30 November 2009

L Ron Hubbard gets the bum’s rush and not a blue plaque

According to the Telegraph English Heritage, the government agency, which runs the blue plaque scheme to commemorate the residences of eminent people, has rejected an application by supporters of the founder of Scientology after its blue plaques panel decided that it was unconvinced about Mr Hubbard's "reputation".

From 1957 until 1959, Hubbard based himself at Fitzroy House, in London's West End, and wrote many of his works there. It was a Scientology "church" until 1968, when it was sold. The organisation then bought it back around six years ago and the four-storey building, at 37 Fitzroy Street, is now open as a museum in Mr Hubbard's memory.

According to minutes of a meeting in June last year, obtained using Freedom of Information legislation, the blue plaques panel decided that "more time was needed to make an objective assessment of Hubbard's reputation". Panel members present at the meeting included Professor Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate.

The panel "also noted that [Hubbard] had no settled residence in London". However, other foreign personalities who only spent short periods of their life in the capital have been awarded plaques in their honour.

Blue plaques are considered a high accolade and have been erected outside the London homes of some of the world's greatest minds. Eligibility guidelines state that nominated figures must have been dead for 20 years or have passed the centenary of their birth, and must have made an "important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness". Hubbard died in 1986.

Sarah Eicker, director of Fitzroy House, who nominated Mr Hubbard, said: "I definitely think Mr Hubbard warrants a plaque. Maybe the information we provided wasn't sufficient."

Not much of a story I suppose but as for giving L Ron Hubbard a blue plaque I would strongly support the move when Hell freezes over. Until then the evil old bullshitter can rot, but then that’s what he’s been doing since 1986 anyway...

Griffin to represent European Parliament at climate change conference

It would appear that the scumbag Griffin may be getting a chance to make an idiot of himself having been chosen join a European parliament delegation to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Griffin is a climate change denier who will probably try to advance the Bastard Nazi Party’s view that global warming is " a global Marxist mantra that is going to be used to beat people around the head, tax us to the hilt, smash nations and impose a one-world government” (damn so what are Lady Gaga and bar codes for then?)

Political opponents dismissed Griffin;s likely influence:Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said Griffin's views were "irresponsible and wrong." He would not be part of the formal negotiations "and rightly he will not be listened to by anyone with any credibility who is part of the negotiations."

Green party leader and MEP Caroline Lucas said: "He is one of a number of members of the European parliament who will go on a delegation. He won't get the right to speak. The parliament sadly doesn't even get the right to really influence the decisions at all. This idea that somehow Nick Griffin is going to have any real influence on what happens at Copenhagen is a myth."

Hmm if this is the case then Little Nicky can go sit in the corner with his fourth Reich colouring in book while the grown-ups talk...

A Monday morning punishment post

I wanted to be up early this morning so I could get on with the chores I had planned for today and for which I had taken the day off. Did things go to plan? Did they my hairy arse! For some reason the monsters of my id decided to plough through the darker recesses of my memory and cause this abomination to keep me awake until nearly 5am as it played on a continuous loop.

My plans have gone awry, I overslept so as a revenge here is the offending piece in the hope that it bores into someone else's brain. After all misery loves company!

29 November 2009

A fatal blunder in 2001?

Scott Shane in the hNew York Times reports on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report which concludes that there was a lost opportunity in December 2001 to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. This of course is reported widely in the press around the world.

The Foreign Committee concluded that removing bin Laden would not have eliminated the global threat from terrorism out would have removed “a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”

The report, based asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt. The lapse laid “the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.”

The showdown at Tora Bora, a mountainous area dotted with caves in eastern Afghanistan, pitted a modest force of American Special Operations and CIA officers, along with allied Afghan fighters, against a force of about 1,000 Qaeda fighters led by Mr. bin Laden.

A larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, who also fled to Pakistan in 2001, has overseen the resurgence of the Taliban.

Like several previous accounts, the committee’s report blames Gen. Tommy Franks and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans. General Franks, who declined to comment for the committee’s report, has at times questioned whether Mr. bin Laden was even at Tora Bora in late 2001.

If this is the case then the US made an appalling and costly blunder in Afghanistan in 2001. It is true that there was no guarantee that bin Laden and Mullah Omar would have been captured but additional troops would have made it more likely. Without the rallying figure of bin Laden it is very possible that some of the atrocities carried out by Muslim extremists would not have taken place... would we have seen the Bali, Madrid or London bombings? We will never know but there might have been less of a chance of them happening.

Would Mullah Omar’s capture have helped blunt the Taliban’s resurgence? Again we will never know but perhaps fewer soldiers would have been killed in Afghanistan over recent years. More importantly Afghanistan may have been more stable and the country may have been able to make further desperately needed progress.

For contrast here's Speaking in Tongues

Sheila Chandra - A Sailor's Life

28 November 2009

The Neda Soltan scholarship

According to the Times, Queens College Oxford has received thousands of pounds in unsolicited public donations in support of a scholarship honouring an Iranian student murdered during a street protest in Tehran.

For those who do not already know Neda was shot dead on June 20 during a street protest against Iran’s rigged presidential election. She has become a worldwide icon of the protests.

But the public support for commemorating Neda Soltan contrasts sharply with the attitude of the British Government. The Times learnt that it would have advised Queen’s College against establishing the scholarship, saying that Iran would regard it as a provocative move.

Diplomatic sources apparently stated that the scholarship has driven “another nail into the coffin” of an already strained Iranian/British relationship. Critics will see this as further evidence of the Government’s reluctance to confront the Iranian regime despite its repeated claims that Britain fomented the protests that followed the hotly disputed presidential election in June and its arrest of the British Embassy’s Iranian staff.

Since Queen’s established the Neda Soltan scholarship with two anonymous donations last month, almost £15,000 has been sent in by former students, parents and members of the public.
A spokesman for Queen’s College said that the decision to set up the scholarship was not a political one, but he was not surprised that it was perceived in that light. He added that if the college had decided to turn down the initial funds of £4,000 from two private donors this would have also been viewed as political.

“One of the initial donors has also indicated that he will commit £10,000 over the coming five years to support the scholarship further. The college is of course pleased to receive donations that will support one of its primary aims, which is to fund bursaries and scholarships which help students who might otherwise be unable to study at Oxford.”

The Iranian authorities have wrongly accused the Government of helping to establish the scholarship, which prompted a furious letter from the deputy Iranian Ambassador in London to the Queen’s College Provost, Professor Paul Madden.

To be honest it doesn’t matter what the Iranian authorities think. They follow the idiotic view that Britain is somehow responsible for many of their country’s woes and will look to stick it to us at any opportunity. There aren’t many more nails that could be driven into the coffin of UK/Iranian relations!

As far as I am concerned the scholarship is a fitting tribute to a young woman cut down in her youth by a brutal regime. The British Government should grow a pair (but no I am not advocating an attack on Iran, I’m not that stupid!), the Iranian Government can go screw itself

Comrade Duch asks to be released? Let him rot

Comrade Duch and his work

Comrade Duch (also known as Kang Guek Eav) who was in charge of the Tuol Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge has been on trial in Cambodia. He has admitted responsibility for the torture and murder of more than 12,000 people. Yesterday he had the brass neck to ask to be acquitted and released.

According to the Guardian, Comrade Duch, asked the judges to consider his co-operation with the court and the 10 years he had already served in jail and set him free. In the last sentence of his final summing up, he said: "I would ask the chamber to release me, thank you very much."

The request came just two days after he told the court he was ultimately accountable for the deaths that occurred while he headed the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. "I am solely and individually responsible for the loss of at least 12,380 lives," he said.

Duch's request enraged Bou Meng, one of only a dozen prisoners to walk out of Tuol Sleng alive. He stormed from the public gallery, describing Duch's plea as an insult to his wife's memory. "I could not accept the request for the release by Duch, because many people, including my wife, have been killed during the Khmer Rouge time. He cannot step on the victims like this."

The prosecutor, William Smith, said outside court that he was surprised by Duch's last-minute change of heart. "The fact that he entered a request for an acquittal reinforces in our mind that his remorse is limited."

The prosecution has asked for 40 year's jail for Duch, 67. He will be sentenced next year.
Outside court, Dara Chey, a student who lost four relatives during the Khmer Rouge years, said Duch's request for acquittal cast doubt on his earlier apology. "I do not believe him when he says he is sorry any more. He is just trying to get out of jail. He should never be allowed out. Cambodians will not be happy if he ever walks free."

To even consider releasing a butcher like Comrade Duch is an insult to the memory of all of those who were murdered during the insane rule of the Khmer Rouge. I hope he dies in prison very old and very lonely.

27 November 2009

Photo Hunt - Technology aka Upminster Windmill

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is technology so I have gone for some cutting edge stuff, or at least cutting edge for 1803 when it was built. This windmill is in Upminster about 3 miles from where I live. The photo was taken two years ago after it was damaged in a storm, Happily it looks far better now but I like the look of the windmill like this.

Iranian Government in a pathetic harassment campaign against Shirin Ebadi

The Times (amongst many papers) reports that the Iranian authorities have confiscated the Nobel peace medal and diploma belonging to Shirin Ebadi. Shirin Ebadi is a human rights lawyer who is one of the hardline regime’s most outspoken critics. The pretext? The Government claims that she owes almost £250,000 in tax.

The seizure of the award is unprecedented in its 108-year history and has caused outrage in Oslo, where the Nobel Peace Committee is based. The Norwegian Government summoned the Iranian envoy to protest, and the committee said that it would make a formal complaint.

Dr Ebadi was awarded the prize for her advocacy of democracy and human rights. She was abroad during President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June and has spent the past five months travelling the world to draw attention to the regime’s alleged electoral fraud and suppression of the opposition. “I am effectively in exile,” she said recently.

She said that the regime had frozen her bank accounts and pension, as well as those of her husband, who is still in Tehran. She continued: “Even my Nobel and Légion d’honneur medals, my Freedom of Speech ring and other prizes, which were in my husband’s safe, have been confiscated.”

Dr Ebadi, 62, told another interviewer: “They say I owe them $410,000 in back taxes because of the Nobel. It’s a complete lie, given that the Iranian fiscal law says that prizes are excluded.” The prize money was $1.4 million.

Dr Ebadi’s lawyer in Tehran, Nasrin Sotoudeh, said that the medal was seized on the order of a judge at the Tehran Revolutionary Court.

The confiscation of Dr Ebadi’s prizes is only part of the regime’s campaign to silence her. It has closed her Centre for the Defence of Human Rights in Tehran and locked up three of her colleagues. She has been denounced in the state-controlled media and charged in absentia with conspiring against the State. Her husband was badly beaten this autumn and her apartment is said to have been seized.

She insisted that she would continue to denounce the regime’s brutality and the use of show trials and forced confessions. “Naturally the Iranian Government doesn’t want the world to know what’s happening in Iran, so it’s my duty to inform as many people as possible.”

The Iranian government’s actions are just pathetic. I’ll think of some commentary (without expletives later)

Ted in a box

What do you mean you're going to nail a flag to my butt and send me to Iran?

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

26 November 2009

Natural selection in action

Two days ago we saw the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. I didn’t have the time to post anything on that momentous anniversary. However, a trawl through the Breaking News section on the Fortean Times website I found an excellent example of Natural selection in action.

On 21 November Science Daily reported on a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine concerning a community’s developing resistance to the disease kuru.

Kuru is a fatal prion disease, similar to CJD in humans and BSE in animals, that is unique to an area in Papua New Guinea. In the mid 20th Century, an epidemic devastated a population in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The infection was passed on at mortuary feasts, where mainly women and children consumed their deceased relatives as a mark of respect and mourning. This practice was banned and ceased in the late 1950s.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council Prion Unit assessed over 3000 people from the affected and surrounding Eastern Highland populations, including 709 who had participated in cannibalistic mortuary feasts, 152 of whom subsequently died of kuru. They discovered a novel and unique variation in the prion protein gene in people from the Purosa valley region where kuru was most rife.

This gene mutation, which is found nowhere else in the world, seems to offer high or even complete protection against the development of kuru and has become frequent in this area through natural selection in direct response to the epidemic. This is thought be perhaps the strongest example yet of recent natural selection in humans.

Professor John Collinge, Director of the MRC Prion Unit said: "It's absolutely fascinating to see Darwinian principles at work here. This community of people has developed their own biologically unique response to a truly terrible epidemic. The fact that this genetic evolution has happened in a matter of decades is remarkable. Kuru comes from the same disease family as CJD so the discovery of this powerful resistance factor opens up new areas for research closer to understanding, treating and hopefully preventing a range of prion diseases."

Medical Research Council (UK) (2009, November 21). Brain disease 'resistance gene' evolves in Papua New Guinea community; could offer insights into CJD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2009/11/091120091959.htm

The end of the beginning in the fight against AIDS?

While it is not a reason to start partying or to speculate at the end of the epidemic but greater access to anti-retroviral drugs has helped cut the death toll from HIV /AIDS by more than 10% over the last fie years.

According to the BBC the World Health Organization and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) say that the number of people worldwide are infected with HIV (33.4m) is higher than the number infected two years ago (33m). However this is because fewer people are dying.

Furthermore, there has been a significant drop in the number of new HIV infections. UNAids and WHO say better access to powerful drug treatments has helped save many lives. It is estimated that the availability of effective treatment has saved the lived of some 2.9 million lives.

New HIV infections have been reduced by 17% over the past eight years. In sub-Saharan Africathe number of new infections has fallen by around 15% since 2001 - equating to about 400,000 fewer infections in 2008 alone. Infection rates were down by nearly 25% in East Asia, and by 10% in South and South East Asia.

Director general of the World Health Organization Dr Margaret Chan said: "International and national investment in HIV treatment scale-up has yielded concrete and measurable results. We cannot let this momentum wane. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, and save many more lives."

UNAids executive director Michel Sidibe said although prevention programmes had helped cut new infections, they were often "off the mark". "If we do a better job of getting resources and programmes to where they will make most impact, quicker progress can be made and more lives saved," he said.

This is heartening news, especially the reduction in new infections. We are not out of the woods by a ling chalk but things are heading in the right direction at last

25 November 2009

Angelfish Decay

An arrangement of Michael Nyman's Angelfish Decay. From the sound track to Peter Greenaway's A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS

Am away today. Back tomorrow

Ans some more Robert Calvert

Online from hs last album Test Tube Conceived

24 November 2009

Kisses for Oscar

Kisses onm the tomb of Oscar Wilde, Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday.

Otto von Bismarck as sex god (sort of)

Who needs Handball Henry when you have a hunk like this?

According to today’s Telegraph more than 6,000 personal letters that were sent to Count Bismarck while in office and retirement have been made available to scholars.
I it Perhaps unsurprising that the letters indicate that many Germans saw Bismarck as a messiah figure. But some viewed him an object of desire.

A married woman from the Saarland wrote to him saying: "I am unhappy in love but know that we could be wonderful together. I am a very good cook and stuffed pig's stomach is my speciality."

One doctor, concerned about Bismarck's circulation, addressed him as "Your Highness" and advised him to do "gymnastics in your bedchamber" (a distinct possibility if he took up the Saarland hausfrau’s offer!)

The old chancellor, whose idea of relaxation was to drink several barrels of fine Rhine wine over a period of days before fasting, usually replied to every letter he received.

It must have been the sight of that huge bushy moustache that sent the womenfolk of Germany ablaze with passion.... ooh and those eyebrows too!

23 November 2009

Wonders of the deep

A transparent Sea Cucumber (I feel a haiku coming on)

I last reported on the International Census of Marine Life back in 2006 (I think). The census It has been a decade-long exploration of the deep and, unsurprisingly, it has revealed a startling range of exotic new species and alien ways to eke out a living in the perpetual darkness.

Over 300 scientists from 34 nations have studied the oceans using a range of tools including deep-diving submersibles, piloted robots automated drones discovering more than 17,000 new species in the process

For example an expedition to the mid-Atlantic ridge this discovered what is thought to be a new species related to the octopus, nicknamed the “Jumbo Dumbo” for its passing resemblance to the fictional flying elephant.

Dumbo squid

“If it came up in a trawl it would just be a lump of jelly, but photograph it from a submersible, and it’s very beautiful and graceful,” said Odd Aksel Bergstad of the University of Bergen. “We know very little about how they live. They’re predators but we don’t know what they feed on or how they reproduce. At least one of the nine kinds we found is probably a new species.

Much life in the deep relies on death in the sunlit waters above. While most food comes from the falling remains of tiny marine organisms, occasionally the biggest animals on the planet crash to the seabed. Seventeen species of “zombie bone-eating worms” — otherwise known as Osedax — survive on the rare bounty of a sunken whale.
In the deep, unidentified species are often the norm, not the exception. One cruise yielded 680 specimens of fly-like copepod, only seven of which could be identified.


“The abyssal fauna is so rich in species diversity and so poorly described that collecting a known species is an anomaly,” said Dr David Billett of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. “Describing for the first time all the different species in any coffee cup-sized sample of deep-sea sediment is a daunting challenge.”

Information from the census will be used to inform efforts to protect the diversity and abundance of deep-sea species. Fishing the depths relies on bottom-trawling that can destroy fragile habitats before their existence is even realised. The offshore oil and gas industry is drilling in ever deeper water, and plans to mine rich mineral deposits on the seafloor are in prospect.

One word to describe my feeling about the new discoveries and that's WOW!

Robert Calvert - Robot

Here's Robert performing the classic song Robot which appeared on the 1979 Hawkwind album PXR5. THis would be the last Hawkwind album he appeared on (apart from the interminable compilation releases and abysmal crap like Bring m the Head of Yuri Gagarin of course).

Shame the sound quality is poor.

Robert Calvert - Aerospaceage Inferno

I'm not sure when this was recorded but I would hazard a guess at 1987 or 1988. That is not long before he died. Still it's good to be able to post a vid of my avatar in action

22 November 2009

A date for the diary: Hein Heckroth

Today's Guardian reports that the BFI will hold an exhibition of paintings produced by German artist Hein Heckroth.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger formed one of the greatest partnerships in British cinema giving us such gems as A Matter of Life and Death, The Black Narcissus and perhaps their "Sistine Chapel" the Red Shoes.

In advance of the release of a restored version of the Red Shoes, some of the 2,000 artworks Heckroth produced in his role as set designer (for which he won an Oscar) for the film are being exhibited from 26 November.

I am not familiar with his work but a search on the work he did for the Red Shoes certainly makes me want to visit the exhibition.

Hugo Chavez talks crap, part 2465

Whatever he good may or may not do in Venezuela itself, Hugo Chavez consistently shows himself to be an imbecile when it comes to world affairs.

In a televised speech socialist politicians from various countries , Chavez managed to support Carlos the Jackal, reiterate his friendship for Mugabe and Ahmadinejad and even consider that Amin was not such a bad fellow after all...

The Venezuelan president praised Carlos — aka Ilich Sanchez Ramirez, a poor little rich kid Venezuelan who was generally who took up terrorism as something to do – as a useless as a freedom fighter — "revolutionary fighter" who supported the cause of the Palestinians. (not that his acts really did much to help the Palestinian cause much. "They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter,"

Chavez also sought to defend other leaders he said are wrongly labelled "bad boys" internationally, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez called both of them brothers and said he now wonders whether Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was truly as brutal as he was reputed to be.

"We thought he was a cannibal," Chavez said, referring to Amin, whose regime was notorious for torturing and killing suspected opponents in the 1970s. "I have doubts. ... I don't know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot."
Carlos the Jackal was hardly a principled fighter dedicated to the Palestinian cause. He was clearly in it for the money and, presumably, the violence. What does Chavez have to say about Carlos being hired by the Securitate to kill Romanian dissidents,. not that he was successful...

As for Mugabe and Ahmadinejad, Chavez once again spits in the face of those who want a better Zimbabwe and Iran but, hey Mugabe and Ahmadinejad are anti American so it’s all okay...

And Amin, where do you start?

The more Chavez opens his mouth the more of a twat he sounds. Perhaps he would be better sticking to Venezuela and not making an idiot of him

21 November 2009

Now Jacko turns up in a foetal scan

Just when you think we have seen enough bad simulacra for a year (and it has been a bumper crop this year). This time it’s Michael Jackson once again.

According to the Telegraph parents-to-be Dawn Kelley and William Hickman had the fright of their life when looking at the ultrasound scan of their unborn baby, realising that it looked like the late pop singer.

Mr Hickman said: “We were looking at the pictures again, and I just saw Jacko there. None of us are really Michael Jackson fans. I mean I like him, but we’re not crazy about him or anything.”

Ms Kelley said: “I’ve had plenty of scans before and none of the photos have ever looked like this one. It’s a bit spooky really.”

Hmm even after death it seems that Michael Jackson can’t help hanging around children even if the child in question is a foetus....

A belated apology from Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry at Customs control at Dublin Airport

Better late than never some may say (although perhaps better he owned up to his handball at the time) but Thierry Henry has apologised for his handball during the World Cup playoff between France and the Republic of Ireland.

According to a report in today’s Guardian he now believes a replay would be the "fairest solution" to the continuing furore over the handball which led to the goal that eliminated Ireland from World Cup qualification, and said Ireland "deserve to be in South Africa".

"Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa," said Henry in a statement today. "Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control."

Henry handled the ball twice immediately before passing to team-mate William Gallas to score his side's decisive goal in the 1-1 draw on Wednesday, but referee Martin Hansson still allowed it despite vehement protests from the Ireland players.

In a statement he said: "I have said at the time and I will say again that yes I handled the ball. I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area.

"It is impossible to be anything other than that. I have never denied that the ball was controlled with my hand. I told the Irish players, the referee and the media this after the game. Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa. There is little more I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalising goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish."

Fifa have already turned down an Irish request for a replay of the match. Unsurprisingly the French have rejected any appeal.

Ireland's captain, Robbie Keane, said: "On behalf of the Republic of Ireland players, I would like to thank Thierry Henry for his statement this afternoon that in his opinion a replay would be the fairest option. I would also be happy for a replay to happen in the interest of fair play so that whichever team qualifies, can do so with their heads held high. We can only hope that the French Football Federation might accept the wishes of both captains in the best interests of the game."

Fat chance Robbie! The French are not going to throw away the millions they will earn from qualifying for the finals no matter how unfair it was. As for Henry, his apology is a little hollow given that he didn’t exactly pipe up at the time.
But then football is a funny old game. Shame nobody is laughing much...

20 November 2009

Photo Hunt - Birds

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is birds. So here are some birds... Top is a crow in flight outside my home. In the middle are two amorous pigeons in a neighbour's garden. Bottom is a sparrow tucking into sunflower seeds in Paris

Wonders never cease... at least for a minute anyway

Boris having been an only cat all his life (until July anyway) does not play well with others. Robyn has lived with other cats all his life so is more tolerant. It was still a surprise to see them both together - Robyn had jumped up and curled up beside Boris - and for a while they were quite content.. until Boris remembered himself and took a swipe at the old fellow

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

19 November 2009

Linguistics the final frontier

Minnesotan D'Armond Speers has been on a three-year mission in which he boldly split infinitives where no man had split them before

For three years Speers, a software consultant and expert in computational linguistics, spoke only Klingon to his son as part of an experiment to understand how children learn languages.

"I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language. He was definitely starting to learn it."

D'Armond's wife spoke in standard English.

D'Armond has since landed a job with an internet software company creating a dictionary in Klingon for use in language applications on mobile phones and computers

Hmm I wonder what his Kindergarten chums will think when Speers Minor calls them P’tachs!

Voted least likely to visit Ireland over the next twelve lifetimes

I can't imagine that Thierry Henry will be welcome in Ireland any time soon after a blatant handball that led to France's winning goal last night. Sadly France are in the World Cup Finals and Ireland aren't. That is the outcome I would have expected but not this way.

Then again football is an ever more squalid game...

18 November 2009

I would like to thank a person from West Haven, Connneticut for being visitor 600,000. Not eaxctly sure what he or she was looking at but it was something in the December 2007 archive....hiho

Q. How do you find a Nazi war criminal?

A. Look them up in the phone book according to the Times and several other papers.

90-year-old Adolf Storms, a former member of elite Waffen SS Wiking Division has been charged with the murder of 58 Hungarian Jews. He was found by University of Vienna

Towards the end of the war the Wiking Division was in Austria
Storms was charged at a regional court in Duisburg with the following

“On March 29, 1945, the accused and his accomplices brought at least 57 Jewish forced labourers in several groups to a nearby forest area, where they had to surrender their valuables and kneel by a grave. The accused and other SS members then cruelly shot the Jewish forced labourers from behind.”

According to testimony laid before the court 57 labourers were killed near the Austrian village of Deutsch Schuetzen. On 30 March Storms allegedly shot another Jewish labourer who could not keep up on a forced march between Deutsch Schuetzen and the village of Hartberg

The mass grave at Deutsch Schuetzen was excavated in 1995 and the bodies were given proper funerals

As yet no living witness has been found to testify on the mass shooting; the case against Mr Storms for that alleged atrocity will be based on written statements made in previous trials.

Mr Forster, who was studying the forest massacre for part of his university course, was reviewing the files on the Hitler Youth burial unit and came across the name of Mr Storms. He searched German telephone books and worked out that a Duisburg pensioner matched the description.

Storms, apparently, remembers nothing about the massacre.

It remains to be seen if he ever comes to trial but even at this very late stage I wonder if there are others like him who realise that there is still just enough time for that knock at the door

17 November 2009

History made in Hornchurch

Hornchurch stadium is one of my area’s unsung local amenities. Located just beyond Upminster Bridge station it is the home of Hornchurch AFC “the Mighty Urchins”), currently in the lower half of the Ryman’s Premier League and the Havering-Mayesbrook Athletic Club.

It’s never going to host International events but amazingly it has seen at least two world best times since it was opened in 1956.

On 17 May 1956. 22-year old Bristol athlete Phyllis Perkins recorded a time of 4:35.4, beating Nina Pletnyova’s record set in 1952 by 1.6 seconds.

Phyllis Perkins represented the UK in the 800m at the Rome Olympics. Sadly, she failed to qualify from her heat.

The following year (16 May 1957) 24-year old Diane Leather smashed Perkins’s record by over 5 seconds, recording a time of 4:30 dead. She bettered this time at a meet in London in July and remained the record holder until New Zealander Marise Chamberlain clocked a time of 4:19 in December 1962.

Diane Leather was one the finest British female athletes of the 1950s: she was the first woman to break the 5 minute mile mark just three weeks after Roger Bannister went below four minutes. She was silver medallist in the 800m at both the 1954 and 1958 European Championships.

Sadly neither Phyllis Perkins nor Diane Leather were technically world record holders as the IAAF did not recognise female 1500m times until 1967... not that this means that their achievements are diminished in any way

WW - More Fireworks

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

16 November 2009

It’s Sunday night in Rome....

Just a gigolo

You’re a beautiful young woman in Rome. You have been recruited to attend a lavish function. Do you:
  1. Expect Silvio Berlusconi to turn up and slobber down your cleavage
  2. Get whisked off to a sun kissed resort by a rich, but elegant Playboy
  3. Get a lecture on Islam and be sent packing with a 50 Euro note and a copy of the Koran?
If you answered c) you are correct. According to the BBC the girls received a lecture on the wonders of Islam by Muammar Gaddafi, who was in town for the UN food summit.

Having been selected the women were taken to an imposing reception room, they were then left waiting for an hour without so much as a glass of water until Gaddafi arrived and proceeded to preach the benefits of Islam, taking particular pains to assure his guests that it was not misogynistic, and encouraging them to convert.

Two hours later, the women left, looking a touch bemused, 50 euros ($75; £45) better off and clutching a copy of the Koran.

So there you have it - just another Sunday night in the eternal city

Edward Woodward RIP

I was saddened to hear that actor Edward Woodward has died, aged 79. Woodward.

Woodward is known for his major tv series Callan and The Equalizer, but his finest hour was certainly the role of Sergeant Howie in the Wicker Man (the original and not the abysmal remake starring Nicholas Cage).

The still shows Howie catching sight of the Wicker Man, his final resting place.

14 November 2009

Listening to the Hitchcock 1

I've been meaning to do some sort of guide to Robyn Hitchcock's discography for ages but I never got around to it.

However, the Economic Voice has asked for some advice on the best Robyn CDs to purchase

Robyn has an extensive discography having produced his first LP back in 1979 with the Soft Boys. Many of them are excellent, some are indispensable and a few are to be avoided at all costs.

The First Indispensable Robyn Album is the 1980 Soft Boys album Underwater Moonlight sadly it is not available at present except at a stupid price. Hopefully it will be reissued soon. I will talk about it in a later post.

The first indispensable album that is also currently available is is Robyn's third solo release from 1984 I Often Dream of Trains.

Performed without the Egyptians (ex Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor) as most of his albums were up to the mid 1990s it is an acoustic recording featuring some of his finest songs and some of his strangest too.

After the beautiful opening piano piece "nocturne" you face the odder aspect of Robyn in the form of "Sometimes I wish I was a Pretty Girl", the reason being that it will permit him to loofah himself in the shower... After "Cathedral" you come to "Uncorrected Personality Traits" in which you discover that Even Marilyn Monroe was a man (even this get overlooked by our mother fixated, sexist media). Next comes one of the first true highlights the sparse"It Sounds Great When you're Dead". Next comes the beautiful "Flavour of Night" and the amusing "Sleeping Knights of Jesus"

Side two of the original vinyl release features the sublime "Trams of Old London", "I Often Dream of Trains", "Autumn is Your Last Chance" and closes with a reprise of "Nocturne". The only irritating track on the whole album is the odd "Furry Green Atom Bowl"

The current CD release features ten bonus tracks, of varying quality

A live DVD recording of the album, featuring most of the songs is being released on Monday, based on a series of concerts recorded by Robyn last year.

His next Album Fegmania from 1985 is excellent although it does feature a bit of filler.

There isn't a poor track among the 11 on the original album but a number are far from being anything other than filler. Still it has two of Robyn's absolute classics "Heaven" (why this was not a huge hit I will never know) and the glorious "My Wife and my Dead Wife" (A good reason to give thanks for Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit!). Other fine tracks include "Egyptian Cream", the very strange "Man With the Lightbulb Head" and "Strawberry Mind". Extra tracks on the current release include Robyn's take on "Bells of Rhymney" and "Somebody", both of which should have been on the original album instead of some of the filler.

I must say that Robyn is an acquired taste, a bit like Marmite. His more curious songs can irritate some people far more than they amuse. Me they amuse though....

Here are versions of some of my favourite tracks off both albums.

Not quite the pride of Romford

Local scouts has made the national press for all the wrong reasons. Not for him “bob a jobs” or other goodly works. The little louts made the news by making anti Semitic comments at last Sunday’s Remembrance Parade at the war memorial in Romford

According to the Guardian and other papers, at least explorer scouts taking part in Remembrance Sunday service in Romford, Essex was heard to repeatedly shout "Let's kill the Jews" at Jewish veterans.

The Rev Lee Sunderland, who was taking part in the service, expressed shock after hearing the scouts shout: "Here come the Jews, let's kill the Jews."

Other witnesses said the racists chants were started by a boy believed to be 15 years old. One of the troop has since come forward and been interviewed by police. He has been ordered by the Scout Association to visit the rabbi of the Romford and district synagogue to apologise in person.

Jack Rose from the synagogue said: "They were boy scouts who are supposed to be true to their cause. Somewhere along the line someone has been completely stupid or they really think these things."

Paul Freedman, an 84-year-old Jewish former RAF pilot who laid a wreath at the service, challenged the scouts. "I was absolutely fuming ... I told them I was a Jew and I'd spent four and a half years in the RAF during the second world war, and that Jewish people had sacrificed so much for freedom," he told the Evening Standard.

Simon Carter, a spokesman of the Scout Association, said the scout who confessed to starting the chant flouted the scouting ethos. "As scouts we promise to do our duty and to help other people. Clearly this child has not lived up to this promise”.

Frankly there is at least one scout I would love to see have his arse kicked from the Western Road Synagogue, around the Ring Road twice, up South Street, through the market and finally across to the memorial garden where he can bend over and let the populace (except the 15% of local vermin who voted BNP) take a good run up for a kick...

On the other hand I hope he undertakes some appropriate community service that will ensure it will be several lifetimes before he makes anti Semitic comments again

13 November 2009

Photo Hunt - Music

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is music. Mercifully this is a no-brainer as I can present some photos I've taken at concerts this year:

This is France-based Iranian singer Darya Dadvar performing at her first ever UK concert back in May

Dame Pandora of french band Dark Sanctuary playing their first ever London concert which, sadly, was their last ever concert

My favourite artist of all time, Robyn Hitchcock performing a benefit concert two weeks ago for medecins sans frontieres.

This is what the artists sound like live . The Robyn song is called Airscape and is one of my all time favourite songs but the Dark Sanctuary and Darya songs are wonderful too

Boris is comfortable

The not-wife is on the put you up bed downstairs leaving me to a double bed all to myself. Better that than a chance to catch swine flu overnight. Boris is particularly pleased in that it is comfortable and not far from the fire

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

12 November 2009

When mad science met the tobacco industry

Still feeling rough so I have decided to rehash yet another post from the early days of the Poor Mouth. This one featured the hugely powerful opioid Etorphine and Big Tobacco.

I've been fascinated by Etorphine ever since it was mentioned duting a pharmacology lecture in the second year of my Physiologu and Biochemistry degree course. It is an opioid that is it is a synthetic relative of Morphine. However, it is many thousands of times more powerful. First synthesised in 1963 it is best known as “Elephant Juice” the drug that can drop a rampaging elephant in a second. just 4mg of the stuff will bring down an elephant, a mere 1mg does for a rhino - that is how powerful the drug is!

Correct target demographic

Quite astonishingly the Molecule of the Month (yes it does exist and has been featuring a different molecule each month since 1996) entry on Etorphine included the sentence “Scientists at BAT (British American Tobacco) once debated adding it to tobacco as it might create an addictive craving for it”

Etorphine in cigarettes? I seriously thought that this was a joke until I came across a 2003 article in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control Online (The link now requires registration) :

“... Dr Sydney J Green, then British American Tobacco’s (BAT’s) senior scientist for research and development. Green informed his readers about"way-out" developments at BAT including :

"A way-out development is that of compounds (such as etorphine) which are 10,000 times as effective as analgesics [such] as morphine and which are very addictive. It is theoretically possible (if politically unthinkable) to add analytically undetectable quantities of such materials to cigarettes to create brand allegiance. But this thought may suggest the possibility of such compounds occurring naturally."

Me having a quick fag break in 1987

Green’s report followed an earlier memo from Keith D Kilburn to CI Ayres, expressing concern about what BAT’s competitors might be doing in order to create brand allegiance. Kilburn proposed that a regular etorphine dose of as little as 0.2 microgram per day would be sufficient to create an addictive craving for the source. He also claimed that the "required delivery per cigarette…would be analytically difficult to measure."

Etorphine is extraordinarily dangerous stuff: fatal overdoses to vets (as in vetinarians) attempting to dart animals have been recorded. As a consequence vets who are registered to use etorphine must now have an assistant standing by with a dose of antagonist in hand.

I suppose one should not be surprised that Big Tobacco might have considered using etorphine as an additive, despite it being sheer and utter madness! It is just as well they never implemented the plan. On the other hand one would probably go down well after a coke Coke and a McOpium'n'cheeze burger.....

Trash Metal from around the world 1: Pakistan, Peru and Botswana

Soul Vomit from Karachi

Anal Vomit from Lima

Crackdust from Botswana

Let's just say that Trash metal isn't really my thing but it unites three continents in music...

11 November 2009

Hooray for Tamiflu

After a number of autoposts I'm sort of back in the land of the living. Luckily the not-wife acted as my "flu friend" and got my Tamiflu. It does seem to take the edge off things even if I still feel rough .

The biggest bummer for me is not having flu but not being able to visit my mum in hospital. She had a mastectomy yesterday having been diagnosed with breast cancer. My dad and my sister have assured me that she is comfortable and hopefully will be out at the weekend

Futility - 11 November 1918

Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Dedicated to Augustin Trebuchon, the last French soldier to die in WWI. He was killed at 10.45 carrying a message ordering troops to muster for food at 1130.

Dedicated to George Lawrence Price of the Saskatchewan Regiment, shot by a German sniper at 10.59

Dedicated to Henry Gunther who died charging a German machine gun position in the last minute of the war.

Dedicated also to the German Leutnant Tomas killed by American soldiers after the Armistice. He is thought to be the last German to die that day

Dedicated to the men of the US 89th Division sent to their death on 11 November taking the town of Stenay for the want of a fucking bath.

Dedicated to the 11,000 Allied and German casualties on the last day of the "War To End All Wars"

In the hope that there is a special place in Hell for those who sent these men to their senseless deaths on that day

10 November 2009

The DDR still lives!

Ive posted this before but a repeat seems to be appropriate now. This one is thanks to Strange Maps whic has lots of fascinating maps, some fictional, some bizarre: many are real, but obscure or virtually forgotten. Although not a map as such there is an entry about Ernst Thallman Island .

The GDR still lives? Well technically it appears so. Cayo Ernesto Thaelmann, formerly Cayo Blanco del Sur, is 15km (about nine and a half miles) long and 500m (a bit over a quarter of a mile) wide island just off the coast of Cuba in the Gulf of Cojones, sorry Cazones. It is uninhabited, other than occasional tourists.

On the occasion of a state visit in June 1972 Castro made the island a gift to the GDR and it was remnamed in the memory of pre-WWII German Communist leader Ernst Thalmann. One of its beaches was renamed Playa RDA (GDR Beach) and in August 1972 there was an event to mark the island's on the island's ceremonial transfer which involved the unveiling of a bust of Thälmann

After reunification Germany made no claims for the territory and thus the island technically represents the sole landmass of the former communist state The Cuban government now views the gift as a symbolic gesture rather than a concession and would probably not be happy if settled by Germans of any political strip

The Bust of Thallman survived the downfall of communism but could not withstand the ravages of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

I for one await the return of the DDR, Trabanys and dubious looking female shot putters with fine, bushy beards. Better still Gorgon George Galloway will have a brand new leader whose arse he can lick to his heart's content

09 November 2009

Meanwhile Angela Merkel had a beer and a sauna

According to am English language German site called the Local, while thousands of East Germans surged past the Berlin Wall Angela Merkel visited the sauna and had a beer.

Reminiscing to foreign reporters in Berlin this week, Merkel told how she stuck to her weekly routine as a 35-year-old research scientist even as history was made around her.

"I thought something was going to happen, and had heard the announcement on television that the borders would open...But it was Thursday, and Thursday was my sauna day so that's where I went."

After her steam bath, Merkel went for a beer with a friend and only afterwards, when they left the bar, did they find themselves swept up in the huge crowds thronging Bornholmerstrasse and pouring into the West.

There she met celebrating West Berliners and shared beers with them, before heading home, telling herself "the Wall will still be open in the morning."

The next day, Merkel and her sister made a pilgrimage to the huge KaDeWe department store in the West, a temple of the western consumer society that had everything that was lacking in the East's command economy.

Fair enough! It wasn’t as if the wall would be bricked up again overnight. Still I think I might have changed my routine a little to be in at the death of the Berlin Wall but horses for courses...

"Die Mauer ist gefallen!"

Like many other people in the West I looked at events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and thought that the communist regimes across the world were as entrenched as they ever were. I certainly not expect to see the communist states of Eastern Europe tumble by the end of the year - as if their foundations were built on sand

Having said that the first signs were already there: Poland had already made a stride towards freedom with the legalisation of Solidarity. The party sweeping gains made in the country’s first free elections in decades, sadly just after the start of the start of Tiananmen massacre. Following the defection of communist satellite parties Solidarity was able to establish the country’s first non- Communist government since WWII.

Hungary was next. The stage was set in 1988 with the removal of the Janos Kadar who had ruled the country since 1956, it was fitting that Kadar, who died in July 1989, lived just long enough to see his murdered predecessor Imre Nagy reinterred.
But I digress. By October 1989 the Hungarian Communist Party had dissolved itself. Hungary’s borders were already open.

For us in the West the iconic moment was the day, twenty years ago, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, first metaphorically and then literally.

I saw the Berlin Wall just once, in August 1980. Apart from the amusing graffiti (such as “Warning! Practice area for East German Pole Vault team” or something like that - it is nearly 30 years ago!), I though then, noting the memorials to those murdered trying to escape, that I would never see it fall. It looked ugly, brutal and immutable and tragically permanent.
It did not matter that thousands of East Germans had already take advantage of Hungary’s open border; the opening of the Wall was the iconic moment that marked the spirit of the age

The day it fell

This timeline is based on one in the Independent.

1000hrs 9 November Central Committee members the Interior Ministry, officials and State Security officers attend meetings to draw up new travel regulations to try to stem the tide of citizens fleeing to the West.

Noon, Agreement reached: all restrictions on permanently leaving the country are lifted, and the ban on anyone under pensionable age making temporary trips will be dropped.

1800hrs Günter Schabowski, acting spokesman for the Central Committee, gives a press conference to announce the new regulations. It is broadcast live on television.

Schabowski: "... therefore, ah, we have decided on a new regulation today that makes it possible for every citizen of the GDR, ah, to exit via border crossing points of the, ah, GDR...

Krzysztof Janowski (Voice of America): "From when does that apply?"

Schabowski: "Well, comrades, I was informed today ..." (puts on spectacles, reads out press release on visa procedure).

Reporter: "When does that take effect?"

Schabowski (searching through papers): "That takes, to my knowledge, that is... immediately. Without delay."

Later Schabowski admitted that he had made a mistake. The authorities intended all East Germans to apply for travel visas to the west from the next day...

But the genie is out of the bottle

1905hrs The Associated Press flashes the headline: "GDR OPENS BORDER". West Germany's nightly news programme Tageschau carries highlights of Schabowski's press conference. Its correspondent reports: "They are supposed to start letting people through the wall overnight."

The show has a big East German audience...

2015hrs East Berliners start to congregate at three of the city's border crossing points: Heinrich-Heine-Strasse, Bornholmer Strasse, and Invalidenstrasse. At Bornholmer, they are told to return the next day, but are in no mood to listen. The officer in charge, Lt-Col Harald Jäger, tries to bring the ever-growing numbers under control. He seizes a megaphone and tells them:

"Comrade Schabowski has announced new travel legislation, but you need official permission to make use of it. You can get that permission from the people's police [Volkspolizei] but not from us. "

The crowd answers: "He said immediately – and without delay!"

Everyone heads towards the nearest People's Police office but comes back 10 minutes later.

2047hrs Oblivious to the crowds and to the shock generated by Schabowski's error, the Central Committee winds up proceedings for the day.

2130hrs Crowds build at crossing points. At Bornholmer Strasse nearly a thousand people press to be let through, chanting "Wir wollen rüber!" ("We want to go over!") Armed border guards look on. "If we shoot then they will hang us from the lampposts," says one. Lt-Col Jäger calls Stasi headquarters for orders. He is told: "Jäger, I cannot give you any decision, I am not getting any instructions from my superiors either." Jäger calls for an additional 60 armed guards.

2150hrs At Bornholmer Strasse crossing point, Lt-Col. Jäger decides to single out the noisiest East Germans and let them through. He tells his men to give their passports a special stamp which means they have been permanently expelled. One by one, they are allowed into West Berlin through an electrically operated steel gate.

2228hrs East German television's late-night show Aktuelle Kamera, tries to clarify the official line:

"At the request of many citizens, we inform you again about the new travel resolution issued by the Council of Ministers. First: private trips can be applied for without having to give reasons for the trip or proof of family relationships. In other words: applications have to be made for travel!"

Needless to say this is far too little, far too late!

2230hrs At the East German Central Committee building, a panicked Krenz tells two colleagues: "What am I supposed to do? I can't shut the borders now!"

2242hrs On West German television, Joachim Friedrichs, presenter of ARD's news show Tagesthemen, opens the programme: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. One should be cautious with superlatives; they tend to wear out fast. But this evening it is permissible to risk one: this ninth of November is a historic day: the GDR has announced that its borders are open to everyone as of now; the gates in the Wall are wide open."

It is his words that change the numbers going to the border from a stream to a torrent.

2300hrs Barbara Henniger, a cartoonist from a town just outside East Berlin, rushes with her family to Bornholmer Strasse. "The streets were crowded with people cheering, crying, and practically dancing. We were delirious. The border police first tried to channel the crowd through a small gate, but it was impossible and they had to open the main gate. And then, everybody just danced into the West."

2330hrs At Bornholmer Strasse, a crowd of 20,000 East Berliners chant "Tor Auf!" ("Open the Gate!"), and shove towards the crossing point. A wire fence gives way. Lt-Col Jäger shouts to his guards: "Open the barriers !" He says later: "All I was thinking about now was how to avoid bloodshed. There were so many people and they didn't have the space to move. If a panic developed, people would have been crushed."

2350hrs The Stasi orders the opening of all crossing points in the Wall including Checkpoint Charlie, Invalidenstrasse and Heinrich-Heine-Strasse. Everywhere there are scenes of frantic jubilation. Decades of confinement in communist East Germany are ending.

Postscript, Friday 10 November 1989 0000hrs Waiter Torsten Ryl is one of the many piling through. As he speaks to a reporter, a middle-aged West Berliner interrupts, gives him 20 marks, and says: "Why don't you get yourself a beer first?"

On 10 November, Bulgaria’s senile dictator Todor Zhivkov was deposed but it was not until 1990 that the Communists finally lost power.

On 16 November the Velvet Revolution started in Czechoslovakia. The Revolution continued to the end of December but the communist government was deposed. Happily Alexander Dubcek, who presided over the Prague Spring in 1968 lived long enough to become the speaker of the first post communist parliament. He died in 1992, Czechoslovakia died the following year following the “Velvet Divorce”.

Ion Iliescu, a wryneck

It was not until December that Romania fell. Although here had been unrest in the final years of the brutal regime of Nazi Nicolai Ceausescu (e.g. in Brasov in 1987), he held on longer than other leaders.. He was executed on 25 December but sadly this was not the end of Romania’s troubles. In 1991 there was more violence as the former communist, now leader of the Romanian National Salvation Front and wryneck (to use a German expression) Ion Ilisecu used miners to put down opposition demonstrations. Sadly this was the most violent of the revolutions in Eastern Europe. The break-up of Yugoslavia aside.

Even Albania got in on the act: Ramiz Alia, who, having intention of ending the same way as his Romanian counterpart, had already introduced cautious reforms. He was finally ousted in 1992.