An Underground Kingdom

 

Mycorrhizal fungi are almost entirely underground, with only their fruiting bodies – mushrooms – appearing briefly above ground to sporulate and then disappear. We may think the mushrooms are the most notable part of the Kingdom of Fungi, but that would be like thinking there is little to consider about plants other than their flowers and fruits. It turns out the underground parts of many plants – their roots – could hardly survive without the symbiotic relationship they have developed over 450 million years with the mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi.

 

The mycelium is made up of numerous filaments called hyphae, and it is the hyphae that interact with plant roots to facilitate the plant’s uptake of water and mineral nutrients, for which in return the hyphae receive sugar and carbohydrates from the plant’s roots. Unlike plants, fungi cannot produce their own food. Mycorrhizal fungi secure food through this mutually beneficial exchange with plants. This has been known for quite some time. But there is something else going on that scientists only recently discovered, something they call the Wood Wide Web.

Habichtspilz-Sarcodon-imbricatus
Scaly Hedgehog mushrooms, Sarcodon imbricatus, found in coniferous woods in the district of Eggingen in the city of Ulm in southern Germany. Photo by H. Krisp.

Mycorrhizal network
Mycorrhizal fungi are in a symbiotic relationship with autotrophic plants. The relationship is usually mutually beneficial, the fungus providing the plant with water and minerals from the soil and the plant providing the fungus with photosynthesis products. Some fungi are parasitic, however, taking from plants without providing benefits. Conversely, some mixotrophic plants connect with mycorrhizal fungi to obtain photosynthesis products from other plants. Finally, saprotrophic fungi live on dead organic matter without establishing a symbiosis with plants. Illustration and explanation by Charlotte Roy and Salsero35.

An underground network of connected mycelia and roots can span thousands of acres, and through it plants such as trees can send chemical signals to other trees. In effect the trees in a forest can be said to be communicating with each other through their underground social network, facilitated by miles upon miles of mycorrhizal fungi mycelia and hyphae. It is not unlike the system of pipes of varying diameter underlying a city, where some pipes deliver water or water-borne materials, while others carry communications between the inhabitants above ground.


“The Wood Wide Web”, a segment of the PBS NOVA web series Gross Science, produced and presented by Anna Rothschild.

Are the trees sentient? Are mushrooms aware of their part in the bigger picture during their brief look around above ground before they produce spores and collapse back into the fecund earth? Of course not. But assemble all the parts, adding pieces as in a jigsaw puzzle, and it does indeed seem the Earth itself is a living thing called Gaia. This awareness, lost to us for centuries, is now returning dimly, though it was always there for those prepared to observe carefully the natural world, such as how a plant wrenched from its native soil and potted with great attention to its needs still rarely thrived as it would have had it been allowed to stay at home. The newly potted plant receives all it requires in water and mineral nutrients; yet in isolating the plant from its underground social network can it be said, perhaps only fancifully, to be lonely?
— Izzy

 

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Respectfully Yours

 

“Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen

 

Divan-of-Hafiz-Binding-Gul-u-Bulbul
Binding of a Divan of Hafiz, from April 5, 1842 in Iran. Original lacquer “gul-u-bulbul” (flower-nightingale) motif with gold, red, and black decorative frame. The metaphorical relationship of the nightingale (active lover) and flower (passive beloved), frequently used in Persian poetry, especially by Hafiz, serves as an appropriate theme for the binding covering this manuscript.

The French musician and composer Camille Saint-Saëns wrote incidental music in 1901 for a play called Parysatis, based on a novel by the French archaeologist and explorer, Jane Dieulafoy. The play, about an ancient Persian queen and produced in 1902 for a summer festival in the southern French town of Béziers, has not stood the test of time as well as Saint-Saëns’s music.

 

“Le Rossignol et La Rose” is a musical piece for wordless voice in Act II. The title in English is “The Nightingale and The Rose”, and refers to Persian symbolism around love. There is a peculiar 1888 short story by Oscar Wilde titled “The Nightingale and The Rose” which is unrelated to music for the play Parysatis or to the play itself. Wilde wrote his story ostensibly for children, but its deeper themes are really beyond their understanding. Reading Wilde’s story is nonetheless instructive about love because of how he frames respect as an integral part of love.


Natalie Dessay sings “Le Rossignol et La Rose”, by Camille Saint-Saëns. Is the song sorrowful? Joyful? That probably depends on the mood of the listener. The pacing lends an air of melancholic contemplation. The song contains within it, in other words, the varied emotions of love itself. Incidentally, Ms. Dessay has sung the lead role in Igor Stravinsky’s 1914 opera Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), notably for a trippy French film adaptation in 2005 which aired on American public television. Stravinsky based his opera on an 1843 story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Without respect there is little in love beyond shallow self-interest and the words spoken sound out hollowly, like an echo. Giving respect to another is as essential as giving love, indeed is at the heart of love. Where there is little or no respect, there is little or no love, no matter the words uttered. Respect is demonstrated, is shown to another as well as to oneself. Understanding and remembering this is crucial if love is to deepen and widen beyond the initial merging of two souls, where the two converge to form a third part all its own, its own world composed of and known only to the two lovers, like two circles partially overlapping. With respect comes trust, and with trust comes the will to acknowledge fears and the courage to not run away. And then there is music, bringing love ’round full circle by singing directly to the heart and soothing fears.
— Vita   “Music fills the infinite between two souls.” — Rabindranath Tagore


“Southern Cross” a 1982 song by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash.

 

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All Lines Are Busy

 

Filing an unemployment claim online is the modern way, and few people bother about calling to file their claim. At least they don’t bother until they reach the last step of filing online when they may be confronted by a request from the unemployment office to call them in order to answer some questions for clarification of their claim. By the way, the claim is not complete and official until the applicant makes that call. *CLICK*

Jobless Men Lined up for the First Time in California to File Claims for Unemployment Compensation - NARA - 7716670 (page 1)
Jobless men lined up for the first time in California in 1936 to file claims for unemployment compensation under the Social Security Act of 1935. Photo for the Social Security Administration by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).

 

Making that call and actually getting through to a live human presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle when tens of thousands of other applicants are trying to do the same thing at the same time, overwhelming a system that was meant to handle only hundreds of calls each day, or maybe a few thousand calls a day at best. Since Department of Labor guidelines for unemployment claims dictate that many, possibly most, applications require follow up questions for clarification, there are now hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of unemployment applicants around the country whose claims have been in limbo for weeks because they cannot get through on the phone to their state’s unemployment agency, at the agency’s request. “We’re sorry we can’t take your call at this time, as all operators are currently busy assisting other applicants. Please try again later.” *CLICK*


In the 1979 PBS television show Previn and the Pittsburgh, Miklós Rózsa conducts a suite from his score for the 1959 film Ben-Hur, performed here by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If you’re going to be on hold with a phone call, you might as well listen to some glorious music, and particularly at this time of year if it’s related to Easter.

 

No one knows exactly how many people are trying to call and not getting through. The online claims are in limbo, and so how would anybody know? The current estimate of approximately 10 million new unemployment claims nationwide is almost certainly a low ball figure. The technology exists for handling such a high volume of online claims and the phone calls they generate, but state governments didn’t want to spend the money for technology and employees that would have been underused most of the time. State officials would have had difficulty selling preparation for the absolute worst case scenario. “The party you have reached is not taking any more calls.” *CLICK*

Rózsa’s “Overture” to Ben-Hur, recorded in 2017 using state of the art technology. For all that, music like this is performed by musicians on instruments that have changed little for centuries. Note the fellow filming the proceedings on a digital video camera no bigger than a tablet computer, which nonetheless delivers excellent optical quality and smooth motion. If you’re stuck at home for days and weeks at a time, it’s nice to have technology like this available as a compensation.

They could have come along part of the way, however, mainly in improving their ability to scale up quickly in response to a crisis. Instead, in some states like Florida, led by Republicans, officials actively undermined the capabilities of agencies, like unemployment offices, which were meant to aid workers. In times of low unemployment the agencies adequately supported the needs of claimants, but as soon as the load increased the system buckled and the agencies’ inadequacies became apparent. “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line to speak to the next available representative.” *CLICK*

Like the infectious disease advisory boards and the equipment and facilities necessary for coping with a pandemic, the state unemployment agencies appeared in quieter, safer times to be unnecessary expenses in the view of the kleptocrats currently occupying public office throughout much of the land. But wiser heads understand these are services that, when you need them, you really need them. Dumbkopfs don’t understand and are unwilling to admit these services can’t be brought up to speed overnight to handle a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. Primarily they don’t care. Trumpkins do understand military defense preparedness, but then that has more to do with maintaining the gravy train of defense contract boondoggles than with the actual requirements for defending our country. They think defending our country means ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and throwing the parents and children into separate concentration camps. Trillions for defense, but no more than pennies for scientific and humanitarian concerns. “All lines are busy. Good-bye.” *CLICK*
— Techly



Finally, an analysis of Rózsa’s “Prelude” to Ben-Hur, the music that played during the opening credits. To all those who must sit and wait while technology catches up, may your call finally get through.

 

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Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

 


Private companies have been making their electric scooters available for riders to share in cities around the United States and in Europe over the past two years, and the results are a mixed bag. Riders appear to appreciate the service, even if some of them don’t show that appreciation in how they ride or park the e-scooters. City governments appear to like that the service fills gaps in their often inadequate public mass transit services, even though they are learning that more regulation is required of e-scooter companies to rein in their sometimes arrogant disregard for city ordinances and of inconsiderate riders whose behavior can be a public nuisance. Members of the public who have no personal need for the e-scooters are largely tolerant of their presence in their cities, but in many places they are finding their patience tested by the problems mentioned above.

 


The technology behind e-scooters and smartphones or, in some places, simple cellular phones, makes the business model of sharing e-scooters in a city possible. An e-scooter rigged for sharing has a Global Positioning System (GPS) module and an inexpensive, basic cellular connection for small amounts of data transfer to communicate its exact position and condition. A lithium ion battery provides power. A rider needs to use the internet application provided by the company for use on a smartphone to unlock the e-scooter and provide for payment for the service. Some localities insist as a condition for operating in their city that e-scooter companies make the service available to people without a data connection on a simple cellular phone. One of the ideas behind the service, after all, is to provide a low cost transportation option for poor people.


Lime e-scooters, Masarykovo nádraží
Lime e-scooters parked next to a subway entrance at Masaryk train station in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Martin2035.


The problems arise because, like all private services which take advantage of the public commons, there are abuses. The private companies either do not seek out and pay for permission to park their e-scooters on public property or they may not hold up their end of agreements they have with cities that allow their operations. Since the e-scooters do not belong to them, some riders are unconcerned about how they use them or park them. Equipment abuse is the lookout of the company operating the service, but the abuse of the commons caused by careless parking is a public nuisance at best, a menace at worst. Crime problems have arisen mostly from overnight vandalism of the equipment and from the dangers to workers who must go out at night to find and maintain the equipment.

Bringing e-scooters into cities is a good idea on its surface, and they solve a mobility problem for some poor people or for commuters without cars who find using them more appealing than walking or biking. But with the problems their presence and use are causing by abuse of the commons, it would be better if cities improved their mass transit systems instead. For one thing, e-scooters are not as ecologically benign overall as people may assume, and certainly not in comparison to mass transit options. For another, solving the problems encountered during the initial rollout of e-scooter sharing programs would appear to take up public resources in the form of tighter regulation and consequent enforcement. Wouldn’t it be easier in that case to regulate a comparatively smaller number of mass transit units and operators rather than thousands or tens of thousands of e-scooter units and operators strewn all over a city?

E-scooter sharing programs may last only a year or two more if the current abuses continue, and that’s a shame because many decent people who appreciate the services and have a dearth of other options would probably like to see them continue. Unfortunately this business model appears to go against human nature in that where the commons are concerned, there are always enough bad faith users around to take unfair or inconsiderate advantage of the situation and eventually push the public at large to demand an end to it for everyone. In the words of James Madison, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
— Techly

 

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I Hear You Knockin’

 

After 30 years of dominance on the AM radio dial, conservative talk shows are starting to wane in popularity as their main audience of older white people who live mostly in suburbs and rural communities dwindles as a share of the entire United States population. That is not to say AM radio will make great strides in improving its programming, since so far the slack appears to be taken up by sports talk programs. The demographic groups who enjoy getting their hatred and resentment stirred up by radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh are diminishing in number, and eventually the radio dollars will turn away from them altogether, and that does represent an improvement.

 

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed the Fairness Doctrine policy in 1987, they cleared the way for opinionated talk radio programs such as Limbaugh’s to flourish. The question is – why didn’t liberal talk radio programs gain equal popularity when the rules changed? After all, by numbers alone Democrats are in the majority in this country. The answer lies in two areas relating to the differing mindsets of conservatives and liberals and their uses of media.

Radio - Keep It Free
A World War II poster from the Office of War Information. Today’s wording might suggest you are free to listen to the one side of a question confirming your opinion.

The conservative mindset is typically authoritarian and believes in black and white answers to social and political problems, whereas liberals are more likely to see shades of gray. A conservative tunes into a talk radio program with his or her mind already made up in most cases, and is looking merely for reaffirmation from the host, who has proved over the years to be more than willing to oblige, often with a helping of a vituperate diatribe against liberals as a bonus. A liberal is less likely to be persuaded by the simple answers a single radio host can provide in an hour or two.

In an appearance on the PBS program Austin City Limits aired in 1987, Fats Domino and his band perform “I Hear You Knockin'”.

The other answer to the 30 years of dominance by conservative talk radio lies in the demographics of the daytime radio audience. Who listens to the radio during the day? Truck drivers, construction workers, suburban and rural commuters in their own vehicles, farmers in the enclosed cabs of their tractors. In other words, mostly older, white conservatives. Liberals living in the cities are at work during the day, and when they are commuting they often listen to podcasts of a wide variety of programs. Podcasts are a relatively recent development, and are not as popular with older people as the they are with people under 40. People over 40, and especially over 50, listen to live radio. Many of them listen to Rush Limbaugh, and have for decades. They agree with everything he says because he confirms their opinions. There is no room for argument, never mind debate.
— Vita

 

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Three Score and Ten

 

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
― Psalm 90:10, from the King James Version of the Bible.

In any discussion of medical science’s ability to increase the human life span, people seldom question the desirability of a longer life. Certainly the doctors and scientists don’t seem to question it. The assumption always is that if people were offered the possibility of living past one hundred in reasonably good health, they would grab at it eagerly. Why?

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings perform “I’ll Fly Away” on Austin City Limits on PBS in 2011.

Increasing life span is a different ethical matter for medical science than improving health for the time we generally have been allotted. Experimenting on poor creatures who likely have no interest in prolonging the lives of their tormentors, scientists are on the brink of breakthroughs that will allow people to live the length of two ordinary life spans. What for?


Speaking of animals, will the new life lengthening wonder drugs be available for pets? More than likely they will be, at the right price, and there will be wealthy people who would like to see their pets live twenty, thirty, or forty years. But who will consult the pets to determine their wishes? Can human beings be absolutely certain they are the only creatures who understand life, and what it means to continue living, and making one’s peace with death, particularly when death might mean a rest from living and possibly a progression on to something else?

Pinus longaeva in snow Great Basin NP 2
A Great Basin bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, in snow in the Great Basin National Park, Nevada. These pine trees can live thousands of years. Photo by the National Park Service.

The quest for extending life at whatever cost seems similar to the obsession with staying young at whatever cost. Growing old means more aches and pains, certainly, but at the same time there is relief from some of the urges of youth that overpower reason. Sticking around an extra long time makes sense only if the quality of that longer life is not only bearable, but enjoyable, and if population growth is near zero. There might be fewer grandchildren, but more great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren, and so on. Still, eventually it could get difficult to shake the feeling of staying too long at the party, a guest who doesn’t comprehend the kindness of bowing out gracefully.
― Izzy

Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins, accompanied by Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb, attempts to bow out gracefully in this scene from Little Big Man.

 

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Anything Is Possible

 

“Precisely because of human fallibility, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
― Carl Sagan, speaking about alien abductions.

At a hearing last week of the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked NASA scientists if it was possible there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago. Kenneth Farley, a professor of geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, answered there was no evidence of a civilization. Representative Rohrabacher could have been referring to the story on the Alex Jones InfoWars website last month about a slave colony on Mars, or he could have been referring to stories dating back to the 1970s about the “Face on Mars”, one of the supposedly artificial constructs among others in the Cydonia region of Mars. In any event, no one but Mr. Rohrabacher knows for sure.


Sagan Viking
Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander in Death Valley, California. Sagan (1934-1996) devoted the fifth episode, called “Blues for a Red Planet”, of his thirteen part 1980 PBS documentary Cosmos to Mars and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.

Both of the above mentioned stories are what people generally call conspiracy theories. Mr. Jones in particular is almost always referred to by mainstream media as a conspiracy theorist. They use the term pejoratively, as a smear, and in Mr. Jones’s case they are probably within bounds for doing so, though the haughty contempt attached to their use of the phrase also serves to dismiss people whose objections to the standard media or government line on any story are offered with more substantial evidence and sounder reasoning. To call someone a conspiracy theorist is to lump that person in with Mr. Jones and his far out contemporaries.

The public must use critical thinking in evaluating conspiracy theories, the conspiracy theorists who propound those theories, and their critics who attack them. Unfortunately, critical thinking appears to be in short supply lately. Many fake news stories gain traction among the gullible in the online echo chambers where people go to read opinions and conspiracy theories they want to believe. It’s all fun and games until a half wit with an assault rifle decides to take matters into his own hands, as happened with the Pizzagate conspiracy theory circulating online last year.

 

It’s unrealistic, silly, and unconstitutional to try to shut down the websites peddling the most egregious conspiracy theories. Education in critical thinking is the only way to combat the spread of lies, but there will always be people immune to learning. All that can be done in their cases is to limit the damage they can cause. Conspiracy theorists do serve a positive purpose, however, in poking holes in an official story. Rulers and their mouthpieces in the corporate media have an interest in constructing stories for the public to cover up their crimes or unethical behavior. Critical thinking by the conspiracy theorists and those willing to hear them out serves an important watchdog role in such instances. Just because the government of a supposedly democratic republic such as the United States tells a story about something does not mean that story is entirely, or even partially, true, and to dismiss critics of the government’s story as conspiracy theorists becomes a cynical method for shutting down debate.

Flammarion
A wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire in 1888. The image depicts a man crawling under the edge of the sky, depicted as if it were a solid hemisphere, to look at the mysterious firmament beyond. The caption underneath the engraving (not shown here) translates to “A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet…”


A scene near the end of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, with Kevin Costner as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison being filled in on a theory of the assassination by government insider, Mr. X (modeled on Fletcher Prouty), played by Donald Sutherland. The film was successful and was praised by critics, but major media and government figures labeled Stone a conspiracy theorist and took him to task for telling a story antithetical to the “Lone Gunman” findings of the Warren Commission.

There very well could have been a civilization on Mars long ago, though scientists contend it is unlikely. After all, we are still discovering – or rediscovering – ancient civilizations here in our own backyard on Earth. A present day day slave colony on Mars is even more unlikely, to the point of being improbable. Scientists do hypothesize that life, in the form of microbes at least, may once have been present on Mars billions of years ago, before it lost most of its atmosphere and it’s liquid water either evaporated off into space or turned into ice locked within rocks. Some of that microbial life, according to the theory of panspermia, may have seeded itself on Earth long ago when meteorite impacts were more common in the solar system, and rocks flung into space from impacts on Mars found their way to Earth. In that sense, it’s possible we are all descended from Martian life. The scientific consensus, however, is that life originated on Earth, and if there is any cosmic seeding going on, then our planet is the one doing it. In the universe as we understand it, anything is possible, but in critically thinking about agreed upon facts known as evidence, we come to realize that some things are more likely than others, and are even probable. In the most critical view, nothing is certain.
― Techly

 

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