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03 April 2005

Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it

A big torrent of recent Vleeptron blogging all started with that sick, unwise, evil (everyone else is using that word about all sorts of things these days, so so can I) Fundie movement to coerce Imax theaters to ban nature documentaries which espouse the Theory of Natural Selection.

Eventually we crashed into Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus and a little bit of controversy about whether his Dismal Predictions about Mathematically Inevitable Famine are true or scientifically valid or not. (Bob says they are, but with a little wiggle room temporarily supplied by tons of toxic DDT spraying, and entire large states all planted in exactly the same single food plant species. When MONOCULTURE is all over the front pages of The New York and The London Times and screamed all over CNN, remember you read it here first.)

The controversy over Malthus will continue right up to The Famine of 20??. I don't think the arguments against Malthus' conclusions have very much scientific or mathematical validity. Malthus Bashing is based largely on profound denial and Pollyannaism. Who the fuck wants to listen to somebody predicting that any month now, we're all going to run out of Kentucky Fried Chicken or Sauerkrautsalat mit Schinken? In the USA, we're depressed enough this month every time we fill up our gas tanks. Thank goodness we went to war to get control over Sadaam Hussein's oil! Smooth move, Ex-lax!

But now I want to say something about the Rev. Malthus, who "
was to suffer much misrepresentation and abuse at the hands of both revolutionaries and conservatives," which is beyond controversy, and will be forever true whether there's plenty of Extra Crispy tonight, or whether the cupboard is bare.

In the middle of the 1800s, two English guys paused from their serious research in jungles and mountain ranges on different continents to do a little light recreational non-serious popular reading (as both described it in their memoirs decades later), and checked into this highly controversial essay on human population by the anonymous Anglican curate (whose students called him "Pop").

Both the English guys were surprised at how interesting Malthus was. Fascinating, in fact. And when both the English guys had read Malthus' conclusion that population will always overtake and outstrip food production, they both, on opposite sides of Planet Earth, immediately invented the Theory of Natural Selection, because they both realized that Malthus had supplied the unknown mysterious Natural Pressure that perpetually forces species to change over time.

The competition for a finite food supply is so ferocious and ever-present that no species gets a free all-you-can-eat holiday anywhere for very long. Bird beaks rapidly change shape so some finches can rapidly exploit new food sources, a nut or fruit that wasn't being exploited by other animals locally. Those finches who can't quickly enough evolve physical modifications or behavior strategies to exploit new food sources die out. (Galapagos finches and their different beaks unique to each island were Darwin's most compelling clue.)

Malthus was just talking about Todd and Tiffani, the reproductive and agricultural behavior of Homo sapiens. In fact he was specifically essaying about Homo sapiens norvegicus, because Norway was the first nation in Malthus' neighborhood to take an accurate census of its national population changes over time, and Malthus' amateur scientific curiosity made him sail to Oslo to check out this very interesting new government resource and Do The Math. But Malthus generalized that the way Lars and Vivika eat, screw, grow food, and die, is roughly the same way English people and Lithuanians and Dutch and Siamese people eat, screw, grow food, and die. (Canadians do it doggy-style so they can both watch the hockey game.)

But Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, on opposite ends of the planet, realized that Malthus' depressing conclusion about Homo sapiens was the key to the origin of species -- the pressure that drove Evolution, and eventually caused Fundies and Bushies to try to censor nature documentaries down at the Imax science center.

So much for light, popular reading.

Is it likely that Darwin and Wallace were right, but the Gestalt they had independently from Malthus was wrong? I don't think so ... but because of this light, popular reading, for as long as biologists believe in Natural Selection, they're going to be enshrining Malthus' dismal conclusion.

Here's the final, most authoritative scientific word on human population and Natural Selection, and if you know the tune, you can sing along:

Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)
by Cole Porter (1928)

Birds do it, Bees do it
even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

In Spain, the best upper sets do it
Lithuanians and Letts do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it
Not to mention the Finns
Folks in Siam do it
Just think of Siamese twins

Some Argentines without means do it
People say in Boston even beans do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Romantic sponges, they say, do it
Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Cold Cape Cod clams 'gainst their wish do it
even lazy jellyfish do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Electric eels, I might add, do it
Though it shocks 'em I know
Why ask if shad do it?
Waiter, bring me shad roe!

In shallow shoals English soles do it
Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love!


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