Posted on July 24, 2014 * Comments

I don’t know who put it on the Netflix queue, but a copy of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) arrived in my mailbox recently. That, of course, is the mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the eponymous Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist touring the United States. Much of the film, as I understand it, consists of unscripted interactions in which Baron Cohen behaves badly with unsuspecting Americans on the pretext of not understanding American customs and/or adhering to fictitious (and frequently repulsive) Kazakh customs. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, and I don’t know that I’m going to bother to watch it. Maybe I’m too tenderhearted, but I felt sorry even for the young-earth creationist Kent Hovind when he was similarly treated by Ali G—also a character played by Baron Cohen. But receiving Borat in the mail reminded me that I’ve been meaning to discuss public opinion about evolution in Kazakhstan. (My to-do list is as eclectic as it is extensive.)

Posted on July 24, 2014 * Comments

Don’t get me wrong; I love it when fossils make the news. Paleontology is my first intellectual love—frustrating, illuminating, amazing, and did I mention frustrating? Seriously, you don’t know frustration until you spend weeks chipping sandstone away from a rock, grain by grain under a microscope. It’s excruciating. If I ever meet Steven Spielberg, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind regarding that Jurassic Park scene where the scientists, like, blow gently and expose a perfectly preserved dinosaur. If only! But I digress…

Posted on July 23, 2014 * Comments

Many years ago, I moved to Paris with only high school French to sustain me. Parisians have a reputation for—shall we say—brusqueness, and I had no shortage of embarrassing encounters that I interpreted as scorn for my weak French and wretchedly obvious American-ness. Over time as my French improved and my wardrobe shifted to the local norm, I noticed that I was still encountering a heckuva lot of brusqueness. But as I developed the ability to understand the conversations going on around me, I figured something out: Parisians weren’t singling me out for my accent or my clothes—they were hard on everyone, including each other. Made me feel better, somehow.

Posted on July 22, 2014 * Comments

Albert Einstein, 1921

I mentioned recently that I was rereading Ray Ginger’s Six Days or Forever? Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1958) in order to prepare for a talk about the Scopes trial. While doing so, I took notes about more than just the ornate vocabulary, which I discussed in “A Ginger Glossary” (part 1, part 2). Here’s a passage I marked: “Three days later [i.e., on June 22, 1925], as Albert Einstein was declaring in Berlin that ‘any restriction of academic liberty heaps coals of shame upon the community which tolerates such suppression,’ Clarence Darrow arrived in Dayton to get the lay of the land.” That was nice to see, if not especially surprising. After all, I knew that Marie Curie—a Nobelist in physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911—had deplored the prosecution of Scopes (see “Marie Curie’s Voice for Evolution”), so it wouldn’t be odd for Einstein—a Nobelist in physics in 1921, for his work on the photoelectric effect—to raise his voice for evolution as well.

Posted on July 21, 2014 * Comments

This past week on Fossil Friday, I gave you a stack of fossils all the way from Danville, Kentucky! What were they?

Posted on July 21, 2014 * Comments

Last week, I discussed the misconception that everything is adaptive. This week, I want to talk about ways we can help our students see and appreciate the wonder of life without their adaptation-everywhere goggles on.

Posted on July 18, 2014 * Comments

 

This week on Fossil Friday, I bring you another great fossil (or set of fossils) from Dan Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society. This photo has two different species in it, one stacked over the other. They were found in Kentucky and date from the Upper Ordovician.

What are they? How specific can you get?

Dan is not allowed to guess again this week, but he is welcome to taunt the commenters!

Posted on July 17, 2014 * Comments

Six Days or Forever? cover

While rereading Ray Ginger’s Six Days or Forever? Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1958) recently, I was struck by what even I considered to be a plethora of unusual, obscure, and confabulated words in the book.

Posted on July 16, 2014 * Comments

Josh, Steve, and I just returned from spending 8 days with a group of 21 NCSE members on NCSE’s Grand Canyon raft trip. Steve regaled us with the actual geological history of Grand Canyon, and Josh supplemented with a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the creationist view – with me helping a bit around the edges. Josh also kept up the natural history side of things as he introduced us to a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate varmints along the trail.

Posted on July 15, 2014 * Comments

Six Days or Forever? cover

In order to prepare for a talk about the Scopes trial, I was recently rereading Ray Ginger’s Six Days or Forever? Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1958).