The Best party wins in Iceland

A party that calls itself “the Best” has won local elections in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.

The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr, secured 34.7% of the vote, ahead of the Independence Party’s 33.6%.

Its campaign video featured candidates singing to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best”.

Key pledges included “sustainable transparency”, free towels at all swimming pools and a new polar bear for the city zoo.

The party also called for a Disneyland at the airport and a “drug-free parliament” by 2020

Commentators suggest it has benefited from voters’ loss of trust in government and the establishment in the wake of the country’s banking collapse in 2008.

Can we get John Stewart to campaign for Chairman of the Teabaggers?

Great Wall of China gets its strength from sticky rice

Workers built the Ming dynasty sections of the Great Wall about 600 years ago by mixing together a paste of sticky rice flour and slaked lime, the standard ingredient in mortar, said Dr Zhang Bingjian.

The sticky rice mortar bound the bricks together so tightly that in many places weeds still cannot grow. However, there was widespread resentment against the Wall in the south of China because the Ming emperors requisitioned the southern rice harvest both to feed the workers on the Wall and to make the mortar.

The ancient mortar is a special kind of organic and inorganic mixture,” said Dr Zhang, a professor of chemistry at Zhejiang university in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China…

“The inorganic component is calcium carbonate, and the organic component is amylopectin, which comes from the sticky rice soup added to the mortar. This amylopectin helped create a compact microstructure, [giving the Great Wall] more stable physical properties and greater mechanical strength,” he reported in the journal of the American Chemical Society.

Dr Zhang said the use of sticky rice, a staple in East Asian food, was one of the greatest technical innovations of the time, and helped Ming dynasty tombs, pagodas and walls weather earthquakes and other disasters.

So, that explains the failure of British walls. Too much oatmeal.

And here in the United States? Probably sawdust leftover from making Twinkies.

Germany drags Eurovision into the 21st Century

With her runaway victory at the Eurovision Song Contest, German teenager Lena has ushered in a new era for the annual music jamboree.

Not only has she signalled an end to a politically-motivated, 13-year losing streak for the “big four” countries who help fund the competition, but her winning song, Satellite, has reclaimed the contest’s musical credibility.

With echoes of Lily Allen and Paloma Faith, it is the first contemporary pop hit Eurovision has produced in decades.

And Lena was not alone in embracing the charts, with several of the top songs all displaying a welcome maturity.

Turkey’s entrants, maNga, are a nu metal band who picked up an MTV Award last year; while Belgian singer-songwriter Tom Dice moulded his song on the hit singles of David Gray and James Morrison.

2010’s competition got off to a rousing start, as Azerbaijan’s Safura took to the stage in a dress that literally lit up like a Christmas tree.

Her song, Drip Drop, was widely tipped to win but her look (lion-maned temptress) and song choice (over-wrought power ballad) was replicated too often to stand out.

Indeed, there were so many seductive women with manes of hair billowing into the wind, that you began to think the audience consisted entirely of wind machines…

But amidst all the hotpants, fireworks and questionable haircuts (I’m looking at you, Serbia) it was a lone 19-year-old pop singer who made the biggest impression.

Lena had no complicated choreography, no inexplicable backing dancers and she wore a simple black dress – the sort of thing you could pick up tomorrow in any high street store…

Unencumbered by cliches – visual, musical fads no matter how long they’ve lasted – might be another way to put it.

Canada sacks top general in Afghanistan


“Merde!”

The top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard, has been relieved of duty and ordered home immediately, accused of having an inappropriate personal relationship with a female soldier.

An investigation has been launched into the conduct of Ménard, who is married. Until next week, the forces in Afghanistan will be commanded by Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy-commander of Canada’s 2,800 soldiers in the country.

An official in Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s office said the allegations against Ménard involve a member of his staff…

The military has a strict non-fraternization policy for deployed troops, forbidding personal relationships of an emotional, romantic or sexual nature.

National Defence spokesperson Lt.-Col. Chris Lemay told the Star by phone from Ottawa Saturday night that the female soldier might also face reprimand after an investigation is complete. “Measures will be taken,” he said.

I like that phrase – “measures will be taken”. Reminds me of when I worked in imports/exports.

We always knew if there was a problem with a product from the UK, someone in management would tell us not to worry, “we’ll sort it out” – and we knew that the real screw-up was about to follow.

American crosses English Channel carried by helium balloons

An American daredevil made history when he successfully crossed the Channel dangling beneath a cloud of coloured helium balloons, landing in a French field near Dunkirk after a four-hour flight – by the simple means of cutting his balloons free one by one, with a pair of scissors.

Jonathan Trappe, 36, who has set several records for helium balloon flights, took off at 5am into a beautiful clear blue sky, from the Kent Gliding Club at Challock about 10 miles from the coast, to cheers from spectators. The scene filmed by a Sky news helicopter was reminiscent of the film Up, in which an intrepid veteran flies his whole house into a world of adventures. Trappe was using a slightly sturdier basket than the usual fragile chairs he is strapped into. He carried a GPS system to work out his location, but no float suit to save him if he crashed into the Channel.

He rose to a maximum height of 11,000ft during the crossing.

We are the least manoeuvrable of aircraft, so we have right of way,” he said before taking to the skies…

In reference to previous cross-channel pioneers, he wrote early this morning: “That iconic ribbon of water separating the UK from the continent has called to people for generations, tempting them to cross since long before you or I were born. [Louis] Blériot crossed in 1909. Bryan Allen in 1979. Yves Rossy crossed in 2008…

“And here it is, the English Channel, continuing to call to us. I don’t know if it is a siren’s song, or if crossing that ribbon of water will be like breaking the ribbon at the finish line. With good luck, I will find out today.”

That anarchist streak, doing it our own way, on the cheap and shaking a fist at conventionality always holds an appeal for me.

I first realized that about 50 years ago – hearing the tale of a workingclass dude in Germany who tired of the ever-growing sky flotilla of American jets passing over his home from a nearby airbase and bastion of the Cold War, built his own catapult and fired dumplings at the warbirds until local bureaucrats finally stopped him.

My kinda inventor. Both of them.

UK coalition lasted less than a month before first scandal

The new coalition government was plunged into its first crisis as the Liberal Democrat cabinet minister charged with cutting the £156 billion deficit resigned following revelations about his expenses.

David Laws, appointed chief secretary to the Treasury less than three weeks ago, stood down saying that he no longer believed his position was tenable after it was revealed that he had claimed more than £40,000 to live in his partner’s house. Commons rules introduced in 2006 barred such claims by MPs.

His decision marked a sudden and dramatic end to the brief honeymoon enjoyed by David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s new government. It also brought to an end one of the briefest cabinet careers in recent history…

The chancellor, George Osborne, expressed sadness at Laws’s resignation. It was “as if he had been put on earth” to do the job of Treasury chief secretary…

Uh, who was running that lift?

The die had been cast when the Daily Telegraph made the revelations on Friday night about Laws’s expenses claims, paid to his partner, James Lundie.

Laws had said he deeply regretted the situation. “My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality,” he said…

Laws’s resignation is a massive blow to the coalition, which has made cutting the deficit its priority in office. A former investment banker with JP Morgan, Laws was seen as the man to bridge the divide between Tory and Liberal Democrat visions of how to bring the nation’s finance into better shape. His resignation will complicate already hurried preparations for the government’s emergency budget on 22 June.

Laws also came under pressure to resign from gay equality campaigners. Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, writing in today’s Observer, says: “Pious political parties (that is, all of them) whisper privately that there are more gay MPs than the public imagines. But how can anyone ‘represent’ a community of interest if they’re entirely unable ever to admit that they belong to it? Some of us hope for a Britain where one day Westminster is grownup enough to select and promote politicians from all sorts of backgrounds.”

Gay Rights campaigners are perfectly correct. The parallel in the U.S. with statements from Civil Rights activists condemning Black members of Congress like William Jefferson who stashed ill-gotten thousand$ in his freezer.

No one who trumpets a stand for ethics should waste their breath – and voters’ time – forgiving the sleaze of their political peers.

Ask a Family Values’ Republican. Oh.