Inheritors of the Earth

How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

[Amazon Link]

Recommended by Ronald Bailey in Reason's 2017 Gift Guide, and received from Boston College by the crack Interlibrary Loan team at the University Near Here.

The author, Chris D. Thomas, is a professor of conservation biology at the University of York over there in the United Kingdom. His thesis is refreshingly contrarian: the planet is not (or at least need not be) hurtling toward human-caused ecological doom. Yes, there are problems, but too many self-styled environmentalists have a static way-things-should-be vision based less in science than in sentiment.

Overall, his story views the past and likely future effects of humanity on the biological landscape. Our history is (of course) carnage-filled: ancient humans, the non-gathering hunting components anyway, exterminated a lot of large-mammal species worldwide in a relative eyeblink.

Extinctions are regrettable, of course, and should be (in our modern age) prevented when and where feasible. But they're also natural; implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) failing to view humans as part of nature is an ongoing misperception. Thomas points out that extinctions nearly always happen in a dynamic that increases overall biodiversity, making the resulting system more robust and resilient.

Thomas, therefore, is not to be found on the bandwagon against "invasive species". (You want an example of an invasive species, bunkie? Unless you live in a small region of East Africa, go to the bathroom and look in the mirror.) The invasive-species doomsayers have a static vision of "the way things should be", when actual nature is amazingly dynamic.

Thomas strikes me as the kind of guy you could plop down in the middle of a New Hampshire forest, and he would start rattling off the dozens of species present, where they came from, when they arrived, what's likely in store for them over the coming decades and centuries. He has an engaging and accessible style ("for a Brit"), not averse to being genuinely funny in spots.

Midnight Special

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, first: Why is the movie called Midnight Special? The closing credits feature the traditional folk song , but—trust me—that doesn't answer the question.

It's questions like this that makes me happy to be a skilled Google querier. Here's the answer, such as it is, from writer/director Jeff Nichols:

Q: Let's start with the title, Midnight Special. Why did you decide to call it that?

A: Well to be honest, you know, when I was still developing the story I was just mainly thinking about the genre elements. I hadn't really attached all the personal elements from my life yet, and when I was thinking about it kind of simply as a genre film, it's kind of this badass homage '70's and '80's sci-fi chase movies. I just thought of – I thought of that title and I thought it sounded tough, I thought it sounded cool and I thought it was evocative of the style of film. I wanted it to make it sound like a midnight drive-in movie or something, it just felt kind of muscular, just felt cool. I was a big fan of the song, but there was no real direct connection at that time to the plot, although maybe they kind of crept into my mind through osmosis or something...it's a great song, and I thought it was a cool title.

So… now we know. Sort of. We also know that Jeff is not the kind of guy to just say "I thought it was a cool title" right up front.

The movie, to its credit, starts off on the run: guys named Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are on the lam with a kid named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, the hero from It). The cops are in pursuit, an Amber Alert has been issued, …

The movie gradually fills in the answers to all the what's-going-on questions. All is not as it seems. Alton has Strange Powers. Roy is his bio-dad, and whatever their other flaws, he and Lucas have his best interests at heart. And it turns out they're not only on the run from the normal cops, but also a wacky religious cult (led by Sam Shepard in one of his last movies) and the full force of the FBI/CIA/NSA/DHS/etc.

There are a lot of did-not-see-that-coming plot elements. I like those a lot.

All the acting is first-rate. Especially good is Adam Driver in a pre-Kylo Ren role as a sympathetically nerdy NSA analyst. (And I couldn't help but think how much better he is in this role than he is as Kylo Ren.)

URLs du Jour

2018-02-10

Patience

■ YMMV, but I find Proverbs 16:32 a little too pacifistic for my tastes:

32 Better a patient person than a warrior,
    one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Patience has its place—it's one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues after all—but when you need a city taken, I'd recommend the impatient U. S. Army.


■ Robby Soave relates a New Hampshire-related story at Reason: This Sociology Professor Insists Australia Isn't a Country and Failed a Student For Saying Otherwise

A 27-year-old stay-at-home mom taking an online sociology class was shocked to get a failing grade on her final project. She was even more shocked at why she failed: Her professor was convinced that Australia is not a country.

The project required the student, Ashley Arnold, to compare a social norm in America with one in a different country, according to BuzzFeed. Arnold chose Australia. Her instructor, an unidentified professor at Southern New Hampshire University, denied that this was a valid selection.

"Australia is a continent; it is not a country," the professor wrote in an email to Arnold. "That error made it nearly impossible for you to accurately complete your week 2 research outline correctly."

I am not looking to supplement my income, but if I was, it's nice to know that I'm qualified to be a sociology instructor at SNHU. At least better qualified than the ones they hire.


■ Jonah Goldberg's G-File is up at NRO: Politics as the Crow Flies. There's stuff about Rob Porter, but also about Senator Rand Paul, the lonely Senate Republican speaking for fiscal sanity in opposition to the "bipartisan" effort to blow up the federal spending caps.

I have been very hard on Rand Paul over the last year or so, but in this instance, he was on the side of the angels. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week. Regardless of Paul’s political calculations, his arguments were entirely right. If you passionately insisted that runaway deficit spending was an abomination under Barack Obama, there really is no way you can defend the same thing under Donald Trump. I argued for years that the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”

I hope there are plenty of Libertarians on the ballot in November; I would need a damned good reason to vote Republican again.


■ And, hey, we got a New England-related xkcd comic:

[xkcd on the history of Unicode]

Mouseover text: "Great news for Maine—we're once again an independent state!!! Thanks, @unicode, for ruling in our favor and sending troops to end New Hampshire's annexation. 🙏🚁🎖️""