Best google searches leading here

"How to drink Duvel"

"Why is Malta so conservative?"

"Seacucumber culture map for Albania"

"Middle East feminism graphs"

"Her suit began inflating"

"Anichkov penis horse face"



I grimaced slightly as I heard a harsh voice raised against my personal assistant. This was not going to be an easy meeting.

I stood as he barged in, an impressive specimen of a man, perfectly symmetrical features blemished only by the flush of anger, a face that still looked in its mid-thirties despite being well over 90. "Welcome to the Roberts Clinic", I smiled and inclined my head.

"I know where I am, I own the damn place!" snapped Roberts. Contempt flared in me but I didn't bite back. the endowment wasn't a purchase, but it was bigger than my pride.

"What the hell did you do to my son!"

It was not a question.

Roberts slammed his fist on my desk, and shouted into my face. “I paid for perfection, and you screwed up!”

“Please Mr Roberts, take a seat”. I sat down, and flicked on the relaxant. Technically it was illegal to use the oxytocin aerosol to modify someone else’s mood, but things were getting out of hand. Besides, I justified, really I am using it to help control my own emotions.

Roberts took a deep breath and sat down. He swiped his fingers down his sleeve – the latest smart-fabric – and flicked an image off, to hover above my desk. “Do you see what this is?”

I already knew. Junior’s transcript from his first year at the Helú Business School. A row of Bs and a C.

“Mr Roberts, these are not the best grades, but I don’t understand why you are talking to me rather than the Dean at Harvard.”

“I paid you for perfection! A two billion dollar investment buys me the perfect son. You said that my cloned cells would have all the genetic imperfections removed, but clearly you screwed up!”

Clinically detached I noticed the slight distortion around the edge of his face. He really should avoid scowling if he wants to hide his age, the stem cell restoration works a treat with skin epithelium, but doesn’t restore those peripheral facial nerves - most people wouldn't notice, but it was a tell to an expert.

“I assure you Sir, Junior is genetically perfect. Every mutation known to give even the slightest risk of disease was removed, every genetic advantage we could give him physically or intellectually was added. Although, honestly, he had such great genetic material to start with that we didn’t need to change much". I was pandering shamelessly - we had had to fix a hypomethylated repeat sequence that would have increased the risk of early-onset dementia. I still shuddered at the effort it took to develop CrispR-dCas9-DMNT1 to methylate that repeat without causing widespread epigenetic pollution.

Mollified, he leant back, the anger ebbing from his face. As he shifted, his eyes flickered to the wall. Instantly his rage returned. “What the hell is that!”, pointing to an iron plaque on the wall.

He bounded out of his chair and tried to rip the plaque from the wall, but the neodymium clasps held. Merde! I’m so used to virtual meetings I hadn’t thought twice that today he’d be seeing my office in the flesh.

“I pay two billion for the Roberts clinic, and you take my money while sitting here with the ‘Mayo clinic’ getting all the credit! This comes down today!”

“Okay, I’ve have it moved. Sir, I know Junior has struggled with the transition from school to college. These grades aren’t great, but he’s got the potential, he just needs to work.”

Roberts took a step towards me, his finger wagging in my face. “I paid for a genius, you guaranteed me a genius and he’s just average. You screwed up, and I’m going to hold you responsible. I’ll sue the hell out of you and the clinic if you don’t fix this.”

The arrogant bastard. I took his cells, made a perfect clone and tolerated nearly 30 decades of erratic abuse at board meetings, and he blames me for his kid’s grades! Without thinking I stood too.

“Look, Roberts. Genetically, that kid has more potential than Einstein. He should beat every child of his generation without trying. But you know what, it takes more than golden genes to be a genius, and he’s failing because of you! You raised a spoiled little self-centered brat who runs to daddy crying for a hand-out. You think that geniuses are born? No, they are nourished by intellectual engagement and inspiring examples, and all this kid had to look up to was a blow-hard father and private tutors paid to give him complements!”

Roberts swung wildly at me, the rage of a man who had never had anyone yell at him since his own father had passed along the family fortune. I made the security gesture and Roberts crumpled to the floor, instantly unconscious. An image of our head of security leapt up above my desk. “Isabella, please have Mr Roberts removed, and pass along the datastream to the authorities”.

A fifty year career at the Clinic over, I’d have to resign for sure. Worth it though. I could probably get a job in the UK, Roberts wouldn’t have any clout over there. I wonder if the Boots-Crick Institute is looking for someone?


The ethics of children

Yesterday I was talking to Hayden about homelessness. I told him that some people don't have a home, and they have to live outside. In winter they get cold and when it rains they get wet. Hayden thought about it for a second, and declared "we should build a big camp for them to live in, and give them hats and scarves and gloves so they don't get cold". 

When Hayden asked why they don't have a home, I told him that bad men took their homes away. Some people lost their home years and years ago, others lost their home yesterday, and some will lose their home tomorrow. "But the bad men will give their homes back when they turn good, won't they?", he asked, to which all I could say is that we need to make the bad men turn good first, and some never do. Hayden had a solution for this too: "We should be like Dora the Explorer. When we see a bad man taking a home from someone, we need to say 'Swiper, no swiping!' and show him that it is wrong".
And just like that, Hayden has figured out the basic tenants of left-wing politics, all by himself. When someone needs help, we help them, when someone tries to do harm, we stop them. It really is pretty simple and instinctive for children to understand. Right-wing politics, by contrast, takes years of indoctrination. It takes some special mental gymnastics to convince yourself to glorify those who make wealth to the detriment of others, and to aid them by hurting those who are already hurt.

An exuberance of children

Google tells me that the collective noun for children is either "a tantrum of toddlers" or "an ingratitude of children". We just had Hayden's fifth birthday party, with our house filled with eight 5 years olds, and neither tantrum or ingratitude fits the well-behaved, but overly energetic, activity that we experienced, so I'll go with "an exuberance of children". 

Lydia had everything planned: there was a balloon animal corner, a face-painting bay, a marble construction site, and a play-dough table. She even recruited Julie, assistant teacher at Hayden's school, to run a craft table. For us used to dealing with one fairly restrained child it got a bit much at times, but actually Julie was good at calming things down by forming a singing circle (where each child had a chance at being in the centre to sing a song). 

Hayden had great fun, tempered only by Fatima not being present, and all the kids had great fun. The parents (in Europe, you just drop off even very young kids at parties) probably also had fun. We had fun too, in that exhausted everyone-is-laughing-no-one-is-crying-we've-nearly-made-it-to-the-end-without-a-disaster type of way.


Happy Birthday Hayden!

Our little boy is now 5 years old. It is a milestone for him, one of his friends is a year old, and Hayden attributes the ability to climb, run and pick up heavy objects to being five. He has been counting down the days for four months, and tells everyone he is "four years old, but I'm nearly five". We spent the last night in the pool on the waterslide ("When I am five I will put my head under the water"), then had breakfast waffles and presents in the hotel before flying out home. Luckily, Hayden loves flying - when you are his size, all seats seem first class, his has unlimited iPad time while in the air, food is on service and Mummy and Daddy are right there.

Captain Hayden, of the Airbus A330-200, SLC to AMS. Hayden has decided he now wants to be a pilot when he grows up.


Time to go home

Hayden has had a fun time travelling through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming with Mummy, Daddy and Uncle James. Now he has spent some time in day care in Montana during my conference, which he also seems to have enjoyed (and he has been nicely resistant to their attempt to instill patriotism into him). But today he said "This world isn't the best for me. I am happier in Brussels."

Me too Hayden, me too.


Mammoth Hot Springs


Yellowstone National Park


Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, with Osprey nesting

50 million year old petrified Redwood, from a gentler Yellowstone climate

A grizzly bear with her cub



Norris Geyser Basin


Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park


Japanese-American internment

Near Cody, in the middle of Wyoming, lies the remains of one of the internment camps where Japanese-Americans* were imprisoned in during WWII. More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans (most second/third generation American citizens, others barred from applying for American citizenship due to racist laws) were rounded up, stripped of their Constitutional rights and imprisoned in concentration camps. The excuse given at the time was that it was a military necessity after the attack at Pearl Harbor, but report after report since the event has found that there was never any security risk, and the real reason was simply racism. There was systematic racism against Japanese-Americans before WWII, during WWII and after WWII, and the implementation of internment was based on popular sentiment rather than military objectives. 

It was difficult to explain to Hayden. “In America, the people who live here came from lots of different countries, and have different colour skin. The people with white skin didn’t like the people with brown or black skin just because of the colour of their skin. They took lots of big ones and little ones who had a different skin colour and put them in jail for four years, even though they didn’t do anything wrong. It was a really really bad thing to do, we should never be mean to someone because of the colour of their skin.”

The great shame of America is just how systematically every aspect of the democratic republic failed its own people. The root cause of the internment was popular racism, and jealously of the economic success that Japanese immigrants has achieved (a parallel to the racism that the Nazis harnessed in Germany against the Jewish peoples). The bigotry and dehumanisation was broad within the American public, and loudly proclaimed by newspapers**, prominent businessmen*** and community leaders. Americans politicians rode the popular sentiment, all the way through the system up to FDR who signed the incarceration order. The judiciary failed to implement the Constitution, being swayed by popular racism rather than objective law, again, all the way through the system up to Supreme Court. The executive branch actively aided the racist policy, with the military implementing the order based on race (“I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp”, Colonel Bendetsen) and the Census bureau providing the confidential data needed to identify who had Japanese ancestry. For all the checks and balances, democracy failed its own citizens and let racism and bigotry rule. Is America now preparing to do the same to Muslim-Americans and Latino-Americans under a President Trump?

Despite all these deliberate insults, large numbers of Japanese-American men volunteered for the army, and fought bravely for a country that despised them. “Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated. For their numbers and length of service, the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team… became the most decorated unit in American military history” – President Bill Clinton, 2000. Such a lasting shame to the country that these decorated soldiers, returning home, had to visit their family in concentration camps.

*At the moment it is popular for conservative (white) Americans to rail against “hyphenated Americans”, saying they should drop the hyphen and just be Americans. Which is rather rich of them, consider the long and dishonourable history of white Americans forcing the dual identity on minority groups, and treating them less for it. No matter how they protested, Japanese-Americans during WWII were not treated as regular Americans, so if some choose today to embrace dual identities the white nationalist brigade just have to suck it up. For my personal point-of-view, as an Australian-British-Belgian-European, the more identities we have the more likely we are to overlap and find common understanding.

**Columnist Henry McLemore, Hearst newspapers: “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room in the badlands... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

*** Austin E. Anson, Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, Saturday Evening Post, 1942: “We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either”