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Into Nature, Off the Grid

It is with mixed emotions (as they say, and, yes, I'm being semi-facetious!) that I'm leaving now for a four-day camping vacation. While I'm very excited about being out in the wilds, I do love finding and sharing interesting things, and, sadly, there's no Internet connection where I'll be going! Still, who knows what I'll find when I'm there?

Great Leap Forward

So it seems that evolution can happen pretty quickly, too. A research team has found that a couple of DNA mutations about 500 million years ago made a whole lot of difference in our hormone composition, without which things like pregnancy, puberty, and kidney function would not be what they are:
   The phrase "the Great Leap Forward" actually was used most (in)famously by China's Mao Zedong to describe his five-year plan (1958-1963) to modernize China, starting with industry and agriculture. It was a colossal failure, and between 1959 and 1962, it is estimated, about 20 million people died of starvation:

Over Your Shoulder

A short interview with the man who created DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you:

Twigonometry and Square Roots

Plants, it turns out, are a little more complex than we thought. They actually perform a kind of mathematical calculation to make sure they have enough food reserves to get them through the night:

Harry Potter and the Author's Outline

Readers and writers alike might find J.K. Rowling's spreadsheets interesting. No, not her financial ones, the really important ones. I mean, how did she keep all those plots, subplots, and characters organized through seven amazing books?:

Life Imitating Art

putting the finishing touches to Seurat's The Circus                         POM photo
Laguna Beach's famous Pageant of the Masters turns 80 this year. For those who might not be familiar with it, the Pageant is a theatrical show in which volunteers pose as parts of famous works of art. I've never been, but by all accounts, it's very well done and pretty amazing:
   The Pageant website with video:

The Name Game

I don't usually look at these things, but something made me click on this site about celeb baby names, and then I couldn't stop. It's like a car crash. You don't want to know, but you look anyway. What did I learn? Well, that unlike Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's son Satchel, who switched to his middle name (Ronan) as soon as he could, most of these kids aren't lucky enough to have a more reasonable middle name to fall back on (slideshow):

Sounds of the Forest

For 24 hours starting at noon on August 31, Scotland's Galloway Forest will be the site of a rather one-of-a-kind concert, courtesy of a self-proclaimed "noise terrorist" and the forest's two artists-in-residence. Their plan is to set an FM transmitter up in the middle of the forest, which, BTW, is the UK's first "dark sky park," that will broadcast music from various artists once only. Really. That one time only. Visitors will be given small radio receivers with headphones, and paths will be lit up at night.
   The artists behind the concert are looking for compositions to fill the hours. There's an email address at the end of the article, in case you're interested in donating a piece:

Powerful Pictures

Remember the recent study indicating that men carrying guitars were more likely to get a date? Here's the female version, though you'll need to read to the bottom (pun intended) before making any rash decisions. Women with a butterfly tattooed on their lower back were approached by men more than twice as often as those without. The best (as in, most humorous) part is that the men approached them much more quickly, too:

Walking to Europe

Trans-Atlantic flights may become a thing of the past in about 200 million years. Scientists have discovered a rift at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean that could signal a new subduction zone that would pull the American and European continents back together, à la Pangea:

Can't Explain It, Don't Understand It

Beinecke Library
A 600-year-old mystery has resurfaced, still no closer to a resolution. What is called the Voynich manuscript, after the antique-book dealer who bought it 100 years ago, is written in an incomprehensible language accompanied by drawings of unknown plants, women bathing, and astronomical images. It has been called a code and a hoax, but now a group of scientists say they have found linguistic patterns in it that suggest it is indeed made up of meaningful words (story, slideshow):

Look! Up in the Sky! It's Supermoon!

The night of June 23 will seem a little brighter than usual, thanks to a supermoon. The next one won't be till August 2014 (story, video):

Hot Dogs in Cars

The weather's heating up just about everywhere, and it's time for the yearly reminder about dogs in cars and how they shouldn't be there on a warm day. Even with the windows open a crack, the inside of a car can quickly reach intolerable temperatures and cause nerve damage and worse. Here is information about that and ideas about what you can do if you see an animal who seems to be suffering in a hot car (story, video):

The Satisfaction of Songwriting

from (

In today's encore selection -- The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards on writing songs. For Richards, writing songs causes you to distance yourself, to become more of an observer -- a bit of a Peeping Tom:

"One hit requires another, very quickly, or you fast start to lose alti­tude. At that time you were expected to churn them out. 'Satisfac­tion' is suddenly number one all over the world, and Mick and I are looking at each other, saying, 'This is nice.' Then bang bang bang at the door, 'Where's the follow-up? We need it in four weeks.' And we were on the road doing two shows a day. You needed a new single every two months; you had to have another one all ready to shoot. And you needed a new sound. If we'd come along with another fuzz riff after 'Satisfaction,' we'd have been dead in the water, repeating with the law of diminishing returns. Many a band has faltered and foundered on that rock. 'Get Off of My Cloud' was a reaction to the record companies' demands for more --

The Summer of the Cookie

Watermelon. Oreos. Seedless. 'Nuff said:
   Some facts about the real thing:

You'd Better Believe It

Napoleon Bonaparte was actually on the tall side for someone of his time, we don't lose the most body heat from the top of our head, and sugar does not up kids' activity level. That last one is particularly well engrained in our public conscience, and I've never been able to convince moms of its veracity. Here are these and seven more truisms that, well, aren't:

Compressing Cancer

A new study out of UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory points to an amazing and rather unbelievable way of fighting breast cancer. It seems that compression can force the cancer cells to behave more normally. In other words, while it won't prevent cancer, it may keep it from spreading (story, video):

The Orphans' Angel

I don't think I'll ever forget hearing for the first time about the Romanian orphanages, a horror that came to light after the country's dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was overthrown and the rest of the world got its first glimpses of what daily life had really been like under his rule. Twenty-three years later, where are those discarded children, now adults? And who is the man who stayed to help them long after so many others threw up their hands and moved on?:
   Some background on the orphanages, the adoption deluge, and what we learned about the effects of early deprivation:

A Mind for Fashion

the art of the brain wave
Imagine this: You listen to some classical music while your brain waves are graphed. The graph is then "translated" by a special knitting machine into a pattern that's knit into a scarf ~ and voilà! a truly personalized piece of wearable art!:

Life Among the Leaves

one option: the Tree House Lodge in Costa Rica
It's officially summer ~ do you know where you're going? If you still haven't figured out where to vacation, you might consider one of these tree-top hotels:

Mind-Machine Meld

My college freshman-year roommate ~ who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in philosophy, BTW ~ once told me she'd be perfectly happy to be just a brain in a jar. I'm pretty sure she doesn't feel that way anymore, but if she did, she'd be intrigued and gratified by some of the predictions and experiment abstracts that took center stage at the recent Global Futures 2045 International Congress:

A Pop Tour of Alphabet City

screen shot
Iggy Pop never carries any money on him (and, really, why should he?). You can learn this and other potentially interesting trivia (depending on where your interests lie) in this clip from a 1993 Dutch documentary, in which Iggy takes us on a tour of his neighborhood ~ and, yes, the cameraman paid for his coffee (video):

Coloring Outside Our Box

two galaxies, taken by Hubble telescope 2010 NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team
"Never let an astronomer decorate your home," warns the Royal Observatory's Marek Kukula in this video accompanying the exhibition Visions of the Universe, now to Sept. 15 at the National Maritime Museum in London. The exhibit explores the photographs we have taken "out there," focusing on the colors that astronomers choose in order to highlight details or to represent colors beyond our visual range (beautiful video):

The Spirit of DIY

It's a little too complicated for me, but it's a great tradition reborn: eau de vie, aka brandy, made at home using fresh fruit and served to guests or gifted to friends. What could be more personal and welcoming than that?:

End of the Line

India's famous and ubiquitous telegram service, the center to so many novels and Bollywood movies, is ending on July 14. The telegraph was introduced into the country by a British doctor and inventor in 1850, and it has played a key role in some major events in Indian history. Even today, some 5,000 telegrams are sent every day, but with the rise of the cell phone, the service has become more and more redundant:
   Photographs from the waning days of India's telegraph service (slideshow):
   And speaking of the telegraph, you may have thought it was all about Samuel Finley Breese Morse, but really, it all began in France, with Napoleon and le système Chappe (story, video):

Swell Pix

the 1964 U.S. Surfing Championships                                     Tom Keck
"I grew up on the beach surfing. I started selling photos of my friends out of my garage for a dollar apiece," explains Steve Wilkings, who grew up in Hermosa. "For a little kid, that was pretty neat." And for an adult, what's pretty neat is being able to digitize, edit, and catalog thousands of these and other photographs that tell the story of surfing, primarily in Southern California. Wilkings is doing just that at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, where he is the archivist (story, link to slideshow):,0,1679754.story

Laughing Through the Pain

Comedian Tig Notaro's mother died, she learned she had breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy ~ and she made the experience a very funny/moving/uncomfortable/funny part of her stand-up routine. "I can't really describe it," fellow comic Louis CK wrote on his website after seeing her onstage, "but I was crying and laughing and listening like never in my life":

Whither Our Water?

The Chattahoochee flows through three states. wikipedia
There are two basic doctrines that govern our use of surface water here in the United States, one for the East and one for the West. The principles they're based on reflect the times in which they were written. But now, of course, times have changed and the doctrines, as well as the laws based on them, are being challenged. Witness the cases of the Klamath and the Chattahoochee (print, audio versions):

One Dad's American Dream

Old Goldie and her family                                     Kakassis family photo
This is a beautiful story ~ an ode to the author's dad, really ~ about a little immigrant girl, her dad, and their car, Old Goldie:

Kidding Around
Comedian Jim Gaffigan knows fatherhood ~ he has five kids, and they all live in a two-bedroom apartment (video):

Angry Little Yellow Men

What does it say about us, society, and what we're teaching our children when new LEGO faces are getting angrier?:

All the Sweet Green Icing

"MacArthur Park" ~ the song, not the place ~ is turning 45, and to celebrate, Jimmy Webb, the man who wrote it (inspired by scenes he witnessed in MacArthur Park) will be performing it (in MacArthur Park). "I have no apologies," he says now. "It's just had a kind of wild and wacky and, ultimately, I guess, a wonderful existence as a song":,0,6353317.story

Look, Ma, No Clothes!

freedom!                                                                                 Christina Cooke
Ever wanted to ride your bike down the street naked? Just you and about 5,000 of your closest friends? You can, at Portland's World Naked Bike Ride. But you'll have to wait until next year, and in the meantime, you can enjoy it vicariously:

Up on the Tightwire

 ( ... one side's ice and one is fire) Nik Wallenda is getting ready to walk across the Grand Canyon (just outside of the national park boundary, rangers want you to know) on June 23. Without a harness, without a net. How high up will he be? “I tossed a rock over the edge, and it took eight, nine seconds to hit the bottom,” he said. “That's a long time to think”:
   Wallenda's walk will be televised live on the Discovery Channel (video):

Share Your Dream

August 28, 1963
As part of its celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, NPR is asking us to share our own "I Have a Dream" speech with them (website with video):
   The amazing speech (video):

A Positive Performance

Ziadeh, right, and a few of her pupils                                                                            screen shot
She never thought she'd be doing this, but never say never. A young Palestinian woman has opened a ballet school in the occupied West Bank, and despite all the odds, plans to one day hire more teachers and grow the school. “To me, having art is like escaping from this, escaping from all the violence,” Shyreen Ziadeh explains. “I like to see the little kids dancing and expressing the feelings they have ... in a good, positive way” (story, audio, video):

A New Look at Sight

Among the many recent experiments and advances in helping the blind see is an idea that visualizes a new sort of solution. Instead of implanting devices into the brain or the cornea that bypass damaged areas, Israeli scientist Zeev Zalevsky hopes that his electrode-covered contact lenses will stimulate the cornea, which will learn to interpret those patterns as images:

'Something To Hang Onto'

An interesting ~ and way too short ~ interview with Qais Akbar Omar, the author of A Fort of Nine Towers. It's the story of his family's life in Kabul under the Taliban. Writing it was a form of therapy for him, Omar says. Even after the Taliban left in 2001, he had nightmares, so one day, "I sat in my bedroom, started writing, and couldn’t stop for two months":

Paving Paradise

Pilgrims walk past construction near temple in Lhasa.                        from
I received an email petition from today. It's about China's plans, already in motion, to modernize a historically significant area of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Part of the plan is the construction of a 2,000-room hotel, a shopping mall, and underground parking garage. The petition is asking the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to designate the old city of Lhasa as a World Heritage in Danger. As I didn't know anything about this, I looked it up: and

Cat As Cat Can

Phoebe                                                    screen shot
Phoebe's travels (in pink)                  screen shot
By fitting 50 felines (including a hermaphrodite named Hermie) out with GPS trackers and little video cameras around the neck, a research team was able to follow their activities in and around the country town of Shamley Green in England. Ten of those are featured here, and their travels are really quite far-ranging (interactive site with videos):

Is Anybody Out There?

Not that anyone would want to think about this happening to him/her, but really, how do people survive solitary confinement? Because people do ~ not always totally emotionally intact, but they do:

The Thrill of a Chill Grill

We hear so much about the cancer danger in barbecuing that it's almost taken the fun out of this summer tradition. Here are some tips on how to lower that danger. For example, did you know that olive oil and lemon juice reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds during cooking? I didn't:

Walk This Way

So you push the big yellow or silver button for the walk signal. Nothing. You push again, and then you push a few times quickly, and all of a sudden, there's the countdown on the cross signal, 3-2-1, and walk. Was that a coincidence? Well, probably:

The Family That Time Forgot

the Lykovs' log cabin
Once upon a time, far away in the northern reaches of Siberia, a man named Karp Lykov ~ an Old Believer ~ lived with his wife, Akulina, and their four children in a tiny, musty hut. Karp and Akulina had fled there with their first two children in 1936, during the Communist purges, and there they lived, all alone, until a team of Soviet geologists found them in 1978 (story, link to Russian documentary):
   All the other Lykovs have died, and the youngest child, Agafia, continues to live in the family home. She was basically alone until 1997, when a geologist moved into a nearby cabin. Agafia recently celebrated her 69th birthday (story, slideshow, great video ~ in English!):

Shaking Sands

screen shot/
Sand on a vibrating plate. The translation of the text is "When one makes a plate vibrate at certain frequencies, the particles, such as sand, that are on top arrange into forms that become more and more complicated as the frequency increases. This property was discovered by Ernst Chladni in 1807 when he used a bow to make a copper plate vibrate, [and so] these forms are known as the 'Chladni acoustic figures'" (videos; N.B., the caption above the second video reads "The same video with original sound; consider lowering the volume"!):

Back to the Future

personal flying machines
A collection of German postcards from the year 1900 that depict predictions for the year 2000:
machine that controls the weather

If the Cells Could Talk

© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Eurac/Marco Samadelli/Gregor Staschitz
Unbelievable as it sounds, scientists were able to determine the exact cause of the death of a man who lived 5,000 years ago by looking at his blood cells. Ötzi the iceman was found in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps. It was long thought that he died from an arrow wound, but now it seems that it was a blow to his forehead that did him in. How do they know this? Because of bruising on the blood cells in his brain! (story, link to slideshow):

Take to the Sky

Yet another evocative poem has landed in my inbox, courtesy of's Poem-a-Day:

Birding at the Dairy  
by Sidney Wade
We're searching
for the single


we've heard

with thousands
of starlings

and brown-headed

when the many-
headed body 

and undulates,

a sudden congress
of wings


Apparently, dogs can have OCD, too ~ and if your dog does, you might want to read the tips at the end of this article:

Glamping on Fifth Avenue

al fresco at the AKA Central Park
What would you pay for the privilege of camping out in the middle of New York City? Do I hear $3,000 per night? Anyone? What if I tell you it's at the AKA and comes with a telescope and chocolate-covered strawberries? If this is a bit rich for your blood, you can always book a tent for $35 plus the cost of a suite ($309) at the Affinia Gardens:

Math for a Million

Billionaire D. Andrew Beal has been trying to figure out what's known as Beal's Conjecture for 10 years now, and he needs help. So much so that he's offering a prize to whomever can come up with the solution. Said prize, which started out at $5,000 in 1997, is now $1 million:

Common Law

Some of the best laws of life (and the people behind them), like Godwin's Law (a personal favorite), which states "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1":

Are You Game?

"Thomas Was Alone"                                                                     Mike Bithell
Is it possible? Could it be that video games are growing up and actually becoming creative and story-driven? Well, possibly, viz. "Thomas Was Alone," "Broken Age," "Year Walk," and more of the new offerings at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles (story, slideshow):

Behind the Riots

Protesters, police clash in Taksim Square                           screen shot/
As the riots continue and grow in Istanbul and the police pull out their water cannons and tear gas, here's a mini-primer on what's happening and why:

What a Long, Strange Trip

Follow Your Nose Films
The documentary film La Camioneta follows the journey of one U.S. school bus to its second life as a colorfully decorated transport vehicle for Guatemalan workers:,0,5853382.story

Everything Old Is New Again

mix tapes!                                                                                          LAPTOP
Game night, drive-ins (see "Of Movies and Motorcars," June 2013), photo albums ~ all pastimes one might think are now past their time. But no! With a little help from technology, they have been updated and can once again be enjoyed by one and all:

Tick 2

Earlier, I posted a link to a great story about some people who study ticks and are monitoring their rise and spread (see "Tick ... Tick .... Tick ... ," May 2013). As we are now in the middle of tick season, which is generally May through June, here are some practical steps you can take to avoid them and the latest information on how to remove them:

Vote for Zahra

screen shot
There's a woman running in Iran's upcoming elections, and she's talking about all the things that no one feels safe talking about. Her name is Zahra, and she's a cartoon character born during the 2009 protests (video):

Secret Agents

A reminder of a few of the more major U.S. security leaks over the years:
   A profile of the latest person to leak government information, Edward Snowden:

The Pharaohs of California

Cecil B. DeMille's famous film The Ten Commandments came out in 1923, and it was an instant hit. Sixty years later, a Los Angeles filmmaker named Peter Brosnan, having heard rumors that DeMille had buried some of the sphinxes from the set somewhere south of Santa Barbara, went to check out the area. "There were acres of faux bas relief Egyptian statuary sticking up out of the sand," he recalls. "And that was when I realized he buried more than sphinxes, he buried the whole set." It took another thirty years for some of those artifacts to be put on display:

Wow. So Sorry ... ?

Anyone over a certain age will remember the horrible droughts in Africa in the late 1960s through the early '80s. Well, it turns out that they were caused by our air pollution:

Smaller, Stronger, Faster

Apple gives us a sneak peek at its new, redesigned Mac Pro (story, slideshow, video):

Sounds Good

Highlights from the International Congress on Acoustics include creating sound zones in cars and a study that seems to show that the size and shape of one's skull are the cause of one's preference for certain musical notes:

Rolling Stones

Ben Greenburg/National Park Service
A Johns Hopkins planetary scientist and his research team are pretty sure they've discovered how those mysterious stones in Death Valley's Racetrack Playa move around ~ and they did so out through a kitchen experiment:

In Peaceful Pursuit of Men-of-War

© Aaron Ansarov
After a suggestion from his son, photojournalist Aaron Ansarov turned his talent with the camera to the Portuguese men-of-war he and his wife find on the beach near their Florida home (story, lots of beautiful photographs):

Mother Earth

Jeannette Gurung
This is a fascinating interview with the founder and executive director of WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management), Jeannette Gurung. The organization has been working for years now to empower women in developing countries and give them a voice in the decisions that are being made regarding agriculture and their villages. Now, WOCAN is introducing the world's first Women's Carbon Standard. Gurung explains that "The WCS provides a performance-based mechanism that values and compensates women for their contributions to [Greenhouse Gas] reductions by assuring that projects benefit women through provision of co-benefits and through the repatriation of a percentage of carbon credits back to women’s groups" (full disclosure: Jeannette and her husband, who is also involved with WOCAN, are dear friends whose dedication and energy are impressive and inspiring):

Pow! To the Moon!

A little something from to trot out at your next cocktail party or the next time there's an uncomfortable lull in the conversation (and you want to make it even more uncomfortable!):

LEGO® bricks, the plastic toy blocks with grooves that make them stackable, have a standard height of about 0.4 inches (1 cm). Therefore, in theory, it would take about 40 billion LEGO® bricks to reach from the Earth to the moon, a distance of about 238,900 miles (384,400 km). From 1958 through 2008, the LEGO® company created about 400 billion LEGO® pieces. enough for 62 LEGOs® for each person on Earth. If all of those LEGOs® were stacked, they would form 10 separate towers that could reach from the Earth to the moon.

More about LEGO® bricks:
  • Adults who actively collect and use LEGOs®, known as Adult Fans of LEGO

The Things They Wore ~ UPDATE

a cloak made for his wedding, left, and marking the Moritz of Saxony's death
Leave it to an accountant ~ even a 16th-century one (some things, it seems, never change)! For 40 years, starting at age 23, Matthaeus Schwarz of Germany commissioned paintings of himself in his various outfits. He then put them together in what is quite possibly the world's first fashion book (story, slideshow, fascinating video):
   And speaking of fashion, when male train drivers in Sweden were told they couldn't wear shorts to work in hot weather, they decided to wear skirts, which, apparently, is just fine by their employer (story, video):
   UPDATE to the train-drivers story. Apparently, their employer now will allow them to wear shorts in hot weather. Darn!:

Face It

A pilot study at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry seems to show that putting a face to the voices they hear may help some who are suffering from schizophrenia. In the study, patients who heard disembodied voices were given the opportunity to select an avatar that matched the voice they heard. Via computer, a therapist was then able to speak to them through the avatar in real time. Little by little, the therapist teaches the patient how to control the voice.
   “Even though patients interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, because they have created it, they know that it cannot harm them, as opposed to the voices, which often threaten to kill or harm them and their family," explains Professor Julian Leff, one of the creators of the avatar system. “As a result the therapy helps patients gain the confidence and courage to confront the avatar, and their persecutor":

Of Movies and Motorcars

Henry Groskinsky/Time Life Pictures/Getty
The drive-in is turning 80, the first one having opened on June 6, 1933, in Camden, New Jersey. On this, its birthday, is it possible that this most American of institutions is making a comeback? (story, slideshow):
   Five years ago, TIME put together a slideshow of 75 years of drive-ins:,29307,1817546,00.html

Birth Right

The placenta is starting to get the respect it deserves for its crucial role in fetal development. It really is an amazing structure. Formed not by the mother but by the embryo ~ or rather, the blastocyst, the group of about 100 cells that will become a baby ~ the placenta and its workings are still a mystery to us, but one that is now being studied more seriously. "In reality, it’s an organ that is every bit as sophisticated as a liver or a heart," says Stanford University geneticist and immunologist Peter Parham:

Towering Rhythms

Bertolozzi high above the Champ de Mars Corentin Fohlen for the New York Times
Four years after his wife tapped on a poster of the Eiffel Tower, giving him the idea, composer Joseph Bertolozzi finally got together the permissions and funds needed to "play" the real thing. With mallets and a padded log, among other instruments, and a sound engineer in tow, he and his team have recorded more than 400 sounds, and they're not done yet. The goal is to use these sounds in an hourlong composition called "Tower Music," which Bertolozzi hopes to perform live, on-site for the Tower's 125th anniversary next year (story, video):

Just Because: 'The Paris Wife'

OK, I'll admit up front that I haven't read this book, or, actually, even heard of it. But it's taken over the No. 1 spot on my list, thanks to the Kindle ad on the back of a magazine that shows the first few lines of the prologue. They are really very good, so, intrigued, I looked up some reviews, which were also really very good (except Janet Maslin's in the New York Times). The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It's by Paula McLain.


Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris. Part of it was the war. The world had ended once already and could again at any moment. The war had come and changed us by happening when everyone said it couldn't. No one knew how many had died, but when you heard the numbers—nine million or fourteen million—you thought, Impossible. Paris was full of ghosts and the walking wounded. Many came back to Rouen or Oak Park, Illinois, shot through and carrying little pieces of what they'd seen behind their kneecaps, full of an emptiness they could never dislodge. They'd carried bodies on stretchers, stepping over other bodies to do it; they'd been on stretchers themselves, on slow-moving trains full of flies

The Big Empty

Until now, whenever I heard the name "Namibia" (which, admittedly, is not often), I'd replay, in the back of my mind, a shtick from an ooooolllldd Saturday Night Live, "Toasters for Namibia" (well, now that I've looked it up, I see that it was really more about fondue sets [] ~ how fickle is memory!). Anyway, this very well-written column by Boyd Matson offers a fuller and, of course, truer picture of that country, one of the most sparsely populated on Earth:

Mind Control

In another first for thought-guided electronic objects, researchers navigate a model helicopter through an obstacle course. It's the first time brain waves have been used to control a robot-type device (story, video):

The Man Who Saved Manuscripts

Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara with boxes of manuscripts                   Eva Brozowski
Timbuktu's historical documents, some dating back to the 12th century, almost went the way of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, the giant statues that were dynamited into oblivion by the Taliban in 2001. As Islamist extremists in Mali began destroying that country's shrines, one brave man took the lead and found a way to save most of the precious manuscripts by having them smuggled out of the area, little by little ~ and just ahead of the rebels' torches:

L.A.'s Poetree

"Uncle Ruthie" and her tree                           Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times
A while back, I wrote about the charming little "libraries" that have been springing up in neighborhoods around here and elsewhere (see "Very Public Libraries," March 2013). Reminiscent of those and of Yoko Ono's Wish Trees (to which I took our school's children when they were in our area) is the Chinese elm that graces Ruth Buell's front yard. "Uncle Ruthie," as she is known from her children's radio show, has turned it into a community bulletin board of sorts, surrounded by seating and covered now with poems on scraps of paper:,0,188485.column

Milk of Human's Finest

A Texas company has come out with a breast-milk-flavored lollypop. No, there's no actual breast milk in it, and yes, the developers sampled a few different milks to get the flavor right:,0,3463079.story

Great American Backyard Campout ~ June 22

When our son was little, the three of us decided to pull out our tent and camp in the backyard. I had vague memories of a Dennis the Menace story (I believe it was a Little Golden Book) about him doing much the same with his dog, Ruff (I can't believe I remember the dog's name!). Anyway, we enjoyed it so much that one night wasn't enough. My husband finally went back inside after our third night out, but my son and I crawled into that tent and slept soundly every night for over a week.
   So, don't say you weren't warned or that you weren't warned in time: the annual Great American Backyard Campout is on Saturday night, June 22, this year:
   You can register (it's free) and get all sorts of information here:

Crocodile Years

"DIY Lacoste shirt"       
Before Ralph Lauren's polo pony, before American Eagle's eagle, there was French tennis player René Lacoste and his crocodile. And before René, there were the British polo players ~ hence "polo shirt":

Just Because: 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter'

This book by the inimitable Carson McCullers ~ yet another of our wonderful Southern writers ~ was published on June 4, 1940. She was 23, and it was her first book.


In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and ips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.
   Every morning the two friends walked silently together until they reached the main

One Man's Trash ...

one night's take                                          screen shot from film Days in Trash
They're the ultimate leftovers ~ the perfectly edible food thrown out by restaurants and markets and even individuals. For years now, freegans, or dumpster divers, have been making a point about our wasteful society by living mainly or solely on such fare. One way the word is spreading, at least in Austria, is through a reality show called Waste Cooking, in which divers bring what they've collected for a chef to use in new and creative dishes (story and very worthwhile short film):
   Actress Ellen Page (Juno, The East) celebrates the freegan philosophy:

The Road to Utopia?

Is this any way to run city hall? In a small town in Andalucía, Spain, last summer, the mayor and his supporters stole food from a local market to give to the poor. People are building their own homes on land given to them for free by the local government, which also pays the initial cost of the materials. Professional builders employed by the town hall help the homeowner, and when it's all finished, the homeowner will pay €15/month to reimburse the cost of the materials. Those who aren't building can always work on the town's collective farm (video):