Tag Archives: words

Beyond Words – Carl Safina


Beyond Words

What Animals Think and Feel

Carl Safina

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: July 14, 2015

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Seller: Macmillan

I wanted to know what they were experiencing, and why to us they feel so compelling, and so-close. This time I allowed myself to ask them the question that for a scientist was forbidden fruit: Who are you? Weaving decades of field observations with exciting new discoveries about the brain, Carl Safina's landmark book offers an intimate view of animal behavior to challenge the fixed boundary between humans and nonhuman animals. In Beyond Words , readers travel to Amboseli National Park in the threatened landscape of Kenya and witness struggling elephant families work out how to survive poaching and drought, then to Yellowstone National Park to observe wolves sort out the aftermath of one pack's personal tragedy, and finally plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in the crystalline waters of the Pacific Northwest. Beyond Words brings forth powerful and illuminating insight into the unique personalities of animals through extraordinary stories of animal joy, grief, jealousy, anger, and love. The similarity between human and nonhuman consciousness, self-awareness, and empathy calls us to re-evaluate how we interact with animals. Wise, passionate, and eye-opening at every turn, Beyond Words is ultimately a graceful examination of humanity's place in the world.


Beyond Words – Carl Safina

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What’s a smokestorm? A meteorologist explains.

As wildfire smoke descended on Seattle this week, the sun turned an apocalyptic shade of red and the city breathed in some of the unhealthiest air in the world. A new word to describe this phenomenon graced the headlines: “smokestorm.”

The person who coined the term is Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington and revered Seattle meteorologist. “A Smokestorm is Imminent,” read the title of his blog post last Saturday, in which he projected the dangerously smoky days ahead for northwest Washington state.

“You have heard of rainstorms, snowstorms, and windstorms,” Mass wrote. “It is time to create another one: the smokestorm.”

I called up Mass on Wednesday — the day before a drizzle came in and the smoke began to dissipate — to hear the story behind the term and what he thinks we can do to prevent future smokestorms.

He came up the word to help prepare people for the hazardous air conditions. “I just wanted to give people a heads up, and something dramatic probably was more effective than ‘air quality alert,’” Mass tells me.

Mass defines a “smokestorm” as “a sudden onset of high concentrations of smoke that are large enough to affect daily life.”

Like other types of storms, a smokestorm disrupts normal operations. In Seattle this week, flights were delayed. The tourism industry took a hit. State health officials even started warning people not to vacuum.

“This was the worst [smoke] event we had in 20 years,” Mass tells me. “But one thing you can keep in mind is that people are not old enough to remember what it was like in the early 20th century and before.”

Mass says that Seattle was historically a “very smoky place.” He points to an example: In 1895, when Mark Twain visited Olympia, the capital of Washington, the city’s reception committee apologized to him for the dense smoke from wildfires that clouded picturesque views of the Olympic Mountains.

Wildfires and smoke were part of life, but they weren’t like the giant blazes or smokestorms we see today. In additional to naturally occuring blazes, indigenous groups in the area would start low-intensity burns for hunting and clearing the land to gather food — a practice that stands in stark contrast with the aggressive fire suppression practiced during the last hundred-plus years.

The forests are now overgrown and “completely unlike what they were like 150 years ago,” Mass says, “and they tend to burn these large fires which sometimes we just can’t stop.”

There’s considerable agreement among scientists that climate change is making drought and heat — and consequently, wildfires — worse. But it’s not the only factor at play here. Mass calls the climate change explanation for wildfires a “simplistic narrative,” though he acknowledges the danger it poses. (Recently, some in the climate community have criticized Mass’ approach to climate.*) “Climate change is going to get more and more serious as time goes on, so you gotta worry about that,” he told me.

In addition to overgrown forests, Mass places some responsibility on the spread of invasive grasses — which he referred to as “grassoline” — that burn more readily than Washington’s native grasses.

So how do we put a stop to gigantic fires, and thus smokestorms, in the West? Mass says the key is proper forest management: Clearing out excess fuel and doing low-level prescribed burns.

“It would cost billions of dollars to do,” Mass says, “but we’re gonna pay for it anyway. You might as well do it smart and take care of it.”

*This piece has been updated. 

Excerpt from:  

What’s a smokestorm? A meteorologist explains.

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‘Day Zero’ isn’t just Cape Town’s problem. It’s a global phenomenon.

In a statement about the decision, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said that the city’s water has tested below the federal action level for lead and copper for the last two years. But Mayor Karen Weaver doesn’t agree that the free bottled water should stop, and many Flint residents aren’t so sure their tap water is OK to use.

“My water stinks. It still burns to take a shower,” Melissa Mays, a Flint activist and plaintiff in a lawsuit that forced the replacement of water lines, told the Associated Press. “There’s no way they can say it’s safe.”

Resident Ariana Hawk doesn’t trust the water, either. “Everything that me and my kids do from cooking to boiling their water for a bath, we’re using bottled water,” she told the local ABC-affiliate news station.

The New York Times reports that about 6,000 of Flint’s lead or galvanized steel pipes have been replaced, but there could be 12,000 more lines to go. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known safe level of lead exposure.

“This is wrong,” tweeted Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint doctor whose research exposed lead poisoning in the city. “Until all lead pipes are replaced, [the] state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents.”

But after the remaining free bottles are collected, only water filters and replacement cartridges will be provided.


‘Day Zero’ isn’t just Cape Town’s problem. It’s a global phenomenon.

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This Quirky Indie Rocker Can Help You Win at Scrabble

Mother Jones

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Stephin Merritt, the singer for the Magnetic Fields, refuses to play Scrabble with me.

I can’t help but be a tiny bit disappointed. The ubiquitous word game, after all, is the reason I’m sitting down with him in this San Francisco bakery-cafe. Merritt is in town promoting 101 Two-Letter Words, a collection of poems—illustrated by the loveably oddball New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast—that he wrote to help himself remember the shortest words in Scrabble’s official dictionary.

But when I challenge him to a match, Merritt shakes his head. “The last time I attempted Scrabble with an interviewer,” he says in his slow, gravelly voice, “I accidentally stole 12 tiles from the Bryant Park public Scrabble set.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he doesn’t want his attention divided. Merritt isn’t known for doing things halfway. His band’s best-known record, the aptly named 69 Love Songs, is a three-volume epic that ranges from gospel to punk. On another album, i, every song title begins with the letter I.

He’s also not fond of repetition. In addition to his work with the Magnetic Fields, Merritt has written several Chinese operas, a score for a silent film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and music for the audiobook of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This poetry collection is his first. “I think I would get bored easily if I did the same thing again and again,” Merritt says, so “I don’t.”

The idea for 101 Two-Letter Words, which hit bookshelves at the end of September, came to him while he was on tour playing Scrabble and Words With Friends to kill time in hotels and airports. His opponents included a copyeditor, a journalist, and the novelist Emma Straub. He found himself losing often. So, in a ploy to remember strategically important words like “aa” (a type of lava) and “xu” (a unit of currency), he began composing quatrains for each.

Roz Chast/W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

“After a few,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “I thought I’d better write all of them down, and how better to do that than to write a book? I never finish anything without a deadline anyway.”

Merritt says he doesn’t have a favorite poem from the book, as he’s “not a person who has favorite things.” But he does, disproving his own claim, have a favorite illustration: The poem for “be” reads “‘Be yourself,’ all thinkers say; how odd they think alike. ‘Be yourself,’ says Lao Tzu; ‘Be yourself,’ says Wilhelm Reich.”

To accompany it, Chast has drawn what Merritt describes as “an ugly American tourist couple with his/her shirts.” His shirt says, “Be yourself.” Hers says, “I’m with stupid.”

“It blew me away,” Merritt says.

Roz Chast/W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The book owes much of its aesthetic to Edward Gorey, whose unsettling illustrated books Merritt grew up on.

“As a child with dark, morose-looking eyes, I looked like an Edward Gorey character,” he tells me. “I guess I knew that I was going to meet some horrible end. Impaled by a candlestick or something like that. Sucked into the pneumatic tube in the department store.”

Merritt never considered setting the poems to music, he says. Each song would have been only about 15 seconds long—not enough to jog his memory. But some aspects of his creative process are consistent, no matter the medium. He prefers to work in the nearest gay bar (loud, drunk straight people annoy him), with a cocktail in one hand and his notebook in the other, trying to tune out the television and let his brain wander. If he’s at home, he says, there are too many other pressing things for him to do.

Stephin Merritt performs in New York. WFUV/Flickr

I ask him whether thematic constraints, such as writing only love songs or focusing on two-letter words, help stimulate his thinking. He frowns. “It puzzles me that people keep asking me that, he says, because doesn’t everyone give themselves thematic constraints in their work? Isn’t that what a work is?”

“Yes, definitely,” I counter. “But not everyone makes an album where every song begins with I.”

“No,” he says. “I think most people make albums where everything is more similar than I do. People make albums with only five instruments on them, doing more or less the same thing again and again for the entire album, and no one bats an eyelash. If I did that, I would be bored, and so would the audience. Everyone has constraints; I just have unusual constraints, I think. The Rolling Stones have sounded like Muddy Waters for 50 years, and no one has said, ‘Don’t you find that limiting?'”

With this book, Merritt says, he didn’t even choose his own constraints. He had a specific set of words he wanted to learn, and there happened to be 101 of them. He adds that he’s always been drawn to small things: He plays the ukulele, he drives a Mini Cooper, and his pet chiuahua Irving (after Irving Berlin) slept in his shirt while he wrote some of the poems.

Merritt has a theory about the origins of this affinity: “I’m 5-foot-3.”

So, I ask, have the poems succeeded? Is he now better at Scrabble?

Without a doubt, he says. And his mother is too, ever since he gave her a copy.

“It’s not like I have a moral crusade to help people improve their game,” he adds. “But why not? It makes the world a little more fun.”

Originally posted here – 

This Quirky Indie Rocker Can Help You Win at Scrabble

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Staying Strong – Demi Lovato


Staying Strong

365 Days a Year

Demi Lovato

Genre: Self-Improvement

Price: $9.99

Publish Date: November 19, 2013

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC

Demi Lovato wakes up each morning and affirms her commitment to herself—to her health, her happiness, her being. Those commitments are the bedrock of her recovery and her work helping other young people dealing with the issues she lives with every single day. Demi is a platinum-selling recording artist whose latest album—DEMI—is already a smash hit. She’s about to embark on her second season as a judge on X-Factor, and just launched The Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program. And she is an outspoken advocate for young people everywhere. Demi is also a young woman finding her way in the world. She has dealt deftly with her struggles in the face of public scrutiny, and she has always relied, not just on friends and family, but daily affirmations of her self-worth and value. Affirmations that steady her days and strengthen her resolve. Those affirmations have grown into STAYING STRONG, a powerful 365-day collection of Demi’s most powerful, honest, and hopeful insights. Each day will provide the readers with a quote, a personal reflection and a goal. These are Demi’s words. Words she lives by and shares with the people she loves and total strangers alike. They are a powerful testament to a young woman standing up and fighting back.

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Staying Strong – Demi Lovato

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