Em and her friend were wondering how venomous snakes could have evolved, if the venom itself would have been toxic to them.
This is not authoritative but follows what I know about evolution
Ancient Forms and Defenses
When thinking about 'modern' animals like snakes (even though they're not really modern, and are very much unchanged for millions of years) it's useful to think about the even older forms of related animals.
My mind's eye goes back over early lizards and salamanders and toads in swamps hundreds of millions of years ago. And before them, to wormlike things, sluglike things, etc. And before them, to protozoa. And everything in between.
In this case, it seems highly plausible to me that in the huge give and take of evolution over all that time, that 'venom' or venomlike offensive and defensive weapons would be very common. In fact, they are very common in the animal kingdom -- frogs with poisonous skin, spiders, insects, snakes, jellyfish, etc. Probably worms and nematodes and so forth. Maybe even protozoa, amoebas, etc., that 'sting' each other, repel each other with the equivalent of very rudimentary toxins.
If you can picture all this, imagine the underlying genetics. This means there are genes in the genome that express venomlike characteristics, and they could be -- probably are -- very, very old parts of the genome. So the way I think about this, is that any given species (or family) has a potential and a relative propensity to express venomlike features. It could be that the characteristics that led to venom in snakes was pretty much already in place way way long ago, when life on earth was just sludge and mire and weeds and algae.
Let's take a side trip and think about how this could have started, and how it might connect with immunity. Life is chemical. Slight mutations in chemical makeup would endow an individual with slight advantages, if it repelled an enemy. It might have developed from digestive glands -- organisms need to digest intake food. So it seems possible that chemicals that developed as acids or similar to break down food, could have developed to be more noxious or toxic.
Obviously if an organism developed such a mutation, it would not live to reproduce if it was susceptible to its own 'venom'. Over millions and millions of years, and millions of 'failures,' it seems likely to me that 'venom' genes would become linked to 'immunity' genes. That is, families that had a high propensity to express venomous features, would likewise have a high propensity for immunity. I don't know this is the case, but we do know that in the genome certain gene groups are linked. Sometimes the organismal features are related, sometimes they're not.
Now think about delivery mechanisms. Skin, spit, spines, teeth, fangs..... Maybe an early salamander-like creature had very corrosive spit, that helped it break down its food, or maybe even strong enough to stun a small insect in its mouth. It would already have an 'immunity' to that effect. Over time, it could get more powerful, and the immunity would have to get more powerful too. But this could develop gradually. Then fangs could develop too, and the venom sacks could evolve from saliva glands or some other gland.
Everything in evolution develops from something that was already there.
The eye example is famous because creationsists argued that the mammal eye is so complex, with interacting lens, iris, pupil, humor, etc., that no one part of it would have evolved independently. Famously, they said, "Half an eye would be no good to any animal."
Biologists have now shown exactly how the eye evolved, and it's actually one of the most complete and spectacular stories in evolution. So there, creationists!
The part of the story that's helpful in thinking about the venom story, is the very beginning. If you think about the same amoebas and protozoa and ancient creepy-crawlies, if just one of them developed a mutation that permitted a single cell on the surface of the creature to be light-sensitive -- perhaps affecting the rudimentary nervous system in some tiny way -- conveying heat or a tingle or stimulating an electric impulse or a chemical reaction -- this would immediately be a HUGE evolutionary advantage for that organism. Any sudden change in light could mean an enemy is near. And the organism could move away to escape or towards to attack.
So very simple changes would be inherited through survival of the fittest, and eventually become vision.
Trick question: Why don't trees and mushrooms have eyes?
Couldn't plants develop light-sensitive cells on their surface just like critters? Sure. That could happen. In fact I think there are lichens that glow in the dark, and we know about flowers opening to the sun, and all sorts of light interaction with plants. But no eyes.
Because what is the point of 'seeing' if you can't move?
So it's kind of funny, but if you look from the standpoint of evolution, it's a similar question to the venom question: "How did snakes evolve venom and immunity at the same time?" "How did mammals evolve eyes and walking at the same time?" (One is not much good without the other.) So pretty much everything in nature can be looked at this way, and the same kind of question asked, and the answers are all similar, in their basic outline.
TWL PLAYERS, DON'T LOOK!!
Mine (24) (1.7 per game) A(P)OLOGuE CHARLEY(S) ESTRIOL SEE(D)LIKE SOVRaNS m(A)CKEREL SINGLES EYEs(O)RES (A)DMONISH O(D)oNATeS TWINKLE TETANOUS* SALARYM(EN) WELLIeS IN(U)NDATE WATERm(A)N aB(A)MPERE DEROGAT(E) TETANOI(D) LARDIES(T) OUTRODE IRONS(I)dE DIViNER OVERRuN Theirs (30) (2.1 per game) REPEATS SEAPORTS DURIONS ZOOTHECA* ADOPTEE TOMATOES GEORGICS NARRATES MARTIANS GREENLIT LACERTID NETTIER LASSOER DEATHIER COISTREL CROSTINO TOGGLED VERDITES SCALIER CARRIES RESPOKE MEANIES REPANELS TROELIE ADENITIS PURISTS SLIDERS JANTIES ENSILED PEDALIER
On three almost consecutive pages (57, 58, 60) of the copy of Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" that I am reading, appear the following three passages, respectively:
"Here the [genes'] program may take the form of the following instructions to the survival machine [the organism's body]: 'Here is a list of things defined as rewarding: sweet taste in the mouth, orgasm, mild temperature, smiling child. And here is a list of nasty things: various sorts of pain, nausea, empty stomach, screaming child. If you should happen to do something that is followed by one of the nasty things, don't do it again...'" (p. 57)
"Through the technique of simulation, model battles can be won or lost.... No amount of simulation can predict exactly what will happen in reality, but a good simulation is enormously preferable to blind trial and error." (p. 58)
"Honey bees suffer from an infectious disease called foul brood." (p. 60)
Each of these, in ways that I won't detail -- the second one relates to Scrabble -- evokes or touches on one or more recurrent, current, and seminal themes in Marsh's and my perpetual conversation about life. So much so that the first one goes by our shorthand reference "red berries," which stands in for a good twenty-minute thesis. (Almost like those monks who tell jokes by the number.)
What does any of this mean?
It probably means Richard Dawkins is some kind of soulmate -- a recursive proposition, since his writings and those of writers like him have helped form who we are.
Certainly the coincidence of finding them all within 4 pages is meaningless.
Mostly it means I must read on and finish the darned book, and keep dogearing each page.
The Islamaphobia sweeping the nation betrays an unfortunate truth about America, and I'm not talking about the tendency to see complex issues in B&W -- that's merely human. I'm talking about the tendency to see issues as if from the point of view of a sports team fanatic.
Imagine "Christian" = "Yankees fan" and "Muslim" = "Bosox fan" (or the other way around if something about that offends you, which I feel sure is the case). There is NO COMMON GROUND. The question of Obama's religious affiliation is being asked as if he is potentially a fan of the rival team -- and no hometown fanatic can EVER betray a bit of compassion or understanding for the rival team. If you're a Yankees fan, can you ever feel a bit of pain if the Red Sox lose a heartbreaker to, say, the Angels? NO! You risk showing your true colors, and you are NO TRUE NEW YORK FAN.
If you redecorate the Oval Office, you better not use a shade of yellow that resembles one seen in a news photo with the King of Saudi Arabia. Wrong team!
It's not just black & white, good/bad, right/wrong. It's blood vendetta, that sweeps away in its path all reason, all nuance, all moderation.
The vendetta is the very point of sports. If you are not a fan, you simply don't care about sports. Thus the national dialogue is pushed to the extremes. If you are not a hater of one or the other, you are simply not in the debate. The views of moderates, neutrals, uncommitteds, are uninteresting.
That's the real harm. Well, there's real harm in violent hate, as well -- real harm in soccer mobs and Superbowl victory riots. But there's a more general harm, in acceding to the medium of the debate: the scorekeeping, the paranoia, the reduction of history (which admittedly incorporates a contest of forces) to daily pitched battles, with only losers and winners. We forget what it's actually all about.
Pro sports fans are supposed to forget about what it's about. Do YOU want to look back on your life and realize you spent it screaming over how far a little white ball got hit by a big man in a numbered shirt? Of course not. It's pathetic. The only way a sports fan can face himself in the morning is by continually buying in to the vast pretense that the contest itself is important.
But Islam? Buddhism? Shia, Sunni? Christianity? Protestantism? Catholicism? Judaism? At root -- and especially in the US, where our Constitution protects us from Federal establishment of religion -- these "teams" are actually about something very important, very personal, very precious. Yes, each has accreted weird or alien or difficult or hostile institutional mores. But at root: who is my God? Whence flow my values, my strength, my hope? What is the nature of my spirit? How should I live, to pay proper obeisance to something greater than myself? This is about: what is goodness?
It is literally impossible to engage in that exploration, while also waving gigantic foam fingers and screaming for blood. The contest itself is anti-religious, anti-spiritual. It is the same view of religion as held by those who say sports is a religion -- a mass delusion, a construct of adopted conviction only, without any of the footsteps required to get there.
The extremists are, in fact, insane. I reject them, and their crusades, their pennant fever. I'll take the uninteresting middle ground, with the skeptics, truth-seekers, and -- yes -- the truly religious.
Title is a quote from comic Brian Regan.
Or rather, Me-Topia.
No need to comment, it's just an idea I had. It needs some fleshing out, OBVIOUSLY.
Looked at from one perspective, though, it has INCREDIBLE promise. It is truly the only hope for civilization. If you don't get it, you never will, and not just because you're not paying attention -- I could care less, been there, done that -- do you think I want to be in the spotlight? If that's what you think, you're an even bigger idiot than I took you for.
Let me know what you think -- I thrive on critique. This idea can only improve with the test of honest debate. Have at it! If I don't answer you, it's only because I can't be bothered. I'm working, too, you know! This is a bigger idea than any one of us. So don't get all puffed up. I've been around long enough to know that pride is almost ALWAYS false pride. So stuff your oversimplifications where the sun don't shine.
From another perspective, though, it's exactly what will cut through the preconceptions of the ages. Nobody has thought of it quite this way. And stop trying to figure out what I'm talking "about." McLuhan? Aristotle? Morons. And morons shouldn't even be allowed to be conceived. So there's a start.
You have to think multidimensionally. Just because you think you can shoot down a part of this idea, doesn't mean it isn't a suitable monument to my masturbatory instincts. In fact, it probably only means you go around shooting things down as a habituated M.O., and have no intelligence for BUILDING UP what's needed to save the universe. You shouldn't have been allowed to be born, either. Since you were -- well, who could blame me for running you down one day, while txting.
Agree, disagree, I don't give a shit. Petty minds whirl in peevish snarling around my impotent masterpiece. Craven jealousy will get you nowhere -- think instead about what would be gained by exchanging zero with one in the bag. Illegal? You narrow-minded squid. It's not about the win. It IS the win. And when I'm done, if you're still around in the fetid stink that is this pointless realm of drivel, you'll see that LOSSES can be WINS, too.
I regulate the conversation now, suckers. Look through, not at. One man's mistake is another man's hilarity -- but neither feels regret. I plan to change all that.
I don't know what to do, I don't know how to hold on.
The world spins -- a devoted and darling friend falls limp without warning in the heart of the evening, and you try, you massage, you cry 'no,' you pound, you breathe into her pale mouth, is it seconds? Minutes? Days? There's no change. Some boundary has been passed, from which there is no return.
We sit on linoleum, children in scattered rooms having listened wide-eyed, and cradle her in a towel, a random shirt, cell-phones and emergency directories lie about, useless now, useless then. From the outside, pale light spills across the midnight field, toward the empty road on one side, and toward the dozing livestock on the other: the horses, the rabbits, the goats.
Eight other dogs fill this house, pythons, guinea pigs, rats, a gecko, a half-blind cat. The house is full of life and full of striving. Death itself is not the thing, or even *a* thing. What staggers me is not the cul-de-sac itself, but having to roll to a stop, lost, and regain all my bearings.
It's not the lack of meaning, either, although we could feel, in our bones, when we stepped out for fresh air and comfort and looked up at the patchy clouds in front of the moon, the desperate urgency our forebears also must have felt, to know there is an afterlife. I know I wanted, for several seconds, more than I've ever wanted anything, to know she was still running across a sunlit field, somewhere, somewhen.
Ah hell. Maybe she is.
I don't know what else, right now. I wanted to record something.
She's perfect. 'Butterscotch-cheeks,' I sometimes called her. And 'dork.' And this morning, transferring her in a swaddled basket to the vet who will tell us what they can find out physically, I called her 'sweetie.' All her plans for us, and all our plans for her, are tangled in those blankets, and scattered with the bones and toys, like a skein of yarn she'd gotten at.
Zelda. Dance Klass.
It's not that we can't figure out a tangle of yarn. It's just one thread, you grab it anywhere.
This is a test of a public calendar in progress. If it works out, I'll finish updating it through today, and then add each day we walk.
I got intrigued with how Google's "suggested" search terms evolved during the day yesterday, as the IRS-plane crash news developed out of Austin, Texas.
For example, one of the suggested search terms I noticed late in the day was:
plane crash austin today
plane crash ma...
...which immediately filled in to provide the suggestion:
plane crash manifesto
medieval muralist patron witch
I feel a poem coming on
It's about sex
It's about time
You know what they say
"If they sell you two females
and one hutch
you'll soon enough have kittens."
Maybe the poem is about math.
Space Junk May Force Astronauts To Take Shelter
2-Man Crew May Be Told To Enter Escape Pod
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A piece of space debris moving toward the International Space Station may force astronauts to take shelter in an escape pod, according to NASA TV.
If NASA officials determine the space junk poses a serious threat, the two-man crew -- which is not aware of the threat -- will be alerted at about 10 a.m. The astronauts may then be told to take shelter in the Soyuz escape pod...
Nothing. Ever. Goes. Right. The first time. Sounds negative, right? A downer. A demotivator. But I find it's not. Because it says something about expertise, about experience. It says that when you try again, you'll succeed. After the shelves are successfully hung or the carburetor replaced or the topic paper written -- now you're good at it.
You may never want to do any more auto repair, but you could. Eventually you find the things you've worked hard enough at to be good at, AND enjoy. But I never stop being a little afraid of doing something new the first time, because I know I'll screw it up. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's the only way to keep going, to not stand still.
We recently (re)watched Harry Potter I. In Book One, if you recall, we are introduced to a great many of the rules that govern Rowling's world. Potions, elixirs, spells, hexes, curses -- each has "easier" and "harder" varieties. There's a "good" side and a "dark" side to magic. Magic is recognized as distinct from non-magic -- and while magic is the norm for magic folk, still they acknowledge that it's "special," wondrous. It's not like breathing air -- you have to invoke it.
Magic folk can fly -- but usually, mostly, with the aid of a broom. Made sense, right? And then Harry is given the latest model, a coveted Nimbus 2000.
This, of course, is one of the kinds of things that made the Harry Potter series such a hit -- the adaptation of current school-kid sensibilities to this magic world. Cliques, romance, sports rivalry, class warfare, nerds v. slackers -- and broomsticks. Broomsticks are like down vests, Nike shoes, the latest bluejeans.
What is it that the Nimbus 2000 can provide, that mama's household broom can't? As far as I recall, we aren't told. Maybe it's faster, nimbler. But Harry's skill is apparently still paramount -- Nimbus brooms do not compensate for lack of talent. In this, they are perhaps most like gym shoes. The latest Nikes convey, mostly, status.
But what I love noticing is that it's still a broom. The Nimbus, despite its aerodynamic shaft and other attributes, could still nominally be used to sweep a floor.
This MUST be so. Some other movies/shows/games have had fun with mops, vacuum cleaners, etc. But no advance in magic broomstick tech or status can violate the essence of the thing itself.
Does this, in fact, define magic? In the real world, which we think of as non-magic, utilitarian objects can be transfigured. Phones are now cameras, handsets are earpieces, storage media are flash chips and thumb drives, books are Kindles or Nooks.
If the object persists while the function changes, it's magic. If the object evolves, while the function stays the same, it's technology.
If you can't tell the difference, you are a time-traveler.
IMG00001-20091111-1116 Originally uploaded by verbalobe.
This is a chunk of the Berlin Wall, brought back for me by R. Norman Matheny, photographer at the Christian Science Monitor who covered events in Europe for us in 1989.
Walls and fences memorialize differences. Not all walls, or differences, are wrong or to be feared (see Robert Frost); but on this Veteran's Day (Armistice Day, in the old British tradition), I wish on all a more inclusive spirit, and the strength to forgive, and accept forgiveness.
And Happy Birthday to my mum.
Don't get me wrong -- most other countries I know anything about are great, too. Probably every country is great, in the way I mean here. America isn't ubergreat.
But this goes out to the negatroids who like to sketch a picture of a country circling the drain, of people fed up, demoralized, furious at the government, despairing at losing their freedom; or otherwise (from the racist moonbat wing) lazy, no-good, dark-skinned, immigrant thieves (like our President).
If you spend much time in or around some of the birther or extremist right-wing forums, you might have been as (pleasantly) surprised as we were as we went through the otherwise horrendous, grief-stricken process of bringing our adored 6-year-old basenji for veterinary treatment of a sudden illness, only to have to say goodbye to her 5 days later after an operation and a transfusion, all for naught.
In those 5 days we met and dealt with more than a dozen animal care specialists, technicians, receptionists, doctors, interns, and trainees, at two separate facilities. Every one of them was 110% attentive, respectful, intelligent, hard-working, committed, caring, professional, and capable. It's actually hard for me to put this into words; the experience was like parachuting into a different America from the one we see through the eyes of the nutjobs, keyboard warriors, and Beck's 9/12 folks.
These men and women were working 12-hour shifts. They called with updates and test results exactly when promised (e.g., 2 a.m., 6 a.m.) -- without exception. They gave thorough information, and advice when asked. They thought laterally and solved problems. They were gentle and caring. They handled the most difficult of issues (elective euthanasia) with finesse. When we transferred our dear dog from one facility to the other, the packet of papers that was her file after just 30 hours of care ran to 13 pages, including the transcript of the ultrasound technician's running commentary.
They constantly dealt with other incoming emergencies, while making us feel like our case was the most important and our dog the best dog in the history of dogdom (she was).
I know, intuitively, the same qualities exist everywhere, from hospitals to bricklayers to software engineers to schools. It was just so heartening to experience it under such stressful conditions.
Here's to American heroes, and heroes everywhere, who live their lives fully, honestly, and make a positive difference in the world every friggin day.
curiesagan2 Originally uploaded by verbalobe.
Sagan has been spending a lot of her time -- much more than usual -- sitting at one or the other of the two windows with a view of the front walk, gazing out.
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