David Cameron forcing militarist propaganda down British five-year-olds’ throats


This video from Britain says about itself:

The British Armed Forces: Propaganda in the classroom?

2 March 2015

A critical review of The British Armed Forces, a “learning resource” produced by the UK government and sent to schools. Read a full analysis here.

By Luke James in Britain:

PM ‘forcing’ pro-military propaganda into schools

Tuesday 3rd March 2015

PEACE campaigners accused the Prime Minister yesterday of forcing teachers to push poor-quality “military propaganda” in school for children as young as five.

Activists published a scathing assessment of the British Armed Forces Learning Resource, which features a smiling squaddie and a pilot giving a thumbs-up on the front page of the document.

Launched by the Tory PM’s office last September, it has been promoted to all English schools by the government.

The lesson plans are described as an “immersive resource” designed to “educate children about the work of the UK armed forces” in history, English or citizenship classes for children aged between five and 16.

But an analysis of the Downing Street scheme by Forces Watch and the Quakers blasted it as a “politically driven” attempt to promote military values in schools.

“We consider that the document amounts to political interference in children’s education and that the Department ofEducation is failing in its legal duty to safeguard education,” said Forces Watch spokesman Owen Everett.

The groups claimed that the resource was penned by former military personnel in a month and that not a single teacher was involved in its production.

According to their report, that is reflected in the “largely one-sided” representation of controversial topics.

“Many of the questions that it asks are introduced in a leading way and the material that would be required to explore them fully is not provided,” the report says.

The Quakers and Forces Watch also raised concerns over the “uncritical history of British involvement in war.”

The Star asked the Department for Education for a comment but did not receive one.

Former Citizenship Foundation director Don Rowe, who contributed to the critique, described the document as “demonstrably biased.”

Calling for its withdrawal yesterday, he said: “This is the kind of resource one gets in countries with less-than-democratic structures where civic education is used by governments to manipulate citizens into an uncritical attitude towards the state.”

Mice in the Netherlands, new research


This video is about yellow-necked mice.

Translated from the Dutch Mammal Society:

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

For years the yellow-necked mouse in the Netherlands was only known from the extreme southeast of Limburg province. Since 2005 from the German border they are expanding to the west. Meanwhile, the species is known from all our provinces bordering on Germany. The question now is: are yellow-necked mice taking over, or may they occur in the same habitats together with common wood mice?

In Northwest Europe two species of wood mice live, common wood mice and yellow-necked mice. The yellow-necked mouse is clearly larger, but in terms of food spectrum it is virtually identical to the ordinary wood mouse.

So far, research has not yet established clearly whether yellow-necked mice supplant wood mice.

British spring flowers, cuckoos coming


This video says about itself:

Solitary bee foraging on Crocus tomasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

1 March 2015

See how the small bee is moving around the anthers to collect pollen as well as diving its head down the base for nectar. Honeybees differ in that they will only collect either pollen or nectar. The bee was on the flower for a much longer time than a honeybee would have been.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

From carpets of crocuses to cuckoos on the move, spring is truly springing

Michael McCarthy

Monday 2 March 2015

Well it’s been a long wait, but spring is here now, at least by the Met Office definition, which classifies the new season as consisting of March, April and May (the older, astronomical definition has it beginning from the vernal equinox, which this year is 20 March, but we tend to go with the Met Office these days). And with Sunday being the first day of it, I went out to look for signs, and was not disappointed.

In Kew Gardens at the moment you can see what must be one of the most vivid springtime displays in the whole country: millions of blooms of early crocuses which are forming vast mauve sheets over the ground. The flower is Crocus tomasinianus, originally from eastern Europe, and in English sometimes called Whitewell purple. From a distance, the massed ranks of the blooms seem to glow, to shine like pale-purple light in the grass. It’s an astonishing spectacle.

The rest of Kew is still a bit bare, but the snowdrops are proudly out in the bluebell wood and there are subtler signs of the new season: the black-headed gulls on the lake are resplendent in their shiny new chocolate-brown headgear (which in winter shrinks to just a dark dot behind the eye), and the dunnocks, those nondescript but subtly attractive birds which we used to call hedge sparrows, are everywhere reeling out their song, which some people say is like the sound of a squeaking shopping trolley: streedly-streedly-streedly-stree.

Yet the most interesting sign of spring greeted me when I got back and switched on the computer: it was an email from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) giving the latest details of the BTO cuckoos in Africa. Since 2011, Britain’s leading bird research organisation has been satellite-tracking cuckoos on their mammoth migratory journeys from Britain to their African wintering grounds, and the project has revealed a wonderful wealth of hitherto unknown information: where wintering British cuckoos end up (the Congo rainforest), how they get there (some via Italy, some via Spain) and how they return (all of them via West Africa).

The journeys are arduous and full of risk, and sometimes the birds don’t make it: Indy, the cuckoo sponsored by The Independent, died in Cameroon in 2012. Currently 13 cuckoos are being tracked in Africa, including Chris (named after the naturalist Chris Packham) who has been going strong since 2011, and is thus being tracked on his fourth successive Africa trip; and what the BTO email told me was the heartening news that all of the birds are now on their way back, and heading northwards. There’s our spring down in Africa, flying steadily towards us.

They’ll be here in about six weeks, and when they arrive, their two-note musical call is the most instantly recognisable of all our springtime sounds. But the cuckoo, of course, has a double identity: it is not just the supreme spring-announcer, it is a notorious cheat, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, (the technical term is a brood parasite).

Have you ever wondered how it does it? I mean, how it manages to get its single egg into the nests of its host species, such as reed warblers, meadow pipits and pied wagtails, where the cuckoo chick throws out the other eggs or nestlings and ends up as a monstrous intruder many times the size of the hapless foster-parents who are straining to feed it?

A new book tells in mesmerising detail how the host birds are first outwitted by the female cuckoo, and then by the cuckoo chick. Cuckoo – Cheating By Nature (Bloomsbury, £16.99) is by Nick Davies, the world expert on Cuculus canorus, the Eurasian cuckoo, our bird. He gives a riveting account not only of how the cuckoo evolves deceptive stratagems, such as eggs which mimic the eggs of the host, but also of how the host birds evolve defences, such as learning to reject any eggs which seems slightly different from their own.

This is in effect an “evolutionary arms race” and its complexities are elucidated with exemplary clarity and humour by Professor Davies, who is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at Cambridge and has spent the past 30 years studying cuckoos and discovering their tricks, at Wicken Fen to the north of the city. (He also, for good measure, discovered, through studies in the Cambridge Botanical Garden, that the humble and unglamorous dunnock, mentioned above, has the raciest sex life of any small songbird, everywhere looking for lurve).

His new cuckoo study, which is published next week, is an even more fascinating take on curious behaviour. I’ve just read it, and it’s a terrific read.

German Pegida racists’ anti-refugee violence


This video is called Pegida: Hatred on the march. It says about itself:

11 February 2015

In this episode of Observers Direct, we had to the city of Dresden in eastern Germany. Dresden is home to the PEGIDA movement, which stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”. Since October, they’ve held weekly rallies over what they see as the threat posed by Muslim immigrants to … society.

Our Observer works with refugees in Dresden. Julien Pain went to meet him there.

Translated from Wirtschaftswoche weekly in Germany:

Dresden: Right-wing Pegida protesters attack refugee camp

Pegida boss Bachmann always pretends that his followers are peaceful. After a recent “walk” by these critics of Islam, however, rightist persons tried to attack a protest camp of refugees.

After the end of a Pegida demonstration in Dresden about two dozen right-wing extremists have tried to attack a protest camp of refugees. On Monday night the police in the square in front of the Semperoper immediately positioned themselves between the two sides and prevented worse. Of injured people, initially nothing was known, a police spokesman reported in the early hours of Tuesday. In the square, several hundred supporters of the refugees had gathered to prevent an evacuation of the camp expected that evening.

Around 6,000 supporters of the anti-Islam movement Pegida had gone on Monday evening to Dresden. After the end of the rally, about 100 people flocked to the protest camp. While about two dozen of them tried to storm the place, others demanded verbally the evacuation of the camp.

According to Dutch NOS TV, the Pegida attackers threw incendiary devices at the camp, while shouting: ‘Ausländer raus!’ [Foreigners out].

The Wirtschaftswoche article continues:

Despite a ban, in the Belgian port city of Antwerp on Monday night about a hundred Pegida supporters gathered. The police surrounded the demonstrators according to a report by the Belgian news agency Belga. Some people have been arrested. The city government had banned the demonstration as too dangerous.

Among the demonstrators was Filip Dewinter, leader of the extreme right party Vlaams Belang. Also, Dutch neo-nazis of the Nederlandse Volksunie (NVU) had traveled to Antwerp to join the demonstration, according to the NVU Facebook page. Dutch (right wing) daily De Telegraaf writes that 12 Pegida people were arrested, and one policeman was injured.

Irish teenager’s death penalty in Egypt for attending pro-democracy rally?


This video from Ireland says about itself:

Free Ibrahim Halawa

10 December 2014

Ibrahim Halawa is an Irish citizen who has been imprisoned in Egypt for over a year. He is a prisoner of conscience and Amnesty are calling for his immediate release.

Sign the petition here.

On Saturday the 13/12/14, Ibrahim’s birthday, join us as we protest outside the Egyptian embassy and call for Ibrahim’s release!

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Ibrahim Halawa: Irish teenager faces execution in Egypt after attending pro-democracy rally

He is one [of] 493 detainees charged collectively

Cahal Milmo

Monday 02 March 2015

An Irish teenager held in Egypt for nearly two years after he attended a pro-democracy protest has been moved to a purpose-built prison where he faces a mass trial and possible execution, campaigners have warned.

Ibrahim Halawa was just 17 when he was arrested with his three older sisters after they sought shelter in a Cairo mosque during the demonstration in August 2013.

Although his siblings were released, Ibrahim was placed in adult custody, suffered alleged beatings and had medical treatment withheld for a bullet wound to a hand which is now permanently disfigured. He is one 493 detainees charged collectively with causing deaths and criminal damage.

Legal charity Reprieve said the Irishman, who had been in Egypt to visit relatives, had recently been moved out of Cairo’s notorious Tora prison, where he shared a cell with Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste until the Australian’s release last month.

Mr Halawa is now being held at Wadi el Natrun between Cairo and Alexandria in a jail complex specially built for mass trials.

Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Before this farce of a trial resumes, and Ibrahim’s life is put at risk, the Irish government and the EU must do all they can to ensure his return to his family in Dublin.”

Report thy neighbour: policing Sisi’s Egypt. A regime bereft of legitimacy, save for its promise to guarantee national security, turns citizens into active players in a new culture of surveillance and reporting: here.

James Bond’s Zapata rail re-discovery in Cuba


Zapata rail, painted by Allan Brooks

From BirdLife:

Rare glimpse of elusive rail

By Martin Fowlie, Mon, 02/03/2015 – 15:34

An ornithological search-team have caught a glimpse of one of the world’s most threatened waterbirds, the Critically Endangered Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai. The sighting is the first documented in more than four decades and offers hope to conservationists working to ensure its survival.

First described in the early twentieth century, the only nest that has ever been found was by ornithologist James Bond -a name appropriated by Ian Fleming (himself a birder) for 007- and little has since been discovered about its behaviour and breeding ecology. Hopes were fading that viable populations of the Cuban waterbird remained.

The fleeting encounter, now made public, occurred in November 2014. After a series of coordinated surveys of south-west Cuba’s Zapata Swamp, ornithologists (including Andy Mitchell and staff from the Cuban Museum of Natural History) struck gold only after deciding to cut thin strips (rides) into the sawgrass to momentarily expose the secretive birds as they moved through the wetland.

“In the first instance, the head protruded from the sawgrass at the side of the ride,” recounted Andy Mitchell. “After a few seconds the bird emerged slowly into the open, stopped for a few seconds before moving off into the sawgrass on the other side of the ride.”

Now rediscovered, conservation efforts for Zapata Rail will target the wetland in which it was spotted, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area covering 530,695 ha of wetland in southern Matanzas province. A new project management plan will be developed to assess the species’ current population size, distribution and status.

The sighting is the latest victory in BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which aims to halt extinctions through rigorous science and practical conservation delivered by a range of partners on the ground.

This music video is called John Zorn – The Zapata Rail.