Alien Ideas

12 Aug

There have been many movies featuring aliens; Cowboys and Aliens is the latest in a long and sometimes entertaining line of stories which feature visitors from another place  and/or time who either do not mean us well (Alien, Independence Day  ) or are stranded (ET, District 9).  Other whole other branches of alien movies include those where aliens come to help us (The Fifth Element), where we are the ones who show up in an alien home world (Avatar), or (pushing the idea beyond strict aliens) where we ourselves act towards one another as we imagine aliens will do to us (or as we do to aliens) (Gattaca, The Island, Children of Men).    But there are so many real life alien ideas that one need not resort to movies.

Discussions heard, or read, or in which I have taken part about genetically modified organisms, primarily food products, seem to contain many of the characteristics of the alien story. Especially the part about not meaning us well.  The core concerns seem to be food safety bundled with fear for plant and animal communities which may or may not be changed by some GM plants. Not to mention the whole anti-big corporation gig.  Which is a different subject.

The charge often is that a species will be harmed, or wiped out. An example?  Monarch butterflies and GM corn.  Yet many millions more Monarch butterflies have been destroyed by physical human destruction of Mexican winter habitat than by GM corn. Even here in the Northeast, the quantity of Monarchs I find dead by the side of the road whacked by cars, if multiplied by the miles of road in our county alone would probably account for more numbers than what research has shown may be the impact from genetically altered corn .

And that is a sticking point right there: may be.  Not is.  Not for sure.  Not certainly.  By the way, “the USDA spent a great deal of energy and investment on follow-up research, which in the end showed that Monarch larvae were likely to be affected under very restricted conditions: for example, if the pollination of a crop occurs at the same time and place as the larval growth of the butterfly—a very, very rare occasion. “ Scientific American (April 2011), 304, 80-83   Hmm.   Negative impact in this case is less than car hits.  This article is really very good.  Read it if you are able.

There are good reasons for GM crops. Take Golden rice, a GM rice whose grain contains increased levels of Vitamin A, the lack of which contributes to blindness in children in Asian countries where regular rice is a primary foodstuff. Or the drastically reduced use of pesticides, which only helps Monarch populations. And people.  Cf.above  

Most of us, if we want to contemplate something alien, only need to step outside and spend some quiet time observing.  The behavior and life cycles of insects are weirdly wonderful, gruesome, and icky to us mammals.  Want to do the adventuring from afar?  Pick up<a href=”Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)""“> Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or anything by Jean-Henri Fabre. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Henri_Fabre, http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/f#a735)

Currently and historically, terrestrial alien species have been moving into new territories and wreaking all sorts of ecological havoc for a long, long time.  The new book 1493  by Charles C Mann  and his previous book 1491,   discuss  indicate how alien life forms (in continental and segregated population senses) changed the world and what we know about it and the people in it.  It is one I am very much looking to read.  Where is the outcry over the invasion of the earthworms?  Those poor salamanders and substory forest plants fight for their lives against aliens and not a Facebook button to press to join with others in outrage!

Which brings us to an alien story I adore, which will not be on the big screen, and which I have just finished for the second time: “Eifelheim” by Michael Flynn.  If you like Science fiction, history, philosophy, and detective stories you will like this book.  What if aliens were stranded in 1348 in the Black Forest area of Germany, just before the Black Death swept through?

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