Under the magnifying glass

For a few days after Christmas, I had my brother Steve’s best friend Sam and two of his kids staying with me, because there was no room at the inn. Sam is a professional entomologist and Steve an advanced amateur, and they are joint custodians of an insect collection that fills nine large cabinets and includes over 100,000 specimens that they’ve collected all over the world. One evening, Steve and Sam waxed philosophic about the differences between insects and people. We had just been discussing the problems and ramifications of excess flatulence – that is, telling fart jokes.

“People are so gross!” Steve said. “I mean, we’re just disgusting! The human body might look good from a distance, but close up, forget it. I mean, we’re always exuding mucous, sweat, body odor… Insects are clean.”

“Are you saying you actually find insects more attractive than human beings?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah! I mean, insects have this bright, shiny armor surrounding their bodies, and all these cool-looking appendages…”

“What about bombardier beetles, shooting scalding acid out their butts?” Sam asked. “That’s a little gross, wouldn’t you say?” A brief discussion of bombardier beetles ensued.

“I know what you mean, though,” Sam admitted. “I’ll be studying an insect under the magnifying glass for a long time, then suddenly look at my thumb and go, wow. Ewww.”


Two bright, shiny new blogs caught my attention this past week, and both feature very familiar voices. “Nomen est Numen” has molted and emerged in an adult form as autobiology, where, the author says, “I’m writing because I want to be more accountable to myself.” Meanwhile, someone calling himself teju cole has launched a blog with a life expectancy of just one month. “Mostly, you can expect words and images related to a journey I made to Nigeria in December 2005,” he says, “though from time to time I may stray from that brief.”

Brief is right! Get it while it’s fresh, as the blowfly said to the carrion beetle.


The New Year’s Eve installment of the invertebrate blog carnival Circus of the Spineless is due out later today at bootstrap analysis, a great blog in its own right. Billed as the “chronicles and musings of an urban field ecologist,” it’s full of great stuff such as book and journal reviews and the low-down on neon-blue rabbit piss. It will make you look at the urban environment in a whole new light.


Your average “year in review” story describes 2005 as a year of unprecedented natural disasters. But man-made disasters are always more appalling to me – and in many cases, of course, the former grade into the latter, when you consider factors such as ravaged coastal wetlands or shoddily built public schools in earthquake zones.

Worst of all are disasters perpetrated by outworn and dangerous ideologies, such as the gospel of economic growth. Here’s one of the creepiest things I’ve read all year.


If you’re looking for something to keep you occupied while waiting for the ball to drop, check out The Infinite Teen Slang Dictionary. It’s, like, totally wharf.

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