Snail zombies in our garden!

July 6, 2010

It became really apparent during the rains last week.

Snails crawl up the walls and plants around our patio, and appear to wait to die there.  We’ve moved them back down to the soil, and they climb up again.

Kathryn remarked at the army of snails on the garage wall, beneath a bird feeder . . . that was the clue.

I don’t think ours do that eye-stalk thing.  Worse for the parasites, most of the birds ignore the snails.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kate at The Urban Primate.

MacDowell’s book kept me out of church for at least a decade.

In the later pages he talks about how many copies of the Bible there are, and he says that’s an indication of how accurate it is, and that it’s the truth.  That’s like saying any document I create becomes  more truthful the higher the number of Xerox copies I make.

I figured that was one of the stupidest claims ever made.  Maybe it was the crowd I was in with, but the more devout Christians (except for the Mormons, but that’s a different tale) swooned over the claim.  I thought that any belief system that was so devoid of logic, and which required adherents to abandon all reason, was foolish.

About five years ago I picked it up again when one of our youth ministers asked me about it, and I skimmed through it again looking for any cogent, careful and compelling argument.  Of course, this was long after law school and due diligence work in the law . . . I thought it more foolish than I had found it years before.

I summed it up this way for the youth minister:  If there were evidence, we wouldn’t need faith.  We call it a faith proudly, and we discuss the mysteries.  It’s a tragedy that MacDowell has been divorced from that sweet part of Christian discovery and leap of faith.  Were there evidence enough for a verdict, we’d not need faith, and it would be impossible to be anything other than an agnostic who has found the evidence.

Your mileage may differ, but if so, you need a tune-up.

Ed Darrell

Chess games of the rich and famous: Marcel Duchamp

July 6, 2010

Duchamp playing chess

Sculptor and conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess. Unknown photographer, via Concepts into Virtualities

Marcel Duchamp, according to Andrew Stafford:

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the painter and mixed media artist, was associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism, though he avoided any alliances. Duchamp’s work is characterized by its humor, the variety and unconventionality of its media, and its incessant probing of the boundaries of art. His legacy includes the insight that art can be about ideas instead of worldly things, a revolutionary notion that would resonate with later generations of artists.

Also, he liked to play chess.

Marcel Duchamp with chess set designed by his friend, Max Ernst

Marcel Duchamp with chess set designed by his friend, Max Ernst

The photograph at left comes from

. . . Marcel Duchamp, enjoying a chess set designed and presented to him by fellow artist, Max Ernst.

To say that Duchamp was an avid chess player would be an understatement. He played at approximately expert to master strength, and it is well known that he had — during the later part of his formidable career as a visual artist — given up the pursuit of art in favor of chess.

Here is an interesting quote about art and chess that is attributed to Marcel Duchamp:

“I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art — and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.”

You will also want to see:

  • “Half-naked Thursday:  Eve Babitz with Marcel Duchamp,” at You Can Hire An Artist.   Is it safe for work or school?  The photo shows Duchamp in a gallery filled with his works at in 1963, playing chess with Eve Babitz, who is nude.   (The museum is identified as the “Pasadena Art Museum,” which would be the Pasadena Museum of Art of California See the explanation from Kathleen Benton in comments; I think it more likely that the museum is the Norton Simon Museum, also in Pasadena, but showing much more modern art and European art. (The Pasadena Art Museum is wonderful, by the way — an outstanding place to spend an afternoon; the Norton Simon is one you must see in your lifetime.)
  • “Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel,” by John Cage, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

Africa Fighting Malaria claims to be fighting malaria

July 6, 2010

In response to earlier analysis here, that Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) does not appear to do much to fight malaria, Richard Tren wrote a comment to a post at TropIKA.

Tren is unlikely to respond here; I gather he does not want to answer questions.

I will comment more completely later — I’m still not sure just what AFM does to fight malaria.  It’s humorous that he calls my question an “ad hominem” attack; I ask the questions because Tren has led the fight in the unholy smear campaign against Rachel Carson, against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, against dozens of other scientists and science itself, against saving the bald eagle, against wise use of pesticides, against bed nets, against fighting malaria other than poisoning Africa. Most recently, as Tren mentions, he published a book that repeats much of the inaccurate claims and hoaxes he has relied on before.  But he’s concerned about attacks on him personally, and not the substance.

Why am I concerned at all?  The AFM-led assault on the World Health Organization, Rachel Carson, malaria fighters in public health, scientists and environmentalists  has come at an extremely high cost in human life. It is impossible to know how many people have died needlessly from malaria, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases in the absence of medical care or prevention programs in lieu of DDT, but it must be millions — many of them could have been saved but for policy-makers’ beliefs that an increase in DDT could poison these people to health quickly and cheaply.  The campaign in favor of DDT has hampered serious efforts to fight malaria especially, such as Nothing But Nets and USAID’s support for prophylactic measures to beat the disease.

Does Tren answer the question well, what does AFM actually do to fight malaria?

Help me find some substance here in Tren’s letter (unedited by me in any way):


It’s hard to know whether or not to respond to this. To say that we are ‘under fire’ because of the sniping and ad-hominem attacks from a blogger who has, for some or other reason, decided to take issue with my organization is an exaggeration to say the least. However even though your post has so far received zero comments I’d like to make a few things clear for the record.

AFM was founded in South Africa in 2000 and we opened an office in the United States in 2003. We maintain an office and a presence in South Africa as well as an office in the Washington DC. You say that we have focused most of our attention on one issue – the desirability of using DDT in mosquito control programs. Actually we focus on malaria control programs, not mosquito control programs; but to an extent you are correct. We have focused on this issue because DDT continues to play an important role in malaria control in many southern African programs (and in some other countries) and over the years other countries, such as Uganda have attempted to use DDT but have been harshly criticized and domestic and international groups forcing DDT spraying programs to close down. AFM defends DDT because of its outstanding record in saving lives and because it is under attack. The scare stories and smear campaigns against this insecticide are so pervasive and the misunderstanding about it so widespread that it is vital for some group or individual to provide a counterbalance, based on sound science.

AFM was a critical voice in securing an exemption for the use of DDT in the Stockholm Convention, and our research and advocacy work helped to usher in far-reaching reforms to US support for malaria control. We recently published a major book on DDT and its role in malaria control – The Excellent Powder – see Additionally, we have responded to several recent publications that seek to limit the use of DDT (and interestingly other insecticides such as pyrethroids), with letters in Environmental Health Perspectives, British Journal of Urology International and working papers published on our own website. We have publicly exposed and criticized the way in which anti-insecticide advocacy groups, like Pesticide Action Network, have lobbied against indoor residual spraying programs that are funded and maintained by the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). All of these letters and papers can be accessed from our website – if any of your readers have any difficulty in accessing them, I’d be happy to forward them.

A word on our critical review of a paper published in British Journal of Urology International. Several researchers from the University of Pretoria published a paper in late 2009 claiming that DDT use in IRS would increase the chance that a boy would be born with a urogenital birth defect by around 33%. This paper was widely covered in the media and caused considerable problems for the malaria control programs in southern Africa. One scientist in particular even claimed on a public TV program that DDT was linked to the case of intersex South African athlete, Caster Semenya; this was further promoted in the print media causing great concern among people living in malaria areas. As we documented in our review, the research paper was very deeply flawed and the conclusions of the authors were premature to say the least. Although it required a considerable investment of time and effort, we respond with a formal review of both the paper and the outrageous claims made in the media for which there was no scientific evidence. Our letter to the journal, which was co-authored by some senior malaria scientists from South Africa, was published in the journal. Although the authors of the paper were given ample opportunity to respond to our criticisms, they declined – which is telling.

You make the point that we have focused on DDT – true, we have done so because there is a need for someone to respond to the never-ending claims of harm. Someone has to stand up and defend the malaria control programs that are using DDT and implementing effective malaria control measures – perhaps if some of the other advocacy groups or individuals stepped up and helped to defend IRS and the use of public health insecticides, we wouldn’t have to spend so much of our time and energy doing it.

In addition to defending the use of public health insecticides, we strongly advocate for investments in new insecticides and against regulations and policies that may hamper access to insecticides or investment in new insecticides. For instance in 2008/9 we coordinated a response to proposed EU regulation of insecticides that could limit access to insecticides. (The various documents that I describe are available on our website) As an example of our work in this regard, we recently held a successful policy briefing on Capitol Hill (in Washington, D.C.) involving stakeholders from advocacy groups, donor agencies and the private sector. Again details of this are available on our website.

Aside from our advocacy and defense of public health insecticides, we have been successful in exposing the ongoing use of sub-standard malaria medicines as well as fake medicines in Africa. Our research studies have been published in Malaria Journal, PLoS One, and other journals. In order to maintain this project and to get safe and effective malaria medicines out to communities we have raised funds for malaria treatments and have focused on increasing access in Uganda. Again, details are available on our website.

Lastly AFM is involved in a research and advocacy program to remove import tariffs and non-tariff barriers from malaria commodities. As malaria programs are scaled up, it is increasingly important to ensure that barriers to access are removed – import tariffs and non-tariff barriers can be significant and AFM is very excited to be involved in this important area of research and advocacy. See for more details.

So, I hope that this helps to answer the questions about what we do. We are a policy and research group, we have never pretended to be anything else and our track record stands for itself.

Paul, if you want to have a discussion about our work, I’d be happy to correspond with you and your colleagues on a basis of cordiality and respect. I would be delighted to debate our work on DDT, public health insecticides, drug quality and import tariffs and non-tariff barriers, but let’s leave the sniping bloggers and their misleading and biased comments out of this.

Richard Tren

Small town fireworks

July 6, 2010

No, literally.  Well, okay, 36,000 people isn’t a tiny hamlet.  Still, Duncanville, Texas, is a small town in many ways.

Nice fireworks show, nothing super spectacular.  But enough for me to experiment with the digital SLR on capturing images.  Lessons learned:  Yes, the tripod is a must; a “cable release” is essential, too; to get good color, smaller aperture settings work best; exposures over a second work best.

Duncanville, Texas, Fireworks, July 4, 2010 - Big blue blossom

Duncanville fireworks - black hole at the center of a galaxy

Duncanville fireworks - a colored crown

Duncanville fireworks - a blue aster

Duncanville fireworks - four blossoms

Duncanville fireworks - were they trying to portray Cthulu?

Duncanville fireworks - multicolor burst

These are a few of the many shots I took — more successful than in past years (why didn’t I think of the tripod before?).  Generally these are the most successful fireworks shots I’ve taken since that old Kodak Hawkeye FlashFun  — was it that long ago?  —  at the Idaho Centennial.

I wonder where those pictures are now?

The idea is to get this down to where I can set up the camera and take shots while smiling at Kathryn, whose birthday is July 4, and who thinks fireworks are for watching, forget about the hassle of photography.  She’s probably right.

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