Sarah Palin and Charles McKay

August 31, 2008

Anyone who read my previous post on Johann Anton Güldenstädt and his 18th century trip to the Caucaus mountains, at the end of the recent Russian – Georgian War over South Ossetia, would have guessed two things: I am a fan of nature and where politics and nature meet it gives me great incentive to blog.

With all the recent fuss over Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, and now Republican Vice President candidate; that’s all the excuse I need!

Particularly when Sarah Palin is backing destruction of one of the most spectular wildlife areas in North America and that site is intimately linked to a little known naturalist but one of my biggest heroes!

Charles McKay, born in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1855, was the son of a Scottish farmer. He studied Science under David Starr Jordan; a naturalist particularly noted for the study of fish and also a famous peace campaigner he became a president of Indiana University then Stanford University.

When Charles left university he joined the U.S. Army. He was sent to Alaska by Spencer Fullerton Baird as a signal officer. Baird was another naturalist and often used fellow naturalists in the military, sending them to remote places to study the wildlife, whilst carrying out their military duties.

McKay was sent to Bristol Bay in Alaska. He discovered a beautiful, rare and new species of bunting there, now named McKay’s Bunting in his honour.

McKay's bunting

There are only about 6000 McKay’s buntings in the world. They only breed on two islands in the Bering Sea; St. Matthew Island and Hall island. They winter on the coast of Alaska, and can be found in Bristol Bay.

Breeding on two Arctic islands McKay’s buntings could be threatened by global warming as the Bering Sea rises due to melting icebergs and the icecap.

Bristol Bay, the very area where Charles McKay first discovered these buntings, is now under threat from a proposed Gold and Copper mine that would be sited in the area called Pebble Mine.

Bristol Bay is also the site of one of the world’s biggest salmon fisheries. This is also at risk from the proposed mine.

And its this very place that Sarah Palin wants to see the Pebble Mine located.

Its an indication of how right-wing Governor Palin is when you realise that even the American Hunting Organisations are against the proposed mine.

The most worrying thing is that both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama were against Alaska’s Proposition 4 which would have prevented mining companies dumping their chemicals into the state water supply and rivers; it may have even prevented the Pebble Mine being built. It narrowly was defeated recently giving the mining companies a huge boost.

Indeed, it seems Sarah Palin even broke the law to campaign against Proposition 4.

The door is now open for the Pebble Mine.

Sarah Palin won’t stop it. Will Barack Obama?

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Sarah Palin and the 6000 year old man.

August 30, 2008

OK, John McCain is not that old. But the 6000 years is relevant.

Unlike other commentators I am not going to discuss the fact that Republican Senator John McCain has picked the former beauty queen and hockey-mom Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

John McCain and Sarah Palin

Excepting this: it is a risky move, designed to try and pick up the Hillary Clinton women’s vote and give the Republicans a greater appeal by picking someone younger than McCain and a woman. Given her lack of experience it may well give the Democrats the edge. Its a calculated risk by the Republicans though and it remains to be seen if it helps McCain to the Whitehouse.

Place your bets.

What I’d rather discuss is Sarah Palin’s dangerous views:-

What I don’t agree with is Palin’s disregard for the climate change argument and man-made global warming. She wanted to sue the federal government for making polar bears an endangered species.

Trend of sea ice levels in the Arctic

What I don’t agree with is Palin’s policy of teaching both creationism and evolution in Science classes.

Incredibly, Sarah Palin is the daughter of a Science teacher.

McCain also advocates teaching both, but at least he’d only teach evolution in a Science class. He is however linked to groups teaching Intelligent Design, creationism by another name.

It just concerns me that here we have a Vice President candidate that thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

And she’s on the same ticket as a 72 year old running for President in one of the most powerful countries in the world. (A 72 year old who may not be as pro-creationist as Palin but is willing to put the arguments in schools.)

I dread to think what education policies Sarah Palin might put through if she did make President, if McCain stood down with ill-health or whatever.

We might go the same way as the dinosaurs.

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England v Australia Olympic battle

August 29, 2008

While politicans try to make political capital of the Olympics it seems that a spat has developed between England and Australia over the medal tally.

It started when The Sun drove mobile billboards around London and Sydney saying ‘Where the bloody hell were you?’ and pointing out Team GB’s superior gold medal tally to Australia.

Now the Australians have hit back saying that Australia have 14 gold medals compared England’s 13.

The Australian Daily Telegraph have now performed a similar stunt.

‘Above you in the medal table’ the Aussies claim.

I’m just waiting for the Australian Government to publicly endorse the SNP and Plaid Cymru and demand Scottish and Welsh independence!


Olympic successes and Google Earth

August 28, 2008

It seems that Chris Hoy was upset by The Scotsman’s reports that he said a Scottish Olympic team would be ridiculous.

He is quoted in the Daily Record (Its something when even the Daily Record shows up how anti-SNP The Scotsman has become!):

“I feel a bit upset that I have been quoted as saying the idea of a Scottish Olympic team is ridiculous.

“If and when a Scottish team was put together, I would be delighted to represent Scotland in the Olympic Games.

“But before that happens, so much needs to be done for the athletes to be able to compete at the highest level.

“As a cyclist, there isn’t a facility in Scotland where I can train throughout the year and that’s why I have to base myself outside Scotland.

“I am proud to be Scottish, but at the same time it’s not feasible to think we can compete as a nation without the right facilities.”

So he’s just calling for an improvement in facilities, and seems to have clarified his past comments.

I’m sure he would much rather train in Scotland if the facilities matched those of Manchester.

And that’s the rub. Athletes can train anywhere that have the right facilities. Many of the successful Jamaican Olympic team trained in the United States, for instance.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games should provide a legacy of facilities for our athletes for years to come.

Some athletes don’t need much in the way of facilities:

Kristin Armstrong, an American Olympic cyclist in Beijing, won the Gold in the Women’s Individual Time Trial in Road Cycling.

Kristin Armstrong winning the Gold with help from Google Earth

It seems all she needed was her bike, her husband’s GPS and a PC running Google Earth.

She took the GPS when she trialled the Olympic route in 2007. She then went home, imported the data into Google Earth, and then matched the elevations of the Chinese Olympic route to a similar route at her home in Boise, Idaho for her training.

Now that is smart thinking.

And in Beijing she cruised to a Gold Medal.

You can just bet Google Earth will be playing this up for years!

Incidentally, Emma Pooley from England won the Silver, one of the medallists in Team GB. She is based and trains in Zurich, Switzerland. I’ll bet she wishes she thought of that idea! Or indeed, Nicole Cooke from Wales – based in Lugano, Switzerland, who finished fifteenth. But she did win the Gold in the Road Race.

Finally a hat-tip to Daibhi Anseo who pointed out in the comments to my post on Home Nations Olympic teams in history that a cycling team represented Scotland in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.

I’ve not found a picture yet but I have found the names of the Scotland cycling squad:

John Wilson
Robert Thompson
John Miller
David Stevenson
Charles Hill
James Stevenson
George Corsar
Arthur Griffiths

They finished fourth and just missed out on a medal. The hosts Sweden came first and took the gold, obviously having the advantage of regularly training on the Olympic route.

If only Google Earth was around in 1912!


Liberal Democrat new direction

August 27, 2008

Congratulations to Tavish Scott, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

He won with 59% of the vote over rivals Ross Finnie and Mike Rumbles.

The result was a predictable shoo-in. Even I managed to get it right when I suggested the winner would be between Tavish Scott and his ego, some time ago in the middle of the Glasgow East campaign.

So where does Tavish take the Scottish Liberal Democrats now?

I guess he is going to follow Nick Clegg’s new strategy of kicking Labour to death in Scotland, where possible.

This follows the political maxim if a party is down keep kicking them.

It would make sense for the Liberal Democrats to try and hoover up as many disaffected Labour voters as possible. From where the Labour Party is currently, it should be fairly easy to pick up ex-Labour voters that feel betrayed by the party’s lurch to the right under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Those ex-Labour voters that don’t go straight to the SNP anyway.

And what of the Liberal Democrats new approach to the SNP?

Well, it seems that Tavish might just come out in favour of a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s future.

Is this the begiinning of an olive-branch?

Or just the start of a Liberal Democrat move similar to that of the Labour Party moving to the right under Thatcher and Major when the realised that left-wing politics wouldn’t get them elected in the UK? Are the Scottish Liberal Democrats going to get more nationalist using their federalist umbrella?

Its obviously too early to tell.

Tavish has barely sat down in his chair and arranged his stationary.

But its something we should be watching for.


Why the UK should have separate Olympic teams

August 26, 2008

Team GB took 311 athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games according to the Team GB website.

Yet the IOC only provides each country a limited number of slots for their athletes.

That meant for instance Hayley Haining couldn’t go to Beijing when Paula Radcliffe declared herself fit.

Now there are always going to be losers in any qualifying system for the limited slot placement in the Olympics.

But separate Olympic teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would widen the opportunities for our athletes, and ensure that as many athletes as possible fill each countries slots.

Consider this:

The UK with a population of around 60 million sent 311 athletes.

England’s population of around 50 million is slightly higher than Spain’s 46 million. Spain sent 312 athletes to Beijing. (These and other countries figures obtained from the Yahoo Olympic site.) You’d probably be talking at least the 311 athletes in a English Olympic team. (The Team GB breaks down England by region but subtracting the other countries totals from the 311 Team GB total gives an English total of 268 athletes.)

Scotland’s population is around 5 million. Slightly higher than Croatia’s 4.6 million. Croatia sent 110 athletes to Beijing. Probably the same numbers as a possible Scottish team, although New Zealand with 4.2 million sent 209 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 26 athletes at the 2008 Olympics.)

Wales’ population is around 3 million. Just slightly smaller than Lithuania. They sent 74 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 14 Welsh athletes in the Beijing Olympics.)

Northern Ireland’s population is around 1.8 million. Not far off Slovenia’s 2 million. They sent 62 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 3 athletes, although Northern Irish athletes are also eligible for the Irish Olympic squad.)

Let’s add that up:-

England 311
Scotland 110
Wales 74
Northern Ireland 62

Thats a rough estimate of 557. That’s an increase in athletes for each country from their 2008 totals.

Might even be more if the Home Nations can begin to emulate the New Zealand population density rate. The UK – as four countries – could possibly send about 700 athletes, more than double the present number; a number that would never be possible for the single British Olympic Committee given the UK’s population.

The key here is widening participation in sport for our top athletes.

Athletes that have experience in the Olympics generally do better in the next one. They know what the Olympics is all about, they have seen what it takes to compete at that level, and work that bit harder to achieve their Olympic dreams next time.

Athletes that don’t make the slot places may just give up altogether.

With 4 different Olympic committees, sport all over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could flourish.

And of course, there’s no reason for the IOC to object to four different IOC bodies in the UK. There were 12 territories represented at the 2008 Olympics that are not recognised countries.

Bermuda has its own representation. Britain own those islands; Bermuda is not independent or have a seat at the UN. Bermuda sent 6 athletes to the Olympics. And for a population of 66 000 people that’s simply staggering.

Thats almost 1 in 10000 people there being Olympic athletes.

Or England sending 5000 athletes to Beijing.


Home Nations Olympic teams in history

August 25, 2008

My previous post described how the 1908 Great Britain Olympic football squad was in fact the English national amateur team.

One other thing of interest in that Olympics was that the Home Nations representated themselves in some sports.

For example, in Hockey there was a English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh side. (This before before the independence of Ireland and the partition of Northern Ireland.)

They competed with France and Germany to get the medals.

England won gold. Ireland won the silver. Scotland and Wales shared the bronze, as there was no 3rd place play-off.

Scotland beating Germany 4-0 at hockey in the 1908 Olympics

England and Ireland representated themselves at Polo.

The IOC rules about countries competing only if they have an IOC committee in place where enforced at these London games.

This was a British ploy to prevent the situation that had happened two years previous in the 1906 Intercalated Olympics – basically a mid term Olympics between 1904 and 1908.

Peter O’Connor, an Irish long jumper, high jumper and triple jumper, was sent to Athens by the GAA and the IAAA, Irish sport authorities. Of course, Ireland at the time was not independent from Britain and hence Peter and other Irish atheletes found themselves listed as representing Britain.

In a controversial long jump competition, Peter came second, but as the Union flag was raised to represent his silver, Peter climbed the flagpole and waved his Irish flag instead.

He later won the gold medal in the triple jump.

That’s why the IOC ruling was enforced in 1908 by the London Olympics, to try and stop any such political statements. However to primarily appease the Irish they allowed the Home Nations to represent themselves at some sports; particularly in those sports where Ireland had a good chance to win a gold medal.

A knock-on effect of this ruling was that Finland – at the time ruled by Russia – was listed as Russian. This was particularly upsetting for the Finns as Russia had not even bothered to send a team.

They decided to have no flag instead.

The official report on the London games stated “it might on another occasion be better to consider separate entries from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales…as well as from both New Zealand and Australia”

Even in the imperial mood of 1908 came the realisation that separate teams were the way forward.

One hundred years later and we’re still having the debate in the UK!