31 August 2007

Dirty looks

This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. Also this week's entry for . The theme for this week is is dirty. It was time to de-flea the cats this week - not exactly the highlight of their social calendar. Their faces show what they thought:




And err, Mimi trying but failing to look fierce...

Peace in Northern Ireland brings together more strange bedfellows.

Having seen Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness working together I suppose anything is possible in Northern Ireland these days (although finding out that Martin McGuiness was an avid cricket fan did push the bounds of astonishment to its very limit!). In such a climate it comes as no huge surprise to hear of an artistic collaboration between a former republican prisoner and the son of one of Northern Ireland's best-known loyalist leaders.

Danny Devenny, who began to design murals and posters while serving time as a republican prisoner in the H-block, and Mark Ervine, the son of the late David Ervine, who was head of the Progressive Unionist party ( the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force) have already worked together on two spectacular new murals in Belfast. One is a version of the famous Picasso painting Guernica, the other a celebration of the International Brigades who fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. Now they join a proposal for the painting of a dozen murals based on Beatles' LP covers, to adorn walls in Liverpool to celebrate the city as the 2008 European Capital of Culture.

"I could certainly never have imagined 20 years ago that I would be working with a former republican prisoner on this." He hoped he and Devenny would be able to work with young Liverpudlians and pass on the tradition of the mural to a city that had many links with Belfast. "It's something we feel is important because a lot of people from both communities have been involved in it.”

Devenny said he hoped that the fact the two of them were working together would encourage others to do the same. "He still has his loyalist opinions, which I respect," said Devenny, "and I still have my republican ones, but we found we had so many things in common. We wanted to show people, and particularly young people, that if we could work together anyone could."

Their work was spotted by Peter Morrison and Gregory Brennan, two Liverpudlians who went on the murals tour during a visit to Belfast in 2005. They decided that the murals and the team behind them could make a permanent difference to the Liverpool landscape and approached the two men with the idea for what is now called the Liverpool Mural Project. "What a great example for cross-community relations in Liverpool," said Mr Morrison. "It could lead to so many other things and could be an example for other conflict zones."

The idea was taken to the body handling the plans for Liverpool's year as the city of culture, the Liverpool Culture Company. "They turned it down and told us they didn't think it was 'edgy enough', but we are determined to see it happen," said Mr Morrison. Now a campaign has begun to urge a change of mind. Those involved say the project would be a great way to brighten up Liverpool and would not cost much.

The idea also has the backing of writers and academics in Liverpool and Belfast. Jimmy McGovern, the Liverpool scriptwriter who penned Cracker, Priest, and Hillsborough, is urging the organisers to co-opt the idea. "God knows the Liverpool Culture Company needs a winner or two right now so when something as inspired as the Liverpool Mural Project comes along you'd expect the company to grab it with both hands."

30 August 2007

Hope for the baiji?

There are reports in the Chinese media of a sighting of the Baiji, the Yangtze River or White Flag Dolphin. The dolphin was declared to be functionally extinct by scientists just three weeks ago .

According to the Xinhua News Agency a “big white animal” was spotted and filmed by a resident of east China's Anhui Province on 19 August. The animal in the footage was confirmed to be a baiji by the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. However, Wang Ding, also from the Institute of Hydrobiology and a leading authority on the species, said that the sighting could not be confirmed 100% because of the distance, but that it looked and acted like a baiji.

Although the sighting provides a small cause for hope that the creature could survive in the wild, the outlook is not good. In the 1950s there were thousands of Yangtze River dolphins, but numbers have declined drastically due to industrial pollution, heavy river traffic and over-fishing. The last previous sighting of a wild baiji was in 2004. There are none in captivity.

The chances are that the baiji is about to join the likes of the Caribbean Monk Seal as a former resident of this planet.

Bless me father, for I have eco-sinned

Are you wracked by guilt because you have forgotten to recycle or to plant enough trees to offset your carbon footprint? If you are attending the Waveney Greenpeace fair this weekend then spiritual aid will be at hand. Dom Anthony Sutch, (a Benedictine monk and former head of Downside school, one of England’s most prestigious boarding schools, who is now a parish priest in Suffolk) will be present to hear all your eco-confessions.

Apparently he will be dressed in a chasuble made from recycled curtains. The confessional will be constructed of recycled doors. Father Sutch said “It is not, I hope, blasphemous to do this. I do not think it is. It is just an attempt to make people conscious of the way they live. The Church is aware of green issues and of how aware we have to be of how we treat the environment. I know the Pope has now set up his own airline, but I am told the Vatican will be planting trees every time it flies. I do think the way we treat our environment is important. There is a huge amount of greed in the West. We have to be aware of the consequences of how we live.”

Rupert Read, a local Green councillor will be standing by to offer post-confessional advice. “It is a bit of a laugh but there is a serious underlying point. By doing this we hope people will think a bit more about what they might be doing to make their world a better place. I imagine people will be confessing to things like, ‘I have bought a new car even though I didn't need one’, or ‘I flew to Australia last year’. I have come up with some penances, such as making a donation to a green charity or telling ten other people what you have done.”

It’s all harmless stuf - unless of course Dom Sutch is a fire and brimstone type priest (Screaming Dom Sutch?) - then it will be hair shirts (and other cilices) all round. I wonder what his bishop thinks...

29 August 2007

Award! Award! part II

Another one: hot on the heels of of the creative blogger, Shaz at Us Danes & our Family has given me an "I Love your Blog" award.

Thanks Shaz. I'm glad you like the Poor Mouth. It came as such a shock that my language was rather intemperate bu my apology was sincere:

So who will I pass this on to? It has to be Elasticwaistbandlady for her humour and her long standing support for this blog.

Hadleigh Castle - Wordless Wednesday

This week's Wordless Wednesday is Hadleigh Castle in Essex. In that background you can see reclaimed marshland, the Thames and Kent.

28 August 2007

Sometimes I am surprised by polls. Today’s ICM poll in today’s Guardian concerned public views on punishing criminals. I would have expected that a sizeable majority of respondents would have favoured more prison places and tougher sentences, particularly in the wake of high profiles news stories such as the release of Learco Chindamo (who as a 15 year old in 1995 murdered Philip Lawrence, the headmaster of a secondary school in London) and the recent murder of 11 year old Rhys Jones.

In fact things do not seem to be so clear cut: just over half of respondents (51%) want the government to find other ways to punish criminals and deter crime. Among women only 40% think the government should aim to send more convicted criminals to prison, against 57% who want to see other, non-custodial forms of punishment. It is only among pensioners that there is a majority in favour of expanding the prison population.

There seems to be a general belief that prisons make crime worse. More people agreed with the statement "prison doesn't work, it turns people into professional criminals who then commit more crime" than think "prison punishes crime, keeps criminals off the streets and deters others". Only 42% of all voters, and 39% of women, think prisons are an effective punishment, against 49%, and 52% of women, who say they fail to work. Conservative voters are most likely to back prisons, Liberal Democrats most likely to oppose them. Among Labour voters, 52% do not want to see more prisons built and 46% do. On the other hand this does not mean people are against tough sentencing: 77% of all respondents agreed that that courts should pass tougher sentences.

What does this poll mean, if anything? Unless it is anomalous perhaps people are not quite as swayed by the demagoguery of our tabloid press as the cynics among us would believe. There’s no question that respondents would advocate alternative sanctions for serious offenders but there does seem to be a desire for the government to continue to seek other options. I presume that does not mean reintroducing the birch or stocks! If I was not so tired I would try and say more about crime prevention, diversion and punishment (not that I am an expert). Perhaps another time

Even the hedgehog needs protection

For the first time Hedgehogs and sparrows have been included among the 1,149 vulnerable species of plants and animals listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The list also includes the pine marten, the wild cat, the mountain hare, long-snouted and short-snouted seahorses, blue and porbeagle sharks, sedges, helleborine and marsh orchids. Two threatened species of dandelion are also included

Grahame Madge, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said that wildlife was under particular threat because of pressure from intensive farming, housing development and manicured gardens. “Wildlife is ebbing away,” he said. “It’s up to everybody who owns land to make a difference. Animals and birds are struggling for food and are at considerable risk. The problem is that for so many years the UK landscape has been under such pressure. Look at our rivers and how our hedgerows are being pulled up and our gardens are now so manicured.”

The 1,149 species of plants and animals and 65 habitats listed for protection compare with 577 species and 49 habitats on the previous conservation list, which was drawn up ten years ago. Joan Ruddock, the Biodiversity Minister, said: But it is not all bad news: other species, previously considered under threat (eg the pipistrelle bat) have increased in numbers and have been removed from the protection list have increased in numbers, and 123 species have been removed.

Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said: “Over the past 12 years, the Biodiversity Action Plan has helped everyone to focus attention on priority species. To its credit, we have seen dramatic increases in key species, like bittern, stone curlew, corncrake, nightjar, cirl bunting and woodlark. “However, the fact that the bird list now includes more than a fifth of all of the UK’s regularly occurring birds is a cause of alarm, especially as the list now includes a number of woodland birds and summer visiting birds like the cuckoo. Before we can celebrate the widespread removal of species from the list, we will have to tackle some general environmental problems, including further reforms of agriculture, a faster rate of habitat creation and the need to tackle climate change. We will have to act fast.”

27 August 2007

Scientists create out of body experiences

A little late, maybe but better late than never, I suppose. It's utterly fascinating stuff (well fascinating to me anyway). Scientists have found a way to trigger an out-of-body experience (OBE) in volunteers. The experiments seem to offer a scientific explanation for a phenomenon that is experienced by one in 10 people.

Virtual reality goggles were used to con the brain into thinking the body was located elsewhere. The visual illusion plus the feel of their real bodies being touched made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies. Researchers say their findings could have practical applications, such as helping take video games to the next level of virtuality so the players feel as if they are actually inside the game. Clinically (and perhaps more importantly), surgeons may also be able to perform operations on patients thousands of miles away by controlling a robotic virtual self.

The teams, from University College London (UCL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, believe there is a neurological explanation for OBEs. Their work suggests that a disconnection between the brain circuits that process visual and touch sensory information may be responsible.

In the Swiss experiments, the researchers asked volunteers to stand in front of a camera while wearing video-display goggles. Through the goggles, the volunteers could see a three-dimensional "virtual own body" that appeared to be standing in front of them. When the researchers stroked the back of the volunteer with a pen, the volunteer could see their virtual back being stroked either simultaneously or with a time lag. The volunteers reported that the sensation seemed to be caused by the pen on their virtual back, rather than their real back, making them feel as if the virtual body was their own rather than a hologram.

Dr Henrik Ehrsson, who led the UCL research, used a similar set-up in his tests and found volunteers had a physiological response - increased skin sweating - when they felt their virtual self was being threatened - appearing to be hit with a hammer. Dr Ehrsson said: "This experiment suggests that the first-person visual perspective is critically important for the in-body experience. In other words, we feel that our self is located where the eyes are."

Dr Susan Blackmore, psychologist and visiting lecturer at the University of the West of England, said: "This has at last brought OBEs into the lab and tested one of the main theories of how they occur. Scientists have long suspected that the clue to these extraordinary, and sometimes life-changing, experiences lies in disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes, and replacing it with a new viewpoint from above or behind."


A ladybird at rest on a blackcurrant sage leaf at the back of our garden

Kelly Johnson

I was saddened only just to find out that Girlschool's original lead guitarist Kelly Johnson died of spinal cancer last month at the age of 48. I don’t regularly read the music press and I never read the obituaries in the Guardian or the Independent. Otherwise I would have known about her passing earlier.

Girlschool Drummer Denise Dufort has created a tribute page on Myspace . that is well worth visiting.

26 August 2007

The Face Behind the Blog

I was tagged by Mousey for The Face Behind the Blog meme started by DAVID AIREY. Since I am slightly less attractive than the gorgon I decided not to use any of the existing photos of myself, choosing instead to take a new one with a specially reinforced lens....

I am not going to tag anyone for this meme right now but if you wish to carry it forward then the rules of this meme are:

1. Post a short blog article that includes a photograph (or a series of photos) showing the face behind your blog. If you already show a photo somewhere on your site (such as in your about page), then make your post more interesting and choose a photo that’s not currently online.

2. Include links to other people that have displayed a photo, or include their photos in your post, adding a reference.

3.Tag as many others as you like to spread the meme.

4. If you link back to David here and drop a comment; he’ll be sure to include links back to you. Each person tagged should create their own post and repeat the process.

Award! Award!

It's always great to be appreciated so I was delighted when Moving Mama , a fellow Wordless Wednesday participant, awarded me with a creative blogger award on the strength of my photos. I don't pretend to be a very good photographer but it does please me that people like them. Thank' very much Moving Mama!

The award ceremony was a simple affair as filmed below:

In reality, however, Father Jack is rather better looking and more coherent than I am....

Who to pass this on to? It has to be Jenn in Holland for her excellent Looking Into photoblog

25 August 2007

Next/Au Suivant

Next (au suivant) as performed by the late, great Alex Harvey.

... and as performed by Brel himeslf

The Rosenstrasse Protest (one more time)

Detail of the Rosenstrasse memorial, Berlin

I know this is effectively recycling a couple of old blog posts (one of my very first posts on the Poor Mouth was about this) but I'm tired and it is a fascinating but largely forgotten incident. It may only be a footnote in a war which saw the death of over 50 million people, but it demonstrates the effectiveness of non-violent action in the face of tyranny.

In early 1943 about 1700 Berlin Jews, mainly men married to non-Jewish women, were rounded up and taken to Rosenstrasse 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin pending deportation to extermination camps. The wives and relatives, learning of their spouses eventual destination, appeared at Rosenstrasse, first in small numbers but then in ever larger groups.

Despite being unarmed and unorganized the women remained steadfast in their determination to see the release of the men and they faced down the forces of the Third Reich. While Joseph Goebbels (who was also Gauleiter of Berlin) was anxious that Berlin be judenfrei, he was fully aware that shooting the women down in the streets would simply create antipathy to the regime and would almost certainly result in bigger protests. Moreover he was fearful that it would jeopardise the secrecy of the Final Solution, He therefore authorised the release of the Rosenstrasse prisoners and also ordered the return of those already sent to Auschwitz. The great majority of these men lived to see the end of the war.
By any standards the Rosenstrasse women had won an astonishing victory.


In 2003 German director Margarethe Von Trotta made a fictional account of the protest. I finally got to see Rosenstrasse late last year. I had been hoping for something of the calibre of Downfall or Sophie Scholl – the Final Days - it wasn't sadly. It wasn't a bad film and did not deserve the panning it got from some critics including the New York Times.

This link from the German website The Topography of Terror provides further information including personal accounts of those taking part and extracts from Goebbels own diary. The photograph above is a detail from "Block der Frauen" the memorial to the Rosenstrasse women. Click
for more pictures

24 August 2007

Robyn and Ted are very happy

This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. Also this week's entry for . The theme for this week is is Happy and what better than show our alpha cat Robyn having his chin rubbed?

Ted is also happy. Well you wouldn't want to see him angy!

Macho, Macho Man

Annoyingly, yet one of the big stories of the past week or so passed me by utterly. It wasn’t until last night’s Mock the Week did I learn that Russian president Vladimir Putin had gotten a Prince Albert and had been photographed in various macho poses while on holiday in Tuva in the far south of Siberia. On further reading I discovered that he had been photographed in various macho poses while on holiday in Tuva WITH Prince Albert of Monaco.

According to the International Herald Tribune the Russian paper Komsomolskaya Pravda published a huge color photo of the bare chested president, under the headline: "Be Like Putin." along with a guide showing exactly what exercises were required to build up a torso like that of the Russian leader.

The photographs have had Kremlin watchers spending long hours trying to work out what sort of political message they might convey. One Russian radio talk show host speculated that the pictures were meant to enhance Putin's personal appeal to voters and thus a signal that he doesn't plan to relinquish power when his current term as president ends next year. Russian gay chat rooms and blogs claimed that Putin, by stripping to his waist, was somehow pleading for more tolerance of homosexuality in Russia — where gays and lesbians are for the most part forced to remain closeted.

The 54-year-old Russian leader has long cultivated an image of machismo and manliness. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo, Putin has appeared on national television engaging in other manly including a truck, operating a train and copiloting a fighter jet. The new set of photos could thus be another manifestation of his mystique. However, Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute think tank, took the view that they were nothing more than an effort to reassure Russians that Putin knows how to relax — and was preparing for retirement.

Personally I think the photos give an absolutely clear message: Putin, tiring of life at the helm of a massive and troubled nation has decided on a new career path and will be joining the Village People once his current term ends.

The only problem is that he can’t seem to make up whether he want’s to be the Cowboy or the Soldier...

Even the Daily Mail couldn’t object to this one

According to a survey commissioned by the campaign to find Madeleine McCann MEPs overwhelmingly support creating an EU-wide sex offenders register.

97% of MEPs agreed there should be an EU-wide sex offenders register; 95% said police should treat serious crimes involving children exactly the same across Europe. An overwhelming majority also supported the introduction of a common EU policy on child abduction cases. Similarly 84% of British MPs believed sex offenders should be tracked as they move across Europe and forced to register with local police. Almost nine in 10 MPs felt that the UK's Child Rescue Alert - an emergency scheme to publicise suspected child abductions within hours - should be extended across the EU.

Gerry McCann, father of from Madeleine who disappeared in the Algarve in May said he and his wife were heartened by the findings of the survey. "We are pleased to see that elected members of both the UK and European parliaments agree that changes to legislation and greater consistency across the European Union are needed.” He said.

Personally I think harmonisation in this area is a no-brainer. It's heartening to see an arch-sceptic paper like the Daily Mail not spitting fury over an issue where the EU can improve things.. Wonders never cease!

23 August 2007

More science news, this time early gorillas.

The apparent discovery of a new species of great ape that roamed Africa 10m years ago may force scientists to rethink the earliest steps of human evolution. Fossil hunters working along the Afar rift in central Ethiopia have discovered remnants of teeth they claim belonged to a previously unknown species of gorilla they named Chororapithecus abyssinicus.

If confirmed, the discovery could redraw the evolutionary tree of primates, suggesting that humans and chimpanzees split from their gorilla-like ancestors earlier than thought. Geneticists have previously put the date at which the human and chimpanzee lineage split from gorillas at around 7m years ago, with humans and chimps diverging 5m years ago.

A team led by Gen Suwa at Tokyo University Museum recovered one canine and eight partial molars from rocky sediments that have been dated to about 10m years old. The teeth are believed to come from at least three apes of the same species that lived in what would have been a forested valley at the time. The teeth are close in shape and size to those of modern gorillas, with smaller versions of crests (which help with chewing tough, fibrous material) that are a characteristic of gorilla teeth.

However, Peter Andrews, former head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the researchers needed more evidence to be sure they had identified a new great ape species. "They're saying an awful lot from an awful little... These structures appear on at least three independent lineages of apes, including gorillas, and they could relate to a dietary shift rather than indicating a new genetic trait. It is stretching the evidence to base a time scale for the evolution of the great apes on this new fossil,"

So this discovery could be a significant discovery forcing us to rethink our very early origins or it could be it could be a false alarm. Such is the way of scientific discovery. It’s still fascinating stuff, though....

Diamonds are forever or at least a very long time

A clutch of ancient diamonds found in Western Australia have been identified as the oldest remnants of the Earth's crust ever recovered.

The stones, which are over 4bn years old, were found inside rocks lodged in the sediments of a coastal ridge known as the Jack Hills. It is hoped that they will shed light on the earliest period of the Earth's history, the Hadean period (the period between the planet's initial formation and the formation of the first rocks.). The oldest of the diamonds is thought to be 4.25bn years old. This would suggest that the Earth had cooled enough to form a crust of solid rock by that time, earlier than originally thought.

This is definitely in the “fascinating stuff” category. Geology isn’t my area of expertise (try mammalian physiology and microbiology, although university is a long time ago now...)

22 August 2007

So bad it's.....oh who am I kidding it's bloody terrible

Easy Livin' by Uriah Heep, one of the worst heavy rock bands ever grace the world. Vocalist David Byron was executed in 1976 for crimes against fashion and hairstyles - no mean feat in the mid 70s...

So bad it's wonderful

Patrick Hernandez and his 1979 hit Born to be alive. What's not to love about it?

Wordless Wednesday - Mountnessing Windmill

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry is an Essex post windmill built in 1807.

21 August 2007

70% addicted to blogging

70%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Dating Site

I suppose the other 30% is when I'm asleep...

Hat tip to Chris Paul

Obesity contagious?

According to a new study obesity is not just the result of over-eating and/or under-exercise; it may also be caught like a cold.

Human adenovirus-36 (left), which causes respiratory and eye infections, can also transform adult stem cells into the fat cells of adipose tissue. Scientists found that the virus has a specific gene that appears to control this fatty transformation. A previous study had found a high prevalence of adenovirus in overweight people; some 30 per cent of obese people had Ad-36 compared with 11 per cent of lean people, leading to suggestions that respiratory viruses may play an important role in triggering the tendency towards obesity in susceptible people with the sort of sedentary lifestyle that favours putting on weight.

The idea of obesity being, in some cases, the result of viral infection will be controversial. It does make me think whether an anti obesity vaccine can be too far behind. I’m sure it would be a huge money spinner.

20 August 2007

Bad science (or just plain offensive science)

Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian is essential reading for a Saturday morning. His last Saturday’s column, titled “Evolutionary regression back to 1866” concerned a recent paper on Down ’s syndrome (or just Down, both are correct) in the scientific journal Medical Hypotheses.

Down's Syndrome used to be called mongolism, a term (along with Mongolian idiocy) that was invented by John Langdon Down in 1866, We now know that the disorder is caused by chromosome 21 trisomy (where a person has a an complete or partial third copy of this chromosome) but in his study “Observations on the Ethnic Classification of Idiots" he put stated that the condition was an evolutionary regression to (what he viewed as a) less advanced form of humanity. Mongolism and Mongolian idiocy are, mercifully, now obsolete as descriptive terms having been superseded by the expression Down’s syndrome in the 1960s

Ben Goldacre was thus shocked to come across an article from 2007 entitled “Down subjects and Oriental population share several specific attitudes and characteristics”. Written by Federica Mafrica and Vincenzo Fodale the article puts forwards the idea that the parallels between Down syndrome and "oriental" people are deeper than a vague facial similarity. His Bad Science website publishes the article in full.

The article contains a number of statements that beggar belief in this day and age: -

  • "Down subjects adore having several dishes displayed on the table, and have a propensity for food which is rich in monosodium glutamate."

  • "The tendencies of Down subjects to carry out recreative-rehabilitative activities, such as embroidery, wicker-working, ceramics, book-binding, etc., that is renowned, remind [us of] the Chinese hand-crafts, which need a notable ability, such as Chinese vases, or the use of chopsticks employed for eating by Asiatic populations."

  • "Down persons during waiting periods, when they get tired of standing up straight, crouch, squatting down, reminding us of the 'squatting' position ... They remain in this position for several minutes and only to rest themselves.... This position is the same taken by the Vietnamese, the Thai, the Cambodian, and the Chinese, while they are waiting at a bus stop, for instance, or while they are chatting."

  • "There is another pose taken by Down subjects while they are sitting on a chair: they sit with their legs crossed while they are eating, writing, watching TV, as the Oriental peoples do."

The article ends:

  • “Furthermore, it may be interesting to know the gravity with which the Down’s syndrome occurs in Asiatic population, especially in Chinese population. This study may offer the possibility of to know better the neuropathology mechanisms that are responsible of mental retardation in Down’s syndrome and to open a new diagnostic and therapeutic way for to operate precociously. Perhaps we could even clear Langdon of all blame from the accusation of being a ‘‘racist’’ for having first observed a sort of twinning which could be looked at in more depth in the light of modern knowledge on the heredity of features and on genic expression and inactivation.”

By the same token you could argue that anyone who likes buffet lunches sells at craft fairs, or does yoga must have a similar oriental connection too. I agree with Ben Goldacre’s when he described the article as “so fantastical and so thoughtlessly crass that it's impossible to experience anything like outrage”. Two thoughts also sprang to mind:

  • Are Fodale and Mafrica having a laugh? If so it is a pretty bad joke. It was published in the February edition so it wasn’t an April fool’s day thing. Also I don’t think that the article was intended as a homage to Alan Sokal and his hoax paper "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"

  • Where was the peer review? Apparently, the journal http://www.harcourt-international.com/journals/mehy/ Medical Hypotheses is a forum for “radical ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences”. It does not operate a peer review system - the editor simply chooses to publish what are judged to be the best papers from those submitted.

Vincenzo Fodale appears to be a reputable scientist. He is the “Aggregated Professor of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care” at the University of Messina and has published widely, mainly on anaesthesiology as would be expected, but also on other matters including “the cholinergic system in Down’s Syndrome” (the nerve cells that use Acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter). What the hell is he doing, penning such unscientific and downright offensive nonsense?

Also check Tom Hamilton's excellent post at Lets Be Sensible

Ivy - regeneration

Our garden has never been particularly neat. On the whole, we prefer a slightly wilder look so we let the plants do their own. One of our favourite features was the rich dense ivy growing up a boundary wall. It reached its peak last September (see above).

On 23 September the not-wife came home to find that the ivy had fallen down damaging a lot of well loved plants. It was unlikely to have come down of its own accord. We suspect that the neighbour pushed it down but we can't prove it,

11 months on and it's good to see that the ivy is well on its way to a full recovery. Next year it will be covered in berries again providing an autumnal treat for the local birds safe from our four feline hunters,

The last conviction under the Witchcraft Act 1735 - a correction

Last year I posted a short piece about Helen Duncan in which I stated that, when she was sentenced to Nnine months imprisonment in March 1944, she was the last person to be tried under the Witchcraft Act of 1735*. In fact she was the second last person to be tried and convicted under this act.

In fact the last person was Jane Rebecca Yorke, a medium from Forest Gate in East London. Yorke was arrested in July 1944 following reports that she was defrauding the public through exploiting wartime fears. She was found guilty in September of seven counts against the Act, fined £5 and placed on good behaviour for three years, promising to hold no more séances. The light sentence was due to her age of 72.

* The purpose of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was to deal with persons pretending to have the power to call up spirits, or foretell the future (It was thus aimed at fraudulent mediums). People convicted under the Act were subject to fines and imprisonment rather than execution. It was superseded by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.

19 August 2007

Ingatestone Hall

In praise of Essex part 6

When they think of Essex, far too many people automatically think the tired stereotypes: the loud drunken woman with bleached blonde hair and white stilettos; the ill-educated and violent lout in ostentatious clothing. Not everyone is like that (although like any other stereotype it is hard to shake off) and Essex is, of course, a county of many firsts.

One of these firsts (one that makes my chest with a dubious pride as an Essex-boy, born and bred) was the discovery in 2001 of the remains of a medieval woman that showed signs of syphilis.

The origin of the disease in Europe is has been debated for centuries but it had been thought that the disease was introduced after the Columban voyages to the Americas in the late 15th Century. The bones, which were unearthed in the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints, Rivenhall were dated to between between 1296 and 1445.

Dr Simon Mays, who led the archaeological team, said: "This is very important discovery.This puts the theory that syphilis was not brought to Europe by Columbus on a much firmer footing." Documentary evidence had suggested that epidemics, which raged through Europe in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, could be connected with the return of Columbus from America.

The bones belonged to a woman aged somewhere between 25 and 50 years old. The roughness of the bones and the pitted surface indicate she had syphilis. Archaeologists from English Heritage believe this was the venereal form of the disease, caught through sexual intercourse.

So there you have an Essex first to be proud of. We will never know her identity but she paved the way for many other English pox sufferers in the centuries that followed.....

Seriously, Essex does not deserve its low grade image. Romford (which has been part of Greater London since the 60s) may not be that attractive but it's no different to suburbia elsewhere. The dormitory towns may lack some spirit but is there a dormitory town elsewhere that does? As for the behaviour of the inhabitants is it any different to that of anywhere else? Of course not

Essex may not have the rugged scenery of the Lake District but it does have its own beauty and its fair share of remarkable places and fine people. See here, here, here, here and here for parts 1-5


Gunnera at Ingatestone Hall.

18 August 2007

Adriaan Vlok update

Last September I posted an item about Adriaan Vlok who had been a minister of Law and Order during the apartheid era. After the end of apartheid, Vlok became a born again Christian and last year had sought forgiveness of Frank Chikane, former head of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) when it was one of apartheid's fiercest critics. He did so by entering Chikane’s office and washing his feet (emulating Jesus’ act before the last supper).

Vlok was implicated in an attempt to poison Chikane by impregnating his clothes with poison during a trip to the USA in 1989. Yesterday he became the only senior politician from the apartheid era to be convicted after he pleaded guilty to attempted murder. Vlok received a 10-year suspended prison sentence under a plea bargain by admitting he ordered the security police to kill Chikane, Under the terms of the plea bargain Vlok is obliged to assist in any future prosecutions over crimes he knows about. The former police commissioner, Johan van der Merwe, and three other former high-ranking police officers also pleaded guilty and received suspended prison sentences of between five and 10 years.

Frank Chikane, who is now the director of President Thabo Mbeki's office, said that he hoped the guilty pleas would contribute to reconciliation. "I must say I am pleased that this thing is over and we can move forward. I hope that whatever happened today can be used as a way of resolving all the outstanding issues,"

Ashley Mote update

Earlier this year Ashley Scrote , sorry Mote, a former UKIP MEP distinguished himself by seeking to joining the Identity Tradition and Sovereignty Group within the European Parliament. This would have placed him in the company of a far right/national(ist) socialist rabble including Alessandra Mussolini and Vadim Tudor’s Greater Romania Party. Mr Mote has further distinguished himself by being found guilty of deception by falsely claiming benefits.

Mote was found guilty of eight charges of false accounting, eight of obtaining a money transfer by deception, four of evading liability and one of failing to notify a change of circumstances. Mote had run a business until its collapse in 1989. He then began to claim various benefits (as he was perfectly entitled to). However, he failed to notify the benefits agency when he began earning money through various enterprises, including spread betting on currency markets during the period of February 1996 and September 2002, during which period he received £73,000 in benefits.

Mote was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 as a member of UKIP which threw him out when they discovered the charges against him. He has continued to serve as an independent MEP. Responding to the verdict UKIP leader Nigel Farage said in a statement: "We are pleased that finally justice has been done... UKIP and the voters of the south east have been defrauded for three years by Mr Mote."

Mote has not yet been sentenced but something tells me that his career as an MEP will soon be terminated with extreme prejudice

Photo Hunt - Two

The theme of this week's is Two. I returned to a favourite stamping ground for photographs, the churchyard of St Andrew's in Hornchurch, and noticed that there were a number of war graves with two occupants.

I have no idea who the Farrants were but looking at their age they must have been brothers. They died after the end of hostilities in November 1918. How sad to live through a bloody conflict like the Great War then die just after.

Mr Bruce died during WWI, his wife who also died just after the end of hostilities is buried with him.

The story of the men from Niue who served in the Maori Pioneer battalion is very sad. See this earlier post for more information

17 August 2007

Perfidious Albion and the Iranian Squirrel Spies?

Another story in the Strange Days section of the new Fortean Times concerned the recent arrest by Iranian intelligence operatives of over a dozen squirrels found within the nation's borders. According to Iranian security, the rodents were serving as spies for Western powers determined to undermine the Islamic Republic. It’s another story I missed first time around.

"In recent weeks, intelligence operatives have arrested 14 squirrels within Iran's borders," state-sponsored news agency IRNA reported. "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence
services." Iranian police commander Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqadam confirmed the report, saying that a number of squirrels had been caught bearing foreign spy gear within Iran's borders. "I heard of this but I have no specific knowledge on the subject," he said. He refused to give further details.

The reaction to the report on Tehran’s streets was varied – from disbelief to assigning guilt for the alleged infraction. “No, I had not heard about this, but it does not surprise me, foreign countries are always meddling in Iran,” said Hassan Mohmmadi, a fast-food vendor. Mohammadi asked me if I knew where the squirrels were from, and I told him that I didn’t know. Then he came to his own conclusions. “I bet they were British squirrels, they are the most cunning,” he replied. Meanwhile, an independent journalist, Sepher Sopli, said “I read this story in the papers and though it was very bizarre; what struck me as odd was that in this age of modern technology, people were relying on squirrels to do their spying,”

Well that’s what was reported but there seems to be no trace in the Iranian press. Iranians have a long tradition of blaming the UK (and for good cause in some cases) for most bad things that happen in their nation so the finger of suspicion would probably point our way. On the other hand why is my bullshit detector shrieking an alarm over this story... perhaps our moles were ineffectual

Perfidious Albion and the attack of the Iraqi Killer Badgers

I’m not sure how I missed this story when it broke last month. I only picked it up from the new edition (September) of the Fortean Times where it is the lead item in the Strange Days section. It is another example of the lunatic rubbish that people are prepared to believe (It’s not a trait peculiar to Iraqis by a long chalk).

Take a Western army wearing out its welcome. Add a large, sharp-toothed creature halfway between a bear and the Hound of the Baskervilles and provincial Iraqi newspapers eager to fill newsprint gaps left by vacationing government officials. What do you get....

... Apparently you get Basra residents convinced that the British Army has unleashed a veritable battalion of man- and cattle-eating badgers onto its unsuspecting populace as a final evil gesture before it departs the city later this summer. If that was not bad enough British soldiers have also planted snake eggs in waterways (that grow to 20 foot behemoths) and unleashed bomb-sniffing dogs purposefully infected with rabies.

The rumours seem to have started when a farmer claimed the beasts attacked his cattle. The story then ballooned with reports of at least one badger one killing humans. Things intensified when a video was circulated showing one of the animal captured and surrounded by nervous villagers. The British Army, currently as popular in Basra as a turd in a swimming pool were soon blamed, perhaps aided by the unfortunate coincidence that one of the British Army units serving in the city is named Badger Squadron.

A British military spokesman in Basra, rebutted all animal-related allegations: "Of course we categorically deny that we have released badgers into Basra. "It flies in the face of what we are primarily here to do, which is to set conditions that will enable the Iraqi security forces to have self-determination in their own security matters, which of course sets the conditions for good governance." A spokeswoman for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office was somewhat more succinct in denying the rumor. "Don't be silly," she said, after sighing.

The culprit is the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratel Ratel or Honey Badger. It is also known as Al-Kirta locally. It has a wide distribution from Africa through to Easter Iran and is thus native to Iraq, although rare near Basra. According to Dr Ghazi Yaqub Azzam, deputy Dean of the Basra veterinary college, the animals were likely brought into contact with the local population as a result of efforts to re-flood marshland to the north of Basra city that had previously been drained by Saddam Hussein as part of his campaign against the Marsh Arabs. "Old people know of the Girta, but the younger generations are not as aware of these animals," according to Mushtaq Abdul-Aziz of Basra's Health Department.

The Honey Badger is a fearsome predator with a reputation for attacking animals much larger than itself, including humans so the stories of attacks are not beyond belief. Unfortunately for the conspiracy nuts in Iraq (and for Jihadists here who would jump on such a story – Why didn’t I read this first on Further Left?) it has a mundane explanation that has nothing to do with the British Army.

It's hard to telll where Robyn ends and Bebe starts

Robyn and Bebe in their favourite position - curled up together. This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos at Plant pron and pussycats.

16 August 2007

Herbsttag (Poppy)


Lord: it is time. The summer was immense,
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, September 21, 1902

I originally posted the poppy photo just a few days ago. I can thank Redwine for drawing this beautiful Rilke to my attention and suggesting that they go nicely together. She's quite right


I was surprised to see a snail making its way down the living room wall. It must have gotten in through the window.

15 August 2007

Morning Bride - Time Delay

I saw Morning Bride play a few weeks agoand I really quite enjoyed their music - a bit of a departure from my usual listening.

Wordless Wednesday - Morning Glory

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry is another result of playing with Nikon Capture.

14 August 2007

The Brock/Calvert Project Finally Sees the Light of Day

I have been neglecting my Yahoo groups of late. I missed a post from Voiceprint records on Monday announcing the release of the Brock/Calvert Project CD.


Dave Brock is the mainstay of Hawkwind and the last founder member still in the band. Robert Calvert (whose image I use as my avatar) was also a member of the band, co writing Silver Machine with Brock and appearing on some of the band’s best albums (Space Ritual, Quark, Strangeness and Charm and Hawklords). He was also a poet and playwright. Calvert died in 1988. I was very fortunate to see him twice at the Hammersmith Clarendon in the year before his death. I never saw him perform with Hawkwind.

Dave Brock had a cassette tape of Calvert’s poems for many years. Rob Ayling, the Managing Director of Voiceprint Records, and asked him to put some music to the poems. The album draws a line under marks the final collaboration between the two artists (I am sure something of the sort would have been done long before had Calvert not died). The album also features musical contributions from Hawkwind drummer Richard Chadwick, keyboardist Jason Stuart, and former bassist Alan Davey.


Two of the pieces, Small Boy and Ode to a Timeflower appeared on last year’s sampler album Take Me To Your Future . The album, which is issued as a limited edition of 1,000, is available online via a dedicated website.

I've bought my copy. I would imagine it will sell out pretty quickly.

Phages to be used against MRSA

Scientists are about to test the effectiveness of bacteriophages (phages) against antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains such as MRSA. A cream containing phages specific for MRSA has been developed, clinical trials are planned next year. If these are successful then the cream could be available within three years.

Phages are viruses that are harmful to bacteria but otherwise safe. They work by injecting their own genetic material into target bacteria. The bacteria are then reprogrammed to produce more viruses, which then break out of their host, destroying it in the process. The therapeutic use of phages is not new: they were used in the former Soviet Union and might have been in widespread use in the West but they were superseded by antibiotics.

MRSA is one of an increasing number of microbes that are becoming immune to antibiotics. While it can be carried on the body without any ill effects, it can cause potentially lethal infections, especially in hospitals. There were 3,517 MRSA infections in British hospitals between October 2005 and March 2006. Treating hospital-acquired infections costs the NHS about £1 billion a year.

Nick Housby, chief executive of the Coventry-based biotech company Novolytics, which is carrying out the research, said that the aim was to use the phage cream as a preventative measure. But he added that it could also eliminate infections in affected patients within 24 hours. “We’re extremely optimistic,” he said. We know we can kill, in the laboratory, clinically relevant strains. It’s a question now of putting it into the right cream, in terms of the formulation, to make sure that it works.” Geoff Hanlon, an expert in the viruses at the University of Brighton, said: “We’re now finding antibiotics are becoming less useful. The climate is probably right to revisit bacteriophage therapy.”

Phages are more complicated to use that antibiotics but they can and do destroy bacteria. It may not be the answer for every bacterial infection but they certainly do have a lot of potential to treat a range of diseases.

More bad poetry

Alejandro Cao de Benos de Les y Pérez is the founder and president (or should that be Dear Leader?) of the Korean Friendship Association. He is thus one of North Korea’s main useful idiots (with the emphasis on idiot). Like other Juche groupies he also seems to have a liking for execrable poetry. This one was published in 2004 in a defunct KFA newsletter called Lodestar.

Beyond the Bektusan

The Motherland oppressed for so many centuries
Our beloved Leader transforms the history
The paradise on earth emerges
Korea salutes to the eternal Sun of the Juche

By the streets of Hyangsan
a child question to his father
How it is the life beyond the Bektu?

People kill for money
The egoism is king
There’s no peace neither harmony
just a nightmare, nothing else

Ten years of life are enough to pull a trigger
Ten thousand are needed so that the miracle takes place
What is our fortune?

From the sky came a great warrior
With a heart purer than the diamond
He rescued us from the suffering
Brought the happiness and pride
to this horizon

To live and to die following his steps
There will be no tear lakes that fill the emptiness
But guns and soldiers who will defend his conquest

Hmm this is just too easy. I will make this the last bit of bad poetry to appear here for a while (unless I deign to write some myself of course!)