Category Archives: Reblogs

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

Today we have a potpourri of photos of urban wildlife, starting with five from Diana MacPherson. Every contributor’s notes are indented. Don’t neglect the animals in your backyard—especially the ducks!

Here are some pictures I took from March through June.

Baby English House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) snoozing together waiting for their parents to feed them.
Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) wandering through the yard in May.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) contemplates the day in May.

Close up of Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensiseating seeds from bird feeder. You can see the damage he did in the ripped-up hole in the picture. That feeder was totally trashed.

Full image of Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensiseating seeds from bird feeder.

Here are two photos from Garry VanGelderen:

Blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) in my feeder.

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina

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Blooms and Brushstrokes, A Floral History of Australian Art, by Penelope Curtin and Tansy Curtin

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

I’ve been thinking about this latest beautiful book from Wakefield Press during my (almost) daily walk with Amber*…

You might think, with Melbourne in the depths of winter, that our suburban gardens would be a bit bleak.  But you’d be wrong: already there are jonquils and daffodils in the avenue; there’s a stunning white camellia lush with blooms next door; purple and white hardenbergias are weaving through the fence in our street’s most ambitious garden (created by a Vietnamese couple who are an inspiration to us all); on the trellis outside my library window there is one stubborn spray of white jasmine that has no business flowering in July; and there’s a wattle just about ready to burst into bloom — early next week, by the look of it.   I’ve tried photographing these gorgeous splashes of colour that brighten a dull day, but really, they need an artist to…

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Matt Meselson describes his most famous experiment (with Frank Stahl)

Why Evolution Is True

In 1958 Matt Meselson, whom I knew slightly at Harvard (he was a terrific guy), performed, along with Frank Stahl, an experiment that John Cairns called “the most beautiful experiment in biology”. What he and Stahl did (see description here) was to use density-labeled components of DNA to choose among which of the three methods of DNA replication floated at the time was correct (people didn’t know how DNA replicated in 1958; this experiment settled the issue):

In “semi-conservative replication”, each strand of DNA unwinds and makes a copy of itself, so that each DNA helix in the next generation of DNA has both a parental strand and a new strand synthesized from nucleotides and sugars. “Conservative” replication involves each double strand making another whole double strand.  “Dispersive” replication involved the DNA breaking, with each break synthesizing new DNA, matched to the other strand, in bits. They’re portrayed…

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An ancient bird with an extraordinarily long toe

Why Evolution Is True

There’s a new paper in Current Biology that details the finding of a very unusual bird in Burmese amber—a bird with one huge toe and weird bristles on its feet. You can read it with UnPaywall by clicking on the screenshot below (pdf here, reference at bottom).

The specimen, uncovered by amber miners five years ago, consists of a lower right leg and foot, as well as some feathers (both those attached to the leg and flight feathers free in the amber). It dates back about 99 million years, to the middle Cretaceous, when flying birds had already evolved from reptiles. Since it was a new species (the first ever described from amber), the authors gave it the binomial Elektorornis chenguangi, with the genus name meaning “amber bird”.  Phylogenetic analysis places the species in the Enantiornithes, a bird family that went extinct without descendants at the K/T…

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Rare Book Week 2019: Medieval and Early Modern Marginalia

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Sue from Whispering Gums and I have faced off many a time over the issue of marginalia: she does, and I don’t — but *chuckle* she would have won hands down today because this morning’s Rare Book Week event about marginalia was fascinating:)

The event was presented by Dr Anna Welch from the State Library of Victoria, and what she showed us was that marginalia is much more than jotting down a few thoughts on the sides of a page.  Some marginalia helps to establish the provenance of a book, while other examples offer commentaries on the text, and not always serious commentary at that…

In the back of a beautiful 17th century book bound in vellum there was some droll doggerel about St George and his dragon, while in a book called Egypt and the Pyramids (1814) by the scholar who decoded the Rosetta stone, someone who was ‘showing…

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“Modern” Homo sapiens may have been in Eurasia as long as 210,000 years ago

Why Evolution Is True

The conventional wisdom about the migration of Homo out of Africa, where the genus originated, involves the spread of Homo erectus about 2 million years ago across Eurasia, with that species appearing to have gone extinct without issue.

After that, the Neandertals, which split from the lineage producing “modern” (i.e., living) H. sapiens about 800,000 years ago, moved to Europe some time between then and 600,000 years ago. (For convenience, I’ll call Neanderthals “Neanderthals” and “modern H. sapiens” as sapiens, though I think they’re both subspecies of H. sapiens.)

Then, it was thought, sapiens moved into Europe and then Asia beginning about 60,000 years ago, with Neanderthals becoming extinct around 40,000 years ago, though having left a genetic legacy within sapiens. (That ability to produce fertile hybrids between H. sapiens sapiens and H. sapiens neanderthalensis is why I consider both lineages to be subspecies of the…

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Rare Book Week 2019: The Medieval Darwin, presented by Dr Anne Holloway

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The Spouse and I made a rare trip to the CBD today for a Rare Book Week event.  There are no trains running from our side of the city into the CBD and roads are blocked off all over the place because of Victoria’s Big Build so getting there was every bit as horrible as we had expected, but it was definitely worth it.

The session was called The Medieval Darwin, presented by Dr Anne Holloway from Monash University, and I loved every minute of it.  This was the blurb:

Charles Kingsley paved the way for twentieth-century fantasists such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is equally well known for his enthusiasm for Darwin, and his role in the professionalisation of History. Through his works held at Monash Special Collections, Anne Holloway will explore the re-purposing of medieval ideals developed during the crusades to frame and communicate Darwin’s ideals…

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The Good Doctor of Warsaw, by Elisabeth Gifford

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

After reading a book recently which I found thoroughly distasteful, I was in the mood for something a bit more uplifting.  I browsed my shelves and found The Good Doctor of Warsaw, which was the perfect choice because it’s based on the true story of Janusz Korczak, a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto.

This is the blurb:

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope…

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Invented Lives, by Andrea Goldsmith

I was a fellow student and friend of Andrea Goldsmith at Monash University during the late 1960s.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

It’s hard to express the intense pleasure of reading Andrea Goldsmith’s new novel, Invented Lives. It’s not just that it’s an absorbing novel that held my interest from start to finish, it’s also a book filled with insights that will stay with me for a long time.

While the central character in Invented Lives is Galina Kagan, a Russian émigré to Melbourne, and the novel focusses on her feelings of loss and not belonging, there are other kinds of exile in the novel.  One of the most interesting is that of Sylvie Morrow.  This older woman, mother to Andrew Morrow who’s fallen in love with Galina, is reminiscent of Philippa Finemore in Goldsmith’s Modern Interiors (1991).  Like Philippa, Sylvie suffered a kind of exile imposed by her gender, because women of her generation were excluded from full participation in society.  She was too young to experience the liberating effects of…

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Bill Nye screws up when tackling a question about free will

Why Evolution Is True

The wheels fell off the Science Guy juggernaut a long time ago, but Bill Nye still tries to heave the ungainly cart forward, desperately trying to remain relevant. As you know, I haven’t been a fan of his “comeback,” for his attempts to sell science have been ham-handed and embarrassing. (See some of my criticism here.)

Here, in a video made in 2016,  he goes way out of his depth to answer a reader’s question on The Big Stink. I came across this while watching videos about free will by genuinely smart people, and then cringed while I watched this one.

In this video an inquisitive man named Thomas asks Nye whether he, Thomas, has free will, which the inquisitor interprets as libertarian free will: “neural causation”, with an independent ego in control of one’s thoughts and actions. He’s clearly asking about libertarian free will because he sets his…

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