Duck Duck Book

27 – nests, eggs
12.15.2005, 4:30 pm
Filed under: science

Nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American birds / Paul J. Baicich and Colin J.O. Harrison ; illustrations by Andrew Burton, Philip Burton and Terry O’Nele ; egg photographs by F. Greenaway and Clark Sumida. 
Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2005, c1997.
[MCL call number: 598.1564 B152n 2005; 18 copies, no holds]

Field guides are terribly practical when you’re out there in “the field,” trying to figure out what you’re looking at.  They’re also extremely useful for people like me who were raised in cities and who habitually pay little attention to the natural environment even here in the urban space. 

But it’s also true that they’re just interesting to look at and read.  This field guide is especially fascinating because it contains lots of information about small stuff you don’t usually see unless you’re looking for it — nests, eggs, and nestlings.  Yup, baby birds.  Gosh, they’re cute!

After some firm words to readers about the importance of respecting the autonomy and privacy of young birds and their habitat, an extensive general introduction, and a helpful key to identifying eggs, nests, nestlings and chicks, the main text of Nest, Eggs, and Nestlings provides detailed information about almost 700 bird species of North America (for the purposes of this book, “North America” means Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the continental United States).  The birds’ scientific and common names, habitat, nests and the methods they use to make them, notes on their breeding season, eggs, incubation methods and period, and descriptions of the nestlings and their habits are all included.  The book has 16 color plates of wee nestlings, and 48 of eggs, as well as hundreds of clear black-and-white drawings interspersed through the text.  A bibliography is included in the endmatter, as is an index to common and scientific names.


27 – bad language
12.15.2005, 4:28 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Bad language, naked ladies, and other threats to the nation : a political history of comic books in Mexico / Anne Rubenstein. 
Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 1998.
[MCL call number: 741.5972 R895b 1998; two copies, no holds]

This history discuses the social, political, and cultural impact of comics in Mexico during the period from 1934 to 1976.  It is an academic book, and suffers from some of the typical handicaps of scholarly works — unnecessarily complex prose, long sentences, interminable footnotes, and lots of references to things that other academics would recognize but that other readers (me, for instance!) may not.  But, I am writing about it here because I feel it is a useful book regardless.  Read on, please:

Rubenstein begins by detailing the origins of comic books and the comic book industry and the development of the careers of various influential writers, artists, and publishers.  She then discusses the history of several different periods in the development of the form, and of the reception that comics received from conservative groups, the government, and the public at large. 

Some of this discussion is very interesting: for example, in the second chapter ("Home-Loving and Without Vices: 'Modernity,' 'Tradition,' and the Comic Book Audience"), Rubenstein examines "lonely hearts" reader advertisements in comic books as a mechanism for determining how comic books did or did not affect the moral views and character of readers.  Her argument is that although conservative right-wing critics continually promoted the concern that comic books led an unsuspecting and vulnerable section of the public to believe that "loose" morals and "modern" personal and social arrangements were acceptable; in fact, the lonely hearts advertisements that many comics printed for free show just how traditional comic book readers actually were.  They were seeking partners with whom to embark on traditional marriages, with clearly defined male and female roles and responsibilities.  There is, Rubenstein argues, little indication that these advertisers were interested in the fast lifestyle, scandalous romantic and sexual escapades, escape from traditional gender roles, or modern domestic arrangements that conservatives so derided comic books for portraying.

Bad Language should be an interesting read, if you are looking for an introduction to this part of Mexican cultural history — but its scope and intended audience are sufficiently narrow to make it a challenge for readers who are not intensely committed to the subject.  My assessment is that the book is worthwhile, but features unrelated to the topic and argument make it less accessible than would be ideal.

And it is frustrating that although Bad Language is written and presented in a very learned style, it does not include a bibliography of sources — these are presented as they are referenced in Rubenstein's endnotes.  Reading the book made me very curious about some of the historical incidents and trends mentioned, and although Rubenstein's sources are well-documented and seem helpful, they would be more so if they appeared in a format intended to assist readers who are interested in further study of issues related to the various threads of her argument.

27 – mental illness link
12.15.2005, 4:27 pm
Filed under: articles

“Mental illness link to art and sex” / Ian Sample, science correspondent.
The Guardian, 30 November 2005.

Daniel Nettle of Newcastle University and Helen Clegg of the Open University in Milton Keynes recently published a report of a survey they did of schizophrenics, artists, and members of the general British population.  This article discusses the survey results, some of the most notable of which are: artists have (on average) more than twice the number of sexual partners as people in the rest of the population, and, artists share key behavioral traits with schizophrenics. 

According to the survey, artists and schizophrenics are especially likely to experience a connection or blurring between reality and dream states, and to be overwhelmed by their own thoughts.  The big difference between artists and schizophrenics seems to be that schizophrenics also have other traits that make it very difficult for them to engage in social interaction or to have satisfying emotional lives.  Artists aren’t any more likely to suffer from these difficulties than other non-schizophrenics — basically, Clegg and Nettle’s conclusion is that artists have the gifts of insanity without the handicaps!  Fascinating, especially if you consider the very creative people you no doubt know (I mean, aren’t they kind of crazy, but in a good way?).

The article provides much more detail about the survey and Nettle and Clegg’s work, as well as a link to an abstract of their journal article.