Saturday, January 20, 2007

"paparazzi often use illegal means to secure photos for such notoriously disreputable tabloids as...... "

In a week in which far, far too much attention has been paid to 'celebrities', I found an old article which shows what celebrity culture ought to be like...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Voodoo Astronomy

Full credit for the Daily Mail for making a scientific issue it's main story today : "CLONE FARMING HAS ARRIVED"

Well, I'm sure we can trust the Mail to take an authoritative, rational view of scientific matters.

Oh, and they devote three whole pages today to a newly discovered comet.

"The latest heavenly herald is called Comet McNaught, after the Australian who first spotted it a few months ago. It may, too, prove inauspicious for the Royal Family...

.....ARIES: ...The comet , as it visits Earth from deep and distant space , speaks of you gaining insights into your own 'inner space' that you have never had before. And to triple underline the point, this week's conjunction of Mars and Pluto...

.... LIBRA : Comet McNaught ... won't necessarily oblige you to move home, or to alter your living arrangements... It most certainly though, will invite you to do this"

So a comet is going to ask me to move home? The best punishment for astronomers astrologers and Daily Mail editors for this kind of garbage would be to make them stay out all night in a freezing January on a meteor watch until they learn some proper astronomy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Shrewd, Smart and Getting Richer"

Our local paper the Echo is publishing a series of articles about the activities of a large group of travellers who are occupying land at Crays Hill in Basildon. They've had a big impact on their area- by last summer, of the 50 pupils at the local primary school, all but one were from traveller families.

The Echo's report makes interesting reading, and here's a sample:

Travellers fighting to stay at Crays Hill because they have "nowhere else to go" can today be exposed as shrewd, money-making developers.

Next month, Dale Farm could be legalised by the Government when it announces its final decision following last summer's public inquiry.

If all 52 illegal plots gain planning permission, each will be worth around £150,000. The camp would therefore be worth £7.8million to plot owners.

Dale Farm originally cost traveller John Sheridan £122,000, which he paid in cash in 2002. The site was then split up and sold to other travellers for a total of around £600,000.

The Echo revealed last Wednesday that former traveller homes at Hovefields Avenue, Wickford, which started life as cheap green belt plots, are currently on the market for £500,000.

Now we can exclusively reveal members of the Sheridan clan living illegally at Dale Farm are currently trying to turn farmland into legal homes at the Smithy Fen camp, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire.

Crays Hill travellers have managed to pay thousands of pounds in hard cash for land at Smithy Fen and other parts of the south east, including Hertfordshire and another part of Essex, Stapleford Tawney.

Huge profits will be possible if travellers can sell illegal plots bought for as little £2,000 once they gain planning permission.

The revelations have fired up locals who are convinced some clan members are opportunists, using gipsy status to transform cheap land into valuable homes - and not people of limited means who built illegally because they had no other choice.

Title deeds supplied to the Echo by campaigner Len Gridley, 47, from Oak Road, and Cottenham residents, plus planning appeal and electoral roll records, show some Crays Hill travellers have multiple land ownership.

Travellers argue the same names appear by "coincidence" as they are handed down several times through generations.

But the Echo has now unearthed conclusive proof that people from Dale Farm have been involved in illegal development at Smithy Fen and other sites.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Two Immigrants

The world is full of good blogs. Just found one called the Vol Abroad - "The rantings and musings of a Tennessee expat and long term London resident.". Not sure that I would agree much with her politically (someone who includes Harry's Place and Devil's Kitchen in their blogroll is going to be tricky to classify). But she has some nice cat photos.

One poignant post
made such an impression on me that I thought I'd quote it in full:

Yesterday, while I was out and about I was offered bootleg DVDs by a middle aged Chinese man. One of them was Apocalypto, which tempted me as I'm curious about the film but don't want to give that Mel Gibson any of my money.

But I couldn't be sure the DVD would be of any quality or indeed would even have Apocalypto content on the disk. And to be honest, I didn't want to encourage the vile trade. And it wasn't a vile trade in intelllectual property that concerned me, but the trafficking of humans.

The man selling the DVDs - he looked so sad and tired and weighed down. He had a look in his eyes that one rarely sees in the west these days (some of those 1930s photos of sharecroppers had it). He was almost certainly a slave, working to pay off passage to the first world.

I declined the DVDs. I looked him in the eyes as I did it. I hope I did it in a nice enough way.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Two Sites Worth Looking Looking At Today

First of all, Damn Interesting posted an item at the end of last year on "Undark and the Radium Girls". If you don't know the story, it's a shocking reminder how capitalism can do evil:

In 1925, three years after Grace's health problems began, a doctor suggested that her jaw problems may have had something to do with her former job at US Radium. As she began to explore the possibility, a specialist from Columbia University named Frederick Flynn asked to examine her. Flynn declared her to be in fine health. It would be some time before anyone discovered that Flynn was not a doctor, nor was he licensed to practice medicine, rather he was a toxicologist on the US Radium payroll. A "colleague" who had been present during the examination– and who had confirmed the healthy diagnosis– turned out to be one of the vice-presidents of US Radium.

Many of the Undark painters had been developing serious bone-related problems, particularly in the jaw, and the company had begun a concerted effort to conceal the cause of the disease. The mysterious deaths were often blamed on syphilis to undermine the womens' reputations, and many doctors and dentists inexplicably cooperated with the powerful company's disinformation campaign.

- and how perhaps we benefit as individuals from tighter laws brought about by cases like these.

Secondly , there's a couple more posts at Baghdad's Burning, and it makes for depressing reading:

Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so

Monday, January 01, 2007

I'm Full of Sloth

It's not doing any exercise that condemned me, I think... And the computer games.

Envy:Very Low

The Seven Deadly Sins Quiz on

Found via the less-slothful Paul Trathen and the even-more-slothful Martine Martin.

The Best Look at Last Year ...

.... is here at New Scientist. It's a list of their most-visited stories in 2006. There's a wonderful set of items here - a mixture of the delightful, the curious, and the alarming:

1. Imagine Earth without people

Just how profound an impact have we had on our planet? This intriguing thought experiment captured your imaginations.

2. Marooned Mars rover returns stunning panorama

Too weak to move for six months over Martian winter, NASA's Spirit rover produced the most detailed panoramic view of the Red Planet ever made.

3. Invention: Apple's all-seeing screen

The patents in this article included an electronic display screen that acts as a video camera, and a flashy new way of judging a person's age.

4. A future with no bananas?

The world's most popular fruit and the fourth most important food crop of any sort is in deep trouble, as wild and traditional varieties collapse in India.

5. Get ready for 24-hour living

A new wave of drugs will make it a breeze to go days without sleep, and give you a good night's shut-eye in two hours – are you ready for 24-hour living?

6. Invention: Invisible drones

The patent applications in this article included a near-invisible spy plane, a foot-controlled computer and cabling that repairs itself when damaged.

7. Mysterious glowing clouds targeted by NASA

A new spacecraft is designed to observe the silvery blue clouds that have spread around the world and brightened in recent years, possibly due to global warming.

8. Huge 'launch ring' to fling satellites into orbit

A hoop of superconducting magnets several kilometres wide could hurl satellites into space, or perhaps weapons around the world, at a fraction of current launch costs.

9. Bizarre deep-sea creatures imaged off New Zealand

The weird and wonderful animals live in the sunless ocean depths and rely on methane vents for energy (includes video).

10. Natural-born painkiller found in human saliva

The substance is up to six times more powerful than morphine, and may spawn a new generation of non-addictive natural painkillers.

11. Sexual ornaments grow out of all proportion

Male body parts used to attract females, such as antlers or flashy tail feathers, become disproportionately large in virtually every species that boasts them.

12. Explosive sting of jellyfish captured on film

For the first time, researchers recorded the powerful explosion of stingers triggered when the creature's tentacles brush against a victim (includes video).

13. Revealed: What mosquitoes hate about humans

Some lucky people are naturally repellent to the biting bugs and the smelly sweat-chemicals responsible have finally been isolated.

Honourable mention: 13 things that do not make sense

Our most clicked story of 2005 continued to attract lots of users in 2006. Included in the article are the placebo effect, cold fusion, dark energy, the “wow” signal and bizarre homeopathy results.

My tip for 2007 is: LOOK OUT FOR COLD FUSION.
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