Tag Archives: England

Did You Know… There’s A Plant That Produces Both Tomatoes and Potatoes?

The “TomTato” is a veggie lover’s dream: above ground, it’s a tomato plant; below ground, it’s a potato plant.

The idea was the brainchild of the horticultural firm Thompson and Morgan, based in Ipswich, England.

Although the concept sounds crazy, the plants are not genetically modified; rather, they are created using grafting. This process involves making matching incisions into two different plants which allows you to connect them.

A similar process was recently used by a professor from Syracuse University to create a tree that produces 40 different types of fruit.

A basic diagram of the grafting process. Click to enlarge

The current version of the TomTato is the culmination of 10 years of development.

Early versions of the plant had issues with taste, but advances in grafting technology have allowed Thompson and Morgan to perfect their process.

“It has been very difficult to achieve because the tomato stem and the potato stem have to be the same thickness for the graft to work,”

said Thompson and Morgan director Paul Hansord.

According to the horticultural firm, the tomatoes ripen right around the same time that the potatoes can be dug up.

The “TomTato” plant in all its glory. Click to enlarge

Many people in England have their own small vegetable gardens, but don’t have the space to grow as many different types of vegetables as they would like.

Thompson and Morgan hopes that the plant will gain popularity amongst these people, and possibly even start a trend towards more vegetable hybridization in the future.

If the tomatoes and potatoes really are as good as the company’s director claims, the TomTato could very well start popping in up vegetable plots all over the world.

Read the original story from the BBC here.

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Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.

Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.

But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?

Hamas militants in training. Click to enlarge

Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.

Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.

In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.

This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).

“Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest, 1917.” Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.

Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.

But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.

Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.

So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.

General Sir Evelyn “Bubbles” Barker led the occupying British forces in Palestine between 1946 and 1947. Click to enlarge

Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.

So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.

Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.

The change of territory following UN Resolution 181 and the resultant war. Click to enlarge

In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.

It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.

Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.

Arab leaders in front of the Nile Hilton Hotel in Cairo during the Arab League Summit in 1964

Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.

In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.

In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.

So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.

To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin

In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel  in 1979.

Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.

Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.

Men celebrating the military coup in the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in 1953. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.

So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.

He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.

But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.

Mahmoud Zahar was one of the Hamas leaders who met with Israeli officials in the early days of the organization’s existence (Photo: AFP)

It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.

In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.

During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.

Isreali Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The U.S. played a major role in brokering the deal. Click to enlarge (Photo: AP)

Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.

2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.

In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.

In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).

Results from the 2006 elections. Click to enlarge

The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.

Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,

“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”

Feb. 23, 2012: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) at a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo. Click to enlarge (Photo: UPI/ Mohame Hams)

But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.

Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.

One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.

Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.

Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:

“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal is rumored to be in control of more than $2.6 billion dollars of Hamas assets, according to a source in Jordan

The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.

In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.

However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).

The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.

These Guys Were Just Enjoying a Day of Surfing When a Playful Seal Pup Decided to Join (Video)

Matthew and his friend Andrew like to shred a couple waves every now and then.

Recently, they were enjoying the waves off the coast of England when they had an unsuspected visitor. Matt describes the event:

“Me and my friend Andrew were out enjoying some summer waves when this little guy came along and scared the hell out of Andy because we didn’t know what it was! It nudged his foot from underneath.”

The next hour was filled with fun for both the surfers and the seal. Check out some of the footage below:

When the pair finally decided to call it a day, the seal pup followed them to the beach, and even  tried following them up the beach.

As a precaution, Andy called the local wildlife authority to inform them of the strange behavior when they got home, in case there was something wrong with the pup. But he did however add that,

“He didn’t seem unwell when he was surfing in like a pro!”

Although a representative from a local sanctuary said that they had never heard of seals jumping on surfboards before, it’s most likely that the young pup was just enjoying a new play experience with its new friends.

(h/t IFL Science)

BONUS: If you’re a fan of seals, you’ll probably love this video of a sea lion jamming out to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” at various different tempos.

The sea lion, whose name is Ronin, was the first non-human mammal proven to keep a beat.

The Story of Henry “Box” Brown: The Slave Magician Who Mailed Himself to Freedom In A Crate

Henry “Box” Brown was born into slavery in 1816. He and his family worked on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia.

Henry’s experience as a slave was one of the better ones. In his autobiographry, he describes his slave master as, “…uncommonly kind, (for even a slaveholder may be kind),” and added that he was revered almost as a god amongst the slaves.

But one day, after Henry had grown up, married and had kids of his own, things took a bad turn. After the plantation sold his wife and children off to a different slave owner, Henry remembers having a “heavenly vision” that told him to mail himself to freedom.

In 2012, Virginia approved a historical marker honoring Henry “Box” Brown in Louisa County. Click to enlarge

So, with the help of abolitionist C. A. Smith and a sympathetic local shop keeper, Henry devised a plan to ship himself to a free state via the Adams Express freight and cargo company.

Henry paid $86 (more than half of all of his savings) to Smith to set everything up. Smith contacted a pastor in Philadelphia who suggested that they mail the crate to the offices of a Quaker merchant known as Passmore Williamson.

Quaker abolitionist Passmore Williamson. Click to enlarge

When the day arrived to put the plan in motion, Brown burned his hand down to the bone with sulfuric acid to get out of work for the day. Then, he slipped off to meet up with Smith and begin his harrowing journey.

Henry was in the crate for a harrowing 27 hours. During this time, the 3-foot long crate traveled by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, and railroad again before finally making the last leg of its trip in a delivery wagon.

Although the crate was marked with “this side up” and “handle with care”, Henry reported that the crate was often handled roughly and even stored upside down a few times.

But despite all of the trauma, Henry was able to avoid detection, making it to Philadelphia relatively unscathed.

When he emerged from the crate in the office of Passmore Williamson, he said,”How do you do, gentlemen?”, and then proceeded to sing a Bible psalm that he had chosen for his first taste of freedom.

“The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia”, a lithograph depicting the end of Henry’s journey, by Samuel Rowse. Click to enlarge

Henry went on to play a major role in the abolition movement until the Fugitive Slave Act forced him to flee to England in 1850. While in England, Henry became an entertainer, performing as an illusionist and conjurer, among other mystical and magical acts.

He remarried while in Britain, and returned to the United States in 1875 with a full family magic act. There is no record of Brown’s death, but the last known record of his life comes from a newspaper article dated February 26, 1889 talking about a recent show Brown had put on in Ontario.

Years later, while describing the daring plan that eventually led to his freedom, Henry explained why he was willing to take on such huge risks:

“If you have never been deprived of your liberty, as I was, you cannot realize the power of that hope of freedom, which was to me indeed, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast.”

A close up of the historical marker in Louisa County, Virginia. Click to enlarge
A close up of the historical marker in Louisa County, Virginia. Click to enlarge

The Fourth of July: A Quick History

The 4th of July was first recognized as a federal holiday back in 1941, but people have been celebrating it since the 18th century.

On June 2, 1776, the Continental Congress met to discuss seceding from England. The Congress was largely put together by Benjamin Franklin, who finally convinced the disunited colonies to form one representative body after the Intolerable Acts were passed by Britain to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party.

December 16, 1773: Angry colonists, disguised as native americans, board a British tea ship and dump its cargo overboard to protest the taxes leveed by the Tea Act

The Congress included George Washington, who would eventually command the colonial revolutionary army before becoming the first president, and Patrick Henry, famous for his “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech which inspired Virginian colonists to mobilize against the approaching British forces.

Besides Washington, the Congress also included four other future presidents: John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence.

One of the most iconic Independence Day pictures: Jefferson presents the Declaration to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776

The Continental Congress actually voted in favor of independence on the 2nd, but it wasn’t until the 4th that all of its delegates adopted Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which is why we celebrate the birth of America on this day.

The signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. Click to enlarge

The first 4th of July was quite the spectacle. Though not all the colonists agreed with the decision to break away from England, the ones who did had one heck of a party. The festivities included concerts, parades, bonfires, and the firing of guns and cannons (a pre-cursor to fireworks).

Many colonists even held mock funerals for King George III to represent the end of his tyranny. The Declaration of Independence was also read (multiple times I’m sure) at most of the celebrations.

This painting by John Krimmel from 1819 depicts an early celebration of Independence Day in Philadelphia. It includes a military parade as well as people picnicking, drinking, playing music and even arguing politics

Today, the 4th has become less about the downfall of King George and more about celebrating all the great things we have accomplished as a nation in our relatively short history. The celebrations may not be quite as morbid, but anyone will tell you that they’re just as passionate.

A Few Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the 4th:

John Adams always believed that the true birthday of American independence was July 2, the day that the Continental Congress voted on the issue. He would reportedly turn down invitations to celebrations on the 4th to show his protest.

Also, 3 of our first 5 presidents died on the 4th. Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the first 4th of July celebration. James Monroe, our 5th president, died exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831.

(h/t History Channel)

Lego Asks British Government to Stop Using Their Toys In Anti-Scottish Independence Ads

On September 18th, Scottish citizens will vote in a referendum to decide whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or to break away and become independent.

Though only about a third of the Scottish population is in favor of leaving the UK, the British government has been leading a campaign to discourage voters from choosing independence.

Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond, who proposed the separation when he was elected back in 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

A cornerstone of the British government’s pro-unity argument is their claim that staying part of the UK will make the average Scotsman better off by £1,400 UK ($1,900 USD) per year, as compared to if the country were to separate.

To illustrate this point, the British Treasury Department made a BuzzFeed style list of the “12 things that £1,400 UK Dividend could buy”, using legos to illustrate each entry. They have since removed most of the images, but you can check out some of the original entries below:

Unfortunately for  Britain’s PR team, the plan backfired. Many people accused the government of patronizing the Scottish with suggestions like, “Scoff [eat] 280 hot dogs at the Edinburgh Festival,” or, “cover your family’s yearly shoe habit for about the next 6 years”.

On top of that, the Lego company (which is based in Denmark) asked the government to remove the images, saying,

“We have requested that the images are removed due to our neutral political stance. We are a children’s toy company and therefore all of our communication is targeted towards children. People all over the world use Lego to depict stories and scenarios – some of it not to our knowledge. We maintain our position as being a politically neutral company.”

Read more from The Guardian here.

What’s In Your Drinking Water? Cocaine and Caffeine, If You’re British

A group of experts from the British Drinking Water Inspectorate recently carried out a series of tests to see what chemical compounds were in British drinking water. Even after intensive purification treatments, the scientists found traces of cocaine.

Specifically, the scientists found benzoylecgonine, which is the form that the compound takes after being metabolized in the body. It’s the same compound that is looked for in urine when testing a person for cocaine use.

Steve Rolles of the Transform think tank

Steve Rolles of the drug policy think tank Transform believes that this finding is reflective of Britain’s rapidly growing drug use. In an interview with the British Sunday Times recently, he said,

“We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe. It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”

According to the charity DrugScope, England has 170,000 crack cocaine-dependent addicts, and an estimated 700,000 British citizens aged 16-59 use cocaine at least once every year.

Click to enlarge

But cocaine wasn’t the only thing found in the water. The inspectors also found traces of the common painkiller acetaminophen and the epilepsy drug carbamazepine. There were also significantly higher levels of caffeine in the water.

Public Health England recently published a report which assessed the health risks associated with these recent findings. Their report concluded that the levels of cocaine in the water after it was treated were 4 times lower than before treatment, and that the dosage (~4 nanograms/liter) was unlikely to pose a serious threat to public health. The report stated,

“Estimated exposures for most of the detected compounds are at least thousands of times below doses seen to produce adverse effects in animals and hundreds of thousands below human therapeutic doses.”

Click to enlarge

However, little research has been done into whether or not constant, regular exposure to these pharmaceuticals, even in small doses, can cause cumulative effects over time.

Read more from The Independent here.