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Photo: Opération cétacés.
Humpback whale breaching.

In case you couldn’t get behind the New York Times firewall to read about the whale that tried to swallow a lobster fisherman, here’s the gist of it. It’s a great reminder that all our ancient, impossible-seeming stories, from the Bible’s Jonah to Pinocchio and Geppetto, generally have a basis in fact.

Maria Cramer reported, “It was sunny and clear on Friday morning and the water was calm off the coast of Provincetown, Mass., where Michael Packard was diving for lobsters. His longtime fishing partner, Josiah Mayo, was following him in their fishing vessel, the J&J, tracking him through the bubbles that rose from Mr. Packard’s breathing gear to the surface of the water. The men had already caught 100 pounds of lobster, and Mr. Packard was about 40 feet underwater, looking for more.

“Suddenly, the bubbles stopped, Mr. Mayo said. Then, the water began to churn violently. A creature breached the surface and for an agonizing split second, Mr. Mayo thought it was a white shark.

‘I immediately thought it was the shark encounter that we’d unfortunately been preparing for for years,’ he said in an interview on Saturday.

“Then, he saw the fluke and the head of a whale. Moments later, he saw Mr. Packard fly out of the water.

“ ‘ “It tried to eat me,” ’ Mr. Packard sputtered, according to Mr. Mayo. The whale, a humpback, swam away as Mr. Mayo and another fisherman helped Mr. Packard back into the boat.

“Such terrifying encounters are virtually unheard-of, according to Charles Mayo, Josiah Mayo’s father and a senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, a town of about 3,000 people on the tip of Cape Cod. …

“ ‘I’ve never heard of that ever happening,’ Dr. Mayo said of Mr. Packard’s ordeal. Still, the encounter is explainable, he said.

“The whale, possibly a 32- to 35-foot juvenile that had previously been seen swimming in the area, was most likely diving for food when it inadvertently caught Mr. Packard in its enormous mouth.

“Humpback whales spend much of their time in that part of New England, searching for and engulfing small schooling fish, said Jooke Robbins, director of the humpback whale studies program at the Center for Coastal Studies. They lunge fast, open their mouths and use baleen plates to ‘filter’ the water out before swallowing the fish, Dr. Robbins said in a statement.

“When the whale realized it had caught something that was not its typical prey — in this case, an unsuspecting lobsterman — it responded the way a human who accidentally ingested a fly would, Dr. Mayo said. …

“Mr. Packard told reporters that he was on his second dive, going toward the bottom of sea when he felt ‘this truck hit me.’ His first thought was that a white shark had attacked him, but when he did not feel teeth piercing into him, he realized he was inside a whale.

“ ‘I was completely inside; it was completely black,’ Mr. Packard told The Cape Cod Times. ‘I thought to myself: There’s no way I’m getting out of here — I’m done, I’m dead. All I could think of was my boys — they’re 12 and 15 years old.’ …

“He said he struggled against the mouth of the whale and could feel its powerful muscles squeezing against him. Then, he saw light and felt the whale’s head shaking and his body being thrown into the water. …

“Mr. Packard, who was released from the hospital on Friday, had extensive bruises, but no broken bones.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Corita Kent, then known as Sister Mary Corita, with students. “By the 1960s,” notes the Corita Art Center, “her vibrant serigraphs were drawing international acclaim. Corita’s work reflected her concerns about poverty, racism, and war.”

Talent will out. That was certainly the case with Sister Mary Corita, or Corita Kent, who became a force in the Pop Art scene of the 1960s with her focus on social justice.

At the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda recently wrote, that 35 years after her death, the L.A. City Council approved historic-cultural monument status for her former studio — “a humble storefront on Franklin Avenue, near Western Avenue that in recent years had been inhabited by a dry cleaner.”

Miranda continues, “If you drew a Venn diagram that brought together Charles Eames, Pop Art, commercial printing, social justice movements, the Second Vatican Council and 1960s Los Angeles, only one person could inhabit the space where those areas intersect: Corita Kent.

“A nun in the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than three decades, Sister Mary Corita was a well-known educator and artist dubbed the ‘Pop Art nun’ by the press. … In her classroom at Immaculate Heart College, Kent taught the art of silkscreen printing — a commercial form that she adapted to the era of Pop. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which called for a liberalization and modernization of the Catholic liturgy to the realities of 20th century life, she delved into creating work that echoed calls for social justice — be it antiwar efforts, labor campaigns or Black and Chicano civil rights.

“Her work at its most innovative took vernacular culture — commercial logos and graphics, bits of corporate slogans, images from mass media — and reconfigured them into fine art. Art that not only advanced the ways in which these elements were used formally, but that grounded Pop. … As independent curator Michael Duncan wrote of her work in a 2013 catalog: ‘She addressed consumers not of products but of life.’ …

“The [historic-cultural] designation is important not just because Kent was an artist whose work was a critical part of the artistic dialogues Los Angeles was having in the 1960s, but also because she represents the rare woman to be honored in the city’s landscape.

“As the Los Angeles Conservancy noted in its advocacy for preserving Kent’s studio building, only 3% of the city’s more than 1,200 historic-cultural monuments are associated with women’s heritage. … The designation is reflective of a shift in preservationists’ thinking about how we acknowledge history — thinking that is less preoccupied with the pristine historical details of a site than in making sure a wide range of histories are acknowledged in a city’s landscape. Late last year, the 1970 protest route of the Chicano Moratorium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places; early this year, the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights — a key site of Chicano activism — was added to the list. …

“The storefront that Kent inhabited, where she taught and collaborated with students and created some of her most memorable work, no longer bears traces of her presence. …

“Kent left the space — and Los Angeles — after she withdrew from the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in favor of a secular life in the late 1960s. Part of her departure may have been due to pressures related to her increasingly high profile: At one point, she was featured on the cover of Newsweek. It may have also stemmed from simmering tensions between the liberal Immaculate Heart order and the staunchly conservative Archbishop James Francis McIntyre, who once complained that that the work produced by Kent and the college’s art department was ‘an affront to me and a scandal to the archdiocese.’ In 1970, Immaculate Heart split from the church and is today an independent ecumenical community.

“The studio storefront, which is currently unoccupied, sits on a small corner of a 1.7-acre parcel that also contains a shuttered Rite-Aid. Recently, the plot was acquired by a pair of real estate development companies who intend to turn the site into a Lazy Acres natural foods market. Part of their original plan had been to tear down the studio to make way for additional parking. (Yes, parking.) That plan has since been amended to leave the old studio building intact.

“This comes thanks to the work of many L.A. preservationists, among them the staff at the Corita Art Center, which is located just across the street in a complex of buildings still inhabited by the Immaculate Heart Community.

“ ‘The big question is what’s next,’ says the center’s director Nellie Scott. It’s too soon to say what the developers will do with the property — whether they would sell it or lease it for the purpose of an arts center. ‘We know that there are a thousand more conversations to happen.’ ”

So interesting that a nun used her natural gift in this way. I’m reminded of the French legend about the Juggler of Notre Dame, who was ridiculed for having nothing to give Mary but his juggling. In the story, her statue accepts the gift with a miraculous bow.

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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Photo: Library of Congress.
140th U.S. Flag Day poster. 1777-1917. The birthday of the stars and stripes, June 14th, 1917.

Did you know that today is Flag Day? For me, the US flag belongs to everyone who resides here and not to any small ideological group. (Does it happen in other countries that a rabid coterie usurps “ownership” of the national flag?)

I decided to write about the history of this day so you’ll know what’s going on if you see a lot of flags around town today.

Wikipedia says, “In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress, [which] stated: ‘Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.’ …

“In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; on August 3, 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday. … However, it is at the president’s discretion to officially proclaim the observance. On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. State to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday, beginning in the town of Rennerdale. New York Statutes designate the second Sunday in June as Flag Day, a state holiday.

“Perhaps the oldest continuing Flag Day parade is in Fairfield, Washington. Beginning in 1909 or 1910, Fairfield has held a parade every year since, with the possible exception of 1918, and celebrated the ‘Centennial’ parade in 2010, along with some other commemorative events. Appleton, Wisconsin, claims to be the oldest National Flag Day parade in the nation, held annually since 1950.

“Quincy, Massachusetts, has had an annual Flag Day parade since 1952 and claims it ‘is the longest-running parade of its kind’ in the U.S.,” but it didn’t happen in the pandemic.

The Patriot Ledger of May 5, 2021, wrote, “The city’s annual Flag Day celebration is back on for this year, with a few minor adjustments. 

“Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch said the much-loved parade will take place once again this June, but the annual flag raising ceremony has been canceled and fireworks have been moved to Quincy Bay. The parade will follow its usual route starting at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 12 and Koch said all of its usual participants have been asked to join in on the fun.

” ‘It may not be as robust as years past based on if our usual groups are ready, but I do expect we will have a decent parade,’ Koch said. ‘And by putting the fireworks in the bay, it spreads everybody out. At Black’s Creek, it’s hard to see them if you aren’t right there.’ 

“The city was forced to cancel its annual Flag Day parade in what would have been its 69th year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The tradition did not completely fall to the wayside, and the Flag Day Committee planned a ‘drive under the flag’ event that gave the city an opportunity to make use of its 30-by-50-foot American flag. The giant flag was hoisted by two Quincy Fire Department ladder trucks on Merrymount Parkway near Veterans Memorial Stadium, and residents drove under it with decorated vehicles cars, vans, small trucks and bikes.

“Koch said parade viewers this year will be encouraged to wear masks when they can’t socially distance.”

A WW II veteran I knew and generally admired once spoke of “fighting for the flag” as literally fighting for the flag. People died for the flag, he said. He did not understand about the literary term metonymy, in which an object is used to represent a concept, like referring to the British monarch as “the Crown.” I tried to say that a country’s flag represents the country and is not literally what people die for. He didn’t see it that way.

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Photo: Zack’s Cafe via ABC3340.
At Zack’s Cafe in Miami, Oklahoma, receipts for pre-paid meals hang on the wall. Zack’s Cafe is among several local restaurants that enabled neighbors to help one another out during the pandemic.

Often in the past there has been restaurant outreach to hungry people who can’t afford a restaurant. I’ve covered a few instances at this blog. But there’s nothing like a pandemic to enable such efforts to really take off. An Oklahoma town, for example, found there was no shortage of customers who would donate meals so others less fortunate could eat.

Last month, Cathy Free wrote at the Washington Post, “In a growing number of restaurants in Oklahoma, the walls are decorated with hanging receipts. Anyone can walk in, pull down a receipt and order a meal free of charge. The receipts are put there by customers who prepay for food and tack them to the wall, leaving them on offer for anyone who is hungry.

“Since early February, restaurants in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma — in towns like Miami, Grove and Vinita — encourage people who are short on cash to pick up a prepaid meal receipt and enjoy everything from three-egg omelets to chicken-fried steak, no tips expected, no questions asked.

‘Maybe if we can show people what it’s like to take care of your neighbor during a time of need, it will spread throughout the United States,’ said Bless Parker, 51, the volunteer mayor of Miami (pronounced my-am-uh). ‘We want to bring back the old hometown values that I saw when I was growing up here as a kid.’

“During the historic Arctic blast earlier this year, Parker helped homeless people get into church shelters, and around that time he and others decided they needed to do something to help people who were having a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, a former mining town with a population of about 13,000.

“Sandye Williams, an assistant manager at the Miami Walmart, said she remembered a story she had seen in 2019 about a restaurant in Arkansas where customers had bought meals in advance for those in need and posted the receipts on the wall for anyone to pick up.

“On Feb. 3, Williams tagged Dawg House restaurant owner Jennifer White in a post about the story, saying, ‘Look at this. I would pay for a meal once a week.’ …

“ ‘I loved the idea and thought I’d give it a try,’ said White, 28. ‘I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not.’

“When White posted a sign near the entrance inviting her customers to buy $10 meal receipts and post them on the cafe’s giving wall, word spread quickly in Miami, she said. …

“Hours after Parker’s receipt went up the wall, another local restaurant, Zack’s Cafe, decided to get on board with the idea. And a few days later, Montana Mike’s Steakhouse joined in. …

“The giving wall concept soon spread to surrounding towns, including Vinita, which has a population of 5,423, where Beth Hilburn runs the Hi-Way Cafe on historic Route 66.

“Hilburn, 52, said she invited her customers to buy something extra from the menu such as a slice of pie or a cheeseburger, then post their contribution beneath a sign she printed: ‘If you are hungry or know someone who is … these tickets have been paid for in advance by previous customers. Please grab a ticket and eat!’ …

“The restaurants’ Facebook pages have been flooded with comments about the giving walls from local customers and out-of-towners alike. ‘One of the main reasons I love our small town!’ a Miami resident commented on the Zack’s Cafe page. …

“Some of the free meal recipients have returned to put a meal ticket on the wall to help somebody else once they’re able to, Perry said. She estimates that more than 300 free meals have been ordered at Zack’s. …

“At Montana Mike’s, general manager Jennifer Highton said she recently took a phone call from a man in Chicago who wanted to purchase several meals and add them to the wall.

“ ‘He’s never been here and doesn’t know anything about us, but he loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it,’ said Highton.”

More at the Washington Post.

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Photo: Reuters.
An Egyptian nonprofit has enlisted fishermen from Al-Qursaya, an island near central Cairo, to collect plastics that have been reducing the catch.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, I recently learned about the enormity of the plastics problem in waters where people fish. The website states: “Plastic accumulating in our oceans and on our beaches has become a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.” Yikes!

New efforts large and small are needed to reverse what’s happening. On Twitter, the World Economic Forum is promoting one of the small efforts, which is how I learned about it.

Reuters reports, “For 17 years, Mohamed Nasar has supported his family of five by fishing in the Nile River near the banks of the tiny island of Al-Qursaya close to central Cairo.

“But the 58-year-old says fishermen like himself catch fewer fish every year as the Nile has become clogged with plastic bottles, bags and other waste.

‘The fish get caught in the bottles, and they die,’ said Nasar.

“A local environmental group named ‘VeryNile‘ has asked the island’s fishermen to use their boats to collect plastic bottles from the river. VeryNile says it buys the bottles at a higher price than the general market price on offer from traders or recycling plants.

“The initiative provides a sustainable solution for helping to clean up the Nile, while providing an additional source of income for fisherman like Nasar.

” ‘This job helped us a bit. We come and collect about 10 to 15 kilos (of plastic bottles), we get about 12 Egyptian pounds ($0.7682) for each,’ Nasar said as he sat in his boat collecting bottles. …

“Another fisherman, Saeed Hassanein, said cleaner Nile water would mean more fish.

” ‘On the one hand, the Nile is cleaner, and on the other hand the fisherman now has more than one source of income,’ he said.

“With the help of more than 40 fishermen, VeryNile has over the past year collected around 18 tons of plastic bottles, most of which were sold to recyclers.” More at Reuters, here.

The World Economic Forum, which defines itself as the “international organization for public-private cooperation,” is increasingly focused on addressing the consequences of global warming, and I hope it is serious about that. It’s easy to feel cynical about the forum’s annual conference for the world’s rich and powerful — called Davos because it takes place in Davos, Switzerland — but I have to believe it’s helping to make both the problems and the possible solutions more widely accepted. Besides, I know there are many altruistic people on the staff, like my friend Kai, who was one of them several years ago.

In a recent podcast, Radio Davos discusses initiatives tackling climate change, calling the current decade “the decade of ocean science, and one in which we must get on track for net-zero by 2050.”

So there’s that. Meanwhile, in Egypt, impoverished fishermen are pulling out plastic that corporations, cruise ships, and too many individuals keep dumping.

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Photo: Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage.
Above is a chimpanzee in the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia, where an influencer chimp began a tradition of wearing a blade of grass in the ear, a style that continued after her death.

I’ve been thinking about social influencers and whether I can identify contemporary influences that have affected what I do. I know that if someone describes a book in a way that makes it sound like my kind of thing, I go immediately to my library’s website and reserve it. In another example, my behavior is hugely influenced by articles on the latest Covid research. And I’m always joining boycotts to help a worthy cause someone is promoting.

So I thought it was interesting to learn how creatures other than humans do influencing — from silly behaviors to life-and-death behaviors.

Natalie Angier at the New York Times begins with a chimpanzee. “Julia, her friends and family agreed, had style. When, out of the blue, the 18-year-old chimpanzee began inserting long, stiff blades of grass into one or both ears and then went about her day with her new statement accessories clearly visible to the world, the other chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia were dazzled.

“Pretty soon, they were trying it, too: first her son, then her two closest female friends, then a male friend, out to eight of the 10 chimps in the group, all of them struggling, in front of Julia the Influencer — and hidden video cameras — to get the grass-in-the-ear routine just right.

” ‘It was quite funny to see,’ said Edwin van Leeuwen of the University of Antwerp, who studies animal culture. ‘They tried again and again without success. They shivered through their whole bodies.’ …

“Julia died more than two years ago, yet her grassy-ear routine — a tradition that arose spontaneously, spread through social networks and skirts uncomfortably close to a human meme or fad — lives on among her followers in the sanctuary. The behavior is just one of many surprising examples of animal culture that researchers have lately divulged, as a vivid summary makes clear in a recent issue of Science. …

“ ‘If you define culture as a set of behaviors shared by a group and transmitted through the group by social learning, then you find that it’s widespread in the animal kingdom,’ said Andrew Whiten, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, and the author of the Science review. ‘You see it from primates and cetaceans, to birds and fish, and now we even find it in insects.’

“Culture ‘is another inheritance mechanism, like genes,’ Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, who studies culture in whales, said. ‘It’s another way that information can flow through a population.’ … Genes lumber, but culture soars. In 1980, for example, an observant humpback whale discovered that by smacking its tail hard against the water, the tiny fish on which it preyed were prompted to ball up into tidy packages fit for comparatively easy capture and consumption. The enhanced hunting technique, called lobtail feeding, quickly spread along known lines of humpback social groups, aided, researchers suspect, by the cetacean talent for acrobatic mimicry among members of a pod. Today, more than 600 humpbacks are lobtail feeders. …

“Sperm whales likewise used crowdsourcing to outwit Ahab. In a new study examining whaling logs from the 19th century, Dr. Whitehead and his colleagues determined that when New England whalers first started hunting a naïve population of sperm whales in the north Pacific, they were essentially harpooning fish in a barrel, harvesting untold gallons of the fine spermaceti oil contained in the whale’s distinctive top hat of an acoustical organ. In just three to five years, however, long before the whalers had made a dent in the whale population, their hunting success rate had plunged by nearly 60 percent. …

“Some differences between animal tribes make sense only if viewed through a cultural lens. Liran Samuni, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and her colleagues have been following two neighboring groups of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The home ranges of the chimpanzee-like apes overlap considerably … but there is a salient distinction between them. Once or twice a month, bonobos supplement their vegetarian diet with meat, and when these two troops turn carnivorous, they seek out different prey. One group goes after anomalures, which resemble flying squirrels, while the other hunts small antelopes called duikers. ‘No matter where they are, even when the group is together, they maintain the preference,’ Dr. Samuni said. …

“Peter Richerson of the University of California at Davis, who studies the coevolution of genes and culture in humans … is particularly impressed by recent research showing that animal migrations, long considered the essence of mindless instinct in motion, are, in fact, culturally determined. ‘Mountain sheep have to learn their migrations from other sheep,’ he said. Whooping cranes are long-distance migrators, and when their numbers declined so precipitously that there were no adult birds to teach young birds the route, conservationists stepped in and used ultralight airplanes as whooping crane tutors. Even farm animals can be repositories of cultural wisdom, as ranchers discover when they precipitously sell off their entire herd.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Political Blind Date
Toronto City Councilors Gary Crawford and Shelley Carroll, who hold very different political views, chat in a Toronto coffee shop during an episode of the TV show “Political Blind Date.”

What if each of us tried to reach across the divide? My brave friend Nancy does it in a class at the Council on Aging, where she actually talks politics. I’m not strong enough for that, but I really do work at nurturing the things I have in common with people whose politics are different. There are always things we have in common. After all, if Earth got invaded by hostile space aliens, we’d all be helping each other out without a second thought.

In Canada, they aren’t waiting for space aliens.

Sara Miller Llana writes at the Christian Science Monitor about a popular television show that has participants reaching across the political divide.

“When Gary Crawford confided to Shelley Carroll on TV that he has a daughter with a disability, the mother who raised a daughter diagnosed with autism replied instinctively, ‘Oh, Gary’ – conveying an empathy so obvious in just two words.

“It’s not that the Toronto city councilors didn’t know one another. They’d worked together in City Hall for the better part of a decade. But more often than not, they were dug in on either side of the chamber, battling over city finances.

“So this meeting, at a cozy Toronto coffee shop, was an intentional step away from those fiery legislative sessions, a way to help two rival politicians find common ground in sustaining North America’s fastest-growing city – even if Ms. Shelley envisions new revenue tools while Mr. Crawford dubs himself a ‘keep taxes low kinda guy.’

“Welcome to ‘Political Blind Date.’ The popular Canadian television show might sound like a hokey reality show for the political set. But for its creators, the aim is to undo some of the stubborn binaries that have built up around contentious issues from gun rights to taxation to immigration to climate change.

“Getting beyond the media scrum, the yelling during parliamentary question periods, the sound bites on nightly news, and the callous swipes over social media, producers set the stage for participants to engage one another with the time and respect that complex problems require.

‘Respect is at the heart of it. Not only are politicians, in the way they are using political rhetoric, not respecting each other; they’re disrespecting their citizenry,’ says Mark Johnston, showrunner of ‘Political Blind Date.’ ‘And at the same time, there’s been a disrespect and dehumanization of politicians.’ …

“With the filming of a fifth season underway, about 50 politicians have already participated, spending two days together with each other’s constituents and wrestling with legalization of marijuana, Indigenous rights, and climate change. It’s not easy: In one episode, a politician who supports gun rights visited a Toronto mother whose children were hit by bullets at a playground. 

“The goal is not to get the two politicians to reverse their positions, something that rarely happens. It’s to slow down and study policies in all their complexity, and to hear the human concerns and perspectives that lie behind their support. …

“During the episode on Toronto city finances, which aired in January 2020, Mr. Crawford hands Ms. Carroll a button to put on. Hers is a big yellow disk with an arrow pointing upward, reading ‘High Property Taxes.’ His reads the opposite, the arrow pointing downward next to ‘Low Property Taxes.’ 

“But after the show, he realizes the buttons don’t make as much sense as he originally thought. They both want their constituents to be able to stay in their homes and rely on services their taxes pay for. …

“He says he’s still a ‘low tax kinda guy.’ But the experience opened him up to a conversation he would not have been willing to have before the episode. And both say they talk more than they ever did before. ‘We’re often understaffed, under-resourced, and really stretched for time,’ says Ms. Carroll. ‘We don’t get to know enough about each other’s personal lives. So you don’t know where each other are coming from. 

“ ‘You can have different politics, but it always helps if you can humanize and say, “OK, I get your point of view and it’s different from mine, but I know where you’re coming from, so let’s work on it,” ‘ she says. …

“Anna-Kay Russell, co-founder and director of funding partnerships for the Canadian Black Policy Network, says this kind of connection between two rivals has a trickle-down effect. ‘The “us versus them” mentality not only seeps into the behavior of our politicians, but down into the mindsets of the voters, and it detracts from the fact that we’re a nation that needs to and should be operating as one, collectively,’ she says. …

“The show has averaged about 195,000 viewers per episode, a solid number for a small network like TVO, says [John Ferri, an executive of TVO, the television network that airs the show,] and it has been optioned to the United Kingdom, France, Israel, and South Africa. The show’s creators are also shopping it to the United States, given all the divisions that have grown amid the pandemic. …

“[Johnston] sees potential even in the explosive political environment of the U.S. ‘It’s easy to sit behind a Twitter account or stand up in a legislature,’ he says. ‘But if you agree to go on a journey with another human being, I just think in general people are going to listen to each other.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Photographic/Scenic Ireland/Alamy via the Guardian.
Burning peat increases global warming, which is why commercial operations are closing, but undisturbed bogs have always been great for keeping carbon
from the atmosphere.

My father-in-law was in the peat moss business back in the day. The Philadelphia company he worked for and later ran was called I.H. Nestor. It sold peat mostly for agriculture, but you may know that peat was also burned for heat, especially in Ireland. My friend, the late great James Hackett, and his family always heated their home with peat, with unfortunate consequences for their health.

Today’s story is about the historical value of peat bogs, an aspect that has been mostly unrecognized until now.

Chris Mooney writes at the Washington Post, “Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive but mysterious ‘carbon bomb’ lurking beneath the Earth’s surface, a new scientific study suggests. If the finding is correct, it would mean that we have been neglecting a major human contribution to global warming — one whose legacy continues.

“The researchers, from France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and several other institutions across the globe, suggest that beginning well before the industrial era, the mass conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture could have added over 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of more than seven years of current emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

“ ‘Globally [peatlands] are only 3 percent of the land surface but store about 30 percent of the global soil carbon,’ said Chunjing Qiu, a researcher at the laboratory, a joint institution supported by French government research bodies and the Versailles Saint-Quentin University, and the first author of the study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“The new finding of an ‘ignored historical land use emission’ suggests that even now, we lack a complete understanding of how the Earth’s land surfaces are driving and modulating the warming of the planet. … Scientists have long worried about the potential for massive amounts of carbon being released by northern permafrost, where ancient plant remains lie in a kind of suspended animation beneath the surface. But the peat threat is very similar; in fact, peatlands overlap considerably with permafrost regions.

“Peatlands are a particular type of wetland, one in which dead plant matter does not fully decay due to the watery conditions, and thus accumulates.

In its normal state, peat slowly pulls carbon out of the atmosphere — unless you disturb it.

“If a peatland is drained — as has occurred for many centuries to promote agriculture, especially the planting of crops — the ancient plant matter begins to decompose, and the carbon it contains joins with oxygen from the atmosphere. It is then emitted as carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse warming gas. …

“To try to get around the problem of missing historical records, the new study simulates the Northern Hemisphere (outside of the tropics) over thousands of years to determine where peat would have likely developed. Over time, the computer model will begin to include growing agricultural activities. It can then be used to analyze different scenarios for how frequently such developments may have occurred on peatland.

“In a middle-of-the-road scenario, where humans would have regularly grown crops on peatlands, the study finds that some 70 billion tons of carbon (over 250 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide) would have been lost from the soil.

“Importantly, the analysis does not cover all the peatlands across the globe: It only considers Northern Hemisphere peatlands from the year 850 CE onward. Massive losses of tropical peat are even now occurring in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, so global losses will be higher. …

“The study is ‘a broad modeling approach with many assumptions, which can all be individually questioned and debated,’ added Hans Joosten, who leads a peat research group at the University of Greifswald in Germany. ‘But the overall message that remains is that drainage of only a small part turns the entire northern peatland resource into a net carbon source.

‘Though peatlands indeed are carbon sinks in their pristine state, they should also be seen as carbon bombs, which explode whenever they are damaged. Keep them wet!’ …

“The new work underscores that major gaps remain in how much we know about the human contribution to climate change, even as we are trying to halt it. With poor understanding about peat locations, and poor reporting about land conversion, experts say, many countries can’t fully account for peat emissions even now. That could raise questions about what has been happening in their land-use sector.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic.
An abandoned painting in Brooklyn, New York.

When I first started getting serious about the internet in the mid 1990s, the browser I used was Netscape Navigator. Remember that? One thing I really loved about it was the way it put quirky website suggestions at the top of its home page. That was how I learned about the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Dedham, Mass. For a long time I checked MOBA regularly to see what “new” paintings had been rescued from trash cans or abandoned on the side of a road.

I had almost forgotten about MOBA when I read a Hyperallergic story about a similar initiative, an Instagram account called Abandoned Paintings. These paintings are not necessarily “bad,” just no longer wanted. Hakim Bishara of the Soloway Gallery has a report.

“Last summer,” he writes, “while COVID-​19 was still ravaging through New York, I began noticing an unusual amount of discarded paintings on the sidewalks of my neighborhood in Brooklyn. It became an almost daily occurrence as more people moved out to the suburbs or to other states. Instinctively, I started amassing a photo archive of these paintings for a potential project. But as often is the case with new project ideas, I soon found out that someone else has already done it.

“When I stumbled upon artist Jason Osborne’s Instagram account Abandoned Paintings, which has been archiving images of discarded paintings for the last decade, I immediately became a fan. Updated daily with submissions from around the world, it pays a final tribute to these disowned artworks before they fade into the trash heap of history.

“Osborne, an artist with a self-professed fondness for fringe and forgotten art, first started Abandoned Paintings as a blog about unseen paintings in storage facilities of American museums. Soon after, he began documenting discarded paintings that he spotted on sidewalks and trash bins across New York City. …

“In 2011, he [launched] an Instagram account that quickly gained popularity. In time, he started receiving contributions from like-minded fans from across the globe, including France, the United Kingdom, and Chile.

‘As a painting junkie, I like to think of all the other lives that paintings have other than the 10% that we see on the walls of museums and galleries,’ Osborne told Hyperallergic in an interview. …

“According to Osborne, abandoned paintings appear on the streets in cycles, mostly when art students leave their studios at the end of their studies or when people move out of apartments at the end of the month. The mass exodus from NYC during 2020 seemed to interrupt that pattern, adding more abandoned paintings to the streets. …

“With new submissions and inquiries flowing into his DMs daily, Osborne has a handful of anecdotes to share about the different lives that one painting can have. For instance, there have been several cases in which artists reached out to him saying that they identified a painting they had previously sold or gifted to others. One unlucky painting was abandoned twice.

“What’s also interesting is the way that people tend to leave paintings out on the street. Unlike other discarded objects, paintings are often leaned presentably against a wall or a fence, waiting to be noticed and taken. …

“If it were up to Osborne, he would ‘fill entire museums and galleries with discarded paintings.’ But until then, he says, documenting these forlorn artworks has contributed to his understanding of painting in myriad ways.

“ ‘It solved many problems I had in my own work,’ he said.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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12 Asian elephants have arrived at White Oak Conservation.
Stephanie Rutan / Via White Oak Conservation

Because of the heat wave, I went out for my walk at 5:30 this morning, while it was still pleasant. I saw a bluebird, a couple rabbits, and a snapping turtle that crossed a bridge and launched herself 20 feet into the river. That was her choice.

The subjects of today’s story went a long time without having choices like the ones snapping turtles, wild rabbits, and bluebirds enjoy. Having spent many years doing tricks in the circus, they now reside at a 135-acre sanctuary where staff say they can hide for days at a time. Life is not completely natural, but it’s better than the circus.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “For about two decades, elephants that performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were sent to a reserve in central Florida when they became too old to balance on two legs and parade around arenas doing tricks and dancing for large crowds. …

“In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun moving to a 135-acre sanctuary, one that is not affiliated with the circus that for years was accused of mistreating and abusing the gentle giants.

“Three weeks after being let loose in the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla., the first group of elephants has been exploring the new surroundings, and staff members say they don’t see some of them for days at a time. When they do spy the large animals, they say, they are swimming in the deep end of a pond or having a dust bath, followed by a nap in the shade. They also snack on watermelon and banana buffets.

“Employees say it was an emotional moment to watch the elephants walk out of their barn together for the first time into the lush acreage.

“ ‘There was more than one wet eye that day,’ said Michelle Gadd, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. …

“Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants in 2016, ending a 145-year tradition, after pushback from the public about the pachyderms being forced to perform. … A year-and-a-half after the elephants were retired, the circus closed shop because of declining ticket sales. …

“Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter arranged to purchase all 32 of the former Ringling Bros. elephants and have them transported 200 miles from Central Florida to Yulee, outside Jacksonville. The Walters bought the 17,000-acre White Oak sanctuary in 2013, and have been expanding it since. …

“Eventually, the elephant portion of the refuge will cover 2,500 acres and feature nine linked areas with enough water holes, forests, grasslands and wetlands to support the entire herd, said Nick Newby, 41, who leads the elephant caretaker team and helped plan the habitat.

“ ‘We wanted it to be as natural as possible, and we wanted to consider the social dynamic as well,’ Newby said. ‘Elephants are very sociable animals, so we like to study them, see what their personalities are like and then try to mix and match them with other elephants they might like to cohabitate with.’ …

“For Newby, who has worked with elephants for 18 years (mostly in zoos), there was a sense of elation as he watched the animals wander through their new home.

“ ‘It’s all about the elephants, so to see them out there doing natural elephant behaviors like swimming, was exhilarating and rewarding,’ he said. …

“Asian and African elephants are endangered in the wild because of loss of habitat and illegal poaching, [Gadd] said. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, while less than 50,000 remain in Asia.

“Wildlife conservation studies have shown that between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are held in zoos or are still used by safari companies and circuses around the world. …

“Plans haven’t yet been developed for the public to view the elephants from afar, but Newby said the ultimate goal would be for somebody to look through a pair of binoculars at the White Oak refuge and feel as though they were watching elephants in their natural habitat.

“ ‘The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild,’ he said. ‘It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Martin Roth via Kelly Schroer and Hyperallergic.
When composer Martin Roth came across the City Club building, he was enchanted by “the vines hugging its worn-down façade and poison ivy running rampant in the interior,” says Hyperallergic.

This is a story about a creative person who saw beauty where others saw decay.

At Hyperallergic, Valentina Di Liscia writes about Martin Roth and his vision for an electronic soundscape that would shift as plants grew and swayed.

“Imagine walking into the ruins of an abandoned building,” she writes. “You might expect to find a space that is decrepit and forlorn, engulfed by cobwebs and eerie silence. Instead, everything around you is blooming. The verdant garden unfolding before your eyes is made more vibrant and alive by the soft rhythms pulsing throughout; the sounds seem to emanate from the leaves and petals themselves.

“This was the vision artist Martin Roth had conceived, before he passed away in 2019, for the City Club building, an overgrown Victorian house in central Newburgh, New York.

Using bio-sonification, a system that translates the internal frequencies of plants into musical notes, he would create an electronic soundscape that shifts as they grow or sway in the wind, or if visitors interact with them.

“ ‘Martin described it to me initially as a way to amplify the “heartbeat” of the plant — which I always thought was such a beautiful way to think of it,’ said Kelly Schroer, founder of the local nonprofit Strongroom.

“The seed was planted, so to speak, in 2017, when Schroer invited Roth to collaborate on a project in Newburgh. But the artist’s untimely death at the age of 42 and the onslaught of the pandemic stalled progress. Now, based on Roth’s notes and renderings and conversations with the artist, Schroer is bringing his concept to life, with the first immersive ‘plant concert’ set to debut as early as this month.

“Newburgh, a Hudson River city 60 miles north of Manhattan … was the birthplace of Andrew Jackson Downing, the eminent landscape designer and champion of Gothic Revival whose legacy shaped urban parks and public spaces in the US, including Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s proposal for Central Park. Along with Vaux, Downing designed the grounds in the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and several buildings in Newburgh — including the ornate brick house known as the City Club in the early 1850s. …

“In 1981, when the building was in the hands of a new owner and finally undergoing restorations, it was gutted by a devastating fire that left just a shell of the landmark. When Roth came across the building, he was enchanted by the way plants had taken over the structure. …

“The artist previously experimented with bio-sonification at [Bard College’s] Hessel Museum of Art in 2015, hosting a plant concert in a makeshift cornfield. He used a similar sensory device with two probes that attach to a plant’s leaf and to a small metal rod inserted in the soil near the roots, and visitors were also encouraged to touch the leaves and stalks.

“ ‘The [City Club] piece is really in line with Martin’s work, which isn’t just the completed installation — it’s the act of making it, the changes and the interactions that occur,’ Schroer said. ‘Being aware of the plants and trees as a kind of active collaborator is really what it’s all about.’

“A Kickstarter campaign for the project has met its initial $10,000 goal, which will allow the project to open to the public this month and host concerts through October, but Schroer is hoping to fundraise up to the stretch goal of $20,000 to help expand public programming. Strongroom is also seeking plant donations, especially shade-tolerant shrubs, grasses, vines, and flowers.

“ ‘It’s sad to say, but often when an artist passes away, that’s when people realize he was a visionary, when he is already gone,’ Schroer said. ‘There’s very few artists that make you reconsider what art can be. That’s how I feel about Martin.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

By the way, you can follow Strongroom on Instagram @strongroom.inc, and if you like artistic renderings of derelict buildings, you might enjoy the work of David Manch @phantomphotosnap.

Plant concert by Martin Roth.

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Probably a painted turtle looking for a spot to lay eggs

Time for another hodgepodge collection of things that caught my eye on recent walks. To start, I include a video of what I think is a painted turtle. (Do correct me if I’m wrong.) It’s being nudged along by my sneakers because it will be safer from bikes on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Can you hear the audio? Jeanne and I had been referring to the turtles as “he,” but we had a suspicion they were crossing the blacktop to lay eggs. So, not “he.”

There are also flower photos from my yard and my neighborhood and several from the Buttrick Mansion, now a visitor center for the Minuteman National Park. The Buttrick gardens specialize in peonies and iris. Isn’t that black one amazing? You can see rhododendrons along a staircase going down to the Concord River and a view or the river itself in another shot. A photo of the Daniel Chester French statue of the Minuteman farmer is also included.

Everyone loves flowers. The tiny garden with the two little putti is actually in a large parking lot. Funny how the statues each have a hand to an ear. It makes me think they have cellphone earbuds!

The banner featuring blown milkweed seeds and the words “Love” and “Justice” (the latter planted in Minnesota) was part of an Umbrella Arts outdoor exhibition called “Change is in the Air.

The farm mural in West Concord, an initiative of the Village Art Room, seems to have been a group effort, with contributors assigned small squares to complete.

Moving on to Boston, where I had to go to renew my senior discount for public transit, I made a stop in Dewey Square. I always like checking out the latest Greenway mural. This one is by Daniel Gordon. It’s not as edgy as some I admired in the past.

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Today’s story reminds me of an old-time jingle my father used to sing: “Shave and a haircut: Two bits!” But the article says that instead of getting a shave with your haircut for only a quarter (two bits), you can now get a Covid shot. And maybe a fried fish sandwich.

Lena H. Sun has the story at the Washington Post. “Reginald Alston never expected to get a coronavirus vaccine and never expected anyone would change his mind about it.

“But his best friend, a hair salon owner, kept telling him he was being shortsighted and maybe even a little bit selfish. What about his niece and her newborn who live with him? How would he feel if they became sick? Also, his job as a contractor and painter meant he was often going into other people’s homes. Didn’t he want to be protected?

“By the time that friend, Katrina Randolph, told him about the nearby barbershop hosting a vaccination clinic, and offered to drive him there, Alston, 57, was far along on the journey to changing his mind.

‘She really influenced me to get it,’ he acknowledged, standing on the sidewalk outside the Hyattsville, Md., barbershop earlier this month after getting immunized. ‘I listen to Katrina. I know she wants me to be around.’

“Alston got his jab of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with a free fried fish sandwich and a $30 coupon toward a haircut and a shave, at The Shop Spa, a barbershop that serves a predominantly Black and Latino clientele. It’s the first coronavirus vaccine clinic in a barbershop in Maryland and organizers hope it will become a national model. A newly formed partnership that includes Black community and business leaders, the University of Maryland and the White House covid-19 response team is working to make that happen. …

“ ‘Why not go where people already have trust — the barbershop and the salon?’ said Stephen B. Thomas, a health policy professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, who founded the barbershop initiative known as HAIR (Health Advocates In-Reach and Research) more than a decade ago. …

“As the United States enters what is likely to be the toughest stretch of its ambitious immunization effort, health officials are moving away from mass vaccination sites and focusing instead on small clinics like The Shop Spa that rely on word-of-mouth and use trusted, often nontraditional messengers. …

“Alston’s friend, Randolph, 52, [is] part of the cadre of barbers and stylists trained as health educators through the University of Maryland program. The initial focus was colon cancer, diabetes and other diseases that disproportionately affect Blacks. But with vaccination levels lagging in Black and Brown communities, the program seemed a natural to persuade those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic but are often reluctant to get shots. …

“Mike Brown, 49, The Shop Spa’s lead barber, sees sharing such information as one more way to connect with regulars. ‘These are people we genuinely care about, and have become part of their family,’ he said. ‘Sometimes we’re like marriage counselors, sometimes fashion consultants, sometimes drinking buddies. We’re respected in the information that we give.’ …

“To get the word out about the barbershop clinic, Thomas and his team canvassed churches, local businesses and homeless communities and came up with about 100 people who hadn’t been immunized yet.

“Getting them to come to the clinic was another matter. During preregistration calls, Thomas said, some people hung up when they learned the vaccine being offered was from Johnson & Johnson. Others declined even after face-to-face conversations with the team administering the jabs.

“ ‘J & J is radioactive in the Black community because of the baby powder issue,’ he said, referring to the product the company stopped selling last year after it was ordered to pay billions of dollars related to claims the product causes cancer. The company has denied the allegations. …

“Other people opted out of the clinic over worries about the rare but severe type of blood clot that has been linked to the vaccine, even though federal health officials have said the vaccines’ benefits far outweigh those risks.

“Still others expressed a distrust of the health-care system that Thomas says can be overcome only by expanding these health-care outreach efforts beyond coronavirus vaccinations. …

“All in all, 35 people received the shots during that first clinic, Thomas said. … Despite the initial small turnout, the barbershop clinic is starting to generate buzz. … ‘Now we have demand,’ Thomas said. ‘People are bringing people.’

“Randolph figures she has changed the minds of at least 75 people. That includes Alston, her 63-year-old aunt who has such limited access to health care that she has no front teeth, and Jamar Gibbons, 36, a postal worker — all of whom showed up for a shot and a free fish sandwich.

“Luz Castillo, 20, who works at the restaurant next door came to the clinic because she was worried about exposure to unvaccinated customers. She, too, was concerned about blood clot risks linked to the vaccine. But she said she was reassured after a Spanish-speaking health worker answered her questions and pointed to the millions of vaccinated people who have had no problems.” By the way, Suzanne had J&J. No problems.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: ArtTrav.
The Medici Chapel in Florence recently got a new kind of cleaning. This is the “before” shot of Michelangelo’s sculptures of Dusk and Dawn. See the New York Times for how they look today.

How do you clean a masterpiece? Carefully, My Friends. Especially if much of the damage was caused by the decomposing body of a long-dead Medici.

Jason Horowitz reports at the New York Times that you may also want to keep any strange method of cleaning a secret until after it actually succeeds.

“As early as 1595, descriptions of stains and discoloration began to appear in accounts of a sarcophagus in the graceful chapel Michelangelo created as the final resting place of the Medicis. In the ensuing centuries, plasters used to incessantly copy the masterpieces he sculpted atop the tombs left discoloring residues. His ornate white walls dimmed.

“Nearly a decade of restorations removed most of the blemishes, but the grime on the tomb and other stubborn stains required special, and clandestine, attention. … Restorers and scientists quietly unleashed microbes with good taste and an enormous appetite on the marbles, intentionally turning the chapel into a bacterial smorgasbord.

“ ‘It was top secret,’ said Daniela Manna, one of the art restorers. …

“ [A team headed by] Monica Bietti, former director of the Medici Chapel’s Museum … used bacteria that fed on glue, oil and apparently [a dead Medici’s] phosphates as a bioweapon against centuries of stains.

“In November 2019, the museum brought in Italy’s National Research Council, which used infrared spectroscopy that revealed calcite, silicate and other, more organic, remnants on the sculptures and two tombs that face one another across the New Sacristy.

“That provided a key blueprint for Anna Rosa Sprocati, a biologist at the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, to choose the most appropriate bacteria from a collection of nearly 1,000 strains, usually used to break down petroleum in oil spills or to reduce the toxicity of heavy metals. …

“Then the restoration team tested the most promising eight strains behind the altar, on a small rectangle palette spotted with rows of squares like a tiny marble bingo board. All of the ones selected, she said, were nonhazardous and without spores.

“ ‘It’s better for our health,’ said Manna, after crawling out from under the sarcophagus. ‘For the environment, and the works of art.’ …

“In February 2020 Covid hit, closing the museum in March and interrupting the project. … The bacteria strains got back to the Medici Chapel, which had reopened with reduced hours, in mid-October. Wearing white lab coats, blue gloves and anti-Covid surgical masks, Sprocati and the restorers spread gels with the SH7 bacteria — from soil contaminated by heavy metals at a mineral site in Sardinia — on the sullied sarcophagus of Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino, buried with his assassinated son Alessandro.

“ ‘It ate the whole night,’ said Marina Vincenti, another of the restorers. …

“In 2016, [she had] attended a conference held by Sprocati and her biologists. (‘An introduction to the world of microorganisms,’ Sprocati called it.) They showed how bacteria had cleaned up some resin residues on Baroque masterpiece frescoes in the Carracci Gallery at Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Strains isolated from mine drainage waters in Sardinia eliminated corrosive iron stains in the gallery’s Carrara marble.

“When it came time to clean the Michelangelos, Vincenti pushed for a bacterial assist.

“ ‘I said, “OK,” said [Paola D’Agostino, who runs the Bargello Museums]. ‘ “But let’s do a test first.” ‘

“The bacteria passed the exam and did the job.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Georgia State University.
Latonya Young was able to finish college after Kevin Esch, her Uber passenger, secretly paid off previous school costs.

This feel-good story was widely reported, but just in case you missed it, I want you to know that once upon a time when an Uber driver mentioned to a passenger that she couldn’t finish college because of a debt for classes already taken, the passenger knew he had to help out. And — secretly at first — he did. But it may have been the ongoing friendship and support that had the biggest effect.

Sydney Page has the story at the Washington Post. “Latonya Young, a 44-year-old single mother of three, received a bachelor’s degree [in May]. It was a lifelong goal — and she credits one of her Uber passengers with making it possible.

“She met the passenger three years ago when she pulled over in downtown Atlanta to pick him up. Kevin Esch, who had just come from an Atlanta United soccer game, got into her car. The two started chatting.

“ ‘The conversation was easy and felt authentic,’ said Esch, 45.

“He shared details about his recent divorce, and Young — whose marriage ended in 2011 — offered advice.

“During the half-hour ride to Esch’s home, he learned that Young, who had been an Uber driver for three years, was working late that night because she needed money to pay a utility bill.

“And he learned something else: Young wanted to be the first member of her family to graduate from college. Although Young started taking classes at Georgia State University in 2010, she dropped out a year later because she couldn’t pay the tuition.

“Once they arrived at his home, Esch, an estate manager, tipped Young $150 — enough to cover the utility bill — and gave her his phone number.

“ ‘She promised me that she would go back to school,’ he said, adding that he asked her to keep him informed throughout the enrollment process. It was the start of an unexpected friendship.

“After the Uber ride, ‘I had my mind made up that I wanted to go back to school,’ she said. ‘He motivated me.’

“But a few weeks later, when Young tried to re-enroll at Georgia State, she was told that she wasn’t permitted to register until her balance from eight years earlier was paid in full. She owed $693 — a sum she couldn’t afford.

“When she told Esch about the financial hold, he immediately went to the university, without Young’s knowledge, and paid off her debt.

‘I didn’t want that to be a roadblock, because it was something that I could change,’ Esch said. ‘I was in a place to be able to do it, and it was the right thing to do.’ …

“ ‘I was in shock,’ Young said. ‘This person barely knew me, and yet he wanted to help me.’

“She vowed to pay him back, but his response was: ‘Pay me back by graduating.’

“Young was grateful for the support, she said, after years of working multiple jobs and putting off her education. …

“ ‘It was like I was stuck inside a box and couldn’t get out. I was just trying to do whatever I had to do to take care of my kids,’ Young said, adding that she was also in a car accident in 2015, which further set her back financially. …

“After meeting Esch, though, ‘I felt it was time for me to do something for myself, and to set an example for my kids,’ Young said. Plus, she added, ‘I wanted to remain a woman of my word and do exactly what I told Kevin I was going to do.’

“She re-enrolled in courses, and in December 2019, Young received her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State’s Perimeter College. Esch was there on graduation day, cheering her on in the stands. …

“Still, ‘I knew I wasn’t finished,’ she said. Getting a bachelor’s degree was her ultimate goal, ‘so I went straight ahead. Not only was I aiming for that, but I was aiming to raise my GPA as much as I could before I graduated.’

“Young continued with her studies while working part time as a substitute teacher, as well as a hairstylist. She also received support from the Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund, which offers financial aid to low-income women older than 35 pursuing postsecondary education. …

“ ‘The funding helped me get through the hardships,’ Young said, adding that it was often difficult to manage being a single mother while working two jobs and keeping up with her classes. …

“Despite the challenges, though, Young graduated with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies on May 6. Of course, alongside her family, Esch was in the stands once again — beaming with joy.”

Read the rest of the story at the Post, here.

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