January  2013
30 January 2013  ~ Kiwi Boot Polish

Ever wondered why New Zealand's  national bird became an advertising icon for shoe polish?  Now the story can be told.



29  January 2013 ~  An Army Out of Control

Last week’s Observer gave a useful background to the High Court case that started today. Nearly 200 Iraqis supported by Public Interest Lawyers (the law practice that succeeded in getting Dr Derek Keilloh struck off) are seeking a public inquiry into the widespread allegations that British interrogators were guilty of a number of unlawful killings as well as incidents of torture in British-controlled detention facilities in Iraq.

The MOD’s position in court today was that their Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) needs to be left to get on with its work. The MOD claims a public inquiry would be "premature and disproportionate".

However, a case last year showed that IHAT was flawed because it included members of the Royal Military Police. The RMP was responsible for some of the detention facilities used by the British Army in Iraq.  The RMP were replaced in IHAT  by the Royal Navy Police, but they too had been involved in  interrogations in Iraq. Guardian 26.5.12

There are also questions about why some RMP investigations into possible mistreatment at the time were so perfunctory. For example, the Observer article quoted reports how the RMP concluded one detainee died of a heart attack without the benefit of a post mortem or even a death certificate. 

And a former member of IHAT has claimed that the work of the team is a whitewash. Guardian 11 October 2012

The MOD is seeking to defend the indefensible. There are too many allegations to be dealt with piecemeal. A root and branch review is needed to find out why the abuses were so widespread? And do any politicians and generals have blood on their hands?



21  January 2013 ~  Parakeets and Snow

I reckon we have had 15 cm of snow between Friday and Sunday. Sue and I walked in one of the lighter flurries on Friday and had Fryent Country Park  pretty much to ourselves . Had we gone later, the slopes would have been full of children taking advantage of the snow-covered slopes.

Since then  I have been out mostly to clear snow and ice from our front and those of two elderly neighbours. I also keep part of the back cleared to put food on the ground for birds and to help the birds find the  bits of food dispersed from elevated peanut and sunflower seed feeder.

The birds that take most from these feeders are ringneck parakeets.  I took a photo of  them today. Another eight were waiting in a nearby apple tree for their turn to feed.

A wryneck is another regular winter feeder. We see her most days. Magpies get any leftover catfood for breakfast. Even before the colder weather, we attracted up to ten. One is distinguished by a deformed leg, which appears to have broken and mended in an awkward position. Jake,as we call him, is the largest magpie and has not lost any weight despite his one-legged hopping. And the smaller magpies continue to defer to him.



13  January 2013 ~  South Kensington Shows

A bitterly cold day persuaded us to postpone a trip to Dulwich Art Gallery and see two exhibitions in South Kensington. First was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition results at the Natural History Museum. Despite being crowded, as you might expect on a Sunday, the collection of winners and finalists on show made for a thrilling hour. My favourite was a guilty looking fox with a mouth full of feathers.

We can see fantastic moving pictures of wildlife on television most weeks. And yet there is something magical about the very best of still photography. Entries for the next competition have already opened and close on 25 February.

Then to the Victoria & Albert Museum for  the Hollywood Costume Exhibition. Why Hollywood when the focus could have been on movies from around the world or the work of British costume designers? I am sure the latter could  have been put together  without reducing the  overall quality .

The first set of  displays had little space between them , which made for very slow progress despite the limit on numbers at any one time. The second space had music and commentaries from several sources,  which  I  did not enjoy.  I had the feeling  the  team had tried too  hard with audio-visual gimmicks to make up for what is for the most part a series of static costumes, some of which are not inherently interesting.

I have not been to a Star Wars convention, but that is what the exhibition reminded me of except that most of the geeks today were female.

I knew little about costume design  for the movies before viewing and not much more afterwards. There was too much spectacle and emphasis on icons and too little substance.  The show did not inspire me the way  twenty minutes in the Japanese section of the  V&A or the Wildlife Exhibition did.

There is enough dumbing down on TV and in the movies. Let's not have it in our museums as well.



10  January 2013 ~  Piers Morgan & Alex  Jones

Newsnight yesterday showed a brief clip of Piers Morgan interviewing Alex Jones, an American radio show host. I use interview in a loose sense. You can see what  happened on YouTube and read about it, e.g The Guardian.

I carry no candle for Piers Morgan based on his past behaviour, but he remained cool under fire with Mr Jones. 

I would worry if I was near someone as rabid as Alex Jones and be very worried if this happened in the USA where, despite his boiling rage, he is entitled to keep an arsenal of assault rifles and other firearms.

One profile of Alex Jones includes accusation of anti-Semitism and  hostility towards Afro-American  leaders.




7  January 2013 ~  For a Man Who Has Nominated Himself for Pratt of the Year

A movie star called Gérard
Took French tax hikes so hard
That for a thirteen per cent rate
He embraced a corrupt state
And for Russia’s political prisoners showed scant regard.




4  January 2013 ~  Simon Heffer on War Films

I have just seen a recording of a BBC 4 programme, Fifties British War Films: Days of Glory, presented by Simon Heffer.  What could have been a fascinating social history was spoiled by Mr Heffer’s stiffness, which began with his rigid comb-over quiff. More significantly, his commentary was dull and stale.

The most interesting lines came from Lindsay Anderson's  comments on the way war films dealt with class and looked backwards rather than forwards.

Heffer tried to find merit in the films rather than examining them with a cold eye. He suggested that class was dealt with reasonably because Violette Szabo, on whose war efforts Carve Her Name With Pride was based, came from a working class family.

The social origins are beyond dispute. But why was Violette portrayed by an actress with a posh accent?




2 January  2013 ~  How Many Jimmy Savilles?

How many Jimmy Savilles does it take to change a light bulb?

Just the one, but he will have changed hundreds and be dead before the media notice.

The above is the first light bulb joke I have created after long being a fan of the format.

One of the many light bulb joke pages on the web belongs to a religious group. They include  a list of jokes about different faiths that begins with:

How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?

One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.