Monday, 31 January 2011

French wild flower botanical drawings

Drawings by Tessa Bennett.

Drawings of French wild flowers  picked in French hedgerows. 
1. Germander Speedwell.
2. Cuckoo flower.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Egypt ......a child's view


Map of Ancient Egypt and their Gods drawn and painted by a young child.
The approximately 79 million people of Egypt live mainly by the Nile,- the c40,000 square kilometres where the only arable land is found. Half of Egypt's residents live in urban areas, in the densely populated centres of Cairo, Alexandria, and the other major cities of the Nile Delta. Egypt is now one of the most highly developed and diversified countries in the Middle East with tourism, agriculture, industry, and science.
For more than 3,-000 years the independent city-states along the river Nile united to form one long thin country ruled by one King, or Pharaoh. The Old Kingdom period was famous for its pyramids,and for 30 centuries Egypt remained the foremost nation in the Mediterranean world, but in 332BC when Alexander arrived he heralded the end of the Egyptian way of life. The unique Egyptian culture then became buried between successive layers of Greek, Roman, and Arabic tradition, and all knowledge of Egypt's past was lost.  Only the magnificent stone monuments with their unreadable hieroglyphic texts survive as silent witnesses to a long-lost civilisation, and  to the present day thousands of people are drawn to the study of these, their beauty, skill, and mystery, and to the indefinable feeling that the Ancient Egyptians perhaps lived then the near-perfect life.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Corsets, the squeezed middle.

When politicians talk about the 'squeezed middle' they refer, inadvertantly , to the corset.   
Corsets  first became fashionable in the 16th century when they were called "payre of bodies".  Stays,  (the later word), were worn then with a farthingale that held the skirt out in a stiff cone so that with the help of the stays the  upper torso was turned into a matching  cone. 
By the mid 16th century stays  were commonly used, made of linen with wooden shafts inserted into a pocket at the front,  they remained more or less in the same format until the 1860s. 
In the 18th century stays predominantly took the form of an inverted conical shape, their primary purpose being to raise and shape the breasts, tighten the midriff, and support the back. 
During the early 19th century  stays became much less constricting with the advent of the high waisted Empire style in c1796. By the 1830s the corset reappeared serving the dual purpose of supporting the breasts and narrowing the waist, and for the first time the word corset was used.  The exaggerated shoulders and skirts of the 1830s made the waist look narrow , so when they disappeared in Victorian times the waist had to be cinched tighter, and the fashionable silhouette became the - hourglass figure. From then on the corset became exaggeratedly curvaceous. (See examples in the illustrations).  
The "corset controversy" or the "corset question"argued that  the wearing of corsets was harmful to health, and  prompted vanity and foolishness. This controversy raged over the decades, featuring in The Times, The Scotsman, etc,  and newspapers in America including   The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The Washington Post etc. 
Women over the centuries seem to feel obliged to exaggerate or diminish their natural attributes,  supposedly to their advantage.  They are generally mistaken!  So much for the squeezed middle!


Friday, 28 January 2011

Indian paintings on mica, c1850.

Indian paintings on mica were mainly produced in the mid 19th century, they were made in sets for tourists imitating paintings on glass.
This series depicts trades people etc.,  other popular subjects were Hindu Gods and Goddesses, religious events, and flora and fauna.
Mica is a transparent mineral  that can be easily split into thin sheets,  and is found widely throughout Southern India, and  because the paint was applied in thick layers, (due to smooth surface and lack of key on the mica),  the paintings  retain their wonderful bright and beautiful  colours.
 (1) A Faquir and his wife.
(2) A Snake Charmer and his wife.
(3) Late Rajah of ?Tangira and his wife.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Male Fashion, when men were men? 1941


The 2nd World War was well underway when this French fashion plate of 1941 showing 2 men in their holiday outfits was drawn. They look  blithely unaware! 
Suave in a white tailored jacket with diagonally striped tie,  matching hankie  in top pocket,  banded  panama,   white suede shoes and  navy wide bottomed trousers, one man holds his cigarette nonchalantly as he poses on holiday,  probably in a fashionable resort in the  South of France.
The other sports a short sleeved linen safari jacket, fluffed up neckerchief, shorts and a pair of white open sandals. He nonchalantly cradles a pipe in his right hand.
These men obviously think they look the part!

When women were women? 1944.


Just after the 2nd World War womens clothes  showed a masculine influence with huge tailored shoulders, sensible shoes and bags, sober colours and rather extravagant turban-like hats. Hair was generally swept up into a high roll at the front. There wasn't a lot of fabric available in 1944,  but there is already a sign of the  circular skirt with the tiny waist that was to become the signature note of the 1950s. In 1944 women are looking sensible  independent and practical.

Monday, 24 January 2011

GM foods. We are being softened up!

Sir John Beddington the governments chief scientific adviser is using the possible future global  hunger crisis to push  genetically modified foods.  He, on behalf of some of the fiercest lobbyists in the world,  is softening us up.
"GM crops could feed the world", "GM foods  are as safe as their non-GM counterparts and pose no additional risk to the consumer", "the general public should drop the term 'frankenstein foods', and embrace the technology." These  are some of the weasel words used by the pro GM lobby.
GM foods are derived from genetically modified organisms, and involve the insertion or deletion of genes. The first commercially grown GM crop was the tomato, modified to ripen without softening, this was developed by Calgene, later a subsiduary of Monsanto.
95% of GM crops are grown in N.America with rapid expansion of cotton varieties in India,  in Brazil, also in China, Paraguay, South Africa, and Argentina.  Monsanto is currently involved with US Supreme Court re 'roundup ready alfalfa', other court cases involve their pesticide - resistant sugar beets.
There is more than enough food in the world, the hunger crisis is caused by problems in food distribution and politics, not production. Vandana Shiva  founder of Nardanya a group that  represents the seed keepers and organic farmers in India is totally against the use of genetically modified crops, and several countries including Zambia, Venezuala, and Hungary have banned use of GM crops,  and the importation of GM rice to Europe has been stopped. India is holding a moratorium on cultivation of GM and France have banned Monsanto's MON-810 corn and similar modified crops.
The US have attempted to retaliate against France and the European Union for their decisions.
The health risks of eating GM foods is almost entirely unknown  although already some dangers have been noted. Danger to wild life,  birds, and  butterflies could be serious, and certain weeds may become uncontrollable.  Serious difficulties are experienced by organic farmers, and the fact that GM seed is subject to licensing  prevents farmers from sowing their own seed because the intellectual property is owned by the developers (Monsanto).
Beware!     Massive lobbying groups are infiltrating our news media in an effort to  soften us up.  NB.  See:  Caroline Spelman  (DEFRA), her husband Mark Spelman and  his senior position with Accenture,  and previous post - January 4, 2011, on Monsanto.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sell England's Forests + Woods?......NEVER!

Forest - a wood, woodland, wold, weald, holt, frith or firth defines an area with a high density of trees. These are currently run (in the main) by The Forestry Commission, but the Coalition Government are planning to sell them off!
There is great danger in this policy because in private ownership entry would probably be denied to the general public, the preservation of wild life would be uncertain, (this is what happened when Pennygrove Wood, East Sussex was sold off),  private companies would cherry-pick sites for commercial development, and  voluntary groups would be left to look after ancient woodlands without a budget.
Caroline Spelman  (see this link for more information)  The Secretary  State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs is in charge. She has form - bad form. During the expenses debacle she had questions to answer regarding payments for nannying work, -(nannygate), she reportedly over-claimed hundreds of pounds towards her council tax, and received £40.000 for cleaning bills for her consituency home, but was it her main home?    She co-owns Spelman, Cormack and Associates, a lobbying firm for the food and biotechnology industry with her husband. An axe to grind?
To sell the woodlands and forests would be an act of insane vandalism, but once politicians get their teeth sunk into a proposal it is hard to stop them.  No doubt the lobbying Spelmans have their 'friends' waiting in the wings?
The overwhelming public feeling  is against the government's  plans.  Democracy?  What government ever cared about democracy!        To sign 'Save Our Trees' petition  contact
http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/save-our-forests#petition

Friday, 21 January 2011

Ed + Ed, + Gordon? Another Labour disaster.

Ed Milliband  plus Ed Balls , but where is Gordon?!
This gruesome  threesome  ruled government  finances during the New labour  years, and  wrecked them!  No more boom and bust was their watchword.
New Labour  took over a reasonably successful economy from the conservatives then proceeded to 'blouter' money at an alarming rate, mainly diverting funds into the state sector to suit their own voting areas.  They  introduced   a large amount  of privatisation into the NHS,  Gordon Brown espoused the idea of PPPs  (public private partnerships) with great zest, increased the numbers of manager/civil servants at an alarming rate,  ruled over a massive increase in immigration, and a noticeable decrease in the standard of education.
So now the triumvirate are nearly back! It is certain that  in their shared office bully boy Balls will get his way. He is not a pleasant character. Ed Milliband with all his faults, his  uncertainty, his lack of direction, will have a hard fight on his hands if he is to keep the ravenously ambitious Balls (and his scheming 'ladywife') at bay. Cameron and Osborne will have to lift their game v the new shadow chancellor who will be out guns blazing in full bullying attack mode. Will Balls ever apologise for the  calamitous state, with Gordon and Ed Milliband, he got  the country's  finances into?  Not on your life!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Culinary Jottings, cookery for Anglo-Indian Exiles, 1885


A fascinating cookery book by "Wyvern", published  Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay,  fifth edition 1885, first published Madras 1878.
The book covers a gamut of menus  - (Thirty, 'Worked out in Detail'),  also sauces, entrees, pastry, vegetables, curries, mulligatunny, chutneys, camp cookery, dinner parties, etc etc. bound with  a treatise on Sweet Dishes, (1884).
"Wyvern",  the pseudonymous author writes in his introduction how he 'yearns for reform in the study of cookery for English people in India', rather than the cookery of 'our Anglo-Indian forefathers'. He mentions the 'Brillat Savarin at Madras' and their talented coterie, feeling modest in their company, he speaks of 'cosy sociable little dinners from one to ten people rather than the elaborate banquets of the great'.

Above - three 19th century Indian figures.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

For the Great Bustard, great news!

Great news for the magnificent bird, the great bustard! .......and that's not a reference to Boris Johnson!
The EU are making a grant of £1.8 million to the Great Bustard Project based on Salisbury Plain.
These birds were driven to near extinction in UK in the 1800s due to extensive egg collection and hunting, the first chicks being hatched in the wild in 2004 since 1832.
Shaped similarly to a goose, it is larger with longer legs and a straighter neck. With a wingspan of 7 - 8ft, length of 3 - 3.6ft, and weight of 22 - 35 lb, the heaviest known was 46lb. These birds are possibly the heaviest flying animal. Originally from Southern and Central Europe and across temperate Asia they were also native in GB, and are still  part of the design of the Wiltshire Coat of Arms.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

'Apples of Gold', Perth, Scotland, 1910.

Perth and area were one of Scotland's premier apple growing areas particularly between Perth and Dundee  dating back at least 800 years. Old Scots apples were grown with wonderful names like 'Lass o'Gowrie', 'The Tower of Glamis', and the 'Bloody Ploughman'!
Apple growing was a big industry in the 19th century when the estate at Grange, for instance, had more than 10,000 trees of which sadly now only one remains. With the introduction of the ubitquitous 'granny smith', and 'golden delicious', and the rise and rise of supermarkets where fruits have to be sized and of an exact standard these wonderful apple varieties have well nigh disappeared. This little book is a collection of thoughtful quotations collected from the people who lived in the main apple growing area of Scotland, 1910.

                     

                             

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Boris Johnson, .........A BROADSIDE!

Boris Johnson,      Mayor of London.

What a fine figure of a man you are Boris! Your unruly albino hair lives a life of its own, thatching a  classically well educated brain.  You are a one off, a man of  high intelligence with a good turn of phrase, and a quick wit. You are both  likeable, congenial and charismatic, a veritable 'leader of men', a huge shambling 'polar bear' of a man. Probably the best leader the Tories never had?
Here the eulogies have to stop. Your weakness may lie with the opposite sex, your high opinion of yourself perhaps  and  your sexual prowess, - only your female companions will know about that, or perhaps it's just a matter of hubris, all men get too big for their boots after a few months of power, and you now have plenty of that!  You are a mere mortal , like the rest of us Mr. Johnson, and don't forget it.
You probably wear braces (metaphorically speaking) like all men to keep your trousers up under the unkempt ubiquitous grey/navy suit you wear, part of your charm are  your ill fitting clothes though the danger is that they  disguise a ruthless determination beneath.  You make mistakes like all men, and recently you have made a very large one.  You have given the nod to the massive potentially dangerous UKCMRI - (UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation).
This gigantic (and I mean gigantic),  and potentially dangerous laboratory is planned to be built in the Borough of Camden - (planning 'say-so'  passed inexplicably by the once amenable and caring council of Camden).  The building  is far too large for the site, it is planned to have several storeys built underground, and be situated right alongside that magically restored (thanks to John Betjeman) international St Pancras Station, more or less right above 6 very busy underground lines, near thousands of people's homes and within very close distance of the new British Library.
The protests have been vociferous, but to no avail.  Boris Johnson was the last desperate port of call  before  the final go ahead for this monstrosity.  He retains a  tight  sycophantic propaganda machine around him, and one wonders if he actually knows what's going on at all as he whirls from meeting to meeting? The  Greater London Authority website  gave such an over the top glowing report of the Laboratory, does  Boris really know what's going on?
He makes out that his whole life is dedicated to the welfare of London, but in this instance  Boris you have slipped up badly!  You and the Camden Council will be held responsible should there be an accident  affecting the health of the people  from leaked pathogens or from terrorism.
Finally, complete transparency in these serious planning matters is essential. Boris talks of transparency but like most of the mumblings that come out of  politicians' mouths- including his rather well educated one - it's  all 'hot air and bubbles'. Boris, we are beginning to find you out, to discover you are a dangerous wolf in sheep's clothing.
See also:
St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action
Evening Standard article re Laboratory re high security report 
Boris Johnson Mayor of London, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queen's Walk, More London, London, SE1 2AA



Friday, 14 January 2011

French fish, plate, tin, and vase

To continue the 'fish' theme, here is a painting.  Congratulations to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for all his hard work!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Tuna, Tesco looks dodgy.

Hugh F-W continued his programme on Channel 4 about the unsustainable fishing of tuna, and the practice of 'Discard'.
He showed  the difference between line-fishing and fishing for tuna from an enormous ship with gigantic catch-all nets in Ghana.
In the first case line-fishing catches tuna and tuna alone, in a sustainable manner.  Sainsburys sell tinned tuna of this type in their stores.
Tesco and 'Princes' sell a tinned variety of tuna that is not fished sustainably. Their tins state on the label 'dolphin friendly', but in the programme Greenpeace interviewed a member of the crew who stated categorically that their MASSIVE nets caught turtles, sharks,  dolphins, and  other rare fish, and these are thrown back  into the sea dead (sharks are often cruelly de-finned before being  thrown back alive into the sea)!
Hugh is very sincere and enthusiastic in his crusade to inform the general public about this scandal.  He takes part in most of the activities on board ship and has a charm that overcomes opposition, but he found  Tesco  reluctant to have a meeting with him, although they eventually put forward a surly representative who disputed his and Greenpeace's findings.
UPDATE on http://www.fishfight.net/!  Tesco has now stated they will stop buying tuna from their  Ghana fishery, and will only buy them from sustainable sources. The 'Princes' business has withdrawn  labels from their tins of tuna that state their tuna fishing is 'dolphin friendly'. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is to be thanked for this small victory. The fight now moves to the European Union where protesters will attempt to stop  the ridiculous practice of 'Discard'.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Fish quotas? Bad for everyone including the poor fish.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall did a great programme last night on tv about the scandal of EU fish quotas.  He was as shocked as his audience would have been when  the hundreds of unwanted (perfectly good fish) were thrown overboard dead.
Fisherman are allowed  quotas of a certain type of fish,  and when they have filled these quotas huge numbers of extra fish are wasted and thrown back into the sea. Due to over-fishing, fish that were fairly common up to about 15 years ago are now scarce or very small  though depletion of stocks of cod and other varieties have now been partially halted. The quota system  is a mad scheme when good food is deliberately wasted in order to fulfill some insane regulation brought in by that  scarcely representative  body, the European Union!
It was pointed out in the programme that the government minister for fisheries was unable even to identify the most common fish!
Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall pursues his next 'fish' agenda with a programme about the assault on the tuna.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Scottish Recipe book, 1938

The 'Food for Health' recipe book was first published in 1938. It is full of 'healthy' recipes that include a lot of fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, soups, salads, and cheese and bean savouries etc. The book was written by Jessie and J. Eva Thomson who were both practioners of 'Natural Therapeutics'.
Jessie was the wife of  James C. Thomson who founded the Kingston Clinic c1938 in a large house with tower on the Southern outskirts of Edinburgh, (it was built in the Ruskian - Gothic style!)in the c1860s.
They were both well known for their writings on 'Straight Nature Cure' - 'Drug- less healing'.  The Clinic was residential and became well known for its courses on natural healthy living. It operates now from a lodge in the grounds, still promoting 'Nature Cure'. The original Kingston House has since been converted into flats.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Chinese antique chess pieces

Three finely and intricately carved 19th century Chinese chess pieces, in natural and red stained ivory,  measuring from 4 to 8 inches high.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

America and their enemy within

Another massacre in America, is it so surprising?  To part an American from his/her right to carry a gun would be near  impossible.
Since the American Revolutionary War Americans have clung to their right to carry guns even though the former imagined or otherwise threats from  wild animals, native Americans, territorial  rights, and necessity to hunt for food etc have long since gone. Generations of Americans continue to embrace and glorify the gun as a living inheritance - a permanent ingredient of the nation's style and culture.
The gun represents a symbol of power and masculinity.  Cowboys in Wild West films, gangster films,  later    The Terminator,  Pulp Fiction, and up to  the present day films depict the gun- toting hero as a celebrity.
America has the least restrictive gun control laws in the developed world except for Switzerland, and this is mainly due to the all powerful gun lobby.
As recently as 2004 attempts to bring in gun control failed. Strong lobbyists included 'Students for Conceal Carry on Campus',  'Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership', 'Second Amendment Sisters', 'Second Amendment Foundation', and most powerful of all  'The National Rifle Association'.
In 2007 spending on lobbying against gun control totalled c$1,959,407 million, against that,  gun control spending  was a mere c$60,000 thousand!
America is its own worst enemy. It refuses to ban guns then  complains when inevitably serious accidents occur.  It  will not face up to the fact that it is a sick society, likes to pick fights with its own,  and has the nerve to proselytise  its schizophrenic and sad culture in the form of violence abroad.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Dream Pharma, a British scandal!

Mehdi Alavi runs his business  'Dream Pharma'  from a rented premises behind the Elgone Driving Academy in Acton,  West London.  His business name  'Dream Pharma',  is not an entirely appropriate name, under the circumstances!
Mr. Alavi has recently sold drugs to a state prison in Arizona for the execution of a convicted criminal ,Jeffrey Landrigan, (enough for several further  executions),  for £4,253, though his website  tells you he is "dedicated to the health care of the public."
This  information  has been  released under the freedom of information act.
Vincent Cable has been slow off the mark in dealing with the scandal.  He was notified on December 16th, but has done very little to make sure this export of drugs never takes place again. Mr. Cable took plenty of time to practice his dancing skills for that inane programme 'Strictly Come Dancing'.  His son is  involved in the well -funded centre for Technology in Singapore, so perhaps Mr. Cable's attitude is more lenient than it should be?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Chinese coffee cup

Chinese 18th century porcelain  coffee cup, of the Qianlong period 1736 - 1795.  Painted in grisaille with European decoration, the European style figures probably taken from an earlier engraving.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Three tomatoes, and half a tomato.

Painting by Tessa Bennett.

Cheap food, it's an obsession.

'Cheap food is damaging our health, the farming industry, and the environment', says a managing director of Waitrose.
'Value' is the favourite red-lettered  sticker for their own-brand recession-proof ranges in supermarkets, but due to poor content cheap food may not be good value at all. There are no requirements for  minimal contents to be stated on, for instance,   a simple meat pie,  where the proportion of  meat may be very low.
Our grandparents spent a higher proportion of their wages on food than we do today, and amazingly we possibly spend  a higher proportion of our income on our mobile 'phones than we do on food!
One bag of food in three is chucked out uneaten, and at the end of the day huge amounts of 'past their sell by date' perfectly good food is thrown away by supermarkets.
Cheap food also causes hunger when self sufficiency is destroyed by globalisation.  When Mexico, for example, was flooded with US corn imports the poorer farmers were put out of business and the entire economy suffered.  The Mexican environment suffered, there was increased poverty among food producers, inevitably increased food dependence,  and subsequently hunger. Globalisation cheapens everything, and our land and life-sustaining food should never be cheapened.
In their rampant desire for increased  profits Supermarkets are the culprits. Food has become a purely financial commodity, and the  more people consume the more the money makers like it. The general public should wise up and realise that the real cost of cheap food is a high one, both to our own health and the welfare of those in other countries. With an ever increasing incidence of obesity, people should  consume less, waste less, spend a little more,  and buy wholesome home grown preferably organic food , and never  plump automatically for the cheapest product on offer.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Monsanto, a huge beast, and a very dangerous one

Monsanto,  the notoriously  aggressive biotech giant  have been caught by Wikileaks with 'their hands in the cookie jar'.
Monsanto was  founded in 1901.  The first product they made was saccharin, the artificial sweetener that  they subsequently sold  to Coca Cola. Monsanto established their first foothold in Europe in Wales where they went into partnership with   Graesser's chemical works. They expanded in the 1920s, and in the 1940s became leading manufacturers of plastics, herbicides,  Agent Orange (a highly carcinogenic defoliant agent  used during the Vietnam War), other artificial sweeteners, and bovine growth hormones.
During the same decade they were involved with the development of the first Nuclear weapons, and in 1944 they commenced manufacturing DDT. After forming a partnership with the chemical giant Bayer they marketed polyurethanes in the US. In 1982 they were the first to genetically modify plant cells. It was during the years 1997 to 2002 that Monsanto moved from chemical giant to biotech giant.  They have,  since 2005,  patent claims on the breeding techniques of pigs,developed the so called 'terminator' seed which requires customers to repurchase seed for every planting, and developed bovine somatotropin, a synthetic hormone introduced to increase milk production. Not a pretty history!
Virtually every chemical  Monsanto have manufactured has been detrimental to human well being and other animals, and  many  have been/are excessively dangerous.  Like a cancer Monsanto attempt to spread and control  the world with their own  deadly variation of  the disease.
Wikileaks have done a good job exposing the American Ambassador for  chatting up the Vatican and generally sucking up to the EU . Thankfully, so far,  those in power in the EU have not succumbed  to their bribes and aggressive lobbying, but Monsanto play a very long game. We must all beware.

Monday, 3 January 2011

D.H.Thoreau, another great American.

David Henri Thoreau was born in Concord Massachusetts in 1817. His father was a pencil maker of French descent. He studied at Harvard University between 1833 and 1837.  He joined the Faculty of the Concord Public School but resigned after a short time because he refused to administer corporal punishment.
With his brother John he opened a school where he introduced several progressive concepts but closed this when his brother died in 1842. He returned to Concord and  met R.Waldo Emerson and resumed work at the family pencil factory. Here he rediscovered the process of mixing graphite with clay (the Conte process), and later converted the factory to produce graphite which was used for typesetting machines.
In 1845 he embarked  on a two-year experiment in simple living in a small self-built cabin on the shores of  Walden Pond on land that belonged to Emerson.Here he spent an incredible amount of time reading and writing. He had a brush with the tax man in 1846 when he refused to pay poll tax because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War, and slavery, and had to  spend a night in prison. This incident had a strong impact on him, and in 1848 he delivered an important  lecture on the "Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government".
He left Walden Pond in 1847 but worked for several years  continuously revising his  manuscript "Walden, or Life in the Woods". This book had mixed reviews  but Robert Frost said of it - "In one book  he surpasses everything we have in America".
Thoreau became increasingly fascinated by natural history and travel, he admired Darwin, became a land surveyor  and wrote  very detailed natural history observations on fruit trees  and the migrationary habits of birds etc.  He believed  that one should "Live at home like a traveler".  He was a life-long abolitionist. He died  of tuberculosis at 44  in  1862- "Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only  not indispensable  but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind". Thoreau.     Wise words.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Factory farmed pigs, how shameful!

A short programme on radio 4 this morning featured a US farm that intensively breeds  and fattens pigs,  on a massively industrialised scale. 
Americans are supremely trained in the use of euphemisms. They are past masters at turning  truth  into lies, never call a spade a spade if you are an American , just hide nastiness by giving it a pleasant sounding word.  This particular 'farmer' likes to stress that pigs are not human beings,  he insists we must not anthropomorphise pigs yet he constantly uses the word 'gals' for his breeding sows. He keeps these in the most degrading and dreadful  conditions. The trapped sows eventually go  mad, chewing on the bars of their tiny crates  in bleak despair.
Gestation crates are used in US, Canada, Denmark, and Mexico.In some states in the US namely Florida,  Arizona, and California they are banned, they are also banned  in the UK, and from 2015 it will be illegal to use sow crates on New Zealand pig farms.
Systems for housing pigs for fattening (piglets are taken from their mothers at a few weeks old) are equally horrific.  They live crowded together in a small pen indoors on a concrete slatted surface without straw.  They, like the sows never see the light of day. Excrement passes through the slats, and pigs which are highly intelligent naturally clean animals have to live their entire lives above the smell of their own waste. Piglets are subjected to tail docking, teeth clipping, and ear notching  without anaesthetic,  they are put on drug programmes , and antibiotics, vitamins,  and hormones are administered pre-emptively.  In the US there is a Humane Slaughter Act but there are repeated violations of this in the slaughter houses. North Carolina  houses approximately 10 million pigs,  with the   greatest state of  barbarity  reserved  for breeding sows. They spend 70 days a year confined to their metal crates where they produce c2.5 litters per annum,   and are despatched to the slaughter house if they fail to reach this number or in any way fall below par.
How can anyone eat  bacon or ham  without checking its origins first?  The association of greed and the human being is mindblowing.  A pig, or indeed any other animal,  is not a machine!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Fuel, government's milch cow.

The cost of filling a tank of petrol will shortly rise to record heights. Today there is an  increase in fuel duty followed by a rise in vat to 20% on Tuesday.
In 1896 the Marquess of Salisbury put 9d on a gallon of petrol, no fuel duty existed then , it was introduced  in  1909 by the Liberal government.  By 1919 the price of petrol rose but duty was abolished, then replaced by vehicle taxation. The tax disc was introduced, and  this was based on the horsepower of the vehicle.
It was the Liberal Prime Minister  David Lloyd George who replaced fuel duty with road tax.  In 1929 fuel duty returned under the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin  making a gallon of fuel  cost 1s.6 3/4d.  Under the first Labour government  of Prime Minister  Ramsay McDonald fuel duty rocketed to 45% where it remained until the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.  It stayed  virtually unchanged until John Major's  premiership when  the   increase gathered pace and rose to 70% plus.  The increase  in fuel tax  led to serious protests in 2000,  2005 and 2007, and in 2008 UK tax rates were one of the highest in Europe.
Government revenue raised from fuel duty in 2009 was £25,894 billion plus £3,884 billion being raised from vat on the duty!  Jet fuel is exempt from  duty, and there is a rebate system for bus service operators, agricultural  and  construction vehicles.
Successive governments have used the people's need and strong desire to use the motor car  to squeeze and squeeze for more tax. The general public  are an  easy sitting target because  it is almost impossible to live life now without a motor car due to totally inadequate public transport.