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Moby Dick: The Most Interesting and Boring Book*

Published in 1851, Moby Dick tells the tale of a man named Ishmael, and his adventures on the Pequod, a whaling ship teeming with detailed characters. The captain of the ship, Captain Ahab, is obsessed with hunting Moby Dick, the ‘white whale’, which had bitten off his leg on a previous voyage. The novel deals with themes of obsession, nature, solitude and religion. Moby Dick has rightly become a sturdy pillar of the American literary canon. (*- that I’ve read)

By Boris

The Author

Herman Melville, born in 1819, wrote Moby Dick following five years at sea, three of which he spent whaling. He died forty years after having published Moby Dick in 1891, leaving four children. He was born and raised in New York City. Eager to find work, he set out on the St Lawrence, a merchant ship, and almost immediately fell in love will the sea.

While he had a wife, Elizabeth Knapp Shaw, Melville had eyes for Nathaniel Hawthorne, another writer (of Scarlet Letter fame). In one letter, Melville writes:

‘you have sunk your northern roots into my southern soul’.

Ooer.

The Opening

The novel starts with one of the most notable opening sentences in literary history, ‘Call me Ishmael’.

(From the editor: the meaning of this stark opening is hotly debated. In the bible, Ishmael is the son Abraham and Hagar, a slave woman. Ismael was banished to roam the wilderness and perish. This his life was spared by the miraculous appearance of a well. Ishmael is generally regarded to be less important than his half brother Isaac – although both have the rare claim of having started two of the major world religions. I read this opening as a dismissal of identity; if you must give me an identity, it may as well be Ishmael for the tale I have to relay is far greater than my identity. Back to Boris…)

The Novel

Ishmael recounts wandering the barren wastes of the seas (just as Ishmael wandered the wilderness), and the fatal journey of the Pequod, of which he is the last survivor.

Before setting off to get down and kill some whales, Ishmael spends a few nights with Queequeg, a tattooed man from the fictional island of Rokovoko, who joins Ishmael on the Pequod’s voyage, and in his bed. Removed from the first publication in London for non-Christian values, Ishmael and Queequeg embrace each other on a cold night and declare themselves ‘married’. Ishmael later describes his voyage as their ‘honeymoon’. Rather unusually, Queequeg fades in importance throughout the book, until he becomes ill and declares that he will die imminently. However, after sleeping in a coffin for a couple nights, he’s right as rain.

Unfortunately, shortly after Queequeg recovers from his illness, he is killed, along with most of the crew, when the Pequod is ‘stove in’ by Moby Dick and sunk.

In a frenzy of ‘monomaniacal’ obsession, Captain Ahab orders the remainder of the crew to set after the whale. They pursue him for three days, until Ahab harpoons him, getting tangled in the line and he promptly dies.

While the plot of the novel is relatively simple, Ishmael’s intense philosophical musings, combined with Melville’s extensive knowledge of whale biology, fill out the meat of the book. (If you like meat, check out this blog on meal deals)

Why should read Moby Dick

While I have just revealed most of the plot in the passage above, I’m sure you, a most learned reader, already know the outline of the novel. However, Melville’s writing is an adventure of itself.

In one passage, he discusses the whiteness of Moby Dick and how that ‘appalls’ him. This heavily figurative and poetic passage was one of the many delights of reading the novel, Melville constructs a novel argument and expands it with flair.

In addition, Melville’s whole chapters describing the process of whaling, the categorisation of whale species or the dismemberment of a whale carcass offer an insight into the extinct brutality and martial nature of 19th-century whaling. Melville uses Ishmael’s perspective, a novice in whaling, to parallel with the reader; both Ishmael and the reader are learning together.

Why you shouldn’t read Moby Dick

I’m going to be honest; this book is not for the faint hearted. At times, it can be a real slog to get through. At over 206,000 words, this novel is no light read.

The lengthy descriptions of naval tradition and the anatomy of a sperm whale head may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I certainly didn’t enjoy Father Mapple’s sermon, which managed to span multiple chapters and didn’t really amount to anything at all.

Despite the (extreme) boredom many readers will experience at certain parts of the book, it truly is one of the best books I have read. It offers many insights into religion, views on race and my personal favourite, marine biology.

For those of you too busy or not brave enough to tackle this tome, I would recommend In The Heart Of The Sea (2005), which tells the story of the Essex, the sunken ship and subsequent struggle of the survivors which inspired Moby Dick.

Thank you so much for reading, I’ve been Boris!

Old School Hip Hopkins

Austin returns with more of his witty insights and off-key remarks, this time on the deportation of Katie Hopkins from Australia. Austin offers a potted history of Hopkins’ run-ins with just about ever faction of society and looks at what her future might hold.

By Austin

The Hopkins Headlines

Everyone’s favourite bigoted, racist, fat-shaming fool Katie Hopkins is to be deported from Australia for bragging about flouting hotel quarantine rules. That’s right, you heard me correctly; in the midst of a global pandemic, with millions dying each day, Hopkins shared an Instagram video of her in Sydney joking about putting frontline staff at risk.

Even by Hopkins’ standards, this is disgusting. However, given Hopkins’ track record, this will not come as a surprise to anyone.

Hopkins was in Sydney as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother Australia. Since the footage she posted on Friday, her television contract was terminated after she breached visa conditions and brought the Seven Network into disrepute.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was not helping any of the Australian stereotypes when he commented:

Hopkins deported - comments from Barnaby Joyce
Barnaby Joyce

“I’ve got no problem sending home someone who wants to flout our laws. You want to flout our laws, then you pack your bongo and get out of the country.”

BARNABY JOYCE, AUSTRALIA’S DEPUTY PM

It would seem the Katie Hopkins’ bongo is not helping her to drum up any positive support (ba-doom-tsss). Her actions have been met with widespread condemnation and caused a great deal of pain to a great many people.

Hopkins and the Australian Celebrity Visa

Katie Hopkins is just one of a string of celebrities who have touched down in Australia during the pandemic. Zac Efron was the first, then Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and George Clooney just to name a few. It would seem that amid the pandemic, Hollywood best and brightest are fleeing down under to what they see as a Covid-free idyll.

Celebrity sightings in Australia (“Aussiewood”) have skyrocketed

In a country that has largely eradicated the virus, celebrities arriving are free to enjoy beaches, bars and nightclubs at their whim, all thanks to their celebrity visas.

Most of the celebrities are allowed entry to the country for work, with a view to stimulating Australia’s economy. The Australian government have used generous tax breaks to tempt over major film productions, like the next Thor film.

However, to many Australians, this is a kick in the teeth. While yes, there has been a dramatic increasing in celebrity sightings in what has been dubbed “Aussiewood”, there are still 40,000 Australian nationals that have been stranded overseas since the country shut its borders a year ago.

With Australians camped outside Heathrow and other major airports around the globe, Katie Hopkins’ remarks have highlighted the sheer hypocrisy of the Australian celebrity visa system. She has cemented any previous accusations of different treatment for the rich and famous compared to ordinary people.

Is this a first from Hopkins?

The short answer is, no. This is the woman who called immigrants “cockroaches”; the woman who said dementia patients shouldn’t be allowed to “block” up hospital beds; the woman who was prevented from leaving South Africa in 2018 for spreading “racial hatred”. The Mirror had the ingenious idea of blaming her racial hate speech on her having taken ketamine (Hopkins sued).

With someone as consistently outrageous as Katie Hopkins, some of her biggest offences often get swept under the carpet. So, because I am such a lovely person, I thought I’d compile some of her worst outbursts. In no particular order:

Manchester Bombings

Following the Manchester Arena bombings in 2017, a whole host of celebrity and media figures gathered around the city to show support to victims and their families. Katie, however, had other ideas.

She jumped on the event as an opportunity to spread Islamophobic hate speech, declaring that the country needed a “final solution” to terrorism. After the comment had reached the Metropolitan Police, she claimed the comment was a typo, and that she meant to say a “true solution”.

Hopkins on Muslim families

It would seem Hopkins has a penchant for Islamophobia. In December 2017, Hopkins was forced to apologise to the Mahmood family for completely arbitrarily calling them extremists. Hopkins thought she knew better than the US Border Force and published a story in the Daily Mail claiming that the reason they were denied entry to the US to go to Disneyland was because they were terrorists.

To make such an accusation with no evidence shows Hopkins up for the nasty piece of work she really is. Whatsmore, the Daily Mail were forced to pay out £150,000 in libel charges, so they were fuming as well (poor Jonathan Harmsworth boo hoo!).

Gaining and then losing weight

As part of the career-long war she has been waging against the overweight, Hopkins produced a documentary in 2014 in which she gained and then lost weight. She claimed that fat people were nothing but lazy. She said that she could not ever employ a fat person because “they look lazy”. God only knows what sort of opinions she holds on meal deals.

In a sneering, exclusively derogatory tone, the documentary (if you can even call it that) saw her put on three stone before losing it again. If you can move past the abhorrent prejudices that plague the footage, there are some frankly hilarious scenes where Hopkins attempts to act.

Hopkins on baby names

Probably her most famous comment was on baby names on ITV’s This Morning. She told presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby that “you can tell a great deal from a name”. She went on to say that she would not allow her children to play with lower class children with names like Tyler or Chardonnay.

“For me, a name is a shortcut of finding out what class a child comes from and makes me ask: “Do I want my children to play with them? When I hear screeched across the playground: “Tyler! Come back ‘ere.” It’s the Tylers, the Charmains the Chantelles, the Chardonnays.”

Katie Hopkins, ITV’s This Morning, 2013

After admitting that she judges children based on their names, she reeled of a long spiel about her deep-rooted hatred of children with geographical names. It was then pointed out that one of her own children was called India. Needless to say, Schofield and Willoughby had the last laugh. (The first person to tell this reference is in the decablogs instagram dms wins an extra special prize!)

Conclusion

Katie Hopkins has made a career out of spouting drivel, yak and blether. Her abhorrent remarks, which the BBC has rather politely called “right-wing commentary” have landed a great deal of attention of social media platforms. And, despite being banned from Twitter, she continues to haunt news headlines.

Her cockup in explaining her philosohpy on baby names, I believe, show us what here raison d’etre really is. Her half-baked beliefs are contradictory and massively offences – they deserve no place in 21st-century society. Yet, it is by angering people that she remains in the limelight. She was being ratioed before there was a word for it. A beacon of hate, she radiates her cancerous opinions with the sole aim of accruing wealth and infamy.

From her earliest days as a contestant on The Apprentice UK in 2007, she has been followed by a wake of allegations and court cases. This blog is exactly the anger her comments are designed to provoke. One of the joys of writing for a blog that only has three or so readers is that I can write like without furthering her career.

I’d like to finish with a fun fact about Katie Hopkins. As it stands, Katie is the only person to have won the Campaign to Unify The Nation (CUNT) lifetime achievement award.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, check out some of our other posts, or get in touch via instagram.

P.S. Put your favourite Katie Hopkins quotes in the comments below.

Tardigrades: the cuddliest extremophile

Biology correspondent Boris Irish is a man of his word. As promised, his latest post is a who’s who of all things tardigrades. Two parts fascinating, one part bloody hilarious, Boris takes us on a riotous tour of arguably the most extreme extremophile. Enjoy!

What are Tardigrades?

Small, resilient and amazing. I know what you’re thinking… famed blogger and style icon Boris Irish, of course. (oh stop it [Boris blushes]). While that may be true, the subject of today’s post is tardigrades; possibly the hardiest creatures on this Earth.

One of eight feet belonging to one ‘slow stepper’.

But, these animals are no strangers to harsh conditions. When faced with hostile conditions, tardigrades stop or slow their metabolism, entering a state known as cryptobiosis. More on that later.

Tardigrades have the ability to shed their skin. So, they have been placed within the superphylum Ecdysozoa (Ek-Di-So-Zo-A) along with arthropods and roundworms. By shedding their skin, tardigrades give themselves more room to grow and lay their eggs. When infants hatch, it has every one of its cells; to grow, its cells will simply get bigger, not divide.

They feed mainly on algae, inverting their throat to suck up individual cells or pierce through the cell membrane and wall of plant or animal cells. (don’t worry not your cells). Some feed on other poor tardigrades. (it truly is a tardigrade-eat-tardigrade world out there). Though that doesn’t really have the same ring to it. Their bodies are simple, short and fat. Plus, they have eight legs, each with claws or suction cups attache. But, this has not hindered the tardigrades’ ability to survive all five mass extinctions throughout Earth’s history.

An adult tardigrade leaves behind its eggs in its old skin.

Hungry Tardigrade copping an algae meal deal

How have these animals been able to survive more than 450 million years?

It’s partly due to their ability to enter a state of cryptobiosis and withstand the harshest conditions. Under study, one species endured temperatures of 1 Kelvin for several minutes; one at 151 Centigrade for the same amount of time; another at 6000 atmospheres of pressure; a further surviving impacts of almost 900 m/s; another going 10 years without water and yet another species surviving 5000 Grays of gamma rays, when 10 would kill a human.

When faced with these conditions, tardigrades shed almost all of the water contained in their bodies, entering the so-called ‘tun’ state. In this ‘tun’, the tardigrade does not move, it does not eat, it barely lives. The organism will stay desiccated until it comes back into contact with water at survivable conditions. This ability to enter a form of biological stasis, to stop its clock essentially and wait out the harsh conditions is remarkable.

A tardigrade in a ‘tun’, note the shriveled body shape due to the loss of water.

These fascinating creatures can truly be an inspiration to us all, when the going gets tough, sometimes you have to take five minutes, relax and keep going. They can be found in almost every moist environment, be it the Himalayas, the bottom of the ocean, Antarctica and even the moss on the pavement. Remember, you’re never too far away from a tardigrade.

Thank you very much for reading, and keep an eye out for more exciting articles!

For more on tardigrades, click here!

Cephalopod Intelligence: Actually Not That Dry

In his astonishing debut blog, Boris digs down into the nitty gritty details of cephalopod intelligence – a topic I’m sure is on everyone’s mind. To learn more about the adaptations of squids and octopuses, their prehistoric origins, and what the heck a cephalopod even is, read on Macduff. Whether you’re a complete biology novice or Sir David Attenborough himself, you are sure to find something fascinating in this post.

28th June 2021 (Tau Day!)

By Boris

In the animal kingdom, certain species exhibit extraordinary abilities; from the tardigrade’s ability to survive many extreme conditions to the pistol shrimp’s method of stunning prey with 210 decibel weaponised bubbles. Also, Keep your eyes peeled for a blog on tardigrades!

Invertebrates vs. Vertebrates

But, in regard to intelligence, the vertebrates reign supreme. The humans, great whales, corvids – don’t confuse with a certain pesky virus – and even the manta ray all show prowess in the skills which make up ‘intelligence’; be it memory, problem solving, tool use or a high level of sentience.

Cephalopod - The Manta Ray
Manta Ray

The Manta Ray (Left) has the largest brain of any fish, explaining its ability to recognise itself in mirrors, a feat few animals can perform.

Despite the vertebrate’s general superiority in the intelligence department, one group of invertebrates has bucked the trend. 

The Cephalopod: A Dark Horse

#1 The Mimic Octopus

Cephalopod - The Mimic Octopus
The Mimic Octopus

The cephalopods (squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and the nautilus) all exhibit unparalleled intelligence in the invertebrate world. The Mimic Octopus (Right) copies the behaviour of flounders, jellyfish and lionfish to ward off predators.

#2 The Broadclub Cuttlefish

Conversely, the Broadclub Cuttlefish is able to rapidly change the colour and patterns on its skin to transfix and hypnotise its prey.

Cephalopod - The Broadclub Cuttlefish
The Broadclub Cuttlefish

The application of intelligence to escape predation or catch prey is unimpressive when compared to the quasi-human behaviours of some cephalopods. 

#3 The Humboldt Squid

Cephalopod - The Humboldt Squid
The Humboldt Squid

The Humboldt Squid, an aggressive pack hunter, has been seen communicating with members of its own species by showing certain patterns and colours on its skin, expressing emotions of anger, fear or the desire to mate. These predators can grow to two metres and there are tales of their attacks on humans.

#4 The Common Octopus

Cephalopod - The Common Octpus
The Common Octopus

The Common Octopus, which I am sure has made its way onto many of your plates, is capable of fun. Scientists have seen them pushing objects towards currents, catching said object and repeating this process. The capability and need to keep one’s mind occupied is a significant marker of high intelligence, few animals have shown this characteristic to this extent, especially not invertebrates.

#5 The Blanket Octopus

The Blanket Octopus can use tools like the torn-off tentacles of the Portuguese Man-Of-War. The octopus grasps the base of the tentacle, devoid of stinging cells, and presents the venomous section to potential predators. In addition, the Blanket Octopus is extremely sexually dimorphic, with females of the species getting to 2 metres, and males barely reaching 2.4 centimetres.

Cephalopod - The Blanket Octopus

Cephalopod Brain Structure

The science behind cephalopod intelligence is complex as the structure of their brains is incomparable to vertebrate brains. Firstly, a majority of the neurones present in a cephalopod are not clustered in a brain. Instead, they are spread out amongst their eight arms.

These neurones, while still connected to the brain, are relatively independent. This allows the arms to perform complicated tasks on reflex, without any hinderance to the central brain.

Secondly, the structure of the cephalopod brain is downright alien. The optical lobes of the brain are enormous compared to the rest of the brain, the squid’s axon-controlling muscle contractions in the body are so large they visible to the naked eye. What’s more, the oesophagus passes right through the middle of the brain.

Why is the Cephalopod brain so smart?

But why? What is the use of these smarts? Why did these creatures ditch their hard shells and exchange them for big brains and camouflage?

As Molluscs, cephalopods are soft bodied, much like their relatives slugs and snails. And just like snails, cephalopods once possessed a hard shell, allowing them to protect their soft interior. They were also able to fill chambers in their shell with gas to give them buoyancy.

Where did the Cephalopod saga all begin?

Cephalopod - Pre-historic Octopus

Then, their predators adapted stronger jaws and rounded teeth to crush these shells, leaving the cephalopods and their predators in an evolutionary arms race, 470 million years ago.

Through gradual mutation and subsequent natural selection, some cephalopods internalised their shells and diminished their size, allowing them to provide structure but removing any gas chambers.

Without these shells, the cephalopods became Coleoids. The Coleoids diversified as they could now explore deeper waters and move much faster. The groups that survived are the octopuses, squid and cuttlefish.

In my opinion, it was their increased intelligence, which had to evolve due to their lack of a shell, which enabled them to compete and make it into modern day.

In Summary

Cephalopods are bloody clever. The EU (the Brussels tentacles themselves) passed a law in 2010, prohibiting the scientific testing on cephalopods without anaesthetic. Moreover, Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book Other Minds has brought the subject of their brains and psychology tomany humans, and I would strongly urge you dear readers to give it a read. 

Thank you for soldiering on to the bitter end. If you liked this blog, please get in touch via our instagram  or email and let me know what you think.

Keep a close eye out for upcoming blogs including What Are Tardigrades?

I’ve been Boris – tarrah!

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