Sunday, September 30, 2007

There'll Be Some Changes Made

All six of my regular readers have probably noticed a slowdown in the pithy drivel for which Transitional Fossil has gained great fame. Mrs. Archaeopteryx and I are moving into a home in the town where I work--until now, we've maintained two residences, one in Little Rock, and a small place near the university where I teach, a hundred miles away. We'll be living together for the first time since I began graduate school, eleven years ago. The move is cutting down on the time I have available for bloviation, and Mrs. A. assures me I'll be unpacking our collective possessions (mostly books) for weeks to come. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of our new home. We're quite happy with it; it feels like we're moving into a state park.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Very Difficult Confession

I have something to tell you. Something of which I'm very ashamed. Something that, if they knew it, would make my closest friends shake their heads in horror and disbelief.

I'm rooting for the Cubs to win the World Series.

Shocking. I know. I've been a Cardinals fan my whole life. As such, I'm sworn to hate the Cubs with every last fiber of my being. I'm supposed to gloat every time someone mentions Lou Brock. I'm obligated to grin from ear to ear each time the tape of Steve Bartman's miraculous catch is replayed.

But the Cardinals are out of the playoffs this year, and it's not really the Cubs' fault. The Cards made a miraculous late run to get within one game of first place, then fell apart, losing nine in a row. I have to pick another team to root for in the playoffs. Would that be the Yankees? The Red Sox? Please. The Mets? You've gotta be kidding me.

No, it's time. I figure that maybe if the Cubs win, we can quit hearing about the Curse of the Billygoat, and maybe they'll lose their reputation as a team of lovable losers, and just revert back to being losers. Plus, as a Cards fan, I owe the Cubs a little something for how they responded on June 22, 2002. I guess Zambrano's not as bad as some; I have to admit that his antics would certainly be acceptable if he were winning games for the Cards instead of regularly beating their brains in. And it's really impossible to dislike Derrek Lee. So, I'll be pulling for them to win this year.

Just this once.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Evil, Sinister Ducks

As an ornithologist, I generally love all birds, but this video is making me rethink my position on ducks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Your Government at Work

Try to watch this without getting sick to your stomach.
(Longer version available here). Thanks to Thy Goddess for the heads-up.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wow! Transitional Fossil Featured in Time Magazine!

Okay, not specifically. Not by name. But Time columnist John Cloud did mention the "legion of bloggers" who have attacked Larry Craig and other Republicans for their hypocrisy in figting against equality for gays while secretly being gay themselves. Cloud says that what we're seeing in these "family values" Republicans is not hypocrisy, but weakness. Why can't it be both? Cloud is willing to forgive Craig for his weakness, and recognize as human his cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps we should forgive Craig and the other hypocritical Republicans for their "weakness." But we shouldn't forget that whatever we call it--cognitive dissonance, weakness, hypocrisy, political expediency--the result has been to deny equal rights for American citizens, and that is unforgivable.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What Larry Craig's Doing With His Free Time

He's writing a travel tips blog! (Thanks to Goddess for the link.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Jokes Just Write Themselves

Toothpaste For Dinner
NASA has announced that the October 23 launch of Space Shuttle Discovery will carry Luke Skywalker's lightsaber into orbit. The lightsaber was turned over to NASA by a guy in a wookie outfit, and was accompanied on its flight to Houston by a gang of nerds dressed in Star Wars constumes. This is the point where I'd normally post a 10-paragraph diatribe about what a waste of time and money the manned space program is, but, by golly, it turns out that NASA has finally figured out a purpose for the shuttle mission--to help sell special edition DVDs. (From what I could tell, the main scientific purpose of the last shuttle flight was to get the shuttle back to earth without it completly falling apart.) It might be a good idea to turn the space program over to Industrial Light and Magic--they could build much better special effects, and they generally are able to turn a profit. (Cartoon courtesy of

Monday, September 3, 2007

Whither the Ivory-Bill?

Today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette includes a front-page article on the continuing search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Big Woods area of east-central Arkansas. Several sightings of a lone male woodpecker were made in 2004 and 2005, including a lucky video recording by David Luneau (the video is contained within a report here). Since then, researchers from the ornithology labs at Cornell have led the search for more of the birds, without much success.

The article quotes ivory-bill expert Jerome Jackson, who has built himself quite a reputation as a skeptic where the bird is concerned. Jackson authored an article in The Auk, the premier ornithological journal in the country, in which he attacked Luneau's video and the work of the other scientists who observed the Arkansas ivory-bill (he called the sightings "faith-based ornithology"). In the Democrat-Gazette article, Jackson is quoted as saying "no highly trained ornithologists have seen the bird." This may be construed as an attack on Luneau, who is an engineer, and not a biologist. My own undergraduate training in biology was at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and when I took the Ornithology class there, Luneau was a classmate of mine. I can vouch for his abilities in spotting birds; he is as proficient an amateur ornithologist as I've met.

But Jackson's point is that Luneau is not a trained ornithologist--let's give the devil his due and assume that Jackson's point is justified. What about the sightings by Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, who are trained ornithologists? Both Jackson and Katherine Marks, the Democrat-Gazette reporter, completely ignore recent sightings of the ivory-bill in Florida by Geoff Hill of Auburn University. Hill and two graduate students have made repeated sightings of the bird in the Florida Panhandle. Hill is a world-renowned, highly trained ornithologist who has dozens of peer-reviewed publications to his credit. He has authored technical books and popular articles, and has acted as the academic mentor to several graduate students. Hill's credentials are above reproach. I know Geoff Hill myself, and I can attest that he is the best field birder I've ever had the pleasure to be around. Hill and his students have seen the ivory-bill several times in Florida, and have recorded sounds made by ivory-bills on dozens of occasions.

It's hard to understand why Jackson is such a skeptic where the ivory-billed woodpecker is concerned. Perhaps he is miffed that he wasn't included on the research team for the sightings in Arkansas or Florida. Jackson spent much his career searching for the ivory bill (see here and here). Gallagher and his crew have written a point-by-point response to Jackson's criticisms. Evidence for their original sightings in Arkansas is strong. Although the evidence for a thriving population of ivory-billed woodpeckers at the Cache River site is not good, the observations from 2004 and 2005 indicate the presence of a population somewhere--probably in the White River Wildlife Refuge just to the south of the original sightings.

UPDATE--Cotinis points out (in the comments) that Gallagher and Harrison are not ornithologists. However, both are long-time birders with woodpecker experience. Cotinis also mentions a Dr. Melinda LaBranche who has seen the woodpecker in Arkansas. Also, the Arkansas Times has a brand-new update on recent sightings in Arkansas.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Craig's Picture Should Be Next to the Definition of "Hypocrite."

In the last couple of days, I’ve read arguments by otherwise seemingly reasonable people that Larry Craig is not guilty of hypocrisy, and that we should somehow feel sorry for him. The argument goes like this: Larry Craig opposed gay marriage because he thought it was bad for society, despite the fact that he himself liked to partake in a little gayness from time to time (he just couldn’t resist the temptation). Instead of vilifying Craig for his hypocrisy, we should be celebrating him as a hero—he fought against his own nasty urges and his own self-interests to protect society from the evil that is one homo being faithful to another. We can only decry Craig as a hypocrite if he were to vote against gay marriage, then immediately go somewhere and gay-marry. We can’t attack his hypocrisy on gays in the military unless he joins the Army, then tells someone he is gay afterwards. In fact, we should feel sorry for Craig, since his career as a gay-rights opponent has been ruined by his nearly inadverdent gay activity.

Here are the first two definitions of hypocrite, from

1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, esp. one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Please explain to me how Craig doesn’t meet both of these definitions.

No one has ever made a cogent argument based on anything other than religious belief as to why gays should be denied the right to marry. In fact, I have yet to read any fact-based argument, anywhere, which explains why homosexuality is harmful to society. Politicians pretending that denying gays the right to marry somehow “protects” marriage are disingenuous at best, and flat-out pandering at worst.

As Americans, every one of us should be interested in protecting the rights of every other American. Denial of rights of any American based on religious belief is an extremely dangerous precedent.