Saturday, April 28, 2007

Trigger-happy America

Pub Date: 24/04/2007 Pub: ST Page: 19
Day: Tuesday
Edition: FIRST
Headline: Trigger-happy America
Page Heading: REVIEW
Source: SPH

In Seoul
ON APRIL 16, a 23-year old English-major student massacred 32 people on the
campus of Virginia Tech University, then shot himself. The president of the
school called the act “incomprehensible”. What is incomprehensible is that
anyone finds it incomprehensible.
Since 1960, more than a million Americans have died in firearm-related deaths.
Violence Policy Centre executive director Josh Sugarmann says: “Mass shootings
have come to define our nation. The recent shooting in Virginia is only the
latest in a continuing series over the past two decades.”
Gun shops outnumber McDonald’s franchises in America by a ratio of about 10:1.
There are about 65 million registered gun owners throughout the United States,
and that many guns alone in the state of Texas.
According to one estimate, the number of children killed by guns in America in
2004 was almost 3,000. Comparably, the number of children killed by guns in the
Republic of Korea annually is basically zero. Every three hours in America, a
child dies from a gunshot wound.
A 2003 study showed that that people who live in houses with guns are three
times more likely to die from gunshot wounds than those who don’t.
Since 1983, nearly 40 people have died in 11 separate US Post Office shootings,
coining the expression “going postal” and spawning a litany of satires spanning
TV, film, literature and even computer games, depicting the dangers of the
disgruntled postal worker run amok. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia references
six films, three documentaries, three plays, 25 television series and 35 songs
featuring “school shootings”. Add to this about 20 novels based on the same.
America is a nation constantly at war (more than 200 wars fought, according to
Gore Vidal), with a self-described “war president” at the helm, where military
spending exceeds that of almost all other nations combined; where “the right to
bear arms” is written into the Constitution; where many residents, especially
in rural areas, have guns; where it’s only too easy to buy firearms and
ammunition; where the National Rifle Association brainwashes us that guns make
us safer; and where Hollywood can’t make a decent movie without excessive blood
and pyrotechnics. Reading the above, gun culture and violence makes perfect
sense. What, then, is so incomprehensible?
Consider the ease with which Cho Seung Hui bought one of his weapons. Some
reports said it took as little as five minutes. THAT is incomprehensible.
In 1966, Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas and
opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16
people before being shot to death by police. In 1991, nutcase George Hennard
ploughed his pick-up truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and then
shot 23 people before killing himself. On April 20, two teenagers – supposedly
inspired after watching a Hollywood film – killed 12 fellow students and a
teacher before taking their own lives at Columbine High School near Littleton,
Colorado. And now we come to Virginia Tech University and Cho who, no matter
how hard we try to forget, will be resurrected somewhere, somehow, just as he
resurrected the ghosts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the dark architects
of the Columbine massacre – before him.
My friend John is an American teaching English in the Republic of Korea. He’s
from Kansas, and he says: “The kids I went to high school with, they just want
to fight. They just want to shoot, to kill. Iraq, Afghanistan, it doesn’t
matter. They don’t care who, where, what, how or when. They just want to
fight.” Then, he pauses and adds: “I’m keeping my options open. I’m kind of
looking for another place to live.”
The gun mindset needs to be abandoned. The military industrial complex, and the
mindset of the military industrial complex, which Eisenhower warned about, must
be abolished if America wishes one day to return to sanity. For America is no
longer a free country, nor has it been for some time. It is a country of people
living in fear, “protected” on the outside by the world’s largest military, and
on the inside by overweight cops draped in Kevlar vests.
What America needs is for both the government and the citizens to give up their
weapons and stop living in fear. We are talking serious arms reduction here, on
both the foreign and domestic level. Abolish the military industrial complex.
This is absolutely necessary, or mass murderers in America may soon be
competing with suicide bombers in Iraq to see who can produce more buckets of
The writer once lived in America.

A most controversial kiss

April 27, 2007
A most controversial kiss

Be a donor and stop human organ trade

April 21, 2007
Be a donor and stop human organ trade
By William Saletan

IF YOU lose your job, you can sell your home. If you lose your home, you can sell your possessions. If you lose your possessions, you can prostitute yourself. And if you lose everything else, you can sell one more thing: your organs.

Twice in the past two weeks, transplant experts from around the world have convened in Europe to discuss the emerging global market in human organs. Two maps presented at the meetings tell the story.

One shows countries from which patients have travelled for organs in the past three years: Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan. The other shows countries from which organs have been sold: China, Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The numbers on the maps add up to thousands. According to the World Health Organisation, the annual tally of international kidney transactions alone is about 6,000. The evidence includes reports from brokers and physicians, accounts from Indian villages, surveys of hospitals in Japan, government records in Singapore and scars in Egyptian slums. In Pakistan, 40 per cent of people in some villages are turning up with only one kidney.

Charts presented at the meetings show that the number of 'donations' from unrelated Pakistanis is skyrocketing. Two-thirds of the people receiving these organs are foreigners. Data from the Philippines show the same thing.

The first successful organ transplant took place half a century ago. Since then diabetes, hypertension and other kidney-destroying diseases have spread. Antibiotics have improved, as have drugs that suppress the immune response to foreign organs. More people need transplants, and more can be saved by them. But donations haven't kept up with demand. An estimated 170,000 patients in the United States and Europe are on transplant waiting lists. More than 70,000 Americans are waiting for kidneys, and the list has grown by almost 5,000 per year.

People are dying.

Instead of waiting, many patients have set out to recruit their own donors. They started with billboards, then moved to websites such as, and Around the world, people have learnt that their organs are assets.

Peruvians, Ukrainians, Chinese and American prisoners advertise their innards. Last year, a South Korean playwright used his kidney as collateral for a loan.

Politicians have tried to rein in this market. The United States banned organ sales two decades ago. India did the same in 1994, and China followed last year. But when lives are at stake, rules get bent.

To procure more organs, doctors have discarded brain-death standards, donor age limits and recipient health requirements. States have let transplant agencies put patients on life support, contrary to their living wills, to preserve their organs. If Congress revises its ban on organ sales, as some advocates hope, lawmakers in South Carolina plan to offer prisoners reduced sentences in exchange for organs or bone marrow.

If governments can't control wages or prices in a global economy, they certainly can't control the purchase of extended life. In the past two years, Israeli organ brokers shifted their business from Colombia to China for faster service. If China closes its doors, they can shift again. In Pakistan, kidneys already sell for a fraction of what Chinese hospitals charge. Brokers can compare organ prices from country to country, just like wheat and corn.

Already, bans on organ commerce are crumbling. Indians who lost their livelihood in the tsunami of 2004 sold their kidneys, ignoring the law. Bulgaria imposes stiff sentences on organ traders, but that didn't deter a local hospital from serving Israeli transplant tourists last year. Nor did China's ban stop a Chinese hospital from offering a liver to a BBC correspondent. Three weeks ago a Korean newspaper reported that China's organ crackdown had simply raised the price of a Chinese kidney in South Korea.

Some reformers think they can solve the organ shortage and tame the market by legalising sales. Their latest proposal, presented at one of the European meetings last week by Mr Arthur Matas of the University of Minnesota, is a single-payer system for organs. It's half-libertarian and half-socialist. On the one hand, Mr Matas says markets for eggs and sperm are harmless, kidney purchases can save countries money, and offering poor people cash for organs is no more coercive than offering them money to work in mines or join the army. On the other hand, he thinks the government can fix kidney prices and determine who gets them.

Good luck. As any country with national health insurance knows, people find ways to buy more than they're allotted. Ration medical care abroad and affluent foreigners will come here. Ration organs here, and affluent Americans will go abroad, as they're already doing.

It's true that payments would elicit more 'donations'. But studies reviewed at the meetings in Europe show that flooding the market with purchased organs reduces the incentive to donate.

The key to reversing the organ market is to turn that equation on its head. Stop fighting capitalism and start using it. What's driving the market is scarcity. Americans, Britons, Israelis, Japanese and South Koreans are going abroad for organs mostly because too few of their countrymen have agreed to donate organs when they die. Less than 40 per cent of Americans have signed organ-donor cards, and only about half of their families consent to the donation of a loved one's organs. Some have religious objections. Others are squeamish. Many assume that if they don't supply the organs, somebody else will.

They're right. Somebody else will supply the organs. But that somebody won't be a corpse. He'll be a fisherman or an out-of-work labourer who needs cash and can't find another way to get it.

The surest way to stop him from selling his kidney is to make it worthless, by flooding the market with free organs. If you haven't filled out a donor card, do it now. Because if the dying can't get organs from the dead, they'll buy them from the living.

The writer covers science and technology for This commentary appeared in the Washington Post

From Earth to eternity

DON'T Earthlings just love to fantasise they have approximate company somewhere in the star-lit field of infinity? Otherwise, as noted sagely in Carl Sagan's writings and attributions, it will be such a waste of space. Put another way, the human mind has since antiquity tried to reconcile itself with imaginings that, statistically, there should be many more Earth-like living worlds. Carbon-based life is but one minute alternative in the vast cosmic sea. Astronomers this week appear to have rendered the musings a bit less Hollywoodish when they reported the existence of a planet beyond the mother solar system that conforms to earthly notions of life's sustenance. The planet does not appear to be a gas ball. It may have equable mean temperatures of between 0 and 40 deg C. The temperature assumption excites scientists the most as it hints at the probability of water. A leader of the team that made the find, Dr Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, stuck his neck out with this comment: '(Computer) models predict that the planet should be either rocky like our Earth or fully covered with oceans.'

One thinks of Stephen Hawking. It was a fortuitous circumstance that in the same week of the announcement, the cosmologist was taking a zero-gravity plunge over the Atlantic Ocean in a rigged-up airplane to experience weightlessness for 25 seconds. All in the interests of science. And without his wheelchair, silly. Professor Hawking will have things to say about modes of travel to that planet, dubbed Gliese 581c, which is 20.5 light years distant. The fastest spacecraft, Nasa's interplanetary probe New Horizons, can get up to 75,000kmh or 21km per second. One light year is the distance covered in an Earth year at the speed of light of 300,000km per second. Readers are invited to work out how long it will take to reach Gliese 381c riding in New Horizons. 'We don't know how to get there in a human lifetime,' a Nasa astronomer said sadly. Add a multiplier to that. Prof Hawking could regale Earthlings with visions of wormhole or interstellar travel, a theoretical collapsing of time and space between parallel universes.

The new planet will provoke plenty of metaphysical talk, mostly a lark at dreamy astronomers' expense. But scientists may have the last laugh: The threat of a nuclear winter induced by mad politicians and accelerating climate change making Earth rickety could force interstellar emigration well before the dying sun, eight light minutes away, broils this planet. The sun's expiry is said to be five billion years away. That's many, many lifetimes away, but still a blink in the grand galactic scheme.

Democracy isn't quite what it's cut out to be

WINSTON Churchill is often quoted as saying that democracy is a very bad system, but all the others are worse. The last part of his saying meets with near-universal acclaim. But not enough weight is put on the first part.

At a minimum, democracy requires majority voting. Here, however, one comes to an immediate snag. A majority has a clear-cut meaning only if there are just two candidates or two possible policies. Otherwise, one runs into the voting paradox that was discovered by the 18th-century French thinker the Marquis de Condorcet.

Imagine that there are three candidates or policies, A, B and C. The voters may prefer A to B, B to C but C to A. Everything then depends on the order in which the votes are taken. Experienced committee chairmen realise this in their bones. Numerous attempts have been made to get round this paradox. But none has been generally accepted. Indeed, one contemporary political economist, Professor Kenneth Arrow, won a Nobel prize for showing that there was no decision rule that could satisfy widely accepted canons of fairness.

One practical definition of a fair voting system is one in which electors can express their true preferences without tactical considerations obtruding. Whoever is elected president of France will be the first choice of at most 31 per cent or 26 per cent of voters. In the first round there were 12 candidates. But a rational voter could not just choose his preferred candidate. Suppose that his main objective was to stop Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen from emerging in the final round as he did in 2002. Then voting for any of the eight minor candidates would risk helping the National Front candidate come into the top two.

Now take the position of a supporter of the centrist candidate, Mr François Bayrou. If his main objective was to secure semi-liberal economic reforms, he might have done best to vote for Mr Nicolas Sarkozy to stop Ms Segolène Royal. But if he was chiefly alarmed by the authoritarian tendencies of Mr Sarkozy (who was photographed on a white horse) he might well have voted for Ms Royal as the best way of stopping him.

There are, of course, many other voting systems. There is the alternative vote, in which the elector can show his preferences in order. A similar system is to have a number of successive ballots with the bottom candidates dropping out after each one. This is, in principle, the system used in electing the British Labour leader and deputy leader. In practice, after the first one or two ballots, most of the candidates throw in their hand.

I have often thought that the Blair-Brown stand-off of the past 10 years would have been avoided if Mr Gordon Brown as well as Mr John Prescott and Ms Margaret Beckett had stood against Mr Tony Blair in the 1994 leadership contest. But this is not as simple as it sounds. By supporting Mr Brown, a voter would have risked splitting the New Labour vote and allowing, incredible as it now may seem, Mr Prescott to come top on the first ballot and then acquire a momentum difficult to stop. Most of the complicated systems of proportional representation, like the single transferable vote used in Ireland, are much better than 'first past the post' at stopping a feared candidate than at promoting a positive one.

These voting paradoxes are not, however, the heart of the matter. Even if they did not exist, some 51 per cent imposing its will on 49 per cent is only slightly better than 49 per cent imposing its will on 51 per cent. Market liberals often point out that a supermarket acts as a continuous referendum where each voter can express his preferences and register their intensity. There are, however, collective goods, such as defence, where political decisions are unavoidable.

Even more important, democracy is not itself a sufficient protection for human freedom. An intolerant majority can make life hell for other citizens. For this reason, entrenched provisions are often inserted in Constitutions in places such as Northern Ireland where one religious group is in a permanent minority.

Plato argued that giving every citizen the same say was no more rational than putting a newly recruited sailor on the same footing as a master mariner. The problem with this analogy is that there is no undisputed expertise in ruling a country and that the ordinary citizen has as good an idea of where the shoe pinches as a high-powered civil servant. Democracy is best understood as a decision rule for changing the government without the use of force. At the least, however, one should never praise democracy without qualifying it as liberal democracy.

As Professor Gordon Graham puts it in his under-discussed book, The Case Against The Democratic State (Academic Imprint, 2002), liberalism is a check on democracy, not a reinforcement. US voters might well have chosen to give both presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton a third term, but the Constitution now forbids this as a protection against personal power. Bad offenders in the use of democracy as the be-all-and- end-all of wisdom are the neoconservative supporters of President George W. Bush who act in the spirit of 'fight them, beat them and make them democratic'. Look where that has got us.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

City birds sing for silent nights

City birds sing for silent nights
A Robin (Image: PA)
Urban robins find it too noisy to communicate during daylight
Robins in urban areas are singing at night because it is too noisy during the day, researchers suggest.

Scientists from the University of Sheffield say there is a link between an area's daytime noise levels and the number of birds singing at night.

Until now, light pollution had been blamed because it was thought that street lights tricked the birds into thinking it was still daytime.

The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

"You generally only seem to hear nocturnal singing in cities," explained Richard Fuller, one of the study's co-authors.

"So this led us to think that there was some aspect of the urban environment that was driving this phenomenon."

Shedding light

Light pollution had been widely held as the prime suspect. It was thought to prevent the birds from roosting, leading to them remaining active through the hours of darkness.

Noise levels were 10 times higher in places where birds were singing at night
Dr Richard Fuller,
University of Sheffield

"That was the stock answer you would get," Dr Fuller said, "that it was basically tricking the birds into thinking it was daylight and tripping some sort of physiological threshold.

"But we thought that was pretty unlikely because birds are much more complex than that."

He said that there had never been a scientific study to measure the impact of light pollution on the behaviour of urban robins.

"So we went out and measured both noctural light and daytime noise levels and we found that daytime noise had a far stronger effect.

"We found that night-time light had a small effect, but very much smaller than the impact of noise levels."

This led the team to conclude that it was an active decision by the birds to sing at night rather than passively responding to light levels.

"The birds appear to be singing at night to avoid competition with high noise levels caused by our cities during the day," Dr Fuller suggested.

"Noise levels were 10 times higher in places where birds were singing at night."

The findings form a part of a seven-year research programme by the university's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences to measure the impact of urbanisation on biodiversity.

The legacy of Guernica

The legacy of Guernica
It is 70 years since the bombing of Guernica during Spain's Civil War. The BBC's Danny Wood visits the town to find out what the event means to Spaniards today.

Composite picture of Guernica after the bombing and today
Guernica 70 years ago and today

Josefina Odriozola was a 14-year-old girl shopping in the market with her mother when German and Italian planes supporting the Fascist forces of Gen Franco closed in on the town.

"I remember it well," she says.

"We left everything in the market and went home. We lived just outside the town, but the bombing started and we were there in the main square. Three planes flew in full of bombs and then left empty. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, until everything was burning."

Josefina is one of about 200 people, many in their 80s, who are still alive to describe what they witnessed on that day. Today, it is not the bombing that makes her most angry, but what followed.

"They burnt the city down with their planes and they denied they had done it - they blamed it on the Communists," she says.

"My sister was 13 years older than me and they told her that the Reds had destroyed Guernica. But she said: 'No, the Reds don't have planes.' And they said to her: 'You little Red, we're going cut all your hair off.' Why? Because she was telling the truth. We couldn't even say the truth about the attack."

Historical truth

That same concern with historical truth is on the minds of more and more Spaniards as the country marks the 70th anniversary. Spanish society is becoming more interested in knowing the full story about its recent history, from the Civil War to the death of dictator Gen Franco in 1975.

Josefina Odriozola
Josefina is angry that the truth about the bombing was covered up

Jose Ortunez and his Guernica History Association have spent 30 years reconstructing the truth about what happened here in 1937. The forces of Gen Franco blamed the attack on their enemy in the Civil War: the Communist-backed Republican government.

Thanks partly to work by people like Jose, Spaniards know the truth, that the attack from the air was by German and Italian planes supporting General Franco.

Gen Franco wanted to terrorise the people in the Basque region, an area of strong resistance to his nationalist forces in the Civil War. For Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, it was an opportunity to get some practice with a new form of warfare: strategic, aerial bombing of civilians.

No strictly military objectives were touched. Factories and bridges were left alone - civilians were the only targets.

Ironically for a town almost completely destroyed by armed conflict, Guernica, before the Civil War and afterwards, continued to be a major production centre for bombs and automatic pistols.

The figures for the number of casualties in the bombing are still disputed, but most historians think between 200 and 250 people were killed and many hundreds wounded.

Positive message

The attack not only terrorised the people of Guernica. This methodical and well-planned destruction spread fear across Europe on the eve of World War II.

The centre of Guernica
Guernica is symbolic of interest in unearthing the truth about the past

But today, Guernica is sending out a more positive message. Iratxe Astorkia, director of Guernica's Peace Museum, says the permanent exhibition of the museum aims to make the visitor reflect on three things: the nature of peace, what happened in Guernica 70 years ago and what happens nowadays with peace in the world.

The museum and its centre for investigation have converted Guernica into a world centre for peace studies and conflict resolution.

And for many Spaniards, Guernica is symbolic of the renewed interest in unearthing the truth about their own recent past.

"I think Guernica is a good example of not forgetting and trying to go further," says Ms Astorkia.

"More and more young people in Spain want to know about it. They lost their parents, their sisters their brothers and they didn't know much more than that."

Ms Astorkia partly blames the education system for ignorance about this period. Barely a few pages are devoted to Spain's Civil War in official school text books.

An estimated 30,000 people murdered during the Civil War still lie in mass graves. The government is preparing new legislation that will officially honour victims of the Franco regime for the first time.

Keeping the young informed

With survivors and witnesses of the bombing in their 80s, the challenge now is to convey the importance of Guernica to a new generation.

Luis Iriondo in the bomb shelter
Luis Iriondo hid inside this bomb shelter for hours

One witness who does a very good job of that, is Luis Iriondo. Seventy years ago, as a 14-year-old boy, Luis ran across Guernica's main square and found refuge from the bombs in a shelter.

Through a doorway is the wine cellar-like room where Luis found safety with dozens of others. He says it was completely dark and there was no ventilation, so after five minutes he could hardly breath.

As the bombs started dropping he says he was terrified and expected to be buried alive.

"This bombardment lasted for three, maybe three and a half hours," he says.

"You could hear the bombs and feel the hot currents of air being forced away by the explosions. I tried to pray.

"Finally it finished, and I didn't really know what had happened, I knew that it was a bombardment and expected houses to be in ruins. But when I left the shelter I could see that everything was on fire."

Incendiary bombs had destroyed three quarters of the town. Luis fled to the hills and remembers looking back and seeing the buildings collapse. He says when he sees images of the twin towers falling down in New York, it reminds him of that day seven decades ago.

Iconic painting

Today, 84-year-old Luis thinks it's more important than ever to remember Guernica and its message:

Picasso's Guernica painting
Picasso's work could not go to Spain while it was a dictatorship

"War doesn't solve anything," he says. "It just sows the seeds for more war. World War I led to World War II. The attack on Iraq - look where that's led."

Luis is an artist and talks in schools about his experience, encouraging children to paint what happened in Guernica. Back in Madrid, it is the artwork of one of the world's most famous painters that has helped bring Guernica's message to millions of people.

At the Reina Sofia Art Gallery, Pablo Picasso's Guernica is always surrounded by visitors, of all ages, both Spanish and foreign. But it was not always in the gallery.

Picasso would not allow it to return to Spain while the country was a dictatorship. For that reason, says the head of collections at the Reina Sofia, Javier de Blas, many Spaniards associate the work with their country's desire to be free of Gen Franco.

"It was a symbol of this construction of democracy," says Mr De Blas. "The whole world accepted that the country had recovered its political and social liberties in part because Picasso permitted the return of the painting to Spain."

For many, it is also a constant reminder of the truth that the Franco regime preferred to cover up.

"We're in an moment of reflection concerning everything that happened in our recent past," says Mr de Blas. "This painting continues to do transcendental things in order to bring us towards understanding the truth."

After the death of Franco in 1975, there was an agreement between the left and right of politics, not to critically examine the past.

But as the country marks 70 years since the bombing of Guernica, things seem to be changing. Many Spaniards feel that their transition to democracy will not be complete until they take a closer look at their recent history.

Text reveals more ancient secrets

Text reveals more ancient secrets
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

The commentary on Aristotle lay hidden within the parchment

Experts are "lost for words" to have found that a medieval prayer book has yielded yet another key ancient text buried within its parchment.

Works by mathematician Archimedes and the politician Hyperides had already been found buried within the book, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

But now advanced imaging technology has revealed a third text - a commentary on the philosopher Aristotle.

Project director William Noel called it a "sensational find".

The prayer book was written in the 13th Century by a scribe called John Myronas.

Just the fact that I could see the words gave me shivers
Professor Roger Easton

But instead of using fresh parchment for his work, he employed pages from five existing books.

Dr Noel, curator of manuscripts at the US-based Walters Art Museum and a co-author of a forthcoming book on the Archimedes Palimpsest, said: "It's a rather brutal process, but it means you can reuse parchment if you are short of it.

"You take books off shelves, you scrub off the text, you cut them up and you make a new book."

In 1906 it came to light that one of the books recycled to form the medieval manuscript contained a unique work by Archimedes.

Engraving of Archimedes (Science Photo Library)
Archimedes was a mathematician from Ancient Greece

And in 2002, modern imaging technology not only provided a clearer view of this famous mathematician's words, but it also revealed another text - the only known manuscript of Hyperides, an Athenian politician from the 4th Century BC.

"At this point you start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened," Dr Noel told the BBC News website.

One of the recycled books was proving extremely difficult to read, explained Roger Easton, a professor of imaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology, US.

"We were using a technique called multispectral imaging," he said.

This digital imaging technique uses photographs taken at different wavelengths to enhance particular characteristics of the imaged area.

Subtle adjustments of this method, explained Professor Easton, suddenly enabled these hidden words to be revealed.

"Even though I couldn't read Ancient Greek, just the fact that I could see the words gave me shivers," he said.

Foundations of logic

An international team of experts began to scrutinize the ancient words, explained Reviel Netz, professor of ancient science at Stanford University, US and another co-author of the palimpsest book.

Archimedes Palimpsest (Copyright: Owner of Archimedes Palimpsest)
The paintings and words in the prayer book cover the hidden works

A series of clues, such as spotting a key name in the margin, led the team to its conclusion.

"The philosophical passage in the Archimedes Palimpsest is now definitely identified as a relatively early commentary to Aristotle's Categories," said Professor Netz.

He said that Aristotle's Categories had served as the foundation for the study of logic throughout western history.

Further study has revealed the most likely author of this unique commentary is Alexander of Aphrodisias, Professor Robert Sharples from the University College London told BBC News.

If this is the case, he said, "it gives us part of a commentary previously supposed lost by the most important of those ancient commentators on Aristotle".

I am at a loss for words at what this book has turned out to be.
Dr Will Noel

A provisional translation of the commentary is currently being undertaken.

It reveals a debate on some aspects of Aristotle's theory of classification, such as: if the term "footed" is used for animals, can it be used to classify anything else, such as a bed?

The passage reads:

For as "foot" is ambiguous when applied to an animal and to a bed, so are "with feet" and "without feet". So by "in species" here [Aristotle] is saying "in formula".

For if it ever happens that the same name indicates the differentiae of genera that are different and not subordinate one to the other, they are at any rate not the same in formula.

Dr Noel said: "There is no more important philosopher in the world than Aristotle. To have early views in the 2nd and 3rd Century AD of Aristotle's Categories is just fantastic."

"We have one book that contains three texts from the ancient world that are absolutely central to our understanding of mathematics, politics and now philosophy," he said.

"I am at a loss for words at what this book has turned out to be. To make these discoveries in the 21st Century is frankly nutty - it is just so exciting."

There will be a live webcast of Dr Noel and Professor Easton presentation of this latest discovery at the Annual General Meeting of the American Philosophical Society on 1415 BST (0915 EDT) on Thursday 26 April.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Teru teru bozu てるてるぼうず

Teru teru bozu (Japanese: てるてるぼうず; "shiny-shiny Buddhist priest"[1])) is a little traditional hand-made doll made of white paper or cloth that Japanese farmers began hanging outside of their window by a string. This amulet is supposed to have magical powers to bring good weather and to stop or prevent a rainy day. "Teru" is a Japanese verb which describes sunshine, and a "bōzu" is a Buddhist monk (compare the word bonze).

Teruteru bozus became popular during the Edo period among urban dwellers[2], whose children would make them the day before the good weather was desired and chant "Fine-weather priest, please let the weather be good tomorrow."[2]

Today, children make teru-teru-bōzu out of tissue paper or cotton and string and hang them from a window to wish for sunny weather, often before a school picnic day. Hanging it upside down - with its head pointing downside - acts like a prayer for rain. They are still a very common sight in Japan.

There is a famous warabe uta, or Japanese nursery rhyme, associated with teru teru bozu:

Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Itsuka no yume no sora no yo ni
Haretara kin no suzu ageyo
Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Watashi no negai wo kiita nara
Amai o-sake wo tanto nomasho
Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Sore de mo kumotte naitetara
Sonata no kubi wo chon to kiru zo

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky in a dream sometime
If it's sunny I'll give you a golden bell
Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
If you make my wish come true
We'll drink lots of sweet booze
Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
but if it's cloudy and I find you crying
Then I shall chop your head off

Like many nursery rhymes, this song is supposed to have a darker history than it first appears. It allegedly originated from a story of a monk who promised farmers to stop rain and bring clear weather during a prolonged period of rain which was ruining crops. When the monk failed to bring sunshine, he was executed.

Teru teru bozu in fiction

  • In the ending theme of the anime Jungle wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu Final the main character sings a teru teru bozu rhyme.
  • The design of the kaiju Nova from the television series Ultraman Leo (and later revived in Ultraman Mebius) is based on the teru teru bozu.
  • In the manga 20th Century Boys, a couple of kids going through a "test of courage" encounter a giant teru teru bozu on a stairwell.
  • In the movie Ima Ai Ni Yukimasu, the teru teru bozu was used by Yuji to prolong the rainy season in hope of spending more time with his mother.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

ABBA › Fernando

Can you hear the drums fernando?
I remember long ago another starry night like this
In the firelight fernando
You were humming to yourself and softly strumming your guitar
I could hear the distant drums
And sounds of bugle calls were coming from afar

They were closer now fernando
Every hour every minute seemed to last eternally
I was so afraid fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die
And Im not ashamed to say
The roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
Theres no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, fernando

Now were old and grey fernando
And since many years I havent seen a rifle in your hand
Can you hear the drums fernando?
Do you still recall the frightful night we crossed the rio grande?
I can see it in your eyes
How proud you were to fight for freedom in this land

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
Theres no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, fernando

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
Theres no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, fernando
Yes, if I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, fernando...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hard Gay - Ima Ai Ni Yukimasu

Hard Gay - The Television Part 1 of 2

Hard Gay - The Television Part 2 of 2

Saturday, April 07, 2007

'Trashballs' turn rubbish to art

'Trashballs' turn rubbish to art
By Sarah Toms
BBC News, Washington

Artist Chris Goodwin holds one of his "trashballs"
Chris Goodwin uses rubbish from the street to fill his "trashballs"
Chris Goodwin's art is rubbish - and he doesn't mind hearing that one bit.

The artist has won fans in the US capital, Washington DC, by encasing bits of trash in plastic spheres and selling them from gumball machines for 25 cents (13 pence) each.

He says his "trashballs" are partly a social statement but mostly just for fun.

"Hopefully, anyone who would get a trashball would think about what the secret history of this object is, and where it's been and how it was used and how it came to end up on a sidewalk," Mr Goodwin says.

He scours refuse bins across the area in search of the perfect piece for his next creation.

"Everything deserves another look and we should just think about what we are tossing aside."

Jilted lover

Mr Goodwin, who also paints landscapes of urban decay, gave up a corporate job to work for a removal company called Junk in the Trunk, which allows him to indulge his artistic side.

A trashball vending machines in Washington DC
Buyers are warned that the balls may contain unpleasant items

The one-inch (1.54cm) plastic balls are dispensed from gumball machines in cafes in downtown Washington.

Collectors can keep the globes intact or crack them open to have a proper look at what is inside.

The trashballs are not for the fainthearted.

There is a sign above the dispensers that asks that no-one under 18 buy them, as the things inside can include dead bugs, drug baggies and broken glass.

So far, Mr Goodwin has sold about 3,000 balls at 25 cents a go.

Sometimes he even puts a $5 bill (£2.50) inside to make someone's day.

James Metz, a devotee, has bought more than 90.

"Some of it's just real trash and some of it's prize-winning. It's quite interesting not knowing what you're going to find and you can trade them back and forth," he says.

Chris Goodwin holds one of his "trashballs"
It just gives you an idea of somebody's life by what they have thrown away, as any archaeologist would show you
Artist Chris Goodwin
"It's an installation. It's cheap, it's economical when you consider art and, at the same time, it makes people think."

One of Mr Metz's favourites was two halves of a letter from a jilted lover that came in two consecutive balls.

"You can get anybody to actually utilise the artwork - that's what it's for - which is definitely how art should communicate to its audience, to me," he says.

Mr Goodwin's small plastic creations may never end up in a top gallery, but he has proven that one man's trash is indeed another man's treasure.

"I enjoy the crapshoot lottery quality of buying a trashball, as you could end up getting something really dull or you could end up with something really interesting," he says.

"It just gives you an idea of somebody's life by what they have thrown away, as any archaeologist would show you."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Joan of Arc remains 'are fakes'

Joan of Arc remains 'are fakes'
Philippe Charlier  Image: AP
The bones came from a mummy, Philippe Charlier says
Bones thought to be the holy remains of 15th Century French heroine Joan of Arc were in fact made from an Egyptian mummy and a cat, research has revealed.

In 1867, a jar was found in a Paris pharmacy attic, along with a label claiming it held relics of Joan's body.

But new forensic tests suggest that the remains date from between the third and sixth centuries BC - hundreds of years before Joan was even born.

The study has been reported in the news pages of the Nature journal.

Forensic scientist Dr Philippe Charlier, who led the investigation, told Nature: "I'd never have thought that it could be from a mummy."

Rouen relics

France's national heroine - canonised in 1920 - was convicted of heresy and witchcraft and burned alive in 1431, aged just 19.

The "relics" were said to have been found at the stake in the Normandy town of Rouen where Joan was burned.

Perhaps it was created to increase the importance of the process of beatification in 1909
Philippe Charlier, Raymond Poincare Hospital
The remains consisted of a charred-looking human rib, chunks of what appeared to be blackened wood, a 15-centimetre fragment of linen, and a cat thigh bone.

In medieval Europe it was common practice to throw black cats into the pyres of supposed witches.

Recognised as genuine and sacred by the Church, the "remains" are now housed in a museum in Chinon belonging to the Archdiocese of Tours.

Stink bombshell

Dr Charlier, from the Raymond Poincare Hospital in Garches, near Paris, obtained permission to study the relics from the France's Catholic Church last year.

He used a range of scientific tests such as spectrometry, electron microscopy, and pollen analysis.

Joan of Arc remains  Image: Nature
The remains were found in the attic of a Paris pharmacy
Those tests dated the bone to between the seventh and third centuries BC, Dr Charlier said. The cat bone dated from the same period and also was mummified.

The researchers also found pollen from pine trees, probably from resin used in ancient Egyptian embalming. Pines did not grow in Normandy during the 15th Century.

Dr Charlier also recruited two smell experts, Sylvaine Delacourte and Jean-Michel Duriez, from the perfume industry.

They were independently asked to sniff the relics as well as nine other samples of bone and hair from Dr Charlier's lab without being told what they were.

Both smelled hints of "burnt plaster" and "vanilla" in the samples. The plaster smell backs up claims that Joan was burnt on a plaster stake, to make the spectacle last longer.

But a vanilla smell is inconsistent with cremation. It comes from the compound vanillin, which is released during the decomposition of a body.

Medicinal purpose

Analysis of the black crust covering the rib and the cat bone showed that it was not caused by fire, but an embalming mix of wood resins, bitumen and chemicals such as malachite.

In medieval times and later, powdered mummy remains were used for medicinal purposes, "to treat stomach ailments, long or painful periods, all blood problems," Philippe Charlier told the Associated Press.

The researchers' assumption is that a 19th Century apothecary was behind the fake, and transformed the remains of an Egyptian mummy into a fake relic, Dr Charlier said.

Why it was done remains a mystery.

According to Philippe Charlier it was probably not for money: "Perhaps it was for religious reasons.

"Perhaps it was created to increase the importance of the process of beatification in 1909."

Monday, April 02, 2007

The shape of schools to come?

Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 14:39 GMT
The shape of schools to come?
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Ask 10 different experts what schools of the future will look like and you will get 10 different answers.

But one thing upon which they all agree is that the way that pupils are taught and the technology that is used must have a central role in the design.

Hellerup School, Copenhagen
Hellerup School has no fences

So planners have to understand what the education of the future will be like to prevent them designing something that will soon become outdated.

Education consultant Les Watson says there is a danger that those planning schools for the future create something that "constricts the learning of the future".

Instead of planning a new school with rows of 1940s desks in them, those involved in the process must "think outside the box".

Mr Watson says: "Currently we run education like a railway - everybody has to be at a particular place at a particular time to catch the learning train.

"With new technology it does not have to be like that."

Lessons can be beamed into classrooms by absent teachers podcasting on the interactive whiteboard.

No corridors

Pupils can use their laptops for independent study in wi-fi zones in the open air - weather permitting of course.

What was once a playground could become a highly technological learning area as well as a place to play and chill out with friends.

Learning consultant Professor Stephen Heppell sees the constant movement from class to class, that characterises today's schools, as a huge waste of time that is preventable.

He says: "When kids are working with new technology they put their head down and really go for it.

"And yet in so many schools we come to the end of the lesson - we ring a bell, we stop them doing what they are doing and then we take them into another box."

Passing a large volume of children through a narrow opening like a corridor or stairwell is bound to create friction and problems, he says.

All the major incidents of children being injured or stabbed in schools have occurred in corridors, he claims.

Western Heights College, Victoria
Corridors can make people feel penned in

But as technological advances allow children's learning to become more varied and complex, he argues, they will become more focused and will enjoy longer lessons.

And so they will not need to change classrooms as much.

"School design stops being about moving large volumes of children efficiently.

"Many corridors can disappear; learning space grows significantly and discipline improves too," says Prof Heppell.

Western Heights College in Victoria, Australia, saw a dramatic improvement in pupil behaviour after they removed walls between classrooms.

This has not only allowed more freedom of movement for pupils, but for teachers too who are now able to collaborate in lessons more easily when they want to.

Copenhagen's Hellerup School has developed a much more open plan approach than the typical Victorian or Edwardian secondary schools that pepper this country.

Hellerup School, Copenhagen
The wide staircase doubles up as an assembly hall and theatre

A wide, wooden staircase doubles as a central assembly hall and a lecture theatre where children use the stairs as seats.

The flexibility with which such a space can be used is key to its success, Mr Watson argues.

"When I think about what is the future of learning, what will education be like in 50 years' time - although I've been in education for more than 30 years - I have to admit that I don't know," he says.

This means schools of the future have to be large-scale open spaces with multiple uses and furniture that can be moved, re-shaped and tucked away, for when it's not needed, he argues.

His redesign of the library at Glasgow Caledonian University features inflatable igloo-like offices which can be blown up when a little bit of privacy is required.

Likewise movable canopies can be wheeled over tables temporarily for all-important acoustic protection from the noise that comes with open-plan space.

Director of the British Council for School Environments Ty Goddard agrees the key to planning schools for future generations is much more complex than just smashing down the walls.

His organisation has produced an Ideas Book to give a helping hand to teachers and officials involved in the process.

"To knock down walls is very refreshing - but it can be a nightmare acoustically too."

Today's pupils have IT-rich lives

Schools like Hellerup work, he says, because they and the pupils were at the heart of the design process.

He says: "Allowing them to have an input means the spaces are relevant and there is a sense of co-creation."

Interestingly there is no fencing around the school site - is the sense of community ownership that keeps it safe.

Mr Goddard says: "I am not saying let's create a 1,000 Hellerups, the design has to be relevant to where we are at."

"But if you give respect you get respect."

Another key feature of defining the shape of tomorrow's schools, he says, has to be the technology of tomorrow.

'Never finished'

"The internet generation already have ICT-rich lives, they have a sophisticated understanding of technology, and sophisticated gaming devices, but it is a sophisticated job harnessing technology for learning."

For Professor Heppell, the answer is not to compete with that technology but to allow it into the school and use it in a productive way.

"It isn't about the ICT system that we have built - it's about reaching out to the systems that are already out there," he says.

As the technology changes, so will the school.

As the headmaster of Hellerup School, Knud Nordentoft, puts it: "The school building is never finished; experience it and rebuild it over time."

Perhaps that is the key lesson for the future.