Saving A Tree, One Drip At A Time.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

An amazing story, this.

If the roughly 800-year-old banyan tree in Mahabubnagar, India, could talk, it would probably tell you the IV inserted in its branches is saving its life. Termites infested the tree, reportedly one of the oldest in India, and gradually chipped away at its wood until the poor banyan was near the brink of death. Last December, some of the tree’s branches fell down because of the infestation, resulting in officials closing the attraction to the public.

Known as Pillalamarri because of its many interweaving branches, the banyan tree measures 405 feet from east to west and 408 feet from north to south, according to Mahabubnagar District Forest Officer Chukka Ganga Reddy. The crown of Pillalamarri extends to 1,263 feet and the tree is spread across nearly four acres. Underneath the tree stands a small shrine that supposedly dates back to the year 1200, but the tree’s exact age is unclear. Nevertheless, calling the Ficus benghalensis a great banyan tree would be an understatement.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Such greatness attracts 12,000 tourists per year from every corner of the country to awe at its sheer vastness, but this tourism has also caused some troubles for the tree. According to Telangana Today, when Pillalamarri turned into a tourist attraction nearly a decade ago, the state government cut down branches and built concrete sitting areas around the tree for tourists. Tourists picked at the leaves, climbed on the branches, and carved names into the bark. Furthermore, to keep the area clean, the grounds team burned fallen leaves, which was bad for the soil. A recently installed dam on a neighboring stream restricted water flow to the tree.

I will never understand the pointless destructiveness humans indulge in. A 700 year old living being should, at the very least, garner some respect.

…Officials initially injected the trunk with the pesticide chlorpyrifos, but saw no improvement. So they tried another method to prevent decay: hundreds of saline bottles filled with chlorpyrifos, inserted into Pillalamarri’s branches.

“This process has been effective,” Reddy told the Times of India. “Secondly, we are watering the roots with the diluted solution to kill the termites. And in a physical method, we are building concrete structures to support the collapsing heavy branches.”

…Despite the tree’s stable prospects, the public won’t be seeing Pillalamarri any time soon. When they do visit in the future, “this time people have to see it from a distance away from the barricades,” said Reddy. For now, drip-by-drip, the banyan tree’s health is returning to its former glory.

What a shame that all those who would show proper respect won’t be able to do so anymore. I’m impressed and happy that a way to treat Pillalamarri has been found, and profoundly sad and disappointed by the people who were so damn destructive. It doesn’t speak well of humans at all.

Atlas Obscura has the full story, and lots of links.

Anatomy Atlas Part 4 – Skull

This is no Jolly Roger, but it looks grim nevertheless. I do not think any other part of human skeleton is more evocative than skulls. And I wonder sometimes whether this is a purely a cultural thing, or whether there is something innate in us that associates skulls with death, danger and general unpleasantness. There might be, because our brains are clearly predisposed to recognizing facial features.

Content warning for description of a very unpleasant medical procedure.

Skull Drawing

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The four dots at the jaw bones – bellow the eye sockets in each maxilla and two on the chin on mandibula –  and two dots above the eye sockets are points where the nervus trigeminus exits the protective shell of the skull to innervate facial muscles. That is why these points are more sensitive to pressure than other parts of the face. Professor Kos told us that an inflammation of this nerve is allegedly the most painful illness there is. The whole face hurts and a feather caressing the cheek may feel like being burned with hot poker. One way to reduce the pain in very severe inflammation cases (I do not remember whether this was an old procedure or one or still in use) was to inject a powerful neurotoxin directly into these points. Extremely painful procedure, but one that provided the needed long relief. He told us the patients would scream and sometimes pass out. And the neurotoxin used? Alcohol.

Nervus trigeminus is near surface once more just behind mandibula, right bellow the ear lobe. This knowledge has helped me twice in self-defence, once when I was held in chokehold but I managed to slide my hand to my attackers head and drill my forefinger into this point and second time when another person was having their arm twisted by a wannabe teenage ninja. The pain is so intense, that anyone will let go of anything they hold and try to get their head dout of the way. If you feel brave you can experiment on yourself. I did. I do not recommend it.

Anatomy Atlas Part 3 – Upper Limb Skeleton

Human hand has always fascinated me and its skeleton is truly a marvel. Modern industrial robots still lose a lot to its flexibility (hands have seven degrees of freedom of movement, robots have one to six) and versatility (a hand can have a secure grip on almost anything from an egg to an axe).

Upper limb bones

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

For learning and examination we did not have a plastic skeleton mounted on a stand in the corner of the class. We had a box in which the real prepared bones of a man who committed suicide at a relatively young age were stored. So each bone could be taken out and examined separately.

One of the scary stories circulating about Professor Kos was relating to this fact. Small bones, like carpal and metacarpal bones, were stored in little pouches so they do not get lost or too mixed up with the rest. It was said that Professor Kos’s favourite way of examination in his former job at medical university was to shake up the pouch, pull one carpal bone out of it and ask which one it is. Any aspiring physician who failed to give prompt and correct answer was fired.

He did not do this to anyone of us that year, but we always felt he might to.

Anatomy Atlas Part 2 – Lower Limb Skeleton

Colloquial Czech does not distinguish between a foot and a leg. The word “noha” normally refers to the whole limb from the hips down. Medical terminology differs from this and the word “noha” means only the foot, and “dolní končetina” is used for the whole limb. Professor Kos has hammered this point home throughout multiple lectures and we were suspecting that if someone were to use the term “noha” in its colloquial sense during an exam, it would be an insta-fail.

Lower Limb Skeleton

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Legs and feet are our means of movement, so they are very important. It is therefore important to look after them. Which, regarding the bones, means adequate exercise and not more than the body can handle.

What ordinary people do not usually know is that bones are not fixed structures. They are consumed from within and regrown throughout our lives. That way they can heal, but also change shape. That way they can also get injured in a rather peculiar fashion.

One of the stories Professor Kos was telling was a story of “march fractures”. Fresh army recruits, especially those from cities who were not accustomed to walking a lot, were often complaining about pains in their legs and feet bones after long marches. Initially they were deemed as pretenders becaue the x-rays looked normal, but some of them broke their legs when forced to go on. Then someone took a magnifying glass to an x-ray of the alleged pretenders legs and feet and noticed microscopic fractures developing before a clearly visible fracture occurred.

These are so-called fatigue fractures and they happen when a bone is deprived of nutrients. The bone continues to be consumed at a normal rate, but it does not manage to regrow back fast enough. Over time these tiny deficits accumulate and the bone starts to hurt and can even break.

A colleague of mine has developed just that in her foot during nordic walking strolls that were just a bit too much, too sudden and too long for her. It took a few weeks to develop and over a year to heal, with a surgery and a very long rehab being necessary.

Too much exercise is just as bad as none.

Anatomy Atlas Part 1 – Spine

This first in a series of human anatomy sheets that I have drawn during my studies.  As future biology teacher I had to acquire some basic knowledge about most of biology – sort of  jack of all trades, master of none. However our class was one of the last where human anatomy was taught by a prominent Czech physician and scientist Profesor MuDr. Jaroslav Kos. He was eighty years old at that time and it was showing, however he still was formidable and very strict. I failed my first exam miserably, I do not even remember what the theme of the examination was. I think brain stem? Nevermind, it took me two attempts to pass and for the second attempt I really sat and learned latin like my life depended on it. He did not even let me finish on my second attempt  and waved me away with top grade after I described how  nervus olfactorius consists of multiple separated fila going straight through lamina cribosa directly into the bulbus olfactorius of the brain. I forgot most of my medical latin over time, but I still remember this.

Spine Drawing

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

A fun fact about spine – the “S” shape of our spine and all accompanying problems it brings stem from the fact that it originally evolved for movement in water and later on land with lateral undulations, which was later yet modified for movement on land on all four with vertical undulations, which was even later modified for upright movement on hind limbs only. The spine was definitively not intelligently designed for vertical posture and load bearing. Evolution has done its best, but that is always “just enough”.

Neanderthals Have Done It Again.

Panel 78 in La Pasiega cave, which includes red horizontal and vertical lines that date to more than 64,000 years ago, long before Homo sapiens arrived in the area (photo by C.D Standish, A.W.G. Pike and D.L. Hoffmann used with permission).

Panel 78 in La Pasiega cave, which includes red horizontal and vertical lines that date to more than 64,000 years ago, long before Homo sapiens arrived in the area (photo by C.D Standish, A.W.G. Pike and D.L. Hoffmann used with permission).

Neanderthals have done it again. They’ve reminded us Homo sapiens that we’re not as creative, original, or special as we’ve thought for the past 150 years. Last week, archaeologists published two astonishing reports that provide the most compelling evidence to date that our evolutionary cousins not only had the cognitive wherewithal to create art — specifically cave paintings — but they also did so well before modern humans entered the European Pleistocene.

In the journal Sciencean international team of archaeologists reported that three caves in southeastern Spain — La Pasiega, Maltravieso, and Ardales — contain cave art that’s at least 64,800 years old. These sites are not new or unknown to archaeologists. But pinning down exactly when the cave art was painted has been a problem for decades. (The La Pasiega panel was originally sketched by researchers in 1913.) Dating experts, working in conjunction with archaeologists, developed a new set of techniques, carefully sampling geological material near the art in order to pin down the most likely time of painting.

The results have rocked the archaeological world, because the paintings appear to predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe by 20,000 years. In other words, the art comes from a time when the area was only occupied by Neanderthals.

Exciting! You can read and see much more, and there’s video at Hyperallergic.

Sunday Facepalm.

Wikimedia Commons.

Someone who bills herself “Montreal Healthy Girl” has some news for us all: “CANCER IS ACTUALLY A GOOD THING!!!” Did you get those extra exclamation marks? Obviously all manner of truthy, because serious emphasis. I’d dearly like to give this person one hell of a smack, to say the least.

So what is Cancer exactly and what the hell can we do about it when we are faced with a paralysing fear of death? The following may surprise you, but finding out you have the big C is not as terrifyingly final as we are taught to think. Contrary to popular belief and misinformation, CANCER IS ACTUALLY A GOOD THING!!! It is your body’s way of defending itself against a poisonous internal environment and without it, most of us would die long before our diagnosis.

Oh for fuck’s sake. It’s obvious this stupid twit does not know one thing about cancer, nor did she bother with actually getting acquainted with anyone who happens to have cancer. Most people are aware that cure rates are up for many types of cancer, and many people with stage IV cancers are living their lives for decades past diagnosis. CANCER IS NOT A GOOD THING. IT’S A BAD THING WHICH REQUIRES PROPER TREATMENT FROM PEOPLE WITH ACTUAL MEDICAL DEGREES.  Cancer does not save you from early death due to a “poisonous internal environment”.  Cancer cells are terrifyingly magnificent, and out of all the things on this planet, they play the game of evolution best. There are so many different types of cancer cells, it’s dizzying, and no, all cancers are not treated the same; they cannot be. For each type of cancer, it’s a different game. If you want a thorough understanding of how cancer cells work, read The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Cancer cells are rogues, and they excel at reproducing and mutating. Some cancers tend to be low aggression, like mine (colorectal cancer), others are incredibly aggressive and scary as fuck. As always, with any cancer, your best bet is early detection, and prevention, like not smoking, which cuts your chances of lung cancer way down. It never hurts to eat healthy and get at least moderate exercise, but those things will not guarantee you’ll never hear “it’s cancer.” The older you get, the more likely there will be an incidence of cancer. Get those screening tests! Cancer is not the result of an “imbalance” or the body being too “acidic”, which is the fucking stupid twit’s answer to cancer and how to get it to “reverse itself”. This sort of crap is incredibly dangerous, and leads to people dying.  Please, if you hear “it’s cancer”, do not fall for this sort of crap. I’m the last person to say that cancer treatment is any sort of fucking fun, it isn’t. It’s a right pain in the ass (literally in my case), and the side effects are nasty. It’s better than death, which is what you’ll get with Ms. Healthy Girl and those like her. In the case of someone like myself, with colon cancer, you might actually live for quite a while without treatment, being that it’s not an overly aggressive cancer. But there will pain. Enormous, bad pain. Pain which will get worse. And by the time you drag your sorry ass to an actual physician, it will likely to be too damn late.

I won’t link you to the idiot’s fucking page, because this infuriates me no end, but I will link you to Jonathan Jarry at McGill, who has plenty to say about this dangerous fucking mess of a person.

Darwin’s Polar Bear.

“Polar Bear”, artist unknown, ca. 1870s — Source.

Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the development of evolutionary theory. Michael Engelhard explores.

As any good high school student should know, the beaks of Galápagos “finches” (in fact the islands’ mockingbirds) helped Darwin to develop his ideas about evolution. But few people realize that the polar bear, too, informed his grand theory.

You can read and see much more at The Public Domain Review. The artwork is stunning.

The Beauty and Art of Cells.

The Pancreatic Milky Way. By Jürgen Mayer, Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona.

The Pancreatic Milky Way. By Jürgen Mayer, Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona.

I’m a bit obsessed with cells at the moment, living in Cancerland will do that to a person. That said, our bodies are a wonder of microcosms, a universe we rarely think about or delve into with any true interest. Cell Picture Show has an astonishing range of cell images, from humans to plants to ocean to invertebrates. You can stay happily busy there for hours! And for all the textile artists out there, there’s a wealth of inspiration in the ‘Art Under The Microscope‘ section, where a textile artist has tackled various cell imagery:

Fire In Her Eyes, Rebecca Bernardos, University of Michigan Art Quilt by Judy Busby, Fiber Artists@Loose Ends.

Fire In Her Eyes, Rebecca Bernardos, University of Michigan
Art Quilt by Judy Busby, Fiber Artists@Loose Ends.

In this Picture Show, we continue the theme of beauty in science with artistic interpretations of scientific images. We partnered with the University of Michigan Health System to showcase a selection from the traveling exhibit Art Under the Microscope. Special thanks go to Fiber Artists@Loose Ends, UM Center of Organogenesis Bioartography Program, UMHS Gifts of Art Program, and Global Alliance for Arts and Health.

The zebrafish retina, unlike its human equivalent, is capable of regenerating in response to injury. Learning how zebrafish produce new photoreceptors, which are the light-detecting cells in the eye, may provide clues for designing therapies to reverse retinal degeneration in humans as a treatment for blindness.

Image: (Left) A section of the zebrafish retina is shown. The red feather-like cells are the photoreceptors, and the nuclei are marked in blue. (Right) Artist’s rendering using hand-sewn sequins to represent the bands of nuclei and red fabrics and handmade paper to depict the photoreceptors.

So, if you’re an artist, take some inspiration from ourselves, and the world around us, on a cellular level. If you just like looking at amazing and beautiful things, this is a place for you!

Cell Picture Show.


Marcus was thoughtful enough to send me The Emperor of All Maladies, which I had meant to get months ago, but with everything going on, it slipped the brain. I was barely into the book, tears in my eyes, thinking “yep, yep, yep” and identifying with so much. It’s a truly riveting narrative, and it’s what the very best books always are – an opportunity to learn.

One thing which really struck deeply home was when the author talked about how it’s difficult to think of cancer as a thing, it’s more on the person side, and that’s so true. I don’t think of my cancer as random cells happily cloning and evolving at the expense of the rest of me; I don’t think of it as a nebulous disease; I don’t think of it as a thing. It’s more like you separate, and there’s a shadowy self staring you down, a dark charcoal swipe of a doppelgänger, challenging you to wage war for your life, and cancer cells are much better at the whole evolution business than we are, which is why you get poisoned and radiated to what feels like an inch from death. All that said, and given the recent nightmare of treatment, I found myself profoundly grateful for the current stage of medical and technological advance when I read this:

The sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré described charring tumors with a soldering iron heated on coals, or chemically searing them with a paste of sulfuric acid. Even a small nick in the skin, treated thus, could quickly suppurate into a lethal infection. The tumors would often profusely bleed at the slightest provocation.

Lorenz Heister, and eighteenth-century German physician, once described a mastectomy in his clinic as if it were a sacrificial ritual: “Many females can stand the operation with the greatest courage and without hardly moaning at all. Others, however, make such a clamor that they may dishearten even the most undaunted surgeon and hinder the operation. To perform the operation, the surgeon should be steadfast and not allow himself to become discomforted by the cries of the patient.”

I’d dearly like to be able to go back in time and smack the fuck out of Heister, and a host of others. Misogyny seriously sucks, and boy, is it ever present in cancer treatment. It’s certainly lessened a great deal, but it’s still more than present. Sigh.

Anyroad, highly recommended, for everyone.

ETA: Feeling better, got my anger and FUCK ITs back. Yeah.

Rats: Cooperative and Kind.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

The photo is from when my beloved Chester was terminal, and all the other rats took turns caring for him, keeping him warm and letting him know he wasn’t alone. has a couple of good articles up about rats:

Behaviour study shows rats know how to repay kindness.

Rats help each other out just as humans do.

Of course, none of this is news to those of us who are kept by rats.

There Just Isn’t Enough FUCK YOU.

Pastor Rich Vera of The Center for Revival and Healing in Orlando, Florida, has been mouthing off, much of it the usual “praise Trump” crap and “oh prosperity is a comin'”, but that wasn’t quite good enough, no. Let’s mention a couple of diseases, too, because that’s always good for getting the rubes attention, yeah?

Asked by Roth about his prophecy that the cures for breast cancer* and Alzheimer’s would soon be discovered, Vera asserted that Trump’s decision to move the embassy will be directly responsible for those discoveries.

“This is the most amazing thing,” Vera said. “What happened in Israel with President Trump proclaiming Jerusalem to be the eternal capital of the Jewish people, it is a significant thing in the spirit world because for him to be the man that spoke boldly to the nations of the world, he released a spirit that opened a portal for blessings to be released from Israel to the rest of the world.”

“When the president went—and I saw this in a vision—and proclaimed that on television,” he added, “there was literally a portal that opened up and it began to flush like a waterfall to America and we are about to experience prosperity like we have never experienced before.”

AAUUUUUGGGGGGHH, NO. NO, NO, NO.  Today, I was reading a post of Jen Gunter’s, about her attendance at a goop conference. The rapacious predators were loose there, too. I already have a good amount of anger over having cancer, and treatment, and the way people are, and so much fucking more, but today? Oh, the word anger is not sufficient. Not even fucking close. This shit is unconscionable, telling people that “hey, god’s gonna show with that cure, just hold on and pray now” or “ooh, love cures cancer!” Fuck every godsdamn fucking one of you nasty assholes who says or preaches such utter shit. Treatment for any disease is not fun; turning people away from it? How much more depraved could you get? Getting a kick out of stuffing your pockets as you play Death and prey on vulnerable people. Not enough fuck you. Not enough fuck off.

Of course, the two diseases singled out by Vera are common, and come pre-laced with a great deal of fear and horror, but that’s christianity all over for you, preaching fear, it’s the basis of their whole twisted religion. Fear, fear, fear. Bow down in fear, and Jehovah might cure you. Maybe. Probably not, but ya know…Of course, when you die, the preaching will be about “god’s” will and calling you home or whatthefuckever.

This sort of shit makes me beyond furious, all those who think it’s okely dokely to further burden people who already carry a massive burden on their shoulders; to blame people for having a fucking disease; to pick their pocket while telling them to have faith in whatever: god, nature, Goture, supplements, love, prayer, whatthefuckever. If you’re one of those hideous, evil people, shut your fucking mouth, and go sit in the damn corner. You’re a dealer in death, a carrion crow who can’t wait to start pecking eyes out. (No insult towards crows, they perform valuable services, unlike Vera or Goopers.) You deserve hate and loathing from every person on this damn planet, and if there were a god, I’d be cursing you with every bloody breath.

The whole thing is at RWW.

*And for those who don’t know, even breast cancer is not one specific cancer. Cancer is crazy complex, and it’s hundreds of diseases under one heading. If you want to help yourself or someone you know with cancer, get information from reputable, evidence based sources.