Monthly Archives: May 2011

Only in dark the light, cont’d: We all shine on

I’ve mentioned the work of photographer Phil Hart, who captures breathtaking images of bioluminescent phenomena. Deep-sea explorer and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder delves even more into the mystery of living lights in the deep:

An earlier and more extensive presentation here.

Considering how much we don’t know about the universe at large — we’re apparently ignorant of what makes up 95 percent of it — it’s incredible how much we still have to learn about our own planet’s ocean: it covers nearly two-thirds of the Earth and yet the vast majority of it (the figure is also, coincidentally, 95 percent) remains unexplored. These percentages should remind us how many more questions and discoveries lie ahead — a daunting or exhilarating thought, I suppose, depending on your tolerance for ignorance and curiosity. And they should also lend urgency to the need to preserve and protect our marine environments, lest we heedlessly destroy what we are only beginning to understand.

A final cool thought: humans, too, are bioluminescent. Apparently, all living things are, to greater or lesser extent. We all shine on, indeed; John Lennon was more right than he knew.

(via TED)

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The city and its songs

A great window into the infinite musical universes people inhabit in the infinite city:

I’ve written before about the demise of the boombox and how people now listen to their music in privacy and isolation; I suppose the need to ask people what they’re listening to is a result of that. I wonder if the rise of e-readers will mean that someday we’ll have to go out of our way to ask what books people are reading — since War and Peace and Eat Pray Love will look like the same thin gray tablet…

(via The Dish)

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Violin, cello, Halvorsen, bliss

Violinist Robert Gupta and cellist Joshua Roman play some good music. Really, really, really, really good music.

Hard to imagine Johan Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia” in better hands.

(via TED)

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“It feels good when you sing a song”

Reason number five million and seven why old-school Sesame Street rocked: Because it gave us gloriously jubilant musical gems like this.

Even better, it appears to be one live take. No autotuning, no lip-synching to a track, no multiple takes edited together; just sheer old-fashioned talent.

David (Northern Calloway) and Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall) were two of my favorite humans on the show, and Olivia’s bold, brassy voice still puts a smile on my face and makes me feel good about the world. Calloway and Hall are, sadly, no longer with us, but their work on Sesame Street remains a great gift to kids — and kids at heart — everywhere.

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Why libraries matter, cont’d

Charles Simic, in a heartbreaking article on the closing of many American libraries:

I still can’t get over the generosity of the taxpayers of Oak Park. It’s not that I started out life being interested in everything; it was spending time in my local, extraordinarily well-stacked public library that made me so.

This was just the start. Over the years I thoroughly explored many libraries, big and small, discovering numerous writers and individual books I never knew existed, a number of them completely unknown, forgotten, and still very much worth reading. No class I attended at the university could ever match that. Even libraries in overseas army bases and in small, impoverished factory towns in New England had their treasures, like long-out of print works of avant-garde literature and hard-boiled detective stories of near-genius.

Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home. Empty or full, it pleased me just as much. A boy and a girl doing their homework and flirting; an old woman in obvious need of a pair of glasses squinting at a dog-eared issue of The New Yorker; a prematurely gray-haired man writing furiously on a yellow pad surrounded by pages of notes and several open books with some kind of graphs in them; and, the oddest among the lot, a balding elderly man in an elegant blue pinstripe suit with a carefully tied red bow tie, holding up and perusing a slim, antique-looking volume with black covers that could have been poetry, a religious tract, or something having to do with the occult. It’s the certainty that such mysteries lie in wait beyond its doors that still draws me to every library I come across.

Read the rest here.

(via The Dish; image via The Consumerist)

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Happy Towel Day!

Douglas Adams (with fan video assist) explains:

Be a frood today. Know where your towel is!

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Expanding the circle of “we”

Anthony Marx is set to become the president of the New York Public Library. And I like the way he thinks:

In his 2003 inaugural address [as president of Amherst College], Mr. Marx — quoting from a speech President John F. Kennedy had given at Amherst — asked, “What good is a private college unless it is serving a great national purpose?”

On Sunday, Mr. Marx presided over his final Amherst graduation. […] And he can point to some impressive successes at Amherst.

More than 22 percent of students now receive federal Pell Grants (a rough approximation of how many are in the bottom half of the nation’s income distribution). In 2005, only 13 percent did. Over the same period, other elite colleges have also been doing more to recruit low- and middle-income students, and they have made some progress.

It is tempting, then, to point to all these changes and proclaim that elite higher education is at long last a meritocracy. But Mr. Marx doesn’t buy it. If anything, he worries, the progress has the potential to distract people from how troubling the situation remains. […]

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

Equal access to education truly seems to be a consistent priority with Marx, who laid out his philosophy in the abovementioned inaugural address:

Today we hear invoked across the land certain truths. Truths are precious when based on critical examination or as part of an unfulfillable search. But truths asserted as doctrine and ideology are divisive. Such dogmas will never protect us for long. Nor should we be protected by them, for such protection stands in the way of thinking.

Many of these threats to our liberty leave us — as I am left — to reflect on the word “we.” It is a powerful word; the most powerful word in politics, for it defines the scope of our solidarity, our sympathy and obligation. It is the first word of our constitution, though even that document faltered in incorporating women and those of African descent within that founding “we.” In our society, those not immediately present have too often been forgotten or left out, unseen over the hills, not part of our privilege. Who is considered worth educating has too often been circumscribed. We have too often constrained who is considered capable of deliberating on truth.

We have sometimes fallen short in meeting our ideals, here and in America. But now we face the staggering challenge to expand those ideals to the world. The “we” continues to expand, as it has done for a half millennium or more. We are pressed to enlarge our engagement and compassion faster than our minds and our institutions may seem capable of envisioning. […]

It is the enlightenment ideal that all can learn and participate.

Indeed. Here’s hoping that Marx’s leadership turns the Library into an even more transformative force for equal access to knowledge and opportunity — for expanding the circle of “we.”

(Photo by Jonathan Blanc/NYPL)

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