Archive for the ‘the world as it is’ Category

ALONG Battersea Road, north of Kingston, Ontario, there is one of the many memorials erected by family and friends to a young man or woman killed in a car accident.  Often, they are victims of drunk driving, either killed by the idiocy of others or slain by their own.  This particular memorial was themed, with a heart on a telephone poll (the one he or she struck?) of tape and cellophane tattered by the weather; clustered around funerary corteges of flowers mostly matching that hollow tape heart.  There is something ostentatious and gaudy about this spectacle, no matter how understandable the grief, anger and disbelief of family and friends.  They demand to show that this young life wasn’t wasted because, through the sheer number of flowers, proof can be made that yes, he was loved and did make many friends. They are also intimately tied up with the act of driving: almost impossible to access without a car, and without a single word about the causes: most people do not want to be reminded they died stupidly. If anything, these displays are compensation.  A grave is never enough, and the accident site, and death by car, a relatively and sadly common form of death, is made into tragedy. 

ALONG Battersea Road, north of Kingston, Ontario, there are many corpses.  Most of them have been smeared into complete oblivion by the action of cars day after day pressing the corpse further into the asphalt, and by the slow desiccation of beating sun, the opportunities of scavengers.  The freshness of the blood is always the most shocking, at least in passing, and the way in which the corpse breaks apart in lumps of flesh, fur and gristle.  As it ages, the blood fades into maroon, the fur or feathers become a grey homogeneous mass where bone and fibre became one with sky and ashen human stone.  The complete corpses are always scattered on the side of the road, but whether they are moved there by the roadkill patrol or the actions of predators is hard to say.  Very few are pristine: that too, is a shock, when the one blackbird is encountered whose feathers, head, beak and frozen claws lay in state.  Usually even the roadside corpses are fragments returning to the soil, and only the grey curve of a beak and the last fan of a wing remain to mark the disintegrating corpse.  The worst were the turtles, shattered as if by a hammer, half the body missing, a stretched and rubbery neck and three triangular shards of shell connected by the remnants of tendons.  The frogs, their pointed toes and stretched out, lank remains were redolent of fallen flowers than amphibians.  Across from Joyceville Institution, a penitentiary constructed in the 1950’s (and still looking every bit as institutional and oppressive as then) and alongside the toppled remnants of graves weathered and crumbled by a century of forgetting, was the ripped in twain remnants of a hare, perhaps: the head was gone, but what other animal could have been large enough of the dappled brown and reddish fur? The most pathetic: a smeared bird, species unrecognizable, with a single wing still, remarkably, intact, flapping with mechanical determination in the breeze. The numbers of these dead are surprising, and only on a bicycle is the extent of the death be noticeable.  André Gorz vilified the “aggressive and competitive selfishness” of the car and its culture, and it is hard not to see the extent of this roadkill as another function of the car’s ability to make others “merely… physical obstacles to his or her own speed.”

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Along the northern shore road of Amherst Island are picket signs, taped or propped up against iron grates, stone walls and old farm fences, denouncing wind power and angrily demanding the island stay free of turbines.  At first, cycling along a road in which farms have disappeared to be replaced with the expansive, expensive wonderlands of the wealthy professional class, these signs seemed like nothing more than rank hypocrisy.  How many of these homeowners would have to commute for thirty or forty minutes to get to their jobs in Kingston or elsewhere?  How many would continue to burn fossil fuels to support their own selfish, if understandable, desire for solitude and a life, however unrealistic, free of the clamour and masses?  The signs were an ugly reminder of the Not in My Back Yard attitude that had stymied and fought against wind turbines in Scarborough and other districts in the GTA: we do enough, we drive small cars, we recycle, but those turbines are just so ugly and noisy

 Biking towards the western end of the island, the wind turbines on Wolf Island were hazily visible many kilometres away, slashing in the strong winds driving a squall towards us, patches of light interspersed by dark rolling clouds.   On the western end of the island, the road veers 90 degrees southward and suddenly the forest that overgrew the dirt road and fields full of sheep that lined it gave way to a savagely windswept plain, with stunted and isolated trees standing alone all the way to crashing surf.  Forward progress was extremely difficult here: the bikes wavered and eyes were kept closed as much as possible.  Separating the field from the road was a relatively new fence, hung with wire and more anti-wind turbine signs.  The number of birds was incredible, and of species, swallows, for example, I have never seen in their striking plumage and angular shape.  They dipped and sped across the road, as stymied occasionally as we were; unbeknownst to us, the entire western edge of the island had been converted into a bird sanctuary with impressive success,  encouraging a splendid variety of birds to nest beyond the familiar (because rugged and adaptable common sparrow, robin and black bird).  Crucial chronology: was the bird sanctuary first, and thus, because of the disruptions caused by wind turbines, in danger?  Or was it opened after, in a cynical bid to keep the island free of wind power?

             At the south-western edge, where the road again veers 90 degrees, we stopped and ate lunch, among the worn slabs of the south shore, pummelled as the storm approached by muddy brown waves; spiders and centipedes were evacuating from the water line, scurrying for cover from spray and water.  We tempted the storm, it seems, watching cormorants soar low and effortlessly through the rising winds; geese huddled with their goslings ten metres away, while seagulls awkwardly attempted to keep alight.  My partner here, more travelled and wiser in these things, said at that moment, the skies gray and the air thick with the sound of water roaring against rocks, that this much like northern Scotland.  The wind was so strong it evaporated my stream of piss, turning into more sea spray.  Waves crashed over my shoes and ankles, soaking me; I laughed then, and laughed more when the squall hit and rain coming in sideways and storm-tossed Lake Ontario harassed us and drowned us all along the south shore.  Water leaked from our boots; eyes had ceased to be much use.  Spare clothing was no longer of much use.  A garter snake slithered across the road, cleaned and bright from the rain.  Taking the ferry back, we squeezed our socks and left puddles on the deck.    

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Glory be to the Kyrgyz people, who did what I admit fully I would be far too chicken to actually do:  take on their corrupt government, fight the riot police and army in the streets, take over the armouries and ram the Presidential Palace with an armoured carrier, seize the means of communication, including state television, proclaim a revolutionary government and chase the hated president into hiding, bringing the armed forces to your side.  That is a brilliant heroism, paid for with a steep price in dead and wounded, especially after the Kyrgyz police opened fire with live rounds  in the capital, Bishkek.  Western commentary is predictably rather worried about the US military presence in the country, including a detailed article in Business Week that repeats twice that the US airbase is safe and unharrassed, and then relieved that the interim leader has “adopted Western mores,” whereas only a day later Time is rather distraught that “it seems clear now that Kyrgyzstan will quickly return to Moscow’s sphere of influence after months of strained relations with Russia, making the U.S. military presence in the country all the more precarious.”  Unsurprisingly, almost all the papers in the US, and it seems in Canada, are running with this story as a case of Russian resurgence or troublesome Kyrgyz, but beneath the rather pedantic and typical quivering boilerplate is a dramatic story that has become quickly elided.  A piece in Eurasia Insight traces the origins of the successful revolt to arrests of opposition leaders after disorders in Talas, the exclusion of northerners from the Kurultai, and economic sanctions from Moscow that raised the price of gasoline.  A massive hike in utilities seems to have been the final catalyst, hitting the urban workers, immigrants from the countryside, especially hard. The eXiled has, at yet, nothing to tell me about it, a shame because these kinds of events are often their speciality.  And we have seen the rise, according to this site, of the Fanny Pack Revolution:

Bakiyev’s fall marks  the first time this has occurred to leader elected during the journalist-named ‘colour revolution’s in the former Soviet Union, in his case the Tulip: the Rose brought Saakashvili in Georgia to power, and the Orange brought Yushchenko to the presidency in Ukraine.  In all three cases, they were not revolutions in the sense that this week’s events in Kyrgyzstan are: they all occurred during contested elections between an incumbent seen as being pro-Russian and using fraud to rig the vote in their favour, the response being small but well-organised protests, marches, sit-ins, some strikes in the Ukraine but all part of a protracted election and inter-elite bickering, a bit like the 2000 recounts in Florida if people had went out in the streets for a week for Gore.  Dramatic events, surely, for all involved, but the ‘colour revolution’ were also lauded, exalted and fellated in the Western press, NGOs and politicians (I recall some particularly adulatory articles from Maclean’s at the time) as if these electoral struggles were a kind of liberal democratic second coming, freedom finally here, universal human rights and American-style politics triumphant, the overthrow of evil kleptocratic ex-Soviet anti-democratic Russian bootlickers finally at hand!

Not, of course, that popular revolt wasn’t in the streets, or that the governments unseated by the ‘colour revolutions’ weren’t unpleasantly corrupt, but to advocate that they were only grassroots events involves “steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the extent to which today’s velvet revolutions have fallen increasingly prey to manipulation by ruling class and imperialist interests,” as Dragan Plavsic has it; Mark MacKinnon’s book on The New Cold War might also be worth reading along these lines.  The sequel to the ‘manufactured’ revolutions aren’t exactly encouraging, either: Saakashvili turns out to be little better than his predecessor, starting a war with Russia, cracking down savagely on protestors and the opposition in general, his popularity slipping fast.  Yushchenko turned out to be an ugly character when in office, dissolving the Rada twice and bitterly battling in the dirtiest political way, kicking out former supporters, his popularity slipping fast.  Bakiyev doesn’t appear to have been much better, and he followed the ‘colour revolution’ pattern of also advocating and pushing through neo-liberal structural adjustment and privatisation; the opposition had, as one of its first aims, the return of some companies to state control. The movements that brought them men to power obviously believed deeply in real democracy, and practised it in the streets, but what they got was, it seems, another aspect of real democracy: out with the old, in with the new, more of the same.

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About those Christian militia guys who got arrested in the States.  One of them is a real Surrealist, it seems, and surely is prove enough that Surrealism and its bastard child of absurdist comedy has infiltrated the consciousness of even those one who one who least suspect of it:

But Sickles, who in those videos identified himself as a member of the Ohio Militia, may also have a lighter side. The accused plotter looks to have starred in a deeply Not Safe For Work movie, filled with cursing, mock violence, pot jokes, and sound effects conveying flatulence. Sickles appears entirely naked but for a mask of President George W. Bush that obscures some, but not all, of his genitalia.

In the film, Sickles’s chubby, tattooed character finds himself attacked by an enormous creature which appears to be half man, half duck. “Scar my tattered body no more with your punishing dildo mallet,” Sickles exclaims at one particularly dramatic moment.

The Freudians should have a field day with this as well:  Christian anti-federalist militias as projections of deep sexual anxiety about dildos, duck-rape and skull-fucking George W. Bush.

Link:     http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/04/scar_my_tattered_body_no_more_with_your_punishing.php

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Females of Haliphron atlanticus are very large, reaching 400 mm ML or a total length up to 2m (Nesis, 1982). Body tissues are gelatinous; the mantle is short and broad and the head wide; the eyes are large and the short arms have a deep web. The funnel is embedded in head tissue. Males are much smaller than females but are relatively large (ca. 300 mm total length) for an argonautoid. The hectocotylus develops in an inconspicuous sac in front of the right eye which gives the male the appearance of having only seven arms. The hectocotylus detaches at mating. Females brood their eggs, which are attached to the oral side of the arm bases near the mouth (Young, 1995).

This species is widely distributed from tropical to high latitudes and occupies meso- to bathypelagic depths. It is commonly associated with slopes of land masses. The habitat of this octopod is unusual. It has been captured in bottom trawls and videotaped swimming within centimeters of the ocean floor (brooding female) suggesting a benthopelagic habitat along the slope. However, it has also been taken from the open ocean thousands of meters from the ocean floor and hundreds of miles from the nearest slope.

– from Tree of Life web project on haliphron atlanticus:

Also, animations of the beast swimming in its deep sea void: http://www.mnh.si.edu/cephs/young92/cephs6.html

Alabaster pale, blood drained white,

gelatinous mayonaise flesh

held together by tissue mesh,

drifting alone above stygian sludge.

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Two Brief Thoughts

Thoughts on Palestine and Hamas:

Hamas is accused by Israel of hiding bombs and weapons amongst civilian populations and essentially using them as human shields; most famously, the Israeli government bombed a UN school, justifying this action by the same claim, that Hamas had secreted weapons there.  The UN catagorically denied this, and in this case, was quite right to do so.  That it might happen is much harder to deny, and leaving aside from the moral and strategic considerations of stashing weapons amongst civilians, and whether Hamas actually engages in such a practice, the Israeli accusation bothers me.  The IDF claims it takes great care to warn homes that are to be demolished or bombed ahead of time, theoretically allowing time for the inhabitants to escape.  They warn the soon to be former tenants that Hamas has hidden guns and rockets in their homes, schools, hospitals.  Though the subtext certainly demands elaboration, that those bombed, evicted or killed knew about the weapons, the general way in which these warnings and declarations were reported and issued suggested, curiously, that the guns and rockets had been snuck in, without the tenants knowing that their house had just become an arms depot.  I take it Hamas has been trained by ninjas, then, or Santa Claus.


This is how the takeover will look from your end, Middle America.

During the United States election, a dark episode best forgotten, if only for a moment, much was made by the more…convinced…opponents of Barack Obama that he was not what he claimed to be, that he was, indeed, a traitor of the highest order.  A communist.  A crypto-Muslim.  Well-educated.  Alien to American life and values, the haunting Other; this is all pretty bog-standard, repeated ad nauseum for months and years as if through repetition reality might melt away.  The accusation barely stands up, but stand it does: Obama was a Muslim sleeper agent, programmed to overthrow the United States, throwing off his wide smiled face once ensconed in the White House to reveal the hungry eyes and sprawling beard of the Terrorist, whose phrenology suggests the dim disposition of a common criminal.  And so they stock up on guns, hoping in their paranoid-critical mode to avoid what surely might seem the end of the world.  A thought:  John McCain spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, did he not?  Subjected to harsh tortures and brutal interrogations, so bad he has stood ever more against the use of torture as a reliable means of extracting meaningul information from a prisoner.  And yet, and yet: what if it were not Barack who is the candidate, but McCain, and only the election of the United States’ first black president prevented the rise of a man programmed by communist ‘gooks,’ as he might colourfully call them, to overthrow the government and establish a proletarian dictatorship, Hanoi-style, all of us sent off to work camps and learn humility and toughness after so many years of dreaming soft-bellied bliss.

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Been reading Discover Magazine‘s Top 100 science stories of 2008, and some other assorted articles on the world that may naturally be ignored in the larger scheme of things.  A sample:


“The microscopic aquatic creatures known as bdelloid rotifers are used to enduring dry spells—in more senses than one. In their common habitats of moss, soil, and seasonal pools, these minuscule, transparent animals routinely survive periods of complete dessication that can last from days to years. They also hold the record for celibacy among animals: All 460 known species of bdelloids consist exclusively of egg-laying females that have essentially been cloning themselves for 100 million years. Their endurance has long posed a kind of scientific mystery, as the majority of asexually reproducing species tend to fade away over time. But a genetic study published in May in Science [subscription required] hints that bdelloids emerging from a drought might have a kind of bizarre sex after all.

For most life-forms, going for long periods without water spells certain doom. But dehydrated bdelloids somehow reconstitute themselves when moisture returns, even though their metabolic activity stops, their cell membranes rupture, and their DNA probably gets fragmented too. “You add water, they fix themselves up, and they swim away,” says lead investigator Matthew Meselson of Harvard University.”


And the first known case of virus preying on virus:

“Viruses, generally the most minuscule of parasites, apparently have to contend with vermin of their own. In August, infectious diseases physician Didier Raoult of the Université de la Méditerranée in Marseille, France, reported [subscription required] that he had discovered a tiny virus infecting another, a giant virus called Mamavirus. This unexpected type of attack suggests for the first time that one virus may influence the evolution of other viruses.

Raoult and his colleagues found Mamavirus in water taken from a cooling tower in Paris. The giant virus, a strain of the previously identified and slightly smaller Mimivirus, was found through microscopy to be infected by a 50-nanometer-wide virus. They named it Sputnik, after the first satellite to orbit Earth.

When the scientists cultured Mamavirus and Sputnik with an amoeba, they found that Sputnik forces Mamavirus to produce not just copies of Sputnik but fewer, and deformed, versions of itself. And when they sequenced Sputnik’s genome, they found its small ring of DNA contained genes from three different viral families, including Mamavirus.”

And best of all, persistent man-made chemical pollutants have been found in deep-sea octopods and squids:

“It was surprising to find measurable and sometimes high amounts of toxic pollutants in such a deep and remote environment,” Vecchione said. Among the chemicals detected were tributyltin (TBT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs), and dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT).  They are known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because they don’t degrade and persist in the environment for a very long time.

Cephalopods are important to the diet of cetaceans, a class of marine mammals which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cephalopods are the primary food for 28 species of odontocetes, the sub-order of cetaceans that have teeth and include beaked, sperm, killer and beluga whales and narwhals as well as dolphins and porpoises.

Recent studies have reported the accumulation of POPs in the blubber and tissues of whales and other predatory marine mammals as well as in some deep-sea fish. Other investigators had speculated that the pollutants in marine mammals had resulted from feeding on contaminated squids. However, almost no information existed prior to this study about POPs in deep-sea cephalopods. Vecchione and colleagues wanted to see if whales had a unique capacity to accumulate pollutants or if they were simply one of the top predators in a contaminated deep-sea food web.

The researchers collected nine species of cephalopods from depths between 1,000 and 2,000 meters (about 3,300 to 6,600 feet) in 2003 in the western North Atlantic Ocean using a large mid-water trawl.  Species were selected for chemical analysis based on their importance as prey and included the commercially important short-finned squid Illex illecebrosus, as well as cockatoo squid, “vampire squid”, and the large jelly-like octopus Haliphron atlanticus.”

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