Monthly Archives: July 2012

Body Snatchers

Every evening, the ant would leave the colony and climb to the top of a blade of grass. Then, the ant would pierce the top of the grass with its strong jaws and wait there. At dawn, it would return to the colony and continue to perform its daily routine. Yet, night after night, the same ritual would be repeated until one evening, a passing sheep ate the blade with the ant on it and, inadvertently, gave a successful conclusion to the complex process behind this apparently unremarkable scenario.

One obvious question to ask would be: what benefit could possibly accrue to the ant from a behavior that caused its death? However, the question that can point us in the right direction to solve the mystery is “Cui bono”. In other words, “who benefits?” On closer examination, the real beneficiary is a parasite called “Lancet fluke” (Dicrocoelium dendriticum) which needs to reach the intestines of grazing mammals in order to reproduce. A group of them will start their lives in the digestive tract of a snail and after being excreted, will invade the body of an ant. At that point, one of them will take control of the ant’s nerve cells. That will enable them to direct the ant every evening to the top of a blade of grass until a sheep eats both the ant and the grass. Afterwards, the parasites will live their adult lives inside the sheep and reproduce. When the new parasites (in a larval state) are excreted by the sheep, a passing snail will give a new beginning to the reproductive cycle. Continue reading

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A Ghost Library

In 1952 Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. published a series of books with the goal of presenting the so-called “Great Books” in a single package of 54 volumes. This was just one of endless attempts at defining the set or “canon” of books that exemplify the peak of human intellect. Confronted with those attempts, I am always left wondering about the ones that are not even considered because, although we are aware of their existence, they were destroyed by wars or human ignorance or even those for which no indirect references were preserved and have been utterly obliterated by the sands of time…
In many ways, we must realize that we are just cataloguing and ranking the remains of a shipwreck that we happen to encounter on the vast shore of human history.  A few examples can easily remind us of what is regrettably beyond our reach. Continue reading

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Of Riders and Codes

Elsa: “My father says there’s only right and wrong – good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn’t that simple, is it?”
Steve: “No, it isn’t. It should be, but it isn’t.”

Do we just know right from wrong? Or do we actually develop that conviction (if at all) over the years?  Where do our moral codes come from? How far will we go to uphold them? I dare to guess that the answer to the first questions is a combination of innate traits, upbringing and other social influences. As for the last question, I believe it to be the real measure of a human being…
Those questions come to me after watching a rare gem of a film, “Ride The High Country” (1962), regarded by many as the first great film directed by Sam Peckinpah. A moral tale set in the last days of the West, when the first cars were driven in California and most of the old gunslingers were already dead or scrapping a living as ageing circus attractions. Continue reading

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The Heavenly Kingdom and the Devils

Since Marco Polo wrote his “Description of the World” in the thirteenth century, millions of readers have been excited by the exotism and sophistication of the Heavenly Kingdom. I have always found fascinating how civilizations develop and interact with others. Few are as rich and complex as the Chinese.
In the case of China, one of the turning points in its history took place during the nineteenth century when a shift in the global balance of power saw it come into conflict with the emerging western empires.
Westerners had always found that while buying tea and silk from China was possible, selling goods to the their Chinese counterparts was far more difficult. There was little demand for western products. What did exist was a virtually limitless demand for silver, and a growing demand for opium. When the British conquered Bengal in the eighteenth century, thing changed dramatically at Canton (the main trading post with China at the time). The East India Company acquired the Bengal opium monopoly and sold the product at action in Calcutta. That change in the supply of opium was to have far reaching consequences. Continue reading

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Libertatem meam mecum porto

A friend asks me about the meaning of the motto ‘Libertatem meam mecum porto’ that I have used as a tag line for this blog so let me say a few words about it. The motto translates roughly as ‘I carry my freedom with me’ and I like it because, contrary to some naive interpretations of what freedom means, it conveys a sense that having freedom entails also carrying a burden, the burden of being responsible for your actions and decisions and being willing to pay the price for them. At least, that is how I interpret it. I first read it on an essay about Miguel Servet, (29 September 1511 – 27 October 1553) a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first one (at least in Europe) that correctly described the function of pulmonary circulation. Furthermore, he courageously took part in the heated religious debates of his time and was condemned by both Catholics and Protestants. Sadly, he was eventually arrested in Geneva and burnt at the stake as a heretic by order of the Protestant Geneva governing council.

Miguel Servet

Servet used the motto  ‘Libertatem meam mecum porto’  on some of his works like his edition of the Ptolemy’s Geography and his beautiful 1542 edition of the Sanctes Pagnino’stranslation of the Bible. Certainly a fascinating character that was not afraid of facing the consequences of his actions.

Ptolemy’s Geography

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Who is on the other side of the trade?

This is something that a good friend of mine asked in the middle of a conversation around financial crises. In other words, in troubled times like the ones we are living in at the moment, is there anyone who is making money? I mean…big money! Our intuition told us that there had be someone so I decided to find out more. For those of you that may want to get a basic understanding of who (and how) has made money as a direct result of the current financial crises, I would strongly recommend the following books: “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis and “The Greatest Trade Ever” by Gregory Zuckerman. Continue reading

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Humble intentions in an infinite space

As someone utterly lost, I will try to make sense of my findings and share them with you. I hope that these posts will help you in finding answers or, at least, making the search more bearable. Welcome to Lost in Babel!

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