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Chinese cats

(January, 2016)

Cool stuff….appears that cats were domesticated twice–once in the middle east, and later and independently in China. The Chinese cats, which were domesticated leopard cats, disappeared once the middle eastern variety was introduced to China, so that today’s domesticated cats, even those in China, are descended from the middle eastern wild cat. They believe that those wild cats from the mid east developed vocalizations (or kept up kitten sounds into adulthood) that appealed to us, while leopard cats have fewer vocalizations for interacting with humans. They might not have been as affectionate and easy to tame either. You play too hard to get and you’re back out in the cold. You know how you cat people are.

Piscine nihilism

So a couple days ago I was harvesting white hair algae from the fish tank. Amazing and annoying stuff, it begins to clump on a leaf or stalk with bunches of fine grey filaments and you have to either remove the leaf or yank a clump of the hairy stuff from a stalk until you’ve got a little pile of algae that looks more like the floor of a Leisure World barber shop than anything algal and slimy. It smells faintly of kelp, also an algae, but a mega algae. In comparison these white hair algae are maybe an inch or two long. Yet apparently these white hair algae are actually a community of algae species, each filament a towering algal skyscraper, like a tiny stromatolite waving in the current.

But I digress.

Removing the algae stirred up the Gordian knot of plants floating in the center of the tank, a mass of interconnected triffids rising from thin stalks anchored in the gravel to take over their known universe. Suddenly, almost like magic, a tiny little fish appeared. An infant platy. Uh oh. It should have had two or three or even four dozen siblings. There should be a whole herd of tiny fishlings. But this little guy.seemed utterly alone. For the week prior all the other fish had been giving unusual attention to the eddies and recesses in that mass of plants. Now I know why. They’d been stalking baby prey. A piscicidal massacre. Even the orange platys, both mom and dad, had pitched into the feast, eating more than their share, devouring their own DNA and shitting it out again, any chance of their own evolution stopped cold. Now that’s a Darwin Award. Literally eating their own. Sick little fucks, fish.

Quirks of fate

It seems that 70,000 years ago the global population of homo sapiens was reduced to less than 26,000. Apparently they teased out that bit of info through some genetic analysis. As humans were by then in Africa and across much of Eurasia, that means we were very sparse on the ground. All seven billion of us spring from remarkably small numbers of people. Indeed, it’s been suggested that as few as seventy individuals came across the Bering Strait land bridge to eventually people the entire western hemisphere. We’ve had more than seventy people in our pad at parties. I never thought of them as a genome before. Well, I did once and got my face slapped. But I digress.

A million or so years ago our antecessor species Homo erectus seems in the genetic analyses (if I knew how they do this I’d tell you) to have been reduced to less than a thousand individuals….and remained like that on the razor’s edge of extinction for maybe a hundred thousand years. Everything we are was dependent on a population the size of a very small town or a medium sized high school or the fans of failing rock band in a big, mostly empty concert hall. Somewhere in that tiny population was some of us, genetically. Whatever genetic factors helped members of that population survive a particularly brutal hundred thousand years of Darwinian natural selection (as other related human species went extinct) lies deep in our own genome. And when 70,000 years ago something happened globally that reduced Homo sapiens to less than 25,000 individuals, we survived while the last of Homo erectus died out, unable to survive what it had once survived for a hundred thousand years. No one ever said natural selection was fair. It’s anything but. The fossil record is full of species of humans and proto-humans no longer here. Fleshed out by talented artists, they gaze at us with all the pathos of a Rembrandt. You can sense their intelligence and emotions. Then you look at the skulls again, bare and ancient and hopelessly extinct. There but for quirks of fate, is us.

There are a hundred trillion bacteria in your body as you read this, and a bunch of these guys in those bacteria.

The surface it is standing on would be, I assume, the interior of the exterior of a bacterium, being that bacteriophage viruses invade and then replicate within bacteria, taking proteins from the bacteria to create copies of itself. Sounds creepy, though the influenza virus does the exact same thing, using our cells instead of a single cell bacterium. From a virus’s unthinking and barely even alive POV, a cell is a cell. What matters is the proteins in the cell, without which there can be no baby viruses.

Dead owls

I suspect that the exponential increase in the pet cat population led to the exponential increase in urban and suburban coyotes which led to the decrease in the time cats spend outdoors which has caused the exponential increase in the urban and suburban brown rat population which has caused an increase in the amount of rat poison used which has dramatically increased the number of dead and dying rats which has led to the increased mortality in owls I read about today.

They did not have a flu shot in 1918

The 1918 influenza epidemic infected half a billion people out of global population of 1.8 billion. Somewhere from fifty to one hundred million of those people died. Nearly everyone killed by the flu was under 65, with most being between 20 and 40, in whom the body’s immune system’s reaction was so severe that lung tissue was reduced to a thick mass and the victims drowned in their own phlegm. A perfectly healthy young person could fall sick in the morning and be dead that night, as a strong  immune system made the disease all the more deadly.

There was no flu shot in 1918, which means people in 1918 were just as vulnerable as people who didn’t get the shot this year. Fortunately the flu this year is vastly less deadly, and will probably only kill a few tens of thousands world wide. It’s a roll of the dice every year, but at some point  a flu virus will evolve that drops people like flies. Could be next year, could be in a hundred years. If you get the shot you lessen the odds of dying a rather quick and ghastly death. It’s up to you.