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All you need is Lovecraft

Esther Lederberg, the discoverer of phage Lambda (among other things) has died. Her Guardian obit is here.

A funny weekend. Someone decided that breaking bits off the car would be a laugh, which wasn't very pleasing. On the other hand, I also went down to Newcastle with Lara and Seth on Saturday for NVA's Glow. I'd not touched ground in Newcastle before, so it was fascinating even without the art. Seems a good place. The pieces themselves were mixed - one or two looked incredible facile, but others were eerie pieces in straneg locations. It started at the vamire rabbit behind the cathedral and ended up with an odd film of children drumming on desks, with accompanying thunder. The oddest bit was when L&S found an open door and behind it there was a whole abandoned office block to explore. We stopped when we found a live telecomms and networking patch panel, and guessed that perhaps this wasn't part of the art after all. Fun, though. We dropped in on the Angel of the North and the god Tyne when we arrived, and caught a shadowplay just before we left. Seth's writeup, and a link to photos, is here.

I laughed myself sick on the way back when I found an article about China's very excellent panda breeding program at the Wolong Nature Reserve, where they're having to expand into new premises because they don't have room for all the little pyjama-cases they have wandering about. Their methods, though, leave something to be desired from an ethical viewpoint. I feel guilty at having laughed, because it's not funny . . . and yet somehow it also is.

After 20 years of trial and error, scientists at Wolong boast they can now breed pandas at will. To counter the suggestion that the captive animals may be too naive about the birds and the bears, the keepers have provided sex education in the form of wildlife videos - dubbed "panda porn" - showing the animals mating in the forests. To boost sex drive, they once tried the remedy used by countless millions of humans: Viagra. "We'll never do that again," Zhang says. "The panda was excited for 24 hours."

Another challenge was the risk of in-breeding. To widen the genetic stock, researchers had to come up with a way to find a mate for even the least popular females. How did they do that? "We tricked them," Zhang says with a smile. The "trick" is to put a fertile and attractive female into a breeding pen, where she leaves scratchmarks and droppings capable of exciting a male. But at the last moment the females are swapped. The zookeepers introduce a new, less popular, mate who has been scented with the urine of the more attractive animals. She is introduced into the mating pen rear end first, so the male cannot see the face of his partner until after they have finished copulating. "When the males find out, they get very angry and start fighting the female," Zhang says. "We have had to use firecrackers and a water hose to separate them."

That's not the team's only worry: though they may look cuddly, pandas can be aggressive - the day before our visit, an American volunteer lost a finger when one of her charges bit through one of her protective gloves.

Artificial insemination has also helped boost panda numbers. The use of hormones and laboratory testing of oestrogen levels has maximised the short fertility window of female pandas, which lasts about 72 hours per year. Adult females now have an 85% chance of being impregnated. But the semen-harvesting technique is likely to come as a shock to anyone used to thinking of pandas in terms of cuteness and innocence. Lab workers in Wolong display a rectal probe that is inserted into the anus of a sedated male. This is connected to an electricity supply and the charge is gradually increased until the panda ejaculates.
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I have decided, incidentally, that I deeply approve of those of you who constitute the breeding population. Any further efforts to prevent humanity becoming an endangered species within my lifetime will be greatly appreciated.



Anyway. whatnextclub is tonight - plugged here, in case anyone had forgotten.

[1] : Yes, yes, I know. Some people pay good money for that sort of treatment . . .
  • Current Music: Belle and Sebastian - Lazy line painter Jane.
a rectal probe that is inserted into the anus of a sedated male. This is connected to an electricity supply and the charge is gradually increased until the panda ejaculates.

As I understand it this is fairly standard practice for semen collection from captive animals. Though it is quite funny.

If I don't plan on breeding, how do I get you to approve of me? I crave approval.
Don't worry, I'll think of something. But not necessarily anything I'd put in writing.

As I understand it this is fairly standard practice for semen collection from captive animals.

The rest of them don't have the big panda eyes . . .
I'm not sure about granting blanket approval to the breeding population...there seem to be a lot of folk out there breeding who shouldn't be, and some who could be that aren't. Most of the intelligent women I know seem to have opted out...
Absolutely. It's not like we're likely to become extinct within Zotz' lifetime anyway - short of a sudden, massive natural catastrophe or nuking ourselves. Which would destroy everyone, including those who have bred/are planning on breeding.

Voluntary Human Extinction. It's the only way forward... ;-P
Pandas are _rubbish_ animals. I mean, seriosuly, I know they're terribly cute, but they are, in and of themselves, an extremely sound argument against Intelligent Design, because they're very very badly designed. the female is fertile for four days a year, the males are shy (although to be fair, I'd find it difficult to get in the mood with the cameras of the world's media pointing at me, and various zoologists and environmentalist yelling the zoological/environmental equivalent of "Go on my son"), they only eat bamboo, and they digest that so poorly that they have to eat massive amounts of it, the female generally gives birth to two cubs and then completely ignores one of them (although she's so bloody stupid and if you hand-rear the abandoned one and then swap it with the one she's been rearing, she doesn't seem to notice the difference), the babies can't even _poo_ without help...

Cute, but disasterously useless animals.
Much like Goths, you mean?

I'm told they can be vicious buggers if they find something that can't escape. That pretty much means it has to be tied up, though, because pandas can't run very fast. It's the high heeled boots, you see.

Actually, as we all know, pandas aren't actually goths. They're glam metallers.
That statue of the Tyne River God used to terrify me as a small child living in Newcastle. I went back to look at it a few years ago, and it's still impressive, though not quite as scary :)
I had to go and look it up to see what statue zotz meant. I knew it was there but never knew it had a name.

I think I was always more interested in the cute verdigris'd seahorse finials on the Civic Centre roof, anyway.
Seth says he used to scrae people by leading them out under it and telling them to look up, just like happened to him. He showed me a picture beforehand, though.

Nice statue. Beautiful placing.
that I deeply approve of those of you who constitute the breeding population
*Beam*. I have two daughters and a grandson. I earned your praise for bringing the daughters to maturity though.....
Re: that I deeply approve of those of you who constitute the breeding population
I have a couple of friends who are doing that at the moment. It's a trying process at times.
If I've bred but am planning to only have the one child (and therefore below replacement rate), will you still approve of me?
[1] : Yes, yes, I know. Some people pay good money for that sort of treatment . . .

Often the same sorts of people that excited by the females droppings, but pandas seem to get away with that as perfectly normal behavior.