31 December 2009

The same procedure as last year?

Every year, Australia's SBS screens a famous 18 minute sketch called Dinner For One. In it, the late actor Freddie Frinton plays butler James who serves an elderly upper-class English woman called Miss Sophie who is celebrating her 90th birthday.

As her dinner guests are not actually there, James impersonates each one, toasting on behalf of each when it is their turn and getting more drunk with each toast.

The sketch was written in the 1920s and recorded in 1963 by a German television station NDR and has since become embedded in the New Year rituals of Germany, other European countries and Australia.

The following dialogue has also become part of the German vernacular.
James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?

Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!
- BBC (where oddly, it is not shown any more)
- The Guardian
- NDR (also with transcript of full dialogue)
- Daily Telegraph

29 December 2009

music blog

My much neglected music blog was finally updated with a new entry.

day month year or year month day, but not month day year... time for ISO 8601

Most countries on planet earth use the system, day month year (dd mm yyyy) to reference a calendar date.

A minority use month day, year (mm dd, yyy) - Belize, Canada (occasionally, but conforms to the majority), Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Philippines and the United States of America.

While most of the world understands the American system in context, there is still a lot of confusion, particularly for travellers. From the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
How can one avoid confusion when a date like 08/04/02 has at least six different interpretations around the world? A notation like 01/02/03 could mean 1 February 2003 or 2 January 2003 or 2 March 2001. Usually by deduction one can sort it out. Usually - but sometimes, huge and costly confusions can arise. The problem is that all-numeric dates are not unambiguous and depend very much on local custom. That's usually OK within a country or region even if there are local inconsistencies between firms and administrations; but outside…?

A simple nicety, you might say. Does this all matter? Well, it certainly does if you "misinterpreted" what was on that ticket. And if you multiply this type of unfortunate occurrence by millions,in business contexts as well as at the individual level, you can see that the compounded problem is something quite frightening - well after the "Y2K bug" scare has receded. Perhaps not in a daily life, when you write to Cousin Bill in Atlanta, or Auntie Jenny in Australia where the systems of writing dates may be different. But think of the number of times that dates and times crop up in business dealings of all sorts, from insurance forms to travel agencies, from banks to tax forms. And there, huge stakes hang on dates, that can make the difference between winning a fortune… or losing it. Goods being traded internationally are relying on the right dates at each and every step - and wrong dates often mean wrong deliveries or no deliveries at all! And dates have caused many problems to computer programmers.

On the Internet, all kinds of notations are used, some language-dependent, and are they all correctly understood on the other side of the globe? Not so sure. Firms and administrations make use of dates in most of their daily operations in one form or another and in most documents used in international trade… and to have a universally compatible form of representation for them makes pure good sense.

So then: wouldn't it be wonderful if there were an internationally agreed standard?
Of course there is. ISO came up with one. ISO 8601, Data elements and interchange formats – Information interchange – Representation of dates and times. It is 33 pages long and will cost you CHF 130. In summary

ISO 8601 advises numeric representation of dates and times on an internationally agreed basis. It represents elements from the largest to the smallest element: year-month-day:

  • Calendar date is the most common date representation. It is:


where YYYY is the year in the Gregorian calendar, MM is the month of the year between 01 (January) and 12 (December), and DD is the day of the month between 01 and 31.

Example: 2003-04-01 represents the first day of April in 2003.

  • Week date is an alternative date representation used in many commercial and industrial applications. It is:


where YYYY is the Year in the Gregorian calendar, ww is the week of the year between 01 (the first week) and 52 or 53 (the last week), and D is the day in the week between 1 (Monday) and 7 (Sunday).

Example: 2003-W14-2 represents the second day of the fourteenth week of 2003.

  • Time of the day is the time representation, using the 24-hour timekeeping system. It is:


where hh is the number of complete hours that have passed since midnight, mm is the number of complete minutes since the start of the hour, and ss is the number of complete seconds since the start of the minute.

Example: 23:59:59 represents the time one second before midnight.

  • Date and time represents a specified time of a specified day. When use is made of the calendar date the representation is:


where the capital letter T is used to separate the date and time components. Thus, for a very precise date and time, look at this:

Example: 2003-04-01T13:01:02 represents one minute and two seconds after one o'clock in the afternoon of 2003-04-01
After the Y2K mess, the world should have adopted a uniform standard, in much the same way that the prime meridian (latitude/longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time were adopted 125 years ago.

In any case, where possible to avoid confusion, spell out the month.

29 Dec 2009
2009 Dec 29

27 December 2009

Fly, Colton, Fly

A juvenile fugitive in northwest United States has attracted worldwide attention.

From MSNBC (7 October 2009)

Excerpt from AFP (and picked up by Australia's ABC)
SEATTLE, Washington — Eighteen-year-old Colton Harris-Moore is achieving folk hero status as the "Barefoot Bandit" in the US and Canada after a string of burglaries and dare-devil escapes from the law.

Romanticized by some as a latter-day "Billy the Kid" figure but regarded by others as a common thief, Harris Moore has a criminal record stretching back to when he was just 12 and a penchant for kicking off his shoes before fleeing.

Caught in 2007 and sentenced to detention in a halfway house near Seattle, the teenager from Camano Island, north of Seattle, escaped the following year and his legend began to grow.

Shortly after breaking out, he was being pursued driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz near his mother?s home when he jumped from the moving vehicle and ran into the woods, leaving police with a wrecked car filled with loot.

Among stolen possessions recovered was a digital camera the fugitive used to take a self-portrait. The photograph, complete with self-assured smirk, has become the public face of a teenage robber who has now become an Internet idol.

read more

This morning, when I checked the facebook fan club, there were around 10 000 members, tonight some 12 hours later, it has grown by another 4000.

See also
- Time magazine (America's Most Wanted Teenage Bandit, 21 December 2009)
- Everett Herald
- Seattle Weekly
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Of course, a character like Colton would most likely be embraced in Australia, where historically, our folk heroes have been bushrangers like Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Captain Moonlight who were romanticised in an anti-authoritarian manner.

Colton is no hero, but one can't resist admiring him for his skills of survival and elusion.

Such a naughty boy. Santa probably left him a lump of coal.

26 December 2009

Milton Keynes

Recently, BBC News published a feature about Milton Keynes given England's bid for the 2018 World Cup (FIFA) and that MK could be a host 'city'.

Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham. These are cities with football passion and pedigree coursing through their streets.

And Milton Keynes? This new town in Buckinghamshire finds itself sitting in exalted company on the list of 11 host cities for World Cup 2018.

Over the years, it's been the butt of jokes about concrete cows, and contrasts have been unkindly drawn between the town and yoghurt - only one of which has culture, say sneering comics.

But if this bid is successful, then the last laugh could be had by Milton Keynes and its fast-growing populace, because it would suddenly find itself on the sporting tourist trail.

The feature then lists 10 highlights of the town. I have probably visited the place ten times, well often enough to know how to walk from the railway station to the main shopping centre, and the only memorable attributes of the town are actually the concrete cows and the giant, yet named, roundabouts.

(photo from Wikipedia) the railway station is somewhere around here

(photo from Wikipedia) Liz Leyh's concrete cows

24 December 2009

How to survive a zombie 'outbreak'

I have previously written about zombies. What I have not considered (until now) is how to survive a zombie 'outbreak'.

Jake Halpern, a teacher at Yale and regular contributor at NPR, recently spoke about scenarios and how to survive.
For example: What would you do if the city of Boston were overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and you have to get to the last outpost of human civilization, which is nestled in the mountains in Winter Park, Colo.? Of course, first things first, you go to the gun store and pick up a heavy machine gun. Then you commandeer a car, preferably a Toyota Prius. Think about it — you really want to stop for gas?
For example, when fleeing zombies, [Max] Brooks advises against using a sedan. Instead, he suggests using an armored car. Even if you break down or run out of gas, you're still sitting pretty in a nice little fortress.
Brooks also scoffs at my notion of using a heavy machine gun, pointing out — quite rightly — that zombies can only be killed with a perfect head shot. I'd always imagined myself aiming my gun at head level, and then mowing down an entire crowd of the undead with one fluid spray of bullets. Not so easy, says Brooks, because zombies — like the humans they used to be — are not all the same height.
We should all think about our escape and survival plans and read Max Brooks' book, The Zombie Survival Guide.

23 December 2009

Banksy's sinking feeling

I've previously written about a number of Banksy works being destroyed.

Londonist has reported four new Banksy works in Camden (north London).

One in particular, located next to Regent's Canal, appears to be a statement to climate change skeptics, or those who are stonewalling political action.

(photo by Luke MacGregor, Reuters via ABC)

22 December 2009

official languages of the United Nations

The United Nations (UN) uses six official languages. From UN Department of General Assembly and Conference Management on official languages

An international organization must have effective ways to overcome language barriers to avoid becoming a Tower of Babel. Since almost every country in the world is represented at the United Nations, it is not an exaggeration to say that the United Nation is a microcosm of the world. The Organization uses six official languages in its intergovernmental meetings and documents, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish; the Secretariat uses two working languages, English and French.

Statements made in an official language at a formal meeting are interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages of the body concerned by United Nations interpreters. If a delegation wishes to speak in a language that is not an official language, it must supply an interpreter to interpret the statement or translate it into one of the official languages. It is then rendered into the other languages by a relay system.

Documents are produced in the six official languages and are issued simultaneously when all the language versions are available.

(last paragraph in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish)

ويتم إنتاج الوثائق باللغات الرسمية الست وهي تصدر معا عندما تتوافر بهذه اللغات جميعا.


Les documents sont produits dans les six langues officielles et publiés une fois que toutes les versions linguistiques sont disponibles.

Работая нередко «за кулисами», сотрудники ДГАКУ вносят негромкий, но существенный вклад в работу Организации Объединенных Наций.

El personal del Departamento, que suele desempeñar su tarea de manera discreta entre bastidores, realiza una aportación fundamental para la labor de las Naciones Unidas.

The BBC has reported that the Bangladeshi government and the West Bengal assembly of India are seeking to have Bengali made an official language of the UN.

How many people in Bangladesh and parts of India would be interested in reading UN documents, apart from government? In any case, even the governments of Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal use English themselves, so they may be missing the point.

The number of total speakers seems like a logical argument, but when that language is restricted to very few countries or parts of countries, then it wouldn't be efficient to translate every UN document into yet another language when only five per cent of documents would be of any used, particularly when those governments already function in English.

Hindi, more widely spoken, is not an official language. Portuguese, spoken in more countries, is not an official language.

In any case, nobody has missed out on the action so far, so the push to add Bengali is more aiming for recognition and pride, than anything bureaucratically necessary.

20 December 2009

a bridge to stretch the imagination

Currently, the only way to travel between Hong Kong and Macau is by ferry (high speed hydrofoil), which takes about an hour (by Turbojet or Costai). To go via land, particularly for transporting heavy goods, means travelling via the mainland, taking the long way around.

Construction of a bridge between Hong Kong and Macau (and Zuhai) will commence at the end of this year, which will be one of the largest engineering feats devised. According to the HKSAR Highways Department,
The proposed Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macao Bridge (HZMB), being situated at the waters of Lingdingyang of Pearl River Estuary, is a large sea crossing linking the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Zhuhai City of Guangdong Province and Macao Special Administrative Region. The functions of the bridge are to meet the demand of passenger and freight land transport among Hong Kong, the Mainland (particularly the region of Pearl River West) and Macao, to establish a new land transport link between the east and west coasts of the Pearl River, and to enhance the economic and sustainable development in the three places.
The HZMB Main Bridge is a 29.6km dual 3-lane carriageway in the form of bridge-cum-tunnel structure comprising an immersed tunnel of about 6.7 km. According to the current option, It runs from the artificial island off Gongbei of Zhuhai to the eastern artificial island for the tunnel section just west of the HKSAR boundary.

The project includes:

  • construction of a 29.6 km dual three-lane carriageway in the form of bridge-cum-tunnel structure comprising a tunnel of about 6.7 km;
  • construction of two artificial islands for the tunnel landings west of the HKSAR boundary; and
  • associated works including civil and structural works, environmental mitigation, drainage, electrical and mechanical, traffic control and surveillance system, etc.

The bridge is designed with a service life of 120 years. It will be built to withstand the impact of strong winds up to a speed of with a speed of 16 on the Beaufort scale (184 to 201km/h), a magnitude-8 earthquake and a 300,000-tonne vessel.

When completed, it will be the longest sea bridge in the world.

- The Guardian
- Arup, one of the partners building the bridge
- New Civil Engineer (UK)

18 December 2009

It's better to walk with a dog

The benefits of regular exercise such as walking are well known. Even better is including a dog. From University of Missouri news release (of 28 September 2009), edited
A Pet in Your Life Keeps the Doctor Away

Sept. 28, 2009

Story Contact(s):
Kelsey Jackson, JacksonKN@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise, improves psychological health— these may sound like the effects of a miracle drug, but they are actually among the benefits of owning a four-legged, furry pet.

“Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives,” said Rebecca Johnson, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of ReCHAI.

“Pets are of great importance to people, especially during hard economic times,” Johnson said. “Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity.”

ReCHAI sponsors several projects that attempt to further the understanding and value of the relationship between humans and animals. In 2008, ReCHAI sponsored the “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors.” In the preliminary program, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy. For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of the program, researchers measured how much the older adults’ activity levels improved.

“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” Johnson said. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”

“Today, pets are in more than 60 percent of American homes,” said Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI. “Research involving human-animal interaction can be extremely beneficial. More people are incorporating pets into their leisure time, such as making them part of their exercise routines, taking them to dog parks and bringing them to family events.”
See also New York Times.

I can attest to this. I considered walking with a dog as exercise, whereas walking alone was just a means of getting from one place to another.

I miss walking Kane the German Shepherd. He died on Monday and I miss him (see his blog). He was a wonderful walking companion when he was still fit.

16 December 2009

Octopus tools

Early last year, I wrote about Louis the Octopus who was attached to his toy Mr Potato Head.

Museum Victoria, based in Melbourne, has researched and reported about the Veined Octopus using tools. From MV news
Tool use in Veined Octopus
15 December, 2009

Click here to view larger image.
Veined Octopus in coconut shell shelter
Image: Roger Steene
Source: Courtesy of Current Biology

Museum Victoria’s Julian Finn and Mark Norman have recorded the first case of tool use – sophisticated behaviour generally limited to mammals and birds – in an invertebrate.

The Veined Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, uses foreign objects for shelter, which is common in octopuses and is not itself considered tool use. However the Veined Octopus goes a step further and prepares, manipulates and carries coconut shells up to 20 metres to reassemble its shelter elsewhere.

Julian and Mark spent more than 500 hours diving in Indonesian waters to observe and film these animals. They watched octopuses dig out coconut shells from the ocean floor, empty shells with jets of water, stack two empty shells hollow-side up, and carry the shells in a unique gait they call ‘stilt-walking’. This series of actions are among the most complex ever recorded in an octopus.

The Veined Octopus probably evolved this behaviour using clam shells as shelter. However once humans began discarding large numbers of coconut shells, they inadvertently created a steady supply of lightweight octopus tools.

Julian and Mark’s paper ‘Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus’, was co-authored by Tom Tregenza. It was published in the journal Current Biology on 15 December.
I am hoping that one day, scientists will discover a species of octopus that build houses, exchange some form of money for food, goods or services, and keep crabs as pets. Still, many will continue to end up barbecued.

15 December 2009

selling the goose that lays the golden egg

BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the BBC and earns significant revenue for them

BBC Worldwide is the main commercial arm and a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Its mission is to create, acquire, develop and exploit media content and brands around the world in order to maximise the value of the BBC's assets for the benefit of the UK licence payer.

The company has seven core businesses: Channels, Sales & Distribution, Magazines and Children's & Licensing, Content & Production, Home Entertainment, Digital Media and Global Brands.

In 2008/09 BBC Worldwide generated profits of £103 million (before exceptionals) on revenues of £1.004bn.

BBC Worldwide operates under the BBC Charter and Agreement, which sets out four commercial criteria with which our activities must comply. BBC Worldwide's activities must:

  • Fit with the BBC's Public Purposes as set out in the Charter;
  • Be commercially efficient;
  • Not jeopardise the good reputation of the BBC or the value of the BBC brand
  • Comply with the BBC's Fair Trading Guidelines and avoid distorting the market

BBC Worldwide provides a global showcase for the best of British creative talent including actors, journalists, presenters, writers, directors, musicians, designers and technicians. We sell programmes and formats produced by more than 500 different UK independent producers. Through our activities we build the reputation of the BBC globally and in April 2009 we were awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise which recognised the company's substantial growth in overseas earnings over the past three years.

Over the past five years we have invested more than £1bn in the UK's creative sector, making BBC Worldwide a major supporter of this increasingly important area of 'UK plc'.

The Guardian has reported that the British government is urging the BBC to sell off BBC Worldwide.

Given that BBC Worldwide is dependent on BBC programming to make sales, such a move is completely ludicrous. A privately owned BBC Worldwide, which would probably need to change its name, would then have to buy programming (offshore distributions rights) from the BBC itself, amongst other independent productions, to on-sell to third parties.

Baffling logic.

13 December 2009

public duties - official engagements

The Mail on Sunday has reported that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II plans to hand over substantial public duties (official engagements) to her grandson Prince William.

Were these 'public duties' devised to keep a monarch busy? Are they necessary?

Who else would perform these 'public duties' if the United Kingdom became a republic?

In the absence of ruling by divine right, what is the point of a non-elected monarchical head of state that couldn't be performed by another person?

12 December 2009

pink stinks

From BBC News, a discussion about wearing the colour pink.

Men in the pink

Men wearing pink clothes

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

A pressure group wants parents to resist buying pink toys for girls this Christmas. But the colour isn't just controversial for girls - men are only just getting over their fuchsia phobia and for boys pink really does stink.

If you're a typical little boy, pink is viewed as girly, effeminate, unmasculine, and, in short, to be avoided.

And yet, a strange thing seems to happen to the modern British boy when they reach adulthood. Pink no longer seems to be so rigidly associated with female dress.

In many areas of British life, like the City, pink shirts are seen as normal workwear. Pink ties are normal. Even pink socks make an appearance.

Boy in pink shirt
There are men who are comfortable in pink who would not dress their sons in pink

And it's not just in finance. Pink is a classic colour for polo shirts. On everyone from mods in Fred Perry, to those who model their dress on football "casuals", pink is not seen as fundamentally feminine.

The colour is currently popular in both high fashion and the High Street, says Robert Johnston, associate editor of GQ magazine.

"We have all grown up a bit. Pink is a flattering colour. This season there are a lot of pastels for men - a lot of those will be pink. Women like men in pink."

To take one example, 5% of shirts sold by the English shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser, based in London's Jermyn Street, are pink. "It is one of the default choices," says buyer Charles O 'Reilly.

Pink hasn't always been acceptable for men.

"We have come a long way even compared with 20 years ago," says Johnston. "Pink was the last taboo colour-wise."

Running for 18 months
Currently targeting Early Learning Centre
Activists argue that while a wide variety of boys' toys are available, those for girls are often predominantly pink

"If you look at places like Jermyn Street and Savile Row you will see pink," says Bronwyn Cosgrave, author of Costume & Fashion: A Complete History. " It is historic."

So the story of pink clothing acceptance isn't as simple as a recent innovation.

"Men, for centuries up to the dawn of the 20th Century, were far more elaborately dressed than women," says Ms Cosgrave. In the era of the dandy - the late 18th Century - pink wasn't that unorthodox for a man.

"There was a great sobering effect with the dawn of the Wall Street and City culture - men have gone to work in the last 100 years in pinstripes and white shirts."

There were exceptions. "Douglas Fairbanks and Cary Grant - immensely important in popularising modes of male dress - wore pink shirts and sweaters," says Ms Cosgrave.

In the 1960s and 1970s the influence of the counterculture on dress also began to loosen things up, she argues.

Quentin Tarantino gazes at Brad Pitt's pinkish suit
Pastel tones are apparently 'in' right now

Colour consultant Angela Wright concurs. "Until about 40 or 50 years ago, men did not show their feminine side at all. They were required to be strong and ultra masculine the whole time, so pink was out.

"There was little doubt in anyone's mind that a man wearing pink was definitely suspect. When the pace of evolving attitudes increased, around the same time as homosexuality between consenting adults was legalised, the strong demarcation lines between the sexes began to blur."

Even the idea that pink is a colour particularly associated with homosexuality doesn't bear out.

"Gay men don't actually appear to feel the need to stress that side of themselves in their dress," says Ms Wright, of consultancy firm Colour Affects. "It is more a case that society does that for them, by, for example, naming their purchasing habits 'The Pink Pound'."

Certain tailors, like Richard James and Ozwald Boateng, are associated with the use of flamboyant colours. And traditionalists have also beat a path.

Woman with pink shirts and blouses
Dress became less conservative in the 1960s and 1970s

"Thomas Pink really did legitimise men flaunting pastel shades such as pink and lavender," says Ms Cosgrave.

After the austerity of the middle years of the 20th Century, fashion has come back to the point where wearing pink would be seen as nothing more than flamboyant, or having certain "preppy" or upper class connotations.

"It has got that Ivy League, slightly public school [connotation], you think of posh boys, sweaters round their shoulders," says Johnston.

"The gender separating of colours of clothing is more or less over."

Perhaps the strangest thing is that the bar against pink for boys persists. The very same men who are happy to wear a pink polo shirt might think twice about dressing a 10-year-old boy the same way.

"I remember when I was a kid little boys would throw away pink felt tips [from a set]."

Golfer in pink shirt and shoes
Pink no longer undermines a man

It has been noted, not least by the sceptic Ben Goldacre while attacking research on the subject, that the pink/blue split was not always as it is today.

He cited the Ladies' Home Journal from 1918 saying: "There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

So the mystery of why people will not dress boys in pink persists.

Really, pink is a dreadful colour. It has nothing to do with it being a 'girly' colour. It is more to do with pink being a ghastly shade of red.

I would never give anything pink as a gift for a just born a baby girl as it is a ghastly colour. Soft yellow or even blue, perhaps green would be more suitable.

From Windows XP Toshiba to MacBook

One of the cheapest option to replace the Toshiba's blue screen of death was with the Apple MacBook, which have come down considerably in price. Apparently, the protection from viruses, phishing and intrusion attempts are built into the system.

But where are the PgUp and PgDn keys? Or indeed, the backspace key.

06 December 2009

computer errors

My computer is unstable and crashes constantly due to hardware error.

Three years seems to be the lifespan of a notebook.

Time for an upgrade from Windows XP I think.

04 December 2009

Starry Night Over the Rhône comes to town

Vincent van Gogh's painting Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888) is one of 112 works of art from Musée d'Orsay (in Paris) that will be exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia as 'Masterpieces from Paris'.

It is one of my favourites, along with his other Starry Night (exhibited at MoMA, New York). I am also excited about Monet's Lily Pond, Green Harmony (another in the Japanese Bridge series, which is also in town).

03 December 2009

headline of the month

Pilgrims in Ireland have been visiting the Marian Shrine in the village of Knock in County Mayo. The Irish Times reported that on 31 October, about 10 000 people attended a supposed apparition of the Virgin Mary, where people claimed to see the sun shimmering, changing colour and “dancing in the sky”. As a result, there has been a rise in eye damage.

Australia's ABC could not resist an appropriate headline
Irish pilgrims blinded by the light
No other media outlet saw the light.

02 December 2009

Fat gang story busted

Last month, I wrote about the widely reported story of a gang in Peru that allegedly killed people in order to extract their fat, which was then sold to buyers to make cosmetics. I questioned the veracity of story even if the media did not as too many things just didn't add up.

Reuters has now reported that the police in charge of the investigation had misled the public. From BBC News
Peru human fat killings 'a lie'
By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

Peru's police chief has suspended a top investigator for saying he had caught a gang who were murdering people to sell their fat.

Last month, top organised crime investigator Felix Murga said police had arrested four suspects who confessed to murdering up to 60 people.

He said they were selling their fat for thousands of dollars a litre.

But the macabre tale now appears to be nothing more than a tall story - or a big fat lie.


In an extraordinary press conference, police showed two bottles of what they said was human fat and a photo of a decapitated head.

Mr Murga told journalists how four suspects had confessed to gruesome murders reviving an Andean legend about the Pishtacos - mythical killers who murdered people on lonely roads to collect their fat.

But two weeks later a complete lack of evidence showed the police account to be more fiction that fact.

As a result Peru's chief of police, Miguel Hidalgo, announced Mr Murga would be put on indefinite leave from his job for sullying the reputation of his unit.

Initial doubts were compounded when police from the region where the crimes were alleged to have taken place said they knew nothing about a gang of murderers killing people for their fat.

They were only able to corroborate one of the dozens of alleged disappearances in a region where drug-trafficking and violence is rife.

Mr Murga and the head of the anti-kidnapping unit had also claimed the fat was sold for thousands of dollars in the European black market supplying the cosmetics industry, but could not confirm any sales.

Medical experts dismissed this theory, saying human fat had no monetary value and injecting it from one person to another would be potentially life-threatening.

Some anthropologists say the police's story deliberately played on an old Peruvian myth to explain crimes which the police had failed to investigate fully.

Other observers say this story was just one of many embellished or invented news stories used as a smokescreen which are intended to distract the general public from the real issues facing Peru.

What a surprise. . Surely media outlets should question the plausibility of a story before releasing it. On the other hand, never believe everything you read in the media, no matter how respectable, including the BBC if it doesn't add up.

01 December 2009

Is it really a cuisine?

The (UK) Daily Telegraph has a picture gallery of "Great British dishes".

I admit to liking several of them, like kippers, black pudding, bangers and mash, cottage pie (but I call it shepherd's pie, with beef mince), fish and chips, and roast beef with yorkshire pudding. None of them, I would eat on a regular basis given they are rather stodgy and unhealthy. Nor would I call any of the dishes great. Honestly.

If the dishes pictured represent British cuisine, then it has got to be one of the worse in the world.

A breakfast fry up with black pudding
(picture by Abbie Trayler-Smith for Daily Telegraph)

I agree somewhat with this Sydney Morning Herald (travel) blog

The best
- Japan
- France
- Thailand
- Italy
- India

The worst
- the Netherlands
- Eastern Europe
- East Africa
- Britain
- United States