Video: Animal antics

August 31, 2023 • 1:00 pm

Fare thee well, readers: tomorrow I’m off for Israel for three weeks. My farewell post (#27,916!) is this ten-minute video showing animals doing humorous things.  My favorites include the attacking raptor (0:24), the horizontal sloth (1:20), the rotating d*g circle (2:00), Jesus cat (4:03), donkeys following a ride-on mower (5:26), young sheep practicing head-butting (6:34), the galloping goat (6:48), irritated octopus (7:15), gamboling sheep (8:05), and the dancing Indian deer (8:46).

Hasta la proxima!

Animals being rescued

January 26, 2023 • 1:38 pm

As does NBC News each evening, I’ll end today with another feel-good story: in this case a video of people helping animals in trouble. It’s this kind of stuff that I really go to Twitter and Facebook for.  Social media can show you the worst parts of humans, but also the best; and here’s some of the latter.

Yeah, it may be schlocky, but I don’t care. I like it. There’s a duck rescue, too.

Video: Alternative math takes over

January 18, 2023 • 12:45 pm

This video, “Alternative Math,” has been around for six years, and has won 15 awards for short features and funny videos. The sad thing is that while it’s funny, it’s also true: truer now than it was when it was made. It documents the “2 + 2 = 5” alternative-truth mentality that is represented by “other ways of knowing.” But it also has a funny ending, so be sure to watch the whole thing (it’s nine minutes long).

The IMDb summary (which also has info about the film and the cast) is this: “A well meaning math teacher finds herself trumped by a post-fact America.”


True facts about tarantulas

November 21, 2022 • 1:00 pm

ZeFrank is back with another enticing and biologically informed video, this time about tarantulas. It’s about sixteen minutes long.

I used to have a live tarantula collection in my office in graduate school, and fed them hissing cockroaches, of which there was a colony in the MCZ. I let them walk around on me, and I was never bitten, though I did sometimes get irritated by urticating hairs. (When I put them on visitors, however, the reaction was sometimes unfavorable.) Watching them molt was a unique experience.

One of my favorites, Bismarck, lived for at least 20 years, since she was still alive when I checked years after giving her away (she had actually been moved to Chicago by the curator of arachnids).

What I like about ZeFrank is that his videos get more and more biologically informative but yet retain their humor.  (They do, however, have ads.) This is a particularly good one, with tons of biology that I didn’t know.  These animals do have a fearsome reputation, but they don’t really kill people, and their biology is complex and fascinating.

h/t: Rick

Some videos of the Academic Freedom Conference up

November 13, 2022 • 11:15 am

Some of the videos of the Academic Freedom Conference are now up, but rumors are they won’t be for long. (I think they’ll eventually all be up on YouTube). Click on the screenshot to see the available videos; you can access them by clicking on any link that has “video” by it.

Go to the site by clicking on the screenshot below.

And I have to give a plug for our hour-long panel on Academic Freedom in STEM. You can go to the video by clicking on schedule below or on my screenshot below that.

Have a listen. I leave myself out of the evaluation, but Mimi, Anna, and Luana all did a good job, and Luana turned her 8-minute talk into a nice piece on Bari Weiss’s site.

There are other talks you may want to hear, too. For a start, I’d recommend Jon Haidt’s talk (like all of us, he’s been demonized for merely appearing at this conference), while some of the other interesting ones aren’t up yet.

A half hour on politics with James Carville, who’s optimistic about the Democrats

October 2, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Whenever I feel dispirited about politics, I try to watch James Carville’s latest take on video. It may not be cheerful (though this one should buck up Democrats), but I love his Louisiana accent and as well as his genuine populist-Democatic take, knocking the wind out of “progressive” Democrats, whom he sees as elitist, arrogant, and inimical to the progress of Democrats. (Carville is, of course, an ardent Democrat, but can’t stand fellow party members who, he thinks, don’t understand America). He’s the Andy Rooney of the Democratic Party.

Here we have Carville in August on “The Hill”, talking for a half hour with Niall Stanage about the state of the Democratic Party. I have to say that he’s more optimistic than I am about the midterm elections and about Trump’s possible run for the Presidency (Carville doesn’t think that will happen.) And that makes me feel better, perhaps because I agree with him, but perhaps because Carville has a pretty good track record with prognostications.

So here are a few bullet points in favor of the Democrats articulated by Carville:

  • He is pretty optimistic about the midterms, seeing it as likely that Democrats will will the Senate (of course, they already have, but at least he thinks the Republicans won’t gain control.
  • Voters, he says, are not impressed by the kind of “change” offered by the Republican party, which is not having a good year.
  • Inflation and economic problems are, he says, abating, and although Biden will still be blamed for them, he’s done a good job as President, having “substantial achievement” and having made some good appointments. He seems to think, but won’t “jinx” the next Presidential election, that Biden will be the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2024, though Carville for the moment would rather concentrate on this November’s midterm elections.
  • He thinks that Republicans are going to be vulnerable on the Mar-a-Lago papers issue. Their only defense is that this is a Democratic conspiracy, but that doesn’t sit well with most Americans,
  • Carville emphasizes that if you look at how people self-identify among Democrats, you find that, at only 11%, “progressive liberals” is the smallest group, and the only one that’s majority white. He decries them because “they have the ability to irritate and come up with really stupid things like ‘Defund the Police’: the worst words in the English language.
  • When Stanage asks him what people like him should do about the progressive Democrats, Carville says, “Make fun of them.”  He minces no words!
  • Finally, he doesn’t think Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024. Further, he believes that the Republicans are going to shoot themselves in the foot because “they ahve really stupid people who vote in their primaries”, and thus “they tend to elect really stupid leaders.”  (He sees most electable Republicans as having dropped out of contention.)

Watch the video to see the Democrats’ Andy Rooney!:

A video: The President and Provost welcome new students to the University of Chicago

September 27, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Here’s a new, four-minute video that’s being sent to everyone on campus as a “welcome back to school” message. It features President Paul Alivisatos, a chemist who came to us from being Provost of the University of California at Berkeley, and Provost Ka Yee Lee, also a chemist. (We have a tradition of having administrators with a science background. Our last President, Robert Zimmer, was a mathematician.)

This has caused some discussion aong my colleagues because of the balance between emphasizing free speech, which is what the President does, and emphasizing the advantages of diversity, which is Ka Lee’s job in the video. The President begins by emphasizing the importance of research and free expression, one of the selling points of our University.  The Provost takes a different tack beginning at 1:57, emphasizing our commitment to “the values of diversity and inclusion, which help shape our distinctive intellectual culture.” As she continues, one could almost think her message is this: that everyone must feel welcome to ensure that there is free expression. 

This is the “free expression” versus “DEI” perspectives, but in this case I think they have the balance down pretty well. No university can get away with completely ignoring the diversity issue, but here they couch it as “feeling welcome”—in other words, civility. And the free-speech and argument culture issues start and end the video. I can’t think of any other colleges that would do that.

I have no beef with the message, but others do, arguing that free expression does not necessarily flow from diversity, should be its own stand-alone principle, and, indeed, that too much balkanization could stifle free expression.

What do you think?

My interview about evolution with Ray the Producer

September 4, 2022 • 1:35 pm

Yesterday I had an interview with “Ray the Producer” (his YouTube channel, “Allah Who?” is here, and he tends to interview people who are critical of Islam. I was invited on to talk about evolution, a theory that is widely rejected by Muslims, especially those who are Qur’anic literalists. And so the 1.5 hour conversation is about the evidence for evolution and why people reject it. (Ray is an ex-Muslim atheist.)

Here’s the video, and remember that I had about three hours of sleep when I did it yesterday morning. As always, I haven’t listened to it as I cannot abide seeing myself on video. If you can, and want to, here it is for your delectation.

Why Rushdie was stabbed: an absorbing video by the Ex-Muslims of North America

August 26, 2022 • 1:00 pm

This note and a video link came in a mass email from Muhammad Syed, the co-founder, executive director, and president of the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA); Sarah Haider was the other co-founder.

Now that Salman Rushdie has finally been attacked, it’s time to think about the act, ponder the history behind it, and and examine the larger issues it raises. Who better to analyze it than the EXMNA group? The video is short, 29 minutes long, and I recommend it highly.

Syed’s email:

On August 12, the heinous stabbing of celebrated author Salman Rushdie left the literary world reeling. Despite “life-changing” injuries, he survived the attack, carried out by a 24-year-old man with reported “Shi’ite extremist” sympathies.

Rushdie, long an outspoken supporter of liberal values and free expression, has had a target on his back for more than three decades—ever since the release of his “blasphemous” novel, The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent “death sentence” issued him by the Supreme Leader of Iran.

It’s now more important than ever to understand why this happened. What was the “blasphemy” of The Satanic Verses? Why did it provoke such an intense reaction? And, especially in light of this latest attempt to carry out Iran’s fatwa, what can this ordeal reveal to us today, as we live with its consequences?

EXMNA has a new documentary-style video out exploring these questions in depth. Watch it below.

The video is below, and here are the YouTube notes:

The attempted murder of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie on August 12, 2022 sent an earthquake through civil society and the literary world—but it was more than three decades in the making, originating with accusations of blasphemy against Islam in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. In the 34 years since, a conflict between fundamentalism and secularism has roiled liberal societies, culminating in this gruesome attempt on Rushdie’s life. The “Rushdie affair” is not over—and it won’t be over for a long time to come.

The video starts with the publication of The Satanic Verses, and if you haven’t read it, there’s a precis. Then we see the worldwide reaction to what was seen as a form of blasphemy so heinous that it was deemed a capital crime by many Muslims. (It’s certain that the vast majority of those who objected and rioted never read the book.)

Rushdie was taken by surprise at the vehemence of the reaction. The book was burned, banned in India, and then, in 1989, came the fatwa from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Do read the fatwa, which is shown in the video. It was not just Rushdie who was condemned to death, but all the editors and publishers “aware of its contents.” Some of them, and the book’s translators, were murdered.

We also hear from the “free-speech butters” who, in some sense, defended Rushdie’s critics (one of them was Jimmy Carter).  Also from Cat Stevens, who, converted to Islam, is shown wishing for Rushdie’s death.  There’s an interesting bit on British blasphemy law (still on the books back then but never used), and the attempts of Muslims to expand it to religions other than Christianity. (The law protected only Anglicanism.)

The fatwa was lifted by Iran for a while, but then was reinstated. It remains in effect, and young Muslims are identifying even more strongly with Islam than their forebears.

Do watch this excellent video, part of the great work that EXMNA does.

New video attacks the Guardian’s claim that evolutionary biology is obsolete

July 8, 2022 • 10:45 am

On June 28, Stephen Buryani published an article in the Guardian called “Do we need a new theory of evolution?” His answer was a definite “yes,” implying that new discoveries had rendered modern evolutionary theory obsolete, needing replacement by something else.

The article was a train wreck, full of claims that were long known, distortions of the importance of what “new” things were claimed, and outright mistakes. I wrote a critique on this site, and then Brian and Deborah Charlesworth and I wrote a letter to the Guardian that was published. Doug Futuyma wrote an excellent critique that wasn’t published, and Brian Charlesworth noted some of the more egregious errors: Doug’s letter and those errors went into a separate post.

Now Jon Perry, a science education consultant who makes nice videos about evolution (see them at his website “Genetics & Evolution Stated Casually“) has produced a very good 15-minute video critique of Buranyi’s article, which I’ve posted below.

You can see at the outset how the Guardian article confused and misled the layperson about evolution: a teacher panicked when she saw the article and wrote Perry to see if the textbook description of modern evolutionary ideas really were “wrong”.  No, the textbooks weren’t wrong, and Perry shows why.

Perry takes a few examples touted by Buranyi as baffling—the evolution of the eye, the wing and feathers, for example—and uses published evidence (which he shows) to show that we do understand how these features may have evolved. Buryani didn’t do his homework; Perry did.

Perry also explains what the “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis” is, describing how it began and where you can find its origins. He also mentions the Templeton Foundation as a funder of the movement to show the moribund nature of evolution, and I get a mention in connection with Templeton at 9:00 (“I do mean to get all Jerry Coyne-y on you all, but the funding source of an organization can influence its message, so this really is a fact worth noting—and for some reason, the Guardian article neglected to do so.” (I’m not sure what “getting all Jerry Coyne-y” means, but I hope it’s not an insult!)

Finally, Perry describes the “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” (EES), which is the gentler name for the “Evolution is Dead” movement. He takes up one area of the EES, “plasticity”, and shows that Buryani gets some of it right and some of it wrong, including the claim that it’s ignored in modern evolution texts (it’s not; it’s part of “evolutionary orthodoxy”).

Do watch the video; it’s excellent and Perry simply demolishes Buryani’s article. It’s a video rebuttal, and I wish the Guardian could mention it somehow.