30 June 2008

Khmer Rouge butcher faces trial

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal to appeal against his detention. The 82-year-old is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the regime's rule in the late 1970s.

Some 1.7 million people are thought to have died under the brutal regime. Hundreds of thousands starved as the Khmer Rouge tried to create an agrarian society. Many others perceived as educated were tortured and executed.

Ieng Sary is the most prominent surviving Khmer Rouge. He received a royal pardon 12 years ago after reaching a deal with the government that resulted in the eventual surrender of the Khmer Rouge. On this basis his lawyers are arguing that he should not now be facing charges. They will also argue that a trial would amount to double jeopardy.

The Vietnamese-backed forces which ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 tried Ieng Sary in absentia and found him guilty of genocide. That verdict was overturned by the pardon. But Cambodians who survived Khmer Rouge prison camps feel particularly strongly about the former foreign minister. Many of them were well-educated people who returned to the country after personal appeals from Ieng Sary to help rebuild Cambodia. They were arrested on arrival, and thrown into brutal detention centres.

Ieng Sary's wife, former social welfare minister Ieng Thirith, is also facing charges.Trials are expected to begin later in the year.

It’s a shame he wasn’t tried in 1979. He would have been rotting in prison for the best part of 30 years already. Here’s hoping he spends the end of his life there.

When is a Goya not a Goya?

Francisco de Goya's image El Coloso a brooding giant rising above a stampede of terrified people and animals, has held pride of place for decades in Madrid's Prado museum. But it now seems that it was not painted by the great artist at all: the Prado has announced that it was probably painted by a pupil in his studio.

The museum's chief Goya specialist said the painting, made during Napoleon's occupation of Spain after 1808 and long seen as one of the artist's most dramatic portrayals of the horrors of war, was "a pastiche"."Stylistically, it is completely alien to Goya," said Manuela Mena, the Prado's senior Goya specialist who has studied El Coloso and doubts over its attribution for nearly 20 years. She also revealed doubts over at least three other Goyas held by the Prado.

Ms Mena, presenting the conclusions of a meeting of international specialists in Madrid, described El Coloso as photogenic, attractive and influenced by Goya. But she said it could not have been his work."The person who painted the bulls in El Coloso knew nothing about the anatomy of a bull – which Goya knew everything about," Ms Mena said. "The donkey looks like a furry toy, nothing like Goya's perfectly executed donkeys of the same period. None of the details correspond to the Goya we know."

The British art historian Nigel Glendinning has long argued that Goya painted El Coloso, because of the strength of the composition, its audacious centrifugal dynamism. "I have no objection to authenticity being challenged, but we need arguments backed up by facts," Professor Glendinning said. "I look forward to studying the findings in detail."

It does seem strange that it’s taken this long to conclude that one of Goya’s most famous images painting was in fact probably by a student. Then again, when something is a given for a long time it can be a very brave person to say otherwise...

29 June 2008

I knew it!

In a Past Life...

You Were: An Insane Monk.

Where You Lived: North Africa.

How You Died: Buried alive.

Hat tip to Snoopy for this one

Asparagus planet Mars

Just a few months ago were warned that Mars was too probably salty to sustain life – apart maybe from little green men with high blood pressure. These were based on findings from the Opportunity rover. Now it seems that
preliminary analysis by the Phoenix Mars Lander mission on the planet's soil found it to be ideal for growing asparagus

Scientists working on the spacecraft project said they were "flabbergasted" by the discovery. "We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life, whether past, present or future," said Sam Kounaves, the project's lead chemist, from the University of Arizona. Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Mr Kounaves said the soil seemed "very friendly… there is nothing about it that is toxic... You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."

As well as being far less acidic than anticipated, the soil was also found to contain traces of magnesium, sodium, potassium and other elements. The analysis is based on a cubic centimetre of soil scooped from 2.5cm (one inch) below Mars' surface by the lander's robotic arm. The sample was then tested using the "wet chemistry" technique, which involves mixing the soil with water brought from Earth and heating the sample in one of the lander's eight ovens.

Demetrios Liliopsidas, spokesman for the European Asparagus Growers Association gave a guarded welcome to this discovery: “world-wide asparagus are doubling every 5 years. By 2040 there will simply not be enough arable land on Earth to satisfy demand. We need to consider other growing locations so to hear that Martian soil is perfect for growing asparagus is excellent news. We are concerned, however, that the asparagus will not be very fresh after a 50 million mile journey.... We may have to wait for the development of warp technology before exploiting Mars”

Science can be fun

On Friday I went to see the recording of an episode of a new comedy quiz called "What on Earth?" It's a science based quiz, chaired by Marcus Brigstocke. A very enjoyable time was had, the highlight being a wonderful scientific joke:

- What's non-orientable and lives in the sea?

- Mobius Dick.

My sides were splitting. In search of other science-based mirth I found this
website which is chock full of scientific belly laughs: The mathematicians
among you will surely enjoy this rib-tickler:

- What do you get if you cross an elephant with a mountain climber.

- You can't do that. A mountain climber is a scalar.

Or How about this biochemical funny that will have them rolling in the aisles

"A bloke walks into a pub, and asks for a pint of Adenosinetriphosphate.
The barman says "That'll be 80p please!" (ATP geddit?)

All of this reminded me of a book that is still available called the
Biochemist's songbook, not something that I bought along with Stryer's
Biochemistry or Selkurt's Physiology. But here is one set of lyrics
to be sung to the tune of the British Grenadiers:

In Praise of Glycolysis

Some pathways lead to glory, like Hatch and Slack and Knoop,
Utter, Calvin, Cori --- a most distinguished group,
But of all of nature's pathways, we sing the praise today
Of Embden, Meyerhof, Parnas --- the glycolytic pathway.

Glucose, by hexokinase is turned to G6P
(You might use glucokinase, you must use ATP)
And, note, glycogenolysis (when stores are in the cell)
Gives G1P which then mutates to G6P as well.

The moiety of glucose, in the succeeding phase
Is transferred to a ketose by an isomerase
Phosphofructokinase now, acts on that F6P;
Fructose 1,6 bisphosphate is the product that's set free.

The kinase is affected quite complicatedly
And as you'll have suspected it uses ATP;
FBP by aldolase is split reversibly
To phosphoglyceraldehyde, also DHAP.

The former and the latter can each equilibrate ---
It really doesn't matter for metabolic fate ---
So follow PG aldehyde and double what you see,
You'll get the total balance sheet for a hexose moiety.

There's now a novel facet, for NAD's reduced
But carboxylic acid is not what is produced,
Delta-G's substantial, and energy's conserved
(For otherwise the pathway would, quite frankly, be absurd).

The complex oxidation of PG aldehyde
Gives by phosphorylation an acid anhydride,
And that bisphosphoglycerate reacts with ADP
The kinase making ATP, of course reversibly.

The product's composition, 3-phosphoglycerate
From 3 to 2 position can readily mutate
And now 2-phosphoglycerate does something rather strange ---
Electrons on C2 and 3 proceed to rearrange.

The redox-dehydration, catalyzed by enolase
Gives PEP formation and bond energy raise
So phosphoenol pyruvate reacts with ADP
The kinase making ATP, but not reversibly.

In anaerobiosis, pyruvate's not the end;
The problem we suppose is not hard to comprehend;
The dehydrogenation to phosphoglycerate
Would grind to halt if NAD could not regenrate.

The answer is quite subtle, pyruvate is reduced,
Instead of glycerol shuttle, lactate is produced;
Lactate dehydrogenase performs that noble feat,
NADH is oxidized, the pathway is complete.

The balance sheet you'll see shows transfer of energy,
Two ATP's from glucose and three from G1P.
That's good, but oh to use the way where pyruvate's reduced
With decarboxylation first, the ethanol produced!

26 June 2008


No more posts until Sunday - So no Friday cat blogging or photo hunting this week. Enjoy this video of Algerian musician Souad Massi and another poem by Forough Farrkhzad in the meantime...


The night is painted by your dream
Your perfume fills my lungs to extreme

You are a feast for my eyes!
All shapes of woe you belie

As the body of earth is washed by rain
From my soul you cleanse all stain!

In my burning body you are a turning gyre
In the shade of my eyelashes you are a blazing fire.

You are more verdant than a wheat field!
More fruit than golden boughs you yield!

To the suns you open the gate
To counteract dark doubt’s spate

With you there is nothing to fear
But the pain of joyful tear

This sad heart of mine and profuse light?
This din of life in the abyss of blight?

The glance in your eyes is my field
And with it my eyes are sealed

Before this I had no other image
Or I would not but you envisage

The pain of love is a dark pain
Going and demeaning oneself in vain

Learning against people with black sight
Defiling oneself with the filth of spite

Finding in caresses venom of wile
Finding villainy in friend’s smile

Handing gold coins to the marauding band
Getting lost in the midst of the bazaar land

With my soul united you will be
From grave you will raise me

Like a star on wings decked with gold
You come from a land untold.

You alleviate sorrow’s pang
Flooding my body with embrace’s tang

You are a stream flowing onto my dry breast
My bed of my veins with your water is blest

Within a world which on darkness does feed
With every step you take I proceed

Underneath my skin you go!
There like blood you flow

Burning my tresses with a fondling hand
Flushing my checks with an urging demand

You are a stranger to my gown
An acquaintance with my body’s lawn

You are a shining sun that never dies
A sun that rises in Southern skies

You are fresher than first light
Fresher than spring, a luster sight

This is no longer love: this is pride
A chandelier that in silence and darkness died

When love did my heart entice
I was filled with a sense of sacrifice

This is no longer me, this is no longer me
My life with my ego amounted to a null degree

My lips your kisses prize
Your lips are the temple of my eyes

In me your stir a great rhapsody
Your curves are an attire on my body

O how I crave to sprout
And my joy with sorrow shout

O how I wish to rise
And my eyes with tears baptize

This forlorn heart of mine and incense perfume?
The music of harp and lyre in a prayer room?

This void and these flights?
These songs and these silent nights?

Your glance is a wondrous lullaby
Cradling restless babes thereby

Your breath is a transcendental breeze
Washing off me tremors of unease

Finding in my morrows a place to sleep
Permeating my world deep and deep

In me the passion for poetry you inspire
Over my lays you cast instant fire

You kindled my passionate desire
Thus setting my poems afire.

25 June 2008

Elahe Heidari's new website

Readers of this blog know that I love Elahe Heidari's work. I was introduced to her
in 2004 by a dear mutual friend Redwine and I am now the proud owner of several of her works. I was delighted finally to meet her and several other charming, hospitable and extremely talented Iranian artists in Paris last month

I'm delighted to see that Elahe now has her own website . Please visit and enjoy the work of a gifted artist.

23 June 2008

Unveiling Buddy Christ

The Cardinal being George Carlin of course...

George Carlin on Death

I couldn't mark his passing without a couple of takes from Youtibe...

George Carlin RIP

I was saddened to hear earlier today that one of my favourite comedians George Carlin had died of heart failure, He was 71. According to the BBC report The star was admitted to a hospital in Los Angeles on Sunday with chest pains and died later that day.

The star, who had a history of heart problems became known for his unpredictable performances and for pushing boundaries during his 50-year career. He achieved status as an anti-Establishment icon in the 1970s with his provocative and controversial acts. His Seven Words routine led to his arrest in 1972 for disturbing the peace after he performed the act at a show in Milwaukee. The same routine, which was played on a New York radio station, resulted in a Supreme Court ruling in 1978 upholding the government's authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language.

Carlin produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies. He also hosted the first broadcast of Saturday Night Live.

Carlin is survived by his second wife Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; and brother Patrick.

My biggest regret was that Carlin was not well known in the UK. This was a great shame as I am sure that his humour would have gone down well here.

22 June 2008

Morgan Tsvangirai pulls out of Zimbabwean election

The BBC reports that Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is pulling out of Friday's presidential run-off, thus handing victory to Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai said there was no point running when elections would not be free and fair and "the outcome is determined by... Mugabe himself". He called on the global community to step in to protect Zimbabweans.

The MDC says at least 70 supporters have been killed in recent months. At a press conference on Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai said: "It is for the world to see there is no need to proceed with this so-called election if the outcome is determined by President Mugabe himself. We will not play the game of Mugabe."

On Sunday, the opposition was due to stage a rally in the capital but supporters of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF occupied the stadium venue and roads leading up to it. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of youths around the venue wielding sticks, some chanting slogans, and others circling the stadium crammed onto the backs of trucks. They reportedly set upon opposition activists, leaving a number badly injured.

Mr Mugabe has said he will never accept a Zimbabwe run by the MDC. On Saturday, South Africa sent two mediators to Harare, just days after its President, Thabo Mbeki, went to Zimbabwe himself, for separate talks with Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, possibly a final effort to persuade Mr Mugabe to cancel the election run-off, and to persuade both sides to begin negotiations on a government of national unity.

Well it seems that Mugabe got his victory. May he choke on it.

A new monument to victims of purges

The Russian city Zheleznovodsk has just unveiled a moving and timely monument to the purges. The monument takes the form of a sculpture that is 5ft tall, weighs 800lb and features a base of three Botticelli-style angels. The angels support a bronze enema bulb.

The Caucasus mountains region is famous in Russia for dozens of health spas. Many offer enemas with water drawn from mineral springs, that are said to treat digestive and other complaints. The statue was revealed at the Mashuk-Akva Term spa in Zheleznovodsk

"There is no kitsch or obscenity, it is a successful work of art," Alexander Kharchenko, the spa's director, said. "An enema is almost a symbol of our region." Mr Kharchenko said the monument had cost the spa £21,000. It was installed in a square in front of his spa, with an accompanying banner declaring: "Let's beat constipation and sloppiness with enemas" posted on one of the spa's walls.

The sculptor, Svetlana Avakina, said she had designed the monument with "irony and humour" in mind and was inspired by the works of Italian Renaissance painter, Alessandro Botticelli. "This device is eternal, it will never change," she said. "We could promote this brand, turn it into a franchise with souvenirs and awards for medical doctors."

So there you have it. If the enema was provide by government would it be an enema of the state...... Sorry I couldn't resist that one

21 June 2008

In Praise of Essex part 9 - Technopia

By Mask (I think) featuring Sonja Kristina on vocals. Sonja is a good Essex girl from Brentwood. She attended the Brentwood Ursuline School and made her debut at a folk club in Romford in the early 60s. Her greatest success was with the 70s prog band Curved Air.

A bit more Yasmin Levy

Irme Kero

Cielo Rojo

By Lila Downs

20 June 2008

Photo Hunt - Water (Quiet Flows the Rom I)

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is Water. This is the local river, the River Rom. Just before it joins the River Ravensbourne to form the River Beam it is let out of its culverts and allowed to be a proper river again. Okay it's not much of a river but it is Romford's river!

Mimi wants cheese

Any time anyone goes near the kitchen, Mimi reminds them that she loves cheese. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats

19 June 2008

Computer music, fifties style

A scratchy BBC recording, dating back to 1951, of Baa Baa Black Sheep In the Mood are thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer generated music. Originally captured during a visit to the University of Manchester, the recording has been unveiled as part of the 60th Anniversary of "Baby", the forerunner of all modern computers. The tunes were played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine.

"I think it's historically significant," Paul Doornbusch, a computer music composer and historian at the New Zealand School of Music, told BBC News. "As far as I know it's the earliest recording of a computer playing music in the world, probably by quite a wide margin." The previous oldest known recordings were made on an IBM mainframe computer at Bell Labs in the US in 1957, he said but they were not the first to have a computer play music," That honour goes to a third machine called CSIRAC, Australia's first digital computer, which "stunned" audiences with a rendition of Colonel Bogey. "It played music months or weeks before the Manchester recording," he said.

However, no one has yet unearthed a recording of CSIRAC in action. Documentary evidence of the Manchester machine's musical abilities exists thanks to a BBC outside broadcasting team who had gone to the University to record an edition of Children's Hour.

In March Stuart Hill made the news over an attempt to prove that the Shetlands are not in fact part of the United Kingdom. Now it seems he is about to declare UDI...

Hill will pronounce that the state of Forvik has broken away from the United Kingdom, quit the EU and become a crown dependency. Hill plans to mint his own currency - in the form of solid gold coins to be called gulde - print his own stamps and raise his own flag. The grand state of Forvik is a 2.5 acre (1 Hectare) island officially known as Forewick Holm: a 25-square-metre dwelling built with polythene sheets, laminated wood, hardboard and turf, all anchored down by a fishing net to guard against the gales.

Hill first landed on Shetland seven years ago after his solo attempt to circumnavigate Britain in a homemade boat ended when it capsized west of the islands, He wants to provoke all 22,000 inhabitants of Shetland to declare independence from the UK. "I see a basic injustice that has continued for hundreds of years and has resulted in Shetland being cheated out of the oil money because the UK has appropriated the seabed without any prior right or title," he said. "It seems to me just a fraud and it's time it stopped."

His case rests on a deal struck in 1469 when the king of Denmark, King Christian, effectively pawned Shetland to the Scottish monarch King James III to raise money for his daughter's dowry. According to Hall, since the loan was never repaid and no other legal agreement signed, Shetland has remained in a constitutional limbo. "My research leads me to believe Shetland should be a crown dependency, the same as the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands," he said yesterday.

Brian Smith, a historian on Shetland and former solicitor, said: "Common sense should tell him that in the period from 1469 to the present, huge constitutional changes have taken place and, de facto, Shetlanders are part of the UK and apparently want to be. The Scandinavian kingdoms have no legal claim to Shetland, nor do they want it."

18 June 2008

A bit more Ofra Haza

Mi Li Yiten

The electors of Voinestl in Romania have voted to re-elect a dead man as their mayor. Neculai Ivascu - who led Voinesti for almost two decades - died from a liver disease on Sunday, too late to cancel the contest. But the village's loyal residents still gave him 23 more votes than his rival, Gheorghe Dobrescu of the ruling National Liberal Party.

In a controversial decision, the electoral commission declared the runner-up and rival Mr Dobrescu the winner. Neculai Ivascu's party, the opposition Social Democrat Party, has said it will contest the decision.

The election of a corpse as mayor of Voinesti is not unprecedented of course. We only need to cast our mind back to the US elections in 2000 when the voters of Missouri had the option of electing John Ashcroft, the incumbent senator, or the late Mel Carnahan. Aschroft/dead man? Dead man/Ashcroft? The voters of Missouri chose not to elect the candidate with a pulse....

17 June 2008

WW - Dryads

A new dryad on one of the Chase's black poplars? Taken on a pleasant Sunday afternoon

I had to check that my favourite dryad was still there. Unsurprisingly he most certainly was! This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

15 June 2008

Oily Grail Part II – Bacteria that “shit” petrol.

If the previous item was not enough, yesterday’s Times also carried an article about the development of bacteria that eat waste and excrete crude oil

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, former software executive, “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.” He means bugs or rather the genetic alteration of bacteria so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as wood chips or wheat straw, they excrete crude oil. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of a car. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

Instead of trying to re engineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made. LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms. They start out as industrial yeast or non pathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result. For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the bio fuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the by-product ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant. The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or wood chips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready. The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago. That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale.

“Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Another great idea in theory but, as with many other developments, it’s a long way from the test tube to the mega production plant... Again is there sufficient waste material to be found to feed such an enterprise without serious harm to the environment?

There’s (black) gold in them there algae

Yesterday’s Times carried this article about Makoto Watanabe and his life’s search to find a species of algae that efficiently “sweats” crude oil. It seems that his quest for this Oily Grail has been successful.

Given sufficient light and carbon dioxide Botryococcus braunii excretes oil. The tiny globules of oil that form on its surface can be easily harvested and then refined using the same “cracking” technologies with which the oil industry now converts crude into everything from jet fuel to plastics. The Japanese Government has supplied him with hefty grants to work on ways of industrialising the algae cultures. The professor admits that there is much work to be done to bring the financial and environmental costs of creating algae oilfields down to reasonable levels: to meet Japan’s current oil needs would require an algae-filled paddy field the size of Yorkshire.

But – in laboratory conditions at least – the powers of Botryococcus braunii are astonishing. A field of corn, when converted into biofuel ethanol, may produce about 0.2 tonnes of oil equivalent per hectare. Rapeseed may generate around 1.2 tonnes. Micro algae can theoretically produce between 50 and 140 tonnes using the same plot of land. The discovery of Botryococcus braunii and its precious excretions has taken years.

The professor has given himself a decade to effect this seemingly implausible conversion: Japan’s export-led economics have always been shaped by their near 100 per cent dependence on foreign energy. In the present world economic climate, those economics are looking especially fragile. “I believe I can change Japan within five years,” the Professor told The Times from his laboratory in Tsukuba University. “A couple of years after that, we start changing the world.”

There remain, however, substantial obstacles before cars and aircraft are all running on algae. Although field tests have proved that there is little technical difficulty in breeding or harvesting the algae, the sums do not add up. A prospective algae-breeding oil concern would either have to invest billions of dollars in expensive breeder tanks – at a cost of around three times what the oil would sell for on the international market over the lifetime of the tanks – or find an enormous expanse of well-irrigated land in a country where labour can be bought very cheaply. It is for this reason that Professor Watanabe believes the world’s first algae farms will be constructed in countries such as Indonesia or Vietnam.

An interesting development for sure, but the final paragraph shows wherein lies the rub. While the growth of corn or other crops for conversion to bio-ethanol will almost certainly have disastrous consequences, sourcing the huge area of irrigated land to grow the algae will probably have a serious effect too and not provide much in the way of financial benefit to the local economy. On the surface it sounds like a great idea but I can’t help thinking that the disbenefits will outweigh the benefits. I would like to be proved wrong.

Germinating a 2,000 year old seedling

A sapling germinated earlier this year from a 2,000-year-old date palm seed is thriving, according to a report on the National Geographic website.

"It's 80 centimeters high with nine leaves, and it looks great," said Sarah Sallon, director of the Hadassah Medical Organization's Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center (NMRC) in Jerusalem. Sallon's program is dedicated to the study of complementary medicines. The centre is also interested in conserving the heritage of Middle Eastern plants that have been used for thousands of years.

Sallon wants to see if the ancient tree, nicknamed Methuselah, has any unique medicinal properties no longer found in today's date palm varieties. "Dates were famous in antiquity for medicinal value," she said. "They were widely used for different kinds of diseases." She and her colleagues are currently comparing the structure of the sapling to modern date palms and examining DNA from one of the sapling's leaves. The team plans to publish preliminary results in a peer-reviewed journal early next year.

Several ancient date seeds were taken from an excavation at Masada, a historic mountainside fortress, in 1973. Carbon dating indicates the seeds are about 2,000 years old. Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer found the seeds and gave them to botanical archaeologist Mordechai Kislev at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. The seeds sat untouched in a drawer in Kislev's office until last November, when Sallon asked if she could have a few to pass on to desert agriculture expert Elaine Solowey.

I said, Thank you. What do you want me to do?" Solowey recalls. Told to germinate them, she said, "You want me to do what?" Solowey, director of the experimental orchard and the NMRC cultivation site at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, focuses primarily on finding new crops that grow well in the arid Middle East climate.

Solowey chose Tu B'shevat (a Jewish holiday known as the New Year for Trees which fell on 25 January), to plant the seeds. She occasionally checked on the plants for a few months, and in March she noticed cracked soil in one of the pots—a sure sign of sprouts. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "I did everything to avoid contamination, so it had to be that seed. And by March 18 I could see it was a date shoot." The researchers are now repeating the experiment with another batch of the ancient seeds to see if their success was a "one in a million" stroke of luck or if their technique can more readily bring ancient seeds to life.

In ancient times the Judean date palm was a staple source of food, shelter, and shade. References to it are made in the Bible, the Koran, and other ancient literature. Judean date palms were wiped out by about A.D. 500. Today's date trees in Israel were imported during the 1950s and '60s from modern cultivated Iraqi, Moroccan, and Egyptian varieties, Sallon said. Solowey, who also works for Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, said it already appears the ancient plant has some interesting differences from modern dates.

If Methuselah bears fruit, Sallon and her colleagues will study its medicinal properties in hopes of better understanding what made the Judean date so famous in antiquity. If funds can be found, the researchers hope to apply any novel properties to modern medicines.

Another of those stories that I find fascinating - As ever it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it. That said germinating a 2,000 year old seed is pretty impressive in itself.

14 June 2008

Big Seven

A piece of end of seaside postcard style smuttiness from the late Judge Dread (aka Alexander Minto Hughes). His songs were generally hits despite being banned by the BBC...

Joseph Porter (and Wob)- Breitenfeld

Possibly the only song about following Graf von Tilly on campaign in the 30 Years War and with fleeting reference to the grisly fate of Magdeburg (the River Elbe washed the bodies away). Von Tilly was soundly defeated at the battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 but it was at Lech that he died the following year.

The song oringinally appeared on the Blyth Power album Pastor Skull.

13 June 2008

Photo Hunt - Emotion

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is emotion(s). I would rather not inflict a photo of myself on the blogosphere and my cats seem only to do annoyed very well. Stretching the subject (oh how often I do this!) I thought of something that will provoke an emotional reaction in some viewers....but not a pleasant one in the case of arachnophobes

While photographing my beloved Cephalaria plant I saw my old friend the Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) on stake out in the hope of a passing insect.

Here is a closer macro shot of teh spider in all its glory. Enjoy!

Sleepy Bebe

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

12 June 2008

In case of the Rapture....

According to Fox News a new website has been set up so that people swept up to heaven in the Rapture can send e-mails to loved ones left behind on Earth.

YouveBeenLeftBehind.com promises to alert up to 62 people exactly six days after the event that, according to the Bible, signals the beginning of Armageddon, "You've Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends for Christ," the site promoting the service says.

Final e-mails from vanished subscribers will be triggered when three of the site's five Christian staffers fail to log in for six days in a row. The site, the brainchild of Mark Heard, charges $40 a year for the service, which also includes 150 megabytes of encrypted storage space, recommended for financial information.

"In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables and powers of attorneys," the site says. There won't be any bodies, so probate court will take seven years to clear your assets to your next of kin. Seven years, of course, is all the time that will be left," it explains. "So, basically the Government of the Antichrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way."

Well there you have it. For a mere $40 your unsaved family and/or friends will have access to important documents should you ascend into heaven. A veritable bargain I’m sure!

Hmm Almost 8pm and no sign of Armageddon although it did look a bit overcast earlier on. Still Early doors - It's still just morning in LA and earlier still in Honolulu....
Well it's past 8am on Armageddon day and nothing yet.....

(see below for an item on Yisrayl Hawkins and the House of Yahweh)

11 June 2008

Zombie caterpillars controlled by voodoo wasps

When the New Scientist has that sort of headline one just has to read on. Apparently the larvae of parasitoid wasps, (the larvae having partially developed inside them) manipulate their host caterpillars to watch over them as a mother or bodyguard might.

According to the New Scientist article, the parasitoid wasp Glyptapanteles lays its eggs, about 80 at a time, in young geometrid caterpillars. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the caterpillar's body fluids. When they are fully developed, they eat through the caterpillar's skin, attach themselves to a nearby branch or leaf and wrap themselves up in a cocoon.

At this point, something remarkable and slightly eerie happens: the caterpillar, still alive, behaves as though controlled by the cocooned larvae. Instead of going about its usual daily business, it stands arched over the cocoons without moving away or feeding. The caterpillar stays alive until the adult wasps hatch.

Arne Janssen of the University of Amsterdam and Brazilian colleagues noticed that when they moved a paintbrush towards parasitised caterpillars, the insects would thrash about, apparently in an attempt to protect the cocoons. To test the manipulation hypothesis, Janssen's team allowed wasps to infect caterpillars in a laboratory setting. Once the larvae emerged and formed their cocoons, the researchers separated half the cocoons and the caterpillars. The separated cocoons were attached to a leaf next to an unparasitised caterpillar, which was prevented from moving away by a ring of insect glue around the stem.

When they added a stinkbug, a voracious predator of wasp cocoons, the team found that 17 of the 19 parasitised caterpillars thrashed their heads around in the direction of the bug. More than half the time, this knocked the bug off the branch or made it retreat. Unparasitised caterpillars barely noticed the bug, even when it climbed on top of them.

To see if the behaviour affected the survival of wasp cocoons in the wild, the researchers placed over 400 parasitised caterpillars in guava fruit trees one day before the larvae were due to break through their skin. Once the larvae had cocooned themselves on the nearby branches, the researchers removed half of their bodyguard caterpillars and watched what happened. The survival rate of "guarded" cocoons was twice as high as that of unguarded cocoons.

Although Janssen and his colleagues do not know how the parasites make the caterpillars change their behaviour, they think that a few larvae in each brood may sacrifice themselves to help their brothers and sisters. "If we dissect the caterpillars, we find one or two parasitoid larvae have stayed behind, even after the rest of the brood has emerged and formed cocoons," says Janssen. It could be that the larvae that remain in the host control its behaviour in order to make it protect the rest of the brood.

Well it may not be the basis of a good horror film but still quite fascinating.

So you thought you knew what happened at Trafalgar!

The battle of Trafalgar was a crushing victory. 33 Royal Navy vessels (of which 27 were ships of the line) took on 41 French and Spanish ships (of which 33 were ships of the line). 22 French and Spanish vessels were captured or destroyed; no RN vessel was lost.

I was therefore rather amused to find this item while looking through the Napoleonic Guide. Apparently the article was originally published in the French newspaper Le Moniteur.

The English fleet is annihilated - Nelson is no more. Indignant at being inactive in Port... Admirals Villeneuve and Gravina resolved to put to sea and give the English a fight... Nelson did everything to avoid a battle, he attempted to enter the Mediterranean, but we chased him, and caught him off Trafalgar. The French and Spaniards vied with each other to get into action first. Admiral's Villeneuve and Gravina were both anxious to lay their ships alongside the Victory, the English Admiral's ship... In vain did the English Admiral try to avoid action but the Spanish Admiral Oliva prevented his escape, and lashed his vessel to the English flagship. The English ship was one of 186 guns; the Santissima Trinidad was but a 74.....

... We fought yard-arm to yard-arm, gun to gun. Three hours did we fight in this manner, the English began to be dismayed... two ships, one French and one Spanish, boarded the Temeraire....We rushed to the flag-staff and struck their colours...

Meanwhile Nelson still resisted. It was now a race to see who should first board and have the honour of taking him; French or Spanish. Two Admirals on each side disputed the honour and boarded his ship at the same moment.... Villeneuve flew on to the quarter-deck and with the usual generosity of the French, he carried a brace of pistols in his hands. He knew the Admiral had lost his arm, and could not use his sword so he offered a pistol to Nelson, they fought, and at the second shot Nelson fell... Meanwhile 15 English ships of the line had struck, four more were obliged to follow their example and another blew up. - Our victory was now complete, and we prepared to take possession of our prizes, but the elements were by this time unfavourable to us and a dreadful storm came on.

....At length when the gale ceased, 13 of the French & Spanish line returned safely to Cadiz; the other 20 have, no doubt, gone to some other ports and will soon be reported. We shall repair our damage as speedily as possible and then go again in pursuit of the enemy, and afford them more proof of our determination to wrest from them the Empire of the Seas, and to comply with his Imperial Majesty's demand of Ships, Colonies and Commerce.

Our loss was trifling while that of the English was immense... Having acquired so decisive a victory we wait with impatience the Emperor's order to sail to the enemies shore, destroy the rest of his navy, and thus complete the triumphant work we have so brilliantly begun.

Well there you have it –everything we believed about Trafalgar is obviously wrong!. To be honest I thought this report was hilarious, especially the crap about the duel between Nelson and Villeneuve!

09 June 2008

Doomsday set for Thursday (perhaps sooner)

Are you hoping for Armageddon, but just can’t wait for the Mayan end-time prophecies to come true in 2012? Then there is good news: nuclear war will begin on Thursday (or sooner) according to Yisrayl Hawkins (left), founder of the House of Yahweh (a religious sect in Abilene, Texas rather than a restaurant).

Hundreds of truck trailers have been loaded with food and water on the group's 44-acre compound, in preparation for the coming war. However this is not the first time he predicted the outbreak of nuclear war. Hawkins previously set Sept. 12, 2006 as the beginning of the end. His followers produced an on-line video with a countdown to doomsday. In Kenya, hundreds of his followers actually hid in basement bomb shelters and donned gas masks on the date. They went home in humiliation when there was no war.

Former members say there is a method to Hawkins' madness, that the doomsday predictions help him make money and keep disillusioned members from leaving, for fear they will be killed when the end comes. Top of Form

Bottom of Form

"He's been saying just give me two more years, we're right at the end," said former member Miriam Martin who left in 2004. Why would you give up now? That's how he controls people, is through fear," Other former members say they are required to buy doomsday food and supplies from a company that Hawkins owns personally, Life Nutrition Products. "Everything that he preaches has to do with people buying something," said former House of Yahweh elder David Als of New York City. Like many of the his followers, Als actually legally changed his last name to Hawkins because he became convinced that only those named Hawkins would be saved.

Hawkins says as a prophet he knows that nuclear outbreak will come 'round the great river Euphrates. In addition to dealing with the beginning of the end, Hawkins is also dealing with some serious legal problems - he is facing felony bigamy charges He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he is being targeted because authorities do not like his brand of religion.

Ah well no end of the world this week I would guess, Ah well I’m sure another Prophet will be along soon.

Human coat hangers

The above photograph is of Allyson Ertel who is in the “development” stable of Elite Model Management, a leading American agency. In the mondo bizarro that is the world of fashion she apparently possesses attributes necessary for a career on the catwalk. To most people in the real non-fashion world she is a dangerously underweight, damning evidence that the fashion industry, for all its postulations and protestations, is no nearer to tackling the controversial issue of size zero. According to a recent Guardian article stick-thin, it seems, is back.

Ertel received star billing on Elite's New York website just two years after the deaths of two Latin American models from eating disorders - one after collapsing on the catwalk. The attendant bad publicity from the deaths of these girls, who were not Elite models, resulted in public pledges from agencies that the health of their young charges would come first. There were admissions of responsibility for the huge influence they wield over teenage girls battling with adolescent body image problems.

Initiatives such as Britain's Model Health Inquiry, chaired by Baroness Kingsmill, made common-sense recommendations which appeared to be eagerly embraced by an industry tarnished not just by the spectre of starvation deaths, but also by allegations of drug abuse. But, ultimately, fashion seems intent on pursuing what powers it: human coat-hangers for creations that barely acknowledge the true female form but, rather, generate excitement, acres of column inches and lucrative sales at the world's leading shows. Bodies are designed to fit clothes, rather than the other way round.


They are truly shocking. We would never book a model who appeared so obviously underweight,' said Alison Edmond, UK fashion director of the magazine Harper's Bazaar. 'Of course, there are girls who are slim but completely healthy as that is their natural body shape and weight. However, if a girl turns up to a casting in an unhealthy state then we would not even think of booking her, but would recommend to her agency that some intervention was immediately necessary. 'There are aspects of the industry that are fantastic - aspiration, helping us feel good about ourselves. And there are aspects that are truly toxic. And they are not really doing anything about the toxic, I don't think.'

Ali Michael, now 18, was the 'model du jour' in Paris last year, but was turned away in February this year by all but one casting director after gaining 7lb. At 5ft 9in and weighing just 7st 7lb, she was told her legs were 'too plump'. She has now turned whistleblower. In interviews this month she describes how, after three years of modelling, her wake-up call happened on a plane from Paris to Texas, where she comes from. 'I ran my fingers through my hair and when I took my hand away, there was a dry, brittle clump of hair,' she said.

She had started her modelling career at 15 and weighing 9st 2lb. But at each show she attended the message was the same: she needed to lose a few pounds. Finally she starved herself down to 7st 2lb and found that designers loved her. 'It didn't help matters that as I got tinier, my career took off. By the time I entered my second season of shows last September, all I was eating was oatmeal with water for breakfast, a banana and a few grapes for lunch and plain lettuce for dinner, maybe with a bit of fish,' she tells this month's Teen Vogue magazine. 'I stopped getting my period, which should have been a red flag.' She confides how she was sitting with four other girls at a show in Paris last year when she mentioned she had not had a period for over a year, 'and one by one, each of them said, "me too"'. These were girls in their late teens, early twenties. Having been dragged to a doctor and nutritionist by her worried mother, she began eating healthily and her menstrual cycle returned to normal, but her catwalk career appears over. American casting director Douglas Perrett commented on his blog that Michael's fate was because 'the fashion reality is that a new batch of girls are in town, younger and hungrier'.(Yeah, literally hungry, I'll bet!)

Among the recommendations made by the Model Health Inquiry were the banning of under-16s from the catwalk, the introduction of compulsory medical checks, and a trade union. In her report, Baroness Kingsmill said she had found 'startling' evidence of the vulnerability of models who were at 'high risk' of eating disorders. One fashion editor who gave evidence to the inquiry reported she had sat through 'innumerable shows where I have been unable to take in the clothes through shock at the emaciated frames of the models'. France is considering legislation that could see publishers of magazines and websites promoting pictures of ultra-thin models facing jail.

To be honest I simply cannot understand why the fashion industry thinks that a head on a stick is in anyway desirable or makes clothes look better. Any industry that would regard this woman as a heifer is rotten.

Perhaps Hydrogen Sulphide doesn’t smell so bad after all

Although highly poisonous hydrogen sulphide could soon provide doctors with new treatments for conditions ranging from strokes to chronic arthritis. Some researchers are even trying to use it to put patients with strokes or serious injuries into a form of suspended animation to help them survive severe traumas. This research is now being backed by the US military, who believe it could help their surgeons cope with injuries suffered by soldiers in battle.

'Hydrogen sulphide is made in very low doses in the body and, far from doing harm, it has become clear that it can do a great deal of good,' said Dr John Wallace, a pharmacologist at the University of Calgary in Canada. 'It is found in the brain and is also thought to control blood pressure. It is quite pervasive, in fact.'

One key piece of research has shown that hydrogen sulphide could protect against internal bleeding, ulcers and other gastric effects suffered by those on long-term regimes of anti-inflammatory painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen. In a series of experiments on rats and mice, Wallace and his colleagues found that these painkillers - when administered with chemicals that released hydrogen sulphide into the gut - produced no harmful side effects. 'Now we are preparing to repeat these experiments on humans,' said Wallace, who has formed a company, Antibe Therapeutics, to create drugs based on hydrogen sulphide technology. 'We envisage using standard medicines, mixed with hydrogen sulphide-releasing chemicals, as painkillers that will not cause internal bleeding to long-term users.'

Hydrogen sulphide research in medicine began three years ago when Dr Mark Roth, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Washington, found that mice exposed to low levels of the gas passed out, their body temperatures dropped more than 20C and their metabolic rates plunged. Once the gas was switched off, they returned to normal. Now Roth is working on research aimed at reproducing the effect in humans, buying time for patients who have had heart attacks, strokes or wounds that have caused drastic losses of blood.

'I still get startled reactions from other scientists when I put forward proposals to use it for medical research,' said Wallace. '"Isn't this a poison?" they say to me. Then I point out what researchers have already found and they look stunned.'

No comment on this article but the the usual "ain't science wonderful!"

08 June 2008

A New Elahe Heidari Drawing

A drawing given to me by Elahe Heidari during my recent visit to Paris.

Goya - Disasters of War

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Paris was the chance to attend a major exhibition of Goya's engravings. Included of course were his Disasters of War engravings depicting scenes from the French invasion of Spain.

Nearly 200 years on they remain powerful images of the horrors of war: Rape, mutilation, famine.

07 June 2008

The Sense of Sight

By Annie Swynnerton. On dispalay at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. No particular reason for posting this painting except that I love it.

Scroll down for Photo Hunt

A bit more Darya Dadvar

Beautiful. I really wish she would record some CDs. If she has recorded any CD's I would would be grateful to anyone who would point me in their direction re purchasing them

06 June 2008

Robyn - Bad hair day?

Robyn might just be having a bad hair day, but then his fur is best described as flyaway! This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. It will also be my entry for this week's Photo Hunt

05 June 2008

So quiet you could hear a pun drop

I love Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books. They are probably the best historical novels ever written.

As well as being an extremely agressive and successful naval officer he is not averse to giving the world some of the most terrible puns ever uttered. This one is from the sixth Aubrey-Maturin outing The Fortune of War:

Jack Aubrey:"Do you see those two weevils doctor?"

Stephen Maturin:
"I do."

JA:"Which would choose?"

"Neither. There is not a scrap a difference between them. They are the same species of curculio."

"If you had to choose. If you were forced to make a choice. If there was no other response..."

"Well then if your going to push me, I would choose the right hand weevil. It has significant advantage in both length and breadth."

"There! I have you! Your completely dished! Do you not know that in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils!"

So there you have it!

Another Birth

Another Forough Farokhzad poem. Read by Parvaneh Farid. I came across Farokhzad by accident only recently. Her life was cut short in a car accident in 1967. She was just 32. I can only imagine what she would have produced had she lived.