Monday, March 31, 2008

Sign the Beijing Olympics boycott pledge

The pledge.

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The Great Australian Tap Hoax

Moron Monday
Pictured is your average Australian kitchen and bathroom tap. There are many other designs, of course, but the vast majority of taps are like this, and have been for decades. There must be millions of the rotten bastards.

The Great Australian Tap is 'designed' with a thin, multi-sided nut in the centre (in this picture the arrow points to it). The nut is too thin to tighten with a spanner, except with great persistence. Another feature of the nut is that the so-called designers who foisted this stupid utensil on an unsuspecting, unrebellious public, made the nut so that it will sooner or later (usually sooner) work itself loose, releasing spring-loaded parts from the seat of the faucet. Several parts then fall into the sink or bath with a great tumult, and much swearing from onlookers.

This is simply moronic design. What more can one say?

More on Monday.

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John Donne and his shroud

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1631 English cleric and metaphysical poet, John Donne (b. 1572), died, London, England, possibly of stomach cancer, a short time after having his portrait painted in a funeral shroud (to provide the sculptor of his monument with a design from which to work).

Donne was a Jacobean poet and preacher, representative of the metaphysical poets of the period. Only a few days before his death he gave an address called 'Death's Duel', one of the high points of seventeenth-century English prose. "We have a winding sheet in our mother's womb," he told the congregation, "which grows with us from our conception, and we come into the world wound up in that winding sheet, for we come to seek a grave". He hung the portrait in his chamber as a reminder of the transience of life. Donne died having never published a poem in his lifetime ...

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Indigenous Australians occcupy Wave Hill Station

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1967 Australia: The Gurindji strike – In one of the first and most significant events in which Australian Aboriginal people used mass civil disobedience in order to claim their rights, Gurindji people occupied part of Wave Hill cattle station, Northern Territory. The Gurindji direct action was led by Vincent Lingiari (pictured), the Aboriginal rights activist who later was created a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the Aboriginal people.

In 1975, the Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam finally negotiated with Vesteys, the British transnational corporation that operated the land, to give the Gurindji back a portion of their property. The handback took place on August 16, 1975 at Kalkaringi, a landmark in the land rights movement in Australia for Indigenous Australians. The events have been commemorated in the Paul Kelly song, 'From Little Thing Big Things Grow' ...

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Festival of Hilaria, in honour of Cybele, ancient Rome

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
Today marked the end of the 12-day festival of Cybele (pictured), the Anatolian mother goddess of mountains and fertility, and a life-death-rebirth deity, who was adopted by the Romans as their own Mother of the Gods.

In 204, Cybele's sacred black statue, which was carved from a meteorite from Pessinus in Anatolia (in modern Turkey), was shipped to Rome, where it arrived on April 4. This statue and the cultus that surrounded it became very important parts of the Roman religion.

The Hilaria was a Roman festival of the Vernal Equinox. Today was the final day, the lavatio, on which the Romans performed the ceremonial rites of washing – the tradition that some cultures know today as Spring cleaning. Also today was the annual procession in honour of the Mother of the Gods, and the carriage in which her image was carried was washed in the waters of the Almo, a Roman stream.

The Christian writer, St Augustine, who was born in North Africa in about 345, tells us: "When I was a young man I used to go to … spectacles put on in honour of gods and goddesses – in honour of the Heavenly Virgin, and of Berecynthia [a title of Cybele], mother of all. On the yearly festival of Berecynthia's washing, actors sang, in front of her litter … they performed [rites] in the presence of the Mother of the Gods before an immense audience of spectators of both sexes … And the name of the ceremony is 'the fercula', which might suggest the giving of a dinner-party" ...

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

John and Yoko stage the Bed Peace

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,
Talking in our beds for a week.
The newspaper said, "Say what you doing in bed?"
I said, "We're only trying to get us some peace".

1969 During their honeymoon, John Lennon and Yoko Ono started a seven day 'bed-in' at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel (until March 31).

By the very weirdness and audacity of the stunt, the canny artists drew more coverage in the media for the anti-war cause than had hitherto been achieved by any single event. They repeated the event in Montreal, Canada, beginning on May 26 ...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gastric-brooding frog

Discover the Permaculture solutions
What dangerous and foolish creatures we human beings can be. Behold Australia's Gastric-brooding frog and see a photo of Mama giving birth out of her mouth.

Discovered in the 1970s. Extinct by the 1980s. RIP.

"The habitat that the Southern Gastric-brooding Frog once inhabited is now threatened by feral pigs, the invasion of weeds, altered flow and water quality problems due to upstream disturbances."

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Missing: monks who defied Beijing

Wilson's Almanac news and current affairs blog
Missing: monks who defied Beijing

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Feast day of the Annunciation (Lady Day)

(Marigold, Calendula officinalis, is today's plant, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.)

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
Today in Christian lore marks the day that the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Annunciation, nine months before Christmas Day, is widely celebrated in Europe.

According to early calendar-maker Dionysius Exiguus, March 25 was the day, in 31 CE, of the first Easter, that is, the day on which Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It was once also known to the Christians of Britain as 'Lady Day'.

Lady Day is an abridgement of the old term 'Our Lady's day' – a 'gaudy day' of the Catholic Church, and it represents the Christianization of older, pagan Spring Equinox festivals, in the much the same way that St Patrick's Day and Easter do.

Known as the first day of the year, from the 12th Century till until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, it is the first of the four traditional Irish Quarter days and English quarter days. In England, it was actually celebrated as New Year's Day until 1752 when, following the move from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, January 1 was first declared to begin the year. A vestige of this remains in the United Kingdom's tax year, which starts on April 6, which is March 25 adjusted for the 11 lost days of the calendar change ...

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Monday, March 24, 2008

How the world went crazy for allotments

Discover the Permaculture solutionsAll around the world, people are gardening in allotments and bringing home fresh food with almost no financial expense.

For example, in Australia:

"Some are one large expanse, worked on by all the gardeners together. Others take the British model – individual plots for each set of green fingers to tend. The garden at the Addison Road Centre in Marrickville is a hybrid. On a site with an array of community buildings, it has existed since 2000. Volunteers grow bananas, sweet potatoes, coffee, herbs and vegetables such as aubergines, chillies, lettuces and beans. There are also almond, lemon, peach and cherry trees. The garden is run on the principles of permaculture and organics. 'Everything is recycled,' says Natalie McCarthy, a volunteer. 'All the weeds we put in compost bins. Vegetable scraps go into worm farms. We get mulch from a local stables.'"

(Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are no such allotments in my town. I am one who would be grateful to have access to an allotted space, due to the amount of shade where I live.)

This article looks at allotments in many countries.

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One Laptop Per Child

Tech news and useful technology
"The only way Professor Negroponte can realise his dream is by having cheap laptops, costing $100, or eventually, less. How is this done? And what difference do these computers make in the villages of Africa, South America and Asia? Professor Negroponte, founder of the Media Lab at MIT and author of the bestseller Being Digital, talks to an audience in Boston, Massachusetts."
Audio and transcript at The Science Show

OLPC mission
"Most of the nearly two–billion children in the developing world are inadequately educated, or receive no education at all. One in three does not complete the fifth grade ...

"OLPC is a non-profit organization providing a means to an end—an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.

"Until then, stay tuned."
One Laptop per Child

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Fundo week

Moron Monday
It's hard to know which is best under this rubric today:

1) Christian fundamentalists who say that Tyrannosaurus rex was a vegetarian, or
2) Muammar Gadaffi's amazingly unhistorical views on the Bible.

Lid dip to Baz 'Fundivore' le Tuff for both.

More on Monday.

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Trailblazer Ferlinghetti

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1919 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, American Beat Generation poet, publisher and also an accomplished painter. Ferlinghetti is probably best known as the co-founder, in 1953, of the City Lights Bookstore and publishing house, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the USA.

Under Ferlinghetti's prescient direction, City Lights published early literary works of the Beats, including Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth, Gregory Corso, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, Diane di Prima, Charles Bukowski, William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Others published by City Lights include Sam Shepard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, André Breton, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Howard Zinn and Cindy Sheehan.

Ferlinghetti's second book, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, has so far enjoyed sales exceeding 1,000,000 copies ...

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Jesus and Dubya

Photos from George Bush's autobiography, Destined for Destiny. Funny.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Richard Dawkins gets through

Highly recommended
Over at prodigiously posted Maryannaville is this funny tale about PZ Myers, who owns the estimable Pharyngula blog:

"PZ Myers took his family and a guest to see the movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It's a Ben Stein film about Intelligent Design. While waiting in line, PZ was asked to leave by either a cop or an uniformed guard. Apparently, the producers had Myers on a watch list yet they allowed Myer's family and guest in to see the movie. Now get this, the guest that Myers and family had with them was Richard Dawkins, author of 'The God Delusion.'"

Check out the links at Maryannaville. For more, see Dawkins and Myers discussing the expulsion from Expelled.

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On which day of the week were you born?

Click for Wilson's Almanac SiteMap
Wilson's Almanac birth date finder can also be used to find on which day of the week historical events occurred.

Mortgaging America's future

"It's one of the most amazing displays of journalistic incompetence and malpractice in recent memory.

"The US news media failed to draw the obvious connection between the bizarre federal law enforcement investigation and leak campaign about the private life of New York Governor Spitzer and Spitzer's all out attack on the Bush administration for its collusion with predatory lenders.

"While the international credit system grinds to a halt because of a superabundance of bad mortgage loans made in the US, the news media failed to cover the details of Spitzer's public charges against the White House.

"Yet when salacious details were leaked about alleged details of Spitzer's private life, they took that information and made it the front page news for days.

"To the 9/11 fiasco, the Iraq War, the travesty of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the shredding of the US Constitution, we can now add a deliberate and reckless undermining of the credit and banking system of the US to its list of 'accomplishments.'"
Source: Brasscheck TV (watch the video)

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Strata Smith advanced geology the hard way

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1769 William Smith ('Strata' Smith; d. August 28, 1839), English geologist/cartographer who created the first nationwide geologic map.

Although not born in a prominent family (in fact, he came from the wrong side of the tracks according to the social stratification of the day), Smith taught himself the fundamentals of geology. As revealed in Simon Winchester's book, The Map That Changed the World: A biography of William Smith, a respectable scientist of his day appropriated his map as his own.

Smith was for a time poverty stricken, serving time in from King's Bench Prison in London, a debtor's prison. He returned to his home of fourteen years at 15 Buckingham Street to find a bailiff at the door and his home and property seized ...

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

No wonder they think I'm batty

Sorry about the video quality, but these Flying foxes live across the road from my place in Bellingen. Fortunately, the noise is only as loud as this when you are standing among the bats, as I was when I shot this on my little camera. From my house I don't find the noise unpleasant, and it comes in just several sessions a day with greatly reduced volume, even with my windows open. I only noticed the sound for the first few days that I lived here. From sunset to dawn the bats have gone hunting and gathering over quite large distances, so noise is not a problem.

The Flying Foxes on Bellingen Island

Some of my photos at Bat Island

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Because the Bible tells me so?

"A 2007 Gallup Poll found that more Americans accept the theory of creationism than evolution. When those surveyed were asked about their views on the origins of life, 66 percent said creation, defined as "the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years," is probably or definitely true. In comparison, 53 percent said evolution, defined as "the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life," is probably or definitely true."

I dips me lid to Baz le Tuff.

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Stephen Pearl Andrews, freethinker

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when item posted

1812 Stephen Pearl Andrews (d. May 21, 1886), anarchist abolitionist, Modern Times community founder (with Josiah Warren; 1799 - 1874); born at Templeton, Massachusetts, USA.

He was a lawyer, author (The Sovereignty of the Individual; Science of Society) and free-love advocate; it is said that he knew 32 languages.

He started with a brilliant career at the American bar and sacrificed it by his zealous work for the abolition of slavery. Andrews also contributed frequently to the Truth Seeker, a journal of rational thought that is still in publication (other eminent contributors included Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain, Robert G Ingersoll, HL Mencken, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Sanger). By the 1860s he was propounding an ideal society called Pantarchy, and from this he moved on to a philosophy he called "universology", which stressed the unity of all knowledge and activities.

Andrews was cited in the article on Anarchism by none other than Prince Peter Kropotkin in the famed 1911 edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica ...

See also Early progressives in the Book of Days

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Yahoo and MSN helping to root out Tibetan rioters

"Yahoo China pasted a 'most wanted' poster across its homepage today in aid of the police's witch-hunt for 24 Tibetans accused of taking part in the recent riots. MSN China made the same move, although it didn't go as far as publishing the list on its homepage."
France 24

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday and hot cross buns

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
[As the days associated with Easter are moveable feasts, we have Good Friday permanently parked at April 9 in The Wilson's Almanac Book of Days.]

Hot-cross buns! Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
But if you have none of these little elves,
Then you may eat them all yourselves.
English street vendors' cry, and nursery rhyme

It's Good Friday in the Christian world (except for Orthodox), and traditionally today, in much of the Anglophone world, is the day to eat hot cross buns (see recipe), and they are still very popular in many countries such as Australia. In the Museo Borbonico in Rome is an ancient sculpture representing the miracle of the five barley loaves. Each loaf is marked with a cross, which is remarkable, as hot-cross buns are not eaten in Europe.

It might have started as a pagan custom, as suggested by both the early folklorists E Cobham Brewer and Robert Chambers. The worship of the Queen of Heaven with cakes may well have been, as Chambers notes, "a custom to be found alike in China and in ancient Mexico, as well as many other countries. In Egypt, the cakes were horned to resemble the sacred heifer, and then called bous, which in one of its oblique cases is boun – in short, bun!"

The Greeks offered cakes with 'horns' on them to Apollo, Diana, Hecate and Selene (the moon). Such a cake was called a bous, and (it is said) never grew mouldy. The round bun represented the full moon, and the cross symbolised the four quarters.

Brewer says that Good Friday's hot cross buns were traditionally made of the dough kneaded for the host (as used in church ritual), and were naturally enough marked with a cross. They were said to keep for twelve months without turning mouldy, and some people would hang up one or more in their house as a talisman against evil.

We also note that bous was the word the Greeks used for cattle (cf English 'bull' and Latin 'bovis'). Many Middle Eastern female deities from Astarte (Ishtar/Innana) and Isis to the Virgin Mary are frequently depicted with the crescent moon or similar-shaped horn emblems ...

(See also Horned God in the Scriptorium.)

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Chicken Doves

"Elected to end the war, Democrats have surrendered to Bush on Iraq and betrayed the peace movement for their own political ends ..."
Rolling Stone

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Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne

It was completed in 1880, ready for the Melbourne International Exhibition. The building consisted of a Great Hall of over 12,000 square metres and many temporary annexes. The landmark dome is believed to be inspired by the Florence Cathedral.

The Melbourne Centennial Exhibition was held at the Exhibition Building in 1888 to celebrate a century of European settlement in Australia.

The most significant event to occur in the Exhibition Building was the opening of the first Parliament of Australia on May 9, 1901, at the inauguration of the sovereign Commonwealth of Australia.


The Luck of Edenhall

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
At Edenhall, Cumbria, England, the seat of the ancient family of Musgrave, for centuries the family has kept a drinking cup called the Luck of Edenhall. It is made of very thin glass, and the Musgraves depend on its not breaking.

The ancient legend has it that the family butler went one night to draw water at the well of St Cuthbert (whose feast day this is), a copious spring in the Edenhall garden. He surprised a group of fairies as they played by the spring, at the edge of which stood the glass. He seized hold of it, and in the ensuing struggle with the fairies, the little people ran away, exclaiming:

If this glass do break or fall,
Fairwell the luck of Edenhall!

The glass was once nearly dropped by the clumsy Duke of Wharton, but was caught in a napkin by the butler. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write a poem, 'The Luck of Edenhall', to tell the tale ...

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Fifth anniversary of Iraq War

Click for Wilson's Almanac SiteMap
Myths of the 'War on Terrorism' and Iraq

Text of President Bush's leaflet being dropped over Iraq
A parody that might get me sent to Guantanamo hell-hole

America's imperial eagle
An essay in pictures: The US symbol says much about today

President Bush announces his Global Peace Imaginatorium
Is it satire, is it prophetic, or is it just maybe a good idea?

Terror alerts!
From our Department of Homeland Fascism

Who cares about 1.2 million dead Iraqis?

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Stand with Tibet - Support the Dalai Lama

Click for more global actions one person can take
From the online activism website and community, Avaaz:

In just 36 hours, 253,553 of us have supported the Dalai Lama's call for dialogue and human rights in Tibet. This is an incredible response--if each of us can get 4 more of our friends to sign the petition, we'll hit 1 million this week!

After decades of suffering, the Tibetan people have burst onto the streets in protests and riots. The spotlight of the upcoming Olympic Games is now on China, and Tibetan Nobel peace prize winner the Dalai Lama is calling to end all violence through restraint and dialogue--he urgently needs the support of the world's people.

China's leaders are lashing out publicly at the Dalai Lama--but we're told many Chinese officials believe dialogue is the best hope for stability in Tibet. China's leadership is right now considering a crucial choice between crackdown and dialogue that could determine Tibet's--and China's--future.

We can affect this historic choice--China does care about its international reputation, and we can help them choose the right path ...

Here are some links with more information on the Tibetan protests and the Chinese response:

Crackdown in Tibet, but protests spreading:

Dalai Lama calling for dialogue and restraint, and an end to violence:

Leaders across Europe and Asia starting to back dialogue as the way forward:

Chinese Prime Minister attacks "Dalai clique", leaves door open for talks:

Other Chinese signals:

Australian action
Australians can also support the GetUp online campaign Stand Up For Tibet

See also

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An unreliable witness: Heather McCartney's fantasy world

"She fought hard to prevent its publication – but yesterday the full judgment in the former Lady McCartney's divorce case was published by the Family Court. And the picture it paints of her is far from flattering ..."


The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn

Read about the lies and myths of the War on Terror
"Five years on, and still we have not learnt," writes Robert Fisk in a blistering and erudite article commemorating five years since the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Read it at The Independent

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Australian Permaculture Convergence

Discover the Permaculture solutions

Sydney - Easter weekend - March 20th to 25th 2008

As Permaculture celebrates its 30th birthday, delegates from around Australasia will converge at the Glengarry Training Centre, cnr Miowera & Milton Rds, North Turramurra, Sydney ...

Speakers will include Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Robyn Francis, Max Lindegger, Geoff Lawton and many others. Here's my right arm -- can I go to the convergence now?

Australian Permaculture Convergence

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Uncle Dirty

Mike Belleme's photo essay on his Uncle Dirty is a classic about two individual individuals, though some readers won't want to (a) open it at work, or (b) let their kids browse it.

Lid dip to MAS.


The dots now fully connected in the American recession

The sliding dollar, the strengthening euro, the neocon regime, and Iraq

"The upcoming war in Iraq is mostly about how the ruling class at Langley and the Bush administration view hydrocarbons at the geo-strategic level, and the overarching macroeconomic threats to the U.S. dollar from the euro. The Real Reason for this upcoming war is this administration's goal of preventing further OPEC momentum towards the euro as an oil transaction currency standard. However, in order to pre-empt OPEC, they need to gain geo-strategic control of Iraq along with its 2nd largest proven oil reserves."

So Wilson's Almanac published in the January, 2003 article, The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War with Iraq by 'WC'.

Less than three years later, on July 5, 2006, in the article Is Cheney Betting On Economic Collapse?, Mike Whitney wrote about Cheney's personal finances: "Cheney has dumped another (estimated) $10 to $25 million in a European bond fund which tells us that he is counting on a steadily weakening dollar."

Then, yesterday, we blogged Iraq War fueling economic crash.

Playing join the dots is getting easier and easier, on the way to the welfare line.

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Sir Richard Burton

1821 Birth date of Sir Richard Burton, British consul, explorer, translator, and orientalist. Burton travelled alone and in disguise to Mecca, translated Arabian Nights and the erotic classics Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, journeyed with John Hanning Speke to discover the great lakes of Africa and the sources of the Nile, visited with Mormon leader Brigham Young in Salt Lake City, Utah, travelled far and wide, and wrote much. He later served as British Consul in Trieste, Damascus, and Fernando Po, and was knighted in 1866.

Burton died on October 20, 1890. His widow, Isabel Arundel Gordon, allegedly burned many of his papers, because she prudishly believed they would be harmful to his (and her) reputation due to sexually explicit content. This, however, is disputed ...

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

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Olympians to be vetted on human rights comments

Baz le Tuff informs me that Australian Olympic Games team members are being forced to sign declarations that they will not refer to human rights during the Beijing Olympics, without first having asked permission of Australian Olympic officials.

Le Tuff writes, and I agree: "I think most sportspeople should be gagged but this is a bit much."

Human Rights in China
Human rights in the People's Republic of China (Wikipedia)

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Henry Lawson's grave

Henry Lawson's grave
Originally uploaded by Pip_Wilson.
I paid Harry a visit at Waverley Cemetery, Sydney ... groomed his grave, and left him a bottle of beer and a silver coin. Lawson is the subject of my novel at

The Universe Today: Space news and graphics

Click for Wilson's Almanac SiteMap
The Universe Today: Space news and graphics

Iraq War fueling economic crash

"There is no longer any doubt that the Iraq War is a moral and strategic disaster for the United States. But what has not yet been fully recognized is that it has also been an economic disaster. To date, the government has spent more than $522 billion on the war, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008.

"With just the amount of the Iraq budget of 2007, $138 billion, the government could instead have provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million Americans who are uninsured. What's more, we could have added 30,000 elementary and secondary schoolteachers and built 400 schools in which they could teach. And we could have provided basic home weatherization for about 1.6 million existing homes, reducing energy consumption in these homes by 30 percent.

"But the economic consequences of Iraq run even deeper than the squandered opportunities for vital public investments ..."

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Social networking sites and their numbers of members

Tech news and useful technology
According to Wikipedia's List of social networking websites, Facebook has more than 97 million members. Flickr has 4 million. Care2 has more than 8 million ... the list is huge.

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Maybe Democrats are finding their spines at last

Almaniac Diana S from USA writes:

"Looks like the Democrats might just be finding their backbone! Two excerpts:"

New York Times: "House Rejects Eavesdropping Immunity" (March 14, 2008)

WASHINGTON—After its first secret session in a quarter-century, the House on Friday rejected retroactive immunity for the phone companies that took part in the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks, and it voted to place greater restrictions on the government's wiretapping powers.

The decision, by a largely party-line vote of 213 to 197, is one of the few times when Democrats have been willing to buck up against the White House on a national security issue.

... The House bill approved Friday includes three key elements: it would refuse retroactive immunity to the phone companies, providing special authority instead for the courts to decide the liability issue; it would add additional judicial restrictions on the government's wiretapping powers while plugging certain loopholes in foreign coverage; and it would create a Congressional commission to investigate the N.S.A. program.

... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was sharply critical of the president's assessment that the legislation would not make America safer. "The president is wrong, and he knows it," she said on Thursday.

Read the full story here

Salon's Glenn Greenwald: "House Democrats reject telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance" (March 14, 2008)

As impressive as the House vote itself was, more impressive still was the floor debate which preceded it. I can't recall ever watching a debate on the floor of either House of Congress that I found even remotely impressive—until today. One Democrat after the next—of all stripes—delivered impassioned, defiant speeches in defense of the rule of law, oversight on presidential eavesdropping, and safeguards on government spying. They swatted away the GOP's fear-mongering claims with the dismissive contempt such tactics deserve, rejecting the principle that has predominated political debate in this country since 9/11: that the threat of the Terrorists means we must live under the rule of an omnipotent President and a dismantled constitutional framework.

... It's hard not to believe that there's at least some significant sea change reflected by this. They have seen that they can defy the President even on matters of Terrorism, and the sky doesn't fall in on them. Quite the opposite: an outspoken opponent of telecom amnesty, warrantless eavesdropping and the Iraq War was just elected to the House from Denny Hastert's bright red district, and before that, Donna Edwards ousted long-time incumbent Al Wynn by accusing him of being excessively complicit with the Bush agenda.

Virtually every one I know who has expended lots of efforts and energy on these FISA and telecom issues has assumed from the start—for reasons that are all too well-known—that we would lose. And we still might. But it's hard to deny that the behavior we're seeing from House Democrats is substantially improved, quite commendably so, as compared to the last year and even before that. It's very rare when there are meaningful victories and I think it's important to acknowledge when they happen.

Read the full story here

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Brainy Baby and Brainy Einstein

Tech news and useful technology
Quotes this week from Professor Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. The source is yesterday's The Health Report (audio and full transcript available).

The subject is infants, children, TV and DVDs and videos such as 'Baby Einstein' and 'Brainy Baby':

How much TV do infants watch?
"In 1970 in the United States at least the average age which children began to watch television was 4 years of age. Today, based on studies that we and others have done, the average age at which children begin to watch television is closer to 4 months of age ... 30% of preschool children in the United States have televisions in their bedrooms and they spend on average one to two hours a day watching TV. And to put that number in perspective, keep in mind that children of this age are only awake for about ten to twelve hours a day, and so you realise they are spending somewhere between 10% to 20% of their waking hours in front of the screen on average ..."

TV and attention problems
"... what we found was that the more TV children watched before the age of three the more likely they were to have attention problems at age 7, specifically for each hour of TV the children watched on average before the age of 3, their chances of having attentional problems at age 7 were increased by about 10%. To put that another way a child who watched 2 hours a day of TV on average before age 3 would be 20% more likely to have attention problems at age 7 compared to a child who watched none ..."

TV and language development

"And we also did an assessment of their child's language development, how many words they actually recognised. And what we found in that study was that for children between the ages of 7 and 16 months the more baby DVDs they watched on average the fewer words they knew of words they would be expected to know so specifically each hour of baby DVDs per day resulted in about six or seven fewer words being known by the children in that study."

TV and aggression linked like smoking and lung cancer
"I have done work on that, you know it's funny that it's considered to be controversial. In scientific circles the debate around whether or not screen violence and real world aggression are linked is over. The preponderance of evidence if you do a metanalysis as has been done and take the hundreds of studies that have been done and summarise them suggest that the link between aggression on screen and real world violence is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer."

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Houdini and the first flight in Australia

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1910 American escapologist and aviator, Harry Houdini, flew a heavier-than-air machine at Digger's Rest, near Melbourne, Australia. This was probably the first such flight on the continent.

However, if 110 metres be considered a flight, Colin Defries should get the honour. On December 9, 1909, Defries arguably flew a powered aircraft about 110 metres at Sydney's Victoria Park racecourse ...

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Reasons to boycott China Olympics and sponsors

Click for more global actions one person can take
Two years ago I could google only two websites (apart from my own) with the string: boycott china olympics.

Now see how many, and how many results at Google Images.

China is the world's largest dictatorship and also one of its most brutal. It has been estimated that since 1949, the party controlling China has been responsible for between 50 and 100 million deaths, and the torture of unknown tens of millions. Would you have supported an Olympics in Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Probably not, so why should we fall for all the corporate hype? After all, it's just to make money for big shareholders, and for China to create a fake image.

The major foreign sponsors to boycott are here.

During the Apartheid days in South Africa, many overseas firms pulled their investments out of that country. Even South Africa's record of brutality was no match for that of China. So where is the movement against China? Let's respect the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and those in Tibet, Darfur and Burma, by using the power of boycott.

How much are medals worth, anyway?
The expense to nations that attend Olympic Games is also a disgrace. Australia pours so much taxpayers' money into sports training that it has been estimated that each of the gold medals 'we' won in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 cost our people $40 million. Britain intends to spend one billion pounds just to train its athletes for the 2012 Olympics. Meanwhile, hospitals and schools in both nations cry out for funding -- and millions of destitute Chinese are hungry in outer provinces.

Sponsors' Olympic Balancing Act

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