Ornithology, Methods & Mystery

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Some contributors to our pages here would likely have much more clear views on this story than I do. I am certain that I favor scientific method, and this scientist followed protocol. And yet, the fallout from his scientific methods was intense. And it was not as simple as trolls gonna troll. I understand the fallout but instead of outrage I am full of questions about this story about The Ornithologist the Internet Called a Murderer by Kirk Wallace Johnson:

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The mustached kingfisher. Robert Moyle

For some time, I’d been searching for Christopher Filardi, a biologist with decades of field experience in the Solomon Islands. I wanted to interview him for a book I was writing, but the email system at the American Museum of Natural History, which once listed him as the director of Pacific programs at its Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, bounced back my message.

The auto-reply said that he’d moved to another organization, Conservation International. When I wrote him there, another auto-reply informed me that he had moved on. I couldn’t find him on Facebook or Twitter. The man seemed to have vanished.

When I finally found a working number for him, he was reluctant to talk. Three years ago, his life was overturned by an online mob that accused him of murder. The fact that the mob’s outrage was driven by ignorance didn’t make it any less frightening. Continue reading

Extreme Measures, No Good Outcomes

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A Mapuche gathering in Ercilla, Chile. The Mapuche are protesting the presence of agricultural firms on their land. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

During the two years I worked in southern Chile, 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of members of the Mapuche community, and heard a deep frustration bordering on despair. Their forests were being extracted, wholesale and rapaciously and there was little to nothing they could do about it. The news here, even with the exposure I had to the situation, still shocks me. It is not good news:

‘We burned the forest’: the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 6.00.13 PM.jpgIt is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.” Continue reading

Apricots, Comfort & Inspiration

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Apricots were often featured in the intricate dessert displays of 18th-century France. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Two seemingly opposed ideas can, sometimes be compatible. For example, even though this post made me think about traveling to taste the place, I can also relate to Yotam Ottolenghi’s opening paragraph, entirely:

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A tart made with poached apricots, marzipan, pistachios and pastry cream was inspired by the elaborate pastry-making at Versailles. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

People tend to belong to one of two opposite camps: those who like their food to impress and surprise and those who want it to comfort and delight. These days, I find myself steadily drifting from the contrived faction to the comfort camp. This, I suspect, has to do with age and a certain wish to reconnect with my childhood.

But my interest in that other extreme was recently piqued by the exhibition “Visitors to Versailles,” which is on view through July 29 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I am hosting an evening there this month to celebrate the exhibition, and I asked a group of world-class pastry chefs to create highly elaborate cakes inspired by the court of Versailles. Continue reading

Compassion, Conservation & Charisma

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Charismatic megafauna are impossible to resist caring about. Charismatic microfauna, or flora, less so. Yet more than two decades of experience in Costa Rica have taught us to appreciate the latter more than we did before. That is a function of science leading the way in conservation efforts in this small country, followed by a new form of tourism that we have been working in since the mid-1990s. That new form leveraged the skills of biologists as guides who provide interpretive experiences in the rainforest and other ecosystems, making a walk in the woods that much more interesting. So this story below catches my attention. It focuses on another small pioneering country that I have long studied from afar, admired, but not yet visited. Thanks to Brandon Keim and his colleagues at Yale Environment 360, for this story that motivates me to make that visit:

Do Conservation Strategies Need to Be More Compassionate?

Some scientists and ethicists are criticizing traditional conservation strategies, which they say focus on saving valued species while discounting the lives of less charismatic animals. Will these advocates of “compassionate conservation” point the way to new approaches, or are they simply being naïve?

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Volunteers for New Zealand’s Predator Free by 2050 campaign in front of predator traps, which are available for the public to borrow. NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

At a moment of best-selling animal intelligence books and headlines about songbird language and grieving elephants, it’s easy to forget that nonhuman minds were until recently considered — by most serious-minded scientists, anyway — to be quite simple.

Well into this millennium, animal consciousness was regularly dismissed as either nonexistent or profoundly dissimilar to our own. Animals were considered “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control,” as the famed psychologist B.F. Skinner opined so neatly in 1974, expressing a conventional wisdom that dated to the zoological musings of Aristotle. The notion of animals as thinking, feeling beings was relegated to the edges of serious discourse.

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Signs opposing New Zealand’s use of landscape-scale poisoning campaigns to eradicate non-native predators, such as rats and weasels. ELI DUKE/FLICKR

Those days are past, buried by an avalanche of scientific findings and history-of-science critiques. More people than ever worry about the welfare of farmed animals; pets are practically citizens; and wild animals too are increasingly regarded as beings with whom people share fundamental aspects of inner life. Yet in some places, that mind-denying legacy survives — including, say a small but vocal number of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare activists, in conservation. In their eyes, the discipline devoted to protecting Earth’s life has a certain blind spot to the animals themselves. Continue reading

Some Regrets Are Better Than Others

OaklandInstitute.pngThere is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it appears nowhere in his published writings), that history never repeats itself but it often rhymes. That quote comes to mind reading this report below by the Oakland Institute, in light of yesterday’s news from Greece. There is a rhyme with no reason that echoes between the two stories. It also brings to mind, for me, an ever-present question about the work I have done for the last two decades. Tourism, even if it is sustainable tourism development, has its downsides. So, I am always on the lookout for ways to avoid regret in projects I take on, and how they are executed. More often than not, if I sense regret it is about not having had enough impact. I prefer that to the regret of too much of this type of impact:

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Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. Continue reading

Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope? Continue reading

The Spoon, The Fork & The Hand

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Photograph by Francis Amiand / Spoon /Pointed Leaf Press

Hannah Goldfield, in this short piece about the spoon, reminds me that Bee Wilson’s book about the fork came to my attention about three years into our Kerala, India experience. I tend to favor stories about the history of something taken for granted. When it is involves foodways, I’m in. Five years ago, when that book came out, I was firmly entrenched in a new way of eating, namely with my right hand and no utensils. Today, reading about the spoon, I can relate to the author’s preference because, given the choice between spoon and fork I will choose the former. Given the choice between a meal that favors one or the other, I will choose the spoon-forward meal. But if I am somewhere eating something that hands-on is okay, keep the spoon and fork off the table.

In Praise of Eating Almost Anything with a Spoon

The introduction to the most recent version of Emily Post’s Table Setting Guides includes the following mandate: “Only set the table with utensils you will use. No soup; no soup spoon.” Sounds pretty reasonable, as far as Emily Post rules go, but I beg to differ. Who says that soup spoons are only for soup, or should even be called soup spoons at all? I have long admired the way utensils are used in parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand: the spoon is the most important instrument, held in the dominant hand and used to bring food—soupy or otherwise—to the mouth; the fork plays a supporting role, used only to push morsels onto the spoon, and chopsticks are generally reserved for noodles. I’ve been eating Thai food this way ever since I learned about the custom, dipping spoonfuls of rice into coconut curries, herding green-papaya salad, spangled with peanuts, chili, and tiny dried shrimp, into the curvature of a spoon. It feels elegant, efficient, economical—nary a drop or a morsel is wasted. Continue reading

David Attenborough Memoir Has A Captive Audience Here

9781473665958There is a reason why David Attenborough is the name that appears most frequently in these pages over the last seven years. So how did I miss this publication date nine months ago? Now there are several reviews and I am just late to the table. Nevermind that. Just read some of what Frans de Waal, the most recent reviewer, has to say:

The soothing, authoritative voice of David Attenborough has become such a widely recognized feature of nature documentaries that there are now all sorts of spinoffs. Funny animations show gorillas munching on leaves while gossiping about their encounter with the pith-helmeted explorer. Spoof documentaries of our species’ mating rituals show young men drinking beer in a Canadian bar while Attenborough’s voice-over notes that “the air is heavy with the scent of females.” In my classes at Emory University, I show so many snippets of BBC documentaries that I need to warn students that not all of our knowledge about animal behavior comes from this omnipresent talking gentleman. He is just the narrator.

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David Attenborough searching for armadillos. Photograph from David Attenborough

But “just” doesn’t do justice to his role, because Attenborough co-wrote the programs and the insertion of his persona into almost every scene is deliberate. It is the key to the success of “Life on Earth,” “The Blue Planet,” “Planet Earth” and all those other BBC nature series we love. It all started with a 1950s television program featuring animals from the London Zoo. The animals were brought into a studio, where the famous biologist Julian Huxley handled them while explaining their anatomy, habits and special skills. The occasional escapes and other mishaps on this live program greatly contributed to its entertainment value. Continue reading

Aspirational Recycling & Bigger Problems

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I recall reading this article by Livia Albeck-Ripka and thinking that I would like to read more from anyone who can write clearly and creatively about topics that are central to our purpose here. And so today, my wish was granted, twice. In this first one, I am introduced to a term, aspirational recycling, that I had not heard until now:

6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

Can you recycle coffee cups or greasy pizza boxes? If you’re tossing things in the recycling bin out of sheer hope, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”

We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.

Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.

Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead…

Same day, same publication, same author, an eye-opener for anyone who diligently follows all the rules made plain in the article above:

Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not

Plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are being dumped in landfills after China stopped recycling most “foreign garbage.”

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Bales of recyclable waste in Seattle. American waste managers are struggling to find plants to process their recyclables. Credit Wiqan Ang for The New York Times

Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway. Continue reading

Social Media Needs Rethinking

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It is so freshly pressed that there are no reviews to cite yet, but the author himself previewed the ideas here, which I remember reading and thinking that his big, important thoughts would get lost in the momentary hysteria of relatively small potatoes news (Cambridge Analytica) breaking at the time:

Be a pioneer – delete Facebook

Quitting means beating the addiction, making a political statement and redefining social life. Are you ready?

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‘Facebook deleters are indispensable. They should be celebrated. We all benefit from them.’ Photograph: GETTY IMAGES

When I wrote an about-to-be-published book last year about problems with social media, I thought it would be cute to call it Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. And then the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, motivating a modest but notable wave of Facebook deletions in protest, including by prominent tech figures such as Elon Musk and Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp.

So much for the novelty of my book title. The biggest surprise was not the movement to delete accounts, but that the deleters have not been received well by pundits and commentators. The response has often been smug, dismissive, even scolding. Deleters are told they are abusing their privilege; that they are leaving behind the less fortunate, who cannot afford to quit. They are said to be abandoning society or distracting from the more important process of petitioning governments to regulate Facebook. They are accused of tilting at windmills

In early 2013 an article in Smithsonian first brought my attention to Jaron Lanier, and since then we have not featured him again on this platform, which is strange. I recall last year reading a short think piece by him, and listening to him, as he promoted an earlier book and finding him very compelling. Just today, he was back in the Guardian with another one-two punch of these ideas, in the effort to promote this new book. The book’s title tells me that even though I am already a convert to the basic principle, I want to know how he explains these ten ideas. And I admit I am susceptible to publishers’ blurbs when written by someone I respect: Continue reading

Moving Slowly & Avoiding Breakage

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Panthera onca. The jaguar is the king of neotropical forests, where it is the largest of the cats. Its presence at the White City indicates an extensive, thriving ecosystem. © Washington State University, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University, Honduran Forest Conservation Institute, Travis King, John Polisar, Manfredo Turcios

When the journalist Douglas Preston shared this story, I was in the process of closing up shop in India, where we had been in residence since 2010. Kipling-induced daydreaming notwithstanding, Amie and Milo (whose photos may be the most tangible representations of the dreaminess of those years) and I never had the illusion that there were lost civilizations or any such thing in India.

movefast (1)We did have the nonstop motivation of feline-fueled conservation initiatives, and some close encounters. Those provided us a perfect counterpoint to the seemingly irresistible catchphrase that described progress in the form of disruptive technology. Haste really does make waste when it comes to ecology, anthropology, and realms of life other than economic forward-marching.

When I read Mr. Preston’s story on the first day of last year I realized that our relocation to Central America, oddly enough since it is in the hemisphere called the New World, was full of potential for all kinds of discovery of “lost” things. And my own discoveries further sensitized me to the importance of moving slowly and avoiding breakage. My posts on this platform from February through July, 2017 are evidence of the richest ecological and anthropological observations of my lifetime (so far), and that makes Mr. Preston’s update post yesterday all the more wonderful to read:

Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological SWAT Team Explores a Lost World

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Sachatamia albomaculata. The inner organs of glass frogs are visible through their translucent bodies. Photograph by Trond Larsen / Conservation International

A little more than three years ago, I joined a team of archeologists on an expedition to La Mosquitia, a remote mountain wilderness in eastern Honduras. For centuries, the region had been rumored to contain a lost city, known as the City of the Monkey God or the White City, and now, thanks to a combination of luck and modern technology, an ancient settlement had been found. Although it was probably not the lost city of legend, it was a very real place, built by a mysterious civilization that flourished long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Hidden in a densely forested valley, it had never been explored. Continue reading

Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

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Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Nonetheless, Arabica

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PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAKASH MATADA

I have spent most of the last year expanding my coffee knowledge. One thing I was already confident about, and remain so, is that arabica is better than robusta on two scales that matter most to me: taste, and environmental impact. From 2010-2017 during our residency in the Western Ghats, we developed and opened a series of properties where both taste and environmental impact were brand signatures formed in Costa Rica.

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 Instituto del Café de Costa Rica

With regard to coffee, I knew there was more than one good reason why Costa Rica only permits arabica coffee to be grown in the country. And we sourced the highest grade arabica coffee produced in the Western Ghats as much as we could.

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A Malabar pied hornbill, one of 204 species of bird found on coffee plantations in a new study, which found that the tree cover from shade-grown coffee farms provides a welcome habitat for all kinds of animal species. Credit Shashank Dalvi

I took to India a conviction that robusta coffee was to be avoided, but a few months ago started learning otherwise. Today I have read an article that reminds me to keep rethinking.

Thanks to Jason Daley in Sierra magazine for this look at the same scientific findings as those I first read in February in the New York Times,  (as I drink an organic arabica that I am sampling from a roaster in Atlanta, and even with this news about robusta I expect to remain committed to arabica for my own consumption, as well as our commercial purposes):

Which Coffee Is Better for Biodiversity?

A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity

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Alexandrine parakeet | Photo courtesy of Manish Kumarhoto

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it’s in—is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting—will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another? Continue reading

What To Say About Amazon?

Click below for the second episode of the podcast I mentioned last week. The answer to the question, whether Facebook is fixable, was a surprise. Although we use that platform, if passively, to promote entrepreneurial conservation in our businesses, I personally chose not to have an account. It was only recently that I began appreciating the value of that decision. Now, something similar with Amazon, for which I have had equal measures of awe and wariness. This episode helps me understand the details that make my instinctive wariness insufficient.

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Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.

There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.

So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both?

Concrete Jungles, Habitat For Humanity, Parrots

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The state’s ecology is a kind of urban legend come true—the old alligator-flushed-down-the-toilet story, with a thousand species. Illustration by Charles Burns

When I first read this article about the downstream problems of the pet trade, I was living in India and learning about efforts to reduce the poaching crisis of wild animals being transported eastward as well as westward. Florida seemed a long way away and the problem Bilger described was a crisis, for sure, but it bordered on sounding, for lack of a better term, exotic. And maybe worthy of closer observation?

The Atlantic’s Emily Buder offers this post that includes an 8-minute video by Neil Losin. It immediately takes me back to the big picture:

The Legal ‘Pet-Poaching’ Problem

It’s easy to spot a wild parrot in Miami, as in San Francisco, San Diego, and several other metropolitan areas in the U.S. But in Florida, “technically, it’s not illegal to take wild parrots, according to Florida Fish & Wildlife,” says Daria Feinstein, a parrot conservationist, in Neil Losin’s short documentary, Parrots in Peril. The film examines the threat that poaching poses to Miami’s wild macaws. Continue reading

The Foods Immigrants Offer

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Tacos at a restaurant in Nashville. Credit Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times, shares an opinion that I am, as a son of an immigrant, inclined to agree with. Even if I was not so closely related to the theme, it would still make sense to me:

Eating Without Borders in Nashville

NASHVILLE — Not quite two weeks ago, I was driving down Nolensville Road, Nashville’s “international corridor,” looking for a restaurant called Tennessee Halal Fried Chicken. In the passenger seat was John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” He was telling me that this particular approach to dining out, in one way of looking at it, could be considered a form of exploitation: “To patronize a restaurant of people who are different from you can be a kind of booty call,” he said.

This is an idea Mr. Edge has been considering for some time. The historically complicated nature of cross-cultural dining goes back to black-owned barbecue joints in the age of Jim Crow: “White Southerners patronized those restaurants,” he said. “They got in, they got what they wanted, and they got out.” Continue reading

Monday Morning, Time For Free Will

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Credit: AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner

This is the second time in a year that the biology of free will is the story. Monday morning in mid-May 2018 nothing else seems more important. Thanks to Marc Sollinger and colleagues at WGBH and PRX (click the button to the left for the story):

Humanity is simultaneously incredibly kind and incredibly violent. We commit indescribable atrocities, but also acts of incomprehensible compassion. There is both horror and beauty in our history. Which leads to the question… how do we reconcile this inherent contradiction? It all goes back to our biology, according to Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford and author of the book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. In fact, all questions about human behavior are, at their core, about biology.  Continue reading

The Networking Of Trees, A Novel Idea In Novel Form

9780393635522_300The novelist Richard Powers, I see from this review, has utilized an idea I first heard of in 2016, and that idea disappeared for a couple years (from my view, anyway). But that compelling idea is back, fictionalized and more interesting than ever:

People see better what looks like them,” observes the field biologist Patricia Westerford, one of the nine—nine—main characters of Richard Powers’s 12th novel, The Overstory. And trees, Patricia discovers, look like people. They are social creatures, caring for one another, communicating, learning, trading goods and services; despite lacking a brain, trees are “aware.” After borers attack a sugar maple, it emits insecticides that warn its neighbors, which respond by intensifying their own defenses. When the roots of two Douglas firs meet underground, they fuse, joining vascular systems; if one tree gets ill, the other cares for it. The chopping down of a tree causes those surrounding it to weaken, as if in mourning. But Powers’s findings go beyond Dr. Pat’s. In his tree-mad novel, which contains as many species as any North American forest—17 are named on the first page alone—trees speak, sing, experience pain, dream, remember the past, and predict the future. The past and the future, it turns out, are mirror images of each other. Neither contains people.

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Olaf Hajek

Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier review in the New York Times started the ante on the must-read judgement that Nathaniel Rich (above) upped:

Trees do most of the things you do, just more slowly. They compete for their livelihoods and take care of their families, sometimes making huge sacrifices for their children. They breathe, eat and have sex. They give gifts, communicate, learn, remember and record the important events of their lives. With relatives and non-kin alike they cooperate, forming neighborhood watch committees — to name one example — with rapid response networks to alert others to a threatening intruder. Continue reading

Crazy/Genius, Worthy

CrazyGeniusI had already been impressed with the Atlantic’s weekly interview podcast, but since that most often has to do with politics or other topics not central to our purpose here, I have never linked to one of those. But here is an 8-episode show, whose first guest is one of my favorite thinkers currently. The host, Derek Thompson, is another plus, and the topic is quite timely:

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Why Can’t Facebook Tell the Truth?

In the last 18 months, Facebook has gone through one of the worst public relations crises of any major tech company. In this episode, two guests debate whether Facebook is fixable, or whether its business model is designed to sell us lies. Continue reading

The Food Explorer, Explored

GastroTaking a cue from yesterday’s post, another recent Gastropod can be combined with a review in the New York Times of a book that fits well in our pages:

You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States.

This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.

9781101990582Daniel Stone, an author I had not known of 24 hours ago, fits well within our pages as part of a mix of historical sleuthing and present-day food activism that have been central themes here since we started.  Thanks to his book being the subject of that podcast, as well as its review last month, allow us to recommend that if you have an hour for the both, combine the listen with the read:

In a photograph dated Christmas 1896, featured in “The Food Explorer,” Daniel Stone’s biography of the botanist and explorer David Fairchild, his subject is sitting with his patron and friend Barbour Lathrop, in what looks like an empty saloon or a lounge on a steamship. The caption informs us that they’re off the coast of Sumatra; both are dressed in white and have mustaches that border on the extravagant.

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