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Monday, 24 Jun 2013

Here's Carl Sagan talking about that Pale Blue Dot again. This time he's critiquing man's tendency, typically through a religious lens, to see our appearance on the cosmic stage as something terrifically intended - by a creator perhaps.

Sagan argues for the godless science of observation and logic, and the fallacy of human wishful thinking, and he does it reasonably but - to my mind - not entirely convincingly. But I say that does not matter. What strikes me is that in this video we find a man who has so much more wonder, and perhaps even spiritual insight, than most religious people that I know, and his sense of wonder is enriching and inspiring... and yet he is no friend of religion.

This is nearly ten minutes of monologue, so it's probably worth making a fresh brew first. But it is a worthwhile listen. I commend it to you if you are a thinking person. (If you're not a thinking person, then what the frakk are you doing reading this?)

Sunday, 23 Jun 2013

I think this puts us in our place, at least in one context. For those of us of a certain television generation, it might bring back some memories, too. It is guaranteed to strike me dumb with awe, wonder and hope whenever I watch and listen to it.

Below is the transcript from 6'33''.

Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbour life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

We are explorers. A single lifetime is not enough.

Saturday, 15 Jun 2013

What a find! One of Joe Satriani's most powerfully moody tunes played live.

En. Joy.

Sunday, 9 Jun 2013

Here's a quote from Robert Fripp, offering advice on the craft of the musician.


In commerce, the musician makes music. In craft, the music makes the musician. The musician of craft acts on principle and moves from intention. In this way, nothing is wasted, and our playing is not accidental. There are ten important principles for the practice of craft:

(1) Act from principle;

(2) Begin where you are;

(3) Define your aim simply, clearly, and briefly;

(4) Establish the possible, and move gradually towards the impossible;

(5) Honor necessity;

(6) Honor sufficiency;

(7) Offer no violence;

(8) Suffer cheerfully;

(9) Work, but not solemnly;

(10) Without commitment, all the rules change.

—Robert Fripp

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Thursday, 6 Jun 2013

People say the strangest things.

I wanted to know whether there were any health benefits of eating liquorice, so I did what any diligent researcher in the western world would do and I Googled it: "Is liquorice good for you?"

One of the page hits was Yahoo Answers. That's sometimes good for a laugh, so I chose to look at that page. There was a variety of answers, some informative, some less so, a fair number with irritating, careless spelling mistakes. (There's nothing quite like poor writing for diluting the perceived authority of an expert answer.)

One the responses was:-

It keeps you regular and anything is ok for you in moderation
know from experience

I wondered, "Really?"

That got me thinking. It did not take me too long to conjure up the notion of playing the occasional game of Russian Roulette.

Would that really be ok for you?

Oh, and it looks like liquorice is actually pretty good for you. Apparently it boasts a host of health-promoting properties. Here's a link in case you're interested:-

The Sydney Morning Herald on Liquorice: all sorts of health benefits

Are you a liquorice lover? In news that will have fans reaching for the allsorts, The Atlantic has published an article suggesting that liquorice root contains anti-diabetic properties.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany identified a group of natural substances within liquorice root called amorfrutins. Testing on mice, the scientists found that the consumption of amorfrutins reduced blood sugar levels and inflammation that would otherwise be present in the mice suffering from Type 2 diabetes. The amorfrutins also prevented the development of a fatty liver - a common side-effect of type 2 diabetes and a high-fat diet.

Type 2 diabetes generally affects people who are already overweight or obese, causing the body to become resistant to insulin. Another action of amorfrutins is to bind to a nuclear receptor called PPARy which activates various genes that reduce fatty acids and glucose in the blood. The reduced glucose level prevents the development of insulin resistance, thereby blocking the cause of Type 2 diabetes.
But before you march off to your nearest Darrell Lea, take note. "The amount of amorfrutin molecules in a piece of licorice available for human consumption is far too low to cause the same beneficial effects that were identified in the diabetic mice." In response, the researchers developed a method of extracting sufficient concentrations of amorfrutins from the Amorpha fruticosa bush in which they are also found, which could be used to produce amorfrutin extracts on an industrial scale.

So is there any benefit to be had in eating liquorice sweets? Well, it depends on the sweet. What you're looking for is products containing liquorice extract or liquorice root. You won't get the same medicinal properties from anise oil, which is what is used to flavour many commercial liquorice products. Even if the sweet does contain extract, the quantity is usually far too small to have any sort of health benefit. As nutritionist Catherine Saxelby notes, Darrell Lea liquorice contains just 3 per cent liquorice extract, coming in after flour, sugar, molasses, and glucose syrup on the ingredient list.

Manufacturers of liquorice sweets are quick to point out that liquorice is a low-fat food. Saxelby says that while liquorice is a healthier snack than milk chocolate, care must be taken with portion size. "There's nothing wrong with having a few pieces of liquorice three or four times a week, so long as it's your only "treat food" that week," says Saxelby. "It's not safe for coeliacs though; the main ingredient of liquorice is wheat flour." Those with high blood pressure should also avoid the salty Dutch variety of liquorice, she says. Liquorice is slightly lower in sugar and carbohydrates than most other lollies, and contains small amounts of protein, iron and calcium.
Real liquorice also contains glycyrrhizin, a substance obtained from the root of the liquorice plant. Glycyrrhizin is the active agent in liquorice that combats illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, and is said to lessen the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. But the amount of real liquorice found in liquorice sweets is not standardised, making it far more safe and effective to take the recommended quantity of liquorice root or extract as a pill or powder. Those with high blood pressure may want to consider the deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) form of the product. In spite of its benefits, continued consumption of large amounts of glycyrrhizin may reduce blood potassium levels, lead to water retention, and increase blood pressure.

Other ailments liquorice is used to treat include:

Hepatitis The anti-inflammatory properties of liquorice is said to help calm hepatitis-associated liver inflammation. Liquorice is also said to fight the hepatitis C virus and supplies valuable antioxidant compounds that help maintain the overall health of the liver. Results from large-scale high quality studies are not available.

Dyspepsia (Heartburn) According to the US National Library of Medicine, liquorice may be an effective treatment for heartburn when used in combination with other herbs. Sold as Iberogast or STW5, research suggests that the formulation significantly reduces severity of acid reflux and associated pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

Eczema In one study, liquorice gel, applied to the skin, helped relieve symptoms of itching, swelling, and redness, reports the University of Maryland Medical Centre. A gel with 2 per cent liquorice worked better than a gel with 1 per cent liquorice.

Cancer Laboratory studies have identified several substances in liquorice that may help prevent DNA mutations, inhibit tumour formation, or even kill cancer cells, says The American Cancer Society. While animal studies suggest some chemicals from liquorice might be useful in preventing or treating some forms of cancer, human clinical trials are yet to be carried out.

Liquorice has also been associated with weight loss. According to the University of Maryland, consumption of liquorice was linked to body fat mass in one study. Another study found that glycyrrhetinic acid (a component of liquorice) reduced the thickness of fat on the thigh in human subjects. A study carried out by Japanese scientists and published in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice linked the consumption of liquorice flavonoid oil to significant decreases in total body fat mass, weight, BMI and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Medicinal forms of liquorice include wafers, tinctures, tablets, lozenges, teas, loose dried herbs, creams and capsules. To treat a cough, suggests 1 teaspoon of liquid liquorice extract in 1 cup of hot water 3 times a day. For PMS, 200 mg of standardised extract three times a day for the 10 days preceding your period is recommended.
Last year in Germany, where around 500 tonnes of liquorice are imported each year, liquorice was named "the medicinal plant of 2012". Professor Johannes Mayer, an expert on the history of medicinal botany at the University of Würzburg, noted the myriad indications of liquorice, used medicinally since ancient times. "Liquorice is special because it can quickly soothe sore throats and coughs and was used centuries ago to treat coughing, hoarseness and asthma by Ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians," he said.

Read more: Beacon