Archives for posts with tag: and now for something completely different…

yes, you read that right: sexually transmitted diseases.

my other favorite topic, after inbreeding/altruism and all that, is viruses or microbes or parasites that control your miiiind — like (you’ve prolly read a lot about) toxoplasma gondii. or even greg cochran’s gay germ theory.

peter frost had an interesting post up a couple of weeks ago that i’ve been meaning to draw attention to (so, here i am now, drawing attention to his interesting post!) about bacterial vaginosis and how that might potentially alter people’s behaviors. long, but interesting, story — go read it, if you haven’t already!

which reminded me of what i’ve thought about once or twice: if i were a sexually transmitted virus/microbe/parasite (or even one that wasn’t sexually transmitted), how would i gain control of my host so as to ensure he (or she) spread me about? if it were me, i’d go for the nervous system to mess up the person’s behavior.

like cupid’s disease has done maybe? from oliver sacks [taken from here]:

“A bright woman of 90, Natasha K., recently came to our clinic. Soon after her 88th birthday, she said, she noticed ‘a change.’ What sort of change? we queried.

“‘Delightful!’ she exclaimed. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt more energetic, more alive — I felt young once again. I took an interest in the young men. I started to feel, you might say, “frisky” — yes frisky.

“‘This was a problem?’

“‘No, not at first. I felt well, extremely well — why should I think anything was the matter?’

“‘And then?’

“‘My friends started to worry. First they said, “You look radiant — a new lease on life!,” but then they started to think it was not quite — appropriate. “You were always so shy,” they said, “and now you’re a flirt. You giggle, you tell jokes — at your age, is that right?”‘

“‘And how did you feel?’

“‘I was taken aback. I’d been carried along, and it didn’t occur to me to question what was happening. But then I did. I said to myself, “You’re 89, Natasha, this has been going on for a year. You were always so temperate in feeling — and now this extravagance! You’re an old woman, nearing the end. What could justify such a sudden euphoria?” And as soon as I thought of euphoria, things took on a new complexion…. “You’re sick, my dear,” I said to myself. “You’re feeling too well, you have to be ill!”‘

“‘Ill? Emotionally? Mentally ill?’

“‘No, not emotionally — physically ill. It was something in my body, my brain, that was making me high. And then I thought — goddam it, it’s Cupid’s Disease!’

“‘Cupid’s Disease?’ I echoed, blankly. I have never heard of the term before.

“‘Yes, Cupid’s Disease — syphilis, you know. I was in a brothel in Salonika, nearly 70 years ago. I caught syphilis — lots of the girls had it — we called it “Cupid’s Disease.” My husband saved me, took me out, had it treated. That was years before penicillin, of course. Could it have caught up with me after all these years?’

“There may be an immense latent period between the primary infection and the advent of neurosyphilis, especially if the primary infection has been suppressed, not eradicated. I had one patient, treated with Salvarsan by Ehrlich himself, who developed tabes dorsalis — one form of neurosyphilis — more than 50 years later.

“But I had never heard of an interval of seventy years — nor of a self-diagnosis of syphilis mooted so calmly and clearly.

“‘That’s an amazing suggestion,’ I replied after some thought. ‘It would have never occurred to me — but perhaps you are right.’

“She was right; the spinal fluid was positive, she did have neurosyphilis, it was indeed the spirochetes stimulating her ancient cerebral cortex.

so, the treponema pallidum bacterium had gotten into this lady’s brain (neurosyphilis) and made her frisky. does it do that to other people as well? making its hosts frisky might help t. pallidum to spread. hmmmm. the herpes simplex virus, too, travels along nerves. hmmmm.

i only ask because, in this day and age of hook-ups and what not, a lot of people have stds (1 in 6 americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes). are these infections altering people’s behaviors? making them even more promiscuous?

just wondering.

(note: comments do not require an email. she may look clean – but.)

the fruit tree theory of the origins of agriculture:

this is the reigning paradigm here at home at the moment.

i’ve always had a hard time imagining why a bunch of hunter-gatherers would suddenly think: “i know! let’s settle down here and plant some flax seeds!”


but i can much more easily picture bunches of hunter-gatherers wandering around the fertile crescent (or wherever) — probably mainting territories — and especially defending spots where there were groves of fruit trees (figs, date palms).

all sort of animals, including other primates, defend fruit trees. and why wouldn’t you?! it’s a delicious, nutrious, rich food source:

if i, as a hunter-gatherer, came across a bunch of date palms, i’d probably plant myself next to them to make sure to collect the fruit for me and my family (like these folks are doing) …

… and then maybe i’d think about planting some grain seeds nearby, since i’d be hanging around the neighborhood for a while anyway.

i guess this is a sorta variation on the old oasis theory to explain the start of agriculture, although you don’t need the drying climate part of that theory. presumably somebody has already thought of this fruit tree idea.

(note: comments do not require an email. keep your hands off the fruit!)

ok, ok — so maybe they’re not really people, but they are pretty d*rn cool! no really!

bet ya didn’t know (or maybe you do) that they can tell if you’re wearing a red or a blue shirt. or that they know when the fruit of neighboring plants is ripe. or that they have short-term memory.

yes, short-term memory:

“As we saw back in chapter three, the Venus flytrap needs to know when an ideal meal is crawling across its leaves. Closing its trap requires a huge expense of energy, and reopening the trap can take several hours, so Dionaea only wants to spring closed when it’s sure that the dawdling insect visiting its surface is large enough to be worth its time. The large black hairs on their lobes allow the Venus flytraps to literally feel their prey, and they act as triggers that spring the trap closed when the proper prey makes its way across the trap. If the insect touches just one hair, the trap will not spring shut; but a large enough bug will likely touch two hairs within about twenty seconds, and that signal springs the Venus flytrap into action.

“We can look at this system as analogous to short-term memory. First, the flytrap encodes the information (forms the memory) that something (it doesn’t know what) has touched one of its hairs. Then it stores this information for a number of seconds (retains the memory) and finally retrieves this information (recalls the memory) once a second hair is touched. If a small ant takes a while to get from one hair to the next, the trap will have forgotten the first touch by the time the ant brushes up against the next hair. In other words, it loses the storage of the information, doesn’t close, and the ant happily meanders on. How does the plant encode and store the information from the unassuming bug’s encounter with the first hair? How does it remember the first touch in order to react upon the second…?

“In their [Dieter Hodick and Andreas Sievers] studies, they discovered that touching a trigger hair on the Venus flytrap causes an electric action potential that induces calcium channels to open in the trap (this coupling of action potentials and the opening of calcium channels is similar to the processes that occur during communication between human neurons), thus causing a rapid increase in the concentration of calcium ions.

“They proposed that the trap requires a relatively high concentration of calcium in order to close and that a single action potential from just one trigger hair being touched does not reach this level. Therefore, a second hair needs to be stimulated to push the calcium concentration over this threshold and spring the trap. The encoding of the information is in the initial rise in calcium levels. The retention of the information requires maintaining a high enough level of calcium so that a second increase (triggered by touching the second hair) pushes the total concentration of calcium over the threshold. As the calcium ion concentrations dissipate over time, if the second touch and potential don’t happen quickly, the final concentration after the second trigger won’t be high enough to close the trap, and the memory is lost….

“Here, then, lies the proposed mechanism of the short-term memory in the Venus flytrap. The first touch of a hair activates an electric potential that radiates from cell to cell. This electric charge is stored as an increase in ion concentrations for a short time until it dissipates within about twenty seconds. But if a second action potential reaches the midrib within this time, the cumulative charge and ion concentrations pass the threshold and the trap closes. If too much time elapses between action potentials, then the plant forgets the first one, and the trap stays open.

“This electric signal in the Venus flytrap (and the electric signals in other plants for that matter) are similar to the electric signals in neurons in humans and indeed all animals. The signal in both neurons and Dionaea leaves can be inhibited by drugs that block the ion channels which open in the membranes as the electric signal passes through the cell. When Volkov pretreated his plants with a chemical that inhibits potassium channels in human neurons, for example, the traps didn’t close when they were touched or when they received the electric charges.”

cool, huh?!

that’s from What a Plant Knows? A Field Guide to the Senses. if you’re looking for an easy but info-packed read to bring with you on your summer vacation, you could do a lot worse. i’m reading it right now (well, not right now) and it’s terrific! the book is by the author of The Daily Plant (heh) blog.

remember, too, that plants are altruistic as well (see here and here)! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. my favorite plant!)

somali bantus.

i started thinking about them the other day (week) when jayman mentioned all of the somali “refugees” in lewiston, maine. (whyyy?) i know that a lot(?)/most(?) of the somali refugees here in the u.s. are somali bantus — and i remembered reading somewhere that they are the descendants of bantu slaves brought to somalia at some time or another (turns out that was the nineteenth century). but i started wondering about their family/kinship/marriage structures and all that, so i looked ‘em up.

the somali somalis refer to the bantu somalis as jareer or “hard hair.” they’re also known as the gosha, which relates to the areas in somalia where they live. it’s estimated that ca. 50,000 bantu slaves were brought to somalia between 1800-1890 [pg. 45], and they hailed from a handful of different ethnic groups from tanzania, mozambique and malawi — so right there, the somali bantu are like african-americans in that they are not all from one ethnic group (i.e. they’re unrelated to some degree).

almost as soon as they arrived in somalia, some of the bantu slaves escaped and sought out a living in the bush — the bush in somalia being two river valleys — the shebelle and jubba river valleys. the earliest escapees formed villages based on ethnicity, i.e. whether they were yao or zingua or whatever. later escapees and, even later, freed slaves (slavery was legally abolished by the italians around 1900) formed villages based on the somali clans to which they had been in servitude. so the later villages were a mix of bantu peoples (yao or zingua or whatever). [pgs. 45-46]

so, did the somali bantu “mix it up” once they lived in multi-ethnic villages? of course not! [pgs. 53-54]:

“How the Gosha see themselves is quite different from this external perception of the Gosha as somehow a clan of their own. They see themselves as a group of people of very different origins living and working together in one geographical area….

“While most people of the Gosha are products of subjugated ancestors (and some of the oldest Gosha were themselves slaves), these ancestors came from different regional areas…. [S]lave children and free descendents of slaves retained a knowledge of the distinction between being of East African (Yao, Nyasa, etc.) and being of Oromo heritage [another non-somali ethnic group in somalia]. Somali clans could have slaves of both Oromo heritage and East African heritage, used for different purposes. Once these slaves attained their freedom, they and their children could then be affiliated to the same Somali clan, despite their separate areas of origin. In this way, villages formed along Somali clan lines in the Jubba Valley could contain people of both Oromo and East African heritage, who claimed affiliation to the same Somali clan. Within a village, while working together and cooperating on village matters, people of different ancestries tend to live separately, and marry endogamously, although this is changing….

“For Gosha individuals, their sense of who they are is quite complex, with many social and cultural components. At base is their knowledge of their ancestry — Oromo, reer Shabelle [yet another group], or other East African groups….”

and, more specifically about the somali bantus’ marriage practices (they have a preference for cousin marriage) [pgs. 84, 105 & 148]:

“Within a village, while working together and cooperating on village matters, people of different ancestries often lived separately and married endogamously (due to a preference for parallel or cross-cousin marriage) in the late 1980s….

As noted above, marriages were often (but certainly not always) arranged between members of the same clan and same ancestry due to the preference for cousin marriage. Thus we see an ongoing recognition — however muted in daily praxis and sentiment — of ancestral identities by Loc villagers….

“Following the preference for cousin marriage, Xalima arranged for her youngest daughter to marry the son of her Laysan brother, which in this case produced another generation of cross-clan marriage….”

oh, i almost forgot — their fundamental extended-family groups are matrilineal, so in that way, the somali bantus are not like somali somalis (or other muslim groups like arabs or afghanis). the matrilineal system is a much more traditional, african system.

so the bantu somalis are not one group of people AND they’ve been maintaining their genetic differences for many generations now — right up until at least the 1980s. we’re not importing one group of somali “refugees” — we’re importing a whole slew of groups who, being inbred, probably don’t get along all that well with each other. this really is a recipe for disaster. *facepalm*

btw – after fleeing somalia, a lot of the somali bantus wanted to return “home” to tanzania — and a lot apparently did. and are still doing so. that sounds like a great idea to me! i’m sure they would be much happier there and would fit in better than they seem to be doing in america (and elsewhere in the west).

(note: comments do not require an email. and now for something completely different…)


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