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Water on Mars – again!

October 1, 2015
Schiaparelli's Martian Canals

Schiaparelli’s Martian Canals

The funny thing about the discovery of water on Mars is that back in the late 19th century the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli announced that he had discovered canals on Mars – a network of straight lines in the equatorial regions of the planet. His discovery was confirmed by other astronomers around the world.

Schiaparelli never claimed that there was water in these canals. He used the Italian word canali, which means channels – not necessarily water channels – but the word was widely translated into English as “canals”, which, to English-speakers, meant channels of water.

The discovery of the Martian canals was hailed as a huge and important discovery, and was the subject of intense debate among scientists for more than a decade.

Maps of the Martian surface were published, emphasizing the canals and giving them names from mythology.

All kinds of explanations were proposed for the canals. The fact that they were straight lines seemed to indicate that they were made by intelligent beings. The renowned astronomer Percival Lowell interpreted the canals to mean that there was an advanced civilization living on Mars, which, on the basis of “logical deduction”, he described in great detail. His imagined Martian landscape was divided up into continents, with great cities, transport routes and so on. The British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was moved to write a book rejecting Lowell’s claims. Among other things he pointed out that the atmospheric pressure on Mars was too low for liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface (he was wrong, of course).

In the early 1900s, as telescopes improved, it became apparent that Schiaparelli’s “canals” were an optical illusion.

It turned out that if you looked at the surface of a planet through a poor quality telescope, the dots on the surface – ie, craters, pock marks etc – gave the illusion of being in straight lines. The mind of the observer, in other words, joined up the dots.

The “Martian Canals”, which had been discussed and argued about endlessly, and which had been the subject of numerous books and articles in scientific journals, didn’t actually exist.

Thus, the Martian Canals became one of most embarrassing episodes in the history of science, and thereafter astronomers were careful not to even mention the possibility that there might be water, let alone water channels, on Mars. Which is kind of ironic. Because now we know that there are.

The Martian canals they saw didn’t exist. But the Martian canals they didn’t see, did. Wouldn’t they just kick themselves if they were here today?

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Big game hunters with psychiatric issues

July 29, 2015

So Walter Palmer, the douchebag dentist from Minnesota who killed Cecil the lion, has issued an apology of sorts. The man clearly doesn’t get it. He says he “had no idea that the lion was a known, local favourite,” and that he “relied on the expertise of local professional guides” to ensure that the hunt was legal. He ends his “apology” with: “Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.” The activity he loves is killing wild, magnificent animals for fun. The fact that he killed an “iconic” lion this time has resulted in lots of media coverage. But killing any lion – or giraffe, or leopard, or elk (all of which he has killed in the past) – is the sign of a sick mind. In fact inflicting needless suffering on animals is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy.

Palmer seems to think killing animals for fun is okay as long as it’s “legal”, and that his only mistake has been to kill a lion that was well known. He doesn’t seem to “get” that for a grown man to travel halfway round the world to kill a wild animal for no other reason than to satisfy his own warped sense of sadistic pleasure is indicative of a profound psychological defect.
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Ethnicity as a lifestyle choice

June 19, 2015

dolezalAll this hullabaloo about Rachel Dolezal “identifying” as a black American. It’s kind of ironic/interesting that Ms Dolezal’s most vocal critics are the same people who keep telling us that we’re all the same under the skin, and that race doesn’t matter. In that case what difference does it make whether her dark skin is the result of natural or artificial pigmentation? “Going black” isn’t all that unusual anyway. A guy I went to school with – a thoroughly white Irish guy – gradually became “black” in his teens and twenties. First he began wearing his hair in dreadlocks and dressing in “ethnic” clothing. Then he began to speak with a Jamaican accent. His skin became darker (whether through tanning, make-up or auto-suggestion I have no idea). He was a guitarist, and he played only reggae, mostly Bob Marley songs. He even formed a reggae band. The last time I saw him he was planning on going to live in the US , to find his “roots” (yes, I know). That was years ago. By now he’s probably the president of some African republic.

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Suddenly it’s okay to show “disturbing images” on American TV

August 24, 2013

cnn“Some of the images we are about to show you are disturbing. They include the dead bodies of women and children,” said the CNN presenter, introducing a report on the situation in Syria.  And then she added: “We wouldn’t normally show you images of this kind, but we felt that this was an important story.”

Hmm.

Does that mean that the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq, in which thousands of Iraqi men, women and children were murdered in their beds by US and “allied” forces was not, in their opinion, an important story? Because I don’t recall seeing footage of dead and mutilated bodies on that occasion. Or, in fact, throughout their “coverage” of that occupation. Instead, they showed us sanitized images of smartly-dressed US soldiers handing out bottles of water to children.

Nor do I recall seeing the bodies of women and children when the US invaded Afghanistan. Anyone watching only CNN’s coverage of that invasion could be forgiven for thinking that no one was killed or injured. Again, all we saw were images of US and British soldiers going out on patrol and chatting to natives. Where were all the dead people?

Ditto CNN’s “coverage” of the drone attacks currently being carried out by the CIA against “targets” in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Again, none of the mainstream news networks are showing images of the dead and the dying.

And where were the CNN camera teams when hundreds of Gazans were being slaughtered by Israeli forces in 2009 and again in 2012? Again, no “disturbing” images from CNN et al.

But now, suddenly, we’re seeing gruesome images of bodies on every channel!
Because this story, according to CNN anyway, is more important than those other stories, in which up to a million people were killed.

It has nothing at all to do with the fact that those other people were killed by American soldiers and American allies, whereas the bodies they are showing us now are people who were killed by Syrians.

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The unceremonious departure of the Pope who protected the pedophiles

March 7, 2013

ImageAt the moment there is no pope. Ratzinger (what a great name that would have been for a metal band) has thrown in the holy towel, and his replacement hasn’t been chosen yet (I’m told Sinead O’Connor has mailed in her CV). But what intrigues me is the depontification process – or rather the lack of one. There doesn’t seem to be any official ceremony, which seems odd for a Church that has a ceremony for every occasion and contingency. One day Ritzy Ratzy is the Pope, and the next day he’s just an ordinary Joe Soap. Or at least an ordinary Joe Ratzinger. He just doesn’t show up for work, and that’s all there is to it.

So what exactly happens on the spiritual plane – do all his papal powers disappear at the stroke of midnight on the date of his resignation? One minute he’s the Pope, with the power of Infallibility, and the next minute he isn’t – just because he says so? His clothes don’t turn to rags as the Vatican chapel bell tolls, his Swiss guards don’t turn into mice, and his Popemobile doesn’t turn into a pumpkin. He just takes off his big sparkly hat and shuffles away to a presumably well-furnished bachelor pad somewhere in the bowels of the Vatican to watch daytime TV, play video games and surf the web looking for photos of altar boys.

It all seems a bit arbitrary and anticlimactic. At the very least you’d expect some kind of stripping down ceremony, whereby a clutch of Cardinals ripped off his papal tiara (yes, I know that it is properly called a triregnum), broke his staff in two with a dramatic flourish, and forced him to hand back his Ring of the Fisherman and, especially, his magic red shoes. If they don’t take back those shoes, how can they be sure he won’t click his heels together next week and reappear in the papal suite?

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Norway’s incompetent police were to blame for high death toll in mass killings

July 27, 2011

Right now the people of Norway, and especially the families of those killed, are grieving for the dead, and are more concerned with looking after survivors than with apportioning blame for what happened last week. The mood is one of sorrow more than of anger.

I predict that the mood will change radically in the days and weeks ahead.

It took the police over an hour and a half to reach the island of Utoeya.

I know that if I were a parent of one of the victims of last week’s massacre I would certainly be demanding to know why it took the police so long to take action to save my child’s life.

These young people were calling and texting their families and friends for the best part of two hours while they tried to evade a gunman who was able to pick them off at his leisure. “Where are the police? When are they coming?” were the questions they asked over and over again.

There is NO excuse for this. This was negligence and incompetence on a grand scale. Norway is a rich and well-resourced country. It has a well-equipped police force and emergency services. It isn’t Iraq or Gaza. There is no shortage of police personnel, cars, or helicopters.

It was the delay in getting armed police to the island that gave the madman all the time he needed to systematically hunt down and execute his victims.

Media helicopters were hovering over the island, filming the killings from the air, long before the police arrived (it takes ten minutes to get from Oslo to Utoeya by helicopter). That is an absolute disgrace.

Norway’s Justice Minister Knut Storberget praised the police for their “fantastic” work after the attacks. Fantastic? Hardly. Unless he was using the word in its original sense of “impossible to believe”.

The police themselves have been defending their dismal performance in responding to the attacks. “I don’t think we could have done this (reach the site of the massacre) faster,” Police Chief of Staff Johan Fredriksen told journalists in Oslo. If that’s true, it’s a damning admission.

If the Norwegian police can’t reach the scene of an ongoing crime less than 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the country’s capital city in less than an hour and a half, and if they seriously believe that they did a good job in getting there in that time, they should all resign without delay, including – and especially – Police Chief Fredriksen.

Even assuming they had to go from Oslo (were there no police closer to the scene?), they averaged approximately 12mph (about 19kmph) – less than the speed of the average cyclist – in response to an emergency in which children were being picked off by a lunatic with an automatic weapon.

By any standards this was a dazzling display of stupidity and ineptitude.

It has been argued that the police didn’t expect anything like this to happen, and that they were “wrong-footed”. That might be true (although “flat-footed” would seem to be a more apt description), but it’s not good enough. Their job is to be prepared for all eventualities. Even allowing – generously – for their having been “taken by surprise”, an hour and a half is at least an hour longer than it should have taken them to get to Utoeya island. No matter which way you cut it, this was a pathetic response, and it almost certainly cost the lives of the majority of those killed. Even the gunman himself commented that he was surprised at how long the police took to get there and stop him.

Engine failure is said to have delayed the arrival of one commando police boat by ten minutes. This is a lame excuse to say the least. They had plenty of boats, and there was no shortage of civilian boats – and helicopters – that could have been commandeered.

This was a Keystone Kops response to an emergency situation that called for competence, preparedness and efficiency. Scores of lives were lost on the island of Utoeya as a result of police stupidity and lack of professionalism.

The families of those who were killed or injured have every reason to be angry and to demand a full public inquiry and, in the meantime, the immediate resignation of the Chief of Police and every senior police officer who contributed to this tragedy of errors.

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Holistic Spain Network will be launched on 26 July 2011

July 18, 2011

Only a week to go until the launch of my holistic network, at HolisticSpain.net.
Holistic Spain is a network of holistic resources – including therapists, teachers, training programs, health-orientated holidays and retreats, hotels and so on – covering the whole of Spain. We will also be offering a free information and referral service. Launch date is 26 July 2011. Please visit the site for further information.

Press Release

Solo queda una semana para el lanzamiento de mi red holística en at HolisticSpain.net.
Holistic Spain es una red de recursos holísticos que incluye, entre otros, a terapeutas, profesores, programas de formación, retiros y vacaciones orientadas a la salud y hoteles en toda España. También ofreceremos un servicio gratuito de información y referencias. La fecha de lanzamiento es el 26 de julio de 2011. Visite el sitio web para obtener más información.

NOTA DE PRENSA

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Pasties and Hot Sauce

June 29, 2011


“World’s oldest woman enjoyed pasties with hot sauce”
was one of the headlines on the BBC website this week.

Apparently a Brazilian woman thought to have been the world’s oldest person has died at the age of 114.

“Reports” like this really annoy me.

Are we supposed to infer that pasties with hot sauce is the recipe for great longevity?

Maybe this old lady – well, dead lady, to be more precise – only started eating pasties with hot sauce a month ago, and that’s what killed her.

Maybe if the reporter who submitted this article had taken the trouble to question members of the woman’s family they’d have told him or her: “She was doing fine until she started eating those damned pasties with hot sauce.”

We just don’t know.

It’s like those non-meat eaters who delight in telling you that GB Shaw was a vegetarian, and he lived to the age of 94 (after which, ironically, he became dead meat himself).

Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian too, but they never mention him.

Incidentally, Shaw’s father had a bad squint (is there such a thing as a good squint?) which Oscar Wilde’s father, who was a renowned Dublin surgeon at the time, tried – without success – to correct. So Shaw the elder died with his squint intact. For all we know his family had it framed and mounted.

Anyway, to get back to the point I was making, Shaw was a veggie and he lived to be 94. It’s hardly scientific proof of anything, is it? George Burns smoked fifteen cigars every day for most of his adult life, and he lived to be 100. Are we to conclude that smoking cigars is marginally better for one’s health than living on lettuce?

Turtles are herbivores, and they live twice as long as humans. But are they herbivores by choice, you have to wonder, or because they can’t move fast enough to catch anything tasty? They’re not exactly designed to be effective predators. It’s hard to imagine a turtle sneaking up on a gazelle at a watering hole and lunging for its throat. By the time a turtle crept up on any animal it would already have died of old age.

Unless it was a parrot, of course. Some species of parrot can live up to 100 years. But parrots, like most humans, are omnivores, so their longevity can’t be attributed to not eating meat. On the other hand they don’t smoke cigars, so where does that leave us?

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Cholera kills 300 in Haiti. So where’s the vaccine?

October 27, 2010

The cholera epidemic in Haiti continues to spread. So far, over 3,000 cases have been reported, and almost 300 people have died from the disease.

Health officials say they have stepped up disease prevention measures and are “racing against time”, with medics “administering intravenous drips to patients” etc.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Just this: While the health authorities are supposedly “doing everything possible” to fight this outbreak, there has been no mention at all of what would appear to be the most obvious and simple solution: make the cholera vaccine available to those most at risk.

There are several cholera vaccines, including Dukoral (which can be taken orally).

So why hasn’t the vaccine been made available? Why allow all these people to die if there is a vaccine that can give them instant immunity from the disease?

The vaccine isn’t being made available for the same reason vaccinations are never made available during the early stages of epidemics: they don’t work, and it would quickly become apparent that they don’t work, because the number of cases would continue to rise.

No vaccination program has ever stopped a viral or bacterial epidemic in its tracks (cholera is caused by a bacterium), and the cholera vaccine is no exception.

So here we see yet another epidemic running its deadly course and causing hundreds of deaths while the purported antidote isn’t being made available. We recently saw the same thing with the swine flu vaccine, whose distribution was mysteriously delayed until the disease had already lost its potency.

What is the vaccine supposed to be for, if not to prevent the disease from spreading? What’s the point of spending billions of dollars researching and developing vaccines if they are not going to be used when they are most needed? When hundreds of people are dying from the disease that the vaccination is supposedly able to prevent?

The health authorities know perfectly well that vaccination doesn’t work, and would have no effect on the course of this outbreak. As always, the vaccine will be made available (if at all) when the disease has run its natural course and people are no longer dying from it. Then the health authorities will point to the disappearance of the disease as evidence of the effectiveness of vaccination – as they have with every other infectious disease.

The risk of a cholera outbreak in Haiti has been known for some time, following the earthquake. Back in January Pier Luigi Testa, emergency co-ordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), warned that an outbreak of cholera was to be expected. The authorities had more than enough time to organise a mass vaccination program. In fact this could have been done in just a few days, given that the vaccine can be administered orally, in a drink or on a sugar cube, making it far easier to distribute and administer than vaccines which have to be injected by trained medical personnel.

If the cholera vaccine works, as the manufacturers claim, why hasn’t it been made available to the people of Haiti, or at least to those who are most at risk of contracting this wretched disease?

Update 20 November

It is over a month since the start of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, and the death toll has now reached 1,200 – and still there is no mention of the vaccine. Why not, if, as we are told, it gives protection against the disease? If the vaccine works, why were these people allowed to die?
According to the BBC website today, the outbreak has now spread to Haiti’s largest jail, the national prison in Port-au-Prince, which houses around 2,000 prisoners. Thirty prisoners are infected with the disease, and thirteen have already died. This is a relatively small, isolated group of people. It would take less than a day to vaccinate all the prisoners (the cholera vaccination can be administered orally). Why hasn’t this happened?
The disease has also now spread into neighbouring Dominican Republic.
Again, the medical authorities – including the World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control – have endorsed the cholera vaccine, as, of course, have the various companies that manufacture it.
The truth is, vaccines are only ever made available when there is no immediate threat from the disease against which they are supposed to offer protection. They are never made available when they would supposedly save hundreds or thousands of lives – ie, while epidemics are ongoing. That’s because they don’t work; and the fact that they don’t work would be apparent if vaccinated populations continued to become infected.

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Iran’s barbaric treatment of women

July 10, 2010

Sakineh Ashtiani

Sakineh Ashtiani

Mother of two Sakineh Ashtiani was convicted of adultery (she insists that she was tortured into making a confession) and sentenced to death by stoning. She has already been in prison for 4 years and has been subjected to physical punishment (flogging).

Yesterday, in the face of mounting international condemnation, the Iranian government “commuted” Sakineh’s sentence from death by stoning to death by hanging.

Iran has now imposed a media blackout on reporting of the case, but the death sentence is believed to be “imminent”.

You can help save this woman’s life by emailing the Iranian public relations office at:

Info@Ad.gov.ir

and letting them know how you feel about their barbaric laws and their reprehensible treatment of women.

And/or by signing this petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/Ashtiani/petition-sign.html

If you are on facebook, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923?ref=search

You can find out more about this case at:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/10565103.stm

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The social network spy

July 3, 2010

Anna Chapman - Spymistress?

Anna Chapman, one of ten people accused of being part of a Russian spy ring, is being portrayed in the media as a kind of “Mata Hari” figure; a glamorous femme fatale who used her “womanly charms” to insinuate her way into the lives and the homes (and, it is insinuated in the media, the beds) of rich and influential members of American and British high society.

I was particularly interested in her because, like me, she ran – and, as far as I can see, continues to run – a successful real estate portal. Her website – which markets Russian property – is at: www.domdot.ru

I wondered if she had a facebook page (doesn’t everyone, these days?), and, sure enough, it only took me a minute to find her profile here.

Chapman gives her favourite quotation as “Trust no one”, while her “Likes and Interests” are listed as: “Corrections officer, Federal Bureau of Investigation”.
Under “Books” she has “Agatha Christie Novels”, and under “Movies” she’s written “Spy Games”.
For “University” she’s written “Jail”.

Quite the wit for a person in her predicament, facing, we are told, the possibility of life in prison. You’d think she’d be too busy getting water-boarded by the CIA and rehearsing her story with her defense lawyers to take the time to add jokey comments to her facebook page.

Could it be because she knows perfectly well that she isn’t going to spend more than a wet day in jail and is looking forward to a stellar career as a highly-paid TV talk-show guest (or even host)? I’ll give you odds of 100-1 that this savvy spy will be back in Moscow in time for Christmas, where she will be feted as a heroine and a sex symbol.

But hold the fone, Joe! Isn’t Chapman charged with being a dangerous spy? An enemy of the state? In which case how come she’s still at liberty to access the Internet to update her social network profile? Not to mention run a business in Russia? Surely she could be sending all kinds of information and secret messages to all kinds of people in the Kremlin?

Given the high level of security that has prevailed in the US in recent years – in which people have been locked up in solitary confinement just for “looking foreign” or taking part in peaceful public protests – isn’t it a bit odd that Ms. Chapman – or, to use her real name, Anya Kuschenko – is being allowed so much freedom of movement?

And why doesn’t the US president have anything to say about this whole business? So far he has made no comment other than to express the hope that the uproar would not damage the friendship and trust that has developed between the US and Russia.

Friendship and trust, eh?

If Obama bends any further backwards to appease Vladimir Putin, he’ll qualify for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records in the Limbo Dancing category.

It seems to me that there’s something decidedly fishy going on when the FBI catches a network of Russian spies operating in the United States, and it is the Russian president who expresses his outrage!

The (commie?) plot thickens…

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The Internet sure does bring out the best in people!

July 3, 2010

Who knew, before the Internet arrived, that there were so many generous and helpful people in the world?
Just today I received an email from a girl called Natalia, who lives in Russia, asking if she could be my special friend and “tend to all my needs”. Wow! (I hope that means she’s going to clean my kitchen!) And she doesn’t even know how great I am. Apparently she’s arriving next week, and she wants to meet me. I can’t wait!
Not ten minutes later I received an email notifying me that I have won a UN cash grant for €20m. Holy Moley! What a stroke of luck! Though now that I think of it, my horoscope did say that I was in for an unexpected windfall – but I never expected anything like this.
I thought that would be the end of my run of luck, but the good news and offers of help kept coming.
A guy in Canada heard about my erectile dysfunction problem (hah!) and wants to send me some free Viagra samples. I’m going to have to decline, obviously; but, still, wasn’t that thoughtful of him?
And as if that wasn’t enough, a couple of hours later I received an email from the lawyer of a woman in Kentucky who has died and left me her 5 billion dollar estate. All I have to do is give this guy my bank details and I’ll be able to pick up the cash next week! (Reminder to myself: ring a truck hire company tomorrow and arrange for them to make a pickup from my bank.)
Oh, and the ex wife of the Sultan of Oman needs my help to transfer 10 million dollars out of the country. In return for my help, she’s prepared to give me 10% of the money. (Hmm… That’s only a measly million. I think I might pass on that one…)
On top of all this incredible good fortune, it would appear that I have now just won the Internet lotto. Yes! Can you believe it!? I don’t remember buying a ticket, but I guess I must have if I’ve won!
Oh, happy days.
The only thing that’s worrying me is – will there be enough room in my house to store all that cash?
Heck, maybe I can talk Natalia into holding onto some of it for me, for safekeeping…

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Where did global warming go?

January 20, 2010

According to a report on the BBC website today:

Climate body admits glacier error
A top UN panel gave the wrong date for Himalayan glacier melt, but says it does not change the picture of man-made climate change.

Wasn’t the original claim that these glaciers were melting as a result of global warming? “Climate change” is a different animal altogether, and can include a whole range of factors (radioactive particles in the air, deforestation, oceanic pollution etc.) that have nothing at all to do with the global temperature rising as a result of human-produced CO2 emissions.

In recent months, the term “global warming” seems to have fallen into disuse by most MMGW adherents – and by the media – and the much more ambiguous term “climate change” is increasingly being used instead.

“Climate change”, of course, covers just about every contingency. If the earth warms up, that would be climate change. If a new ice age arrives, that would be climate change too.

As the climate has been changing periodically since the beginning of the earth’s history, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will continue to change in the future. Predicting “climate change” is a bit like backing every horse in a race.

So what happened to global warming? Does the abandonment of this term by MMGW adherents signal a private acceptance on their part that the much-heralded warming might not actually happen? After a decade in which global temperatures have gone steadily down and global ice is still at normal levels; and particularly after one of the coldest winters on record – not to mention the revelation that senior members of the IPCC manipulated data and resorted to blackmail and threats to prevent MMGW sceptics from publishing their views – claims of an impending rise in the temperature are beginning to strain people’s credibility.

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it looks to me as if the goalposts in this game are on the move, and that pretty soon they’ll be telling us that “it’s not just warming that’s the problem”, and accusing sceptics of putting too much emphasis on “one particular aspect of climate change”.

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Five days later, and still no air-drops to Haiti

January 18, 2010

Still no help for Haiti's earthquake victims

Five days after the Haiti earthquake struck, victims are still waiting for international help to arrive. People who were rescued from collapsed buildings are now dying from infections that could be easily treated with the antibiotic drugs stacked in crates just a hundred miles away.
The US military and air force have so far been unable to reach the earthquake zone to deliver these desperately needed medical supplies to the small island in what it likes to call its “own back yard”.
By contrast, the US Army and Air Force has no trouble at all dropping massive bombs and missiles with “surgical precision” on villages in Afghanistan and before that in Iraq – huge countries thousands of miles away from the US.
If only their medical aid delivery system was even half as efficient as their missile delivery system. But, of course, that would mean saving civilian lives instead of killing civilians, at which they’ve had so much more practice.
To make matters worse, the US military, which is in control of Port-au-Prince’s international airport, has been denying landing permission to relief flights from other countries. Brazil and France have lodged an official ­protest with Washington after US military aircraft were given priority, forcing non-US flights to divert to the Dominican Republic. The Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières have also complained about diverted flights.
It appears that the US wants the earthquake relief effort to be seen as a predominantly US initiative – even if this means preventing aid teams from other countries reaching those in need.
The assumption of control by the US military is also fueling suspicions that the US may be taking advantage of the disaster, and the chaos it has caused, to effectively take over Haiti. France’s cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, criticised the US by saying that aid efforts were supposed to be about helping Haiti, not “occupying” it.

Update 19 Jan: Today, seven days after the earthquake struck, the US military finally began airdrops of food and water into Haiti.

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US government saves Afghanistan from the threat of democracy

November 2, 2009

So, as expected, Karzai has been “reinstalled” as president of Afghanistan, despite the fact that there has been no election, and despite the fact that he was caught trying to rig the election that was supposed to have taken place.

The main opposition candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, decided not to run again, citing, as his reason, the fact that the officials who rigged the first election had not been sacked, and would also be in charge of the second election.
This explanation strains credibility, as the second round would have come under close scrutiny from UN monitors, and there was a better than reasonable chance that Abdullah would have won (he had almost half the votes after Karzai’s known fraudulent votes had been discounted). A far more likely explanation is that Mr Abdullah was “persuaded” by the US government via the CIA to step aside, with bribes, threats, or – more likely – a combination of both (probably something along the lines of: “If you resign from the election we’ll give you a squillion dollars and a powerful position in the next government. If you don’t resign, something bad might happen to you and your family”). Whatever it was, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

And so now the US’s puppet government in Afghanistan has been saved from the pernicious threat of democracy, and all those lucrative oil contracts are, for the time being at least, secure. American and British soldiers are now fighting in Afghanistan to protect a one-party state.

Oh, and “Honest Joe” Obama has proved beyond any doubt that he is as corrupt as any previous US president.

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We’re creating a Master Race of mice

August 5, 2009

sarah_outenSo this week Sarah Outen (left) became the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean.
She set off from the west coast of Australia in April and landed on the island of Mauritius on Monday, 3 Aug, after spending a total of 124 days at sea.
Which just goes to prove that Brits will do anything to save on travel expenses.
Sarah, a biologist from Rutland, UK, said it had been “an astonishing experience” and she had seen the elements “in all their states”.
“In the last days I’d have whales surfing past the boat and albatrosses flying overhead,” she told the BBC website.
It’s when you start seeing whales flying overhead that you know you’re in trouble, Sarah.

This week there was great news for epileptic mice – but not much joy for humans with the condition.
“Scientists halt epilepsy in mice,” was the BBC website headline on Monday.
Great. Now they’ll be able to drive trucks and operate heavy machinery.
Has epilepsy been a big problem for mice? Not that I am aware of. I don’t know a single mouse whose life has been ruined by epileptic seizures.
Meanwhile, rodents everywhere have also been celebrating (with cheese and wine parties, presumably) the discovery of a drug – aptly named rapamycin – which has been found to extend life in mice, according to a study published on July 8 in the journal Nature.
The research, conducted as part of the National Institute of Aging Interventions Testing Program, took place at three separate test sites and involved nearly 2,000 genetically similar mice.
Exactly how rapamycin works is “still an open question,” says Randy Strong, a pharmacology professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and one of three lead authors of the study.
And then comes the inevitable disclaimer: “Earlier human trials have shown, however, that rapamycin can have serious side effects”.
In other words the drug will kill you long before it extends your life.

I’m getting a bit tired of reading about medical “breakthroughs” in mice that never seem to translate into cures for people.
At this stage there must be a miracle cure available for every disease known to mousedom. Hardly a day goes by without news of some new medical advance that has been successfully tested on mice.
We’re breeding a master race of rodents – while we humans are still dying from the same old diseases that killed our distant ancestors.
Isn’t it about time the medical boffins came up with a few genuine cures for human diseases – such as cancer and coronary disease?
For all their “breakthroughs” with mice, they have yet to produce a single cure for any of the most common diseases that kill humans.
This is the 21st century. A cure for cancer is long overdue. Yes, I know it’s a complex and difficult disease, but you’d think that after more than a hundred years of intensive medical research – involving tens of thousands of researchers and costing countless millions of dollars – they’d have made a bit more progress towards finding a cure than they have.
In any event their failure to find cures for these common killer diseases might be a bit easier to accept if they didn’t keep reminding us in their smug and arrogant way of how clever they are.
At finding theoretical cures for diseases in mice.
The sad truth is that most of the medical research effort goes into developing (profitable) drugs to “treat” diseases, rather than finding (far less profitable) cures to eradicate them.

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Princess Diana moment

June 30, 2009

Princess Diana
Every year around this time I receive a spate of phone calls and emails from journalists researching articles, radio and TV programmes about my former client (and subsequently good friend) the late Princess Diana. Not from British journalists, I hasten to add, but from journalists in the US, Japan, Australia and so on. In Britain, Diana has been virtually erased from the public consciousness by a clever PR and “perception management” campaign.

Tomorrow, 1 July is Diana’s birthday, and therefore a journalistic opportunity to write “commemorative” articles about her.
Even all these years after her death, Diana’s photo on the front page of a newspaper or magazine guarantees increased sales.

There will be another spate of requests for interviews in August, the anniversary of her death. This year, no doubt, the task for journalists will be to make connections and comparisons between Diana and Michael Jackson (of whom, by the way, Diana was a huge fan). Already, there is press speculation about whether Jackson’s funeral will turn out to be be another “Princess Diana moment”.

It is Diana’s death – and the circumstances in which she died – that journalists are mainly interested in talking and writing about, with the central question being whether it was an accident or she was assassinated.

Most of the journalists I’ve talked to about this are personally convinced that Diana’s death was a tragic accident. Journalists are by and large a conservative bunch who tend to accept official versions of events; but that isn’t going to stop them from writing articles questioning the official version of Diana’s death and outlining what they themselves privately believe to be hair-brained conspiracy theories.

Of course, people don’t buy newspapers to read stories with headings like: “Diana’s death: It was an accident”. But they do buy newspapers to read articles with titles like: “Diana’s death: Was it really an accident?” or: “Startling new information reveals that Princess Diana may have been assassinated”.

Or even “psychic claims princess was murdered”.
Hence the requests for an interview. Any new hook will do to hang an old story on.

When Diana was alive I received a constant stream of offers from British newspapers – and not only from the tabloids – to “spill the beans” about the princess.

However, I’m a big believer in client confidentiality (even if the client is no longer alive), and the only time I ever spoke about Diana to journalists was at her own request, to help her to get certain facts into the public domain. This was information that she wanted people to know about, but which would have been problematic for her to reveal herself (in particular, Prince Charles’ involvement with Camilla Parker Bowles, which I was the first to reveal in a number of press articles).
When the information was published, Diana was asked to comment on it, which gave her the opportunity to confirm it publicly. Or, in some cases, to decline to deny it, which journalists understood to be confirmation.

I was only too happy to help. Diana had been treated shabbily to say the least; and when she first came to me for advice – and I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences when I say this – she was in a desperate state, caught, as she herself put it, “between a rock and a hard place”. I advised her as best I could, though in reality our sessions were mainly an opportunity for her to talk freely about her problems to someone who was “out of the loop”, and would give her objective feedback.

It is one thing to ask for, and receive good advice; but it is quite another thing to act on that advice. Diana was constantly seeking advice, and she did recognize good advice when it was offered; but she was in the grip of powerful political forces, and her options were severely limited. From the moment she became pregnant with Wiliam – the future King of England – her fate was sealed. She became a hostage to the British Establishment, and to the shadowy forces which exist to protect it. She was never going to be allowed to disappear into the sunset with the heir to the throne. Nor, on the other hand, was she ever going to relinquish custody of her children. (Although Diana had joint custody of William and Harry with Prince Charles, her influence on them was far stronger than his.) Above all, she was never going to be allowed to marry and have children – step-siblings to the future king of England – by an Arab, least of all the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, a man who had been a thorn in the side of the British establishment for many years.

The media spotlight was on her 24 hours a day, and every move she made was closely scrutinized. And, even though she was immensely popular, she understood that this could and would change in an instant if she said or did anything that showed her in any other light than that of the adoring young wife of the prince. Diana was expected to play the role of the fairytale princess, and the people would continue to adore her – provided she did not deviate from that role.

What the public did not know was that her marriage had ended in disillusionment after only a few months, when it became apparent to her that her new husband was more interested in another woman.

Diana’s downfall was her sense of loyalty and commitment. Instead of walking away from what was clearly a disastrous situation that could only get worse – and that had always been my advice to her – she decided to fight for her marriage, in the romantic but hopelessly naive and misguided belief that everything would work out fine in the end, and that she, her husband, and their children would all live happily ever after.

It didn’t happen like that, of course. Nor was there ever any chance that it would.

In the end, Diana decided – in fact she felt she had no other option – to go public about the circumstances of her marriage. She knew that she would be criticized for taking this route (even in modern Britain, one doesn’t air one’s dirty laundry in public, least of all if one happens to be the wife of the future King).

However, Diana had reached a point where she felt that she had no other choice but to get it all “out in the open”. She was also, it is not generally realized, afraid for her own personal safety, and she saw “going public” as a kind of insurance policy.

Diana was convinced that, having served her purpose (by providing the Prince with two healthy male heirs) and having become a liability and potential threat to the Royal Family, she would be targeted for assassination by “the powers that be” and the “dark forces of the state”.

At the time, her fears were dismissed by some as paranoia (and are still dismissed as such today by many). But in fact Diana had been warned on at least two separate occasions by secret service agents concerned for her safety, that she would be wise to “keep her head down”, as there was a real possibility that “certain elements” in the British intelligence community might deem it “expedient” to take her “out of the picture”.

Diana had also become aware of a “second level of surveillance”, by which she meant secret service agents – she referred to them as “spooks” – who were not part of the official Royal protection team.

As time passed, and particularly after her divorce from Prince Charles was finalized, Diana became increasingly concerned for her own safety, and for the safety of her children. She knew that it would be she, and not they, who would be targeted, but she feared that they might somehow be caught up in any attempt to assassinate her; and she did not, in any event, want her children to be left without their mother. She understood that the danger level had risen substantially now that she was completely independent and beyond the control of the Royal Family and its many faceless minders.

“I’m convinced they’re going to kill me,” she told me one day. “They can’t poison me or shoot me, so it will have to look like an accident. A car crash would be the easiest thing to arrange, I expect.”

Diana voiced these fears to a number of people, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, who recorded the details of his conversation with Diana in a note whose contents he kept secret until after her death. Sir Paul – whose tone suggests that he was highly sceptical of the Princess’s fears and accusations – dutifully made a note of her belief that “efforts would be made if not to get rid of her (be it by some accident in her car such as pre-prepared brake failure or whatever)… to see that she was so injured or damaged as to be declared ‘unbalanced’.”

That was in 1995. A year later, after her divorce was finalized, the plan, if there was one, to have Diana declared “unbalanced” became redundant. A more permanent solution would be required.

And a more permanent solution was arranged.

I have never had the slightest doubt in my mind that Princess Diana was murdered in a hastily-planned operation by secret service agents who had been closely monitoring her movements for years, gauging her level of threat to certain interests within the British establishment on an ongoing basis, and seizing the opportunity to assassinate her in a foreign country at a time when they deemed her level of threat to have risen too high. (Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, British intelligence agents are immune from prosecution in Britain for criminal offences carried out overseas; but in any event the blame for any apparent lapses in security would automatically be apportioned to Al Fayed.)

The various official investigations into Princess Diana’s death have been nothing but cover-ups, not least the British inquest, in which the presiding judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker, specifically instructed the inquest jury to reject the possibility that the Princess had been deliberately murdered. They were practically ordered to return a verdict of accidental death. Instead, they decided that Diana had been unlawfully killed. The media interpreted this to mean that the jury believed that Diana’s death had resulted from a combination of reckless driving by Henri Paul, who was alleged to have been drunk behind the wheel of the Mercedes, and the posse of paparazzi photographers who were following the car, and this interpretation – rather than the actual verdict – is what most people remember today.

Diana’s fears for her own safety were well-founded. Her instincts were good. The danger was real. She was a threat to the British Establishment, and the agents of that establishment took her out of the picture when the possibility arose that she might become pregnant by a Muslim Arab.

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For sale (price $10m): two shoes missing a heel

December 16, 2008

In the instant I saw those two shoes flying, three separate thoughts flashed into my mind in rapid succession. My first reaction was “Yes!” At last somebody has been able – and has had the cahunas – to get through George W. Bush’s hitherto impenetrable wall of security and give this piece of pond life a piece of their mind relatively up close and personal.

My immediate follow-up thought was, “What a pity he didn’t have anything a bit more lethal to throw than a pair of shoes (a grenade, for instance)”.

And my third thought – which tells you something about this internet age we live in – was:  “Those shoes will be advertised for sale on eBay within the week, and they’ll fetch a small fortune!”

In fact it took less than a week; and the fortune being offered for them isn’t all that small, even in these inflationary times.

The former coach of the Iraqi national football team, Adnan Hamad, has reportedly offered $100,000 for them.  But this bid has already been trumped by an anonymous  Saudi citizen who has apparently offered $10m for the flying footwear that so narrowly missed the world’s most wanted (or unwanted, depending on your point of view) war criminal.

Muntadar al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw the shoes, must be a fearless sole – sorry, soul – to do what he did, knowing, as he must have, that he would, at the very least, be beaten up and quite possibly tortured for his one-man protest. And, indeed, the BBC is now reporting that Mr. al-Zaidi has already been subjected to physical abuse, and has suffered a broken arm, broken ribs and internal bleeding. He now faces the prospect of seven to 15 years in an Iraqi prison under a law outlawing “aggression against a president”. So much for free speech in the new US-sponsored Iraq.

Before throwing the shoes, Mr. al-Zaidi shouted: “This is a farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

Apart from the implied insult to dogs, it is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

In fact at least 100,000 innocent civilians were killed by US forces in Iraq (aided and abetted by the Royal Air Force, which carpet-bombed densely-populated civilian areas) in an illegal invasion that had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or weapons of mass destruction and everything to do with the US gaining control of Iraq’s oil resources.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children have been maimed, orphaned, widowed or made homeless on the orders of America’s self-styled “war president”, who served only the interests of the oil corporations, deceived the American people, prevented a criminal investigation into the 9/11 attacks, and unleashed nuclear anarchy on the world.

In the early days of his campaign, Barack Obama promised that if he was elected he would indict George W. Bush for treason. However, like most of president-elect Obama’s promises, that one seems to have been forgotten, and apparently the two men are now good buddies. Next thing you know they’ll be going hunting together.

Politicians – can’t live with them, can’t shoot ’em. But at least we can throw shoes at them. So here’s a toast to Muntadar al-Zaidi. Thank you, and well done!  You’re a brave man, and I salute you – but I don’t think I’d like to be in your… um… predicament.

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There’s one born-again every minute

October 21, 2008

You have to pass a driving test before you are allowed to drive a car; but you don’t have to know the first thing about politics to have a say in who gets to run the country (any country where governments are elected). Which leads to the kind of situation such as that in the US, where candidates get elected because they have been born again (there’s one born-again every minute), or because the candidate in question comes up with the best one-liners (supplied, of course, by a team of highly-paid script-writers, copywriters, PR experts, psychologists and astrologers) in a TV debate.

There are major differences between the US and Britain when it comes to electing leaders. In the US, candidates garner support by drawing the public’s attention to how intelligent, experienced, cool, qualified, and great in general they are. In Britain, candidates get support by expressing humility, modesty, and self-effacement. For a British politician to say: “When I am elected Prime Minister…” would be political suicide. It would be seen as arrogant and presumptuous. In the US, by contrast, any politician running for office who used the phrase: “If I am elected…” would be seen as weak, dithering and lacking in self-confidence.

No British politician would dream of citing Joe the plumber as an example of the country’s economic woes. In Britain plumbers earn more than Members of Parliament and live in luxurious villas with high walls and armed security guards at the gate. And while economic recessions come and go, people will always call a plumber when their sink gets blocked or their toilet overflows.

In the US, aspirants to high political office do not hesitate to wheel out their wives, children, and family pets for “media opportunities”. In Britain, the families of politicians are regarded as a liability and an embarrassment, and are kept locked away in secret dungeons until after the elections have taken place. (Tony Blair was a notable exception to this rule; which just goes to prove how sensible a rule it is.)

In the US, leadership contests are settled by having a shoot-out at the OK corral. In Britain, the dilemma for would-be replacements is to make it abundantly clear to all and sundry that they want the top job and are prepared to kill to get it, whilst being careful not to express anything other than sincere and wholehearted support for the person whose job they are after.

To get back to the American electorate (and, to be fair, the British electorate isn’t all that far behind in the sucker vote stakes), perhaps a solution would be to require all would-be voters to pass a basic intelligence and current affairs test. It wouldn’t have to be difficult. Polls have revealed that large swathes of the American public believe that Europe is a country, the London Underground is a branch of Al Qaeda, George W. Bush is doing a great job, Saddam Hussein personally organized the 9-11 attacks, America won the war in Vietnam, and almost every important invention – from the telephone to the internet – was invented by an American.

(Where on earth are they getting their information? Ah, yes: Fox news.)

A few simple questions would quickly eliminate electoral applicants whose IQ didn’t quite make it into double digits; and that in itself would represent a major advance. Question 1 could be something along the lines of: “What planet are you on?”

America is a big place. Can it really be so hard to find a candidate who is intelligent, sane, well-educated, non-racist, non-xenophobic, non-born-again, and filthy rich? Well, okay; that last criterion might eliminate a few people. But still, suitable candidates for the US presidency are as rare as Higgs bosons in a particle accelerator.

But at least Americans are getting to elect their leader, which is more than can be said for the people of Britain, who have been lumbered, through no fault of their own, with arguably the most ineffectual Prime Minister in British history – foisted on them by Tony Blair as revenge for their rejection of him.

I don’t think anyone doubts Gordon Brown’s sincerity. He obviously has great faith in his own sense of destiny, and sees himself as a great British statesman. Unfortunately, his inflated opinion of himself is not shared by the vast majority of the British people, who didn’t elect him, don’t like him, and don’t want him as their Prime Minister. Any normal, non-megalomaniac person would take the hint and withdraw gracefully from the fray; but Brown is determined to persevere in the face of overwhelming unpopularity, presumably in the belief that people will eventually come around to him. That will happen when pigs fly and Republican politicians learn how to pronounce the word nuclear.

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The interestingfulness is terrific

October 20, 2008

“May you live in interesting times” is an old Chinese curse. Has there ever been a more interesting – or, to be more accurate, bizarre – period than the first decade of the 21st century? We’ve had the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq over non-existent WMD, the execution of Saddam Hussein (the fall guy in every sense), war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic turning up as a Rasputinesque holistic therapist with a bushy beard, warble gloaming, evidence of water on mars, and – perhaps most unthinkable of all – a black man well on the way to becoming president of the United States. And now – just in case we didn’t have enough on our plate – we are suddenly having to deal with a global financial meltdown. Things are becoming more “interesting” by the day, it seems. And this past week has been exceptionally interesting and eventful. In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally found his calling. God came down to him while he was sitting on his potty wondering why the British public didn’t like him (“They just don’t appreciate the Brown stuff”) and said: “Gordon, I have chosen you to lead the global crusade to correct the credit crunch and avert a madmaxian apocalypse.” “But how, Lord?” “Take money from the public and use it to enrich the bankers.” “But, Lord – that’s what we’ve always done.” “Yes, but now you can do it and say that you’re saving the world from Armageddon.” “Thank you God. You know, if I manage it carefully, I should be able to do quite a bit with a hundred zillion quid….” Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sarah Palin revealed further details of her plan for dealing with the Russians: “Look, it’s only a short sled ride from where I live to Russia. Heck, with a really good high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight I could probably shoot Vladimir Putin from my bedroom window.” She also outlined her solution to the global financial crisis: “What we need to do is go back to using fur pelts as the basic trading commodity. That way, we won’t have to rely on foreign oil.” It’s been a bad week for Seve Ballesteros, who this week was told by surgeons that he has a tumor the size of a… well, a golf ball. And an even worse week for far-right politician Joerg Haider, who was killed in a car crash that was, to all appearances, a complete accident. Even before the crash occurred, Mossad was vehemently denying any involvement. Ironically, Haider was driving the latest model of Hitler’s “People’s Car” when he veered too far to the right and left the road (and the planet). The only good news of the past week also came from Germany, where a farmer underwent a successful double arm and hand transplant. He told reporters how happy he was to be able to play the trombone again. Or something along those lines.

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Water on Mars – again!

October 1, 2015

Source: Water on Mars – again!