15 09 2007

Content might be a little light today, folks. I’ll be visiting the Renaissance Fair in Tuxedo, NY with some friends, and I have no idea when I’ll be back home. What you really should check out during my absence however are the newest version of Oekologie up at Fish Feet and the latest manifestation of The Boneyard up at The Ethical Palaeontologist. Sarda did a great job, and Julia’s edition (when it goes live this afternoon) is going to be fantastic, so make sure that you give both a look.

Also of note, I saw the South Korean film D-War (or Dragon Wars) last night, and it is by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theater (even beating out One Night at McCool’s). It’s so bad that if you’re a fan of MST3K you’ll get lots of laughs out of riffing on the utterly terrible film. Many of the special effects are impressive (well, except for the “deflated elephant”) but the plot, acting, and direction are absolutely odious, so don’t bother unless you got a high score while rolling for constitution and have a good sense of humor.

If you really want to see a good South Korean monster flick, check out The Host; It’s surprisingly good (mmm… fish monster filling….).

If this comes out on my birthday I’m going to be pissed…

22 08 2007

Why does Ben Stein have to go ahead and ruin the month in which I was born? According to a link supplied by PZ, the deadpan actor is going to release a film called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” about how us crazy “Neo-Darwinists” are trying to take over the hearts and minds of America’s youth through the public education system. (Also, the conservative screed Indoctrinate U is also meant to premiere this September) This propaganda piece documentary looks like it wants to be the answer to Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos, although it appears that Stein’s venture is better financed. Still, having a look around the site already points to the overall lack of research and downright stupidity employed by our “hero” Stein in trying to scare conservatives into believing him. From the site’s blog;

Freedom of inquiry is basic to human advancement. There would be no modern medicine, no antibiotics, no brain surgery, no Internet, no air conditioning, no modern travel, no highways, no knowledge of the human body without freedom of inquiry.

This includes the ability to inquire whether a higher power, a being greater than man, is involved with how the universe operates. This has always been basic to science. ALWAYS.

Some of the greatest scientists of all time, including Galileo, Newton, Einstein, operated under the hypothesis that their work was to understand the principles and phenomena as designed by a creator.

Operating under that hypothesis, they discovered the most important laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, relativity, and even economics.

Now, I am sorry to say, freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed.

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe?EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED.

In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.

The first thing that Stein does, in classic neo-con fashion, is equate science with technology. The only things vaguely biological mentioned are antibiotics and human anatomy, but these are directly tied to medicine and not understanding how humans (or other organisms) work in any other sense. This is one of the most difficult battlegrounds in any debate about science/religion/politics, as many see natural science as ultimately pointless. “Why do I need to know what sort of animal Pakicetus was when technology supplies me with MTV and plenty of porn via the internet?” This “What, me worry?” sort of mindset can be traced all the way back to the first Christians, who felt it was essentially pointless to study nature (or even medicine) because Jesus’ return was imminent. “Why learn about botany when the world will be destroyed and created anew next week?” Sooner or later people got the idea that such a way of thinking was impoverished and worthless and started to investigate the natural world, although new discoveries were often met with opposition from those who attempted to uphold the religious orthodoxy of the time (certain areas of science, like medicine, becoming acceptable as they could be brought into the ideological fold of helping others in Christianity).

Stein then goes on to play the name game; everyone will recognize the names Newton, Galileo, and Einstein, but how many people actually know anything about them? Stein is merely trading in on their recognition and seems to know little else about these men of science other than that they had some sort of idea about a creator god. If Stein had done his homework he would have found that Newton and Einstein did not hold concepts of a Judeo-Christian God that exactly fits the Old Testament bully so loved by modern evangelicals (Einstein over and over again professing his belief in “Spinoza’s God”, or the nature of the universe as God). The inclusion of Galileo was curious as well, especially given what the Church of Galileo’s time perpetrated upon the man and the overall resistance to his ideas. If we’re going to include Christian scientists, why not go ahead and add a young Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, William Buckland, Gideon Mantell, or any number of other 19th century scientists involved with paleontology, geology, and evolution that showed the world was not created in the way the creation mythologies of the Bible state? Stein also seems to be ignorant of the many attempts through the early to mid-1900’s to reconcile science and evolution after the Modern Synthesis was formed, so why not mention some of the Christian and Jewish leaders from the first part of the last century who had no problem with evolution? I guess they’re on the naughty list.

Stein then moves on to an attempt to spread paranoia, picking up where Jonathan Wells left off in the latter part of Icons of Evolution. Evolutionary science (or at least evolutionary scientists) are said to be cultish, rabid bigots, stopping at nothing to stomp out any mention of a Christian god. They may as well burst into flames at the mention of the name “Jehovah.” No evidence is given for this assertion (I guess I’ll just have to watch the movie), but Stein goes back to trading in on the names of intellects far greater than his own by suggesting that such men would have been figuratively “burned at the stake” by modern academia. I guess it doesn’t matter to Stein that how religious a person may be is more a product of how they’re brought up rather in “Darwinist indoctrination” in public schools. Stein also doesn’t provide any reason why we should take creationists and ID advocates seriously, either; they’ve come up with absolutely no actual research to prove their point, despite continuous calls to do so (I guess Behe and his buddies would rather just keep pumping out the popular books). Why should we allow intelligent design into science class when it simply is not science?

Anyway, the film looks like it’s going to be absolutely horrible, and judging from the fact that Stein can’t even be bothered to open up a history book I’m sure the film is going to be a propaganda piece that will appeal primarily to those who already tend to agree anyhow.

Update: Mike P, in the Pharyngula comment, has provided us with the Press Release for this atrocious bit of drek.

Update the 2nd: The DI has now weighed in (how could I ever have guessed that they were involved?), and the film is set to come out on Darwin’s birthday, February 12th. I can’t imagine it getting a wide release, but I have to wonder if the production company is going to go around wooing churches as other companies did for The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other films. Still, the movie will probably be greeted with cheers by those already convinced and be thoroughly trashed by those who can already smell that it’s rotten inside and out.

Tonks is definitely my fave new character…

13 07 2007

Given the excitement surrounding the release of the new Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the last book in the series, Grrlscientist has asked “where were you when you saw all the other HP films for the first time?”

I have to admit that I haven’t read any of the books and actually didn’t take much of an interest in the films until last year or so. In any case, here is my list;

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone (2001)

I had promised my friend Emily that I would go and see the movie with her, although I was largely unfamiliar with the Harry Potter craze (outside of knowing there was one). It was definitely an enjoyable film, although I didn’t see it again until a few months ago.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

I saw this one on a cold winter night with my then-girlfriend in Westfield. She was very scared of spiders, so she was definitely a bit clingy during the part where we met Hagred’s old “pet” in the woods. I was also afraid that Dobby was going to become the new Jar Jar Binks, and while his inclusion in the plot didn’t exactly wow me, I’m glad that he didn’t cause the film to suffer. Once again, I enjoyed the film but didn’t see it again until years later.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

I didn’t see this one in the theaters at all; I think by this time I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about, so my little “protest” was not going. I definitely should have. I finally saw the 3rd film on DVD about a year ago and it quickly became my favorite (possibly tied with the 5th film), probably because the characters had become more mature and the series started to take on a bit of a darker tone (plus I’m a sucker for hippogriffs).

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

For some reason I thought this came out last summer, but that’s the fault of my memory more than anything else. In any case, I saw it at my favorite movie theater with the woman who would become my wife the following summer. Definitely a lot of fun, although I have to say I liked the previous film better.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

I saw this one just the other night at my favorite movie theater with my wife and a friend and absolutely loved it. While Rotten Tomatoes shows a bit of a ratings slip, I felt the movie was strong overall, especially in the casting of new characters (I really, really hated Umbridge, even though she was fictitious). I’m definitely looking forward to seeing some of story lines surrounding new characters in the next film (especially Tonks and Luna Lovegood), but I’ll have to wait until November of next year for that.

So there it is; not especially exciting, but the series has definitely begun to grow on me as it hurtles towards its conclusion (which I’m sure I’ll hear all about by the end of the weekend). I would highly recommend the new film to anyone who’s not sure what they should see at the cinema this weekend. After I saw the latest film, I said to my wife that I wished that I had some sort of magic powers or could go on great adventures, to which she replied that I had near-magic powers of paleontology. That being said, I have yet to create any sort of diving rod to find articulated skeletons or anything of that sort, so I will do the best I can as a muggle.

If I were on The Simpsons

10 07 2007

The Simpsons Movie promotional site is allowing you to make your own avatar. Here’s my rendition of myself;


Here are some other science bloggers who’ve come up with some rather cromulent avatars;
Larry Moran
John Wilkins
Jake Young
Steve Higgins

(Hat-tip to Pure Pedantry)

My wha?

29 06 2007

Good news everyone! I got the wireless connection to work at the house I’ll be staying in for the next week (+), so you can expect plenty of new material as I try and dig myself out of the avalanche of books I’ve brought upon myself. Tonight, however, I’m going out to see Ratatouille; I can never say no to a Pixar feature.


14 06 2007

I know new material has been a bit lacking today; I’m working on something really interesting and I want to make sure I have all the information I need (plus I’m waiting on an OK about an image I want to use).

Just a few notes:

1) A bit “Thank you” to whoever added my “Make me a cell, darn it!” sez Jim post to StumbleUpon. I hope that it eventually gets enough reads as to outpace all the results when someone does a google search for any part of Jim’s original comment. The results from StumbleUpon alone have launched my stats to well over 500 visits for today alone.

2) I finished Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac last night. I wonder what he’d think about the current state of things, when the “modern” mentality about nature seems awfully similar to the kind he protested in the 1940’s. It is a must read for anyone who cares about ecology.

3) I read through the introduction to the “Uncensored Original Edition” of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle last night, but didn’t get further than page 6 into the novel because I was watching Letters From Iwo Jima and the subtitles demanded my attention. In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan is the best WWII (or war-genre, for that matter) film ever made, but Iwo was much better directed film than the jumpy Flags of Our Fathers (to which Iwo is a companion piece).

Anyway, as per The Jungle, I never read it in high school (as many of my classmates did), but I thought that I should read it when films like Super Size Me and books like Fast Food Nation are bringing up many of the same issues. What I didn’t know was that Sinclair “toned down” his novel in order to get it published, and while it originally was much more violent (he removed the word “blood” and many scenes, including one of a baby headed for the meat grinder [I won’t tell you what happens… read the book]) and focused upon the plight of the immigrant workers. Indeed, Sinclair had to dehumanize the immigrant workers to make the book palatable to the publishers, fitting in with the idea that the plight of the workers was their own fault. On top of this, Sinclair was a socialist and hoped the book would stir the trodden-upon into a more revolutionary mindset, but instead it brought in food reforms (which are good, but not what he was aiming for). Anyway, given the current state of fast food and exploitation of immigrant workers, I thought it would be appropriate if I read a book published 100 years ago and see what has changed since then.

Night of the Lepus!

7 06 2007

So you think bunnies are cute, huh? This might change your mind;

As is likely painfully apparent by now, I spent most of my childhood watching terrible “revenge of nature” flicks (although I have yet to see Food of the Gods, In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro, and a few others). Night of the Lepus was one of the most unforgettable, however, being that it featured herds of bunnies on miniature sets and men in rabbit suits smearing red fluid (“blood”) on their “victims.” Why this one never ended up as MST3k fodder, I don’t know, but if you can find the humor in movie-cheese it’s great fun.

Quick notes for Wednesday

6 06 2007

Last night I finished off Jurassic Park before diving in to Heilmann’s The Origin of Birds, and it was an overall fun read. Like I said in an earlier post, it is curious that Crichton doesn’t describe much about the physical appearance of the dinosaurs, which speaks to how familiar they have become. Also curious was his decision to give some of them, the “raptors” especially, tongues that flicked in and out like a monitor lizard or snake; be does make allusions to their relationship with birds, yet gives them a very reptilian characteristic. Odd. Further, Ian Malcolm is said to have died at the end of the book, but he is the star of the sequel The Lost World, the only explanation (as far as I can remember) being “rumors of [Malcom’s] death have been greatly exaggerated.” In fact, Malcolm’s role as the author’s voice got to be a bit annoying, and often characters in Chrichton’s book seemed to find themselves in perilous or terrifying situations, only to wax philosophical or seemingly ignore the Tyrannosaurus chasing them. Still, I can’t say it wasn’t an enjoyable read, and I think Crichton peaked with this book.

I also received the trade paperback compilation of Dark Horse Comics “Age of Reptiles: Tribal Warfare.” The book has a very William Stout-ish feel to it, and although the dinosaurs are all out of whack temporally and are a bit anthropomorphic (they have pupils and open jaws when shocked or so, they have no pupils and snarl when angry, etc.) it’s still great fun (and not nearly as annoying as Disney’s Dinosaur). The book is a bit gory (hell, issue one was a Saltosaurus being ripped open on the cover!) but despite the lack of dialog it’s easy to follow and appealing to the eye (the artist is at his best when drawing Brachiosaurus, but then again the carnivores are suppossed to have more personality so you can distinguish them). If you want to pick up a copy, there are 2 left on (but if you’re not a huge dino fan you might consider 38 bucks for the book a bit of a rip off [I got it cheaper, so I guess there’s a bit of a price jump in the used copies]) and I’ll post my thoughts of “Age of Reptiles: The Hunt” when it arrives in the next few days.

Also, I was able to track down a copy of The Loch Ness Horror on DVD, and it should arrive any day now. I only remember seeing it once or twice, and it is a huge piece of movie cheese, but when I saw a DVD for 12 bucks (the rare VHS goes for over 100 dollars) I had to grab it. Likewise, The Legend of the Dinosaurs is rumored to get a release this year, as is Planet of Dinosaurs (not OF THE, just OF). I actually received the 2001 edition of Planet of Dinosaurs through Netflix last night, and oh boy did it stink. The stop motion dinosaurs supervised by paleo-artist Stephen Czerkas [scroll down] are neat, if wrong, but the acting is terrible and the soundtrack incredibly annoying. There’s even a Flintstones-esque ending to book that would be sure to please some creationists, too. What I found most interesting, however, was the explanation for an earth-like planet with dinosaurs on it; one of the characters explains that because the planet is like earth, it must go through the same kind of evolution, so dinosaurs mean that the planet they’re on is much younger than earth. This reminded me of the great “replaying the tape” debate Stephen Jay Gould and Simon-Conway Morris had in the pages of Natural History, and I have to say that I side firmly with Gould; I don’t think there’s any force that would cause evolution to occur in precisely the same way if all else were equal to earth on a forming planet. The movie also wanders aimlessly into “survival of the fittest” country, with a gruff survivor advocating going out and subduing the cruelty of nature because being nice will only get you killed. Anyway, if you’re a MST3K fan like me and don’t mind making your own jokes while watching some stinky films, I’d give Planet of Dinosaurs a go (and if you haven’t already seen it, you’ve got to check out Night of the Lepus; nothing like a man in a bunny suit to scare the daylights out of you).

Book notes; Starring T. rex!: Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture

22 05 2007

When I arrived home yesterday I was pleased to find that the rather thin book Starring T. rex!: Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture (by Jose Luis Sanz) had come in the mail and I proceeded to devour it over the course of a few hours. The book only runs about 152 pages, many of these with various movie posters, book covers, etc., some of the chapters being a mere 2 pages long, and the brevity of many of the chapters concerned me. Indeed, when I started reading the book I was a bit let down by the content; it served more as a list of dino-media broken up into certain categories more than a study of the evolution of dinosaurs as pop icons or how popular perceptions shaped the appearances in both the media and science. Most of the books, stories, films, etc. discussed I have either viewed first hand or heard about previously (if you’re interested and can find a copy of the tape Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, it’s a good collection of trailers from the films discussed in the book), and so there wasn’t much that I didn’t know about. In fact, some rather significant pop images of dinosaurs are left out altogether or merely make a fleeting appearance, i.e. the Topps Dinosaurs Attack! cards/comic, Star-Spangled War Stories comics, various Marvel comic encounters with dinosaurs (be it the Fantastic Four or the X-Men in the Savage Land, as well as the stand-alone series Devil Dinosaur), The Land Before Time series, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t want to be overly harsh when it comes to this book; it is an easy read and can serve as a great resource for anyone wishing to find a listing of dinosaurs in pop culture, but the book doesn’t seem to have a unifying theme other than “dinosaurs in the media.” Focusing on the cultural evolution of the dinosaurs would have strengthened the book a bit, or if it was meant to be more of a catalog than a discussion the media should have been broken up into groups, listed chronologically, and then discussed. Still, I would recommend the book to anyone unfamiliar with dinosaurs in the media, and it certainly can be helpful to those looking for a short list of films or books to study on their own time. A copy of W.J.T. Mitchell’s The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon should be arriving in a few days, and from what I can tell that book is more likely to be what I was looking for, and as always you can expect my thoughts on it when I’ve finished it.

Why the recent interested in dino-psychology? Well, other than trying to figure out why I find these animals so alluring, I am interested in the interplay between science and pop culture, and I I also intend to write an in-depth post about dinosaurs as “dragons” for the anti-Creation Museum mini-carnival coming up in a week. Last fall I wrote about AiG’s misuse of Baryonx to try and support it’s view that the St. George mythology was real and proved dinosaurs walked with men (and this will be included in the post), but I also want to discuss the role that dinosaurs (or rather, their remains) have in mythology worldwide. This, of course, will include some discussion of Behemoth in the book of Job, and why the famous “swings like a cedar” lines have more to do with a mammals genitals than dinosaurs.

Thank You For Smoking was right!

11 05 2007

Truth can be stranger than fiction; the MPAA has announced that any movie that contains “pervasive” smoking outside of a historic context may receive a higher rating. Indeed, the folks at the MPAA are once again trying to tell everyone what’s best for them, having a huge impact on the content and success of movies (even though they claim they don’t). While it wasn’t the best documentary ever, if you’re interested I would recommend checking outThis Film Is Not Yet Rated, which takes a critical look at who is making these decisions and how the ratings process is terribly biased.

This news reminds me of the various discussions in Thank You For Smoking involving getting smoking back into movies and then an anti-smoking advocates revisionist attempts to get all depictions of smoking out of the media. Personally, I’m glad I don’t have to inhale someone else’s smoke when I go out to a restaurant or in public places, but when the MPAA considers giving a movie a higher rating because they feel it has too much smoking, that’s a bit silly.