29th Annual Read-a-thon Concludes

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 2:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Read-a-thon 2010: Our Youngest Attendee

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

. . . and Continues . . .

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

2010 Read-a-thon Continues

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not Just One Player – A Whole Orcastra

One of two apparent species of orca living in Antarctic seas.

Recently analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the tissue of 139 orcas (killer whales) from around the globe indicates that, despite similar appearance, there are at least three distinct species of orca, and perhaps more. See Several Different Species of Killer Whales Likely in Science Daily.

Update: New Scientist features a brief article on this topic, What Type of Killer Whale Was Willy?

For the abstract of the original article in Genome Research, see this item:

“We used high-throughput sequencing to survey whole mitochondrial genome variation of 139 samples from the North Pacific, North Atlantic and southern oceans. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that each of the known ecotypes represents a strongly supported clade with divergence times ranging from approximately 150,000 to 700,000 years ago. We recommend that three named ecotypes be elevated to full species, and that the remaining types be recognized as subspecies pending additional data.”

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

2010 William Allen White Children’s Book Award Winners

The 2010 William Allen White Children’s Book Award winners have been announced for both the 3rd through 5th grade and 6th through 8th grade categories – and they’ve gone to the dogs.

Some 40,000 third through eighth graders participated in naming How to Steal a Dog as the winning book in the 3rd-5th grade category, and Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam as the winning book in the 6th-8th grade category.

How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O’Conner is “the sympathetic story of a young girl attempting to improve her family’s financial situation. Georgina persuades her younger brother to help her in an elaborate scheme to get money by stealing a dog and then claiming the reward the owners are bound to offer.”

Cynthia Kadohata’s Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam is the “story of a how a young soldier in Vietnam bonds with his bomb-sniffing dog.”

The William Allen White Award, to be presented at Emporia State University this coming October , is the nation’s first and oldest statewide reader’s choice award, founded in 1952.

To see the entire list of nominated books for the current year, see the Master List of Books 2010-2011.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

2010 Read-a-thon Rolls On . . .

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

29th Annual Read-a-thon Continues . . .

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Animal Farm

“Thus far, Animal Farm has not been legally published in China, Burma or the moral wilderness of North Korea, but one day will see its appearance in all three societies, where it is sure to be greeted with the shock of recognition that it is still capable of inspiring.

“In Zimbabwe, as the rule of Robert Mugabe’s kleptocratic clique became ever more exorbitant, an opposition newspaper took the opportunity to reprint Animal Farm in serial form. It did so without comment, except that one of the accompanying illustrations showed Napoleon the dictator wearing the trademark black horn-rimmed spectacles of Zimbabwe’s own leader. The offices of the newspaper were soon afterwards blown up by a weapons-grade bomb, but before too long Zimbabwean children, also, will be able to appreciate the book in its own right.

“In the Islamic world, many countries continue to ban Animal Farm, ostensibly because of its emphasis on pigs. Clearly this can not be the whole reason – if only because the porcine faction is rendered in such an unfavourable light – and under the theocratic despotism of Iran it is forbidden for reasons having to do with its message of ‘revolution betrayed’.”

On a day when we celebrate the freedom to read, what could be more appropriate than a glance backward at the incomparable George Orwell and his scintillating classic portrayal of perfidious totalitarianism, Animal Farm?

Writing in the Guardian, Christopher Hitchens Re-Reads Animal Farm:

“It is sobering to consider how close this novel came to remaining unpublished. Having survived Hitler’s bombing, the rather battered manuscript was sent to the office of TS Eliot, then an important editor at Faber & Faber. Eliot, a friendly acquaintance of Orwell’s, was a political and cultural conservative, not to say reactionary. But, perhaps influenced by Britain’s alliance with Moscow, he rejected the book on the grounds that it seemed too ‘Trotskyite’. He also told Orwell that his choice of pigs as rulers was an unfortunate one, and that readers might draw the conclusion that what was needed was ‘more public-spirited pigs’. This was not perhaps as fatuous as the turn-down that Orwell received from the Dial Press in New York, which solemnly informed him that stories about animals found no market in the US. And this in the land of Disney . . .

The wartime solidarity between British Tories and Soviet Communists found another counterpart in the work of Peter Smollett, a senior official in the Ministry of Information who was later exposed as a Soviet agent. Smollett made it his business to warn off certain publishers, as a consequence of which Animal Farm was further denied a home at the reputable firms of Victor Gollancz and Jonathan Cape. For a time Orwell considered producing the book privately with the help of his radical Canadian poet friend, Paul Potts, in what would have been a pioneering instance of anti-Soviet samizdat or self-publishing. He even wrote an angry essay, entitled ‘The Freedom of the Press’, to be included as an introduction: an essay which was not unearthed and printed until 1972. Eventually the honour of the publishing business was saved by the small company Secker & Warburg, which in 1945 brought out an edition with a very limited print-run and paid Orwell £45 for it.

“It is thinkable that the story might have ended in this damp-squib way, but two later developments were to give the novel its place in history. A group of Ukrainian and Polish socialists, living in refugee camps in post-war Europe, discovered a copy of the book in English and found it to be a near-perfect allegory of their own recent experience. Their self-taught English-speaking leader and translator, Ihor Sevcenko, found an address for Orwell and wrote to him asking permission to translate Animal Farm into Ukrainian. He told him that many of Stalin’s victims nonetheless still considered themselves to be socialists, and did not trust an intellectual of the right to voice their feelings. ‘They were profoundly affected by such scenes as that of animals singing “Beasts of England” on the hill . . . They very vividly reacted to the “absolute” values of the book.’ Orwell agreed to grant publication rights for free (he did this for subsequent editions in several other eastern European languages). It is affecting to imagine battle-hardened ex-soldiers and prisoners of war, having survived all the privations of the eastern front, becoming stirred by the image of British farm animals singing their own version of the discarded ‘Internationale’, but this was an early instance of the hold the book was to take on its readership. The emotions of the American military authorities in Europe were not so easily touched: they rounded up all the copies of Animal Farm that they could find and turned them over to the Red Army to be burnt. The alliance between the farmers and the pigs, so hauntingly described in the final pages of the novel, was still in force.”

(For a very abbreviated review, with links to a couple of short excerpts, of Christopher Hitchen’s excellent Why Orwell Matters, see this earlier post.)

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  

29th Annual Read-a-thon Begins . . .

The Haysville Community Library’s 29th Annual Read-a-thon began at 8 o’clock this morning with Library Director Betty Cattrell’s traditional reading of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement.

Readers will continuously read the selections of their free choice until midnight.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Hubble and the State of Astronomy

Galaxies on Collision Course (Hubble Space Telescope Ultra Deep Field)

Two days before we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society, epitomizes the state of astronomy and the contributions of Hubble to its recent development for the BBC News.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Life On Mars: Have We Already Found It?

“Today, we do really have a lot of evidence pointing in the direction of life on Mars. I think it’s actually more scientifically outrageous to think that Mars is and always has been sterile.”

Seed Magazine’s Lee Billings discusses the prospect of finding life on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system with Dirk Schulze-Makuch, co-author of We Are Not Alone: Why We Have Already Found Extraterrestrial Life:

Here’s a brief excerpt on the Viking mission to Mars:

“In some ways the timing was bad for Viking. A lot of progress was made after its life-detection experiments were already on or on their way to Mars: The discovery of all the ecosystems at undersea hydrothermal vents, and the extremophile research of the early 1980s really changed how we think about life and its limitations. The Viking researchers thought life on Mars would be heterotrophic, feeding off abundant organic compounds distributed everywhere all over the Martian surface. That picture was wrong, and studies of extremophiles on Earth have made us think differently about Mars. Some people say Viking tried to do too much, too early, and as a result of its ambiguous results, nothing has happened with Martian life-detection experiments ever since.

“For the Viking results, the devil is in the details. There were three life-detection experiments: the Labeled Release Experiment that yielded a positive result, the Gas Exchange Experiment that gave a negative result, and the Pyrolytic Release Experiment, which was gave ambiguous, inconclusive results. Viking’s Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS), designed to detect organic matter, was made the appeals judge so to speak—and since it did not detect any organic matter, it was concluded at that time that Viking did not detect life.

“However, the results of the GC-MS were always somewhat odd. This is because we know from the Martian meteorites that there are organics on Mars. Also, it’s been shown that the same instrument could not detect organics in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica or from hydrothermal soil, places on Earth where we know that a small but significant population of microbes makes a living. So the question is, why did the GC-MS not detect the organics present on Mars? Was the concentration too low? Were they in a form that was not detectable? Or, were they all oxidized to carbon dioxide before they could be measured as organics?

“We think the latter because an extra amount of carbon dioxide was exactly what the GC-MS detected. This would be nicely explained by a hypothesis I put forward along with my colleague Joop Houtkooper, which posits that Martian organisms could use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water as intracellular fluids rather than water alone. When heated during the GC-MS experiment, the hydrogen peroxide would have become unstable and oxidized all the organic compounds, releasing carbon dioxide.

“Such a hydrogen peroxide–water mixture would be a perfect adaptation mechanism for Martian organisms, because it would also convey antifreeze properties—down to – 56°C—and hygroscopicity, which is the ability to attract water molecules directly from the atmosphere, like honey or sugar does. That would be a huge advantage for any life on a very dry desert world such as Mars. And it would also explain the results of the Gas Exchange experiment and the Pyrolytic Release experiment. They were conducted with too much water. If you are adapted to the little water that is present on Mars, too much water will overwhelm you. It’s as if an alien race were to notice that one of us is dying of thirst, and then try to help us by placing us in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We would drown. In a sense this may be what Viking did to Martian microbes. I think it is particularly telling that one of the Pyrolytic Release experiments conducted under dry conditions showed highly significant organic synthesis rates consistent with microbial life, while another one conducted under wetted conditions showed lower synthesis rates than even the sterilized control did.”

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment