Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pope begins landmark turkey visit

Pope Benedict XVI begins landmark turkey visit on his first trip to a poultry farm since acceding to the papacy.

The visit has been overshadowed by anger among many turkeys, enraged by comments the Pontiff made about what to have for dinner on Christmas Day.

A spokesturkey for the political organisation Turkeys Against Christmas said of the Roman Pontiff:
'What have the Romans ever done for us?'

Meanwhile, the Vatican released the following statement:
'His holiness the Pope wholeheartedly condemns the massacres of innocent Muslims, Jews and non-Catholic Christians that were perpetrated during the medieval crusades, but notes that no turkeys were actually killed at the time as they did not reach Europe until after the discovery and conquest of the Americas (for which he also apologises). Sorry.'

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blind Van Man

Whilst driving in this morning, in the gentlemanly (or ladyly) style that I'd like to think is still a distinctive feature of British roads, I let a small van pull out in front of me from a side road. On the back of the van it said something like:

"This van is being driven by a blind man".

Ho, Ho! It was, of course, owned by a company selling blinds. It didn't make me want to buy some blinds (horrible things) just smile in a world-weary, middle-aged sort of way.

Later on, I got stuck behind a long lorry full of concrete blocks which had stopped in the middle lane of a main road in order for the driver to get out and ask directions. Not quite as bad as being in a car reversing in the middle lane of the Hangzhou-Shanghai expressway because the driver's eyesight was so bad that he'd missed the junction.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Death of a Seagull

Driving to work this morning, I noticed a flock of seagulls hovering immediately above the cars ahead; I couldn't work out what they were doing but at least one of them appeared to be trying to land amongst the traffic, so I assume there was something fairly tasty lying on the road. I passed by in a different lane but saw one of the seagulls in my rear-view mirror get low enough to the road to be immediately caught by the wheel of a car and crushed to death on the road.

It reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was at university. I was walking along a footpath in a fairly introspective mood when I saw a ladybird on a leaf (ladybug, if you're North American). It suddenly opened its wing-casings and flew up, right in front of me; at the same time, a robin flew down from the other side of the path and swallowed the ladybird in mid-air.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Shy Bladder, Bashful Bowel

There was an obsessive compulsive,
With bowels in spasms convulsive,
But they just couldn't do,
A poo on the loo,
'Cause they found public toilets repulsive.

In today's
news, we learn that the UK National Phobics Society is launching a campaign to help the estimated 4 million UK people who suffer from toilet phobia.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dumpty Rumpty

Donald Rumsfeld was set on a war.
Donald Rumsfeld was terribly sure.
But American forces and American men,
Couldn't put Iraq together again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Middle East Today

Whilst having coffee with GG earlier today, it was noted that I never post anything controversial in my blog, hence the lack of comments. Given the results of the US mid-term elections and the obvious effect that the war in Iraq had on the outcome, I thought I'd make some comments about the Middle East.

To my mind the invasion of Afghanistan was entirely justified given the nature of the Taleban regime and the fact that they were harbouring the main bases of the Al Qaeda terrorists. When I first heard it suggested that the US was considering invading Iraq, I thought that was a completely mad idea as it would not get any support from other Arabic or Muslim countries.

By the time it happened, I assumed that they would not have invaded unless they really knew there was an imminent threat and I certainly wasn't sorry to see a dictator like Saddam Hussain overthrown. The great shame for the West is that it support this bastard in the 1980s when he was at his most lethal: invading Iran, using poison gas against the Iranians and then against the Kurds in Iraq. When countries like France, Germany and Russia - who had all had dealings with Saddam's Iraq - started taking the moral high ground in the run up to the Iraq War, I really did think they were being very two-faced

Since then it has become very clear that the arguments for going to war in Iraq were fatally flawed and the plans fro what to do afterwards were almost non-existant. Personally, I don't believe that Blair or Bush lied; it just doesn't make sense to me that very canny politicians would choose to knowingly lie when it was obvious that these lies would be found out. During the Cold War the US was very susceptible to panics about gaps in particular defensive or offensive technologies that the USSR might have, often based on flawed analysis by the intelligence community egged on by sympathetic political interests and the military/industrial complex. For the US, I think something similar happened here: they got it wrong because they wanted to 'know' certain facts. For the UK, I suspect that it was more likely that we were overawed by the US and the resources it can commit to these things - we simply assumed that they must be right. I don't believe that even someone as dubious as Rumsfeld actively and knowingly lied; to my mind politicians try to evade saying the truth they don't point at a horse and say it's a deer (as the Chinese say).

The way out of Iraq is to do some kind of deal with the various armed groups there, to bring them into the political process - in much the same way as the UK had to deal with the IRA and Israel had to talk to the PLO. The situation is bad and a great many people are being killed, however, I suspect that this would have happened when Saddam died (or was overthrown, either of which were only a few years off) and it is the main reason why George Bush's dad didn't invade Iraq in the first Gulf War

Looking around the rest of the Middle East, it's all a bit of a mess. Key US allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are hardly western-style liberal democracies and personally I think we should openly acknowledge the difference between an ally who we hope will reform (e.g. Egypt) and one that is in the process of doing so (e.g. Afghanistan). The Israeli-Palestian problem continues with no end in sight - this, I feel, is another case where we would do well to talk to the opposition (i.e. deal with Hammas), however abhorent their professed views - they have a country (or a territory) to run and ought to make compromises for the sake of their own people and it would do no harm to acknowledge that the Palestian refugees did not volunteer to leave what is now Israel.

Further afield, we can see the US cosying up to various dubious regimes who offer some advantage in the War on Terror. I think this is wrong and it is the same sort of thing that led to us supporting Saddam Hussain in the 80s.

One country that has been beyond the pale for the US for a quarter of a century is Iran which the US regards as part of the axis of evil. I think that there is actually great hope for Iran, it is a democracy - at least in the sense that it has periodic elections and that the vast majority of the population actively exercise their vote. The non-Western aspect of their democracy is that it has a theocracy on top of it that weeds out what it deems to be inappropriate candidates and can over-rule the will of the people. However, I believe that Iran can and will evolve into a true democracy (in the same way that Britain did) as the practicalities of running a successful economy and dealing with material issues become apparent.

Blind Mice

In today's news we hear that UK scientists have restored sight to a few blind mice by transplanting precursor retinal cells into their damaged eyes.

When questioned as to how they can be sure that the mice can now see, the scientists retorted: "See how they run, they all ran after the farmer's wife; before this, they just use to blunder around bumping into things!"

However, doctors announced that they had been unable to reattach the blind mice's severed tails: "If they had been packed in a wet tea-towel with a packet of frozen peas we might have had a chance."

Later, police raided Old MacDonald's farm and a woman was taken into custody; a spokesman said, "We are awaiting the results of forensic tests on a carving knife found at the scene."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Britain AD

I've just read Britain AD by Francis Pryor, he reviews the archaeological evidence for what happened in Britain in the first 500 years AD and points out that it doesn't tally with the traditionally accepted history.

43 AD. The Romans invade Celtic Britain and build lots of roads, towns and Hadrian's Wall.
410 AD. Barbarians are pressing in on the borders of the Roman Empire; the Romans try to play different groups of barbarians off against each other. Ultimately, the Roman army is withdrawn from Britain. Britain descends into chaos, towns are abandoned, fields revert to forest and Anglo-Saxon invaders raid the coast.
450 AD. Anglo-Saxons warriors, invited in to help defend the country, decide they would like to stay and eventually conquered the whole of what is now England pushing the Romano-British Celtic people into Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.

Britain retained a prosperous rural economy after the Romans left. There's no evidence for massive population decline - except in urban areas where the disappearance of a central tax collecting authority had removed the logic behind having towns in an overwhelmingly rural country. There's no evidence for a whole new population coming in with a different set of traditions, but there is evidence of individual families gradually adopting what we think of as 'early Saxon' culture over several generations. Above all, there's no evidence of large scale displacement of the existing population - either people moving en masse or genocide.

It's all a bit puzzling that the traditional story (admittedly from a very narrow base of biased written sources from post-Antiquity) should look so flimsy when compared to the archaeology.

Invasion Theories
It does appear that invasion theories have largely dropped out of fashion. They used to think that different groups of people invaded Britain in successive waves throughout pre-history and that any change in archaeology, e.g. different types of pottery or different ways of disposing of the dead, signified a new population coming in and taking over. Such events would lead to sudden changes in the archaeological record, as each new population came in and did things according to their own traditions. Since the 1960s, archaeologists have pooh-poohed this idea as more and more evidence for incremental cultural changes has been uncovered.

Nowadays, more emphasis is placed on the idea that indigenous populations remain largely in place but there is much more travel (rather than invasion), communication and trade. It's recognised that communities can adopt new practices (particularly if they are beneficial) such as different types of pottery or styles of dress without having had to be invaded - much as renaissance ideas spread to England without the need for any invasion by Italian city states.

A question that jumped into my head was 'how come we speak English?' One would have expected the existing (presumably Celtic language) to have survived rather than be replaced by a language related to dialects spoken around the various continental and Scandinavian coasts of the North Sea. Unfortunately, Mr Pryor doesn't analyse this point too deeply as it isn't his area of expertise; although he does make the point that Eastern and Southern Britain were much more closely involved with the continent than had previously been thought.

It is true that language does change and is heavily influenced by the language of those at the top of the social pile; so by the time English displaced French as the language of government in England (200-300 years after the Norman Invasion), it was very different from Old English and massively influenced by French. Perhaps something similar happened in the 200-300 years from the end of Roman rule.

Where does that leave us then?
The image we're left with is of the Romano-British population of post-Roman Britain as living fairly comfortably in a prosperous rural economy, in touch with, and open to, cultural influences from other areas around the North Sea; gradually they became Anglo-Saxonised. It doesn't mean there were no battles; petty kings would have been quite happily slaughtering each other (and, of course, their own close relations); but that's just stuff that happens rather than the mechanism by which the culture changed.

Something similar happened before the Roman invasion, when the rulers of areas in close contact with the Roman world chose to adopt Roman culture. Of course, it's also happening today in countries such as China, where people at all levels of society are adopting and adapting Western culture.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Journey through the Digestive System

I found this quite difficult and couldn't get my sandwich out of the bum: http://www.gutweek.org.uk/game/gutAlpha19.swf

Pregnancy Test

It's that time of the week and I've just read James Randi's newsletter. I enjoyed this link and I'm sure you will too: www.thepregnancytester.com

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On the way to work this morning

As I drove out of the older of the two Mersey tunnels this morning, the lights of a pedestrian crossing were against me, so I slowed down to stop - as one does. The crossing is close to John Moores University and one often sees students using it; today there was a Chinese-looking fellow about to cross while a number of other people were crossing at the same time; however, he looked up and caught my eye, although the lights for him were still green, he hesitated as if unsure of my intentions.

It occurred to me that if he was from mainland China, this would be a perfectly normal reaction as making eye-contact with the driver is usually taken as meaning that the pedestrian has seen the approaching car and will stop, so the driver will swerve around them or accelerate very fast so they can pass extremely closely and dangerously.

I could be wrong, for all I know he's lived in Liverpool all his life and was hesitating because he'd left his wallet at home; but it did remind me of the difficult and occasionally perilous nature of crossing the road in China.

Later, after I'd parked and was walking to the office, I noticed a shoe in the street. I always wonder what it means when you see a shoe in the street. Has someone dropped their shoe and continued walking without it? Perhaps they were attacked or were drunk? Did someone have a big bag of clothes for charity or for recycling and a shoe dropped out? Was it stolen from outside of a shoe shop? Had the old woman who lived in it been jailed for beating her children and the kids taken into care?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I couldn't eat a whole one

It's funny that the articles in The Spoof have to have disclaimers at the bottom (The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious).