Men and Women
Sometimes the NY Times is beyond parody. This months "Life-form of the Month" in the Liberal "paper of record" are ciliates. The article tells a fascinating story about these one-celled organisms. That's not what caught my eye, however.
What stood out was how the Times chose to frame the story for its readers. The paper focuses on sex. Here's the lede paragraph:
When it comes to sex and reproduction, mammals are ultra-orthodox and, frankly, rather dull. Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species. No mammal reproduces asexually -- by budding off a small piece of itself, say, or by splitting down the middle and growing a new individual from each half. Nope: among mammals, offspring are always produced by sex. That is, an egg fuses with a sperm to produce a child that is genetically distinct from both parents.
By contrast with mammals, ciliates are more interesting.
Ciliate sex is peculiar in several ways. For one thing, reproduction and sex do not happen together. When a ciliate reproduces, it does so asexually, typically by splitting in half and growing a complete new individual from each piece. So: where there was one individual, there are now two.
In and of itself, asexual reproduction is not especially strange -- many organisms, from aphids to sea anemones, do it at least from time to time. The weird stuff happens when ciliates get sexual.
In ciliate sex, two individuals arrive, and two individuals leave: no eggs are fertilized, no offspring are produced. But by the time the two individuals go their separate ways, a massive change will have come over both of them: they will both have acquired a new genetic identity.
Fascinating stuff in and of itself. Let's leave aside whether it is proper to call it "sex" when we're talking about one-celled organisms. The way the story is framed, both on the home page and in the story seems to suggest that we humans are missing out on something because, like all other mammals, we have only two sexes, and we reproduce in a routine way. In other words, it's better to be a lower species than a higher one. Writers and editors for the Times, it seems, are not comfortable being human.
Today's lesson in societal decay.