Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Solomon's real mine? 3,000 years on, archaeologists uncover fabled site in desert

In a discovery straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, archaeologists believe they have uncovered one of the lost mines of King Solomon.

The vast copper mine lies in an arid valley in modern-day Jordan and was created in the 10th century BC - around the time Solomon is believed to have ruled over the ancient Hebrews.

The mines are enormous and would have generated a huge income for the king, who is famed for bringing extraordinary wealth and stability to the newly-united kingdom
of Israel and Judah.

The announcement will today reopen the debate about how much of the Old Testament is myth and how much is history.

According to the Bible, Solomon was the third king of Israel. The son of King David, he was renowned for his wisdom, the size of his harem and the splendour of his kingdom.

During his reign, he is said to have accumulated a huge fortune from mining and trading, some of which was spent on building the grand temple and opulent palace of Jerusalem.

Archaeologists and treasure-hunters have searched for the mines for more than a century since the best-selling Victorian novel, King Solomon's Mines by H Rider Haggard, claimed they could hold a treasure of gold and diamonds.

But now, it seems the real version could have been closer to home, supplying the king with copper.

The ancient mine was found in a desolate region south of the Dead Sea in southern Jordan in an area called Khirbat en-Nahas, which means 'ruins of copper' in Arabic.

The region was known in the Old Testament as the Kingdom of Edom. By Solomon's time, it had become a vassal state, paying tribute to Jerusalem.

Digs at the site in the 1970s and 1980s suggested metalworking began there in the 7th century, long after the time of Solomon.

But Dr Thomas Levy, of the University of California, San Diego, and Mohammed Najjar, of Jordan's Friends of Archaeology, have dated it to the 10th century BC.

Dr Levy said: 'We have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in the 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Bible narratives related to this period.

'We can't believe everything ancient writings tell us. But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.'

The ancient site contains around 100 buildings, including a fortress, in the middle of 24 acres of land covered in black slag. The mine works are covered with trials and holes, and are big enough to be seen on Google Earth's satellite images.
The team also found ancient Egyptian artifacts at the site including a scarab and amulet from the 10th century BC.

When Solomon died, his kingdom was thrown into chaos and the Pharaoh Sheshonq is believed to have attempted to crush economic activity.

The findings are reported in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Monday, October 27, 2008

War crime? Battle of Agincourt was our finest hour

By Bernard Cornwell

Legend says the Battle of Agincourt was won by stalwart English archers. It was not. In the end it was won by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval hand-to-hand fighting. It was fought on a field knee-deep in mud and it was more of a massacre than a battle.

Laurence Olivier's film of Shakespeare's Henry V shows French knights charging on horseback, but very few men were mounted at Agincourt.

The French came on foot and the battle was reduced to men hitting other armoured men with hammers, maces and axes.

A sword would not penetrate armour and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, but a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast, and then it was easy to raise the victim's visor and slide a knife through an eye. That was how hundreds of men died; their last sight on earth a dagger's point.

It is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls. At the battle's height, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the newly captured French prisoners to be killed. They were murdered.

Over the weekend, during a conference at the Medieval History Museum in Agincourt, French academics met to declare that English soldiers acted like 'war criminals' during the battle, setting fire to prisoners and killing French noblemen who had surrendered. The French 'were met with barbarism by the English', said the museum's director Christophe Gilliot.

The French pronouncement smacks of bias, but what is certain is that Agincourt was filthy, horrible and merciless. Yet it is still celebrated as a golden moment in England's history.

Why do we remember it? Why has this battle galvanised English hearts over the centuries? These are questions I came to ask as I researched my new novel Azincourt - spelled as it is in France - and discovered just what an extraordinary event it was.

Part of the legend about the archers is certainly true. Most of the English army were archers and their arrows caused huge damage, although they never delivered the knock-out blow it is claimed.

Henry V was also an inspirational leader. He fought in the front rank and part of his crown was knocked off. Eighteen Frenchmen had taken an oath to kill him and all of them died at Henry's feet, slaughtered by the King or by his bodyguard. And, despite recent claims to the contrary, it seems the English were horribly outnumbered.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25, 1415, no one could have expected Henry's army to survive the day. He had about 6,000 men, more than 5,000 of them archers, while the French numbered at least 30,000 and were so confident that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements. By dusk on that Saint Crispin's Day, Henry's small army had entered legend.

But the English should never have been at Agincourt, which lies 25 miles south of Calais. England was in the thick of the 100 Years' War with France, and Henry had invaded Normandy in the hope of making a quick conquest of Harfleur, a strategic port. Yet the town's stubborn defence delayed him and by the siege's end his army had been struck by dysentery.

Sick men were dying and the campaign season was ending as winter drew in. Sensible advice suggested that Henry cut his losses and sail back to England. But he had borrowed huge amounts of money to invade France and all he had to show for it was one gun-battered port. Going home looked suspiciously like defeat.

He instead marched north to Calais with probably nothing more in mind than cocking a snook at the French who, though they had gathered an army, had done nothing to relieve the brave defenders of Harfleur.

Henry wanted to humiliate the French by flaunting his banners, yet I doubt he truly wanted to face that large French army with his own depleted numbers.

The French had been supine all summer, but now, suddenly, they woke and moved to block Henry's path. Henry tried to go round them. A march meant to last eight days stretched to 16. The English exhausted their food, they were ill with dysentery and soaked from the continual autumn rains.

They were driven far inland in search of a place to cross the River Somme and then trudged north, only to discover the French army waiting for them on a muddy field between the woods of Azincourt and Tramecourt. The English were trapped.

The French were barring the English road home, so Henry had to fight. He hoped the French would attack him and he ordered his archers to protect themselves from knights on horseback by making a thicket of sharpened stakes to impale the stallions' chests.

But the French remained motionless, so Henry was forced to advance on them. Did he really say 'Let's go, fellows!' as one contemporary claimed? It seems so, yet whatever his words, the English plucked up their stakes and waded through the mud to get close to the French line.

And the French, even though they must have seen that the English were in disarray, did nothing. They let Henry's men come to within extreme bowshot distance where, once again, the stakes were hammered into the ground and the battle line was reformed on a newly ploughed field that had been soaked by constant rain. If I had to suggest one cause for the French defeat, it would be mud.
The two sides were now little more than a couple of hundred paces apart. The English, astonishingly, had been given time to reposition themselves, and now the archers began the battle by shooting a volley of arrows.

At least 5,000 of them, most converging from the flanks, slashed into the French, and it seems that the shock of that first arrow strike prompted the French to attack.

A handful of Frenchmen advanced on horseback, trying to get among the archers, but mud, stakes and arrows easily defeated those knights. Some of the horses, maddened by pain, galloped back through the French men-at-arms, tearing their ranks into chaos.

Some 8,000 Frenchmen were now advancing on foot. No one knows how long it took them to cover the 200 or more paces which separated them from Henry's men-at-arms, but it was not a quick approach.

They were wading through mud made treacherous by deeply ploughed furrows and churned to quagmire by horses' hooves. And they were being struck by arrows so that they were forced to close their helmets' visors.

They could see little through the tiny eye- slits, their breathing was stifled and still the arrows came. The conventional verdict suggests that the French were cut down by those arrow storms, but the chief effect of the arrows was to delay and, by forcing them to close their visors, half-blind the attackers.

The French knew about English and Welsh archers. The longbow could shoot an arrow more than 200 paces with an accuracy that was unmatched till the rifled gun barrel was invented.

At Agincourt some barbed broadhead arrows (which were designed to cause maximum damage and could fell cavalry) would have been shot at those few horses that attacked the English line. But most were bodkins, long and slender arrowheads without barbs that were made to pierce armour.

A good archer could easily shoot 15 arrows a minute, so 5,000 archers could loose 75,000 arrows in one minute; more than 1,000 a second.

Why did the French not deploy their own longbowmen? Because to shoot a longbow demanded great strength (they were at least three times as powerful as a modern competition bow) and considerable skill. It took years for a man to develop the muscles and technique, and for reasons that have never been understood, such men emerged in Britain, but not on the Continent.

So as the first French line advanced it was being struck repeatedly by arrows, and even if a bodkin did not penetrate plate armour its strike was sufficient to knock a man backwards.

If the advance took four minutes (and I suspect it took longer), then about 300,000 arrows would have been shot at the 8,000 men.

Even if the English were short of arrows and cut their shooting rate to one-third, then they would still have driven 100,000 arrows against the struggling 8,000, and if the legend is correct, then not one of those Frenchmen should have survived.

Yet they did survive, and most of them reached the English line and started fighting with shortened lances, poleaxes and war-hammers.

The fight became a struggle of hacking and thrusting, slaughter in the mud.

But if so many arrows had been shot, how did the French survive to reach the English and start that murderous brawl? The answer probably lies in the eternal arms race.

Armour technology had advanced and the French plate armour was mostly good enough to resist the English arrow-heads. And how good were those heads?

Arrow-making was an industrial-scale activity in England, yet few men understood what happened when iron was hardened into steel and many of the English arrows crumpled on contact with the enemy's armour. So the many reached the few, but the many were exhausted by mud, some were wounded and the English, enjoying the luxury of raised visors, cut them down.

What seems to have happened was that the front rank of the French, exhausted by slogging through the mud, battered and wounded by arrows, disorganised by panicked horses and by stumbling over wounded men, became easy victims for the English men-at-arms.

There would have been the ghastly sound of hammers crushing helmets, the screams of men falling, and suddenly the leading French rank being chopped down and its fallen men becoming an obstacle to those behind who, being thrust forward by the rearmost ranks, tripped on the newly fallen bodies and so became victims themselves. One witness claimed that the pile of dead and dying was as tall as a man, an obvious exaggeration, but undoubtedly the first French casualties made a rampart to protect the English men-at-arms.

The French had attacked the centre of the English line where the King, the nobles and the gentry stood. Their aim had been to take prisoners and so become rich from ransoms, but now that centre was a killing ground and, to escape it, the French widened their attack to assault the archers who had probably exhausted their arrows.

Yet the archers had been equipped with poleaxes and other handweapons, and they fought back.

The bowmen wore little armour, and in the glutinous mud they were far more mobile than their plate-armoured opponents.

Any man capable of hauling a warbow's string was hugely strong and a battle-axe in his hands would be a ghastly weapon. So the archers joined the hand-to-hand fight and the tired French were killed in their hundreds.

The second French line, another 8,000 men on foot, tried to support their beleaguered colleagues, but they too were cut down and the rest of the French melted away. The extraordinary, awful battle was over. The field was now groaning with horribly wounded men; men lying in piles, men suffocating in mud, dead men, blood-drenched men.

Perhaps as many as 5,000 French died that day, while English losses were in the hundreds, maybe not even as many as 200. The few had gained their extraordinary triumph.

There were other victories, like Poitiers in 1356, that were more decisive, and it is arguable that Agincourt achieved very little; it would take another five years of warfare before Henry won the concessions he wanted from the French and even then his premature death proved those gains worthless.

Shakespeare's heart-stirring Henry V helped ensure the battle's place in English folklore, but Shakespeare was playing to an audience that already knew the tale and wanted to hear it again.

Agincourt was well-known long before Shakespeare made it immortal, yet even so there were those other great triumphs like Poitiers and Crecy, so why Agincourt?

It must have started with the stories told by survivors. They had expected annihilation and gained victory. It might even be true that the archers, when the battle was over, taunted the French by holding up the two string-fingers that the enemy had threatened to slice off every captured bowman - the V- sign that is common parlance today.

The men in Henry's army must have believed they had been part of a miracle. The few had destroyed the many, and most of those few were archers.

They were not lords and knights and gentry, but butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers from the shires. They were the ordinary men of England and Wales. They had met the awesome power of France in hand-to-hand fighting and they had won.

The battle is part of the binding of England, the emergence of the common man as a vital part of the nation, and those common men returned to England with their tales, their plunder and their pride.

The stories were told in taverns over and over, how a few hungry, trapped men had gained an amazing victory. The story is still told because it has such power. It is a tale of the common man achieving greatness. It is an English tale for the ages, an inspiration and - far from being ashamed of so-called 'war crimes' - we can be proud of it.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Socialism works best where there is social homogeneity

A little country that ignored the rationalists is doing very nicely

IN THE years when Slovenia was part of communist Yugoslavia, it is estimated that up to 30,000 Slovenes - 2% of the entire population - left to settle in Australia. But these days, far more people arrive in Slovenia than leave. Go there, and you understand why.

For one thing, Slovenia and its capital, Ljubljana, have an irresistible charm. In the Financial Times the other day, travel writer Jan Morris called it "the most delightful small country in Europe … God evidently smiles on Ljubljana, as he does on all Slovenes".

But people are not migrating to Slovenia just for its scenery and cafe culture. It's a country that works, one that has chosen its own way to run an economy - a way that has little to do with economic rationalist models - and is developing at an impressive pace, in self-imposed isolation from global financial markets.

You may be struggling to place Slovenia on a map. It's a country of just over 20,000 square kilometres and 2 million people, tucked on what it calls "the sunny side of the Alps", just south of Austria and just east of Venice. It's the westernmost of the six republics that formed the old Yugoslavia. In 1991 it declared its independence, and these days it is part of the European Union and the euro zone.

Apart from its Australian connection (Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek is one of many to grow up in Slovenian migrant families), and the fact that it is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, why should it be of any interest to us? Well, because it has made up its own rules for the transition from communism to capitalism, and done well by them.

It's far from perfect. Political leaders on all sides agree that big changes are needed to secure Slovenia's future. And at a time of record prosperity, Slovenians last month voted to throw out the centre-right coalition led by Prime Minister Janez Jansa, in favour of a centre-left coalition under Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor.

But under governments of both sides, the economic record has been impressive. Since 1992, Slovenia's real income per head has doubled. In 1992, the International Monetary Fund estimated its output per head in terms of real buying power was only 60% of Australia's. By last year, that had jumped to 75%.

Of all the former communist countries, it is clearly the richest and most advanced, a land where 62% of people surf the net, infant mortality is lower than in Australia, and 70% of its output is exported, mostly to other EU countries in areas from pharmaceuticals to auto parts.

How is this possible in a country where the state still controls 40% of the economy, including most of its big companies? Where it is virtually impossible for management to sack a worker, where pensions are so generous you might wonder why anyone works?

People I spoke to agreed that Slovenia was born with a good inheritance. "It's more central Europe than eastern Europe," Andrej Vijzak, outgoing Minister for the Economy, says. "We were part of Austria for many years, and that formed our traditions." As one MP puts it, "socialism in Slovenia wasn't so bad". Yugoslavia's longtime dictator Josip Tito encouraged factories to be autonomous.

"There was self-management, there was pricing, and there were profits," says outgoing Development Minister Ziga Turk, no fan of the communists. "People could travel to the West, people could leave."

Independence, and then EU membership, saw Slovenia successfully shift its exports to the West. But unlike the rest of the ex-communist countries, it chose not to follow the free-market reforms pushed by the International Monetary Fund. With some exceptions, it has not allowed foreign investors to control existing firms, although it encourages them to start new ones. Trade unions, now free of communist control, are more powerful than ever.

In part, this reflects Slovenia's political history. After Tito's death, the local communists in the '80s under Milan Kucan led a shift towards autonomy and free elections, culminating in independence. Kucan himself was elected president until 2002, while the communist reformers, as the Liberal Democratic Party, won three elections in a row - a sharp contrast to other ex-communist lands.

In 2004, the right under Jansa finally got its chance, winning on a platform of extensive privatisations, a flat income tax and reform of the unwieldy unfair dismissals law.

But Vijzak concedes that while it made progress towards these goals, it fell well short of its aims. The reason, he says, was the Slovenian tradition of consensus.

"We are dedicated to social dialogue when we want to make changes," he says. "We don't want to adopt anything without consensus. We haven't done it in the past, and we won't in the future."

Maybe Borut Pahor, the unions' choice, could persuade them to agree to the reforms that eluded Jansa. Then maybe he can get another of his allies, the pensioners' party, to accept the need to trim back Slovenia's potentially ruinous pension benefits. And if he can do that, then truly, God smiles on Slovenia.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Stand-alone Scotland could look after itself

Far from making independence unviable, the banking crisis has shown exactly why it is needed

By Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland

Scotland has changed decisively in the past 18 months. As I said on the evening of the SNP's election victory in May last year, we are a country that has moved on for good and for ever.

Part of that change is the new confidence in every part of the nation, among young and old alike. And allied to that confidence is that people no longer believe the scare stories put about by our Unionist opponents.

The Unionist argument has always been, at its very core, a dishonest and insidious one. In the absence of hard facts and cold logic it has instead relied on fear, smear and misinformation. That is why it was so disappointing to see The Times last week question the viability of an independent Scotland.

Contrary to the assertions in a leading article in this newspaper, the case for independence has always been on a sound financial footing. The events of recent weeks have merely strengthened the case for Scotland to be given more control of its economy to protect jobs, investment and stability.

The economic maelstrom now sweeping the globe is affecting all countries large and small. The US, the biggest and most powerful economy on the planet, has seen 17 of its banks laid low by the crisis. Germany, Japan and Russia are also hurting - size has offered them no protection or immunity.

Smaller European nations are among those predicted to come through in the best shape. Norway has not, as asserted in The Times last week, “gone cap in hand” to the US Federal Reserve. The $5 billion currency swap for Oslo was part of a co-ordinated international exchange to get markets moving and provide much-needed dollar liquidity. The UK, Japan and many other nations were similarly involved. The UK's equivalent was $80 billion - that should not be described as the Bank of England going “cap in hand”.

Norway is forecast by the IMF to keep growing economically this year and next. So are Denmark, Finland and Sweden - all smaller European nations. The same IMF forecast predicts that the UK will move into recession. These Nordic nations regularly find themselves at the top of the international charts when it comes to standards of living.

Not that the Unionist case has seen fit to portray it that way.

Seizing on the particular problems of Iceland, the argument has lapsed from fear and smear into outright slander. The unedifying spectacle of Gordon Brown and Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State for Scotland, hitting the airwaves to besmirch the achievements of the likes of Ireland and Norway is surely the nadir of new Labour diplomacy.

For the Prime Minister, it also amounts to breathtaking hypocrisy. For it was Gordon Brown who, as Chancellor for a decade, presided over the age of irresponsibility in the City. That age has come to a shattering end. And Mr Brown's boast of “no return to boom and bust” is left looking ridiculous.

But let us return to the smears levelled at our near neighbours. Norway, with a smaller population than Scotland, now has an oil fund worth £200 billion. That fund, started only in 1995, gives it a national pension pot that guarantees its wealth in perpetuity.

If only the same could be said for Scotland, whose North Sea oil wealth, which the Scottish Government wants to invest in a similar fund, has been frittered away.

When we look west to Ireland, it is incredible that UK ministers should traduce the achievements of a country that has been a model of how to successfully energise an economy. Ireland may have moved into recession - but only after many years of fantastic growth, easily outscoring the UK. As a result, it is now nearly 40 per cent more prosperous per head than the UK.

Ireland was also able to act quickly and decisively to bring stability to its banking sector by guaranteeing all deposits. It was to Ireland that many in Britain turned when the UK Government did not offer a parallel guarantee. Dublin's actions were a clear demonstration of just how effective smaller independent nations can be when the going gets tough.

The age of irresponsibility, sadly, has not been confined to public finance. It has also given us the mother of all foreign policy disasters, the illegal invasion of Iraq. The financial costs of that debacle are gigantic, the human ones simply incalculable. And as with finance, so it is with foreign policy - it takes our small independent neighbours to show us the way.

Norway has been a shining light in its selfless and unstinting efforts to act as an honest arbiter and go-between in some of the globe's most intractable conflicts, including in the Middle East. That is the kind of role that Scotland should aspire to.

I have never been one of those Scots who indulges in the “Wha's Like Us” sentimentality. But neither am I one who, like Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy and their colleagues, seem to believe that we are uniquely incapable of looking after ourselves.

The age of irresponsibility has ended. In the new age of responsibility, Scotland will rejoin the international community as an independent nation.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

British bombers killed 500,000 in Dresden. Wrong, it was more like 18,000, say German historians

For more than 60 years Britain's Bomber Command led by Arthur 'Bomber' Harris has been vilified for causing up to 500,000 deaths in the carpet bombing of Dresden during World War II.

But now, after a four-year investigation, a panel of German historians has said that the true number of dead from the Allied air raids in January 1945 was between 18,000 and 25,000.

They reached the figure after combing through death certificates, hitherto sealed eyewitness reports, registration cards for people made homeless and hospital records.

It now emerges that the high number of deaths from 'Operation Thunderclap' was a myth invented by the Nazis, perpetuated by Communists and re-born in the past decade to serve the aims of ultra-nationalists.

The myth took form barely after the vapour trails of the bombers disappeared in the skies over the city.

It suited the Nazi propaganda machine to claim that half-a-million women and children had been incinerated in the firestorm. It helped persuade a struggling population that this was awaited them all unless they fought for Nazism with their last breath.

Then the Communist East Germans perpetuated the myth, mindful that it served their purposes by showing the destructiveness of capitalism and fascism combined.
In the last decade neo-Nazis have sought to keep the lie alive as they praise many of the policies of the Third Reich.

By the mid 70’s historians were beginning to question the real total of casualties.

Although many records lay in the still-Communist archives of Dresden, the accepted figure dropped to between 50, 000 and 150,000 deaths, based on Nazi German records and declassified Allied intelligence reports.

Then, when the wall fell and more records became available, the accepted number dipped even further, to 35,000.

A fortnight ago the myth was revealed as just that. A panel of German historians tasked by the modern-day rulers of Dresden said the dead numbered between 18,000 and 25,000.

They worked through miles of archived paperwork for the past four years to arrive at their figures, using death certificates, hitherto sealed eyewitness reports, registration cards for people made homeless and hospital records.

The historians found most people died in cellars, suffocated when the oxygen was sucked out of their hiding place or killed by the concussion of the falling bombs.
Strange climactic conditions combined to create 2,000 degree centigrade “firestorms” which whipped walls of flames through the heart of the city, incinerating everything in their path.

By contrast Operation Gomorrah, the saturation bombing of Hamburg, did indeed cause at least 50,000 deaths.


Stupid women think they can have it all

Thus making it likely that they will miss out big time

IT COST more than $3000 and was one of the more harrowing experiences of her life, but for Lesley Major it has meant another 10 years of breathing space while she waits for Mr Right.

Ms Major, 38, is one of a handful of Australian women who have chosen to freeze their eggs in a bid to beat mother nature and the man drought - but the technology is still so experimental that no fertility clinic in Sydney will agree to it.

The process is legal but fertility experts say the shell of the human egg is too thin and fragile to survive the freezing process, with some studies showing as few as 2 per cent become embryos - and only then if the woman is under 35 when she has them frozen.

Most clinics will allow women who are facing infertility from chemotherapy or radiotherapy to store their eggs, but only two in Australia offer the service, not covered by Medicare, to women considered "socially infertile" - those without a partner or wanting to delay motherhood to further their careers.

One in seven babies in Australia is now born to first-time mothers aged over 35 and it has become more accepted for women to take longer to choose a life partner. But this cultural shift has caused many to believe medicine will save them when they start a family in their late 30s or early 40s, says Warren DeAmbrosis, a director of Queensland Fertility Group. His clinic claims to have had more pregnancies from frozen eggs than any other in Australia, with a 70 per cent post-thaw survival rate, a 60 per cent fertilisation rate and a 30 per cent pregnancy rate for women under 37.

"I spend most of my day with women in tears because they have left their run too late - my heart goes to them," Dr DeAmbrosis says. "Obviously having frozen eggs is better than having no eggs at all, but they need to know that age is the biggest factor in infertility by a mile. If I have a single girl come to me at 39 or 40, it's just not worth her while."

Eggs at Dr DeAmbrosis's clinic are slow frozen but at some

international clinics they can now be snap-frozen in a process called vitrification, where water molecules do not have time to form ice crystals. Developed about three years ago, it has a 90 per cent post-thaw survival rate and a slightly higher pregnancy rate but still not high enough to convince Sydney fertility clinics.

"At this stage, we still see the technology as experimental and we have an ethical dilemma in taking money from a woman when there is very little chance of success," said fertility expert Anne Clark. "I definitely feel a bit uncomfortable telling women that this will give them a chance."

Peter Illingworth, president of the Fertility Society of Australia, agreed, saying women should not bank on egg freezing alone to have a family.

"In the United States and Japan they have huge egg donation programs where thousands are frozen and thawed within a few months, putting their success rates up, but in Australia, we freeze very few and we don't thaw them for years so most people have no idea whether it will work or not."

About 500 babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs with no increased risk yet recorded but at Melbourne IVF fewer than 20 single women have had their eggs frozen because the clinic prefers to "be quiet and cautious" about the procedure in its early days. "We certainly don't promote it because we don't see it as a set-and-forget insurance policy for women," says clinical research director Kate Stern.

For Ms Major, though, it was a chance she was willing to take.

At 36, she had a great job, plenty of friends, a supportive family and a loving boyfriend nine years her junior. Neither was ready for children and Ms Major wasn't prepared to let her biological clock dictate the direction of the fledgling relationship.

"I know so many women around my age who start dating a guy and within months they are talking about having children. It's as if we all wake up one day at 35 and go, 'Holy shit, I forgot to have kids,' and then we're forced into making decisions. It frightens men and puts enormous pressure on the relationship. I just didn't want that."

But the process, which involved myriad medical tests and three weeks of hormone injections, proved far more confronting than she anticipated.

"It's not the easy ride people may think it is. I sat in the waiting room at the fertility clinic alone, feeling very singular. You are surrounded by couples, some of the women are quite distraught and I just felt so alone. I really had to reassess my values before I went into it but also be pragmatic about getting my bases covered."

Eighteen months later, with 14 eggs in the freezer, she is single again and living in Darwin. But she has set herself a deadline of 42 to find a suitable partner before discarding the eggs.

"I'm not the type of person who will have kids just because I can. I want a family of my own, a husband, a father. I'm the complete romantic so if I don't find the right person within the next few years, I'll let the eggs go. For now, though, I sometimes forget I have them until the bill arrives and I think, 'Ah, a postcard from my kids saying, Mum, please send money.' "


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Narcissists tend to lead, but not better

When a group lacks a leader, you can often count on a narcissist to take charge, new research suggests. Narcissism is a trait in which people are selfcentered, exaggerate their abilities, and lack empathy.

Scientists conducting the new studies found that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups.

Narcissism is so called after Narcissus, a mythical Greek character who fell in love with his own reflection. Above, Narcissus by Caravaggio (c. 1597.)

"Not only did narcissists rate themselves as leaders, which you would expect, but other group members also saw them as the people who really run the group," said psychologist Amy Brunell of Ohio State University at Newark, lead author of the research.

The findings are to appear in an upcoming issue of the research journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers found similar results in two studies involving college students, and one involving business managers in an MBA program. And while narcissists are more likely to become leaders, one experiment found that narcissists don't perform any better than others in a leadership role, Brunell and colleagues said.

A first study by Brunell's group involved 432 college students. They all completed assessments measuring various personality traits. They were then put in groups of four, and told to pretend they were a committee of officers of the student union, and they had to elect next year's director. Each person in a group was given a profile of a different candidate, and each was to argue for that candidate.

After the discussion, they voted on the director, and then completed a questionnaire evaluating the leadership of themselves and the other group members.

Results showed that students who scored higher on one dimension of narcissismthe desire for powerwere more likely to say they wanted to lead the group, were more likely to say they did lead the group discussion, and were more likely to be viewed as leaders by the other group members.

"Desire for power is what really drives narcissists to seek leadership positions," Brunell said.

In a second experiment, 408 students were again put in groups of four. They were told to imagine they were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island and had to choose which 15 salvageable items they should take ashore to best help them survive. After a group discussion, those who scored highest on the power dimension of narcissism again showed the most desire to lead the discussion, rated themselves as leaders, and were viewed as the leaders.

This study also investigated how well the narcissists did as leaders. Researchers looked at the lists, prepared by each individual and group, of the 15 chosen items. They compared the lists to one prepared by an expert who has taught survival skills to the U.S military. Narcissists did no better than others on choosing the most useful items, Brunell's team said. And groups that overall scored highest on narcissism did no better than other groups.

A third study involved 153 business managers enrolled in an executive MBA program at a large southeastern university. The managers were also put in groups of four and told to assume the role of a school board deciding how to allocate a large financial contribution from a fictional company.

Two trained observers professors or doctoral students in industrial and organizational psychology observed the groups and rated how much of a leadership role each participant assumed in their groups. Results showed that the students rated highest in narcissism were most likely to be identified as emerging leaders by the expert observers, the researchers found.

"Even trained observers saw narcissistic people as the natural leaders," Brunell said. "In addition, this study showed that narcissism plays a role in leadership among realworld managers."

Brunell said the studies took into account other factors such as gender and personality traits like high selfesteem and extraversion that may relate to leadership development. But even when these factors were taken into account, narcissism still played a key role.

It's important not to confuse narcissism with high selfesteem, she said.

"A person with high selfesteem is confident and charming, but they also have a caring component," Brunell explained. "Narcissists have an inflated view of their talents and abilities and are all about themselves."

Brunell said the results may apply to many areas of life, from the presidential race to Wall Street. "Many people have observed that it takes a narcissistic person to run for president of the United States," she said. "I would be surprised if any of the candidates who have run weren't higher than average in narcissism."

The same is true for the leaders of Wall Street firms that have made and lost millions in the past few years, she added. "There have been a lot of studies that have found narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decisionmaking performance," she said. That doesn't mean all the troubles in Washington or Wall Street can be blamed on narcissistic leaders, she added. "There's a lot more behind the troubles of government and business than the personalities of their leaders."


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bach's wife 'may have been composer'

I laughed out loud when I read the heading above but, on reflection, I think that the guy may have a point. Although I am an utter Bach fanatic, I have always found the cello suites -- good as they are -- less inspiring than Bach's other works. In fact, I don't think I have ever played them all right through. There are definite flashes of brilliance in them but they don't have the same constant quality as Bach's other works -- to my mind anyway. And I DO like bass instruments. I love the bassoon, for instance

The wife of one of history's greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, may have written some of the works attributed to her husband, an Australian researcher says.

Associate Professor Martin Jarvis of Charles Darwin University is set to present the provocative theory to the international forensic science community at the International Symposium on the Forensic Sciences in Melbourne next week.

Professor Jarvis says Anna Magdalena is normally portrayed as a simple woman who was only good for having babies and accurately copying Bach's manuscripts.

"The scientific evidence says the way we understand the relationship between Johann Sebastian Bach and Anna Magdelena is not correct," he said.

"My conclusions may not be wholly accurate, but the way in which tradition has put Anna Magdalena into this pathetic role ... is rubbish."

Professor Jarvis, who is artistic director of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, says ever since his student days at the Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1970s, he has thought that the Bach Cello suites did not sound like Bach.

"Certainly in the first suite, the movements are short and very simple, in comparison with the first movement of the violin works. And I couldn't understand why," he said.

Professor Jarvis's interest was further piqued by the discovery of a note written on the cover of the cello suites manuscript by its owner.

The note said "Ecrite par Madame Bachen Son Epouse", which is French for "Written by Mrs Bach his Wife" but had always been interpreted as "copied" by Anna Magdalena, Professor Jarvis said.

Professor Jarvic has also studied manuscripts from the pair and deconstructed cello suites which have helped him draw his conclusions.

Professor Jarvis' hypothesis is controversial in the music world and he says he has received a fair amount of hate mail from those who reject his ideas.

But he says a number of scholars support his view, including a musicologist from Sweden who has used statistics to conclude the cello suites did not fit into Bach's other works.

Dr Bryan Found of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society has also been assisting Professor Jarvis with his analysis.

"On the surface of what I've seen it seems valid conclusions are being drawn," he said.

Dr Found says Professor Jarvis has uniquely linked forensics with musicology in his analysis and will have to get feedback and peer review by experts in both fields.

This is the first time Professor Jarvis is presenting his work to the forensic science community.