Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BioLogos Blog Post about Finding Fossils with Kids

Here's a blog post about finding fossils from the Cambrian Explosion with my four boys, and what I think about the chemical causes that could have got us there:

http://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/the-surprising-chemical-story-behind-the-cambrian-explosion

It's kind of like a real-life Pokémon Go, with a purpose!

More details (and more science) are in the three-part series posted earlier, starting here:

http://arrowthroughthesun.blogspot.com/2015/09/finding-burgess-shale-fossils-with-kids.html

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book Review: Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck

Today I'm under a massive weight of fear -- not all or mostly mine, but so many of my friends are afraid, and for real reasons. Traffic stops shouldn't make you fear for your life. Going to an Orlando club shouldn't make you fear for your life. Going to an airport shouldn't make you fear for your life. Going to Wednesday night church shouldn't make you fear for your life. The best review I can give for this book is that it offers what I think may be the only real way forward through this oppressive fear. This book by a Texas psychology professor (and Abilene prison study leader) addresses fear and economics and spirit and idols and capitalism and power and, yes, the devil and demons. I don't even know how to post about this in a short form that will explain things right, but Beck, as a self-described progressive Christian from a denomination not known for its progressiveness, approaches spiritual warfare in a very real way but also a very different way from the tired Frank Peretti way. I'm just beginning to process it. This kind doesn't come out except by prayer and fasting. But, as a Christian, I think that the only way out of this tangled cultural web of fear and escalation is through the gospel, through me as a white guy policing myself and my own sin before turning to others, and through the cross and its proclamation that the powers and principalities are defeated. I don't claim to have realized what that means, but all I know is that I start from there, and I pray our country will go somewhere with it this time. We can't stay here.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Book Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

The subtitle of this book is "Selected Nonfiction," but it runs to a full 500 pages, so there's a lot that made the cut. Be prepared if you read this book to read more than that 500 pages, because Gaiman is his usual generous self here, and points you to so many other works of art that you'll be making library holds and Googling public domain short stories as you go. Thanks to this book, I found "The Gardener" by Kipling and "The Door in the Wall" by H.G. Wells, two excellent short stories that show underplayed sides of each of their respective writers. When Gaiman says something's especially good, it is indeed especially good.

The Yankees' legendary closer, Mariano Rivera, would freely show other pitchers how to throw his special cutter. He would try to give it away (yet he was always the master of it himself). Gaiman is the same way here -- he's trying his best to give away the secrets to making good art, and he explains it clearly several times over. Here's to some of it sinking in.

The organization of this book is also very good. It is a little overwhelming, and I would have cut about one or two essays per section, but the most recent stuff is the deepest and is concentrated in the last section, which deals with life and death. Despite the fact that this may seem to be "just a collection," it has a definite arc and a worthwhile climax in the last 50 pages.

For all that, it's ultimately a scrapbook, like The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell but with words only and from Gaiman's own pen. It's as worthwhile as most of Gaiman's writing -- which is to say, very.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

The Southern Reach Trilogy comes to a whirling end in Acceptance. I can't help but compare it to LOST, with the proper disclaimer that I'm one of those strange people who actually liked the last season of that show and what was explained vs. what wasn't. For this trilogy, I'll just say how I reacted at the end:
-- I'm glad I finished it but I did have to ask myself the question of if I was glad, which shows I wasn't entirely glad, right?
-- I'm fine with the explained-vs.-left-mysterious ratio, and think some interesting biological ideas regarding symbiosis and mimicry are brought into the mix.
-- It's the pacing and "editing" of the multiple storylines that bothered me most of all. I feel like there's more plot in this book than in the two previous, and it becomes confusing because it's jumping around in time through multiple points of view who are changing names and making secret excursions etc. etc. If some of this had been moved to the second book in the trilogy, both books would have benefited. The author seems to want to keep a certain geographical feature secret until it's revealed in this book, and I think that was waiting too long.
-- Finally, religious language is used to give a nicely creepy gothic element, but the religious character is unconvincing. I actually found the religious dimension of LOST, although less overt, much more convincing because it resided deep in the characters, and was as much about philosophy as religion. Here, the element feels painted on for vibe's sake.
For a fragmented book I give a fragmented review, I guess.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Review: Colour and Meaning by John Gage

An interesting read, if a bit disorganized. Gage is critical of Berlin and Kay, although the criticism seems more like nit-picking than a real takedown argument. Modern art discussions include Kandinsky and blue, and Matisse and black. There's no real arc to the book, and it sort of just ends, but it does focus on the substantial connections between color and meaning without getting caught up in academic rabbit-trails. Not as much science as the subtitle implies, too.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: The Mirror of Ideas by Michel Tournier

This little book is deceptively slight. Michel Tournier pairs opposite ideas and talks about the difference between each. Some of the essays fall flat or meander, but many more create a spark like flintrocks clashing. Every one is idiosyncratic and unique. Good airplane reading. A number of good quotes but a little less quotable than I expected. A few of the opposites took hold, especially Tournier's distinction between "Primary" and "Secondary" people. The subject matter becomes more abstract as the book goes on. There are insights throughout, but I give the edge to the more abstract concepts, including a excellent final essay on "Being and Nothingness" that is as good of a review of the topic in two pages as I've seen in two hundred.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

This must be the most beautiful novel ever written about comic books. Chabon integrates his fictional dynamic duo of comic creators into the '40s and '50s so seamlessly that I fully expect to be able to find old Escapist comics on eBay. He describes every emotion in the human experience, with apt and vivid metaphors that on occasion made me laugh out loud, not necessarily with their humor, but with the sheer rightness of it all. Nor is this overly rosy -- events are bizarre, unpredictable, disappointing, but never meaningless. This is sure to become a classic if it isn't already. I just wish it didn't move so fast through its events, which is odd to say for a book so long, but I only want more depth and connection to these amazing people.