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

Nature Briefings trashes LSS. And gives us a lesson in thinking

Yesterday we published a slightly peevish piece on early human migration. We pointed to all the different species, all the different tool assemblages and all the scattered sites across Eurasia, and bemoaned the implausibilities of the various theories which have been adduced to try to link them all up.

About an hour later a regular update from Nature Briefings dropped into our in-box. And what it contained blew us away. Read this:

Humans did not emerge from a single region of Africa, but from several populations that moved around the continent one million years ago and intermingled for millennia. The widely held idea of a single origin of Homo sapiens is based in part on fossil records. Computer modelling and genome data from modern African and European populations revealed that “our roots lie in a very diverse overall population made up of fragmented local populations”, says evolutionary archaeologist Eleanor Scerri. This means human evolution looks more like a tangled vine than a ‘tree of life.’Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature paper

OK, the authors are talking about the situation 1 million years ago and the emergence of Homo sapiens in particular, not 2 million years and the emergence of the Homo genus. But the message is the same for both. If you spend your time looking for this specimen, which made that tool kit, which makes your discovery the key ancestor of us all, you are wasting your time. It looks like our tree is a ramifying bush of wondering tribes, some of whom may have changed shape a bit in response to various ecological and environmental pressures. Rivers flooded, volcanoes went off, droughts scorched the earth. The survivors were driven into the arms of other groups-and genes and ideas flowed as they have always done. After all it took humans and chimpanzees about three million years to finally give up interbreeding. What was to stop a few Homo habilis types getting up to monkey business with some itinerant Denisovan folk, if the mood took them?

We suspect the real problem arose from the fact that early investigators were trained in the old school. Where every new discovery, plant, animal or fungus had to be given a new species name, with a Latin binomial- Felis domesticus, Quercus robur, or whatever. Don’t get us wrong: naming things is incredibly important and useful. We think Linnaeus was one of the all time greats. But there comes a point at which getting hung up on names and labels is no longer helpful. In fact it affords the opposite of true understanding. Locally that’s true in human evolution. We hope people might laern this lesson a little more widely. And thanks to Nature Briefings for showing the point to us.

#nature briefings #human evolution #homo sapiens #homo erectus #classification #tool cultures #acheulian #oldowan

Human Migration: not a mystery, a mess

For those who like their truths cut and dried, the story of the wanderings of our earliest ancestors[1] is a bewildering mess. So much so that all we can do is start with a sort of fairy story and then ask a series of rather wistful questions. We hope this blog will act as a sort of inoculation against anyone who tells you confident, otiose stories and try to give the impression that they have spoken the last word on any subject. Especially economics and holiday villas.

A Fairy Story (for children) Once upon a time a group of nasty little apemen in Africa called Australopithecus invented stone tools. Somehow they evolved into another little creature called Homo habilis, which made them better. Then somehow, still in Africa, a much larger, altogether more noble fellow called Homo erectus evolved. They made magnificent Acheulian tools and marched out to conquer the world. Reaching as far as places like Java and Flores.

The truth has to be rather different, as we wonder below

1 The Dmansi finds[2] (Homo georgicus?) are alleged to be an early form of H erectus up in the Caucasus(1.8m years bp) But they were rather small, primitive looking people. Would classic Homo erectus like the Turkana boy really recognise them as being the same people? And why is their technology of the old fashioned Oldowan type, beloved of the Austraolopithecines?

2 Ubeidiya If the Dmansi people came out of Africa, they must have passed through the Middle East. The only site on the route of any significance is at Ubeidiya in Israel. The date and location are about right. But the only bone suggests a bigger creature, in line with the classic Turkana Homo erectus. Are we really implying this species started small (H habilis), got bigger(Turkana boy) marched off north, then got small again in the Caucasus? [3]

3 Name me a name What exactly is Homo erectus any way. And what is Homo ergaster? It’s a concept that is profoundly fuzzy round the edges

4 Dear Little Hobbits Homo floresiensis is often held to be a last offshoot, on the extreme geographical range of Homo erectus. Yet some researches assert it has skeletal resemblances to Australopithecus rather than Homo. What was it doing there?

5 China Crisis Who or what made the incredibly early assemblages in Gongwangling in China?

6 Out of Africa, 2-and the sequel And finally-why do all the migrations seem to start in Africa? First Homo erectus. Then Homo Heidelbergensis. Then Homo sapiens. Always one way, spreading a more advanced way of doing things every time. Or were there larger populations of hominins spread right across Africa and Eurasia, for much longer than we suspect? Much more digging is needed, in places which haven’t been tried, Until that happens, believe nothing.


[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmanisi_hominins#:~:text=The%20Dmanisi%20hominins%2C%20Dmanisi%20peop




#human evolution #paleoanthropology #homo erectus #pleistocene #stone tools

This week: Genomes, Noses, help-outs, and mushrooms x 2

A look at the week’s news stories

Genes are here to stay Older readers, especially those from scientific and medical backgrounds will recall the excitement back in 2000 when the first human genome map came out. Now it gets better, so much so that we have two links for you. This one is going to be important!


The first draft of a human ‘pangenome’ has been published. Unlike the first complete human genome sequence, which was derived mostly from the DNA of just one person, the pangenome is drawn from 47 people from around the globe, including individuals from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. More genomes are being added — 350 will be analysed by mid-2024. They will allow geneticists to identify variations in the genomes of diverse populations and investigate links between genes and disease. “This is like going from black-and-white television to 1080p,” says genome scientist Keolu Fox.Nature | 5 min read
Read more: discover related research and analysis in the Nature Portfolio Collection of Human Pangenome Ref

Help me if you can News of the UK Coronation’s big help out came from regular contributor Gary Herbert who may be seen cleaning the chalk lion which overlooks Whipsnade, the country arm of London Zoo. A worthy day out indeed! he claims to be at the front


Mushrooms and the mind Not the first time we’ve alluded to the amazing properties of fungi this week. Today, more on our running theme of how researches may be using fungal products to investigate the mysteries of the human mind

Neanderthal Nose best Apparently our Neanderthal cousins used their huge conks to warm the air in their glacial environments. As their genes passed down to us, the hooters came with them. Here’s how.


Mushroom dance as it’s been fungi all week on this blog, we’ll leave you with the famous Mushroom dance from Disney’s 1940 Fantasia. The music of course was from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite

#fugi #genome #coronation #fantasia

Friday Night: The 30 best bars in the world?

Ok, you’ve got the clothes, you’ve got the style and the look (see LSS passim) But where on earth can you go to actually drink all these lovely cocktails? After all, we can’t wear Brooks Brothers in the Dog and Duck, they’ll think we’re in fancy dress or something. Well, as we always say, if you’re in a a bother about where to find a drink, ask a journalist. These people just know where the nearest boozer is-they have a sort of mystic instinct. We’ve watched them sense a pub unseen in a strange town, and describe it down to the last sports screen before we even got there. Not kidding.

Which is why we place high faith in the words of Krisanne Fordham of CNN. For she has compiled a list of 30 (count ’em-30!) of the worlds’ top hotel bars. [1] And there are some real highlights here, gentle readers. Find out about the Connaught, London. For swanky exclusivity, this joint has always been hard to beat. Or you could channel your inner gaucho at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires. And there’s 28 others scattered across the globe, all proclaiming their excellent decor, quality service and a complete absence of Riff-Raff. What’s not to like?

Before we go, a health warning. This article was published in 2015 before Mr Putin decided to appanage Ukraine to his empire, so there’s a couple of Russian gaffs in here. Might be wiser to avoid them just for a while. However, we at LSS have no quarrel with the Russian people, never have had. And we feel certain they will return to the comity of civilised cocktail bars one day, when Mr Putin realises what a terrible mistake he has made and pulls his troops home. That day the drinks will definitely be on him.


#cocktail #hotel #cnn #putin

Plastics Pollution-are microbes the answer?

Nothing blights a seaside walk like plastic rubbish does. Bags and bottles roll along the shore like some multicoloured spindrift from hell. Discarded nets and fishing gear trip humans and dogs alike. We’re the lucky ones; out at sea they condemn thousands of marine creatures to an agonising death daily. We avert our eyes and turn inland. To find the hedges and fields littered with the same-the fallen leaves of a dying economic system. And everywhere on sea, land, in the mountains, in the air, these strange new  solids are piling up into continents of waste and pollution. [1] And that’s before you start thinking about the sorts of people that dropped them.

Well, there’s a nice gloomy start to today’s blog, gentle readers. But LSS is nothing if not  hopeful. So we’ll shine not one but two rays of hope into your lives today. And both of them  ways of overcoming plastics pollution. Using our microbe friends to eat it, for the record.

The first comes from Helena Horton of the Guardian. [2] The ingenious Dr Rüthi and his colleagues in Switzerland have been investigating all sorts of bacteria and fungi which might actually digest plastics at room temperature. This, gentle readers, is key:for any discovery must function out there, in the real world, if it’s to be any good. So far the results are mixed. Good for some plastics like polyurethanes, less good for those stubborn ol’ polyethylenes. But a start nonetheless, and much to be welcomed.

By coincidence our regular correspondent Ms Gaynor Lynch has contacted us on this very selfsame day with much the same idea. Via Ocean Blue Project she has a whole series of initiatives on how mushrooms might yet digest our way out of this insidious mess. There’s a good one from  ABC Australia on how fungi of the genus Aspergillus seem to be able to eat polypropylene [3] [4] [5] And we also share a link to how  the resourceful Dr Ken Cullings of NASA is hoping to develop new biological initiatives to deal with the problem in our seas.

Our thoughts? Funny how the educated, thinking section of the population is having to clear up the mess left by those who obey “the invisible dictates of the market” Perhaps some of those very well funded “free enterprise” think tanks might like to take note.

[1] Plastic pollution | Greenpeace UK

[2] Microbes discovered that can digest plastics at low temperatures | Microbiology | The Guardian

[3] Plastic-eating backyard fungi discovery boosts hopes for a solution to the recycling crisis – ABC News

[4] Oyster mushrooms expected to break down toxins and microplastics in cigarette butts in Australian trial | Waste | The Guardian

[5] The fungus and bacteria tackling plastic waste – BBC News

[6] Fungi Cure for Clean Water Research • Environmental Nonprofit Organization (oceanblueproject.org)

#plastic pollution #bacteria #fungi #environmental degradation

How Sir Harold Evans discovered a greater truth

For a few fleeting years between the Suez debacle and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, there seemed a genuine chance that the declining British state might reform itself. Mainly by a pragmatic recognition of its new place in the world and adapting to it. A wave of middle-class reformers, newly emancipated from National Service and by attendance at university seemed poised to take control of  society. In science, social policy, economics, journalism and TV, they meant to sweep aside the old elites of money and land, and create a new more egalitarian society, able to take its place alongside the modernising nations of Europe.

Their flagship journal was The Sunday Times under the leadership of its young, working class editor Harold Evans and his teams of mightily serious and hard working investigative reporters, who set out to shed Truth on all aspects of this transforming zeitgeist. They did good; only a a churl would deny their achievements on matters as diverse as thalidomide, Kim Philby the Death Penalty, and much besides.[1]

But they forgot one inescapable truth, which someone else had grasped intuitively. They were middle class, educated, and therefore few in number.  The mass of the population, lost in their ancient preoccupations of sport, sex and shiny toys, are mainly indifferent to the efforts of reformers. And when the Old Powers of the British State felt themselves threatened by the industrial militancy of the 1970s they turned to Rupert Murdoch. He sacked Evans (who had disparaged Thatcher, a key Murdoch ally) and delivered over the allegiance of the working classes via the Sun.  British Rulers have never been seriously inconvenienced ever since.

Today a large meeting-no, a summit– of those surviving reformers will take place in London. It will be filled with some of the brightest and the best-Woodward, Bernstein, Maitless, Tina Brown to name but a few. Their courage and intelligence are beyond doubt. All will intone solemnly on the need for truth, open information and honest reporting. [2] And they will be right.

But their connection to the lives and preoccupations of ordinary people is at best exiguous. Magnates like Murdoch, and many like him around the world, have made the deep and necessary connections with the masses which are essential for political and economic power.   And until the middle classes find a way of breaking that link, in many countries, our present plight will continue. Indefinitely.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Evans


#journalism #free speech #fake news #tribalism #education #reform

Hiding in Plain Sight? The origin of some dreadful diseases

Parkinsons is a dreadful condition, which gradually takes away the mobility and co ordination from 145 000 victims in the UK alone. Robbing them of dignity, happiness and any chance of a decent life. It seems to come in at least three forms, and is associated with the progressive loss of dopamine secretion in the brain. But up to now its cause remains unknown.[1]

However, a new study by scientists at he University of Helsinki suggests a link to a common gut bacterium called Desulfovibrio, which seems to produce a protein called α-synuclein, which may damage nerve cells and lead to the onset of the condition. You can read an excellent story on the whole thing in the Mail here [2] by Hannah Macdonald. It’s early days yet, and the samples are small. But it leads us on to something which has intrigued us for a long time.

One of the pleasures of being a science journalist, as opposed to a scientist, is that it leaves one free to speculate, and make connections where the strict rules of scientific procedure preclude wiser heads from speaking. For some time now, the medical press has been buzzing with intriguing speculation about the origins of diseases and disorders of the digestive tract. To give another digestive example: The Conversation recently carried a piece on the origins of Alzheimers and gum health [3] Again, not conclusive; but pointing somewhere, perhaps? And we could add two other diseases of mysterious origin, which ravage the lives of millions; Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Would it be a total waste to gamble a little money on further research into the gut, its microbiomes and general health, in the pursuit of such a good cause?

We at LSS love it when the truth was discovered to be there all along hiding in plain sight. We still recall our delight when it was revealed that dinosaurs had never gone extinct, but were floating around on the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, calling loudly for supplies of bread. Could it be that our gut instinct is right?


[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-12062739/Parkinsons-caused-common-bug-gut-researchers-say.html#comments


#parkinsons #dopamine #hannah macdonald #gingivalis #alzheimers #dinosaurs #MS #MND