The comfort of choice: three H’s


Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas yesterday called the Holocaust a "heinous crime." Many observers detect a change in the vocabulary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he heads. The word it usually uses to describe the Holocaust is "hoax."

Humans being what they are, each will find comfort in the H-word he chooses to believe about the PLO. In a nasty, messy world, a simple multiple choice is a great relief.

(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

Brandeis, words, and extinction


Humanity is doomed. Everyone knows it. We cockroaches have been around for 350 million years and have watched millions of species come and go, and we know a goner when we see one. Though this blog has sometimes strayed when there is a news item too juicy to pass up, its mission is to chart the extinction of mankind via the vehicle in which it takes the greatest pride: language.

Today's chapter is about Brandeis University, which planned to offer an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ms Ali was born in Somalia and grew up Muslim. Fleeing an arranged marriage, she went to the Netherlands, where she earned a master's degree, and eventually became a member of the Dutch parliament. Deeply disturbed by the repression of women in immigrant Muslim communities, she collaborated on a movie about it entitled Submission. 

Rather than give the movie a Thumbs Down, a Muslim man shot the director of the movie on the street, decapitated him, and thrust a knife into his body securing a note saying that the same was in store for Ms Ali. 

Ms Ali continues to campaign for rights of women around the world, focusing attention on issues such as violence and ritual genital mutilation, of which she was a victim as a child. It is no surprise that she has developed some very powerful antipathies toward Islam and how the world should react to it, and has been forthcoming about them in many interviews and publications.

This is the good part: When informed about Brandeis's intentions, much of its faculty signed a petition insisting that the offer of the honorary degree be rescinded, and it was. The reason? She is an "Islamophobe."  Her attitudes are not consistent with the university's "core values."

It is not for us to guess what core values are violated by the voice of this woman. But why is her courage not celebrated, her knowledge not respected? Listen to what she has to say, then decide. Dismissing her as an "Islamophobe" is like calling a leper a "bacteria-ophobe." 

Another example of how you humans twist words into a rope that will eventually hang you. 

(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

Lewd sexual acts performed on roaches by Los Angeles teacher

ugly teen1

A Los Angeles teacher was arrested and charged with taking bondage-style photographs of students. In news reports of the event, what was held to be most shocking was that in some of the photos large cockroaches had been placed on students' faces. 

There was no suggestion that the teacher had coerced the students. But there is no question about the cockroaches: they were physically forced to endure the humiliation not only of sitting on a teen's face, but of having the act eternalized in photographs that could reach roaches all over the world. 

How many innocent roaches took their own lives? That was not deemed worthy of print. What is certain is the trauma the roaches suffered the rest of their days, the haunting fear of finding themselves swimming in the oil of a teen's face, legs stuck in the green hell of his zits–and the burning shame of being seen. 

This was not a crime a lifetime of therapy could erase. 


(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

Front-runners for 2016: female Brazilian insects with penises


Either that or a pony

Scientists recently discovered that the females of four insect species living in dry caves in Brazil have what some ambitious women have always yearned for: a penis. "Because the female anchoring force is very strong, a male's strong resistance may cause damage to his genitalia. Therefore, it is very likely that entire mating processes are controlled actively by females, whereas males are rather passive," said entomologist Yoshizawa Kazunori, the lead scientist.

The females have an elaborate, penis-like organ while the males have a vagina-like opening into which females insert their organ during mating sessions that last 40 to 70 hours, the scientists reported in the journal Current Biology. The researchers said these attributes make the four species of the insect genus Neotrogla unique in the world.

Yoshizawa said that although sex-role reversal has been documented in several different types of animals, these insects are the sole example in which the "intromittent organ" – the male sex organ – is reversed. The scientists call the female penis-like structure a gynosome. During mating, a female inserts it into a male and receives sperm. Once inserted, part of the gynosome inflates and spines internally anchor the male and female insects together.

Yoshizawa cited other unusual examples of sex organs among animals, including female seahorses that use an organ to deposit eggs within a male's brood pouch and a kind of mite whose females have a long genital tube. By the definition of female – an organism that produces egg cells that are larger than the sperm cells produced by males – "even with the penis-like intromittent organ, females of Neotrogla are still female," Yoshizawa said. But Yoshizawa added: "Females of Neotrogla likely represent the most 'macho' females among animals discovered to date."

(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

Killing on Passover? Be sure your poison is kosher.


This evening Jews around the world begin their celebration of Passover, commemorating their liberation from slavery in Egypt. But this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. The rules for the holiday are spelled out in the Bible. Cross them–use any forbidden product–and the consequences are harsh.

So: Carefully wash the rubber bands on your dental braces — they may be covered with corn starch. Put away those finger paints; your kids might eat the forbidden substances in them. Coat your roommates, who pick up after themselves, never play loud music, and were there long before you were, with insecticides. God is up with that.

But, the rabbis warn: DO NOT USE COMBAT ROACH KILLING SYSTEM OR BLACK FLAG ROACH ENDER!! They contain oatmeal, which is strictly forbidden. In them lies damnation.

(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

Ever walk in on your parents? That’s why we lay eggs.


In the human experience, no image burns itself more ruthlessly into the back of one's eyes than that of one's parents in flagrante delicto. This says something commendable about the species. Many species lack the delicacy, and see their parents' copulation as an opportunity: Hang on, mom, I'm next! And still others see mating as a kind of dinner bell–once the male has spent, his task on earth is over. Then he is nothing more than a meal waiting to happen.  

In this rare instance, the noble insect shares the view of Thinking homo. To prevent innocent youngsters from being scarred forever by sloppy parents, we needed something more foolproof than a door that is supposed to lock, but sometimes doesn't. We decided on: the egg.

Of course many species lay eggs. But we chose the egg as a remedy after an event that proved to be so traumatic that it was put on display 165 million years ago in China. Left to serve as an object lesson, it was hardened by the elements in time. The fossil was recently unearthed by humans.


Unless parents are so shiftless that they continue to hump right where the female lays the eggs, the children are almost certain to be spared the scene. We built in another measure: no one knows who his parents are. Together these two improvements have meant that the insect world has gone for 165 million years without one trip to a psychiatrist.


(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)

“Holy fellatio, Batman! Fruit bats use oral sex to prolong actual sex.”


The myth of Homo sapiens exceptionalism takes another hit

Many humans whinge about not getting oral sex often enough, but for most animals, it’s completely non-existent. In fact, we know of only animal apart from humans to regularly engage in fellatio – the short-nosed fruit bat(Cynopterus sphinx).

The bat’s sexual antics have only just been recorded by Min Tan of China’s Guangdong Entomological Institute (who are either branching out, or are confused about entomology). Tan captured 60 wild bats from a nearby park, housed them in pairs of the opposite sex and voyeuristically filmed their liaisons using a night-time camera. Twenty of the bats got busy, and their exploits were all caught on video.

Male bats create tents by biting leaves until they fall into shape. These provide shelter and double as harems, each housing several females who the male mates with. Fruit bat sex goes like this: the female approaches and sniffs the male, and both partners start to lick one another. The male makes approaches with his thumbs (like the Fonz) and mounts the female (like the Fonz). Sex itself is the typical rhythmic thrusting that we’re used to, and afterwards, the male licks his own penis for several seconds.

But Tan also found that female bat will often bend down to lick the shaft of her mate’s penis during sex itself. This behaviour happened on 70% of the videos, making it the only known example of regular fellatio in a non-human animal. It also prolonged the sexual encounter – males never withdrew their penises when they were being licked and, on average, the behaviour bought the couple an extra 100 seconds of sex over and above the usual 2 minutes. The licking itself only lasted for 20 seconds on average, so each second of it buys six extra seconds of penetration.  

Oral sex is rare in other animals. Bonobos do it (but really, what don't they do?) but it’s more of a form of play among young males, and there’s one anecdotal instance of an orang-utan doing the same. Some animals, such as ring-tailed lemurs, lick each other’s genitals to judge whether they’re ready for mating, but there’s no evidence that they do so as an actual part of sex. As for other bats, it’s entirely possible that they too engage in oral sex. However, given their inaccessible roosts and nocturnal habits, we’re largely in their dark about their sex lives.

Nonetheless, Tan suggests a few possible reasons for the short-nosed fruit bat’s penchant for fellatio, aside from the anthropocentric conclusion of ‘pleasure-giving’. Bat penises contain erectile tissue much like our own. It gets stiffer if it’s stimulated, so females could use oral sex to prolong their encounters with males, by maintain their erections or lubricating it for easier entry.

While many of us might nod sagely at the need for longer sex, Tan suggests that for the bats, it could mean easier transport of sperm to the oviduct, or more secretions from the female that are conducive to fertilisation. It could also be a way of hogging a mate, keeping him away from rival females.

Alternatively, the antiseptic properties of saliva might help to strip the male’s penis of bacteria or fungi, and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The fact that males lick their own penises after sex supports this idea.  

And finally, oral sex might help females to pick up chemical traces on her mate that might suggest if he’s a suitable mate. Obviously, they’d already be having sex, but female mammals often exert choice over their sexual partners after the fact, rejecting sperm from inferior males, or encouraging congress with superior ones to displace it. All of these explanations are just hypotheses for the moment, but they could all be tested in the future.



(Courtesy of Numbers the roach.)