Are Creationists Gaining More Sway?

Archeopteryx
A recent survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media shows a deeply disturbing trend in Canadians: we seem to be getting increasingly stupid. While this survey didn’t get the media coverage that other current events received (and hasn’t even been hinted at in local media, but no surprises there), I think it is one of the most troubling surveys of the last decade. The survey showed that,

… more than half of Canadians (57%) believe that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years, while 26% think that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

That’s an appallingly low figure for belief in established science. Fifty-seven percent is a full nine points lower than a similar survey that was done in 2018 and four points less than one done in 2019. Is something causing Canadians to become less educated and less aware of science? Or just more stupid? Is our educational system failing Canadians? 

What’s even scarier is the parallel upswing in the number of Canadians who think creationism should be taught in schools:

…44% of Canadians think creationism – the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation – should be part of the school curriculum in their province, while 34% disagree and 23% are undecided.

That would be like teaching astrology as a signifier of human behaviour alongside psychology; reflexology* alongside medicine, or numerology in math classes. And yet a gobsmacking number of Canadians think creationism belongs in a science class. That should be headline news and a wake-up call for anyone involved in education. Are the Talibangelists winning a greater foothold on public policy? 

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Musings on Poets and Poetry

Best PoemsFor me, reading the American literary critic, Harold Bloom, is often like wading in molasses. Intellectual molasses, to be sure, but slow going nonetheless. His writing is thick with difficult ideas and difficult words. Bloom’s historical reach, his knowledge and his understanding of the tapestry of literature far outstrip mine, so I find myself scuttling to the Net or other books on my shelf for collateral references, for critical commentary, and often to the dictionary.

Bloom’s commentaries and essays are a challenge to me because his terms of reference are so much greater than my own. Hence my appreciation of them: he makes me work, and work hard to keep apace with his quick mind. Well, perhaps not apace, more like a few kilometers back, but at least following more or less in his tracks.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the HumanI first encountered Bloom’s writing several years ago through his 1995 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, in which he argues that the Bard “invented human attributes that we think are very much our own inventions” as well as creating our language in which to talk about ourselves. Bloom goes through each of the plays, exploring and explaining them to make his point. It’s a brilliant analysis that ranges through not only Shakespeare’s works, but other parts of the “Western canon” to underscore his ideas. I often turn to Bloom’s essay on a play before I read it to get perspective and milestones to look for within Shakespeare’s words. 

A couple of years ago, I ordered his book, The Best Poems of the English Language, an anthology of poets from Chaucer to Frost. When it came, I stayed up into the wee hours reading it, then looking through my other anthologies to compare their selection of poets and poems. I was looking through it again recently as I was downsizing my library.

I have a lot of books of poetry, and most I intend to keep despite the pressure to relieve the congestion on my bookshelves. Yes, I still read poetry, perhaps not as much as I did in those younger years when I fancied I could write it, too (back in the Paleolithic of my late teens and early 20s). But I am as easily moved by poetry as I ever was, and also find it as baffling, inexplicable, contentious, beautiful, tasteless, passionate, tedious, exciting, and relevant as I ever did. However, I freely admit that what poems moved me in the past may not do so today, or at least not in the same way. I now appreciate poets who in my past I either never knew, or found leaden and incomprehensible, and wonder at my immaturity for liking those I did way back when.*

While the scope of his “Best Poems” covers an enormous, almost unwieldy, number of poets, Bloom decided to stop at those born before 1900 (to his credit, Bloom does not limit his selection to only English poets, but includes several American poets he exalts, too, but, inexcusably, he includes no Canadian poets). Although this still includes many 20th-century poets, it also means some of the century’s greatest modern poets, and some of those I consider among the best poets in the language, are missing from his collection simply for their misfortune of being born after 1899. Yes, that’s right” no Dylan Thomas!

So for me, the term “the best poems” is a marketing term; hyperbolic at best, inaccurate at worst. 

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Lichens of South Georgian Bay

Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock
Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock in Collingwood.

In recent months, I have developed an interest in lichens: wondering what species live in our area, how and where they grow, which plants are their competitors or companions, why they grow where they do, what they live on for nutrition, how they reproduce and spread, what lives on them, and their microbiology.

Small, innocuous plants you may mistake for a discoloration on rock or even a disease on a tree, they are nonetheless very common throughout our local environment. In fact, lichen have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, which has earned some of their 20,000 species the classification of extremophiles. Ontario has around 1,100 species of lichen, with several new species having been found within the past decade (you can see pictures of more than 850 of these on the inaturalist.ca site).

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Musings on Downsizing, No. 2

Dave deletes HAL's memory
In the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a memorable, somewhat spooky scene towards the end where astronaut Dave is pulling the chips from the memory banks of HAL, the ship’s AI computer. HAL begs Dave to stop while his memories recede:

Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave…Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I’m a… fraid…

I felt a bit like HAL while I was sorting through my book collection during my downsizing exercise these past weeks. I’ve been setting aside books for sale, or donation, clearing piles of books from the floor, unwinding two-and-three-deep stacks, comparing editions of the same title. I’ve been making keep or discard decisions like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of a defeated gladiator. Thumbs up? Back to the shelf! Thumbs down? Into the box! And with it goes my memory.

Every title is a memory, a piece of my history, a plank in my foundation; every book pulled from the shelves for disposal feels like I’m abandoning part of who I am. I am betraying myself. How will I still be able to connect with that past, with that person, without the book to transport me there? Dave, I’m afraid…   I felt sympathy for the computer during that scene. I know his pain.

Memory, you learn as you age, is both precious and fragile. I looked through a box of old photographs, only remembering the people and places in them because I am holding the image in my hand. They had retreated among the benthos of my memories until the moment I looked at it.

Emotions are attached to memories; the simultaneous sense of loss and re-discovered passions boiled up within me when I looked at the photograph. Friends and lovers restored, even if only for that brief moment. Throwing those images away is like Dave unplugging HAL. With that photograph in hand, I can go spelunking into my past and rediscover a whole subterranean world buried within me.

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Musings on Downsizing, No. 1

Early EB special I wrote for
1991 municipal election coverage. EB special issue I worked on, and the first municipal election I covered for the paper.

Downsizing seems to be all the rage among people our age. It’s so popular, it might be classified as a sport or a game for seniors. Assuming someone could codify the rules, that is.

I’ve been told it’s all over the TV, too, but since we haven’t had cable for a decade or more, I am only going on hearsay for that. But the topic shows up now and then on the front cover of grocery-store checkout magazines, (along with headlines about glitterati of whom I’ve never heard), so perhaps it is a popular activity outside our age group, too.

As an inveterate book buyer, I’ve always resisted downsizing my books. However, a few times in my life I have succumbed to the madness and donated a dozen or two boxes of them to the local library. My library of chess books, those wonderful books for learning Egyptian hieroglyphs I never quite managed to master, histories and biographies I’ve read, Latin textbooks, illustrated coffee table books of dinosaurs; all sorts have been passed on. But like falling snow, they seem to build again into drifts across my shelves and soon spread to the floor. 

Huronia Sunday and EB issues
Sections from the Collingwood edition of the Huronia Sunday paper; a publication of the Enterprise-Bulletin I edited, designed, and wrote for. I kept them all.

This time, I’m more determined. I’ve already crated 15 boxes of books for donation or sale, and have at least ten or twelve more to go before I’ve cleared the piles from the floor. It’s hard because every book has to be looked at, opened, considered thoughtfully for enjoyment, relevance, longevity, and the inevitable question, “Will I ever re-read this?” Or with textbooks (like Latin) and technical manuals, “will I really learn this subject?”

I also take the time to update my list of books on Goodreads.com when I uncover a title I’ve read that is making its journey into a box, destined for downsizing.

And that’s only the upstairs part of the project. The basement could be a set from an early Universal monster movie, you know: those dark, cluttered spaces full of boxes that haven’t been opened so long they have grown roots. I’ve got boxes that haven’t been opened or sorted in three decades. Downsizing is emotionally cathartic, and not for the faint-of-heart to tackle.

Some of the publications I wrote for.
Some of the publications I wrote for, mostly between 1980 and 1990.

I collected a copy of almost every publication I ever wrote for, some dating back to the late 1960s. I had every issue of the Huronia Sunday paper I edited, designed, and wrote for; and many issues from the Enterprise Bulletin I wrote for and later edited. Plus copies of computer, marketing, aviation, paintball, printing, wargame, gaming, military history magazines, and various newspapers I wrote for, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. There’s a forest worth of trees there.

And then there was the box of software manuals and technical guides I wrote in the 1980s for computers that are technological paleontology these days. Aside from me, who cares about this material? Nostalgia has a limited range and is not contagious. Boxes and boxes of archived material. The recycling bin opens wide to receive my treasures.

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More Musings on Tea

Oolong teaBack in 1946, while England was still recovering from the deprivations of WWII and under rationing, the prolific George Orwell wrote his essay “A Nice Cup of Tea” with his eleven-step instructions for making what he considered the perfect cuppa.* But do they still stand today? Certainly, his notion of what makes a “strong” tea would be considered very strong by standards today.

As the BBC noted in an article that debunked many of Orwell’s notions about making tea almost 60 years later, “The great critic of Hitler and Stalin, was not above a bit of teatime Totalitarianism himself, it seems.” I personally think Orwell had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote it, but others take it more seriously.  Like other foods, tea invites passionate responses when someone’s tastes or techniques are challenged. Orwell recognized that his list would be controversial, writing, 

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. 

I recently read again Orwell’s piece on tea in the Everyman’s Library edition of Orwell’s Essays (a 1,300-page collection I am slowly, and somewhat meanderingly working my way through). So I thought I might revisit some thoughts on tea. It prompted me to re-assess the contents of my own tea cupboards, and to re-open some of my books on tea.

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Review: The Ultimate Pasta Machine Cookbook

The Ultimate Pasta Machine CookbookThe Ultimate Pasta Machine Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Every Kind of Amazing Pasta Your Pasta Maker Can Make, by Lucy Vaserfirer, Paperback, 208 pages, Published in 2020 by Harvard Common Press, Beverly, MA, USA.

I am disappointed. At almost $40, I don’t believe the book delivers what the title promises. I expected a book with “ultimate” in its title to have a LOT more information on actually using the machinery, and about the various types and styles, with plenty of photos and explanations, but there is very little of that. It’s mostly recipes.

Nothing at all on the differences between types of manual machines or their manufacturers, different attachments (or how to use them), nothing on deep cleaning or maintenance. I wanted technical information, and details, but got general guidance. 

Vasefirer is the author of several other cookbooks and has a good rating on Goodreads, but since I have not read them, I can only comment on this, her latest book. Before I bought this book, I read many reviews on Goodreads and other sites, but now think the writers didn’t actually read the book before heaping praises on it, or at least not with the critical eye of someone using a pasta machine or looking for technical and other details.

As readers here know, I use an Atlas Wellness 150 manual pasta machine manufactured by Marcato, as well as the company’s Regina pasta extruder. I have written about my pasta experiences of late (you can read the recent posts here and some older posts here and others, including my book reviews, here). I have been searching of late for more technical information and descriptions about the machinery, looking through my books on pasta and bread making, as well as online. The best information about the equipment I’ve found so far has been on sites for crafters and modellers using the machines for rolling clay dough!

But I am also looking for technical and even scientific information about flour, gluten, hydration, the chemistry of mixed ingredients, dough formation, and the processes and techniques of rolling and cutting (and what equipment is best for different pastas). 

I didn’t get much if anything of that from Vaserfirer’s book. Let me explain why…

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The Godzilla Soundtracks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDeU42u2s2Y

CD CoversAkira Ifukube. If you’re not an aficionado of Japanese film or a follower of Japanese symphonic music, his name won’t be familiar. But for millions of kaiju fans around the world, he is a legend. He composed the music and soundtracks for many of the Godzilla films, as well as many scifi and other films produced by the Toho film corporation. He has been ranked among the world’s great film composers along with people like John Williams, Ennio Morricone, and Nino Rota.*

I spent some time reading about the classically-trained Ifukube this past week after I received two CDs with selections from the Godzilla soundtracks, one from 1954 to 1975 (the Showa era films), the other from 1984 to 1995 (the Heisei era films). Ifukube was not the only composer for many of these films, but he was the most prolific. He is credited as the composer in eight of the Showa films, and four in the Heisei, but other composers often based their work on his themes. Masaru Satoh, Yuji Koseki, Kunio Miyauchi, Riichiroh Manabe, Reijiroh Koroku, Kochi Sugiyama, and Takayuki Hattori are credited on other films.

There are still more composers for the post-Heisei and US-made Godzilla films**, but Ifukube is credited for at least some of the music on four post-1995 Toho films. Although he died in 2006, he has credits in 2016’s Shin Godzilla and Legendary’s 2019 Godzilla King of the monsters.

The thrilling opening title of the very first Godzilla was as important to the franchise as Monty Norman’s catchy James Bond theme was for that franchise. It is the signature for Godzilla as defining as the duh-duh duh-duh theme that John Williams wrote for the shark in Jaws. While other composers created their own themes for Godzilla, few could abandon Ifukube’s masterful work and many incorporated at least part of it into theirs.

But Ifukube was more than just a film composer: he was a prolific,  accomplished, highly creative classical composer of considerable renown and would have been recognized as such even without his film scores. There’s a good, albeit brief biography of him in the chapter on Godzilla’s music in Brian Solomon’s Godzilla FAQ (Applause, 2017).

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English as She is Spoke

English as She is SpokeOne of the more delightful books in my personal library is a reprint of the 1883 American edition of English as She Is Spoke, described by Wikipedia as, 

…intended as a Portuguese–English conversational guide or phrase book; however, as the “English” translations provided are usually inaccurate or incoherent, it is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour in translation.

Even a quick glance at its suggested English phrases and you’ll see the humour. It reads more like a guide for the speech of the beloved character of Manuel in Fawlty Towers than a guide for visitors and immigrants: “We will first to see him in outside, after we shall go in there for to look the interior.”

The book was originally published in France in 1855, with Pedro Carolino named as the sole author. Later editions added José da Fonseca as a co-author. The original title translates as “The New Guide to Conversation, in Portuguese and English, in Two Parts.” A British edition came out in 1882, with the title wittily translated as English as She is Spoke, and it stuck in English editions thereafter.

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