Monday, 26 January 2009

A Blot

A blot on the landscape,
A smudge on a canvas,
A tear in the wallpaper,
A stain on the carpet,
A hole in the wall,
A crack in the glass,
A chip on the china,
A broken string,
A burnt-out fuse,
A bruise on skin,
A cancerous cell.

A soul who does not belong.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Titanic Theories

A recent BBC web site article highlighted a study done at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where it was suggested that British passengers perished on the ship possibly because of their politeness over queuing.

Britons are apparently famous for queuing. The Wimbledon queue for tickets is one of the biggest examples of this, even now. I should know, I've been part of this queue many times myself. There is a queuing etiquette, queuing rules (printed out on a leaflet - so it is official), and it all must be obeyed. It's taken extremely seriously. And it works too, people don't queue jump. If they were, there would be an outrage of such astronomical proportions, that even the Daily Mail wouldn't be able to equal it.

I've been studying the Titanic for most of my life in my most nerd-esque moments. I've read most of the main books and articles, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of new angles on the sinking/disaster, that emerge from the depths every so often. There are the conspiracy theories - it wasn't the Titanic that sunk! There are the pointing fingers of blame - the gates were locked in third class! There are the spells and witchcraft stories - there was a cursed mummy on board! There's also the claims the ship was structurally flawed - the rivets were faulty!

It's testament to the amazing power Titanic has to still interest us, that these theories appear so often. It was/is such an amazing tale, and utterly tragic too. That so many should not have died, makes that tragedy more painstaking. There are a plethora of Ifs and Buts, that if just one or two had occurred, the ship striking the berg may well have been avoided altogether. It all adds spice to a story that simply has every ingredient for the most dramatic recipe. And fascination with the luxury ship that sunk on it's maiden voyage shows no sign of waning.

However, while I welcome all interest in the subject, I do get a little wary of the new studies such as this one from Australia. Mostly because I don't think it tells us anything really new or enlightening. It is also based on a great deal of conjecture. The article mentions British politeness as opposed to Americans' being 'individualist', then mentions one gentleman putting his wife on a lifeboat and then dressing in his finest to die gallantly. This sounds rather similar to the infamous fate of First Class passenger, Benjamin Guggenheim - an American.

There was undoubtedly a great deal of stoicism and gallant behaviour that freezing cold night in April 1912. But from many different people, of different nationalities, of different social classes. This is one of the reasons why the story of the Titanic and her people have captured the hearts of so many for so long. Certainly there were different customs and etiquette then, but I raise questions over how big a factor nationality and etiquette had over passenger fate.

That so many people died on the Titanic was due to one fact - there weren't enough lifeboats. The second main reason in my opinion, is that the crew and staff (and even passengers) were completely unprepared for such an emergency. Surviving the Titanic sinking relied a great deal on luck, being in a certain position at a certain time, and in some cases, whether you were a woman or man. There was a 'women and children first' attitude on some parts of the boat, but not by all, again highlighting the ill prepared or perhaps random nature of the evacuation procedure.

97 years on from the most famous sea disaster the world has ever seen, and she still intrigues the world and raises debates. I find all the different angles and theories on the ship that emerge almost as fascinating as the ship and the story itself. Her place in the imagination of so many is truly unsinkable.

BBC Article

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

January Detox. No thanks.

January is an odd month. There's the anti-climax of a new year, which, after the build up of Christmas, can be rather depressing. There's also the cold; the harsh, dark weather can dampen your mood. You're left with the daunting prospect that there's still a few months to go of all this until spring.
It makes you want to hide under the duvet and hibernate for three months. With a dvd box-set of the X Files and an endless supply of tea. (I would slip out to watch a rugby match or two though...)

Themes that always seems to crop up in January however, are resolutions, and in particular detox. You hear it everywhere. 'I'll give up smoking'. 'I'll get fit'. 'I'll eat healthily'. 'I'll give up murder'. (Perhaps not the last one) But it's as if we eat so much in the name of Christmas, we try on the jeans on January 1st and freak out. It inspires us to realise this suddenly, something that we should have really twigged in July...when we tried to squidge into that bathing costume and instead resembled cottage cheese spilling out of bin liners. We need to lose weight. Or work out. Or whatever.

And then the dreaded D word crops up. (No, not Darlek) Detox. It's thrown about all year around of course, but particularly now. This is its special time of year. It can creep out of the shadows of organic food and health scares and take the centre stage. All the excess seems to make our bodies weary, all the Christmas sherry has seeped into our veins. All the mince pies have exploded onto our waistlines. We're tired and sluggish. So a detox is in order!

I didn't really care either way about the whole concept of detoxing until I stumbled upon the Bad Science column in The Guardian newspaper. I suggest a read of this Bad Science blog, or even better, buy his book. It was through reading Bad Science that I eventually stumbled upon this from Sense About Science, which basically debunks the detox myth. It states there is no scientific evidence to suggest 'detoxing' has any benefits whatsoever.

The author of Bad Science, Dr Ben Goldacre is a great champion of poorly portrayed science and how we are often being totally mislead by media perceptions of science reports and statistics. He writes concisely and well. I have also seen him speak at the Hay-On-Wye festival, and he is engaging and above all, makes sense. When you read his writings, you realise how scarily inaccurate a great deal of media reports are. You discover things like detox are a drop in the ocean in the entire schemes of things (scare mongering that should perhaps read). MMR, MRSA, Cancer 'cures', Cancer 'causes', mobile phone masts, fish oil trials on kids, health scares, homeopathy and herbal remedies, brain gyms....they've all been scarily (and in the case of MMR, dangerously) mis-reported. The list continues and it is large.

But Bad Science and Sense About Science write about these topics in depth and better than I could ever even begin. I recommend anyone take a look. It is seriously eye-opening.

Bad Science
Sense About Science