Tag Archives: books

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?


24 Feb

Worldview is something that influences perspective; how and what one thinks about just about everything.  For instance there are in the nearly ten degree clear morning walk blue shadows;  small hoarfrost ice rectangles dropping from small sticks onto the smooth snow surface making faint piles of miniature ice windowpanes; tracks: coyote, rabbit, a small rodent jumping on two feet, snowshoe prints of someone with one ski pole and a dog; clear blue sky. My children refuse to go outside.  It is cold.

The town of Lucas do Rio Verde can be seen as a wonder or a horror, a blessing or a curse. I see it as the former. I do not think that Brasil wants all of its land to look like that town.  My friend suspects so.  We have different world views.  My friend fears people and a growing population.  I, on the other hand, wonder how many discoveries, inventions, new ideas, helps, medicines, books, music we in this country alone have destroyed by killing 40+ million babies the past few decades.

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin shows some consequences of differing worldviews.  It is an interesting book I am reading now.

We agreed that our money will be better spent on others than on keeping pets alive in a terminal illness.  No CT scans, diabetes shots, kidney dialysis, radiation or chemotherapy for our dogs or cats.  Vaccinations for rabies, distemper, and pesticide doses against internal and external parasites.  That’s about it.

What’s Up?

6 Aug

Canned six, not eight, quarts of Sungold tomatoes.  The rest went into fresh salsa: tomatoes, onion, basil.

In one of the downpours that happened in 24+ hours to give us .75 inches of rain yesterday, Isabelle and I went out and washed our hair and ourselves in the rain barrel and downpour off the garage.  She had never done so and thought it was very fun.  It was.

I told her I had known people who washed their hair only in rainwater.  Later in the afternoon Sue biked in to say hi and said her grandmother had only ever used rainwater and homemade soap on her hair.  Yes, they save it from one rain to the next.  Why?  It is naturally soft; that is– without iron, calcium, lime, sulfur–minerals.  Although these days in urban areas the rain may not be very clean

Watched Marsha tack up her horse.  Then she came and ate some salsa and visited later on. Wow!  Two friends to talk to in one day!

Recently finished The Ruling Sea by Robert Redick and  yesterday The City and The City by China Mieville.  Both good.  The first is the second in a fantasy/magic/alternate world series of three.  The second shows great insight into how one city can be two separate cities (think Jerusalem) while it masquerades as murder mystery/science fiction.

This morning early Jay and I took two girls to Morrisville College for a girls soccer training weekend.  Four schools are involved.  Poor Hawthorne knew something was up and was so sad he would not even eat all his daily chicken.(We are home now.  He is happy again).

Then we went to Syracuse and bought a new mattress.

Then we drove up to Lake Ontario to fair Haven Beach State Park.  Walked the Lakeshore trail and found wonderful stones (think smooth, fossils, striations) on the beach.  The day was sunny and not too warm, even cold right there because the wind was so strong off the lake.  What was very interesting: the large numbers of individual ladybugs all along the rocky shoreline just above where the waves were reaching.  Lots and lots of them.  All different kinds.  Why?  So odd.

There was a Monarch butterfly which was trying to make headway against the wind and fly out over the lake.  A living example of the  definition of ‘futile’.

There was a Cabbage butterfly washed up after being caught by a high wave.  I dredged him out of the wet sand and moved him to a high rock in the sun to dry.  It looked green.  I think it was because so many of his colored scales had been dislodged by the water.

The lake is so huge.  The waves are so powerful.  And loud.  And yet, next to the ocean–‘eh’.  And next to the Creator–an even smaller ‘eh’.  Why worry so about my children and the choices they make?  Or do not make, as the case may be.   I want them to walk on this remote path of a beach and realize their smallness, insignificance, relative lack of power, and be grateful. I hope they can be rocks, worn smooth and beautiful; not foolhardy ladybugs and butterflies beaten into the submission of death.

Some thoughts

18 May

From Lady Ludlow, by E. Gaskell:

” “When two persons have arrived at a certain point of expression on a subject, about which they differ as materially as I do from Mr. Gray, the wisest course, if they wish to remain friends, is to drop the conversation entirely and suddenly.  It is one of the few cases where abruptness is desirable.” ”

” “Miss Gallindo says she saw him going to hold a prayer-meeting in a cottage.  Now, that really makes me unhappy, it is so like what Mr. Wesley used to do in my younger days; since then we have had rebellion in the American colonies and the French revolution.  You may depend upon it, my dear, making religion and education common–vulgarizing them, as it were–is a bad thing for a nation.  A man who hears prayers read in the cottage where he has just supped on bread and bacon, forgets the respect due to a church: he begins to think that one place is as good as another, and, by and by, that one person is as good as another; and after that, I always find that people begin to talk of their rights, instead of thinking of their duties.  I wish Mr. Gray had been more tractable, and had left well alone.” ”

“People, in general, take a kindlier interest in any one, the workings of whose mind and heart they can watch and understand, than in a man who only lets you know what he has been thinking about and feeling, by what he does.”

“I have often wondered which one misses most when they are dead and gone,–the bright creatures full of life, who are hither and thither and everywhere, so that no one can reckon upon their coming and going, with whom stillness and the long quiet of the grave seems utterly irreconcilable, so full are they of vivid motion and passion,–or the slow, serious people, whose movements–nay, whose very words, seem to go by clock-work; who never appear much to affect the course of our life while they are with us, but whose methodical ways show themselves, when they are gone, to have been intertwined with our very roots of daily existence.  I think I will miss these last the most, although I may have loved the former best.”


22 Apr

Just finished Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Amazon has three of her novels together (Cranford, Dr Harrison’s Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow); the so named The Cranford Chronicles. Various story lines from these three books were the basis for the BBC Cranford miniseries.  The women who produced, directed and wrote the series did not use just the novel Cranford.  They wove together characters and their stories from the three tales, a fact of which I was unaware until after watching the miniseries a second time.

It looks as if there is a new DVD, Return to Cranford now, also.

I got the book and DVDs from the library.

The miniseries chronicles a pivotal year of change in the lives of members of the town of Cranford. Modernity is arriving and turning everything upside down!

The novel is more a catalogue of how older women of a certain social strata in a small town lived, and how time and change slowly encroached on a way of life that had seemed unchanged within memory. There is very particular detail paid to manners, dress, social interactions.  Parts are very amusing.

“They joined issue to dispute whether llamas were carnivorous animals or not; in which dispute they were not quite on fair grounds, as Mrs. Forrester (after they had grown warm and cool again) acknowledged that she had always confused carnivorous and graminivorous together, just as she always confused horizontal and perpendicular; but then she apologized for it very prettily, by saying that in her day the only use people made of four-syllabled words was to teach how they should be spelt.”

“…but even Miss Pole herself, whom we looked upon as a kind of prophetess from the knack she had of foreseeing things before they came to pass–although she did not like to disturb her friends by telling them her fore-knowledge…”

In many ways more concerned with particular details of daily life than Austen or E. Bronte,  and midway between Bronte’s hidden emotions and Austens examinations of them, Gaskell gives some insight into the stiff English manners and ‘elegant economy’ of poorer middle-class women.

A New Emma

9 Mar

PBS has a new version of Austen’s Emma that is accessible online.

I stayed up late and watched the whole thing one night.  It is very, very good.

In what way?  Providing clear motivations (based on their individual backgrounds and that time in history)  for the quirks of the people in the story; Miss Bates’ nervous talking, Mr. Woodhouse’s worrying about health, Mr. Weston’s concern for his son appearing, for examples.

Using these motivations, the characters are presented compassionately, not made fun of, not shown as objects of amusement.  So when Emma ridicules Miss Bates at the picnic, one is with Mr. Knightly wholeheartedly when he says “Badly Done!”

Emma has been my least favorite of Austen’s books.  This version of the tale makes one want to reread and reconsider that stance.

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