31 December 2006

The last tree

lastree

Until the early 1980s this was an abandoned farmland with a creek flowing thru it. Then, a small dam was built over the creek and the basin turned into a lake, the Little Seneca Lake. Any trees that got flooded eventually died.

When we first moved to the area almost 15 years ago, the lake was already here. At this spot there was a bunch of dead trees still standing upright. Since then they fell down one by one. And this is the last one left; it is dead, but still surviving, in a sense.

If you look behind and to the left of the tree you can see stumps—what is left of its former companions—sticking out of the water. The little dark specks in the foreground are ducks. Life goes on.

Happy new year!

28 December 2006

It's only minimalist music, but I like it

Whilst taking my early evening promenade today, I listened to Steve Reich's Electric Guitar Phase on my iPod.

During my last year in graduate school, I shared an apartment with some other guy in a big building that had many, many apartments. Naturally, there was always someone moving in or out. One day when I was walking past the garbage dumpsters behind the building, I saw a pile of junk left behind by a tenant who had probably just moved out. I went over and rummaged thru it. There was a bunch of 33 rpm records (remember them?). I found a Rod Stewart record, which I took. Then, I found this other record by someone named Steve Reich whom I had never heard of before. There were only 3 pieces in the album each with a peculiar name: Octet, Music for a Large Ensemble and Violin Phase. I got curious and took that one too. Luckily, my room mate had a record player (remember them?).

I was hooked on to Steve Reich's so-called minimalist music immediately.

But more than 10 years were to pass and the Internet was to appear before I learned that Reich was a minimalist composer. I also learned, again, thanks to the Internet, that there was also Philip Glass, my other favorite minimalist composer (I will write about him some other day).

I like to listen to Reich's and Glass's music especially when I am writing manuscripts or blog posts. In fact, right now Reich's Music for 18 Musicians is playing. The repetitious and somewhat monotonous character of minimalist music somehow seems to help me clear my mind and concentrate on the task at hand.

I gave the Rod Stewart record to a friend years ago, but kept Reich's record as a memento of that faithful day at the dumpster.

27 December 2006

Halide's ordeal


Halide Edip Adivar (1884-1964) was a Turkish writer, orator, university professor and feminist who was actively involved in the resistance against the British and Greek occupation forces after the First World War.

Halide first rose to fame early in 1919 when she gave several provocative outdoor speeches to large crowds in Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire under British occupation. During the same period, a small group of nationalist Ottoman officers, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were organizing meetings in Anatolia—away from the British and the ever-weakening Sultan—with the immediate purpose of fighting the Greek forces that had recently entered western Turkey.

Halide had been educated at the American College for Girls in Istanbul and spoke English and personally knew some of the British officers. Soon, however, the British began to consider her a threat. Early in 1920, when there were increasing signs that they would soon be arrested, Halide and her husband, Adnan, who was a medical doctor, escaped Istanbul for Ankara, the nationalists’ headquarters. To safely pass thru the British checkpoints in Istanbul, they disguised themselves as a hoca (a religion teacher, pronounced hodja) and his wife with Halide covering her face and hiding away her manicured fingers. The story of their subsequent 2-week journey thru the countryside mostly on horseback, while being pursued by the British forces and the local Christian militia (Greeks and Armenians), has an almost epic proportion to it.

When it became clear that the nationalist movement in Ankara was a threat to both the British plans and the Ottoman Sultan’s sovereignty, an Ottoman court in Istanbul, undoubtedly under orders from higher powers, tried the nationalist leaders in absentia and sentenced to death 7 of them, including Mustafa Kemal, Halide and Adnan. Prizes were also offered for their heads. The nationalists saw this as a ploy to discourage the general populace, who may still have been loyal to the Sultan, from cooperating with them. But they went ahead with their plans and established their own government on 23 April 1920.


Mustafa Kemal (left) and Halide Edip Adivar. Picture from here.

During the following Turkish-Greek war when there was a shortage of nurses in military hospitals, Halide volunteered to serve and was admitted in the army. She worked not only as a nurse, but also prepared reports and translations from English and organized women's associations to collect money for the army, all the while popping quinine pills to lessen the severity of her malaria attacks.

In the final days of the war, she moved westward with the Turkish forces behind the retreating Greek army from one city to another and was always in the company of officers and soldiers who seemed to have accepted her as one of their own. She met and became friends with many interesting characters, including peasant women who, it seemed, were always ready to gossip about unfaithful husbands and unfaithful wives. One unusual person was a Madame Tadia, affectionately known as Mama Tadia, a Czech who ran a hotel in Eskişehir, in the middle of all the commotion within the war zone.

Halide was closely associated with Mustafa Kemal and was present during many historical moments, such as when the captured Greek generals Trikopis and Dionis were brought to meet Mustafa Kemal. She entered Izmir on the west coast on 9 September 1922 a few hours behind the Turkish cavalry that was chasing what was left of the Greek army. She was there when a catastrophic fire consumed most of the city and a week later at a dinner party in Mustafa Kemal's future wife's house.

Yet, at about that time, Halide heard a rumor that Mustafa Kemal was turning against her and her husband. In her memoirs, published more than 2 decades later, Halide does not elaborate on what may have been behind Mustafa Kemal’s change of heart. The most likely explanation is that Adnan, who had held top level positions in the nationalist government, was now leaning towards the political opposition to Mustafa Kemal that had arisen among the nationalist ranks. Four years later, Adnan was charged along with several ex-associates of Mustafa Kemal for plotting to assassinate him. Although he was eventually cleared, several other defendants were found guilty after a hasty trial and hanged quickly. Perhaps fearing for more reprisals, Halide and Adnan left Turkey the same year and stayed abroad in France, ironically, England, the U.S. and India until 1939, the year after Mustafa Kemal died.


Halide’s memoirs were first published in English in a magazine called Asia in 1928 during her self-imposed exile and later as The Turkish Ordeal. Subsequently, she rewrote her memoirs in Turkish, which were first serialized in a Turkish magazine in the late 1950s and later published as a book in 1962. The Turkish version is in a candid, conversation-like style, and because of that there are some loose sentences and occasional unclear statements. It was a very enjoyable read, though. There is a recent version of her memoirs in English.

Follow-up post: Halide Edip Adıvar and the Armenians


26 December 2006

Life from dust

A recent paper1 in Trends in Ecology and Evolution reviews some studies and discusses the transport of bacteria, fungal spores and plant pollen on dust particles by desert winds. The authors note that studies give a wide range of values for concentrations of microbes transported with dust. Also, the identities of organisms isolated from dust versus background samples vary among studies. This is not too surprising as not only the methods vary from study to study, but also the phenomenon itself, transport by the wind on dust particles, seems to be a very precarious process that is likely to produce different outcomes every time it happens.

Nevertheless, bacterial and fungal spores and plant pollen can survive the desiccating conditions in the atmosphere as well as exposure to solar UV-radiation. If they land in a suitable habitat they can start a new colony, sometimes thousands of kilometers away from their point of origin. This brings up the question of how much dust-assisted transport contributes to the biogeography of microbes, a subject that has come up before on this blog here. Along these lines, The authors ask an interesting question: "Given that most of the clay soil on carbonate Caribbean islands is derived from African dust…, is it possible to distinguish between 'African' microbes and 'Caribbean' microbes, assuming that microorganisms have been crossing the Atlantic with desert dust for centuries?" The answer must wait further studies.


The major global dust transport systems. (Figure from Kellogg & Griffi, 2006.)

There is also a brief and what seems to me a pointless discussion of the potential transport of pathogens and allergens by "dust events". We can’t stop the wind from blowing. So, deal with it and buy a mask!


1. Christina A. Kellogg and Dale W. Griffin, Aerobiology and the global transport of desert dust, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 21, Issue 11, , November 2006, Pages 638-644. Abstract

25 December 2006

Praise be Neptune!

The Bivalve's Christmas
(A tale told to me by my crass Uncle Ostrea)

'Twas the night before Christmas.
And on the mud flat,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a spat.

The clams were nestled,
All snug in their beds,
While visions of plankton,
Danced in their heads.

And I in my mantle,
and Virginica in her shell,
Had just settled down,
From a long filtering spell
When out in the marsh,
There arose such a clatter,
I opened my valves
To see what was the matter.

Worms rose from their tubes,
Scallops blinked their blue eyes;
Clams stuck up their siphons,
Mussels gaped in suprise.

For there, on the crest of the incoming tide,
Festooned in seaweed,
On a dolphin did ride,
None other than Neptune,
Saint Nick of the deep,
Accompanied by mermaids
Just risen from sleep.
And in his wake,
By the light of old Luna,
I thought I espied
An entire school of tuna;
Not the chunk light variety,
But real Albacore(!)
And with them were sturgeons,
Sea bass and more.

Crustaceans too:
Portunus, Penaeus,
Most every variety
Named by Linnaeus
They all followed Neptune,
who rode to the beach,
And as he dismounted
They stayed within reach.

With theatrical fanfare
He opened his pack,
And poured out his gifts
On the Spartina rack.

He passed out Artemia
(Brine shrimp to you),
Purina fish chow,
and shrimp pellets too.
He had freeze dried krill
And bloodworms galore.
He passed out the goodies
Till there weren't any more.

Not a one was forgotten
Who swims in the sea.
But think of it now,
Does that include me?
That's right he'd omitted
The bivalve's completely:
No algae to filter,
No diatoms to treat me!

There ensured a great silence
As the truth slowly dawned:
They'd gotten nothing
And the gifts were all gone!

Then there came a great cry,
Of dismay from the muck,
And the bivalves rose up,
To the last geoduck
Demanding to know
(Could there be a good reason?)
Why Saint Nick had forgotten them
This Christmas season.

Not all clams were bad!
The scallops were ignorant.
The mussels may have conspired,
But the oysters were innocent.
And what of the cockles?
They'd done no one a wrong.
And in this vein,
The clamoring went on.

Neptune climbed on a rock,
For protection may be,
But it had this advantage-
From the mud we could see
As he flourished his trident,
Silencing the crowd,
Then pronounced in a voice
That was righteously loud:

Frankly, Scallop, I don't give a clam!

(Author unknown)

21 December 2006

My black sun

myblacksun1

Ansel Adams had a famous photograph called The Black Sun. It is the solarized (black) image of a sun near the horizon with a slightly underexposed, but not solarized, creek and a tree in the foreground. (I searched the Web, but couldn't find a digitized copy of Adam's picture.)

Occasionally during my darkroom days, I experimented with solarization of photographs that were still being developed by turning the room light on for a very brief period, a second, perhaps. This created a reversal effect, making bright areas in the picture dark and giving dark areas a bright halo. I admit I don't know the photochemistry behind the process.

In his book, Examples. The Making of 40 Photographs, Adams explains how he created his black sun. Although I don't quite understand how he did it, he seems to have solarized the negative (not the final photograph) by means of a specialized developer.

Ever since I started taking digital pictures, I have been experimenting with the solarize filter in Photoshop, trying to create something similar to Adam's picture. I hadn't been successful until tonight. It turns out that the trick is to start with an underexposed photograph, solarize it and then brighten it up a little bit. In my case, it also helped that the sun was behind a thin cloud layer.

If you compare the picture above with the original below you will see that the only reversal is in the sun. If I brighten the original first, and then solarize it, I get reversal effects elsewhere in the picture.

mysun

20 December 2006

18 December 2006

A blonde spy in Ankara


Zsa Zsa Gabor's first husband (1936-1941) was Burhan Belge (1899-1967), at that time the press director for the Ministry of the Interior of Turkey, and later a writer and politician. They lived in Ankara for 5 years. After their divorce, Gabor went to the U.S. and married Conrad Hilton in 1942.

The December issue of the Turkish history magazine Toplumsal Tarih reproduces 3 pages from a once-confidential 4-page report by the U.S. Military Intelligence Division dated 1 January 1944. The report summarizes an interview of sorts conducted with Mrs. Conrad Hilton during which she appears to have provided ("vouchsafed") information on "current events" in Turkey.

gabor2b

There is nothing earth-shattering in the document. In fact, it is rather dull, as exemplified by this statement from the section on the Turkish Army: "The Turkish Army is first, and above all, pro-Turkish". Duh!

gabor1a

At the end of the report it is stated that Mrs. Hilton was "compiling a Who's Who of the personalities whom she knew intimately during her five years stay in Ankara" and that this would be "forwarded as soon as she has finished it". Now, that would perhaps be more interesting to read. I wonder if Mrs. Hilton ever finished it.

Divine intervention: the last refuge of the clueless

In the 9-15 December issue of the New Scientist there is an interview with a creationist named John Baumgardner who was a geophysicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico until 2004. To explain the movements of continents and the formation of geological features on them, Baumgardner is said to have developed a hypothesis based on the weakening of silicate minerals under stress, resulting in the rearrangement of continents during a span of a year. When confronted with the weaknesses of his hypothesis, including the lack of a mechanism to allow for the cooling of the newly formed crust so quickly, this is what he says: "Most of what I've described involves the present laws of physics, but there are a couple of issues where I believe there must have been some form of divine intervention."

If you are going to resort to "divine intervention" when you are cornered, why do you even bother to develop a "scientific" hypothesis to begin with? Why don't you just say "God did it all" and end your own pathetic misery?

In the same issue of New Scientist, the University of Maryland physicist Bob Park offers an indirect rebuttal of Baumgardner's idiocy:

"Science is, in fact, the only way of knowing. Anything else is just religion, which is all about authority."

Bob Park's weekly column is here.

17 December 2006

Water closets for the rich and famous

restroom1b

They get quite creative when it comes to coming up with signs for public restrooms in Turkey. Outside the restrooms in the picture above, which I took near the town of Göcek in southwest Turkey in August 1998, Elvis Presley (complete with his guitar) directs the men to the left, while Marilyn Monroe directs the women to the right. Even if you were totally clueless as to who those 2 people were, I suppose you could still figure out which side to go to.

Göcek, being a main harbor for yachts, gets a lot of European tourists. So, one might think that pictures of Elvis and Marilyn on restroom walls would fit in with the crowds, however outdated the 2 of them may be. The picture below, on the other hand, is from the rural town of Beyağaç, also in southwest Turkey. I took the picture last July. I doubt very many foreigners pass thru that town. Nevertheless, the silhouette of a rather classy looking lady adorns the outside of the ladies' room, while that of a dressed up man (complete with his cigarette) is on the men's side. If you waited outside that WC for an entire year (or even longer), you wouldn't see one woman looking anything like the one in the sign pass thru that door.

restroom2

Incidentally, I wonder if anyone in Beyağaç knows what "WC" stands for.

restroom3

15 December 2006

How come cows are not smarter?

According to a study published in the British Medical Journal1, children with higher IQ scores at age 10 years are more likely to be vegetarians at age 30. (Also read the BBC news article.)

The study included 8170 men and women aged 30 years whose IQs were tested when they were 10 years old. The mean childhood IQ scores of vegetarians were 106.1 and 104.0 for men and women, respectively. In comparison, the mean childhood IQ scores of non-vegetarians were 100.6 and 99.0 for men and women, respectively.

Obviously, the IQ differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians are not drastic, especially when the overall standard deviation of 15 (mean=100) is taken into account.

The authors intended to test the hypothesis that vegetarianism might be the reason why more intelligent people appear to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease. (The link between intelligence and coronary heart disease risk was demonstrated in earlier studies.)

The authors offer 2 explanations of their results. One is that children with greater intelligence are more likely to become vegetarians and, therefore, are less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. (The presumed link between vegetarianism and coronary heart disease risk was also demonstrated in earlier studies.)

The 2nd explanation is that there is no casual link between intelligence and being a vegetarian. Intelligent people are more likely to take better care of their health and make smarter choices about other lifestyle preferences that may lower their risk of coronary heart disease.

In my mind, the relatively small IQ differences that were observed between vegetarians and non-vegetarians and the uncertainty about what exactly is a "vegetarian" make it difficult to come up with a clear-cut interpretation of the results. The authors note that 33.6% of the vegetarians in the study group admitted eating fish or chicken and that no difference was found between the IQ scores of those 2 groups. Does that mean a person's IQ is a factor in deciding only whether he or she will eat red meat?

What about vegans (those who eat no animal products)? Are they even smarter?

Well, it turns out that the vegans in the group had a mean childhood IQ score of 95.1! I think that explains why cows are not smarter.


1. Catharine R Gale, Ian J Deary, Ingrid Schoon, G David Batty, G David Batty. IQ in childhood and vegetarianism in adulthood: 1970 British cohort study. BMJ, published 15 December 2006. pdf

14 December 2006

Eat Tandonia and die

The carabid beetle Pterostichus melanarius (Coleoptera: Carabidae) is a predator of slugs. A paper1 I read today provides preliminary evidence that the European slug Tandonia budapestensis may have evolved a toxic skin or slime to defense itself against the beetles.

Symondson gave starved individuals of P. melanarius either a dead slug of one of 3 species or blowfly maggots and monitored the beetles' mortality afterwards. The slugs used as food were T. budapestensis, Deroceras reticulatum and Arion distinctus.

Fifty percent2 of the beetles fed on T. budapestensis died within two days of feeding upon slugs and 30% of the remainder after the second feeding, which took place a week later. In contrast, none of the beetles fed on other species of slugs and maggots died during the first 2 days after the first feeding.

The author speculates that the skin of T. budapestensis may contain a toxin and that this toxin may also be a defense against the avian predators of this slug. The author further speculates that the orange median stripe of this slug (see drawing below) may function as a warning signal against birds and other visual predators.

I will offer one criticism of this study. The slugs had been killed by freezing and before they were given to the beetles, they were cut open. If I were doing a study like this, I would use live slugs. It is unlikely, but nevertheless possible that the killing and cutting of the slugs changes the composition and toxicity of their slime as a result of some enzymatic reactions.

Nevertheless, the results are intriguing. As the paper notes, slugs depend primarily on their mucus to defend themselves against their enemies. It is, therefore, not too surprising that some species have also evolved the ability to produce toxins in their skin or mucus to strengthen their defenses.


Tandonia budapestensis (from Kerney & Cameron. A Field Guide to the Land Snails of Britain and North-west Europe. 1979).


1. Symondson, W.O.C. 1997. Does Tandonia budapestenis [sic] (Mollusca: Pulmonata) contain toxins? Evidence from feeding trials with the slug predator Pterostichus melanarius (Coleoptera: Carabidae). J. Moll. Stud. 63:541-545.
2. The paper says 50%, but the actual number is 11 dead out of 20 beetles, or 55%.

13 December 2006

12 December 2006

Stressed slugs secrete scary slime

Ever since the slugs evolved out of their ancestors' shells, their slime, or mucus, has become their major defense against the elements and the enemies. When a substance is so vital a component of survival, it shouldn't come as a surprise if evolution has also turned it into a medium of communication. This follows from the results of a series of simple experiments carried out by Jordaens et al.1 that demonstrate that the slug Deroceras laeve responds to the mucus of other D. laeve (conspecifics) and other Deroceras species (heterospecifics).

When D. laeve was given the choice of being either in an area containing mucus of conspecifics or in an area without mucus, the time they spent in areas with mucus was significantly higher than the time spent in areas without mucus (A in the figure below).


The vertical axis shows mean time spent (and standard deviation) in each experimental area either with mucus of conspecifics (white bars) or without mucus (black bars in A & B) or with mucus of heterospecifics (black bars in C).

But when the same experiment was repeated using mucus from stressed conspecifics2, the slugs went bananas: "Nineteen out of the 30 individuals almost immediately left the plastic container, despite the copperfoil. Eight other individuals were situated on the area without mucus and three individuals were situated on the area with mucus from stressed individuals." In another experiment, the slugs spent significantly longer time in areas without mucus than in areas with the mucus of one stressed individual (B in the figure). So, obviously there is some secretion in the mucus of stressed slugs that the other slugs don't like.

In yet another experiment, D. laeve showed no preference for areas that had either the the mucus of other D. laeve or that of D. panormitanum. And the time spent in the area with heterospecific mucus was not significantly different from the time spent in the area with conspecific mucus (C in the figure).

Slugs do seem to pay attention to the slime they encounter during their travels. And sometimes, doing so may save their lives.


1. Kurt Jordaens, Hilde Gielen, Natalie Van Houtte, Gary Bernon, and Thierry Backeljau (2003). The response of the terrestrial slug Deroceras laeve to the mucus and air-borne odours of con- and heterospecifics (Pulmonata: Agriolimacidae). J. Mollus. Stud. 69:285-288.
2. How do you stress a slug? You make it think that it is about to get eaten: "Mucus from stressed individuals was obtained by simulating the attack of beetles which grasp slugs from behind after following the pedal mucous trail. This was done by touching the posterior part of three slugs with pincers, without breaking the skin, a few times over 1 min. Such a stimulation changes the amount and composition of the mucus."

11 December 2006

Where do all the dead birds go?

In each issue, the British science magazine the New Scientist publishes questions submitted by its readers along with answers, also provided by readers, to previously published questions. I have posted my own answers to a couple of those questions here and here. Unless I missed it, the New Scientist still hasn't published an answer to the tripe question.

In the 25 Nov-1 Dec issue (No. 2579), a reader asked: "There are billions of birds worldwide, so why is it that you rarely, if ever, see a dead one?"

Well, I have seen many dead birds. In fact, I had a series of posts on the “afterlife” of one gray catbird (here, here and here). Once, I even found by the side of a busy road a large dead hawk that had apparently been struck by a vehicle. One summer several years ago, I explored a small Mediterranean island where gulls nested and where there were tens of dead juvenile gulls.

But, yes, one would think that with all those birds flying around, the dead ones would be coming down like rain. The reason why we don't see more dead birds is that dead birds, and in general all dead animals, get eaten very quickly. This is especially true in neighborhoods near forests. We have had our garbage can raided by raccoons and opossums on probably more occasions than we are aware of. With such scavengers prowling the neighborhoods nightly, the sun would never rise on a dead bird on a suburban yard.

For the same reason, one's chances of encountering a dead bird is even less in the woods. The only dead animals I have encountered in the woods were deer. They take longer to disappear, because they are so much larger than any other animal in forests around here. Incidentally, deer carcasses are more common alongside roads than in forests, because the scavengers have less access to them outside the forests.

Also, many birds are migratory. Many of those that die while flying at high altitudes may fall onto mountain tops or into oceans or forests.

Results of Saturday's attempt at cooking

pistachios1

One thing I like about shopping at the Whole Foods Market is the trays of food they put out for the customers to sample. On a good day, you could easily have a free meal with pieces of fruit, cheese, crackers, dips, small slices of cakes and various prepared foods and even meat or seafood grilled right there while-U-wait. Last Saturday, somebody was serving meatballs and carrots with pistachios and brown sugar that tasted pretty good. The pistachios were quite soft, but the woman behind the table didn't know how they had been cooked.

After I came home, I decided to make my own version. To get the pistachios soften up a bit, I thought I could microwave them in a mug with a little bit of water. I set the microwave for 4 min, but had to stop the process before the time was up, because smoke mixed with smell of something burning, pistachios, to be exact, started filling the kitchen.

During the 2nd trial, I used more water and microwaved for 2 min. The outcome was better. The final product, baby carrots microwaved with pistachios and maple syrup, instead of brown sugar, was quite yummy, although the pistachios were still not as soft as the ones they had in WFM.

pistachios2

And it was a good accompaniment for smoked salmon.

09 December 2006

Temi catches another one!

Our 18-year old Temi has a new interest these days. On windy days she likes to go out into the backyard to hunt. And when she catches something, she brings it into the house and drops it on the floor while meowing for her kittens to come over. In Cat Watching, Desmond Morris explains that this is what mother cats do to teach their kittens how to handle and kill a prey animal.

The problem in the case of Temi is that she doesn't have kittens and she only chases and catches the leaves getting blown around in the wind.

Temileaf1

Is she getting senile? Does she really think the leaf is an animal that she caught? The BBC reported last week that cats can suffer from a feline form of Alzheimer's disease. Temi, however, doesn't seem to have developed any peculiar behaviors; she still responds to her name, recognizes us, remembers where her litter box, food and water bowls are. And despite her advanced age, she is still in good shape—you should see the way she goes after the leaves.

Temileaf2

I am guessing that this is just a new game she has invented to make the best of her golden years.

08 December 2006

Archaeo+Malacology Group Newsletter No. 10

The AMG Newsletter No. 10 (and the previous 5 issues) is available here. This issue contains articles on the Neanderthals in Gibraltar (if you are wondering what that has anything to do with mollusk shells, read the article), the clausiliid snail Papillifera papillaris in Istanbul, alien snails in the UK and abstracts of several papers on mollusks and archaeology.

07 December 2006

His Father's Suitcase

Earlier this afternoon, I watched the webcast of Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture in Literature. Pamuk gave his lecture in Turkish and was a rather poor speaker. Even though he was reading it from his notes, he wasn’t fluent and several times repeated his words and sentences. He may have been nervous. Overall, I must say I was disappointed.

The texts of Pamuk’s lecture, entitled Babamın bavulu (My Father's Suitcase) in 5 languages are available here.

As you know, the question we writers are asked most often, the favourite question, is; why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can't do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life's beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.
Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Lecture

06 December 2006

Do you cough in the night? Take 2 snails

delaneysnail

This is from The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany edited by Lady Llanofer and published in 1861-62. Mary Granville Delaney (1700-1788) became famous in her 70s for her decoupage creations some of which are apparently preserved in the British Museum. Her autobiography is available at Google Books (the above paragraph is from p. 477).

Could there be something in boiled snail extract, perhaps something coming from snail slime, that could suppress coughs? Presumably, Mary Delaney was referring to some common and large British land snails. Cepaea or Helix, maybe?

05 December 2006

04 December 2006

Symmetry in the park

symmetry2

02 December 2006

Saturday nite's beer review: Black Cat

blackcat

Hoping for some nice strong flavored dark beer, I bought a bottle of Black Cat brewed by the Moorhouse Brewery in England this afternoon. But the Black Cat disappointed me. It was dark alright, in fact, very dark, but it had a rather wimpy flavor and aroma. Moreover after a handful of my usual beer-snacks, chocolate covered pecans and an assortment of other nuts, the Black Cat developed an unpleasant after taste.

According to the label, this beer has been winning awards in beer festivals in England. It just shows you how meaningless such awards are.


Index to the Snail's Tales' Beer Reviews

01 December 2006

Let them it dirt!

An interesting news article by Trevor Stokes in this week's Nature (vol. 444, pp.543-544) is about geophagia, the practice of eating soil, usually clay, by humans. The article reports that geophagia is present in many parts of the world, but from the examples mentioned, it seems to be most prevalent among African children and pregnant women. According to the article, there is even an African grocery store in New Jersey that sells clay for eating. I wonder what FDA would think of that.

Several hypotheses have tried to explain why people eat clay. One idea is that clay supplies essential trace metals such as iron and zinc. However, some experiments simulating the conditions in a human stomach have demonstrated that clay actually binds trace metals so tightly that it may end up removing them from a clay-eater's gastrointestinal tract, creating deficiencies.

According to another hypothesis, proposed by Paul Sherman, eating clay may help remove toxic chemicals found in some plants, such as solanine (misspelled as solanin in Nature) in potatoes. I have not read any of Sherman's papers, but the Nature article seems to be implying that this offers an evolutionary advantage. I can't see how what seems to be a cultural practice could be an evolutionary process unless whether or not a person will eat clay is somehow genetically determined.

The article lists nicotine in tobacco as another toxic chemical that could be removed by clay. I thought that was an irrelevant example, because people don't normally eat tobacco and tobacco use is such a recent invention in human history that I can't see how it could have anything to do with the origin of geophagia that is said to have been practiced in ancient Sumeria. It seems that Trevor Stokes couldn't think of any more relevant plant toxins. Long lists of edible plants with toxic constituents are available here and here and here.