I welcome our new cephalopod overlords

There is something about octopuses that unnerves me. Whenever I see one, I almost feel as though I should grovel before it and bring it gifts. In recent years, there have been many signs that cephalopods (and octopuses in particular) might be superior to humans and just lets us think we are the kings of the hill because we are beneath their notice.

giant-pacific-octopus
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

First of all, biologists can’t seem to agree exactly how intelligent octopuses really are. All they know for sure is that they are quite intelligent indeed. They are highly analytic and curious and when faced with an obstacle to something they want, they carefully investigate and attempt to solve the problem. For example, in one instance when scientists presented an octopus with a lidded jar containing food, the octopus fiddled with it and figured out how to unscrew the lid and get to the food in a disconcertingly quick manner.

They have also been known to crawl out of their tanks at exhibits and raid nearby tanks of shellfish and other tasty prey. Being invertebrates, they can squeeze through almost any opening. As if that wasn’t enough, they’re also capable of using tools such as empty shells, and as Australian scientists recently observed, coconuts which are carried around and used as little makeshift fortresses when threatened (as seen in the video below).

The octopus brain is another sign that they might be superintelligent creatures from another dimension. You see, only a small part of their very complex nervous system is located in their brain; the majority is actually located throughout their tentacles. This grants an exceptional level of autonomy to each individual tentacle. Research suggests that the brain only sends out very basic instructions to each tentacle and that each one actually decides on its own how to carry out those intructions. Not to mention that the myriad of suction cups on each arm require a lot of brain power, considering they’re incredibly powerful suction devices that can create a pressure to up to 100-200 kPa (kilopascals; 100 kilopascals is approximately equal to one atmosphere). They’re also actuely sensitive; they allow the octopus to taste their surroundings. The tentacles are not only smart and perceptive, they’re also strong and agile. They’re made almost entirely out of muscle and without those irksome bones that we vertebrates have, their range of motion is almost unlimited. Certain species of octopus are strong enough to break through plexiglas and/or wrestle down and eat sharks. Yes, that’s right, there are octopuses that hunt and devour sharks. If you don’t believe me, here’s a video to prove it.

The only hope we have in the face of the imminent cephalopod takeover is the fact that octopuses doesn’t live very long. Some species only live for roughly 6 months, while some can live up to five years. Their reproductive habits also limits their capabilities as planetary overlords; males die within a few months after mating and after the female has laid her 200,000’ish eggs, she watches over them for around one month, during which time she doesn’t hunt or feed. Sometimes the female even has to ingest one of her own arms to survive. After the eggs hatch, the female leaves the area, and being weak from malnourishment, she often succumbs to other predators.

The Corn People

Read this book!
Read this book!

Did you know that the average US resident consumes more corn than the “Corn People” of Mexico and South America, every day? There are almost no items in a US supermarket today that do not contain corn in any form – processed, perfected, enchanted, et cetera – and scientists have ways to tell what a person’s diet are made up of. By investigating dead skin cells (hair, nails) of US residents, they find that a significant percentage

of the nutrition comes from corn – even through the meat they consume, where most of the cattle have been fed with corn, and the sweets, where corn syrup and the likes have provided the sweetening. I guess it’s safe to say that you pretty much are what you eat, and most US Americans are corn cobs with fat legs.

In Mexico and a large part of South America, where people identify themselves as the Corn People, and eat corn in a non-processed, natural form just about every day, the same studies of dead skin cells have been conducted – and these people are less like their food than the US Americans are. Their cattle are mostly fed on grass. Their peripheral foodstuffs don’t contain much processed corn. They, who’ve lived off the corn for hundreds, or thousands of years, are more varied and diverse in their diets than the US Americans who exploit them. So who are the real corn people, really? Those who revel in it and embrace it… or those who unknowingly resemble it?

The Indian Yellow Scheme

yellow pigment

Indian Yellow is a transparent yellow pigment, used in oil paint and watercolours. Nowadays it’s a pretty boring pigment: a mixture of nickel azo, hansa yellow and the tongue-twister ‘quinacridone burt orange’, but it’s been at the centre of a historical claim of animal cruelty: disputed as early as 1830 (the pigment was introduced to India in the 15th century, and from there to Europe in the 18th), the myth still lingers today and is reprinted in (among other works) the Royal Academy of Arts books on traditional fine arts. It is agreed upon by almost every person who’ve done some kind of independent research that the origin of the pigment is another and that the animals were never hurt. But what is the myth then?

The myth is that the Indian Yellow pigment is produced from the urine of cows fed only mango leaves and only scarsely watered, kept extremely underfed and malnourished, and the urine then dried for the pigment. In 1844, chemist John Stenhouse concluded that the pigment was indeed “the juice of some tree or plant, which, after it has been expressed, has been saturated with magnesia and boiled down to its present consistence.

The interesting thing here is therefore not the myth itself, but that it has survived merely because it involves tormenting of cows by people seen as less civilised by the British, Dutch and German painters who used the pigment, ant then kept alive by authors throughout the centuries, and taught as fact despite the obvious Urban Legend quality of the myth.

Review: Mein liebster Feind

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Werner Herzog does not make “easy” films. So, it’s not all that strange that he would be at his best when working with difficult people. Klaus Kinski was a very difficult person. With him, Herzog made some of the best films of this century. Before the two met, no director had worked with the mercurial actor more than once. Herzog and Kinski made 5 films together.

This documentary by Werner Herzog about his tumultuous professional (and personal) relationship with Klaus Kinski was riveting. It’s fascinating to not only get an insight into the nature of Klaus Kinski, but also the nature of Herzog and how the two interacted. The film is simple in its structure: we follow Herzog as he journeys throughout the places where his story took place. From the house where he and Kinski briefly lived together when he was young, to the site of their last film together. Along the way he talks about his friend, their relationship and shares a number of anecdotes from their time working together. He also seeks out and interviews some of the people that were sucked into their vortex along the way; co-stars and extras. They all have their own perspective and Herzog lets them tell it as they saw it.

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Their relationship was a complicated one. It alternated between being a warm friendship and an acrid rivalry of wills.  Herzog reveals how he once seriously intended to firebomb Kinskis house. He says it in a way that suggests levity, but I don’t doubt for a second that he did indeed intend do just that, and that the only thing that stopped him was the fortuitous intervention of Kinskis dog. Just a short while later, they met at a film festival where they hugged, joked around and seemed to genuinely enjoy each others company. They were both grand personalities and paradoxically seemed to simultaneously complement and detract from each other. It sometimes seemed as though Herzog managed to coax cooperation out of their relationships only by a supreme effort of will; his intense desire to make great films won out over his exasperation with Kinski. In the world of cinema, they were almost like two celestial bodies colliding, but instead of crashing and exploding, they developed a kind of mutually beneficial orbit.

review_kinskiKinski was a crazy bastard. There’s really no avoiding that little fact. A schizophrenic (he was actually diagnosed as such at one time) egomaniac. He sometimes got so involved in his performances that he seemed to lose his already tenuous grip on reality. One of his more famous debacles was his stage set retelling of the life of Jesus Christ according to Klaus Kinski, which quickly derailed into barely lucid, frantic ranting where Kinski painted himself out to be some sort of messianic figure.

Kinskis volatile nature is probably why Herzog primarily cast him in parts in which the character descends into insanity. That inherent quality in Kinski shines through, expertly modulated by Kinskis considerable acting talent and Herzogs masterful directing. That same masterful filmmaking is evident in this documentary. Herzog doesn’t stoop to just regaling us with stories of Kinskis madness, which would undoubtedly be entertaining in itself. No, he cuts down to the very bone of what made their relationship unique.