30 October 2008

You could clean this chair, human

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

A Nasreddin Hoca story

While on a trip to another village, Nasrudin lost his favorite copy of the Qur'an.

Several weeks later, a goat walked up to Nasrudin, carrying the Qur'an in its mouth.

Nasrudin couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the goat's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!"

"Not really," said the goat. "Your name is written inside the cover."

29 October 2008

Mexican Crystal cave - a wonder of nature

Monday's Telegraph carried this item about a crystal cave that was discovered in Naica in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico by two miners excavating a new tunnel for a commercial lead and silver mine.

Known as Mexico's Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) it contains some of the world's largest known natural crystals–translucent beams of gypsum as long as 36 feet. The crystals thrived in the cave's extremely rare and stable natural environment. Temperatures hovered consistently around a steamy 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), and the cave was filled with mineral-rich water that drove the crystals' growth.

Modern-day mining operations exposed the natural wonder by pumping water out of the 30-by-90-foot cave, which was found in 2000."There is no other place on the planet," said geologist Juan Manuel García-Ruiz.Where the mineral world reveals itself in such beauty. It's the Sistine Chapel of crystals."

The full story of this amazing cave will appear in the November issue of National Geographic... I think I'll be getting a copy asap.

She should have been a superstar


Cheryl Bradshaw performing a multiple personality counting act on the Gong Show. Marvellous stuff!

28 October 2008

WW - Water

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

Elahe Heidari's UK debut an utter disappointment

Regular readers will know that I have a great love for the work of Elahe Heidari an extremely talented artist who lives and works in Tehran. Elahe is already well regarded in Iran her works have been exhibited in India, Portugal and (shortly) Germany. I was delighted, therefore, to hear that several of her works were to be included in an exhibition of young Iranian artists called Heaven on Earth Now at the Brick Lane Gallery , London from 23 October to 2 November.

This being the first time her works were exhibited in London I had hoped to attend a well-organised event. Sadly I was mistaken. Only two of her works were actually on the walls and these were very poorly placed. Putting two large paintings together at a corner (as you can see from the above photograph) hardly does them justice. It was not just Elahe's work - other paintings were not well placed either. To be honest I've seen pictures hung better on the walls of a kindergarten.

Worse, at least two of her other works (I didn't turn over all of the other paintings) were simply leant against the wall, one on top of another. It hardly made a good impression and I can't imagine it did the paintings much good either.

The accompanying catalogue describes Elahe's works thus:

Elaheh Heydari tells the story of her women starting with the special texture of her paint on canvas, a texture which.... resembles a plaster that was not supposed to be painted upon. What you see are mementos that children or at times adults write on walls and quickly run off not to get caught...

Hmm as if she daubed "Tracey Slag does blow jobs for cigarettes on a wall then ran off? I don't think so!

The simplicity of the lines and the forms as well as the compositions reflect the painter and her character's fear and anxiety of getting caught - having their secrets exposed -and capture the fear and vulnerability resulting from that fear...

I won't go on but suffice it to say that I concur with the not-wife when she said "Eh? Haha! Who wrote this bollocks?"

I did not think the organiser was justified either when he made what I considered a disparaging remark about Minoo Emami's work - He considered her work to be in a rut and that nobody would want to buy it. I disagree entirely of course.

For me Elahe's London debut was very disappointing - The organiser did not seem to have much idea about hanging the exhibits to ensure that they were at least adequately presented. This may have been exacerbated by the size of the Brick Lane gallery itself which was clearly too small for the exhibition. That is not a slur on the gallery itself; it is a fine gallery.

The organiser's motive was clearly to make money from this exhibition. That is not a criticsm of course. However I wonder if some buyers were put off by what what seemed to be a shoddy display. I hope that the second appearance of her work here in the UK will be better organised.

27 October 2008

Hadijatou Mani victory should mean freedom for thousands of slaves in west Africa

The is taken from the Guardian. It is excellent news. The justice arm of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) court has convicted Niger of failing to protect a young girl sold into slavery in a landmark judgment with potentially far-reaching implications for the tens of thousands of people who remain enslaved in the region.

Yhe court ruled that Niger, where slavery remains common in rural areas despite being officially abolished five years ago, failed in its obligations to protect Hadijatou Mani.Mani, who brought the test case with the assistance of British anti-slavery groups, said she was sold into slavery at the age of 12 for around £325 and regularly beaten and sexually abused.The court, sitting in the capital, Niamey, ordered the state to pay her 10 million CFA francs (about £12,000) in damages and accumulated interest.

"I am very happy with this decision...It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate. Nobody deserves to be enslaved." Mani told Reuters reporters after the ruling was announced.

"We are law-abiding and will respect this decision," Mossi Boubacar, a legal official for Niger's government, told Reuters.The ruling by the panel of judges from Senegal, Mali and Togo is the first time Ecowas had been asked to rule on slavery. It is binding for all the organisation's 15 member nations. As well as Niger - where a recent study by the London-based Anti-Slavery International and local human rights group Timidria estimated at least 43,000 people were enslaved - the practice remains widespread in other west African nations such as another Ecowas member, Mali, and Mauritania.

Slavery was officially outlawed in Mauritania in 1981 but some human rights groups estimate up to 20% of the country's 3m people are still enslaved. A Malian human rights group, Temedt, estimated there were at least 7,000 slaves in just one region of the country, Gao. Anti-Slavery International described how slaves in Niger were owned and completely controlled by their masters, receiving only minimal food and a place to sleep in return for their labour.

The life of a sadaka, or sexual slave, was described in detail by Mani during the court case. She explained how she had been born a slave, sold and then transferred as a child against her mother's wishes to a man. She testified that she had been raped at 13 and constantly forced to have sex with her 63-year-old master, who owned seven other slaves. In 2005, two years after Niger enacted a law forbidding slavery, Mani was presented with a liberation certificate. This proved to be worthless, as she was immediately forced into a "wahiya marriage", giving her the status of a concubine.When she fled and married another man, her master had her arrested and charged with bigamy. She was imprisoned for two months on remand.

The issue has become deeply embarrassing for the government of Niger, which has failed to act on evidence of continued and widespread slavery in rural areas....I say screw embarrassment. Slavery is an evil practice that should have been wiped off the face of the earth a long time ago. We shall see if Niger and Mali now honour this ruling and free the slaves. The hell with tradition.

26 October 2008

Light blogging for a few days

Wrenched my damned shoulder....

Hadijatou Mani

According to today’s Observer a panel of West African judges will decide whether Niger's government has failed to protect decide whether Niger's government has failed to protect Hadijatou Mani and tens of thousands like her who have been enslaved, despite the practice being outlawed five years ago. Her case is being heard by the justice arm of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

Ms Mani was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and repeatedly raped by her master. Her appalling story is familiar in a country where the ownership of slaves, many from a hereditary slave caste, has been commonplace, particularly in remote rural areas. Beatings were frequent and she and other slaves were forced to work unpaid and gruelling hours for Naroua and his four legitimate wives. When she tried to escape, she was punished.

In 2005, two years after Niger enacted a law forbidding slavery, she was presented with a 'liberation certificate'. This proved to be worthless, as she was immediately forced into a 'wahiya marriage', with the status of a concubine. When she fled and married another man, her master had her arrested and charged with bigamy. She was subsequently imprisoned for two months on remand. It is believed that if tomorrow's verdict goes in her favour, the bigamy charges will be dropped.

Speaking before the judgment, Ms Mani said: 'It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same as anyone else. I hope that all those who are in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did.'

The issue has become a deeply embarrassing one for the government of Niger. Despite introducing the anti-slavery legislation, it has failed to act on evidence of its continuing and widespread existence in rural areas. But international conventions and national laws count for little compared to the centuries old 'customary law' that holds sway in rural villages and towns. According to Anti-Slavery International, Niger's courts have frequently proved reluctant to enforce law over custom.

Campaigners hope a favourable ruling may herald a major cultural shift on the issue of descent-based slavery throughout the Sahel region. The court's judgment will be binding in Niger and will be applicable in other countries in the Ecowas community where descent-based slavery exists, including Mali.

What can you say but hope that the Ecowas judges find in Hadijatou's favour and that Niger and other countries where this practice still occurs pay more than lip service to their own laws.

25 October 2008

Address to the Irish POWS at Limburg, May 15th, 1915

Irish POWs taken in the early part of WWI were concentrated in a camp at Limburg - almost certainly including my grandfather who was captured at the Etreux rearguard action during the British Expeditionary Force's retreat from Mons in August 1914. Roger Casement made an attempt in 1915 at recruiting an Irish Brigade. It was an utter failure. Let's say that they failed to be stirred by Casement's words (From Searcs web guide). I wonder what my grandfather thought of it.

"You have been told, I daresay, that I am trying to form an Irish Brigade to fight for Germany; that I am a German agent; and that an attempt is being made to suborn you, or tempt you to do something dishonest and insincere for the sake of the German Government and not for the welfare of Ireland. Well, you may believe me, or disbelieve me (and nothing I could say would convince you as to my own motives) but I can convince you, and I owe to yourselves as well as to my self to convince you that the effort to form an Irish Brigade is based on Irish interests only, and is a sincere and honest one, so far as my actions with the German Government is concerned and so far as their action in the matter goes.

An Irish Brigade, if it be formed today, will rest on a clear and definite agreement wherein the German Government is pledged to aid the cause of Irish independence by force of arms, and above all, to aid Irish men to themselves fight for their own freedom. The agreement that is the basis on which an Irish Brigade is one now in my hands, and which I will read to you. It was signed on 28th of December last by the duly authorized representative [under Secretary for State] of the German Government and is an honest and sincere offer on the part of a great European Government to help Irishmen to fight their own battle for the freedom of their country. It is the first time in history that such an offer has been made and embodied in clear straightforward terms.

Hitherto, in the past, Irish Brigades have existed on the Continent but they were, in every case, formed to fight the battles not of Ireland, but of France, or Spain or of Austria. The foreign governments who took Irishmen, and formed them into a fighting force, did so, in all these cases not for the sake of Ireland but for the cause of these foreign governments.

When Patrick Sarsfield died at Lauden in Flanders in 1691 he said on the field of his death: 'Would that this blood were shed for Ireland.' He was giving his life for France in the battles of France, not for Ireland. Today the case is different and if any Irish man in the Irish Brigade today loses his life he can at least say that he is giving his blood for Ireland. The agreement leaves no doubt that he is pledged to one cause only and that the cause is not of Germany but of Ireland...

Your Oath binds you to serve your king and country. Now a man has only one country and he cannot have a divided allegiance. The only country that can claim an Irishman's allegiance is Ireland. The king you agreed to serve is, in law, King of Great Britain and Ireland. There is no such person as the King of England in law. How have these sovereigns discharged their duty to their Irish subjects? For remember these obligations are mutual. Our Kings, whose sole title to our allegiance is that they are Kings of Ireland, as well as Kings of Great Britain, have not once in all these centuries performed their duties to their Irish people or fulfilled any of the sacred obligations laid upon them by the title and the allegiance they claim from their subjects.

I could cite many instances: I will give only two here. King George III was as much King of Ireland as he was King of Great Britain. He drew every year from the pockets of the Irish people the sum of £145,000 for his own purse. He never performed a public act for the welfare of his Irish people; he never set foot in Ireland, but he hired foreign soldiers, and Germans even, to come to Ireland to cut the throats of his Irish people and to burn their houses and devastate their country. That was in 1798, when the grandfathers of some of us were alive and were fighting for Irish rights. King George III of Ireland, as much as of Great Britain, paid £2,400,000 to hire foreign mercenaries to murder his Irish and his American subjects and the public accounts are on record showing who received this money - some of which was money from Ireland. That was one view of a King of England's duty to his people in Ireland.

In 1848, the granddaughter of George III, Queen Victoria, who was also Queen of Ireland as much as Great Britain, regretted very much, in a letter to her uncle the King of the Belgians that the starving and disarmed Irish people did not openly rebel, so that her ample army in Ireland might have a good chance of shedding Irish blood and teaching 'the Irish a lesson'. That was her sovereign view of her duties to the people she called her subjects - she only regretted that they did not come up to the scratch to give her well armed troops a chance of shooting down unarmed and starving men. I do not know what moral claims such sovereigns have to the loyality of the people they thus treat as enemies and have never regarded as having any claim upon their consciences. I am not the only Irishman who holds this view.

Others before us today, when it came to the question of fighting for Ireland, have not hesitated to break the Oath of Allegiance that bound them to such false Kings as these.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1798 was an Officer in the British army and had taken that form of the Oath of Allegiance. But he did not hesitate to break it and to lose his life fighting for Ireland. So with Smith O'Brien in 1848. He had taken two Oaths of Allegiance to the Crown - first in Parliament as Member for Clare, and also as a magistrate for that county. These men were not afraid to risk their lives for Ireland: They were brave enough to know where their duty to their country lay, and to try at all costs to discharge it.

If an Irishman serves another country then he is not loyally doing his duty to his own. It is idle to talk of Irish liberty if we are not men enough to fight for it ourselves. We are told sometimes that Ireland will be made free by acts of others; that if Germany were to win the war there would be a free Ireland. If Irishmen men themselves are not prepared to fight for Ireland and to risk their lives in that cause then it is idle to talk of Irish liberty, and cowardly too. To expect Germany or others to free our country when we are not prepared ourselves to risk anything for it is cowardly and contemptible in the extreme.

Germany has already publicly declared her goodwill and good intentions towards Ireland and has given every proof in her power of her wish to see an independent Ireland.

She declares formally, and in binding terms, that she will assist Irishmen with arms, and military help to secure Irish independence, and that she will recognise that independence if gained and do all that she can to secure it."

24 October 2008

Ted embraces the dark side (Photo Hunt - Scary)

This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. Also my entry for this week's Photo Hunt. The theme is scary and Ted has a temper that would scare a Leopard!

Forough Farrokhzad - Window

One window is sufficient
One window for beholding
One window for hearing
One window
resembling a well's ring
reaching the earth at the finiteness of its heart
and opening towards the expanse of this repetitive blue kindness
one window filing the small hands of loneliness
with nocturnal benevolence
of the fragrance of wondrous stars
and thereof,
one can summon the sun
to the alienation of geraniums.

One window will suffice me.

I come from the homeland of dolls
from beneath the shades of paper-trees
in the garden of a picture book
from the dry seasons of impotent experiences in friendship and love
in the soil-covered alleys of innocence
from the years of growing pale alphabet letters
behind the desks of the tuberculous school
from the minute that children could write "stone"
on the blackboard
and the frenzied starlings would fly away
from the ancient tree.

I come from the midst of carnivorous plant roots
and my brain is still overflowed
by a butterfly's terrifying shriek
crucified with pins
onto a notebook.

When my trust was suspended from the fragile thread of justice
and in the whole city
they were chopping up my heart's lanterns
when they would blindfold me
with the dark handkerchief of Law
and from my anxios temples of desire
fountains of blood would squirt out
when my life had become nothing
but the tic-tac of a clock,
I discovered
I must
must love,

One window will suffice me
one window to the moment of awareness
and silence.
the walnut sapling
has grown so tall that it can interpret the wall
by its youthful leaves.

Ask the mirror
the redeemer's name.
Isn't the shivering earth beneath your feet lonelier than you?
the prophets brought the mission of destruction to our century
aren't these consecutive explosions
and poisonous clouds
the reverberation of the sacred verses?
when your reach the moon
write the history of flower massacres.

Dreams always plunge down from their naive height
and die.
I smell the four-petal clover
which has grown on the tomb of archaic meanings.

Wasn't the woman
buried in the shroud of anticipation and innocence,
my youth?

Will I step up the stairs of curiosity
to greet the good God who strolls on the rooftop?

I feel that "time" has passed
I feel that "moment" is my share of history's pages
I feel that "desk" is a feigned distance
between my tresses
and the hands of this sad stranger.

Talk to me
What else would the one offering the kindness of a live flesh want from
but the understanding of the sensation of existence.

Talk to me
I am in the window's refuge
I have a relationship with the Sun.

Translation: Leila Farjami

This website is dedicated to Forough. It is well worth a visit. It is the source of this and other Farrokhzad poems that have apeared here.

23 October 2008

Elahe Heidari paintings at the Brick Lane Gallery, London

A selection of Elahe's work will be on view at the Brick Lane Gallery, London, from tomorrow until 3 November. This is the first time any of her work has been exhibited in the UK (apart from on the walls of the homes of we lucky few who own examples of her work!).

Government defeats Chagos Islanders

The Chagos Islanders have lost their long battle to return to their Indian Ocean home when the law lords ruled by a majority of three to two in favour of the Foreign Office.The islanders were removed from Chagos to accommodate the US military base on Diego Garcia in the 1970s.

Lords Hoffmann, Carswell and Rodger found in favour of the Foreign Office in its appeal against earlier court rulings that the Chagossians had a right to return. Lords Bingham and Mance dissented from the majority decision.

In his judgment, Hoffmann said the Chagossians had been removed with "a callous disregard" for their interests, but that "The right of abode is a creature of the law. The law gives it and the law may take it away....The deed has been done, the wrong confessed, compensation agreed and paid." He noted that the government had said it was acting "in the interests of the defence of the realm, diplomatic relations with the US and the use of public funds in supporting any settlement on the islands".

But Bingham wrote: "It is not, I think, suggested that those whose homes are in former colonial territories may be treated in a way which would not be permissible in the case of citizens in this country... Despite highly imaginative letters written by American officials to strengthen the secretary of state's hand in this litigation, there was no reason to apprehend that the security situation had changed."

The Chagossians, lambasted the decision. "How can we be expected to live outside our birthplace when there are other people living there now?" said Chagossian leader Oliver Bancoult."The government has finally scored a narrow victory, but the victory has been achieved at a great price," said Richard Gifford, the solicitor who has acted for the Chagossians in the action, originally launched in 1998.

The Chagossians are now considering taking their case to the European court of human rights. They are also looking at other ways to influence the government, which has spent £5m fighting the action.

The Government has had a golden opportunity right the disgraceful actions of a previous government. Instead it has chosen to waste millions on defending the indefensible. I hope the Chagossians take this case to the ECHR and I hope the government is roundly defeated.

Previous posts

22 October 2008

Some more Lila Downs

A new star in the blogospheric heavens

A potted plant at an internet cafe near Tokyo is surely set to become the world's most important blogger.

A university engineer who has been studying how to communicate with plants devised a sensor that measures bio-electric signals. These are converted into data by a computer next the plant and then translated into Japanese in the form of a blog.

The plant, Midori-San had this to say in its most recent entry: "It was cloudy today. It was a cold day."

Wow short and to the point and written with such style. Some people may think that this post is a litttle terse, yet it says far more in two short sentences than most bloggers do in two pages. Midori-San , I salute you!

20 October 2008

Dinosaur dancefloor discovered

According to the BBC scientists have identified an amazing collection of dinosaur footprints on the Arizona-Utah border in the US.

Located within the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, the marks were long thought simply to be potholes gouged out of the rock by years of erosion. A paper describing the 190-million-year-old footprints is published in the palaeontology journal Palaios.

"Get out there and try stepping in their footsteps, and you feel like you are playing the game 'Dance Dance Revolution' that teenagers dance on," says Professor Marjorie Chan from the University of Utah. "There must have been more than one kind of dinosaur there," she adds. "It was a place that attracted a crowd, kind of like a dance floor."

The site covers about a third of a hectare and records dinosaur movements around what was probably a watering hole during the Early Jurassic Period, when the US south-west was covered with a field of sand dunes larger than the Sahara Desert. Investigation of the site reveals at least four dinosaur species were present, with the animals ranging from adults to youngsters. "The different size tracks [2.5-50cm] may tell us that we are seeing mothers walking around with babies," says Winston Seiler, who worked on the project.

As well as footprints, the site also records tail-drag marks - which are up to seven metres in length. The scientists say the dinosaur prints were locked into sandstone after being covered by shifting dunes. They became exposed through erosion and will eventually disappear through erosion, too.

Koran Idol pulls audiences while Indian soap operas are blamed for Taliban’s resurgence...

Today’s Times carried this report on tv Afghan style.

An excited crowd is gathering at the Marco Polo wedding hall for the final of Afghanistan’s latest reality television show. Over the past two months the contestants have been whittled down from 250 to just two men and a schoolgirl, each hoping to receive the most votes from viewers.

One of the finalists is Ahmad Hasib Kazemi, 31, who sells shoes in the bazaar. He had to go without food to buy his suit and has spent the day fixing the generator so his wife, three children and assorted cousins can watch the show. “I really hope I win,” he says. “I’ve told all my friends and family to vote.”

Up against him is Ahmad Bahir, a 19-year-old student, who says he has been practising for hours every day. “It’s amazing, the power of TV,” he says with wide eyes. “People recognise me in the street now.” Brought up by another family after his own parents were killed in the war, he dreams of studying in Mecca. “I don’t have money and am hoping this will help,” he says.

The only female finalist is Uzra Mohamedi, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who is closely flanked by her mother and sister, all shrouded in black. “I’ve been practising with my mother and I’m ready,” she says shyly.

As the three finalists walk before the cameras and packed audience there is no clapping or cheering. Instead, a Saudi cleric intones a long passage from the Koran. For this is Koran-Star and, rather than sing, the contestants must recite long passages from the Islamic holy book. It may not look like gripping viewing but the programme secured an impressive 80% audience share. The programme was created to appease the council of clerics, which was threatening to close down Afghan Star, the country’s most popular programme, an Afghan version of Pop Idol. Television is one of the few areas to show signs of progress since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, which banned the medium along with music.

Although only 15% of the population have access to electricity, Afghanistan has 13 private TV channels. The most popular, with more than 50% of viewers, is Tolo TV, started by the Mohseni brothers, four Afghans who grew up in Australia. Initially they created the country’s first private radio station, causing a sensation by putting out a weekly Top 40 show. From there it was a natural move into television, and Moby Media, their company, has two channels.

“TV in Afghanistan is a massive opportunity,” said Jahid Mohseni, the boss of Moby Media, who sits in an office with six screens showing different programmes. The building is protected by gunmen after threats. “It’s a very young population, with 47% under 14, and there is no alternative entertainment. People can’t go out because of security and have nothing to do. Whole families or villages will be watching one set, so shows have to appeal to the entire spectrum.”

Afghan Star was followed with Dream and Achieve, a copy of Dragons’ Den, in which would-be entrepreneurs try to sell their ideas to a panel of businessmen. The investment on offer was only £12,000, but that did not stop one contestant asking for £290m, almost the entire budget of the Afghan government. His project was to build a canal to his farm. Another, a former commander who arrived with 10 armed guards, asked for £1,700 but had no project. When asked why not, he said: “I thought you were just giving away money.” The winner was a father of nine who wanted to set up a plastic recycling plant.

While viewers may love reality shows, the government does not. Television stations face an increasing number of restrictions, including bans on dancing, fashion shows and Indian soap operas. Mohseni fears that, like so much else in Afghanistan, media freedom is going backwards. “In terms of content we’re getting much better at making programmes,” he said. “But we’re facing more and more restrictions from the government. A fair bit that we were broadcasting three years ago we can’t show now.”

In April the information and culture ministry banned five Indian soap operas, describing them as “immoral”. Two were Tolo TV’s most popular shows. Mohseni insisted they were not offensive. He said the channel edited out anything unsavoury and even changed storylines: “Once there was one with an adulterous relationship, so we changed that. How can you run a business when halfway through a series you’re suddenly told, ‘We don’t like that; you have to stop’?”

Abdul Karim Khurram, the portly minister for information and culture, said “Indian soap operas are a catastrophe for Afghanistan. People running TV stations are dealing with people’s thoughts and minds so must be careful.” Khurram blames channels such as Tolo for the revival of the Taliban. “People are against such vulgarity,” he said. “That’s why the Taliban are coming back.” The minister said he was horrified when, in the final of the last Afghan Star, a contestant called Sitara, who had been voted out, whipped off her veil for her last song and danced. “It’s as if a German said Nazism is good,” he said.

The show was denounced by the Afghan Ulema Council as “immoral and unislamic”, and in March parliament banned dancing on television. Sitara had to go into hiding because of death threats but is now recording an album in Kabul. However, the woman who came third, 20-year-old Lina from Kandahar, is having to live under armed protection even though she did not dance, as many in the conservative south disapprove of her having appeared on television at all.

Fearful that its hit programme would be banned, Tolo executives agreed to increase the channel’s Islamic content. Apart from a literacy series helping people to read the Koran, they came up with the idea of Koran-Star, which aims to educate viewers on good recitation. The series has won the warm approval of the information minister. “That’s a model programme,” he said.

This month Tolo TV will start auditions for the fourth series of Afghan Star. The deteriorating security situation, however, means filming around the country will be far harder. In addition Afghans are not always good losers. Noor Rahman, a contestant, was furious when he was voted off Koran-Star in the penultimate round and had to watch Uzra, the schoolgirl, collect the winning prize of £2,300, a vinyl sofa and a trip to Dubai. “I don’t agree with this process,” he said. “I’m the winner!” Habib Amin, the young producer, tried to calm him, pointing out that he could enter another show. The channel has just bought the rights to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

What to say? The first flush of freedom following the downfall of the Taliban in 2001 have been clawed back piece by piece but then again the disgusting rabble we supported were little better than the Taliban in the first place. Somehow I doubt Afghanistan will ever changedespite the good works of groups like RAWA.

New UFO files released by the National Archives

Oops wrong UFO photo...

Following the release of UFO files in May (in which we discovered, inter alia, that there were no aliens at or near Wallasey town hall) 19 further Ministry of Defence files have been released by the National Archives. According to the Guardian (and numerous other sources)the files cover the period 1986 to 1992. The reports include a close encounter by an Alitalia airliner near Heathrow in 1991 and a bomber-sized UFO over East Anglia in 1957 (but not reported until 1988)

On 20 May 1957 Milton Torres, a US air force fighter pilot based at RAF Manston, was scrambled to intercept a B52-sized UFO over East Anglia. He was ordered to fire a salvo of missiles at the UFO but before he could do so, it vanished.

Details of the East Anglia event only emerged after Torres, who was warned never to mention it, did discuss it with a military historian at a reunion at RAF Manston in 1988. The MoD, whose policy until 1967 was to destroy UFO files every five years, had no data on the event.

An account from Torres, now 77 and living in Florida, describes his anxiety at failing to fire after struggling to read codes on a scrap of paper in the cockpit of his F-86D plane. "It was totally black and the lights were down for night flying. I used my flashlight, still trying to fly and watch my radar. To put it quite candidly, I felt very much like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest," he said.

In April 1991, recorded a captain of an Alitalia airliner, flying at an altitude of more than four miles on route to Heathrow from Milan, seeing a missile-like object. At first this was labelled "cruise missile?" but it was quickly found not to be a military weapon. There were a number of similar sightings within the next six months. Four passengers on a Dan Air Boeing 737 spotted a "wingless projectile" flying under their plane.

On a more ludicrous note the files contain information on a Tina Turner concert triggered a spate of UFO sightings in London in 1989, and how one person was "contacted by aliens" descended from "legendary feathered serpents from ancient Peru". There is also a sketchy self-portrait of a pointy-eared woman in a gown, who told the MoD she had crash landed on Earth during the second world war, having left her home planet of warrior women.

Interesting stuff indeed! I have always been fascinated by UFO reports although I am firmly of the opinion that the vast, vast majority have utterly mundane explanation. As for those which remain unidentified, I strongly doubt that any relate to space craft coming from Zeta Reticuli or anywhere else in our galaxy. Hiho....

19 October 2008

Bad jokes - the gloves are off

This is for Stu Savory who responded to my recent excellent and utterly serious post about the dangers of arising form the lack of fire excapes in Bilbao restaurants. This posts concerns the physical condition of a famous holy man.

A famous Swami was well known for walking barefoot at all times regardless of the terrain, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail. Because of his poor diet he suffered from bad breath. As a result he was a super callused fragile mystic vexed by halitosis.

And good news for Lorca

According to the Times the remains of Federico García Lorca and others buried in mass graves during the Spanish Civil War are to be exhumed as part of an investigation into mass killings.

Judge Baltasar Garzon authorized the opening of the graves containing remains of the victims of General Franco’s victims all over Spain, including one where Lorca is thought to lie in Viznar near Granada.

Lorca was shot in August 1936, one month after Franco’s uprising against the Republican government sparked the civil war. The families of two people who were executed and their bodies dumped with Lorca have sought the opening of the grave to give the victims dignified burials. For years, the Lorca family opposed the opening of the grave but recently said it had no objections.

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain introduced an amnesty law and maintained a ‘pact of forgetting’ about atrocities committed by the Nationalist and Republican forces during the Civil War. But last year, Spain’s Socialist Government passed the controversial Law of Historic Memory. The law sought to offer some justice to Franco’s victims by granting them official recognition, by removing Francoist monuments, and pledges some support to associations that have dug up the remains of some 4,000 people from mass graves.

Good news for Lord Byron

Nearly 200 years after he, invoked the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae to "dream that Greece might still be free", the Greek government has announced a Byron day on the anniversary of the writer's death.

Readings, drama and school outings will celebrate the role of the peer by dying while preparing to serve in the Greeks' revolutionary navy (and more prosaically the fact that he used his inherited fortune as the 6th Lord Byron to fit out the rebels' fleet). It will be celebrated on April 19, the date he died in 1824.

Inaugurating Byron day in parliament, the Greek government said that the initiative would burnish the memory of "a man who believed deeply in democratic values and Hellenism". Byron already has an archipelago of more modest memorials in Greece, including a chair-shaped rock on Cephalonia where he used to watch the sunset, sometimes clad in a nationalist uniform which was partly Greek and partly Scottish tartan.

Byron is also admired in Greece for his fury at Lord Elgin's removal of the Parthenon marbles. His body was refused burial in Westminster Abbey in 1824 and again, a century later, when the dean, Bishop Herbert Ryle, accused him of "outraging the laws of our Divine Lord".

18 October 2008

Every me, every you


Iran to stop executing juveniles?

According to the BBC Iran has announced what appears to end the execution of juveniles. At least six youths have been executed in Iran this year alone - Iran is believed to be the country that executes the largest number of juvenile offenders in the world (those aged under 18).

A directive announced by Iran's deputy prosecutor general, Hossein Zebhi, stated that judges had been instructed to no longer impose the death penalty on juveniles. However, it is not clear yet precisely what legal force it has or whether a new law must go through parliament.

A lawyer who represents 25 juveniles under threat of execution said he had heard no word yet of the new directive. Some of his clients have been on death row for years, as negotiations continue over whether victims' families will accept blood money - cash to avoid execution.

Iran is one of last remaining countries in the world that imposes the death penalty on juveniles aged under 18 at the time of the crime even though this is explicitly banned by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran has signed and ratified.

Here's hoping that Iran will put an end to this disgraceful practice. Wishful thinking I know, but it would be good to think that this was a fist step towards the abolition of judicial murder in Iran.

17 October 2008

Photo Hunt - Family

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is family. Here is a photo of my father

Another terrible joke

A Bilbao restaurant was recently prosecuted for infringing fire precaution rules - the restaurant only had one way out.

The Judge when passing sentence warned the owner that he should never put all his Basques in one exit

I'll get my coat....

16 October 2008

Furry underwear

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

A bit more James McIntyyre - Hints to cheesemakers in poetry form!

Hints to Cheese Makers

Addressed to Jonathan Wingle, Esq.

All those who quality do prize
Must study color, taste and size
And keep their dishes clean and sweet,
And all things round their factories neat,
For dairymen insist that these
Are all important points in cheese.

Grant has here a famous work
Devoted to the cause of pork.
For dairymen find that it doth pay
To fatten pigs upon the whey,
For there is money raising grease
As well as in the making cheese.

15 October 2008

According to ABC News footprints preserved in volcanic ash atop the Roccamonfina volcano in Italy are the oldest human footprints ever found are Known as Known as the "devils' trails", they are around 345,000 years old

The prints were first described to the world by Paolo Mietto and colleagues of the University of Padova in Italy in 2003 after amateur archaeologists pointed them out. At the time, the team estimated that the prints were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old, based on when the volcano was thought to have last erupted.

Now, Stéphane Scaillet and colleagues at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences, France, have used argon dating techniques to verify the prints' age. "Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found," says Mietto. The new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis.<>

14 October 2008

13 October 2008

Banjos in brain surgery

According to the BBC a musician undergoing brain surgery to treat a hand tremor played his banjo throughout to test the success of the procedure. Bluegrass player Eddie Adcock realised his tremor could threaten his ability to perform professionally.

Surgeons at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville placed electrodes in Mr Adcock's brain and fitted a pace maker in his chest which delivers a small current which shuts down the region of his brain causing the tremors.

Pretty logical when you think about it but there is something a little strange about plucking a banjo when surgeons are fiddling with your brain....

A new hard currency?

The Breaking news section of the Fortean Times is a goldmine of weird and wonderful news. (The magazine is well worth buying – been a subscriber since the mid 80s). And it’s not just Bigfoot or UFO stories. It is just as likely to link to items such as this:

Earlier this month Justin Scheck wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about a new currency that is taking hold in the US prison system. Where once cigarettes reigned supreme it would seem that the humble mackerel is now king:

....When Larry Levine helped prepare divorce papers for a client a few years ago, he got paid in mackerel. Once the case ended, he says, "I had a stack of macks.".Mr. Levine and his client were prisoners in California's Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. Like other federal inmates around the country, they found a can of mackerel -- the "mack" in prison lingo -- was the standard currency.

"It's the coin of the realm," says Mark Bailey, who paid Mr. Levine in fish. Mr. Bailey was serving a two-year tax-fraud sentence in connection with a chain of strip clubs he owned. Mr. Levine was serving a nine-year term for drug dealing. Mr. Levine says he used his macks to get his beard trimmed, his clothes pressed and his shoes shined by other prisoners. "A haircut is two macks," he says, as an expected tip for inmates who work in the prison barber shop.

There's been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That's when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard. Prisoners need a proxy for the dollar because they're not allowed to possess cash. Money they get from prison jobs (which pay a maximum of 40 cents an hour, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons) or family members goes into commissary accounts that let them buy things such as food and toiletries. After the smokes disappeared, inmates turned to other items on the commissary menu to use as currency.

Mackerel supplier Global Source Marketing Inc. says demand from prisons has grown since 2004... Mackerel is hot in prisons in the U.S., but not so much anywhere else, says Mark Muntz, president of Global Source, which imports fillets of the oily, dark-fleshed fish from Asian canneries. Mr. Muntz says he's tried marketing mackerel to discount retailers. "We've even tried 99-cent stores," he says. "It never has done very well at all, regardless of the retailer, but it's very popular in the prisons."... Unlike those more expensive delicacies, former prisoners say, the mack is a good stand-in for the greenback because each can (or pouch) costs about $1 and few -- other than weight-lifters craving protein -- want to eat it.

So inmates stash macks in lockers provided by the prison and use them to buy goods, including illicit ones such as stolen food and home-brewed "prison hooch," as well as services, such as shoeshines and cell cleaning.

The Bureau of Prisons views any bartering among prisoners as fishy. "We are aware that inmates attempt to trade amongst themselves items that are purchased from the commissary," says bureau spokeswoman Felicia Ponce in an email. She says guards respond by limiting the amount of goods prisoners can stockpile. Those who are caught bartering can end up in the "Special Housing Unit" -- an isolation area also known as the "hole" -- and could lose credit they get for good behaviour.

Ethan Roberts knows about mackerel discipline first hand. Mr. Roberts, who was released in 2007 after serving eight years on a methamphetamine charge at prisons including the La Tuna (surely shome mishtake!) Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, says he got busted for various piscine transactions. "I paid gambling debts" with mackerel, he says. "One time I bought cigarettes for a friend who was in the hole."

There are other threats to the mackerel economy, says Mr. Linder, of Power Commissary. "There are shortages world-wide, in terms of the catch," he says. Combined with the weak dollar, that's led to a surging mack. Now, he says, a pouch of mackerel sells for more than $1 in most commissaries. Another problem with mackerel is that once a prisoner's sentence is up, there's little to do with it -- the fish can't be redeemed for cash, and has little value on the outside. As a result, says Mr. Levine, prisoners approaching their release must either barter or give away their stockpiles.

That's what Mr. Levine did when he got out of prison last year. Since then, he's set up a consulting business offering advice to inmates and soon-to-be prisoners. He consults on various matters, such as how to request facility transfers and how to file grievances against wardens. It’s similar to the work he provided fellow inmates when he was in prison. But now, he says, "I get paid in American dollars."

Given the parlous state of our banking sector I wonder how long it will be before we are back to barter... To be honest I would find it hard to stockpile a lot of mackerel given that it is possibly the tastiest fish on the planet! On the other hand I would be doing my bit to keep the value of the currency high

11 October 2008

Mutant Indian catfish with a taste for humans?

According to a report in the Telegraph The goonch . a type of catfish found in India, is said to have developed a taste for human flesh after feeding on corpses thrown into the river after funeral ceremonies.

Locals rumours have held for years that a mysterious monster lurks in the water. But they think it has moved on from scavenging to targeting live bathers who swim in the Great Kali, which flows along the India-Nepal border. Biologist Jeremy Wade, who is investigating the story for a TV documentary, said: "The locals have told me of a theory that this monster has grown extra large on a diet of partially burnt corpses. It has perhaps got this taste for flesh by feasting on remains of funeral pyres. There will be a few freak individuals that grow bigger than the other ones and if you throw in extra food, they will grow even bigger."

Mr Wade caught one goonch, among the largest freshwater fish in the world, which weighed 161lb and was nearly 6ft long – a world record for the species. In 2007 an 18-year-old Nepali disappeared in the river, dragged down by something described as like an "elongated pig".However, the first live victim of a goonch was thought to have been a 17-year-old Nepalese boy in April 1988.Witnesses said he was cooling himself in the river when something suddenly pulled him below the surface. Three months later a young boy was dragged underwater in front of his horrified father.

I'm not sure if this true or not but I'll be watching the documentary when it's on tv later in the month

10 October 2008

So I fell over in a puddle what of it? (Photo Hunt - Lazy)

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

Given also that cats can raise laziness to an art form this is my entry for this week's Photohunt - this week's theme being lazy...

09 October 2008

Jacques Brel

Today is the 30th Anniversary of Brel's death. And here are some covers of Brel songs

Marc Almond

Scott Walker

And of course the late, great Alex Harvey!

Gracefully she approached - Shimin Bebhahani

Gracefully she approached,

in a dress of bright blue silk;

With an olive branch in her hand,

and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.

Running to her, I greeted her,

and took her hand in mine:

Pulses could still be felt in her veins;

warm was still her body with life.

"But you are dead, mother", I said;

"Oh, many years ago you died!"

Neither of embalmment she smelled,

Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;

she held it out to me,

And said with a smile,

"It is the sign of peace; take it."

I took it from her and said,

"Yes, it is the sign of...", when

My voice and peace were broken

by the violent arrival of a horseman.

He carried a dagger under his tunic

with which he shaped the olive branch

Into a rod and looking at it

he said to himself:

"Not too bad a cane

for punishing the sinners!"

A real image of a hellish pain!

Then, to hide the rod,

He opened his saddlebag.

in there, O God!

I saw a dead dove, with a string tied

round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;

my eyes followed her;

Like the mourners she wore

a dress of black silk.

A Must buy - Len Smith’s war journal

The publication of Len Smith’s war journal was widely reported in the press during the week. This post is largely lifted from the Guardian article. Having read this and other articles I’m definitely purchasing a copy (see below)

During WWI Len "Smithie" Smith was to be found by day in a shell hole in no man's land with pad and pencil - or perhaps poking his head out of a British trench to make a quick sketch. Later, in a candlelit cellar, he would painstakingly produce detailed images that were designed to help the top brass plan their war strategy, but would not have looked out of place as works of art on a general's drawing room wall.

Smithie’s story is being told for the first time after his diary, complete with hundreds of vivid illustrations, was published on Tuesday (7 Oct). His journal recalls daring missions, such as when he produced a detailed sketch of an oak tree just six metres from enemy lines so engineers could produce an exact copy - with a built-in observation post - that was swapped for the real thing. But it also describes more ordinary but moving tasks he was commissioned to undertake, including painting the names of fallen comrades on simple wooden crosses or scrubbing out German street names in northern France and replacing them with the French originals. Remarkably, even in the heat of battle he produced work that was not merely functional but beautiful.

Before the war, Smith had a fledgling career as a commercial. At the age of 22 he enlisted as an infantryman. He hid his notebook and pencils in his leggings and kept an illustrated diary. Smith started off sketching his friends. He drew his pal Sam reading the letter informing him his son had been born. He sketched caricatures of friends after the regimental barber had shorn their hair. Smith also produced images of British and German equipment. On one page a rudimentary British grenade - explosive packed into an old jam tin - is juxtaposed with the much more professional German equivalent.

Smith's skill with the rifle and the pencil were noticed after a year and he was made a sniper and an observer. Delighted at no longer having to hide his pencils and paper, Smith spent whole days hidden away in no man's land making sketches and taking notes until the evening mist fell and he could crawl back home. In 1916 he was ordered to make a detailed sketch of the German lines at Vimy ridge in northern France. Despite constant shelling from the Germans he produced a two-metre-long image of the enemy's position. "I had to scramble all over the shop making rough pencil notes," he wrote. "Real risky work." The brigadier-general was clearly impressed with the work's artistic merits as well as the strategic benefit. Smith recalls that he declared it "very cleverly executed ... but above all infinitely useful".

His most startling job involved sketching an oak tree stump that stood within the barbed wire six metres from German trenches. Engineers then produced a copy of the tree in iron and steel, complete with ladder running up through the hollow centre. "Scene shifters" removed the real tree and replaced it with the fake one by night, "praying that Jerry will not tumble the game". They didn't and, amazingly, a man was able to scramble through tunnels to the tree and observe what the enemy was up to.

War ended, and Smith's final sketch is of a one-way ticket back home that reads: "Blighty route. Single to England-home-beauty."After he returned, Smith had a successful career as a commercial artist. He never spoke about the war but tried unsuccessfully to get his diary published. He died in December 1974 at Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, at the age of 83, believing his diary would languish forever in a cupboard. But his great-nephew, Dave Mason, has published it by putting the collection online at greatwarartist.com.

The journal can be purchased as an e-book for £9.95. Money well spent in my view!

08 October 2008

The longest continuous record?

The Independent on Sunday had this fascinating item about the discovery of a collection of aboriginal rock art in Arnhem Land. The art records life in the area for the past 15,000 years, up until 50 years ago.

Alongside ancient paintings of thylacines are images documenting modern-day inventions – a car, a bicycle wheel, a biplane and a rifle – as well as portraits of a missionary and a sea captain. It also appears to rewrite Australian histhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.photo.gifory, undermining the widely held assumption that the continent was isolated and largely unvisited until the First Fleet arrived in 1788. The paintings suggest that the people of northern Australia have been interacting with seafaring visitors from Asia and Europe for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years.

A team of scientists on a recent expedition to the Wellington Range recorded 81 images of ships, ranging from the vessels of Macassan traders from Sulawesi (now part of Indonesia) to dugout canoes, 19th-century British tall ships, 20th-century steamers and Japanese pearling luggers. They even found paintings of a luxury cruise ship and a Second World War destroyer. Twentieth-century rock art is extremely rare anywhere, and the scientists surveying the paintings with the help of a local Aboriginal elder, Ronald Lamilami, say they represent possibly the longest continuous record in the world.

The rock art has been known about since the 1970s, when a leading expert, George Chaloupka, was taken to the area by local people. But he saw only a tiny proportion of it, and records of its whereabouts were lost. It was only recently that they were rediscovered by a doctoral student, Daryl Guse, working with Mr Lamilami. Professor Tacon's team, which travelled to Arnhem Land last month, was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the art, much of which had never before been viewed by white people. In one rock shelter alone, they found 1,500 paintings, comprising "more 'contact era' art and more varied imagery than any other site in the world", according to Professor Tacon.

"This area is astounding," he said. "Every time we went out, we had a plan to survey a particular stretch of the range, but we could hardly move at all, because we were continually finding sites. Over a few days, we found 100 previously undocumented sites, and we've only just scratched the surface. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of sites waiting to be revealed to the outside world. This area is of World Heritage significance, and it rivals the best of any area in Australia. It's right up there with the best rock art regions of Europe and South Africa and elsewhere."

The art contains subjects and styles not found elsewhere in Australia. Much of it consists of multiple layers applied over the millennia. On one wall, for instance, is a biplane painted over a kangaroo. One early depiction of a ship includes a wealth of interior detail, suggesting that Aboriginal people had been boarding vessels for generations. So, when the British arrived, Professor Tacon speculates, "it was not something bizarre and unusual; it was just the latest group in their latest newfangled ships".

his is utterly fascinating stuff. I will have to find out more about this. It’s definitely a “wow” thing