Face to Face

Social animals need to recognize one another. Individuals are important where relationships exist for any duration, and in any community with a social hierarchy. Yet zoologists seemed surprised to learn that all social species innately possess skills that meet the need. (Aren't humans supposed to be superior at this sort of thing?!)

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Booming Spongers

The birth rate boomed across the industrialized countries that fought in the second world war: Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States, though the birthing take-off took off at different times. The war's only tangible victor, the U.S., had particularly fervent fertility. The boomer generation was not as prosperous as they were proliferant. But they made themselves so by readily robbing the next generation.

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Financial Fiction

$800 trillion of financial contracts worldwide are based upon a fiddled fiction: LIBOR (the London Interbank Offered Rate). For decades, rates were set by colluding bankers under the auspices of the British Banker's Association, essentially without supervision. All scams are revealed in time, and LIBOR proved no exception.

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Fiddling Fungi

Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) is generally considered the greatest artisan of stringed instruments. His violins – Stradivarius – are particularly legendary. Working wood to one's will so that it produces a superb sound is an almost mystical craft. The choice of wood is crucial. Stradivari's secret was having a friend in fungus.

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Microbes at War

Microbes participate in various cooperative social behaviors, similar to macroorganisms, though the intimacy of their cooperative endeavors often exceeds those of larger organisms. Symbiosis among different microbial species evolved as a means to optimize the special skills that each species can contribute. Microbes cooperate to better exploit resources, resist stressful environments, protect themselves and their territory against other microbes, and to wage war.

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From Egg to Croak

All tadpoles turn into frogs, but not all frogs are turned from tadpoles. Half of the 4,800 known frog species start life as eggs laid in water, hatch into aquatic tadpoles, then metamorphize into frogs. The other half do something else. Frog life cycles are incredibly diverse.

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Insect Wings

Insects are the only invertebrates that evolved flight. Their wings are optimized for durability while remaining lightweight.

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The Olympics

Competition is an evolutionary artifact for humans, who would be much better off as a species practicing cooperation instead. The Olympics are an epitome of supposedly innocent competition. Those involved, as competitor or spectator, enjoy the rushes of adrenalin and dopamine involved without question. Along with shots of biochemical stimulation come concomitant emotional complexes: of assumption, pride, and suspicion.

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Credit Due

Capitalism creates exploitation opportunities at every turn. Capitalism has excelled at grinding the great mass of humanity into indentured servitude better than feudalists could have dreamed, all the while placating by dangling the false hope that "you too can strike it rich." On top of that, in less than 200 years since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, capitalists polluted the world at a pace to create the Earth's sixth major extinction event, with zero prospect of reversal. That's progress.

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The Descent of Scent

"To create a little flower is the labour of ages." ~ British poet William Blake (1757 – 1827). Angiosperms (flowering plants) evolved 140 million years ago. A significant step in plant evolution, angiosperms encompassed the latest innovations: leaves, pollen, flowers and fruit. Angiosperms may have got their edge over simpler seed-bearers by developing drought-resistant features and rapid reproduction. But as Blake pointed out, the labor of the ages had hoary roots.

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