Pet Peeve of the Month

640px-Poster_for_Quo_Vadis_(1913_silent_film)

I’ve decided to designate the 20th of each month as the day I’ll publish a recurring post called “Pet Peeve of the Month.”

Yes, I’m aware that the Republic is burning, that Bill Barr is making John Mitchell look like Atticus Finch, that police throughout the nation are reprising the Chicago Democratic Convention of ’68 while idiotic anarchists topple and deface statues of Ulysses S Grant because they hate the Confederacy. Not to mention a global pandemic dispatching hundreds of thousands of human beings and laying waste to world economies. Given all this, my carping about minutiae might strike some as self-indulgent, Nero picking up his Stratocaster to lay down some riffs as flames devour the nation.

Well, what do you expect?  I’m a boomer, born in the waning days of the Truman Administration, the beneficiary of parents striving to provide a better life than the ones they suffered during their Depression Era childhoods when dressed in rags they scoured the Dickensian streets of their sepia-tinted cities looking for coppers, someone just a bit too young to go to Nam, someone pampered by indulgent college professors who inflated grades to the proportion of Macy Thanksgiving Parade cartoon balloons, someone who spent his working years at an posh independent school where the only fight he ever witnessed ended abruptly when a bell signaling the end of lunch rang. Of course, with a bio like that, I’m bound to be self-indulgent.

Anyway, let’s get to the main feature, the petty thing that this month irks the hell out of me.

June’s Pet Peeve

It really, really bugs me when I’m watching a PBS nature series and the narrator says stuff like the panther chameleon’s eyes have been engineered by nature to rotate independently as they stalk their prey.

Panther chameleon, in red + yellow stress colors

Panther Chameleon (photo by Robbie Labanowski)

Really?  Engineered?  Does the creature depicted above seem to you to be the product of a drawing board?

Note to the science writers at Nature: check out Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.  Natural Selection ≠ Engineering.  Natural Selection is a horrifically random process that includes genetic mutations, asteroids colliding with the Earth, etc.  Your use of the word engineering suggests the decrepit teleological intelligent-design argument (as if having an asteroid smack into the planet is a nifty way for an engineer to facilitate the rise of mammals).

I’ll give Robert Frost the last word on this topic:

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

 

Now, that’s what I call engineering: a Petrarchan sonnet that through pattern debunks the argument from design.