Why Film and TV get it totally wrong about the Romans

Everyone thinks they know what Romans looked like. From Quo Vadis all the way through to Gladiator, there’s a specific style-clothes, army uniforms, buildings, what have you. A Fashion Statement taken up in the less grandiloquent world of TV, books and computer games until it becomes a standard reference point. Like westerns, Vietnam movies, and 1970s dramas, with all that big hair, lapels and Ford Cortinas.

Except it wasn’t like that, as this amusing video from The Archaeologist makes clear. People make shows about characters like Atilla or Hypatia wearing clothes from the age of Augustus. It would be like putting Donald Trump in the costume of Phillip II of Spain. Go on, it only lasts 12 minutes; you’ll learn something.[1]

Interesting but harmless? It doesn’t really matter, about the Romans’ underwear, except perhaps to specialists. But there’s a deeper worry. People get fixed ideas about more important things. Vaccines. Pollution. Economics. After which, diseases of the human mind like Confirmation Bias and Directed Reasoning set in. Case in point: the reason that producers always dress Romans as if they lived in 1 AD is because it’s the only way modern audiences can register them as “Roman”. So if you’ve been trained to think every scientist who talks about vaccination is part of a conspiracy, you’ll dismiss any facts before they are proffered. And that, more than any other single thing, is the real problem of out times.


#costume drama #history #confirmation bias #directed reasoning

Is Chinese Soup a cure for Cancer?

“How did you get cancer?” “Two ways-gradually, then suddenly.” Yes, we’re paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, but his words apply equally. At a gut level.

Because we all start out, or should start out with a healthy gut microbiome, that diverse interior ecology which lives in our guts and does so much to keep us healthy. But enter the blessings of a free market economy-stress, pollution, junk food,&tc, &tc.- and that normal microbiome is knocked off course. Slowly inflammations develop, which lead to cancer. And that is where the sudden bit starts. You become vulnerable to infections, so they flood you with antibiotics, especially before surgery and treatment. The result? Your gut fills with antibiotic resistant bacteria, making you even more vulnerable in the long run. And the downward spiral continues, with one very predictable end.

But the cycle could be broken, as Rachel Ellis of the Mail reports. [1] Using a soup made from the bacteria of healthy people, the patients’ gut can be “re-seeded” to create a healthy biome, massively increasing the chances of prolonging survival. It’s a really nice piece of science journalism, with some good pictures, so we urge you to read it. And we think it shines a light on something else. It’s called “Chinese Soup” because they’ve been doing it since the 4th Century, according to Rachel.

Alright, so a free market economy is probably better than one based on Communism or Religion, on balance. The reason we get snarky is the way it encourages runaway hypermarketing. The food industry has been doing this since at least 1945, and the results on our health have not been as the more fundamental disciples of Mises and Hayek might have predicted. Is it just possible that a few higher taxes, spent on cancer research, might have had a more beneficial societal outcome? We leave you to judge.


#cancer #diet #microbiome #health #antibiotic resistant bacteria #medicine

Ban all art now: why we agree with the Tallahassee Taliban

The Tallahassee Taliban is right. We agree with them. The world is drenched in sex, as any religious fundamentalist, or thirteen year old boy, will know. And it’s wrong! People shouldn’t do it. Or be thinking about it endlessly all the time. All the time. Everywhere you look That’s why any image that might suggest the existence of you know, down there, should be banned. And that’s why it’s wrong, just plain wrong to teach children about things like Michelangelo and the Renaissance.  Because it’s got nude men in it. And women. And what might they make you think about ? You can see – No!  Let such thoughts pass. Please. Instead, let us give you the background, as outlined in the Independent [1] and try not to think about-you know what- as you read on.

There exists a school on Tallahassee, Florida called the Tallahassee Classical School. Its remit includes the teaching of classical art to its pupils. Recently a teacher called Hope Carrasquila taught such a lesson, including Michaelangelo’s David. Understandably, the sky fell in. Parents complained and School board Chair Barney Bishop,a fine ecclesiastical name, informed Ms Carrasquila that she either resigned, or she would be fired. She resigned. And a jolly good thing too. Stop the rot here, we say. In fact we will go further and suggest some other works which ought to be banned , shut away and destroyed, lest they cause the stirrings of impure desire.

Piero Della Francesca The Baptism of Christ   More Nude men. And one of them is Jesus, goddammit! We’ll leave out the bathhouse connotations, because this isn’t that sort of website, but there’s women looking at them. If that isn’t depravity, we don’t know what is

Piero della Francesca | The Baptism of Christ | NG665 | National Gallery, London

Pieter de Hooch Patio of a house in Delft It clearly depicts a woman with a child. Meaning some pesky kid is going to ask “where do babies come from?” right in the middle of the National Gallery when you’re trying to keep your thoughts on higher things and stop thinking about sex all the time. Hell, it’s not easy to be a religious fundamentalist, is it?

Pieter de Hooch | The Courtyard of a House in Delft | NG835 | National Gallery, London

Johannes Vermeer Woman playing the virginal  Look at the way she’s looking at you. Pretty obvious what she wants really, isn’t it? If this isn’t depraved pornography, we don’t know what is.

Johannes Vermeer | A Young Woman standing at a Virginal | NG1383 | National Gallery, London

George Stubbs Whistlejacket   Here the danger is bestiality, that most heinous of sins, pure and simple. Of course, you’ll have to be pretty fast and strong, but………

George Stubbs | Whistlejacket | NG6569 | National Gallery, London

The time has come to ban all art, all images, for all are filth. Pornography. Just as bad as anything kids can access on their phones via the internet. Parents will never be able to stop that of course, because  they don’t understand how they work. But, hey, Authority can make a start by closing down all art galleries, all courses in fine art and anything that refers to the Renaissance in any form whatsoever. Just like the Taliban, in fact. About time, too.

[1] School principal fired for showing Michelangelo’s David in class (msn.com)

[2] V&A · The Story Of Michelangelo’s David (vam.ac.uk)

#religious fundamentalism #fine art #michelangelo #renaissance #sexual repression

Weekly Round Up: Cold War, Party Maths, Gas Gangrene, Nightmares, Gurus-and Ella Fitzgerald

stories we think will last beyond this week‘s news cycle

Getting Colder The Cold War did not end in 1991. Democracy is back under threat, as the Conversation makes clear.


Guess who’s coming to dinner Its funny when a purely intellectual problem suddenly has real world urgent relevance. But this piece from Nature Briefings Best answer to 100 year old Party Problem, does just that

How many people do you have to invite to a party to ensure that any given number of them are all friends, or all strangers? The best upper limit for this surprisingly hard problem, which has plagued mathematicians for almost 100 years, is (3.9995)k, with k being the size of the group of either all friends or all strangers. Until now, the best answer had been ‘at most 4k’, calculated in 1935. Even lowering the upper limit by this tiny amount is “a stunning success”, says combinatorialist David Conlon. The result is important for studying networks that have an element of randomness, which can crop up in real-world scenarios ranging from epidemiology to optimization and scheduling problems.Nature | 5 min read
Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Getting Nightmares-and Dementia We all get nightmares from time to time, but could they be the sign of something more sinister? Medscape reviews the latest literature Thanks to G Herbert


Get Back to where they once belonged? With General Elections you can change your mind every few years or so. But a referendum is for life. So, while it’s interesting to see the changes of mood in this piece, we strongly doubt they will lead tom any consequences. thanks to P Seymour


Gas Gangrene A tiny hint of life in a world without antibiotics where bacteria run amok is provided by this flesh-creeping tale from the Daily Mail


Guru goes public Is AI about to replace us. or are we looking at the whole thing from the wrong way around? Top Tech guru Jaron Larnier has his own thoughts for the Guardian Thanks to L Charlton


Glimpse of stocking You’ll always find someone who’ll tell you how much worse things have got in the last fifty years. They said exactly the same thing fifty years ago. And fifty before that. Cole Porter has one of the wittiest takes on Nostalgia Pessimism Syndrome in Anything Goes, handled here by the talented Ella Fitzgerald


#bacteria #antibiotics #cold war #russia #china #usa #democracy #nightmares #dementia #brexit #AI #quantum computing

Ayahuasca lends Friday Cocktails some perspective

We at LSS have sometimes suggested one or two pretty strong cocktail recipes down the years. But nothing in the league of ayahuasca, which we came across in an article by Ian Sample in The Guardian.[1] If you thought a Pimms in the summerhouse was a big experience, get this:

The brew is so potent that practitioners report not only powerful hallucinations, but near-death experiences, contact with higher-dimensional beings, and life-transforming voyages through alternative realities. Often before throwing up, or having trouble at the other end.

Puts a Friday night cocktail habit into its proper perspective doesn’t it? And you can usually come back from a cocktail with little more than a slight hangover. But we strongly, strongly doubt that this ayahuasca (the active component is apparently something called dimethyltryptamine) leaves your brain unscarred and unaffected. Don’t try this at home.

So why are we running with this, beyond a little self-justification? Because we think LSS readers are a sophisticated lot, and like to follow all the vagaries and byways of the human mind. Especially in the discursive ambience of a Friday night. We’ve always been interested in that broad area of learning where belief, neuroscience and pharmacology overlap. Sophisticates will recall Aldous Huxley‘s The Doors of Perception [2] as a ground-breaking essay in this field. And we were actually counselled to study Alexander Shulgin‘s PiKHAL by some scientists with whom we were working on some projects at one time. We believe that a good understanding of neurotransmission and neural architecture will one day resolve the terrible affliction of mental illness. And welcome any honest attempt at genuine learning and understanding.

Have a good Friday night. And stick to the cocktails.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/mar/20/psychedelic-brew-ayahuasca-profound-impact-brain-scans-dmt?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[2] Huxley A The Doors of Perception 1954 see also Heaven and Hell 1956

[3] PiKHAL:A Chemical Love Story 1991

#drugs #neurotransmitters #mental illness #cocktails

Phages 2: unexpected new development in the fight against antibiotic resistance

We’ve always sung the praises of bacteriophages, those handy little viruses that kill infectious bacteria, saving the trouble of deploying antibiotics. But now a paper in Nature suggests they have a further unexpected use, as indicators to make vaccination programmes efficient and cheap.

If you want to avoid the use of precious antibiotics, vaccinate your population. Take typhoid for example. It’s a filthy, horrible disease that lurks in dirty water. Despite best efforts, it’s still killing about 140 000 people a year.[1] What if you could vaccinate whole populations, especially in high risk areas, and bring down its prevalence to nought? Easier said than done. Vaccination programmes are difficult and expensive. First you have to identify your target area, and finding the bacterium Salmonella enterica: serotype Typhus can be tricky, expensive and unreliable. But there’s a ray of hope. Teams at the University of Lisbon and others have found that the bacteriophages which infect the bacterium are much more robust than their host, and survive for much longer in water samples. Making identification, targeting and planning in at risk areas a whole lot simpler. [2]

We always like it it when someone flips an existing idea and takes it in a sudden, new and unexpectedly beneficial direction. Looks like these people have done it again.


[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-00745-3?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=a1140db42c-briefing-dy-20230322&utm_medium=email&#

#typhoid #antibiotic resistance #vaccination #clean water #bacteriophage

Afghanistan: Taleban shows need for a new word in English

We at LSS have always been interested in words. Where they come from. What they mean. How different people can string them together in different ways to achieve different effects. Poets. Philosophers. Scientists. Doctors. Teachers, that sort of thing. So it’s a problem for us when we feel a word is lacking. That none of the words in the current lexicon can quite describe or convey a phenomenon which we have observed, newly, and wish to classify.

And what is the phenomenon? Well recently, the new Taleban administration in Afghanistan has abolished education for women. Yes, you read it correctly, they have really and truly done it. Here’s a couple of links to describe what they’ve done [1] [2], and we’re sure you’ll find more as you drill down.

So what’s this new word going to look like? Well it has to be an adjective, that’s for sure. And, as soon as it is heard or read it must convey several qualities. What qualities? Stupidity of the densest possible quality. Ignorance. Blind stubborn obstinacy. An utterly egoistical refusal to think. A weird pervy sort of misogyny. Short-sightedness. Economic illiteracy. Cruelty. Coining such a term is clearly going to be quite a task.

Could we suggest Talibanesque for starters?

[1] https://www.unicef.org.uk/press-releases/unicef-calls-on-de-facto-authorities-to-allow-girls-to-return-to-secondary-school-in-afghanistan-immediately/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/20/taliban-ban-afghan-women-university-education

#taleban #afghanistan #education #feminism #women #unicef #unesco

Antibiotic Resistance: where are our pets in all this?

Unconditional love. Companionship. Decreased levels of stress and anxiety. Someone to have an intelligent conversation with, more so than with most people you meet. These are the advantages of owning a dog or a cat. And long may it continue, we say.

Animal lovers we may be, but this is also a blog devoted to the arts and sciences of countering microbial antibiotic resistance. And so we have to warn you of a tiny cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, that may one day intrude upon this Eden.  As it comes from Robin McKie[1] of the Guardian, we take it seriously indeed. Researchers at the famous Charité Hospital in Berlin have found that dogs and cats may be acting as a reservoir of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Implication: they could be giving it to us, and we could be giving it to them. The full statistics are in Robin’s article. For us the key takeaway at this state is that only 30% of sampled humans carried the resistant organisms, Of these only 9% had cats and of these cats, only 5% carried the organisms.  At 0.00135% that’s pretty low. The figures for our canine chums come out a tiny bit higher, but not enough to alarm.

And our thoughts, as both ailurophiles and doughty warriors in the war against microbial resistance? Let’s keep our powder dry, and plough on. The real benefits of solving this whole problem will be shared by ourselves and our furry friends  Keep pushing for more research. Keep pushing to avoids misuse of our precious antibiotics. And try to persuade your leaders to do the same.


#cats #dogs #pets #antimicrobial resistance #superbugs #antibiotics #medicine #health #veterinary science #hospital

10 Groundbreaking Female Inventors to tell them about in Wyoming

The war on women continues. Current battlefronts include places like Wyoming[1], Iran and Afghanistan, where the local Taliban or whatever they call themselves, are up to their old tricks.

Before you join them, have a look at this piece from History Hit,[2] which came up from our researchers yesterday. Okay, we’ve already done Ada Lovelace (LSS 24 7 21) and we always knew Hedy Lamarr was a genius with an off-the-scale IQ.  But take a look at some of the others. Anne Tsukamoto: Stem Cell Isolation. Shirley Anne Jackson: Caller ID. Patricia Bath: Laser Cataract surgery. Grace Hopper: Computer compilers. And there are more ,as you will discover in this excellent little piece by Lucy Davidson.

And what do the women haters offer by comparison?   Guns. Poverty. Boredom. Quotes from old books, usually out of context, and in complete ignorance of the linguistic and historical origins of the said texts. Repression both physical, and of the infinitely more insidious psychological kind. Could it be possible, just once that even one of them, somewhere, might just consider the possibility that they’ve got it all wrong?

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/18/wyoming-becomes-first-us-state-to-outlaw-use-of-abortion-pills


#mysogeny #feminism #womens rights #inventors #technology

Iraq was the beginning of the end: Jonathan Freedland found the clue

If the world is reduced to ashes by a nuclear war between the United States and the many peoples who hate it, any surviving historians may well want to ask; “why?” Most of the answers trail back to the Iraq war of 2003, and the utter collapse it entailed. We could waste paragraphs on the waste of lives. The squandering of treasures. The unleashing of ISIS and a myriad of other groups, all in the name of a “War on Terror”. The chain of disasters which followed- such as the financial crash, Brexit and Trump. But we want to concentrate on the biggest, most awful miscalculation of all.

Jonathan Freedland is one of the most thoughtful, humble and intelligent of all the columnists we follow. (rare qualities indeed in a journalist, but let that pass for now) He is, and always has been, incredibly well-connected. And in those years preceding the Awful Catastrophe, he was buzzing around London and Washington. Bumping up against some of the third-rate minds with first-rate egos who caused the disaster. We’ve two of his columns for you here, one written yesterday and one in 2002. Get that, 2002. Before the Awful Catastrophe. Some prescience, huh? [1] [2] For this was the passage that gave us goosebumps:

Some of the most sharp-clawed hawks are even hailing this as the first step in a much grander, global strategy: to paint the planet in stars and stripes, stretching US domination from Baghdad to Beijing. Once Saddam is out of the way, they whisper, Washington can turn to China. The aim: to keep America as the world’s sole superpower for decades to come.

Blinded by hubris, the Neocons around Bush, and their cheerleaders in the media, ignored one key fact. Their adventure sent a message; “one day, we’ll come for you“. In their self-confident universe, no centre of power, no possible alternative to Washington, was to be permitted. Not in Brussels, Moscow, Beijing, nor anywhere else. And so, as the war began, others took note, and began to arm. They may indeed be unpleasant regimes, staffed with unpleasant people. But from their point of view: who can blame them?

It is hard to convey to young people now the sense of a peaceful world, with limitless possibilities that existed between 1989 and 2002. Maybe the American unipolar moment was a Good Thing. But it is over now. As for why, those historians of the future might loo start their investigations in the years 2001 -2003 and ask why the following gentlemen* took the decisions they did: George W Bush. Donald Rumsfeld. Dick Cheney. Richard Perle, Rupert Murdoch and Douglas Feith. Thanks, boys.



#2003 #iraq war #george w bush #neocon #dick cheney #saddam hussein #ISIS #Al Queda #war on terror

  • we entirely exempt Condoleeza Rice from any blame as we consider her to be a harmless, well intentioned woman who seemed to be bereft of agency in this whole sorry mess