Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Evo/bio books 2005 and before

Here's some reading in evo/biology with collapsed, polarised reviews.

The illustration shows concentrations of homeobox proteins within a blastula, gradients of which appear to responsible for the miracle of embryonic development. Such gradients also participate in producing some of the aesthetically pleasing phenotypic patterns seen in so many animals and plants. Evo/devo is a relatively new science that is (for me) making huge bounds in explaining how the selective expression of protein synthesis at different stages of development can make huge differences in phenotypic 'kinds' produced. This is how the leopard acheived its spots and the zebra its stripes.

Critics may take pleasure in describing this little miracle as reductionist, but the maths show how tiny changes in the expression or timing of expression of 'organising' genes can make macroscopic differences in output from a cascade of 'instructions'. Truly beautiful.

Pharyngula blog: red-hot
Trilobite: enduringly well-written
A Secret Life of Lobsters: synthetic and syncretic
Mutants: brilliant human embryology
Collapse: worthy but tired
1491: brilliant pre-Columbian history, genetics and ecology
Cosmic Serpent: crap
Endless Forms Most Beautiful: brilliant - on protein gradients and their interactions
The Mind in the Cave: mostly crap
Emperor of Scent: intriguing
On Growth and Form: maths limelit for the blind
How the Leopard Changed his Spots: more 'organiser' embryology- pure beauty

Pharyngula's recommendations for evo books here, some as yet unread.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Back in Kansas

I love America. I love the TSA guards at airports specially. One at SD pounced on my lighters at the airport, and then punished me for attempting to board with these agents of terrorism by swabbing both lighters for drugs'n'splosives, with visible disappointment when the swab passed. Then he ejects my bag's contents into trays for a second, open X-ray inspection or spectators. I thoroughly enjoy displaying my medications, toiletries and stock of sanitary products to public view. Thanks pal! And also to you, the other TSA guard at the connecting airport, who doesn't know what 'TBIT' as gate number on a departure board means, and directs me through security again to reach customer service and learn this meant International Terminal.

Next I got seated next to a fat German guy for the long flight to Germany. He was so much less uptight than his tiny wife on his other side, who opted to wear an anti-birdflu mask during the flight. Unfortunately his relative ease involved oozing into my personal space even when he didn't intend to, and helpfully waking me at the window seat to say it was a good time for me to take a pee, when they did. Lucky for them I was taking Night Nurse on doctor's (i.e. my) orders, and was unusually torpid, even for me.

Back to why I love America. Another reason is access to the latest series of the A&E cable show, Dog (the Bounty Hunter), with sig tune wailed by Ozzy, and Dog looking like Keith Richards on a bad day after a bleach job. Dog has a current wife, Beth of the preternaturally large and upholstered bosom, and 14 kids of varying blondeness from 2 to 26 yrs, many of whom he and Beth employ in the family biz. Dog is an ex-perp turned good, and he lets his caught fugitives phone home to mom, and will recite a psalm with them on the way to jail. I can't recommend the DVD highly enough.


Seasonal break

Locally, day breaks beside Arthur's Seat about 9am these days, and the sun sets alongside Blackford Hill around 3pm. I've been wearing my wooly hat with a bobble indoors. So with flagrant disregard for the environment, I'm flying to San Diego next week where it's 75 F by day and 55 by night, with sunrise and sunset at around 7 on both passes of the clock. I'll be hanging out with honey and his daughter, will hopefully spend a lot of time in bed and visiting with my folks. Not all at the same time though.

Heather's dropping me off at the airport, and kindly caring for Her Catness while I'm away. To Her, H smells quite unacceptably either of the cat Pierre or dog Reekie, and She can't pass H without hissing and retroflecting her whiskers and ears. Or... maybe it's because H threatens frequently to shave Her for casting hair. I'll be interested to learn if cupboard love will overcome territorialism after a fortnight of feeding from H. There was somewhat of an outrage enacted during a night last week. The kitchen floor on awakening was scattered with catnip drops, which had migrated into the hall and the WC too. Not a big deal in itself, but any household member scattering catnip drops for Herself should hoover up afterwards- house rules. But both kids denied having opened the catnip drop bag or indulged Her more hedonistic tendencies recently, and they wouldn't lie about it. The conclusion is forced that She Herself pawed open the catnip drawer, hookedout the catnip bag and strewed the contents through the house. I'm gonna send her to the Betty Ford clinic, like Kate Moss. Meanwhile my greeting in San Diego from bobtail cat Cero is likely to be just as enthusiastic as Heather's from Herself. He throws a three-day sulk in the closet every time I turn up, mostly because I had the temerity to examine his ears for mites (an infestation he later proved to have) some 6 months ago.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Exam hell

The Japanese talk of this, the pressure at an early age to acheive in a series of exams which determine long-term options across a lifespan. I thought I'd ditched that particular circle of hell some time ago, but this morning I was right back there, sneaking a fag outside of the English Higher - my first cigarette, as a point of fact. Now ~182,500 Silk Cut later, I curse that day. I wish I'd had as many shags as fags. Or rather less fags, more shags

Before the professional exam this morning, I was the only one of 20 candidates to be skulking out the back having a fly puff. The exam is f0r a US-based accreditation, clearly evidenced by the the byzantine cheating-security precautions enforced, like making us sign up at 7.15 am for an 8 am exam commencement, checking photo ID, no breaks in the 4 hr exam except for the toilet, not being allowed to take away the exam paper, and randomised questions in the papers. The exam was being taken at a similar time on 4 continents, with the absurd (and punitive) timing in the UK designed to prevent espionage across continents.

Professional standards are OK, like, but I have a problem with authority so imposed as if they're objective, valid and omnipotent. There were the three observed spelling mistakes in my paper, and one question had no acceptable logical answer, having been phrased in a double negative. Pissy as I am, a pass is not likely.

I pretended a toilet break in the middle of the exam, even after a real piss-break, in order to get a quick gasper. Not in the bogs (I try to maintain standards) but in a designated smoking area discovered in the bowels of the building. One gets an eye for these things. Now I wish I'd cheated really obviously. If only I'd taken in that damn ECG diagram...


Thursday, December 08, 2005

BBC, Gianna, Daniel

Jane Elliott of BBC sent a gentle PFO email in response to my complaint.

With every story we try to give both sides of the story and obviously with a story like this I was keen to get some balancing quotes. Abortion stories like this, we feel, do belong in the health pages. By telling her story Gianna is hoping to influence changes in the current abortion law, which would obviously affect a lot of people. But I do take on board your comments. And thank you for contacting us.

She didn't engage with my specific complaint that the BBC headline 'How Gianna Jessen defied medical science to live' misrepresented the facts- that this was a botched procedure, and not a miracle. The point is that medical science prevents this happening when properly applied for the purpose of abortion.

The gestation at which viability can occur- the crux of Gianna's argument- is an entirely separate deadline which will be constantly reduced with technology, and is thus essentially arbitrary. 'Quickening' (sensing of foetal movements, at 18-24 weeks gestation) previously formed a commonsense legal limit to abortion, although of course this was subjective and malleable. That was before the technology for detecting foetal abnormalities was available, introducing a competing and overlapping issue in therapeutic abortion.

The problem with abortion is that it is by nature a lesser of judged evils. Contrary to Gianna's impression, we pro-choice women do not have regular abortion parties, with 3rd trimester procedures a treat for high days and holidays, the later the better. No- abortion is a last ditch choice for women with little choice, and never entered into without sadness and regret, but as a lesser of evils.

Personally, I've been clever and frankly fucking lucky enough to not need a termination (touch wood). I have two planned children that delight my life. But national statistics tell that one in three of my girlfriends will have had a termination, the vast majority at <12 weeks. Sounds about right. And I have family experience of one pregnancy that probably could and should have been stopped for the greater good- that of my now-dead brother Daniel Seth, born early with microcephaly and multiple developmental abnormalities. I can't really imagine how mum and my dad suffered through the 18 months till he died (in a children's hospice, of an untreated infection), but she's mentioned the abuse she got on the street from concerned, busybody wifies when they saw his scrawny, misshapen form, which only added to her burden of guilt.

Daniel's pregnancy was overseen by the Glasgow developer of ultrasound, Prof Ian Donald- a staunch anti-abortion campaigner. Ultrasound had identified that Daniel was not growing properly, and my mum spent her last 3 months as an inpatient in hospital while the doctors tracked his failure to grow, before delivering Daniel and passing him over to my mum and dad to nurse until he died. Daniel was not a normal baby, and never did what babies do, like smiling or recognising a face. He couldn't suckle properly, and as I remember as an 11 yr old, was always crying and seemed in pain. Dad looked after me as well as he could while mum was in hospital, but this was a terrible time for our family, and even worse after Daniel came home to languish in his Moses basket. From that time I remember mostly lots of silence and my mother's gold flock-woven dressing gown with its kaftan cut and paisley pattern, worn all the time.


Entente cordiale

Both Thatcher and Schwarzenegger spent last night in hospital. Do you think they may be having 'a thing'?


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Open the box

My current favourite song- Open the Boxoctosis #2, from The Real New Fall LP. Lyrics @:

This is just what my Californian honey has done, as a witness and victim of the Randy 'Duke' Cunningham corruption scandal. My honey's quote on Duke scored the headline on the San Diego Union Tribune Sunday paper, with this:
"Contractor 'knew how to grease the wheels'"

More Duke reports here
and his highly emotional resignation speech on video here: a classic-
Duke is a born-again Christian, and has spent many days with his co-conspirators in prayer.

Honey apparently got screwed sideways by Duke and his co-corruptees in the late 90s, and ended up in bankruptcy court when Duke's associates grabbed first their company name, and then their DoD contract to supply software. He predicts more shit to hit the fan later on the downstream effects of Duke's corruption and bribe-proneness. Like when he had to fire 40 employees when Wilkes and Casey grabbed the contract. And when these co-conspirators got the DoD contract, they farmed the work out to Germany so they weren't even supporting the local economy.

The ethics of working for a war machine to earn a buck are debateable, but the effects of political corruption incontrovertible. Learn more about 'Duke' here, at his unofficial and unauthorised website:


Gianna follow-up

Date:Tue, 6 Dec 2005 12:51:51 +0000 (GMT)
From: ion
Subject: Abortion article

Dear Ms Elliott,

I was interested to read your online article on Gianna Jessen, and was pleased to see that you allowed the able Ann Furedi of BPAS to respond to Gianna's 'human interest' story.

I'm not convinced that this article belongs in the Health section, as Ms. Jessen's mission is clearly religious and political, but not health-related. She has been a professional anti-abortion campaigner since the age of 14 (, and is touring the British Isles on a political pro-life speaking tour. It was not clearly presented that state law in California would only have permitted a 3rd trimester abortion in the circumstance of foetal abnormality or threat to life of the mother.

The headline on the online health section- "Abortion survivor How Gianna Jessen defied medical science to live" is particularly incompatible with the content of the article. Ann Furedi made it clear that an abortion delivering a viable foetus is essentially a botched procedure, and not a miracle.



More on Gianna

BBC news website now carrying the Gianna Jessen story within, of all places, the Health section. Let's have no doubts that her story- of being born alive after a late abortion attempt- is political, and she is currently on a European tour to promote anti-abortion campaigns. In London, she's speaking for the 'pro-life' 'Alive and Kicking' campaign.

"My determination not to give up is often misunderstood as being over confident.
But it is not that. I am just determined not to give up. I am just not a
quitter. Being almost murdered in the womb and then having to struggle from the
moment I was delivered means I have a love of life and a joy of life". Gianna
has never met her biological mother, but her adopted mother has and passed on
Gianna's forgiveness.

Her forgiveness, her martyrdom, her cult of personality, her claim to fame. Why does this story disturb me so? First I doubted its veracity, but if the heart isn't stopped first, a 3rd trimester abortion could produce a viable foetus. Maybe she did survive a (botched) abortion, but the details of how her mother obtained this are very sketchy. It's implied in Gianna's statements over the years (and she's been a Christian pro-life campaigner for at least 14 of her 28 years) that her 17-year old mother had an elective abortion for social/psychological reasons, an allegation which is and was incompatible with state law.

No- what really bothers me is that this woman has made a cult of her birth and survival, made it the centre of her activities and identity. This makes her a pure nut. Gianna had the misfortune to be adopted by religious nuts as a trophy baby. According to Gianna, she had already 'sensed' she'd been a product of an abortion when her adoptive mother revealed her origins on Xmas day when she was 12. Here's her barking account of this:

Or see this from when she was 14 yrs old:
"Gianna Jessen is truly one in a billion. Gianna, the peppy 14-year-old
from San Clemente, California was never born. . . she was aborted. Gianna goes
about the country singing praises to the Lord and sharing her incredible life
story of how she was spared from a deadly “Saline Abortion” at seven months
(pre-natal). Through the grace of God, tiny two pound Gianna was born
alive, instead of dead, after the legal abortion attempt. It is reported that
about 1 out of 400 saline aborted babies are born alive like Gianna was.
Someone on the abortion clinic staff rescued the baby who was starving for
oxygen after gulping the saline solution that burned her inside and out for
hours. Later as Gianna grew into a little girl, she would have a terrible
reaction to the sound of fire, like fire crackers or the sound of fire crackling
in a fireplace. Her therapist concluded this hysteria to the sound of fire
was due to the burning of the saline solution in her ears while she was still in
the womb. "

Nuts or what? This woman is a trained performing monkey. Gianna, get a life.


Monday, December 05, 2005


My cat (with whom I discuss these matters) agrees that the two Sunday articles that contributed most to insomnia last night were noteworthy.

Gianna Jessen: I was aborted at seven and a half months


Battle of the sexes could get nasty for Chinese men

1. I have serious doubts about Gianna's story, which is relayed through adoptive parents' accounts. On the web, I find that she was born 10 weeks pre-term (30 weeks), but in the IoS it was 7-and-a-half months- 34 weeks. An elective abortion at 34 weeks? Gianna's account fails to fill in details for the grounds of her abortion at ?30/ ?34 weeks. After even 24 weeks gestation , she would not have been eligible for elective abortion except in the case of foetal abnormality or threat to the mother's life from physiological complications.

Let's be clear elective psychological/social abortions cannot be obtained past 24 weeks. My personal opinion is that enjoys her cult of personality as a symbol for the extremely small number of pregnancies aborted in the 2nd trimester, let alone the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, a gestation at which she claims to have been aborted. Such procedures according to local law could only have been performed at that gestation for severe foetal abnormality or lifesaving reasons. Something stinks here. Check your sources please, and tell me whether you smell fish when you read these

2. This throwaway article raises what I believe to be a historical and biological reality-a systematic undervaluing and appropriation of female children. Sadly I will miss this fascinating sounding lecture on material/economic consequences of skewed sex ratios, using modern China as the exemplar. This idea may sound sick, but this is pure experimental biological anthropology, and I must appreciate it.

A skew towards female infanticide, producing a skewed sex ratio, has been operating for millenia, and in modern-day China its also the boys who are reserved at their sister's cost. Despite being primary labourers and producers (kids, plant foods, fuel gatherers) women are frequently seen and transacted as trade items. Just see Malinowski or Levi-Strauss to confirm this. Or listen to the R4 report today on the Punjabi practise of Vanni (giving of females in slave marriage to an enemy clan that's been wronged).

Perhaps one of the contributants to global patriarchy, thinking historically, is female minority in population terms. imagining a sex-biased society, crude male/female combat would have/will have been the least the least of a girl's concerns - after all, the boys will always win in a rape contest. It's the more subtle economics that may be more revealing, when men are numerous and women scarce. In future China, circumstances may dictate a male competition for a shortage of women, and the consequences are various and nasty both for men and women. I'm not in the business of prediction (no psychic powers claimed- official), but but this is setting up a nad chess position for women, unless they're very clever. It's all economically similar to what Mgt Atwood predicted in the Handmaid's Tale, many years ago ow. You'd have classes of women for protected breeding, and another for sex. It'snot a future I'd relish.