James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for March 7th, 2009

Raging apes, octopuses and Foxes; when animals attack the stock market

Posted by James McPherson on March 7, 2009

Forget simple bears and bulls: CNN reports that “animal spirits” are guiding the stock market. After careful study of media reports, I now think I’ve figured out exactly what animal it is that’s wreaking havoc–not a killer chimpanzee or other smart simian, but a creature that sinks even lower than the American economy has gone: the octopus.

I’m not talking about Octomom. In fact, if I’ll digress for a moment to plead with the media to please, please, please forget Octomom. Especially you sleazebags at Fox News, who start a story with the line, “You may want to take a shower after reading this,” then go on to give us the rest of a pointless, porn-promoting piece about something that will never happen (much like everything else Glenn Beck has been talking about lately).

Back to the non-Fox terror: “Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other form of invertebrates (apparently including spineless Congressional Democrats),” according to the all-knowing Wikipedia. Putting aside the questionable veracity of Wikipedia, this item must be true: The animals are so intelligent that British scientists are even giving them Rubik’s Cubes “to ease their stress levels.”

Incidentally, “octopuses” apparently is the plural of octopus preferred by most dictionaries, and some–I’m not kidding about this–consider octopi to be linguistically objectionable and perhaps even sexist. Little did I know that if the James Bond folks wanted to make a truly objectionable villainess, they’d have named her “Octopi” instead of “Octopussy.”

Apparently no one has informed either octopus.com or “Enter the Octopus” of that, since they still uses “octopi.” But also demonstrating that the cephalopods are more socially enlightened than we are, octopuses apparently also do not see color (though some can change their own color, apparently to deal with less-enlightened creatures).

At any rate, the mainstream news media have been keeping us informed of a rash of octopus-related incidents (including a CBS report about their inky cousins, the squid, “invading” California). The other day news organizations around the world reported that an octopus “got inside a lunchbox” in a Boston aquarium. (The fact that the creature was inside his own lunchbox, not making an escape bid, wasn’t newsworthy enough to make the headline so that readers might avoid clicking on a tease for an essentially meaningless story.)

Still, less than two weeks ago, another octopus made national news when it managed to pull a plug and flood the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, perhaps in an attempt to help other sea creatures escape. Or perhaps it was just watching to see how humans might react, and has something more sinister in mind for the future.

“The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day’s first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.” (emphasis added)

The Times reminds us (and thank God we have the news media to keep us abreast of terrifying trends) that this was not the first “cephaloplug” incident. More than a decade ago–before scientists thought of the Rubik’s Cube trick–a giant octopus commited suicide (as Fox News tells us Octomom also has apparently threatened to do) by sabotaging its own tank.

And if you want to see more frightening octopus news (and really, isn’t it better than watching Fox News or CNBC or checking out your 401K?), check out “Enter the Octopus” for links to numerous stories about octopus deeds and misdeeds, including a report from Slate that states:

Aristotle didn’t have a high opinion of the octopus. “The octopus is a stupid creature,” he wrote, “for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.” Twenty-four centuries later, this “stupid” creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish).

Other YouTube videos show an octopus squeezing through a tiny hole, and others that are practicing learning to walk. No wonder scientists are developing faster submarines and searching for “other earths“–preferable earths without octopuses. Or Octopussy. Or Octomoms.

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