Search This Blog

People Power

This is how old I am: I remember the world before answering machines ~ not voicemail, answering machines! I remember, too, thinking how invasive they were. And then came the Mac/PC and the cell phone and now I can't imagine being without them. Can't imagine not being connected. How disconcerting would it be, for example, if you logged on one day and nothing happened? If your phone suddenly went dead? Bad enough when it happens when you round a corner or go into a tunnel. Or what if the Internet was taken over by some Big Brother-type power? Enter the mesh network. Like so many innovations, it started in the military, but there are now apps that are making it available to the rest of us (story, video):

It's All About Exposure

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph
Scientists have figured out why 1918's so-called Spanish flu targeted the young and healthy, and the answer may change the way flu vaccines are made:

The Bard Behind Bars

Mike Fender, National Geographic
These students have memorized their lines. They discuss what they've read and recited with insight and respect, comparing Shakespeare's characters to more recent personalities, from Gen. Patton to Bonnie and Clyde to Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men. These students are maximum-security prisoners being taught by Indiana State University in Terre Haute English professor Laura Bates. "Shakespeare has the power to educate convicted killers and help them examine the choices they made that landed them here," she says, "and how to avoid making those choices again":

An Organic Apple a Day

New York Apple Association
Apples, strawberries, grapes, and celery top the Environmental Working Group's 2014 list of the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. In fact, 80 percent of the apples tested contained a chemical that was banned in the EU in 2012, diphenylamine. On the other end of the spectrum, avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, and cabbage took the top spots on the "clean" list:
   Our apples are not welcome in Europe because the EPA's allowed level of diphenylamine is 100 times greater than that set by the European Food Safety Authority (video):

The Words We Use

So you're talking away (and doing quite a fine job of it, if you do say so yourself), and all of a sudden, you realize that you're not so sure about the next word you're about to utter. It must be the right word, mustn't it? But even if it is, how should you pronounce it? You've only ever seen it in print. And on the other side of the conversation, the person you're hanging out with just totally mispronounced a word you know. Should you correct him/her or let it go? Not sure how to handle that? Well, good news. You're not alone, and this article about the phenomenon is accompanied by a challenging yet gratifying (is that the right word?) vocabulary quiz:

The Gifts of Youth

Felix Ruano, 19, Economics              Felix Ruano
Carmen Ho, 29, Political Science    Peter Harron
All through April, Pacific Standard magazine ("The Science of Society") has been profiling the 30 people it finally ended up with as being the Top Thinkers Under 30. They represent fields as varied as psychology, military studies, public affairs, and economics. What most have in common, according to this article, are humility, patience, and a true appreciation of research. They also talk about their mentors and about being in the right place at the right time:

The Author and the Ayatollah

In 1988, Rushdie won the Whitbread Award.              Graham Turner/Guardian
If you remember Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, you may remember the fatwa (death sentence) that was handed down upon him by Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. "Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time," he said in response to the author's statement of regret, "it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and his wealth, to send him to hell." That was 25 years ago. The ayatollah is no longer with us, but the author is. And so is this story about his years underground, those who stuck by him and those who didn't ~ and how he survived what author Norman Mailer said was possibly "the largest hit contract in history":

Putin on the Fritz?

Is Putin looking beyond Ukraine?                                       Aleksei Nikolsky/AP
So we've upped the sanctions against Russia's elite. The idea seems to be that if enough of Vladimir Putin's wealthy friends start hurting badly enough, they'll pressure him to do what he needs to do to get those sanctions lifted. Will it work? It's all riding on those individuals, whether they have any influence over their main man, and whether they're willing to use it. So who are they?:

Style for Now

Circle miniskirt? H&M. Statement necklace? Forever 21. Or vice versa. Maxi dresses, frayed short shorts, business suits, flower prints, ties, and denim. The term "fast fashion" refers to how quickly the trend looks now become available in stores and how fast their closet turnaround time is, but it could just as well refer to how quickly these catwalk-to-sidewalk stores popped up on the scene and proliferated. It seems like such a quintessentially American phenomenon ~ even though it's pretty global ~ just another piece of our throwaway culture, and that, it may be. But it's also a quintessentially American phenomenon in quite another way, in that it's very literally an immigrant rags-to-riches story:

Now Hear This

screen shot
You know World Music, but how about Global Soundscapes? Human-made and otherwise, the sounds all around us vary by area and in their ability to provoke feelings and even change our mood. You can listen to them ~ and, perhaps more importantly and intriguingly, help researchers record and catalog them and your reactions to them (website with video and audio):

Just Because: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

In honor of Harper Lee's 88th birthday (and of her present to us, allowing her novel finally to become an e-book:, here is the beginning of one of the best books of all time, her iconic, classic To Kill a Mockingbird (also one of the very few to be completely successfully made into an iconic, classic movie). Here, I am including the Foreword that Lee wrote in 1993, as it says so much, I think, about both her and her well-deserved pride in her literary creation.


Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into print after decades of interment. Although Mockingbird will be 33 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. The only good thing about Introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.

Harper Lee
12 February 1993


When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his

The Germ of a Theory

Randy Thornhill
Two very interesting books, Cod and Salt, trace the evolution of societies through the hunt for these two culinary items. Evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill has a different theory. Civilizations grew and evolved ~ and continue to do so ~ he argues, in response to our need to avoid the pathogens that cause infection and sickness. This need can explain the rise and fall of dictatorships, political values, war, religious rites, xenophobia, and more of humanity's peculiarities in our time on Earth. "Once we started looking for evidence that pathogens shape culture," Thornhill says, "we began to find it in damn near every place we looked":

That's What They Said

Cree Indians Travelling, Paul Kane (1810-1871) Royal Ontario Museum
We see our own language evolving every day, influenced by factors as diverse as immigration and Twitter. This is, of course, not a new phenomenon, nor is it restricted to English. This interactive map is an atlas of the Algonquian languages. It's part of a project designed to save them and ensure their use in future generations, but in the meantime, it's an interesting glimpse of how a language evolves through time and space ~ and can teach you some useful phrases as well:

Silent But (Kind of) Deadly

Black Sea denizens                                                      from
My first encounter with a jellyfish was in Hawaii, when I was about 10. It was lying (yes, not "laying," "lying"!) on the sand, and I thought it was a strange, partly deflated balloon with a blue (or red? ~ can't remember now) string, so I picked it up to show my parents. Alarmed, they told me what it was and wanted me to drop it immediately. Instead, I waded out into the waves and placed it on the water. It was only then that I started to feel the prickly burning on my hand. I can't remember how long it lasted, but I'll never pick up another jellyfish! from

The Black Sea, an inland sea located between Asia and Europe, is often referred to as the jellyfish capital of the world because there are an estimated 1 billion tons (907 billion kg) of jellyfish living in its waters. At one point in the 1990s, the Black Sea contained the equivalent of more than 10 times the weight of all of the fish caught in the world each year. Jellyfish are not native to the Black Sea and are thought to have been inadvertently introduced there by a ship in 1982. After the introduction of the jellyfish into the Black Sea, the supply of fish that are caught for food — such as mackerel, anchovies and sturgeon — declined rapidly in the surrounding areas and

Milk and Honey on the Other Side

a pier on the Sea of Galilee in 2012                            Doron Horowitz/Flash90
The Jordan River may still be chilly, but it's certainly not wide. In the 1960s, the river, considered sacred by those of many faiths, has shrunk considerably due in major part to Israel's National Water Carrier system, which transfers water from the river's main source, the Sea of Galilee. Of course, this has done nothing to defuse the tension in the affected regions. The situation seems doomed, but there is one organization, an interfaith group, that is hoping that working to solve the resulting environmental crisis will help to bring about a greater peace:

Hear Her Roar

The first time I heard of Boudica was from a young student of mine who'd recently moved here from England. When I had to admit that I had no idea what he was talking about, he looked at me in confusion: How could I not know about Boudica? I was confused, too. How, indeed? I'd gone to good schools, I'm fairly well-read. How could I have never heard of this woman who led her Celtic tribe in a furious and bloody revolt against the Romans in Britannia? Of course, I immediately flew to the computer and looked her up. The other day, Boudica (pronounced BOO-di-kah) popped up again, in a good book I'm listening to in the car, but more on that in a minute. In case I'm not the only one who missed the Boudica class (N.B., When I say "bloody," I'm not exaggerating. This particular article is pretty detailed and heavy-duty):
   Now to the book, which is part of a mystery series by Ruth Downie. They are set in Roman Britannia, and one of the things I'm finding particularly enjoyable about them is how real they seem. Maybe the characters ~ the main ones being a Roman doctor named Gaius Petreius Ruso and a local woman named Tilla ~ live in a different place and time, but their thoughts, reactions, and interactions are very human and recognizable. The first book is called Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire:

Ink Think

Arkady Bronnikov/FUEL Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive
"The Madonna and child is one of the most popular tattoos worn by criminals, and there can be a number of meanings," explains Arkady Bronnikov, a criminal expert at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1963 to 1991. His photographs of inmates' tattoos illustrate the recently published Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files (slideshow):

Blue Jean Ladies (& Some Dudes)

Sarandon, Davis in Thelma & Louise, 1991
Is there anything we won't make out of denim? Probably not. Here's a look back at how we've worn them over the years and who did it best (slideshow):!style-notes/feature/curtain/landing

The Artistic Brain

Donna Skinner, from
The artist is different from you and me because the artist's brain is different from yours and mine. This probably comes as no great surprise, but the way in which it's different might. Brain scans show significantly more gray matter in areas "that control for fine motor performance and what we call procedural memory," according to Dr. Rebecca Chamberlain, who led the study. The nature vs. nurture question, as always, remains open:

The Eyes Have It

Signs of heart disease and diabetes can be seen in the eye. So can signs of nutritional deficits, some kinds of nerve damage, and, amazingly, stress. Check out the blood pumping through the capillaries at 0:44 ~ so cool! (video):

Message in a Battle

Who would know better what hardships a refugee child faces than another refugee child? Young Somalis living in the world's largest refugee camp, in Kenya, have sent letters of encouragement and advice to Syrian children at the Refugee Assistance Centre in Jordan (story, lots of photos):

Pyramid Schemes

Meroƫ, Sudan
Hold up, wait a minute ~ Egypt isn't the pyramid capital of the world? Apparently not. from

There are 110 more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt, even though Egypt is often more associated with pyramids because the ones there are more elaborate. The Kush Pyramids, located in the African country of Sudan, which was once known as the Kingdom of Kush, consist of 223 pyramids built around the 4th century B.C. by Nubian kings. These pyramids were generally used for both burial purposes and as monuments, unlike the Egyptian pyramids that were thought to be mainly tombs. The Kush Pyramids do not appear to be as tall or as elaborate as the pyramids of Egypt because much of their chambers are located underground.

More about pyramids:
  • Many of the tops of the Kush Pyramids in Sudan were damaged when an Italian explorer in the 1800s smashed [them] during a search for treasure.

This Is You on [Insert Name of Drug]

Bryan Lewis Saunders
What do Klonopin, Abilify, Absinthe, Buspar, Cephalexin, and lighter fluid have in common? Bryan Lewis Saunders, that's what, an artist who tried them all ~ and many more besides ~ and created a self-portrait while under the influence of each. The fact that he did this is rather disturbing (he subjected his body and mind to more drugs that you'll find in a hospital pharmacy), but the results are eerily beautiful and clinically fascinating (thank you, Kelly!):

Fabricated Forms

Anthem, Henderson, Clark County, Nevada                            Christoph Gielen
Here they are ~ developers' dreams (ka-ching!) as seen from above and laid out in a book called Ciphers. We ground-dwellers rarely get to see the intricate designs carved out by suburban developments and the strange beauty of intricate freeway interchanges. They are oddly fascinating, if you can divorce yourself from mourning the nature that was displaced in their creation and wondering at the unsustainability of it all (slideshow):

When Marriage Is Sweet

Is a well-fed spouse a happier spouse? A new study seems to show that blood sugar levels play a role in spousal affection (or at least tolerance):

A Total Eclipse of the Moon

F. Espenak
On the night of March 14, those in the Western Hemisphere will be treated to a rare sight: a total lunar eclipse, also called a blood moon, because the moon can appear red. It'll start at 1:58 a.m. (March 15) EDT, which is a more manageable 10:58 p.m. (March 14) PDT (for once, the time difference favors those of us on the West Coast!), and will last approximately 3 1/2 hours. Here's a great Q&A all about it:
   A list of and information on all the eclipses of 2014:

Rule of Thumb

Is technology moving fast enough for you? Ready for the singularity yet? A 23-year-old in India has invented a ring you wear on your thumb that basically turns your hand into a controller. Called Fin, the ring contains sensors that can recognize the movement of every finger segment and Bluetooth, so it can communicate with various devices. (Of course, it just makes me wonder what it does to the body, including the brain, to have all that excess electricity running through it):
   Here's their startup video that shows how it works:

Back to Egypt

This year, Passover, or Pesach, begins at sundown on April 14. It celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt. The English name "Passover" comes from the part of the story in which God instructs the Jews how to avoid the tenth plague he has sent to punish Egyptian families, the death of their first-born. The following piece, via, summarizes the lesser-known history of the return of these hill dwellers to the lowland area many decades later.

Today's selection -- from The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama. The story of Moses leading the Jews on an escape from Egypt and the Nile Valley is well-known. But generations later, having been been attacked by Assyrians and Babylonians, many Jews returned to Egypt and there became agents of the Persian rulers of Egypt in defending borders and suppressing local uprisings:

"The exodus from the flood valley of the Nile, the end of foreign enslavement, was presented by the Bible writers as the condition of becoming fully Israelite. They imagined the journey as an ascent, both topographical and moral. It was on the stony high places, way stations to heaven, that YHWH -- as Yahweh is written -- had revealed Himself (or at least His back), making Moses' face hot and shiny with reflected radiance. From the beginning (whether in the biblical or archaeological version), Jews were made in hill country. In Hebrew, emigrating to Israel is still aliyah, a going up. Jerusalem was

Who Reigns in Ukraine?

Anatoliy Stepanov/AFP-Getty Images
Posts and tweets from those on the ground in eastern Ukraine seem to indicate that most of the "pro-Russia activists" look suspiciously like members of the Russian military and that the takeover of police stations and other buildings looks calculated and prearranged (posts, tweets, photos, video):

Manaus Sleeps Tonight

On the edge of the Brazilian jungle, the mighty jungle, lies a city that in June will play host to four World Cup matches. Although it has built a stadium for the occasion, Manaus is an unlikely place for a major sporting event. Born during the rubber boom of 1879-1912 (a tragically fascinating period of exploitation) and rebuilt in the 1960s by dint of tax breaks meant to populate a city that could keep the jungle at bay, Manaus is hot and humid. It rains just about every day, and the rains sometimes knock out the electricity. The city is the focus of the same criticisms as the country as a whole: that its spending would be better put to use to help the many impoverished and to improve the infrastructure. To all this, Miguel Capobiango, director of the area's World Cup Management project, says, "Negative comments about our city ... just reinforce our belief that now is the time for the world to get to know Manaus and its culture":,0,26518.story#axzz2ymqgE2k5

Where Would Jesus Sleep?

Timothy P. Schmalz
Artists hope to make a difference. They hope their creations can somehow change the way people think ~ or at the very least, make them stop and think. Like most religious leaders, artists hope to move people in profound and meaningful ways. This particular piece of art, recently installed in front of a church in North Carolina, does just that, IMHO. It's a statue of Jesus as a homeless man sleeping on a bench (print and audio version of story):
   Here's the story of the sculptor and how he came up with the idea:

Just Because: 'Shakespeare's Horse'

This poem by the American poet Joseph Harrison (born 1957) showed up in my inbox today, courtesy of Poem-A-Day. To me, the rhythmic flow of the words is almost mesmerizing. I found myself following them without even thinking about meaning but just enjoying the way they spoke to and lulled my subconscious.

Shakespeare's Horse
He was a man knew horses, so we moved
As wills were one, and all was won at will,
In hand with such sleight handling as improved
Those parks and parcels where we're racing still,

Pounding like pairs of hooves or pairs of hearts
Through woodland scenes and lush, dramatic spaces,
With all our parts in play to play all parts
In pace with pace to put us through his paces.

Ages have passed. All channels channel what
Imagined these green plots and gave them names
Down to the smallest role, if and and but,
What flies the time (the globe gone up in flames),

What thunders back to ring the ringing course
And runs like the streaking will, like Shakespeare's horse.

Harrison explains: "The story that Shakespeare got his start in theater by taking care of

Doggie Diabetes

A friend's beloved pet, little Girl-Girl-Girl, was just diagnosed with diabetes. In trying to help her research this disease and its treatments, I came across two articles that seem to be very comprehensive. They include suggestions for herbal and other supplementary treatment aids. Apparently, it's a growing problem for both dogs and cats, so in case anyone else needs this kind of information ... : and

War and (Maybe) Peace

Refugees flee the violence, 2012.                       Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images
To Kurtz's "The horror! The horror!" I would add "the irony, the irony." The natural riches that could have made the Democratic Republic of Congo one of the world's most prosperous and fortunate countries instead made it one of the poorest, most plundered, and most abused (,, and As if that isn't enough, it also has to contend with incursions by rebels from neighboring countries:
   This is the fullest, best explanation I've read of what's going on in Congo and how it got to be this way:

The Road That's Traveled

Land Rover
If you feel you're not getting a full enough view of the world beneath your wheels, you might be interested in this new (as in, there's no ETA yet) concept from Land Rover. The footage recorded by a camera mounted in the grill is projected onto the windshield so it looks as if the hood is semi-transparent (story, video):

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Pillow

the Great Trafalgar Square Pillow Fight of 2013                            Tony Lasagne
Saturday, April 5, is International Pillow Fight Day, and in cities all over the world, events have been organized in its honor. "Events," in this case, means pillow fights, of course. Don't say you weren't warned (website ~ even though the link says "2013," the site carries this year's information):

Eau de Metro

Tinou Bao
The Japan Times reports that East Japan Railway Co. is experimenting with a new tactic for alerting passengers to their stops: so-called action-oriented aromas. "We know that platform feedback is overwhelming and stressful—the signage, the announcements, even the melodious chimes," says Shizuko Hanada, head of the Commuter Innovation division. "Aromas, however, connect on a more subconscious level." Soon, Tokyo's metro stops may all have their own characteristic scent, which will be wafted into the train as it approaches each stop (story with link to survey about which scents should signal certain stations):
   (Note, please, that both the Japan Times story and this post are dated April 1!)

Survival of the Readiest

River Thames Flood Barrier, downstream of central London     Ian Nicholson/PA
So the United Nations came out with its 2014 report on climate change. While most of the news coverage of these reports over the years has centered on the warnings they contain, perhaps the more telling point, according to this article, is that their focus, more and more, is not on stopping climate change anymore, as much as it is on adapting to it:

Robert Jones's Diary

CNN iReport
Wish I'd heard about this a long time ago, but for those in Southern California, there's still time ~ and I'm sure anyone can donate anytime. A young Marine vet, the victim of an IED, has been bicycling across the country raising money for the group that helped him, Veterans' Charities. He started in Bar Harbor, Maine, aiming for San Diego, and is now on his way down PCH at about Big Sur. You can track him and find out when to take up position to cheer him on at his website: