Hominin hominin hominin

Many years ago I was reading Donald Johanson’s Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and watching The Honeymooners at the same time. Bad idea. This one note bit popped into my head and I have not been able to shake it since. Three decades later I asked myself what would Richard Dawkins do? So I meme the thing.

Why so excited Ralphie boy, what did you find there, the jaw of a baboon?
N-N-N-Norton, I found a homina homina homina.
Calm down, Ralph, it looks like the jaw of a Pliocene baboon to me.
Homina homina homina.
But let me take a closer look.
Homina homina homina.
You’re right, Ralph, it’s not a baboon, not with these incisors.
Homina homina homina.
Good lord, Ralph, you’ve found a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ed, Hi Ralph, Alice home? Just what are you two so excited about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see that jaw. Why it’s, it’s a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ralph, Hi Ed, Hi Trixie, what are you three babbling about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see then. Why it’s a hominin!
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
I’ll call it Lucy.
Ralph!
I’ll call it Alice then.

Human extinction, or not.

(This was a Twitter thread)

There are very few examples on planet in human history where human societies or civilizations completely vanished. Even in times of catastrophic change–creation of the Sahara, 90% fatal pandemics in Amazon, volcanic devastation–human beings have stayed, even if reduced from large scale societies to hunter gatherer bands. Society changes, civilizations collapse, but the species does not go extinct. Indeed, our very evolution has been achieved by dealing with continuous stress and change including population crashes to as few as one thousand or less individuals for the entire species for as long as 100,000 years. We survived, evolved and thrived under extraordinary pressures that would have driven most species–indeed all other hominid species–to extinction. We are extraordinarily adaptable and virtually everything about us is designed to allow us to survive under extremely stressful conditions. That’s why we are here and not a single other human species remains. Society, culture, civilization are all dispensable, it is our extended family that is the default unit that allows Homo sapiens to survive almost anywhere under any conditions. The point of this is that no matter how severe climate change is, no matter if civilization collapses and our numbers are reduced to 1/100,000,000th of today’s population, Homo sapiens will survive. It would take something much more drastic–a giant asteroid, perhaps, or a nuclear war involving thousand of warheads–to completely annihilate the species forever. Both of which are possible, of course. But we will survive even the worst case global warming. It will not be comfortable, the impact on nearly all the world’s ecosystems will be devastating, and it’s hard to imagine a more dystopian future, but it will be livable for just enough of us to keep the genome going.

Axolotl

Weird how cultural perceptions change over time. When I was a kid, axolotls were really freaky looking, almost science fiction, even scary, like aliens. As bizarre looking a creature as you could find in earth. Even the name, a Nahuatl word (they are found in lakes around Mexico City), meant water monster. A little foot long water monster, pink (a relatively rare color in the wild, they are typically brownish) and exotic and weird, especially with those bizarre juvenile gills retained in adulthood. Now in this adorable educational video, fifty years later, they are seen as positively cute. They look cute to me even. How can anyone not love that anthropomorphized smile? Ripley (distinctly not a Nahuatl word for water monster) seems to have a personality, like an anime character (though in Japan, where giant salamanders are five feet long and without the neotenic gills, salamanders are more unnerving than cute and even show up in a Godzilla movie). Somewhere over this past half century there’s been a fundamental shift in what is freakish and what is cute, a shift that even changed my own perceptions. Who knows how this works. Collective thinking. We have barely scratched the surface of the surface of the surface in understanding our brains, and not gotten anywhere at all in figuring how all our brains work together. We stumble through existence with this unparalleled device in our heads, clueless, almost, as to what it is making us think and see and do and remember.

Instant Towering Inferno

My neighbor Chris was doing some online digging into the London hotel fire:

As far as I can tell from poking around online, the cladding on Grenfell Tower is in general a composite of a core material (for stiffness?) sandwiched in aluminum. While aluminum itself isn’t going to catch fire, it will of course conduct heat like the dickens. The manufacturers’ product specs I look at offer non-fire-rated (polyethylene a/k/a PE a/k/a resin) and fire-rated (not sure the material) cores. I’m gonna guess Grenfell’s owners didn’t spring for the fire-rated type.

He went on to point out that the hotel that burned in Dubai last year also used the non-fire-rated cladding in the outside panels. It too went up like a torch. As would most of the towers in Dubai, all made of same material. Depending on how many of today’s skyscrapers were built to the same low standard to save on construction material costs, there could be more fires just like this to come.

And one more grim point. Basically, every one of these buildings can be weaponized simply by starting a fire in the right place. Instant Towering Inferno. No need to fly a jetliner into a building or park a truck full of nitrates next to one. Just the right incendiary device and bam, you have annihilated a whole vertical community. They believe it was an overheated refrigerator motor that began yesterday’s conflagration. It could be something as insignificant as a tossed cigarette next time. It’s hard to imagine terrorists or saboteurs not taking advantage of this. Builders buy this non-fire retardant polyethylene wholesale from numerous manufacturers. There’s definitely a very competitive market for it and building codes can be very lax, even it turns out, in the middle of London. The city forgot the incendiaries that set it ablaze in the Blitz.  One wonders where else they’ve forgotten, or just didn’t give a damn. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of towers around the globe wrapped in the stuff, hidden beneath shiny aluminum exteriors that reflect the sky and the clouds and the setting sun.

Grenfell Tower3

Grenfell Tower

You say potato, and I say peruna.

So I tried boiling the potatoes until soft and then dunking them in a bowl of ice water for ten seconds and then peeling off the skins. It worked. Life just got a little bit easier. The skillet already had the diced onion, bell pepper, sweet pepper and collard greens. Dropped in the spuds and let them, brown and make an unholy mess out of the bottom of the pan and hot damn, Irish-German heaven. Spuds, baby, Kartoffels, pomme de terre, papas in a brand new bag. Well, recipe. Well, old recipe, new technique. Thank god for the Incas. Without them we might still be eating gruel. Though I don’t know who the lazy bum was who brainstormed on this boiling and dunking thing. A Finn maybe, leaping from the sauna into a ice cold lake. Peruna they call a potato. Comes from Swedish, something to do with pears. Probably Swedes fucking with their minds. Here, Aarni, have a pear. Though the Germans used to call then earth pears. At some point they became kartoffels, from the Italian. The French called them earth apples. The Swiss still call them earth apples. A little too close to road apples. I wonder about Europeans sometimes.

The Finns eventually Finnicized it into peruna. That crazy language has fifteen cases. Each one changes peruna into something else, and same for plurals. By itself a potato is a peruna. More than one is perunat. But as they were mine they were perunoiden. When I dropped them into the pot they were perunoihin. Once in the pot they were perunoissa. As they were boiling they were perunoita. When they were finally softened they were perunoiksi. As I took them out of the pot they were perunoista. When I removed the skins they were perunoitta. In the skillet with onions and peppers they were perunoineen. When I took them off the fire they were perunoilta. As I put them on the plate they were perunoille. As they sat there on the plate they were perunoilla. And when I gave them to my wife they were perunat again. (For those of you taking notes, those were the plural declensions for the nominative, genitive, illative, inessive, partitive, translative, elative, abessive, comitative, ablative, allative, adessive, and accusative cases.)

Luckily we ate them in English.

So maybe it’s not an argentine ant super colony after all.

argentine-ant-illustration_568x336

An argentine ant, courtesy of Orkin.

One of my favorite ant things–the genetically uniform super colony of Argentine ants that stretches from San Diego to San Francisco–may not be a genetically uniform super colony of Argentine ants that stretches from San Diego to San Francisco after all. Scientists are still testily debating it. Even in the very dry Science Daily article linked below you can sense myrmecologists getting angry. “How can they be genetically homogenous across wide, wide scales [i.e., San Diego to San Francisco] when they’re not even genetically homogenous across hundreds of meters?” A pro-super colony scientist sighs and reiterates the reason that it is a supercolony. It goes back and forth. No decision.  But the article gives the skeptics a final poke. “This story [about the supercolony] has really captured the imagination of the public, and it’s somewhat frustrating” a revisionist myrmecologist complains, “But it’s such a neat story, people sometimes don’t want to hear conflicting evidence.” A cheap shot, sure, but it made me squirm. Her colleague piles on. “I think real ants are much more interesting than the stories we make up about ants. We’d have better stories to tell if we started with the actual data.” The article ends there. The pro-supercolony scientists don’t get a shot back. It’s a little unfair. Meanwhile, I’ll have to wait to see how this turns out, being that I believe I’ve written on this supercolony a couple times and therefore may be spreading alternative facts faster than a myrmecological Kelly Anne Conway. But to be honest I hope the revisionists are wrong, because it really is a neat story, this huge gnarly supercolony of genetically identical tiny little ants beneath our feet. I hate to give it up. Of course science doesn’t really care what you hope is true. Nor do ants, for that matter. I was just looking at an argentine ant on the kitchen counter this morning. She said nothing but scurried away before I had a chance to squish her.

Scientists Question Reports Of Massive Ant Supercolonies In California And Europe

Love is in the air

The San Diego Alligator Lizard…two males vying for same female. The male grabs the female by the neck with his jaws and mounts her. They will stay like this for a whole day, sometimes, reminding me of a story you will never hear. Anyway, if only my pal Jeff had stayed and observed for several hours to see who succeeded, taking notes and talking like David Attenborough. I imagine both males did eventually. Hot lizardesses swing. The fact that both gnarly lizard dudes are fighting for the same female makes me wonder if their sperm contains spermicide that will attempt to destroy the previous lover’s sperm. I suppose there’s no reason you couldn’t have multiple fathers as there will be several eggs. This is getting way too complicated.

San Diego Alligator Lizard threesome

San Diego Alligator Lizards in Highland Park on a lusty April day. Photo by Jeff Boynton.