Archive for January 8th, 2007

by Jay Stevens 

Here’s a personal revelation, something that might surprise the two people who picked 4&20 blackbirds as Montana’s “best written” blog: my wife is the real writer in the family.

Her name is Kim Todd, and today marks the release of her latest book, Chrysalis, Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.

Maybe I’m biased – no, I’m definitely biased – but I think Kim’s an extraordinary writer. H*ll, that’s one of the reasons I married her…

Just like her first book — Tinkering With Eden, about the introduction of exotic species to North America – Kim, in Chrysalis, writes about not so much about Nature, but about our very human encounters with it, and how that shapes both nature and our own essential humanity.

In Tinkering, for example, the stories of introduction are as much about the people who introduced them as they are about the species and their effects on our environment. French aristocrats, for example, brought doves to the Canadian colonies as a symbol of their feudal privileges; those doves escaped and became pigeons. Or, a New York City chemical magnate released starlings into his city in an effort to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to Central Park; he belonged to a society dedicated to “beautify” the rugged and savage American wilderness with European flora and fauna. As an entirety, the book is ultimately a history of our perception of Nature, and the evolution of that perception.

Merian, as depicted in Chrysalis, lived in a “plastic” era of burgeoning ideas concerning science and society. She was able to buck tradition and apply the artistic skills she learned in her family’s print and art shops to a new field of science, and eventually pay her own way to South America to study insects. Merian’s story is as much about a woman seizing an opportunity for self-discovery and self-sufficiency as it is a story about the early scientific movement. In a parallel narrative, Kim, relates our changing perception of metamorphosis itself, from early Greek and Roman days to the present, as if in our dynamic understanding of our surroundings also lies a glimpse of the evolution of our self-understanding.

Kim’s writing is hardly “academic” – both books are considered “pop” environmental works, which belittles Kim’s poetic voice and the application of the new creative nonfiction style that uses fictional tools to enhance the narrative of works of nonfiction.

I recommend both books.

But don’t take my word for it, check out some of the early reviews…

Kirkus Reviews:

An extraordinary portrait of an artist and amateur naturalist who explored the teeming life of the Amazon and helped lay the groundwork for our present-day understanding of ecology.

Daughter of a prominent Frankfurt publisher of illustrated books, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) mastered the art of drawing and engraving while studying the metamorphosis of silkworms. She went on to paint the larvae of butterflies and moths and to raise important questions about the role of intermediate life forms.

With a detective’s eye, PEN/Jerard Fund Award–winner Todd (Tinkering with Eden, 2001) has pieced together the life of this neglected genius who charted the micro-world of insects. While male contemporaries considered a species in isolation, Merian looked at its relationship to the environment, its sensitivity to change and its long-term survival strategies. Todd gives equal time to Merian’s own metamorphosis. The artist abandoned her husband and took up residence in an austere Pietist community in the Netherlands. She sold her paintings to support her mother and her daughters. She befriended naturalists, scientists and collectors in Amsterdam during its Golden Age, produced a popular book on caterpillars and at age 52 set off for the Amazon to document new species and collect snakes, iguanas and geckos for resale back home. Merian sold everything to finance her journey, braving tarantulas and yellow fever to produce a landmark work. After her death, Peter the Great purchased her paintings and field notes, which later languished in vaults until long after the Russian revolution. European publishers pirated her prints and displayed them out of order, misrepresenting her main ideas.

Todd’s long overdue re-examination of Merian’s work shows the extent of her scientific contributions and reminds us how much of our early understanding of biology depended on the keen eye of the amateur. This bold, wide-ranging text also considers the theological view of metamorphosis, the controversy over spontaneous generation, Merian’s connection to other accomplished women of her day, her opposition to slavery in Surinam and her reliance on Amerindians to bring her specimens. A breathtaking example of scholarship and storytelling, enriched by ample illustrations of Merian’s work.

Booklist:

Todd…emulates Merian’s richly contextual approach in her vivid descriptions of every facet of her subject’s vibrant world as she insightfully chronicles Merian’s extraordinary life…Todd’s discerning analysis and deep appreciation resurrect Merian and reclaim her still vital achievements, ensuring that Merian will stand as the resourceful and courageous visionary she truly was.

Library Journal:

Todd’s writing itself is lush, almost poetic, whether she is describing the science of metamorphosis or Merian’s own personal metamorphoses throughout her life.

You get the idea.

There are a bunch of readings coming up, but I think this dang post is already long enough. I’ll post Kim’s schedule when reading times draw closer…

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Links…

Jon Tester praises the Senate’s “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007,” which includes earmark and lobbying reform. Good news!

Does Tester help signal the “return” of the alpha male Democrat? H*ll, I’ve been here all along!

Pogie calls Max Baucus the Joe Lieberman of trade. Ouch!

The WaPo’s Sebastian Mallaby blasts Baucus tax plan, and with good reason.

Mike thinks a Baucus/Rehberg matchup would be a snoozer, even if Baucus is polling under 50 percent.

What’s up with the Butchers? Trevis was the Montana stooge behind Howie Rich’s initiatives, and his father, Edd — the state legislator — is a racist ass.

There are other legislatures convening now, like Idaho’s, for which Julie Fanselow has a handy user’s guide.

Western House seats to watch in 2008.

In which the left blogosphere defends Walmart for a change.

In which much gloating is had at the right-wing blogosphere’s probable misreporting of Iran Khamenei’s death. I’m less gleeful: I think a mistake on that grand of a scale would hurt all political blogs…

It ain’t pretty, but something needs to be done about Medicare Part D.

NRA members pressure the organization to oppose Bush energy policies.

Terrorists are here, in this country, ready to strike as soon as we relax our vigilance!

This woman’s death an example of why the “free market” fails our health.

When reforming health care, we’ve got to reform the insurers, too.

Hm. Maybe there is something wrong with Kansas. Then again, what did you expect from Boyda?

How un-American is it be be a Buddhist Congresswoman? Apparently being a Buddhist is just fine, it’s being Muslim that makes some folks all jittery.

One week in, and eleven Senate hearings on Iraq planned.

And Senator Patrick Leahy introduced a bill that would criminalize war profiteering, an easy bill to get behind.

Another issue to get behind is public campaign financing.

Yet another trend to back: the religious right mulls its own political party.

Could we see a six-way battle for the President’s office in 2008?

The Bush administration has turned Saddam Hussein into a martyr.

Iraq War supporters want us to stay there…forever? No, thanks.

Lieberman on the “surge”: “what’s the worst that could happen?” You know…I may be idealistic, but one death for a wrong cause is one death too many. Sort of shocking that our government’s “leaders” are so callous about the lives of our servicemen and –women.

We’re losing the infowar in Iraq. Maybe a little honesty out of the administration would help…

The disturbing story of how Reinquist was pushed into the SCOTUS.

This Modern World on the threat to journalism.

The 2006 Darwin Awards are out!

by Jay Stevens 

You may have seen the news: Rep. Ed Butcher (R-Winifred) made some inappropriate remarks in the legislature this week:

Republican Rep. Ed Butcher said he meant nothing derogatory when he referred to Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder and a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, as “Chief Windy Boy” before a House Agriculture Committee meeting Thursday. Butcher also later asked Windy Boy whether his large gavel qualified as a “war club.”

“The whole thing is absolutely absurd,” said Butcher, who also was criticized in 2001 for calling American Indian reservations “ghettos” and apologized in 2004 for referring to severely developmentally disabled students as “vegetables” at an education meeting.

Classy.

Apologies were made, and it appears that the Winifred Representative is a moron, good for a snark or two.

And just when we think it’s over, we get stunts like this, where Butcher’s racist and ignorant remarks are contrasted with the left blogosphere’s dubbing of loose cannon and House Speaker, Scott Sales, “sideshow.”

There is a little something I would like to point out though. There are a number of blogs in Montana that refer to the Montana Speaker of the House Rep. Scott Sales, in a derogatory, name calling manner and they think that is fine and dandy while disparaging Ed Butcher for his name calling. I know, they will defend themselves by saying Rep. Ed Butcher’s comment is racist and theirs isn’t. I will admit that is true but name calling is not necessary. They should be able to get their point across without the use of prejudicial names if the point they are trying to make is strong enough.

You know, this type of thinking drives me crazy. How in the world could anyone compare calling Sales “sideshow” with Butcher’s remarks? It boggles the mind.

Yes, calling Scott Sales is juvenile, belittles the most powerful political member of the state’s lower legislative body, does not foster a climate of dialog and bipartisanship, etc & co, but — in my opinion — Sales has earned his nickname. In other words, Sales is “Sideshow,” not because he was born with an extra head or any other such accident of birth. No, Sales is a “sideshow” because of the things he’s said or done.

To compare “Sideshow” to Butcher’s remarks is…well…insulting. Butcher spoke from ignorance and made demeaning remarks based on Windy Boy’s race. It’s the worst form of thinking, really, to generalize character based on a person’s appearance or background, things they have no control over. It’s narrow-minded and lazy, at best.

It’d be bad enough were Butcher a blogger. But he’s a representative of Winifred’s citizens serving in the state legislature. His words and actions reflect on his constituents. When he says dumb things he makes all of Winifred look dumb. Besides displaying the lowest form of thinking, he’s also supposed to be more respectful of his fellow legislators than some partisan hack.

Ultimately, Sarpy Sam’s defense of Ed Butcher by saying, “well, golly, look at what the left bloggers are saying,” is absolutely, one-hundred-percent utter bullsh*t.

It’s a far too typical knee-jerk reaction when folks are called out for our worst impulses. It’s not honest. It’s — wait, what’s that term right-wing Christians invariably trot out? — moral relativism, at its worst.

You think an earned nickname should be held to the same standard as racism?

 (For more reasonable criticism of left blogosphere’s rants against Scott Sales, see Mike’s post on “Legislative Demonizing.” Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias counter the crit against left blogo tone, and Drum argues that bloggers should be considered “salty” or “colorful,” not hysterical or vulgar.)




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