I Love Ants

Well, actually, no, I don’t love ants. Ants drive me crazy, especially when they’re crawling all over the house. They’re interesting critters in many ways, and for years I’ve been attracted to Douglas Hofstedter’s notion of intelligent anthills as he presented them in his book Godel, Escher, and Bach. But just keep them out of my house. Especially my kitchen.

But this is cool: today, Science Daily reports on the discovery of a new species of ant found in the Amazonian rain forest. It’s an odd looking little ant. Here’s a picture of it:

(Click on the thumbnail for a larger picture.)

The main thing to know about this ant is that it’s blind, and it has really long mandibles for its mouth. You can see the mandibles even better in this picture:

The Latin name for this new species of ant is Martialis heureka. Roughly translated, that means, “Ant from Mars”. This new species is so peculiar, so unlike any other known species of ant, that entomologists joke it could only have come from Mars. More significantly, it’s so unusual that it gets its own genus, separate from every other ant species. They suspect it’s an underground dweller, blind because it lives in the dark and doesn’t need eyes, and with huge forceps-type mandibles that make it all the easier to grab little subterranean critters and munch on them. I’m not sure what it feeds on, because the article doesn’t make it clear. It does say that this species of ant is predatory, so I’m going to say it feeds on mites. I’ll make sure that they stay away from my mite collection.

Some scientists are calling this a fossil ant species. It is, quite simply, the Coelecanth of ants. No new ant species have been discovered since 1921. Spiffy.

So how cool is that? Bizarre space ants from the Amazon. These critters will very likely show up in my next Story of the Week, tentatively entitled “The X of Doom”.

Why I'm voting for Barack Obama (a brief note)

The world is a complicated place, and become more and more complicated every day. Communications technologies are still growing. Many resources, and not just fossil fuels, are becoming scarce (millions face a serious lack of drinking water, not to mention food). With Russia expanding their muscles again and ongoing threats in Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, diplomacy is becoming more and more important. The global economy is becoming more complicated and more interdependent. Medical and biotechnological advances are coming so rapidly that keeping up with them is almost impossible. More and more nations are developing viable space programs. And the threat of terrorism remains real for most of the world.

With increasing complexity comes a need for increasing flexibility, and better ways of leveraging the knowledge and technologies that we have. For the United States to remain relevant in the increasingly complicated world, we need to be flexible, to look at new ideas, and to work cooperatively with the other nations of the world to solve the problems that face everyone on the planet.

For eight years, we’ve been burdened with an Administration which has gleefully placed the interests of corporations above science, which has eschewed diplomacy as viable alternatives to warfare, has blatantly ignored the wishes of the international community, and broken a once strong economy with obsolete “trickle down” and supply side economic policies. The old ways of doing things don’t work anymore, haven’t really worked for decades; heck, if nothing else, Vietnam should have proven to the government that the old ways of war simply don’t work. The Bush administration has also degraded our nation’s moral standing in the international community. While we were once an inspiration for human rights organizations throughout the world, we have increasingly become their target, with the prison camps at Guatanamo, illegal wiretapping and pardons for the corporations involved, and interrogation techniques which are broadly understood to be torture (regardless of any rhetoric about waterboarding). Our nation has an obscenely high poverty rate, an unforgivably high rate of illiteracy, and a health care system which is leaving more and more Americans inadequately covered, not to mention an income gap that even Alan Greenspan admits is a growing problem.

My point is this: I believe that the Bush administration, and the Republican party in general, represent older models of how to deal with the increasingly complex problems which face the nation and the world (because with increasing international communications and travel, the world’s problems are undeniably ours as well). If continued, these models will simply decrease our nation’s relevance and exacerbate problems that could be solved. Relying on a “free market” approach to the economy has proven disastrous. John McCain, who has voted with President Bush and who yet maintains that he is a “maverick” and “reform oriented” (as if there has been any significant political reform in our country since 1787), has demonstrated a commitment to these older models. I believe that keeping such models in place is simply burying one’s head in the sand, ignoring how much more complicated the world is becoming.

Barack Obama has, I believe, demonstrated a level of intelligence and an open-mindedness which I believe will better meet these challenges, restore our nation’s moral standing, and acknowledge that the old ways of handling problems will simply no longer work. He’s not my ideal candidate; in some ways he’s far too conservative for my tastes. But by demonstrating a commitment to, for example, hiring a science advisor who is not beholden to any corporate interests, facing problems of the health care crisis, and increasing the role of diplomacy in working with the other nations of the world, I think he is better suited to lead our nation forward. Heck, of all the candidates I’ve seen, Obama is the only one who has not flat out denied that our nation still has a problem with race relations.

This is why I have chosen to vote for Barack Obama. He will, in my opinion, be more prepared to lead our country in the direction it needs to go. John McCain, no matter how many mooseburgers his running mate may have eaten from moose she’s killed herself, is simply unprepared for that challenge.