31 May 2008

What I was listening to about 26 years ago

Spirit - Bauhaus

Temptation - New Order

The Cure - 100 Years

Fireworks - Siouxsie and the Banshees

Asylums in Jerusalem - Scritti Politti

And for contrast Number of the Beast - Iron Maiden

and some Motorhead - Iron Fist

The strange case of the de-evolving crustacean

First identified in 1899, facetotectans (aka y-larvae) have been a puzzle to zoologists for over a century. No one has ever found an adult of this puzzling crustacean, despite the plethora of larvae, leading generations of marine zoologists to wonder just what y- larvae grow up to be. A new study reports the transformation of the larvae into a previously unseen, wholly un-crustacean-like, parasitic form.

Facetotectans are found amongst marine plankton in oceans from the poles to the tropics. Despite being ubiquitous and similar to the larvae of barnacles, not one adult y-organism has been identified in over 100 years of searching.

"Facetotectans are the only crustacean group with a taxonomy based solely on larval stages", say Henrik Glenner and Jens Hoeg of the University of Copenhagen "but the great species diversity indicates that the adults play an important ecological role." The study authors collected over 40 species of y larvae from a site at Sesoko Island near Okinawa, Japan, and exposed many of them to a crustacean moulting-hormone to encourage them to mature. The free-swimming y-larvae shed their articulated exoskeleton, and a simple, slug- like, pulsing mass of cells emerged.

The authors explain "The musculature and compound eyes that you might expect to see in adult crustaceans were in a state of degeneration, and from our observations of the live, and also preserved specimens, we conclude that the adults of these larvae must be parasites -- but of what we do not know."

The great diversity of Facetotecta and the finding that they are most likely parasitic as adults hints at a major ecological role that future studies, both in laboratories and in the field will try to uncover. These finding provide a tantalising glimpse of the solution to this 100-year-old riddle.

30 May 2008

Photo Hunt - Self

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is self. I suppose this means a self portrait. Accordingly I put the lens on that has reinforced glass and took these two.

One is of actually of a gargoyle on Notre Dame in Paris. I will let you decide which one is which...

The £500,000 target

An ancient gold cup owned by a scrap metal dealer is expected to fetch around £500,000 at auction after languishing for years in a shoe box under its current owner's bed. Owner John Webber says his grandfather gave him the 5.5-inch (14-centimetre) high mug to play with when he was a child, back in 1945.

He assumed the golden cup, which is decorated with the heads of two women facing in opposite directions, their foreheads garlanded with two knotted snakes, was made from brass but when he got it valued in 2007 he was told it was actually a rare piece of ancient Persian treasure, beaten out of a single sheet of gold.

Experts said the method of manufacture and the composition of the gold was "consistent with Achaemenid gold and gold smithing" dating back to the third or fourth century BC.The Achaemenid empire was wiped out by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.

Webber, 70, stated that his grandfather had a "good eye" for antiques and picked up "all sorts" as he plied his trade in Taunton, Somerset"Heaven knows where he got this, he never said," he added, revealing that as a child, he used the cup for target practice with his air gun.

29 May 2008

A cat at Pere-Lachaise

A cat who took up residence near Jim Morrison's grave in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. in the full knowledge that it was an excellent spot to receive attention. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

Last Central Powers Veteran dies

Franz Künstler , the last known veteran of the Austro-Hungarian army and the last known surviving Central Powers veteran died in Germany on Tuesday. He was 107.

Romanian-born Franz Künstler, who served in the Austro-Hungarian army and fought on Germany's side, died after an operation on his intestine in the southern German town of Niederstetten. Künstler, who was the oldest man living in Germany, was born on July 24, 1900 in Soost in what is now Romania and was drafted into the 1st Artillery Regiment of Austro-Hungarian army in February 1918 He fought on the Italian front.

Künstler had lived in Niederstetten since 1946 and worked as a guide in the hunting museum of Schloss Haltenbergstetten castle. He is believed to have been the last World War I veteran living in Germany.

There are now just 11 known WWI veterans still alive (Six British, two Italian, One American, One Canadian, One Australian)

28 May 2008

WW - The Kiss

Taken at the Rodin Museum, Paris (I'm just back from a most enjoyable stay in Paris with more culture than you can shake a stick at and the best possible company). This week's belated (for me anyway!) Wordless Wednesday.

21 May 2008


I will be offline until next Wednseday so no posting until then. In the meantime enjoy the Gashlycrumb Tinies... You know you want to!

19 May 2008

Detonation of nuclear weapon to carry 12 month sentence (or a fine)

The Irish Labour Party website has a statement (dated 13 May) from Ciaran Lynch TD, the party’s spokesperson on Housing and Local Government which reads:

“The provision in the Nuclear Test Ban Bill that allows for somebody found guilty of detonating a nuclear bomb to be jailed for only 12 months or fined just €5,000 is just silly and should be removed, according to Labour. The Bill will be debated tomorrow at the Oireachtas Environment Committee.This provision is crazy and I'll be asking Minister Gormley to get rid of it. Under the provisions of this legislation, if the nuclear detonation is of a minor nature, the District Court can impose a sentence of 12-month jail sentence or a €5,000 fine. How can detonating a nuclear bomb be minor?

"If somebody detonates a nuclear bomb, the chances are that there will be no jail to put them in. Nor will be there be too many people concerned about collecting a fine!The District Court is authorised to impose fines of €10,000. With its maximum fines of €5000, this bill doesn't even let it go that far with ! It just doesn't make any sense. This is beyond ridiculous. We've become accustomed to some barmy ideas coming from the John Gormley and his Green Party colleagues, but this takes the biscuit."

Now that is a nuclear deterrent to be proud of, albeit in a surreal way. Perhaps a first offender may be let off with a conditional discharge....

McGonagall outsells Harry Potter

But sadly only at auction ... Nevertheless, a private collector has paid £6,600 for poems by the man unjustly ridiculed as "the world's worst poet".

A total of 35 of William McGonagall's works - many of them autographed – were put up for auction in Edinburgh. They went for more than a collection of Harry Potter first editions signed by author JK Rowling. The new owner's bid for the poems was £5,500, but once commission is included they will have to fork out £6,600, while the Harry Potter books sold for a laughable £6,000.

David Kett from the library service in Dundee believes much of the criticism McGonagall receives is unjustified. "He's really popular because he promoted himself to an enormous extent and he produced this interesting and unique verse, which has resonated down the ages," he said. "Because some people take offence with it and ridicule it, they fail to realise what McGonagall is trying to say, which is a narrative of all the events he saw It's bad in parts, but there are parts of the poetry where he does achieve a certain extent of lyricism, describing one of the country parks he mentions 'the bees buzzing in the lyme trees' - really conjures up the image."

18 May 2008

Humanoid/Lizard hybrid not responsible for South Carolina van attack

not the van attack culprit

Police in Bishopsville SC have confirmed that DNA tests prove that an attack on a family van was done by a domestic dog and not a Lizard Man. Something had chewed up the front fender of Bob and Dixie Rawson's van in February. Bite marks were left on the wheel wells and blood was found on the vehicle.

However, Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin isn't convinced that the perpetrator was a family dog. He thinks it was a coyote or wolf.

Over the last 20 years there have been sightings in the area of a tall, big-eyed swamp creature. Authorities never figured out exactly what prompted the sightings.

The Sistine Chapel set up

Perhaps this is no surprise but it is entertaining to think that Michelangelo stuck two fingers up at his enemies afterwards....

Few who see the Sistine Chapel imagine that it was born out of base rivalry and petty jealousy. Michelangelo was awarded the commission unaware that he was the target of a conspiracy hatched by Donato Bramante, the architect of St Peter's Basilica, and the painter Raphael, who persuaded Pope Julius II to oblige Michelangelo – a sculptor with little painting experience – to take on the commission. They believed that, faced with a work on such a vast scale, he was bound to fail and be humiliated.

Art historians believe Bramante and Raphael's hatred of Michelangelo stemmed from a dispute he was having with their friend, Leonardo da Vinci. Superstars of their times, Michelangelo and Leonardo had huge egos. Neither missed an opportunity to criticise the other. An account of the episode is included in writings by Giorgio Vasari, a fellow artist, who claimed Michelangelo tried to refuse the commission and even recommended Raphael for the job. Eventually, under papal duress, he was forced to agree. His completed work had a profound effect on his would-be tormentors. Vasari later wrote that Bramante, who held keys to the chapel, let Raphael in to examine the paintings. On seeing them, Raphael went back to a work he was painting in another church and scraped it off the wall.

17 May 2008

Father Ted - Escape from Ireland's biggest lingerie department

From "A Christmassy Father Ted". Hilarious stuff


A cover of my favourite Robyn Hitchcock song. Sadly there is no footage of Robyn performing the song. Aurfouf's acoustic is a plucky effort although his voice can't quite hit the top range.

Hawkwind Damnation Alley

Live 1990. The female fire eater is Kris Tait, now the wife of guitarist Dave Brock.

16 May 2008

Photo Hunt - Candy

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is candy. I don't have any pics of chocolate but I do still have one Zaluzianskya capensis form last year in bloom. The common name for this is midnight candy because it opens at night and fills the air with a delightful smell like dolly mixtures

These are dolly mixtures if you are not familiar with them

Hell goes round and round

This is an extract of an article from today’s Guardian. The article speaks for itself

The boy with the shaved head and Kalashnikov slung across his legs is uncertain about a lot of things, even his age. He pulls at the long, dry grass around him and in a quiet voice says he thinks that he might be 13 years old because he was a baby when his mother wrapped him with the last of her possessions and made her escape across the border. Asked where he is from, he gestures toward the lush hills rippling to the east. Somewhere among them is an unmarked frontier with a country the boy calls home, although he has no memory of the last time he was there.

What's over the hills? Rwanda, he says. Where are his parents? He doesn't know. Dead, he thinks. He doesn't remember them, only what some people told him. And what was he told? He was very small when everyone ran away from those they called the inyenzi - the cockroaches. His mother carried him across the border, out of Rwanda. But then something happened to her. Perhaps she was among the multitudes who died then or in the ensuing years; he was left alone and the other people in the refugee camp looked after him. His father was a soldier. He just disappeared. No one said anything about him.

Child soldiers can be found across Africa. Sometimes they are responsible for appalling atrocities; sometimes it is because their minds have been twisted by powerful drugs. But nowhere on the continent are they as driven by hate and ideology as among the Rwandan Hutu refugees in eastern Congo. Here, after more than a decade of invasion, civil war and slaughter - rooted in the genocide - a second generation of killers is being imbued with the mind-altering ideology of extermination and reared to hate and murder Tutsis.

Some of the children learn it from fathers who were responsible for the mass killings the first time around, back in Rwanda. Others, like the boy, are raised by the extremist Hutu rebels who control large areas of eastern Congo and are among the most important causes of the conflict there that has claimed an estimated five million lives or more over the past decade and continues to kill about 45,000 people each month in Congo through the effects of war - principally starvation and disease.

These children are led by men with multimillion-dollar rewards on their heads offered by the United States for their capture to stand trial accused of the murder of thousands in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. America has listed their armed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as a terrorist organisation, but some of its political leaders have found safe haven in Europe. And while their army is fighting, the leadership is raking in millions through the smuggling of gold and diamonds, and extortion.

The FDLR boasts about 7,000 fighters, hundreds of them children or youths, and is the largest of the militias in eastern Congo. It controls about one-fifth of the two vast provinces that border Rwanda - North and South Kivu - but its influence ranges considerably further as it hunts down Tutsis who live in Congo, and continues to threaten nearby Rwanda.

The boy, with his straightforward beliefs, sees no reason not to say aloud that the path to a better life lies over the graves of Tutsis. It is a philosophy based on the "Hutu 10 Commandments" that underpinned the genocide. The commandments call any Hutu who marries a Tutsi a traitor, and say that the Tutsis' "only goal is ethnic superiority". "Hutu must stop taking pity on the Tutsi," says the eighth commandment. "Hutu must stand firm and vigilant against their common enemy: the Tutsi," says the ninth.

Jerubaal Kayiranga fought with the FDLR. One of his responsibilities was to recruit children to its ranks, many of them forcibly, before he fled back to Rwanda last year. In a demobilisation camp there he describes how the philosophy of the Hutu 10 Commandments lives on in the hills of eastern Congo and how some of its most enthusiastic adherents are the FDLR's youngest fighters. In the Congo fighting, "many FDLR soldiers died, so that's why these boys are recruited at 10 years old to fight," he says. "They're worse than the older ones because they don't even know how Rwanda is. They don't know any Tutsis. They just hate them as the enemy. It's the same as they [extreme Hutu leaders] were telling us during the genocide. They told us what we should do is kill all the Tutsis in the country."

Countless extremist militiamen and soldiers joined the million Hutu refugees who, in July 1994, struggled from Rwanda into what was then Zaire (the country changed its name to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997) fleeing the consequences of genocide. Their arrival set in motion a cycle of civil war and invasions that engulfed eastern Congo, as foreign armies, rebel groups, warlords and militias rooted in mystical tradition carved up the region.

No one knows how many died here but the most widely accepted estimate is of more than five million, mostly from disease and starvation, although massacres were commonplace enough that mass graves are still being unearthed. The living suffered too, enduring the rape of entire towns and villages. Through it all, the broken, defeated but unrepentant murderers from Rwanda carried their ideology of hate. The old organisations that led the genocide - the notorious interahamwe militia and Hutu army - gave way to new groups that then emerged as the FDLR.

A number of the FDLR's leadership were heavily involved in the Rwandan genocide. They include some who are wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was set up by the UN Security Council to try those responsible for the massacres in Rwanda, and two men who are also on the US government's "most wanted" list of those it wants to see captured and handed over to the tribunal. Among the wanted FDLR leaders is Callixte Nzabonimana, the Rwandan minister of youth and sport during the genocide who, according to an international tribunal indictment, "played a major role in the massacres of the Tutsis in Gitarama. He visited the bourgmestres [mayors] frequently to organise the massacres in their communes with them. Further, he personally travelled through the hills along with peasant farmers to be certain the farmers were carrying out properly their orders to kill the Tutsis". The US has offered a $5m (£2.5m) reward for his capture to be put on trial by the tribunal.

The tribunal has named another FDLR leader, Ildephonse Nizeyimana, as among its six most wanted. He headed military intelligence operations in southern Rwanda and set up special units of soldiers that led massacres at the country's main university. He also gave the order for soldiers to surround a school as the interahamwe murdered 1,300 children and adults. The US is also offering a reward for Nizeyimana's capture.

The FDLR's overall military commander, Major General Sylvestre Mudacumura, is wanted by the Rwandan government to face trial for his role as deputy commander of the presidential guard which flew across the country to begin the mass murder in April 1994. Today he is a primary mover behind the killing of Congo's Tutsis. He is also under investigation by the international tribunal. Among others listed as "most wanted" by the Rwandan government is an FDLR colonel, Faustin Sebuhura, who, as a captain in the Hutu army, oversaw the massacre of about 50,000 Tutsis, and Déogratias Hategekimana, who, as a mayor, coordinated the killing of 65,000 people.

The FDLR's political leadership is less directly implicated in the genocide but is wanted in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, for atrocities against civilians by the rebel group. While their organisation is also officially listed as a terrorist group by the US government, the rebels' political chief, Ignace Murwanashyaka, lives largely untroubled in Bonn, Germany. His deputy, Musoni Straton, is in Brussels. The FDLR also maintains some presence through representatives in other parts of Europe - France, Switzerland, Holland - and in South Africa, Canada and the US.

Much of the FDLR'S money goes to buy weapons and to run the training camps, which include infantry and artillery schools, and one for the rebels' commando unit that goes by the acronym CRAP. But there is worse than plunder. Systematic rape of hundreds of thousands of women has been a hallmark of the conflict in eastern Congo, and the FDLR is not the only group involved. In South Kivu alone, tens of thousands of women have been treated in health clinics after being raped, and many more will have gone untreated.

While the rank and file of the FDLR survives by plundering, their leaders are involved in altogether more lucrative ventures. A 2007 World Bank-funded study estimates that the FDLR leadership makes millions of dollars a year from taking over mines in parts of North Kivu, such as Masisi and Walikale, or from those doing the hard labour through levying "taxes" of gold, , diamonds and other minerals on mine owners. The study estimates that the FDLR controls half of the mineral trade in the Kivus outside of the main towns, and oversees the smuggling of gold and diamonds for sale in neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Burundi. It is not alone in this. The Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundi armies, as well as warlords and militias, have also carved up the mineral plunder and smuggling rackets.

The poison against Tutsis has spread beyond the Hutu exile population and infected many ordinary Congolese, largely driven by anger at the invasions of Congo by Rwanda's Tutsi-led government and at the actions of the renegade general Nkunda, who says he is fighting to protect Congo's Tutsis from the FDLR. Many Congolese believe that Nkunda, aged 40 and a former intelligence officer in the Rwandan army, is still secretly serving the Rwandan government. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been driven from their homes in Nkunda's attacks; his forces are guilty of mass rape and he too has forcibly recruited children to fight.

Many Tutsis see Nkunda as their only means of protection. Many Congolese see the Tutsis as the problem. Anti-Tutsi vitriol can be heard from Congo's leaders down to the residents of eastern towns such as Goma. Congolese politicians have called on people to "exterminate the vermin", meaning Tutsis. Amid such entrenched hatred, the future for the boy in the oversize uniform is bleak. Colonel Ngarambe has three children of his own now, the eldest just eight years old, all born in exile. He would like to see them settled in Rwanda but only on the terms he has in mind - a Rwanda where politics is defined by ethnic domination and the Tutsis recognise the rule of the Hutu majority. If not, Ngarambe says his children will carry on the fight. "The children born here are FDLR," he says. "The children born in Rwanda will be FDLR. My children will be FDLR. The conflict between Hutu and Tutsi is based on power. It's not that we have to develop an ideology of hatred against the Tutsis. It's just that people should see what's happening. Just because the Tutsis were victim of a genocide doesn't give them the right to take power.

Bebe is contented

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

15 May 2008

No aliens in or near Wallasey Town Hall

Like many other newspapers the Liverpool Daily Post has take a keen interest in recently released Ministry of Defence files relating to UFO sightings. Hundreds of supposed UFO sightings in the skies above Britain were recorded by Ministry of Defence staff. It would seem that the MoD was not investigating the possibility of visitors from outer space making a stop at Earth. Defence intelligence staff were more interested in checking that UFOs were not in fact signs of earthly covert spying missions by other countries.

Among the more bizarre stories to be recorded was one from a man in Wirral claiming to have met aliens on a regular basis. One, he reports, visited frequently and was called Elgar. Sadly, he says, Elgar was killed by another race of beings in the 1980s. It seems the visitors were again hit by tragedy when one of their craft crash-landed over Wallasey Town Hall, he claimed. A brief note by the recipient of the report at the MoD stated: “No Reply”.

One sighting in Liverpool, reported at 6.30am on April 14 last year, was of “a red, pipe-like object. It was seen for about 10-15 seconds, very close to the plane. It then disappeared into the clouds.” Another, also from Liverpool, reports “six to eight gleaming lights, moving in a straight line across the sky, changing patterns from diamonds to pyramids.”

The Ministry of Defence itself does not deny that there are “strange things to see in the sky.” but unsurprisingly the view was that there are adequate explanations for the phenomenon, including space junk burning up in the atmosphere, unusual cloud formations and meteorological balloons. “It certainly has no evidence that alien spacecraft have landed on this planet.”

Dr David Clarke, journalism lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, has been campaigning for the release of the files.He said: “It has taken 10 years of campaigning to get these papers out and now that they are it lays to rest some of the claims of a cover-up by the MoD. But I don’t think for a minute that the conspiracy theorists will drop their theories. Personally, I think that some of the sightings have got to be of scientific interest. There are some that just cannot be explained.”

Cllr K’taak (Lib Dem Port Sunlight). Said “It is just as well that the MOD did not investigate El’Gaar but I do wish the police took a greater interest in his murder. His death was a great loss to the Antarean community on the Wirral.

Aliens are my brother

The Pope's chief astronomer Father Gabriel Funes has stated that intelligent life may well exist elsewhere in the universe.

In an article in the Vatican newspaper, entitled “Aliens are my brother” he stated that the search for forms of extraterrestrial life, he says, does not contradict belief in God. Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates.

Asked about the Catholic Church's condemnation four centuries ago of the Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo, Father Funes diplomatically says mistakes were made, but it is time to turn the page and look towards the future. Science and religion need each other, and many astronomers believe in God, he assures readers.

Actually this view is no huge surprise. I was thinking of adding a few spoof quotes but perhaps once a some lapsed catholic guilt came into play...

14 May 2008

The Vicar of Bray

In good King Charles' golden days, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed
Kings are by God appointed
And damned be he who dare resist or touch the Lord's annointed.

chorus: And this be law, I shall maintain
Until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign,
Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

When royal James usurped the throne, and popery came in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down, and read the Declaration.
The Church of Rome, I found, did fit
Full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit, but for the Revolution.

When William was our King declared, to ease the nation's grievance,
With this new wind about I steered, and swore to him allegiance.
Old principles I did revoke
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience was a joke, a jest was non-resistance.

When Royal Anne became our queen, the Church of England's glory,
Another face of things was seen, and I became a Tory.
Occasional conformists base
I blamed their moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was from such prevarication.

When George in pudding time came o'er, and moderate men looked big, sir
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig, sir.
And thus preferment I procured
From our new Faith's Defender,
And almost every day abjured the Pope and the Pretender.

The illustrious house of Hanover and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear --- while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty
I never more will falter,
And George my lawful king shall be --- until the times do alter.

Posted for no better reason but I felt like it. I may not adhere strongly to an ideology but there is a limit to pragmatism!

Sloth activity to prompt renaming of deadly sin?

BBC report may force churches to find a new name for a deadly sin. New research indicates that the sloth's image as a lazy creature that sleeps for most of the day is unwarranted.
Rather than snoozing for more than 16 hours a day, as observed in captivity, sloths in the wild doze for less than 10 hours, research suggests.

Scientists caught sloths living in the rainforest of Panama and fitted them with a device that monitors sleep. Lead researcher Niels Rattenborg, of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Starnberg, Germany, said the study demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to record sleep in a wild animal. "The real exciting finding was that they only slept 9.6 hours a day, which is much less than what people popularly believed and less than had been observed in a previous study of sloths in captivity. So they still may be sloth-like in terms of their speed of movement but in terms of their sleep they don't seem to sleep an inordinate amount of time."

Animals vary in the amount of sleep they need. Pythons, for example, sleep for 18 hours a day, while giraffes survive on just two hours. To investigate sleeping patterns in wild sloths, the scientists, from Germany, Switzerland and the US, developed a small machine capable of monitoring brain patterns associated with sleep.

Dr Neil Stanley, an expert in sleep disorders at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, UK, said animals tended to sleep much more in captivity, where they have all their needs met. "It's intuitive that animals would sleep less in the wild than in captivity - this technology gives us the opportunity to prove that's true," he said.

So there you have it. Sloths sleep far less than pythons bit would python be a good name for a deadly sin... I suppose there is the old standby: we could call it student (before any howls of protest I was a lazy bastard when I was one!)

13 May 2008

Death of a heroine

WW Follows

Today’s Independent carries the obituary of Irena Sendlerowa who died yesterday at the age of 98. During WWII she risked her life to smuggle thousands of children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.

A social worker, she rescued 2,500 in total children. "Her courageous activities ... serve as a beacon of light to the world, inspiring hope and restoring faith in the innate goodness of mankind," said Avner Shalev, the chairman of Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, Yad Vashem.

Officially recognised as a national hero by the Polish parliament last year as well as being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Ms Sendlerowa only belatedly received the acclaim she deserved, living in relative obscurity until a decade ago. "I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little," she said in one of her last interviews at the nursing home in Warsaw where she spent her twilight years.

"She modestly says that she was just doing what any human being would do, but there's no other word for it apart from heroism," said Elzbieta Ficowska, one of the children spirited out of the ghetto. "The survival instinct is to save ourselves but she saved others."

The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Nazis to pen the city's Jewish population pending deportation to concentration and extermination camps. Between 1941 and 1943, starvation, disease and deportations reduced its population from about 450,000 to 71,000. In 1943 the people took up arms in the first urban mass revolt against the Nazi occupation of Europe, an uprising that was brutally crushed.Once outside the ghetto's 10ft walls, topped with broken glass, the rescued children were farmed out to Polish foster parents, where they were provided with false identities and taught Polish and Christian prayers so they could fool prying Gestapo officers.

Yet Ms Sendlerowa was anxious that the rescued infants have the possibility of being reunited with their birth parents after the war so she copied each child's details on to two separate cigarette papers – a duplicate archive that she kept in two glass bottles buried in the garden. Sadly these records would ultimately serve little purpose for by the end of the war, many of the children's relatives had been slaughtered, most at the Treblinka, where an estimated 300,000 Jews were murdered in the summer of 1942 alone.

Ms Sendlerowa ran huge risks. One morning a squad of Nazi soldiers stormed into her house and carted her off to Gestapo headquarters, where she was tortured. The marks left by what she called "those German supermen" stayed on her body for the rest of her life. She would have been killed had her colleagues not managed to bribe Nazi officers and halt her planned execution. Although the German authorities plastered Warsaw with posters, announcing that Ms Sendlerowa had died by firing squad, she was in fact dumped in the woods, her arms and legs broken and unconscious, but still alive.

"People who stand up for others, for the weak, are very rare," Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, told Polish television. "The world would have been a better place if there were more of them."

The quote "I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little," is a testament to the modesty we often see in people who take extraordinary risks to save their fellow humans According to her Wikipedia article Kansas made 10 March 2006 Irene Sendler Day (that being an Anglicisation of her name). Would not the world be a much better place if more people were like her?

I only hope that I have a fraction of her principles and her courage if I were ever to face a similar situation. She truly was an example of the very best that humanity has to offer.

WW - Liverpool Street Station

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

12 May 2008

Hawkwind - Assault and Battery/Golden Void

Recorded live in 1990. Both songs are from the 1975'album "Warrior on the Edge of Time".

The only remaining members are Dave Brock (guitar and the only original member of the band) and Richard Chadwick (Drums). Bassist Alan Davey left in 1996, rejoined in 2000 and left again last year. Singer Bridget Wishart is (tode date) the band's only female member of the band (excluding Samantha Foz who appeared with the band on the homelss charity single version of Gimme Shelter). The keyboard player was Harvey Bainbridge, violinist was Simon House

Can Prozac fight HIV?

Today’s Independent carries an article stating that researchers have found that antidepressant drugs may help the immune system fight serious illness.

Apparently antidepressants work (in this case, rather than fighting depression) by enhancing the activity of natural killer cells, key elements of the immune system, and could help the body combat infections. Natural killer (NK) cells are white blood cells which home in on infected or cancerous cells, releasing agents that induce apoptosis, or "cell suicide". NK cells are especially active against viruses.

The research emerged from findings that stress and depression impair NK cell function and can accelerate the progress of HIV/ Aids. Scientists recruited depressed and non-depressed HIV-positive women and treated them with three drugs to treat stress and depression. Two, Citalopram and the "substance P antagonist" CP-96345 increased NK cell activity (Substance P is a neurotransmitter involved in mediating pain reception in the Central Nervous System. It is also involved in the regulation of mood, anxiety and stress). The abortifectant RU486 had no effect.

The study leader, Dr Dwight Evans of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said: "The findings show that natural killer cell function in HIV infection may be enhanced by selective serotonin re-uptake inhibition and substance P antagonism."

This is fascinating research but like so many of other findings it remains to be seen if it will have a clinical application. Still the residual neurophysiologist in me is quite fascinated by such developments!

A new emissions tax in Estonia

Estonian authorities are charging a flatulence tax on farmers to compensate the country for the methane gas produced by cows. Last week farmers received their first 'fart tax' demands asking them to pay for the greenhouse gases their cattle produce.

A single cow is thought to produce on average 350 litres of methane and 1,500 litres of carbon dioxide per day from flatulence and burping. It is thought that cattle are responsible for up to 25 per cent of methane gas emissions in Estonia. Opposition politicians have slammed the tax however. Jaanus Marrandi, spokesman for the opposition People's Union of Estonia said: "This is unprecedented in any EU country."

A government spokesman has assured the populace that there are no plans as yet to levy an emissions tax on people. However, Pasatas Kalneitis, a representative of the Baltic Vegan Federation said “we are deeply concerned that vegans will bear a disproportionate burden should there be an extension of the emissions tax to humans. After all our diet does, let us say, tend to be rather carminative”

11 May 2008


Someone from Miami became the 200,000th visitor to the Poor Mouth. Haste ye back! There's fresh drivel each and every day (except when there isn't of course)

Cat pee and Macho Mouse

Quite understandably mice are known to be scared by cat odour - if can you smell animal that will make a light meal out of you then it is best to make yourself scarce! However cat odour also seems to act like an aphrodisiac too according to a new study. Apparently the smell makes male mice more macho, helping lure in females.

Unsurprisingly, past studies had found that cat odour typically causes mice to panic or flee. But also it could help male mice lure in females. Chinese researchers exposed mice to cat pee for eight weeks. Unexpectedly, it lead to cowering mice, instead, researchers found it led to aggressive males. These were more than twice as likely fight with other mice than rodents exposed to rabbit urine for the same amount of time. And such combative males smelled delectable to females. When presented with male pee, females that were in heat spent more time exposed to rabbit urine

Before, it was generally believed that the presence of predators always had a negative effect on their prey, "but our findings show that presence of low or moderate predation may be positive to prey," said researcher Jian-Xu Zhang, a pheromone researcher at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Female mice like aggressive males, and rodents constantly exposed to cat pee may seem like strong males that can survive the constant threat of predators, the researchers suggested. These findings could help improve life for animals in captivity, Zhang said. Zoos could enrich the environments of animals with just a whiff of their predators to stimulate them.

Hmm make of this what you will....

Look! Earn $$$$$$$$$s lying on your back!

This might have been the sort of advert one might see in the “personal services” section of the local paper – the section that advertises “massages” but it is a genuine offer from NASA....

If you are in Houston or can get there NASA may pay you $17,000 to stay in bed for 90 straight days. Seriously the bed-rest experiment, to take place in the Human Test Subject Facility of Johnson Space Centre, is designed to allow scientists to study some of the effects of microgravity on the human body. Participants will spend 90 days lying in bed, (except for limited times for specific tests) with their body slightly tilted downward (head down, feet up). Every day, they will be awake for 16 hours and lights out (asleep) for 8 hours.

Jokes aside, astronauts who've spent lengthy stays in space have suffered serious consequences. Our bodies have evolved to deal with a certain amount of gravitational force but if you reduce g then muscles atrophy and bones lose their density. It can take astronauts/cosmonauts (and soon taikonauts I presume) months to readjust to the Earth's gravitational force.

If you're still interested, you'll have to pass a standard Air Force medical and take a blood test. Apparently you can do what you like to alleviate the boredom but you must stay prone...

Right, now where’s my passport!

08 May 2008

Five Things Meme

Maddy over at Whitterer on Autism tagged me for this meme. In the hope that some of us would admit to being bag owners (maybe even an action transvestite a la Eddie Izzard!) all of her tagees were chaps.

In my little world manbags tend to be hairy and with minimal capacity. However, I always carry a briefcase to work which is more like a big satchel-cum-crap depot. So here goes with five things in that bag

5 things in my bag

1. i-pod to shut the world out when commuting
2. Book -currently The Caliban Shore the story of
3. Spare contact lens case and comfort drops. I have to wear rigid gas permeable lenses for my keratoconus.
4. Ventolin and voltarol for my asthma and my shoulder which still freezes from time to time.
5. Stain removing wipes. I am a messy eater and drinker so these are essential if I am not to ruin an expensive silk tie.

Oh and a miscellany of receipts, sweet wrappers and other detritus

5 favourite things in my room, This is the living room.

1. A palekh lacquer box I bought in Moscow years ago
2. A large drawing Elahe Heidari sent me as a present last year.
3. A posable Kenneth Williams doll dressed as Julius Caesar in Carry on Cleo. It has 15 phrases including my all time favourite: "Infamy, infamy, infamy. They've all got it in for me!"
4. A nice long sofa to sprawl out on.
5. And of course a selection of furry fiends

And carrying on...5 things that you don’t do any more.

1. Smoke (Well over six years since my last JP Superking)
2. Play football which is just as well because I was an utter thug in football boots.
3. Drink more than a gallon beer during a session at the pub... Or drink anywhere near a gallon for that matter
4. Trying to get that shite novel out of me (I never had any illusions that there was a great one in me!)
5. Eat ludicrously hot corries that ar far hotter on exit than they are on entry

5 Favourite flowers

1. Fuchsias
2. Geranium versicolor
3. Aliums of all shapes and hues
4. Zaluzianskia (Midnight Candy)
5. My beloved Tree Paeony

Now to tag five people I’ll have to come back on that one.... As usual

Scientists decode the platypus genome

The duck-billed platypus is a rum beast and no doubt. In fact when the first skin arrived in England in 1799, the keeper of natural history at the British Museum thought it must be an elaborate hoax; how else to explain an animal with the fur of a mammal and the beak of a bird?

But European naturalists were soon to realise that the hairy, egg-laying creature from Australia which suckles its young and hunts "blind", with its eyes, ears and nostrils all closed while swimming underwater, was very real. Zoologists studying the creature's anatomy and behaviour confirmed that the duck-billed platypus was one of the strangest anomalies in the animal kingdom, and now geneticists have confirmed just how weird it is with the first complete analysis of its fully decoded genome.

Scientists said yesterday that they have now deciphered the entire DNA of the duck-billed platypus in a study involving more than 100 scientists from eight countries. They found that the animal's genes are indeed an unusual amalgam derived from the disparate worlds of reptiles, birds and mammals.The duck-billed platypus is one of just a few living species of mammals that lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young – the other egg layers being the echidnas. It is a member of the monotreme group of mammals.

Scientists were keen to explore its DNA because the platypus represents one of the few living species of mammals forming the monotremes, which split off from the rest of the mammals about 166 million years ago. "It's probably the most eagerly awaited genome since the chimp genome because platypuses are so weird," said Professor Jenny Graves of the Australian National University in Canberra, one of the co-authors of the study published in the journal Nature.

The scientists found that the platypus has about the same number of functional genes as its mammalian cousins but that some of them bear a closer resemblance to the reptiles, particularly the genes involved in producing the venom used by male platypuses to defend their territories. The study found that the toxin delivered by the kicking back claws of irate male platypuses is the result of a duplication in a set of reptilian genes that has undergone the same sort of duplication independently in reptiles to produce snake venom. It also found that the platypus shares about 82 per cent of its genes with other mammals, including the genes involved in lactation although the female platypus breast feeds through her skin rather than through nipples, which she lacks National University. Instead, the sex chromosomes of the platypus share much in common with those of birds, suggesting that the original common ancestor of all mammals, including man, may have also had sex chromosomes more like modern-day birds, he said.

Another surprising discovery was the nature of the chromosomes that determine sex in the platypus. In mammals, just two chromosomes, the X and the Y, are involved in sex determination. "The platypus is exceptional in that females have five different pairs of X chromosomes, and males have five X chromosomes and five Y chromosomes. To our surprise we discovered that the platypus X and Y chromosomes are completely unrelated to the X chromosome of all other mammals," said Dr Paul Waters, of the Australian Scientists unravel the origin of the platypus

07 May 2008

Don't call me Reverend Tibbs (and don’t whatever you do fall out with your parishioners)

The Rectory Teigh, Rutland

In the summer of 1940, the sleepy parish of Teigh denounced their vicar as a traitor and a fascist. The Reverend Henry Stanley Tibbs, who had ministered to his 72-strong flock for 15 years, was sent to prison accused of being a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite who promoted Hitler from the Harvest Festival pulpit.

According to newly declassified National Archive his parishioners accused Reverend Tibbs of being a member of the British Union of Fascists who harboured German spies, denounced Churchill and pledged allegiance to the Fuhrer.

The 63-year-old was not only accused of harbouring two Gestapo agents in the parish rectory - and genially introducing one of them to a local farmer - but of helping the spies draw sketches of a bomb silo at nearby Cottesmore Aerodrome. He was said to have described Germany as "our natural friend" and that a local clergyman caught the Reverend telling his children "that Hitler and Goering were the finest men in the world". One witness said he heard him describe Churchill as "a drug addict and a dictator of the vilest kind, in fact the worst dictator in the world and in the pay of the American Jews".

The charges were extraordinary. But were they true? Writing from his cell in Liverpool Prison, Tibbs admitted he had indeed, years before, belonged to the British Union of Fascists. They had an excellent agricultural policy, he said. He admitted that one of his sons, who had also been imprisoned, had joined the party. But he said it was the uniform, rather than the fascism, that appealed to him. He also conceded he had subscribed to the British Union newspaper, Action.

But, under cross-examination during his appeal, he strenuously denied all other accusations. Had he expressed "Nazi views" to his parishioners? He replied: "I never did. I have never talked politics to my parishioners, and I have never preached a political sermon in my life." Did he admire Hitler? "I think he is a very clever man, but I think he is a most horrible person," he said.

In their report, the appeals panel named another clergyman, from nearby Market Overton, "who had at one time been a great friend of Tibbs, but had some time ago had a quarrel with him "Enquiries have been made locally," the panel added. And Mr Tibbs's former friend "appears to be an ill-natured and vindictive type of man, quite capable of bearing tales about, or putting the worst interpretation on the words of anyone against whom he harboured a grudge". Then there was the local gossip among the farmers and down at the village post office about the German spies hiding out in the village rectory.

But in a parish of 72 souls, could he really have harboured two Gestapo agents? And if so, would he have introduced them to his neighbours? According to the farmer's wife who lived opposite him, he could not. She told the panel there had never been two young men living at the rectory. The appeals panel ordered Mr Tibbs to be released, with the proviso that he remained within his parish, and he returned home in December 1940.

"The committee feel that whilst Tibbs' detention was fully justified, a mass of rumour and some exaggerated reports have been built up," they wrote. "Tibbs has now learned his lesson" Eight months later the restrictions were revoked and a Home Office official described him as "harmless." In another letter, the Bishop of Peterborough wrote: "Mr Tibbs is, in my opinion, a foolish, slippery-tongued fellow, but a harmless one."

The current incumbent Reverend James Saunders said: "There were many people in the 1930s who admired Germany and admired Hitler and most of them were sensible enough to keep their heads down when war broke out." But he added: "There's always a possibility for vicars to fall out with members of the congregation.

Tibbs returned to the village a broken man, slipped into obscurity and died shortly afterwards. The parish was declared vacant in 1943. Whatever Tibbs’s sentiments he was no Archibald Maule Ramsay, the Scottish Tory MP, interned for much of WWII for being a rabid Hitler supporter and anti-Semite. I must do a post about Ramsay, now he was a vile piece of human detritus.

Will it be finally Congratulations to Cliff ?

Forty years ago, Cliff Richard is was the hot favourite to win Eurovision. He was young, handsome and godly and his song Congratulations was arguably the finest song to be written in the 60s. His coronation should have been a formality but he had not counted on a terrible act of perfidy which ensured that the Spanish entry won Eurovision for the first and only time.

This terrible stain on the career of a man who is now regarded as a living saint by every religion on the planet (even the Church of Satan) may yet be removed. An investigation in Spain has uncovered skullduggery which, it says, shows the dictator Francisco Franco had the vote rigged, ensuring that the Briton, then a 27-year-old starlet, never had a chance of winning with his song, Congratulations.

According to Montse Fernandez Vila, the director of the film called 1968: I lived the Spanish May, Franco was determined to claim Eurovision glory for his own country. The investigation, which is due to be broadcast shortly, details how El Generalísimo was so keen to improve Spain's international image that he sent corrupt TV executives across Europe to buy goodwill in the run-up to the contest. Their mission was successful and Congratulations was beaten to the top spot by the Spanish singer Massiel with La La La.

"Massiel's win was fixed," Vila said "It's in the public domain that Televisión Española executives travelled around Europe buying series that would never be broadcast and signing concert contracts with odd, unknown groups and singers. These contracts were translated into votes. It was these bought votes that won Eurovision for Massiel. The regime was well aware of the need to improve its image overseas ... When you look at all the parties they organised and how Massiel was transformed into a national heroine, you realise it was rather over the top for a singing competition. It was all intended to boost the regime."

Sir Cliff, who is touring Germany, sounded jubilant at the revelations. "If, like they say, they believe there is evidence that it was I that was the winner, there won't be a happier person on the planet," he said, recalling that fateful evening at the Royal Albert Hall. It's never good to lose, never good to feel a loser. When I went on that night I said to the band: 'Look guys, there will be 400 million people watching, it will be a massive plug for our song.' And it was. I think we sold a million singles. But we really wanted to win."

Being crowned victor would dovetail nicely with his British tour later this year, he said. Although he conceded that opening an official investigation into the rigged vote "might not be worth the trouble", the belated verdict would mean a lot to him."I'd be quite happy to be able to say I won Eurovision '68. It's an impressive date in the calendar these days."

Vindication could, however, still be some way off. Jamie McLoughlin, who runs the Eurovision website Whoops Dragovic, has his doubts over the documentary's claims."La La La was controversial from the start as it was originally to be performed in Catalan, but Franco wouldn't allow it, so the woman who eventually sang it was only brought in at the last minute," he said."The more obvious answer for the landslide of votes from Germany, the penultimate country to vote for Spain, which tipped the result Massiel's way is - rather boringly - she went on a really popular German TV show the week before the contest to perform her song."Still, if it means Blighty can somehow get win number six from all this digging, I certainly won't complain."

Sir Cliff was similarly philosophical yesterday. He clearly doesn't hold Massiel accountable for the vote 40 years ago; and if the adjudication is reversed, he has promised to send her a signed copy of Congratulations

Personally I believe that this dark act is justification for war. Not only should we send a gunboat to Madrid forthwith we should send an army of millions to Spain this summer to occupy their beaches and act as obnoxiously as possible.

06 May 2008

WW - goslings

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

Meditations on tea supplies in the post nuclear world

A nuclear attack on the UK in the 1950s (as it would have done at any time) would have left millions dead or horribly mutilated. Disease, starvation and lawlessness would have been rife. Of major concern, however, was the supply of tea. Recently released documents show that Government officials planning food supplies were concerned that the tea situation would be "very serious" after a nuclear war. "It would be wrong to consider that even 1oz per head per week could be ensured," they stated.

The documents said a nuclear conflict would result in the loss of three-quarters of tea stocks.

On a more serious (but unsurprising) note one paper from April 1955 said: "The advent of thermonuclear weapons... has presented us with a new and much more difficult set of food defence problems." The aim was to be "completely ready to maintain supplies of food to the people of these islands, sufficient in volume to keep them in good heart and health from the onset of a thermonuclear attack on this country". "It has become increasingly clear that the severity of the attack which the enemy could launch would produce a catastrophe in the face of which past measures would be fatally deficient," the document added.

Or to put it more sincerely and crudely “If the Bomb drops, we’re screwed......”

05 May 2008

War on the clones

The Japanese Knotweed Polygonum cuspidatumis a major pest. Extremely invasive it has been estimated that the total amount of the plant in the Swansea area alone weighs 62,000 tonnes (equivalent to 40 blue whales). Interestingly every specimen in Europe (and some in the USA) is a clone of the same female plant..

So serious is the problem in the UK it is estimated that controlling the plant using ordinary methods, such as pesticide, would cost about £1.6bn. Government scientists have come up with a plan to bring in the plant's natural predators from Japan. If approved. an army of jumping plant lice will be released into Britain in the hope that they can save the countryside from the plant’s ravages. It will be the first time an alien species has been released into the wild to deal with a weed in the UK

Scientists at Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (Cabi) believe they will not cause any environmental damage. Other experts urged caution, saying introducing them might have unintended consequences, such as feeding on British relatives of the knotweed. But Dick Shaw, principal investigator at Cabi, said such was the devastating effect of knotweed that it was time to act. "Japanese knotweed has been described as having the biodiversity value of concrete – it just smothers the ground in a mass," he said. "We hope the psyllid will get the plant under control."

Japanese knotweed, which was brought to Europe as an ornamental plant, grows up to 3m in height and sends out a root-like stem system that can reach the same distance below ground. Fresh stem fragments of less than a gram in weight can produce a viable plant in just six days. It can cost several pounds to completely clear the weed from a square metre of ground in the countryside, but on land for development, that can rise to £54,000 because of the need to ensure absolutely nothing is left and dispose of it responsibly.

In an attempt to see if the psyllids would stick to their usual diet, the Cabi scientists have tested the lice on nearly 100 plants and crops that grow in Britain, without finding any problems. There seems little doubt that the arrival of the insects would have a dramatic impact. However When the eucalyptus psyllid was accidentally introduced in Ireland, which started commercial production of the tree in 1993, a report described its effect on the crop as "disastrous".They proved resistant to pesticides, despite more than five applications a season, and a parasitic wasp from Australia has since been introduced in the hope they will see off the lice.

Could this be how Ivar the Boneless got his nickname?

It seems that the Vikings were not just raiders and great seafarers - archaeologists and scientists have revealed that they were also expert fishmongers trading cod across extraordinary distances across Europe, from the Norwegian Arctic to England and the Baltic.

Scientists have perfected a technique of analysing cod bones which was originally developed to track modern fish stocks. It analyses collagen, which carries chemical traces of the water the fish originally swam in. Applied to bones from archaeological sites, it is beginning to show a picture of fish transported remarkable distances from AD950 on, when the quantity of bones shows a huge rise in consumption.

The team, led by archaeologists at Cambridge University, say that when fish were chopped up for processing, matching the results from fish bones and heads shows that in some cases they are separated by thousands of miles. The research, reported in this month's Journal of Archaeological Science, also shows the 1,000-year-old origins of the modern problem of declining fish stocks, as fishing grounds had to supply far more than a local market. The emergence of commercial fishing "may represent the point at which people started to have an impact on marine ecoystems," said James Barrett, of Cambridge University's archaeology department.

More fascinating stuff. It does raise a question in my mind. Could Ivar’s nickname boneless be a testament to his fish filleting rather skills after all....

PLease take time to visit Callum Carr 's blog. His wife needs your support

For a long time now fellow Blogpower member Callum Carr has been struggling to obtain proper NHS treatment for his wife with little success. It horrifies me to read of some how she has been treated. This recent post beggars belief. Please visit his blog and provide him what support you can.

04 May 2008

Lesbos for the lesbians

An image of Sappho?

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop Greek gay rights organisation Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece from using the term "lesbian". If successful then the islanders may then start to fight the word lesbian internationally.

As far as the 250000 islanders are concerned they feel they have more right than gay women to call themselves Lesbians. Spearheading the case is publisher Dimitris Lambrou who claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world.

In court papers, the plaintiffs allege that the Greek government is so embarrassed by the term Lesbian that it has been forced to rename the island after its capital, Mytilini. An early court date has now been set for judges to decide whether to grant an injunction against the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece and to order it to change its name.

“We are Lesbians and we are proud” said Mr Lambrou “All we want to do is to look anyone in the eye and say we are lesbians without them sniggering.”

The term lesbian originated from the poet Sappho, who was a native of Lesbos. Sappho expressed her love of other women in poetry written during the 7th Century BC. However, according to Mr Lambrou, new historical research by Giyant Haistakis has revealed that Sappho was in fact a large man with a beard who had a greater aptitude for wrestling than poetry.

The real face of Sappho?