Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

A Week of Raptors

raptorHow about some raptors? Let’s start with this mosaic in the 81st St. subway station, one of a large series illustrating some of the breadth of the American Museum of Natural History. (You can actually enter the museum from underground there.) It’s very much worth a MetroCard swipe to explore both platforms, which are stacked one above the other. The lower level, downtown-bound, is full of life-size dinosaur fossil-reproductions. I love trailing my fingers across those old ribs. But I digress.

That’s a Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) above, isn’t it? I’ve never seen one in the wild. In the U.S., they’re found only in the open marshes of central Florida, and in rather small numbers. As their name suggests, they’re snail eaters. An invasive snail, larger than their usual prey, may be adding to their difficulties.

If history is any judge… a case for optimism in the storm by Corey Robin.

We Are Petroleum Junkies

Hydrocarbons are a dog-damned miracle. The things we get out of crude oil, from fuel to explosives, from fertilizers to clothing, from pharmaceuticals to candle wax, from pesticides to plastics, from asphalt to inks… it’s just mind-boggling. Mostly we think of gasoline, but that’s not the half of it. The stuff both powers and rules civilization: we wear it, we eat it, we breath it. And what happens to the stuff when we burn it radically transforms the planet.

That old baked plankton, all that life from at least a 100,000,000 years ago, we shoot it up the mainline! I’ve been reading Eric W. Sanderson’s Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs. I think everybody should have a copy at home. The first half of the book is how we got here. The second, where we should go. (There’s a discussion of the book in this Roosevelt House/CUNY video.)

Here is where oil, cars, and suburbs have left us. Sanderson gives us a great primer on hydrocarbons and their “siren song,” which lured us into the mess we’re in now, especially during the halcyon days of the “cheap oil window” of the 1930s-1970s. I lived through some of this, but of course the times you grow up in always seem like the way things are, and always have been.

Part Two of the book is his vision of a new world. Here’s a teaser: we have to get rid of the automobile. Check! I’ve been on that track for some 35 years, never having owned a car.

You may have noticed the paucity of optimistic thinking about the future in recent decades, barring the usual bubble-mania-hype of the market. The Right even believes — gotta defend their privileges any way possible — that utopian thought leads, inevitably, to the gulag. Yup, straight line.

Yet in this mire we’re bogged down in, clear-headed thinking about the future, envisioning it (with actually existing technology, not science fiction), and proposing how to make those visions come true (politics) are more vital than ever. With The Dumpster approaching the White House, now more than ever. That makes this book a weapon. Arm yourselves!


pigeonsIn Fort Green. This reminds me that I need to check out the Audubon Mural Project up in Hamilton Heights, near JJA’s old home and burial sites.

John Berger has passed away at the age of 90. “Nothing in the nature around us is evil,” he wrote in one of his many essays. “This needs to be repeated since one of the human ways of talking oneself into inhuman acts is to cite the supposed cruelty of nature.”

I wrote this for JSTOR Daily. Berger’s art school classic Ways of Seeing should be regularly read and re-read. His New York Times obit has a fair synopsis of that project: he “burrowed into the sexism underpinning the tradition of the nude; the place of high art in an image-saturated modern world; the relationship between art and advertising; and, of particular importance to him as a voice of the British New Left, the way traditional oil painting celebrated wealth and materialism.”

Berger was occasionally too Marxist for me, but his critical stance was a necessary one and will be missed. In one of his collections, titled The Shape of A Pocket, he notes that “The pocket in question is a small pocket of resistance.” I’m glad to see a lot more people getting in there.

A New Year


Built on the past. Awaiting the future. Full of promise. And danger.


Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Casablanca has been playing at Film Forum here in NYC on it’s 75th year. This is so wonderfully cheesy and inspiring at the same time:

You may recall that, even though Orpheus’s head was severed from his body, it continued to sing as it floated down the river into the sea. Happy New Year!


shorebirdThere are some interesting bird figures carved around the Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. Jacob Wrey Mould, an English architect (and linguistic and musician), who worked closely with Olmsted and Vaux, is responsible for these rather exotic creatures.heronWhat would you call them?

As with the Falconer, they’ve seen some serious damage, and the repair work is readily visible.

And speaking of damage, regrettably one of the major topics of the next four years, Trump’s Treasury Secretary nominee is Old Man Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life: a predatory lender.

Super-sizing the Bird List

img_0708How many species of birds are there in the world? It has generally been considered that there are between 9,000-10,000. This new study upends that, suggesting that the number should be double the earlier estimate. (Here’s the actual paper.)

Well, wow! We have defined species as animals that can breed together. But if you pay any attention to birds, there are some anomalies here. Ducks, for instance, are notorious for breeding across species lines. So maybe the species line needs some re-defition, away from the “biological species concept” towards a “phylogenetic species concept.” That’s what they do in this study, defining species according to genetic and evolutionary relationships. (Here’s some more explanation.)

Tremendous food for thought.

And for dessert: One of my long-time complaints about the Democrats is that they don’t fight. Republicans fight like cornered rats; they have to because they’re a minority-appeal party and so must cheat, lie, steal, etc. to maintain power. Democrats just kiss up to their corporate funders. Enough!

The spiders were hung by the chimney with care

spider2A detail from Audubon’s Birds of America that caught my aging eyes recently in a 1965 coffee table version, not nearly the elephant folio in the room.


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