Posts Tagged ‘paul nagel’

As Jane once observed, Suzanne’s Mom’s blog likes making connections between random unconnected matters.

This entry makes at least three connections, starting with a Malian colleague at work and ending with a biographer friend who was mentioned in a murder mystery.

To begin at the beginning, I joined my current organization about seven years ago and was “onboarded” with a young guy from Mali. Although he moved back to Africa after five years, we keep in touch, and naturally I have been distressed by the recent trouble in his homeland.

That is why an article by music critic Jim Fusilli in the the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. “To the musicians from Mali [in Paris], the attempt by terrorists associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to suppress music in their country’s north goes beyond politics and religion: It’s an offense to the soul of the nation, where music is more than entertainment, it’s essential to life.”

Fusilli says the musicians are “leveraging their international reputations as creators of the country’s often-inspired music, which ranges from brooding, spiritually minded tunes played on traditional African instruments to a fiery fusion of Afrobeat, rock, R&B and indigenous sounds. It’s a melting pot that absorbs the music of other cultures without losing its native identity.

“On her next album, ‘Beautiful Africa’ (Nonesuch), out in the U.S. on April 9, the singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré sends a message of support to Mali’s women. In Bambara, English and French, she sings: ‘I want to hear your laughter. I admire your courage. I miss your smile.’ ” More.

Now, as it happens, Jim Fusilli, in addition to being a music critic, wrote a mystery series that I gobbled up, and in one novel I noted that the hero was reading a biography by a friend of mine. The biography was of John Quincy Adams, and when I told author Paul C. Nagel, he was delighted that JQA had made it into a mystery story.

So when I read that Fusilli would be at Kate’s Mystery Books, I squeezed through the holiday mystery-buying crowd and gave him Paul’s e-mail. And thus they were in touch.

And thus a colleague from Mali connects to the biographer of John Quincy Adams.

Photograph of Rokia Traoré:  http://www.africanmusiciansprofiles.com/

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A while back I wrote about stealth — in particular about a sculptor of paper dragons leaving works of art in libraries around the UK. I also mentioned a few of my own stealth projects.

Here is a stealth project I haven’t yet tried. It requires a camera. The idea is to move a book in bookstore to a shelf that you think suits the topic better, then take a picture of what you have done and post it to the “reshelving” group on Flickr. For example, an especially opaque tax-preparation book might go in the poetry section. A wildly imagined novel about, say, Jane Austen could get moved to biography. And a nonfiction book by a politician you don’t admire could be moved to the fantasy section.

You probably don’t want to mess things up in libraries, but just one book in bookstore … how bad can it be? Come to think of it, when my friend Paul Nagel’s biography of John Quincy Adams kept being put in a less prominent location than David McCollough’s book on John Adams, a malignant spirit took hold of me every time I entered that shop, and by the time I left, the Nagel cover was facing outward on the top shelf.

Even if you don’t sign up to post stealth photos of reshelved books, at least take a look at the Ministry of Reshelving site here.

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Some years ago, the John Adams family biographer Paul Nagel introduced me to physician/poet Norbert Hirschhorn. Paul told me that Bert was on the team that helped save thousands of lives in Third World countries simply by distributing water to which sugar and electrolytes had been added. (A National Institutes of Health paper references Bert’s 1973 research on “oral glucose electrolyte solution for all children with acute gastroenteritis” here.)

A special NY Times science supplement on Sept. 27, 2011, “Small Fixes,” reminded me of Bert and the notion that small innovations can have a huge impact.

Among the great stories in the supplement. is this one about Thailand’s success fighting cervical cancer with vinegar.

It turns out that precancerous spots on the cervix turn white when brushed with vinegar. “They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.” The complete procedure, which can be handled by a nurse in one visit, has been used widely in Thailand, where there are a lot of nurses in rural areas.

In Brighton, Massachusetts, Harvard’s George Whitesides founded Diagnositcs for All to commercialize his inventions, including a tiny piece of paper that substitutes for a traditional blood test for liver damage. Costing less than a penny, “it requires a single drop of blood, takes 15 minutes and can be read by an untrained eye: If a round spot the size of a sesame seed on the paper changes to pink from purple, the patient is probably in danger.” Read the Times article.

Amy Smith at MIT is another one who thinks big by thinking small. Read about her Charcoal Project, which saves trees in poor countries by using vegetable waste to make briquettes for fuel.

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I blogged in May about the late Paul Nagel, the great biographer of the John Adams family and a friend from the years my husband and I spent in Minneapolis.

Today his son sent a lovely memorial piece by Paul’s longtime buddy Norbert Hirschhorn. Bert’s article appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Read it here. Bert is a physician who has written investigative medical articles on the real illnesses that likely killed historic figures. He is also  a poet. His website and photo are here. He divides his time between London and Beirut, where his wife is a professor at the American University. The following poem, written about a period he spent in Finland, might be an elegy for Paul.

Finnish Autumn

by Norbert Hirschhorn

Leaves flee their trees. Gold coins strewn across
woodland paths turn black, rain-smashed to dross.

Silver birches’ ciliate tips outside my window
incised against the sky like intaglio.

Bohemian waxwings rise in flocks, take flight –
maple leaves mottled by black-spotted blight.

Bone-white horizon, a full setting moon;
bone-white the sun rising into the brume.

I am worried, curious: the coming chill –
mythic, drear – augury of a world… gone still.

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