Thursday, 23 February 2017

Silver Fox

Silver Fox

I gave a presentation to my peers the other day entitled, 'The Genetics of Dog Domestication’ and I’ve decided to share my abundant wisdom in a truncated form, minus all the pesky population genetics and statistics. 

The presentation was inspired by a video I watched concerning the ‘Silver Fox Experiment’. The experiment was initiated in the USSR during the late 1950s. Apart from the science, there is an interesting backdrop to the story. Read on and weep.

Soviet political ideology of the 30s, 40s and the early part of the 50s, considered classical Mendelian genetics and Darwin evolutionary theory as contrary to the tenets of Leninist- Marxist ideology. Instead, Soviet policy embraced Lamarckian theory which was thought to be more in tune with the needs of the proletariat. To understand Lamarckism a little digression is required (surely not, Flaxen!). 

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed a theory of evolution in the early 19th century which did not rely on natural selection in the Darwinian sense. His theory concerned the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The giraffe is generally used to illustrate the theory. Imagine a giraffe stretching its neck to reach leaves high upon a tree. The very act of stretching causes the neck to become longer. According to Lamarckian theory, the characteristic of extra neck length becomes passed on to the offspring. Thus the environment directly acts on the organism (acquired characteristics) and alters the genetic material. No rational scientist today would seriously consider Lamarckism as a mechanism for influencing evolution in this simplistic form. However, this pre-Darwinist theory was a serious contender in the day before the proposal of evolution by natural selection and the discovery of Mendelian genetics.
  
Lamarckian ideas became ingrained within Soviet science and it is estimated that Stalin executed, imprisoned and exiled more than 3,000 mainstream biologists. The 'new science' was heavily promoted by Trofim Lysenko (1928), a barely literate agriculturist. He claimed he could dramatically increase crop yield by exposing wheat seeds to extremes of cold and/or humidity. Lysenko's fantastic claims gained support from the Soviet elite as it promised huge increases in the food supply and provided hope for the alleviation of devastating famines caused by Soviet mismanagement of collective farms. Needless to say, the whole venture was a disastrous failure and only abandoned after the death of Stalin in 1953.  This sorry affair reverted Soviet biology back to the dark ages and was directly responsible for the death of millions by starvation. Digression endeth.

Science can not be organised according to political or religious dictates and dogma. In their quest to bend all aspects of society to the yoke of communist ideology the Soviets ultimately broke the back of Russian and Eastern bloc science. With our benefit of hindsight, we can appreciate that communism is a failed political system. In relation to society, it fails because it strives to stifle innate individuality and creativity. People are not part of a collective and rail against conformity and structured banality. Science cannot be structured or made to fit a political scheme or precept. Good science should be free from all interference, politics included. Of course, this represents the 'counsel of perfection' which can never exist in the real world. Even in so-called liberal democracies, political interference is rampant but not as blatant and as stifling as existed under the Soviet regime. Rant over.

Back to the silver fox  
Khrushchev began to reverse Soviet genetic policy in 1959 and in that year Prof Belyaev became director of the genetics research institute in Novosibirsk, Siberia. The worthy Professor collected prime fox specimens and began a selective breeding programme. He only chose individuals which exhibited ‘tame’ behavioural characteristics. He continued to select only those foxes which showed the least fear and aggression in the presence of humans. Within six generations he started to notice some interesting features present in the selected animals. As stated, the only trait selected for was tameness; physical properties played no part in the selection process. The animals became tractable, unafraid of human contact and contained all the qualities of behaviour expected in the domestic dog. Also, they exhibited other features which we would normally associate with the dog. Some developed curly, wagging tails and floppy ears. The muzzle became shorter and the coats became multi-coloured. By selecting for one trait a host of physical attributes also became manifest. This phenomenon is not unknown to geneticists and even has a fancy name- pleiotropy. All professions like to confuse non-initiates with fancy technical jargon and genetics is no exception- keeps the proles guessing. Anyway, the term simply describes the situation where one gene influences more than one seemingly unrelated trait.

It is known from genetic studies that the dog is descended from the grey wolf. It has been estimated from proto-dog burials, that the wolf first became associated with human populations about 14,000 years ago. The advantage of two intelligent species coming together in mutual harmony is rather obvious. The wolf would provide protection and act as a sentinel. More importantly, the wolf would greatly assist with the hunt and help to bring down fleet of foot prey. The wolf/dog, in turn, would receive shelter, protection and hopefully a regular and predictable food supply. The fact that both species exhibit an ordered social hierarchy would help to mesh the species into a beneficent mutualistic whole (Flaxen spouting bollix).

Tis sobering to contemplate that the white fluffy creature gently snoring and not so gently farting on my lap is fully capable of mating (a few mechanical considerations aside) with a wolf to produce viable offspring. Although the progeny is likely to offer you their paw before biting your leg clean orrrrrrffff.

The ‘silver fox project continues to this day and it is possible to purchase one of these stunningly beautiful creatures for US$7,000. I hear tell that the Pitts have adopted two and Miley Virus keeps one in her Beverley Hills condo. She also owns a ferret called Shagger. Nuff said.

Behold the wolf





Thursday, 16 February 2017

Bogan

The bogan in its natural habitat

I've been pondering anew and thinking a little about class and its implications in Anglo-Saxon societies. Although Australian and New Zealand societies are supposedly classless, this is not true. Arguably the Antipodes are less class conscious and less defined by class than their British brethren, but class structures/strictures and hierarchy do exist. Societies throughout the world segregate to some degree. In some societies, it is extreme as observed in the caste system of India. In America, class awareness is based mainly on money, although there are still a number of patrician blue bloods lurking in New England, but again the upper echelons residing on the east coast are invariably wealthy. Contrast this with the typical English aristocrat who, like their ramshackle stately homes, have seen better days. Death duties and upkeep on dilapidated castles have robbed these former robber Barons of their ill-gotten gains garnished from hundreds of years of fruitful exploitation and wars with the French. In England, the aristocracy is not synonymous with great wealth.

I would like to consider a sub-type of class or 'classless' denizen of Australian and New Zealand societies known as the bogan. Bogans are a peculiar sub-culture instantly recognisable by their dress, speech, coiffure and mode of transport.

The bogan in its natural habitat.........

The bogan is a most interesting and universally loathed creature. The majority of the species are hideously repugnant, devoid of full denture and remarkably unintelligent, and yet they manage to breed in ever-increasing numbers and populate an area known as the outer west. It is quite common to find five or six offspring in each family group, often with a different father for each new baby. 

Their habitat consists of a weatherboard or brick veneer dwelling and is characterised by an early model Holden or Ford in the driveway surrounded by a group of males discussing why the carby is stuffed and the results of last night's footy (a primitive gladiator-like spectator sport enjoyed by most bogans).

The female of the species, while smaller in stature, is far more loud and aggressive than the male. While the males tend to be very friendly and congregate with other males, the females spend most of their time in supermarkets and shopping malls, using a shrill high-pitched call to discipline their children and contact other females. 

Males and females rarely interact socially except during breeding season, which is otherwise known as Friday night. During this time, females are allowed to enter the male-dominated area known as "the pub" and display their impressive coloured plumage to a prospective mate. Male plumage is universally displayed as a crest or mullet sportingly enhanced in multi-coloured hues

Herein lies an interesting phenomenon. Males will often fight over a particularly attractive female and she will mate with only one male, while some less attractive females have been known to have several partners simultaneously. 

Of course, the bogan has its equivalent throughout the western hemisphere. In the US they are affectionately known as, 'trailer trash' and in Britain as 'chavs'. Lack of taste, lack of culture and ill fortune foisted upon by nature truly knows no geographical bounds.

Trailer trash in its natural habitat

Ahhhh. The wonders of nature and the power of convergent evolution.




Thursday, 9 February 2017

Wall of Contention

Not a likely scenario, methinks

Trump has managed to piss off the whole Mexican nation. It seems his talk of building a wall between the US and Latin America was not just idle rhetoric. And to be fair he did garner much of the US vote because of his stated intention to go ahead with the project. Not following through on election promises is not unknown to politicians. But Trump is no politician, he's a businessman and it looks like he really is going to run the country as if it was one mega-business-corporation. Should be an interesting ride.

The wall is not impossible to build, just difficult and expensive. As I recall from third grade geography at Tipton Secondary Modern, the border between the US and Mexico runs for about 1,900 miles. It traverses diverse landscapes: rivers (Colorado and Rio Grande), flood plains, mountains and inhospitable desert. For the wall proper, concrete will be the ideal choice for construction. Initially, Trump was thinking of building a solid concrete barrier throughout, although he has now come to contemplate the practicalities and is considering interspersing the concrete wall with traditional fencing. The wall does not have to extend the whole length of the border as nature closes down great swathes of the marchland. The cheapest 'wall' and best impediment to human movement, especially of the unwanted variety, is large expanses of water. Mother Nature always knows best in this regard. I should know as I live in New Zealand which nestles in the south pacific, 1,000 leagues from the nearest land. But the Americans don't have this luxury.

Experts reckon that only a third of the border requires a wall barrier. Several parts of the border constitute a challenge from both engineering and logistic perspectives- building walls in flood plains can be bothersome. Sectors of the border region are remote and difficult to access by man and material. Cement and men will need to move from areas of manufacture to areas of remote wall building. The answer of course is temporary settlements which rove as the wall progresses. The wall at one point will encroach on a Native American Reservation. The tribal elders have already expressed resistance to allowing a wall to cross land under their jurisdiction and Trump will need a Congressional bill to force the issue. Unfortunately he doesn’t have recourse to shooting the natives or infecting them with smallpox as in times of yore. In New Zealand we have a similar problem regarding the Maoris, however we are allowed to shoot them on one day of the year as long as it is before noon (Waitangi Day- hooray). Eat lead pesky Maoris! Stop digressing Flaxen.

As for cost: now there is an imponderable conundrum. No one really knows how much it will cost but estimates range from 10 to 20 billion dollars. This does not include annual maintenance and upkeep which adds on 750 million dollars per annum. Trump will also need to budget for 21,000 agents to patrol the barrier ($1.4 billion a year). Actually the wall could act as an economic stimulus as numerous industries are required. Transport is a must as are large amounts of construction manpower. And this is definitely a long term project. The irony of course is that a fair chunk of the manpower building and patrolling the wall will be of Mexican descent, all labouring away to keep their stealing, raping, brethren out.

Trump reckons the Mexicans will pay for the wall. The Mexicans say nay. Looks like a classical Mexican standoff to me. Hola! Of course Trump does not expect the Mexican government to pay the US administration directly. It has been suggested that a 20% import tax could be levied on Mexican goods entering the US. This could gather about 13 billion dollars a year. It is estimated that around 25 billion dollars is sent to Mexico every year by Mexicans residing in the US. This represents 2% of the Mexican GDP. By threatening to stem this flow of gelt the US could conceivably exert a powerful lever on the Mexican government to cough up funds or risk economic recession. However, this plan if implemented would severely damage Mexican-US diplomatic relations. Even hard core Republicans are not keen on this plan as it has the obvious taint of extortion. As a hard nosed businessman this argument is unlikely to bother Trump. Less provocative measures involve increasing fees on visas applications and border crossing cards.

Though I wouldn't go as far as saying that I’m starting to like Trump, he is certainly earning my respect. The fact that he is stirring the international political pot and causing concern and consternation amongst career politicians, even within his own party, is no bad thing

Just a final word on the effectiveness of the wall stemming illegal immigration: Although I have no doubt that the wall will have a major impact on unwanted human traffic, especially in areas of high population density, it will also encourage economic migrants to force passage through difficult and relatively inaccessible border regions. And I wonder how long it will take the 'human traffickers' to organise and facilitate these crossing attempts? Where human desperation and misery are conjoined with human ingenuity and the potential to make squidoodles (not a real word) of cash, anything is possible.



Friday, 3 February 2017

A change of pace: UPDATE


An earlier project

ARSE- UPDATE: LEFT OUT THE FIRST PARAGRAPH IN MY ORIGINAL DRAFT- I BLAME THE NEW MEDS AND INCIPIENT SENILITY

I've been busy of late with other projects so I've not had time to write; hence the scarcity of posts. I've been devoting time to developing new skills and investigating potential hobbies in preparation for my impending retirement. I have always been a busy person and my wife worries about how I will fill in time once I give up my hectic work schedule. To be fair she thinks I'll spend most of my spare time sequestered in my study, alone, writing. And to be honest I think she is right. With the world slowly going 'tits up' it has become increasingly enticing for me to withdraw into my inner phantasmal world.....

My new preoccupation is of an outside physical nature. As with all my interests I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into the activity as if a maniacal frenzied loon had taken possession of my very soul. At least it keeps the neighbours at bay. Although we did receive a complaint the other day when I wandered about the deck stark bollock naked. This is particularly interesting as I have a large garden retreating into native woodland and you would need a powerful pair of binoculars to obtain the full benefit of my disrobed gyrations. I'm sure the complaint wasn't for ascetic reasons as I'm a fine, well endowed figure of a man. I've digressed.

I think my wife was pleased at first as I wasn't spending hours on my own, writing, until she came to realise that I'm spending hours, on my own, in the garage, making stuff. Different hobby, same dedication and same time spent alone.

I'll not divulge, my new preoccupation, as yet. Let's just say, it isn't golf or country dancing.




Friday, 27 January 2017

We are all toast


Nutritionists and food scientists are keen for us ordinary folk to eat healthy. Yep, they regale us with tales of doom, despond and woe unless we do as they preach; less animal fat, less red meat, less salt and more fruit and veg. Sensible advice I'm sure. Apart from the nutritional benefits we are also haunted by the spectre of cancer causing chemicals lurking within our comestibles. A few years ago we were bombarded by the latest research which suggested that processed meats such as sausage, bacon and spam (NO, NOT SPAM!) were laden/ladled/larded with carcinogens akimbo. The simple BBQ also came under censure. Apparently, cooking meat over a flame causes charring and the black, crunchy, tasty bits are decidedly cancery (not a word in my lexicon).

Why is it that the tastiest of foods are unhealthy or harmful? Broccoli and sprouts are never on the list of proscribed foods. Bacon tastes good, red meat marbled with fat tastes good, spinach tastes like shit. The latest culprit to suffer condemnation is the humble stalwart of every nutritious breakfast: toast. Apparently diligent researchers have discovered that the darker the hue of the toasted bread, the greater the accumulation of the chemical acrylamide. And horror of horrors, acrylamide causes cancer. Ask any small rodent force fed unfeasibly large amounts of the pure chemical. And it is true that if you feed mice on huge amounts of the stuff, some but not all, will develop cancer. These are not just any mice, but special mice which have been specifically bred to be susceptible to cancer- an artificial breed of mice which eschews cheese and porks with unrestrained relish and gusto on the finest grade acrylamide powder. As one sensible Professor (not Mugumbo) put it: "Even adults with the highest consumption of acrylamide would need to consume 160 times as much to reach a level that might cause increased tumours in mice". Well said Prof David Spiegelhalter from Cambridge University. Or in non-scientific speak: You would have to be spreading the stuff thickly on your morning, afternoon and evening toast to experience the same dose.

So what are we to make of this latest research? I would counsel that the wise consumer should take heed of this undoubtedly sound advice, not a jot; not an iota. After all we are men, not mice. Isn't life more sweet and vibrant because we are doomed? Do we not experience excitement and expectation every time we masticate a morsel of grilled bread? Saviour and grasp life's fancy and feast on toast of shades various. Personally, I'm going to carry on eating my toast as nature intended- brown in the middle and black on the outside. I remember reading somewhere that the burnt charcoal bits aids digestion. I rest my case.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sunday Rambling Bollocks, Once Again




Yesterday, Trump was inaugurated as the 45th American President and the protesters were out in force, not just in the US.  

A few thoughts from the Flaxen haired one: The liberal left think that Trump's election is the herald for Armageddon. Even sober journalists (sic/hic) are waxing greatly concerning the calamity about to descend upon the known world - the vocal left are a minority but they do make a lot of noise per capita. Talk about drama. Most folk, I'm sure, will note the change in administration and quietly get on with their lives. 

Just a word to those who think that the world is about to end, at least as we know it:
Trump is not as free to implement policy as some would like you to believe. Modern democracies, the US included, have inherent constitutional checks and safeguards to prevent megalomania and despotism- this isn't sub-Saharan Africa after all. Trump may well be a tyrant with regard to his business life but things are a little different when you are the supposed leader of the free world. 

To his credit, Trump seems to genuinely want a dialogue and rapport with Putin and Russia. This can be no bad thing in the world of 'Real Politik'. Certainly international fences need rebuilding after the Obama administration. Talking of fences. The Mexico wall interests me. While it is not impossible it will be expensive. Seeing that he garnered a lot of votes on the basis of stemming illegal immigration from the south I suspect Trump will have to make good on his promise, even if he comes to eventually regret it. Personally I approve. The American border to the south is way too porous allowing unfettered entry to the States. For every one 'illegal' caught on the border ten will get through. People trafficking is a well organised and a very lucrative proposition for the criminal Mexican gangs who run the trade. The human misery should not be understated. Once entry has been gained into the 'Land of the Free', migrants are often in the thrall of these violent gangs who mercilessly exploit and degrade these poor folk. What they going to do, complain to the police? 

One suggested way to keep costs down is to employ incarcerated felons. Not a bad idea, but you can bet there will be a liberal lobby protesting against violation of civil/human rights. Should people who have violated laws and committed heinous crimes be denied human rights? I would argue, yes, at least for those, who by their actions, have shown that they are unfit to live in a so-called civilised society. We have to accept that some folk are irredeemable and for the greater good of society they deserve to be held in a facility where they can do no further harm for the rest of their corporeal existence. After that, it's god's problem.  

I understand that there are a 1,000,000 people languishing in American gaols as I write. Not all will be bad folk, I'm sure. From the American prison documentaries I've seen, most of the violent inmates look extremely fit. Get them digging, I say. The wall doesn't have to be sophisticated, a simple physical barrier with electronic censors on top will do. Remember Offa's dyke? 

Why not get the Mexicans in on the act. The wall would act as an economic stimulus for the Mexican economy. Just have to make sure that the Mexicans work on the southern side of the wall only.  

Finally, just a view whimsical words about the protesters. In the States we saw images of irate protesters waving quite aggressive slogans. A few were even spelticated correctly. For instance, I've seen: 'Stop Nazi Trump', 'Fuck Trump and 'Without Immigrants Trump Would Have No Wives' (quite funny). While back in England, one seemingly reluctant protester held up a banner saying: 'I'm quite upset'. Says it all, really.  

Toodle pip!