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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thinking About: Lurching to the Right

I’ve had the feeling for some time now – that the whole world seems to be inexorably and deliberately lurching to the Right. Of course here in the UK it’s exemplified by the rise of UKIP who won their second seat in Parliament on Thursday with a massive swing in their direction. It’s looking like the prediction of 5-6 seats made during the last local elections have been set far too low. The party leader himself is talking about holding the balance of power in the next, generally expected to be, coalition government. The very thought makes me shudder.

Being the contrary bastard that I am, and that people who know me have come to expect, as others move to the Right I myself am increasingly moving to the Left which, as you can imagine, produces some fiery exchanges at work. Rather surprisingly some of my colleagues (who I expected better of) seem to side with UKIP and their objectionable policies. But hey, it’s not like I’ve never been in a minority (of one) before so that aspect hardly bothers me.

Knowing a little history I suppose I should have expected the present political movements. It times of economic uncertainty and austerity the political scene tends to polarise. Unfortunately it seems that the Left have, to coin a phrase, left the building. Indeed the so-called Left AKA New Labour seem to be intent on playing catch-up with the Right and positioning themselves as Tory-Lite or the acceptable face of capitalism. Of course what they should be doing, if they had either a backbone between them or even an ideology worthy of its name, is moving to the Left to present the people with an actual choice rather than the illusion of one. Unfortunately such an eventuality is never going to happen in the Labour Party without a particularly bloody ‘Night of the Long Knives’ scenario they are singularly incapable of orchestrating.

It does actually amuse me, in a gallows humour sort of way, that the finger of blame is pointed repeatedly at immigrants when the real villains of the piece, you know, those who actually caused the collapse of the world’s financial system – remember that? – AKA the fucking bankers and stock market speculators seem to have got away with the biggest fraud in history scot free. As the number of people holding down multiple part-time jobs, on minimum wage or so-called zero hours contracts (and there I was thinking that slavery and indentured servitude had been made illegal) increases by the week we see bankers bonuses back in fashion and the champagne lifestyle acceptable again – after all they are, we are regularly told, the wealth generators who will get us out of the recession people seem to have forgotten they got us into in the first place.

Of course on the horizon, post the next general election in May 2015, in the prospect of the Conservative-UKIP coalition government pulling out of the European Union. The word stupid (even prefixed with the word fucking for added emphasis) doesn’t do justice to this aspiration. No doubt, with the terrible political education in this country, the people will speak (oddly sounding like millions of frightened sheep), and we will withdraw thereby damaging the EU in the process and setting ourselves on the long slow path to political and economic irrelevance. Living, or at least surviving, in a western version of the 3rd world country isn’t exactly how I had hoped to spend my declining years but I guess that’s how it’s going to be. I wonder if this is how it felt in Germany in the 1920’s. Hopefully I’ll never find out. Then again, if Scotland breaks away I can always emigrate there or even take up my dual nationality and move to Eire. Maybe I should really investigate getting myself that Irish passport……  

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.