Wednesday, August 31, 2011

* Upper Valley Plaza Inundated by Connecticut River

Upper Valley Plaza, five minutes from my home and from Dartmouth College   (photo courtesy of S. LeGasse)

* Middlebury College Professor Bill Mc Kibben, and Former Yale Forestry School Dean Gus Speth , try to save the planet.

New York Times, September 3, 2011

"Somehow we need to get back the president we thought we elected in 2008."
BILL MCKIBBEN, an environmental activist, reacting after President Obama abandoned a plan for stricter air pollution guidelines.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

* Winner of Alternative Nobel Prize Takes No Money; Takes No Guff

* Day Two After Irene: More Vermont Videos of Flooding

* Vermont, the Day After

Vermont officials have found several other covered bridges, among the 100 or so statewide, that have been seriously damaged, but the loss of the Bartonsville bridge, built in 1871, with a wooden lattice spanning 158 feet, was considered the greatest historical blow. (Another demolished bridge, in Quechee, was covered but built of concrete in the 1970s.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

* We are Sad and Concerned Today

My house can be seen in the upper left hand corner of the screen above the Hartford Bridge (tiny yellow blur on hill) from time digits 39-42)

Friday, August 26, 2011

* Yale Out Law

Doubting Thomas, '74

[Clarence] Thomas graduated from Yale Law School in 1974, and he maintains a rich and public loathing for the school. In his autobiography, published in 2007, he wrote, "As a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen- cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I'd made by going to Yale. I never did change my mind about its value." *   Thomas has refused entreaties from a series of deans at Yale to sit for a portrait for the school. (His law-school travels never take him to Yale or to comparable institutions. "I don't do the Ivies," he told a law professor.)

The gist of his complaint about Yale reflects his feelings about the worth of affirmative action generally.  In his book, Thomas recounts his difficulties  finding a job after Yale, which he attributed to "what a law degree from Yale was worth when it bore the taint of racial preference." 
In light of this he wrote, Yale meant one thing for the white graduates and another for the blacks, no matter how much anyone denied it."

 . . .  "We talk about diversity. The real problem of our Court is that it's all Ivy League," Thomas said. Currently all nine justices attended law school at either Harvard or Yale. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think there are other law schools out there," he said.

Jeffrey Toobin
PARTNERS: Will Clarence and Virginia Thomas succeed in killing Obama's health-care plan?

The New Yorker
August 29, 2011
* Note: I tore up my own Yale degree  the day I received it in 1980, not because I loathed Yale, but because I didn't want to be controlled by its imprimatur.
A few years ago I made a symbolic (link) gift to Yale Law School .

Thursday, August 25, 2011

* Cornell Clearing the Animal Haze

Beginning of the End 
to the Animal House Era in Higher Education

I lived a block from the Clutter house in Eugene, Oregon in 1985.

The Clutter house (owned by a family so named) is the actual building used as Animal House in the famous movie with John Belushi.

I attended slam dances in the basement of the Clutter house which sported  an earthen floor and field-stone walls. One band named Poison Idea, had a "vocalist" whose concept of entertainment in between monotone screams of inanities, was to suck beer from a bottle and spit it fire-hose-style from behind the microphone out over the assembled  dancers. For an encore, he'd hack up a  lunger and spit it on a beam over his head, then wait for it to drip and fall on his own face.

Charmingly inventive chap.

I was 42 years old at the time.  My role at the dances was "free-lance writer."  I had interviewed everyone in Eugene who had anything to do with the making of the  1978 movie, including the secretary to the president of the University of Oregon who took me into his office and showed me the very spot where the horse stood next to the president's desk. (Yes, the university permitted an actual horse to be filmed in the president's office.)

I had a friend who was producer at 60 Minutes at the time, Harry Moses, and I called him to alert him to the fact that folks were trying  demolish  Animal House  to make way for a dentist's office.

By the time his aide called me back about the story, bulldozers had leveled the building.

Now, 2011, Cornell University's president  has announced in a N.Y. Times Op-Ed piece (link above) that he intends to level the hazing mentality that Animal House represents. 

Why did this leadership take 34 years to emerge since the release of Animal House in 1978?

The March USA Today ran this headline: Does 6  deaths in  6 months make Cornell 'suicide school' ?

Note: When I lived in Ithaca, the Roumanian dancer, Iris Barbura, ended her life by throwing herself into Triphammer Gorge. She was still alive when they found her a day later.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

* Do We Hate Our Children ?

* Mother Dirth

In the 1960's British atmospheric scientist, chemist, and marine biologist James Lovelock proposed his Gaia hypothesis, which describes the Earth as behaving like a super-organism, its soil, atmosphere, and oceans composing a circulatory system regulated by its resident flora and fauna. He now fears that the living planet is suffering from a high fever, and that we are the virus. He suggests we compile a user's manual of vital human knowledge (on durable paper, he adds) for survivors who may sit out the next millennium huddled in the polar regions, the last habitable places in a super-heated world, until the ocean recycles enough carbon to restore a semblance of equilibrium.
(p. 168)

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

* Unending Wall

The low stone walls that crisscross the forests of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and upstate New York reveal that humans once stakes boundaries here.  An 1871 fencing census, writes Connecticut geologist Robert Thorson, showed at least 240,000 miles of handmade stone walls east of the Hudson River --- enough to reach the moon.
(p. 146)

The World Without Us

Alan Weisman

* Hold Your Water

To exalt the philosopher and scorn the plumber, as John Gardner once said, results in a society where “neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Taken from N.Y.Times opinion piece

"Spend Smarter, Not Less"

August 23, 2011
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is president emeritus and university professor at George Washington University and a partner in Korn Ferry International.

* The Numbers Game

Letter to the Editor
The Valley News

In the August 19 student newspaper, The Dartmouth, an opinion piece entitled “Misleading Voices” critiqued the Dartmouth presidential lecture series
“Leading Voices” as being dominated by male, number pushers such as economist Robert Reich; General Electric CEO, Jeffrey Immeult; former Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson; and Dartmouth President and health care expert, Jim Kim.

If this is a valid criticism, that even an Ivy League college which celebrates the arts and sciences offers as “Leading Voices” in its lecture series a group composed solely of mercantile, number crunchers, we should not be surprised. Academia has been trivializing the arts and valorizing the sciences since the personal computer started invading education.

Jaron Lanier,  a rabid computer futurist, put his finger on the reason in his new book You Are Not a Gadget when he writes, “What computerized analysis of all the country’s school tests has done to education is exactly what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database.” (Lanier, kindle p. 1392+)

Marshall Mcluhan warned us in the 1960’s that “ the medium is the message”. We need to scrutinize the real messages we are teaching the next generation by our wholesale surrender to data-driven false gods like Facebook; Princeton’s Educational Testing Service; and, Dartmouth’s Center for Health Care Delivery Science.

Human life is more than numbers.

Paul D. Keane

* Ain't Rocket Science

Newer isn't necessarily better. Werner Von Braun, the German scientist who developed the U.S. space program, used to tell a story about Colonel John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. "Seconds before lift-off, with Glenn strapped into the rocket we built for him and man's best efforts all focused on that moment, you know what he said to himself? 'Oh, my god! I'm sitting on a pile of low bids ! ' "
(p. 17)

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

* The God Problem in A.A.

The Hanover Inn as seen from Baker Library on the Dartmouth College Campus.

Co-founders of A.A.: Bill W. ( l ) and Dr. Bob  (r )

As a graduate of the Yale University Divinity School         (M. Div. '80) I am interested in what gives people spiritual sustenance and strength.  Surely the Twelve Step Programs emanating from the original template of Alcoholics Anonymous are enormously successful spiritual programs. Thus I jumped at the chance ten or so years ago to hear the son of the late  Dr. Robert Smith, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1902, speak to a  group of about 200 at the Hanover Inn when he was 85.

As it turned out, "Smitty" was not the one whose words embedded themselves in my memory. It was his second wife, a social worker who was still working at 68, who pronounced the sentence which has stuck in my memory: "About one in ninety-seven who visits the rooms of A.A., stays."

Now. you can look  at that statistic two ways: (Remember Mark Twain said "There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.") Either one out of ninety-seven is a terrible failure rate, or a terrific success rate, since most people who stay, usually stop drinking.

One of the big excuses people use to dump A.A. and return to drinking, is the religious language used in the Twelve Step Program.

Many who attend A.A. meetings reject them because of the God references. 

A.A. has several ways around this problem. "The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking" the A.A. Preamble states, NOT a belief in God.  (Note: Not even a pledge to stop drinking, simply a desire.)

"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could relive our alcoholism" is the language of A.A. second "step".  Many AA's put it this way:  You don't have to believe in God.  You just have to believe there is a power greater than yourself. PERIOD.

Now if the persistent use of the word "God" in A.A. continues to bother you, A.A. has another way around this problem ---Three  G.O.D. acronyms:

                                      Good Orderly Direction

                                      Gift Of Desperation

                                      Group Of Drunks

Simply substitute any or all of these for the word "God" every time it is used in A.A.

No more is required.

Another acronym is E.G.O.  (Easing God Out)

Simply substitute one of the God acronyms for the            G-word in E.G.O. and it makes perfect sense. Easing  out of your life the group of drunks, the gift of desperation, or the good orderly direction of the A.A. Program is a return to the emotional isolation and egocentricity which leads to a drink.

As the Old Timers used to say when the God issue came up "Don't join the debating society."

Make your own personal adjustment. 



However, if you want to reject the Twelve Step Program nothing can keep you from doing so.


(So endeth the lesson.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

* Fecal Facial

South of the Hopi Mesas rise the 12,500-foot San Francisco Peaks, home to Hopi and Navajo gods who dwell among the aspens and the Douglas firs: holy mountains cloaked in purifying white each winter -- except in recent years because snow now rarely falls. In this age of deepening drought and rising temperatures, ski lift operators who, the Indians claim, defile sacred ground with their clanking machines and lucre, are being sued anew.  Their latest desecration is making artificial snow for their ski runs from wastewater, which the Indians liken to bathing the face of their God in shit.
(p. 121)

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Below is an actual "bird poop facial."

* I Lost Lucy

"Oh Rickyyyyy !"

In 1955, a little more than four years after leaving a TV studio in Hollywood, signals bearing the first images of the I Love Lucy show passed Proxima Centura, the nearest star to our sun.  A half century later, a scene with Lucy disguised as a clown sneaking into Ricky's Tropicana Night Club was 50-plus light-years, or about 300 trillion miles, away.  Since the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across and 1,000 light years thick, and our solar system is near the middle of the galactic plane, this means in about AD 2450 the expanding sphere of radio waves bearing Lucy, Ricky, and their neighbors the Mertzes will emerge from the top and bottom of our galaxy and enter intergalactic space.

Before them will lie billions of other galaxies, over distances we can quantify but really can't comprehend.  By the time I Love Lucy reaches them, it is unclear how anything out there would be able to make much sense of  it, either . ..

Massive galaxies in their path would further distort radio waves bearing the news that in 1953, a baby boy was born to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  It would increasingly compete with the background noise from the Big Bang, the original birth of the universe, which a consensus of scientists dates to at least 13.7 billion years ago. Just like Lucy's broadcast shenanigans, that sound has been expanding at the speed of light ever since, and thus pervades everything . . .

(p. 253+)

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Sunday, August 21, 2011

* Old Man Melancholy River

Ledyard Bridge over the Connecticut River at Dartmouth College

Dartmouth student, later Captain,  Oliver Cushman, before and after his facial wound in the Civil War.

Every week for the last 25 years I have driven my car over the Ledyard Bridge as I enter Hanover, New Hampshire and the Dartmouth College campus from Vermont.

Invariably I think of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, as I cross the bridge, because her 18-year-old son drowned in the Connecticut River below while a student at Dartmouth.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Simon Legree whips Uncle Tom  from Uncle Tom's Cabin with Harriet Beecher Stowe pondering below.

Now, after reading  The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War: A History by Joseph D. Collea, I not only think of Mrs. Stowe's son, but of a Dartmouth student named Oliver Cushman, who continued fighting in the Civil war as a captain after taking a bullet to the face.  See triptych above. You can read my review of the book at  .

I suppose it is rather melancholy of my mind to  taint a beautiful view like the Connecitcut River and Dartmouth Boat House with such lugubrious images as a drowning and a war wound.   

But life has a melancholy tinge to it and it is appropriate to honor that feeling --- not deny it.


Pince-nez: No Prescription Required

In 1923, sculptor Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to immortalize the greatest American presidents in portraits every bit as imposing as the long-vanished wonder, the Colossus of Rhodes.  His canvas was an entire South Dakota mountainside.  Along with George Washington, father of the country; Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence; and Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator and reuniter, Borghum insisted on portraying Theodore Roosevelt, who joined the seas.

In the site he selected for what qualifies as the United States' magnum opus, Mount Rushmore, is a 5,725-foot uplift composed of fine-grained Precambrian granite.  When Borglum died in 1941 of a brain hemorrhage, he'd barely begun work on the presidential torsos. But the faces were all indelibly carved in stone; he lived to see the visage of his personal hero, Teddy Roosevelt, officially dedicated in 1939

He'd even rendered Roosevelt's trademark pince-nez in rock --- a rock formed 1.5 billion years ago, among the most resistant on the continent. According to geologists, Mount Rushmore's granite erodes one inch every 10,000 years.  At that rate, barring asteroid collision or a particularly violent earthquake in this seismically stable center of the continent, at least vestiges of Roosevelt's 60-foot likeness, memorializing his Canal, will be around for the next 7.2 million years.

. . . Should some equally ingenious. confounding, lyrical, and conflicted species appear on Earth in our aftermath, they may still find T.R.'s fierce, shrewd gaze fixed intently upon them.
(p. 181+)

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

* Stacking the Deck

"In a year, " observes Enric Sala . . ."humans take 100 million sharks, while sharks attack maybe 15 people. This is not a fair fight."
The World Without Us
Alan Weisman 


Saturday, August 20, 2011



. . . picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

     Unlikely perhaps, but for the sake of argument, not impossible.  Say a Homo sapiens - specific virus  --  natural or diabolically nano-engineered -- picks us off but leaves everything else intact. Or some misanthropic evil wizard somehow targets that unique 3.9 percent of DNA that makes us humans and not chimpanzees, or perfects a way to sterilize our sperm.  Or say that Jesus - -more on Him later --or space aliens rapture us away, either to our heavenly glory or to a zoo somewhere across the galaxy.

. . . Wipe us out, and see what's left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms ? How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines?

. . . Could nature ever obliterate all our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? Or are some so unnatural that they are indestructible?

     And what of our finest creations - - our architecture, our art, our many manifestations of spirit?  Are any truly timeless, at least enough so to last until the sun expands and roasts our Earth to a cinder?

And after that might we have left some faint, enduring mark on the universe; some lasting glow, or echo, of Earthly humanity; some planetary sign that once we were here? 

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman



Eating bugs to save the planet

by Dana Goodyear

The New Yorker
August 15 & 22, 2011

[Gene DeFoliart, Chair of Etymology at University of Wisconsin] began his talk --- and the paper he eventually published --- with a startling statement: "C.F. Hodge (1911) calculated that a pair of houseflies beginning operations in April could produce enough flies, if all survived, to cover the earth forty-seven feet deep by August."