Archive | October 2014

Survival of the sickest : a medical maverick discovers why we need disease


Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease by Sharon MoalemSurvival of the sickest, by Sharon Moelem

Although filled with conjectures and hypotheses, this book does provide a fascinating glimpse into the current state of evolutionary biology. I got from this book a real sense that there is a lot underlying connectedness between various diseases and genetic and environmental factors that remains undiscovered, but which has been the source of speculation for ages.

Ch.1. Ironing it out

Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease in which the body continues to load up on iron because the mechanism regulating iron has broken down. The suggestion is that natural selection is maintaining this genetic defect because it had conferred some benefit in the past.

The body has several mechanisms that lock down access to iron because infectious bacteria thrive on iron. At first it would seem that people with hemochromatosis would be at an additional risk from infections because bacteria would multiply rapidly because…

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Wurdi Youang: The Australian Stonehenge

On Wathaurong land, near Little River in Victoria, there is a curious stone circle set into the ground. The boulders which make it up are small by henge standards, some standing at about waist height, some as small as 20 centimeters in diameter. It is far from the only stone circle standing in southern Australia but it is probably the most famous among them. The rocks are basalt, and each one is believed to be small enough to be moved by one or two people, and it’s clear that they were placed there deliberately, rather than being a chance emergence from the bedrock.

This is Wurdi Youang, Australia’s Stonehenge: an obovate circle distended at the Eastern side, with the Western side incorporating three tall stones that mark the position of the setting sun at the solstices and equinoxes. It must have been established within the last 10,000 years, since every year the precession of the equinoxes pushes such star-calendars out of date, and this one is still accurate to about three degrees. The cardinal directions are marked in the circle by a series of stone arrangements, generally straight lines, pointing due north, east, south and west.


Figure from “Bridging the gap through Australian cultural Astronomy“, Hamacher and Norris, 2011

Wurdi Youang

Photograph of the site, facing the West

The understanding required to build such structures accurately is not usually ascribed to Australian Aboriginal people by whites. When European settlers arrived in the 18th century they quickly termed the entire continent (most of which they hadn’t actually seen) as “terra nullius” (“no one’s using this land, I guess”) based on the lack of permanent boundary fences. What we’re starting to recognise as a nation is that over 400 different cultures existed across the vast continent prior to English colonisation, and that they mostly had their shit together.*

This is borne out by the developments in archaeology which have revealed extensive Aboriginal astronomical structures and “henges” aligned to the cardinal directions, pointing at the stars, watching the world turn, scattered across the south of the continent. Wurdi Youang, or “Wada Wurrung”, as well as Ngaut Ngaut in South Australia, form part of a wider “Emu Dreaming” of songs, stories and traditions related to the movement of celestial bodies. The celestial Emu is present in the traditions of a number of Aboriginal nations, and has many different layers of understanding, some of which require a kind of ceremonial security clearance to be reached before they’re taught to you.

The award-winning “Emu in the Sky” photograph by Barnaby Norris


*NB: The “terra nullius” reasoning (“whatever, no one’s using it”) is still prevalent in modern Australian discourse; it’s not uncommon to hear people say, when talking about the negative externalities of energy generation (like where do we put our nuclear waste, where should we establish solar and wind farms) “Why not put it out in the Outback? No one lives there anyway.” Well, people do live there, and have done for a long time. There’s plants and animals and fossils and everything.

References and Further Reading:

Australian Indigenous Astronomy blog

Emu Dreaming Site

Records of the Victorian Archaeological Survey / Victorian Archaeological Survey ; Dr. P. J. F. Coutts, Technical Editor

Wurdi Youang: an Australian Aboriginal stone arrangement with possible solar indications by Norris et al, 2013

Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative  The Astronomy of Aboriginal Australia, Norris and Haumacher, 2011

“Rocky ways to secrets of skies” by Chee Chee Leung

Ngaut Ngaut (National Parks South Australia)

Story idea: Dreams

I don’t have the skills/spoons/perseverence to write this story the way it deserves to be written. But.

What if every night, instead of a weird jumble of their own half-remembered subconscious stuff, people had a dream that was basically another person’s day, experienced in real time, including the internal dialogue and underlying ideas of the person who really experienced that day?

Example: Edwina goes to sleep on the evening of 26th of October, 2014. Today she bought her first car. When she falls asleep, she “wakes up” as Helen on the morning of 26th of October, 2014, and experiences the day as Helen really just lived it – from start to finish, with complete, untaught, first-person understanding of Helen’s ideas, reactions, and memories an’ stuff. When Helen goes to sleep 16 hours later, Edwina wakes up 8 hours later on the 27th of October in her own bed, with a vivid memory of one day of being a complete stranger on the other side of the world. This happens to every human. No one gets the same person twice.

What would the world be like if we did this? It’d be pretty hard to keep secrets for long. Would it mess up our psychological ingrouping and make us more empathetic? Would that mechanism have evolved in the first place? Would languages with Chinese, with large populations using them, be more commonly used and spoken? What if this is what happens in Firefly?


There’s a relevant XKCD for everything. If you haven’t discovered this yet,

please consider spending a few hours trawling through the archives.

OK it turns out someone already made a comic similar to this and it’s fucking awesome. Never mind. Everyone go read that.

Basically a lot of Greek deities are just jerks

I don’t know how to share this bc the author doesn’t seem to be on wordpress but here

please read it

Dirtbag Apollo by Mallory Ortberg