Archive for January, 2016


Take the case of two patients. Both are stung by bees. One develops severe allergic reaction and the other develops no aftereffects other than the pain that accompanies of being stung. It does not happen by random but because one has an immune system to be impervious to the bees. Similarly we see in two plants of the same species. One is attacked by insects, one not. On an individual plant, some leaves get eaten, some not. This doesn’t happen at random, but is caused by the fungi that live within the leaves and roots of the plant.

Survival strategy of different species shows how the wellbeing of one is dependent on many factors severally spread about and not in the concerned species itself. Thus it makes sense whatever fine-tuning species do to maximize their own Natural selection.

Plants being stationary being rooted to the soil must rely on the soil itself and not in themselves to fight depredation. It is in these area fungi serve as their bodyguard.

Every plant has fungi and bacteria that live on its surface (called epiphytes) and within its tissues (called endophytes).

If the stem is still attached to its roots then the number of species would easily double. The roots contain lots of endophytes and a separate group of fungi, called mycorrhizas. These fungi grow into plant roots and form a symbiotic relationship in which the fungus donates nutrients (principally phosphate and nitrate) to the plant, in return for a supply of carbon.

So both endophytes and mycorrhizas can be thought of as plant bodyguards, where both partners benefit from the association. The fungi gain refuge and resources, while the plant gains a natural pest protection system. The challenge is to exploit this natural system in agriculture and horticulture. However, these sorts of fungi are rare in crop plants thanks to years of fungicides, fertilisers and plant breeding, and modern crops have far fewer natural fungal partners than their counterparts in the wild.

We need consider ‘ecological specificity’ in nature operates. Under which plants seem to select the fungi that will provide them with maximum benefit. If we’re to use this in agriculture, the challenge is to find the “right” combinations of fungi that will provide crops with protection against pests and diseases. For example, there is a separate group of fungi, called entomopathogens, that kill insects. These fungi can also live within plant tissues, meaning that if an insect eats an infected leaf, it ingests a killer fungus.


The fungal internet

The chemicals produced by all of these fungi travel throughout the plant. Some fungi in the root can change the host plant’s chemistry to keep marauding insects largely at bay, which may well be one reason why cultivating a rich soil full of useful microbes can lead to reduced pest problems above ground.

Other mycorrhiza (root) fungi can change the chemical makeup of a plant’s leaves, and we have found that these chemicals can attract parasitoid insects to give another level of defence – they can reduce insect growth by making leaves less edible, while simultaneously helping the plant to call parasitic insects that attack the herbivores.

Perhaps even more exciting is how fungi network and link many plants together. The mushrooms you see above ground are simply the fruiting bodies of a larger organism below the surface, composed of thread-like material called mycelium.

Each mycelial thread (a hypha) has a structure like a drain pipe. When plants are attacked by insects, they produce alarm chemicals that are transported to neighbouring plants through this pipe network. Unattacked plants respond to these alarm signals by producing chemicals to ward off an impending attack.

This may be why “no-dig” gardening is thought by many to produce healthier crops than commercial agriculture, where this “fungal network” is continuously disrupted by ploughing.

Plants and fungi do not exist in isolation, but instead form a cooperative in the war against insect pests. Even better is that the fungi are perfectly edible – if you had a salad recently, you’ll have plenty of endophytes within your stomach right now.

(Ack: How Plants Rely on Fungal Bodyguards- The Conversation of Jan. 28, 2016-Alan Gange/Professor of Microbiology, Royal Holloway)


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Let me first take up the Euler’s theorem or Euler’s Identity. It is an equation as neat as Einstein’s e=mc2 and in the words of Prof. David Percy of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, it was “a real classic and you can do no better than that … It is simple to look at and yet incredibly profound, it comprises the five most important mathematical constants.”

Euler’s Identity is written simply as: e + 1 = 0

The five constants are:

  • The number 0.
  • The number 1.
  • The number π, an irrational number (with unending digits) that is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is approximately 3.14159…
  • The number e, also an irrational number as π . It is approximately 2.71828….

But the weirdest thing about Euler’s formula—given that it relies on imaginary numbers—is that it’s so immensely useful in the real world. By translating one type of motion into another this equation has application in real world. π and e are deeply related, but in a very weird way, as adventures of Alice after falling through the rabbit hole.

Such irrational events that Alice experienced are in a dimension perpendicular to the world of real things—a place measured in units of i. The square root of –1, which of course doesn’t exist. Mathematicians call it an imaginary number.

Because Alice shows effects from obeying instructions ‘Drink me or Eat me’ down there is in literal sense while in real world what one faces is no less embarrassing as losing face or feeling small. In short our existence is the axis around which both irrational and real world make their claims on us, even if it is only limited to a nightmare. This equation is all pervasive in human affairs where an element of irrationality is in-built.

We cannot multiply a number by itself to produce a negative number anymore than we can repeat a dream by our will, The letter i is therefore used as a sort of stand-in to mark places where this was done.

The Queen of Hearts in the Lewis Carroll’s story might order about but Alice holds the ultimate authority and when she asserts it shows what is wrong with the authority of the Queen. She is only a number in the deck of playing cards.

e + 1 = 0

In the Euler’s Identity Alice is the constant 1. As seen earlier her place in the equation makes the pother and the strange procedure of the trial of the Knave of Hearts as zero another constant!

The beauty of the Euler’s theorem is that it has a transcendental quality of human existence where a person or an event (represented by the number 1) can undo all the carefully orchestrated Power Games of nations to mean nothing. Even while Austro-Hungarian monarchy or Dual Monarchy was lording over the ethnic minorities of the Balkans little did it realize a single event like assassination of the Archduke of Austria (1914) would bring down the empire like a pack of cards!

Similarly all that the Great Britain had amassed as a maritime nation, with colonies stretched into far corners of the globe (The Sun will never set on their empire’) shall with two Great Wars evaporate.(the constant 1 can represent both Great Wars as one set)




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Pi can be used to describe the geometry of the world.” says Chris Budd of the University of Bath in the UK, “We have to calculate it to very high precision for modern technology such as GPS to work at all.  He also has to add this,”I tell my students that if this formula doesn’t completely blow them away then they simply have no soul,”

The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle‘s circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter “π” since the mid-18th century. . It simply describes how the circumference of a circle varies with its diameter. The ratio of the two is a number called pi.

The mystery of Pi is the relationship an integral part on a two dimension can have with the whole. For example  Area of a circle can be calculated in which we know PI is a constant :A=πr2. This constant does not lose its power a whit even while we need think of the circle in another dimension. For example a sphere: Area of a sphere A=4πr2

This being the case doesn’t this constant speak of its mysterious hold past the dimensions in which we consider the circle? Suppose we introduce Man into this circle does it not define his position in terms of the circle as a shape? The Vitruvian Man with which we associate da Vinci, has Man with outstretched arms inscribed in a circle. Human activities thus are within circumscribed circles where the constant PI holds true.

Pi is roughly 3.14, but not exactly: pi is an irrational number, meaning the digits go on forever without repeating and never repeating itself. This continuity is the flux that has a relevance to the whole. Let us look at history itself. Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars  writes about the people of Helvetii. These tribes finding they were constrained geographically and ever in a conflict with their Eastern neighbours had to do something. They decided to search for better territories to settle down. They burnt down their villages and fanned out. This diaspora put all the European tribes agog. Each tribe wanted a piece of the action. It is thus man is seized by a constant that has been built in,- and must explain the stuff history is made of. We consider history is made by man but there is a constant which never repeats itself since all the nations are all drawn into the pull and push of the general equation. Pax Romana thus will never repeat as was before neither will caliphate as was in the middle ages.


The first six digits of pi are 3.14159. It is called pi because π is the first letter of the Greek word “perimetros” or perimeter. But it was not the ancient Greeks who first discussed the value of pi. About 2000BC Mathematicians in the Babylonian Empire, had already figured out that pi was about 25/8, or 3.125. By about 1700 BC, in the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian mathematicians calculated pi to be about 3.16. Archimedes calculated that π was a little bigger than 3.1408 while the Chinese mathematician Liu Hui had calculated that pi was 3.141 (Ack: Wikipedia, quart.us/ BBC-earth/Melissa Hogenboom-20 January 2016)


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La Belle Époque in ultimate analysis reveals no substance or a constancy of national character but an acute elevation of senses. This would be reflected in the works of JK Huysmans(Á Rebours) and of Proust (Á la recherche du temps perdu). This upbeat mood was steadily dissipated in the light of events that convulsed entire Europe. It was a mood that a man about town would feel after a satisfying night out, before confronting dismal circumstances awaiting him at home. A brief respite it gave Parisian, a hope that emerging industrial and technological advances would lead to richer, happier life. But by the 1910s much of that promise had vanished. As poet, philosopher Paul Valery put it, our civilization had found that it was mortal. While the delicate Marcel Proust stood on the balcony of the Ritz to watch the German planes strafe Paris a young priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was serving as a stretcher bearer of the trenches. He would write home that the front was ‘the extreme boundary between what we already know and what is still taking shape.’

The north and western suburbs of Paris were the motor city of the day. There were 600 car manufactories in France and 150 different makes – not just the emerging giants of Peugeot and Renault, but long-forgotten treasures like Berliet and Delaunay-Belleville. Delaunay-Belleville, which operated from what is now the high-immigration suburb of Saint-Denis, made limousines for Tsar Nicholas of Russia. France was the world’s biggest exporter of cars, and there was pride, but no great surprise, when the racing driver Jules Goux won the 1913 Indianapolis 500 – in a Peugeot.

France led the way in the skies. Bleriot crossed the channel in 1908, and in 1913 the sportsman Roland Garros – later (after his death in combat in the last month of the war) to give his name to the tennis stadium in Paris – completed the first ever crossing of the Mediterranean. And in cinema, invented, of course, by the Lumiere brothers two decades before, France vied with the US for first place in number of films produced – more than 1,000 every year, made by names still familiar today like Gaumont and Pathe.

Modernity was the moving spirit. It was the time of the machine. The city’s last horse-drawn omnibus made its way from Saint-Sulpice to La Villette in January 1913. From the top of the Eiffel Tower, built 35 years earlier like a symbol of the coming age, a mast had recently been erected, beaming radio waves into the ether.

Advances in Science and a new understanding of the nature of time and space would enable artists and writers to break the mould and experiment as Gertrude Stein did with language. As an art movement cubism entailed a new way of looking at things. In Paris Pablo Picasso and his friend Georges Braque would take the lead. Instead of painting things as they appeared to a single pair of eyes at a single moment in time, they painted things from a variety of possible viewpoints, creating a shifting world of abstract space. In the words of the late art historian Robert Hughes, the cubism of Picasso and Braque, created in the years running up to the war, was every bit as modern – and indeed part of the same destabilising intellectual movement – as the contemporary forays of Einstein into the secrets of relativity.

The speed of change, the rise of technology over craftsmanship, the frenetic search for new modes of artistic expression, as one avant-garde was overtaken by the next (and let’s not forget that 1913 was also the year in Paris that Marcel Duchamp presented his first “readymade” – a bicycle wheel on a stool – making the point that anything is art if you say it is), all this must have worked its way into the collective subconscious, creating a feeling that matters were accelerating out of control. It was indeed so. Just as the ideals of 1789 went out of control in the Commune of 1971 while the social changes merely created new class system and inequalities the spirit of optimism of the Parisians was backward looking than in the future.


Institutions would not escape the blight that had eaten into the vitals of  the republic. The Church, the Army and Politics were at odds with one another, which would bedevil the Third Republic till the Nazi Germany marched into Paris on 14 June 1940. These six weeks it took the brown-shirts to claim control of Paris showed the lie of La Belle Époque: it had lost its will. The setting up of the Vichy government under Marshall Philippe Petain was the coup de grace given to the nation that could never come to grip with ideals for which they fought the Great Revolution.

(Ack: Hugh Scofield-BBC news Paris/magazine- 7 Jan, 2014 (2) Wikipedia

(3)Eugen Weber-Paris La Belle Epoque/ NGC-July 1989)


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In order to have an insight as to how thin a veneer the cultural capital wore and its splendid cosmopolitan joie de vivre with which it dazzled every visitor, one need understand its denizens itself. The intellectual ferment the city carried was no more a mask than the narrow provincialism it concealed: the masses were held in check by their fractured social affiliations. Of the many institutions there was nothing to cement these into one. The Right, Centrist, the Left, anti-clerical and anti-monarchial all these on the petri dish of national politics were manifestation of provincialism, each vying with one other. It would reveal itself periodically in startling fashion. L’affaire Dreyfus for example. The many newspapers each representing its narrow interests made them all the more fractious.

Despite the Great Revolution of 1789 and adopting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the nation was haunted by monarchial ambitions for which the Right and the Church had insidiously worked; the Army also had its secret clubs to promote their own narrow interests. Such divisiveness would lead ultimately to the collapse of the republic. Apart from these there was a shadow of the Man on the Horseback, some military adventurer literally emulating the Eagle. The glory days of Napoleon had given the Army a hapless duty to preserve the gloire at any cost. In the unjust framing of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, the role of the Army would prove to be a dubious one. France was a divided nation and its social structure carried over the thrusts and retreats of various institutions, like a body seeking its balance by a fever of sorts. For the bourgeoisie the intellectual life of Paris was distant and far removed from their own realities.

The French are noted for their Gallic spirit. They were volatile, energetic and ever unruly. There were lots of peasant and urban revolts under the ancien regime but these did not break into a sustained conflagration as it did in 1789. When their ire was up their cruelty would surpass anything, as in the case of the storming of Bastille. In this they would capture the hapless governor whose head they cut off with a pocket knife and would impale on a pike. The guillotine was touted as humane capital punishment (like ‘a cool breath on the back of the neck’ according to its inventor, Dr. Joseph I. Guillotine). Its claim however was lost in the many thousands of victims needlessly sent to death in a general atmosphere of savagery and blood lust.)

Being volatile their attention from pressing issues of the day wandered and did not mend matters.

The city was a hotchpotch of separate quartiers, each insulated from one other from which inhabitants seldom ventured forth. A cab ride cost about the equivalent of a workman’s daily wages, and the poorer you were, the more quartier bound you were likely to be; many a workman’s child grew to adolescence before World War I without getting out of Ménilmontant or Belleville. In the movie Les Enfants du Paradis there is a scene in which Garance relives to Baptiste (whom she had just met) her indigent youth in Ménilmontant. Along the way pointing to it she adds, ‘(At fifteen) anyone who has grown up too fast doesn’t stay alone very long.’ Only alternative for girls like her was to become a demimondaine in the city of Paris.

Prostitution was all pervasive for girls with no means of family, talent or support. Young men fared no better. Those who dared to break the restraints of the provincial life needed entirely an altogether temper to make it rich in the city of Paris. Most commodity a yokel could bring along was his stolidity of his forebears and those who jettisoned all those values and relied on wits made it to the top like Balzac’s character Eugene de Rastigniac. The other side of the coin bears the image of Lucien Rubempré.

As Balzac would say, ‘….The streets of Paris have human qualities… and some of them like the Rue Montmartre are like mermaids-lovely heads, but fishtails at the extremity.’ The fashion of the City of lights dazzled and at the other end dirt roosted permanently. Not only when servants throw peelings and offals out the windows to annoy the concierge but in the general lack of amenities. The sordid haunted all sides of life. At the time of the Revolution the Place de la Bastille,on the edge of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was then a warren of tenements, craft shops all fetid with unwashed men and women while at the Palais Royale, its arcades and apartments filled with bistros, gambling and bawdy houses. Here the 30,000 prostitutes plied their trade among its 650,000 inhabitants. The model of the bourgeois apartment house of that is the centre of Zola’s Pot-Bouille, reveals no taps or sinks, let alone lavatories.

( Merle Severy-The Great Revolution/NG-July 1989)

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Paris was the cultural capital of the world. As Thomas Jefferson would qualify it ‘the second home of every cultured person. Is culture of any part distinct to be a beacon to every man who may have cut his teeth in the cultural milieu of his own corner under the sun?’ The difference may be illustrated in simple terms by the manner Parisian artists discovered Japanese art.

In about 1856 the French artist Felix Braquemond first came across a copy of the sketch book Hokusai Manga at the workshop of his printer; they had been used as packaging for a consignment of porcelain. In 1860 and 1861, black-and-white reproductions of ukiyo-e were published in books about Japan. Baudelaire wrote in a letter in 1861, “Quite a while ago I received a packet of japonneries. I’ve split them up among my friends …”. In 1862, La Porte Chinoise, a shop selling various Japanese goods including prints, opened in the rue de Rivoli, one of the most fashionable shopping street in Paris, and counted numerous artists from this art circle, like James Tissot, among its clients. This craze would lead to an art movement that we know as Impressionism. Whistler who was a frequenter of the salons of artists in Paris would introduce it in England. Such dissemination of Japanese art to all across the globe cannot happen by some fluke. Take music for instance: Maurice Ravel, saw the Indonesian Gamelan at the world fair in Paris and was inspired by its relaxed pentatonic sound. He did write some pieces for a full Gamelan and was forever influenced (Fray Hackbarth/quora.com). One need consider elsewhere in Europe the trends in music were becoming either loud ( shall I say ‘Wagnerian’?) or continuing the prevailing romantic style as was in the works of Brahms. French composers would resist such schism since in their fertile genius the use of pentatonic scale was more renewing and to the point. Whatever they did, carried their own stamp and it made a point. Thus they would set new trends after their own fashion. In short the world saw its own cultural heritage transformed and made altogether new. What was made in Paris sold across all the corners. Period.

Balzac was right: the city was the thinking voice of the world.

There is only one culture and each nation makes a part of it, and emotionally places hedges around it but holds nothing in their expression that can satisfy their intellect. Paris is where reverse is true. Besides the novelty of Japonism or Oriental music after having artistically elevated into a new mode, what else was there? Paris in short was the prism that can bear every colour of the spectrum.


Art in Paris as in the case of impressionism shall set the trends and la Belle Époque indeed showed it to its glorious best. If we continue we can well see the explosive colors and pictorial aberrations of the Fauve were not an anachronism but reflecting the moods of the times despite its surface glitter and gaiety. In 1905 it created furore when Salon d’Automne exhibited a room full of Matisse, Deraine, Marquet, Vlaminck. (A leading Fauvist spoofing critics who were enraged by the canvasses of the wild beasts(les fauves) used a donkey to create a canvas,’And the Sun set over the Adriatic-and it sold for 400 francs at an avant-garde show.) Victor Hugo’s dictum holds true: literature is civilization itself.’ Art was no exception reflecting the nation careening towards a catastrophe. The city exuded the national angst despite its thinking voice, and its own divided soul never fully recovered from the days of Revolution.

(To be continued)


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Paris, in Balzac’s words ‘is a sentient being’. If you need understand its sense of being one need only have entered into one of its houses in the early nineteenth- century Paris. Different classes and degrees of affluence might well be housed in the same building; only a subtle hint clued you in: higher you climbed you were entering a world of its own something out of Dante’s inferno. For every casual visitor again to quote Balzac, ‘Paris is still the same monstrous miracle, as astounding assemblage of movements, machines and ideas, the city of thousand different romances, the world’s thinking voice.’

Paris in the fin de siècle for all the restless movements must not have imagined it was standing on the rim of a crater and the beguiling way of living was merely a mood; despite swirling in a whirligig of ideas and fads the city would soon be swallowed up by the events of 1914. As such the good old days of Paris mark socially as well as culturally  a distinct social phenomenon called La Belle Époque.

France had much to be proud about. The nations industrial, scientific and cultural advances would be showcased by the International Exposition of 1900 and the Eifel Tower was its jewel in the crown. A million visitors ascended the Tower, which was completed 11 years before, all blissfully forgotten of its scathing reception during its erection (‘A ghastly dream’ it was called in 1887; Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the tower’s restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris where the tower was not visible.)

On April, 14,1900 at four in the afternoon a balloon rose from the Tuileries Garden while 15,000 Parisians watched the cameraman who filmed the city for the coming Cinéorama, to be screened at the Exhibition that was due to open on the Left Bank.

The city was remodeled in the 1850s during the Empire Days by Baron Haussmann and had survived great many upheavals since then( the Commune of 1871 and Metro, whose first line opened to coincide with the Exhibition) and was the pleasure ground for two and a half million people. Symptomatic of the grand vision of the city everything was gigantic: the Ferris wheel 350 feet high, could carry 1,600 people at a time; The President of the Third Republic threw a party for 20,000 of mayors who were served by waiters on roller skates. The guide to the Exposition called the century ending ‘the most fertile in discoveries, the most prodigious in sciences’, that the world had had known and it spoke of a revolution in the economic order of the universe.’

In summer 1913, a party of San Francisco boy scouts passed through the city, and Le Figaro newspaper ran a survey – what had struck them the most?

Apart from the monuments and the gardens, they loved the trees lining the streets, and the general cleanliness. They thought the red trousers worn by soldiers most impressive, but it was odd how many young men wore moustaches and how many women smoked.

They loved the way policemen still wore swords, the dog barbers by the Seine, the glorious outdoor cafes. At the opera, one young American stared at the women “pivoting on their high heels, offering a fine view of their resplendent gowns and jewels”. This was Paris on the eve of war. Just doing what it did. Typical of the city, a thinking box, merely skirted the past, living for the moment. (Balzac quote is from his novel-Ferragus)( To be continued)


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