28 April 2008

A 5,200 year old Iranian animation?

The Fortean Times is a fount of knowledge on the unexplained, the odd, the downright bizarre and ths plain old simply fascinating. The new issue arrived next week and it carried an item about this discovery as reported in Animation Magazine: Animation has long been considered a modern invention (the magic lantern dates back to the 17th century; the zoetrope is a 19th century invention). However this does not seem to be the case. A 5,200-year-old bowl found in Iran’s Burnt City in the 1970s features a series of five images that researchers have only recently identified as being sequential, much like those in a zoetrope. Spin the bowl and you would see a goat leaping to snatch leaves from a tree.

The pottery was unearthed from a burial site by Italian archaeologists, who hadn’t noticed the special relationship between the images that adorned the circumference. That discovery was made years later by Iranian archaeologist Dr. Mansur Sadjadi, who was later hired to direct the excavation of The Burnt City, located 57 kilometers from the city of Zabol in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

While no one questions the early instance of animation, researchers have been at odds over the significance of the earthenware bowl’s artwork. It was originally thought to depict the goat eating from the Assyrian Tree of Life, but archaeologists now assert that it predates the Assyrian civilization by a thousand years.

Go to the Animation Magazine article to see a video clip.I don’t know about anyone else but this is the sort of stuff that fascinates me.

Bamiyan host to the earliest oil paintings?

French-based scientists have been investigating paintings at the cave complex at Bamiyan, site, until 2001 when the Taleban government destroyed them for being un-Islamic, of two vast 6th-Century Buddhas.

A team from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble has painstakingly analysed the ancient paintings in those caves. They say that in 12 caves 7th-Century wall-paintings were created using oil paint, derived possibly from walnuts or the poppies which grew in the area. It is believed oil painting in Europe began only some six centuries after this. The findings suggest these may be the oldest known examples anywhere of painting with oil.

The wall-paintings were devotional art showing the Buddha, often in colourful robes. Probably the work was carried out by itinerant artists travelling the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the West.

There are plans to reconstitute the Bamiyan Buddhas but this will be a difficult undertaking – and a low priority undertaking given the state of Afghanistan. It will be a no priority if the Taleban are victorious again

27 April 2008

The plagiarising Polish priest prison palaver.

Poland's 28,000 Roman Catholic priests have been told by church authorities that they may be fined if they are discovered to have plagiarised their sermons from the internet, and could even face up to three years in prison. The church has published a self-help book on writing sermons to lure parish priests away from stealing the words of their fellow clergy.

Father Wieslaw Przyczyna, the co-author of To Plagiarise or not to Plagiarise, told Polish media that the guide had been written to address what had become an increasingly common problem, as more churches put their sermons online and an increasing numbers of priests used the internet. Przyczyna, a sermon expert at Krakow's Pontifical Academy of Theology, added that the book's aim was to shame culprits and prompt them to confess what they had done. "Unfortunately the practice has become more usual than not," he said. "But if a priest takes another priest's words and presents them as his own without saying where he got them from, this is unethical and against the rules of authorship."

The church authorities have said they will start to carry out systematic checks in an attempt to clamp down on the practice and will rely on sharp-eared parishioners to compare online texts with those in Biblioteka Kaznodziejska, a monthly magazine that publishes sermons which have been delivered from the pulpit in Poland.

Przyczyna has already faced a backlash to his anti-plagiarism crusade. He told the online Catholic News Service that he had received complaints for "harassing priests and exposing their weaknesses".

Well there you have it. The Polish church will be clamping down hard on plagiarism among their clergy. I presume a prison sentence will only be applied if the priest also uses litotes while genuflecting with a rubric. Luckily for me they have not set out the sentence for awful acts against alliteration....

26 April 2008

And a couple of blasts from the past

Maid in Heaven - Be Bop Deluxe featuring a youthful Bill Nelson

Breadfan - Budgie. Perhaps it's for the best that they don't make them like this anymore....

Normal service will be resumed

Photo Hunt follows. The not-wife has given me her infection (nothing to do with humps): Head throbbing despite a lack of hangover, sore throat, coughing... My God I think I have the dreaded Man Cold!

I did get to see Persepolis today so the day had a glorious highlight. Anyway here's something weird. I will be delaying photo hunt visits until I feel a bit more with it.

25 April 2008

Photo Hunt - Sign

The subject for this week's Photo Hunt is funny or unique signs. Since I have never photographed a funny or a unique sign I'll just have to be satisfied with these:

This sign is only a couple of hundred yards/metres from my house. Many see this as a chalenge

A little further away is this sign. It is only for the more experienced. People are advised to work up to the longer distance. Someone who did not heed this advice has set out what happened in the bottom right hand corner.

But there is no excuse for ignorance. There are other warning signs that set out what may happen to the over eager:

For example you may end up walking with bow legs.

or suffer knee damage. I can't think of any other meaning myself...

And this is of course one of the humps. They do make sure that cars drive slowly down these roads. Hitting one of them at anything more than walking speed will jar your back and destroy your suspension!

David Irving and the bed & breakfast denier

Given his recent run you would have thought that David Irving would think twice before launching headlong into another court case. His recent form is, let’s say, has been pretty dire: He was declared bankrupt in 2002 after losing a high profile libel case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books (oh dear what a shame...); in 2006 he was sentenced to three years of soap dropping avoidance by an Austrian court/ His latest nemesis is Jennie Allen who runs a B&B in Kew.

Irving had booked a two-week stay last July at Mrs Allen's bed and breakfast so he could visit the nearby National Archives in Kew. But, within four days of his arrival at the £300-a-week guest house, relations between the researcher and his host deteriorated dramatically. According to court documents Mrs Allen believed Mr Irving was unjustifiably moody throughout his stay, unsettling her other guests and behaving rudely towards her. In her statement to the court, she alleged that the scholar said "get out of my sight you evil witch" during a row over his conduct.

Mr Irving "strenuously denied" making the remark or being guilty of any "abusive or intimidating behaviour" towards the other guests at Melbury. He said in his statement of claim to the court that he had only two brief conversations with those in the B&B and spent most of the time in his room or at the National Archives.

The saga came to a head on 4 July last year when Mrs Allen said that, after repeated refusals by Mr Irving to accept her request to leave, she was forced to call police to ask him to end his stay. The historian claimed his landlady only cooled towards him after her solicitor sent her a copy of his Wikipedia entry detailing his views and controversies. Mrs Allen, who emphasised she has never before clashed with a guest and has a long list of repeat visitors to her B&B, denied the claim. Mr Irving said he agreed to leave within two hours of the arrival of the two officers, packing his belongings shortly. He added: "I remarked in a conversational tone that no doubt we would next meet in court."

The judge dismissed his claim for £2,000 in damages for breach of contract after finding that diverging interpretations by Mr Irving and his landlady of her terms and conditions meant she had been within her rights to ask him to leave. He was ordered to pay Mrs Allen £60 towards her costs and her bus fare to the court.

He is hoping to change his luck with a pending lawsuit against Exxonmobil. He will be claiming that the advertising slogan “Put a tiger in your tank” is a gross misrepresentation given that Esso stations only sell petrol.


Ted likes to set the alarm on on the CD player. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

24 April 2008

Gobelki Tepe

Gobelki Tepe is a hilltop sanctuary built on mountain ridge not far from the town oSanlurfa in southeast Turkey. Klaus Schmidt is a German archaeologist who has found something astonishing: a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet.

"This place is a supernova," said Schmidt "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here."

Compared with Stonehenge (Why doesn’t cite Carnac or Avebury for once!) , they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated are more than 30 metres across. T-shaped pillars like the rest, two five-metre stones tower at least a metre above their peers. What makes them remarkable are their carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

The people who erected them did not have pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages but they were hunters, not farmers. "Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilisations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", said Ian Hodder, a Stanford University professor of anthropology. "Gobekli changes everything. It's elaborate, it's complex and it is pre-agricultural. That alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."

With only a fraction of the site opened up after a decade of excavation, Gobekli Tepe's significance to the people who built it remains unclear. Some think it was the centre of a fertility rite, with the two tall stones at the centre of each circle representing a man and woman. Schmidt is sceptical. He agrees Gobekli Tepe may well be "the last flowering of a semi-nomadic world that farming was just about to destroy", and points out that if it is in near perfect condition today, it is because those who built it buried it soon after under tons of soil, as though its wild animal-rich world had lost all meaning.

"I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods," he said Schmidt "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers.In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all. What is this universe? Why are we here?"

Give your loved one Roadkill

You’ve bought them Giant Microbes and a My Little Cthulhu with extra victims so what do you get the ghoul in your life that has everything?

Toy makers Compost Creations have just the thing for your loved one with dubious tastes: Roadkill toys! Twitch the raccoon is the first of a whole menagerie or flattened furry friends: He comes in his own body bag and toe tag. All you need to to get the full roadkill effect is to open zips on his side and let the gore pour out!

Toy creator Adam Arber, 33, from London, said: 'I got the idea from looking at my mother-in-law's dog which is quite ugly and I thought it would make a great toy. A friend of mine had taken some pictures of road kill and the two things gelled into one idea.' He said he thought the toy, which costs £25, would appeal to people with a sense of humour and 'probably not anyone easily upset'.

Twitch will be joined shortly by Grind the Rabbit, Splodge the Hedgehog (who will also be available as a mouse mat sorry, mouse splat!). Pop the Weasel (a doorstop), Fender Fox (a very different sort of nodding dog for the back of your car!) and a door mat called Puddle the Vole. I was thinking of getting the not-wife an Oscar de la Renta chemise for her birthday but I know what she’ll like these more!

23 April 2008

No sex please we're fishes

The Amazon Molly is a species of fish found in Mexico and Texas. The location of this fish is not remarkable; the fact that it is all female and has survived for 70,000 years without reproducing sexually, is pretty remarkable though!

Typically, when creatures reproduce asexually, harmful changes creep into their genes over many generations. The species will eventually have problems reproducing and can often fall victim to extinction. According to evolutionary models the fish ought to have become extinct within the past 70,000 years. However, scientists from the University of Edinburgh think the Amazon Molly may be employing special genetic survival "tricks" to avoid becoming extinct.

The offspring are clones of their mother and it is possible that the fish may occasionally be taking some of the DNA from males of other species in order to refresh their gene pool. Dr Laurence Loewe, of the university's School of Biological Sciences, said: "What we have shown now is that this fish really has something special going on and that some special tricks exist to help this fish survive. Maybe there is still occasional sex with strangers that keeps the species alive. Future research may give us some answers."

I have resolved to ensure that the not-wife never hears of this. She may think that abstinence is a good thing and then I would have to call her Lysistrate

St George is, inter alia, the Patron Saint of:

Portugal, Georgia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Agricutural workers, Moscow, Catalonia, Aragon,Majorca, Palestinian christians, Beirut, Butchers, Freemasons, Armourers, Field workers, Horsemen, Knights, Sheperds, Saddlers, Sheep, Horses, Syphilitics, Herpes sufferers, Soldiers and Skin diseases

Oh and England too of course! If a patron saint deserves a day off it's him!

21 April 2008

Philip M Parker - Author Extraordinaire

If you search for Philip M Parker on Amazon you will find thousands of book titles, including:

  • The 2007 Report on Wood Toilet Seats: World Market Segmenting by City
  • The 2007-2012 Word outlook for Agricultural Take-off Driven Power Sprayers over 4G.p,m Excluding Row Crop and Field Types
  • The 2007 Import and Export Market for Seaweeds and Other Algae in France.

Let us not forget also The 2007-2012 Outlook for Edible Tallow and Stearin Made in Slaughtering Plants in Greater China.

Despite having written over 200,000 books, Philip M Parker is not a full time author (with or without very tired arms). He is a professor of management science at Insead, an international business school based in Fontainebleau in France. After reading a 1999 complaint by the Economist that publishing "has continued essentially unchanged since Gutenberg. Letters are still written, books bound, newspapers printed and distributed much as they ever were", he patented s a "method and apparatus for automated authoring and marketing".

What he has effectively developed is a book-writing machine. It works by feeding it a recipe for writing a particular genre of book into a computer - a tome about crossword puzzles, say, or a market outlook for products. The computer is hooked up to a big database full of info about crossword puzzles or market information. The computer uses the recipe to select data from the database and write and format it into book form. Parker estimates that it costs him about 12p to write a book.

Nothing but the title need actually exist until somebody orders a copy. At that point, a computer assembles the book's content and prints up a single copy.

So there you have it. If you are ever stuck for an absorbing read don’t forget "The 2007-2012 World Outlook For Bridges, Crowns, Dentures and Other Orthodontic Appliances That Are Customised For Individual Application on a Prescription Basis" – at a mere £398.34 from Amazon it won’t burn a hole in your pocket!

Anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s seminal work Theory of Cinematic Art shamefully ignored in the decadent West

According to the Korean Central News Agency (the journalists that give you nothing but the plain unadulterated facts)Saturday saw the 35th anniversary of Kim Jong Il's cultural masterpiece "Theory of Cinematic Art" . It serves as a great programme for the building of socialist literature and art as it systematizes the Juche-oriented literary and art ideas and theories and methods in an integral manner.

The work has originality, great attraction and vitality as it systematizes from a new angle all issues arising in building and creating socialist literature and art as a Juche-oriented idea and theory of literature and art and guiding method and evolves all-round theories of politics, economy, ideology, morality and culture and all other fabrics of social life and all fields. The theory of seed whose validity has been fully proved not only in the field of literature and art but in all fields of revolution and construction today, in particular, was enunciated by Kim Jong Il in a unique manner in the days when he brought about a radical turn in the movie industry and literature and art.

He never laid down the great guidelines for building the Juche-oriented literature and art in his study or in his office. These were provided in the crucible of the dynamic drive to effect a signal turn in the movie industry. Herein lies another aspect of the greatness, scientific accuracy and truth of his ideas and theories. He also brought about a radical turn in the fields of opera and drama, thereby effecting a signal turn in literature, music, fine art and all other fields of literature and art. Korea of Juche thus witnessed the renaissance of the 20th century that startled the world people, concludes the article.

Just to underline this point here is an example of Korean animation in which a child foils a US invasion, learns geometry in the process then forms a maths cell in accordance with Juche principles. Enjoy!

Getting a wry laugh out of KCNA is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, eh?

20 April 2008

The Limerick Soviet

On Sunday, 6th April 1919, the IRA launched a mission to rescue Robert J. Byrne. Byrne was a prominent Limerick trade unionist and IRA member who had been sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for possession of a revolver and ammunition without authority. Byrne and other IRA members in Limerick jail had gone on hunger strike in an attempt to seek status as political prisoners. Byrne's health deteriorated seriously and he had been transferred, under police guard, to Limerick Workhouse Hospital.

The rescue attempt was an utter failure. A constable was shot dead, a second was wounded; Byrne himself had been injured fatally. In response Limerick city was proclaimed a 'special military area' under the control of the British Army. On11th April, a large area in and around the Borough of Limerick was declared to be under martial law. Anyone who wished to enter this area could do so only if they carried permits issued by the British military on the recommendation of the Royal Irish Constabulary. No exception would to be made for workers commuting to and from their jobs that were often outside the proclaimed area.

The unions responded by calling a general strike from 14th April, until the end of martial law. The strike had an immediate success. Even small shop-keepers, participated readily enough in the strike. To avoid a food shortage, the Strike Committee established a subordinate body to organise the supply of food to Limerick. It opened a food depot on the north bank of the River Shannon to take supplies (mainly of milk, potatoes and butter) from the farmers of Co. Clare. The sub-committee operated four distribution depots from which it was fixing the retail prices for its sales. It even organised the supply of hay for cart horses.

Fortuitously the strike gained international publicity: A transatlantic air race was to take place at the same time. One of the competitors had planned to refuel at an airfield near Limerick. As a result many reporters were in the city including representatives of the Chicago Tribune, the Paris Matin, and the Associated Press of America.. Needless to say they reported the strike

However, the strike did not receive the support of the Trade Unions Congress in London which declared the actions in Limerick to be political. Accordingly it instructed unions to refuse strike pay to those of their members that were involved in it. Meanwhile an initiative by the Mayor and the Bishop of Limerick to reach a compromise with the British military resulted in an agreement that if the soviet ended and there was no trouble in the proclaimed area for a week after then the Military Permit Order would be revoked.

On 27 April Strike Committee declared that declared that strike notices were withdrawn for those working within the boundary of the proclaimed area. The permits were subsequently revoked.

Was the Limerick Soviet a failure? I suppose that depends on how you look at it. As the catalyst for a socialist revolution then it was an abject failure; as a protest against the imposition of a repressive travel permit system then it was a success. It’s still a fascinating little slice of history.

Here is a tv item about the Limerick Soviet that was broadcast on RTE

Click here for an online copy of a book written by Liam Cahill about the Limerick Soviet written in 1990

Libcom has an article here about the Soviet. This post was based to a large extent on this article

One giant step for advertising

Did you ever try to see shapes in clouds but lacked the imagination? Well the days of peering into the skies and seeing nothing but an amorphous mass of droplets (or ice crystals) are over A US company aims to has invented a way of making "clouds" in more or less any shape you chose. However, the “clouds” that people will actually see are more likely to be advertising logos.

Called flogos the clouds are a mixture of soap-based foams and lighter-than-air gases. The company uses re-purposed artificial snow machines to generate floating adverts at a rate of four two foot by one foot flogos per minute. They will last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on conditions in the atmosphere, and generally bob to heights of 300 to 500 feet (90 to 150 meters) though they can rise up to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) in the air. The floating ads are not a danger to airplanes, because flying through one is like going through a cloud. Nothing from the Flogo will stick to the surface of a plane.

Advertisers have already decided to use flogos to target what they describe as difficult markets. Clive Felcher of leading Ad agency Halberd Begley said “ even in the UK there is a surprisingly large section of the population who, because they are ascetics who spend their days on poles a-la Simeon Stylites, do not watch or listen to commercial radio and television. They rarely read newspapers or use the internet either. I am sure that the flogo will go a long way to tap this market. Leon Capgras, creative director at Otis Lambda is not so sure that this approach will be so effective: “ targeting stylites, gurus and other pole sitters is a bold move to be sure, but ascetics do not really have much disposable income”

While you’re at it check out all that is best in on-line enlightenment at the Freelance Guru

18 April 2008

Photo Hunt - Thirteen

Perhaps I should title the post "clash of the tie-tans" The subject for this week's Photo Hunt is thirteen. So here are thirteen of my work ties. As you can see I have a liking for William Morris, floral and stripe patterns.

Two cats and a mugshot

A typical scene at Hope Cottages. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

17 April 2008

Move over John Innes,

Having put hurt my back at the weekend trying to lug a 75litre bag of Levingtons multipurpose compost from the car to the greenhouse (I got nowhere near the greenhouse – the bag is still sat by the back door chuckling to itself, the bastard!), I am very, very keen to discover new sources of growing media for our seedlings and container plants. While choosing smaller bags of compost may be the most practical option I am intrigued by research which may just have the answer to my prayers, Sadly the source of the miracle medium requires a slightly longer drive than the one from Hope Cottages to Roots and Shoots in Upminster,

It would seem that an ESA-linked team has shown that marigolds can grow in crushed rock very like the lunar surface, with no need for plant food. A team led by Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz from the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite, a type of rock found on Earth which is very similar to much of the lunar surface. In neat anorthosite, the plants fared very badly. But adding different types of bacteria made them thrive; the bacteria appeared to draw elements from the rock that the plants needed, such as potassium.

Dr Foing, who presented the study at a recent European Geosciences Union meeting, said there was no reason in principle why the same idea could not bear fruit on the Moon itself. Tools could crush lunar rock and add bacteria and seeds. But, he added, scientists could look to go further, by selecting plants or bacteria that are especially well adapted to lunar conditions, or even by genetically engineering new strains.

There has been a revival of interest in Moon exploration in recent years. Europe's Smart 1 probe with its innovative ion engine ended its mission in 2006 with a deliberate crash onto the lunar surface. China's Chang'e 1 and Japan's Kaguya (or Selene) orbiters both began operations last year, while India's Chandrayaan 1 is due for launch within months. The US, meanwhile, is committed to putting human feet back on lunar soil by 2020.

ESA is not yet sure about further Moon missions; a decision on whether to proceed with a concept called Moon Next, which would probably deploy a roving vehicle in about 2015, will be taken later this year. Even if that gets the go-ahead, some ESA officials suggested that planting marigolds (or tulips or cabbages) would be unlikely to be part of the strategy.

Fur Das Kind - Vienna

This is rather a late post about the unveiling of a Kindertransport memorial in Vienna. The text and the photos were provided by the artist Flor Kent and are used with her permission.

In a dignified ceremony a sculpture pays tribute to Britain. Für Das Kind- Vienna at Westbahnhof Railway Station commemorates the kindertransport operation which saved the lives of thousands of children 70 years ago

"And the distant whistle of the train / now in my ear still rings. What's going on? Nothing. Some Jews go into the wide world." Recited by actor Cornelius Obonya, the poem "Jews at the station" by Walter Linden opened last Friday's moving ceremony surrounding the unveiling of "Für Das Kind- Vienna by Flor Kent at Austria's Westbahnhof station.

The event coincided with the 70th Anniversary of the Anschluss and was inaugurated by Austria's Minister of Transport Werner Faymann and Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg in the presence of hundreds of "kinder" and descendants from all over the world. For many of them, now in their seventies and eighties, it was their first time back in Vienna since their escape as children with the Kindertransport.

During a period of nine months in 1938-39 - before the outbreak of the Second World War - 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were saved from persecution by the Nazi regime and brought to Britain. The Kindertransports were organized at the time with the help of Christians of many denominations, Christadelphians, Quakers and Jews together. Austrian children went from Vienna-Westbahnhof Railway Station in the direction of Holland, where they travelled in ships to England.

"We celebrate today a rare moment of light at a time of true darkness. The elements within the work offers evidence and witness to this historical event" said Kent.

Unveiling of Für Das Kind- Vienna with (l-r) Minister of Transport Werner Fayman Austria's Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg, artist Flor Kent and "Kind" Sara Schreiber with her family, including great grandson Sam Morris who was the model for the sculpture

An emotional high point for numerous survivors was the appearance of the boy who served as a model for the artist to use in the memorial: the nine-year-old Sam Morris in the company of his great-grandmother Sara Schreiber, and who spoke on behalf of the "kinder". ". Without the help of courageous people who helped during the persecution "I would not be born, my statue would not be here because I would not exist. It will remind everyone how precious life is” said the lad with a broad English accent.

It is the small boy in Kent's sculpture which sits on a large suitcase looking into the distance. Over 200 "Kinder" and their descendants from all over the world attended the ceremony. Milli Segal, initiator of the project, recalled the 10,000 rescued children in view of to the one and a half million children murdered "on the conscience" of the Nazi regime.

For most of this occasion was their first time in Austria since they left as children 70 years before. Schreiber said "I left Austria from this station and was with my mother here for the last time . I have in my head my last picture of her in this place, "Auf Wiedersehen" she said. Schreiber was saved by Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, who personally rescued more than four thousand children and many other thousands of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis. Other Kinder saved by Christadelphians and Quakers also talked about their experiences.

Minister Faymann said the appearance of Sam Morris was a sign "that the next generation will not forget." "During the Nazi terror regime humans were often sent from the stations to their deaths, this action succeeded to send people also from this station to life." Peter Klugar, chairman of OBB Holding Company, said: "This always has to be heard about so that it never happens again".

I know I have said this several times before but I loved the original kindertransport memorial at Liverpool Street station. I would spend a lot time looking at the memorabilia the children brought with them, family photos (virtually of the adults were murdered during the Holocaust), books (you can see a copy of Struwwelpeter top left) , a glove puppet of a Siamese cat. The memorabilia is now at the Imperial War Museum. The statue itself has not yet got a new home. I hope it will - it deserves to be seen.

You would think that after being vaporised in a nuclear blast the coral reefs of the Bikini Atoll would still be in a pretty bad shape. It would seem that they are doing quite well.

Three islands of Bikini Atoll were obliterated by the Bravo hydrogen bomb in 1954. Instead of finding a bare underwater moonscape, ecologists who have dived it have given the 2-kilometre-wide crater a clean bill of health. Researchers report a thriving ecosystem of 183 species of coral, some of which were 8 metres high. They estimate that the diversity of species represents about 65% of what was present before the atomic tests.

The ecologists think the nearby Rongelap Atoll is seeding the Bikini Atoll, and the lack of human disturbance is helping its recovery. Although the ambient radiation is low, people have remained at bay."Apart from occasional forays of illegal shark, tuna and Napoleon Wrasse fishing, the reef is almost completely undisturbed to this day," says Maria Beger of the University of Queensland. "There are very few local inhabitants and the divers who visit dive on shipwrecks, like the USS Saratoga, and not on the reef."

Radiation levels on the reefs are similar to that at any Australian city. But don’t eat the coconuts Because they accumulate radioactive material from the soil, they still send Geiger counters berserk.

16 April 2008

A Triple googlewhack post

Usmanov Coprophage - that's a googlewhack!
Usmanov Coprophagy - that's a googlewhack!
Schillings Coprophage - that's a googlewhack too!

Note to bottom feeding lawyers: these combinations are not to be taken as an allegation of coprophagy. If you think they do then you really can eat what coprophages eat!

Schillings still trying to gag bloggers

You would have thought that Jabba the Uzbek and his pack of shysters (trans. Alisher Usmanov and Schillings) would have realised that issuing take down notices to internet service providers to silence allegations about his criminal past were counter-productive. The ham fisted attempt to gag Craig Murray and Tim Ireland united Arsenal fans and people of all political persuasions. Rather than suppress the allegations they were spread across the blogosphere. They were discussed on the national news and were even repeated in the European Parliament,

This is probably old news but Schillings were still trying to gag allegations in February. On 22 February South African blogger Pickled Bushman received a letter from Schillings in his inbox – Usmanov’s bottom feeders had sent a take-down notice to his ISP demanding that a post restating Craig Murray’s allegations be taken down. Pickled Bushman has removed the post from his site but has reposted it and the letter from Schillings on a site hosted in South Africa. Schillings and Usmanov can huff and puff but they can’t blow the posts down.

Good for Pickled Bushman. It is absolutely ridiculous that Shills, sorry Schillings, are still trying the same tired tactics to defend the reputation (hahahahaha) of a very ugly character (and I’m not referring to the fact that he is pulchritudally challenged).

Europe’s oldest trees?

At an age of anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland was believed to be the oldest tree in Europe (It is likely to be nearer 2,000 years old rather than 5,000. The age of yews can’t be measured by counting tree rings). It would seem that it has lost this record: scientists have found a cluster of spruces in western Sweden which, at an age of up to 8,000 years, may even be the world's oldest living trees.

The Norway spruces were found in a mountain range that separates Norway and Sweden. Carbon dating of the trees carried out at a laboratory in Miami showed the oldest of them first set root about 8,000 years ago, making it the world's oldest known living tree, Two other spruces, also found in the course of climate change studies in the Swedish county of Dalarna, were shown to be 4,800 and 5,500 years old.

"These were the first woods that grew after the Ice Age," said Lars Hedlund, responsible for environmental surveys in the county of Dalarna, Sweden "That means that when you speak of climate change today, you can in these (trees) see pretty much every single climate change that has occurred."

California's "Methuselah" tree, a Great Basin bristlecone pine, is often cited as the world's oldest living tree with a recorded age of between 4,500 and 5,000 years.

14 April 2008

The problems of parenthood

Since time immemorial parents have argued over what is best for their children. It does not matter whether the argument is about choosing Eton or Harrow or Coco pops or Frosties parents have their child’s interests at heart. Sometimes, however, such arguments can get a little heated.

So it was that an argument between Joseph Manzanares and his girlfriend over the future of their four year old became somewhat lively. Sandoval was arrested in Commerce City Colorado after he stormed into the video store where his girlfriend worked, threatening to kill her and knocking over several video displays and a computer. He subsequently pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to a year of probation.

Arresting officer Joe Sandoval explained that the couple had been arguing about the upbringing of their son and which gang he should belong to. The teen mother is a member of the Crips. Manzanares on the other hand belongs to the Westside Ballers gang. "They have different ideas on how the baby should be raised. Basically, she said they cannot agree on which gang the baby would 'claim,'" he said.

Choosing a gang is one of the biggest choices a child can make and it is simply not acceptable for a parent to turn violent over the matter. If the parents cannot agree to initiate the child in one of their “alma maters” then they should consider a suitable compromise. Better still they could teach the child about the relative virtues of the Crips and the Westside Ballers and let him make his own mind up.

Another story culled from the Breaking News section of the Fortean Times.

No FT, No Comment!

And while I'm at it here's kitten Ted warholized

And now off to rest my back. I should have learned to get smaller bags of compost by now....

Jams O Donnell Warholized

Lots of other people are doing this so I thought I'd give it a go too!

13 April 2008

Things are bad when the Mayor suggests abandoning a town.

In the episode Trash of the Titans, Homer Simpson is elected Sanitation Commissioner for Springfield. Needless to say his actions make the town uninhabitable so the population re-establishes Springfield a few miles down the road..

Chapayevsk is a town of about 70,000 inhabitants in European Russia not far from Samara. It was founded about a century ago and was named 1929, after a Bolshevik Civil War hero. It was the site of a chemical weapons factory that churned out mustard gas and other deadly weapons in industrial quantities. Safety was not even a secondary concern with toxic chemicals frequently spilling over into factory drains and out into the environment. Over time the city's water became contaminated with dioxins and other poisons. The factory now produces herbicides but the pollution in the air and the ground is there to stay

The situation is so dire that the Mayor, Nikolai Malakhov, feels the best option is to abandon the town completely. At a round table meeting on the environment in Samara he said that resettling the town's residents would be an "ideal solution" to Chapayevsk's problems

A study undertaken in 2005 found that not only was the air in Chapayevsk contaminated with dioxins, but also locally produced fruit and vegetables, as well as the meat from locally farmed animals. The more local produce that people ate, the more likely they were to get ill. According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the fatality rates from throat, liver and kidney cancer in Chapayevsk are three times higher than in nearby cities. The American study found a whole range of sexual abnormalities in Chapayevsk boys, who typically have a late start to puberty.The town also has a high level of unemployment, and one of the highest levels of heroin use in the country, which is contributing to the start of an HIV epidemic.

While a spokesperson at the local parliament denied that there was any serious talk of relocating the town's inhabitants, abandoning the town might be the most economically viable option. "For 100 years, factories in Chapayevsk have been producing weapons, powders and chemical components," Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Russia's official environmental watchdog, told a Russian agency. "There are several cities like this in Russia. But we can spend 50m roubles (£1m) on recultivating the stream that runs through the village that has been contaminated, and nothing will improve. To do it right, we'd have to dig a new channel, redirect the stream there, and remove all the soil. Can you imagine how much that would cost? The only sensible way to solve this problem is with resettlement."

Sometimes Life imitates art (or at least suggests the imitation). Sadly life is rarely as funny as the Simpsons in its prime. This case is far from a laughing matter.

Long live King Franz!

Gordon Brown is apparently considering repealing the 1701 Act of Settlement. Removing a grossly anti-Catholic piece of legislation does appeal to this Romish-person-turned-agnostic (I’m just can’t be bothered making the effort required to become an atheist!) in that it pretty ugly stuff in this day and age.

However, repealing teh Act may have the consequence of making a 74-year-old German aristocrat the new King of England and Scotland. Without it, Franz Herzog von Bayern, the current Duke of Bavaria, would be the rightful heir to the British Crown under the Stuart line. The bachelor, who lives alone in the vast Nymphenberg Palace in Munich, is the blood descendant of the 17th-century King Charles I.

The Act was introduced as part of the power struggle between Parliament, the Christian churches and the monarchy, then dominated by the House of Stuart. It prohibits any Roman Catholic from having access to the throne, even through marriage. Once a person marries a "Papist" they shall be "for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Crown", it asserts. The legislation severed the Stuart line of succession, a family who favoured Catholicism, and switched it to their distant relatives the Hanoverians, from which our current Queen descends. James II, the son of King Charles, fled into exile.

The direct Stuart line died out in 1807 with the passing of the “Young Pretender’s” brother Henry Benedict Stuart (known to the Jacobites as Henry IX and known in the Vatican as Cardinal Duke of York). The Act 's reach continues today. Prince Michael of Kent renounced his claim to the throne when he married Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, a Catholic divorcee, in 1978. Peter Phillips, who is 11th in line to the throne, will be denied a very, very remote possibility of being king when he marries Canadian Catholic Autumn Kelly.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, whose brief includes constitutional affairs, said the Government was ready to consider repealing the Act, although he added that it was an extremely complicated issue. Dr Eveline Cruikshanks, the author of The Glorious Revolution and a former president of the Royal Stuart Society, said: "They ought to repeal the Act. The language is particularly offensive to Catholics and should go."

Patrick Cracroft-Brennan, the editor of Cracroft's Peerage, said that while theoretically the Duke's claim was good, it could never be actioned because Parliament now effectively chose the monarch. "It is a very interesting hypothesis and theoretically he is the head of the House of Stuart," he said. "But the Government effectively chooses the monarch now and it is highly unlikely to remove the Windsors from the throne."

As for the Duke of Bavaria himself, he has always laughed off pretensions to the British crown and prefers to concentrate on his modern art collection. Baron Marcus Bechtolsheim, the president of the administration of the Duke of Bavaria, said: "The Duke generally does not comment on this issue because he sees it as an entirely British question which does not concern him. And he regards it as a purely hypothetical issue. Even if this change in Britain happens, it won't change his attitude. All this interest in his opinion makes him smile because, really, he is very happy and satisfied with being the Duke of Bavaria."

Ah it's good to see he is happy with his humble status as a duke!

12 April 2008

When the government really does beam voices into your head

According to a recent New Scientist article a declassified US Army report on the biological effects of non-lethal weapons revealed outlandish plans for "ray gun" devices, which would cause artificial fevers or beam voices into people's heads.

The Bioeffects Of Selected Nonlethal Weapons was released under the US Freedom of Information Act. Released by US Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Meade, Maryland, the 1998 report gives an overview of what was then the state of the art in directed energy weapons for crowd control and other applications.

Some of the technologies are conceptual, such as an electromagnetic pulse that causes a seizure like those experienced by people with epilepsy. Other ideas, like a microwave gun to "beam" words directly into people's ears, have been tested. It is claimed that the so-called "Frey Effect" – using close-range microwaves to produce audible sounds in a person's ears – has been used to project the spoken numbers 1 to 10 across a lab to volunteers'.

The report also discusses a microwave weapon able to produce a disabling "artificial fever" by heating a person's body. While tests of the idea are not mentioned, the report notes that the necessary equipment "is available today". It adds that while it would take at least fifteen minutes to achieve the desired "fever" effect, it could be used to incapacitate people for almost "any desired period consistent with safety."

However, the report does not mention any trials of weapons for producing artificial fever or seizures, or beaming voices into people's heads.

Steve Wright, a security expert at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, warned that the technologies described could be used for torture. In 1998 the European Parliament passed a motion banning potentially dangerous incapacitating technologies that interfere with the human brain."The epileptic seizure inducing device is grossly irresponsible and should never be fielded," says Steve Wright "We know from similar [chemically] artificially-induced fits that the victim subsequently remains "potentiated" and may spontaneously suffer epileptic fits again after the initial attack."

More hare-brained stuff from the people who didn’t bring you the Gay bomb . I suppose the words in ears thing is grist to the mill of the tinfoil hat brigade. On the other had I can imagine the advertising industry would love to get their hands on such a device!

Mr Everything is Indian

The Royal Family is Indian

Santa is Indian

One of my favourite characters from Goodness Gracious Me

11 April 2008

Photo Hunt - Twisted

The subject for this week's entry for Photo Hunt is twisted. We still have not taken down the string or cut down the dead Morning Glory stems from last summer. The test of the string and the twisted nateure of the plant provide a double whammy for this week's theme

Jamsodonnell defined

jamsodonnell --


'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Suits me fine especially when someone pisses me off at work! Hat tip to Snoopy the Goon for this one

Zoellick warns on hunger and biofuels

Rocketing global food prices are causing acute problems of hunger and malnutrition in poor countries and have put back the fight against poverty by seven years, the World Bank said yesterday. Robert Zoellick , the Bank's president, called on rich countries to commit an extra $500m (£250m) immediately to the World Food Programme, and sign up to what he called a "New Deal for global food policy".

"In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it's getting more and more difficult every day. In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years."

The Bank's analysis chimes with research from the International Monetary Fund which shows that Africa will be the hardest hit continent from rising food prices. More than 20 African countries will see their trade balance worsen by more than 1% of GDP through having to pay more for food.

Gordon Brown has written to his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, who is chairman of the G8 industrialised countries, calling for a "fully-co-ordinated response" to the food crisis.Zoellick welcomed Brown's initiative, and said this weekend's meetings of the World Bank and the IMF had to do more than simply identify the scale of the crisis. The Bank also plans to double its loans to agriculture projects in developing countries in 2008, to $800m.

Riots have broken out in several countries, including Mexico and India, as a response to the rapid rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs over the past 12 months. A number of governments have imposed export bans on commodities, to try to bring prices under control. Zoellick warned against such protectionist responses.He was also critical of the dash to grow crops for biofuels. The US and EU have encouraged wider use of such fuels to try to tackle climate change and provide an alternative to oil, but the policy has sometimes diverted agricultural land away from food and exacerbated price rises.

Liz Stuart, spokeswoman for Oxfam, said: "Europe and the US must stop adding fuel to fire by increasing crop production for biofuels. These have dubious environment benefits, and by driving up prices, are crippling the lives of the poor."

And now Robyn in a box

Robyn is not normally a box cat but one the one for the Terracotta army figurine I bought at teh British Museum exhibition is just his size. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

10 April 2008

Happiness is a warm mop

Having embarked on a distinguished test match career you are now likely to live to a ripe old age. However, longevity is nothing is you are unhappy. Mercifully a survey suggests that you can stay cheerful in your twilight years by strenuous housework.

According to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine just 20 minutes of sustained exercise a week – including cleaning - can impact upon depression. Moreover, the more strenuous and frequent the activity, the greater the effect.

University College London researchers looked at a survey of 20,000 people on weekly exercise and state of mind. Another study in the journal also found such exercise among the middle-aged and elderly may delay the ageing process. The more active they were, the less likely they were to be suffering in this way. Taking part in sports at least once a week lowered the risk by 33%, while housework and walking could cut it by as much as 20%. The activity needed to be for at least 20 minutes at a time, and had to induce breathlessness.

Researchers did however concede they were unable to work out the nature of the relationship, and that those with mental health problems may be less likely to exercise in the first place. "Many studies suggest benefits for mental health from exercise, and for the first time we have been able to quantify the amount of activity which seems to make a difference," said Mark Hamer of University College London. "But it is a chicken and egg issue - as those who suffer from stress or anxiety may be less likely to take part in physical activity in the first place."

Sane, the mental health charity, noted that the reasons for distress were often poorly understood and that in severe cases people needed to seek professional help. But "this study may offer hope to those suffering mental pain that small, manageable lifestyle changes can improve mental wellbeing", said spokesman Richard Colwill. "The brain is as much a 'physical' organ as the heart or lungs, so perhaps it should not come as a surprise that even little amounts of regular exercise can begin to reduce psychological distress."

Another study finds that even if the relationship between strenuous activity and mental health is unclear, those who opt for it may enjoy a more independent old age. Regular aerobic exercise in middle-age and beyond trains the body to use oxygen more effectively in generating energy, researchers at the University of Toronto found after looking at 400 adults aged between 55 and 85. This in turn seems to delay biological ageing by as much as 12 years.

So if you don’t fancy jogging or gym work outs then some extreme ironing or full contact scrubbing will keep a smile on your face long after you get your bus pass.

Research suggests stalwarts of the England cricket team such as Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan can look forward to a long life. A University of St Andrews study which appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analysed data on the 418 cricketers who played Test match cricket for England between 1876 and 1963.

This enabled him to take account of the impact of social background - which is known to influence longevity - by drawing a distinction between amateur "gentlemen" players and professional cricketers (a distinction that was scrapped in 1963), who tended to have more humble roots.

Overall, "gentleman amateurs" who played in many Test matches lived an average of 79.3 years, while those who played in just a few Tests lived to an average of 75.0 years. "Professional" players who made many Test appearances lived to an average of 76.6 years, but the average life expectancy of those who played in few Tests was just 71.5 years.

Previous research has suggested that people in low status jobs may be more likely to suffer from poor health, possibly due to stress and frustration (This was amply borne out in the Whitehall Studies).Professor Boyle said his findings suggested that the converse may also be true: success in a satisfying job may boost health. "Playing for the national side is the pinnacle of a cricketing career and is likely to have long-term benefits, both in terms of kudos and future working opportunities.” He said. "It seems reasonable to suppose that reaching such a privileged position would therefore have long-term implications for the person involved."

Professor Boyle said it was possible that the most-capped players were simply stronger and healthier than their colleagues, but he argued that the physical difference between players who played a small or large number of tests was likely to be very small.

However, he found no association between captaining England - which could be defined as the ultimate success - and longevity.

Dr Tarani Chandola, from University College London, has carried out research into the effect of stress in the workplace. "Most studies have investigated the negative health impacts of work stress. There are a few that suggest positive success at work has long-lasting positive health effects - and that it is not simply the lack of work stress that contributes to good health among high status groups."

So playing cricket at the highest level cam increase your longevity? As someone who emphatically failed Norman Tebbit’s cricket test there was never a chance of that! I can say, however, that watching cricket does seem to extend life – a five-day test match would pass more slowly than the Hundred Years War

A spy who infiltrated a direct action anti-aviation group was been exposed after making a series of such elementary errors that he made the spies Abwehr sent to Ireland in WWII look like James Bond...

Toby Kendall joined Plane Stupid, the group that occupied the roof of the Houses of Parliament last month, after graduating from Oxford last year. He told the activists that his name was “Ken Tobias” and said that he was deeply concerned by the impact of the aviation industry on climate change and that he wanted to help to organise protests. But his habit of wearing a Palestinian scarf with his Armani jeans and designer shirt made some members question his identity. He was also the only member to turn up early to every meeting but had no friends in the activist community. He took part in protests, dressing as a penguin in one stunt, but always tried to remain in the background.

Plane Stupid began a mole hunt and, after feeding him false information that found its way within two days to the aviation industry, discovered his real name and employer. Mr Kendall, 24, works for C2i International (or is that worked), a counter-intelligence company run by former special forces officers. It claims that its agents are “hand-picked from Special Operations at New Scotland Yard”. Its website puts “aerospace” at the top of a list of industries for which it works.

BAA, which owns Heathrow, has repeatedly been targeted by Plane Stupid but stated “...we do not have a relationship with C2i or the individual in question.”

Justin King, C2i’s managing director, claimed to have been unaware of Mr Kendall’s infiltration of Plane Stupid. He said Mr Kendall was employed to carry out counter-surveillance such as “debugging company offices”. He added: “The security industry is full of people on the circuit who masquerade as this and that. When they are not working for us how can we stop them from working for other people?” Asked how he felt about one of his team infiltrating a protest group, he said: “I’m not particularly happy about it. We will have to look into it.”

A spokesman for the Plane Stupid said: “This special agent was more Austin Powers than James Bond, though the question still remains, who paid for the spy?”