Knotty Studies

One of my favourite books is Aubrey's Brief Lives. John Aubrey was born in 1626 and his book is a series of short essays about prominent figures of his time. His memoirs are often scandalous, gossipy, startling and funny. They are always very readable. For example, in his memoir of John Colet he mentions that Colet was buried in a lead coffin and the coffin was filled with liquor to preserve the body. After the Great Fire of London someone made a small hole in the lid of the coffin and a Mr Wyld and a Mr Greatorex sampled the liquid and gave their opinion on its taste.

One of his best quotes is about himself. He confesses that he wanted patience for knotty studies'. Me too.

Pro-American Israelis killing children in Gaza

Since the media is doing guilt by association with the Ukrainian rebels always referred to as the pro-Russian rebels I thought I should do  the same for the pro-American Israelis. After all, the USA is giving money and arms to the Israeli terrorists.

Pro-American Israelis are killing children in Gaza.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, consistent with his policy of guilt by association, called on the EU to impose harsh new sanctions on the USA for supporting and arming Israeli child killers.

42 photographs from Gaza

42 photographs from Gaza.  Don't worry, nothing evil going on. Just dealing with a few human shields.


A Boys Guide to Detecting Evil

Evil v Definitely Not Evil
Evil Not Evil
Supplying arms to Ukrainian rebels Supplying arms to Syrian rebels
Russians not giving money to US & UK politicians Zionists giving money to US & UK politicians
Killing civilians Killing human shields
Occupying Crimea Occupying Iraq, Afghanistan etc.
Selling Russian oil & gas to Europe Selling US oil & gas to Europe
Shooting down a civilian airliner [MH 17] Shooting down a civilian airliner [Iranian Air 655]  See note 1
Facts & evidence Unsupported accusations and ranting


1. In 1988 the USS Vincennes guided missile cruiser shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 civilian passengers on board, including 38 non-Iranians and 66 children. At the time of the attack the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters and IR655 was within Iranian airspace. It was also broadcasting an IFF signal indicating it was a civilian aircraft. When the Vincennes  returned to port its officers were rewarded with medals and promotions.

A Greater Love

Prime Minister David Cameron has sacked his friend Michael Gove as Education Secretary in a cabinet reshuffle. Gove was thought to be doing a good job but was apparently seen as unpopular asnd therefor an electoral liability.

Greater self love has no man that he layeth down the career of a friend to save his own arse.

Gove tries to spot the coming head shot


Utopia is a six part series that was broadcast on the UK's Channel 4 in early 2013.  I have only just found it.  It is the best thing I have seen for a long time. Superb acting. Very violent.

The Wikipedia article is here.

Utopia is available on DVD and as a torrent.

A second series starts on Channel 4 next week.  HBO are doing an American version.

Another series worth seeing is Rubicon.  This will be harder to find since, strangely enough, it was only shown once and is not available on DVD. It is barely available as a torrent.

Privacy Badger

If you don't like having your internet browsing being tracked by commercial companies you might be interested in the new Privacy Badger extension from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  It works with Firefox and Chrome.


Eddie Mair and 'fishy' data retention

On today's edition of the BBC five o'clock news Eddie Mair gave a pathetic Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister a good kicking over the new Data Retention laws which are to be rushed through Parliament.

At one point he asked the poor sod if the public should find it fishy that all the three main political parties were supporting this nonsense.

Of course it is not fishy, Eddie.  It just means that our secret police have gathered enough blackmail information on the parties from past data retention that they can force them to do whatever they want.  An situation that was entirely foreseeable once that fool Blair was talked into forcing data retention through the EU Parliament and then through the UK Parliament.

Politicians and journalists must be truly stupid if they do not realise they are going to be the main targets of data retention. We might catch a few criminals and terrorists but political power for our UK versions of J Edgar Hoover is the main pay-off from data retention.

They are the masters now and are so confident of their powers that they don't even bother to think up plausible excuses or reasons for their actions.

As Craig Murray says in his latest post, "It is not that they expect us to believe them – they just don’t care. They have the power, and we don’t.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron to resign?

The BBC reports

"Tomorrow members of the National Union of Teachers will walk out in a long-running dispute over performance related pay, pensions and workload – forcing many schools to close.

Mr Cameron told Prime Minister’s Questions the NUT’s strike ballot had taken place in 2012 on a 27%  turn out.

"I think the time has come for looking at setting thresholds in strike ballots.

"How can it possibly be right for our children's education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way? It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto."

Dave is right,  27%  is not enough. That is why I know he is going to resign.

He became Prime Minister after the 2010 General Election in which his party got 36.1% of the vote on a turn out of 65.1%.

36.1% x 65.1% = 23.5%

I know that if Dave the Dim really believes in thresholds he will realise that he cannot be Prime Minister when only 23.5% of the electorate voted for his party.  That is well below any legitimacy threshold.

Obviously he will now do the honourable thing and resign.

Why is there so much rubbish on the internet?

When people ask this question they are usually asking why so many World Wide Web pages are of such poor quality. It’s a good question.  There are an awful lot of pages which are biased, inaccurate, incomplete, opinionated, misleading and badly written.

There are two reasons for this situation; one is reviewing and the other is charging.

In traditional publishing the established way of controlling quality is the reviewing process.  Before anything is published in a journal, newspaper or book it will have been reviewed by at least one person, and maybe two or three.  If an author wants their work to be published  they have to take account of the reviewer’s comments. The process is not perfect, but it works pretty well.

There is a quality hierarchy in publishing. At the top are the refereed journals, mainly written by academics. The content of these will have been reviewed by an editor and by between one and three referees. The referees should be people who are known to be knowledgeable about the subject of the article being reviewed.

At the next level down are professional journals, magazines, newspapers and most books. The content of these will have been reviewed by a editor. The quality threshold is less here because the editor may not know anything about the subject of the article. However, they will be able to correct bad writing.

At the bottom of the pyramid are web pages. No permission is required to publish and that means that usually only the author has looked at a web page [including weblogs ] before it appears on the web.  Of course there are advantages in imprimatur free publishing, but the cost is often quality.

The second factor that affects the quality of web pages is the lack of a charging mechanism on the internet. If authors are paid for their work they have a powerful incentive to produce good work and more of it. The problem is that is no mechanism on the internet that would allow an author to charge a few pence for a look at a well researched and written web page.  Other online networks did have such mechanisms. Minitel had its kiosk system. The proprietary networks, such as Compuserve, had ways of charging for content. The internet, because of its academic history and open source nature, does not have such a mechanism. The result is that writers are dependent upon advertising, egotism or altruism  for their reward.

Of course, there is a part of the internet where pages are of high quality, the reviewing mechanism works and people get paid for their work. This is the so called Deep Web where publications are behind subscription walls in databases such as Dialog, LexisNexis, IngentaConnect, WofK, ABI/Inform and lots more.  Most internet users do not realise these exist because the pages in these systems never appear in Google searches. Google only searches the poor quality Surface Web. It is only relatively recently that Google has started to open a window into the Deep Web with its Google Scholar search engine.

Can we do anything to improve the quality of pages in the Surface Web? Perhaps by trying to introduce a reviewing system for Surface Web pages?  I do not think we should try. Free publishing is worth preserving.

Creating a micropayments system for the Surface Web would reduce the dependence on altruism and advertising and give authors an incentive to do quality work. Perhaps it would be possible to link a payment mechanism with RSS feeds. The problem would be coming up with a system that people would accept and use. We have all got too used to getting stuff for free on the internet.

The Grant Museum - bones and things in bottles

London has many strange little museums [see this post].  I recently visited one of them. The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy is part of University College London. It is the only remaining university zoological museum in London and houses around 67,000 specimens, though only a small part of the collection is on display since the museum only has one large room. 

It was founded in 1828 by Robert Grant and added to by donations from several Victorian amateur zoologists. As medical schools, other colleges and London Zoo have cleared have cleared out their attics some of the best stuff has come to the Grant.  The museum is still making interesting discoveries as it catalogues its donations

The Museum is packed full of skeletons, mounted animals and specimens preserved in fluid.

Going around museums can be so exhausting

The museum is in Gower Street in central London. Entry is free.

Panoramic Photo of Kolner Dom [Cologne Cathedral]

The site has a large collection of panoramic photographs. I think the best of these is the one of Cologne Cathedral. It is a stunning application of the technique. Try looking up and down as well as around. You can also zoom in and out. You will need to have the free QuickTime plugin installed.

If you look at the photographs on the Panoramas site you can see some really good applications of panoramic photography. I particularly like this one of Red Square. Others do not really seem to work; either because the camera has been badly situated, or the subject is not really suitable for panoramic photography.

Map of Walks and Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

An illustrated and annotated map of some high level walks and via ferrata in the Dolomites.   


CommunityWalk Map - Walks and Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

Plague Village

Eyam is a small village, high in the Peak District of England. In 1665 the Black Death came to Eyam, as it did to most of Europe. Eyam was unusual because, instead of  fleeing, the villagers chose to isolate themselves until the plague had passed.

Over 14 months the plague killed at least 260 villagers with only 83 villagers surviving out of a population of 350. An alternative estimate suggests there were 430 survivors from a population of around 800. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague.

I do not know who persuaded the villagers, who must have been terrified, to remain in Eyam. It must have been someone exceptional.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

The Attendant - a coffee shop in a public toilet

The Attendant is a coffee bar in a former men's lavatory in Foley Street in central London. The public toilet was built in 1890 and closed in the 1960s.

It has now been restored, retaining the white tiles, cisterns and urinals. In addition to expressos it serves breakfast, brunch, lunch & afternoon tea.

A row of urinals with a wooden shelf inserted for customers to rest their coffee cups and reading.

These places used to have attendants whose job it was to keep the lavatory clean and discourage homosexuality. Hence, the coffee bar's new name.

Ironically, The Attendant does not have toilets.

Bacon Settle

This settle is in a Jacobean manor house in the north of England. It is one of a pair that were originally positioned either side of a large open fireplace. They date from the 17th century.

 Usually they look like this

 The one in the photograph has a large cupboard behind the seat.

It is called a bacon settle because the cupboard  was used to hang and store cured, salted and smoked meats.

Situated beside a fireplace, the cupboards were dry and not too humid, though perhaps rather pungent.  They provided perfect storage conditions for such preserved foodstuffs and such important household items such as wax for candles.

They were often modified later by adding shelves, or by moving them to the hallway to store coats and boots.

Bug Hotel

In a garden in a National Trust property in Derbyshire, England.

Why are we becoming poorer?

Why are most of us becoming poorer?   Why don't the young people of today have more to look forward to?  Why are they burdened with debt and struggling to find decent work? Why do they seem destined to become poorer than their parents?

There are some short term factors at work. They will pass. More ominously, there are long term processes at work which will not pass but will make things worse.

The quoted text below is an edited extract from a column by Richard Wolff in The Guardian.

He was writing about the US, but I think the same forces are at work in the UK. The process is just more advanced in the US.

"Workers enjoyed a rising level of real wages that afforded their families a rising standard of living. Ever harder work paid off in rising consumption. The rich got richer faster than the middle and poor, but almost no one got poorer. Nearly all citizens felt "middle class". A profitable capitalism kept running ahead of labour supply. So, it kept raising wages to retain employees, across the 19th century until the 1970s.

Then everything changed. Real wages stopped rising, as  capitalists redirected their investments to produce and employ abroad, while replacing millions of workers  with computers. The  women's liberation moved millions of  adult women to seek paid employment. Capitalism no longer faced a shortage of labour.

Employers took advantage of the changed situation: they stopped raising wages. When basic labour scarcity became labour excess, not only real wages, but eventually benefits, too, would stop rising. Over the last 30 years, the vast majority of  workers have, in fact, gotten poorer, when you sum up flat real wages, reduced benefits (pensions,  etc.), reduced public services and raised tax burdens."

So, until the 1970s workers enjoyed rising living standards because the demand for labour exceeded its supply. Unemployment was low, people could easily change jobs and real living standards increased year after year.

Then, according to Wolff, three factors changed the labour supply and demand relationship.

Vancouver Anthropology Museum

The Museum of Anthropology at the UBC [MOA] is on the University of British Columbia campus, a short bus ride from downtown Vancouver. It is close to the Nitobe Garden [see earlier post and map].

It is the best museum in Vancouver [though the museums in Vanier Park are also worth visiting, particularly the Maritime Museum] and one of the best museums I have ever visited.

MOA houses over 40,000 ethnographic objects from almost every part of the world, including the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas and 535,000 archaeological objects. The ethnographic collection is a mixture of historical objects and contemporary objects. The most famous example of the latter is Bill Reid's yellow cedar carving shown below. Incidentally, there is also a Bill Reid gallery in downtown Vancouver.

The Raven and the First Men
The photographs below might make it appear that most of the ethnological material is from British Columbia's First Nations. That is not so.  There are over 15,000 objects from Asia, almost 12,000 from North America (of which only 7,100 are from the First Nations), approximately 4,300 from South and Central America, 4,000 from the Pacific islands and over 2,300 are from Africa. The object shown in this post is in the museum.
I find it hard to like concrete buildings but Arthur Erickson's beautifully situated building is an exception.

These First Nation doorways had a defensive function. Visitors had to enter a building through the openings indicated and to do so had to either crouch down or enter sideways.

Some First Nation carvings.

Chess set

The museum's collection is very well displayed. To make as much as possible available  display cabinets have drawers underneath where more objects can be inspected. A practice that other museums could follow. MOA also has terminals to a very useful online catalogue of over 38,000 object (33,000 with images) dotted throughout the building.

As well as being a tourist destination MOA is  a research and teaching museum, where UBC courses in art, anthropology, archaeology, conservation, and museum studies are given. Many UK museums have 'dumbed down' to attract the general public but there is non of that at MOA.

The Iron Chink

The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia [854 miles] and flows into the sea just south of the city of Vancouver.  Every year tens of millions of salmon used to enter the mouth of the Fraser and several canneries were built at at the small port of Steveston to process the catch.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Steveston was the busiest fishing port in the world, with fifteen salmon canneries, six hotels, numerous saloons and gambling dens, and up to fourteen windjammers simultaneously loading canned salmon for world markets. On a Saturday night, 10,000 people thronged the board walks, including Native Indians, Japanese, Chinese, European immigrants, and sailors from the seven seas.
Cannery with dock for unloading catches
Some of the cannery labour was provided by Chinese workers who had come to Canada to work on the transcontinental railway and were unemployed when the railway was finished. At the  Gulf of Georgia Cannery three gangs of thirty men each worked on topping, tailing and gutting the salmon. Fast work with sharp knives produced a crop of lost fingers.
Manual salmon processing
In 1903, Edmund A. Smith developed a machine that could guts and clean salmon many times faster than human workers. A good worker could remove fins, head, tail and innards from about 2,000 fish per 10 hour day. On the first day the machine cleaned 22,000 fish in nine hours, or about 40 fish per minute. By 1904, the fish-cleaning machines could pack an average of 9,000 to 10,000 cases of salmon per day.

Workers laid the salmon one by one on a moving track. Each salmon had its head cut off by a sharp, rotating blade. A workman then pushed each salmon into the butchering machine. The machine quickly pinned the fish and cut off its tail and fins, and opened the belly with a saw. It even cleaned out the blood and guts with brushes. The butchered salmon was then ejected onto a conveyor belt and sent to the washing tables.

Smiths machine became widely know as the “Iron Chink”, because if could perform the work of approximately 50 Chinese salmon butchers. The innovation increased cannery profits but made thousands unemployed.

The Iron Chink

Salmon were then sliced into can sized chunks by these circular blades

A reconstructed canning line

The 'slime line'
Of course, the usual tragedy of the commons situation arose and the salmon were almost wiped out by overfishing. Eventually, all the canneries closed. Only one remains and that is now a museum.

The museum is is a national heritage site and is well worth visiting. Stevenson is easily reached by a subway and bus ride from central Vancouver.

Thanks to conservation efforts salmon are returning to the Fraser in the tens of millions. A local newspaper reported that ' The Pacific Salmon Commission, which had been anticipating a return of about 12 million pinks, now says an estimated 26 million fish are in the Fraser. Other rivers are experiencing remarkable returns as well.

“The fish poured in here in such numbers that the sea was a sparkling diamond,” said Ken Kirkby,  who has been working to restore salmon runs in Nile Creek on Vancouver Island. “You can’t see the bottom of the river for the salmon.”

The increase in salmon numbers may be due to a controversial experiment which  dumped100 tonnes of iron sulphate and 20 tonnes of iron oxide some 350 kilometres off the Haida Gwaii archipelago in an iron fertilization project. This created a 35,000-square-kilometre plankton bloom and it has been argued that Pacific salmon feeding on the plankton would grow in number and size due to the increase in food supply, boosting salmon stocks and causing a massive salmon run in 2014.

The Errol Flynn Autopsy

Exhibited in the Vancouver Police Museum.

Autopsy Table and incinerator