Happy Fourth to a Survivor of War

My Aunt Gretchen was in a bunker when Berlin was “liberated” by the Russian army at the end of World War II.

As I sit here in St. Louis waiting for the display in the sky this fine Independence Day Eve, I think of her and her stubborn refusal to go to a firework display during the whole time I knew her before she died.

She was one tough woman, all gruff and bluster, with that thick Prussian accent. But inside….she went down into that bunker as one person and came out another. And the fireworks wouldn’t let her forget all that can be lost. Berlin or St. Louis…

She married a nice American boy. He gave my Opa cigars and whiskey. And brought home my aunt (and eventually her sister-my mom) back to this blessed, frustrating, wonderful place, which we all celebrate tonight.

But don’t forget what those explosions represent. Freedom comes at a cost. For those who fought. For those who hid. And for those who continue to find themselves in the warm embrace of this place we call America no matter where we came from. This place is the clean slate.

Happy Fourth.

Are Eusocial? A Comment on Science Fiction in Ender’s Game and Edge of Tomorrow and …

Bluntly Cruise

Bluntly Cruise

*Spoiler Alert*  This is a biologist’s commentary on the aliens in “Enders Game” and “The Edge of Tomorrow” and the “Aliens” franchise for that matter, all movies that have graced theaters. So don’t read further, unless you want to be spoiled.  Actually, the whole thing’s been played out by science fiction for so long, it’s getting a little cliche. Sorry Tom and Emily.  I did like the movie. But…

Here’s my comment:  The aliens are stupid.

They are eusocial.  And that’s just stupid.

Bees are eusocial animals.

And that’s stupid too.

What’s eusociality?  It is the strange biological tendency for some organisms to make lots of copies of themselves, create huge colonies of strongly related individuals, and send them forth upon the world. Usually, there’s a queen involved, splurging out genetic drones to go off and do her bidding.  Crap, even the Borgs in Star Trek followed the eusocial model.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Why?

All you have to do is find the “queen” and kill off the invader. Or rely on the fact that the aliens have so little genetic diversity that they’re not going to adapt fast enough to stave off what our heroes have in store for them.  Even HG Wells relied on that little daisy when the aliens invaded from Mars.

Yawn.

So, that’s it. Animals like bees, wasps, ants, Borgs, etc. that depend on a “hive” of closely related or genetically identical individuals, are just asking for trouble. Because, at some point, we humans will find your queen and it is game over.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the crisis with bees across the world.  It’s not because they’re weak.  It’s just that they send out so many replicas of themselves and are so vulnerable because they lack the genetic ability to rapidly adapt through selection to the evils of humanity.

Their loss.  Evil aliens.  Look at the bees.  And beware

Silly Strings – Unifying Theories

darwinsnoopy

 

When I was a kid, everyone told me that after I die, I would know everything. All mysteries would unspool, and I’d no longer want for knowledge, leaving me to bask in the spiritual glory of the grand creator.

The more I learn about the universe and all its weirdness, I realize that I will likely not be basking, but rather hunched over a table laughing or scrunched in a corner shaking in terror. The emotions are going to be mixed, I think. Both Darwin and Snoopy will be waiting for me in the afterlife, waiting to give me a tour.  I fear the voice of glory might sound like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon rather than a glorious celestial orchestra playing for peace and goodness.

1. It is so empty out there. Space is so very, very big and empty and cold and terrifying. And it is just getting bigger and colder, and emptier. Loneliness is not fun. There’s lots of room to just be alone. Spirtuality does not thrive on loneliness.

2.  Within the heart of beauty is ruthlessness, with electrons tearing, flesh decaying, blood coursing, matter collapsing, and all of it selecting for the cosmic victor, the gravity that pulls and punches through the fabric of what is and what will be.  Gladiatorial combat is at the center of things.

3. Strings? Are you going to tell me that everything around me is fundamentally just a bunch of threads vibrating to a music that makes matter sing?  If that is true, how beautiful and strange, and wildly creative.

4. All children ask, “What was there before the big bang?”  All physicists answer, “It doesn’t matter.”  Well, it does matter. Look to the eyes of children for the truth. I want to know what and why.

5. Parsimony is typically true.  But it is often less than elegant to the eyes of the beholder.  Seemingly arbitrary numbers link chemical and biological processes, determining whether the universe will contract or expand forever. These numbers?  What do they mean?  Is there something deeper beneath them?

6. Even Einstein described physics as spooky. The spooky behavior is real and unbelievable.  Almost magic.  But don’t trust a scientist to tell you that quantum mechanics are just that.  Magic exists only in our dreams.

7. Enormous energy exists in the tiniest things. How can that be?  But it is. Slide rulers and a man with frizzy hair predicted it over a century ago.  And it came true, turning so many to ash.  Mushrooms growing from the ground are beautiful but so very deadly.

All scientists and philosophers seek the answer to all of it, the grand unifying theory of everything. Perhaps there is one.  Perhaps not. I sincerely believe that the answer will not come to me after death.  Where would the fun be in that?

Genitals Are Weird – A Biological Fact

640px-Pompeiian_phallus,_c.1-50_AD

The picture above is a well-preserved phallus from the ruins of Pompeii.  I bet you are smirking right now, even if you are feigning shock.  Penises are funny.

I hearken back to the hardest course to get into at Miami University, circa 1990, called the “Sociology of Sex”.  You had to be a senior with lots of credit hours to be eligible to get into the course.  It was that popular.  Why?  All of us students were curious about sex, penises and other things.

The modern day version of penis envy is ensconced in all those Viagra commercials I seem to be noticing. We are obsessed with the things, even though most folks would not want to admit it.

Why are penises funny?

Hell if I know.

So, I recall sitting in that classroom at my dear alma mater so many years ago when the Professor showed a slide of an erect penis. My hypothesis was validated, because the entire class roared with laughter.  Check.  Penises are funny.

In the next slide, she showed a picture of a vagina.  The class was silent.

Apparently, vaginas aren’t funny?

Well, sorry folks, vaginas are funny too.  Lest you disagree, please feel sorry for the poor student in Germany who found himself trapped in a vagina the other day…http://time.com/2911716/american-student-stuck-in-stone-vagina/.

It has to be funny if your humiliation makes the international news.  Poor student.  And his poor parents.

After all those years, I am still perplexed about the difference in response of the class to the penis and vagina.  They go together like coffee and cream.  So, why is one hilarious and the other so sacred?

Not sure.

The reality is that sexual selection, coined by Darwin, is a force all around us.  Flowers, antlers, lobster claws, peacock feathers, and frog songs. It is all about mine is better than yours.  Why?

The more you can show off, the more energy you have, and supposedly, the more robust your babies will be.

Back to penises. Many human cultures still revel in displaying phalluses as a sign of status and robustness. Although males typically do not spend much time displaying their real package anymore lest they end up in jail, there seems to be something in the male mind that wants to emphasize the penis and associate it with vitality (and thus the ability to make the babies). In many species, this leads to what is known as “run away” selection where males develop crazy structures like enormous antlers, weird colors, and strange behaviors.  Funny thing is, the selection is usually among males trying to get the girls.  The girls might use this information to select a mate, but it seems to be more important to the boys.

Back to our penises. Big penises are cool.  But vaginas are limited in the size of penis they can accept.  So, this likely stamped down run-away selection for big penis size in human males.  In reality, penis size matters little to *many* human females, but a lot to *most* males.  Hence, the fake phalluses or fancy cars. Next time you see the dude in the muscle car – laugh at his penis.

So, what about vaginas?  Why aren’t these predominately displayed?  And, at least in western culture, they seem to be secreted away?  Ah, you need to see this other post.

Ripping My Heart Out For…

IMG_4609

Bad Anemone is by far not the most popular post in the blog world.  But it does alright.

The blogs that do the best are funny or very personal. My hypothesis? There are billions of us out there. Science is funny. But most of us are just looking for souls with which to connect. Because, it is lonely out there in this crowded world. And so very cruel. Just look at the 2,000-year-old battle continuing to spread across the Middle East for fear, loathing, and loss of hope.

You see, it is in our very biology to connect. The entire Earth is a big ball absorbing the sun’s rays, like God’s glory, spreading the wealth around. The connections are many; energy, mass, elements, and even information are traveling along invisible conduits, nourishing us and killing us at the same time.

What is a soul? I believe they exist. Our very minds create something extraordinary out of a jumbled mess of water, salts, fats, and a few other things. How can this be? Emergence, my friends. Seeking a way to connect beyond that hardened mass of bone and flesh. What better way to do this than through art and music, science and poetry? Information theory and quarter notes, jumbled in the center of a galaxy.

We are mimicking nature. It makes sense, actually.  Blogs, information, conduits, energy, webs, networks – an ecology of our souls on screens and phones.

And so very rarely in books anymore.

 

Electrocuting Dogs

Mei- Natural State.

Mei on Jam- Natural State.

Humans co-evolved with dogs. So, most of us feel some affection to them. If you don’t, you should. Humans probably survived as a species because dogs served so many functions for us. They warn us of intruders, reduce vermin, eat our waste, and sleep on our furniture. I recall seeing a picture of those cooked figures in Pompeii..and there, among the people on what was once a bed, was a petrified dog. It stayed with its owners through the bitter, ash-laden end.

Dogs, however, did not evolve with electricity. For the second time in my life, I have experienced one of our dogs lighting up with a squeal plus the scent of ozone and something else…

Mei, the dog on top of Jam in the picture, has got to be the most zen of dogs. She does not bark. Will sleep on anything, in any potential contortion, and puts up with the ceaseless pestering of Jam (dog on bottom).

Mei’s favorite toy is a piece of black leash that she carries around quietly. It never occurred to me the similarity between that piece of strap and an electrical wire of a lamp.

So.

You can guess the rest.

She zapped herself and luckily came out unscathed, except for the wretched, tarry goo that emanated from her rear. As many dog owners have discovered, dogs are not uncommon among mammals in having glands in their behinds that are used as an aromatic calling card. That’s why they sniff each other back there. Distressing to us. Interesting and informative to them.

Apparently, Mei + electricity = constricted glands = anal explosion. We spent the evening scrubbing the carpet, the walls, and the furniture.  The smell in the house?  Not burnt dog.  Something much fouler.

Enough said.

Trauma’s over.  She’s fine.

And won’t go near a cord again.

What happened to the other dog? I was three years old when that happened. I don’t remember. But my parents say he was never quite right again.