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lowest-vocal-note-header_tcm25-584243Photo: Guinness World Records
Helen Leahey, a Welsh musician living in Germany, recently broke the record for the lowest vocal note (female).

Hello, friends, are you ready for another story on the unusual world records that adventurous humans can’t wait to break? (Remember this one on a poetry recitation in 111 languages and this one on running backwards?)

Well, let me introduce you to Helen Leahey, the “Bass Queen.”

Connie Suggitt writes at the Guinness World Records website that Leahey “sang from a D5 to a D2 note at an incredibly deep 72.5 hertz(es) in her attempt at the Music School Wagner in Koblenz, Germany.

“Helen, originally from St Asaph in Wales but now living in Germany, has recently returned to singing after the birth of her first child. …

” ‘I have been encouraged for some years to pursue a musical career professionally, in part because of my unique voice,’ Helen explained. ‘Everywhere I sing, I hear that nobody has heard a woman who can hit the low notes like me. I guess I wanted to see how unique my voice truly is.’ …

“During her attempt, Helen had eight industry professionals present, including qualified music teachers and sound engineers. Her witnesses were Tatjana Botow, a singing teacher, and Elmar Wald, a sound engineer. …

“After a couple of attempts, sound engineer Tobias Jacobs confirmed Helen had achieved the record-breaking low note. …

“Helen’s naturally deep voice has helped define and shape her music career, as has Celtic roots. In her songs, many instruments can be heard, including the guitar, Irish bouzouki, harmonica and the Irish drum (Bodhrán). …

” ‘When I play music, there is no filter, nothing, nowhere, where I can hide. Singing my own songs in front of an audience is incredibly humbling and intimate,’ Helen says on her website.” More at Guinness, here.

I have known women in a cappella groups who have deep enough voices to sing the bass line, but this takes the cake.

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Photo: Strong Museum, Rochester, New York
Candy Land was created as a distraction for young polio victims. The 1949 game board depicts a boy in a leg brace, like many polio patients had to wear.

When my children were young, I made a game called Vegetable Land because I wasn’t crazy about the enthusiasm for sugar in the Candy Land game. Little Miss Holier-than-Thou.

Come to find out, Candy Land was created 70 years ago to lighten the monotonous days of young polio victims immured in iron lungs.

Alexander B. Joy writes at the Atlantic, “If you were a child at some point in the past 70 years, odds are you played the board game Candy Land. According to the toy historian Tim Walsh, a staggering 94 percent of mothers are aware of Candy Land …

“You know how it goes: Players race down a sinuous but linear track, its spaces tinted one of six colors or marked by a special candy symbol. They draw from a deck of cards corresponding to the board’s colors and symbols. They move their token to the next space that matches the drawn color or teleport to the space matching the symbol. The first to reach the end of the track is the winner.

“Nothing the participants say or do influences the outcome; the winner is decided the second the deck is shuffled, and all that remains is to see it revealed, one draw at a time. It is a game absent strategy, requiring little thought. … Yet for all its simplicity and limitations, children still love Candy Land, and adults still buy it. … It was invented by Eleanor Abbott, a schoolteacher, in a polio ward during the epidemic of the 1940s and ’50s.

“The outbreak had forced children into extremely restrictive environments. Patients were confined by equipment, and parents kept healthy children inside for fear they might catch the disease.

Candy Land offered the kids in Abbott’s ward a welcome distraction — but it also gave immobilized patients a liberating fantasy of movement. That aspect of the game still resonates with children today. …

“The virus targets the nerve cells in the spinal cord, inhibiting the body’s control over its muscles. This leads to muscle weakness, decay, or outright fatality in extreme cases. The leg muscles are the most common sites of polio damage, along with the muscles of the head, neck, and diaphragm. In the last case, a patient would require the aid of an iron lung, a massive, coffinlike enclosure that forces the afflicted body to breathe. For children, whose still-developing bodies are more vulnerable to polio infection, the muscle wastage from polio can result in disfigurement if left untreated. Treatment typically involves physical therapy to stimulate muscle development, followed by braces to ensure that the affected parts of the body retain their shape.

“Vaccines appeared in the 1950s, and the disease was essentially eradicated by the end of the millennium. But in the mid-century, polio was a medical bogeyman, ushering in a climate of hysteria. ‘There was no prevention and no cure,’ the historian David M. Oshinsky writes. ‘Everyone was at risk, especially children. There was nothing a parent could do to protect the family.’ …

“According to Walsh, the toy historian, the [Milton Bradley executive Mel Taft met Abbott when she] brought Milton Bradley a Candy Land prototype sketched on butcher paper. …

“In 1948, when she was in her late 30s, she herself contracted the disease. Abbott recuperated in the polio ward of a San Diego hospital, spending her convalescence primarily among children.

“Imagine what it must have been like to share an entire hospital ward with children struggling against polio, day after day, as an adult. Kids are poorly equipped to cope with boredom and separation from their loved ones under normal circumstances. But it would be even more unbearable for a child confined to a bed or an iron lung. That was the context in which Abbott made her recovery.

“Seeing children suffer around her, Abbott set out to concoct some escapist entertainment for her young wardmates, a game that left behind the strictures of the hospital ward for an adventure that spoke to their wants: the desire to move freely in the pursuit of delights, an easy privilege polio had stolen from them. …

“Every element of Abbott’s game symbolizes shaking off the polio epidemic’s impositions. And this becomes apparent if you consider the game’s board and mechanics relative to what children in polio wards would have seen and felt.

“In 2010, when he was almost 70 years old, the polio survivor Marshall Barr recalled how only brief escapes from the iron lung were possible. The doctors ‘used to come and say, “You can come out for a little while,” and I used to sit up perhaps to have a cup of tea,’ he wrote, ‘but then they would have to keep an eye on me because my fingers would go blue and in about 15 minutes I would have to go back in again.’ Children would have played Abbott’s early version of Candy Land during these breaks, or in their bed. …

“At least part of Candy Land’s appeal is the feeling of independence it provides its young players. In a backstory printed in the game’s instruction manual, the player tokens (in the current edition, four brightly colored plastic gingerbread men) are said to represent the players’ ‘guides.’ They represent the chance to be an active agent, with assistance — an ambulatory adventurer, not a prisoner of the hospital or home.” More here.

I well remember the fear of polio and especially my parents’ anxiety about public swimming places. After all, my father had had polio as a child and knew the scourge for what it was.

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I haven’t shared photos for a while. Some of these are from my last sad visit to New York, others are closer to home.

The first one makes me think of how hopeful I was on September 24th, when I arrived in New York and stayed with my sister’s devoted friend. I learned that my sister was doing better than the day before although she was still in the hospital. She was talking again and saying she wanted to carry on with treatment. We allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.

The bed is a Murphy Bed, made famous in old, silent movies, where someone like Charlie Chaplin might accidentally get closed up in it. This one was comfortable and not at all recalcitrant.

My hosts’ balcony had a glorious view. I sat there and had a cup of tea. I also took an early walk around their neighborhood, which features a statue of the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland (now New York), “Peg Leg” Peter Stuyvesant. I couldn’t help wondering what the descendants of the Lenape natives thought of the statue.

Alas, the next day my sister took a dramatic turn for the worse and died the day after that. Miraculously, our brothers arrived in time from Wisconsin and California.

On days that followed, my sister’s husband, her friend, Suzanne, and I wandered around the city trying to enjoy nature and art and focus on good memories.

Then I took a bus back to Rhode Island, where I had left my car in a hurry. The rooster is in Rhode Island.

The concluding set of photos embraces art and nature back home in Massachusetts, where a long-life sympathy plant from my niece and nephew holds pride of place in the living room.

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Photo: Woody Hibbard, Flickr
Petrified Forest National Park reaches into the Painted Desert in Arizona, which boasts a colorful badlands ecosystem.

A former colleague of mine, a naturalized citizen originally from northern China, has a goal to visit all the national parks. He puts me to shame. I have visited so few. But after listening to this story from the environmental radio show Living on Earth, I know I would really like to see one national park — Arizona’s Petrified Forest.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: We continue our series on US public lands now with a trip to one of our more unusual National Parks. Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is full of wildlife, and the beautiful hiking trails that we’ve come to expect in our public lands.

“But what really sets it apart are the trees that died there. … The fossilized remains of those trees, logs more than 6 feet in diameter, are still there today, cast in stone. Here to explain more about the unique geological process that preserved the ancient trees is Sarah Herve, the acting chief of interpretation for the park. …

“SARAH HERVE: Petrified wood is a fossil. A lot of times people think that it’s something different than you know, any other kind of fossil … the remains of gigantic forests that were here during the Late Triassic. The logs … have been turned to stone by rapid burial.

“There’s silica in the materials that the trees were buried in and the cellular structure has been replaced by silica. There’s other minerals present, but the glassy mineral silica is really, really good at exchanging places with cellular material. …

“BASCOMB: The end result then, is you have these logs lying around that look exactly like trees, you can see the rings in them, the bark, the whole thing, but it’s stone. …

“HERVE: That wood is oftentimes what we call rainbow wood, because it’s very, very colorful. [When] you look on the inside, there’s all kinds of pinks and purples and blue colors, blacks, and it’s really just amazing. … If you can picture these logs when they were trees, they would be comparable to like the giant sequoias of California. …

“BASCOMB: What are scientists able to learn about the geology of the area and the trees themselves from studying this petrified wood? …

“HERVE: This part of northern Arizona was a much more tropical kind of environment. We were closer to the equator at that time, the continents were together to form Pangaea, there was quite a bit more water through this region. [That’s] based on looking at the different fossils that are found within these rocks and the rocks themselves. It’s thought that there was a tremendous river system that was running through this area. … Something on the same magnitude as like the Mississippi or the Amazon River. …

“It’s really hard to imagine [a] place so full of trees and crocodile-like animals running around and lots of amphibians, right. Those are some of the different fossils that we find. … Then we have, you know, incredible badland topography. So that’s what a lot of people, you know, call the Painted Desert. And it is very, very colorful, that’s why it gets that name. But those deposits are the remains of those ancient rivers. … The dinosaurs that we find at Petrified Forest, they’re generally pretty small. So we’re at a time way before all the big dinosaurs happened. …

“BASCOMB: I understand that you also have petroglyphs there, left over from early inhabitants of the area. …

“HERVE:  There’s a lot of petroglyphs or what we call rock art in the park. There’s [sometimes] animistic forms. So you’ll see things that look like different kinds of birds or things that look really obviously like deer, you know, or elk or pronghorn antelope, which are animals that still live in the park today. And then some of the forms are very, very strange, and really hard to interpret. Some of the petroglyphs are also considered what we call solstice markers, or solar calendars. And so they have light interactions with the sun during different times of the year. …

“BASCOMB: We have a lot of national parks in our country; we’re very lucky that way. Why should somebody visit this park as opposed to any other?

“HERVE: You know, what I hear from a lot of park visitors is, ‘Wow, we’re so glad we came here, we like this better than Grand Canyon!’ And that’s not a dig on Grand Canyon. But it’s always interesting to me to hear that because I think a lot of times people don’t realize right when they get off the interstate what they’re in for.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Thinking about my friend who is visiting all the parks, I realize it’s not unusual for naturalized citizens to appreciate the wonder and variety of this great land more than some of us who are native born. Another former colleague, also originally from China, has been expressing his delight in America by running half-marathons around the country. He has already covered more than half the states and won’t stop until he has run in all 50.

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Photo: Stephen Gosling/NBAE
The Wizdom is a dance team made up of exuberant and talented woman, no longer kids, who are good enough to dance at pro-basketball games.

I have listened to WBUR’s sports show Only a Game for years and was worried when host Bill Littlefield left. There was no need to worry. The program still excels at human-interest sports stories that draw in people like me as well as genuine sports fanatics.

Gary Waleik filed this one on some high-energy, over-50, pro-basketball dancers.

“Last year, Anna Cruse began to experience dread,” he writes. It was around the time her youngest was leaving for college, and she wondered what she would do with an empty nest. What was she good at? …

“To answer those questions, Anna Cruse had to look back at something she was good at four decades ago. In 1978, Anna Cruse was 21 years old. …

” ‘I was driving home from work one day and heard an ad on the radio for tryouts,’ Anna says. The NBA champion Washington Bullets were holding auditions for their dance team. ‘And I thought, “Hmmm … I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna go and try out.” ‘ …

“She made the 1978–1979 Washington Bullettes dance team.

” ‘All of it — the friendships and the performances, even the practice — it was all exciting,’ Anna says.

” ‘[But] in the fall of ’79, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.’ After a year of fighting, Anna beat the cancer and returned to her job as a word processing specialist, but not to the Bullettes. … Sometimes, when Anna watched dancers at an event or on TV, she’d remember how much she loved being one. …

“The years flew by, and Anna’s two oldest kids left their home in Greenville, South Carolina. Then, in March of 2018, the Washington Wizards held a 40th-anniversary celebration of the franchise’s only NBA title — from back in the days when they were still the Bullets.

” ‘And so they invited all the players back, and the coaches,’ Anna says. ‘And then any of the dancers through the years — I think there were about 60 of us — and we got to perform at this event. It sure reminded me of how enjoyable it was.’ …

“In early September, about a month after her daughter left home, Anna got an email. The Wizards were holding tryouts for a new dance team — or perhaps a new older dance team. It was for dancers 50 and older and was sponsored by the AARP. It would be called ‘The Wizdom.’ …

“In late September of 2018, undeterred by the eight-hour drive from her home in Greenville, she tried out for The Wizdom. … Anna had hardly danced over the previous 40 years. She says there were more than 80 dancers at the tryout, ranging in age from 50 to 76.

‘Absolute characters,’ Anna says. ‘Totally uninhibited. Comfortable in their own skin, and just entertaining folks.’ …

“Late one night, she got an email. … Anna Cruse had been chosen as one of the 20 members of the Wizdom over-50 dance team. …

“The Wizdom got just four practices in before their debut on Nov. 24, 2018.

” ‘The fans … so gracious. And the affirmation from them, and the excitement of the fans to this over-50, like, “What are these women out there doing?” Anna remembers. ‘When we came off the court that first game, I mean, these ladies were screaming and hugging.’ ”

More at Only a Game, here.

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Photo: John Sturrock
“A modern mania for canal developments is reshaping cities by offering oases of calm in fast-moving town centres,” says the
Guardian.

When our kids were small, the Barge Canal (otherwise known as the Erie Canal) was as familiar to them as their friends’ backyard, as the elementary school, as the Hicks and McCarthy luncheonette. It ran right through town. I remember taking a canal-boat ride up and down (vertically) through the locks with a visiting grandmother and a picnic lunch.

In today’s story, John Vidal writes at the Guardian about a new focus on canals in England.

“Every second Monday of the month, a small group of volunteers meets in the training room of a Birmingham supermarket. They discuss what has long seemed to many of their friends a crazy and probably doomed idea: how to excavate a contaminated 40-year-old waste dump, create an urban marina, restore three miles of derelict canal and build several new bridges and locks.

“Last month, however, the meeting of the 18-strong Lapal Canal Trust committee was joyous. After 20 years of trying to restore this short stretch of the 200-year-old Dudley No 2 canal, permission had finally been granted, they were told.

“What’s more, a feasibility study showed that the plan – which would link the suburbs of California and Selly Oak by water – could be a catalyst for nothing short of the economic and ecological renaissance of a large area of south Birmingham.

“The new canal will generate jobs but also provide space for new houses, as well as pollution-free walking, boating and cycling routes. The marina for 60-100 boats will stimulate businesses and bring in tourists. The wildlife corridor created along the canal will attract herons, otters, fish and waterfowl. And although the whole project will cost about £5m, the study said it would pay for itself in six years.

“ ‘It will improve life in the city. It will complete an old canal loop around the city – we owe it to the future to restore it. … No one is objecting and we have nearly raised the first £250,000 – enough to start work,’ says the Lapal trust CEO, Hugh Humphreys.The Lapal plan is one of at least 80 canal renaissance projects currently making British towns and cities suitable for populations seeking tranquility, leisure space and new ways to move around. …

“It’s not just happening in Britain. … But few countries have as many urban canals as the UK, a legacy of British industrial might – and now a golden opportunity for transformation. Some, such as the Aldcliffe yard development in Lancaster, will see just a few expensive houses built on old industrial canal works; but many seek to create large new ‘liveable’ urban communities in what were some of the Britain’s polluted places, such as Wolverhampton, Leeds, Manchester, Lancaster, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham. …

“Three things unexpectedly changed everything. A postwar infant canal leisure industry emerged; dozens of passionate heritage charities like the Lapal trust voluntarily restored many of the old waterways; and water proved to be the vital ingredient to kickstart a new, property-based canal mania.

“ ‘The restoration of the canals in the 1950s and 60s was thanks to a remarkable act of defiance by unpaid volunteers against the authorities,’ says canal historian Mike Clarke.

“ ‘Volunteers were vital. It’s unlikely there would be many canals today without them. The government, many influential people, and the British Waterways board, were all happy to see the majority filled in. … They told the government, “if you want to complain, take us to court.” …

” ‘They formed isolated stretches of peaceful country within the urban environment. Planners eventually saw them as an asset, and government at last understood their potential for leisure.’ …

” ‘The job is only half done in Britain,’ says Alison Smedley, policy officer of the Inland Waterways Association. ‘The restoration of Britain’s canal system is in full flow but there is so much left to do. … There are still about 1,800 miles left to be restored, although many [canals] have been filled in and are unlikely ever to be reclaimed,’ she says. …

“Canal and River Trust (CRT), the government-part-funded charity set up in 2012 to take over and manage the 2,000 miles of state-owned canal formerly run by British Waterways, [calculates] that about 10 million people a year visit the canals to fish, walk, cycle, observe wildlife or go boating. …

“In addition, canals have become a real alternative for people unable or unwilling to buy city property. .. Ten years ago 10% of the boats on British waterways were used as primary residences. It is now 26%, says the CRT. …

“ ‘Almost unnoticed, the canals have become important sanctuaries for urban and rural wildlife,’ says Simon Atkinson, head of conservation at the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust. … Otters, water voles, kingfishers, ducks, herons, fish, dragon- and damsel flies, even rabbits, are seen on the 100-odd miles of Birmingham canals, some of which are classed as local nature reserves. …

“ ‘If development is done well, it can enhance nature. The canals have never been more important, but it could go the other way. There is a real opportunity for high quality inner-city development and nature to flourish together.’ ”

For me as a lover of Dickens (the novels, not the man), I can’t think of English canals without thinking of the dark spirit of Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. In fact, maybe I’m ready to read that one again.

Learn more about the benefits and challenges of canal popularity here.

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offset_forest

Photo: Loren Kerns, Flickr
Many carbon offset projects reduce carbon in the atmosphere by protecting forests. Cool Effect offers other, carefully vetted offsets. The average American creates 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, so at $5 t0 $13 a ton, offsetting your footprint is a real deal.

When an arborist came to our house to remove a dangling limb on our big old tree, I was so sad to learn that the whole tree was diseased and had to come down. Not only was it beautiful, it was removing carbon from the atmosphere, which helps reduce global warming. I made a donation to the the Arbor Day Foundation, as an offset, but that’s not as good as keeping an ancient tree.

Here is what a recent episode of the radio show Living on Earth had to say about some good carbon offsets.

“Carbon-intensive activities, including global air travel, have been growing for decades. For individuals and companies interested in reducing their carbon footprints, carbon offsets promise to mitigate the damage caused by flying and other emissions sources through the investment in projects that either sequester carbon, like reforestation or forest conservation, or develop alternative energy infrastructure that reduce future emissions. Cool Effect CEO Marisa de Belloy discusses her non-profit crowdfunding platform that sells these offsets with host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: [What] do people choose to offset with your carbon emissions offset program? …

“DE BELLOY: They’ll offset a flight, they’ll offset their trips to work; some will offset their entire year. The average American emits about 17 tons of carbon pollution every year. And so some people like to wipe that clean by offsetting that at Cool Effect. These are people who are committed environmentalists who are already doing what they can do in their daily lives, to reduce their impact. And that might be eating less meat, it might be traveling less often, it might be having an electric car or solar panels. …

“BASCOMB: [Give] me some examples of projects that participate.

“DE BELLOY: [Each] of these projects will have met the requirements of an independent standard, they’ll have been verified independently of us, and then we do our own very deep due diligence that lasts a couple of months on each project, to make sure that they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing. …

“We have a project, for example, in Vietnam that installs biogas digesters, which is a very simple technology that takes animal waste, and turns it into clean cooking fuel for homes. We have a project in the United States that’s protecting the forest, or another one protecting grasslands; a project in Honduras that is providing clean cookstoves for families down there who were basically dying from air pollution from cooking over open fires. …

“They all are truly additional, meaning they’re truly having an impact on the planet and then they also all have their own set of co-benefits. [For] the cookstove project, it’s the health of the families. In some cases, it’s local jobs. In some cases, it’s protecting wildlife or a whole forest ecosystem and the people who live there. [The] key thing that underlies all the projects is that we have made sure that they’re actually doing the work of verifiably reducing carbon emissions.

“BASCOMB: And how do you actually verify that? I mean, how do you know that this project wouldn’t have been done anyway without this money? …

“DE BELLOY: [A] couple of different ways, but one is you have to understand what their financial model is, both when they started the business and currently. Is there a profitable way to do what they’re doing without the revenue from carbon offsets? And if the answer is yes, then the project is likely not additional. Another way to look for additionality is regulatory additionality. So, is there a law in place that’s requiring this business or this nonprofit to do what it’s doing? …

“BASCOMB: And then once you’ve identified a good project to work with, how do you guarantee the longevity of that? I mean, I saw that you have one in Brazil, protecting the Amazon, and Brazil is a famously lawless area, especially with the new president that really doesn’t encourage conservation. How can you be sure that those trees will still be standing 10 years from now, or that the landowner won’t take that money and then clear cut in a different area?

“DE BELLOY: [On] the trees still standing portion, that’s built into the methodology, so they will no longer be able to offer credits if those trees start disappearing. And each of the methodologies includes a certain buffer amount of trees, you know, because trees do die, and you can have natural fires and that sort of thing. And we take a particularly conservative approach to these projects, if there’s any doubt that, you know, the cook stove was in use, or the tree was still standing, or, you know, the animals were still having access to these grasslands, then a credit is not issued for that amount. So wherever there’s doubt, the credit is not issued. …

“[The cost for an offset] goes from about $5 to about $13 a ton. So if you think about the average American having 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, it’s a really reasonable amount of money to spend to wipe away that impact that we’re all having.” More from Living on Earth, here.

The best example I know of someone practicing what they preach is young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling from Canada to Chile without using fossil fuels. Read this.

Photo: New York Times
So as not to use any airplane’s fossil fuels, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions racing yacht.
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