I have recommended episodes of the Longform Podcast plenty of times, because its guests invariably help us appreciate clear explanation, especially for the better understanding of danger. Today’s recommendation is in the spirit of that last consideration, to put it mildly. But it is also a very personal explanation of how he came to this task, and how it sits with him.
When we first became aware of Global Big Day it was just a week in advance of the first such event, and we scrambled to have the properties we managed in India do their part. A total of 253 countries participated that first year and at first glance it would seem dispiriting to realize that many fewer countries have participated since then: in 2016 the count dropped to 159; then in 2017 there were 163; last year there were 171; and this year 168 (recorded so far).
However, by other metrics spirits are easily lifted. I have focused only on one such metric, which is how many checklists were completed. This year’s totals are not in yet, but if you tally each prior year, the number of participants in this event has increased dramatically year on year. Last year there were nearly 30,000 more checklists than there were in 2015. Of course having more countries participate would be better. But having more people participating in all those other countries is a very good sign indeed.
Thanks to Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose books I have read about but never read, this book above came to my attention with the photo below featured under the review’s title on the New Yorker website.
The photographs in Stephen Gill’s “The Pillar” encounter birds on their own terms.
A pillar knocked into the ground next to a stream in a flat, open landscape, trees and houses visible in the distance, beneath a vast sky. That is the backdrop to all the photographs in Stephen Gill’s book “The Pillar.” We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest bit of monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time. We see something that has never happened before and will never happen again. The first time I looked at the photographs, I was shaken. I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives.
The review got me to seek out the book to see what it looks like; the picture at the very top and the ones below are what I found:
What was shocking about it was that I already felt familiar with birds, as I imagine most people do, since we can hardly go anywhere without being surrounded by them in one way or another.Here, where I’m sitting, in London, if I turn my head and look out of the glass doors, two, perhaps three seconds will go by before a bird passes over the trees and rooftops. Continue reading
It would never have occurred to me to think about this, but I am fine with the surprise:
Birding for Solidarity: The Phoebes
Eight women decided they had enough of the sport’s competitiveness, so they created a community to lift their sisters up. Continue reading
A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.
During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.
When we lived in Paris, weekend grocery errands inevitably led us through informal markets where people sold all kinds of old things. One favorite distraction was the vendor of postcards. There was at least one person at any given marketplace who had cards like the ones above, mostly from early 1900s, some going back to the previous century. Usually they were in shoe boxes and never were they organized in any way any of us could understand. Most but not all were from French travelers sending mementos back to people in France. In just five minutes flipping through the cards we could be transported.
What made this a favorite distraction was as much professional as anything else. Having spent several years studying a place from which countless postcards had been sent starting in the 1870s, I developed an affinity for the choices made by illustrators and photographers in different eras about how to represent a place.
There is also a personal dimension to this affinity, which is that my father was a photographer who in addition to a portrait studio had a postcard business. From 1972 until 1978 if you sent a postcard from just about anywhere in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, it was probably one of his postcards, which means one of his photographs. Starting when I was 10 years old until I was 16 I would accompany him on road trips through that region when he was restocking postcards at hotels and other venues where they were sold. That might explain my favorite distraction in Paris.
The Atlantic’s website helps me ensure that I do not miss any intriguing episodes of Gastropod, which I listened to more frequently before we moved back to Costa Rica. Especially when we were in the process of developing 51, a restaurant in the colonial spice-trading district of Fort Cochin, in southwest India. This current headline in the Atlantic, which took me back to those years when delicious misunderstandings were the daily fare, was one I had to surrender to:
No Indian language uses the term, and the closest-sounding words usually just mean “sauce.”
And over at the Gastropod website, this ensured that I would listen all the way through:
…According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”…
Summer Rayne Oakes, as a name, is likely to stick in my memory. She was a student at Cornell when I was teaching there, but until now I did not know of her. Thanks to this feature on one of the websites I scan regularly for stories relevant to this platform, I found my way to her website, so now I know a little bit about who she is. I like the causes she supports, and that is enough for today’s post. But the interior greenery throughout the 6+ minutes of video above is refreshing, and that is the real purpose for sharing it.
My morning hike yesterday was accompanied by Bill McKibben. We have featured him so frequently in these pages that I was surprised that I had not already known he had a new book. So I found what I could read about the book, starting with Jared Diamond’s review (snippet below), and a book talk by the author himself (above).
Solar panels and nonviolent movements are the two of the causes for hope that McKibben mentions in his podcast interview, and in the book talk in Philadelphia, and according to Diamond’s review those are substantive but not sufficient. Hope and fear are both motivators and getting the balance right is the most important task in perhaps the entire history of mankind. I highlight only this part of the review because it is an echo of what Nathaniel Rich says in an interview about his own book:
…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll.
In fact, there are reasons for hope besides those McKibben discusses. One is the change in policies of some powerful multinational corporations. I can already hear the horrified screams of many of my environmentalist friends as I say this. Continue reading
The blurb from his own university’s news service is enough to catch your attention:
Drawing on advances in social science, evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and network science, “Blueprint” attempts to show how and why evolution has placed us on a humane path — and how we are united by our common humanity.
For too long, the author contends, scientists have focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all our inventions — our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations — we carry with us innate proclivities to make a good society.
There are not many reviews available yet, but here is one:
A social scientist looks at the good and bad sides of human character, arguing that we are evolutionarily inclined “to make a particular kind of society—a good one full of love, friendship, cooperation, and learning.”…
…A refreshingly optimistic view of our kind.
If, like me, you had previously only known of him due to this incident, the blurb and the review are catchy enough to warrant further attention. So I found an interview he recently gave (on a podcast I would not normally have sought out, but it was all I could find) and listening to him talk about it has made me want to find this book and have a read.
I have shared the photo above on this platform once before. I wrote a series of reflections on the village where that photo was taken, and today I share a riff on all that. That photo was enlarged to take up an entire wall of our office in India, as a reminder to me each day of the purpose behind what I was doing. Our company’s mission includes education. It is mostly about conservation. That building, which I photographed 10+ years ago, after it had recently been abandoned, has been a reminder for me that one of these days I am determined to share whatever I can from our work in that village.
Thanks to an online publication I follow for news from Greece I found this story that helps explain why I thought of the photo above just now. It gives me both hope and tangible ideas of what might be done. It starts with a group of immigrants in Bangor, Maine whose life trajectory was like that of so many others from the Lakonia region of Greece, including my mother. And the story leads back to a foundation that has been referenced once before in our pages, but this time the foundation’s work hits closer to home:
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.
Vamvakou is a short drive from Vourthonia, my mother’s village. So this video below strikes a chord.
Some of the images from Mamvakou could as easily have been taken in Vourthonia.
But it is the story of what is happening in that village that captures my imagination:
Can a once-thriving mountain village, today home to only nine inhabitants, come to life again?
Can it fill with visitors, permanent inhabitants, and model businesses while retaining its traditional character? This is the wager laid by a group of five young people who want to revitalize the village of Vamvakou, 900 meters up the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern Peloponnese.
To realize this ambitious project, the five friends, Haris Vasilakos, Anargyros Verdilos, Eleni Mami, Tasos Markos, and Panagiotis Soulimiotis established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise and decided to move to the village. Continue reading
A friend in my early teens had chess skills well-matched with my own. We played constantly, the way some kids today play video games. I switched to backgammon in my late teens and played hundreds of hours over the years. I gave up backgammon when I discovered a new old game 20+ years ago in Ecuador. It is the game in the picture above, and I vaguely referenced it once here. I never stopped to think what drew me to play those games compulsively. Samanth Subramanian, who appeared in our pages once, five years ago, has made my day with this new piece. What We Learn from One of the World’s Oldest Board Games helps me put my love of old games in some kind of historical perspective:
A few years ago, almost by accident, Walter Crist happened upon one of the oldest board games in the world. Crist, who was then working toward a doctorate on ancient Cypriot board games, at Arizona State University, was searching the Internet for images of a game called Fifty-eight Holes. In the second millennium B.C., Fifty-eight Holes was the most popular game of its kind across Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and roughly eighty boards of the game, in various degrees of incompleteness, rest in museum collections around the world. Images of these boards are well known to scholars, but the photo that Crist eventually found, on the Web site of a magazine called Azerbaijan International, was unfamiliar. Taken at an archaeological site near Baku, it showed a rock carving that bore a strong resemblance to the game’s board: two parallel rows of indentations and an outer, horseshoe-shaped run of more holes. It looked like a four-year-old’s sketch of a tree.
The site, Crist learned, had been destroyed to make way for a housing development, but he eventually got in touch with an archaeologist in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park, who told him that the park held a similar carving. “I think he knew that it was a game, or that people thought it was,” Crist said. “There were other people arguing that it could be an astronomical chart, or a calendar—but nobody that had studied games in any kind of depth.” So Crist decided to go to Gobustan and find out for himself.
Crist, who completed his Ph.D. in 2016, works at the New York Public Library, as a librarian. “I’m on the academic job market, which is terrible and difficult,” he said. When he went to Azerbaijan last spring, he paid for the trip himself, appending it to a visit to Athens to attend the Twenty-first Board Game Studies Colloquium. At Gobustan, near the Caspian coast, he found a vast moonscape of rocks, caves, and mud volcanoes. Archaeologists visit the park for its six thousand petroglyphs: carvings of hunting parties, bulls, boats, and dancing stick men. The glyphs date back at least four thousand years; some might be as old as forty thousand years, reaching back into the Upper Paleolithic age. Not much is known about the artists. Most likely, they were nomadic hunters who lived in rock shelters, charted the heavens, and buried their dead. Continue reading
I do not have a tattoo. If I did, it may be that a bird would adorn my arm. Our efforts to promote the joys of birdwatching combined with the conservation benefits that come from increased concern for bird habitat all suggest that I would be susceptible. I came of age during the emergence of punk rock, so the possibilities are there:
Punk has always been about embracing different forms of expression. Meet the people who are putting birding on that spectrum.
It’s the evening golden hour at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. A whirlwind of swallows swims through the soft light, chasing midges into a frenzy. Nearby on a platform a handful of birders scans the dimming sky, exposed to the marsh and its blood-thirsty elements.
In plain T-shirts and khakis, the group blends into the woods-y backdrop—with two exceptions. Caleb Hunt, a bookkeeper for an adult-entertainment boutique, rocks a Philly Punx tank top with a fanged, horned Benjamin Franklin splashed across the front. Next to her, Tony Croasdale, the leader of today’s walk, sports an aviary of skin art. A Swallow-tailed Kite, Belted Kingfisher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Tanager, and three types of vultures bedeck his legs, collarbone, and arms.
Croasdale’s tattoos pay homage to two of his biggest life passions: birding and punk rocking. He plunged into the first as a kid when his father took him to Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park to learn about kingfishers. Continue reading
Kathryn Schulz came to my attention four years ago, and we immediately deemed her worthy of an invitation to Kerala. We linked to two more of her articles after that, but re-reading the first essay, it is easy to recall what “ignorance is bliss” means. The world was, as always, facing challenges. But I had no clue then what 2019 would look and feel like, so I enjoyed that essay differently then than I do now.
I am in need of more frequent diversions from the daily news, not to hide but to remember what matters. Times like these call for tangible reminders of what is good and healthy for us, much as comfort foods at certain other times are required to anchor us to better thinking. Food seems the most common thing to turn to for comfort, but books are a better one because ideas that come from books are not just to be remembered, but to renew inspiration, commitment, and determination related to values:
When he was a child, books were gifts. For his daughters, he made sure they were a given.
When I was a child, the grownup books in my house were arranged according to two principles. One of these, which governed the downstairs books, was instituted by my mother, and involved achieving a remarkable harmony—one that anyone who has ever tried to organize a home library would envy—among thematic, alphabetic, and aesthetic demands. The other, which governed the upstairs books, was instituted by my father, and was based on the conviction that it is very nice to have everything you’ve recently read near at hand, in case you get the urge to consult any of it again; and also that it is a pain in the neck to put those books away, especially when the shelves on which they belong are so exquisitely organized that returning one to its appropriate slot requires not only a card catalogue but a crowbar. Continue reading
The last time I posted on banana blossoms it was because a bunch of bananas outside our kitchen window coincided with an article about vegan fish and chips. Today, a bit more of the same coincidental mixing of kitchen and reading. I just tasted a sample of the fifth batch of banana ceviche made by the kitchen assistant for Organikos, who spent seven years assisting in the kitchen of a Peruvian family. Each time she has made banana ceviche I have wondered whether it was a lucky batch. It is that good. And today’s was as good as each previous batch. Now as I turn to my review of options for what to post about on this platform, I have encountered a story with the photo above, and the photo below, with a headline guaranteed to pull me in:
Sainsbury’s is to include the flower, which hails from south-east Asia, in its ready meals
Thanks to Anna Berrill and the Guardian for that, and for the several ideas that will guide me at the farmer’s market this morning:
Banana blossom, also known as a “banana heart”, is a fleshy, purple-skinned flower, shaped like a tear, which grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Traditionally used in south-east Asian and Indian cooking, it can also be eaten raw and its chunky, flaky texture makes it an ideal substitute for fish.
Sainsbury’s, which will be rolling out a series of plant-based meals later this year, is to include banana blossom in its ready meals in the hope the flower will catch on among a burgeoning population of shoppers looking for meat-free alternatives. Continue reading
We have been on watch for citizen science stories since the early days of this platform. Seth had just accepted an offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and typical of him, did his homework on what he had committed to. Since then, dozens of first person and linked-to citizen science stories from other members of our community have appeared in these pages. Thanks to Yale e360 and Jessica Leber for this story about how far and wide the practice has spread, and a few of its more amazing discoveries:
Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.
Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.
Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading
Time for a break from the regular news. Here are some visual reminders of why we care for nature, and why we protect it. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this photographer’s unique technique to our attention in the photo feature titled The butterfly effect: wings in extreme close-up – in pictures:
In his new series Metamorphosis, photographer Jake Mosher composes artworks using hundreds of exposures of highly magnified butterflies’ and moths’ wings
All photographs by Jake Mosher
*** Featured in the Royal Photographic Society’s Journal, and also in The Guardian. Please take a look at their photo gallery display here.***
Limited edition, 1 of 1 pieces. When one sells, it will not be reprinted in any size, ever. This is your chance to own collectible, one-of-a-kind pieces of art the likes of which the world has never seen before.
These images are the composition of hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of 4:1 macro photographs of butterfly and moth wings. There is no artificial color, imported designs, or any “drawn” artifacts. This is art and photography intertwined, and these images are only available here. This work has been recognized as entirely unique to me. Continue reading
Derek Thompson, whose previous appearances in our pages were important but not blockbuster, was due for a home run. And here it is, with a title–Workism Is Making Americans Miserable–that says it all. And the first paragraph will tell you whether it is worth your while to read. I think it is:
For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.
In his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek in the 21st century, creating the equivalent of a five-day weekend. “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem,” Keynes wrote, “how to occupy the leisure.”
Likewise, Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? is worth a read in part because it scooped the same story by a month and Erin Griffith makes clear we should already have long been following her thinking and writing for its clarity and wit:
I saw the greatest minds of my generation log 18-hour days — and then boast about #hustle on Instagram. When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?
If I am correct that those are both worth a read, then this podcast is worth a listen because it puts Derek Thompson in direct conversation with two of the most influential researcher/writers on the topic of work and its meaning in our lives:
I had read the articles when they first were published, but did not put them into much perspective until listening to this conversation. I qualify as a workist. Work is not my religion, but the point is still well taken. This set of ideas is much bigger, and much more important than the experience of individuals; it is about how we organize for the future.
Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.
And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:
China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.
The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.
Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.
After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading