Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Rap Guide to Evolution – this weekend in Fresno!

My friend Scott Hatfield just pointed out a brilliant act premiering at the Rogue Festival in Fresno this weekend: The Rap Guide to Evolution! Its Richard Dawkins meets Eminem, to paraphrase the review in Science (yes, that AAAS journal, renowned for its rap reviews!):


Canadian rap artist, performance poet, and actor Baba Brinkman follows up his hilarious award-winning one-man show “The Rap Canterbury Tales” with a journey to the center of history’s greatest controversy: the Origin of Species. Brinkman’s powerful storytelling has been hailed the world over as an ingenious hybrid of rap and theatre. Fresh from a tour celebrating the 2009 Darwin Bicentennial in England, this will be the North American premier of “The Rap Guide to Evolution”.

It’s a 50-minute show, rated PG-13 (‘sexual references, mature subject matter, but NO SWEARING, he says”).

Lead single “Natural Selection” featuring Richard Dawkins. Click here to Download.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” explores the history and current understanding of Darwin’s theory, combining remixes of popular rap songs with storytelling rap/poems that cover Natural Selection, Artificial Selection, Sexual Selection, Group Selection, Unity of Common Descent, and Evolutionary Psychology. Dr. Pallen has vetted the entire script for scientific and historical accuracy, making it a powerful teaching tool as well as a laugh-out-loud entertainment experience. The show also engages directly with challenging questions about cultural evolution, asking the audience to imagine themselves as the environment and the performer as an organism undergoing a form of live adaptation.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” was developed with the support of the British Council, and will be touring the UK in the summer of 2009, including the Edinburgh Fringe. Look out for recordings and videos coming soon to this site!

Here’s a preview clip, via YouTube:

How can you resist the whole act after that? Perhaps I’ll see you there this weekend!

I can’t let my students see me like this, can I?

Can you spot me here? And here I thought the meeting was supposed to be, you know, anonymous!! bah!!


My yin and, indeed, yang!

And its all out there in what I do on the internets, of course! According to this, when simply cruising around on the information highways (at least when I use Flock), I am all yang:

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But when I write, on this here blog, I’m more in touch with my feminine side, channeling a whole lot (59%, to be precise) of my yin:

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I wonder if its all this talk of reconciliation that’s just so… you know… feminine?! What do you think, dear reader? And what gender are you?

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

Here you go, the Attenborough documentary shown recently on BBC, in 6 parts! There’s much more on the Wellcome Trust’s Tree of Life companion site

Part 1:

Look below the fold for the rest…

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

David Attenborough on Darwin and Evolution

Sir David Attenborough was interviewed on several British TV channels in anticipation of his latest documentary, broadcast on BBC lon Feb 1. I just found a couple of them that you might enjoy.

I’ll find “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life” to share soon also.

Read Darwin aloud – or listen to Dawkins read the Origin

From my email this morning, here’s another fun way to participate in celebrating Charles Darwin’s bicentennial – by videotaping yourself reading some of the most poetic passages of his most famous work:

Charles Darwin image for cut out

Darwin Day is a world-wide tribute to a great scientist who changed forever our perception of the human species and the nature of life. This year, the Center for Inquiry is honoring Darwin with a special video project:

Darwin Aloud

This Darwin Day, we’re aski

ng people all over the world to shoot video of themselves reading from the poetic last chapter of The Origin of Species while standing in front of famous landmarks in their countries. Then, as a tribute to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the grand unifying concept of biology that unifies all of us and all life on Earth, we’ll collect all this video and assemble the footage into a film dedicated to Darwin and honoring his accomplishments.

“Despite overwhelming evidence in support of evolution, Darwin’s theory has seen a lot of resistance and even hostility, especially in the past few decades,” said James Underdown, Executive Director of CFI Los Angeles and creator of the project. “We in the pro-science community want to make it clear that the whole world supports Darwin’s idea, regardless of background or location.”

To learn more about Darwin Aloud, including tips on how best to read, film, and submit your segment, please visit You can even download a Letter to your Friends, telling them about Darwin Aloud and inviting them to participate.

We don’t lack for significant landmarks around Fresno, so how many of you are interested in participating in this?

On the other hand (this from my non-email files) if you prefer to listen to someone else read Darwin’s incredible tome rather than read it yourself, you’d be hard put to find someone better than Darwin’s rottwieler to do it! And here we have it: an audiobook version abridged and read wonderfully Richard Dawkins! Here’s the review from Times Online:

[Dawkins] excised the out-of-date, disproved and irrelevant bits (while being amazed at ‘how much Darwin got right’) to produce a lively version of the great work that gave us the term ‘evolution’. You have to concentrate pretty hard sometimes, but close attention reveals a dazzling talent for the observation and analysis that formed the theories. Darwin’s marvellous descriptions cover the gamut of living species that, be they pigeons, spiders or flowers, are engaged in ‘the universal struggle for life’. ‘Natural selection is a power incessantly ready for action’ in this continuing process. Dawkins reads engagingly, and the whole effect is like David Attenborough without the pictures.

[via On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, read by Richard Dawkins]

Just might make your own reading of the book more enjoyable. You can listen to a 5-min excerpt for free on the Times page, and download the whole thing via iTunes for less than the price of a movie ticket! What a bargain! Of course, an unabridged audiobook version is also available – read by David Case.


Requiem for a reconciliation ecologist, Ravi Sankaran

The conservation community suffered a great loss in India last month when prominent ornithologist and field biologist Ravi Sankaran passed away of a sudden heart attack. Many of us who knew him, even if briefly – and the list must include practically every field biologist who has been active in conservation or ornithology in India over the past several decades – were left stunned and bereft. I have tried several times over the past couple of weeks to recollect and share my own memories of Ravi, who was one of the very first real live ornithologist I’d ever encountered. Waiting for the words to articulate my grief, and being too far across the planet to share in the mourning back home in India, I turned to the electronic public square to share my sense of loss, to find some communion in grief. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response on the little Facebook tribute page I set up, and kept thinking I should write something even as others shared their memories most eloquently.

But my blogorrhea deserted me, in part I think because it had been some years since i had last met Ravi and hadn’t really kept up with him all that well since both of us got busy with distant careers, kids, and family. An occasional email, an electronic nod while passing each other by remotely in cyberspace – that hardly counted – and only deepened my sense of loss, for not having made the most of the man when he was alive. Was alive… so alive… hard to accept that he is not any more.

And then came this wonderful surprise from Ashish Chandola, who posted this film, this time-capsule of a living, breathing, laughing, talking (the man could laugh and talk, couldn’t he?), bird-catching, gregarious Ravi! In his element, doing what he loved and expounding upon how best to conserve an endangered bird population he had been the first to study systematically in India, the edible-nest swiftlet of the Andaman islands. He lives on in these brief moments of electrons flickering on our screens, immortalized at least a bit here in cyberspace. So I feel compelled to add a piece of him to my electronic scrapbook, and share this film with you, even those of you who had never heard of him, because his message is both simple and profound, and goes right to the heart of reconciliation ecology:

Yet again, Ravi was way ahead of his peers and most conservationists in India, advocating what might be tantamount to domesticating a wild, endangered species in order to conserve its populations! All based on a good understanding of the species’ life history, as well as the socioeconomic compulsions of the people who depend upon the crystallized saliva of these little birds, and the irrational but rich market for the nests! A truly win-win-win solution the like of which one seldom hears articulated among conservationists, especially in India, where any “exploitation” policy is anathema to most practitioners, and charismatic megafauna dominate the headlines. I don’t know what the current status of Ravi’s efforts were on this project, but knowing his energy and capacity to push things along, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t come a long way towards implementing the strategy in the 6 years since this film was shot. I certainly, fervently, hope that the powers that be see the wisdom of his approach and implement his sensible middle-of-the-road management policy for the swiftlets. That will be a good part of Ravi’s legacy to preserve.

A larger legacy remains, I reckon, in those of us whom he had touched, in often profoundly transformational ways. Twenty-two years ago, my own life took a distinct turn towards ornithology and conservation, and at that turning point, beckoning me on with that twinkling roguish smile, stood a lean, lanky, dirty-jeans-and-flip-flop-clad (much of that attire still in evidence in this film), scruffy, chain-smoking, garrulous, and thoroughly charming young man unlike any I had ever met before: Ravi Sankaran, graduate student, then camped (literally, I think) in the museum of the Bombay Natural History Society, in between field trips chasing Lesser Floricans. My hitherto sheltered middle-class life (on the path to becoming a staid doctor until I failed my family miserably in that ambition) lurched, and my limited imagination, which had been stirred lately by written accounts of exciting field adventures of explorers like Darwin and Wallace, really caught fire upon meeting such an explorer and scientist in the flesh (scrawny as it was!)! And now, two decades and many a wild field adventure later, as I’m settling into the perhaps staid respectability of a professorship, the older Ravi has lit a fire once again. The young Ravi had opened up the doors of the wilderness for me, and now this older, wiser Ravi, chuckling about unknown aphrodisiac qualities of swiftlet saliva, and devising radical new ways to save an endangered species while bettering the lives of people dependent upon exploiting it, reminds me of what lies at the heart of reconciliation ecology. I only hope I can muster a fraction of his energy to continue traveling along these paths he pioneered!

Ravi Sankaran, may your spirit live on, and keep on inspiring me as long as I live!