Sunday, 24 January 2016


I braved the rain and lighting to visit the Australian Museum this week to hear a presentation by passionate amphibian specialist Dr Rowley.

She has recently discovered some unusually beautiful species unknown to science in the mountain forests of Cambodia, such as the Thorny Tree Frog with its delicate pastel pink underbelly. The males grow spines it is believed to impress lady friends. 

The Samkos Bush Frog is equally notable. It may look like an ordinary green frog but has green blood and turquoise coloured bones - a possible defence against malaria infection. 

The Vampire Flying Frog is another find by Rowley's team. The species gets it name from tadpoles which display strange fangs unlike anything seen in Frog World before. 

The tadpoles are notable also in that they are found in waterlogged tree hollows without any apparent source of food. Observation led the scientists to discover that mother Vampire frogs return to the hollow to feed their babies by laying unfertilized eggs for them to consume (quite different from the popular understanding of non-mammals as lacking maternal instinct). This diet is the likely reason for the fangs, which allow the tadpoles to grip the eggs. Neat!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


I attended a discussion of Kant at the State Library, which I very much enjoyed though I am not a keen admirer of his work generally and his ‘categorical imperative’. I do think the ends justify the means in certain situations. However, I like Kant's emphasis upon the importance of the use of individual reason.

I am afraid he would be very sorry to see the modern world. Many of us enjoy enormous freedoms and access to information unfathomable to our 18th century ancestors yet the following speech is probably as relevant today to as it was then from Kant's perspective. Translated into more modern phrasing it would make an excellent Facebook rant!

'An Answer to the Question: 'What is the Enlightenment?'' - Konigsberg in Prussia, 30 September, 1784.

"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!

"Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me. The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous.

Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided. Now this danger is not in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls. But an example of this kind is intimidating, and usually frightens them off from further attempts. Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt. Dogmas and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse) of his natural endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity. And if anyone did throw them off, he would still be uncertain about jumping over even the narrowest of trenches, for he would be unaccustomed to free movement of this kind. Thus only a few, by cultivating their own minds, have succeeded in freeing themselves from immaturity and in continuing boldly on their way."

Saturday, 2 January 2016


Happy new year! Each year I make my resolutions and write them down in the front of my diary - and I very often achieve all of them, because I’m like that (painfully conscientious a la Hermione Granger). 

There is a change this year in that one of the foremost amongst them is to be ‘smaller’. By which I mean to look down, occasionally, from the lofty goalposts to delight in the small things. For example, my present of a perfectly preppy watch that matches my perfectly pink nails and the perfect perfume wafting upwards Hermès Un Jardin après la Mousson, a recreation of a forest after rain.
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