Monday, May 31, 2010

Honest lawyers!

I'm amused and pleased to find that a New York law firm has produced television advertisements that are both funny and honest. The latter isn't something I'm used to in lawyer commercials, most of which appear to be of the ambulance-chasing variety. These make it clear that you'd better really need that ambulance!

Full marks to Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman for bringing a little levity into the legal labyrinth.


A useful side-effect?

It's reported that the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, currently in production for the US Marine Corps and US Air Force, may be offered by Boeing as a replacement for the helicopters used to transport the President of the United States.

Unfortunately, the V-22 has a very strong downdraft indeed from its twin engines. As an illustration, CNN reported today that 10 people were injured by flying debris during a V-22 demonstration flight in New York. Here's a video clip showing how the aircraft kicked up dust and knocked down tree limbs as it came in.

As Al Kamen commented in the Washington Post not too long ago:

Asked whether the craft can land on the White House lawn, Marine Col. Greg Masiello, the program manager for the Osprey, said: "It fits, by the way."

But given the aircraft's history, will the Obama administration go for it? No question. The Osprey, "when landing, will unleash high-speed sod clumps in all directions," said Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information. So the Osprey "will have the added -- much to be desired -- effect of scattering the White House press corps to end those pesky shouted-out questions as the POTUS ambulates to the White House back door."

What was that sound? Ah, yes. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs lunging for an order form.


Lolcats again

It's been far too long since we looked at Lolcats, courtesy of the Web site I Can Has Cheezburger? (ICHC). Here are a few that have caught my eye in recent weeks. Click on each picture to be taken to its page at ICHC, and view user comments, if you're so inclined.

Irresistibly cute, aren't they?


The cheese rolled after all!

I mentioned earlier this year that the annual Gloucestershire cheese roll (which we've covered for the past two years) had been canceled due to pressure by the authorities, who were concerned about health and safety issues.

Fortunately, there's a spark of independence and rebellion against stuffy authorities left in at least some of the English. The Daily Mail reports:

Hundreds of daredevils gathered on a steep hillside today for the first-ever 'unofficial' cheese rolling contest - after the historic event was axed over health and safety fears.

Runners and spectators met at Cooper's Hill near Brockworth in Gloucestershire to carry on the tradition which sees competitors chase a 7lb wheel of Double Gloucester down a 200-yard incline.

The Whitsun cheese roll had been held annually for nearly two centuries until it was banned earlier this year because it was deemed too dangerous.

But fans of the tradition vowed to keep it going and hundreds ignored official warnings by attending this year's event.

Police said there would be no dedicated medical help for casualties and that the unofficial contests could jeopardise the chance of an official event happening next year under a different format.

But the roll still attracted around 300 people with visitors travelling from as far afield as Holland to witness the eccentric tradition.

. . .

The competition, which dates back hundreds of years, involves participants chasing a 7lb Double Gloucester cheese down the hill in a series of races.

The winner of each race wins the cheese.

In 1997 at least 33 people were injured and treated by St John's Ambulance.

There's more at the link, including a rather fetching photograph of a young lady trying to keep her . . . er . . . assets contained within her top as she went down the hill at high speed! It may not be safe for work, though.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

A veteran remembers . . . and mourns

CNN reported recently that the late Sergeant James Lenihan wrote a poem about one of his experiences during World War II. It was discovered by his children after his death. Courtesy of The Writer's Spot, here's the full text of the poem.

Murder: Most Foul

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die.

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn’t see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand–
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn’t shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him “Brother”
But he gasped out one word
And that word was “Mother.”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close His eyes.

This Memorial Day, let us pray that both Sergeant Lenihan, and the unknown German soldier whom he killed, are at peace with God and with one another.


Remembering the forgotten ones

This Memorial Day, we'll be remembering veterans past and present; those still with us, and those who've died. I'd like to suggest that we take the time to think about another sort of veteran . . . those civilians who've been caught up in war, often taken unawares, or targeted for no good reason. They're perhaps the ultimate victims of war, in that they had no way to defend themselves against the violence directed at them.

There have been many, many examples of such victims throughout history. It's false to say that only in the 20th century were civilians regarded as a legitimate military target. They've been massacred for millennia. To mention just a few examples:

  • The entire population of Carthage, which was starved to death, or indiscriminately massacred, or sold into slavery, when Rome destroyed the city in 146 BC during the Third Punic War.
  • The Mongol conquests led by Genghis Khan (c. 1162 - c. 1227) and his successors, which spread across Asia and the Middle East into Europe and caused the death of at least tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of civilians in cities which resisted the invaders.
  • The extermination of the Cathars during the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229 AD), during which Arnaud, a Cistercian abbott and commander of one of the crusading forces, gave his notorious order, "Kill them all - God will recognize his own".
  • The widespread massacre of civilians during the Thirty Years' War in Europe (1618-1648). No-one knows how many were killed, or died of starvation or disease or privation after being forced from their homes, but it's estimated that the number is well into the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
  • Between a quarter of a million and one million Hindus and Muslims (the exact figure will never be known) were massacred by members of the opposite religion during the partition of British India into the nations of India and Pakistan in 1947. In an attempt to stop the bloodshed, Mahatma Gandhi embarked on a hunger strike, which was partially successful; but he was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu extremist, becoming one of the last victims of the partition.

Many of these victims were unknown to most in the so-called 'civilized' world; they died unheralded, unmourned. They still do. Let me tell you about one such incident that happened rather more recently.

A village in an African nation was tucked out of the way in the bush. There were probably a hundred or more people living there - no-one knows for sure. The inhabitants wanted only to tend their crops and herds, eking out a subsistence existence in the harsh terrain of Africa. Unfortunately, their country became one of the many battlegrounds of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and its surrogates trained and equipped guerrilla movements, and in response the United States and its allies did the same. These movements fought one another in bloody conflicts across the face of that nation.

The village was visited one day by representatives of a pro-Western guerrilla movement. They paraded the residents, forced them to listen to hours of propaganda, stole food and other supplies they needed, and 'conscripted' several of the young men to join their ranks as porters for the stolen supplies. Those selected had no choice in the matter, of course; it was obey, or die. They duly trekked off into the bush with their new masters.

A week or so later, troops from another guerrilla movement arrived. This was a pro-Communist movement, now ruling the country (with substantial assistance from Soviet surrogate forces) after the withdrawal of the former colonial power. They were enraged to find that the villagers had 'given supplies' and 'provided recruits' to their enemy (even though both had been taken at the point of a gun). They decided to punish the entire village.

The result was an atrocity of the grossest kind. Many of the villagers - particularly the men - were shot out of hand, or beaten to death. The women and children must have wished for such a fate before they died. They were raped, beaten and abused. After over 24 hours of this treatment, the government troops took the survivors - mostly women and children - and impaled them on sharpened stakes, set into the thorn boma rigged up as a perimeter fence around the village. They drove off, leaving their still-living victims to die, perched in the extremity of agony atop the sticks driven deep into their entrails.

An Army patrol from another nation arrived at the village a day later. They wouldn't normally have gone there, but they'd seen the smoke of burning huts the day before, and cautiously came to investigate. They were in the area because their country had become involved in the conflict, supporting pro-Western forces (as did the United States, during those years). The patrol was aghast beyond speech at what they found. Those villagers still alive were hanging on their stakes, moaning, crying out, begging for help. All around them lay the bodies of those fortunate enough to have been killed before they could be impaled. Women, adolescents, even small children wriggled, screamed and begged for mercy atop their stakes. Right next to them, the vultures and jackals feasted on the dead - even, sometimes, on those still alive, who were too weak to defend themselves.

The patrol was helpless. They had only basic first-aid-type medications available; the nearest hospital was hundreds of miles away; there were no ambulances or other vehicles to take the injured there; and even if there had been, how does one remove a stake driven up through the rectum and anus into someone's bowels and internal organs? How could anything be done without causing such unspeakable agony that it would torture the victim beyond endurance? And even if one managed to do so, how could the victim then be moved? They had no anesthetics to numb the pain of being bounced around in the back of a truck, or antibiotics to control the infections that had already set in.

There was only one gift that patrol could give the suffering victims . . . and they gave it. Shots rang out, one by one, as those impaled on the stakes were given the final mercy of a swift, painless death. This was no atrocity - it was the kindest, the only, thing that could be done under the circumstances. Strong men wept bitterly as they struggled against their emotions, lined up their sights on a woman or child, and pulled the trigger. When the last victim was still and silent, they gathered up the bodies, deepened an existing hollow in the ground, and buried them. One of the patrol read from a dirty, worn, pocket-size New Testament and intoned a brief prayer over the grave as the others stood around silently.

They never knew the names of a single one of those they buried. They left behind them a heap of earth, surmounted by a roughly-fastened wooden cross, in the midst of the burned thatch huts of the village. Nature would ensure that within a year or two, all traces of the village would have disappeared. The bush would take over again. The cross would be eaten by termites before long, and the earth would flatten out over time. In two or three years it would become just another low mound in the African bush, with no hint as to what lay beneath it. Today, it's doubtless long forgotten by everyone except the members of that patrol - and, perhaps (if any survived the civil war in that country), those few youths who were conscripted to carry the stolen supplies, at the start of this whole affair.

(Those who committed this atrocity aren't in a position to speak of their actions. That patrol, by common consent, suffered a 'communications breakdown' for a few days - just long enough to track the perpetrators, hunt them down, and deal with them. There were no survivors. When they got back to base, superior officers were quietly, verbally, informed of what had transpired, and all concerned agreed to let matters lie. After all, what would be achieved by anything else? No-one would care. This was just another village, in just another conflict in Africa - and life's always been very, very cheap in most of Africa. It still is, to this day.)

Remember those nameless villagers this Memorial Day, won't you? Remember the millions who suffered and died in the Gulag . . . the two million dead in the Cambodian genocide . . . the eight hundred thousand victims in Rwanda. Someone should remember them, and say a prayer for their souls. If you and I won't do it, who else is there to remember the forgotten ones?

Say a prayer, too, for the members of the patrol that found the village. They've never forgotten. How can they? The memory haunts their nightmares.


Feel-good story of the week

Courtesy of Marko, we learn of a baseball game to warm the cockles of the heart. If you can read that without a smile, you're beyond help!

Thanks, Marko. You made my day much brighter by posting that link.


Blondes rampant!

Last year saw the first Blondes Parade in Latvia. I blogged about it at the time. It was such a success that the Latvian Association of Blondes decided to make it an annual event. They've just held their second Blondes Parade, which appears to have been even more of a success than the first, according to Baltic Reports.

This weekend marked Riga’s second annual Go Blonde Parade, and the fair-haired young women of Latvia were out in force.

“People admire, envy, and make jokes about us, but nobody remains indifferent! Why?” wonders Olga Uskova, one of the founders of the Latvian Association of Blondes.

Well, it is certainly a good distraction from the economic crisis, which is the festival’s initial purpose. It’s also made headlines worldwide promoting the beauty and blondness of Latvian women.

“I was so tired, you know, every day opening the computer and reading the newspapers and just reading about problems. We decided … let’s do something nice,” Marika Ģederte, president of the Latvian Association of Blondes told the BBC Saturday.

The weather worked perfectly, as sunny as the mood, and hundreds gathered in Old Town to see Saturday’s parade.

Looks like a good time was had by all!


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Political correctness meets 'Dwile Flonking'

You've never heard of 'Dwile Flonking'? Neither had I, until I read about the first world championships in this 'sport' being derailed by political correctness. The Telegraph reports:

The traditional East Anglian pub sport of 'Dwile Flonking' has been banned by a council because it breached health and safety drinking laws, it was claimed.

The sport’s inaugural world championships were due to be held on Saturday at the Dog Inn pub, in Ludham, Great Yarmouth.

But its future is in doubt after Norfolk District Council outlawed the game because it contravened laws aimed at banning speed drinking.

Event organisers were locked in crisis talks on Friday night to find a way for teams, who are visiting from all over the country, to participate.

It was hoped it could have become a local tourist attraction.

During the game, 'flonkers' use a pole to launch a beer-soaked cloth at opponents, with the aim of giving them a hearty wet slap in the face.

Rules state if their soggy missile misses its target twice in a row, the competitor must down a pot - or half [a pint] - of ale as quickly as possible.

But after reading about the planned tournament online Tony Gent, the council’s licensing officer, told Mrs Clinch she would be breaking the law.

"I was completely taken aback. It seems the law is the law ... but is does seem over the top," said the pub’s landlord, Lorraine Clinch, 49.

"Everyone is a willing participant and we are not expecting hordes of people turning up to take part.

"It is just a bit of fun and we are only talking about drinking half a pint of real ale."

New laws introduced in April banned drinking games, including time limit, all-you-can-drink offers, free alcohol prizes and binge drinking promotions.

Breaches of the new code could lead to pubs losing their licences, fines of up to £20,000 [about US $28,950] for landlords and even six months in prison.

. . .

The word 'dwile' comes from Suffolk dialect meaning dishcloth and 'flonk' could be derived from 'flong', a printing term to describe a paper mould used to create a type impression.

There's more at the link.

Well, I think it's safe to say that dwile flonking isn't likely to replace football, baseball or basketball as a US sporting passion . . . but it seems a bit much to ban it for health and safety reasons! Couldn't they just have arranged taxis for competitors instead, so they wouldn't have to dwile-flonk and drive?


A bladeless fan?

Dyson, makers of what they claim are the world's best vacuum cleaners, have introduced a bladeless fan.

Looks very modern and impressive, doesn't it? Details of how it works are at the link. It's apparently selling like hot cakes, even though it costs far more than more conventional competitors (just as their vacuum cleaners do - which is why I don't own one!). For the $300 they want for the cheapest model listed on their Web site, I reckon I can buy at least a dozen conventional fans!

Nevertheless, the technology is very interesting, and Dyson have produced a video showing a balloon being pulled through a series of the new bladeless fans. It's quite fascinating.

After seeing that, I'd love to own one, if only for the novelty value - but not at that price . . .


More awesome product reviews

Yesterday I posted about a product available from Amazon, 3M Nuclear Grade Tape, and quoted some of the very funny reviews posted by potential shoppers. In a comment to that post, fellow blogger Keads mentioned another product available from Amazon: Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable.

It's described as follows:

Get the purest digital audio you've ever experienced from multi-channel DVD and CD playback through your Denon home theater receiver with the AK-DL1 dedicated cable. Made of high-purity copper wire, it's designed to thoroughly eliminate adverse effects from vibration and helps stabilize the digital transmission from occurrences of jitter and ripple. A tin-bearing copper alloy is used for the cable's shield while the insulation is made of a fluoropolymer material with superior heat resistance, weather resistance, and anti-aging properties. The connector features a rounded plug lever to prevent bending or breaking and direction marks to indicate correct direction for connecting cable.

Reviews of that product are just as funny as those of the nuclear tape! Here's a selection.

This connection isn't sound. If my calculations are correct, it should be sometime around 2007 for whomever is reading this. DO NOT USE THESE CABLES. Something... happens with them. Something came through, something from somewhere else. We were overrun in days, not many of us are left. WE LIVE UNDERGROUND! ONLY YOU CAN STOP IT NOW. SAVE US. DO NOT USE THESE CABLES.

I don't have much time. This connection isn't sound. If my calculations are correct, it should be--

I knew my day was going to improve when the truck pulled up at my home with this cable deep within. No ordinary truck, this one was Holy White, and the gold Delivery logo sparkled like a thousand suns reflected through shards of the purest ice formed with unadulterated water collected at the beginning of the universe. The driver, clad in a robe colored the softest of white, floated towards me on the cool fog of a hundred fire extinguishers. He smiled benevolently, like a father looking down upon his only child, and handed me a package wrapped in gold beaten thin to the point where you could see through it. I didn't have to sign, because the driver could see within my heart, and knew that I was pure. Upon opening the package, an angelic choir started to sing, and reached a crescendo as I laid this cable on my stereo system. Instantly, my antiquated equipment transformed into components made from the clearest diamond-semiconductor. The cable knew where to go, and hooked itself into the correct ports without help from me - all the while, the choir sang praises to the almighty digital god. With trepidation, I pushed "play," and was instantly enveloped in a sound that echoed the creation of all matter, a sound that vibrated every cell in my body to perfection. I was instantly taken to the next plane, where I saw the all-father. I knew with my entire soul, that all was good in the world.

But then I realized the cable was blue, so I only gave it one star. I hate blue.

A caution to people buying these: if you do not follow the "directional markings" on the cables, your music will play backwards.

I was slightly disappointed to find that the copper was not properly treated. Firstly, it was not wound in a gradually tightening reverse geometric arrangement in the shape of a chrysanthemum's petal. Secondly, the copper was not saturated in breast milk. The lack of breast milk caused the sound transmitted to be harsh and brittle. Tuscan Whole Milk is an acceptable alternative to breast milk, but Denon failed to include that as well. Lastly, the normal insulation used in high quality cables is normally Condor foreskins that are stretched out and stitched together using pure carbon fiber. The foreskins create a semi-permeable membrane that allows the white noise produced by the Earth's core and the rotation of the Sun to diffuse out of the cable, but not in. It is imperative that the foreskin membrane is bombarded by an alternating succession of Cadmium 2+ ions followed by isotopes of Strontium in a repeating fashion for 17 hours. If there is any deviation from this pattern, the foreskins are ruined and the cable is worthless. Judging by the sound quality of the AKDL1, the insulation is made using the foreskin of a lesser bird than the condor and is not subjected to the atom bombardment.

In a pinch, I used this cable to channel the spirits of some deceased musicians but I don't recommend that because they're usually all tripped out on something and they just want to sit and stare at blacklight posters. And if you're able to summon Jimi Hendrix with this cable, whatever you do, DON'T mention Sears. It's a very sore subject.

There are many more reviews at the link. Very funny indeed! Thanks for the link, Keads.


Fame certainly hasn't gone to their heads!

Back in March I reported on the Fisherman's Friends, a singing group made up of Cornish fishermen who perform traditional sea shanties. They'd been 'discovered' by a recording executive, and had just signed a contract to produce an album.

It seems their album's become a smash hit in England. They're booked to perform at this year's Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts; Ealing Studios wants to make a film about them; and someone wants to write a book about them. The beauty of it is, this sudden fame hasn't gone to their heads at all. In a very funny interview, Petronella Wyatt of the Daily Mail found that they hadn't changed at all. Here's an excerpt.

Where is my lobster?' demands Jeremy Brown, lead singer with Britain's hottest new pop act. 'It's on the floor,' I reply, pointing. 'It crawled out of the basket.'

'Well, go and catch it,' he retorts heatedly.

Sadly, we are not in some swanky London restaurant frequented by the decadent glitterati, sipping champagne before our seafood platter arrives. Jeremy catches his seafood platter by hand - every day of the week except Sundays.

We are on his fishing boat, the Free Spirit II, navigating the choppy emerald seas off Cornwall. The wind is stinging and I have just been nipped by a crustacean. My job is to measure the lobsters to determine if they are large enough to sell and then put rubber bands round their claws.

Frankly, this is not my idea of being a groupie. But then Jeremy's ten-strong group, The Fisherman's Friends, is not your average boy band. For a start, they have a combined age of 562. Some of their songs, which are traditional sea shanties, are even older than they are.

They may have just signed a £1 million record deal with the company that brought us Abba and U2, been on prime time television on three continents and have netted the best slot at the Glastonbury Festival this summer, but fame, it appears, has yet to spoil these old salts.

The group, whose members are aged between 46 and 76, consists of Jeremy, his brothers John and Julian, Chris Scott, Trevor Grills, Nigel Sherratt, John Lethbridge, Jon Cleave, John McDonnell and Peter Rowe.

All are Cornish born and bred and live and work in the thimble-sized village of Port Isaac. Three are fishermen, five past and present members of the local lifeboat crew, and one an ex-coastguard and the ex-harbourmaster. Jon Cleave runs a village shop called The Boathouse, which sells nautical clothing, and Nigel Sherratt has an icecream-coloured tearoom, Cupcakes.

There doesn't seem much chance for louche living - if The Fisherman's Friends keep odd hours it's because of the fish. The Brown brothers put out to sea at dawn; just when most pop stars are falling into a stupor.

Yet, to the group's collective astonishment, Ealing Studios in West London has just announced its intention to make a film about them, and Jon has just been informed that their lives are to be the subject of a book.

'Dunno why,' he says, scratching his balding pate and hugging a beer. 'I ain't taken no drugs.'

The Fisherman's Friends, who began singing together for fun 15 years ago on the harbour slipway and inside the nearby Slipway Hotel, seem not to have read the rock 'n' roll rule book. As far as this lot are concerned, boy bands are the metal bits that secure those things that bob on the sea, and a groupie is the plural of a grouper.

. . .

Trevor and Peter, who is a sprightly 76, have wandered down to the Slipway Hotel to join Jon for a pint. I ask them what it feels like to be millionaires? They all guffaw. Trevor tells me: 'The record deal was a really nice surprise but we don't want to change our lives.'

So far, after studio and recording costs, marketing and distribution bills, they have only seen thousands apiece. Jeremy says: 'If this thing goes ballistic we might get to be millionaires. But my wife isn't getting any diamonds. No way. She'll keep on running our lobster and crab stall.'

Jon, who has a splendid, whiskery moustache and looks like Terry Thomas's older brother, insists: 'I haven't been splashing out, either. I've got a wife and three sons. They'd kill me if I bought a Porsche or a case of champagne.

'Seriously, the things that go with money might destroy my life here and I would hate that. I'm a simple Cornishman.'

But wouldn't they even like holiday houses abroad? Trevor chokes into his beer. 'What would I be doing with abroad? When they made us go to London for the CD it was bad enough.'

. . .

Trevor's niece, Rachel Grills, who works in the Slipway Hotel, said she fell off her chair when she heard her uncle was going to be a pop star. 'We were really pleased, but really surprised. None of them will move away. Anyway, we wouldn't let them.'

Is the hotel mobbed by screaming girls? I ask. 'They're a bit old for that,' grins Sue from the Stowaway Tea Shoppe. 'It's not like they will go off and chase girls.'

Peter demurs. 'Why shouldn't I chase girls?' The others make a sound like an explosion. 'You know what he's doing at the moment?' whispers Trevor. 'Trying to make a topiary anchor for his garden!'

I leave them to their beers and trudge off with Jeremy, who is anxious to replenish his seafood stall. 'How are your sea legs?' he asks.

'I haven't asked them lately,' I reply.

Jeremy grimaces and hauls me aboard his boat. 'Quite calm today,' he says, looking at some enormous waves.

'Don't worry. If I'm wearing my lifejacket, it's time to get worried. My dad was a fisherman and I have been a fisherman since I left school.

'I would never give it up. My son has his eye on my boat, but he won't get it.'

During the lobster season, Jeremy catches around 450 crustacea a day, which he sells for £22 per pound.

'The price has gone down because of the recession,' he complains, throwing me a pair of waterproof dungarees in a foul shade of yellow.

'Let's get to work, then. Found your sea legs yet?'

The boat hits a wave and I feel queasy. 'They may be in my hotel bedroom. Can we go back?'

Jeremy assures me briskly: 'You'll be fine. Just don't catch your foot in that rope you just stepped on. It'll drag you out to sea and you'll probably die.'

I start thinking I was wrong about The Fisherman's Friends. A day with them is more dangerous than a night with Pete Doherty.

. . .

Our thoughts return briefly to their pop careers. Do they often feel out of place in this unfamiliar new world?

'Well, when they photographed us for the album cover some of the lads were worried they'd be dressed up as mermaids,' Trevor remarks happily. 'I guess you could call us odd.'

Jon and Peter chorus: 'And we don't want to go to Glastonbury. We don't want to go anywhere.'

'Are they going to give us drugs?' Peter asks me anxiously.

In some ways The Fisherman's Friends are a publicist's nightmare. But in this world of phoney chicanery and manufactured pop stars, this buoy band, to me at least, is an absolute dream.

There's more at the link. It's often laugh-out-loud funny, and very refreshing reading. Highly recommended.

For those who want to know what they sound like, here's the first of a three-part series of video clips of a live 'concert' given by the Fisherman's Friends at Port Isaac last year.

If you liked the first part, Parts Two and Three are at the links.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Captivating music

I owe my friend Jenny a big debt of thanks for posting this music video on her blog a couple of days ago. It's "Roots" by the English folk song duo Show Of Hands.

Captivating, isn't it? I'd never heard of Show Of Hands before, so I started looking around the Internet. I found their Web site, which lists many albums they've produced together over the past decade or more.

They feature modern compositions as well as old favorites, with an emphasis on English themes and settings. There are many of their videos on YouTube. Click on the link for a list.

Here are three more clips. The first is from their DVD 'Stairway to Devon' (groan!), the duo speaking about their music, interspersed with short excerpts from some of their songs.

Next is their song 'Country Life'.

Finally, they're joined by Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals to sing their 'Tall Ships Medley'.

I have to conclude by saying that Jenny, to whom we owe our introduction to Show Of Hands, is a musician in her own right. She's also one of the most interesting people I know. More than once, she's broken free of past chains and attachments and set out to re-make her life, following her dreams and abandoning the security to which so many of us cling. She's a lady I'm proud to call my friend. Jenny, you rock!


Women and potential sexual violence - one perspective

Via Elmyra, I was directed to a guest article on the Shapely Prose blog entitled 'Schrödinger's Rapist: or a guy's guide to approaching strange women without getting maced'. Here's an excerpt.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

There's a lot more at the link.

I'm in two minds about this article. As a former prison chaplain, I've met many rapists behind bars, and understand the threat they pose to women. As a retired pastor, I've had to counsel the victims of sexual violence, both in terms of overt rape and in the rather murkier, less clear-cut areas of date rape and marital violence. I can (and do) understand the fears of many women in this area.

On the other hand, I'm not an American. My formative years were spent in a colonial culture in Africa. At that time, and in that place, the sort of violence against women depicted by the author of this article was - at the very least - at a significantly lower level. I can't recall the 'threat' against women being anything like as bad as the author depicts. I honestly don't know whether or not her depiction of the situation in American society is accurate.

So, I thought I'd turn to my readers. What do you say? Is her depiction, both in the extract above and in the full article, a fair and realistic description of the dangers women face in modern social interaction? Is the incidence of strangers approaching women in public as frequent as she appears to indicate? Is her attitude realistic, or paranoid?

I'd be grateful for your responses in Comments, please. They'll help me to adjust my attitudes in counseling situations, where necessary.


In the event of nuclear meltdown . . .

. . . salvation is at hand! offers for sale the "3M Performance Plus 8979N Nuclear Grade 48-Millimeter-by-54.8-Meter Duct Tape", in a charming shade of Slate Blue. The product is described as follows:

The 3M ... nuclear duct tape is designed for permanent and temporary use and can be applied both indoors and outdoors. It offers clean removal with little or no adhesive residue from most opaque surfaces up to six months after application. The slate blue color makes it ideal for use in nuclear tape facilities and it is certified for low leachable halogens and sulfur. It also provides sunlight and UV resistance for up to one year without the backing deteriorating or delaminating. This product is especially ideal for applications in the shipbuilding, nuclear power plant and stainless steel industries.

The best thing about the product listing is the customer reviews. Here are a few to whet your appetite.

"When we found cracks in the containment structure, we used to have to shut the whole plant down; then there was a lot of hassle with the nuclear regulatory agency about structural integrity and environmental contamination. With this quality duct tape, that's all in the past. Now, when we see a cracked or crumbling wall, we just bring out the tape. The slate blue blends right in. I do recommend that you use use double layers for openings near the reactor core."

"After a long night of beer and hot wings, I decided to overnight this tape to my house, as I knew what was going to happen.

After the epic birthing of a giant brown monster, I used 3M's performance plus nuclear tape to seal around the bathroom's door into the bedroom. To my surprise, my wife and children never did smell what I had to endure.

After 5 months, 29 days, I removed the tape, and I was happy to find no sticky residue left on the door frame."

"As I do most Sundays, I was working in the back yard on the grill. Because the dude next door is an Al Qaeda operative and he doesn't lock his shed, I figured, hey, what the hell, let's beef up the grill with some bomb grade plutonium. Because I didn't have anything handy to hold it in place, I stuck it down with this 3M nuclear duct tape. After all, I don't want my burgers exposed directly to radiation!

That seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I threw a steak on the grill, not only was the steak cooked way too quickly, but the gamma rays jumped right through the tape and caused the steak to start glowing. It also tasted funny, so I can't say I recommend this product at all!"

"It is with the profoundest regret that I report that the Nuclear Grade duct tape does not . . . and I mean definitely not . . . eliminate the seepage of the unique form of energy created by cold fusion.

The languorous but potent Sigma waves emanated by cold fusion have escaped slowly but inevitably from our hitherto secret research facility. They have begun with a grim, inescapable determination to deactivate the electromagnetic bonds that unite all matter in the universe.

In short, the Mayan calendar should be taken very, very seriously.

Our staff has already dismantled the containment chamber from our facility, discarded the Nuclear Grade duct tape, and sold the magnesium-titanium-kryptonite intercorbite dicrumupulator tubing to a scrap dealer and used the proceeds for a case of 18-year old Scotch.

In the face of this impending universal catastrophe, we recommend not only to the human race but also to any other sentient creatures in the universe to follow our example with the utmost expedition.

If they're out of 18-year old Scotch, just do what you must do."

There are many more at the link. Laugh-out-loud funny! If you feel so inclined, leave a comment of your own while you're there, to add to the merriment.


Another unique Channel crossing

Back in April 2008, I mentioned the strange (and sad) story of Fr. Adelir Antonio de Carli, a Brazilian priest who tried to make a record long-distance flight suspended beneath a cluster of small helium-filled balloons. Unfortunately, the winds changed and carried him out into the Atlantic Ocean, where he disappeared from sight. His body was later found, floating in the sea. His mishap earned him first place in the Darwin Awards for 2008.

It seems Fr. de Carli wasn't alone in his fascination for floating along beneath a cloud of multi-colored balloons. An American balloonist, Jonathan Trappe, has just crossed the English Channel using a similar conveyance. The Daily Mail reports:

... yesterday, Mr Trappe took along just a wicker chair - albeit one kitted out with radio communication, satellite navigation, oxygen masks and an emergency beacon.

The 36-year-old dangled beneath 54 balloons for more than four hours to complete the 22-mile journey, taking off from Ashford in Kent and landing near Dunkirk in northern France.

... he was forced to crash land in a cabbage patch after the wind blew him off course, to the bemusement of French gendarmes.

Mr Trappe, a trained pilot, said: 'The flight was outstanding, but it was a hell of a landing. I'm tremendously proud. It's an outstanding thing to do.

'Right over the white cliffs of Dover in complete silence. It was tremendously peaceful, tremendously beautiful.'

The American reached a top height of 7,500ft and travelled at up to 25mph before descending by cutting away some of the balloons tied to his chair.

French police said they were 'surprised' by Mr Trappe's unorthodox arrival, but he avoided arrest after producing authorisation to land in the country.

Mr Trappe said the journey had fulfilled a childhood dream, adding: 'I think it's something that's shared across cultures and across borders.

'Just this wonderful fantasy of grabbing on to toy balloons and floating into open space.'

Mr Trappe is the first 'cluster balloonist' to successfully cross the Channel, a 22-mile journey from Dover to Calais.

He set off from the Kent Gliding Club in Challock, near Ashford, shortly after 5am and took about an hour to drift the 10 miles to the coast.

He then spent almost two hours soaring over the Channel and floated over northern France before reaching Dunkirk.

Unfortunately, the wind carried him off his intended route, and he was forced to make a crash-landing to avoid flying into restricted airspace, a no-fly zone between Dunkirk and the border with Belgium.

He descended by cutting away some of the eight-foot helium balloons which were tied to his chair.

Mr Trappe was greeted by his girlfriend Nidia Ramirez, 30, who waved him off in Kent and then caught a Eurostar train to race under the Channel, while her boyfriend floated over it.

Last month he claimed a new world record for the longest free-floating cluster balloon flight, when he travelled 109 miles across his home state of North Carolina in 14 hours.

During another flight, he claims to have ascended to almost 18,000ft.

There's more at the link.

Here's a brief video clip of Mr. Trappe floating over the English coast on his way out across the Channel.

Congratulations to him on a 'first' . . . and on not following Fr. de Carli's unfortunate example!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Waxing enthusiastic!

Ozzy Osbourne, rock music veteran extraordinaire, is promoting his new album, 'Scream'. To publicize it, he went along to Madame Tussauds waxwork museum in New York and took the place of his wax figure there. The resulting high jinks were filmed for posterity.

LANGUAGE ALERT: Ozzy's not known for mincing his words, and there are a few profanities here and there.


The 'little ships' get under way

A couple of days ago I wrote about the 70th anniversary celebrations of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, resulting in the rescue of most of the British Army in the face of certain destruction at the hands of the advancing German Wehrmacht.

The commemoration is in full swing at present. This morning a flotilla of surviving 'little ships' set off from Ramsgate to Dunkirk. Here's a news report.

A couple of days earlier, a reception was held for survivors of the 1940 evacuation. Here's coverage from British Forces News.

Congratulations to all involved, particularly the surviving men and ships from 1940. We have not forgotten, and do not forget you.


The economy: Little light amid the gloom

A few days ago I posted about the state of the economy. Two recent articles in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, add emphasis to what I said there.

The first talks about the economic situation facing European nations.

Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governor, summed it up best: "Dealing with a banking crisis was difficult enough," he said the other week, "but at least there were public-sector balance sheets on to which the problems could be moved. Once you move into sovereign debt, there is no answer; there's no backstop."

In other words, were this a computer game, the politicians would be down to their last life. Any mistake now and it really is Game Over. Or to pick a slightly more traditional game, it is rather like a session of pass-the-parcel which is fast approaching the end of the line.

The European financial crisis may look and smell rather different to the American banking crisis of a couple of years ago, but strip away the details – the breakdown of the euro, the crumbling of the Spanish banking system to take just two – and what you are left with is the next leg of a global financial crisis. Politicians temporarily "solved" the sub-prime crisis of 2007 and 2008 by nationalising billions of pounds' worth of bank debt. While this helped reinject a little confidence into markets, the real upshot was merely to transfer that debt on to public-sector balance sheets.

. . .

The problem is that this has to stop somewhere, and that gasping noise over the past couple of weeks is the sound of millions of investors realising, all at once, that the music might have stopped. Having leapt back into the market in 2009 and fuelled the biggest stock-market leap since the recovery from the Wall Street Crash in the early 1930s, investors have suddenly deserted. London's FTSE 100 has lost 15 per cent of its value in little more than a month. The mayhem on European bourses is even worse, while on Wall Street the Dow Jones teeters on the brink of the talismanic 10,000 level.

Whatever yardstick you care to choose – share-price moves, the rates at which banks lend to each other, measures of volatility – we are now in a similar position to 2008.

Europe's problem is that the unfortunate game of pass-the-parcel came at just the wrong moment. It resulted in a hefty extra amount of debt being lumped on to its member states' balance sheets when they were least-equipped to deal with it.

Europe was always heading for a crunch. For years, the German and Dutch economies pulled in one direction (high saving, low spending) while the Club Med bloc – Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy (and their Celtic outpost Ireland) – pulled in the other. At some point, there was always going to be a problem, given that these two economic blocs were yoked together in the same currency, controlled by the same central bank. By triggering the global recession and shovelling an unexpected load of debt on to Greece's balance sheet, the financial crisis has effectively smoked out the European folly.

The Club Med nations – and in many senses Britain – were not so different to sub-prime households: they borrowed cheap in order to raise their standards of living, ignoring the question of whether they could afford to take on so much debt. But, as King points out, sub-prime households – and the banks that lent to them – can usually be bailed out. The International Monetary Fund simply does not have enough cash to bail out a major economy like Spain, Italy or, heaven forfend, Britain. So, again, we find ourselves in unknown territory.

There are plenty of episodes in history when countries have been as indebted as they are now, but they are all associated with periods of war. History shows that when nations reach as high a level of indebtedness as Greece, and have as few prospects of growth, they will almost certainly default. Indeed, the IMF, which has pretty good experience of fiscal crises, privately recommended that Greece restructure its debt (a kind of soft default, renegotiating payment terms). It was refused point-blank by the European authorities.

To understand why, step back for a moment. It is fashionable to compare the current situation to the Lehman Brothers collapse, but that understates its severity. The sub-prime property market in the US, together with its slightly less toxic relatives, represented a $2 trillion mound of debt. The combined public and private debt of the most troubled European countries – Greece, Portugal, Spain and so on – is closer to $9 trillion.

Moreover, whereas the pain from sub-prime was spread out relatively widely, with investors hailing from both sides of the Atlantic, the owners of the suspect European debt tend almost exclusively to be, gulp, Europeans. No one is suggesting all of this debt will go bad, but the European policymakers fear that the merest hint that Greece might default would spark a chain reaction that would cause a more profound crisis than in 2008.

The problem is not merely that holders of Greek government debt would dump their investments, or even that they would ditch their Spanish and Portuguese bonds while they were at it. It is that government debt is the very bedrock of the financial system: should Greek government bonds collapse, the country's banking system would become insolvent overnight. In fact, banks throughout the euro area would be at risk, given that they tend to hold so much of their neighbours' government debt. That, at least, is the theory, but as was the case in the aftermath of Lehman's collapse, no one really knows how great their exposure is.

The other, more cynical, explanation for Brussels' refusal to countenance default is that it fears that this would fatally destabilise the euro project itself – which of course it would. But as the politicians are discovering, organising a European sovereign bail-out is far, far more difficult than rescuing a bank.

There's more at the link.

The second article examines the US money supply, and the implications of its present precipitate decline. (For those interested, Wikipedia has a good article explaining money supply and the various measurements thereof.)

The M3 money supply in the United States is contracting at an accelerating rate that now matches the average decline seen from 1929 to 1933, despite near zero interest rates and the biggest fiscal blitz in history.

The M3 figures - which include broad range of bank accounts and are tracked by British and European monetarists for warning signals about the direction of the US economy a year or so in advance - began shrinking last summer. The pace has since quickened.

The stock of money fell from $14.2 trillion to $13.9 trillion in the three months to April, amounting to an annual rate of contraction of 9.6pc. The assets of insitutional money market funds fell at a 37pc rate, the sharpest drop ever.

"It’s frightening," said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. "The plunge in M3 has no precedent since the Great Depression. The dominant reason for this is that regulators across the world are pressing banks to raise capital asset ratios and to shrink their risk assets. This is why the US is not recovering properly," he said.

The US authorities have an entirely different explanation for the failure of stimulus measures to gain full traction. They are opting instead for yet further doses of Keynesian spending, despite warnings from the IMF that the gross public debt of the US will reach 97pc of GDP next year and 110pc by 2015.

Larry Summers, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, has asked Congress to "grit its teeth" and approve a fresh fiscal boost of $200bn to keep growth on track. "We are nearly 8m jobs short of normal employment. For millions of Americans the economic emergency grinds on," he said.

David Rosenberg from Gluskin Sheff said the White House appears to have reversed course just weeks after Mr Obama vowed to rein in a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion (9.4pc of GDP) this year and set up a commission to target cuts. "You truly cannot make this stuff up. The US governnment is freaked out about the prospect of a double-dip," he said.

The White House request is a tacit admission that the economy is already losing thrust and may stall later this year as stimulus from the original $800bn package starts to fade.

. . .

Mr Summers acknowledged in a speech this week that the eurozone crisis had shone a spotlight on the dangers of spiralling public debt. He said deficit spending delays the day of reckoning and leaves the US at the mercy of foreign creditors. Ultimately, "failure begets failure" in fiscal policy as the logic of compound interest does its worst.

. . .

Mr Congdon said the Obama policy risks repeating the strategic errors of Japan, which pushed debt to dangerously high levels with one fiscal boost after another during its Lost Decade, instead of resorting to full-blown "Friedmanite" monetary stimulus.

"Fiscal policy does not work. The US has just tried the biggest fiscal experiment in history and it has failed. What matters is the quantity of money and in extremis that can be increased easily by quantititave easing. If the Fed doesn’t act, a double-dip recession is a virtual certainty," he said.

Mr Congdon said the dominant voices in US policy-making - Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, as well as Mr Summers and Fed chair Ben Bernanke - are all Keynesians of different stripes who "despise traditional monetary theory and have a religious aversion to any mention of the quantity of money". The great opus by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz - The Monetary History of the United States - has been left to gather dust.

Mr Bernanke no longer pays attention to the M3 data. The bank stopped publishing the data five years ago, deeming it too erratic to be of much use.

This may have been a serious error since double-digit growth of M3 during the US housing bubble gave clear warnings that the boom was out of control. The sudden slowdown in M3 in early to mid-2008 - just as the Fed talked of raising rates - gave a second warning that the economy was about to go into a nosedive.

Mr Bernanke built his academic reputation on the study of the credit mechanism. This model offers a radically different theory for how the financial system works. While so-called "creditism" has become the new orthodoxy in US central banking, it has not yet been tested over time and may yet prove to be a misadventure.

Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics said the decline in M3 is worrying and points to a growing risk of deflation. "Core inflation is already the lowest since 1966, so we don’t have much margin for error here. Deflation becomes a threat if it goes on long enough to become entrenched," he said.

Again, there's more at the link.

These articles, and other links I provided in my earlier article, illustrate the ongoing nature of the economic crisis. Indeed, as the Telegraph points out in a third article, the science of economics is itself in crisis, with most so-called 'authorities' in the field caught flat-footed by events.

Don't believe anyone who tells you things are getting better, or are about to do so. There's far too much residue left over from the flawed, failed policies of the past. Most particularly, our politicians (who largely caused the present crisis through their abdication of responsibility and pandering to special interests) simply won't do anything that will address the true causes of the problem, for fear of alienating the voters they depend upon to re-elect them. Far too many of the voters of America will rebel if informed that their welfare and/or Social Security and/or Medicare entitlements will have to be drastically cut back, because there's simply no money available to pay for them. Therefore, the politicians go on letting the problems get worse . . . because most of them (from any and all parties) are spineless jellyfish, pustulent carbuncles on the body politic, who'll do whatever it takes to get re-elected - even if that means allowing the entire US economy to self-destruct.

We're a long way from turning the corner.


On finding the perfect woman

A tip o' the hat to Oleg for sending me the link to this short piece by Crasch.

One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea and talking about life and love. His friend asked: 'How come you never married?'

'Well,' said Nasruddin, 'to tell you the truth, I spend my youth looking for the perfect woman.

'In Cairo I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, but she was unkind.

'Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no common interests.

'One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing.

'Then one day, I met her; beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had very much in common. In fact, she was perfect!'

'So, what happened?' asked Nasruddin's friend. 'Why didn't you marry her?'

Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. 'Well,' he replied, 'it's really the sad story of my life ... It seemed that she was looking for the perfect man ... '


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I suppose we could call this the "Traffic dance"!

This remarkable exhibition of fast footwork is from Russia.

That guy's got a future on the Russian version of Dancing With The Stars, if you ask me!


Doofus Of The Day #356

Today's Doofi come from Germany.

Bungling German robbers ended up blowing a bank sky-high when they miscalculated the amount of explosives they would need to open up a cash machine.

The early morning blast at the Volksbank in Malliss, north of Berlin, left the building in ruins and destroyed windows, doors and facades of other structures for 500 yards around.

When police and firemen combed through the smoking ruins hours later they found both the safe and the cash machine in the lobby intact.

The gang had come prepared to take away the cash dispensing machine with a low-loading truck.

But they abandoned after the 2am blast on Tuesday caused the vehicle to catch fire when splinters of hot metal hit its fuel tank.

A local police spokesman said: 'They really botched this one. We are just so lucky at the timing and the fact that no-one lived in this largely commercial area.

'Initial examinations indicate a gas bomb of approximately ten times the amount of power needed to open up the cash machine.

'As it was they brought the roof down upon it, thus preventing them from getting to it or stealing money from it.'

There's more at the link.

Hmm . . . not only blowing up their target so thoroughly that they couldn't reach the money, but setting their own getaway vehicle on fire into the bargain? Clearly they haven't read Schlock Mercenary's "The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Pirates". Rule 1: Pillage, then burn!


More about that weird motorway accident

Back in March, I reported on the strange incident in England where a Renault Clio was pushed for some miles beneath the front bumper of a large truck. The driver of the truck apparently wasn't aware of the car's presence! If you missed the original report, here's a video clip taken from another car on the same road.

The driver has just been found innocent of any blame. The Daily Mail reports:

Yesterday, the driver of the tanker, John Tomlinson, appeared before a tribunal, faced with being stripped of his heavy goods vehicle licence over the incident.

But as well as being cleared of any wrongdoing he was praised for his handling of the near-disaster after a police report found that Mrs Williams had been to blame.

The accident happened in January on the A1 near Leeds but was only investigated after dramatic footage was published on the internet showing the Renault Clio wedged against the front of the tanker as it sped down the fast lane.

At the time, Mrs Williams, 31, told the Daily Mail she had no idea how the lorry had hit her car as she was ‘tootling’ along to work.

She insisted she had not deviated from her path when she ‘felt a knock’ and found herself trapped under the truck’s bumper.

. . .

Mr Tomlinson was completely unaware of her presence until another driver flagged him down.

He pulled on to the hard shoulder where Mrs Williams, a vet from York, escaped shocked but unharmed. Her £6,000 car sustained only a dented side and worn tyres.

When the footage emerged on YouTube in March, it attracted millions of viewers and prompted the police to relaunch their inquiries into the incident.

During the investigation, Mr Tomlinson was suspended from his job delivering loads of silica sand for Cheshire-based Arclid Transport.

Yesterday, he appeared before North West Traffic Commissioner Beverley Bell, who was told police had concluded that Mrs Williams had pulled out in front of him from the left in an ‘ill-advised’ manoeuvre.

Tests had confirmed he could not have seen or heard the car wedged in front of his cab, and the hearing praised his actions.

Exonerating him, Miss Bell concluded: ‘You showed, in my view, coolness and a clear head.

‘I feel it is entirely inappropriate for me to take away your licence. You, your employers and the haulage industry should be able to hold your heads up high after this incident.’

. . .

Additional mirrors fitted to new lorries are meant to eliminate the blind spot which meant the Clio couldn’t be seen. Arclid has now installed these on its fleet.

There's more at the link.

I must confess, I still can't quite figure out how a truck-driver could not be aware that he was pushing a bloody great car in front of his vehicle . . . but I've never driven a large truck (only the 3-ton and 10-ton varieties found in the military), so I'm not in a position to judge. I'm glad that the inquiry has established the facts.


Random interesting factoid

I remember the James Bond movie Octopussy, released in 1983. The leading lady's residence was a palace on an island in a lake, and I recall wondering how the set had been constructed. I learned today that it wasn't a movie set at all, but a real place: the Lake Palace on Lake Pichola in India. It's been renovated into a hotel.

According to the hotel's Web site:

Conceived in romance, the palace was built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar – believed to be descendants of the Sun God. Set against the backdrop of the majestic Aravalli Mountains on one side of the lake, and lofty palaces on the other, the Taj Lake Palace spreads across a four-acre island – an almost surreal vision in marble.

I'm not surprised to learn from Wikipedia that "The Maharana, ruler of Jaipur from 1628 to 1654, was very friendly with Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and encouraged his craftsmen to copy some of the glories of his incomparable buildings at Agra." The influence of one of those buildings, the world-famous Taj Mahal, is evident in some of the architecture of the Lake Palace.

I'm glad I found those links and pictures. It's nice to put the film set into its historical perspective. If I ever visit India, I'm going to have to go there, I think.