Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An extraordinary light painting


An artwork by photographer Darren Pearson
This is a composite photograph with added effects - but very striking.

Pearson's website is http://www.dariustwin.com/.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

VANUATU: Trouble in Babel

Reposted from The Polynesian Times:

Map: Google
"Florence Lengkon led a march through town and up to Parliament in which nearly a thousand people demonstrated their desire to see an end to violence against women," reported the Vanuatu Daily Post yesterday.

The trigger for this was an abduction and beating Lengkon received at the hands of bus and taxi drivers nearly a fortnight ago, following critical remarks she had posted on a community page on Facebook. She had called them arrogant and unprofessional for the way they had squabbled among themselves when trying to get business from visiting tourists (and for stoning a tour bus). Lengkon herself runs a helicopter business in Port Vila.

There are many facets to this story: risks in social media discussions, attitudes to women, the poverty that tempts men to misbehave when the chance to make some money presents itself, the great disparity between them and rich Westerners passing by in their floating castle, tourism itself in the form of a brief condescending gawp at other cultures, the question of how small Pacific nations should develop and sustain themselves, what will happen to them if there is a long global recession, etc.

For those who aren't involved, one aspect of the story that pops out is the fact that Lengkon's comments were written in Bislama, one of the three official languages of the Republic.

Bislama is a kind of pidgin English widely used there because the country has over 100 different languages and dialects: "Vanuatu is considered to be the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world, with an average of about 2,000 speakers for each indigenous language; only Papua New Guinea comes close," says Wikipedia.

There is probably a connection to PNG: Vanuatu may have been colonised by Autronesian speakers as early as 4,000 - 6,000 years ago in the eastward expansion from what is now Papua, which itself saw the arrival of humans some 60,000 years ago, together with other movement into Australia.

Many languages of small communities are considered "endangered" - there was a UNESCO conference about this in 2008. But perhaps preserving them is a futile, Canute-like attempt.

Not to worry; in the far future, when our current energy-rich civilisations are forgotten, there will be isolation and cultural-linguistic variation again, just as island wildlife mutates to take advantage of local niche opportunities.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

VANUATU: Lavatory humour

Reposted from The Polynesian Times:


http://bestpublictoilet.org/cause/best-public-toilet-in-all-south-pacific/

Humour sells. Vanuatu and a church ministry from near Melbourne, Australia have launched a project with multiple purposes: sanitation, fresh water collection, tourism and economic development.

So, a loo with its own website. Any good toilet-themed jokes or headlines?


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Thursday, March 24, 2016

What would you have?

What would you have? The government has freed us from the dependence of serfdom--and many thanks to it! but the habits of slavery are too deeply ingrained in us; we cannot easily be rid of them. We want a master in everything and everywhere; as a rule this master is a living person, sometimes it is some so-called tendency which gains authority over us.... At present, for instance, we are all the bondslaves of natural science.... Why, owing to what causes, we take this bondage upon us, that is a matter difficult to see into; but such seemingly is our nature. But the great thing is, that we should have a master.
Ivan Turgenev – Smoke (1867)

Turgenev made the point almost a century and a half ago but it still stands today. Many people appear to be uninterested in political independence as long as they are free to consume. It has become painfully obvious that the global drift towards total government is no accident, no quirk of political circumstance.

Neither does it feel like a planned assault on our political freedoms because we are freely giving those away. Here in the UK we are handing them over to the EU and a complex web of global agencies most voters seem barely aware of. In the US, voters seem likely to be faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for their next president. Neither seems likely to halt the slow American slide towards total government.

By 2020 UK voters may be faced with a grisly choice between Conservatives led by David Cameron and Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn. Of course it is possible that neither man will weather the events between now and then, but is any other choice likely to be more appealing?

What would you have?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

JD: Human rights or human rites?

JD always tells me something I didn't know; here, more than one:

"In the light of what happened this morning I was unsure whether this was the right time to deliver a post. I wrote it this morning and I have read through it again and this morning changes nothing. I will be accused of defending IS. The Wahhabi/Da'esh version is but one of a myriad of sects within Islam and most of them, I suspect, pre-date Islam. The Sufi are definitely older than Islam, for example. So here it is..."

====================================================================
You will have seen this, no doubt:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3502079/Saudi-Arabia-s-kingdom-savagery-DOES-Britain-cosy-butchers.html

 Stupid question in the Mail's headline: oil is the answer, of course.

I remember a while back there was a photo purporting to show a woman buried up to her waist before being stoned to death. That photo turned out to be a 'still' from a film in production. So I will not comment on these photos but I can confirm that the Saudis do indeed execute people every Friday in 'chop square' in Riyadh and other cities. I have managed to avoid working in Saudi but I know a lot of people who have worked there so whatever I say here is second hand.

One friend told me that in his first week in the country he thought he and his wife would walk and have a look around on their Friday day off. They were spotted by the Muttawah, the Religious Police, and were 'invited' to see one of the wonders of that splendid country. I think the exact words were "Come, come and see. You don't have this in your country."

There was no indication of what that 'wonder' might be until they reached Deera Square and were ushered to the front of the crowd. My friend and his wife then witnessed two beheadings. Very swift - chop! and that was it. Afterwards the bodies were carted away and water bowsers arrived to hose down the square and life returned to 'normal' with no sign that anything untoward had happened. Needless to say my friend left Saudi as quickly as he could. I do not doubt his story because there is too much evidence to support it. It is now known as chop chop square for some reason.

Inflation? Or is it bloodier than it used to be? Just Google it and you will find out. If you have the stomach for it you will find it on YouTube.

 Before anyone declares that this is the reality of Islam, it is but one part of it and began with an alliance in 1744 between Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud which eventually grew into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and thus spawned a puritanical sect of Islam now known as Wahhabiism. I have lived and worked in Dubai, Qatar and Iran as well as visiting/working in Cairo. Those four Islamic cultures are as different from each other as they are from Saudi Arabia.

 It is worth remembering that the English Kings were rather fond of chopping people's heads off. The first Papal Crusade was not against Islam but was against the Cathars in France who were the 'wrong' type of Christians. "Kill em all, let God sort them out!" was the rallying cry at the Siege of at Béziers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caedite_eos._Novit_enim_Dominus_qui_sunt_eius. 

Secularists were not exempt from such madness. The Age of Reason produced a lot of unreason in the Pace de la Concorde in 1789. And if you were to read the Old Testament you will find within it a long list of Kings of Israel who were nothing more than bloodthirsty tyrants.

 So why is it that humanity is so insane when it comes to enforcing and defending its chosen belief system? Wiser heads than mine can provide some of the answers. Charles Fort in "The Book of the Damned" (1919) wrote that "Every faith and theory in every field is only upheld by 'exclusions'" i.e. by ignoring or suppressing the evidence that tells against it. "We substitute acceptance for belief."

John Michell in 2007, commenting on Fort's words, wrote in The Oldie magazine, "The nature of the world is largely a matter of choice, and it is an important choice because it determines your whole experience of life. It is quite permissible to see this earth as a type of divine paradise, and if you accept that view, rewards will follow. Otherwise you can visualise a world of pain and pointlessness, inducing a state of mind whose logical conclusion is suicide. The choice between these two perspectives seems rather obvious."

Unfortunately the world's elected and unelected leaders, since time immemorial, have chosen suicide and appear to be dedicated to the destruction of life. And another wiser head than mine has expressed it thus- "on TV, expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred. We are a culture dedicated to the destruction of life."



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Sunday, March 20, 2016

AUSTRALIA: "First Film Made of Arnhem Land Natives"

Reposted from The Polynesian Times:

"Table manners may seem crude but it is not very long ago that the people of Britain were eating with their hands."

This film, "Primitive Peoples Part 1" by G. B. [Gaumont British] Instructional Ltd is careful not to condescend (1). Actor Peter Finch, already famous in Australia for his radio work, assisted with shooting as well as narrating (2).

The people shown are said to be of the "Miwai", though their territory as described is that of the Yolngu and one or two of the sub-groups named are recognisably in the Yolngu list in Wikipedia (3). The press article from the Melbourne Argus (23 August 1947) names the tribe as "Wongurris" and says they were paid with around a ton of food supplies (4).

The film crew's guide and liaison officer was Edward "Ted" Evans of the Native Affairs Branch in Darwin - he terms the tribe Wangurri in his 1990 memoir of Arnhem Land. Evans had become familiar with the area and its people at the end of World war 2, when the Royal Australian Air Force Base on Gove Peninsula was decommissioned and for some reason he and writer Bill Harney were left there for five months after they had finished stocktaking. "To me the whole 1946 Gove Peninsula experience was a revelation of the richness of the Aboriginal world, of the fascinating variety of wildlife on our doorstep and particularly of the depth of understanding and mutual respect that existed between Bill Harney and the Aboriginal people." (5)




So far I have not found Parts 2 and 3 of the film - according to Evans, the only copy in Australia was held by the Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies.

Evans concludes, "In 1972, I acquired for the first time copies of the Gaumont British film made in 1947.1 took it out to Yirrkala, but as twenty-five years had elapsed and therefore some of those appearing had since died, I showed it first only to the elders to get their reaction before running it before the general community. Their reaction was one of wistful sorrow, followed by a request that I not show it publicly - not because of any taboo content of which there is none. but because'of the sadness they felt personally on observing the living activities of persons now dead. Of course, I complied with their request.

"I retired in 1976 almost thirty years after my first arrival at Melville Bay with Bill Harney. In that time I developed a strong feeling for Arnhem Land and a high regard for its people. particularly those of Yirrkala. This esteem still continues and I value the contacts I am able to make occasionally thereby maintaining a nostalgic link with a crowded, but fading past. I look back on my involvement with some pride and I trust that my humble efforts may have helped the people to face and cope with the dramatic, complex and fast-moving changes that were brought upon them over that span of years. Rarely in the history of mankind has a people, within the span of one generation, been required to make adjustments to their lifestyle which have impacted upon almost every vital element of their traditional world."
_____________________________

(1) http://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b87a9557a - The film is dated 1950 but the press coverage (see 4 below) is from 1947
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitive_Peoples
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yolngu
(4) http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/22438457
(5) http://www.artsandmuseums.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/114958/occpaper12.pdf



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Saturday, March 19, 2016

HAWAII: Is sovereignty the wrong issue?

Posted earlier on The Polynesian Times:


As the poster above for today's meeting shows, the debate over Hawaiian sovereignty is hot. Last month, a draft constitution for Native Hawaiians was agreed - behind locked and guarded gates - by an organisation called Nai Upuni. Although they are supported financially by the State’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, their claim to be representative of indigenous groups is vigorously opposed by another association called ʻAha Aloha ʻĀina(1). In response to a lawsuit and U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the proposed ratification vote has now been cancelled(2).

There are wrongs to be righted. The campaigning site Cultural Survival outlines some of the difficulties of the marginalised and exploited "first nation" Hawaiians(3). Many have had to move to mainland USA for a better life - there are some 90,000 in Las Vegas aka "the ninth island"(4). In their own ancestral lands, Native Hawaiians are now a minority - exactly how small, depends on how you define them; maybe 10% - 20% of residents. There is more than one reason for this: numbers of Native Hawaiians crashed after European contact in the late eighteenth century, as imported diseases swept through the population, but also there has been a large influx of Asians and Americans in modern times, especially since the illegal(5) annexation of the country by the US following a coup by sugar businessmen(6, 7, 8).

Even compensatory help for Native Hawaiians is limited, as Amy Sun explains: "In 1921, Congress passed the 'Hawaiian Homes Commission Act,' which [set aside merely] 3% of the total land for Native Hawaiians. [...] 'Native Hawaiian' is defined as a person who is at least 50% Native Hawaiian. So if you [have less than this proportion], you lose your right to homestead." Sun also notes that Native Hawaiians are over-represented among the State's homeless(9). The need for a collective voice is obvious.

But there could be as much danger as opportunity in seeking a separate kind of citizenship - the example of Native Americans is not heartening. Besides, as President of the Grassroots Institute Keli’i Akina commented, "This [constitutional exercise] represents a significant waste of funds that could have been better used on the projects that Hawaiians truly care about–like health care, job training, housing, and education."(10) In addition, sovereignty activists must surely be aware of the possibility of legal (or tactical) traps in constitutional processes - think of the 1959 Hawaii plebiscite, in which residents voted on whether to remain a territory or become a US State (11). Crucially, independence for Hawaiians was not on offer in 1959, and to have voted either of the two given choices could be taken as implicit abandonment of claims to national freedom. It's been argued that this subtle stratagem cuts across a UN Resolution made some years before, so perhaps international legal challenge is still possible(12).

Having said that, is it geopolitically realistic to expect the USA to relinquish its hold on the islands, especially at a time when China is forging closer links with one Pacific nation after another?

Irrespective of the machinations of empires, the status quo is not an option in the long term, for a far greater factor for change is involved: sustainability. This is a global issue, which impacts heavily on Hawaii. The State has a population of around 1.4 million; even without 50,000 military personnel and an average 200,000 tourists at any one time, there are well over a million permanent residents. Estimates of numbers in 1778 vary widely - between 200,000 and anything up to a million(13) - but whatever the actual figure, the lifestyle then was dramatically less resource-intensive per capita. How much longer can a large, high-burn civilisation last in Hawaii?

Take energy: despite having the third-lowest per capita energy use in the USA in 2013, Hawaii imported 91% of its needs in that year(14). The goal is to move to 100% renewable energy by 2045, but even now this is beginning to look like wishful thinking(15). Besides, the devices involved in renewable energy production imply a vast network of enterprises, just as with Adam Smith's 1776 example of pin manufacture(16)  - except that those modern enterprises also mostly consume non-animal/non-human energy. The foundation of the world's technological network is vulnerable.

Then there's food: again, 90% is imported and modern agriculture and food management is also highly energy-intensive(17).

How long have we got, to make changes for survival? "If the world continues to consume fossil fuels at 2006 rates, the reserves of oil, coal and gas will last a further 40, 200 and 70 years, respectively," said a survey in 2007(18). There's lots of ifs and buts in arriving at such an estimate, yet the message clearly is: not forever.

Does that 200 years of coal sound reassuring? Polynesians came to Hawaii at least 800 years ago. We need a perspective reaching beyond our own brief personal lifetimes. After all the desperate attempts at technical fixes, human societies will have to simplify their way of life and shrink their numbers. It is perhaps not too much to suggest that the successors of the tribes that today are oppressed, exploited, undermined, pitied, patronised and romanticised could one day simply be what is left of humanity, provided all is not consumed in some Rapa Nui-like madness. While addressing issues of social justice now, we must also plan for that great transition.

Traditional societies are not relics of the past: they are our ultimate future.
________________________________________
(1) http://ahaalohaaina.com/
(2) http://bigstory.ap.org/article/f438807567d4430299fb2e864bfe5a2e/native-hawaiian-group-wont-hold-vote-ratify-constitution
(3) https://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/tourism-and-the-prostitution-of-hawaiian-culture
(4) http://www.mauinews.com/page/blogs.detail/display/5308/Las-Vegas-and-Why-90-000-Former-Hawai-i-Residents-Live-There.html
(5) See this interview with Professor Williamson Chang: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIOh5KMqXfA
(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaii#Population
(7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Hawaiians#Demographics
(8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1887_Constitution_of_the_Kingdom_of_Hawaii
(9) http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/myths-about-native-hawaiians/
(10) http://new.grassrootinstitute.org/2016/03/breaking-news-grassroot-institute-questions-nai-aupunis-avoidance-of-the-democratic-process/
(11) Remaining a territory could have been worse: only this week, American Samoans - who are ruled by, yet not citizens of the US - have asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether they should be granted birthright citizenship: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-wp-blm-samoa-comment-ef8cca54-eab0-11e5-a9ce-681055c7a05f-20160315-story.html
(12) "One of the many obligations as stated in U.N. Resolution 742 in 1953 declares that one of the 'factors indicative of the attainment of independence or of other separate systems of self-government,' is 'freedom of choosing on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples between several possibilities including independence.' - http://statehoodhawaii.org/2009/05/12/the-statehood-plebiscite/
(13) https://evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10524/482/1/JL28007.pdf
(14) http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=HI
(15) http://www.civilbeat.com/2016/03/is-hawaii-hampering-efforts-to-reach-renewable-energy-goal/
(16) http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/Pages/current/smith.aspx
(17) http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/hawaii-local-food
(18) S. Shafiee & E. Topal, "An overview of fossil fuel reserve depletion time", University of Queensland - www.iaee.org/en/publications/proceedingsabstractdoc.aspx?id=1092 

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Friday, March 18, 2016

A dull genus

Those derided Victorians, who looked upon every man as a potential husband, certainly extracted every ounce of interest from a dull genus.
Ethel Lina White - Some Must Watch (1933 - later filmed as The Spiral Staircase)

An interesting article from Quillette about a study which suggests society's view of males has soured.

“Depressing Study Finds Gender Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Since the 1980s,”proclaimed the New York magazine website the other day. The women’s site Bustle echoed the gloomy view: “Gender Stereotypes Just As Prevalent in 2016 As In The 1980s, New Study Finds, So Maybe Things Aren’t As Great As We’d Like To Believe.”

Yet a closer look at the study in question shows a far more complicated picture. While some beliefs about male and female traits and roles have indeed changed little since a similar survey in 1983, there has been a marked shift toward egalitarian attitudes on some important issues. There also seems to have been a marked shift toward more negative perceptions of men — which is arguably depressing, but probably not in the way the study’s authors and most of the commentators would like you to think...

Could stereotyping sometimes cause powerful women to be seen as kinder and more altruistic than powerful men? Recent research, such as the work of political scientists Deborah Jordan Brooks, Jennifer Lawless and Danny Hayes, suggests that today gender is more an asset than an obstacle for female politicians.

Yes, it’s likely that women who are perceived as too hard and cold are sometimes penalized because of societal expectations of female “niceness.” But surely, there are also times when the tendency to stereotype men as less understanding, warm, and capable of providing emotional support can result in unfairness to men. And some of that stereotyping is likely due not to patriarchy or lack of feminist progress, but do the direction feminism has taken in the last thirty years.

To my mind this has been going on for a very long time - certainly well before the eighties and particularly in popular entertainment. Remember The Likely Lads, a comedy about two idiot young men first broadcast in 1964? Or how about Laurel and Hardy?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Osborne threatens Yorkshire with "Mancgatte"

George Osborne today unveiled his proposal to end Yorkshire's troublesome obsession with regional independence, by the construction of a huge road tunnel intended to "rub their noses in diversity."

Ostensibly designed to cut journey times between Yorkshire and the northwestern counties, the true objective of the massive project is to affirm the Chancellor's commitment to "ever-closer union" between the Roses.

The exact route is yet to be finally determined, but one aspect is already decided: "To save time, we shall be building a vast migrant camp at the same time as the Tunnel," said a spokesman for Number 11.

Opposing the plan, the leader of the United Keighley Independence Party commented, "The Chancellor is weaponising Lancastrians in order to wring financial concessions from wealthy Yorkshiremen. This is our last chance to stop the madness." In an apparent attempt to delay planning permission indefinitely, a UKIP party worker was caught this week planting Great Crested Newts in ponds and ditches across the area where digging is due to start.



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Friday, March 11, 2016

Duvets and daggers

In the Mail this week, a story about a man who kicked his lady in the stomach in a row about duvet-hogging. Initially he denied intent, "saying he put his leg up as she walked towards him."

(It was in a Viennese hotel some years ago that we first came across a double bed with two single duvets; I hadn't realised it was a crime prevention measure.)

The principle of criminal intent was established by the Elizabethan jurist Edward Coke as one of the two elements necessary to prove guilt.

Which brings me to an old story about a case supposedly heard in Cardiff Crown Court. A man had stabbed someone to death in a pub, and his defence was that he had held out the knife in a warning but self-protective gesture, and the other fellow had walked into it.

The judge leaned forward and asked, "What would you have done if he hadn't walked forward?"

The defendant replied "I'd have done that, wouldn't I?", miming a powerful jab with the blade.

One imagines the Rumpole-like scene in the cells below afterwards, the barrister saying, "What you have to understand, Taff, and you'll have plenty of time to muse on this, is..."


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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Quote of the day

Peter Hitchens: I’d dispute the use of the word ‘libertarian’. No liberation is taking place. [...] All the enslavements of modern society, which offers nothing but work and money as we dwell in hutches amid an undifferentiated landscape of concrete, plastic and neon, are presented to their victims as liberation. Amidst all this, that is why drugs and drink may come to look like liberation too. 

http://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/the-laura-perrins-interview-peter-hitchens-on-why-it-is-time-to-emigrate/


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Monday, March 07, 2016

Child labour in the Potteries



Sometimes even old cups and saucers have a slice of social history to relate. The above cup and saucer dates from round about 1840 and although unmarked is typical of wares made by the Hilditch and Hopwood pottery at Longton. It was made in part by child labour.

In Scriven's Report on Child Labour in the pottery industry in 1840, Richard Moreton – then aged 9 and working at Hilditch and Hopwood reported.

‘I am a figure maker for William Moreton [Richard’s father], I work by the piece and can make 40 dozen (480) small figures a day: I get 1d for ten dozen, that is about two shillings [10 pence] a week.’

So little Richard Moreton did not work for Hilditch and Hopwood, but for his father William who subcontracted figure making to his 9 year old son.

The 'figures' little Richard made in such vast quantities may have been something like the lilac coloured sprig mouldings on the above cup and saucer. The sprig mouldings were made from soft coloured clay rather like Plasticine. Richard would press them out of the clay using moulds, carefully remove them, then either he or someone else would stick them to the cup or saucer with liquid clay before firing.

These are not high class items of bone china; they were intended for middle class markets to be brought out the china cabinet for genteel afternoon tea parties.

Also from Scriven's report

employments of families

13) The processes being such as to admit of the employment of whole families father, mother, and some two, three, or more children - their united earnings are sometimes £3. or £4. per week: but, proverbially improvident, and adopting the adage,- "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof", they squander the proceeds of their labour in gaudy dress, or at the skittle-ground and ale-house; so that, when overtaken by illness or other casualty, and thrown for a few days out of work, they resort to their masters for a loan, or to the parish workhouse for relief.


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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Tahiti: new biohazard laboratory opened


Friday, 4 March 2016: Tahiti News announces the opening of a new high-biosafety laboratory at the Malardé Institute in Pape'ete.(1)

This is to help deal with the increased risk of infectious diseases that have spread to and from the Pacific region, such as Chikungunya (2), Zika (3) - which was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 (4), dengue (5), H1N1 influenza (6).

An earlier article from FranceTV (7) explains that highly dangerous diseases need to be handled in very safe facilities, which up till now did not exist in French Polynesia. Previously samples would have had to be sent to other laboratories abroad, which cost precious time.

The new lab on Tahiti is equipped to NSB3 containment standard. This is not the highest category - level 4 is for very high risk pathogens such Ebola, Lassa, Marburg etc and "other agents with unknown risks of pathogenicity and transmission" (8).

The top biosafety rating includes germ warfare research facilities such as the UK's Porton Down, listed on Wikipedia (9). One obvious reason why the "space suit" level 4 isn't appropriate for Tahiti is the risk of destructive tropical storms like the Category 5 Cyclone Winston that crashed into Fiji last month, killing 43 people (10).

French Polynesia is 2,100 miles further east but is still not immune: in 2010 Cyclone Oli hit Tahiti with gusts up to 120 mph (11), and in 1997 Cyclone Osea wrecked 95% of the infrastructure of Maupiti, 200 miles NW of the main island (12). So we needn't worry about an Andromeda Strain-type (13) accidental plague weapon release: it's not that kind of operation.
___________________________________

(1)  http://www.tahitinews.co/inauguration-dun-laboratoire-de-haute-securite-biologique/
(2) http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/geo/ - very widespread globally
(3) http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/ - also spreading via  mosquito in Samoa and Tonga, for example
(4) https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/03/03/zika-connection-microcephaly-guillain-barre-hard-prove/
(5) http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2016/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/dengue - throughout S E Asia and the western Pacific
(6) http://www.gleamviz.org/2009/09/ - spread around the world by air travel in months
(7) http://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/polynesie/tahiti/installation-d-un-laboratoire-de-haute-securite-biologique-l-institut-malarde-197064.html - dateline 9 Oct 2014, updated 25 Feb 2016
(8) http://www.labmanager.com/lab-health-and-safety/2010/12/biosafety-levels-1-2-3-4?fw1pk=2#.VtrtvX2LSt9
(9) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosafety_level#Biosafety_level_4
(10) http://fijione.tv/43-dead-after-tc-winston/
(11) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Oli#Tahiti_2
(13) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Andromeda_Strain

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Friday, March 04, 2016

Ancient Rome and modern Liberty

A connected set of stories from Roman history shows that freedom means nothing without economic independence and civil rights.

Professor Mary Beard's “SPQR”[i] takes as its starting-point the failed Catiline Conspiracy in 63 B.C. Cicero, then one of the two Consuls, ordered the immediate execution without trial of a group of co-conspirators, and was hailed as Father of the Fatherland for saving the city from bloody revolution.

But this action helped him to his own downfall. On his last day in office, two of his rivals prevented him from giving the customary valedictory speech on the grounds that he himself had not allowed the accused Catalinarians to speak before condemning them. Some years later (58 B.C.) the Roman people voted to exile anyone who executed without trial and Cicero left Rome ahead of another vote specifically naming him.


When he came back, he found that his house had been razed to the ground and a temple to Liberty meaningfully set up in its place, blocking a rebuild:

“By building and consecrating the temple on the former house of then-exiled Cicero, Clodius ensured that the land was legally uninhabitable. Upon his return, Cicero successfully argued that the consecration was invalid and thus managed to reclaim the land and destroy the temple.”[ii]

The politics then was as murky as now: Cicero had accused Clodius of being involved in the conspiracy, even though the latter had sided with him during the crisis; and a thirty-something Julius Caesar had suggested the unusual step of imprisoning the suspected rebels instead of killing them - was this a matter of legal principle, or a ploy to keep alive secret allies? 

Cicero died in 43 B.C. at the behest of someone else he came to oppose, Mark Antony, and his head and hands were set up in the Forum as another visual political statement. 

 But when and why was “Libertas” made a goddess?

Her first temple in Rome was built long before, in 238 B.C.[iii] – not the “Iuppiter Libertas”[iv] of which the Emperor Augustus boasted[v], but instead (it is said[vi]) by Tiberius Gracchus. The “tiny”[vii] edifice stood somewhere on the Aventine Hill by the River Tiber, perhaps next to the temple of Juno Queen (and near those of Flora, Ceres and the Moon)[viii], as shown in the images below (please ignore the yellow indicator on the latter):

Temple of Juno (large); Temple of Libertas said to be nearby

Image: http://www.maquettes-historiques.net/page18aa7.html

Map, showing temples in the neighbourhood

http://www.rome.wiebekoo.nl/ROMA%20ANTICA/Muren%20van%20Rome/images/portaTrigemina02.jpg


Roman coin, said to be of "Jupiter and Libertas" - possibly not the first temple
Image: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/356699232963738814/

This building, too, had a point. Tiberius Gracchus had given Italian agricultural labourers rights to land and hence an entitlement to military service. He was hated by the rich land owners, who saw the reforms as a threat to their wealth and power and as undermining their use of slave labour on their estates. On the other hand he was understandably very popular with the plebs, and the Liberty temple nailed his colours to the mast.

He, too, was killed:

“The senate failed in an attempt to bar him from standing again, but a group of enraged senators, led by his hostile cousin Scipio Nasica, charged into an election rally of Tiberius', broke it up and, alas, clubbed him to death.”(ix)

Perhaps “enraged” is not the right word here: it sounds like a sort of mitigation on the grounds of passion. A better term should be found for the coldly organised violence of plutocrats.

Professor Beard says that Rome’s history is relevant to us today, and surely it is. A powerful elite outsourcing work to cheaper labour , depriving their fellow citizens of access to the means of production and so eating away at their personal independence; the leader of the moment using public panic to ride roughshod over the due process of law; belated calls for the former “saviour of the nation” to be held to account, but coming from political enemies who may have their own shadowy agendas; show-democracy giving way to a succession of tyrants.

“Nihil sub sole novum”: there is nothing new under the sun. 

CODA: 

There is another resemblance between Catiline and Tiberius Gracchus: both enlisted the support of peasant farmers:

"Promoting his policy of debt relief, Catiline initially also rallied many of the poor to his banner along with a large portion of Sulla’s veterans. Debt had never been greater than in 63 BC since the previous decades of war had led to an era of economic downturn across the Italian countryside. Numerous plebeian farmers lost their farms and were forced to move to the city, where they swelled the numbers of the urban poor. Sulla's veterans were in bad economic straits as well. Desiring to regain their fortunes, they were prepared to march to war under the banner of the "next" Sulla. Thus, many of the plebs eagerly flocked to Catiline and supported him in the hope of the absolution of their debts."

Debt, recession, discontent among the lower orders, populist politicians, reactionary fat-cats backed by the Establishment, calls for debt relief... Very modern.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Catilinarian_conspiracy



[i] “SPQR: A history of Ancient Rome”, Profile Books (2016)
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertas
[iii] http://www.britannica.com/topic/Libertas-Roman-religion
[iv] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Jupiter_Libertas.html
[v] http://www.loebclassics.com/view/augustus-res_gestae/1924/pb_LCL152.375.xml
[vi] See note [ii]
[vii] http://www.maquettes-historiques.net/P18A.html
[viii] http://www.rome.wiebekoo.nl/ROMA%20ANTICA/Muren%20van%20Rome/images/portaTrigemina02.jpg
[ix] http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/tib-gracchus.html


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Railway News

JD writes:

Have you heard of the EU's Fourth Railway Package? 

http://www.euractiv.com/section/transport/news/eu-ministers-agree-on-injecting-competition-into-domestic-rail-service/

If you search Google News for "EU's Fourth Railway Package" the first item on the list is from The Morning Star - 

In the 20 years since John Major privatised our industry — a privatisation, incidentally, which even Margaret Thatcher described as “a privatisation too far” — we have seen rolling stock get older, trains get more crowded and fares go through the roof. We now have the highest fares in Western Europe, because of privatisation.

But the European Commission is determined to impose this flawed model on the rest of Europe. And, if it succeeds, it will prevent us from ever bringing the railways back into public ownership.


https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-4ae9-Well-vote-to-leave-to-save-Britains-rail#.VtjMGUBv63Y

It is one of the reasons why the rail union ASLEF is backing Brexit.

I know from experience that Germany, France and Spain have very good and very cheap State run rail services.The EU wants to privatise all of Europe's railways. Well, why not. It has worked so well in the UK :)

As our pragmatically minded American cousins are fond of saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" 

The EU leaders are insane, but we knew that anyway! :)


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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Justice for the Chagos Islanders

Pic source: Google

Guardian newspaper, 1 Feb 2016

Daily Mirror, 27 Feb 2016

Craig Murray, 1 March 2016

Wikipedia on the dirty "green" trick to keep the ousted islanders off their homeland:

"WikiLeaks cablegate disclosure (2010)
"According to Wikileaks CableGate documents,[26] the UK proposed in 2009 that the BIOT become a "marine reserve". The summary paragraph of the referenced diplomatic cable follows:
"HMG would like to establish a marine park or reserve providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park—the world's largest—would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve."[27]"

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