Sentence of the Day, Last Saturday of August 2021

Nine of the twelve people who have ever walked on the moon came to Iceland first.

How Iceland Changed the World, p. 185

Favorite Reads, So Far 2021

The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal (science fiction)

High as the Waters Rise, by Anja Kampmann (first novel)

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan (environment)

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (environment)

Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, by Keith Lowe (WWII history)

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (mystery)

The Fascination of Simulations

Elizabeth Kolbert is very fascinated by simulations of fragile ecological environments, the ones where scientists test out various doomsday scenarios. Under a White Sky is full of such sims.They cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and maintain.

What must it be like to work in one of those? Self would love it. But Kolbert is a straight arrow: she describes the scientific work in such a way that it appears — by design — dull. Kolbert doesn’t think it’s dull, but the scientists are so self-deprecating.

On p. 109, Kolbert is interviewing Paul Hardity, the Director of SeaSim, a simulation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

She has him saying this:

  • “We come from this planet. Anyway, I’m getting a little philosophical. I’m going to have to go home and watch a hockey game.”

HAR HAR HAR!!!!

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Save the Pupfish!

With just thirty-five Devils Hole pupfish left on the planet, the National Park Service refused to risk a single breeding pair. It was reluctant even to surrender any eggs. After months of argument and analysis, it finally allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to gather eggs in the off-season, when the chances of their surviving in the cavern were, in any case, low. The first summer, a single egg was collected; it died. The following winter, forty-two eggs were gathered; twenty-nine of these were successfully reared to adulthood.

— Under a White Sky, p. 81

“This is a good sign,” Gumm said.

Love how phlegmatic the scientist is. In truth, “she tries to spend some part of every day by the edge of the tank, just looking at the fish.”

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Sentence of the Day: Still Elizabeth Kolbert

Self is on Section 2 of Kolbert’s Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.

The future of life, Kolbert says, is Extinction.

And no one writes Extinction with a capital ‘E’ like Elizabeth Kolbert.

Kolbert is scary good when she writes about soon-to-be-extinct animal species.

In section 2, Into the Wild, she focuses her tremendous laser-like intelligence on pupfish, whose only known habitat is Devils Hole in Death Valley National Park.

She makes passing reference to Edward Abbey, whose Desert Solitaire made quite an impression on self when she read it, decades ago.

p. 78:

  • Though the book chronicles Abbey’s stint as a ranger in Arches National Park, in Utah, he wrote most of it sitting at a bar in a brothel just a few miles from Devils Hole.

A brothel? Really?

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Sentence of the Day: Elizabeth Kolbert

Self keeps wanting to spell the author’s name as “Colbert” because she loves Stephen Colbert.

Anyhoo, this author is FUNNY. Considering she’s writing about how we are all DOOMED because of our own stupidity, that’s quite a feat.

Essay # 1 of Under a White Sky did not slay self (Loved The Sixth Extinction, so Kolbert had big shoes to fill), but then Kolbert began discussing carp. Yes, you read that right: carp as in everyone’s Favorite Aquarium Fish. Apparently they have eyes affixed to the bottom of their skulls, meaning they are grazers like cows are grazers, only instead of grazing for grass the carp are grazing for algae or snails. After that, self became completely hooked. Anyhoo, someone had the genius idea of introducing carp to the Chicago River and they are destroying shellfish. Basically, the Chicago River is turning into one giant aquarium, there are probably more carp there than there are in China. They breed like crazy and it’s no use trying to make carp a popular food because they are so bony.

Essay # 2 is where self found the sentence of the day:

  • I was anxious, too, though only a little, since the Mississipi we were looking at was about five inches wide.

The author sets up all these challenges for herself, such as trying to reach the Gulf by WALKING from New Orleans and running into a little problem of wet socks. A paragraph later, she introduces us to an engineer who is keeping a close eye on a simulation of the Mississippi Delta while sitting in a folding chair in the Center for River Studies at Louisiana State. This model simulation must be really ACE because the engineer, Kolbert noticed, also “had wet socks.” The model was so accurate that it kept flooding, and the engineer couldn’t move from the folding chair because it was his job to document everything. At least, I think, Kolbert got her wet socks while actually WALKING.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Prize for the Most Deadpan Sentence Ever

After days spent tramping around in a tropical rain forest, wielding a machete to force a path through impenetrable jungle, Wake Forest University Professor “Silman was eager to learn as much as possible about the tree, so that when a new taxonomist could be found to replace the one who had died, he’d be able to send him all the necessary material.”

That sentence is delivered with the same aplomb one would use in describing the activities of, say, Paddington Bear!

Sentence of the Day: You Know the Source

The ruins of reefs from the Triassic, for example, can now be found towering thousands of feet above sea level in the Austrian Alps.

— Chapter VII, The Sixth Extinction

CO2 in the Anthropocene

Roughly one-third of the CO2 that humans have so far pumped into the air has been absorbed by the oceans. This comes to a stunning 150 million metric tons. As with most aspects of the Anthropocene, though, it’s not only the scale of the transfer but also the speed that’s significant. A useful (though admittedly imperfect comparison can be made to alcohol. Just as it makes a big difference to your blood chemistry whether you take a month to go through a six-pack or an hour, it makes a big difference to marine chemistry whether carbon dioxide is added over the course of a million years or a hundred. To the oceans, as to the human liver, rate matters.

— Chapter Six: The Sea Around Us, The Sixth Extinction

Sentence of the Day, Which Fortunately Is From the Book Self Is Still Reading

Balanus perforatus is a grayish barnacle that resembles a tiny volcano.

— Chapter VI, The Sixth Extinction

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