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Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada)

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The Geese of Beaver Bog
The Geese of Beaver Bog
by Bernd Heinrich
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 1.37

5.0 out of 5 stars Bernd's "Beaver Bog" boggles!, Feb. 4 2008
After a few chapters, the number of "5:30 AM" entries seem staggering. While i'm struggling to figure out which end is "up" on the coffee-maker, Heinrich is already out in the field. He's watching his subjects, talking to them and offering them handouts, and recording their behaviour in meticulous detail. The rewards, he demonstrates with enthusiasm, are many and fruitful. His descriptions are certainly a rewarding read - even if i have to have a nap before commenting on them.

Heinrich chose his home location well. The countryside of Vermont offers rich pickings for a naturalist and this one has taken full advantage of that situation. In this book, he ventures to a set of ponds created by beaver dams. Beaver and muskrat lodges make ideal nesting sites for geese. The two creatures don't disturb each other and the isolation keeps predators away from both. Heinrich expects geese and isn't disappointed. They arrive, take up station, fend off later visitors intent on occupying the same territory, mate and produce eggs. Heinrich dutifully records all the activity - sometimes with unexpected precision: "She slept four minutes".

At first, it all seems like another naturalist's jaunt into the woods. Interesting and enviable, but does it mean anything to us? Heinrich, however, is surprised by what he observes. Not the least unexpected is the book's opening - an adult goose pursuing his pick-up along a road at 60 kilometres an hour. There are other, more compelling mysteries. In an engaging account of "Pop" and "Jane" producing a flock of goslings, Heinrich discovers the entire mob has disappeared from the nest. He'd already tested the couple's attitude toward him by reaching under the incubating female to check the condition of her eggs [try it! i'll just watch from over here]. Tracking their likely path, he discovers a colony of geese and goslings some distance from their home ponds. Even more astonishing is the fact that the number of parents and goslings don't properly match. Some of the parents have left their offspring to the care of "gosling-sitters" and flown north. Why would geese abandon their young when other birds spend enormous amounts of time and energy supplying and teaching theirs?

Heinrich's answer is an excellent study in evolutionary strategies. He discusses different species and various environments. He unashamedly uses human metaphor to describe various survival strategies among different animals. Why not? That's due to the long history of animals developing methods for survival and reproduction. Many of these techniques will be similar in some conditions, different in others. All can be assessed in terms of success and the likely logic isn't difficult to impart. Heinrich can describe it better than many, carefully and clearly imparting his own reasoning. With a persistence many should envy, he made his observations in every circumstance possible. He recorded dutifully and brings those observations to us with great fervour. His concluding remarks about hunting and sustaining populations will be a jolt to idealogues. Yet his views are pertinent and perceptive. Read this for an informative account of our signallers of the seasons. While we still have them to watch passing overhead. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

My Life as a Fake
My Life as a Fake
by Peter Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.94
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars In pursuit of perfect poetry, Feb. 2 2008
This review is from: My Life as a Fake (Paperback)
For a nation with so many fine writers, Australia has an unusual number of "fakes" of one kind or another. Not many years ago, a young British immigrant woman almost passed herself off as a Ukrainian refugee. A white male writer masqueraded as an Aborigine woman. Literary posturing isn't new nor unique to Australia, but writers there seem to be trying to launch a new genre through it. Peter Carey's book isn't an attempt to become a cornerstone of this potential realm. Through a narrative that binds the reader to every page, he re-constructs a fictional account of one of Australia's better known early attempts at literary chicanery.

In Australia, the "Ern Malley" affair remains notorious - poems supposedly penned by an unknown genius of the 1940s. Carey bases his tale on this scandal, bringing a fresh sense of life and place to his characters. He introduces Sarah Wode-Douglass, London literary magazine editor, and the man she's long considered her family's nemesis, John Slater. Sarah - known to Slater as "Micks" is lured to Kuala Lumpur, leading her to a disheveled old Australian, Christopher Chubb. Chubb has a secret, which he dangles enticingly before the editor. It's a collection of poetry by a Bob McCorkle, who Chubb invented. The invention was to have highlighted the failure of the Australian literary elite to understand real poetry. In doing so, it would provide a comeuppance to Chubb's former classmate and editor of "Personae", David Weiss.

The situation gets out of hand when Weiss issues the work and is charged with "publishing obscenity" by an over-zealous Melbourne policeman. Worse for Chubb, Bob McCorkle emerges as a "real" figure pursuing Chubb and demanding recognition as the "poetic genius" he's been depicted. Chubb both chases and flees McCorkle, ending up in Malaysia on a bizarre quest. Chubb/Carey creates a monster in McCorkle - a massive man with violent tendencies, bent on retrieving a reputation he's never earned. Lacking the violence, Chubb seeks his own recognition through Micks, and this story is dictated to her during her time in "KL". She must endure a world entirely alien to her while negotiating for the manuscript with a man who is forthcoming in one way, but highly elusive in others.

Carey's handling of this tale is masterful. Even had it not been based on true events, his relation of it is flawless. The characters may seem outlandish in many respects, but the author conveys them with precision and finesse. Sarah is obsessed with her lust for the collection - one is almost reminded of the editors of the post-modernist journal "Social Text" blindly gobbling Alan Sokal's wonderful hoax. Post-modernism has launched many bizarre tales. Carey's knowledge of place is equally compelling as he takes us from KL, through Melbourne, Sydney and back to the Malay jungles. There are warlords, asides in time and place - none of which interrupt the narrative, since each provides enhancement - and a bruising finale. This is one of Carey's supreme works, standing with "Illywhacker" and his fabricated history of Ned Kelly's career. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

The Trees In My Forest
The Trees In My Forest
by Bernd Heinrich
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 27.39

5.0 out of 5 stars The real meaning of "ecology", Feb. 1 2008
This review is from: The Trees In My Forest (Hardcover)
Bernd Heinrich's abilities in acute perception are well portrayed in this book. He possesses extensive scientific training and research in natural conditions - having published on bees, ravens and geese. This account ties much of that research to a wider view of those animals' home territories. It's a study of the patches of woods surrounding his home. What trees are growing there, and why? Which animals and birds are attracted to the area, and what keeps them away? What's the value of a forest fire, and is "machine logging" more destructive to the forest environment than the more traditional felling and dragging? All these and more questions are addressed here with deep insight and related with Heinrich's fine expressive powers. It may not be too much to say that if you own but one book on trees and forest environments, this is the one to have.

Raised in rural Maine, Heinrich returned in 1977 and restored a 122-hectare bush near his early home. Heinrich describes himself as "partly arboreal", but adds to that a weighty talent for patience. As he has demonstrated in other books, he can sit for hours observing birds and insects. Trees require a different sort of patience; one that needs the additional dedication to record changes over lengthy time periods. He studies their growth and how they spread their offspring around the land. Which trees are shade-tolerant and which need extensive sunlight? Which ones encourage certain insects or birds, and how. Which ones attract them and how? He describes the way trees draw water from the ground - a molecule at a time at the leaf end, not "pumped" from below. Consider the evolutionary steps that led a species of pine to retain its seeds until very special conditions ensue. The cone housing them pops open and disperses them only when the temperature reaches 60 degrees - heat that can only be generated by a forest fire.

We all abhor the destructive force of a forest fire, but that's only because we fail to consider the forest from the tree's longer perspective. As trees die and fall, new patches of soil are exposed to the sun, bringing in species competing for resources. Fire is the only way to cleanse the forest floor and eliminate some trees shading others. As recovery species emerge, moose and other browser species again populate the forest. More birds and small mammals also arrive, extending the diversity but also acting as tree predators. Heinrich's account of how trees control predation is enlightening. One is tempted to ask whether a tree "thinks". As he makes clear, however, the control is part of the co-evolutionary process of a tree and its environment.

Logging is another intrusion on forests and Heinrich is scathing at how the industry handles the forest. Centred on the ubiquitous white pine, lumbering his area goes back to the early colonial period. At one time Bangor, Maine, was the greatest lumber shipping port in the world - in thirty years its population jumped from 277 to over fourteen thousand. "Clear-cutting" does more than just remove trees. It destroys the foundation of mycorrhizal fungi that are part of the tree's nutritional network. The replacement of felled trees by plantations of single types denies the development of the proper ecological balance a true forest requires to flourish. The next generation of trees is shorter and less robust than those first taken. On the other hand, Heinrich notes the differing impact on the forest when trees are felled and removed by horse, dragged out on a skid or both felled and removed by a huge mechanism. The giant "cutter-buncher" was the least environmentally damaging!

Heinrich's prose style, which, translated into classroom lectures surely keeps attendance high, gives the reader a sense of being right in company during his wanderings and watchings. Under his deft touch, the word "ecology" rises above the status of "environmentalist" buzzword. Without ever using the term, he demonstrates the importance of understanding the interacting of all the parts of a forest, from microbes to arboreal giants. The reader isn't overwhelmed by technicalities, but the science of his account permeates every page. Add to that expressive ability, the detailed drawings, images of trees and their components, capped by sweeping aerial photographs all provide the panorama a forest requires to tell its story completely. Heinrich provides the narrative, but it's the forest itself dictating the account. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region
The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region
by Wayne Grady
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.80
18 used & new from CDN$ 19.80

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another book on the Great Lakes?, Jan. 26 2008
Quite so, and that's a good thing, given that this one is written by one of Canada's pre-eminent science/nature writers. Grady caps a long career in depicting our understanding of Nature's phenomena with this examination of the string running over part of the Canadian-US border. Containing nearly a fifth of the world's supply of fresh water, the lakes are important to vast lands and populations in North America. Grady points out that many misconceptions about the Lakes abound. Change is endemic in the Lake system, and artificial change must be considered with the utmost care, based on careful analysis. His flowing prose, enhanced by lavish maps, photographs and illustrations, imparts the view of the lakes as a dynamic system.

The book's subtitle "the Natural History of A Changing Region" sets the theme. Resulting from the scouring of the Laurentide Glacier as it retreated ten thousand years ago, the Lakes exhibit individual profiles and behaviours. The final outlines of the Lakes emerged about the time Egypt began constructing the Pyramids. A view of "The Water World" explains how lake water "turns over" according to the season, and how the varying depths influence the flow and the life in and around them. Which Lake is deepest may not be a surprise, but the second deepest and shallowest may reveal misconceptions. Lake Superior holds more water than the others combined, and is the fourth largest in the world.

Delimiting the outlines is only the beginning for Grady, who takes us through the entire ecological framework of the region. We are shown the forest types around the Lakes, the wetlands of the their margins, and the river systems feeding them. The forests are divided into three zones, Boreal, Great Lakes-St Lawrence and Carolinian. Each is populated with various proportions of tree types, bird, animal and fish life. The planet's longest surviving species of bird, the Sandhill Crane resides here - and has for 10 million years. The oldest known tracks of an animal, a euthycarcinoid strode along some Ontario sand nearly 500 million years ago. The soils are of one kind here, another there. All the description is wrapped in a picture of shifting conditions. The dynamics of the Lake environments are the key to our understanding their past, present and future. What we see today isn't just "there" - it has all derived from past times and environments.

Although the Lakes' shorelines aren't densely inhabited, the demand for their waters comes from adjacent and distant regions alike. It has been estimated that 95 per cent of North America's fresh water derives from the Great Lakes. Will it always be available? Recent studies show the levels are dropping - some shipping must empty ballast or off-load cargo to sustain passage in some seasons and locales. The US Army Corps of Engineers has already shifted drainage patterns over the years, with more proposed. The Bourassa government of Quebec attempted a plan to dam James Bay, turning it into a freshwater lake that would have drained into Lake Superior. The firm founded to implement that plan still exists, Grady reminds us. The draining of the Oglalla Aquifer by US farmers and ranchers is already raising calls for Great Lakes water to replace it. Such siphoning would have incalculable consequences for the entire system.

The interactions of the different environments would be wildly disrupted by such a change, although intrusive species have already commenced that process. Grady notes that 185 "exotic" species have invaded the Great Lakes region since European settlement started. These include what he calls "the First Spike", the perennial known as the Purple Loosestrife that is overwhelming native plant species. The displacement is driving insects, birds and small animals to other areas, forcing yet more disruption. Lampreys, travelling up the St Lawrence Seaway have attacked native fish populations resulting in the depletion of both commercial and sport species. The zebra mussel quickly replaced native species while the quagga has blocked drainage and nuclear plant cooling systems. Such invaders also accumulate mineral pollutants, which are then taken up by diving birds. The pollutants create mutations in the birds, reducing their numbers.

Grady's chapter on "The Future of the Great Lakes" bears careful reading. Ordinances to control incoming ships' ballasts has reduced the number of large invasive species, but many water-living species are being carried in. Pollutants have been reduced in some industries, but ignored in others. According to the International Joint Commission monitoring the Lakes, the US is still putting 110 tonnes of mercury into the Lakes. In the meantime, diverted waters to provide hydroelectric power has increased significantly in recent years, removing 3 billion cubic metres of water per DAY to generate electricity. To Grady, and anybody who takes a moment to consider the numbers, these conditions are unsustainable. Add the effects of climate change, reduced snow cover and destructive storms, and protection of the Lakes' ecosystem is a matter of concern for us all. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

28: Stories of AIDS in Africa
28: Stories of AIDS in Africa
by Stephanie Nolen
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 3.20

5.0 out of 5 stars One in a million, Jan. 21 2008
The introductory maps seize your attention. "Adult prevalence of HIV /AIDS" on one page and the people represented in the "stories" on the opposite. There's a swath of dark shading across southwest Africa - that's "Over 20%". To the east, the shade is lighter - "15 - 20%", with two darker smudges labelled "Swaziland" and "Lesotho" - islands of tragedy. At the top, "5 - 15%" predominates, lower numbers hiding the intensity of conditions. Stephanie Nolen's subjects' names run across the other map - the individuals whose stories are related here.

The numbers often lead to "AIDS fatigue" - too many big numbers; surpassing our ability to grasp them. The millions of people infected with HIV/AIDS seem beyond comprehension. After consulting the various estimates, Nolen surmises about 28 million for Africa, approaching the entire population of Canada. Each day, something like 5500 will die of the effects of the infection - two-thirds the population of my community. Every day. All year long. The adage runs: "One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic." Yet, that "million" represents that many "ones", and each one has a story. Nolen gives us those stories, making one person represent a million others. It's a formidable burden for the afflicted and the writer alike, but Nolen's skill effectively allows the reader to take it all in measured doses.

The opening story is, appropriately, a woman. In Swaziland, women don't turn to activism. They were traditionally forbidden to wear pants until 2003 and the right to own property was only granted in 2006. The little nation has the last monarch in Africa - who has thirteen wives and a fleet of autos. Siphiwe Hlophe had borne children with a man who delayed marriage for years. The discovery that she carried the virus was devastating - it suggested she was immoral, when it was her husband who had been philandering. That situation is one of the AIDS' story social disasters. The infection carries the stigma of immorality, a view widespread throughout Africa - and the West. Traditional leaders, missionaries and even family members vilified the victims as "immoral". It was also deemed an affliction of the poor, a mistake leading to many stressful family situations. Siphiwe, transcended many of these issues by announcing her infection and launching an AIDS awareness programme. Nolen gives accounts of other activitists, including a "Miss HIV Stigma-Free".

The other group most affected by the virus is children - either by being orphaned or by infection at birth. Among the former is 14-year-old Tigist Haile Michael of Addis Ababa who is the sole support for a younger brother half her age. Regine Mamba isn't an orphan. At her age, the term is meaningless. But Regine knows about orphans. When Nolen first interviewed her, Regine had 13 of them - all their parents were AIDS victims - by the book's Epilogue, the number had risen to 18. These parentless children lack education, opportunity and exist on a bare subsistence level lacking any skills to provide for themselves or siblings. Across Africa the number of such children is estimated to have reached 14 million today. What is their future? One path, of course, is always open - at least to the girls.

Is it entirely disaster and is amelioration impossible? There are signs of hope for researchers, but one of those will likely raise a few eyebrows. Agnes Munyiva has three children who live across town from where she works. Seeing up to a dozen clients per day, her job makes her a high risk for HIV infection, but that's not the part she keeps from her children. She's a sex worker in a Nairobi suburb, and she's very special. Agnes is HIV immune, a physiological trait that has many, especially AIDS researchers, scratching their heads, but see her condition as a means leading to prevention. The number of immune sex workers is small, and conditions providing immunity vary. Can enough be studied carefully to derive some answers? Does Alice truly fit the "one in a million" status? In what may seem a departure from the theme, Nolen relates the sad story of Western pharmaceutical firms keeping the price of Anti-Retroviral Drugs [ARVs] out of reach of those needing them. Compounding this tragedy of corporate greed is the role of Western financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to cripple the social services. Through Strategic Adjustment Plans [SAPs - one of the few truly indicative acronyms], Western investors demanded "downsizing" of government employees - read "teachers" and "nurses" - to pay off international debts, thousands were deprived of jobs. Lacking land and the skills to work it, those unemployed quickly became destitute. Add those to the young orphan girls and Alice readily becomes "one in a million". One of those will assuredly displace her from her hard mattress and mud-walled hut.

If the foundation of Alice's immunity, shared with a small number of Africa's prostitutes, can be unravelled, the chance of a vaccine increases. That's the quest of Uganda's Pontiano Kaleebu, who's been seeking that preventive step for years. Nolen's chapter on Pontiano is one of the most compelling of the collection. In it, Nolen explains how HIV/AIDS operates in the body, and why both prevention and cure are so difficult to achieve. While the vaccine remains elusive, the "cure" has made hesitant progress. But the drugs work only for a time, then a new form and schedule is required. That means testing, analysis, prescription, scheduling and instruction by health-care workers - many of whom were laid off. The drugs have to be available where and when needed at a price that people can afford. Not easily achieved in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a Canadian in Africa, reporter for the Toronto Globe & Mail, Nolen is aware of how that nation prides itself on helping those in need. Accordingly, she offers a list of organizations providing that support for the suffering. Those 28 million are still living - minus today's 5500 - and their lives can be extended by ARV compounds. Nolen explains how you can help and what your help can achieve. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada

Tree: A Life Story
Tree: A Life Story
by David Suzuki
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.20
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't see the tree for the forest, Jan. 12 2008
This review is from: Tree: A Life Story (Hardcover)
It's a busy living, being a tree. With our puny life spans and lack of attention we tend to miss that fact. Suzuki and Grady have compiled an amazing amount of information into this brief, but thorough examination of a single tree's existence. The story fills in those details we miss and calls our attention to how important it is to learn them. The details are vital to us in countless ways, and being aware of them may hold some clues to our own survival as a species.

The one tree they've chosen, a Douglas-fir, started long ago, in the age of Edward I of England. The authors give an account of how a Douglas-fir is kick-started by a forest fire. That inferno we all dread is the Douglas-fir's cradle. To massive trees seeking the sun, along with many other species, the removal of the forest canopy grants fresh sunlight and nutrients in the ash that would be otherwise unobtainable. Once growth begins, the young tree sprouts roots into the soil and shoots into the air. Encountering a growing tree, we tend to see it as isolated. Grady and Suzuki quickly disabuse us of that mistake. Trees quickly enter relationships - some with others of their own kind, but also with different species. Fungi, in particular, play a vital role in a tree's life almost from the outset. The fungi bring water and nutrients to the tree, gaining sugars that are the product of photosynthesis. This relationship extends the tree's influence over a vast area. There is also chemical communication with other trees - even those of different species - calling for help or offering information about tree predators.

During the tree's mature years, the old associations are strengthened, and new ones established. As the authors impart what the tree is doing now, they also provide the evolutionary processes that make the tree what it is. Cell growth, water pumping [a process still not entirely understood], and the leafing process are all eloquently described. The science should seem compressed or distorted due to the brevity of this volume. Yet, it flows through the narrative with expressive and informative fluency. Both are experienced writers of science and this collaborative effort is a treasure for any reader.

The science described means those who performed it, whether in field observations or through laboratory effort. Another major element of success here is the relation of various researchers' lives. Many are relatively unknown, with Gregory Fedorovich Morozov likely the most significant of the people Grady and Suzuki bring to light. A Russian geographer, Morozov is described as "the founding spirit of modern ecology", a revelation that's likely to shock Sierra Club members. Morozov first pieced together the intricate relationship a forest tree has with the soil, its neighbours and its offspring. Born in 1867, Morozov had a checkered career, highlighted by a relationship with a revolutionary. Even the toppling of the czars didn't cast him in a favourable light, however, and he died in the Crimea at the young age of fifty-three. Had his work been better known in the West, the ecology movement might have enjoyed a significant boost long before it rose in the mid-Twentieth Century.

There isn't sufficient praise to describe this work. With two ranking science writers and Canada's leading wildlife artist embellishing the text, it's wealth of information, combined with a strong emotional sense of what a forest - and its trees - are all about, this book should be listed with other environmental classics. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

Thank God for Evolution : How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World
Thank God for Evolution : How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World
by Michael Dowd
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from CDN$ 3.36

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A desperate voice, Jan. 8 2008
In a nation where nearly half the adult population denies or rejects the reality of Darwinian natural selection, Michael Dowd is a fresh voice. He's disturbed about that lack of acceptance of reality, so he applies the term in many forms to make his pitch. His cause is to incorporate various realities: deep time, the continuity of life, and the genetic underpinnings of our behaviour. All the while, however, keeping his "Christian" deity plugged into the equation. He wants, he says, a "marriage of Science and Religion". While he does this with enthusiasm, using prose skills honed in his travelling road show, the project ultimately fails. If nothing else, his desperation to convince his fellow unrealists shows through on every page. The result is rather like your Mum giving you bitter medicine in your orange juice. Looks good at first, but one swallow betrays the underlying reality of the dose.

Each chapter is preceded by an epigram, and the first - by John Haught: "Evolution is Darwin's gift to theology" - is sadly symptomatic. Haught, like Dowd, completely overlooks what led Darwin to abandon the need for the supernatural - 13 finch species on a scattering of East Pacific islands. What would prompt a deity to such "wasteful" divergence? Diversity, Darwin reasoned, rested on the notion of an ancient Earth. The time was required to allow the slow, incremental changes natural selection needs to produce the great variety of life-forms we see today. Dowd not only accepts this foundation, he insists on it. The book's opening deals with the vast story of the cosmos, while showing clearly that individual retains a role in such complex emptiness. The author wants his readers to accept the idea of "deep time" with all the variation it can produce as something to embrace. That puts the reader in the picture Dowd is introducing and pulls them through the remainder of the book. He justifies this by declaring the "universe is in a trajectory" carrying us along with it. Such a statement flirts with teleological concepts, which Dowd indirectly champions.

Dowd sets up a number of dividing lines which he feels will help the reader comprehend his message. Two are related to historical times - the Black Death's devastation of Western Europe challenged the notion of a "just" deity, leading to the beginnings of scientific investigation. The other, more amorphous, he calls the change from "Flat-Earth Faith" to "Evolutionary Faith". "Flat-Earth Faith" reflects a time when knowledge of the world was limited to experiences and beliefs of a given locality and time. "Evolutionary Faith" relies on awareness of all humans being interconnected through time within the vastness of the 14-billion-year-old cosmos. It's a significant leap for many, even today, but Dowd provides a one-man cheering section to encourage his readers to take that "leap of faith". The encouragement comes in the form of explanations of why things change, why change should be recognised and embraced, and why evolution is real. How Dowd can endorse natural selection without once mentioning the Galapagos finches that prompted it eludes this reviewer, but he manages the feat.

He manages it simply by ignoring it. For all his reading in cosmology, geophysics and the rest, the logic of natural selection has eluded him. He endorses deep time, but only as a wedge to insert his deity into the mechanism. Dowd pounds that wedge mercilessly with a constant reiteration of how his god is ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING. By the time we reach Section Four, Dowd's evangelical passion is at fever pitch. He's anxious to re-establish his credentials and lure his readership to his newfound cause. He even cites his wife's "conversion" and his own "gift of tongues" as obiter dicta in pleading his case. In a spoken form, this technique might work to a receptive audience. In print, it's wearying beyond measure. In the final analysis, this book is nothing more than another entry in the "Old Earth Creationist" collection. It offers little but enthusiasm and a deity that may - or may not, we remain blithely unclear on this - tinker with the universe and its living inhabitants. To what end, we remain unclear. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
by Claire Nouvian
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 53.28
49 used & new from CDN$ 19.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I need somebody to love!", Jan. 8 2008
Joe Cocker's lament at Woodstock might well be echoed by the horde of bizarre creatures inhabiting the world's ocean depths. Their forms are alien - in fact, at least one may be the Earthly version of the film's off-world predator. Their habitat is cold and dark, yet there is more opportunity to flourish, and perhaps more species reflecting that condition, than the surface we're familiar with now contains. Many live on the remains of life drifting down from the surface or shallow layers. Others seek out prey in a number of zones in the water column. For there are but two things inhabiting this stygian realm - animals and minerals. Life is spent "looking for something to eat or somebody to love". In this spectacular album of photographs, accompanied by informative essays by oceanic researchers, we are given a first clear view into an unknown zone of life's largest arena.

Although quite possibly the zone where life began billions of years ago, the deep sea has long been hidden. Sunlight fades quickly, and perceptible colours shift from blue to red, then disappear. In the deeps, red is the dominant biological colour because nothing can see it. Reflecting this, the photographs are dominated by scarlet-hued creatures who only wish to be seen by potential mates. Others are almost perfectly transparent, a survival trait in a locale where having too much brain, heart or eyes can be fatally visible. Shapes vary across species with infinite ingenuity, but no few of these creatures can modify their profile either on demand or as part of their normal life cycle. With survival always a challenge, both predators and prey must be able to adapt effectively. From our viewpoint, seeing these animals in fully-illuminated conditions, they seem to stand out vividly. Nouvian and the researchers point out why we need to reconsider the images to what life is like in the chilling depths. Depths where the pressure is the equivalent of a cow standing on your thumbnail. And Joe Cocker's plaint might need revising in the face of mating habits of the black seadevil. The male attaches himself to his mate's body and is slowly absorbed into her flesh when she's utilised all his sperm to fertilise her eggs.

In her Preface, Nouvian opens by relating her astonishment at seeing a film of creatures found deep in the Monterey Canyon off the California coast. "These animals aren't real!" she exclaimed - probably in chorus with the other viewers. As you turn the pages, you can hardly blame her: an octopus with "rabbit" ears, a sponge resembling the Brussels "Atomium", and a host of species that have never seen the sun - a condition we were all assured in school wasn't possible. There were hints - the 19th Century exploration ship HMS Challenger brought up evidence of deep life, as had many a fishing net. Relocating deep-sea creatures to the surface is a hazardous undertaking - for them. Those transparent bodies are fragile, shattering or dissolving shape when they emerge. William Beebe descended into the Western Atlantic in a steel ball, but it's the introduction of the Remote Observing Vehicles that have brought information from the deep for us to see. Look quickly, because the bottom of the sea isn't immune to the effect of shifts in climate we're generating.

It is the greatest area on the planet where life exists. We would do well to begin to understand it. This book is an outstanding introduction to this unknown part of our world. Take it up and learn about forms of life seen only in dreams and visions - until now. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain
Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain
by Chris Stringer
Edition: Hardcover
14 used & new from CDN$ 5.65

5.0 out of 5 stars AHOB advances an alert, Jan. 3 2008
For a good many schoolchildren [too many, IMV], the history of Britain begins with Julius Caesar crossing the Channel. Confronted by resistance by the "blue people", he forcefully pushed the Island Kingdom into the historical arena. This outlook is regrettably shortsighted, as Chris Stringer makes vividly clear in this stunning account of pre-historic Britain. Although the first early human finds didn't occur there, the concept of "Stone Age" was vigorously debated in Britain as the artefacts and fossils emerged in view, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Moreover, it was British scholars like John Hutton and Charles Lyell who took the lead in extending the age of the Earth. That extension led to speculation and investigation of who and what had come before, demolishing the view of yet another Englishman, James Ussher who had postulated an Earth "created" in October of 4004 BCE. In short, stratigraphy began replacing Scripture.

Stringer explains how Britain was subjected to several "invasions" long before the Roman political martyr was glorified, then assassinated. These invasions weren't for booty or slaves, but for dinner. Changes in climate resulted in changes in sea level, with Britain forming a peninsula of Europe many times over the millennia. Another result of climate led to large parts of that peninsula being sheathed in ice, rendering it uninhabitable – to human or other invaders. They made it, finally, with the first human artefacts being dated at 700 000 years ago. They weren't dining on mutton, however. It was deer, rabbits, and astonishingly, hippopotamus. The image Stringer offers of hippos crossing the Mediterranean and swimming along the Atlantic littoral to reach what is now Suffolk, isn't one easily dismissed from memory. They thrived in "Britain", along with wolves, lions and other tropical animals. And they were hunted by the humans who had followed them from Africa - albeit by a different route. Until the cold returned. Then it was reindeer, woolly mammoth and fur-bearing rhinos. As the ice advanced, such species, along with their hunters, vanished from the landscape.

These cycles of habitability over the British Peninsula have occurred several times just in the period of human occupation. The worst ice age there was 450 000 years ago, and it was severe enough to keep the peninsula free of humans for 50 thousand years after its retreat. After a temperate period allowing new settlement, humans were again pushed into Europe only twenty thousand years later. Other shifts led to inexplicable vacating by humans for a lengthy period, even though life abounded in Europe. Neanderthal arrived about 60 thousand years ago. A large-brained species, they worked out how to keep warm by burning bones in their hearths. The accumulation of fossil evidence, subject to close analysis and dating techniques, is providing an entirely new story of early human habitation in Northwest Europe. Mobility was a major factor - it's almost presumptuous to title this book "Homo Britannicus".

As a founder of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain [AHOB] research project, Chris Stringer is at once one of the driving forces and spokesmen of studies of the distant human past. For a time, it seemed this span reached back half a million years, but a recent underwater find at Pakefield pushed the earliest date back another 200 millennia. Stringer handles such challenges with ease. He's able to convey to the reader immense time leaps, yet apparently not leaving any gaps in the narrative. The information about palaeoclimates, changes in the British - European shoreline are well explained and supported by excellent maps depicting the era under discussion. How long have we known that the Thames was once a tributary of the Rhine? There are photographs - some portentous - about the conditions in Britain over time. One of the photos shows the edge of a village which will soon drop into the sea as a new climatic event - this one human enhanced - brings the sea ever further inland. The message is clear - climate has cleared humans from Britain or encouraged their settlement more than once. What does today's climate change portend for the British Isles - and for the rest of us? [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

Terra Nullius
Terra Nullius
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A tour of force, Jan. 3 2008
This review is from: Terra Nullius (Paperback)
Literary historian Sven Linqvist was introduced to Australia at a young age. An 1896 book described how white European invaders viewed and treated the Aborigines. The story depicted a trio of young European boys encountering a group of Aborigines at a meal. Tucked away in a deep cavern, which to the boys meant the Aborigines couldn't have hunted the meal, the boys immediately concluded the group was engaging in cannibalism. The result was inevitable, the boys opened fire with their carbines, wiping out the "natives". For Lindqvist, it launched a train of thought he pursued years later. Journeying around and through Australia, he brought in his swag a background of European literature dealing with "primitive" peoples. In this vivid account, he takes us on both a geographic and a sociological tour of Australia's historical dealings with its indigenous population. At each stopping point, he relates what occurred to the Aboriginal occupiers there. It's not a pretty story.

The Aborigines were the focus of a good many early ethnographic scholars, almost none of whom set foot on the southern continent. Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Bronislaw Malinovski, among others, read a few accounts of missionary or other observers to draw novel, if still Euro-centric, ideas of what Aborigine social structure was like and what it meant for human history. The common theme was that primitive societies represented a step on the way to "civilisation". According to Lindqvist, these scholars were uniformly incorrect. Instead of family, clan or even religion binding Aborigine society, it was the land they occupied. Europeans, who considered nomadic peoples as "landless", failed to observe the way land featured in family relationships, religion and the way a people who seemed to be constantly on the move, viewed the land. Aborigines may not have farmed the soil or used it to pasture animals, but that was because they understood how fragile that resource truly is. Europeans, under the influence of Christian dogma about "heathens" and academic dogmas about "primitive people", occupied Aborigine land with the view to "assimilating" or eradicating them. Assimilation was achieved by elimination of all ties to their own culture and a brief education leading to demeaning jobs as domestics or labourers.

The colony of New South Wales considered the issue of "terra nullius" ["land not occupied"] in the 1820s, but the author mercifully skips over the issue of whether displacing or killing Aborigines was "legal" or not. Instead, he views it as the attitude and the practice of Christian European settlers and miners as they crossed the continent. Until recently, only a few accounts made any effort to bring the Aborigines into historical narratives. Lindqvist makes the most of what he can find to depict the atrocities perpetrated against them. Beyond merely shooting them, Europeans also turned to the seizure of children to be trained in "mission" stations to be domestic servants or road and farm labourers. In addition to simply breaking up families with this tactic, the removal of children dismantled the entire social structure of the culture. With firm ties to particular areas of the countryside and ancient traditions regarding who could marry among the various "moieties", Europeans demolished millennia of finely-tuned cultural foundations.

As a literary historian with a broad outlook in philosophy, the author carefully examines the options facing the white population of Australia. How much guilt is to be recognized when you're living in a place so blatantly wrested from an indigenous population? How much responsibility is there for an individual in those circumstances to consider or bear? It's interesting that Australians have had sufficient sense of conscience to implement a "Sorry Day" in recognition of the injustices done to original peoples. Court cases finally introduced [almost] full citizenship, some justice for recent murders and, most significantly, recognition of what "land rights" implied. Regrettably, the federal government of the time [recently overturned after an over-long tenure] immediately attempted to impose new restrictions on access to sacred places. Even so, some halting first steps have been taken. It will be interesting to watch whether Lindqvist's account provokes Australia into more constructive steps into the future. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

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