Archive for ‘science’

August 22, 2009

Different From the Others

I recently watched for the first time Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, featuring Conrad Veidt as Cesare the Somnambulist. It’s startlingly beautiful and extremely clever. However, in the process I also discovered that Conrad Veidt had (during the course of an incredibly prolific career) been in Different From the Others, a film that advocated tolerance of homosexuality and was against paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code. The movie was made, amazingly in 1919 (175 was revoked entirely only in 1994).

Someone has rather kindly uploaded the whole thing to Youtube, and you can watch it here. My favourite part is probably this bit below (starting at about 6:20). I’m not sure if it’s revolutionary, hilarious, or a delightful mix of both.

The “female gonads” bit never fails to grab me. The Doctor, incidentally, is Dr. Magnus Hirschfield.

The movie was banned soon after it was released, and many of the prints were destroyed during the Nazi regime. Still, I love them for trying.

July 21, 2009

But not Jesus

May 21, 2009

And the fifth sign shall be sweetened popcorn

People tend not to give me religious tracts. I’m not entirely sure why – perhaps they don’t like what they hear of my conversation as I walk down a street; perhaps I don’t look like the sort of person they want in their religion; perhaps I am actually invisible. But on tuesday as I walked to college a man at a street corner handed me this, and I took it.

Unlike many other religious tracts, this one merely lays out the totally scientific evidence for you, the reader, to put together.

The first page tells the story of a reckless driver who refuses to listen to warnings on the car radio about a collapsed bridge because he is too busy listening to the sports news. His car plunges into the water and he dies. (This is a metaphor).

A long list of signs and warnings that are being ignored follows. This includes violence, rape, terrorism, AIDS, and the like. However, the really convincing argument for the coming apocalypse?

By the way, this mad rush was foretold by Daniel 2,500 years ago, as evidence of “THE TIME OF THE END” (Dan 12:4); “Many shall run (rush) to and fro”.
“The travel industry is now the biggest industry in the world.

Other problems

Sex Manipulation: “For this and some sort of sex manipulation taking place between fallen angels and women in Noah’s day, God’s judgement was to wipe them all off with a flood, except Noah and his family who trusted in Him. Weird experiments that are taking place today.

Mice: (As a part of the Animal-Human Hybrid section) “Inside their brains are living human neurons that help them to see, hear and think”.

Gay people: (This is a long section, encompassing most of the booklet)

New York got a powerful warning in the destruction of the Twin Towers, but this was wirth the hands of evil men, but I think a judgement on the extremely perverting influence flowing out of Hollywood and San Francisco could be a mighty earthquake and tsunami to hit the West coast of the USA. but not at all limited to that area.

Sex teaching in schools is fanning the fires of passion in young people. A report in Newsweek says “They have gay assemblies, with speakers extolling the virtues of gayhood”, and go on to say how gay pop idols “Help promote experimentation among teenagers. Kids today are willing to try just about anything”.

…talented and professional people are often involved. Playing a leading part in this is the increasing Occult and Satanic activity, promoted and fanned on by the Internet and similar electronic devices.

There is no account of Homosexual or Lesbian marriage in Sodom, yet suddenly now hundreds of thousands of couples are lining up to take vows and go through a ceremony which, until how, has been the right of a man and woman only.

AIDS + tourism: “It began with the Homosexuals and by illicit sex spread to the Heterosexuals too, so that the increasingly rapid world travel adds to the increasingly rapid spread of AIDS.

The Church, now the laughing stock of demons: “Instead of boldly proclaiming what God says about this, they are ordaining practising homosexual men and women to the highest offices in the churches and helping promote the cause of the Antichrist religions which are aggressively aiming to take over these Christianized lands.
An apologetic, compromising Church must be the laughing stock of demons and scornful men, and to the Lord Himself it must be as he said of the Church in Laodicea, “Because you are lukewarm, I will spue you out of my mouth“.

The Mark: “The long talked-of MARK has been developing in unexpected ways and could soon become universal REALITY. Don’t be fearful, but be careful what you sign.

Global Warming: I wasn’t aware that this was still an issue, what with the sudden rise in piracy. It is clear that pastafarianism is an Antichrist Religion.

Yet with all this, there is hope. The writer (a representative of End Time Ministries, located in Kilkenny) wants to be saved, and he hopes you will be too.

September 19, 2008

I am in the know

A couple of years ago Alie sent me What Every Married Woman Should Know, a 1951 book by one Dr. R. Martin (an Australian, I think – though his consistent abuse of commas leads me to suspect Tam ancestry somewhere) that is dedicated to “all those unhappy people who do not know”.

It’s actually rather lovely. Dr. Martin reminds us all in his foreword that science is the dominant factor in our lives whether we realise it or not, and insists that in providing facts about the human body (with very good diagrams too) he is not being vulgar.

Chapter one deals with evolution, which Dr.Martin thinks everyone must understand if they wish to have a successful marriage.

Evolution teaches us that all living things, both animal and botanical, had common ancestors which gradually climbed up the ladder of time, on every step becoming more perfect, until they culminated in man – the Lord of Creation.


When it gets to the sex (after a long discussion of things like amoebas and the romantic life of, for some reason, the stickleback), the book is really almost impressive. The diagrams, as I said, are excellent. The location of the clitoris (something people still seem to have difficulties with) is given clearly. The idea that sex is something that women can actually enjoy is also put forward. This should go without saying, but I spent part of this morning getting a pedicure and reading the advice columns in some of the more regressive women’s mags, and…trust me. It doesn’t.

In chapter 6, the chapter summary thing under the title promises us “a masterly summary of menstruation”. Why be modest, Dr. Martin? Personally I prefer this 1946 Disney movie in which women do not have feet. (Via) But.

The youngest age at which the author of this book has seen a woman delivered of a child was 13 years old… the child mother certainly looked much older than her 13 years, and had her child without much trouble to herself or the attendants, but the thought of that poor girl (and she was a nice, well-spoken girl, too) being saddled with the care of a child…left an impression upon my mind that only death can wipe away.*


The changes , at puberty, come on very gradually as already mentioned, and it is not until the age of about 19 or 20 that the girl becomes a fully developed woman – beautiful to behold (if she comes of good stock) capable of not only having children, but also of looking after them and her household as well.

Chapter eight condemns masturbation…I think. At least, it condemns “gazing at lustful pictures, and reading novels, etc., the sole purpose of which lies in their sexual appeal” because it will lead to “habits of the worse sort”.

Chapter eleven, according to the summary, “deals almost exclusively with varicose veins”

Chapter twelve, however, takes up “the vital subject of childless marriages”. It is necessary to quote.

Had the populace maintained the rate of 1881 during the period from then to now, we would have a native-born population of over eleven million people rather than the seven and one half million that we boasted of having!
The Government, through its Ministers, decries the low population figures and insists that we must populate and develop the land if we are going to hold this fair country from the expanding races of Asia.

On childless couples:

To these unhappy people we can only extend sympathy as they face advancing years without offspring to brighten their path. And also the yellow peril. They are not to be envied, but our deepest sympathy should be extended to them.

On pregnancy:

It goes without saying that the utmost care must be taken lest any impurity should find its way into the internal organs. If this should occur, septic mischief with its attendant danger will follow as night the day.

(The rest of the pregnancy chapter deals with practical things like not wearing corsets, hardening the nipples against breast feeding and avoiding constipation. I will not go into these, though the nipple-hardening thing seems like it might be useful)

Chapter fourteen warns against inter-religious and inter-racial marriages (“not considering the problems of the half-caste child, with its social ostracism”. Most of his reasoning against these marriages seems to be related to the raising of children. Theoretically the couples could just not have children, but then the Asians would take over.

And finally, here’s Dr. Martin on menopause:

Some women exhibit the change more than others, but generally profound nervous conditions take place. The patient becomes very nervy, gets headaches, hot flushes, blushes easily and also shows sexual excitement. In very bad cases the victim sometimes becomes temporarily mentally deranged.

*Question – who does Dr. Martin sound like here? Email me your answers!

September 3, 2008

George MacDonald and nineteenth century science

I’ve been reading through some of the more pleasing bits of my syllabus – including The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with George MacDonald Fraser) and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. Both of them are far more appealing than At The Back of the North Wind, which I really did not like.

I read both of these in school, and the titles always annoyed me. In The Princess and the Goblin, there isn’t any one particular goblin set up in opposition to the princess. There’s Harelip, who wishes to marry her, but he’s barely mentioned. The Queen of the Goblins distinguishes herself somewhat, but hardly enough to name the book after her – and anyway, her main conflict is with Curdie, not Princess Irene.

Curdie and Irene both have prominent (and in many ways similar) roles in this book – each of them rescues the other, each of them has to learn to believe in Irene’s great great grandmother, each of them follows a thread to lead them out of danger, and each of them gets a good chunk of the book devoted to them.

So why is the sequel called The Princess and Curdie and not this book? In The Princess and Curdie Irene is hardly present, and even when Curdie joins her in Gwyntystorm she doesn’t do much. If TP&C has a heroine (other than the great-great-grandmother Queen Irene) it’s Lina the ugly dog. I’ve seen these two books together referred to as the “Curdie books” which makes much more sense.

Here’s something that struck me:

The first was, that some grievous calamity was preparing, and almost ready to fall upon the heads of the miners; the second was – the one weak point of a goblin’s body; he had not known that their feet were so tender as he had now reason to suspect. He had heard it said that they had no toes: he had never had opportunity of inspecting them closely enough, in the dusk in which they always appeared, to satisfy himself whether it was a correct report. Indeed, he had not been able even to satisfy himself as to whether they had no fingers, although that also was commonly said to be the fact. One of the miners, indeed, who had had more schooling than the rest, was wont to argue that such must have been the primordial condition of humanity, and that education and handicraft had developed both toes and fingers – with which proposition Curdie had once heard his father sarcastically agree, alleging in support of it the probability that babies’ gloves were a traditional remnant of the old state of things; while the stockings of all ages, no regard being paid in them to the toes, pointed in the same direction.

It’s not that interesting till you realise that TP&TG was published in 1872. The Origin of Species was published in 1859, and The Descent of Man in 1871.

And then there’s this wordy bit on mountains at the beginning of TP&C (1883):

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight – that is what it is.
Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped – up and away, and there they stand in the cool, cold sky – mountains. Think of the change, and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about the very look of a mountain: from the darkness – for where the light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness – from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest – up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.

(There’s another couple of paragraphs on this, but it’s a bit ridiculous to quote the lot. Also, my emphasis)

I haven’t studied any of this except cursorily in school. But from what little I remember and have gathered in a very scientific manner from Wikipedia, Sir Charles Lyell (the author of Principles of Geology and someone who had quite an influence on Darwin) was a believer in Uniformitarianism,* the idea that the geological processes we observe in the present are the same as the ones that shaped the earth in the past. The alternative theory was Catastrophism** – that catastrophic events over a shorter period had been responsible for the shaping of the earth. Religious people liked this one better, for reasons that should be obvious. MacDonald was a Christian minister. In the section that I’ve quoted above, it would appear that he was a catastrophist as well.

There isn’t much point to this (there never is, is there?) but I suspect George MacDonald and his friends and Charles Darwin and his friends didn’t attend the same parties.

*If they’d enlisted a few decent liberal arts people they might have come up with better words for these things.

**Which sounds slightly better, but you see what I mean?

April 9, 2008

I cannot title this without resorting to bad punnage

In beauty parlours/salons across the country, one can obtain things called Gold and Pearl facials. With the Gold Facial, the stuff put on your face apparently contains tiny particles of gold. The Pearl Facial, of course, has tiny bits of pearl. I’ve never been able to understand this, myself. I cannot see what possible difference bits of gold could make to your complexion. But anyway.

Via Ryan (who is excellent), pretty much the ultimate in useless (and tasteless) consumer products. The Gold Pill. A capsule dipped in gold and filled with gold leaf. Why? It increases your self worth and…makes your crap all sparkly.

(The P.L suggests that this be made a mandatory part of dogs’ diets. He feels that this measure would lead to Malabar hill becoming a clean and generally paradisal place. I suspect shocking regionalism lies behind this comment.)

On a related note (sparkly poo, not regionalism) I found this video on the site some months ago. A greater body of sparkly poo related work needs to be developed. I’m holding out for pink, myself.

March 27, 2008

Fantastic histories, religion and our place in the universe

I’ve finally started to read Mortal Engines, the first of Philip Reeve’s quartet. Sleep and class and other such things got in the way, but I’m about halfway through the first book and really enjoying it.

So far, I’m reminded in many ways of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium. Not stylistically, but both create universes where the far superior technology of the past has been lost and is only retrievable (scavenged for, in fact) in patches, and cobbled together. Bricolage, of sorts. (Then of course both have resurrected men/zombie things, improved air travel and a major character called Cromus/Cromis. I’ll stop now.)

Between them, Reeve and Harrison have got me thinking about fantasy universes and their pasts in general.

In China Miéville’s (I know he’s a Harrison fan, at least) city of New Crobuzon, there’s a gigantic (fossilized?) ribcage just…lying there. It is immense; it towers over the city, and one of the city’s boroughs, Bonetown, is built around it. Yet we’re not told why it’s there. Obviously at some point in the distant past, utterly humoungous creatures have populated this world, and we know nothing about them. The only information one actually receives about The Ribs is this (from Perdido Street Station) –


She could orient herself by the Ribs. She looked up and found them above her, shoving vastly into the sky. Only one side of the cage was visible, the bleached and blistered curves poised like a bone wave about to break over the buildings to the east…
The Ribs rose from the earth at the edges of the empty ground.
Leviathan shards of yellowing ivory thicker than the oldest trees exploded out of the ground, bursting away from each other, sweeping up in a curved ascent until, more than a hundred feet above the earth, looming now over the roofs of the surrounding houses, they curled sharply back towards each other. They climbed as high again till their points nearly touched, vast crooked fingers, a god-sized ivory mantrap.
There had been plans to fill the square, to build offices and houses in the ancient chest cavity, but they had come to nothing.
Tools used on the site broke easily and went missing. Cement would not set. Something baleful in the half-exhumed bones kept the gravesite free of permanent disturbance.
Fifty feet below Lin’s feet, archaeologists had found vertebrae the size of houses; a backbone which had been quietly reburied af¬ter one too many accidents on-site. No limbs, no hips, no gargan¬tuan skull had surfaced. No one could say what manner of creature had fallen here and died millennia ago. The grubby print-vendors who worked the Ribs specialized in various lurid depictions of Gigantes Crobuzon, four-footed or bipedal, humanoid, toothed, tusked, winged, pugnacious or pornographic.

Which tells us very little. Miéville’s universe has also had a nuclear holocaust of sorts in the past, as well as whatever circumstances (we aren’t told, as far as I recall) that lead to the existence of the ‘scar’ (in The Scar), a massive wound in reality.

Another recent series I’ve really enjoyed, Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards books are set in cities where unknown ancestors made gorgeous towers out of unknown substances. And so on.

[At this point I read the first two Reeve books and am halfway through the third. Okay, back to post.]

In all these books there’s a complete break from the past. I mean, characters may know something of their world’s pasts (though often they don’t) but there’s very little actual continuity between one civilization and the next. Apart from Viriconium, I wouldn’t classify any of these as being in the Dying Earth genre. Most of them are thriving civilizations, built over the ruins of others. But they all accept the possibility of apocalypse, of ending, of (and this is what I think is important) not being central to the history of their worlds.

And when I contrast these with the fantasy worlds in the epics, or even with someone like Tolkien, it is this that strikes me as the main difference. In the classical epics, it’s always man at the centre of the universe. With Tolkien, even though you have history divided into three ages and multiple races, there’s still this feeling of continuity, a place for everything and everything in its place. The races we’re made to identify with are still at the centre of everything. And significantly – Tolkien’s universe has a God.

(In the real world, of course, the dinosaurs existed and became extinct, great civilizations have risen and fallen and left hardly any trace of themselves, evolution happened and is happening and I’m not the centre of the universe, and that’s okay. This is, I assume, the worldview that most readers of this blog subscribe to*. I do not include the crazier faction of religious people who have Serious Dinosaur Issues.)

And while I certainly don’t think that all religious people fly in the face of science and history to believe that man is the centre of everything, ever, I’m wondering if you have to be religious in some way to be able to see worlds as that connected, with everything so tidily in its place that it inevitably hints at intent.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so please assume that rocks have fallen and that I have died, and that therefore this post is over. FSM knows it was long enough.

*Though if any you want to think I’m the centre of the universe, hey. Feel free.

February 21, 2008

Science fiction-y coolness

Since we moved to the new flat, I have not read a newspaper. This isn’t a huge loss (except in the mornings when coffee and toast and marmalade are being partaken of), because there’s always the internet. It seems my internet reading is incomplete though, because I knew nothing about this until a friend’s mother gave me a paper bag today made from a copy of The Telegraph from last month.

The company, Oxitec, said it can decimate mosquito populations by breeding genetically modified male mosquitoes, then releasing them to mate with wild females. Their offspring contain lethal genes that kill them young, before they can reproduce.

Oxitec’s technology is a variation of a proven process called “sterile insect technique,” which scientists have already used to eliminate the screwworm and the Mediterranean fruit fly from North America. It involves irradiating male insects, causing mutations that make them sterile. When released into the wild, they mate with females who then fail to reproduce.

December 13, 2007

Has this been lolcatted yet?

South Korean scientists have cloned cats by manipulating a
florescent protein gene, a procedure which could help treatments for human
genetic diseases, officials said Wednesday.
In a side-effect, the cloned
cats glow in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet beams.

Edit: yep.

(from here)