Ferret Legging 101

31 08 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I’ve just completed my first day of class here at Stony Brook and am already overstuffed with homework assignments! Fortunately, while the content of an approximate half of my classes appear to be rather difficult, the other half looks like it’ll more than make up for it (and having an awesome pair of room-mates doesn’t hurt either). Anywho, to prevent TTT from becoming totally silent whilst I congregate my personal fecal material, I’ve decided to post a video clip explaining and demonstrating what has got to be the most epic sporting event in history: FERRET LEGGING!

Although I was originally planning to catch the occasional NHL or NFL game (whenever my beloved Broncos manage to return to town) whilst being able to enter NYC cheaply under student rates, I fear that I’ll now have to quench my thirst for spectating by heading down to Virginia and checking this out!

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Startling New Discovery Dramatically Alters Our Understanding Of Human Evolution

1 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

Though I don’t normally feel compelled to report paleo news as I feel that a plethora of excellent websites and blogs dedicated to the subject already exist, I simply couldn’t resist expressing my commentary on this fascinating and field-altering story.

The anatomical parallels between Homo sapiens and modern primates have been known to science for millenia, long before a certain delinquent named Charles Darwin arrived on the scene. Thus, when the theory of evolution began to take shape, it was assumed that our species must be closely akin to these hairy, smelly, beasts.

But we all know what happens when you assume

The so-called ‘scientific’ community has failed to adhere to the very scientific method it claims to unwaveringly support, for besides our indisputable fossil record and genetic phylogeny both of which perfectly adhere to the well-established theory that humans have descended from (and are  to still be considered as) primates, I ask you, what evidence do they have to support their ridiculous claim that we humans, the intellectual titans for whose every wish (however frivolous) this planet is unquestionably meant to serve, are somehow related to these loathsome, opposable-thumbed, circus-dwelling monsters?!

Fortunately, however, this new discovery will surely rid our society of such a deplorable concept, for it turns out that we didn’t actually evolve from primates: instead, we must have evolved from peanuts!

Though the recently acquired fossil itself has yet to be photographed, take a gander at the latest artistic reconstruction as drawn by the world-renowned paleontological illustrator John Sibbick:

This remarkable specimen, dubbed Legume sapiens, was unearthed  just south of Allentown, PA and clearly displays a series of anatomical features which irrefutably prove that it was our direct ancestor, such as opposable thumbs and a bipedal stance. But even more tellingly, consider the following comparison:

As you can see (if you possess enough willpower to force your eyes to behold the right side of your screen), Legume sapiens clearly mirrors the classic human female hourglass shape far better than any fossilized monkey or primate ever has! Hence, the evidence shows that not only is it our closest relative, but our direct precursor as well!

Now I know what some of you skeptics are thinking: “But Mark, what about all of the genetic and paleontological data which conclusively maintains that we’re descended from hominids?” Does L. sapiens exceed this evidence in both fields?

No, but aren’t you better comforted by the idea that we’re the evolutionary offspring of peanuts than by that silly old notion that we’ve come from a pack of apes?

I know I am!





Nonmoral Nature & “Biological Popularity Contests”

21 01 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

[NOTE: I realize that the introductory segment of this particular post is likely going to be an excersize in ‘preaching to the choir’ to my regular readers. Nonetheless, I feel the need to vent given the rampant acts of zoological favoritism I’ve seen my non-scientific associates display of late.]

In light of the fact that, at the dawn of 2010, I resolved to increase my personal rate of literary consumption, I’ve taken to reading the essays of the late, great Stephen Jay Gould (many of which can be found here) during my spare time in addition to absolutely devouring Carl Zimmer’s evocative “Parasite Rex: Inside The Bizarre World Of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures”. The latter narrative shares a common theme with what is arguably Gould’s most famous essay, “Nonmoral Nature“: anthropomorphism isn’t going away anytime soon, and  it’s always depicted parasites as “nature’s most dastardly villains”. I’d advise anyone skeptical of this contention to consider the following passage which was originally written by the great French entomologist J.H. Fabre while describing the fate of a paralyzed cricket:

“One may see the cricket, bitten to the quick, vainly move its antennae and abdominal styles, open and close its empty jaws, and even move a foot, but the larva is safe and searches its vitals with impunity. What an awful nightmare for the paralyzed cricket!”

Evidently the idea that the larva which had infested the cricket merely did so because its anatomical makeup wouldn’t permit it to survive under any other circumstances failed to cross the mind of one of the subject’s most learned scholars: instead, when faced with a conflict of interests between two organisms which were operating under forces beyond their control, rather than taking the scientific position by remaining neutral, Fabre elected to unambiguously lend his sympathy to the more superficially ‘human’ creature of the two.

However, it’s no secret that parasites are far from the only victims of this destructive philosophy. herpetology enthusiasts like myself are acutely aware of the public’s conviction that snakes are sinister, satanic creatures while primatologists are doubtlessly conscious of the average layman’s belief that chimpanzees are harmless, fun-loving charmers. Yet, the fact that, unlike primates, snakes are incapable of committing genocide, willful torture, and well-choreographed acts of political debasement never seems to effectively challenge the fervor of their preconceptions.

Why?

Well, apparently, the general consensus among non-scientists appears to fall somewhere along the lines of “if it can’t be made to look human, it’s not worthy of our attention”. How’s that for xenophobia?!

The truth is that we have absolutely no reason to believe that any organism is inherently more or less honorable than any other organism. As Gould has so eloquently asserted,

“[N]ature simply is as we find it. Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.”

How can we ensure that this fact is spread at a sufficiently large scale? I strongly suspect that whoever can answer that question is more than capable of obliterating all the prevailing difficulties associated with communicating science to the public.

Right then, enough ranting for now, at least on my part.

Last month, Zach Miller of ‘When Pigs Fly Returns’ asked his readers to list their “favorite (or most obscure) examples of prehistoric animals that are NOT dinosaurs, but are mistaken for them”. I’d like to take a page from his book by asking my readers to list their “favorite” ironic examples of popular culture’s mindless biological favoritism. Is it the cute-but-infanticidal bottlenosed dolphin? The majestic-but-thieving bald eagle? Or the  “cuddly”-but-deadly hippopotamus? Feel free to include the organisms which find themselves on the “ignoble” side of this fallacy as well.





I hope this doesn’t give any of my instructors ideas…

14 01 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I must once again apologize for neglecting my blog, an all-too common tendency which has, in this instance, been largely inspired by my recent return and attempted re-acclimation to Tucumcari as I await the onset of my final semester here at Mesalands (for those who don’t know, I’m planning on transferring to SUNY Stony Brook upon its conclusion). However, as one door has closed of late, another has opened: I’ve been able to get significantly more reading done over the past few days than I have over the past several weeks.

Most recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Carole Jahme’s energetic study of women and primatology entitled ‘Beauty And The Beasts: Woman, Ape, And Evolution’. Despite the book’s well-asserted focus upon female researchers, Jahme nonetheless spends a considerable amount of ink detailing the life and times of the legendary archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey who, it turns out, was vastly ahead of his time in terms of his progressive views on female scientists, especially with regard to field research involving primates.

It would also appear that, like most scientists (and amature scientists such as myself), Leakey was a bit eccentric, as evidenced by the following excerpt which depicts the great man’s first evaluation of the research potential of Dian Fossey, who would later become the world’s leading authority on mountain gorillas (and an eventual martyr for the cause of their conservation):

“Leakey was interested in Fossey, as he was already looking for someone new to study the gorilla, though at first he was not totally convinced that she was right for the job. Some years later Fossey spoke of this incident. She said Louis’ eyes twinkled with mischief when he asked her if she’d like to be his gorilla girl; she answered in her Southern drawl, ‘Of course, of course my God.’…He eventually decided to put Dian’s commitment to the test. This story remains a potent part of her mythology and therefore it needs emphasizing that it really did happen.

Leakey told Fossey she had to have an appendectomy before going into the field. He told her she could suddenly fall ill with appendicitis in the jungle and die, so she must have the operation before he would take her seriously. Although [his second wife] had once become very ill with appendicitis, this was a ruse Leakey used to test Fossey’s commitment, but how was she to know? She was initially stunned by the request, but determined to be rid of the said organ…

She was very poor at the time and couldn’t afford the cost of the operation, so she had to embark on an insane and melodramatic assault on the accident and emergency rooms of various hospitals in [her home state of] Kentucky. Feigning appendicitis, Fossey would turn up doubled over in ‘agony’, grabbing her waist and crying for help, though she kept forgetting which side was supposed to hurt. Fossey had to go through a series of techniques at a number of hospitals before her acting technique was perfected and she finally convinced one surgeon to perform the operation. Within two weeks of meeting Leakey in Louisville she was waking up in a hospital bed after the operation. At the moment of consciousness, Fossey said she groggily thought to herself, ‘My God, are the gorillas worth this?’

Hospital doctors are today aware of patients faking pain and begging for unnecessary operations, not because they are swamped with nutty women who wish to live with apes at any cost, but because it is often described in behavioral psychology as a feature of Munchausen’s syndrome. But [forty] years ago, after a number of humiliating hospital encounters Fossey got away with it. Her tenacity impressed Louis. He wrote and told her she hadn’t really needed to undergo the operation, which at the time perplexed her. But later she said whenever she had a stomach pain while at Karisoke, her Rwandan study site, she felt some comfort knowing it wasn’t appendicitis because, ‘my appendix was in a garbage can somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky’.”





TTT’s Saturnalia Special

23 12 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes and happy holidays!

Since the holiday season is fast upon us (if it hasn’t already arrived for some of us), I felt that my humble corner of the internet display a wee bit of a festive tribute to this ‘most wonderful time of the year’, with a slight twist of course. Below, you’ll find a collection of holiday decorations and excerpts designed to appeal to the nerdiest of web surfers. As a firm believer in giving credit where it’s due, I’ve also attached links to the posts and web pages from whence they’ve come and would encourage everyone to view them in their original context to support the primary uploaders. So grab a cup of ‘cheer’ (whatever that is), open your textbooks and enjoy!

To kick things off, Jen McCreight, author of the ever-popular ‘Blag Hag‘ and president/co-founder of the Purdue Non-Theists Society has presented the following  illustrative evidence in favor of the idea that Santa is in for some competition this year:

And, through the miracle of modern capitalism, one can readily obtain mugs, t-shirts, and other products depicting this most festive of displays from Jen’s online store.

Despite the fact that its content doesn’t exactly conform to that which has generally become associated with this blog, I simply cannot deny my love of CBS’ ‘The Big Bang Theory’. Below, I’ve re-posted an unofficial highlight reel of the show’s Christmas special which was released last December.

What’s Christmas without the decorations? Recently, I’ve stumbled upon this post which highlights a series of nerdy Christmas ornaments, my favorite of which 9despite my hatred of mathematics) can be seen below.

Right then, back to paleontology! Paleo nerds aren’t generally difficult to buy for, but should you find yourself in want of a paleontological gift idea, ReBecca “Dinochick” Hunt-Foster has brought to the blogosphere’s attention what is quite possibly the coolest series of stuffed animals ever manufactured: the Evolvems!

"From Fish To Tetrapod!"

According to the official web-page,

Unzip and flip the creature inside out and you’ll get its evolved form. Watch fins turn to feet and gills grow into lungs right before your eyes. The best part is that all you kids who want to see ’em don’t have to line up at our museum. You can have your own piece of evolution in your own home and bring it in for show n’ tell at school. Show those other monkeys their roots, we say.”

The line contains CoelocanthIchthyostega (pictured), DimetrodonCynognathus, YinlongStyracosaurus, and my personal favorite, PakicetusSqualodon.

Having successfully regurgitated pieces of saturnalia flare from round the world wide web, I feel that this post would be incomplete without providing one of my own. So, in Darren Naish style, I now offer my readers a bit of a geeky puzzle. In honor of everyone’s favorite levitating holiday cervid, I now present ‘TTT’s first annual ‘Winter Solstice Mystery Artiodactyl‘ contest.  The first reader to correctly identify the following even-toed ungulate via sending me their entry through the ‘comments’ section, my personal e-mail account, or any other means available to them will receive an automatic thumbs-up from yours truly along with a shout-out at the onset of my next post. With that, I present your beastie:

Io Saturnalia everyone and, as always, may the fossil record continue to enchant us all!





World-Class Chum

26 09 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I realize that this week’s ‘wonder’ has been delayed again, which is due to the fact that I’d like to do something very special with my next entry that will require a bit of extra effort (I’ll keep you in suspense until I can confirm or deny my ability to execute it as planned). In the mean time, I thought that I’d discuss what I believe to be an issue of vital importance to society at large: the fact that nobody can seem to make a decent movie about sharks. Seriously, what is it about these cartilaginous fish that compels people to start shooting some of the most ridiculous footage known to mankind?

I know, I know: everyone says that ‘Jaws’ was a classic, and to an extent, I agree: afterall, the film does have some excellent monologues and does a fantastic job of building suspense (I also quite like Peter Benchley). However, even the most die-hard fans can’t deny that it contains some incredibly stupid scenes (such as the 2,000 pound shark leaping atop a boat in order to devour the captain). Furthermore, nobody can claim that the film’s sequels aren’t painful to the extent that the pentagon should consider weaponizing them. However, as a cinematic masochist and avid Mystery Science Theatre fan, I quite enjoy watching some of their cheeziest scenes, along with those displayed in the never-ending series of rip-offs which have been appearing since the late ’70s.

Case in point is the following clip from ‘Jaws 3’. (Warning! Spoiler!)

I’ve also included a few of my other favorites starting with this gem from “Shark Attack 3: Megalodon” (Warning! Graphic Content!):

Here’s one of the most unabashedly-silly shark attack scenes of all time which hails from the intentionally-bad movie “Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus” (Warning! Crude Language!):

 And, finally, a gripping scene from 2008’s “Shark In Venice” (Warning! Bad Italian Accents!):

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all and, in the case of ‘Carcharodon’ megalodon, inspire a plethora of new B-movies!





Holy bad geology puns, Batman!!

12 08 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes! Mark W. Mancini here, as always!

(If anyone’s curious about the title, I watched the original ‘Batman’ movie with Adam West the other night.)

A few weeks ago, I went on a dig supervised by Dr. Hungerbuehler with my good friends Donny, Eddy and Steve among (many) others in a Redonda formation site outside of town. Though the sheer volume of fossil remains we uncovered within a mere five days certainly kept us busy, I decided to make things a little more interesting by instigating a paleo/geo-themed pun war which raged on throughout the week (criminally-bad jokes run in my family). I’ve attatched a few dispatches from this epic saga below, but before I continue I should note that all of these were ad-libbed. And for everyone out there who knows the good doctor, imagine him cringing and releasing an agonized grunt upon hearing these.

Without further ado, I present a sampling of our efforts (Warning! Several of these are very nerdy and their utilization may be hazardous to your health. Proceed with caution!):

-We crater to your every desire!

-Question: What do you call a small clast of rock with completely unknown origins? Answer: A pebble without a cause!!

Shale we continue?

-Did you hear about the editor working on the latest “Ice Age” film? I hear that he really spliced-a-scene!

-Did you know that the American Literature Society has decided to create a series of poetic tributes to every single letter of the english language in sequence? This week, they’re releasing the g-ode!

-You know, I’m growing kind of attatched to this mudstone…I guess you could say that I’m a little sedimental!

Donny: “All we’re finding at this site is teeth!” Me: “That’s what I expected, tooth be told.”

-I once found the fossilized remains of the posterior end of a small decapod crustacean. I called it a shrimp rock-tail.

-I hear that the NRA is sponsoring an ammunition convention this evening. They’re calling it an ammo-night!

-If you’re a volcanology student, can you graduate magma cum laude?

I’ll stop it right there before I loose the respect of the paleo blogosphere at large. If anybody can come up with some geology puns of their own, feel free to post them in the comments section!

Cheers!

-Mark