How to Hatch a Mammal & Why Evolution Matters

In terms of development mammals are weird. We have clearly evolved a set of wacky adaptations to allow us not only to mature entirely within the parent, but also to do so without the huge supply of yolk common to most other animals. Think of your regular egg. That big ball of yolk is covered by a single plasma membrane and provides everything that chicken needs for the roughly twenty-one days it takes to go from laying to hatching. As a freaky aside, that entire chicken (if fertilized) will grow from a small white mass (the blastodisc) visible on every single store-bought egg. Mammals, not having that whole bunch of rich and yummy stuff to eat in the weeks it usually takes them to develop, instead do a whole bunch of crazy things for which there is no real comparison elsewhere, except that a lot these structures (the amnion and alantois) are also present in the the eggs of birds and reptiles. What we’ve got here is a whole suite of adaptations used grow new organisms on land, which would be completely mind-boggling if you didn’t consider the 600 million years (that’s 219 billion days, to put it in perspective) that it has taken these systems to develop to their current state.

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“The greatest moral challenge of this century.”

The above is from a recent book review I found on the Guardian website. So what exactly is the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century? Global warming, food security, biodiversity? It actually comes from a far more gruesome place:

Gradually, they (Wudunn and Kristoff) began to see this great global disaster more clearly, discovering that, every year, at least two million girls worldwide disappear because of discrimination. They began to investigate and chronicle its various forms, from sexual slavery to honour killings of women deemed to have disgraced the family, to rape as an extension of war, to genital mutilation, to the less violent but no less damaging exclusion of women from health services and education.

 

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Cities of Animals: The Ethics of Habitat Destruction

I was recently told that roughly eighty percent of the North American peregrine falcons breed in the Mackenzie River valley. I didn’t read it in the literature as it were, but was told by someone with decades of monitoring experience there, so I’ll take it on faith for now. What it immediately brought to mind was the Colorado River, renowned for no longer reaching the ocean.

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The Uncautionary Principle

What ever happened to the precautionary principle? Did it go out the door with Locke, the enclosure of the commons, the birth of capitalism? Is caution the antithesis of making money? I sure as hell hope not, because then the planet and the people are really in a bind: If we want to keep living on the freedom of paychecks and global exchange, then the time we have to do it might be quite limited indeed.

Take, for example global warming. Some sort of systematic changes seem to be afoot, whether or not my lifestyle is the cause may still be questionable, but with the stakes as they are, who the hell wants to find out?

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Passing Judgement on Public Reason

We live in a world dominated by the discourses of relativism.  This has been on the march since at least since the extremely important developments of modern feminism and the post-colonial perspective. The framing of the social milieu in these ways has been instrumental in putting a stop to senseless exploitation. Where is there a problem? Is there a problem? Aren’t the dialogues of patriarchy and imperialism essential to an egalitarian and peaceful world? They are. Yet problems do arise.

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