The Heroic Life of the Atlantic Salmon

Richard Hamblyn in the London Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 01 09.03 Salmon – the name, it’s thought, derives from the Latin salire, ‘to leap’ – has always been a fish apart, marked by its unusual capacity to migrate between the distinct worlds of salt and fresh water. According to William Camden’s Britannia (1586), the salmon leaps of Pembrokeshire were Britain’s first tourist attractions, at which scores of people would gather to ‘stand and wonder at the strength and sleight by which they see the Salmon get out of the Sea into the said River’. The spectacle remains one of the great sights of autumn, and people still crowd the banks of the Teifi to watch the returning salmon launch themselves at the cascading waters in brute determination to reach their ancestral spawning grounds upstream. Many don’t make it, but for those that do, it marks the end of an extraordinary circular migration that begins and ends in the same shallow gravel-beds to which every sea-run adult will seek to return at least once in its life: an impulse that was confirmed by Francis Bacon in the 1620s, when he tied ‘a Ribband or some known tape or thred’ around the tail of a sea-bound smolt, retrieving it the following year when the fish returned as a splendid silver grilse.

‘Smolt’, ‘grilse’: as Richard Shelton observes, salmon are spoken of in a ‘stained-glass language’ of their own, their life stages marked by an ichthyological lexicon unchanged since Chaucer’s time.

More here. [Thanks to J. E. H. Smith.]

animals can instinctively solve navigational problems that have baffled humans for centuries

Dave Munger in Seed Magazine:

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 01 08.56 The nervous system of the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis, with around 100,000 neurons, is about 1 millionth the size of a human brain. Yet in the featureless deserts of Tunisia, this ant can venture over 100 meters from its nest to find food without becoming lost. Imagine randomly wandering 20 kilometers in the open desert, your tracks obliterated by the wind, then turning around and making a beeline to your starting point—and no GPS allowed! That’s the equivalent of what the desert ant accomplishes with its scant neural resources. How does it do it?

More here.

The Attack on Climate-Change Science

Bill McKibben in The Nation:

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.” And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first President Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that's what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet. Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science “snake oil,” and last week the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning “a well-organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome” on a nearly party-line vote.

And here's what's odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All fifteen of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth's major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the United States, never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet.

More here.

Do you have to be Jewish to report on Israel for the New York Times?

Jonathan Cook in Mondoweiss:

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 01 08.44 Shortly after I wrote an earlier piece on Bronner, pointing out that most Western coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is shaped by Jewish and Israeli journalists, and that Palestinian voices are almost entirely excluded, a Jerusalem-based bureau chief asked to meet. Over a coffee he congratulated me, adding: “I’d be fired if I wrote something like that.”

This reporter, who, unlike me, spends lots of time with the main press corps in Jerusalem, then made some interesting points. He wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to my passing on his observations. He calls Bronner’s situation “the rule, not the exception”, adding: “I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”

He added that it is very common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their “Zionist” credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children. “Comments like that are very common at Foreign Press Association gatherings [in Israel] among the senior, agenda-setting, elite journalists.”

More here.

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.

Every year, we celebrate Black History Month by linking at least one relevant story every day. Along with Abbas, I am elated to end this unspeakably tragic journey on a high note which has restored the concept of the American Dream. Barack Obama summarized the unique potential that America offers to its citizens with eloquence: “My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or blessed, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.” Barack Obama ZINDABAD!


Obama-young President of the United States. Born Barack Hussein Obama on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where her father worked on oil rigs during the Depression. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham’s father, Stanley, enlisted in the service and marched across Europe in Patton’s army. Dunham’s mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, landed in Hawaii. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity in Nyanza Province, Kenya. The elder Obama grew up herding goats in Africa, eventually earning a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue his dreams of college in Hawaii. While studying at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Obama, Sr. met fellow student, Ann Dunham. They married on February 2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.

Barack_obama_inauguration Obama’s parents separated when he was two years old, later divorcing. Obama, Sr. went on to Harvard to pursue Ph.D. studies, and then returned to Kenya in 1965. In 1966, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, another East–West Center student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Obama’s half-sister Maya Soetoro Ng was born. Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son’s safety and education so, at the age of 10, Barack was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. His mother and sister later joined them.

While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self. “I began to notice there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog…and that Santa was a white man,” he said. “I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking the way I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”

More here. 

“We’ve Got Issues”: Big Pharma might not be lying

From Salon:

Md_horiz A hundred years ago it was rarely diagnosed in children. In the intervening timespan the number and type of diagnoses have exploded. Moreover, the number and type of treatments have also exploded. The favored treatment usually involves powerful medications with serious side effects. Big Pharma has made a fortune from these medications and is constantly searching for new variations to patent and sell.

I'm talking about childhood cancer, but I bet you thought I was talking about childhood mental illness. After all, everyone in contemporary society knows that childhood mental illness is over-diagnosed, that drugging children is the preferred method for dealing with the normal problems of childhood, and that normal children are being treated with powerful psychotropic medications simply because they are quirky and authentic.

That's what Judith Warner (author of “Perfect Madness”) thought, too, when she sold a proposal back in 2004 for a book that would explore the over-diagnosis of mental illness and over-treatment of children with psychiatric medication. She knew it for all the reasons listed above: Childhood mental illness was rarely diagnosed in children 100 years ago; since then the number and type of diagnoses have exploded; the number and type of treatments have also exploded; the medications used to treat childhood mental illness are powerful and can have serious side effects; Big Pharma has made a fortune from these medications and is constantly searching for new variations to patent and sell.

More here.

The fundamental austerity of the secularist worldview

Warren Breckman in Lapham's Quarterly:

ScreenHunter_05 Feb. 28 11.57 One standard image of the nonbelieving secularist is of a hedonistic immoralist—as Fyodor Dostoevsky feared, if God is dead, everything is permitted. But to the contrary, it may be that secularism does not escape the dynamic that Freud believed is the motor of religion: the repression of instinct followed by a sublimation into other satisfactions—in other words, precisely the process that turns religion into an obsessional neurosis. Even among champions of the secular worldview, we sometimes find worries that secularism lacks magic and emotional depth, that it is a hyperrationalist creed that preserves the internal compulsions of religion without its animating beliefs or its consoling message of cosmic meaning and personal redemption. Frequently, the counsel of the secularist is to be brave, buck up, and face the world as a heroic pessimist. Defenders of religion are all too ready to claim that secularism offers at best a wizened form of experience and sensation. Such a view has us moderns living within a purely immanent world, blocked from any relation to a truly transcendent sphere. In such a world, the colors are a shade paler, the sounds a tone flatter than in a world touched by the divine. A host of religiously minded writers would warn that where our belief in the transcendent has vanished, we seek impoverished substitute sources of transport: in artistic experience, sport, love, or at the extreme, drugs. There will be many secularists, myself among them, who believe that the emotional and sensory scale is not so irretrievably tilted in favor of religious experience. And I would challenge secularists to reaffirm the depth and authenticity of their nonreligious experience. Nonetheless, it may be that the fundamental austerity of the secularist worldview helps account for religion’s obstinate refusal to go away.

More here.

Liberals and Atheists Smarter?

From Science Daily:

ScreenHunter_04 Feb. 28 11.45 More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values. The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

More here.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya

On this, the last day of Black History Month, which my sister Azra is foremost in celebrating here at 3QD, I am posting what I think of as the best political speech of my lifetime. This is Barack Hussein Obama on race, in America:

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 27 21.24 “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

More here. And/or see the video:

The Nominees for the 2010 3QD Prize in Arts & Literature Are:

Alphabetical list of blog names followed by the blog post title:

(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)

For prize details, click here.

And after looking around, click here to vote.

  1. 3 Quarks Daily: How to Photograph the Heart
  2. 3 Quarks Daily: How to Search for Aliens
  3. 3 Quarks Daily: James Ensor: Keepin’ It Surreal
  4. 3 Quarks Daily: Knifers
  5. 3 Quarks Daily: Mapping the Cracks: Art-Objects in Motion
  6. 3 Quarks Daily: Rumination on the Life, Death, and Particularly the Legacy of a Man Barely Necessary to Introduce to Y’All, Beyond Mentioning (1) His Initials, D, F, and W, and (2) The Fact That This Very Headline Owes Him, Obviously, Everything
  7. 3 Quarks Daily: Somebody Nailed My Dress To The Wall
  8. 3 Quarks Daily: Stamp Your Feet. Hard.
  9. 3 Quarks Daily: The Bitter Taste of Life
  10. 3 Quarks Daily: The DMV
  11. 3 Quarks Daily: The Poetry of Jason Boone (1971-2008)
  12. A Piece of Monologue: Re Joyce
  13. All Things Pankish: Ask the Editor: Johnathon Williams
  14. Amitava Kumar: Postmortem
  15. Baroque in Hackney: A Christmas Play
  16. Baroque in Hackney: Cycling: the healthy mode of transport
  17. Baroque in Hackney: Finders keepers? the clash of intellectual property and a venerable poetic tradition
  18. Baroque in Hackney: Poetry wins book of the year, becomes accessible
  19. Chapati Mystery: Nine Lives
  20. Chicks Dig Poetry: Greatness
  21. Cognition and Culture: The universality of music: Cross-cultural comparison, the recognition of emotions, and the influence of the the Backstreet Boys on a Cockatoo
  22. Digital Emunction: A Lume Spento
  23. Digital Emunction: Fake Book Review 9
  24. Do You See?: About Aribam
  25. Do You See?: Cityspeak
  26. Flawnt: The Last Story
  27. Geoffrey Philp’s Blogspot: You’re Not My Son Anymore
  28. HTML Giant: Surfing for Writers
  29. Humorless Bitch: The Wheels On The Bus
  30. Imaginary Boundaries: To Live Outside the Law, You Must Be Honest
  31. Infrequent Thoughts, Haphazardly Published: Lucky
  32. In This Light: Lens and Pen as Mirrors
  33. Jabberwock: Stranger to History: Aatish Taseer on Islam’s ‘enclosed world’
  34. Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog: Two Poems
  35. Known Turf: My God!
  36. Letters From Exile: Letters From Exile IV
  37. Literary Kicks: In Gatsby’s Tracks: Locating the Valley of Ashes in a 1924 Photo
  38. Literature: Black Sun
  39. Michael Bérubé: Mighty Moloch, cure me of my severe allergy to the discourse of the “cure”
  40. Michael Bérubé: Time after time
  41. My Soul Is A Butterfly: The Letter Said, “Where Are You?”
  42. Nail Your Novel: Become a native in the world of your story
  43. Nail Your Novel: Developing a strong writing voice
  44. Narcissism, vanity, exhibitionism, ambition, vanity, vanity, vanity: Unsolicited Advice (for Eliza Blair)
  45. Novel Readings: Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost
  46. PEN America: Tomasz Rozycki on “Scorched Maps”
  47. Perplexicon: Towards a literary science
  48. Potemkin: The Great Terror
  49. Quantum Tantra: The New Sex Robot
  50. Sound of the City: The 50 Worst Songs of the ’00s, F2K No. 1: Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton, “Big Yellow Taxi”
  51. The Best American Poetry: Learning to Write the MFA Poem
  52. The Best American Poetry: Robert Creeley, LSD, and Thee
  53. The Literary Weevil: Jerome David Salinger
  54. The Middle Stage: On Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
  55. The Millions: About the Author
  56. The Millions: Book Lovers
  57. The Millions: Deckle Edge in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
  58. The Millions: Ether Between the Covers: Gifting Books in a Digital Age
  59. The Millions: Everybody’s Holocaust: Jonathan Littell’s Fictional Nazi and Postmodernity’s Double Bind
  60. The Millions: Fair Hypocrites: Twilight By Way of Pamela
  61. The Millions: It’s All Right to Cry: Restoring Raymond Carver’s Voice
  62. The Millions: It’s Not You, It’s Me: Thoughts on Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs
  63. The Millions: Nabokov, Wallace, and the Incredible Shrinking Book
  64. The Millions: Nobody Wants to Go Home: A Unified Theory of Reality TV
  65. The Millions: Proust’s Arabesk: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
  66. The Millions: The woman writes as if the Devil was in her…
  67. The Millions: Working the Double Shift
  68. The Reasoned Review: Telangana Resumption
  69. The Rumpus: Interview with Sam Anderson
  70. The Second Pass: Mary Flannery, Quite Contrary
  71. The Valve: Sita Sings the Freakin’ Gorgeous Blues
  72. Tiny Cat Pants: The Devil Lives on Lewis Street, I Swear
  73. Tom Paine’s Ghost: Beyond Energy
  74. Too Fond of Books: But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer
  75. Too Fond of Books: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  76. Too Fond of Books: The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman
  77. Unremitting Failure: Poem by Our Brother Jeffers
  78. Wisdom of the West: Realisms
  79. Writing Without Paper: Homage To a Sculptor: Ruth Duckworth

To vote, click here.

Brown v. Board of Education: The Climax of an Era

From The Nation:

Lindabrown_slide The Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregation in American public education was unanimous. If anything, world opinion was even more emphatic. Even the Communist powers, we suspect, must privately have applauded the decision. In Kenya a spokesman for the Luo tribe voiced the growing world-wide sentiment against all forms of racial discrimination when he said “America is right . . . If we are not educated together, we will live in fear of one another. If we are to stay together forever, why should we have separate schools?” Quite apart from this sentiment, the decision was especially welcome at this time since it enabled us and our friends abroad for the first time in some years to be equally and simultaneously enthusiastic about an important announcement from Washington. The decision was a fine antidote to the blight of McCarthyism and kindred fevers.

The dead no less than the living must have rejoiced. Among the ghosts that smiled with pleasure–it is somehow easier to imagine them smiling than cheering–were Homer Adolph Plessy, the one-eighth-Negro plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the iniquitous “separate but equal” doctrine was first announced, and his counsel, Albion Winegar Tourgée–who is better known, perhaps, for his novels about the Reconstruction period. Another beaming ghost would be Justice John Marshall Harlan whose great dissents in this and the Civil Rights Cases have at long last been fully vindicated.

Not every ghost smiled, we may be sure. Glum and dour must have been the ghost of the late Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, but in this case, happily, there was compensation. For only a week or so before the Supreme Court's decision a life-size bronze statue of the Senator was unveiled in the Mississippi Capitol. “His imperfections were infinitesimal,” said Mississippi's Secretary of State in unveiling the statue, “when compared to the magnitude of his contribution to mankind.”

More here.

Devo’s Focus Group-Based Comeback Album

DevoTodd Martens in Pop & Hiss, the LA Times music blog:

Monday night, Devo will publicly launch the marketing campaign for its forthcoming album — its first in 20 years — when the Los Angeles-via-Ohio band performs at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. With the release of the album not due until the spring, the Olympics appearance won't be the grand unveiling of new material, which principal Gerald Casale promises will occur at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. But if all goes according to plan, the path leading up to the final product may make for a better story, anyway.

Casale speaks of Devo's May release, which the band has narrowed down to three possible titles, as somewhat of a formality. It's one aspect of a recently signed all-encompassing merch, music and tour record deal with Warner Bros., but the forthcoming album isn't necessarily the centerpiece.

“People still do that,” Casale said of releasing a new CD. “We don’t feel it’s very important. I don’t know how many people buy CDs. When you look at the number of downloads Lady Gaga had compared to hard physical product, it’s 100,000 to one. That’s the way people get their music. This idea of the precious order of a 12-song CD is passe. It’s over. People go and get what they want off the Internet and the put it on their iPod and shuffle it.”

That's one reason why Casale said the band won't be making the final decision on the songs and track-listing for its upcoming album. Instead, he said, the band will trust the consensus reached by those polled by an advertising agency. Casale said the new-wave pioneers have retained a company called Mother L.A. and that the firm will present focus groups with multiple mixes of new songs.

“It’s an art experiment,” Casale said. “The experiment is the business of art. It’s always there, but nobody ever talks about it.”

“Religious freedom” and Its Critics

ReligionTFScott Appleby in The Immanent Frame:

During his landmark address to the world, delivered in Cairo last June, President Obama proposed to open a new era of engagement with “Muslim communities”—engagement, that is, not just with Muslim states or regimes, but also with other economically and politically influential social sectors, including religious groups, educational institutions, civic organizations, health care institutions, and youth affiliations.

In the hopes of accelerating the process of rethinking America’s attitude toward the Muslim word, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has issued a Task Force Report (TFR), entitled “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy.” As co-chair of the task force (with Richard Cizik), which has been convening since the fall of 2008, I welcomed the president’s shrewd remarks about Islam, and I was pleased to work with the dozens of leaders in business, higher education, government, and media who signed the report, which was released today. Our hope is to build on the president’s ideas and explain why they apply not only to Islamic communities, but to religious communities more generally.

Three aspects of the approach sketched by Obama in Cairo are new, or at least newly placed front-and-center in American foreign policy. First is the administration’s willingness to see Islam (and, by extension, all transnational, globalizing religions) as a no-longer-ignorable “player of impact,” for both good and ill, in setting national and international agendas, ranging from the provision of health care to economic development and environmental sustainability to women’s rights, conflict resolution, and democratization. Second is the “for good” part of that formula. Even before 9/11, the agency of religious actors abroad has been perceived and framed primarily in terms of counterterrorism policy: how do we defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban? But this is just one part of the security and prosperity puzzle. The enormous constructive—or potentially constructive—roles of religious actors beyond our shores, while never formally denied by past administrations, have rarely been viewed as an asset to be developed. Oddly, for a religious nation such as ours, believers elsewhere have been seen as adversaries or obstacles, and not as partners.

How to build on this new awareness of religion? The TFR outlines the major elements of a comprehensive policy of constructive engagement with religions and religious actors abroad, indicating whom to engage, how to help them succeed, what vocabulary to use, and what the limits of such engagement are.



Going off-piste is about pursuing private passions. Mine include two eminent Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen, suitably whiskered, fond of wearing three-piece tweed suits and spats – although surely not together. They are seemingly the very antithesis of ardour and are more or less overlooked today: Alfred Edward Housman and Edward William Elgar. Last year marked the sesquicentenary of Housman’s birth, and it passed without pomp and circumstance; and notwithstanding the popularity of the tune of the same name at the Last Night of the Proms, few today associate Elgar with the piece. The two men originate from the same corner of the Welsh Marches where the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire meet, were born within a few miles of each other, and died at the same age. But as far as I can gather from the biographies I have devoured, they lived oblivious of each other. Sociology is obsessed with outsiders. As the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman once said, the discipline finds itself at home in the world of hipsters, drug addicts, jazz musicians, night people, drifters, grafters and skid-row denizens: “It prefers the offbeat to the familiar, the standpoint of the hip outsider to the dull insider.” I disagree, or at least I believe this no longer applies. It is not people on the margins of society who are more interesting but those who transgress its boundaries; those who do not fit because they transcend rather than live outside convention.

more from John D. Brewer at THE here.

the whale


Philip Hoare is best known for his biography of Noel Coward, but he turns his attention to a much grimmer subject than the follies of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in “The Whale,” an eminently readable chronicle of the tragic interaction between humans and whales. Using Herman Melville’s life and “Moby-Dick” as touchstones, Hoare traces the whaling industry from its origins in 18th century New England to the present. Although the basic story of the near-extermination of the great whales is well known, the numbers Hoare cites are staggering. In the mid-18th century, more than 5,000 street lamps burned whale oil every night in London alone. Turning whales into oil, corset stays and scrimshaw was big business: “By 1833, seventy thousand souls and seventy million dollars were tied up in whaling and its associated crafts; ten years later that figure had nearly doubled. The United States exported a million gallons of oil to Europe each year.” Production on that scale decimated whale populations: more than 1 million sperm whales swam the world’s oceans in 1712; by the end of the 20th century 360,000 existed.

more from Charles Solomon at the LA Times here.

77,000 tons of apocalyptic yumminess


The mountain that John D’Agata is ostensibly concerned with in his slim but powerful new book, “About a Mountain,” is Yucca Mountain, located approximately 100 miles north of Las Vegas. And he’s not the only one interested in it: since the mid-1980s, the United States government has been doing back flips to bury the country’s entire reservoir of spent nuclear waste — some 77,000 tons of apocalyptic yumminess — deep inside Yucca. In the summer of 2002, the summer after D’Agata helped his mother move to a Vegas suburb, Congress was proceeding with plans to make the mountain a nuclear dump. Also that summer, 16-year-old Levi Presley jumped to his death from the observation deck of a third-rate Vegas hotel. These subjects, disparate though they are, animate D’Agata’s sprawling narrative. The author of a well-regarded book of essays and the editor of two exceptional essay anthologies, D’Agata has an encyclopedic understanding of the form’s intricate artistry. Moreover, he is a serious thinker who regularly lays down stylish, intelligent sentences: “I do not think that Yucca Mountain is a solution or a problem. I think that what I believe is that the mountain is where we are, it’s what we now have come to — a place that we have studied more thoroughly at this point than any other parcel of land in the world — and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know.”

more from Charles Bock at the NYT here.

Saturday Poem


I know these leaves
are not fragile,
but I'm alone
as I brush past them;
garbage in hand,
clear sky above
sharp with dawn.
The house is empty—
no socks on the floor,
no strands of hair in the tub,
just a few shreds
of cardboard from packing
and the fragile, faint
of your missing soap.

by Christine Klocek-Lim

from How to Photograph the Heart
publisher: The Lives You Touch Publications, 2009

This is the second poem I've posted here of the poetry of Christine Klocek-Lim. Both are from a chapbook collection, How to Photograph the Heart. I like these poems. They're at the same time direct and nuanced. Her words are concise and lush, again at once. Her voice is clear. Her poems are grounded. To find out for yourself how full a little chapbook can be: just go here.

There’s something about Alice

A S Byatt in The Guardian:

Alice-by-arthur-rackham-001 As a child, I think, I kept the Alice books in a different box in my brain from other books about imaginary children. I don't think they were read to me – there was “a war on”. I think I puzzled them out when I was about seven or eight, younger than ­Alice Liddell was on the famous “golden afternoon” in 1862 when she and her two sisters rowed from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Godstow with the 30-year-old Lewis Carroll and his clerical friend Robinson Duckworth, and were told the first version of the story. A child reader's imagination inhabits the world of a book in many different ways, depending on the book. She walks deep into imaginary forests; she saves desperate beasts; she flirts with brave boys. The Harvard academic Maria Tatar has observed wisely that children do not usually “identify” with fictional children – they stand a little apart inside the fictional world and intensely observe the people and the action. But Wonderland and the world through the Looking Glass were, I always knew, different from other imagined worlds. Nothing could be changed, although things in the story were always changing. There was, so to speak, nothing going on in the hinterland of the clearing with the Mad Hatter's tea party, or beyond the Red Queen's garden gate. Carroll moves his readers as he moves chess pieces and playing cards. This is not to say that the reader's experience of the world is not vivid, enthralling and ­entirely memorable. It is just different.

More here.