The search is over

The Intelligent Designer has been found, and his name is Phineas J. Schwartzfeld.

Phineas Schwartzfeld, who wears a mask and a garish purple and green costume emblazoned with the letters “I” and “D”, claims to be immortal and that he invented life, the universe, and everything else many thousands of years ago. He is currently wanted on several outstanding warrants for illegal firearm possession, littering, and substandard product assembly on platypuses, armadillos and New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain (a large geological sculpture which collapsed in 2003 due to inherent structural defects).

Well, I guess I’m done now then.

Summertime priorities

I say, “Fie on you, Superman Returns.” I’ll probably go see it if it shows up here in Morris, but otherwise, Jesus in spandex has little appeal to me.


The only summer blockbuster I care about is the one with the pirates, and most importantly, the villains based on marine biology.

It takes a tortuously long time to get all the narrative plates spinning, but things fall into place once the real villain of the piece is unfurled. This is Davy Jones – of locker fame – and if that sounds like a cliché too far even for a camp pirate flick, Jones, played by Bill Nighy, and his crew are to this film what Depp was to its predecessor. They’re like a bad acid trip at the sealife centre. They sail in a living wreck and have bodies composed of aquatic lifeforms: one has the head of a hammerhead shark, another has cheeks like a pufferfish, and Jones himself has a giant lobster claw for a hand, and a wonderfully slimy octopus head with a prehensile beard of tentacles, through which he barks the fruitiest Scottish brogue this side of the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie. It’s a triumph of special effects that this cephalopod creation is both unnervingly freakish, yet unmistakably Bill Nighy.


Why I will never vote for Barack Obama

I can vote for a Christian politician, no problem. I have even liked Obama’s sense of vision (although it seems he’s been a bit of a flop in execution.) His latest speech, though…

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote. I won’t even get into the rest of his paean to the silly goblins of faith.

Oh, please, can we someday have a freethinking politician of presidential caliber again? It’s been a long time since Lincoln.

Octopus brains

Once upon a time, as a young undergraduate, I took a course in neurobiology (which turned out to be rather influential in my life, but that’s another story). The professor, Johnny Palka, took pains at the beginning to explain to his class full of pre-meds and other such riff-raff that the course was going to study how the brain works, and that we were going to be looking at invertebrates almost exclusively—and he had to carefully reassure them that flies and squid actually did have brains, very good brains, and that he almost took it as a personal offense when his students implied that they didn’t. The lesson was that if you wanted to learn how your brain worked, often the most fruitful approach was an indirect one, using comparative studies to work out the commonalities and differences in organization, and try to correlate those with differences and similarities in function.

At about that time, I also discovered the work of the great physiologist, JZ Young, who had done a great deal of influential work on the octopus as a preparation for studying brain and behavior. (Young, by the way, went by the informal name “Jay-Zed”, and there you have another clue to my affectation of using my first and middle initial as if it were a proper name.) It was around then that I was developing that peculiar coleoideal fascination a few of the readers here might have noticed—it was born out of an appreciation of comparative biology and the recognition that cephalopods represented a lineage that independently acquired a large brain and complex behavior from the vertebrates. To understand ourselves, we must embrace the alien.

Young’s attempts to understand mechanisms of learning in memory in the octopus were premature, unfortunately—they have very complex brains, and we made much faster progress using simple invertebrates, like Aplysia, to work out the basics first—but it’s still the subject of ongoing research. I was very pleased to run across a general overview of the octopus brain in The Biological Bulletin.

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Music? Bah! Totally irrational!

But it’s science themed music, so that makes it a little bit OK. links to music from This Week In Science, and in the comments, I discover the media empire of Doctor Steel. My kind of guy.

Oh, and since I haven’t done a Friday Random Ten in a while, here’s a science themed Friday Nonrandom Ten.

Evolution Rocks Overman
Jocko Homo Devo Greatest Hits
Dr. Worm They Might Be Giants
Do The Evolution Pearl Jam
Apeman The Kinks
Monkey To Man Elvis Costello
Monkey Gone To Heaven Frank Black
Primitive Science Kiril
Evolution is a Mystery Motorhead
What We Need More Of Is Science MC Hawking

Carnivalia, and an open thread

We have a couple of carnivals up right now…

…and a few that are looking for submissions.

So…feel free to say what’s on your mind in the comments.