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Photo: Robert Klose.
This shop in a low-income neighborhood of Bangor, Maine, has had the same owner since 1980.

People in my town love our independent bookstore, which seems to have been able to weather the pandemic so far. If I bought a book there before I was vaccinated, the staff would either mail it or offer curbside pickup. Now at last I feel comfortable going inside. Does your town have an indie?

Robert Klose wrote recently for the Christian Science Monitor about an indie bookshop in Maine. “The Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam once wrote, ‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’

“This thought came to mind as I drove through one of Bangor, Maine’s poorest neighborhoods en route to a small, offbeat, secondhand bookstore that distinguishes an otherwise careworn street and bears the lofty moniker Pro Libris Books. …

“What a wonderful, wonderful thing to have a bookstore in one’s midst, especially in a place where other needs may incessantly intercede, and in an electronic age when so many bookstores – whether of the small, independent, mom and pop variety, or mega-outfits like Borders – have evaporated from our communities, seemingly overnight.

“Pro Libris Books is an unassuming but well-ordered cave of a shop occupying the ground floor of a peeling-paint clapboard building. … The owner, Eric Furry (is there a more appealing name for a bookseller?), has plied his trade since 1980 and, happily, still turns a profit.

“Mr. Furry, a small septuagenarian with an outsize crop of salt-and-pepper hair, touts his business as ‘A Reader’s Paradise.’ This seems to be enough to attract the rich variety of types I have observed there. …

“As I wander the stacks, dividing my time between titles and observing the other visitors, I note the interplay between patron and proprietor. Not everyone is there to buy. If I’m not mistaken in my interpretation of body language, my impression is that many are there to be – and I choose this word carefully – comforted. The familiar titles, the affordability of the volumes, the quirky touches (a coffin-turned-bookcase from the set of a Stephen King movie; a bumper sticker announcing, ‘Maybe the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about’; Mr. Furry’s roaming cat) return me to the consideration of what we need, of what is indeed essential. When I am visiting Pro Libris Books, I find myself siding with celebrated author John Updike, who once said, ‘Bookstores are lonely forts, spilling light onto the sidewalk. They civilize their neighborhoods.’ …

“When I broached the topic of necessity [of bookshops] with him, he recalled a woman who gave him a $20 bill for a $9.50 sale and told him to keep the change, remarking, ‘I just don’t want you to ever go away.’ And then there was the man who sent him $80 out of the blue because he was worried about how Mr. Furry was faring during the pandemic-induced lockdown. I asked about his survival secret. The answer: ‘Low overhead. And a loyal clientele.’ More here.

By the way, I never lose an opportunity to tell book lovers that https://bookshop.org/ has everything. Plus it gives a portion of sales to indies. Unless you think Amazon needs more money, please check it out.

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Photo: Max Kleinen/Unsplash.
From snail jokes to antique presses, TikTok showcases museum nerds.

Either the anxiety over TikTok is overblown or I’m extremely gullible. Probably both. But so far, the only videos I’ve seen at TikTok are fun.

Suzanne is into the platform, too. At Easter she made a goofy video with the kids’ hands jiggling a rabbit charm from her company, Luna & Stella. For music, she used a strange version of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” that TikTok had on offer. Even though the video wasn’t meant to be serious, she did get one query about price.

Today’s article by Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post is about how some museum employees are starting to have fun on TikTok.

“Not much has changed since Howard Hatch started working in the creaky, old printing shop at the Sacramento History Museum 22 years ago, writes Ables.

“He always arrives early in the morning so he can focus. In those quiet hours, … the only chatter comes from the machines: the gentle clinks and clatters of a 102-year-old jobbing press, his ‘one-legged StairMaster’ whirring to the beat of his pumping foot. To the tune of rattling ink rollers and clicking gears, he prints museum bags, holiday cards, and facsimile wanted signs and newspapers for visitors.

“Another press, the Washington hand press, works just as well as it did the day it was manufactured in 1852, Hatch says — with such certainty you’d think he used it back then. … Not much has changed these days, except that Hatch has an audience around the world watching.

“On TikTok, a popular app for sharing short videos, Hatch has gone from beloved local museum docent to — in the words of one online commenter — ‘a national treasure.’ Videos of him explaining the printing process or even simply using the equipment, which doubles as an exhibit, have racked up millions of views in a matter of months. With Howard at the helm, the Sacramento History Museum has become the most popular museum TikTok account in the world, boasting twice as many followers as the population of Sacramento.

“Most people associate TikTok with Gen Z, but Hatch is an octogenarian, and the star of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s widely followed account — snail expert Tim Pearce — is a baby boomer. The two men’s charm is not a result of keeping up with the latest memes and trends. Quite the opposite. Neither Hatch nor Pearce, who is known for his ‘Mollusk Monday’ jokes, own a smartphone or send text messages. Pearce calls himself ‘a technological klutz.’ …

“While TikTok has been the site of many online trends related to history — such as medieval TikTok and dark academia — the platform still lacks a significant presence from major U.S. museums. … Pittsburgh’s Carnegie museum paved the way.

“The museum began posting videos in early 2020, and it saw quick success with Pearce, the mollusk curator. …

Being on TikTok has allowed him to get closer to achieving one of his life’s goals: to make mollusks as popular as football. …

“There’s no doubt the success has to do with Pearce’s enthusiasm. Wearing a snail-patterned mask, Pearce begins each video the same way: ‘I’m Tim Pearce from Carnegie Museum of Natural History and I’ve got a snail joke for you!’ The way he emphasizes the word ‘snail’ captures an unbridled eagerness as pure as it must’ve been when he started collecting snails as a toddler. …

” ‘Natural history museums can become didactic really quickly,’ says Sloan MacRae, director of marketing at the Carnegie museum. TikTok, he says, allows them to show that scientists are approachable — even silly — and that natural history isn’t all dead animals and dioramas. …

“Still, when Jared Jones, a 28-year-old guest-services associate at the Sacramento History Museum, proposed starting a TikTok account, it didn’t go over well. … But the museum was desperate to stay relevant during the pandemic-induced closure, so the staff eventually gave in and opened an account. And Hatch hit his stride on the app not by dancing but by deadpanning.

“In one early video, Hatch is printing wanted posters on the hand press. ‘Can you explain a little bit more about it?’ Jones asks. ‘I would, but I’m really pressed for time,’ Hatch replies so matter-of-factly that the pun almost seems unintentional. …

“ ‘Some of [the Carnegie museum’s] popular personalities are gray-haired, very wholesome, grandparent-like personas,’ MacRae says, referring to Pearce and Bonnie Isaac, the botany collection manager. He has spotted online comments along the lines of ‘Adopt me, Bonnie!’ and ‘Tim, will you marry my mom?’ …

“Similarly, on the Sacramento videos’ pages, viewers liken Hatch to their grandparents. ‘Protect Howard at all costs’ has become a refrain among commenters, alluding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Whenever the museum reaches a new milestone in followers, Hatch prints a newspaper announcement. As he moves around the print shop on those squeaky floorboards, he shakes his head and says, ‘I just don’t get it,’ which has become a catchphrase. And it’s true — Hatch isn’t keeping track of likes or followers. He’s just working in the print shop, as he has for decades — doing his thing in true 19th-century style and succeeding in the most 21st-century way.”

Great photos and video here.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor.
Shoppers in Chelsea, Mass., have benefited from cash payments during the pandemic.

How many years have we kicked around the idea of a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty? If you search at this blog on the topic, you will see several forms the concept has taken in the past. And since COVID-19 became part of our lives, the feeling of urgency around Universal Basic Income (UBI) has grown.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Simon Montlake as a report on Chelsea, Massachusetts.

“Inside the hillside church where she works part time as custodian, Ana Vanegas-Rivera rests on a wooden bench and pulls out her phone wallet. She holds up a blue debit card, similar to the others in her wallet, minus her name or any issuing bank. 

“The card belongs to Chelsea, a blue-collar city outside Boston that is using it to give cash to around 2,000 low-income residents during a pandemic that has disproportionately hit its Latino-majority population. Every month the card is reloaded with between $200 and $400, depending on family size, allowing recipients to spend the money as they see fit. 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera’s $400 goes toward buying food, household items, school supplies, and shoes for Dylan, her third grade son. For now, the family is getting by on her modest custodian salary and disability checks, along with what her husband earns from sporadic construction jobs, so every extra dollar counts.

“ ‘It has been a big help. I’m very happy that we have this opportunity,’ she says. 

“The pilot income program, which began in November and runs until May, has been underwritten by federal and state COVID-19 relief dollars, as well as private donations, and is geared to feeding families, as its name, Chelsea Eats, suggests. ‘Our overriding goal is to get people through the spring,’ says Tom Ambrosino, the city manager. ‘For some of our families that is the only money they have.’ 

“Chelsea is also a national testbed for a simple idea: to help people by giving them money. Not a housing voucher, not food stamps, but a cash-equivalent payment that ensures recipients have a basic income that they can spend any way they want. The rationale is that people know best what they need, and letting them make decisions on how to use the money, without restrictions, is direct and empowering, and doesn’t require a big bureaucracy to implement.

“Chelsea is one of several U.S. cities experimenting with unconditional cash transfers to help some residents quickly – an idea that could become the basis for an alternative to traditional welfare and other safety net programs that have existed for decades. Indeed, advocates see these cash experiments as a building block toward a federal guarantee of a basic income for all, or at least all who manifestly need it. 

“The idea of a universal basic income that would fill in some of the crevasses in capitalist economies isn’t new. … But UBI has always been a provocative notion that seemed just a little too provocative, an unfathomable expense – free money for all – that nobody would want to pay. That was before the pandemic.

Once economies started closing down, governments around the world began to dig deep and spend freely, putting cash directly in people’s hands. …

“Most U.S. social assistance is modest and conditioned on certain requirements, such as work and family size. Except for older adults or people with disabilities, it rarely arrives in the form of cash. This reflects an ethos of self-reliance, as well as decades of conservative criticism that welfare is wasteful and breeds dependence. Backers of basic income believe these traditional assistance programs no longer work. 

“Yet the politics of governments handing out cash remains complicated. Many liberals like UBI but some don’t. Many conservatives don’t like UBI but some do. 

“For now, momentum is building for at least some form of basic income in the face of a lopsided economy that seems to generate more losers than winners, even before the pandemic. But the question is: How far will the idea go? …

“In Chelsea, Mr. Ambrosino doesn’t really focus much on whether the idea of a basic income is gaining ascendancy in Washington or not. His priority is simply to help families in a tough spot, and he’s happy with what he’s seeing so far with Chelsea Eats. ‘We’re getting money in the right hands,’ he says. 

“Roseann Bongiovanni, a former city councilor and now executive director of GreenRoots, a local nonprofit, agrees that the extra money is helping families. But Chelsea faces challenges of housing affordability and environmental justice, and overall demand at food pantries hasn’t gone away. ‘This is a short-term fix,’ she says. ‘It’s not resolving a larger structural issue.’ 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera knows that her debit card is temporary. Though she owes less on her credit cards and is managing better, her money problems haven’t gone away. What has changed, she says, is that she and her husband are no longer lining up daily at food pantries.” 

More here.

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Too Many Urchins

Photo: Talia Herman/Guardian.
A purple sea urchin with roe inside.

In her graphic memoir of her childhood in 1970s China, Na Liu recalls a time that comrades were told to kill sparrows because they were eating crops. The leaders went too far because in eliminating the birds, they let insects take over, and famine followed.

In today’s story, the public is asked to eat the invasive purple sea urchins that are damaging California’s kelp forests. If we are wise, we’ll learn from others’ experience and stop before we have eaten them all. Right now, that’s a long time ahead.

Vivian Ho writes at the Guardian that purple sea urchins “have become a major headache for the Pacific west coast. Their population has exploded by 10,000% since 2014, with scientists blaming the decline of sea otter and starfish populations – two of the urchin’s natural predators.

“Hundreds of millions of purple sea urchins now blanket the coast from Baja to Alaska, where they have been devouring the region’s vital kelp forests, doing untold damage to the marine ecosystem in the process.In California, it is estimated that 95% of the kelp forests, which serve as both shelter and food to a wide range of marine life, has been decimated and replaced by so-called ‘urchin barrens‘ – vast carpets of spiked purple orbs along the ocean floor.

“That’s why marine biologists and chefs have teamed up to release a new predator into their natural environment: me. Or, to be exact, me and all of you. There’s been a push for years to get the public to eat more sea urchin as a way to help curb the population and recover the kelp forests.

“It shouldn’t have been a hard sell. Sea urchin, or uni in the sushi world, is considered a delicacy in the fine dining circles. ‘The two main descriptors I would use are sweet and briny, similar to an oyster, similar to a clam,’ said culinary scientist Ali Bouzari. … ‘The texture is very creamy. It’s very similar to room-temperature butter.’

“During the pandemic, however, fine dining has been harder to come by. And the retail costs, which range from $9 to $12 per urchin at your local fishmonger, isn’t something every home cook can justify.

“But what Bouzari, co-founder of culinary research and development company Pilot R&D, has been pushing for the last few years is that sea urchin cuisine doesn’t have to be particularly precious or expensive. You can have it served on a half shell, topped with espresso-cream whipped potatoes and caviar – as they do at Michelin-star restaurant SingleThread in Healdsburg – or you can sauté it with some onion, sausage and day-old rice and make a dirty rice, one of Bouzari’s favorite recipes. And anyone with access to the coast can have sea urchin dirty rice on a dirty rice budget. …

“[One day] I stood on the beach of Timber Cove in Jenner, California, waiting as Bouzari and his friend Justin Ang, a Pilot R&D product manager, paddled up to shore atop some surfboards. They had spent the morning spearfishing. … But you don’t need a wetsuit or fancy gear to harvest sea urchin, he explained. Anytime at low tide on the edges of a cove, urchin – an intertidal species – should become visible. …

“Sea urchins are essentially a ball of hard purple spikes containing five egg sacs, which is what we eat – in the culinary world, they’re described as the tongues, the roe, the uni. …

“The sea urchin came loose when I twisted it like a doorknob. The triumph of my first harvest overtook any lingering sensations of pain from gripping its prickly spines. Still, I’d recommend gloves.

“I had brought some salted sourdough toast from San Francisco, and Bouzari quickly scooped a fat, golden tongue out of the hardened purple spikes to lay on to the olive-oiled surface. I had enjoyed uni before at sushi restaurants, but never tasted anything quite like the briny creaminess of sea urchin fresh from the ocean, on toast warmed in the California sun. That one bite felt like a calm summer day, floating on a boat in the water. …

“Bouzari showed me a move where he cut the urchin in half elegantly so that you could use the shell as a bowl or a candle holder after removing the roe. I had not mastered that. Instead, I cut the urchin jagged down the middle, at times just using my hands to rip it apart, sending spines flying on to the floor and into my sink.”

Read more at the Guardian, here, about helping the environment by eating this delicacy.

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It’s really spring in Massachusetts. Sometimes 70 F, sometimes 50 F. But we know where we’re headed.

I took advantage of being old to get my Covid-19 vaccinations wrapped up in March and began to visit grandchildren indoors. Below you see that piano recitals are still on Zoom. While I was visiting, I got my hair “painted” rainbow colors by the youngest grandchild. She worked on my hair while her brother read “spooky stories” to me. The stories got exciting, so she went to look at the pictures.

Easter involved an egg hunt, although some kids may be getting too old. Next year, maybe a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt would be a good variation.

Where I live, there’s a guy who rides around on his bicycle playing the guitar. I managed to capture him this week in his headless horseman costume. His day job is baker.

Also in my town, there are people who never forget that April is Natural Poetry Month. One homeowner makes poems available for free.

Most of the other pictures are about Suzanne’s Mom and her friends flipping over spring flowers. Daffodil, Andromeda, Rhododenron. Fig Buttercup, Blue Scilla, Bloodroot, Trout Lily, Magnolia.

The second to last photo was taken in Central Park by Ying-Ying, who was thrilled to get out of Arizona for a New York spring. And the last was taken by Melita in Madrid, where she’s been living during the pandemic.

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Art: JRR Tolkien.
Photo from the Open Culture website.

Wow. Where were all the artists when this version of The Lord of the Rings was made for television? Were they imprisoned in the Gulag? I think my childhood dream of presenting a production of “Snow White and Rose Red” at the Lafayette Theater would have gone better.

Andrew Roth, reporting for the Guardian from Moscow, has a funny report on the Soviet version of The Lord of the Rings.

“A Soviet television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings thought to have been lost to time was rediscovered and posted on YouTube last week, delighting Russian-language fans of JRR Tolkien.

“The 1991 made-for-TV film, Khraniteli, based on Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, is the only adaptation of his Lord of the Rings trilogy believed to have been made in the Soviet Union.

Aired 10 years before the release of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, the low-budget film appears ripped from another age: the costumes and sets are rudimentary, the special effects are ludicrous, and many of the scenes look more like a theatre production than a feature-length film.

“The score, composed by Andrei Romanov of the rock band Akvarium, also lends a distinctly Soviet ambience to the production, which was reportedly aired just once on television before disappearing into the archives of Leningrad Television. Few knew about its existence until Leningrad Television’s successor, 5TV, abruptly posted the film to YouTube last week [part one | part two], where it has gained more than 800,000 views within several days. …

“Earlier adaptations and even translations of Tolkien’s work in the Soviet Union were hard to come by, with some convinced that the story of an alliance of men, elves and dwarves fighting a totalitarian eastern power had been blocked by the censor.

“But another suggestion for the sparsity of translations was that Tolkien’s intricate plot and linguistic invention made it difficult to translate into Russian without either adulterating the original or leaving Soviet audiences without any idea of what was happening.

“Nonetheless, the schlocky adaptation appeared to scratch a nostalgic itch for many who watched it.

“ ‘It is as absurd and monstrous as it is divine and magnificent. The opening song is especially lovely. Thanks to the one who found this rarity,’ wrote another. In the opening song, Romanov sings a rough translation of Tolkien’s description of the origins of the rings of power, of which three are given to the elves, seven to the dwarves, and nine to mortal men, doomed to die.

“The Soviet version includes some plot elements left out of Jackson’s $93m blockbuster, including an appearance by the character Tom Bombadil. …

“In 1985, Leningrad Television aired its first version of Tolkien’s work, a low-budget adaptation of The Hobbit featuring ballet dancers from what is now the Mariinsky theatre and a moustachioed narrator standing in for Tolkien. The abridged production, titled The Fantastic Journey of Mister Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit, skips over the trolls and elves in an hour-long romp that was long believed to be the only finished Tolkien adaptation produced during the Soviet Union. …

“Jackson’s adaptation of the trilogy was a hit in Russia. Many young Russians watched a version dubbed by the translator Dmitry Puchkov under the pseudonym Goblin, which was notable for its expletive-laden reinterpretation of the text. In that version, Frodo is called Fyodor Mikhailovich, Legolas has a pronounced Baltic accent, and Aragorn yells, ‘Whoever doesn’t hit [an orc] is an ass,’ as his archers let their arrows fly during the defense of Helm’s Deep.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Art: Jacob Lawrence, via PEM.
Missing Panel 28 from the “American Struggle” series as shown at PEM, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This panel and one other were recently found in New York City.

Have you been following the story of the missing panels of a major work by African American master Jacob Lawrence? It was exciting enough when one missing panel was discovered in New York in the past year, but two? In different homes?

Hilarie M. Sheets at the New York Times reported on the latest developments.

“When a nurse living on the Upper West Side checked an app for neighborhood bulletins last fall, she learned about the recent discovery of a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It had turned out to be one of five panels long missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right across Central Park.

“The name Jacob Lawrence rang a bell. She walked over to look more closely at a small figurative painting on her dining room wall, where it had hung for two decades, its signature barely legible. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, who had taped a 1996 New York Times profile on Lawrence to the back. The nurse, who had only glanced at the back while dusting, learned from the app that Lawrence was a leading modernist painter of the 20th century — and one of the few Black artists of his time to gain broad recognition in the art world.

“Could lightning strike twice in just two weeks’ time? The woman told the story to her 20-year-old son, who had studied art in college and quickly Googled the Met’s exhibition. He found a murky black-and-white photograph of their very painting being used as a place holder for Panel 28. It was titled ‘Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773,’ and the wall label read: ‘location unknown.’

“ ‘It didn’t look like anything special, honestly,’ said the owner. … ‘I didn’t know I had a masterpiece.’ …

“After she had connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unreturned. By day three, her son suggested they just head over on his motorbike. His mother recalled:

‘I grabbed a young kid at the information desk in the lobby and said, “Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?” ‘

“Eventually, an administrator from the modern and contemporary art department met them downstairs and asked the owner to email her photos of the work — which she did on the spot, from her phone.

“By that evening, Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount, the co-curators of the Met’s Lawrence show, and Isabelle Duvernois, the Met’s paintings conservator, were making their second trip to an Upper West Side apartment in the space of two weeks to verify the authenticity of a Lawrence painting that had not been seen publicly since 1960.

“The nurse, who has agreed to lend her painting for the last two stops of the traveling exhibition, was granted anonymity because she said she was concerned for her family’s security living with a now-valuable artwork. The panel will debut March 5 at the Seattle Art Museum in ‘Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle’ and remain on view through May 23.

“Before the discovery of Panel 16, first reported by The New York Times on Oct. 21, the Met’s team had known only the work’s title and subject matter — Shays’ Rebellion — but had no image to help authenticate it. … With Panel 28, they had a low-quality photograph of the work, which had been exhibited in the late 1950s at the gallery of Lawrence’s dealer Charles Alan.

“The painting, in vivid red, gold and brown tempera on hardboard, shows two women draped in shawls flanking a man in a broad-brimmed hat, their heads bowed and oversized hands clasped toward the center of the image. The panel, evoking old-world travelers, was inspired by immigration statistics in Richard B. Morris’s 1953 ‘Encyclopedia of American History,’ part of Lawrence’s exhaustive research on the foundational contributions of immigrants, Blacks and Native Americans to the building of the nation. (He refers specifically in the title to the number of immigrants who came to the United States during the early years of the 19th century.) …

“The owner of Panel 28 doesn’t know how her mother-in-law — who was an immigrant herself and raised her family on the Upper West Side while amassing an eclectic array of inexpensive artworks — acquired the painting. ‘I have a feeling my mother-in-law didn’t pay much more than $100,’ she said.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Ars Technica.
A recently published study suggests coastal Africa didn’t have a monopoly on innovation.

More Americans are starting to recognize the pernicious effects of coastal attitudes about the majority of US states. Sarah Smarsh’s wonderful memoir of growing up in Kansas, Heartland, was one thing that helped me understand that a derisive phrase some people use — “flyover country” — is both ignorant and dangerous.

Today’s story shows that there has been a similar attitude in African archaeology, where the only civilizations thought to be creative and innovative were on the coasts. The latest discoveries in the southern Kalahari reveal a different story.

Kiona N. Smith writes at Ars Techninca, “Between 125,000 and 70,000 years ago, people began to do some very modern things: collecting small objects for no practical reason, decorating things with pigments, and storing water and possibly even food in containers. The oldest known sites with evidence of those behaviors are along the coastline of southern Africa. …

“And according to one idea in paleoanthropology, something about that way of life enabled those early people — or maybe pushed them — to innovate. Their distant neighbors who lived far from the sea supposedly lagged behind the cultural times.

But Griffith University archaeologist Jayne Wilkins and her colleagues recently unearthed evidence that landlocked people were just as hip and modern as their counterparts on the coast.

“At Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter, there’s a layer of sediment dating back to 105,000 years ago and scattered with stone tools. In it, Wilkins and her colleagues found a large chunk of red ocher, worn flat and striated on two sides, as if it had been used as pigment. The rock shelter also held a cache of translucent white calcite crystals, which hadn’t been worked or used as tools; it looked as if someone had gathered up the crystals simply for the sake of having them, or maybe as a ritual offering. Several broken, burned pieces of ostrich eggshell, buried in the same layer, may once have held stores of water.

“The Ga-Mohana Hill artifacts are roughly the same age as the oldest similar finds on the coast, according to optically stimulated luminescence dating, which measures when quartz grains in the sediment were last exposed to light — in this case, about 105,000 years ago. That’s around the same time that people along the coast of southern Africa started collecting seashells for no apparent practical purpose, while people at Diepkloof Rockshelter in South Africa stored their water in the oldest known ostrich eggshell containers.

“It sounds like an almost laughably simple idea to a 21st century human: if you put some stuff inside a larger thing, you can carry it more easily and store it for later. But we’ve had the benefit of at least 200,000 years of figuring out how to do things. At one point in our distant prehistory, containers were an amazing new idea. It would have been, as Wilkins and her colleagues put it, ‘a crucial innovation for early humans.’

“The conclusion from these finds is that people in the African interior weren’t lagging behind coastal cultures at all. Some of the most important innovations in human prehistory happened in multiple areas of the continent at around the same time.

“If you’re not an archaeologist, it may seem obvious that people living inland could be just as innovative as people living on the coast, but all the evidence archaeologists had until now told a different story. The oldest traces of a whole suite of new (at the time) human behaviors have all been found at sites relatively close to the coastline. …

“That has more to do with geology than with what people were actually doing in the distant past. ‘Stratified Late Pleistocene sites with good preservation and robust chronologies are rare in the interior of southern Africa,’ [the research team] wrote in their recent paper. The result is what they describe as a ‘strong bias towards coastal sites that marginalizes the role of inland populations.’ …

“Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter [tells] us something important about our past: lots of people, in lots of different environments, found similar solutions to problems.”

More here.

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Photo: Tim Street-Porter.
The view looking across the Los Angeles Music Center Plaza toward the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues to pass a new UL verification program for indoor air quality.

We have learned so much in the past year! Remember when we thought Covid-19 might be like Ebola, when we were advised to wipe down all the groceries with bleach? Gradually we learned that although it might be possible to get the coronavirus from surfaces, the air we were breathing in close quarters was the real danger. Even now, when more people are getting vaccinated every day, spending time in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation could extend the life of the scourge.

That is why people who manage buildings, once concerned that they be airtight to keep in heat and air conditioning, are now much more concerned about ventilation. How is the public to know which buildings will be safe to enter?

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles [recently announced] that it is the first performing arts organization in the country to receive a UL ‘healthy building’ verification, representing high standards for air quality at four venues — Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre.

“Don’t throw away your mask just yet, though.

“ ‘This isn’t necessarily a COVID program. It’s not about putting up a force field for keeping a building completely safe from COVID. You can’t do that,’ said Sean McCrady, director of assets and sustainability, real estate and properties at UL, the safety science company that issues the Verified Healthy Buildings for Indoor Air Verification Mark, which will be posted at the entrances of Music Center venues.

“McCrady reiterated the scientific consensus that air purification and good ventilation can reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces. In September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say the coronavirus spreads most commonly through the inhalation of droplets and tiny respiratory particles that can remain suspended in the air.

“The UL verification program emphasizes filtration, ventilation and the overall hygiene of air systems and of buildings in general. Buildings are required to use MERV 13 air filters, which remove particles between 1 and 5 microns. The coronavirus is smaller than that, but McCrady said the filter has an 85% efficacy rate and captures much of the particulate matter to which the virus hitches itself. Prior to COVID-19, the industry standard was the lower-performing MERV 8 filter.

“UL verified buildings must bring in fresh air and move it effectively around the space. The Music Center will be facilitating four to six air changes per hour, which is recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

That means the air volume of a building will be replaced an average of every 10 to 15 minutes. …

“The hygiene of the air filtration and ventilation systems also is crucial. If mold spores or fibers are present, the technology won’t work as it should. … UL also looks at the chemicals used in the cleaning of the space and makes sure that they don’t pollute the air. …

“The Music Center hopes the UL verification will help to maintain the trust of audiences. … If the science surrounding the virus and how to protect against it changes, or if the CDC or more local health officials issues new guidance, the Music Center intends to pivot too. …

“ ‘This is an ongoing process. We will not be stopping when we open our doors,’ ” Music Center COO Howard Sherman told the Times. More here.

Photo: Michelle Chiu
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has Healthy Building Certification.

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Photo: Society for Science.
Seventeen-year-old Dasia Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

These are things I already knew about beets: girls of my mother’s generation used a cut beet to color their cheeks; boiling beets makes a good egg dye. Today I learned from a teenager that beets’ can detect infection.

Theresa Machemer reported at Smithsonian, “Dasia Taylor has juiced about three dozen beets in the last 18 months. The root vegetables, she’s found, provide the perfect dye for her invention: suture thread that changes color, from bright red to dark purple, when a surgical wound becomes infected.

“The 17-year-old student at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, began working on the project in October 2019, after her chemistry teacher shared information about state-wide science fairs with the class. … This January, Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

“As any science fair veteran knows, at the core of a successful project is a problem in need of solving. Taylor had read about sutures coated with a conductive material that can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance, and relay that information to the smartphones or computers of patients and doctors. While these ‘smart’ sutures could help in the United States, the expensive tool might be less applicable to people in developing countries. … On average, 11 percent of surgical wounds develop an infection in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization, compared to between 2 and 4 percent of surgeries in the U.S.

“Infections after Cesarean sections particularly caught Taylor’s attention. In some African nations, up to 20 percent of women who give birth by C-section then develop surgical site infections. Research has also shown that health centers in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have similar or lower rates of infection, at between 2 and 10 percent, following C-sections than the U.S., where rates range from 8 to 10 percent. But smartphone access is markedly different. …

“ ‘I’ve done a lot of racial equity work in my community, I’ve been a guest speaker at several conferences,’ says Taylor. ‘So when I was presented with this opportunity to do research, I couldn’t help but go at it with an equity lens.’ …

“Healthy human skin is naturally acidic, with a pH around five. But when a wound becomes infected, its pH goes up to about nine. Changes in pH can be detected without electronics; many fruits and vegetables are natural indicators that change color at different pH levels.

‘I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,’ says Taylor. Bright red beet juice turns dark purple at a pH of nine. ‘That’s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, “Oh, okay. So beets is where it’s at.” ‘

“Next, Taylor had to find a suture thread that would hold onto the dye. She tested ten different materials, including standard suture thread, for how well they picked up and held the dye, whether the dye changed color when its pH changed, and how their thickness compared to standard suture thread. After her school transitioned to remote learning, she could spend four or five hours in the lab on an asynchronous lesson day, running experiments. A cotton-polyester blend checked all the boxes. …

“Kathryn Chu, the director of the Center for Global Surgery at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, focuses on improving equitable access to surgical care. ‘I think it is amazing that this young high school scientist was inspired to work on a solution to address this problem,’ the surgeon writes in an email. ‘A product that could detect early [surgical site infections] would be extremely valuable. However,’ she adds, ‘how this concept could translate from the bench to the bedside needs further testing.’ …

“The same non-absorbency that makes standard suture thread hard to dye with beet juice also keeps bacteria out, and vice versa. While cotton thread’s braided structure gives it the ability to pick up the beet dye, it also provides a hiding place for bacteria that cause infections.

“Taylor has been pursuing a line of research since the beginning of her project that might counteract the risks posed by using cotton.”

More at Smithsonian, here. Also at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Nick Collins via Unsplash

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Photo: US Department of the Interior.
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, is the first Native American to become a cabinet secretary. She served as a representative for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021.

Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, recently moved from Congress to her pathbreaking role as US Secretary of the Interior. Indigenous people around the country hope she will be able right some wrongs of the past.

In March, National Public Radio (NPR) and the show Living on Earth had stories about this beautiful gift to America from the Laguna Pueblo tribe.

At NPR, Kirk Siegler said, “With so much land under federal control in the West, it’s long been said the secretary of the Interior has much more of a direct affect on most people’s lives than the president. This experience could arguably be multiplied tenfold on reservations.

“In her confirmation hearing earlier this year, Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico nodded to the fact that the department she now leads was historically used as a tool of oppression toward tribes.

‘This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the Interior once proclaimed his goal to, quote, civilize or exterminate us,’ Haaland said quoting an Interior report from 1851. … ‘I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.’

“[Haaland made history] by becoming the first indigenous Interior secretary. She’s promising to begin repairing a legacy of broken treaties and abuses committed by the federal government toward tribes. It’s one pillar of a long and ambitious to-do list of reforms the administration is planning at the sprawling agency that is the federal government’s most direct contact with the nation’s 574 federally recognized — and sovereign — tribes. …

” ‘It feels like we are moving and we are claiming what we could have done a long time ago,’ said Mary Jane Miles, 81, a member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee in Idaho.

“Miles said a traditional song was sung and there was an impromptu celebration at her tribe’s headquarters the moment Haaland was formally confirmed by the Senate.

“The Nez Perce, or Nimiipuu in their native language, consider much of the Northwest their ancestral land. But through a series of treaties they’re now confined to a small slice of remote Idaho river country. Like most tribes, their land is held in trust by the federal government and leaders here say the U.S. has long shirked its obligation to protect the land, its wildlife and other issues of cultural importance to the tribe.

“Today, the salmon and steelhead trout that were once abundant on the Snake and Clearwater rivers are nearing extinction. Miles also pointed to a legacy of toxic messes from mining that occurred on ancestral Nez Perce land often with little or no consultation by the tribe.

” ‘Sometimes when we look at some of the things that the past has done for our tribe, we’ve noticed that maybe we’ve been taken,’ she said.

“Nationwide, tribal leaders believe the injustices of the past might start to be reversed under Haaland. …

” ‘Protection of this government-to-government relationship is all important to the tribes,’ said Jon Echohawk, executive director and attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Colorado.

“Echohawk said that relationship is fraught because Interior agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been chronically underfunded. He says the previous administration also spurned tribal input on major lands decisions like the opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, the Keystone Pipeline and the 85% reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument.

“There is already pressure on the new administration to reinstate Bears Ears in Utah or possibly even expand it beyond its original boundaries. The land is rich with artifacts and other cultural resources considered sacred to many tribes. Haaland has said only she’s planning to travel there next month for a listening tour.

“Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, said she expects Haaland to take a measured approach on a lot of controversial issues at Interior given the historic nature of her appointment.

” ‘If she goes in and is radical, you know, who comes behind her, what native comes behind her, all of us will get judged by what she does,’ Morris said.”

Bobby Bascomb, speaking with Haaland at Living on Earth, brought up the subject of fossil fuels because the resistance to the new secretary’s appointment came from supporters of that sector in Congress.

Haaland said, “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed. Together we can work to position our nation and all of its people for success in the future.”

More at NPR, here, and at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Rainer Jensen/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images.
A visitor walks through the exhibition of Aboriginal artist John Mawurndjul at the Sprengel Museum in Germany.

As much as we have appreciated seeing the art of indigenous people around the world, it can’t be right for museums and collectors just to help themselves. In the US, many items now being returned have religious significance for tribes or were raided from burial sites.

Perhaps as art gets repatriated, native communities will show some of the works in their own way. In any case, one country has big plans to get Aboriginal art back from overseas. Tessa Solomon writes at the Art Newspaper that Australia is putting serious money behind repatriation of artifacts.

“The Australian government has pledged A$10.1 million (about $7.2 million) in additional funds over four years toward the return Indigenous cultural heritage objects held in collections overseas. The pilot program was launched in 2018 with a A$2 million ($1.4 million) budget by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), a national institution that supports the cultural resurgence of Australia’s native peoples.

” ‘We wanted to help the nation understand that there was an Indigenous perspective on this history,’ Lyndall Ley, the executive director of the institution’s Return of Cultural Heritage project, told the Art Newspaper.

“The project’s first two years were focused on artifacts held in public collections overseas and will now expand to facilitate the return of objects held in private collections. According to Ley, a U.K.-based collector made the first private repatriation, retuning eight secular artifacts of the Australia’s Yindjibarndi community. …

“A report released in September by AIATSIS under the title Return of Cultural Heritage 2018-20 identified 199 overseas institutions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage collections — collectively containing around 100,000 secular and ceremonial Indigenous objects. Some 33 percent of these objects are held in U.K. collections.

Of the 199 institutions identified by the report, 44 expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of returning Indigenous artifacts to their respective communities.

“The project’s second phase kicks off amid renewed interest. … In March, Arts Council England asked the Institute of Art and Law to develop guidance for U.K. museums on restitution, including advice on ‘dealing with claims and making decisions on the potential return of objects.’

“France voted this earlier this year to pass a bill to return 27 artifacts from French museums to Benin and Senegal. The vote followed a 2018 report on the repatriation of African artifacts commissioned by President Macron from the French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, which recommended the restitution by French museums of works in their collections taken ‘without consent’ unless the institutions can prove the objects where acquired legitimately from former African colonies. Macron pledged in a speech in Burkina Faso that his government would facilitate ‘the temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage to Africa’ within five years.”

More at the Art Newspaper, here

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Dyes were made with cabbage, beets, and tumeric because there was a Paas kit shortage this year.

When I made an absent-minded mistake with the egg coloring this year, it occurred to me that misadventures at Easter are sort of a family tradition. For some reason, we like to try new things for this holiday. That’s good. But our adventures frequently lead to hilarious results.

I remember the time our Philadelphia niece and nephew were visiting, and we decided to make bunny cookies from a recipe Suzanne got at Girl Scouts. Barbara went to add milk. The recipe said 2 Tablespoons. She thought it said 2 cups — and, oops! How we laughed!

We turned the cookie batter into something we referred to as “fritters.”

The family has also had lots of experiments with egg-decorating. We’ve tried dipping two sides separately for two-toned eggs; blowing out the raw insides before marbleizing with oil paint floating on water in a bucket; and making Ukrainian wax-resist eggs. Even before John grew up and founded a company that involved visits to Ukraine and employing Ukrainians, he thought we could get Ukrainian egg-decorating instructions and just sit down and do it.

He sat down and did it. I have to say that experiment wasn’t bad.

But I want to tell you about 2021. After not going in a grocery store for a year, I was thrilled to enter at last, and I went looking for white eggs and the Paas coloring kits. The guy who was stocking announced with regret that there were no kits available this year, not even food coloring.

I was floored. But I remembered that one year we made egg dyes with vegetables, so I bought a red cabbage and a beet and went online. One website also suggested tumeric. In three pots, I boiled cabbage for blue, beets for pink, and tumeric for yellow. The tumeric was impossible to strain thoroughly in my strainer and made the yellow eggs all lumpy. (See above.) Plus I forgot the vinegar to set it. The shredded beets worked fine and we ate the leftover beets at dinner.

But I had to do the cabbage twice, and here’s why. The cabbage was the first ingredient I strained after boiling had created a dye. I held the strainer in one hand and the cooled-off pot in the other.

And in true Easter tradition, I poured the dye right down the drain!

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Photo: Kevin Bacher / NPS, Flickr CC BY 2.0.
A Student Conservation Association crew is all smiles as they work to restore a trail in the popular Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park.

I love the way the radio show Living on Earth zeroes right in on whatever environmental issue is most important at any given time. In this episode, it discusses federal plans to tap civilians concerned about climate change — kind of the way FDR tapped civilian energy during the New Deal.

Host Steve Curwood talks to Washington Governor Jay Inslee about how a climate corps could aid conservation, combat climate disaster, and help save energy.

“CURWOOD: The modern CCC harkens back to the Civilian Conservation Corps created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. FDR’s CCC put some 3 million men to work in conservation efforts. … Today a Civilian Climate Corps could put people to work reducing the risk of forest fires, restoring wetlands, planting trees, and weatherizing homes both in the United States and abroad. During the Democratic primary, several of President Biden’s opponents also proposed a climate corps. Among them was Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. … Welcome back to Living on Earth, Governor!

“Let’s say that you were to take a look at your own state of Washington for some examples of the kind of work that the CCC would do. You’ve had horrendous wildfires, so I imagine you’re very interested in thinning the forests, the fuel that can add to those. Where else might it be especially useful?

“GOV. JAY INSLEE: Everywhere. This is a ubiquitous opportunity, because anywhere there’s a house, there is an opportunity to reduce energy wastage. And that’s the first place you get clean fuel, the very cheapest, first, most productive fuel, clean energy … stop wasting it. So helping people rehab their houses, get more insulation into their homes, starting with those who are in low-income homes, who frequently are living in places that just waste humongous amounts of energy, so these poor folks are trying to make huge energy payments to the utility company. … Then a part that I think hopefully is more focused on vocational skill development … to really focus on a long-term career, not just in the climate corps. That might be as exotic as, you know, learning how to maintain electric vehicles, because that’s we’re going to be driving. …

“CURWOOD: Many young people I speak to are desperate to do something to deal with the climate emergency, which they see as this humongous freight train barreling at them out of the future, and no way to jump out of the way. …

“INSLEE: I hear this as well, how do I plug in? What do I do? Where do I go, you know, what, you know? And this is just perfect to capture that huge energy that’s out there. [We] want that energy to be released. And I think this climate corps is a way to do that. It will help as well build, you know, public support, political support. …

“CURWOOD: The original Civilian Conservation Corps under FDR reinforced some social injustices, and even segregated black and white corps members into different camps, and there weren’t a whole lot of women that were involved in this. How can this new CCC help progress towards greater equity in our society?

“INSLEE: You’ve put your finger on a very important point. One is the most obvious one, which is economically to give people more economic opportunities. And I’m convinced it will do that big time. [Also] we have so many children, urban children particularly, who’ve never had experiences in the natural world. And giving them these experiences in a vocational setting is life changing for people. …

“My dad and mom used to re-vegetate alpine meadows on the slopes of Mount Rainier during the summer. They ran a group called the Student Conservation Association. [They] were kids, mostly from the East Coast, who came out to Mount Rainier National Park. [Once] they got that shovel in their hands, and once they spent a night in the tent, they were conservationists for their whole lives.”

More here.

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Talk about making delicious lemonade out of unwanted lemons! Here’s what two creative friends came up with during lockdown.

Sarah Buttenwieser writes at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “Like so many of us, artist Katy Schneider worried about how to face quarantine and its uncertainty. Rather than bake sourdough, she reached for a bunch of discarded 3-by-4-inch aluminum slides from Smith College, where she’s taught art for 30 years.

‘I knew I could repurpose the aluminum plates,’ Schneider says. ‘I knew I needed a project to get through quarantine. I like working on things that are the same size.’

“She decided to paint shoes each day. ‘I wanted to play with color and texture,’ she says. ‘These tiny paintings became an exercise to keep me in the studio.’

“After a few weeks, she shared the images with friends, inviting them to write stories or poems about the paintings. … Her most loyal respondent was musician, music teacher and songwriter Jim Armenti.

“ ‘Jim wrote about every single shoe painting,’ Schneider says. There were 40 paintings.

“Schneider moved on from shoes. She began to paint other things she found around her house, like ‘laundry in a laundry basket.’ … Meanwhile, she kept sending Armenti images.

“ ‘Jim continued to write a poem about each painting. It was like we became beholden to one another to complete this daily practice, which has become essential. As soon as I am in my basement sitting with my paints, I feel more relaxed. …

“ ‘Unlike portraiture, which I’ve done so much of, these paintings are of things I’ve never focused upon,’ Schneider says. ‘I feel no pressure to match my best work, because I don’t have best work of these objects; it’s all new discoveries. I’m creating these weirdly joyful images during an abysmal time. It’s energizing. I’m having fun with it.’ …

“Schneider enjoys the fact that the slide dividers worked to protect history — slides — and that she’s repurposing them to create an historical document.

“ ‘These images preserve this time in history, as the slides did before they were digitized,’ she reflects. ‘We are all going through this at once, but alone, and there’s something echoed in that from the tiny images, each divided by squares on the wall, as the dividers kept the slides from one another originally.’ …

“Armenti … loved ‘the solidity of the project right away. It was in my wheelhouse. I just like to do the thing — write the poem — much as I like live performance.’

“He doesn’t watch videos of his musical performances and he doesn’t like to return to the poems he’s written, either. Instead, he considers the poems ‘part of my day.’ …

“Before 8:30 a.m., he responds to email, completes chess moves, takes language lessons online — Spanish, Italian and Turkish — and writes a poem in response to Schneider’s daily painting.

“ ‘I think of her paintings as being of things that are overlooked,’ Armenti conjectures. ‘I like to let a narrative emerge from them, for them to take me on an emotional journey.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Concord Art.
Silver Linings: Paintings, Process and Poetryis an exhibit of Katy Schneider paintings and Jim Armenti poems. Visitors can see it at Concord Art until May 13, 2021. Covid safety rules are in force.

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