For external reasons, we can’t bring you our usual round up this week. But we will offer another thank-you to all our regular readers, contributors and all those patient souls who submit to one of our famous interviews.
We will offer you this one story, brought to our attention by our indefatigable team of researchers. It’s new species of dinosaur. But it wasn’t discovered in the ground-well, not exactly, but in the draws of a museum in the little seaside town of Hastings, England. Which leads us to ponder: what other strange old things are lying around in museums, not just in Hastings, but anywhere? Here’s Savannah Nicholson of the Brighton Argus, to tell you all about it
Today’s blog is part of our series of summer blogs where readers from around the world tell us all about the cocktails they’ve experienced on their far-flung voyages. To kick us off, we are proud to welcome Mrs Margaret Foster who is going to showcase her recent journey to the beautiful Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius.
LSS: Tell us about Mauritius
Warm! There’s a lot more to it than other islands in Indian Ocean because its bigger, so there’s more sights and more coastline. From which you can see an amazing profusion of things like dolphins , tropical birds, butterflies and even chameleons. The people are lovely. It’s criss cross of cultures; English is becoming the main language, but everyone seems to speak about four!
LSS:Who did you go there with?
My husband Andrew
LSS: So, for the benefit of our Friday Night Readers, let’s start in on the drinks! What about beer?
Well, they make their own beer, which is called Phoenix. There’s also a craft brewery which makes wheat beer and raspberry beer.
LSS:That’s a nice start for a hot day. But what about wine with dinner?
They’re close to South Africa, where a lot of it’s imported from. But, it’s unbelievably silly prices! So we tended to stay away, and stick with the cocktails
LSS: Now, Mauritius is a tropical island. They must grow a lot of their own fruit for the cocktails?
Indeed! Depending on time year, you get grapefruit, passion fruit , pineapples, pomegranates………. They even grow a lot of lychees from which they make a rather disgusting sweet wine.
LSS: And what sort of cocktails come out of this mix?
All the usual ones your readers will have heard of. Mai Tai, Singapore slings, daiquiris…… Plus they make a lot up of their own. A lot are based on rum, which they spell with an H, so it comes out as R-H-U-M, Rhum. There’s one brand named after the famous Mauritius Pink Pigeon They even left us a free bottle of rhum in our room. It was a little industrial, but drinkable.
LSS:Nice Gesture! Tell us about a couple of the island specials
Well, there was one called Passion des isles– passion fruit, rhum, strawberry liqueur, lemon juice sugar cane syrup, and passion fruit puree . It was nice. Actually passion fruit is quite a theme there. There’s a passion fruit Tequila-normally lime juice is the citrus in this one. The Daquiri is a white rhum, with passion fruit.
LSS:Passion fruits all round then! And your favourite moment?
Lots! Drinking a passion fruit margharita, which you can get anywhere. At a bar, beside the pool, down on the beach . Which is nice at night, because they put out posh deckchairs with lanterns and you can hear the sea crashing on coral and the Wind in the palm trees. Not to mention the fruit bats
Yes, The locals call them flying foxes. They’re huge, with a one metre wingspan and come flying around your heads.
LSS: Thanks. That was easily the most far flung cocktail night We’ve had on this blog.
A prominent member of the Editorial Board has requested that we inscribe the following at the start of today’s blog:
Where are all the [expletive deleted] bees this year? I’ve set up the best[expletive deleted] lavender crop ever down here in my Sussex hideaway, and there’s no sign of the little [expletive deleted]! When we lived in Kingston they used to swarm over the lavender like flies on [expletive deleted] Do you know how much time and money it cost me to put those plants in? What the [expletive deleted] is going on?
Up here in the concrete canyons of Croydon we see very little wildlife. The only signs of bird life are a few bones clinging to the outsides of abandoned takeaway meal cartons. The only flowers are glimpsed as decorative ornaments on things like greetings cards and fashionable wellington boots. Yet what happens to the bees out there in the sticks is of vital interest to us all. Because with out these seemingly humble creatures, all the ecological chains that support us would collapse. Then there would be something to swear about.
Is this a local thing? A quick telephone poll of friends suggest numbers really are down in England (although with some reports of sudden swarms in parts of the country) But we get the impression that other indicator species like beetles and birds are down as well. A practising entomologist of long acquaintance reports that his surveys for things like moths and beetles are also well down. Preocupante, as the Spanish say.
LSS is not a website that jumps to conclusions. There are many possible explanations, including unseasonable cold weather, natural population fluctuation, disease and so on. Which is why we would like YOU, gentle readers to share your observations of this phenomenon with us. Because if bees die out we are all of us, well and truly [expletive deleted].
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  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.
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, and a nice background filler from Wikipedia  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?
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.
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!
“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  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.
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  But, for those who like a drop of the hard stuff, we reproduce the original paper from Nature Chemical Biology  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.
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. 
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 Crash2007-2008 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.