It is only fitting that animals and plants be described as marvels of engineering. Humanity, when not infatuated with its own anatomy and physiology, has long studied animals for insights into how and why the parts and the whole work. With modern hindsight clouded by the automobile and the train some students of evolution have wondered why humans did not evolve wheels. The wheel has been around for thousands of years. It was not particularly efficient for moving people or their stuff until relatively recent history. Wheels roll but they are subject to the same forces of drag that burdens everything that moves under the force of gravity. It is much easier with the fairly well adapted bipedal motion of Homo sapiens to over come the drag and obstacles of any terrain compared to the wheel. Setting aside the assistance of modern technology, the evolution of bipedal locomotion fits in with the evolutionary tendency for land animals to obtain higher speeds. Compare crawling animals like snakes to quadrupeds like horses and bipeds like kangaroos. Animals have evolved wheels to use for locomotion, just not higher animals. Richard Dawkins explains in Why don’t animals have wheels?pdf
Many bacteria swim using threadlike spiral propellors, each driven by its own continuously rotating propellor shaft. It used to be thought that these ‘flagella’ were wagged like tails, the appearance of spiral rotation resulting from a wave of motion passing along the length of the flagellum, as in a wriggling snake. The truth is much more remarkable. The bacterial flagellum is attached to a shaft which, driven by a tiny molecular engine, rotates freely and indefinitely in a hole that runs through the cell wall.
The fact that only very small creatures have evolved the wheel suggests what may be the most plausible reason why larger creatures have not. It’s a rather mundane, practical reason, but it is nonetheless important. A large creature would need large wheels which, unlike manmade wheels, would have to grow in situ rather than being separately fashioned out of dead materials and then mounted. For a large, living organ, growth in situ demands blood or something equivalent. The problem of supplying a freely rotating organ with blood vessels (not to mention nerves) that don’t tie themselves in knots is too vivid to need spelling out!
Just as whole advanced organisms are slaves to oxygen so are organism dependent on blood for their parts to function. This is likely the major reason we have legs instead of wheels and also the reason we are not a steam-punk fantasy creature fashioned from rugged snugly fitting nuts, bolts, levers and flywheels – Nature Uses Screws and Nuts
A musculoskeletal system so far unknown in the animal world was recently discovered in weevils. The hip of Trigonopterus oblongus does not consist of the usual hinges, but of joints based on a screw-and-nut system. This first biological screw thread is about half a millimeter in size and was studied in detail using synchrotron radiation. The discovery is reported by the current issue of the Science magazine.
“Such a construction for animal leg movement is quite unusual, as large areas of skeletal parts move on top of each other. Supply of the leg takes place via a very small opening in the center of the screw,” Thomas van de Kamp from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology says. In nature, hips and shoulders usually are based on ball-and-socket systems or hinges that can be operated more easily by organisms. Screws and nuts are known from engineering and used for the fixed connection of components. “Now, we found that nature was first in inventing screws and nuts, because weevils have been using this construction for about 100 million years already,” Alexander Riedel from the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History says.
“As the first openly gay man(J. Paul Oetken) to be confirmed as a federal judge,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) crowed from a Senate microphone, Oetken “will be a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades. And importantly, he will give hope to the many talented young lawyers who until now thought their paths might be limited because of their sexual orientention.”
It’s a good thing that Oetken was appointed. That said only 170 or so black judges have been appointed to the federal bench in our history. The only good thing about that figure is it does look good compared to the number of openly gay judges and Native Americans appointed to the federal courts. Only two Native Americans have ever been confirmed by the Senate for a job on the federal bench.
Today, the Senate has before it the nomination of a man named Arvo Mikkanen, who is partially of Native American descent. Mikkanen went to Dartmouth College and Yale Law School, clerked for two federal judges, and has been a federal prosector for nearly two decades. He received a “unanimously qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. President Barack Obama nominated him to fill a seat on the federal trial bench in Oklahoma.
Yet there have been no speeches in the well of the Senate on behalf of Mikkanen. No senators have patted themselves on the back for breaking through another barrier of bias and bigotry. Instead, the Mikkanen nomination languishes in silence, six months after the President first put it into play.
My first thought after J. Paul Oetken was appointed was hell maybe what all the current nominees to the federal bench need to do is claim they’re gay (the National LGBT Bar Association, noted the president’s efforts to diversify the judiciary). If that is what will shame conservatives from backing off their judicial activism/judicial obstructionism then be gay for a while. Here’s the problem or at least the tip of the iceberg, the Democratic majority in the Senate reduced vacancies from 110 to 60 in President Bush’s first two years, judicial vacancies still number 91 two and a half years into President Obama’s term. Why is the entire nation being denied justice by way of empty and backlogged courts. Wisconsin’s newest senator is a good example. Ron Johnson (R-WI) opposes and has a hold on the appointment of Victoria Nourse to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. First he used a set of procedural objections. Now he says, “Victoria Nourse really has very little connection to the state of Wisconsin, and nobody in the legal community in Wisconsin knows anything about her.” Johnson deserves a one fingered Orwellian salute with that raft of meaningless verbage. Nourse is the Burrus-Bascom Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Nourse has been with the University of Wisconsin Law School since 1993. Before that she worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee under Joe Biden when the vice president served in the Senate from Delaware. Her father-in-law is nationally recognized federal appeals court Judge Richard Cudahy. This might be what is really holding things up, besides just malicious opposition to anyone Obama nominates – Nourse also worked in the late ’80s for the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-contra affair. You know where Saint Ronnie was going to sell weapons to Iran with drug money supplied by Ollie North. Johnson is not exactly a champion of justice. He blocked children and families who had been victims of sexual molestation by the Catholic church from getting compensation for damages. It was Johnson’s opinion that child molesters not be held liable for their actions.
In his testimony before the Wisconsin legislature, he said it was “extremely important to consider the economic havoc…and the other victims” that the new law would “likely create” — ridiculously comparing child abuse victims to the economic damages faced by employers being sued.
By that logic why prosecute anyone for any wrong doing, many arrests cause economic harm to the perpetrator.