Thursday, 28 April 2011

This is the End......

Status of the Titan arum at 10 a.m., 28th of April.

In the words of Jim Morrison

Lament for my cock
Sore and crucified
I seek to know you....
The death of my cock brings life

Somehow appropriate as the arum unfurled on Good Friday ("crucified") and bloomed throughout Easter-tide ("brings life").

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Was it good for you too?

After manfully performing the task of reproduction for 4 days the Titan arum is spent, a drooping shadow of its former self.

Time to lean back, stretch out for a cig to beat post-coital tristesse, before rolling over and snoring.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gigantic shapeless penis.....

......or Amorphophallus titanum to you, sir. The Titan arum in the Basel Botanical Garden bloomed over the Easter weekend. I was following the progress over the webcam and as soon as it unfurled (around 2200h on the 22nd of April) we made plans to see it the following day. As it turned out we could only catch it at 10pm on the 23rd, but luckily the garden's opening hours were extended until midnight for the special occasion. Despite the late hour, there was still a respectable crowd, and it took 30 minutes of patient shuffling before we were ushered into its presence. Standing proudly erect (snigger) at 2m it was the focus of attention. The garden had installed mirrors on the ceiling (behave!) for the crowd to get a down-blouse view (I give up!) into the blood-red spathe. The titan arum is pollinated in the wild by flies which it attracts by giving off a scent like rotting flesh (hence the local Malay name, bunga bangkai, or corpse flower). I only caught faint whiffs of something rank but staff at the garden assured us that it reeked when the flower finally opened. Later at the concession stand, there were vials of "scent" on sale containing a cocktail of amines and sulphides that were claimed to faithfully mimic the scent and these smelt really rank.

Onlooker included for a sense of scale

Top-down view into the spathe
Better quality image from the official web-cam

We were shooed out after 5 minutes but it was enough, been there, done that and now for the Rafflesia arnoldii next!

One can quibble if the A. titanum does indeed produce the largest flower as the structure is technically an inflorescence and the actual male and female flowers are tiny. The other contender is, as mentioned above, R. arnoldii which is a single flower and has the advantage of looking like a conventional blossom (as imagined by a 6-year old).
R. arnoldii (left)

Both plants are from SE Asia and are emblematic of the richness in biodiversity to be found there. If I were a billionaire I would buy huge tracts of virgin forest and just leave it untouched.

Later on, just strolling through the botanical garden I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chinese Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) in bloom.
Ghostly white bracts to attract nocturnal pollinators
I had only ever seen it in bloom in daytime so it was nice to catch it at the appropriate moment.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

...for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them,....

... and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

There's a house in Wales with a striking resemblance to everyone's favourite dictator (right down to the dorky 'tache).

God knows how much feng shui it would require to counteract such a negative influence

Behind the quiet exterior, number 18 was secretly planning an invasion of Poland  
Pareidolia, or the tendency to see "faces" in things is an outgrowth of the highly developed faculty in humans to discriminate facial features (for recognition of group members), or to read facial expressions  (for successful within-group social interaction, Darwin wrote a book on the subject). The most famous example is probably the face-on-Mars. Babies respond to faces after a few weeks and this ability seems to be hard-wired in us. Neuroscientists have identified a region of the brain, the fusiform face area, that is hyper-activated when a test subject views and attempts to identify a face. That this ability is innate is supported by individuals with prosopagnosia (or face blindness) which can be present from birth or brought on by head injury, and who are unable to recognise the faces even of close relatives.

I find it intriguing that so much of what we treasure as uniquely human may be just unanticipated excrescences of features having genuine survival value. Music may be a by-product of the evolutionarily vital language instinct, and mathematics an out-growth of the aptitude for spatial visualisation which is of obvious utility to teams of hunters (hence the male advantage). An argument against this line of reasoning is that evolution doesn't over-endow, i.e. natural selection is so finely tuned that it  doesn't confer abilities far in excess of what is immediately useful.

I call bullshit on that. Take tardigrades. These tiny aquatic invertebrates can form cysts (called tuns) where they enter a state of suspended animation with their water content dropping to 1% and metabolism to less than 0.01% of normal levels. This stage, which evolved as a mechanism to survive intermittent periods of dessication, is incredibly resistant to adverse conditions. It can survive for a decade without water, heating for a few minutes to 150°C, freezing for several days at -200°C and a few minutes at -272°C (1° above absolute zero). They can survive in a vacuum and high pressures (up to 6,000 atmospheres) and irradiation up to 5,000-6,000 Grays (fatal exposure in humans is 5-10 Gy). Unless tardigrades are in the habit of regularly venturing out into space I'd say this is a clear case of over-endowment.

Conservation status "Least concern" LOL. We're in greater danger of extinction.
Anyway, what does all this have to to with the Biblical verse in the title? Back to pareidolia. I had my own little brush with this phenomenon several years ago. I had taken J. to a playground where some of the play equipment had been freshly painted. The painters had left a bit of a mess and some of the boulders dotted around the playground (for the kids to clamber on) had dabs of yellow paint, probably from an attempt to smear excess paint off the brushes. Checking to see if the paint was dry I was stunned to see what appeared from a distance to be a random grouping of daubs, rearrange into a passable image of Christ.

Rock of Ages?
Even more striking is that the texture of the rock appears to follow the contours of a human face (there's a bit of a bump where the nose is and indentations for the eyes).

Ave Christus Rex!
Unfortunately it's a bit too heavy for me to take home and hawk on Ebay. I was there just this weekend and aside from some slight weathering, it's still as distinct. A miracle! 

Could it have been done deliberately? I think not, it would require a great deal of talent to depict something hovering on the edge between meaninglessness and intentional representation. At least anyone able to do so is wasting himself painting municipal equipment. Furthermore the nose and parts of the cheeks were formed by dripping paint so it clearly seems quite unintended. Praise the Lord!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Dear (Pseudo) Men.........

Blatant attempt by a group of manginas to wangle a charity fuck. If you had the fortitude to sit through the entire 8 minutes you might have noticed two particularly annoying points (over and above the general pussi-ness). Firstly, who the hell authorised these suck-ups to apologise on behalf of the entire male sex? Second, there's a bit where an idiot unfavourably contrasts the masculine tendency to rely on data and logic with feminine intuition and holism. I mean, seriously, feeling trumps logic in finding out how the world works? Is it possible to get any dumber than this, in addition to being deeply insulting to women scientists and mathematicians?

I've never encountered anything as cringe-inducing in this particular department since Lennon's "Woman". "Imagine" sucks as well. Of his solo work only "Jealous Guy" and "Mother" are great songs although lyrically they're beta with their apologising-for-everything leitmotiv. That bitch Yoko's got a lot to answer for.

Frankly it's not going to work as well since any sexually desirable female can smell weakness a mile off. If only these men (generously defined) could borrow their balls back from their bull-dyke partners for a few hours they might be able to work that out. Of course this pedestalization of women goes back to kindergarten where we're taught that girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice". To which I would retort, "Then why do they smell of fish?".