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Arizona Enlists a Beetle in Its Campaign for Water

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Tamarisk trees at Glen Canyon in Arizona. The trees consume considerable water, which has made them a target for farmers, ranchers and water authorities. Credit Samantha Sais for The New York Times

LEES FERRY, Ariz. — In this corner of America known for its vast landscapes, rugged mountains and deep river canyons, signs of the havoc created by the minuscule tamarisk beetle are everywhere.

For miles along the banks of the Colorado River, hundreds of once hardy tamarisk trees — also known as salt cedars — are gray and withered. Their parched branches look like victims of fire or drought.

But this is not the story of beloved trees being ravaged by an invasive pest — quite the opposite. Farmers, ranchers and the water authorities here are eager to get rid of the tamarisk trees, which are not native to Arizona and which they say suck too much water.

They have welcomed the beetles, which have made their way from Colorado and Utah over the last decade, and have watched with delight as the centimeter-long workhorses have damaged the trees by eating their spindly leaves. The hope is that the beetles will now rid Arizona of the trees.

Arizona Cities Could Face Cutbacks in Water From Colorado River, Officials SayJUNE 17, 2014
This Asian import likes to eat tamarisk, which seemed like a good idea. Enter the Southwestern willow flycatcher.U.S. Halts Use of Beetle to Attack TamariskJUNE 22, 2010
Dusty McLeod, left, and Bill Perry, cutting and poisoning tamarisk trees along the San Miguel River near Naturita, Colo.War With Riverbank Invader, Waged by Muscle and MunchingDEC. 26, 2008
“We view the tamarisk as a pest,” said Joseph Sigg, the government relations director at the Arizona Farm Bureau. “Water is an expensive input, and to the extent that we can lower it, the beetle can help.”

 

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Dwight Yoakam Plots ‘Revival’ Singer-actor preps new album and debuts its first single… but not as himself

 

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Dwight Yoakam performs in San Francisco

 

By Beville Dunkerley~~RollingStone Magazine
July 14, 2014

Dwight Yoakam is back in business with the record label that helped launch him to superstardom back in 1986. The singer-songwriter has teamed with Warner Bros. Records’ Reprise imprint for a new album to be released later this year. Its first single is a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

Yoakam will perform the tune a cappella on tonight’s (July 14) episode of the CBS science fiction drama, Under the Dome. It will be his first of several appearances on the show as barbershop owner Lyle Chumley. The guest-starring role follows his run last year as the enigmatic Bruce on the FX comedy, Wilfred.

Yoakam has recorded 28 albums under the Warner Bros. label umbrella, with his last being 2012′s critically-acclaimed 3 Pears, which spent a record-breaking eight weeks on top of the Americana albums chart.

 

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DAMNATION

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~~~   SIGN THE PETITION   ~~~

“Soccer is Destroying the USA” Ann Coulter ~~ Performance art…impossible to tell far-right columnists from parody…uneducated & moronic… Ann Coulter’s world view??….

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.05.10 AMI’ve held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone. But enough is enough. Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.

(1) Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.

In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised. There’s a reason perpetually alarmed women are called “soccer moms,” not “football moms.”

Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in. That’s when we’re supposed to go wild. I’m already asleep.

(2) Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.

(3) No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: “2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0.” Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: “1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0.” If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he’d still be alive, although bored.

Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties — and it’s a lot harder to score when a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers are trying to crush you.

(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don’t worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game.

Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game — and it’s not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box.

(5) You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!

(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating.

I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.

(7) It’s foreign. In fact, that’s the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not “catching on” at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.

(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.

Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he’ll say something like “70 degrees.” Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he’ll say it’s about 200 miles.

Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man’s thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That’s easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?

(9) Soccer is not “catching on.” Headlines this week proclaimed “Record U.S. ratings for World Cup,” and we had to hear — again — about the “growing popularity of soccer in the United States.”

The USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN. This beat the second-most watched soccer game ever: The 1999 Women’s World Cup final (USA vs. China) on ABC. (In soccer, the women’s games are as thrilling as the men’s.)

Run-of-the-mill, regular-season Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers; NFL playoff games get 30 to 40 million viewers; and this year’s Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers.

Remember when the media tried to foist British soccer star David Beckham and his permanently camera-ready wife on us a few years ago? Their arrival in America was heralded with 24-7 news coverage. That lasted about two days. Ratings tanked. No one cared.

If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

Colorado River (Briefly) Reached The Sea

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For a few weeks this spring, the Colorado River flowed all the way to the sea for the first time in a half a century. And during that window of opportunity, writer Rowan Jacobsen took the paddleboarding trip of a lifetime.

The river starts in the Rocky Mountains, and for more than 1,400 miles, it wends its way south. Along the way it’s dammed and diverted dozens of times, to cities and fields all over the American West. Tens of millions of people depend on the river as a water source.

By the time the Colorado River reaches the U.S.-Mexico border, only 10 percent of it is left. At that point, it hits the Morelos Dam, and the river dies: It’s diverted a final time into Mexican farmland.

This March, the U.S. and Mexico made the unprecedented decision to open the dam and release billions of gallons of water into the dry riverbeds downstream. This “pulse flow” supported efforts to restore ecosystems in the former Colorado River Delta, and briefly brought the river back to life.

Jacobsen was part of a team that traveled down the temporary river in canoes and on stand-up paddleboards. He wrote about the experience for Outside magazine, and spoke to NPR’s Kelly McEvers about the adventure.

He tells her about paddling by freaked-out Border Patrol agents and passing through former river towns celebrating the return of the water. He also addresses the controversy over releasing so much water during a drought.

“Fifty times as much water as was released for this project is used for irrigation to make alfalfa, basically, to feed cattle,” Jacobsen says. “So if we can just take 1/50 of the water that we use to make hamburgers and milk from the Colorado River, we can have this kind of event every year.”

~~  LISTEN  ~~

 

Brother Bean Bowers

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Three years have come and gone and much has happened to make us grateful, but a tough time for many of us was losing brother Bean when he took another path July 10, 2011. He died a month short of his 38th birthday. We think of you often and surely miss you.

Salude!

Larry McMurtry: By the Book~~NYT

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The author, most recently, of “The Last Kind Words Saloon” says that meth-heads are the worst part of being a bookseller. “Anyone can walk into our bookstore in the age of meth — it’s a constant worry.”

 

What books are currently on your night stand?

James Lees-Milne’s “The Milk of Paradise” (Volume 12 of the Diaries); Eric Newby’s “Slowly Down the Ganges.”

Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

Count Tolstoy. He authored “Anna Karenina,” what I consider the finest novel ever written. Joyce Carol Oates. She’s intelligent, analytical, eccentrically prolific, a natural-born writer.

Do you have a favorite genre?

No, although I prefer nonfiction to fiction. I reviewed so many novels in the 1970s that I sort of burned out on fiction. I enjoy books on travel and have an extensive women travelers collection in my personal library.

What are the best books ever written about Texas?

Bill Brammer, “The Gay Place”; my own “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen”; maybe J. Evetts Haley’s “Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.”

In 2012, you sold off much of the inventory of your bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City, Tex. How did you decide which books should go? Were there books in particular you wanted to hold onto for yourself?

I sold off half of my inventory, two buildings gone, two buildings stayed. Both buildings sold needed major repairs, which we could ill afford. So we sacrificed a lot of literature in translation, a lot of drama, some general travel, odds and ends. It was a normal downsizing. And we still have 290,000 excellent books. My personal library contains over 28,000 volumes, so I have plenty of books at home to keep me company.

What’s been the best thing about being in the bookselling business? The worst?

The best: excitement of finding the unexpected treasure. The worst: crazies, meth-heads. Anyone can walk into our bookstore in the age of meth — it’s a constant worry.

Of your books, which is your favorite and why?

“Terms of Endearment,” “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,” “Duane’s Depressed.” “Terms” has one of my favorite characters, Emma. “Walter Benjamin” is a book written during an extended time spent in Archer City without travel. “Duane’s Depressed” was written after my quadruple bypass surgery. I suppose I felt an affinity with Duane, since I experienced a serious emotional trauma during recovery from heart surgery.

Of the TV and movie adaptations of your books, which is your favorite and why?

I like “Terms” best; James Brooks was relentless about getting it made. Debra Winger captured Emma’s character brilliantly, and I feel it’s Shirley MacLaine’s finest role. “The Last Picture Show” is near perfect, but not as ambitious.

And what’s your favorite movie adaptation of a literary work by someone else?

“Brokeback Mountain.” Its source material was a short story by E. Annie Proulx before it was a film. My screenwriting partner Diana Ossana produced it as well; her talent and taste are evident in the final result.

Whom do you consider your literary heroes?

Well, Miss O’Connor. Hemingway and Faulkner. And of course Tolstoy.

What kind of reader were you as a child? And what were your favorite childhood books?

I had no books as a child, until I was 7. Then I just read boys’ books — the Poppy Ott series, for example. I grew up in a bookless place. Had there been access to a library or a bookstore, I suppose I would have spent the better part of my childhood inside one or the other.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

There’s no one book that would define me; I’d have to name nearly every book that I’ve read over the past 70 years. Reading has sustained me and has been the one constant throughout my life.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

To me, the obvious choice is “The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus,” by Lesley Blanch, who was married to Romain Gary, who was married to Jean Seberg. It describes the Powers’ efforts to do something about the Chechen Shamil (played by Edmund Purdom in the 1960 film version, “The Cossacks”), who raced romantically through places that even our drones avoid now. Shamil was a lot more interesting than the current crop in Kabul. The book is very readable; Lesley Blanch could write. Amazon can probably get a copy to the White House by drone in about 10 minutes.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Count Tolstoy, George Eliot, Norman Mailer. If you require living authors, then Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pynchon, Cynthia Ozick. And maybe an extra place for Philip Roth.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

“Fifty Shades of Grey.” On both counts.

Which books do you believe all people should read before they die?

William Butler Yeats’s Crazy Jane poems. The classic 19th-century novelists. And Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.”

What do you plan to read next?

Some more Lees-Milne. Maybe a little Robert B. Parker and some Janet Evanovich, just for fun. My daily newspapers, three of which are waiting for me right this moment: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times. And my periodicals: The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Atlantic, The Nation and Texas Monthly.

Cezanne—”People said that he was dabbling in hashish and that he was out of his mind.”

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Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Blue Cup (Sucrier, poires et tasse bleue) by Paul Cezanne, circa 1866.

Pablo Picasso once said that the great 19th-century French painter Paul Cezanne was “the father of us all.” Cezanne’s distinctive brush strokes, and the way he distorted perspective and his subjects, influenced the cubists, and most artists who came after him. In Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation is showing a group of still-life paintings by Cezanne.

The current special exhibition is all about fruit — apples, mostly. It’s called “The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cezanne.”

Joe Rishel, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, describes Cezanne’s work as “repetitive apples with apples.” But that’s not to say it’s boring. With Cezanne, Rishel says, “Every game is a new game.” That’s partly because of the idiosyncratic way Cezanne arranged his apples before he painted them.

“He would stick little wedges of any kind, sometimes fat little coins, underneath them just to prop them up,” Rishel says. “Isn’t that cute?”

Cezanne propped one apple higher than others, put another at an angle and pushed another into the foreground. Then he painted them. “I want to astonish Paris with an apple,” he’s said to have said. And, coming to town from his southern country village of Aix-en-Provence, he did astonish.

“They thought he was crazy,” says Benedict Leca, the Barnes show curator and director of curatorial affairs at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. “People said he was on drugs, even. People said that he was dabbling in hashish and that he was out of his mind.”

They said all that because they’d never seen brushwork like this.

“These are very short, parallel strokes, very clearly painted,” says Judith Dolkart, chief curator at the Barnes. “He does nothing to … hide his hand.”

The paint is thick, almost chiseled onto the canvas. You can see the edges of each hatched stroke. And, subtly, within each paint stroke, the colors change. One has more white in it; the one next to it is darker.

~~  LISTEN/READ MORE  ~~

THE TOUR DE FRANCE THROUGH THE YEARS–Sports Illustrated

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La Foule des Jeunes au ‘Tour de France: les voila!

 

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French racing cyclist Maurice Garin, winner of the first Tour de France in 1903.

 

 

 

 

 

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Racing cyclist Nicolas Frantz, from Luxembourg, celebrates his Tour de France victory, in Parc des Princes, Paris, on July 15, 1928.

 

 

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Roger Pingeon, French racing cyclist and winner of the Tour de France 1967 (right), shaking hands of Eddy Merckx (left), Belgian racing cyclist.

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Frenchman Bernard Hinault leads in front of Portuguese Joaquim Agostinho, Dutchmen Joop Zoetemelk and Hennie Kuiper (left) and Swedish Sven-Ake Nilsson during the third stage of the Tour de France between Luchon and Pau on June 30, 1979. Hinault won the stage in a sprint finish beating Belgian Rudy Pevenage and Italian Gian-Battista Barronchelli and went on to capture his second consecutive Tour de France’s victory in Paris, winning seven stages overall.

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Lake Street Dive And The Chemistry Of Harmony

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Lake Street Dive’s latest album is Bad Self Portraits.

Lake Street Dive is two men and two women, all in the neighborhood of 30, who met at the New England Conservatory of Music. As a group they use jazz instrumentation, more or less — trumpet, stand-up bass, guitar, some drums — but they play pop and soul, and draw a big following doing it. In fact, a video of them performing on a Boston street corner has been viewed more than 2 million times.

“If you put background vocals on anything, people are excited about it,” drummer Mike Calabrese says, referring to the lush vocal arrangements that dominate the band’s latest album, Bad Self Portraits. “There’s something about humans singing in harmony that is just inherently joyful.”

The members of Lake Street Dive spoke with NPR’s Steve Inskeep throughout Monday’s episode of Morning Edition, touching on their early shows (in which the other bands were sometimes the only audience members) and how they found their pop sound after an experiment with free jazz. Hear more of their stories at the audio links.

~~  LISTEN NOW  ~~

Lake Street Dive On Mountain Stage

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Fresh off its first appearance at South by Southwest, the jazz- and R&B-influenced pop band Lake Street Dive makes its first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded on the campus of West Virginia University. Now based in Brooklyn, the members of Lake Street Dive met when they were students at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Originally conceived as a “free country” project, the group eventually began to indulge its penchant for classic pop, jazz and R&B.

Featuring Mike Calabrese on drums, Mike Olson on trumpet and guitar, and Bridget Kearney on bass, jazz-schooled singer Rachael Price kicks off this set with the audacious “Hello? Goodbye!” and “Neighbor Song” before eventually settling into a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It.” Kearney, also one of Lake Street Dive’s key songwriters, previously appeared on Mountain Stage in 2011 with her other band, the bluegrass-inspired Joy Kills Sorrow.

This performance was originally published March 28, 2012.

~~  LISTEN  ~~

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LAKE STREET DIVE BIOGRAPHY

Lake Street Dive find themselves on the cusp of stardom, though they insist they will always be the same people whose stage outfits once consisted of matching sweater vests. “We realize this could all go away tomorrow,” says Rachael Price. “But that won’t change what we do. We want to continue to do this for a long, long time. This is what we love. We just want to make sure we keep enjoying ourselves.”

Lake Street Dive have been performing for nearly a decade after meeting as fellow students at the New England Conservatory in Boston. The band was hand picked by Minneapolis trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and named after an actual neighborhood of seedy bars in his hometown. Vocalist Rachael Price came from outside Nashville, Tennessee, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney was an Iowa native, while drummer Mike Calabrese called Philadelphia home. “I wasn’t only impressed with their musicianship,” says Olson, who acquired the nickname “McDuck” while at the conservatory for his reclusive ways. “They were also a lot of fun just to hang out with. The first four years of rehearsals were more like glorified dinner parties.”

Lake Street Dive has come a long way, but this just could be the start of something even bigger.

It took a casually made video featuring the band gathered around a single mic, performing a cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” shot on a Brighton, Massachusetts, street corner to grab the public’s attention—its YouTube views now hurtling past a million views. What followed was nothing less than a modern-day music business success story—T Bone Burnett tapping them to perform on the Another Day, Another Time show at Town Hall featuring music from and inspired by the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, taped for an upcoming special on Showtime. The New Yorker raved of their Town Hall performance: “I can’t imagine then, that Lake Street Dive—a quartet led by an amazing young singer, Rachael Price—won’t be getting some air time soon.” Rolling Stone called the band “unexpected showstoppers,” while Hollywood Reporter noted the group “delivered one of the show’s best moments with the swinging ‘You Go Down Smooth,’ with stirring vocals by lead singer Rachael Price.” The New York Daily News was similarly enthused, saying Lake Street Dive “was the evening’s wild card,” and noting Price “has the soulful howl of a young Etta James.”

And just like that, Lake Street Dive went from playing for a small devoted following, to selling out venues and planning an initial European tour, with dates on several late-night TV shows in the offing.

While “I Want You Back,” a track from their six-song Fun Machine EP, which included five covers and an original track, was spreading like wildfire on the Internet, the band had little idea what was happening. They were ensconced at Great North Sound Society, a recording studio located on an 18th century farmhouse in Parsonsfield, Maine, two hours from Boston, with producer/engineer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter) a location so remote, cell phone reception was spotty and web access non-existent.

The new album, Bad Self Portraits, which is being released by the Northampton, Massachusetts indie label Signature Sounds Recording as the follow-up to a self-titled debut and subsequent EP, is a microcosm of Lake Street Dive’s evolution of the band from “a weird alt-country jazz group to a pop-soul juggernaut, that turns ‘60s influences like Brill Building girl groups (“Stop Your Crying”), British Invasion rock (“Bobby Tanqueray”), horn-driven Stax R&B (“You Go Down Smooth”), Motown soul (“Use Me Up”) and even The Band-like gospel blues (“What About Me”).

“Our musical development has been like Google Earth,” explains Olson, “going from the entire universe to a specific place. That’s how we’ve honed in on our sound. We had the whole world of music at our fingertips, and we were unsure of what direction to take, but now we’re zeroing in a little closer.”

All four members of the band take part in the writing. The Bridget-penned title track is a wry commentary on how those selfie iPhone photos are just a cover for loneliness, but it could also refer to the rest of the album, each song a polaroid glimpse of a band that is constantly evolving.

“Nothing we do is set in stone,” says Olson about the band’s recording process in the studio, and that they are, first and foremost, a live outfit. “Songs change when we start to play them for people. That determines the stylistic direction more than anything else. When we record a song, that’s just a snapshot of where it was at that moment. And it continues to grow as we perform it.”

And as things are rapidly growing for Lake Street Dive, the nine years that they spent focusing on their musical development has left them with one constant to strive for. “We are named in homage to dive bar bands,” says Calabrese, “we were, are and always will be a dive bar band. Whether we’re playing for 10 people or 10,000 we want them to have that feeling.”

If He Walks and Talks Like a Monk, but Has His Hand Out …

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In Times Square, amid the dozens of Elmos, Mickey Mouses and superheroes who work the crowds for loose bills, new costumed characters have come to seek their fortunes.

They are mostly men of Chinese descent, with shaved heads, beatific smiles and flowing robes of orange, but sometimes brown or gray. They follow a similar script: Offering wishes of peace and a shiny amulet, they solicit donations from passers-by, often reinforcing their pitch by showing a picture of a temple for which the money seems to be intended. Then they open a notebook filled with the names of previous donors and the amounts given.

The men appear to be Buddhist monks; a smaller number of similarly dressed women say they are Taoist nuns.

No one seems to know who they really are or where they come from. The police have taken no official stance, stepping in only when the monks become aggressive. Various Buddhists have confronted the men, asking about their affiliation or quizzing them about the religion’s precepts. The men remain silent or simply walk away.

They have become ubiquitous — so much so that the Naked Cowboy, the Times Square performer whose real name is Robert Burck, now simply refers to them as “co-workers.”

“They’re littered all over,” he said.

Even in New York, where people soliciting money are practically a tourist attraction, these monks tend to stand out, both for their attire and for their sense of entitlement. They offer the amulet and, in some cases, a bracelet; if they are not satisfied with the donation, they unabashedly demand $20 or more.

This year, the police have arrested at least nine people who have presented themselves as monks, mostly on charges of aggressive begging or unlicensed vending.

But merely begging in the streets is not against the law. The police have largely left these men alone, to the consternation of Buddhist leaders in New York’s Chinese neighborhoods, who portray them as nothing more than beggars who undermine Buddhists’ credibility.

“They are damaging the reputation of real monks and damaging the reputation of Buddhists in America,” said Shi Ruifa, a monk in Brooklyn who is president of a confederation of nearly 50 temples.

Similarly attired men have attracted scrutiny around the world. They are a familiar presence in Australia, where the authorities heralded their reappearance in Sydney with a press statement, “Bogus Buddhists Are Back.” They have also been seen in Canada and New Zealand. In Hong Kong, their presence has merited a Facebook page, Fake Monks in Hong Kong. Overall, there have been few arrests, though the authorities in China recently arrested seven men dressed as Shaolin Temple monks on charges of swindling $26,000 from tourists.

In Toronto, the police received reports a year ago of monks asking for money and threatening to put a hex on those who did not donate, according to Constable Victor Kwong, a spokesman for the Toronto Police Service.

Toronto, like New York, prohibits aggressive panhandling. Although “people thought they were being duped,” Constable Kwong noted, “nothing is illegal about walking around dressed like a monk.” No arrests were made.

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In New York, the men have inspired a Fake Monks in New York City page on Facebook, documenting its subjects’ whereabouts, from Central Park to the city’s Chinese neighborhoods, where local monks have mostly driven them away. Last year, Mr. Shi confronted a man in orange robes in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and quizzed him on the Five Precepts of Buddhism.

The man “didn’t know even one,” he said.

In another exchange, Harry Leong, a practicing Buddhist for 25 years, said he respectfully asked a robed man in Times Square for his religious name and temple.

“He did not give me any direct answer, even after I repeated the same questions to him several times,” Mr. Leong recalled. “I then asked him if he was a fraud, and he ran away from me.”

In interviews, the robed men were evasive about where they were from and generally refused to answer any questions about their background, temple or training. They tended to speak little English, favoring Mandarin, with accents hinting of provinces all across China.

One woman dressed as a nun said her temple was in Taiwan, but declined to give specifics.

“I cannot tell you where my temple is,” answered another woman dressed as a nun, who said her family name was Lin and that people called her Little Lin. “I won’t tell you. But it’s not that I don’t have a temple.” At another point, she grabbed at the sleeves of her robe and said, “If I didn’t have a temple, why would I be dressed like this?”

Another man dressed as a monk, eating a hot dog while three topless women and a Spider-Man nearby posed for pictures with tourists, defended his actions. “I’m not a terrorist,” he said in Mandarin. “I’m not an outlaw, I’m not a thief.”

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With that, he got up and began walking toward the subway, saying, “I’m going back to Flushing.”

National Park Service calls development plans a threat to Grand Canyon

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The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon, as seen from Mohave Point on the South Rim. The National Park Service says a proposed housing development would have dire consequences for the park’s scarce water supply. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

 

At the rim of the Grand Canyon, busloads of Chinese tourists jostled on a recent day with twentysomething backpackers and an Amish family with rambunctious boys in suspenders and straw hats, all eager for a prime viewing spot.

They gazed out on a dizzying sight of receding canyons and sheer rock walls, with the Colorado River cutting though the canyon floor a mile down.

Generations of park managers have tried to preserve that natural vista, but officials here say a proposed development would alter the view.

Looking eastward from the canyon’s popular South Rim, visitors could soon see a hive of construction as workers build restaurants, hotels and shops on a distant mesa on the Navajo Indian reservation.

The developers also plan a gondola ride from those attractions to whisk tourists to the canyon floor, where they would stroll along an elevated riverside walkway to a restaurant at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers.

That project and a second, unrelated development proposed for just south of the canyon have set off alarms at the National Park Service, which sees them as the most serious threat the park has faced in its 95-year history.

The first would alter the natural beauty of the canyon and encroach on its borders. The second, a major housing and commercial development, jeopardizes the fragile ecology and water supply on the arid South Rim plateau. The Tusayan development would add 2,200 homes and 3 million square feet of commercial space to a town two blocks long.

Park officials say existing development around the park and the scarcity of water have already stressed the park’s ability to handle visitors. The new projects would only make matters worse.

“They are serious threats to the future of the park,” said park Supt. Dave Uberuaga. “When you have that size and scope of potential development that close to the park, it will impact our visitor experience.”

The Grand Canyon affords once-in-a-lifetime views, but it has always been difficult for anyone except seasoned hikers to reach the canyon floor. Most of the 5 million annual visitors stop at the rim, look out and move on without ever venturing into the canyon.

Native American tribes are changing that. Grand Canyon West, on Hualapai land, operates the Skywalk attraction, a popular glass walkway that juts out over the canyon. Since 2007, the tribe has offered helicopter tours that land on tribal property next to the river.

The proposed Grand Canyon Escalade gondola would afford a rare opportunity for tourists to reach the canyon floor, said developer R. Lamar Whitmer, who is working with the Navajo.

The park service offers nothing more than “a drive-by wilderness experience,” Whitmer said. “The average person can’t ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon. We want them to feel the canyon from the bottom.”

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It’s at the bottom that the conflict lies, as the Navajo contend that they have rights to property above the high-water mark of the rivers.

Park officials say the Navajo are mistaken. Federal jurisdiction extends a quarter-mile on either side of the Colorado, the park says, and no development can occur any closer to the water.

For now, the park is waiting for the tribe to complete its planning process before providing an official response.

The project requires approval of the Navajo tribal government — and some within the tribe have voiced objections, particularly about the gondola’s terminus near the confluence of the rivers.

Tribal opponents believe the two rivers represent male and female, and where they meet is where life begins.

“That’s where our spirits go back to,” said Renae Yellowhorse of the group Save the Confluence. “My father passed away last March. That’s where he resides. If there is a development there, where are our prayers going to go?”

Two miles from the Grand Canyon’s front entrance is a project that park officials say is a more fundamental threat because they expect it to diminish the small amount of water found naturally on the arid Colorado Plateau.

The park’s main gateway community of Tusayan has approved plans for a development that would increase the town’s demand for water fourfold.

But the plans do not say where the water will come from. With Arizona suffering though its worst drought in 110 years of records, the park service says there isn’t enough water to sustain both wildlife and the new development.

“That kind of water just isn’t around there,” said Uberuaga. Yet the city continues “to pursue a full buildout and full development at whatever pace the developer wants.”

Water is already so precious that the park’s resident elk herd recently figured out how to operate the Grand Canyon’s new water faucets and began serving themselves.

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Surrounded By Digital Distractions, We Can’t Even Stop To Think

 

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Researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard asked people to simply sit still and think. For many, the experience was less pleasant than it sounded.

 

It would be tough to think up a more plum assignment for a test subject: Simply step into an empty room, sit down, and think.

Just think.

But in a study to appear in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, participants found the experience within their own heads surprisingly difficult to manage — if not downright unpleasant.

Stripped of their books, cellphones and other distractions, many, including a majority of men, preferred to instead pass the time by reaching for the sole form of electronic entertainment in the room: a 9-volt battery administering a “severe static shock” when touched.

“It’s probably an issue of how we can control our minds and thoughts,” says Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the study, which attempts to measure the enjoyment found in allowing our minds to simply wander.

That represents a novel approach to the study of human distractibility, in which the “wandering mind” is often itself the distraction: a symptom of our multitasking, digitized culture that interrupts our pleasure reading, test-taking and work lives.

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Cheney’s Back, Blitzing Rivals and Drawing Scorn~~the old bastard just won’t go away…JR

cheney-shoot-friendsAs his heart failed a couple of summers after leaving office, former Vice President Dick Cheney slipped into a coma and, by his later account, spent weeks dreaming that he was in a countryside villa north of Rome, padding down a stone path every morning to pick up a newspaper or coffee.

Yet Mr. Cheney was never one to slip into quiet retirement in Italy or, for that matter, at his Wyoming ranch. Two years after a heart transplant reinvigorated him physically, he seems reinvigorated politically, too, as he takes on President Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton, radical Islam, Senator Rand Paul, his own party — and history.

Frustrated by what he considers the president’s weakness as extremist groups seize wide portions of Iraq, Mr. Cheney, 73, has blitzed the airwaves in recent weeks and formed a new organization to promote American national security in a perilous time. He has drawn nothing but scorn from Democrats and even some Republicans who view his remonstrations as the height of hubris from someone they blame for many of the country’s difficulties. To them, he is a punch line.

But Mr. Cheney’s ability to command attention speaks to his distinctive place in the public arena. He is blunt, he is unapologetic and he is seemingly immune to the barbs aimed his way. He remains driven by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and determined to guard the nation against the dangers he sees. If the rest of the world has moved on, he has not. “I’m not running for anything,” he told Charlie Rose in one of his multiple interviews of late. “I get to say exactly what I think.”

Some have no interest in listening. On MSNBC and on liberal op-ed pages and websites, his re-emergence has provided endless fodder for who-is-he-to-talk commentary. Some activists even argued he should be barred from television because they view him as discredited.

For a White House beleaguered on multiple fronts, the former vice president’s return is in fact a welcome opportunity to focus attention on decisions made by Mr. Cheney and President George W. Bush rather than defending Mr. Obama’s own handling of foreign policy, which most Americans disapprove of in polls.

“He’s like the A-Rod of politics,” said David Plouffe, the longtime Obama strategist, referring to Alex Rodriguez, the scandal-tarnished baseball star. “No one wants to hear from him, especially when he is trying to create an alternate reality to the one he is responsible for.”

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With Dirt And A Vision, Palestinian Architects Break The Mold

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ShamsArd, a Palestinian architecture firm, uses packed earth to construct its environmentally friendly homes.

The city of Jericho sits in the hot, flat Jordan Valley down the hill from Jerusalem. Jericho has bragging rights as one of the oldest towns on Earth. But one of its newest homes looks like it might have arrived from outer space.

Ahmad Daoud hired a firm of young Palestinian architects to build this house. Like Jericho’s original homes, it is built of dirt. This one has a contemporary twist, though: It’s constructed with earth compacted in bags that are then stacked and plastered over.

Daoud loves the domed rooms, the nod to the past and the environmental advantages.

“It’s an environmentally friendly house,” he says. “I can tear it down and nothing will remain. In the summer, I don’t need air conditioning, and in the winter, I don’t need heat.”

Amid the dust, palms and the square, concrete houses of Jericho, Daoud’s home stands out. Daoud says everybody has something to say about it.

“A lot of neighbors say it’s nice to look at but not to live in,” he says.

Some neighbors have asked him whether it’s a house or some kind of tourist attraction. Others say he’ll never sell it, or wonder how he could add a floor for his children — a common Palestinian practice — on top of domes.

Despite Jericho’s history, mud has fallen out of fashion. Even some of the builders didn’t think building from mud would work, says Lina Saleh, one of the architects.

“Maybe in their minds it should be concrete and steel,” she says.

Saleh is part of ShamsArd, a small, young Palestinian architecture firm that has designed several buildings constructed of dirt. Translated from Arabic, ShamsArd means “sun and earth.” Saleh studied architecture at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and then joined a firm in Ramallah. Most of the clients were wealthy, and the materials they chose bothered her.

“We [imported] them from anywhere, even from Israel,” she says.

Danna Massad, another ShamsArd partner, says they wanted to find ways to build that empowered Palestinians locally.

“That empower ourselves as a community, that empower our struggle as well, and that are good for environment,” she says.

Half the world’s population lives, works, worships or keeps animals in structures built of earth, says University of California, Berkeley professor Ronald Rael. Rael, who has written a book surveying earth architecture worldwide, says revivals of earth buildings catch on best when they fit in with local values — including style, structure and, yes, building materials.

“If a community wants to live in a contemporary society, that building material needs to be shaped in a way that it’s reflective of the society,” he says.

ShamsArd began as an experiment in design. In 2012, before the architects drew the firm’s first building, they made furniture from trash: stools built from recovered steel rebar with seats of woven bike inner tubes, lampshades from loofa, cardboard sofas.

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With Help From Extinct Humans, Tibetans Adapted To High Altitude

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A mother and daughter herd their yaks along a highway on the Tibetan plateau.

 

At an altitude of nearly 3 miles, the Tibetan plateau is an extreme place to live. It’s cold, it’s hard to grow food, and there’s about 40 percent less oxygen in the air than there is at sea level.

Somehow, though, native Tibetans are adapted to it. Their bodies — and their blood in particular — work differently than those of people used to lower altitudes. The Tibetans’ advantage might be thanks to an ancient inheritance.

When someone used to living at low altitude travels to the oxygen-deprived Tibetan plateau, his or her body responds by producing more red blood cells to help circulate oxygen through the body.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Not quite.

“You don’t want your blood to become too thick,” says Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at University of California, Berkeley. Too many red blood cells can lead to thick blood that is harder for the heart to pump. People who aren’t adapted to high altitudes have an increased risk of stroke. When pregnant women move up to high altitudes, they tend to have difficulties with high blood pressure, suffer a higher rate of infant mortality and are more likely to give birth to small babies.

A replica of the pinky bone fragment found in a Siberian cave. Researchers used the bone bit to extract and sequence the genome of a girl who lived tens of thousands of years ago.

Native Tibetans don’t have those problems. Their blood doesn’t contain extra red blood cells, yet it still manages to keep them alive and well. It’s a mystery how they manage to function so well at high altitude without the extra help, but it’s clear that they are able to avoid the health pitfalls that other people can encounter at high altitude.

According to Nielsen and a bunch of geneticists writing in the journal Nature, the Tibetans appear to have benefited from a genetic gift from the Denisovans, an extinct human ancestor known primarily from a little girl’s tooth and pinkie bone.

Tibetans have a gene, EPAS1, that’s known to help regulate how the body responds to low oxygen levels. “It’s also been called the ‘super athlete gene,’ because we know that certain humans that have a special version of this gene have a better performance with certain types of athletics,” says Nielsen.

At first, Nielsen and his colleagues weren’t sure how Tibetans had gotten the gene. But now they have an idea. “We think we have very good evidence that it came from Denisovans,” he says. The DNA patterns seen around that gene match those of the Denisovans, a sister group to the Neanderthals.

He says Tibetans were able to adapt because they got the genes from another human species that was already adapted to the environment. It’s a lot more efficient than waiting around for evolution to do the job.

Here’s how the (very speculative) story might have gone: Modern humans evolve in Africa about 100,000 years ago and then start spreading across the globe, encountering new environments, and also other archaic human species, like Neanderthals and Denisovans. They mingle and mate, trading genetic material. Some inherit the EPAS1 gene. Eventually, some move up to high altitudes. The ones with the EPAS1 gene thrive more at high altitude than those without it. Over generations and generations, the gene becomes more common in the population.

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Putting a Price Tag on Nature’s Defenses

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Coral reefs have proved valuable to coastal regions by helping to blunt shore erosion from storm waves. Credit Reuters

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the United States Army Corps of Engineers got to work on a massive network of levees and flood walls to protect against future catastrophes. Finally completed in 2012, the project ended up costing $14.5 billion — and that figure didn’t include the upkeep these defenses will require in years to come, not to mention the cost of someday replacing them altogether.

But levees aren’t the only things that protect coasts from storm damage. Nature offers protection, too. Coastal marshes absorb the wind energy and waves of storms, weakening their impact farther inland. And while it’s expensive to maintain man-made defenses, wetlands rebuild themselves.

Protection from storms is just one of many services that ecosystems provide us — services that we’d otherwise have to pay for. In 1997, a team of scientists decided to estimate how much they are actually worth. Worldwide, they concluded, the price tag was $33 trillion — equivalent to $48.7 trillion in today’s dollars. Put another way, the services ecosystems provide us — whether shielding us from storms, preventing soil erosion or soaking up the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming — were twice as valuable as the gross national product of every country on Earth in 1997.

“We basically said, ‘It’s an imprecise estimate, but it’s almost definitely a pretty big number, and we’ve got to start paying attention,’” said Robert Costanza, a professor at Australian National University who led the study.

That study proved to be hugely influential. Many governments, from Costa Rica to the United Kingdom, started to take the value of ecosystem services into account when they planned environmental policies. But the study also set off a lot of controversy. Some economists argued that it was based on bad economics, while some conservation biologists argued that price tags were the wrong way to save ecosystems.

Seventeen years later, the debate is getting re-energized, just as the nation becomes immersed in an intense fight over the Obama administration’s attempt to tackle the emissions that scientists say could threaten many of these ecosystems. Dr. Costanza and his colleagues have now updated the 1997 estimate in a new study, published in the May issue of the journal Global Environmental Change, and concluded that the original estimate was far too low. The true value of the services of the world’s ecosystems is at least three times as high, they said.

“As we learn more, these estimates increase,” Dr. Costanza said.

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