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I am a politically-progressive, ethically-herbivorous anthropoid pursuing a paleontology education in the Los Angeles Basin. I am largely nocturnal, have rarely been photographed, and cannot thrive in captivity.

28 November 2010

The Origin Of C4 Grass

No, it's not a reference to explosive marijuana.

New analysis of fossilized pollen reveals that some grass species evolved C4 photosynthesis about 14 million years earlier than previously thought from geological evidence. This may require a total rethink of the role of CO2 depletion in the evolution of modern grasses.

Dry stuff (pun intended... think about it), but the most fascinating paleo-read I came across this month, outside of my formal academic studies.

Confession Of A Failed Omnivore

There's been something of trend lately, of former vegans publicly (and rather drama-queenishly) renouncing their veggie ways and embracing a new role as "ethical omnivores." I won't bother linking to any of these pedantic blogs, as I'm sure many of you are already aware of the fad.

However, did you know that there are former omnivores doing the same thing in the other direction? A bit tongue-in-cheek, here's a brilliant (and satirical) confessional from a self-professed failed omnivore.

And to think, I was gonna write one along the lines of "how paleontology made me vegan," aimed right at the heart of this trend. I might still do it, but Marla's blog does a fantastic job of both truth-speaking and parodying this recent fad of self-indulgent nonsense.

A Dinosaur Of My Very Own

Now that I have more of it to spare than before, I've put my money where my keyboard is and become the sponsor/"parent" of a rescued turkey at Animal Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary. I get to name the turkey in question, and this has put me in kind of a pickle. Since I don't know the gender of my turkey yet, I'm trying to think of a name that can go either way.

Right now, I'm torn between Manny Raptor (which can be modified to "Mandy" if necessary), or simply Jive.

I'll be receiving a photo of my new turkey friend, which I'll post here when it arrives. If it's small enough, I may carry it my wallet and show it around as my pet dinosaur.

In the spirit of the holidays, you should sponsor an animal there, too. Especially if you're from the L.A. area.

16 November 2010

We Need More Vegans Like This

Vegan Skeptic does an excellent debunking of the recent meme that veg*nism is worse for the environment than meat-eating.

I like Infinity's blog not only for work like this, but also because of its focus on "promot(ing) reason and skepticism in the animal rights community." There's a lot of mystical, pseudo- and anti-science, mumbo-jumbo in our movement, and I am often frustrated by it, especially since I think the weight of reason and science support a vegan lifestyle for most people living in the modern world.

I'm glad we have smart cookies like this fellow to help us steer the Good Ship Vegan towards saner waters. I just wish more of the crew would pay attention.

In Search Of A Specialty

I'm trying to narrow the focus of my paleo-education, in the interests of both long-term planning and animal rights. That is to say, I'm trying to develop a planned specialty that will allow me to pursue my scientific passion while minimizing (or, hopefully, eliminating completely!) my impact on other living animals. To remain within the paleo realm, there are four broad specializations to choose from:

1) Vertebrate Paleontology -- top-dog in terms of funding and popularity. This is where you find dinosaurs, mammoths and almost all of the other critters the general public thinks of when they hear the word "paleontology." It's comfortable, familiar and more than a little nostalgia-ridden (at least for me). And, I admit, I am still drawn to vert-paleo because of an abiding interest in several questions: the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, early- to mid-Triassic crocodile diversity, the relationship between pterosaurs' decline and birds' success in their wake, the Permian protomammals (which reminds me, wasn't I doing a series on teeth?...), and of course, the story of us H. sapiens.

But the problem with vert-paleo, from an animal rights perspective, is that it relies a great deal on comparative anatomy with currently-living species. A lot of labs and researchers make an effort to obtain fresh remains only from scavenged sources, but even still, there are a lot of links in the chain to be accounted for, and the lab-animal supply industry is notoriously corrupt and under-regulated. So, going the vert-paleo path would require a commitment to ethical watch-doggery. I'm not against that at all, and the idea of becoming (in)famous as the guy who helps clean up vert-paleo in this sphere appeals to me. But, I can do that regardless of my specialty field, so it doesn't tip the scales too much in one direction or the other.

2) Invertebrate Paleontology -- The horror fan in me loves this one. Not only does it cover the evolution of modern creepy-crawlies like spiders, scorpions, squids and worms, but also bizarre things like the five-eyed Opabinia and my favorite trilobite, the frightening Dicranurus monstrosus. Who needs space travel to find fascinating and creepy alien life when there's a whole other ecosystem of high weirdness like this right here on Earth?

But again, the problem here is a reliance on exploitation of modern species. And while not many people get worked up about the treatment of bugs and worms, it's still enough to give me pause. No one who's watched a lobster try to escape a pot of boiling water can doubt that invertebrates have a survival instinct, even if the question of whether they feel pain remains open. So, again, I'm faced with the same issue as vert-paleo, with the exception that I'd probably find a lot more resistance to humane treatment efforts for bugs than I would for vertebrates.

3) Paleobotany -- Every few months, I lean heavily back in this direction. People need to be turned on more to plants. The study of their evolution is essential to understanding modern problems of climate change and species diversity, and from a paleontological perspective, it gives us a whole different lens through which to view the question of mass extinction (since plant evolution doesn't appear to follow the same pattern of extinction and recovery as animal life does). Plus, there's appeal for the horror-fan in me here, too: carnivorous plant evolution is not well-studied, and that leaves a lot of room for a lot of exciting and interesting research (and even it wouldn't involve harming animals, since most carnivorous plant species thrive just fine without animal prey).

4) Micropaleontology -- Studies microorganisms. Not as boring as it sounds, and like paleobotany, highly-useful in the study of global warming. Also, like invert-paleo, fully of bizarre beauty -- check out some image galleries of radiolarian and coccolithophore fossils if you don't believe me.

As I continue my traverse through the academic world, I'll make this blog a sounding-post for the further development of these ideas, and hopefull settle on a specialty that fulfills both my main concerns.

Wish me luck!

08 November 2010

Another Dinosaur Dodges Extinction...

...thanks to the courage and compassion of one teenaged girl.

What's more disturbing is the insidious way this snuck into a curriculum where students are given a choice whether to dissect in science class. It's almost as though there's someone out there demanding that animal cruelty be a required part of education.

I resolve to work harder on starting my Backyard Dinosaur campaign. Kids with heart need to know there are dinosaurs waiting to be saved every day.