Thursday, January 29, 2004

book review: song of the dodo

ecology has been a favorite subject of mine since the 9th grade. the name of my teacher then -alas- escapes me, but i remember being excited whenever i was on my way to class. more clearly I remember being scolded by her when I brought in a plant from my neighborhood woods I'd never seen. "Jack in the pulpit" she said. "you shouldn't have picked it."

my love for it deepened under the sten tutelage of my 10th grade biology teacher Mr. Goss. He would stride around the room, a long ruler held behind his back. Whenever he came upon a student dozing he would strike the back of the chair to give him or her a nice jolt back into the classroom. "What the hand writes, the mind tends to remember," he would say, as we scribbled madly about the ins and outs of the ATP cycle. "Moderation in all things," he would say lecturing us on life and other tangents.

I remember peering into pond water and sketching what we saw, trying to emulate the great Carl Linnaeus and his ability to observe.

Alas for the Chemistry and Physics teachers who followed and crippled my interest in science.

What does this have to do with David Quammen's Song of the Dodo? Little perhaps, except that the author has done much to reawaken my desire to know more about ecology.

It is a great book that works on several levels. One it is a great peice of scientific history, tracing the roots of evolutionary theory, telling the story of alfred wallace, who came up with a theory similar to Darwin's independently, and from there unravelling a great train of thought and ideas, in particular, ideas concerning island biogeography, and how those ideas impact us and the planet.

Secondly, the author has a great eye for human quirks, his own as well as the quirks of the scientists he has interviewed and studied. It makes for good little travel stories that pepper the books, and it gives you a good sense of the people who are out in the field and universities arguing these issues.

Thirdly, he is good at explicating those ideas that have come and why they are important to us and our planet.

Taken all together it makes for a really well paced read, with a larger story that unfolds before you. What unfolds isn't entirely comforting -- we humans have hacked up the planet into little plots, transported all sorts of animals all over the world, and that is having a vast and dramatic effect on the flora and fuana worldwide.

He does provide hope, if only a little.


yesterday, walking to BART (both my bike and liz's have flats at the moment, and since my ability to fix my own flats has been remarkably lacking since I've lived in SF they will be like that til the weekend) the air was in one of those clear states where everything seems to pop into a more pronounced state of 3 dimensions. I'm not sure if you know what I mean but it happens, most often after a cleansing rain.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

state of the union

i didn't -- couldn't really -- watch the state of the union last night. i knew that i would feel angry and ill by the end of it. even during the clinton years, i couldn't really stomach it. all the clapping interruptions, the mostly vacuous and or misleading promises, and the glowing reviews of their own importance and effectiveness are hard for me to watch.

i heard his voice though, come wavering through a SUV window though and I was suddenly reminded of the last time I really watched any state of the union.

it was during another Bush, and I had invited over a girl for dinner -- a girl I'd had a long time crush on -- who liked me even -- but with whom I was too shy and intimidated to really make anything of it. Anyway, so I had on a whim invited her over for dinner, I can't remember if she'd called me or I her. But anyway, much to my surprise and much to the surprise of my best friend and roomate, she accepted.

so, I was stoked, and got busy preparing and she came over and we were having a good time... and then one of my other roommates walked in and flipped on the tube. it was the State of the Union, and as a political junkie herself she was inclined to watch.

my bestfriend desperately worked in my defence and tried to get the other roommate to go out, but he was clueless and I wanted to strangle him right there and then, but I didn't thing it would go over too well with her.

alas, hope faded, my roomate never left, but she did soon after the State of the Union was over.


Friday, January 16, 2004

bird in hand

signed an apartment lease yesterday, hurray!

no more thoughts on housing for a while

( of course, now we have to deal with moving. agh! )

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

movie review: cold mountain

first things first, this is a well-made, beautiful, well-acted movie with a great story.

unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, it falls far short of the book. it captures some of the characters and incidents of the story very well: Rene Z. as Ruby I think being the standout.

the most biggest difference between the book and the movie though is not in character or story ( though there are those differences too ), but in sentiment. the movie is rife with a sentimentality that is just not to be found in the book.

take Ada's life as a farm worker, for example. in the book it is all about lists, got to do this then that then this then that then this then that. reading the book you got a good sense of how different our lives are now from what they were back then for most folk ( or probably in all honesty for a good percentage of people alive today ). it was a shit load of work and the devil was in the details. there was nothing romantic about it. you get a little of this in the movie, but Ada doesn't seem to change very much -- she looks as much the fashionable Charleston woman at the end of the movie as she had started out with, she doesn't look worn, tired, mangled by the day to day facts of farming. it can be a good life, but a hard one nonetheless.

so to the boys that became soldiers. the movie paints one of Teagues men as a villain, mean and cruel to his bone, enjoying the wanton killing in which he is taking part, in the end in the final standoff between inman and this man, the man says something lame like. -- I have one advantage. -- what's that, says inman. -- the confidence of youth.

--- SPOILER ---

in the book he is a boy. not unusual or particularly evil, just used to violence. as inman thinks "once again he found himself in the familiar mode of violence" ( paraphrase, it is said better in the book ). in the final standoff, it is no charicature of two gunslingers going at it, but two men caught in a bad situation both afraid that the other will kill him as soon as he gets a chance. it is about survival.

the boy shoots, inman falls mortally wounded. "the boy looked at the gun in his hand as if he had not expected it to work so well, 'they god'"

in the movie there is a long drawn out scene where the man is obviously shot dead, but it is a good 10-15 seconds before Inman starts spitting up blood still astride his horse. a typical hollywood cliche if there ever was one. two men come together a gun goes off, one of the two got shot but which one!

the other telling difference is in the epilogue. Ada in the movie, on a gorgeous day, saving a baby sheep, voice over talking about inman and how she thinks about him.

in the book, inman's name does not even come up. it's not that he is not present, but it did not need to be stated.

Monday, January 12, 2004

more cool clouds

from Astronomy a Picture a Day:
from astronomy a picture a day

Sunday, January 11, 2004


i had a question pop into my head in royal grounds cafe the other night. i was killing an hour or so before i went to see a friend back off to Sweden ( good luck Sara and Felix! ) and i went in for a nice latte and some time to sit and write.

which i did, but hearing the conversations i did and seeing all the usual stuff on the walls, i had to wonder: are all cafes bastions of liberalism? this is not just a phenomena specific to san francisco, i see it wherever i go. even starbucks have a faintly distinguishable aroma of the non-american.

or is this just an illusion of mine? are there cafes out there that are bastions of the righteous right? i know they must like coffee, some of them at least. but are there cafes that cater to them? i have to hope not.

a bird not in the hand is worth what exactly


this weekend has been all about apartment hunting. not actually what I was expecting or wanting to do. but it was a sudden realization of what i needed to do. Liz was doing a meeting at work, so it was a solo effort for the most part.

but for the first time in a while i found myself enjoying it. which i think can be reduced to the simple fact that i was out on my bike in pretty darn fine weather, tooling around one of my favorite places on the planet (of which there are many in case you were wondering). i even saw some decent apartments which left me with an additional patina of hope.

not that we've come away from the weekend with an apartment, but at least i had a good time, wrote a couple letters, and had a beer in one of my favorite cafes (of which there are many...)

my favorite signage from the weekend:
minumum clearance less than expected

a bird in not in the hand, is worth what exactly?
pigeon in the lower right corner

click on either image to see a quickly made up homage to the years leaving and coming.

Friday, January 09, 2004

one week in

busy, but not quite insane yet, although liz is essentially gone this weekend and the next. i've yet to sink into any of my personal projects that are out there lying in wait for me. this weekend. this weekend. i will avoid playing my playstation.

cool links of late:


mars (spirit stood up today, hurray!)

this blog showing us how the world could be better

Friday, January 02, 2004

merry new year

"a deep breath before the plunge"

I'm not really looking forward to this year. Liz and I still have to find an apartment to rent for one thing. We've been looking and looking, thinking and thinking about renting and buying and renting and buying, and looking some more and I'm tired of it. Especially, as I could happily stay in my current apartment were circumstances any different. It is not so much that I mind the act of moving though, it's just the act of looking and deciding can be so wearisome and frought.

The other looming battle is that of the presidential election. The Sierra Club is going to be throwing everything at it, and one of those things is me. It will be a busy year. It is a daunting prospect too, as we have an uphill battle to fight, and it has been hard to be optimistic about politics of late.

Still if I look at my own personal life, and what I have done, and what I could do, learn the guitar, write a novel, write a children's book, paint, volunteer, hang out in cafes and all that, there is a lot to be excited about. I'm lucky compared to much of the world with what I have and what I have access to. Sometimes though it is hard to remember that.