31 May 2008

Yellow Flag Iris


Yellow Flag Iris 1, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Flowering in my koi pond. Now I know Spring is really here!

Foot Fetish Pussie


Foot Fetish Pussie, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 14/52 (2008 week 22)

27 May 2008

Sex Education

There's an interesting article in last week's issue of New Scientist in which Hazel Muir questions why it is that governments (indeed whole societies) ignore scientific evidence when making policy. Of particular interest to me was the comments on federal funding of sex education programmes for teenagers. As the full article isn't available to non-subscribers, I give you a couple of telling paragraphs ...

Among other requirements, the [abstinence-only sex education] programmes must teach "that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects". A 2004 report commissioned by a Democratic congressman concluded that four-fifths of the curricula contained false or misleading information, such as hugely exaggerating the risk of pregnancy or HIV transmission when condoms are used.

"The origin of this programme was not in science or research by any means, but in an ultra-conservative, ultra-religious ideology," says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a non-profit organisation in Washington DC that champions informed decision-making about sexual behaviour. "You could almost see the abstinence-only movement as the sexual health equivalent of creationism."

Several studies, including a Congress-funded randomised controlled trial involving more than 2000 teenagers, showed the abstinence-only programmes were no more likely than conventional sex education to prevent or delay teenagers having sex, or reduce their number of sexual partners. Yet Congress continues to fund the programmes. Peer-reviewed studies of more than a dozen well-considered programmes for scientific sex education show these programmes can both make teenagers delay having sex and increase contraceptive use if they do have sex: "But how many of these would be eligible for federal funding? Zero," Wagoner says.

Now why does the US have the highest rate of unplanned teenage pregnancy in the western world? Makes you think, doesn't it!?

23 May 2008

Something for the Weekend

Being an unrepentant red-blooded male, an inveterate people-watcher and a photographer I cannot resist a deliciously pretty girl. So here are a couple I spotted earlier in the week on my way back from a business trip to Glasgow.



More photos of all sorts on my flickr photostream.

21 May 2008

Early Morning at the Airport


Early Morning at the Airport, originally uploaded by kcm76.

52 Weeks 13/52 (2008 week 21)
Phew well I've completed a quarter of the assignment, which is more than I thought I might.

If I have to go to the airport at o'god o'clock then it is much nicer and much easier doing so at this time of year when it is light!

18 May 2008

Agriculture Policy

I've posted before about the need for a paradigm shift in agriculture policy (see here and here). There is an article by Jeffrey D Sachs in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American which picks up on this theme – although to my mind he doesn't go far enough. As the article isn't (yet) online, here is an edited version:

Surging Food Prices and Global Stability
Misguided policies favor biofuels and animal feed over grain for hungry people

The recent surge in world food prices is already creating havoc in poor countries, and worse is to come. Food riots are spreading across Africa, although many have gone unreported in the international press. Moreover, the surge in wheat, maize and rice prices … has not yet fully percolated into the shops and … the budgets of relief organizations … In early 2006 a metric ton of wheat cost around $375 on the commodity exchanges. In March 2008 it stood at more than $900 …

Several factors are at play in the skyrocketing prices … World incomes have been growing at around 5% annually in recent years … leading to an increased global demand for food … The rising demand for meat exacerbates the pressures on grain and oilseed prices because several kilograms of animal feed are required to produce each kilogram of meat. The grain supply has also been disrupted by climate shocks …

An even bigger blow has been the US decision to subsidize the conversion of maize into ethanol to blend with gasoline. This wrongheaded policy … gives a 51% tax credit for each gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates a minimum of 7.5 billion gallons of domestic renewable-fuel production … overwhelmingly … corn-based ethanol, by 2012. Consequently, up to a third of the US's Midwestern maize crop this year will be converted to ethanol, causing a cascade of price increases … (Worse still, use of ethanol instead of gasoline does little to reduce net carbon emissions once the energy-intensive full cycle of ethanol production is taken into account.)

The food price increases are pummelling poor food-importing regions … Several countries … have cut off their rice exports in response to high prices at home … Even small changes in food prices can push the poor into hunger and destitution … some of the greatest famines in history were caused not by massive declines in grain production but rather by losses in the purchasing power of the poor.

… measures should be taken in response to the food price crisis. First, the world should … fund a massive increase in Africa's food production. The needed technologies are available – high-yield seeds, fertilizer, small-scale irrigation – but the financing is not. The new African green revolution would initially subsidize peasant farmers' access to better technologies [… and …] help farm communities establish long-term microfinance institutions …

Second, the US should end its misguided corn-to-ethanol subsidies … Third, the world should support longer-term research into higher agricultural production. Shockingly, the Bush administration is proposing to sharply cut the US funding for tropical agriculture studies … just when that work is most urgently needed …

17 May 2008

Zen Mischievous Moments #139

Ten more questions to ask when the going gets boring ...
  1. How is it possible to have a civil war?
  2. If one synchronised swimmer drowns, do the rest drown, too?
  3. If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?
  4. If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
  5. Whose cruel idea was it for the word "Lisp" to have an "s" in it?
  6. Why are haemorrhoids called "haemorrhoids" instead of "asteroids"?
  7. Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot at them?
  8. If the "black box" flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole damn airplane made out of that stuff?
  9. If you spin an oriental man in a circle three times, does he become disoriented?
  10. Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?

[With thanks to Chris Palmer]

Quote: Einstein on God

The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless childish.

[Albert Einstein; Letter to Eric Gutkind, 1954]

16 May 2008

The Tea Drinker


The Tea Drinker, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 12/52 (2008 week 20)

Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563)

The other day for no apparent reason, I was reminded of this painting, which I had not seen for a while. I don't now even remember what it was that triggered the memory. Anyway I had to go and find a reproduction of it on the web. And I thought I'd share it as for some reason it is one of those paintings which just works for me, and has an almost magical effect. I think it must be something to do with the intricacy, the detail, and also the lighting; both of which are characteristic of Brueghel's work. Perhaps the lighting is especially what works for me, as 17th century Dutch sea paintings (eg. Cuyp and Vermeer) do much the same, as do the Norwich School of painters.

This Week's Meme: I Like to ...

Here's a meme which is currently doing the rounds; I've stolen it from Kellypuffs and little.red.boat. All you have to do is go to Google, type in "[your name] likes to" and then cut'n'paste the results. Ah, and add some explanation if you wish.

So apparently, Keith likes to …

... play tennis. False. I never did get tennis and the couple of times I’ve tried playing it I failed miserably. Squash, yes. Badminton, yes. But not tennis.

... take pictures. True. I’ve been taking photographs since my early teens, so about 45 years. And my photography is just as crap now as it was then, but I'm stupid enough to keep trying despite not having a single creative fibre in my body.

... shop. False. I dislike shopping. But I do like buying nice things and spending money.

... drink. True. I especially enjoy a few beers or a bottle of wine, but I’m not supposed to have it. And no I don’t binge drink and get legless -- I did that once when I was a student; it was horrible.

... regale us with his inadequacies but has a surreptitious flair for survival. I’m probably guilty of this; I’ll let you judge.

... tinker around with home projects. False. I don’t tinker around with anything practical; I have 10 left thumbs. I’m also lazy.

... get in on the party. False. I’m not really a party animal, though as a student I always wanted to be.

... think of himself as a tyrant, but really he's just a pussycat. I don’t know about the tyrant bit, I’m not aware of doing this. But yes, I’m a pussycat; anything for a quiet life; curl up in the duvet and sleep. :-)

... play his ukulele. This is a euphemism, right? If so then I’m as guilty as any other red-blooded male.

... sit and enjoy peace and quiet. True. The only thing is I get restless and guilty because I'm "wasting time".

... go running and fishing. False. I hate running; it’s boring and bad for the knees; I don’t do things I don’t enjoy. Fishing, unless one is doing it for food, seems unnecessarily cruel as well as boring.

... randomly strip naked. Guilty. But then I was brought up as a naturist.

... ski, sail and travel. False. I hated travel when I was younger, but I don’t mind it so much now. But I'm too sane to go skiing and I hate water so sailing is out.

... plan ahead. Always. That’s why I work as a project manager. Remember the 5 Ps: Perfect planning prevents pathetic performance.

... build models. False. I keep telling you I have 10 left thumbs.

I'll tag anyone who is daft enough to play this silly game! :-)

10 May 2008

Insult of the Week

Dixon of Dock Green, in a comment over on Nanny Knows Best, perpetrates a wonderfully insulting description of the state of government in this country:

The marriage of government and celebrity, whereby various jobbing actors, minstrels and cook-boys seek to exert influence over policy...
(My emphasis.)

Brilliant!

09 May 2008

Stress

Jane Matera is a counsellor with Diabetes UK and she writes an interesting article in the charity's latest magazine about her theory that type 2 Diabetes is often triggered by people not dealing sufficiently well with the stresses of life.

I'm not going to delve into that subject here – I'm hardly qualified to do so, except by having type 2 Diabetes myself. What interested me as much in Matera's article is that she actually spells out the stresses we face in modern life compared with earlier generations. Not a surprising list but interesting to see it gathered together in one place.

Humans have always had stress. The hormones involved in the fight or flight response protected early humans from the dangers of the prehistoric world. Some degree of stress is creative, stimulating and necessary to a life fully lived. But [...] our bodies are only equipped to cope with short bursts during periods of acute danger.

In our society, I feel there are many everyday stresses that might have been unthinkable 50 – or even 10 or 20 – years ago. They are accepted as immutable facts of life [and] not challenged or much discussed.

This normalisation means we maybe living for long periods [...] at a level of stress [...] considerably too high for our minds and bodies to safely cope with. And this is at a time when the traditional human support structures – such as the community, work security, the extended family, stable relationships and religious faith – have changed, been depleted or are not available to us.

Common modem stresses that have been normalised include:

  • long-distance commutes, either through heavy traffic or at the mercy of public transport when we are most tired and vulnerable, either at the too – early start or exhausted end of the day
  • the working world of short-term contracts, constant appraisal and machine-led environments may seem practical and economical but can take a human toll
  • the pressure on mothers of even young children to work outside the home to meet the demands of an inflated mortgage
  • mechanisation, which means humans are forced to adopt methods of communication and behaviour dictated by the machine rather than those that are innate
  • mobile phones, iPods, ATMs, etc., disconnect the individual from human contact
  • the fear of a terrorist attack - not a new phenomenon, but one that seems intensified of late in urban areas
  • the completely rational fear of air travel, which is seen as neurotic because of its ubiquity.

How do we fix it? Unless there is a paradigm shift in society and the way our economy works sadly I suspect all we can do is to mitigate these stresses in ways which work for us individually. And hope this is enough to keep Diabetes – and depression – at bay. I see no magic panacea.

Food for thought.

07 May 2008

Flying Blind


Flying Blind, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 11/52 (2008 week 19).
You might want to view this at a larger size.

05 May 2008

Redesign of Farming

Some weeks ago I wrote about an article in Focus (a UK popular science magazine) about what some see as the pressing need to redesign our farming paradigm (see here). I was heartened over the weekend to see that several luminaries, including Professor Tim Lang, have taken up the cause in the RSA's quarterly journal – albeit in a more measured way, but that's as one would expect from such an august institution. The gloss to their article, The root of the problem, reads:

Food security has risen up the political agenda, but sufficiency of supply is not the whole challenge [...] Instead, we should look at 'food capacity' and the sustainability of our models of production and consumption.

Good to see the issue is climbing up the agenda. All we have to do now is get agribusiness and our vested-interest politicians to take note.

Spring Through the Study Windows


Spring Through the Windows, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Today being logical May Day in the UK (ie. public holiday on first Monday in May rather than on May Day itself) I thought we'd have a picture of actual May Day. This was the view through my study windows on May Day: bright evening sun, dark cloud and apple blossom.

04 May 2008

Alphabet Meme

Let’s start my very own meme and see if it has any genetic fitness. Here’s what you do:
  • Write the opening sentences of a story using predominantly the words of the NATO phonetic alphabet*.
  • Post it on your weblog/website with a copy of these instructions and a link back to this site.
  • Optionally leave a comment to this post with a forward link to your offering.
  • Tag three others (more if you like) by leaving a comment on their weblog.

OK so here’s my offering:

It was November; the season when X-rays echo through the sierra. Returning from the Delta of Kilo, Romeo and Juliet met alpha male Papa Zulu for whisky in the Quebec Bravo Hotel only to find Oscar’s Yankee uniform unsuitable for their foxtrots and tangos. Meanwhile at Lima, Charlie and Mike were planning golf in India with Victor

Not hugely inspired; I’m sure you can all do better!

Oh and ('cos I think your zany humour will enjoy doing this) I tag: Jilly at jillysheep, Kelly at Kellypuffs - Not Just for Breakfast Anymore and Tina at Momentary lapses of insanity... – oh and to encourage her to blog more I'll include the spousal unit, Noreen at Norn’s Notebook.

* Just in case you don’t know it off by heart the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whisky, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.

02 May 2008

Quote: Spring

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

[The Zenrin]