London Grenfell Tower disaster, Conservative politicians to blame


London, England firefighters during a minute's silence for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Grenfell residents and firefighters were let down by the system

GRENFELL Tower survivor Rukayetu Mamudu is a thousand times right to condemn the system that let down firefighters who followed instructions, telling residents to remain indoors during the fire.

“People were trusting the firefighters’ words. And the firefighters relied on the system. The system should never have deceived them. The system let them down”, she said.

The instructions were based on the belief that each flat was a concrete box, with secure fire doors and windows, and that a fire in a single flat could be isolated, contained and extinguished.

Firefighters were not to know that the local Tory council, which owned the tower, and its arm’s-length management organisation (almo), had prejudiced the safety of the building and its residents through a botched refurbishment.

Far from the doors and windows being fire-resistant, they were compromised through replacement by inferior products.

The almo fitted panels as adornments to the outside of the tower, which, far from resisting the blaze, helped conduct it at high speed up and around the tower.

The council authorised a cheaper version of the panels, justifying Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack’s charge that “the government and local council gave priority to saving money over protecting people.”

That reality emerged clearly in the days after the disaster when local people began questioning what had gone wrong.

Yet there has been an insidious campaign in recent weeks to blame firefighters for telling residents to follow guidance they had been given, ignoring the reality that they had no reason to do otherwise.

Alarm bells rang when Scotland Yard announced a police investigation into the “remain indoors” advice, suggesting that individual fire service members could be at risk of prosecution.

Both firefighters and residents were betrayed by decisions taken by penny-pinching politicians to skimp on safety measures and to compound their crime by failing to check how these economies had affected the fire safety of Grenfell.

Rigorous checking of panelling, rather than acceptance of advertisers’ claims, could have laid bare the reality of a tragedy waiting to happen and prevented it from so doing.

Mamudu’s questions about safety certification and standards for accommodation intended for poor people must be answered by the current inquiry and honoured by the political authorities.

Residents, firefighters and other emergency services personnel went through hell at Grenfell. Their hell is ongoing.

Questions cannot be fended off with flannel nor recommendations confined to generalities about everyone needing to learn lessons. Answers are needed that guarantee no repeat of Grenfell.

Sea urchins seeing with their feet


This 2016 video says about itself:

Conceived in the open sea, tiny spaceship-shaped sea urchin larvae search the vast ocean to find a home. After this incredible odyssey, they undergo one of the most remarkable transformations in nature.

From Lund University in Sweden:

Sea urchins see with their feet

June 12, 2018

Sea urchins lack eyes, but can see with their tentacle-like tube feet instead, previous research has indicated. Now, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have tested their vision in a new study, and shown that while sea urchins have fairly low resolution vision — it is good enough to fulfill their basic needs.

Sea urchins are currently the only animals that have been shown to see without having eyes. They see using light-sensitive cells in their tube feet, which resemble tentacles and, like the spines, are all over the body. You could say that the entire sea urchin is one single compound eye”, says John Kirwan, who conducted the study as a part of his doctoral thesis, together with colleagues at Lund University.

The tube feet have other functions besides registering light. They are used for feeding and in some species are used by the sea urchin for locomotion. Others are used to attach to surfaces or as levers to correct its position when upside down.

John Kirwan studied the sea urchin species Diadema africanum. The experiments placed the animals in water inside strongly illuminated cylinders that had various dark images on the walls.

“Ordinarily, sea urchins move towards dark areas in order to seek cover. When I notice that they react to certain sizes of images but not to others, I get a measurement of their visual acuity”, explains John Kirwan.

To obtain further data, he carried out another experiment in which he showed rapidly growing figures above the sea urchins, as a way of conjuring up an image of an approaching predator. He then registered how large the figures had to be before the sea urchins would defend themselves by directing their spines towards the shadow above.

The acuity of vision was calculated using X-ray tomography and electron microscopy.

John Kirwan’s calculations show that of the 360 degrees surrounding the sea urchin an object must take up between 30 and 70 degrees for the sea urchin to see it. Humans only need an object to take up 0.02 degrees in order to detect it, making it clear that their eyesight is poor in comparison with human eyesight.

“However, this is still sufficient for the animal’s needs and behaviour. After all, it’s hardly poor eyesight for an animal with no eyes”, John Kirwan concludes.

For some, sea urchins are a pretty addition to an aquarium, while for others they are simply an ingredient in a common type of sushi. However, for developmental biologists, they represent more than 100 years of research and education. Because their eggs are transparent, embryonic development and even the act of fertilization were easily viewed with microscopes in the 1800s. Beyond the embryo, sea urchins have long lives — some species living up to 200 years — making them interesting for developmental biologists who study aging: here.

London Grenfell Tower disaster, one year commemoration 14 June


Yaks, rosefinches, snow and blue sheep in China


After 7 April 2018 came 8 April 2018. We were in the Wolong Balangshan mountains in China. This is a BBC video about Temminck’s tragopan. A bird species which we might have seen there, but did not see.

This video is about another animal species which we might have seen, but didn’t.

The video says about itself:

6 November 2017

The Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwest China’s Sichuan Province spotted 26 snow leopards.

Yaks, 8 April 2018

We did see these yaks when we came above 3,000 meter.

Snow, 8 April 2018

The higher we went, the more snow we saw.

Snowy mountains, 8 April 2018

Not only on the mountain tops further away …

Snow, on 8 April 2018

… but also close to us.

Then, on a slope above us, a beautiful male Chinese monal.

A raven.

Dark-breasted rosefinch

A bit further, in the snow, this male dark-breasted rosefinch.

Yellow-billed choughs flying.

Plain mountain finch, 8 april 2018

We saw this plain mountain-finch.

Alpine accentor, 8 April 2018

A bit further, this Alpine accentor.

Blue sheep, 8 April 2018

And then, above us, this blue sheep. Snow leopards eat blue sheep. So, though we did not see snow leopards, we did see wildlife living in their biotope.

Stay tuned, as there will be more on the birds of the mountains above Wolong!

British Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners honoured in Paris, France


British Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners at London Pride 2015. Photo: David Jones/Creative Commons

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Paris to commemorate Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners founder

PARIS is to honour Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) founder member Mark Ashton, who paved the way for gay rights to be adopted by Britain’s trade unions.

Mark Ashton in 1986 (pic: Johnny Orr/Creative Commons)

The council of the French capital’s fourth arrondissement, a sector which includes the gay village Le Marais, is set to commemorate Mr Ashton as “a role model for young people” after Communist Party councillors proposed a street or public place be named after him.

The former general secretary of Britain’s Young Communist League played a key role in building support for Britain’s striking miners among the gay community during the 1984-1985 dispute.

Deputy mayor Evelyne Zarka, who moved the motion, was inspired after seeing Mr Ashton’s story in the film Pride, which she said made her laugh and cry.

Ms Zarka said it was the action of Mr Ashton and his comrades that had advanced the cause of gay rights, leading to its adoption as policy by the British labour movement.

“His strength, his humanity and his courage make him a source of inspiration. The French Communist Party and especially this part of Paris value highly Mark Ashton and his fight”, she said.

French communists have pledged to preserve Mr Ashton’s memory and would link it to their fights against homophobia and HIV, stressing the importance of connecting struggles.

“I hope our generation will find a way to bring an end to homophobia and HIV in order to give our children a better world to live in”, said Ms Zarka.

Mr Ashton died due to an illness contracted while HIV positive in 1987. He was aged just 26.

FORMER Young Communist League general secretary Mark Ashton has been honoured after a Paris garden was named in his memory earlier this week. The garden of the Hotel-Lamoignon was renamed after the founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners — subject of the hit movie Pride — in a ceremony on Tuesday: here.

Wildlife and camera traps


This video from the Netherlands says about itself:

6 June 2018

Where to learn about biodiversity better than in nature itself? Associate professor Thijs Bosker and Leiden University College student Sebastiaan Grosscurt talk about their teaching and research project that involves the use of camera traps.

‘Investigate British government’s torture’


This 2009 video from Britain says about itself:

“Yes I am emotional about torture SIR!” Shami Chakrabarti SAVAGES UK Minister Geoff “Buff” Hoon

Shami Chakrabarti SAVAGES UK Minister Geoff “Buff” Hoon over the US attempts to BLACKMAIL Britain into silence over evidence of torture.

Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held at the American base [Guantanamo], has launched a legal challenge in the High Court in London for documents detailing his treatment to be made public.

However, two judges ruling on the case said that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, had advised that releasing the documents could lead to America withdrawing intelligence co-operation. …

The judges reveal that the secret documents at the centre of the case give rise to an arguable case of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It is also disclosed that a British intelligence official may have been present when Mr Mohamed alleges he was tortured. The judgement raises the prospect of criminal charges being brought against British officials.

By Sam Tobin in Britain:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reprieve: torture inquiry ‘long overdue’

CALLS for a public inquiry into the British government’s use of torture are long overdue, Reprieve said yesterday.

The human rights group welcomed former justice secretary Ken Clarke’s call for Prime Minister Theresa May to set up a judge-led inquiry into Britain’s use of torture in the so-called War on Terror.

Mr Clarke, who shelved plans for an inquiry due to ongoing police investigations in 2012, admitted having been wrong to block an inquiry and joined 13 other MPs and peers in calling for a full investigation.

The move comes weeks after the unprecedented apology to tortured Libyan dissident Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar.

Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “The only way for the UK to regain moral authority on this issue is to fully examine and expose past wrongs.

Pointing out that former PM “David Cameron promised to establish a judge-led inquiry once police investigations had concluded”, Ms Foa said: “That moment has now arrived and Ken Clarke and his colleagues are right to call on Theresa May to keep the government’s promise.”

True scale of UK role in torture and rendition after 9/11 revealed. Two damning reports reveal British intelligence’s treatment of terrorism suspects: here.

Grey seals freed after reconvalescence


This 30 May 2018 video from Texel island in the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

Five seals from our [Ecomare museum] shelter were able to return to the sea today! Among them were the two seals that had ended up in the shelter because they had become entangled in pieces of fishing nets. Co and Lenja, and the other three gray seals Monster, Brechje and Funny are now strong and healthy enough to be able to continue independently. The seals almost went into the water at the same time … a new future. Read more about it here.

If discovered as fossils, grey and ringed seals are so different that they could be classified as belonging to different families. Yet, a seal pup born in 1929 was found to be an almost perfect intermediate between the species. Compared to Neanderthals and modern humans, grey and ringed seals are genetically and dentally at least twice as different, suggesting that there may be more fossil human hybrids to be discovered: here.

Surviving London Grenfell disaster, by a twelve-year-old


This video from London, England says about itself:

Escaping Grenfell Tower – through the eyes of a 12-year-old

11 June 2018

Theresa May has admitted she will always regret she didn’t meet the Grenfell Tower survivors the day after the disaster, in an effective apology to those who escaped the blaze. Like 12-year-old Naila El Guenuni, who managed to get out from her 18th floor flat, along with her younger brother and sister and pregnant mother. She lost three friends in the blaze, including Firdaws Hashim, who I met when I presented a debating trophy to her just weeks before the fire.

The family have since been supported by the charity Action for Children. Jon Snow went to meet Naila and asked her about her memories of that night.