Proper Planning

The U.S. Supreme Court wants to make sure the four horsemen of the apocalypse all arrive at the same time.

“Where the Sagebrush Grows”

Brittany Bronson’s review of my friend John Glionna‘s book, “Outback Nevada: Real Stories from the Silver State,” really captures Glionna’s gifts and the heart of his charming, striking feature writing.

Most of Nevada’s land — almost 86 percent — is uninhabited by people, covered in sagebrush, and managed by the federal government. That leaves plenty of room for the imagination. Green corporations envision wind farms. Red politicians see a dumping grounds for the nation’s nuclear waste. Even for those who have driven one of those two-lane highways stretching across high desert, it is still easy to assume that there is nothing, and no one, out there.

John M. Glionna sets out to prove the opposite in Outback Nevada: Real Stories from the Silver State, a collection of reported essays profiling the inhabitants of “the real Nevada.” Written between 2013 and 2021, the essays span the rise and fall of President Donald Trump, a worsening drought, and a global pandemic. Glionna lets his subjects serve as the narrators, comedians, and political commentators, and his cast of characters is well curated. They disrupt any assumptions of Nevada as a culturally homogeneous place.

The book’s 45 subjects include a Catholic priest who conducts mass in casinos; elderly best friends who have outlived their cowboy husbands; a Shoshone activist who uses art to comment on the environmental impacts of mining; the Thunder Mountain Indian Monument; and the daily police blotters of the state’s smallest towns, full of “scandal, buzz or scuttlebutt.”

Linda Tirado reflects

This is an excellent interview by WCCO Channel 4 in Minneapolis with author / reporter / photographer Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye after being shot by a police offer during a 2020 demonstration in that city. Tirado is both purposeful and poignant here – and instructive; she always wants to teach … and *to show people how*. You will be surprised by some of what she says. (Click on the image to see the video.)

The evolution of intelligence

My sister Jenny Basil, a brilliant biologist headquartered at the City University of New York (Brooklyn College), makes a spirited appearance in this piece in bioGraphic (by Kate Evans, with photographs and video by Dave Abbott and others):

What would be lost, if we lost the nautilus? Not just beauty, but brains, too. In the past, some marine biologists have dismissed nautiluses as “dumb snails,” the least intelligent of the cephalopods. The suggestion greatly offends Basil, who has studied chambered nautiluses in her Brooklyn lab for more than 25 years. Her hair is a color her students call “nautilus auburn,” and she has nothing but enthusiasm for her subjects. She and her doctoral students call them “the kids,” and Basil says looking after them is like parenting a gang of troublesome 12-year-olds: “‘I’m gonna go out the outlet pipe. I’m gonna fight for some shrimp even though I have some.’ They’re always trying to injure themselves.”

Basil studies animal brains and behavior—hamsters, jays, chickadees, lobsters—but she finds nautiluses particularly compelling because they can help answer questions about the evolution of intelligence. As a group, cephalopods have the most grey matter of any invertebrate on Earth, Basil says—“big, fat, sassy brains” that evolved hundreds of millions of years before the vertebrate brain. But while octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid live fast and die young after laying a thousand eggs, nautiluses don’t mate until they are at least 10 years old, then lay a handful of eggs that take a year to hatch. “They are solving problems in a different way with a different brain.”

Basil’s early studies showed that nautiluses have superior powers of smell—they are able to detect very low concentrations of odors at distances of more than 10 meters, and move toward the source with great accuracy by comparing minute differences in the intensity of the odor reaching the receptors on each side of their body. In other words, they smell in stereo—an adaptation requiring complex sensory processing, and a surprise in such an ancient animal.

Their eyesight isn’t bad, either. In another experiment, Basil and doctoral student Robyn Crook strapped each nautilus into a harness—dubbed the “nautilus car seat”—and exposed them to a flash of blue light, giving the animals some food immediately afterward. Just like Pavlov’s dog, the nautiluses learned to respond and continued to do so hours later, proving they have both short-term and long-term memory.

The whole piece is utterly engrossing.

“Harbinger of Doom”

This is how author and defense analyst Brynn Tannehill describes herself. She’s really smart, and she’s not kidding. I admire someone whose prose style remains peppy no matter the despair it conveys. Here she is on guns and the end of America. And on the genocide in front of us. Have a nice day!