Monday, July 25, 2016

A Defense Of Social Wasps

Stinging Insects
Pleading Innocent: Simon Barnes for The Spectator writes not only in defense of the wasp (Hymenoptera), but also says that humans ought to give them more respect than they often get, perhaps, even some gratitude: “Wasps changed the way we humans act as a species, but we have seldom shown much gratitude, or for that matter much sense. We have created a series of chemicals that kill invertebrates, never thinking for a second that it’s actually quite a good idea to look after insects. In parts of China they’ve got rid of insects so efficiently that they have to pollinate their fruit trees by hand. Wasps are important pollinators.”
Image Credit: Heath
Source: The Spectator

An article, by Simon Barnes, in The Spectator says that despite their bad reputations—one that I view as well-earned—wasps perform a valuable service for humanity. In effect, Barnes has decided to act as an advocate for all wasps, including social wasps, many of which sting. In “Why all civilized people should love wasps” (July 23, 2016), Barnes writes for the British magazine:
We never see the best of wasps because of the way they act in late summer, when their labour is done. Before that they have led exemplary lives. There are nine species of social wasps in this country, including the much-feared but comparatively mild–mannered hornet, and they’re all honest toilers for most of their existence. Hornets can give a pretty fearsome sting, but you have to go out of your way to experience it. They come into the ancient category of ‘this animal is dangerous — it defends itself when attacked’.
Seriously? I remain unconvinced and am not sorry about my unrepentant heart in regards to the stinging insects. (I know that many species of wasps are of the non-stinging variety, so my argument against wasps is about the stinging variety.) Social wasps, like the familiar yellow jacket (Vespula), sting, and such is my mental association. That they help humanity is overshadow by the fact that they sting, and act aggressively, despite protests from their advocates that they sting only in self-defense.

Well, here is a story of one social wasp that acted contrary to such theories. A number of years ago, I was at the beach with my family to celebrate Canada Day. It was a glorious July 1st holiday outing. We brought a cooler of food with us, including sandwiches of various cold cuts. While my wife and children were playing in the water, I was sitting in a chair, deciding to eat one of the sandwiches we had brought with us. As I placed the sandwich in my mouth and took a bite, unbeknownst to me, a wasp entered my mouth and stung me on my tongue. The pain was immediate, as was the accompanying swelling of my tongue. In what way, was this wasp defending itself?

As for being wonderful pollinators, honey bees (Apis) are also wonderful pollinators and rarely act in such an aggressive manner. I will welcome a bee over a stinging wasp any day. So, the best that I can muster is a begrudging admiration and respect for these stinging hooligans, and agree that their colors are beautiful and striking—albeit I do so from a distance. I think that I am being more than fair, considering the history and recent circumstances.

For more, go to [TheSpectator]

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Manfred Mann Earth Band: Blinded By The Light (1977)

Manfred Mann Earth Band perform “Blinded by the Light” on The Midnight Special in 1977. The song, written by American rocker Bruce Springsteen and released in 1973, is the first track on the  a British band’s 1976 album The Roaring Silence. It’s a fun song that has lots of rhyme in it, but I am not sure if it has much meaning behind it. Blinded by the light/Revved up like a deuce/Another runner in the night. The band's lead is Manfred Mann [born Manfred Sepse Lubowitz; 1940], who was born into a Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa, and who left the country in 1961, in opposition to its apartheid system.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hubble Image Of ‘The Final Frontier’


“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Capt. James T. Kirk  of the U.S.S. Enterprise, “Star Trek” (1966)

Abell S1063, an estimated 4 billion years old: This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been exploring the universe from an orbit around the Earth since 1990. One could say that we humans have been prepared to become awed of such momentous impressions of the final frontiers of space much earlier. perhaps since the now immortal words of  Capt. James T. Kirk (first uttered by William Shatner) were broadcast in a TV show, “Star Trek” in 1966. The power of this particular mystical-like photo, the power of words and the possibility of imagination and their link to the popular sci-fi film & TV franchise is intimated by Elizabeth Howell for, who writes : “‘The newest target of Hubble’s mission is the distant galaxy cluster Abell S1063, potentially home to billions of strange new worlds,’ just like those visited by the USS Enterprise, according to a European Space Agency description. The cluster's massive gravity magnifies light from background galaxies due to an effect known as gravitational lensing.” For more, go to [Space].
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lots Of Mammals Call The Philippines Island Of Luzon Home


Long-Whiskered Tree Mouse is found exclusively on the island of Luzon in The Philippines.
Photo Credit: Larry Heaney, Field Museum

Luzon, an island of The Philippines, has the greatest number of distinct animals—mammals not found elsewhere on our planet, says an article, by Ben Garrod, in The Conversation. In “A Philippines island has the world’s greatest concentration of unique mammals – here’s why” (July 15, 2016), Garrod writes:
We’re taught that evolution is all about “survival of the fittest”. But that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes evolution can be the result of a lucky animal finding “any port in a storm”. And the finding that Luzon, an island in the Philippines, has the greatest concentration of unique mammals in the world – even more than Madagascar – is the perfect example.
Islands are often examples of an evolutionary free for all, where a newly-introduced species may find itself in the perfect situation, whether that’s a new and different type of habitat and resources or even a complete lack of competitors and predators. Being introduced to an island ecosystem can turn a rather mediocre mainland species into a weird and wonderful new creation.
Examples of species found on one island and nowhere else (known as island endemics) can be found almost anywhere we look. The lemurs on Madagascar are found nowhere else on Earth, the Galapagos islands are home to flightless cormorants and aquatic iguanas and there are even quirky examples of island species from across the British Isles such as the Scilly shrew or the Orkney vole.
What this says is that our understanding of evolution is evolving, and what was the case before is no longer the case today. Our knowledge changes with our understanding and this is the case in how scientists explain how an island can have a concentration of species not found anywhere else in the known world. Evolution is a long process, but our understanding of its processes can take place much quicker.

For more, go to [TheConversation]

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Diane Arbus: The Outsider Photographer

Human Faces

Diane Arbus: At the “New Documents” show at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1967.
Photo Credit: Dan Budnik, 1967
Source:New Yorker

Diane Arbus [born Diane Nemerov; 1923–1971] liked to photograph people who would not ordinarily be photographed, including the outcasts and marginal: the people who resided on the margins of, or were outside of, respectable society. These people were in no way beautiful, not in any conventional sense and certainly not how high fashion photography views beauty.

This desire, on the part of Arbus, to take photos of such people seems all the more remarkable for two reasons: she grew up visibly wealthy, wrapped in the garments of privilege; and she started out in early adulthood as a fashion photographer, working for such magazines as Vogue & Harper’s Bazaar for nearly a decade before exiting this life of unfeeling artifice, aged 33. Then 15 years later, she made a final exit of this world altogether by committing suicide, aged 48.

Yet, during those years she changed photography, and yet was acutely unaware of it. In “Was Diane Arbus the Most Radical Photographer of the 20th Century,” Alex Mar writes for NY Mag:
Diane Arbus would continue numbering her negatives over the next 15 years, up until her suicide at the age of 48. But this first moment of self-awareness, when she confessed to herself that she was an artist, is pivotal to both a new book and a show of her earliest works opening today. “I can’t do it anymore” — that’s how Arthur Lubow’s essential biography, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, starts out; the exhibit at the MetBreuer, “diane arbus: in the beginning,” features about 70 never-before-seen prints, the experiments that immediately followed “#1.” Together, these go a long way toward making whole an artist who’s long been distorted by a cult of personality.
By the late ’60s, Diane would become renowned for her striking, often confrontational black-and-white images of outsiders, from cross-dressers to drag performers to circus “freaks.” She gave a human dimension to extravagant individuals living on the fringe, while her photos of American families, children, and socialites had an undeniably dark tenor — she flipped the social balance, as if the entire country had gone through the looking glass. With her sudden death in 1971, she became one of the best-known American photographers in history — and one of the most controversial.
If she (or more so, her photos) were viewed as controversial, it is because her curiosity of people and the lives they lived was in a large sense about the desire for experience, for understanding of the larger questions. As is common with artists with a sensitive nature, she was also conflicted—yet, after so many years of internal conflict, she could no longer hold it together. In so many ways, she was the outsider, a photographer who could momentarily win the trust of people and take personal photos, often intimate.

Perhaps, she had no choice and she was fated to live as she did, seeking out to understand and portray the inner lives of people who were supposedly miserable, the kind that she was not supposed to have known in her formative years, where she was protected from the realities that so many others faced. The hard-edged unpretty realities that also, at times, contain hints of love in some form. This is all speculation on my part, but speculation based on hard-fought life experience. One could say that Arbus/Nemerov sought out in adulthood what was denied her in childhood, the foundational truths of life itself.

For more, go to [NYMag]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Science V. The Public

Health & Wellness

Imperfect Science: Science is not without its faults, including those of chasing grant money, lacking incentive to investigate certain important topics and facing poor replication of results, Wischhover writes: “It’s also important to note, however, that science is not without its limitations, as noted by a survey of 270 scientists recently published by Vox. ‘Today, scientists’ success often isn’t measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It’s instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public,’ the authors wrote. There’s not enough interest in certain topics or substances (this seems especially true in wellness and illness prevention), statistics can be manipulated, and there’s often not enough replication of studies to strengthen certain hypotheses.”
Image Credit & Source: NY Mag

An article, by Cheryl Wischhover, in NYMag’s The Cut looks at the conflict between science and wellness advocates; although the latter often claim science on their side, much of what they claim falls under the rubric of alternative and complementary medicine. In other words, outside the domain of what is called evidence-based medicine.

In “Can Wellness Be Scientific” (July 19, 2016), Wischhover writes:
One of the big hallmarks of the modern wellness movement, which helps to explain how the concept got somewhat divorced from science, is a general disdain for traditional experts and western medicine. And no one idea exemplifies this growing chasm between science and wellness more than the ubiquitous concept of detoxing.
It doesn’t matter how many times doctors publicly debunk detoxing; it persists. Charles Mueller, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of nutrition at New York University, made an indignant sound into the phone upon being asked about detoxing. “It’s very difficult for people like me to keep my head on when I hear about things like alkaline diets and detoxing. There’s no such thing as detoxing your body, absolutely no such thing,” he says.
But the concept is as prevalent as ever, because people keep talking about it and saying it works, which is another common practice in the wellness world, thanks to the ease of sharing information online. (Google “gluten free” for another example of this.)
“I don’t remember who said it first, but the plural of anecdote is not data,” says Folta. In other words, five people saying a juice cleanse cleared up their acne doesn’t mean that juice can help your skin. Folta calls this a “contagion of confirmation bias. People tend to cluster together around their perceived maladies and that’s a horrible problem with today’s online tribal nature of communication.”
True, and I too have doubts about many of the claims put forward by alternative and complementary medicine. Even so, Science is not without its faults and needs to put its house in order. What this article says in an unsaid manner is that many people, including people who are highly educated, are second-guessing the scientific community—and with good and valid reasons. Consider. Scientists are not immune from making dubious claims, from getting it wrong, for even intentionally misleading the public in order to get published in journals and to receive more grant money. What about the studies that are not published, but should be? What about stats that are manipulated and omitted for lack of convenience?

All of these fall within the realm of conflict of interest, including the troubling cases of Big Pharma and their lack of sufficient transparency in drug trials, the increased lack of independent labs and research institutes, the problems with the peer-review process, etc. Combined, this leads to distrust. Much has also been written about Scientism, which shows that scientists can also have too much faith in an instrument of human endeavor and thinking. These have been well documented, but most of the public is unaware of them. (Note: science is not as self-correcting as it ought to be; self-censorship is common as is the adoption of an overt authoritarianism when making public pronouncements—this does not bode well for public acceptance of science.)

Moreover, much of science communication today is via press release, and this lack of skepticism among science journalists also contributes to the distrust between the public and research scientists. Breathless announcements that say or suggest more than they ought to. In the end, it is the public good that requires protection, and not the advancement of scientific careers, which often seems the norm today. 

I am an educated person, who believes in the benefit of scientific research, but I do not have complete faith in science. This would not only be foolish, it would be unscientific.

For more, go to [NYMag]

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nan Goldin’s Diary Of Loss Of Independence


A Diary: Nan Goldin’s “Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” the title based on a song in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, is about her deeply emotional and personal moments of the giving of love and the acceptance of loss. a remembrance of the past, not filled so much with nostalgia but with painful moments of betrayal. Losing one’s self is painful, as is its recovery. Aesthetica writes: “Now on show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the deeply personal narratives go back to the late 1970s and 1980s, a time in which the artist’s life was dominated by drug use and domestic violence. With the reinstallation of the museum’s second floor contemporary galleries, about 700 snapshot-like portraits of her partner and herself sequenced against an evocative soundtrack take in the large-scale gallery space, allowing deep encounters between artist and visitors.” The show runs at the MOMA until February 12th, 2017. For more, go to [Aesthetica].
Photo Credit: Nan Goldin, “Nan and Brian in Bed” (1981). Courtesy of MoMA.
Source: Aesthetica