August 25, 2014

Tonino: What exactly do you mean by “wild”?
Turner: I mean something that is self-willed, autonomous, self-organized. Basically it’s the opposite of controlled.

You can see wildness in the movement of glaciers, or you can track it in star-forming regions in the Orion Nebula. Wildness is everywhere. It starts with microscopic particles, and it goes more than 13 billion light-years into the cosmos. It’s in the soil and in the air, it’s on our hands, it’s in our immune systems, it’s in our lungs — where there are two thousand bacteria per square centimeter! In a certain respect, much of what we consider us is in fact not us. We breathe, and wildness comes in. We don’t control it.

Tonino: You’ve called wildness “an endangered experience.”
What do you mean by that? If we’re steeped in wildness, is it just a matter of perception?

Turner: It has to do with scale. On one scale you’ve got the Orion Nebula, which is twenty-six light-years across and two thousand times the mass of the sun. At the other extreme is the scale of quantum physics and subatomic particles, zooplankton and proteins. The scale that Henry David Thoreau and the American conservation movement focus on is that of voles and coral reefs and redwoods and whales. We’re particularly interested in wildness at that scale — and for good reason — but that scale doesn’t include all wildness. And here’s the problem: nowadays very few people directly experience voles, coral reefs, redwoods, and whales. You can live in San Francisco, ride a Google bus to work, stare at a screen, come home, stare at a screen, repeat, repeat, repeat. I’ve asked my environmental-studies students how much time each day, on average, they spend in contact with raw wild nature. Thirty minutes, they say. And what are they doing then? Walking between classes. They’ve told me they look at a screen eight to twelve hours a day, on average. These kids have not spent much time hiking in remote areas. They don’t have much personal experience with wild creatures. They also don’t have much experience with isolation. These days parents can hardly get their children to participate in an outdoor program, such as a backpacking trip, because it will cut them off from Facebook for two weeks.


— Jack Turner, Chinese philosophy scholar and backwoodsman, interviewed in The Sun.

August 8, 2014
"The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world."

— Mr. Andrew WK explains things as they are.

June 22, 2014
"Forty years after the original short-story publication, Keyes finished his memoirs and went to breakfast to celebrate. While eating he was reading the New York Times and spotted a headline: “Smarter Mouse Is Created in Hope of Helping People”. Keyes contacted the author of the mouse study, Dr. Joe Z. Tsien of Princeton, to ask when such a treatment might be used on humans. “After a long pause, Dr. Tsien said, ‘I expect it to happen in the next 30 years,’” Keyes wrote in an afterword to his memoirs, Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey."

— The Honorary Unsubscribe: Daniel Keyes. He passed away on June 15 in Florida.

February 11, 2014


Aleksandr (Sasha) Kolpakov (right) and Vadim Kolpakov (left, Sasha’s nephew), filmed by the classical seven-string guitarist Oleg Timofeyev.

Soviet singer-songwriters such as the famous Vladimir Vysotsky are routinely referred to as “bards,” but an earlier, perhaps more descriptive term for their work was “amateur songs” [самодеятельная песня]. Their approach to song was as lyricists first, singers second, and guitarists a distant last. (In our North American tradition, think Leonard Cohen more than Bob Dylan.)

But those guitars they hardly played are curious! Many of the best-known bards - including Vystotsky, and Bulat Okudzhava - accompanied themselves on the “Russian,” or seven-string guitar, an instrument that reputedly developed in the East parallel to the Spanish guitar in the West. Its traditional tuning is to an open chord, typically G major, though the bards sometimes changed that to minor, or to an open tuning without major or minor (like our DADGAD).

"Professional" players of the seven-string guitar are not bards, however; they are either classical players, or players of gypsy music. Indeed, the gypsy player Sasha Kolpakov might lead one to question the instrument’s “Russian” roots altogether - it seems so well suited to Roma music, and his technique not unrelated to that virtuoso of the Western six-string, Django…

February 1, 2014
Morrie Turner, comics pioneer, RIP

Do you remember Wee Pals? Can you imagine being scared of it?

January 28, 2014

MR. TAVENNER: Mr. Seeger, prior to your entry in the service in 1942, were you engaged in the practice of your profession in the area of New York?

MR. SEEGER: It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school —

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?

MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn’t my profession, I picked up a little change in it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes, before World War II, and I also did as early as 1925.

MR. TAVENNER: And upon your return from the service in December of 1945, you continued in your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I continued singing, and I expect I always will.

MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled “What’s On” appears this advertisement: “Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming.” May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don’t believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn’t answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn’t answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of “What’s On,” an advertisement of a “May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy.” The advertisement states: “Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally.” Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, “Entertainment by Pete Seeger.” At the bottom appears this: “Auspices Essex County Communist Party,” and at the top, “Tonight, Newark, N.J.” Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.


Pete Seeger’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), August 18, 1955.

January 17, 2014

Before 1914, the world belonged to everybody. Everyone went where they wanted to and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no visa, and I am still amazed by the awe of young people, when I tell them that before 1914, I travelled from India to America without owning or ever having seen a passport. (…)

Everywhere countries defended themselves against the foreigner. All the degradations which once were created for dealing with criminals, were now used for normal travellers before and during their trip. You had to let yourself be photographed, from the right and from the left, in profile and en face, the hair cut so short so that your face could be seen; you had to give fingerprints, first only the thumb, then all ten fingers; you had to present credentials, references, helth certificates, invitations and the addresses of your relatives; you had to bring moral and financial guarantees; you had to fill in forms and sign them in three or four copies; and if only one sheet of all this paperwork was missing you were lost. (…)

If I count how much time I spent filling in forms, the hours spent waiting in administration offices and being searched and questioned, then only I feel how much human dignity has been lost in this century, which as young people we dreamed of as one of freedom and world citizenship.


Stefan Zwieg, The World of Yesterday, 1941.

January 23, 2012

Roofing in South Florida: Be prepared for bats.

December 17, 2011
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s shortest answer in today’s Q&A on reddit.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s shortest answer in today’s Q&A on reddit.

December 3, 2011

I saw another utterly bizarre film last night: Mixed Company. Starring Joseph Bologna (as Al Pacino playing a basketball coach) and Barbara Harris (as his very 1970s wife). Sort of a family comedy in the With Six, You Get Eggroll mode, only…

* in 1974 
* about interracial adoption
* with naked kids’ butts
* being spanked
* and lots of swearing.
* and a cameo by Tom Bosley as the racist neighbor.

And, of course, more and more and more of some of the dodgiest racial stuff ever put to celluloid. From “Look at me! I’m a brave Indian! I don’t wet the bed!” to “Don’t call your brother a spade.”

Streamable on Netflix here, if you dare.

Official synopsis:

Coach of the foundering Phoenix Suns, Pete Morrison (Joseph Bologna) doubles as the harried husband of perky Kathy (Barbara Harris) and the father of three lively kids. Life gets even crazier when Kate persuades him to adopt three children of different races. After the newcomers enter the household, Pete conquers his latent prejudices and those of his neighbors while strategizing a win for his team, even after he’s been fired.

It is one of the few movies where you really can’t be sure what’s going to happen next.


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