Tag Archives: Life

I Must Respectfully Rant

Can we collectively take a knee for women everywhere? I don’t mean as a gesture of marriage proposal, but as a symbolic gesture of support akin to the National Anthem kneeling that has so many people riled up. There have been a few times that I have aimed to discuss that very topic and the debate over it, but while it is simple in premise and execution, in the current United States’ politically-polarized climate, I feel it is a contentious issue with some valid arguments to be made from both sides. Perhaps I will tackle it (teehee) in a future post – and I will say that legally it is not breaking any laws and is protected under the first amendment, and personally, I don’t have a problem with it, and were I skilled enough to be a professional football player, then I would be kneeling with Colin Kaepernick and the rest – but I will hold off on getting further in depth on that debate once more because evidently there is some misunderstanding that needs clarification first. To all my fellow males, both in positions of political and professional authority and out in the rest of the world: it is not okay to make undesired, non-consented advances toward women, nor is it all right to touch women anywhere unless they allow it. Got it? Are you sure? Because lately it seems that far too many of us really don’t comprehend this. And that is a serious problem.

They are different issues to be sure, but similar to the problem with police over-aggressiveness toward minorities, this is not simply a problem with “a few bad apples”. The worst offenders are a small percent of the total population, but there is a greater systematic fault in the manner of the population’s thinking. Too many of us do not understand the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is unacceptable. How can you know when you are about to cross the line if you do not know where the line is?

We can recognize that this problem exists and spans across our society, but how do we repair it? As with all problems, we start to solve it by taking what we know and using it to instruct us in learning more. In this case, we understand now (for the most part) how to properly treat each other, especially in regards to men interacting with women, so we apply that knowledge to the next generation. As Crosby, Stills, & Nash sang, teach your children well. If we can properly educate our children, the future will be better (that applies to soooo much more than this too). However, while this helps things get better down the line, how do we manage to make things better now?

Our current culture evidently has not made it explicitly clear to all as to what proper behavior is, so how do we correct the conduct that is improper within this era? I confess, I don’t really know how to do this. This is not my field of expertise to be sure, yet even I can see that there is no clear cut answer to rectify the wrongdoings of so many men from so many walks of life. Lately, the news has highlighted the exploits of a few notable politicians and celebrities who have made unwelcome advances toward women, but these are not the only men who have committed such heinous acts. It is also true that it is not limited to men, and while I do not wish to gloss over the number of women who sexually pressure men, like the issue of National Anthem kneeling, I do not want to distract from the main issue at hand. Furthermore, any shout of “women do it too; don’t forget that!” is not an argument as much of a diversion. Women have endured mistreatment from men throughout human history, and despite things being much better in the modern world compared to the past, there are still many inherent disadvantages presented to them that prevents equal treatment from their male peers. I fear that we as a society will not truly accept women as equal to men until we make changes that mark women as equal to men, like equal pay. Such an established level of official equality would force old-fashioned, wrongful thinking regarding females in the United States to update or fucking deal with it.

At least that’s the hope. Because whether you like it or not, the United States holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal. Women should have the same opportunities to succeed in life as men do, and they should not have to be humiliated or endure inappropriate behavior to achieve this. That part, at least, is just that simple.

Thanks for reading. Hit me up with any questions, comments, or suggestions at monotrememadness@gmail.com, and be sure to swing back here next week, and treat your fellow man and woman with the utmost of respect.

Yours most respectfully,

Alex

Advertisements

Oh the Weird and Wonderful

Happy Birthday Weird Al! Today the King of Parody turns 58, and his musical make-funnery is still flowing as long as his curly locks. Two years ago, I posted a list of my favorite songs from each of his albums, and today I am going to include a selection of some of his personal video clips often posted to his hilarious YouTube channel. As you will see, Mr. Yankovic’s humor is far beyond lyrical, and his love for skewering the grammatically incorrect (oh man, I hope I wrote that all properly) and for pointing out the ridiculousness of real life reaches outside of the realm of music. Behold!

Let’s not forget the moments somebody else filmed either, like his most recent win at the 2015 Grammys.

And his hysterical reaction to it:

Al Yankovic has made a career of being weird from his earlier days:

…to more recent times:

Hopefully he will continue to do so for many years to come. Happy birthday ya weirdo!

Thanks for reading, and mostly watching and listening. Be sure to polka on back here next week for more wacky fun with the latest State of the Season recap.

Keep it weird,

Alex

Nobody Exists on Purpose. Nobody Belongs Anywhere. Everybody’s Going to Die. Come Watch TV.

As exciting as it has been to have new Game of Thrones episodes to watch over the past two Sundays, it pales in comparison to the return of one of the greatest shows ever made. Rick and Morty returns with the long-awaited second episode of the even longer-awaited third season this Sunday on Adult Swim at 11:30pm EST. If you’ve read some of my stuff before then you know I’m a big fan of both, but where George R.R. Martin’s incredibly intricate world and detailed characters are my preferred option for fantasy, mystery, and speculation, Rick and Morty is a show with an unending universe, nay, multiverse of possibilities that always surprises with how delightfully strange, silly, and smart it can be. Among poop jokes and quick quips about random pop culture are some brilliant subtexts that call into question everything we take for granted. I’ve never seen a show so masterfully handle sensitive subjects like religion so succinctly in such a skewering manner as the B-plot of an episode that runs 24 minutes. 24 minutes! You can learn more about what is going on with that particular episode from Jared and the Wisecrack crew:

When it comes down to it though, I love Rick and Morty because it connects with me so well. Rick and Morty just get me, man. This is of course true for many others, and the show has been a major common interest for some of my best friends and I over the last three and a half years.

Rick and Morty has also helped me to sort out my own stance on religious belief. I have always been a spiritual soul (perhaps “soul” isn’t the right word for this, but I like the alliteration). I attribute this to a degree to my years of Catholic education, the latter nine of which were at Jesuit schools. The Jesuits follow the example of the founder of their order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in seeing God in everything.  Between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere! Yes! Even between the land and the ship. Of course the previous sentence is a line offered up by Yoda to Luke to teach him about the Force, which should indicate where most of my sense of spirituality comes from. I do not identify as a Jedi on my census form; I still mark Roman Catholic when asked about my religious affiliation, but where once I believed in the whole truth of the dogma, then to most of it, then to some of it, and now to almost none of it that is not historical at its core (the Romans did some not so nice things to the people of Jerusalem; there was a dude named Jesus who earned some friends among these downtrodden folks; the Romans perceived him as a threat and encouraged his execution, etc.).

My continued education in science, theology, and philosophy – which remember all occurred at Catholic schools – really cast doubt on what had frequently been presented to me as “the way it is”. The teachers and professors who challenged me to challenge my own beliefs were my Bruce Hornsby. No one person or event brought about my shift from faithful to factual, but all played a critical role in my growth as a person and my understanding of the universe (or perhaps multiverse!).

My favorite scenes in Rick and Morty were some of the final pieces for my personal philosophy regarding life as I know it. The first time I saw the show was midway through the first season and I binged all six episodes that had been released at that point. The sixth and final episode I watched, “Rick Potion #9”, might just be my favorite episode yet. The ending of it is one of the finest wrap-ups I have ever seen in any TV show, and again it was all done in less than a half hour. With the world wrecked by his Cronenberg-like mutants, Rick portals himself and Morty to a universe where the two of them have returned things to normal and promptly died. Rick explains nonchalantly how there are infinite realities and encourages Morty to not worry about it, but it’s all too much for Morty to take and we see his wide eyes gazing around this new, yet familiar world in shock while Mazzy Star’s “Look on Down from the Bridge” perfectly matches the tone on the scene.

I knew I would love this show forever after this. I never expected the wild ending filled with hilarity and high-concept sci-fi, not to mention the use of one of my favorite band’s best songs to wrap it all together. It was love at first sight. What a show, and what an earth-shaking bolt of doubt sent to my core. On the one hand, it’s a cartoon telling fart jokes, but on the other it has got some things to say and they are not always easy to hear. Just two episodes later, in another round of what seemed to be senseless humor for the sake of it, Rick and Morty offered up the best line I have ever heard in my life. That is not hyperbole; Morty’s words to Summer in “Rixty Minutes” are my mantra now. They have become a truth that I live by, and they were part of a B-plot to a primary storyline that consisted of Justin Roiland’s freestyling improvisation that had been animated.

After learning that she was an unintended pregnancy that prompted the marriage of her parents and would not have existed had they not decided against the abortion they were considering, Summer plans to pack up and run away when Morty takes a break from Ballfondlers to give her the dose of reality that I have titled this post after.

My dad was never much of a religious man, but he told me he and his fellow soldiers would offer up their own prays of sorts at times during his tour in Vietnam. He quoted the old adage, “There’s no atheists in a foxhole.” It makes sense that our natural fear of death is easier to accept when you believe there is something waiting for you after your life on Earth ends. We even see ultra-cynic Rick experience this from time to time:

Gotta love those countless Schrodinger’s cats to represent uncertainty.

It’s important to separate belief from fact. This is something that is easier said than done, but it is critical to ensuring that we do not take what is objective and muddle it with what is subjective. Facts can be proven as they have evidence that can be observed and replicated to back them up. Belief is what we choose to accept in the lack of evidence. Some beliefs can be disproved by established facts, i.e. global climate change is human caused and happening; there are hats. Belief in a deity or deities, or belief in an afterlife get tricky because these are not things that able to represented directly by scientific data. We step more within philosophy and the utilization of logic, especially in regards to what has been seen and what is most likely to be less false, but not necessarily more true.

Enjoy the continuing new season of my favorite television show on today, and enjoy your life and share it with others regardless of their beliefs. One of my friends questions the validity of the moon landing and I still speak to him. My oldest friend with whom I have made many great memories graduated from the University of Michigan and I still hang around with him. The point is, we are all different in less important ways yet have so much in common in what really matters. Religious belief can be helpful to help one find peace in the everyday, as well as for healing someone who has endured trauma. As long as religion promotes living in harmony with your fellow man, then it can do tremendous good. Many hospitals are managed by faith organizations, even more schools offer a better education in some areas (mine included), and mission work throughout the world helps to provide both by treating illness and educating populations without proper health care or formal schooling available. As long as faith does not become a banner of hate or blind following, it can help bring humanity closer to itself. Kindness is key, and ideally we can carry on with it without the need of enticement of eternal happiness.

Thanks for reading and watching! Portal back here next week for the quarterly recap in the State of the Season. As always, send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

Don’t trip along the way,

Alex

Rowling Along the Reading Rainbow

I never much cared for book learnin’ when I was a wee lad. I still don’t do much reading now, to be honest, but I at least have changed my stubborn, childish tune from “books are stupid and long and hard and I don’t want to read them!” (younger me really set myself up for ridicule from someone with a dirty mind). Today, I have put some literary miles behind me and have dabbled in just about every major genre of fiction, a fair degree of nonfiction, and I write a decent amount on my own (clearly). I owe a great deal of this to a good required reading list throughout high school and an excellent English teacher whose enthusiasm encouraged me to actually read the books I was assigned. Thanks Mr. H! His job would have been considerably tougher though were it not for the fact that I had already approached one book series with gusto where I had previously dismissed others with little regard. When I was in grade school, my mom came home from a weekend trip with some of her friends and I was pretty stoked to have her return; not because I missed her, oh no, but because she had some loot for me! She promised a present and delivered me… a book? What? What am I supposed to do with this? You’ve ruined me, mother. I’ll just go over here and lay face down in shame for the remainder of my life.

Yeah, I was a melodramatic youth, but aren’t we all? But hey, what was I to make of a book with a bespectacled British boy flying on a broom reaching out for a ball with wings? The book in question was of course Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s if you are American where we like alliteration) and today marks the 20th anniversary of its release on June 26, 1997.

Like many young readers of the late ’90s, once I took a look inside the book I was quickly turning pages, engrossed by the magical world within. This is interesting for me now as I never was one for fantasy outside of the realm of space until my teenage years when I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed The Hobbit in my aforementioned English teacher’s freshman class. I was an extremely devoted fan to cinematic space-based fantasy like Star Wars, and was easily more excited about the newest movie in that series that had come out a month prior to the book about the boy wizard. Now it is easy to say that absolutely Harry Potter is superior to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but young, developing in body and mind me was not at the same level I am currently. And for what it’s worth (nothing; it’s worth nothing) I did enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone more than watching Episode I. What is worthwhile, is that Harry Potter helped me change my stupid stance of protest towards leisure reading. In an historic occasion where the desires of a parent actually occurred after she actively encouraged it, my mom did get her wish of Harry Potter making me excited to read. Truly, all credit should go to another mom, Joanne Rowling, better known by her pen name J.K. Rowling – because unfortunately having your clearly female name displayed on your book can turn people away from it.

Thanks to the contemporary take on a magical world, it was easy for me as a non-fantasy fan to become engrossed in all Harry’s world had to offer, from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts, I was onboard with the owls, monsters, spells, ghosts, and even a school that you live at. Ugh, it would have seemed like torture for younger me were it not for all the cool shit! Yet therein lies the grandest appeal of Harry and his world to a little boy about the same age as him. Harry was extraordinarily relatable to me as he was just like me, y’know, just without the parents I had. Even though he was a product of it, Harry was as new to the magical world hiding around the corner as I the rest of us were; we discovered everything with him. For me and others my age, we continued to discover the magic, both dark and light, not just within the ensuing series of books and movies but within our own bodies. This time I am intentionally referring to the sexy stuff, or more specifically the hormonal changes that arise throughout our teenage years to biologically drive us to reproduce with the avalanche of side effects that amplify our every emotion. The Harry Potter series will always be near and dear to my heart not just because of its rich fantastic lore, but mostly because of its incredible sympathy for my puberty. I have never read a book or seen a movie – not even the terrific adaptations of these books – that understands the natural growth of young people in mind, body, and society. Nowhere else has the development and deterioration of friendships, families, and world views been better captured.

At the crux of it all is the most difficult or frightening concept for us to tackle: death. Rowling has stated many times that the central theme of the story is dealing with death. Harry is an orphan whose parents are the first to die in the story, and he bears a permanent physical scar from their death that helps to accentuate his emotional scars that help define his character. Voldemort wants to avoid death at all costs to himself and others and hold dominion over it so that he is master of it. Throughout each book more characters meet their mortal end, and the frequency and impact of deaths ramp up as the series gets darker, just as Harry and his friends become impacted by the darkness of the world around them at an age where we begin to recognize how hard life is and how little we know, typically by blindly professing how we can do anything and know everything.

The Harry Potter series remains one of my favorite book series, with each book building more and more upon its world and most importantly it characters. I remember vividly finishing the first and last books of the series as they were similar situations. In both instances, I was up until about 2:30 AM and feeling tired, but nowhere near sleep because I was so close to the end of each text I was too excited and had to finish. I was exhausted after wrapping up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, not just because of the late hour, but because it marked the end of an era for me and at a critical time in my life. In the summer between my graduation from high school and my preparations to go away to university, I had Deathly Hallows‘ release to offer me the one constant I had for that summer. Everything in my world was changing quickly, but not simply because of the next step within my adolescence, but because of death. Throughout my high school years – when the released books in the series were growing darker – I experienced a number of notable deaths of loved ones. I lost both of my grandmothers my freshman year of high school, three great uncles over the next three, and most devastating of all, my father shortly before my graduation. My dad’s death was still weighing extremely heavily on me when I began reading the all the more fittingly titled Deathly Hallows and the sense of dread I felt while reading it was more real than with anything else I have read. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter helped me to cope with the hardships of my youth by showing me that even in a fantasy world with a semi-snake psychopath and literal soul-sucking demons the most terrifying part of life is growing up.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please drop me a line at monotrememadness@gmail.com. If you have not already, I would greatly encourage you to check out the Harry Potter books, and after you cross those off your list go ahead and watch the films too to see one of the best complete casts ever assembled perfectly play their respective characters. R.I.P. Alan Rickman. You will always be my favorite professor at Hogwarts, even if you were a dick most of the time. Time turn your way back here next week for some more fantasy fun.

I Expecto (Patronum) to see you again,

Alex

Hello Should Not Be Goodbye

I normally have Sundays off, but yesterday I had to go into work for the afternoon, and even though I had volunteered to do so and was being paid money I otherwise would not have been, I still found it annoying. This irksome sentiment was further complicated by the bizarre inaugural protocol I was going to have to have to enact perfectly to maintain my comfortable employment – despite my well-appreciated quality of work, my job has become quite toxic lately. How well I performed it did not only have bearing on my career, but that of my friend and coworker assisting me that evening. Not to mention, this weird procedure I was tasked with involved directly calling one of the newly hired higher ups whom I have not had the pleasure of even seeing yet, so I had no flippity-dippity clue what to expect from contacting him on his personal phone except for a southern accent.

In all honesty, things were not too terribly unreasonable, but this combined with the hurricane of changes and moves going on at my workplace was a lot to handle. I had zenned myself to a level of professional calmness during the morning to prepare myself for whatever chaos could erupt later, but this chillness was brought back to a boil when one of my coworkers on duty called to say she got a panicked call from the client whose event I was going in to work. The client was concerned that we might not be coming, which was easy enough to reassure her about, but she had us pegged down for the wrong time and assumed we would be there a couple of hours before we were scheduled! Uh oh.

Fortunately, I called the contact and got the details sorted out, but then I started to worry we may have missed something else, whether with that event or another we may have left off the schedule entirely. Typically, I’m at an Outkast level of cool at work (i.e. ice cold), but yesterday was riling me up. Thus, I hopped in my car and hauled ass to the office. I was almost there when I remembered that due to construction, I could not park in the lot directly next to our department headquarters, but I was in too much of a hurry to park in the main lot since the other designated lot for employees was still closed off for one more day (instead of occasionally clearing away some snow they like to just close it down for three plus months). It was all good though, for another close friend and coworker lives in the adjoining neighborhood and had space in front of his place I could park at. So I set my sights on stealing his go-to out front spot while he was visiting family (classic Chris). As I went down the main road through his neighborhood, I slowed as I approached a stop sign, but not just out of adherence to traffic laws, but because I saw something small moving ever so gently in the road….

My years of birdwatching paid off in that instance, for I was able to spot and identify a teeny-tiny bird laying on the pavement. I initially passed by him on the right as I verified what I was looking at was not just a stick or leaf (trust me, I do not claim to be one, but even the most experienced birdwatchers spend more time than they wish staring at branches, leaves, and general detritus trying to figure out if they are looking at a bird or not). I could see that it was a little bird, and swung back around to block any oncoming traffic while I picked him up out of the roadway.

As I pulled on my thin knit gloves, I could see that the grounded little guy was a golden-crowned kinglet (the bird in the title picture), an adorable bird of the forest and backyard with trees that is a common sight throughout the United States and Canada, especially in the cooler months. The namesake for this bird is obvious at a glance, and I could see this guy’s brilliant gold crown with a touch of red in the center. He seemed to be okay, just a little shell-shocked, so he probably had been hit by a car, or rather the envelope of air around a car which would be more than enough to knock the wind out of such a small animal. I quickly picked him up and moved him under a nearby conifer tree so that he would have some cover from predators, and of course so he’d be away from the road. It was clear to me that he was not going to be flying anytime soon, but he was able to hop around and had a better footing on the pine needles and branches than the pavement he had been sprawled on.

I was still in a hurry to get things sorted at work, so I left the bird there with a renewed sense of purpose, glad of the good deed I had done. I wanted to scream it to the world how I had saved the little kinglet, but that would have been seeking hero worship for a simple action. I’m sure that kinglet thought I was a hero, and that was enough for me.

The rest of my day went smoother than I could have imagined. My colleague and I got to our event early, kicked some ass, and were able to roll out early. I had an extremely nice chat with the new big wig I had to call, and messaged my boss the favorable details. Everybody was happy, so I was happy. As I punched out and made my way back to my car, I considered stopping in at my friend’s house that I was parked outside of to inform him of the crazy start and easy finish to the wacky day I had, and maybe bum a beer off of him. He still wasn’t home though, so I decided to head to my own home.

Suddenly, I thought of the kinglet, and decided I would swing by the tree I left him under to see if he was okay. I parked on the other side from where I found him and moseyed over to the fallen branch I had set him beside. To my excitement, he was nowhere to be found! He must have regained his strength and flown away, off to catch more small insects tomorrow. I did a quick round of the tree just to be certain, all the while careful to make the most delicate of steps in case he still was on the ground nearby. After a minute of searching I decided he was definitely gone and started back to my car.

Upon turning back I froze in my tracks. There he was, leaning on the ground close to where I had set him hours earlier, only he was not moving. I moved in as quietly and slowly as I could and took a closer look. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t, not until I had absolute proof. I pulled my knit gloves back on and gently touched him. He tipped over helplessly. The body had gone stiff; only the legs had any flex. I tried to gently press his chest in and out in a small bird CPR motion, but to no avail. I have experienced death more than I would like, but I fortunately have not had any close friends or family pass away for some time. I was broken up by the loss of plenty of celebrities last year and this year, as recently as Chuck Berry who I wrote about last week. However, this one was different in that it was such a small thing. I had never seen this particular bird before, and I did everything within my power to offer it a chance at life, but it’s wounds were too great. I noticed the slightest abrasion on its head after I found it lifeless. Who could have helped?

I was determined not to leave the bird in such an undignified manner. I have no problem with the circle of life, and welcome the thought of the bird’s body being consumed by predator or detritivore to continue the energy cycle this universe runs on, but I could not permit him to be flopped on his side looking helpless. I scooped up a handful of pine needles and placed him on the bare ground I’d opened up, then replaced the pine needles to cover him up. This tiny burial for an equally tiny bird is still fresh in my mind and I anticipate it will remain so for a while.

I’m sorry if this upset you. It is a departure from my usual subject matter, but this small experience deeply affected me, and when something shakes me to my core as this did I find some peace in sharing my experiences through words. This encounter reminded me of the fragility of nature and how much we are responsible for as the dominant species of this interconnected world.

Thanks for reading. Please send any questions or comments to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to swing back around here next week for a look at the newest class of Rock and Rollers who will be immortalized in Cleveland.

Fly on, my feather friend,

Alex

 

It’s a TRAPPIST-1!

It has been a week of star-studded news. Yes, there was that insane debacle at last night’s Academy Awards that saw the wildest finish to any Oscars presentation when the wrong movie was announced as the Best Picture. Actually, the wrong movie has been announced as Best Picture lots of times, as I discussed a few years ago, but in this case the movie that official won the award was only announced after the award had already been presented to the producers of another movie who were halfway through their acceptance speeches! For a fun and thorough wrap-up of all the action, check out the annual Screen Junkies Grouchies award show.

As bonkers as that was, and as interesting as I am in the goings-on of the film world, I am much more intrigued by what’s happening with another world. Seven, in fact. Moonlight is the least of my concerns when starlight and planetary transits creating shadows that our space telescopes can see are occurring.

For decades, numerous astronomers have been tirelessly searching for other worlds like ours throughout the universe. These exoplanets as they are called when they are outside of our solar system, are the key to further observing what the most common planets are like and how ours stacks up in the grand cosmic scene. Additionally, the search for Earth-like worlds give us a greater look at areas that may have the right pieces to harbor life. This can mean that we may discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on one of these worlds, and/or find another world suitable for future human habitation.

Last week, NASA revealed that such a solar system had been found with not one, but seven – yes, seven! – Earth-like planets orbiting around a small star. Three of the seven exoplanets are within the habitable zone for humans, also known as the Goldilocks Zone because its conditions are not too hot or cold, but just right for humans to live within. Most exciting of all though, this star system is but 12 parsecs, or about 39 lightyears away! Now while this is about 250 trillion with a “T” miles away from us, in relation to the massive scope of the universe as we know it, this is extremely close. A lightyear is as its name implies, the unit of distance that it takes light to travel in the span of one year. Light is the fastest moving thing we know in the observable universe, clocking in at around 299,792,458 meters per second, or 671 million with an “M” miles per hour. That’s pretty darn quick, and we couldn’t hope to match it with our current technology, and probably never will manufacture a real-life Millennium Falcon to exceed it, but it is very much within the realm of possibility for a spacecraft that can manage one-fifth (1/5) the speed of light to be made. In fact, such technology is currently being worked on.

Is this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Make no mistake, it will take some time for us to reach the recently discovered star, called TRAPPIST-1 after the terrestrial telescope in Chile that first found it in the constellation Aquarius. However, the great potential that this system and the exoplanets within it hold for the future of our species is tremendously exciting. I won’t get to go there in my lifetime, but maybe the great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren I’m not planning on having will start to see humans making their way toward landing on the TRAPPIST exoplanets, perhaps with the chance to colonize them. Much sooner within my lifetime, as in the next few years, we will probably know what the composition of the exoplanets’ atmospheres are made of and whether or not they contain oxygen, a biological marker that heralds the presence of living organisms. It at least seems likely that the exoplanets, which we know are rocky like our world and not gaseous like Jupiter, contain water, the liquid form of which is the necessary component to life, as you may have heard before. Who knows? Perhaps we may even have definitive proof of life outside of Earth unearthed within our remaining spins around the star we know and love best. Hopefully it’s less hostile than what Private Hudson experienced on LV-426. Game over, man! Rest in peace, Bill.

Thanks for reading! If you want to learn much more about the TRAPPIST-1 system than I can tell you then check out the ever reliable NASA webpage for continuing updates, as well as the beautiful and information-filled TRAPPIST-1 site found here. There is a great set of pages that detail everything from what we know of each exoplanet so far, and the timeline of the discovery. Be sure to check out the cute and colorful comic on the “Stories” page that features an astronomer rabbit explaining the find to her panda pal in terms that make it accessible (and fun) for us all. Send any questions or comments my way to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Make your way back here in a little less than one TRAPPIST-1f year (nine days!) for more fun and informative stuff.

To TRAPPIST-1 and Beyond!

Alex

Of Peppered Moths and Pangolins

Fresh off some procrastinating Pangolin Love (Google it, or just pull up Google), I’m ready to roll into today’s topic, and hey, what the hell, let’s throw some pangolins into the mix. They will actually have quite a lot to contribute to the discussion, not to mention they’re cute.

pangolin-slider

Now that we’ve got that adorable armored visage in mind, let’s talk about the birthday boys. Yesterday, February 12th, was the 208th birthday of not one, but two of my favorite historical heroes. One is well-known in my native United States to be Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President whose accolades include abolishing slavery in America, keeping the nation in tact throughout the American Civil War, and getting his face stamped on a coin and a bill in US currency! However, today I’ll be focusing on the other big man born on 2/12/1809: British naturalist Charles Darwin, most renowned for his determination that natural selection is the primary process by which species populations evolve. If you’d like to learn a little trivia about similarities between these two titans of historical importance, than check out this Mental Floss post.

Charles Robert Darwin made a name for himself after his almost five year voyage on the HMS Beagle which helped him collect data and inspiration for his book On the Origin of Species that contained his theory of natural selection. The Beagle was a surveying ship, and Darwin hopped aboard for its second trip, the focus of which was to help get to the lay of the land of the continent of South America. During the journey, Darwin observed and occasionally collected many plant and animal specimens, but nowhere were these so fascinating than on the Galapagos Islands. There, Darwin took meticulous records of the lives and looks of many species, most notably a variety of finches that he noticed the importance the role of their features, especially their beaks, played in their ability to gather food and survive. This led him to formulating the hypothesis that would become the theory of natural selection. With more on that, and what it meant and still means for the overarching theory of evolution, check out what Hank Green and the SciShow/CrashCourse crew have to elaborate on the subject matter:

Thanks to advances in technology, communication, and education, we know now how large a part genetics plays in determining different species from one another. Phenotypes generally help us to narrow down our drawing out of the branching on the evolutionary tree of life, but they are not always reliable. Take a gander at that adorable pangolin again. We know now that there are at least eight species within three genera spread across regions in Africa and Asia thanks a lot due to genetics helping us realize that they were not all part of the same genus. That’s fairly typical, but genetic study has also shown that pangolins are not as closely related to armadillos as we previously thought. Looking at the two it appears that they would be best buddies and probably cut from the same cladographic cloth. But alas! armadillos are within the same order, Xenartha, as anteaters and sloths, but pangolins are Ferans meaning that they share the clade Ferae with, of all animal orders, Carnivora! That’s right, those wholesome rollie-pollie pangolins are closer related to cats, canines, bears, and George Takei OH MY! so much more that they do not at all appear on the surface to be related to. But that’s why it’s so exciting having the tools of genetic researching at our disposal. When added to the fossil record that we are expanding everyday with literally newly uncovered information, the means to catalog the critters that inhabit our wondrous planet are greater than ever. Darwin’s fellows on the Beagle may have set out to survey the coasts and crannies of South America, but the knowledge that he brought back, combined with the advances of today make it easier for us to survey our species and all the others we are connected to through the ages. Now we just have to do our part in preserving them, something that is especially tough concerning the pangolin as it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. Have a heart to help them if you can, be kind to all of the animals around you. Remember, we all the same great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great *10grandparent.

Thanks for reading and watching! I hope your adaptations assist you in returning here next week. In the meantime, direct any comments or questions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Happy very, very belated birthday Chuck and Abe!

Trust in the facts,

Alex