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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.

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

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Photo: Donnel Baird.
Donnel Baird is the founder and owner of BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based energy technology startup that markets, engineers, and finances renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to buildings in underserved market segments.

This article starts by showing how a professor and a college friend helped motivate a young man depressed about race in America and then describes how he turned himself into a force for change.

Sarah Kaplan writes at the Washington Post, “Donnel Baird kept his coat on while he toured the aging sanctuary. His breath froze on his face mask as he took in the peeling plaster, the dusty basement, the failing boiler that never seemed able to make Bright Light Baptist Church warm.

But when he peered into the kitchen, the shiver he felt was one of recognition. Every burner on the stove was lit. The oven door was open, its temperature set on high. It was exactly how Baird’s family tried to heat his childhood home more than three decades earlier, in another Brooklyn building with a dysfunctional HVAC system.

“The landlord wouldn’t address the problem, and the family couldn’t afford to move. So they stayed, the need to keep their children warm outweighing the danger of toxic fumes and open flames.

“Baird, 40, has made it his life’s work to ensure other people don’t have to make that choice.

“That’s why he launched BlocPower. Since its inception in 2012, his Brooklyn-based start-up has brought clean energy to more than 1,100 low-income buildings across the New York area. Baird’s business plan is simple: the company replaces heating and cooling systems that run on fossil fuels with greener, more efficient alternatives such as electric heat pumps and solar panels. That reduces the pollution driving climate change while also making indoor air healthier. The gains in efficiency generate enough savings to lower costs for property owners and deliver a profit to BlocPower investors. And the renovations create jobs and increase property values, building wealth in neighborhoods that have long been marginalized. …

“The foundations for BlocPower were laid during Baird’s childhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood just a few miles from Bright Light. It was a community with a spirit of civil rights activism — the center of school integration protests; the home district of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first woman and African American to seek a major party’s presidential nomination in 1972. But the area had also been depleted by predatory real estate practices and ravaged by the crack epidemic.

“By the 1980s, when Baird’s parents emigrated from Guyana, the neighborhood was at a nadir. Buildings were in disrepair, jobs were hard to come by, tensions with police were high. As an elementary-schooler, Baird witnessed a fistfight escalate into a deadly shooting. That taught him about desperation, he says; when someone pulls the trigger, it’s because their back is already against the wall.

“Baird’s family eventually moved to Atlanta, where Baird got scholarships to attend a private high school and then Duke University. Surrounded by Whiteness, wealth and privilege, ‘I really started to see the structural elements of racism in America,’ Baird said.

“Then police in the Bronx killed an unarmed Black man named Amadou Diallo, firing 41 shots at him. The immigrant from Guinea was only a few years older than Baird and had been standing in front of his apartment building when he was killed.

“Baird sank into a deep depression. He might have stayed there if he hadn’t wound up in a course at Duke about social movements taught by historian Larry Goodwyn. He became close with the professor, who called the struggling sophomore into his office one day and told him, Baird recalled, to ‘get my s— together.’

“ ‘He said, “You’re so smart, there’s no excuse for you not to figure out how to plug in and get active on the issue of race,’ ” Baird said. …

“After graduation, Baird moved back to New York to work as a community organizer, then got a job partnering with the Department of Energy to retrofit low-income houses so that they used less energy and cost less to heat.

“Roughly a third of U.S. households have trouble paying energy bills, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wealth disparities and decades of racist housing policies mean that Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately likely to live in homes with broken or inefficient HVAC equipment that is more expensive to operate.

“This energy inequality is a public health crisis: aging gas and oil furnaces — as well as the stoves and ovens used to supplement them — can fill homes with dangerous pollutants. A recent MIT study found that ozone and lung-irritating particles from buildings are the nation’s biggest cause of premature death from air pollution. In the neighborhood around Bright Light, where 67 percent of rented homes suffer from maintenance defects, children are hospitalized for severe asthma at twice the citywide rate.

“It’s also an environmental crisis. The energy needed to heat, cool and operate buildings produces almost a third of the United States’ planet-warming emissions.

” Working on buildings ‘brought all the themes of my life together,’ Baird said. ‘The racial justice stuff, the economic justice, the climate stuff.’ …

“Baird began to envision a company that could raise huge amounts of capital and use it to finance green retrofits in low-income buildings. Investors would be paid back out of a portion of the utility bill savings. Baird would make the venture profitable by embracing technology and seeking out partnerships every step of the way.”

Read how he established his company, BlocPower, here, and what it has accomplished so far.

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Photo: PD Rearick.
Sarah Rose Sharp’s “Avolare A Alveare (Fly Away from the Hive),” 2016, wool, salvage quilt fragment, found embroidery, printed cotton, iron-on letters, silk, hem binding.

You and your friends have probably already speculated about how many lockdown adaptations will survive the pandemic. Working from home, FaceTime and Zoom calls with distant family, increased handwashing and awareness of aerosols, paying for entertainment online, etc.

In today’s article, an artist praises the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits to freelancers and imagines a world in which basic income could provide a kind of at-home residency for creatives.

Sarah Rose Sharp writes at Hyperallergic that government payments allowed her to create without worry about money during the pandemic.

She says, “One of the basic truisms of freelancing is: You can have time, or you can have resources, but you will almost never have both simultaneously. A foundational lesson of this workflow is doing the work when it’s available and saving as much as possible for the slow times. But its counterpart is this: When times are slow, that’s the opportunity to do your own (uncompensated) thing, and you should not waste this time wallowing in anxiety about the next paid gig.

“I truly never expected the government to identify freelancers as a vulnerable population needing to be covered by unemployment. Mostly 1099 workers pay disproportionately into public benefit systems without being able to access them. Imagine my complete surprise when I discovered that freelancers were being offered unprecedented unemployment benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. In other words: every 1099 worker is being offered a paid artist residency. …

“In pre-pandemic times, artists competed tooth and nail for residency opportunities. Even when you get them, they tend to conceal sunken costs, such as requiring travel away from your life and home, thus necessitating use of resources you’re granted just to maintain your permanent homestead. You may have to pay to board pets. You may have to ship supplies or buy new ones when you get to New Hampshire or Maine or Houston or a tiny remote island and realize you left the perfect thing back in your studio.

“There are arguably many benefits of destination residencies, from offering new social connections, to providing bucolic surroundings, to the stimulation of a change of scene, but

In my experience, the best conditions for making art involve getting paid to make art where I’ve already built the infrastructure that enables me to make art.

“Since March of 2020, that’s what I’ve done, and it’s been a productive year.

“And it’s a terrific moment to have creative people collectively on paid residency, because this past year has otherwise been hell, with many of the things that inform and structure quotidian existence shaken to their foundations. Because artists make meaning out of chaos the pre-COVID world that others inhabited so effortlessly didn’t actually make all that much sense to us to begin with. During this time I find myself and other creative people asking a lot of questions about how necessary nine-to-five workdays were in the first place (or conversely, understanding how utterly crucial and underpaid teachers are), and dreaming about new ways we might approach what is to come — ways that centralize, value, and hold people when our labels peel back or entirely fall away.

“The work I’ve seen artists doing this year in lockdown, the solace and continuity the creative community has offered to a population scared, grieving, uncertain, and bored, the ways people have found a way to stay connected through distance, difficulty, and estrangement from social norms — all of these are testaments to the creative spirit. And on a policy level, they also make a strong case for Universal Basic Income. [Read three of Suzanne’s Mom’s posts on that concept here, here, and here.]

“I haven’t seen anyone working less, I’ve just seen them directing their efforts into things that feel meaningful, instead of clock punching.

“The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ While this year has made it clear that some of humanity’s problems stem from bats, it’s definitely given some of us the opportunity to attempt to live in the solution to our other problems — which is to say, there are worse things we could practice than sitting quietly in a room alone. There are lots of things that I will never see in the same way again, but personally, I no longer see the artist residency as an away-game activity, but one to be cultivated as thoroughly as possible on the home field.”

Pascal’s words are worth thinking about. As Maria Popova at Brain Pickings likes to remind us (quoting Ruth Krauss), “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier.
Doramise Moreau is a part-time janitor at a technical school. She spends most of her time shopping for ingredients and helping to cook meals for 1,000 to 1,500 people a week that show up for food at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami.

Last week, I finally felt safe enough to go get my hair trimmed and was glad to catch up on Tracie’s year. It was difficult at times, as it was for us all. Her teenage daughter had had a painfully lonely time at home, and her mother was relieved to see her back at in-person school, at least part time.

Tracie really lit up when she talked about giving free haircuts to residents of a nursing home. As she described the grateful things the seniors said to her, it was clear just how happy the volunteering made her.

Today’s story is about another volunteer who lights up when she can help people.

As reporter Cathy Free noted at the Washington Post earlier this month, “Miami Beach has declared a state of emergency because spring break partyers have overwhelmed the city, but across the causeway in Miami’s Little Haiti, a very different scene unfolds: Each Friday night, a school custodian finishes her day job, then spends 12 hours quietly cooking for the hungry.

“Doramise Moreau arrives at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church each Friday, where she stays on her feet deep into Saturday morning, pausing briefly for a nap. …

“Less than 10 miles from South Beach, Moreau, 60, lovingly turns bulk-size bags of rice and beans and hundreds of chicken and turkey drumsticks into about 1,500 meals for people in her Little Haiti neighborhood who might not have enough to eat. …

“ ‘I don’t need a lot of sleep. I would rather be here making food for the people. I ask every day for more strength to keep doing what I’m doing.’

“She first volunteered to buy groceries with church donations and prepare a feast once a week, she said, when her pastor, Reginald Jean-Marie, mentioned that he was concerned about hunger in the community.

“ ‘I told him, “Don’t worry, I can do this — I have the time,” ‘ Moreau said. ‘When people are hungry, it is our responsibility to help. I know how hard it can be out there.’

“Moreau grew up with nine siblings in Haiti and often took food from her family’s pantry to give to those who had less than her family did, she said. In 1980, she immigrated to the United States at age 19 and lived with her brother in Miami until she fell in love and started a family of her own.

“When the relationship didn’t work out and she became a single mother, Moreau said, she took two hotel jobs to pay the bills and keep her four kids fed. …

“For her first batch of meals last spring, Moreau made several enormous pots of rice and beans seasoned with her special blend of green and red peppers, onions, cilantro, bay leaves and garlic. She has never used a recipe, relying instead on instinct and what she remembers from watching her aunt and sister cook in Haiti, she said.

“ ‘Who has time to measure? I just chop everything up and toss it in,’ she said. …

“Although rice and beans are a mainstay, Moreau’s fried chicken, roast turkey, baked fish and fried plantains are also popular with the 1,000 to 1,500 people she feeds each week.

“The meals are loaded into two delivery trucks and distributed on Saturday afternoons by volunteers who cruise slowly through the neighborhood in Little Haiti and hand them out to people as they come out of their apartments.

‘Sometimes I go with them to deliver the meals, and it’s rewarding when you see how it helps,” Moreau said. “For some people, this might be the only meal they get for a while.’ …

” ‘American, Spanish, Haitian — I don’t want anyone to go hungry,’ Moreau said. ‘People are suffering during the pandemic. There’s no work, the rent is high, they might not have money to go to the store. This is just one meal, [but] it’s something I can do.’ …

“Jean-Marie, the pastor, urges Moreau to occasionally take off her apron and rest. ‘I ask myself all the time how she does it,’ he said. ‘Not once do I ever hear her complain. We have to beg Doramise to take a rest, but she keeps showing up, day after day. She gives everything she has.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Wikimedia.
Above, the portrait of William Shakespeare that was long thought to be the only one with any claim to have been painted from life — until the Cobbe portrait was revealed in 2009.

A week ago I saw that the Globe Magazine had a cover story on a newly discovered source for Shakespeare, but I didn’t think I was interested. Like others who have read theories about Shakespeare, I thought, “Here we go again.” And I have an extra reason to roll my eyes. A great uncle I never met was known for trying to prove that Francis Bacon was Shakespeare. His theory was put to rest by his own codebreakers.

But then blogger Carol got in touch to tell me the article was about her brother-in-law, and I got interested.

Michael Blanding, a Boston-based journalist, has written a book about self-taught Shakespeare researcher Dennis McCarthy and his quest to uncover a possible Shakespeare source. The Globe article was an excerpt.

It seems that McCarthy, a polymath with no academic credentials but with expertise in deep internet searches, has identified a 16th century writer called Thomas North as the source of a lot of Shakespeare themes and even some phrases. North was already known as a writer, but his plays are no longer in existence. Nevertheless, 16th century references to his work are a treasure trove if you know what you’re looking for. No one else has done McCarthy’s deep dive into North. Blanding’s aim seems not only to cover the new ground but to make a sort of scandal out of it by using words like “plagiarism.”

Blanding recounts his first reaction to McCarthy: “Oh, he is one of those, I thought to myself — a conspiracy theorist who thought Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. But McCarthy hurriedly added that in fact he believed the Bard of Avon wrote every word attributed to him during his lifetime. He also believed, however, that Shakespeare had used the earlier plays written by Thomas North for his ideas, his language, and even some of his most famous soliloquies.” Blanding is eventually persuaded.

My reaction: Sure, why not? If the guy has proof of Shakespeare using similar language to North’s, so what? Proof is proof. The importance lies in its newness. Blanding’s emphasis on McCarthy’s — and Darwin’s — lack of standard credentials strikes me as irrelevant.

After all, this is what writers do. They build on previous writers.

Look. Here is T.S. Eliot writing “Ash Wednesday”:

“Because I do not hope to turn again
“Because I do not hope
“Because I do not hope to turn
“Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope …”

And here’s Eliot’s source, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29: “Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope.”

Would anyone accuse Eliot of plagiarism for that? Just because so many centuries have passed and manuscripts have been lost, does that mean Shakespeare was hiding a deep, dark secret? And just because McCarthy has no PhD or scholarly cred, does that mean he can’t notice things?

I admit I don’t have a PhD either and I’m often accused of being gullible, but I have no problem with research into a possible inspiration for some of Shakespeare’s art, especially as no one is saying he didn’t write the plays and poetry himself. For me, the only problem that McCarthy and Blanding could have would be over-hyping and using words like “plagiarism.” I really wish them success getting the word out, though.

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Erika Thompson via StyleBluePrint.
This Texas woman really loves bees. “Bees need advocates,” she says.

If you were to search this blog on words like “bees,” “Honeyland,” and “beekeepers,” you would see that I have a friendly attitude to bees. Besides the fact that they set such a good example for industry and cooperation, there’s this: no bees, no food.

Today’s post is about a woman who really, really loves bees.

Travis M. Andrews writes at the Washington Post, “The bees drip from Erika Thompson’s bare hand, as if she’s holding a scoop of melting ice cream. But she’s not worried. Just a simple flick of the wrist, and the gentle insects rush into their new home.

“This scene’s out of a recent TikTok from Thompson, an Austin-area beekeeper who has amassed an enormous social media following by documenting her work of ethical bee removal. In this particular video, she explains that she was asked to safely remove a colony of bees that have been living in a backyard shed for two years. At one point, she lifts up a section of wooden flooring to expose hundreds of bees crawling over one another. A delighted grin spreads across her face.

“And like a fly to honey, viewers flocked to the TikTok. It’s been viewed more than 60 million times. …

“Thompson simply love bees. Really loves them. The 35-year-old’s backyard is filled with about 50 hives. … Growing up, Thompson so admired Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey that she would pretend to be them, stringing binoculars around her neck and setting up her stuffed animals like creatures in the wild. Then, she’d head outside.

‘I spent a lot of time in my backyard on nights and weekends, trying to collect bugs and put them in jars … to keep them and care for them,’ she said. ‘It’s something I’ve been into my entire life.’

“About a decade ago, she took a beekeeping class out of curiosity. The University of Texas graduate didn’t expect it to become a living. She worked as a communications director at a nonprofit and didn’t even know if she could keep bees in her central Austin home. But she found herself learning more and more about bees and eventually keeping her own hive.

“She soon launched Texas Beeworks, spending nights, weekends and even some lunch breaks helping others keep bees and driving around with hives in the back of her hatchback. Two years ago, she made it full-time, making her feel like ‘the luckiest person in the world.’ …

“Thompson began making the videos to document her process for clients who, unsurprisingly, usually choose to be absent during a removal. Last year, when the pandemic began, several speaking opportunities she had lined up went by the wayside. With a little more time on her hands, she started a TikTok account. …

” ‘Most of the time when I tell people I’m a beekeeper, they say, “Oh, you’re a bookkeeper?” ‘ Thompson said. ‘I don’t know what has really captivated people, because for me, it’s just so normal. Maybe it’s people seeing something that they’ve never seen before and maybe that they didn’t know was possible.’

“Plus there’s an awful lot to admire about bees, she added, ‘from the way they work together as a superorganism and nobody thinks of herself as an individual but does everything for the good of the colony to the way they build the hive and forage and raise their young.’ …

“Though she didn’t expect her videos to become so popular, she hopes they can help continue changing our attitude by correcting misconception about bees, perhaps the largest one being that ‘all kinds want to sting you all the time.’

“For one, there are more than 20,000 species of bees, all of which have different temperaments. Plus, Thompson said, ‘Most bees, and most honeybees, are docile and do not want to sting you.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Bassem18/Wikipedia.
The rare Mountain Gazelle is returning to Turkey.

Today’s story is about both environmental rescue and the power of one individual to make a difference.

Carlotta Gall writes at the New York Times, “Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.

“Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.

“The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.

The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.

“Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.

“A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.

“The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.

“With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.

” ‘It was the mating season,’ he recalled. ‘I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.’

“When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.

“ ‘This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,’ he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.

‘I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,’ he said.

“He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.

“The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.

“The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.

“ ‘The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,’ he said. ‘Nature needs biodiversity.’

“He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.

“With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.

“With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.

“ ‘We never tried to use force to stop them,’ he said. ‘We would say, “Hello, we are from the Nature Project.” Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.’

“The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.

“ ‘If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,’ Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.”

More here.

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On Shadows

Photo of Magritte art: Thomas Hawk.
René Magritte’s “La Trahison des Images” (“The Treachery of Images”) (1928-9) or “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). The work is now owned by and exhibited at LACMA.

The first time I saw the Magritte work called in English “This is not a pipe,” I thought, “What do you mean? Yes, it is.” It took me a long time to consider that it’s only a picture of a pipe, not the pipe itself. My pipe-smoking father wouldn’t have been able to put tobacco in it and smoke it.

I mention this because it relates to one of the reasons I’m fascinated by shadows.

Peter Pan’s shadow goes off on its own for a while, but it wouldn’t exist without Peter Pan. The shades in the Greeks’ Underworld are both the real people and not the real people. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when Puck says to the audience, “If we shadows have offended,” he’s describing actors as shadows of characters, and characters as shadows of people. He recommends thinking about the play as a dream — another kind of meaningful shadow.

This is not a bicycle.

A shadow is the thing and not the thing, a distorted version of the thing that may lead to interesting or useful thoughts. Perhaps Orpheus will come and ride that bicycle into Hades and try bringing Eurydice home on the back. In the myth, though, he turned around despite dire warnings not to because he couldn’t hear her footsteps. I fear he will make the same mistake with the bicycle as he won’t be able to feel her sitting behind him.

Shadows are a way of thinking about things unseen that can stimulate the imagination and provide extra insight into the everyday world we experience. Since first reading The Princess and the Goblin, I’ve sensed that fiction and fantasy may provide the best ways to understand the “real.” It’s why I enjoy, for example, Francesca Forrest’s other world in Lagoon Fire, here, and blogger Laurie Graves’s fantasy series about the Great Library and her podcast, here.

There are so many things in our lives that are hard to fathom, and sometimes the imagination helps to get a grip on them. Some years ago, I read about a woman in Guatemala who was trying to explain why her neighborhood volcano erupted and killed so many people. She said it was because of her husband’s misdeeds. It was just her way to get her head around something too enormous to comprehend.

This is not a planter Suzanne made as a child. No plants here.

This is a planter Suzanne made as a child. Or is it?

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Photo: Stuff.
To meet methane goals, New Zealand must cut the number of sheep and cows by 15 per cent, the Climate Change Commission’s decarbonisation blueprint says.

Although I’m eating a vegetarian meal tonight, I’m disappointed in myself for not coming up with lots of interesting vegetarian recipes during lockdown. I had plenty of time to think about it. Part of my problem is that my Covid-era delivery services didn’t offer many prepared vegetarian meals, but it’s a weak excuse. Fortunately, my daughter-in-law knew I was interested in anything vegetarian and often added me to her shopping.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, they’re way ahead of everyone as usual — not only in terms of trying to cut back on livestock emissions but addressing many other aggressive climate-change goals.

Olivia Wannan writes at Stuff, “Whether you work on the land, in a factory, an office or are still in school, life in 2035 will look significantly different under the Climate Change Commission’s decarbonisation blueprint.

“[If] the Government follows it to the letter., by 2025, you’ll be eligible for a public transport card offering discounted fares until you’re 25, to encourage low-carbon transport habits that may last a lifetime. …

By 2023, the Government’s emissions standards will start to bring lower-carbon cars into the country. The ban on petrol and diesel cars will also be in place as early as 2030. By 2035, both restrictions will also be influencing the second-hand car market, so if you do become an owner, the vehicle will be a lot greener than the cars on the road today. …

“Between now and 2035, you may be one of the thousands of employees that will transition out of carbon-intensive industries and into new jobs. … If you work in an at-risk industry, you’ll be eligible for government support to be re-trained for other roles. If you’re tangata whenua, you’ll be able to opt for education and training developed by Māori. By 2035, many Māori workers will have already transitioned to new industries, with the job gains outweighing losses. …

“The renewable electricity sector will be busy – the country requires one new wind farm to be built almost every year to meet the increased demand for power, plus new transmission lines. …

“By 2035, most truck drivers will be behind the wheel of a low-emissions vehicle, after the battery technology has developed enough to cover longer distances. But there will be fewer trucking jobs, as more freight will travel by rail or sea. … You’ll be twice as likely to head to the office by bike or on public transport, compared to today. If you still want to drive to the CBD, you may have to pay a congestion charge, with your cash helping to fund lower-carbon forms of travel. …

“By 2035, your office must be a pleasant place to be in all seasons, courtesy of energy efficiency standards for new and existing buildings. Building owners will have ditched coal in all heating systems by 2030. Natural gas will be phased out after that. …

“Across the country, dairy and meat farmers will reduce animal numbers by 15 per cent between 2020 and 2030. However, this isn’t an across-the-board cut. The efficiency gains you’ll make on your farm will probably differ to what your neighbours achieve. It’s the collective effort that matters.

“This could mean changing your farm management. You’ll need to use the plans, advice and tools developed by the agricultural industry partnership with Government, He Waka Eke Noa – though this guidance won’t be finalised until 2022. You may require reliable internet to precision-manage your farm, so you should have access to broadband by 2023 at the latest. …

“A farm might take a look at the efficiency gains required and choose to replace its cows and sheep with horticulture. An additional 20,000 hectares of land will grow grain, fruit and vegetables by 2035.

“Farmers staying in the meat or dairy business will carefully manage their use of nitrogen fertiliser (which creates the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide) and supplementary feed, which will cut expenses. Some will try their hand at regenerative farming, which aims to create healthier soil and land.

“Sheep farms will select rams that carry the genes to produce less methane when food is digested. The widespread uptake of low-methane sheep breeds will cut the country’s agricultural methane by 3 per cent by 2035. …

“If you have unproductive land sitting around, you’ll be able to access public funding to plant it with native trees. Nearly 250,000 additional hectares of sheep and beef farmland will be afforested by 2035. Combined with a ban on native deforestation in 2025, you’ll more frequently spot native birds and lizards, particularly if you fence off your bush and undertake pest control.

“Collective action will allow New Zealand to continue to promote the comparatively low-carbon credentials of its dairy and meat to international markets. …

“Buildings will be increasingly constructed using timber, which is less emissions-intensive than concrete and steel. By 2025, new natural gas connections will be banned. A decade after that, remaining gas appliances for cooking or heating will be increasingly costly. Because the domestic carbon price will steadily rise, the average annual gas bill will cost $150 more in 2035 compared to 2020.

“In comparison, the price of electricity will drop during the 2020s, after the Tiwai smelter closes. It’ll gradually rise again towards the end of the decade but should stay lower than today’s costs. …

“Remote and Māori communities will be able to access funds to build their own solar generation.”

It will likely to be hard to achieve all that, even with the less environmentally friendly biomass use and burning of “renewable” wood. But I think they are taking this seriously.

More at Stuff, here. Hat tip: Svein Tveitdal, @tveitdal, on twitter.

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Map: Wikipedia.
Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Before the pandemic, I had a conversation with a friend in her 80s who was raised in the Sephardic Jewish tradition. Along with others in her age group she has gone online to try to preserve the Spanish-based language Ladino, which goes way back to 15th century, when there was a large Jewish community living in Spain.

This blog has often covered the topic of endangered languages and efforts to protect them. Sometimes the danger to a language results from the dying out of aging speakers. Sometimes the danger comes from government policy, as was the case for many years with America’s indigenous tribes.

Filip Noubel writes at Global Voices about the language of a Muslim community in China whose proponents are working to adapt it to online use.

“Languages need to adapt to the modern world to catch-up with new technology and concepts if they want to remain competitive, particularly among younger speakers. This is particularly true for Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in Western China that is under threat due to targeted discrimination conducted by Chinese authorities in the hope that Chinese may appear more attractive and technology-friendly among Uyghur youth.

“Uyghur linguists have long been aware of the fact that Uyghur, a Turkic language with an estimated 10 million speakers, written in the Arabic alphabet in China, and with a rich tradition of intricate poetry, philosophy and songs written in that language, needs to include elements of modern life to serve the needs of the younger generation, as well as of social media where more and more conversations are taking place.

“To have a rare insight into those efforts, Global Voices spoke to Elise Anderson, an expert on Uyghur language and music who spent years in Xinjiang, and now works as a Senior Program Officer with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Anderson, who spent most of her time in Xinjiang from 2012 to 2016, was invited in January 2014 by an Uyghur linguist friend to join their WeChat group called ‘Tilchilar’ (Linguists) as she was herself studying the language in-depth as part of her doctoral research on Uyghur music and songs. Here is how she describes the group hosted on China’s most popular social media platform, WeChat:

” ‘The group had around 100 members at any given moment, most of whom were highly educated native speakers, including academics, translators, bureaucrats, and even a few officials from regional-level institutions. We discussed persistent “problems” in the language, including spelling, grammar, translation. Most often, our conversations centered on terminology and whether we could replace Chinese loanwords to preserve the “purity” (sapliq) of Uyghur. A group member might say, “I noticed teenagers are using [Mandarin word]. What could we say instead?” We would then cycle through possibilities: Was there a word to “resurrect” from pre-modern Uyghur? No? What about “borrowing” from other Turkic languages? No? What about ‘importing’ from a more distant language? And so on. In a few cases, we settled on terms, which more influential group members then attempted to lexicalize. But discussions of single words could last days and often went unresolved.’

“As Anderson explains, the group was also trading examples of bad translations, some of which were comical, but also raised an uncomfortable questions such as why would there be unedited translations in Uyghur in a territory inhabited by millions of native speakers of the language.

“For languages that do not have a dominating position in a country, or have a small number of speakers, their digital footprint is often an indicator of their chances for long-term survival. For Uyghur language, WeChat offered a unique opportunity with its voice messaging feature. As Anderson explains, the platform became so popular it was given an Uyghur name, ‘Ündidar,’ a portmanteau word made of the Turkic word ‘ün’ which means voice, and the Persian term ‘didar’ which refers to encounter. The poetic term was coined by the poet and intellectual Abduqadir Jalaliddin, who disappeared from his Ürümqi home in 2018 and is currently incarcerated. …

“Today the Uyghur diaspora living outside a Beijing-censored internet is probably the most active user of Uyghur language over social media. Microsoft has offered full operating systems in Uyghur since 2016, and most smartphones allow Uyghur on their keyboard. In February 2020, Google also added Uyghur on its free translation platform, expanding the space for Uyghur online. …

“According to Anderson: ‘The Uyghur web, most of which was hosted inside the borders of China, used to be a vibrant space, where popular message boards gave users space to discuss everything under the sun (or at least everything under the sun that made it through the censors). … Since 2016, authorities in the Uyghur region have managed to scrub that web nearly completely, such that today there are very few Uyghur-language sites left. …

” ‘The way to keep anything alive, including a language, is to create space for it to live and provide material support so it can thrive. The Uyghur language will survive if it is put it on equal footing with other languages, if it “counts” in professional and formal settings, if it has support as a language of literary and scientific production.’ “

More at Global Voices, here.

Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters.
Workers walk along the fence of a fortification thought to be a Muslim detention center in Xinjiang, China, on September 4, 2018. Read more at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Photo: Ahmed Hasan / AFP via Getty Images.
The sealed wooden coffins at Saqqara in Egypt date from between the sixth and first centuries B.C.

On the weekend, when I was indoors with grandchildren for the first time in more than a year, one of the kids read to me from a book of “spooky stories.” One yarn was about mummies, which reminded me of the prepandemic time that grandson and I had visited the Egyptian section of the RISD Museum. Maybe Suzanne will show him the picture from today’s post about a recent discovery in Egypt.

Jo Marchant wrote about this at Smithsonian last November. “A giant trove of ancient coffins and mummies has been discovered at the vast Egyptian burial site of Saqqara. After hinting at a big announcement for days, the Egyptian antiquities ministry revealed the details this morning: more than 100 intact wooden coffins with brightly painted scenes and hieroglyphs, and well-preserved mummies inside.

“The announcement comes after a string of recent discoveries at Saqqara, including 59 intact coffins revealed in September and October. The newly announced coffins were found nearby, at the bottom of three 12-meter shafts revealed when archaeologists led by Mostafa Waziry, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, were removing debris from the site. Other finds include funerary masks and more then 40 statues of the funerary deity Ptah-Sokar, all untouched for at least 2,000 years.

“Speaking at a press conference at Saqqara with dozens of the coffins displayed on stage behind him, Egypt’s antiquities minister, Khaled el-Enany, praised the Egyptian archaeologists who excavated the finds, which mostly date from between the sixth and first centuries B.C. ‘They have been working day and night and I’m very proud of the result,’ he said. Their story will be told in a Smithsonian Channel docuseries called Tomb Hunters, scheduled to air in 2021.

“As the coronavirus pandemic devastates the tourism industry on which Egypt depends, the recent finds have been publicized in a series of increasingly dramatic events. At a previous press conference in October, Egyptian officials opened a coffin live on stage. This time they went one step further, not just opening a coffin but X-raying the mummy inside, revealing the individual to have been an adult male, perhaps in his 40s. ….

“Egyptologists have welcomed the announcement. To find an unplundered necropolis from this period is ‘extremely significant,’ says Salima Ikram, an archaeologist based at the American University in Cairo, who works at Saqqara. They note that although the latest find is larger, it doesn’t differ significantly from the previously announced finds. ‘This is very impressive, but it’s lots more of what we already have,’ says Campbell Price, curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, researchers are excited about the possibilities for learning more about this ancient sacred landscape, and the people who were buried there.

“Saqqara, located around 20 miles south of Cairo, is one of Egypt’s richest archaeological sites. Home to the 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid, Egypt’s oldest surviving pyramid that’s about 200 years older than the more-famous Pyramids at Giza, the site was used as a burial ground for more than 3,000 years. Like the previous 59 coffins, the newly announced finds mostly date from fairly late in ancient Egypt’s history, from the Late Period (664-332 B.C.) and the Ptolemaic period when Greeks ruled as Pharaohs (305-30 B.C.)

“During this period, Saqqara was far more than a cemetery, says Price. It was a pilgrimage site, he says, like an ancient Mecca or Lourdes, that attracted people not just from Egypt but from all over the eastern Mediterranean. Buildings such as the Step Pyramid were already thousands of years old at this time; people believed they were burial places for gods, and wanted to be buried close by.

‘Saqqara would have been the place to be seen dead in,’ says Price. ‘It had this numinous, divine energy that would help you to get into the afterlife.’

“Geophysical surveys have revealed the remains of numerous temples buried under the sand. Archaeologists have also discovered millions of animal mummies, including dogs, cats and birds, believed to have been left as offerings. Recent finds of mummified cobras, crocodiles and dozens of cats, including two lion cubs, were reported in November 2019 and feature in a Netflix documentary, ‘Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb,’ released this month. Meanwhile the discovery of an underground embalmers’ workshop, announced in April, suggests a thriving business in dealing with the dead, with coffins and masks to suit a range of budgets.

“But the undertakers weren’t digging from scratch, says Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. They were reusing older, looted tombs, he says, ‘scouring Saqqara for locations’ suitable for placing new coffins, even beneath the Step Pyramid itself. That makes the site a densely packed mix of finds that range thousands of years. ‘One would be hard pressed to dig and not find something,’ says Ikram. The latest coffins come from an area north of the Step Pyramid, next to the bubasteon, a temple complex dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet, where older tombs were reused to hold hundreds of mummified cats.” As Laurie would say, “Holy Cats!”

More at the Smithsonian, here.

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Photo: Wahrmund/ Wikimedia.
Break dancing in Cologne, Germany, 2017.

Back in the 1980s, John was really into break dancing. I think he mainly replicated what he saw other people doing, although he might have taken a class.

Today break dancing is considered athletic enough to be included as a competitive sport in the Olympics. Wow.

Rick Maese has the story at the Washington Post. “When her son had his fill of piano lessons, Ellen Zavian began looking for some other activity to keep him busy. She paid a visit to a dance studio in Washington that specialized in breaking — better known as break dancing to anyone who remembers the 1980s or simply breakin’ to many participants — and it didn’t take long before mother and son were hooked.

“Zavian is a sports law professor at George Washington University. … It didn’t take long before she started brainstorming about what was possible with breaking, an acrobatic urban dance style long associated with oversized boomboxes, hip-hop music, athletic spinning, whirling and ‘freezing.’

“ ‘I just thought: “My kid loves it. I work in sports. I’ve created associations. Why not? This is what I do,” ‘ Zavian said

“That was a full decade ago. The result was the United Breakin’ Association (UBA), an early step in organizing a sprawling, disorganized collection of young dancers, known as b-boys and b-girls, many of whom had no interest in formalizing and codifying their preferred form of self-expression. They were part of an anti-establishment counterculture that feared being co-opted by people who didn’t understand the dance or its dizzying band of denizens.

“The story of breaking’s meteoric rise to the Olympic stage — it’s set to make its debut at the Paris Summer Games in 2024 — involved an unlikely and reluctant partnership between street-savvy breakers and traditional ballroom dancers. …

“’Most of us knew that this could be big one day. We just didn’t really know how it would happen,’ said veteran b-boy Moises Rivas, who dances under the name ‘Moy.’ …. ‘We just had to deal with the misconceptions, negative connotations and people who didn’t always want to give it the credibility it deserves.’

Photo: Ricky Flores.

“Born in the South Bronx nearly 50 years ago, breaking long ago had spread across the world. … From Los Angeles to Miami, there were parallel efforts to grow the sport but little coordination. Steve Graham had dabbled in breaking in college in the early 1980s. He worked on Wall Street and then established a successful private equity firm in Philadelphia. He gravitated back to breaking in his 50s, dancing alongside his children. He saw the potential for growth. The dance wasn’t just a form of expression; competition was baked into it with fierce dance battles between b-boys and b-girls.

“He ran a popular competition in Philadelphia and established a Pro Breaking Tour and a nonprofit membership organization called Urban Dance & Educational Foundation with a vision of drawing together the fragmented breaking world. Many of the competitions were spectacles, drawing large crowds with elaborate lights and window-rattling beats, but the sport was driven by independent event promoters without any movement trained on the Olympics.

“Far removed from booming bass notes and twirling young b-boys, however, serious efforts were afoot to get other forms of dancing on sport’s biggest stage. The global governing body was called International DanceSport, an umbrella organization for all dance disciplines, from Boogie Woogie to salsa. It was formally recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1997, but officials there failed in their efforts to get ballroom dancing accepted into a Summer Games. Rather than pack up their tap shoes, they rebranded as the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) and decided to double-down. …

“Breaking was far from the organization’s core when WDSF enlisted the help of Jean-Laurent Bourquin, an IOC veteran, in 2015, asking him for his help in wooing Olympic officials. The WDSF leaders were hopeful they could push specific styles of dance — either Latin or rock-and-roll — but after consulting with his colleagues in the Olympic world, Bourquin surprised them. …

“Dancing would be a viable candidate for the Olympics, he told them, but not the style they were used to.

“The WDSF’s top governing board included no breakers, so the proposition was something of a quandary: The organization could realize its Olympic dream, but only with a rogue, largely unfamiliar discipline.

“ ‘It was a bitter pill that was hard for everyone to swallow,’ recalled Ken Richards, who was on the board at the time and is now president of USA Dance. … ‘We had to come to this understanding and agreement that if dance can get a foot in the door with a style the IOC wants, then maybe the other dances aren’t as far behind as we feared.’

“Bourquin planted a seed with the IOC in 2016 and traveled to the Rio Olympics to chat up IOC members. [He] wanted to see breaking at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, a more apt platform and a friendly way to introduce the sport to Olympic officials, who skew older. For many in the Olympic world, it was the first time they considered dancing a true sport. And for many in the breaking world, it was the first time they considered the Olympics a realistic goal. …

“ ‘They didn’t view their talent as a sport,’ Zavian recalled, ‘so I had one of the skateboarders come to our meeting and talk about the difference between a sport and art. It was a very heated topic: “You’re going to take our culture away. You’re going to take our art away.” ‘ …

“But the ball was moving. While Graham provided much of the funding, the critical push for the Summer Youth Olympics was spearheaded by the larger dancing community, not the breakers.”

At the Washington Post, here, you can read what happened next.

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Photo: Dex Ezekiel/ Unsplash.
A physician in Japan realized that artificial intelligence [A.I.] that could differentiate pastries might also be helpful in medicine.

I love accidental discoveries. In today’s story, a Japanese doctor was amazed at how precisely artificial intelligence could distinguish one pastry from another — and he had a lightbulb moment.

James Somers reports at the New Yorker, “A.I. researchers used to think that, without some kind of model of how the world worked and all that was in it, a computer might never be able to distinguish the parts of complex scenes. The field of ‘computer vision’ was a zoo of algorithms that made do in the meantime. The prospect of seeing like a human was a distant dream.

“All this changed in 2012, when Alex Krizhevsky, a graduate student in computer science, released AlexNet, a program that approached image recognition using a technique called deep learning. AlexNet was a neural network, ‘deep’ because its simulated neurons were arranged in many layers. As the network was shown new images, it guessed what was in them; inevitably, it was wrong, but after each guess it was made to adjust the connections between its layers of neurons, until it learned to output a label matching the one that researchers provided.”

Somers recounts that on a visit to Japan, he saw a bakery scanner identify a pastry with extraordinary precision and wanted to learn more. His curiosity took him to Hisashi Kambe, who once “developed SUPER TEX-SIM, a program that allowed textile manufacturers to simulate the design process, with interactive yarn and color editors. … A series of breaks led to a distribution deal with Mitsubishi’s fabric division, [and in 1985] Kambe formally incorporated as BRAIN Co., Ltd.

“For twenty years, BRAIN took on projects that revolved, in various ways, around seeing. … Then, in 2007, BRAIN was approached by a restaurant chain that had decided to spin off a line of bakeries. …

“The checkout process was difficult and error-prone—the cashier would fumble at the register, handling each item individually—and also unsanitary and slow. Lines in pastry shops grew longer and longer. The restaurant chain turned to BRAIN for help. Could they automate the checkout process? …

“By 2013, they had built a device that could take a picture of pastries sitting on a backlight, analyze their visual features, and distinguish a ham corn from a carbonara sandwich. …

“In early 2017, a doctor at the Louis Pasteur Center for Medical Research, in Kyoto, saw a television segment about the BakeryScan. He realized that cancer cells, under a microscope, looked kind of like bread. He contacted BRAIN, and the company agreed to begin developing a version of BakeryScan for pathologists. …

BRAIN began adapting BakeryScan to other domains and calling the core technology AI-Scan. AI-Scan algorithms have since been used to distinguish pills in hospitals, to count the number of people in an eighteenth-century ukiyo-e woodblock print, and to label the charms and amulets for sale in shrines. One company has used it to automatically detect incorrectly wired bolts in jet-engine parts.”

More in the long article at the New Yorker, here.

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I found it harder than usual this year to wait for spring flowers, so I ordered bulbs online. The way the tulips opened was really intriguing. Do all tulips emerge from under a leaf as if from under a wing or from a womb? I had never noticed that before.

Signs of spring appeared outdoors in due time, but first I took plenty of snow, lichen, and shadow photos.

The bird feeder kept me entertained all winter, especially when rare visitors like bluebirds showed up. Another hit in lockdown was Kim’s lecture series about New Shoreham, RI, nature, where I learned that the fuzzy growth on the Massachusetts tree below is Bushy Beard Lichen.

One funny thing: I was excited about seeing pussywillows, but when my Arlington family saw the photo, they thought there must be a hidden image. My granddaughter suggested there was a snake in the foreground, and my grandson saw a turtle. Now I’m inspired to seek photos of snakes and turtles!

I hope you remember my Afghan mentee, Shagufa. She has the world’s best host family, helping her in countless ways. This month they gave her the first birthday party of her life. You never heard anybody so amazed and delighted by a cake with her name and age — and candles!

Meanwhile in Stockholm, the seniors continue outdoor dance exercise no matter how cold it gets. Stuga40, their volunteer leader, says that in addition to the health benefits, the point is to have fun. When a preschool group came walking through the park, the children were invited to join in.

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