Monday, December 5, 2016

The Sixth Extinction

This gave me pause: "If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap." Wait, what? I'm as dangerous as those other guys? Yes, according to Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction. Kolbert identifies this period of species endangerment and extinctions--there have been five previous extinctions--as the one caused by humans. One of the most famous extinctions was caused by the meteor that hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs. That was an outside force; the other extinctions have had internal causes associated with climate, weather, and geological change.

So I did picture myself with a book in my lap, hers! She and the scientists and naturalists she interviewed and went out into the field with agree that humans are trouble for the earth, basically starting with the industrial age but also because of our ability to use signs, symbols, language. "As soon as humans started using signs and symbols to represent the natural world, they pushed beyond the limits of that world." She quotes Michael Benton, a paleontologist,* as saying, "In many ways human language is like the genetic code. Information is stored and transmitted, with modifications, down the generations. Communication holds societies together and allows humans to escape evolution." That is, evolution, like our democracy, has some natural checks and balances. We've thrown them out of whack.

And it appears we've thrown our democracy out of whack, too. I couldn't help but make the political comparison when I got to this paragraph in The Sixth Extinction:

"The one feature these disparate events [the previous extinctions] have in common is change, and, to be more specific, rate of change. When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out. This is the case whether the agent drops from the sky in a fiery streak or drives to work in a Honda. To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still, it misses the point. It doesn't matter whether people care or don't care. What matters is that people change the world."

Kolbert means that, no matter what we do, we do change the world. If we step outside of our place in nature, or in evolution, we can (and did) screw things up, endangering many species, including ourselves. What I see in the current political context is that some people could not handle the rapid rate of change and feared extinction of the status quo, an old way of life, with them at the top. They feared there weren't enough resources if we shared them--power, freedoms, security, jobs, human rights. Alas! I did love this book, which was published in 2014, from the woolly mammoths to the giant rats that may inherit the earth. In 2016, it is even more frightening to consider.***

Now, the weirdness of memory: I kept thinking I had seen Elizabeth Kolbert on the Colbert Report talking about her book, and that she was Stephen Colbert's sister. But why, then, did she spell her last name with a "K"? Evidently, I had remembered seeing her, as Wikipedia reminds me, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, way back in 2014. The Elizabeth Colbert I was remembering as Stephen's sister with the one from Clemson, who ran for office in South Carolina, way back in 2013, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. My brain is losing some cells and twisting the other ones together.** Sigh....

What matters now is that people change the world.

*like Ross, from Friends
**like the double helix
***like a giant orange rat

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Girl Who Grew Up

I’m sad today. We had a chance to elect our first woman President, and we didn’t do it. And to think that we elected this particular man instead is horrifying. As the president-elect himself has said so frequently during his campaign, “It’s a disaster.”

So I’m feeling shivery and shocked and have been pondering the plethora of “Girl” titles of books and films and how we once shed the word “girl” for the word “woman.” This is part backlash, part marketing, and part reclaiming a word, I know. But it’s been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, months, even years.

Here’s a partial list of what’s out there:

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl Who Wrote in Silk
The Girl Who Lied
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
The Girl Who Fell to Earth
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
The Girl Who Ate Death
The Girl Who Bore the Flame Ring
The Girl Who Fought Napoleon
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
The Girl Who Got Out of Bed
The Girl Who is Worth 100 Cows
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
The Girl Who Had No Enemies
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
The Girl Who Heard Demons
The Girl Who Could Fly
The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo
The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die
The Girl Who Chased the Moon
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair
The Girl Who Owned a City
The Girl Who Stayed
The Girl Who Cried Murder
The Girl Who Escaped ISIS
The Girl Who Stole the Apple
The Girl Who Came Home
The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts
The Girl Who Looked Under Rocks
The Girl Who Slept with God
The Girl Who Came Back
The Girl Who Fell
The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness
The Girl in the Ice
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in a Swing
The Girl in the Picture
The Girl in 6E
The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Mountain
The Girl on the Cliff
The Girl on the Half Shell
The Girl on the Boat
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
The Girl With Seven Names
The Girl With All the Gifts

Enough already. 

I’m a girl who grew up. 

And voted for Hillary Clinton. 

In a pantsuit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Edge of Forever

So, I was just telling you about reading Time Travel, by James Gleick, which mentioned Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott, published in 1884. Abbott was dealing with the fourth dimension, and our difficulty getting our heads around that new idea, by imagining a two-dimensional land where the inhabitants are trying to get their minds around the possibility of a third dimension. (Plus, it satirizes Victorian culture.) Abbott's narrator is a square named A. Square.

Flatland has come back to us in various ways, including via Futurama and Big Bang Theory on tv, and also in an episode of Carl Sagan's television series, Cosmos, "The Edge of Forever" episode. But it came back to me almost immediately--that is, in the next book I am reading, which is This One is Mine, by Maria Semple, which I had to read after reading Today Will Be Different (which I had to read after reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Yes, I am, evidently, addicted to reading.) Little did I know that all three of Semple's novels sort of connect, in a Random Coinciday kind of way. (But not so random, as she is a bestselling author, who also used to write for Mad About You and Arrested Development--favorite shows in our house!--and she knows what she's doing!)

Anyhoo, imagine my delight when, on page 70 of my paperback edition of This One is Mine, "An image came to Sally, something she remembered from childhood. It was from the Carl Sagan series Cosmos, something called Flatland. Flatland was this two-dimensional world where everything was flat, even the Flatlanders who lived there. They could only perceive left and right, front and back, but no above or below. One day, a potato flew over from another dimension--really, Carl Sagan had said it was a potato--and this potato looked down and said, 'Hello.'"

OK, Sally goes on to perceive love in an altogether new way, thanks to Flatland, and I went on to seek out Flatland and Cosmos from the library! Oddly, I could only find the audiobook of Flatland, so that's a fun and unusual experience. When the narrator says, "In Figure 1, etc." I know there must be illustrations, but I can rather easily imagine them. I have not come yet to the potato, nor to "The Edge of Forever," but I have seen a still from the series in which Carl Sagan is holding an apple over a two-dimensional gameboard-like depiction of what might be Flatland, so...a pomme if not a pomme de terre. (Oh, my origami brain!) If I ever get there, to the Edge of Forever, and back, I'll let you know. But, for now, my destination is not even Flatland but Cleveland, via televisonland, and the World Series. May the best team win!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time Travel

I am reading Time Travel, by James Gleick, so my brain is looping around in time. Many delights here, and Gleick is so clear, as he was in explaining chaos theory via Chaos, back in 1987. I will pause long enough in loop to mention two of the delights:

1) Gleick describes a short film called La jetee and I'm recognizing the plot of 12 Monkeys, a film I watch over and over when the mood overtakes me. Then I'm thinking I remember seeing a credit to La jetee in 12 Monkeys, then doubting my memory (am I creating that memory?!) and then Wikipedia to the rescue, and also IMDb!! Indeed. (And now I will have to watch 12 Monkeys all over again!)

2) On page 182 of Time Travel, I'm reading about the Golden Record, sent off in Voyagers 1 and 2, "a twelve-inch disk engraved with analog data via the technology, now obsolete, known as 'phonograph' (1877-ca. 1987)." Inner giggles at the way Gleick describes the obsolete phonograph record, which he and I are old enough to remember, and because I just read all about the Golden Record, in great detail, in The Voyager Record, by Anthony Michael Morena, which I reviewed for Escape Into Life. (Morena might not be old enough to remember the phonograph, but the records and record players are still around, relics of time travel...!)

Goofy little confession: The Golden Record part comes before the La jetee part of Time Travel, so I have reversed chronology here. Tee hee. People who like science fiction will enjoy this book, with its references to Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and E. Nesbit, among others. And I loved learning, via footnote, that James Gleick's mother, Beth Gleick, wrote a children's book on time, called Time is When.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On Fire

I am not on fire. But these poems I read side by side have little flames in them: take a look here, in a brief compare/contrast piece at Escape Into Life, where I continue to read and review and select poetry, even as the world goes up in flames around me. In some places, that's true, alas, and in the current political climate in the the USA, that's figurative. Sigh.... The poems, provided (with the poets' permission), are by Donna Vorreyer and Jeannine Hall Gailey, both, by now, returned to my stolen/absent/disappearing/reappearing blogroll. (Did it go up in [Russian] flames?)* And whose books I read and reviewed at EIL, as well. Here and here.

I hope you got to see that gorgeous big yellow harvest moon. The harvest is going on around here, corn and beans, with some good weather for it, and for the grasshoppers. I have spent time outside, reading, of course, and also gazing at a praying mantis who lives in the back yard. And, at night, gazing up at that moon.

Tonight I believe there is a Cubs game and a debate. I'm debating what to do...

*See Cranky Doodle Day blog explanation here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...