Cardboard Soldiers: New Book Series

A good friend of mine (wink) just published a new book on Kindle. Cardboard Soldiers.

A recent review:

Can I just say WOW! A new genre is born: Dystopian environmental sci-fi and it is very, very cool.

This is the story of the opposite of the Lord of the Flies (though a few of those boys did sneak in). The future of the world lies in the emotions and maturity of children. Can they handle it?

The main characters are so well developed you will feel their fears, frustrations, doubts and conflicts as they try to cope with an amazing array of decisions. The author weaves a fascinating story structure where the small decisions have huge metaphorical and eventually world shaping impact. This is a fascinating hard science fiction tale built on the final frontier of the mind while firmly established in a gritty reality of hardship and military style schooling.

Tightly written, full of detail and continuous challenges you will be thrilled with the journey as you follow the reluctant leaders in their quest for freedom and independence.

The beginning foretells the ending – any more would be a spoiler and I’ll not do that – don’t you do it either, don’t skip to the end. Read the whole book, front to back, because only then will the bookends both make sense and have the impact intended.

This is a story for a long weekend and a glass of wine to savor and enjoy. Fortunately it doesn’t end there because there clearly is another one coming.

Boogers on the Wall




Over my many years using men’s restrooms, I have found one perplexing pattern over and over again – the proclivity for certain individuals to leave “their mark” by a urinal or in a stall with a schmeer of snot on the tiled wall.

There is one particular bathroom stall, location unnamed to protect the innocent, that apparently has become someone’s attempt at their life’s work.  Not Jackson Pollock.  But booger art.

I avoid that place now.  But for some time, I noticed that the goobers increased and that the custodians simply ignored the build up. It is one of the grossest places I know of.

Which leads me to the question. Why on Earth would someone feel compelled to dig into their nose and deposit the fruits of their search for all to enjoy?

Is it a need to impress?

Is it a test to see how long it takes lazy custodians to clean the mess?

Is it a cry for help?

Or is it some strange primate’s need to mark one’s territory?

I don’t know the answer.  But, to whomever does this, please stop.

I am assuming you are capable of reading. But I might be expecting too much.

Pollution Is a Commodity



Compost junkies will understand. Very little of waste we generate in our household has to end up in a dump.  It can be recycled into goodies for the betterment of your garden.

It turns out that the same goes for most kinds of pollution. The stuff billowing out of smokestacks around the world is waste that can be recycled into lots of good stuff.  The carbon dioxide is valuable stuff, which can be recaptured and used for industry, including carbonation of *beer*. The metals, complex carbon molecules, nitrogen, sulfur, and other stuff can be recaptured and used for manufacturing.

In other words, we can “compost” what comes out of smokestacks.

This is not a new idea.  The greatest stumbling block is technology and engineering.

Power plants are made to generate electricity with little thought about “closing the loop” relative to what comes out the chimneys.  This can change.  Regulation is one tool.  Another is economics.  Once the engineers figure out how to capture the goodies going into the air efficiently and economically, then the pollution should wane.

When I was in China a few weeks ago, I got to see first hand how their scientists are working on these techniques in earnest.  At SIU, we have an Energy Center that is exploring how we can turn the “waste” into useful products, including what comes from burning of coal.

If the US wants to maintain a competitive edge and further reduce our pollutants, we should be investing heavily in composting our air pollution. And working closely with our Chinese friends.  After all, our two countries are responsible for most of the air pollution on the planet.

It is our responsibility. And if it helps bubble our beer, all the better.

Ecology Is A Failed Science


If the World Wildlife Fund is to be believed, and I have no doubt that their claims are largely accurate, then it is time to admit that the science of ecology has failed in the past century.

We live on a planet where science has given us tehnological marvels. I can now hold a small box in my hand and access all the information the world has ever acquired.

Anywhere I stand.

I can circumnavigate the planet in an airplane in about the same period it takes the earth to revolve a couple of times. We know roughly how old our universe is and can travel to other planets if we want. Many diseases that once terrified us are being held at bay or are extinct, if we have the money to afford the cures. I can look in the sky and sort of see the stars because of the light pollution, but by God, I can see a satellite or the international space station go streaming by without a problem.

But life on earth is dwindling rapidly.  At least the life we know is going away, which is comprised of the big animals and plants that are most obvious to us. Goodness knows what’s happening to the millions of plants and animals that we have not yet categorized, because natural history is so 20th century. We may be altering the diversity of viruses, bacteria, and fungi as well.

At our peril.

What does this mean? It means that the mature sciences like physics, chemistry, geology, and physiology are excelling and translating to great things for humanity. Conversely, the science of ecology is failing miserably.

I am an ecologist, although some colleagues may beg to differ.

I have had the luxury of time and experience to consider the matter. (That means I am old).


My conclusion?

Ecologists continue to spend too much time trying to look for general patterns and search for the great unifying theory of life than applying what they know and saving the dwindling life support system known as earth. We are using too much of our precious resources talking and not enough time acting.

I place part of the blame squarely on the academic market and funding system. The best ecologists spend their most productive years trying to find a job, get tenure, and then retain the job so hardly sought in the first place. The currency of job security continues to be publishing, although most politicians, leaders of industry, and Joe public are never going to read a single sentence, even in the very best journals we academics have to offer.

What would happen if academia, in its critical place in the fabric of our society’s embrace of technology and knowledge, might encourage our junior faculty and budding scientists to engage in policy and reward them for doing so? I have no idea of the metrics of success, but perhaps it might be number of pieces of informed legislation supported, presentations before civic groups and law makers, or trade publications converted to plain English for general consumption.

Or I might be wrong.

Perhaps the problem is that ecologists do a terrible job of translating their findings to what most humans really care about, which is money and the status that follows. If you don’t believe me, count the number of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and other muscle cars in the streets of Beijing, the capital of a country with a lot of people who have more pressing problems than choosing which expensive, beautiful car to acquire.

Each ecologist should be paired with an economist to show the hidden monetary value of all those vanishing species, so that the world will listen.

Because, after all, it is not knowledge gained that really speaks. It is the human need for gain that gets our attention.

That is, until the water and air run out.

Carp: It’s What’s For Dinner


Carp are the most cultured fish in the world. Period. There’s a reason for this. Prepared correctly, they taste good. The meat is high in protein and good fats. And the suckers are easy to raise in ponds.

Ask the Chinese.  They’ve been raising these fish for food for thousands of years.

The dish in the picture is a common carp, prepared with a scrumptious sweet sauce. I’m not lying. This was a centerpiece of one of my recent dinners in China, and I remember it fondly.

Most folks complain that carp caught in the US and Canada have a bad flavor or are full of bones. Part of the problem is that these fish are not being prepared correctly. The chef who made the dish pictured above is a genius. Admit it. The plate is beautiful and highly creative.

The bone thing is just silly. Americans have no problem picking the meat off of chicken at KFC or BW3. Why not carp?  These fish have huge Y bones that are easy to maneuver around.  No risk of getting them stuck in your throat.  Well, at least, no more risk than getting a chicken bone stuck in your maw.

So, we Americans need to move past the stigma and eat these fish. They are invasive and damaging to the environment. So, not only are you getting a healthy meal, but you are doing the rivers and lakes of the US and Canada a favor.

Be green and eat a carp today.

Bag of Frogs in Shanghai


Yes, this is a bag of live frogs. And, indeed, they are going to be eaten soon. I ran across these in a fish market in Shanghai, China earlier this month. If I am not mistaken, these are, in reality, North American bullfrogs. Just like me, they were out of place in the market.  Luckily, I was not going to be butchered and eaten for my tasty legs.

American bullfrogs are considered a delicacy in China and are aquacultured.  Like Asian carp in North America, they are also a problematic invasive species, outcompeting natives and consuming other species. Yes, China has invasive species problems just like the rest of the world.

The fish market was thriving with all kinds of live aquatic organisms both from the sea and freshwater.  The Chinese relish being able to choose a live animal and either have it cleaned before their eyes or take it home and do it themselves.  This is like the lobsters in many US supermarkets, but taken to the extreme.  The Shangahi market had crabs, snakeheads, jellyfish, snails, all sorts of fish, shrimp, and things I only recall vaguely from my invertebrate zoology course during undergrad.

It was something.

Strangely, I wasn’t in the mood for seafood after my visit.

Why Are You Looking At My Gonads?

carp gonads

This particularly disgusting photo was taken by one of my MS students, Brittany Szynkowski, whose name I may still be butchering. Anyway, these are the gonads of female Asian carp in various stages of reproductive “ripeness” in the Illinois River. So you are looking at Brittany’s gonads, not mine. Well, actually, they belong to the fish. But you get my point.

Why on Earth would anyone want to look at carp ovaries? Yuck.

Not yuck. Good.

The stages of reproduction are important to know because they tell us when the female carp are ready to spawn and when they have spawned. The first panel (a) is of an ovary that hasn’t developed yet. In panels (b-d), eggs are developing in the ovarian tissue. If you catch a female with (d) gonads, she and her kind are going to spawn soon. Panel (e) shows an ovary after it has expelled all of its eggs…the girl has spawned. And panel (f) is a gonad “resetting”, which will be ready to make eggs again.

Of course, to see these stages, you’ve got to whack the fish and cut it open. For carp, this is no problem because they are readily harvested and don’t belong in the US to begin with. They were introduced from Asia about 40 years ago and pose a real problem for the environment. For rare fish, we can’t just cut them open, so we use a technique familiar to most expecting parents -

An ultrasound!