Acoelomorph flatworms and precambrian evolution

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One of many open questions in evolution is the nature of bilaterian origins—when the first bilaterally symmetrical common ancestor (the Last Common Bilaterian, or LCB) to all of us mammals and insects and molluscs and polychaetes and so forth arose, and what it looked like. We know it had to have been small, soft, and wormlike, and that it lived over 600 million years ago, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of beast likely to be preserved in fossil deposits.

We do have a tool to help us get a glimpse of it, though: the analysis of extant organisms, searching for those common features that are likely to have been present in that first bilaterian; we’re looking for the Last Common Bilaterian by finding the Least Common Denominators among living species. And one place to look is among the flatworms.

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I hate to do this…

…but I have to defend Rush Limbaugh. He was detained for having a bottle of Viagra at the airport? What was he going to do, threaten Palm Beach with his little gift from god?

I think Limbaugh is a lying hypocritical scumbag, but what alarms me more here is the way airport security and customs has become an arm of fascism: a way to invade the privacy of the individual, all in the name of protecting us from the faceless evil of the other. A guy, I don’t care who it is, traveling with one bottle of Viagra is not a threat, and this shouldn’t have warranted even a prim finger wagging with eyebrow raised from an inspector.

Besides, seeing this in the news everywhere and having to imagine Limbaugh with a chubby is making me feel a little bit ill.

Tantalizing possibilities

Quite a few people sent me a link to this Foxtrot comic with the remote-controlled squid.

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They were all just trying to tease me cruelly, because they knew it would be my favorite summertime pool toy, and they don’t exist. I looked everywhere, but the closest I could get was a remote-controlled robot shark, which is only almost as good.

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Although, if we could mount laser beams on their heads…

Proof that God exists!

Here it is, the proof from breast ironing. Simple selectionist models can’t explain why human beings would mutilate secondary sexual characteristics and genitalia, therefore god exists. We also know the Christian right is exactly correct: God really does obsess over people’s sex lives, and he is a kind of sick pervert who likes to hurt children.

We can also suspect that he’s probably male, since testicle flattening, penis knotting, and scrotum binding don’t seem to come up often in his prescribed lists of genital abuses.

Mmmmm, octopus balls…

This really sounds delicious.

Hand-grilled in iron molds by cooks behind a large display window, the octopus dumplings are made from wheat flour paste mixed with fish stock, spring onions and boiled octopus chunks, and drizzled with a sweet sauce, dried bonito flakes and seaweed.

I could go for some takoyaki right now. Unfortunately, the bad news is that it’s from a story about introducing cephalopods as mass-market fast food in the US. If they became popular here, kiss a lot of beautiful molluscs good bye.

I’m going to have to advocate more vegetarianism, I’m afraid. Maybe we could indulge in some octopus dumplings on a few special occasions, but we’d be better off turning fruit and vegetables into the next big food fad.

<sigh> But seafood tastes so good

The continuing assault on blogtopia

What is this, a few journalists have discovered blogs for the first time and have decided they just don’t like ’em? This fellow Zengerle seems to see them as a threat to the Republic, and now some guy named Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator weighs in, with some devastating complaints.

  • He is shocked at the funny names. “What the heck, for instance, is ‘Echidne of the Snakes‘ or ‘Nyarlathotep’s Miscellany‘?” Whoa. Burn. I’m sure glad I didn’t pick a weird name for my blog.
  • He doesn’t get Fafblog. He seems to think it’s about stilted writing, rather than some of the sharpest mockery of the Right around. Satire and humor are things that Serious Journalists do not use, I guess.
  • He doesn’t quite understand how links work. “Here’s a test: Visit any blog site that has a list of permalinks to other blogs, and pick the most seemingly off-topic link you can find. Within three blog links, you’re likely to find somebody advertising ‘Nude Live Babes!’ or ‘Celebrities In The Raw!’ or somesuch.” It’s true. I have discovered that you can get from my site to Michelle Malkin or Little Green Footballs in only two clicks. I am so ashamed.
  • There’s the horrible narcissism. “The blogs particularly lend themselves to a bizarre combination of attention deficit and what I’ll call the ‘Shouting-From-The-Rooftops Syndrome,’ a malady in which every utterance is deemed worthy of broadcast because, well, it’s mine, dammit, and I now have a forum on which to broadcast it.” Unlike, say, a print journalist for the American Spectator, who would never write an article expressing his gosh-wow reaction to discovering there is pr0n on the intarweb, and that you can get there by clicking on links. He would only write important stuff.
  • Worst of all, blogging tempts one into sin. “But what it doesn’t encourage is reflection, patience or, to stress again, discipline. And its wild informality, including the use and misuse of the written world, does not lend itself to careful persuasiveness.” That’s right, diversity and creativity are wicked…and are probably much too liberal for Mr Hillyer. People who write every day, day in and day out, for years can’t possibly have any discipline—writing because they love writing? Horrors! Where are the deadlines, the editors with whips, the challenge of a requirement to make Dick Cheney sound sensible and important? And how can you possibly find careful persuasive writers when the Nude Live Babes beckon?

Oh, well. Quin Hillyer (hey, wait a minute…what is he doing complaining about funny names?) really just cares about us. He even gives us parenting advice.

So, a memo to parents: Don’t let your children sit at their computers all day long. Even if they must be inside (outside exercise is often better), encourage them to read books and newspapers, to play board games, even to write notes to each other with pen and paper. That way they’ll learn to communicate rather than just to emote.

Good point. I should kick the kids outside and tell them to enjoy some fresh air and blue skies today. But my kids do read books. They don’t seem to care for the newspapers much, and the magazines they read are probably not the ones Hillyer would approve (my oldest does read The Economist, though…), but he’s wrong, otherwise. Our kids are adopting and modifying new media—is he aware of how much the youth are texting and IMing and MMORPGing and blogging and MySpacing and Facebooking together? I am, barely, but I’m not going to discourage kids from innovating because I’m a cranky old fart who thinks writing doesn’t count unless it’s done with the Palmer method on a Big Chief pad. And it’s gotta be serious, dammit. None of this high-falutin’ satire.