28 December 2005

Holiday Blogging Doldrums

I had all sorts of plans to blog frequently over the break and it has all come to naught, since I am a) too lazy, and b) my parents' internet connection is painfully slow. But here I sit in *$s availing myself to overpriced wireless internet access so I can email and the internet quickly. I'm researching schools I have interviews with (yes, I have interviews! this is exciting!) and catching up on the blogs. So, why not update, with a quick Christmas Acquisitions List?

  1. Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian (2005). A gift from my parents, I'll finally be able to read this book and comment on it like the rest of the history blogosphere.

  2. Pamela Aidan, An Assembly Such as This (2003) and Duty and Desire (2004). Also from my parents, the first two installments of a projected three-part series retelling Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's point of view. Very entertaining so far! (I've just gotten through a scene in which Darcy out-Brummels Beau himself with a swank new cravat knot--hilarious! If my Regency romance novel writing friend Lauren Willig hasn't read these yet, she should!)

  3. Carlos M.N. Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana, Confessions of a Cuban Boyhood (2003). A thoughtful present from my brother, who knows how much I enjoy books about Cuba.

There promises to be a blogger breakfast at the AHA--more info on that when the details are settled!

14 December 2005

A Biological Mystery Solved

I've always been fascinated by things Arctic; I've read Barry Lopez and John McPhee with great enjoyment. Lopez in particular wrote pretty extensively on a scientific mystery of the narwhal's tusk, an eight-to-ten foot spiraled tooth jutting from the mammal's head. Represented historically as a unicorn's horn, the narwhal's tusk played a significant role in the symbolism of early modern kingship (according to Lopez, Christian V of Denmark was crowned in 1671 in a throne made of narwhal tusks).

But what is a narwhal's tusk for? The question has bedeviled scientists for several hundred years. Was the tusk a defensive weapon? Hunting tool? Echolocator? Sound producing device? (Or, Herman Melville suggested sarcastically, a letter opener?) Not all narwhals have tusks though, which seems to rule out a function necessary to survival.

A professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine now claims to have solved the problem:
[Martin] Nweeia has discovered that the narwhal's tooth has hydrodynamic sensor capabilities. Ten million tiny nerve connections tunnel their way from the central nerve of the narwhal tusk to its outer surface. Though seemingly rigid and hard, the tusk is like a membrane with an extremely sensitive surface, capable of detecting changes in water temperature, pressure, and particle gradients. Because these whales can detect particle gradients in water, they are capable of discerning the salinity of the water, which could help them survive in their Arctic ice environment. It also allows the whales to detect water particles characteristic of the fish that constitute their diet. There is no comparison in nature and certainly none more unique in tooth form, expression, and functional adaptation.

"Why would a tusk break the rules of normal development by expressing millions of sensory pathways that connect its nervous system to the frigid arctic environment?" says Nweeia. "Such a finding is startling and indeed surprised all of us who discovered it."
Startling, indeed, and more interesting than even Melville's thoughts about the uses to which the narwhal puts its tusk!

(Seee Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (Vintage, 1986), 142-148. Lopez also wrote another wonderful book, Of Wolves and Men.)

08 December 2005

Thou Shalt Not...

...oh, never mind. The billboard company in West Virginia that refused to honor its contract with the DNC and run the DNC's anti-Jean Schmidt billboards does run advertisements advocating violence against non-religious (and presumably non-Christian) Americans:

(H/T Pharyngula)

And, via Crooked Timber, a report that the Dover, PA school system might be considering David Barton's Myth of Separation as an appropriate addition to the social studies curriculum. (Barton is the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization dedicated to taking historical evidence radically out of context in order to prove that there's no such thing as separation between church and state.)

Is it my imagination, or is even good old-fashioned Enlightenment toleration going down the tubes??

04 December 2005

Sunday Reads

Some things to help end your weekend:

* The ancient and medieval Carnivalesque is up at Another Damned Medievalist. I've just finished reading the collection of posts about the HBO series Rome. I've enjoyed the series but I don't know enough late Republican-early Imperial Roman history to judge its accuracy--luckily bloggers do it for me!
* New Kid on the Hallway notes that December 1st was Blog Against Racism Day. I don't know how someone like me, who is interested in issues of race historically, missed this. New Kid did a great post.
* Scott Eric Kaufman has an...unforgettable? encounter in his own office.
* Can't get Plan B at Target because the pharmacist won't fill a prescription against his religious beliefs? Vent your frustration with Plan Brat. (I am starting to feel sorry for Le Target. First a boycott based on its pharmacy policy, and now a boycott because it doesn't celebrate Christmas properly. Target just can't get please anybody.)
* At the Little Professor's, a brief essay about academic genealogies. It attracted my attention because the article she draws from is about the state of early American history as a field. I'll have more to say about this later, but for now, quickly: why is it that this discussion is happening in small, less frequently read journals than in the main early American history journal, the William and Mary Quarterly? Food for thought.

This Week's Acquisitions None. Rebecca bought no books this past week. Sigh.

02 December 2005

Friday Cat Blogging

Princess Nani Lani (Hawaiian for "Beautiful Sky" because of her pretty baby blues) relaxes wrapped up in an afghan over Thanksgiving. I think she might be peeved that someone has uncovered her enough to take the picture...

01 December 2005

History Carnival XXI...

...is up at Clews. Laura had many nominations, more than could be included in fact, and it is a fabulous carnival. There are several posts from blogs I've not read regularly before. Check it out!

I want to post at some point a response to Sharon's recent rumination on the nature of Carnivals. I just haven't gotten to it yet...