Bend the Round

…where the madness is recorded.

Book 20: The Unnatural History of the Sea April 28, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 3:42 pm
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In a nutshell, the Unnatural History of the Sea is a great book, but pretty damn depressing.

Humankind has been fishing for centuries. Unfortunately, there aren’t many records of any sort from the early days of fishing, but there are a few journals. What Roberts has found boggles the mind – flora and fauna on an exponentially larger scale and abundance than that found today. He reports rivers that were more fish than water when it came time for fish to spawn, islands covered in sea turtles, and fish many times the size of those in existence today.

The history of the sea is a story of shifting baselines, the change in environmental norms as human generations pass. Those huge sea creatures in huge numbers declined as the populations were fished. See, fishing naturally selects the larger animals first – the bigger, fatter, and older the fish, the more valuable it is. As the larger fish are removed, people get used to seeing only smaller ones, and fewer of the fish in general. It becomes “normal” for only a few fish to be around when there used to be huge schools.

The advent of trawling is pointed to as a major event in the history of the sea. Trawling enables fishermen to pull the greatest number of fish from the ocean with the minimum effort (that is not to say that fishing is easy – everything I’ve seen indicates that it is brutally demanding work).

Naturally, removing the majority of fish from a population plays merry hell with the health of the population. As it turns out (this was news to me), the reproductive power of fish increases as they age. So the older, larger animals crank out more eggs/sperm than the smaller, younger animals. This means that the small fish that are able to escape the trawl’s netting aren’t as capable of restoring the population size as the larger fish. It’s a double-whammy for the population.

And that’s just regular trawling… bottom trawling is even more destructive to fish populations. The nets are weighted so they scrape along the bottom of the sea. Not only are animals removed from the environment, but the actual environment is torn to shreds in the process. Corals that take hundreds or thousands of years to grow are ripped up, as are the plants that fish and invertebrates depend on for food and shelter. Triple-whammy.

Most of the book can be summed up in the following statements – “Marine populations are in a nose-dive and many, if not most, might not be able to recover even if extreme measures are taken immediately. Human intervention in the ocean is the direct cause, particularly trawl-fishing.”

There is little hope in the book until the last few chapters. In those last few changes, Roberts has laid out what appears to be a very reasonable plan of action to save what we have left, help it recover, and still supply the world’s human population fish. The plan is multi-faceted, calling for changes in everything from the politics of fishing, to the act of fishing, to where fishermen are actually allowed to fish. The last bit is the most remarkable, and best explained.

Roberts calls for 20-40% of the ocean to be set aside as marine reserves. Marine research claims that these reserves will actually boost catches while protecting populations and keeping them healthy. There are a few marine reserves existing today, and apparently fishing near the reserve has rebounded to an astounding degree – in some cases, the population rebound happens in just a few short years, though the cases discussed in the book point out that the populations improve more as time goes on.

Naturally, a great deal of politics would be involved in getting his plan enacted, and a great deal of corruption would have to be wiped out. The political element makes me pretty skeptical that the needed changes will be made in time.

“Ghost fishing” is discussed (ghost fishing is the term for the death of animals caused by lost fishing gear), and the loss of marine life caused by litter (plastic in particular) are both discussed. I think most people are aware that a lot of plastic winds up in the ocean, where it poses a danger to sea turtles and adorable tap dancing penguins. What I was not aware of was the danger of tiny, microscopic bits of plastic – stuff that is put into facial scrubs or bits of plastic that have broken off larger bits. These bits enter the food web when they are consumed by plankton, which are in turn consumed by other animals, until the concentration can cause harm.

What isn’t discussed is chemical pollution. It’s just as well, I suppose. It was hard enough soak in the rest of the onslaught marine life is subjected to. I suppose it’s a testament to just how resilient life is… Still, I can’t help think that it’s probably time to quit pushing out luck and DO something about the oceans being emptied.

All in all, the Unnatural History of the Sea is a great read, especially when read in conjunction with The World Without Us. Still, have something light on hand. Something happy… ‘Cause this one is a downer.

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Book 19: Ice Cold Grave April 20, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 3:06 am
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Charlaine Harris’ Harper Connelly series keeps getting better. An Ice Cold Grave is the third (and most recently published) book in the series. I had some doubts in the beginning, but the characters are still shaping up very nicely. Harper and Manfred are still the most interesting characters, though, I suspect that Tolliver will be fleshed out even more in subsequent books. Past that, I can’t really comment further on character development without delving into spoilers.

Consider this a spoiler warning!!

Harris originally presented Harper and Tolliver as brother and sister, but not blood relatives. Harper’s mom married Tolliver’s dad when they were teens, and they were brought up as siblings for a few years until they could get out of the house (the home situation was horrendous…the parents were drug addicts, alcoholics, etc). In the book previous to this one, Harper admits to herself that she’s got feelings for Tolliver, who she’s still having trouble not thinking of as her brother. In this one, they get together. Yeah. Not-really brother on not-really sister sex scenes. The weird factor is cranked up to about a nine for me here. The situation as presented is believable, but the fact that they considered each other siblings for so long has got me a little tiny bit icked out. The characters are a bit weirded out by it, too, and Harris is dealing with that… but still… it’s a little… icky.

OK, back to non-spoilery content.

The plot improved again, also. The mystery wasn’t *quite* as see-through as previous ones. I still had it pretty much figured out by half to two-thirds through the book.

I’m beginning to think that Harris’ real talent is in character and universe development. That seems to be the big difference between the Sookie and Harper series – the Harper books are hinged on a mystery to be solved, while the Sookie books are essentially about Sookie’s development as a person in an extremely interesting universe of characters.

As mentioned, Ice Cold Grave is the last of the three currently published Harper Connelly books. To this point, if someone asked if I’d recommend the series, I’d say yes with some reservations. These are good if you’re looking for a quick, beach-read type book, but they’re no where near as enchanting as the Sookie books.

 

Back in the Saddle April 18, 2008

Filed under: running,yoga — bendtheround @ 3:19 pm
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I came down with a mind-numbing, brain-deadening headcold/chest cold/virus thing last week. At first, I thought I had strep, but the doc insisted that it was a virus. The result was that my running has been side-lined since last Thursday. I’d wake up in the morning when Matt, the dedicated soul he is, got up to go to the gym. I’d fully intend to get up as well, but simply failed. I’d be too tired after a night of fitful sleep and my throat would hurt and I’d just roll over like a lump and stay in bed.

I’ll say this for coming off a running habit – it sucks. When I stop running for a while, I start feeling chubby, which isn’t terribly pleasant. Between that and still being sick, I just haven’t felt all that great this past week.

Well, this morning, I was finally able to peel myself out of bed and hit the gym. I decided to do a nice easy two miler on the treadmill to ease back in (and not aggravate my cold) and it went remarkably well. Covered the readout with my towel and trotted on off, listening to some OK Go. I was surprised a while later when I checked my progress that I’d already gone a mile and I was scooting along at close to a 10 minute mile pace. Super cool.

I finished that two miler in 20:49. I was pretty darn happy with that for my first run after being sidelined by virus and general wussiness.

So, after running, I ambled on over to one of the multi-purpose rooms to get my yoga on. I finally made it all the way through the class and it was wonderful.

As mentioned in previous posts, I am trying to jump start my yoga practice. I spent some time going through the available yoga podcasts in iTunes and found one that’s got a LOT of promise. I’ve gotta hand it to the people over at YogaDownload.com, they can put together one heck of a yoga class. I’ve listened to a bunch of yoga-classes-via-podcast, and so far, this is hands-down the best one. Each podcast comes with a PDF demonstrating the series of poses, so you’ve got a visual. (I’ve checked out several yoga video podcasts, but as I’ll be practicing in the gym for now, it’s just not practical to have to watch a video.)

I’ve only listened to one class so far, but I was so impressed that I’m comfortable recommending the podcast with two reservations. The first one is the same reservation I have about yoga books and videos – they’re great resources, but I never recommend STARTING yoga without a good teacher. You really need a teacher to help you get the most out of your practice…and how to practice safely. Yoga is by-and-large low-impact, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you CAN hurt yourself.

The second reservation is that if you aren’t familiar enough with yoga poses, you’re not likely to know what to do fast enough to keep up. The class isn’t too fast-paced, but if you have to reference the PDF, you’re going to get left behind very quickly.

So! Basically, YogaDownload’s podcast is perfect for someone who’s had some moderate to significant yoga experience and is looking for a classroom guide in podcast form. If that’s you, check out YogaDownload – it’s pretty darn neat! The pace was great, challenging, but do-able – I was sweating just as hard as I was during the run toward the end. My only suggestion would be to stack some good cool-down/meditation music after the podcast. There’s about a minute of ambient type music at the end of the class, but I felt the need for some more quiet time at the end.

 

Book 16: Our Present Condition April 15, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 5:53 pm
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My very first semi-pro book review has been published! Check it out at Internet Review of Books.

The whole thing came about when the editor at Internet Review of Books (henceforth “IRB” because “Internet Review of Books” is a lot to type) read my review of Gertrude Bell and liked it. We exchanged a couple messages and next thing I know, I’m being paid in books to write a review! Super awesome.

It was a lot of fun to do and I’m hoping for a chance to do another one for IRB. I’m also hoping that if I get another one, it’ll be an easier read – Our Present Condition was NOT a book for the layperson.

Anyhow, for the review, head on over to IRB. Thanks!

 

Book 18: The Outlaw Demon Wails April 11, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 6:59 pm
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Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series took a downturn with the book previous to The Outlaw Demon Wails. It’s a fun series, with some fantastic characters, and a wonderfully constructed universe – very entertaining until the last book. I’m tickled that Harrison got right back on the horse and wrote what might be the best book in the series.

The main character, Rachel Morgan, is finally showing some serious growth, which was one of my main complaints about the last book. Morgan is something of an adrenaline-junkie who unintentionally puts her loved ones in danger. At the risk of being trite, it was refreshing to see the character find a way to be true to who she is and still keep her friends and family safe.

My only other minor complaint about the series is a personal one. As is to be expected from books with a provocatively dressed woman on the covers, there are sexual or sexually-charged scenes in the story. No problem there, really, it’s just that a majority of those scenes seem to be girl-on-girl (or girl-or-vampire-girl, if you’d like to be specific). The lesbian vampire stuff is definitely naughty, but it lacks the appeal for me that it probably has for others. Fortunately for me, the lesbian vampire stuff is at best a side-note.

The Rachel Morgan series is a load of fun and I do recommend it for anybody who enjoys Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series.

 

Book 17: The World Without Us April 7, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 2:42 pm

The World Without Us is non-fiction, but it is the stuff of sci-fi. It’s a thoroughly researched, well thought out “What If?” – and it’s a real page-turner.

Alan Weisman walks the reader through what would happen (to his best extrapolation) on Earth if the entire human population was suddenly gone. He does a great job of presenting his best guess at what would happen and then explaining why. Weisman is remarkably thorough, too – he covers what would happen to our cities, our farmlands, our soil, the sea, plant and animal populations (domestic to endangered), oil fields, and nuclear power plants.

Despite the topic, which can be boiled down to “all humanity is gone, and the Earth heaves a sigh of relief – and then recovers,” the book is remarkably hopeful. Weisman is very clear that the planet isn’t in danger. The plant’s going to be around for a LONG time. Period. The environment is going to be around for a long time, too – it’s just a question of the state it’ll be in.

It was remarkable to read about just how fast our cities would be reclaimed by nature. I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit of a sucker, but Weisman’s reasoning seemed extremely sound to me. For example, in an early chapter, he discusses New York City’s subways and the roll they’d likely play in the city’s decent back into nature. Apparently, there is a small army of people that spends their waking lives keeping water from retaking the subway – that every time it rains in NYC, the subway system is in danger of being flooded. If those people were no longer there… well, like Weisman says, Water Street is called Water Street for a reason. It’d be underwater very, very quickly. And there’s nothing as benign and destructive as water – particularly in areas (like NYC) that have a freeze-thaw cycle. (If you’re not familiar with the freeze-thaw cycle and what it can do, here’s the reader’s digest version: water gets into cracks of asphalt, concrete, rocks, etc, the weather turns cold, the water freezes and expands, pushing the cracks out further and damaging the asphalt, concrete, rock, etc, then the water thaws. The process happens again and again until the hard material is nothing but broken up bits. Water is incredible, isn’t it??)

The World Without Us is wide-reaching – it doesn’t just discuss what would happen in the US. He discusses environments around the world and effects of human activity in nearly every corner of the globe. And yet it’s readable, accessible, and utterly fascinating.

The one real downer was his discussion of the world’s nuclear power plants and nuclear waste. Weisman almost casually discusses the likely meltdown of the power plants and the likely resultant spewing of deadly material into the atmosphere…material likely to continue being radioactive longer than the planet is likely to be around. Resigned might be a better word than casual. Personally, the very idea of 441 nuclear power plants melting down inspires me to run in circles almost comically yelling “OMG, we’re all gonna die” praying that I’d improbably turn into something that would care less about it…possibly a sofa… a la Douglas Adams. That Weisman can calmingly regard the possibility of massive nuclear meltdown shows that he’s really committed to his theoretical “all humanity is gone” experiment. No point in panicking if we’re all already history, right?

I’m pleased to report that The World Without Us does provide a plan to make sure that the world DOESN’T have to go on without our presence. Unfortunately, there’s no way in hell the plan would work. You’d never get buy in from the entire human population of this planet to limit the birth rate – specifically, one child per woman until the population settles back down to a more comfortable two billion. It’s a little frightening to think about, but Weisman’s undercurrent seems to be that if we opt to not voluntarily cut back our numbers, nature will do it for us. There will come a time when all our technology and know-how will simply not be enough to sustain our growing numbers. Truth really does hurt…

Still, The World Without Us is a great read. I’ve been reading a book called the Unnatural History of the Sea at the same time – a GREAT book to read in tandem with The World Without Us. I’ll review it as soon as I finish it, but I do recommend reading both at the same time… one one right after the other if you’re not into having multiple books going. 😉

PS – If you’re wondering what happened to Book 16… The review will be published on The Internet Review of Books sometime this month, I think. When it is, I’ll link to it, in Book 16’s post.

 

March Running Report April 2, 2008

Filed under: running,state of BTR — bendtheround @ 3:31 pm
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March was a big month for me. The half marathon training was in the middle of the month and I was putting in some pretty serious miles (for me) up to the half marathon.

I did take two weeks off after the half marathon to recover, but even so, I chalked up a grand total of 55.7 miles in March. Not to freakin’ shabby, says I.

My current total mileage for 2008 is 149.1 miles.

All in all, the first three months of the year have gone well. I’m very happy with the mileage I’ve put in so far and while I didn’t make my sub 2 hour 20 min half marathon goal in March’s race, I’ve got nine more months keep trying.

I made the decision in late March to hold off training for another half marathon until after my upcoming move in June. In the meantime, my intention is to do more frequent shorter runs to work on speed and generally burn off stress. I also want to incorporate yoga into my fitness routine.

This past week was supposed to be the start of this new focus, but so far it’s been a stunning failure due to a tenacious bout of insomnia. My usual sleep patterns are all out of whack and it’s prevented me from getting up in the morning to get rolling. Tomorrow, however, is another day… I’ll keep trying!