Saturday, December 21, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/20/19: Laughter and Dismay, Knowledge is Power, Tough and Tender

1. Yes, reading Lucy Cooke's hilarious descriptions of the sexual proclivities of bats, finding out that the male bat is particularly well-endowed between the legs but lacking in brain size and that the female bat is quite promiscuous, made me laugh out loud.

At the same time, Lucy Cooke, in The Truth About Animals, in her chapters on the bat, the stork, and the frog examines the history of human superstitions, whacky conclusions drawn by naturalists in the past, and human acts of cruelty practiced upon these animals, especially the bat.

In my reading today, my responses alternated between boisterous laughter and profound dismay and sadness. I laughed when I read ideas from past centuries, ideas like aviary transmutation and one writer's certainty that storks disappeared during the colder months in Europe because they flew to the moon.

But, while modern science has disabused us of many misconceptions about animal reproduction, migration, and other behaviors, by and large humans have been a menace to these animals in other ways. War, electricity, landfills, and other human activity and inventions have contributed to the reduction of species and animal populations. So has the introduction of invasive species. Frogs have suffered terribly around the world because of other frogs being transported to non-native habitats.

Have you seen the 1988 short documentary film, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History? Much like the writing of Lucy Cooke, this is a movie that is simultaneously very funny and unsettling as it explores the disastrous results of the cane toad being introduced in Australia.

In other words, I'm finding that Lucy Cooke's book is, yes, a study of the truth about animals, but it's very much a study, also, of the truth about humans and, whether we humans like to hear it or not, our record in relation to the animal kingdom is a very mixed one, and, too often, deadly.

2. Scientia potentia est. It's a Latin aphorism meaning knowledge is power. It's also the title for Episode 7 in the first season of The Crown. This episode examines Queen Elizabeth II's education growing up. It was not a broad education -- no history, literature, science, mathematics, or other emphases of the traditional liberal arts. Primarily, she was tutored to understand Walter Bagehot's book The English Constitution. The Queen wants to learn more, fill in the gaps. She requests a tutor and from him she learns that her expertise regarding the English Constitution is a vital source of power. I'll leave it at that and not spoil what happens in this episode regarding the maturation of Queen Elizabeth II.

3. I let that episode of The Crown settle in for a little while, having been moved by Claire Foy's work, and decided I'd like to be moved more.

I can always count on Brenda Blethyn in her role of Vera on the program of the same name to move to tears.

It happened again tonight as Vera leads an investigation into the stabbing of a teenager and the world of drug dealing in the coastal town of Peyton in "Cuckoo",  Episode 2 of Season 9.

In one of his sermons, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that when Jesus instructed his disciples to go into the world and be "as wise as serpents" and "harmless as doves", he was telling them to be tough-minded and tender-hearted.

That's Vera.

In this episode, Vera's movement between toughness and tenderness were vital to her success in cracking this case. I'll leave it at that except to say that her toughness and tenderness moved me.

It was 10:00.

Normally, I'd be in bed by now.

But, possibly because I'd drunk a cup of hot chocolate and brandy while watching Vera, I wasn't ready to hit the hay.

I'm not sure, but I think once, a few years ago, I started to watch the first episode of the very first season of Inspector Morse

I have no memory of why I didn't finish it.

Tonight, I returned to it. I enjoy Inspector Lewis a lot and I'm interested in watching Endeavor, so I thought I'd get going on watching Inspector Morse.

I didn't finish the episode -- I will, though. I don't have a very advanced film analysis vocabulary, and, maybe I'll figure out how to say this at a later time, but I was very impressed with the way Inspector Morse was filmed and its way of telling a story. The best I can do, right now, is say that it seemed more like a movie I might watch at an art cinema house than a television program. I wish I could say why, but I do know I really enjoyed the texture of this episode every bit as much as I enjoyed what was happening in the story. I look forward to finishing it soon -- and not waiting several years.

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