Cutting loose

by ammophila

The shocking theft of all the bicycles in the Luddites’ Gazette yard has left them unable to maintain their normal delivery service.  So by mutual agreement our contract to distribute cuttings from their journal has been suspended and in the meantime Cold Salad will be compiled from other sources, still presented as far as possible twice in the lunar month.

Fair play!

Not a few around the world have been inclined to criticise the United States over the past ninety years or so for small gaps between the admirable ideals the government proclaims, and indeed claims, and what actually happens in practice, eg the recurrent difficulty about identifying wedding parties at distances of over 6,000 miles which does little good for the nation’s foreign policy goals, quite apart from the appalling mayhem to the human beings on the wrong end of the ’scope.  Let us therefore commend a recent success of the US in their efforts for ‘international solidarity and co-operation’ (to use the formulation of the Secretary of State speaking earlier this month).  The case is the more noteworthy since it was clearly not achieved by striving for particular selfish advantage for themselves.

   In 1969 China and the Soviet Union, despite their shared lip service to communist dogma, were in a shooting war along their common frontier.  Now, as America takes an increasingly close interest in what might be termed her ‘second backyard’ on the other side of the Pacific we see China and Russia sharing in, and to a great extent dominating, a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which unites them and the nations between, and is aimed, explicitly, at closer cultural, economic, and military co-operation.

From the Editor

Britain is to national emotion what the Maldives are to oceanic geography.  Once again its inhabitants find themselves bobbing about on the surface of a gently heaving swell, the aftermath of a storm of national feeling that has swept over the island.  Perhaps fortunately this one is a warm salty flow imparting excellent buoyancy, looking set to last a good few weeks before the level goes down, and with a low proportion of nasty fauna, republicans and cynics, cruising around in the depths to cause an unpleasant shock to happily bathing revellers.  (However, another such storm flood, designated ‘Ollie’, is predicted for next month and its nature and effects are as yet quite uncertain.  Some experts foresee danger for foreign visitors venturing into the alcoholic quarters of cities at night if the country does not win ‘its’ ‘fair share’ [two sets of inverted commas needed there] of gold medals in the Olympics)

   This column is not close to the person at the epicentre of the current upsurge.  Our own occasions for working with her have been rare and entirely formal, but it is obvious to all except the most ill-intentioned that in the performance of her office she has virtues of integrity and consistency that would be wonderful assets in a civil servant (and a crippling handicap in a political career), as well as admirable self-control when confronted with frauds and fools to an extent that seems beyond the mental horizon of the country’s footballers.  Nevertheless, after sixty years in the same job with an essentially unchanging round of duties considerably more demanding than most realise, how can there not be a desire to get away from it all?  No one should be excessively surprised therefore if, in the near future, a Private Secretary, finding that HM is not yet busy at her desk at 7.35 am makes enquiries, which result in a Lady of the Bedchamber gliding respectfully but anxiously into the room with a cup of coffee, where she will discover that the hump in the bed is a cunning construction of pillows and clothing, and that there is a chain of knotted sheets leading from one of the bed’s legs through an open window and down four stories to the flower beds outside.

Editor’s footnote: In the meantime British royalists should remember that an excellent card they can play against anti-royalist snipers is to point out that if the country had had a republican constitution when Blair finally came half-good on that undertaking to let Gordon take over, he would certainly have manipulated himself into the post of president.

Extension of cell life

In Nature Communications French scientists from the Institut Pasteur have announced an astonishing discovery.  They have found that stem cells in mammalian bodies can survive the death of the organism as a whole, by going into a state not totally different from hibernation.  They have found it possible to revive such cells after an interval as long as 17 days.  When revived they function as do other stem cells, which implies a great deal; to date the scientists have been able to manipulate them into becoming liver cells and even, with cells from a deceased woman of 95, fully functioning muscle.  Medical scientists of course are delighted. but elsewhere this remarkable research has met diverse reactions.

   Thus, some have found the discovery worrying.  For example, a statement issued on behalf of a national association of Directors of crematoria stated that while they warmly applauded advances in medical science, they were concerned that the general public might draw unhelpful conclusions in this instance, with a resulting downturn in the use of their facilities.  On the other hand, indifference was the reaction of gun dealers consulted for their views.  “Listen feller.  This babe’ll fill a bad guy so full of metal in 8.5 seconds you’d need a crane to stand him up.  Anything happens after second 9, don’t figure,” genially commented Jay, owner of Blastawarama in Sniggsville, affectionately patting his currently most popular submachine gun.  A wealthy businessman contacted by telephone in Hongkong was also unmoved.  While denying that he was ‘in the game’ himself he remarked that many of his acquaintances had contracts with private institutes where numbers of frozen embryos developed from stem cells which they had donated were already held with a view to completing the cloning process as and when it should become desirable for tax, marital, or other reasons.

   It appears, however, that insurance agencies may take a favourable interest.  According to one executive the discovery may obviate the need for some pay-outs on life insurance.  “If, for instance, a contract covers the period to January 15th in a given year, and the customer is run over by a tank on January 1st, legal opinion may be able to hold that he should not be regarded as fully dead until after the expiry of the contract.  Depending of course on how he meets his unfortunate end.  If, for instance, he fell into the tiger’s cage at the zoo, and was eaten, then I think the new discovery would have no relevance.”

   The greatest enthusiasm was shown by law enforcement agencies in countries with no limit on the length of prison sentences.  (Nb several former soldiers who took part in a Guatemala massacre of 1982 have recently each been sentenced to 6,060 years which is thought to be a record for the Americas.)  Several authorities have already asked for further details.  One mid-west state deputy governor described the news as a ‘wonderful step forward towards a  fairer and more just society’.  “In the past far too many criminals were able to cheat justice by dying before their proper term was served.  Now, we shall be able to extract stem cells from their body, clone these and when they have reached the age of criminal responsibility put them back in the slammer until they have done the full time of their sentence.”

Remember the cane toad!    Remember the Aral Sea?

How many now remember the hitherto unknown species of microbe spotted swimming to the rescue of BP in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010?  A huge force of miniature sea-going cavalry, they were going to dispose of the great oil spillage by eating most of the oil, news which served as a rather flimsy windbreak against the gathering storm of criticism.  After that, the story largely sank out of sight (which according to other investigators sceptical about the microbial cavalry is what actually happened to most of the oil) but in areas known to few journalists the story has been proliferating ever since.  Remarkably little is solidly agreed, except that some scientific jiggery-pokery was used to manipulate these tiny oleovores into useful existence.  This leaves worrying questions.  What will they eat when they cannot find any more oil, where, and whose?  What else might wriggle out of these scientists’ test-vats?  Will our boys be ready with warheads full of oil-hungry bacteria aimed at the oilfields of whoever may currently be the enemy before they send some to us?  And, the big one ever lurking in the background, could this turn out to be a case of last year’s neat solution producing next year’s disaster?

Sayings of the month

No genetic trace of jewish or gypsy ancestors (translated wording on a certificate issued by Nagy Gén Diagnosztika, Budapest, for a member of the Hungarian parliament, belonging to the Jobbik party)

Let me make one thing clear.  In the face of the crisis facing our friends in the eurozone both the Government and the Bank of England are united in their determination to do whatever it takes to keep as far away from it as we can (words of a British prime minister speaking on condition of anonymity since he doesn’t want the trouble that will follow if this sentiment emerges in the media)

Mediocrity must not become the standard.  (Frau Merkel responding to the French proposals for yet more renegotiation of bail-out agreements, since she doesn’t give a fig about what emerges in the media)

I can categorically deny that we have agreed to a plan to fill the swimming pool with Coca Cola for the benefit of paying customers as part of the celebrations at the end of the Games (statement by infuriated representative of a rival drinks company that cannot be named until 2034 under rules stipulated by sports officials and allowed to pass without apparent resistance by a government suffering from severe weakness of the knees)

disagreements and criticism welcome, especially if ill-founded

honesti honorque floreant