Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Pain free farming

A few days ago we had twisted wire, but now I've come across what seems to me to be an example of twisted minds.  Pain free farming sounded like such a promising title.

In the UK at least, some supermarkets are starting to label meats and other foods which have been raised in better conditions than factory farms.  Often, though, if you enquire further and read the details you find that conditions are only marginally better.  Free range can be interpreted very liberally and may mean the animal can find fresh air if it can fight its way to a small opening at the right time of day.

So when I found an article in the New Scientist about pain free farming, I wondered what it was about.  Apparently some researchers in neuroscience and genetics are invstigating ways to remove the pain that farmed animals feel by blocking the sensation of pain using genetic engineering.  A philosopher, Adam Shriver, has written a paper which says that we have an ethical duty to consider removing suffering in this way.  Well, I have considered, and I find it so wrong, wrong, wrong.

Does removing pain remove suffering?
Does removing pain mean we can treat animals how we like?
Is it all right to harm them if they can't feel the pain?
Is pain-free the same as cruelty-free?
Would it encourage uncaring treatment towards the animals?

I could go on and on.  Unfortunately, I think, the comments in the New Scientist descended into arguments for and against vegetarianism.  They've surely missed the point, because there is no way in a very long time that the whole world is going to change.  It would be far better to treat animals with respect and dignity.  For someone to suggest that it would be ethical to tamper with nature so that we could have an easy conscience while mistreating animals seems unethical in the extreme. 

I am well aware that in the developed world we do eat far more meat than we need, but I am a meat eater, and I'm never going become vegetarian.  I do though, attempt to limit the amount of meat I eat and I try where I can to avoid factory farmed products.  A small drop in the ocean perhaps, but the drops eventually do add up. 

My photos are all animals in fields on local farms.

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Saturday, 26 September 2009

PhotoHunt: twisted

Some things are twisted for decorative effect.  Some things are twisted to give them added strength.  This very timid cat places complete faith in the strength of the twisted wire of the fence to keep the mad photographer away.

If you'd like to join in and find other other players, go and visit TNchick's site.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

La Brenne - land of 1000 lakes

There are so many places in the world calling themselves the Land of 1000 Lakes.   The one I visited today is an important wetland in central France.  It is a mixture of woodland, meadows and lakes sheltering a huge amount of wildlife, but along with that it has an interesting history.  The lakes, almost all man-made, were first dug in the Middle Ages, but emptied during the Revolution.

These photos may give you a feel for the place, as I enjoyed the early autumn sunshine.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Fantastical Fontainebleau

I think you are probably going to have to enlarge these pictures to see them properly. I took them today when I visited Fontainebleau and couldn't resist showing a couple of oddities. The more normal, if you can call such opulence normal, will have to wait until a later post.

I can't find out anything about this painting, but it looks as though it must be Diana the Huntress. It's a fairly safe guess because Fontainebleau is full of Diana, in deference to Diane of Poitiers.  Am I the only person to find the picture odd?  Don't you think she looks rather, umm, manly?

A statue entitled "Nature" by Nicollò Pericoli.  360 degrees of breasts and in triplicate.  He must be a breast man.  It is intended to illustrate the endless productivity of the earth.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

PhotoHunt: upside down

On holiday in a hilltop village last May, we were treated to an unexpected air display. Apparently the plain below is a convenient place to practise, to the locals' dismay. We, though, felt sure the show was put on just for us.

I'm quite fortunate to have found these shots from a backup. I'm having some computer difficulties at the moment.

If you'd like to join in and find other other players, go and visit TNchick's site.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Fig leaves

Would you want to wear a fig-leaf?  The other day I was talking to a friend about figs and figleaves, as you do, and the conversation brought to mind a newspaper article I had read years ago.  The article was about the relative sensitivity of different parts of the body and it was illustrated by a diagram with the various parts scaled according to their degree of sensitivity, something like this diagram.

A week later a letter was published expressing surprise that the man's genitals were omitted from the diagram, but then added, "On second thoughts, if you've ever felt the underside of a fig leaf, you shouldn't be surprised by this".

Out walking recently, I came across a number of wild fig trees and, with the conversation fresh in my mind, I inspected the leaves closely.  Sure enough, they are mildly abrasive.  They are also an odd shape.

Surely, hardly suitable to cover your dignity.  Where did this custom originate?  The edible fig was one of the first domesticated plants.  There is evidence they were first cultivated roughly 9000 years BC. It's original range was Iran, Pakistan and the Mediterranean region.

But in ancient Greek and Roman art, fig leaves weren't added to statues of the naked body.  Although Adam and Eve were said to have clad themselves in fig leaves when they realised they were naked, it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the prudery became common place.  From that time, new as well as many existing works were covered up.

When Queen Victoria saw the cast of Michaelangelo's David at the Victoria and Albert Museum, she was so shocked that a fig leaf had to be made to spare female blushes in future.  The fig leaf attached to David was half a metre high (but don't excite yourselves, David was 6 metres tall). Since then nudity has become more commonplace and the fig leaf has been removed.  It does however remain on display - in a case of its own behind the figure.

If you do ever have a chance to see the statue of David, do so.  It is  beautiful, with or without its figleaf.  But make sure it's the full size version because the smaller ones don't have the same impact.

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Saturday, 12 September 2009

PhotoHunt: electric

Many rivers in France have the power of the water harnessed to provide electric power, and the river Creuse is no exception.

This is the dam built at Eguzon in 1926.  At the time of building it was the largest in Europe.  It produces 101 million kWh of electric power annually.

But there are others, much smaller along the same river.  This is a local electric power mill, but its origins as a mill date from 1238.  Working minimally it produces 350,000 kWh annually.

As a result of having these power stations, we can illuminate our river with electric lights.  When you enlarge this picture, you can see the local power station looking white, on the far side of the floodlit tree.  It looks rather more picturesque at night.

If you'd like to join in and find other other players, visit TNchick's site to find out how.
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Thursday, 10 September 2009

Dr Madzou in Angers

As outlined in an earlier post, Dr Foldès is now far from being the only surgeon to practice reconstructive surgery to repair female genital mutilation.  One of the surgeons he has trained is Dr Madzou in Angers who says the technique used is straightforward for a surgeon to learn and uses no specialist equipment.  He has trained 20 surgeons in Burkina Fasoas well as operating there himself.

To answer an enquiry I've just received, the contact details for Dr Sébastien Madzou are as follows.

Tel. Rdv consultations : +33 (0)2 41 35 44 59
Fax : +33 (0)2 41 35 42 54
Email : SeMadzou {at} chu-angers {dot} fr

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Dangerous by decree

Or, helping with the packing...

"After scolding one's cat one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference."
- Charlotte Gray

"Cats can work out mathematically the exact place to sit that will cause most inconvenience."
- Pam Brown

"When addressed, a gentleman cat does not move a muscle. He looks as if he hasn't heard."
- Mary Sarton
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Monday, 7 September 2009

The Cut

The cut - a traditional rite of passage into womanhood: genital cutting.  Or an issue that should concern us all.
Some of my longer-standing readers will remember Papillon's story which I translated from her French blog. It was all about her quest to have reconstructive surgery for the genital cutting she had suffered at the age four.  If you haven't read it, please at least consider reading the first two or three posts which tell of how it happened.  "When I was 4 my mother had me circumcised. It ruined my life". 

It was over two years ago when I found the blog and asked her if she would allow me to translate it so that young English speaking women could benefit from her experiences.  Since then, I've had numerous enquiries from people asking if the surgery is available in the UK (no), and how to go about contacting Dr Foldès, the surgeon who developed the procedure.

Recently I've heard that a Spanish surgeon, Pere Barri of the Instituto Dexeus, has spent some time in Paris with Dr Foldès, and now operates two or three times a month.  Not only that, he is hoping to share the knowledge and skills with other clinics in Spain so that more women "can leave their ghosts behind".

The practice of FGM used to be more or less confined to sub-Saharan Africa and a few parts of the Middle East and Asia but nowadays, with migration and population movement, the incidence in Europe and elsewhere has been increasing.  It is illegal to carry out the practice in Europe but it is so very hard to counteract traditional beliefs.

There are various initiatives in progress.  One in the UK is a survey which is funded by the Health Department to increase knowledge and understanding about FGM and to try to find out how much training might be required by health practitioners.  France had an informative and educational campaign in April.  There are initiatives in a number of African countries: Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and several others.

Now from Norway there is a project to educate and raise awareness which has produced a documentary film called "The Cut".  This, the first episode, shows two girls from different villages in Kenya where FGM is still practised in spite of its being illegal.  One girl has rejected the practice and is actively working to help educate people, the other is about to undergo this traditional but harmful rite of passage. It goes some way to explaining the tradition, incidentally showing unequivocally that it isn't specifically an Islamic practice, and suggests a way it can be eradicated.

If you wish, you can download the film, less than 15 minutes in length, from the project website.  It doesn't make the most pleasant viewing, but nor does it go out of its way to shock.

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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Photohunt: orange


The Roman theatre in Orange, in the south of France (Provence).  I have to say that there is not a lot to Orange, the town, apart from this and the Triumphal Arch, but that same evening we were treated to an orange sky over Orange.

Twenty minutes from the town of Orange, I took this picture from a hilltop village.

"He hangs in shades the orange bright Like golden lamps in a green night." ~ Andrew Marvell

"The majority of (painters), because they aren't colourists, do not see yellow, orange or sulphur in the South (of France) and they call a painter mad if he sees with eyes other than theirs." ~ Vincent van Gogh.

If you'd like to join in and find other other players, visit TNchick's site to find out how.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mary Seacole

I think almost everyone will have heard of Florence Nightingale, born in Florence to a wealthy British family.  She rebelled against the expected path for a well-born young lady and decided to enter nursing.  Her work led to significant improvements in medical care but her most her most well-known effort was in the Crimean War when in 1854 she took volunteer nurses to the main British camp.

By improving the conditions for the medical care of patients, she drastically lowered the death rate amongst the soldiers.  Her family home was Embley Park (now a private school) near the New Forest so she is often thought of as a local here in Hampshire. 

As I was wandering around some of my favourite parts of Winchester the other day, I went into a shop near Winchester College, one of England's oldest public schools, and there I found some postcards of a Crimean War nurse but not Florence Nightingale.

The nurse pictured on the postcard is Mary Seacole who, unlike Nightingale, is hardly known at all.  Yet her contribution to the Crimean War was very similar and, because of her background, possibly even more remarkable.

Born Mary Jane Grant in Jamaica of a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother, she learnt about herbal remedies and nursing from her mother who she described as "an admirable doctress".  By the age of 12 she was helping her mother in her duties.

She travelled widely, including to Cuba, London, and Central America.  When the Crimean War broke out, she travelled again to London and offered her services as a nurse to help Florence Nightingale's venture.  She was refused in spite of having letters of recommendation from doctors in Jamaica and Panama, but nothing daunted, she made her own way to the Crimea and set up the British Hotel to offer food and quarters for sick and convalescent soldiers. 

Sketch of Mary Seacole's British Hotel in Crimea, by Lady Alicia Blackwood (1818–1913), a friend of Florence Nightingale who resided in the neighbouring "Zebra Vicarage"

She also went to the battlefields to tend the wounded, sometimes under fire, giving immediate help whereas the hospitals set up by Florence Nightingale were days' travel away.

After the war ended she returned to England penniless but her supporters raised money to help her.  In spite of this help and publishing her memoirs, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands", available online through Project Gutenberg, she has never had the same recognition that Florence Nightingale had.

All has changed in recent years, and in 2004 she was voted the greatest ever black Briton.  A fund has been set up for a permanent memorial for her which is being helped by the sale of the postcard I found above.  The photo used for it was discovered at Winchester College.  It was found in an album about the Crimean War and is an indication of her standing at the time - hers was the only non-combatant photo in the album.  All funds from the sale of the postcard will be donated to the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal. The statue, designed by Martin Jennings, will stand in the grounds of St. Thomas Hospital, in central London near Big Ben.

Apart from the scanned picture of the postcard, all pictures are from Wikimedia and in the public domain.

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