Posts filed under “Science & Nature”


The mating cry of the Southeastern Hollering Crane is indistinguishable from that of a square-dance caller.

Patterson’s Puce-Footed Teal always orders its nest by mail and has never adapted to the Internet.

The Chesapeake Concerto Sparrow has only three movements.

The Atlantic Marathon Tern is the only migratory bird known to solicit pledges and migrate for charity.

The misnamed Florida Scrub Jay is dogmatically opposed to all housework.

The Tamil Nadu Raven says “Mylapore” at the end of every stanza, yet has never been successfully exploited by Indian poets.

The European Marble Dove can eliminate only when perched on allegorical statues.


Dear Dr. Boli: I ordered a “French Dip” sandwich at the sub shop, and it said it came with “au juice for dipping.” That made me wonder: How do they juice an au? —Sincerely, Marine Le Pen.

Dear Madam: Very carefully.

That was a little joke, of course. In reality, once two separate words have been contracted into a single word of two letters, as à le into au, pretty much all the juice has been squeezed out of them. Technically, “au juice” is not strictly a juice at all, but rather a tisane, made by steeping the au in hot water until an au-flavored liquid is obtained.


Dear Dr. Boli: I am a member of the managerial class, a small, marginalized, and often despised minority. How should I deal with microaggressions at work? —Sincerely, Ethelbert Norville, M.B.A.

Dear Sir: You should be microannoyed.

Dear Dr. Boli: If I run memory foam through the washing machine, will it come out with post-traumatic stress disorder? —Sincerely, Paula T. Sorbet-Dribble.

Dear Madam: Yes.


Or, How Google Sucks Knowledge Out of Your Brain.

Waxing gibbous moon

The moon is in the waxing gibbous phase tonight. What can Google tell us about that? By typing “gibbous moon” in the search box, we find a list of “things to know.”

Bunch of astrological rubbish that comes up if you search Google for “gibbous moon”
Quoted for the purpose of comment and criticism and fair-usey stuff like that.

Now you know that your metaphorical crops are in abundance. Now you know that people born under a waxing gibbous moon are compassionate and motivated and fickle and indecisive. Now you know that themes of enthusiasm are strong.

Now you know less than before you asked Google, because these things are all negative knowledge. They subtract from the sum of true information in your brain. This is how the Internet makes suckers of us all.


Dear Dr. Boli: How can you tell an “authentic French beignet” from a jelly doughnut? —Sincerely, A man standing at the bakery counter at Whole Foods.

Dear sir: Look at the price tag. “Beignet” means a number of things in France, but in the United States, according to FDA labeling standards, an authentic French beignet is a jelly doughnut with a price multiplier of 5.


Like every generation before it, the current generation of performers likes to believe that we have at last solved the problem of naturalism in acting. Older styles of acting were ritualized and unrealistic, but now our performance methods have reached such a peak of accuracy in the reproduction of real human speech and behavior that our acting is indistinguishable from real life.

Scientifically speaking, this is balderdash. Our current styles of acting are stale and ritualized, almost liturgically artificial. The only reason we insist that acting in our current movies and television entertainment is “natural” is because we have agreed to consider certain clichés as standing in for nature.

We say scientifically speaking because Dr. Boli has proved his assertion by a scientific experiment that does not depend on the reaction of a human audience. He asked the dog. If you have a good watchdog at home, you can try the same experiment yourself.

First, you can play a movie or television show on your computer so that the dog can hear it. Result: Dog does nothing. Dog knows that dog is not hearing real people talking: it is ritualized performance recorded somewhere else, at some other time, and is of no concern to dog.

Now make a video call to some friend from the same computer, so that the sound comes out of the loudspeaker at the same volume. Result: Dog leaps into a barking frenzy to warn you of a perimeter breach. Dog can hear that this is a real person talking. It is not ritualized performance at all.

Nothing has changed in the quality or source of the sound. The only thing that has changed is the rhythm and expression of the person talking. Dog ignores the fictional character because dog has learned that fictional characters are not real people and do not invade the house.

The same, incidentally, is true of news and information programs. Reporters have their own ritualized expression, which is completely uninteresting to dogs. Dogs understand the difference between television personalities and real people—a lesson we humans would do well to learn.

So the next time you hear someone praise the utterly natural performance of a certain actor, ignore the critic. Ask your dog instead. Your dog is a better judge.


…that five successive Byzantine emperors were misplaced somewhere in the Blachernae and are presumed to have been built over?

…that there are still three garage bands in Indianapolis that do not have their own Wikipedia articles?

…that scientists are unable to explain how cats sleep for 117% of their lives?

…that so-called “popular” music only appears to be popular because so many people listen to it?

…that Charles Dickens, for all his success as a novelist, never sold a single screenplay?


Dear Dr. Boli: Why are there mosquitoes? I mean really. —Sincerely, A girl who’s trying to enjoy her last few days before seventh grade but is getting, like, totally eaten up out here.

Dear Miss: The scientific answer to your question is very simple: there was a female mosquito, and there was a male mosquito, and they fell in love, &c., &c., and soon there were baby mosquitoes all over the place. But Dr. Boli presumes you already have a thorough understanding of these elementary scientific facts. (If not, then seventh-grade biology will come as a revelation, and you might wish to pay close attention.) The question you ask, then, is of a more philosophical than scientific nature.

It may surprise you to learn that causation is itself a complex question. Aristotle identified causes of four different sorts, and the answer to any question of “why” cannot be given until we have determined which of the four sorts of “why” we are really asking.

In the case of mosquitoes, the material cause of the mosquito is the blood it uses to form bug parts.

The formal cause is the genetic code that causes those bug parts to form in the pattern of a mosquito, rather than, for example, a bloodsucking hippopotamus. Dr. Boli would advise you not to think too much about bloodsucking hippopotamuses, even merely hypothetical ones. It is important to get several nights of good rest before you begin the adventure of seventh grade.

The efficient cause of any given mosquito is that falling in love, and more properly that &c., that its parents did.

Then we come to the final cause, which Dr. Boli suspects is what you have been looking for all along. Why are there mosquitoes when the alternative of not-mosquitoes seems so much more attractive to a rational mind?

Theologians would argue that mosquitoes are a consequence of the first human disobedience, which forever damaged humanity and the world we live in. Prelapsarian mosquitoes had no need for animal food and subsisted entirely on a diet of the juice of blood oranges, which Adam plucked and set out for them every day.

In our fallen world, it is necessary for us to be subjected to a string of small annoyances every day, so that we never forget how far we have fallen and how great is our need to be picked up again. Mosquitoes were by far the most efficient means of delivering minor annoyance until the advent of YouTube.

So the next time you hear the whine of a mosquito in your ear, you should remember that this is all part of the wonderful plan of redemption. You should remember that each individual mosquito is also an essential part of the biological cycle of life. Then you should smack that mosquito quickly and decisively, because nobody likes mosquitoes.


The Manitoban Lynx, a subspecies of the Canada Lynx, leaves footprints that spell out Lynx canadensis manitobensis in braille.

The Patagonian Wild Poodle uses the sharp stones that abound in its native habitat to trim its fur into serviceable pompoms.

McGillick’s Lesser Swamp Gerbil can, when cornered, sing all the songs of Dan Schutte, which discourages some predators and brings out the sentimental sap in others; in either event the gerbil is likely to be spared.

The Brunot’s Island Weasel, having depopulated its habitat of suitable prey long ago, has learned to order from Grubhub.

The Madagascar Flying Lemur can soar through the air for considerable distances, but only when thrown by another Madagascar Flying Lemur.