Browsing articles from "August, 2014"

Remembering Jazz Violinist John Blake Jr.

Aug 21, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Remembering Jazz Violinist John Blake Jr.

John Blake Jr.i

John Blake Jr.

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John Blake Jr.

John Blake Jr.

Courtesy of the artist

For decades, John Blake Jr. created a rare role for the violin within the jazz of his eras. A versatile player, he worked memorably with Archie Shepp, Grover Washington Jr., and McCoy Tyner. He released several solo recordings. He taught in conservatories and mentored many outside the classroom.

Blake died Friday, Aug. 15 from complications due to multiple myeloma, according to his family. He was 67.

In 2001, Blake appeared on NPR’s Billy Taylor’s Jazz At The Kennedy Center, a program which brought in guest artists for an interview and performance with Taylor’s trio. The episode can be heard at the audio link above. Here’s the description of the show as it originally appeared on

This edition of Billy Taylor’s Jazz At The Kennedy Center spotlights violinist John Blake. Blake has worked with saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and pianist McCoy Tyner, among other jazz greats, led groups under his own name and distinguished himself as a music educator. After opening with an unabashedly swinging reading of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” — which also features Dr. Taylor on piano, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Winard Harper — Blake, a native Philadelphian, begins discussing the origins of his musical development. He informs Dr. Taylor and the Kennedy Center audience that his first instrument was not the violin but the piano. As with many jazz musicians, his musical foundation came from the European classical tradition.

By the time Blake reached third grade, however, he’d discovered the instrument for which he is best known and became acquainted with the work of renowned violinists such as Isaac Stern. Later in his musical studies, Blake discovered Indian music — an influence which continues to inform his approach to the instrument and which finds its way into a uniquely lyrical reading of “All The Things You Are” with Dr. Taylor and his trio.

Following this well-received performance, Blake and Dr. Taylor discuss the influence of the late saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and Blake’s five-year tenure with pianist McCoy Tyner. The violinist then delights the Kennedy Center audience with a rhythmically fecund solo reading of Tyner’s “Passion Dance.”

In the course of answering audience questions with Dr. Taylor, Blake is asked the source of his greatest musical inspiration. His mother “playing behind church choirs,” he responds, noting that he tries to infuse his playing with the same degree of passion and inspiration. After an appropriately passionate, Latin-tinged interpretation of “Here’s That Rainy Day” performed with the trio, Dr. Taylor asks Blake if there is a different technique for teaching jazz rather than classical music. Blake tells Dr. Taylor that a key to introducing students to jazz is getting them to embrace the concepts of improvisation and imagination. Those concepts and more are magnificently displayed in the evening’s concluding performance, a robustly swinging rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “A Night In Tunisia.”

‘Let’s Be Cops,’ But Then What?

Aug 21, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on ‘Let’s Be Cops,’ But Then What?

Duuuuuuude! Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson explore the whimsical fun of petty tyranny in Let's Be Cops.i

Duuuuuuude! Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson explore the whimsical fun of petty tyranny in Let’s Be Cops.

Frank Masi, SMPSP/Twentieth Century Fox

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Duuuuuuude! Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson explore the whimsical fun of petty tyranny in Let's Be Cops.

Duuuuuuude! Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson explore the whimsical fun of petty tyranny in Let’s Be Cops.

Frank Masi, SMPSP/Twentieth Century Fox

[This piece contains plot details from Let’s Be Cops. It is not a movie about its plot details, but there you have it.]

The word is out on the buddy comedy Let’s Be Cops, starring Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson – both enormously charming actors on Fox’s New Girl. And what is the word? That the movie is not good, and the movie is rather atrociously timed, given that we are not in a place in the news cycle where people are enormously amused by stories about goofball police officers threatening people with nonfunctioning guns.

It’s all true: the movie is not good. It’s full of nasty cultural caricatures and has perhaps the most conventionally structured third act imaginable, in which our heroes overcome their limitations and triumph and a couple of Russian bad guys get what’s coming to them. And it’s atrociously timed – unless, of course, you think it’s perfectly timed.

The first act of Let’s Be Cops introduces Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans) as men in the circumstances movies and television continue to find more fascinating than any other: they are men who feel like they are unsuccessful at being men. Justin is undercut at work and terrified to pursue the girl of his dreams. Ryan is washed-up and lost, humiliated by even little kids believing he’s not worth anything. They are very different men: Ryan is extroverted, goofy, childlike; Justin is quiet, easily embarrassed, serious. But they have the same problem: utter powerlessness. No status. No respect.

And when they find themselves strolling down the street in police costumes (there’s some hand-waving about how somehow everything they’re wearing is totally real, except that the guns, while real, don’t fire), they discover what it’s like to bully strangers because you can. They discover what it’s like to be a powerless man, frustrated by having no status and no sex life and nobody who just for heaven’s sake does what you say, and suddenly find that you can frivolously, needlessly, capriciously holler at someone in the street and he will literally feel so compelled to comply that he’ll fly off his skateboard and hurt himself.

They learn – Ryan especially – that other people’s blind obedience is intoxicating. They have learned what it feels like to have power. Or, really, what it means to have authority. Finally, the world around him is doing what he damn well tells it to do. Justin learns the same. He can give orders just to give orders. Make guys he thinks are jerks stand and dance for him. Make them humiliate themselves.

It’s not enough that they stand on the street practicing the fine art of “because I said so” policing, cracking up when people stop on the street just because they’re told to. They also are eyeballed hungrily by all manner of women and, because it’s the least ridiculous way the filmmakers could think of to justify the implication of sex on demand as a side benefit of being a police officer, a group of giggling women on a “scavenger hunt” that requires kissing a cop run up and literally hurl themselves at Ryan and Justin.

This is the premise of the movie: If a man – here, two men – found themselves powerless and unrecognized and disrespected, wouldn’t it be hilarious if they took on the authority of law enforcement so that they could whimsically push around strangers, take out their negative feelings about their bosses on people who make the mistake of being on the street, commander cars for no reason except that they said so, and hoodwink women into making themselves available?

Wouldn’t that be hilarious?

There is a moment in Let’s Be Cops in which Ryan shows Justin the completely convincing fake police car he’s created – vehicle from eBay, lights he added himself, police logos he printed at Kinko’s and smoothed on until you can’t tell the difference between this car and a real car. This scene is played for humor, for the way Justin is the “I don’t know, man” friend, the one who thinks maybe this is all going too far, because maybe they’re going to get in trouble.

To me, this was a scene of pure menace, about as lighthearted as watching a comedy where one of the heroes was building a dungeon to chain up women in response to his difficulty getting a date. The concept of a man in possession of a convincing police car is terrifying. I wanted to find it funny, I really did. These are two of my favorite actors on TV. I wanted to be with them, to understand that at another time in another place, it really would have been funny.

But it made me think about all the conversations we’ve had in recent days about what different people’s encounters with the police feel like; how the police are friendly, perhaps overly stern fellows to some people and dangerous to others. Perhaps a fake police car is a hilarious idea to Luke Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas, who wrote this movie; to me, it’s a point of no return where only a conclusion that satirized how easily authority (of any kind) can be abused could have saved the movie. It could still have been funny, but it would have had to be darkly funny, funny in a way that ended with Ryan locked up.

That’s not where they’re going with this.

Instead, the only lesson they really learn about this being unfair and wrong is that it’s unfair to real cops. Rob Riggle plays such a real cop, who befriends the two along the way and who, at one point, must necessarily express his deep disappointment that they’ve dishonored the uniform by putting it on fraudulently. He takes offense. They feel chided. This is a moment of seriousness; it is a moment in which men become men. They become men, in short, by wanting to live up to the expectations of other powerful men. For this, for dishonoring real cops, they must apologize. They must make amends. This is the climactic moment of the film in its capacity as a feel-good story about two guys growing up.

Never do they feel embarrassed, and never are they upbraided, and never do they apologize, for going into houses where frightened people have called 911 and pretending to be responding police officers. Never are they embarrassed about the people whose cars they stole, whose pot they smoked, whose evenings they interrupted, just to feel powerful. Over the credits, we’re shown more of those things, because those things are still funny. To become men, they are asked to deserve the status they pretended to have, not to recognize the wrongs they did with it. They are revealed as counterfeiters and frauds, thieves of status that others deserve, not bullies and criminals. It is their presumptuousness that must be atoned for.

And in the end, they get what they wanted: Justin gets the girl, Ryan gets approval and a sense of accomplishment, and they both have the power they initially lacked. By pushing around strangers, by experimenting with power, and then by being shamed by another, higher-status man and wanting to make him proud, they have become men. They have grown up.

Ryan still drives all over the sidewalk like a moron forcing people to jump out the way, of course, but – spoiler alert – now he’s a real cop. So now it’s totally okay. He has, as he was ordered to do earlier, earned it

News Out Of Eastern Ukraine Battle Zone Is Hard To Confirm

Aug 21, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on News Out Of Eastern Ukraine Battle Zone Is Hard To Confirm

The Ukrainian army insists pro-Moscow separatists attacked a civilian convoy on Monday, killing at least 17 civilians. Rebels deny the attack took place.

Grappling With Trigger Warnings And Trauma On Campus

Aug 21, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Grappling With Trigger Warnings And Trauma On Campus

There's a debate on college campuses about whether or not to provide trigger warnings for students on class materials.i

There's a debate on college campuses about whether or not to provide trigger warnings for students on class materials.

On Tuesday, I posted syllabi for the two undergraduate anthropology classes I will teach this fall: Evolutionary Perspectives on Gender and Primate Behavior. As the academic year at my college nears its start, I can’t help but reflect on the extra layers of complexity involved in syllabus construction nowadays compared to when I first started out as a teacher in the 1980s.

A central question I grappled with earlier this week as I wrote and revised my syllabi was whether I should include trigger warnings.

Trigger warnings are notes on a syllabus meant to alert students that one or more books, articles or films required for class includes material that may cause emotional upset or even, on occasion — depending on students’ personal experiences — post-traumatic stress disorder. Works of literature or film that describe or depict suicide, war, sexual violence and acts of racism may be prime candidates for trigger warnings.

In recent months, the use of trigger warnings in academic settings has been hotly debated in the media. I’m in sympathy with those who fear overkill, an overexcited deluge of warnings slapped onto classic literature, for example — including plays by Shakespeare or novels by Virginia Woolf. And, as seven humanities professors point out in their essay for Inside Higher Ed, any decision rule for applying trigger warnings is inherently flawed since “faculty cannot predict in advance what will be triggering for students.”

In the end, though, I decided that in one specific context the benefits outweighed the costs and, so, for the first time I have included on a syllabus a trigger warning for a specific reading assignment.

Alongside the technical literature from anthropology, psychology and related fields, students in my evolution of gender class will read Abigail Tarttelin’s novel Golden Boy. This work brings together, in the character of a highly likeable teenager, a number of issues central to the course, ranging from intersexuality to sexual violence. It’s a beautiful fictional complement to the non-fiction science readings at the core of the course.

Near Golden Boy’s start, a prolonged and graphic scene of rape occurs. It’s key to the story, and I found it punishingly hard to read.

This small act, my offering of the trigger warning, feels to me the right thing to do. Should any students approach me with concerns beforehand about reading that part of the book, or discussing it in class, together we will figure out a way forward.

It’s true that I can’t know ahead of time that other topics we cover won’t also cause concern for some of my students. What I do know is that any survivors of rape, attempted rape or other acts of sexual violence don’t need to be blind-sided in my classroom by material that may cause them searing pain.

Barbara’s most recent book on animals was released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

Liberia Blocks Off Neighborhood In Ebola Quarantine, Sparking Riot

Aug 20, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Liberia Blocks Off Neighborhood In Ebola Quarantine, Sparking Riot

A 10-year-old boy suspected of being sick with Ebola was found naked on the beach by residents of West Point. They dressed him but couldn't find a clinic to take him in at first. Eventually he was was taken to JFK Hospital in Monrovia.

Residents of the capital’s West Point neighborhood woke up to learn no one can enter or leave the area for 21 days — the time it takes to determine whether someone exposed to Ebola was infected.

Soft Immortality: Would You Do It?

Aug 20, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Soft Immortality: Would You Do It?

How would life change if humans had soft-immortality?i

How would life change if humans had soft-immortality?

Mortality is humanity’s blessing and it’s curse.

Because we are aware of the passage of time, because we know that one day we won’t be here — and neither will everyone we love (and everybody else) — we have always searched for an answer to this most painful of mysteries: Why do we die?

However painful death is, to many people immortality is not any better. Why would someone immortal want to live? Where would his or her drive come from?

Even if we don’t spend the day thinking about it (and who could bear it?), pretty much most of what we do is connected in one way or another with the certainty of death. To lose this certainty, to have a vast, unchallenged expanse of time ahead, would certainly change our psyche in very essential ways. The word “legacy” would need to be redefined. Immortality could be quite boring, a life without a sense of pace. An immortal being would be an aberration, opposite to everything that we see around us, a world where transformation and decay is the rule.

From a scientific perspective, we have already extended our lives by a lot. In the Middle Ages, the life expectancy in Britain was about 30 years. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, the global average was only 31. By 2010, it had climbed to 67.2 years, and it’s still growing. The low numbers, even only 100 years ago, express the high rate of child mortality. If an individual survives childhood, his or her chances of living longer greatly increase. Looking at the historical data can be horrifying: In 1730 in the U.K., about 74 percent of children died before reaching five years of age. I can’t think of a more empowering defense of science.

But if we could extend life indefinitely — apart from accidental deaths, what we could call “soft immortality” — should we? In his book Death and the Afterlife, American philosopher Samuel Scheffler argues that an immortal being would lose his sense of time and, with that, his own humanity.

If we lived outside time, would we still experience the tragic and the sublime?

Thomas Nagel, Scheffler’s colleague at New York University, countered by arguing that, perhaps, an immortal life could still be “composed of an endless sequence of quests, undertakings and discoveries, including successes and failures … I am not convinced that the essential role of mortality in shaping the meaning we find in our actual lives implies that earthly immortality would not be a good thing.”

Is immortality scientifically viable? We don’t know, although many researchers think of aging as an illness that can be treated. I don’t mean by human cloning, a topic surrounded by complex ethical discussions, but by controlling the aging of cells and the deterioration of the mind. Or by destroying cancerous cells directly. By understanding how these processes can be stopped, either by a direct interference with the human genome or, in a less radical approach, by cloning specific organs from the patient’s own stem cells. Possibly, bio-circuits built from DNA and specifically-designed proteins could be injected into the patient to repair, or kill, cells with mutations that cause cancer and aging. This is the new medicine of longevity, way beyond treating diseases with sanitation and antibiotics.

It’s hard to imagine that science will not be going that way. But here is the key question: If you could extend your life by another 50 or 100 healthy years, would you?

Quite possibly, we will be moving toward a “soft immortality” in the next decades. The question of how a very long life will affect our minds will then become an experiment.

Whatever the many debates that the topic incites, there is one good consequence of it, as Ed Regis and George Church noted in a essay from 2012: A race of soft-immortals would have plenty of motivation to preserve the planet. After all, without Earth, what’s the point of pursuing a long life?

Scheffler agrees. If life were to disappear in the next few decades, what would be the point of living?

Chicago’s All-Black Little League Team Enhances City’s Image

Aug 20, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Chicago’s All-Black Little League Team Enhances City’s Image

An all African-American Little League team from Chicago is drawing lots of attention and making a big impression. It’s been 31 years since an all-black team made it into the Little League World Series.

Hello Kitty Joins The Space Race

Aug 20, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Hello Kitty Joins The Space Race

Japan’s favorite mouthless feline is currently orbiting the earth on a government-funded space mission. The Hello Kitty Project is part of a push to promote Japan’s high-tech industry.

Poet Known As The ‘Lioness of Iran’ Dies At 87

Aug 19, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Poet Known As The ‘Lioness of Iran’ Dies At 87

Simin Behbahani during an August 2007 news conference in Tehran.i

Simin Behbahani during an August 2007 news conference in Tehran.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

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Simin Behbahani during an August 2007 news conference in Tehran.

Simin Behbahani during an August 2007 news conference in Tehran.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

NPR senior producer Davar Ardalan spoke with Simin Behbahani in June 2009 and has this remembrance:

One of Iran’s most vocal and outspoken poets died this morning in Tehran at the age of 87. Known as the “Lioness of Iran,” Simin Behbahani reportedly had been in a coma for more than two weeks.

For millions of Iranians all over the world, Behbahani represented the invincible power of the Iranian psyche. Her words were piercing and fierce, lamenting on the lack of freedom of expression through the ages. For six decades, many Iranians found refuge in her poetry as a way to nurture their hunger for dialogue, peace, human rights and equality.

Farzaneh Milani, who teaches Persian literature and women’s studies at the University of Virginia, has been translating Behbahani’s work for decades. She has said that much of Iran’s history can be studied through Behbahani’s peoms, as her words stir the mind and quench the thirst of those who can only whisper their laments away from the public eye. Milani confirmed Behbahani’s passing this morning: “Our dear Simin Khanum [lady], a woman I loved and a poet I admired, died this morning, even though her voice is undying.”

One of the most famous of Behbahani’s poems, “A Cup of Sin,” reflects on the paradox of fear and hope:

“My country, I will build you again, if need be, with bricks made from my life. I will build columns to support your roof, if need be, with my own bones. I will inhale again the perfume of flower favored by your youth. I will wash again the blood off your body with torrents of my tears.” (Milani and Kaveh Safa have been the primary translators of Behbahani’s work.)

Born July 20, 1927, in Tehran, Behbahani was Iran’s nightingale, publishing 19 books of poetry over the course of six decades. Her first book, Setar-e Shekasteh, which translates as Broken Lute, was published in 1951. She was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Although Behbahani had been barred from leaving Iran for the past four years or so, her words continued to permeate and enlighten beyond the borders of her homeland. In March 2011, President Obama recited one of her poems as part of a Persian New Year greeting to the Iranian people:

“I would like to close with a quote from the poet Simin Behbahani – a woman who has been banned from travelling beyond Iran, even though her words have moved the world: ‘Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life.’ “

Behbahani’s death brings stillness to our eternity. I want her to keep singing.

We’ll leave you with a poem Behbahani wrote about turmoil in Iran in 2009.

Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind

If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land Your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt.

You have become a babbling loudmouth. Your insolent ranting, something to joke about.

The lies you have found, you have woven together. The rope you have crafted, you will find around your neck.

Pride has swollen your head, your faith has grown blind. The elephant that falls will not rise.

Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind. The grim-faced rising cloud, will grovel at the swamp’s feet.

Stop this screaming, mayhem, and blood shed. Stop doing what makes God’s creatures mourn with tears.

My curses will not be upon you, as in their fulfillment. My enemies’ afflictions also cause me pain.

You may wish to have me burned , or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.

Simin Behbahani

June 2009

Translated by Kaveh Safa and Farzaneh Milani

What Exactly Is That Birdlike Thing?

Aug 19, 2014   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on What Exactly Is That Birdlike Thing?

For years I was convinced that there exists among us a strange, unidentified species of animal – something between bug and bird – jetting around gardens and flowers and trees.

Not too long ago one of these natural UFOs buzzed past me in broad daylight: Too big to be a bee, too itty-bitty to be a bird. Slow enough to glimpse, but too fast to identify.

Not exactly a hummingbird…

A hummingbirdi

A hummingbird

A hummingbird

Pat Gaines/Flickr

Nor a bumblebee…

A bumblebee on lavender.i

A bumblebee on lavender.

A bumblebee on lavender.

Mark Robinson/Flickr

What the heck was it?

The mystery was finally solved when a friend told me about …

The hummingbird moth — Hemaris thysbe.i

The hummingbird moth — Hemaris thysbe.

Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

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Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

The hummingbird moth — Hemaris thysbe.

The hummingbird moth — Hemaris thysbe.

Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

… the hummingbird moth.

It’s a rare thing: An insect … that acts like a bird. It’s two, two, two creatures in one.

One of the rare researchers who has focused on the rare bird — um, moth — is Elena Tartaglia, who teaches biology at Bergen Community College.

Fresh off of National Moth Week, Elena explains that there are several types of moths that mimic hummingbirds. Her 2013 dissertation at Rutgers University was on the genus Hemaris, which appears during the day.

I ask Elena if she can speak to the mysterious nature of this birdlike thing.

“I don’t think that they are mysterious,” she says. “They are diurnal so they are easily seen during the day foraging alongside bees if you know what to look for. I think the problem is that many people are unsure of what they are, or since they are mimics — and also very fast fliers — people may mistake them for hummingbirds or bumblebees.”

Hummingbird moth — Hemaris gracilisi

Hummingbird moth — Hemaris gracilis

Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

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Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

Hummingbird moth — Hemaris gracilis

Hummingbird moth — Hemaris gracilis

Courtesy of Elena Tartaglia

Hummingbird moths are pollinators, Elena says, but “bees get most of the attention in pollination studies because they are far more abundant than Hemaris and because they are our major crop pollinators.”

Elena says, “There is a long, well-established body of literature on bee foraging energetics and behaviors and that just doesn’t exist for hummingbird moths.”

But once you know what a Hemaris looks like, she says, you will not mistake it for anything else.

That doesn’t mean they are a cinch to study. “They were not the easiest insect to work with,” Elena says. “They are difficult to catch in a net because they are fast and likely have good eye sight and I found that keeping them captive to do any behavioral studies in the lab was near impossible. “

She has pondered the evolutionary reasons behind a moth that mimics a hummingbird. Unlike most moths — which are nocturnal — the Hemaris feeds in daylight hours like a hummingbird. Perhaps because there are more “floral resources” during the day, she says. In addition, “insectivorous birds are one of the main predators of moths. Insectivorous birds won’t eat a hummingbird, hence looking like a bird protects Hemaris from predation.”

Like a walking cane that is also a flask; a flip-flop that doubles as a beer bottle opener; an optical illusion; a labradoodle; a frenemy, the hummingbird moth falls into that cryptic category of transformers in life that are more than one thing — and more than what they seem to be.


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj



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