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Chapter 7 - A Fun Gambit

 

 

 

Before Charles and Alexandra found their new amusement of directing lives in new directions the club was getting a bit boring.  Their first idea was to have the animals suddenly turn wild and eat all the patrons. But that would wreck the place and it had taken months to build. 

That's the downside to playing a game with flesh and blood people.  

It took ages to knock down those old flats; then to have their buildings constructed, even 24/7.  The main delay had been in removing the tenants and the park protesters. It went a bit smoother after removing the ringleader, by having him arrested and disgraced for possessing kiddie-porn.  

But the club's become a great hit with the upper-crust and it's really fun to play with now. 

Most of the big end-of-town have become Seraglio regulars. The discrete gardens and alcoves have become the preferred place for negotiating kickbacks; hidden commissions; trading insider information; and collusion of all kinds.  The kids can listen-in and watch with interest but they seldom make use of the information, there's no need and they like people to get on with their lives unless they need to make a change for one of their gambits.

These 'gambits' can be enormously entertaining - better than watching an old movie - while waiting for the adults to return from and evening out.  For example, one night they had fun getting the Mayor of Urban high.  Initially it was just to try a new formulation of psychedelic rose petals in his Hookah, but a waitress took advantage of his aphrodisiac addled condition to secure his protection to avoid being sacked for fighting with another girl in the kitchen.

During the following days the waitress began alternately seducing and blackmailing him. And he became so besotted that he abandoned his Mayoral duties to join the her in the suburbs, where she hangs-out with an outlaw biker gang, Heaven's Devils.

Initially she delighted in having the Mayor at her beck and call.  But since his impeachment the waitress has tired of him,  and gone off with a dancer.

Almost immediately it began Charles had said: "Look at this, we've got the makings of a modern tragedy.  It's not Kama it's Carmen!" 

Alex giggled delightedly at this joke.

"We have to record this for your reality MV show.  We can use background music by Bizet!  How quickly can the NYGirls be taught some flamenco routines?"

But in real life it was going a bit too slowly and getting boring so they decided to destabilise the waitress with a message, through the waitress' VPA, warning that her days were numbered.

"She believes anything her VPA tells her. Now she is even more highly strung and irresponsible than before. It's like a death wish," Alex commented.

At the same time the leader of the Mayor's Moral Right Party was looking for the motorcycle gang clubhouse, where the ex-Mayor now hangs-out waiting in vain for the waitress to return to their love nest.  

Charles had the Moral Party Chairperson's VPA arrange for her to meet the ex-Mayor at the nearby candy store.

Charles has got it all recorded so far. 

"Can your NYGirls 'do' the Shangri-las?"  he asked Alex. "It's a girl group from 1964.  The song goes something like this: She met him at the candy store-or..." he sang, rather badly.

Alex was delighted at the idea, and his terrible singing. 

"That would be great!" she'd giggled.  "I love those 60's 'platter splatter' songs.  My NYGirls could do a medley of songs: 24 hours from Tulsa, Tel Laura I love Her,  Teen Angel, with a recurring riff from that classic Ode to Billy Joe."

So they directed the Moral Party Chairperson's VPA to coach her in what she should say, insisting that poetry was the way to his heart.  This was reinforced with a subtle musical background from Leader of the Pack to give her a sense of the rhythm and meter they want for the MV production.

"I don't want them to put you down, so please come back to the right side of town," she declared, on cue, to the subtle rhythm of her VPA's coaching.

Serendipitously, the Chairperson had always had 'a thing' for the Mayor and she broke down and sobbed the next line beautifully:

"They say you've been bad but I know you're just sad." 

Then she broke her bad news:

"The Party want me to find someone new, and I've come to say we're through." 

On cue, he stood there angrily and asked her:

"Why?" 

All she could do was cry. 

Although the ex-Mayor then relented, promised to give up his foolishness and return, in her heart she knows all hope for him is...

"Gone; gone; gone..." in sinking octaves

"It's a modern rock opera with real people living their real lives - not just actors.  Cool! It'll make great MV," declared Charles.

A day or two later Charles and Alex had agreed to babysit George again in the evening.

"It's in the can!" reported Charles, with elation.  "And the ex-Mayor's VPA has just informed him that he's won a ticket to a free meal and show at Seraglio,"

"What's more the object of his passion will be there too!  I've even changed her name to 'Carmen' and doubled her salary to persuade her to come back to her old job."  

"And I gave his VPA all those upsetting explicit visual and tactile recordings of his girlfriend's frolics with one and all, except him.  So he realises that his life has been ruined by his unrequited lust for that little tart," added Alex with delight.  "Now he knows for certain that she's been using him, amused and aroused by his besotted grovelling after her." 

"Yes, She's ruined his life simply to sate her passion to be desired; and for the delight of making him a slave to her whim.  He's bound to be there in a highly emotional state." 

"This is really fun!" declared Alex, forgetting her grammar in front of little Georgie.

Gran would not approve.  'But is 'fun' an honorary verb?' she finds herself wondering - the verb 'to fun'. Nope, doesn't work! Perhaps she should have said 'real fun' or 'really enjoyable'? Oh well...

"How can we stage it?" she wonders aloud, forgetting about setting a good example to George.

"I'm thinking lots of fog on the big dance floor, with just a hint of our new hallucinogen to make it seem surreal," says Charles.  "Dramatic lighting, strobing to the alpha rhythms. Big sound. The NYGirls squealing provocatively, ride in as pillions on 20th century motorbikes: Harleys clinging to their suitor guys, who are bare-chested except for leather biker jackets and tight pants." 

"Great!" Alex immediately starts designing the wardrobe. "The guys' hair greased back Bodgie style. The girls in tight tops and wide skirts that spin and ride up when they jive with the boys to show their little cotton pants and bobby-sox.  I'll start the choreography widget working out some rock-n-roll dance routines. You know, rolling across the guy's shoulders and shot between their legs. Obviously they all need to be hapticed-up so the fans at home can feel what it's like to ride a bike and do the jive." 

"And Carmen's new lover will have to be one of the boys," confirms Charles, as he hires him on the spot, via his VPA, for the gig. "I'll have him grab Carmen from the sidelines and incorporate her into the act as if it's unplanned.  Can your widget choreograph something highly suggestive for them?  You know, like an erotic ballet  pas de deux with simulated sex. And maybe we can have them rehearse together?  Tell them she's been selected for a new dance elimination context and he's the professional."

"This is going to be fantastic!"  Alex says: "But how will you make the ex-Mayor follow-through and complete the classical tragedy?  I'd love my NYGirls to sing that line at the end of the final scene:  gone, gone  gone..."

"I'm thinking that when the ex-Mayor comes in he will be given a table by the dance floor, from which he can almost touch the waitress and the dancer performing their erotic dance. I'll ensure that the other waitresses have told her that he's there, lurking in the shadows. She enjoys frustrating and mocking him so she'll put on a good show. I imagine she might even hold his eyes with her gaze as she performs."

"Great! He'll be out of his mind with jealousy, and we can put a little something in his drink to enhance his anger and sense of hopelessness. So now all we have to do is get them together with a knife. How can we do that?"

"I know! What if Carmen gets an order for roast beef to be carved at his table. Then she'll have to wheel it to his table, conveniently carrying a carving knife on her trolley," suggests Charles.

"Yes...  And she'll mock him, perhaps mimicking her recent dance performance, when she confronts him.  She won't be able to resist a taunt or two, she's addicted to the thrill of degrading him.  Her adrenaline levels will be up from the show and she's already living dangerously. The Tarot app she likes to play on her VPA has repeatedly dealt her the death card in all her recent games."

"And there we have it:  'Carmen a beautiful waitress stabbed to death by ex-Mayor', what a wonderful headline.  Business will boom at Seraglio afterwards."

"Neat!"

"The gambit is complete! I'm just locking-in the Mayor's last supper as a free man," confirms Charles.

"And I've just scheduled the world's first Real Life Snuff Musical to appear on my next NYGirls Sexperience reality MV spectacular," says Alex.

"What fun tonight's been!  Now Georgie it's off to bed - and I'll read you some more Alice Through the Looking-Glass."

 

 

 

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Travel

Cambodia and Vietnam

 

 

 In April 2010 we travelled to the previous French territories of Cambodia and Vietnam: ‘French Indochina’, as they had been called when I started school; until 1954. Since then many things have changed.  But of course, this has been a region of change for tens of thousands of years. Our trip ‘filled in’ areas of the map between our previous trips to India and China and did not disappoint.  There is certainly a sense in which Indochina is a blend of China and India; with differences tangential to both. Both have recovered from recent conflicts of which there is still evidence everywhere, like the smell of gunpowder after fireworks.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Australia in the 1930s

 

 

These recollections are by Ross Smith, written when he was only 86 years old; the same young man who subsequently went to war in New Britain; as related elsewhere on this website [read more...].  We learn about the development of the skills that later saved his life and those of others in his platoon.  We also get a sense of what it was to be poor in pre-war Australia; and the continuity of that experience from the earlier convict and pioneering days from which our Australia grew.                   *

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Chemistry of Life

 

 

What everyone should know

Most of us already know that an atom is the smallest division of matter that can take part in a chemical reaction; that a molecule is a structure of two or more atoms; and that life on Earth is based on organic molecules: defined as those molecules that contain carbon, often in combination with hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen as well as other elements like sodium, calcium, phosphorous and iron.  

Organic molecules can be very large indeed and come in all shapes and sizes. Like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle molecular shape is often important to an organic molecule's ability to bond to another to form elaborate and sometimes unique molecular structures.

All living things on Earth are comprised of cells and all cells are comprised of numerous molecular structures.

Unlike the 'ancients', most 'moderns' also know that each of us, like almost all animals and all mamals, originated from a single unique cell, an ova, that was contributed by our mother.  This was fertilised by a single unique sperm from our father.

This 'fertilisation' triggered the first cell division. These two cells divided; and divided again and again; through gestation and on to birth childhood. So that by the time we are adults we've become a huge colony of approximately thirty seven thousand billion, variously specialised, cells of which between sixty and a hundred billion die and are replaced every day. Thus the principal function of a cell, over and above its other specialised purposes, is replication. 

As a result, the mass of cells we lose each year, through normal cell division and death, is close to our entire body weight. Some cells last much longer than a year but few last longer than twenty years. So each of us is like a corporation in which every employee and even the general manager has changed, yet the institution goes on largely as before, thanks to a comprehensive list of job descriptions carried by every cell - our genome.

Cell replication is what we call 'life'.  The replicating DNA molecule can therefore be regarded as the 'engine of life' or the 'life force' on Earth.  So it is quite a good thing to understand. 

 


What makes us human?

Different animals and plants have different numbers of genes and chromosomes that together make up their genome.  Many are far more complex than humans.  The 32 thousand  human genes are organised into 23 pairs of chromosomes within each of our cells.  But the protein-coding genes, that differentiate us, form only a fraction (about 1.5%) of the instruction and memory data that is stored in DNA. The remainder, coding for other aspects of cell chemistry, seems to be administrative overhead.

When human girls are born, they have about a million eggs in each of their two ovaries, nestled in fluid-filled cavities called follicles. But this number declines quite rapidly so that it is depleted by the time of menopause (usually before 50 years of age). Unless fertility treatment is in use, just one or sometimes two of these (apparently randomly selected) ova descends from the ovaries each menstrual period - down the woman's fallopian tubes where it (or they) may become fertilised if the woman has recently engaged in coitus (had 'sex').

As in vitro fertilization (IVF) demonstrates every day; we now understand that a unique version of your father's genome was injected into your mother's egg by just one of his millions of spermatozoa. So that when the two genomes merged a doubly unique cell, that became you, was the result.

Our genes, that are encoded in their DNA, come in equal proportion from both parents.  Unless we have an identical twin, resulting from division of the zygote (see below) after fertilisation, each of us is genetically unique; our genetic identity determined by that successful fertilisation. 

 

 


Human Reproduction - Click here to Expand

 

Within our species we are said to be of Caucasian or Asian or African appearance, to have dark or fair complexion and so on, and possibly to bear a ‘family resemblance’.  These traits are due to the particular gene variants we have inherited from our parents.

These have been passed down to us, with regular variations, from parent to child, and through many ancestor species, since life began on the planet. And all plants and animals on Earth belong to a single family because we all inherit the same system of reproduction from one original replicating cell, our last universal common ancestor (LUCA) 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.

 


Replication

The DNA molecular structure resembles a zip fastener, where each tooth can be any of four molecular bases.  The bases G-C and A-T are each small organic molecules that at one point are covalently bound to a triphosphate (containing three phosphorous atoms) and a sugar group that binds them in a ribbon.  At their free end Guanine is attracted to Cytosine, with triple hydrogen bonds, and Adenine is attracted to Thymine, with double hydrogen bonds. 

In the following notation: black = Carbon;  blue = Nitrogen;  red = Oxygen; white = Hydrogen.   Bars joining them indicate a covalent bond, an electron shared between the atoms.  A double bar indicates two shared electrons.   

 

  Cytosine (C4H5N3O) has a shape that attracts (fits)   Guanine (C5H5N5O) 


but not  Thymine (C5H6N2O2)  or   Adenine (C5H5N5), that attract (fit) each other.

 

Each of these bases is bound to a ribbon of  sugar molecules and at its other end lightly bonds to a matching base on the other half of the 'zipper' such that when it is 'unzipped' each attracts its opposite number (like magnets attracting the opposite pole) thus recreating a new matching half in the same sequence.

 


DNA replication. 

 

This unzipping and reforming is called self-replication. It is going on continuously in all living things as new cells are created to replace those that die. In an adult human around three quarters of a million of our cells divide every second.  This cell division is the process we call organic life and may continue (usually briefly) after we are legally (brain) dead.

Other chemical mechanisms within the cell translate the genetic information stored in the DNA sequence to manufacture the proteins from which new cells are built and differentiate themselves, organising to become our various organs and to thus arrange themselves to form a human; and not a gorilla or a crocodile or a kola or a rose or a cabbage. The human genome project had now identified 32,185 human genes.

Accurate reproduction is very important to the viability of an organism.  Just as: 'WOLF' does not have the same meaning as 'FOWL' the location and order of sequence G-A-T-C within a particular DNA string (chromosome) will result in a different outcome to the sequence C-A-G-T .   And this difference will influence cell structure and purpose:   'The wolf eats the fowl' has a totally different meaning to: 'The fowl eats the wolf'.

This method of storing and reproducing instructions and data is twice as efficient as the binary method we presently use in electronic devices.  For example the binary processor in your computer or reading device requires each character in in each word in this sentence to be encoded in two bytes (each of 8 characters or bits).  In other words 16 ones and zeros are required for every character on this page (eg 'a' = 0000000001100001) and a similar number for each pixel in a simple colour image.  But DNA can encode the same information (sufficient for every unique character and symbol in every language in the world) in just eight characters.

There are a fraction over 3 billion characters in the human genome (3,079,843,747 base pairs).  In computer terms this is equivalent to about three quarters of a gigabyte of information storage. The same data is stored in the nucleus of each of our cells.  This is in nuclear DNA, before taking into account separate, but smaller, storage in each of the mitochondria (see below). 

A 'gig' isn't much you might say (less than $1's worth) but the actual data storage density is in excess of anything offered by our present electronic technology.  Cells are a lot smaller than the chip in a memory stick - there around a billion cells per cubic centimetre in hard tissue.

This also points to another reality.  Had not this replication chemistry been available, and the conditions for the reactions been just right, life could not have occurred in its earthly form. 

Life relying on another replication method that was say binary would be at a disadvantage and would have to use different replication mechanisms.  If there was a chemistry, at different temperatures and chemical concentrations, allowing say six base pairs it would be different again.  We and our cousins (the other animals, plants and other organisms) that are all descended from the original replicating cell (LUCA - see above) are here because the conditions on Earth were and are just right for our kind of life to prosper.

Elsewhere in the universe it may be different.

 


Gene Mapping

Genes are just patterns of chemical molecules that are held within the replicating DNA mechanism.  The way they are encoded onto DNA can be likened to any other mechanism for copying and recording data: a DVD or even a vinyl record or the memory in this computer.  As a result they can be altered or damaged from time to time and some of these variations are successfully copied into subsequent offspring.  If they are particularly advantageous to survival and reproduction these changes, or mutations, rapidly spread throughout the species, so that over tens of thousands of years, individuals successful in one environmental niche are so different from those successful in another that a new species has formed (followed by a new genus, family, order, and so on). 

This process of periodic differentiation has been likened to the branching of a tree but because of the activity of bacteria and viruses and residual DNA that may be reactivated as well as limited cross-species reproduction  (for example Humans and Neanderthal) it is no longer believed to be quite that simple.

DNA encodes the instructions for creating each cellular colony, defining each species, and each individual within a species. DNA changes over time in such away that each change is a development on previous generations. So it is possible to trace DNA ancestry back through generations of a particular species over time.  For example, DNA studies are increasingly shedding light on the questions around human origins. 

Most animals, including humans, carry two types of DNA.  Our main genome is carried by the chromosomes in the nucleus of each of our cells. This comes from both our parents. The secondary genome, mtDNA, is carried by bacteria-like organelles within each of our cells, that convert sugars for cell energy, called mitochondria. These are all cloned (reproduced by asexual division) from the mitochondria that were within the original egg cell provided by our mother.

Cells may contain from one mitochondrion to several thousand mitochondria depending on species and cell differentiation.  As a result this is the predominant DNA found in a cellular sample.

So our mtDNA comes only from our mother; in turn from her mother; and so on and mtDNA allows us to map the female ancestral line.  This original egg cell was fertilised by a sperm from our father (sperm do not contribute their mitochondria). Once fertilised, the egg cell then divided repeatedly, differentiating in accordance with the coding instructions in our DNA, into the many cells that form the cellular colony that became 'us'.

Males are differentiated from females by a Y chromosome in place of one X. So sons can only inherit this from their father (like their family name in our culture) and periodic mutations in the DNA of the Y chromosome allow the (actual) male ancestral line to be traced back.

As a result of this work we now know that humans on the planet are all descended from a single group that left Africa less than 70 thousand years ago. 

Recent DNA analysis shows that early humans sometimes interbred with the Neanderthal; a separate hominid subspecies that left Africa much earlier and settled in the Middle East and Europe over quarter of a million years ago.

It's amazing to think that we have only understood it within my lifetime. Now the ancient view that people grow from a seed, provided by their father, and gain the spark of life at 'conception' from a god is totally debunked. So throw away all those ancient texts.

 


Viruses

Viruses have been around since life began but they are 'of life', they are not technically 'alive' because they cannot themselves reproduce. They are extremely small - about 70 microns in diametre - and until the invention of electron microscopes in the 1930's their existance had only been inferred. 

To create copies of themselves they need a host cell with the necessary reproductive mechanisms. Over the millennia viruses have evolved the necessary mechanisms to penetrate cells, much like spermatozoa, and inject their DNA or RNA and capture the host's replication mechanisms so that the infected cell begins manufacturing thousands of virion (virus particle) clones of the invader. These then capture other nearby cells in the host animal or plant; or in similar bacteria.  Huge numbers of infected cells are usually destroyed in the process, sometimes killing the plant or animal.

 

Coronavirus particles (yellow) on the surface of a dying cell (that produced them)
Niaid/National Institutes of Health/Science Photo Library (from 
https://www.newscientist.com)

 

But animals plants and bacteria have become familiar with this threat and have in turn evolved means of dealing with or living with viruses to the extent that some are exploited for the benefit of the host.

In turn viruses evolve new strategies to perpetuate their reproduction. Thus new viruses arise from time to time, sometimes jumping from one species to another when an opportunity arises.

Many animals, including humans, have an immune system that has a memory of harmful viruses and means of neutralising them. Thus, once the animal has been infected and survived, the chances of reinfection are reduced.  Vaccines work by presenting our immune system with a harmless sample that allows it to recognise a particular harmful virus.

Since I first wrote this article the World has suffered a new viral pandemic.  It is a novel corona virus for which we have no established immunity and there is no vaccine.  At the end of June 2020 the Covi-19 virus has already killed half a million people.

It is estimated that this virus will no longer find sufficient vulnerable hosts to spread further after infecting around 70% of the populations in which it is spreading.  It has a case fatality rate of just under 1%, that is, of those who catch it just under one in a hundred die.  

Quarantine restrictions are in place in many countries to protect relatively uninfected areas, with local measures to eliminate 'hot spots'.  But the majority of the world's population, in excess of five billion, are in countries in which it is presently spreading.

Unless a vaccine is available soon it seems inevitable that many millions more will be killed.  The economic consequences are also dire.

 

 

 

 


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