Thursday, September 17, 2015

Human Evolution and Women's Sexuality -- Part I: Women Acquire Free Will

 By Kristy McCaffrey

Women bleed. Men don’t.

According to biologists, there are between ten million and thirty million different species of life on earth. Only four thousand are mammals. And only one—humans—experience blood loss on a regular basis. If fertilization doesn’t occur each month, a human woman will menstruate, shedding the lining of her uterus along with several tablespoons of blood every four weeks. There are mammals who exhibit a type of menses—elephants, bats, shrews and hedgehogs—but it’s insignificant to their health. And out of approximately 270 different primate species, 31 menstruate, but again, the blood loss is negligible.

Over 150,000 years ago, the hominid brain completed a rapid inflation that added one-third to its size. This wasn’t good. No other species has as difficult or as dangerous a labor as a human woman. And no other female needs as much help from others to give birth.

The human brain consumes nearly 25 percent of every heartbeat’s oxygen-rich output. The brain’s pH and temperature must be narrowly regulated. The body must constantly clear the accumulating toxins from the fluid that bathes the brain. Why do we have such a large brain that requires so much of our body’s resources? In his book Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution, author Leonard Shlain posits that it has to do with three things: sex, iron, and time.

The most amazing feature of today’s human woman is that she has the willpower to refuse sex around the time of ovulation. She can even remain celibate, if she so chooses. This is a direct consequence of birthing babies with large heads, which resulted in a high maternal mortality and painful childbirth.

A major overhaul of the brain was required for females to acquire the ability to exercise free will. With the expansion of the neocortex and the frontal lobes, along with the refinement of highly-specialized areas of both hemispheres, a female gained control of her sexual urges, much more so than the male. She acquired the ability to contemplate the relationship between mating and childbirth, a dangerous endeavor for her. She gained time to reflect, to understand that nine months after copulation resulted in offspring. She was able to connect the past with the future.

Female women underwent a major transformation because they were dying in childbirth. By gaining control of her sexual urges, she was able to control conception. And this would have profound effects on both women and men through time.

Don’t miss Part II: Women Bleed And There’s No Practical Purpose

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

End Of Summer Reading Recommendations

By Kristy McCaffrey

If you're like me, I look forward to spending my evenings reading as Fall approaches. Here are a few of my recommended reads. I've included both non-fiction and fiction.

Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak

This coming-of-age tale, told against the backdrop of a journey through Papua New Guinea (PNG), is at times engrossing and baffling. Ms. Salak is 24 years old at the time and sets out to cross PNG. She does so by several means. Along the way, she encounters locals and foreigners, and often puts her life at risk. Her descriptions and impressions are at times humorous and heartbreaking, especially her time spent at a  refugee camp. The journey encompasses her search for...something. Even she's not certain what. This is as much a psychological trek as a discovery of a place so different than what much of us know. Kudos to Salak for having the courage to share her tale.


The Cruelest Journey: Six-Hundred Miles To Timbuktu by Kira Salak

Having read Ms. Salak's previous non-fiction book, Four Corners, I was so pleased to find a level of maturity and wisdom in this book that was lacking in the other. In Four Corners, she seemed both lost and driven in her pursuit to explore Papua New Guinea, and took unnecessary risks that not even she could understand. But in The Cruelest Journey, we have a woman who can articulate why she would undertake such a dangerous journey (traveling the Niger River by kayak, facing village after village of possibly hostile natives). Weaving in the story of an 18th century Scottish explorer named Mungo Park who also undertook this journey, we're given a glimpse into the wonder and madness that accompanies intrepid travelers that spans the ages. I really loved this book, and I appreciate Ms. Salak's candor in sharing herself and her experiences. We may not always agree with or understand her desire to explore remote parts of the world, but her courage (both on and off the page) lets us come along for the ride.


Freefall by Robin Brande

Eliza Shepherd has recently lost her husband Jamey to a climbing accident. As an adventure writer and columnist, she must come to grips with not only losing the love of her life but a lifestyle as well. When her mother-in-law, Hildy, loses her own husband and decides to move from Nevada back to New York, Eliza makes an impulsive decision to accompany her. Moving to the town where Jamey grew up, she hopes to find closure in addition to material for a book she's trying to write about her deceased husband.

Eliza soon catches the eye of Ted Walsh, a handsome local man who'd been childhood friends with Jamey. Eliza isn't in the mood to date, despite two years having passed since Jamey's death, but Ted is persistent. She also comes in contact with Ted's older brother, David. Eliza doesn't like David initially--their dogs get into a scuffle and he's rude about it--but it's clear she's curious about him. When her dog suffers a bout of heat exhaustion, David comes to the rescue and they find themselves alone at his house. With it suddenly clear that David interests her far more than Ted, she begins a physical relationship without hesitation. That she could ever love anyone again after Jamey surprises her, but the connection with David is undeniable and intense.

The third act of the novel draws out a misunderstanding between the two far too long, but it keeps the pages turning. Ms. Brande creates a believable and likable character in Eliza and a dark, brooding hero in David, who suffers from a slight stutter. The grief of losing a loved one to an adventurous lifestyle is handled with sharp insight and understanding, while Eliza's romance with David gives hope that life does go on. A thoroughly enjoyable read.


Solar Storms by Linda Hogan

This lyrical, haunting and ultimately uplifting novel is very hard to describe. I've tried several times to tell others about it and know I've failed to convey the magic that lies between the words. It's a story about five generations of women, it's a story about the building of dams north of Minnesota and the devastation to the animals and people, it's a story about the many facets of the human spirit, both good and evil. But the gem of the tale lies in the connection to Mother Earth. Read the book. Any synopsis doesn't do it justice. It must be experienced firsthand.


Wish For The Moon by Celia Yeary

At first glance, this book isn’t what it seems. The story of a 16-year-old girl who lives on a farm in North Texas might seem too pedestrian to grab a reader’s attention. However, it’s anything but ordinary, and that’s due in large part to Ms. Yeary’s mastery of storytelling.

Annie McGinnis resides with her parents and two older brothers in the remote Texas countryside. She yearns to see the world, but has no practical outlet for such fanciful longings. One day, a young man appears on their doorstep, hungry and looking for work. Max Landry isn’t on the run exactly, but he does have a secret that will propel Annie out of her comfort zone to help him. And, along the way, she comes to love him.

With well-drawn secondary characters—Annie’s slow-witted brother Clifford will be a favorite—and an attention to detail of the early-twentieth century, the tale unfolds with a subtlety that soon grips you. It’s an endearing and memorable story of a girl finding her way in the world. I couldn’t put the book down.


Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Avery Delacorte is a college swimmer on a Thanksgiving flight home from San Francisco to Boston when the plane crashes in the Rocky Mountains. Only she, her teammate Colin, and three little boys survive. The story switches between her months of recovery and the immediate aftermath of the crash. This narrative style works extremely well in keeping you on the edge of your seat. Told entirely from Avery's point-of-view, we plummet into PTSD and her struggle to overcome it. Parallel to this challenge is a romantic subplot involving the stoic Colin and Avery's conflicted feelings for him, both before and after the crash. I have to admit, I couldn't put this book down. A very well-crafted story.


Beggarman Thief by S.K. McClafferty

CIA agent London Llewellyn walks into a dark hotel room to find her brother murdered and two assailants fighting. Devastated, she escapes with her life, but the key to finding her brother’s killer lies in finding those antagonists, one of whom likely was an eyewitness. Adam De Wulf is ex-CIA, still acting like a spook as he tries to steal a very rare orchid. Stumbling into the murder of Llewellyn’s brother was an accident; when London locates him he refuses to help, wanting to stay as far from his old job as possible. But sparks fly and they’re soon deep in espionage that includes clues from Adam’s past. Beggarman Thief is a fast-paced thriller, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the end. Ms. McClafferty knows her spy stuff, blending the action well with the growing attraction between Adam and London. The relationship is hot, with level-headed and driven Llewellyn matching wits with sexy De Wulf at every turn. An entertaining good time.


Prodigal Gun by Kathleen Rice Adams

Following the Civil War, Jessie Caine has been raising her daughter alone at the Hard Eights, a ranch in Texas. She's both tough and heartbroken. When the reason for that despair appears on her doorstep--Mason Caine, the man she's always loved and her husband's brother--she's stunned. Believing Mason was dead, she must now come to terms with this new version of the man to which she once gave her heart. But Mason has secrets of his own, not the least of which is an alias known as Calhoun, a hired gun with a reputation that threatens his safety at every turn. Loving Jessie and staying with her are options he's hard-pressed to resolve. This is a novel with a  full western tilt, along with a steamy romance sure to please. This is Ms. Adams' first novel-length story and it doesn't disappoint. While the descriptions and historical detail are well-researched, it's the redemption of bad-boy Mason at which Adams excels. You'll be rooting for him at the end, and for the peace that he can only find with Jessie.


Point of Direction by Rachel Weaver

Anna and Kyle decide to live at an isolated lighthouse north of Juneau, Alaska and it soon takes a toll on both of them, but in different ways. They've kept secrets from one another--painful wounds each is trying to heal on their own. Ms. Weaver's book perfectly captures the folly of youth and the ignorance that propels individuals into situations they're unprepared for. But it's in this messiness that the inward journey unfolds. You'll keep turning the pages to see how it all turns out. To give more of the plot would spoil it. And I couldn't keep the tears away at the end.


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

In her 30's, Ms. Bailey contracted an unknown virus after a trip to Europe. What seemed at first to be the flu eventually turned into a two-decade struggle with a debilitating illness, leaving her bedridden for months at a time. She acquires a snail from the woods near her house and spends hours each day observing the creature. Her insights are intriguing--how many know what a snail likes to eat, its favorite place to sleep, or how they reproduce? With simple, easy-to-read prose, Bailey shows us how the world becomes when we focus on small details. Forced to slow her life to a snail's pace, the creature becomes a kindred spirit in a most profound way. I found this book to be an unexpected treat; her illness is heartbreaking, making you feel gratitude for the good health most of us take for granted, but her observations into the snail's world show us that we move through life so quickly, invariably missing the magic of other creatures sharing the planet with us.