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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!

Debt: A New Form of IMF Imperialism

In his latest blog, Shyam examines the IMF and its role in contributing to increased levels of poverty internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

23rd July 2021

By Shyam

The COVID-19 pandemic came on the back of a fragile and imperfect recovery from the Global Financial Crisis. Worldwide lockdowns resulted in millions of people being pushed into poverty after losing their jobs. Meanwhile, governments around the world tried desperately to mitigate the effects on their economies. In an effort to re-stimulate their economy, 81 countries applied for loans from the IMF. 

The IMF

IMF

The IMF has always held a place of power amongst the international community. It labels itself as an advocate for sustainable development and growth. An organization looking to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor to create a world that promotes international trade and cooperation. However, since its inception, the IMF’s ulterior motives have been clear. It tries to trap developing countries into unequal trade relationships in order to gain control over their resources, democracy, and population.

After forcing countries (mainly in Asia and Africa ) into generations and generations of indebtedness, the IMF has free-reign to impose what they call “Structural Adjustment Policies”. These are severe austerity measures such as reduced public expenditure, mass production of cash crops, and devaluation of the currency in order to promote exports. These are especially effective in sponsoring capital flight and speculation from foreign investors. As a result, more than $100 billion is leaving emerging market countries, the most rapid case of capital flight in history.

For the few not the many

Countries that have imposed these measures in order to take out COVID-19 loans have only experienced rises in poverty, inequality, and disease. For example, the IMF mandated VAT on countries like Nigeria and Angola has been applied to everyday food products such as clothing and food, preventing the population from meeting their basic needs. Violent protests in Ecuador were needed in order to prevent the government from cutting back expenditure on healthcare and unemployment benefits. Throughout history, one thing has been clear: austerity measures are used to benefit the few, not the many.

What has become clear as we navigate through this crisis is that major financial institutions and the governments that back them don’t have the best interests of the world’s greater population at heart. Developing countries have fallen victim to debt imperialism. Now, to truly promote equality and development, major changes have to be made to the world economic system.

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!

Lord of the Things – The Best Things!

Otto takes an in-depth look into the best things you can own. Check it out!

30th June 2021

By Otto

What am I on about?

Lord of the Rings? No. Lord of the things? Absolutely.

In the past, I have written about the best beers in Bavaria, and I guess Bavaria just reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. I’m not actually the biggest fan of Lord of the Rings, however. So, I searched up what rhymes with Lord of the Rings and guess what came up: Lord of the Things. So, for you today I’m going to list some of the best things a person can have.

What is the best thing? That is a great question. To be honest, I have not the foggiest clue yet but I can certainly give it a go.

Board games

We have come to a point in our world that board games are slowly being removed from our lives. Isn’t that sad? I can attest that Monopoly has provided some of my best moments in life. I didn’t win a great deal, but I had a lot of fun. Isn’t that what it’s about? I think an old, dusty board game set with at least two homemade pieces is one of the most essential things in any home.

A bike

Aren’t bikes great? I think so. Like come on, it really doesn’t get much better than bikes. You can get around a city so quickly, with no traffic. Plus, they are so good for the environment. Double whammy! And let’s be honest who doesn’t love a bit of adrenaline when you hit a nice steep hill or a little hop off a small ledge. Bikes are just a lot of fun and extremely practical, plus a bike doesn’t even have to cost that much. Basically, bikes are great and that’s why it is on my list as one of the Lord of the Things.

A sense of humour

This is a maybe slightly more abstract one, but I really do feel like it’s one of the most powerful things in life. Just sometimes, try not to take things so seriously! I’m not telling you to not take life seriously when your boss tells you to do a very important job, but maybe when someone makes a slightly snide comment, you just simply brush it off and move on. Don’t get me wrong, stand up for yourself, but often getting your knickers in a twist really isn’t worth it.

Things

A good book

I know reading is not everyone’s cup of tea but just having that one book that you can return to after a couple years, and simply enjoy the hell out of, is such a great thing to have. I can only recommend you find that one book AND another positive is that it’s a great conversation starter for an intellectual conversation. 

All of these 4 are only suggestions. Obviously, everyone has or will have in the future when they find it, their special bits and bobs in life and I think that’s one of the most important things. Keep hold of you things dearest to you. Trust me.

OG

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