A Note On Empathy, Plus Some Weird Stuff About Eating Cicadas, In This Week's Sci-Blog
my grandma used to say
The world's a scary place now,
things were different in her day
What horrors will be commonplace
when my hair starts to gray?"
- Kevin Gilbert
This is Off Topic, but a thing I need to say.
It's been a bad week, that started on Monday after noon with the Horror of a couple of young brothers from Chechnya apparently setting off antipersonnel bombs at the Boston Marathon. An act so stupid and heinous that not even the Pakistani Taliban want anything to do with it. There's sure to be an ideology at work here, stoking resentment into rage and demanding that a Point must be made by sacrificing random bystanders.
Here's the thing: Whatever these two had hoped to accomplish was doomed to failure from the beginning.
Promote your cause? No one wins any Hearts and Minds by blowing legs off and shredding children. Anarchism has been permanently welded to the term Bomb-Throwing by the Galleanist bombing campaign of 1919 that led to the brutal crackdown of the Palmer Raids
Insurrection? No one rose to attack the Federal Government when Tim McVey blew up the Alfred P.Murrah Federal Building. They reacted, appropriately, with horror.
Philosophy? Ted Kaczynski got his "manifesto" published, true, but all that proved was that he is unhinged and a terrible writer and it helped to outfit him in a nice orange jumpsuit.
A blow in a war of attrition? That earned Osama bin Laden a decade on the run and two bullets in the forehead.
Revenge? Won't bring back your loss and will turn to ashes in your mouth. Where's the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Basque Separatists and the Symbionese Liberation Army now, and how did all that violence work out for them?
What the bombing did accomplish though, is prove the value of empathy. In the seconds after the bombs went off, we all saw strangers running into danger to help other strangers. To save their lives. There were people who had training in emergencies - off duty soldiers, police, EMT's - that ran to help but the fact that Civilian bystanders responded is, to me, very significant. There's no doubt that it took extreme bravery for anybody to run into that chaos, but for people with no training, no accident experience and no link to the wounded to disregard their own safety takes empathy.
Empathy lets us care about the well being of others. Empathy allows us to look beyond our own individual and group needs, work towards the common good and is the foundation of Civil Society. I'm a big fan of Civilization and I don't think you can have a successful civilization without empathy. Empathy makes us fully human and it is is the essential thing that the Tsarnaev brothers apparently lack.
Margaret Thatcher said, famously, "There is no such thing as Society". She was wrong and she had no empathy. Empathy is the foundation of Civil Society and the only thing that sustains us when people with no empathy act.
That's it Rant's over and thanks for putting up with it. Now we will be returning to your Regularly Scheduled Sci-Blog.
Submitted for your approval by ace commenter and guy-who-takes-pictures-of birds-and-shit DerrickWildcat: in Nebraska, Shorter-winged swallows are evolving around highways. Charles Brown of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma has been studying colonies of the Cliff Swallow, that can nest by the thousands on highway bridges and overpasses. As you can imagine, birds nesting over highways can often get hit by cars. He and his team noticed and collected a lot of roadkill birds over the 29 years they've been monitoring the colonies. Starting in 1983, though, there were progressively fewer birds found dead until in 2012 they only found four. A comparison of the killed birds to live ones revealed that swallows that died on the road had wings that were a few millimeters longer. Shorter winged swallows are more maneuverable and able to get out of the way of speeding cars and the road environment really seems to be naturally selecting for more maneuverable birds.there are no plans at present to study whether they are still able to carry cocoanuts, however. Thanks Derrick!
An International research team has successfully decoded the entire Coelacanth genome. Led by Chris Amemiya, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, the team was searching for dormant genes that would have helped the earliest ancestral amphibians survive on land. Although Coelacanths are egg laying, the team found a gene that is related to the gene in mammals that builds a placenta. In addition, a "snippet of DNA that enhances the activity of the genes that drive the formation of limbs in the embryo" was located. This Coelacanth DNA limb enhancer was inserted into experimental mice, immediately "lit up' and produced a functioning limb. You can read the study, published here, in the journal Nature. Actual Scientist and blogger glasspusher submitted this one (thanks!!) because he has a "thing" for Coelacanths and he wanted to see it the Wonkette Tip line actually worked (it does).
The Bristol Aquarium in Bristol Harbour, UK has a new Giant Pacific Octopus exhibit. That in itself will attract a lot of Tentacle Fanciers. The remarkable 3-D art on the outside wall that they commissioned from artist Justin Dowling has to be seen to be believed.
NASA's orbiting CHANDRA X-Ray Observatory has assembled the most detailed image ever of the remnants of the type 1A supernova SN 1006. Located about 7,000 light years from Earth the star went supernova a thousand years ago and was seen to be brighter than Venus during the day, according to records from Chinese and Arabian astronomers.
Steven Hawking maintains that our Universe didn't need God to start up the Big Bang. His quote: “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?” is suddenly now my New Favorite Thing. This has made the Texas Board of Education very upset, and now "Cosmology" will no longer be found in their science textbooks.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has located some of the earliest star-forming galaxies in the Universe, completing what would have been a decade's worth of observations by similar telescopes in just a few hours.
If the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise at its expected rate, it will accelerate the high altitude jet stream, creating much more turbulence below and more episodes of severe turbulence for transatlantic commercial air flights. Try not to sit next to Mr. Creosote.
Here is one of the coolest bird cams I've seen: the Chesapeake Conservancy's Live OspreyCam direct from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It's a real time feed of resident Ospreys Tom and Audrey on their nest, with sound! You will watch this for hours on end.
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are creating synthetic kidneys from cells. They're using a bioengineering process that grows the organs around a "scafffold" of connective tissue from an old kidney, similar to the one used to successfully replace human trachea. Pictured is a fully functioning rat kidney. This has opened wide the possibility of kidney pies custom grown to order.
The problem with setting Wikipedia as your browser's home page is that you tend to be sidetracked by some very odd things. Things like the Phallogical Museum. A Museum. For Phalluses. Yes that is a Thing. Where would a museum devoted to display of every kind of phallus imaginable be located? France? Texas? Phallustine? No, no at all - it's the Icelandic Phallological Museum, there's an Independent film and the entire Wikipedia page reads so much like something straight out of The Onion that I had to keep checking the URL.
In honor of the emergence of the periodical 17-year Cicada Brood II in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. we will be sharing our favorite Cicada recipes! Yes, there's some out there that look at the emergence of millions per acre (!) of Magiccicada adults as a loud, disgusting nuisance but we look it as a rare & exciting gastronomic treat.
Today's recipe, from the Anderson Design Group in Tennessee, is for Cicada Tacos:
Ingredients: two tablespoons butter or peanut oil, one and a half pound of cicadas, one teaspoon of chili powder, one tomato, finely chopped, one onion, finely chopped, one and a half table spoon ground pepper, one and a half table spoon cumin, three table spoon taco seasoning mix, one handful cilantro, chopped, Taco shells, Sour cream, Shredded cheddar cheese, Shredded lettuce.
1. Heat the butter or oil in a frying pan and fry the cicadas for 10 minutes, or until cooked through.
2. Remove from pan and roughly chop into 1/4-inch cubes/ Place back in pan.
3. Add the chopped onions, chilies and tomato, season with salt, and fry for another 5 minutes on medium-low heat.
4. Sprinkle with ground pepper, cumin and oregano to taste.
5. Serve in taco shells and garnish with cilantro, sour cream, lettuce and cheddar cheese.
That's it for now, Wonketteers. Crunch Happy!
Your Wonkette Sci-Blog will be off next week, so you will have to find and post your own weird and appalling science-related stories all on your own. I know you can do it.