News about Elephants

From Whipsnade Zoo:

On 4 December, London Zoo’s elephants were successfully moved to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park following the completion of the Park’s additional new facilities.

As part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), Mya, Layang Layang and Dilberta are now being integrated with the Whipsnade herd to join the conservation effort to save this endangered species. The three elephants have been settling into their new home and getting to know their companions: Whipsnade’s three female elephants Anna, Lucha and Kaylee, and Emmett, the bull elephant.

Moving elephants is a complex business and requires a lot of planning. It all went extremely smoothly and that was down to the expert team involved in the move. Encouraging signs are now being seen as the two elephant groups are integrated. Bonds are being formed between the females, in particular Layang Layang and Anna are becoming great friends.On arrival, the three London Zoo elephants were kept separately from the Whipsnade herd but as the new elephants were so calm, introductions to the resident females began soon after. To ensure that introductions went well, staff had to take into account all the elephants’ different personalities and their status within the two herds. Initially, they had visual contact, and then there were neighbourly greetings over the fence, involving a lot of trunk touching and snorting. Today they are mixed in different combinations as the settling-in process continues.

Whipsnade’s extended elephant facility, which is over seven acres, has five linked outside areas including a huge grass paddock as well as two separate houses. Visitors can see the elephants taking advantage of the many additional facilities designed specially for them. There are two pools, mud wallows and dust baths, as well as rubbing posts, shades for summer and high-level feeders.

As Emmett, the bull elephant, is rapidly maturing the new facilities have been designed to withstand his incredible strength, especially when he is in musth. Emmett has already proven himself as a breeding male, with two of Whipsnade’s original herd due to give birth this year. The new additional facilities have been designed particularly with him in mind as they will have to withstand the force of a 4 tonne elephant moving at 30 miles per hour.

The new Whipsnade herd, which is the largest group of breeding females in the UK, will play an important role in the European Endangered Species Programme as Asian elephants become even more threatened in the wild. With only 20,000 to 40,000 wild Asian elephants left, ZSL’s herd at Whipsnade will help to ensure that this species is not lost forever and will inspire our visitors to join our commitment to the conservation of this fantastic animal.

In memory of Jim Robson, Senior Keeper who was tragically killed at London Zoo in October 2001, some evergreen oaks will be planted at Whipsnade. Jim died working with the elephants he loved and it was felt to be appropriate to plant trees that will provide a supply of ‘browse’ on which future generations of Whipsnade elephants can feed.

It’s nice to know there was a lot of trunk touching and snorting. Good elephants! (Bad elephants, though, for trampling poor Jim Robson to death).

Flat Rate

Students here at Magdalen have voted for a flat rate for their room rents, starting from the next academic year. Good for them, and good for Alec, who seems to have done a ton of useful work to educate, agitate and organise the JCR referendum, and who has produced useful and informative cross-tabs here.

Orgy puts stop to degree courses in sex

Only in the Daily Telegraph:

By Oliver Poole in Los Angeles

A university course on male and female sexuality has been suspended after students took part in orgies and were taken to a gay strip bar where they watched their instructor have sex.

Male undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley also complained that they were made to listen to other people’s depraved sexual fantasies, take pictures of their genitalia and watch explicit pornography.

A female sexuality class at the university, which was synonymous in the 1960s with the spirit of free love and psychedelia, is also being investigated after it emerged that it, too, involved visits to strip clubs, along with lectures from porn stars.

Social science faculty heads took action after student Jessica McMahon said that at the end of the trip to the gay strip club the class instructor stripped on stage and started to engage in sexual activity with one of the club’s male performers.

She said: “It got kind of crazy and one of the [strippers] ended up getting fired.”

Christy Kovacs, a Berkeley freshman on the course last term, said that there had been an open invitation to any students who were interested in attending an after-class orgy at another instructor’s home.

They were encouraged to pair off and disappear into one of the bedrooms before swapping to have sex with another partner.

Marie Felde, the university’s spokesman, said that an investigation into the accusations had begun. She said: “Those sorts of activities are not part of the approved course curriculum.”

State senator Dick Ackerman, a Republican and a former student at the university, has demanded the institution “re-evaluate” its approach to pastoral care.

The male and female sexuality courses were set up by the university a decade ago to examine the limits and prejudices surrounding sex.

Although established and monitored by the social sciences faculty, student instructors ran the classes, which counted towards end of year marks.

Among the lecturers scheduled to speak at the male sexuality class this term were Nina Hartley, a porn star who appeared in the Hollywood film Boogie Nights, a representative from an anti-circumcision organisation, and the owner of Good Vibrations, a local sex shop.

It’s such a good Daily Telegraph story that the reader has no idea at all as to whether it might be true.

More Consignia

More on Consignia, this time from the CWU:

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, today called on all newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets to boycott the name ‘Consignia’ and call it “by its real name” the Post Office. “I’m sure the public will welcome the media ignoring this name which has been foisted on us all by slick media men, big corporations and corporate spin-doctors,” Billy said. “It is time to reclaim our Post Office.”

Billy says the campaign will not only prove popular with the public but will save gallons of ink and avoid hundreds of sore throats every day! Why? “Because every time reporters writes the word ‘Consignia’, they have to add the explanation ‘We really mean the Post Office’. Every time broadcasters mentions the name ‘Consignia’, they have to add “That is, the silly new name the Post Office calls itself.” … The union wants the public to write to newspapers or ring radio or television stations who use the name ‘Consignia’.

Billy says that there is a serious political side to the campaign. “Consignia means a profit-centred declining competition-ridden low-wage outfit in constant crisis. “The Post Office means service to the public; decent wages and conditions to which people aspire rather than reluctantly accept; and a seamless integrated postal service for all…

OK. No more mentions of Consignia in this weblog again.

Press Release of the Day

Here’s a press release, issued last night at 11pm, from the Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention and the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers

Asylum rights campaigners to hold press conference at gates of Yarl’s Wood

The Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood has called a press conference for 3.00 pm on Sunday 17 February outside the gates of the government’s flagship asylum detention centre, devastated by fire last Thursday night / Friday morning.

Local resident and Campaign member, Emma Ginn, said: “The latest statements from the Bedfordshire police indicate that our worst fears may yet be realised and that detainees died in the blaze. Quite literally, it looks like the policy of arbitrary detention can kill. At present, we are looking into a serious allegation that firefighters may have been blocked from reaching detainees in one of the burning blocks”.

Meanwhile, The Sun has seized on the tragic events at Yarl’s Wood to launch still another vicious campaign against asylum seekers. “We are giving the media the opportunity to hear the other side of the story about the reality of the conditions that had prevailed at Yarl’s Wood prior to the fire and about the treatment of the detainees since then”, said Ginn.

Ginn will be joined at the press conference by a representative from the National Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS), Green Party representative Marc Schiemann, Weyman Bennett, the Black Officer of the Socialist Alliance and other local labour movement activists.

CDAS secretary, George Binette, said “If nothing else, the tragic events at Yarl’s Wood should serve to discredit the whole of the government’s asylum policy and, in particular, its determination to increase the use of detention in what are essentially Category B prisons.”

The Bedford-based campaign has already established that detainees, including a woman and her two-month-old infant, were left to stand for hours partially clothed in the sub-zero cold of Friday morning. Detainees, who were bussed to other detention facilities on Friday, were placed in handcuffs. Neither the police nor Group 4 officials have been forthcoming with information about the whereabouts or condition of detainees, despite repeated requests from relatives and regular visitors to the facility.

Group 4, a company awarded a �100 million contract to construct and operate the Yarl’s Wood complex, under a Private Finance Initiative deal with the Home Office, admits that the records it kept at the detention centre have probably been destroyed.

Emma Ginn noted that “The appeals of detainees could be placed at risk. We know of one man due to have a hearing on Tuesday of this coming week that will determine whether he will be able to stay in this country. Group 4 have so far refused to tell his solicitor of his whereabouts.”

This is the same company that, with the apparent approval of the Home Office, ignored repeated recommendations from the local Fire Service to install a sprinkler system in a complex built primarily of timber and brick. In mid-October 2000 an article in a Bedfordshire paper suggested that the facility could well prove to be “a death trap” in the event of a major fire.

The Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood has also called for another demonstration outside the detention complex to press its call for the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood, the release of all its detainees and a full public inquiry into the events of last Thursday night and the conditions that triggered them.

For further information, call Viv Smith on 07905 589865, or Emma Ginn of the Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at 07786 517379, or you can reach Alan Gibson, the Chair of the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers 07905 566183, or George Binette, its Secretary, on 07905 826304.


From today’s Times:

PO chief wants hated name to be consigned to history,
by Christine Buckley, Industrial Editor

The public hate it, the staff hate it and now the man in charge admits he hates it: Allan Leighton, the chairman of Consignia, wants to get rid of the Post Office’s controversial new name.

In an interview with The Times, the interim chairman said that staff, whose morale is low because of impending job losses and a pay dispute, felt that ditching �Consignia� would be like pulling down the Berlin Wall. �It is the thing that is mentioned every time I talk to anyone,� he said. �There is a lot of history here that needn�t have been changed.�

The Post Office renamed itself Consignia last year when it became a plc. The exercise, which cost �1 million, was intended to establish a new international identity for the organisation that includes the Post Office Counters network, Royal Mail and Parcelforce.

But the name, which means nothing in any language, has met universal condemnation and requires continual laborious explanation. Even the company�s letterheads describe it as �Consignia � The new name for the Post Office Group�.

This was always the kind of rebranding exercise which only very highly paid consultants could ever have thought was a good idea.

Cutting Edge Research

Raj writes to the weblog:

Here’s something from the “coffee after a meal keeps you awake” stable, c/o the BBC:

After crunching data from five decades of Olympics, two Harvard economists have deduced that cold countries perform better than hot ones in the winter games, and that large states produce more athletes than their smaller neighbours.

You can download their paper here.

Rivers of Babylon

Whenever I put on one of my very small number of reggae CDs, I’m always delighted to listen to “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians:

By the rivers of Babylon,
where we sat down,
and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity,
required from us a song,
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
in a strange land? …

And this, of course, is a very close paraphrase of the opening four verses of Psalm 137, the inspiration also of Verdi’s famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco, here in the King James Version:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

(The beginning of the Psalm is far better well known than the end, with the very violent sentiments of its final two verses: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”)So I was very pleased today to find a terrific article by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, “Tuning Hebrew Psalms to Reggae Rhythms: Rastas’ Revolutionary Lamentations for Social Change” in Cross Currents, which presents an extraordinarily detailed account of the transformation of the ancient text into the modern, which sheds a great deal of light on what is going on in this marvellous song, with its strange composite lyric (“So, let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight…”), and which provides a fine commentary on the politics of Rastafarianism. Good stuff.

I was also pleased to come across an online Anglo-Saxon translation of the Psalm, too.

Tech Stuff

I’ve finally fixed the code error that meant that the weblog never appeared properly in versions of Netscape 4.x. This is good news, especially for Richard, who used to point it out to me.

Richard writes [13.2.2002]: As a dedicated 4.7 Netscape user, thank you… another blow for Microsoft haters everywhere.

Tom writes [19.2.2002]: Just to let you know that it works fine in my new favourite browser – OmniWeb – a particularly beautiful (OS X – only: I’m now a Mac hugger again) browser that I’m getting rather enamoured of. Oh, except that your ‘byline’ style is such a subtle shade of grey that it almost blends into the background…