A mirror held up to who we are

Wow. Tom Björklund has been making these amazing paintings to humanize Neandertals. Here are a few examples:

It doesn’t take much — a father teaching his child, a flower in the hair — to wrench one away from the usual distanced view we have of dead bones and stone tools. These were people.

I’d like to see a similar approach to australopithecines. We can see emotions in a chimpanzee — you know that Lucy had just as rich a repertoire of feelings as they do. We can only imagine how they expressed them.

On Netflix: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Urglegurgle. I’m trying to prep a lecture on synapse formation, and just discovered that Herzog’s amazing film about Chauvet cave is available…so I’m trying to scribble up technical notes on molecular biology while getting constantly distracted by 32,000 year old cave paintings. It’s good to live in the 21st century, but I think my brain is getting full.

(Also on FtB)

Illustrations that make you want to read the book

OK, this is no fair. This is an illustration for an alternative history novel, a book about World War I as fought between biotechnology (Darwinists) vs. industrialists (Clankers).


Now I really want to read Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I’m unfamiliar with the author, I have only the vaguest notions about the content of the book, but I just put it on my Amazon wish list for that picture alone.

Shouldn’t it be called “The Great Wall of Vulva”?

It looks like I missed my chance — I think this place was only a few blocks from the hotel where I stayed in Brighton a few weeks ago. An artist has put together a montage of 400 casts of women’s personal bits, called The Great Wall of Vagina. It’s impressive and rather pretty.

You know, I’ve been planning some research on natural variation in populations, and I’ve been looking into variation in limb morphology as an easy assay…but man, I’m looking at that and thinking there’s an even bigger reservoir of natural varieties right here in the human population. Somebody ought to do a study on that — preferably with a multigenerational sample and sibling comparisons to to see how much of it is heritable. We’d need to develop some standardized metrics, though, and it would probably be a much bigger project than I could handle at this point in my career, not to mention the strain it would put on the eyebrows of the human research review committee.

I did take a quick scan of the research literature, but only came up with this one source that mentions the paucity of research in this field.

Howarth H, Sommer V, Jordan FM (2010) Visual depictions of female genitalia differ depending on source. Med Humanit 36(2):75-9.

Very little research has attempted to describe normal human variation in female genitalia, and no studies have compared the visual images that women might use in constructing their ideas of average and acceptable genital morphology to see if there are any systematic differences. The objective of the present work was to determine if visual depictions of the vulva differed according to their source so as to alert medical professionals and their patients to how these depictions might capture variation and thus influence perceptions of ‘normality’. A comparative analysis was conducted by measuring (a) published visual materials from human anatomy textbooks in a university library, (b) feminist publications (print and online) depicting vulval morphology and (c) online pornography, focusing on the most visited and freely accessible sites in the UK. Post hoc tests showed that labial protuberance was significantly less (p<0.001, equivalent to approximately 7-14 mm) in images from online pornography compared to feminist publications. All five measures taken of vulval features were significantly correlated (p<0.001) in the online pornography sample, indicating a less varied range of differences in organ proportions than the other sources where not all measures were correlated. Women and health professionals should be aware that specific sources of imagery may depict different types of genital morphology and may not accurately reflect true variation in the population, and consultations for genital surgeries should include discussion about the actual and perceived range of variation in female genital morphology.

Somebody get to work on this! The artists are beating the scientists to the data!

The focus so far has been on the perception of the female genitalia, but it seems to me the really interesting question is in the source of these amazing variants.

Irish Catholics denigrate Hispanic Catholic artwork


University College Cork is hosting a small academic event featuring the work of Chicano artists, which includes an art exhibition that includes irreverent images of the Virgin Mary, with titles like “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas”. Apparently, this image has stirred up fury and threats from deranged Catholics everywhere it goes — but then, it really doesn’t take much to set off mindless fanatics.

Irish Catholic bloggers are outraged and calling for it to be taken down — you aren’t allowed to denigrate beliefs, they claim, never mind that yes, you are, and that there isn’t anything particularly denigrating about the image. But of course, there is a poll.

Should an exhibition like this be allowed to take place in UCC?

Yes 60%
No 40%

By the way, if you want more weirdness, check out America Needs Fatima. This is an American organization that thinks that the way we’ll solve all of our problems is by putting a statue of the Virgin Mary in every home and getting everyone to worship it.

Christian barbarians

The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban was a clear example of the destructive power of religious intolerance — it takes a religious mind to turn the demolition of art into a virtue. Now we have another example of extremism attacking art: Catholic fundamentalists in France have destroyed Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.

On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.

But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

I don’t want to hear another word from Catholics about my destruction of a mass-produced cracker. Their extremists use violence and the destruction of private property to deface a work of art in a museum.

It’s not even a particularly anti-religious work — that luminous golden glow is as reverential as the bloody, gory, suffering Christ figures mounted in Catholic churches all around the world.