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Thursday, August 30, 2007Titanic And A key
It was perhaps the most catastrophic lapse of memory in history, costing more than 1,500 lives.
A sailor called David Blair forgot to leave behind a key as the Titanic set off on its maiden voyage.
Without it, his shipmates were unable to open a locker in the crow's nest containing a pair of binoculars for the designated lookout.
The binoculars were to look out for dangers in the distance including signs of bad weather - and icebergs.
Lookout Fred Fleet, who survived the disaster in which 1,522 people lost their lives, later told an official inquiry that if they had binoculars they would have seen the iceberg sooner.
When asked by a US senator how much sooner it might have been spotted, Mr Fleet replied: "Enough to get out of the way."
Ninety-five years later, the key which may have saved the luxury liner is up for auction - along with a postcard from Mr Blair telling of his disappointment at not being on the maiden voyage.
Titantic locker key
The key would have opened a locker where the crows nest's binoculars were kept
Alan Aldridge, of auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Sons in Wiltshire, said: "Mr Blair was the second officer in charge of the crows nest and he had the key, which we believe was for the binoculars locker in the nest.
"A few days before the Titanic sailed he was bumped off the ship, a decision which probably saved his life.
"But in Blair's rush to leave Titanic he carried this key off with him in his pocket and forgot to hand it to his replacement, Charles Lightoller.
"Had Lightoller had the key then there probably would have been a pair of binoculars in the crows nest.
"It is supposition but, in lookout Fleet's own words, they would have seen the iceberg sooner with the binoculars.
"It is the key that had the potential to save the Titanic."
Charles Lightoller - who replaced Blair as Second Officer and should have been given the key - was the most senior officer to survive the disaster
Mr Blair, from Tayside, was 37 when he sailed on the Titanic from Belfast to Southampton, and Mr Fleet recalled his ship mate having the binoculars with him during the two-day trip.
He had been due to be the second officer for the maiden voyage to New York on April 10 but was told at the 11th hour he wasn't going.
Bosses at White Star Line decided Henry Wilde, the experienced chief officer of the Titanic's sister ship the Olympic, should be transferred instead.
As a result everybody was moved down a rank but Mr Blair was deemed too senior to take up the position of third officer and was tasked to another ship.
Although the move would prove to save Mr Blair's life, he wrote of his disappointment in a postcard he sent to his sister-in-law.
He wrote: "Am afraid I shall have to step out to make room for chief officer of the Olympic. This is a magnificent ship, I feel very disappointed I am not to make her first voyage."
The 46,000-tonne Titanic struck the iceberg in the north Atlantic at 11.45pm on April 14 and sank at 2.20am on April 15.
According to the official US inquiry into the sinking, Mr Fleet said he had previously used binoculars - known as glasses - on the RMS Oceanic, another trans-Atlantic liner. Senator Smith, chair of the inquiry, asked Fleet: "Suppose you had glasses ... could you have seen this black object [the iceberg] at a greater distance?"
Fleet replied: "We could have seen it a bit sooner."
Asked "How much sooner?", he said: "Well, enough to get out of the way."
In Mr Blair's defence, Mr Aldridge added: "Blair would have been rushing about tidying up his loose ends before then.
"In his rush it slipped his mind to hand over the key so the fate of the Titanic was in his hands in a round-about way.
"But in terms of blame then you have to look at the captain, EJ Smith. The ship was going too fast in an ice field which he had warnings about."
He continued: "There was a pair of binoculars on the bridge and a pair for the crows nest because Blair had them just days before.
"But the failure to provide the lookouts with them could have been down to Lightoller not knowing where they were.
"He would have found them had he been able to open the locker.
"So in the end all the lookouts had were their own eyes."
A year after the Titanic disaster Mr Blair was awarded the Kings Gallantry medal for saving life at sea.
Mr Blair kept the key as a memento and eventually passed it on to his daughter Nancy who gave it to the British and International Seamans Society in the 1980s and it is now being sold.
The key and the postcard are expected to fetch up to £70,000 at the auction on
An iron-lunged pensioner has celebrated her 100th birthday by lighting up her 170,000th cigerette from a candle on her birthday cake.
Winnie Langley started smoking only days after the First World War broke out in June 1914 when she was just seven-years-old - and has got through five a day ever since.
She has no intention of quitting, even after the nationwide ban forced tobacco-lovers outside.
Speaking at her 100th birthday party Winnie said: "I have smoked ever since infant school and I have never thought about quitting.
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"There were not all the the health warnings like there are today when I started. It was the done thing."
Winnie, from Croydon, South London, claims tobacco has never made her ill.
She has outlived a husband, Robert, and son, Donald, who died two years ago aged 72.
The former launderette worker said she started the habit in 1914 - just weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28 - which sparked the First World War.
The 100-year-old, who is awaiting her telegram from the Queen today, said smoking helped calm her nerves during the two World Wars.
She said: "A lot of people smoked during the war. It helped steady the nerves."
Despite the numerous health warnings, Mrs Langley insists she's never suffered because of the habit as she "has never inhaled".
A prize-winning paper suggests that humans are hairless apes because Stone-Age mothers regarded furry babies as unattractive
Medical Hypotheses, an Elsevier publication, has announced the winner of the 2006 David Horrobin Prize for medical theory. Written by Judith Rich-Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike, the article, "Parental selection: a third selection process in the evolution of human hairlessness and skin color" was judged to best embody the spirit of the journal. The £1,000 prize, launched in 2004, is awarded annually and named in honour of Dr. David Horrobin, the renowned researcher, biotechnology expert and founder of Medical Hypotheses, who died in 2003.
Harris' paper describes Stone Age societies in which the mother of a newborn had to decide whether she had the resources to nurture her baby. The newborn's appearance probably influenced whether the mother kept or abandoned it. An attractive baby was more likely to be kept and reared.
Harris' theory is that this kind of parental selection may have been an important force in evolution. If Stone Age people believed that hairless babies were more attractive than hairy ones, this could explain why humans are the only apes lacking a coat of fur. Harris suggests that Neanderthals must have been furry in order to survive the Ice Age. Our species would have seen them as "animals" and potential prey. Harris' hypothesis continues that Neanderthals went extinct because human ancestors ate them.
This year's prize judge was Professor Jonathan Rees FMedSci of Edinburgh University, Scotland - co-discoverer of the 'red hair gene'. Professor Rees said: "This paper is an excellent example of the kind of bold thinking and theorizing which David Horrobin intended to encourage when he began Medical Hypotheses. I hope that Judith Rich Harris' idea provokes debate and further investigation of this topic."
In a few weeks, Gen. David Petraeus and the Bush administration will report to Congress on the progress of the U.S. military's troop surge in Iraq.
But some of the war's winners are already clear: military contractors who supply everything from bodyguards to bombs, clean socks to ready-to-eat meals. "For the companies involved, this has been a real gravy train," says William Hartung, who tracks defense spending for the New America Foundation.
The White House has proposed military spending of $647 billion in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the highest level since World War II -- topping even expenditures during Vietnam and the Reagan years, calculates Hartung. The current request for Iraq-related spending for 2008 is $116 billion, which would raise total Iraq war spending to $567 billion.
Who's getting all that money? Sometimes it can be difficult to tell. "There isn't good visibility on where the money goes," says Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But you can get a snapshot of who's been getting a good chunk of the Iraq-related spending in two ways.
The first step is to scour a vast database of more than $400 billion in annual government contracts, more than 70% of which are from the Department of Defense. It's called the Federal Procurement Data System. I turned to a private contractor of my own, Eagle Eye, for some (free) expert assistance in navigating the database.
Eagle Eye mined the database for all Iraq-related contracts from 2003 through 2006 (the most recent year for which numbers are available). That catches everything from spending on base maintenance and bulletproof vests to ammo and combat boots. We tallied the numbers to find the top 10 companies out of thousands of contractors.
The second step is to look at the Pentagon's own budget to see which companies are building the major weapons systems that support the war in Iraq.
The Top 10
It's no surprise that KBR Inc. (KBR, news, msgs), a division of Halliburton (HAL, news, msgs) during the years we examined, tops the first list, compiled by Eagle Eye, with $17.2 billion in Iraq-related war revenue for 2003-2006. KBR is one of the largest construction and energy field-service companies in the world. It has a long history of collaborating with the U.S. government on war-related construction.
Videos: Recent news on Halliburton
In Iraq, KBR has been working on base construction and maintenance, oil-field repairs, infrastructure projects and logistics support. KBR got about a fifth of its revenue from the Iraq war in 2006, according to our calculations.
"We are proud to serve the troops," says a KBR spokeswoman. "We are providing the troops with essential services and the comforts of home that allow them to stay focused on the dangerous and important missions they face daily."
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