Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mad Mel to the rescue

I hadn't appreciated how far Mad Mel's breadth extended, in that she has appointed herself an expert not only on international relations, the Middle East problem, religion and ethics, but environmental policy too, as a member of the Scientific Alliance.

As transmitted by Medialens, George Monbiot and colleagues are asking in Nature what qualifies the likes of Mel for this role? More on the influence of the Scientific Alliance (inc Mad Mel) here, here and here.

I'm becoming addicted to the Moral Maze, surely a sign of presenility, largely to gawp at Mad Mel. This week she argued for links between church and state (as she would), a very difficult position to defend. Her utopia has us all segregated into discreet, non-overlapping religious/ethnic/authoritarian states so that law or justice become entirely relative and regional. Quite how this system will cope with atheists, bastards of mixed origins like myself, or other miscegenistic progeny has not been made clear by Mel.

Her timely article in this week's Daily Mail on Schiavo's case- 'Killing the Sick' 30/3/05- is almost as good as she gets, with her latest diary entry 'Killing the Disabled' in equally hysterical tones.

Poor Terri Schiavo died this afternoon, her parents' last judicial appeal to replace her nasogastric tube denied this morning. I'm sad and relived simultaneously, and hopeful that Terri can now become a person again, and not an issue. I also hope that this event can help her parents to start to grieve for the daughter they lost as a 26-year old in 1990, and let her rest now instead of being dressed as a grotesque teenage/middle-aged puppet in broderie anglaise. Her brain probably stopped functionally in any pragmatically human manner some 15 years, when her bulimia was the likely cause of an electrolyte imbalance leading to cardiac arrest and cerebral anoxia.

This case has impressed upon me the importance of making wills of various kinds, and for the record I wish-
* To avoid resuscitation and strenuous interventions if I am beyond medical help
* All my assets to be divided equally between my children
* Any donatable organs/tissues to be culled from my body

Both sides of the Schiavo-Schindler case have assented to a post-mortem examination to try to delineate the extent and severity of Terri's central nervous system pathology. This may bring some resolution, especially if it shows a clear brainstem or mesencephalic bleed. But my hunch is it's unlikely to supply any cut-and-dried answers about Terri's cognitive/emotional/conscious state before she died.

A passing acquaintance with neurology and neuropathology, which included assessing cerebral MRI scans of alcoholic and demented patients, proved just how little cortex- thinned, water-logged, displaced- one can possess and still function both in self-care and socially. Terri's CT scan on www (if indeed it's hers) is not dissimilar to some I've seen in walking, talking and conscious, although neurologically impaired, individuals.

The worst fear, clinically, would be that she was not in a PVS but experiencing a locked-in syndrome. However, this latter neurological syndrome is often characterised by localised strokes or emboli in the motorsensory cortex around the Sylvian fissure, causing generalised paralysis of motor function *without* an altered level of consciousness and cognitive processing. This remains a possibility for Terri, and the core Schindler's and their supporters belief, but not very likely given her global and disseminated atrophy, widened sulcii, expanded ventricles and cortical thinning of her pre-mortem scan.

So the issue of the ethics and morality of this case are unlikely to die with Terri, nor this or future similar cases to be retrospectively solved by PMs. For a start, there's the imprecision linking neuroanatomical features and clinical status, and for seconds the issue was not about Terri's state-of-consciousness but about the wishes of her, her husband and her parents over ownership of her living will.

Unlike Mel, I wish to keep these sorts of decisions in the hands of individuals, and not the state. If Jerry Fallwell and Il Papa wish to be kept on artificial support in perpetuity, that's their prerogative and I'm pulling no tubes. However, when I'm no longer able to pull the tube out myself, I hope a good friend will take that responsibility and action for me.


Falluja snippets

Mark Manning- 'Message from Falluja to the American People'.

'Latest' excellent Medialens alert:
Exchange With the BBC's Director of News
By: David Cromwell, March 30, 2005
Direct hyperlink at Znet

Dahr Jamail in tomorrow's Socialist Worker
“Life in Falluja is a horror story”
April 1, 2005

Cross-posted at FallujaForum.


Odd sods

A recently inaugurated blog from a Medialens favourite, The Ether by Mr Ire, has gotten off to a flying start. Much more Brazilian colour, politics and ethics are hoped for. The post on Infant Mortality is stuffed with useful statistics and comparisons. Anthony, posting comments at Lenin's Tomb ['Dead Babies'] also comes up with the goods, evidence-wise.

On the subject of blogs, I'm seriously considering starting one for Sau, whose excellent newsfeed gets disseminated and diluted across different places, mostly in comments boxes. And it's a waste. I'm thinking if I do the donkeywork of setting up a password and email, I might be able to coach him to use it, and save me flitting from place to place to find out what's happening with Sgrena's car or Michael Ruppert's speaking tour.

And on the subject of speaking tours, the film 'Yes Men' appears locally next week, with intro and discussion by one of the eponymous men, Michael Bonnano. I'll be a gay dutchman if that's his real name. Banana? Bon-nano? Ban-no-no? Bonobo? Ha!

New AL Kennedy article in the Grauniad today, so coldly vicious I fear for her while in awe of her craft, weaving her election despair from a weft of Dr Who with a woof of Wolfowitz.

A botanically-minded friend brought from Germany a much-appreciated gift that I'd never heard of before- a Rose of Jericho plant. This came as a dry brown fibrous tennis ball which has unfurled on contact with a shallow bowl of water into a green, ferny rosette.

Anastatica hierochuntica is a Syrian desert plant that in some sources is characterised as a seed spreader while in it's parched state, free of the ground and rolling, using a tumbleweed-type adaptation. In others, the seed is said to be spread when the dry plant-ball is moistened and resurrects, the fronds loosening attached seeds as they rehydrate and straighten. Another member of the Cruciferae plant, just like the radish, cabbage, wallflower etc.

Anyway, I adore it, and am observing it for seed-shedding (although these are said to be teeny-tiny). Also need to know how chlorosis (the re-greening of the plant) is accomplished. Was the green chlorophyll always there, but in a de-magnesiumised state*, or does the plant have to grow chloroplasts all over again? Does it have starch stores somewhere to fuel this? In its dormant state, is it alive or dead?

*Chloroplasts use magnesium as their oxygen-binding metallic ions, while haemoglobin uses iron.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Catnip - *Cat warning*

Without access to ferrets or badgers at home, my feline helps with animal experiments. What we doctors like to call 'kitchen sink' medicine. This was how we amused ourselves at Easter with chicks and a cat's catnip proclivity.

1. 1 catnip-interested cat
2. 1 bag/jar/paper of catnip
3. 1 helpless easter chickie (not this type but this)

1. Dip chickie in catnip

2. Approach of the cat

3. First contact

4. Using shredded chickie as gas-mask

5. My cat hates you

6. Chickie lurve

7. End of chickie

PS I know this is lame.


Legion of Charlies

On this day in 1971, Charles Manson was sentenced to death for murdering B-list celebs and Lieutenant Calley to life with hard labour for the My Lai massacre in VietNam.

Eight were killed by Manson and his associates.
More than 500 unarmed civilians were killed in My Lai.
Manson and his associates remain in prison.
Lt Calley was freed to house arrest 3 days after his conviction, bailed to house arrest and eventually released on parole in 1974.

These two time-linked events were compared and contrasted in a 1971 LastGasp comic, 'Legion of Charlies', drawn by Greg Irons.

I haven't revisited my teenage interest in underground comix for many years, but Greg Irons struck me more forcibly than Robert Crumb ever did. Greg Irons moved from the medium of comics to tattoos, before dying in a road traffic accident with a Bangkok city bus in 1984.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Warszawa's last post

As the protagonist Warszawa predicted, his last post on MLMB was deleted. I'm not in the business of recrimination, nor do I concur with all W's opinions, but if he does indeed choose to join Sau and me in the Doldrums, I hope he will drop in with his url.

READ NAOMI KLEIN ( I've been deleted from ML, so this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds)
Posted by warszawa on March 25, 2005, 9:22 pm, in reply to "Naomi Klein: new deatils on Giuliana Sgrena attack"
User logged in as: warszawa

Please post this report to any mainstream media sources you can reach. Look at what Naomi Klein Klein is *actually reporting*, from the only available witness, who barely survived. The criminality of the Bush Gang is now very far beyond a joke.
- Calipari and Sgrena were shot from behind, by US soldiers, on a special road in the Green Zone, heavily-guarded and available only to US-approved travellers.

- The Italians claim, very credibly, that they were not speeding and had given advance notice.The Americans say otherwise.

- An Italian officer was waiting at the airpost, with a US liason officer. No-one has denied this.

- Yesterday, a planned inspection of the vehicle by Italian police was called off at he last momment - because of "security concerns". Ambassador John Negroponte had passed down that road no more than 90 minutes previously. And today, the Italian Minister of Justice has demanded access to the car, three full weeks after the shooting (this was reported by Corriere della Sera and der Spiegel, but so far by no English-language media I know of).

- Mark Manning, one of the few other US journalists to report from Fallujah, received a death threat within 10 hours of arriveing back in the States (see below).

But *much* more important than any of this, it seems, is getting me, personally, to piss off and shut up.

So Happy Easter to all MediaLens posters. And now I'd like to sing a song. Some of you may know it. It's called "My Way"...

...All right, ossifer, all right, I'm going... it's an unfair cop...

[The landlord breathes a sigh of relief. warszawa joins sau and ion in The Doldrums, the most happening place in town]


Cheese and fermentation

Secreted within the cellular organelles of each and every one of us eukaryotes is the capacity to switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. It's a failsafe from when unicellular organisms were floating in a primordial soup with much lower oxygen tensions, before Kingdom Plantae produced a planet-wide atmospheric pollution with oxygen.

A major branch of Whittaker's biotic tree, Fungi, adopted fermentation (anaerobic metabolism) as their only metabolic pathway. This evolutionary sprout helped to produce for humans bread, beer, wine, spirits and best of all, cheese, for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Although not vegetarian, I could happily to adapt to this as long as my beloved cheese was allowed. Last night we had a cheese feast with a chunky vegetable broth served with salad, fruit and cheeseplates.

Salad: Oakleaf, cucumber chunks, celery moons and a few sad sprigs of coriander
Fruit: Green grapes, fresh apple slices, dried pears and slices of concentrated preserved passionfruit (akin to quince cheese) from Brazilian Sensation
Cheese: A grainy nutty mature cheddar, a garlic roule, a goat (and I love goats), a feta (sheep) and slices of my personal favourite, mozzarella. Not the Danish slabs (perish the thought), but the individual 150g tenderloins in their amniotic bags of water.

Mozzarella is fermented from buffalo milk, whose long and complex milk molecules render its stringiness in cooked form. Personally, I like mozzarella boluses sliced, garnished with arugula, maybe some leaf basil and cherry tomatoes, and dressed with virgin olive oil and sweet balsalmico.


Crocks' nights out

'The Fall' on British tour currently. Mark E Smith hopefully recovered from the hip fracture that put him out last year.

Updated The Fall information here. They're a pisser of a band for which to Google. Search 'the+fall+tour' and your 'the' is unconjugated and discounted, yet your 'fall' and 'tour' conjugated to produce the autumn touring schedule of every US band.

For sau- their Brighton date with John Cooper Clarke has been cancelled, sadly, so no 'Beasley Street', 'Chicken Town' or 'Twat' for you. JCC features prominently in James Clarkes' biography of Nico, possibly my favourite rock biography.

The Scottish dates of their tour are part of the Triptych (a Tennants Brewery-sponsored event). We receive the presence on Apr 30, Liquid Room but without JCC. He came last time, with his plastic bag. The three Scottish dates are part of the Triptych.05 festival, sponsored by Tennant's Breweries. That's a shame, really.



Patti Smith, another long-time favourite, further rescued from hermeneutics to direct London's Meltdown festival this year.


our terrain stretches from the american
heartland to the streets of baghdad.
our boots are well worn and the sack we toss over
our shoulder is filled with tears and grain.
we unbutton our coats, for spring
is upon us and the air is thick with promise.
let us shake the gold upon the fields
for it is spring, a good time for trampin'.

This from her current catalogue seems to me entirely in tune with the Piss Factory (b/w Hey Joe), first heard in a damp basement bedsit in 1977, as it should be.


Oestrus notes (OT)

I've never taken much notice of Easter, but there's been a special tinge of suffering this season: the ill Pope having heroic medical measures taken and the exquisite timing of Schiavo's sad case. Terri S is reportedly fading now, and if the timing of her death has any meaning for her, may the god within her help her on her way gently. Churches veil their icons and shrines during this season, and you can't light candles till Christ rises again.

Miss Dickie, my prunelike primary 5 teacher, failed me (or I her) in that the daily 2 hrs of scripture studies she imposed on her class (and in a non-denominational school) never stuck with me. My knowledge of the Easter story is a vague jumble of palms, donkeys, pancakes, stations of the cross, a couple of Marys and one assumption, and stones being rolled away from the tomb. Right?

There was always a resistance against Easter while I was growing up, coming from Dad's atheistic jewishness. My shiksa mum provided fuzzy chicks and chocolate eggs, but there was no religion attached. Some years we'd have a seder instead, especially when my sister was old enough. This also mystifies me almost as much as Easter, with bitter herbs, eggs and lamb bones etc...

The cars are lined up outside the churches this morning, with attendees displaying special virtue since the clocks went back last night. I notice that this Easter weekend coincided with a full moon. The fulling moon was definitely another contributant to my recent conference madness. It allowed us to sit outside late on a preternaturally lit and still spring night. Does Easter always fall on a full moon weekend, or just a coincidence this year?

I knew the military were useful for something. Easter is tuned to be close to a full moon, with modifications by the Council of Nicaea and splits between eastern and western churches, so that ecclesiatical and astronomical moons can differ. Glad that's clear, then.


This post was brought to you by Britney Spears' new perfume 'Curious', which sadly I was. Boots the Chemist has a big display on this product and a giant pale-blue, pretty-pretty, Barbie-meets-I Dream of Jeannie-meets-Disney's Aladdin bottle. My 8 yr-old daughter Nini (to whom this product is marketed) wisely declined to test it, but persuaded me to take the carrot. Don't make the same mistake- it's exactly the teenage whore scent you'd expect.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Falluja round-up

Here's the on-topic stuff.

This is an incredible story of incredible events from an independent reporter who returned at the beginning of March from Falluja/Fallujah.
Mark Manning's full report

A very useful summary of some pertinent points here from Warszawa, who posts or posted at MLMB:
ML post 1
ML post 2

I take the liberty of reproducing W's precis below.

Mark Manning, unembedded in Fallujah: DU, napalm, phosphorus...
Posted by warszawa on March 25, 2005, 1:18 pm
User logged in as: warszawa

From the Santa Barbara Independent. (This is just an extract from a long article/interview, well worth reading in full):


[...] “There were 500,000 people living in Falluja at the time, not the 250,000 that the media reports. They were given one week to leave home,” Manning said. “After three days, they were told they had to walk out. Then after a week, the U.S. forces sacked the city and killed anyone that was left.” Manning expressed outrage that no provision was made for the mass exodus of refugees. “There were no refugee camps. Families were living in chicken coops, tents, and cars. In Iraq, the winters are very cold and very wet. And these are people who left with pretty much just the clothes on their back.”

Manning said he interviewed doctors who told him that the first target during the second siege was the hospital. That’s because televised images of the casualties incurred during the first assault proved so damaging in the court of international public opinion. “If you were a male between the ages of 14 and 50, you were considered a terrorist. Troops went into the hospital, dragged people out of their beds, and evicted them. The hospital was sealed. No one was allowed in during the four-month seige. If an ambulance went out to pick up the wounded, it was fired on,” Manning said.

By the time Manning arrived in Falluja, he said the dead bodies had been disposed of. “You could smell them, but you couldn’t see them,” he said. Doctors he interviewed told him that chemical weapons had been deployed because they handled many dead bodies bearing no evident sign of trauma. As to the evidence of napalm, Manning said he saw — and has in his possession — photographs of the dead, whose clothes had been melted into their skin. As to the uranium-tipped shells, he said there was evidence everywhere. “The heat generated by these is so intense that they can basically burn through three layers of concrete to get to a target.” He said that one family showed him where the shell from a Bradley Tank went through the front of a house, through four walls, and killed their son in his bed. “The whole town is radiated,” said Manning. “We are poisoning the whole country.”

--- INSERT: According to Manning, the ‘bum’ winked at him and said: ‘Look in my eyes. I have the eyes of a former sniper. You thought you had the goods on George Bush, didn’t you? You’ve been sandbagged, boy.’ — Mark Manning ---

Over the course of his interviews, Manning said he spoke with a mother who saw her son killed in front of her. He talked to a father who had lost his wife, brother, and daughters. “I talked to a 17-year-old girl who saw her father and mother shot by Marines,” said Manning. “She was hiding under the bed with her brother when her parents’ bodies dropped on the ground in front of her them... Her parents’ brains were on the floor. The girl and her brother stayed under the bed for three days, until the Marines came back, and this time they found her and her brother. They shot her brother in the head and they shot her three times, in the chest and the legs. When she told me about it,” said Manning, “I had to look down. I felt I was personally responsible. And she did too.”

Because of incidents like these, Manning said, the resistance has grown from about 5,000 to 250,000. “Everybody’s in the resistance. You don’t ask them directly; that wouldn’t be wise. But everybody’s in the resistance,” he said.

Kidnappers’ Tea Party
Manning said his time in Falluja convinced him that the war is not winnable as it’s currently being fought. “There are kids everywhere over there. It’s like Jimboree at lunchtime. So when we make a mistake and drop bombs on the wrong location, it’s kids we’re killing. Can you imagine the hate and anger, the desire for revenge these people have? It’s just not going to work.”

The Iraqis he spoke to, said Manning, were critical of both Saddam Hussein and George Bush. “They said Saddam Hussein committed mass murder, torture, mass arrests without cause. But they see the Americans as doing all of these same things.” Since the hostilities started, Manning said 28,000 Iraqis have been killed. (American military officials do not track Iraqi civilian casualties, relying instead upon the Iraqi Health Ministry, which reports only 3,500 civilian casualties. A British study — now several months old — placed the figure above 100,000.)

If Americans have any hope of being regarded as anything but an occupying force, Manning said, they need to show respect. “This is a very traditional country. You don’t shake hands with women, but Americans are not only shaking the women’s hands, they’re frisking them in public. They’re detaining the sisters of suspected terrorists and sending them to Abu Ghraib where they are systematically raped. They are kicking down doors and walking into mosques with their boots on. You have no idea how profoundly disrespectful this is to the people there.”

To highlight the Iraqi sensitivity to slights perceived or real, Manning described how he was almost kidnapped. He was sipping tea with an Iraqi family in their home, hoping to persuade them to agree to an interview when a group of eight men showed up. “They said I was a spy, and they were going to take me away,” Manning said. Zarqa came to his aid, as she often had, but so did the family he was visiting. “They were infuriated at the lack of respect the kidnappers were showing. They shouted at them. … If they had kidnapped me, it would have been such a huge insult to this family.” In the end, the kidnappers were invited to tea and they accepted. Manning said he spoke to them at length, but never asked what they would have done with him. “I stayed away from that,” he said, adding, “Everybody has tea over there. Even if you go to kidnap people, you have tea.”

As an American in Falluja, Manning said he had to be careful about playing the devil’s advocate in interviews by arguing the Bush administration’s case. He did repeat Bush’s argument that the United States needs to fight terror in Iraq to keep it from coming to America. “They just laughed,” he said. “They asked, ‘How are we going to get there? Look at us.’”

Manning, Zarqa, and their driver traveled next to Baghdad, where they witnessed the recent elections. “The big story about those elections is that nobody really knows what the story is,” he said. Manning said that the United Nations observers never left the Green Zone during the elections, adding that observers were stationed at only five of Iraq’s 90-plus polling places. In addition, he said, Al Jazeera, the Arab news organization, had been kicked out. “Iraqis were told that if they wanted food rations, they had to vote. Everybody over there is on food rations,” he said. “And the food ration guys were at the polling places to make sure people voted.”

Manning took specific exception to some of CNN’s coverage of the elections. “They showed a long line of people in Falluja waiting to vote, but it wasn’t a voting line. It was the checkpoint line, people waiting to get into the city.” While in Falluja, he said he only encountered other reporters once. It was an embedded CNN crew. “They came in with two Apaches, four Bradleys, and eight Humvees. They sealed off the block. Then they brought in a tank and soldiers who tossed candy to the kids. Then eight guys dressed in orange jumpsuits got out and started sweeping the streets,” he said. “It was a staged event.” [...]

PICTURE CAPTION: "This hole shows where a depleted uranium shell passed through, Manning said, 'burning' holes through walls rather than knocking them down outright. Manning said so much depleted uranium’s been deployed in Falluja and Iraq that the whole nation will be afflicted with radiation poisoning."

Back in the US, his taped interviews were stolen and he was issued with a death threat
Posted by warszawa on March 25, 2005, 1:33 pm, in reply to "Mark Manning, unembedded in Fallujah: DU, napalm, phosphorus..."
User logged in as: warszawa

This part of the article might just possibly be of some relevance to the Sgrena/Calipari case:

"Shocking stuff, but Manning’s biggest surprise came after he’d returned home to the United States. Arriving in San Francisco late on the night of February 11, Manning and Natalie Kalustian, a close friend and filmmaking partner, crashed at the Oceanside Motel on 46th Avenue. The next morning, after a stroll near Baker Beach, they returned to their car to find one of the windows smashed. Expensive camera and computer equipment lay in plain view, but only Kalustian’s purse was gone. Inside the purse, Manning said, were keys to their motel room. And when Manning and Kalustian returned to the motel, he recounted, someone had broken into their room. Even though there was jewelry and more film equipment lying about, he said, none of it was touched. In fact, said Manning, none of the suitcases had even been opened. The only thing missing, Manning said, was the big bowling-ball shaped bag containing his camera — and all his taped interviews.

At that time, Manning had not been back in the United States for more than 10 hours.

The next day, Manning said, a mysterious man contacted them to arrange a meeting, claiming he had the stolen purse. Manning and Kalustian went to a spot near 6th and Mission as instructed, where they were met by a man who appeared to be a “full-on street bum,” Manning said. After returning the purse, the man pulled Manning to one side, opened his wallet, and flashed what Manning estimated was $5,000 worth of $100 bills. According to Manning, the “bum” winked at him and said, “Look in my eyes. I have the eyes of a former sniper. You thought you had the goods on George Bush, didn’t you? You’ve been sandbagged, boy.”

Manning said he has received more phone calls and mysterious emails from the man since returning to Santa Barbara, but holds out little hope of getting the missing tapes back. He’s most worried, he said, that whoever stole his tapes might seek to make examples of the Fallujans who spoke to him. “I risked my life to get those interviews,” he said, “and I saw the level of fear in the people I talked to.”

Also have a look at xymphora's interesting analyses comparing Sgrena's experiences and Manning's. Hmmm...

More from Manning here:

Interview with Dahr Jamail here and Mark Manning interview, courtesy sau @ falluja forum. Dahr Jamail is currently conducting a lecture tour in the US, and I hope we'll hear more on this.

From sau today, more evidence of military abuses in Mosul


Expressive arts

It's the holidays, I'm home with the kids and the world's a better place than yesterday. Today I shall be hanging curtains. This last week it's been Banksy who was doing a little extra-curricular hanging in New York galleries. Report and images from the WoosterCollective. Check out the armed & equipped beetle specimen Withus oragainstus hung in the Natural History museum.


Friday, March 25, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.



I hate conferences, and I wish I didn't have to do them. Since I do have to do them, I wish I would learn to sit quietly through the sessions, keep my head down, my mouth shut and avoid the bar in the evening.

I may have to email apologies to the male, smug, witty, English, Oxbridge-educated doctor who unwittingly found himself the embodiment and the target of my accumulated and transferred 'issues' in the bar. A bit of a lothario, used to charming blond nurses who don't talk back, which unfortunately enraged me. By the next morning, a rep had started a false rumour that I'd shagged him, which I hadn't, thank Christ. Had to knock back a herbert (gormless, married, chinless-wonder doctor type) on the way home, mind you, but that's a familiar occupational hazard.

I've been doing academic conferences long enough to have observed that many female delegates go home early, and I really should learn from their examples. I'll just take that bottle of wine to my room next time and get quietly sedated for sleep with the company of a good book instead of unchosen companions at the bar.

The conference was held in a cloistered college with a pomp and ceremony that never fails to raise the chip on my shoulder. You eat on benches in Hall, it feels like a crusty boys' club and no one thanks the 'manciples' or whatever you call the servants. Heard one of the waiters off the main corridor shouting down his mobile that he hated his shitty job, and at 650/month it wasn't worth it and he couldn't take this crap anymore. Part of my aggression was also I believe regressive, caused by being accommodated in the same type of shitty single student dorm room I had at 17. It took me back, as they say, and not in a good way.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Right and wrongs

GWB cut short his weekend and flew in specially to vote on 'Terri's Schiavo's Bill' so this poor woman's feeding tube can be reintroduced and her half-life prolonged.

I'd like to believe GWB was moved by the sentimental image of an already ill woman slowly starving and dehydrating to death. Such a response I do understand, although it fails to account for harm prevented by withdrawing medical feeding, or the wishes of her husband, if not her parents.

However, kittens'n'puppies are not the basis of GWB's committments to fighting stem cell research, abortion, sex education or euthanasia. The challenge offered by these issues is that in more liberal ethical formulations, the dialogue is with one's personal conscience or with family, and not with the higher authority of Nature, God, President or Commander in Chief. GWB is deliberately simplifying complex issues into black/white, good/bad, right/wrong, alive/dead, human/animal, worthy/unworthy to move them under his authority. Once there, he can nurture good life in one hand while hiding and crushing bad life in the other. The Handmaid's Tale (1986) predicted just that pincer movement of religion and patriotic militarism being effected now.

Anywise, I'm away to a conference in England for the week, where people talk funny and experience each year the hot torpid season they call sum-ma. I shall report back in due course.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunday notes

Much to my surprise, the war is still on this morning despite the good efforts of those who turned up in Glasgow and London to protest it yesterday. Good show, everyone. Some Glasgow photos have been posted here , and London photos on

DoDo (precocious son, not the blogger) had 'organised' months ago an Edinburgh STW demo for yesterday. Though at his dad's this weekend, DoDo recruited me by phone to show up at the castle, which I did, but saw no protest action among the milling crowds of tartan-clad Murrcan tourists. I learned later that 'the march' consisted of 6 people, 3 of whom were DoDo, his mate and his mate's dad. I do not know if a dog was there, but he might've been the sixth marcher. The doughty six were accompanied by police officers on a leisurely walk down the Royal Mile, hung out for 5 mins outside the Scottish Parliament building, then fvcked off so the cops could watch the rugby.


Today all day my left hand has had a minor 'tic'. Occasionally I get a short-lived spasmodic tic of they eye, but never in the hand before. Every 3-4 secs (approx) my hand involuntarily makes a barely-noticeable pincer-type flexion with the thumb and forefinger, then relaxes again. Moving the hand in other ways stops or masks the spasm, but at rest it starts up again. I feel a backgound sensation of pressure building up in my brain before each twitch, but when it comes it's involuntary like a sneeze. It is not unpleasant, actually.


Top Tip- New crockery allows the surprisingly exciting, guilty pleasure of throwing out the old, unhygienic chipped plates without washing them. Do try it at home.

NB- good recyclers should wash the crocks, smash them with the intention of re-use in potting houseplants, then cart the plastic bag of potsherds everytime you move flat for the next 15 years. I have done this is the past, but no more ms nice guy.


Elaine from Word Power ordered me in Thierry Meissen's 'Pentagate'. It took an age to arrive, but slightly disappoints as not the best edited explication of 9/11 Pentagon crash anomolies, which is what I was hoping for. It tends to ramble and also to assume prior acquaintance with his Big Lie. Of what I've read on 9/11 (and I claim neither expertise nor any scoop on this issue), Griffin's New Pearl Harbour formed the best summary of 9/11 anamolies read, along with Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed's work. NMA has a new book coming out, according to warszawa. Sau is currently reading Griffin's later book on the 9/11 enquiry, so a review of this will be awaited in 2007 :-).

By coincidence, 9/11 came up that evening over the dinner table at dad's house. He'd heard a Radio 4 program that dismissed the photo evidence of the Pentagon crash, stating that the photos of too-small impact holes were of the exit, and not the entrance. The phrase 'conspiracy theory' was used, perhaps unsurprisingly, and as with my others, anything but the official version is dismissed. Dad's interrogation, like those of most decent challengers, focused on requiring an alternative account with full cast, script, attributions of intent and motives. If the Pentagon strike was a missile, he asked, what were the who, why, when, where and what of the story? And of course this I can't supply- but anomolies and discontinuities do mount up.


Browsing through Existencil 's library of local graffiti, I realise to my pleasure that the Star Wars trooper of Appleton Tower I mentioned (ibid) is recorded there.

The Star Wars stormtrooper on the ugly Appleton Tower stucco:

Also some Edinburgh anti-war stencils:

Free Ulla (Trident protestor)

And this delicious gastropod, who popped up as one of a series on local bins. I really love this guy.


Some more images I liked recently.

Check out Dennis Kunkel's aesthetic microscopy, reminiscent of Haeckel's work:

Movies of cell division- the last is the best
Cell movies

And finally...
Caption competition for this little gem.
My contribution- "I just wanna make the kiddies happy, guv"


Friday, March 18, 2005

Stop the War demonstration- Glasgow

It's never too late to Stop the War, going now for 2 years without a mandate or a legal basis, since March 2003. Express some mild disquiet by demonstrating in Glasgow tomorrow.

Glasgow- assemble by Queen St station at south hanover st noon, march to St Enoch's Square for rally at 1 pm. Black, red, green or white, you know it's right.

I love Fridays, especially when Harrendous Hellhole supercedes* itself with lit crit comparing and contrasting Wilfred Owen and Harold Pinter. The latter has recently retired as a playwright in order to pursue a politicial career, hence his accorded scorn.

They like the traditional war stuff, with medals for bravery, stiff upper lips and young men playing cricket on a village green while ladies in long frilly dresses look on, accompanied by children of indeterminate sex in dresses and sailor suits.

*I first wrote 'Harrendous Hellhole tops itself', but have amended this blatent Freudian wish-fulfillment.

A tidbit courtesy Edinburgh South STW on my favourite MP


Moral maze

Thank you to R for encouraging me to listen to this week's Moral Maze (till next week here, on the issue of abortion.

Mad Mel didn't storm out of the studio (R- that was Valerie di Phillipo running for a plane), but MM did manage a small hissy fit against Valerie de Phillipo (Planned Parenthood) and attempted to claim the higher moral ground in a debate dominated by liberalism. Claire Fox and Rosie Boycott were agreed about the appropriate 'locus' for choice, so fine points about sentience and viability as criteria for gestational limits assumed prominence instead. Even the male Catholic panel-member hung back (to his credit), leaving Mad Mel to play the reactionary.

Sir David Steel was the other conservative witness, and showing his age, pomposity, Church of Scotland ties and his title by supporting reduced time limits and restrictions of 'abortion on demand'. Because father knows best. Nonetheless, all British and Irish women owe him a debt for the Abortion Act- thanks Dave.

Ann Furedi (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) and Valerie di Phillipo (Planned Parenthood International) were very convincing and human witnesses, in my opinion, both acknowledging the lack of a good option but reminding that the person who lives with the decision, their family and and their doctor are in the best position to make this difficult decision. It was Catholic male panelmember who pointed out that while abortion statistics are available, evils prevented by abortion (e.g. poverty, effects on other kids) don't have a convenient metric.

The pro-life witness Ruth Davis was embarrassingly Countryside Alliance, sentimental and plain inarticulate. Shooting fish in a barrel comes to mind. You have to listen to know what I mean.

Mad Mel did her best to smear Ann Furedi and Valerie di Phillipo as inhumane, immoral and evil along with most of their clients, largely a feckless, brutish and in need of moral directives, apart from Mel herself and her pals. MM's main tack was to attempt to show these witnesses as amoral abbatoir workers, but it didn't come off too well. Especially when Mel bizarrely included an anti-seminism allusion by quipping that Planned Parenthood had its roots in the Eugenics Movement. Even Michael Buerk's round-up of MM's argument (a few abortions, just to rape victims or deserving pals) - that it had the 'virtue of simplicity'- was backhanded. Ha! In fact, it was humanity, compassionate sadness and acceptance of responsibility, especially from AF, that came over strongest from the pro-choice witnesses.

Incidentally, photos of foetuses on websites like christiangallery do not disturb me in the way intended, since I watch Nip/Tuck to fall asleep. Same with photos of Iraqi casualties- I'd rather know.

Another incidental is that both Mad Mel pronouncing on abortion at the Moral Maze, or David Aaronosonovavitch arguing for ID cards on the back of the Iraqi occupation here speak to the rights of the individual as directly contrary to the rights and maintenance of society. There are perhaps times and environments where this might be true, but as a general rule- no. Both are adept at aiming for the chinks and discontinuities between different organisational levels- foetuses, individuals, 'races' and ethnicities, societies and global dynamics- to support their party lines and personal opinions. Shame on them.

Addendum: -
A nameless friend describes Mad Mel as 'demanding kid gloves, but going in with Doc Martens'. Nice.


Palast on Iraq

Wish I hadn't fallen asleep thru Newsnight. Palast's report is well-timed with the anti-war demonstrations tomorrow.

Blurb about Palast's report here
And 'watch-again' available today.

Harper's article by Palast on the same subject, due out next week.

Juan Cole's commentary


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Aaronovitch- an apology

Unclean after approving Aaronosovavitch's line on abortion, absolution is sought by a reminder of why Aaronosonovavitch is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Don't believe the stunned mullet demeanour.

Here he is from Sept 2003, swithering on his mucus trail but coming down all-for Blunkett NuLab party policy on ID cards, with added backbiting at and the sneaking-in of a little bitter aside on immigration. Note too the comparisons drawn between compulsory MMR immunisation and ID cards, introducing a hygienic/eugenic/quarantine subtext that should make anyone shiver.

But there is also a principled set of reasons for people on the left to support ID cards. In my case, the liberal and the social democrat are always contending. What is convenient or aesthetic for the individual is not, unfailingly, what is good for society. Take MMR as an example. Much though I would like to indulge neurotic parents' right to their neuroses, I don't want to do it at the expense of public health. So when Liberty talks of ID cards turning people into "suspects not citizens", I am bound to ask whether Liberty actually has any concept of the duties - as opposed to the rights - of citizenship. We British do not, it seems to me, demand very much of "citizens" in return...

But if we are going to have an immigration policy, then it must be policed. If there is such a thing as being entitled to services, then it means little if those who are not entitled also claim. What I find sinister are the other systems - the inevitable alternatives to ID cards - that dole out cards only to claimants, asylum-seekers, or to those with work permits. But if we all have a card - a citizen's card - then it puts us all on an equal footing as citizens. If everyone has to carry an ID card, almost as an act of civic solidarity, then we will all be Spartacus....

"We will all be Spartacus"? Deliver me from this, at all costs, FFS. No, DA. A Spartacus is Mark Thomas and his mates, D-locked to the underside of a van trying to enter DSEi, who when asked to identify themselves declare "I am Spartacus". MTCP related the full story in a show in Edinburgh 2004, but the dry abridged version was Portfolio-ised by the Independent below.

Independent 14/04/04:

THE CAMPAIGNING television comedian Mark Thomas appeared in court yesterday for the beginning of a two-day trial accused of causing pounds 80 worth of damage to a minivan during an arms protest. Mr Thomas... pleaded not guilty to two counts of damaging the vehicle which was carrying delegates from BAE Systems to the Defence Systems Exhibitions International (DSEI) in London's Docklands last September.

Accompanied by three fellow protesters, Mr Thomas chained himself to the underside of the minibus as it was leaving the Tower Thistle Hotel in London by means of a cycle lock hung around his neck. Martin Huseyin, representing the four men, told Stratford magistrates' court that, while they do not deny staging the protest ,there was no evidence linking them to a damaged roll bar. A police vehicle examiner, PC Graham Pattison, who inspected the vehicle on the day of the protest, said that, in his opinion the damage to the anti-roll bar could have been caused by handcuffs, a chain and the D-Lock used by the protesters...The driver of the minibus, Shachar Ely, told the court he was "angry and upset" by the protest... [and] kept the engine running "to bring them some fumes because I thought I was being hijacked."

In a statement read out to the court, Inspector Paul Thornton said: "I spoke to the people underneath the bus and asked them what their intention was. They said to stay there as long as possible. I asked them who was their spokesperson or leader. They replied: I am Spartacus.'" The four were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and charged at Charing Cross Police Station.."

The happy ending for once was that all defendants were found not guilty, but at considerable financial cost to decent taxpaying citizens like myself.

Once again Harrendous Hellhole metamorphises into its own pomo parody. Harry regrets that comments on Oona King's apology to George Galloway cannot be accepted because Liberty (blah blah- insert freedom equals control justification here) would only be abused.


Update on Oona King and Galloway at DeadMenLeft.


Stars, cars and bazaars

Stars (Astrology)-
Is there something maleficent in the local water, or is in the stars? Two close friends have been struck down in recent months with synchronous and similar events- unexpected and serious family illness, work stress and unexpected pet deaths. I refuse to believe this is divine retribution or karma, so a last refuge may be a common extraneous influence- astrology.

Cars (Transport)-
A friend was embroiled in an interesting encounter outside Smiley's (beloved cornershop) yesterday. The besuited driver of a 4x4 had parked on double yellow lines outside Smiley's, limiting if not totally obstructing cyclists and other vehicles turning safely. A female Blue Meanie (traffic warden) was ticketing the massive vehicle while its businessman driver bullied, berated and called her a Nazi and a bastard. This friend, who's a pre-frontal curser of pedestrians, drivers and Meanies while behind the wheel, uncharacteristically interceded to tell the driver that *he* was the bastard for parking his fucking 4x4 on double yellows. I've been ticketed and even towed, but you take yer lumps and don't personally abuse the poor drone.

Bazaars (Smileys')-
Smileys' is my beloved cornershop (stockist of a wide range of literature, fruit and veg, grocery staples, haberdashery, cancer sticks and novelties), and visited most mornings for my Independent etc. It also stocks Scottish Socialist Voice, Private Eye and Blonde Hair, baked goods (choc croissants, double choc muffins, yum-yums), free range eggs, diabetic jam, killer samosas and pakora and guava juice. The kids run up and down daily for 'messages', and they let me pay 'on tick' when I'm short of cash. Smiley's are open every day (and I mean every day) from 6.30am to 8.00pm, except for an hour for mosque on Fridays and the luxury of Sunday 'early' closing at 5.00pm and public holidays.

A rival 'Tesco Express' opened up the block last month. Smiley Bros told me they were worried about their custom declining, but that business has been OK, and also that Tesco Expresses are running at an economic loss in order to try to out-compete small family businesses like theirs. Support your local shop, and not the corporations.


Topic de jour 2- gypsies

I'm supporting Andrew Bartlett's campaign against the Sun's anti-gypsy campaign, by printing out and faxing to Rebekah Wade something like this.

FAX: 020 7782 4063

Book recommendation:
'Bury Me Standing' by Isabel Fonseca, a wide-ranging biography/travelogue/ethnography that's gone to the great lending bank in the sky, donated to a friend's boyfriend who's half Roma and whose father's uncles and aunts mostly perished in the shoah.


Topic de jour- abortion

Somedays I love my Independent, and today's one of them because it splashed the pre-election abortion debate on its front page. Not that I agree with all the copy, here, here and least of all here, but I am glad to see a semblance of a rational review of this issue raised and discussed.

The Independent also carries a leader and an opinion by Joan Smith (both protected by Portfolio sub) on the issue. The leader argues that hastily-submitted, badly-worded or reactionary legislation like the Prevention of Terrorism Bill are not to anyone's benefit, and while this isn't the argument that strikes me strongest, it will do.

A brief recap is that Cosmo (no link supplied- find yer own) interviewed the main UK party leaders on the issue of whether the 24-week limit should be reduced. Tony turned out to be the most liberal of the three. Now Catholic cardinals (probably of Glasgow- these are often the most reactionary) are pressurising congregations to 'vote Catholic' on this issue, just as they're discouraged from buying lottery tickets on the grounds that lottery awards have been granted to the Brook Advisory Service.

Many things concern me about a Commons abortion debate, especially now just before a UK election. For a start, the question is always framed as 'should we reduce the 24 week limit', never to extend it. For a second, the issue is almost always framed from the criterion of foetal sentience or viability, which the Independent bought into. With reproduction and neonatal advances, these are become ever more blurred, less meaningful and arbitrary and should be jettisoned as a foundation of abortion law. Yes, a foetus can survive birth at 20 weeks gestation, but not usually intact. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of both siding with Tony Blair, and also David Aaronosonovavitch siding with Blair siding with me. Yeugh.

Hot news- Just noticed in the Guardian that David Aaronosonovavitch is leaving for the Times. I'm looking forward to him going the way of Mad Mel now.

Bitch PhD keeps a weather eye on abortion debate and legislation on the other side of the Atlantic.
British Pregnancy Advisory Service
Brook Advisory Service
Family Planning Association


Monday, March 14, 2005

Falluja news round-up

From Falluja.Forum, courtesy sau and walter:

Ewa Jasiewicz interview from current issue of Socialist Worker*

Sgrena's Iraqi articles for Il Manifesti, catalogued here:
document her coverage of 'unusual weapons' (the best term I can come up with) in Falluja.

Hanefeld: Cancer in Iraq

Fallujah was wiped out

Embedded journalism scandal, also covered elsewhere on www.

Juan Cole's latest

Via Medialens
Doug Latimer: IRAQ: US used chemical weapons in Fallujah assault

Other Iraq news of GI home videos from Baqubah, of soldier atrocities via Lenin's Tomb. Photos if you can bear them (and you're warned) from here.

* There's a first for everything including SW links. My precocious son Dodo (no relation to the blogger of the same name) rates the SSY (Scottish Socialist Youth) website highly, incidentally.

Addendum- Ewa Jasiewicz
I've heard this remarkable woman speak a couple of times and have considerable respect for her values and campaigning history, part of which is documented on voices (see link list). She also promotes SAWA, a rape crisis centre and phoneline run by and for Palestinian women with funding through cross-community lines.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sunday round-up

News snips from today:

Aaronosonovavitch in Guardian sticking to his guns on war and lies. Tony did not deceive the public because he was himself deceived, we learn. DA digs himself further into the morass of his folie a deux with Tony, wherein supernatural explanations can be invoked just to avoid cognitive dissonance in DA's reverence and identification with TB. As a commenter at MLMB notes, it is curiously satisfying to see the hoops DA will jump through to remain on-message.

Michael Howard outBlairs Blair and gets tough on abortion, tough on the causes of abortion, which are fecklessness and immorality. This tightening of controls is another reactionary trend exported from the Land of the Free, where its a vote-loser to support choice.

Off-topic (for some, but not me) is the relevance of the same biological problems of the individual, raised in Organelles, to the abortion issue. The foetus is of the mother but not her, and with its embryological outgrowths of chorionic villus/placenta, functions as an alien invader. Many hazards of pregnancy (from the mother's POV), such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia, are consequences of the foetus's 'selfishness'. In the first condition, the foetus alters circulating levels of insulin to get more sugar from the maternal bloodstream, even though this may make it grow so big as to be in danger of getting stuck during birth. In pre-eclampsia, foetal influences cause rises in maternal blood pressure so that blood flow through the placenta is increased, but again the consequences (maternal kidney damage, status epilepticus) can kill both foetus and mother.

But some foetuses are less important than others. An Afghan woman miscarried in an immigration cell after hours of questioning. Elsewhere in the Sunday Herald, the same journalist writes of the disproportionate impact of anti-terror legislation on Muslim immigrants. It's interesting in this light to assess a recent advert campaign from the Scottish Executive against racism, but then the terrorism/immigration laws arise from the London parliament, and not the Scottish one.

They screened one of these anti-racism adverts at the flicks last night, portraying racism as a transmissable computer virus that shuts down PCs (?metaphor for human minds?). I saw Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' with two girlfriends, last viewed prolly 15 years ago. It was a good film to see with girls fascinated with the costumes, jewellery and 'types' of women portrayed, and their compelling shelf-like bosoms in their 1959 brassieres. As usual, R couldn't help expressing her emotional reactions in the cinema- gasping, laughing uproariously, sighing. I had to tell her once to shut up in a cinema, but rather enjoyed her last night. L was more circumspect, but we had a good natter afterwards.

Fifteen years ago, I'd been attracted and fascinated with the libertarian lifestyles portrayed, the appearance of Warhol's femme-fatale Nico and the glamourisation of difference for its own sake. Here, only 15 years after WW2 (1959), was a polyglot Rome filled with exotic self-explorers, wild black dancers, rockstars and musicians, poets, princesses, prostitutes, divorcees, trannies and writers. Yesterday, I was appalled by the characters' emptiness, the usury of friends and lovers, the boredom of hedonism, the lack of real family relationships.

R is always interesting on these matters because of her immersion and judgmentalism. She hated Marcello's fiancee, who tries to feed, mother, blackmail and guilt-trip him into loving her. For me, she was the most sympathetic (if flawed) character. I was judgmental too, condemning her weakness in staying with Marcello and trying to change him instead of recognising and rejecting her subordinate, co-dependent relationship. But Marcello, if he was strong or honest, would end the relationship instead of keeping her hanging on for further torture. Love in this film is strikingly absent- the nearest approximation being Staines' murder of his angelic children and suicide.

Of the real women casted by Fellini, Anita Ekberg goes on to live out her Sylvia role through the 60s, while Nico joins Warhol's Factory in the 60s, adopts smack and an itinerant performer lifestyle and dies prematurely in the 90s from a head injury. Fellini's wife (according to R) divorces him when he's about 70, after a lifetime of tolerating his philandering.

O tempora, o mores.


Friday, March 11, 2005


The new colour scheme is hideous, and mainly because I can't change and harmonise the khaki border colours. Yet.... In the process, I've learned more than I wished to but less than I needed of CCS formats and templates. Is this what's called 'life-long learning'?

For distraction purposes, 'Microcosmos' by Margulis and Sagan has been top of the bookpile for the last 2 days, sending me off to sleep. I skimmed this in December, but as usual need a second read to let it sink in and synthesise. Microcosmos collates for a popular market some of the hypotheses on the evolution of key organelles in the eukaryotic cell, such as chloroplasts, mitochondria, cilia and cytoplasmic movers in the form of microtubules. Margolis' central theorem is that these organelles are protist remnants of a symbiosis so close that prokaryote symbiotes were incorporated into the cytoplasm, metabolism, motility and reproduction of eukaryotes. Both chloroplasts (convertors of sunlight and CO2 into energy, O2 and H2O) and mitochondria (convertors of O2 into energy, CO2 and H2O) are found in ancient prokaryotes.



Cilia/flagellums/undulipodia and the microtubule apparatus essential to eukaryotic meiosis (gamete production) and mitosis (cell division), Margulis suggests, may be rudimentary incorporated spirochaetes. One of the less testable but interesting hypotheses advanced is that the neural system with multiple dendritic synapses that lets me write this is also dependent on microtubule structures.


Motile cilia

Structures of mitosis

Had I not lent this out, I'd be reading Nick Lane's 'Oxygen' alongside Microcosmos to give a sense of deep time and the magnitude of environmental modification on this Third Stone from the Sun over 4 billion years.

Deep time and its attached comprehension of one's insignificance are remarkably therapeutic in making proportional day-to-day problems. Symbiosis with indwelling organelles or dependence on their oxygen pollution also introduce a whole new understanding (or a lack of it) of levels of organisation in biology.

Darwin/Mendel/Dawkins tended to instruct that the fundamental level at which natural selection is operating is at the level of the 'individual' organism. However, this sometimes helpful construct starts to collapse with realisation the existence and survival of every cell in one's body is dependent on the *independent*, autonomous reproductive system of its ATP-producing mitochondria or (in plants) chloroplasts. Natural selection cannot truly operate on 'me' and 'my mitochondria' independently, because we/me/they are so beautifully interbound. And for better or worse, my son inherited by the gift of meiosis half my somatic (nuclear) genes and half his father's courtesy of a motile, undulipodium-equipped spermatozoan. But all his mitochondrial genes and his microtubules are mine/my egg's/my great-grandmother's eggs. That's ma boy.



Odds and sods

1. To avoid any association with Eric the Unread's blog (no link supplied), colour schemes will shortly be altered.

2. Blogger has been behaving atrociously for 2 days, declining to publish here and at others' blogger-run comments.

3. The serrated lines of Warhol's 1958 pencil sketches of 'Boy Picking Nose' evoke and may represent the choreic tremor ('St Vitus dance') he claimed after a childhood bout of rheumatic fever.

4. Pharyngula, an evo-bio blog recently discovered via Kate and Philobiblon, also mulled animal penises last month but from an entirely different viewpoint from that here. I learn that some reptiles have double penises and some birds none. Given that avian reproduction involves internal fertilisation, this last Killer Fact continues to perplex me, and I shall dig deeper to find out how the sperm meets the egg.

5. Another happy blog discovery was Existencil, a gem of a fotoblog of local Edinburgh graffiti and wall-art. Good examples of anti-war graffitos, especially in her first entries in 2003. But she hasn't yet captured (AFAIK) the Star Wars stormtrooper gracing the stucco wall outside the Appleton Tower, probably the ugliest and most vicious of the civic vandalisms inflicted by the Univ of Edinburgh on its residents.

6. Thank fuck it's Friday.

4a. Pharyngula's statement on avian penises is correct, because while a few genuses possess a phallus (and some a jaw-dropper), this is an organ dedicated to insemination and not the common conduit for urinary excretion, as in mammals. Bird (and reptile and amphibian) excretion (in both sexes) is accomplished via the cloaca.

Learn more than you could ever need to know on avian reproduction, with pics, here.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Asking for it

My parliamentary MP, Nigel Griffiths, is a smart dapper man with a neat side parting. Here is Nigel.

Mostly he is busy being nice, as his nice website explains.

Nigel Griffiths is one of the most experienced and active Members of Parliament. He is the Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry responsible for Construction, Enterprise and Small Business as well as for Export Controls and non-proliferation of weapons. Previously he was the Government's Consumer Minister and the Competition Minister responsible for the new Competition Commission.

When he is not busy being nice, he gets thoughtful about things like parking charges for OAPs at the local hospital. These are bad.

Sometimes bad things get him slightly angry.

But then he meets the Dalai Lama again, calms down and is nice again.

In his hip Cool Britannia moments, he chills out with Damon Albarn of Blur.

Nigel says

and that he's

Working For You

but it is not bloody true. Nigel has a sterling record of slavish NuLab voting behaviour. In the period 1997-2001 he attained a perfect 100% obedience score in his 885 votes. Since 2001 he became slightly naughty and rebelled on 6 (0.9%) of his 668 votes, but nowhere where it counted.

Nigel supported Blair in the run-up to invasion in 2003. More recently, he's faithfully obeyed his pager-prompted voting policy and remained on-message on issues of ID cards, variable tuition fees in higher education and the appalling Prevention of Terrorism Bill. What's more, he voted with the government for Foundation/PFI hospitals- the system responsible for his OAP constituent's parking charges.

I know a lot about Nigel's looks, because the shop-front windows of his corner-site constituency office were recently 'wrapped' with one-way film featuring a bloated 6-ft diameter blown-up image of his chubby-cheeked,smiling face. How long this window can last unbricked is debatable, since it's pure asking for it.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bubblin' under

1. Taste and decency
How come it's OK for BBC to show the assassinated Chechen leader's corpse here but not (for different reasons) corpses of coalition troops or civilian casualties from more sensitive wars like here?

2. Botulinum
The potent bacterial neurotoxin botulin, cosmetic relaxant ©Botox and indeed botulinonia all derive from Latin botulinum, for sausage. Not yet sure whether Clostridium botulinum is named for the food it was cultured from or (more likely) a morphonym for this elongated, cylindrical bacillus.

3. Synaesthesia
Interest is sparked by the possibilities for cross-potentiation between cognitive modalities, not a special quality I claim, but one that's humanly commonplace in converting facial expression to emotion, sound to meaning, speech to writing. And more abstractly, extracting emotional reactions to a visual image, a visual image from a poem, a memory from a smell or visual and emotional responses to music.

UK synaesthesia/
Macalester synesthesia

4. Arthropods (again)
After gluten and milk (late, localised food introductions), crustaceans/shellfish are the most frequent causes of allergic food reactions worldwide, and the prevalence of these is highest in areas exposed to such foods (Asia and Scandinavia).

Other principal pathways to immunological responses to arthropods are
a) their stings, widespread and adaptive in diverse phylum
b) dust mite scurf in exacerbating asthma and atopy.

Allergic, histaminic and anaphylactic responses are (mal)adaptive reactions (nature doesn't care which) of embedded immunological mechanisms, which evolved to combat infection and infestation by a profusion of willing viral, bacterial, fungal, helminthic (worm) and arthropod (fly, flea, tick, louse) parasites. Molluscs and arthropods as well as their parasites (think of yellow fever or malaria, transmitted via the vector of a fly) have had a long time for their attack and hosts' countering defense mechanisms to develop.