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Monday, January 17, 2011

Oh, this sounds like a good idea.

This just posted on Yahoo News:

"TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese researchers will launch a project this year to resurrect the long-extinct mammoth by using cloning technology to bring the ancient pachyderm back to life in around five years' time. The researchers will try to revive the species by obtaining tissue this summer from the carcass of a mammoth preserved in a Russian research laboratory, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

"Preparations to realise this goal have been made," Akira Iritani, leader of the team and a professor emeritus of Kyoto University, told the mass-circulation daily.

Under the plan, the nuclei of mammoth cells will be inserted into an elephant's egg cell from which the nuclei have been removed, to create an embryo containing mammoth genes, the report said. The embryo will then be inserted into an elephant's uterus in the hope that the animal will eventually give birth to a baby mammoth.
The elephant is the closest modern relative of the mammoth, a huge woolly mammal believed to have died out with the last Ice Age. Some mammoth remains still retain usable tissue samples, making it possible to recover cells for cloning, unlike dinosaurs, which disappeared around 65 million years ago and whose remains exist only as fossils

Researchers hope to achieve their aim within five to six years, the Yomiuri said.

The team, which has invited a Russian mammoth researcher and two US elephant experts to join the project, has established a technique to extract DNA from frozen cells, previously an obstacle to cloning attempts because of the damage cells sustained in the freezing process. Another Japanese researcher, Teruhiko Wakayama of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, succeeded in 2008 in cloning a mouse from the cells of another that had been kept in temperatures similar to frozen ground for 16 years.

The scientists extracted a cell nucleus from an organ of a dead mouse and planted it into the egg of another mouse which was alive, leading to the birth of the cloned mouse. Based on Wakayama's techniques, Iritani's team devised a method to extract the nuclei of mammoth eggs without damaging them.

But a successful cloning will also pose challenges for the team, Iritani warned. "If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed (the mammoth) and whether to display it to the public," Iritani said. "After the mammoth is born, we will examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."

More than 80 percent of all mammoth finds have been dug up in the permafrost of the vast Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia. Exactly why a majority of the huge creatures that once strode in large herds across Eurasia and North America died out towards the end of the last Ice Age has generated fiery debate. Some experts hold that mammoths were hunted to extinction by the species that was to become the planet's dominant predator -- humans. Others argue that climate change was more to blame, leaving a species adapted for frozen climes ill-equipped to cope with a warming world."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Just when things were going so well...

So the hated New York Jets beat the beloved New England Patriots today in Foxborough. Sadness all around. After overachieving to go 14-2 in the regular season, the Pats stumbled when it really counted. Sigh. This is bothering more than it should, really.

However, credit to the New York Post for their brilliant pre-game parody. It just about makes the loss palatable. Almost.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maybe things would be better if we were all just Scottish.

Something weird has happened to heavy metal lately. Weird, but fun.

Exhibit A: Van Canto. A capella metal group from I think Germany. Five singers and a drummer. No guitars. What? You heard right. Total metal annihilation. Love the guy who does the guitar "solo."

Exhibit B: Grave Digger, from Scotland. Ach ye bonny lassie! You got bagpipes in me metal!... No wait, you got metal inna me bagpipes. Mmm... tasty.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shootings in Tucson, shootings in Nebraska. And more to come, I'm sure.

I'm not sure what's happening to this country... but it sure ain't pretty.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Please don't change anything I write after I die.

So they're taking the word "nigger" out of Huck Finn, or at least one particular edition of it. The novel uses the word 219 times, mainly as part of Nigger Jim's name, and it's being replaced with "slave". This is stupid for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that fact that Jim is not a slave.

Obviously it's an ugly word with a vicious history, but cutting it out of one of the landmark anti-racism books in US history seems pretty fahking stupid. It seems to me that only by acknowledging our own wretched history as a nation can we begin to make stumbling progress past it.

The claim is that this is being done so young readers are not exposed to the word. My thought is that this book was not written for young readers, and maybe it isn't the book that should be changed, but the seventh-grade lesson plans that are trying to incorporate it.

I wonder if Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Artificial Nigger" will be next.

A lively debate on the issue, with a few dissenting voices but mainly criticism of the move, can be found here:

I wonder what you all think...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tehelka features new fiction from Uzee, 12 others

Tehelka, one of India's more cutting-edge publications, has launched 2011 with a special "noir fiction" issue featuring stories from a baker's dozen of the subcontinent's finest, including the lovely and talented Uzma Aslam Khan. The homepage for the issue is here:

and the link to Uzee's story is here:

For those of you in India, the magazine is available in hard-copy format. The rest of us, alas, will have to rely on the goodwill of the internet.

Illustration for Tehelka by SHILO SHIV SULEMAN

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Not a definitive list, by any means...

Best book I read in 2010: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Don’t let the fact that this is a historical novel about Dutch merchants in 17th-century Japan put you off. Compulsively readable and engrossing, with an insanely powerful ending. He piles on the historical detail but never loses sight of the story's forward momentum. Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas a few years ago and this continues his streak of greatness.

Best graphic novel: Lint (Acme Novelty Company #20) by Chris Ware

Emotionally wrenching—not what you might expect from a 65-page comic book. Chris Ware charts the course of one guy’s life by using one page to represent an episode from each passing year. Everyman Jordan Lint is born on the first page, dies on the last and undergoes a series of transformations in between that are both mundane and unique. Ware's clean but cluttered art suits the story perfectly. This is the kind of book you show to people who are scornful of comics.

Best movie: A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard, starring Tahar Raheem

French movie about prison inmates, and one in particular who is caught between rival gangs. Really gripping, but be warned: there is a ten-minute sequence that is probably the most effective movie violence I have ever seen. If you can get through that (it happens pretty early) the movie is a knockout. IMDB lists this as a 2009 release but I didn’t see it till 2010.

Best TV show: Oh hell, I don’t know. The premiere of The Walking Dead?

I don’t watch a lot of TV except football and Survivor. I like The Office but it’s been so-so lately. Caught the first episode of TWD more or less by chance. It was pretty good—damn good for TV—but have seen none of it since.

Best new record by previously unknown (to me) band: The Tamborines, Camera and Tremor

Blissful shoegaze power pop, plenty of distortion but also great hummable melodies. Sort of like cotton candy coated in gravel and broken glass. Thre-to-four-minute gems of perfection.

Best new record by a band already known to me: Sasquatch, III

Dumber-than-dirt biker-stoner rawk. It’s great. They like riffs. You know what riffs are? They like them. I like them too. They play them a lot. I like that. I like the way they play those riffs. Repeat. I'm listening to it right now and you should be too.

Besides all that: the singer is my evil twin.

Most disappointing record by a band known to me: The Black Angels, Phosphene Dream

What happened to these guys? They used to rock out for extended jams, playing what they called “drone ‘n’ roll.” Moody, murky, faintly paranoid, heavily fuzzed-out, gloomy trips to the edge of whatever. Suddenly they’ve morphed to a ’60s retro pop band ripping through little 3-minute ditties and generally sounding lame. There are a few good songs on Phosphere Dream but nothing to compare to their first records. Go listen to Passover and get back to me.

Best movie monsters in a really awful movie: Giant flesh-eating scorpions in Clash of the Titans

I believe I already said “giant flesh-eating scorpions” so there’s really nothing much to add.

Best comic book mini-series: The Light, by Nathan Edmondson and Brett Weldele

Five-issue miniseries about a strange epidemic in which light—electric light, from the grid, as opposed to natural sunshine or moonlight or whatever—kills whoever looks at it. It's an odd premise but fleshed out nicely with beautiful art and an understated script. There’s a lot of driving around in the dark, but the story pulls it off for the most part. The art is exquisite and a big part of the success here.

Happy New Year, everybody

Let's make it a good one...