Archive for January, 2012
University of Chicago scientists found that for rats “the value of freeing a trapped cagemate is on par with that of accessing chocolate chips”; Duke University’s Bilbo Lab found that ratlings who are intensively touched by their mothers are better able to resist morphine later in life. Mice genetically engineered to suffer cleft palates were genetically cured, mice bred into alcoholism for forty generations were found to be three times too drunk to drive, mice deprived of the H3R gene were found to be less likely than wild mice to drink alcohol in the dark, mice deprived of the FoxC1 gene were found to grow blood vessels in their corneas, and pregnant female mice given heart attacks were healed by the fetal stem cells of their pups. Mice who lack SIRTI, one of a class of proteins associated with aging, spend less time floating and more time fighting when about to drown, and are unaffected by Prozac.
—February 2002 Harper’s, “Findings”
My arm is in a sling. It was my turn to beat Mrs. Drew and in my excitement I pulled a muscle in my forearm. I should make more of an effort to control my emotions.
—Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight
Even in the 19th Century too many Europeans persisted in the belief that kings and queens and such were somehow some higher order of human. Floating still as a derelict on the waters of the continental consciousness the atavistic notion that there was something at least semi-divine about royal folk; that said humans literally lorded it over others because The Sky Lord had, for reasons that passeth understanding, ordained it that way.
Imagine the surprise, then, of young Hans Christian Andersen, when his mother took him out one day to see, live and in person, Frederick VI, King of Denmark, and occasionally of Norway. And, from his perch in the crowd, young Hans perceived that the royal fellow resembled more the man in the street, than the man in the moon.
“Oh!” Hans cried out. “He’s nothing more than a human being!”
His mother, horrified, hushed him. “Have you,” she hissed, “gone mad, child?”
Although this is not the rabbit hole down which I intend to go, it is worth noting that some people believe that Frederick was Hans’ biological father. And this empurpled personage did express something of an unusual interest in the lad, paying, for instance, for part of the young man’s education.
In any event, when in 1837 Andersen inscribed “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he remembered this event—seeing the king as he was. In that tale, a couple of sharpies convince an emperor, wholly besotted with his personal apparel, that they possess a magic material from which they can weave a fine set of threads that will remain invisible “to everyone who was unfit for the office he held, or who was extraordinarily simple in character.”
The emperor commands that these garments be prepared at once. And so they were.
Of course, in truth, no clothes existed at all. The rogue tailors pocketed the silk and gold they had requested for inclusion in the royal robes, and, when they announced their task completed, presented the emperor with precisely . . . nothing.
The emperor, presented with nothing, says to himself: “How is this? I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen!” And so he effusively praises the miscreants for their magnificent work. As had his ministers and courtiers before him—likewise fearing that their perception of the non-existence of the emperor’s new clothes signified some fault within themselves, rather than the Reality that the clothes did not exist at all.
And so the emperor proudly dons his new non-suit, and proceeds to parade, nude, before the people.
The people too had been apprised that their lord would be clad in clothes visible only to the worthy. And so, rather than comment on the spectacle of the royal one wandering naked before them, they gabble madly of non-Reality: “Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! What a magnificent train there is to the mantle; and how gracefully the scarf hangs!”
Till some anonymous little boy gives voice to the true: “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” At which point the farce collapses. Except to the emperor and his minions: “The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.”
Andersen’s story was at the printer, when he decided to change the ending. Originally, there was no boy. And the emperor passed through the whole of the people without a soul speaking the truth. All believed it wiser to remain silent.
(Here it is: Tuesday. Which is sort of like Monday. And therefore time, once again, for Science News & Wisdom from the esteemed Dr. Possum. Said News & Wisdom appearing here every Monday. Or on some day like a Monday.)
The time has arrived one more time. Time for more science talk. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today’s information world. Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world. Today’s tidbits include carbon dioxide is driving fish ‘crazy’, harp seals on thin ice, most distant dwarf galaxy detected, genetic analysis shows tortoise species thought to be long extinct to be alive today, and the first physical evidence of tobacco in a Mayan container. Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the fireside. There is always plenty of room for everyone. Another session of Dr. Possum’s science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.
Rising carbon dioxide concentrations from human activity may be damaging the central nervous systems of fish and endangering their ability to survive the future.
Prof. Munday and his colleagues began by studying how baby clown and damsel fishes performed alongside their predators in CO2-enriched water. They found that, while the predators were somewhat affected, the baby fish suffered much higher rates of attrition.
“Our early work showed that the sense of smell of baby fish was harmed by higher CO2 in the water—meaning they found it harder to locate a reef to settle on or detect the warning smell of a predator fish. But we suspected there was much more to it than the loss of ability to smell.”
The team then examined whether fishes’ sense of hearing—used to locate and home in on reefs at night, and avoid them during the day—was affected. “The answer is, yes it was. They were confused and no longer avoided reef sounds during the day. Being attracted to reefs during daylight would make them easy meat for predators.”
Other work showed the fish also tended to lose their natural instinct to turn left or right—an important factor in schooling behaviour which also makes them more vulnerable, as lone fish are easily eaten by predators.
The interesting thing about Vertigo was how it started working its way into [Twelve Monkeys] far more than originally planned. What was in the script from the start was the scene in Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart goes to the redwood trees—which, of course, comes from La Jette. There were a couple of references to the original dialogue from Vertigo, but when we shot the scene we kept strictly to [screenwriters] David and Jan [People's] dialogue.
When Mick Audsley started cutting it together, he made a different scene from what was written because there was more on the actual Vertigo soundtrack that started working in a quite magical way. Mick created an extraordinary dialogue between the script and the film.
In the script Katherine was a blonde and she puts on a black wig as disguise. Since Madeleine [Stowe] has dark hair, we gave her a blond wig and put a trenchcoat on her, with the result that, when Bruce [Willis] sees her in the lobby of the cinema, it’s a totally Hitchcockian moment . . . with a Hitchcock blonde to boot.
The music in the background is from Vertigo and Mick had grabbed a piece that seemed to work. Then we needed a better version of it, which involved going back to the film to find where exactly it came from. None of us had looked at the video while working on the film, and we discovered that this music came from the scene where Judy has been remade as the blonde Madeleine and appears before Jimmy—and the scene is cut exactly as we had cut ours, even up to the end where they embrace and the room starts spinning. I’d actually done a shot in the cinema foyer and, because it was circular, I’d put Madeleine and Bruce on a turntable so that they floated while the room spun around them. Was this not Vertigo remaking itself without us realizing it? We sat in the cutting room and couldn’t believe it. It was spooky. If I had left in the spinning kiss, it would have been the exact Vertigo scene—and people would have said I was just stealing from it—but, since it was unnecessary, I left it out.
I suppose David and Jan had foreseen that these would begin to interact, even if you weren’t mimicking Vertigo consciously.
No, they hadn’t. Vertigo was purely and simply a reference in the script; and the fact that Katherine would be blonde wasn’t predicted—it only happened because of casting Madeleine Stowe. You begin to think there must be Platonic scenes already in existence, which just have to be remade.
—Terry Gilliam and Ian Christie, Gilliam On Gilliam
Once upon a time, about thirty or so years ago, I was charged with combing the public prints for news strange and unusual, to be offered to readers weekly as examples of What Can Happen.
I recall then coming upon a report of a very old woman who one evening was compelled to whip out her cane and commence whomping the bejesus out of her equally aged husband’s testicles, as he sat there in his wheelchair, “because he wouldn’t listen to me.”
Well, I thought at the time, prob’ly won’t read anything like that ever again.
Oh, foolish youth.
For now comes the report of 87-year-old Dorothy Desjardins, who took a pistol to 88-year-old husband Peter, because she was convinced the old reprobate was carrying on an affair with her hairdresser.
Fitfully literate Springfield, Missouri police-people record this:
On 11/05/2011 officers were dispatched to 2941 E. Lamonta Drive in reference to a domestic assault where a female had shot a male. Upon their arrival, they contacted Desjardins and P.E.D. in their living room. When P.E.D. told the officers Desjardins had shot him in the arm she made several spontaneous utterances. Some of those statements included, “He had it coming. He was cheating on me,” “I’m not mad at him anymore,” “I caught him folling around,” “I intended to scare the shit out of him,” “I wasn’t going to kill him,” “I just went a little bit beserk,” and “I did what I intended to do to scare him.”
Before firearms entered the fray, Desjardins asserted to her husband that the hairdresser had confessed all to her. Her husband denied all charges, claiming the only time he ever laid eyes on this hairdresser was when she was laying hands on his wife. Tiring of his wife’s continuing accusations, he retreated to their bedroom. She then came roaring in on her walker, and proceeded to toss books at him.
When Desjardins ran out of books to throw she picked up P.E.D.’s revolver from nearby shelf. P.E.D. said Desjardins then started flinging the revolver around in the air and he told her to stop because she didn’t know how to handle it. P.E.D. said it was at that time that Desjardins pulled back the hammer and fired the revolver at him. P.E.D. said he had his right arm covering his face when the gun went off.
The projectile pierced said right arm. However, the weapon was not loaded with bullets, but instead “fine grain pellets,” most often used on small mammals and reptiles, rather than aged lotharios. An examining physician stated that the victim sustained no “vascular damage,” and that surgery would not be performed to remove the pellets lodged in his appendage.
Of the pseudo-humans bred or assembled by extraterrestrials to serve as the 2012 GOoPer candidates for president, one has already been driven from the race because of the wanderings of his wee-wee. That would be Herman Cain, the pizza topping.
That the wee-wee of The Bedbug, also known as Newt Gingrich, long ran wild across the land: this has been known to many, and for many years. So long as The Bedbug languished in irrelevance, nobody thought much of making much of this.
But once The Bedbug began gnawing his way to the top of the plops—enabled by those GOoPer voters simply unable to stomach as their nominee Captain Underpants, the rag doll sewn by inebriates—then The Bedbug’s meandering member received renewed attention. This culminated in a televised appearance last Thursday by one of his innumerable ex-wives, who basically denounced her former spouse as a cretin and a cad, cravenly compelled to flee wives when once they evince intimations of mortality.
This, as it developed, made no difference to the GOoPer voters of the state of South Carolina. Who, as detailed here, are most focused, when they go to the polls, on whomsoever on the ballot most hates black people. That is whom they will most wuv. And so it was Saturday night. The Bedbug, that being on the ballot with the record of most hating black people for the longest period of time, chewing his way to victory. Though it is true that Captain Underpants remains “the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory,” voters just didn’t perceive his heart to be filled with the requisite hate. Meanwhile, The Grub, also known as Rick Santorum, was regarded, correctly, as a man who hates pleasure, more than anything else. While the fourth candidate remaining in the race, Rugs, a.k.a. The Wizard Of Paul, hates hardest, paper currency.
Prior to the arrival of the South Carolina primary results, appeared in the New Yorker an interesting piece on The Bedbug’s present partner in matrimony. It contains an observation from once and future GOoPer presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, which is reprinted here for the consideration of red readers:
“I hear from friends who are conservative women who say, ‘I will not vote for Newt Gingrich.’ I say, ‘Why?’ ‘He’s walked out on two wives.’ And these are hard-core Republican women—conservative activists, women who put signs up in their yards, make phone calls. And they have bluntly said, ‘I will not vote for him.’ Not ‘I have questions about voting for him’ but ‘I will not vote for him.’ That sort of rocked me back on my heels.” Huckabee added, “I don’t hear that ever from male voters, by the way. What does that tell you? Men are pigs.”
Florentino Ariza listened to him without blinking. Then he looked through the windows at the complete circle of the quadrant on the mariner’s compass, the clear horizon, the December sky without a single cloud, the waters that could be navigated forever, and he said:
“Let us keep going, going, going, to La Dorada.”
Fermina Daza shuddered because she recognized his former voice, illuminated by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and she looked at the Captain: he was their destiny. But the Captain did not see her because he was stupefied by Florentino Ariza’s tremendous powers of inspiration.
“Do you mean what you say?” he asked.
“From the moment I was born,” said Florentino Ariza, “I have never said anything I did not mean.”
The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.
“And how long do you think we can keep up this goddam coming and going?” he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.
—Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love In The Time Of Cholera
Saturday’s New York Times contained a brave column by Lee Siegel, which identified the appeal of Mitt Romney to the de-evolved racists without whom the Republican Party would not exist: Romney is the whitest motherfucker to run for president in living memory.
There has yet to be any discussion over the one quality that has subtly fueled his candidacy thus far and could well put him over the top in the fall: his race. The simple, impolitely stated fact is that Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.
Of course, I’m not talking about a strict count of melanin density. I’m referring to the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways he telegraphs to a certain type of voter that he is the cultural alternative to America’s first black president. It is a whiteness grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America.
There is no stronger bastion of pre-civil-rights-America whiteness than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yes, since 1978 the church has allowed blacks to become priests. But Mormonism is still imagined by its adherents as a religion founded by whites, for whites, rooted in a millenarian vision of an America destined to fulfill a white God’s plans for earth.
When my colleague and I determined that the 2012 GOoPer presidential candidates are pseudo-humans bred and/or assembled by extraterrestrials who derive great amusement from mucking with the American electoral process, we were able to precisely identify just what had been done with nearly all of them.
Rick Perry is a farm animal, the result of a failed Dr. Moreau-like experiment involving crossing a man with a steer. Michele Bachmann contains many genes more properly found in geese. Mitt Romney is a rag doll sewn by inebriates. Rick Santorum is a grub in a skin-suit, while Newt Gingrich is a bedbug in a skin-suit. Jon Hunstman has been afflicted with the visage of a raccoon. Herman Cain was extruded from a pizza topping. Etc.
The only candidate who somewhat puzzled us is Ron Paul. As I wrote then: “My colleague and I are not yet sure what precisely was done with Ron Paul, but it is evident that he has been accessorized with an inordinate number of human organs, some of which move and melt and slide down his face while he is on television.”
Today, all has become clear, in re Mr. Paul. And that is that he is from Oz, via Kansas.
This became evident when a Ron Paul hot-air balloon commenced today to menace Greenville, South Carolina.
It’s deflated now, but a Ron Paul hot air balloon along the side of Interstate 85 caused traffic to slow down Thursday morning.
The balloon could be seen from a South Carolina Department Of Transportation camera.
DOT officials say the balloon had Ron Paul’s name on it.
People looking at the balloon slowed down around Pelham Road in Greenville County causing a four-mile backup at one point.
SC Department of Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden told News 4 that the South Carolina Highway Patrol asked the operator of the hot air balloon, Remus Toppeta of Greer, to take it down because it was causing a hazard.
Gaudlin said SCHP gave Toppeta a written warning for improper lane use because the balloon was set up in the middle of the frontage road.
(This was supposed to appear Monday morning. Yet here it is Thursday evening. I have no explanation for this, other than that I have been unable to post to this blog for the past three days, as I have been trapped on a New York City subway car by a menacing marsupial. I am sure this is only a coincidence. As our own gentle Dr. Possum would never be capable of such an act. Just sayin’.)
The time has arrived once again for science talk. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today’s information world. Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world. Today’s tidbits include a dinosaur is named three decades after discovery, the dark side of the moon revealed, when galaxy clusters collide, a tiny frog is the world’s very smallest vertebrate, rare ultra-blue stars found in neighboring galaxy’s hub, planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception, and in ancient Pompeii trash and tombs went hand in hand. Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the fireside. There is always plenty of room for everyone. Another session of Dr. Possum’s science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.
After waiting for three decades Fruitachampsa gets its name at last.
This animal was not like the alligators, caimans, gharials, and crocodiles we know today. (In technical terms, all those living lineages are crocodylians—a remaining portion of the larger and more varied group called Crocodyliformes to which Fruitachampsa also belonged.) Informally referred to as the “Fruita Form” in publications for years, this roughly three-foot-long archosaur had slender legs, a short skull, and rows of flat teeth with wrinkled, horizontal cusps socketed behind a small set of pointed teeth at the front of the jaws. As Jurassic expert John Foster dubbed the animal in his book Jurassic West, Fruitachampsa was “the house cat of the Morrison Formation.”
Yet the long wait for the description of the Fruita croc carried an advantage. Around the time of the animal’s discovery, there was nothing quite like Fruitachampsa. How the animal related to other crocodyliforms was unclear. Since 1975, however, additional discoveries of previously-unknown crocs have put Fruitachampsa in context. These discoveries have not been made elsewhere in the fossil-rich deserts of the American west. The closest relatives of Fruitachampsa—called shartegosuchids—have been found in the Mesozoic sediments of Mongolia, China, and Siberia.
In Feerie pour un eautre fois Celine has taken the plunge. Instead of stopping at the gates of the spirit world he has marched in. Prose has been left far behind, so has ordinary reality. Celine is making a conscious attempt to exhaust the possibilities of language. Alongside his linguistic exuberance runs the sense that language is inadequate and must give way to music and dance. Numbers are an alternative to words. The shapes and lines which the planes trace in the sky are yet another form of expression. Celine is showing a world full of signs that the artist must decipher. He can only express it by becoming a musician. The bars of music that recur in the closing pages are proof of this. All of Celine’s linguistic innovations are an attempt to reach the other reality that those few notes contain.
In doing so he lays bare the forces that shape the universe—the cry of pain, the web of time, the dance.
Sometimes the people say: “If there are extraterrestrials among us—watching, observing—why do they not show themselves? Why do they not make themselves manifest? Why do they not go on television, or land on the White House lawn? Why are they hiding?”
The picture to the right, it answers these questions. It is a picture of humans. Humans who are Scary, and who are Wrong.
No extraterrestrial in its right mind would boldly expose itself to such creatures. For what might they do, these humans? There is simply no telling. Discretion, clearly, the better part. Better but to observe. Not declare.
“The FBI doesn’t conduct investigations, they pay informers. Doesn’t matter what kind of case—spies, civil rights, Mafia—all they know is informers. Most Americans are touchy about informers, so the bureau specializes. Their informers are mental cases and hit men. Where the bureau touches the real world, suddenly you get all these freaks who know how to kill people with piano wire. Say a freak got caught, and now he’s willing to fry his friends. He tells the bureau what it wants to know and makes up what he doesn’t know. A bureau agent is really a lawyer or an accountant; he wants to work in an office and dress nice, maybe go into politics. That son of a bitch will buy a freak a day.”
—Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park
It is Known that the 2012 Republican candidates for the presidency are pseudo-humans, bred and/or assembled by extraterrestrial beings, who have decided that it is fun, for them, to mess with the American electoral process.
Yesterday GOoPer voters in New Hampshire trudged to the polls to cast ballots for one or more of these pseudo-humans. It was expected that Captain Underpants, also known as Mitt Romney, would finish first in the contest. And he did. Of primary interest to those afflicted with a perverse need to follow this extraterrestrially-controlled road show, was the question of whether, when the results were in, The Grub, a.k.a Rick Santorum, would in New Hampshire maintain his position as latest favorite among those GOoPers who cannot bring themselves to vote for Romney.
The nation’s Republicans do not really want to select Romney as their nominee. At last week’s Iowa caucuses, Romney received the same percentage of the vote as he had in 2008. In that year, it was declared that he had been beaten like a gong, as Mike Huckabee finished first, with 34% of the vote; Romney trailed with 25%. This year, also with 25% of the vote, Romney finished first, and was therefore deemed the “winner.” But the sad fact is that Romney actually received fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008—30,021 in 2008, to 30,015 in 2012. What this means is that after devoting four years and tens of millions of dollars to wooing Iowa voters, Romney failed utterly to convince any new people to be for him. Several of his former supporters, in fact, drifted away. He is like a boy who spent the entire four years of high school doggedly working to secure a date for the senior prom, and in the end came up empty. He is the very definition of “loser.”
Mitt Romney will never be president. The American people are capable of many things, but not of elevating to the highest office in the land a man whose feet have been screwed on backwards, whose ass is where his crotch should be, and who has had all the bones sucked out of his arms. He is like a rag doll sewn by inebriates. Further, he is petulant, and whiny, and has for decades retained on the payroll an Italian who does nothing but fuss over his hair. He made his fortune robbing people, and, in a nation where vast quantities of humans cannot obtain or maintain a job, he recently pronounced that he feels great joy when firing people. “I like to be able to fire people,” he said, in perhaps the most deranged public utterance from a political figure since Chauncey Gardiner’s immortal “I like to watch.”
There is also the matter of the underwear. Romney refuses absolutely to shed, under any circumstances, special undergarments that he believes his deity decrees that he wear at all times. Many bizarre charges have been leveled against Barack Obama, but never has it been alleged that he is a devotee of Abakua, an all-male Afro-Cuban religious outfit which commands the faithful never to expose their bare behinds to anyone, even when making love. Captain Underpants is basically a milquetoast whitebread variant on these people.
(Our weekly science offering from the esteemed Dr. Possum. Posted late, here on this Monday, because, uh, late is what we do around here. Enjoy.)
Monday morning once again here in Possum Valley and the time has arrived for science talk. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today’s information world. Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world. Today’s tidbits include even professional musicians can’t tell old master violins from new, the physics of writing with a fountain pen, hybrid silkworms spin stronger spider silk, researchers create a wire only 4 atoms wide and just 1 atom tall, new bandage spurs and guides blood vessel growth, and octopus mimics flatfish. Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the fireside. There is always plenty of room for everyone. Another session of Dr. Possum’s science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.
In the world of classical music there are some violin makers from years ago whose instruments have been studied in an effort to find the secrets of the sound. A study with instruments unknown to the player may have debunked the theory of old being better than new.
The loser in both tests just happened to be a violin labeled “O1” and has quite an illustrious history. It’s been used by many famous violin virtuosos over the years, both in concert and in recordings.
These findings suggest, the researchers write, that it appears the old masters were no better at violin making than are those of today, and those that don’t believe it, are simply fooling themselves.
And this debate will undoubtedly go on and on and on ad infinitum.
Susan put a glass in his hand and poured from a bottle so that the scotch swelled over the brim. “Remember,” she said. “First one to spill gets hit.”
“Yes. They don’t call them roundheads for nothing.”
“Is there an American version?”
“You get shot,” Susan said.
“Ah, a short version. I have a different idea. Why not the first one to spill tells the truth?”
“That’s the Soviet version?”
“I wish I could say so.”
“No,” Susan said, “you can have anything but the truth.”
“In that case,” Arkady said and sipped, “I’ll cheat.”
—Martin Cruz Smith, Polar Star