The Sick Leader Of Slovenia

Running a country can ruin your health,. Recent reports in the media have alluded to prostate cancer for the President of Equatorial Guinea, "A gravely ill" President Of Guinea Bissau, diabetes and kindey problems for the President Of North Korea and "Chronic internal problems" for the Prime Minsiter of Japan

Yet another disease ridden leader is Janez Drnovsek is the President of Slovenia. He lives a rather unconventional lifestyle, not entirely befitting of a President:

"He lives alone with his dog and has no TV. A vegan, he eats only self-baked bread and organic fruits and vegetables"

This article raises interesting questions about his attitude to a cancer that he was first diagnosed with nearly 10 years ago. Drnovsek claims to have "cured himself" and he has not seen a doctor since January 2005:

""I have a feeling that the medical profession is worried because someone dared to treat himself without them"

Worryingly though -

"The doctors who treated him have not commented, but a retired surgeon, Tine Velikonja, recently claimed to have information about his diagnosis and said cancer would kill him within a year."

He's not in the least bit worried:

""I'll respond to his claims in 2008," Drnovsek retorted."

But will he though? The article alludes to cancer of the kidney, liver and lung, even with medical help the prognosis can be bleak for such a diagnosis.

As he lay dying, John Diamond, Nigella Lawson's cleverer half, wrote "Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations", which amounted to a scathing attack on "The protagonists of alternativism [who] are, at best, gullible and misguided, at worst, con-merchants and quacks."

It might be an idea for Janez Drnovsek to read a copy before too long.

The Devon Flag

The Devon Flag is seen flying from more and more buildings these days. Long may it continue.

The author of these words hopes that this new found pride in our county might one day lead to calls for devolved powers, or maybe even independence from the rest of the UK.

Your scribe feels Devon could do a much better job by cutting the ties that bind us to London. He tries not to prosthelytize too much about this political point of view as, deep down, he knows Devon isn't ready for a Great Struggle just yet.

Artimus Pyle's Bad Night

Lynyrd Skynyrd were an American Southern rock band who are best remembered for two things; their epic song Freebird and for the fact that three of their original band members were killed in a plane crash in 1977.

Flying between venues on an American tour, the band's chartered plane ran out of fuel and crashed in to a forest in Mississippi.

The band's drummer, Armitus Pyle, crawled out of the plane wreckage with several broken ribs, yet ran nearly a mile to a farmhouse to try to get help. The farmer Johnny Mote, on first seeing the wild-haired blood and mud encrusted drummer babbling incoherently, greeted him with a (fortunately non-fatal) shotgun blast to his shoulder. Only when Mote realized that this person was connected with the plane crash he had just heard did he call for help.

Artimus Pyle survived to join a reformed Lynryrd Skynyrd and continued to drum with them for many years. He now fronts the Artimus Pyle Band

From Fiji To Tiree And The Isles Of Ebony

For 18 years, the author of these words has listened to Orinoco Flow by Enya. Only today does he realise what she is actually singing. The words include this near perfect verse:

"From Bissau to Palau - in the shade of Avalon,

From Fiji to Tiree and the Isles of Ebony,

From Peru to Cebu hear the power of Babylon,

From Bali to Cali - far beneath the Coral Sea. "

Your scribe likes songs which namecheck places. "Rambling Man" by Lemon Jelly mentions more place names than any other song, unless any readers know differently:

"Paris Tibet Sydney Naxos

Rangoon Rotterdam Runcton The Cayman Islands

Malawi Mauritius Haight-Ashbury Patagonia

Kingston Kentish Town Codrington Koh Samui

Felixstowe Fingrinhoe Valmorel The North Pole

Brixton Antwerp Gujarat Prawle

Uganda Shennington Sudbury Sri Lanka

Ecuador Edinburgh Stockholm Abu Dhabi

Lexington Lindos Tokyo Harlem

Ipanema Nicosia Granada San Jose

Damascus Mandalay San Frandisco Atlantis

Adelaide Angmering Arumpo Amsterdam

New York Kabul Rwanda Kyoto

Manchester Prague Mendhurst Toronto

Madrid Melbourne Dublin Dakar

Boston Oslo Tooting Belfast

Botswana Tonga Rayburn, I'm a ramblin' man..."

All Is Silent. All Is Calm

The very noisy dog from next door has been mentioned before on this blog.

Since Sunday evening, not a hint of canine intranquility has been heard. Not a yap or a whine, a bark or a scream. What has happened to it? Words were had with an inconsiderate neighbour, strong words, but your scribe never expected his appeals for less selfish dog keeping to result in such instant and complete silence.

Has it been 'dealt with' or given away? Has it been dognapped? Or has it been taken to the vets and debarked? The author of these words, who admitted on this blog the temptation to kill the dog himself last week, wonders if an equally annoyed and distracted neighbour has gone and done just that.

It is wrong to take pleasure in death or cruelty to animals - that is undeniable. And yet the silence that has returned this week is so welcome, so relaxing, that your author cannot deny he wouldn't kill for it in the future, should a high pitched yapping return.

The Blackbirders

When slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century, many large scale mines and farms throughout the Americas suffered a recruitment crisis. Paying a wage for work cut profits and before long unscrupulous merchants set out to look for another source of free labour.

Ships from Peru and Chile sailed west across the Pacific to the uncharted and ungoverned islands of Polynesia and Melanesia.

In 1863 a ship, The arrived off the shore of Nukulaelae an island that forms part of Tuvalu. The naive islanders, who had only rarely received contact from the outside world, gathered on the beach. They were persuaded to go aboard the ship to "receive religious instruction". Once aboard, they were locked below deck and the ship set sail. 250 men, women and children were taken, this represented 79 per cent of the island's population. None of them were ever to return, all were condemned to spend the remainder of their lives in Chile as 'indentured labourers' although in reality they never received payment for their labour and lived and died in miserable poverty. They also had virtually no immunity to disease and succumbed in their droves to thyphoid and measles.

This story was repeated all over the Pacific. Easter Island, Kiribati, The Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands were all robbed of many of their fittest inhabitants. They were taken to the sugar cane fields in Queensland, phosphate mines on Peru, to kill seals on Juan Fernandez, to work in hotels in Chile and to dig guano from rocks off the coast of Peru and Chile. They endured awful living conditions and very few ever returned to their homelands.

The author of these words wonders at the scene on Nukulaelae when four out of five islanders had been kidnapped. Families destroyed at a stroke, probably only the elderly, infirm and the youngest children remained. Life on paradise must suddenly have become very hard.

Sunday Laws in America

Early American settlers were expected to observe Sundays by attending church and refraining from any activities that could be deemed as 'Un-Christian". This involved abstaining from all work and pleasure, the day was supposed to be set aside wholly for worship.

Laws were rigorously enforced:

"In November 1637, Anne Hutchinson held religious meetings in her home in Boston, Massachusetts, in which she showed by Scripture that Christian experience is based on faith and not merely mechanical works. As a result of these meetings, although a mother of fourteen children and expecting another, she was tried for heresy by the court of Boston in November of that year and evicted from the colony."

"Captain Kemble, of Boston, was, in 1656, set for two hours in the public stocks, for his 'lewd and unseemly behavior,' which consisted in kissing his wife 'publicquely' on Sunday morning on the doorstep of their home on his return from a three-year ocean voyage... "

"In Georgia, Day Conklin was found guilty of chopping wood on Sunday. The Friday before, much of his family's possessions had been soaked in a cloud burst while moving from one house to another. The weather turned bitterly cold and by Sunday morning his supply of wood being gone, he chopped wood as a last resort for the protection of his family. The fine and court cost amounted to $83-a year's salary back then"

Even in the twentieth century, long after the Sunday laws were supposed to have been repealed, certain states were not in favour of any fun on the Sabbath.

"In 1924 a New Jersey court invoked a 1798 blue law and found it illegal to play a phonograph or listen to the radio on Sunday because this was "music for the sake of merriment.""

"In Washington County, Virginia, in 1932, a deputy sheriff arrested two women--one a crippled mother who walked with crutches--for washing clothes in her home. In 1931 in a Philadelphia suburb it is recorded that a policeman arrested a boy for kicking a football on Sunday. When the father protested, the . . . policeman shot and killed the father."


Rachel Jackson - A Gentle and Virtuous Being

Rachel Donelson Jackson married future American President Andrew Jackson in 1791. Unusually for those times Rachel was a divorcee - her first husband suffered jealous fits and rages which made him impossible to live with.

Shortly after their marriage, Rachel's first husband, Captain Lewis Robarts announced that he and Rachel were not divorced at all and that he had only filed a suit for separation. He then filed to divorce her on the grounds of her adultery with Andrew Jackson.

The future president was forced to re marry Rachel in 1794. Throughout his political career he was dogged by rumours of adultery and bigamy. By all accounts they were a devoted couple, Andrew Jackson is known to have fought at least one duel to defend his wife's honour.

Sadly they were never able to have children, but numerous waifs and strays, as well as extended family members were welcomed in to their home, 'The Hermitage' , near Nashville, Tennessee. Rachel Jackson is described as having "unpretentious kindness [and] won the respect of all who knew her"

When Andrew Jackson was ran to become the seventh President of the United States in 1828, old rumors about his illegal first marriage to Rachel resurfaced. Rachel was accused of adultery and attacked without mercy. Despite the slur campaign, Andrew Jackson prevailed at the election and he was due to be inaugurated in March 1829, with Rachel as his first lady.

Only two weeks after his election victory, Rachel died suddenly of a heart attack, possibly as a direct consequence of the stress which resulted from attacks on her personal character. She was buried just before Christmas in 1828, wearing the dress she had just purchased for the inauguration ceremony. She never got to serve as First Lady.

Her epitah reads:

"A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor"

The Plight Of The African Boat People

Many African refugees are resorting to desperate measures to reach European soil. Hundreds have appeared in The Canary Islands this year alone, usually arriving in overcrowded boats totally unsuitable for long sea voyages.

Those that arrive safely are kept confined in barracks turned in to holding camps for refugees, they are usually deported.

Many people have died attempting to cross the sea to Europe. This article tells of the tragic end of a group of migrants from Senegal, their bodies were found in a boat that had drifted across the Atlantic and arrived off the coast of Barbados, 2800 miles away from home. A note found on one of the bodies reads thus:

"I am from Senegal but have been living in Cape Verde for a year. Things are bad. I don't think I will come out of this alive. I need whoever finds me to send this money to my family. Please telephone my friend Ibrahima Drame. Signed Diaw Sounkar Diemi."

It seems as if the boat had been cut adrift, months before, from a larger vessel and left to it's fate. Many are thought to have been washed overboard before the boat was discovered. One can only imagined the horrors they must have endured.

The author of these words signs off for now, wondering about the man who cut the boat adrift, abandoning it to the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean. Where is he today? And does his conscience torment him?

Congo - The Forgotten War

The news is full of talk about the impending crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. The author of these words is pessimistic about the what The United Nations will do to stop all out genocide erupting. Tony Blair and George Bush bleat on about the need to supply troops to the troubled region, knowing full well that their own countries cannot oblige, as they are stretched to the limit in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soundbites abound that "another Rwanda or another Srebrenica cannot be allowed to happen"... It will be allowed to happen, just like another war, which killed more people than any other conflict since the Second World War.

The Second Congo War, which finished only two years ago in 2004, has already been forgotten - consigned to the dustbin of time. Or maybe western politicians don't mention it because to speak of the war only highlights the fact they did nothing to stop genocide on a massive scale. 3,800,000 Congoese were killed. 3,800,000. The number is so huge, yet the footmark this war has made in history is so small.

Everyone knows about the Vietnam war, but many would be amazed to know that more people were killed in just four years in Congo, than there were killed in twenty years of conflict in Vietnam. The majority of people asked would know about Pol Pot and the genocide in Cambodia. Most wouldn't know that twice as many were killed in Congo during four years of bloodshed. All Europeans with a television know about the horrors of the Bosnian War, do they know that forty times as many Congoese were killed during a largely unreported conflict? For every one man who died in The Falklands War, nearly four thousand were killed in Congo.

The author of these words cannot explain how the horrors of Congo have been so easily swept under the carpet by the international community. Sadly he believes that in the future, the holocaust to come in Darfur will be given similar treatment, forgotten by a world that doesn't care enough.

Republicans In Orange

The author of these words was rather taken with this image by Stephen Pitt.

The Enigma Of Shelagh McDonald

Shelagh McDonald was a very highly rated Scottish folk musician who released a couple of albums in the early 1970s to critical acclaim.

In 1972, Shelagh vanished from the music scene and nothing was heard from her for over 30 years. Not only did she stop making music, but she lost touch with her friends and even her parents, who went to their graves without knowing her fate. She didn't even collect the royalties from her record sales.

A newspaper article in The Scottish Daily Mail in December 2005 finally revealed her whereabouts. It seems that a bad LSD trip in 1972 was the root of her problems, she says that it lasted for days and weeks instead hours and she went back to her parents house to "hide from the demons." After she had partially recovered, she spent the rest of the 1970s working in a department store.

After meeting her partner in the 1980s, she rediscovered her hippy roots and adopted an itinerant lifestyle, travelling across Ireland and Scotland living in a tent.

The author of these words can highly recommend the two albums released by Shelagh McDonald. Whilst it is undeniably sad that her parents died without knowing what had happened to her, your scribe has a sneaking admiration for anyone who can turn their backs on success, money and society in pursuit of their own happiness.

(Three decades later, Shelagh pictured with her partner Gordon)

The Barking Dog Next Door

This news article refers to an 82 year old lady who was so angry at the continual noise coming from the dogs next door, that she tried to burn her neighbour's house down.

The author of these words, sometimes driven to distraction with the same problem, can only sympathize with her. Whilst he does not condone arson, he can fully understand her actions.

The dog next door is a Jack Russell , who emits a shrill, piercingly loud bark or yelp for hours on end when left alone, which happens on a daily basis. The illustration below shows a different breed of dog, but the image expresses perfectly exactly what he'd like to do to the dog who is slowly but surely destroying his sanity.

Your scribe signs off for now, despondently. He used to think of himself as an animal lover, but today he could quite happily murder one of God's creatures.

Twenty People Who Won't See October 2007?

A new dead pool competition is about to start. The morals and ethics of participating in such an event are dubious to say the least, but the author of the words ruefully confesses to regularly entering teams for dead pool competitions, usually with very little success.

The Canadian Paul Dead Pool kicks off later this month. The competition asks contestants to select two teams of ten: "...One regular to choose any 10 candidates that you'd like and one "Theme Team," where teams can take a more unique and personalized approach to Deadpooling.."

Your scribe has entered what he believes to be quite strong team, one year from now he will have his answer.

Team One -

1 - Luciano Pavarotti - Opera Singer stricken with pancreatic cancer
2 - Freddie Fender - Musician diagnosed with terminal lung cancer
3- Allen Carr - Quit smoking expert diagnosed with ... inoperable lung cancer
4 - Art Buchwald - Very sick and frail American humourist
5 - Charlton Heston - Actor in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease
6 - Sidney Sheldon - Author and Scriptwriter, reported to be very ill
7- Harold Pinter - Author with throat cancer
8 - Ariel Sharon - Former Israeli PM, has spent all of 2006 in a coma
9 - Art Linkletter - The rules state one of the entries must be Canadian
10 - Ross Davidson - Former Eastenders actor with brain cancer

Team Two - Theme Team "The Wrong Side Of The Law"

1 - Nick Du Toit - Failed coup leader languishing in jail in Equatorial Guinea
2 - Ratko Mladic - Wanted Serbian war criminal
3 - Amrozi bin Nurhasyim - Laughing Bali Bomber - awaiting death by firing squad
4 - Andrew Chan - Ringleader of Bali 9 Heroin Smuggling Ring - firing squad again
5 - John Straffen - Britain's longest serving prisoner - inside since 1952
6 - Ian Brady - Moors Murderer
7 - Karla Homolka - Much Hated Canadian Serial Killer. Now a free woman
8 - Saddam Hussain -Awaiting execution - but when?
9 - Ayman Al Zawqahiri -Bin Laden's No 2
10 - Barzan Al-Tikriti Saddam's half-brother also on trial for war crimes also has cancer.

The author of these words doesn't especially want any of the above unfortunate individuals to die, however their collective efforts over the next twelve months will determine his place on the final scoreboard. So it could be conceded that there is a certain amount of 'wishful thinking' involved. As with all things, time will tell.
It might be wrong and it might be sick, but there are plenty of far worse things to do on the internet. Could you select a better team?

The Genius Of David Lynch

David Lynch, the film director who created classics like Twin Peaks, Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man and Mulholland Drive, has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival.

The author of these words cannot think of a more deserving recipient of the prize and salutes his genius.

The Hard Life Of Ada Blackjack Johnson

Ada Blackjack Johnson, an Inuit American, was born in 1898 in Solomon, Nome County, Alaska.

By the time she was 21 she was already a single mother- her husband was drowned in a fishing accident. Two of her three children died in infancy, her surviving son suffered from tuberculosis and later spinal meningitis.

Desperate for money to get medical care for her son, in 1921 she signed up for a risky expedition to Wrangel Island, a barren island inhabited by Eskimos, lying between the northern coast of Russia and the North Pole. She was hired as a seamstress for a party of four men sent to claim the island as the property of Canada.

Life was very tough on Wrangel, the island was constantly surrounded by ice fields and often blanketed in dense fog. They had six month supply of food, and understood that this supply would be replenished by a supply ship in due course. The supply ship never showed, the weather worsened and food began to run low, the five standed expedition members began to think they had been abandoned to their fate.

Things eventually got so bad that three of the four men on Wrangel Island decided to take a sledge across the ice to try and raise help, leaving Ada and a man called E. Lorne Knight, who was too sick to attempt the journey. Ada never saw the three men again, to this day their fate is unknown.

After only a couple of months, E Lorne Wright died, despite Ada's best efforts to care for him. She was now completely alone. Ada had to learn to hunt seals to feed herself and was at the mercy of the many polar bears who wandered the island, on more than one occasion she had to run for her life.

Finally after months of total isolation, she was rescued in August 1923, the supply boat had eventually been able to break through the ice to get to the coast of Wrangel. Her return to civilisation was an unhappy one. She did not receive the promised payment for undertaking the expedition - it was deemed to be a failure as she was the only survivor.

She married again and gave birth to another son, her husband then abandoned her. She had so little money that she chose to place both her sons in a childrens home, where they remained for the next nine years. When she finally scraped together enough money, she took the two boys home where she worked herding reindeer and fed the children by hunting and trapping. After her younger son,Billy, left home, his mother continued to care for Bennett, her elder disabled son, until she died, still poor, in Palmer, Alaska on May 29, 1983.

The author of these words pauses to take stock of the hardships that Ada Blackjack Johnson must have endured. What must she have gone through when she was left as the only surviving member of the expedition? How did she cope with the mental torment of months of isolation? And why wasn't more done to assist this remarkable lady when she returned to her home?

Ada's son Billy Johnson has this to say about her "...Her story of survival in the Arctic will be a great chapter in the history of the Arctic and Alaska. Time is running out, and soon this chapter will fade away unless we care enough to make a record of it,” he said.

The author of these words is happy to assist in keeping the memory of Ada Blackjack Johnson alive

Death Of A Bag Thief ?

A man in Holland has been found dead - pinned to a tree by a car.

Confusion reigns, the dead man was alleged to have been a habitual bag snatcher and to have been murdered by a vigilante. Others believe he lived a crime free life balancing two jobs and was the victim of a tragic accident.

Even if he was a thief, he certainly didn't need to die, or get his 'just deserts' as this linked article suggests.

RIP Steve Irwin

The author of these words was terribly saddened to hear of the death today of Steve Irwin. May he rest in peace, and may his family eventually recover from their loss and continue Steve's valuable work protecting wild life.

He is also very disappointed with the comments of two British wildlife experts he had always admired before today; Chris Packham and Ray Mears. They both gave interviews in the press today making out Steve Irwin to be some sort of animal baiting maniac who tormented animals for the benefit of TV cameras. Not only was it a highly inaccurate portrayal, it was insensitive beyond belief to start proffering their ill informed opinions before his body had even got back to the morgue. Steve Irwin contributed far more than either of them ever will to wildlife conservation, his loss to Australia's environmental lobby is incalculable and these two men have belittled themselves in the eyes of your scribe.

Operation Cat Drop

Once DDT had established a reputation as 'the atomic bomb of the insect world', public health officials adopted the weapon with an unquestioning fervour. By the mid 1960s when the World Health Organisation's anti-malarial campaign peaked, 76 000 tons of DDT fell on 76 countries. Although the chemical intitially killed anopheles with clinical efficiency, it soon bred a stronger and more resistant adversary. At least 57 breeds of mosquitos can now swim in DDT and other pesticides without suffering any ill effects. Gallons of DDT sprayed randomly also produced a myriad of unforeseen health problems.

A typical case of good intentions gone awry occurred in Sarawak, part of Borneo. Here the spraying of homes with DDT not only killed mosquitos but cockroaches. Cats returned to the sprayed homes, ate the poisoned cockroaches and died. Free of predators, the Malaysian field rat, a carrier of plague and typhus, overran the mosquito free villages. Fearing an outbreak of the plague , the World Health Organisation eventually asked the Royal Air Force to drop cats by parachutes over the isolated villages. Fortunately for Sarawak's villagers, 'Operation Cat Drop' helped avert an epidemic of plague that DDT and malarial control had invited in to their villages.

The Curiosities Of Henderson Island

Henderson, is a remote uninhabited island, part of the Pitcairn Island group in the far east of Polynesia. Few people, apart from the Pitcairners have ever visited, human life is unsustainable due to a lack of fresh water.

In 1958 a boatload of Pitcairn Islanders landed to chop miro wood, which they used for their carvings. Whilst exploring a cave on the island, they chanced upon six skeletons lying side by side. The whole story can be found here, it took many years to ascertain their origin.

For such a remote isle, Henderson Island, holds a lot of mysteries. It was the site of a modern castaway story in 1957 - one of the marooned seamen was a chimpanzee.