Ewegenics

30 01 2007

Ok, I know that title was baaaaad (ok, ok, I’ll seriously stop now), but the thought immediately rushed to mind when I opened this week’s TIME magazine and saw an article by John Cloud on studies being done on male sheep with homosexual tendencies. (“Ewegenics” was actually mentioned in the article itself, but my “punny” little mind got there first) The article itself deals with the claims surrounding scientist Charles Roselli, and a quick PubMed search came up with two papers dealing specifically with the topic at hand, entitled Hormonal influences on sexual partner preference in rams and Sexual partner preference, hypothalamic morhpology, and aromatase in rams, respectively. The first paper explain that 6-10% of the domestic rams studied showed a preference for male partners over female during the tests, and the males that preferred other males seemed to have differences in brain chemistry (specifically lower aromatase “in the medial preoptic area and estrogen receptor in the amygdala,” aromatase being an important chemical in sexual development). Being that PubMed only produces the abstract for this article, I don’t know by what means the preferences of these males were determined, but the TIME article suggests that the rams were presented with a choice of a males or females to mate with, and thus the 6-10% became apparent.

The second paper, the sequel to the first, finds that in addition the differing aromatase levels, male-oriented rams have a slightly different brain structure, a part of the brain referred to as the oSDN (I’m still doing searches trying to figure out what this area is and what it’s associated with) being larger in female-oriented rams and in male-oriented rams. In any event, there seems to be an interplay between brain morphology and chemistry that is created these rams that prefer the company of males, but then one may ask how the trait is getting passed on. Are these rams obligate homosexuals? The question isn’t even considered in the TIME article, nor most articles I’ve seen on similar subject, the fact that homosexuality occurs in animals being the primary point. In these tests the males preferred males, yes, but do they ever mate with females? If they do then they could very well pass on their different brains to their offspring and the trait would persist because it is not obligate homosexuality; if the rams just mated with other males and no others one would expect homosexuality fluctuate across generations. Perhaps the differing chemistry is the result of some recessive trait or something else we do not as yet know about, but just because some rams prefer to mate with males doesn’t mean that they never mate with females or that what causes homosexuality in them also applies to humans. From articles like Cloud’s, it seems apparent that the larger questions raised as far as ethology and evolution don’t necessarily matter, it’s just important that some animals are homosexuals and give credence to the increasingly apparent notion that animals (including people) don’t choose to be homosexuals.

As Cloud mentions in the article, however, some are wary of such research, worrying that if the cause for homosexuality can be pinpointed then it opens the door wide to eugenics, possibly someday allowing parents to determine if their child will be gay and fixing that “problem” through hormonal therapies. While rightly dismissive of the notion that we’ll see such applications anytime soon, he ends the article with these unsettling words:

The more pressing question for me is, What would happen if research like Roselli’s did lead to, as the Sunday Times imagined, “a ‘straightening’ procedure [such as] a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn like a nicotine patch”? I hope scientists have better things to do, but would a Hetero Patch be so awful? It would allow bigoted women to get what they want–straight kids–and ensure that gay kids grow up with moms who, at the very least, didn’t try to prevent their existence. Gay people seem to fear we would die out if such a device existed. But the elaborate combination of genes, hormones and psychology that produces same-sex attraction has persisted, against all odds, through the millenniums. Gays have survived Darwinian selection, Nazis, the dulling effects of Will & Grace. I don’t think a little patch would ever keep some rams from wanting other rams.

Like I said before, interesting scientific insight seems to have been co-opted to serve political ends, and I think a Hetero Patch would indeed be awful. I’m unsettled enough by genetically modified foods and all the tinkering being done with inserting animal genes into plants and vice versa, much less the ability to create designer babies. I find it disturbing that anyone would want to essentially design their child to be whatever they wanted it to be, perhaps someday extending to “breeding programs” to create smarter, stronger, or more fit children. Such themes are often brought up in science fiction, but the ability to actively engage in eugenics is slowly starting to become more possible. Even beyond my distaste at the moral/social level, it’s idiotic at an evolutionary level. If parents can start picking and choosing, designing their children, variation is hampered and as far as genetics goes there’s far more we don’t know than we do know. Indeed, if designing babies ever reached a large enough scale, the genetic variation would be low enough that disease would be even more deadly than it is now, making the Black Death look like a common-cold; part of the reason it didn’t kill more than it did was the genetic variation that made some people resistant, and they passed that resistance on to their offspring.

The whole thing reminds me of the Disney World ride The Carousel of Progress, where the values of technology and the improvements it brings are extolled in song. Even though humans are animals, we have long since left such a title behind, always trying to step a little closer to being gods; we want to know more, live longer, have a lasting legacy on the planet, etc. I’m not saying that we should stop here, but in going further we should be cautious of the consequences our actions may have. We are unique among animals in that we can willingfully do things for the benefit of the species (an even the planet), and thus there is no excuse for selfishness that will do more to destroy than help future generations. We can’t just keep walking forward blindly, proceeding with science because we can achieve a certain goal, but we need to ask if we should be moving in such a direction and what consequences there may be beyond our own lifetime.





AiG, unfossilized bones, and the lies therein

29 01 2007

I don’t have HBO so I couldn’t see it, but Crooks and Liars has posted a clip from Alexandra Pelosi’s (yes, she is the daughter of the new Speaker of the House and creator of Journeys With George [“Cheeto?”]) new documentary series on American evangelical Christians called Friends of God, featuring conservative Christian figureheads like Ted Haggard and the folks over at AiG. The clip is actually from the section of the documentary dealing with evolution and creationism, and the impression is similar to that given by the excellent documentary Jesus Camp. Ken Ham and Buddy Davis are showing telling children the same lies that are so prominently available all over their website (as well as various books, PC software, and DVDs) i.e. the world is less than 6,000 years old, man and dinosaurs lived at the same time, the Noachian Flood is where we get all our fossils from, Hominid ancestors like Neanderthals are really people dispersed from the Tower of Babel, etc. In case you missed the link before, go here to have a look at them in action: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2007/01/29/the-evangelical-war-on-science/

The bit featuring Buddy Davis and his straw-man argument about “dinosaur” not being in the Bible is particularly telling. And I quote:

Buddy: …how come we can’t find the word “dinosaur” in the Bible? Can I look in the Bible and find the word “jet airplane”?

Children: Noooo…

Buddy: No, it’s a brand new word. Can I look in the Bible, boys and girls, and can I find the word computer?

Children: Nooo…

Buddy: It’s a brand new word. And the word “dinosaur” is a brand new word too.

Davis’ argument falls flat because, just like dinosaurs, computers and jet planes did not exist during the timeframe that the Bible covers, so there is no reason for them to be mentioned in it. The assertion that the Behemoth in Job is a dinosaur is entirely wrong, the passage “his tail swings like a cedar” more likely referring to the beasts reproductive organs than a tail, the word translated “swings” perhaps actually meaning “extends.” I’ll repost an old analysis of the claim in the next day or so for your enjoyment. For those of you not steeped in paleontological history, the word “dinosaur” (meaning “terrible/fearsome/formidable lizard/reptile”) was coined by Sir Richard Owen 1842 when some of the fossils previously thought to be products of the Biblical Flood were recognized for what they actually were. Previously, fossils were considered to be frozen lightening bolts, the tongues of snakes, things that grew biologically in the earth, and at least in one case, the fossilized scrotum of an “Antediluvian giant,” later revealed to be part of the femur of a Megalosaurus. Take a look at the fossil that gave rise to such a preposterous notion here, and for a good overview of one of the most important scientists in all of history, Nicholas Steno, read The Seashell on the Moutaintop by Alan Cutler.

In any case, just to put Davis’ expertise on paleontology and evolution in perspective, I remember hearing that he had found “unfossilized” dinosaur bones in Alaska, but then the trail went cold. If true, the discovery would be fascinating and shed light on a lot of issues about dinosaurs, fossilization, and taphonomy (how things are buried and preserved), but Davis seemed to want to take the credit and do none of the footwork in following up on the discovery. Frustrated with the lack of information, I e-mailed AiG directly about the issue and was sent a clipping from one of their magazines, stating:

It was our hope, because of the “remarkable” preservation, that these bones might contain some ancient organic molecules. To date, our tests have not been able to confirm the “unfossilized” hypothesis. Twenty of the bone samples were analyzed in Russia for collagen. Only four showed positive results. We became suspicious of these results when we were not able to confirm them with tests made by other labs. One report from a reputable laboratory in the United States told us the samples they tested were “extremely degraded”. Some of the bones have also been tested for DNA. The results were inconclusive. From our results thus far, the bones should not be referred to as “unfossilized”. [emphasis original]

The Bureau of Land Management reports that the Alaskan bones are fossilized, but all of their pore spaces have not been filled in with rock, making many of them lightweight. They also report that no DNA had been discovered in the bones, but because of their condition, they might be good candidates for it. Until further testing can prove otherwise, the Alaskan dinosaur bones should be referred to as “fossilized.”

John H. Whitmore

Given this revelation, one would expect an honest, Christian organization to be forthcoming with something of such importance to their claims, or at least change the information on their website to reflect such a development. I guess they never got around to it, as the biography for Buddy Davis still says he discovered unfossilized bones in 1994, as well as citing the bones as unfossilized in this article, referencing the same note by Whitmore I just shared with you saying the bones should not be considered unfossilized! Either they’re holding out hope for dinosaurs within the Bishop Ussher timeline, lazy, or dishonest (I’ll leave you to be the judge).

Back to the clip, I found this quotation from a young woman to be especially interesting:

Pelosi: What do you think of people like me who believe in evolution?

Girl: Well, um, I’m not sure if you’ve maybe studied all the facts exactly right, and um…

Pelosi: So you think I got a bad education.

Girl: No, I’m not saying that at all, I’m just saying…

Pelosi: It’s ok, it’s ok, I won’t take it personally

Girl: Ok, I’m just saying the school system is probably pretty biased towards evolution, as most public school systems are. At least mine was. And, um, they tend to just show you one side of the story…”

Ah, the good old “Teach the Controversy” nonsense. I find it interesting that creationists and IDers have so much to say about the public school system and the separation of church and state, yet they only stand up for the right to preach their religion in classrooms. I have yet to encounter a creationist saying that along with evolution, we should teach creationism as told in the Bible, as conveyed by Buddhism, as conveyed by Hinduism, etc. Why not invite the other faiths under the “big tent”? The girls first comment is also important to note, the overall attitude of “If you believe in evolution you must not have looked at all the evidence” (just as I would say if you believe in a historically accurate 6-day creation event you haven’t looked at all the evidence). Can anyone look at all the evidence? I’ve been reading at a breakneck pace for 9 months now, reading as many creationism and intelligent design books as ones on evolution and I still have yet to find anything compelling about any form of creationism, and yet there is still so much more to learn. Even in evolution, there are so many aspects to understand that I can’t possibly be an expert on them all, so even if I devoted the rest of my life to the study of evolution (which will come naturally), there would still be lots I didn’t know. What aggravates me most is that many creationists read a creationist book or two, go to a creationist lecture, assuming that just because the person speaking/writing is a Christian they must be telling the truth and have accurate information. In order to understand evolution, you need to read books by evolutionary scientists just as one needs to read creationism books to make sure an accurate view of the other side is obtained, and yet many people fall short here. I have to admit, however, that scientists are far better at giving concessions to creationists, spending lots of time thinking about, debating, and refuting their claims whereas creationists often cannot be bothered to do the same.

Personally, I wish I could spend less time dealing with creationism but I think it’s important as both a Christian and evolutionist to confront the issues raised by those who think they have a corner on the absolute-truth market. It’s not so much about evolution; if they had any actual data to support their claims I’d be all for debate. No, rather it’s about the spirit of the debate, where we can not question, investigate, or even think outside the box that God made for us to be in, essentially going through the Fall all over again by trying to gain knowledge. Indeed, in mythology too there has been a high price paid of intelligence, the titan Prometheus chained to a rock to have his liver eaten by an eagle every day for daring to illuminate mankind. Perhaps some creationists have convinced themselves they’re actually doing science, perhaps others don’t investigate the issue and take it on faith, but what worries me is the idea that it’s more important to save people than to tell the truth. If you’re saving someone by telling a lie, then what good are you doing? What will happen on the day that person finds out that what they based their faith on was just a trick for “their own good”? The constant references to spiritual warfare worry me as well, many people translating that into real-time warfare and condemnation of people who disagree, convinced they’re right because they’re for God and anyone who is against them must also be against God. I would love nothing more for this issue to go away, but I know it most certainly won’t. To some it is a divisive issue in the church best avoided, but I think it is important to confront so that we can have reform and speak in truth to those who care to listen. I have never agreed with the idea of letting Christians proceed with being hateful, bigoted, or dishonest just because we share a religion. No, in fact, if anything right now there needs to be reform in the church because the “virtues” of judgement, hate, and blinding literalism have gotten to the point where Christianity resembles the Pharisees of the New Testament more than what Jesus ever envisioned. In any event, I have a feeling that there are many people (like myself) in the middle on this issue, acknowledging evolution for what it is but not losing faith because of it, but such people are often marginalized by the super-conservative and super-liberal, but if there is hope for greater understanding between faith and science it lies with these people.





Just goes to show you can’t trust the interweb

28 01 2007

Thanks to Pharyngula and Orac it has now become apparent that the homophobic Christian “Donnie Davies” I posted about in my “Highway to Hell” post is actually an actor attempting to do some comedy in the same vein as Borat; using people’s own ignorance and bigotry against them. Admittedly, I should’ve done some more research on the website, but I didn’t bother for the main reason that I see so many insanse claims made by actual organizations like Answers in Genesis that I don’t think twice about it anymore. To me, that is the saddest part of it all, being that even though the website was a spoof there are people who consider secular music, dancing, Harry Potter, and any number of things evil, and being that they are often very vocal I supposse I’ve become desisitized to it and not surprised when someone claims to have a Biblical basis for excluding or discriminating against someone/something.

In any event, this just goes to show that I should double check before diving in to such claims. If I’m going to be a scientist, I shouldn’t take things for granted or buy in to the uproar that often occurs on various blogs when issues like these come up.





I love the Carnivora, could you tell?

27 01 2007

Last weekend my wife and I took a day trip to the Philadelphia Zoo, and despite the biting cold I got some pictures of animals I normally don’t see there. It’s more preferable to go in the spring or summer when things are warmer and more animals are outside, but at the same time such weather attracts crowds of loud children that some more solitary creatures (like the Fishing Cat) don’t want to have anything to do with. I also figured that I should start posting more pictures on here, perhaps picking one photo every week (Fridays?) and doing a little profile on that animal. It’d be something to get some regular attendance anyhow, last week receiving over 50 visits in a day from linking to a post here in a comment on Pharyngula and then crashing to nearly single digits. It’s fun doing this for myself and sort of “thinking out loud” on here, but it would be good to get something of a readership going. Anyway, on to the pictures!

Me and an Amur Leopard

This is me and an Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) at the zoo; the poor guy has nearly half of his tail cut off! There are only about 30 Amur leopards left in the wild, making it critically endangered and groups like WCS are trying to bring the population back up (if I remember right a new one will soon be kept at the Central Park Zoo). Amur leopards are the northernmost subspecies of leopards, having a thicker coat and larger rosettes compared to their African and Indian counterparts, such beautiful fur leading to their downfall as they were primarily hunted for this asset.

Leopard Stare

While we were watching the leopard started lapping at a little pool in its enclosure, and I managed to snap this shot in-between drinks. I absolutely the intense looks cats are capable of.

Leopard

This one is a little soft on the focus (it’s hard shooting through the angled glass for the leopard’s enclosure; I’ve had many shots come out like this), but I still like it since the cat makes its own background, making it seem bigger than it actually is.

Eyelash Viper

This was one of the Eyelash Vipers (Bothriechis schlegelii) in the reptile house. I usually don’t give snakes much more than a passing glance (they’re cool, but not very exciting in captivity), but I love the colors and “eyelash” scales of this species. Luckily they’re behind glass so they don’t jump out and bite, which would cause (other than the severe pain), potential necrosis of whatever they bit.

Kangaroo

This is one of the Red Kangaroos (Macropus rufus)outside that day, which later on was, erm, receiving the affections of a male (don’t worry, I didn’t post any marsupial porn today). Notice the use of their tail and how muscular it is. It reminds me of a prehistoric reptile (its name escapes me at the moment) that had shorter arms than legs and a long tail, so perhaps it moved in a similar way being that it doesn’t seem like it was bipedal.

Red Panda

The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) was actually awake for a while during my last visit, walking around the enclosure after it washed itself. It’s always interesting to see how individual red pandas differ from each other, this particular one looking a bit fatter and having a shorter face than the one I took pictures of at the Bronx Zoo not long ago (the very one that’s looking at you on my border). This probably has quite a bit to do with age and getting fatter with more time in captivity, but if you do look carefully enough you can see that there is indeed variation between individuals.

Wild Dog

I didn’t think I was going to catch a glimpse of the African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) being that I visited on such a cold day, but as I was walking by I saw a few pairs of big ears flutter behind a rock and I was soon treated to a display of several dogs romping about. It’s always interesting to watch them, trying to pick out who is submissive to whom and what the hierarchy is. The Bronx Zoo has a better habitat and larger group of the dogs (3 just isn’t enough for a pack animal), but it’s always a pleasure to see them.

Fishing Cat

During my last two visits I missed the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus or Felis viverrina), but this time I was lucky enough to get a few pictures while it ran around its enclosure. It certainly was a fat cat, not helped by the fact of its relatively small ears and thin tail, but you could definitely tail it had more than enough to eat as it pawed its way back and forth through its enclosure.

Cougar

Just like last time the three Cougars (Puma concolor) were out and about during my visit, at least two nearly posing for the camera right in front of the glass. They also managed to get up into the tree towards the front of their enclosure but the glass off the glass was so terrible it essentially ruined the photos.

Cougar

All I’m going to say is that I absolutely love this picture.

Cheetah

No day would be complete without a visit to the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) trio, and although two were content to stay warm one came down to have a look at things, calling intermittently and acting as if he was looking for something. I was surprised that they would even be on display with the temperature so low (it was about 26 degrees F if I remember right), but I suppose their species plasticity has allowed them to get used to the cold after so many winters at the Philadelphia Zoo.





Who knows?

26 01 2007

I was reading over Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene this morning when I happened upon a quote that sums up a lot of arguments about evolution. According to pg. 18, Jacques Monod once said

Another curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it!

Reading over some of my own writing, I realize that I fall into this category just like anyone else. Here I am, an aggravated undergraduate, pointing out how giants like Mayr and Dawkins are wrong and thinking that I’ve got it figured out better than they do. Even Dawkins and Gould found it hard to see eye to eye, and when you add creationists and id-advocates like Johnson, Dembski, Ham, and Wells to the mix, everyone thinks they know better than everyone else and they really know the inner workings of how life evolves. I even can find contention with Monod’s statement, as I can’t stand hearing the phrase “theory of evolution.” As far as I am concerned, evolution is what life does; it is what we observe. There are many theories to explain how this happens, but the fact is that life evolves, and continuing to say phrases like “Darwin’s theory of evolution” does not do justice to how important and encompassing such an idea is as far as the natural world is concerned. It’s akin to saying “the theory of gravity” every time you did a physics equation, and as such I think we should abandon the terms “Darwinism” and “theory of evolution” as they do not accurately reflect to current state of evolutionary thought.

I also realize that I tend to come off more angry on my blog than I actually am, being that I usually write when I am frustrated/aghast/horrified/angry at one subject or another. Much of this fact comes from the reality that right now I’m typing out words on the internet, not actually talking to anybody, so what’s going on here is little more than what exists in my own head. If I was engaged in dialog or giving a presentation, what I say and how I say it would probably change, and I should try to keep in mind that people who may disagree with me may read this and I would do will not to alienate them by being too harsh in my language or rhetoric.





Some monsters are real

26 01 2007

Last night my wife and I got to have a little Mystery Science Theater 3000-type viewing of the recently released stinkbomb, Primeval, as we were the only two people in the theater (the only other people in the theater left about 1/3 of the way through). I grew up watching bad movies, films like Alligator (written by John Sayles, no less) being among my favorites (see Orca, Tentacles, Piranha, Prophecy, THEM!, Frogs, Grizzly, etc. for more examples) and almost always on TV every other month or so via TNT/Sci-Fi/TBS/FOX. Come to think of it, I spent a good deal of my childhood watching monster movies (begging my parents to stay up late), playing with my Legos and trying not to think about the weird noises in the night that became all-too-abundant after the film ended. I never really grew out of the phase, seeking out real life monsters rather than giving them up, and I still love anything that has to do with dinosaurs, sharks, crocodiles, or man-eating monsters born via radioactive sludge in films, expecting nothing much and having a good time ripping on the bad production values. If it gives you any indication of the quality of the movie, Primeval gave my wife and I plenty of material to riff on.

Before I go any further, I do want to say thank you to my wife for coming along with me to the film, indulging my boyish tendency to go out and watch monster movies even though I know they’re going to be utterly appalling. As she commented after we left the theater, she was surprised Primveal got a theatrical release, the special effects just a step above horrid Sci-Fi Channel original movies like Mammoth (the worst movie I have EVER seen, EVER!) and Attack of the Sabertooth. Indeed, during the first nighttime appearance of the films killer crocodile, it looked like it was a CGI-version of the old stop-motion animation style of Willis O’Brien or Ray Harryhausen, exaggerated and fast movements of the featured creature in order to make it seem more “lifelike.” Even when we got to see the croc in full daylight, the CGI paled in comparison to what could have been achieved with puppets, and giving it an endless supply of stamina as it awkwardly galloped after Orlando Jones was incredibly silly. Granted, crocodiles look silly when they “gallop” anyway, but whoever did the biomechanics research for this movie obviously has never seen a fast-moving crocodilian. I really don’t understand why move companies put so much into crappy CGI-rendered monsters when puppets look better and add to the realism of the film; the sharks in the film Deep Blue Sea looked great as puppets but horrid as CGI-rendered monsters. There’s plenty of gore in the film as well, but usually it’s so dark it’s hard to make out what exactly is being ripped apart (except at the end when the crocodile pops the main human antagonists head like a grape), and in classic movie-monster style it knows how to take out underwater supports of a pier in order to get at the humans, it literally sniffs out the bad guy at the end, it eats a soldier about to rape a woman, it has an endless amount of energy & cunning, so really nothing like a real crocodile at all. What is more frightening to me are the real animals, the ones that are so swift, deadly, and quiet that you often attacks are little more than someone bathing never to you and then they’re suddenly gone in a swirl of water. Such is an account in the car-wreck of a coffee table book The Eyelids of Morning, in which a young man was standing on a rock in a body of water and then he suddenly wasn’t there, appearing a short way downriver in the jaws of a Nile Crocodile, which later was caught and the young man’s legs were extracted from the crocs stomach (framed in a blood-spattered cardboard box in the book). Such events are enough to keep me out of Africa’s rivers, lakes, and streams.

Primeval would have been bad enough if it was simply concocted by a group of executives who decided that Lake Placid was a great work of cinema, but it’s actually loosely inspired by a real killer crocodile named Gustave (named by Burundians for a ruthless president during civil war). Studied almost exclusively by Patrice Faye, a French self-proclaimed naturalist, Gustave lives in the waterways of Burundi, especially Lake Tanganyika and Rusizi River, reportedly reaching a length of 20 feet and weighing a ton (suggesting he has long surpassed the average 45-year longevity of most Nile Crocodiles). Such a large crocodile is enough to make people afraid by merit of its size alone, but Gustave has been charged with over 200 human deaths (as well as one adult hippo), the body count going ever-higher.

Gustave

The above picture is one of the few I’ve seen of Gustave, the few pictures floating around on the internet not having much for scale in the pictures and most of the pictures Faye has taken have not made it to public viewing, apparently. While on assignment to track down the killer croc, the National Geographic team dispatched never found Gustave, and there has been little to no news about the whereabouts of the creature since 2005. The National Geographic article about the expedition has an editor’s note update, suggesting that Gustave has not been seen since at least November of 2006 (the rainy season making it difficult to track him), although 10 more deaths have been added to the list of fatalities. There is little doubt that Gustave has killed many people, but many remain skeptical of his legendary appetite for human flesh, seeming more like a catch-all explanation whenever anyone goes missing or gets taken by any crocodile. Indeed, how can you tell the size (or identity) of a crocodile when they are underwater? The one characteristic that seems to confirm the genuine attacks from other incidents is the fact that Gustave bears a dark scar on his head, something that is independently confirmed by those who get a good look at him during attacks. We know crocodiles kill and eat many people in various parts of the world every year (there’s no such thing as a “man-eating crocodile” because at least for saltwater and Nile crocodiles, they all have the propensity to do it if the opportunity arises), and it’s easy to believe that a crocodile of such gargantuan size would have an appetite to match, but there seems to be little actual evidence to back this up. Indeed, I haven’t seen any official reports made, books published, or other scientific discussions of case studies for those supposedly killed by Gustave (as is done with shark attacks via the Global Shark Attack File) and Faye doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to get empirical data out to the scientific community at large. Sure, everyone knows of Gustave and would like to catch him for study, but he has become more of a living legend to be captured/exploited than an actual animal to be studied. If Gustave is anything like the mythology makes him out to be, such a case study would be very illuminating from the perspective of ethology and human/ecological interactions, but it seems that the few scientists who have gone there have been so enthralled with trying to catch Leviathan for the cameras that all other empirical study doesn’t mean very much. I don’t mean this as a put-down to people like Brady Barr (the scientist who went with National Geographic), but what if we took the focus off trying to catch the animal and instead tried to figure out what the role of such a huge animal is in an ecosystem and what he is eating.

I don’t know if the mystery of Gustave will ever be fully solved, and it is likely that his story will fade away into obscurity over time. In places that are impoverished and torn by war, who has time to think about monsters in their own backyard? Once such places become developed, then all that was once wild is either tamed or exterminated, so either way Gustave seems more like a remnant of the mystery and danger Africa used to represent when it was still (dubiously) known as the “Dark Continent,” and because such mystery and the Jungian need to still have monsters in today’s world, I don’t think we’re ever going to know as much as we should about such a magnificent animal.





Highway to Hell

25 01 2007

I never knew listening to Queen put me within reach of hellfire and damnation. As Orac alerts us, someone was thoughtful (and homophobic) enough to post a list of bands that will turn your child gay if they tune in. Such idiocy reminds me of a stand-up I once saw where Lewis Black suggests that homosexuals are going around, door-to-door in grey trench coats, trying to turn each household gay. Scary, I know. Anyway, the list is here (ironically on a page that entitled Love God’s Way), and let’s have a look at what bands I listen to/have in my collection that could possibly contribute to my backsliding;

Queen, Metallica, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Interpol, The Doors, John Mayer (?!), Elton John, The Killers, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Nickleback, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

There’s plenty more on the list (Elton John is listed twice, by the way, apparently because he’s “(really gay)”), but the inclusion of Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra perplex me, so I’m guessing someone saw how terrible this idea was and submitted Frankie as a joke. At least, I hope so.

The list of “Safe Music” is short by comparison, ironically counting Underoath (a metalcore band who are all Christians) alongside Jars of Clay. Weird. While looking over all this, I saw a link on the left entitled C.H.O.P.S., standing for (hold on to your hats) Changing Homosexuals into Ordinary People (no mention is made as to what the S stands for). I’m not even going to go into the fallacious ideal that people choose to be gay or that they are not acceptable to God unless they become heterosexuals (it’s too early to rant that much), but I am so saddened and disheartened with the state of Christianity right now that I sometimes wonder if we’ve become nothing more than the Pharisees of the New Testament. If God is love, why all the hate?








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