Category Archives: Science

My Backyard Menagerie

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?”
– Chief Massasoit, Wampanoags of Massachusetts.

La propriété, c’est le vol!” (“Property is theft!)
– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

My backyard.

My backyard in May, with the native azaleas in bloom.

When my wife Mary and I bought a house on 7,000+ square feet of land in a small city in Eastern Massachusetts in July 2001, I didn’t feel like I owned the land (actually, I didn’t – the bank owned it then and will continue to do so for the next 20 years or so). Instead, I imagined that I’d been asked to act as steward of this tiny portion of the earth for a period of time. So I researched the native plants that grew in this area before non-native invasive species took over, in environments similar to my back yard, found places where I could buy them legally and planted them. I wanted to recreate, to the extent I could, the diverse community of interdependent living things that had evolved before human interventions had disrupted nature’s equilibrium. You can see some of the results of the botanical portion of the experiment here and here. I can’t say that I have succeeded (yet) in reaching my goal (keeping the invasive non-natives at bay is a challenge), but there have been some positive signs. One of the benefits of creating a semi-wild space with native plants is that wildlife visits and occasionally comes to live here. I’ve been keeping a list (surprised?) of the wild animal visitors we’ve seen in the first dozen years of our stewardship (vertebrates only for now). Most are common visitors to urban and suburban backyards, but a few may be surprises. (I’d love to hear about what wildlife others have seen.)  Here is the list, organized using the biological classification system:

KINGDOM:      ANIMAL
PHYLUM:         CHORDATA
SUBPHYLYUM:   VERTEBRATA

CLASS: AMPHIBIA
Order: Anura
Family: Bufonidae
            American Toad (Bufo americanus)

CLASS: AVES
Superorder: Neognathae
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
            Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
            Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
            Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae
            Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
            Rock Dove (Columba livia feral)

Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
            Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
            Northern Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)

Order: Passeriformes
Family: Bombycillidae
            Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Family: Troglodytidae
            Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Family: Mimidae
            Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
            Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

Family: Turidae
            American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Family: Paridae
            Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
            Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Family: Sittidae
            White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Family: Corvidae
            Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
            American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
            Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

Family: Sturnidae
            Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Family: Fringillidae
            Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)
            American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
            House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Family: Parulidae
            Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
            American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
            Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)
            Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Family: Thraupidae
            Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Family: Emberizidae
            Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
            Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine)
            Northern Junco (Junco hyemalis)

Family: Cardinalidae
            Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Family: Icteridae
            Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
            Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Family: Passeridae
            House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Order:  Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
            Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
            Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

CLASS: MAMMALIA
Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Didelphimorphia
            Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Infraclass: Eutheria (placentals)
Magnorder: Boreoeutheria
Superorder: Euarchontoglires
Order: Lagomorpha
            Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

Order: Rodentia
            Groundhog/Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
            Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
            Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Superorder: Laurasiatheria
Order: Soricomorpha
            Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda)

Order: Carnivora
            Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
            Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

It’s About Time: The Timelines of Human History

A timeline is a sort of chronological list and so it is fitting that Make Lists, Not War should include some timelines.  I’ve already published a timetable of scientific discovery, so now I’ve created a much larger set of timetables covering human history, beginning with our hominid ancestors 6.5 million years ago and concluding (for now) with 2014 in the Common Era (CE).  I’ve included scads of photos and maps, and tried to reduce the text to a minimum.  Where there are multiple items with the same date, I have followed a rough hierarchy, as follows:

Climate/Natural Disasters
World Population
Political Events
Religious Events
Cultural Events (incl. sports)
Scientific Discoveries
Exploration
Inventions
Architecture
Sculpture
Painting & Other Visual Arts
Literature: (1) Non-fiction, (2) Fiction/Poetry
Music: (1) Classical; (2) Jazz; (3) Other
Film
Photography
Deaths
Births

I realize that some (perhaps most) historians would find these timelines anathema to the true study of history, and I would have to agree, to some extent.  Anyone familiar with the study of history will tell you that the days of memorizing names and dates are long gone.  This is the time of understanding causes and movements, even going so far as to analyze the various ways in which scholars have studied particular historical events or trends over time.  Concepts, ideas, meaning and purpose are the substance of today’s history, not who invented this and which general won what battle.

But I suspect even the most up-to-date historian or history teacher would admit that a few facts now and then can anchor those theories and movements to real people at real times.  A concept or an idea, after all, must be thought of by a mind of a specific person who must communicate it or act it out.  It is true that a list of events without a deeper context lacks the threads of the narratives that carry them from person to event to person, etc. (e.g., there is no timeline event labeled “nationalism”, “humanism”, or even “Industrial Revolution”).  Should I hit  the delete button, then?  Is publishing these timelines going to do more harm than good?  I somehow doubt it.  To me, they constitute a treasure chest of interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing facts about human history, with the political events of the day set alongside scientific and technological achievements, the great works of art and literature and various aspects of culture (from sports to gay rights to the labor movement).  The timelines have rekindled a passion for history; instead of sending me back to the “just the facts” mode of  studying history, these lists have made me want to read more about the deeper narratives that weave these disparate facts together.  I hope they do the same for you.

Timeline of Human History I: Prehistory-1499
Timeline of Human History II: 1500-1799
Timeline of Human History III: 1800-1899
Timeline of Human History IV: 1900-2014

They Blinded Us with Science

“So little time – so much to know!”  – Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D.

I’ve been taking a break from blogging about the arts to spend some time with the sciences. I’ve immersed myself in discoveries, inventions, explorations, and observations.  I’ve been learning (or relearning) about black holes, internal combustion engines, photosynthesis, neurotransmitters, planes, trains and automobiles, the Krebs cycle, the ozone layer, dinosaurs, gravitation, the periodic table, inertia, entropy, psychoanalysis, safety pins, parachutes, plate tectonics, washing machines, sewing machines, evolution, radio waves, the speed of light, hydrothermal vents, animal domestication, genetic modification and The Pill.  I watched the rise and fall of catastrophism, vitalism, phlogiston, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, the oar-powered submarine and the steam-powered automobile.  For those easily intimidated by science, I promise you that lying just beneath all the names and dates, technical terms and and chemical and mathematical formulas, are lots of fascinating stories and unforgettable characters.  I even sneaked in a couple of jokes here and there – extra points for those who find them.

Here are my four new science lists:

Most Important Scientific Discoveries of All Time
This meta-list contains all the discoveries and inventions on three or more of the 17+ lists I found.  They are organized by rank, with the most-listed discoveries on top.  Accompanying each discovery is an illustration of some kind and a short essay about the topic.

Most Important Scientific Discoveries – Chronological
Similar to the first list, but this one is organized chronologically, so you can get a better sense of the history of science, and it includes all the discoveries/inventions that were on two or more of the 17+ original source lists.  Because this list was so long, I decided not to add illustrations, although I may change my mind on this.

The Greatest Scientists of All Time
If you’ve been following along, you know how this works.  I found lots of ‘greatest scientists of all time’ lists and combined them into a meta-list.  This list is organized by rank, meaning that the scientists on the most lists are at the top.  For each scientist, I’ve included a short description of his or her achievements, as well as birth and death dates, country of origin and a picture.

Timeline of Science and Technology
If you’re short on time and want an overview of scientific knowledge, this is the list for you.  I combined the Scientific Discoveries, Greatest Scientists and Best Inventions lists, mixed in some of the Art and Architecture lists, and then threw in some random information (worst floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; milestones of human evolution; the formation of the universe, our solar system, etc.).  The result is a somewhat eclectic selection of events that have occurred over the last 13.8 billion years, with emphasis on the last 400 years or so.   Each entry is only a sentence long, so this one is perfect for those with short attention spans.  And there are pictures.

I hope you’ll  take a look.  And feel free to leave a comment.