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Photo: Music for Milestones
Spurred by a grant from Dragon Kim Foundation
, Los Angeles teenagers Katheryn Williams, left, and Charu Balamurugan set up a music program for children.

As I often say to my grandchildren when they come up with creative ideas, “I love people with ideas!” And nowadays I find young leaders with ideas especially inspiring. I think if teens and 20-somethings working to end gun violence and reduce global warming are successful, they will have earned the mantle of the Great Generation.

Today’s story is about a couple of teens who wanted to use music to help children smile.

Kyle Melnick writes at the Washington Post, “After asking nine children on her computer screen to retrieve a piece of paper and something to draw with, Charu Balamurugan explains the class’s next lesson.

“ ‘We’re going to listen to parts from each of these three different songs,’ Balamurugan says, ‘and you’re going to use … different types of lines [or drawings] to show how it makes you feel; the emotions you feel.’

“A few moments later, when Balamurugan plays the first song, Peter Schmalfuss’s version of ‘Clair De Lune,’ the children put their heads down and draw images that pop into their minds.

“By the time Balamurugan has streamed three classical songs during this Zoom class on a Friday evening in late August, the kids’ papers feature drawings of watermelon, roller coasters, chocolate bars, sunsets, cupcakes, pumpkin patches and Snoopy.

“Los Angeles high school students Balamurugan and Katheryn Williams created this class, Music for Milestones, to provide local children a creative outlet through music. The free Zoom classes give children a chance to socialize and clear their minds at a time when they’re usually stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘The most meaningful part about all of this is getting to see the kids smile every single class and the joy on their faces,’ Williams said. …

“Balamurugan began playing the piano at age 6. She went through hour-long practices almost every day and partook in local competitions. Balamurugan enjoyed playing waltz, but she also liked performing pop songs to energize family and friends. Playing the piano would boost her family members’ spirits after they returned from work.

“In high school, the piano became more of a creative outlet for Balamurugan as she realized how composers deliver a story or message through their performances. She taught piano to family friends who had money for lessons, but she wanted to reach those who didn’t.

“Meanwhile, music was a driver in Williams, improving her state of mind. When she was 9, she lost motivation to pursue goals in and outside of school. She felt angry at the world.

“Around that time, Williams’s grandmother, Delmy Lopez, played her ‘Esta Vida’ by Jorge Celedón — a song that preaches appreciating the small pleasures in life. That song changed her perspective, and the next day she signed up for her school’s band, learning the bass, guitar and drums. She later gained the confidence to try out for the school’s basketball team.

“In December, Balamurugan and Williams attended a meeting at their school about the Dragon Kim Foundation, which offers a fellowship program that provides $5,000 to a handful of California teenagers, helping jump-start programs they aim to form in their communities. … They wanted to team up to create a music program.

“They decided they would teach music to children around the Los Angeles area. They would create a free workbook for the class and use the grant they’d receive to purchase keyboards for the children participating. …

“Balamurugan said, ‘Katheryn is an amazing public speaker and has such an affable personality, and with me taking the reins on the organizational aspects, we played on each other’s strengths.’ …

“The original plan was for the hour-long classes to occur in-person, but they shifted to Zoom when the pandemic arrived. Online classes have allowed Balamurugan and Williams to expand their reach, as families have inquired about joining from multiple states. … Balamurugan and Williams go over the basics of music notes and tempos, give instructions on how to play the piano and suggest how to use music to improve one’s mind-set. …

“Balamurugan and Williams are proud to inspire children by showing them women of color can create and teach music, too.

“ ‘We want kids to know that through all your struggles, through anything that you’re facing,’ Williams said. More here.

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Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association said about 30,000 miles of rope has been removed from the ocean’s surface,” the
New York Times reported last year. That’s important for saving the lives of the remaining right whales, but it won’t be enough.

This morning, three Blue Jays were arguing over something they thought was good to eat in my backyard, and I got to thinking about how my attitudes are evolving as from the kitchen window I watch creatures come and go during the pandemic.

It occurred to me that the Blue Jays don’t know it’s my backyard. They don’t even have a way of registering the information. Nor, for that matter, do the baby skunk, the possum, the chipmunks, the squirrels, the cardinals, or the numerous rabbits.

Perhaps we’re all just a bunch of critters using this space for now.

That’s my prelude to a post on the conflicting interests of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the lobster fisherman.

Some lobster fishermen are doing their bit to live in harmony with nature. Karen Weintraub reported on this issue at the New York Times late last year, after a right whale well known to scientists was found dead.

“Marc Palombo has been fishing lobster for 41 years, and he wants fishermen who come after him to be able to do the same. That’s why he’s testing a new type of fishing gear that, along with other efforts in New England and Canada, is being designed to avoid harming North Atlantic right whales. …

“This year [2019], about 10 have been found dead, but that number is uncertain. Not one of the nearly 30 right whale deaths in the last three years has been attributed to natural causes, said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist with the New England Aquarium, which maintains a catalog of North Atlantic right whales. Mr. Hamilton blames climate change, which has driven the whales northward in search of food.

“Over the last decade, warming in the Gulf of Maine has driven zooplankton, which the whales feed on, northward into Canada’s waters. As the whales follow, they are swimming across fishing and shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are vulnerable to being struck by ships or entangled in fishing lines — often long lines of rope connecting buoys at the surface with traps at the bottom.

“ ‘The only way to save the right whale is to have all stakeholders, including industry, at the table collaborating on proactive solutions that will protect them while ensuring the future of the lobstering industry,’ Patrick Ramage, director of Marine Conservation, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a statement.

“Fishermen, like Mr. Palombo, and others have been testing new equipment, like ropeless gear, to protect the passing whales, and their fishing livelihood. …

“ ‘We know that entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships are killing these ocean giants,’ Megan Jordan, spokeswoman for Oceana, an international advocacy and conservation organization, said via email. ‘Reducing the amount of vertical lines from fishing gear in the water and requiring ships to slow down can help save North Atlantic right whales from extinction.’ …

“In Canada, a multipronged effort to protect the North Atlantic right whales is underway. After 17 whales were killed in the 2017 fishing season, including 12 in Canada’s waters, the Canadian government initiated a three-year research project. …

“For example, snow crab fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence use rope that can withstand 14,000 pounds of force, Mr. Cormier said. His team is testing rope that breaks below 1,700 pounds, a weight that would allow a whale to free itself. …

“[Meanwhile,] the Maine Lobstermen’s Association recently pulled out of an agreement to reduce the number of fishing ropes in the water by 60 percent. The association’s executive director, Patrice McCarron, said the deal treats Maine lobstermen unfairly, because their fishing gear has not been the cause of any of the whale deaths in the last five years. She also said almost 30,000 miles of floating rope have been replaced with line that sinks.

“Mr. Palombo and collaborators at the New England Aquariumare testing a ropeless system that would leave lobster pots attached to a spool of rope at the bottom of the sea rather than to a buoy on the surface. A few days after setting his pots during a testing, Mr. Palombo headed back to the area and pushed a button on his boat that sent an audio signal to the spool. The rope rose to the surface where it took only a few minutes to retrieve.

“ ‘It’s pretty gratifying,’ he said about testing the ropeless system. ‘We’re the adventurers, we’re the people that are breaking the ground.’ ” More here.

In January, David Abel at the Boston Globe reported on delays in new regulations: “Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for protecting the critically endangered species, had planned to issue the regulations last year. But they were delayed after months of criticism from the region’s powerful lobster industry, which is worried that new requirements could be harsh and expensive.”

I sure am hoping for compromises that take everyone’s concerns seriously, including the whales’.

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102320moroccan_women_carpet_market

Photo: Taylor Luck
Bargaining over a Berber rug in Khemisset, Morocco.

Yesterday I mentioned to Nancy that the pandemic may have affected the timeliness of some of the stories I’ve collected for future blog posts. I wasn’t sure, for example, if the Berber women who weave carpets and manage their markets in Morocco were still working.

Today I found a late May report indicating the weavers work from home and continue to produce for export companies despite Covid-19 lockdowns. So I think I can share this article from the Christian Science Monitor. When it’s safe to return to public spaces, I’m counting on women like these to be fully in charge once again.

Taylor Luck writes, “The carpet palace is at the far end of the bustling, dusty, weekly outdoor market here. Past heaps of wheat and grain, mounds of clothes, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with vaulted archways and bushels of thread and fabric.

“But visitors drawn by the allure of Berber rugs of every hue must abide by one important law: Inside this palace, women rule.

“For here at Khemisset’s zarabi souk – literally ‘rug market’ – women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

“Moroccan connoisseurs know their straight-from-the-source products: the minimalist, black-and-white geometric weaves of the Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols, and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; patchwork confetti-like Boucherouite rugs of leftover textile scraps; the blue-and-red, lightweight, tightly-nit kilims.

“Anyone who wishes to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multicolor Berber rugs must first go through these merchant matriarchs. … The women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to drive a hard bargain.

“Situated 60 miles east-southeast of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Berber-inhabited Middle Atlas Mountains, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele. For the past three decades, women from the town have teamed up with relatives and contacts from the outer villages to sell carpets and rugs directly to vendors. …

“Khemisset merchants such as Fatima Rifiya gather at the marketplace to await dozens of women from far-off Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means ‘free people’) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 a.m.

“The sellers and middle-women then rummage through the piles of rugs, evaluating every piece by size, coloring, thickness, weave, and pattern. Khemisset women say their secret to success is an eye for desirability – fitting each carpet to the target audience and buyer who never knew they always needed it. …

“ ‘Once we grade the carpets, we explain to the weavers the values and who their customers may be, [and] we set a price and our commission,’ explains Ms. Rifiya, herself a transplant from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as a head matriarch and an Arabic translator. …

“Carpet dealers come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls muttering, ‘Really, that is too much,’ or, ‘I swear to God, I can get half that price somewhere else.’ But Ms. Rifiya and her sisterhood stand their ground. She and some of the more veteran sellers such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

“Simple rules such as: Never appear desperate for a sale. Let the customer walk away, they’ll always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to open up bargaining. …

“This souk is not sponsored by a charitable association, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is an organic, grassroots product of local residents and shared interests.

“Here at the zarabi souk, women are selling individually yet banding together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a dash of solidarity.

“It was not always like this. Three decades ago, most Berber weavers say they would sell to middlemen who would go off to market towns and sell at any price they wished, or to traveling ‘dealers’ who would purchase directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops. But each Berber woman would not know how much others were being paid for their work or what the market rate was for their carpets.”

Sounds like this market has made a real difference in people’s lives. Here’s hoping that post-Covid, these strong women will see to it that everything goes back to normal. More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Jay Feinstein
Shawn Cooney and his wife Connie own Corner Stalk Farm, a container farm in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you get the radio show Living on Earth where you live? I find it fascinating no matter what topics they cover. Here is a recent episode on urban farming.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: Industrial agriculture today is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring big machines, plenty of land, water, and energy to produce much of the food on a typical American dinner table. And as the public trends more toward plant-based foods, some are thinking outside the box by bringing farms inside the box. By retrofitting old shipping containers with grow lights and hydroponic gear, what would take about an acre of land to grow vegetables such as lettuce can be fit into just 8 by 40 feet. Living on Earth‘s Jay Feinstein and Aynsley O’Neill took a trip to Corner Stalk Farms in East Boston, Massachusetts to find out more. …

“O’NEILL: I see these shipping containers. I mean, right in the middle of these houses and behind the auto body shop … here we are!

“FEINSTEIN: You know, the funny thing is a farm like this would not have even been legal until 2013, when Boston revamped its zoning code. …

“COONEY: My name is Shawn Cooney. And I’m the partner and owner of Corner Stalk farm in East Boston, Massachusetts, and we started in 2014. So this is it. … Basically you’ve seen the whole of the farm by walking the 120 feet or so. …

“O’NEILL: Are those the plants in those columns all up and down?

“COONEY: Right. You really need just an industrial area [where] you can basically bring as many plants as possible into as little amount of square footage as possible. … In a real farm, you’re talking about square footage and acreage. Here, it’s really cubic feet. We’ve got so many feet on the floor, but we plant plants up to ten feet high. …

“We’ve got a climate control system, and a lot of fans keep the air moving so that everything’s happy. And the plants get a little bit of stress. If you just leave them without any movement, the plants actually get weak. …

“They do need to be moved around for them to have a good texture to them, so that the cell walls are thick enough, so that it’s not just eating a piece of water. …

“You can log into it from the outside world. If you want to fiddle around with settings, or just check on everything, you can do that from home, you can do it from from vacation. …

“FEINSTEIN: So how did you get into this?

“COONEY: I started three software companies and sold them. … My wife and I myself funded it, and we have loans [from] the US Department of Agriculture. …

“Mainly we grow lettuce. That’s our business. And we’ve grown tomatoes, we’ve grown lots of flowers, we’ve grown all kinds of herbs, and God knows what else. But [what] people buy every day is our greens, even our restaurants, that’s what they want. …

“FEINSTEIN: What type of environmental cost are you saving? …

“COONEY: One of the things we definitely don’t do is waste any water. No matter how good you are at growing outside, you could never grow with the kind of water use we have. We use, say 1000 plants we can grow in one unit, we probably use 25 gallons of water a week. So you couldn’t water your patio plants for a week with 25 gallons and keep them alive. …

“We adhere to the organic principles. Generally, the way we control any kind of a pest in here is kind of preemptive. We basically use ladybugs. We ship them in once a month or so, and sprinkle them around, and they pretty much do the policing of any kind of bugs in here. And when we have had to use something it’s called chrysanthemum oil. …

‘You guys want to try something a little, little further on the edge? This is called wasabi arugula. And I grow it for a couple of restaurants. And they use it instead of wasabi on their crudo and their raw fish and their raw meats. So here, take a leaf of that and be prepared. …

“FEINSTEIN: It does taste like wasabi. But it it’s a little milder, but I love it.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Roc Canals Photography/Getty via Elemental
“Black communities have known about mutual aid all along,” reports the
Walrus.

There are many stories about how people in poor or immigrant communities pull together to help one another when the government doesn’t. Today’s article is about the mutual aid systems of black communities in Canada, the US, and other countries.

Vicky Mochama writes at the Walrus, “There aren’t, compared to Ontario and Quebec, that many Black people in British Columbia: less than one-tenth of the overall Black Canadian population. But, when troubles [strike], official numbers don’t matter. …

“As covid-19 began to take hold, a group of activists and organizers did something that, for Black folks, is as old as time: they started a mutual-aid group.

“ ‘Our community members are likely to be found in the blind spots of the [federal] agencies that are giving out the money,’ says Kevonnie Whyte, one of the group’s organizers. The money the group has collected has gone to Black migrants without permanent residency, Black students stuck in Canada on visas that limit their ability to work, and Black people trapped in the rinse cycle of the gig economy — taxi drivers, delivery couriers, cleaners, and dog walkers.

“The premise of the fund is simple: for the duration of the pandemic, any Black person in BC can apply to get $150 to use for whatever they need. The fund prioritizes Black people who, for whatever reason, don’t get access to government supports like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. …

“A group of young women in Boston started a mutual-aid drive to get help — cash, food, assistance — to the vulnerable in their community. Students at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University started spreadsheets to help people cover basic expenses. … By late May, Whyte says, the Black in BC Mutual Aid collective had raised nearly $20,000 and had disbursed three-quarters of that to over 100 people. …

“Then, in June, everything changed. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, the group received an astounding influx of donations, quintupling their fund in ten days to over $100,000; by early July, they had topped $170,000. …

“Over decades and centuries, mutual aid has helped people pay rent, buy groceries, and acquire medicine; it has given workers something where there is so much nothing to be had, and it has given luckier people a way to help out in desperate times.

“So why weren’t we doing mutual aid before — everybody, all the time? Well, Black people were.

” ‘Mutual aid is not new. It’s a long-standing practice of Black communities. ‘Mutual aid is just something that we’ve always done,’ says Caroline Shenaz Hossein, a professor in York University’s social science department. …

“In the late aughts, Hossein’s research took her to the Caribbean, where she met the ‘banker ladies’: women who ran and participated in money pools. Money pools are deeply familiar to many people from Black diasporas. …

“There’s a magical quality, money appearing as if from nowhere. Depending on where you’re from and who invited you in, the pools have different names: sol (Haiti), susu (Ghana), box hand (Guyana), jama (Kenya), hagbad (Somalia). There are cultural nuances in how you get into one, and the amounts may range, but the principle is almost universally the same — you get out what you put in.

“A typical arrangement might look like this: ten women decide to each contribute $30 a month to a pool, and they each get their turn receiving money from the pool — a $300 cash injection when they do. …

“1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Black people in Gary, Indiana, developed a local economy though mutual aid. ‘The last bank had just pulled out of their neighbourhood. Everybody was unemployed,’ says political economist Jessica Gordon-Nembhard.

“The way she tells it, they didn’t know exactly what to do. Maybe, they thought, we could start a co-op for groceries or just to share what little we do have. Twenty African American families joined a study group; for a year and a half, they met monthly to talk and plan, chaired by a local high school teacher, Jacob L. Reddix, with a passion for cooperative economics. (A cooperative economy is one in which ‘most of the economic activity is organized around cooperative ownership … in a democratic way so that they all participate in decision making about the economic activity,’ Gordon-Nembhard explains.)

“Eventually, they pooled enough money ($24 at first) to buy their groceries in bulk. Next came a credit union. Within five years, the area added a gas station and two branches of a co-op grocery store, and at the school, they began to teach a curriculum on cooperative enterprises.

“In the middle of a depression and despite the continued closure of the steel mills, the Consumer’s Cooperative Trading Company was bringing in $160,000 (US) in sales and had a membership in the hundreds. The title of their agenda — ‘A Five Year Plan of Cooperative Action for Lifting the Economic Status of the Negro in Gary’ — was precise: in good times and bad, the people must prosper with the economy.”

It’s a pretty interesting article. Read more here.

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I feel especially grateful to essential workers, mail carriers, and delivery people this Labor Day. Workers really make the world go ’round any year, not just during a pandemic, and many get no credit for it.

As Kenya Evelyn noted in the Guardian in April, Amazon the company was doing just great thanks to quarantine; workers not so much.

“The Amazon CEO and entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, has grown his vast fortune by a further $24bn so far during the coronavirus pandemic, a roughly 20% increase over the last four months to $138b. …

“[Meanwhile] Amazon reported its first warehouse worker death on Tuesday. The man, an operations manager who worked at the company’s Hawthorne, California, warehouse, died on 31 March.

“Several workers have organized strikes and walkouts in protest at lack of worker protections. Chris Smalls, a former manager assistant, was fired by the retailer after leading workers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, on a walkout. …

“Memos leaked by Vice News revealed company executives suggested coordinating an attempt to smear Smalls as ‘not smart or articulate’ in response to the backlash over his firing.

“Several Amazon workers have since alleged retaliation for organizing. In an op-Ed for the Guardian, Smalls urged Bezos to spend more time on protecting his workers instead of stifling dissent.

‘Without us working, what are you going to do,’ he asked. ‘You’ll have no money. We have the power. We make money for you. Never forget that.’

Something to think about.

For more on how our society has moved away from appreciation for workers, you might check out a fat book my husband has been fascinated by for months called The Enchantments of Mammon, which suggests that when capitalism has become a religion, it’s gone too far. “Everything in Moderation,” advise the Greeks.

Do you like traditional songs from the labor movement? Nick Noble’s Folk Revival on WICN radio plans to feature them this week and you can stream his show.

Here’s a word on the Folk Revival, in case you’re interested.

“The Folk Revival features the ‘folk of the folk renaissance’ from the second half of the last century right into the millennium. Focusing on the folk boom of the 1950s and the 1960s, this four-hour show also visits recordings from both before and well after that period,  highlighting folk music as a living and ever-changing tradition, connecting listeners and music through an eclectic mix of traditional songs, topical and  protest music, singer-songwriter creations, the blues, folk rock, and more. …

“Do you want to suggest a theme? Request a song? Talk about the music? React to the show? Correct the host (nicely, of course)? Share and/or find out more about the folk music tradition? Feel free to contact the host: nicknoble@wicn.org.”

Workers who matter, and not just in a pandemic.

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John takes my grandchildren on a paddle-board trip. Guess what happened when the youngest decided she wanted to stand up.

Here we are in September, and already August is seeming like a long time ago. So I want to share summer photos, mostly from my walks.

The first one below, however, shows a lighthouse painting by Ben Cummings. It was sent by his son Earle,after my last photo post, which featured a lighthouse. Everyone loves lighthouses.

Next is a picture of chicory, which people in New Shoreham and other parts of Rhode Island call Ragged Sailor. It has many names, in fact, depending on where you live. The turtle art is also from New Shoreham, one of my favorite Painted Rock images this year, and one that actually lasted more than a few hours. (The rock is a local billboard and really gets a workout in the summer.)

Back in Massachusetts, Kristina shared a photo of a sunflower from Verrill Farm’s pick-your-own-sunflowers day, a benefit for Emerson Hospital. Kristina gave me one of her sunflowers, and I was worried when I left for a few days that it wouldn’t survive. So I put it in the birdbath, and it did just fine.

Woodland scenes and the farm along the Lincoln bike path come next. I continue to be fascinated by fungi and by bits of art in unexpected places. The pig, an Old Spot, is one of the varieties raised at Codman Community Farms.

The frame on a pedestal and the amoeba-shaped sculpture were next to a construction site near a conservation trail. I wasn’t sure what to make of them. Perhaps you have a thought.

Meanwhile in the town, a second-floor shop’s staircase says, “Whatever you do today, do it with the confidence of a four-year-old in a Batman cape.” I thought it was excellent advice.

The last photo speaks for itself.

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Maria Popova at the blog Brain Pickings is an endless source of inspiration. Whether she is posting about art, nature, philosophy, or children’s books, she’s a treasure. 

Today I want to dip into her report on an out-of-print book featuring an artistic rendering of the wonders of the Great Barrier reef. Considering how fast the optimal conditions for the reef are being lost to global warming and the ocean’s higher carbon levels, it might be a good idea to think about how it looked in 1893.

Popova begins, “While the German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel was salving his fathomless personal tragedy with the transcendent beauty of jellyfish, having enraptured Darwin with his drawings, his English colleague William Saville-Kent (July 10, 1845–October 11, 1908) was transcending his own darkness on the other side of the globe with the vibrant, irrepressible aliveness of the Great Barrier Reef and its astonishing creatures. 

“By the end of his adolescence, William had survived the unsurvivable. The youngest of ten children, he lost his mother when he was seven.”

Suzanne’s Mom pauses here to let you read what else was “unsurvivable,” including murder most foul.

“William was shaken by the inordinate share of loss, violence, and public shame he had accrued in so young a life. Taking refuge in the impartial world of science, he came to study under the great biologist and comparative anatomist T.H. Huxley, who had coined the term agnosticism and who had so boldly defended Darwin’s evolutionary ideas against the reactionary tide of opposition a decade earlier.

“Upon completing his studies, Saville-Kent received an appointment in the Natural History department of the British Museum as curator of coral. He grew enchanted with these beguiling, poorly understood creatures; he also grew bored with the museum position — he longed to do research, to contribute to the evolving understanding of these living marvels. …

“As Saville-Kent approached forty, his old mentor T.H. Huxley — by then the most prominent British life-scientist after Darwin’s death a year earlier — recommended him as inspector of fisheries in Tasmania. Saville-Kent left England and the dark specter of his youth for the bright open seas of the South Pacific, where he grew newly enchanted with the lush underwater wonderland of strange-shaped corals and echinoderms, frilly anemones and tentacled mollusks, fishes in colors that belong in a Kandinsky painting, creatures he had marveled at only as dead and disjointed museum specimens or segregated aquarium captives, creatures he had never imagined. 

“Determined to bring public awareness and awe to this otherworldly ecosystem — an ecosystem that in the century since his time has grown so gravely endangered by human activity that it might not survive another century — he authored the first popular science book on that irreplaceable underwater world. In 1893, several years before the German oceanographer published the gorgeously illustrated first encyclopedia of deep-sea cephalopods, Saville-Kent published The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities — a pioneering encyclopedia of one of Earth’s most luscious and delicate ecosystems, illustrated with a number of Saville-Kent’s black-and-white photographs and several stunning color lithographs by two artists, a Mr. Couchman and a Mr. Riddle, based on Saville-Kent’s original watercolors.” More at Brain Pickings, here.

One thing I love about Brain Pickings is the way Maria Popova’s own brain makes such interesting connections. At the end of almost every post she links to other posts on topics that may seem unrelated on the surface but play off each other in an interesting way. Her approach is a bit like suggesting an unusual cheese to go with your wine.

Illustration from William Saville-Kent’s book Fishes from The Great Barrier Reef of Australia, 1893. (Maria Popova at Brain Pickings makes it available as a print and as a face mask!)

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Few things equal the joy of dancing, as I keep learning from my 5-year-old granddaughter and the videos Suzanne and Erik send of her living-room performances. They make me want to get up and boogie, too.

A teacher in Africa who loves ballet thought, Why not? There may be no ballet in Nigeria, but kids need to dance.

As Noor Brara explains at the New York Times, “In June, a minute-long video featuring a young ballet student dancing in the rain began circulating on the internet. As the rain falls, forming puddles between the uneven slabs of concrete on which he dances, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, 11, turns pirouette after pirouette.

“Though the conditions for such dancing are all wrong — dangerous, even — he twirls on, flying barefoot into an arabesque and landing it. …

“The wide reach of the video — it has been seen more than 20 million times on social media platforms — has turned a spotlight on the unlikely story of a ballet school in a poor suburb of Lagos, Nigeria: the Leap of Dance Academy.

“Founded in 2017, the academy has transformed the lives of its students, affording them a place to dance and to dream. And in the last few months, it has inspired influential people in ballet to lend a hand. Seemingly overnight, a world of opportunity has opened up: for the students, scholarships and invitations to attend prestigious schools and companies overseas; and for the school, sizable donations, which will allow for building a proper space, outfitted with a real dance floor.

“For now, the Leap of Dance Academy is housed at the home of its founder, Daniel Owoseni Ajala, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, on the western outskirts of Lagos. Every day after school, Mr. Ajala’s 12 students walk to his apartment, where he pushes aside his furniture and spreads a thin vinyl sheet over the concrete floor for class, throwing open the doors and windows to let in the light. …

“Much of this is filmed and posted to the school’s Instagram feed, where the students’ joy is evident in each video, their movements precise and praiseworthy — as the comments, hearts and trembling star emojis left by their fans attest. …

” ‘In the beginning, people kept saying, “What are they doing?!” ‘ Mr. Ajala said. ‘I had to convince them that ballet wasn’t a bad or indecent dance, but actually something that requires a lot of discipline that would have positive effects on the lives of their children outside the classroom. I always say, it’s not only about the dance itself — it’s about the value of dance education.’

“When Mr. Ajala, 29, founded Leap of Dance three years ago, he was a self-taught recreational dancer with a dream: to open a ballet school for students who were serious about learning the art form and possibly pursuing it professionally one day. …

“As a child, Mr. Ajala became obsessed with ballet after watching “Save the Last Dance,” the 2001 movie about a lapsed ballet dancer (Julia Stiles) who moves to the South Side of Chicago after her mother dies …

“Mr. Ajala said he was captivated by the movement he saw onscreen and, perhaps even more, by the discipline and sacrifice that was evidently required to master it. Ballet appealed to him for another reason, too: It wasn’t widely taught or practiced in Nigeria. ‘I wanted to be different,’ he said. …

“Mr. Ajala’s role in the lives of his students goes beyond dance; he is invested in their whole development. One day a week class is dedicated solely to academics; the students come to the academy with their homework, with Mr. Ajala providing one-on-one tutoring as needed. They practice speaking, reading and writing in English together. And between lessons, which run from mid afternoon to early evening, he cooks them a meal. …

“Recently, too, the students have begun learning conversational Spanish, Italian and Chinese from their ballet teachers abroad, like [Thalema Williams, in St. Croix, and Mary Hubbs, in Brooklyn, Mich., who gave him lessons online to improve his technique]. ‘I want the kids to be able to relate to people internationally,’ Mr. Ajala said.”

At the Times, here, you can read how he manages to keep the ballet classes free. Very inspiring story.

Photo: Stephen Tayo for the New York Times
Anthony Mmesoma Madu, left, with fellow students from the Leap of Dance Academy, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, Nigeria.

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When residents of Holyoke, Colorado, saw local businesses struggling in the pandemic, they stepped up.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when many problems call for attention at the same time. In one small Colorado town, the almost unimaginable generosity of the community helped neighbors — and built a lifetime bond.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “Brenda Hernandez Ramirez thought she might have to close the doors of her family’s small-town Mexican restaurant for good when she was temporarily forced to shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With bills piling up and no income, ‘we weren’t prepared for the challenges that covid-19 brought,’ said Ramirez, who owns Taqueria Hernandez in Holyoke, Colo., population 2,313.

“When she and her employees heard in late March that a Help Holyoke campaign had been started to assist small businesses, Ramirez said she felt grateful, thinking she might get a few hundred dollars to help pay her utilities.

“Two months later, when Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Director Holly Ferguson stopped by with a check, Ramirez was shocked to learn that people in her farming community had donated their government stimulus checks and dipped into their bank accounts to raise $93,592 — enough to help every business in town affected by the shutdown.

“In addition to about $2,000 to pay her restaurant bills, Ramirez also received smaller checks for each of her six employees.

‘We were overwhelmed with emotion,’ said Ramirez, 24. ‘Feeling our community’s support during the pandemic gave us the ambition to keep on going. I’m beyond thankful.’

“The Help Holyoke fund came about after Tom Bennett, president of the town’s First Pioneer National Bank, wondered if people might be willing to part with the $1,200 stimulus checks that most had received from the federal government.

“Even during normal times, it’s not easy to run a business in a small town, he said. … ‘Having our restaurants, bars, salons, the gym and movie theater shut down was unprecedented. You start thinking, “What if that was me?” ‘

“Bennett contacted Ferguson, Phillips County Economic Development Director Trisha Herman and Brenda Brandt, publisher of the Holyoke Enterprise, and arranged a meeting at the newspaper’s office to talk about his idea to help save their downtown. …

“The group members quickly developed a plan: They would get the word out about Help Holyoke through the Enterprise, the local radio station and social media, plus enlist high school students to help call everyone in town. Once the donations were collected, they would cut checks based on how many employees each business owner had to lay off. …

“Karen Ortner, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Holyoke High School, rounded up members of the Family Career and Community Leaders of America club she advises and put the teens to work calling every household in Holyoke.

“ ‘We split up the phone book with two other student organizations — the Future Business Leaders of America and the Future Farmers of America,’ she said. ‘Almost everyone the kids called said they’d give what they could.’ …

“ ‘This is a supportive, tightknit town,’ added FCCLA President Amy Mackay, 17. ‘Everybody knows everybody and they knew exactly who that money would be going to in the end.’ …

“ ‘This was the best way we could make a difference,’ said Nancy Colglazier, 67, executive director of Holyoke’s Melissa Memorial Hospital Foundation. … Colglazier and her husband, Harvey Colglazier donated one of their $1,200 checks to the fund after seeing how abandoned their downtown had become, she said. …

“Said chamber director Ferguson, ‘Some gave $10, some gave $100 and little kids came to my office to empty their piggy banks,’ she said. ‘Everyone did what they could and showed overwhelming compassion.’ …

“In addition to receiving about $3,500 from Help Holyoke, Veronica Marroquin, 44, who runs Veronica’s Hair and Nail Salon, also received checks from customers who wanted to pay for the haircuts they missed due to covid-19, she said.

“ ‘I’d been really worried, and I got teary-eyed when I saw everybody’s generosity,’ Marroquin said. ‘I’m close friends with my clients — they’re family. But this took it to a new level,’ she said. ‘None of us will forget their kindness.’ ” More here.

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Covid-19 guidance seems to change every few days. In the beginning, we were very anxious about wiping down every little thing with Clorox. Now we are more worried about the droplets we breathe in and whether the kids’ schools have adequate air circulation.

Performers worry, too, which is why one European orchestra armed itself with facts before bringing in an audience.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last week, violinist Daniel Froschauer was in Salzburg with the Vienna Philharmonic, of which he is also the Chairman. The orchestra played at the Salzburg Festival the entire month of August, under strict regulations to ensure that the musicians and their audience are at minimal risk of catching or spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. …

The Vienna Philharmonic was one of the first professional orchestras to return to rehearsals and performances since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t carried out their own small research study into the way droplets disperse on stage while musicians play. …

“The case of a choir rehearsal in Washington state back in March was a wake-up call for many musical ensembles. The choir thought they were prepared. They didn’t hug, they stood six feet apart throughout their two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal, and they didn’t share food during the break. Despite their precautions, 53 members of the 61-piece choir caught Covid-19, and two died.

“If such a spread could happen at a choir rehearsal, then an orchestra or band rehearsal – particularly one with wind and brass instruments – might pose a similar risk. The virus can be passed on through tiny airborne droplets called aerosols from an infected individual’s mouth or nose. …

“Until a few months ago, we knew very little about how wind instruments spread droplets. It was only since the Covid-19 pandemic that orchestras and other ensembles suddenly needed to understand exactly how singing or playing instruments could spread the virus so that they could mitigate the risk. …

“The Vienna Philharmonic enlisted the help of physician Fritz Sterz. Initially, Sterz and Froschauer hoped that the Vienna Philharmonic members were immune already. The orchestra had passed through Wuhan on a tour of Asia in late 2019, perhaps already encountering the virus there. But this didn’t seem to be the case: Only one member of the orchestra tested positive in an antibody test.

“The next step was to figure out how rehearsals were putting them at risk, by determining how aerosols were formed around their instruments. …

“Sterz and the orchestra found a creative way to visualise the aerosols’ movement. Each musician was placed in front of a dark background and wore a device up their nose to produce aerosols as they breathed.

While playing their instruments, the musicians dispersed the droplets, and a photographer captured images of the cloud of aerosols surrounding each musician.

“By measuring the dispersal of the droplets for each instrument, Sterz was able to get a sense of which musicians created the largest air flow around them. Unsurprisingly, it was the wind musicians. …

“In lieu of the traditional peer review process that follows most scientific studies, the Vienna Philharmonic worked with a notary to verify that they carried out the procedures as they said they did, and that the results were what they measured. It wasn’t the way research is usually done, but it was enough to convince the Austrian government.

“In May, Froschauer got a call from the Austrian Prime Minister. The Vienna Philharmonic was allowed to rehearse, record and perform again, albeit under very strict conditions. To make it work, the musicians are regularly tested, stay a safe distance apart on stage, wear masks when they have to be near each other in the hallways, and limit the size of the audience. …

“In the United States, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the College Band Directors National Association funded the Performing Arts Aerosol Study to determine the best recommendations for school bands, orchestras and other performing arts groups returning to practice this fall term.

Shelly Miller, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, is one of the lead researchers on the study. She explains, … ‘Once we knew what the flow looked like, we probed those flows to measure the particles in the flow.’ …

“From the preliminary results, the Performing Arts Aerosol Study concluded that certain safety precautions needed to be put in place before bands and school orchestras could return to rehearsals.

“It’s worth noting here that these various studies into the spread of aerosols between musicians nicely illustrate how the pandemic has changed the pace of scientific research. Normally, research is slow and the process of verifying, publishing and reviewing the work can be slower than the studies itself. But everything was different this summer. Music groups needed advice about returning to rehearsals and pushed for the research to be carried out, soon. …

“ ‘It’s really intense,’ says Miller.” More at Forbes, here.

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Photo: YouTube
The enthusiasm of YouTube phenomenon Twinsisthenewtrend (brothers Tim and Fred Williams) pushed an old Phil Collins song back to the top of the charts.

I’ve been getting a kick out of YouTube videos showing young people listening to pop music that was big decades ago. If you haven’t heard of this trend, read Luke Holland’s overview at the Guardian.

“Earlier this month a wonderful thing – remember those? – happened. Twin brothers Tim and Fred Williams, who post YouTube vids under the name Twinsisthenewtrend, shared a clip that went viral. In it, the affably enthusiastic 21-year-olds sit down to listen to Phil Collins’s moody, 1981 reverb anthem In the Air Tonight.

“And, well, that’s it. The clip is just them, doing that. But their reactions made it one of the most talked-about videos of the year, clocking up over six million views in three weeks.

Because there’s a twist: the twins had never heard this song before. Their minds are suitably, and adorably, blown.

“ ‘I ain’t never seen nobody drop a beat three minutes in a song!’ they hoot, delighted, after Phil clatters in with that drum fill – the one we’ve been so familiar with for so long that it’s passed into the graveyard of hoary old cliche. But hearing it through fresh ears – their ears – and watching the twins as they’re floored for the first time reminded people what an amazing musical moment it is. As a direct result of the clip, the song shot to No 2 in the US iTunes charts.

“First-reaction videos have been a thriving, and rather joyous, subsection of social media for years. In 2018, YouTuber Bman shared a video of him experiencing Bohemian Rhapsody cold. Watching the full gamut of human emotions – gentle contemplation, wistful sadness, wide-gobbed amazement – shimmer across his face, as the song lunges from one operatic movement to the next, is nothing short of wonderful.

“ ‘WHERE HAVE I BEEN?!’ he asks at the end, on the verge of tears. Bohemian Rhapsody is such a pillar of music that it’s taken for granted, in the same way gravity is taken for granted. Bman reminds you what a monumental achievement Freddie Mercury managed to pull off, because you’re right there with him, hearing it anew. …

“As viewers, it goes beyond simple nostalgic appreciation of these songs: it’s a way of reliving your own first experiences of them by proxy.

“Most importantly, despite predictably joyless accusations that many of the videos are staged, they represent a level of wholesomeness that is sorely lacking in music appreciation right now. No snark, no whataboutery, absolutely no pretension. Just people loving some great music, possibly reminding you that you – yes, you – still love it, too.” More at the Guardian, here.

If you want another angle, Jody Rosen at the New York Times sees a darker side to the current trend. “The viral popularity of this display of intergenerational sympathy — Black 20-somethings professing love for a white boomer’s pop-rock chestnut — may also tell us something else about the ambient tensions and neuroses that are, you might say, in the air, adrift in the ether of 2020. …

“Race is a crucial component of music-reaction videos. There are many Black YouTubers who specialize in responding to white musicians, and the twins’ most popular clips feature white performers. These videos … suggest that Black and white people inhabit walled-off cultural spheres — a dodgy proposition in the first place — and then perform a symbolic rapprochement, in which a sick beat-drop holds the power to bridge a racial divide.”

OK, I take his point, but I still think these videos are delightful.

In 2018, YouTuber Bman showed himself listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time.

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Photo: NewsBeat Social/Youtube
“Seven years after conservation groups started a breeding program to save the Myanmar Roofed Turtle, 60 were released into the country’s river system,” says
Science Times.

Anytime a creature thought to be extinct makes a comeback, it gives one hope that other things can come back. We really shouldn’t minimize the importance of, say, the little fish called the snail darter that was the focus of a big fight. We never know what aspect of a biodiverse world will benefit us in the future. And, besides, we need metaphors.

I loved this story about a comeback for a rare turtle in Myanmar.

Liz Kimbrough reports at Mongabay, “Once considered extinct, the Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) was brought back from the brink by an ambitious conservation program.

“Now, almost 30 years after its rediscovery in the wild, scientists have [published] photos and descriptions of hatchlings and eggs, as well as some background information about the conservation of the species [in] the journal Zootaxa by scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Myanmar, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Global Wildlife Conservation, and Georgetown University.

“The Burmese roofed turtle is the second-most critically endangered turtle in the world. Once abundant, hunting and overexploitation of eggs has driven the population to near-extinction, with only five or six adult females and two adult males known to exist in the wild today.

“The species was presumed extinct until 2001, when researchers found the shell of a recently killed turtle in a village along the Dokhtawady River in Myanmar. Shortly after, a U.S. turtle collector found a living turtle at a wildlife market in China.

“Encouraged by these findings, researchers conducted field surveys to find the wild populations. After following locals’ descriptions of ‘duck-sized eggs,’ the researchers found living turtles in two separate rivers in Myanmar. However, the population had collapsed to a whisper. …

‘The biggest threat is that there are so few left in the wild and so if there’s an accident we’ve lost a big chunk of the population,’ Steven Platt, first author of the study and WCS associate conservation herpetologist for Southeast Asia, told Mongabay.

“ ‘Otherwise its mostly fishing. I worry about them getting entangled in fishing gear and drowning. And if we didn’t monitor, the eggs would be collected.’

“More than half of the world’s turtle and tortoise species are now threatened with extinction. Loss of habitat is their biggest threat globally, but turtles also face dangers from the pet trade, overconsumption for food and medicine, fishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

“In an effort to bring the Burmese roofed turtle back from the brink of extinction, WCS and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) in collaboration with the Myanmar Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry began a program to ‘headstart’ the species in 2007. Researchers and technicians collected eggs from wild turtles for a captive-breeding program. …

“The captive population is now approaching 1,000 turtles, and the species appears to be in little danger of biological extinction. The goal is to eventually release them back into their wild habitat in the Chindwin River.

“In 2015, WCS and TSA reintroduced some male turtles back to the wild, but reintroduced turtles can be hard to follow and locate in the river when the wet season rolls in, Platt says. For now, the team is trying a different strategy, keeping some of the turtles in floating cages in the river as a ‘soft release’ of sorts. The hope is that once the turtles become acclimated to the area they can be released and won’t stray too far.

“ ‘River turtle conservation is really difficult,’ Platt said. ‘Tortoises can move about a kilometer, or, normally just stay within a few hectares of where we release them, but these turtles, once they’re in the river, they can go up or down for several hundred miles if they just keep swimming.’ ”

Read more at Mongabay, here. And hope for other comebacks.

Photo: Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar
Burmese roofed turtle shown moments after emerging from an egg collected from a sandbank along the Chindwin River and incubated at a facility in Limpha village, Sagaing region, Myanmar. See Platt et al.

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Photo: Amanda Matthews/Prometheus Art Bronze Foundry & Metal Fabrication
A clay model of a statue of Netti Depp, the first woman to be honored with a public monument in Kentucky.

Now that we’re removing statues and other honors for men whose dark side has become obvious (think segregationist president Woodrow Wilson, whose name has been removed from an institution at Princeton), how do we choose who deserves a statue? It’s possible some of the women and minorities we want to honor are known not only for praiseworthy things but also more troubling activities or associations. People are complicated.

Hakim Bishara reports at Hyperallergic, “Next year, Kentucky will raise a public statue of a woman for the first time in its history. The monument will honor Nettie Depp, a Kentucky educator who died in 1932.

“The statue will be unveiled at the Kentucky Capitol on August 21 of 2021, Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman announced in a speech on August 5. It will be the first monument honoring a woman on state-owned land.

‘A failure to observe women in places of honor narrows the vision of our youth and reveals a lack of understanding of American history regarding women’s work, sacrifice and the immeasurable and timeless contribution to society’s advancement,’ Coleman said.

“The statue is designed by Amanda Matthews, a sculptor from Lexington, Kentucky, who spent years lobbying state officials for a monument honoring a woman.

“In 2015, Matthews founded the nonprofit the Artemis Initiative to campaign for a monument for Depp upon the recommendation of Kentucky’s Commission on Women. Matthews is Depp’s great-great niece (another distant relative of Depp’s is Kentucky-born actor Johnny Depp, who is her a great-great-nephew).

“Later in 2015, the Kentucky Human Rights Commission backed Matthews’s campaign with a resolution encouraging the state and local governments to erect statues of women of historical significance and outstanding achievements. A year later, Kentucky’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission started reviewing the Artemis Initiative’s proposal for a statue of Depp, and in 2017 it voted unanimously in favor of the monument.

“ ‘My hope is that this sculpture will break through the obstinate norm that has held fast in Kentucky since 1792 and move the needle toward a more inclusive future for women, minorities, and children,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic in an email.

“Last year, Matthews designed a sculpture of Alice Dunnigan for the Seek Museum in Russellville, Kentucky. Dunnigan was an award-winning Kentucky journalist and the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House. … Presently, along with her sculpture of Depp, she is completing a monument for investigative journalist Nellie Bly, which will be installed next year at New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

“Depp was a Kentucky teacher and principal. In 1913, she became the first woman to be elected as Superintendent of Barren County Schools … During her tenure, Depp built 13 new schoolhouses, repaired 50 others, dug water wells, fought for fair pay for teachers, and promoted stricter enforcement of the Compulsory Education Laws to reduce literacy rates.

“After finishing her four-year term in 1917 (Depp declined to run for a second term), she went on to become principal at Cave City School until 1923. She spent the last decade of her career as a teacher in Scottsville from 1923 to 1931. …

“But there are questions to be raised about Depp’s legacy. As superintendent, she was tasked with overseeing 100 segregated schools across the county. There are no historical records that explicitly show her stances about segregation, and Depp does not appear to have advocated for integration. However, she is believed to have worked to improve learning conditions for Black students. …

“ ‘In the context of Kentucky in 1915, this should not be understated,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic. ‘Barren County Kentucky was located in solidly Confederate territory only a few decades prior. Depp’s public advocacy on [better Black schools] was groundbreaking, and possibly even dangerous.’ …

“However, in 1920, Depp helped write an endorsement for President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election for a third term in her capacity as a member of the Resolutions Committee of the Barren County Democratic Party’s local convention. … Wilson supported the resegregation of federal offices and held virulently white supremacist views, according to historians. In 2015, Princeton University removed his name from its School of Public and International Affairs. …

“ ‘It is honestly a disappointment to me that she publicly endorsed Wilson’s candidacy, but there is evidence that her first and most passionate interest was improved education for all children, and she never wavered on her stance on that,’ Matthews said. …

“ ‘I have no intent or interest to whitewash Depp’s history or that of my ancestors, but I do have an interest in bringing more equity to those who are marginalized,’ said Matthews. ‘Nettie Depp may not have done everything right, but she certainly did some things right.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Shahzad Qureshi
Shahzad Qureshi, founder of Urban Forest, in Karachi, Pakistan.

Today most people have come to realize the importance of trees for everything from reducing global warming to improving life in neighborhoods. The Amazon rain forest (currently in grave danger from Brazil’s government) is known to cool the planet by soaking up carbon in the atmosphere, and urban forests give city residents a chance to cool off — and calm down.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy, but around the world, more people are feeling they better do something themselves to protect trees.

Anna Kusmer reports at PRI’s The World, “Extreme heat often hovers over Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, creating insufferable conditions for its 16 million inhabitants. But each time Karachi resident Shahzad Qureshi transforms a barren patch of land into a dense, urban forest, he helps his city adapt to extreme urban heat that has become inevitable under climate change. Over the last four years, Qureshi’s organization, Urban Forest, has planted 14 urban forests in parks, schools, people’s yards and outside of a mosque.

“Qureshi’s quest to plant urban forests started in 2015, when temperatures reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Karachi. About 2,000 people in the region died from dehydration and heatstroke. It was devastating.

‘It was just too hot,’ Qureshi said. …’ And one of the things everybody was talking about is that there’s not enough green cover.’

“Around that time, Qureshi saw a TED Talk that changed his life. He listened to a man named Shubhendu Sharma sharing a method to quickly grow dense urban forests. Qureshi was amazed. …

“Qureshi decided to learn Sharma’s technique and bring it to Karachi, joining a growing global community of urban foresters who want to help their cities adapt to extreme urban heat events created by rapid climate change. …

“Sharma’s organization Afforestt has now helped plant 150 mini-forests in 13 countries.

“ ‘So, there is a quite strong global community right now,’ Sharma said. ‘I am very keen on taking this method to every single country of the world.’

“Sharma’s special technique is known as the Miyawaki method. It involves the close placement of a variety of trees with different growing speeds and light requirements to prevent competition for the same resources. The approach specifically uses native species, allowing trees to thrive in their original climates and environments while supporting native bird and insect populations.

“ ‘Most of the city is roads and buildings and built-up urban area,’ said Nadeem Mirbahar, an ecologist with the Swiss International Union for Conservation of Nature Commission (IUCN) on Ecosystem Management, based in Karachi. His organization did a survey and found that only 7% of Karachi had green cover.

“This contributes to an ‘urban heat island’ effect, Mirbahar said. The phenomenon causes cities to be significantly hotter than the surrounding countryside. He thinks Karachi should strive for at least 25% green cover to avoid catastrophic heat events in the future.

“Qureshi’s oldest urban forest is four years old and already has towering, 35-foot-tall Acacia trees full of big, thorny branches and birds’ nests.

“ ‘I have seen bird species in this park, which I have not seen in my life,’ he said. ‘It’s a habitat for them.’ …

“Policymakers in Pakistan have started to look at planting trees as a solution to the urban heat threat, said Umer Akhlaq Malik, a policy analyst at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Pakistan.

“In 2016, the government launched a plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees as part of a project called ‘the Billion Tree Tsunami,’ in response to the fact that the country had fallen to a mere 2% forest cover.

“Malik said … ‘To take it to scale, you need more practitioners who invest their time and energy into this.’

“Malik said the biggest barriers are cost and space. Each forest can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish.

“But Qureshi remains hopeful that the project can scale up. He is working with the UNDP to form a coalition that aims to bring urban forests to every park in the city. He thinks Karachi could look fundamentally different.”

More at PRI, here.

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