Cosmos: mocking religious conservatives by merely existing.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos has so far been a reliable source for a sweet, sweet dose of brain candy. Perhaps for the scientifically astute there are no new mind-blowing insights revealed here, but even so, I’ve found exquisite pleasure in seeing even familiar and well-understood scientific concepts illustrated with dazzling visuals to great effect, and Tyson’s enthusiasm for discovery and sense of joy and wonder are downright giddy-making. For instance, my own scientific knowledge pretty much starts and ends with a basic understanding of evolutionary biology, so Episode 2′s focus on evolutionary mechanisms covered no new ground for me. But the show was supremely enjoyable nonetheless, and all the more so by pondering the possibility that those who were previously unfamiliar with these concepts might experience the same WOW moments that I did upon discovering them. Episode 1 was equally compelling in demonstrating the sheer, awe-inspiring scale of the known universe.

Alas, it turns out that brain candy of the Cosmos flavor is only enjoyable to minimally reasoning brains. The barking loons at Answers in Genesis and Intelligent [sic] Designers over at the Discovery Institute are all having collective conniptions because science demolishes their kooky theory of humans being poofed into creation by Jeezus’s daddy out of mud or ribs or some such stupid thing. Apparently, facts about the world just don’t allow these particular apes to feel like Super Special Jeezusy Snowflakes, and this they will not abide. Only two episodes in, creationists are now whining and demanding equal time to present their inane views on a science show. Via Raw Story:

Creationists demand equal airtime on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ to provide ‘balance’

Creationists held a pity party for themselves Thursday because “Cosmos” isn’t being fair and balanced to their beliefs.

Hahaha. Awesome. Personally, I think the scientific community (including Tyson & Co.) is far too accommodating of religious bleatings, and should instead aggressively and derisively decimate this nonsense with everything they’ve got. But if they’re not going to do that, they should at least counter these narcissistic little shitheads with a deal to allow them equal time for science education during their church services and religious broadcasts. Let’s see how that goes over.

“Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all,” said Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis, which has previously complained about the show.

That’s because you are not, in fact, plausible at all, Danny!

Falkner appeared Thursday on “The Janet Mefford Show” to complain the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, had marginalized those with dissenting views on accepted scientific truths, reported Right Wing Watch.

I must say that in general I am not a fan of marginalizing those with dissenting views, provided those views have any merit. But since creationist views do not have any merit whatsoever (except of course as potential source material for mockery), it’s a goddamn moral imperative if not a solemn patriotic duty to marginalize the shit out of them. Like this:

don'tmasturbatejesusuniverse(Source.)

“I was struck in the first episode where he talked about science and how, you know, all ideas are discussed, you know, everything is up for discussion – it’s all on the table – and I thought to myself, ‘No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem,’” Falkner said.

Christ, what a dumbass. Special creation has been discussed ad nauseam for centuries, and it has long been dismissed on the merits—or in this case, the lack thereof. As Tyson told CNN, “You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers.”

Tonight’s Cosmos episode, “When Knowledge Conquered Fear,” will focus on human intelligence and the origin of scientific theory. Wonder what creationists will have to say about that?

I’m guessing, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

Happy Pi Day.

piIt’s Pi Day (3/14), and wonder of wonders, we just happened to remember we did a post about it a couple years ago. Well, we are too lazy to write a new post about it today—and apparently last year we were to lazy to even take the slightest notice. But fortunately for our Many Tens of Loyal Readers™, we are not too lazy to cut and paste some shit from that old post:

Pi, Greek letter (π), is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th. Pi = 3.1415926535…

With the use of computers, Pi has been calculated to over 1 trillion digits past the decimal. Pi is an irrational and transcendental number meaning it will continue infinitely without repeating.

The Palace hereby proclaims solidarity with people everywhere who celebrate the important occasion of Pi Day, and proudly takes part in the traditional ritual of consuming pie (of the fruit, custard, chocolate and/or pizza varieties).

I and my fellow geeks the world over cannot wait until March 14, 2015 at 9:26 AM (and 53 seconds). It is going to be so freaking awesome.

Iris HEARTS Neil deGrasse Tyson.

neildegrasstysonNice interview at io9: Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why the new Cosmos matters so much.

Tyson: I want to clarify that the goal of this Cosmos is not to update the science. A lot of science has happened in the last 35 years. We’ve discovered a thousand exoplanets, for example. But that’s not the goal, because any time of day you can channel surf and find a documentary about black holes, colliding galaxies, the search for life, the Big Bang, dark matter, the Higgs-Boson, etc. There’s no end of documentaries that serve that goal.

Cosmos has, as its mission statement, the effort to convey to you why science matters. That is a different motivating factor than “Here’s all this science I want to teach you.” When you take ownership of why science matters, then you are self-motivated, driven. You take the responsibility yourself to continue to learn. It’s a new Cosmos not because there’s so much more universe to talk about, but because the country and the world needs to know more than ever why science matters.

The director of photography for the new series is Bill Pope—the director of photography for The Matrix trilogy. OMFG I am totally geeking out ovah heeyah.

The new Cosmos premieres this Sunday, March 9th on Fox.

Back to IMPORTANT business: tardigrades.

Now that every single thing has been said on the subject of abortion rights, the shitweasel arguments in opposition thereto, and the Man Children who feel entitled to materially abandon their own offspring because waaaaaaaaah, we can finally get back to matters far more pressing than forced birth, child abandonment and all the dead and maimed women and impoverished families around the globe.*

I refer, of course, to the tardigrades.

Waterbear Tardigrade (water bear) Hypsibius dujardini
scanning electron micrograph by Bob Goldstein & Vicky Madden
UNC Chapel Hill

Immediately after the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos, I took to Facebook to complain bitterly about the inexcusable lack of attention paid to tardigrades. Tyson and the producers obviously saw my complaint, because they attempted to rectify this tragic oversight by briefly discussing tardigrades in the second episode. But still, there were not nearly enough tardigrades, because as visitors to the Tardigrade Wing at the Palace Zoo well know, tardigrades are the coolest creatures ever:

They are teeny, tiny, water-dwelling, eight-legged animals prevalent in moss and lichen. About 1 millimeter (0.039 in) in length when fully grown, they can be seen under a low-power microscope. Tardigrades are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal: they can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about 6 times stronger than pressures found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than would kill a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for many years, drying out to the point where they are less than 3% water—then rehydrate, forage, and reproduce. Tardigrades have been found in hot springs, on top of the Himalayas, under layers of solid ice, in ocean sediments, in lakes, ponds, meadows, stone walls and roofs. Usually males and females are present, but some species are parthenogenetic.

Here is Professor Bob Goldstein at his lab at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill ‘splaining:

In other words, tardigrades are possibly space aliens, and in any event they are damn near…immortal.

I am sure you can see where this is going.

Yes, Loyal Readers™, the Palace lab will be testing the hypothesis that if I eat enough tardigrades, I will become a virtually immortal extremophile just as they are. To get started on this exciting and important research project, I sent an urgent missive to Professor Goldstein at his lab:

Dear Professor Goldstein:

I am a New York City-based columnist and blogger who usually writes about sex (I’m for it!) as well as politics and religion (I’m against ‘em!), and who finds herself weirdly enamored with tardigrades. I also write to promote science, skepticism, and the sheer transcendent joy to be found in discovering the wonders of the natural world. To that end I maintain a virtual zoo on my personal blog, in which I have a tardigrade specimen named Schnoot.

If I sound like a kook so far, well you’re probably right but I hope you will bear(!) with me.

____________

Professor Goldstein, have you ever eaten tardigrades?

If yes:
What do they taste like?
Do you have any good recipes?
What wine pairing would you recommend?
Are you now immortal?

If no:
Are they poisonous or otherwise dangerous to eat?
Would you recommend that I cook them (over 303 degrees F of course!) before I eat them, or do you think I have to eat them live in order to become immortal?

__________

With many thanks and kind regards,
-Iris Vander Pluym

I sent this over a week ago, and yet believe it or not as of this writing I have received no response from the good professor. WTF, Professor Goldstein. I have, however, made some important progress: a Loyal Subject™ is presently on a covert mission somewhere in the hinterlands of North Carolina collecting tardigrade specimens for me to eat. I shall report my progress once the next steps have been taken and/or Professor Goldstein responds to my inquiry. In the meantime, in order to remedy the appalling failure of Cosmos to provide us with enough tardigrades, please enjoy this slideshow, courtesy of Prof. Goldstein’s lab.

And this:

__________
*I am not really making light of or minimizing these things, of course. That was some heavy shit we’ve been dealing with around here, and, well, sometimes I crave a little dark humor in order to recharge, retrench and prepare to do battle with the shitweasels the next time. I make it a point to find some joy in my day, every day. Otherwise, the terrorists shitweasels win.

Happy Darwin Day.

charlesdarwinCharles Darwin, circa 1854.

This is the oft-quoted last paragraph of Charles Darwin’s world-changing masterwork, On the Origin of Species:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

As you can see, Darwin was a fine writer, and his classic book is eminently readable. You can read it online for free here.

entangledbankAn entangled bank.
Tempisque River, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Come on, Florida! You can do better than this!

Via EarthJustice:

Pollution killing manatees at record pace.
Yet, industry group seeks to removed endangered species status.

I’m sad to report that 2013 has become the deadliest year ever for Florida’s endangered manatees.

So far this year, 769 manatees have died (Jan. 1 through Oct. 29), the largest annual manatee die-off in Florida since record-keeping began, according to the Save the Manatee Club.

Florida regulators are doing the bidding of polluter-lobbyists, and environmental disasters like the record manatee deaths are the sad result. Instead of stepping in to enforce the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has backed off.

The Indian River Lagoon has lost 47,000 acres of sea grass since 2010, which, as the Tampa Bay Times noted, “one scientist compared to losing an entire rainforest in one fell swoop.”

When scientists performed necropsies on the manatees, they found that their stomachs contained a reddish seaweed they don’t normally eat—their normal sea grass food source was wiped out.

What’s the problem, Florida? Are your state regulators not quite corrupt enough yet? Is Obama’s EPA not captured by polluters? Come on, already! I am confident that you can destroy the aquatic habitats of all your waterways during my lifetime, and finally be rid of those pesky manatees once and for all. It will be a crowning achievement of conservatism.

manatee[Photo: Ahodges7 via Wikimedia Commons]

Invade the sun!

solarflaresViolent menace: “The Sun.”

Loyal Readers™, it has come to our attention that a story with major world-altering consequences is being completely ignored by the mainstream media—as usual.

We refer of course to the news that yesterday, the G-type main-sequence star in the center of our solar system—it goes by the grandiose name of “The Sun,” as if there were only one!—erupted violently with not one but two of the strongest solar flares it is capable of unleashing. I am sure it will not be lost on astute readers here that these flares came just mere days after The Sun blasted a bunch of intense solar storms at our planet:

The sun fired off a flare that registered at X1.7 on the space weather scale at 4:01 a.m. EDT (0801 GMT) Friday, then followed with an X.2-class event at 11:03 a.m. EDT (1503 GMT). NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured video of the X1.7 solar flare, which came after several smaller sun storms over the last few days.

At this point in the investigation we cannot yet confirm whether it was the gays, the atheists or the abortionists that set the sun off (one early rumor we heard through our intelligence sources indicated that it might be the Saudi women’s campaign for driving privileges, but that was quickly dispelled because as it turns out the women intend to remain completely covered from head to toe). Either way, what we do know is that it is clear The Sun has WMDs and is perfectly willing to deploy them in our direction, and/or hates us for our Freedom™.

This. Will. Not. Stand.

President Obama, you really need to quit screwing around with Yemen and Libya and Pakistan and Colombia and Iran and Brazil and wherever else you’ve been illegally invading or occupying or spying since taking office that we have already forgotten about, and immediately direct the total defense resources of the United States at the real terrorist menace: The Sun.

We implore you to invade that @$$hole before it’s too late and the Earth is reduced to nothing but a smoking cinder. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

We’re all wrong. Some of us are less wrong.

Because he hates me and will go to any length to distract me from my Very Important Work here at the Palace, my Loyal Subject™ SJ sent me this image, noting that it’s a jpeg, not an animated gif:

illusion[IMAGE: A grayscale image of a square made of small cross-hatch marks surrounded by a square frame of the same cross-hatch marks. The square in the center appears to float above the image and move; the effect is more pronounced when scrolling.]

I was forced—forced, I tell you!—to copy/paste it from SJ’s email, print it to pdf and then view it just to assure myself that this is indeed a still image. (I have uploaded it here as a .png to avoid image degradation from .jpg compression.)

This is not the first time I’ve been amused by an optical illusion, of course. But it got me thinking about the ways in which our perceptual systems are wildly imperfect instruments. Our brains evolved for survival and successful reproduction, not for perfectly capturing and accurately interpreting phenomena we encounter in the real world. The very notion that the world we experience in our minds is an accurate reflection of reality is itself an illusion, and a very powerful one at that.

Nor is that illusion restricted to sensory systems, either: our cognitive processes, memory recall and moral intuitions are all subject to dozens of known distortions, biases and logical fallacies, and probably some unknown ones, too. It’s enough to make one wonder whether the profoundly flawed and fallible human brain is even capable of knowing enough about itself to ever overcome these obstacles to the point where we can actually know anything at all about ourselves or the world.

But of course we do know some things, and that’s because we have powerful tools to work with: evidence, sound reasoning, science. I am currently reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, the subtitle of which is Science as a Candle in the Dark, and it very much speaks to this. See also: lesswrong.com, where one can learn to apply the scientific understandings we have about our biases to improve our thinking and decision-making.

But unfortunately, there is something else frequently found plaguing the human mind, something that has so far proven nearly impossible to overcome: I speak, of course, of Conservative Personality Disorder. As the planet’s foremost expert on this subject, I can say with some authority that those who suffer from its ravages (meaning: everyone else in the world) have a particular cognitive skill that the CPD case does not: the ability to change one’s mind when evidence disconfirms one’s belief, instead of—as lesswrong.com puts it—”being able to explain anything.”

It is no accident that conservatives want to destroy science education. You see, they “know,” despite mountains of evidence from multiple disciplines proving the opposite, that the fact of biological evolution is not true, and so they want 100% evidence-free creationism taught to the nation’s schoolchildren in science classes instead. These are the same kinds of people who wanted Galileo Galilei’s head on a spike for the capital crime of believing that, despite how it may look from our vantage point, the Earth in fact orbits the sun and not vice versa. Right-wing conservatives are all Flat Earthers of one stripe or another: the only difference is which phrase of scripture they point to when what they think they “know” is contradicted by actual knowledge about reality. Needless to say, this is not exactly sound reasoning, and it necessarily follows that all evidence that runs counter to their delusion(s) is summarily dismissed, no matter how compelling it is. You cannot reason with the unreasonable. Well okay, technically you can, but it will not get you anywhere, and may in fact have the opposite effect from what you intended.

In a recent piece for Alternet, Amanda Marcotte put it this way:

The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.

I mean, what can you say to someone who “reasons” like this:

Climate change is not really happening and even if it is happening it’s not humans’ fault and even if it is our fault it’s god’s will.

Nothing. That’s what. This is precisely why we here at the Palace recommend pointing and laughing. Because if there is one thing conservatives absolutely cannot stand for, even more than changing their minds based on reality, it is ridicule and mockery aimed in their direction. But lest we get too high on our horses, it is well worth reminding ourselves that while we may have tools to help us overcome the failings of human nature, we are all wrong about many, many things. For instance, that square up there sure as hell seems to be moving. But recall what I did to confirm whether or not this was truly the case: copy/pasted it from SJ’s email, printed it to a pdf file and viewed the result. This is how I can say, with virtual certainty, that it is indeed a still image. Similarly, it is how you can say, if I still cling to the belief that the square is moving, that I am wrong.

Here are a few more helpful and humbling reminders that we’re all wrong. I would be interested to know whether conservatives are less likely than others to believe that these are in fact illusions, rather than that their misperceptions are correct.

illusionmond-vergleitchEbbinghaus illusion: The two orange circles are exactly the same size.

illusionrevolvingcirclesRevolving circles: Look at the black dot in the center of the two circles, and move your head closer and farther away. The two circles seem to rotate.

illusionKanizsatriangleKanizsa triangle: there is no white triangle. Your brain put one there.

illusionjastrow1Jastrow illusion: Which is larger, A or B?

illusionjastrow2With their left sides aligned, the lower figure appears larger. A & B are exactly the same size.

illusionchecker1Checker shadow illusion: which square is darker, A or B?

illusionchecker2The colors of A and B are exactly the same.

Go forth, my beloved Loyal Readers™, and try to be less wrong.

Happy Birthday Tim Minchin.

timminchin2

[NSFW warning: the links and videos in this post are probably not safe for work.
But then, neither is this blog.]

“Tim who?” I get that a lot, pretty much whenever I rave about the man. The British-born, Australian-raised composer, comedian, lyricist, actor and writer is well known in those countries as a musical iconoclast, one whose lyrical barbs frequently target religion. Thanks to the Internet, Tim Minchin’s fame has been steadily spreading elsewhere: he has appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show a few times, as well as on a few other late night TV gigs, and has toured extensively in the U.S. to wildly adoring audiences. This year, Minchin made several guest appearances on the Showtime series Californication as fictional rock star Atticus Fetch, and the success of Matilda the Musical, based on the novel by Roald Dahl for which Minchin wrote the music and lyrics, has no doubt provided him with some serious street cred among the Broadway crowd. (I cannot recommend that show highly enough, by the way. It is wickedly entertaining and deliciously subversive. FWIW, I am not exactly a big fan of Broadway musicals, and I’ve seen it once in London and twice more on Broadway—and I would go again.)

But so far, mainstream stateside fame has been elusive. I suspect that much of that may be attributable to his outspoken atheism in our god-soaked oligarchy. Not that his fans here don’t flock to his shows precisely because of it—they surely do. It’s just that in many American locales, being open and out as an atheist can bring a world of hurt upon oneself and one’s loved ones. Compared to those in godless meccas like New York or San Francisco, a fan in flyover country might not be quite as likely to post his videos on Facebook, or to casually ask a bunch of friends if they want to get tickets to a Minchin show, for fear of very real repercussions in their own families and communities simply for being associated with Minchin’s godless views. An occasional performance on late-night TV isn’t going to rock many boats, but chuckleheads on the local morning shows are probably not going to roll out the red carpet eagerly, for the same reasons some fans cannot openly endorse him.

There are, of course, repercussions for Minchin as well. Three days before a show in Dallas, his tour manager received an email from the company he had contracted well in advance to supply a grand piano for his performance:

The subject heading was “CANCEL !!!!!!!!!!” (yep, 10 exclamation marks), and the body of the email read:

“I need to decline after watching that insane Tim Minchin. What a God-hater.

So sorry, please cancel the Entire Event In Dallas. Go back to Australia [Note: Minchin lives with his wife and children in London. Which is not in Australia. -Ed.] we do not appreciate Tim Minchin in TX.

WE ARE NOT DELIVERING THE GRAND PIANO!!! NOT FOR 1 MILLION $ HA HA HA.

You probably agree. Find a better comedian (not a demon).

Love in Christ,”

And there they signed off.

But of course they do appreciate Tim Minchin in TX—even if “the instrument brought in to replace God’s personal piano is crap.” Here is why.

The Pope Song.

Storm. A beat poem about a dinner party in which our hero confronts a New Age hippie. (audio only.)

If I Didn’t Have You. An amusing meditation on the statistical unlikelihood that Minchin’s wife is his only suitable mate.

White Wine in the Sun. Minchin’s stunningly beautiful paean to a secular Christmas holiday. Performed by Kate Miller-Heidke.

If You Open Your Mind Too Much, Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife). Minchin’s remix of James Randi’s million dollar prize.

And or good measure, here are a handful of Minchin quotes (some from lyrics) which shall now reside in the Palace Library in perpetuity—unless of course he really, really pisses me off.

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? – Medicine.

I’ve been pulled aside in foyers and they always say the same thing those people, they always have the same defense, they always say, ‘but evolution is only a theory’…which is true…I guess…I mean, evolution is a theory and it’s good that they say that, I think, don’t you?  Because it gives you hope that maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity…and they might just float the fuck away.

[O]nce you reject evidence as a source of knowledge, you don’t gotta believe nothin’ you don’t like.

If I had a religion, its deity would be Audysseus, the sound God, and He would be a vengeful god, dishing out eternal damnation to people with cheap stage monitors.

Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex wonderfully unfathomable world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, man-made myths and monsters?

Now, therefore, in honor of Tim Minchin’s contributions to our universe, and in recognition of his extraordinary talents and ceaseless commitment to mocking the eminently mockworthy, there will be a birthday party in the Palace Bar, commencing immediately.

timminchinOf course you can have extra cake, Tim. For one thing, it’s your birthday. And there is always extra cake served at the Palace.

Introducing the Palace Zoo.

zoobannerIf you think about it, the Earth is really just one big zoo. That’s probably what it would become, anyway, if we were ever visited by aliens. Well, if we were very lucky that is, and the aliens didn’t turn out to be hungry. Or conservatives.

earth

^ZOO.

Our little blue planet is home to an astonishing diversity of animals. Creatures stranger and more magnificent than the greatest fiction writer could ever conjure up occupy nearly every niche, from the black depths of the Marianas Trench to the airless heights of Mount Everest. Countless species thrive in scorching hot deserts, atop sub-zero ice packs, alongside belching sulfur vents on the ocean floor, in misty forest treetops and deep in sunless caves. Unfortunately, many life forms are rapidly disappearing—forever—due in no small part to the activities of the undisputed winner of The Biggest Asshole Species of All Time Award™, a heretofore obscure ape known as homo sapiens. Of course nearly 100% of all species ever to make an appearance on Earth had already gone extinct long before we ever showed up. But between global warming, pollution, resource extraction, overpopulation and habitat destruction, humanity itself is becoming an extinction event to rival the K-Pg boundary.

goldentoad

Golden toad, extinct since 1989.
(Costa Rica) I WANT ONE.

To ponder that I share a common ancestor with every living thing on this planet is as exhilarating and humbling an experience as I have ever had, and nothing triggers that exquisite bliss quite like being close enough to touch a cousin creature. It’s tempting to think traipsing, climbing and diving all over the world to visit them in their natural habitats would be the ultimate divine pilgrimage, but in truth the last thing any species, endangered or not, needs is more asshole tourists anywhere near it. Which brings us to zoos.

Zoos trouble me. The best of them do extraordinary work: breeding programs for endangered species, research that directly benefits the health and viability of threatened species in the wild and keeping the public informed about critical conservation efforts. But that sense of awe and wonder I feel with my face pressed up against a sheet of glass helpfully separating me from sleeping lions is always accompanied by sadness. Because no matter how well-treated these magnificent creatures may be, and no matter how authentic and expansive their accommodations, vast numbers of them are imprisoned more for our entertainment than for the benefit of their own species. Frankly, it smacks of Christian dominionism, and I detest everything about Christian dominionism. (Especially Christian dominionists). And don’t even get me started on small zoos run on shoestring budgets. It’s hard to argue that any creatures except the zookeepers and the flies benefit from those operations. Certainly not me, the asshole tourist leaving in tears.

But a virtual zoo? I could never say no to that.

The Palace Zoo is a work-in-progress, probably perpetually so. So far, the Arthropod wing houses only a mantis collection (which is nonetheless worth a visit), and the Reptile wing only two tiny specimens. But there are enough species to justify opening it up for our Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ to take a peek inside.

Life on earth is magnificent. Astonishing. Stunning. Breathtaking. And very, very weird. Enjoy it while it lasts.

zoobanner