24 April 2010

Quote: Victorious

If sometimes you feel a little useless, offended or depressed, always remember that you were once the fastest and most victorious little sperm out of millions.

[unknown author]

Are children traumatised by nudity?

This question is posed by Vanessa Woods in her blog Your Inner Bonobo.  As an anthropologist Woods, an Australian living in America, clearly doesn’t understand the default American assumption that the answer to the question is “Yes”.
This is something about America that puzzles me. What do children stare at for the first year of their life? I think it's a female breast. Did [male student] think at the sight of naked breasts, every child under 5 would be lining up for a feed, like at an ice cream truck?  What is it, exactly, about breasts, that would be so terrifying to children?

[...] at no time have I seen a woman in public pull down her top and breast feed her child - which is totally common place in oz. And my friends here have told me it's not socially acceptable.

Can someone explain it to me? Why is a wardrobe malfunction [as per Janet Jackson] a threat
to moral authority?

I fear that the explanation for America and the UK lies in the puritanism of the religious right. And of course as I’ve blogged before (for instance here) this seems to me and many others to be the root cause of the high rate of teenage pregnancy etc. in these two countries.

But what is the real answer to the question?  Are children really traumatised by nudity?

No, of course they’re not! Isn’t it daft just to suggest that they are?

In a recent-ish article in British Naturism’s magazine (BN, issue 182, Winter 2009; I’ve naughtily put a copy of the article online as it isn’t otherwise freely accessible to non-members) Roni Fine
explores the issues that surround the presumption from the outside world that simply being nude means a lot of saucy goings-on.

Yes a large part of the article is about the erroneous perception that the naturist movement is, by its very nature, merely a cover for “adult” activity.  It isn’t, and there’s the problem. Roni Fine goes on ...
Too many people [...] just cannot differentiate nudity from sex. If only they would visit a typical naturist club [...]

The times I have heard people say it is “disgusting” to be undressed in front of children. They use [children] to warrant their own outrage [...]

Outrage, I might add, which the same people cannot articulate when asked. Fine continues ...
Children are not associating what they see with anything remotely sexual; they just see bodies. They grow up with a realistic attitude to the human form. I envy their upbringing.

And further on here’s the crux of the whole problem at an individual level: basically people don’t think things through:
[...] something is only “rude” if you perceive it to be so. How can the natural body be deemed as rude? We all have one, it is how we are made and it isn’t “rude” until someone tells us it is ... so who are they to decide? And why let them dictate their own hang ups onto other people?

As BN’s researched briefing paper Children and Nudity says:
Young children are completely oblivious to their own nudity. Consider the archetypal nude toddler in the supermarket with a trail of discarded clothing behind them.

As they get older they are taught that clothing must be worn but until about age 10 or 11 it doesn't really take hold. They will quite happily go naked when the circumstances are appropriate.

As children enter their teens they become more body conscious and unless they have prior experience of naturism they are usually nervous about participating.

Many naturist children become more reticent as they enter their teens but then teenagers are notorious for not wanting to do the things that their parents do. They do usually continue to participate, at least for activities such as swimming, and many return to naturism when they become more mature [...]

There is no evidence that children are any more at risk at naturists events than at equivalent textile events. Indeed in some ways they are safer.

Let me end on a personal note ...

I admit I had a somewhat bohemian upbringing, back in the 1950s and 60s. So it should be no surprise that when I was about 9 or 10 my parents were foresighted enough to organise a couple of summer holidays at a nudist club in Essex. I was totally not bothered by this; indeed I enjoyed the nudity and running round in the sun all day. Yes I realised that little girls were constructed differently to me; just as there was a difference between my parents’ anatomies. Beyond that I couldn’t care less; if anything I was more amused by the size and shape of peoples’ bums (typical small boy!). And that was the point; it was all part of my education to make me aware that people were all different and to be comfortable with nudity. It succeeded. I have retained that comfort ever since, even (as I recall) through the embarrassed teenage years.

So there we seem to have an answer.  Are children traumatised by nudity? Absolutely not – unless the adults they’re with tell them they are.

Adults ... get a life!

4-18-10 Meme


4-18-10 Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Here are the 12 questions, and my answers, to this week's Flickr meme:

1. Night Owl or Morning Person? Neither, but slightly more lark than owl
2. What is the one thing that will make you happy? Beer
3. If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be? God, except he doesn’t exist so I can’t
4. If you somehow became the opposite sex, what is the first thing you would do? Have sex; like probably most men I want to know what sex is like for a woman. Oh I'll do all the other thigs as well, but let's start at the beginning!
5. What time is it right now? Later than I’d like
6. Random word. Go Vespiary
7. What is the plural form of "Starbucks"? Poisoning
8. If you won 40 Billion in the lottery, what is the first thing you'd do? Faint
9. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course but you will never know
10. X-men or Spiderman? Xanthene; makes as much sense as the choices offered!
11. Sword or gun?Penis. Remember "Make love not war"? Or to put it another way: "The penis mightier than the sword".
12. What do you do for fun on your day off? Be depressed

1. NO ONE LOVES ME & NEITHER DO I, 2. Adnams, 3. nothing, 4. Stephanie1, 5. Beware the Moon, 6. vespiary - under construction, 7. Poison Midnight, 8. faint pink lips, 9. You'll never know if he'll have body hair!, 10. The Secret to Cloning — Revealed!, 11. Penis_girl, 12. Soul

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

23 April 2010

Crocheting Robot Mice

I must share the following; it's from the "Feedback" column of last week's (17 April) issue of New Scientist.
We are pleased to see that science is well represented among the contenders for the Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year. The top titles for 2009 were announced last month by UK magazine The Bookseller, which organises the prize.

Overall winner, with 42 per cent of the 4500 public votes cast, was Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Diana Taimina. This beat off competition from Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter by David Crompton, Governing Lethal Behaviour in Autonomous Robots by Ronald Arkin and The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease by Ellen Scherl and Maria Dubinski.

The less obviously scientific What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua? by Tara Jensen-Meyer and Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich by James Yannes came second and third, respectively.

Horace Bent, custodian of the prize at The Bookseller, admitted that his personal favourite had been the spoons book, but went on to acknowledge that: "The public proclivity towards non-Euclidian needlework proved too great for the Third Reich to overcome."

Philip Stone, the prize administrator, said he thought that "what won it for Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes is that, very simply, the title is completely bonkers."

The Diagram prize has been running since 1978. Its inaugural winner also had a scientific theme: it was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.

The mind boggles at the mere thought of reading almost any of those titles!

Cherry Blossom


Single Cherry Blossom , originally uploaded by kcm76.

Yay! Spring is definitely here, at last. All the cherry blossom is out; the birch catkins swing low among the new bright green leaves. And the apple blossom is not far behind -- if the weather stays fine and warm (which it is forecast to) the apple tree will be in full bloom before the end of the weekend - I can just see pink buds breaking this afternoon. Wouldn't it be lovely if it stayed like this all summer - warm sun and clear blue skies?!

22 April 2010

Anthony Powell's Dance on the Weblog

In the last few days I've discovered a couple of recent, and very gratifying, weblog postings about Anthony Powell's Dance - which readers will know is "one of my hobbies".  Rather than post everything again here, I'll refer those who are interested to my alert on the Anthony Powell News weblog

18 April 2010

A Question of Sandblasting

There's a lot of fuss around at the moment about the inconvenience being caused by a bit of Icelandic ash causing disruption to air travel.  There are, naturally two major schools of thought.

First.  Volcanic ash cases major problems with jet engines (see at least two near-miss major disasters in the 1980s).  Given that the ash is being blown across northern Europe, one of the most densely used pieces of air space in the world, we have to exercise real caution and ground flights.  We must not take the risk of anythinggoing wrong; after all we don't want another Locherbie-style disaster (different cause, of course, but similar effect) and inconveniencing a few (hundred thousand) people.is better than the repercussions of killing a couple of plane loads.

Second.  The naysayers are of the belief that this is health and safety gone barmy.  They contend (seemingly on little evidence) that a disaster is unlikely and that the world economy cannot be held to ransom in this way by disruption that could last weeks (at best) by a load of risk-averse numpties.  In their favour there are reoprts that KLM have flown a plane through the ash cloud in Dutch air space without any damage (Lufthansa have also reportedly flown test flights); KLM are now pressing for the restrictions to be lifted.

As always there is a degree of logic on both sides.  How does one weigh the cost (monetary or otherwise) of the potential for a major disaster against the inconvenience of not flying?  This is hard and depends entirely on one's underlying philosophical approach to life (see the last section of this).  I feel sure when the original "no fly" order was given the expectation was that the ash cloud would clear in a day or so.  Now it seems the disruption may last weeks, even months or years, depending on the course of the eruption.

Is the disruption of air travel over much of northern Europe viable (even justified) for a protracted period?  The powers that be seem to be working on the assumption that they have no option and that they have to be risk-averse.  The naysayers contend that such disruption is not justified.  Let's look at some aspects of the disruption:
  1. There are large numbers of people, who are through no fault of their own, are in the wrong place.  They're either on holiday or away from home on business and unable to return.  Or they are at home when they should be away on holiday, business or attending to family emergencies.  Some are managing to travel, and anyone on mainland Europe has a chance of travelling over land or sea – capacity permitting.  But anyone across the sea, eg. in the Canary Islands (as is at least one friend), in the Far East, the Americas or Africa is basically stuffed until air travel is resumed.  Clearly anyone who is away and cannot get home may have issues with employment, studies, animal welfare, supply of essential medicines etc.
  2. This naturally has a knock-on effect on business.  Business people can't travel to/from where they (think they) need to be.  Is this a really justified concern?  I suggest that in these days of efficient audio- and video-confereceing this should not be a concern for a large number of businesses.  For the last several years before I retired I did almost no business travel despite running geographically spread teams – and I don't just mean people spread across the UK; I regulalry worked with, managed or worked for people right across Europe, in South Africa, the USA, India and Australia without once leaving the UK!  What it does demand though is (a) more thought about organising teams and tasks, (b) reasonable telecomms and IT facilities, (c) most importantly a "can do" attitude on the part of those involved.  By reducing travel in this way organisations can save millions of (select currency of your choice); that's millions a month for large companies (in 2005-ish just one sector of the company I used to work saved over $1m a month in travel).  Clearly there are jobs which cannot be done remotely: anything which requires specifically my bodily presence, for instance anything medical or where I (and not anyone else) have to handle a specific object; but the range is increasingly small.
  3. The third aspect is the disruption of trade – or at least that part of it which has to be done by air-freighting stuff around the globe. This of course includes food supplies and the postal service.  People are beginning to worry that we are going to run out of food.  While my feeling is that this is unlikely, I concede that our choice of food may be restricted somewhat with anything being air-freighted around the globe dropping off the market – prices will get too inflated to be viable or it won't be possible to get the commodity from source to shop quickly enough. Indeed all prices may rise as a consequence of supply and demand.  Is this a bad thing?  Well clearly price rises are a bad thing, but beyond that it depends how one views food miles.  For my part I suggest the reduction of food miles is a good thing.
It's a tough call, and one I'm very glad I don't have to make.  Who would want to be the person responsible for either closing air space and risking such massive disruption or (perhaps worse) saying it's OK to fly and then watching 100, 10, even just one, 747 fall out of the sky?  Undoubtedly there is no right answer, but I can't help feeling I too would err on the side of caution.

So what of the long-term effects of all this?  Well the following seems at least plausible:
  1. There will be a permenant downturn in business travel, as businesses discover they can save lots of cash for a small investment in remote working.  Bad for the airlines; good for business generally and probably good for the work-life balance of many professionals.
  2. There will also be a further downturn in foreign holidays – at least where air travel is required.  Again bad for the airlines and the holiday companies; good for trail/ferry companies, the indigenous holiday sector and maybe even, longer-term, for heavy engineering like shipbuilding.
  3. Also there might, with luck, be a downturn in the amount of food we ship (specifically air-freight) around the world; either because we get used to doing without it, because it can't be shipped fast enough or because Joe Public won't pay the inflated prices.  Undoubtedly this will be bad for the producers and the airlines.  But it should be good for local farmers who might be encouraged to put land to better use and it could lead towards the much needed restructuring of world-wide agriculture (which I've written about before, see for example here and here).
  4. All of this leads to a long-term downturn in aviation with (if ones believes in it) a positive effect on climate change and probably several airlines going out of business.  
As one of my friends on Facebook has observed: "perhaps we need to get used to the fact that the modern ease of transporting ourselves [and our stuff – K] across continents is not something that should be taken for granted".

And as a final thought: who can now justify the expansion of Heathrow, or indeed any other airport?

14 April 2010

08 April 2010

Join Airplot

An unusual piece of campaigning from me as in general I don't actively promote specific campaigns.

Airplot is a small piece of land acquired by Greenpeace, in the village of Sipson, on the edge of London's Heathrow Airport. If Heathrow's third runway goes ahead, both Airplot and Sipson would be destroyed. You can find more details of what Airplot is about here.

So far, an incredible 77,500 people have signed up as beneficial owners to Airplot, along with Greenpeace, Greenpeace, Emma Thompson, Alistair McGowan and Zac Goldsmith. The target is to reach 100,000 beneficial owners by 1st May. Being a beneficial owner costs nothing but makes life far more difficult if the land has to be aquired by the government (or its agents) to build Heathrow's Third Runway.

If Heathrow expands, Sipson and the surrounding area (homes, farmland and jobs) would be completely destroyed and the airport would become the single biggest source of climate pollution in the country. Although the current government's plans for Heathrow received a major setback in the courts last month (see here and here) the battle is not over; the project has to be completely scrapped.

If the incoming government on 6th May tries to restart the project, Greenpeace will continue challenging the proposals through the planning system and if necessary by peaceful direct action.

I signed up as a beneficial owner a long time ago because the Third Runway is something I feel very strongly against, both from an environmental standpoint and because I am far from convinced the suggested expansion of air transport capacity is required.

Will you also help the environment and support Londoners by becoming a beneficial owner: an Airplotter? There's just three weeks left to do this; when the deeds are finalised on 1st May the names of all Airplotters will be included and everyone will be issued with a certificate of beneficial ownership.

Sign up here.

The Truth is Out – or Maybe Not

Now I don't normally buy the Daily Telegraph, but then I don't normally buy a daily paper at all – it's all just too "Meh" and tedious. But I broke with tradition yesterday as I had a hospital appointment and time to waste. And I have to say that I wasn't disappointed; the general standard of journalism to interest me was, as expected, sadly lacking – I couldn't even get a decent start on the crossword.

However the "Torygraph" did contain an absolutely scathing OpEd piece by Simon Heffer about the upcoming election and the usefulness (my word) of the main protagonist parties under the banner "The only thing you won't hear in the next 30 days is the truth".

Being the paper it is you would expect the piece to be anti-Labour, the ruling whatever-the-opposite-of-an-elite-is. And it was. And anti-Lib Dem. And it was. And pro-Tory. Was it heck as like. The Tories came in for a mauling as well. In fact the headline for the piece almost says it all; it is completed really only by the sub-head: "The parties' cosy consensus will leave millions of voters effectively disenfranchised". Let's sum it up by saying that Heffer is not impressed. Not at all he isn't. Try this ...
[...] election campaigns are about assertion and not fact. Much of what you encounter in the next 30 days will be propaganda, and should be treated accordingly. Your intelligence will be insulted in a most insolent fashion. The truth will be kept from you on every possible occasion. Artifice will entirely overpower substance.

And that's just the opening paragraph. Let's read on ...
The Labour Party has failed utterly in government. It has not merely wrecked the economy, with long-term consequences: it has taken a path of repairing the damage that will, through its emphasis on high taxes, borrowing and public spending, cause more harm before it does any good – if it does any good. It has also been derelict on matters of such significance as our schools, our universities, law and order, immigration and our Armed Forces. It lies about its record [...]

Yet, despite this atrocity, the Conservative Party has, in the five years since its last debacle, done remarkably little to convince the public that it understands what is going on, let alone that it has any concept of how to make our country more prosperous, better run and generally happier [...]

And the Liberal Democrats? They have a flexibility of principle that leaves even that of Mr Cameron standing; a record of opportunism and incompetence in local government (the only place they have had any power) that puts Mr Brown's moral and intellectual inadequacies in the shade [...]

Oh dear! And yet it gets worse ...
All that is certain [...] is that we shall end up being governed by a social democratic government of some sort [...] because the likely programmes and conduct of another Labour or a new Conservative administration will be broadly social democratic. By that, I mean that the state will play a large role in the management of our country; there will [be] a strong redistributive element to policy; levelling down, whether through the education system or the welfare state, will continue. What this means is that a significant proportion of the electorate that wants none of these things will have been effectively disfranchised. [my emphasis] [...]

For the frustration of the non-social democratic majority [...] has only just begun. No one from the main parties will tell the truth about the need to sack hundreds of thousands of people on the public payroll in order to ensure we live within our means. Nobody will tell the truth about how lower taxes increase revenue, because there are too many cheap votes in bashing bankers who earn lots of money. Nobody will properly defend capitalism as an essential ingredient of a free society. Nobody will champion selective education, which gives such a chance in life to bright children from poor homes, and nobody will be truthful about the pointlessness of much university education.

Nobody will dare to be radical about the corrupt effects of the welfare state. Nobody will take the radical approach needed to counter the results of unlimited immigration. Above all [...] nobody will confront the public with the realities of our membership of a European Union governed by the Treaty of Lisbon [...]

All these things matter to people who are honest, hard-working, love their country, and seek only to be allowed to get on with their lives, undisturbed by the state, and to keep more of what they earn [...]

And finally ...
That still leaves the problem of how Britain will ever be run properly, whether by a tribal introvert who wishes to suffocate us with his "values", or a PR spiv whose "big idea" is to appoint 5,000 commissars to assist the development of "communities". There will be more absurdity yet.

As one of my friends on Facebook said the other day: in a month from now a different set of the wrong lizards will be running the country. After all, whatever they say and whatever they stand for, they're all lizards and they're all wrong. It's called politics. Meh!

06 April 2010

Welcome to the Quinquennial Donkey Derby

So at last they’re not only under starter’s orders but the race for the next parliament has begun. No more jostling at the starting tape, this is for earnest now. And already the mud-slinging has started, albeit in a muted way.

There’s an interesting 10 point guide from the BBC on what to watch for during the race. Watch the race with our indispensable guide ...

It really matters this time. So we’re always told. Guess it does matter more this time given the fact that the country is bankrupt.  Or does it matter?  (See "policy" below.)

The TV debates will dominate. Yes, dominate the boredom, most like.

The internet will also dominate. Yes we’ll all die under a welter of email, SMS, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other such spheroids. That’s in addition to the usual sheaf of paper stuffed through our letterbox, less than nothing in the papers (no, not even fish & chips; nanny banned them, remember!) and extra drivel on the airwaves.

Slogans will matter less. Did they ever matter more? At all? Mind this could be true; the sound-bite may be less important because lots of people are learning to see through them.

Policy will matter more. Oh, really? You mean any of them have a clue what their policies are? Or how to implement them? And even if they do know, are one lot really much different from the others? Aren't they all their to feather their own nests?

The battle of the wives. I hear the bottom of a large barrel being scraped. Or are they auditioning for “Sex and the City”? Or to replace Kim and Aggie? Or Nigella Lawson? Someone pass the bucket please.

It could get personal. Delete “could”; insert “will”.

The local factor. It never made much difference before; don’t see why it will now. We’re much more global now; much more knowing about what our masters (tell us) they’re up to. Seems to me that means there’ll be even more voting for the party rather than on local issues.

Lies will be told. This is probably the only certainty here. But wait ...

Nobody knows the result. This should be a certainty too. But do fat ladies sing? Will anyone even know the result when the results are in? As the BBC says, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. My money’s on a hung parliament and nothing being able to be done for about 2 years until it all crumbles, by which time the country will be in even deeper doo-doo.

Goggles down for a full house!

05 April 2010

Ancient Woodland

Original image "Magic in the Woods" by H2O Alchemist

One of the organisations to which I belong is the Woodland Trust, a charity devoted to the protection of  Britain's ancient woodlands and the creation of new woodland.  The latest issue of their newsletter Broadleaf has an article on the importance of biodiversity especially as related to woodland.  It contains quotes from zoologist and wildlife presenter Chris Packham, who will be familiar to many in the UK from his TV appearances.  Here are some very edited snippets:
In December 2008, Natural England, the Government's conservation agency, issued a stark warning [...] “Large parts of England remain in biodiversity freefall and we are still witnessing alarming declines in species and habitats” [...]

[This is not] news to [...] Chris Packham [...] "It doesn't just mean rare species, like giant pandas, red squirrels or dormice; areas of high species diversity, such as rainforests or ancient woods; iconic creatures like lions and badgers; or economically important species, like cod. Biodiversity encompasses the diversity of all living things, from human beings to micro-organisms, the diversity of all the habitats in which they live and the genetic diversity of individuals within a species".

Packham, who is excited by everything that slithers, slimes, scratches and stings, and thus counts hornets among his favourite animals, has a particular axe to grind about what some people call 'pest species'. "If they exist in your community they do so because there's a role for them to play [...] And if you consider yourself someone who wants to promote biodiversity that has to include everything: pigeons, wasps, rats, the lot".

He has no time either for those who complain loudly about sparrowhawks preying on garden songbirds. "Having sparrowhawks snatching blue tits from your feeder is a good thing [...] sparrowhawks are at the top of the food chain and don't exist unless there's enough food around" [...]

Biodiversity is a fundamental part of the Earth's life-support system. It provides many basic natural services for humans, such as fresh water, fertile soil and clean air. It helps pollinate our flowers and crops, clean up our waste and put food [and drugs] on the table [...]

"We need to think more broadly about biodiversity, and the simplest way is via healthy habitats [...] Ancient woodland [...] has more diversity than any other terrestrial habitat, and we should never forget that a third of all species that live on our native trees live on them when the trees are dead or dying”.

This largely reflects my own thoughts and beliefs.

I especially like the comment about sparrowhawks catching songbirds. As Noreen observes: "What are they supposed to do?  It's not as if they can go to Sainsbury's to buy a cheese sandwich for their lunch!"

I love too the comment on hornets. I meet this horror of buzzy, stingy things all too often: "We've got a lot of wasps. How do we get rid of them?" Unless you are life-threateningly allergic to wasp stings (as I know some, like my late mother-in-law, are) the answer is: "You don't. Leave them alone and they'll leave you alone. They are wonderful predators and without them we would be knee deep in caterpillars etc."  I've actually seen a wasp catch a bumblebee on the wing; bring it down; snip off it's wings, legs and head; and carry away the body as food for its larvae. That was worth seeing just for the sheer skill and frightening ruthlessness.  Wasps (and all this applies equally to hornets) are also brilliant at destroying dead wood: we have some 12 inch-ish diameter cedar logs by our pond; in a couple of years the local wasps have totally destroyed a couple of them; they use the chewed up wood as paper for nest-building.  It's wonderful engineering and recycling!

Nature is red in tooth and claw, and we should cherish and celebrate that.  It's what keeps us alive!

04 April 2010

4-4-10 Meme


4-4-10 Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

So here are this week's 12 questions and answers:

1. In your opinion, which country produces the best wine? France
2. What is your current favourite song? Oh, for today, let’s choose the Moody Blues, “Nice to be Here”
3. How would you describe your sense of humour? Eccentric
4. Adidas or Nike? Neither
5. Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe? Neither have ever done anything for me
6. Lemon or lime? Today it's lemon, but it’s marginal and depends what for
7. How many megapixels on your camera on your phone? No clue; don’t care; don’t use it; I have a camera!
8. What do you think God looks like? As he doesn’t exist he can’t look like anything - probably
9. Do you like Pirates of the Caribbean? Only if barbecued
10. What's your favourite pasta? Seafood linguini
11. Apples or oranges? Apples
12. What is the best airline company? Whichever has magic carpets

1. Sarlat - Frankreich - Le Moyen-Âge - france, 2. Corfe Castle, 3. Winnebago DaVinci, 4. WILD DIVA, 5. We Can Do It!, 6. Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, But the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat., 7. i don't care., 8. righteous blasphemy, 9. Pirates of the Caribbean - HMS Interceptor makes way under a Full Moon, 10. Linguini Pescatore, 11. Clouds in my apple, 12. magic carpet ride

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

Air Baths

Thinking yesterday about nudism, I recalled some connection with the great American statesman, scientist, diplomat and thinker Benjamin Franklin.  And indeed it is so for Franklin was in the habit of taking a daily "air bath", as he called it.  Almost 250 years ago on 28 July 1768, when in London, Franklin writes to the French physician, Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg:
I greatly approve the epithet which you give, in your letter of the 8th of June, to the new method of treating the small-pox, which you call the tonic or bracing. method; I will take occasion from it to mention a practice to which I have accustomed myself. You know the cold bath has long been in vogue here as a tonic; but the shock of the cold water has always appeared to me, generally speaking, as too violent, and I have found it much more agreeable to my constitution to bathe in another element, I mean cold air. With this view I rise almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but, on the contrary, agreeable; and, if I return to bed afterwards, before I dress myself, as sometimes happens, I make a supplement to my night's rest of one or two hours of the most pleasing sleep that can be imagined. I find no ill consequences whatever resulting from it, and that at least it does not injure my health, if it does not in fact contribute much to its preservation. I shall therefore call it for the future a bracing or tonic bath.

Elsewhere Franklin also writes:
In summer-nights, when I court sleep in vain I often get up and sit at the open window or at the foot of my bed, stark-naked for a quarter of an hour. That simple expedient removes the difficulty (whatever its cause), and upon returning to bed I can generally rely upon getting two or three hours of most refreshing sleep.

Let us remember too that Franklin was no mean inventor.  Amongst other things he gave us: bifocals, the flexible urinary catheter, the lightning conductor, an especially efficient design of wood-burning stove, the odometer, America's first public library as well as hugely increasing our understanding of electricity and mapping the Gulf Stream.  And as if that wasn't enough he was one of the founding fathers of the United States.

Who would doubt the wisdom of such a man?

03 April 2010

ABC of Me

I found this one ages ago and keep meaning to do it.  So at last here is an ABC of me ...

Age: 59
Bed: King size; if the bedroom was bigger we'd probably have a bigger bed
Chore you hate: all of them except cooking
Dog's name: Sue; went to the great kennel in the sky 40 years ago
Essential start your day item: Tea
Favourite colours: Red, yellow, green
Gold or Silver: Silver; it's a pity is is so soft
Height: 1.8m
Instruments you [wish you could] play: I always fancied the trombone, or something odd like a serpent, or a jazz-style double bass
Job title: Resident Idiot
Kids: None; phew!
Living arrangements: A house that looks like a jumble sale
Mom's name: Dora
Nicknames: None that I’ll admit to ;-)
Overnight hospital stay other than birth: Not many, actually: sleep clinic a couple of times, appendectomy, sinus operation
Pet Peeve: Politicians and the religious
Quote from a movie and/or book: “It'll pass, Sir, like other days in the Army" [Anthony Powell; The Soldier’s Art]
Right or left handed: Right and only right
Siblings: None
Time you wake up: 0630 hrs on swimming days
Underwear: Boxers, when I have to; nothing if I'm at home or wearing shorts
Vegetable you dislike: Sweetcorn
Ways you run late: Travel delays are about the only thing which ever makes me late
X-rays you've had: Mostly dental; but there have been others: sinuses, bowel, kidneys, foot
Yummy food you make: Curry
Zodiac sign: Capricorn

Make of that what you will.

02 April 2010

Hume's Guillotine

Astrophysicist Sean Carroll, over at Cosmic Variance, wrote an interesting piece on moral philosophy a few days ago. Carroll was reviewing/commenting on a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk by Sam Harris in which, according to Carroll "he [Harris] claims that science can tell us what to value, or how to be moral".

Now I'm not concerned with the actual content of Harris's talk, nor the arguments subsequent upon Carroll's comments, which you can find in the links from here and here.

My concern is to highlight the interesting proposition in moral philosphy that you can't derive an "ought" from an "is". This appears to have been first discussed by philosopher David Hume around 1739 and has become known as Hume's Guillotine. Wikipedia quotes book III, part I, section I of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

In case you didn't follow that (yep, I struggled too!), here's Carroll's version from the final paragraphs of his Cosmic Variance piece (remember he's commenting on Harris's talk):
In the real world, when we disagree with someone else’s moral judgments, we try to persuade them to see things our way; if that fails, we may (as a society) resort to more dramatic measures like throwing them in jail. But our ability to persuade others that they are being immoral is completely unaffected – and indeed, may even be hindered – by pretending that our version of morality is objectively true [...]

The unfortunate part of this is that Harris says a lot of true and interesting things, and threatens to undermine the power of his argument by insisting on the objectivity of moral judgments. There are not objective moral truths (where "objective" means "existing independently of human invention"), but there are real human beings with complex sets of preferences. What we call "morality" is an outgrowth of the interplay of those preferences with the world around us, and in particular with other human beings. The project of moral philosophy is to make sense of our preferences, to try to make them logically consistent, to reconcile them with the preferences of others and the realities of our environments, and to discover how to fulfill them most efficiently. Science can be extremely helpful, even crucial, in that task. We live in a universe governed by natural laws, and it makes all the sense in the world to think that a clear understanding of those laws will be useful in helping us live our lives [...] When Harris talks about how people can reach different states of happiness, or how societies can become more successful, the relevance of science to these goals is absolutely real and worth stressing.

Which is why it's a shame to get the whole thing off on the wrong foot by insisting that values are simply a particular version of empirical facts. When people share values, facts can be very helpful to them in advancing their goals. But when they don't share values, there's no way to show that one of the parties is "objectively wrong". And when you start thinking that there is, a whole set of dangerous mistakes begins to threaten. It's okay to admit that values can't be derived from facts [...]

All of which seems about right to me; as is the corollary: you can't derive an "is" from an "ought", or in words of Flannery O’Connor "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it".

60 Years Ago


In turning out some papers at my mother's bungalow, I came across a couple of pages of badly typed text characteristic of my father. Reading the text it turns out to be the start of (I feel) a slightly romanticised version of my parents' experiences of the garden etc. on moving into my childhood home in September 1950. My father must have written it in 1967. I've tidied the text up and am reproducing it here for posterity, should he be interested.
When we moved to Waltham Cross in September 1950 it was like moving to the country. After living in a flat in Camden Town, it was wonderful to be able to walk out of the house into the garden, although it had been neglected for more than 6 months.

I resolved to keep (some sort of) an account of the wildlife that came to visit us, for although only 12 miles from London we were on the edge of the northern suburbs and open country was not far away.

Over the years this has changed. More and more people have come to live here, and during the last 8 years, since a second station was opened and the line electrified, the population has increased enormously and we are now well in the suburbs.

Our small garden, 16 feet wide by 80-100 feet long, was cut in two by a central path. Immediately outside the kitchen door there were several ramshackle sheds. And a wire fence divided the small patch of grass from the so-called kitchen garden, which contained most of the soft fruits, a very well pruned pear tree, and one enormous sunflower.

It was several years before the pear tree fruited properly, and when we found it was a Conference pear we were overjoyed. It has grown to a beautiful shape and is a joy to behold when it blooms in April. In autumn it normally sheds its leaves without much change of colour, but it sometimes surprises us and in November 196? [the year is unreadable - K] was more beautiful in gold leaf than it was in flower in spring. It held these golden leaves for several days and shed a sunny light over all the garden. Then in two days it was bare and the ground beneath was almost knee deep in gold. It is one thing I would be very sorry to leave. [See above for a painting of the pear tree by my mother - K]

During that first winter we were busy with the house and having a baby [that was me – K], and the garden was left to itself. I hung up cheese for the tits to feed on and they came to feed, lifting the cheese up to the branch on which they were standing and pecking away at it. The one enormous sunflower was a fine bird table, and tits, Wrens and Greenfinches all came to take the seeds. I was sorry when it became empty, it was such a feeding place for birds.

We made small excursions from the house and discovered that our lane led to grassy marshes bordering the River Lea. This lane is an old British track which comes from the hills of Hertfordshire. Once across the marsh there are corresponding tracks leading into the hills of Essex.

By April the weather was wonderful, and on the 26th there were swallows over the house, in the evening. On the 29th I heard a Cuckoo for the first time that year at 6 AM. There he was again the next morning at 6 AM and again at 3.45 in the afternoon. But the good weather was short lived and in May we had a second winter. In spite of this cold weather the hawthorns were in full blossom. And Yellow Deadnettle, Herb Robert and Holly were in flower in Theobalds Lane.

The summer was spent reorganising the garden. First the old sheds had to come down. Then once they were cleared and burnt, we were able to take up the central path and relay it. We decided that it should be straight at the bottom of the garden, for convenience of growing a few vegetables. But where we were going to make a lawn, a sweeping curve of crazy paving should follow the line of the flower border. This irregular border gave added interest to the long narrow garden.

We transplanted the fruit bushes to a bed between the lawn and the vegetables, and planted rambler roses along the fences. Now in the summer time when they are all in leaf, we have a green enclosure where we can relax in the sun.

In September that year [1951] I was doing some chores at the kitchen sink when a sudden disturbance caught my ear. Looking up I saw 12 Long-Tailed Tits in the apple tree. We had only once before seen long-tailed tits and that was in a Sussex copse. I hoped they had come to stay, but in a trice they had gone. In the next January they came again, but only to pass through. In the 17 years we have been here I have seen these birds only on these two occasions.

What my father doesn't mention in this are the coldness of the house, the regularly frozen pipes in winter (and his temper in having to deal with them before going to work), hot water thanks only to an Ideal boiler, open wood (or coal) fires, keeping chickens and the wonderful acres of rose nursery opposite our house which were sadly grubbed up for housing in the late 1950s. He does, though, hint at the delightfulness of the blackcurrants and raspberries from the garden.

Quoted text (c) Robert Edward Marshall, 1967

01 April 2010

Naturist Belief

Having mentioned naturism (again!) in my previous post, I thought it might be wise to reprint here the Naturist Beliefs, as documented on the British Naturism website.
Naturist Belief

Naturists believe that nudity is an enjoyable, natural and moral state which brings benefits to themselves and to society at large.

Decency and Shame
The human body in all its diversity is an object of intrinsic beauty of which the owner should be proud.
Simple nudity is not indecent, shameful, or immoral.

Children
Bringing up children to respect their own and others' bodies improves their well-being and fosters more responsible sexual behaviour as they grow up.
Children have a right to know what humans really look like.

Social Division and Respect
Naturism engenders self-respect and respect for others regardless of shape, age, gender, size, colour, or disability.
People should be accepted for who they are and not for what they wear.
Communal nudity discourages social barriers but clothing accentuates social differences.

Clothing
Clothing can provide needed protection but often it is unnecessary and it can be harmful.
Naturism transcends fashion.
In a tolerant society what to wear is a matter of personal choice.
Governments should promote toleration and not impose unnecessary restrictions on freedom.

Environment, Nature, and Quality of Life
Naturism encourages respect for, and harmony with, the environment.
Naturism can add to the quality of life through the enjoyment of simplicity.
Naturism can reduce impact on the environment.
As the BN page says in it's preamble:
Not every naturist will agree with all of it ... but that is no different from any other belief system.  For some naturists it will form part of a religion but for others it will be part of their philosophy or life.
I'll go along with the "philosophy of life" bit but not the "religion".  I'll also go along with 99% of the beliefs, even if I wouldn't weight them all equally.

What is this Thing Called Life?

I've stolen this meme from both My Life Inside and Bringing up Charlie mainly because I thought it might be a bit of harmless fun.

I'm not going to tag anyone – but anyone is welcome to do this meme and tag others as they see fit.

OK, so ...

I collect ... all sorts of dross, but mostly books.  Just books, books, books.  Interleaved with the occasional bit of technology and music and dross.  It's no wonder really our house is a good emulation of a distressed jumble sale: I buy new stuff and Noreen doesn't throw anything away.  Anybody got a month to spare to come round and sort it all out for us?  If so, bring a skip!

I can't live without ... well let's be honest we could all live without everything except occasional food and water.  But there are things without which we would struggle to feel life worthwhile.  For me this would include, but may not be limited to, Noreen, cats, good food, beer, books and access to the natural world.

My guilty pleasure is ... I don't have guilty pleasures!  Why are pleasures always supposed to be guilty anyway?  But I do have a few pleasures: sex, beer, erotica, cats, nudity.  If you think any of them are guilty, then that's your problem, not mine.  Guilt, like obscenity, is in the mind of the beholder.

Our house is filled with ... dross.  Piles of it.  And books.  See above.

I treasure my ... mind.  I am able to think; logically.  I was trained that way.  It saves me from all forms of Devil worshippers.  And as Noreen has said in the past "mind the size of the Albert Hall and he runs around in it".  Slight exaggeration, but flattering nonetheless.

Right now I can’t stop thinking about  ... well being a bloke the obvious answer is: sex.  After all aren't all men supposed to think of sex every 4 seconds or something daft.  More prosaically I'm contemplating all the useful things I should be doing instead of this.  Boring!

Currently I am reading ... the pile of books about 6 feet high beside the bed.  Books on science, mythology, Chaucer, Anthony Powell, Romney Marsh ... it's all there!

My favourite item of clothing is ... nothing.  Yes, that's right, I'm happiest in the nude.  Well I did have a Bohemian and naturist upbringing!  One of my underlying philosophies is: Nude when possible; clothed when necessary.  Sadly the necessary is all too frequent.

The last thing that really inspired me was ... Oh My God, That Britni's Shameless.  Whether you agree with the young lady or not (and it happens I do agree with a lot she says) she is so outspoken and tells it as she sees it, that she has made me question not only what I believe but also the extent to which, and how, I communicate this.

My comfort food is ... errr ... food?  Quite a few things fall into the comfort food category: fish and chips; sausages; almost anything in good cheese sauce, beer.  All of them hideously bad for one – but that's the point isn't it?

On my desk are ... PC, screen, keyboard and mouse; laser printer; backup disk array; filing trays; phone; piles of paperwork; pens; keys; mobile phone; rubber stamps; half a dozen CDs; teddy bear; fax machine; tissues; vase of daffodils; and a large mug of tea.  Yes it is a large desk (aka. worktop).

This weekend I will ... catch up on some sleep; try to empty the spare bedroom ready for house guests.

Tonight I must ... take delivery of the supermarket order.

I love what I do because ... as I'm retired I can do whatever the hell I like!!

So there it is.  Do with it as you will.  After all, it's free!