Heavy Metals-the unseen danger that is killing us all

There’s a hidden unseen danger now lurking in every crumb of soil, every drop of water and every mouthful of air we breathe. It’s pollution by heavy metals-and the potential health risks are terrifying.

Heavy metals have been around since the beginning of time. But they have been locked away in the earth’s crust, and almost unknown to living organisms except in tiny quantities. But with the advent of metal working by humans, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, they have been pouring into the environment in immense, and above all sudden, quantities. The consequences are summarised in today’s link, and excellent paper by by Jessica Briffa and her team [1] from Heliyon via Science Direct. The work is a tour de force of sustained and careful scholarship. It runs the whole gamut of the hows whys and wherefores. There isn’t room here to do more than scratch its surface, but we urge-no, beg– you, intelligent readers to dip in, if you have ones you love, or even care about the planet.

Sample if you can , from the following list and what they can do to you. There’s Vanadium (Parkinson’s, Alzheimers) Chromium(cancer) Aluminium (liver, kidney, Central Nervous System-for God’s sake, don’t start eating aeroplanes) Cadmium-an old favourite killer of ours, implicated in cancer and DNA dysfunction, innocent sounding ones like Gold and Silver, as well as real sinister heavies like Mercury and Lead. Even the lads down the Dog and Duck are beginning to grasp the significance of the last two. And many, many more in meticuloius and documented detail. (yes, there’s a lot of source material here for teachers of advanced classes) All pouring irretrievably into the oceans, fields and air. All potentially poisonous, if not downright fatal.

It’s trite, it’s a platitude, but we’ll end on it anyway. What a shame on this species, what a comment, that all the money is spent on baroque arms to frighten rival groups of armed hominins, when it might have been spent on ways to clear this altogether more sinister and imminenbt threat.

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844020315346

#metal pollution #industrial revolution #mining #cadmium #mercury #central nervous system #cancer #mining

Mysterious noctilucent clouds suggest we’re choking to death

Go out on an early summer night just after sunset and stare west. Though the land is dark, the fading blue sky may reveal some beautiful tenuous white clouds still lit up by the rays of the sun. They look a bit like cirrus clouds; but they float far, far higher at 80 km. They are called noctilucent clouds. Not only are they the highest observable clouds, but they seem to have been completely unknown before 1885. Odd, isn’t it?

The most likely explanation for this is industrial pollution. We have two links for you today. One from Stuart Clark of the Guardian,[1] and a nice background filler from Wikipedia [2] for those curious enough to go for a second cup of coffee. The things seem to be largely made of water, which may be condensing around pollution particles. Methane may be playing a role as well, which is kind of scary to those of us who know its potential as a global warming gas par excellence.

Did they exist before industrial civilisation? Ancient peoples scoured the skies almost as obsessively as we do (there was no TV, bless ’em). Many of their records have come down to us. But none with reference to these clouds. The balance of probabilities suggests to us that they are indeed warnings from a sick planet, one of many now. One more idea to put to those obtuse souls who still don’t realise the damage we are doing. Or are they just too selfish to care?


[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noctilucent_cloud

#noctilucent clouds #pollution #methane #climate change #industrial revolution #mesosphere

On the persecution of homosexual persons

One of the alleged calamaties of the re election of Turkish President Recip Tayip Erdogan, is held to be the hostile attitude his followers take towards the LGBQT+ community. Which news has made us break a rule. Sexuality. Normally we avoid discussions of this dreary subject, on the grounds that A) it is covered daily to exhaustion in popular newspapers, TV channels and all other media outlets and B) there are, in our opinion, more important and pressing issues. Yet most people, like so many bonobos, are slyly obsessed with the comportment and regulation of the human genital organs, both their own and those of others. So we are forced to ask the question: why the age-old persecution of those whose proclivity is towards same-sex coupling as opposed to intersex?

And we suspect the answer lies in the early agricultural societies in the Neolithic period, and the ancient religions which have grown out of them. Take the widespread and closely related religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as our example. All three base their hostility to homosexual practice on the revered texts of Leviticus (18.22: 20.13). Written, it should be noted, at a time when the overwhelming majority were engaged in the arduous and physically exhausting life of agricultural labourers. Herding, stockbreeding, ploughing and the many other such activities require enormous reserves of strength. And, as men are physically stronger , this quality in them becomes exalted. It must be so; for in such societies the margin of survival is narrow. Any threat to the herds, the lands, or the procreation of more male children to work them, threatens disaster.

In such circumstances, is it so surprising that any sexual practice that deviated from the basic one of man+woman =child was proscribed? And given our natural tendency towards furious, group-enhancing persecutions of all things that differ, that this proscription became in turn exalted? We humans are none of us perfect, however much God tells us to be. These religions are widespread, and we suspect offer much comfort to their followers. And dark things indeed have followed attempts at their removal.

We at LSS deplore the persecutions of all minority persuasions, especially when the persecutors have not properly thought through their actions. It is our lived experience that some of the most avid persecutors conceal that they have more in common with their victims than they would care to admit. And that the practice of heterosexuality is not as quite as virtuous as is sometimes claimed. It fills the world with housing estates, fashion magazines, fast cars and many other excrescences on what would otherwise be a pleasing prospect. To say nothing of the risible personal attractions and entanglements which it engenders among its afficionados. Is it really, really right to look down on those who do not share our particular proclivity?

We have said all we wish to say on matters amorous and copulatory for some time, and hope to return you, patient readers, to adult material in the next blog or blogs.

#christianity #islamm#agriculture #judaism #heterosexual #homosexual #male norm

Round up: Rocks, Fungi, Comb Jellies,Tigers and Tina Turner

a weekly look at stories of note

Capturing Carbon with rocks? Whatever we said about antibiotics in our last blog, climate change remains the number one problem. And we welcome any idea to ameliorate it, however outlandish. Latest wheeze is to try the carbon-absorbing properties of rocks such as basalt, as the BBC explains:


A whole world explained Funghi are a whole separate kingdom, quite different to plants and animals. We’ve had one or two blogs alluding to their practical uses recently. Regular reader Gaynor Lynch recommends this general overview from that marvellous site BBC sounds

Surprising ancestor We will never forget our first site of a wild comb jelly whilst snorkelling in the sparkling waters off of Mojacar in Spain. Now it seems these oddball creatures may be very important indeed in the wider evolutionary scheme of things Nature Briefings: The Ancestor of all animals

Ctenophores, also called comb jellies, are the sister group of all living animals, scientists have discovered. The team compared the comb jelly Bolinopsis microptera to sponges — another contender for the most ancient creature on Earth — along with three unicellular relatives of animals. The pattern of genes on the jellies’ chromosomes revealed that they evolved first. That means that early animals were surprisingly complex: they had a well-developed nervous system, and could probably swim around freely. “We have to rethink the function and the structure of the early ancestor of animals. It wasn’t like a simple sponge,” says evolutionary biologist Paulyn Cartwright.Scientific American | 6 min read
Reference: Nature paper

Saving Nature saves you It’s hard to explain to some people, who seem to want to build a highway by-pass through everything, that saving rare creatures saves their habitat. Which in turn sequesters tonnes of deadly carbon dioxide. So next time you meet someone of that sort, try this syllogism on them, with the tiger as your endangered species. From h The Conversation:


So Farewell, Tina Turner A remarkable woman, with a remarkable voice. We are glad that she overcome horrendous abuse to achieve success. Many such victims do not-remember that. Her output was huge and varied, but younger readers might want to sample this, a stalwart of many a school discothèque in the summer of 1973. It’s called Nutbush City Limit, and we have never understood the words, or what it was supposed to be about. But it used to get your grandparents dancing!


#carbon capture #global warming #funghi #comb jellies #ctenophores #tiger #climate change #global warming #tina turner

Friday Night: Here’s a few top Airport Cocktail Lounges

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away/If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay.” So sang Frank Sinatra in one of his more memorable ditties. We’re going to make a confession here tonight. We quite like airports. Maybe it’s the sense of transience, with everyone rushing everywhere. The lists of far-flung destinations on the boards, ever evocative of palm trees, sunny beaches and cocktails at sundown. The cold antiseptic glamour of the duty free concessions. Or just to stand in awe at the marvellous technological achievement that a modern airport represents, and also at the skills of so many staff-aircrew, cabin crew, engineers, cleaners and so many more. OK, OK, we’re not oblivious to the real and present danger that so much flying represents to our environment. But, as it’s Friday Night, can we please leave that to a better season?

Because we are glad to note that our enthusiasm for aeronautical booze-ups is shared by more sagacious and experienced minds. To this end we present a delightful piece by Brad Japhe of the admirable Travel and Leisure website. This site is a treasure trove for holiday and business folk alike. Brad’s article is a mere surface scratcher of the cornucopia of goodies they present. That said, here’s his list of six great airport lounge bars [1] There’s three from the USA, one in Singapore, one in Amsterdam and one in Tokyo. But it’s far from exhaustive, gentle reader. If you know a better one let us know. We’ll be happy to showcase it.

So, even if you’re grounded tonight, why not look at Brad’s list, and mix yourself up something therefrom? Maybe it won’t be very long before you too are sitting with your feet tucked under a stool, savouring a last delicious drop on home soil before you lift off once again to blue skies and blue seas, Enjoy.

[1] https://www.travelandleisure.com/best-airport-bars-in-the-world-7376778

#travel and leisure #brad japhe #cocktails #airports #flying

AI Generates a new Antibiotic: is this a game-changer?

Could Artificial Intelligence be our way out of antibiotic resistance? Old hands on LSS will instantly recall a blog of ours (LSS 28 4 2020) in which we reported the use of AI to develop a new antibiotic called Halicin. Today we’re happy to report that it’s been done again, this time to produce a really exciting new compound called abaucin.

We’ve got two links for you. James Gallagher of the BBC has a nice layman-friendly explanation, but it’ll be on your media feeds somewhere today [1] But, for those who like a drop of the hard stuff, we reproduce the original paper from Nature Chemical Biology [2] The summary’s got some good graphics which explain what the authors have been up to rather well, we suggest.

Do we think this is significant? Yes, we do. That’s at least twice that AI has been trained up to produce a result. And when you consider that abaucin is due to be targeted at Acinetobacter baumannii, one of the top three on the WHO list of dangerously resistant organisms, we’re even more cheered. But for us the real good news is in the methodology. Read what James says here

……To find a new antibiotic, the researchers first had to train the AI. They took thousands of drugs where the precise chemical structure was known, and manually tested them on Acinetobacter baumannii to see which could slow it down or kill it.This information was fed into the AI so it could learn the chemical features of drugs that could attack the problematic bacterium.The AI was then unleashed on a list of 6,680 compounds whose effectiveness was unknown. The results – published in Nature Chemical Biology – showed it took the AI an hour and a half to produce a shortlist. The researchers tested 240 in the laboratory, and found nine potential antibiotics. One of them was the incredibly potent antibiotic abaucin…..

In other words, it’s repeatable. Potentially the AI techniques could be used to design other compounds. We’ve had a few blogs talking about the alpha-fold programme and protein design.(LSS passim) Potentially, we may be about to witness one of those intellectual explosions where progress crosses rapidly between different areas, and the there is an exponential leap in design and technique. We’ve been on the antibiotics story for years now, and this time it feels as if something may be about to change.



#AI #antibiotic resistance #abaucin #medicine #alphafold

How the West weakened diplomatic support for Ukraine

No one can find praise enough for the heroic people of Ukraine, whose struggle against aggression and tyranny will one day take their place in the finest annals of human history. And we thank our lucky stars that western democracies have seen the danger and are stepping up to the plate with supplies of all kinds. Yet in one important area our efforts are lacklustre at best, and floundering at worse. Diplomacy, and its associated trope of sanctions. Why are countries like South Africa, India and China so wary of what at first sight seems a clear-cut case of right and wrong?

Before we condemn, let’s see the arguments from their point of view. The current state of play is admirably summarised by Jose Caballero in this incisive article for The Conversation. Inequalities in access to things like the IMF are still firmly skewed the West’s way, And structures like the UN Security Council are frankly decrepit, reflecting a world pecking order more akin to 1945 than 2023. [1]

We at LSS think there are deeper, historical reasons why the West no longer asserts the diplomatic and above all moral pull that it once did, say around its apparent moment of triumph back in 1991. In reverse order these are:

1 The Capitol riots of 2020 If you wanted to run a TV advertisement to show that the Enlightenment values of Reason and rational enquiry were dead, this would scoop all industry awards. Didn’t this country once have someone called Thomas Jefferson, or something?

2 The Election of Donald Trump 2016 If a political system can throw up operatives of this quality, what’s the point of Democracy anyway?

3 Brexit 2016 An old and mature democracy went through a whole referendum and produced this outcome of -how shall we say?-suboptimal economic success. It even did the exact opposite to the wishes of its most fervent supporters, with immigration now far higher than it was in EU days

4 The Financial Crash 2007-2008 So what’s so good about western capitalism if this is what it does?

5 The Iraq war 2003 Most of the above flowed from this catastrophic decision, which we have discussed before. See LSS 18 3 2023 and its references to the analysis by Jonathan Freedland. Particularly the bit about the more boastful hangers on of the Bush Administration who seemed to hint that Beijing was next on the list after Baghdad.

None of which exactly inspires admiration, does it? Especially of you throw in more general themes like inequality, global warming and antibiotic resistance, all of which have their roots in the political and economic systems designed and run by western corporations. It’s not that we deeply love or admire the countries named above, or wish to emulate their political and state security systems. But they are made up of people. Some of them intelligent people, who understandably take a jaundiced view of the above list, and cannot be expected to rush to our support with wide eyed, naive enthusiasm.

“Physician heal thyself” is a sound maxim. We really do need to put our own house in order before we can once again expect our ideals to flourish once again. At base, they are the right ones, and it would be a pity if they were lost.

[1] https://theconversation.com/why-the-west-needs-to-offer-brazil-india-and-south-africa-a-new-deal-204321?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%2

#india #china #brazil #south africa #un #ukraine war #russia #united states

What do Agar Grove and 1.5 degrees have in common?

Pity the residents of 53 Agar Grove, Camden, in London. For they live in a block which appears to be falling down around them. And it’s taking their life savings, even hope itself, in the process.

This is not the place to ascribe blame. This story by Harry Low and Morgan Hammond of the BBC goes into the whys and wherefores of the whole sorry mess.[1] We still hope the legal and insurance processes will one day resolve matters to the just satisfaction of all parties. But have deep and abiding sympathies with the residents. Because we believe that their story will one day be our story.

For they are us. The same aspiring sorts of hard working people who only wanted a little property because it represented long-term security. OK, maybe a little richer than most of us. But being rich does not necessarily make you a bad person (LSS is a Whig blog, not a Socialist one) And until recently, aspiring to a high consumer lifestyle was a perfectly ordinary-even understandable-thing to do.

Yet that lifestyle has its costs. Which brings us to our second story, this time from Nature Briefings. For once, we reproduce their summary below our text [2] But the message is simple. We’re starting to break the 1.50 C temperature limit with ominous regularity. Parts of the world are now doing it every year. And if we smash through 20 C then you you may rest assured that the consequences will make the travails at 53 Agar Grove look small by comparison. For all of us.


[2] What 1.50C of global warming really means

Last week, meteorologists predicted that the global average temperature for a single year is likely to hit 1.5 ℃ above pre-industrial levels within the next five years. The landmark evokes the Paris climate agreement’s aspirational goal: to keep global warming below 1.5 ℃. But the two milestones are not the same.
The Paris goal is defined as the midpoint of the first 20-year period when the average global surface air temperature is 1.5 ºC warmer than the 1850–1900 average.A global stocktake in preparation for the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting (COP28), in November, found that, for a 50% chance of achieving the goal, global greenhouse-gas emissions need to peak before 2025; this hasn’t happened yet.Because global warming is uneven, more than one-fifth of the world’s population currently live in regions that have already exceeded 1.5 ºC of warming in at least one season.More important than when Earth will hit 1.5 ºC is what amount of warming the planet will peak at, and when that will happen. “With every tenth of a degree above 2 ºC, you’re looking at more-sustained, more-systemic impacts,” says geographer William Solecki. Those numbers won’t be apparent for decades.Nature | 5 min read

#global warming #climate change #agar grove #lifestyle #consumer

Weekly Round Up: How old is Climate change? and much more

lasting themes from this week’s news

Watch this space The ISS is one of those rare examples of successful international cooperation that still surprises us every time it whizzes through the evening sky. Sadly its days are numbered. This piece from the BBC discusses what may come next


You were warned Hats off to Canadian scientist Gilbert Plass. In May 1953 he was the first to join the dots and realise the simple fact that carbon dioxide traps heat had the potential to land us with problems indeed. We didn’t realise it was this long ago. Good old Conversation!

We like our mushrooms CRISPR The new CRISPR technique is an old theme of this blog. A more recent one was mushrooms. Which is why itm was nice to see the two brought together in htis piece from the inimitable Nature Briefings CRISPR zeroes in on death cap antidote.

The CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing tool might have cracked the mystery of how death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) kill — and it led researchers to a potential antidote. Using the gene-editing technology, researchers created a pool of human cells — each with different genetic mutations — and exposed them to the mushrooms’ toxin. The toxin could not enter cells that lacked a functional version of an enzyme called STT3B, and cell survival increased. The researchers then sifted through thousands of chemical compounds to find one that would block the action of STT3B. They uncovered indocyanine green, a dye developed by the photography company Kodak in the 1950s and used in medical imaging. Indocyanine green has not yet been tested as an antidote in humans, but it reduced deaths when given to mice.Nature | 3 min read
Reference: Nature Communications paper

A la parilla Anyone who has enjoyed a delicious grill on a Spanish holiday will warm to this piece from the Guardian. It seems early Iberians were warming their chuletas de cordero 250000 years ago, What a pity there was none of that delicious Rioja to partner the meat!


y aqui:


Back to the Future with Pulp Ah, the far off days of 1995. A competent technocrat leads a shaky Conservative Government while his party is torn by faction. No internet to speak of, but no food banks either. Which is why Jarvis Cocker’s angry denunciation of the whole sorry mess is still relevant. Only more so

#CRISPR #mushrooms #ISS #climate change #global warming #use of fire #uso de fuego #cocinar

Friday Night: Ten Best Railway Station bars

It’s the transience of railway bars that appeals. Everyone is passing through. So are you. The rigid hierarchies and regular sameness of the local pub are left behind. There’s a rough democracy at the railway bar. Everyone is who they are at that moment, no more, no less. You never know who you are going to meet in these brief encounters. We’ve bumped into Government Ministers, fashion designers, forensic scientists and even someone who looked like the footballer Ian Wright (it really wasn’t Ian). In theory there is nothing for the staff to do but serve drinks. Which is why we applaud it when someone contrives to make something special out of one of them, by some trick of architecture, service or location.

Greater minds than our own have long since perceived this truth. So today we’re going to point you to an excellent piece from The Guardian, but written by 10 of its readers. [1] The platforms here are world wide: Shimla, Madrid, Hull, Kyoto, Augsburg and Stalybridge, to name but a few. Try it-and see if your own station deserves a place on the list.

Our own thoughts? There’s something ineffably Victorian about railways, even if they no longer use steam. To stand amid the brick-and- wrought iron cathedrals of some northern English station (York comes to mind) on a cold misty day is somehow to be transported back in time and place to a bygone age, just over the horizon of living memory. And only one drink will suffice-an old English real ale, dark and woody as the dense furnishings all around. “the train now arriving…” bellows the tannoy. Let someone else catch it. Pause, and enjoy your reverie.


#train #railway #station bar #real ale