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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Surveillance commissioner warns councils 'turning off CCTV'

From The BBC

23 May 2015
 

Councils in England and Wales are turning off CCTV cameras in an attempt to cut costs, a surveillance watchdog has warned. Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, said switching off cameras would mean the police would find it harder to detect crime. He told the Independent the situation was a "concern" and blamed the government's austerity cuts. He is due to present his findings to the government in the autumn.

Mr Porter, who is the commissioner for England and Wales, told the newspaper that councils could face greater scrutiny of their use of CCTV, including potential inspections and enforcement. He said: "There are an increasing number of examples where councils and employees are citing a lack of money as being the rationale to reduce the service or completely change its composition - and that does concern me. Because CCTV isn't a statutory function, it is something a lot of councils are looking at. Most people recognise the utility of CCTV for supporting law enforcement. To degrade the capacity may have an impact on police. It may well be that they will find it increasingly difficult to acquire the images that will help them investigate crimes. I do think public authorities should be held to greater account."

The UK has one of the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates there are between 4-5.9 million cameras, with around one in 70 publicly owned.

Mr Porter has written to council chief executives to remind them of the law and code of practice. In a speech to the CCTV User Group conference this week, he warned of misuse of cameras in some local authority areas. He said: "I've seen councils in large towns like Blackpool and Derby stop monitoring their systems 24-7. My understanding is that this is not as the result of a review or public consultation but simply to save money. And as austerity measures continue to bite on public space CCTV will we see a deterioration of standards and training?"

Mr Porter was appointed surveillance camera commissioner in March 2014.

[At last, a good austerity news story – we’re not being spied on as much as before due to cost saving measures. Maybe with the next round of expected Tory austerity measures we’ll be spied upon even less. Kind of ironic really…. Of course even if every council turns off every camera that means only 1 in 70 are removed from 'active service', and this is supposed to have a significant impact on law enforcement? Really? Or is that just another excuse to privatise our police force?]

Thursday, May 28, 2015



Just Finished Reading: Butcher & Bolt – Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan by David Loyn (FP: 2008)

As this incisive and eye-opening book makes abundantly clear, Afghanistan is an easy country to invade and an impossible one to hold. If the recent Coalition Forces had known their (easily available) history they would have known that and many lives on both sides could have been saved. For centuries now the same mistakes have been made over and over again giving short shrift to the idea that we learn from history. Clearly we do not. From the First Afghan war in the early 19th Century, to the Second Afghan War mid-century and the inevitable Third War from the late 19th into the early 20th centuries the same attempts were made to control the country (as if the nation of Afghanistan actually existed) in the same way and failed in the same way. The Russian Occupation, which never apparently planned for an extended stay, similarly failed despite the brutality of their response to being attacked and their equal disregard for their own conscript casualties and those of the local population (combatant or not). The Allied Forces did no better in their invasion after the destruction of the bases there after 9/11. Easy in, impossible to hold, difficult to leave. Reading the accounts over the past 200 years could have told them that – although excuses would no doubt be found for it being different ‘this time’ even in a situation where our advanced technology is completely negated. This indeed is the main trust of the book.

Essential told in two halves – the historic and the recent – the author, who spent a great deal of time in the region and personally interviewed commanders on both sides of the divide (so much so that he was called a traitor by some and threatened with criminal proceedings), continually points out where things went wrong because of a fundamental mismatch between the image and the reality of Afghanistan perpetrated by people, both political and military, who felt that they had no need to understand the country they had invaded or the people who lived there. Over 200 years when myth met reality the real always won and people died because of it. As several commentators rightly said on the back cover this is a book that everyone thinking of campaigning in Afghanistan should be forced to read and think over. No doubt there are probably plans somewhere for a future occupation either by the Russians, the West or China and unless they understand what they are getting themselves into they will, like armies before them, leave the country ignominiously and leave behind chaos that will no doubt produce yet another generation of terrorists to fall upon the world. The only thing I think we should do with Afghanistan is leave it alone. Let them fight their endless tribal wars whilst keeping a watchful eye on things to see that this does not spill over into their neighbours backyards as it has already done in Pakistan (I believe the technical term for this is 'blowback’). If necessary call in the occasional airstrike or drone mission when things get dangerous enough and then leave well enough alone. It’s a modern variant of ‘butcher and bolt’ I agree but at least in might keep things contained on their side of the mountains rather than ours. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the region.

Monday, May 25, 2015



Just Finished Reading: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (FP: 1848)

When their father tells the Earnshaw children that he is going to Liverpool they inevitably clamour for gifts. Smiling down at them he promises to bring them both something back. On his return three days later he reveals something that neither of them expected – a ragged street urchin, a barely human boy he calls Heathcliffe. Hindley took an instant dislike to the boy but his sister Cathy at first saw a kindred spirit and then realised that Heathcliffe was more than that. They were not twin souls bound together by some mysterious force, they were not even two halves of the same soul finally reunited, they were the exact same soul inhabiting two separate bodies and they loved each other as they would love their own selves. But Cathy was wilful, wild and in need of more than poor Heathcliffe could ever offer her. Dazzled by the seeming wealth of her neighbour Edgar Linton she agreed to his proposal of marriage forever severing her future from that of Heathcliffe. Unable to take her ultimate betrayal he leaves Wuthering Heights in the company of Edgar’s sister Isabella. So starts a chain of events that will destroy all of those involved in Heathcliffe’s humiliation. Vowing to destroy the Linton legacy Heathcliffe uses all of his still to bring about their downfall in revenge for what Cathy has done to him.


I tried to read this in my 20’s and failed after about 20 pages. On re-reading it in my 50’s I can see why. The first few chapters are all over the place, drop you about two thirds into the story and are told from several different viewpoints. I really had to struggle and grit my teeth to get through that part expecting that things would settle down later. They did and the rest of the story was largely told in ‘flashback’ from the point of view of Cathy’s and Cathy’s daughters’ maid. So far so good I thought. Although things became more readable from that point on I can honestly say that my enjoyment of this classic did not. For one thing I didn’t think that the writing was particularly impressive. Emily Bronte is certainly no Jane Austen (I understand that the Bronte’s didn’t think much of Austen and her lack of passion. I imagine that Austen wouldn’t think much of the Bronte’s because of their poorly constructed novels). For another thing I really couldn’t like any of the characters involved. How Heathcliffe can be a romantic icon is beyond me. At best he was a pig and at worst a truly evil man (and I don’t use the word evil lightly). If his life had been investigated by today’s police force he’d definitely be arrested, definitely convicted and would have probably spent a considerable amount of time behind bars for what he did. OK, he was passionate to the point of insanity but is that really a good thing? Anger management is the least of it I think! As to Cathy, OK she was a free spirit, a wild child also full of passion but she was also a fool and a magpie who only thought of he own comfort and self-interest. Edgar was a fool in a different way who allowed his legacy to be destroyed because he didn’t have the balls to do anything about it. No wonder Cathy hated him for it – for not being Heathcliffe.


As you can tell I was seriously unimpressed by this book. It’s not that it was just a classic romance and I’m really not that kind of person. I’ve read classic romances before. Some of them are downright excellent. Even her sister’s novel Jane Eyre was better than this. Much more structured, with better characters that you could actually relate to and even like. If Heathcliffe had really existed in those times I’d imagine that someone would have shot him long before he died of natural causes. I think I’ll be sticking with classic adventure novels in future. I think I’ll be on safer ground there and may actually enjoy them rather than rage against them. Wish me luck.

[2015 Reading Challenge: A book written by someone under 30 – COMPLETE (16/50)]


"Life is not a walk across an open field."

Russian proverb.

Saturday, May 23, 2015



DNA hints at earlier dog evolution

By Pallab Ghosh for BBC News

21 May 2015

Swedish researchers say that dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than some other studies suggest. A genetic study indicates that dogs may have begun to split from wolves 27,000 years ago. The discovery, in Current Biology, challenges the view that dogs were domesticated much more recently, around 15,000 years ago as humans changed from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. The study might also explain the deep bond between dogs and humans.

Other researchers had proposed that the domestication of dogs arose with the emergence of agriculture, when human hunter-gatherers settled and formed communities. The new study, which was led by Dr Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, challenges this view.

"One scenario is that wolves started following humans around and domesticated themselves," he told BBC News. "Another is that early humans simply caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated. If this model is correct then dogs were domesticated by hunter-gatherers that led a fairly nomadic lifestyle." Peter Smith, chief executive of the Wildwood Trust in Kent, UK, and a former conservation biologist, says that this might have been the start of the relationship between dogs and humans that has developed and become closer over thousands of years.

"[The study] is showing that the deep, deep connection has existed between man and wolves - now our dogs - for many tens of thousands of years and that is why we love dogs so much. They are part of our own evolution into a modern society," he told BBC News. The DNA was analysed from a small wolf bone found by Dr Dalen on the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia which was radiocarbon dated to be 35,000 years old. His lab specialises in being able to piece together the DNA of ancient specimens. Dr Dalen and his team were able to identify the rough genetic code of the animal and to their surprise they discovered that its DNA was half way in between dogs and wolves. The results suggest that the split between dogs and wolves happened a few thousand years later.

According to Dr Dalen, dogs were either domesticated at that time, or the population split into modern wolves and a wild ancestor of modern dogs that later became extinct. "We think the simplest explanation is that dogs were domesticated at the time of the split," he says. An earlier genetic study of several different kinds of modern dogs and wolves had estimated that dogs and wolves diverged between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. Remains of what seem to be dogs also start appearing in the archaeological record around 15,000 years ago, and so this became the received wisdom. However, the new study is more accurate because it used the actual DNA of an ancient wolf as its baseline.

"That the split between dogs and wolves happened around 30,000 years ago seems fairly definitive," says Dr Dalen. But some researchers still dispute that this was the moment that the first dogs began to emerge. They believe that domestication was a more complex event. A group led by Dr Greger Larsen at Oxford University is working on a project to study the origin of dogs. Dr Larsen's team is in the process of collecting 4,000 skulls and teeth of different ages from across the world which they plan to analyse genetically and evaluate the way in which their shapes have changed through time. Dr Larsen says that the archaeological evidence is biased towards the later stages of dog evolution because dogs probably didn't start looking like dogs as we know them until relatively recently.

However, he believes the process was a continuous one, so much so that he has banned the use of the words "dog" and "wolf" in his lab. "It probably started with an unconscious phase where wolves were gradually getting used to human populations, following them around and eating their waste products. The changes that we now ascribe that differentiate dogs and wolves may not have emerged for a very long time," he told BBC News.

The great prize in the field is to track the genetic changes that resulted from the ever closer relationship between dogs and humans. But according to Dr Larsen, those first changes were in behaviour and are thus difficult to track. "There were probably small changes in many genes which makes it much more difficult to pin down." Another interesting finding from the Swedish study is that it also shows that the modern-day dogs most closely related to the ancient Taimyr are the Siberian Husky and Greenland sledge dog, according to Dr Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School, who also worked on the study."Our study provides direct evidence that a Siberian Husky you see walking down the street shares ancestry with a wolf that roamed northern Siberia 35,000 years ago."

[I think it’s fairly certain that the canine-human relationship has been around for a very long time. If I had to choose between 15K years and 30K I’d go for 30K. I think that dogs and humans co-evolved with an almost symbiotic relationship. Having dogs as part of a hunter-gatherer society rather than coming along only after farming took off feels right to me. Dogs are hunters like us so visualising dogs and humans hunting together has the ring of truth about it. I look forward to the results of this and, no doubt, other studies into this fascinating question.]

Thursday, May 21, 2015



Just Finished Reading: Hope in the Dark – The Untold History of People Power by Rebecca Solnit (FP: 2004)

Despite the fact that this book was only 170 pages long I didn’t really intend to finish it in a single day. But without much effort and with a deal of enjoyment I did just that last Sunday. I’d picked up on the author whilst visiting another Blog mostly dedicated to books with a Left-Wing slant. Another of her works had been reviewed but for some reason I picked this one instead (I don’t remember my reasoning at the time. It might have simply been that as this was an experiment in new authorship I picked the cheaper or thinner book).

Anyway, I thought that the sub-title was a bit of a misnomer. This wasn’t the history of people power. If it had been I’m guessing it would have been a much chunkier volume. No, this was some examples of people power over the last 30 odd years and some of those the author had been involved in, interviewed people who were there or had admired. This was not a bad thing. The author, who writes exceedingly well, concentrated on what she knew – often personally – to get across exactly what people power could do when applied with passion, commitment, knowledge and not a little humour. Citing examples mostly in the US (with a few in the UK and the rest of Europe) she shows not only that people power can achieve its objectives but that sometimes only people power can do so. She is also very clear that activists who expect fast, predictable or even easily apparent changes should get used to being disappointed. Sometimes change can take years or decades before it becomes apparent – when something is accepted as normal today was vilified in the past but (as if by magic) imperceptibly changes year on year without any apparent engine of change (those people actively changing the minds of others) it can be disheartening. Likewise protests can seem to have little effect at the time but resonate down the years to produce results, although not always the results intended or hoped for, much later or far away. People can gain hope from others simply trying to achieve something which allows them to engage with their problem in a different or more effective way.

One story of unintended consequences (a theme running throughout the book) which made me laugh was about Viagra. Not only was the original drug developed to address heart problems – not other problems – but its availability has apparently saved several endangered species from becoming extinct as the demand for certain exotic substances (and body parts) in China has dropped dramatically thereby lowering their price sufficiently that poaching for some animals is no longer economically viable! As unintended consequences goes it’s a pretty good one.

The main message the book tries to get across (and I’m making rather a hash of in this garbled review) is that there is always hope no matter how hopeless a situation seems to be. Humans have a great capacity for reasonably deciding that nothing can be done and then going ahead to at least try to fix things. More often than people realise the nothing can be done turns into something can actually be done. The future is dark. Not, the author maintains, in a bleak way but in a hidden, unknown way. Within that darkness is the possibility of change and the possibility of hope no matter the odds stacked against you. The people do have power no matter what ‘they’ tell you. It’s a matter of finding that power within yourself and within others. Hope does indeed spring eternal and hope lives in the dark places, off centre stage, in the corners and in the shadows. Fascinating, well written, full of delightful ideas, interesting people and intriguing metaphors. A must read for anyone itching to get something done, large or small, local, national or global. Highly recommended.  

[2015 Reading Challenge: A book you can finish in a day – COMPLETE (15/50)]

Monday, May 18, 2015


NASA Hubble Finds a True Blue Planet 

From NASA

July 11, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers making visible-light observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have deduced the actual color of a planet orbiting another star 63 light-years away. The planet is HD 189733b, one of the closest exoplanets that can be seen crossing the face of its star.

Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph measured changes in the color of light from the planet before, during and after a pass behind its star. There was a small drop in light and a slight change in the color of the light. "We saw the light becoming less bright in the blue but not in the green or red. Light was missing in the blue but not in the red when it was hidden," said research team member Frederic Pont of the University of Exeter in South West England. "This means that the object that disappeared was blue."

Earlier observations have reported evidence for scattering of blue light on the planet. The latest Hubble observation confirms the evidence. If seen directly, this planet would look like a deep blue dot, reminiscent of Earth's color as seen from space. That is where the comparison ends.

On this turbulent alien world, the daytime temperature is nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and it possibly rains glass -- sideways -- in howling, 4,500-mph winds. The cobalt blue color comes not from the reflection of a tropical ocean as it does on Earth, but rather a hazy, blow-torched atmosphere containing high clouds laced with silicate particles. Silicates condensing in the heat could form very small drops of glass that scatter blue light more than red light.

Hubble and other observatories have made intensive studies of HD 189733b and found its atmosphere to be changeable and exotic. HD 189733b is among a bizarre class of planets called hot Jupiters, which orbit precariously close to their parent stars. The observations yield new insights into the chemical composition and cloud structure of the entire class.

Clouds often play key roles in planetary atmospheres. Detecting the presence and importance of clouds in hot Jupiters is crucial to astronomers' understanding of the physics and climatology of other planets.

HD 189733b was discovered in 2005. It is only 2.9 million miles from its parent star, so close that it is gravitationally locked. One side always faces the star and the other side is always dark. In 2007, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope measured the infrared light, or heat, from the planet, leading to one of the first temperature maps for an exoplanet. The map shows day side and night side temperatures on HD 189733b differ by about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. This should cause fierce winds to roar from the day side to the night side.

[OK, you got me open mouthed with ‘raining glass – sideways’. What a truly bizarre Galaxy it is out there……!]

Saturday, May 16, 2015



'Take us with you, Scotland' say thousands in North of England

From the BBC

14 May 2015

Thousands of people in the north of England have been using the hashtag "take us with you Scotland" to express their upset about the result of last week's general election, and Scottish nationalists are welcoming this English minority with open arms.

Last Thursday's general election was a rough one for the Labour Party in its traditional stronghold in the north of England. But further to the north, the left-leaning Scottish National Party won nearly every seat it contested. That political contrast has made some left-wing voters in places like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield look fondly on their neighbours. Since last Thursday's election in Britain the phrase "take us with you Scotland" has been used more than 24,000 times.

"Genuinely beginning to wonder if the North of England becoming a part of Scotland would be better for us, I really am," tweeted Aaron Miller from Yorkshire. Some cracked jokes under the tag after the North West Motorway Police account, which gives traffic updates, announced that they had "picked up a pedestrian on the M62 who was trying to walk to Scotland."

After an initial spike of jokes over the weekend, the hashtag really took off when users start to mobilise in support of around a year-old petition on the campaigning site Change.org. The petition calls for the north of England to secede from the rest of the country and join up with Scotland, and more than 12,000 people have signed it.

Its creator, a Sheffield resident who calls himself "Stu Dent", set it up to coincide with last year's Scottish independence referendum, and he also created a map imagining the boundary of a "Scotland plus the north" country.

Stu Dent runs the Twitter account Hunters Bar, named after an area of southwest Sheffield which is very popular with - you guessed it - students. Despite the account having thousands of followers on Twitter, when the map was first posted last year, the image was shared only about 100 times - however, in the past week it's been retweeted by thousands. Stu Dent told BBC Trending that he was surprised at how popular his idea has become. "In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have been," he said. "There is a huge frustration in parts of the UK about the things that have happened since 2010. I think people need a place to go where they can say 'not in my name! This is not the England I want'," he added.

But in addition to disappointment from some quarters about the election result, there might be another reason why the petition is getting a boost now: the power of the Scottish Nationalists on Twitter. What started as a post-election joke in the North of England was quickly embraced by the so-called "Cyber Nats" - and a trend was born. The SNP's social media strategist Ross Colquhoun expressed the party's mood about the hashtag best, in a post which was shared more than 500 times. "2014: #LetsStayTogether 2015: #TakeUsWithYouScotland What a difference a year makes" he tweeted.

[I did laugh loud and hard when I read this. As I’ve said many times to many people the only Socialists around these days seem to be the SNP so it’s no surprise that Labour’s heartland in the North should would want the border to come south to meet them. Maybe if Labour had moved more to the Left instead of their probable continual move to the Right (they call it being more ‘centrist’) they might have had more of an impact earlier in the month than actually happened. Although the border move will never happen – even if England leaves the EU and Scotland decides to stay – it was funny to think that I could move home and be in Scotland at the same time.]

Thursday, May 14, 2015



Just Finished Reading: The Fishing Fleet – Husband Hunting in the Raj by Anne De Courcy (FP: 2012)

It made perfect sense. Not just to the women themselves, but to their mothers, their friends, to the Indian Civil Service and to the early East India Company. After all, India being what it was, even in the very early days before the Raj as such existed, it was inevitable that it would attract the best and the brightest, the cream of the English Public School system, the elite of Imperial society. These men who ran the jewel in the crown of the Empire where often posted for years on end without any chance of taking leave so when, oh when, would they have time to find and attract a suitable woman? What could be more logical to encourage, even facilitate, the travel of young eligible women to go to India in the expectation of acquiring a well-placed husband – one with impeccable credentials and excellent prospects? Rather inevitably some wag called these girls and young women the ‘fishing fleet’ and the name stuck. Equally inevitably those who failed to find a husband and sailed back to England still unhappily single where known (semi-officially) as ‘returned empties’ which was not exactly a flattering term.

So they came, year after year, decade after decade, through two World Wars, to look for a mate, to marry well, to have children and to survive (hopefully) the many dangers inherent in a country far different that the home nation. Fever, snakes, drought and monsoon, rebellion and uprising, plague, tigers, poor sanitation, medical staff tens of miles away over dangerously winding roads and seemingly an endless number of other dangers awaited those who made the trip. The author, using access to private diaries and correspondence, paints a picture of the exotic, the frightening, the exhilarating and the often boring times had by the generations who made the effort to make their home in a truly alien environment. As expected this was pretty much the lifestyles of the rich and shameless – the working class tending not to leave much in the way of written evidence of their existence and the white working class tended to be thin on the ground (outside the army) in a country teaming with potential local servants and labourers. That being the case much of the material in the book came from the lives of the upper echelons which did make it, at least for me, rather less interesting than this otherwise very good volume could have been. I’m not a huge fan of the privileged classes (to say the least) and I must have rolled my eyes many times to yet another description of a posh frock worn to yet another dinner party surrounded by military and diplomatic types.

Despite those reservations this book is full of insight into a comparatively strange (if reasonable) phenomena and has numerous little nuggets of stories scattered through it. One that made me laugh out loud was a tale of a newlywed having dinner at her new husband’s residence when a rat scampered across the floor. Without pausing to explain he pulled out his revolver and shot it dead and then carried on his conversation as if nothing had happened – welcome to India indeed! I did think that this made a nice companion volume to Singled Out reviewed here recently as it went into much more detail about one aspect of how women after WW1 coped with the lack of men. Interesting, full of often fascinating detail (even with too much emphasis of clothes!) this was a readable piece of cultural history that, until I picked up this book, I was completely unaware of. Recommended.  

Monday, May 11, 2015


WARM OCEAN, NOT ICEBERGS, CAUSING MOST OF ANTARCTIC ICE SHELVES' MASS LOSS

From NASA

June 13, 2013

PASADENA, Calif. -- Ocean waters melting the undersides of Antarctic ice shelves are responsible for most of the continent's ice shelf mass loss, a new study by NASA and university researchers has found. Scientists have studied the rates of basal melt, or the melting of the ice shelves from underneath, of individual ice shelves, the floating extensions of glaciers that empty into the sea. But this is the first comprehensive survey of all Antarctic ice shelves. The study found basal melt accounted for 55 percent of all Antarctic ice shelf mass loss from 2003 to 2008, an amount much higher than previously thought.

Antarctica holds about 60 percent of the planet's fresh water locked into its massive ice sheet. Ice shelves buttress the glaciers behind them, modulating the speed at which these rivers of ice flow into the ocean. Determining how ice shelves melt will help scientists improve projections of how the Antarctic ice sheet will respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise. It also will improve global models of ocean circulation by providing a better estimate of the amount of fresh water ice shelf melting adds to Antarctic coastal waters.

The study uses reconstructions of ice accumulation, satellite and aircraft readings of ice thickness, and changes in elevation and ice velocity to determine how fast ice shelves melt and compare the mass lost with the amount released by the calving, or splitting, of icebergs. "The traditional view on Antarctic mass loss is it is almost entirely controlled by iceberg calving," said Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California, Irvine. Rignot is lead author of the study to be published in the June 14 issue of the journal Science. "Our study shows melting from below by the ocean waters is larger, and this should change our perspective on the evolution of the ice sheet in a warming climate."

Ice shelves grow through a combination of land ice flowing to the sea and snow accumulating on their surface. To determine how much ice and snowfall enters a specific ice shelf and how much makes it to an iceberg, where it may split off, the research team used a regional climate model for snow accumulation and combined the results with ice velocity data from satellites, ice shelf thickness measurements from NASA's Operation IceBridge -- an continuing aerial survey of Earth's poles -- and a new map of Antarctica's bedrock. Using this information, Rignot and colleagues were able to deduce whether the ice shelf was losing mass through basal melting or gaining it through the basal freezing of seawater.

In some places, basal melt exceeds iceberg calving. In other places, the opposite is true. But in total, Antarctic ice shelves lost 2,921 trillion pounds (1,325 trillion kilograms) of ice per year in 2003-2008 through basal melt, while iceberg formation accounted for 2,400 trillion pounds (1,089 trillion kilograms) of mass loss each year.

Basal melt can have a greater impact on ocean circulation than glacier calving. Icebergs slowly release melt water as they drift away from the continent. But strong melting near deep grounding lines, where glaciers lose their grip on the seafloor and start floating as ice shelves, discharges large quantities of fresher, lighter water near the Antarctic coast line. This lower-density water does not mix and sink as readily as colder, saltier water, and may be changing the rate of bottom water renewal. "Changes in basal melting are helping to change the properties of Antarctic bottom water, which is one component of the ocean's overturning circulation," said author Stan Jacobs, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "In some areas it also impacts ecosystems by driving coastal upwelling, which brings up micronutrients like iron that fuel persistent plankton blooms in the summer."

The study found basal melting is distributed unevenly around the continent. The three giant ice shelves of Ross, Filchner and Ronne, which make up two-thirds of the total Antarctic ice shelf area, accounted for only 15 percent of basal melting. Meanwhile, fewer than a dozen small ice shelves floating on "warm" waters (seawater only a few degrees above the freezing point) produced half of the total melt water during the same period. The scientists detected a similar high rate of basal melting under six small ice shelves along East Antarctica, a region not as well-known because of a scarcity of measurements.

The researchers also compared the rates at which the ice shelves are shedding ice to the speed at which the continent itself is losing mass and found that, on average, ice shelves lost mass twice as fast as the Antarctic ice sheet did during the study period. "Ice shelf melt doesn't necessarily mean an ice shelf is decaying; it can be compensated by the ice flow from the continent," Rignot said.
"But in a number of places around Antarctica, ice shelves are melting too fast, and a consequence of that is glaciers and the entire continent are changing as well."


[But let us not forget – Global Warming is a Myth…. No matter what the evidence is to the contrary.]

Saturday, May 09, 2015


How soon they forget........

Thinking About: The Election

It’s become a bit of a traditional for me – staying up all night watching the election results come in. So much so that my expected day off to recover was expected by my boss and accepted as a given. That did make me smile.

So expecting it to be a long night I had plenty of Coke handy (or in this case Pepsi Max), some sugary snacks to keep me going and even a can of energy drink that teenagers seem to be fixated on. Oddly, or maybe not considering the hype about this being a once in a generation event, I hardly needed any of them – with the exception of the Pepsi I’m guessing – to keep me awake. I was honestly riveted by the whole thing only tearing myself away during the short news breaks to rush to the bathroom and rush back again.

Voted ended at 10pm (I’d voted on my way to work for The Green Party) and the first result was due in before 11pm. The cities of Sunderland and Newcastle race each other to be first. For the 6th time in a row Sunderland won even if they were 20 minutes later than planned. After that there was a pause which allowed the excellent commentators on the BBC to speculate about an exit-poll which seemed to put in doubt every previous poll including 11 that had been completed the day before. Paddy Ashdown famously said that he’s eat his hat if the exit-poll was correct. He regretted that statement as the night rolled on! Although not 100% accurate the much criticised exit-poll was far more accurate than anything previously released and correctly predicted a Conservative win although in reality the Tories managed (just) to gain an overall majority. The thing it did predict, and what upset Mr Ashdown so much, was the effective annihilation of the Liberal Democrats. From a fairly strong 57 seats in the Commons they ended the night with just 8. I had hoped, though hardly expected, that this would happen and had wished (hard) for them to end up with single figures. From the very first result at about 10:50 the writing was definitely on the wall with about a 15% drop in their vote. This, it turned out, was not unusual and was repeated in just about every constituency. It cheered me greatly. My friend and I, both recent Lib Dem voters, had been disgusted by the cynical about-face they performed on joining with the Tories to run the country 5 years ago and determined to punish them if we could. It seemed that we were not alone in this feeling and it warmed my heart to see that we were not alone in despising them so much for their actions. Of course, at least in public, the Lib Dems are completely befuddled by what happened on the 7th/8th May thinking that they had paid the price for being part of a government forced to make unpopular decisions. If that was the case why didn’t people hurt the Conservatives too? After all it was their policies that the Liberals were implementing.

The second thing that cheered me was that my expected ‘nightmare scenario’ didn’t happen. Although UKIP did impressively well in the number of votes cast they took no new seats and only managed to hold one of them held by an ex-Tory who had previously defected to them. Whilst nowhere near a spent force I think that their power has been blunted somewhat especially as they’ll now be having a leadership contest (AKA internal fighting) after Farage stepped down after failing to win the seat he was standing for. Likewise the Labour Party will be going into a blood frenzy when their leader – the largely waste of space Ed Miliband – stepped down after their defeat in the polls.

Of course the big, big story of the night was the amazing landslide advance, to understate it quite a lot, of the Scottish National Party (SNP). I watched increasingly open mouthed as seat after seat in Scotland fell to their advance leaving only 3 non-SNP MP’s still standing. I was delighted to see some big names in both the Liberal and Labour camp fall to the SNP candidates and was particularly pleased when the SNP’s Mhairi Black – a 20 year old Politics student – beat Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander to become the Britain’s youngest MP since 1667. It showed the sheer power of the SNP idea which I think has changed things, both north and south of the border, for years to come. I think that Scotland is inevitably moving towards independence and the choice is either to cheer them on or get out of its way. Ironically I think that the recent NO vote in their Independence referendum actually moved them further along that road than a YES vote. No matter what happens now the SNP are a voice that cannot, or cannot safely, be ignored. They must be accommodated with even despite the fact that they can’t prevent the Conservatives gaining or executing power. What happens now in Scotland is going to be frankly fascinating. It almost makes me regret not being amongst their number. I guess being of Irish ancestry will have to do!

Despite the fact that I didn’t get the result I wanted at least I didn’t get the result I expected. I saw the hated Liberals get destroyed and humiliated and my only regret was that Nick Clegg kept his seat – although he too resigned as party leader, not that there’s much of a party to lead any more. Surprisingly, considering I was yawning on the bus on the way home that night at around 6pm, I managed to stay awake and (mostly) fully functional until it was practically all over at 6.30am the following morning when I crawled into bed for 5 hours sleep. I woke with a smile on my face at the looks of desolation and defeat of Liberal stalwarts as one by one they fell into history. Maybe they’ll learn their lesson? Maybe so, but I still won’t be voting them for some time yet if ever again.    

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Just Finished Reading: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (FP: 2005)

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Due in the South of France to receive an unexpected death bequest the opportunity to take part in a friend’s archaeological dig couldn’t really be turned down. Wandering off her assigned plot Alice Tanner inadvertently starts a landslide and uncovers a cave entrance buried since the early 13th Century. What she finds in the cave starts a scramble between opposing groups who have sort its location for centuries. For in the cave is the final piece of a puzzle that could lead to the unveiling of the fabled true Grail and with its possession the power to extend life far beyond the norm. But there is much more going on than a simple recovery of ancient artefacts no matter how exotic or powerful. Alice is becoming plagued by dreams of 13th century Carcassone and the life of a young girl trapped between her duty to her father and the invading French army. As a Cathar, and as such a heretic against the power of the Catholic church, she must hold on to her faith whilst protecting the last of the three books detailing the ceremony that will bring the Grail to life before it falls into the wrong hands.

Told very much as a book in two halves – the present day and Southern France in 1209 – this was a well-constructed tale that is part historical epic and part Da Vinci Code puzzle-solving/race against time thriller. The characters in both time periods are believable, fallible, driven ones who are completely relatable to. Both Alice Tanner and her 13th century counterpart Alais are good protagonists and both drive the story forward. The descriptions of the Cathar’s and their beliefs – often completely contrary to the Catholics coming to destroy them – are fascinating and I’d be investigating them further if I didn’t already know something of them and have several books about them already in various TBR piles. This was definitely for me the strongest and most interesting part of the book. The modern day chase, intrigue, mystery solving was much less so (though still very readable) as basically we’d seen it all before and the whole thing has become something of a cliché these days. But the author, to her credit, does still manage to weave a good tale with suitably plucky heroes’ (often out of their depths) and suitably hard hearted bad guys.

Despite its just under 700 pages wrist aching size this is a real page turner with characters you care about (as well as one’s that you heartily dislike), two character driven stories, thrills and spills, plenty of death and much else besides which made me smile, laugh, gasp and raise more than one eyebrow in surprise. A highly entertaining book and much recommended.

[2015 Reading Challenge: A book with more than 500 pages – COMPLETE (14/50)]