For the sake of the children- 3 parent families

3 parents

 

I have spent my laboratory working life in stem cell research. I am interested in ageing and stem cells seem a good place to start.

I have spent a lot of time around the regenerative medicine network and around people involved in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

I have written papers in this field and in the ethics of this field. So I am not saying any of this without having thought about it.

In the UK we have been lucky to have the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority which regulates what is allowed. Because something is possible does not mean it should be done. It is possible for you to murder, but you should not do that.

We have medical interventions that can  save our lives, which is to the good, but we also have medical interventions creating lives that could not exist otherwise, and that is where a lot of contention comes in. I know that there are many opinions and feelings on this and I am not convinced who knows best.

We hear about people that cannot have babies, usually from women that cannot have babies, are infertile for some reason. They feel their lives are blighted, Now for me, I think that is a psychological problem as well as a medical one. I think they have focussed on the one thing they can’t do to the detriment of anything else. There are people with an illness that become that illness, they lose all sense of themselves, their identity becomes their illness. The Disability Lobbies have been stalwarts at altering that image. People with a disability are not the disability; that is merely a part of them and they are also able; able to be themselves. They are more than their disability. The same with disease or illness.

We also hear about people wanting babies that cannot have them for other reasons, such as being male.

And now we have people that do not accept this and so want to have babies somehow. Medical interventions and surrogacy have implemented this supply to those that demand it.

Surrogacy is basically renting a womb. There may not be a large payment, but the surrogate mother provides the uterus for the growth of the embryo. The embryo may be from the surrogate’s egg mixed with donor sperm from a man that wants a biological baby or it may be a donated egg from a woman that wants a biological baby, but cannot manage a pregnancy.

The problem of course is who really are the baby’s biological parents? I ask this as I imagine that when the child grows up it will want to know. Never mind the parents wishes. I want to know how the child feels.

We are more than our genetic material, but it plays a large part. Most of our genetic material, DNA, is held in the nucleus of the cell and codes for the genes that make the proteins that make us.

The mitochondria are little organs, organelles, inside each cell in our body. They are responsible for energy conversion. Glucose comes from our food and oxygen from the air that enters our lungs. Both glucose and oxygen cross into our blood and our blood transports the glucose and oxygen to every cell in our body. There insulin helps glucose to be taken into the cell (hence the problem for those with insulin deficits, diabetes) and both glucose and oxygen enter the cell. The glucose and oxygen combine in a similar way that petrol and oxygen combine in a car, burning up to release the energy contained in the glucose molecule, in the atomic bonds. However, in us it is done at a much lower temperature than in a car, with the help of enzymes which are protein molecules and proteins are coded for by DNA.

The glucose and oxygen combine to form ATP (the molecule on my front page) which is used as an energy store to fuel all the reactions of the body. Most of this is done inside mitochondria, so mitochondria are vital for our lives.

Mitochondria are unusual organelles. They contain their own genetic material, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Like any DNA it can have mutations and these get passed on in the maternal line as the mother makes eggs which have mitochondria in, her mitochondria. Each parent also donates nuclear genetic material to the embryo, but only the mother donates mtDNA. We can trace people back to ‘Eve’ by their maternal mitochondria. Many of us are interested in where we come from.

Mitochondria only contain about 37 genes while nuclear DNA (nDNA) contains about 30,000 genes. But the mitochondrial genes are vital and any mutations can lead to serious and very deadly diseases.

If a woman is carrying mutated mitochondrial genes she will pass them on to her offspring regardless of whether her nuclear genes and the father’s nuclear genes are fine.

To circumvent this, women with mitochondrial diseases need three biological donors:

  • one giving an egg with healthy mitochondria ( a donor female) but with the nucleus removed so there is no nuclear genetic material,
  • one giving nuclear genetic material (the ‘mother’ with the faulty mitochondria) but not donating the egg and
  • one giving sperm (the male donor) containing nuclear genetic material. Three partners/donors/parents.

The egg may then be brought through pregnancy by the ‘mother’ if it is only her mitochondrial genetic material that is at fault. In other-words, her nucleus with nuclear genes can be put into the egg with no nucleus but healthy mitochondria and fertilised by sperm. The problem is, you have just cloned a baby.

Again, how do the children feel when they grow up?

I imagine in the first case that the child of a surrogate would want to know the egg donor or the womb donor. In some cultures and religions it is the womb donor who is the mother, not the egg donor. I know of people who have used this method to have children because they wanted children. I am not sure how their children will react to finding out that their mother was rent-a-womb and that their parents have no further interest in her once she has done her bit.

For the mitochondrial child, there may only have been an egg with mitochondrial DNA genetic material donated and the pregnancy might have been in the mother. Not just the social mother, but the biological one.

I think we need to stop thinking about parents rights as there are no real inalienable rights to have children.  Who do you blame if you can’t have children? Who do you sue; yourself?  We need to start thinking about how we use women as just another commodity in our individual choices, in our buying power, in the way we treat each other and the planet as one big shop. We need to start thinking about how the children will feel and what they will want when they grow up. And most of us want to know where we came from, who our biological parents are, what their culture and customs are and how come they sold/gave us to another.

I am not Charlie

What terrible events have occurred over the past few days all over the world as well as in Paris. Massacre upon massacre. What end to this killing? If we are all God’s children then the people doing the killing  were killing God.

That is blaspheme.

The Paris shootings have featured a lot in the media. I think these Paris shootings need some unpicking.

Firstly the Charlie Hebdo Shootings.

I do not condone the shootings. I can’t stand the loss of all those people. I thought the final shoot out with the brothers was inevitable and that it was more like a film script, or one of those dumb-ass dvd games, than real life. But real people died and real people had been killed. I think the brothers and many like them have been groomed in a way similar to the way that paedophile rings work. So, amazingly and perhaps because I am an adult, a grown up,  I felt sorry for them. Their lives sound like a car crash. That made them vulnerable to dodgy men with fascistic ideas. BUT, and the is a large BUT, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were insulting and racist.

I do not think the French are renowned for their sense of humour.. They may use satire, which is only a little up the humour scale from sarcasm, which is itself next to bitchiness.

I am pleased that countries such as Egypt have developed satirical magazines even though I personally loathe most satire. I find it not only offensive and in the UK  lavatorial, but childish. But if Egypt or France or Algeria have them and poke fun at their politicians that is fine. That is their right. It shows a mature, grown up politic that can stand being the butt of a joke.

If an Irish person tells an Irish joke that is ok. If a Nigerian tells a Nigerian joke that is ok. If a Muslim tells a Muslim joke that is ok. But if a French person tells a Muslim joke that is not ok. That crosses a line. So you can tell jokes against your own culture or race, but not against others. You can poke fun at nations, other nations then your own, but you need to be careful not to poke fun at ethnicities and cultures. The world has changed. It is not centred at Eton or Harrow. White Western Christian Males do not get to say what is and is not ok anymore. Time to grow up and get a perspective.

As to the butt of this particular joke, I think that there is oversensitivity here, but I understand it. However, I think that Muslims need to realise that a prophet is a man, not a God. There is only one God and that is not Mohammed. As Mohammed is not God, he cannot be blasphemed. I think that needs to be realised.

But it is insulting to make derogatory remarks about him by people of another culture. I think that the insult is felt even more keenly because the joke may not have been targeted only at the prophet, but also at his followers, what used to be called the Mohammedans and is now called Islam. If a Muslim made a rude cartoon about Christ I imagine there would be a huge outcry. I hope Christians would not be stupid enough to kill people over it, but some might and I think many people would feel insulted. The ‘Life of Brian’ film made by the Pythons was made by while Western Christian men. They got a lot of stick for it. Imagine if it had been made by Muslims.

I agree with Freedom of Speech, but what comes out of your mouths has an effect on people. You cannot shirk all responsibility for what you say. Of course we all need to temper the effect things have on us, how we feel about what people say. But we also need to edit what we say. Some things are insulting, hurtful or rude. All of these things you should try to avoid doing. Sometimes we are clumsy in what we say, But this was intentionally insulting people and Charlie Hebdo has to take some responsibility for being crass, insulting and rude.

I should add that recently we have had people making vile random remarks online at people- cyber bullying trolls. They have been prosecuted.

So while I completely condemn the Hebdo shootings I think the cartoonists should not make insulting cartoons about other people’s cultures.

Secondly The Kosher/Cacher Supermarket shootings.

I vividly remember after 9/11 many Muslim people saying that we should not blame all Muslims for the Twin Towers. So what was the Kosher supermarket? Are all Jews to blame? Not again this stupid. Surely it is somebody else’s turn? How about Fiji? I don’t know why Fiji, a random choice, but then racism is random and stupid.  I apologise to any Fijians out there who I hope have a sense of humour and get the point, but surely it is someone else’s turn?

The shootings at the supermarket were racist. Deeply, deeply racist. No excuse. Just racist. Stupid and racist. Got it? They were racist. The gunman was racist. Racism is stupid so the gunman was stupid. Fascist and stupid. Racist. Please do not dress it up as anything else. Please do not hide it in French rights or Palestinian rights or Fijian rights. It is Fascist, Racist Crap. End of.

And for any Muslim out there reading this:

If God chose the Israelites ( the same God, by the way, as the God that Mohammad proclaims) who are you to say He chose wrong? That is blaspheme.

Jon Thompson

2014 was a difficult year and keeping going was the main thing. As the saying goes, ‘when you are going through hell, keep going’. So it was a while ago that I went to see the wonderful Jon Thompson’s show at Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London.

Jon Thompson is no youngster and when he makes something it is the thing itself imbued with years of both knowledge and experience. His Toronto Cycle, almost music for the eyes, contains a group of works referencing famous painters, for example Van Gogh. VG1 and VG2 are works that reference Van Gogh early work (1) and later work (2). Interestingly, the later work has the brighter more vibrant colours. What Thompson has done is analyse the colours in Van Gogh’s work and the proportions they are used in and then made his work using those colours in those proportions. He has done similar works with Gaugin’s palette of colours. Vibrant, Melodic.

The Toronto Cycle: Cadence and Discord  (VG1)

I think they are stunning. That he has made the horizontal (as in say Mark Rothko) look also vertical (as in a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is brilliant. That he has divided the two halves like tablets of stone, commandments of colour, is inspired. This is the work of an artist.

His latest works contained some blinding colours, oranges that almost fluoresced, blues that illuminated the space. My particular favourite was a deceptively simple  green cross of colour.

I love deceptively simple. I am deeply suspicious of making something that should be simple over-complicated.  I think that shows a lack of real understanding and basic communication needs, masked by jargon and processes.

Thompson strips things back like a revelation. Not only do you see his work, you can hear and feel it. Magic.

Cancer and Blame

 

Smoking

Most of us probably want to believe that we get what we deserve! However, we were not really put on this earth to make these judgements. We cannot tell how other people really live, what they face each day, and what they deserve let alone blame them for all that happens to them.

A lot of money has been spent on bad science, pseudo science and bad public health. Most epidemiology looks backwards, what has happened, and from that tries to predict what will happen. But we don’t have a crystal ball and no event reoccurs in human populations exactly the same way twice. Yes, we can learn from history, but we cannot copy it or predict how things will turn out in the future. Hence economic prophecies based on pseudo scientific principles. What a lot of twaddle we hear from economists.

Public health initiatives are often based on very poor ideas. You read those ridiculous articles such as eating salt increases your chance of heart attack. The chance they are talking about is usually very small and the amount of salt that had to be consumed to increase this small chance was very, very large. But then a public health official will spend a lot of your money on an anti-salt campaign.

You cannot live without salt. All of your reactions in your body (your metabolism) occur in a salty liquid, a plasma-type substance,  which exists both within the cell and between the cells of your body. You are about 80% water and a lot of salt. You are salty. Your kidneys filter water and salt keeping them in balance to meet your body’s needs. In fact where water goes so does salt. One cannot travel without the other. It is to do with osmotic pressure, keeping your cells at the correct salt-water balance. Too much water (i.e. too little salt) and your cells would swell up and burst. Too little water (i.e. too much salt) and your cells will shrivel and die. It is in balance. There can be too much or too little of everything. Life needs a balance. So campaigns that reduce salt too much also do you harm. If you live in a hot country where you sweat to cool yourself down (too much heat in your body kills you) then you are losing water AND salt. You need to replace BOTH.

A lot of bad science and pseudo science has been done on cancer. Why? Because it gets funding is the simple answer. Unfortunately, if you put in a proposal about cancer (or include education as an outcome!) you tend to stand a better chance of funding. While basic research, the science of cancer cells for example, is needed, a whole load of others get funding on the back of this. So we get the poor results and the silly links between things that aren’t linked at all.

I can invent some silly links myself such as ‘watching tv after 6pm gives you cancer’ or ‘reading gossip magazines gives you cancer’. I can prove these while sitting in my armchair. I would bet that nearly everybody that has died of cancer has watched TV after 6pm. There may be a few exceptions, but they would be brushed aside as exceptions. As to the gossip magazine, if you haven’t read one, you still probably read some gossip in a newspaper or heard it on the radio or TV or from a neighbour so I could still justify my arbitary claim somehow. This is because correlation does not prove causation.

Correlation is when two things occur together. The best example I was given to explain this was by a psychologist colleague. This is it:

In summer more people eat ice cream than in winter

In summer more people drown than in winter

Therefore (stupid correlation bit) eating ice cream causes you to drown.

No it doesn’t. More people eat ice cream in summer because they are hot and it may cool them down. More people swim in summer also to cool them down rather than go swimming when it is freezing outside. You could say that cooling down causes you to drown, but you don’t tend to drown from eating ice cream or sweating, which also cools you down. To drown you need to be trying to swim. In water or another liquid. If more people swim in summer than in winter than there are increased numbers of people at risk of not being able to swim in the water they are in and therefore drowning. We could probably argue that fewer people are watching TV in the summer as they are out doors swimming so watching TV prevents you from drowning. I guess it does as most of us don’t watch it while swimming (or even bathing in our bathrooms, although I have stayed in an hotel with a TV in the bathroom). Still, I would not say that watching TV prevents people from drowning. Now I hope you see that two things may occur together, ice cream eating and swimming, but they don’t necessarily cause the effect, drowning. Swimming doesn’t cause drowning either, if you think about it. It is the inability to swim at that moment in time that may cause you to drown. That may be due to a number of reasons: your general inability to swim, sudden changes in conditions, freak accidents.

Most of the bad pseudo science you hear is this sort of statistical analysis of populations done by people that say they are doing science, but they aren’t.

Well you must have heard a lot about cancer if you are over 20 years old. The most obvious one is ‘smoking causes cancer, particularly lung cancer’. I have a colleague who has never smoked or lived with smokers or lived in smoking areas and died of lung cancer. That would be impossible if smoking causes lung cancer. It increases your risk of getting lung cancer. The problem is that we are very bad at thinking about risk. Risk is to do with probability and we humans are not good at that, hence so many of us gamble. I hear people say that they make a living out of gambling. The only people that really make a living at gambling are the bookies and betting shops, the people behind the counter, not the people in front of it. We all have a flutter. But the flutter has been calculated so that we generally lose. The bookies are better at probability than we are.

Richard Doyle is the epidemiologist that came up with the link between smoking and cancer. He was good at his job. What he also said, that people have chosen to ignore is that if you give up smoking by the age of 30 you will, within about 10 years, have lungs as if you have never smoked. All those campaigns wasting money on getting teenagers to quit. It is the older (parents) that need to quit, the 30+ year olds. All that wasted money because they did not read the rest of the article!

How many of you have been asked by the doctor if you have ever smoked and if you were to say yes, 25 years ago, they would write you down as a smoker and blame all your problems on that. My father gave up smoking 40 years before he died. Still, any pulmonary (lung) condition he had they tried to blame on his having smoked. I would think that being a ‘Bevan Boy’ (sent down the coal mines) in World War 2 at a young age would have been more detrimental to his pulmonary health. Living 40 years after smoking and not having lung cancer may have been a bit of a give away in diagnostic terms; but why go with intelligence when you can go with poor science? There is a lot of stupid on the planet and wow, am I fed up of hearing it.

Coal tar has a detrimental effect on genes. It has carcinogenic chemicals, ones that can alter genetic material, ie cause mutations. That is what a mutation is. A change in one letter in your genetic code. You have three billion letters so finding a change in one of them is a tad difficult. Coupled to that you have 10 trillion cells. Each cell has that 3 billion letter dictionary. So you are looking for one letter change amongst 3 billion x 10 trillion. That is a one in a 30 billion, trillion letter. Now do you see the problem?

When daft pseudo-gerontologists (I have one in mind) come up with ways to live longer, which basically boil down to the need to diagnose people earlier  with any disease potential (and we all have that) so they can live longer they aren’t really gerontologists. They aren’t biologists. They are popularists. They are talking for the sake of hearing their own voices. Where do you look? Which one of the 10 trillion cells? Which one of the 3 billion letters in one of those cells? Do you think people haven’t been trying to diagnose cancer before it kills you? Not just treat it, but spot it as early as possible?

We have always known that diagnosing cancer is problematic. By the time we can see it there needs to be about a gram of cells. A gram is a very small amount. A teaspoon of sugar (which may ‘help the medicine go down’!) has about 5 grams on it. A gram of cells contains about a billion cells. That’s a lot of cells. Cancerous cells.

The problem with bad science is the lack of understanding of the biology of us.

Cancer has two things going on; one is genetic, the other is cell growth. The genetic bit is that there needs to be a mutation and they occur randomly. A mutation can hit a gene that has no effect on cancerous growth. But it can hit a gene that does. However, one gene in one cell won’t kill you. What you need is for the cell to grow and grow.

Most cells only grow, make new cells, to replace old cells that have worn out and died. Most of your bodily activities are carried out by ‘terminally differentiated cells’ functional end cells which do not grow and make new cells. For instance oxygen is carried in your blood by red blood cells (erythrocytes). They are terminally differentiated. They have completed their growth and development and have become restricted in what they can do (differentiated). They can only be red blood cells. When they get worn out they get replaced by cells further back in development, growing cells that are quite undeveloped. They form pools of new cells that then go on to differentiate (become different) and highly specialised, such as red blood cells that only really carry out one function, carry oxygen in the blood. It is a bit like any manufacturing process. You take a sheet of metal, It could be made into anything. If is made into the front driver side of a car door. It does not then become a car roof.

The early, underdeveloped cells that provide later cells are the Stem Cells.

If you have a mutation in a cell that is about to become a red blood cell (a reticulocyte) it may not have much effect. Some red blood cells may lack a certain protein (genes code for proteins). If the mutation is in a gene for the protein that carries oxygen (haemoglobin) then there is a problem, the red cell is inefficient. If it is in a gene for cell growth it has no effect as red cells don’t grow. To get a cancer in blood cell you need to affect the cells that grow, the stem cells. There are not many of them and they are hard to find. Why would you look for them unless you already knew there was a blood cancer?

So predicting cancer and finding cancer is very difficult. If it was easy those pseudo-scientists could do it too.

Cristian Tomasetti and cancer geneticist Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have just released results showing that it is bad luck getting cancer, a matter of random chance. Which gene and which cell is not predictable.

Some cancers are more common than others. Cancers occur more often in tissues that are replaced often such as the linings of tubes (stomach tubes, gut tubes, urinary tubes) and the linings of us, our skin. These are from epithelial tissues and the cancers they give rise to are called carcinomas.

Cells involved in support and transport are also replaced due to wear and tear. Each time a cell is replaced it may cause a mutation to be made in its genetic material ( a misreading of the code). Tissue such as blood, bone, cartilage and dermal tissue is replaced often. This sort of tissue, connective tissue can therefore become cancerous causing cancers called sarcomas.

Cells that seldom grow and divide, muscle and nerves, seldom pass on mistakes so muscle and neural cancers are very rare. The neural tissue that supports nerve cells, glial tissue, does grow and that can become cancerous. Any tissue that grows is thus vulnerable. Tissue that doesn’t grow is less vulnerable. That’s it. Most of the other populist stuff about cancer is not worth the funding or the TV time. Hopefully this latest finding, which is what we all knew anyway, will stop some of the dreadful nonsense and false hope. Even more importantly, it may stop the blame.

 

 

Anselm Kiefer

London, Royal Academy for the Anselm Kiefer show.

Anselm Kiefer post-Holocaust German artist.

He is important in that he is the first German artist to tackle the Holocaust, His imagery merges with his German culture: the wood, the forest and the woodcut (think Durer).

The early works are really brave. To be the first to say something really uncomfortable, something nobody wanted to say or look at and not know how you will be received, whether your compatriots will lynch you, beg you to be silent or ignore you is very brave. He puts all that German culture, forests, Wagner, mythology up there with what happened, that insanity, that moment when stupid, inhuman brutality ran riot with a cold ruthless amorality.

But 40 years later he goes on painting it. I felt it was no longer art. It was starting to become a commodity.

Did I like it? Generally no. There were some brilliant pieces. The more abstract and the more spiritual and some of the early work. But the later work becomes what he mocks; monumental, butch posturing, heroic and rather obvious.

Ultimately, I found his work very documentary; more commentary than art. In 100 years I don’t reckon it will stand up as great art. It is stunning comment at the time, or at the first time, but with very literal, heavy and obvious symbolism. It lacks the lightness of touch of a Renaissance Italian painting which too is littered with symbolism. It lacks the spiritual depth of a Rothko or Barnett Newman. It says nothing new. It Is more reportage. It could be journalism. It doesn’t rock my soul. It doesn’t show me something I didn’t know. Maybe it showed the Germans new at the time; something they were in denial about, but, in fact, did know. It maybe revealed to them what they need to deal with, but it has become heavy and repetitive with very few moments of real insight.

But well done to him for doing that. For telling it like it is.

 

Piet Mondrian

Just back from Margate, a coastal town in the UK with a wonderful art centre, The Turner Centre. They put on some brilliant shows. Right now, they have on a show of Piet Mondrian’s work (Liverpool Tate also have a show of his later work for which he is more famous). In the Turner show you see the progress of the artist from his early work to the work that he is famous for and that features in the Liverpool show.

We managed to walk through the show backwards. I seem to do that a lot, turning the wrong way in the gallery. So we went back in time and then retraced forward in time. It was amazing. I say this as a big fan of Mondrian’s later work. I have loved it since I was a teenager. I can’t say why; it just has a really pure feeling about it. It is it. I like things that are it rather than things that are about it.

So here is this man who tries out different ideas- he’s very good at each thing he tries.. He tries Impressionism, very nice and sellable (he needs to eat). He tries Pointilism, Fauvism, Cubism. He works his way through the ism’s of the early 20th Century art movements. And then he tries Mondrian-ism.

It is fascinating to see the change. He starts painting these large flat plains of colour in a recognisable landscape, but more backlit than front lit as in the Impressionists. The Impressionists are interested in how things look under light. He is interested in light and colours. Then suddenly you get a red and blue windmill. And the next year a checkerboard. And one year later you get Mondrian, full blown and in his stride. By then he is about 48 years old. How wonderful, still trying, still finding himself and his ideas.

I’m a scientist and I love contemporary art. For me it is an experiment in a studio. And here are some results. Beautiful, aesthetic, complex, deceptively simple:

And even less and more:
These are the results of a middle-aged man who has experimented all his life. He has dared to leave the safety of the known; the tried and tested. Seldom do we have the experience or ability to create something new.
Like any great science result, I wish I had made this.

Folkestone Triennial

Just back from the Southern Coast of England in a town called Folkestone which sits in the county of Kent. Every three years they have a triennial art event with international artists. Great idea and great stuff. The theme of this year’s Triennial, curated by Lewis Biggs is ‘Lookout’.

I spent most of the time in ‘Green/Light’.  It is designed like a hop garden, which was a common agricultural space in Kent for beer brewing, but it also references the gas-works that were on the sight that produced the first electricity for the town.  The work captures the light with its reflective elements and because of that, when you walk around it you become part of it. It is an immersive Cathedral-like space which, while referencing hop-gardens, becomes more like Standing Stones which you find in places like the Orkneys Islands and of course Stonehenge. It contains a circle within a square, with the outer part made of old hop-poles and the inner of modern shiny material, all held together with twine, the string used in hop fields.  I saw lots of people just standing there enjoying being in the space, smiling and relaxing. It gave me a great sense of calm; a spiritual moment. Sublime.

Folkestone Triennial 2014 opens

Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light sculpture in a disused gasworks

Other highlights for me were Krijn de Koning piece, a cave-maze structure with various views and  Amina Menia’s sound-piece on Bread, a subject dear to my heart, where she had recorded various people’s feelings/recipes/cultural meanings of bread. Folkestone is a very mixed town economically with many migrants coming in from across the Channel. There is a tribute to some along the ‘Leas’, the seafront promenade, where many Belgians arrived during the First World War to escape the invasion of their country. Another piece I loved was Alex Hartley’s. where he has put a hanging balcony arrangement out of the rooftop of a hotel on the seafront. It reminds me of protests and sit-ins and acts as a Lookout. I love the endeavour of the work; precarious and earnest, authentic and true.

So if you are in the area, check it out. It takes about 4 hours to get around the entire place, but you also see Folkestone and the sea and can just choose one piece, like Green/Light to sit in, stand in and just calm down in. I love bi/triennials where you get to see so much art in one go. With so much horror and childish nonsense as usual dominating the news, that human beings make this stuff we call art is very humbling.  Oscar Wilde says ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Well for me, art dignifies humans and fascism denigrates us. Most of what is happening or what is given attention to in the world is fascism, denigrating humans with childish notions of power and immortality, so lets instead be with the art.

http://www.folkestonetriennial.org.uk/

Flu- Back in the food chain

We say we, humans, are at the top of the food chain.

We aren’t.

We are in the food chain.

We eat food to provide energy for all our activities, but there are billions of organisms that eat us. We worry about big organisms like sharks, but our real dangers come from some that are minute, micro-organisms, organisms that are so small you need a microscope to see them.

Some micro-organisms are useful, the ‘friendly’ bacteria, commensal, meaning they share the table. They use our waste products in our large colon. The large colon or bowel contains the food that we cannot digest and absorb into our bodies, such as fibre or roughage, usually cellulose. We don’t have the enzymes to digest these food types. If we cannot digest it this undigested food moves into our large colon. This undigested food, waste, provides food for micro-organisms in our guts. In return, their waste that they excrete into our guts is stuff we need such as Vitamin K. As they say ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.

Unfortunately, a few of these microbes are not friendly. These other microbes are ‘pathogenic’, causing us disease either by their growth or by their waste.

I have just succumbed to a tiny virus. I feel like I have gone a few rounds with a heavy weight boxer, Mohammed Ali or somebody of that calibre in their day. But no. Merely a virus a few microns across (a micron, or micrometre, is a millionth of a metre). I am providing lunch for said virus, They are providing waste products that are making me feel wiped out.

This process of infection is causing temperature changes that may only be a rise of a degree or so, but can make you feel so bad. Going from say 36.8 Celsius to 37.8 is pretty bad. Half a degree above that, 38.4 is the start of that awful feeling, fever. You become very visceral, aware or all your muscles and bones.

That the human body can fight back (the process is called homeostasis) and return you to normal is amazing.

I don’t want to become one of those people that obsess about their health, but perhaps we can become a little too blasé. The body we have is the only body we have.

I hope none of you succumb to the micro-organisms that seek you out for their lunch, able to bring down people and nations.

But it is worth remembering that so far, more of us have died from pathogenic micro-organisms than all the wars put together.

We are definitely not at the top of the food chain.

They are.

Martin Creed

I just went to see Martin Creed’s ballet (Work 1020). Brilliant.

He doesn’t do about art. He does art. So refreshing. He stripped music and ballet back to the basics, scales and movement back and forth. First position, second position, first, second, third note etc.

He also had what could have been a very rude film of the pelvis of a naked male. While he played chromatic scales on the guitar going up and up the fret the penis went up  and up and when the penis started going down so did the chromatic scale on the guitar. It was very funny, but also very meaningful. I just thought, ‘is that it?’. All these wars. All these rules about what men and women can do. All this macho crap. All for this bit of flesh and its up and down movement. Is that it? Great stuff.

When I looked at his YouTubes there were the usual rude comments. They were much ruder than a limp/erect penis, which just is limp or erect or moving between one of those states and is possessed by 50% of the humans on the planet. All 100% of people on the planet should see this work and reflect on how much politics, economics and culture rests on so little and have a laugh at something that is kept so secretive and when revelaed as it is, it is just what it is. Something that goes up and something that goes down.