Play This Everywhere

This almost moved me to tears.

An incredible speech at a Scottish Parliament Committee made by Dennis Curran from the group Loaves and Fishes.

Any time anyone tells you UKOK you should be showing them this video.

Any time anyone tells you we need the UK to be looking after our welfare system, show them this video.


Had a somewhat eventful week and therefore not been posting much. Was involved in a small crash on a bus from Glasgow to London. Luckily no one was hurt but the guy in the car that drove into the bus was extremely lucky he wasn’t hurt.

The other thing of note on the journey was that something I thought was weird and then thought was stupid and wrong turned out in fact to be true.

When I was 12 years old and in French class my teacher told me that French people often eat Pain au Chocolat in the morning which she described as like “a roll and chocolate”. For a long time I had this vision of people getting a Morton’s roll and sticking a dairy milk in and eating it for breakfast. When I subsequently discovered what a Pain au Chocolat really was I felt stupid for thinking that.

However, on this bus journey I got talking to an Italian guy and he did almost exactly what I described. He had a ciabatta roll and he opened it up and stuck a fruit and nut in it and started munching.


Indian is my favourite food. Love it. Can’t get enough it.

That means I am more sane than you…

Weekly curry ‘may fight dementia’

Eating a curry once or twice a week could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a US researcher suggests.

The key ingredient is curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric.

Curcumin appears to prevent the spread of amyloid protein plaques – thought to cause dementia – in the brain.

However, just to be a spoilsport I should add…

But the theory, presented at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ annual meeting, has been given a lukewarm reception by UK experts.

That said, I am taking this to mean I no longer need an excuse to go to Indian restaurants.


I know that it is strange to say that something can be shocking if it is usual but keeping that capacity for anger at the sheer callousness of it all is very important.

The Real News (who need your donations if you can afford) have put out this interview with one of the authors of the report ‘Making a Killing From the Food Crisis’.

That someone is making a fat profit while others starve is not a new scenario but the report and the interview are definitely worth a look.

Here is the full report.

Here is GRAINs homepage.


This really is food for thought (pun semi-intended)…

Jared Diamond: The Worst Mistake
in the History of the Human Race

(Originally published in the May 1987 issue of Discover magazine, found at Iowa State University Agronomy 342 course materials, Ricardo J. Salvador, Associate Professor.)

To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.

At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable. We’re better off in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?

For most of our history we supported ourselves by hunting and gathering: we hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants. It’s a life that philosophers have traditionally regarded as nasty, brutish, and short. Since no food is grown and little is stored, there is (in this view) no respite from the struggle that starts anew each day to find wild foods and avoid starving. Our escape from this misery was facilitated only 10,000 years ago, when in different parts of the world people began to domesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revolution spread until today it’s nearly universal and few tribes of hunter-gatherers survive.

From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask “Why did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture?” is silly. Of course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more food for less work. Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and berries. Just imagine a band of savages, exhausted from searching for nuts or chasing wild animals, suddenly grazing for the first time at a fruit-laden orchard or a pasture full of sheep. How many milliseconds do you think it would take them to appreciate the advantages of agriculture?

The progressivist party line sometimes even goes so far as to credit agriculture with the remarkable flowering of art that has taken place over the past few thousand years. Since crops can be stored, and since it takes less time to pick food from a garden than to find it in the wild, agriculture gave us free time that hunter-gatherers never had. Thus it was agriculture that enabled us to build the Parthenon and compose the B-minor Mass.

While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it’s hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here’s one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn’t emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, “Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?”

While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen’s average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It’s almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.

So the lives of at least the surviving hunter-gatherers aren’t nasty and brutish, even though farmers have pushed them into some of the world’s worst real estate. But modern hunter-gatherer societies that have rubbed shoulders with farming societies for thousands of years don’t tell us about conditions before the agricultural revolution. The progressivist view is really making a claim about the distant past: that the lives of primitive people improved when they switched from gathering to farming. Archaeologists can date that switch by distinguishing remains of wild plants and animals from those of domesticated ones in prehistoric garbage dumps.

How can one deduce the health of the prehistoric garbage makers, and thereby directly test the progressivist view? That question has become answerable only in recent years, in part through the newly emerging techniques of paleopathology, the study of signs of disease in the remains of ancient peoples.

In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material to study as a pathologist today. For example, archaeologists in the Chilean deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of death could be determined by autopsy. And feces of long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites.

Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they permit a surprising number of deductions. To begin with, a skeleton reveals its owner’s sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at any given age. Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel defects (signs of childhood malnutrition), and recognize scars left on bones by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases.

One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5′ 9″ for men, 5′ 5″ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B.C. had reached a low of only 5′ 3″ for men, 5′ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A.D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 percent increase in [tooth] enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. “Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was about twenty-six years,” says Armelagos, “but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive.”

The evidence suggests that the Indians at Dickson Mounds, like many other primitive peoples, took up farming not by choice but from necessity in order to feed their constantly growing numbers. “I don’t think most hunger-gatherers farmed until they had to, and when they switched to farming they traded quality for quantity,” says Mark Cohen of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, co-editor with Armelagos, of one of the seminal books in the field, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. “When I first started making that argument ten years ago, not many people agreed with me. Now it’s become a respectable, albeit controversial, side of the debate.”

There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition. (Today just three high-carbohydrate plants – wheat, rice, and corn – provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.) Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn’t take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearance of large cities.

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae circa 1500 B.C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from circa A.D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To people in rich countries like the U.S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite, dependent on oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer health and nutrition. If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?

Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts – with consequent drains on their health. Among the Chilean mummies for example, more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease.

Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In New Guinea farming communities today I often see women staggering under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed. Once while on a field trip there studying birds, I offered to pay some villagers to carry supplies from an airstrip to my mountain camp. The heaviest item was a 110-pound bag of rice, which I lashed to a pole and assigned to a team of four men to shoulder together. When I eventually caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one small woman weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it, supporting its weight by a cord across her temples.

As for the claim that agriculture encouraged the flowering of art by providing us with leisure time, modern hunter-gatherers have at least as much free time as do farmers. The whole emphasis on leisure time as a critical factor seems to me misguided. Gorillas have had ample free time to build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to. While post-agricultural technological advances did make new art forms possible and preservation of art easier, great paintings and sculptures were already being produced by hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago, and were still being produced as recently as the last century by such hunter-gatherers as some Eskimos and the Indians of the Pacific Northwest.

Thus with the advent of agriculture an elite became better off, but most people became worse off. Instead of swallowing the progressivist party line that we chose agriculture because it was good for us, we must ask how we got trapped by it despite its pitfalls.

One answer boils down to the adage, “Might makes right.” Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life. Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over one person per ten square miles, while farmers average 100 times that. Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it’s because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it’s old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don’t have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years.

As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter. It’s not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn’t want.

At this point it’s instructive to recall the common complaint that archaeology is a luxury, concerned with the remote past and offering no lessons for the present. Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny. Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style in human history. In contrast, we’re still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it’s unclear whether we can solve it.

Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all? Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture’s glittering facade, and that have so far eluded us?


Firstly, for those of you who don’t know, Tesco/Homeplus is the British version of Walmart.

As it says in my  profile, I recently spent a year in South Korea.

Before reading what these things have to do with other watch this funny short clip to show you what I mean…

(Ok, if you watched that, I particularly liked the line “Tesco slogan changed from ‘Every little helps’ to ‘We control every aspect of your lives’.)

Anyway, enough of Denmark – back to Korea. They have a different idea about care for animals in Korea (says the inveterate meateater). They do eat dogs but less than 10% of them and then usually only on special occasions. This is not going to be an article about eating dog. If anyone was wondering, then I did eat it when I was there but I wasn’t told what it was until after I had begun to eat it. I carried on eating it (that one time) too. I don’t honestly know if I would have eaten it if I had known before. It is odd that people seem to think that eating one kind of animal is ok and another isn’t. It reminds me of the propaganda fuss that was kicked up about the Russians sending a dog and a monkey into space. This is at the time remember when Nuclear tests were being done on American soil. Did the US army send people out to tell every lizard, bird, snake and insect to get out of the way?

The thing I found particularly bad in Korea was not the choice of animal to eat – their diet is considerably more vegetable based than the western ones. It was the pet shops I found upsetting. Everywhere you go there would be pet shops with loads of dogs (very often huskies) rammed into cages with each other in the display window or just outside the shop; they weren’t looking particularly happy or healthy. Either that or they would be in individual little perspex boxes on their own, and those dogs didn’t look particularly pleased either. Those dogs in the pet shop were not for eating. A large number of Koreans keep dogs as pets.

The one that really surprised me however was outside the aforementioned Tesco. In the city I was living in there were a few rabbits and possibly a goat or two housed inside a couple of little cages about 12 feet long and 3 feet wide.

Such a thing would be unthinkable here.

What I mean by that is that actually having the things in cages directly outside the store would mean dreadful publicity for them.

Those animals outside the store were not for eating, it was more of a little petting zoo to amuse the kids.

It is very much ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for most people when it comes to animal welfare, myself included.  Occasionally one of the suppliers for one of the major fast food places or supermarkets are caught out with video evidence – this is one of the reasons that the big chains contract these things out – so that they can’t be blamed for it. That’s why I was so taken aback by what I was seeing.

Most Koreans just passed by it in a blaze of indifference.

Shortly after I arrived in Korea my camera was stolen and I used those little disposable ones instead. For the year I was there I was telling myself every time I went past Tesco to take a picture of the little cages. I never did until the very last day, and I have been home for a while now and I just found the disposable camera and put it in to get developed.

Anyway…if you don’t know what the video below is you will be confused. Just wait till it is loaded up and then the scene that is relevant here begins around 6 minutes 15 seconds. It does cover some slightly uncomfortable ground, even if it is completely bizarre…


One of the things that environmentalists are warning us about is that it is very difficult to predict the pace of certain changes. There could be a gradual erosion of some things but for others it could all happen very quickly. In fact, a collapse in the food chain could be very very fast indeed…

From the Independent

The mystery of Scotland’s disappearing common seals

By Ian Herbert

Published: 14 August 2007


There have been no obvious signs of them washed up on the shore; no evidence that disease or human hand is behind a dramatic reduction in numbers of the sea mammal. But a routine survey has delivered the baffling news that 5,000 common seals have disappeared from the shores of Orkney and Shetland.

Zoologists from the University of St Andrews are so concerned about the slump in numbers of the creature loved by locals and holidaymakers alike that they are now undertaking the first complete survey of Scotland’s common seal Phoca vitulina population in the hope of an explanation. The two teams of researchers, who are equipped with helicopters using military-specification thermal imaging technology, will fly for two hours each side of low tide – the time that offers the best view of seals – in an operation which, it is hoped, may shed some light on a disturbing 45 per cent reduction in the Orkney and Shetland population.

A major, catastrophic event – such as pollution or disease – has already been ruled out by the scientists. “If there had been one, we’d have had carcasses washing up and people would have seen them at the shore and noticed them,” Callan Duck, the university’s senior research zoologist, said yesterday.

Instead, the seals may be finding a substantial reduction in the sustenance available to them as a result of subtle changes in the food chain. The species relies for food on sand eels, the population of which has been dramatically reduced; the seabird population is another source which has been faring badly. Competition for food has also intensified because a major rise in the grey seal population.

Another possible cause of the decline is the presence of killer whales, though this probably does not account for the entire 5,000 reduction. “They’ve been seen with increasing regularity in the past five years,” said Mr Duck. Other possible causes could be pollutants in the water – or more prosaic reasons relating to seal population cycles. “You could have something affecting reproductive performance which for some reason is reducing numbers,” said Mr Duck.

Some conservationists are also concerned about laws governing the protection of seals, which allow fishermen to kill them if they believe that their equipment is at risk. “At the moment the law is a joke because fishermen can get away with whatever they want,” said Ross Flett, the chairman of Orkney Seal Rescue.

The survey which revealed the reduction showed that numbers had dropped from 12,635 in 2001 to 7,277 last summer. Although the population on the west coast of Scotland is not believed to have declined and those who live on the east side of the country have only slightly reduced in numbers, the fall comes in a period of concern for the British seal population. The once-thriving population at The Wash, in Norfolk, is still low after the effects of the phocine distemper virus which devastated numbers five years ago.

The virus, which also wiped out half of Britain’s seal colonies in 1988, killed a third of the estuary’s seals in 2002 and last month, conservationists received reports that more than 40 seal pups had been washed up around an island off the Danish coast, with tests later showing they, too, had succumbed to distemper.

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue – an organisation set up in response to the 1988 outbreak – immediately warned that it was “very likely” that the virus would arrive in the UK this year, but there are as yet no signs that the disease has crossed this time. The failure of The Wash population’s numbers to pick up since the 2002 outbreak is a mystery, since the population has revived in northern Europe, where 2,000 dead seals were found when the 2002 virus was at its most lethal.

The first of the two Scottish research teams set out from Berwick-upon-Tweed last week and is working its way around the east and north Scottish coasts, flying at around 90 knots and 700ft above the sea. The other will start this week in the Solway Firth and follow the west coast. They are due to converge in the Outer Hebrides. The thermal imagers they are equipped with can detect a seal up to two miles away, showing it as a small white speck on a sand bank or rock.

With Scotland accounting for a third of the UK’s 30,000 common seal population, an explanation for the disappearance of so many of the creatures, which vary in colour from brownish black to tan or grey, each carrying a unique pattern of fine dark spots, is keenly awaited. “This common seal population is a very significant one and we are actively looking for answers,” said Mr Duck.

Seal facts

There are around 30,000 common seals in the UK, making up 80 per cent of Britain’s total seal population. There are up to 500,000 common seals in the world. As their name suggests, they are the most common species. They tend to stay around rocky shores and sandy beaches. They are not generally considered to be a threatened species, though their habit of staying near coastlines has brought them into conflict with fishermen.

Seals get caught in fishing nets and in the UK, Canada and Norway, it is legal to shoot seals that come near fisheries. It is illegal to commercially hunt seals, though this is known to sometimes occur. Pups can fall victim to foxes and large birds of prey.

The average common seal weighs 140kg and grows to 7ft. They eat up to 5kg worth of fish per day.

Male common seals (bulls) live for 20-25 years and females (cows) can live for 30-35 years.

They are largely grey in appearance, and each individual seal has its own unique pattern of brown spots. They have relatively large faces with large eyes.

Common seals can swim for several days across 50km to find feeding grounds, and dive for up to 10 minutes to depths of 1,500ft.


If you have some time today sit down and watch this film. It is about the Mclibel trial and I think many activists and people in general owe a lot to these two people.

It truly is incredible that handing out a leaflet can get you involved in the longest legal battle in British history, and even more remarkable that McDonalds spent millions on legal fees and the two activists only had a little help and still in the end managed to…. well, see for yourself.

If the film makes you want to do something but you can’t be bothered, why not sub-contract the demo out to these people (click here to go to their website)…


Ever wanted to bring capitalism crashing down but can’t get time off work to do it?

Wanna force liberal parliamentary democracy to bow it’s corpulent head in shame but have to take the car into the garage AND do the shopping?

Do you get the urge to jab John Prescott with a stick till he cries like a fat girl but can’t find a stick?

Then McDemo’s is for you, we’ll find the stick and do the jabbing! Let us demonstrate for you!

Anyway, the film, McLibel – Two People Who Wouldn’t Say Sorry

One of the websites started by the campaign is McSpotlight