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.

Stealing Fire.

 Black kites (Milvus migrans) circle near a roadway during a fire on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. Credit: Dick Eussen.

Black kites (Milvus migrans) circle near a roadway during a fire on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. Credit: Dick Eussen.

Grassland fires that are deadly and devastating events for many kinds of wildlife are a boon to certain types of birds known as fire foragers. These opportunists prey on animals fleeing from a blaze, or scavenge the remains of creatures that succumbed to the flames and the smoke. But in Australia, some fire-foraging birds are also fire starters.

Three species of raptors are widely known not only for lurking on the fringes of fires but also for snatching up smoldering grasses or branches and using them to kindle fresh flames, to smoke out mammal and insect prey.

How amazing is that?! You can read and see more at Live Science.

The Seven Forbidden Words…

Evidence-Based, Science-Based, Vulnerable, Transgender, Diversity, Fetus, Entitlement.

Evidence-Based, Science-Based, Vulnerable, Transgender, Diversity, Fetus, Entitlement.

Unfortunately, this is not at all like George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. Instead, the words Science-Based, Evidence-Based, Vulnerable, Transgender, Diversity, Fetus, and Entitlement have been forbidden in use of official CDC documents prepared for next year’s budget. So, we have a good idea of what the amoral regime is looking to ignore completely when it comes to funding. This is not good. Not good at all.

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans,” HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd told The Washington Post. “HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”

The question of how to address such issues as sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights — all of which received significant visibility under the Obama administration — has surfaced repeatedly in federal agencies since President Trump took office. Several key departments — including HHS, as well as Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development — have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

In March, for example, HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people.

HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department’s Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.

The Washington Post has the full story. Yet another stone dropped on top of us, ensuring our slide down into a pit of devastating ignorance.

Earthworm Pavilion.

Nature Concert Hall is an interactive, educational multi-media event on nature and sustainable development held each year in a different location in Latvia. Every year is curated with a particular species as its “mascot” and Didzis Jaunzems Architecture was asked to base this year’s pavilion on the earthworm.

The architects responded with a structure designed to tell the story of the earthworm and its underground world. Three openings cut into the pavilion imitate worm-holes, while the sinuous patterning on the dark background reflects the creatures in their subterranean habitat.


“After the event there are absolutely no marks of the event that happened at the site day before – a completely empty and clean floodplain is left, contrary to the garbage-covered fields that are left after any other traditional festival,” added the architect.

The various elements of science, visual art, music, and dramaturgy included in the festival work holistically to tell the story of the earthworm in nature, ultimately aiming to not only give visitors new knowledge about nature, but to also motivate them to take action for environmental protection.

You can read all about this fascinating project here, and there’s video! Have a wonder filled wander.

Vincent van Gogh’s Dead Grasshopper.

Vincent van Gogh, “Olive Trees” (1889) (all images courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art).

There’s a grasshopper in the van Gogh. The artist didn’t intend to embed the critter in his canvas when he was painting olive groves in the south of France, but the insect is there, buried in a swirl of paint. For over a century, it went unnoticed in the finished work, “Olive Trees” (1889), now owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but a recent study by the museum’s curators, conservators, and outside scientists has revealed its old, brown carcass. It’s a small but telling trace of van Gogh’s practice of painting outdoors, where conditions were often windy enough to send flies, dust, sand — and, apparently, crickets — blowing around the artist and his canvas.

Image taken through a microscope of the grasshopper embedded in the paint of “Olive Trees”.

You can read all about this at Hyperallergic.

The Day After.

It’s the day after pain clinic, and I have the best pain people ever, they take great care of me, and it’s always nice to see them, tell stories, and catch up. For all that the visits are good, the days after aren’t so grand. I’m having trouble sitting, and I hate taking pain meds so early in the morning, so I’m going to wander off and have a very quiet day not sitting. I’ve reached the ‘Spirits of Malice’ section of The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters, by Scott G. Bruce, where monks have given in to writing more salacious accounts of the undead, so that will keep me occupied.

I’ll leave you with a forensic account of someone who was in considerable pain prior to a vicious killing blow, a young Danish Medieval Warrior. A summary is at Medievalists, the full paper is available from Scholars Portal. I’ll see you all tomorrow. I think.

Digital Humanities.


First, What Is Digital Humanities?

Humanity (and not just the humanities) mediated through the largest extant body politic. A global vehicle (and personal prosthetic) for containing what it is to be human and humanist–within and without the academy.Robert Long.

Digital Humanities: the creation and preservation of extensible digital archives to document, and tools to interact with, material culture.Robert Whalen, Northern Michigan University.

A fluid term to describe a variety of practices applying and theorizing the intersection of technology and humanities questions.Amy Earheart.

There’s more. Much more.

Introduction: In the decades following the onset of the Index Thomisticus project, medievalists were often early adopters of the digital, and continue to play an important role in the development of a broader field, which came to be called digital humanities. This field took other forms and names during its emergence and subsequent development: humanities computing, humanist informatics, literary and linguistic computing, digital resources in the humanities, eHumanities, and others.

These competing alternatives, among which “humanities computing” had long been dominant, have only recently made place for the newly canonical term “digital humanities,” which today is rarely contested. “Digital humanities” is generally meant to refer to a broader field than “humanities computing.” Whereas the latter is restricted to the application of computers in humanities scholarship and had narrower technical goals, the former also incorporates a “humanities of the digital,” including the study (potentially via traditional means) of digitally created sources, such as art and literature.

DH is therefore profoundly multidisciplinary and attracts contributions from scholars and scientists both within and outside the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. Digital humanists have taken care to define themselves in an inclusive rather than exclusive manner. As a result, the term “digital humanities” connotes a greater sense of integration than the diversity of approaches that are sheltered within the “big tent” of DH and that are also reflected in the contents of this supplement.

You can read more at Medievalists, and that article led me to a full open access issue of Speculum! Some very good reading there, including The Digital Middle Ages: An Introduction.

Challenging Oxford: World’s Oldest Zero.

Bakhshali manuscript – image courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Science Museum.

An international group of historians of Indian mathematics challenges Oxford’s findings around the age and importance of a manuscript thought to contain the oldest known zero.

Last month, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University announced that a Sanskrit manuscript housed in the library for the last century had been dated using radiocarbon techniques. Oxford’s radiocarbon dating laboratory announced that the three of the birch-bark folios of the Bakhshali Manuscript could be dated to roughly 300 CE, 700 CE and 900 CE.


An international group of historians of Indian mathematics has now challenged Oxford’s findings.

The team, which includes scholars from universities in the USA, France, Japan, New Zealand and the University of Alberta in Canada, has published a peer-reviewed article that refutes several of the Library’s key assertions.


The international team ends its article with a plea to Oxford University’s Library that important and complex scholarly topics should be published through established academic channels involving peer-review, and not through sensationalizing press releases to the media.

Medievalists has the full story. Also see The First Zero. The article in the journal History of Science in South Asia.