Interpretive dance, really?

Whoa. It’s kind of a standing joke that when our presentation tools fail us, we’ll have to fall back on interpretive dance to make our points. We never mean it seriously, though. Until now. Science magazine challenged researchers to actually illustrate their work with dance, and people did! There are four youtube videos at that link that show the winners. I liked the graduate student entry best, but I’ll include this one because a) it was most comprehensible to me, and b) Laurie Anderson is wonderful.

You will never catch me doing this, though — I can’t dance, and I’m too ungainly anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Or, for you non-Americans, happy Thursday! Or, for you Australians, happy Friday or Tuesday or whatever it is down in your topsy-turvy country where you’ve even got your seasons reversed.

Oh, heck, forget it. Happy Day! Find whatever reason you want to celebrate.

Again, for you non-Americans, this is a peculiarly American version of a fall harvest festival. We are supposedly celebrating an event in our history from the 17th century: the fellowship and cooperation between the Pilgrim immigrants and the native Americans that culminated in a shared feast. The truth is a little uglier and perhaps a bit more representative of our political reality. A gang of Puritan religious kooks who were too wacky and weird for their homeland emigrated optimistically to the new wilderness to the west, hoping to found a utopia for repressive fanaticism. They proved to be incompetent as well as crazy, and nearly died off completely in their first few years, but survived thanks to an affiliation with local tribes who were quite competent at successfully thriving in that environment, but were unfortunately strategically unwise in allowing these parvenu lunatics to persist in their midst.

So, yeah, we’re celebrating the survival of Republicans Mark I in the founding of our country. It was nice that they got along with the Indians while they were hungry, but don’t worry — it wasn’t long before the colony was stabilized, and then they resumed the habits of genocide, warfare, witch-burning, rebellion, empire-building, civil war, habitat destruction, and exploitation, i.e., normal history.

We traditionally celebrate this day with indolence and gluttony. Even better, since the holiday is always on a Thursday to give us a four-day weekend, the Friday after has evolved into something called Black Friday, in which stores offer sales to entice mobs into the malls for the biggest shopping day of the year, so we also celebrate with naked greed and commercialism. Like I said, it is a very American holiday.

I’m planning to spend it with a quiet family day — we’re getting together with my sons — and eat in moderation. Then tomorrow I’m not going anywhere near a mall and won’t be spending a penny…I’ll be catching up in much delayed office work. One nice thing about the holiday is that you can spend it any way you want.

Odontochelys, a transitional turtle

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Now this is an interesting beast. It’s a 220 million year old fossil from China of an animal that is distinctly turtle-like. Here’s a look at its dorsal side:

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a, Skeleton in dorsal view. b, Skull in dorsal view. c, Skull in ventral view. d, Body in dorsal view. Teeth on the upper jaw and palatal elements were scratched out during excavation. Abbreviations: ar, articular; as, astragalus; ca, calcaneum; d, dentary; dep, dorsal process of epiplastron; dsc, dorsal process of scapula; ep, epiplastron; fe, femur; fi, fibula; gpep, gular projection of epiplastron; hu, humerus; hyo, hyoplastron; hyp, hypoplastron; il, ilium; ipt, interpterygoid vacuity; j, jugal; ldv, last dorsal vertebra; m, maxilla; n, nasal; na, naris; op, opisthotic; p, parietal; phyis, posterolateral process of hypoischium; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; prf, prefrontal; q, quadrate; sq, squamosal; st, supratemporal; sv1, 1st sacral vertebra; ti, tibia; ul, ulna; vot, vomerine teeth; I, V, 1st and 5th metatarsals.

Notice in the skull: it’s got teeth, not just a beak like modern turtles. The back is also odd, for a turtle. The ribs are flattened and broadened, but…no shell! It’s a turtle without a shell!

[Read more…]

Little Axe, Oklahoma

Americans United has put up a story of religious discrimination from its files. Two women had a little problem with institutionalized religiosity in an Oklahoma public school district.

In 1981, Bell had just moved to Little Axe and enrolled her children in the local public school system. At that time, school officials were allowing a teacher-sponsored student group called the Son Shine Club to gather before school to pray.

Though the fundamentalist Baptist meetings were supposedly voluntary, the school buses dropped students off 30 minutes before classes started. Those who were not attending the religious meetings had to wait outside the building, sometimes in the rain or cold. The Son Shine sessions also extended into first-hour class time, Bell said.

This is typical: public schools aren’t supposed to endorse sectarian religion, but what they’ll often do is give certain religions a few extra privileges, and be a bit more accommodating…and the boundaries get pushed back a bit. It’s smooth and easy to do that, but trying to roll back those unwarranted privileges isn’t so pleasant.

After contacting the ACLU and filing a lawsuit, Bell and McCord became the subjects of hatred and even violence. Bell’s house was burned down by a firebomb. McCord’s 12-year-old son’s prize goats were slashed and mutilated with a knife. Bell was assaulted by a school cafeteria worker who smashed her head repeatedly against a car door. (School authorities praised the cafeteria worker, and she was forced to pay a $10 fine and Bell’s hospital bills, community residents raised donations on the assailant’s behalf.) McCord and Bell were both mailed their own obituaries.

Don’t make assumptions though: McCord and Bell were not atheists, although they were accused of being atheists. They just belonged to Christian churches that weren’t part of the dominant Baptist sect in the area. They still came to a rather reasonable conclusion.

“When I began the suit, I just wanted to stop the religious services at school, but I supported the idea of nonsectarian prayer in the classroom during school,” McCord told the National Catholic Reporter. “Since I’ve seen what religion can do to a community, I don’t support any religious observance in school.”

Amen, sister.

I’m pretty sure this is satire

I’m not a fan of Toby Keith at all, but I’ll make an exception for this one time.