Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Man Who Found Time

James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity

By John Repcheck

Perseus Publishing 2003

James Hutton [1726-1797] the Scottish born & educated medical doctor is regarded, by Mr. Repcheck, as the father of the modern study of geology. This is the story of the formulation, dissemination, and gradual acceptance of Hutton’s geological theory: that the Earth was much older than the “6,000 years since Creation” as The Church steadfastly maintained at the time.

Using his powers of observation and logic to explain the geological evidence bared by Scotland’s harsh climate, Hutton applied something like scientific method to explain phenomena like the existence of marine fossils far above sea level. He proposed that the earth’s crust was cyclically thrust up- and much later- down by the earth’s inner pressures and heat over remarkably long [Hutton could not say how long] periods of time. As a member of what came to be known as The Scottish Enlightenment, Hutton regularly met in Edinburgh with the likes of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Adam Smith, Joseph Black, and other thinkers. These men were, at the time, known as philosophers. The term scientist, Repcheck tells us, would not be used until the 1830s; but their thinking further fueled The Enlightenment’s
departure from the religion-based view of the world. Today’s scientists fix the age of the world at 4.6 billion years, a far cry from the 6,000 years held by Biblical scholars of Hutton’s time.

The Man Who Found Time is a good tale, reasonably well told. The author takes occasional tangents, some of which were interesting and informative. Overall, I found the book slow going; but worth the effort.

This guest post was written by Johnson Fortenbaugh, a gentleman and a scholar, who is at risk for cranial sunburn.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wayward Saints

Suzzy Roche

I first encountered The Roches on vinyl around 1984, when I began hosting a folk music radio show at the surprisingly powerful high school station, WKHS. Warner Brothers sent me their first three albums, The Roches, Nurds and Keep On Doing in a neatly wrapped package. It was one of my first acquisitions from a record company. I was using a pile of old LPs borrowed from storage a friend's barn for most of my music.

I played the grooves off of those three albums. Their clever lyrics with their smart humorous tales of life for three young sisters in New York, trying to break into the music business, were priceless. Having left the radio game now for more than a decade, (where does the time go?) I had lost track of Maggie, Terre and Suzzy, the three sisters from New Jersey that I loved so much. So I was surprised to see this book on the new books display at my local library.

The cover art shows the silhouette of a skinny girl with an acoustic guitar over an orange psychedelic vortex, with a smaller silhouette of a woman in white gloves in front of a row of lime green identical suburban houses in the corner. The first chapter, featuring a punk rock band just formed in England, and filled with f-bombs, almost made me close the book and return it. I was afraid that it was going fantasy nightmare of sex, drugs and rock and roll with intimate scenes on the tour bus.

After what, to my relief, turned out to be a short bit of exposition, the novel moves on to the later life of Mary Saint, former punk rocker, living in San Francisco and working in a coffee shop, and her mother, living alone in quiet suburban upstate New York.

The book is a story of forgiveness and redemption and is quite touching, while still gripping. There are lots of colorful characters from the music business, from San Francisco's tenderloin and from the small, imaginary,  town of Swallow, New York. I particularly liked Mary's San Fransisco roommate, Thaddeus, who is described as a "chocolate tranny." Thaddeus works at the coffee shop but also dances at a storefront non denominational church of vague theology. Thaddeus is a big hit in Swallow New York. He is one of two possible incarnations of the virgin Mary in the book. All done very tastefully, of course.

Yes, there is a big concert at the end, in the auditorium of Swallow, New York's high school. This concert is the vehicle by which Mary and her mother are reunited. In the real world a concert of songs like The Back of My Ass and Tom's Dick and Harry would never have been allowed to happen. Instead it would would cost the high school English teacher that thought of this bonehead idea his job. Fortunately this is art.