31 October 2011

Cartoon of the week

In honour (or not) of Halloween we have to have this week's cartoon a day early ...

Click the image for a larger version.

Word of the Week : Amniomancy


A method of divination whereby the future life of a child is predicted from the caul covering their head at birth. The colour and consistency of the caul are used to interpret the future. A vivid colour is supposed to reflect a vivid life whilst the opposite is also true.
A form of divination by examining the embryonic sac or amniotic fluid.
Divination using an after-birth.

And there's yet more ...

I just don't know where our local auction house finds this stuff, but here's a further selection of oddities from their latest sale.

A diamond and cabochon ruby nappy pin
[For the man who has everything]

A miniature of Nivrutti said to be by Hagargrundji

An advertising print dated 1903 showing a policeman on a horse drinking Cadbury’s cocoa “Most Refreshing”
[I knew that horses drink water, but not cocoa!]

A bottle of Nuits St Georges Grand Vin de la Cote D’Or 1955, a 2nd edition ‘The Heroes at the Victoria Cross’ painted by Harry Payne, twelve reliefs portraying the various deeds of daring valour performed by British soldiers from the Crimean War onwards, an old decorator’s handbook and a Tegamsee Bavarian doll, etc.

A George V silver square nut dish and an American nut dish similar ...
[Ooo-errr Missus]

South American embroidered ties and carved nuts ...

Five old metal underground signs, – via Bank, via Charing X, Northern Line, etc.

Two knob kerries, probably Zulu, each with two bands of plaited copper ...
[And there was I thinking knob kerries were some sort of Scotch rock bun]

An important taxidermy specimen of a quetzal, mounted upon a branch rooted in moss, grasses and dead leaves, the glazed case with label of James Gardner ...

A superb full length beaver fur coat, double breasted, half belt, pocket flaps

A fantastic lot ... including a Beswick robin, a Sylvac bowl, a large quantity of tea wares including Gladstone china Country Garden pattern, tea cups and saucers, vases, tureens, Coronation mug, ginger jar, balance scales, an old mincer, copper kettle, wooden elephants, Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, gardening book, a book by Vitalogy, CDs, a mobile record player, a Morris 1000, a metronome, handbags, Chinese figures, a wicker basket, silk scarf and fabrics, board games, scents, etc.

A stuffed otter and a stuffed otter head, the latter mounted on an oak board ... in poor condition

A Brixton picnic hamper with original fittings ...
[Is this a new euphemism for an Italian violin case?]

An electric single bed with mattress and frame
[Interesting variant on an electric fence! Presumably it's to ensure your teenagers don't misbehave?]

28 October 2011

[43/52] Autumn

[43/52] Autumn

Week 43 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

An avenue of small London Plane trees in the car park at Westway Cross shopping mall in Greenford. A glorious warm sunny autumn day and suddenly the leaves are colours of gold.

Weekly Links

Here's this week's selection of interesting articles you may have missed. And what a selection it is!

Turning the lights off won't save oil, says Melissa C Lott in the Scientific American blog. Maybe not, but it will save coal and gas, reduce emissions and stop wasting our (increasingly expensive) electricity.

"Put that fly down! You don't know where it's been." But Rob Dunn does. Again in the Scientific American blog.

The Divided Brain is an 11 minute video in which Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist describes the real differences between the left and right halves of the human brain. It's not simply "emotion on the right, reason on the left" but something far more complex and interesting. Love the cartoons!

Max Davidson in the Daily Telegraph defends old-fashioned words against the influx of new text-speak.

And here's yet another from the Sci Am blog ... Ingrid Wickelgren goes looking for the secrets to a happy marriage. And finds some unexpected answers.

The right to keep your pubes. A feminist perspective on shaving for childbirth. I dunno what's so feminist about it; seems like a basic right to me.

And lastly, if I hadn't read this here, I wouldn't believe it. Londoners are being told to stop shagging for a bit, 'cos the Mayor doesn't want girlies dropping bairns in the streets during the sacred cow Olympics. Maybe Boris needs to make sure we keep the lights on!

Mr Mistoffelees

Today is Black Cat Awareness Day. Who knew? It has been a well kept secret.

According to Cats Protection "Black cats are often overlooked in favour of cats of other colours and are the most difficult to rehome" and spending on average a week longer at rescue centres than cats of other colours. Which seems crazy to me.

I love balck cats. OK we don't currently have a black cat, and indeed the four Noreen and I have had only one was about 30% balck. But we don't have a black cat purely because when we've been looking to rescue cats there haven't been black cats available at the Blue Cross centres we've been to.

However when I was a kiddie (on another planet in a different century) we always had a cat at home and in fact this was a succession of three black cats (grandmother, mother, daughter). And no, as far as I know my mother wasn't a practising witch — although I would never be surprised at anything my mother does — at 96 she's still a rascalous old bird, in her quiet way.

So if you're adopting a cat (or several) all I would say is (a) rescue a cat rather than paying out for a pedigree kitten and (b) don't overlook the black cats.

TS Eliot paid homage to black cats in "Mr Mistoffelees" from his Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats ...
Mr Mistoffelees

You ought to know Mr Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat--
(There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don't scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There's no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing surprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions.
  At prestidigitation
    And at legerdemain
  He'll defy examination
    And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr Mistoffelees' Conjuring Turn.
  Away we go!
    And we all say: OH!
      Well I never!
      Was there ever
      A Cat so clever
        As Magical Mr Mistoffelees!

He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack,
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he's only hunting for mice.
  He can play any trick with a cork
    Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
  If you look for a knife or a fork
    And you think it is merely misplaced--
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you'll find it next week lying out on the lawn.

    And we all say: OH!
      Well I never!
      Was there ever
      A Cat so clever
        As Magical Mr Mistoffelees!

His manner is vague and aloof,
You would think there was nobody shyer--
But his voice has been heard on the roof
When he was curled up by the fire.
And he's sometimes been heard by the fire
When he was about on the roof--
(At least we all heard that somebody purred)
Which is incontestable proof
  Of his singular magical powers:
    And I have known the family to call
  Him in from the garden for hours,
    While he was asleep in the hall.
And not long ago this phenomenal Cat
Produced seven kittens right out of a hat!

    And we all say: OH!
      Well I never!
      Was there ever
      A Cat so clever
        As Magical Mr Mistoffelees!

27 October 2011

Quotes of the Week : Placards

A couple of placards for this week ...

Due to recent budget cuts
the light at the end
of the tunnel
has been turned off

Tired of being harassed
by your parents?
Move out. Get a job.
Pay your own way.
While you still know everything!

Economics and Ordure

Just to prove that there is some meat to this weblog, the working thinker has been active again. In the wake of the mess with the European economy I've been thinking about economics and especially fiscal systems.

The conclusion? The whole problem is politicians.

Our current crop of Politicians are wedded to the idea of a free market economy which is all well and good as the Communist-style totally regulated and controlled approach seems to have been tried and found wanting.

But the politicians aren't prepared to allow the free market to develop and work unhindered. To do so would mean allowing some to prosper and others to go to the wall. And that is as true of countries as much as it is of the shops on the High Street.

What the politicians seem to want is a centralised monetary system while allowing countries local control. And as we've seen with Greece, Ireland, et al. when this happens some will go to the wall. But politicians can't allow this to happen so they have to fiddle with the system. So we end up with a gilded pile of ordure.

As with many things there are only two ways to make the economy work (anything like) successfully and they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Either one has a free market economy with no controls and Devil take the hindmost. Or one has a totally regulated Communist-style economy. Our current beliefs are in favour of the former.

What is currently happening in Europe and elsewhere is that a unified monetary system has been imposed without a properly unified monetary policy and control mechanism to back it up. Consequently we have a mess where the system has run but no-one can be allowed to fail. In other words it's a free market but without the freedoms and consequences.

A federal system doesn't work where there is local control of the really major, outward-looking policy matters: fiscal, monetary, defence, foreign affairs. There has to be some overarching and effective method of the whole system telling the same story and doing the same things.

Looking at the USA a federal system works OK where the component parts are allowed freedom to manage personal, lower-level, inward-looking policy, eg. traffic management, public transportation, administration of justice; things which by and large don't have a major effect on the monetary etc. systems of central government.

As in other spheres, if we want something which works with any level of apparent success then we have to operate at one or other end of the spectrum. Anything in between and we are guaranteed to end up with everything all over the floor -- which actually means we're worse off all round because unreasonable amounts of money and effort have to go into patching the system.

Consequently monetary union without political union seems to be doomed to failure. So either we have to have a Europe of full political and monetary union (effectively a United States of Europe) or it has to remain a club of individually empowered component parts with their chosen monetary systems allowed to float against each other (and fail if they get things wrong).

Essentially I don't much care which we have as long as it isn't some completely bastardised mess like the present. Although my inclination is in favour of the more fragmented approach as full union soon becomes over regulated, artificially stifles freedom and feel like a quicker path to Communism or dictatorship.


26 October 2011

Fact of the Week: You Probably Didn't Want to Know That ...

... At this moment 797,151 Americans are masturbating. That's more than the population of Alaska.

[Pleated Jeans]

25 October 2011

Cartoon of the Week

Click the image for a larger view ...

24 October 2011

Word of the Week : Wapentake


1. A subdivision of certain English shires, corresponding to the ‘hundred’ of other counties. The shires which had divisions so termed were Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Notts, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire; in all of which the Danish element in the population was large.

2. The judicial court of such a subdivision.

23 October 2011

Quote : Infinity and Tigers

We shouldn't expect to cope with infinity as we have only brain mechanisms for things useful to an ancestor. Any ancestor worrying about the size of the universe didn't see the tiger creeping up and was removed from the gene pool.

[Unknown Author]

22 October 2011

Ten More Things

Quite a while back Katyboo resurrected the "Ten Things" meme. Although I'm doing a monthly sequence of ten things, I thought I'd join the overladen tumbrils and bandwagons rolling down the cobbled streets. So leaving out the inevitable choices of food, wine, cake, coffee, my wife, the cats, blah, blah, blah, here's my slightly more unusual, and possibly controversial, version.
    Hockneylated ...
  1. My Cameras. I realised recently I've been taking photographs for 50 years, having started at around 9 or 10 with my father's Kodak Box Brownie. It has remained something I enjoy. I wouldn't claim to be a good photographer and I've never had any formal photographic training. What skill I have was acquired at my father's knee. My approach has always been to take what I see; what interests, intrigues or amuses me. It is about trying to see things and make them into a picture. I have no interest in fashion photography, formal portraiture, studio and still-life work, getting up early for special shots, sitting in wet woodlands waiting for worms or tigers, spending hours in darkrooms or doing loads of fancy post-processing. None of these things do it for me. I'm happy photographing wayside flowers or just sitting somewhere watching people go by.
  2. Romney Marsh & Dungeness. The far south-east corner of Kent is almost wholly reclaimed land. This whole area SE of the arc of the Royal Military Canal running roughly from Hythe in the NE to Rye in the SW was largely sea until a few hundred years ago. The escarpment to the NW of the canal used to be the shoreline. Henry VIII had shipyards at Smallhythe on an estuary; it's now 10 miles inland! Storms and the sea moved the rivers and built up the single bank of Dungeness — and the sea is still moving it about. In phases since the Romans man has reclaimed the marsh between the gravel and the escarpment as pasture for sheep and as arable land. I have ancestors who come from New Romney and from around the margins of the marsh. The area is dotted with delightful medieval churches, all with a rich history. And sheep. Thousands of sheep. Although fewer than there used to be. Dungeness is a desolate, windswept wasteland populated only by a few hardy souls, a couple of lighthouses a nuclear power station, an Army firing range and miles of endangered wildlife. It is one of those visceral and cathartic places.
  3. Nudity. One of the things I have to thank my parents for is a slightly bohemian upbringing where nudity was normal, doors were left open, and sexuality was normal, as were books and discussion. I was taken to a nudist club on several occasions when I was about 10; partly this was "educational" but my parents wouldn't have done it unless it was also something they wanted to do. Consequently I'm comfortable with nudity and bodies — mine and other peoples'. Indeed I enjoy being nude and spend much of the time at home that way. I dress if I'm too cold (which isn't often) and to save the blushes of other people. Nudity is natural, normal and good for you. Even Benjamin Franklin used to take "air baths".
  4. My PA. No idea WTF I'm talking about? See here. [NSFW warning!] Viewings by arrangement.
  5. Pink Floyd. They're just one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Think See Emily Play, The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Learning to Fly. Despite the inevitable rocky times the surviving members have gotten back together in recent years and are performing occasional gigs again.
  6. Pretty Girls with Maps of Tasmania. All at sea again? See this post of some while ago. Oh come on! Let’s be honest. What red-blooded (hetero) bloke doesn't enjoy looking at pretty girls? And why shouldn't they? And girls … Don't try kidding us you don't like seeing good looking fellas. We know you look at them. You're just a lot more subtle than most of us blokes.
  7. Seaside. I love the smell of the sea. The sound of the sea. Warm sand between my toes. There's always something interesting going on in a harbour, on the beach or under the cliffs. Just standing on the seafront having the cobwebs blown away is exhilarating.
  8. Sunshine. I always feel better when the sun shines, especially in winter. I suffer from SAD (thankfully only mildly) so winter sun always boosts my mood. And I love the feel of the sun on my back. But I'm not one for lying and toasting on the beach, despite my love of being nude, so you'll never find me with a high tan.
  9. KCMWearing Glasses. This is something else I've done since I was young — like about 14. I'm basically short-sighted, so I'm pretty blind without my glasses. Which is why I'm not a natural ball-player, despite my love of cricket and hockey. Contact lenses weren't around when I started wearing glasses, so there was no choice: wear glasses or not read the blackboard at school. I hated glasses at first, largely because I had horrible frames. But once I was allowed to choose my own metal frames (like when I could pay for them myself) and have plastic lenses I got to like glasses. They don't worry me. Most of the time I don't know I'm wearing them. Yes, keeping them clean is a pain. But for me lenses would probably be worse; I'm not sure if I could adjust to them and this would be harder given my hayfever etc. — all the lens wearers I know seem to have continual trouble with them.
  10. Being Eccentric/Outrageous. Yeah well you know this already, right? Being open about what I think and feel is, to me, all part of my role as a catalyst and controversialist; as is playing Devil's advocate. Hopefully this introduces people to different ideas and new ways of looking at the world; makes people think; and thereby to helps them develop. I can't abide being prissy and prudish; and standing on one's dignity or unnecessary formality. I'm me and you take me as I am, or not. Your choice. At the other extreme, neither am I one to be disreputable and sluttish. I try to retain a certain amount of decorum; indeed professionalism even if it is slightly disgraceful.

21 October 2011

Weekly Links

Here's another in my occasional series of round-ups of things you may have missed but shouldn't have done.

Scientists have discovered and characterised a giganto-virus and called it ... Megavirus. How original! The Loom has the low-down.

Is the alcohol message wrong? Apparently the answer is, yes. By focussing people on not drinking and not getting violent we stimulate them to exactly the opposite. Apparently we should be concentrating on getting them to drink sensibly and enjoy it, not trying to forbid drinking. Here's the story from the BBC.

An interesting observation from Diamond Geezer on the evolution of news presentation. The intertubes make it all complex, indexed and top down, whereas what most of us want is the diversity of the traditional linear presentation.

Finally one for the girls ... You want bigger tits? Why have expensive (and allegedly dangerous) surgery when you can achieve the result with Breast Slapping?

20 October 2011

Quotes of the Week

This week's selection of quotes which caught my eye during the last week ...

Everyone has a photographic memory … Some just don’t have film.
[Thoughts of Angel]

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
[Kurt Vonnegut]

Which links quite nicely to the following two ...

We now return to the spring of 1593 and the events leading up to the killing of Christopher Marlowe … with a new understanding of the continuity of secret politics as a factor in his life. He is remembered as a poet … and as a wild young blasphemer in an age of enforced devotion, but he was also a spy … one of hundreds of such men, part of a maverick army of intelligencers and projectors on which the government of the day depended, sometimes out of a genuine need for information, but often in ways that relate more to political expediency, to courtly in-fighting, to police-state repression.
[Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, 2nd edition, 2002]

As we have found, time and again, informers have often a need to create information. They are 'projectors' who provoke or indeed invent dangerous sentiments in order to denounce them. They are 'politicians' in that pejorative Elizabethan sense, the sense in which Shakespeare means it when King Lear says, 'Get thee glass eyes and, like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not'.
[Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, 2nd edition, 2002]

Fact of the Week: Blue Moons

The term "blue moon" comes from the traditional agricultural naming of the full moons throughout the year.

The 12 full moons we see each year are named according to their relationship with the equinoxes and solstices. The names vary in different regions, but well-known examples are the harvest moon, which is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox, and the hunter's moon, which is the second full moon after the autumnal equinox. Similarly the Lenten moon, the last full moon of winter, is always in Lent, and the egg moon (or the Easter moon, or paschal moon), which is the first full moon of spring, is always in the week before Easter.

By this system there are usually three full moons between an equinox and a solstice, or vice versa. However, because the lunar cycle is slightly too short for there to always be three full moons in this stretch of time, occasionally there are four full moons. When this happens, to ensure that the full moons continue to be named correctly with respect to the solstices and equinoxes, the third of the four full moons is called a blue moon.

There are seven blue moons in every 19 year period. The last blue moon was on 21 November 2010, and the next will be on 21 August 2013.

[Aidan Copeland in "The Last Word", New Scientist, 1 October 2011]

18 October 2011

Cartoon of the Week

Click the image for a larger view.

17 October 2011

Word of the Week: Distaff


1. A cleft staff about 3 feet long, on which, in the ancient mode of spinning, wool or flax was wound.
2.The staff or ‘rock’ of a hand spinning-wheel, upon which the flax to be spun is placed.
3. As the type of women's work or occupation. Hence, symbolically, for the female sex, female authority or dominion; also, the female branch of a family; a female heir.

Image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), Girl with spindle and distaff. (Spindle on left, distaff on right.)

[42/52] Green Woodpecker

[42/52] Green Woodpecker

Week 42 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Green Woodpecker (probably male) this morning on our next door neighbour's lawn. This is the third or fourth time I've seen him visiting in the last 2-3 weeks. He spends a lot of time (I watched him for 45 minutes one day) covering the same area, so it must be very rich in ants.

Taken at a range of 20-25 yards from our study window with my biggest lens and still this is a small crop from the middle of a frame.

16 October 2011

Listography - Top Five Keywords

As regular readers will know I don't always do Kate's weekly Listography — sometimes because I just don't get time and sometimes because the subject doesn't fire me with enthusiasm. But this week Kate is asking us something simple: list the top five keyword searches on your weblog (excepting the name of the weblog and keywords like "blogger"). So I can hardly refuse, especially as whenever I see anyone listing the searches used to find their weblogs they're usually either a scream or completely unbelievable!

Will mine be any different? In a word, No ...

At #1 we have pheasant. Yep really. Four times the number of hits of its nearest competitor! Everyone seems to have liked my December 2009 recipe for Pheasant Casserole.

#2 is the quite shocking pussy porn. I guess, guys, you were sadly disappointed to find this, this or this.

#3 is perhaps the equally worrying, and equally disappointing, dumb blonde.

At #4 we have another search for pornography: osho on porn. But this time it is a serious article.

Finally at #5 we go from the sublime(?) to the ridiculous with the search woodpecker feet. Well, yes, I really did write a post about woodpecker feet!

In the words of JBS Haldane:
The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

14 October 2011

[41/52] Barber Shop Girls

Barber Shop Girls

Week 41 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Girls from the next door ladies hairdressers having a break outside the barber's shop at Rayners Lane, Harrow. They're there, drinking coffee and smoking, every time I go past; they never seem to do any work. How do they make a living?

13 October 2011

Quotes of the Week : On Beauty

This week several quotes about beauty ...

Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.
[Gwyneth Paltrow]

Beauty is the first present nature gives to women and the first it takes away.
[Fay Weldon]

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.
[Kahlil Gibran]

Looking into someone's eyes and knowing that you have loved them for ever. That's beauty.
[Tracey Emin]

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

11 October 2011

10 October 2011

Word of the Week: Purlicue


1. Space between extended forefinger and thumb.
2. Flourish at end of a handwritten word.
3. A discourse, especially its summary.

09 October 2011

Ten Things - October

Number 10 in my monthly series of "Ten Things" for 2011. Each month I list one thing from each of ten categories which will remain the same for each month of 2011. So at the end of the year you have ten lists of twelve things about me.
  1. Something I Like: Tea
  2. Something I Won't Do: Halloween
  3. Something I Want To Do: Fly on Flightdeck of an Airliner
  4. A Blog I Like: Bad Science
  5. A Book I Like: Nick McCamley; Secret Underground Cities: an Account of Some of Britain's Subterranean Defence, Factory and Storage Sites in the Second World War
  6. Some Music I Like: Moody Blues, Octave
  7. A Food I Like: Swiss Chard
  8. A Food or Drink I Dislike: Milk
  9. A Word I Like: Persiflage
  10. A Quote I Like: Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And East is East and West is West and if you take cranberries and stew them like apple sauce they taste more like prunes than a rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know? [Groucho Marx]

08 October 2011

Environmental Reform. Gawdelpus.

I’ve been thinking recently about environmental reform and trying to square the circle of how we can achieve it. It is hard, which isn’t surprising. If it were easy someone would surely have gotten a grip of it by now.

I’ve taken all the major pieces that I can see (no doubt others will come up with important things I’ve missed) and tried to put them together in one picture to show how they all inter-relate. It’s a messy mesh. [Click the image for a larger version.]

I’ve written before about the need to reform agriculture; [see, inter alia, here and here]; reduce meat consumption; use good land for arable; and have animals graze only on marginal land as they are designed to do. This would make food production more sustainable and provide enough nutrition for everyone ... without massive deforestation. It will also reduce water use. And it would be good for overall health by changing the dietary balance from meat to vegetable calories.

But environmental reform goes much wider than this if we are to return the planet to a sustainable whole.

There is also a need to reduce our dependence on mining and the extraction of minerals, oil etc. These activities provide some very dirty fuels, very dirty processes and destroy large swathes of the environment. And to achieve this we ask the people who work in these industries to do some incredibly dirty, demanding and demeaning jobs which many of us would not do. How can that be moral?

And yet currently we are hungry for more and more and more of these mined and finite resources.

Only recently I realised why the western world is so interested in Afghanistan — for its mineral wealth. As was said some years ago about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait: would we care if all they grew was carrots and not oil? There are already well developed plans for quarrying and raping large swathes of Afghanistan once the political situation is stabilised — maybe sooner [Scientific American, October 2011].

Clearly we cannot totally abandon mining, quarrying etc. But we need to make major reductions. This implies a significant shift away from our dependence on limited reserves of dirty fossil fuels. And not just because of the CO2 that is poured out by burning them.

In turn this implies two things: a shift in the ways in which we generate power and just as importantly a significant reduction in the amount of power we use. It also implies a shift in the way we power our transport, and the amount of transport we use.

But it seems to me that power generation is itself a large part of the problem. 85% of world power is derived from oil, coal and gas, compared with just 6% for nuclear [Wikipedia, “World Energy Consumption”**].

Sure there are alternatives, but none of them is without problems. For example, growing biofuels uses arable land which should be used for agriculture. So in this scheme that is not a good option. Which leaves essentially wind, water, solar and nuclear. Hmmm…

We know that wind and water cannot provide all the power we need, even at a reduced level of consumption [Wikipedia, “Wind Power”].

And moreover I worry about how sustainable wind, water and solar really are. We build wind generator masts from huge amounts of steel, concrete and other materials which ultimately rely on mining, drilling and energy-hungry refining. Is this actually environmentally sustainable when looked at holistically? Or would it be more sustainable to build wooden wind turbines (they’re called windmills!) from trees grown on marginal non-arable land, and replace them every few years? Trees which will also mop up CO2 and provide habitat as well as wood which is renewable and recyclable.

The suggestion is [Wikipedia, “Environmental Impact of Wind Power”] that the CO2 emissions payback for wind turbines is within a matter of months. But what about the other impacts of producing wind turbines: mining, water consumption, etc.? How do they affect the equation? I don’t know. I rather doubt anyone knows with any certainty. Maybe we need to find out.

Water and solar power must come under the same scrutiny. What are the environmental impacts of the raw materials and power needed to produce the solar panels? Building dams etc. for hydro-electric schemes is unlikely to be much better. And there you have the added cost of flooding large areas (of often good arable land) to make reservoirs.

Which leaves us with nuclear.

Well I have to be honest and say that I view nuclear as probably our least worst option. It is surprisingly clean. Yes, despite disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima. There is WHO research that shows the biggest medical problem form Chernobyl is not the additional cancers caused by radiation exposure; they have been far lower than predicted. No the biggest problem has been the mental health effects of the stress [Jonathan Watts, “Fukushima Disaster: it’s not over yet”, Guardian, 9 September 2011].

And Fukushima seems to be going the same way. There the very old reactors withstood the onslaughts of the earthquake and tsunami amazingly well; better than their design specification. Yes there are problems. And as always the situation appears to have been handled extremely badly, largely because people are frightened of nuclear — because they can’t see it and they're frightened of cancer — and frightened to tell the truth.

Chernobyl was the result of inadequate reactor design and failures of operating practice. Fukushima was the result of a natural disaster and an inadequate process on an old style reactor which was, frankly, built in the wrong place. Clearly there are lessons to learn in terms of design and operational process.

Modern reactor design and build is already vastly improved on that of 40 years ago. Such modern reactors are many times more resilient to failures. At one major incident every 20-25 years nuclear looks a pretty good option. And incremental improvement, aircraft industry style, should see that reduce even further.

Yet, it too isn’t as good as we would like. We still have to mine the uranium ore. We must decommission the life-expired reactors. And we have the immense problem of the nuclear waste. But what is better: nuclear waste we have to bury for thousands of years or an increasing number of environmentally dirty slag heaps etc. occupying surface land which cannot be reused due to chemical contamination? And of course there is a chance that over time science will find a way of reusing the nuclear waste. No, it isn’t an easy equation to solve!

We also have to reduce the amount of water we use. Recent data show that in the US every person uses 7786 litres of water a day in the products they consume and another 575 litres for direct use. Spain, Australia, Italy and Brazil (in that order) aren’t far behind. Surprisingly (to me) the UK fares somewhat better at 3446 and 149 litres respectively. That’s still not good though [The Times, Eureka Magazine Supplement, 5 October 2011].

Vast amounts of water are used growing meat. For example, it takes 15,000 litres of water to grow 1 kilo of beef. A daily diet of fruits, vegetables and grains requires something over 1,500 litres of water, compared with some 3,400 litres for a daily diet rich in animal protein [Wikipedia, “Water Use”]. It is estimated that worldwide 69% of water use is for agriculture, 22% for industrial process and just 8% is used domestically [Wikipedia, “Water Resources”]. So reforms in industry, mining and agriculture would have huge pay-offs for water use.

I’m certainly not suggesting any of this is easy and I’m as guilty as the next person for the amount I consume. As the diagram shows everything is so inextricably intertwined that there is no one place we can start which will have a dramatic and immediate effect although a change in one area will have knock on effects everywhere else. Everything affects everything else so we have to tackle this holistically, from all angles. That needs governments and us, the people, to all start doing the right things so that over time it all comes together.

That needs political will, personal will and commercial will. And an abandonment of vested interests.

And to achieve that probably needs a maverick visionary somewhere like the top of the UN to grip the problem and drive all governments along a better path, and for governments to have the vision to cascade that down to their people. Left to individual countries and individual people we ain’t going nowhere; we'll continue along the path of everyone looking after their own interests. United we can succeed; divided we will surely fail.


** I make no apology for referencing Wikipedia throughout this article, especially as most of the articles quoted are themselves well referenced.

06 October 2011

[40/52] Recycled Cat

[40/52] Recycled Cat

Week 40 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

It seems that, at least as for as Harry the Cat is concerned, the place to sleep at the moment is in the paper recycling box in the study. It's nice and dark and quiet and secluded. Even better, it's a box. And we all know how cats are irresistibly attracted to boxes.

He was so sound asleep, that he didn't move a whisker when I took this! In fact he's still sound asleep some 20 minutes later.

To quote Garfield: "Eat and sleep. Eat and sleep. There must be more to life, but I do hope not".

Quotes of the Week

Well let's start this week's selection where we left off last week, with something from John Aubrey ...

Even the cats were different, and Aubrey could recall when 'the common English Catt was white with some blewish piednesse sc gallipot-blew, the race or breed of them are now almost lost' … Aubrey says that Archbishop Laud had been 'a great lover of Catts. He was presented with some Cypruss-catts, our Tabby-catts, which were sold at first for 5li a piece. This was about 1637 or 1638'. Tabbies are still called 'cyprus cats' in Norfolk.
[Anthony Powell, John Aubrey and His Friends]

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge".
[Isaac Asimov in Newsweek, 21 January 1980]

I discovered books and music while everyone else got into drugs. Books and music were my drugs. What I read and listened to then shaped and changed my life forever.
[Katy Wheatley on her weblog]

I find being middle aged rather liberating. I wear what I like. I eat what I like. I listen to and watch what I like. I do not  feel ashamed of anything that makes me happy and makes my life feel richer, better and more joyous.
[Katy Wheatley on her weblog]

Katy, dearest, how many more times do I have to tell you that you aren't middle aged? You can't be middle aged — you're younger than I am! Anyway I'm not having it, if only because if you're middle aged then I'm senile and I ain't ready for that yet.

To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as an easy way to avoid doing something that's even more important.
[John Perry, University of Stanford, Winner of the 2011 Ig Nobel for Literature]

And finally, confirmation from an unknown source of what we all suspected ...

Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible.

05 October 2011

Fact of the Week : Cocks

In Iron Age England, it was believed that the cock served as a defence against thunderstorms; that is why cocks are still to be found on church steeples. They became known as weathercocks.

[Peter Acroyd, The History of England, Volume 1: Foundation]

04 October 2011

Just Too Good Not To ...

I just came across this on Facebook. It's just too good not to share ...

Cartoon of the Week

03 October 2011

Soundtrack of Your Life

Quite some while back, and I can't now find who's weblog it was on, someone asked about the five songs/albums which would provide the soundtrack to your life. Not necessarily songs associated with particular events or people (although that turns out to be almost inevitable) or even ones you would want to take to a desert island, but which provide the right overall background music.

Having put the idea away for another day, I find that day has come and I want to write about it. So here we are; five songs/albums which are my background soundtrack, in no particular order:

1. The Beatles, Abbey Road
It's that zebra crossing! No, it's The Beatles!

Well you could make that almost any late Beatles (ie. Sgt Pepper's, Abbey Road, Let It Be) but Abbey Road is the favourite as for me it best encapsulates days as a student.

2. Gregorian Chant
Almost any well done Gregorian chant (male voices, monastic acoustics) will do but for me one of the most ethereal is the Pange Lingua of Good Friday.

And yes, that's despite my not being religious — Roman Latin liturgy has always done it for me. It is after all a form of magic: what is the priest doing walking round the alter with a thurible if it isn't casting a circle?

3. Cliff Richard, Summer Holiday
I seem to feel I need to put something in here to evoke childhood and what better than Summer Holiday. Those hot lazy days with no school!

Not only was Summer Holiday the first film I was allowed to go and see on my own, but Cliff comes from my home town and The Shadows used to practice in the boys club at the back of my primary school playing field. Heady days!

Well back from the ridiculous to the sublime ...

4. Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers
The height of Renaissance music, this was one of the early shares which Noreen and I had all those years ago and long before we even thought about going out together.

And the 35+ year old John Eliot Gardiner recording is still the best available.

5. Pink Floyd, Learning to Fly
The story of my life: learning to fly (and failing mostly!)

I don't know what it is this track does to me, or why. But it does. And that makes it for me one of the great rock tracks of all time. And Floyd are out and away the best rock group ever, for me.

Word of the Week : Numpty


1. A stupid person; an idiot.
2. A bumbling fool or one who is intellectually challenged.
3. Someone who (sometimes unwittingly) demonstrates a lack of knowledge or misconception of a subject or situation to the amusement of others.
4. A reckless, absent minded or unwise person.
5. A good humoured admonition, a term of endearment.

Originally Scots dialect.

In 2007 numpty was voted Scotland's favourite word.

02 October 2011

[39/52] Small Footless Child with Dog

Week 39 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Just haven't got down to even picking up a camera this week, so here's one from the archives.
[39/52] Small Footless Child with Dog

Yes, this me, aged about 8 or 9 (so around 1959/60) with our dog Sue. It looks like our back garden, is clearly summer, and was likely taken by my father with his Box Brownie.


01 October 2011

No Sense of the Ridiculous

Three snippets from the "Feedback" column of this week's New Scientist. Some people really do have no sense of the ridiculous.
"Generations of medical students and doctors have been taught to tell their patients to 'never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear'," Michael Glanfield, himself a doctor, assures us. The Asda supermarket chain has clearly taken this advice to heart. The warning on its own brand "D" battery, which has a diameter of 3.3 centimetres, states "...if swallowed or lodged in the ear or nose seek prompt medical attention".
Geoffrey Hardman is grateful to transportdirect.info for warning him: "Certain combinations of outward and return journeys would result in you needing to leave your destination before arriving at it".
"By now you will have noticed that the sole purpose of our exotic expeditions is to gather gems for Feedback," says regular contributor Jenny Narraway. Her latest is the multilingual wording on a waste bin seen on a walking holiday in the Azores. It said: "Lixo Indiferenciado" for Portuguese speakers, "Poubelle Indiferencie" for French speakers and, for the English, "Undistinguished trash".
Why is the waste bin on a walking holiday, one wonders?