28 February 2007

The tomb and the foreskin of Jesus

I am grateful to Bryan over at Why Now? for drawing my attention to news of a new documentary by director James Cameron concerning what he believes to be the tomb of Christ

The tomb, which was found near Jerusalem in 1980, contained ossuaries (not coffins as stated in the BBC report, thanks Bryan!) bearing the names Mary; Matthew; Jesua son of Joseph; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus' brother); and Judah son of Jesua. Another grave close by said to be Mary Magdalene's apparently convinced researchers this must be the tomb of Jesus.

Speaking in New York, the Cameron said statistical tests and DNA analysis backed this view. Not unsurprisingly his claim has been attacked by archaeologists and theologians as unfounded. Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time. "I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," he old the BBC News website.

Personally I think it is a load of rot. The DNA samples can probably prove a family relationships (Y chromosome for father/son relationships and Mitochondrial DNA for for mother/son-daughter) but how can you prove that Jesus is the Jesus of the bible?... You can believe it but you can’t prove it

The Tomb of Jesus story got me thinking about sacred relics. Predictably, perhaps, my favourite sacred relic must be the Holy Prepuce which was said to be imbued with healing and other powers - Fifth Century Irish saint Bridget who received it form an angel was said to have "orgasm-like sensations" when she placed bits of it on her tongue….

Circumcision of Christ by Hams Leonard Schaufelein

Leaving aside theological issues about whether it would have reattached when Jesus ascended to heaven (and the number of times he must have been circumcised for that matter!) several versions of the foreskin made their way to Europe during the Middle Ages. Churches/Cathedrals claiming to be in possession of it included the Lateran Basilica in Rome, Santiago de Compostela Antwerp and Chartres.

The only version believed to have survived into the 20th century was the in the Italian village of Calcata and was displayed during the annual procession on the feast day of the circumcision (1 January) The relic was stolen in 1983 and now sadly there are no more holy foreskins left.

Perhaps all of these relics were fakes: 17th century theologian Leo Allatius was of the view that it divinely ascended to become the rings of Saturn. The mind truly boggles, or at least mine does…

A very easy boycott

Deep Purple have found themselves in the odd position of asking their fans not to purchase their latest record. Lead singer Ian Gillan claims a live recording of a 1993 concert at the Birmingham NEC, should never have been released. he claims that infighting during the Come Hell Or High Water tour led to a dismal performance at Birmingham and he describes the label as “opportunist fat cats” for releasing it.

This must be one of the easiest boycotts ever given that I had no intention of buying the album in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I have a soft spot for Deep Purple but I wonder if Mr Gillan still has the range to scream like he used to 35 years ago…

Why on earth am I blogging this? . It seemed like a good idea when I started a couple of minutes ago. Then again it gives a perfect excuse to blog some of the latest efforts of former guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (for the amusement factor - a 60 odd year old man in a wig playing madrigals... just like Sting!)

27 February 2007

Serbia not guilty of genocide but...

Serbia has been acquitted of committing genocide by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but it violated its obligation to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. It also flouted the genocide convention by failing to arrest Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, even though he was hiding in the country.

In the first case of its kind, Bosnia had asked the ICJ to rule on whether the Serbian nation had committed genocide during the war of 1992-95, which left about 100,000 dead. The binding ruling that Serbia was not guilty of genocide, or of conspiracy to commit genocide.

Reading the landmark ruling, Judge Higgins said: “The acts committed at Srebrenica . . . were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as such, and accordingly. . . these were acts of genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces. The court has found that [Serbia] could, and should, have acted to prevent the genocide, but did not…. It has not been established that these massacres were committed under the instructions or the direction of the organs of the respondent state [Serbia] nor that the respondent exercised effective control over the operations.” Rejecting Bosnia’s claim for monetary reparations, it added: “Financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation for the breach of the obligation to prevent genocide.”

Boris Tadic, the Serbian President, said: “It is important that the Serbian Parliament, as soon as possible, passes a declaration condemning the crime in Srebrenica without any doubt.” He added that Serbia must improve its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is still seeking six Serbs indicted for war crimes, including Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader. “If Serbia fails to complete that cooperation . . . I believe we will face dramatic political and economic consequences,” he cautioned. Talks on Serbia joining the EU are suspended over the issue

As far as I am concerned the first thing Serbia should do is not to pass a declaration condemning Srebrenica but to hand over Mladic et al for trial forthwith.

26 February 2007

Spizzenergi - Where's Captain Kirk?

I hadn't thought about Spizz in a while until Skuds mentioned that they are playing in London on Wednesday. Sadly I can't go, perhaps next time. Where's Captain Kirk is one of those wonderfully memorable songs from my teens.... Now to find the Notsensibles and I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher!

Drink! Feck! Girls! Arse!

The weekend was not only about rugby: drunken priests and aspiring Mrs Doyles converged on Aran island of Inis Mor to mark the occasion of the first Father Ted festival.

There had been some controversy over which island had the right to call itself Craggy Island another Aran island, Inis Oirr, believed it had a greater claim than Inis Mor as the opening sequence contains a shot of the Plassey, a merchant ship wrecked there. In the end the the matter was settled by a five a side football match which Inis Mor won 2-0.

The festival included a Lovely Girls contest, a Hide a Nun and Seek and a Craggy Island Song for Europe contest. Father Jack’s sage words "Drink! Feck! Girls!" were intoned as if a prayer (and "Arse biscuits" too I would hope)

Oh to have been there!

If you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, Father Ted was a surreal sitcom based on an Island of the coast of Ireland and featuring three dysfunctional priests and a half insane housekeeper. It was one of the funniest things ever shown on tv.

25 February 2007

A few more signs of spring

More Daffodils in the bath we saved when we got a new bathroom a few years back

Camelia in bloom at last

Blossom - a Prunus of some sort in blossom down the street

A few protestors, a lot of decorum and a damned good trashing!

Unsurprisingly (the world did not end when God Save The Queen was played at Croke Park yesterday. England fans sang the anthem, Ireland fans maintained a respectful silence. The Republican Sinn Fein protest outside the stadium amounted about 150 idiots and throwbacks.

And then there was a Rugby match. The score? Ireland 43 – England 13!

Mugabe feasts, Zimbabwe starves

Robert Mugabe celebrated his 83rd birthday yesterday with a lavish feast in a football stadium in the town of Gweru. Attended ministers, diplomats and ruling party officials the feast is believed to have cost over $1m. Inside the stadium, Mugabe received gifts, including a luxury coach from Zimbabwe’s “all weather” friend China and a stuffed crocodile from cabinet ministers who said it represented the President's 'maturity and wisdom'. Critics quipped that it more aptly sums up Mugabe's cold-blooded, voracious nature.

In a speech broadcast live on radio Mugabe accused the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change of being a front for Britain (the former colonial power). He also laid the blame for Zimbabwe’s current situation on sanctions imposed by the EU. "Our nation faces continued socio-economic challenges from the illegal sanctions (imposed) on us by our detractors as punishment for repossessing our land," His programme of white land seizures has caused agricultural production to plummet by at least 40 percent in the last six years.

Zimbabwe is in economic meltdown: Inflation has hit 1,600 per cent and is predicted to rise to 4,000 per cent later this year. Unemployment is at 80 per cent and severe shortages of fuel, staple foods and medicines have caused thousands of deaths.

Marie Antoinette was alleged to have said “Let them eat cake” when told that the poor did not have enough bread to eat (she didn’t say that at all The phrase comes from Rousseau’s confessions and possible refers to the wife of Louis XIV) Mugabe is not telling his people to eat cake – by having this banquet he appears to be telling them to eat shit. His departure cannot come too soon for the people of Zimbabwe.

24 February 2007

While on the subject of God Save the Queen

It is my only regret that the story that God Save the Queen originates from a French hymn composed to wish Louis XIV a speedy recovery from arse surgery is apocryphal! As I said in my previous post I think the song is a tedious dirge. If the UK is going to have a national anthem it should be lively and make people feel good about living here. 20 years ago Billy Connolly did a piece about replacing God Save the Queen with Barwick Green, the theme tune to the Archers (a long running radio soap):

Rumty tumty tumty tum... Billy has a point!

Rugby, anthems and controversy

Croke Park

Not only should today’s England-Ireland match be a great game it will be also make history. This is the first time the fixture is being staged at the GAA stadium at Croke Park rather than at Lansdowne Road which is currently being redeveloped. The GAA had to make a significant rule change to allow “foreign” sports (ie, British ones) to be played there . Croke Park was also the site of a massacre by British forces in 1920 (see this previous post for some brief details of the first “Bloody Sunday”).

However, even if Ireland were to trash England (A result I would applaud despite having a birthplace and an accent that should place me firmly in the England camp!) or England were to rise to the challenge (like the French did two weeks ago) and best Ireland, today’s match is more likely to be remembered for the playing of a national anthem than the rugby itself.

Even though it has apparently been played at Croke Park before without comment (during 2003’s Special Olympics in 2003) England’s use of the National anthem has stirred up a degree of ill feeling. The prospect of an English rugby team being greeted by an Irish army band performing God Save the Queen is still apparently too much for some.

J J Barrett, the son of a famous Gaelic sportsman announced earlier this week that he would withdraw his father's medal collection from the museum at Croke Park in protest at the decision to play the British national anthem this weekend.

"I cannot reconcile the provocative words of God Save The Queen being sung in the very stadium where Michael Hogan and others died at the hands of crown forces on Bloody Sunday," he wrote in a published letter. "… I believe the GAA should have foreseen this problem when they rented out Croke Park and instead insisted on an England's Call type of musical prelude. If we accept alternative anthem, Ireland's Call, as a mark of reconciliation, (because the Ireland team represents the whole island of Ireland it does not use the Irish national anthem, a Soldier’s song) then surely the English followers could forego the playing of God Save the Queen as a reciprocal gesture?"

Meanwhile Republican Sinn Féin, a small dissident faction opposed to the peace process, is planning a protest near the ground. But not everyone feels so strongly about the anthem issue. Michael Hogan, nephew of Mick Hogan, a footballer who was killed during the first Bloody Sunday, has called on Irish supporters to respect the English team’s national anthem before the start of the game.

“The English team and supporters are our guests for the weekend, so we will have to welcome them. We have to respect their anthem as well. If the Irish team was over in Twickenham, they’d respect our anthem. I haven’t anything against them (the English team). Sport is sport. It all happened before our time. We’re a different generation now. We have to move on in this day and age.”

To be honest I do not care for the God Save the Queen. It is a tedious dirge and a Soldier’s Song, is not an awful lot better. I personally think the England team could find a far better anthem but their choice is their choice and to should be respected. It is not intended as a slight to the memory of a terrible event that took place at Croke Park 87 years ago. Like the vast majority of other people who will be watching today’s match my real interest is in what will be happening in the 80 or so minutes after the anthems are played!

23 February 2007

Failing the Rugby Test.

I won’t even start talking about Norman Tebbit’s old cricket test: It’s not a case of not supporting England in test matches, I don’t have the slightest interest in a game that can last five days and still end in a draw. Okay it has a few great moments but an awful lot of bloody tedious hours.

Even though I was forced to play Rugby at school I do enjoy watching a good match and I do hope tomorrow’s England – Ireland match will be a good one. As for which side I’ll be wanting to win? The following badge will give a clue:


Csili: the evilest cat in Transylvania

This week's Friday cat blogging features a guest cat from Transylvania: Csili pron Chili) belongs to Redwine (inasmuch as any cat belongs to anyone). Do not be fooled by the gentle features: she is evil incarnate and is guilty of many heinous crimes.

For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and over at Yet to be named

22 February 2007

I know it’s an urban legend but it’s still amusing.

A colleague passed this on to me at work yesterday (the naughty boy). It purports to be a list of snappy answers to stupid questions posted on an unnamed Australian tourist website although other versions in circulation purport to be from Canadian and South African websites. I knew it was made up when I saw it but it didn’t stop me from laughing

Q. Will I be able to see Kangaroos in the street (US)
A. Depends on how much beer you have been drinking

Q. I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A. Sure, it's only 3,000 miles, take lots of water...

Q. Can you give me some information about Hippo racing in Australia?
A.A-fr-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe
Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the pacific which does not. Oh forget it. Sure Hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

Q. Which direction is North in Australia?
A. Face South and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q. I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia?(US)
A. Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q. Can I wear high heels in Australia?(UK)
A. You are a British politician, right?

Q. Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattle-snake serum.(US)
A. Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

Q.I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear the lives in trees (US)
A. It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and at the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out.

Q.I was in Australia in 1969 on R& R and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help me?(US)
A. Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.

21 February 2007

One of my dad's stories

My dad is fond of talking and is a mine of anecdotes - not a huge surprise seeing that he is an Irish octogenarian! In the almost 44 years I have been on this planet I have heard them all many times over. Even sol, quite a few of them are entertaining stories and some are very funny.

Dad was born and raised on the north side of Cork, near the Four Faced Liar (St Ann, Shandon). Basically his neighbours were divided into two types - the have-nots and those that aspired to be have-nots. Unsurprisingly the pawn shop was a regular feature of people’s lives, especially on Monday (when things went in) and Friday (when they came out again). The local pawnbroker was Twomey’s and Dad swears blind that he was there when a Mrs Welch came in to pawn some clothing. The clerk took a look at the clothes, looked her in the eye and said

“Jaysus Mrs Welch, is it the shit or the shirt you want the shilling on?”

Add a Cork accent that is still very strong even though he left in 1941 and a couple of drinks and I assure you it’s hilarious! It really doesn’t matter if it is a crock or not. A good story is a good story

I don't want to grow up - Tom Waits

Who does?

20 February 2007

The First Arab to be recognised as one of the Righteous among the Nations?

Some time ago I posted an item from the Washington Post regarding Arabs who protected Jews in North Africa from persecution at the hands of the Reich. A couple of days ago I came across a news item on the BBC website regarding Khaled Abdulwahab who may be the first ever Arab to be recognised as one of the Righteous among the Nations.

Researchers at Yad Vashem plan to examine the life of Khaled Abdulwahab, who died in Tunisia in 1997, to see if he is eligible to be so recognised. He is said to have sheltered Jews on his land during the Nazi occupation. The request to recognise Mr Abdulwahab was submitted by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (he wrote the Washington Post article), who has researched the situation of Jews in North Africa in the 1940s.

There used to be a substantial Jewish population in North Africa, before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (now there are just a few thousand in left in Morocco and Tunisia). At the time Tunisia was home to 100,000 Jews and the only North African country to come under direct Nazi rule during World War II. Tunisian Jews were subject to persecution during the Nazi occupation, but they were not sent to death camps as happened in Europe.

Contemporary accounts say Mr Abdulwahab, got wind of a plan to rape Jewish women and put others in a brothel. Anny Boukris, a 73-year-old Jewish woman who subsequently emigrated to the USA described how Abdulwahab rescued her and 24 relatives from their hiding place and hid them on his farm until the end of the German occupation. Boukris, who was 11 at the time, related that Abdulwahab risked his life when he stopped a German officer from raping her mother.

Before Satloff’s research not a single case had been uncovered of an Arab who saved a Jew. In part it seems that historians did not really make an effort to look for Arab rescuers. However, it seems that Arabs also did not want to be found - the grandchildren of the mayor of Tunis, Si Ali Sakat, who saved Jews believed. that he had German soldiers and not Jews.

An earlier report in Haaretz included an interview with Satloff who hoped that his research will help break the "conspiracy of silence" in the Arab world surrounding the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. He also hopes the research will help release the study of the Holocaust in the Arab world "from the lies, myths and poisons."

Some Holocaust researchers in the United States are sceptical. Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, for example, feels that "Satloff is being a bit naive here. It is strange that the highly respected executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a well-trained historian should have convinced himself that history could serve as an antidote to irrational hatred,"

I am not sure whether Abdulwahab will be awarded status as one of the Righteous or not but his story and as well as those of the collaborators should be heard - particularly in the Arab world itself. Whether anyone in the Arab world will listen is debatable.

Local stuff - Rainham

Beam Reach in Rainham is one of a large number of schemes that form the London Riverside Regeneration Project.. Basically it is a pretty innocuous development scheme or it was until the weekend anyway:

This week’s Romford Recorder has BRITAIN’S BIGGEST PRISON as its front page headline. Apparently the Beam Reach site is earmarked as the site for a prison that will hold 1500 Category B prisoners (serious offenders but not the very “worst of the worst!). If built it would be the largest prison in Britain. The paper states that the plan is opposed by residents and councilors. Local MP James Brokenshire says this on his website :

“This astonishing suggestion smacks of utter desperation by the Home Office. This has to be one of the most absurd sites to locate a prison, being slap bang in the middle of an area proposed to bring about local regeneration and a transformation in the prospects for high tech manufacturing. I entirely accept the need for more prisons, but that doesn’t mean that you should consider them in wholly inappropriate locations like this It’s now clear that the vision of Rainham as a dumping ground for east London’s problems is one that is still writ large in Government circles.”

It would also seem that Rainham could be the destination of the UK’s largest evangelical church. The Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) has to move from its current premises in Hackney because the site is within the 2012 Olympic park. The London Development Agency has suggested the church buy LDA owned land on the Beam Reach Business Park.

KICC regularly attracts thousands of people to its services. It is thought a £35 million arena which could hold an 8,000 strong congregation, is being proposed. Local residents say they're worried the village just doesn't have the transport infrastructure to deal with such a large number of people on its roads.

There's also been concern because the Beam Reach business park has been marked by the LDA as a site put aside for business and employment development. Hornchurch MP James Brokenshire has questioned what economic benefit the church could bring.

The London Thames Gatesway Development Agency who would be responsible for giving planning permission for this development, say they've not yet received any planning applications from the church with regards to this site.

In some respects all of this sounds like Nimbyism but the area is earmarked for business regeneration and local infrastructure probably isn't up to the trafffic the church would attract. I wonder what John Cruddas' take on this is: this part of Hornchurch is merging with his constituency for the next election and barring disaster he will be the area's next MP.

19 February 2007

Feeling in a Ramones kind of mood

Somebody put something in my drink

The KKK took my baby away

Poison Heart

Bonzo goes to Bitburg (pretty ropey quality)

Next time some earlier stuff.

Slavish congratulation and convoluted sentences.

This letter was written by western acolytes of North Korea and appeared on the Red Banner of Songun website. It was addressed to “Peerlessly legendary son of Songun leader Kim Jong il”.

Our great leader Kim Jong Il, On the occasion of your birthday, the biggest holiday of humankind, we reverentially extend to you the greatest glory and congratulation. The Songun politics administered by leader Kim Jong Il who was born and grew up inheriting the lineage of Songun arms of Mt. Baekdu, and developed in depth the Songun idea of great President Kim Il Sung, is the only beacon and invincible sword of the progressive humankind fighting for the global independence and socialism in the fierce showdown with the imperialists, common enemy of the people.

The greatness, truthfulness, validity and vitality of the Songun idea and politics, the banner of anti-imperialist independence, are being proved day by day so thus Songun becomes a tendency of the world today. By dint of the great Songun politics the dark clouds of the imperialist domination and subordination, high-handedness and arbitrariness, and aggression and war will be smashed to pieces, and the blue sky of a new independent world, free, peaceful and thriving, will be opened without fail.

We express again the warm gratitude and glory to you, great sun of Songun, who is bestowing the great pride and self-confidence upon us, the absolute followers, defenders and disseminators of the Songun idea and politics.

This letter was issued on behalf of the Songun Group, The Association for the Study of the Songun Politics-UK (that splendid fellow Dermot Hudson, I would imagine) The Songun Politics Study Group-US, and the Pyongyang Mission of the AINDF (Anti Imperialist National Democratic Front)

Luckily there can’t be more than a few hundred fools in Europe and North America that believe this claptrap. After all Songun is hardly a benevolent policy: the army of North Korea gets everything and its people nothing. Then again there are those who still praise Stalin and Mao so I suppose it’s inevitable that Kim will get a small following of fools. I wish they would realise that shorter sentences is a virtue!

18 February 2007

Can Spring be far off?

First Narcissi of the year, woo hoo!

The Poor Mouth mourns the passing of another icon of sedentary living

Last month I reported the passing of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the pot noodle. It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of another man who truly changed the world

Robert Adler, co-inventor of the TV remote control has died aged 93. In a 60-year career, Adler was best known for his 1956 Zenith Space Command remote control, which helped make TV a truly sedentary pastime. Adler is credited as the device's inventor along with Eugene Polley. Polley created the 'Flashmatic' in 1955 that operated on photo cells. Adler introduced ultrasonics to make the device more efficient in 1956. Both were presented an Emmy award for the invention of the device in 1997.

On a more serious note Adler was an inventor who registered more than 180 US patents during his lifetime. His wife, Ingrid, said her would not have chosen the remote control as his favourite invention and he did not watch much television. 'He was more of a reader,' she said. 'He was a man who would dream in the night and wake up and say, "I just solved a problem." He was always thinking science.'

The Line of Beauty: Salman Rushdie on Amrita Shergill

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a lengthy article by Salman Rushdie about Amrita Shergill. Below is an extract. Click here to read the full article.

In the mid-1990s, when I began to think about my novel The Moor's Last Sigh, I soon realised that it would contain an account of the character of an entirely imaginary 20th-century Indian woman painter. I thought about my friendships and acquaintanceships with a number of fine contemporary artists The work of all these painters helped me think about the pictures my fictional Aurora Zogoiby might create. But the figure that, so to speak, "gave me permission" to imagine her personality, to invent a woman painter at the very heart of modern art in India - to believe in the possibility of such a woman - was an artist I never met, who died tragically young. That artist was Amrita Sher-Gil.

I did not know much about her in those days. I knew she was half-Hungarian, and I had seen some of her paintings of scenes of village life - storytellers, young girls. I resisted knowing more. I conjured up an imaginary Amrita for myself - a woman much influenced by Gandhian ideas and decided that my Aurora would be in many ways her antithesis, an unrepentant urbanite and sophisticate. It was only after the book was done that I permitted myself to know the real Amrita a little better, and I discovered at once that she and my Aurora had much more in common than I suspected. Indeed, in some ways - her sexual proclivities, for example - Amrita Sher-Gil was a more bohemian, less inhibited figure than the flamboyant woman I had made up.

This ferocity of mind and sharpness of tongue, combined with an unashamed openness about her own behaviour, and an insistence on her right to behave as she chooses, is also present in her thoughts about her own family and friends. When her father ("Duci") hesitates about her proposed return to India from Europe, and accuses her of lacking interest in India, she delivers herself of an extraordinary text that is at once an artistic testament and an assault on her father's narrower mores of social and sexual conduct: "I wish to return primarily in interest of my artistic development ...... Our long stay in Europe has aided me to discover as it were, India. Modern art has led me to the comprehension and appreciation of Indian painting and sculpture. It seems paradoxical, but I know for certain that, had we not come away to Europe, I should perhaps never have realised that a fresco from Ajanta or a small piece of sculpture in the Musée Guimet is worth more than the whole Renaissance! In short, now I wish to go back to appreciate India and its worth ...

Amrita Sher-Gil's is an art which moves naturally towards the melancholy and tragic, while keeping its eye fixed firmly on high ideals of beauty. She was denied old age, bleak or otherwise, but neither her exuberant, magnificent self, nor the work it made, contained anything for which she needed to apologise. Time has passed, and her art endures. As Moraes "Moor" Zogoiby wrote of his mother Aurora: "Even now, in the memory, she dazzles, must be circled about and about. We may perceive her indirectly, in her effects on others ... Ah, the dead, the unended, endlessly ending dead: how long, how rich is their story. We, the living, must find what space we can alongside them; the giant dead whom we cannot tie down, though we grasp at their hair, though we rope them while they sleep."

Amrita Sher-Gil (Sher-Gill or Shergill) is at Tate Modern, London SE1, from February 28 to April 22. Details: 020-7887 8888

17 February 2007

On the occasion yesterday of the 65th birthday of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il

...Generalissimo guiding light of Songun, strategist. Under the perfect leadership of Dear Leader brilliant statesman and invincible military commander, the Korean people vow... Bugger it! here is a Performance of The Song of General Kim Jong Il by the Merited Choir of the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean People's Army, live at Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang in 2003.

The words are, apparently, as follows:

Mt. Paektu reaches across
To shape our beautiful land.
Cheers resound all over the land,
Hailing our dear General.
He's the leader of the people,
Carrying forward the Sun's cause.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.

All blossoms on this earth
Tell of his love, broad and warm.
Blue East and West Seas sing
His exploits in their song.
He is the artist of great joy,
Glorifying the garden of Juche.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.

Socialist cause he defends
With iron will and courage.
He raises national honour
Far and wide throughout the world.
He is the champion of justice,
Standing for independence.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il

I'll never criticise the National Anthem again! The UK has its faults but I am glad I live here than under a lunatic regime like that in the DPRK

The Greatest story ever lip-synched

The Milli Vanilli story, a tale of how two men were taken from obscurity to fame and then to opprobrium is to be made into a Universal Pictures film according to yesterday’s Guardian . The screenplay is being written by Jeff Nathanson, whose credits include Catch Me If You Can is quoted as saying "I've always been fascinated by fakes and frauds, and in this case you had guys who pulled off the ultimate con, selling 30 million singles and then becoming the biggest laughing stocks of pop,"

Milli Vanilli was assembled by German producer Frank Farian (he was also responsible for Boney M) to provide a formulaic mix of, rap and soul to fleece, er I mean appeal to, a teen audience. He brought in Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus to lip-synch over the voices of vocalists Brad Howell and Charles Shaw. It was a successful formula that produced three US number one singles and a debut album that sold six million copies.

When Morvan and Pilatus started pressurising Farian to let them sing real vocals, he blew the whistle on them by revealing that they had never sung on any of their records. The band was stripped of its Grammy - the first act ever to suffer such ignominy. An album of their real singing as Rob & Fab sold just 2,000 copies. Pilatus died of a drug overdose in 1998.

I was brought up on a diet of new wave and heavy metal so why on earth am I posting an item about Milli-bloody-vanilli? To be honest I feel a little sorry for them (honest!). While it is inevitable that the truth would have come out at some stage who was the real villain? Pilatus and Morvan or Farian?

I can state, however, that this will be my first and last post on the subject of Milli Vanilli!

DAI - Some clarification

Tony Barcaly the CEO of DAI left this comment on my previous post A moral and a pyrrhic victory (see also Vulture finds? More like vermin funds) seeking to put distance between the activities of his company and those of Debt Advisory International. I felt it warranted a post in its own right

Development Alternatives inc is an employee-owned consulting firm whose mission is Advancing Human Prosperity. We have no connection of any kind with "Debt Advisory International," the company that was profiled on BBC's Newsnight program earlier this week. That program described a predatory investment company that trades in distressed debt from very poor countries such as Zambia. To our knowledge, "Debt Advisory International" does not use the name DAI, but the BBC program might lead some viewers to conclude that we are the same company. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been operating for more than 36 years, supporting sustainable economic development and improving the lives and livelihoods of people in more than 150 countries. Please browse our site: see what a growing, global team of development professionals is doing to make the world a better place.

16 February 2007

A moral and a pyrrhic victory?

Following on from my earlier post today about vulture bonds, the Lawyer.com reports that law firm DLA Piper won a moral victory for the Zambian Government today as the High Court delivered a scathing attack on the claimants Donegall International.

Investment funds company Donegal International (part of Debt Advisory International?) brought proceedings in the Commercial Court to enforce a claim again the Republic of Zambia in respect of a debt which it bought from Romania eight years ago for just $3.2 million (£1.6m). But key payment terms that Donegal were relying on were struck out drastically reducing Zambia’s liability, which will be determined at a later date. Mr Justice Andrew Smith in his judgement also found that Donegal's injunction over Zambia's assets should also be discharged because of the misleading nature of the evidence with which it was secured.

Smith J said that Michael Sheehan of Donegal had lied to or misled the courts of three different jurisdictions in relation to the debt, while his consultants were “dishonest and thoroughly unreliable”. The judgment comes as fears continue to increase over whether “vulture funds” hold up or undermine debt restructuring efforts. On this point Smith J said: “The proceedings arouse strong feelings. Zambia is a poor country and sees itself as being vulnerable to 'vulture funds'. I am concerned, of course, with the legal questions that are raised by the applications before me and not with questions of morality or humanity.”

It’s a shame That Donegall wasn’t told to go and reproduce with itself but the law and justice do not intersect as often as one would like.

UPDATE: Tony Barclay, the CEO of Development Alternatives inc has left a comment on this post rightly seeking to distance the work of his company from those of Debt Advisory International. Click here for further details.

Point that camera at me again and the next photo will be of your colon

Bebe looks disapprivingly at me while I try to photograph her. This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos at Plant porn and pussycats and over at Yet to be named

15 February 2007

Vulture Funds? More like vermin funds

I am not particularly acquainted with the world of high finance. Until I watched a Newsnight report last night I had not heard of Vulture Funds To be honest I wish I hadn’t. Some news items revolt even this jaded soul – this was one of them.

A Vulture Fund is a financial organisation that specialises in buying securities in “distressed environments”, such as equities that are near bankruptcy. Companies are not their only target: they also buy up public debt at very low prices. Then seek to recoup the whole of the original debt plus interest. They are not averse to suing governments in order to freeze their assets. International courts have at times prevented countries from paying to other debtors because one of these funds had requested an embargo.

Today a high court judge in London will rule whether a vulture fund can extract more than $40m from Zambia for a debt which it bought for less than $4m. Martin Kalunga-Banda, Zambian presidential adviser and a consultant to Oxfam told Newsnight, "That $40m is equal to the value of all the debt relief we received last year."

Caroline Pearce from the Jubilee Debt campaign told Newsnight last night. "Profiteering doesn't get any more cynical than this. Zambia has been planning to spend the money released from debt cancellation on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure: this is what debt cancellation is intended for not to line the pockets of businessmen based in rich countries."

Debt Advisory International (DAI) manages a number of vulture funds which buy up the debts of highly indebted poor countries cheaply and then sue for the original value of the debt plus interest. Zambia. In 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. Zambia was unable to keep up the payments and in 1999 Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $3m. Before the deal could be finalised one of DAI's vulture funds stepped in and bought the debt from Romania for less than $4m. They are now suing the Zambian government for the original debt plus interest which they calculate at over $40m and they expect to win.

Five years ago Gordon Brown told the United Nations that the vulture funds were perverse and immoral: "We particularly condemn the perversity where Vulture Funds purchase debt at a reduced price and make a profit from suing the debtor country to recover the full amount owed - a morally outrageous outcome". But the vulture funds are still operating.

DAI is not alone. In 1986 Paul Singer’s firm Elliot Asociates paid $11m for some discounted Peruvian debt and then threatened to bankrupt the country unless they paid $58m. They got their $58m. The company is now suing the Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) for $400m for a debt they bought for $10m.

Back in Britain the Zambian case has seen much legal discussion about allegations of bribery. The Zambian legal team - led by William Blair QC - Tony Blair's brother, has argued that a $2m bribe was offered to the former Zambian President to make it easier for the vulture funds to claim their money. They showed the court an email disclosed in the Zambia case saying that a payment to the "President's favourite charity" had allowed them to do a more favourable deal. ".
The Jubilee Debt Campaign told Newsnight that they are calling on Gordon Brown to turn his moral outrage about vulture funds into action if he becomes Prime Minister and change the law to make the Zambian case the last to appear in a British court.

Vermin seems to be more appropriate a description than vulture for these people.

UPDATE: Tony Barclay, the CEO of Development Alternatives inc has left a comment on this blogy seeking to distance the work of his company from those of Debt Advisory International. Click here for further details.

And there was I wasting time with the Grauniad and the Indy

An agreement reached with North Korea for it to close its nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel or economic aid received widespread coverage in the world's press earlier this week. I was curious to see how North Korea ran the story. I would have expected some coverage showing it as a victory for the Great (or is still the Dear) Leader and Juche over the "imperialistic brigands" of the United States. The Korean Central News Agency(KCNA) has absolutely nothing to say on the agreement but I did find out that:

(15 February) symposia have been held to on Kim Jong Il’s undying feats. Apparently the speakers profoundly explained the imperishable feats performed by Kim Jong Il for the times and history. They said (no less!) Kim Jong Il, genius of thought and theory, scientifically formulated the revolutionary idea of President Kim Il Sung and steadily developed it in depth to meet the demand of the developing revolution, thus clearly indicating the road ahead of the times and humankind….. And so on and so forth.

(14 February) A collection of anecdotes about music saw the light. The first part of the book includes touching anecdotes dealing with the extraordinary wisdom and tireless leadership of Kim Jong Il who led the musicians to make songs lauding the brilliant revolutionary life, undying revolutionary exploits and noble virtues of President Kim Il Sung…. I will spare you the other four parts.

(12 February) Public presentation on greatness of Kim Jong Il held during which speakers said that Kim Jong Il had performed undying feats on behalf of the era and history by leading the Korean revolution and the cause of global independence to victory with his distinguished political ability and extraordinary Songun revolutionary leadership…. Well you get the message

It is heartening to see that Kim Jong Il is never short of floral baskets as this seems to be the thing every other head of state ever gives him…

As for the Korean Friendship Association it is also heartening to note that that splendid fellow Dermot Hudson organised a public meeting n West London last Saturday which was attended by more than 35 people (36 people?). A video "Faith of Korea" was shown which featured the advantages of socialism and carried coverage of the great leader comrade Kim Jong Il tirelessly giving on the spot guidance including late at night.

And there was me planning to watch Volver and Das Experiment this weekend when I could be watching this!

14 February 2007

A face only a Caesar or a pretender could have loved?

The Guardian and many other sources are carrying an item today about a coin which apparently gives the lie to the fabled beauty of Cleopatra. Think of Cleopatra and I am sure an image of Elizabeth Taylor hove into view (or Amanda Barrie if you are a fan of the Carry On films). However, the coin shows her as having a shrewish profile. On the reverse is an image of Mark Antony with bulging eyes, a crooked nose and a bull neck.

The coin in question is a silver denarius that was coined in Antony's own mint to mark his victories in Armenia in 32BC. "Its other distinction is that it looks as though it was minted yesterday," said Melanie Reed from Newcastle University, whose archaeology museum found the 5p-sized coin while researching a forgotten 18th century hoard left for years in a local bank. Coins showing the pair are not uncommon, but the majority are in poor condition or have more flattering images. The Newcastle find, minted at a time when Antony and Cleopatra faced internal rebellion and outside invasion, may deliberately have emphasised the reality of the pair, to deter pretenders.

The question of Cleopatra's looks has fascinated posterity. "The popular image we have of Cleopatra is that of a beautiful queen who was adored by Roman politicians and generals," said Clare Pickersgill, assistant director of archaeological museums at Newcastle University. "But the coinage bears out recent research which suggests there was much more to her than that."

The denarius profile clearly emphasises strong characteristics including a determined, pointed chin, thin lips which are often associated with a sharp nature, and in particular a long, pointed nose. The last has been famously central to discussion of what Cleopatra really looked like, with Pascal going so far as to write in his Pensées: "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed." His point was later undermined by the Romantic Movement. Ms Pickersgill said: "Orientalist artists of the 19th century and then modern Hollywood depictions, especially by Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 movie, built up the role of Cleopatra as a great beauty." The queen's contemporaries took a different line, according to Lindsay Allason-Jones, director of archaeological museums at Newcastle, who said that Roman and Egyptian writers had a clearer-eyed view of her talents. "The idea of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress is much more recent," she said. "Classical age writers tell us that she was intelligent and charismatic, and that she had a seductive voice. But tellingly, they make little of her beauty."

Plutarch in the Life of Antony writes this: "For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice."

Interesting as this story is, it is hardly a shock or even hot news. Many of the surviving images of her show her to be rather plain, particularly the above coin from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and the bust in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria.

Meme time again

Memes spread like wildfire through the blogosphere. This one has come to me on its fifth iteration thanks to Bryan over at Why Now?, one of my favourite blogs.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote

I'm not sure I desperately want the award thingy but it is the first one I've got since I won second prize in the "Romford's Most Stupid 1995" so beggars can't be choosers...

Who to choose? I like all the blogs on my blogroll (wouldn't be there otherwise!) so it is a hard choice. I will go for:

Redwine, Tyger, Matt Murrell over at An Insomniac, Snowflake and Roland over at But I am a liberal

And may god bless all who sail in this meme!

A romantic Valentines Day "Our Song" post for the not-wife

Madonna of the Wasps is the nearest thing that the not-wife and I have to an "our song". Not a bad choice given that she is almost as obsessive about RH as I am. Ajh well,. The sarcastic VD cards cards have been exchanged, there is chocolate for tonight (Life would not be worth living otherwise!) and there's Stargate Atlantis and Desperate Housewives on the telly tonight. Who says romance is dead? (come on - we've known each other over 25 years....)

While I'm at it here are a couple of the not-wife's favourite non-RH songs

Marc Almond - Days of Pearly Spencer

Barefoot - k d Lang

13 February 2007

Croke Park: Millions of good reasons for accepting “foreign” sports

The decision to overturn its ban of “foreign” sports means that the GAA is potentially sitting on a goldmine which could bankroll the grassroots of the Association for the years axxording to today’s.

If the Association approves the use of Croke Park next year for competitive and non-competitive rugby and soccer internationals, it will net the GAA over €10m (£6.7m or $13m) in 2008. The indications are that Central Council will ratify up to ten more profile rugby and soccer internationals for Croke Park in 2008.

While agreement on competitive fixtures is likely, there is still some level of opposition within the rank and file GAA membership on handing over Croker for ‘non competitive’ or friendly internationals. However, it is understood that the IRFU and FAI have each pointed that the notion of non-competitive fixtures is a misnomer: rugby “tests” and football “friendlies” are part of a fixture programme, for which countries are ranked accordingly.

To be honest I don’t care for Gaelic Football but Hurling is a great sport (not that I ever actually played it – the consequences of giving me a weapon on a sporting pitch would have been disastrous!). Overcoming well over a century of dogma has been a resounding success and the prospect of lots of money for grassroot development must be an attractive idea.

A Hain, a wreath and the first Bloody Sunday

Lansdowne Road, the home of Irish rugby (The Irish rugby team represents the whole of the island) and where the Republic’s Football team plays its home internationals, is undergoing a major renovation and will be unavailable for use until 2009. In the meantime the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has allowed both teams to use its ground at Croke Park.

That the GAA has allowed rugby and football matches to be played at Croke Park required a change in its rules: until 2005 there was a ban on “foreign” sports using GAA grounds (The ban seemed to be against Football and Rugby and I suppose Cricket and Hockey too. Croke Park had been the venue for an American football match in the 80s). The first British “foreign” sport to be played there was the Ireland – France Six Nations rugby international which France won 20-17

Ireland plays England there on 24 February. According to Sunday’s Observer (Not sure how I missed it, I can thank Gert for highlighting it) at the Northern Ireland Office is considering plans for the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, to lay a wreath at a memorial to Gaelic sports fans shot dead by British forces inside the stadium in 1920 and issue an apology from the British government for what has become known as the first Bloody Sunday massacre.

Briefly, 21 November 1920 was a particularly bloody day during the Irish War of Independence. On the morning of 21 November, IRA teams acting on the orders of Michael Collins mounted an operation aimed at destroying the British intelligence network in Dublin. The operation was successful and 14 agents were killed.

In the afternoon 5000 spectators had gathered in Croke Park to attend a football match between Dublin and Tipperary. A police force was given the task of surrounding the venue with the stated intention of searching all males leaving the stadium. Shots seem to have been fired at the police convoy as it arrived at the stadium. The police entered the ground and fired into the crowd. 14 people died, either shot or trampled to death by fleeing spectators.

November 21 was a disastrous day for British rule in Ireland. Not only was British Intelligence in Ireland crippled the deaths at Coke Park increased support for the republican government.

The proposals to lay a wreath are opposed by Irish rugby veterans and Unionist MPs. Hard line republicans are unsurprisingly disgusted that a British “foreign” sport would be held at Croke Park in the first place.

Former Ireland international Trevor Ringland said that the proposal posed great dangers for peace and reconciliation. Ringland, who runs the anti-sectarian 'One Small Step' campaign in Northern Ireland, said: 'The fact that this game is being played at Croke Park, thanks to the generous decision of the Gaelic Athletic Association, will have positive ripple effects for the future. But plans for a wreath-laying ceremony and the apology will only mix sport with politics. It will bring the politics of the 20th century into the attempts at reconciliation in the 21st century. The government should think again before going ahead with something like this.'

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused the Northern Ireland Office of “'monumental stupidity”. 'Whoever thought up this bright idea ought to consign it now to the dustbin of history. Rugby has always been a community where politics and sports do not mix. I sincerely hope this plan is dropped immediately, as it would outrage thousands of rugby fans, not only in Northern Ireland but also across this island.'

English fans may well encounter republican protests at the game. The breakaway nationalist group Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), which opposes the peace process, has confirmed it will picket the match. The political allies of the Continuity IRA said playing the game at Croke Park - the home of Gaelic sports in Ireland - was part of a process to 'normalise the occupation of Ireland'. Des Dalton, RSF's vice-president, said: 'The political symbolism of inviting the national team of a country which forcibly occupies part of Ireland to Croke Park is something Irish republicans are determined to publicly protest against.'

What to say about tall of this? I am glad that the GAA has overturned its anachronistic rule against rugby and football matches being held at its grounds . Doctrine and dogma aside, it will surely be a very profitable venture for them. As for the wreath - will it undo what happened nearly 90 years ago? Of course not. Can it be anything else other than an empty gesture? . I somehow get the feeling that the only thing laid to rest will be the proposal itself! I hope it is a good game and failing the cricket test, sorry, rugby test I hope Ireland are victorious! As ever I wish old throwbacks like the RSF went the way of the dinosaurs.

12 February 2007

Ultravox (John Foxx era)

The Wild, the beautiful and the damned

Dangerous Rhythm

Wide Boys

I liked the Midge Ure era Ultravox but the three albums with John Foxx on vocals are still among my favourites

11 February 2007

And the award for 20,000th visitor to the Poor Mouth goes to a person from Leeds looking at my Robyn Hitchcock photos. (in his best Apu voice) "Thankyou, come again"

And while on the subject of 70s style policing...

...I am looking forward to the new series of Life on Mars. Will Sam Tyler return to the present day or will be be trapped in the 70s? I do have one gripe: it is being shown a the same time as Battlestar Galactica. Ah well, one will just have to be recorded.

Got to love the advert for the new series:

George Davis is still innocent, OK (but still guilty of the ones he did)

To be honest I though I had head the very last of George Davis years ago so it was a surprise to see an article about him in yesterday’s Independent. But 33 years after he was imprisoned for an armed robbery George Davis is preparing to return to court in an attempt to finally establish his innocence.

Davis says he wants to vindicate the many friends and family who mounted a campaign in the 70s to free him from prison. He is often reminded of the campaign and claims he deserves compensation for the two years he spent in prison. He said: "I want to clear my name for the people who believed in me at the time and for all those who were in the campaign. But also for myself, so that people know that I was telling the truth."

Davis was arrested with three other suspects in April 1974 after he was identified as one of the five men who undertook an armed payroll robbery at the Ilford offices of the London Electricity Board. He was identified by five police officers, and a civilian who had seen a robber running away after abandoning a getaway car.

But it emerged that one of the officers partly retracted his evidence saying he could not be sure it was Davis he saw while the civilian witness failed to identify him at an ID parade. Davis also had an alibi. He had witnesses to say that he was working as a taxi cab driver, a claim supported by a log book detailing his jobs for that day.

Davis was convicted on two counts and sent to prison for 20 years, later reduced to 17 years on appeal. Peter Chappell, who had testified on behalf of Davis was so convinced he was innocent that he led one a vociferous campaign which included digging up the cricket pitch at Headingley (The main ground used by Yorkshire and a venue for international cricket matches). The Home Secretary decided to exercise the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and release Davis after two years but he made it clear that this did not mean Davis was an innocent man.

30 years later Davis says he is still being punished for a crime he did not commit. "My life and livelihood has been very badly affected by that conviction. Twice I have applied for a London cab licence and twice the police have turned me down."

It is pretty certain that George Davis was the victim of a "fit up" for the LEB robbery but sadly for his advocates he was no hapless victim. Many of those who campaigned for his release must have felt like utter idiots when he was arrested just a year later for robbing the Bank of Cyprus, a crime for He was also caught during a mail train robbery in 1987. I somehow think these little infringements may also have been taken into consideration when considering his suitability to drive a black cab! I just get the feeling that the current action would garner a lot more sympathy had he “gone straight” in the 70s….

Wikipedia article about George Davis

10 February 2007

Yet another date for my diary – Amrita Shergill

A major Hogarth opened exhibition opened with great fanfare at the Tate Britain on Wednesday this week while a retrospective of the work of Gilbert & George opens at the Tate Modern next week. Both have been well advertised and will attract many visitors*

Less well advertised is an exhibition of the work of Amrita Shergill that opens at the Tate Modern on 28 February. I was totally unfamiliar with her work until very recently and I am delighted to get the opportunity to see some of her work in the flesh so to speak.

Amrita Shergill - Self portrait

Amrita Sher-Gill is regarded in India as one of the nation’s most important modern artists. Her life and her art are a fusion of the Eastern and Western worlds. Born in Budapest in 1913 to an Indian nobleman and a Hungarian opera singer she spent her early life in Hungary and India before studying art in Florence and then at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris. In Paris she she came under the influence of Modigliani and Gauguin and her early works apparently reflect these influences strongly.

It was after her return to India in 1934 that her developed her true style as she began to interpret Indian life, particularly that of the rural poor. She was especially drawn to the private world Indian women as evidenced by vivid but melancholy works like ‘The bride’s toilet’ (above). Sadly she did not have a long and successful career. She died in 1941 at the age of 29.

More to follow once I have visited the exhibition.

Further Information on Amrita Shergill

A short biography at Collector’s Café.

An extensive site devoted to Sher-Gill’s life and work

An article on Sher-Gill’s life on a Sikh heritage site

Chennai Online

* I went to the last big Gilbert & George exhibition at the Hayward in 1987 and I found it rather overwhelming – a couple of Gilbert & Georges together are fine, a lot together is rather tiresome. As for their work in general I’ve always thought of Gilbert & George basically saying “poo, bum, fart and willy” through the medium of art!

The carrot and the rod

Once merely a nutritious vegetable it looks as if the carrot is set to for a whole new lease of life. Thanks to a discovery by two Scottish scientists it can now be used to produce an advanced material that can be used to make products from fishing rods to warships.

Named Curran, the material is made of carrot nanofibres. The process to extract these fibres was developed by Dr David Hepworth and Dr Eric Whale at their company CelluComp in Burntisland, Fife. The first Curran product - a rod for fly fishing - goes on sale next month and the pair now plan to move on to make other goods including snowboards and vehicle parts

The material is more environmentally friendly than current methods using glass and carbon fibres. "It is incredibly versatile and we believe that we are launching at a time when companies are looking for that combination of quality and performance, but achieved in a way that is environmentally friendly," said Dr Hepworth.

At the moment, the company can make materials which are around 80 per cent carrot, with carbon fibre making up the remainder but it is hoped that as the technique is developed, they will eventually be able to make products which are made from 100 per cent biological matter - carrots and other plants. Dr Hepworth said they were already looking at using other vegetables such as turnips, swede and parsnips.

The material could be kinder to the environment given that carrots are a renewable resource (unlike the oil used to make carbon fibres) and even if the material was burnt, the carbon it created was cancelled out by the carbon absorbed by the carrots when they were growing. "The potential is enormous and if we can replace just a small percentage of carbon fibres in products the effects on the environment could be significant and wide-ranging.” Said Dr Hepworth.

Good luck to them I say...

08 February 2007

Armpits: nature’s miracle stress buster?

The current issue of New Scientist has an informative article on what you can do to have a happy and stress free career. Many of the things it lists are highly desirable, if not necessarily achievable, such as: a good working environment; raising your status if possible; taking control of at least some aspects of one’s working life; being social (but not too social) and learning to leave work at the office.

There is a lot of good stuff in the article and it good to see mention made of the Whitehall Studies which demonstrated a correlation between status and sickness and mortality rates – the lower down the Civil Service pecking order, the less likely you are to live to a healthy and ripe old age.

When it comes to discussing other stress busting techniques, I have no problem with yoga or other relaxation exercises, I would love to have a cat in the office and a place for a short nap would be great. What I do have a major issue with is armpit sniffing as a means of relaxation: According to a study undertaken by the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia 18 women sniffed extracts from the armpit sweat of six men and volunteers claimed to feel “less tense” and “more relaxed” .

I am quite a tolerant soul but I am not sure I want to see colleagues with their noses stuck in the oxters of other colleagues!

Another date for the Diary: Terracotta Army Exhibition, British Museum

Time to order some more exhibition tickets – The British Museum is holding a major exhibition of artefacts buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China (247-221 BC). Described as the biggest ever exhibition of treasures ever lent overseas from the emperor's burial site in Xian. The exhibition will not only include examples of the famous terracotta warriors but also ceramic bureaucrats, entertainers and birds.

Neil MacGregor, the British Museum's director, said: "We are delighted to be able to give visitors the opportunity to see these important and iconic objects. They are key objects for understanding the history of China from 221BC to the present day….This is the man who made China, created the idea of China, created the oldest political entity that survives anywhere in the world.”

The existence of a burial tomb for Qin Shi huang was known to scholars through the words of historian Sima Qian, but it wasn’t until 1974 that peasants digging a well came accidentally rediscovered the location of his tomb site which measures 50 square kilometres - about the size of Cambridge.

The Exhibition will be at the British Museum from 13 September until 6 April 2008. Interestingly it will be followed by an exhibition dedicated to Hadrian to examine why the Chinese empire survived for centuries while the Roman empire declined.

07 February 2007

Sunstones and seafaring

The Vikings were great sailors and great navigators - of this there is no doubt. But despite their evident skills, their ability to travel significant distances out of sight of land gave rise to speculation as to whether they had access to some form of navigation aid (Not a magnetic compasses as they would not have been available or not until very late Viking period). 40 years ago a Danish archaeologist suggested that they might have used crystals (known as sunstones) to polarize sunlight and thus find the Sun’s location. This. website lists some of the pros and cons of this idea

Interestingly today’s Guardian carried a report that seems to give additional weight to the sunstone idea Tests aboard a research vessel in the Arctic ocean found that certain crystals can be used to reveal the position of the sun even if the sky was obscured by cloud or fog.

Researchers led by Gabor Horvath at Eotvos University in Budapest spent a month recording the polarisation of sunlight while at sea. Although polarisation is not apparent to the naked eye, it can be seen using certain crystals which could work in all but the worst weather conditions

Professor Michael Berry, a physicist at Bristol University, said: "They've shown that even if the sky is full of clouds and moisture, the polarisation of the sunlight doesn't change very much, and that's a real surprise. If you know the time already, then once you know the position of the sun you know what direction you're sailing in."

Another one of those sort of news items that fascinates me…

Little things please...

Thanks to Skuds I am now aware of the existence of Acronym Finder. Just like in Blackadder III when Prince George used Dr Johnson's dictionary to look up rude words, I could find one significant use for this site, namely:-

Travelling Wave Amplifuer Tube


Tactical Optical Surveillance System

and so on...

It even lists the Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society (OK that one is from Red Dwart. I watch too much telly!)

06 February 2007

Blows against the empire, sorry post room workers

An explosion today at Vantis is giving rise to fears that a disgruntled driver is conducting a letter bomb campaign at firms involved with speed cameras and the congestion charge.

Two people were injured when a letter bomb addressed to the managing director of Speed Check Services was opened by staff at Vantis,an accountancy firm working with firms involved in speed camera and congestion charge revenues. The attack follows an explosion yesterday in the post room of Capita, which operates London’s congestion charge. One woman was injured in that explosion.

Chances are that this is the work of a lone head case who really thinks that he is striking a blow against a faceless corporation by sending letter bombs. Is he (I doubt it is a woman doing this) so damned stupid that his letter bombs would be delivered unopened to senior executive? The only blow being struck here is against post room workers who probably don’t earn an awful lot above the minimum wage.

Meanwhile campaigner Captain Gatso, director of group Motorists Against Detection (an organisation that appears to be devoted to blowing up speed cameras) gave one of those half hearted condemnations when he said: "We are not responsible for these attacks and do not condone causing injury to anyone. However, there is a war against motorists and it seems this is an act of retaliation."

A war on motorists? What crass rhetoric.

A Date for my diary - Hogarth at the Tate

From A Rake's Progress

Tomorrow sees the opening of a major Hogarth exhibition at the Tate Britain exhibition. The exhibition will consist of over 200 works and is apparently the biggest exhibition of his work for over 35 years.

From an Election Entertainment

Me I love his work and I will definitely be paying a visit.

05 February 2007


Just updated to the new blogger. Test. Wibble.

Victory in sight for the Chagos Islanders?

The Chagos Islanders, who were evicted over 30 years ago to make way for the Diego Garcia air and naval base, are hoping finally to win the right to go home through a court case that starts today. They had previously won two court decisions, in 2000 and 2006, declaring the evictions unlawful. This court case will see the government appealing against the 2006 decision.

Olivier Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, said yesterday: "We believe this will be the final round. What we are asking for is our fundamental rights and dignity as human beings." He said that he was not worried that the government could take the case to the Lords if it lost this one.

With regard to American security concerns Mr Bancoult pointed out that the islanders were not asking to return to Diego Garcia, but other islands in the chain. He rejected American arguments that a return to those outlying islands could compromise the base's security. "Some of these islands are 200-300 miles from the base," Mr McKinnon said. "That's a wide security perimeter."

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "At present the matter remains sub judice. It remains inappropriate to comment on the grounds for the appeal, in view of the legal proceedings starting this week."

Click here , here and here for previious posts on this subject

04 February 2007

Backwaters of history - Operation Tracer

"Stay Behind" Cave

Today’s Independent carries an interesting but unsurprising story about one of those little fragments that makes history interesting. During WWII a plan, known as Operation Tracer, was put in place to leave a surveillance team behind on Gibraltar should it ever have fallen to Axis forces. Comprising of six men it would effectively be buried alive in a bunker so they could continue to monitor enemy movements.

A retired doctor from Preston has been named as the chamber's last survivor. As a young navy doctor Bruce Cooper he was called in to see Surgeon-Commander Murray Levick (a fascinating man himself – Levick had accompanied Scott on his Antarctic missions) and was told that they were looking for a doctor "to do something special". He became part of a team that included his friend Arthur Milner, an executive officer "Windy Gale" and three seamen, who would function as radio operators.

The team was warned that they may have to be sealed inside an operation post for up to a year, although they were aware that it could be longer. Once in Gibraltar, they lived under cover for two and a half years with the prospect of being moved up to the operation post to be sealed inside. The Rock was never captured, the team was disbanded and its members resumed civilian life.

It is not surprising that this sort of plan would be put in place had Gibraltar been overrun and its existence is hardly new news. The Gibraltar Caving Group rediscovered the team's base (“Stay Behind” Cave) in 1997, while the Telegraph carried the basic story almost 10 years ago when documents were made available by the Public Record Office

According to the Telegraph report, the Gibraltar scheme was deemed to be so full of potential that similar Tracer operations were to be put in place at Colombo, Trincomalee, Malta and Aden.

Tracer was stood down in August 1943 and the chambers sealed.