28 February 2009

Belly button fluff - A major breakthrough in scientific knowledge

The last time I posted on something from the journal Medical Hypotheses it was the outrageous idea that Down subjects and Oriental population "share several specific attitudes and characteristics" . Mercifully today’s Telegraph reports that a paper Medical Hypotheses truly advances our knowledge. After three years of research Austrian scientist Georg Steinhauser has discovered a type of body hair that traps stray pieces of lint and draws them into the navel.
Dr Steinhauser made his discovery after studying 503 pieces of fluff from his own belly button. Chemical analysis revealed the pieces of fluff were not made up of only cotton from clothing. Wrapped up in the lint were also flecks of dead skin, fat, sweat and dust.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, he said the scaly structure of the hair enhances the 'abrasion of minuscule fibres from the shirt' and directs the lint towards the belly button. "The hair's scales act like a kind of barbed hooks," he said. "Abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the navel."

He also established that shaving one's belly will result in a fluff-free navel - but only until the hairs grow back.

Dr Steinhauser, whose other projects have included monitoring the erosion of his wedding ring, said: "The question of the nature of navel fluff seems to concern more people than one would think at first glance. "We hope we have been able to provide information for doctors when they are next confronted with the simple question of 'why some belly buttons collect so much lint and others do not'."

An earlier, Australian study of samples from 5,000 people concluded the typical carrier of navel fluff to be 'a slightly overweight middle-aged male with a hairy abdomen'. (hmm that's me) Researcher Karl Kruszelnicki said: "The reason it is usually blue is that we mostly wear blue or grey trousers, often jeans, and when these rub against the body, the fibres often end up finding their way to the navel."

I say give Dr Steinhausrer a Nobel Prize now. I doubt any piece of scientific research will ever be as important and ground breaking as this. If the scientific world is not as impressed I am sure that the Vatican will canonise him in quick time. He would be perfect as patron saint of Omphalomancers!

27 February 2009

Photo Hunt - Thankful

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is Thankful. I am thankful to my parents who did everything they could to ensure that my sister and I had the opportunities that they never had when young.
Blogging will probably be light for a few days (visiting even lighter). I spent a wonderful night in the A&E of St Thomas Hospital in central London having a twatted ligament in my right leg seen to.

25 February 2009

Sex started long before the Beatles

According to today’s Times sex has been around for at least 350 million years. The fossilised remains of a pregnant fish, Incisoscutum ritchiei, have provided the earliest known evidence of copulation and live births in the animal kingdom. Until the evolution of the armoured fish, sex is thought to have been limited to external fertilisation techniques in which sperm and eggs were squirted into the water to mix.

The species, 350-380 million years old, is the same age as another closely related fossilised fish, Materpiscis attenboroughi, which was found last year with a newly born offspring still attached by the umbilical cord.

Researchers said the discovery of two types of fish living at the same time shows copulation among vertebrates was a common means of reproduction some 200 million years earlier than had been thought. “Seen in one fossil, it could have been a one-off. With our new discovery we are beginning to think sex is characteristic,” said Dr Zerina Johanson, of the Natural History Museum in London. “We now have to rethink how animals reproduced way back then. We would have expected before this, that this very primitive fish had an external form of fertilisation. We are having to rethink that now. It’s challenging how we think about reproduction at this early evolutionary stage... Sex started a lot sooner than we thought.”

The embryo found inside I. ritchiei was originally thought to have been the mother fish’s last meal but was reassessed after the discovery of M. attenboroughi. Both species were found in Western Australia’s Gogo formation which is thought to be the remnants of a reef in tropical inland sea.

The two species of copulating animals were examples of placoderms which were a class of fish that had armoured plates on their heads and thorax and dominated the seas during the Devonian. They are the most primitive form of jawed vertebrates yet found and most were predators. Placoderm fossils have been found in Europe, North America, North Africa, Australasia and Antarctica.

Hmm it looks like Philip Larkin was a few million years out when he wrote in his poem Annus Mirabilis that:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Then again he was a poet and not a scientist,,,

Her Grief

In the quest for you

I sobbed at the knees of the mount,

at the edge of the sea and the turf.

In the quest for you

I moaned with the wind.

Along eroded face of the routes,

At the crossroad of seasons.

And over a broken window

which made a wooden frame

for the cloudy blues of the skies.

In hope of your image

How long, long, how long,

this frame will remain plain?

Your charm,

was allowing for passage of the breeze

and of love, and also of death

which confided in you

their perpetual insights.

Hence you became a pearl

Immense, enviable and precious:

the treasure which bears, solely,

the entire delight of belonging to the land.

Your name is a sunrise,

shining over the vast front of the skies,

Be hallowed you name!

And we are still rotating nights and days,

in this elusive yet.

By Ahmad Shamloo (Shamlu, Shamlou) for Forough Farrokhzd

From Forough Farrokhzad The Sad Little Fairy

, translated by Maryam Dilmaghani

24 February 2009

WW - figure

Another image from Pere Lachaise. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday

23 February 2009

Well I always thought that HP Sauce was a biohazard

According to Friday’s Telegraph police in full protective equipment were sent to investigate the spillage of a potentially dangerous liquid.

Officers responded after receiving reports that a bottle of brown fluid had been thrown through the window of a parked car on a residential street in Enfield, north London, in the early hours of the morning.

Accompanied by fire crews and paramedics in support, the police examined the inside of the 4x4 where the mystery substance had leaked. A female officer was even taken to a local hospital as a precaution after getting some of it on her suit, according to reports.

Only later did tests show that the liquid was HP Sauce An eyewitness said: "It was hilarious. What an overreaction – they certainly had egg on their faces (A class III biohazard in its own right) by the time they'd finished.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: 'We were called to the scene just after 3am to reports of something thrown into a car, with the car alarm going off. "With any unidentified chemical spillages we have to treat all incidents equally seriously."

I suppose it’s just as well it wasn’t a Marmite spillage
In the process of changing to layouts. I daresay that the Poor Mouth will be back bigger and better soon... that or there will be a few minor changes to the sidebars - including adding some blogs that link to me that I had criminally omitted from my blogroll.

22 February 2009

The cat and the Moon - W B Yeats

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

Mugabe rubs his people's noses in the dirt again

On Friday had a cheerful message of greetings to Robert Mugabe wishing him well on his birthday:

“Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, on Feb. 18 sent a message of greetings to Robert G. Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, on the occasion of his 85th birthday.

Kim in the message wished the president good health and success in his work for the stability of Zimbabwe and its people's well-being.”

Today’s Observer reports, unsurprisingly, that Robert Mugabe marked his 85th birthday yesterday with a sumptuous banquet in Harare at the start of a week of parties – at a time when prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai said "maybe US$5bn (£ 3.5bn)" would be needed to rehabilitate the collapsed health, social and education systems.

Celebrations got under way on Friday as schoolboy pipers, accompanied by drum majorettes, marched through the decrepit capital and members of a ruling party youth organisation sold $10 raffle tickets.

A $100-a-ticket gala dinner at Harare's Rainbow Towers Hotel on Wednesday is advertised as a musical extravaganza. The parties will culminate on Saturday with a public feast and concert at Chinhoyi, about 50 miles west of Harare, which is to be televised. Dozens of animals will be slaughtered for the event and guests include hundreds of children also born on 21 February.

Political science professor John Makumbe said the birthday display was the latest of many signals that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) does not intend to respect the power-sharing agreement that saw Tsvangirai sworn in on 11 February. "The money for the parties and the cattle and chickens donated are extracted from people virtually against their will," he said. "Thousands have died from cholera and many students are not attending school or university because teachers are not paid. It's unbelievable that he can blow quadrillions of Zimbabwe dollars on parties."

Zanu-PF youth leader Absolom Sikhosana defended the Chinhoyi event: "It is not a feast per se, but an event where youths have a chance to meet their hero. This inspires them to emulate his exemplary qualities of nation-building, patriotism and principled leadership."

In a sign of the times, the 21 February Movement set out to raise only $500,000 (£350,000) for Mugabe's birthday week against a reported $1.2m last year. Last week Sikhosana made a heartfelt plea on national radio for benefactors to make good on their promises: "We know things are tough, but it would be nice to honour the pledges you made." According to some reports, pledges for only £70,000 have come in, much in the form of food donations.

I suppose this goes to show that a leopard never changes its shorts..... At least it's good to see that the KCNA is as full of crap as it ever is!

20 February 2009

Photo Hunt - Warm

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is warm. Here's the not wife under her blanket on the couch with Bebe taking the opportunity to warm herself too.

Some favourite Mimi photos

Some scenes from the late Mimi's short but happy life. This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

18 February 2009

Russian oligarchs on their uppers

I’ve got limited access to my computer at the moment so I can’t visit until tomorrow at the earliest. However, I couldn’t let an item in Monday’s Times pass without a little schadenfreude . Apparently the global credit crunch has hit Russia's oligarchs hard, tuning them from multibillionaires to simple billionaires.

For example, Roman Abramovich is placed second in the oligarch list with $13.9 billion, This is more than $9 billion less than he was worth in 2007. The magazine reckoned that his net worth had slipped back to little more than the level he enjoyed in 2004 (poor diddums).

But Abramovich’s slide is nothing compared to Oleg Deripaska, who was rated Russia's richest man in 2006 and 2007. His fortune, at $4.9 billion, is not about an eighth of what it was last year. Deripaska is often described as the Kremlin's favourite oligarch and is regarded as particularly close to Vladimir Putin. Liquidity problems and plunging share prices forced him to surrender stakes in a Canadian car-parts company and a German construction business to banks that had provided loans to fund the purchases. He came close to losing a 25 per cent stake in Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel miner, until the state-owned Vnesheconombank, which is chaired by Mr Putin, bailed him out by providing $4.5 billion to repay a loan made by a group of Western banks.

In 10th place in Russia’s super rich list is dear old Jabba the Uzbek (aka Alisher Usmanov - above) whose estimated wealth of $4.5bn is a mere third of what it was last year. At this rate he’ll be heading off down to the dole office come the summer... If the worst comes to the worst I’ll happily buy a Big Issue off him!

Russia’s Top 10 richest

$14.1bn Mikhail Prokhorov, down from $21.5bn (ouch)

$13.9bn Roman Abramovich, down from $23bn (Eek)

$7.7bn Vladimir Lisin, down from $22.2bn (Ooyah)

$7.6bn Vagit Alekperov, down from £13.5bn (Yaargh)

$7.5bn Suleiman Kerimov, down from $18bn (Kapow)

$6.1bn Mikhail Fridman, down from $22.2bn (Zounds)

$5bn Vladimir Potanin, down from $21.5bn (Thud)

$4.9bn Oleg Deripaska, down from $40bn (The sound of Chopin’s Funeral March)

$4.6bn Dmitri Ribolovyev, down from $11.7bn (The whistling sound of a bomb dropping)

$4.5bn Alisher Usmanov, down from $13.3bn (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

17 February 2009

WW - A different Rodin Kiss?

From the Rodin Museum in Paris. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday

Trial of Khmer Rouge butcher starts at last

The Guardian carries a report about the opening (at last) of the first trial of a key Khmer Rouge butcher. Kaing Guek Eav, 66, better known as Duch, sat in the dock behind a bullet-proof screen in a court that was purpose-built to house the UN-backed genocide trial.

Duch was the Khmer Rouge regime’s head torturer in a regime that left 1.7 million Cambodians dead.. He is accused of war crimes crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of at least 12,380 prisoners at Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng torture centre. Duch, a born-again Christian who has acknowledged his crimes, sat impassively in the court. Wearing a pale blue shirt, he occasionally sipped water and donned his reading glasses to take notes of the proceedings translated through his headphones.

Van Nath, 63, one of only a handful of survivors to emerge from Tuol Sleng, took his place in the queue to witness a day he long remained sceptical he would ever see."This is the day we have waited for for 30 years," said the artist, who was beaten by Tuol Sleng guards but spared because of his painting talent. "But I don't know if it will end my suffering."

Duch is the first of five defendants to appear before the long-delayed tribunal. Although he has made no formal confession, he has, unlike the other defendants, "admitted or acknowledged" that many of the crimes occurred at his prison, according to the indictment from court judges. He has also asked for forgiveness from his victims.

In an indictment in August the tribunal said: "Duch necessarily decided how long a prisoner would live, since he ordered their execution based on a personal determination of whether a prisoner had fully confessed" to being an enemy of the regime. In one mass execution, he gave his men a "kill them all" order to dispose of a group of prisoners. On another list of 29 prisoners, he told his henchmen to "interrogate four persons, kill the rest".

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch disappeared for two decades, living under two other names and as a converted Christian before he was located by a British journalist in 1999.

Taken to the scene of his alleged crimes last year, he wept and told some of his former victims: "I ask for your forgiveness. I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might." I put up a post about this last year called the The Tears of Comrade Duch.

His defence lawyer, Francois Roux, said today that his client had been in detention for nine years, nine months and seven days, adding: "This situation is unacceptable." (Duch’s victims spent a much shorter time in detention of course....)

The other four facing trial are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife, Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue.

My gut says tear the piece of human garbage limb from limb very slowly. My head as ever wishes him a long, miserable and very uncomfortable incarceration.

16 February 2009

Mimi: 10 January 2004 - 16 February 2009

Mimi was put to sleep today after a short but serious deterioration in her condition, The vet believes that she may have had a teratoma in her brain. She may not have lived as long as other cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia but she had a happy life and was much loved. We will miss her terribly

15 February 2009

Billy Connolly on Parkinson

His first appearance

American Express

I'm not likely to post much (or visit much) over the coming week. Here's an old Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch from 1980.. well I still think it's funny!

14 February 2009

Love Song - Forough Farrokhzad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underneath my skin you go!
There like blood you flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your glance is a wondrous lullaby
Cradling restless babes thereby

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

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

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

You kindled my passionate desire
Thus setting my poems afire.

Click here for a website devoted to Forough Farrokhzad who died 41 years ago yesterday

13 February 2009

12 February 2009

Up to our Nex

It's a Robyn Hitchcock night for me tonight - he's playing at the Union Chapel. Here's a track off his new album Goodnight Oslo (which has not turned up yet)

11 February 2009

Indian women say knickers to nationalists

Today’s Times carries a report on protest by young Indian women against a radical Hindu organisation that attacked female students in a pub last month and is also threatening to target unmarried couples celebrating Valentine’s Day.

A Facebook group called A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women – Now over 23,000 members by last night – is urging Indian women to defy the radicals by enjoying a drink at their nearest pub on Saturday. The group was founded last week in protest at the Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram’s Army), which assaulted several young women last month in a pub in
Mangalore, a college town in the southern state of Karnataka.

Pramod Mutalik, the SRS leader, said at the time that his followers were “custodians of Indian culture” who had prevented the women at the pub from going astray. Mr Mutalik was arrested but has been bailed. He has vowed to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day to either get married or to tie rakhis – string bracelets – on their wrists signifying that they are brother and sister.

The consortium responded by asking supporters to send in pink chaddi. Nisha Susan, 29, a journalist from Karnataka, told The Times that she started the group after reading about the attack in Mangalore and the subsequent threats by the SRS. “It wasn’t a serious thing at first, but now it’s becoming something bigger,” she said. “Most of us are just regular people. We decided to give the Sri Ram Sena attention, but not the kind they want.”

The chaddi gesture is an allusion to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the biggest and oldest group in the Hindu nationalist movement, which includes the SRS and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. RSS members are often called chaddi wallahs because their uniform includes baggy khaki shorts.

Renuka Chowdhury, the Minister for Women, denounced the attack in Mangalore as a symptom of the “Tale-banisation” of India. There was no comment from Mr Mutalik, but he has made it clear that he will continue his campaign against “Western deviations” from Indian culture. “Valentine’s Day is definitely not Indian culture,” he was quoted as saying last week. “We will not allow celebration of that day in any form.”

10 February 2009

WW -Screen shot

Taken at the the Tate Gallery. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday

09 February 2009

A bit of Robyn Hitchcock

Glass Hotel. Nothing to say today so another video. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the Union Chapel on Thursday

The Hunt - Niyaz

I've only recently discovered Azam Ali for myself. She has such a beautiful voice.

08 February 2009

Mor Karbasi - El Pastor

Mor Karbasi is playing the Jazz Cafe in Camden on 19 April. I will be getting my ticket toot sweet!

Elahe Heidari online exhibition

A selection of my friend Elahe's works are currently being exhibited at a Swiss website Promotion4Art

The exhibition, which also includes works by fellow Iranian s Golnar Afraz, is open online at the following times (GMT?):

MONDAY-FRIDAY: 14.00 – 22.00

SATURDAY: 14.00 – 19.00

SUNDAY: 11.00 – 17.00

Some of her work on the site can also be accessed here

Promotion4Art have a large number of works from Iranian and Vietnamese artists. Some of them are well worth checking out.


Angela Merkel honoured as Barbie doll

It is Barbie’s 50th birthday this year and thanks to plastic surgery (or should that be injection mould technology?) she does not look as if she has aged a day. Strangely (or perhaps not, I don’t know) as part of the celebrations manufacturer, Mattel have seen fit to honour German Chancellor Angela Merkel by turning her into a Barbie doll. (Der Spiegel report here)

The Angela Merkel Barbie Doll made its debut at the 60th annual International Toy Fair in Nuremberg on Thursday. While the hair colour and cut are spot on, as is her respectable black wool crepe trouser suit, complete with pink lining that's pretty much where the similarities end. The Merkel Barbie apparently has a figure closer to that sported by Heidi Klum and perhaps it does not quite do justice to Merkel’s other attributes.....

That said it is far more flattering than her transformation into a caganer, a pooping figurine found in Catalan nativity scenes.

I bet the other EU leaders are jealous of Merkel. I can imagine Sarkozy and Brown would b delighted to be portrayed as Ken. Berlusconi on the other hand has probably had one of his tv stations make a show where he is portrayed as a superhero with a gigantic member....

07 February 2009

A bit of verse by a 17th century Essex girl

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Cavendish Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), Duchess of Newcastle, was a prolific writer and poet. she was also interested in science produced several theories, including one which claimed that some people lived longer because their atoms were packed closer together. Anyway here is one of the Colchester Lass's musings on the nature of matter. Enjoy!

What is Liquid?

All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet

Fire that property can never get.
Then 'tis not cold that doth the fire put out
But 'tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.

Photo Hunt - Bridge

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is bridge(s). Again I don't have to stretch the theme! Here are two shots of the Millennium footbridge from outside the Tate Modern

06 February 2009

What a bargain!

It is with great thanks to Improbable Research that I have found a book that will truly change your life

“Spon’s Mechanical and Electrical Services Price Book 2009: Multi-user licence (Unknown Binding).” Costs a mere At $1,754,383.00 on Amazon.com an utter bargain and the customer reviews agree:

Darth Chooch gives it 5 stars: “After hearing Oprah promote this book on her show, I was very anxious to buy it. Believe the hype, ladies and gentlemen, this book is AMAZING! I couldn't put it down. This book touched me in so many ways, and I found so-many applications in my everyday life...my life has completely changed. I have a better relationship with my wife and kids, I'm more successful at my job, I'm one of the finalists in the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes, the birds sing to wake me up in the morning and the squirrels iron my pants for me! I ended up purchasing a second copy of this book, my first copy had become so dog-eared and worn out I needed a second copy to keep for good. “

S Johnson also gives it 5 stars “I ,too, saw this book promoted on Oprah's television show... being a physic and astrology teacher, and being convinced by the glowing reviews at Amazon, I knew I could not dispense with this text as a reference. Anyone who is involved in science and engineering, or who have just a passing fancy in these subjects, NEEDS this reference manual...As far as engineering goes - the textbook goes into vivid details on how to contruct ancient weapons of siege and machines of flight. In fact, recent texts of Leonardo da Vinci has shown that he referenced Spon's book "Spon's Mechanical and Electrical Services Price Book 1500: Multi-user licence (Unknown Binding)" in developing all of his inventions and ideas. “

L Benjamin is not impressed and gives the book just one star: “This book has many glaring inconsistencies, however, none are serious. Strangely, the pricing for most of the eastern seaboard is omitted, however, the preface indicates that these will be included in the 2012 edition. I purchased a copy here, however, I was fortunately able to return it when I discovered that the local Books-a-Million carries it for only $846,322.87.”

Despite L Benjamin’s misgivings This book is essential reading. I am therefore going to raid my piggy bank, steal as many charity boxes as I can and embezzle takings from the Church bazaar so I can place my order...

Guest cats - Alexis and the bear


Ursa (until it was found that she was a he)

Two of my sister's four cats. This week's for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

05 February 2009

End of the line for a forgotten dictator?

Until today I had totally forgotten about former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. I had no idea he had been living in Zimbabwe since he was deposed in 1991. For the last 17 years or so he has, apparently, been dividing his time between a heavily guarded villa in Harare, a farm near the capital and a retreat on Lake Kariba.

Last year an Ethiopian court sentenced him in absentia to death after convicting him of genocide (Genocide under Ethiopian law also covers the destruction of opposition groups). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Mugabe flatly refused to extradite a man who helped to arm Zanu (PF)’s guerrillas during Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war.

According to today’s Times, however, Mengistu’s future looks less assured. Next week the Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change will enter a unity government with Zanu (PF) and Nelson Chamisa, its chief spokesman has stated that Mengistu’s extradition to Ethiopia would be “high on the agenda” of that new administration.

“Zimbabwe should not be a safe haven or resting place for serial human rights violators like Mr Mengistu,” he said. “We can’t shelter purveyors of injustice.”

Few Zimbabweans would shed tears if Mengistu, 71, is sent home to the gallows. Mr Mugabe has spent millions of dollars providing him with a villa in a barricaded cul-de-sac in the Gun Hill suburb, with round-the-clock protection and any number of other benefits. In return Mengistu has advised Mr Mugabe on security issues, and was allegedly the mastermind of Operation Murambatsvina in 2006 in which security forces and Zanu (PF) thugs razed the homes of 700,000 slum-dwellers regarded as MDC supporters.

Mengistu has plenty of experience in that field. He seized power after a military coup in 1974 that ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s 44-year rule. In 1976 he mounted the “Red Terror” campaign against opponents of his Derg regime. Over the next few years more than half a million people were thought to have been killed in what Human Rights Watch called “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder ever witnessed in Africa”. The victims included the former Emperor and numerous members of the Royal Family, and Mengistu is said to have executed some of them himself.

He turned Ethiopia into a Marxist state, backed by the Soviet Union, earning the sobriquet the “Black Stalin”. He created giant collective farms that had the same ruinous effect on agricultural production as Mr Mugabe’s land seizures in Zimbabwe, and that helped to cause terrible famine.

His Soviet-armed military sought to crush an independence war in Eritrea, and an uprising in Tigray province, but when the Soviet Union collapsed Mengistu lost his sponsors. In 1991 he fled to Zimbabwe as the Tigre People’s Liberation Front and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front surrounded Addis. Washington asked Mr Mugabe to accept him to end the bloodshed.

In 1995 Mengistu narrowly survived an assassination attempt by two Eritreans as he took an afternoon stroll with his wife near Garvin Close, his Harare home. Otherwise he has maintained a low profile. As Mr Mugabe’s popularity has plunged, Mengistu was rumoured to have made contingency plans to move to North Korea.

As I said I had totally forgotten about Mengistu. I thought he had died years ago. Sadly so many former dictators, be it Amin in Saudi, or any number elsewhere escape retribution dying in their beds. While I do not support his execution he is one of many people I would love to see pay for his crimes. On the other hand I am not sure that the MDC will be successful in extraditing him while Mugabe and his cronies are still around

There’s gold in them thar shite

According to Reuters a sewage treatment facility in central Japan has proved absolutely that where there’s muck, there;’s brass... or gold. The facility has recorded a higher gold yield from sludge than can be found at some mines. An official in Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, said the high percentage of gold found at the Suwa facility was probably due to the large number of precision equipment manufacturers in the vicinity.. The facility recently recorded finding 1,890 grammes of gold per tonne of ash from incinerated sludge.

That is a far higher gold content than Japan's Hishikari Mine, one of the world's top gold mines, which obtains 20-40 grams of the precious metal per tonne of ore.
The prefecture expects to earn about 15 million yen (about £167k) for the current fiscal year from the gold it has retrieved from the ashes of incinerated sludge.

"How much we actually receive will depend on gold prices at the time," the official said.

Hmm I wish I could think of something remotely witty to end this post. Hi ho!

04 February 2009

Ode to a mammoth cheese

When G K Chesterton said "Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese"
he surely must have been unaware of James McIntyre who crafted many a fine verse on the very subject.Ode to a Mammoth Cheese is but one of them.. Enjoy!

We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze --
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees --
Or as the leaves upon the trees --
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World's show at Paris.

Of the youth -- beware of these --
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from baloon,
You'd cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

Celebrating the 104th birthday of a war heroine

Today’s BBC reports on the birthday of Andree Peel a French resistance heroine who saved more than 100 lives and survived a Nazi death squad. She celebrated her 104th birthday at home in Long Ashton, North Somerset.

AndrĂ©e Virot was running her own beauty salon in the Brittany port of Brest when the Germans invaded. Inspired by de Gaulle, she fought the occupying forces with information -at first she was involved in simply distributing clandestine newspapers, but soon she was made Head of an Under-Section in the Resistance, reporting on troop movements, naval installations and the results of Allied attacks. Agent ‘Rose’, as she was called, and her team used torches to guide Allied planes to improvised landing-strips, and smuggled fugitive airmen onto submarines and gun-boats on remote parts of the coast.

In 1943 she was betrayed and captured. She was sent to Ravensbruck and then to Buchenwald. She was being lined up to be shot by firing squad when the liberating American army arrived. Back in Brest she found her father and brother had been killed, and she moved to Paris to run a restaurant on the Left Bank. It was here that she met a young English academic named John Peel. She subsequently moved to England

She was also presented with the Croix de Guerre, the American Medal of Freedom, and two Legions d'Honneur.

"I saved 102 pilots before being arrested, interrogated and tortured. I suffer still from that. I still have the pain," she said. "I was born with courage. I did not allow cruel people to find in me a person they could torture."

What more can one say. Mrs Peel is a remarkable and courageous woman. Many happy returns!

03 February 2009

WW - a large skinny cat

A sculpture in the turbine room of the Tate Modern, London. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday

02 February 2009

While on the subject of Robyn Hitchcock and Magnum Force

Here's Robyn performing his Magnum Force inspired magnum opus "A man's gotta know his limitations, Briggs"

Magnum Force – the Musical!

The first part of 2009 is a good time to be a Robyn Hitchcock fan. Not only is he on tour (I have my ticket to see him at the Union Chapel next week) his new album Goodnight Oslo is out the week after next. Early reviews are very positive. But perhaps the best news, especially for those Robyn fans that like musicals, is the news that Robyn is set to bring a famous Dirty Harry film to the stage!

According to the Guardian plans are reportedly afoot for the 1973 sequel to Dirty Harry to be turned into an all-singing, all-dancing production. It would follow in the footsteps of rather more comprehensible conversions such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Billy Elliot.

The man responsible for taking Harry to the stage will be Robyn Hitchcock, who plans to produce the show alongside MTV executive Bill Flanagan. While perhaps best known for his surrealistic music, he also has a track record of collaboration with the film-maker Jonathan Demme, with whom he made the concert film Storefront Hitchcock.

Hitchcock claims his relationship with Magnum Force is a longstanding one. "It's a film that seemed to be on all the time when I was on tour," he said. "By the fifth time [I saw it], I became addicted to it. It's taken a very strange hold on my life."

There is currently no scheduled opening night for the Magnum Force musical, but thoughts are already turning to the big closing number. A descant chorus of "I know what you're thinking, have I fired six shots or only five?" may yet make it in.

I can’t wait!

01 February 2009

The Good Soldier Cushing Part I

It’s been a while since I wrote about Thomas “Red” Cushing. I promised to do so a lot earlier but hey ho! This is the first of a group of posts covering Red Cushing’s time between leaving Spain disillusioned and his time in Sachsenhausen with Yakov Stalin. This is taken from his autobiography “Soldier For Hire” (John Calder 1962)

After arriving in Victoria (stopping only to belt a Daily Worker seller in Paddington see Red Cushing and the Spanish Civil War Part III), he made his way to Cardiff to enlist in the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers. After a relatively uneventful time (for Red that is!) involving a few boxing matches, and a fair bit of drinking, he was posted to Darlington and then Hereford to man a searchlight unit, he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

He spent four months digging fortifications until the Wehrmacht decided it wanted to spend its 1940 summer holiday at the French seaside. Like many other members of the BEF the next few weeks were a story of chaos, desperate fallbacks and futile attempts to regroup. Near Douai his unit did manage to blow a bridge taking several German armoured vehicles with it.

Caught behind the German lines Cushing and several other soldiers found shelter in a bistro cellar filled with an impressive range of drink. Building a bar out of a few crates Cushing and comrades embarked on what he described the greatest drinking bout of the century. Cushing was still resolved to do his duty. He was determined to fight out the war to the last bottle.

Alas things did not work out quite that way....
Today's Observer has a fascinating article regarding the faces of two of Scotland's most infamous murderers. 180 years after their brutal crimes a rare pair of plaster masks Burke and Hare have been found at Inveraray jail in Argyll, along with a genuine hangman's noose. This discovery is strange in that neither of the murderers was ever held at Inveraray, nor was anyone ever hanged inside the prison.

"We found the masks during a clean-out of one of our store rooms, it was quite a surprise," said Gavin Dick, the general manager of the jail, which is now a museum. "Initially we thought it was just Burke, but it turns out we've got two heads. A death mask of Burke and a life mask of Hare. Unfortunately very little is known about either head, or for that matter the hangman's noose, and how they came to be here."

William Burke and William Hare are among the most notorious of Scotland's criminals whosupplied bodies for dissection to the anatomist Robert Knox in Edinburgh. However, instead of robbing graves, the pair found it easier to kill rather than exhume their victims.

Until the 1832 Anatomy Act, the only legal sources of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those of people condemned to death and dissection by the courts. However as the need to train medical students increased, the number of executed criminals fell, so Knox was only too glad to receive the Irishmen's wares. It is believed that Burke and Hare murdered at least 16 people, possibly as many as 30, before their crimes were discovered. Hare turned King's evidence and escaped the gallows, while Burke was publicly executed and his body exhibited before being flayed and dissected. A number of ghoulish souvenirs were kept of Burke, including a book and a snuff box bound in pieces of his skin. His skeleton is still kept under lock and key at Edinburgh University.

The activities of the former navvies, who had originally moved to Edinburgh to work on the Union Canal, repelled and fascinated the public. A life mask is known to have been made of Hare during the trial, and Burke's shaven head was cast after his execution in front of 25,000 people on 28 January 1829. Although a handful of masks are known to still exist, with at least one in the United States, one in a museum in Swansea and copies at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, they are very rare. "How or why they should end up in Inveraray jail is a something of a mystery," said Owen Dudley Edwards, the author of several works about the murderous pair. "There are no links at all between Inveraray and Burke and Hare, so it seems a very unlikely place to find these masks. There have been cases where copies have shown up in strange places, usually because they were once owned by private collectors, but there certainly weren't many of them made.

Although there was much public anger at the fact that Hare was allowed to go free, attempts to bring further charges against him failed and he fled to England. The man described at the time as a "rude ruffian, ferocious profligate" and "evidently the greatest villain of the two" was last seen heading east from Carlisle on the road to Newcastle. There were reports that he was living at Buckminster in Leicestershire until his identity was discovered and he was forced to move on. He is said to have died a blind beggar in London, or even emigrated to the US.

Andrew Connell, museum collections manager at the Royal College of Surgeons, which has its own copy of Burke's death mask, said the find was definitely unusual: "I've not seen them anywhere else. I don't think they were like Charles and Diana souvenirs. There was probably only a handful made, if that."

Staff at Inveraray jail are considering whether to exhibit the masks and the noose alongside their existing house of horrors, such as a cat o' nine tails, and a tongue holder for nagging wives, which are used to illustrate the history of crime and punishment in Scotland.