ask palinode: scanning electron pr0nography edition

Sometimes a question is not a question. What, you say? It isn't? No: sometimes it is a story. And sometimes it's a guy with a knife and the animal stench of fear. But today let's focus on the question-as-story thing, thanks.

Heather - who signs off as Calvin for some reason - asks:

Dear Palinode,

I'm working on my PhD in biology, and my research focuses on single-celled organisms that lurk in various bodies of water. More specifically, I study their butts using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Over the last year or so, I've had a number of comments from colleagues about my SEMS - they are, apparently, a little vulgar. I've taken the liberty of attaching two images so you can see for yourself. The first was described by a friend (he's a plant molecular systematist, if that helps) as something that looked like it was produced by the human digestive tract. I'll let you try and figure out the second one. I'm too embarrassed to say anything.

My supervisor says that they aren't obscene and that the comments come from people with dirty minds who see what they want to see. Normally I trust his infallible judgment, but I'm not so sure about this one. Is this just an inherent risk of studying the rear ends of single-celled organisms? Are they trying to tell me something?

One of my committee members suggested that aliens might be trying to send me a message, but he only saw crop circles in the image I showed him, perhaps being purer of mind than the rest of us (he is also a plant molecular systematist. Maybe that means something). Do you have an explanation for my micrographs? Any insight you could give me would be extremely helpful.

Sincerely,

(Ms.) Calvin

See how she signs off as Calvin? I don't get that. Her name's Heather. Anyway.

Firstly, Ms. Calvin: I can't believe you're listening to plant molecular systematists. They're so full of shit. Plants don't even have molecules, they have cells. I learned that in like, grade one. That friend of yours, the plant guy, he thought that the first image looked like something "that was produced by the human digestive tract" - he means feces, right? Because that's what that first image is. It's surrounded by balloons, so it's probably at a party. A kind of, I don't know, feces birthday party. Happy birthday, tiny turd! Here's hoping that you got everything you asked for.

The second image is precisely as dirty as you think it is. That's some full-on gratuitous non-reproductive butt sex between consenting prokaryotes (it could be something scat-related, even). How do I know they're not eukaryotes? Because eukaryotes are dignified. Prokaryotes are filth, they're filthy muckers, so bent on twisting the natural order around like an old paperclip and sliding their superfluous genitals in and out of each other's vacuoles, so downright nasty that... sorry, I lost my train of thought.

Where was I? Oh right. Sub-visible filth, rubbing their bits together and getting away with it, hiding behind their invsibility. But I don't think your second micrograph is an image of two actual organisms (or even one organism posing for late telophase). Take a look at the following image:

This is an illustration by Charles Crumb, brother of famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Even a quick glance reveals the similarities between the ribs of the pirate's tunics and the endless wrinkles of your micrographic perverts.

If you've seen Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb, then you know all about Charles: his tyrannical reign over his brothers, his obsession with comics, his sexual attraction to child actor Bobby Driscoll, his schizophrenia and eventual suicide. But what the movie doesn't tell you is that Charles was really, really small.

He was, in fact, about three-quarters as tall as a wavelength of light. The filmmakers had to shoot Charles with a special electron scanning camera. That's why NASA appears in the credits. It also explains the gratuitous Saturn 5 footage that mars an otherwise excellent film. His image was colourized, and then they inserted Robert into the shot to make it look as if they were "interacting". Here's Charles as he appeared in the movie:

And here's the undoctored, original image:

His bedroom is also really small.

I would say there's a good chance that you've stumbled on a stash of Charles Crumb's long-sought after, but never found, inter-paramecial porn. I remember Jesse Helms fuming about the rumoured micro-raunch back in the mid 1980s - as if he wasn't totally looking to score some.

Ms. Calvin, if you have more of those vulgar scans, I suggest you put them on ebay right now. You stand to make a fortune. And the feces? That probably belongs to Charles Crumb too.