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I'm so happy with BABY ORCA, published February 23, 2016. Chris Rallis created beautiful illustrations, and the production team at Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin did a superb job designing the book. I'm grateful to them all, as well as the scientists who share their work on orcas with me. The book is perfect to show and read to a young child. First or second graders may be able to read it by themselves. They'll love the pictures.
On March 1, 2016, an updated edition of ALIENS FROM EARTH, my book about invasive species, was released by Peachtree Publishers. Beverly J. Doyle did her usual beautiful job with the illustrations. Thanks to the great production team at Peachtree. I added two new species to this edition: Asian carp and the brown tree snake. I also have an author's note in this edition. Older kids will enjoy learning about some of the major invasive species.
BABY ORCA, My new children's book about a baby killer whale, comes out February 23, 2015. Learn about these magnificent mammals, how mothers and grandmothers care for the young and teach them to hunt.
My late husband composer Ed Bland was a prolific composer. He composed music in a variety of genres: Jazz, Blues, Soul, Gospel, Hip Hop, Ragtime, and contemporary classical. He wrote for the recording industry, TV, film, dance, bands, and orchestras. This new album URBAN FUNK contains 25 tracks of the last music he composed. The first 12 tracks he conceived of as a dance suite that might be used by modern dancers; the remaining 13 tracks are funky, top-tapping, and highly original. Ed's music synthesizes three musical canons: European, West African drumming, and African-American.
Writing about his artistic journey on his website, Ed said: "Throughout my professional life, my creative efforts have been haunted by aspects of a cultural warfare that has been simmering under the worldâs cultures for several centuries. It is a warfare between a pagan prolongation of the eternal moment found in the traditional religious rites and music of Black West Africans living below the Sahara and conventional Western civilizationâs pursuit of postponed rewards. As a consequence, in Western civilization there is never a Now, only a vague future.
Ironically, the African slave trade, with all its horrors and social disruption, also presented an opportunity for transformation. It was the slavesâ ability to rise to the occasion and create a new culture and persona that enabled them to survive and coexist in America. Traumatized by slave-ship voyages, deprived of languages, Gods, families, communities, and rituals, it became necessary that the slaves modify what remained from their past and invent new cultural forms. In a range of work encompassing âUrban Funk,â Atari Video Games,âSkunk Juice,â THE CRY OF JAZZ, Urban Classical, the Detroit Symphony, Dizzy Gillespie, Hip Hop, âUrban Counterpoint.â I have composed music that celebrates the pagan prolongation of the eternal Now.
You can read this entire essay on Ed's website: EdBlandMusic.com
Iam a white woman who grew up in a small farming community in southeastern Virginia during the days of segregation. Even as a child I sensed something was terribly wrong with our way of life. I felt I was getting stop and go messages, mixed signals, all the time. My parents and my church taught me the "golden rule." Do into others as you would have them do unto you. But it was clear that this golden rule was white rule. No white people I knew wanted to be done unto as they were doing unto blacks -- forced to wait in line at the post office until all the whites had been served, forbidden to sit at a table in the drugstore and enjoy a Coke and Nabs like the white society ladies, barred from ordering ice cream at the soda fountain, from eating at any local restaurant, from swimming in the so-called public swimming pool, from going to the same school my brother and I attended â barred from doing everything I took for granted. And it wasnât as if these blacks were strangers. They were our neighbors and friends whom some of us had known all our lives. Although my brother and I could play with the children of our black neighbors just like regular kids on our farm, we couldn't acknowledge that friendship in public. We couldnât ride the same school bus and go to school together. We couldnât go to church together and we couldnât go to the movies together. Well, we could, but whites had to buy tickets just inside the street entrance and sit in the lobby; blacks had to buy tickets in the alley âthe same cashier sold the tickets -- she just rotated the stool on which she sat to face the window where blacks bought their tickets, and they sat up in the balcony. When I asked my parents why we couldn't sit and eat at the same table as Bea and James, the black couple who worked for my parents, they told me white people and colored people -- that was the term white Southerners used then -- didn't eat together. But we were eating the same food that my mother cooked for all of us. When I asked why, nobody gave me any answer that made any sense; they just said thatâs the way things were. Some people said if God had wanted the races to mix, he wouldnât have made us different colors. Well why? Youâre not supposed to question God. But why not?
Then there was the pledge of allegiance to the flag. You know âthe part about âliberty and justice for all.âBut there was no liberty and justice for all. Whites had more liberty and justice than blacks.
So I began to wonder if what my parents and the church and the pledge were teaching me were all lies because the way we were living did not exemplify those teachings. The song we sang in Sunday School was particularly bothersome. âJesus loves the little children, all the children in the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.â
Well, if we were all precious why did white children have privileges that black children didnât have?
Why did my white skin give me privileges that Bea and James and Emma Jane and Aunt Sara and Uncle Bill and Rachel and Annie Lee and Carrie and Nancy and other blacks in my community didnât have?
Sometimes I inspected my face in the mirror. What if I had been born with brown skin? I would still be me but white people would treat me differently. I just happened to be born with the skin of privilege. I hadnât done anything to earn that privilege nor had any other white person. The whole system rested on the pernicious lie of white supremacy that undergirded slavery and segregation and Jim Crow laws and that still undergirds racism today. White people don't want to talk about it and don't want to own up to it because it would expose the darkest side of their heart and soul. But until we have that painful discussion, we will not take meaningful steps toward healing our country of its racist wounds.
I listen to white millionaire male politicians in Congress talk about Social Security and Medicare as entitlements but thatâs wrong. These are programs into which Americans have paid throughout their working lives. If these politicians want to confront entitlement, they only need look in a mirror to see they embody the entitlement of the lie that being born white carries privilege. You don't have to do anything to earn that privilege. Itâs your birthright if you have white skin. This lie of white supremacy is the ultimate entitlement, the one we should eliminate, not Social Security and Medicare.
For a few days following the murders of nine people by a racist assassin in Charleston, it seemed that meaningful actions to flush racism from our country might begin with renewed vigor, that maybe after all the sorrow and grief and anger and outrage, this time we wouldn't go back to tolerating racism as usual. White politicians finally seemed to get it that the Confederate flag symbolized slavery and lynching and raping and segregation and injustice and oppression. It only took 150 years! The flags started coming down and several major merchandisers announced they would no longer sell them. These were important symbolic gestures, but symbolic gestures alone will not end racism. For a few days, after the Charleston massacre, it seemed Americans were united against this heinous crime, that instead of starting a race war, the white supremacist terrorist had triggered a unified surge of blacks, whites, Hispanics and other minorities in common commitment to heal this nation's open sore. For a few days that's the way it seemed, but then the fires began âat least eight predominantly African-American churches torched as of this date in five southern states (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) since the Charleston murders. Not to be outdone by funerals for slain African-Americans, the racists crawled out of their sewers to do the only thing they seem capable of -- destruction.
It makes me wonder -- how do racists live with themselves? Are they so devoid of compassion, so bereft of humanity that they cannot imagine how they would feel if someone came into their church and opened fire, killing their loved ones for no reason other than the color of their skin? Have their hearts become so frozen with hate that they would not shed tears or grieve their loss? instead of showing compassion, these soulless barbarians have exposed their pitiful personhood by burning black churches. In a former time they would probably have been among the white people who brought picnics to lynchings as if attending outdoor theatre.
Yes, white people did that and some whites are still killing black Americans in the modern equivalent of lynching -- the shooting of black men and boys by white policemen and this latest atrocity in Charleston. Black Americans have been living with these atrocities for centuries and too many whites have tried to deny racism still exists, that itâs all in the past. Charleston should demolish that illusion.
We need to fess up. Yes, white people have to own up to racism. No, those of us alive today didn't create slavery but some of us born in the South have ancestors who kept slaves. Many of us abhor this legacy of evil and many whites have given their lives fighting for civil rights and justice for all, but the historical truth of our racist way of life âthe truth our segregated history has conveniently whitewashed -- rests on whites who kept slaves and went to war to maintain that awful system, and later generations of whites who perpetrated that system with discrimination against African-Americans in housing and employment opportunities and education. Although slavery ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, its terrible legacy of the myth of white supremacy continues to rip apart our national soul and wound our nation more than any foreign threat from Al Qaeda or ISIS. The young white man who shot nine of our fellow Americans Charleston, South Carolina, didn't come out of nowhere. He is the product of our racist culture, nurtured and groomed by the belief in white supremacy that continues to influence racist attitudes, discrimination, criminalization of black men, shooting of black men and boys by white policemen, and now this latest mass murder of African-Americans. We should be grief-stricken and we should shed our tears and mourn, but we should also take action beyond collective grief. And we should stop trying to paint those who murder black Americans as mentally deranged, lone wolves or bad apples. Racists know what they're doing and to whom they're doing it.
In his eloquent eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, President Obama said it would be a betrayal of all the reverend stood for âif we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on.â He also noted a lot of real racial progress has been made. I have experienced that in my own life, growing up in a segregated southern community that is now so integrated that interracial families can live here comfortably and safely. This happened because blacks and whites of good will banded together to transform this community. For me, itâs a powerful example that we are not beyond redemption if we commit to working together with mutual respect.
It's not easy to own responsibility for perpetrating a system that has and continues to hurt so many of our fellow Americans, but we would not still be a racist country if whites had not tolerated racism, had not elected racist politicians who passed legislation to obstruct voting rights and who support policies that only perpetuate racist violence.
Perhaps we could take a page from South Africaâs Truth and Reconciliation process, which helped that country move from apartheid to democracy. We are in a struggle here to maintain and fulfill the promise of democracy. Put yourself in a black Americanâs shoes. Would you be man enough or woman enough to walk in them? Shed the skin of entitlement that has so permeated our culture, conveyed in thousands of insidious ways. Know that we are more similar than we are different. Beneath the superficial color of our skin, we carry DNA that connects every human being on Earth today to people that appeared in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Scientists tell us that race is meaningless biologically, that we all belong to the one human species on our planet, Homo sapiens. Sapiens means wise. May we strive to live up to our species name.
People write for all kinds of reasons: to create an imaginary world; make a statement; escape. Some people even write for their health. Writing in The New York Times Science section (January 19, 2015), wellness blogger Tara Parker-Pope says: "Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person's health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
"Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing--and then rewriting--your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness."
She quotes Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor and lead author of a Duke study of the effects of personal story on struggling college freshmen. âThese writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,â he said
Dr. Wilson, whose book âRedirect: Changing the Stories We Live By,â was released in paperback in January 2015, believes that while writing doesnât solve every problem, it can definitely help people cope. âWriting forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it,â he said.
No, this is not about the greater sage grouse, the mountain yellow-legged frog, or any other endangered nonhuman species. Itâs about members of our own species. Black men -- particularly young black men -- are endangered in America. They are criminalized, incarcerated disproportionately and, in far too many incidents, killed by police â the very people charged with protecting us. All of us.
In city after city, young black men are routinely stopped by police for âwalking while black,â sometimes on the street where theyâve lived for years. Some black men have even been stopped or arrested by police while trying to enter their own homes, most notably prominent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2009.
Some years ago in Los Angeles, a friend was stopped on a street outside his apartment and held at gunpoint in a squad car for two hours. The police were looking for a suspect in his 30s; my friend was in his 70s, but he âfit the description!â Black men, from teenagers to adults, have heard this accusation all too often.
Americaâs wretched racist legacy has conditioned many whites to fear non-white skin color â the âweâ and âthemâ attitude gone pathological â and some in positions of authority respond by unpacking the national weapon and unloading on black men.
Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts, says a new report from ProPublica, released October 10, 2014. In an analysis of 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012, ProPublica found that âblacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.â Imagine the national outrage if a proportional number of young white men had been shot by police during that same time period. We need a surge of national outrage over the murders of young black male Americans.
August 2014 was a particularly deadly month: Michael Brown, age 18, killed August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri; Ezell Ford, 25, shot in Los Angeles, California, August 11, 2014; Dante Parker, 36, tased in Victorville, California, August 12, 2014. When he developed trouble breathing, Parker was taken to a hospital where he died.
Criminalization of black men has a long ugly history in America, as Khalil Muhammad, head of the New York Public Libraryâs Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of Condemnation of Blackness, explained in an interview with Bill Moyers on June 29, 2012. âIf we think about the moment immediately following the Civil War, there was the invention of something called âthe Black Codesâ in every Southern state. And those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people. And if you crossed any line that they prescribed, you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave, but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. It tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as a repressive tool to keep black people in their place,â Muhammad told Moyers. âAnd itâs still with us. Itâs still with us, because ultimately, as a social problem, crime has become like it was in the Jim Crow South, a mechanism to control black peopleâs movement in cities.â
Slavery ended long ago but the psychological dregs remain with us. President Obama has not been immune to the racism that still infests and sickens our society. Since he campaigned for the presidency, he has been the target of racist epithets and cartoons, vilification, unprecedented disrespect, and attempts to paint him as non-American. Although his election is one of the most triumphant moments in American history, it has not triggered a post-racial era. On the contrary, it unleashed a virulent Obama hatred and blatant resurgence of political racism. One entire political party â the Republican Party â has spent the past six years trying every tactic in its book of dirty tricks to destroy the Obama presidency. Any day, I expect to hear some Republican or Fox News wag blame Obama for bringing the Ebola virus into the U.S. Think itâs far-fetched? Itâs not impossible from a party that rejects the findings of science, spurns evidence, celebrates ignorance and has done everything it could to block, obstruct or kill every social policy President Obama has tried to get through Congress. Itâs as if Republicans are trying to exact revenge on the American people for electing Barack Obama president.
In campaigns throughout the country, Republican candidates have only one issue: anti-Obama. At the Congressional level, Republicans have supported only two issues: more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires; and overturning the Affordable Care Act, which is, in fact, providing health insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans, reducing medical costs and working much better than even its proponents expected. They have put nothing positive on the table. Because of their inaction and right-wing ideology, I have come to a conclusion I donât like, namely, that the Republican Party, which once had real statespersons like Eisenhower, is now a party of rich, racist old white men who care nothing about the poor, the middle class or minorities. Indeed, a right-leaning Supreme Court majority gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Republican-governed states have gerrymandered districts to isolate minority voters most likely to vote Democratic and have set up obstacles to discourage minorities, the young and the old from voting. Racism run amuck at the highest levels of government.
You see, Barack Obama was never supposed to be president. He was never supposed to make it through the racist maze. He was never supposed to get out of the âplaceâ that racism designed to confine all African-Americans but particularly African-American men. The fact that he did â that a majority of American voters elected him twice â sent a shockwave through the racists among us. And they are trying to ensure that it never happens again. Of course, they wonât win. America is too diverse, and that diverse population is only increasing. But in the meantime, we have to waste time and precious human resources putting up with those racists who occupy some powerful positions. More importantly, we have to recognize the ugly racist undercurrent of some local and national politics and exercise our votes to get racists out of office. There are more intelligent, more compassionate, more tolerant Americans out there. We know this because they turned out to elect the first African-American president in our nationâs history, and every day they make significant positive contributions at every level of community life, from operating free clinics to raising funds to provide fuel assistance to needy people. There is much unheralded goodness and generosity in this country, and we need to tap into it.
In 2008, President Obama said, "Yes, we can." And we did. Twice. Now we have to do everything we can to rid our culture of racism. Ultimately, our democracy and the social health of our nation depend on it.
eople ask me why I write nonfiction â nature/science books in particular. I didnât plan it that way but after some 30 years making my living as a science writer of books, magazine articles and television shows, I figure I must not be too bad at it. I knew I wanted to be a writer from around age 8. I loved reading more than anything in the world â fairy tales, Nancy Drew mysteries, Hardy Boy mysteries, and Book-of-the-Month-Club novels that an adult cousin passed on to me after she finished reading them. I thought I would write fiction, but life takes many unexpected twists and turns. The adventure of life is to follow them and see where they lead.
The first twist for me was an opportunity to write a book about scientific discoveries that were made by chance or error. I had to work really hard to write that book because I had no background in science. I was an literature major with a minor in creative writing. The year I worked on that book was grueling. I had a full-time job but spent weekends in the New York Public Library doing research for the book. I did get a book, Discovery By Chance, written, and after it was published, other science writing jobs on television documentaries came my way. To write one of those films, which was about tropical rainforests, I traveled to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Instituteâs field station on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, to do research. Being in the rainforest and meeting a bunch of field biologists hooked me on science, especially evolutionary biology, the science that deals with life on Earth, who we are, and how we evolved.
I donât know anything more fascinating than the fact that life evolved on this fortunate planet, and that of all the directions life could have taken, creatures like us evolved. Chance figured in our evolution as well. We wouldnât be here had it not been for a cataclysmic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs. Some 65 million years ago, an enormous asteroid (6 miles across) hit the Earth, sending up dense dust clouds that blocked the sunâs rays and darkened the skies. Without sunlight, plants couldnât carry out photosynthesis and manufacture food that is the base of all food chains. Without their plant food, the vegetarian dinosaurs and many other species died of starvation along with the carnivorous beasts like T. Rex that fed on them. Without the sunâs warmth, the Earth also experienced cold winter conditions. Scientists think the fallout from this asteroid killed up to 70 percent of all plants and animals on Earth at that time â a mass extinction.
It was a fortunate extinction for us, because living in the shadow of the gigantic beasts was a small shrew-like insect-eating mammal that may be the ancestor of modern placental mammals. A specimen 160 million years old has been found. Over time, following the extinction of the dinosaurs, numerous mammals evolved, including primates and the great apes that are our ancestors.
I find it exciting to learn what we share in common with our closest primate relatives â the chimpanzees â and how we differ. Our modern human species, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago -- only a flicker of evolutionary time. DNA analysis shows that all of us who are alive today are descended from those early humans who lived in Africa. At the deepest level of our cells, our genetic blueprint, we are all African. What is more profound or exciting than that?
I write about nature and science because they form our knowledge base, provide evidence for what we know, and point toward solutions if our leaders are wise enough to embrace evidence. Sadly, today too many people in positions of power deny science and embrace superstition. I write science because I cherish life and hope in some small way to contribute to the education needed so desperately to protect our planet and save humanity from its self-destructive ways. Think of this: Dinosaurs ruled the Earth some 135 million years; our species hasnât been around even a quarter of a million years. We are babies, and some of our grown-ups act like toddlers having tantrums. At the current rate of willful destruction of the planetâs resources, we wonât need an asteroid to wipe us out. Weâre doing it to ourselves.
Is there hope? I like to think so. Weâre a resilient, hardy species with huge brainpower. If we use our intelligence, creativity, compassion and ability to cooperate with each other and solve problems, we could protect our home planet and improve the quality of life for everyone. But it's a big IF.
Today, May 17th, is the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. I was a junior in an all-white Virginia high school (there were no racially integrated schools in the South at this time) when the decision was announced. In my naivete, I thought there should be a celebration.
But there was no celebration. Instead Virginia politicians turned to fear-mongering against âmongrelizationâ and mounted a policy known as âmassive resistanceâ to implementing the courtâs decision. Using every political tactic at their disposal, including closing schools to prevent desegregation, Virginiaâs politicians succeeded in delaying school integration until the late 1960s. One entire county, Prince Edward County, closed its public schools for five years rather than integrate. Here and in other areas of the state, private academies for white children sprang up but black children sometimes had no education at all. It was an ugly time in our history. Looking back now, I wonder how grown people could have acted so hatefully against children and against people they had known all their lives.
Even when I was a child, segregation never made sense to me. It went against everything my parents, my school, and my church taught me: love your neighbor as yourself, all men are created equal, respect everyone, liberty and justice for all. An old Sunday school song depicted a world quite different from the one in which I was living: âJesus loves the little children, all the children in the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.â I felt I was getting mixed signals from these institutions and my community. When I asked why, nobody seemed to be able to give me an answer that made any sense. I felt I was getting simultaneous stop and go signals about how life should be lived.
Growing up on a farm, my brother and I played with the children of our black neighbors. We were friends. It was okay to play together in our yard, but we couldnât express that friendship in public. We couldnât go to school together; we couldnât go to church together; we couldnât go to the movies together.
The cultural mantra was âseparate but equal,â but there was no equality in separation. I remember the âWhite Onlyâ and âColored Onlyâ signs next to water fountains and on waiting room doors; the âWhite Onlyâ and âColored Onlyâ sections of the local movie theater. Blacks werenât allowed to sit at tables in the local drugstore/soda shop. Even the cemeteries were segregated. Did this mean heaven and hell were segregated? I felt that segregation made victims of both blacks and whites, that it limited freedom for all of us, though I knew I wasnât humiliated and discriminated against as black people were. By the luck of the genetic draw, I was born white, but I would be no less me if I were black. Skin color was just another feature like eye or hair color. But segregation exploited skin color as an inborn badge of superiority or inferiority. Segregation said being black diminished a person's humanity, relegated a person to second-class status. But whites had done nothing to deserve their superior status. It didn't make any sense.
I didnât understand how anybody calling themselves Christian could embrace segregation. Throughout my teenage years, I argued with my father, who was a devout Christian, on this point. Neither he nor my mother were racists. Like many other decent, well-meaning white southerners, they were born into the system of racial segregation, but they harbored no hatred of blacks. Indeed, there were some genuinely loving friendships between blacks and whites, especially between black and white women. But they were emotionally shackled by a system that required holding back feelings and avoiding openly embracing each otherâs humanity. So there was intimacy and denial of intimacy â a system of wounded love. Always you had to be aware of how far you could go. The social taboo â the line that must never be crossed, on fear of death for black men â was interracial mixing â the great sexual bugaboo. Until 1967 when the Supreme Court struck down Virginiaâs law against interracial marriage as unconstitutional, mixed marriage was a felony in the state of Virginia and other southern states.
Weâve come a long way since 1954. Interracial marriage is no longer taboo, we have an interracial president who was raised by a single white mother and his white grandparents, and schools throughout the country are racially integrated though still segregated in many areas because of housing patterns. But weâre not in a post-racial society yet. Blacks still experience discrimination in job opportunities, housing, educational opportunity, access to medical treatment, and administration of justice. Black male children are especially at risk of racial hatred, such as the wanton murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose murderer was acquitted. Black male students in grades K-12 are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended from school than white students. Young black men are stigmatized as criminals or potential criminals. According to the Center for American Progress, people of color are â disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts.â
So segregation is no longer legal but America still suffers from racism. Indeed, since President Obamaâs election, racism seems to have surged particularly in the Republican Party. Legislation to hinder and limit the voting rights of African-Americans and other non-white minorities has been passed in various Republican-led states. Jim Crow has resurfaced under the guise of preventing so-called voter fraud. The journey to get beyond racial segregation that began 60 years ago with the Brown v. Board of Education decision hasnât been completed yet. But I choose to believe we can overcome racism if enough people of good will speak out and remain vigilant. In some small pockets of the country, including many in the South, it has already happened quietly and peacefully.
If Freud had known more about the birds and bees, he might never have fantasized his theory of penis envy. In fact, a lot of theories about what sex is or ought to be might be vastly different if they were more firmly grounded in biology than in romance. The truth is: What passes for the story of the birds and the bees is a bedtime tale for innocents that leaves out more than it tells. In the reality of the wild, birds, bees, butterflies, snailsâeven orchids and avocadosââdo itâ in ways that would make the erotic Hindu sculptures at Konarak blush all the way down to their stone toenails. A tableau of nonhuman sexual strategies includes cannibals, transvestites, hermaphrodites, homosexual rapists, males with two penises, and plants that deceive, seduce, and kill. When it comes to mixing genesâand biologically, thatâs what sex is all aboutâanything and everything goes.
There are almost as many ways and positions for âdoing itâ as they are creatures on the face of the Earth. Our human repertoire of seduction techniques seems unimaginative by comparison. Some animals and plants change sex as blithely as humans slip into evening clothes. Others resort to trickeryâthe biological equivalent of our sexual con games. A few animals even give up their lives for sex, but unlike us humans, they donât have any choice in the matter. In the nonhuman world, sexual behavior is genetically programmed. Here, sex is straight and unadulterated. Nobody worries about whoâs on top or who comes first or whether orgasms are clitoral or vaginal. There are no value judgments attachedâno âcrimes against nature,â sexual deviates, âunnaturalâ sex acts. Evolution favors whatever strategy best enables an animal or plant to pass along its genes and leave successful offspring.
Itâs fun to be a voyeur in the world of nonhuman sex, but thereâs a more serious reason for paying close attention to the birds and the bees. Training binoculars on nonhuman erotic windows can provide new biological perspectives on human sexual behaviorâparticularly taboos and discrimination, rape, wife-beating, and possibly other forms of sexual aggression. First, however, itâs necessary to give up some of our human chauvinist ideas. Excerpted from my book "How To Have Sex If You're Not Human"
Scientific illiteracy will kill us all. It's not a nuclear blast we have to fear but the blast of ignorance that characterizes the Republican Tea Party and the religious right. Scientific ignorance is the greatest threat to national security, global security and personal security. Yet, we have members of Congress celebrating such ignorance and trying to pass it off as public policy. Some of the statements coming out of politicians' mouths are so stupid, a fiction writer could hardly make them up. In recent months, Congresspersons, ex-Congresspersons and political candidates have made statements that are downright scary. Here's a sampling:
On Rape and Women's Bodies"From what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If itâs a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," proclaimed Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), the 2012 Republican Senate nominee from Missouri. Thankfully, the voters in Missouri shut down Akin's bid and reelected Senator Claire McCaskill.
On Wind Energy and Climate Change"Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about." This came out of the mouth of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)
This same Congressman told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee: "I would point out that people like me who support hydrocarbon development don't deny that climate is changing. "I think you can have an honest difference of opinion of what's causing that change without automatically being either all in that's all because of mankind or it's all just natural. I think there's a divergence of evidence. . . I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy."
Jim Sensenbrenner (R=WI) called research on climate change "an international conspiracy." Sensenbrenner is on House Science Committee.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) said: âAll that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And itâs lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.â In the same speech, Broun claimed âI donât believe that the Earthâs but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. Thatâs what the Bible says.â This shining light of knowledge is also on the House Science Committee.
Just so I don't leave you in this muddle of negativity, here's a smart comment from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Natural History, New York City.
âRecognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. Thatâs kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. Itâs not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.â
This is the season when people give lip service in talk and song to âpeace on Earth,â yet we live in a society that promotes violence. From video games to the NRA, the gunslinger as hero is promoted in thousands of ways, some subtle, some blatant. On December 13, 2013, the day before the first anniversary of the massacre of 20 first-graders and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Bill Moyers interviewed Richard Slotkin, former professor at Wesleyan University and author of âThe Fatal Environment,â âRegeneration Through Violence,â âGunslinger Nation,â and his most recent book, âThe Long Road to Antietam.â Discussing the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, Professor Slotkin pointed out that Lanza was obsessed with violent video games and used them, in effect, to train himself for his deadly attack on children and teachers. He also shot his mother and himself. Violent video games like âGrand Theft Auto,â -- of which there are now five versions -- can act as âtraining filmsâ for criminality similar to the way the military uses video games to train soldiers. Moyers showed an excerpt from a video game that has even been developed about the Newtown massacre. The game allows the viewer to follow and actively shoot students in a classroom. Greed and exploitation know neither good taste nor compassion.
Since the Newtown massacre there have been 26 more school shootings with 200 children killed. Itâs possible to look at violence as a disease epidemic in the U.S. Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2010 alone (the latest year for which the CDC has records), a total of 31,672 Americans were killed by guns; 2694 were children or teens. âWe produce the lone killer . . . [whoâs] trying to validate himself or herself in terms of our society,â Slotkin said. But the school shooters are all men, Moyers pointed out, asking why that is. Slotkin replied that white men âfeel their position is imperiledâ and turn to the âmystique of weapons.â Guns are symbols of âproductive violence,â Slotkin said. Yet the only thing produced is dead bodies, heartbreak and grief.
Incredibly, following the Newtown shootings, the NRA campaigned for more guns, arming teachers, rather than accepting even the weakest, most basic, of gun control measures such as background checks. I have no quarrel with hunting. I grew up on a farm. My father and all the other farmers in our neighborhood had guns for hunting. Daddy shot rabbits and squirrels, and Mother cooked them, and we ate them. I learned to shoot but unlike my brother, was never interested in hunting. In rural environments where populations of some animals, such as deer, have exploded because they have no predators, a hunting season makes sense. But the hunting argument canât be used to support military assault weapons in city streets. You donât hunt deer with AK-47s. People are the only prey in urban environments.
Peace on Earth is just another dream unless we begin teaching peace as fervently as we teach war. The reality of school shootings is the nightmare we currently inhabit.
Blasting off to outer space in my rocket ship
I'm not on drugs but I'm high from the trip.
My mission is to find another place,
a planet or a moon where the human race
can start a new world when ours is destroyed
by leaders who treat lethal weapons like toys.
As I orbit the Earth, tears come to my eyes
'Cause it's the only living planet in these pitch black skies.
The only one that shines with a deep blue sea,
The only one that breathes life's chemistry,
The only one to harbor life's amazing evolution
But to keep it going, we need a revolution,
not the kind that's fought with weapons of terror
but with intelligence to admit human error.
From the windows of my ship in the vacuum of space
Earth looks as small as one human face,
And I think of all the people as one and the same,
The same human species with one human name.
Underneath the different languages and different colored skins,
We're all the same -- just women and men.
All living together on this one cosmic ball
where survival will depend on the efforts of us all.
The view is very different when you go out far.
You can see the total folly of any kind of war.
You can see our leaders acting out with their primitive brains
Ancient battles that took place on Africa's plains.
But the weapons are no longer sticks and stones.
It's high technology with nuclear bombs.
And if that's not enough hanging over our heads,
Radioactive wastes may kill us all dead.
Or destruction of the ozone can let in deadly rays
of that blazing solar furnace that lights all our days.
The dolphins are dying, and they say it's from pollution,
But the leaders of the world haven't found a solution.
Maybe they're dumb or just too lazy
Or maybe they're just downright crazy.
From my vantage point in my rocket ship,
It seems like a shame to let things slip
right out of our hands when we have the power
to protect the Earth and make it flower.
I am coming home because my mission is over.
There is nowhere to go for this interplanetary rover.
No other place in the whole Milky Way
Where human beings could possibly stay,
No other planet, no asteroid or rock
Where human beings could set up shop.
If we start anew, it will have to be down there
On our planet with water and breathable air.
I make my last orbit and tears come to my eyes
'Cause Earth's the only planet in these pitch black skies.
The only one that shines with a deep blue sea,
The only one that breathes life's chemistry.
The only one that harbors life's amazing evolution,
But to keep it going, we need a global revolution,
Not the kind fought with weapons of terror,
But with intelligence to admit human error,
A change that comes within the heart and mind,
Achieving peace for humankind.
This was written several years before 9/11.
This past weekend (Feb. 22-23, 2013) I attended Christopher Newport Universityâs annual Writers Conference--the 32nd, in fact. This one honored my dear friend and wonderful writer Doris Gwaltney, author of HOMEFRONT. See Dorisâ Facebook page. Doris Gwaltney became coordinator of the conference in its fifth year and served in that capacity for eight years. She teaches a Lifelong Learning class in creative writing, and has been a mentor and inspiration to many local writers. She also serves on the Advisory Council for the CNU Writers Conference.
I always find this writers conference nourishing, and this yearâs was no exception. Humans rights was the theme of the conference and the opening dayâs panel discussed human rights issues, including rape, violence against women and children, and human trafficking in sexual and other forms of slavery.
Novelist and attorney Corban Addison gave an outstanding presentation about his novel, A WALK ACROSS THE SUN, and his involvement with international justice movements to combat human trafficking, which he called âthe fastest growing criminal industry in the world.â Trafficking for sexual and other forms of slavery is not just something that happens in other countries. Addison pointed out that in the United States some 100,000 American children are trafficked every year. âItâs as easy to order a girl on the Internet as it is to order a pizza.,â he said, adding that âWe spend more on military marching bands than on liberating slaves.â Globally about 2 million children are trafficked every year. The average American sex buyer is male, as are sex tourists that go to Thailand, which is known for an active sex trade in young girls. Until the grassroots rises and demands an end to this kind of slavery, âdollars will continue to fuel the trade,â Addison said. He advocated an educational campaign on human trafficking similar to drug trafficking education.
Rosemary Trible, wife of CNU President Paul Trible, talked about her book, FEAR TO FREEDOM, about her rape experience when she was in her twenties. Since then she has become an advocate for rape victims and founded the nonprofit organization, Fear 2 Freedom, which provides aid to victims of sexual abuse. âI donât believe anybody eight-years-old says, âIâd like to be a prostitute when I grow up,ââ Trible said.
Tina Kempin Reuter, CNU assistant professor of international politics and law, presented the policy angle on human rights, pointing out that the concept of human rights is only about 70 years old, and because of communications technology, more people than ever before are aware of human trafficking. With increased awareness, there is a greater chance that more laws against this practice will be passed and implemented.
In a panel on âThe Facts about Fiction,â novelist Michael Farmer said a writer needs to know three things: the truth, the subject and the trade. A writer of Western novels, Farmer described the rigorous research that goes into each of his books and the need for authentic details to bring a story alive. Farmer is a member of the Isle of Wight, Virginia, writers group. His novel, HOMBRECITOâS WAR, was a 2006 Spur Finalist and a 2007 New Mexico Finalist for Best Historical Fiction. Other members of this panel were mystery writer Maria Hudgins and poet Nathan Richardson.
Saturdayâs keynote speaker Lucinda Roy, Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech University, talked about her memoir, NO RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, about the 2007 shooting that killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Tech. Roy had taught the student, Seung-Hui Cho, who opened fire on students and faculty and then killed himself. She said she had recognized he was a troubled kid and tried to obtain some help for him but none was forthcoming. The experience, which affected her deeply, is the subject of her memoir.
Steve Watkins, author of the novels DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN (winner of the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction) and WHAT COMES AFTER, presented a lively, humorous discussion on âWhy Write YA.â Books for this age group -- 14 up -- find a ready market that continually renews itself as children from the middle grade readership grow up the literary ladder. Watkins pointed out that girls are the primary readers of fiction in the YA category and that they like to read books in which the protagonist is at least one year older than they are. YA novels these days deal with adult topics, including rape, pregnancy, drugs, crime, homelessness, etc., and many are read by adults.
There were many other fine panels and presenters but impossible to attend them all. Itâs always refreshing to mingle with other writers, listen to accomplished authors talk about how they work and reenergize the creative batteries for the projects at hand and those on the drawing board.
Congratulations to Cindy Halliday, Conference Coordinator, poet Ann Falcone Shalaski, President of the Advisory Council for the CNU Writers Conference, Joanne Dingus, and all the other council members and those from the Lifelong Learning Society who were involved in organizing this wonderful conference.
I am honored to be featured on Morgen Bailey's wonderful Writing Blog. A great blog for writers to follow.
I made it into the Authors Show 2012 edition of 50 GREAT WRITERS YOU SHOULD BE READING. Thanks to everyone who voted for me.
Today's EXPLORING NATURE podcast was devoted to climate change. Hurricane Sandy brought this issue to the fore. There is no more urgent issue than climate change. Worry about whether Iran develops a nuclear weapon pales next to climate change, which will have devastating consequences for the entire planet if governments don't address it. The two governments that most urgently need to address climate change are the United States and China. Yet we have some politicians and the fossil fuel industries that refuse to recognize the seriousness of climate change. They are stuck in denial and in an anti-science attitude that endangers all life on Earth.
The science and signs of climate change are out there. The scientific community has been in agreement about climate change for some 40 years. The changes are accumulating rapidly, more rapidly than originally predicted. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000 to 2009 was the warmest decade ever recorded. If people keep on adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate, the average temperature around the world could increase by 4 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.
Increased temperature affects the oceans, weather patterns, snow, ice, plants and animals, including people. As the top layer of the ocean gets warmer, hurricanes and other tropical storms grow stronger with faster winds and heavier rain. That's what we saw with Sandy.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has experienced more intense single-day storms that are dumping a lot more rain or snow than usual.
In the past century, there has been about a foot of sea level rise in the New York City area, and this figured in hurricane Sandy with the storm surge added to the normal tidal surge, producing devastating flooding for New York and New Jersey.
Melting sea ice is also a factor and will continue to be a factor in the world's coastal areas where so many large cities are located. Arctic sea ice reached its lowest seasonal minimum since satellite data began to be kept in 1979.
Summer 2012 was the third hottest on record.
The trends of wilder weather and greater temperature extremes are expected to continue. Exactly what climate scientists have been predicting for more than 20 years is happening. Everyone needs to pay attention and pressure their governments to do something about it while we still can.
Rape is the topic of my latest podcast, EXPLORING NATURE. Rape is not a pretty topic. It's downright ugly and the politics of rape are uglier than I've ever seen them in my lifetime. Rape victims are under attack again. I say again because for centuries there was a blame-the-woman attitude toward rape, as if rape was not something to take seriously--just some "boys-will-be-boys" fun. Women somehow brought on rape by dressing seductively or by inviting intercourse and then lying about it to trap some poor unfortunate man. The man was the victim. When rape began to be taken seriously as a crime, it was seen as a property crime against the husband or the father. It was his property, not the woman victim, that suffered the attack. The raped woman was "damaged goods."
It took many decades for rape to be defined as a violent crime against the victim. The World Health Organization defines rape as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration--even if slight--of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object." The FBI's definition, as of 2012, is "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
Rape is a crime of violence but this fact seems to have been lost on a group of Republican male legislators whose goal is to deny women victims access to abortion for any cause. Displaying ignorance of women's anatomy and science, and a stunning callousness toward rape victims, these legislators are more concerned about the rapist's sperm investment than the woman's violation. They downgrade the seriousness of rape by parsing "forcible rape," "legitimate rape," and pregnancy from rape as a gift of God. But rape is rape. There is no acceptable rape and no holy rape.
Most recently, Richard Mourdock, Indiana Republican running for the Senate, made the astounding statement that pregnancy resulting from rape is, "something God intended to happen . . . a gift from God." This statement is one of the most offensive remarks about rape I have ever heard. It implies a theory of divine rape. Mr. Murdock's view would open the door for a rapist to defend himself by arguing that he was just carrying out God's will.
Then there was Todd Akin, Republican congressman from Missouri, coining the term "legitimate rape," and displaying his ignorance of science by proclaiming that a woman's body could "shut down" pregnancy resulting from rape.
Murdock and Akin are extremists but they aren't alone. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is on the record saying rape is just another method of conception and not a reason to allow abortion. About a dozen Republican Senate candidates oppose abortion for rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
There are several things to note about these efforts to turn back the clock on rape victims. First, these men constitute an anti-abortion Mafia. Their extreme view on pregnancy from rape are part and parcel of a general war on women being waged primarily by Republican men. Secondly, they don't talk about rape as a violent crime. By their statements and the bills they sponsor, they are more interested in protecting a fertilized egg than in protecting women from rape. What they end up protecting is the rapist.
Every year in the United States, between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies result from rape. Mr. Akin needs some medical instruction about women's bodies. There is no mechanism for "shutting down" pregnancy from rape. Perhaps Mr. Akin is more familiar with the bodies of some female insects than with women's bodies. Female tenebrionid beetles of the species Pterostichus Lucublandus produce a kind of chemical mace that they use not only against predators but also against unwanted males. This spray is so disabling that even after the male cleans himself, he falls into a kind of coma for several hours, giving her time to get away. Of course, the female pays a price for this defense. Until she can resynthesize her supply of defensive spray, she is vulnerable to predators.
Women are vulnerable to predatory men. The worst predators currently are the male legislators who are passing laws and sponsoring bills that have the intent of controlling women's bodies and denying women autonomy over their reproductive biology. The remarks of Mourdock, Akin and Ryan display contempt for women and should be unacceptable to any sane person.
Hear more by listening to the podcast. Also see my book, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, which has an entire chapter on how males across the animal kingdom try to subvert female choice.
Today's podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, presents Part II of the discussion about war as the culture of death for the human species, the environment and the planet. Unlike the Stone Age, when people hurled stones at each other and had no weapons of mass destruction nor any concept of a global ecosystem, violent conflict was a local head-bashing between neighboring tribes. Today's techno-warfare with remotely controlled drones, missiles and bombs threatens all life on Earth. Yet humans use these weapons as if they were living in the Stone Age, and that is the most dangerous aspect of warfare today. The humans who promote war as the only way to resolve conflicts, who substitute bombs for brains, are using Stone Age behavior with Space Age weapons. This disconnect between behavior and technology imperils the planet and the survival of the human species. Given the awesome destructive power of modern weapons, war should be declared obsolete by all nations on Earth.
Since my last posting, I've done a couple new interviews with some terrific interviewers.
Yesterday (April 16) I was on Flora Brown's wonderful podcast, COLOR MY LIFE HAPPY. We had a good time talking about the sex lives of animals and plants from my new eBook, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN. The show is archived and you can listen anytime.
On April 11th, I was on SUSAN RICH TALKS: LOVE AND LIFESTYLE, talking about my favorite subjects -- animal mating habits and the role of female mate choice in evolution, from my book SEXUAL STRATEGIES: HOW FEMALES CHOOSE THEIR MATES. This show is also archived and you can listen at your convenience.
My podcasts, EXPLORING NATURE WITH MARY BATTEN, are also archived. On yesterday's podcast, I talked about trickery in nature. I'll present part II of this fascinating topic next Monday, April 23rd. Tune in.
Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said it loud and clear: voter suppression is âtreasonousâ!
Of course, you wonât hear Republican legislators calling these treasonous laws -- there are 150 of them in 37 states -- voter suppression. Theyâre about âelection integrityâ and âprotectingâ the election process from voter fraud. But the real fraud is these laws, and fraud stinks. âElection integrityâ is a sham, a lie invented to cover up these lawsâ real purpose â preventing certain Americans from exercising their right to vote.
You have to understand, these fraudulent laws donât target just anybody. Theyâre highly selective, aimed at people that traditionally vote Democratic: the elderly, the young, and minorities. Red Robbinâ has replaced Jim Crow. Instead of a poll tax, these laws intimidate, discourage and block voters by requiring a government-issued photo ID, which can be difficult and costly to obtain. Other voter-extermination tactics include shortening the early voting period and making it difficult if not impossible for third-party organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register voters. Some states have even reduced the operating hours or closed offices where residents can obtain photo ID.
Once again, Florida is ground zero for fraudulently disenfranchising voters. The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state, charging that its voter purge program, which would disenfranchise up to 180,000 voters, violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Virginiaâs in on the act, too. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law legislation that will make it harder for thousands of Virginians to exercise their right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) called the act âan affront to Virginians and the Constitution.â
But who cares? Republican Senator Mitch McConnell set the stage for this antidemocratic drama: âThe single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,â he said in an interview with the National Journalâs Major Garrett on October 29, 2010. Republicans have ruthlessly pursued that agenda since President Obama took office. Turning their backs on governing and the people who elected them, Republicans have blocked, stalled, obstructed and killed all the bills that President Obama initiated to create jobs and help the American people. Now, with voter suppression measures, they are out to kill American democracy. This is not only treasonous, it also amounts to what former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls a âquiet, slow-motion coup dâetat.â Voters are the only check on this coup. Bankrupt of ideas, candidates, and proposals to help anybody except millionaires and billionaires, Republicans are out to overthrow democracy itself. If they win, America will become a fascist, corporate country controlled by an extremely wealthy elite riding on the backs of the middle class and the poor. It would, as former President Bill Clinton said, be âcalamitous for our country and the world.â Itâs up to we the people to prevent the stink of a fraudulent election.
Every Monday I host a podcast called EXPLORING NATURE. Each show takes listeners into unusual, sometimes bizarre, hidden worlds of animals and plants. A lot of human behavior, sometimes political, sometimes romantic, is sprinkled in. Air time is Monday, 2-2:30 PM, ET. All shows are archived and can be heard anytime. Show topic for Monday, September 10, 2012, is confidence of paternity, which it means, and tactics both human and nonhuman males use to ensure confidence of paternity. Men's tactics to control women and ensure confidence of paternity take some of the most brutal forms found in nature. Here's the link to the upcoming show: I encourage listeners to call in with questions or comments. Thanks for listening.
The September 17, 2012 edition of my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, explains why the anti-science attitudes in the U.S. are handicapping our students and threatening national security by graduating students who do not have the knowledge to cope with the world. Never has it been more important for children to have a sound science education yet we have one political party â the Republicans â and fundamentalist religious groups that oppose scientific facts and celebrate ignorance. These attitudes hark back to a pre-scientific era when superstition took precedence over evidence. Recent statements by politicians are mind-boggling in their stupidity. Yes, stupidity is the right word. We have Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akinâs comment about âlegitimate rape,â and his further fake science comment that the female body can shut down pregnancy that occurs by âlegitimate rape.â Thereâs no evidence for anything he said. During the Republican primaries, Texas governor Rick Perry dismissed evolution as âjust a theoryâ that has âsome gaps in it.â Evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences. Itâs as firmly established as gravity. Media interviewers sometimes ask politicians whether they believe in evolution. But evolution isnât a belief. Itâs a firmly established fact of life on Earth. Would anybody ask whether one believes in gravity? This dangerous opposition to the teaching of evolution and the attempt to teach creationism in the science classroom confuses religion with science and leaves children uneducated in the basic science of life. Science and religion are two completely different things. Religion is faith-based. Science is evidence-based. Letâs just review what science is. Simply, science is the best system we have for gaining knowledge using observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The experimental method is a technique for obtaining knowledge about humans and their physical environment. Applying the experimental method involves several steps. The initial step is seeing and stating a problem in the form of a question. Then all the information that might have anything to do with the problem is used to set up hypotheses, or possible explanations. These hypotheses are tested, not once but many times. If none of the hypotheses solve the problem, alternatives are sought. In sum, the experimental method is a tool for finding, testing, and choosing among alternative solutions to physical or social problems. In this way, the method enables people to use chance, rather than be victimized by it, and to use their minds in solving problems, perhaps to a degree as yet unimagined. The significance of the experimental method is that it is a controlled way of knowing. Older ideas suggested knowledge could be obtained by psychological meansâintense belief or feelingâand that such knowledge was absolute or unalterable. Such a theory of certainty acted as a strait jacket on the mind by precluding fresh inquiries and making some subjects off-limits for investigation. Experimental scienceâs great contribution to human development was in challenging the theory of absolute truth. According to experimental science, reality simply did not support such a theory of sbsolute truth. Nature, including human nature, constantly changes. Why shouldnât our methods of obtaining knowledge relate to what is happening? Why should a personâs word or feelings be accepted as proof? To be useful, knowledge should be available to more than one person, and it should correspond to physical reality. Knowledge, therefore, needed a more substantial basis than a personâs word or feeling; it needed concrete, demonstrable evidence. And humans needed a way to determine when a theory could be accepted as knowledge. Controlled testing was the solution. Controlled testing is a way of placing limits on an experiment for the purpose of demonstrating whether a hypothesis corresponds to physical reality. Problems are composed of many little parts, any one of which might be significant. To reduce the risk of leaving out something that might be important, a scientist tests these partsâcalled variablesâone by one. For example, in investigating whether humans could travel to the moon, scientists first analyzed the problem into its many components: what was the moonâs atmosphere? Its soil? What kind of clothes did space travelers need? What type of landing craft was required? How much power was needed to launch the spacecraft and, send it to the moon and then return to Earth? Had scientist tried to devise one test which would answer the large question, they might have left out something of life-saving importance. As the experimental method began to be used, subjects previously forbidden to science, such as human anatomy, were investigated. Old theories which had been accepted without question for centuriesâthat the Earth was flat, that the the sun revolved about the Earth, that disease caused germs rather than the other way around--were disproved after instruments were invented to observe and measure such characteristics and relationships. Some people hated to see a cherished theory disproved, and they resisted the new methods of experimental science with arguments, violence, and even with laws that censored or banned ideas which questioned the views of the people in power. Sound familiar? This is where we are right now, as the anti-science crowd tries to take us backwards by opposing the teaching of evolution and by declaring climate change a hoax despite decades of evidence to the contrary. Again Iâll go back to Texas governor Perry because heâs such a clear example of willful ignorance. Governor Perry made the astounding statement that âa substantial number of scientists . . . have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate change.â This statement is not only ignorant; itâs a lie. Decades of data support the fact that global warming, caused by human activity, is occurring at a rapidly accelerating rate. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 97 to 98 percent of researchers studying climate say that the evidence for climate change is getting stronger, not weaker. The current support for ignorance on the part of Republicans and fundamentalists make me think of the situation Galileo faced in the 1600s when he reported his observations and measurements that the sunânot the Earth--was the center of our solar system. The religion-driven opposition to a heliocentric universe was so strong that in 1633 Galileo was tried by the Roman inquisition, found guilty of heresy, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Superstition, refusal to accept evidence, holds back the pursuit of knowledge. In our own time, we are seeing a devastating effect on science education in state after state that bans the teaching or evolution or distorts science education by confusing it with religion. Anti-science is shortsighted and can only weaken our national security by failing to give children the education they need to confront our highly technological world.
Today's podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, deals with female mate choice in the context of evolutionary biology. In his book, Social Evolution, biologist Robert Trivers pointed out that female choice "is not just a matter of permitting sex." In biology, female choice means more than a female showing her preference for certain males. It means more than her selecting a male for his attractiveness, more than her being receptive to sex. For female choice to be meaningful in evolutionary terms, it must also be adaptive. Her decision must enable her to produce more offspring that are better adapted to survive than if she had mated randomly. You can listen to this fascinating episode on blogtalkradio:
You may think you know some weirdos, possibly a few in your own family, but chances are, these eccentrics are colorless bores next to some of the bizarre types found in the nonhuman animal kingdom. It's hard to say which is numero uno, the panda with its five fingers and so-called pseudothumb, the changeable chameleon, whose lightning-fast tongue is almost twice as long as its body, or the tuatara, which has third eyelid in the top of its head and is the only survivor of a group of reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.
Weirdness, of course, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder--or, in the case of the tuatara, in the third eye of the beholdee. It all depends on who, or what, you are. Just as there are varying degrees of beauty, so are there different levels of weirdness. Some animals and humans merely look weird; others act weird; and some look at weird as they act or vice versa. These and other animal weirdos are the topic of my EXPLORING NATURE podcast for October 1, 2012. Air time: 2-2:30 PM, ET, or listen to archived show anytime.
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Today on my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, I'll be talking about war in the context of environmental degradation.
Imagine the puzzlement of intelligent beings from another planet as they approach Earth. Descending through Earthâs dense atmosphere, the shipâs sophisticated sensors whirr with incoming data. The readings are bizarre: millions of acres of land littered with explosive devices; landscapes pockmarked by bomb craters; radioactive materials polluting bodies of water both large and small; toxic chemicals poisoning soils; carbon dioxide clogging the air, building up heat around the planet. Incredibly, the planet appears to be a toxic waste dump. These intelligent aliens might well wonder what kind of crazed animal wreaks such damage on an otherwise beautiful planet, one that seems so suitable for life. They might be even more surprised to learn that the damage was and continues to be done by the species considered the most intelligent on Earth â Homo sapiens.
Why does a species with such a short lifespan spend so many of its precious years making life as miserable as possible, even hastening death for so many of its own kind? One might conclude that they are possessed by such a deep hatred for life that they are willing to attack and poison the only known planet that sustains and nourishes them.
Whatever the pathology in the wiring of some human brains â inexplicably those in the heads of men likely to be leaders of countries â it has invented a monstrous self-deception that war and national security are inseparably linked. In pursuit of this illusion, governments spend most of their economic and human resources manufacturing, selling and buying weapons of destruction that not only increase insecurity but threaten all life on the planet.. Back on October 28, 2002, the first observance of the International Day for Preventing Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said: âWar not only causes human suffering. It can also be devastating to the environment. Long after peace has been restored, the negative environmental impacts of conflict often remain.â
War is hell on Earth. Environmental destruction is a strategy of war. There is hardly any environment on the planet that has not been scarred, scorched, poisoned, mined, radiated or otherwise brutalized by war. The worldâs armed forces are the single biggest polluters of the planet. According to the Science for Peace Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada, 10 to 30 percent of all global environmental degradation is a direct result of military actions (Ref. 1). Eleven nuclear reactors and at least 50 nuclear warheads sit on the ocean floor. Mines and unexploded ordnance lie in wait in some 90 countries. According to the International Commission of the Red Cross, 100 million land mines are scattered around the world where they kill or maim between 1,000 and 2,000 people, mostly children, every month. After more than 23 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, its once dense forests and much of its farmland have been destroyed, and rare species of birds and mammals, such as snow leopards, gazelles, bears, and wolves, are endangered.
In Iraq, 12 years of U.S. invasion and occupation have left that country crippled, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, homes, schools, hospitals, electrical and sanitation systems destroyed, some some 2 to 4 million refugees, depending on whose figures you use. Iraquisâ air, soil, water, blood and gene pool have been contaminated with depleted uranium, resulting in birth defects and cancers. And the environment is littered with unexploded cluster bombs.
The Vietnam war has been called âan unprecedented assault on the environment.â Ten percent of southern Vietnamâs tropical forests, including one-third of its coastal mangroves were destroyed by herbicides. Mangroves play a vital role in coastal ecology and provide a rich source of food that sustains fish populations. Over the course of 13 years, from 1961 to 1974, Vietnam was repeatedly hit by cluster bomb units (CBUs), affectionately called âbomblets,â large bombs, napam, land mines, and toxic chemicals. The countryâs soils, water systems, biological diversity, and even its climate were affected. During the course of the war, the United States admitted it dropped 72 million liters of chemicals on Vietnam, most of it Agent Orange. This highly toxic agent contained the most dangerous type of dioxin called TCDD, which stands for 2, 3, 7, 8 tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. Known to cause almost every kind of cancer, TCDD spread throughout Vietnamâs drinking water and soils and entered the food chain. From there, the toxic chemical got into the blood of animals, including humans, where it entered the germ cells, subverted DNA, the basic molecule of life, and caused mutations â babies born with two heads, fingers and toes that drop off, strange limbs, and retarded growth. Both human and environmental effects will continue long into the future.
The most devastating assault on humanity, one that launched the horror of nuclear war, occurred in August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, nicknamed âLittle Boy,â on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Watching the mushroom cloud boiling up from what had been a city filled with life, Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 airplane that dropped the bomb, wrote in his journal: âMy God, what have we done?â The heat, air pressure, and radiation from the explosion made it seem as if a sun had exploded. Within seconds, people, buildings, plants, and all animal life within a 1.5-mile radius was vaporized. For months and years to come, people exposed to the radiation died â more than 140,000 by the end of 1945. An estimated total of 200,000 people are believed to have died as a result of the bomb.
Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this one on the city of Nagasaki. Approximately 70,000 people died by the end of 1945 as a result of this bomb, nicknamed âFat Man.â
One might have thought that the horror, suffering, death, and devastation caused by these two bombs would have been enough for governments to take immediate action to outlaw such weapons. Instead, it triggered a nuclear arms build-up, known as the Cold War, between the United States and the former Soviet Union that continues to threaten the entire planet even though the Cold War has ended. The activities of producing these deadly weapons and the disposal of the waste by-products have created entire areas of the planet that are now radioactive.
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