Field of Science

PHLOX news tells it like it isn't

PHLOX news tells it like it isn't because conservatives prefer to hear conservative ideology and rhetoric rather than facts, and as a result the political debate is getting more polarized because the other end of the political spectrum prefers more factual reporting of the news. Too bad this means conservatives are ignoring reality, living in their own Reaganland, itself a fantasy construct. Perhaps you suspected this, or else you think this another conspiracy by the left-wing media elite, but Pew research has the data, which interestingly enough will only be believed by half of the political spectrum. Dang, but this is why the election season is so gloomy. As an example, our local political Rauner-round is telling people it's class warfare to attack him for having made millions of dollars and being very rich. That's the rhetoric. Here's the reality. What this very rich guy doesn't get is that he is totally, completely, magnificently out of touch with ordinary people, let alone the very poor. The only surprise so far is that he hasn't said, "Let them eat cake." 

Wild life? OK, so why is it just animals?

Apparently the Wildlife Photography of the year contest is only open to people who suffer from plant blindness.  Plants apparently are neither wild nor alive. Maybe these guys used to work for the Department of Natural Resources here in Lincolnland who told TPP's academic counterpart that the wild life preservation grant program wasn't going to fund any grants to preserve tall grass prairie because native plants aren't wildlife!  Even though there's less than 1% of the prairie left in our state, and where do you suppose the REAL wildlife, you know prairie chickens, prairie dogs, etc. used to live?  Nonetheless some of the photos are amazing, especially the penguins and blue ice. 

Just in time for Halloween

Yes, it's Tom Tomorrow's Right Wing House of Fear!  Be afraid, be very afraid, and of course, vote accordingly.

Sex? Sex? Oh, please. It's copulation.

In higher organisms, sex, gender, and copulation are all neatly tied up together such that to the less well informed (read science correspondent) they are one and the same. So when some science reporter says "Sex emerged in an ancient Scottish lake", and it turns out to be fossil fish copulating, it just sends the wrong message.  To be fair it's the headline that's wrong. The article clearly states this is about copulation. Sex is when parents of two different genotypes combine their genes in offspring, and it's much older than fish. There are algae, phytoplankton, that have sexual reproduction, and to some extent bacterial transformation might be considered a form of sexual reproduction, however, in this case, two parents only result in one offspring. TPP has a colleague in psychology who says he studies sex, but he really studies gender, where the two sexes are differentiated. That's not the case, at least not obviously, among many sexually reproducing organisms and we often use the term mating types designated by +/- signs. Then it gets really strange. Consider Ulva, sea lettuce, a green seaweed that looks like a limp leaf of lettuce. When you pick up a "frond" of Ulva, you don't know what you've got; it could be a plus, a minus, each with one set of chromosomes, or it could be a spore producer with two sets of chromosomes, all three physically identical, but parts of an alternation of generation life cycle. So let's be careful about throwing around the term "sex", besides the organism's name (Microbrachius dicki) makes for an even better joke regarding copulation.

Systematic fiscal abuse of public universities

Higher education especially the USA's systems of public state universities has been one area where our country truly excelled, and now this educational success story is being denigrated and gradually being killed by a thousand little cuts.
Those of us who have worked in higher education over the past 40 years know this so very well. A recent essay expresses TPP's understanding of the situation quite well.  "Emerging evidence from the Delta Cost Project (as well as other studies) has shown that the exploding costs of higher education are not primarily caused by a heavily tenured faculty and their “big” salaries. Indeed, over the past decade or two, as the faculty had been reconfigured, total institutional expenditures for instruction have declined — offset by increased expenditures for administration, student support, and auxiliary enterprises. American higher education has not put itself on a diet. Rather it is being starved by state governments."
Over TPP's entire academic career his salary has increased just a tad over 400%, which sounds pretty good until you realize how low his salary was way back then and that inflation went up 254% over the same period.  In particular raises have been little or none over the past 12 years. Of course, this is not by way of complaint, but just to illustrate that increases in costs have not been to support the lavish life styles of us faculty.  When TPP started his career here in Lincolnland some 40 years ago, the state was paying something over 60% of the cost of higher education, and it was quite a bargain. Now state support is about 17% of the cost of higher education, a decrease put into effect by simply gradually withholding support, year by year, and no legislative action was needed to do it either in the sense of having to pass an "increasing the cost of higher education" bill. (And the most brilliant part of this politically, is that then these very politicians put the blame for rising costs on the universities!) Lately science is being denigrated as just one more "opinion" or "bought and paid for results" because otherwise politicians might actually have to pay attention to science in forming policy. A lot of the products of higher education are being appreciated a lot less. And now, having priced higher education out of the reach of many, having transferred the cost to the students, those very politicians are arguing that well maybe higher education just isn't worth the cost and you're better off without it any who. How's that as a way of dealing with rising costs of higher education? Convince people they just don't need it!  None of this bodes well for our future and people had better begin to get pissed at such blatant disregard for education.  

Eeek! Dozer blight!

Wow, these developments outside of Las Vegas are so remarkably vile. This is some of the worst dozer blight TPP has ever witnessed. This is what happens when you have government by development speculators, where everything is available for transformation into someone's profit. Of course, no one is going to pay for the environmental cost. You can quite imagine that part of the argument for doing this was "nothing is out there, just desert."  Hard to believe, but Las Vegas just seems to get more and more artificial as time goes on. Well, there's always the nuclear option. "Sorry, man, we were aiming for Yucca Flats." 

Fall color finally arrives

Fall has been rather slow developing this year probably because of the ample rain and mild temperatures. Today really felt like fall, a bit cold with a possible frost tonight, and finally fall color is beginning to develop in our gardens. This is a favorite Japanese maple positioned at the north end of the lily pond in a clear line of sight from our breakfast nook. Not only does this tree develop some great fall color, but then it gets reflected in the lily pond when the light is just right. The sumacs, bottlebrush buckeyes, black gum, sassafras, and dogwoods are all turning color and by next week things should be quite colorful. 

Friday Fabulous Fungus - Oyster mushroom

It's been a wet, cool fall, a great season for fungi, and this is just the right time of year to spot oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus. And you urban dwellers don't need to miss out, a walk around almost any well-treed neighborhood should result in success. Oyster mushrooms grow on wood and they are pretty easy to identify, especially given the season, and they are very tasty, very choice, highly recommended by many. The caps are asymmetrical and around here sort of a pale silvery gray color on top, white gills beneath, firmly fleshy. There were enough growing on the side of just this one maple tree to feed a lot of people. 

Nothing to fear but the daily news keeps trying

Our morning newspaper led off with a headline "Ebola crisis in USA continues". Yes, the number of cases of ebola in the USA doubled, a 100% increase; now there are two. Now in west Africa there is a crisis, but here in the USA?  Not so much. To put this in some perspective, you have a better chance of getting bubonic plague than ebola at present, especially if you go camping in the western USA.  Yet you don't hear alarmist headlines, "Black death still alive".  If this is naught but a sales gimmick, then it's pretty unethical to scare the crap out of people to boost sales. And if it's just a journalist's alarmist take on the situation, then it's poor journalism. And if people begin staying cooped up in their houses as a result, and demanding cities or countries be quarantined, then it's pretty poor thinking. This is a sad and desperate feature of our culture these days, and at this time of year, it goes beyond sales as fear mongering is being used as a political ploy as well. Pathetic all the way around. 

Durian - Love it or leave it

Unless you have traveled and delved into the culture of SE Asia, you probably don't know a thing about durian. Durian is often called the stinkiest fruit in the world and my Thai friends tell me durian "tastes like heaven, but smells like hell".  Here's what TPP knows based on his experiences with durian. It is true the fruit has an odor that can best be described as similar to the smells wafting out of a sewer, a not uncommon smell in SE Asia. The fruit is a big spiny capsule about the size and shape of a smallish rugby ball, and this isn't the part you eat. The largish seeds are surrounded by a thick, creamy yellow-colored fleshy aril, the reward for seed dispersers, presumably primates and other arboreal mammals. Not sure who among our family tree finds the odor attractive? Apart from the fruit, the fleshy aril is not all that unpleasant to eat; it has a firm custardy texture with a sort of mild cheesy flavor, but rather insipid. It is not as horrible or as disgusting tasting as many people have made it out to be, but it is not on TPP's list of preferred tropical fruits either. TPP has seen durian for sale just once in the great Midwest, frozen (and no idea how it holds up to that) at the famous Jungle Jim's grocery north of Cincinnati. So TPP thinks that durian isn't as divisive as people make it out to be, although my Thai friends truly relish it and were happy to eat my share.   
 Image courtesy of Yun Huang Yong, Wikimedia Creative Commons.