Wednesday 31 July 2019

Hurricane Bob 19 08 1991

The great, the wonderful, thing about living in Ireland is that we have climate but not Weather. Climate is really mild; min night-time extreme is -19°C [Markree Co Sligo 1881] to max day-time 33°C [Kilkenny, 1887]. There have abeen a couple of months in the 20thC when there was No rainfall at particular weather stations. The highest daily rainfall dump was 243mm on 19 Sept 1993 in Kerry - Kerry is the wettest county holding the record daily precipitation in 7 or the 12 months since those records becamne reliable in 1942. It's the wettest county because it gets washed by the Gulf Stream / North Atlantic Drift which ensures that the air above the warm water holds the maximum amount of water vapour. This comes down in torrents upon landfall, so Kerry really takes one for the team in the respect making Leinster, Dublin and the East coast comparatively much drier. But nowhere near as dry as the true deserts of Chad or Chile.

The other thing we get is the played out tail ends of hurricanes which have typically started to pick up energy off the coast of Africa, travelled across the South Atlantic and up through the Caribbean, the Eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada. As they head out back East across the North Atlantic, the colder water and the coastal landmasses will have de-energised and de-watered the storm, so that we rarely get the excitement of Ophelia or Emma. Damn good thing, too.  On 2nd September 2019, because I R now officially Old, I'll be making my last 30 week run of daily 40+40km commutes, so I'm hoping [and expecting] to not live in exciting times w.r.t. weather through to Easter 2020.

Because I'm a sucker for Eponyms [Bob the Island; Bob the Pointand so on], I thought I'd mention an extreme weather event which I missed because I had left New England 8 years earlier. Bob was born as a tropical storm off Bermuda on 16th August 1991 and slouched up the US East Coast gradually picking up speed and water and dissipating it mainly on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and a swathe of coastal New England. The following day, having integrated fresh wind-speed data, Bob was upgraded to Hurricane. Lunchtime on the 19th, Bob made another landfall at Buzzard's Bay in Southern Massachusetts. Where its effects were recorded on numerous amateur cameras. 1991 was the era of VHS cassette cameras about the size of a breadbox. Here's some footage: 25 minutes from So Dartmouth is a bit long in the edit but puts the damage in perspective: plenty of trees still up and plenty of boats afloat. Winds of a sustained 160km/h were recorded and a 2-5m storm surge lifted a lot of boats on shore where they piled up along the tide line. For the aftermath and clean-up, bring on the National Guard with combats & chain-saws. I guess you remember a storm like Bob if you lose your garage, or worse, but the impact fades quickly enough if bad things only happened to your neighbours [a rich seam in grown men doing really dopey things with chain-saws and no safety gear]

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Access all B-reas

The parallel piece Access All Areas yesterday dealt with the somnolent railway station which serves the village where my mother lives. The connexion is stairs. The station admits to being wheelchair inaccessible and indeed inaccessible to the able bodied under adverse weather conditions. It would take a particularly doctrinaire Inclusion advocate to insist that Chetnole Halt be upgraded to full access to all given that only a couple of handfuls of people use the station every day. Upgrades would cost £100,000s with no guarantee (or even suggestion) that it would encourage any wheel-dependent passengers to use the train service. My mother, for example, moved to Chetnole in 1984 at the age of 64 (the ~age I am now). Last week she told me that it took 13 minutes to stride off to the station because occasionally she'd leave SS Independence, her car, in the garage and launch herself on the buffets of that uncertain and unreliable public transport system. 20 years later when her failing eye-sight finally precluded using any car, she was not really up for walking to the station along country roads without sidewalks but with face-high questing brambles and bat-shit-bonkers car-drivers.

Whoever runs transport infrastructure in Britain continued to send one bus a day to shuttle across N Dorset picking up an irregular supply of passengers, almost of all of whom were on their pensions and having subsidised travel. Most weeks my mother would cast off from home and feel her way across ye village green to the pub where she would wait for the one bus a day. That vehicle passed through about 1030 in the morning and eventually unloaded its passengers in the nearby market town. As the village shop and village post-office had been deemed uneconomic several years ago, this was the only way that these oldsters could buy food with their pensions. Over the years, several people helpfully pointed out to my patient mother that the pub wasn't going to open for a couple of hours: assuming that my sainted mother was only waiting there for the gin.

When Dau.I, Dau.II and BobTheChauffeur went to visit in early June, my mother had just sustained some minor damage in an almost fall and we watched her tottering up the stairs to bed and inching down the incline the following morning. We reckoned that the odds were about 20:1 that she'd miss her footing, but were not quite callous enough to place money on it. As a family, we are a little sensitive to such issues because a fall down those same stairs was the last accident my father had in the house: he died of his injuries four days later. M'sister, as primary carer, wasn't going to take the risk of losing two parents in this undignified and painful manner; so she ordered up a stair-lift as a more-or-less instant gratification solution to that anxiety. One of my tasks on the visit last week was to check out this Elder Launcher <vrrroooomph> and see why my aged, almost blind, slightly wobbly mother experienced such teething problems getting used to using the new technology. "aged, almost blind, slightly wobbly" must be the median demographic for stair-lift customers and there might be a design flaw.

Accordingly, after lunch, I sat into the chair while my mother told me how to make it Go! But nothing seemed to be happening . . . because the chair is designed with a 3 second lag to make sure the passenger is properly settled.
After half a dozen voyages, even the slightly demented can make the muscle memory connexions, expecting the big pause [bear goes into a bar joke here], and go Up [move blue thumb switch right] and Down [move blue thumb switch left] on their own. But for first-time users it is not obvious to all thinking people that an electronic switch is designed to have no immediate effect. Certainly not obvious to me when I gave it a go. A week after delivery, just as Mum had gotten into a normal working rhythm with her new toy mobility aid, the thing packed up on her - totally unresponsive accelerator. She called m'Sister, 140km away to the North. Sister's solution was to call the next door neighbours in Chetnole [both of whom are engineers]. The engineers' solution (have you tried switching it Off and On again?) led to a search for an On/Off switch. It turned out that the young woman from the home-cleaning service, in a bid to hunt out dust under the new machine had accidentally tripped the mechanism [located down near the floor] Off.  Stair lifts are a solution for bringing 20thC (and older) two storey houses up to 21stC inclusion-and-disability specs. The alternative, which we have looked at, is to write off the bedroom floor and build an en suite wet-room somewhere in the foot-print of the ground floor. That is a much greater expense and there is no guarantee that the next owner of this 2 storey, 3.5 bedroom, execuhome-with-garden will see that as an asset. Like upgrading the local railway station to include hypothetical users, it may not be economically sensible.
Design for living must surely include design for a mobility-impaired future.

Monday 29 July 2019

Access all areas

While we were looking after Generation +2 [Gdau.I & Gdau.II] in Bath last week, I escaped to visit Generation -1 [m'Mother] for lunch. It turns out that there is a direct pootle-pootle train from Gloucester to Weymouth via Bristol and Bath and a clatter of towns and villages along the way. Several of the stops, including Chetnole Halt (my mother's gaff), are Request Only. That means you have to tell the train conductor if on the train or wave your hat, shooting-stick or handkerchief at the train driver if on the platform. It would all be more internally consistent if the engine ran on steam <choot choot> and the kids on the train looked like Alice O'Wonderland or The Railway Children. Because England is not, quite yet, a Fascist state, the trains don't run on time, so I had a long time on the platform at Chetnole Halt and read all the information posters twice. Including this wholly unnecessary advice " In adverse weather conditions please take extra care ". Not Dreadnought Me: when the stairs are really icy, I can get to the platform faster by sliding past the competition.

Consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds aka bureaucrats, the little bus-shelter hanging off the back of the platform has a portable wheel-chair ramp locked against the inside wall. I am guessing the Transport Inclusivity Regulations 200X dictate that All Stations must have a wheel-chair ramp. Any physically disabled or infirm person wishing to alight can thus do so without the help of any other passengers. It just requires a train operative to lug a heavy steel ramp to the requisite door. The irony of having this 'solution' at Chetnole Halt is that the only way off the platform is along a boggy gravel path and up a steep flight of 20+ steps to the road. Incommmming patrons / travellers / customers with disability are warned off at the top of the steps and advised to try for access at Yetminster 5 km further up the line. If you have arrived from Gloucester, Bath Spa Castle Cary or Yeovil Pen Mill by train, then you'll be marooned on a narrow concrete island 3m x 150m until the next train comes through.

In 1961 The Transport Minister appointed Dr Richard Beeching as chairman of the British Railways Board. Beeching commissioned and published a report The Reshaping of British Railways that recommended the closure of 6,000km of rail track and more than 2,000 stations that couldn't pay their way even with a hefty government subsidy. There were train services running in 1960 where there were often more railway staff aboard than fare paying passengers. This was 20 years before 'everybody' owned a car and a far greater proportion of people were reliant on public transport to get to work or get to the shops. I was the only person who a) got off the down train at that station and a few hours later boarded the up train. Given that Chetnole Halt survived the Beeching holocaust of steel, the closed stations must have been very dusty indeed.

One of the advantages of Great Western Railways being persistently late is that you get to see some of the wild life which uses the corridor of an under-used rail right-of-way as a habitat far from the madding crowd [Thos. Hardy, local author, reference] of cars and buses. Like this adult roe deer Capreolus capreolus [R] picking its way delicately across the rails from one nirvana of browsable bushes to the greener one on the other side of the tracks. Eventually, the train arrived. Just after Bruton the conductor came round handing out 'free' 330ml bottles of GWR water to the passengers; some of whom were wilting in the heat.  The train was 22 minutes behind schedule when I got off in Bath. One announcement claimed that the the train was delayed because the heat was melting the tracks. I tell ya, lads, 'tis The End of Days.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Sunday Mix 28 July 2019

Home locators:
Back from Bath Enga-lond yest arvo. We live (as you read on the side>>>bar) half way up a mountain in the Sunny South East of Ireland. As a fine example of vernacular architecture the house is tucked into the hill, sheltered from the elements but also protected / prevented from any long view to the sea. You have to walk up higher for the panorama vistas. If the weather is clear-ish, you can see the sun-glint off Wexford Harbour and make out Rosslare ferryport 60km away beyond. After passing the Tuskar light on the brexit ferry, it is time to gaze NW to check if our Red Hill Knockroe is still there. Yesterday tea-time it was!
Yesterday breakfast-time otoh we were gazing at hot-air balloons drifting across the City of Bath. There are three in sight but you have to clean your screen of flyshit to be sure of the third single-pixel vehicle between the other two and the horizon.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Savage Funny

I was at this birthday gig last month and was asked to blow out the candles. That was easy because it was outside, with a stiff summer breeze and t'buggers wouldn't light. Actually, because Dau.II aka Cookie likes to stretch herself, there were two cakes with candles [R]. When I worked in Rotterdam, the custom was that, on your birthday, you'd bring in a kratje bier (Grolsch or Heineken) to share with yer mates. I think that's the right way for the gift traffic - there is nobody as grateful for clocking off another years with continued use of the legs than the birthday boy. Of course the case is altered if birthday boy is 6.50 rather than 65.0. Anyway, a goodly and open-handed number of my friends&relations came bearing gifts, one of which I've just finished reading.

Charlie Savage is the latest book by Roddy Doyle, Dublin's own author of fiction: stories, novels, plays, screenplays. Doyle is a bit younger than me but he started writing full-time in the early 90s just after I started living in [Northside] Dublin. That contemporaneity and the fact that we were both transitioning out of the teaching profession resonated a little with me although the language of working class Dublin was alien and little bit quaint. He must have a better ear than me to catch the slang and the intonation so well.

It could be claimed that science works through attention to detail whereas literature, of it's worth a print-run, looks at universals. It's not so much what happens to Madame Bovary or Cap'n Ahab as how their actions and reactions reflect on the human condition. Charlie Savage stopped me in a few places with the thought I wouldn't be making much of this literature if I had lived in Buenos Aires or Melbourne all my life . . . because the references were so local and so limited to North Dublin culture. Another slightly jarring trope was repeating the same fragment of story several times. Then I thought maybe this is a clever self-referential writely device to indicate that 60-something Charlie is beginning to lose his marbles. Despite all that, I enjoyed the book; it was funny, in an ironic self-deprecating way and showed how working-class Dubs like Charlie had come a long way wrt to civil rights, gay rights, and equal rights all round. His youngest daughter is a single parent who gives him the hairy eye-ball if he lets slip some sexist cliché. Jokes and innuendo about the place of women that would have been stock-in-trade when Charlie was a nipper have gone with the dinosaurs.

These criticisms (the local-ness and the repetition) were clarified when I read the jacket blurb after O finished the book. There it explains that the book is a collection of weekly columns for the Irish Independent - I should have twigged from the fact that there are 52 chapters, all of suspiciously the same length. You know what it reminds me of, in its capture of a time and place in a series of telling vignettes? Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther; which captured 1940s middle-class England. Don't bother with the film, get the book out of the library - especially if you've passed your 100th birthday: it's your time all over again.

Friday 26 July 2019

Comms Codes

There is no limit to the ingenuity of engineers! Without engineers the fastest way to get a message from crisis to headquarters was to hand it to a gallopper on a horse or write it real small and strap it to the leg of a carrier pigeon. A horse rider is a large target in a hostile environment and pigeons are quite a way along the clueless spectrum and might get distracted by a spill of corn. If the message is simple you can light a fire on a beacon hill or a succession of such fires; but then everyone knows that something is up. In the ferment of the French Revolution, Claude Chappe invented a more subtle way of conveying optical information using signal stations with enormous semaphore arms to spell out messages. Eventually the whole country was spanned with lines of stations transmitting signals for the government - in code if necessary. Despite lamps, it never really worked well at night and fog put a damper on the whole enterprise.

Then along came Michael Faraday, one of the Great 19thC experimentalists. Playing about in his laboratory, electricity and magnets, he found that a moving magnet could induce an electric current in a coil of wire. This eventually became a dynamo which could use the rotating engine of a car or bicycle to power the lights. Actually I think Hans Christian Ørsted was first on the scene with electromagnetism, but it doesn't matter here who did what, when. Within a decade, the concept had been reversed by Charles Wheatstone and Wm Forthergill Cooke: a passing electric current could be induced to move an associated magnet. Cooke and Wheatstone ran with this idea to develop the first electric telegraph. The current could be forced to act at a distance and flick a magnet back and forth. If insulated, the wires would operate equally come rain or shine; dark or dawn. Their first clever solution to converting a flicking magnet into readable text is shown on the L. It required 5 wires that could control magnetic indicators so that they flicked Clockwise, Anticlockwise or [default] Middle. The pointers 1 2 3 4 5 were operated in permutations / combinations of pairs. The picture shows MMCMA which points to "G".  CMMAM MMACM CMMAM should spell BOB. You may have trouble spelling your own name: Jules, Banquo, Cox and Zoe. With only 20 possibilities on the board, Cooke and Wheatstone sacrificed letters which were rare or redundant: C J Q X & Z could be represented by K/S G KW KS & S. It made for some peculiar fonetik spelinge but was good enough to convey meaning unambiguously in 99.99% of cases.  How it actually works on a replica of an original.

The problem with this prototype was that there were 5 thin fragile wires: a break in any one made almost all messages un-codable. Also 5 wires stretched across a continent was a helluva lot of wire. It took Samuel Morse to invent a cunning telegraphy plan that only used a single wire but required a little more training for operators because the information could only be transmitted a s a single pulse. Morse's code also switched from a visual signal to one that was audible - a series of short <dit> or long <dah> pulses. The letters are coded with 1 to 4 dots or dashes: in a not totally arbitrary and capricious way. The commonest letters in English are quicker to transmit than rarities: note that the letters requiring 4 symbols are the same as those left off from Cooke and Wheatstone's Ouija board. Although Morse started as a sound system, it was soon adapted for signal lamps at sea and elsewhere. When I was 9 or 10, I knew Morse code and could read and write it, but with my tin ear, I was crap at hearing it. It takes bit of training, such as you get in the Signal Corps of the army. My work-mates Gerhardt and Peter used to annoy the rest of us talking Morse in the coffee break.

Thursday 25 July 2019

activist burn-out

My Uncle John was born in 1923, when his mother was a tad over 30.  He escaped from Dover briefly during and immediately after WWII but he returned home and joined the family furniture and removals business. His father died when UJ was in his mid 50s and he lived with his widowed mother for the next quarter century. It was an interesting dynamic as they gradually exchanged roles on the domestic housekeeping and minding front. It wasn't until she was over 100 years and had a passing accident with a hot stove that my granny finally hung up her apron and John fully embraced being the God Domestos. For a couple of decades, he didn't feel able to take a holiday that involved leaving his mother alone in the house overnight, which put quite a damper on his gastronomic travels to Boulogne and Calais. The rest of the family recognised a sure case for respite care. If UJ could have a week elsewhere with his golf-clubs, he'd return entertained, rested but also energised for another session of parent-caring. He was just not able to hear that suggestion, and wore himself out over his unshirkable responsibilities. Pancreatic cancer didn't help, it must be said.  You may be sure, as the next generation to step up to the elder-care plate, we are going get the balance right. <not> at best we will just make other mistakes.

In June there was an interesting snippety-doo-dah article in the Grauniad with advice from various activists for how to sustain the caring and politicking and not get totally burnt out. A frazzled husk is absolutely no use to The Cause. The advice can be summarized: yomping; bonking; boxing; ranting; shrinking; weeping; guilting; diversifying;  studying; talking; dogging; cold-showering; tweeting; celebrating; reading; choosing; marching. The best comment included this:
You can't both wring your hands and roll up your sleeves.
True dat!
Post-script: what do young radical women do to stay cool: therapy, weight-lifting, rowing

Wednesday 24 July 2019

BAYleaves buy mi bayleaves

Sing it! like Nina and Frederick with their MANgoes. There is no harm in wanting to make an honest living creating things which are fun to make and useful to/for other people. Everyone who's had the benefit says I make an mmmmmm good flapjack and a just-right pot of marmalade. I am getting better and better with my sourdough bread too. But it is only because I stand on the shoulders of my grandmother (flapjacks) and Delia Smith (marmalade). Several people, over the years, have said "These are so good, you should sell them." But I always demur with a blush and flutter of my eyelashes. Making a slab of flappjes and watching them go down a graduate student's gannet-hungry throat give a lot of pleasure. Making many slabs and weighing them, packing them, driving to the farrrmer's market and selling them requires a whole other set of skills, few of them delightful. And the health and safety regulations are now nightmare intrusive.

Now here's a picture from shortly before the big thaw of January 2010 which washed out our lane and left us prisoners in our own home for a week.  It shows a couple of small bay trees in the garden behind the house weighed down with snow. A quick shake by Dau.II and they soon rose upright again.
I was up in the garden taking a few progress pics and I snapped the now wall of baytrees, which we have to walk through to reach the polytunnel:
I include some laundry for scale.  We planted the pair of trees in ?2008? as a garden feature and source of bayleaves which are a culliunary essential on our kitchen.  They are now 6m tall and 4-5m across at the base, so I try to harvest the bayleaves from inside the tunnel between the two trees so that we can walk directly to the polytunnel without getting soaked from the rain-wet leaves. I paused to wonder just how many bay-leaves there might be: because I believe guesstimation is a core skill in science and I need examples for teaching this up-coming year at The Institute. Accordingly I counted 100 leaves and reckoned they filled a sunlight-space  / surface-space of 0.1 sq.m. You can work out the surface area (excluding base) of a cone from first principles or you can go to the cone-heads site: to find the formula. The Lateral surface area of a cone  L = πrs = πr√(r2 + h2) where s is the slant height which is the hypoteneuse of the h[eight] and r[adius] triangle hence the Pythagorean square root of the sum of the other two sides.
Putting in r = 2.5 m h = 6 m yields the other parameters:  slant = 6.5 m ;; Vol = 39.3 m3 ;; L.area = 51.1 m2 ;; Base.area = 19.6 m2 ;; Total.area = 70.7 m2.  If there's 100 leaves in 1/10th sq.m there are 1,000 leaves in 1 sq.m. and 50,000 across the surface of each tree. I'll add another 50% because, although it is dark in the interior of the wall/bush there are lots of leaves running back almostvto the trunks. So we don't have a million bay-leaves or only a thousand but somewhere in the region of 150,000. If we use a flaithulach 10 bayleaves a week we have enough to keep going for 300 years.

That's clearly a) an under-estimate because it is the nature of trees to make more leaves, possibly in a sustainable manner b) selfish, stingey and inefficient for the culinary happiness of the sunny south-east of Ireland. So you're all welcome to come for a handful. In Tesco, bayleaves sell at 49c for 3 grams or [Schwartz] €1.19 for 6g. 6g is about 20 leaves. So, cutting out the middleman, the packaging, the labour, the plastic, the airmiles then our baytree harvest is 'worth' 150,000 / 20 = €7,500.  Maybe when I'm reduced to my OAP next year, I'll use my free bus pass to bring 50 or 100 packets of  bayleaves up to the Big Smoke once a week and sell them on a street-corner so I have money for my meds and my Paris pants.
Q. What's this about Paris?
A. Why, it's in-Continent

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Lucky Bastard Canyon, CA

I share this from the July 2010 Action List of active U.S. Board on Geographic Names proposals:

 A San Diego ASTREA fire/rescue helicopter was fighting a brush fire in the eastern part of the county near Carrizo Creek during the summer of 2008. While transitioning between the fire and their water source, the helicopter crew noticed a body on the ground. The charred body was obviously dead, so the medical examiner was appraised of the situation, and the helicopter crew reported that they would return to retrieve the body during daylight hours the following day. However, when the helicopter crew and medical examiner investigator returned the next day, they had difficulty locating the body. While flying in the wrong direction along the valley, one of the crew saw “a wildly waving bunch of tall reeds” in a part of the canyon where there was typically no wind. The pilot returned to the area and hovering directly overhead the crew was able to determine that there was a live individual “flat on his back on the canyon floor shaking those reeds for all he was worth.” The individual could only have been seen from directly overhead because he was completely surrounded by brush and the steep canyon wall. The “Lucky Guy” was determined to be in no condition to leave the site on his own, having only a barely detectable pulse. It was determined that the individual had likely been at the spot for two days, without food or water. Despite rapidly building thunderstorms that threatened to cause flash flooding, the helicopter crew was able to hoist “Lucky” out of the valley and transport him to the hospital. Since that time, the valley has been known by local fire and rescue crews as Lucky Bastard Canyon.

Monday 22 July 2019

Does a bear . . .?

The flush toilet is a terrible thing because it disconnects us from our own ordures: flush! flush! all gone! . . . to a place where somebody else [probably an untouchable] will deal with it. I am surprised at the number of people, even blokes, even blokes of my age, who are almost unable to have a pee anywhere other than in a designated toilet. Then again there is this obsession with TP / tissue that a) has to be used to dab-it-off b) left behind. I mentioned a particularly espanish egregious example a couple of weeks ago of people contributing their wee-litter to our farm. It was a perennial problem walking the Camino, where any and every secluded spot just off the pilgrim highway, where you might think of having a discrete pee, would be dotted with evidence that you weren't the first person to have that idea eeeeeuw watch your feet. If you had to work, or walk to the spring, for each gallon of water, you wouldn't be shitting in it.

Park that thought and get on your bike? MeFi flagged the inauguration of a new ultra endurance race GBDuro2019 in the UK (from Land's End to John O'Groats, of course). It's with bicycles and the rules of engagement is that you have to carry all your kit, and all your food with you. You can nip onto the shops and tap your cred-card for a Mars bar or a Cornish pasty, but you can't have your partner drive ahead with the 4x4 and have a hot hip-bath and a gin&tonic ready when you breast the top of Carter Bar. Nor can you stop off in a ***** hotel; if you don't plan to do a 600km stage in one almighty session then you're expected to sack out until first light in a bivvy-bag. "Riders should ride in the spirit of self-reliance and equal opportunity." and "There are no entry fees and no prizes. There are no officiators, no marshals, no ride leaders, no rescue services. There is no support".  Call me judgemental but if, on the Camino, you send your rucksack ahead of you by van (and you can, there's no longer a gap in that market) then that's not in the spirit of self-reliance and equal opportunity.
When I walked up the coast of Portugal in 1989 (heck! that's nearly 30 years ago), I was entirely on my own and on my own resources. There were no direction arrows, no hostels, no cell-phones, no GPS. The only reason it was possible at all at all was because the navigation was delimited by the sea. If I drifted too far East I got wet feet. GBDuro2019, for all its self-reliance is very much a child of the Age of WiFi - everyone has a GPS transponder and the route map is similarly on the GPS cloud. So you have to phone-check yourself all the time lest the true-route bifurcates from the you-route. It's nifty and graphic: like the still [above] from the documentary on this year's trek.  Because it's on the cloud, your Beloved or your fan-base can check your progress 60/60/24/7. The organisers a shadowy body called The Racing Collective [Гоночный Коллектив ?] request and require participants to tweet time- and place-stamped photos of their progress. It's not like when Zatopek won his marathon in 1952.
If Lachlan Morton looks lonely or like he's left everyone behind, it's because he has:
2,000km in 111.75 hours! Blimey!? That's as inspiring as the Appalachian Trail trials of Scott Jurek; the Iditarod dogs in Alaska; The Tarahumara in Mexico; the Barkley Marathons in the Tennessee wilderness. But let's get back down with the dirty: if you are off road and on your own and need a crap; what then? Well, The Kollectiv gets really exercised about this because soiling the route is showing contempt to those who come after you . . . and for the pristine natural landscape through which the riders are privileged to cycle:
  • Don't be a dick - Leave No Trace (bring a trowel), be nice
  • Further: Nothing beats a well-earned shit in the woods - fact. And whilst the "turn over a rock" method has been used for donkeys years it is no longer fit for purpose given the volume of people now going 'into the wild'. Indeed, failure to properly manage human waste has led to the death of other bikepacking rides such as the Oregon Outback. 
    • [Here's a link to that sad and shameful story of heedless behaviour by adults]
  • Hint: making a proper hole without a trowel takes a LOT of effort! So if you're riding GB Divide, please carry a trowel (at 17g it won't slow you down)
I've said enough, back to the filum!

Sunday 21 July 2019

Sunday Misc 210719

Hilarious homage and cultural update to Millet's Les Glaneuses.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Little Dribbling

Hey lads, I finished another book. Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling More Notes From a Small Island [reviewed] which might be called Vignettes of Britain Vol II because it records a ramble 20 years after he published Notes From A Small Island. I've cited Bryson numerous times frequently to say that his Lost Continent is his original and best book. The world moves on with frightening speed and we have to hold on or fall off. In 1995, when Notes was published, I didn't own a mobile phone, climate change wasn't a thing, the Green Party was non-existent, China's economy was smaller than Brazil's. Many of the changes  between 1995 and 2015 to which Bryson reacts are for the worse.  A lot of butchers, bookshops, ironmongers in villages have been driven out of business by big box stores on the periphery of cities. Public services: transport, libraries, amenities, hospitals, schools have declined in quality in a relentless unwillingness to take taxes and pay for them. That's because he's a bit of a curmudgeon harrrumphing about the good old days of Britain in the 1970s when he first set foot in Europe on a gap year that became a life-time. I was there, though, and there was much not to love about England 1973 and I left for Dublin and a better life that October. But I will agree that 20 years of continued worship of the growth economy and a callous indifference to the dispossessed have not made Britain or Ireland better places to live for the majority of the population. Smart-phone eye-candy, frozen pineapple pizza, and dozens of pairs of uncomfortable shoes are irrelevant to well-being however you measure that.

The good thing about Bryson's books is that they are well-written and genuinely funny in parts, but they are also insightful, wide-ranging and fact-checked. If people read his books (and lots do) then they are better informed and tilted towards the good side of a well-run caring society. The down-side is that some really frightening changes in the state of the world are dug up, exposed to light, scare the bejaysus out of the reader; but then the narrative zooms off to the next chapter with an acerbic comment and we're back to hilarious take-downs random pompous or inefficient people in tourism or service.
  • Sellafield has discharged more unaccounted nuclear waste than all the rest of the EU and contains the two most glowy buildings in Europe. 
  • In 1950 Grimbsy landed 100,000 tonnes of cod. In 2015, 300 tonnes. That's a consequence of rapacious, unregulated destruction of underwater habitat in pursuit of fish-fingers. If only every fish caught had been used to feed people. In fact, thousands of tonnes of 'by-catch' just fed gannets and bacteria.
I used to read a lot of travel books; especially those that were funny, stoic and self-deprecating. But I'm not such a fan anymore. If you fillet out and discard the log-book entries of where the author went and how difficult it was to buy tickets, then you're left with not very much: met this bloke walking his dog who said . . .
But, if you like that sort of thing you could, with advantage, check out of the library:
  • Peter Fleming (brother of Ian "Bond" Fleming): Brazilian Adventure (1933)  or One's Company (1934)
  • Eric Newby: A Short Walk in the Hindi Kush (1958) or The Last Grain Race (1956)
  • Ivan Sanderson: Animal Treasure (1937)
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time of Gifts (1977) or Between the Woods and the Water (1986)

Friday 19 July 2019

Rules for US places

It seems that Irish placenames are a bit of a free-for-all. I found two townlands, an hour's walk apart, both called Knockroe [The Red Hill]. Across the country, a rattly ould mix of names derived from Irish by translation [Dublin = the Black Pool] and by transliteration [any town / village / settlement called Ballyxxxxx]; from the local Anglo landlord [Parsonstown - not only what we now call Birr; Edgeworthstown which is fighting off the alternative name Mostrim; Newtownbarry losing ground to Bunclody].  This can result in some unintentionally funny / unfortunate coinages. A townland just West of Kilkenny City called Sceach na Míol = Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna of the jumping louse Cacopsylla crataegi becomes Lousybush in English to the mortification of the girls who live on the Dunningstown Road. Crab lice Pthirus pubis are very distantly related to Psyllidae: last common ancestor 400mya, so you gals can tell any ignorant slaggers, who bring this up, to piss off.

There is a certain irony in The Land of the Free having a much less free-for-all attitude to naming all the creeks, aroyos, peaks, mesas, runs, buttes and passes of their internal geography. Indeed they fund a Board on Geographic Names as a federal body operating under the United States Secretary of the Interior; they collaborate  with the US Geological Survey to run GNIS the Geographic Names Information System.
Q. Hey there's a system? run by the Feds? there must be some serious documentation?
A. True, dat: 85 pages of rules, policies, conventions, lists and appendices.

They are absolutely proscriptive about two pejorative words in place names Jap and the N-word. When civil rights got traction in the 1960s, fig-leaf changes were made: Negrohead, TX; Little Negro Creek, IL. And all the Japs got the -anese suffix. But places like Old Paddy Creek, MO; Kraut Canyon, NM; Wop Draw, WY and Dago Joe Spring, NV are not (yet) verboten. You may bet that the next unacceptable toponym will be anything involving squaw. You can search for your own name or naughty words in the database of 2 million named geographical features.

As well as avoiding offence, BGN wants names to be functional, so that they can be written on a map at a sensible font-size and not look bigger than the State Capital. US Postal Service limits Post Office names to 28 characters. So the petitioners' Rear Admiral Richard E. Bennis Reach, NC was accepted as Bennis Reach. Sometimes BGN just roll over as with East Fork North Fork North Fork American River, CA. I bet the BGN are aching to have a bunch of locals petition to rename that watercourse after a dead American hero . . . preferably a Native North American.

And for reasons now lost in the mists of time, the BGN hates possessive apostrophes. It is Pikes Peak therefore not Pike's. Likewise Butlers Toothpick and DEvils Racepath. Since 1890 only five exceptions have been agreed Martha's Vineyard, MA; Ike's Point, NJ; John E's Pond, RI; Carlos Elmer's Joshua Tree, AZ; Clark's Mountain, OR. Other accents and diacrital marks are accepted, indeed willingly embraced, although not essential to searching on their server: too many monoglot anglophone users to get pedantic about fadas.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Dogged does it.

As I push on towards retirement I am decluttering in a piecemeal kind of fashion. Off-loading stuff that I cannot imagine anyone having a use for.  My track record is not good for imagining uses for data. I was only annoyed when Craig Venter published a clatter of ESTs from a human brain: because ESTs are partial and of crappy quality and all I wanted were full length human genes which had been accurately sequenced. Wronnnng! ESTs are dead easy to generate and, because of their monstrous regiments, can be used to answer all kinds of interesting questions including one of my own [PMID: 12885301]. I can do methodical but I'm better at butterfly. The field I chose to work in 30 years ago doesn't give credit for drudges - folks who can plod through hundreds of samples and maintain the same standards of accuracy and reproducibility from start to finish. In bioinformatics, you get credit for scaling up an analysis by writing software that can do the heavy lifting, scouring and sorting through scads of data.

There is another class of scientists which I have characterised as A Good Pair of Hands. Like my student Grace who was the only one in the Microbiology class who could do a smart, reliable diagnosis with Gram stain. Turned out that she had spent the previous summer in an equine pathology lab doing dozens and dozens of Gram stains. I love doing Gram stains, she said, as she ploughed through a stack of them. As with so much in life practice makes perfect, but I knew that her managers in the equine lab developed an absolute trust on her reliability, accuracy and efficiency.

My brother tells a story about quality control QC technicians in a Volvo factory. The quality of the assemblies was so good that the QC checkers were falling asleep, day-dreaming and thinking about the weekend's soccer. Th QC manager decided to introduce a bunch of deliberate errors in the pipe-line: they came often enough and random enough to keep the QC techs on their toes and able to catch, not only the known errors, but also the unknown / real errors on the system.  I was reminded of this because of a recent molecular evolution report out of Tucson, AZ.

Michael Worobey, the PI, heard about an archive of 50+ year old paraffin-embedded tissue samples stored in cardboard boxes in the University of Kinshasa in the DRC / Democratic Republic of Congo [previously Zaire; prevprev Belgian Congo). Let us give thanks to inertia and a tolerance of skuzz and clutter that these slides hadn't long ago been tidied away to whatever serves for landfill in central Africa. Like all the unique irreplaceable photographs of olde time Tyneside that my pal Roy was unable to save from discard and destruction. Worobey has a track record in medical molecular archaeology, extracting DNA from old biopsies with painstaking care, so that the threadlike fragile genetic signal can be filtered out of the noise of time-degraded and potentially contaminated biological material. The samples were probably preserved by histologists who wanted to see what they looked like down a microscope. Nobody then knew that the DNA was useful / informative let alone how best to preserve that aspect of the tissue.  But there was a helluva lot of samples: N = 1652 to be precise, and someone had to process them all. That task fell largely to Worobey's Good Pair of Hands a fellow called Thomas D Watts. They were hoping for some ancient HIV on the assumption that these central African samples would predate the HIV/AIDS epidemic that started scything through young gay men in New York and California in the early 1980s.

Well they ran through all the boxes and boxes of material and came up with one (1) positive for HIV - a 38 y.o. male who presented to the hospital in 1966, where a peanut-sized chunk of a lymph node was taken for further study. Despite the lottery of history [116/123 of the plays of Sophocles have been lost] and because they have really good techniques for assembling fragments of DNA gathered in adverse circumstances, Team Tucson were able to obtain a more-or-less complete HIV genome sequence from this sample and compare it to all the subsequently evolved HIVs. There are, as yet, no known older HIV sequences which are mostly complete; DRC66 is the oldest. Evidence, from phylogenetic trees and molecular clocks, is pointing to the start of the 20thC for The Event that brought HIV-I across the species divide from chimpanzees Pan troglodytes to us Homo sapiens. Watch this space as researchers get dustier colonial times boxes from peculiar places to find older HIV positive sequences. These will almost certainly be confirmatory, it would be surprising if something startling emerges from similar studies. But the Tucson study is valuable as an anchor-point for the inferences of phylogenetic trees generated by computer. If this is HIV-I, there is an HIV-2, right? Indeed so, HIV-2 crossed in humans from the sooty mangabey Cercocebus atys. That strain is much less virulent and infective, so is rarely seen outside of West Africa.

Remember Ebola? That had us all up in a flap 2013-2016 and was almost a case of too little, too late? The mainstream media are tired of Ebola and don't want to be seen to cry wolf. Nevertheless, Ebola is back and has been flagged with global emergency status by the World Health Organisation. And the epicentre of the latest holocaust? DRC!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Intentional living

BBC has a polemical documentary about reducing food waste. The compelling statistic is that a third of greenhouse gas emissions are due to food rotting away because it cannot be sold or won't be eaten. And a quarter of food-grade food never gets eaten.
Verspilling is Verrukkelijk = Waste is Delicious is a food recycling scheme invented by Jumbo, a Dutch supermarket chain. TheyToo good to go
Here's a Tasmanian family, home-educating who have refused a plastic life and go shopping with bottles and cotton and paper bags which get used again and again. Actually, they have plastic snap-lid containers which get filled at the butcher and fishmonger [as R], so their beef is zero waste rather than zero plastic and they have been trundling along in that mode for 3 years. Home education must make it easier to get compliance with /from the three daughters-of-the-house a) because their home ed pals are quite likely to be on a similar trajectory b) because they aren't subjected to an invivious amount of peer pressure [to get the right shoes, right phone, right play-list] at school. But some of the trotted stats boggle the mind "the average Australian family generates enough waste to fill a 3 bedroom house every year". I've just spent 2 nights in refuse-collection land with Pat the Salt my aged father-in-law. We put out a brimful 240 lt wheelie-bin on Wednesday morning that's 240lt [¼ cu.m.] * 52 weeks = 12 cu.m.  That's only the smallest bedroom full, not an entire house, cobbers.

Here's another supply and demand problem if you're British. BBC Newsnight reports that hoarding and stockpiling will be at nothing, unless it's garden furniture and safe to be left out in the rain. There just isn't the warehousing capacity to store the food and medicines needed to buffer a crash-out Brexit. But no competent prepper would put any trust in The Man to ensure enough bread and booze in the shops; nope! they will have bought a garden shed [as L 8ft x 8ft, = 6 sq.m. volume ~= 15 cu.m. a snip at £900 delivered] to store the beans and ammo. That's about 20,000 500ml tins of lager one-a-day for 50 years. But after the apoclaypse it won't just be beer and skittles; we'll all need beans as well. A tin of beans being slightly shorter but slightly stouter than a tin of lager, the same shed can store about the same number of bean-tins.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Really new antibiotics

I R old, which is an extraordinary consequence of having been born in 1954 when infectious diseases were being run out of town by a combination of vaccination and antibiotics. My father contracted pneumonia in 1925 and it was touch and go for several days as his 8 y.o. immune system played chess with death; but he was a fighter like Bergman's knight and eventually he pulled through, worn out but alive. 70 years later, 2 y.o. Dau.I also had a brush with pneumonia and spent 2 nights in the Children's Hospital but antibiotics made the episode almost a walk in the park rather than a walk into  the dark . We have squandered the healing elixirs on dog's ear-aches and as growth promoters for battery chickens. A few years ago, I went grimly poetic about an apocalyptic return to a world without antibiotics. In that grim new reality, children will die from a thorn-prick, or diphtheria or scarlatina as they did 100 years ago. In 1900 infant all-cause mortality fluttered around 16%; in 2000 it was less than 1%.

MRSA isn't usually a problem for kids, but it will exit your Auntie Flo in a box when she goes into hospital for a hip-replacement. I've had a lot to say about MRSA [bloboprevs] before. Not least because we could have been contenders in the search for novel therapeutics against this strain of Staphylococcus aureus. One of the anti-microbial peptides that we discovered lurking in the chicken genome, turned out to be quite good at killing MRSA and a little bit better at that task when we tricked about with the peptide sequence. If only MRSA was the only species that was resistant to almost all the antibiotics, but hospitals particularly are also held hostage by Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE. As if a blizzard of acronyms - all including R-for-Resistant - is insufficiently confusing /worrying, the meta-acronyms ESKAPE identifies the causes of most concern - S for Staphylococcus aureus etc.

In the bizarre market-driven world of Big Pharma, there is little incentive to develop novel antibiotics. The big players see more $$$s for shareholders by focussing on chronic disease which will keep on demanding therapeutic supply for decades. To keep people ticking along feeling crap is better for business than infectious diseases where the patient is either cured in a week or dies - neither outcome being a cash cow that keeps on giving.  Any work being done with antibiotics by Big Pharma is most likely to be tinkering about with chemical structure of known bacteria-killers to produce a Me Too variant that can be patented because it is technically different but is so similar to existing antibiotics that resistance can be expected even sooner than average. The microbe collective has the number of whole classes of antibiotics. Another issue is that newer antibiotics are edging over the line in the balance between safe and effective. They kill the invasive bacteria, yes; but they also do damage to human cells and systems. Even to the extent that we cured the infection but the patient died. What we need, what sick kids need, what the medical front-liners need is some wholly new, now for something completely different, antibiotics that will win a few years of effectiveness (and safety!) rather than a few months.

Thankfully some academic scientists hanker after being the next Alexander Fleming (and thereby having a shot at a Nobel Prize in 10 or 15 years time. A number of creative scientists have had a punt in the direction:
Now Brice Felden's lab at U. Rennes in Northern France have made a startling, sparkling discovery by modifying part of a known toxin produced naturally by Staphylococcus aureus. Their key insight was to separate the toxic-to-humans aspects of the Staph molecule from the toxic-to-microbes parts. Evolution so often produces a kludge - something that works even of it has some peculiar side-effects. "Works" means enhances the survival or reproductive fecundity of its owner. A large part of modern molecular medicine is trying to dice and fillet and modify molecules so that they work better in the system being investigated. Team Rennes looked at the sequence of the natural toxin and started to strip out chunks and test them for their anti-microbial properties. One amino acid sequence FFWRRVK showed promise when they made artificial copies of the linear sequence and linked the ends to make a circular molecule [Pep18 below]:
So far, so natural, but they did some combinatorial experiments to see if they could make an even better microbe killer by swapping out the natural amino acids for wholly artificial molecules. Pep19 has acquired two aza-β3-1-naphthylalanyls to replace the 1st F and the 3rd W amino acids. Naphthyl as in naphthylene = mothballs. The Team in Rennes have some really promising results showing that some of the 20 molecular variants they generated can be granted the three-fold palm of success:
1) kills a wide range of bacteria
2) does little damage to mammalian cells
3) seems to stave off the development of bacterial resistance to attack
They will be looking for venture capital to take their hope-for-the-future up the regulatory chain towards a marketable and life-saving addition to the medical war-chest.

Monday 15 July 2019

Iris at 100

Iris Murdoch was born 15 Aug 1919 in Phibsborough, Dublin 7 and lived briefly in Blessington Street before her Dad shipped the family off to London in search of work. Perhaps, as a Protestant from The North, he saw the writing on the wall in revolutionary post-war Ireland. In any case there was a massive diaspora of the Protestant middle classes between the Wars leaving a space to be filled by aspiring Catholics. My Grandfather bucked the trend, securing a peach job as harbour master in Dunmore East at the foundation of the Free State.  Like my father, who spent a much longer time growing up in Co. Waterford, Murdoch never lost her sense of feeling Irish. Although she was not without a sense of shame at the antics of Irish people in the political sphere. They both spent the rest of their lives working in and for the British establishment - both being awarded a CBE. Maybe someone who cares will edit the Iris Murdoch wikipedia page and put her in a green jersey: Dame Jean Iris Murdoch DBE (/ˈmɜːrdɒk/; 15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999) was a British Irish novelist and philosopher.

In England, she had a rather free-wheeling education but went up to Oxford U in 1938 where she read classics and philosophy and secured a First in Literae Humaniores, = Greats. After a spell working with /for refugees in Austria at the tail end of the war, she returned to Oxford, becoming a lecturer and fellow of St Anne's College. Philosophy is waaay over my head, so I won't attempt to explain what her conclusions amounted to.  As well as the day job in college, she churned out a couple of dozen novels between Under the Net in 1954 and Jackson's Dilemma in 1995. Here's Denis Healey, fellow-traveller and later Chancellor of the Exchequer remembering her contributions. Here she is comparing one's literature with one's philosophy: novels are a lot more fun! The Man has put up a commemorative bench [appropriately on The Left here] in Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. I like the idea that to sit here you have to look outwards.

She is twenty years dead now and the Dublin literary establishment is pushing out the commemorative boat; with a exhibition in Phibsborough branch Library and a showing of the biopic Iris tonight in the IFI at 1830. It stars Kate Winslett as I.M. Jnr and Judi Dench as I.M. Sr, so should be good. Clip Iris on Education and song. In the twilight of her years her great mind slipped its cables and drifted out to sea on SS Dementia. But that's okay, she made a contribution to our understanding of the human condition, which will probably be recognised as worthy in 100 years time. There aren't many 20thC novelists about whom that could be said. Hats Off!

Sunday 14 July 2019

Bastille Day 2019

Vive La France! "À la lanterne! la bourgeoisie" [Source]

Saturday 13 July 2019

Garden Abundance

It's not like an On / Off switch but as you get older the balance of power & responsibility shifts down one generation. When Dau.II was born in 1995, she wasn't able to blow her own nose and it took a year before she was able to move about on her own two feet. Everything had to be done for her. Soon enough, I'll be in a similar state myself: leaky, demanding, incapable and I am reasonably confident that she'll either "take care of me or take care of me" [51st State reference]. At the beginning of May she came up to visit her parents, noted that Progress in the Garden = nil and insisted that we all go visit the wonderful, if slightly seedy, Wilton Garden Centre in Bree, Co. Wexford. We came away with some tomato plants about two fists tall and sundry packets of seeds: mainly swiss chard; french beans and courgettes. We had some saved seed about the house as well and lashed them all into little pots. "Right that's me tea sorted for when I visit in August", said Dau.II

As an experiment, I suggested that we plant half the beans directly into a little pot of damp compost; and leave the other half of them soaking over-night in water. We know the answer to that question now: do not soak beans in water for 12 hours if you want them to sprout and flourish. They will serve only as food for fungus. Soaking is for beans intended as food [human or fungal]; for seeding allow the water to come more slowly direct from the soil. The swiss chard was a total bust: about half sprouted, struggled upwards on feeble red stalks, and fell over when watered even by gentle rain. Some of these recumbent lazy-arses would struggle upright again but none seems interested in make progress beyond 4 teeny leaves. Saved poppy seeds of indeterminate age? Nope! Only one courgette seed sent out anything green. Eleven (!!) weeks later we can make a progress report.

Inside the 16 x 9 m poly-tunnel is a raised bed 7 x 1 m which is filled with soil, horse-shit, kitchen compost and other nutritious material. The problem with poly-tunnels is two-fold: over-heating and under-watering. Over the years, I've evolved to be direct and thrifty with water.
  • Take a 10-12 litre mineral-lick bucket which has seen through its second life as a water-bucket for sheep. 
  • Cut out the bottom with a jig-saw, leaving 2-3cm where the bottom meets the upright side.
  • Fix any side cracks with gaffer-tape.
  • Half bury this receptacle in the soil.
  • Fill the inside (with friable loam; potting soil; compost etc,) to within 4-5 cm of the top.
  • Install plants (tomatoes and beans are bonzer).
  • Water by filling to the brim and letting it soak in. That's equivalent to an inch of rain.
This works well because it delivers water to where it is needed and encourages the plants to dig deep and bring up some mineral goodness. The bucket handle also serves as anchor point for strings for climbers.
Wysiwwg - wot you see is wot we got . . . so far
Left column: Top: panorama of the veg bed: beans to left, toms to right just like an old country hop with the lads and lasses. Bot: the courgette with trowel in house colours for scale.
Centre: tomato flowers; green toms for frying at the Whistle Stop Café; two minute red tomatoes.
Rightside: the tallest bean stalk is 2.4 m above grade - about as tall as I can reach. The leaves are the size of my face. The flowers can be seen below in two different clusters.

Friday 12 July 2019

Outsiders finish last

Ross Perot was smart, talky and ambitious. After a not notably exciting career in the US Navy during the Korean War, Perot joined IBM to sell office kit in 1957. It was a good time to start as the Suburban Corporate Paradise years started to feed the desire for Stuff: houses with lawns, cars, fridges and ice-cream. He sold A Lot of product for IBM but couldn't get his line-managers to change the corporate culture to match his ambition. So he left to found EDS Electronic Data Systems, recognising that there was a hole in the market between hardware and software. Part of his drive was disappointment that Corporate America had the money to buy computers but not the sense to know how to get value from them. EDS got data off paper and into digits and showed how the information could be induced to sing dollars. The US government, Medicare, insurance corporations, credit unions, travel agencies handed him millions to leverage billions in savings and expansions. Twenty years later in 1984, Perot played his exit strategy and sold EDS to GM for $2.5 billion. He was a rich man.

In 1979 as the Iranians replaced the Shah with Ayatollahs, two EDS employees were imprisoned in Tehran. Perot bankrolled their rescue from jail and abstraction from the country in a way that was elegant and efficient and used appropriate technology.  The following year Jimmy Carter authorised a large covert military plan to rescue the US diplomats held hostage by the revolutionary government of Iran. Operation Desert Claw was costly failure and led to the deaths of 8 US servicemen. Perot's positive experience in Iran positioned him to work later for the rights and rescue of the POW/MIA servicemen left behind in Vietnam. Perot was sure that US Government agencies were complicit in leaving The Boys behind in the interests of the cynical Realpolitik of geopolitical economics in SE Asia.

In 1992, Perot [shown R in 1986 with George Washington] ran an on-again off-again campaign for the Presidency as an independent. George Bush Snr was beaten by Democrat Bill Clinton but Perot obtained 19% of the popular vote. Just like in 2016, there was a wide-spread disillusion with the Red v Blue status quo. With the intrinsically conservative mechanisms of US Presidential elections, Perot secured no seats in the Electoral College. But his contributions to stirrin' it up were welcome. In the TV debates he was deemed to have 'won' with his different views: "Keep in mind our Constitution predates the Industrial Revolution. Our founders did not know about electricity, the train, telephones, radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, rockets, nuclear weapons, satellites, or space exploration. There's a lot they didn't know about. It would be interesting to see what kind of document they'd draft today." Four years later, Perot ran another spoiler campaign for the Presidency but his popular support halved . . . and his campaign secure no seats in the Electoral College.

On contrast to more recent Haves of the Patriarchy, Perot was in favour of taxing the wealthy and supporting entrepreneurs and potential wealth makers. But he was generally liberal in his leanings: pro-choice, gay rights and, peculiar for a Texican, keen to limit the sale and distribution of guns to the general public. He's gone now, but not forgotten as a might-have-been game-changer.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Contraception? your thoughts on

Remember the Alamo Eighth! Just over a year ago Ireland experienced a dramatic volte face on the rights of women (and the rights of the unborn) when We The People voted to 2:1 to repeal the 8th Amendment to the contraception [Freudian slip there] constitution. The referendum was just the first small step opening the door to a long legal journey that will allow the termination of some unwanted pregnancies. I gather that it is still difficult to obtain a termination across large swathes [geographic, social and economic swathes] of the country. Shipping off to the UK is still an option, unsatisfactory as it might be. Who knows about the consequences of Brexit on this dimension, though?

400 hundred years ago, when WmShagsper wrote Much Ado About Nothing, infant mortality was running at about 1-in-7, and yet more children died between their 1st bday and puberty. In 1600, there were 'only' 0.5 billion people upright and walking. There was accordingly a certain imperative in Benedick's statement "The World must be peopled". Even when Kenneth Branagh uttered the anti-mortal phrase in the filum 25 years ago, a case could be made for the sentiment. In 1993, World population was 5.5 billion; since it's seen a runaway 40% increase to 7.7 bn. Surely now there are just too many people on the planet, each generating unconscionable quantities of carbon footprint while consuming far too much Stuff [not to mention the pizza and ice-cream].

Now that The People have spoken, their decision has to be implemented in legislation, regulation and effective bureaucratic systems. But let's step back a few weeks before that unwanted pregnancy became apparent. Nobody wants an abortion, so could We The State do more to preventing that pregnancy? There are two issues: education and availability.

Education for sexual health and healthy sex. I'm an old hand at this. The first honest dollar (1980) I ever earned was teaching a discussion section on BI105: Human sex, reproduction and development. At The Institute I teach Human Physiology to Pharmacy Technicians, 95% of whom are women. I tell them about the menstrual cycle and the hormonal control of ovulation, with diagrams of estrogen and progesterone swooping up and down every ~28 [95-percentile range 23-32] days. Reduced to the cartoon level at which I cover such a fascinating topic, you'd think it would be easy marks to answer a question about it [Q5b) Describe, with a diagram, the effect of changes in the levels of different hormones through one menstrual cycle] on the exams. Key to the answer:
But Nobody attempts that question, so I assume that I know more about that academic aspect of the process that anybody in the exam hall. I'll shoulder some of the blame as a crap teacher but they must have seen that picture in school. If you really have no clue about when your partner is ovulating [most blokes, surely] then you really need some help with contraception. A vasectomy works really well, I recommend it.

Availability. The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution has recommended: “The introduction of a scheme for the provision of the most effective method of contraception, free of charge and having regard to personal circumstances, to all people who wish to avail of them within the State.” The implementation of that recommendation is going to be a long time a-coming because The Man is kicking the can down to road a piece by soliciting opinions from thee and me. You can access their questionnaire: Public consultation on access to contraception – have your say! There is no mention of vasectomy in the welter of contraceptive options which is really letting the lads off [again!].

I've had my patriarchal say. If The Blob has any sexually active, pre-menopause, Irish-domiciled readers, they have more skin in the game and should contribute their 2c to counteract mine. An unlimited supply of free government condoms will sort us all out for children's birthday-party balloons.