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text 2018-11-17 21:32
Reading progress update: I've read 162 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

 

There's some serious Paul Serreno worship going on here!  Not that there's anything wrong with that, exactly.....

 

I know I have biases toward the paleontologists in my province too, especially Phil Currie, who is possibly the nicest scientist that I have ever met.  When I was in Cuba, our bird tour leader was a university professor who was a geologist.  When he found out that I was a dyed-in-the-wool dinosaur fan, he took us to a place where we could see & touch the K/T boundary.  I was thrilled, although I'm not sure that the other members of the tour really understood its significance.  This Cuban prof was more of the "birds aren't dinosaurs" persuasion and we had some intense discussions of the issue.  Until I finally just said, "Look, Phil Currie works in my area and he is my hero.  So as far as I am concerned, birds are dinosaurs."  We agreed to disagree.  But I will always remember laying my hand on that iridium layer, that divides the Cretaceous from the Holocene.

 

Dinosaurs are wondrous creatures!

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review 2018-11-16 04:05
Red. Blue. Green. No Matter What Your Politics...
American Dialogue: The Founders and Us -... American Dialogue: The Founders and Us - Joseph J. Ellis,Arthur Morey

...you have to read this book. Joseph J. Ellis explains it all. In his clear and concise style, he dives deeply into four issues that have plagued our nation since our founding-- racism/slavery, economic inequality, American imperialism and the doctrine of original--explaining why these four issues have brought us to where we are today and how they have shaped our current political quagmire.

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text 2018-11-15 15:22
Reading progress update: I've read 85 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

 

Reading about the new Triassic research was very interesting.  Back in 2013, I read My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek and realized that there was a lot of work going on in that time period. 

 

Interestingly, when I attended a lecture at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology back in October, the lecturer (whose name seems to have completely escaped me) was talking about crocodile hearts--namely that they were structurally like the heart of endothermic animals, so it looked like modern crocodiles were descended from warm-blooded ancestors.  The pseudosuchians that Brusatte talks about seem to fill the bill--active predators who would have needed to be endothermic in order to pursue prey.  Crocs have since become ectothermic ambush predators, but retain that endothermic heart structure.

 

I also appreciated his description of Bob Bakker on page 77:

"...renowned for his high energy lectures, delivered in the style of an evangelist testifying to his congregation."

 

This is exactly how Bob is!  When he was promoting his 1995 novel Raptor Red, he stopped here in Calgary and gave an evening talk at the Calgary Zoo.  I was a new docent at the zoo at the time and as a dinosaur enthusiast, I was there with bells on. 

 

It was shortly after the Jurassic Park movie had come out (1993) and Bakker was talking about the raptors in that movie.  The actual fossil velociraptors were only about turkey size, but Spielberg had deemed those "not scary enough" so he increased their size by several orders of magnitude.  In the meanwhile, fossils of a large raptor called Utahraptor had been described and were about the right size.  Bakker was calling Spielberg a prophet and urging us to "Praise Speilberg!"  I got a great kick out of that evening.

 

I must admit that I was skim reading the notes and checking the index to this book last night and I'm a bit disappointed at how little Canadian scientists and older scientists of Bakker's vintage that this author cites.  I live in a dinosaur hot-spot, with Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in my back yard and I know that a ton of significant fossils and research originate here.  This may end up being my biggest disappointment with this book.

 

A reconstruction of Utahraptor (from Wikipedia).

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review 2018-11-15 15:13
Podcast #124 is up!
The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson - Mark R. Cheathem

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Mark Cheathem about his new book on presidential campaigning in antebellum America. Enjoy!

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review 2018-11-14 15:44
What is fascism?
The Anatomy of Fascism - Robert O. Paxton

Over the past few years, the word "fascist" has been deployed increasingly to describe modern-day political movements in the United States, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, to name a few places. The word brings with it some of the most odious associations from the 20th century, namely Nazi Germany and the most devastating war in human history. Yet to what degree is the label appropriate and to what extent is it more melodramatic epithet than an appropriate description?

 

It was in part to answer that question that I picked up a copy of Robert O. Paxton's book. As a longtime historian of 20th century France and author of a seminal work on the Vichy regime, he brings a perspective to the question that is not predominantly Italian or German. This shows in the narrative, as his work uses fascist movements in nearly every European country to draw out commonalities that explain the fascist phenomenon. As he demonstrates, fascism can be traced as far back as the 1880s, with elements of it proposed by authors and politicians across Europe in order to mobilize the growing population of voters (thanks to new measures of enfranchisement) to causes other than communism. Until then, it was assumed by nearly everyone that such voters would be automatic supporters for socialist movements. Fascism proposed a different appeal, one based around nationalist elements which socialism ostensibly rejected.

 

Despite this, fascism remained undeveloped until it emerged in Italy in the aftermath of the First World War. This gave Benito Mussolini and his comrades a flexibility in crafting an appeal that won over the established elites in Italian politics and society. From this emerged a pattern that Paxton identifies in the emergence of fascism in both Italy and later in Germany, which was their acceptance by existing leaders as a precondition for power. Contrary to the myth of Mussolini's "March on Rome," nowhere did fascism take over by seizing power; instead they were offered it by conservative politicians as a solution to political turmoil and the threatened emergence of a radical left-wing alternative. It was the absence of an alternative on the right which led to the acceptance of fascism; where such alternatives (of a more traditional right-authoritarian variety) existed, fascism remained on the fringes. The nature of their ascent into power also defined the regimes that emerged, which were characterized by tension between fascists and more traditional conservatives, and often proved to be far less revolutionary in practice than their rhetoric promised.

 

Paxton's analysis is buttressed by a sure command of his subject. He ranges widely over the era, comparing and contrasting national groups in a way that allows him to come up an overarching analysis of it as a movement. All of this leads him to this final definition:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (p. 218)

While elements of this are certainly present today, they are hardly unique to fascism and exist in various forms across the political spectrum. Just as important, as Paxton demonstrates, is the context: one in which existing institutions are so distrusted or discredited that the broader population is willing to sit by and watch as they are compromised, bypassed, or dismantled in the name of achieving fascism's goals. Paxton's arguments here, made a decade before Donald Trump first embarked on his candidacy, are as true now as they were then. Reading them helped me to appreciate better the challenge of fascism, both in interwar Europe and in our world today. Everyone seeking to understand it would do well to start with this perceptive and well-argued book.

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