Monday, November 30, 2009

Ecology: Giant Jellyfish & Sea Turtles



1 Nature (64)



Giant jellyfish invade Japanese waters

CBS8 San Diego CaliforniaPosted: Dec 01, 2009 3:33 AM CST 
Vast numbers of Echizen jellyfish have appeared on Japan's Pacific coast apparently after drifting from Chinese and Korean waters where they reproduce every year.
Echizen kurage          Yomiui Shimbun/AFP/Getty Images

One Echizen jellyfish can be up to 2.2 metres (7.2ft) in diameter and weigh up to 300 kg (661lbs).
"Since 2002, we've seen huge numbers of giant jellyfish around the coast of Japan every year. In recent years, 2005 was the year when they particularly appeared en masse," said Kiyoshi Kawasaki, assistant director of Japan Fisheries Research Agency.

Could this be due to the recent global decline of the sea turtle population and particularly that of the Leatherback turtle?
Here is an extract from WWF:
Marine turtles fulfill important roles in marine ecosystems 
As a major jellyfish predator, the Leatherback turtle provides natural ecological control of jellyfish populations. Overabundance of jellyfish may reduce fish populations as jellyfish can feed on fish larvae and reduce population growth of commercially important fish. Hence, the presence of Leatherback turtles benefits fish, fisheries and people.
Juvenile Green Turtles are carnivorous and will also eat jellyfish. Here is a beautiful photo captured by Jacob Maentz.
Photo: Jacob Maentz
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Email: cockroachcatcher (at) gmail (dot) com.












BBC

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sadness & Songs: Superstition & Mahler

In a few days time, music lovers in Hong Kong will be able to hear a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth.)

It is particularly significant for Hong Kong as Mahler’s work was set to the German rendering of a number of Chinese Poems.

In an age when people sought happiness in all ways possible we need to remind ourselves that sadness has been the driving force behind many writers and composers.

Mahler wrote Kindertotenlieder to five poems written by Rückert. Rückert wrote 428 poems following the death of his two children from Scarlet Fever.

Mahler lived in an age when bacteriology was very much in its infancy. There was still little understanding of the role Streptococcus played in a range of illnesses from Scarlet Fever to Rheumatic Heart Disease and Radium was often used to treat Streptococcal related conditions.  

Mahler’s own daughter tragically died from Scarlet Fever four years after writing Kindertotenlieder and Mahler himself contracted Rheumatic heart disease. When there was still little understanding of the etiology of diseases, superstition came into play so much so that Mahler did not want to write a ninth symphony. It was the start of the Curse of the Ninth Symphony.

Das Lied von der Erde was indeed the result as it was composed after his Eighth Symphony and he did not want to name it his Ninth.

Mahler conceived the work in 1908 when he was already unwell with his heart condition. A volume of ancient Chinese poetry under the title of The Chinese Flute (Chinesische Flöte) repoetized by Hans Bethge was published in German and Mahler was very much taken by the vision of earthly beauty expressed in these verses. Fate he felt has been unkind to him but he felt able to accept it in his own fashion.
                                             
下馬飲君酒,問君何所之?
君言不得意,歸臥南山陲,
但去莫復問,白雲無盡時
                                                          


Farewell                      Wang Wei (701-761)
Dismounting, let me share your farewell wine  
Where, friend are you heading now?
Choking, fate has not been kind to me
Will retire to the southern slopes to seek rest

Enquire no more when I am gone
Till the end of clouds, endless white clouds!


Mahler died on May 18th 1911 in Vienna.

"I think it is probably the most personal composition I have created thus far."    Gustav Mahler

The first performance of Das Lied von der Erde was conducted by Bruno Walter after Mahler's death.

Bruno Walter described it as: "the most personal utterance among Mahler's creations, and perhaps in all music."

My first encounter was in the early 70s with the recording by Janet Baker and Waldemar Kmentt (with Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra). I still think it is one of the very best performances of Das Lied von der Erde.
Links:
Janet Baker
Das Lied von der Erde
Hong Kong
Literary Metamorphosis in Das Lied von der Erde
BBC                                                                                                                       Music posts


Did You Catch These: 2008





Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Missionary & The Last Empress

"What is the link between Robert Morrison and Soong Mi Ling (better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek)" was the question I posed to fellow Morrisonians last year.

It was very interesting to see that a new book has just been published about Madame Chiang Kai-shek, The Last Empress by Hannah Pakula.



The Last Empress/Simon & Schuster


The link to Morrison was that of Madame Chiang’s father, Charlie Soong.

To understand Charlie Soong we need to look at some culturally-bound practices that may seem so strange and perhaps even "wrong” nowadays.

One such practise is “internal adoption”: that of allowing a brother to adopt one of your sons. In traditional Chinese families, a male heir is important and such practice is fairly common.


Charlie Soong was born as Han Jiaozhun (韓教準) in Hainan as the third son of Han Hongyi (韓鴻翼) some time between 1863 and 1866 and was adopted by a sonless uncle and was taken to Boston to work in his tea shop. He was not happy and soon slipped away onto a Coast Guard’s ship on the Eastern Seaboard.


The rest of his story is quite unbelievable and The Wesleyan Magazine has a reasonably easy to read summary. He converted to Christianity and was given a full western education before being sent back to China.


Eventually he made his fortune in printing the Chinese Bible, the link with Robert Morrison who was the first Protestant Missionary to China. Morrison was responsible for translating the bible into Chinese amongst his many other achievements.


It was because of the money he made from his printing press that he could send his three daughters to be educated at the Wesleyan College. They became the three most famous women in modern Chinese history. They were known as the Soong Sisters: "one loved money, one loved China, and one loved power" and they became the subject of a film. One of the sisters married a banker, one the founding father of China, Dr. Sun Yat Sun and one married Chiang Kai-shek who led the exiled nationalist government in Taiwan until his death.


The whole story might have been quite different without "the family adoption" as Charlie Soong would probably be farming or fishing in Hainan and never received his Western education. Real life is often stranger than fiction.

The Last Empress, Soong Mei-ling: born Shanghai, China 20 March 1897; married Chiang Kai-shek in 1927; died New York 23 October 2003.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Morrison Hall

It was a year ago that I was invited back to Morrison Hall, my alma mater to talk about my book The Cockroach Catcher

 Morrison Hall/Morrison Hall Website



The following is an extract from the book about Morrison Hall:
“Robert Morrison was one of the first non Catholic missionaries in China and the Chinese Missionary Society built a residential hall for the University of Hong Kong in his memory.

“I was dropped off at the front door where the male servants lined up to help and to welcome the returning Morrisonians and the Green Horns. It was such a majestic building with pillars and an entrance that was very classical English in style. There was a covered veranda all round the building. The Warden had his own flat on the south side of the building over the Chapel. Yes, a Chapel is part and parcel of the college tradition at Oxford and Cambridge, and we were no different.


“The servant also took care of the laundry.  Every other day the laundry would come back nicely folded on your bed and those clothes items that needed hanging would be found hanging in the corner wardrobe.


“This was in the early sixties, and there were some strange rules. If any girlfriend wanted to spend the night the mattress had to be out of the room.  I never saw one in my three years stay. If you actually left your mattress outside your room, you would be inviting an audience and no self-respecting girl would ever agree to that.”
        
This girl friend stayed outside!

The rooms were on the west and north side looking into a central garden. The services such as laundry, kitchen and the servants’ quarters were on the east side.  Just at the end of the drive into our Hall was one of the many access paths to Victoria Peak, the small mountain that dominates the small island of Hong Kong. Some weekends when we were tired of studying a few of us would walk up the peak and admire the view of possibly the most beautiful small city of the world. I would not say most beautiful city, but most beautiful small city would guarantee unanimous agreement.
Another view of the most beautiful small city 
© 2009 Am Ang Zhang

“We had a perfect environment for studying. Daily chores were taken care of, and for physical activities there were tennis courts, a football court, and a games field for track running, and long and high jump.” 


Prof. Sir David Todd, one of the most respected teacher in Medicine and Morrisonian:
“On reflection, among the happiest years of my life were those spent at the University of Hong Kong . One important reason was because I lived in Morrison Hall. Perched about the then peaceful Conduit Road and Kotewall Road , it was a haven for study, and also for play. Perhaps because of its relative inaccessibility – there was no public transport “up the hill” in the late 40' s and early 50' s – once there only very important business, or pleasure, could entice one into town. Hence there was a geographic reason to study, and there was ample opportunity to mix and make friends. Some of my closet university friends are Morrisonians.



“The partitions between rooms did not reach the ceiling, so “over the wall” dialogue was common although hardly confidential. Coaching each other in this manner often involved more than two, and someone would always come up with the right answer.


“We had a good mixture of hallmates – with Overseas' Chinese, Caucasians and there were a few more senior students whose studies had been interrupted by the World War II. It was a diverse and interesting community and there were talents in music, in bridge, in ‘womanizing’ and sports and of course in scholarship! Our sports record was impressive, no doubt the tennis court helped but we were also champions in athletics, football and swimming.


“To prevent us from being too wayward, one of our Warden's wife used to black out the more “adult” passage in the novels in the library – fortunately anatomy and physiology texts were spared. Nonetheless, the annual barn dance with often quite riotous behaviour was well tolerated.”


"We also had the luxury of room “boys”, who varied in diligence but were usually helpful. In a Morrisonian Reunion several years ago it was heartening to see several still healthy and well, despite our excessive demands in the past!"


Links: Morrison Hall Alumni

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MHRA-Statins


MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, U.K.)publishes public assessment report of adverse effects associated with statins
Reference: Drug Safety Update: Volume 3, Issue 4, November 2009
The following is an extract:

The statins licensed for use in the UK include: atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor); fluvastatin (Lescol, Lescol XL); pravastatin (Lipostat); rosuvastatin (Crestor); simvastatin (Zocor, Zocor Heart-Pro, Inegy)

As with any medicine, the use of statins may lead to adverse reactions (side-effects) in some individuals. Evidence suggests that the use of statins may be associated with certain adverse reactions, such as sleep disturbancesb, memory loss, micturition disordersc, sexual disturbancesd, depression and interstitial pneumopathye.

Section 4.4 – Special warnings and precautions for use
Interstitial lung disease
Exceptional cases of interstitial lung disease have been reported with some statins, especially with long term therapy (see section 4.8). Presenting features can include dyspnoea, non-productive cough and deterioration in general health (fatigue, weight loss and fever). If it is suspected a patient has developed interstitial lung disease, statin therapy should be discontinued.
Section 4.8 – Undesirable effects
The following adverse events have been reported with some statins:

• Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and nightmares [where this is not already listed]

• Memory loss

• Sexual dysfunction [where this is not already listed]

• Depression

• Exceptional cases of interstitial lung disease, especially with long term therapy (see section 4.4)
Overall, the review was to address causality for each event (time to onset, de-and re-challenge, presence and absence of confounding factors) and whether the ADRs were dose-related. With regard to sleep disturbances specifically, the review was to address whether events of sleep disturbance were related to the timing of statin dose administration (ie, morning or evening). With regard to memory loss, the review was to address whether events of memory loss with use of statins was short or long term, and whether the memory loss was reversible. With regard to interstitial pneumopathy, the review was to address the need or use of corticosteroids. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hairy Crabs & Wines

It is a wonderful time of the year to be visiting Hong Kong.


©2009 Am Ang Zhang/Bauhinia Press
The weather is generally cooler and most important of all; it is the season of Hairy Crabs (Eriocher sinensis).

Hairy Crab Eriocher sinensis 
©2009 Am Ang Zhang/Bauhinia Press

By now, the female crabs would be laden with roes and many restaurants advertise their “Crab Dinners”.

Wine drinking in Hong Kong has also taken off in recent years and with the recent zero taxation policy it is fast becoming a major player in the wine auction business and wine drinking has now replaced Cognac drinking in a big way: for health reasons of course.

Traditionally Hairy Crab is served with a Chinese Wine (Shaoxing Yellow Wine 花雕酒 ) and if you can get hold of a good quality one it is a pleasant enough pairing.

Is there an alternative? A question I have been asked a number of times.
Hairy Crabs are fresh water crustaceans, although the female crabs do spend some time in the sea during the spawning season. The female crab is consumed earlier in the season and it has wonderful rich crimson roes. The male crab is best about a month later than the female and the good ones have  a very distinctive and delicate flavour.  Traditionally Crabs are served with a rich ginger and vinegar sauce, the vinegar is dark and cuts through the rich roes.

Here is where the problem of wine pairing is: Ginger and vinegar. 
 
The French tended to use one pairing when faced with such a situation: Champagne.





If money is no object, my pick would be: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut of any Vintage you can pick. In 2007, I visited Taittinger and they ran out of the Comtes Rosé. I settled for the Blanc de Blanc and I would suggest that it too will go well with the Hairy Crabs. The French President serves Comtes de Champagne for State banquets. Now you know.

The Rosé indeed has a fairly deep pink colour and would impress your guests as it matches the colour of the roes and the cooked shells.

To enjoy the champagne, I would certainly go easy on the vinegar.

For those looking for value for money, I would recommend Gosset Grand Rose NV. Gosset is in the village of Ay and right next door to Bollinger.

Many white wines will also go well with Hairy Crabs and my personal preference would be a good Pinot Gris from the Alsace, and at a third the price of basic champagne, it is excellent value for money.









Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall, Appassionata & The Lives Of Others

It looked as though many have stopped listening to Beethoven’s  Appassionata.



Maxim Gorky wrote about Lenin listening to Beethoven's Appassionata:
“I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!
“Wrinkling up his eyes, Lenin smiled rather sadly, adding: ‘But I can't listen to music very often. It affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can't pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm—– what a hellishly difficult job!”
It was said that Lenin was indeed afraid he would otherwise never ‘finish’ the revolution!!!
Henckel von Donnersmarck said he based his film The Lives Of Others on the Appassionata anecdote.

The Lives Of Others/Sony
The Times:
The Lives of Others has caused the most delicious trouble since winning Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Oscars. Few critics expected this modest thriller about the East German Stasi to lift such a glamorous award.
“The plot is as simple as an opera charge sheet. A plump and seedy minister for the arts falls for a famous actress with a drug habit. He orders his lieutenant to bug the flat she shares with her fashionable playwright boyfriend. Wiesler is duly charged to drag up the necessary dirt. Under “Operation Lazlo”, he litters their apartment with secret microphones and moves into the attic to spy on their every twitch.
“Against every trained fibre of his highly tuned mind he starts falling in love with Martina Gedeck’s voluptuous actress, and sympathising with Sebastian Koch’s idealistic writer. The mission to nail this pair of errant artists turns into a desperate soap to save them.”
With the celebration underway for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Times reported::
“In an extraordinary frank meeting with Mr Gorbachev in Moscow in 1989 — never before fully reported — Mrs Thatcher said the destabilisation of Eastern Europe and the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact were also not in the West’s interests.
“We do not want a united Germany,” she said. “This would lead to a change to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.”
Perhaps she stopped listening to The Appassionata!
Anyway, The Berlin Film Festival refused to accept it as an official entry.
They stopped listening too!
In 2007, it was awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NHS: Can we learn from Obama?




As more and more individuals are taking up private health insurance in England, would the government,  have the courage to adopt some of the Obama Plan in reining in the insurance industry. This would prevent the cherry picking by the industry and the dumping of the chronically ill people on the overstretched NHS.

 

The following is a straight quote from the Obama Plan.

 

More Security and Stability

IF YOU HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE, THE OBAMA PLAN:

·                           Ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
·                           Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.
·                           Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage when people are sick and need it most.
·                           Caps out-of-pocket expenses so people don’t go broke when they get sick.
·                           Eliminates extra charges for preventive care like mammograms, flu shots and diabetes tests to improve health and save money.
·                           Protects Medicare for seniors.
·                           Eliminates the “donut-hole” gap in coverage for prescription drugs.



Obama from The White House.