I've come back from magic. Transported to a world, parallel to ours where giant mechanical elephants, belly filled with dignitaries, roam the centre of a city very similar to London. Spaceships that have travelled from afar crash into tarmac, and girls, little girls who are quite humungous, wander around and sleep in a place that seems close to where the Queen lives.
If you travel to central London tomorrow or Sunday, you may very well see them for yourself; just make sure you practice your most regal bow for you may meet the Sultan himself...
Having always romantisised the Hymenoptera (the venerable social insects), and anthropomorphised their wonderful matriarchal feminism, the mysteries of how they make their men has always fascinated. As I learnt a long time ago, boys come from eggs without needing sperm, they are "made" from unfertilised eggs. That means, for the Hymenoptera to carry on their matriarchal lineage, they manufacture small numbers of males to demand, they don't need superfluous manhood hanging around causing trouble. The old saying "boys will be boys" simply doesn't apply in their world; boys can only be boys when the Queen so wills their very existence. A "first-wave" radical feminist utopia (not that I share such a utopian vision for "us", being post-third-wave myself).
Quite how they achieved this feat was long unknown. Boys are haploid, they carry only one set of their chromosomes; whereas girls get the usual two copies. One thing that is usually thought to be derived exclusively from the sperm (not present in the egg) is a wonderous structure called the centrosome, critical in the ability of cells to divide. The current research shows that, at least in the parasitic wasp studied (pictured above is Muscidifurax uniraptor, one of those studied), anomolous organelles called accesory nuclei (that bud off the main nucleus) can be crafted into a centrosome. It takes a lot of cellular energy to do so, and thus sperm are still more efficient for making the bulk of the useful female population (though Queens often store sperm so males are needed yet for but seconds of their life). This feat of construction means that the social insects, unique among the kingdoms of life, could dispense with lazy, good for nothing men until needed in the ultimate quest for efficient civilisation.
Beautiful. More than half a million people demonstrated against H.R. 4437 in Los Angeles recently. H.R. 4437, aka "The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005", is a sadly hysterical bigoted bill that makes small immigration offenses "federal crimes". And most shockingly, that applies to people who know of others who may not have 'legal' status. Thus non-governmental organizations and support groups become accessories to commiting federal crime. The US, above all, was and is built on the vibrant incessant motor of immigration, it is the essential heft of its being. Sadly bigotry and hatred is an ingrained crease on our human being, and politicians play brutally callous games, using fear of the "other" to win support as tough do'ers. Facist Germany knew this well, playing on anti-semitism to unify society using hysterical fear of the other.
Remember , remember always, that all of us... are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
For me, the current abuse of fear to gain favour with voters, both in the US and here in the UK, is a pathetically brutal tragedy. The human cost is hidden by flag waving and unfounded fear of alien invasion.
Alien: An American sovereign in his probationary state.
Immigration has been shown time and time again to be beneficial. Financially it hugely stimulates the economy; immigrants use less public funds and pay more tax. Western companies drop their costs drastically using 'illegal' labour and thus further stimulate the economy.
Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.
John F. Kennedy
Vastly more important for me (the clear economic advantages frankly disturb me; manipulation of human misfortune to further profit) are the cultural benefits. It is wonderful to live in a community where you can share human experience, no matter where it came from. It is challenging and rewarding to live amongst the huge diverse plethora of fellow humans. Music, food, art and experience all melt in the fermenting stew of our culture. My culture is partly Indian, Caribbean, African, Persian, Latin American, East European, Arab and Asian.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
I am happy to see current American immigrants organising and working to get their voice heard; a voice calling for humanity, compassion and fairness. I wish them all the best in their struggle.
Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of nations.
Most people who try to commit suicide fail (though I doubt it is a high as the 90% value that has been suggested). And sadly, a substantial number of those will suffer the side effects of the unsuccesful attempt, as well as the emotional burdens of the attempt, the guilt and the retributions. I had often thought that there should be not only counselling for those who wanted to commit suicide, but a manual of techniques that minimised the risks if things went wrong. Dying 5 days later, slowly, with your loved ones by your bedside from liver failure regretting your overdose has to be about as traumatic as can be. I obviously wasn't the only one to think about that, and I just came across an old (1981) article about this :
Some of the stories are tragic. A friend of a friend jumped from a high building and hit a parked car several stories below. She broke most of her bones and punctured several of her inner organs, but didn't die. Instead she was wheeled, conscious, to the local emergency rom, her most privately conceived act announced to the world by the ambulance siren. She spent the next year in bed, much of it in a hospital ward allocated to critically ill victims of violence, her still suicidal mind the only functioning part of her body.
They also collate a series of suicide notes here ...
The insectophile in me is very excited that the first festival celebrating, to quote:
... appreciation of “insects in art and the art of being an insect”, the Pestival aims to create positive PR for this 400-million-year-old, highly evolved taxon that has had thousands of years of bad press.
is happening soon in London. With a humourous title of Pestival the programme includes:
The overlords are fast approaching. All hail our insect masters...
Igor is extirpated, and the hefty fabric of reality sighs briefly. Yet his creases, delicate but sharp, remain.
Let us have some fun and read Igor's obituaries. Let us compare them and then categorise them:
Who wins? Well, I put the Independent in a box of spoons, while the Guardian sits on the bottom shelf, under a pile of other obituaries. The Times, well, it is not even fit for lining the cutlery draw is it? Funny how tedious you can make someone just by writing an obituary about them. For Igor, that is doubly the case.
Let us ponder, ideally thoughtfully yet directionlessly; and let some of the word combinations he formulated and their effects on our reality live on...
When I do die I shall be glad to get away from loud pop music and motor cars, but I shall miss, insofar as when one is dead one can miss anything, the beautiful kindnesses of those people to whom courtesy comes naturally.
So, though it it now obviously some kind of liberal sport, this is nevertheless a funny critique of "educational" toys with a twist...
As once more in the cyclical war of attrition between creationists and scientists, evolution is yet again being grilled over hot coals. The following article published in evolution is a fairly straight response and guide to the current evo-criticism:
I had never concieved of it, yet with the advent of anæsthesia, there came a resistance to the utility of it for surgical interventions!
Before the advent of anaesthesia, medical surgery was a terrifying prospect. Its victims could suffer indescribable agony. The utopian prospect of surgery without pain was a nameless fantasy - a notion as fanciful as the abolitionist project of life without suffering still seems today.
The introduction of diethyl ether CH3CH2OCH2CH3 (1846) and chloroform CHCl3 (1847) as general anaesthetics in surgery and delivery rooms from the mid-19th century offered patients hope of merciful relief. Surgeons were grateful as well: within a few decades, controllable anaesthesia would at last give them the chance to perform long, delicate operations. So it might be supposed that the adoption of painless surgery would have been uniformly welcomed too by theologians, moral philosophers and medical scientists alike. Yet this was not always the case. Advocates of the "healing power of pain" put up fierce if disorganised resistance.
The best web browser around, Opera, have now made their new version V8.5 free of Ad banners. It doesn't effect me as a (was) licenced user, but for all those who hesitated to try Opera because of the Ad's in the free version, your hesitation is now needless.
Opera is tiny yet extrememly powerful. It has a feature set envied by most other browsers, but the true key is not the features themselves, but their integration. One designer, making sure everything flows together. Because of that shared tight codebase, they can add features for very little cost. For example their future bittorrent support (currently available in a technology preview) is 24kb! And they have a very neat system where if you don't use, for example, the mail module, then just the browser core is used.
The killer features: mouse gestures, serious security, true window tabbed interface, spatial navigation, blazingly fast rendering, search-based mail, password manager, RSS support, full configurability (rewrite your UI with >500 commands), hierarchical notes and many others are all blended together with style; they are built to interoperate perfectly.
If you are using IE, well, apart from the appaling security record and abysmal feature set; politically Microsoft have tried to propritise the web. The web should remain free to all, irrespective of access method, and so the sooner you stop using IE (which has been a wrecking ball of interoperability) the better. It's slow, it doesn't support standards (and wont properly with future IE 7) and hasn't evolved since the last century (again the yet—to—be released IE 7's feature set is still 5 years behind others). Time to try something new and fresh. Time to discover the benefits of modern technology, of active craftsmanship in your tool you use to access that wonderful thing called the web.
The tongue-eating isopod [Cymothoa exigua] causes degeneration of the tongue [through siphoning and consuming the arterial blood supply] of its host fish, the rose snapper, Lutjanus guttatus, and it then attaches to the remaining tongue stub and floor of the fish's mouth by hook-like pereopods. In this position the isopod superficially resembles its host's missing tongue. Brusca & Gilligan (1983) hypothesize that these isopods serve as a mechanical replacement for the fish's tongue and represent the first known case in animals of functional replacement of a host structure by a parasite. This relationship is so-far known only from the Gulf of California.
Amazing! This parasite structurally replaces the organ it removes from its host. This thing first hooks into the fishes artery supplying the tongue, which seems to be the cause of the tongue's atrophy (rather than it physically eating the hosts tongue); then basically takes over. I wonder if the host can still enjoy its food?
I think I'm not going to French Kiss (especially not fish) for a while; and remember, never open your mouth while swimming in California!
Michael Meacher has written an interesting article on the links between British support and funding of Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and the current London bombings (and wider context of the "war" on "terror"). Although the lines he sketches are far from definitve, they do give us pause to imagine that Islamic radicals supported by the British Government, just as happened with the US, could have turned round and bitten the hand that fed and supported them. Meacher (a labour MP by the way), even suggests that our secret services could then even play a game of cat and mouse with the police obscuring the original organising forces behind the London bombers to hide their "men".
According to a recent report by the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, a contingent was also sent by the Pakistani government, then led by Benazir Bhutto, at the request of the Clinton administration. This contingent was formed from the Harkat-ul- Ansar (HUA) terrorist group and trained by the ISI. The report estimates that about 200 Pakistani Muslims living in the UK went to Pakistan, trained in HUA camps and joined the HUA's contingent in Bosnia. Most significantly, this was "with the full knowledge and complicity of the British and American intelligence agencies".
Can you believe this; Bush's visit to New Orleans forced helicopters to be grounded for the duration of his visit, thus delaying distribution of three tons of food to the survivors: Bush Halts Food Deliveries...
There is even a report that a food centre photo-op was staged for his visit then torn down again.
London has slid from being the 6th most expensive to the 8th most expensive City in the World. I was hoping that was because of lower costs, but it seems that it is because Oslo (now No. 2) and Rekyavik (No. 4) have leapfrogged over it. Even so, London still seems to have the most expensive toothpaste, maybe that's why us Londoners have such yellow teeth...
As part of my ongoing, everpresent cephalopodic obsession, here is some fascinating footage; the invertebrate Octopus attacking and snacking on sharks ...
Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary (6th August 1945) of the Hiroshima atomic bomb in which the most shocking and horrific weapon of mass destruction was ever unleashed on a civilian population. One hundred and fourty thousand people were dead in the few months after the bomb. They were burnt, crushed (by a pressure wave) and radiated to death, often dying painfully and slowly within weeks and months due to the gamma radiation. Along with Nagasaki bomb 3 days later, over a ¼ million people were murdered; the Americans deemed it the only solution to end their war with Japan.
The United States now wants to start developing Nuclear Weapons again, and the UK is starting to rebuild its Nuclear Arsenal. In a staggering act of circularity and defiance of the NPT, the new weapons of mass destruction will be used to combat weapons of lesser-mass destruction:
Bush wanted to destroy the treaty because it couldn’t be reconciled with his new plans. Last month the Senate approved an initial $4m for research into a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” (RNEP). This is a bomb with a yield about ten times that of the Hiroshima device, designed to blow up underground bunkers which might contain weapons of mass destruction. (You’ve spotted the contradiction). Congress rejected funding for it in November, but Bush twisted enough arms this year to get it restarted. You see what a wonderful world he inhabits when you discover that the RNEP idea was conceived in 1991 as a means of dealing with Saddam Hussein’s biological and chemical weapons.(8) Saddam is pacing his cell, but the Bushites, like the Japanese soldiers lost in Malaysia, march on. To pursue his war against the phantom of the phantom of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, Bush has destroyed the treaty which prevents the use of real ones.
It gets worse. Last year Congress allocated funding for something called the “reliable replacement warhead”. The government’s story is that the existing warheads might be deteriorating. When they show signs of ageing, they can be dismantled and rebuilt to a “safer and more reliable” design.(9) It’s a pretty feeble excuse for building a new generation of nukes, but it worked. The development of the new bombs probably means that the US will also breach the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – so we can kiss goodbye to another means of preventing proliferation.
But the biggest disaster was Bush’s meeting with Manmohan Singh a fortnight ago. India is one of three states which possess nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). The treaty says it should be denied access to civil nuclear materials. But on July 18th, Bush announced that “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.” He would “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India” and “seek agreement from Congress to adjust U.S. laws and policies”.(10) Four months before the meeting, the US lifted its South Asian arms embargo, by selling Pakistan a fleet of F-16 aircraft, capable of a carrying a wide range of missiles, and India an anti-missile system.(11) As a business plan, it’s hard to fault.Here then is how it works. If you acquire the bomb and threaten to use it, you will qualify for American exceptionalism by proxy. Could there be a greater incentive for proliferation?
Now, my Italian-Irish immigrant genes seems to be doing me no good (not that I ever bothered to "measure" my intelligence), what I needed was אַשְׁכֲּנָזִי אַשְׁכֲּנָזִים (Ashkenazi Jewish) persecution-honed intellect; that is if we are to believe the evolution driven hypothesis for the Ashkenazim's higher IQ:
My rating for this: plausible yet unsupported.
The male giant squid has to use a puny 15-gram brain to coordinate 150 kilograms of weight, 10 metres of length and a 1.5-metre-long penis," he says. "He physically plunges this penis into the female's arms, which are rather unfortunately right next to her beak. Because he is coordinating so much with so little, I think occasionally bits get chewed off when they inadvertently get too close to the beak.
My love affair with cephalopods remains unabated, I often think reincarnation as any member of my tentacled brethren seems wonderful; though now if it were as a male Architeuthis dux it may give me pause for thought…
A Father, running from the darkness of the past, takes his Son from Moscow to try to reach the Qırım/Crimean town of Коктебель (Koktebel, also known as Planerskoye). With no money, the winds of fate are their guides (the wind which also aids flight). The father (played by Igor Csernyevics) was a aeronautics engineer, and through the Son (Gleb Puskepalis), there is consistent reflection on the implied freedom of flight. Indeed the boy has the ability to "see from above", like a bird looking down on us.
Talking of the effortlessness of the Albatross, the future transformation of a worm into a butterfly (of which the father knows the latin name), and of the old monument to gliders at their final destination of Koktebel; the present (of no money, little food and the threats of the road), is subtely transformed into a journey of hope. The characters they meet reflect on the warmth and humanity (if not mixed with paranoia in the case of the alcoholic Dacha owner; yet even he keeps his humanity intact) that is present even in the tough, cold and harsh economic climate represented here.
The Directors, Boris Khlebnikov and Aleksei Popogrebskii, measure perfectly the rhythms needed to allow the story to grow. Using just the right blend of stoic determination and magic (magic realism anyone?) for their storytelling, I was captivated. The slight detachment from their characters, and the sparsity of emotional heaviness is perfect in maintaining and driving the metaphorical base of the film intact. As an example, the relationship that develops between the lonesome Doctor and Father, is handled in a perfectly elliptical way, we don't see but we (and the Son) understand perfectly. Indeed much of the film involes understanding without explicit instruction. The camera suggests us a direction.
And so it it is the cinematography of Shandor Berkeshi that is utterly captivating. With a warmth and patience, he gives us a Sea deep and rich with images. For example, as the Father repairs the roof of one of the characters (the alcoholic Dacha owner) they meet, he throws the old metal down to the ground. As it falls, the camera focuses on each piece as it drifts and glides to the Earth and the theme of flight and freedom implies itself against the present servitude they are performing working for some money.
The understated, patient poetry of these wonderfully delicate images gives us the guides to know the protagonists and the the journey on which they travel. The camera is used to give us suggestions, never impose on us some absolute reality; yet those suggestions are lyrical and beautiful.
I've seen the words "Our City" used many times after the bombings in London. Each time I see or hear this, I think to myself that it was "Their City" as well. Because the bombers were British. As British as I am. That is the problem. These Brits, who by all accounts were well regarded of, felt strongly enough that violence was the only way to make their statements heard. That they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, kill themselves for whatever they believed in. Suicide bombing is the tactic of the hopeless and weak; if the terrorist threat was really some enormous powerful international force, they would surely do more than launch these desperate tragedies.
My real problem with those words is that it reinforces the reasons why someone can do that — tribalism. The collective "we" have a general strong instinct to form groups (tribes as I call them). It is perhaps why a British Muslim who sees pictures of mutilated children and tortured prisoners may be willing to override his national instincts with religious ones. Why they then see other members of the same country as the "other" (even though linked to by many strands of their identity). By saying "Our City", we reaffirm that this is a tribal war; we obscure subtlety of identity in drum-rolls of patriotism (wherever that patriotism may lie). We reinforce the problem, not alleviate it.
The stupidity of the British bombers is that their targets were utterly misconceived, their tribalism blinded them to the implications of their action. Of those that died in the tunnels and streets of London, the majority would have probably been opposed to the illegal and unjustified invasion of Iraq; to the death of thousands of Iraqi's, to the torture by US and British troops of detainees; to the use of cluster bombs in residential areas and the whole catalogue of horrors the Military machine promulgated in the name of liberation.
What options did we have in this "democracy", was my passionate voice heard; could the bombers have used a different route to defend their ideas? Sadly the answer is no. The Government was willing to go to War irrespective of public opinion. It lied and cheated its way to join the killing fields. The sadness and hopelessness I felt after those massive demonstrations may well have been converted in the bombers into a dehumanising obsession.
Some of my closest friends in life have been 2nd Generation Pakistanis. I have been to Mosque with them, and spent evenings discussing in prayer circles. I wish more people could experience the warmth and openness of the Muslims I know. My fear is as the Government finally gets the chance to strip away more civil rights, soon I will not be able to discuss any of this. The Government wants to make incitement to terrorism a criminal offence. Does me saying, "I understand why someone may do this" give them grounds to arrest me (even if I cannot accept the methods they used)? If I leave myself open to the position that Palestinians may have no other way to fight the absolute power of the Israeli military than through the tragedy of suicide bombing (even though I see how nihilistic and futile it is) — does that make me one of "them"?