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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One kiss 'shares 80 million bugs'

By Smitha Mundasad

For BBC News

17 November 2014

A single 10-second kiss can transfer as many as 80 million bacteria, according to Dutch scientists. They monitored the kissing behaviour of 21 couples and found those who kissed nine times a day were most likely to share salivary bugs. Studies suggest the mouth is home to more than 700 different types of bacteria - but the report reveals some are exchanged more easily than others. The research is published in the journal Microbiome.

A team from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) asked 21 couples a series of questions to assess their kissing habits, including how frequently they had kissed in the last year and when they last locked lips. Scientists took bacterial samples from the volunteers' tongues and saliva before and after a strictly timed 10-second kiss. One member of the couple then drank a probiotic drink, containing an easily identifiable mixture of bugs. On the couple's second kiss, scientists were able to detect the volume of bacteria transferred to the other partner - on average 80 million bacteria in a single 10-second kiss. But while bacteria in the saliva seemed to change quickly in response to a kiss, bug populations on the tongue remained more stable.

Prof Remco Kort, who led the research, said: "French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time. But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue. Further research should look at the properties of the bacteria and the tongue that contribute to this sticking power. These types of investigations may help us design future bacterial therapies and help people with troublesome bacterial problems."

The Dutch scientists worked in collaboration with the museum Micropia, the world's first museum of microbes, based in Amsterdam. In a newly opened exhibition, couples are invited to share a kiss and are provided with an instant analysis of the bugs they have exchanged. A growing number of researchers are looking at the microbiome - an ecosystem of some 100 trillion micro-organisms that live in and on our bodies. Scientists say these populations may be essential for health and the prevention of disease.

[Sounds like my idea of a research project and no doubt explains why I had a sore throat for the first few months of my last relationship….]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Very cool..........

Just Finished Reading: 1848 – Year of Revolution by Mike Rapport (FP: 2008)

Until I embarked on my recent foray into European history I had heard about much of it, at least in passing, but knew little of the detail. Until very recently this was the state of things regarding the continent wide series of revolts that shock Europe in the year 1848. I knew they had happened but I had no idea what caused them, what actually happened or what the consequences where. Well, I am most definitely no longer ignorant on these counts. My only regret in reading this substantial looking (at just over 400 pages) volume is that I took so long to read it. I have to say that it left me stunned with its breadth, detail, explanatory power and majestic quality. More than once I almost read this open mouthed with amazement, both at the events described and the brilliance of those descriptions. It is not often that you can call a book of European political history gripping but this is certainly one example.

Anyway, as to the story itself. Ever since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the continent had only seemed to be at peace. From time to time revolts and insurrections broke out and where, on the whole, brutally repressed. But something, it seemed was building in the background. 30 years later the powder keg, so carefully constructed by political and economic forces by and large ignored by the powerful and wealthy ignited first in Paris (where else!) and then, as news arrived in other parts, across the Habsburg Empire. At first the response was typical of all authoritarian regimes – send in the army. But cut-backs and lack of political will failed to quell things as quickly as expected and, as to surprise to the revolutionaries themselves, the great and the good paused and began to worry. For a moment the Empire itself stumbled and looked, at least for a while, as if it would fall into chaos. The revolutionaries took heart and the revolt spread, from country to country, province to province. Political careers and political parties emerged from nowhere and became movements and ideologies – Socialism and Communism amongst them.

Two countries, or actually aspiring countries, saw their chance and to a greater or lesser degree pushed for unification. Both Italy and Germany began their long and rocky journey towards the states they are today. Both journeys where incredibly complex and I thought where defining moments in the book as I grappled with the forces that gave birth to both countries decades later. Fortunately the author really knew his stuff and guiding my sometimes aching brain through the labyrinthine pathways and innumerable names (a few of which I recognised from somewhere) of those involved in revolution, counter revolution and oppression. I fully intend to follow up these individual stories in even more detail later.

After the initial shock of the continental revolt wore off and the inevitable infighting between the revolutionary and reforming parties started (which I read with great sadness and much shaking of head) the forces of reaction fought back. When initial victories went their way they redoubled their efforts and managed to splinter many of the forces ranged against them – being made up, as they were, of both military and political novices. Within the year the inevitable sad reality hit home. The revolutions, started with such verve and such hope, had failed. Not completely and not to the same extent everywhere but the highest hopes and the strongest demands had not been met. After the great initial earthquake the aftershocks hardly disturbed the ruling elite’s sleep – until 1914 that is when the chickens released in 1848 came very much back to roost.

If things had gone differently in 1848 and Serbia in particular had managed to gain independence, or even some sort of acceptable autonomy, would have a revolutionary band have planned the assassination of the Arch duke? If 1848 had been a success in revolutionary terms would the world have collapsed into conflict in 1914 finally destroying the Habsburg Empire that still stood, weakened but functioning, after the revolts had been so brutally supressed? Did the events of 1848 define the world in the 20th century? These are indeed interesting questions and if you want to move towards answering them then I heartily recommend you read this fascinating, gripping and superbly constructed work of political history.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Favourite Movies: A Very Long Engagement

When we saw the trailer for this I think I probably decided to see it on the basis that it starred Audrey Tautou. That seemed a fair reason I’d have to say as she’s, well, pretty amazing.

The story is suitably French – in other words complex and quirky. It revolved around orphan and polio sufferer Mathilde (Tautou) whose childhood friend, and now lover Manech (played by Gaspard Ulliel) is drafted into the French army in the closing years of WW1. Traumatised by the conflict he decides the easiest way out is to be injured in combat and contrives being shot by a sniper. Accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy he, along with four other soldiers, are forced to spend the night in No-Man’s Land in the expectation that the Germans will do the executions for them. This is exactly what Mathilde is told but refuses to accept that her lover is dead.

With the war now over, no further news of Manech and with life returning to normal her adopted parents (played marvellously by Dominique Pinon and Chantal Neuwirth) expect Mathilde to move on with her life. However, she is determined to find out exactly what happened on that fateful day and begins tracking down other soldiers who shared her lover’s trench. Their individual stories and viewpoints begin to weave together the pattern that first gives Mathilde hope that her fiancĂ© survived only to have others relate how he died either from a German aircraft machine gunning his location or during the subsequent artillery bombardment. If that wasn’t complicated enough the private detective she hires (again played superbly by Ticky Holgado) discovers that a number of potential witnesses have been murdered by an unknown woman. Digging deeper into the mystery Mathilde realises that a parallel investigation is taking place, not to discover the truth but to exact revenge for one of the soldiers casually killed by his own side in No Man’s Land. His lover, Tina Lombardi (played brilliantly by Marion Cotillard in, I think, the first movie I saw her in) is determined to follow the chain of command of all those involved up to the President himself in the cause of Sicilian retribution.

Of course this brief synopsis doesn’t do this movie justice or anywhere close. The acting throughout is brilliant, the plot is complex but reasonably easy to follow if you keep your eye on the ball. The cinematography is breath-taking and evocative of the era with an almost sepia feel to it. The combat scenes are brutal and uncompromising though probably nowhere near as brutal as the real thing. Of course Tautou stands head and shoulders above everyone else, at least for me, but the ensemble cast are most definitely not there to make up the numbers. Even actors who might only get a few moments screen time and say very little (if anything) seemed to be full of life and have histories stretching back in time and off screen if only the camera had turned towards them earlier. More than once it felt that we, the audience, where intruding on small private scenes from real life.

I think I’ve seen this four or maybe five times since it came out in 2004. I’m actually torn between wanting to watch it again and again because it’s just so bloody good and the fear that repeat watching will take away some of its brilliance. Then there’s the emotional load. Every time I’ve seen this film I have cried at the end. Just writing this review, right now, I can feel me welling up. Yes, it’s really that emotional. After two hours of searching and hoping you really want Mathilde to find Manech and put an end to their very, very long engagement. But you’ll have to watch the movie to find out how that happens – just have some tissues ready.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cartoon Time.

'Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.The more experiments we make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.'

Ralph Waldo Emerson.