Books Geography Natural Science


Like the Kingdom of God, the Republic of Gilead is both now and not yet. Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale conjures a theocratic dystopia—a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians after a terrorist attack on Washington. Women are now divided into rigid classes determined by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. Atwood’s protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid—a fallen woman who is forced to bear children for righteous couples—and the book follows her sufferings under the Gilead regime.

I’m about halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s very good, and as this article notes it feels very current. I don’t watch a lot of TV these days but it seems that TV scheduling still has significant influence on my reading habits, not that I’ll be watching the Hulu adaptation any time soon.

The linked article is also a good read: women in positions of power exerting incredible influence in order to reduce the influence of power of women is such a contradiction, and yet like so much in modern politics the contradictions matter not to those that support such figures. I don’t know how you persuade someone to give up a fervent belief, religious or political.

I recently found out that some friends of mine are flat-Earthers. I tend to avoid Facebook, now that I’m greeted by ‘Proof the Earth is flat,’ ‘Overthrow the conspiracy of the globists,’ and, ’10 truths that disprove the prehistory of dinosaurs,’ I’m even less inclined to log on. I’m aware I can mute people and channels but there’s part of me that can’t help but try to explain how things work. On the bright side I’m getting good at explaining in simple terms why the sky is blue, how one can tell the earth is round, or how it’s possible to see the sun from so far away. On the downside I’m not yet ready to just leave them be and unfortunately and ‘Yeah, that confused me at school, it all just sounds too complicated, I’m just going to believe this’ infuriates the hell out of me.

As a chaser let’s have a look at our lovely Earth.

Humanities Natural Science


I picked up Sapiens for my Kindle last week. It inspired much of the video above and I’m exicted to read it, I recall some mixed reviews when it came out, I think the criticisms were of balance but I’m sure it’ll be an interesting read nonetheless.

Animals Art Natural Science

Audubon’s fake species

John James Audubon is best known for his Birds of America; if you think you don’t know it, you do:

Tricoloured Heron

But it turns out that in his younger days he made up almost 30 species to prank a fellow naturalist.

During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

When he figured out that Rafinesque had also been naming mammals based on his time with Audubon, he started worrying.

In the descriptions he gave to Rafinesque, some of these animals had very odd features. The “three-striped mole rat” was attributed to a genus that had no business being in North America. The “white-stripe lemming” carried its young on its back, despite have teats on its chest. The brindled stamiter had its cheek pouches, usually an interior feature, on the outside.

What japes!


The “Brindled Stamiter”

Humanities Natural Science

Mummy Brown

From the Harvard vault of rare pigments, Mummy Brown is very much what it sounds like:

People would harvest mummies from Egypt and then extract the brown resin material that was on the wrappings around the bodies and turn that into a pigment. It’s a very bizarre kind of pigment, I’ve got to say, but it was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I guess it’s marginally better than ending up as fertiliser? Although there might be fewer opportunities to wreak your revenge:

Computer Games Natural Science

Science Kombat

Coolest attack in a beat-em-up? Charles Darwin’s evolution:


More at Geek and Sundry.

Geography Natural Science

The Missing Plague

Upon their arrival, European diseases decimated the native populations of the Americas, but why was there no complementary effect on the colonists/invaders?