Sunday, December 27, 2009


I came across a reference to Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, and later read that he arrived at an interesting conclusion, which appears near the beginning of his book The Essence of Christianity, in Chapter 4, pages 52 and 53:
Who then is our Saviour and Redeemer? God or Love? Love; for God as God has not saved us, but Love, which transcends the difference between the divine and human personality. As God has renounced himself out of love, so we, out of love, should renounce God; for if we do not sacrifice God to love, we sacrifice love to God, and in spite of the predicate of love, we have the God—the evil being—of religious fanaticism.
Years ago I renounced religion when my attempts to defend Christianity against a growing sense of personal integrity had been strained to the breaking point. I found that all that mattered in religious faith was love. So here I agree with Feuerbach - all actions must reflect the value of love, no harmful actions should be committed in the name of unsupportable belief. Though to many this sounds like heresy, to me it is the fulfillment of the ethical impulse guided by faith, and virtually axiomatic.

In other news, I have replaced my "To do" list with a "Will I do?" list, which better acknowledges the uncertain outcome of my intentions. The future is full of irresistible questions.

Some people explain their religious faith as founded upon a personal relationship with God which, of course, one must have in order to properly understand and debate upon its merits. I could say that my reasons for not believing in God are also based on a personal relationship, not a relationship with God, but a personal relationship with real people like you and me. But rhetoric does little to sway opinion, while personal experience is given the greatest weight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An existential view of society

At the risk of committing the sin of psychological projection, I have entertained the idea that corruption exists at all levels in business and politics.  This isn't a new idea (for examples in popular culture see Moore's latest documentary "Capitalism"), and is largely accepted anyway.  It forms a large portion of media coverage.  But it is also easy to overlook since it is less transparent in some situations than others.  Just the other day I was talking with a co-worker about the TV series "Weeds" and the character of the corupt mayor came up.  It was a perfect example in fiction.

In support of this I might allude to a Hobbesian discourse on how life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," which is true some of the time, but not in all cases.  Or I could quote Orson Welles who is reputed to have said “We`re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we`re not alone.”  I think it would be a mistake to take that literally, I believe he means more of psychological isolation and aloneness experienced as a consequence of the generally, and often unintentionally, egocentric behavior of most people.  I have found it very true that only you can make your values manifest through your actions, nobody else can or will do it for you. 

Would a habit of having a cynical opinion of the motives and behavior of other people really just conceal my own desire to improve, by comparison, the regard in which I hold myself?  In other words, lift myself up by putting you down?  Would that thereby also improve my ability to justify, again by comparison, my own behavior or misbehavior?  To these questions I answer: I don't think so, as cynicism pervades all thought and the cynical person's opinion of themselves is not immune to the same skepticism directed at others.  But one benefit from recognizing the actual pervasiveness of corrupt and/or egocentric behavior is realizing that the professed standards of conduct and actual standards of conduct people (and businesses and governments) live by are two different things.  This could eliminate some of the social anxiety that can accompany a fear of not meeting the professed standards of conduct.  In reality few, if any people, ever do. 

Having written all that, I must state for the record that I think people are generally good.  Or at least we try to be.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Planted aquariums

On two occasions this past summer I biked down to the local lake with my clients and dip netted for pond animals to pique their curiosity.  Though I got a lot of damselfly larvae, leeches, worms, ostracods and daphnia, the gammarus amphipods were my main target (I have tried and gave up on keeping them before).  I brought them back to my aquaria where they have proven to be more resilient than I thought.  Due their low numbers, I doubt that they have been able to reproduce yet, and they are still vulnerable to the blender-like blade of my aquarium pump (I should sew a sponge cover over the intake).  But they have survived for over three months so far in very healthy condition. 

In an effort to fortify their diet with more natural and abundant fare, I decided to buy fast-growing aquarium plants.  Which of course required that I then provide the plants with proper growing conditions.  I took the incandescent and a flourescent lighting fixtures from two standard 10 gallon aquarium hoods (which I already had) and placed them on one ten gallon tank over a plate glass lid.  I plugged them into a digital outlet timer that is set to come on at 7:00am and turn off at 8:30pm with a "siesta" from 12:00pm to 12:45pm (I read this inhibits algae growth somehow).  The natural daylight schedule is also supposedly good for the plants, which I guess need to sleep too.  The timer also makes maintenance a snap.  I use one on my other tank at home, and I think the fish really do benefit from a dependable schedule. 

As I learned more about growing aquarium plants, this endeavor began to take on a life of its own aside from the original purpose of supplying food for my amphipods.  It is a lot of fun.  On the Internet, The Planted Tank is very useful for gaining more information.  But back to my planted aquarium, I bought several different plants that are either fast growing or interesting: 
  • Egeria densa (anacharis)
  • Cabomba caroliniana (cabomba or fanwort)
  • Anubias (anubias)
  • Limnobium laevigatum (Amazon frogbit)
  • Lemna minor (duckweed)
  • Salvinia minima (water spangles, a floating fern)
  • Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss)
  • Aegagropila linnaei (marimo or algae ball)
The anacharis and cabomba are my super fast growing submerged plants.  I hope they perform well so I can prune them and distribute to my other tanks.  The anubias is a typical plant looking plant.  It looks very nice, but grows slow.  The frogbit, duckweed, and water spangles are all floating plants.  They are supposed to grow well, but I mostly just like they way they look.  I have had the Java moss for over three years, it grows in a tangled mat and is impossible to kill.  I bought the marimo ball the other day because it was huge and I like marimo a lot.  It grows slow and looks uber cool suspended in the water current in a crude sling fashioned from plastic water plants. 

The only animals that I am aware of in the aquarium are several common small snail species, no more than a few small gammarus amphipods, and about five three ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.) that I bought to keep the plants clean.  Suffice to say, the only animals I can keep in a plant tank cannot be big voracious vegetarians.  No crayfish.  Time will tell how successful this setup is, but so far I am well pleased.

Regarding a planted aquarium, there is much talk of the difficulty of particular plant species, and of getting specific growing conditions/ water parameters right. But this misses the point that in general, plants are very adaptable and forgiving. One of the main reasons I decided to grow aquarium plants is because they can grow fast and create a lush appearance. This is what wetlands are good at. If one plant type fails under the growing conditions you provide, use another one that will grow for you. Any body of water outdoors will have growing plants nearby. Why? Because nature found the right match between plant species and environmental conditions. All you have to do is the same thing. Light and heat, water and air, nutrients.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Parent-Offspring Conflict

This morning I read Robert Triver's article "Parent-Offspring Conflict" that appeared in the journal American Zoologist way back in 1974. It is a very important article on the subject of evolution, and identified the process from which the article takes its title.

The article is divided into several main subsections:
  1. Parent-offspring conflict over the continuation of parental investment
  2. Conflict throughout the period of parental investment over the amount of parental investment
  3. The time course of parent-offspring conflict
  4. Disagreement over the sex of the offspring
  5. The offspring as psychological manipulator
  6. Parent-offspring conflict over the behavioral tendencies of the offspring
  7. Conflict over the adult reproductive role of the offspring
  8. The role of parental experience in parent-offspring conflict
According to evolutionary theory, each organism attempts to maximize its reproductive success and perpetuate copies of its own genes. Since the genes of the parents and offspring are different, though at the same time related, this creates and undercurrent of competition in an otherwise nurturing relationship. Conflict between parent and offspring occurs in any sexually reproducing organisms, and the parental investment in the offspring either positively or negatively affects the fitness of both in different ways. Offspring are not "passive vessels into which parents pour the appropriate care. Once one imagines offspring as actors in this interaction, then conflict must be assumed to lie at the heart of sexual reproduction itself."
I found several sections in the paper particularly interesting. This one underscores the situation of children in relation to their parents:
Throughout the period of parental investment the offspring competes at a disadvantage. The offspring is smaller and less experienced than its parent, and its parent controls the resources at issue. Given this competitive disadvantage the offspring is expected to employ psychological rather than physical tactics.
And this describes why parents want their children to be nice to each other, though the children are more likely to fight among themselves:
An individual is only expected to perform an altruistic act toward its full-sibling whenever the benefit to the sibling is greater than twice the cost to the altruist [because they are only half related to their siblings]... But parents, who are equally related to all of their offspring, are expected to encourage all altruistic acts among their offspring in which the benefit is greater than the cost, and to discourage all selfish acts in which the cost is greater than the benefit.

Source:  Trivers, Robert L.  "Parent-Offspring Conflict" American Zoologist 1974 14(1):249-264