What’s Up In The UK

Lockdown. Streets deserted. People only going out for food or a short walk once a day. Cambridge should get a badge for good behaviour. A friend said Lincoln is deserted.

Amazing what you can get people to do when they want to.

Zoom made me think of people standing around a radio transmitter/receiver in a post-apocalyptic TV series from the 1970s, trying to make contact with other scattered remnants, pockets of survivors.

The last day or two – a bubbling up of the view from the man/woman in the street (when the man/woman in the street is allowed out) that we should be wearing masks – good masks, poor masks, better than no masks.

I don’t get the second poster. She looks like Snow White, but that aside, she is miles from anyone. She is socially distancing. It would have made more sense if she was in a crowd.

Do you know someone who has had the virus?

Do you know someone who has had the virus? I know of people who know people, and one person that I have met face to face. He had fever, muscle pain – no breathing problems – lost taste and smell – and lost weight – couldn’t stand up when it was at its worst. He was diagnosed over the phone by his doctor, and he did not need to go to hospital. Which leads me to a question.

How Do They Compose the Figures?

If someone is diagnosed over the phone by their doctor as having COVID-19 but not tested, are they added to the infections numbers? Who reports numbers to whom?


Cambridge Science Festival Cancels Events

News today, following announcements from the organisers cancelling individual events day by day.

The Cambridge Science Festival has decided with great reluctance to cancel the remainder of its scheduled programme.

We came to this extremely difficult decision after thinking long and hard about the welfare of our visitors and our staff. Their health and safety must come above all else and we do not want inadvertently to expose them to the risk of coronavirus.

We realise the cancellation will be a disappointment to our thousands of loyal supporters but we feel it is the right decision in the circumstances.

Very best wishes,

The Science Festival Team


An Open Letter To Extinction Rebellion

A little history first. I first became aware of Extinction Rebellion (ER) when I saw a leaflet or a poster in Cambridge. I wasn’t sure what ER was but I didn’t take to the logo.

That is, I am not keen on stark black political logos, so I was ‘on guard’ as it were. I could see it probably represented the sands of time running out, but still it looked too much like other signs to which I have an aversion.

For example, there is the white racist African National Movement that was headed by Terre’Blanche. And there is the logo of Arrow Cross, the Hungarian nazi party during World War II, to name but two.

I can understand how ER might want to wrest that type of the logo from the Right and use it for good. But still..

And yes, I know the ER logo and the others are not the same, but they are of that same idea of a black, angular graphic. Maybe it is just me, and if that was all there was to this post I would invite you to stop reading now. But there is more.

A bit later, when Tamara and I were in the lobby after a talk at the University Of Cambridge about a year ago a man invited us to an ER party. I still didn’t know much about what ER was and he explained, kind of. We didn’t want to go to a party, so we said no. I thought it was a party (as in drinking, talking, dancing) and maybe it was.

Then, last April Tamara and I stayed in London for a week. ER had nailed a yacht (yes a yacht) to the road at Oxford Circus in central London, blocking traffic. They nailed the yacht to the ground and handcuffed themselves to the yacht. The yacht was there for days and meanwhile the police didn’t know what to do. It had come out of the blue and it obviously had political ramifications, so the police weren’t sure what they could or could not do. In the end they arrested some of the ER members and removed the yacht.

I wrote about it at the time and the post is here along with photos of the yacht that I am also putting here.

A lot of business people, that is van drivers, taxi drivers, people who needed those roads for work, were angry with ER because the road closure affected them in their pockets.

But everyone agreed that something needed to be done to stop the rush to fill the planet ankle deep in plastic. And most were convinced that climate change and a climate emergency were real and needed addressing.

And to some extent that emergency gave a pass to whatever kind of action ER felt driven to take to tell politicians that they had to change course.

Now forward to December last year when I went to photograph people at the Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge. One man I saw who was supporting ER was plainly very upset. He was shouting and exhorting people to take action to stop the madness as he saw it.

I photographed him and you can see that photo there and here it is:

Then in December, ER here in Cambridge did a die in in one of the malls. It was coincidental that I was in town. Of course, I took photos and one of them seemed poignant. It’s this one of a nicely dressed Asian woman (Japanese?) looking polite and somehow unfortunate as she entered the mall with the ER protest around her. I don’t suppose she was immune to the irony of her being the consumer walking past the ER protest against consumerism.

Then a couple of weeks ago I saw posters that ER had plastered on the windows of Christ’s College in the middle of Cambridge.

The text on the posters reads “The University Of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.”

I thought it was a mistake, a tactical error to paste posters on the windows of the College.

It was such a juvenile ‘hit and run’ protest. They came when no one was about, pasted the windows and then ran off.

It just seemed against the spirit of standing up (or lying down) and protesting in person. It was against the idea of ‘owning’ their protest.

And against the idea of doing no damage, even the small irritation of someone having to scrape the posters off the antique glass in the windows.

Dig Up The Grass

And now this week ER did something that managed to unite everyone against them. This is the grass in front of Trinity College.

ER dug up the grass and then took a barrowful of it and dumped it in a local Branch of Barclays Bank. The action was in protest at Trinity College proposing to sell off some agricultural land they own in Suffolk, for development. I don’t know what the connection with Barclays is.

The tree in the background is a graft taken from the apple tree under which Isaac Newton sat. And I read in one of the newspapers that one of the protesters chained him or herself to the tree.

By the way, there are two Newton apple trees in Cambridge The other Newton apple tree graft is in the grounds of the Botanic Garden here in Cambridge.

You may wonder what Newton’s connection with Cambridge is, and here’s a short extract of the Wikipedia entry for Newton. As you can read, he was a student at this College.

In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on the recommendation of his uncle Rev William Ayscough, who had studied there. He started as a subsizar – paying his way by performing valet’s duties – until he was awarded a scholarship in 1664, guaranteeing him four more years until he could get his MA

Open Letter To Extinction Rebellion

I don’t know how much control the central governing body (assuming there is one) of Extinction Rebellion has over groups such as the Cambridge group. And I don’t know what they make or would make of what has happened. But in my view the local group is antagonising people whose support it needs.

Or to be more specific, they have lost me if they keep on destroying things in the cause of mending things.

I put my thoughts about climate change here.


Pangolins In The News

I started a Substack to publicise the threat to pangolins. And now the news has overtaken my intentions. So here is the current story: 

Why are pangolins poached?

They are poached for their scales and other body parts that are used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam and China. And as luxury dishes on the menu.

What does ‘the most trafficked’ mean?

Pangolins account for about 20% of everything that is poached. A million pangolins poached and killed in the last decade.

Why are they in the news today?

Well, it’s tempting to say that Pangolins bite back against the cruelty done to them. They are in the news because investigators think they may be an intermediate stage in the transmission of coronavirus from bats to humans.

Here’s what Reuters says:

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese researchers said the pangolin, a mammal illegally trafficked for its scales and meat, is a potential intermediate host for the coronavirus that has killed more than 600 people in China.

“This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, said in a statement on its website.

Photo of a pangolin by Adam Tusk on Flickr, under Creative Commons release.


Korea, Japan, and Sydney Australia: Real-time Air Quality Index

Tamara and I were looking at the Air Quality Index for various places, and just look at the terrible numbers for south-west Sydney because of the fires.

Air Quality Index tab 'hazardous' for south-west Sydney because of the fires.

But also look at the huge difference in air quality between South Korea and Japan. Anything below 50 (green colour tab) is considered good.

I wonder what accounts for the difference in air quality between the two countries?

Map showing difference in air quality between South Korea and Japan. Anything below 50 (green colour tab) is considered good.

Chimps Beat Humans: I Can’t Believe There Isn’t More Wonderment About This

I saw a TV programme about this a couple of years ago. The results have been swimming around in my head ever since. And I just can’t figure out why this isn’t being blasted from the rooftops day and night. It’s amazing. It’s more than amazing. It upsets a lot of comfortable assumptions about the ‘way things are’.

I found this on YouTube. Watch and be amazed. If you are not amazed, please tell me why you are underwhelmed with what you see.

Given that it takes about 300 milliseconds to blink your eyes, there is also this: MIT neuroscientists find the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.