brian's soapbox



As always, the opinions expressed in these pages are purely and personally those of myself, Brian; they are not the official views of Queen, or of any other organisation or individual.

- Lame Claims
- Stereo and Freeview Notes



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Please DON'T reproduce stuff from these pages without permission. And if you do, please give us credit (!! and a LIVE link. Cheers ! Bri

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**Wed 30 Jan 13**

Rockin in Roger's studio with Kerry Ellis and guess who ?!

Yep ! Rufus Tiger Taylor ! He really is a joy - a phenomenon. He just did a brilliant drum track for our new song, called...

Recorded some great Kerry vocals today - love it when that happens ! And yes - you guessed it - the song we're doing is the...

The Kissing Me Song ! Kerry Ellis between takes. We are rockin'.

See you out there soon

Bri XX

Kerry and Rufus in Roger's Studio

Kerry Ellis between takes


**Sat 26 Jan 13**
[ Direct address: ]

9.30am - 11am
Role of the RSPCA as a prosecutor - Simon Hart

This Tuesday there will be Sabre-Rattling by the Countryside Alliance in Parliament.

The best you could say about it would be that it's a time-wasting exercise. But it has more sinister undertones. And 'sinister' is not an exaggerated epithet, because this is nothing less than an attempt to castrate one of Britain's finest institutions - the RSPCA. I will have a lot more to say about this, but for now let me leave you with a very well-written context piece by David Peterson, who is an expert on the subject.

This something every British voter needs to know.



Simon Hart MP, reports RSPCA to the Charity Commission for being suspected of breaching a “duty of prudence” that governs their actions.

I find it a bit rich that Simon Hart is reporting that RSPCA for breaching a “duty of prudence” when it spent it’s money bringing a private prosecution against members of the Heythrop Hunt. He also urged the commission’s chairman ‘to investigate’. Not so long ago this same Simon Hart, when chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and connected to the Countryside Alliance Foundation (charity number 1121034), a body set up to promote the cruel sport of hunting wild animals, spent enormous sums of money trying, unsuccessfully, to challenge the government’s Hunting Act 2004 through various courts. Firstly he went to The High Court who found him in the wrong, so then he went to the Court of Appeal who refused him, he then went to the House of Lords who unanimously dismissed both his appeals, so then he went to the European Court of Human Rights and they, too, turned him down. Prior to the Hunting Act being made law the campaign to filibuster the Act lasted 700 hours and cost in the region of £30 million. So then, supported financially by the pro-hunting lobby, he went into politics to try and change the law.

All these legal fees, paid out for an unsuccessful campaign, I suspect add up to a considerable amount far greater than that of the RSPCA’s successful prosecution of David Cameron’s favourite hunt. The RSPCA receive donations from people who wish to see these cruel acts stopped and for it to get convictions.

Senior Conservatives appear to have dashed any hopes of a free vote to repeal the law against hunting with dogs any time soon and ‘The Blue Foxes’, a group of conservative MPs, who support the Hunting Act, is growing steadily.

A poll by Ipsos Mori, for the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and International Fund for Animal Welfare, suggested most of the public (76 per cent) wanted the ban kept. Most people accepted there was no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society.

It seems that Simon Hart is caught between a rock and a hard place as his financial backers including a very dodgy former mercenary, hedge fund bankers, hunt-masters and Lord Ashcroft, now want some results for their money and he is unable to deliver. During a recent speech in Parliament he even attempted to malign the RSPCA and was promptly reprimanded by one of his own party who reminded him of its founder, William Wilberforce. ‘Grasping at straws’ springs to mind

David Petersen.
St Clears


**Sat 26 Jan 13**

[ Direct address: ]

This is another iPhone maps stereo … I can't resist now … because I discovered it's not just London that has this great 3-D rendering now.

This stereo makes a nice practice area for anyone who thinks they CAN'T free-view. Start gently looking the white top of the building in the small version at the top. Let your eyes relax - look 'through' the computer screen, and notice that you see double … and instead of 2 images side by side, 'struth - there are 4, swimming about on top of each other. Keeping the head level, move backwards and forwards a bit - and try looking into the distance over the top of the screen now and again to see how it feels to relax your eye convergence. Suddenly you will notice the images of the top of the building! That's the magic moment. Pause! You will notice that you can now see THREE images, the centre one of which is in 3-D. It might be a little out of focus at first, but gently concentrate on focussing, and it will all become clear. A 3-D epiphany!!

Once you've mastered the technique with the smallest pair, work your way down until you can comfortably fuse the big one in glorious stereoscopic splendour. You'll be glad you persevered !!

Tower 3 views

And … anybody like to tell me where this tower is I'll send a brand new Mark 2 OWL stereoscope to the first correct answer! (Yes, thanks, I DO know where it is !!! ha ha.)

Second Question (tie breaker) is … who invented 3-D pictures??


(see Contact Details above)



**Fri 25 Jan 13**
[ Direct address - ]

24 January 2013
[Original posted here 25 January 05:55AM)

Yes, I'm going to ask for a bed in Portcullis House … we spend so much time there now .. me and my Save-Me CEO, Anne Brummer.

Yes, we spend all our time talking to politicians, but my unshakeable belief is that Animal Welfare should be above politics. Decent treatment of ALL other creatures is a basic obligation of a civilised society, just the same as treating other humans decently (though we're not too good at that yet, either, as a species).

So we move a-politically in a political world and support anyone who supports ethical treatment of animals. That means working to hasten the end of cruelty, whether it is justified by a desire for money, for power, for avoiding responsibility, or just the gratification of someone's sick desire for fun, or 'sport'.

I'd like to tell you all of it, but there is so much there simply isn't the time. If I wrote it all up, I would never sleep.

But today (Thurs 24 January) was an interesting illustration of the fact that – thankfully, although we have a government which will not listen – there are strong strands of decent, compassionate people in every party in the House.

Today (24/01) we first met Caroline Lucas, for a catch-up. Caroline is the only Green MP as such (though Cameron makes preposterous claims about being 'green' - you have to laugh!). She is a wonderful example of how one would like every MP to be … she's there for the right reasons. She is not a career woman. She cares. She works for ethical solutions to every problem, represents all classes of people in her constituency (Brighton Pavilion), and on a broad scale for the country. She is untainted by compromises, to concessions and 'deals' to vested interests, and stands up with courage to back up her beliefs. She led our debate in the HOC on the badger cull, and her in-depth knowledge and calm presentation played a great part in securing a victory in the vote (which has been utterly ignored by Cameron and his DEFRA ministers).

What did we discuss? How to make the people of this country really aware of what is going on … the fact that against scientific evidence, and morality, and the will of the majority of Brits, thousands of healthy badgers will be randomly shot this Summer. Then we looked at the bloody mess that will be the British Countryside if this actually happens, and what our position will be. We, as Team Badger, an alliance of every important animal-aware organisation, have, all along, gone to great lengths to moderate our behaviours to be considerate to the needs of farmers. This will become harder and harder as the fateful day approaches. And when that first badger falls to the ground bleeding, shot by a gunman paid for by us, the taxpayers, it seems likely all Hell may break loose. We will, of course, continue to advocate moderation and decency towards farmers and government workers, in tune with the beliefs we stand for. But we will be a whole different world then, with different parameters. There will no way back.

Caroline will be attending the small debate next week (not in the House itself) in which ministers in league with the Countryside Alliance will be attacking the RSPCA's right to prosecute illegal behaviour by fox hunters. More of that soon, but it's comforting to know that decency will be represented in that room. By this amazing woman, among others.

Brian May and Caroline Lucas MP

Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) in Portcullis House with some bunny-hugging rock star.

Then we met a man who hails from a very different place, but is also doing great work for animals. Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin, has famously campaigned for the abolition of the use of wild animals in circuses. Interestingly, Pritchard also won his case to ban this outdated and barbaric practice in the HOC, but Cameron reportedly personally decided to ignore the will of Parliament, and is licensing wild animals for the next two years. Think of the monstrous bureaucratic waste of money in doing that! Unbelievable! Why? Ask him!!

Mark Pritchard also supported the case to stop the badger cull in our debate, and, by the way, defended me personally when someone tried to make out I was a paid-up member of the Labour Party, and therefore NOT a-political.

Brian May and Mark Pritchard

Mark Pritchard, MP (Conservative) and Bri in a posh London Hotel.

What did we talk about? Ethics, Science, the will of the people, the usual things. And for a moment, Polar Bears, since Mark is working on the issue at the moment, of large numbers of Polar Bears, who are rapidly becoming an endangered species, being killed and exported by greedy bastards. Mark exhibits great courage, because it's a lot harder to be the person he is, in the position he is, than if he were surrounded by animal-aware beings. He gets massive pressure from many of his colleagues to give in and keep quiet. He doesn't.

Finally, we exchanged a few words with Karl Turner, Labour man representing Kingston-upon-Hull, ground that I trod many many years ago, but that's another story. Karl is young, strong, outspoken, decent, anti-badger-cull, anti repeal of the Hunting Act. Enough said, really. He supported us in the badger debate, and, again, has the courage to live by his own rules and his perception of what his constituents expect, rather than be forced into a party line.

Brian May and Karl Turner, Labour

Karl Turner (Labour) and Brian May

There is much more to say, but, just for today, I wanted you guys, who are so supportive to us, out there, so see the kind of roads we walk. I never imagined I would be doing this even 5 years ago. It was time to put my money where my mouth had been at for most of my life. That's not a very good metaphor, but it paints a truthful picture. I'm no angel - I'm just a person on a path, in which I'm learning every day, and changing my own behaviour as I learn.

We WILL win a world of decency. It may happen when my molecules are already scattered in a forest somewhere … but we WILL win it. And, like the young chap in The Greatest Marigold Hotel says … "I am confident everything will be all right in the end, and if it is not all right now, it is not yet the end."



**Wed 23 Jan 13**

[Direct address:]

Anne and I met with Adam Quinney, vice president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) last Wednesday 16th Jan, 2013

Peter Kendal, the current president, also looked in. 

For those of us who care about wild animals, who have no voice in these matters, and have no representation at government level whatsoever, this has been, and still is, a long and relentlessly draining battle to try to save our badgers, and at the same time, give the farmers the solution they need to their Bovine TB problem.  

Over the last 3 years or so, Anne and I have met pretty much all the protagonists on both sides of the argument. Some of them I have crossed swords with n public or on TV, and Adam Quinney is one of those. (Peter Kendall also)  Adam is a decent man – family man, who does care about ethics, but, as his colleague in our meeting last week so deftly put it, to some people, ‘’ethics are a matter of opinion”. 

Indeed, although everything seems to point to this imminent killing of badgers being a hopeless failure, these people – the NFU, in direct partnership with the Government, are convinced that they are knights in shining armour, protecting their cows from disease. 

While one can perhaps doubt the underlying motives of the Government, some of whom are rabidly pro-killing for sport, and therefore have an interest in desensitising people to cruelty to wild animals, it’s hard to doubt that these guys from the NFU are sincere. It’s just that they operate from a different moral position from the rest of us.  If, purely hypothetically, we had a problem in Astronomy or Music, or perhaps the supply of water, or electricity, and somebody told us we could solve it by slaughtering thousands of mostly healthy wild animals, it would take us just a moment to rule out such a solution as absurd – inhumane – morally indefensible. But because the farming industry is so influential on our present government, this absurdity, this monstrously cruel and unjust action, is not only taken seriously, but millions of the taxpayers pounds – our money - have already been poured into making it happen. 

Yes, I regard Quinney and Kendall as decent people – but there is no doubt in my mind that what is about to happen is indecent – a tragic mistake which will benefit no-one and produce vast suffering to a unique community of intelligent animals which will never be able to be undone – animals who have just as much right to a decent family life as humans. 

In our meeting, we discussed the new evidence available on the effectiveness of culling as a strategy, and basically, opinions differ on how the evidence can be interpreted. The mantra of pro-cull blokes is “No country has ever solved the bTB issue without tackling it in the wildlife reservoir”. But it’s actually closer to the truth say that no country that has used culling of wildlife as a strategy has ever wiped out bTB. t’s possible to massage statistics in many ways, of course, and their arguments can be made to sound very convincing. Nevertheless, the whole weight of scientific opinion outside the walls of DEFRA maintains that culling simply will not work. If the cull goes ahead, badgers will suffer appallingly, their families destroyed, their rate of infection increased, and in some areas they are bound to become extinct. And the cost to farmers may, in addition to a possible increase in reactors among their cattle, will be alienation from the British public, damage which, again, cannot be undone. Plus possibly a backlash which will turn the man in the street away from meat and dairy products, permanently damaging British industry who think they know best. All through our campaign we have been accused of interference, in an area in which ‘the farmer knows best’.  Well, British farming, left to make its own decisions, and hugely subsidised by us, over many years, has manoeuvred itself into a very bad situation over Bovine TB – a disaster.  I am not alone in believing that what they are about to do will make things much, much worse.

Only this week we have seen a report that confirms that one in ten farmers are already culling badgers, and at the same time we are seeing confirmation that Bovine TB is spreading, perhaps faster than ever. It’s highly likely that these two facts are linked. We have for a long time been already in a badger-cull situation, and it’s absolutely established that small-scale spontaneous killing of badgers spreads disease because the badgers’ social structure is destroyed and they scatter. Perturbation. IF they are sick, they will carry disease to the neighbouring farm. Yet the Farming Press has actually encouraged such appalling foolishness. It is truly a disaster. 

In the meeting, over tea and biscuits, we discussed various ways in which Bovine TB can be attacked by means of vaccination, of badgers and of cows, and looked at the obstacles in the way, and also at the positive things that can be done right now. We, as the Team Badger consortium, are now actually able to offer quite a bit of help to farmers in various vaccination schemes, which will benefit both cows and badgers, and we are offering as much as we can, in schemes which will begin this Summer. But there is no help being offered in the other direction – not a grain of compassion or compromise towards us or the badgers for whom we speak. It is now clear that no matter how good the prospects are for non-lethal solutions to bTB in the next year look, the Government and the NFU will not – it seems cannot – let the cull go. What we were told is that there is no way they will take their foot off the pedal, towards beginning the massacre this Summer. 



In spite of the fact that it is ethically unjustifiable, the majority of the British oppose it, Parliament has voted against it, and the weight of scientific opinion says it will not work, THERE IS NO WAY FARMERS AND GOVERNMENT ARE GOING TO VOLUNTARILY ABANDON THE MASSACRE OF BADGERS THIS SUMMER. 

What will Britain’s response be? I think it will soon be out of our hands.   


- SAVE ME campaign -
- TEAM BADGER campaign -



**Wed 23 Jan 13**

Direct address for article:

Brilliant, Claudia. So brilliant that I'm going to recommend that everybody vitiating Bri's Soapbox do the same! Visit AstroAnarchy!

Stereo Star Field

I have corresponded with Mr Metsavinio - he's very good at this … converting mono star field photographs into stereos.

And there is a lot of speculative truth in what he ends up with … he's guessing, but his guesses are very informed and mostly spot-on, I think. It's really an education into what these wonderful objects might really look like if we had eyes a few light years apart. You can see the structures, which are usually not at all obvious without the miracle of 3-D. Recommended !!


Dearest Dr Bri,

I thought it was time for a stereo treat of some kind, possibly far from this world..... and found a perfect one !
Well... I've been here before ( ...and You too of course ! )... but never thought to turn off the light, click the 'slide show' button top right, set my eyes to parallel free-viewing... and let these amazing images dance in front of my eyes... in glorious 3-D !!!!!!!!

An obvious thing to do I guess... simply never came to my mind before...... absolutely Loved it !!!!!

... Unfortunately one has to come back....

So Glad You and Kerry are planning new Musical challenges.... can't wait to know the details.... !

Much Love,


**Tue 22 Jan 13**
Direct address for article:

Following on from our discussion on impact craters, Noah Petro, my good friend in NASA, has sent some fascinating further insights … which I wholly recommend for anyone who wants the whole story.

Click here for Noah's comments and links, in EXPERT OPINION !



**Tue 22 Jan 113**
Direct address for article:

From the Dr Hadwen Trust launch.


Kerry McCarthy and Brian May
Bri and Kerry McCarthy MP. Photo: Anne Brummer

Kailah Eglington Chief Executive Dr Hadwen Trust

Kailah Eglington Chief Executive Dr Hadwen Trust
for Humane Research - leading the presentation. Photo: Brian May

Prof Mike Curtis

Prof Mike Curtis - of Barts and QMC.


**Mon 21 Jan 13**
Direct address for article:


At The Dr Hadwen Trust launch of the first Professorial Chair of Replacement Science at Queen Mary College, London.

Meeting hosted by Kerry McCarthy MP at the Terrace Pavilion, House of Commons, Wednesday 16th Jan 2013.


In the discussion that followed the presentation, many important points were made. 

Prof Chris Foster, a leader in the field of Cancer treatments from Liverpool University, noted that research on non-human animal tissue was now HOLDING MEDICAL RESEARCH BACK.

This is very significant. 

Prof Chris Foster says :

"We are all patients – potentially all of us will at some time need treatment for an illness. If we are treated using one of the ‘blockbuster’ drugs currently on the market, promoted by the pharmaceutical companies, there is a high probability we will not get better. The reason is that, now we know the intricate details of the human genome, we know that we are all subtly different in our make-up, and in our responses to treatments. What we need is appropriate treatment for our body and for the particular invader - for instance, the particular kind of cancer that is threatening us. We need drugs specifically tailored to our requirements – smaller ‘niche’ drugs, which biologically match up. 

At this point is it utterly useless to go back and start experimenting on mice. This is outdated technology. The mouse tissue is not identical to ANY human tissue.  So the data accumulated will be useless for making this kind of fine tuning to various humans. The only way forward is to use human tissue to experiment on.

There is no bank of human tissue in this country … whereas there is in Germany, and so we are losing many of our top scientists in this field to Germany simply because the work cannot be done in the UK.  

Human tissue can be gleaned from various non-destructive ways, including small biopsies during operations … and this could be done as part of the NHS. IT is a massive waste of resources that this is not done at present.  

Research on animals is obsolete thinking."

The situation is made worse because many of the top-ranking medical journals require an element of animal testing in addition to in vitro and theory, because of traditional thinking that this make the drug more ‘proven’. In fact the situation is now reversed … animal testing is liable to yield less watertight results – so this ruling needs now to be changed. 

I find it hard to understand why there are people, evidently, working as editors and peer reviewers in the Journals who are clinging to the old rules. I suspect, as in many of these things, that if one looked closely enough with a magnifying glass, there would be other motives involved. 

So the fact that Queen Mary College are now pursuing this pure research on alternative research methods is a huge step forward.  

The Hadwen Trust need your support …. Money … donations, endowments, and also for people to make themselves available for research. This is not quite as frightening as it sounds! Small things can make a big difference, and Prof Curtis will be working on ways to enable the public to contribute – effectively helping to find cures for their relatives and friends and themselves.  

There is NO GOVERNMENT SUPPORT for this venture.  We all have to work to change that. This initiative is another vital step towards humanity which is being ignored by the present administration. 



**Mon 21 Jan 13**
Direct address for article:




At the launch of the first Professorial Chair of Replacement Science at Queen Mary College, London.

Meeting hosted by Kerry McCarthy MP at the Terrace Pavilion, House of Commons, Wednesday 16th Jan 2013


"Over the past few years I’ve become progressively more involved in campaigning for animal welfare.  It comes at a certain time of life, perhaps … this awareness that things have gone horribly wrong in the world at large, in the way we value, understand, and behave towards the other species on this planet.

We who work in animal welfare strive in a number of areas to try to move the human race towards decency and humanity in the way we treat all creatures. 

1) My own work centres on wild animals: people now on the whole understand that the Lion and the Tiger need protection, but it’s actually harder in some ways to make people aware in the UK that foxes and badgers and deer are our OWN wild animals, sentient, intelligent creatures, who have as much right to a decent life as we do, and as much right to a decent death. 

My own Save Me campaign has interlocked into a new coherent voice for animals who cannot speak for themselves … Team Badger, which is still working to try to prevent the Government from massacring an ancient, unique to the UK, and highly intelligent species of mammal – the Badger, against the wishes of the majority of the British public, the consensus of scientific opinion, and the will of Parliament, after a 6-hour debate on the subject last year.  

But this is the Government which has a declared intent to bring back legalised blood sports, and is at this moment working on changes to the law which will lessen the already paltry protection in law for all wild animals. We’re talking about a government which has refused to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, in spite of the will of Parliament.  So these are grim times, and any advance in animal welfare achieved in these conditions is highly significant. 

2) Many of us work in the field of the tens of millions of animals that are born and bred purely for profit, for human food production, for those people who feel they need meat in their diets. Vital work is going on by the RSPCA and others, including independent campaigner Tracy Worcester, and some enlightened farmers, to try to lessen the immense suffering that many of these creatures endure all their lives … to improve animal husbandry in farming, and introduce the idea that the feelings of these animals – their mental and physical welfare - are worthy of consideration in their own right.

3) And many of us become involved in the plight of millions of animals who are subjected to horrific treatment in the name of scientific research, medicine, and commercial gain in the case of many of the cosmetic studies that are done on live animals. So much of the research using live animals in the past has been duplication – so much of it has been irrelevant, and unnecessary, and even in some cases massively damaging to humans, because false conclusions were arrived at due an assumption that a human body will react in the same way as the animal being used for evaluation of a drug or chemical (thalidomide being a prime example).

In ALL these areas, these are not just commodities, or inconveniences we are talking about - they are thinking, feeling, creatures, in so many ways similar to ourselves. We hold it to be self-evident that every animal is worthy of respect, decent treatment, and the opportunity to experience a life worthy of the name.

It is, of course, in the last area that the Dr Hadwen Trust has marched into the fray with astonishing results. By finding ways to accumulate the necessary data by alternative methods to using live animals, the DHT is revolutionising research. No longer do research teams labour over experiments to prove the safety of a drug, when the necessary information can be gleaned from past experiments, and in many cases by computer modelling which gives more reliable data than could ever be obtained from animal testing.  

THIS NEW STEP IS VERY SIGNIFICANT, for a number of reasons:

1) This new initiative, to create a Professorship in the field of Replacement Science, will create a leader to coordinate efforts among groups of replacement scientists.

2) It is a very significant step forward in promoting awareness of the principles of replacement science in the scientific community. It is an endorsement of the importance of the ethical treatment of animals.  We salute Prof Mike Curtis and his colleagues at the Barts Blizard Institute and QMC for taking this brave step, recognising this work, which previously has been dismissed by some as a ‘fringe’ activity, as a central issue.

3) This appointment will promote education, which is the key to developing new and better solutions in the future.

4)  We expect that this new chair will help establish Replacement Science as a key avenue of research in its own right  … an academic discipline, as detailed by Mike Curtis.

5) We expect that other Universities will follow suit, leading eventually to the elimination of the cruelty and indignity of the use of animals in scientific research. 

Special note:

it’s very significant and encouraging that today we have MP’s from ALL political parties here.  The event has been hosted by the excellent Kerry McCarthy (Lab), to whom our grateful thanks, but in this room we also see Andrew George (Lib Dem), Henry Smith (Cons), and of course Caroline Lucas (Green), all notable supporters of the vital drive to improve animal welfare in our country.  It will be crucial in the coming months and years to maintain the position that animal welfare is above politics … a cause fundamental for the decency and humanity of our evolving society. 

The Chair has been sponsored by a single benefactor, Alan Stross, whom we all salute."




**Mon 21 Jan 13**
Direct address for article:

I asked you guys for questions on astronomy just before I appeared in the programme a couple of weeks ago. THANKS for so many ideas. But in the end, the way the show went, there was really not much room for spontaneous questions. So I thought I'd pick up a few questions myself and offer answers where I can … since most of them were GOOD QUESTIONS !

OK …

Here's one - from Gowan Collins.

1) As we see more and more into the Universe, why do impact craters nearly always appear round? Not all incoming objects must strike on the vertical, so why don't the majority of impact sites have elongated or teardrop shapes?

See what I mean? Good on ! Well, initially I could only guess at the answer here, but Chris Lintott was able to confirm the details. Yes, a small piece of impacting rock meeting the planet's surface obliquely may scud across the landscape before coming to a normally sticky end. But the trail left will be shallow and small and soon filled up with dust from other impacts. (I'd be interested to know if any of these have been spotted.) But above a certain size, the impact quickly brings the meteorite to a halt before matter is thrown out, so the huge kinetic energy converted into heat causes an explosion from an effectively stationary source, with a symmetrical result. Debris is thrown out uniformly in all directions, producing a circular impact crater - not an elliptical one - irrespective of the angle at which the object impacted.

This one was also from Mr Collins (thanks Gowan).

2) As there appears to so much cosmic dust and debris out in space, how do we manage to see such distant objects as in the Hubble Deep Field so clearly? Surely at those distances we would be looking through that much dust it would resemble a fog!

Well, as my PhD thesis happily observes, there is certainly plenty of dust in the vicinity of the Earth and the Solar System. But the density drops off very fast as you move away from the inner planets. We see it illuminated by Sunlight, causing the beautiful Zodiacal Light, but out there beyond Jupiter there is not much light for it to scatter, so a grain of dust would only cause a tiny dimming effect - not an intrusive mist. And the truth is - yes, there is a lot of dust in the Universe, but except in certain areas, principally around stars and nebulae where stars are born, the density really is incredibly low. Low enough to cause no problem even looking through these vast distances at the objects in the Hubble Deep Field - about 13 billion light years away. Mind you … it has to be added that this tiny piece of sky was very carefully selected for the HDT because there was not much in the way. Well away from the principal Galactic plane, it's devoid of nebulosity or bright stars, and so was perfect for this very long 'time-exposure'.

Finally, for now, Gowan offers a neat insight, further to our discussion on "Why is North always agreed to be 'up' ?" He says:

"it's interesting to note that if we accept that compasses are correct and the North pointer is attracted to the magnetic pole, then the North Pole is in fact a South Pole; given that the North on the compass and the North magnetic pole are basically magnets then only opposites attract, so the North on the compass must be pointing to a South Pole, not North (as like poles repel each other)!

So there's some nice little bits of astro to ponder here.



**Sat 19 Jan 13**
Direct address:

[A young lady with a survey - please see her LETTER and please contribute.]

Well, I applaud your choice of topic, Charlotte.

The questionnaire is interesting, though some of those questions will be hard for anyone to answer !

It's a complex subject so you could not possibly cover all angles' for instance, the possibility that the recently confirmed 'do it yourself' badger culling by farmers which may well have contributed to the spread of the disease through perturbation.

I will put this up in our Letters page, with the link, in the hope that people will see this and contribute to your survey.

Good luck with your research. I'd be interested to hear the results.

All the best


**Sat 19 Jan 13**
Direct address:

[See LETTERS for questions]

Many thanks Sharon.

You have asked all the right questions. I only wish I had a sensible answer.

Yes, a total of 166,000 people have so far registered their opposition to the Government's imminent Badger Cull.

Yes, we fought our way to a 6-hour debate in the House of Commons, and overwhelmingly won the vote at the end of it.

Yes, the whole scientific community, except a few in the employment of the Government, have concluded that the badger cull is bound to fail as a solution for Bovine TB in cattle.

And yet this Government, hand in hand with the leaders of the farming profession, are determined to proceed with the massacre of thousands of innocent, and mainly healthy wild animals.


Yes, it begs the questions … what is the point of debating in Parliament ? What is the point of petitioning? What is the point of impartial scientific research?

This Government is trashing them all. And this, apparently, is democracy.

And we, the British public are, so far, standing by and letting them.

Best Wishes


Fri 18 Jan 13**
Direct addres:


Rihanna feat. Brian May - Diamonds (remix) -

Interesting! Not bad, but of course I never did it !

They've obviously just got hold of a multitrack of "I Want It All" and pinched some guitar licks and synched them on.

You can't stop people doing this stuff, I suppose, but it's kind of a shame.

Because if I ever DID work with Rihanna, something really great might happen, and now, after this, nobody will care !!

Because they think it already happened.



** Fri 18 Jan 13**

Direct addres:


Made me smile a lot. I think I will have to share this with our Soapbox 'readers', many of whom are still trying to get Christmas out of their systems.

By the time they get to end of this video they will be cured !! ha ha !

<Sorry - no longer available>


**Wed 16 Jan 13**
Direct address:

Today I am headed to the launch at the Houses of Parliament of the first professorial chair in Replacement Science.

It has been sponsored and created at Queen Mary College by The Dr Hadwen Trust, which has been working for a number of years on finding ways of replacing experiments using live animals.

I will be speaking towards the end of the launch, this lunchtime at the HOC.

It's great to be part of an initiative that really is making headway in the fight against cruelty to animals. It's helped by the fact that there is a lot of support for this work in the scientific community as a whole, and there has been support from the European Parliament.

This comes on a day when advances are being made elsewhere too … see the story on Joanna Page and the banning of cosmetics tested on animals in Europe.

If we only had a government in the UK whose heart was in the right place ….




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