Cephalopod development and evolution


People are always arguing about whether primitive apes could have evolved into men, but that one seems obvious to me: of course they did! The resemblances are simply too close, so that questioning it always seems silly. One interesting and more difficult question is how oysters could be related to squid; one’s a flat, sessile blob with a hard shell, and the other is a jet-propelled active predator with eyes and tentacles. Any family resemblance is almost completely lost in their long and divergent evolutionary history (although I do notice some unity of flavor among the various molluscs, which makes me wonder if gustatory sampling hasn’t received its proper due as a biochemical assay in evaluating phylogeny.)

One way to puzzle out anatomical relationships and make phylogenetic inferences is to study the embryology of the animals. Early development is often fairly well conserved, and the various parts and organization are simpler; I would argue that what’s important in the evolution of complex organisms anyway is the process of multicellular assembly, and it’s the rules of construction that we have to determine to identify pathways of change. Now a recent paper by Shigeno et al. traces the development of Nautilus and works out how the body plan is established, and the evolutionary pattern becomes apparent.

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The Great Beer Flood

Everyone has heard of the Boston Molasses Flood, right? That was horrific and weird, but it was outdone by the London Beer Flood: houses were demolished by the torrent, seven were dead by drowning, and one dead by alcohol poisoning. I am truly impressed by the opportunism and low standards of that one individual … if you witnessed a river of beer flowing down the street, would you scoop up enough of it to kill yourself with excess? I guess I’m finicky enough that I wouldn’t stoop to cup a single handful to drink.

Unless it were a really good beer, that is.

(Does this story have some connection to the recent release of the Simpson’s Movie? It ought to.)

Dysfunctional family circus

And I do mean dys. What a horrible scene to come upon, and even worse, what evil chaos to have lived it:

A bed had been pushed up against the door; the officers pushed it open a few inches and saw Marquez choking his bloodied [three year old] granddaughter, who was crying in pain and gasping, Tranter said.

A bloody, naked 19-year-old woman who police later determined to be Marquez’s daughter and the girl’s mother was in the room, chanting “something that was religious in nature,” Tranter said.

The elder Marquez was tasered to stop him from strangling the child, and later died of unknown causes (although tasers are dangerous, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the cause of death).

And what, exactly, were these people trying to do to the kid? It was an exorcism. They were trying to purge the poor little girl of nonexistent malign spirits, when what she was probably afflicted with is an insane family.

What’s saddest about this story isn’t that the lunatic grandfather died; it’s that the bloody, naked fanatic who had the privilege to have this child was not arrested, and may still have custody. If she had anything to do with this crazy ritual, I hope someone gets the kid away from her soon.


It’s a wiki with the tagline, “It’s a fictional world purely imagined by its community”, and it isn’t Conservapædia! Galaxiki is a galaxy-building exercise that lets you create star systems and populate them with stories and details. One bummer is that they charge you for the right to create new stars — that doesn’t seem like a smart idea, since you’d think they’d want more contributions, at least early in the game — but you can edit somewhat freely, and there are swarms of randomly generated star systems to play with.

Behe gets another thumbs-down

Has anyone seen a positive review of Behe’s book from a science source? Discover Magazine joins the ranks of those that find it awful:

As unpersuasive as Behe’s ideas are scientifically, they are even less convincing philosophically. Behe professes agnosticism on whether the designer was a dope, a demon, or a deity, although he seems peculiarly inclined toward the second possibility. His is a strangely impoverished worldview, one that leaves little space for awe, much less for future scientific advance; he never even raises the obvious question of who the designer is and how it works. Contrast this with Darwin’s starry-eyed summation in Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life . . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

That’s pretty much my opinion, too. It’s a bizarre exercise in bogus math and bad biology to arrive at a sterile conclusion, with no reasonable future scientific efforts proposed.

Shark with legs?


A little knowledge would short circuit a lot of strange speculation. That picture to the right is of a shark caught in Malaysia, and people are calling those odd dangly bits “legs”. Despite the fact that someone said what they actually are in a comment early on, there are people arguing both that a shark with legs is evidence for evolution, and that it is evidence for creation.

They’re both wrong.

It’s a male shark. Those are the shark’s claspers, or intromittent organs. The shark does the usual act you’d expect with a female of the species, and like many shark species, it has clasper spurs, or little poky bits that help lock the organ into the female’s cloaca while he gets happy.

They aren’t homologous to legs at all. We also wouldn’t expect to find legs on a shark — they aren’t in the lineage that led to tetrapods.

I’m actually most surprised that a worker at the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board, who found this animal, didn’t recognize that these were just ordinary claspers. Anyone who has worked with sharks for even a little while would know about these structures. I suspect someone at the board is pulling the media’s, and the public’s, leg.

You know you want to see this: here’s a photo of two sharks getting affectionate. Shark lovin’ often involves a fair amount of biting and tearing, and leaves scars that you can find in captured specimens, so I don’t recommend trying this at home. Especially since sharks don’t believe in safewords.


Go for a walk

Here’s a cool tool: Walk Score. Type in an address, and it uses Google Maps to look up destinations like parks and stores and theaters that are in walking distance of the place, and gives you a score out of 100 on walkability. A place like Manhattan will give you high scores; one of those desolate suburbs where you have to drive to get anywhere (like my old address in Pennsylvania) will give you lousy low scores.

Morris is middling: I get a 52.


There’s funny stuff in the Google data base, though. It places a Donnelly grocery store a few blocks from my house and says it’s 24 miles away; there are also a whole lot of appropriate businesses that simply aren’t listed.

(via Mercury Rising)

Desecration: it’s a fun hobby!


I am appalled. A man in New York was arrested for throwing a copy of the Quran in a public toilet. He deserved arrest—everyone knows it is vandalism and criminal mischief to clog a public toilet with debris.

Oh, hang on — the guy was arrested for a hate crime? Are toilets now on the list of victims targeted by fringe fanatics? What’s their slogan: “Bring Back the Open Trench!”? It is a shame to see innocent and useful toilets persecuted in this ghastly way …

Wait, never mind. He was arrested for being mean to Muslims, which also makes no sense. He destroyed a book and clogged a toilet. If some local nut started setting fire to copies of The God Delusion, I wouldn’t feel personally victimized — let her burn all the copies she can buy, it’s just more money in Richard Dawkins’ pocket. (If she started stuffing copies into the toilets, though, then I might feel oppressed. When you gotta go, you gotta go.)

You know, there is a tradition around here, one that I’ve practiced for a few years: overwrought sanctimony must be met with disrespectful insolence. So I’m thinking of picking up a cheap copy of the Qu’ran. And I’m thinking … what to do, what to do. It will, of course, be something in the privacy of my home, with my very own copy — none of this public vandalism and veiled threats to people who believe. It will just be a demonstration of my right to treat my property as it deserves and of my opinion of this silly book.

So here are a few ideas. Maybe you can think of some more.

  • I could simply urinate on it, but that’s old hat.

  • If I had a puppy, I could use the pages for paper training. But I do not have a puppy and I’m not going to get one for this horrible reason.

  • The traditional approach: keep it near the fireplace, and use the pages for kindling. Of course, there’s no way I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace in August in Minnesota, so that’s going to have to wait a while.

  • I could doodle cartoons in the margins and make my own crudely illustrated (I have no talent) version of the Qu’ran. Then I could put it on ebay and make a profit.

  • Here’s an artsy option: I could make a new cover and a bookmark for it … out of bacon.

That last one sounds fun, and I could also put up photos on the blog (there’s also a tradition there) but perhaps some of you can come up with a better suggestion.

(via Deep Thoughts)

Lowe’s or Home Depot?

If you’re considering purchasing some supplies for home repair from one of the mega-chains, you might want to consider their advertising policies. Archy makes a good case that you should shop at Lowe’s—they don’t support barking mad reactionary freaks.

Of course, it’s a bit irrelevant to me, since I don’t have either one near me. Instead, we’ve got four or five small locally owned hardware stores. Their owners might be sympathetic to Bill O’Reilly, but they don’t have enough money to buy air time on his show.