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Squirrels and honey

June 28, 2017

After watching American Honey, I discovered that there had been earlier articles, such at this one from 2007, on the kind of traveling magazine crews that the movie depicts. Whenever they came to my door, I always suspected they were involved in a selling scheme that was either abusive or shady. I didn’t know how much that was so.

The flying squirrel found in Washington and Oregon, now dubbed Humboldt’s, turns out to be a distinct species from the Canadian and American versions. I don’t know which species appeared in American Honey.


June 27, 2017

It is no great surprise that that Turkey, under its backwards march led by Erdogan, will stop teaching evolution in its secondary schools. Leaving it to the college curriculum means, alas, most people will never take a class where it is taught. It is more surprising and depressing that only 28% of biology teachers in US secondary schools teach evolution. (Cite.)

Old bones, old cats

June 26, 2017

Greg Laden provides the anthropological context that makes the partial skull found in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, interesting.

Cats are a domestic oddity. Spread by sailors.

Sailors, philosophers, and scientists

June 22, 2017

Alison Gopnik writes a fun essay on Hume, Buddhism, and life’s turns. The mystery, not fully resolved, is whether Hume when residing in La Flèche about 1730 ever encountered a Jesuit named Pierre Dolu, and through him read the records of another Jesuit who studied Buddhism in India. Part of what struck me was the old-style research Gopnik had to do in unraveling this, in book room and with card catalogues, reading manuscripts not printed, asking friends to translate from languages she doesn’t read. “The 17th century, which often leaves the 21st looking staid by comparison,” is not yet fully digitized. Every sailor will nod at this:

Historians have begun to think about the Enlightenment in a newly global way. Those creaky wooden ships carried ideas across the boundaries of continents, languages, and religions just as the Internet does now (although they were a lot slower and perhaps even more perilous).

David Hume was born at the start of the 18th century. Nicolai Olaus Lossius was born at its end, on a Norwegian farm in 1790. Cheated out of his pay by the captain, he was kicked off his ship in Liverpool at the age of 16. Fortunately, he had been sailing for four years, and no doubt knew his way around docks and ships. Over the coming decades he would sail for several navies and in private ventures, eventually ending up as Vice-Governor on the Galapagos, by then having Anglicized his name to Lawson. It was Lawson who knew that the tortoises there were different on each island, who pointed it out to a geographer aboard The Beagle, which geographer recalled that in his journal a decade later as he was making theories on natural history:

I had not as yet noticed by far the most remarkable feature in the natural history of this archipelago; it is, that the different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings. My attention was first called to this fact by the Vice-Governor, Mr. Lawson, declaring that the tortoises differed from the different islands, and that he could with certainty tell from which island any one was brought. I did not for some time pay sufficient attention to this statement, and I had already partially mingled together the collections from two of the islands.

The accidental crossings of sailors and scientists have been fruitful indeed.

Spiders, lasers, and nerds, oh my

June 21, 2017

How can you not love a story about astronomers, spiders that fall out of the ceiling and chase laser dots, eyes with double lenses, and arachnologists? There is enough nerd goodness there to stir the shade of Jules Verne.

Padre Island

June 20, 2017

The thirteen foot hammerhead shark shown left was caught off Padre Island the weekend before last. And this was a banner year for Kemp’s ridley turtle nests. As if to celebrate all that, the New York Times has a nice write-up of the national seashore.

Climate politics

June 19, 2017

A few short years ago, a candidate ran for president who recognized the reality of global warming and the need to take action against it. John McCain. Taking action against global warming would hurt one group: those who want to maximize the profits of the fossil fuel industry over the next few decades. So it is hardly surprising that the Koch brothers work hard to define the right-wing stance on that, by funding “thinktanks” to generate denialist ideas, and right-wing gatherings to tell politicians what the “right” line is. But politicians are fickle beasts, and respond to voter desire. So it’s also important that the same message is conveyed through the right-wing media, as exemplified by Breitbart’s latest lie on global warming. If those two prongs work, the politicians both know what their donors want and how to vote on specific issues, and are shielded from any popular resistance. Today, the few Republicans concerned about climate change are from Florida. The Koch brothers are winning.