31 January 2008

Mammal Senses

There was an interesting article in last week's New Scientist about the strange anatomy of the brain. It contained this quote:
No matter how bizarre a vertebrate is, it receives only three types of incoming sensory data: chemical (smell and taste), electromagnetic (light, and electric and magnetic fields) and movement (touch and sound).
I'd never quite looked at it this way before, but of course it is right. The only bit I don't understand is what organ we use to detect electric and magnetic fields. Maybe we don't. Maybe this is the preserve only of pigeons, which have been shown to have lodestone like sensors in their brains. Interesting though.

26 January 2008

US TV Network Fined $1.4m for Nudity

BBC News reports that US television network ABC may have to pay a fine of $1.4m for the 2003 screening of an episode of NYPD Blue which depicted female nudity before the watershed. What was so offensive? Multiple close-up views of a woman's buttocks.

Pleeaase! How pathetic can this get? Get a life!

Inappropriate Christian Kitsch

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula has highlighted a wonderfully hilarious piece of totally inappropriate Christian iconography and has solicited appropriate captions! It is so wonderful I nearly choked on my bedtime cocoa!


What on earth can the designers have been thinking of? No, maybe don't answer that. :-)

24 January 2008

Camel Cavalry

This wonderful picture appeared in today's Times, in their "Image of the Day" series.



It is captioned "Members of India's Border Security Force rehearse … for the Republic Day parade in Delhi on Saturday". This is the sort of pomp and fancy dress which only the British, and the Raj, do so brilliantly.

20 January 2008

Circumcision

Writing my Thirteen Things post for Flickr the other day set me thinking …

I made the comment that I am glad my parents didn't have me circumcised. I won't say that their decision was great foresight: from my observations the rate of male circumcision of my generation in the UK is somewhere around 30-40% (amongst Americans it is more like 80%), and moreover my father was also entire so probably didn't feel there was any "precedent" to follow. So my parents weren't exactly bucking a trend (medical or otherwise). But I'm still glad that I'm entire; I like being entire; I'm comfortable with my "male apparatus" and I would never have inflicted circumcision on any son I might have had.

But there is one thing I do not understand about our western culture. Female circumcision, as still practiced in many parts of Africa especially, is considered barbarous, a violation of a woman and abuse. And I have to agree; it is all of these. And yet, male circumcision is considered much more (though not universally) acceptable; even those who are against male circumcision don't generally have "screaming fits" about it the way they do over female circumcision. It is even being advocated as a way of constraining the spread of HIV, as I've blogged before. Why is this? I do not understand how one can be considered barbarous and the other acceptable.

OK, so before anyone screams at me let's be clear. Male circumcision (at least as we practice it in the western world) is generally performed on the very young, by a surgeon, often with anaesthetic, in a sterile surgical environment; hence immediately post-operative complications are rare, although no-one seems to agree about the long-term effects on sexual function. Even if performed later in life male circumcision is a proper medical procedure. This contrasts with the vast majority of female circumcision in the developing world, where the operation is mostly performed by the medically unskilled, without a sterile environment, seldom any anaesthetic and mostly against the will of the female concerned who often has to be physically restrained. Needless to say post-operative complications appear to be the norm rather than the exception and death is not uncommon. The UN and WHO now use the term Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when referring to female circumcision, but make no comment on male circumcision

But I still don't see how it is acceptable for parents to have an infant boy routinely circumcised without any immediate medical necessity – as is still widely practiced in the USA. And I include in that the religious practices of both Judaism and Islam – albeit I can understand how male circumcision may have originally arisen in an ancient, hygienically-challenged, desert community, even if this was based on a false premise.

Having started writing this I found a good couple of paragraphs at the History of Circumcision which sum up my dilemma:

Given the similarities between the male and female genitals, the nature of the surgery and the justifications offered, it is surprising that male and female circumcision enjoy such strikingly different reputations, at least in Anglophone societies: the first, a mild and harmless adjustment which should be tolerated, if not actively promoted; the second, a cruel abomination which must be stopped by law, no matter how culturally significant to its practitioners. If you call circumcision of boys male genital mutilation, you are accused of emotionalism; if you fail to call circumcision of women or girls female genital mutilation you are accused of trivialising the offence. While the United Nations, Amnesty International and other international agencies spend millions on programs to eradicate FGM, they have never uttered a word against circumcision of boys.

It might be thought that the reason for this double standard lies in the greater physical severity of female circumcision, but this is to confuse cause with effect. On the contrary, it is the tolerant or positive attitude towards male circumcision and the rarity of female circumcision in western societies which promote the illusion that the operation is necessarily more sexually disabling, and without benefit to health, when performed on girls or women. It is, of course, also true that the term female circumcision is vague, referring to any one or more of a number of surgical procedures.
… …
But it should be remembered that the most extreme forms of FGM are rare, and that male circumcision in general is far more common on a world scale than female: about 13 million boys, compared with two million girls annually.
… …
Given the respective numbers of victims involved and the fact that some circumcisions are worse than some instances of FGM, there is no justification for perpetuating the gender discrimination which has characterised discussion of these issues.
… …
To compare female and male circumcision is not to trivialize the enormity of the first, as some feminists seem to fear, but to recognise that the physical and moral similarities between the two are very real.

So here we have it. The two "procedures" while different are the same. So why is it OK for males to be circumcised but not females? Even after reading a number of worthy websites on the subject I still do not understand.

PS. Anyone who wishes to delve a little deeper might like to start with:

Self-Portrait of a Foot with Thirteen Things


Self-Portrait of a Foot, originally uploaded by kcm76.

One of the groups I belong to on Flickr is called "Thirteen Things". The idea is to post a self-portrait with a list of thirteen things about oneself. This photo and list are my first contribution, posted a couple of days ago.

Amazing the things one thinks to do when getting bored in an hotel room!

As this is my foot I thought I'd use this for my first "Thirteen Things" list. So here are 13 Personal Things About Me ...

  1. I’m an only child
  2. I’ve changed a lot over the years; even my boss says I’ve mellowed! I used to be very angry and lose my temper a lot, I’ve learnt to let things wash over me and go with the flow; tho' I do still get irritated and frustrated and swear a lot.
  3. I love the smell of grapefruit, coconut oil, bacon cooking, fresh bread, the sea, wood smoke, frying garlic & onions.
  4. I hardly ever drink coffee.
  5. I lost 20Kg between summer 2007 and New Year 2008, but i'm still obese.
  6. I was born with a deformed right index finger-nail; I’ve now had it permanently removed.
  7. I have a third nipple.
  8. My parents didn’t have me circumcised, for which I am very grateful.
  9. I wasn’t baptised as an infant. I took the plunge myself at 22 (eeek, that's 35 years ago!) when I joined the Roman Catholic church. I've since converted to atheism.
  10. I’ve worn glasses since I was 14; it doesn’t bother me and I can’t imagine switching to contact lenses.
  11. I have never driven a car or a motorbike.
  12. I’m actually boring, shy and introverted, although many people find this hard to believe.
  13. I have type 2 diabetes.

16 January 2008

Two Wonderful Images

Two wonderful images I've found today on weblogs I read. As neither is on Flickr I'll have to post links here and trust you guys to follow them.

First off a stunningly beautiful hermit crab from Thomas Laupstad at Photos from Northern Norway.

And secondly a really gorgeous tiger from the award winning French Toast Girl.

Enjoy!

15 January 2008

Zen Mischievous Moments #137





Spotted today on the Ocado (aka. Waitrose) supermarket website.

13 January 2008

His Excellency Harry the Cat


Harry the Cat, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Cats are solar powered! Harry enjoying the artificial sun of my desk lamp.

White Bra Man


White Bra Man, originally uploaded by kcm76.


Seen yesterday morning on the M11 near Stanstead Airport.

08 January 2008

Avoid Emptying Your Dog


avoid emptying your dog, originally uploaded by Simon_K.


The mind boggles more than slightly.

03 January 2008

Depressing and Predictable

Following on from yesterday's post about the views on drugs of the Chief Constable of North Wales ... Needless to say said Chief Constable has today come in for the "usual intemperate attack" from the Daily Mail and other papers (eg. this relatively well tempered article in the Daily Telegraph).

Bystander over at The Magistrate's Blog comments in his usual forthright and perceptive style:
... what is most depressing about this is the entire lack of any reasoned debate. Whenever the drugs issue comes up, the tabloids and some of the rent-a-quote politicians ... go into a knee-jerk rant mode ...

We have now reached the position where there is no chance of any rational approach to our fellow citizens' increasing appetite for chemical stimulation.

Our politicians long ago gave up leadership, in favour of a marketing-led approach dependent on focus groups and polls.

... elected politicians ... are terrified of upsetting anyone.

The 'War on Drugs' has become like the later stages of the Vietnam war: it's unwinnable, but nobody has the guts to admit it ...

I really couldn't have expressed it better myself, even with all day to think about it!

However the "intemperate attacks" are precisely why I think Brunstrom is wrong. The legalisation he is advocating won't happen; the tabloid press and the tabloid politicians will ensure it doesn't; they'll drown out anyone who dares to think about the subject.

02 January 2008

Drugs to be Legal in 10 Years?

Yes, you read it right! This was the thrust of a BBC News item yesterday. Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales, believes that in about 10 years time drugs which are currently illegal will be legalised. His logic is impeccable:
  • Over 50% of all recorded crime is caused by people feeding a drugs habit.
  • Despite drug misuse falling (slowly) because of better treatment programmes it is still causing a £20bn a year hole in the country's finances.
  • Portugal has already gone the legalisation route
  • And it is being talked about elsewhere in the world (although the article doesn't specify where!).
All that is needed is a shift in public opinion (as has happened against drink-driving in the last 20 years or so) and the change will become inevitable, Brumstrom appears to believe.

But interestingly there is one argument which hasn't been used – and which is sometimes used for the legalisation of cannabis: if it is legal you can regulate the supply (by licencing sellers) and you can tax the proceeds. That has to be powerful: stop large swathes of crime, save £20bn a year, and generate income as well.

Even so, personally, I can't see it happening. I cannot see any politician sticking their neck out and advocating such a policy, let alone voting for it. The legalisation of cannabis I think will come, although it may take a while yet. However I'm not sure that the legalisation of heroin, cocaine, etc. isn't a step too far even for me, at least at present. But it is an interesting idea, and one worthy of discussion. And hoorah for a senior plod who has enough foresight to be able to think outside the box!