31 July 2008

Somewhere in Kerry

Donkey and Dolmen

.... and the dolmen on its own. Fahan, near Ventry (not far from Dunbeg promontory fort and on the way to the famine cottages) on the Dingle peninsula, Kerry

McGonagall on a forger and Charles Stewart Parnell

There's nothing like a bit of poetry to start the day and the work of William Topaz McG is nothing like a bit of poetry! Regular visitors know that I love McGonagall. I consider him to be a national treasure. You too can get a daily dose of the Tayside Tragedian - simply click here to ensure that a fresh pile of William T's finest work is delivered to your inbox every morning! Any way without further ado here's:

by William McGonagall

Richard Pigott, the forger, was a very bad man,
And to gainsay it there's nobody can,
Because for fifty years he pursued a career of deceit,
And as a forger few men with him could compete.

For by forged letters he tried to accuse Parnell
For the Phoenix Park murders, but mark what befell.
When his conscience smote him he confessed to the fraud,
And the thought thereof no doubt drove him mad.

Then he fled from London without delay,
Knowing he wouldn't be safe there night nor day,
And embarked on board a ship bound for Spain,
Thinking he would escape detection there, but 'twas all in vain.

Because while staying at a hotel in Spain
He appeared to the landlord to be a little insane.
And he noticed he was always seemingly in dread,
Like a person that had committed a murder and afterwards fled.

And when arrested in the hotel he seemed very cool,
Just like an innocent schoolboy going to school.
And he said to the detectives, "Wait until my portmanteau I've got."
And while going for his portmanteau, himself he shot.

So perished Richard Pigott, a forger bold,
Who tried to swear Parnell's life away for the sake of gold,
But the vengeance of God overtook him,
And Parnell's life has been saved, which I consider no sin.

Because he was a man that was very fond of gold,
Not altogether of the miser's craving, I've been told,
But a craving desire after good meat and drink,
And to obtain good things by foul means he never did shrink.

He could eat and drink more than two ordinary men,
And to keep up his high living by foul means we must him condemn,
Because his heart's desire in life was to fare well,
And to keep up his good living he tried to betray Parnell.

Yes, the villain tried hard to swear his life away,
But God protected him by night and by day,
And during his long trial in London, without dismay,
The noble patriot never flinched nor tried to run away.

Richard Pigott was a man that was blinded by his own conceit.
And would have robbed his dearest friend all for good meat,
To satisfy his gluttony and his own sensual indulgence,
Which the inhuman monster considered no great offence.

But now in that undiscovered country he's getting his reward,
And I'm sure few people have for him little regard,
Because he was a villain of the deepest dye,
And but few people for him will heave a sigh.

When I think of such a monster my blood runs cold,
He was like Monteith, that betrayed Wallace for English gold;
But I hope Parnell will prosper for many a day
In despite of his enemies that fried to swear his life away.

Oh! think of his sufferings and how manfully he did stand.
During his long trial in London, to me it seems grand.
To see him standing at the bar, innocent and upright,
Quite cool and defiant, a most beautiful sight.

And to the noble patriot, honour be it said,
He never was the least afraid
To speak on behalf of Home Rule for Ireland,
But like a true patriot nobly he did take his stand.

And may he go on conquering and conquer to the end,
And hoping that God will the right defend,
And protect him always by night and by day,
At home and abroad when far away.

And now since he's set free, Ireland's sons should rejoice
And applaud him to the skies, all with one voice,
For he's their patriot, true and bold,
And an honest, true-hearted gentleman be it told.

30 July 2008

All or Nothing

Small Faces

Journey to the center of the mind

Amboy Dukes

The shrew with the rock-hard liver

There are some people who can drink for Britain (The late, great Oliver Reed springs immediately to mind!) but even the hardest drinker would be under the table if it tried to go round for round with the Pen tailed tree shrew. According to yesterday’s Times this primitive mammal is the hardest-drinking creature in the world.

Each night Pen tailed tree shrews imbibe, weight for weight, the equivalent of a human downing up to nine glasses of wine. However, their capacity to hold their drink and keep a clear head puts humans to shame. After a night supping the shrews are not even unsteady on their feet, let alone being copiously sick or starting drunken fights.

They get their drinks from bertam palms, which grow in the jungles of West Malaysia and produce nectar boasting an alcohol content that can match beer. Pen tailed tree shrews, Ptilocercus lowii, were described by scientists studying them as chronic drinkers with such a high alcoholic consumption that their habit would be likely to kill other mammals, including humans.

“Pen tailed tree shrews frequently consume alcohol doses. . . that would intoxicate humans,” a research team reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We detected chronic alcohol intake by pen tailed tree shrews and some other mammals through alcoholic nectar of the bertam palm. Alcohol intake by the pen tailed tree shrew reaches levels that are dangerous to other mammals. This finding suggests adaptive benefits inherent to a diet high in alcohol.”

The German-led research team said it was likely the shrews avoided drunkenness and hangovers because their bodies had enhanced biological mechanisms to break down and dispose of alcohol, though what they are has yet to be pinpointed. The scientists hope for new insights into why humans have a taste for alcohol.

29 July 2008

WW - Ballaghbeama Gap, County Kerry

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

France's last untouchable

This is a précis of an article that appeared in yesterday’s Independent. I had never heard of this persecuted group before.

Sitting in her little house near Tarbes, in the French Pyrenees, Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac talks about her ancestry. For most people this would be agreeable, but for the 40-something mother-of-three, the story of her bloodline is marked with a unique sadness: because she belongs to an extraordinary tribe of hidden pariahs, repressed in France for a thousand years.

Marie-Pierre is a Cagot. If the word "Cagot" means nothing to you, that is not surprising. The history of the Cagot people is obscure. Marie certainly believes that: "To talk about the Cagots is still a bad thing in the mountains. The French are ashamed of what they did to us, the Cagots are ashamed of what they were. That is why no one, these days, will confess they are of Cagot descent."

She is probably the only person in the world willing to admit she is of Cagot blood. But it took her many years to realise what that meant. "When I first had children, I wanted to know where they came from so I started researching, I noticed certain names and trades in my background, lots of humble carpenters, basket-makers, poor people, people who lived in the 'wrong' parts of town. Soon I realised I was a Cagot. Though many argue what that really means."

The truth about the Cagots is obscure. In medieval times the Cagots – also knows as Agotes, Gahets, Capets, Caqueux, etc – were divided from the general peasantry in several ways. They had their own urban districts: usually on the malarial side of the river. These dismal ghettoes were known as Cagoteries; traces of them can still be found in Pyrenean communities such as Campan or Hagetmau.

For hundreds of years, Cagots were treated as different and inferior. In the churches, they had to use their own doors (at least 60 Pyrenean churches still boast "Cagot" entrances); they had their own fonts; and they were given communion on the end of long wooden spoons. Marie-Pierre adds: "When a Cagot came into a town, they had to report their presence by shaking a rattle. Just like a leper, ringing his bell."

Cagots were forbidden to enter most trades or professions. So they made barrels for wine and coffins for the dead. They also became expert carpenters: ironically they built many of the Pyrenean churches from which they were partly excluded. Some of the other prohibitions on the Cagots were bizarre. They were not allowed to walk barefoot, theycould not use the same baths as other people. They were not allowed to touch the parapets of bridges. When they went about, they had to wear a goose's foot conspicuously pinned to their clothes.

"The Cagots weren't even allowed to eat alongside non-Cagots, nor share their dishes.” Marriage between Cagots and non-Cagots was almost impossible. On occasions, the bigotry was brutally enforced: in the early 18th century a prosperous Cagot in the Landes was caught using the font reserved for non-Cagots – his hand was chopped off and nailed to the church door.

So where did the Cagots originate? And why did they suffer such bigotry? Their provenance is opaque: during the French Revolution, the laws against Cagots were formally abandoned – indeed many Cagots pillaged local archives and erased any record of their ancestry. After 1789, the Cagots slowly assimilated into the general populace. Nonetheless, there are historical accounts that afford an intriguing glimpse. Contemporary sources describe them as being short, dark and stocky. Francisque Michel's Histoire des races maudites (History of the cursed races, 1847), was one of the first studies. He found Cagots had "frizzy brown hair". He also found at least 10,000 Cagots still scattered across Gascony and Navarre, still suffering repression – nearly 70 years after the Cagot caste was "abolished".

Since then historians have tried to solve the Cagot mystery. One theory is that they were lepers, or contagious cretins. However, this theory falls down on the many descriptions of the Cagots being perfectly healthy.

Another idea, as Marie-Pierre implies, is that the Cagots were slaves of the Goths who inundated France in the Dark Ages. From here, etymologists have deduced that "ca-got" comes from "cani Gothi" – "dogs of the Goths". But that idea fails to explain the many variants of the Cagot name, nor does it square with the geographical distribution. In fact, the Cagot name probably derives from "cack" or "caca", a term of abuse in itself.

Last year, a new theory emerged, propounded by the British writer Graham Robb in his book The Discovery of France. Robb suggests that the Cagots were originally a guild of skilled medieval woodworkers; in this light, the bigotry against them was commercial rivalry, which became fossilised and regimented over time.

Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac, "the last Cagot in the world", has no doubts where she comes from: "I believe the Cagots are descendants of Moorish soldiers left over from the 8th century Muslim invasion of Spain and France. That's why some people called them 'Saracens'. I am quite dark, and my daughter Sylvia is the darkest in her class."

"Some like to say Cagots have disappeared. But this is not true. If you travel near Campan, for instance, you can still see the short, swarthy people descended from the Cagots. The 'pestiferous people'."

28 July 2008

Later On

My death will come someday to me
One day in spring, bright and lovely
One winter day, dusty, distant
One empty autumn day, devoid of joy.

My death will come someday to me
One bittersweet day, like all my days
One hollow day like the one past
Shadow of today or of tomorrow.

My eyes tune to half dark hallways
My cheeks resemble cold, pale marble
Suddenly sleep creeps over me
I become empty of all painful cries.

Slowly my hands slide o’er my notes
Delivered from poetry’s spell,
I recall that once in my hands
I held the flaming blood of poetry.

The earth invites me into its arms,
Folks gather to entomb me there
Perhaps at midnight my lovers
Place above me wreaths of many roses.

Forough Farrokhzad 1935-1967

Does and Stags

Millstreet Country Park 20 July 2008

Vivat Rex!

It’s amazing what you can miss when you shun TV, papers and the internet for just a week. Had I accessed any of the above I would have whooped with delight at the idea of Radovan Karadzic, spending the rest of his life continually dropping his soap; I would have been utterly dismayed at the loss of Glasgow East. However, I am sorry I missed what must have been the biggest story of the past week: proof that The King is immortal.

Look at this carving. The features, the swept back hair and the quiff are unmistakably those of Elvis but the carving of the King was created around 1800 years before his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. The amazing likeness has come to light as part of a sale of ancient antiques by the auction house Bonhams. The Roman Elvis is an acroterion - an architectural ornament often found on the corners of sarcophagi - and forms part of a collection owned by Melbourne-based Graham Geddes - one of the world's most foremost collectors - which is estimated to sell for more than £1m when it goes on sale in October. The Elvis sculpture is 2nd Century AD and is estimated to make £25,000 to £30,000.

A spokesman for Bonhams said: "It is perhaps the strangest item in the sale and it clearly proof positive that Elvis lived a previous life in Rome. It certainly allows Roman experts to make sense of references in the Annals of Tacitus to a singer called Gyratus who sang popular songs including Tenere Me Ama, Non Adamare Non Possum and Nunc hic aut numquam. Unfortunately I am not sure we will ever determine whether Elvis is a reincarnation of Gyratus or if indeed he is immortal. Then again some things should remain within the realms of faith”

27 July 2008

Sunset Clara view

A pearl of wisdom from Nasreddin

"Nasreddin, is your religion orthodox?" "It all depends," said Nasreddin, "on which bunch of heretics is in power."

Well it amused me!


Claragh in early evening sunlight

Clara view, Millstreet

Just back from my first holiday in Ireland in 9 years. We stayed just outside of Millstreet (about 40 miles from Cork and 20 from Killarney. My mother gew up in this small town) in a house called Clara View. The view of Claragh (at just under 1500 feet it's not much of a mountain, I know, but it's a splendid sight and the perfect respite from suburban life

17 July 2008

16 July 2008

Rather the magnificent 20,000 than the magnificent seven

After years of being attacked by crows, a colony of vulnerable seabirds nesting in Tokyo are getting protection from honey bees.

Conservationists hope bees will repel the crows, based on the insects' tendency to attack anything dark-coloured that approaches their hives This year beehives from rural areas were relocated to the top of a large water-treatment facility near Tokyo's international airport, where as many as 4,000 birds known as little terns nest after a long migration from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.

The terns have long been victims of Tokyo's crows. In a single prolonged attack five years ago, about 60 crows picked off roughly 300 eggs and 160 young birds, and fewer terns have come to the nesting site since then. "The young can't defend themselves against the crows, so we tried to find ways to protect them at the nesting site," said Naoya Masuda, a member of the Little Tern Project. "One thing we tried was putting netting in the trees and stringing up fishing lines, but nothing worked."

Observations suggest that using bees to battle crows will turn out to be an effective solution. It is believed that the bees' reaction is linked to the colour of bears' fur. The insects apparently attack dark-coloured creatures to protect their hives from plunder.

Around 20,000 honeybees currently patrol the terns' nests "It is not 100 percent foolproof yet, because the area is quite large, and there do seem to have been fewer birds here this year so far," said. Masuda "But we are hopeful that it will prove effective over the long term.”

I wonder....

Meet the Ancestor

Two villagers in the Söse valley of Germany received news of the discovery of their great-great-great-great-great-great-(and so on. You get the idea). Thanks to DNA testing of remarkably well-preserved Bronze Age bones both Manfred Hucht-hausen and Uwe Lange can claim to have the longest proven family tree in the world. “I can trace my family back by name to 1550,” Mr Lange said. “Now I can go back 120 generations.”

Mr Lange comes from the village of Nienstedt, in Lower Saxony, in the foothills of the Harz mountain range. “We used to play in these caves as kids. If I’d known that there were 3,000-year-old relatives buried there I wouldn’t have set foot in the place

The cave, the Lichtensteinhöhle, is made up of five interlocked natural chambers. It stayed hidden from view until 1980 and was not researched properly until 1993. The archaeologist Stefan Flindt found 40 skeletons along with what appeared to be cult objects. It was a mystery: Bronze Age man was usually buried in a field. Different theories were considered. Perhaps some of the bodies had been offered as human sacrifice, or one generation had been eaten by another.

The analysis showed that all the bones were from the same family and the scientists speculated that it was a living area and a ceremonial burial place. About 300 locals agreed to giving saliva swabs. Two of the cave family had a very rare genetic pattern – and a match was found.

The skulls have been reconstructed using three-dimensional computer techniques and placed in a museum. “It was really strange to look the man deep in the eyes,” Mr Lange said.

I would have been chuffed to find I was one of those direct descendants. It’s not the first time this has happened: In 1999 an episode of the BBC2 programme called Meet the Ancestors . One episode concerned “Bleadon Man” a 2,100-year-old Iron Age skeleton. Five direct descendants were found in present-day Bleadon. If that’s not enough Adrian Targett of Cheddar, Somerset, has been closely linked through DNA testing with the 9,000-year-old skeleton of Cheddar Man found in the Cheddar Gorge in 1903. Two unnamed children had direct links.

15 July 2008

If you are an unknown insect then what better place to live

WW follows

Insect experts at the Natural History Museum were stumped when a tiny red and black bug, no bigger than a grain of rice, turned up in their own wildlife garden.Despite a year's efforts from specialists across Europe, the mystery insect has defied all attempts to identify it. Max Barclay, an entomologist at the museum, came across the bug last spring. “I was in the gardens with my son and there was one under the gate, I thought, ‘That looks interesting, I've never seen anything like that before'

The bug was the most common insect in the museum's wildlife garden last summer and has since been found across southwest London, leading Mr Barclay to believe that it will soon spread across the country. But although the museum holds the world's largest collection of insects, no exact match could be found.

The bug closely resembles a Central European species, Arocatus roeselii, but it is a darker red and lives on plane trees rather than alder. “It's a bit unsatisfactory that in the garden of the biggest museum in the world there was an insect that we couldn't identify,” Mr Barclay said.

Specimens have been found in Battersea Park, Chelsea Embankment and Gray's Inn in London, and Mr Barclay believes that the insect has now spread across the capital. The bug has since been matched to unidentified specimens found in Nice and Paris, but Mr Barclay does not think that it is native to Europe. “A native species would have predators and parasites that would keep its numbers under control. It could be from anywhere plane trees occur, which doesn't narrow it down very much.” Plane trees are found across the northern hemisphere from China to North America.

The bug lives off the seeds of the plane tree and is thought to be harmless to human beings and the trees. Scientists in the Netherlands will now examine the creature's DNA in an attempt to find out more about its make-up. Mr Barclay believes that this will rule out the possibility that it is a hybrid of a known species, and set researchers on the way to solving the mystery.

Naturalists would venture far and wide to collect specimens. I find it amusing that one turns up on their doorstep so to speak!

WW - Rodin Sculpture

A somewhat distorted Rodin sculpture (Distorted by me that is!) . This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday edition of Wordless Wednesday.

14 July 2008

The song of the icebergs

Once again the Fortean Times breaking news section turns up something fascinating... It would appear that some huge Antarctic icebergs make eerie sounds, which are a result of huge lumps of ice scraping past each other and producing thousands of tiny icequakes. According to a report in New Scientist, these icebergs, which travel from Antarctica to Tahiti, can sound like laughing monkeys and barking dogs.

Massive tabular icebergs break off the Antarctic ice shelf about every 50 years. Soon after the last calving event in 2000, unusual harmonic tremors were picked up by underwater hydrophones as far as Tahiti. Doug MacAyeal at the University of Chicago and colleagues constructed a network of seismographs on an iceberg called C16, which at the time was aground in the Ross Sea and adjoining another huge iceberg called B15A.

They monitored the tremors (which are inaudible to the human ear, but can be heard if the recordings are speeded) in 2003and found that one particular song was repeated by the giants daily, and the timing matched that of the tides in the Ross Sea. It began vigorously on the first surge, then slowly ground to a halt and began again when the tide reversed.

The researchers discovered that the tremors came from an area where C16 was rammed by B15A.. Pushed by the daily tides, the bergs scraped past each other in many brief, jerky movements. Each of these movements is only 0.6 millimetres, but they send booming broadcasts into the world oceans, MacAyeal told New Scientist. A seismometer at the South Pole records each of these tremors as if an earthquake of magnitude 3.5 was occurring underneath the iceberg, he added.

The icebergs could allow them to study earthquakes in a laboratory-like setting. They are perfect analogies of plate tectonics. They float on the ocean like surface plates float on magma; and just like them, they occasionally collide and slide against each other, said MacAyeal.The iceberg tremors could also lead to ways to predict the strength of aftershocks, he added.


Taken at the Rodin museum in Paris

13 July 2008

Back in March I put up a post about the only woman in the Afghan Olympic Team Now it seems that she will not be competing in Beijing after all.

Mahbooba Ahadgar (or Mehboba Andyar as she was called in earlier news items –spelling varies) was scheduled to run in the 800m and 1,500m. She had no chance of a medal – indeed it was likely she would have finished a minute or more behind the winners. For her to take part in the greatest sporting tournament on earth would be victory enough.

Miss Ahadgar disappeared from the town of Formia, south of Rome, where she had been training with other Olympic Solidarity hopefuls for the previous month. According to Nick Davies, press spokesman for the world athletics governing body IAAF, the group was due to return to a training camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 7 July – but Ms Ahadgar disappeared. "There were all sorts of lurid rumours about her being kidnapped," said Mr Davies. "But now it emerges that she took her passport, stamped with a visa valid for the Schengen countries, and belongings with her. Clearly she's taken a decision."

Ms Ahadgar phoned her family in of Kabul to tell them that she was on her way to claim political asylum in Norway.

Her decision to run presented Miss Ahadgar with huge difficulties. She chose to train in a headscarf and tracksuit to avoid being criticised for immodesty, and timed her runs for the evening when most Kabulis are at home watching their favourite soap opera. But when foreign journalists came calling at the family home to interview her, neighbours phoned the police and reported that she was receiving men as a prostitute. Her father was briefly thrown in jail until the confusion was cleared up.

Her mother, Moha Jan, added: "We are really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family. But these problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."

There was always a possibility that she would seize the opportunity presented by her Schengen visa to escape from the grinding poverty of Afghanistan for good. To try to dissuade Ms Ahadgar from vanishing, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan. Now she has called his bluff.

And who can blame her for making this decision? She faced problems no athlete in the West would face in their worst nightmares. While it would have been great to see her do her very best in Beijing, it would not cut much ice with many fellow Afghans.

The Scilly season starts

They say the summer is the silly season for news stories (elephants skateboarding and the like) but spare a thought for the Scilly Islands council and their recent advertisement for an air traffic controller at St Mary’s Airport

The airport wais seeking a fourth air traffic controller and offering a salary of up to £36,000. Although the advertisement states that applicants must have excellent vision in order to guide aircraft safely into the hilltop airport, which is often fogbound. Yet at the bottom is the note: "If you require this document in an alternative language, in larger text, Braille, easy read or in an audio format, please contact the Community Relations Officer."

A spokeswoman for the Council of the Isles of Scilly said the wording was included on all job adverts "to ensure that potential job applicants know that they can access information in a format to suit them."

Keri Jones, the controller of Radio Scilly, said the note had attracted widespread ridicule. "We have had loads of calls about it and people generally find it quite funny," he said. "The islands are always at the cutting edge of innovation, so it would certainly be something for Scilly to have the world's first blind air traffic controller."

The thought of a blind air traffic controller certainly does amuse. Seriously fair play to the council for its commitment to equal opportunities. In this case, though, they may have spared themselves a few comments if they had amended their advert pro forma

12 July 2008

Heart of a Dog - Part 1

Scroll down for Photo Hunt

Part 1, section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Heart of a Dog is a glorious satire by Mikhail Bulgakov, one of my favourite authors. Once again I am indebted to Redwine for drawing my attention to its presence on Youtube. More sections to come.

And now to stop typing....

Anna prucnal/Anna Planeta


Polish actress and singer Anna Prucnal sings and tells how she was exiled from Poland after appearing in the film Sweet Movie. I'm not sure if it is still banned in the UK.

Here is Anna Planeta singing Bandiera Rossa with Luv Bakunin. Obviously this takes place before Anna murders him in a vat of sugar....

A post for Redwine who drew my attention to the Prucnal video and who of course uses Anna Planeta for her avatar

11 July 2008

Photo Hunt - Support

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is support. Stretching the definition, here is another statue from the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It is from the tomb of 19th century scientist and socialist Francois-VincerFrancois Raspail. The statue also appears on the cover of the Dead Can Dance album Within the Realm of a Dying Sun

I will be a bit slow in visiting this week. An injured finger makes typing hard!

A young Ted

A youthful Ted when he used to climb the clothes horse. This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats

10 July 2008

09 July 2008

Mine detecting rats

Old news but watching the rats doing their thing never ceases to amaze me.

Visit the APOPO website for more information on this amazing work

Preying on desperation

Cancer sufferers seem to be particular prey to charlatans and con artists. How often do we hear of such vultures giving false hope to the seriously or terminally ill? This case from South Australia seems particularly vile

Shannon O’Donnell died after a "doctor" gave her a bogus cancer cure. The Social Development Committee hearing into unregistered and deregistered doctors took evidence from Shirley O'Donnell, Shannon’s mother. Shannon died 36 days after receiving "ozone treatment", in 2003, from a man known as Lubo Bitelco.

Ms O'Donnell was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and went to Mr Bitelco after hearing from a friend about his treatments.He promised her a "50 per cent cure" after giving her a treatment known as "vaginal blowing" during which she had to move up and down on the bed saying "Oh, Boy", Mrs O'Donnell said. He then offered to continue the treatment for almost $10,000, showing her albums and videos of previous clients.

Ozone treatment is an alternative treatment that was widely condemned by experts after six Australians were found to have died from it in 2006.It usually involves administering ozone in gas form. The coroner found Ms O'Donnell had died from sepsis and that it was unclear whether the infection was from the treatment or whether the cancer was responsible.

Mrs O'Donnell said she understood Mr Bitelco was still practising. "I hope something is going to be done to stop him," she said."I can't do anything about Shannon (but) I would like the police to do something about him and his methods."

What can one say but hope that this charlatan gets his just desserts as soon as possible, hopefully slowly and unpleasantly

08 July 2008

WW - Greensted church

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

People hurt in Pamplona Bull run shock

Thirteen people were injured in the running of the bulls in Pamplona yesterday. The half-mile dash through the Spanish city's cobbled streets turned chaotic when the six bulls became separated after ploughing into a crowd. Six of the injured runners were Spanish while the rest were from Britain, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Romania and South Korea. They suffered head, rib or other injuries from falling or getting trampled. None were gored.

I Know this is a statement of the blindingly obvious but I am far from shocked or stunned. If the bulls knew what they faced at the end of the rum I'm sure they would make sure they took out as many people as they could then gore the matador

07 July 2008

Stupid Questions

New Model Army

Are Octopuses left or right tentacled?

This is a burning question that scientists hope to answer by giving 25 octopuses Rubik Cubes and other toys. While marine biologists do not expect any of the brainy cephalopods to finish the puzzle, they hope that the month-long project at 23 Sea Life Centres across Britain and Europe will show whether they have a favourite tentacle for picking things up.

Claire Little, a marine expert at the Weymouth Sea Life Centre, explained: "Uniquely, octopuses have more than half their nerves in their arms and have been shown to partially think with their arms. Many animals have been shown to favour a certain arm so we will see if octopuses can be added to that list."

A diagram of an octopus will sit alongside the tanks with the tentacles on the right labelled R1, R2, R3 and R4 from front to back; the left tentacles labelled L1 and so on. If the octopus uses a combination of arms, up to three will be recorded in sequence. A ball, a jam jar and Lego bricks will also be dropped in to the water for the octopuses' inspection. The giant Pacific octopus, the common octopus and the lesser octopus will all star in the research.

Octopuses are probably the most intelligent of all invertebrates: they have a capacity for learning and have complex memories. In 2003 an octopus in a German zoo learnt how to open jars of shrimps by copying staff. The five-month-old animal opened the jars by pressing its body on the lid and grasping the sides with its eight tentacles (see above).

I’m sure that finding whether octopuses have a preference for a particular tentacle will shed light on their brain structure, but I would love to see the looks on the scientists faces if one of them actually completed a cube!

06 July 2008

Mediaeval poison pen lettering

The Discovery Channel website has this article which concludes that Mediaeval monks who wrote Biblical texts Biblical texts and other religious materials may have been poisoned by the inks they were using. Cinnabar an ore of Mercury, was used to make red ink. A study (which will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science) also describes a previously undocumented disease, called FOS, which was like leprosy and caused skull lesions.

Scientists believe the monks, who were buried in the cloister walk of the Cistercian Abbey at Øm, were either contaminated while preparing and administering medicines, or while writing the artistic letters of incunabula, or pre-1500 A.D. books. Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a University of Southern Denmark scientist at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, suspects that ink used in the abbey's scriptorium was the culprit. "it is very human to lick the brush, if one wants to make a fine line. Even today "one should really not touch, or much less rub, the parchment pages of an incunabulum," he said adding that mercury "was used in the first place because cinnabar (a type of mercury) has this bright red, beautiful colour.” It is also known that metallic liquid mercury was given in vapor form to diseased patients. So if the monks "were just a little careless, they would be exposed this way, however, they might also be exposed during the preparation of the medicine."

Co-author Jesper Lier Boldsen discovered the previously undocumented disease FOS while examining the skeletons."We do not know if FOS was fatal, but it certainly looks painful and just as severe as leprosy," Lund Rasmussen said.

While working on the study, the researchers also noted that, due to different carbon signatures, some of the medieval individuals ate a mostly marine, fish-filled diet. Lund Rasmussen suggests that the others may have "preferred beer and meat, rather than fish and water." The Cistercians were, in principal, not allowed to eat meat from any four-footed animals, but the Franciscans do not appear to have always observed this practice. Although seafood may now contain high levels of mercury from environmental pollution, exposure from food would have been unlikely during the mediaeval period.

Lund Rasmussen and his team radiocarbon dated some of the studied bones, but they hope to do this for even more individuals from the test sample group, as this could reveal additional information about the possible link between mercury exposure and red ink use. By 1536, books were no longer written by hand, but were instead printed, so the scientists suspect the toxic red ink literally faded from the monastic picture.

The idea that the monks may have poisoned themselves while licking their brushes is quite plausible. One only has to look at the Radium Girls – women who painted dials of luminous watches. They would make a mixture of glue, water and radium powder into a glowing greenish-white paint, then apply it to the dials with a camel hair brush.. After a few strokes, the brushes would lose their shape, and the women couldn't paint accurately. They were isnstructed to point the brushes with their lips. Needless to say they suffered from radium poisoning leading in many cases to cancers of the upper and lower jaws.

Pakistan commutes 7000 death sentences

Pakistan has reprieved 7,000 death row inmates and commuted their sentences to life imprisonment, in one of the biggest amnesties in modern times. The Cabinet this week approved the reprieve in a special gesture designed to mark the life of the former Prime Minister, who was assassinated late last year and would have turned 55 last month.

Amnesty International said the reprieve, which will come into force after being rubber-stamped by President Musharraf, would benefit almost one third of the world’s death row population, which is estimated to be around 24,000. Pakistan is believed to have the largest number of prisoners on death row anywhere in the world.

However, radical Mullahs called on Muslims to protest against the clemency, which they claimed was “un-Islamic”. They warned the government not to interfere Islamic Sharia law. The Mullahs have also challenged the decision in the courts, saying under Islamic laws only relatives of murder victims could pardon the offender. In the past, wealthier convicts have often benefitted from this provision and escaped a death sentence by paying compensation to the victim’s family.

This gesture may not save everyone on Pakistan’s overcrowded death rows but it is a gesture to be welcomed. Here’s hoping an abolition of the death penalty will not be too far behind regardless of the bloodthirsty views of the fundamentalists

In the mood for McGonagall


A sad tale of the sea, I will unfold,
About Mrs Lingard, that Heroine bold;
Who struggled hard in the midst of the hurricane wild,
To save herself from being drowned, and her darling child.

'Twas on the 8th of September, the Barque "Lynton" sailed for Aspinwall,
And the crew on board, numbered thirteen in all;
And the weather at the time, was really very fine,
On the morning that the ill-fated vessel left the Tyne.

And on the 19th of November, they hove in sight of Aspinwall,
But little did they think there was going to be a squall;
When all on a sudden, the sea came rolling in,
And a sound was heard in the heavens, of a rather peculiar din.

Then the vivid lightning played around them, and the thunder did roar,
And the rain came pouring down, and lashed the barque all o'er;
Then the Captain's Wife and Children were ordered below,
And every one on board began to run to and fro.

Then the hurricane in all its fury, burst upon them,
And the sea in its madness, washed the deck from stem to stem;
And the rain poured in torrents, and the waves seemed mountains high,
Then all on board the barque, to God for help, did loudly cry.

And still the wind blew furiously, and the darkness was intense,
Which filled the hearts of the crew with great suspense,
Then the ill-fated vessel struck, and began to settle down,
Then the poor creatures cried. God save us, or else we'll drown!

Then Mrs Lingard snatched to her breast, her darling child,
While loudly roared the thunder, and the hurricane wild;
And she cried, oh! God of heaven, save me and my darling child,
Or else we'll perish in the hurricane wild.

'Twas then the vessel turned right over, and they were immersed in the sea,
Still the poor souls struggled hard to save their lives, most heroically;
And everyone succeeded in catching hold of the keel garboard streak,
While with cold and fright, their hearts were like to break.

Not a word or a shriek came from Mrs Lingard, the Captain's wife,
While she pressed her child to her bosom, as dear she loved her life;
Still the water dashed over them again and again,
And about one o'clock, the boy, Hall, began to complain.

Then Mrs Lingard put his cold hands into her bosom,
To warm them because with cold he was almost frozen,
And at the same time clasping her child Hilda to her breast,
While the poor boy Hall closely to her prest.

And there the poor creatures lay huddled together with fear,
And the weary night seemed to them more like a year,
And they saw the natives kindling fires on the shore,
To frighten wild animals away, that had begun to roar.

Still the big waves broke over them, which caused them to exclaim,
Oh! God, do thou save us for we are suffering pain;
But, alas, the prayers they uttered were all in vain,
Because the boy Hall and Jonson were swept from the wreck and never rose again.

Then bit by bit the vessel broke up, and Norberg was swept away,
Which filled the rest of the survivors hearts with great dismay;
But at length the longed for morning dawned at last,
Still with hair streaming in the wind, Mrs Lingard to the wreck held fast.

Then Captain Lingard still held on with Lucy in his arms,
Endeavouring to pacify the child from the storms alarms;
And at last the poor child's spirits began to sink,
And she cried in pitiful accents, papa! papa! give me a drink.

And in blank amazement the Captain looked all round about,
And he cried Lucy dear I cannot find you a drink I doubt,
Unless my child God sends it to you,
Then he sank crying Lucy, my dear child, and wife, adieu! adieu!

'Twas then a big wave swept Lucy and the Carpenter away,
Which filled Mrs Lingard's heart with great dismay,
And she cried Mr Jonson my dear husband and child are gone,
But still she held to the wreck while the big waves rolled on.

For about 38 hours they suffered on the wreck,
At length they saw a little boat which seemed like a speck,
Making towards them on the top of a wave,
Buffetting with the billows fearlessly and brave.

And when the boat to them drew near,
Poor souls they gave a feeble cheer,
While the hurricane blew loud and wild,
Yet the crew succeeded in saving Mrs Lingard and her child.

Also, the Steward and two sailors named Christophers and Eversen,
Able-bodied and expert brave seamen.
And they were all taken to a French Doctor's and attended to,
And they caught the yellow fever, but the Lord brought them through.

And on the 6th of December they embarked on board the ship Moselle,
All in high spirits, and in health very well,
And arrived at Southampton on the 29th of December,
A day which the survivors will long remember.

If you want a daily dose of the Tayside Tragedian visit Mcgonagall Online and sign up to their fabulous "Gem of the Day" service!

04 July 2008

Photo Hunt - Pointed

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is pointed. These photos were taken during a recent trip to Paris. It is the Memorial des martyrs de la deportation memorial near Notre Dame cathedral. It commemorates the 200,000 French citizens deported to concentration camps in WWII. Not only is it literally pointed, it is poignant too.

Jim Halliday - a true Olympian

If there was a poll to find Britain’s greatest Olympian it is pretty certain that Sir Steve Redgrave would win by a country mile. His feat of winning gold medals in five consecutive Olympics (From Los Angeles to Sydney) is bettered only by the six times Olympians Hungarian Fencer Aladar Gerevich (Team sabre champions Los Angeles, Berlin, London, Helsinki, Melbourne and Rome) and German Kayaker Birgit Fischer (Moscow then Seoul to Athens).

But spare a thought for Jim Halliday who won a bronze medal in the weightlifting lightweight division at the 1948 games in London. What makes a bronze medal won 60 years ago in an event where British success is rare? Just three years before Halliday had been a Japanese prisoner of war and had shrunk in weight from 71kg (10 stone 12lb) to 38kg (about 6 stone).

Halliday began lifting at the age of 15 and had won the Lancashire lightweight title in 1936. He was called up into the Army at the start of the Second World War and had fought in the rearguard defending the evacuation at Dunkirk before being evacuated later at Boulogne. His regiment was later sent to Singapore where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese in February 1942.

Despite the conditions in Burma, he retained some of his natural strength - when one camp did not make a primitive barbell using tree trunks, none of the inmates nor the Japanese guards could lift it overhead. However, when Halliday was fetched from a neighbouring camp, he succeeded. As a result, the Japanese commandant further cut the rations because he believed the Britons were getting too strong.

After the war, Halliday started weightlifting again simply to recover his former bodyweight. However, competition again attracted him and he took part in the 1946 World Championships and in the 1948 Olympics, where he was third behind the winner, the outstanding Egyptian lifter Ibrahim Shams. Halliday took gold medals and the 1950 and 1954 Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth games).

Jim Halliday died on June 6, 2007, aged 89. His achievement goes to show that it is not just the champions who are the great Olympians. Recovering from horrendous ill treatment as a POW to medallist is a magnificent feat by anyone’s standards.

An old favourite sketch

Gerald the Gorilla - Not the Nine O Clock News

03 July 2008

Mummified cats at the British Museum

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

Lisa Gerard - Sanvean

A Canadian Foreign Accent Syndrome case

The Vancouver Sun carries a story about a rare and curious condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) which afflicts a tiny proportion of stroke victims and people receiving head injuries.

Two years ago Rosemay Dore had a stroke. Mercifuly she regained the ability to speak after long and frustrating therapy, but the brain damage left the Windsor, Ont. woman with a Newfoundland accent although she has never been anywhere near Atlantic Canada and has no family connections with the area. Dore is the first person in Canada known to have had this odd accent change, called Foreign Accent Syndrome, after a stroke. She's one of only about 60 reported cases in the world.

"Speech planning is an incredibly complicated thing," based on the many connections between different pieces of the brain that psychologists call the "speech motor circuit," explains Karin Humphreys, a psychologist at McMaster University. "And if you disrupt just one tiny portion of that circuit, it's going to change the way you speak... It's a little like the complex brain work that goes into playing the piano, with precise movements of muscles and exact timing needed in both. But with speech, "we're all virtuosos after all the practice we've done," she said.

That's unless damage disrupts the speech planning. Suddenly, the signals from brain to mouth are a little off, and the tongue won't quite move the way we intend it to.The effect is still English, but with vowels and consonants both twisted a little.

Rosemary said "It's not as bad as it was. But when it first happened my kids were laughing at me. I said, 'What do you find so funny?' And they say my voice, that it was, like, not from here. Still today they think it's cute. I don't know why, but ...For a long time I didn't want to talk" because people kept commenting on her changed accent, she said.

Curiously, most patients who recover with an accent sound entirely foreign - completely French or German, for instance. This appears to be a rare case of still sounding entirely English, but with a different regional accent. "We know a lot more than we knew 20 years ago. But there's still a huge amount to learn." Said Karin Humphreys And most of what the learning comes from cases where there's been damage to some part of the brain, which illustrates what that area did until it was hurt.

In FAS the sufferer does not imitate another accent but the damage to parts of the brain that controls language results in changes in pitch and intonation. It is the listener who perceives these changes as a different accent. This had disastrous consequences for one Norwegian victim, Astrid L, who received a head injury during an air raid in 1941. After recovering Astrid started to speak in what sounded like a German accent and she was ostracised by her fellow countrymen.

02 July 2008

Better late than never

George W Bush has signed a bill removing Nelson Mandela and ANC party members from the US terror watch list. Although members of the ANC could travel to the United Nations headquarters in New York they could not go elsewhere in the United States without a waiver from the secretary of state.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called the restrictions a "rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela."

Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain took place in 55BC. More of a punitive raid than a serious attempt to overrun the country, he landed with two legions "an open and flat shore". Historians believe that the landing place was at Deal.

Caesar mentions a full Moon, strong tides, and an ocean current. Based on this information historians generally believe that the landing took place on 26-27 August. However, researchers say this cannot be right. Dr Donald Olson, an expert on tides, says that the English Channel was flowing the wrong way on these dates. Dr Olson identified August 2007 as a rare opportunity to investigate the question of when Caesar landed. During this month, complex tidal factors involving the Moon and Sun would unfold in a near-perfect replay of those in August of 55 BC. So the researchers conducted an expedition to the south coast of England in order to investigate their idea.

On the day which corresponded closely to the traditional date for the invasion, Dr Olson carried out a basic experiment - dropping an apple into the sea off Deal pier at roughly the time of afternoon when Caesar described the fleet moving. The apple floated south-west towards Dover, suggesting that the Roman fleet could not have travelled up to Deal from Dover on that day. "The English Channel was flowing the wrong way," said Dr Olson.

On the day corresponding to the revised date of 22-23 August, the team chartered a sightseeing boat and took GPS readings to determine how the boat was drifting. They found the boat was floating north-east towards Deal. The Texas team's revised date gives Caesar the ocean current he needed to manoeuvre right, proceed seven miles, and land with a falling tide near present-day Deal.

This is the beach preferred by most historians but rejected by tide experts in the past. A modified reading of Caesar's reference to the "night of a full Moon" also leads to the August 22-23 date, Dr Olson claimed. "The scientists were right about the tidal streams and so were the historians about the landing site," he explained.

Well there you have it. It certainly is an interesting little revision to the history of this country even if not exactly earth shattering!