Sunday, 30 November 2008

Crime and punishment

I don't have much sympathy for Islamic Sharia law, but a recent case has me thinking again.

The setting is Iran, and it concerns a young woman who had spurned the approaches of a man. His response was to throw acid in her face which has left her disfigured and blind. You can read about it here.

Under the Sharia code of qias or equivalence the victim can ask that the guilty party be punished in a like manner. The court accepted her plea and the man has been sentenced to be blinded by acid, though I don't believe that the punishment has yet been carried out.

This seems barbaric, but then so was the attack, and it is far too common in the middle east and asia. The acid is usually battery acid, and thus very easy to get hold of, and it is not the sort of attack you can carry out without premeditation.

These are the kinds of injury that commonly occur. The photograph is of a different woman, injured by her husband after they were divorced.

Other recent attacks have been on schoolgirls in Afghanistan, whose only crime is that they want to go to school.

In the West we would argue that violence is an inappropriate response to violence, or that such punishment reduces the state to the level of the criminal. But should we be liberal and intellectual about such crimes? These men are absolute bastards. Is there an argument for an eye for an eye?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Warning! Falling pounds. Hard hats must be worn

For anyone who lives in the UK or who still has pounds (me, alas), the money markets have an interesting message right now. The pound is shite. Gordon and his friends are busy screwing it, big time. Well, no surprise there. When you force the tax payer to become a shareholder in failing businesses, and buy up dodgy assets in the process of recapitalising careless banks, then something's gotta give. And it is the currency.

Now you may have a poor image of the forex market. But you have to respect its lack of sentiment. If you start printing money, and generally piss on the economy, the speculators (and the serious dealers too) will dump your currency like last night's bad curry. You don't have to like the markets to recognise they are always right. Seriously.

OK, so let's cut to the chase. This is what the pound looks like against the dollar. Down means the pound is falling relative to the dollar.

Those brave enough might like to click for a larger view.

Now on the face of it, this is quite a strange outcome. I mean, what with the USA being the home of subprime and all that, why is it our currency that's f*cked and not theirs? Well, right now folks want out of equities and pretty well every other damned thing, and want to hold cash. And the cash they want to hold is the good old greenback. So its price is high.

But hold on. That's not the whole story, and not enough of an excuse for Gordon. Look at how the pound is doing against the euro. Up, in this case, means the euro is doing well and the pound is doing badly.

And as you can see, the pound is pants against the euro.

When your government tells you they are doing what it takes, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fairies at work

Two wonderful "fairy rings" of mushrooms have appeared in our meadow. Here is a picture of one of them, with oval added by me to illustrate the regularity of the growth.

While they are a natural feature of mushroom growth, there is still uncertainty about exactly how they come about.

They bring with them a rich tapestry folk-lore. From Wiki:

A great deal of folklore surrounds fairy rings. Their names in European languages often allude to supernatural origins; they are known as ronds de sorciers ("sorcerers' rings") in France, and hexenringe ("witches' rings") in German. In German tradition, fairy rings were thought to mark the site of witches' dancing on Walpurgis Night, and Dutch superstition claimed that the circles show where the Devil set his milk churn.

In the Tyrol, folklore attributed fairy rings to the fiery tales of flying dragons; once a dragon had created such a circle, nothing but toadstools could grow there for seven years. European superstitions routinely warned against entering a fairy ring. French tradition reported that fairy rings were guarded by giant bug-eyed toads that cursed those who violated the circles. In other parts of Europe, entering a fairy ring would result in the loss of an eye.

Scandinavian and Celtic traditions claimed that fairy rings are the result of elves or fairies dancing. Such ideas dated to at least the mediƦval period; The Middle English term elferingewort ("elf-ring"), meaning "a ring of daisies caused by elves' dancing" dates to the 12th century. In his History of the Goths (1628), Olaus Magnus makes this connection, saying that fairy rings are burned into the ground by the dancing of elves.]

British folklorist Thomas Keightley noted that in Scandinavia in the early 20th century, beliefs persisted that fairy cirlces (elfdans) arose from the dancing of elves. Keightley warned that while entering an elfdans might allow the interloper to see the elves—although this was not guaranteed—it would also put the intruder in thrall to their illusions.

Anyway, I have taken my life into my hands and entered the ring and harvested a goodly few mushrooms.

My family and friends regard me as slightly reckless because I do eat wild fungi, but actually I go for those that are easy to identify with a low probability of confusion. These are Field Blewits; very good to eat. They have a lilac-hued foot which is a pretty good clue.

I picked a small fraction of what is out there, but filled most of this bucket. These are for drying and storing so we can use them during the winter.

I often think about our ancestors at times like these. Things that are fun for us - roasting chestnuts, harvesting walnuts, drying mushrooms, even making wine - were probably a matter of considerable importance for them for survival.

After all, a whole winter to get through and no supermarket a few kilometers away.