The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes, safe houses, sympathetic people, tactics, and shared experience that allowed slaves from the American South to escape to free states in the North, or Canada, or sometimes Mexico or Europe. It began in the early 19th Century, and peaked between 1850 and 1860. One estimate has it that 100,000 slaves escaped that way.
The Underground Railway was a source of friction between North and South, and southerners became angry that many in the North looked the other way and allowed slaves to escape. Many of the activities carried out under the broad name Underground Railway were of course illegal. People who participated had a higher standard for determining the rightness of their actions than legality.
The picture shows a sculpture at Oberlin College, which commemorates Oberlin’s role as a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Cameron Armstrong, then a senior student, constructed it in 1977 as part of a class art project, and it has been preserved as a permanent memorial.
Brown v Board of Education
17 May 1954 In Brown v Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules that “separate but equal” schools for people of color are inherently unequal, and unconstitutional.
25 May 1935: Jesse Owens sets three world records and ties a fourth within a span of 45 minutes during a Big Ten track meet at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor Michigan.
Edward Anthony Jenner
14 May 1796: Edward Anthony Jenner, gave the first successful smallpox vaccination. He is often called “the father of immunology”, and his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.
Nonviolence is a good policy when the conditions permit.
May 9, 1994 South Africa’s newly elected parliament chose Nelson Mandela to be the country’s first black president.
"Never wound a snake; kill it."
28 May 1961 – Peter Benenson’s article The Forgotten Prisoners is published, an event that will later be thought of as the inception of the human rights organization Amnesty International.
If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
The BioLite Stove
The BioLite stove is a wood stove with a thermocouple built into to generate electricity. The electricity runs a fan which “blows on” the wood, and there is extra electricity left over to charge small lamps, or a cell phone.
This is extremely cool technology. I have worked in clean energy, and this is the only product that bridges the gap between the cookstove folks, and the lighting folks. The fan can help burn wood cleanly and efficiently, and as we know, smokey wood fires are the principal source of indoor air pollution, which according to the World Health Organisation kills more people than malaria and AIDS combined.
BioLite is working on perfecting the stove, which strongly suggests that it isn’t perfect. Yet. But if they can get it to be a commercially viable product - and I suspect they can - it will be a total game changer in places like Africa where both lighting and cooking fuel are huge daily challenges for hundreds of millions of people.
BioLite has made a product for first world people - like me - called the Camp Stove. It’s very cool, over priced, but the profits cross subsidize the development of their cooking stove destined for the rest of the world. If you ever go camping, think about getting one, and let me know what happens.
M. C. Escher
Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible. I think it’s in my basement… let me go upstairs and check.
M. C. Escher (17 June 1898 – 27 March 1972)
Universal health care
I haven’t researched this beyond Wikipedia, but here is the honor roll of countries that were committed to universal health care:
The Soviet Union implemented universal health care in 1937 and extended equal access to its rural residents in 1969. New Zealand created a universal health care system in a series of steps from 1939 to 1941. On July 5, 1948, the United Kingdom implemented its universal National Health Service. Universal health care was next introduced in the Nordic countries of Sweden (1955), Iceland (1956), Norway (1956), Denmark (1961), and Finland (1964). Universal health insurance was then implemented in Japan (1961), Saskatchewan (1962) followed by the rest of Canada (1968–1972), and twice in Australia (1974 and 1984). Universal national health services were then introduced in the Southern European countries of Italy (1978), Portugal (1979), Greece (1983), and Spain (1986), followed by the Asian countries of South Korea (1989), Taiwan (1995), and Israel (1995). From the 1970s to 1990s, the Western European countries of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg expanded their social health insurance systems to provide universal or nearly universal coverage, as did the Netherlands (1986 and 2006) and Switzerland (1996).
Is your country on the list? Mine isn’t…
Sliding - that is, letting Mr. Gravity pull you down an inclined plane - has certainly been around since there were children. Even some of our primate cousins slide down things occasionally when they are frolicing.
And generally, the longer the slide the better, except for one big problem - friction! Friction is a bummer in two ways: first, it can keep you from going REALLY FAST, which is what it’s all about. Second, if you have a steep enough slide so you can go really fast, then friction generates a lot of heat, and you get burned and abraided.
The solution? Make the slide into a U-shaped trough and pump water to the top, so that the slider can go down on a cushion of water. Two problems solved at once: less friction to slow you down, and the heat is dissipated by the water. How cool is that?
Once upon a time, 15,000 or 30,000 years ago - something like that - some of our ancestors began to develop mutually beneficial relations with grey wolves. Some say the people started it, perhaps by adopting an orphaned wolf pup, who chased away rats, helped clean up, and maybe comforted an upset baby once or twice.
Others say the wolves took the initiative, maybe hanging around our ancestors’ caves, keep other animals at bay in exchange for some food scraps. In either case, some of the wolves got to be good working with humans; we kept them and their children around. Others didn’t quite get it, and they were eliminated. This process went on for many generations, and in each new wolf generation, we kept those who were most useful, and the best company.
Now we have an amazing variety of wolf-descendants. We call them breeds of dog. They vary in size from tiny to huge; in temperament from cuddly to fierce; and in propensities, including herding, watching TV, sitting on laps, sniffing for drugs at the airport, helping the sightless get around, and knowing who is a friend and who is a foe. Many many choices over thousands of years led to the wonderful dogs of today, including my pal Dogbrain.
Banning Plastic Bags
Banning plastic bags is gaining momentum - Ashland just joined Portland and other Oregon cities, and we all owe thanks to San Francisco for being a leader in doing this, and then there is remarkable Rwanda, with a country-wide ban, so rigorously enforced that customs officials politely confiscate tourists’ plastic bags at the airport.
Plastic bags are an unnecessary use of petroleum resources; remember, fossil fuels are God’s one-time gift - do we really want to eat all the cookies and leave nothing for our children? Plus, plastic bags can be ug-LEE - see the photo above of plastic bag litter in Senegal. Finally - bringing a reuasable bag to shop just feels right.
Magna Carta signed 15 June 1215
King John was persuaded to sign the Magna Carta, outlining the rights and responsibilities of the king and of the nobles. The content of the Magna Carta is roughly equivalent to today’s Republican Party platform: it affirms the responsibility of the person in power to take any measures necessary to protect the richest 1% from the masses and from foreign enemies, while limiting his power to take away any of the privileges of the super rich. Nonetheless, it established that even the power of the king had limits, and was an important step towards the development of rule of law.
Hubert H. Humphrey
There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not even enough courts too enforce a law not supported by the people.
Hubert H. Humphrey US Vice-President 1963-1968
We believe that the best form of protest is to find solutions…. I would rather tell young people to use their energy to create solutions.
Harish Hande Solar entrepreneur
Borders are the scars of history
Robert Schuman, often considered Founder of the European Union
May 11 1997 IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue makes chess history by defeating Gary Kasparov, the chess champion widely regarded as the greatest who has ever lived.
As through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six gun
And some with a fountain pen.
Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967)
The Arab Spring
The Arab Spring
With the Thunisian Revoluton on 18 December 2010, people across North Africa and the Middle East start the messy job of writing their own history.
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
Declare it. Just the same way we declare war. That is how we will have peace… we just need to declare it.
John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)
I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.
Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)
June 10, 1935 Alcoholics Anonymous is founded, a member-run, community-based solidarity organisation that has transformed the lives of many.
Ina May Gaskin
Ina May Gaskin ((b. March 8th, 1940) is a self-taught midwife who, through her presentations and writing, has presented pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding as natural and spiritual activities, a view that contrasts with the trend to consider childbirth primarily as a clinical procedure. She has had an immense impact on how pregnancy and childbirth are viewed in the US and elsewhere, showing that births can be safely carried out at home, and under the care of midwives, to the benefit of countless women, newborns, and families. Her views are no longer considered fringe, but are now widely respected in more traditional circles.
Happy Birthday, USA
Americans have a long tradition of making their conscience more important than their security or comfort. From Benjamin Franklin to Edward Snowden, they have risked being persecuted for doing what they think was right, even when the law said it was wrong.
Tilikum Crossing Bridge
The Tilikum Crossing Bridge, which crosses the Wilamet River in Portland Oregon, opened on September 12, 2015 and is one of the longest no-car vehicle bridges in the world. It carries the Max light rail trains, the Portland streetcar, bicycles, pedestrians, and busses - but none of those pesky automobiles. I know it’s difficult to get rid of cars in cities, but - let’s be honest - cars and cities are incompatible. Ever been to Nairobi? Lagos? Los Angeles? What a waste of human life - and what a waste of God’s special gift of petroleum! Come on, Cities of the World! Join the Car-Free Environment-Saving Revolution!
“And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.”
David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873)
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.”
American linguist, philosopher, political commentator and activist
B. 7 December 1928
Buddy Holly (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959) recorded Words of Love on April 8, 1957, a song he had written himself, on 8 April 1957. Holly harmonized with himself, by tape-recording each part and then combining them. Then has been done a gazillion times since then, but was revolutionary at the time.
Anne and Carl Braden
“We used this attack on us as a platform to reach more people with what we’d been talking about anyway, which was segregation and housing and racism. If you do that, if you use every attack as a platform, they can’t win and you can’t lose cause if they leave you alone you go right on organizing, if they attack you you’re gonna have a platform to reach a lot more people. So you really can’t lose. And it really works like a charm.
“When we are 80 years old, I think we will have no regrets.”
American Civil Rights Activist Anne Braden, writing to her husband Carl, in prison
Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.
James Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961
American humorist and cartoonist.
On 30 October 1938, Orson Wells broadcast a live radio drama based on War of the Worlds, which told the story of an invasion of aliens from Mars. The show was done in the form of news broadcasts; many listeners believed it was real news, and some panicked. The broadcast showed the incredible power of the media to disguise fiction as news, a lesson that some outlets, like Fox News, learned well.
“Selfie” - defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” - was named Word Of The Year by Oxford Dictionaries 19 November 2013.
Barack Obama and Raul Castro
In a weird remnant of the cold war, the United States has been having a tizzy fit about Cuba for fifty years. Determined to prove our national manhood, we boycott and blockade and denounce and embargo this poor island. Meanwhile, the Cubans continue their uncertain revolution, families remain broken, and natural friends, only 150 kilometers apart, have to act like enemies. Can a spontaneous handshake at Nelson Mandela’s funeral begin to reverse all that? (NB: Since this was written, the US and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015.
Incidentally, back when he was working in Finance, he founded the bank that became OnePacific Bank, which demonstrates how a regulated for-profit financial institution can actually do good in the world, and happens to be the bank of one of the founders of Savings Revolution.
E.F. Schumacher (19 August 1911 – 4 September 1977) was an economist know for his criticisms of Western Economies and his embrace of human-scale, decentralized and appropriate technologies. He was among the first people to point out that natural resources and particularly petroleum had finite reserves, and he worried that “the richest and cheapest reserves are located in some of the world’s most unstable countries”.
He was never a foe of technology nor of development, but he became increasingly concerned that a generation or two might gobble up our finite resources - God’s one-time gift to man - and leave future generations stuck with systems that are resource-hogs and so unsustainable. And he cared passionately about the quality of our relationship with technology, and realized how often people seem to be working for technology rather than the reverse. These ideas seem prescient after the recent collapse in the Turkish coal mine, and the increasing evidence that irreversible climate change is already making our lives poorer and more difficult. Schumacher’s best-known book, Small is Beautiful, developed these themes eloquently.
I don’t know if Schumacher ever wrote about financial institutions or what he thought about them, but I (Paul) am confident he would have been skeptical of the mad rush to “financial inclusion”, especially when it increases the almost unlimited power of the largest banks - institutions which make a mockery of human scale or local control (and have a recent record of forcing people out of their homes, manipulating markets, and - oh, you know all that). He might have liked the community aspects of savings groups, and I think he would have been thrilled at the prospect of using appropriate technology to make them work even better.
Nelson Mandela was my hero and the world feels empty with him gone.
I often quote him: “Start a project with your enemy; then he becomes your partner”. I think about that a lot, and the people that I don’t forgive for what they have done, or for what they do. Or that I don’t even forgive for existing. Yes, I’m talking about you, Fox News, Koch Brothers, climate change deniers, finance barons, and masters of war.
Okay, here’s my tribute to you, Nelson Mandela: I will emulate you in taking the high road. Since you reached out to the members of the apartheid regime that locked you up for a quarter century, I will reach out to all the people who show up for me as dead wrong, hateful, bigots, reactionaries. In my heart, I know, as Nelson knew, that they have hearts and souls, and just see things differently.
Let’s all start projects together with people who drive us crazy, in Nelson Mandela’s memory! Let’s forget the things that drive us apart and concentrate on our common dreams. Let’s ask ourselves, when we are feeling petty and vindictive, “What would Madiba do?”
Paul Rippey 5 December 2013
I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.
Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546)
“The prison is not the only institution that has posed complex challenges to the people who have lived with it and have become so inured to its presence that they could not conceive of society without it. Within the history of the United States the system of slavery immediately comes to mind.”
Angela Davis (b. born January 26, 1944)
Political activist, scholar, and author
This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.
Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941)
Winter Olympics & the end of the Amateur Rule
There used to be just “The Olympic Games”, which naturally took place when it was warm. In 1924, in conjunction with the Olympics (which that year were in Chamonix France), there was added a “Winter Sports Week” in January. It was small compared to the spectacle of Sochi: there were only 247 male and 11 female athletes from 16 countries, who took part in 18 events.
Two years later, the International Olympic Committee looked back on the Winter Sports Week and decided in retrospect that, Why not? The winter sports had been part of the Olympics too! And thus was born the Winter Olympics. For many years, the Winter Olympics took place in the same year, though in a different city and a different month, as did the summer Olympics. It was in 1992 that the two Games started alternating - the next Winter Olympics after 1992 was in 1994.
Up until 1971, the Olympics had a strict rule than only amateurs could participate in the Olympics, and anyone who had ever received even a penny for playing any sport was excluded. That kept the games low-key and non commercial. But it also kept them an activity for mostly well-off, mostly white, mostly Europeans. Some say that it was due to the Russians cheating - well, lets say bending - the Amateur Rule that the IOC was forced to change it.
The Russians didn’t “pay athletes”, but they inducted all of their athletes into the army and paid them as soldiers, with handsome bonuses. This led to the Russians winning too many medals, and this was during the Cold War. Opening the games up to anyone and everyone seemed like the best way to counter the Russian sports threat. For whatever reason, the end of the Amateur Rule has democratised the games enormously, and that’s a good thing.
Now, if there were just a way to get rid of all the nationalism, sponsorship, and commercialism…
Julius Kambarage Nyerere
To measure a country’s wealth by its gross national product is to measure things, not satisfactions.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999)
First President of Tanzania
We know less about the ocean’s bottom than about the moon’s back side.
7 Mar 1909 - 15 Jul 1991
American oceanographer who introduced the young Al Gore to climate science
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973)
Martial arts champion, actor
The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy - I mean that if you are happy you will be good.
Bertrand Russell, English mathematician, philosopher and social reformer.
Born 18 May 1872
Martin Luther King Jr.
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)
It does not matter how badly you paint so long as you do not paint badly like other people.
George Edward Moore, Philosopher (4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958)
Walmart, the world’s largest and most avaricious retailer, destroyer of small towns across the US, environmental menace, and exporter of manufacturing jobs, is also a crappy employer. Walmart’s “associates” (read: “workers”) often do not make enough to live on, and of course have no health insurance, nor could they begin to afford it on their meager salaries. The day after Thanksgiving saw a surge of demonstrations across the US.
If you missed them, you can still join in spirit: don’t shop at Walmart.
Congratulations, Uruguay, for taking the heroic step of legalizing the production, use and sale of marijuana. Far be it for Savings Revolution to advocate drug use of any sort - we don’t, although some of us enjoy a glass or two of red wine from time to time, and really appreciate a good cappuccino!
But, however one feels about smoking pot, ending the idiotic “war on drugs” is vastly overdue. The result has been billions of dollars wasted, the nurturing of drug barons, and the incarceration of thousands of people, disproportionally young, poor, and dark. It’s time to declare defeat in the war on drugs, and get on with the important business of having honest conversations about dope.
The Global Positioning System
Today’s Revolutionary has been traveling around the Pacific Northwest for the last week, relying on Apple Maps and Google Maps to find things. With incredible accuracy and reliability, they talk to us through our phones, and patiently give us directions like, “In 500 yards, turn right on Denny Avenue.” GPS has replaced paper maps and pulling over to try to figure them out. What a blessing! They never scold us with impatience and sarcasm when we miss a turn, “Which part of ‘turn left’ didn’t you understand?” In fact, they are infinitely patient and even tempered.
We’ve also been visiting some sailing friends who look back with irony to a time when they used to use charts and LORAN to try to figure out where on God’s Great Oceans they actually were - now they just use GPS.
All this is possible because the US military wanted to be able to blow up things with more precision. But - they are sharing the technology with everyone, and as a result, we spend less time going down the wrong road, and less time lost at sea, so - Thanks!
Nate Silver (b. January 13, 1978) is an American statistician. He is perhaps the first and only statistician who has ever made statistics exciting, and he has done that mostly by being right.
He gained some fame by analyzing baseball, and predicting winners, with great accuracy. I’ll skip that part of his career. He became a celebrity when he got into predicting elections: he correctly predicted the winner in 49 out of fifty US states in the US presidential election of 2008, and then scored 100% in the presidential election of 2012 - he also picked 51 out of 53 senatorial races.
He is the Tiger Woods of statistics, the Glenn Gould of prognostication - someone who is so much better than most other players, that they have to change their game to stay relevant. The big US survey houses, particularly Gallop, are reexamining their procedures, looking hard to see how they can improve their accuracy.
The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
Steven Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977)
South African activist killed by the apartheid police
I discovered that wearing the veil is not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain. People need to see you, to associate and relate to you. It is not stated in my religion to wear the veil; it is a traditional practice, so I took it off.
Tawakul Karman, Yemeni activist, Nobel prize laureate.
Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you’ll be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy , throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that’s offered.
Tom McCall(March 22, 1913 – January 8, 1983) Republican Governor of Oregon 1967-75
“There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.”
Antoni Gaudi, (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926)
Most of the great Catalan architect’s plans for the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona were lost, and only a few sketches remain. Other architects have stood on his shoulders and completed the design, and the great cathedral, whose nave ceiling is pictured here, promises to be about the coolest church ever built, when it is completed in 2026.
Toshi Seeger RIP
Toshi Seeger, wife of folk singer Pete Seeger, died just a few days short of their 70th wedding anniversary. She sat in the background while he was in the limelight, but their relationship was a model of love and respect. I mourn her passing, grieve with Pete, and celebrate her life.
“Microsoft isn’t evil, they just make really crappy operating systems.”
Software engineer Linus Torvalds (b. December 28, 1969) whose ideas led to the Linux computer operating system
“I’m looking for backing for an unauthorised autobiography I am writing. Hopefully, this will sell in such large numbers that I will be able to sue myself for an extraordinary amount of money and finance the film version in which I will play everybody.”
Few artists have ever re-invented themselves as often, nor enjoyed it as much, as composer-singer-actor David Bowie (b. 8 January 1947)
We are all used to seeing graphic represenations of our planet in which the Europeans and North Americans live at the top, with underneath, the places where Africans and Latin Americans live.
Does this reflect and reinforce a world view about which areas are by nature “on top”? Some will argue that it is a simple accident of history, and means nothing, and to prove it, they will point out that the Australians and New Zealanders are at the very bottom. Fair enough.
But - just for fun - try looking at maps that are done differently. There are many maps available now with South at the top. I find them momentarily disorienting - then I start to smile as I realize there are so many different ways of seeing the same situation.
The map above is doubly disorienting (click on it and it will enlarge). It is Africa, with South at the top, AND also with the mapmakers’ guesses of where boundaries would be today, if the borders of African countries had not been drawn by the European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884 (a meeting at which no Africans were present, by the way).
Warning: do not stand on your head when you look at this. That defeats the whole purpose.
James Lovelock is an environmentalist, scientist and futurist. He keeps pushing the envelope with contrarian ideas. He famously calls for widespread use of nuclear power over the protests of other enviromentalists, saying that it is the only viable alternative to fossil fuels. He is an alarmist on climate change, and paints vivid pictures of Florida disappearing under the oceans while the Sahara desert advances to Paris. He rejects the idea of “sustainable development”, and says it is time to talk about “sustainable retreat”, realizing which areas will have to be abandonned to rising seas (sorry, Bangladesh!), and saying we must “absolutely do our utmost to sustain civilization, so that it doesn’t degenerate into Dark Ages, with warlords running things, which is a real danger. We could lose everything that way”.
Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”. But once the second world war was under way, “everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday … so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that’s what people want.”
He makes one think!
Vetiver is a miracle grass. Its roots do not spread, but go deep in the soil, making it perfect for erosion control. It is a good animal feed, and it repels many insects. Its roots give on an essential oil that is used in 90% of all Western perfumes. Remarkably, it is sterile and does not produce seeds; instead it grows by planting clumps of vetiver where you want it to grow. It doesn’t escape from where you plant it. It’s so good, in fact, that there is a cologne and a band named after it!
There is some special bond between solar lighting and women. Is it because women spend more time at home? Or are they more committed to their children’s education? Or, do they somehow have more appreciation of the daily cycles that solar lamps follow, saving in the day time, giving off at night?
I came across this article on “the top ten women in solar energy”. I know of some of them from other sources, and I think they are all doing wonderful things. None of them looks much like this lady from Mali, in the photo above. I have the privilege over the next few weeks of working with CARE’s wPOWER project, and I promise to put up a picture or two of other women leaders in solar energy!
Dogecoin is a “cryptocurrency”, like Bitcoin. New coins - which do not exist as physical objects, but only as long strings of computer code - are created by “mining” them, which means solving computer problems which become increasingly difficult, the more Dogecoins there are. The whole thing is peculiar.
Bitcoin, of course, is the leading cryptocurrency, and takes itself seriously. The inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, may or may not exist, and may or may not just have been tracked down. People lost millions of dollars in Bitcoins when the mysterious Mt Gox trading site was hacked. Bitcoin have been used to pay for drugs and who knows what else. China takes Bitcoin seriously, and is mining them by the millions of yuans worth. Central Banks are concerned. The Winklevoss twins invested in them. Bitcoins - despite their weirdness and mystery - seem very establishment. And as such, they have become boring.
Dogecoin, on the other hand, started largely as a joke. The doge - well, read up on that if you don’t know what it is - anyway, that’s a joke to begin with, and unlike with Bitcoin, Dogecoins have a supportive community. Dogecoin users seem to be having fun, not trying to manipulate a fantasy to make a lot of money like, oh, investment bankers. Where Bitcoin are the alternative to dollars and euros, Dogecoin are the alternative to Bitcoin.
Jigme Singye Wangchuck
Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the former King of Bhutan. He is credited with many reforms, including an effort to orient development in the country towards creating happiness, rather than wealth, and to measure progress, he created the concept of Gross National Happiness. These are not hollow words: there are nine domains (psychological well-being, health, education, culture, good governance, community vitality, ecological resiliance, living standards and time use) and 33 indicators on the GNH index, and practitioners take it quite seriously.
There is some push-back to the ideas now, though. The new Prime Minisiter, Tshering Tobgay, says that while he agrees that economic growth is not the be all and end all of development, Bhutan shouldn’t be distracted by GNH, and has to keep its eyes on some basic indicators like employment and fighting corruption.
It’s all a good conversation to be having.
Malvina Reynolds(August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) is said to have “written a song every morning before breakfast”. If she had only written two of them - say, Little Boxes and Turn Around, she still would have been great!
Owen Forney Rippey
I never knew my grandfather Owen. He was a lawyer in Detroit and worked most of his career for General Motors, during happier days for that company. Much of what I know about him comes from this poster, promoting his candidature when he ran for the State Senate in Michigan (he lost!).
How much did seeing that poster all my life influence my warriness about debt financing and my interest in savings?
Happy 50th Birthday Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health
Fifty years ago, the Surgeon General of the US issued a report on smoking and health which made such an overwhelming case that cigarettes were bad for ones health, that over the next fifty years, public opinion and public policy turned against cigarettes. (Cigarettes had been very cool before - see the picture).
Okay, let’s look at the bright side. The percentage of US adults who smoke has gone down from about 41% when the Report came out, to about 20% today. It IS possible to change behavior, even in the face of unlimited lobbying money.
What is scary to me is this question: can we cut back our much more dangerous addiction to fossil fuels? We don’t have fifty years to play around.
European Extremely Large Telescope
The aptly named European Extremely Large Telescope will be the largest telescope ever built, when it is completed in 2024.Construction just started in Chile, atop a 3000 meter mountain, in the Atacama desert, the driest in the world, where cloudless skies provide ideal observing conditions.
When completed, the telescope will be so powerful it should be able to detect the gases in the atmospheres of planets circling other stars. It represents the European Union’s commitment and leadership in theoretical science, an area where Americans have largely stopped investing.
It will cost about a billion euros, roughly what the US spends in a week on the war in Afghanstan. Couldn’t we get out of there a week early, and use the money for basic science?…
He who uses the office he owes to the voters wrongfully and against them is a thief.
Jose Marti (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895)
Cuban writer and poet
Francis of Assisi
If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.
Francis of Assisi
At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.
Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005)
Jack Sim founded the World Toilet Organisation in 2001 to “bring the subject out into the open”. Essentially, he says, if you can’t talk about shit, you can’t do shit. He has brought humor and frankness to the subject of human waste (which he would not call “waste”, realizing, correctly, that we throw away resources that can generate energy and be converted into fertiliser).
Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.
Aviator, (July 24, 1897 – disappeared while attempting a solo flight around the world July 2, 1937)
Pope Francis and President Hassan Rouhani
These two recently elected leaders are saying remarkable and inspiring things, and reaching out to groups that had previously been loudly rejected by their organisations. Pope Francis has said the Catholic Church needs to move from dogma to compassion, and has stated that gay people have a place in the church. President Rouhani has been constructive and conciliatory with the US and even with Israel, though he was immediately dismissed by Netanyahu. Whatever. Both of these men have hard tasks, working to reform ultra-conservative, misogynistic, organisations that consistently choose the most intolerant interpretations possible of their sacred texts. Courage to both - may they succeed in the difficult challenges they have taken on!
Francis Crick - James Watson
“It now seems certain that the amino acid sequence of any protein is determined by the sequence of bases in some region of a particular nucleic acid molecule.”
—James Watson, co-discoverer with Francis Crick of how DNA encodes and transmits information to the next generation
Ultimate Frisbee is a game played with the ubiquitous flying plastic disks. What’s revolutionary about that? Well, Ultimate has a commitment to player self-management.
Their rules state: “Players are responsible for foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes. This creates a spirit of honesty and respect on the playing field. It is the duty of the player who committed the foul to speak up and admit his infraction. Occasionally, official observers are used to aid players in refereeing, known as observers. [in most cases] …an observer can only resolve a dispute if the players involved ask for his judgment.”
Ultimate is full of lessons for community-based financial institutions: small ones can indeed manage themselves, where a common bond exists, is recognized, and is valued. And, sometimes it’s useful to haveobservers, or neutral outside friends, to help with self-management.
William Stafford, Poet and Pacificst, 1914-1993, whose centenial is now being celebrated, wrote a poem containing these lines on the day he died:
You don’t have to
prove anything,’ my mother said. ‘Just be ready
for what God sends.
Sam Ganafa is a gay rights activist in Uganda, epicenter of the kill-the-people-with-different-sexual-preferences movement. You can’t say THAT doesn’t require a lot of courage.
Sam is the guy on the right in the picture above. The newspaper shows some of the wacko gay conspiracy ranting that disguises itself as news in the Ugandan press. And of course, the guy with the hat is Yoweri Museveni, apparent president-for-life of Uganda. Museveni is not exactly in favor of killing gays, but he’s not very strongly opposed to it, either.
Sam was arrested last November, and not charged with anything, at least not initially. Does anyone know where he is now? If so, please drop me note.
Let’s continue to honor Pi(e) day with a few comments on pie charts. The visual display of quantitative information is a subject dear to our hearts. Most of the readers of this site have experienced death by powerpoint at some time, and there has been a natural reaction to slide presentations - I’ve been invited to two “powerpoint free conferences” in fact, organized by people who apparently place projected displays in the same category of things-to-be-shunned as cigarettes.
But we think this is an over-reaction. A good graphic tells a story clearly and quickly. In fact, death by powerpoint often refers to an overabundance of words on a slide, not of images. We say, don’t be afraid of a good pie chart!
(We’ve been using the editorial “we” by the way. We’re not sure why we are doing that today. We usually just call ourselves “I”.)
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Mahatma Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969)
American General and Republican president (Remember when Republicans talked like that? I don’t either!)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978)
Come to Iftar
Don’t you love it when religions bring people together?!
Thank Goodness I was never sent to school. It would have rubbed off some of the originality.
Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) Author of children’s books
Norway's 22nd July Monument
On 22nd July 2011, Norway suffered twin terrorist attacks: a car bomb in Oslo killed eight people, and 69 were killed at a youth event on the island of Utøya.
Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg won a competition to design a memorial to those killed. His daring design is bold, and moving. The memorial will consist of a 3.5 meter cut in the nearby isthmus of Tyrifjorden, which will permanently separate part of Norway from the mainland. The cut will symbolize the loss of life, carving an unhealable wound into its landscape.
We go from summit to summit, while our people go from abyss to abyss.
Hugo Chavez (28 July 1954 – 5 March 2013)
I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.
Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014)
You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen.
Thomas Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987)
Reformer President of Burkina Faso, murdered by Blaise Compaoré, whose bid to become president-for-life was recently overthrown by popular uprising
Nest products incorporate refreshing technology that helps us waste less, not consume more.
Oberlin College in Ohio, in the US, has long joined progressive causes and academic excellence. It was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, is the longest operating co-educational institution in the US, and was a key stop on the “underground railroad”, the community-managed network that helped free slaves escape to the North. Today it continues these traditions being a leader in environmental sustainability, and supporting progressive ideals and tolerance.
“…the economy is a set of human-made rules, systems, and structures, not an autonomous organism or an unbridled force of nature. Referring to bankers, CEOs, and other financial actors as “the market” obscures that reality, and reinforces the conservative notion that economic regulation is a hindrance rather than a crucial part of the rules that govern a just society.”
Art Speigelman is an American cartoonist and graphic novelist whose work is often on the cover of the New Yorker Magazine. In 1991 he published Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, which tells the story of his father, a holocaust survivor, and himself as a modern American jew. In Maus, the jews are portrayed as mice, the nazis as cats, and so on. The story moves back and forth from the holocaust to the present, from vague memories to hard facts, and like any good novelist, Speigelman puts the horror of the concentration camp in contrast to occasional bursts of humor. It’s an amazing, wonderful book, available here.
Congratulations, Tunisia, on passing a new constitution which not only guarantees gender equality and freedom of religious practice, but which also requires the state to “contribute to the protection of the climate … for future generations”.
Tunisia joins two other countries - Ecuador and the Dominican Republic - in mentioning a commitment to fighting climate change in their fundamental law.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule exists in many traditions and religions:
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to others. That is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary. (The Talmud, Shabbat, 31a.)
Islam: None of you is a believer until you desire for others that which you desire for yourself. (Sunnah.)
Hindu: This is the sum of all true righteousness: deal with others as thou wouldst thyself be delt by. Do nothing to thy neighbor which thou wouldst not have done to thee after. The Mahabharata.
Christianity: As ye would that others should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31
Not associated with any religion: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction. Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
The Wind Generator
The use of wind energy to do things for us is very old: sailing ships convert wind to motion; the first practical windmills (in present day Iran) which converted wind to mechanical energy and date from the 9th century or earlier; homes have long funneled in wind for cooling. (Wikipedia’s article on the history of wind power also strangely mentions prayer wheels, which convert wind to, uh, prayers? They date from the 4th century.)
The generation of electricity from wind is more recent. In July 1887, in Glasgow, Professor James Blyth of Anderson’s College experimented with three different designs of wind generator, and one of them powered his home for 25 years. After that, various experiments in Denmark, the US and elsewhere led to larger and larger turbines. In 1927, Joe and Marcellus Jacobs open the Jacobs Wind factory in Minneapolis, and over three decades produced 30,000 wind turbine generators. The Germans used small wind generators to re-charge the batteries of their U-boats during the Second World War.
The first mega-watt turbine was built in Castleton, Vermont in 1941. The turbine had 75-foot blades and weighed 240 tons. As turbines get bigger, they become more efficient, and the Chinese, Danes and Americans are in a race to produce the most efficient generators. The Danish company Vestas may now be the leader with a turbine with 80 meter long blades (80 meters? Really?!), but the crown for the biggest turbine passes back and forth between different companies.
The UK has set ambitious targets for clean energy and now has 186 operational windfarms (both onshore and offshore) with 2,120 turbines creating enough energy to power the equivalent of 1,523,052 homes and saving 6,156,175 tons of carbon. The windfarm in the picture is in Oregon in the US, one of the leading US states in wind energy.
Gregor Johann Mendel (20 July 1822 – 6 January 1884) was a scientist and Augustinian friar who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the modern science of genetics. Though farmers had known for centuries that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel’s pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity.
Mendel worked with seven characteristics of pea plants: plant height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color. With seed color, he showed that when a yellow pea and a green pea were bred together their offspring plant was always yellow. However, in the next generation of plants, the green peas reappeared at a ratio of 1:3. To explain this phenomenon, Mendel coined the terms “recessive” and “dominant” in reference to certain traits. (In the preceding example, green peas are recessive and yellow peas are dominant.) He published his work in 1866, demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors”—now called genes—in providing for visible traits in predictable ways.
Dennis Banks and Russell Means
May 8, 1973 Dennis Banks and Russell Means and other members of the American Indian Movement end their occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
13 August 1889 - A patent for a coin-operated telephone was issued to William Gray.
When photography was invented in the early 19th Century, it was terrible. It took insanely long exposures to make blurry photos. But people kept working to improve the process, and Louis Daguerre (18 November 1787 – 10 July 1851) helped give photography a great boost into usability by inventing the process called Daguerreotypes. Initially, it could take good photos with “only” a ten minute exposure. Over the years, the process got improve and exposures dropped to ten seconds or less.
The French government bought the process from him, and released it as a gift to the world - Merci! It caught on and spread, and between 1840 and 1860 there were millions of Daguerreotypes taken around the world. This was the first era to be documented at all well with photographs. New processes came along finally that were even better, an Daguerre went on to do other things in his life. But none could compare in importance to popularizing photography.
Just like people, design can be beautiful or ugly, inspiring or depressing, modest or self-aggrandizing. Also like people, it can also be fun or not.
I saw this staircase on some Facebook or Huffington Post list and totally loved it. Now, THAT would be a fun way to get up and down!
Sidepaths are bike lanes physically separated from car traffic. There was a Sidepath Movement in the US around the beginning of the 20th Century. But then, people fell in love with automobiles, widened streets, and diverted funding into the bigger car constituency rather than the small bicycle constituency. But sidepaths are coming back: Minneapolis, Montreal, Davis California, Copenhagen, Vancouver - the list goes on!
I don’t use drugs. I am drugs.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Democracy is when the people keep a government in check.
Aung San Suu Kyi (b. 19 June 1945)
Bill Watterson (b. July 5, 1958) is the creator of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes, one of the best comic strips ever. After drawing the strip for ten years, he stopped drawing it in 1995, saying he had done all he could with the characters. He also refused all offers to merchandise the characters, giving up the chance to make tens of millions, maybe more, by licensing t-shirts, stuffed animals, Saturday morning cartoons, and coffee cups based on his characters. What a refreshing contrast to boring old profit maximisation! Could the clever boys at Goldman Sachs understand Watterson?
The Basketball Net
When basketball was invented, in 1891, it was a different game. It was played with fruitbaskets and a repurposed football (soccer ball). It was low scoring - the very first game reportedly ended with a 1-0 score. That was a good thing, because whenever the ball went into the basket, the players needed to get a ladder to retrieve the it.
The ladder was painfully slow, so someone had the idea of leaving a small hole in the bottom of the basket, so that players could take a stick and pop the ball out. Much better!
But science marches on, and in the picture you see the ingenuity of one basket maker. First, the basket was a net. Second, there was a cord attached to the net so that after every successful shot, one could pull the cord and “flush” the ball out.
It wasn’t until almost fifteen years after the game was invented that someone invented a net with a hole in the bottom, so that Mr. Gravity would return the ball quickly and easily, every time.
A Pattern Language
A Pattern Language is a book to read and re-read, but not necessarily front-to-back. It consists of scores of principles of design - of cities, buildings and rooms - gathered from cultures where people have built their own homes since forever.
One of the themes throughout the book is appropriate scale - who feels at home in giant buildings? Another is mixing up functions: the more options people have within walking distance, perhaps the happier they are. And it is full of unexpected ideas: Have part of the roof of your house be low enough that people can touch the roof. If you have lots of chairs, then have lots of different kinds of chairs.
I find when I leaf through the book that the illustrations are of places I want to go to, or streets I’d like to walk down, or houses I’d be happy to call my home.
Uruguay’s President José “Pepe” Mujica (1)
“We have sacrificed the old immaterial gods, and now we are occupying the temple of the Market-God. He organizes our economy, our politics, our habits, our lives, and even provides us with rates and credit cards and gives us the appearance of happiness.”
Uruguay’s President José “Pepe” Mujica
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (2)
“As soon as politicians start climbing up the ladder, they suddenly become kings. I don’t know how it works, but what I do know is that republics came to the world to make sure that no one is more than anyone else.” The pomp of office, he said, is like something left over from a feudal past: “You need a palace, red carpet, a lot of people behind you saying, ‘Yes, sir.’ I think all of that is awful.”
Uruguay’s President José “Pepe” Mujica (2)
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (3)
On marriage equality: “We applied a very simple principle: Recognize the facts. Abortion is old as the world. Gay marriage, please — it’s older than the world. We had Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, please. To say it’s modern, come on, it’s older than we are. It’s an objective reality that it exists. For us, not legalizing it would be to torture people needlessly.”
Jose Mujica 3
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (4)
On donating 90% of his salary to charity: “I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president. I earn more than I need, even if it’s not enough for others. For me, it is no sacrifice, it’s a duty.”
Jose Mujica 4
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (5)
On being called ‘The World’s Poorest President’” “I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.”
Jose Mujica 5
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (7)
On distribution of wealth: “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce. It’s no mystery — the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.”
Jose Mujica 7
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (6)
On age: “What’s sad is that an 80-year-old grandpa has to be the open-minded one. Old people aren’t old because of their age, but because of what’s in their heads. They are horrified at this, but they aren’t horrified at what’s happening in the streets?”
Jose Mujica 6
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (8)
“A president is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is not a king, not a god. He is not the witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant. I think the ideal way of living is to live like the vast majority of people whom we attempt to serve and represent.
Jose Majica 8
Uruguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica (9)
On his goals for Uruguay: “My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay, to help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking, a way of looking at the future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight for the common good to progress. Life slips by. The way to prolong it is for others to continue your work.”
An Ombudsman represents the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violations of rights. An Ombudsman is traditionally appointed by a government, but the term and practice have also spread to the private sector. To do their job, Ombudsmen must be autonomous, and have the resources necessary to investigate cases that come to their attention.
As a general rule, there are power assymetries between institutions, even benign institutions, and the people that they serve. These assymetries exist between governments and their citizens, financial institutions and their clients, and savings group members and the NGOs who organize them. Ombudsmen can help reduce those assymetries.
One of the most exciting new concepts in Savings Groups is the Member Hotline, a phone number that group members can call if they have issues that their trainer cannot or will not resolve. We’ll talk more about this in future posts on Savings Revolution, but we’re happy to note here that the Ombudsman principle is reaching into the Savings Group. We all need someone to lean on.
The Haber–Bosch process
What is the most important invention of the 20th Century? If you said the airplane, computers, rockets or television, you’re not even close: the Haber–Bosch process has done more to create the modern world than any other invention.
The Haber-Bosch process, invented by two Germans around 1909, produces ammonia from nitrogen gas (the plentiful gas that makes up most of the atmosphere) and hydrogen gas (extracted from natural gas). Ammonia has two uses of huge importance: it is used in the production of explosives, and in the production of chemical fertilizer. The first use allows us to wage war with bigger bombs and more of them. The second allows us to produce food getting more production per acre or hectare than has ever been thought possible.
Haber-Bosch was invented to support the German military machine. The first large-scale plant - in the illustration - is BASF’s Oppau plant in Germany, opened in 1913. Its production reached 20 tonnes/day the following year. During the Second World War, the United States invested heavily in the process, making bombs that, ironically, were dropped on Germany.
After the war, the US had a huge productive capacity, and didn’t need as many bombs. It was convenient to convert some of that production to making fertilizer, and that led to the chemical dependence that is American agriculture today. Corn (maize) responds particularly well to fertilizer - up to a point, the more that is applied, the greater the yield - with the resultant farm surpluses and various direct and indirect subsidies for corn production, leading in large part to the American obesity epidemic, but also allowing many many people to be fed who otherwise would not be, and helping the world’s population more than double since the end of the Second World War.
Haber-Bosch is extremely energy intensive. One way of looking at the process is this: in making either explosives or fertilizer, the process pumps energy into the product, which is released either slowly in the case of fertilizer, or suddenly and all at once in the case of explosives. It has been estimated that Haber-Bosch plants consume an extraordinary two percent of all the energy used in the United States. There are various ways of eating well while using less energy: reducing consumption of grain-fed meat is a big one, and stopping corn subsidies is another. Relying less on Haber-Bosch could make us all healthier while making it more expensive to blow each other up.
First, some background. Ikea is a Swedish company that sells modern, stylish, eco-friendly, good quality and affordable furniture through 349 stores in 43 countries. It is the world’s largest furniture seller, and prides itself on standardization: you can buy the exact same chair or bookcase in Thailand that you can in Dominican Republic, Egypt or Cyprus. The simple design of Ikea goods make them idea for repurposing - that is, using them for some purpose other than what they were intended for.
Ikea fans - and there are many - started sharing their stories of unusual uses of Ikea goods on the internet, and in 2006, an enthusiastic Ikea fanboi, or fangurl, who goes by the nom d’Internet Jules Yap, started a site called Ikea Hackers. The site grew into a big blog with 30,000 hits a day from Hackers around the world submitting pictures of their work. All very good natured, with lots of wildly creative hacks, like bowls made into drumsets, or the elf costume in the picture, made of Ikea placemats and an Ikea bed canopy.
All was well, hackers were buying lots of stuff from Ikea, and having a good time, until earlier this year, when some Ikea lawyers, having misplaced whatever sense of humor corporate lawyers might have, issued a very stern “cease and desist” letter to Jules Yap, telling her to shut down the site, her FaceBook page, her Twitter account, and never take the word “Ikea” in vain again. Ikea has since backed off a little bit, and is negotiating with Yap. Out of solidarity with a fellow blogger (one who gets about 1000 times more hits than Savings Revolution), I am not going to buy anything from Ikea until this is resolved and the Ikea Hackers site can go forward.
Some Savings Revolution readers will have followed the events in Ferguson Missouri, in the US. A brief recap: This city of 21,000 souls has a population that is two thirds African-American. On 9th August, police officer Darren Wilson, who is white like 50 out of the 53 police officers in Ferguson, stopped an 18-year-old unarmed black man, Michael Brown. In the disagreement that followed, Wilson shot and killed Brown. The police said Brown had reached for Wilson’s gun. There were no surviving witnesses other than Wilson.
When news of the killing got out, there were demonstations in the town, with demonstrators alluding to a pattern of police mistreatment. The police responded with a show of military force, bringing out armored vehicles, while police in military gear shot rubber bullets and teargas at demonstrators, some of whom returned teargas containers to the police, threw rocks, and allegedly made and threw “Molotov cocktails” at the police. There was looting and arson, and tensions and violence grew over three days, until the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, said he was sending in the National Guard to take over security in Ferguson. Nixon named Ronald Johnson to head the security forces in Ferguson. Johnson is from the area, and is black.
Here’s the revolutionarly part: Johnson immediately parked the military vehicles, said he hoped demonstrations would continue but asked for them to be peaceful, and in one case marched alongside demonstrators. He had his officers take off riot gear and go out and talk to the people. People responded immediately; one citizen said, “”All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas. This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”
Ah yes. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Try a little tenderness. How well do poor people respond to armored vehicles rumbling down their streets? How do they feel when anonymous men dressed like Star Wars troopers shoot teargas at them? Does refusing to honor deeply felt issues make people docile? Does the simple presence of what are perceived as military invaders provoke violence?
And - this is important - what are the lessons here for hated occupiers around the world - Israel in Gaza comes to mind? There is a lot to learn from Ronald Johnson.
Rich Earth Institute
Americans produce 30 billion gallons of nutrient-rich urine every year - that’s a lot of nutrients! Amazingly, we dilute most of it with drinking-quality water and flush it to expensive treatment plants or out to sea. This is nuts. The Rich Earth Institute is helping people get comfortable talking about “pee” and “poop”, and seeing these as human resources, not human waste.
(And, thanks to my friend Carol for keeping this issue alive in my mind.)
SOIL Haiti promotes Eco-San toilets, which separate pee from poop, and produce soil-enriching fertilizer in a country with depleted soils. SOIL sees sanitation and agriculture as going hand in hand, as indeed they must.
Watershed Management Group
Watershed Management Group is all about green infrastructure. This group is mobilizing communities throughout Arizona to live in harmony with the environment. They harvest rainwater, restore natural streams, build rain gardens, nurture and plant native species, liberate the ground from asphalt and concrete, build greywater systems, cycle excreta to upgrade soils and teach people near and far to do all of it. Great newsletters; awesome YOUTube channel. They certainly feel strongly about things, but rather than preach they make sure everyone has fun. People happily adopt alternatives; the State and local governments pay attention.
Charles Townes (July 28, 1915 – January 27, 2015) was the man responsible for inventing the laser, died Jan 2015 aged 99. Lasers are used in so many parts of our lives now it’s hard to imagine being without them: hard disks, medicine, barcodes, Starwars - and a hundred others.
Jonathan C. Lewis
“In the matter of economic justice, the stakes are so high that blind faith in market systems, governmental policy or the latest tech gadgetry can feel more promising, more solid, than reliance on individual acts of valor or the selfless acts of communal love which ground us as global citizens. Because individually we often feel unimportant and ineffective, we overlook our own personal power and, inferentially and stupidly, the power of community.”
Jonathan C. Lewis
If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.
Paul Hawken (b. February 8, 1946)
Raymond Burse was named interim president of Kentucky State University in June 2014. The University is in financial trouble with a seven million dollar annual deficit. There was no money available to raise the salaries of the 24 school employees making less than $10.25 an hour, who mostly serve as custodial staff, groundskeepers and lower-end clerical workers. $10.25 is in fact less than a living wage in Kentucky for a family of two - one that allows a worker to meet basic needs of food, shelter and health care. But it’s a lot closer than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25.
Burse announced that he would cut his own salary of $350,000 a year by $90,000, to raise the wages of the least well paid so that everyone working at the University would have at least $10.25/hour. Raymond Burse, you rock!
Carl Djerassi (October 29, 1923 – January 30, 2015) was a research chemist who 63 years ago synthesized a hormone that was a key ingredient for the oral contraseptive that we all know as “the pill”.
Wikipedia, as everyone reading this knows, is the on-line reference site that just about everyone uses to find out just about everything. It’s the seventh most visited site, and all the higher ones are trying to sell you something; wikipedia belongs to a non-profit foundation, and its millions of articles are written by volunteers.
Wikipedia is criticised for its male bias and its North American bias, and its style, and its inaccuracies (although it is remarkably accurate). If you want to read a frank discussion about what’s wrong with Wikipedia - well, of course! Go to the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia.
Leslie Gore, May 2, 1946 – February 16, 2015, recorded plaintive hit songs of teenage love and angst, when she was 16, then surprised everyone with “You Don’t Own Me”:
You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys
And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ‘cause
You don’t own me, don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me, don’t tie me down ‘cause I’d never stay
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please.
Stop Making Sense
This film of the Talking Heads 1984 concert is probably the best concert movie ever made, but that kind of superlative does not do justice to the energy and intimacy and the extraordinary performances. It’s so engaging that it’s hard not to get up and dance when it’s playing, and it is so one-of-a-kind that anything counts as dancing. Please - see it if you haven’t - and you can watch it free here. (Thanks, Piers!)
In 1955, Jonas Salk and his team perfected the first vaccine against polio - which is now soooooo close to being erradicated, with only a few cases now found in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Polio is a terrible disease - many victims lived years and decades in “iron lung” breathing machines. Many more lost use of limbs. Thank you, medical science.
Obama Vetoes Keystone
Good news, bad news. President Obama vetoed a Republican bill to build the Keystone Pipeline, which would facilitate the Canadians in being totally irresponsible. (Dudes, we HAVE TO leave hydrocarbons in the ground!) Bad news: Rather than a clear unequivocal climate change message, we got this administrative mush from the President: “Because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.”
On this day, 26 February, 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States took effect, limiting presidents to two terms. This is so obviously a good idea - presidents get so much power that they can rig elections, or con the electorate, and stay in power forever. Is Putin really the best person to govern Russia? Is Museveni indespensable in Uganda? And don’t get me started on Mugabe.
The President-for-life virus sometimes mutates into the Family-for-life virus, and we have our Clintons, Castros, Bushes and Kims. How about… wait for it, this is going to be revolutionary … how about, choosing the best person for the job?
Beatles in US
7 Feb 1964: The Beatles arrive in the US for the first time. The rest is history.
“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew (16 September 1923 – 23 March 2015) the founder of modern Singapore, recently passed away at 91 years. He was one of the great benevolent dictators, and took a hard line on corruption, intolerance, inefficiency, litter, and many other things he didn’t like. Some would say his methods were draconian - Singapore still frequently uses caning as punishment for instance. But - this uber nanny state got the job done of lifting a poor Asian city into an economic powerhouse, and of getting a wild variety of religions and ethnic groups living together in productive harmony.
In any case, the alphabet wasn’t invented very many times, and everyone reading this owes a word of thanks to the Egyptians who turned on the Canaanites who inspired the Phonecians, who taught the Greeks, who shared it with the Etruscans, who transferred it to the Romans … and then it got to be now. Thank you Oh Great Ancestor. The alphabet was a REALLY good invention!
Today’s Revolutionary is no fan of organized religion. He looks around at ISIS, Southern Sudan, Israel, Palestine, the US Far Right, and rampant intolerance, and feels very comfortable in his humanist agnosticism. And yet, every now and again, religious people blow me away with the depth, generosity, and transcendence of their thoughts. My current hero is Pope Francis, a gift from God if there ever was one. Just a few words from his Nov. 24, 2013, Evangelii Gaudium:
[E]thics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the market-place.
End of story. I’ve been trying to find words to talk about truth that lies outside the “categories of the market place” for years, usually driving people away by my rambling. Pope Francis nailed it.
Poutine, The Wonder Food
Poutine is a dish originating in Quebec, Canada, made with french fries, topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce and cheese curds. Poutine is called the “aliment merveil du Québec” because of its remarkable nutritional properties. High in Vitamins A, C and E, it also is rich in anti-oxidants and bioflavonoids, and is a good source of roughage. Many doctors recommend a big bowl of poutine for breakfast, especially for people at risk of cardiac disease, and nutritionists say it has a place in any weight-loss diet. ORIGINALLY POSTED ON APRIL 1 2015. HINT HINT.
“A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents. This latter nomenclature, by the way, would be an excellent piece of consciousness-raising for the children themselves. A child who is told she is a ‘child of Muslim parents’ will immediately realize that religion is something for her to choose -or reject- when she becomes old enough to do so.”
Richard Dawkins (b. 26 March 1941)
“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.”
H.G.Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) English writer
best known for his science fiction
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra
“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”
Yogi Berra (May 12, 1925 – September 22, 2015) American baseball player, manager and coach
Stan Freeberg (August 7, 1926 – April 7, 2015) was a comedian, voice actor, and writer who was super popular in the 1950s and ’60s, and whose career in various media spanned over half a century. Filled with references from popular culture, it would be difficult for young people to appreciate Freeberg skits like “St.George and the Dragonet” - a gentle and graceful parody of the Dragnet TV cop show. But for some of us who knew him when, were amazed to discover that he was still alive until we heard that he had died - and now we miss him.
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
Thomas Jefferson (April 13 [O.S. April 2] 1743 – July 4, 1826)
Godiva was an 11th century English noblewoman. She was not just one of the 1%, but as the wife of only four Earls in all of England, she was one of the 0.001%. Legend has it that she persistently complained to her husband, Earl Leofric, about the confiscatory taxes levied on the peasants - which in some cases led to suicides, or farmers being forced to sell themselves or their children into slavery.
Leofric apparently didn’t much care, but tired of hearing his wife’s request, finally said, Godgifu, (calling her by her good Anglo-Saxon name, I’ll lower taxes if you’ll ride a horse naked through the streets of Coventry. To his surprise, she agreed. He therefore issued an edict that everyone was to stay indoors with their shutters closed and blinds drawn. She took her ride, foreshadowing the modern tradition of naked bicycle rides, and Leofric kept his end of the deal, lowering taxes. As a further complication, one citizen, named Tom, snuck a look out of his window as she went by, creating the phrase “Peeping Tom”.
Sadly, the story of Godiva, Leofric and Tom is probably apocryphal. But we want to believe it, just as we want to believe that our super rich and powerful brothers and sister share a common abhorrence of unnecessary human suffering.
Northwest Forest Plan
The Northwest Forest Plan is a set of policies and guidelines governing use of Federal land in the NW of the United States - from Northern California to Western Washington. It came about in part as a reaction to the rapid clear-cutting of old-growth trees, and largely through the personal involvement of newly elected President Bill Clinton. The NWFP puts a priority on protecting the long-term health of forests and waterlands, and assuring a sustainable and predictable supply of trees to the timber industry.
The immediate result of the NWFP was a dramatic reduction in clear-cutting, and the equally dramatic shrinking of the lumber industry, leading to unemployment and a local recession. In the twenty subsequent years, however, the area has more than bounced back: Portland and Seattle are booming tech centers, employment is high, and the region is seen as a highly desirable place to live, in part because of the protected natural beauty of the forests.
The Plow is one of the inventions that changed everything. By using animal power to prepare land for planting, it allowed fewer people to produce more food, freeing up other people to be soldiers, bookkeepers, artisans, musicians and doctors. But - mostly soldiers: cultures that were able to take people off the farms built big armies, which they used to spread their version of civilisation, and with it - the plow. Plow-based agriculture has spread almost everywhere, and combined with use of chemicals and improved seeds, has resulted in booming populations of well-fed people, urban migration, monoculture, high carbon emissions, and patented genes.
Some question the sustainabiity of turning over the top part of soil everywhere every year, and are promoting no-till agriculture, which uses chemicals instead of ploughs to prepare a seedbed.
Plows are not unalloyed good things, but in fairness to the plow, I note that without modern agriculture, I’d be a peasant, there would be no Savings Revolution, no MacBook Air. Yup. The plow was revolutionary!
In 1947, the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl (October 6, 1914 – April 18, 2002) lead a six person expedition in a handmade boat - the Kon-Tiki - across the Pacific, from Peru to several small islands in the South Pacific. The expedition was intended to show that the Pacific Islands could have been settled by pre-Colombian civilisations using existing technologies.
In fact, DNA evidence suggests that the islands were mainly populated by people sailing in the other direction, from the West, not the East. But no matter - in fact, Easter Islanders seem to have some South American genes also, showing that pre-historic people were sailing all over the place. Heyerdahl helped show what was possible, although nowadays there are countless reports of islanders spending days, weeks and months at sea in homemade boats - these marveloous sailors do this sort of thing all the time!
Some interesting facts about scissors:
Probably invented by the Egyptians - damn, they were good! - although they only had the spring scissor type, two blades connected by a thin flexible strip of curved bronze, like the spring scissors in the photo, which were made in Turkey in the Second Century. Good for keeping the pharoah’s hair neat, but not as good as…
Pivot scissors, the familiar kind that we all know, where two separate pieces of metal are connected by a screw or rivet in the middle. These were invented by the Romans (who were also good) about 150 AD.
Okay, this is new to me: you probably know that scissors can be left-handed or right-handed, but many left-handed scissors are still made with the right blade over the left blade, so even if the handle grips are adjusted to make them less unpleasant for left-handed people, they are not true left-handed scissors. TRUE left-handed scissors need to have the left blade over the right blade. Kinda hard to explain this, but get some scissors and a left handed person and something to cut, and you’ll see what I mean.
Jerry Brown (b. April 7, 1938) California Governor from 1975 to 1983, and again since 2011, has been a progressive force in the most populous and most important US State (sorry New York, Texas, but you know it’s true).
Most recently he issued an executive order requiring emissions cuts in the State of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Said Brown, ““It’s a real test, not just for California, not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the parochialisms, the ethno-centric perspectives, the immediacy of I-want-I-need, to a vision, a way of life, that is sustainable?”
Elon Musk has been founder, chief technology officer, or CEO of PayPal, TESLA motors, SpaceX, and Solar City. His vision is so vast, and so positive, that I humbly stand on the sidelines and cheer. His latest venture, decentralizing electricity storage, was just launched. Take 18 minutes if you can and watch this video of the launch. This may turn out to be super important for saving our beleagured planet.
Samuel Beckett, (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989)
Irish playwright, theatre director, and poet
What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.
Christopher Hitchens, Author and journalist (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011)
“Please don’t stop me being the way I am…. Get my energy or shut up.”
Yoko Ono, Artist, composer, performer (b.18 February 1933)
Enjoy this now, because it will likely be a long time before Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (b. March 11, 1936) appears as Today’s Revolutionary again - yes, I’m talking about THAT Antonin Scalia, the one who dismissed the Voting Rights Act as “racial entitlement”, the same person who said, “Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming….”, and the one who cannot decide whether or not the constitution guarantees the right of citizens to carry a rocket launcher - that’s the Antonin Scalia I’m talking about.
Scalia just came down on the right side of history, ruling with the entire court (except for Clarence Thomas, who is in a class of his own) that the Federal Statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of religion protects a Moslem woman from being fired because she wears a headscarf which she thinks is required by her religion. Scalia even said, “This is an easy one”. It is, but good for him for recognizing that.
Charles Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) will long be remembered for making the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic - 33 1/2 hours long! - but his life was remarkable and complex in other ways. He carried the pain of the cruel kidnapping and murder of his child his whole life, and he was intensely uneasy with the adulation that was thrust on him. He made some statements that were anti-semetic and were taken to be pro-Nazi, although he also condemned Hitler. But he also used up a lot of his political capital by maintaining that the US’s treatment of the Japanese was the moral equivalent of the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews, and he lamented that the airplane that he loved was being used by his own country to massacre civilians.
Perhaps surprisingly, he was an outspoken environmentalist, and at one point said that “If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
The Weavers were a folk music quartet that performed from 1948 to 1955. They were made up of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert, who passed away 6 June 2015 - at the age of 88.
The Weavers introduced a generation to music written by ordinary people, often unknown, and handed on from person to person, often with significant alterations at each step - a rough definition of folk music. They popularized songs of the labor movement (Which side are you on?), African songs (The lion sleeps tonight), songs of great African-American singers (Goodnight Irene), songs of resistence to slavery (Follow the drinking gourd), and just good old traditional folk music (Rock Island Line).
There was not a lot of angst in Weaver’s songs; in fact, they were unremittedly cheerful even when singing songs of protest. They would typically have their audiences sing along in concerts. Their tight rehearsed harmony, careful musicianship, the way they toned down their messages so they could get airtime on American media during the McCarthy era (they were eventually banned even so), and the addition of violins to some of their recorded music “to make it easier for people to like” - all that makes them feel a little old-fashioned and square today. But - they broke ground that thousands of singer-songwriters and folkies came and sowed later. They sang the first folk music that I (Paul) ever heard, and I can still hear it today!
Hermann Zapf (November 8, 1918 – June 4, 2015) was a rock star font designer. If you know the name, then you probably know about fonts, and if so, I don’t have anything to add.
But if you don’t: Zapf designed a dozen or more typefaces, including some that you have probably looked at for many many hours of your life.
The two most famous Zapf fonts are Palatino (the font in which “Savings” is written in the picture) and Optima (“Revolution”). Palatino, which Zapf released in 1948, is still one of the ten most popular fonts – for many years it was the font of Apple Inc.’s advertising, and contributed to the calm and friendly elegance of the brand. Optima is more formal and not quite so friendly, but still calm and elegant; it is the font of the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC, and the 9-11 memorial in New York.
Zapf’s influence went even farther, because his designs influenced countless other fonts. Sometimes the imitation borders on piracy from companies that want to use Zapf fonts without paying royalties; some people say MicroSoft’s Book Antiqua is a rip off of Palatino. Both fonts are probably on your computer: look at them and decide for yourself.
Laudato Si´, Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change, is so honest, so deep. Near the end, he invites us to join him in this prayer:
A prayer for our earth
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.
Gill Hicks was riding the London Subway in 2005, when a bomb went off. It was part of an attack by four suicide bombers that blew up three subway trains and a bus, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700.
Ms. Hicks lost both her legs, and also lost three quarters of her blood; she was clinically dead for 28 minutes. All the bombers were Muslims, and presumably they somehow thought that their religion made a massacre of rush-hour commuters a Good Thing to do.
Ms. Hicks has spend much of the last decade trying to get Muslims and non-Muslims to talk to each other, to concentrate on the things that they have in common rather than their differences. She says, “Let’s speak quietly to each other. Let’s regroup. Let’s stare in the face of extremism and say: The strength of humanity will prevail. It has to.”
Among many other actions, she just recorded this song - about reconcilliation - with Gary Burrows, who (I just found out) is John Lennon’s cousin. It’s good! Check it out.
Vincent Musetto was a headline writer for the New York Post, who wrote the wonderfully provocative headline seen in the picture; he just passed away at the age of 74. I don’t know much about Mr. Musetto, except that he had a sense of theater and a sense of humor.
Headline writers in general have enormous power. Even if people go on to read the articles, the headlines orient us towards a particular interpretation of the facts. My homestate newspaper, the Oregonian, went through a period of having a terrible right-wing headline writer who was able to find the anti-Obama, anti-environment, anti-workers rights angle in almost any news, and smear it across the top of otherwise reasonable articles. He or she is gone now. Or, as an aggressive headline writer might say, “Sham Journalist Saves Paper by Leaving”.
Burt Shavitz (May 15, 1935 – July 5, 2015)) was an atypical American entrepreneur. He had been in the Army, then worked as a successful photographer in New York. He picked up a hitchhiker named Roxanne Quimby. They became romantic partners, and together started a small business selling wax candles at fairs. That grew, and they started mixing beeswax with almond oil to make a lip balm, which they marketed as Burt’s Bees. The product was popular, and the business grew. And grew some more. And then grew and grew again.
They expanded the product line, and moved to North Carolina to take advantage of lower taxes and cheaper labor. Eventually, the partnership broke up, and Ms Quimby bought out Mr Shavitz. She later sold the business to Clorox for over $900 million. Burt had moved back to Maine, and lived a hermit’s life on 40 beautiful acres. He lived in a cabin with no TV or hot running water, but according to him, a wonderful life. He passed away in July 2015.
Roxanne Quimby still lives in Maine, and has contributed substantial sums to preserving natural areas.
The American Dream has always been just that - a dream, a break with reality, usually occurring for unconscious people, in the dark. The American ideal of bigness - big cars, big houses, big bellies - is unsustainable, and any examination of resource use would show that. But advertising conned people into letting themselves be defined as “consumers”, and if you are a consumer, then it sort of follows that the more you consume, the better - right?
We could run a different quote from Henry David Thoreau for a year, and never get stale. The American nature lover, author, poet, transcendentalist, abolitionist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian, who died in 1862, is still fresher and more relevant than most of what we read today. I recently came across this gem:
Be not simply good - be good for something.
Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) in a letter to his friend Harrison Blake
St Johns Bridge Protestors
A couple of hours ago, some people were removed by the police after hanging dramatically from St. John’s Bridge in Portland Oregon - to prevent the MSV Fennica, a ship belonging to Shell Oil, from leaving port, and going up to explore for oil in the Arctic Circle. The Fennica sailed under the bridge, and is now on its way to what must be considered a planetary suicide mission.
President Obama authorized Shell to explore for oil, ignoring the scientific conscensus that we must leave most of the proven oil reserves where they are - deep under ground. Because, if we burn them all, we will go way over any limit of carbon emissions - we’ll go past the 2º limit, past the 350 parts per million limit, the 450 parts per million limit. We will destroy the planet.
Politicians and energy companies wink at each other - we’ll talk about reducing emissions a bit here, using some clean energy there. But we haven’t faced reality. Yes, it’s true: saving the planet will require some sacrifice and lots of ingenuity and hard work. Obama knows this, but so far hasn’t had the courage to speak frankly.
Thanks, you brave crazy people who hung from the bridge. Thank you for being sane, when all the sane people are crazy.
“Pablo Fanque” -Does that name ring a faint bell? Oh, of course! From Sgt. Pepper, John Lennon’s song:
For the benefit of Mr. Kite/There will be a show tonight/ on Trampoline. The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque’s fair/What a scene!
I’ve heard this song a hundred times, and sung it myself a thousand times, with no idea who on earth Pablo Fanque was. Fanque was born William Darby on 28 February, 1796. The son of a slave, Darby apprenticed to a circus, and had enough talent that he started performing as both a tightrope walker, and then gained fame as an outstanding equestrian and horse trainer. At one point, he was invited to perform before the Queen. He started his own circus, and for 30 years, it was the most successful circus in England, and the only one belonging to a person of color.
When he became famous, he adopted the stage name of Pablo Fanque. He died at the age of 75. A hundred and some years later, John Lennon happened to buy an old circus poster, advertising
PABLO FANQUE’S CIRCUS ROYAL,…
Grandest Night of the Season!…
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE,
(LATE OF WELLS’S CIRCUS) AND MR. J. HENDERSON, THE CELEBRATED SOMERSET THROWER!
Lennon moved the words around, put music to them, and the rest is history.
(If this means nothing to you, well … it’s a long story. You see, there was an English band called ‘The Beatles’…)
Sister Joan Chittister
“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
Sister Joan Chittister
Order of Saint Benedict
“Treat everyone you meet as God in drag.”
Baba Ram Dass (b. April 6, 1931 as Richard Alpert)
Christian Frederick Martin
Christian Frederick Martin (January 31, 1796 – February 16, 1873) was born in Germany to a family of cabinet makers. He apprenticed to a guitar maker, and after he emigrated to the United States, in 1833 he started his own company, C.F. Martin & Co., which continues to this day as a family run business in Nazareth Pennsylvania. Martin accoustic guitars are widely appreciated for their quality and sound.
Martin adapted the standard guitar form when he saw there was an opportunity to make it better. Among his innovations are the fourteen fret neck (14 frets before the neck meets the body of the guitar, instead of the typical 12) allowing guitarists to hit a few higher notes, and the Dreadnaught body - “Dreadnaught” simply means “big”. Martin Dreadnaught’s produced deeper bass notes, and more volume in general, allowing guitarists to play in larger halls (this was all pre-amplification). Both innovations are widespread today.
I’m very lucky to have a Martin guitar that I was given when I graduated from college 400 years ago, and it sounds wonderful.
The story of Anne Frank (12 June 1929 – February 1945) is familiar to most of us: a member of a Jewish family that escaped from Germany to the Netherlands, she went into hiding with her family in Amsterdam in a small attic, where she stayed for two years. She was eventually discovered and captured, and sent to a concentration camp, where she died. Later, her father, who had survived the camp, found the diary she had kept, and it has been widely published and translated. It is filled with poignant passages of a fifteen year old girl, grappling with growing up in terrible circumstances, and amazingly keeping a flame of optimism and hope burning:
“I finally realized that I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that’s what I want! I know I can write …, but it remains to be seen whether I really have talent. And if I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can’t imagine living like Mother, Mrs. van Daan and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to!”
“There’s no doubt that usually a president’s public image is enhanced by going to war. That never did appeal to me.”
Jimmy Carter (b. October 1, 1924)
It’s easy to overstate the cultural importance of Woodstock, the three-day-long (August 15 to 18, 1969) music festival in New York State, that was attended by an estimated 400,000 people. Maybe it was a cultural turning point, but I’m not so sure about that.
But what I know beyond any doubt was that much of the music was incredible - from Jimi Hendrix making the Star Spangled Banner sound like an air raid, to Joe Cocker’s epic performance of A Little Help from my Friends. And then there was Ravi Shankar, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, The Who, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Band.
Does it get any better?
George Orwell (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) was an English novelist and essayist who left us terrifying visions of totalitarianism (“1984”) and a warning about how ostensibly positive movements can betray their revolution, once they take power (“Animal Farm”). His works carried things to extremes, but anyone who follows genocide, militarism, corruption - knows how much truth there is in his books and how piquant were his warnings.
James Meredith (b. June 25 1933) was the first black person to attend the University of Mississippi. Despite the prior passage of the Civil Rights Act, which in principle should have opened the door of this public institution to all Mississippians, he anticipated great resistance, writing, “I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.”
He probably underestimated the difficulties, which included being shot, bureaucratic resistance, lawsuits, a last-minute law passed by the Mississippi government designed to keep him from enrolling, riots and gun battles on campus, and finally being escorted to class by U.S. Marshalls.
Nonetheless, he graduated with a degree in Political Science in 1962. The University has since erected a statue in his honor on its grounds.
“Mark my word. If and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party - and they’re sure trying to do so - it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve had to deal with them.”
Barry Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998)
Conservative Republican and presidential candidate, who was too far to the right to be elected in 1964. Hiswhose politics were roughly equivalent to those of Barack Obama, and Goldwater would be waaaay to liberal for today’s Republicans
“Violence is black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years’ worth of education.”
Julian Bond (January 14, 1940 – August 15, 2015)
Activist, politician, writer
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was ratified 18th August 1920, 42 years after it was first submitted to Congress. I don’t think the lesson from those 42 years is to be patient and accept a long wait for basic justice; rather the message is to push even harder for rights for all, since there will be strong resistance to change.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
Groucho Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977)
Alfred the Great
Alfred was king of Wessex - the closest thing they had to being King of England at the time - from 871 to 899. He truly deserves the “Great”. He helped stop a Viking invasion which was on the way to conquering most of England. If it weren’t for Alfred, this site might be called Besparelser Omdrejning.
Once he was able to assemble an army to fight the Danes and was winning most of the battles against them, he proposed Peace, with conditions: the Danes could stay, but they had to accept English rule, and convert to Christianity.
As Alfred consolidated power within Wessex, he dreamed of bringing the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms - Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Northumbria - together. He had the revolutionary idea that the promotion of a common vernacular language would be useful, so he started schools in English, and published the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, arguably the first newspaper, which came out once a year, in English, and contained news from all the Island. He built the first English navy, with about a dozen ships, to defend the Island.
His reign was a period of peace and prosperity, and stands in such sharp contrast to the reign of successors such as Aethelraed the Unready. But that’s another story….
Okay, okay, I know that Arizona has come down on the wrong side of some issues. For instance, in this state bathed in sunlight, they have a tax on rooftop solar collectors. Don’t get me started on that.
But I also admire their extreme independence, even when they are wrong - and sometimes they are right. For instance, they have refused to participate in the national nuttiness that is Daylight Savings Time. Arizonans say, reasonably, If you want more sunlight, just get up earlier. Good for them. End of story.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, after much prayer and consultation and debate, changed their rules to allow parishes to recognize and support people in committed same-gender partnerships, and opened the door for them to serve in leadership positions within the Church.
Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an African-American slave who led a rebellion of slaves and free blacks in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831. The freedom fighters (what else could one call them?) went from plantation to plantation, gathering horses and guns, recruiting other slaves and free blacks along the way. The rebels killed all the white people on the plantations they visited (sparing poor whites however). They reportedly killed about fifty white people; Turner said he wanted to spread shock and awe - oh, I mean, “terror and alarm” - among whites to awaken them to the inherent brutality of slavery.
That part of the strategy didn’t work well, at least not immediately. There was massive retalliation: white mobs indiscrimately beat and killed black people, including many who had nothing to do with the rebellion (think: “Palestine”) and the Virginia legislature passed laws that were even more repressive than the laws that formalized legal slavery: all education of any black people was forbidden, among other measures.
Turner himself managed to hide for two months. When he was found, he was quickly tried and hung.
Albert Claude (24 August 1899 – 22 May 1983) was a Belgian born cell biologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974. He was among those who mapped out and described the functions of the various parts of a human cell, including mitochondria and the nucleus. He is noteworthy for having entered medical school without benefit of much primary education: he spent most of his childhood instead caring for ailing family members, and then as a resistance fighter during the first world war.
Kathrine Switzer (b.January 5, 1947) was the first woman to register (as “K.V.Switzer”) and run in the Boston Marathon, in 1967. (Other women had jumped in previous marathons and completed it, but without registering and without numbers on their jerseys). Most of the other runners in the 1967 race were happy to run with a woman, and the race organizers did nothing, until about mile 4, when officials, led by Jock Semple, tried to stop her. “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers,” cried Mr. Semple. Kathine’s boyfriend, also running the race, shielded her, and she continued and finished.
Switzer has since pointed out that nowhere in the rules was there any provision that runners had to men only. It was just assumed. In an case, the rules were revised five years later, in 1972, explicitly allowing women, and Mr. Semple, who had tried to stop her before, was instrumental in having the rules changed.
Leola N. King
Leola N. King, America’s first woman traffic cop, on duty in 1918.
Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971) might be considered a “revolutionary” because she had so many “firsts” as a woman photographer: first woman war photojournalist, and first woman journalist for Life magazine, among others.
But - forget the woman part. She took so many pictures that became part of the story that we tell about the 20th century, from Ghandi sitting at his spinning wheel, to migrant workers, to the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler building, to the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. She worked the last 18 years of her extremly productive life while suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Maud Wagner, who began as a circus performer and is thought to be the first female tattoo artist, in 1911. She is said to have traded a date with Gus Wagner, her husband-to-be, for tattoo lessons. Gus and Maud were circus performers — Maud was an aerialist and contortionist.
Sabiha Gökçen of Turkey, the first female fighter pilot, in 1937.
Dan Price, 31, sent shock waves through the business world when he announced that he was setting a minimum salary of $70,000 at his Seattle credit card processing firm, and was slashing his own million dollar bonus package in order to finance it. He realized, correctly, that life in Seattle is difficult and that many of his employees are worrying about paying off their mortgages, or struggling with their rent.
The reaction in the press, in the business commuinity, and among his employees, has been very mixed. Some thought he was creating unrealistic expectations at other less profitable firms; or that happy employees are not necessarily more productive employees, or that he was reducing incentives for his best performers. Some employees were so flustered that they quit, and some clients also dropped his firm, saying it wasn’t going to be viable.
But overall, it seems to have worked, and he has added many more new clients than the ones he has lost. One positive indicator is that he was roundly criticized by conservative loudmouth Rush Limbaugh, who is generally wrong about most things.
Ibn Al Qayyim
“Sitting with the poor and less fortunate people removes the ego and pride from your heart”.
Ibn al Qayyim (1292-1350)
“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”
Oliver Sacks (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015)
Decriminalization is simply the abolition of criminal penalities for certain acts, those that once could lead to incarceration or other criminal penalties. Acts that are decriminalized tend to be what once were called “victimless crimes” - things like recreational drug use, sports drug use, breastfeeding in public, gambling, prostitution, pubic nudity, homosexuality, and poligamy.
Wow! That’s quite a list, and every item on it could be discussed at length. I know we wouldn’t all agree on whether these were social goods or social ills. I range from thinking they should be promoted (breastfeeding in public) all the way to finding them very distasteful (sports drug use, gambling); I know some readers would rank them very differently. That’s fine.
The point is rather, whether it should be a crime to gamble, or to take steroids. And here, I find it easy to just say No. Someone who takes steroids to improve their ability to run 100 meters has enough problems already, and those problems aren’t helped by turning them into a criminal.
I remember walking down some side street in Amsterdam a few years ago, and seeing some kids who were apparently about to shoot up heroin, sitting on their front steps. I felt sad and upset to see that. But then, I thought about how drug use in the US is simply done in secret, and we have young people with both a drug problem AND a criminal problem.
Prison population per 100,000: US: 716, Netherlands 82
Halida Boughriet is a thirty-something Algerian French artist. I came across some of her photographs - love ‘em!
The family includes Asian and African elephants, and the extint Wooly Mammoths. And, lots more species, mostly extinct.
But what a family! First of all, they are smart! It’s said that “Elephants never forget” - probably not quite true, but they show great capacity to remember other elephants, people, and locations. An adult elephant brain can weigh 5 kg, giving them a bigger brain to body ratio than humans. Nature is not wasteful: they are using those big brains. They show humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool use and playfulness. They clearly grieve for their dead, and there are reported cases of elephants burying dead humans.
An elephant in Korea surprised its zoo keepers by independently learning to mimic the commands they gave it, successfully learning eight words. Not impressed? How many words of Korean have YOU learned? (Jong-Hyon, don’t answer.) Even more relevant, how many words of elephant have you learned?
There are well-documented cases of gay elephants. The only serious enemy of the elephant is humans, but we are slaughtering them massively, and elephant tusks are worth more per ounce than gold.
One final fact: on the internet, no one can tell if you are an elephant. Think about it.
Pablo Picasso’s painting of the horrors of war was a response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, and helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
“I believe in a true free market where you can’t make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community, where we properly value our national resources and where we reward efficiency. But polluters make themselves rich by making everybody else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves while lowering quality of life for everybody else. They undervalue natural resources or take them for free. And they do it all by escaping the discipline of the free market. Polluters externalize their costs to artificially lower the price of their product. The 28 environmental laws that we passed after the first Earth Day in 1970 were intended to restore true free market capitalism by forcing actors in the marketplace to pay the true cost to bring their product to market. There is a huge difference between true free market capitalism—which makes a nation more efficient, more prosperous and more democratic—and the kind of corporate crony capitalism which we have today.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (b. January 17, 1954) American radio host, environmental activist, author and attorney specializing in environmental law
Driving under the influence - or more popularly “driving drunk” - became a crime early on. The first arrest for DUI was in 1897 (an inebriated London cabbie rammed his car into a building, and was fined 25 Shillings). New York State passed a law against drunk driving in 1910, and other states followed. However, public attitudes were relaxed about drinking and driving until much later, largely due to the efforts of one person.
In 1980, a Californian named Candy Lightner (b. May 30, 1946) founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, after her 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver while walking home from a school carnival. The driver had three previous drunk-driving convictions and was out on bail from a hit-and-run arrest two days earlier. Lightner and MADD were instrumental in helping to change attitudes about drunk driving and pushed for legislation that increased the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. MADD also helped get the minimum drinking age raised in many states.
Today, the legal drinking age is 21 everywhere in the United States and convicted drunk drivers face everything from jail time and fines to the loss of their driver’s licenses and increased car insurance rates.
The Mariner 4 Spacecraft, launched on November 28, 1964, achieved the first fly-by of Mars by a spacecraft (at least one from Earth). It’s pictures - which now seem terribly grainy - showed a planet pock-marked by craters. None of the canals, none of the seas, none of the ruined cities, that some were hoping to find were visible. Mariner helped us understand better the harsh reality that we are up against if we decide to colonize our most likely target, the red planet!
26 November, 1922, archeologists Howard Carter and George Herbert opened the undisturbed tomb of Tutankhamun, an Egyptian Pharoah who lived from about 1332 to 1322 BC. It was a discovery like few others: the opulence of the burial chamber, the beauty of the mask on the mummy, and the good conditions of the remains of His Highness, all painted a picture of ancient Egypt that led to a surge of interest in the era. The poor guy had died young, at about 20 years of age. Examination of his remains showed that he had survived serious bouts of malaria, and that a fracture of his leg shortly before he died had become infected. There is some evidence that he had sickle cell disease, and he had a clubbed foot, and several congenital diseases linked to the tendency of the royal family to, ahem, inbreed; his mom and dad were siblings.
Lewis and Clark make it to the Pacific
The Lewis and Clark expedition made it to the mouth of the Columbia river around 25 November 1805. As Lewis wrote about the day: “a fine day Several Indians Come up from below, we loaded and Set out up the river, and proceeded on to the Shallow Bay, landed to dine, The Swells too high to cross the river, agreeabley to our wish which is to examine if game Can be precured Sufficent for us to winter on that Side, after dinner which was on Drid pounded fish we proceeded on up on the North Side and encamped after night. E, Saw from near of last Campment Mount Ranier”
Biosphere 2, in Oracle Arizona, is the largest closed system ever created. It was used twice for extended periods (the first one, lasting two years, starting on 26 September 1991) during which inhabitants were closed inside and the Biosphere was sealed, and it was planned they would grow their own food, recycling, well, everything. Both attempts ran into problems including running low on food and oxygen, die-offs of many animal and plant species, squabbling among the resident scientists and management issues. Who ever said it would be easy?
Chicago 7 Trial
On 24 September 1969 the US Government brought eight – later reduced to seven – disparate war protestors to trial for conspiracy and a list of other crimes. The trial turned into a circus, as the protestors – particularly Abbie Hoffman – played to the press:
Hoffman: Are you asking if I had those thoughts or if I wrote that I had those thoughts? There’s a difference.
Richard G. Schultz, Assistant U.S. Attorney: It’s a convenient difference, isn’t it Mr. Hoffman?
Hoffman: I don’t know what you mean. I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before.
All were found not-guilty of conspiracy (Hoffman again: “Conspiracy?! We couldn’t even agree on lunch.”) but two were found guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot, and all the defendants were cited for contempt of court. On appeal, all the convictions were overturned, and the Department of Justice decided not to retry the case.
Ceiling of the Paris Opera House
23 September 1955: the grand unveiling of the ceiling of the Paris Opera House, paintee by Marc Chagall.
Sandra Day O'Connor
We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something.
Sandra Day O’Connor (b. 26 March 1930)
The Rosetta Stone – How remarkable it is that this exists at all! A beautifully inscribed stone with a decree from King Ptolemy V issued in 196 BC, in three languages! The bottom language was ancient Greek, which scholars could read. But the top language was Egyptian hieroglyphics, a mysterious language which covers the walls of tombs in Egypt, but was unreadable for a thousand years.
Many scholars worked on trying to translate the hieroglyphics, by looking for repeating patterns, and symbols that corresponded with the few proper names written in Greek; Jean-François Champollion announced the final breakthrough on 27th September 1822, which was indeed an accomplishment since Egyptian hieroglyphics turned out to be partly phonetic, and partly ideographs.
Chuck Yeager (b. February 13, 1923) was the first person to fly faster than sound, on October 14, 1947, in a plane called the X-1. More than that, he exemplified the quality of The Right Stuff, as described in the book and movie of the same name. The Right Stuff - for a test pilot - is extreme coolness under pressure, and an attitude not far from contempt for danger. If you’ve flown a lot, you may have had a pilot come on the radio, talking slowly and calmly, sounding bored: “We seem to have a little problem with one of the engines, soooo I think I’m going to land here in New Jersey instead of Minneapolis”. The calmer the pilot, the more she or he has the right stuff.
Two days before he was supposed to fly in the X-1, Yeager fell off a horse and broke some ribs. He was in great pain but only mentioned it to his wife and to a close friend because he was afraid the flight would be postponed. It hurt too much to close the hatch so he used a section of a broom handle as an extra lever.
Yeager flew for sixty years, and piloted a plane faster than sound in 2012, at the age of 89.
Nichols and May
Mike Nichols and Elaine May - American comedians, playwrights, actors, and directors. Nichols was one of the few people who in his career won an Emmy award (for television), a Grammy (music), an Oscar (movies), and a Tony Award (Broadway). He is best known to many of us for directing some memorable movies including The Graduate, Catch 22 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Elaine May has had a distinguished career as a movie director, writer and actor. I first heard of then when they were doing improvisational comedy gigs in small clubs. They would ask an audience member to give them a first line to a skit, and another to give them the last, and then, with no rehearsal or prior conversation, would act out a short play that began with the first line, ended with the second, and - sort of - made sense! They became very popular and raised the bar for improvisation. Nichols passed away in November 2014, a few days after his 83 birthday.
Giuseppe Gioachino Belli
THE GOOD SOLDIERS
In this world, as soon as a king thinks that somebody
has touched the most insignificant of his properties,
he tells his own people: “You are enemies
of this king, or that one: go to war against him”.
And the people, in order to avoid jail
or some other treatment I prefer not to mention,
pick up the rifle, and travel like a parcel
that is shipped to France or to England.
So, for the whims of a court,
these sheep come back to their pens
with a broken head and with crooked legs.
And life is dealt with as if playing with a ball,
as if damn death did not already come by itself,
without the need of seeking for it.
Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (September 7, 1791 – December 21, 1863)
Italian poet known for writing his sonnets in Romanesco, the dialect of Rome.
Abebe Bikila (August 7, 1932 – October 25, 1973) became the first African from South of the Sahara to win an Olympic gold medal, on 10 September 1960. He had been given a pair of running shoes by Adidas, but shortly before the race decided not to wear them, finding that they did not fit well. He set the then record with a time of 2:15:16.2. Bikila went on to win another gold medal in the Olympics of 1964, again setting a new world record. In 1969, he was in an auto accident that left him paraplegic, and he died four years later from a hemorrhage related to the accident and his paralysis.
I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played.
Arvo Pärt (b. 11 September 1935)
I can’t write about him. Listen to his music.
At 9:09:09 on 9 September 2009, the Dubai metro was inaugurated. It is the longest driverless train in the world, and has ambitious plans to expand further. It has two classes of service – with the higher “gold section” shown in the picture.
it may not always be so;and i say that if your lips,which i have loved,should touch another’s,and your dear strong fingers clutch his heart,as mine in time not far away; if on another’s face your sweet hair lay in such a silence as i know,or such great writhing words as,uttering overmuch, stand helplessly before the spirit at bay; if this should be,i say if this should be— you of my heart,send me a little word; that i may go unto him,and take his hands, saying,Accept all happiness from me. Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird sing terribly afar in the lost lands. e.e. cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962)
On 4 September 1957, Ford introduced their totally new line of cars, the Edsel. The design was a flop, and now “Edsel” is synonymous with failed, ambitious misjudgment. In fact, the Edsel was full of innovations, some of which have stuck: it was the first car, or one of the first cars, with warning lights for such conditions as low oil level, parking brake engaged, and engine overheating; self-adjusting brakes; seat belts; and child-proof doors in the back.
“But Aunt Habiba said not to worry, that everyone had wonderful things hidden inside. The only difference was that some managed to share those wonderful things, and others did not. Those who did not explore and share the precious gifts within went through life feeling miserable, sad, awkward with others, and angry too. You had to develop a talent, Aunt Habiba said, so that you could give something, share and shine. And you developed a talent by working very hard at becoming good at something. It could be anything - singing, dancing, cooking, embroidering, listening, looking, smiling, waiting, accepting, dreaming, rebelling, leaping. ‘Anything you can do well can change your life’, said Aunt Habiba.”
Fatema Mernessi (1940-1915) was a Moroccan novelist, sociologist, and feminist
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
On 2 September 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the megaseries of young people’s books, went on sale. It seems to have turned many young eyes away from Facebook and Age of Warcraft towards a good story.
6 September 1991 - The name St. Petersburg is restored to the city that had been named Leningrad - evidence that Russia had changed fundamentally with the fall of communism. Ish.
The Tremont Street Subway
On 1 September 1897 the Tremont Street Subway opened in Boston, the first in the US, and third in the world (after London and Budapest).
“I could always tell when an organization was in good shape. I could tell because the manager of the organization would always be talking about how great the people in the organization were. If the manager was talking about anything other than how great people in the organization were, I knew that the organization was in bad shape. The way to manage an organization successfully is to manage it in such a way that you can be proud of the people with whom you are working.”
Werner Erhard (b. 5 September 1935)
Catcher in the Rye
This novel came out when I was ten, and it was literature, so it was okay for me to read. I had NO IDEA people could write about those things and use those words. I loved it.
I have nothing against Starbucks, which is actually my favorite food mega-chain by far. But I admire the boldness of the Dumb Starbucks parody, a real store that was created for an episode of a TV show called Nathan For You. Starbucks’ legal department was patient and just decided to wait for Dumb Starbucks to go away, which apparently has happened.
English has become everyone’s second language, so lots of people use it without mastering all its nuances. And - since unlike SOME languages (ahem-cough-French-cough) - there really are no rules, so there are uncountably many, shall we say, interesting usages.
Susan B. Anthony
I distrust those people who know so well what god wants them to do, because i notice it always coincides with their own desires.
Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906)
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910)
Edgar Allen Poe
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849)
This really really should be read aloud
:et’s see: 6 marriages, untold wealth, executed thousands of domestic “enemies”, and introduced the practice of calling the king “Your Majesty”. But even people like Henry VIII can make a positive contribution - by breaking with the Catholic Church and no longer shipping regular large sums to the Pope, he helped stir up reformers in the Vatican.( He also wrote a song called Pastime with Good Company - you can hear the King Singers do it on YouTube.)
Henry VIII of England (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547)
Civil Rights Bill of 1964
Okay, the Congress follows the people usually. It doesn’t lead. And in fact, the tide had totally turned in favor of rights for all when the government, on July 2, 1964, got around to passing this bill which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender. But - it was a more powerful law than many expected, and that is due at least in part to the leadership of Southern President Lyndon Johnson. Good for him!
If you do music, you do it positively. You have to have something positive to say to your listeners. It is not easy to find something positive to say every day. If you wanna talk about nothing in your music, sure you can do music everyday.
Salif Keita (b. August 25, 1949)
Saturday Night Live
Old Saturday Night Live: If you go back and look at the old episodes, it’s remarkable that they are unfunny more often than not. I say ‘remarkable’ because I remember the best bits, and they were truly great!
I’m sure someone will someday run faster than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Uh - no, I’m not. He was so dominant in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 - smiling to the crowd, holding his arms up in victory, BEFORE HE HAD FINISHED the hundred meter race in which he won a gold medal and set a world record. That isn’t normal. Since the Beijing Olympics, Bolt has won every race he’s entered at a World Championship or the Olympics, with the exception of one, where he was disqualified for making a false start.
Whether we or our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.
Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934)
Shoes: The world’s oldest leather shoe, made from a single piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord along seams at the front and back, was found in the Areni-1 cave complex in Armenia in 2008 and is believed to date to 3,500 B.C.
I have some old shoes but nothing even remotely as old as this. This is much older.
The writing process is sort of like when you’ve got no electricity and you’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to find the bathroom, feeling your way along in the dark. I can’t hardly tell you what I do because I really don’t know.
Carolyn Chute (b. June 14, 1947) Maine woods writer and heavy duty back-to-the-land person.
Hash House Harriers
Ridiculous fun - the best kind.
Jakob Grimm - co-author of the Fairy Tales - was a distinguished linguist who discovered what is now called Grimm’s Law - the systematic shift of consonants as languages move across cultures and countries. For instance, German Vater and Bruder became Father and Brother in English, along with many other voiced consonants losing their voiced-ness. I can imagine the old generations rolling their eyes when their kids said, “Yes, Father?” Father would be correcting them: “It’s ‘Vader’! Was ist the matter with the junge Generation?”
I studied Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) in Philosophy school, and then discovered a charming opera he had written called Le devin du village, and loved it. So talented!
Variable Pitch Propellor
The French aircraft firm Levasseur displayed a variable-pitch propeller at the 1921 Paris Airshow - that is, one whose blades that can be rotated around their long axis to change the pitch, or the angle at which they strike the air. Varying the pitch enables the plane to be more efficient at different speeds and with different loads, and can even reverse the thrust for stopping a plane quickly.
3rd March, 1991: A private video camera captured three white police officers beating Rodney King way beyond anything that was remotely necessary. Many people considered it an isolated incident (it wasn’t) or something perhaps characteristic of the Los Angeles police but not widespread elsewhere (wrong again). And, even though four LAPD officers were tried in state court for brutality, they were acquitted. But – it was the first time a citizen’s video had given graphic evidence of police brutality targeting a person of color, beginning to level the playing field in the recurring game of conflicting reports of What Actually Happened.
4th March, 2014 : Maori King Tuheitia refused to meet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for their upcoming tour of New Zealand. The King said that the ninety minutes that would have been allotted for their meeting was not nearly enough time. He also stated that he did not want to be treated like a cultural carnival act, only to be brought out for show.
Ghana gained its independence on 6 March 1957, becoming the first black African country to do so.
North and South Korea talk
5th March, 1997 : Representatives of North Korea and South Korea met for the first time in 25 years, for peace talks in New York.
John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on 1 March, 1961.
Sound of Music
2nd March, 1965: The movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles has its world premiere in New York. I know, it’s corny and sappy. But you will never ever forget Doe a deer, will you?
India Bangladesh train
Jul. 8th 2007 : After 42 years, direct passenger train journeys were resumed between Bangladesh and India, for the first time since 1965 when the train link was closed after the Indo-Pakistan war began.