Monday, July 31, 2017

A Convenient Myth

The simple fact is that plastics do degrade in the environment, especially in the ocean (and lakes, streams, rivers). 

When real scientists went out to investigate the marvelous Pacific Garbage Patch imaginatively described by Charles Moore, they found — well, almost nothing.

I'm a little embarrassed by this since I actually taught a class lesson based on the existence and eco-structure of the Pacific Garbage Patch.  That was back when I would assume that the media were telling me facts.  Instead, these days I feel we're just to be manipulated by "stories" in service of the media's corporate and political masters.

Of Limited Interest, but Still Interesting

When Beethoven Met Goethe

One of My Senators Declares Himself a god

"Last night proved, once again, that there is no anxiety or sadness or fear you feel right now that cannot be cured by political action." - Chris Murphy

Actually, what causes me anxiety is politicians thinking that they cure any of life's vexations.  I'm guessing he was up late, was a little high on himself, and felt the need to grandstand.  Besides, he wants to be his party's next nominee for president.

It is an interesting window into the spirituality of politicians.

To quote a Twitter comment: "Relax, bud. You're just a politician. You're not Zeus."

Or, as my grandmother used to say, "That boy's gunning his engine so much, he's breathing his own fumes."

In Which Dawkins and I Find Common Ground

Ever since the Middle Ages, universities have nurtured people with unusual brains and minds. Historically, academia was a haven for neurodiversity of all sorts. Eccentrics have been hanging out in Cambridge since 1209 and in Harvard since 1636. For centuries, these eccentricity-havens have been our time-traveling bridges from the ancient history of Western civilization to the far future of science, technology, and moral progress. Now thousands of our havens are under threat, and that’s sad and wrong, and we need to fix it.

Random "Jack Kerouac" Reference

Again, the sign of a tepid writer is to throw a Jack Kerouac reference into an article.  This time, from an article about European kickball.

What jobs would Premier League managers have if they weren't in football?
A man whose talent is equalled only by the driving force within his tortured soul, Slaven Bilic would most certainly have gone down the route of a misunderstood artist had he chosen a life away from football.
Passionate, skillful and possessing the fiery eyes of a ancient preacher, Bilic would be the first to pronounce his own genius throughout a life of struggles and constant creation, though few would listen.
He would live out his days as if attempting to recreate the beatnik scene pioneered by Jack Kerouac and his band of cohorts, and would unfortunately face his ultimate demise at the age of 70 after a fight over an unkind critique of his most recent painting.
Despite a cruel life, Bilic would eventually find posthumous fame and go on to be considered the greatest artist of his generation a mere 15 years after his death.
Yes, a multi-millionaire kickball coach notorious for taking baldness medication would be just like Kerouac.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Shark Attack Saturday

Not specifically about shark attacks, but the perspective of an ivory tower intellectual about the "gritty" beach life of Australia, with necessary mentions of racism, sexism, environmental ballyhoo, and all of the other things that obsess the non-physical.

It's dreary, of course, as the writer must point out how the beautiful beaches of the continent belie its horrible, horrible, socially un-just history. Goodness, how tiresome and unoriginal these people are, yet they continue to get published.

She may be the only Aussie afraid of the outdoors.

Postcards aside, Aussie beach life can be gritty as well as pretty!

Looks okay to me.  Your host at Bondi Beach in Sydney, reading the water and getting ready to shred some waves.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tristan Jones

A small craft in the ocean is, or should be, a benevolent dictatorship. The skipper's brain is the vessel's brain and he must give up his soul to her, regardless of his own feelings or inclinations.

Get used to the qualifier "maybe" as I tell you these tales.

So, there I was at some bar on an uninhabited island near St. Martin.  I believe its name was Tintamarre.  Although no one lived on the island, a French woman with a disdain for Americans [I told her I was Canadian so that she would serve me] would boat over in the mornings with the tide, set up a plank of driftwood on a couple of barrels, and serve drinks from some coolers ["Drink Gatorade!"] to the nomadic yachting crowd who would inevitably find her and her establishment.

At the time, I was crewing on board the S/V Polynesia, a 250 foot schooner out of Miami Beach.  As I was searching for good stories and anything cold to drink, I found myself engaged in a two-hour conversation under a palm tree with the past commodore of the famous Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda who had sailed over 200,000 nautical miles through the Leeward and Windward Islands.  He regaled me with stories of his adventures both at sea and on land, and gave me a flavor of what life may be like when one surrenders to the wind.  It was enthralling, of course, and almost enough to encourage me to quit teaching philosophy at a dreary boarding school in New England and never leave the Caribbean.

The S/V Polynesia
When I got back on board the Polynesia, I mentioned to another crew member that I had met the commodore.  The crew member gave a derisive snort and said, "He's no commodore.  I don't think he can even sail.  He probably rowed over here in that...thing."  He motioned to a small, disreputable rowboat that looked more like a poorly re-purposed bathtub.  "That's Whiskey Pete.  He's always around somewhere.  Everything he says is complete bosh.  He used to sell hardware over in BVI.  I don't know what it is, but every port seems to have a Whiskey Pete.  They're fun to listen to, and they tell great stories, just know it's bosh."

I eventually found that to be true; there was and is a Whiskey Pete in every port.  Apparently, there can also be one in the non-fiction section of bookstores, too.

So it follows that there comes a time for all of us when the heroes of our youth are revealed to be merely human.  It is not an easy moment, but it is necessary for mental and emotional growth.  If at first one is disappointed, perhaps a tad cynical, about those who have let down our naive hopefulness, for normal people this is mollified when we realize that our heroes, like us, have their moments of failure, along with their moments of success.  As in Christianity, we all have the capacity to be both sinners and saints, often simultaneously.

About a decade before my Polynesian days, on one of those rainy days on the Jersey shore from whence much of what has vexed me during my life has come, I was wandering around a boardwalk bookstore [yes, boardwalks had bookstores back then; it was a more literate time] looking for books about sailing.  While I had rented and summarily wrecked a small sailboat the summer before, I was undaunted and wanted to actually learn how to do it without becoming a hazard to navigation or a drain on the budget and patience of the U.S. Coast Guard.  While technical manuals were to be had, they were...technical.  I was looking for something that might grant me an understanding of the essence, the soul, of sailing.  That's when I found the maritime visage of Tristan Jones.

His books took up an entire shelf, each with a simple, dramatic title: Wayward Sailor, Seagulls In My Soup, The Incredible Voyage, The Improbable Voyage, and Ice!  Each was a log of his adventures at sea in a collection of boats, usually rather small and generally tended only by him.  In much the spirit of Joshua Slocum, Bernard Moitessier, Francis Chichester, and even Bob Manry, Jones sought ill-defined, sail-driven adventure and, having taught himself how to sail, then taught himself how to write and create a persona [what is nowadays called a "brand"] that would ensure book sales.

Whether or not his tales were burdened with truth is another matter.

As Joseph Conrad, a sea captain before becoming one of the English language's greatest stylists, wrote in the opening of his novella, "Youth":
This could have occurred nowhere but in England, where men and sea interpenetrate, so to speak the sea entering into the life of most men, and the men knowing something or everything about the sea, in the way of amusement, of travel, or of bread winning.
Born as Arthur Jones in 1929 in Liverpool, the son of an unmarried mother and unknown father, and raised mostly in orphanages, Jones found his way out of squalor through the traditional route available to men of his social class, namely through the military.  Once he was of age, Jones joined the Royal Navy and remained in service for the next fourteen years.

However, the Royal Navy of the post-WWII period was hardly that of Lord Nelson and his fleet of oak heart.   Jones spent most of his service in the bowels of various metal ships, tending to the boilers.  Still, his desire for adventure was not daunted; in fact, it was probably exaggerated by the routine drudgery of military life.  When dismissed from the navy in 1960, he found himself released in the Mediterranean, where he purchased a small, cabin-equipped sailboat and plied his trade in any way that he could, including those that weren't entirely legal.

However, even that maritime life was not quite exciting enough, so Arthur began his transformation.  If one is to become a hero, one needs to embark on an heroic journey.  As is common with other English adventurers, Jones settled on an obtuse, but compelling, goal.  Its satisfaction would result not only in his first popular book, but in his re-birth.

Jones' quest led him to Israel on the first stage of his odyssey to sail the Dead Sea, the world's lowest body of water.  As this was sometime in the early 1970's [maybe, Jones' dates have always been a little nebulous], when Israel was occasionally at war or otherwise under attack from its neighbors, the local authorities were not enamored of British eccentricity.  While Jones was not permitted to use his own sailboat, the Barbara, he was allowed to borrow a boat belonging to an Israeli naval officer.

The S/V Barbara.  Maybe.
Having satisfied the first part of his hero's journey, Jones then sailed across the Atlantic, traded Barbara for another, smaller boat [named Sea Dart] in the West Indies, sailed to Peru and transported the Sea Dart to Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes, now to sail the world's highest body of water.  Not satisfied with this quixotic, two-part journey, Jones hauled the boat, often by hand, all the way to Brazil to sail the Moto Grosso to Argentina.

The S/V Sea Dart
Well, that's his story, anyway.  Somehow, Jones made it to New York City, found a small, cheap apartment in Greenwich Village [remember those?], and wrote what is still regarded as his finest book, The Incredible Journey.  While maritime narratives are among the most common tales published [seriously, find a bookstore in a port popular with an upscale crowd and there will be a surprising number of true, or "true", sailing stories, often in their own section], Journey revealed an eloquence and sense of fun that made it highly readable and certainly memorable.

Realizing that he had created an opportunity that could guarantee an income and satisfy his sense of self, Jones began the process of becoming his own literary incarnation.  Arthur Jones, the English discard, would become Tristan Jones, the Welsh son of a sea captain.  Instead of squalor in Liverpool, the new Jones would have been born on board his sea captain father's tramp steamer, somewhere off the coast of Tristan du Cunha in the southern Atlantic.  [Hence his new forename, you see.]

To quote from Jones eventual obituary:
It all began with a breach birth in a full storm, aboard a British tramp steamer, 150 miles north-east of Tristan da Cunha - hence the Christian name - in May 1924. Mrs Jones was the ship's cook and both she and Tristan's father came from a long line of Welsh master mariners. "By God, this one will always land on his feet!" the ship's mate was reported to have said, as he delivered the baby from the 10-hour ordeal. "He may be a candidate for hanging one day, but he'll never drown!"
That's a fine yarn, isn't it?  Complete bosh, of course, but still a compelling story and one worthy of a drink or two at a seaside tavern.

Well, why not make some other adjustments, too?  Since his naval career was dull even by the daunting standards of general military service, Tristan Jones would age himself by five years, moving his birth date from 1929 to 1924, so that he could plausibly have been in the Navy during World War II, where Arthur's dull days as an engine oiler would be transformed to Tristan's lusty derring-do during the 20th century's greatest conflagration, service that included voyages on the infamous Murmansk cargo run and being wounded by a terrorist bomb in Aden.  [Note: Jones did suffer a serious injury to his leg at some point, although those who knew him thought he may have done the damage himself after stumbling on his way home after too many drink-rewarded yarns at a local pub.]

These, and other dramatic adjustments, gave Jones all he needed to become an in-demand public speaker, a well-known international sea dog, a member of The Explorers' Club, and a published author.  From his Greenwich Village apartment, Jones published several more books detailing his adventures in the Arctic in Ice! [which is bosh], his days in the Royal Navy in Heart of Oak [great bosh], his boyhood at sea in A Steady Trade [legendary bosh], his post-Titicaca adventures in Adrift [mostly true!], and his circumnavigation in The Improbable Voyage [maybe, who knows?].

Jones does offer an honest bookend of sorts to his career, something that is the basis for Outward Leg, the name of his second best book and second most famous boat.  As has been mentioned, at some point Jones had suffered a leg injury that was then exacerbated in NYC after a collision with a taxi cab [maybe; take that second portion of the story with some salt, will you?], requiring his leg to be amputated.  Instead of seeing this as the end of his solo sailing adventures, and relying on the fame of "Tristan Jones, the last of the adventurers", he commissioned the construction of a sailing trimaran, designed to be operated by a one-legged solo sailor.  With that, the adventures continued, although rather more real from this point forward.  Whether or not it was intended, Jones, both Arthur and Tristan, would become a true hero to the growing number of physically challenged sailors who refused to let accident or happenstance remove them from the sea.

The S/V Outward Leg
Jones would eventually move to Thailand, suffer many health issues, including the loss of his other leg, and die in 1995 at the age of either 66 or 71, depending on which Jones one prefers.  His obituaries, of course, would recount the tales of Tristan Jones, offered in lurid and loving detail by those who had enjoyed his books.

About a decade after his death, a biographer discovered the real world of Arthur Jones and would challenge the existing record.  While this was tough news to Jones' legion of fans, it has to be noted that, whether it was sailing the lowest and highest bodies of water in the world, or learning how to circumnavigate with one leg, there is much of the true story to admire.  Also, whether Arthur or Tristan, Jones loved the sea and boats, and that love is obvious on every page he wrote with an inspiring eloquence.

All of his books are still in print and may be purchased in new, used, or electronic editions.  For a time, the Sea Dart, now owned by a Jones fan, would tour the country on a trailer so lovers of the books could see it for themselves.  I don't know whatever became of it, but it really doesn't matter.  I have my own boat with which to create my own stories.  Heck, maybe some of them will be true.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Genetic Archaeology

Ancient DNA solves mystery of the Canaanites, reveals the biblical people’s fate

No Kidding

Researchers Have Been Underestimating the Cost of Wind and Solar

Not to mention the fantastic damage to bird life.

These are the Sharks We Swim With

Actually, with whom we swim.

Fishing Crew Catches 926-Pound Shark Off New Jersey Coast

You should see the photo, too.

Direct Action Beats Legislation, Honeybee Edition

You've heard the story: Honeybees are disappearing. Beginning in 2006, beekeepers began reporting mysteriously large losses to their honeybee hives over the winter. The bees weren't just dying—they were abandoning their hives altogether. The strange phenomenon, dubbed colony collapse disorder, soon became widespread. Ever since, beekeepers have reported higher-than-normal honeybee deaths, raising concerns about a coming silent spring.

The media swiftly declared disaster. Time called it a "bee-pocalypse"; Quartz went with "beemageddon." By 2013, National Public Radio was declaring "a crisis point for crops" and a Time cover was foretelling "a world without bees." A share of the blame has gone to everything from genetically modified crops, pesticides, and global warming to cellphones and high-voltage electric transmission lines. The Obama administration created a task force to develop a "national strategy" to promote honeybees and other pollinators, calling for $82 million in federal funding to address pollinator health and enhance 7 million acres of land. This year both Cheerios and Patagonia have rolled out save-the-bees campaigns; the latter is circulating a petition calling on the feds to "protect honeybee populations" by imposing stricter regulations on pesticide use...

But here's what you might not have heard. Despite the increased mortality rates, there has been no downward trend in the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States over the past 10 years. Indeed, there are more honeybee colonies in the country today than when colony collapse disorder began.

Beekeepers have proven incredibly adept at responding to this challenge. Thanks to a robust market for pollination services, they have addressed the increasing mortality rates by rapidly rebuilding their hives, and they have done so with virtually no economic effects passed on to consumers. It's a remarkable story of adaptation and resilience, and the media has almost entirely ignored it.
Not to be [or bee] a stinker, but my bees have thrived over the last decade.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Unpopular Thoughts

I enjoyed Doctor Who when I watched it after classes in the afternoon during my Scottish schooldays. The BBC wisely programmed it for right when we'd have a break between Geometry and footer.  The daily episodes were only twenty minutes long, so it was perfect.  They were also in black and white with a budget of about five pounds.  I always found the Doctor [Jon Pertwee, in my day] prickly, peevish, obtuse, and mostly insufferable.  In other words, he was just like many 21st century, educated, Caucasian women in their thirties, which makes the recent re-casting all but perfect.

I also appreciate the new trend of dusting off tired, discarded action movie scripts and casting them with women.  Not only does this enable the studio to use something they had already paid [a little] money for, but the final product makes them look "cutting edge" and "progressive" to the American audience and is popular with the more lucrative Chinese market, as it ratifies the common view of Western women as brutish, violent, and immodest.  The movie may stink, but it'll make money for all involved. Well, except for the original scriptwriter.

Speaking of casting, I remember back a couple of decades when a deployment officer of a diocese told me she was only going to recommend gay women for parish positions as there were too many straight men in the church who had been recommended by straight, male deployment officers. Coincidentally, she was a gay woman.  See?  Same script, different casting.

During the year, in addition to working in a parish and maintaining a secular job, I am expected to attend various meetings and "clergy days".  This means 20% of the days for which I'm paid by the parish are spent anywhere but the parish.  This is complicated when one must schedule these meetings around a secular job schedule, too.  Given that 54% of Episcopal clergy are now part-time, this seems to be yet another example of the 20th century thinking that vexes the greater church.

Come to think of it, Alex Trebek would have made a good Doctor, too.

I Think I Know Her

After Careful Five-Minute-Long Study, Woman Concludes Bible Supports Her Position

Our Brave New World

There is no accurate accounting of how many of the stories you read in the news are the fruit of opposition research, because no journalist wants to admit how many of their top “sources” are just information packagers—which is why the blinding success of Fusion GPS is the least-covered media story in America right now. There’s plenty of oppo research on the right, but most of it comes from the left. That’s not because Republicans are more virtuous than Democrats and look for dirt less than their rivals do. Nor conversely is it because Republicans make a richer subject for opposition research because they’re so much more corrupt. Nope, it’s simple arithmetic: Most journalists lean to the left, and so do the majority of career officials who staff the federal government. There are more sounding boards on the left, and more sources. It’s not ideological, it’s business. 

Thus, most of Fusion GPS’s contracts seem to come from the left—except for its most famous project, the Russia dossier. Before it was passed on to the Democrats, it started on the right, when one Republican candidate—thought to be Jeb Bush but never confirmed—hired the outfit to amass damning material on Trump. From humble beginnings, it has taken on the shape of a modern-day legend.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I'd Like to Forward This to a Number of my Colleagues

It's rather eloquent, and from a surprising source.  Please read the whole thing.

[Alert: As the initial letter is written by a young person, it contains [as if by law] a vulgar term.  In print, young writers fill their linguistic and ideological void with raw language.  Really, they swear like women clergy of The Episcopal Church drunken sailors.]
The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.

When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings. When we truly believe that some people are monsters, that they fundamentally are less human than we are, and that they deserve to have less than we do, we ourselves become the monsters. When we allow our emotions to be hypnotized by the excitement of petty bickering about seemingly important topics, we drift further and further away from the fragile and crucial human bond holding everything together. When we anticipate with ferocious glee the next chance we have to prove someone “wrong” and ourselves “right,” all the while disregarding the vast complexity of almost every subject — not to mention the universe as a whole — we are reducing the beauty and magic of life to a “side” or a “type,” or worst of all, an “answer.” This is the power of politics at it’s most sinister.

This Guy Stole My "First Day of Retirement" Plans

Florida man livestreams his police chase as he runs over beach chairs and swigs whiskey

Random "Jack Kerouac" References

The sign of a tepid writer is to refer to Jack Kerouac, however obliquely, in some article.  Heck, I've done it myself.  I particularly enjoy it when it's a review of a $1 million motor home or vacation in some resort with three hot tubs per room.  Yep, that really captures the spirit of On The Road.

Anyway, as it's far more prevalent than I originally realized, we'll offer some examples from time to time.  Here's this week's, from [no kidding] Outlook Business, a non-ironic magazine about wealthy people and their values:
I am drawn to haiku (a form of poetry) by early Japanese masters Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa and modernist Jack Kerouac. Lyrical with the subtle precision of Zen they elevate ordinary movements of nature to almost the sacred. I also want to rediscover Rabindranath Tagore’s literature.
Hahaha.  So, Kerouac is a "modernist" now.  Sure.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Concerns of the Graybeards

Read the whole thing.  It's worth it.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I fear that, except for a few of us remaining graybeards and some immigrants from the world’s manifold tyrannies and anarchies, most Americans are too young to remember, even vicariously, the ills that the world can inflict and the effort it takes to withstand and restrain them. They have studied no history, so not only can they not distinguish Napoleon from Hitler, but also they have no conception of how many ills mankind has suffered or inflicted on itself and how heroic has been the effort of the great, the wise, and the good over the centuries to advance the world’s enlightenment and civilization—efforts that the young have learned to scorn as the self-interested machinations of dead white men to maintain their dominance. While young people are examining their belly buttons for microaggressions, real evil still haunts the world, still inheres in human nature; and those who don’t know this are at risk of being ambushed and crushed by it.

Slogans, placards, and chants won’t stop it: the world is not a campus, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, the Israelis are not Nazis. Moreover, it is disgracefully, cloyingly naive to think—as the professor hurt in the melee to keep Charles Murray from addressing a Middlebury College audience recently put it in the New York Times—that “All violence is a breakdown of communication.” An hour’s talk over a nice cup of tea would not have kept Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, or persuaded an Islamist terrorist not to explode his bomb. Misunderstanding does not cause murder, and reasoned conversation does not penetrate the heart of darkness.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kurtis Walker

That's the job of the entertainer, to entertain, not to motivate or inspire people to get violent!

This is a bit of a departure, I appreciate.  When I write of music, it's often that of my generation, that which came to its apex during the 1960's and lingered a bit into the next decade, or that of the punk/new wave, as that was the music that I played in my nascent days as a musician.  I have on Fridays also written of blues and jazz, as they are established, hallowed by tradition, and quintessential to the American experience.

Rap and hip-hop, on the other hand, were not a part of my growing up, but have become part of our cultural soundtrack.  Certainly, rap is as strong a part of the American experience as blues or jazz.  While I find most of hip-hop's incarnations to be violent beyond necessity, and absurdly hostile to social institutions and positive roles [again, I'm typical of my generation], I do appreciate that it accurately captures a cultural perspective, even if it is rendered in a medium of rage.  However, that's not all that rap was, is, or can be; and I often think of the example set by one of its progenitors and what he has attempted to do to take a powerful musical force and present it as a means for growth, self-awareness, and redemption.

It may be my fondest memory of the my first full day as a resident of New York City.  As classes had yet to begin at the original General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, I had an entire day without anything scheduled.  I could go wherever I wished and spend as much time as I wanted savoring the city life.  Since my budget was about 75 cents a day, that meant I did this on foot, as I had to choose between a subway token or a meal.  [Usually a potato knish with mustard from a pushcart.]

There was much that was aural and colorful that collided with my consciousness during that walk over to 5th Avenue down to Bleeker Street.  I prided myself on being a sophisticate, since I had been a habitue of the Bohemian section of Cleveland, had performed in the underground clubs, had bad poetry and record reviews published in the free newspapers, and had a subscription to the Village Voice.  However, I began to realize that I was little more than an Ohio hillbilly.  Everything I saw, heard, or otherwise encountered seemed new and brilliant.  Even the clothing was original to anything I had yet seen.  I have never felt so Mid-Western.  I'm surprised I didn't walk about staring up at the skyscrapers.

Two things stand out about that day, both involving "radical American poetry" [better known as "rap"], which was the newest trend in music and one born from the urban reality of those hot, summer streets.  The first was "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which was the ubiquitous tune played on the oversize portable stereos, the so-called ghetto blasters, of that era, inevitably carried in defiance and pride by young men.  The second was a poster I spotted somewhere along Greenwich Avenue; actually it was a series of posters, rendered in bold colors, one after the other.

"Street punks tried to kill him.  The CIA tried to buy him off but he beat them at their own game to become...The Godfather of RAP: Kurtis Blow".

That was some serious hullabaloo, especially for someone of whom I had never heard.  Clearly, Kurtis Blow was worth some attention.  The only problem was, in the days before Internet search engines, one had to rely on a slower information network.  When it dealt with the newest forms of street music, the source was Delmar, one of the seminary's maintenance crew.

Delmar, his friends, brother-in-law, and some co-workers, were not only aware of rap and its forms, but attempted on Friday evenings to create the music's spontaneous free verse in impromptu competitions.  It was an exhilarating thing to witness, especially as facility with language is something prized throughout history and that which transcends cultural barriers.  Listening to them compete, and hearing of the DJ scene in the city, I learned of Kurtis Walker and his rise to serve as the forerunner of what would become the dominant form of popular music for the next generation.

Walker was born in Harlem in 1959.  Since Harlem youth of his generation had a narrow collection  of vocations from which to choose in order to escape serial poverty, Walker experimented with the two most popular.  The first, music, was realized when he'd serve as the DJ for his mother's parties and, as he became more practiced, for parties at his elementary school.  He would even go so far as to construct, at the age of 13, a false ID good enough to permit him entrance into some of the popular dance clubs in the city so that he might observe the techniques and styles of the professional DJ's.

The second vocational opportunity was with illegal drug sales.  His musical interest permitted him entrance into Harlem's High School of Music and Arts, but his marijuana business got him kicked out.  He then enrolled in a less specialized area high school, but his PCP business got him kicked out.  Realizing that he was an intelligent and talented kid, albeit with an interest in less commendable forms of entrepreneurial endeavor, one of Walker's teachers talked him into taking the GED, which he passed.  This permitted him entrance into the City College of New York.

By the time he was making a reputation as Kool DJ Kurt, Walker was becoming bored with the moribund music scene in New York.  In order to spice up his presentation, he began to compose his own verses and speak them over and in-between the mainstream music that he was spinning.  [Note: Walker started his DJ career when vinyl records had yet to be replaced by CD's or digital recordings; he and the other professionals literally spun the disks on turntables.]  It is a gross understatement to acknowledge that this caught on rather strongly; soon every other DJ would be doing the same thing.  In fact, it was expected that every DJ worth employing would be able cleverly to lace verses about romance, poverty, social justice, yearning, and all of the other emotions and desires common to world poetry into the music they played.

So, on some rather simple and inexpensive equipment, and not being daunted by the fact that he could neither play a musical instrument, read music, or carry a tune very far.  Kurtis Walker, now known throughout the city as Kurtis Blow, would invent the most influential form of music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  Radical American poetry, born of street parties, poverty, ingenuity, and personal ambition, would ride on the technology of the era and be realized through innovative techniques such as turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and the "sampling" of instrumental tracks from more conventional music sources.  It would continue to develop, too, as "gangsta rap" and Hip-Hop would refine, or disturb, the themes and styles. 

Recognizing a good thing, Mercury Records signed Walker to an exclusive contract in 1979, thus bringing the music and poetry of street parties into the mainstream.  [So mainstream, Walker would even make a Christmas album.]  His biggest hit, "The Breaks", would be the first rap song to enter the top forty on radio playlists.

Using his popularity, he would become a music producer and oversee the development of important artists such as The Fat Boys, Run-D.M.C., Russell Simmons and Wyclef Jean, who came to be known as the "Sons of Kurtis Blow".  [If you don't know these artists, ask your kids or grandkids.  Trust me, they're famous.]

Since rap and its descendants seem best known these days for the appreciation of less noble aspects of the human condition, it often surprises people to discover that Walker was, and is, a devout Christian.  So much so that, at the height of his professional demands, he sought and received ordination in a non-denominational Christian church in 1994.  Seeking to unite his art and his faith, and wishing to present a more wholesome, violence and profanity-free type of hip-hop, he then established The Hip-Hop Church of Harlem, a witness that continues to proclaim the Gospel in ways that capture the energy of the urban experience.

While he has had health challenges in recent years, as he noted in 1980, "Rap is ours now.  Ain't nobody taking it away", a statement that testifies to its multi-generational appeal.  Given that popular network television shows and movies feature rappers as actors, that music's most successful producer [and clothes designer and husband to the biggest current star in pop music] is a rapper, and even kids in New England prep schools blare urban rhythms from their dormitory windows, it's safe to say that "radical American poetry" is not about to leave anyone's consciousness.

In the last few years there has been a growing movement to have Walker nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in recognition of how Walker and the subsequent rappers continue to stretch the definition of popular music.

All of Kurtis Walker's hits may be found online, in both audio and video formats. All of his recordings, including his Christmas album, are also still in production and, nowadays, downloadable. It may not be to everyone's taste, but hip-hop is now as much a part of American music as is that of Glenn Miller, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain.

An aside: The previously-mentioned Grandmaster Flash's song, "The Message", is probably, after some of the anthems of Bob Dylan, the most eloquent protest song of the 20th century.  While it can be found on line, the reader is warned that, unlike Walker's street poetry, GF's language can be visceral.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tell Him He Can Buy It on for Less and Without Your Snotty Judgement

What can you do when a customer wants a book that you not only find objectionable but also believe actually dangerous in the lessons it portends amidst such a politically precarious time?

Considering the book in question is Hillbilly Elegy, a New York Times bestseller by an author with whom I have enjoyed a correspondence, and whose personal story [he was born in a poor town in the nowhere of Ohio and worked his way through the Marine Corps and into Ivy League] rather resembles my own [I was born just miles from where he was, ditto the rest], that speaks eloquently of the role of personal responsibility and community in lifting oneself out of poverty and ignorance, I think it dangerous only to one.

Namely, the linked article's precious writer.

You work at a bookstore, sparky.  Just sell the books and take the money.

The worst part about this, and a real indictment of "writing programs" and their faculty, is that it's obvious that the grad student/author of the article has never read the dang book.  "Hey, don't read that book that I've never read.  Some of its reviewers didn't like it."  He then makes it about his struggle against his censorious nature and, ta-dah, he comes out of this existential limit situation as the hero of his self-created drama.

[For those wondering about today's heavy blogging, I'm at a conference that is so dull I stopped paying attention three hours ago.  Any minute now, I may pull the fire alarm.]

Well, Mostly Just the Dead Voters

The administration’s election-integrity commission will have its first meeting on Wednesday to map out how the president will strip the right to vote from millions of Americans.

I appreciate the hysterical zeal that some folks have about this, but voter lists could stand some scrutiny.  For example, my father voted twice in the last presidential election.  If that weren't astonishing enough, he had been dead for 23 months by that time.

Have One Less Child Than...What?

Does that mean slaughtering an existing child?  How wonderfully Old Testament.

I Can Make an Improvement to This

Global Harbour mall in Shanghai, China, is testing a new pilot program for men. Imagine four glass pods where men can go to play video games while their partner has shopping to do. According to the UK Telegraph, as translated from the state-run news site The Paper, each “husband rest cabin” would have:

Instead, how about:


Everything You Know is Wrong

"The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Fault May Not Be in the Hormone, Madam, But in You


I had been taking estrogen replacement therapy for four years prescribed after my hysterectomy at 36. But two weeks ago, my doctor added a special cream to boost my testosterone. She warned me of “odd symptoms,” but she didn’t mention this constant sexual distraction. Or the irrational anger. The day before, I dropped a fork in the kitchen and kicked it. It clattered into the base of the cabinet, but that wasn’t enough. I picked it up and threw it into the sink with a force intended to harm. When the mailman carelessly slammed a box onto the front steps, I resisted the urge to slap him silly.


Does Testosterone Really Just Make Men Aggressive?  New research turns conventional wisdom about male hormone on its head.


The most self-consciously virtuous and progressive segment of our society is also the most exploitative of their workers.

University of Illinois-Chicago ad for language program director draws outcry: Ph.D.-Level Position, $28K Salary

I worked as an adjunct for one semester, once.  Yeah, no.

Do Not Surf Next to Fanning

Champion surfer Mick Fanning rescued as a great white shark circles below him - exactly two years after he punched one when it attacked him at the SAME event in South Africa

He's a shark magnet.

I'd Rather Read This Review Than the Book, as Prog Rock was Largely Dull

Still, it had its place.  Also, I think "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond" was a nice tribute to a fallen band mate.
This kind of excessive showmanship was part of what attracted fans to the strange musical movement known as progressive rock. In The Show That Never Ends (named for lyrics from Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Washington Post political reporter David Weigel recounts stories like this from the glory days of “prog” in the 1970s, when bands such as Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Genesis composed long, erudite, allusive songs about outer space, ancient myths, dreams of the future, and, in the words of Yes singer Jon Anderson, “discovery of the self and connection with the divine.”

Why the music is called “progressive” has never been entirely clear, and many of the most representative bands didn’t use the label to describe themselves. As with any artistic genre, precise definitions are disputed and boundaries are fuzzy: Debates about whether this or that band (or this or that album or period of a band’s work) is really progressive are a favorite pastime of fans. But the general idea is clear enough. In Weigel’s apt summary, prog had three main musical characteristics: retrospection, with artists looking to English and European influences rather than to contemporary American pop; futurism, using the newest techniques and instruments, like the Moog synthesizer or Mellotron keyboard; and perhaps most importantly, experimentation, with prog artists writing music with “19/8 rhythms, polyrhythms, polytonality,” and other unusual and challenging musical methods. Well-known prog-rock songs include Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” Yes’s “Roundabout,” and Rush’s “Closer to the Heart.”

Unpopular Thoughts

I think there's more artistic integrity in a Chuck Berry song than in a "concept album" by some pretentious pop musician.

Speaking of pop music, outside of contemporary country artists, do any of these performers actually sing live when on stage?  Do any of them not require technology to keep them in key?  Can any of them play an instrument while singing?

I'd rather have a whole stadium sing the National Anthem together at the beginning of a sports event, even an expensive, major one, than listen to some pop star, from the A to the D List, render her interpretation of it.  Really, I'm glad I'm not standing above Francis Scott Key's grave when she's doing so, for all of the spinning that must be going on.

Also, don't change the lyrics of "America the Beautiful" to fit the transient standards of the contemporary age.  It was a poem written by a woman of intellectual substance to celebrate the physical wonder of our country and God's favor towards those who tend to it.  Katherine Ward was a proper scholar and poet.  She taught at Wellesley in the 19th century, for heaven's sake.  To make her bona fide to 21st century audiences, I'll also mention that she was gay.  If you don't like her words, write your own dang national song.

However, since you can't play an instrument, sing on key, or read music, I doubt that you could.  Maybe you could put together a concept album, though.

Come to think of it, can you imagine what a dreary business a "social justice" national anthem would be?  The social justice perspective presumes forms of original sin, based on race, religion, and sex, without any opportunity for redemption.   In other words, it's neo-Marxist atheism.  Cool song, bro.

As ever, I find Alex Trebek obtuse.  I look forward to his retirement.  Well, unless he's replaced by Matt Lauer.  In which case, please come back, Alex.  Now I have to go yell at these kids who are on my lawn.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pura Yucatán

A divertimento this week, in honor of summer.

The monkey had seized his Pepsi, an act that left Estefan somewhat agitated.  He had never liked Mexican spider monkeys ever since he had seen one snap his brother’s index finger like a twig back when they were boys.  Twenty years later, the sight of one would reduce him to a state of medieval terror.  The fact that the monkey was now sitting next to him on the tailgate of one of the pickup trucks belonging to the university’s archaeology department, with its legs crossed like his, helping itself to his bottle of Pepsi and behaving like any of the other diggers under the shade of some mangroves, had left him in a state of descolada.

Of course, Estefan also disliked thunderstorms, mud, bus drivers, Coca-Cola, and norteño music; the latter being something on which the two of us often agreed.  This was not lost on Heraclio, another digger at the archaeological site and our truck driver, who would gleefully read the weather report to Estefan whenever it included a prediction of rain, deliberately drive closely behind buses on the  narrow roads of the central portion of Quintana Roo, and turn up the volume whenever Los Tigres del Norte were playing on the radio.  In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Heraclio had trained the monkey to steal Estefan’s Pepsi.

The relationship between the two diggers, who were also cousins, would have made for an execrable journey had it not been for the fact that they were taking me to what they described as “a beautiful cenote [or sinkhole]” so that I could experience Yucatan-style surfing.  As we were about twenty-five miles from the coastline, my curiosity was piqued some by a surfing opportunity in the middle of the flat, dry llano.  That and I had never seen a sinkhole that could be described as beautiful.

So, as we drove through towns named after either Christian saints or monstrous Mayan royalty, as Estefan and Heraclio bickered about technique, I heard about the main feature of the Yucatan method.

“We do not use surfboards, doctore,” said Estefan.  “We use rododendro.  You will see; it is pura Yucatán”  Heraclio just laughed and nodded like a bobble-head doll.

My Spanish has always been horrible.  In fact, the university staff would label what I spoke “kitchen Mexican”, so I didn’t think it odd that Estefan had just said that they surfed using houseplants.  I just assumed that I hadn’t understood him over the roar of the loose muffler and the top 40 norteño hits that Heraclio had blaring from the truck’s radio.  That is, until we got to the cenote.

Truly, if a sinkhole could be beautiful, this was the one.  It was introduced by a stark opening at ground level of approximately seventy-five feet in diameter.  Crude stairs that looked rather ancient had been cut in the limestone walls in a rough spiral from the opening to the small patch of earth and sand about three stories below that served as a type of beach at the bottom.  The remainder of the sinkhole’s base was liquid.  Aided by the minerals in the earth and vegetation that grew within and around the opening and down its dark shaft, the water at the bottom of the cenote was made azure; capturing and magnifying the available sunlight but retaining a refreshing coolness.

Second only to the water in vividity was the verdant vegetation that clung to the sides of the shaft and dropped their roots from the sun-soaked surface thirty feet down to the water, lacing into strong knots of vines that formed basketball-sized root balls just below the water’s surface.  It wasn’t until I saw the cousins grab these vines and begin to swing themselves from the spiral steps to just above the water level that I realized the plants were, in fact, tropical rhododendrons.  Remarkably, I had heard correctly; they did use rhodadendro instead of surfboards.

The sport, as I came to learn it, in sinkhole surfing is bending both vine and body so that the soles of one’s feet, at the right moment of the parabola, make contact with the water and, if timed right, enable the “surfer” to release his grip upon the vine and glide across the water’s surface on a buffer of surface tension.  It wasn’t a long ride, and the cousins would loudly celebrate even a five foot glide, but it also wasn’t easy.  In fact, learning the nuance in a Hawaiian short board was probably simpler.  For over an hour, once I was assured that the vines would hold my weight, I repeatedly sent myself inauspiciously into the water with a sizable splash.  However, in the second hour, I was beginning to get the hang of it.

While it was a hot, humid day and a dusty ride after a long week of fruitless digging among the remnant stones of a pitiable Mayan archaeological site, when Estefan suddenly remembered that on his last trip to the cenote he had hidden a number of bottles of Noche Buena in the cool deepness, it turned into one of the best and most memorable days spent in any kind of water.  Our fatigue from work, and Estefan’s descolada, were cured.

In fact, to this day, after a particularly good session of conventional surfing, if asked how was the water, I sometimes respond that it was “pura Yucatán”.

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alcoholic, Patriotic Archaeological News

Wine Meant to Toast John Adams’s Presidency Was Just Discovered

It's the Mug, Right? It's Too Small.

"Couples Don’t Need Wedding Loans. They Need More Modest Weddings"

Really, it's about time someone said this. Someone with more influence than a parish priest nobody like me. loans are a “thing” for couples who find that their combined student-loan debt doesn’t concentrate the mind wonderfully enough. “You shouldn’t let your finances or your credit keep you from having the wedding you’ve always wanted,” chirps the website, encouragingly. (Note to brides: Actually, yes, you should. It’s called living within one’s means, and those who do it fare better on every scale of physical and emotional health than those who don’t).
Another website,, frets with brides-to-be over the cost of the photographer ($2,000!), the caterer ($65 per person!), and the “Historic church you’ve always dreamed of exchanging your vows in” ($4,000!).  You know, in case the Mandarin Oriental isn’t available. At least we now know what churches will be used for when the secularization of America is complete....
4000 bucks?!  Man, have I been cheating myself.

Besides that startling figure, the massive wedding, with its expenses and remarkable drama, is one of the signs of the emptiness of cultural nihilism.  I've seen too many "big" weddings serve as the high point of a couple's marriage, especially since many already have children who pre-date the nuptials.  Once the wedding is complete, there seems to be this sense of "Is that all there is?". 

Apparently it is now radical to note that there is a substantial difference between a wedding and a marriage.  To permit the former to color the latter with long-term and unconscionable debt is un-wise and, on the part of the lender, unsavory.

The War on Spelling Continues

Occult News

Ancient religious stones hiding secret message only visible at night


The Wages of the Campus Revolts
The reason for the collapse is clear: Over the past few years, leftwing activism on college campuses has reached a level of intensity not seen since at least the “canon wars” of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and possibly not since the countercultural movements of the 1960s. Meanwhile, campus PC blowups—over trigger warnings, safe spaces, sexual harassment, and offensive speakers—dovetailed with the 2016 presidential campaign, as Hillary Clinton touted “intersectionality” on her Twitter feed and Donald Trump reveled in raising a middle finger to the ever-proliferating codes of academic liberalism.

Conservative media has also played an important role. Privileged students ensconced in $60,000-per-year institutions shouting down speakers for incorrect opinions on gender pronouns makes the perfect foil for the new anti-PC right. So right-wing journalists have followed the excesses of the campus left closely, spreading news of the latest insanity far and wide, often with a touch of hyperbole thrown in.

Most campus lefties will probably look at these numbers as evidence that Republicans are even more anti-intellectual than they thought, and that the #resistance against them needs to be taken up a few notches. This would be a big mistake. The homogenization of leftwing views on college campuses, and the obvious hostility to conservative ones was bound to produce a backlash from conservative voters. That backlash has been wrapped up in class conflict between a highly-credentialed professional class and a working class that finds higher education and the well-paying jobs it provides to the elite increasingly out of reach.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Not Just Vegas

The Decline of Marriage Is Hitting Vegas Hard

This is the first summer in my 35 years of church work that I have no wedding at which to officiate. I have not had one for ten months, which is really, really unusual.

I haven't any explanation that's terribly perspicacious.  If pressed, I would note that the institution of marriage, such as it is, is much more associated with the civic, rather than religious, definition these days, and that it is amorphous as it varies from state to state.  In its government form, like much that is controlled by the government, it seems trivial.

Younger people are not as interested in institutions of any sort, certainly not those of such a socially-enforced permanence.

Many young men, looking at the demands that are placed on them through marriage, with minimal rewards should the marriage be broken, what with the possibility of loss of income and access to their children, are avoiding such relationships altogether.

Perhaps, and this is the most obvious to me professionally, the regard with which the man in a marital relationship is held is far more mercenary than in the recent past.  The man, whether he be suitor, groom, or father, is a prop at the wedding, the provider of at least a portion of the income that permits the purchase of the woman's "dream house", and a biological ingredient in the creation of children.  Beyond that, his role is minimal and his concerns often belittled or otherwise disregarded.

Seriously, look at how husbands and fathers are treated in popular culture and TV commercials.  No wonder there's a market for books such as this one.

My Conferences are Never This Fun

Not as Much as Not Being Able to Communicate

College writing center: Proper grammar perpetuates ‘racist,’ ‘unjust language structure’

It costs over $50,000 a year to learn to write and speak gibberish at this college.  Enjoy the second or third mortgage, moms and dads.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Penguin Shaming

Just like in elementary school.  Girls are always good; boys are always bad.  By the end of the week, Timmy will be soaked in Ritalin.  

From Paradise, Matti Smiles

Iraqi Prime Minister congratulates armed forces for Mosul victory

Mosul was the home town of my late mentor, Matti Moosa.  It was also the city of the earliest Episcopal Church missionary work in the Middle East in the 19th century.  There are were a lot of Christians who live lived there and many places of worship are in need of reclamation.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Eugenie Clark

"Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you're lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you're in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don't see sharks." - Sylvia Earle

I was once jammed onto an airplane in the midst of a gaggle of well-fed corporate men and women who were highly charged after attending a week long "team-work and incentive" workshop in Las Vegas.  After the third pass of the liquor cart, my well-lubed cabin mates were dancing in the aisle to the dulcet tones of Shakira and Justin Timberlake, poorly navigating the various armrests and safety features of the Boeing 767, and chanting slogans inherited from their conference.  Chief among them was "WE SWIM WITH SHARKS.  WAHOO!!!"

Yes, it was a long flight.  One of the few things that lightened the ordeal was that I was traveling with my surf buddy, Boonie Jackson, and we had just spent the week driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway surfing every beach that looked worthy of the stoke.  After the fourth or fifth "WAHOO!!!", we traded a bemused look.

See, we had spent seven days literally swimming with sharks, and not as a corporate metaphor, and knew that it was hardly the pinnacle of physical or moral courage.  All it meant was that we had been in the water.

Now it's true that there have been injuries and fatalities associated with shark attacks on surfers, especially with that of friend-of-The CoracleBethany Hamilton.  However, more surfers have drowned or suffered significant head trauma on submerged coral than have ever encountered a shark.  This writer has surfed for forty-six years in various world waters and, while he has seen his share of the genus Carcharodon, he has never been menaced by them.  This is also true of the sharks encountered while bonefishing in the flats of the Florida Keys, sailing off of Cape Cod, and scuba diving the Palancar Reef.  They are always there, but they tend to keep their own counsel.

However, it goes without saying that sharks have a reputation.  There was a time when it was common for ocean-going pleasure craft to carry "shark guns" on board.  These were usually salt-water resistant shotguns or rifles used for deer hunting.  Ernest Hemingway famously employed a Thompson Sub-Machine Gun on board his fishing boat, Pilar, and once, while attempting to kill a shark that had been hauled aboard while sail-fishing, shot himself in both legs with a .45 Colt.

There are also shark fishing competitions, specially designed shark spear guns and pneumatic knives, and multiple recipes for shark parts, popular in the Pacific Rim countries, that require an alarming level of slaughter.  There have been many, many movies and even a few novels that present sharks as a rapacious predator that will automatically attack any human in the water. 

A few years back, a couple of Hawaiian surfers, tired of the waves being crowded by amateurs, took some old, broken surfboards, cut what looked like shark bites out of them, and liberally distributed them about the beaches of the North Shore.  Suddenly, the surf wasn't as crowded any more.  Hence, as with my plane cabin mates, the employment of the shark as a metaphor for danger even among those who work in some of the safest jobs ever known in human history.

It would take quite a novel thinker to work against that current of common thinking about sharks to truly study them and present their much more complicated role in the aquatic eco-system.  A pioneer, of sorts.  Fortunately, a couple of New York City parents created such a pioneer when they decided in the early part of the 20th century to do something that nowadays would get them arrested and publicly shamed on a variety of news shows and on social media.  They would, on a near-daily basis, drop off their nine-year-old daughter at the New York Aquarium for her to spend the day, alone and un-escorted, as a true "free-range" kid.

Instead of giving her a life's worth of trauma, as would be the case with some of the often soft, coddled children of the current age, it created in Eugenie Clark a robust curiosity about ocean life and eco-systems.  She would, because of her parents so "endangering" her, become the pre-eminent expert on sharks and a pioneer for women in the field of marine biology. 

Born in 1922, Clark's father died when she was still a toddler and her Japanese-American mother married the famous restaurateur, Nobu, which granted Clark the wherewithal necessary to pursue the considerable academic degrees necessary for her field.  These included degrees in zoology from Hunter College and New York University and considerable research work done with Scripps Institutions of Oceanography in California, its eastern counterpart, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute of Massachusetts, and the American Museum of Natural History.  Some of her most significant work was done with the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which had both an astronomical budget and the absolute best in post-WWII technology for the study of the ocean.

Most of Clark's studies would take place among the atolls and islands of the South Pacific, including Micronesia, Melanesia, and the Marshall, Palau, and Marianas Islands.  To further her research, it was necessary for her to be a proficient swimmer, certified scuba diver [I would remind the reader that this was before scuba diving was made popular by the TV show, "Sea Hunt"], cave diver, and technologically able.  Again, she did this, too, at a time when it was so rare for a woman to be involved in these particular sciences that she gained the respectful sobriquet of "The Shark Lady".

While she studied a great many types of fish, it was her work with sharks that gained her most notoriety, as her research reversed many of the assumptions about sharks that were and are common.  She wrote numerous articles, both scholarly and popular, on the subject of sharks and published several books, including Lady With A Spear and The Lady With The Sharks [I always thought both sounded as if they were fiction written by John D. MacDonald or some such mid-century pulp writer], and served as a mentor to numerous women in the biological sciences.  She was also the founding director of what is now known as the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Not only did she, in the midst of researching the biology of a rather dull flatfish, indirectly discover the most effective shark repellent yet produced, made from the secretions of a Pardachirus marmoratus [or Moses sole, a Red Sea dweller], but she also highlighted what was realistic in the feeding habits of sharks.

As an editorial note, when I first compiled the list of the people to be remembered on Fridays over the course of a year, Dr. Clark was included and, at the time, still alive.  My concern was that her scientific and social contributions had been forgotten and her inclusion was to be an attempt to redress that possibility.  However, shortly afterwards, at the age of 92, Dr. Clark died and was memorialized in all of the major media.  Thus, there is much about her to be read on line, so the original reason for posting is no longer as necessary as I once thought.

[Although a non-smoker, she died of lung cancer.  Many of those early scuba enthusiasts developed the disease and it is thought to be related to the gas mixtures and the equipment used in diving in those days.]

The handy thing about weblogs, though, is that they can be wonderfully personal.  As such, it might be appropriate to note one of her contributions that was left unmentioned in the canned obituaries and vague remembrances in scientific journals.  Namely, Clark taught watermen the real nature of sharks.

From the New York Times:
She insisted that “Jaws,” the 1975 Steven Spielberg film based on a Peter Benchley novel, and its sequels inspired unreasonable fears of sharks as ferocious killers. Car accidents are far more numerous and terrible than shark attacks, she said in a 1982 PBS documentary, “The Sharks.”
She said at the time that only about 50 shark attacks on humans were reported annually and that only 10 were fatal, and that the great white shark portrayed in “Jaws” would attack only if provoked, while most of the world’s 350 shark species were not dangerous to people at all.
“When you see a shark underwater,” she said, “you should say, ‘How lucky I am to see this beautiful animal in his environment.’ ”
She was never attacked in any of her nearly 75 years literally swimming with sharks, and only once suffered a wound from one when a sample of a shark's jaws fell against her arm while she was driving in her car to a lecture.

Her learned perspective and positive attitude towards even the most feared of sharks is one that injects a necessary note of reality into any experience in the water.  While care always needs to be taken in the open and untamed sea, it is a care born of common sense and a full understanding of one's surroundings.
 “Monster stories fascinate us,” she conceded, but people should not be afraid of sharks: “People want to know all the horrible details. And a shark attack can give you horrible details. People just can’t put it into perspective. We’ve learned, as most divers do, they’re not really dangerous at all. It’s no worse diving with sharks than it is driving a car down the road. The average shark, the more you swim around, scares off easily.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Families, Freedom, Country, and God are Bad Now, I See

Or at least "alt-right" in their value.  These are odd times.

The Science is Settled


I occasionally come across quotations that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn. I may or may not agree with the writer's perspective, but the quotation represents something that stirs my thinking and, sometimes, imagination. From time to time, I'll share them and their source, but caveat emptor.

All Institutions are Suffering, Not Just Churches

Losing millions of dollars, Colonial Williamsburg makes ‘difficult decisions’

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Unpopular Thoughts

Yes, that's Trebek.  He's doing his Mick Jagger impersonation.  See what I mean?

I prefer German to Italian opera.

An observation for small businesses: When your sign says that you open at 8:30am, that means you're open and ready for business at 8:30am.  That's not the time you arrive for work.  At 8:30am, the door should be open, the lights on, and the cash register ready with change.

Traffic circles cause bad drivers to self-identify.

Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." is not a great 4th of July song; it's about an American bitter in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  Seriously, look at the lyrics sometime.  It's actually grim and horrible.  Celebrate "America the Beautiful" instead.  The third verse addresses our imperfections in a way that is hopeful and true.

I still find Alex Trebek obtuse.