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Friday, November 24, 2006

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"Calodema" Comes of Age

Well, "Lucky Seven" indeed. The seventh issue of "Calodema" - "devoted to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific" - is the best yet.

As usual, the cover is adorned with a fine photograph of Calodema regale, a stunning Australian jewel beetle (family Buprestidae). This issue also includes a paper by the Editor, Dr Trevor Hawkeswood (email: drtjhawkeswood@calodema.com), reviewing the biology and host plants of this species. (On a personal note, I am fairly sure that this beetle was the model for a colourful beetle-shaped chocolate that used to be sold when I was a child.)

Here in Canberra, the local authorities put out posters warning us against eating Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. This is not an Australian native, but an introduced species. Another introduced member of this notorious genus is Amanita muscaria. Trevor reports on finding this fungus in association with a "mini-plantation" of Pinus radiata (Monterey or radiata pine) trees at Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, New South Wales. The fungus is not merely associated with this introduced tree, but is starting to invade native habitats such as wet and dry sclerophyll forests. Trevor gives the details in his paper.

Last night I found two spiders on the roof of our car. When disturbed, one remained still, presumably relying on camouflage. The other bounced around as my finger teased it, bounding about while keeping an eye on my finger. Ah, I thought, that's a salticid, a "jumping spider". The salticids are the largest family of spiders, chiefly famed for their beautiful eyes and excellent vision. This issue of "Calodema" includes further contributions from Dr Dewanand Makhan on new species of jumping spiders from Suriname. This brings me to one of the best new features in this issue of Calodema, the sepia-toned photographs, which illustrate several of the articles, including Dr Makhan's new spiders and beetles.

Surely unique must be the account in Calodema No. 7 of a possible envenomation from an "antlion" (of the insect order Neuroptera). The reported bite on a finger seems to have had a more than local effect, with pain extending up the arm. Very little seems to be known on what kind of venom or digestive fluid antlions can deliver. Some people doubt whether they have a true venom. This case report provides evidence that they indeed might.

Also in this issue is a stringent critical review of a paper on the pollination of Australian orchids. This review refers to the interesting suggestion that capture by spiders might help identify the insects that pollinate orchids. If so, perhaps the spider could be offered co-authorship.

There is plenty of other material, but a paper I found of particular interest was on the fairly obscure beetle family Ceratocanthidae, the "pill scarab beetles", which can roll themselves into little balls. This makes them cryptic. This ability to roll up might also provide some physical protection, and it made me consider how many other animals are capable of curling right up. These include pillbugs on land and Nannosquilla in the ocean (Crustacea), pangolins, armadillos and hedgehogs (Mammalia), some salamanders (Amphibia), and the caterpillar of the moth Pleuroptya (Lepidoptera). The caterpillar not only rolls up but rolls away to escape.

Obviously I found plenty of inspiration from Calodema No. 7, and I recommend this issue as another milestone in the development of this journal.

Julian

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Friday, November 17, 2006

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"Pardon my cynicism" department

" '[Very socially liberal] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi looks forward to working with the Blue Dogs in the 110th Congress,' said Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's spokeswoman. 'They are important voices in our diverse caucus.' "

From here.

A sample Blue Dog. "Marshall is a social conservative. He opposes abortion, gay marriage and gun control, and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning."

Mr Marshall represents the 3rd Congressional District in Georgia in "heavily rural Middle Georgia". Nice map here.

He is a Catholic, and is married to Camille.

Here is his defeated Republican opponent, "Mac" Collins.



Julian

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

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Mixed messages

Some interesting material over at Oz Conservative.

There are indications that fathers are being valued again, and not just as second-rate mothers. Oz Conservative complains: " I remember a Nescafe ad which ran on Australian TV in 1999 which had the jingle: 'You can be mother when you are a man ... Open your mind you know that you can.' " I never saw that advertisement, but I remember one that tried to "subvert" the old slogan "Good on you Mum, Tip Top's the One" by portraying men as "mums" too. Cop this, from the Tip Top website:

" One short sentence is inextricably linked with the Tip Top® brand: ‘Good on You Mum®.’ In the recently launched campaign, Tip Top Bakeries has reintroduced this much-loved advertising line to relaunch the entire bread range.

These days, of course, the carer identified as ‘Mum’ can be any member of the family, a partner or even a flatmate. Indeed, everyone identifies the line as a direct recognition of a nurturing gesture. The advertising campaign uses the emotional power of ‘Good on You Mum®’ to set the scene for the new family, whatever that may be ... "

Comedy gold.

On a more realistic and positive note, Stephanie Dowrick writes: " What Dad values and believes, where Dad gives his time, how Dad offers or withdraws his encouragement or interest, how Dad deals with disappointment or conflict, whether Dad is able to be consistent and reliable, when and how Dad "takes charge", the willingness with which Dad takes responsibility, and how loving Dad is to Mum: these are all factors that will have a huge impact on the psychological development of children. "

A progressive woman got into trouble for agreeing with an Australian mufti about women's dress.

Oz Conservative comments on Self-hating old white males. And Self-hating white females.

And it's mothers' turn to have their essential significance questioned.

We do live in strange times.


Julian

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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Naughty ideas liable to escape

I like this, courtesy of Gene Expression:

" Vast quantities of information about the human genome now pour into publicly available databases on a daily basis. These data are collected with the noblest of intentions (often medical) and are also made public for perfectly good reasons: citizens should have ready access to the fruits of publicly funded science. Indeed it's almost impossible to imagine how one could stop the sorts of studies I described above. In previous times, granting agencies, such as the NIH or NSF, could block funding for undesirable experiments or scientific journals could refuse to publish them. But with genomic data, minimal money is required (an Internet connection is enough) and any bright graduate student working in his parents' garage could ask and answer any awkward question he likes. And the Internet thoroughly dashes any chance of preventing the publication of unpleasant results.The reality, then, is that the pace of technological change is rendering irrelevant what is essentially a question of policy. On the other hand, I suspect we have little to fear. Over the next decade or so, discomfiting analyses will surely be performed and bold claims will certainly be made but, in the end, biologists will likely conclude that we are all much more alike than we are different. It's hard to believe, after all, that in genetics, millions of years of shared evolution don't count for far more than a few tens of thousands of years of separate history. "

My favourite bit:

" And the Internet thoroughly dashes any chance of preventing the publication of unpleasant results. "

Julian


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Frogs in Canberra

Interesting paper on local frogs here in Canberra, Australia, specifically in the lower Sullivan's Creek area. Quite a detailed analysis, and an example of the tendency for people to value rather ordinary "nature" if it is in or near a town.

Julian

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Friday, November 10, 2006

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Biology Notes

I have enabled comments at my "Biology Notes" blog. Given its specialised subject matter, it has been quite successful. Arguably more successful than this one.

Julian

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Monday, November 06, 2006

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Are cuteness and leadership compatible?

Mr Auster considers the issue.

Julian

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

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"Crash" as a satire on the contraceptive society?

I have been thinking about Cronenberg's movie "Crash". One odd thing that struck me about it recently is that there are very few, if any, children in the film. There are some other odd things about it that make it possible to "read" "Crash" as a post-contraceptive film. By which, I mean a film about a world in which sex has been set free totally from fertility.

One of the animating characters in the film says that the car crash is a "fertilizing rather than a destructive event, mediating the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity that's impossible in any other form". Indeed, this is true, at least in the milieu of the film, since the world portrayed has divorced sex from procreation. The married couple, James and Catherine Ballard, are childless. When they - rarely - have marital relations one can safely assume that Catherine is on The Pill. That is when they are not having relations per anum. The rest of the sex in the film is homosexual, with prostitutes, or - when James has sex with a young woman crippled by a car accident - using a scar on her thigh.

In summary, every form of sex but the potentially fertile.

The film can be read as a celebration - or maybe a satire - on contemporary sex without fertility or offspring. Natural fertility is totally abandoned in favour of a technological solution that goes beyond the soft technology of the contraceptive pill and into the hard technology of the motorway, automobile and subsequent road accident.

Julian

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

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Feminine characters in contemporary American popular culture

I can think of two:

Dr Cameron from "House MD". (Very "girly" in her reactions.)

Jane from Disney's Tarzan. (All other Disney cartoon heroines these days are "feisty".)

I can't think of any others right now. Suggestions welcome.

Julian

PS I've found another one, Rachael from Blade Runner. Wikipedia doesn't seem to approve of her femininity:

" Critics may believe Blade Runner misogynist given that Pris and Zhora can be seen as 'strong, independent and non-subservient women' who are killed, whereas Rachael who is the opposite lives. "

Well, it's a point of view, but Pris and Zhora are both half-dressed "sex workers", whereas Rachael has a decent job and decent clothes.

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