musical vegetables. With Steve in mind I proudly present a well loved carol on an ocarina made out of broccoli. Enjoy!

The oldest European

Europe’s oldest human remains have been discovered in northern Spain according to a paper published in Nature. Dated at 1.1-1.2 million years old, the discovery comprises part of a human's lower jawbone with the seven teeth were still in place (as well as an isolated tooth belonging to the same individual). It was found in the Sierra de Atapuerca near Burgos. Stone tools and animal bones with tell-tale cut marks from butchering by humans were also found.

"It is the oldest human fossil yet found in Western Europe," said co-author Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, director of Spain's National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos. Dr Bermudez de Castrosaid that the latest find had anatomical features linking it to earlier hominins (modern humans, their ancestors and relatives since divergence from apes) discovered in Dmanisi, Georgia - at the gates of Europe. The Georgian hominins lived some 1.7 million years ago and represent an early expansion of humans outside Africa. The researchers therefore suggest that Western Europe was settled by a population of hominins coming from the east. Once these early people had "won the West" they evolved into a distinct species - Homo antecessor, or "Pioneer Man", say the scientists.

The scientists now plan to investigate whether Pioneer Man might have been ancestral to Neanderthals and to even our own species Homo sapiens. "In terms of European prehistory, this [find] is very significant," said Professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at London's Natural History Museum. "The earliest hominins outside Africa are those from Dmanisi in Georgia. After that, we have occupations in Europe, but the ages are not very precise. They are also without hominin [remains]," said Dr Marina Mosquera, a co-author from the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain.

The Spanish researchers used three different techniques to date the new fossils: palaeomagnetism, cosmogenic nuclide dating and biostratigraphy. "What we have are the European descendents of the first migration out of Africa," said Dr Mosquera. Professor Stringer said that until more material was discovered from Atapuerca, he was cautious about assigning the new specimen to the species Homo antecessor. But he added: "However the specimen is classified, when combined with the emerging archaeological evidence, it suggests that southern Europe began to be colonised from western Asia not long after humans had emerged from Africa - something which many of us would have doubted even five years ago.It gives us confidence that Europe was not left out of the picture of the spread of early humans. Early humans got to Java and China by 1.5 million years ago and certainly some of the animal remains found at those Asian sites are found in Western Europe too."

Panda porn and sexercise

There are two very good reasons why we say “at it like rabbits” rather than “at it like pandas”: firstly, pandas are not a native British species (Okay, I know the rabbit is a Johnny-come-lately but it’s been a part of our landscape for long enough); secondly, the Panda doesn’t have a sex drive so much as a sex crawl....

The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre in southwestern Sichuan province is trying to remedy notorious lack of interest in things carnal by using “panda porn” (full panda on panda action and voyeurism) and “sexercise”. Apparently the latter has had some sexcess and now China has devised a new tactic to help the black-and-white animals to have more babies.

The “sexercise” dangling an apple above the panda, luring it to stand on two legs as it tries to reach the treat. The exercise helps the panda to walk on its rear legs, thus strengthening the pelvic and hip muscles and better equipping it for sex. Yang Kuxing, keeper of ten pandas in the centre's maternity ward, said that sexercise should aid the males when mating: “After pandas succeed in taking the standing-up exercise, we feed them apples to reward them.”

But the keepers are relying on more than pornography and dangling apples to improve the sexual skills of the panda. Pandas are solitary animals in the wild and seek companions only during the mating season. Keepers are trying to familiarise pandas, which have often been bred in captivity, with members of the opposite sex. A male panda is placed in a den occupied by a female, and vice versa, so that they smell each other's odour. With any luck, they may begin to show an interest in sex, often seen as symptoms of anxiety. The two are then placed in the same pen in the hope that they will have sex.

Pandas with a bit more experience may also be called in to help their more innocent companions. One official said: “We arrange lovemaking between two excellent pandas in front of inexperienced pandas which have never had sex. It does work.” Now more than 30 per cent of the 68 pandas at the base are capable of having sex naturally compared with just 10 per cent a decade ago.

China is desperate to ensure that it has a sufficient number of pandas, with a broad genetic variety, to ensure the survival of the species. Keepers try to ensure that all pandas can find a mate as soon as they “come into season” - when the female is fertile and receptive. This state lasts only a few days. In addition to being encouraged to have sex with a willing male, the female is then artificially inseminated to reduce the room for failure, experts say. The procedure, which involves giving the male mild electric shocks to obtain sperm, and the female an anaesthetic while she is impregnated, can be uncomfortable and traumatic, some experts say. Also, genetic tests have found that the natural mating has usually been successful in any case.

26 March 2008

Seahenge to get permanent display

A timber circle dating back 4,000 years which was found in the sea off the Norfolk coast then years ago is to be put on permanent display in King’s Lynn. Seahenge, as it is known, has 55 oak posts around a central upturned stump dating from the Bronze Age. It was found emerging from a beach at Holme-next-the-Sea.

Timbers were studied at the Bronze Age Centre, Peterborough, then preserved at the Mary Rose Trust, Portsmouth. After it was excavated, 3D laser scanning revealed the earliest metal tool marks on wood ever discovered in Britain. Archaeologists at the Bronze Age Centre, believe between 50 and 80 people may have helped build the circle, possibly to mark the death of an important individual.

Seahenge became exposed at low tides after the peat dune covering it was swept away by winter storms. The site's excavation was initially halted by protests by a group of about 12 Druids and environmental campaigners who said the sea had cared for the site for 4,000 years and would continue to do so. But researchers said the exposed wood was deteriorating fast. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Norfolk County Council has been provided for the Seahenge Gallery project at the Lynn Museum which will house the timber, displayed in its original formation. The central stump, which is still being treated, will join the gallery at a later date.

John Gretton, of Norfolk County Council, said: "The discovery of Seahenge in the summer of 1998 captured the imagination of the public and archaeologists alike. "Whilst the research done on the timbers has led to some historians drawing conclusions, the original function of Seahenge remains mysterious, and I hope that visitors will flock to the newly restored Lynn Museum to speculate on the ancient meaning behind the timbers - which we were able to rescue for all time from further damage."

WW Follows

The Shetlands are the most northerly part of the United Kingdom and although part of Scotland they are still very Norse – they only became part of Scotland in 1469 when King Christian i of Denmark and Norway pawned the Islands for 8,000 Rhenish Guilders after his daughter Margaret became engaged to James III. Subsequent kings of Norway had the right to redeem the islands for a fixed sum of 210 kg of gold or 2,310 kg of silver and several unsuccessful attempts were made during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Stuart Hill is the defender in a civil action brought against him by a local accountancy firm. However, he intends to persuade Lerwick Sheriff Court that the court and thus Scottish law has no jurisdiction. He believes the Shetlands should be viewed as a debt security and as such only on long-term loan to Scotland. He has therefore reached the "inescapable conclusion" that at no point in Shetland's history did the Crown acquire ownership of the islands.

The case will be heard on 22 April.

Hmm Nice try but I somehow think his chances of winning this case are somewhere between nil and bugger all!

25 March 2008

WW - General

I went to the Terracotta Warior exhibition at the British Museum on Friday. The other half wanted a figurine so a figurine I bought! He will take pride of place in the front window. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

Health & Safety and Crucifixion

A little late I know, but I did not spot this item until now. Health officials in the Philippines issued a warning over the safety of Easter crucifixion rituals.

Officials urged participants them to get tetanus vaccinations before they flagellate themselves and are nailed to crosses, and to practise good hygiene. Penitents were strongly advised to check the condition of their whips as they wanted people to have what they call "well-maintained" whips. They also advised that the nails used to fix people to crosses must be properly disinfected first.

Surreal as this sounds there is a method in this madness: using unhygienic whips and dirty nails could lead to tetanus and other infections.

Every Good Friday, in towns across the Philippines, people atone for sins or give thanks for an answered prayer by re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In the northern city of San Fernando alone there were three separate improvised Golgothas and four people had pledged to have their feet and hands nailed to wooden crosses, while others will flog themselves while walking barefoot through villages.

24 March 2008

Fischer z - So Long

Fischer Z - Marliese

Agreeing with Galloway and Rosindell

Like many other deep line tube stations Bethnal Green was used as an air raid shelter by many East enders. Although the Blitz had subsided by 1943 (and the V-1 and V-2 attacks were a year into the future) the station was the site of an incident that saw the death of over 170 civilians. At 8:17 pm on 3 March 1943 an air-raid warning sounded, causing an orderly flow of people down into the station’s booking office. Ten minutes later an anti-aircraft battery at Victoria Park a few hundred yards away launched a salvo new anti aircraft rockets. The weapon was secret, and the unfamiliar explosion caused a panic. As the crowd surged forward towards the shelter, a woman, possibly carrying a baby, tripped on the stairs, causing many others to fall. Within a few seconds 300 people were crushed into the tiny stairwell. 173 people were dead at the scene, with one more dying in hospital later; 62 of the dead were children. It is believed that this was the greatest loss of civilian life through any single incident in Britain during WWII

It was not until 50 years after the disaster that a discreet commemorative plaque was erected at the site; survivors want a more permanent memorial. Andrew Rosindell has tabled a Commons motion to support the campaign. The motion has been backed by nine other MPs. Last year George Galloway introduced a similar early day motion which attracted the support of 37 MPs.

Both readers of the Poor Mouth will probably realise I have little time for either Gorgon George or Poltroon Rosindell but credit where credit is due.I wish his EDM had received more support.

23 March 2008

Father Ted - Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse

And on a lighter note here's one of my favourite Father Ted episodes - Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse

Mehboba Andyar - a true Olympian

The Afghan Olympic team has plenty of problems with run-down facilities and a woeful shortage of funds, but only Mehboba Andyar . the sole woman competitor, has had to prepare herself mentally for the biggest challenge of her life while dealing with sinister midnight telephone calls, the open derision of her neighbours and even police harassment.

When she competes against some of the finest runners in the world, with skills honed at the best facilities, Miss Andyar knows that she has little chance of a medal in either the 1,500m or 800m competitions. Just getting to Beijing will be more of an achievement than most athletic stars will ever know, even if she will be noticed on the racetrack mainly for wearing traditional Islamic dress instead of skin-tight Lycra, and for the novelty of being an Afghan woman.

Her interest in athletics began during the Taleban regime when she had to run in the closed yard of her family home so that enforcers from the religious police could not see her. When the family fled to Pakistan she was able to run in a park in Islamabad but she could not afford to join an athletic club. By those standards things are much better these days.

Miss Andyar trains on a cracked, concrete track in the National Stadium during gaps in the dust storms that sweep through the city. The track, bordered by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire to keep out over-enthusiastic fans during matches, circles a patch of dried, yellow grass where boys play football. The stadium has yet to capture the attention of international sports fans but it is known across the world for being the former public execution site of the Taleban. The support of her coach, family and friends has buoyed her considerable inner reserves of determination but Miss Andyar’s wish to run for Afghanistan has meant putting up with a lot in the past few weeks.

She said: “There have been so many phone calls from people saying I shouldn’t be an athlete. There are often strange men hanging around outside my home. Sometimes stones are thrown at the windows at night and we have had threatening letters.” The catcalls and derision from her neighbours when she runs in the potholed streets around her home are so bad that she only runs at night when they are watching television, despite the risk of falling into a pile of rubbish or down an open drain. Top of FormBottom of Form

She believes that one of the mystery callers has Taleban sympathies and a neighbour who reported her to the police is from the anti-Taleban Panjsher valley. “I don’t worry about these threats but if my family didn’t want me to go, I wouldn’t. They are very afraid about all this,” she said.

Her father was arrested on Monday when police raided her house because the Panjsheri neighbour said that she was entertaining strange men — a French journalist and his translator. The police took all three men to the station but Miss Andyar refused to go. They were released and the police apologised after their chief ordered them to, but Miss Andyar wants the neighbour to be arrested.

Miss Andyar will travel to Malaysia soon, where she will train for five months before the Games. Her coach hopes that this will allow her to focus her mind away from the difficult environment of Kabul. “I don’t care what it is like there,” she said. “As long as I can train hard to do my best at Beijing.”

Her fellow Olympians, a sprinter and a tae-kwon-do competitor who has a good chance of winning a first Olympic medal for Afghanistan, are supportive, and so is Shahpoor Amiri, her coach. He said: “For us it is enough that an Afghan girl is going to the Beijing Games. She doesn’t have to get first or second place, she has overcome so many problems and she is already an inspiration.” He admitted that he was not sure if it would become easier for Afghan women to compete in the future. “A lot of educated people admire her. But the ordinary people, some of them really hate her,” he said.

The show ponies of the Premiership and other massively overpaid sports should count their blessings and get a sense of perspective. It doesn’t matter a jot whether Mehboba comes last in her heats or not, the important thing is that she takes part and performs to the best of her ability. I don’t care if that sounds quaintly Corinthian in this day and age but that is what any sport is truly about.

22 March 2008

Photo Hunt - Metal

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is metal. For once this was easy. Not far away from my house is a metal structure. It's Victorian we think. It could do with with some rust care and a lick of paint but we like it. Have a look at the the following photo and have a guess what it is.

XDR-TB arrives in the UK

Doctors have diagnosed what is believed to be the first ever case in Britain of a virtually untreatable strain of tuberculosis known as XDR-TB (Extensively Drug Resistant Tuberculosis). A man, believed to be a Somali in his 30s, is in isolation at a hospital in Scotland and being treated with a range of antibiotics to control the disease. But he has been diagnosed with the XDR-TB strain, which kills half of those infected and is extremely resistant to drugs used to fight more common forms of the infection.

It is understood the patient, thought to be an asylum seeker, was screened for infectious diseases on his arrival into Britain last year. X-rays revealed TB scarring on his lungs, but the disease was not thought to be active so he was allowed to travel to Scotland. He was admitted to Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow with the disease in January and tests have now revealed he is suffering from the XDR-TB strain. Health officials are now trying to contact his close friends and family to prevent any further outbreaks.

A spokesman for Gartnavel General Hospital said last night: “We can confirm a case of drug-resistant tuberculosis is being treated at the hospital. We are in touch with all close contacts of the patient, and where appropriate they will be screened. The strain is not any more infectious than normal TB. The main concern is that it is resistant to antibiotics, which makes it much harder to treat.”

The first case of XDR-TB was reported in March 2006, after researchers discovered an emerging global threat of highly resistant TB strains. Six months later 53 “virtually untreatable” XDR-TB cases were found in an area of South Africa with a high prevalence of HIV. Samples were taken for drug resistance tests but all but one of the patients died an average of 25 days later.

TB drug resistance has been increasing across the world, including Britain, and the World Health Organisation warns more needs to be done to combat the disease. Professor Peter Davis, secretary of TB Alert in the UK, said: “We are aware that it is quite prevalent in other parts of the world. Because our country is no longer separated from disease by the channel, we have got to be aware of it.”

21 March 2008

And now water on Titan...

The Saturn moon Titan has just joined a growing band of solar system objects that may contain water. According to a paper published in the journal Science, radar images from the Cassini-Huygens mission reinforce predictions that a reservoir of liquid water exists beneath the satellite’s thick crust of ice. If confirmed, it would mean that Titan has two of the key components for life - water and organic molecules.

When the Cassini-Huygens mission began to observe Titan in 2004, the surface was thought to be completely covered with an ocean of hydrocarbons. But when the spacecraft turned its radar on the moon for the first time in 2004, and the Huygens probe parachuted to the surface a year later, a different picture emerged. Much of the surface was found to be solid, with geological features such as dunes, channels and impact craters, punctuated by vast "lakes".

Cassini's latest fly-by of Titan is providing a new glimpse of these features, which to researchers' surprise, are not in the place they should be. Coupled with models of how the moon spins, the data suggests that the observed seasonal variation in spin rate could only exist if a liquid ocean lay beneath the solid crust. The researchers, led by Dr Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, US, say their predictions can be checked in the proposed extended Cassini mission or in future missions.

Evidence suggests that Titan has two of the key constituents for the formation of life - water and organic molecules, and possibly a third - a source of energy, he said. Professor Zarnecki of the Open University said "We know there are organic molecules, the place is swarming in organics. Titan is 50% water-ice. If it is liquid, as this paper is implying some of it is, it looks as though we've got at least two of the things to initiate the chemistry that leads to life. It wouldn't be too far fetched to imagine certain spots on Titan where there would be a source of energy - maybe geothermal energy, as we have on Earth at the bottom of the oceans."

Past observations have shown that Titan in many ways resembles a very early Earth, particularly in the composition of its atmosphere. The major difference is the frigid temperatures out near Saturn.

I get the feeling that Titan will be the subject of further probes. It would be amazing if life was found there

An iconic symbol turns 50

It was Good Friday 1958 that the iconic peace symbol had its first outing as thousands of British protestors set off from Trafalgar Square on a 50-mile march to the nuclear. Since then it has become an international sign for peace, and arguably the most widely used protest symbol in the world. It has also been adapted, attacked and commercialised.

The demonstration had been organised by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) joined in. Gerald Holtom, a designer and former World War II conscientious objector from West London, persuaded DAC that their aims would have greater impact if they were conveyed in a visual image. He considered using a Christian cross motif but, instead, settled on using letters from the semaphore - or flag-signalling - alphabet, super-imposing N (uclear) on D (isarmament) and placing them within a circle symbolising Earth. Holtom later explained that the design was "to mean a human being in despair" with arms outstretched downwards.

In a book to commemorate the symbol's 50th birthday, American pacifist Ken Kolsbun charts how it was transported across the Atlantic and took on additional meanings for the Civil Rights movement, the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s including the anti-Vietnam protests, and the environmental, women's and gay rights movements. He also argues that groups opposed to those tendencies tried to use the symbol against them by distorting its message. How the sign migrated to the US is explained in various ways. Some say it was brought back from the Aldermaston protest by civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, a black pacifist who had studied Gandhi's techniques of non-violence.

In Peace: The biography of a symbol, Mr Kolsbun describes how in just over a decade, the sign had been carried by civil rights "freedom" marchers, painted on psychedelic Volkswagens in San Francisco, and on the helmets of US soldiers on the ground in Vietnam. "The sign really got going over here during the 1960s and 70s, when it became associated with anti-Vietnam protests. "This, of course, led some people to condemn it as a communist sign," says Mr Kolsbun. " As the sign became a badge of the burgeoning hippie movement of the late 1960s, the hippies' critics scornfully compared it to a chicken footprint, and drew parallels with the runic letter indicating death. In 1970, the conservative John Birch Society published pamphlets likening the sign to a Satanic symbol of an upside-down, "broken" cross.

The real power of the sign, its supporters say, is the reaction that it provokes - both from fans and from detractors. The South African government, for one, tried to ban its use by opponents of apartheid in 1973. And, in 2006, a couple in suburban Denver found themselves embroiled in a dispute over their use of a giant peace sign as a Christmas wreath. The homeowners' association threatened them with a daily fine if they didn't remove it.

CND has never registered the sign as a trademark, arguing that "a symbol of freedom, it is free for all". It has now appeared on millions of mugs, T-shirts, rings and nose-studs. A decade ago, the sign was chosen during a public vote to appear on a US commemorative postage stamp saluting the 1960s. "It is still the dominant peace sign," argues Lawrence Wittner, an expert on peace movements at the University at Albany in New York. "Part of that is down to its simplicity. It can be used as a shorthand for many causes because it can be reproduced really quickly - on walls on floors, which is important, in say, repressive societies."

A landmark in the history of sex

Funisia dorothea was long, thin rope-like organism that lived on the sea floor about 570 million years ago has been identified as the first animal on Earth to have had sex (well reproduce sexually). Sadly for Funisia it is unlikely that the earth moved (unless there had been a seaquake at the time) and it is thought that is reproduced in a similar way to modern corals and sponges. However, the discovery has excited scientists who said that the fossils open a window on one of the most ancient ecosystems.

Researchers identified the creature’s capacity for sexual rather than asexual reproduction because fossil specimens were found in groups that all appeared to be the same age. Because they had found a foothold in a sandy seabed at the same time, it was considered they must have resulted from a simultaneous spawning instead of uncoordinated asexual births.

Mary Droser, the paleontologist who led the excavations, named the animal after her 80-year-old mother, Dorothy Droser, who took care of the paleontologist’s young children and cooked for the research team on several digs in the Australian outback. Mrs Droser said she was “thrilled to tears” at having a fossil named in her honour. She thought it appropriate that the ancient beast was the first to have sexual relations: “My family thinks it’s humorous. I have 11 grandchildren — obviously reproduction is a good thing.”

Funisia dorothea thrived on the sea floor in the Neoproterozoic era, a 100-million-year period ending about 540 million years ago, and formed part of the earliest known animal ecosystem. It was a soft-bodied creature that grew 30cm long and would have been safe from predators because it would be several more million years before they evolved. Even scavengers had yet to appear. Once the tubular animals had fixed themselves to the seabed, either as a larva or a fertilised egg, they were immobile and unable to go off in search of mates. Researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Science, were unable to identify a mouth or any other recognisable anatomy.

“In general, individuals of an organism grow close to each other, in part, to ensure reproductive success,” said Professor Droser, who co-authored the report with James Gehling of the South Australia Museum. “In Funisia, we are very likely seeing sexual reproduction in Earth’s early ecosystem – possibly the very first instance of sexual reproduction in animals on our planet. How Funisia appears in the fossils clearly shows that ecosystems were complex very early in the history of animals on Earth.”

Ted in a box

Of all our cats, Ted is the box fetishist. The box in question was for a pair oftrainers the not-wife bought and she is a size 4 (or 5 in the US) This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

20 March 2008

The Pykecrete Carrier

Britons in their late 30s and older will almost certainly be familiar with scientist Magnus Pyke who appeared on “Don’t ask me” in the 70s. He definitely had the air of the mad scientist but he was always entertaining. On the other hand he did suggest using surplus human blood in black puddings during WWII. While the vampire community would be happy, I doubt it would have been a big seller, somehow...

Magnus Pyke had a first cousin Geoffrey Pyke who was very much in the same mad scientist mould. If one of his ideas during WWII had come to fruition then the Royal Navy would have had an aircraft carrier that would have dwarfed any vessel ever afloat.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the one German offensive of WWII that could have brought Britain to its knees. By 1942 Allied forces were losing an enormous amount of merchant shipping to U boats. In part this was due to inadequate air cover in the mid-Atlantic. A large part of the mid-Atlantic was beyond the range of land based aircraft and aircraft carriers were in short supply. Plans for an Allied invasion of Europe were also underway and it was felt that large floating platforms were needed to assist the assault forces.

Lord Louis Mountbatten was Chief of Combined Operations and part of the work of this department was to develop technology and equipment for offensive operations. He encouraged scientists to produce their ideas, however fantastical they might seem. Many ideas did not get past the drawing stage, but others were taken up and experimented with before being abandoned. One of these was the iceberg aircraft carrier which had been supported, Mountbatten and Churchill.

HMS Habbakuk (a misspelling of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk who said “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told to you.”) was the brainchild of Geoffrey Pyke. His idea was that because ice was unsinkable, an iceberg vessel could be impervious to bomb and torpedo attacks. Repairs would be – just pour water into any holes and freeze it. Habbakuk and its sister ships could be up to 4000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth and to carry up to 150 twin engine bombers or fighter aircraft.

The idea was taken up by Mountbatten and in December 1942, Churchill was convinced that the idea was worth pursuing. One problem had to be overcome. Ice split too easily. Exiled Austrian scientist Max Perutz had invented a composite material Pykrete which consisted of ice with 14% sawdust and was stronger that concrete. Plans were drawn up for a vessel with the dimensions of 2000 feet long with a displacement of 1,800,000 dead weight tons.

A model was built on Patricia Lake, Jaspar in Canada but because of the huge quantities of steel even an ice vessel would need it was essential that the Americans were brought on board. Mountbatten took a block of Pykecrete to the 1943 Quebec Conference to demonstrate its strength. He fired a revolver into a block of ice which, predictably, shattered. He then fired into a block of Pykecrete. The bullet did not penetrate the block; rather it ricocheted off the ice, and grazed the leg of Admiral King, the American Chief of Naval Operations.

The Americans were not convinced about the project. They felt that technical problems would delay the use of ice ships until 1945 by when the conventional carrier fleet would be large enough to make the need for ice aircraft carriers obsolete. Churchill also gave up on the project when he realised that the carriers would cost over £6m.

The model in Patricia Lake was “scuttled” in 1943 by removing all the machinery that had been used and leaving it to sink in place. In the 1970’s remains of the model were found and studied and in 1989, a plaque to commemorate the unusual ship was placed on the lake’s shore.

Geoffrey Pyke committed suicide in 1948.

Methane and water discovered on extrasolar planet

Astronomers have discovered methane in the atmosphere of planet HD 189733b which is 63 light years away. This is the first time that an organic molecule has been detected on a planet outside our Solar System. Water has also been discovered but the planet is far too hot to support life.

The discovery, unveiled in the journal Nature, is an important step towards exploring new worlds that might be more hospitable to life. Under certain circumstances, methane can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry. Co-author Giovanna Tinetti from University College, London, said "This planet is a gas giant very similar to our own Jupiter, but orbiting very close to its star. The methane here, although we can call it an organic constituent, is not produced by life - it is way too hot there for life."

Dr Tinetti, and co-authors Mark Swain and Gautam Vasisht, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found the tell-tale signature of methane in the planet's atmosphere using the Hubble Space Telescope. The observations were made as the planet passed in front of its parent star, as viewed from Earth. As the star's light passed briefly through the planet's atmosphere, the gases imprinted their chemical signatures on the transmitted light Spectroscopy revealed the chemical "fingerprint" of methane.

It shows that Hubble, Spitzer and a new generation of space telescopes yet to be launched can detect organic molecules on other extrasolar planets using spectroscopy, they say. Dr Swain said: "This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterising prebiotic molecules on planets where life could exist." Dr Tinetti said the technique could eventually be applied to extrasolar planets that appear more suitable for life than HD 189733b. "I definitely think that life is out there. My personal view is it is way too arrogant to think that we are the only ones living in the Universe." She said

Adam Showman of the Department of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona, US, said scientists were finally starting to move beyond simply discovering extrasolar planets to truly characterising them as worlds. Dr Showman, who was not part of the study, said: "The discovery does not by itself have any direct implications for life except that it proves a technique which might potentially be useful for characterising the atmosphere of rocky planets when we finally start discovering them."

19 March 2008

For sale: One U-boat pen, slightly used

A vast concrete complex built by slave labour on the North German coast and known as Valentin may not be a des res but the former submarine factory is up for sale to anyone interested in a building with 7m-thick walls. It is the largest surviving bunker from the Third Reich. The asking price is vague but government officials say that they could be accommodating for any serious bidder. The place has become a millstone, its upkeep swallowing up to €800,000 (£630,000) a year from the Defence Ministry budget. “And that's just the absolutely essential investments needed to stop the place crumbling,” says commandant Wolfgang zu Putlitz, who is in charge of guarding and maintaining the site.

Hitler, concerned that Germany was losing the edge in the war for the sea lanes, ordered the construction of the factory near Bremen with the aim of producing a new U-boat, the sophisticated XXI model, every 56 hours. The factory was a silo with the dimensions of a cathedral: 426m (1,400ft) long, 97m wide, 25m high. At one end was a diving basin for the last tests on the U-boats before they would slide into the Weser river and head for the North Sea. In the event, no submarine left the factory. By March 1945 the factory, begun 18 months earlier, was 80 per cent complete. Then a British Bomber Command raid succeeded in penetrating the roof using the 10 ton Grand Slam bomb (The above photo shows the result of the bombng). Before repairs were complete, the war was over.

The initial idea after the war was to blow up Valentin but that would have required at least 500 tonnes of explosives and the blast would have wiped out most of the neighbourhood. So it was taken over by the German Army, which has been using part of it as a storehouse. Blowing it up is now out of the question because it has been officially listed: research in Eastern European archives has shown that at least 4,000 slave labourers, many of them from Poland and Russia, died building Valentin. Most were undernourished. Some were beaten to death by guards trying to enforce a breakneck speed of construction.

“This bunker should not be sold,” the Mayor of Bremen, Jens Böhrnsen, says, “for both financial and moral reasons.” The new owner would have to commit himself to making at least part of the site into a memorial centre for Nazi slave labour. At least 12,000 concentration camp inmates, forced labourers and prisoners of war were involved in the project: a million tonnes of gravel and sand had to be dug up and 1,232,000 tonnes of cement was mixed.

Franz Josef Jung, the German Defence Minister, has said that he is aware of the historical significance of the U-boat factory but added: “It is not the task of the German Army to maintain memorials”.

Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus and unreconstructed communist dictator has joined the likes of Margaret Thatcher and McLaren Mercedes by becoming a client Tory peer and PR guru Tim Bell.

Lord Bell, who came to fame as the man who burnished Margaret Thatcher's image in the early days when she was leader of the opposition, has now been hired to help soften the grim image that Belarus presents to the outside world as it clings to the Soviet way of life. Belarus badly needs foreign investment, which it is unlikely to get from the US, where Congress has condemned the country's civil rights record. Mr Lukashenko wants the UK to step in and become his country's biggest foreign investor. Just over a week ago, he played host to a delegation of peers headed by Cecil Parkinson, who chaired the Tory party during the 1983 election. Lord Parkinson obligingly declared that he thought foreign investors could feel "secure and confident" in Belarus. At the same time, Lord Bell was in Minsk to sign a tricky but no doubt very lucrative contract. "Lukashenko would like his country to be better understood, and his successes to be better grasped," Lord Bell told The Moscow Times. "Lukashenko doesn't see why Belarus can't be a friend to the West and a friend to Russia at the same time."

Hmm even if Bell is a PR magician, why do the words polish and turd spring to mind?

17 March 2008

Steve Earle - Galway Girl

The not-wife is a Hornchurch girl though.....

It being St Patrick's Day and all that

I don't celebrate St Patrick's Day so I don't wear shamrock (which always seems to look like you've dropped some cress on your lapel) and I certainly wouldn't touch green beer with a bargepole. Here's a couple of quizzes instead....

You're 30% Irish

You're probably less Irish than you think you are...

But you're still more Irish than most.

Ah well I'm not very OIRISH (as opposed to Irish) so it seems!

Here's a different quiz

1 Galway is in which Province?

2 The Prime Minister of Ireland is known as:

3 The name of John Wayne's character in the film 'The Quiet Man' was:

4 Phil Lynott was the lead singer with which famous Irish rock band

5 Who is the female patron saint of Ireland/

6 The unit of currency in Ireland is

7 The book 'Angelas Ashes' by Frank McCourt was principally based in which Irish city?

8 The Irish beer 'Murphys' is brewed in which Irish town?

9 The County with the shortest coastline in Ireland is:

10 Ireland was declared a Republic in which year?

I got 10/10 and am thus belong the the Supreme Order of Cuchulainn and the Red Branch Warriors!

Ah well I had better get off to work......

16 March 2008

The Tsunami Bomb

The not-wife, being fascinated in disasters, decided that the BBC programme “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Tsunamis” was appointment television. In the end it was more like one or two things we didn’t know about Tsunamis. One of these unknowns was the Tsunami Bomb .

During wartime the military will entertain ideas that would almost certainly be shown the door during peacetime. And so it was in 1944 and 1945 that top-secret experiments (Known as Project Seal) were conducted off the coast of Auckland at Whangaparaoa by Auckland University professor Thomas Leech. Leech conducted hundreds of underwater explosions in the hope of developing a weapon that would trigger tidal waves in 1944 and 1945. According to “Ten things” programme the experiments were an utter failure. After 4000 test explosions, none of which generated an appreciable effect and the project was closed down when it was determined that there were errors in the theoretical basis of the plan.

However, according to New Zealand papers released only in 1999 the US and British military were eager for Seal to be developed in the post-war years too. They even considered sending Professor Leech to Bikini Atoll to view the US nuclear tests and see if they had any application to his work. Leech did not make the visit, although a member of the US board of assessors of atomic tests, Dr Karl Compton, was sent to New Zealand.

"Dr Compton is impressed with Professor Leech's deductions on the Seal project and is prepared to recommend to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that all technical data from the test relevant to the Seal project should be made available to the New Zealand Government for further study by Professor Leech," said a July 1946 letter from Washington to Wellington.

Could have it ever succeeded? According to another New Zealand Herald article Tsunami researchers at the University of Waikato believed that the bomb was fundamentally feasible. A modern approach to the idea could produce waves up to 30m high.

Dr Willem de Lange, of the Department of Earth Sciences, said studies proved that while a single explosion was not necessarily effective, a series of explosions could have a significant impact. Dr de Lange said the waves were not high because the energy was projected upwards, not sideways. He believed the same principle would be true for a tsunami bomb.

"You can't confine the energy. Once the explosion gets big enough, all of its energy goes into the atmosphere and not into the water. But... if you had a series of explosions in the same place, it's much more effective and can produce much bigger waves."

To be honest this sounds like one of the wilder ideas of a mad scientist – the sort with an assistant called Igor and a lab full of Tesla coils. Personally I think the idea is pretty ludicrous. Even if a large amount of explosives could indeed create a tsunami, I would imagine dropping the bombs on the chosen would cause rather more damage. I’m surprised it hasn’t been touted more by the tinfoil hat brigade’s mill though

The Tethys Ocean?

The Saturn moon Tethys was discovered by Giovanni Cassini in 1684 and named by John Herschel (son of William) in 1847. Tethys was a Greek sea goddess and it may be that Herschel’s choice of name may have been quite appropriate as it may once have harboured a liquid ocean.

Tethys is a mid-sized satellite with a density close to that of pure ice. But a large valley system visible today must have formed when the crust was being heated and under great strain according to a presentation at the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

Calculations by Erinna Chen and Francis Nimmo, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, show that tidal interactions were the only viable way of providing the amount of heat associated with the formation of Ithaca Chasma. They propose that Tethys' orbit around Saturn was once perturbed by gravitational interactions with another moon - Dione - which made Tethys' orbit more "eccentric". The resulting tidal forces caused frictional heating of Tethys' interior. But at some point, the orbital interaction between Tethys and Dione was broken, and Tethys fell back into a less eccentric orbit. As it did so, it began to cool. Freezing of a liquid ocean would have generated sufficient stresses in the crust to form Ithaca Chasma, the researchers said.

"We have a large rift system that brought water to the surface, so it seems likely that this happened," Ms Chen explained. She said that there was no way of knowing exactly how deep the ocean was, but speculated that it could have been 100km deep at some point in Tethys' past.

Tethys joins Europa and possibly Callisto in a small club of icy Solar System bodies thought either to have a subsurface ocean today, or to have had one in the distant past. Some researchers also think Saturn's moon Enceladus could harbour liquid water beneath the surface, although this idea has been called into question recently.

Lewis Hamilton off to a flying start

Lewis Hamilton steered clear of the chaos at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix to get his title campaign off to a great start. He dominated from the start in his McLaren to beat Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg into second and third places. Only six cars finished the race

15 March 2008

The oldest satellite in orbit

Vanguard I is the oldest surviving man-made satellite in space and is about to celebrate 50 years in orbit. It will have made nearly 197,000 orbits of teh earth when it reaches its 50th anniversary on Monday.

At 6in in diameter and 3lb in weight, it was dubbed “the grapefruit satellite” by Nikita Khrushchev, then the leader of the Soviet Union. It is tiny by modern standards, and even small compared to the 23in-long Sputnik 1, its achievements were enormous. It was the first to use solar power and it sent back a wealth of information on the size of the Earth, its air density and temperatures. After the humiliation of watching the Soviet Union get satellites into space first, its successful launch and deployment came as a welcome fillip to the United States and the West.

President Dwight Eisenhower publicly announced its deployment a little more than two hours after the launch and it was reported in The Times on March 18, 1958, under a headline: “Up ‘for a very long time’.” The satellite has travelled 5.7 billion miles, the equivalent of flying from here to Neptune and back, plus a round trip to Mars. It was the second successful satellite launched by the United States but it has remained in orbit longer than any of its predecessors, all of which burnt up when they reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.

It was the second satellite launched by the USA. The first was Explorer I which was launched the month before. At the time of its launch, Vanguard I was reported to be capable of staying in orbit for five or ten years, though it later became clear that it was designed to last for 200 years. More recent analysis suggests it will continue circling the Earth for 2,000 years unless it is knocked off course. It was launched by the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) from Cape Canaveral in Florida as part of Project Vanguard, headed by John Hagan.

Much of the technology for the project was based on Germany’s war-time V-2 rockets. One of the satellite’s most important achievements was to test solar cells in space, allowing space-craft using them to continue much longer in orbit than those with conventional batteries. While other satellites ran out of power after about three weeks, Vanguard I’s solar power enabled it to continue transmitting information back to Earth for seven years. It finally stopped broadcasting in 1964.

They sure built ‘em to last in those days!

More Iranian censorship


Much to George Galloway’s chagrin, today’s Independent continues with the anti Iranian “propaganda” by having the temerity to suggest that there may be limits to freedom of speech in Iran. This will make him particularly angry since not one news paper carried the story about a teenager who was told to shut up in Barnsley yesterday... But seriously, it would appear that attacks on free speech in Iran have become even more repressive and bizarre in recent times (if that were at all possible!)

The closure of newspapers and the jailing of journalists has become commonplace. Directives from the National Security Council containing the latest Islamic guidelines land on the desks of Iranian editors once or twice a week, and they are in no doubt that they must comply. But a recent classified directive broke new ground by decreeing in minute detail how to report on every story. Iranian sources say it is part of an almost surreal trend of censorship. Hadi Ghaemi, the New York-based co-ordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, calls it a "modern inquisition".

"The situation for literature is much worse," said a source. Yaghoub Yaadali, a 36-year-old television director, received a suspended jail sentence last summer on charges of "spreading lies, defamation and insulting a tribal minority". In his book, The Rules of Restlessness, a fictional character has an affair with a woman from an ethnic Bakhtiari village. It won Iran's highest honour for literature, the Golshiri award, in 2004. As with any other work, it was only published after obtaining permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. When he was sentenced to three months in jail, suspended for nine months, last September it caused a sensation in Iranian intellectual circles. His supporters were dumbstruck when, on appeal last month, the court toughened the sentence to actual imprisonment. "It's unheard of," said one Iranian. The writer was ordered to begin his sentence before the Iranian new year, (21 March) but hopes that if he completes the articles the jail time will be suspended.

The censor's verdict is even falling on new editions of published works. The Culture Ministry demands changes, and if the demand is not met, halts publication. One author of a children's book was told: "You wrote about a duck named 'Brave', but the duck isn't brave, the frog is brave." He responded that he couldn't change the title because it was translated from another language, and in any case it was a children's book. He also pointed out that it was the second edition. A television presenter got into hot water for writing a poem which said "in my dreams I think of you in the middle of the night" because of perceived sexual innuendo. The verse was removed.

On 6 March, the general director of public libraries, Mansour Vaezi, warned a conference of library directors that their libraries would be purged of inappropriate works. Academic freedom has also been severely restricted in the three years since President Ahmadinejad came to power. University faculty members deemed to be "problematic" are being forced into retirement, and even sacked.

Even a Tehran cleric, Hojatoleslam Hadi Ghabel, was ordered to be defrocked by a special court in the holy city of Qom, for criticising President Ahmadinejad and the spiritual leadership. He spent 47 days in jail awaiting trial and was given a three-year prison sentence. "This is a modern inquisition by the Islamic authorities," said Mr Ghaemi. "If they get away with it this time, there's no saying where it will end."

14 March 2008

Photo Hunt - I spy

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is I-spy which was a real head scratcher. After a bit of thought I decided to repost a photo I put up on the Poor Mouth last year. It is a macro shot of part of a WWI group photograph. The photo is of the not-wife's great grandfather's Royal Engineers unitn on the Western Front but. When I saw it my eye was drawn to the banjo player who bore an uncanny resemblance to Josef Stalin


I then noticed that the man to the left looked rather like the Blackadder character Captain Darling

As ever perhaps the link to the theme is a bit tenuous but I can say "i-spy" a soviet dictator and a tv sitcom character!

George Galloway beggars belief once again

No further words required, except to state the blindingly obvious: The man is an utter arsehole


The US had Bonnie and Clyde then Starkweather and Fugate. These two bandits have terrorised the badlands of Romford, going on a tri-garden murder spree. If caught, they'll get the chair.... or the sofa

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

13 March 2008

Seven Good Things in Life

I was tagged a little while ago by Grendel. The meme in question is called seven good things in life. Well here goes....

1. The not-wife has to be number one in my list. We have known each other for over 26 years now. She constantly reminds me that she would have got far less time if she had done me in back in 1982!

2. Having the furry foursome curled up around you seeking attention. Like all pets Robyn, Ted, Bebe and Mimi give their love unconditionally.... just so long as they get their nine square meals a day that is

3. The Chase or Cranham Marsh. Even in the edge of the London sprawl there are places I can go to and forget where I am

4. A nice bottle of Chateau Musar or a Cote Rotie, good company and good conversation

5. Losing myself in music. Hawkwind and headphones are a marriage made in heaven

6. A good book – the perfect way to block out the misery of commuting

7. Being out an about with my camera in the hope of getting a pleasing photo.

Who to tag? Hmm I know. Feel free to carry on the meme if you want

Spain raises the Eurovision stakes

Spain has risen to the Eurovision challenge laid down by Dustin the Turkey and chosen a reggae-rapper with a grotesquely inflated toupee and a minuscule plastic guitar to represent the nation. Rodolfo Chikilicuatre’s "Baila el chiki chiki" (Dance the chiki chiki) romped home in a televised contest watched by two million Spanish fans who voted by text and email.

The Elvis-parodying performer, flanked by two cheesy dancers, has had to remove mocking references to Spain's recently re-elected Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, his conservative opponent Mariano Rajoy, and the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, to meet Eurovision rules that ban songs with any political content. But the names Jose Luis and Mariano survive, along with Chikilicuatre's grandmother, his nephew and "my mulatta waving her knickers in her hand", who like to "dance the chiki chiki".

Unfortunately many Spaniards take Eurovision seriously: "State television is irresponsible to let Spain be associated in Europe with Chikilicuatre," lamented El Mundo, whose editor called upon Spanish television's director Luis Fernandez to answer before a parliamentary committee for the damage caused to Spain's image. El Pais newspaper commented: "His humorous fabrication sums up the grubbiest of so-called popular music... the painful rubbish Spain has taken to Eurovision in the last 20 years. Let's see if our contribution blows up this deplorable festival of sequins and grinning presenters. We wish him luck."

Chikilicuatre is comedy actor, David Fernandez, 38. His act's all-but-meaningless lyrics and tacky image is the brainchild of the singer-songwriter Pedro Guerra and the comic actor and film director Santiago Segura.