Monday, 18 January 2016

Vesica Piscis

The Vesica Piscis is a pointed oval figure used as an architectural feature and as an aureole enclosing figures such as Christ or the Virgin Mary in medieval art. It is a shape that is the intersection of two disks with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each disk lies on the perimeter of the other. The name literally means the "bladder of a fish" in Latin. The shape is also called mandorla ("almond" in Italian). It has received recent attention amongst fans of sacred geometry, some of which go so far as to liken the vesica piscis to the external female genitalia, the cradle of humanity.

Artist unknown.
North Utsire

Joanna Newsom: Leaving The City (2015)

I saw a Later With Jools Holland session back in November on BBC2, and was introduced to the delights of psych-folk harpist Joanna Newsom, although she eschews any such categorisation. Without a doubt she was the star of the show. She played a track from her new album (Divers, 2015) called Leaving The City.

This prompted me to do a bit of research on the woman behind the bewitching voice. Probably the most interesting source was a 2010 NY Times Interview entitled Joanna Newsom, the Changeling. I quote:

"Newsom told me she was a “dreamy but melancholy” child, whose parents encouraged her ambitions and nurtured her iconoclasm. She doesn’t remember what drew her to the harp, but she started begging her parents for lessons at age 4 and began her studies a few years later. She also had a spiritual streak, which her parents likewise indulged. When she was 18, in the middle of her senior year of high school, she decided that she needed “some sort of ritual marker of the end of childhood.” Her plan was to camp in the open air for three days and nights, eating little, seeing no one, communing with the great outdoors. Newsom’s mother sanctioned her missing school and helped her daughter scout out a place by the Yuba, in the middle of 35 wild acres owned by family friends...

"I hesitate to speak about it because it sounds so corny, but one of my goals out there was to find a spirit-animal,” Newsom told me. “On the third day, I was kind of delirious. I’d only eaten a little rice. I’d just slept and looked at a river for three days. I was prepared to be visited by my spirit animal — I was just sitting there, saying some sort of prayer, inviting that presence into my life. And then I saw three white wolves charging down at me. I thought maybe I was hallucinating; but I was also prepared to die. But the wolves ran up and started licking my face. Then I remembered that the daughter of the woman who owned the property kept domesticated wolves.”

Newsom went to a Waldorf school known for their creative and holistic approach to education. Her shamanic experience was acutely interesting to me because I had a similar one, albeit less organised and without parental permission. In my early 20's floating round after my graduation, I packed a giant bowl of brown rice & chickpeas and took off to the mountains of North Wales, where I roamed about wild camping for 3 days, bearded and dressed in a full length wool coat, army boots and wool beanie hat (not very rain proof, it transpires). I must've cut a way out picture, but I didn't see a soul for all that time, except sheep munching at my tent guide ropes. I visited the Druid Circle at Penmaenmawr. On approach to the Druid Circle, I discovered thousands of very large Psilocybe Liberty Cap magic mushrooms. I do mean thousands. There were far more than I could pick. In fact, I had armfuls of them at one point and realised there was no way of carting them about, or getting them home without rotting. I have never seen such a haul of mushrooms before or since. I took many of them up to the stone circle and left them on the altar stone. A good sacrifice! OK, so my shamanic experience was not with wolves. There are some small advantages to working with the vegetation gods. Liberty Caps are no less dangerous however.

This brings me to my 2nd quote from the NY Times article:

"Critics branded her music “freak folk,” lumping her with Banhart and other upstarts whose psychedelic leanings and flowing tresses harked back to the woollier folk rock of the late 1960s. Newsom was called an “elfin princess,” a “faerie queen,” a “weird waif,” an “innocent flower,” a “childlike chanteuse.” There was a time when the media chatter drove Newsom to distraction. In a 2006 interview with the arts-and-culture magazine Stop Smiling, she said, “I have friends in my hometown, and a few in other places, but I’m not part of some epic, bracelet-clanking, eyes-rolled-back, blasé, nihilistic scenester cult.”

Really? I'd have thought such comparisons as fairie queen or elfin princess were quite flattering. The willowy weirdness of Joanna Newsom's voice is her strength in my opinion. She should boldly embrace the strange and reveal her otherworldliness as a gift to a world too full of beer- swilling, pasty- guzzling troglodytes and ignoramii.

North Utsire

Poison Fire

It’s a disgrace. The Niger Delta is an environmental disaster zone. And the social problems have only got worse. This ground breaking film leaves you under no illusion that corporations like Shell have nothing short of the complete subjugation of humanity in their sights, such is their belligerence and lack of regard for human rights and environmental sustainability. As you watch it, your blood will gradually boil, itself with a poison fire of outrage at the injustice. So here we find ourselves, 20 years after the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a cut & dried black & white tragedy of unforgivable proportions. And still no-one gives a dam.  After fifty years of oil exploitation, one and a half million tons of crude oil has been spilled into the creeks, farms and forests, the equivalent to 50 Exxon Valdez disasters, one per year.

NASA Satellite image: Niger Delta

It is a well acknowledged permaculture principle that at the margins, life proliferates. Deltas are natural interfaces between the water world and the land; an upwelling of nutrients and habitat which should be the fertile mother of life and agriculture. The effects of oil in the fragile Niger Delta communities and environment have been enormous. Local indigenous people have seen little if any improvement in their standard of living while suffering serious damage to their natural environment. According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000.

Nigeria, after nearly four decades of oil production, had by the early 1980s become almost completely dependent on petroleum extraction economically, generating 25% of its GDPC (this has since risen to 60% as of 2008). Vast wealth created by petroleum has fed only the corrupt plutocracy. The majority of the population since the 1960s have increasingly been forced to abandon their traditional agricultural practices. Annual production of both cash and food crops dropped significantly in the latter decades of 20th century. Cocoa production dropped by 43% (Nigeria was the world's largest cocoa exporter in 1960), rubber dropped by 29%, cotton by 65%, and groundnuts by 64%. In spite of the large number of skilled, well-paid Nigerians who have been employed by the oil corporations, the majority of Nigerians and most especially the people of the Niger Delta states and the far north have become poorer since the 1960s.

Click the image to see the documentary

Poison Fire follows a team of local activists as they gather video testimonies from communities on the impact of oils spills and gas flaring. We see creeks full of crude oil, devastated mangrove forests, wellheads that has been leaking gas and oil for months. We meet people whose survival is acutely threatened by the loss of farmland, fishing and drinking water and the health hazards of gas flaring.

Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas that is associated with crude oil when it is pumped up from the ground. In petroleum-producing areas where insufficient investment was made in infrastructure to utilize natural gas, flaring is employed to dispose of this toxic gas. Nigeria flares 17.2 billion m3 of natural gas per year in conjunction with the exploration of crude oil in the Niger Delta. This high level of gas flaring is equal to approximately one quarter of the current power consumption of the African continent.

But why is natural gas (called “associated gas”, or AG) is being flared in the first place? Because oil and natural gas are mixed in every oil deposit, the natural gas must be removed from oil before refining as the gaseous fraction is unnecessary and combustible during fractionation. Gas flaring is simply the burning of unwanted AG. Because oil is 30 times more valuable than natural gas. So rather than capture it and take it to market, it is destroyed; hardly an efficient way to treat precious natural resources. Gas flaring is currently illegal in most countries of the world, where gas flaring may only occur in certain circumstances such as emergency shutdowns, non-planned maintenance, or disruption to the processing system.

Oil exploration causes a range of environmental problems. Gas flaring contributes significantly to climate change; acid rain; local ruination of agriculture; economic loss and pollution. This includes contamination of both surface and ground water by benzene, xylene, toluene, and ethylbenzene; contamination of soil by oil spill and leaks; increased deforestation; as well as the economic loss and environmental degradation stemming from gas flaring. Flaring releases methane, a greenhouse gas that, when released directly into the air, traps heat in the atmosphere. The process of flaring contributes directly to global warming.

But it is the health effects of this Poison Fire which are most disturbing. Flaring has a substantial impact on the health and environment of landowners who live near a flared well. The methane release is smelly, noisy, and, according to the US Natural Institute of Health, exposure causes “headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of coordination” in people and animals. It creates a 24×7 bright light, blocking out the night sky. Residents living near gas flares complain of respiratory problems, skin rashes and eye irritations. Since flaring involves carbon dioxide and sulphur outputs, in the longer term the heart and lungs can be affected leading to bronchitis, silicosis, sulphur poisoning of the blood, and cardiac complications. Port Harcourt doctor, Nabbs Imegwu asserts “Extreme long-term exposure can predispose one to, or cause, skin cancer.”

Pollutants from gas flaring are associated with a variety of adverse health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive and developmental effects. Deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems have also been reported. Hydrocarbon compounds are known to cause some adverse changes in hematological parameters. These changes affect blood and blood-forming cells negatively. And could give rise to anemia (aplastic), pancytopenia and leukemia.

November 10 last year marked 20 years to the day since the hanging of the writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni people’s rights movement, known as MOSOP. Convicted on faked charges by a military tribunal of “inciting the murder of four Ogoni elders”, the Ogoni Nine as they became known, were hanged in the face of international outrage. According to one report Saro-Wiwa’s own execution was bungled and only succeeded at the fifth attempt. “Why are you people treating me like this? Which type of country is this?” he is reported to have asked his executioners.

The executions, described by Nelson Mandela as “a heinous act”, led to Nigeria’s three-year suspension from the Commonwealth days later, and to economic sanctions from the EU and the USA.

In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report that confirmed scientifically what people in Ogoniland already knew: that the environment was unproductive and unsafe for human habitation. UNEP concluded that restoring the Ogoni environment could take 30 years in the most challenging environmental remediation exercise ever attempted. The UNEP report recommended that $1 billion should be allocated to set up an environmental restoration fund and begin the clean up. But in the five years since the report was published Shell and the Nigerian government have failed to implement its recommendations. 

Nice one, Shell

While a report by Shell also says overall from 2002 to 2010 “flaring from SPDC facilities has fallen by over 50 percent,” it says this was partially due to a decrease in oil extraction owing to what they call “militant activities.” In the same manner, it recognized that the 2010 increase in flaring from 2009 was because oil extraction rose following a drop in violence in the region. 

The Nigerian government has not enforced environmental regulations effectively because they have deliberately created a bureaucratic quagmire to match that of the oil fields themselves. They are in fact crudely opaque. Neither the Nigerian Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) nor the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has implemented anti-flaring policies for natural gas waste from oil production, nor have they monitored the emissions to ensure compliance. FEPA has had the authority to issue standards for water, air and land pollution and has had the authority to make regulations for oil industry. However, in some cases their regulations conflict with DPR regulations started in 1991 for oil exploration. So their hands are tied by an innocent accident of bureaucracy. Tied tightly, as the noose around a protester’s neck.

As the documentary demonstrates, the oil-producing communities have experienced severe marginalization and neglect. The environment and human health have frequently been a secondary consideration for oil companies and the Nigerian government. The government’s main interest in the oil industry is to maximize monetary profits from oil production. Oil companies find it more economically expedient to flare the natural gas and pay the insignificant fine than to re-inject the gas back into the oil wells. Additionally, because there is an insufficient energy market especially in rural areas, oil companies do not see an economic incentive to collect the gas.

Below is the first of many One Man Photoshop Protests which I will blog in future months. It is based on an Alan Hardman cartoon along similar lines, so I can’t take all the credit for the idea. I think I originally saw the Hardman cartoon in a book by Martin Cock and Bill Hopwood called Global Warning: Socialism And The Environment, in which I get a nod in the acknowledgements for providing some early material. Not for my skills as a cartoonist. 

One Man Photoshop Protest

Bit dated now, but well worth a read.

UPDATE: I managed to find Hardman’s cartoon online. It’s better than mine by far. First of all; it was his idea! Secondly, the image has nine victims, which is more accurate. Thirdly, it didn't take Alan Hardman 20 years to comment on the horrors of the Niger Delta. 

Ken Saro-Wiwa, left. Alan Hardman cartoon, right. 


North Utsire

Friday, 15 January 2016

Limericks & Doodles

There was an ald Doctor from Grimsby
Whose wrists were incredibly flimsy 
So he took some Viagra & waited a while 
Now he's fantastically good at the frisby 

Pity Weightwatcher, our Vickers, 
Who's awfully fond of the Snickers 
She went to a meeting & hid them below 
Then she couldn't take off her knickers 

Our Kelly was good at the flirting
By showing her glittery merkin 
Till she met one young boy, 
Who was not very coy, 
And he beat her by showing his gherkin.

There's a clumsy young man from Seaton Carew
Who found he had nothing to do 
So he wasted his money by paying for ladies 
Who's bra straps he couldn't undo

There was a Jobseeker from Alty
Who was right fond of the Balti
So he ordered a meal 
But welched on the deal 
When his wallet had only 3-40 

North Utsire

Coconut, Cashew, Spinach and Prawn Curry

Doesn't look much but great little creation this one. I've been making it for years, only lately starting to add desiccated coconut plus milk, which increases the body and appeal of the meal. It lends itself very well to rice and has a light, harmonizing quality which leaves you satisfied but not feeling stuffed full.

2 Tbsp Desiccated Coconut

Add about ½ cup boiled water to 2 Tbsp Desiccated Coconut and leave to stand for a minimum of ½ an hour. Better to leave it longer, as this allows it to lose its tough texture in the curry and just contribute to overall flavour, which is its main purpose. You could alternatively use coconut cream or coconut water for flavour, in conjunction with the coconut milk below, but be careful not to go coconut bananas!


Take 2-3 handfuls of cashews (obviously non salted). The kind you get in bulk at supermarkets from the Asian isle.

Pre- Heat an oven to 180 degrees, put the cashews on a tray and bake them without oil or spices for circa 20 minutes. They tend to tip over the edge and burn all of a sudden, so keep an eye on them & be prepared to take them out sooner if necessary.

Do this before getting on with the other prep.
An alternative is to use a heaped Tbsp of peanut butter if you have no cashews.

1- 2 Tbsp Ghee,
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds

Heat the whole seeds & salt in an iron pan or skillet, adding in the Ghee once they’ve browned and become irresistibly aromatic. Using Coconut Oil instead of Ghee is perfectly ok for this recipe, and could add the mellow coconut zing if you are lacking the desiccated coconut, for example. 
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Ginger
½ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Turmeric powder

2 large chopped Tomatoes

Add in the powdered herbs and tomatoes. They should sizzle like a party night at Fukushima nuclear plant, and you will need to mix quickly to avoid the powder sticking to the pan. Then, however, allowing the mixture to stand for seconds at a time, you will see clear oil (actually Ghee) ooze out of the mixture. That’s when you know you’re done with this stage and you need to rapidly move on.
250g Prawns of whatever type

Add in the prawns from frozen & turn the heat onto medium. This will add some water to the mixture & stop it burning. Keep folding in the prawns until you get a good mix.

440ml Coconut Milk

Add the coconut milk and you will be finally free from walking the tightrope between searing the starter ingredients and burning them irrevocably in some hideous Greek tragedy mess.

Handful fresh coriander
3-4 lime leaves
4-8 blocks frozen spinach
2 green chillis, chopped
1 Tbsp tomato puree
Time to throw in these flavoursome goodies, as well as your coconut from step 1 (no longer desiccated- its miraculously rehydrated!) and your roasted cashews.

Allow to cook on medium- low heat for about half an hour to make sure all the flavours have melded.

Serves 4-6

This meal works well with steamed white Basmati rice, as it supplies a nice neutral background to the curry itself.

North Utsire