So, one of the features of studying things like biological species or languages, is that they’re not really things. Or rather, they are things, but in a fuzzy, not-very-thingy kind of way.
What I mean is that it is often difficult to define the exact boundaries of a species or language. Fundamentally, this is a consequence of the fact that we are trying to apply discrete labels (such as “English” or “Moloch horridus“) to populations of things (speakers or individuals) that exhibit a degree of variation (e.g., dialects or subspecies), and that change over time.
For example, I can easily read a newspaper article written in the 1950s. I can read something from the 1700s and understand it, but it might sound weird. I can read Shakespeare and understand it, but I probably make use of a lot of the footnotes. By the time I’m reading Chaucer, some things might look familiar, but I probably require help to correctly understand most of the words. So, while those texts are all, in a sense, English, the gradual process of change means that the English of 800 or 1000 years ago is as foreign to me as contemporary French or German.
The same is true of biological species. In that context, people sometimes refer to “diachronic species,” which is a way of breaking up a single, continuous biological lineage into subsections that can be given different labels. Given enough knowledge of the biology, one could use not-completely-arbitrary criteria to decide whether two individuals in the same lineage (say, where one was a distant ancestor of the other) should be classified as members of the same species. However, defining break points along the lineage to define species is an inherently arbitrary exercise.
This change process is also true of other (non-linguistic) aspects of culture. There is clearly a continuum of American culture stretching back from the present into the past. And each additional year that we move back, the more the culture seems foreign to me. But how far back is far enough to where you would actually call it a different culture? Again, there is an inherent arbitrariness here that means there is no real answer to the question. I suspect that if you were to take a survey, people’s answers would depend a lot on how old they are.
However, I want to make a pitch for World War II being the natural break point in American culture, if for no other reason than that it would provide a psychological distance that would assuage my discomfort with this video from 1942.
Now, I don’t know what came up for you, but at the time of posting, the related videos that pop up at the end include classics such as “Nazi Duck” and “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.”
Also, what’s up with the 1942-era shape of Elmer Fudd’s head?
So, here’s a thing that should make you feel better about your upcoming high-school reunion. This is what it looks like when the funkiness gets the better of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, the Stimpy to Vladimir Putin’s Ren.
Back in the day, they called this “Hammer and Sickle Time.”
So, previously I wrote about a cologne based on the conservative torture-porn television franchise 24. Here we have another fragrance for men that seems either unlikely or inevitable, depending on you outlook on life: bacon-flavored cologne.
It’s called Bacōn.
Just like 24: the fragrance, Bacōn contains notes of bergamot, and just like Kiefer Sutherland, Bacōn is Canadian Ham, or something like that.
The website features a 360-degree view of the box, allowing you access to life tips such as “Avoid spraying in eyes,” as well as the enigmatic “Flammable.”
So, this one is for all the teachers out there who have ever felt discouraged because their students fell asleep in class. It is also for any of you who ever felt sorry for yourselves having to sit through a boring lecture.
This from BBC3’s Bizarre ER. Student Holly Thomson was sitting through a government and politics lecture that was SO boring . . .
(You: How boring was it?)
It was SO boring that she yawned hard enough to dislocate her jaw. She could not close it again and had to be taken to the emergency room.
Your boring lecture on the difference between neoteny and progenesis doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
So, here’s a thing. Apparently, back in 1957, a young Jim Henson did a series of television commercials for Wilkins Coffee. In addition to providing an important life lesson about NEVER DOUBTING THE WILKINS, these commercials provide a glimpse at a sort of proto-Kermit.
There’s more interesting information about Henson’s early career at Network Awesome, including a bunch of other early commercials. Most are just as strangely violent as these, and you’ll find ur-forms of other familiar muppets. I came across this via Boing Boing.
So, if you’re an evolutionary biologist, or really if you follow the biology literature at all, you have probably heard about the paper published last fall in Nature by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson. The paper claims that all theories based on kin selection and inclusive fitness are fundamentally flawed and unsupported by any empirical evidence.
Recently, responses to the paper were published in Nature, and the original article has been criticized on a number of counts. The controversy sparked by the paper has been covered journalistically by Carl Zimmer (and others, I’m sure).
I’ll just say that I am not really sure what the authors of the original article were hoping to accomplish. From my read, the article seems to reveal a rather disturbing lack of familiarity with a huge body of scientific literature from the past few decades. Either that, or it represents a rather disturbingly disingenuous attempt to misrepresent that huge body of scientific literature. I’m sure that there are other possible explanations, but I’m not coming up with them off the top of my head.
I also don’t know what the editors at Nature were thinking when they published this paper. Or, rather, I have some personal theories as to what they were thinking, which I am afraid do not reflect well on their competence, professionalism, or honesty.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I tend to side with the critics of the paper.
Anyway, there has already been a lot written about this subject, so I won’t write more. Rather, I thought that I would dramatize the situation using a few quotes and paraphrases from the debate, as well as my own opinions.
I hope that this is obvious, but just in case it is not, please keep in mind that the video is presented primarily for entertainment purposes. I have made an honest attempt to portray the spirit of the arguments accurately. However, let’s just say that it is possible that some of the nuance may have been lost.
For another thing, I have lumped together various criticisms, which has no doubt done some violence to the arguments that have been put forward. If you’re interested in the topic, I strongly encourage you to read the original article and the published responses. Citations and links are provided at the end of the post.
In the meantime, enjoy:
Like everything else on this blog, the video should be treated under creative commons. So, feel free to share this, or to embed the video into your own blog. Just don’t sell it.
Update: Now also on YouTube. That version I think will work better for embedding, if you want to share the video.
Update 2: I have added a follow-up post in which I try to provide more background context and attempt to explain why this paper generated such a large response from the evolutionary biology community.
Sources used include:
The original article: Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010). The evolution of eusociality Nature, 466 (7310), 1057-1062 DOI: 10.1038/nature09205
So, if you’re young enough to be or have been a Pokémon fan. Or if you’re old enough to have kids at Pokémon-relevant ages, you should enjoy this. If not, it’s only like a minute long, and the ending is still worth it.
Pokémon. They’re like herpes simplices. You gotta catch em all.
So, if you haven’t seen this, it’s awesome. If you have, you already know that it’s awesome, so you’ll probably want to watch it again. Introducing the app store for your Brother IntelliFax 2800. Enjoy.
So, we all know that you, Cathy, and Garfield all Hate Mondays. But that’s probably just because you haven’t been watching Nice Peter’s Picture Songs. They’re songs. That he writes about pictures. Every monday. I honestly don’t know how he does this every week, especially since he appears to do other things. Here is last week’s: