Today marks the one-year anniversary of lockdown. During that time nearly 150,000 people have died of the virus. Today we remember them.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of lockdown. During that time nearly 150,000 people have died of the virus. Today we remember them.
No takers for today’s guest post so I’m reblogging this helpful advice from Beetley Pete
This is a post of yet more tips for new bloggers.
I have mentioned not linking your blog to your Gravatar previously, but so many of you still don’t bother with that, I’m giving up.
On this occasion, I am talking about the (mostly) new bloggers who seem to think that style beats substance, where blogging is concerned.
It doesn’t, believe me.
Everyone knows by now that it is my habit to visit the site of new followers, and leave a message or comment on one of their posts.
(That cannot happen if you don’t have any posts, or an unlinked Gravatar image by the way.)
So here is what seems to be happening a lot lately.
The blog has some kind of Home page, or perhaps an ‘Introduction’ page. But neither allow comments. Then to actually find the blog, I have to look in the side menu or top…
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There’s one more guest slot up for grabs so get in touch if you’d like it.
Quaker Oats have nothing to do with the Quakers, as in Society of Friends. Some time ago there was a trend to brand certain products with stereotypical characters, such as Captain Crunch, Matey, the Robertson jam golly and there was also a picture of a Native American man with a war bonnet on the side of some packet or other, possibly flour? Some of these were frankly racist – Robertson jam in particular springs to mind here – and whereas the Quaker on the porridge oats box may not represent an ethnicity, it coöpts the image of traditionalism and simplicity the real Quakers may have in the mind of the public and seems also to associate it with the likes of other groups such as the Amish and Mennonites, who are seen as eschewing modern life for a more rustic approach. However, there was never any association between the Quakers and Quaker Oats.
There are of course many Quaker companies, including for example Cadbury’s and Fry’s. I went to school with someone in the Fry family, who were very rich, but he was very down to earth and just a general all-round good bloke. I went to a party at his house once and it was enormous, and this is in rural Kent, so that gives an impression of how wealthy they really are. The situation traditional Quaker families find themselves in today reflects the similar position some Jewish families are in: because they were excluded from many of the mainstream professions such as the Church and armed forces, not being Anglicans, they made their own way in the world and often had little choice but to start their own businesses, and consequently some of them did get very rich. This is not to say that there aren’t very poor Quakers today as well, just as there are Jews, but the existence of these large companies ultimately owes itself to this exclusion. On the whole, the Quakers seem to have lost control of the undertakings, which is what usually happens when a company is floated on the stock market, and they become unethical in various ways of which I can’t imagine Quakers ever approving. This observation about wealth, though, is not meant to be a criticism of Quakers or Jews. It’s just an observation of how the history of religious persecution sometimes has unexpected positive consequences.
My own childhood was characterised more by Scott’s Porage Oats than Quaker, which possibly has stereotypical issues of its own, though maybe not. The image in that case seems to indicate that Gaels will grow up big and strong, and it’s a very masculine image in quite a positive way. There was a third popular brand of oats though which was definitely inferior. I get the impression it consists of the dust that’s swept up when the oats have been removed but I expect it’s just ground oats or something. Continuing the tradition of misspelling which seems to delight the porridge industry, this was known as Ready Brek, and marketed as “Central heating for kids”. At the time I found this off-putting because I felt the word “kid” had dismissive connotations, and in fact I still do so and I know my own “kids” did as well in the ‘nineties and ‘noughties. Anyway, it was famously advertised like this:https://www.youtube.com/embed/SVAvA6fP8Xw?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-gb&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
(both of these will be removed on request).
Only if you don’t know, Windscale, since conveniently renamed Sellafield, was a nuclear facility in Cumbria which almost went critical in 1970 and generally had a bad reputation.
Back to Quaker Oats. The above is an obvious joke, but unfortunately seems to be a case of art unwittingly imitating life. Shortly after the end of World War II, the company, in partnership with MIT, fed children at a “special school”, as we used to call them over here, radioactive porridge. Of course, in a sense everything is radioactive, and more so today on the surface of this planet than it used to be due to nuclear testing and other activities, so we’ve all eaten radioactive porridge, but this particular porridge was adulterated with radioactive isotopes of iron and calcium, as was the cow’s milk added to it, to demonstrate that it was absorbed more efficiently from porridge than other sources. However, this wasn’t pure research. It was done for use in advertising the product. And unsurprisingly, it did indeed show that, because it wasn’t really a proper experiment in the sense that it was breaking new ground or establishing a new discovery which wasn’t already considered probable. It was more like the kind of experiment children at school might carry out in a biology or chemistry lab, i.e. nothing really novel and conducted for different purposes. This was also done without informed consent from the children or their parents. Having said that, the maximum radiation dosage each child would’ve received from this would be about 330 millirems, which is the kind of dose one would receive from living for a few months in some inhabited parts of the planet which have somewhat radioactive rocks and minerals such as Cornwall or Aberdeen. However, this is a false equivalence because of the mode of decay involved. I’m guessing that calcium-48 was used, which exhibits beta decay as opposed to alpha. Alpha particles are easily stopped by the skin but can cause damage if the elements which produce them are inhaled, ingested or injected. Being calcium, the dose would have continued for quite some time and will still be irradiating today because it will be in the bones and teeth and if it was that isotope it has a half-life of around 64 billion aeons, which is about fifteen billion times Earth’s age. On the one hand this is good news because it won’t be as radioactive as a material with a shorter half-life, but it does also mean there would be a long-term steady source of beta particles in the bodies of these children, now adults. The risk from such a low dose is very small, but that’s not really the point.
By the time these “experiments” were carried out, 1946-53, the initial honeymoon period ionising radiation had enjoyed shortly after its discovery had been over for decades, and we were firmly in the era of global fear of the A-bomb, although it was also almost the era of the Ford Nucleon, a nuclear-powered car which never reached the market, and there did seem to be more trust in nuclear power at least, as opposed to nuclear weapons, at that time. Nonetheless I wonder if that fear was the reason for the lack of information to the parents. The issue is not so much of real risk as lack of informed consent, and the fact that the “studies” were conducted on children with learning difficulties. That seems much more incriminating than the mere fact that it was done, because if the real risk is that low and it could be sold easily to parents, there seems to be no reason why this shouldn’t have been done in a mainstream boarding school, for example. It’s a similar argument to the one against the fluoridation of drinking water – it isn’t about the real health risk so much as about civil liberties. I’m not going into the issue of fluoridation here though.
But this raises a difficult issue. There are plenty of procedures which carry risks unknown to the general public. In terms of radiation, one of the biggest of these is actually a barium enema, which uses unusually high doses of X-ray radiation because the image has to be obtained through the very thick and mineral-rich pelvis. There is no mention of this in the information given to patients who undergo this investigation as far as I know. There certainly wasn’t in the late ’90s when I had it done. There are of course plenty of other risks, usually covered in consent forms which people don’t read. Besides this, there are a couple of other cases which I had personally always taken for granted but to which other people seemed to take exception. One of these was the scandal at Alder Hey when children’s organs were routinely retained post mortem. Up until this came up, I had always assumed this was common knowledge – that this is what hospitals did. I’m not saying it wasn’t wrong, but this has created a problem for research. The other odd, child-related scandal that springs to mind is the practice by undercover police officers to adopt identities based on documents derived from people who had died as children and had a date of birth close to their own. Again, this has upset the families of many people who did die young (and that category includes me) but until the reaction I didn’t realise that this, too, wasn’t common knowledge. I suppose one normalises things and values change, although this, as usual, makes me wonder how much of what I now perceive to be acceptable would turn out not to be if I thought about it in a particular way.
Informed consent, however, is a problem with a public which is poorly-informed in other ways. If there were more general scientific literacy, and in fact it extends further than this because the identity adoption issue above is not a scientific one, this kind of deception would be harder to excuse. Not that there is an excuse now, but I would expect the mental process with Quaker Oats was that if the parents of non-disabled children had been asked, they wouldn’t’ve given consent, and the question then arises of why this would be. It also raises another spectre: what attitude did these parents actually have towards their children? It took me a while to pick up on this implication, but I suspect Walter White’s attitude towards his son in ‘Breaking Bad’ is not based on unconditional acceptance of his son, disabled or not, and I just wonder whether the parents in this non-fictional situation might have likewise have given consent had they known, not because they weren’t worried about the effects of the radiation but because, and I’m sure this isn’t usually true, they actually loved their children less because they had learning difficulties. Of course I don’t know this, but I have in mind two things here. Firstly, it’s bafflingly common for fundamentalist parents to disown queer children, which strikes me as connected to the idea of an idealised image of how they wanted their children and grandchildren to be rather than loving their children directly. I can only think this is connected to an authoritarian parenting style, but I’ll listen to anyone who disagrees with me on this. Secondly, there’s the attitude, which sadly charities like Autism Speaks seem to encourage, that children on the autistic spectrum are less than ideal, put a strain on the parents’ relationship and need to be “cured”. This seems to be coming from the same kind of place.
Quaker Oats don’t seem to come out of this very well. Not only have they used the image of a Quaker to generate some kind of folksy artificially wholesome aura around their product, but they have also acted historically with remarkable disregard for the wishes of the general public. Having said that, I would also hope that the public takes it upon itself to keep abreast of accurate information and assessing its quality. This has led to such problems denial of anthropogenic climate change and the various issues with the Covid-19 pandemic. And the other thing, which surely hardly needs saying to most people, is that you really are supposed to love people for themselves and not for your image of them, but I would hope this is a small contingency, at least nowadays.
Today’s guest blogger is Alex from mybookworkd24.com, which includes a lovely poem.
For the birds
To have a safe home
Away from the hunter
Just like a mother
Giving a comforting hug
Today Saatvik Argwal from songoftwobirds.wordpress.com talks about how to record all your ideas to make them work for you.
What if there was a way to come up with billion-dollar ideas? And what if I tell you that you already missed yours!
Human beings get around 70,000 ideas a day, and out of the many unapparent ones, some ideas might just be life-changing. Recording these ideas can be your key to success. Since 2017, days I have been recording every thought I got. Now, I invite you to do the same for the next 30 days. Use any medium to record your thoughts- phone memos, diaries, voice recorders, sticky notes, chats, walls, tissue paper, you name it!
Ideas that seem irrelevant to you may be the big-ticket for somebody. So remember to note down everything. Noting down all your ideas and thoughts forces you to analyze everything, make new neural connections and new creative interpretations.
The world has seen pioneers and visionaries like Marco Polo, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin who owe their success to their diaries. Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy has been preserved in over 7,000 pages of notes and illustrations. George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that inspired The Game of Thrones began as an entry in his diary. The World of Narnia was a vivid dream C. S. Lewis had when he was 16 and wrote in his dream journal.
You never know which napkin has your billion-dollar invention. Speaking of which, writing anything on the back of a napkin sounds impractical–they’re tricky to write on without tearing, and which side is the back? But say that to the physicists who drew up the MRI scanner at a sandwich joint, to the architects of Seattle space needle, to the designer of Farington B- the font still used on every credit card, to the creators of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week- world’s longest-running cable TV event, to the animators of PIXAR’s Finding Nemo! to J. K. Rowling who created the magical world of Hogwarts while waiting for the train. Just imagine what our world would be like if it wasn’t for that little urge to record these small ideas.
Wanna dive deeper into the efficient 3 step note-taking process that I used to record all my thoughts, over 1000 days? Fancy using note-taking to learn life lessons? Need help in managing your emotions, relationships, and decision-making. Decode your daily dilemmas by watching my TED talk! As a bonus, I do my ‘Gollum the Hobbit’ impression in the video, go check it out!
What has 1000 days of writing down all my ideas given me? Possibly a billion dollars. And you can have it too, just remember to note it down!
Apologies for keeping you waiting so long. Here is the first of our guest blog posts from Jon, aka Wilfred Books.
If you’ve never before read any of Michael Palin’s serious writing, I think this will be a very good place to start, despite it being one of his most recent books (Hutchinson, London, 2018; ISBN 9781847948120 [hardback]); if you have, however, I am very confident that you will enjoy reading it as much as I did. Michael is known for his Ripping Yarns series, albeit at some remove now, but this book is a true life ripping yarn, although with a bitter-sweet ending, and although the review is rather longer than others I have posted, I feel that this book deserves it, in view of the impressive detail contained therein, and the research that clearly must have been done in preparation for its writing.
It tells the story of the 1846 Franklin Expedition to discover the North-West Passage, but what first excited Michael’s interest in this expedition was the discovery in September 2014 of a sailing vessel at the bottom of the sea, although a relatively shallow depth, in the Canadian Arctic. This ship was HMS Erebus, hence the book’s name. Michael had encountered Erebus, figuratively speaking, in the course of his research into Joseph Hooker, about whose life he was going to deliver a talk to the Athenaeum Club in London, in 2013. Hooker had run the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for much of the nineteenth century, and his policy of ‘botanical imperialism’ had become known to Michael whilst he was filming in Brasil, and which policy had effectively killed the Brasilian rubber industry. Before that though, in 1839, at the under age of twenty-two, he had been engaged as assistant surgeon & botanist on a four-year Royal Naval expedition to the Antarctic, and the ship that had survived eighteen months at the bottom of the world and returned safely was HMS Erebus.
In 2014, after a highly successful ten-night Monty Python reunion at the O2 Arena in London, he “saw [on the evening news] an item that stopped me in my tracks.”: a submerged vessel, believed to be HMS Erebus, had been found on a shallow part of the seabed (so close to the surface, in fact, that the tips of her masts would once have been visible above the waves) by a Canadian underwater archaeology team, and her hull was virtually intact, the contents preserved by the ice. So Michael set out to research this doomed ship, and he started at an institution of which he had for three years been President, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), and which still had a pair of Hooker’s stockings, which Michael came to regard “as a kind of spiritual talisman”.
Erebus was launched on the 7th of June 1826, at Pembroke Dockyard, and she is known as a bomb ship because she was the penultimate vessel of a class that was designed to be strong enough to fling mortar shells high over coastal defences; however, history had by then overtaken this purpose, and the Royal Navy’s strength had already been considerably scaled back by the time of the launch of the 372 ton vessel. She was named Erebus to warn her adversaries that “here was a bringer of havoc, a fearsome conveyor of hell-fire”, because in classical mythology, Erebus, the son of Chaos, was generally referred to the “dark heart of the Underworld, a place associated with dislocation and destruction.” After being fitted out at Plymouth, she was transformed into a warship, but then she lay idle at Devonport for eighteen months waiting for a purpose. This was found when she set sail on 21 February 1828, under the command of Commander George Haye, RN, for a two-year patrol of the Mediterranean, which was relatively uneventful, although discipline on board was something of a problem. This changed in the second year when Commander Philip Broke took over: he instituted a regime of artillery exercises, but even those didn’t bring about a military career for Erebus, and at the end of June 1830, she was home again.
Her first real chance for glory came nine years later when, under the command of James Clark Ross, who already had something of an illustrious career as an explorer behind him, she set sail for the Southern Ocean to further our understanding of the earth’s magnetic field as, according to Palin, around that time “terrestrial magnetism was high on the agenda” of the newly formed British Association for the Advancement of Science. She was to be accompanied by HMS Terror, a similar type of ship to Erebus, but specifically one of the Vesuvius Class, built in 1813, with plenty of active service behind her. The voyage to Van Diemen’s Land, as it would continue to be known until 1855, when it acquired the modern name of Tasmania, took just under a year and, whilst Erebus was there, Ross’s “most urgent priority was to get an observatory up and running.” Their stay was relatively short though, and on Thursday November 12th 1840, Erebus left Hobart. The furthest south they got, at the end of January the following year, past 76°, was the Great Southern Barrier, a “great ice-wall”; an unbroken sheet of ice 300 feet thick and the same size as France; that ran east from the newly named Mount Erebus volcano “as far as the eye could discern”, and this effectively ruled out further progress towards the South Magnetic Pole, so the two ships headed back to Hobart, which they reached on 7th April 1841, as Ross put it: “unattended by casualty, calamity, or sickness of any kind”.
After a period of rest & recuperation (and no little socialising), the ships set off again in July 1841, via Sydney, northern New Zealand and Chatham Island, for the Antarctic. By February 23rd, after spells becalmed in pack ice, they reached the Great Southern Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf), and recorded their furthest position south, 78°9’30”, six miles further than their previous record, but it was obvious that there was to be no way through it, so regretfully, they headed for the Falkland Islands to refit & resupply. On the way, both ships were nearly lost because, in avoiding a giant iceberg, their course resulted in them colliding, and after Terror had found a narrow gap between ’bergs, it was only the rapid & unorthodox action of Captain Ross that avoided Erebus being reduced to matchwood, with the loss of all hands. Their safe arrival at the Falklands was overshadowed by the loss of four men during the recent expedition. They stayed there until September, when they set off “for a short expedition to undertake a survey of magnetic activity around Cape Horn, a round trip of about 2,000 kilometers, and they took 800 young beech trees “back to the treeless Falklands.” By the 17th of December 1842, they were ready to set off again, but this time there was nowhere near as much enthusiasm for the trip, one notable exception being Captain Ross. This time, they went nowhere near the Barrier, and by early March, when the winter ice was closing around them Ross accepted defeat and gave the order for both ships to set sail for the Cape of Good Hope.
They reached those safe waters the following April. According to Palin, “Officially … the Antarctic expedition was a success. Unofficially it extracted a traumatic toll.” Ross resolved never to go to the Antarctic again, and Hooker revealed in a letter to his father that none of the men would follow Ross there either. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to go straight home: they had to go via Ascension Island and Rio de Janeiro, “for magnetic purposes”. By the beginning of September 1843, however, they were in sight of “the shores of Old England”. Back on dry land, Ross resolved never to go to sea again: “The long voyage had exhausted him.” He probably wouldn’t have been in the least perturbed that “For the next sixty years the antarctic remained virtually forgotten.” However, paradoxically, according to Palin, Erebus and Terror’s success had renewed interest in the Arctic, specifically: conquest of the Northwest Passage, if for no other reason than to prevent the Russians from getting there first. The biggest advantage that could be pressed to achieve this was “that two ice-tested ships were ready and waiting in the Thames estuary.” The go-ahead was given, and preparations for the voyage, including some strengthening of hull & decks, and, controversially, the fitting of 2 second-hand 25-horsepower locomotive engines (much smaller than the marine steam engines of the time, were completed in very short order; to make the best use of the northern summer of course; so that the ships left England on the 19 May 1845, under the command of the surprisingly old (59) Sir John Franklin, who had latterly been somewhat in the doldrums as Governor General of Tasmania: he had, in fact, been summarily dismissed.
Before Greenland was reached, a crow’s nest, invented by William Scoresby less than half a century previously, was installed on Erebus, to keep a lookout for ice; Terror, which followed Erebus, was not so equipped. It seems odd that this wasn’t considered for the Antarctic expeditions. By late July, both ships were seen, surrounded by ice in upper Baffin Bay, by two whaling ships, Prince of Wales and Enterprise; the sighting by Captain Dannett of the former, on the 27th of July, is generally assumed to be the last-recorded sighting of the expedition, other than by Inuit; although there was an unconfirmed sighting of the tips of their masts on the horizon, by Captain Martin of Enterprise, as late as the 29 or 31 of July. When 1847 arrived with no word from the expedition, at least two proposals for fact-finding or possible rescue missions to the Arctic were rejected by the Admiralty and the Royal Society: it was both too soon and potentially too dangerous. In less than a year, this attitude was reversed, but the first voyage, to the Bering strait, found nothing; the second rescue attempt, down the Mackenzie River to the coast & islands, also found no trace of Franklin & his men; finally, James Ross, having acceded to the relentless demands from Franklin’s wife, Jane, set off in the summer of 1848 in Enterprise (although whether this is the same one mentioned earlier is not specified), accompanied by Investigator. They made very little progress, because the ice was so thick and the weather so cold, and they had to winter at Somerset Island, where Ross had surveyed in 1932. After an aborted man-hauled sledge search, covering 500 miles in 39 days, Ross decided to return home. Needless to say, Jane Franklin was surprised & disappointed.
Over the next decade, 36 separate expeditions were mounted to the area. In August 1850, the first tangible evidence was found: “fragments of naval stores, portions of ragged clothing, preserved meat tins”, and an empty cairn; soon after, the graves of two seamen from Erebus and one from Terror were found. Other evidence started turning up in diverse locations, and further expeditions only succeeded in proving where Franklin had not gone, rather than the opposite. The first claimed land crossing of the Passage was in 1853, but still no sign of Franklin. In January 1854, notwithstanding the opposition of Lady Franklin, the Admiralty decided to draw a line under the situation, and consider the men of the two ships lost. Within a few months, however, a Hudson’s Bay employee, John Rae, had bought from Arctic Inuits various items that were soon identified as belonging to members of the Franklin expedition, but worse was to come: “‘From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles [cooking vessels].’ Rae reported the Inuit telling him, ‘it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.’” This grisly but pragmatic solution was totally unacceptable to polite Victorian society, and was dismissed out of hand by no less a champion of Jane Franklin than Charles Dickens. He helped to raise funds, speaking at the RGS, and £3,000 was enough to organise a 177-ton 3-masted, steam-driven yacht, Fox, to engage in a search, leaving in July 1857.
After initially getting caught in ice in Baffin Bay and having to overwinter there, the ship was able to move to a base at the eastern end of Bellot Strait and a sledge-bound reconnaissance expedition was mounted. On the way, Inuits they met told of 2 ships that had come to grief, one sinking, which spurred the searchers on. Confirmation of Franklin’s death was found in a written record in a cairn, and the second-in-command of the rescue mission, Lieutenant William Hobson, wrote it all up in a report dated 1 August 1859, but it was never published (finally appearing in Arctic magazine in April 2014), so the news didn’t come out until 23 September, when Fox arrived back in England. It emerged that “Crozier had led his doomed men to the last link in the chain of marine connections that made up the Northwest Passage.” Statues were erected, and this appeared on the citation that accompanied the award of the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society to Jane Franklin, the first woman to be so honoured by the Society; although curiously, not her husband. With regard to the predominant cause of the death of the Franklin Expedition members, there doesn’t appear to be consensus; exhaustion and hypothermia are obvious, and lead poisoning from badly sealed food tins is a strong contender, but also is tuberculosis, which was the probable cause of death in at least three cases.
This is an absolutely fascinating account and meticulously researched; I have deliberately (of necessity!) skimmed for this review, but Palin mixes the comprehensive historical detail with his own experience of travelling to many of the locations mentioned. It is a mixture of pathos and enthusiasm, as much for the enterprise of the British as much as anything else, but this is also tempered with Palin’s own observations on how this enterprise can be contaminated by greed and the arrogance of imperialism; I will leave the last word to Palin:
“So far as nature was concerned, Ross was like McCormick and so many other of his contemporaries, inquisitive but unsentimental. At that time the world’s population was less than one billion and resources were abundant. Today, with the population heading towards eight billion, the destruction of our habitat is seen as a threat rather than an obligation. For Ross, the rich seas and forests of Tasmania were not there to be conserved, they were there to be exploited. To make the world a better place, one had to make it more productive. If there were fish, then they should be caught; if there were forests, they should be cut down. He couldn’t see the wood for the price of timber. Woodland should become farmland, and quiet coves with good harbours should become productive ports.
Of the original inhabitants of the island, neither Ross nor anybody else had much to say. Almost all had now been killed or removed to Flinders Island. Hooker has a particularly poignant entry in his journal. ‘Of the numbers that once inhabited this island, only three remain, all males, and they consist of an old, a middle aged man, and a child. They are very savage, but seldom seen.’
Ross was a successful, strong-willed and strong-minded individual who saw the world as being at the service of man. And from there it was a small step to seeing the British as those best suited to be the world’s caretaker.”
If you’re wondering what happened to the guest blog posts, don’t worry. I’ve been under the weather this week. They are not forgotten.