Posts Tagged climate change

Notes And Commentary, Part 2

Here are a few commentaries and observations designed to fill this space with words.  These are especially directed toward those of my readers who are writers.

Which of the two constructions do you prefer?   1) I’m ten years older than him.  Or: 2) I’m ten years older than he is.

The quote, “A [fill in your work] is never finished, only abandoned,” has been attributed to several writers.  The poet Paul Valery is credited with, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”  Graham Green said, “It,”—referring to a novel—”is never finished, only abandoned.”  The novelist E. M. Forster said, “A work of art is never finished.  It is merely abandoned.”  I’ve even quoted it myself without giving proper attribution, usually referring to novels, rather than poems.  And I’ve come to believe the truth in that quotation (whoever you feel is the real author).  I’ve just completed a serious revision of the third installment of my sci-fi novels (it’s called “Warrior,” but hasn’t been published yet).  The revisions filled in quite a number of plot holes, and smoothed out some awkward phrasing here and there.  Now all that is left is to print out the novel (the first time that novel has been printed) and read it in the “paper” stage (see last week’s blog) and read it out loud.  And then make whatever changes I feel are necessary.  All of that won’t be a simple matter by any means, but it will insure that the novel will be in a reasonably good state, ready for beta readers or critique groups.  Yet, based on my experiences with the first two novels, both of which have gone through that “print/read/out loud” phase, small touch-ups will always be possible at any time.  It’s true, the novels are never finished; you can always make changes.  I just have to be willing to drop them and let them go.  And not obsess over small things.

If you have a character in your writing who is angry, and you need to show intense outrage/passion/displeasure/hatred, and you are writing in the 3rd person point-of-view, which way do you like to express it?  By having the angry person be the POV character and present to the reader directly his/her feelings ?  Or by having the character be not the POV character and letting him/her—and by extension, the reader—view it from a distance?  It can be done either way, of course, but does it seem to fit your style of writing better one way or the other?  Generally I stick with the indirect way: presenting the anger of someone directly in their head seems too much like telling, not showing.

In this day and age of climate change when storms are getting more and more powerful, and forest fires burn more and more square miles, I’ve noticed that people caught up in these events tend to use a curious method of comparison to try and describe how they sound or feel.  Frequently that comparison is to a “freight train.”  Most frequently, this is the object of comparison for tornadoes, but it has also been applied to land/mudslides, and even hurricanes.  But I’m curious, do most people really know what a freight train sounds like?  I’d almost be willing to bet that most don’t.  I’ve heard a few freight trains in my life, and though I’ve never heard a tornado, I really wonder if the two sound alike.  Anybody know?  In this day of long trains pulled by large-horsepower diesel engines, the sound is more of a growl of low pitch and high.  I suppose that back in the 1940’s and 1950’s when large steam engines pulled long trains of coal out of the Appalachian coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia, and they had to literally pound the rails to get it over the mountains, it could have had a terrible rumbling feel, especially considering the power in the exhaust of the mighty engines and the shaking of the ground if you stood too close.  But diesels don’t do that much any more.  They seem to glide along; there’s no pounding and no heavy exhaust.  I wonder if a tornado or mudslide really sounds like that.  Anyone have any idea?


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“Viruses” In The Environment

Over the past few weeks or so, I’ve noticed on Facebook several posts about how climate change has caused warming in the northern parts of the Earth, especially in northern Canada and Siberia.  The posts give information about how carcasses of dead animals (and, possibly, humans) are being exposed for the first time in ten, twenty, thirty, or forty thousand years (or even more) because the permafrost in that area is melting.  Potentially, many of those animals or humans died of infectious diseases such as anthrax, plague, or other highly communicable diseases, and the threat to us humans today is that a new outbreak could be started if we exhume the bodies without taking careful precautions to prevent spread.  They even give an example of an anthrax outbreak in Russia when an infected animal carcass was exhumed.  I fully agree.

I have two real comments to make about these stories.  Both points are short and simple, because I don’t have the space here to go into any detail about how to handle the exposed carcasses.  I’m not an expert in that, and there’s a lot of boring detail I’d have to list anyway.  My first point is that these stories are calling the agents that cause the diseases that could be exposed as being caused by “viruses,” even though the all the ones they list are actually caused by bacteria.  Viruses are not “bacteria.”  Viruses are submicroscopic organisms that cause disease, while bacteria are larger, and can be seen in a microscope.  I hope we will begin to use the two terms properly in order to avoid any confusion in the future.

Having said that, there are possible situations where real viruses might be uncovered by permafrost thawing (“permathawing”?)  I can conceive that sometime a carcass of a human who died of a virus disease (such as smallpox, influenza, polio, rabies, ebola, etc.) might be uncovered.  These are real viruses, not the “viruses” listed by the writers of the articles mentioned above.  Some of these might be dangerous.  But there’s a caveat, and this leads to the second point I want to make.

Viruses, on the whole, are easier to kill than bacteria.  It is true that both viruses and bacteria can be preserved for a long time by freezing.  A dead body, whether animal or human, which is frozen soon after death to a temperature well below zero (and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Fahrenheit or centigrade here; cold is cold) can preserve any infectious agent reasonably well.  But the agent will begin to die off as time goes by.  Bacteria will generally be preserved longer.  Viruses I suspect would become inactivated more easily.  But there are so many variables—how soon after death the body was frozen, how deep in the frost it was, what the temperature was throughout the frozen state, how long ago it died—that I can’t even begin to make generalizations.  For some viruses, like influenza, for example, I suspect that if a prehistoric human who died of a strain of flu as potent as the 1918 strain were exhumed, it might not be too infectious, since the flu virus can be destroyed relatively easily.  But I can’t be sure.  There is one virus I would be very suspicious of, were a human carcass infected with it were to be uncovered, and that is smallpox.  In lab studies, smallpox is more difficult to kill than most other viruses, and this could raise some serious issues.  The problem is made worse by the fact that we don’t immunize people against smallpox any more, and that means that any researchers under the age of about thirty or forty who might be working with recovered human remains from permathawing could be at risk for the disease.  Perhaps this is a good reason to bring back smallpox immunization, at least for people working in this area, if not the population at large.

In summary, let’s start using the terms “bacteria” and “viruses” correctly to avoid confusion in the future, and let’s be careful exhuming any dead carcass, human or animal.  Diseases have killed animals probably for as long as animals have existed, and those nasty “viruses,” potentially at least, could come back and do it again.  We might even uncover a virus we’ve never seen before.

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