Thursday, June 25, 2009


Gone Fishing!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mack the Snake

"Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white"
Bobby Darin, 1958

As reported here:
Asaki Hoso reported that the snail-eating snake, Pareas iwasakii, has lopsided jaws to better enable it to tug snails out of their shells.
Apparently these snakes feed mostly on snails...

...and the lopsided upper jaw with about 17 teeth on the left and 24 on the right has evolved to extract snails from their shells which, in nature, seem to usually turn clockwise making the shell opening asymmetric.

All was well until one clever snail, Satsuma c. caliginosa, got in touch with her inner genes and got them to turn her shell around to swirl counter clockwise. Clever Miss. So, for the moment S. caliginosa is not on the menu for p. iwasakii. See the two web sites linked to above (here and here) for exciting videos and the full story. Quite a sinister situation, it seems.

So, two big questions come to mind reading this:
1. Why do most snails have clockwise rotating shells?
2. What mechanism did Miss S. caliginosa use to switch the rotation of the shells from right to left?

Snails are pretty interesting guys. According to Wikipedia "Snails lacking a shell or having only a very small one are usually called slugs." (One of the more interesting slugs is the Nudibranch, but I digress.) I also did not know that snails were next to insects in number and that sea snails are more common than land snails. Some land snails are predatory omnivores. Oh, my:

So, onward to the snail shell. Did you know that snails need extra calcium to develop their shells? (daily Tums, please). And that some snails have a "door" called an Operculum ? Gosh, Mr. Wizard (or should I say Mr. Wiki).

The snail shell is a logarithmic spiral. Counter to popular belief, the mollusk shell is not a Golden Spiral. Even more disheartening is that it is not even a Fibonocci Spiral, which (hold on) is not even a logarithmic spiral!! (the tenets of my firmament are being shaken!)

Sensibly, the snail uses a logarithmic spiral :
"... it allows the organism to grow at a constant rate without having to change shape. Spirals are common features in nature; golden spirals are but one special case of these."
One has to intrigued how the human brain sees beauty in the spiral and the golden rectangle. Is it possible that such complex mathematics is somehow built into our brain? Of course we are idiot savants when it comes to this but why such things are beautiful is intriguing. Then there is Phyllotaxis "
The beautiful arrangement of leaves in some plants, called phyllotaxis, obeys a number of subtle mathematical relationships. For instance, the florets in the head of a sunflower form two oppositely directed spirals: 55 of them clockwise and 34 counterclockwise. Surprisingly, these numbers are consecutive Fibonacci numbers."
That's better. Snail shells are also interesting in that:
"Due to the way snails solve the growth problem (enlarging their shell), they always have to carry the whole construction with them, even if they do not inhabit the oldest whorls. Crustaceans and insects, for example, use another option to overcome the growth problem: they regularly shed their whole skin when they grow and replace it with a larger one. The advantage of that method above the snail-grow method is that they do not have to carry around obsolete body parts. On the other hand, a crustacean or an insect is a very vulnerable when it has shed its old skin and the new skin still has to harden. "
And we all know who sheds her/his shell like a strip teaser:

But this says nothing about how the snail determines the direction of the whorl. We have to believe that it is related to the embryonic organizer. That little group of cells in the embryo which seem to run the show known as the primitive knot. This group of cells appears to be the most active secretors of growth factors which, in addition to jump starting the anatomical differentiation of the embryo also, due to "differential secretion of factors by the node ... causes development of the right-left axis in the embryo.: So it is here that is the nitty gritty of the whorl direction.

I am more at a loss to postulate a molecular mechanism for this . Clearly a left right axis means one group of cells is behaving differently than a similar group, but is this due to differential secretion of growth factors within a single cell (at first), or do all the cells of a small group suddenly go one way and the others go another. I don't know enough about embryology to even begin to answer this question.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday Crab Blogging (a little late)

I need to talk to Jaden's mom (who is a school teacher). I really don't think its good publicity to be known as "Doktr K". Its more like a rap group or something. But, anything for a good crab.

Now Carson is just 4 but he apparently has some emerging issues with mirror writing. I didn't notice this until I scanned it. Mom might also be a school teacher. Katie (above) is his sister so I think things will be o.k. (oh, and this is definitively not a crab, but I am not sure what it does represent. Perhaps it is "the medium through which all the moments that have been savored and measured and found meaningful" is expressed. Who knows?)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Comic Books - II

Prior posts here and here. Which stemmed from posts on lurid book covers summarized here with the added post of here.

Posts on comics per se include here, here and here.

I have been tardy in posting about this and have let the UN (here) get in some decisive thrusts with her black helicopter poniard. So I will begin, if you will oblige me, with what I was going to post as a comment on her post .

"The original incarnations of various superheroes [Superman, Captain Marvel, etc.] in the late 1930s and 1940s were products of their time and reflected life during the Great Depression and World War II."

This is pretty much the theme. In the same vein, but of an earlier period, is a new piece in the NYRB about early 30's cinema. This has a particular bite for us since that was the era of the early Depression. Many would argue that we are in an early Depression II. Basically, pre Code movies out of Hollywood were pretty real to life without the sanitizing effect of either the Motion Picture Production Code or, even more interestingly, the Legion of Decency (which I remember from my childhood; particularly their condemnation of "The Moon is Blue" because of its adultery theme). There was lots of risque scenes and dialog. Heroes were not particularly moral (that is a tough one). You get the picture.

Here is the thesis: Adults are the "operational" product of their experience as children, more so than we would like to think. (I use the word "operational" since I am at a loss for any other. I don't want to use "moral" or "experiential." Help me here.) I would contend that the most sensitive period for this learning is when the child enters the world stage at approximately 4-12 years old. Trying to understand how males like Obama or Bill O'Rielly work requires an examination of the influences that impacted at that time including, in the 1940's to 1960's, the influence of certain comic books on their world view. Not an original thesis in any way, but one worth exploring.

After the success of early Superman and Captain Marvel came the inevitable (in U.S. culture) exploitation with "Tales from the Crypt, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science-Fantasy, and The Vault of Horror." And:

"In a cycle that appears to repeat itself in every generation, there was a growing concern among parents and authority figures in the post-World War II era over the coarsening effects of popular culture on the attitudes and mores of teenagers................Seeking to avoid the imposition of federal oversight and regulation, the major comic-book publishers created a self-regulatory agency called the Comics Code Authority (CCA). "

I am using this to support my thesis. That is, as trivial as we might think today, comic books were felt to be important influences on the growing child. It is interesting that the comics got their comeuppance because of graphic gore, whereas motion pictures were canned (literally) because of graphic (by the standards of the day) and implied sex. (there is no implied gore because sex is subtle whereas gore is not)

JSBlog quotes from a book (The Physics of Superheroes, by James Kakalios (2005)) the quote originally on Unreal Nature : "Young readers were thereby introduced through this superhero comic to facts and historical figures not typically covered in their history classes. ." There is also a reference to Alan Moore concerning the recent Watchmen movie.

I have agreed with this since one could come close to covering Roman History in the Superman comics alone. But these historical allusions, basically unknown to the age group reading comics, must have resonated in the culture in some way. (It may be the same reason that Pixar movies have many nuggets for adults; even Richard Scary of Busy, Busy World fame loads his books with the same.)

Another reference by JSBlog was to the "Monomyth.". The best known recent proponent of this has been Joseph Campbell. As JSBlog says: "Campbell's iconic work is The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which proposes a "monomyth", a single heroic story (commonly called the "Campbell Cycle").........A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man"

I guess all of the above is one trying to make complex what many see as simply going through childhood. I think if the young boys (and girls, e.g. Hillary Clinton and Condelezza Rice) were to grow up and labor in the fields or the kitchen, this would be a moot discussion. However, some young people grow up to have an immense impact on the World. For the last 50 years, the most powerful person in the World has been the President of the United States. I think we should pay attention to what influences were about when they were learning the foundations of what would become their "operational" skills. (One anomaly here is the Pope. Here is a man who belonged to the Hitler Youth. Authoritarian he is, with very little slack for us out here who were scarlet letters. Hmmm...)

Next Up: Blackhawk

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Crab Blogging

A reputable crab but the color, while familiar, is one of the posthumous hues.

This Crab thinks he is on the Sea of Galilee.

Clearly, a crab is of no interest if you can draw a plankton! Particularly one that is quite uncomfortable in your presence.

I am losing control of my audience, this one decided to draw a helicopter.

Guest appearance by an entry from Norstrilia, or Soustrilia, or someplace down there. (courtesy of the Growlery).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Wisdom of United HealthCare

United HealthCare is one of the largest medical insurance companies around. They never pass up a chance of sticking it to doctors and patients. They also publish some rather fascinating garbage, like here:
Through its diversified family of businesses, it leverage (sic) core competencies in advanced technology-based transactional capabilities; health care data, knowledge and information; and health care resource organization and care facilitation to improve access to health and well-being services, simplify the health care experience, promote quality and make health care more affordable.
My experience with this company has been almost the exact opposite of this quote. In particular, it has impeded access to health and well-being services (the "prior-auth" gambit), it has not promoted quality but quantity (increase office visits or die), and has done nothing to make health care more affordable (see below)

In 2008, UHC's revenues were $81,186,000,000. Their payout to doctors, hospitals, etc. was $60,359,000,000, or only 75% of what they took in (it was only 71% the year before). This means that $21 Billion stayed in the company.

The CEO of UHC in 2007 was Stephen J. Hemsley. He "raked in $5,029,838 in total compensation.* In the previous year the CEO of this company made $8,748,422."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Quacky Quartet

The Newt speaks:
I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.

However, Huckabee was not to be outdone in the use of hyperbole. The former Republican presidential candidate called the United States a "blessed" nation whose victory against the British in the Revolutionary War was "a miracle from God's hand," indeed the same type of miracle that defeated the legalization of gay marriage in California.

Another speaker at the event was Oliver North. (H/t Think Progress)(emphasis added)
Mirabilis! Mirabilis! The Dead Speak!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Princess SummerFallWinterSpring

Comic Books - I

In a minor contribution to the ongoing discussion of graphic "art," I thought I throw out a memory I have of a Superman Comic from the 1940's. I can't find the exact issue, but in one of Superman's adventures an adversary planted dragon's teeth which then grew into soldiers (what appeared to be Roman soldiers to my innocent eye.) Now, all of you vastly erudite folks out there will have immediately recognized this as a reference to an old myth:
In Greek myth, dragon's teeth feature prominently in the legends of the Phoenician prince Cadmus and Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In each case, the dragon's teeth, once planted, would grow into fully armed warriors.

Cadmus is show sowing the teeth in the Maxfield Parrish graphic above.(1)

This retained memory is interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, of course, is why did I retain it? I couldn't have possibly of known the classical connection at that tender age. Secondly, is this not like the tendency of much literature, including, and in particular, English literature, to scatter references to classical themes? I would venture that this is particularly prominent in authors schooled in the "Tom Brown" era of English public schooling (maybe still is). On the other hand, one of the most prominent use of classical references that comes to my mind is Montaigne. One would need to have read all of the classical Roman authors to even begin to recognize the quotes he scatters with frequency in his works.

One could go on meandering about this for hours. What the point of this is, and it is a meme that I hope to explore, is how this exposure in childhood to graphic or literary concepts informs our later decision making, especially those who are in power. This will be especially true for the exposure of children in the 1940's-50's to comic books such as, you guessed it, Superman. (And, Wonder Woman, etc., etc.)

Every person, man and woman, has a childhood. Most people in power in the 21st century were not extremely privileged (i.e. lived in a palace with individual tutors). This is especially true for someone like Barack Obama. In fact, one could make an observation that a defining difference between Obama and GW Bush is their upbringing. What books did Obama read in Indonesia (2)? (I suspect this is in his Audacity of Hope). The fact that Obama was able to give a speech directed at a Muslim audience in Egypt whereas Bush would have totally incapable of the same thing speaks volumes.

It is also true that Bush (b.1946) grew up a generation earlier than Obama (b. 1961). The same generation as Clinton (b. 1946),(and, of course, Dr. C.; I did not know Clinton at Georgetown, but he was there). Other birth dates of note are Gordon Brown (b. 1951), Sarkozy (b. 1955), Merkel (b. 1954) and Putin (b. 1952).

(1) The classical legends of Cadmus and Jason have given rise to the phrase "to sow dragon's teeth." This is used as a metaphor to refer to doing something that has the effect of fomenting disputes, rather akin to the law of unintended consequences.

(2) From ages six to ten, Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, including Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Watch This Space!!!


I am so far behind, I might never catch up (envisions rest of life running after train; always being 3 minutes behind everybody else in the Universe. [<-- May classify as alternative]).

So, here are the upcoming projects:
(1) Think about what comic books have to say about American culture in the 50's (hint, may involve obnoxious pictures of Blackhawk:

and Miss America):

And, before I am accused of the mortal sin of chauvinism, don't forget that this is the only experience I have to work from.
[This is in response to multiple posts from JSBlog, Unreal Nature and the Growlery.]

(2) Tidy up comments on the art meme (Oh, no, Mr. Bill, not that again) (Don't you like that little britishism, "Tidy up?")

(3) Post on Homeopathy, the light year dilution.

(4) Post on the crisis in Immunizations (hint: 100 years ago about 40% of children died before they reached the age of 5).

(5) Post on this fascinating picture from the Growlery:

Monday, June 01, 2009

If you like crabs...Update

We finally got the results of the big crab contest up. It can be viewed here.

We have posted the categories. However, we forgot to jot down who won which one. So, as Fox News says, "You Decide!"....

This is a sample of this excellent artistic endeavor.