Tuesday, June 25, 2019


A reconstruction of the narluga
A reconstruction of the narluga (Markus Buhler), from The Atlantic
It's for real. Check it out. From the article:

There’s something faintly magical about that. This fluky merger between two species ended up with a mouth that doesn’t normally exist in nature but still found a way of using it. It lived neither like a beluga nor a narwhal, but it lived nonetheless.But there’s a dark side to hybridization, especially for the Arctic’s endangered residents. If hybrids are infertile, as they often are, they would act as genetic dead ends for already small populations. If they are fertile, the mixed genomes of their offspring could displace those of their respective parents. As the Arctic warms and its ice disappears, some scientists are concerned that once-isolated species could be meeting and mating more frequently, and damaging their own prospects in the process.Does the narluga “represent an isolated event, or does it signal an increase in hybridization as a consequence of changing climates?” asks Sandra Talbot from the United States Geological Survey. And if it’s the latter, does cross-breeding offer a way for narwhals to bolster their relatively low levels of genetic diversity by bringing in genes from their closest relatives, or might it inadvertently doom them?Modern humans still carry the genes of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and our other ancient relatives, but those groups are all extinct now. If polar bears and narwhals get edged out in a world of pizzlies and narlugas, they could suffer the same fate. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Memoir for Monday: "Notes to Self"

Emilie Pine has written one of the best memoirs I've read in my latest quest to understand the memoir form and why we even read memoirs.

In "Notes to Self," she writes about those topics that we women generally keep secret. Secret equals safe, right? We don't talk about having painful periods. We don't talk about having miscarriages. We don't talk about being assaulted sexually. We don't talk about the daily insults to our humanity by the male-dominated society we live in. And so we're safe.

No, not really. We're not safe. We're not keeping ourselves safe, and we're not helping any other women be safe, either, by not talking.

So people like Emilie Pine are reaching out to help us, to keep us safe by talking, by writing, by admitting all those mistakes they/we made as teenagers, as new employees in a bullpen-like office environment, as girlfriends and wives and family members of alcoholics and other abusers.

Notes to Self: EssaysMs. Pine begins this book with "Notes on Intemperance." Her father, a lifelong alcoholic, needs her help, and so she helps him. Does he appreciate this help? No. Does he even acknowledge this help? Are you kidding? Of course not. Eventually he writes about how he became sober, after her spending lots of money and time dealing with bureaucratic nonsense in Greece, where he became sick, and then back in Ireland, then back in Greece, back in Ireland, and so on. You get the picture.

Here's what he writes, in his essay published in the Irish Times: "I am totally impenitent in the sense that I do not regret any of my drinking life." She calls him on it. She has to.
In an email, I tell him that I have problems with his characterization of drinking. For a start, I find it strange that the piece doesn't acknowledge any of the brutal hurt inflicted during his career as an alcoholic. Later, on the phone, he says that he is taken aback by my reaction, that he didn't realize he was hurting anyone. For a man with so much time and space for self-reflection, there's pitifully little actually done. I explain it to him. "Oh," he says.
But does he revise his essay? No, he does not. Ms. Pine writes, "The article appears in the 'Health & Living' supplement, an association that we all get a good laugh out of. He makes the newspaper's front page banner, not quite 'my battle with drink' but not far off it."

Well, enough of that one. Why did I read it so avidly? My own father was not an alcoholic, was not an emotional or physical abuser, didn't abandon his children, didn't expect us to take care of him in spite of his self-inflicted injuries. So why do I even care?

Here's why, and here's why I've been reading these memoirs lately, including this one and "My Mother Was Nuts," by Penny Marshall (I'll write about this one soon). We are looking for connections with other human beings (like the octopus volunteers). We don't have to have had the same exact experiences to want to know what this person went through.

So, in further chapters, she writes about her young life, not even knowing what was happening when she had her period for the first time, then on other occasions bleeding through her clothes; sleeping around, skipping school, running away from home; getting pregnant when she didn't want to, not able to get pregnant when she did want to; having sex with men she didn't want to have sex with, being raped by so-called friends and acquaintances and not even realizing that it was rape until years later; being embarrassed and ashamed merely for being a woman, for being called "cute" and thus diminished when she talked about rape in a conference....and so on.

Another quote from the book:
Here's the thing: my mother worked long hours out of the home. She taught me that the most important thing for a woman is to be financially independent. She taught me that women should be ambitious and take pride in their work. She taught me that work comes first and the domestic, with all its feelings, comes second. All these lessons conditioned me to think of working as the brave and necessary journey that women must take. So, ironically, I would never have said 'my mum' when they asked about role models, because I couldn't have put motherhood at the top of the hierarchy of achievements. Because the qualities I generally associate with motherhood---love and support, empathy and nurture---are not those I associate with being successful at work. And there's that internalized sexism again.
What does it all come down to? When I was younger I wouldn't have said my mother was my role model, either, but now I would. She did all those things that Ms. Pine's mum didn't do. She taught me to work hard, but also to stay at home with my kids. And so on. You all know, Dear Readers, who my mother was and what she taught me. Is this why I enjoyed reading this book so much? Is this why I am recommending it to all my Dear Readers? (And any of you Dear Readers who want my copy, let me know, and I'll send it on.)

My Mother Was Nuts by [Marshall, Penny]As I mentioned, I'll write about Penny Marshall's memoir, "My Mother Was Nuts," in the next week or two. I borrowed this book from the wonderful downtown Camas Public Library. Ms. Marshall has had a lot of experiences closer to those of Ms. Pine than to my life experiences.

So, again, I'm asking why I would want to read about her life. Why would someone read about octopuses? Why do we read any of the things we read, from books we think are "horrible but well written" ("The Green Man") to books that remind us of gorging on candy to the point of getting sick (for example, books by Anthony Horowitz and Lee Child)? I don't know. Do you know? Let me know.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Saturday Night Special: Siege


So, here I am on a Saturday night, having heard on the news yesterday about yet another woman coming out with an undoubtedly true (to my ears, and to everyone else who has been commenting on it) story about being assaulted by HWSNBN years ago.* And the day before that hearing HWSNBN come up with a couple of obviously untrue accounts of how he saved the U.S. and Iran from a war over a U.S. drone. And reading in the online Washington Post just now that HWSNBN has just announced that he is going to "put on hold temporarily" his draconian plan to arrest tens of thousands of immigrants this weekend. That plan, the one he has just rescinded, was apparently an attempt to---what? what on earth is he thinking to accomplish by this?---except throw red meat to the howling dogs of his thuggish deplorables?---and what else can his purpose be now except to keep himself in the limelight, to keep casting himself as some kind of dark hero who creates problems and then solves them by going back on promises....

So, with that as backdrop, I picked up from the lovely downtown Camas Public Library a copy of the latest book by Michael Wolff, "Siege" Trump Under Fire." I read/skimmed through this book really really fast, trying to get to the end before I could be overwhelmed by the depression it caused in me. Because it really really is depressing. For one thing, Wolff's main source seems to be Steve Bannon, one of the many deplorables (and proud of it!) hanging on the coattails of HWSHNB and hoping that they will be (a) saved by him, as he flies through the storms of lies and misbehavior he throws out around him as ballast, or (b) able to drop off at just the right moment, when HWSNBN is finally dragged down by his own lies and misbehavior, able to claim they were just along for the ride and weren't themselves all that involved....Of course they weren't!

Siege: Trump Under FireSo, the book is a sordid (sorry to use such a cliched word, but that is the best one I can think of for now) retelling of all the disheartening news stories we've been hearing for the past two years, with this twist: It looks directly at the sordid (sorry, as above) behaviors and motivations of a whole bunch of liars and cheats and grifters who surround HWSNBN.

Yes, grifters: the word that Bannon uses to describe HWSNBN and his family members and the other hangers-on whose existence is a frying-pan full of boiling hot oil of petty in-fighting and cozying up to a repellent individual who welcomes their toadiness until he gets tired of it and throws them down, into the fire.

Now, I've saved you, Dear Readers, from having to wade through this pile of chicken droppings. Don't buy the book. Don't check it out from the library. You will learn nothing new from it. It's a bunch of glorified gossip, and probably not all of it is true (consider the source!). One final word, to protect myself from the hundreds of lawyers scrimming around the book: Allegedly.
E. Jean Carroll, photo by Amanda Demme for NY Magazine.

(No, I am not averse to mixing metaphors. Far from it.)

I adore
the mixed metaphor,
and believe that the more
the merrier. So don't be sore,
Dear Reader. If you abhor
it, just put in your oar
and row away.

*Find here an excerpt from E. Jean's new book, detailing that incident. Warning: It's graphic, and it's horrible. And former Justice Department lawyers who have commented on the incident say it sounds like what New York State law defines as first-degree rape. 

Boaty McBoatface and Climate Change

A yellow submarine sits on a dolly, with the name Boaty McBoatface emblazoned on the side.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

It's true, says Boaty McBoatface, the British research vessel: Climate change is real, and it's happening right now. 

From the article:

Boaty McBoatface discovered a significant link between Antarctic winds and rising sea temperatures. The findings, which come from a three-day unmanned excursion through mountainous underwater valleys, were published in the journal PNAS. In her 112-mile journey through the Southern Ocean, McBoatface found that increasingly strong winds caused by the hole in the ozone layer above Antartica are creating turbulence deep within the Southern Ocean. The tumult causes colder water from the abyss to mix with warmer water in middle levels, which in turn causes sea temperature to rise. Higher sea temperatures are a significant contributor to rising sea levels, one of the deadlier consequences of climate change that has already displaced coastal and island communities and can make hurricanes and typhoons more dangerous. In other words, Boaty McBoatface returned from the abyss a harbinger of impending disaster.
And you know who else thinks/believes/knows that climate change is real? Rachael Van Horn, a pumper in the Oklahoma oil fields. You've just got to read this article. Even if you don't care about good writing---and the author, Ian Frazier, is a really good writer---and even if you don't care about climate change---and you should, you know!---and even if you don't care about women's rights and how women are often treated when they're on their own outdoors --- you might care about this particular woman and her work. I hope so!
Here is just the beginning of the article about Rachael:
Photograph by Katy Grannan for The New Yorker
Rachael Van Horn, fifty-six years old, lives by herself in a two-bedroom house at the southeast corner of Rosston, Oklahoma. Although the town is on a two-lane highway that runs east and west across the Panhandle, it offers no services to travellers. Prairie surrounds it. Rachael’s fenced-in yard adjoins twenty acres of pasture she owns, in which she keeps four cattle: Raffi, a black-and-white steer with only one horn, and three Black Angus two-year-olds. Phoenix is the Angus bull, and Freya and Cow Polly are the cows. The steer and the three Angus may be the happiest livestock in Oklahoma. When Rachael comes to the fence, they run across the pasture and contend jealously to be next to her.

At the time of the fires that burned thousands of square miles of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas in 2017, Rachael already owned Raffi, who was then a small calf. Her pasture was spared, but cattle that had burned to death, or almost to death, dotted the prairie for miles around and bunched up against the remaining fences. Rachael sometimes wept as she drove by them. Most of the ones that survived were too far gone to save. When Rachael was out helping a neighbor shoot his injured animals, she saw three badly burned Angus calves that she thought might make it, and the rancher who owned them said that she could have them.

Rachael brought the calves to her place and bucket-fed them, called a vet to treat them, put salve on their burned foreheads and lips and on the stubs of their burned-off ears, and built a small wading pool that she filled with a saline solution and walked them through twice a day in order to soothe their burned feet. The pain they were in distressed her so much that she drove to Pueblo, Colorado, and bought liquid THC—marijuana extract—to give them. After they began taking the THC, she noticed that they got hungrier, started to eat more, and put on a lot of weight. The calves gradually got better. She spent endless hours doctoring them. She had been in Iraq for three years and was present at the mess-hall suicide bombing near Mosul on December 21, 2004, which killed twenty-five people. She was continuing to deal with her post-traumatic stress, and the calves became part of the process.

She did not brand any of them, or castrate the bull, because she did not want them to suffer any more pain. The three Angus and the steer are frolicsome animals, like imaginary cows in a children’s book or a cartoon. Rachael says that they will never be sold and will spend the rest of their lives in her pasture.

See what I mean? Isn't this a person you want to know more about? So go ahead and read the whole article!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Weird Word of the Week: Periphrastically

The word "periphrastic" is defined, according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionar, as:  "formed by the use of function words or auxiliaries instead of by inflection."

So, if you are writing or speaking periphrastically, you are writing or saying "more fair" instead of "fairer." Which, why would you do that?

Better, from Wikipedia's definition of periphrasis: 

In linguisticsperiphrasis (/pəˈrɪfrəsɪs/)[1] is the usage of multiple separate words to carry the meaning of prefixes, suffixes or verbs, among other things, where either would be possible. Technically, it is a device where grammatical meaning is expressed by one or more free morphemes (typically one or more function words accompanying a content word), instead of by inflectional affixes or derivation.[2] Periphrastic forms are an example of analytic language, whereas the absence of periphrasis is a characteristic of synthetic language. While periphrasis concerns all categories of syntax, it is most visible with verb catenae. The verb catenae of English are highly periphrastic.

There, now you understand, right?

Fiction Friday: June 21, 2019: Yann Martel

Facts Behind Helsinki Roccamatios PaI'm not attempting to write a formal review of all of Yann Martel's writings. Life is short, and art is long, and he has written a lot of books, not all of which I have read. But this one, which I read most recently, seems to exemplify why it is such a pleasure to read him:

"The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios" consists of that rather long short story (or novella? I don't know) and three other short stories. And all four of these made me stop and think and even cry a little.

Here's an example of how to write, and more importantly how to appreciate good writing, as exemplified by Yann Martel, in the second story in this collection, "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton": Quoting from Joseph Conrad's first novel, "Almayer's Folley," he rhapsodizes about Conrad's "marvellous punctuation." Here's the sentence he gives as an example:

"'I had it all there; so; within reach of my hand.'"

Why does he like this sentence so much? Here's why:
What a brilliant use of semicolons. Admire the construction: five words fore and aft balanced upon a fulcrum of a single word that carries all the weight and tension of the sentence. An ordinary writer would have used commas to surround that fulcrum. Dashes would have done the job. But semicolons, by isolating the "so" without making it parenthetical, give the word a real impact. Their bottom halves curl like the fingers of two hands raised in frustration, their periods glare like two desperate eyes, and the word held between them shouts with the wretched hopelessness of twenty years that have added up to nothing. The punctuation of this sentence is deliberate, forceful and dynamic. It is the punctuation of a true master.
(I admit that I had never heard of this novel by Conrad, though of course I had read "Lord Jim" and "Heart of Darkness" [and seen the movie], so I looked it up on Amazon, because I wasn't entirely sure that Yann Martel might not have just made up this sentence and the whole idea of this book. But it exists and is available from Amazon. I'm not going to buy it, though, b/c I know I'll never get around to reading it. However, if I ever see it at the Camas Public Library's book sale, I'll pick it up. I'll take it home and treasure it until I get to my next "Gotta clean off these bookshelves to make room for all the new books" phase. Then I'll donate it back to the library, and someone else can enjoy it, and maybe even read it.) 

Back to that short story, "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton": It's really about art, music, politics, race, poverty, international relations, and all that. And it's also about "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton."

So: That quotation from Conrad, and that whole paragraph about it, are not what you expect from a short story. Nor is the idea of a friend of a man dying from AIDS helping him create a series of stories about the totally made-up Roccamatio family, of Helsinki, to help him get through the treatments, and the dying. But that's what the whole first story is about. And this is why it's worth reading Yann Martel. And why I get so discouraged reading some of the other authors I've been reading lately.

Oh, well, "The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios" is available, new, from Amazon for $2.95 and used from as little as a quarter of a dollar (but I got my copy from the amazing Camas Public Library). If any of my Dear Readers would like my copy, I'll be happy to send it on to you. Just let me know.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Intermittent Fasting: Smash the Wellness Industry!

131 Method: Your Personalized Nutrition Solution to Boost Metabolism, Restore Gut Health, and Lose Weight
A visiting relative told us he is now on this diet, the Intermittent Fasting diet. But it's not really a diet, he explained. He doesn't believe in dieting. It's a complete change in your way of life. So I looked it up. And indeed it is a complete change in your way of life: So that you will be dieting for the whole rest of your life. Does that sound okay to anyone else? Not to me!

So I checked out from the Camas Public Library a book about this diet, I mean, complete change in your way of life. Here are author Chalene Johnson's goals for her 131 method, which we can all agree are valuable goals: Lose weight without slowing your metabolism; improve gut health and boost immunity; and fix cravings and reset hormones.Oh, and "Discover 100 delicious, easy recipes." Right. These books are the ones that take up the most space at our library used book sales: diet books with "delicious, easy recipes."

But, also, after watching this video and skimming through this book, I've got to say that this so-called Intermittent Fasting is a lot like the way we lived and ate when I was growing up: Healthy foods at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; no snacks except when we were kids using up a lot of energy and got home from school needing some calories, in which case, even then, we got something very healthy; no eating after dinner, so a "fast" of about 12 hours before eating breakfast every morning. Yep.

The difference is that we were eating healthy portions and burning up those calories with all the usual kids' activities. We were not measuring portions or counting the hours between when we could eat (between the intermittent fasting, which, BTW, is a LOT of "fasting." We were not thinking about food all the time, which is what you HAVE to do when you're on one of these diets, er, I mean, in one of these programs.

So I'm glad I checked this book out of the wonderful downtown Camas Public Library, instead of forking over $30.00 for it at the bookstore or $19.44 for it at Amazon.  (And, wow, was it ever fun to read the reviews of the book on Amazon: Most of them said things like, "Are you kidding me? This is just another version of the keto diet."

And, for more fuel to this idea about how these so-called non-diets work, even though they're just another version of diets, here's a wonderful opinion piece in the NYTimes earlier this month: "Smash the Wellness Industry." I hope you'll read it, and just to make it easier for you to do that, I'll excerpt parts of it here, in case you don't like to follow links like this one, or in case you've reached your "limit" of articles for this month and have been paywalled. 
I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear “wellness.” This was before I could recognize wellness culture for what it was — a dangerous con that seduces smart women with pseudoscientific claims of increasing energy, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of cancer and healing skin, gut and fertility problems. But at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss. It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.
When the author, Jessica Knoll, moved from NYC to LA, and after spending a really lot of money for a nutritionist back east, she searched "intuitive eating." She found an intuitive eating dietician, and everything got better. She writes:
The new dietitian had a different take. “What a gift,” she said, appreciatively, “to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?” It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.
Two years into my work with her, I feel lighter than I ever have. Food is a part of my life — a fun part — but it no longer tastes irresistible, the way it did when I told myself I couldn’t have it. My body looks as it always has when I’m not restricting or bingeing. I’m not “good” one day so that I can be “bad” another, which I once foolishly celebrated as balance.
She adds:
I no longer define food as whole or clean or sinful or a cheat. It has no moral value. Neither should my weight, though I’m still trying to separate my worth from my appearance. They are two necklaces that have gotten tangled over the course of my 35 years, their thin metal chains tied up in thin metal knots. Eventually, I will pry them apart.
Most days, I feel good in my skin. That said, I am probably never going to love my body, and that’s O.K. I think loving our bodies is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also a limiting one. No one is telling men that they need to love their bodies to live full and meaningful lives. We don’t need to love our bodies to respect them.
What do you think, Dear Readers? Would you like a couple of "delicious, easy recipes," from the way my mother fed me when I was growing up, using her own "Intermittent Fasting Method", i.e., normal, healthy eating? Next time. Or, even better, maybe you can write comments with some of your favorite recipes that you love and that have kept you refreshed and healthy and happy..

the wonderful downtown Camas Public Library