Sunday Afternoon Dispatches

2 09 2007

Autumn crept into the late-night air along 287 South early this morning. After a pleasant day, I stepped into the minutely chill air that had settled in New York State, taking in the my first realy breaths of fall air as I walked down to the car. Despite the 3rd season wasting no time in claiming September evenings, I had a pleasant day with my wife’s aunt in the Chappaqua area, hiking along a local reservoir and enjoying a meal that seemed to come a little late; corn on the cob, all-beef hot dogs, potato salad, and summer squash. The trails we traveled were much more flat that the AT, the hardscrabble climb of the scree laying me out the rest of last weekend, and mica washed out of the glacially-deposited rocks glinted on many the trails wer traveled. If time permits, I’ll post pictures from the trip later tonight.

I also managed to finish The Bonehunter’s Revenge last night after dinner, although I still have to read the latter half aloud to my wife (I am definitely glad she’s so interested in the famous “Bone Wars”). Wallace’s book is singularly excellent, and although there are a few flaws, he gives the story a cultural background that is also lacking. Also of great importance is his treatment of Cope’s “ghost”, exhumed by Louie Psihoyos in the lavishly-illustrated book Hunting Dinosaurs. Not to spoil the tale for those who haven’t yet read Wallace’s book, Psihoyos absonded with Cope’s skull, taking the Philadelphian all over the country to meet the likes of Paul Sereno (who identified an absess tooth in Cope’s skull) and Bob Bakker (who boiled pasta and poured it into Cope’s skull to help determine his cranial capacity), all under the auspices of bringing attention to Cope’s “dying wish” to be the type specimen for the human species. Cope never had such a hope, and the body of Linneaus had long been nominated to have the prestige ages ago, and so it seems that Psihoyos either missed something in his research or didn’t do any, Wallace rightly (but fairly) chastizing the National Geographic photographer for undertaking a stutn to shocking that it would be fit for the pages of the Herald that printed Cope and Marsh’s famous fossil fued. Wallace also notes how little society seemed to care for dinosaurs during a time that many paleontologists deem pivotal to our understanding of dinosaurs, O.C. Marsh’s discovery of the toothed Cretaceous birds and a seemingly-straight line of horse evolution (and T.H. Huxley’s visit to discuss these finds) gaining much more coverage than any dinosaur find. In case I have not made a strong enough case, read Wallace’s book; it is a must for understanding the tragic figures that helped form the basis of modern vertebrate paleontology.

I also started a book consisting of essays about the “strip-mining” of American culture called Dumbing Down, and already I am partially disgusted by it. I am not one to ignore problems in our consumer-driven society, Megachurches with their of McDonald’s Drive-Thru and libraries that suffer destruction of many of their books because a local radio station hides money in some of the books as a promotion, but the introductory portions of the book take something of a condescending tone to what they identify as the provincial rabble that has undermined high-culture. Part of this seems to stem from an affinity for bits of “high culture”, a sort of post hoc nostalgia developing that ages past surely must have been more sophisticated and refined than today’s culture of amateurs. From what I can tell there has never been nor ever shall be a “golden age” of refinement, the high-brow and the low-brow constantly existing and harboring greater or lesser amounts of contempt for each other. There are intellectual blessings and curses to every age, and I don’t believe that people are becoming “dumbed down” as much as distracted by a culture that values high-tech gadetry over a good book. The simple mental and cultural capacity to break free from many of the societal strangeholds that we are often warned are choking off blood-flow to our collective brain is present, as ever it has been, and I believe things can be changed, but bemoaning others as stupid, ignorant, and uncultured if they have never read Hamlet or Crime and Punishment is not the way to open minds.

I also will finally have the chance to watch the Planet Earth series in full as it was meant to be; with David Attenborough providing the narration. I’ll probably write up something of a review at some point when I’m finished, but despite what I feel are some ill-written lines of narration, the series is probably the most visually stunning I have ever seen, and I doubt that anyone will be able to watch it and find wonder in nature.

On a different note, I have registed for the 2008 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference coming up in January. I’ll be driving down to arrive on Friday and will be there all day on Saturday, so if you are going to be there let me know so I can at the very least get to say “hello” in person. If you haven’t already registered, or need more information about the event (did I mention that it’s free?), Coturnix (who has used his Herculean blogging and organizational powers to help make the event a reality) has all the links you’ll need.

And don’t forget, if you see a post on here that you especially enjoyed or think is of outstanding merit, please nominate it to be included in the 2007 edition of the blog anthology The Open Laboratory. You can nominate posts by clicking the purple OpenLab 2007 button on the right hand side of this blog, and you can nominate as many as you would like.

That about does it for me for now, although I hope to write something a bit more scientific later on today. If anyone has any topics they’d like me to cover, don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments as I’m a bit dry on subject matter today.


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3 responses

2 09 2007
DoubleW

Every age has its fears about “dumbing down,” I think. But I think you hit it right on the head about how there is so many other distractions out there nowadays, and that the value of a good book isn’t appreciated as much as it should be.

At some point I need to watch Planet Earth myself. Unfortunately I live in a town where the video stores wouldn’t even think about stocking documentaries for renting. Looks like it’s time to join Netflix…

3 09 2007
Zach Miller

Hunting Dinosaurs is my all-time favorite dinosaur book.

4 09 2007
Jeremy

I’ll be there, Brian. We should meet up and hang.

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