The Hunters in the Snow, Art

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like art.

But I must confess I shudder at the huge sums that art can be sold for. However I suppose I should respect the law of supply and demand (after all an original painting is by definition unique), and I should also respect an individual’s right to spend their money as they wish.

I appreciate art comes in many forms, though still I’m bewildered how someone applying paint to a canvas by means of splattered bicycle tracks can be considered art. But that’s another story, much better to focus on what I like.

I like this.

Hunters in the Snow, Breugel
The Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Breugel

Another confession, I am no art connoisseur, though I like art to tell me something, to inform me, to transmit, to grip me more deeply than the “Oh, that’s nice,” reaction. I’m looking for Oh that’s nice plus alpha.

This painting does that. It certainly tingles me at first sight, and there’s more. It has a foreground and a background; it tells me of the times (circa 1565). I like the hues too. Has the paint faded over the centuries? I don’t know, but the dark pastel shades of the 16th century are in sharp contrast with the in-your-face poster colors of today.

Pieter Breugel was a Flemish peasant; if he were alive today he would be a Belgian millionaire.

Enhanced by Zemanta

World at Night

World at nightIf it were night-time everywhere simultaneously it would look like this composite picture. In addition the main shipping lanes are in blue and the main air routes are in red.

Just shows where most of the energy is used on this planet.

Sochi Olympics

Sochi 2014Have the Olympics got a little out of hand? The cost of the Sochi Olympics was more than all the other twenty-one previous winter olympics combined. They even built a stadium, not for sport (though I hope it gets used after the olympics), but for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Almonds: Neglected Food No1

(Please bear in mind this is merely my opinion based on personal experiences, research and observations, and I take no responsibility for any misleading information or errors)

almonds dAlmonds, a humble nut? Sadly not.

A nutritional treasure chest mired in a fierce argument, shrouded in a dilemma. The almond story is far from simple.

Firstly the nutrition. A treasure chest? In a word, yes! The almond is known as the king of nuts for a great many reasons, and the list, based on USDA data is long.

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy    2,408 kJ (576 kcal)
Carbohydrates    21.69 g
– Starch    0.74 g
– Sugars    3.89 g
– Lactose    0.00 g
– Dietary fiber    12.2 g
Fat    49.42 g
– saturated    3.731 g
– monounsaturated    30.889 g
– polyunsaturated    12.070 g
Protein    21.22 g
– Tryptophan    0.214 g
– Threonine    0.598 g
– Isoleucine    0.702 g
– Leucine    1.488 g
– Lysine    0.580 g
– Methionine    0.151 g
– Cystine    0.189 g
– Phenylalanine    1.120 g
– Tyrosine    0.452 g
– Valine    0.817 g
– Arginine    2.446 g
– Histidine    0.557 g
– Alanine    1.027 g
– Aspartic acid    2.911 g
– Glutamic acid    6.810 g
– Glycine    1.469 g
– Proline    1.032 g
– Serine    0.948 g
Water    4.70 g
Vitamin A    1 IU
– beta-carotene    1 μg (0%)
– lutein and zeaxanthin    1 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1)    0.211 mg (18%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)    1.014 mg (85%)
Niacin (vit. B3)    3.385 mg (23%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)    0.469 mg (9%)
Vitamin B6    0.143 mg (11%)
Folate (vit. B9)    50 μg (13%)
Choline    52.1 mg (11%)
Vitamin E    26.2 mg (175%)
Vitamin K    0.0 μg (0%)
Calcium    264 mg (26%)
Iron    3.72 mg (29%)
Magnesium    268 mg (75%)
Manganese    2.285 mg (109%)
Phosphorus    484 mg (69%)
Potassium    705 mg (15%)
Sodium    1 mg (0%)
Zinc    3.08 mg (32%)

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

But take care, these figures are based on a daily intake of 100g (3.5oz). No-one eats this many almonds. Perhaps 10g, which equates to about a handful of almonds, is a more realistic figure, so please divide everything by 10.

The list is certainly impressive, the highlights being the high levels of Vitamins B2 and E, and also magnesium (essential in every cell of the body), phosphorus (for strong bones and teeth), manganese (essential in many enzymes), and its high protein content (about 15% by weight). In addition there is zero cholesterol.

Detailed articles regarding the multi-benefits of almonds can be found below:

and of course wiki:

almonds bFor me the most interesting properties of almonds are the ability to reduce low-density cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and also to help alkalize the body, balancing the modern body which tends to be too acidic.

So are there any demerits? Yes, and this is where the arguments begin.

In the USA almonds have been implicated in some cases of Salmonellosis (salmonella food poisoning). It is not clear how serious these cases were. In the USA there are about 40,000 reported cases of Salmonellis each year, but probably thousands more go unreported. A very few cases may develop arthritis, and for some (usually the weak, elderly or infants) it may be fatal. Probably with this in mind the state of California passed a law stipulating the pasteurization of almonds, thus preventing the risk of Salmonellosis in almonds.

A good move? Not for the nutritional benefits of the almonds. The pasteurization, which may be by means of steam, irradiation, or chemical, gets rid of the Salmonella bacteria, but also gets rid of a great deal of the nutrients. In the words of some it kills the almonds, leaving them bereft of their nutritional treasure chest. Read this article for one side of the argument:

So what? This only affects almonds from California. The USA happens to grow more than half the world’s almonds, and the majority of these are grown in California.

almond treeThe growers in California are the ones who are arguing. Their carefully nurtured almonds (in many instances organically-grown) are downgraded from the king of nuts to a tasty little morsel before they even enter the packet. And the rest of the world continues to grow and sell nutritious raw almonds.

Nevertheless we cannot simply ignore the Californian legislators, who are often at the vanguard of new and important laws. It is certainly a dilemma. I assume their decisions were taken with the utmost integrity and consideration, and if I had a relative who had died from Salmonellosis contracted from almonds I would surely feel differently, but the rest of the world seems to get along very well without  these draconian almond laws. And why single out almonds? Surely tobacco has a lot more to answer for … ?

Incidentally if pasteurization can seriously affect the nutritional benefits of almonds, then surely roasting, baking or any kind of cooking will also have a similar effect.

But there is another demerit, the phylates (enzyme inhibitors). The science gets a little complex, but here is my reading. Phylates are present in almonds for a reason: to prevent sprouting (germination) in adverse conditions, especially in the dry. And these same phylates can also prevent our intestinal enzymes from going about their business, thus making a serious dent in the nutrients that the body can extract from ingested almonds.

To get around this we can stimulate sprouting by soaking the almonds in water. This nullifies the effect of the phylates, effectively ‘drawing their sting’. But we don’t want to go too far and grow another almond tree, merely starting the germination process is enough. It is estimated that a 10/12 hour soak  (overnight perhaps) is about right to trigger germination whilst being a minimal drain on the almond’s nutrients.

The almond story is not a straightforward one.

So, what to do? This is my gameplan:

  • purchase raw almonds which have not been grown in the USA.
  • soak a handful of almonds overnight.
  • eat a handful of almonds most days (I will probably add them to my breakfast muesli).
  • not eat almonds when I am feeling unwell.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Football: Sin-Bins and Orange cards

A potential candidate as next FIFA president, Jerome Champagne, recently brought the issue of sin-bins to the fore again. And he mooted the use of an orange card to signify the expulsion of a player to a sin-bin. This is an issue that could be viewed as either a cast for votes, or a can of worms.

What is a sin-bin? When a player is expelled from the field of play for a fixed amount of time he sits in the sin-bin (usually a bench with a cover) while his time runs down. Sometimes the sin-bin is metaphorical, there is no actual structure, and the player just sits out his time on his team bench.

What is an orange card? An orange card is an orange card. The referee already has a red card and a yellow card, so an orange card would give him a third option. The referee would brandish this orange card to indicate to player and spectators that this player has been sent to the sin-bin.

Why orange? Presumably M Champagne hit upon orange as it is midway between red and yellow.

What is a yellow card used for? Before cards were introduced the referee would caution a player who committed one of a number of offences. This acted as a warning to the player, and served to inform the player that if he committed another similar offence then he would be dismissed from (sent off) the field of play, and his team would play the rest of the game with one less member.

What is the red card used for? This simply indicates that the referee has dismissed (sent off) a player for a major infringement, and his team plays the rest of the game with one less member.

Yellow-red card (football)

Why red and yellow? A sending-off is pretty obvious to everyone involved but, before cards were introduced, the cautioning of a player was not so clear. The referee would inform the player and then write the player’s name in his notebook. This was referred to as a ‘booking’, but sometimes it was not clear who was being booked, and occasionally no-one but the referee knew a booking had taken place. This came to a head at a big World Cup match in 1966, when there was a lot of confusion both during and after the match as to who had and hadn’t been booked.

The head of referees at this World Cup, Ken Aston, thought that something had to be done. As he was driving home that evening he pondered the situation. Cautions and sendings-off had to be clear to players and spectactors, so a kind of symbol was needed. He looked up at some traffic lights and got his inspiration: a red light indicating stop, and a yellow (or amber) light indicating caution. When was the last time you ever heard of a referee coming up with a useful idea? Red and yellow cards were first implemented at the 1970 World Cup, and have been standard ever since. In fact many other sports have also adopted similar colored cards.

(Incidentally I had the chance to meet Ken Aston in person. My school team had just won the local under 11 league and Mr Aston, whose main job was as headmaster at a neighbouring school (Newbury Park School, Ilford, London), kindly came to present the trophy. I was the captain so I had the pleasure to receive the cup from Mr Aston, a real gent. As a referee I recall he was impeccably fair, and very low-key. He seemed more like a butler serving the game, very undemonstrative, keeping out of the limelight, perhaps England’s finest ref. In addition he was the first referee to wear black, he had the idea of linesmen’s flags to be bright yellow, he forced through the pressure of balls to be standardized in the laws of the game, he pioneered substitute referees in case of injury, which later became known as the fourth official, and he also introduced numbered boards to clarify player substitutions. Has another ref done anything more for the game?)

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

Are sin-bins a good move for football? The knee-jerk reaction is probably to say yes. Sin-bins have been around in other sports for a long time (since 1904 in ice hockey), and have stood the test of time, so why not football? There is much to consider.

What are the merits of sin-bins?

  • At present there are only two punishments a football referee can deploy: awarding a free kick, and showing a card. A yellow card is merely a warning and a red card is an extreme punishment so a sin-binning would provide a less extreme third option.
  • A sin-bin is an immediate punishment, which somehow feels right.
  • A sin-bin not only punishes the offending team, but is also advantageous to the team who were on the receiving end of the offence. Contrast this with a red card in the last minute of a game, when the offending team loses a player for a minute, but the player is subsequently suspended for the next few games against different opposition. Thus the real advantage lies with rival teams.
  • A sin-bin provides time for the player to reflect on his digression, and helps to defuse volatile situations.

What are the demerits of a sin-bin?

This is perhaps best answered with a series of questions.

  • How long should the sin-binning last?
  • Is it real time, or actual playing time?
  • What happens if the sin-binning takes place very near the end of the game?
  • If a team loses 5 players to the sin-bin should the game be abandoned (teams with less than 7 players automatically forfeit the game), even if one of the sin-binned players has only a few seconds more to serve?
  • Can a player be yellow-carded and sin-binned for the same offence?
  • Would multiple sin-binning for the same player add up to a red card and/or a subsequent suspension?
  • Or is a sin-bin the sole punishment, and after serving the sin-binning a player effectively restarts with a clean slate?
  • What is a yellow card offence, and what kind of offence warrants sin-binning?
  • What happens if a referee mistakenly sin-bins a player?

And then there are the changes to play and tactics that sin-binning may bring in its wake.

  • Time-wasting. Can you imagine the time-wasting that will go on while a team-mate is sin-binned for (say) 10 minutes? The ball will be lodged by the corner flag with the inevitable kicking, shoving, histrionics and temper tantrums that we now endure in the last few minutes of some games. Thierry Henry would be in his element. The ball would be kicked high into the stands and would never come back. Who knows what else would happen. If three players are sin-binned in the same game then the spectators could be treated to an extra thirty minutes of time-wasting nonsense.
  • Use of substitutes. I can almost guarantee that if sin-bins were introduced then the clubs would push for more flexible use of substitutes. For example, a greater number of allowable substitutions, or the option of a substituted player re-entering the match. Maybe this is inevitable in any case, and maybe it has its merits, but I think this potential scenario should also be considered when debating sin-binning.

The whole idea of sin-bins is fraught with problems. Are we ready to open the can of worms? Not yet methinks. It requires a lot more debate, planning and trialling, and I don’t think it should hastily be rolled out without deep consideration.

The huge merit in my eyes is that the sin-bin system results in the opposition receiving the full advantage. A yellow card will oftentimes be of no real benefit to the opposition. A collection of yellow cards may result in a subsequent suspension benefiting rival teams.

The secondary merit is that it affords referees a medium option. Sending off is an extreme punishment, especially near the start of the game. A sin-binning is a reasonably harsh punishment, but way short of a sending off, and this option will probably result in a much more satisfying punishment than a free kick and yellow card. Referees may feel much more comfortable with multiple sin-binning than multiple sendings-off.

But it is a double-edged sword. Referees may also choke the red card punishment and continually take the soft sin-bin option, though you never know this might prove to be the best way.

IMHO the sin-bin is worth trialling, but even I can foresee a great many potential problems which can and should be addressed beforehand. Some problems could be eliminated, some reduced to an acceptable level, and some we may just have to live with, and deal with later. But let’s do what we can FIFA.

My suggestions

  • Have a game clock for professional games. Cut out much of the time-wasting. I read somewhere a bit of research which found that the ball is in play for about 60 minutes, and for the other 30 minutes there is no action. This seems like a good starting point. So how about 60 minutes of actual action with the clock stopped when play stops, and the rule that keepers should release the ball in 6 seconds should be enforced.
  • Award a free kick when a player shepherds the ball towards the corner of the pitch. Come on FIFA, address the problem, this is a simple one.
  • Have only sin-bins and red cards. Having three cards is too problematical; some referees fumble around with only two cards (by the way if three cards is the way, please don’t make the third one orange, it’s too similar to red, green would be my suggestion, which would complete Ken Aston’s traffic lights). Why not simply employ sin-binning instead of yellow cards. A yellow card offence becomes a sin-binning offence. In fact a yellow card can indicate a sin-bin.
  • The sin-bin is the complete punishment. In most cases I guess there will also be a free kick awarded, but surely the sin-bin is punishment enough for a non-sending-off offence. No need for double or triple whammies. If a player is sin-binned twice or thrice in the same match so be it, his team is punished each time.
  • The time in the sin-bin should be 15 minutes. A team might be able to get away with a lot of negative play for about 10 minutes, but 15 minutes is a different proposition, and tiredness would play a big part.

So let’s try sin-bins, but let’s avoid orange cards.

Enhanced by Zemanta