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'Geographic' Takes On Time

There was an urban legend making the rounds a long time ago about the FBI figuring out where a Russian spy lived when they went through his garbage and found he was throwing out his National Geographics ~ and of course, no "real American" does that. Whether that's true or not, the story illustrates the vaunted position the magazine holds in our culture. Those who appreciate the mag, then, might want to know that it's just launched a version devoted to history, and its first issue looks promising:

Out of One, Many

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"I haven't cried during a TED talk like that before," is one comment. "Emilie, you have just validated the existence of so many who have been unknowingly searching for themselves," is another. "This truly resonated in my heart." "Erasing 'Jack of all trades, master of none' from my vernacular." "I think this might have started to undo years of anxiety and self-hate I've bottled up." Call it giftedness (that dreaded, politically incorrect concept) or call it, as Emilie Wapnick does, multipotentiality. Either way, it comes down to individuals whose interests are so varied and so intense that it is often difficult, if not impossible, for them to settle on one in which to specialize. Wapnick, obviously, is one of those individuals, and she found her calling (and a way to indulge all her interests) in helping others recognize and appreciate this trait in themselves and learn how to make it work for them (video):

A Portrait of Two Women

Mark in 2010                  Koto Bolofo
Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) have much in common, in terms of their art. Perhaps the most obvious and also the most profound similarity was their ability to recognize and capture a moment so infused with humanity that it could touch everyone, regardless of background or standing. Their pictures really were worth a thousand words each. Mark died May 25, but her photographs never will, because they are timeless (photographs and link to Mark's explanation of her favorite):

Lange     © 1937, 2014 Rondal Partridge Archives
   On the other end of life's spectrum, May 26 is Dorothea Lange's birthday. Lange, of course, is best known for her portraits from the Depression, and especially that of the "Migrant Mother," Florence Owens Thompson. What is less well known is the fact that she took detailed notes about each of her subjects, including quotes from her conversations with them (story, photographs, link to story of Thompson ~ yes, she and her 10 kids survived, but it was never easy):

To All Lengths

could this be the answer? ;-)
In the People Are Funny Creatures department, a look at two seemingly conflicting cases of a violation of social mores. In one country, a young woman is not allowed into her school because her skirt is too short, and in another, a student is turned away because hers is too long. You can probably guess the underlying factor in both of these events. Yes, it's religion ~ and the intersection of that and government (video):

A World Without Work

from quick meme
The title of this opinion piece, "Why Do People Waste So Much Time at the Office?," intrigued me, but it was not until I got to the end of it that I saw what, to me, was the really compelling concept. The author, Peter Fleming, is a professor of Business and Society at City University London and wrote the book The Notion of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself. "... Work," he writes here, "has become ritualised and detached from the practical things it was invented to accomplish.
   "... A job simply grants us access to man-made vouchers we call money. We then redeem these so we can then purchase life.
   "How many vouchers we obtain and what we have to do to get them is the political question par excellence under neoliberal capitalism. But it's this growing disconnect between labour as a biological/social requirement versus work as a cultural artefact that has seen it take on a life of its own, spiralling out of control, taking over everything else.
   "Herein lies the work paradox. At the very moment it is glorified as the highest civic virtue (on both the political left and right) it is drying up at an unprecedented rate."
   And now here's the kicker: "Like it or not we are moving into a post-work future. According to some

Geeks With Towels

It's nothing short of totally appropriate that Towel Day, May 25, should also be Geek Pride Day, as it's undoubtedly celebrating (and celebrated by) pretty much the same population. And, yes, this year it is also Memorial Day. Towel Day was established in honor of that most revered author of, among other tomes, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1952-2001):

Death, Illustrated

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Find out, via emoji, how you will die, courtesty of xkcd. Surprisingly on point (not really ... well, maybe ~ how would I know?). Come on ~ you know you've always wondered (interactive):

Saving History

Temple of Bel, Palmyra
I doubt there were very many across the world who weren't indescribably saddened and appalled, back in 2001, when the Taliban (remember them?) machine-gunned, bulldozed, and dynamited the 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Since then, there've been many more such attacks in which ancient historical sites and artifacts have been systematically destroyed. That this is all taking place in the area where humankind and civilization first appeared makes these losses that much more poignant. But this kind of behavior is nothing new. It's been going on for as long as one group of people has conquered another (i.e., forever ...). In 1562, the Spanish bishop de Landa had 27 Maya codices and more than 5,000 sacred images and objects burned. Adolf Hitler decimated not just a population but centers of history and national identity (libraries, schools, religious institutions) in the countries he invaded. And closer to home, let's not forget Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864, when he and his troops destroyed just about everything in their way between Atlanta and Savannah.
   So now that Islamic State (aka ISIS aka ISIL) militants have taken over Palmyra, Syria, the nausea-inducing question is, How much history and how many invaluable artifacts will the world lose now? The follow-up is, Is there any way to save them? Palmyra goes back to the Neolithic period. In the second millennium BCE, it was a caravan stop for those crossing the desert. It's mentioned in the Hebrew bible and by Assyrian kings. And it's seen its share of conquerors. It was destroyed by the Romans in 273 and by the Timurids in 1400. So when IS's advance toward Palmyra became fact, archaeologists and museum personnel began to rescue what they could. Given the area's recent history, they've become ingenious at doing so. "But," Maamoun Abdulkarim, director general of antiquities and museums in Syria, asks rhetorically, "how do you save colonnades that weight a ton? How do you save temples and cemeteries and, and, and?":
   On the lighter side of war and invasion, if there is such a thing, here's a quiz that will help you determine which historical conqueror you would be (me? Sun Tzu!):

Dr. Strangelove & the Fab Four

Dr. Strangelove mid-"She Loves You"                                               screen shot
Sure, he was Chief Inspector Clouseau (the Pink Panther series) and Hrundi V. Bakshi (The Party) and Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove (Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), not to mention Chauncey Gardiner (Being There), but the inimitable Peter Sellers (1925-1980) was also Laurence Olivier's Richard III performing a spoken-word version of his friends The Beatles's "A Hard Day's Night" and both Dr. Strangelove and an Irishman (not at the same time) covering "She Loves You." Difficult to fathom, I know, but there you have it, and there you have, in a nutshell, Peter Sellers, and that's why it's good that his performances have been preserved on tape (story, videos):

Don't Get Burned

summer solstice, June 21                                          Montana State University
Every year around this time, I post one or another link to information about sun safety ~ well, sunscreen safety, mostly. Because it seems that about five minutes after we hear of a new miracle ingredient in sunscreens, we hear that it's not really so great and can actually be dangerous to our health. Hard to know what to believe or what to use, isn't it? Here's the latest, from the Environmental Working Group (website):

Feather or Not

Psophia Crepitans                                             Thomas Lohr
Balearica Regulorum                                         Thomas Lohr
Are feathers one of the most amazing things or what? The multitude of colors alone makes them worthy of awe, but then there's their structure and the facts that some dinosaurs had them and that different kinds have evolved to serve different functions. There's the wing feather, tail feather, down, contour feather, semiplume, bristle, and filoplume (which work like a mammal's whiskers). They display varying degrees of asymmetry and smoothness. The "branches" that grow off the main "stem" have little hooks that interlock to insulate, waterproof, streamline, camouflage or advertise, and protect their wearers. There is actually a bird that, kind of like a cricket, rubs its feathers together to create a one-note tune (story, lots of links to fantastic sidebars, many of which are interactive):
   This whole inquiry into the subject began when I saw the photographs of Thomas Lohr, who mostly shoots fashion but also takes amazing close-ups of plumage (story, photographs):

A Fat Lot of Good

UN/DPI photos
It is possible that a newly created "heavy" fat can strengthen our cells and help them resist the aging process. A California biotech company will be testing its idea on people who have a genetic disorder called Friedreich's ataxia. Because the disorder shares some basics with the aging process, the thought is, if it works on one, it might work on the other. The mechanism has been shown to be effective in yeast and to protect mice against Parkinson's disease. "The principle is sound," says Corinne Spickett, a biochemist at Aston University's Research Centre for Healthy Ageing in Birmingham, "and some beneficial effects of heavy fats have been seen in cells and rodents. But will this translate to humans? We'll have to see":

On Exhibit

May 18 is International Museum Day, and many museums around the world are participating by hosting special events and/or offering discounted admission. Not all are on the map accompanying this story, so check directly with whichever museum you've been meaning to visit for the last year. (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, is offering $5 admission on that day. Those of you in New York can enjoy a 10 percent discount at the Guggenheim Museum store ~ but then, you guys also have the ever-so-fantastic 37th annual Museum Mile festival coming up on June 9: Many museums in Europe and some in the U.S. also celebrate with a Museum Night over the weekend. The theme this year is "Museums for a Sustainable Society" (story, link to interactive map of events):;_ylt=A86.J3bGO1ZVBxYAmN8nnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByNWU4cGh1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--
   In honor of the day last year, TIME magazine took a look at 10 of the strangest museums in the world:

Me and My Shadow

... strolling down the avenue. Or bombing a mountain or surfing or reading a book or ... Yes, it has come to this. Toss (upcycle/recycle) your selfie stick and meet the selfie drone. You control it via a tracker you can put in your pocket or in a waterproof case you can strap on your wrist. It'll follow you around and film (or take pictures of) whatever you're doing that you think is important/cool enough to document and then, of course, share on facebook/photobucket/flickr (story, advertisement video):,2817,2484131,00.asp?kc=PCRSS03069TX1K0001121

Too Much, Magic Bus (Tour Guide)

post-Cruise Levitch                                                            Dana O'Keefe/Hulu
Waaay back in 2013, I learned of the existence of a fantastic, almost fantastical 1998 documentary called The Cruise (, which focuses on the unique (and uniquely voiced), knowledgeable, and oddly entertaining New York City tour guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch. The movie can't be viewed anymore on the link I provided then, but you can watch it on Hulu. So enjoy, learn, and wonder, as I still do, how any human being can keep so many interesting details in his head:
   The most recent update I could find about Mr. Levitch was this story in the New York Times, from 2012. It seems that he starred in a Hulu series in which he tours various cities around the country. The writer's review? "... it’s impossible to look at Mr. Levitch here — working within the system, even if it is in an independently produced Web series — and not recall the much more interesting and unwashed figure he cut in 'The Cruise.'" My own take, after watching half of the first episode? I agree but will add that, as he did in the movie, our Mr. Levitch unearths interesting places one might not always be familiar with and is most informative about them and, through them, the cities they inhabit:
   P.S., A profile in NYU's alumni magazine concludes, "Whether or not Up to Speed gets renewed, Levitch will keep busy with mobile barbecue tours, occasional acting gigs, and a long-simmering plan to start a Shakespeare theater troupe that makes monologue 'deliveries' across New York City":

Building With Bamboo in Bali

who wouldn't want to wake up to this every day?                            screen shot
"From little huts to elaborate bridges, ... bamboo has been in use across the tropical regions of the world for literally tens of thousands of years," says designer and architect Elora Hardy. But I'm willing to bet it wasn't used like this. For Hardy, it all started with a fairy mushroom house her mother built from her then-9-year-old daughter's own "blueprint." Later, Hardy's father turned her on to bamboo, and she took it from there and ran ~ sustainably ~ all over the jungles of Bali (video):

There Once Was a Man Named Ed Lear ...

a self-portrait                             Beinecke Library
It's the site that gives your brain wings.
News, facts, fiction galore ~
And what else is in store?
Perhaps walruses, cabbage, and kings!

May 12 is National Limerick Day, so chosen to honor English artist, musician, and writer Edward Lear (1812-1888, and the youngest, btw, of 21 children), who, if not the inventor of the form, is commonly held to have popularized it. While the limerick usually has five lines, Lear often fused the third and fourth together:
 There was an old man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren
Have all built their nests in my beard."
 Arguably, his most famous poem, though not a limerick, was The Owl and the Pussycat. 
   One of the better limerick writers, imho, was Ogden Nash. Here's one of his more famous attempts:
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "Let us flee!"
"Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
My favorite, though often attributed to Nash, was written by Dixon Lanier Merritt:
  A wonderful bird is the pelican.

Muscle Mass

leaders at first YMCA camp in U.S., 1887
There is such a thing as Muscular Christianity, and President Theodore Roosevelt was one of its most stalwart proponents. It was a movement spawned in the late 1800s, reportedly as a response, at least in part, to what was being seen as the Victorian-era feminization of church. An organization of the time, the Businessmen's Awakening, and the YMCA were started largely to bring more men into the fold. But while the emphasis on masculinity and manliness seems to have waned, the movement's influence continues to permeate our culture. In the introduction to his fascinating book Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920, Clifford Putney writes, "Members of the Men and Religion Forward movement may no longer be around to preach the virtues of muscular Christianity, but their faith in the power of manly athletes to overcome society's ills lives on, as evidenced by the re-emergence of such neo-muscular Christian groups as the Promise Keepers and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes."
   It lives on, too, according to the author of this piece, in our violent sports, such as boxing and football. He quotes Roosevelt: "The sports especially dear to a vigorous and manly nation are always those in which there is a slight element of risk." The risks inherent in football have taken center stage of late. This happens, writes the author, "once every 30 or 40 years in America. It happened in 1905, when around 20 players (estimates vary on the exact figure) died in game action. It happened again in the 1930s, when so many players were getting hurt that the American Football Coaches Association felt it necessary to begin an annual survey of player injuries. It happened in 1968, when 66 players were either killed or paralyzed on the field, an epidemic that forced the creation of official equipment standards and led to the birth of the hard shell plastic helmet still in use today. And it has been happening once more over the past half-decade, as the damage hidden under those hard helmets has been revealed in the form of CTE diagnoses and other mental health issues now rampant among former NFL players":

Fly Away Home

awww ...                                    from
One by one, our darlings are shown to have feet of clay. Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress. A-Rod took steroids. The ladybug (yes, that adorable round red or orange beetle with black freckles, the gardener's little friend) is nothing more than a promiscuous, disease-ridden, mite-infested little cannibal that doesn't really help in the garden as much as one might have been led to believe:

The Double-Edged Word

Gentrification. If ever there was a hot-button issue that typifies the beginning of this century, this is it. If ever there was one that seems to prove that one person's meat is another's poison, this is that, too. From Boston to New York to Chicago to L.A., many of our major cities' poorer neighborhoods have undergone and continue to undergo these demographic shifts. And the push-back is growing stronger.
   On May 8, San Francisco's City Hall is expected to be the site of a demonstration against what many are seeing as the gentrification of the Mission district. The movement's Facebook page states "10,000 people have been displaced from La MiSSiON! Join us MAY 8th @ City @ 12 NOON to tell the Mayor & Board of Supervisor 2 immediately STOP the Evictions & development of Luxury Condos in La MiSiON! We will DEMAND that the City build 3,000 AFFORDABLE HOUSING & bring everyone that's been evicted from the MiSiON back! Si Se Puede!" The city's supervisors mirror the public's conflicting attitudes as they contemplate a building moratorium. According to the article, "Supporters say the once thriving

The Progress of Progress

Don't worry, they say. The chances of getting hit are smaller than those of being hit by lightning, they say. Only 20 to 40 percent of the unmanned stricken Russian spaceship Progress will survive re-entry, they say. Of course, 40 percent is about 1.5 tons and no one can say for sure exactly where it'll land. What they do say, in addition to the above, is that re-entry will be sometime between the evening of May 7 and the early morning of May 8 (London time, and they're about 8 hours ahead of us, give or take, depending on where in the States you are) (story, video):

ZIP Tips

Today's trivia subject ~ the ZIP Code! On the assumption that I'm not the only one who had no idea there are two Americans who have their own ZIP code, this, courtesy of the USDA Forest Service: "There are only two special ZIP codes in the country not associated with a business. Each U.S. president is assigned a ZIP code for his or her personal use while in the White House. But those ZIP codes are kept secret except for a few choice people. The other lucky ZIP code belongs to Smokey Bear, who received so many letters in the 1960s that the U.S. Postal Service gave him 20252. And we don't want to keep this one a secret." (As you can imagine, some of the letters Smokey's received are very moving, coming as they do from children, but there have been a few, equally poignant, that have come from adults:
   Extra points to whomever can name the year we added those five digits to our addresses (1963). According to, "The first digit designated a broad geographical area of the United States, ranging from zero for the Northeast to nine for the far West. This was followed by two digits that more closely pinpointed population concentrations and those sectional centers accessible to common transportation networks. The final two digits designated small post offices or postal zones in larger zoned cities":

Good Gardens

United States Botanic Garden is our oldest public garden   U.S. Botanic Garden
May 8 is National Public Gardens Day, and gardens all over the country are participating. Scavenger hunts, speakers, story times, tours, special exhibits, and more events are scheduled. Many gardens will continue the activities through the weekend, which, as you may remember, includes a little holiday called Mother's Day on Sunday. You can find out what your local gardens are planning on this interactive website page:

Mitochondrial Memories

"A human being is a whole world to a mitochondrion, just the way our planet is to us. But we're much more dependent on our mitochondria than the earth is on us. The earth could get along perfectly well without people, but if anything happened to our mitochondria, we'd die." So explains Charles Wallace to his sister Meg in Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful A Wind in the Door. The tiny organelles play the lead role in Duke University neurology professor Allen Roses' theory about Alzheimer's, too. The generally accepted theory posits that the protein beta-amyloid is the primary culprit, but Roses believes that the presence of beta-amyloid is a side effect, not a cause. His theory, which is gaining adherents, is that variations in two genes keep mitochondria from providing energy to neurons, causing them to die:

The Force on the Fourth

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Just in time for Star Wars Day, May 4, you, too, can be the proud owner of an R2-D2 Pepsi cooler ~ and, good news (or rather, better news), it's now 50 percent off and can be yours for $499.99. Or how about a life-sized Amanaman statue ($3,757.49)? Apparently, there is no better way to celebrate a movie series than by buying stuff: and
   Of course, if you're a real fan, you know that the latest entry in the series is due out on Dec. 18 and that the merchandising will begin Sept. 4. But have you seen any of the teasers yet? (videos):

A Very Very Very Twine House

Who would have thought?: portraits of wood-and-stone, mortar-and-brick houses made with cloth, yarn, and thread. Salt Lake City-based artist Stephanie K. Clark likens her embroidery to painting. "When I embroider on canvas it feels like oils," she says. "When I embroider on loose shear or silk, it's like a watercolor" (story, photos):
   In a recent interview, Clark explains that growing up poor rather forced her to be creative with the materials that were available to her. As for what she hopes her work transmits to the public, she says, "Visually, I love it when people bypass my work thinking it's nothing other than a simple painting. Until they look a little closer and see that, in fact, it is fibers [and] thread. Then they have to proceed to look even closer and look into the windows of the home. I like to push my viewers to then question, Whose home is this? What kind of people live in this home?":