Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bees and Sex sans Benefits

At the time of writing this Brentford FC are at third place in Coca-Cola League Two after drawing 1-1 with Gillingham, with a game in-hand (exciting!). Although only twenty games into the season (about halfway) things might be looking up for The Bees, especially as they are, currently, in the promotion zone (oh yes, they could be heading up to Coca-Cola League One at this rate). For this to take place, however, every goal counts, and to be sure for every shot scored, there will be an overflow of enjoyment attained by he who shoots.

Allow me to work my magic here; The Bees will gain an excessive reward of pleasure (or a benefit of some sort, perhaps money) for every time they shoot successfully! But where might this not be the case? Well, those of us, like myself, who hold a certain soft spot for football and botany, will already see the antagonism here, and it rests in the obvious; pseudocopulation in the bee population.

But of course, in usual pollination a mutual benefit is achieved by plant and animal, whereas in pseudocopulation, no such benefit is attained by the pollinator, in this case our poor bee.

Allow me to explain pseduocopulation; in basic terms it is the attempt at copulation by a male insect with a female flower. The bee, attracted to the scent or sight of the flower, may well try to have his end away with it, knowing little or nothing about its being a flower at all. The flower is involved in a matter of deception.

The bee himself is wooed, in the case of the orchid, by the release of osmophores which are identical to the pheromones let-off by the species. Common, too, is the occurrence of visual mimicry in plants where a flower might appear like a sexually receptive female, in the case of the orchid it might appear as female Hymenoptera so as to be inseminated by an unlucky male of this order, only for him to find that he has been duped, probably humiliated and will, no less, carry a stigma (those of us, like myself, versed in botany and paronomasia will be truly grateful for the play on the word ‘stigma’ here, noting the reference to the stigmatised bee, and, of course, stigma as in the reproductive part of a female flower).

The most taxing taxonomic unit of orchid, especially for a seduced wasp, surely must be the Drakaea. Their labellum, or flower lips, contains calluses that have evolved into the shape, colour and touch of a female wasp in waiting. The male, probably red with delight, after some complex knocking manoeuvres involving his thorax and the flower’s pollinea, picks up the pollen and delivers to the next flower, who also deceives him (this bee just goes round being screwed over by these pollen hungry lady flowers).

We might be tempted to call the female flower’s systematically complex, and perverted deception here a form of body language, and if so, I call for this language to be identified as copulatic language. My reason for this name is that it obviously looks to relate with the word copulate. But, also, it is very reminiscent of Coptic Language, which is a minor spoken language in Egypt, of the Hamito-Semitic language family. It uses the Greek alphabet in its written form, but also borrows additional characters from Demotic script, which in turn has roots in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, which in turn has variations such as Cursive Hieroglyphics, and Cursive Handwriting is a type of handwriting more commonly referred to as joined up (give it a chance!).

Allow me to work my magic here; Cursive Handwriting, a root in Coptic Language, is a written word constructed using a single stroke, from the latin cursivus for ‘flowing’. Another term for this is, crucially, joined-up writing - that is to say, the joined-up set of symbols used to formulate language! And is this not what the flowers do to the bees? Do they not precisely form their own body language to join-up with bees, who in turn carry that element of the flower’s communication, in the form of pollen, to another deceiving, sex perverted flower?

As the Bee Gees have rightly pointed out on this very same topic, in the form of song, "Its only words, and words are all I have, to take your [pollen] away." Like the victimised bee, I feel that my message has now been sufficiently communicated.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why I am not an agnostic

“If God did exist”, asks the advert for the Alpha course that I see on a regular basis in London tube stations and across buses “what would you ask?” After spending a couple of minutes deciding what I’d ask God (namely, why am I an atheist?) I wonder why Alpha has chosen to present the question with the indecisive subordinating conjunction if. The atheist bus advert, too, adds its own measure of uncertainty: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (I’ve added my own italics for emphasis). (Read on)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

German Economy waits for Gold, Frankincense, and Merkel (A Modern Day Keynesian Controversy)

Despite criticism from leading bankers and other European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains defiant on her refusal to spend her way out of the recession, criticising the short-term initiatives employed by Britain, the US and France. Proof of her distinct agitation and non-compliance, if proof were needed, reverberates in her recent joke during a cabinet meeting: “What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism? Communists nationalised companies first before running them.”

Her blows were swung at the US who she accused of using “cheap money” as a means of fiscal boost and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who voiced his aggravation with Berlin, saying, “While France is working, Germany is thinking.”

The motive for Merkel’s and her Coalition’s’ rebellion is not simply contrarian as might be suspected from the apparent stubbornness of German Finance Minister Peer Steinbr├╝ck “we are not obliged to copy what all other countries are doing,” when he unveiled plans to insert 31 billion euros to help boost the downturn. Rather it is her way of remaining loyal to the “Stability and Growth Pact” (SGP) originally proposed by the former Finance Minister Theo Waigel at the beginning of the 1990’s and agreed at the EU summit in Dublin in 1997.

The purpose of the pact – that has the backing of both Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Steinbr├╝ck’s Social Democrats – was to tune the euro so it would be able to compete with the US Dollar and strengthen the stability of the euro-zone. It has strict criteria which is the fountainhead of the present dispute.

Merkel also contends whether the aid for Commerzbank – the first commercial lender to seek Governmental capital - meet the terms of the 500bn euro rescue fund, approved by the EU, adding "Europe must, I say this clearly in relation to the German bank rescue package, act speedily".

The way other European leaders have tackled the financial crisis and the nature of Merkel’s rebellion should provide analysts with lessons of a modern day battle of Keynesian economics and its antagonists (It will be of no surprise that the SGP has its roots in the Keynesian-Monetarist controversies of the 1960’s-1970’s). The picture painted of Merkel by her critics as “faint-hearted” has been due to the perceived weakness of her stimulus plans, which amount to €11bn over two years, a mere pinch on the €480bn used by the by government as bank rescue.

Whereas the fashion is to stay true to Keynesian economics, namely book IV of Keynes’ General Theory entitled “Inducement to Invest” which instructs a reduction on interest rates and allowing a minimum of capital efficiency in order to promote governmental investment, Merkel has put Germany’s brakes on.

To critics that appeal to the lack of quick and effective relief in 1929 such as Peter Coy of Business Week, Merkel has claimed that the crisis cannot follow “an old script we can turn to”. Save for the extraordinary parallels Merkel’s plans have with the SGP and the clear reaction to the neo-Keynesian approach taken by her European peers – plans akin, in other words, to a script – the dispute does make for an interesting battle of economic theory in practice, and could be a decider for future crises.

Like Ela Soyemi for The Guardian has rightly pointed out “it is worth taking a good hard look at Merkel’s point.” In spite of financial hard times, conclusions may be drawn for the most appropriate action a government should take – fiscal boosts or hands on heads.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holes and Hot Air: What can be done for the North America-sized hole in the Antarctica?

Scientists from the United States government agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released figures regarding the size of this year’s ozone hole over Antarctica. It is now around 10.5 million square miles wide and four miles deep, the fifth largest size since 1979. (Read on)