Monday, January 26, 2009

Free at last!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bush the Terrorist (Jabber)!

I've always chuckled whenever right-wingers would rationalize the failures of the Bush XLIII by claiming that he wasn't a "true conservative". I never really bought that; besides, (Nobel Laureate) Paul Krugman completely evicerated that claim quite decisively.

But I have recently been made aware of some evidence which throws my previous beliefs into serious doubt. It turns out that not only wasn't W a true conservative, he may have been a ... GASP!!! The Boston Globe is reporting that Bush bid adieu to his official photographer with a terrorist fist jab! There was no photographic evidence accompanying the article, but I think the truth is quite clear. It all makes perfect sense now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Prepare Cuttlefish Sashimi (Dolphin style)

ResearchBlogging.orgThe proper preparation of giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) for consumption requires at least two steps. The unpalatable ink must be drained from the hapless cephalopod and the cuttlebone must be removed. Of course if you're planning on dining with a fork and knife, then step #2 isn't strictly necessary. But for the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), which swallows its meals intact, cuttlebone removal is obligatory.

This is what researchers Julian Finn, Tom Tregenza, Mark Norman have reported in a paper published today in PLoS ONE. The researchers--in SCUBA gear--positioned themselves in dolphin feeding grounds near Whyalla, Spencer Gulf and caught the feeding behavior with an HD video camera. They observed how the dolphins corralled the cuttlefish out into the open, pinned them to the ground, hammered them to death, shook the ink out of them, scraped them on the bottom to remove the cuttlebone, and finally bon app├ętite.

(clicking on image takes you to the full Fig. 1 image at PLoS ONE)

Here's how the researchers describe the steps involved:

  1. Prey positioning: Cuttlefish prey were typically hiding amongst dense brown algae. On encountering the cuttlefish, the dolphin flushed the prey away from algal cover into areas of open sand (Fig. 1a).

  2. Prey restraint: The dolphin then adopted a vertical position in the water column and pinned the prey down against the sand substrate.

  3. Pinned thrust kill: A rapid downward vertical thrust was effected by the dolphin using a powerful tail beat (Fig. 1b, 2a), accompanied by a whole body twist that broke the cuttlebone and/or cephalic cartilage (with a loud click audible to divers), instantly killing the cuttlefish.

  4. ‘Snout beating’ of the corpse: The corpse was then lifted into the water column on top of the beak (Fig. 1c, 2b) and repeatedly hit with the snout (up to 6 times), until dense clouds of ink were released (Fig. 1d, 2c). Beating continued until ink release diminished.

  5. Removal of intact cuttlebone: The dead prey was then returned to the sand where it was inverted and the dorsal surface of the cuttlefish body forcibly pushed into and along the sand substrate (Fig. 1e), thus scraping off the thin dorsal skin of the cuttlefish and releasing the cuttlebone, which then floated to the surface.

  6. Ingestion: The prepared cuttlefish was then consumed whole (Fig. 1f, 2d), or when the head and body were separated during beak beating, only the head was consumed (with attached digestive tract organs).

(clicking on image takes you to the full Fig. 2 image at PLoS ONE)

Naturally there are still questions to be answered. Two important ones are (1) Is this practice widespread or just limited to the dolphins observed? and (2) If it's widespread, is it inherited behavior or passed on culturally? The evidence seems to suggest that the practice is indeed widespread.

Repeated above-water observations of clean cuttlebones bobbing to the surface in association with passing pods of dolphins suggest that some or all of this behavioural sequence is not restricted to a single individual dolphin.

Whether the behavior is taught or inherited is still up in the air (or down in the water) and will require more research.

EDIT: This post is my very first Blogging Peer Reviewed Research post (Did you catch the nifty icon?). So as the total n00b that I am, I did things backwards: I wrote and published the post, then checked the guidelines to make sure that it conformed. You can imagine how aghast I was when I read this.

7. The post should contain original work by the post author -- while some quoting of others is acceptable, the majority of the post should be the author's own work.

A quick perusal confirmed that my post was closer to 50/50 than "the majority of the post being my own work." While I had a high degree of confidence that--as a first timer--they would let me slide, the prudent action is to add more of my thoughts.

It has long been known that dolphins can perform intricate tasks. It has been demonstrated that they can solve problems (such as navigating mazes) as well as perform stunts which they have been trained to do. This particular behavior can be broken into six distinct steps, most of which are each themselves intricate. Given the complexity of the behavior as well as what we know about dolphins, I feel pretty safe ruling out instinctual behavior. More research needs to be done of course.

An observation which I believe would support this hypothesis is if we found the behavior widespread among groups of dolphins who intermingle, but lacking in other groups of the same species who aren't in contact with the group who we prepares cuttlefish this way.

This brings up a question #3 for me. Is this behavior passed on by "passive" imitation or by active teaching? This is the question that I would really like an answer too. I've blogged in the past about how I think that the combination teaching and blind imitation is the root of human culture. In other words, despite my skeptic inclinations to "think for myself" and not just do as I'm told, it takes less energy and time to fill our huge cerebrums with knowledge if just soak up what we're taught than if we try to figure everything out ourselves. And that only works efficiently in a culture if we're also actively teaching what we know to others in our group.

But back to the dolphins, I just don't know-and this paper has only intensified my curiosity. I can't imagine that dolphins teach their young the way we (and apparently there's evidence that some other primates, such as japanese macaques, also) do. Anyway, hopefully now I'm within the required guidelines.

Julian Finn, Tom Tregenza, Mark Norman (2009). Preparing the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal: Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins PLoS ONE, 4 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004217

Running on Hope

Here's the diagnostic on your country, Mr. Obama.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Change has begun!

I'm not sure if this was the first inaugural address to include the word statistics, by I approve!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

R.I.P. x 3

I grew up and currently live in the Delaware Valley, so I am very familiar with Chads Ford. In elementary school, I went on field trips to the Brandywine Battlefield and some of the old DuPont estates. As a cyclist, I think I've bicycled 80% of the roads there (at least it feels that way). And of course, I'm familiar with the artwork of Andrew Wyeth. With the exception of the Helga collection, Wyeth's art has been a part of my life since childhood. I remember, as a child, how it seemed that everybody and their grandmother had a print of Christina's World in their home. Even today, there's something about that painting that speaks out to me, although the meaning has changed.

R.I.P. Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 2009)

One of my favorite detective shows has always been Columbo. The writing and acting was always first class. But the best thing about the series was what separated it from other series in the genre. The shows always began with a murder. You got a hint of what motivated the murder; you got to see the planning and execution of the murder; you got to see how the killer set himself/herself up with the perfect alibi; and you got to see all that before the detective--brilliantly played by Peter Falk--even made his first appearance. This was not your typical whodunnit?--you already knew that. The thrill was in watching how Columbo solved the crime.

One episode of Columbo that will always stick in my mind is By Dawn's Early Light. It starred a young Bruno Kirby (as well as his father, Bruno Kirby Sr.) as a cadet at a military institute. The murderer in this episode was the head of the school who killed one of the board members who was planning on making the academy co-ed. The actor who played the villain was the great Patrick McGoohan (who also starred in and/or directed several other Columbo episodes). This was also the first time I became aware of this actor. He is well known as #6 in The Prisoner, but I will always remember him from Columbo and from his portrayal of the unsympathetic King Edward I (Longshanks) in Braveheart.

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan (1928 - 2009)

I thought perhaps I was the only one who remembered Patrick McGoohan from Columbo, so I was glad to see that Jason Rosenhouse also remembered him from there. Jason also reminded me of the bullfighter episode of Columbo, where the killer was played by Ricardo Montalban. As a kid, I watched Montalban as Mr. Rork on Fantasy Island. However, what I remember him best as today are his roles as Vincent Ludwig in The Naked Gun and Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. His performance in ST2 was phenomenal and included some memorable quotes such as

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

You are in a position to be making no demands.

I stab at thee! I stab at thee! I stab at thee!

R.I.P. Ricardo Montalban (1920 - 2009)

Monday, January 12, 2009

So God created Tornado in his own image

The description of that video said that it resembled Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam". What do you think?

Why I could never hope to win Le Tour d'France

Stella Artois: The Race

(Sorry Papa, there doesn't seem to be an embed option.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Great victory for the ULC!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. I have yet to use my ordination in order to perform any rites--such as weddings (although my colleague and good friend, the Reverend Frank Golddigger, once performed a multi-denominational funeral service for a beloved family pet pug)--but I know that if necessary, I can. That is why I'm delighted that Bucks County Court Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. upheld the First Amendment and ruled in favor of freedom and equality last week.

There was good news yesterday for Jason and Jennifer O'Neill, a Philadelphia couple whose 2005 Bucks County marriage had been thrown into question because they used a minister ordained online. For many other similarly situated couples, too.

Bucks County Court Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. declared the marriage valid, even though the minister - Jason O'Neill's uncle, Robert A. Norman - had been ordained in a matter of minutes by the Universal Life Church after completing a short form online.

Similar rulings have been issued in Montgomery County and Philadelphia County (where I live). There are now three counties in Pennsylvania where I can legally perform rites. There is still an issue with York County though. For those of you not familiar with York County, it's Jesusland Pennsylvania. The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial over teaching Intelligent Design was in the heart of York County. And it was a York County judge who had invalidated weddings performed by ministers who had received online ordination, because said ministers "did not regularly preach in a church or have an actual congregation." That ruling is often cited by clerks in other Pennsylvania counties as justification for denying marriage certificates to couples. That is exactly what happened to Jason and Jennifer O'Neill.

"Statewide, thousands of couples will be relieved by this decision, but the threat is not completely absent unless they live in Bucks County," Kaplowitz (of Drinker, Biddle & Reath, who represented the O'Neills on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania) said.

In the last 10 years, engaged couples, particularly those from different religions like the O'Neills, have increasingly sought to personalize their weddings by having the ceremonies performed by friends ordained online or by non-denominational individuals whose presence would not offend their families' religious practices.

That trend drew the ire of some county clerks and registers of wills statewide, who called the practice an affront to the institution of marriage and sought to disqualify so-called online officiants.

Among them was Bucks County Clerk of Orphans' Court Barbara G. Reilly, who launched a public-information campaign about the York County ruling. Reilly advised Bucks County couples to reapply for marriage licenses, and 36 couples were remarried as a result.

Reilly said she had not yet studied Fritsch's ruling, but found the news "puzzling."

"If the judge is right, then the law is wrong," Reilly said. "The law is flawed and must be restructured."

"I guess this means a minister from the Church of the Wineskins, for example - that's another one I've dealt with - would have to prove his church meets at least the same criteria as the ULC," Reilly said.

If I may chime in, the "law" (I assume she's referring the York County ruling) is indeed wrong and needs to be not just restructured, but overturned. In fact, let me just state here in public that I would like a minister from the Church of the Wineskins to conduct my wake. Take that, Reilly!

The other thing that really bothered me about this was the clerks who called "the practice an affront to the institution of marriage". Does that language sound familiar? I'm not going to pretend that the York County ruling is the assault to civil liberties that prop h8 is, but it is basically the same people behind it and they're using the same rhetoric. I'm not exactly sure what the law is in Pennsylvania regarding gay marriage, but I believe that it is neither recognized by the State, nor explicitly banned in the constitution. So if you're a gay Philadelphia couple that wants to make a statement, and you're looking for an unconventional and inexperienced minister to marry you, give me a call.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Degenerate "Tarzan" on the loose in Sydney

This is disturbing.

SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian man broke into three adult shops, had sex with blow up dolls named "Jungle Jane" and then dumped his plastic conquests in a nearby alley, local media reported Wednesday.

"It's totally bizarre. It's a real concern that someone like that is out on the street," said one of the owners of the adult sex shops in Cairns in northern Queensland state.

"He has been taking the dolls out the back and blowing them up and using the dolls and leaving them in the alley," the owner, who gave the name of Vogue, told the Cairns Post newspaper.

Police told the Cairns Post that scientific officers had taken DNA samples, fingerprints and pictures of the crime scene.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jon Stewart on the Burris appointment

Blagojevich Creation

Jon Stewart and The Daily Show FTW!