Category Archives: alternative

Lesbian parents produce above-average children

Children of lesbian parents do better than their peers according to New Scientist magazine in this interesting article written by Jim Giles.

The children of lesbian parents outscore their peers on academic and social tests, according to results from the longest-running study of same-sex families.

The researchers behind the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study say the results should change attitudes to adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples, which is prohibited in some parts of the US.

The finding is based on 78 children who were all born to lesbian couples who used donor insemination to become pregnant and were interviewed and tested at age 17.

The new tests have left no doubt as to the success of these couples as parents, says Nanette Gartrell at the University of California, San Francisco, who has worked on the study since it began in 1986.

Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.

A previous study of same-sex parenting, based on long-term health data, also found no difference in the health of children in either group.

“This confirms what most developmental scientists have suspected,” says Stephen Russell, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Kids growing up with same-sex parents fare just as well as other kids.”

The results should be considered by those who oppose the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, adds Gartrell. A handful of states, including Florida, prohibit same-sex or unmarried couples from adopting, although many of the state laws are being challenged in the courts.

“It’s a great tragedy in this country,” says Gartrell. “There are so many children who are available for adoption but cannot be adopted by same-sex couples.”

Over 100,000 children are awaiting adoption in the US, says the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy organisation based in New York. The institute estimates that just 4 per cent of all adopted children – around 65,000 – live with gay or lesbian parents, despite research suggesting that same-sex couples may be more willing than heterosexual couples to adopt.

Journal reference: Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3153

Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

I loved this story well put together by Tom Lamont in the Observer this weekend. My keep-fit-mad 17 year old son is a prime candidate for this US survivalist stuff. Hand him an AK47 and wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Abandon any notion of surviving the apocalypse by doing anything as boringly obvious as running for the highest hill, or eating cockroaches. The American firm Vivos is now offering you the chance to meet global catastrophe (caused by terrorism, tsunami, earthquake, volcano, pole shift, Iran, “social anarchy”, solar flare – a staggering list of potential world-murderers are considered) in style.

Vivos is building 20 underground “assurance of life” resorts across the US, capable of sustaining up to 4,000 people for a year when the earth no longer can. The cost? A little over £32,000 a head, plus a demeaning-sounding screening test that determines whether you are able to offer meaningful contribution to the continuation of the human race. Company literature posits, gently, that “Vivos may prove to be the next Genesis”, and they are understandably reluctant to flub the responsibility.

Should you have the credentials and the cash, the rewards of a berth in a Vivos shelter seem high. Each staffed complex has a decontamination shower and a jogging machine; a refrigerated vault for human DNA and a conference room with wheely chairs. There are TVs and radios, flat-screen computers, a hospital ward, even a dentist’s surgery ready to serve those who forgot to pack a toothbrush in the hurry. “Virtually any meal” can be cooked from a stockpile of ingredients that includes “baked potato soup” but, strangely, no fish, tinned or otherwise. Framed pictures of mountain ranges should help ease the loss of a world left behind.

Vivos says it has already received 1,000 applications. Continue reading Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

Voyeur sex games spread on chat site.

I heard on Steve Hewlett’s Radio 4 media show that the Observer has declined in circulation again – this story is from there – and for once I have kept the original headline because it is great, real “surgeon priest in palace sex probe” material. I wonder how many people will read this without thinking about trying some of this strange…new….chatroulette….

An addictive new website that links strangers’ webcams is gaining popularity – and notoriety

A new website that has been described as “surreal”, “addictive” and “frightening” is proving a sensation around the world – and attracting a reputation as a haven for no-holds-barred, explicit material.

Chatroulette, which was launched in November, has rocketed in popularity thanks to its simple premise: internet video chats with ­random strangers.

When users visit the site and switch on their webcams, they are suddenly connected to another, randomly chosen person who is doing precisely the same thing somewhere else in the world.

Once they are logged in together, chatters can do anything they like: talk to each other, type messages, entertain each other – or just say goodbye, hit the “next” button and move on in an attempt to find somebody more interesting.

Chatroulette describes itself as a “brand new service for one-on-one text, webcam and microphone-based chat with people around the world”, but no one is sure who started the site. The owners did not respond to an attempt to contact them by email, and they have gone to great pains to protect their identities. This may be because ­Chatroulette appears to operate largely as an ­unregulated service and, as a result, has rapidly become a haven for exhibitionists and voyeurs.

A large contingent of people seem intent on using the service’s string of random connections as the basis for some sort of sex game.

Users regularly describe unwanted encounters with all sorts of unsavoury characters, and it has become the defining aspect of the site for some. Veteran blogger Jason Kottke, who has spent years documenting some of the web’s most weird and wonderful corners, tried the site and then wrote about witnessing nudity, sexual activity and strange behaviour.

“I observed several people drinking malt liquor, two girls making out, many, many guys who disconnected as soon as they saw I wasn’t female, [and] several girls who disconnected after seeing my face,” he said, adding that he also witnessed “three couples having sex and 11 erect p******s”.

Yet despite the highly offensive nature of much of the site’s content, Kottke – like thousands of others – has been hypnotised by the glimpses the site offers into other people’s lives. “Chatroulette is pretty much the best site going on the internet right now,” he wrote.

Although the site says that it “does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material” and offers users the option to report unsuitable content, the restrictions do not seem to prevent users from broadcasting explicit videos of themselves online.

However, like the chatroom explosion in the late 1990s or the early days of YouTube, spending time inside Chatroulette is becoming a peculiarly modern form of entertainment, particularly popular with students in campuses around the world. In just a couple of months the site has expanded significantly as it tears through universities by word of mouth, spreading virally in a similar manner to sites Continue reading Voyeur sex games spread on chat site.

Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

This story just had everything: social networking, police, anti-banks, riots, drink, drugs, parties you name it it’s all there. Quite a few papers ran it at the end of the week — — the version I’ve chosen is from the Telegraph

A Facebook-organised party at a squat in a Park Lane town house was broken up by police after hundreds of youths caused havoc in the streets around the £10 million property.
Riot police dispersed crowds in the streets and cleared the building after partygoers pelted them with bottles and bricks from the roof and balcony.

Officers had been summoned to the party, allegedly organised by two teenagers from London, at 11pm after a wave of complaints from terrified neighbours.

Two members of the public were thought to have been injured as the partygoers jumped on cars, threw fire extinguishers and plant pots from windows and drew graffiti before the chaos subsided in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The property was bought for £10m in 2007 by Continue reading Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

Furry story. True of course.

Hooray for Scunthorpe. This story in the Economist adds a certain ambiance to the town that put the umber into South Humberside…as well as casting light upon the growing publicity surrounding the workaholic beaver and its eponymous publication. No the beavers are not in Scunthorpe they are in Canada….anyway read the story

CANADIANS have long been proud of the industrious beaver, an animal capable of cutting down 216 trees a year with its teeth and of surviving the long winter in a purpose-built lodge made of mud, twigs and bark. The largest rodent in North America is a national emblem. The first Canadian postage stamp, the 1851 Three-Penny Beaver, carried its image. And one of Canada’s oldest magazines carries its name.

But soon it will not. From April The Beaver will be renamed. A journal of popular history founded in 1920 by the Hudson Bay Company to celebrate its 250th anniversary, it is now owned by others. Its evocation of the fur that had made the trading company’s fortunes no longer struck the right note—especially since the word has become slang for female pubic hair.

The editors had known for some time that a name change was needed. Market research indicated that many women and people under the age of 45 said they would not subscribe solely because of the name. But it was the internet that struck the fatal blow.

The Beaver website was attracting (albeit briefly) readers who had little interest in Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe or what prairie settlers ate for breakfast. They lasted about eight seconds before moving on. E-mails to potential subscribers were blocked by internet obscenity filters. This is known online as the Scunthorpe problem, after the town in Britain whose residents were initially unable to register with AOL because its name contained an obscenity.

The Beaver Club, a classy dining room in Montreal, and the SS Beaver, a replica of an 1835 steamship operating in British Columbia, remain unperturbed by any ambiguity. As for The Beaver, it hopes to expand its 50,000 circulation as Canada’s History. Dull, yes, but at least it will do what it says on the tin.

Living without cash, out in the sticks.

This last month I have been reading Henry Thoreau’s work “Walden” which is all about jacking in the materialist rat race and going off to live next to the land in a small shack out in the woods. When I found this article in the Guardian it was almost identical – but here and now rather than 1845 (Thoreau was way ahead of his time) so here it is for an alternative Christmas story…..as I am so heartily sick of the mainstream ones!

In six years of studying economics, not once did I hear the word “ecology”. So if it hadn’t have been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi in the final term of my degree, I’d probably have ended up earning a fine living in a very respectable job persuading Indian farmers to go GM, or something useful like that. The little chap in the loincloth taught me one huge lesson – to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Trouble was, I had no idea back then what that change was.

After managing a couple of organic food companies made me realise that even “ethical business” would never be quite enough, an afternoon’s philosophising with a mate changed everything. We were looking at the world’s issues – environmental destruction, sweatshops, factory farms, wars over resources – and wondering which of them we should dedicate our lives to. But I realised that I was looking at the world in the same way a western medical practitioner looks at a patient, seeing symptoms and wondering how to firefight them, without any thought for their root cause. So I decided instead to become a social homeopath, a pro-activist, and to investigate the root cause of these symptoms.

One of the critical causes of those symptoms is the fact we no longer have to see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the stuff we buy. The tool that has enabled this separation is money.

If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn’t contaminate it.

So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up cash, which I initially decided to do for a year. I got myself a caravan, parked it up on an organic farm where I was volunteering and kitted it out to be off-grid. Cooking would now be outside – rain or shine – on a rocket stove; mobile and laptop would be run off solar; I’d use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode, and a compost loo for humanure.

Food was the next essential. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering, and using waste grub, of which there is loads. On my first day, I fed 150 people a three-course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year, though, I ate my own crops.

To get around, I had a bike and trailer, and the 34-mile commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For loo roll I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it’s not double-quilted, but I quickly got used to it. For toothpaste I used washed-up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan.

What have I learned? That friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is of the spiritual kind. That independence is really interdependence. And that if you don’t own a plasma screen TV, people think you’re an extremist.

People often ask me what I miss about my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic jams. Bank statements. Utility bills.

Well, there was the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.

• Mark Boyle is the founder of The Freeconomy Community. In a subsequent blog he responds to the comments below.

Rabbi takes other services.

I suppose we all enjoy stories which involve a holy person’s fall from grace. Lucifer Star of The Morning springs to mind. This story – again brought to my attention by the noble Richard Dean – ran in today’s Times. I was going to make some politically incorrect remark about having a nose for a toot, but as I am going to invite my Manchester Jewish friend Kevin to read this story, perhaps not.

An eminent rabbi was so exhausted after three days of constant cocaine-fuelled partying with escorts that his pimp grew worried and cancelled that day’s supply of girls, a jury was told.
Rabbi Baruch Chalomish, 55, who has a £6 million fortune, was a scholarly academic, an accomplished businessman, a charity giver and a dutiful family man until his first wife died of cancer and his world fell apart.
He turned to alcohol in his depression, then took refuge in cocaine, spending up to £1,000 a week. He lived in squalor, seeking comfort from prostitutes, Manchester Crown Court was told.
The prosecution said that Chalomish was the financier in a commercial cocaine supply business while Nasir Abbas, 54, a convicted drug dealer, provided the drugs and the customers.
The pair rented a luxury flat in Manchester and for ten days over the new year enjoyed a non-stop party. Mr Abbas admitted to police that he procured a supply of girls from an agency called Pure Class. They were also offered cocaine.
The court was told that on the ninth day, and after the rabbi had stayed up for three straight days, Mr Abbas was so concerned about his health that he scrapped that day’s supply of prostitutes. In a text message to a woman called Clio he wrote: “Hi Clio, I have tried to wake Shel up but I don’t want to wake him. He was very tired because he had no sleep for three days, needed to rest, because he is going to his office to work on Monday at 8. Please cancel the party today.”
Michael Goldwater, for the prosecution, said that at 9am on January 5 police raided the flat finding evidence of a substantial drugs operation including cocaine, cutting agents and scales. Officers found an equal amount of the drug at Chalomish’s home in Prestwich, in the heart of Manchester’s Orthodox Jewish community, as well as cutting agents and more than £15,000 in cash.
Chalomish denies supplying the drug but admits having it. Mr Abbas, who said that he was too scared to attend the trial after the rabbi “sent around some heavies” to threaten him, faces charges of having cocaine with intent to supply.
Jonathan Goldberg, QC, for the defence, said that the rabbi’s fall from grace was a tragedy. He said that his client never supplied the drug but hoarded large supplies of pure cocaine to evade “unscrupulous dealers” known to use rat poison and other dangerous mixing agents. The trial continues.

You get more than kicks on route 36.

Thanks again to Richard Dean for this story from the Guardian – it’s a bar in Bolivia where they serve you a drink and….yes a toot of your choice. Hmmmmmm. I have seen something similar in Thailand but of course it wasn’t a toot on offer. Coming soon to a British city of your choice? To be honest, despite my determinedly liberal outlook part of me hopes not.

Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram.” The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. “We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM,” says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months. Behind the bar, he goes back to casually slicing straws into neat 8cm lengths.

La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,900m above sea level – an altitude where even two flights of stairs makes your heart race like a hummingbird – is home to the most celebrated bar in all of South America: Route 36, the world’s first cocaine lounge. I sit back to take in the scene – table after table of chatty young backpackers, many of whom are taking a gap year, awaiting a new job or simply escaping the northern hemisphere for the delights of South America, which, for many it seems, include cocaine.

“Since they are an after-hours club and serve cocaine the neighbours tend to complain pretty fast. So they move all the time. Maybe if they are lucky they last three months in the same place, but often it is just two weeks. Route 36 is a movable feast,” says a Bolivian newspaper editor who asked not to be named. “One day it is in one zone and then it pops up in another area. Certainly it is the most famous among the backpacker crowd but there are several other places that are offering cocaine as well. Because Route 36 changes addresses so much there is a lot of confusion about how many cocaine bars are out there.”

This new trend of ‘cocaine tourism’ can be put down to a combination of Bolivia’s notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic “anything goes” attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current. In early July, the largest ever cocaine factory was discovered in eastern Bolivia. Capable of producing 100kg a day, the lab was run by Colombians and provided the latest evidence that Bolivia is now home to sophisticated cocaine laboratories. The lab was the fourth large facility to be found in Bolivia this year.

Nowhere in South America is cocaine production growing faster than Bolivia. Reports by the UN show that in Colombia, production dropped 28% last year [2008], while in Bolivia it rose nearly 10%. “There is more interest and and investment in purifying coca paste here and exporting it, rather than sending it to Colombia for purification,” Oscar Nina, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official, said recently.

As the US and Colombian military put pressure on drug traffickers, operations are migrating into nearby countries, especially Bolivia, where the turf for illegal operations is as fertile as the valleys where the locals have grown coca for the last five centuries. Stopping cocaine tourism in La Paz could be as difficult as keeping Americans from drinking during prohibition.

Down in Route 36’s main room, the scene is chilled. A half-hearted disco ball sporadically bathes the room in red and green light. Each table has candles and a stash of bottled water, plus whatever mixers one cares to add to your drink. In the corner, a pile of board games includes chess, backgammon, and Jenga, the game in which a steady hand pulls out bricks from a tower of blocks until the whole pile collapses. If it weren’t for the heads bobbing down like birds scouring the seashore for food, you would never know that huge amounts of cocaine were being casually ingested. There’s a lot of mingling from table to table. Everyone here has stories – the latest adventures from Ecuador, the best bus to Peru – and even the most wired “why-won’t-he-shut-up?” traveller is given a generous welcome before being sent back to his table, where he can repeat those stories another 10 times.

“Everyone knows about this place,” says Jonas, a backpacker who arrived two days earlier. “My mate came to Bolivia last year and he said, ‘Route 36 is the best lounge in all of South America.'” It is certainly the most bizarre and brazen. Though cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, Route 36 is fast becoming an essential stop for thousands of tourists who come here every year and happily sample the country’s cocaine, which is famous for both its availability, price (around €15 a gram) and purity.

The scene here is peaceful; there seems no fear that anyone will be caught. (“The owner has paid off all the right people,” one waiter says with a smile.) A female backpacker from Newcastle slips on to one of the four couches arranged around the table. “We’ve brought some [cocaine] virgins here. This will be their first time, so we are just rubbing it on their lips. But they are lucky – you could never get such pure coke back home. In London you pay 50 quid for a gram that’s been cut so much, all it does it make your lips numb and sends you to the bathroom.”

Travellers’ blogs also give the place a good writeup. “I travelled the world for nine months, and for sure La Paz was the craziest city and Route 36 the best bar of my entire trip,” writes one, while another says, “Like to burn the candle at both ends? Well, here you can bloody well torch the whole candle.”

And torch your brain as well. Cocaine, as everybody knows, is highly addictive, destructive and easy to abuse. The rationale for outlawing cocaine was to protect public health – but instead the now 40-year experiment in prohibition has done little to protect the lives of millions of users worldwide who will snort whatever white substance is placed before them. The billions in annual profits have corrupted governments worldwide, and La Paz, without intending it, seems to have mutated into the front line of this failed drug war.

Easter Island holds key to longer life.

I read this story this morning in the Independent written by Michael McCarthy. The soil in Easter Island appears to contain a substance that actually prolongs life. Is that what those lovely Modiliagni style heads have been trying to tell us all these years? Do you think maybe the ancients were showing us an emblem of people who were “longer”?  Geddit? OK call me stupid, you’re right…..

A drug originating on Easter Island, the mysterious South Pacific home of a lost statue-building people, may become the first substance to slow down human ageing, new research indicates.

Rapamycin, a pharmacological product used to prevent rejection in organ transplants, has been found to extend the lifespan of mice by up to 38 per cent, raising the possibility that it may delay ageing in people.

Hitherto a matter for science fiction, the idea of an anti-ageing drug which would allow people to prolong their natural lifespan and also to avoid age-related diseases is now being seriously considered for the first time as a result of the findings by American researchers.

Rapamycin is a bacterial product originally found in a soil sample from Easter Island, the Polynesian extinct volcano famous for its monumental statues erected hundreds of years ago by the island people, and known in the region as Rapa Nui – hence the drug’s name. Originally developed as an anti-fungal agent, rapamycin was soon found to have powerful immuno-suppressant properties and thus be valuable for preventing rejection of transplanted organs. It was also found to delay the ageing process when used experimentally with three sets of lower organisms: yeast, nematode worms and fruit flies.

Now, however, it has been shown to affect the ageing of mice – the first time that this has ever been shown with a mammal.

A team of 14 researchers from three institutions, led by David Harrison from the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor in Maine, fed rapamycin to mice late in their life – at 600 days of age – and showed that both the median and maximal lifespan of treated animals were considerably extended. Currently, the only way to extend the life of a rodent is by severely restricting its diet, so this marks the first report of a pharmacological intervention that lengthens the life of mammals – with clear implications for humans.

The results, published today in an online paper on the website of the journal Nature, are attracting considerable excitement, and an accompanying article in Nature by two of the world’s leading experts on the ageing process, Matt Kaeberlein and Brian K Kennedy from the University of Washington, Seattle, headed “A Midlife Longevity Drug?” openly asks the question: “Is this the first step towards an anti-ageing drug for people?”

Their answer is that it may well be. Dr Kaeberlein and Dr Kennedy first issued a warning to people not to start taking rapamycin at once in the hope of prolonging their lives – “the potential immuno-suppressive effects of this compound alone are sufficient to caution against this,” they advised.

But they added: “On the basis of animal models, however, it is interesting to consider that rapamycin … might prove useful in combating many age-associated disorders. Also … it may be possible to develop pharmacological strategies that provide the health and longevity benefits without unwanted side-effects.

“So, although extending human lifespan with a pill remains the purview of science fiction writers for now, the results of Harrison et al provide a reason for optimism that even during middle age, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Rapamycin was known to have an influence on ageing in the lower organisms by disrupting the influence of an enzyme known as TOR, which regulates cell growth. Dr Harrison and colleagues found that this was also the case with mice, and found that rapamycin feeding could extend mouse lifespan even when started late in life.

The maximum lifespan went up from 1,094 days to 1,245 days for female mice, and from 1,078 to 1,179 for male mice – a striking increase of life expectancy of 38 per cent for females and 28 per cent for males.

Dr Harrison and his colleagues conclude: “An effective anti-ageing intervention that could be initiated later than the midpoint of the lifespan could prove to be especially relevant to clinical situations, in which the efficacy of anti-ageing interventions would be particularly difficult to test in younger volunteers. Our data justify special attention to the role of the TOR pathway in control of ageing in mammals and in the pathogenesis of late-life illnesses.”

Also known as sirolimus, rapamycin was first discovered as a product of the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus, which was found in an Easter Island soil sample.

Probably the world’s most remote and least-visited inhabited island, Easter Island is globally famous for its haunting monumental stone statues of human faces, set up around the coast, known as Moai. Weighing as much as 80 tonnes, they were carved by a lost people, whose society may have collapsed, according to the American environmental geographer Jared Diamond, when they overexploited their forests. Volcanic, hilly and now treeless, and a territory of Chile, the island is situated 2,180 miles west of Chile itself and 1,290 miles east of Pitcairn Island; its European name comes from its discovery on Easter Sunday 1722, by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. Its oldest known Polynesian name is thought to be Te Pito O Te Henua, meaning “the navel of the world”. Rapa Nui is a name given to it by Tahitian sailors in the 19th century.

Gormley not gormless.

 

Love him or loathe him, Adrian Searle writes a really mean article. In the Guardian today the way in which he elevates Antony Gormley’s efforts with the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is an art in its own right. (Not to denigrate Mr Gormley of course, I think he is ace.)

In encouraging the public to act, react and interact around Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, Gormley’s One and Other is timely – and invokes a rich tradition of living art

At a little before 9am, today a protester scaled the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against actors smoking. He was followed by the first official occupant, who stood with a giant lollipop emblazoned with the logo of the NSPCC. Strangely, all this was somehow less compelling than the man in shorts and red T-shirt who came next. He had no apparent agenda at all, except being there. Most of the time, he stood near the lip of the plinth with his hands in his pockets, like a character in search of an author. His presence was what counted. Just as some sculptures have more presence than others (a tiny bronze Giacometti can somehow fill a whole room), so it is with the living.

Not everyone here will be a living sculpture. Some who are lifted on to the plinth will be living advertisements for themselves, craving attention, fame or notoriety. I expect numerous hapless performances, a bit of nudity, protests and declarations at all hours of the day and night. There’s always the chance someone might immolate themselves, or defecate, urinate, masturbate or vomit. Are they allowed shoelaces or belts up there? Are they frisked for weapons or secret intentions? Is there a contingency for those who might wish to give birth, or any potential suicides? Taking a running jump, it would be easy to hurl oneself over the safety net to the paving slabs below. Anyone attempting to recreate the artist Yves Klein’s famous 1960 Leap into the Void, a photograph of him suspended in mid-air above the street, should be warned – his image was doctored. And what about snipers on nearby rooftops, kids with catapults, miscreants with rotten eggs, bricks, guns? A stoning is entirely possible.

Living sculpture has a long and intriguing history. On 1 January 1901 the bullfighter Don Tancredo López covered himself in whitewash and stood on a box in the middle of the bullring in Madrid; the bull circled him but did not attack. López was a statue of himself risking death. When Gilbert and George covered their hands and faces in gold paint, stood on a table and performed Flanagan and Allen’s song Underneath the Arches in a London gallery in 1969, they risked only the derision of the art crowd.

In 1974 Chris Burden spent 22 days on a platform in a New York gallery; and in 2002, the Montenegran artist Marina Abramovicć spent 12 days and nights on a platform, eating nothing and only drinking water. She slept and performed all her ablutions in full view of the public. An hour on a plinth isn’t long, but Trafalgar Square is a different, far more public context, with live action from the plinth streamed on the web 24 hours a day.

So far the most memorable work since the fourth plinth was turned over to contemporary art has been Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo, a life-sized cast of a young man in a loincloth, which appeared in 1999. The white resin cast looked like marble. Standing on the edge of the plinth, facing the square, it had more presence than the people who have so far been hoisted there; asking why this might be is a question both about sculpture, and about ourselves.

Yet Gormley’s idea is a rich one. It combines a very old idea about images, and sculptures on plinths in public spaces, with the digital age and the spectacle of reality TV. We know that paying attention to an experiment often changes its outcome. Those who stand and watch have all sorts of expectations and fantasies. The square below is a space for the curious and the ghoulish, for voyeurs and louts; it, as well as the plinth, is a space of transit and for waiting, and for all sorts of performances and gestures. We are all actors here, under the watchful cameras of Sky Arts.

Gormley offers the possibility both for action and inaction. This is where the project’s magic lies – and also its danger. It is probably his best work, even if it risks bringing out the worst in people. The artist has set up the conditions, and what follows is unknown.

The battle for the legality of gay marriage in the US takes a fresh turn in Iowa

Time magazine reported in a very even-handed manner on a key legal battle in the state of Iowa this weekend with regard to the battles of the Republican-led far right pressure groups against the ongoing march of gay marriage.

When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that gays can marry in the Hawkeye State, gay marriage became not just a coastal thing. Deep in the rural heartland, a straightforward opinion — written by a justice appointed by a conservative Republican governor — methodically eviscerates one argument after another that for decades has been used to keep marriage the sole preserve of straight couples. “This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?” Justice Mark S. Cady asked.

The answer? It can’t.

“I would say the mood is one of mourning right now,” Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, told the Associated Press, even as he promised to lobby legislators hard to begin an amendment process. But that process, in Iowa, is a lengthy one — and unlike in California, the constitution can’t be amended by a simple vote of the people. Both houses of the legislature must approve it, and most legal experts agree that the process could be put before voters no sooner than 2012. (See TIME’s video: “Iowa: Gay Marriage in the Heartland”)

The decision came at a pregnant moment in what has become one of the defining legal battles of our time. It offers hope to supporters of gay marriage just when they were feeling lowest. Last year’s ruling by the California Supreme Court issued a broad new justification for gay marriage — the Republican-dominated court declared forcefully that California may not discriminate against gays in any way, giving the ruling more legal force and sweep than any decision of its kind ever has. Thousands of couples flocked to clerk’s offices to be wed. Months later, in November, however, that jubilation turned sour, when Californians voted to change the constitution to forbid gay marriage. Soon after, some gay activists from across the country were asking for a time out, arguing that the marriage activists had pushed too fast and too hard — and that the backlash in more conservative states would undo any progress enjoyed in places like San Francisco or Boston. “Marriage was never our issue,” one activist from south Florida told TIME last November. “It was thrust upon us by the other side, and they’ve done a very good job of beating us up over it.”

But after Friday those calculations look timid. Now three states require full marriage for gays, and Vermont is on the brink of becoming the first state where gay marriage would be made legal by lawmakers, rather than the courts — a significant milestone. The Vermont House passed a law allowing gay marriage on Friday, and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Monday. Gov. Jim Douglas has promised to veto it, but an override fight will quickly follow, probably by next week.

There might even be good news in the Iowa decision for gays in California, where activists are fearfully awaiting the justices’ ruling on Prop 8, which is likely to be issued in coming weeks. The Iowa decision cited the California case eight times and borrowed its reasoning again and again. That kind of homage from a sister court — and one that, like California’s, has a long history of breakthrough civil rights decisions — may strengthen the resolve of the majority in the Golden State and turn aside the narrow vote of the people.

But for now, the power of the Iowa decision can be measured on its own terms. It did not speak with the historic sweep of the California court, perhaps because the justices there know Iowa’s court is less often seen as a harbinger of legal trends than California’s. And in one important aspect the decision stopped short of following California’s lead. In California, Chief Justice Ronald George declared that from now on, any laws that discriminate against gays in California are presumptively unconstitutional and will be subject to “strict-scrutiny” analysis by the courts — a burden that is reserved in every other state for cases involving discrimination against religion or immutable characteristics such as race. By extending it to homosexuals, the California court made clear in a way that no other state court has that gays are deserving of fundamental protections.

The Iowa decision’s precedent is less forceful. (Read the full decision) Iowa decided, instead, that the statute banning gay marriage fails a subordinate level of constitutional analysis, what courts call “intermediate scrutiny,” an approach usually used with cases involving discrimination on the basis of gender, for instance. Because the statute could not even meet that standard, Cady ruled that there was no need to decide whether a higher level of scrutiny should be required in the future.

But in other ways, the Iowa decision was every bit a match for the California ruling. It took up each argument against gay marriage and dispatched them with a minimum of bombast. An exception was the vivid language employed by the court to cement its position that gays have indeed been discriminated against as a class — a traditional test for whether a group deserves the protection of heightened constitutional scrutiny. “The County does not, and could not in good faith, dispute the historical reality that gay and lesbian people as a group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The long and painful history of discrimination against gay and lesbian persons is epitomized by the criminalization of homosexual conduct in many parts of this country until very recently. School-yard bullies have psychologically ground children with apparently gay or lesbian sexual orientation in the cruel mortar and pestle of school-yard prejudice.”

But the true power of the decision lies not in its equal protection analysis, though it is rooted there. Instead, what sets this decision apart is the frank way in which it raises the issue of religious objections to gay marriage. As the Supreme Court did in Lawrence v. Texas, its seminal 2003 ruling striking down sodomy laws, the Iowa court says that mere moral opprobrium or deeply held values are not enough to warrant legal sanctions or the denial of legal rights. The court then subtly raises the issue of religious opposition to gay marriage, even though the legal briefs by the other side did not.

“Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief,” the court said, before adding that religious views are nonetheless mixed on the subject. “As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”

Religious opponents to gay marriage were not convinced. “We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Iowa, strongly disagree with the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court which strikes down Iowa’s law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman,” the bishops said in a statement issued Friday. “This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children.

English, the spokesman for the conservative family group, said he’s already begun lobbying for an amendment campaign to outlaw gay marriage again. “The first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote,” he said.

But until that comes to pass, observers on both sides considering the opinion will likely find the strongest language in the decision to be its final four words: “AFFIRMED. All justices concur.”

Hiking in the Alps. I’ve nothing against it.

Once again the New York Times provides my story about nudists hiking in the Alps. Very common apparently.

APPENZELL, — The Swiss like their secrecy, particularly in banking. At other times, they are more open. Take hiking.
In recent years, it has become fashionable for a growing number of Swiss and some foreigners to wander in the Alps clad in little more than hiking shoes and sun screen. Last summer, the number of nude hikers increased to such an extent that the hills often seemed alive with the sound of everything but the swish of trousers.

In September, the police in this mountainous town detained a young hiker, whose friends will identify him only as Peter, wandering with nothing on but hiking boots and a knapsack. But they had to release him, because in Switzerland there is no law against hiking in the nude. The experience alarmed the city fathers of Appenzell, pop. 5,600, who worried that the town might become a Mecca for the unclad. Like most remote mountain regions, this is a conservative area.

For centuries the farmers here lived off their famed Appenzeller cheese and a bitter liqueur that most, except fervent admirers, say tastes like cough medicine gone bad. Not until 1990 did Appenzell grant women the right to vote, decades after other regions of Switzerland.

Suppose families with children were out hiking and encountered a group of nude hikers, officials asked. Moreover, the name of Appenzell was popping up with troublesome frequency in the blogs and chat rooms of nude hiking enthusiasts.

“We’re not in Canada, where you can hike for hours in vast forests,” said Markus Dörig, 49, spokesman for the local government, a look of exasperation on his face. “Here you meet other hikers every few minutes. It was bothersome.”

Konrad Hepenstrick says he almost never meets people who are bothered. “You greet them, and they greet you, though in winter, of course, many ask, ‘Aren’t you cold?’” he said, picking at a lunch of coarse, spicy Appenzeller sausage in a restaurant high on the slopes over the town. Unseasonable snow showers clouded the view of the surrounding peaks, thwarting plans for a nude hike with this reporter.

Mr. Hepenstrick, 54, is an architect who loves to hike in the altogether. In winter, he said, he has hiked for hours in temperatures well below freezing, though he does concede the need for a hat and gloves. He has hiked in the nude for about 30 years, he said, and has crisscrossed the hills and mountains around Appenzell, as well as in France, Germany, Italy and even the Appalachians.

His companion, a schoolteacher, also hikes, though she will not do so au naturel, he said. So why does he take off his clothes? “There’s not much to discuss,” he said. “It’s freedom. First, freedom in your head; then, freedom of the body.”

With some Swiss legal experts arguing that banning nudity in public would be unconstitutional, the government has been hamstrung in responding to the hikers. It has drafted legislation that, if enacted, would outlaw “abusive behavior that offends against custom and decency,” but it seems likely to be challenged. Daniel Kettiger, a legal expert, published a six-page paper last month titled, predictably enough, “The Bare Facts: On the Criminal Prosecution of Nude Hiking,” pointing out that in 1991 Switzerland struck a law from its books that banned nudity in public.

“Simply being naked without any sexual connotation is no longer illegal,” Mr. Kettiger said by telephone, adding, “at the time there was a wave of nudism.” Was he himself a hiker? “Yes, but never nude,” he replied. “First there is the danger of sunburn, and then there are ticks all over the place in the Alps, which carry Boreliosa,” or Lyme disease.

The Appenzeller justice minister, Melchior Looser, is sure he can frame a law that will force the naked to cover up. “I think the measure will work the way we have fashioned it,” said Mr. Looser, 63, noting that offenders would be fined the equivalent of $170.

He would like to have the law in place by springtime, when hikers again take to the hills. But he concedes that it must be approved by the grand assembly of the people, a gathering of all citizens of voting age once a year on the town’s main square, which is scheduled to convene April 26. Passage is by no means assured.

Hans Eggimann believes it will be enacted. “I hike around the house naked, but outside I put my pants on,” said Mr. Eggimann, 57, a large man who sells more than 60 types of cheese in his shop in the town center.

Others are not so sure. “Many Appenzellers I know say it doesn’t bother them,” said Alessandra Maselli, who works in a dry goods store not far from Mr. Eggimann’s cheese emporium. “I’d say it’s about half and half, with a slight majority for the law,” she said.

Over in the Bücherladen bookstore, Caroline Habazin, 46, said the controversy gave everyone a good laugh at the town Carnival parade last month. One float featured a male and a female hiker in flesh-colored tights, their arm and leg muscles and their rear ends stuffed up steroid-style with filling, though the man’s private parts were mostly covered by fake grape leaves. “I think it’s only a pretty small group,” she said.

Her colleague, Edith Sklorz, 48, said why anyone would want to hike nude was puzzling to her, though her husband felt differently. “I can understand swimming nude,” she said, “but not hiking.”

What offended her equally though, was the government’s choice of responding to the hikers with a law. Recently, the neighboring town of Gossau passed a measure banning spitting in public, she said, threatening offenders with a $50 fine; and now a law to ban nude hikers. “For every tiny thing, there’s a law,” she said.

Ursula Heller has been selling apparel for hikers and trekkers for five years in her shop just off the town’s main square. A threat to her business from nude hikers? She laughed deeply. She and her husband are avid hikers, she said, but she is against nudity.

“If you want to get undressed,” she said, “you can always wear shorts or a bikini.”

World’s most pierced woman.

This story ran in the Telegraph today – not important, but interesting I think. Although tattoos and piercings are still quite fashionable I’ve always regarded them as form of self-mutilation. For those of you out there whose anorak is as big and bulky as my own, here is a learned treatise on some aspects of tattoo-ing and why people might do it: Anderson, M. & Sansone, R.A. (2003). Tattooing as a means of acute affect regulation. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 10, 316-318. I’m not suggesting this lady is mentally ill or anything – or that you have to be mad to tattoo yourself – she is probably more “normal” than many of us.

Elaine Davidson, the world’s most pierced woman, has added yet more metal adornments to her body, bringing the grand total to 6,005.
When first accredited by a Guinness World Record official in 2000, Davidson had 462 piercings, with 192 in her face alone.

Now, nine years later, she has 6,005 including more than 1,500 that are “internal”.

However, despite her eye-watering record, Miss Davidson, born in Brazil, claims she doesn’t like being pierced, and suffers for her art.

She said: “I don’t enjoy getting pierced, but to break the record you have to get to a high level.

“I wanted to break the record.

“My family don’t even like tattoos or piercings.

“But I am happy. I decided to change myself and be me.”

Miss Davidson, a nurse who now lives in Edinburgh, was speaking in Darlington, Durham, as she opened a piercing studio.

She officially cut the ribbon at Arcadia.

Shop owner Les Fry said: “Elaine is a friend and she very kindly agreed to open the shop.

“We have got an excellent piercing artist who can perform the most up-to-date techniques.”

Love’s illusion.

If you let your eyes wander over this image you can experience love’s illusion. This and the rest of a series of Valentine’s Day illusions were featured in a nice story in  Scientific American this week. And who was this Saint Valentine guy anyway? A lot of our love matching celebrations go back to ancient days (as usual) to the Roman feast of Lupercalia…..(details here from crewnest)

When Rome was first founded it was surrounded by a wilderness. Great packs of wolves roamed over the countryside. Among their many gods the Romans had one named Lupercus who watched over the shepherds and their flocks. In his honour they held a great feast in February of each year and called it the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia festival was an echo of the days when Rome consisted of a group of shepherd folk that lived on a hill now known as Palantine. On the calendar used back in those days, February came later than it does today, so Lupercalia was a spring festival.

Some believe the festival honored Faunus, who like the Greek Pan, was a god of herds and crops, But the origin of Lupercalia is so ancient that even scholars of the last century before Christ were never sure.

There is no question about its importance. Records show, for instance, that Mark Antony, an important Roman, was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44BC as the proper time for offering the crown to Julius Caesar.

Each year, on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on the Palantine at the cave of Lupercal. Here, according to legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had been nursed by a mother wolf. In Latin, the word lupus is the word for wolf.

Some of the rituals involved youths of noble birth running through the streets with goatskin thongs. Young women would crowd the street in the hope of being lashed with the sacred thongs as it was believed to make them better able to bear children. The goatskin thongs were known as the februa and the lashing the februatio, both coming from a Latin word meaning to purify. The name of the month February comes from this meaning.

Long after Rome became a walled city and the seat of a powerful empire, the Lupercalia lived on. When Roman armies invaded France and Britain, they took the Lupercalia customs there. One of these is believed to be a lottery where the names of Roman maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love – for a year or longer.

Wikipedia gives a few details of the translation into the present day myth…..

Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine’s identity, suggested that Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia. This idea has lately been contested by Professor Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas. Many of the current legends that characterise Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.

A poem more than three kilometres across in the Chilean desert

I heard a rumour about this poem which had been written by a Chilean poet using huge bulldozers in the Atacama desert. The poem says “ni pena ni miedo”. Always hard to translate poetry – but a good approximation is “Neither shame  nor fear.” The poet Raúl Zurita had been persecuted in Pinochet’s rule through the 70’s and 80’s. I found the story by yipero on geo2web.com, as below.

This is a big one! A poet wrote a 3 kilometer-wide message – visible from space – in the desert of northwest Chile. The message says “ni pena ni miedo” which translates in English to “neither shame nor fear“. The poet’s name is Raúl Zurita, and he used a bull dozer to write the message in the desert sand. According to an interview at Jacket Magazine (about half-way down the article), the poet “…doesn’t like abstract poetry. He says that in those days of brutality and distrust and terror, the reign of Pinochet, he began to imagine writing poems in the sky, on the faces of cliffs, in the desert. His words…are gradually fading away, joining thousands of men, women, and children who disappeared in fear and pain during the Pinochet years.” Fortunately, his words are now immortalized in satellite photos and Google Earth! Check out the entire message in Google Earth. It’s huge, and it’s really there – not a photoshop.

Use the force, Luke. On sale now.

The New York Times ran this today as part of their coverage of the huge technology trade show C.E.S. The giant toy firm Mattel have launched a mind control toy – no really. We have one of these gadgets already in our house of course. I think I’ll have a go…

Each year at the Consumer Electronics Show there is at least one bizarre novelty product that captures folks’ attention. This year, the honor belongs to a game coming from Mattel that challenges players to control a ping-pong ball with their minds.

Mindflex, as it is called, is drawing large, amused crowds and lots of interested press coverage. Players strap on headsets that are designed to read theta brainwaves, typically associated with alertness and concentration. By focusing or relaxing, a player can control the speed of a fan that elevates a lightweight purple ball, and then must try to turn a knob by hand to guide the ball through various hoops in an obstacle course.

I took a stab at it, and maybe it was Obi-Wan’s instructions to Luke from “Star Wars” distractedly reverberating in my head, but I did not get the ball anywhere close to the hoop.

Mindflex will go on sale this fall for $80.

Porno images used to create portraits of Bush and Paris Hilton

I actually loved this idea. My son still insists that “art is for people with a lot of time on their hands.” An interesting perspective. As you would expect, I have accused him of being a Nazi book burner. My son, not President Bush of course. I have given my son the Hans Johst quote – “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun. ” Some people mistakenly attribute this quote to Himmler or Goring. But let’s not beat around the bush (arrrrgh) Johst was a died in the wool Nazi too. Anyway…….Jean Luc Godard later restyled this in the film “le Mepris”….”when I hear the word culture, I reach for my cheque book.” More like it in this day and age. I have featured a story from der Spiegel…no irony intended. I just love their dry tone of voice here.Please note, as der Spiegel says,  that offensive portions of this picture have not been pixellated.

Artist Jonathen Yeo has created a collage portrait of US President George W. Bush by cutting up porn magazines. The Bush portrait, currently on display in London, has attracted the wrath of Republicans.

British artist Jonathan Yeo had every reason to be offended. The Bush Library in Texas had yet again rescinded a commission it had given him to paint a portrait of United States President George W. Bush. In the end, though, the artist decided to go ahead with his artistic portrayal of the 43rd president, even if he wasn’t getting paid for it — and created a portrait of Bush using a collage of pornographic images.

The tribute has not gone over well with Bush’s supporters. A spokesman for Republicans Abroad International described the portrait as a “cheap stunt” in an interview with the British tabloid The Sun. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Republican Party in Bush’s home state of Texas didn’t find much humor in the portrait either. “This picture is very distasteful,” he told the paper, adding angrily, “Why would anyone want to make a picture of our president from pornographic material?”

For his part, artist Yeo has reacted calmly to the furore over the smutty visage. “I did it for fun, not to offend,” he told the paper, adding that he was “pleased with it.”

Nor has Yeo always been so cruel to politicians. He recently completed a portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — without the help of nudity, sexual acts or graphic displays of genitalia.

The artwork, titled “Bush 2007,” is currently being shown as part of an exhibition at London’s Lazarides Gallery and is available in a limited edition run of 150 prints, each measuring 86 by 56 centimeters.

How to stop people stealing your lunch

 I have to say with all the terribly serious news in the world’s economy I was taken by this article by skforlee. Be warned, on skforlee‘s page if you choose to visit it, there are extremely scurrilous features and articles indeed. Very funny though. I particularly liked the expensive and gaudy fire fighting apparatus, and the odourless toilet advert.

Stealing your co-worker’s lunch is a downright contemptible act, that is, if it’s perpetrated by someone other than you. But, if you’ve ever had your lunch stolen, you know the the frustration and anger it causes. You know the revenge and ill-will it inspires. And you know that no matter how well you try to hide your lunch bag at the back of the refrigerator, something’s gonna be missing when you open it. Well, lament no more. The Anti-Theft Lunch Bag to the rescue . . .
Anti-Theft Lunch Bags are regular sandwich bags that have green splotches printed on both sides. After your sandwich is placed inside, no one will want to touch it.

If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty with these bags, please send an email to skforlee@gmail.com and I’ll let you know when they become available.
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How the charity Apopo uses trained rats to detect and clear mines.

I read about this on the internet today then found that the Guardian had reported on it – and included an astonishing and slightly disturbing video – click here to see it. The article is from Apopo’s own website.

To speed up the process of demining, mine detection rats are used to directly indicate the positions of buried landmines. On average, it takes a rat less than half an hour to search a 100m2 box.

The rat is guided by a search string, which is connected between its two trainers. The rat moves systematically up and down the search string, processing lane by lane through the suspected box. Both trainers take position at opposite sides of the box in the safe lane, fixing the search string to the lower leg. When a rat reaches the end of the box, the operators make a lateral step, and the rat moves into the next lane. A box or lane system provides the safe access lanes for the trainers. APOPO is using 5 by 20 meter boxes, which means that the rat has to search 40 lanes of half a meter to clear one box.

The rat indicates the position of a landmine by scratching the surface at the spot. Being lightweight, they do not set off the explosive devices. In a training situation, the trainer clicks upon a correct indication by the rat and the animal will moves to the trainer to get its reward. A second person, the observer, takes notes on the behavior and performance of the rat while working.
Typically, one to three rats are used consecutively to search an area. The number of rats to be used depends on the operational scenario and the combination with other search techniques. Quality control behind other detectors or a confirmation search behind a mechanical clearance will require less animals compared to primary detection.
After the rat has been fully trained on the training fields in Tanzania, a series of blind tests is carried out to assess its performance. If the animal meets the desired requirements, it will be selected for de-mining operations. As with dogs, the rats are re-calibrated on the specific mines found in the demining operations, before being deployed.

Branded.

I found this story about adverts tattooed onto people’s bodies often in conspicuous places on a blog called divine caroline in which she cynically and ironically (too harsh for me to laugh out loud out, though) details other ways in which you can make money with your body parts and fluids which are – shall we say – a bit off the beaten track. After a little more reading I found a whole host of these tattooed ads. Look at it. Wonder. But Don’t do it.

What was that? Oh, yes, ten grand for the forehead job. US dollars, not pounds.

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Is it OK to use brain-boosting drugs to enhance your academic performance?

I first heard this story on BBC Radio 4 when they were discussing the use of cognitive brain enhancers to boost academic performance. It appears to first come from an article in Nature magazine by Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir – but I found a version published here.Basically, you’re about to take an exam – would you like an espresso with a double shot of methylphenidate…..or just soft brown sugar?

Would you boost your own brain power? Cognitive-enhancing drugs are increasingly being used in non-medical situations such as shift work and by active military personnel. This is where the debate about their use begins
in earnest. How should the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs be regulated in healthy people? Should their use always be monitored by healthcare professionals? If offered by a friend or colleague, would you, the reader, take a pill that would help you to better focus, plan or remember? Under what conditions would you feel comfortable taking a pill, and under what conditions would you decline? The answers to such questions hinge on many factors, including the exact drug being discussed, its short-term and long-term benefits and risks, and the purpose for which it is used. There are instances in which most people would agree that the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs should be prevented or at least regulated and monitored, such as by healthy children or in competitive settings (including entrance exams to university). There are also situations in which many would agree that the use of drugs to improve concentration or planning may be tolerated, if not encouraged, such as by air-traffic controllers, surgeons and nurses who work long shifts. One can even imagine situations where such enhancing-drug-taking would be recommended, such as for airport-security screeners, or by soldiers in active combat. But there are no straightforward answers and any fruitful debate must address each situation in turn.
How would you react if you knew your
colleagues — or your students — were
taking cognitive enhancers?
In academia, we know that a number of our scientific colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom already use modafinil to counteract the effects of jetlag, to enhance productivity or mental energy, or to deal with demanding and important intellectual challenges . Modafinil and other drugs are available online, but their non- prescription and long-term use has not been monitored in healthy individuals. For many, it seems that the immediate and tangible benefits of taking these drugs are more persuasive than concerns about legal status and adverse effects. There are clear trends suggesting that the use of stimulants such as methylphenidate on college campuses is on the rise, and is becoming more commonplace in ever younger students.
Universities may have to decide whether to ban drug use altogether, or to tolerate it in some situations (whether to enable all-night study sessions or to boost alertness during lectures).
The debate over cognitive-enhancing drugs must also consider the expected magnitude of the benefits and weigh them against the risks and side effects of each drug. Most readers would not consider that having a double shot
of espresso or a soft drink containing caffeine would confer an unfair advantage at work.
The use of caffeine to enhance concentration is commonplace, despite having side effects in at least some individuals
Often overlooked in media reports on cognitive enhancers is the fact that many of the effects in healthy individuals are transient and small-to-moderate in size. Just as one would hardly propose that a strong cup of coffee could be the secret of academic achievement or faster career advancement, the use of such drugs does not necessarily entail cheating. Cognitive enhancers with small or no side effects but with moderate enhancing effects that alleviate forgetfulness or enable one to focus better on the task at hand during a tiring day at work would be unlikely to meet much objection.
And does it matter if it is delivered as a pill or a drink? Would you, the reader, welcome a cognitive enhancer delivered in a beverage that is readily obtainable and affordable, and has a moderate yet noticeable effect
on your concentration and alertness?……
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I will be looking for more threads on this story in coming weeks.

Pregnant man

This story ran in the Scotsman today. In the past I have shied away from those traditional “News of the World” style stories, but frankly I was fascinated by this and its implications. Mr Beatie appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and the footage was syndicated all over the world. What I was most taken with was Oprah’s statement at the end of her feature – saying it was a new definition of what diversity means for everybody. Maybe we will look back on this story in fifty years time and find it “everyday”- and not even worthy of comment.

A TRANSGENDER man who is six months pregnant said in a television interview yesterday that he had always wanted to have a child and considers it “a miracle”.
“It’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human desire,” said thinly bearded Thomas Beatie, who was once a teenage beauty queen.

“I have a very stable male identity,” he added, in an interview, broadcast on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the United States.

Mr Beatie, 34, who lives in Oregon, was born a woman but decided to become a man ten years ago.

He began taking testosterone treatment and had breast surgery to remove glands and flatten his chest.

“I opted not to do anything with my reproductive organs because I wanted to have a child one day,” he said.

Mr Beatie’s wife, Nancy, said she inseminated him with a syringe, using sperm purchased from a sperm bank.

Now, he said, his size 32 jeans were getting a bit tight and his shirts a bit stretched.

Mrs Beatie, to whom he has been married for five years and who has two grown daughters by a previous marriage, also appeared on the show, saying the couple’s roles will not change once the baby, a girl, is born.

“He’s going to be the father and I’m going to be the mother,” she said.

Their marriage is legal and he is recognised under Oregon state law as a man.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’s inside me,” said Mr Beatie.

His obstetrician, Dr Kimberly James, who practises in the town of Bend, where the couple live, told Winfrey: “This is a normal pregnancy.

This baby is totally healthy.”

The Beaties said they decided to go public so they could control the way the news got out. “We’re just going to have the baby now,” Mrs Beatie said. “If we have to, we’ll go hide.”

Winfrey called the development “a new definition of what diversity means for everybody.”

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Ipod’s DRM hacked by DVD

I read in the Times Online today that the protection system which stops users from copying iTunes has been circumvented by a hacker called DVD Jon. Whatever you think about the morality of the issue, I love the fact that DVD Jon looks like an inoffensive mild-mannered Clark Kent kind of character. There’s a big entry about his life story and track record of strange hacking achievements here. Robin Hood? Hyper villain? Does Steve Jobs have enough money? Do you?

A notorious Norwegian hacker known as DVD Jon is preparing for another run-in with the music industry after he released software that lets iPod owners copy music and videos bought from iTunes and play it on other devices.

The program allows people to drag and drop songs from iTunes into a folder on their desktop, which in turn copies the files to other devices such as mobile phones and games consoles via the web.

In doing so, the software breaks the copy protection – known as ‘digital rights management’ or DRM – that is built into all music that is bought from iTunes. Music bought from iTunes can be played only on the iPod.

DoubleTwist, DVD Jon’s company, maintains that its service is legal, but lawyers said that Apple would almost certainly seek to shut it down because the law now specifically targeted technologies which attempted to circumvent measures such as DRM.

The $299 headest will read facial expressions and simple thoughts such as ‘lift’ or ‘drop’ to control in-game actions

The hacker has previously enabled iPod owners to play music bought from websites other than iTunes.

DoubleTwist’s new software will initially enable files to be copied to Nokia N-series mobile phones, Sony Ericsson’s Walkman and Cybershot handsets, as well as any smartphone powered by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

The program gets around Apple’s DRM software by replaying a song in fast-forward and taking a copy of the audio track, using a process similar to that by which a CD is ‘ripped’ – or copied – to a computer.

About a hundred songs can be converted in half an hour, doubleTwist said, although there is a 5 per cent loss of sound quality – about the same as when a CD is copied.

A spokesman for the San Fransisco-based company said that its software was legal, because it only allowed a user who has already purchased music to copy it. “All we are facilitating are friends sending things to one another,” Monique Farantzos, doubleTwists’s chief executive and co-founder, told Reuters.

Lawyers today cast doubt on Ms Farantzos’s claims, however, saying that the law had taken steps to protect Apple’s efforts to control the way its music could be played, and that anyone circumventing measures such as DRM risked being found guilty of copyright infringement.

“I would be astonished if doubleTwist doesn’t get a call from Apple,” Paul Jones, a partner in intellectual property law at the London-based firm Harbottle & Lewis, said.

DVD Jon, whose real name is Jon Lech Johansen, has been an arch-enemy of the music and film industries ever since he released software which broke the copy protection on Hollywood films, aged 16.

In 2003, Mr Johansen, now 24, developed the first of several programs which attempted to bypass the system developed by Apple for synchronising its iTunes store with iPods, leading to one of a series of run-ins with the firm.

An organic house I stumbled upon.

I found this amazing looking house on the internet and the story of how it was built: before you read it, check out stumbleupon which introduced me to this, and which was in turn recommended by an interesting guy called Lloyd Shepherd. On with the story:

You are looking at pictures of our family home in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).

The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature. Being your own (have a go) architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass produced box designed for maximum profit and convenience of the construction industry. Building from natural materials does away with producers profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.

Some key points of the design and construction:

* Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
* Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
* Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
* Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
* Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
* Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
* Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
* Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
* Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
* Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
* Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
* Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
* Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
* Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
* Water by gravity from nearby spring
* Compost toilet
* Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.

Main tools used: chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. Oh and by the way I am not a builder or carpenter, my experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around inbetween. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.

Would you like to learn more about this sort of building and gain practical experience? Why not join us on another exciting building project. There will be opportunities for everyone of all abilities and areas of interest