Saturday, June 30, 2007

Getting a head start on Bush's legacy

Historians usually wait until a president has passed on before settling on a legacy he's left behind from his term in office. Considering how early we're jumpstarting the 2008 Election, I thought I'd take the opportunity now to review a few leavings from George W's years of misrule.

My main provocation for the effort is today's news that the Supremely Reactionary Court has taken the country back another step toward its golden years of repression and discrimination (see Across U.S., a New Look at School Integration Efforts from the New York Times).

This follows the absurd ruling from earlier in the year where the conservative block, anchored by Bush's appointments (Alito and Roberts, the titular supreme supreme), sided with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Corporation, which openly discriminated against a female employee by giving her smaller raises than her male counterparts (see US supreme court v women from the Guardian Unlimited).

The make-up of the court, and the damage that they do to civil rights and constitutional law going forward will certainly be one of Georgie's most lasting legacies, but it's not the only detrimental detritus that has fallen from his office. The Iraq War and its prosecution will certainly rank among the greatest US boondoggles, sapping the strength of our economy as it consumes the lives of our young soldiers. The trickle down affect from this little piece of neo-conservative pocket-lining has already begun, siphoning off funding from our city, county and state governments and costing us needed social services.

The legacy doesn't end there of course. Let's not forget the Prez's environmental track record, with his refusal to sign on to Kyoto and his Dick Cheney conspired energy policy that handsomely rewarded a fossil fuel industry that is churning the carbon into our atmosphere and charring our earth with drought and the other deleterious byproducts of an unstable climate.

Speaking of the Vice Lord, the news has been filled with outrage over his his recent refusal to disclose documents that could reveal just how illegal and unethical the tenure of this administration has been (see Cheney, master of stealth, readies himself for the final act of 'imperial' vice-presidency from the Independent). The Bushies have shown an amazing ability to circumvent the most time-honored and sacrosanct provisions of our Constitution. Whether it's creating extra-judicial procedures for enemy combatants, using signing statements to infringe on the legislative branch, abrogating habeus corpus, or illegally executing wiretaps, their sins have been great and their penetance lacking.

So after a literally torturous 8 years in office, these fine exploiters of people and resources will depart back to their darkened corporate boardrooms to count their winnings and revel in the waste to which our country and its founding principles have been laid. As they pack up their belongings and vacate the White House, the decimated Nation should join together with requisite venom and sing the last verse of Bob Dylan's Masters of War:

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Wishing a happy birthday to a prince of a man

Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyons, France on this date in 1900. He wrote and illustrated one of the most popular children's books: The Little Prince.

It's been many years since I read Saint-Exupéry's work, but the images of it are still strongly set in my mind. The young boy Prince caring for his rose on the small asteroid he inhabits. The grown narrator trying to make sense of the boy he meets in the desert.

I also remember being especially captivated by the exotic nature of his name — just the sound of it seemed to indicate to my young mind some special, almost mystical weightiness.

There are certainly lessons in the book that we can only appreciate after having lived a number of years and made the usual adult mistakes. We all have roses we've tamed and become responsible for, and it takes time for us to realize how important in our lives they've become. Taking a step back to look at the world anew with child-like eyes, can certainly impart some much needed and deceptively simple wisdom.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hold the vision: We are the one!

In the course of my daily promenade through the blogosphere, I happened upon an interesting meme that's going around courtesy of Jennifer Jones' Goodness Graciousness site (thanks to Jeane at Binding Ink for bringing it to my attention). Jennifer's seemingly simple request: "Blog about your vision of what is possible" (see Hold the Vision - You are officially tagged for her much more eloquent description of the meme).

I've always been a believer in the power of vision and the ability of the creative imagination to positively influence the world, so this is an idea I whole heartedly embrace. I could probably write pages on the subject, but I'll limit myself to a single notion that I think will help move us forward.

Today we find ourselves entering an epoch of human history that demands we set aside the constraining ideologies of the past and pull together to solve the daunting challenges that confront each of us equally. The threats are many and inter-related; ranging from our environment, to our physical and mental well-being, to our economic stability.

Our society is increasing characterized by polarization along political, theological and philosophical lines. In almost every case, the belief systems that inform these debates have become outdated, and make little sense in the context of modern times. Unfortunately, its their connection to the past that cements adherents' resolve not to relinquish them. Nostalgia is gaining an ever greater hold on people's imaginations, and fearing the uknowable future they try to move society backward to an idyllic time that never existed.

In contrast, just as subjectively we're isolating ourselves into warring camps, technological advances are creating the conditions to erase old boundaries and dividing lines. Information is flowing freely across the fiber that wires the continents together, and our collective consciousness is growing more aware of the possibility for united action. The strength we'll find in our common causes can overcome any individual self-limiting doubts. Opening ourselves up to this new paradigm, exposing our inner selves to the world in a Garden of Eden nakendness, and freely transmitting our talents and labors to all that can use them are the first steps toward building a new world.

The operative motivator right now has to be universal compassion. Our choices have to be informed by an understanding of what the least fortunate among us face in life, and that empathy can't be limited to any specific racial, ethnic, sexual, religious or national identity group. It's only by ensuring the well-being of the worst off around the globe that we can safeguard our own.

That is my vision for the world; one that truly embraces the best characteristics of the various spiritual traditions from around the globe and moves beyond the petty desire to prove the supremacy of a particular ideology. The punk band The Avengers described this idea much less prosaically in their song "we are the one." (Check out Penelope Houston's website devoted to the band and her solo music.)

we are the one
lyrics and music by Penelope Houston, G. Ingraham, D. O'Brien, J. Wilsey

we are the leaders of tomorrow
we are the one to have the fun
we want control we want the power
not gonna stop until it comes

we are not Jesus Christ
we are not fascist pigs
we are not capitalist industrialists
we are not communists
we are the one

we will build a better tomorrow
the youth of today will be the tool
american children built for survival
fate is our destiny and we shall rule

we are not Jesus Christ
we are not fascist pigs
we are not capitalist industrialists
we are not communists
we are the one

I am the one who shows you the future
I am the one who buries the past
a new species rise up from the ruins
I am the one that was made to last

we are not Jesus Christ
we are not fascist pigs
we are not capitalist industrialists
we are not communists
we are the one

IBM supercomputer: Next step HAL?

Technology giant IBM has created the "fastest commercial" supercomputer capable of performing an astronomical number of calculations in one second. That kind of supercomputing power will allow scientists to carry on some pretty mind boggling work, and in all likelihood lead to some important technological advances.

Whether the real-world application of this work will be to the greater benefit is an open question that will depend on who is in control of the technology. Unfortunately, under the current social and political conditions, it's hard to be optimistic.

IBM's machine outstrips another supercomputer just debuted by Sun Microsystems. Here's an excerpt from the Guardian Unlimited's coverage:

Blue Gene/P is expected to be almost three times more powerful than its predecessor, and will run continuously at speeds of around 1 petaflop - one quadrillion calculations a second. It is also claimed to be more energy efficient than its rivals.
(see Scientists battle to build biggest supercomputer for the full story)

It brings to mind Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey and its existentially challenged computer run amok. As you may recall, that computer was named HAL as an inside joke referring to the very same IBM, being a sequence one letter removed from the corporate moniker.

The more powerful our computers become and the wider their reach grows, the closer we get to realizing the kind of artificial intelligence that science fiction writers have depicted over the past few decades. In many cases those tale tellers have imagined worst case scenarios in which the technology comes back to haunt mankind, fulfilling the tragically necessary repayment of our hubris at mimicking the role of supreme being.

Getting beyond such doom and gloom, I instead like to ponder the ontological consequences of a truly artifical human intelligence. One possibility is that such a development could lead to the obsolescence of our very own mental powers, as we rely on computers to handle the intellectual chores necessary to take our civilization further, relegating ourselves to a simulated environment where our minds can float off into nothingness.

Yet again, maybe it will lead to a new evolutionary step for the human race, expanding the breadth of our own consciousness, connecting us all together in a way that we can harness our limited individual perspectives to achieve a greater, fully faceted awareness.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Digging into the CIA's past: When is a mobster a good guy?

We get few opportunities to peek behind the curtain of our government and see all the cloak and dagger activity that's carried out in our name. Today, just such a rare opportunity was granted to us as almost 700 pages of documents were released by the CIA detailing activities in the 60s and 70s that its own agents deemed questionable. The report was made available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and is creatively nicknamed "Family Jewels." It contains a littany of misconduct, even by Cold War spy standards.

The incident that will get the most coverage in the media is the 1960 attempt to arrange the assassination of Fidel Castro using a Chicago mob boss upset at the foreign leader's negative impact on the Cosa Nostra's Cuban operations. It turns out that the mafia and feds do sometimes have common interests. In case you thought the cozy relationship between anti-terror operatives and Tony Soprano in the HBO series was unrealistic, here's some validation.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, however, as the report includes incidents such as domestic surveillance of student groups, drug-testing on armed service volunteers, and wiretapping of journalists. If you've got a lot of free time on your hands, you can check out the full details, which are available online at:

If you've got a life and just want to read a good summary of what's in it, check out the article Some examples of CIA misconduct in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

All the talk of whacking Fidel brings to mind an old punk classic from the band 999. Sometimes, when you get carried away with an ideology, no matter how well-intentioned, you can justify the most criminal of acts. Politics can be murder.

Homicide by 999

I believe its Homicide
I rest my case don't cast aside
You better believe it
That's the truth of it
Take it or leave it
Resign to it

Homicide Homicide
Homicide Homicide

You tried to tell me it's his fault because he's down
And letting loose this Homicide all over the town
I'll take your number I'll write it down
What's your address I'll write it down
I'll be in touch so don't leave town in a big black car

Homicide Homicide
Homicide Homicide

I believe its Homicide
I rest my case don't cast aside
You better believe it
That's the truth of it
Take it or leave it
Resign to it

Homicide Homicide
Homicide Homicide

Monday, June 25, 2007

Not quite Monty Python, but a giant penguin nonetheless

When I heard the news today that scientists have discovered a new species of giant penguin that roamed Equatorial Peru 36 million years ago, of course the first thing that came to my video-age polluted mind was the silly Monty Python Hollywood-movie spoof "Scott of the Antarctic" (watch a clip of the skit on YouTube, and now for something completely different check out the much more tragic tale of the real Robert Falcon Scott).

The new discovery isn't 20 foot tall, electric or tentacled, but it's still pretty cool. Icadyptes salasi, the extinct 5-foot tall species, did have a potentially scary, extra large, pointy beak — the better to stab you or fish with — but that's as close to the realm of "Attack of the Giant Penguins" style monster movies as we're going to get. Even imagining them over-sized and running amok in the streets of Chicago, as in my photo mock-up, doesn't elicit much fear of these cute, flightless birds.

Here's an excerpt of the story from Science Daily:

March Of The Giant Penguins: Prehistoric Equatorial Penguins Reached 5 Feet In Height

Science Daily — Giant prehistoric penguins? In Peru? It sounds more like something out of Hollywood than science, but a researcher from North Carolina State University along with U.S., Peruvian and Argentine collaborators has shown that two heretofore undiscovered penguin species reached equatorial regions tens of millions of years earlier than expected and during a period when the earth was much warmer than it is now.

Read the full article

Blogging in the moonlight

Because one blog can't contain my out-sized thoughts, I've begun moonlighting as a regular contributor to the Climate of Our Future blog (COOF).

I'll still be posting my wide-ranging, twisted takes on the news, politics, philosophy, art, literature and music (etc., etc.) here at Caught in the Stream, but you can also see my more narrowly focused views on the environment and climate change over at COOF.

In fact, my first specifically targeted COOF piece is up now, with all the irreverence to our dear leader Geoge W and his energy policy that you've come to expect. Check it out here:

Bush goes nuclear: what a waste

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A vastness, receding

I wrote the following poem for the Climate of Our Future blog. My post there (Lake Superior disappearing) includes both the explanation and inspiration behind it, in case it's too abstract.

A vastness, receding
by Francis Scudellari

A vastness, receding
Too far, ceding
Its depth, ceding
Its breath, ceasing

Fresh source, all life losing
Too soon, loosing
Vapor, loos’ning
Its grip, less’ned

Superior, slipping
Too low, sloping
Shallows, lifted
To be swallowed

Up-down cycles, breaking
To spirals, brought
Burdens, brokered
Its costs, broadened

A greatness, receded
To nothing, lost
Its essence, slipped
To bed, broken

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hoofing it through the City of Broad Shoulders

At the urging of my friend Maynard, a small group of us set out to walk from our little corner of Chicago on the far northside to the hustle and bustle of downtown. It's about a 10 mile trek from start to finish, but well worth it for the view of the city it provides, even on an overcast and rainy day.

Terry, Maynard, John and I followed the Lakefront path from Rogers Park, and made our way south through the city's various northside, lakeside neighborhoods.

It's a good way to rediscover the beauty and variety of the city we call home. From Belmont Harbor, to Oak Street Beach, to Olive Park, to the looming skyline, there are many wonderful facets of this jewel of a town to experience.

Arriving downtown, the cavernous skyscrapers take over the sight lines, towering over the pedestrians and cars that make there way through the concrete, steel and glass chasms. On a cloudy day like today, you certainly can see how they got their name.

Our final destination was Millennium Park, a relatively new addition to Chicago's list of attractions, with it's Frank Gehry designed band shell and the highly popular and reflective Cloud Gate sculpture.

Having achieved our goal for the day, we posed next to Millennium Monument, which includes the names of the park's "founders" etched in its base. Serendipitously, one of these luminaries has a surname very similar to Maynard's.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sowing birthday wishes for Octavia Butler

Sixty years ago today, Science Fiction author Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena, CA. Among her award-winning works, the novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents have an especially eerie resonance, taking the trends of our time and extending them into a dark vision of what may lie ahead.

The novels describe a dystopic near-future where American society has collapsed into chaos and repression. The protagonist of the pair, Lauren Olamina, begins her life in a LA surburban community, which has walled itself off from the the violence that surrounds it. It is an enclave with middle class pretentions in a world quickly polarizing into a few wealthy and masses of poor.

As a young woman with an illness that gives her extreme empathy, this daughter of a preacher develops her own theology based on the idea that "God is Change." She is forced out into the hostile world as her fortress town inevitably succumbs to the roving bands of homeless and addicted that beset it. Across the action of the two novels, she begins gathering disciples and building a new community called Earthseed that operates based on her religious principles. Lauren believes that it is mankind's destiny to leave the Earth and colonize outer space, and reaching the stars becomes the ultimate goal of Earthseed. They face many challenges along the way, including persecution at the hands of the federal government, which has been taken over by religious fundamentalists.

I'm a firm believer that we'll get the future we imagine for ourselves, and that's why I find it so unsettling to read such bleak forecasts. I don't fault the authors as it takes a tremendously optimistic and visionary writer to ovrcome the portents of the present. There is hope in Octavia Butler's fiction, but it's not one that will prevail easily. To achieve it, the characters have to overcome tremendous obstacles and persevere through great adversity. We can save ourselves such daunting tasks by trying to address the problems that plague our society sooner rather than later.

Feting Sartre's coming into Being from Nothingness

On June 21, 1905, French Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre made his appearance on the world's stage. In many ways he was a man after my own heart with a penchant for cafés, politics, philosophy, and literature.

In college, I studied both Sartre's philosophical and literary texts, and his existentialist view of the world has always appealed to me; jiving well with my inclination toward punk music. Existentialism includes a pretty rigid morality that emphasizes free will and judges everyone by their actions and choices. It also tries to explain the sense of alienation and anxiety that is a large part of the modern human condition.

Sartre wrote several plays and novels to help illustrate his philosophical points, including: The Flies, Dirty Hands, and No Exit. The last is probably his most famous, dealing with a twisted love triangle in the after-life where the only hell-like torture proves to be the thoughts and judgements of other people.

The most complete explanation of his philosophy exists in the work Being and Nothingness, and it's in that tome that Sartre lays out the terms of his arguments. In my own limited vocabulary, the basic concept is the impossibility of fully knowing ourselves and others, and the frustration that limitation causes. While we may comfort ourselves with the deception that we can guess the thoughts and motivations of others — often reducing them to simplistic categories that make sense to us — deep down we know that we can never truly grasp the complexity of human consciousness. So it is that we'll always end up tortured by our own doubts.

As proof of that mental complexity, my mind made the leap from Sartre to a favorite little ditty by the Velvet Undeground that also deals with self-knowledge. It's a happy little tune, and much more fun to get through than a long philosophical text.

I'll Be Your Mirror
by Lou Reed

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
Ill be the wind, the rain and the sun
The light on your door to show that youre home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you, I do

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty you are
But if you dont let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you, I do

I'll be your mirror

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Falling into carbon sinks

A study released yesterday by the International Energy Agency estimates that China has now surpassed the US in polluting carbon emissions (see China may lead in greenhouse gases from today's Los Angeles Times). Although some may take some solace in the US no longer being the lead global polluter, the drop in ranking has more to do with China's worsening environmental performance than any improvement on our end.

As far as the Earth, its sky and oceans are concerned, which country is worst matters less than the fact that these worldwide emissions are increasing. What one nation belches into the air will inevitably impact all of us. China has so far embraced economic growth at any cost, but it's reaching a point where the pollution is having such a grave affect on the health of its people and environment, as well as the rest of the world's, that it can't continue along that path. The article Dirty side of China's boom provides some scary details, including evidence that the air pollution is migrating to the west coast of the US.

An enforceable international protocal that finds a way forward to a sustainable economic model not reliant on carbon-based fuels is our only hope. The US and China wouldn't sign Kyoto, and we now see the result. As members of a democracy, the responsibility also belongs to us to hold our leaders accountable and compel them to act.

Deborah at Climate of Our Future pointed me to some articles that describe how our oceans act as "carbon sinks" (for a good summary, see the 2004 National Geographic article Oceans Found to Absorb Half of All Man-Made Carbon Dioxide), absorbing half the carbon dioxide that's spewed into our atmosphere. This has created a dampening affect and mitigated the affects of climate change so far. That's the good news.

The bad news is two-fold. The increased carbon content of our oceans has an adverse impact on the organisms living there — especially plankton, which sits at the bottom of the food chain and therefore is of critical importance to marine life. The oceans also can't keep absorbing carbon forever, and when they've reached their capacity they will no longer act as sinks. Then, we will see the affects of our rampant pollution in full bane — no longer held at bay.

The sink image was so strong for me, that I wrote a poem about it, which appears on Climate of Our Future and below. The urgency of the environmental cause is so great, I've also accepted Deborah's request to act as co-author of that blog.

Water drops
by Francis Scudellari

Water drops
le(a)d into water

Down, sinks to/o
burdened seas, un-told

One half, weighed
when whole, a world to/o

Oceans stretched

Carbon fed
(s)mothers life on life

Un-linked, chains
broken, an(d) un-known

When un-loosed
up, lost, our own un-

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

US Presidential Election or American Idol?

Hillary Clinton is running a spoof of the Sopranos finale on her campaign website (if you can't bring yourself to go there, you can also find it by searching YouTube) to announce her new theme song. It's getting lots of press coverage, and for that reason it can certainly be judged a successful tactic, but it's also symbolic of the depths to which our political process has sunk.

I personally think we should discard with the pretense of democratic elections and determine our Chief Executive in the same way fans vote for their dreamiest American Idol contestants: "Text the name of your favorite candidate to 1-800-USA-VOTE after these important messages from our corporate sponsors."

I'll give Ms. Clinton some style points for selecting the popular and stylistic HBO series as source material for her web ad, but the sad truth is she probably had very little to do with that decision or the execution of the piece. There is a large staff whose responsibility it is to handle such matters now. The candidates have been reduced to performers — wait for makeup and cue the teleprompter — and that fits our society well. The only public discourse that takes place anywhere these days is the water-cooler banter over the previous evening's television viewing.

American political campaigns are no longer about ideas or policy; they're about media packaging and the slickest spin. Americans want to be entertained, they don't want to be informed. When we accept information, we're obligated to act on it responsibly, and that's too risky and involving an exercise for most. It's much easier to idly complain about the state of things, switch on the TV, and poke fun at the silly vocalists.

Speaking of which, this whole process begs the question: Who the heck voted for Celine Dion? I know that American Idol enthusiasts are always theorizing about conspiracies to sabotage the program by selecting the worst possible contestant. I have to say, it's tempting to imagine a group of Hillary haters getting together to vote up the worst song choice. Of course, Hillary's folks are the ones who offered the schmaltzy song You and I as an option.

I do have some experience managing a political campaign, and I'll gladly give out some free advice to the presidential candidates still looking for an appropriate anthem: Check out Tim Fite's Away From The Snakes. There is one caveat — my candidate didn't actually win.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thoughtfully memed again: I think therefore I'm tagged

My good friend Deborah from Climate of Our Future has graciously awarded me a Thinking Blogger Award, which I'm proudly displaying in the sidebar. As well as an honor, it's a blog "meme" that was initiated by Ilker Yoldas at The Thinking Blog. As with all worthwhile gifts, it's one that is meant to be passed on to others (socially acceptable re-gifting).

For the uninitiated, here's a useful definition of meme that I grabbed from

Meme — A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
In this case, the idea that's being transmitted from blogger to blogger is a topic about which to post. For this particular meme, I'm listing 5 blogs that make me think (and that's a good thing, if you had any doubts). Climate of Our Future is certainly one, but here are the others:

Doc It Out - A blog on independent documentaries by Agnes Varnum

Masterpieces - Masterpieces of art, literature and architecture.

Politics, PR & Marketing - Musings on political communication, how it works, or doesn't, what it is and should be and reflections on what our leaders are saying and, importantly, how they say it!

Seacoast NRG - The blog hopes to inspire conservation and local action to the global issues of energy and climate change.

Uncomfortably Numb - Unless someone like you, cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.
There are a number of others I read regularly and take thoughtful inspiration from, including some that were already "tagged" (Nom de plume The 'Poetress' - Binding Ink is one example). I'll leave them for a future meme ... so be on the look out.

To these happy few, I extend a hearty virtual handshake, and the following rules on how to proceed from this jumping off point to fame:

Congratulations, you've won a !

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. I thought it would be appropriate to include them with the meme.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Monday, June 18, 2007

We need "energy independence" from all fossil fuels

Congress is working on an energy bill that the Democratic leadership has pledged to pass with measures to address climate change. Unfortunately for all of us, as one more proof of the Greg Palast book title The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, the fossil fuel lobbyists are trying to pay off our "representatives" in return for less taxing legislation.

Proponents of the perpetuation of polluting energy sources like to sell the American people on the idea of "energy independence." This misleading, propagandistic phrase has more to do with ensuring the protection of coal industry profits than the American economy. The scions of Capital who use it would like to sell us on the magic powers of the market to make all right with the world, but all they're really selling us is a bill of goods that will come due far too soon.

Here's an excerpt from the AP coverage of the story:

Lobbies Stymie Action on Energy
By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)- Three powerful lobbying forces - automakers, electric utilities and the coal industry - are confounding Democrats' efforts to forge a less-polluting energy policy.

Disputes over automobile fuel economy, use of coal as a motor fuel, and requirements for utilities to use more wind or biomass to generate electricity have threatened to stall energy legislation in both the Senate and House.

The issues have been the focus of intense lobbying by the coal industry, electric utilities heavily dependent on coal, and by automobile manufacturers trying to block new fuel economy requirements from Washington and in a dozen states.

Read the full article
These lobbyists may think they can buy our legislators, and they have ample precedent to go on, but the American people need to stand up and make sure they don't buy and sell our earth, sky and water. Our precious resources are not commodities to be exchanged by profiteers. They are the legacy we'll leave to our children, and theirs. Let's make sure that we leave them more than a wind swept hunk of dead rock.

Back in 1986, R.E.M. wrote a catchy little song that warned us of the very same thing. After 20 years, it still hasn't caught on.

Fall on Me by R.E.M.

There's a problem, feathers iron
Bargain buildings, weights and pullies
Feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air
Buy the sky and sell the sky and tell the sky and tell the sky

Don't fall on me (what is it up in the air for) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it's there for long) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (it's over it's over me) (it's gonna fall)

There's the progress we have found (when the rain)
A way to talk around the problem (when the children reign)
Building towered foresight (keep your conscience in the dark)
Isn't anything at all (melt the statues in the park)
Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky

Don't fall on me (what is it up in the air for) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it's there for long) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (it's over it's over me) (it's gonna fall)

Well I could keep it above
But then it wouldn't be sky anymore
So if I send it to you you've got to promise to keep it whole

Buy the sky and sell the sky and lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky and ask the sky

Don't fall on me (what is it up in the air for) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it's there for long) (it's gonna fall)
Fall on me (it's over it's over me) (it's gonna fall)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Today in History: Lady Liberty arrives in the US

On this date in 1885, "Liberty Enlightening the World," the colossal monument to human freedom that would become popularized as the Statue of Liberty, came ashore in New York. As someone whose relatives made the same journey across the Atlantic, I consider it an occasion worth commemorating.

Because her raised torch was the first sight to greet immigrants making the long trip by sea in the first half of the 20th Century, the statue took on an added significance. It became a welcoming symbol to the downtrodden across the globe who sought refuge from economic and political hard times. It stands majestically as an icon to the best American qualities of tolerance, compassion and generosity.

It's appropriate that she arrived in 214 crates worth of pieces. Her assembly in New York's harbor is an apt metaphor for the immigrants who entered Ellis island to go on to reconstruct broken lives and families in this new world. The experience would forever change them, and they would go on to change our society for the better by contributing to its many economic successes.

In 1903, a bronze plaque inscribed with a sonnet by Emma Lazarus was installed inside the statue. Its words have been linked with the statue's image ever since. Unfortunately, their echoes have grown faint in the mind of some recent agitaters who have been scapegoating immigrants for every modern social ill. Here is the full text of the poem, which I hope will reawaken an understanding of what Lady Liberty and our country truly stand for:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

A wall that brings the community together

I didn't blog much this weekend, because I was busy participating in Rogers Park's Artists of the Wall festival. My friends and I joined our fellow neighbors in beautifying our lakefront with a little artistic expression.

The concrete wall that runs along the beach's bike path is re-painted each summer, and local residents get to apply their interpretations of the festival theme to a section of it. Even the light poles can be fair game.

This year, the task was to paint guided by the idea of "Our Secret Garden" and it produced some wonderful results. One of my personal favorites is the Space Alien in full gardening regalia turning the soil out at Area 51 (too bad they couldn't have arranged to get the actual spot no. 51).

The atmosphere out at the lake was festive, despite the heat. Prayer flags were raised on the beach adding even more color to the event.

My good friend and great artist George Kokines directed his grandson Jeremy and granddaughter Lara in a wonderful Jackson Pollock inspired piece. I even got to contribute a few brushstrokes, flings and drips. Unfortunately my poor attempt at a picture doesn't do it justice.

Finally, the piece that consumed most of my time Sunday. In cahoots with my friends Jim Ginderske and Tom Westgard, we painted the Rogers Park flag. It might not look like much, but trust me that star was a real challenge.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Favorite Song of the Day: Garden of Earthly Delights

This weekend my little corner of the world — Rogers Park in Chicago — is hosting the 14th annual "Artists of the Wall" festival. It's one of the highlights of the summer in the neighborhood, as artists of all ages and abilities paint the 500 foot concrete bench that lines the lakefront bikepath at Loyola Park beach. There's good music, fine eats, and a real sense of community as we splash paint on the sittable wall and each other.

I'll be out there in the sunshine trying to execute a design that exemplifies this year's theme: Our Secret Garden. To get myself in the proper mindset, I'm listening to an old favorite by XTC. It's only very loosely connected to garden imagery, but that's ok because it's about living in the moment, which is what I've been doing a lot of lately. It's certainly what I'll be doing tomorrow and, when I'm done painting, the finished product is also likely to be loosely connected to the day's theme.

Garden of Earthly Delights
by Andy Partridge

Kid, stay and snip your cord off. Talk and let your mind loose. Can't all think like Chekov but you'll be ok. Kid is this your first time here? Some can't stand the beauty, so they cut off one ear, but you'll be ok.

Welcome to the Garden of Earthly Delights. Welcome to a billion Arabian nights. This is your life and you do what you want to do. This is your life and you spend it all. This is your life and you do what you want to do; just don't hurt nobody. And the big rewards here, in the Garden of Earthly Delights.

Kid, pick up with another, some will even drop you, but hearts are built like rubber, so you'll be alright. Kid, swallow but believe us, you won't die of boredom, should you have to leave us, it'll be alright.

Welcome to the Garden of Earthly Delights. Welcome to a billion Arabian nights. This is your life and you be what you want to be. This is your life and you try it all. This is your life and you be what you want to be; just don't hurt nobody, less of course they ask you, in the Garden of Earthly Delights.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tag: I'm It

My good friend Zephyr tagged me with the "8 Random Facts" blog meme. In case you haven't seen one of these before, it's a viral post where you write on a common theme and then "tag" other bloggers to do the same. It's like a chain letter, but a little more fun and there are no promises of great wealth or good fortune for participation — nor any penalty for not playing.

I'm going to add a little different twist to mine. Since the facts about me are all pretty trivial, I'm going to make you work for the answers by putting them in trivia question form.

First the Rules, then my 8 facts (that's actually one of the rules):

  • Post the rules before you give your facts.

  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

  • Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

1. I was born in this city that is part of the continental U.S., but does not belong to any of the 50 states. (See the answer)

2. For my confirmation name (selecting an additional name is part of Catholicism's coming of age ritual), I chose the moniker of this archangel who expelled Lucifer from heaven. (See the answer)

3. I have a Masters Degree in Literature from Northwestern University and wrote my thesis on the plays The Tempest and Measure for Measure by this English playwright. (See the answer)

4. I currently live in this city, which was once referred to as the "Hog butcher to the world." (See the answer)

5. My two pug dogs are named after Albert and Lucy Parsons who were labor activists involved in this controversial event from my hometown's history. (See the answer)

6. One of my all-time favorite movies was directed by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers, and features a crazy army officer who believes the fluoridation of drinking water was part of a communist plot. (See the answer)

7. I am a bit of a sports nut and, befitting a Catholic inclination toward suffering, I waste a lot of time rooting for this baseball team that hasn't won the World Series in almost a century. (See the answer)

8. I'm also a big music fan, and one of the most memorable concerts I ever attended was the farewell tour of this band whose song "That's Entertainment" was featured in the film Stranger Than Fiction, which I recently blogged about. (See the answer)

Now for the really hard part ... tagging some fellow bloggers. I'm selecting the sites of bloggers whose work I check out regularly and who I hope will be open to carrying on this little exercise. I know how hard it is to come up with 8 more names, as this little monster spreads out its tentacles, so if you want to leave that last bit out and just give us your facts (ma'am), that's more than sufficient.

Brown Thoughts
The Coffee House
Let's Share ...
Rogers Park Rake
So Damned Tired
South Side Star
Usman's World

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flagging enthusiasm

Today, June 14th, is Flag Day. Like any other abstraction, our national flag can be used to either separate or unite people, and that outcome is dependent upon the particular ideas being promoted by those who adopt it. My predilection is to use it in the way originally intended by our forefathers, who saw the flag as symbolic of the ideals of democracy and human freedom for which they hoped the country would become a beacon.

Flag Day itself commemorates the day in 1777 that the Continental Congress adopted the flag known as the "Stars and Stripes." has a lot of good background information on the design and history of the flag — click here for the article.

Here is the wording of the resolution passed by that Congress:

Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.
The symbols of those stars and stripes are very important, and the ideals for which they stand have inspired people around the world to accomplish great things over the 230 years that the flag has evolved. The field of stripes represent the rebellious original 13 colonies and their stand for independence against imperialism. The "canton" of white stars on a blue background was to be the constellation by which others would navigate their way toward democracy and the principles of human freedom, equality and dignity that the political system was meant to safeguard.

Of course the flag has been used for more sinister, selfish and restrictive purposes over the years. Many have used it as a symbol of narrowing nationalism, meant to separate the established from the new comer. Others have used it as a symbol of a new kind of economic imperialism, the standard under which peoples in foreign lands would be exploited and manipulated.

With the current immigration debate hotly raging aross the country and beyond our borders, it's more important than ever for us to reclaim the original symbolism of our flag and use it as it was intended. Not as a way to play ourselves against others, or to promote the ridiculous notion that we are inherently better than competing nations, but to unite all those around the world who value equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Evolutionary trivia: Darwin started out a Creationist

Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History this week opens a temporary exhibit dedicated to the life of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution that will always be linked to him. Amazingly almost 150 years after he first formally published On The Origin of Species, religious zealots are still attacking his theory and promoting their Creationist doctrine that dates the Earth's genesis to the 6,000 years of Biblical accounting in defiance of all scientific evidence.

Among the details revealed in the traveling exhibit is the fascinating tidbit that Darwin boarded the Beagle as a Creationist, but his worldview was forever altered by his observations of flora and fauna on the ship's tour of South America. Maybe that should give us hope that the battle is not yet lost, and the majority of Americans will come to their senses once they get past their religious misleaders' empty rhetoric and examine the scientific record.

The Chicago Tribune has a good article summarizing the exhibit and what it depicts of Charles Darwin's life and work. Here is an excerpt (the linked article may require a log-in):

New Field exhibit takes on Darwin detractors
By William Mullen

... Darwin believed in creationism as he studied for the ministry in college, though he was more attracted to scientific pursuits, including geology and beetle collecting. Those interests won him his spot on the Beagle voyage months after he graduated in 1831.

As he filled notebooks with scientific observations while traveling the coasts of South America, Darwin's religious doubts grew.

Geological formations he saw showed the world to be millions and billions of years old, not thousands. Plant and animal specimens he collected, both living and fossilized, suggested species constantly adapting to changing environments. ...

Read the full article

Today in History: The first coming of W. B. Yeats

If you watched the Sopranos series finale, you may remember that Tony's kid AJ made a bumbling reference to the renowned Irish literary figure William Butler Yeats. The line he quoted is from the poem "The Second Coming," and despite Anthony Jr.'s ability to twist things to his warped purposes (a hereditary trait), the verse does have resonance for our time.

Coincidentally (perhaps), 151 years ago today, on June 13, 1856, Yeats took his first breath in Dublin. Yeats believed that history unfolds in 2,000 year cycles and the poem imagines a rather dark transition to a new era, which the poet felt was already underway at the time of its writing in 1920. Certainly in the aftermath of World War I there was an apocalyptic dread gripping all of Europe.

Although I don't believe in such a tidy cyclical reading of history, I do believe that we are in the midst of a threshold moment. The old order is slipping away, and new forces are emerging that will define what takes its place. Yeats saw the dark potential for this changing of the guard, as the "rough beast ... slouches toward Bethlehem." That threat is evident today with the prevailing portents of catastrophic climate change, pandemics, and wars wrought by religious and ideological extremists.

Along with those reasons for pessimism, however, there is a great opportunity to remake our world in a positive way based on the powerful technologies arising. The potential is there for a truly democratic, healthy and sustainable society, but it's something we'll have to work very hard to win.

The Wikipedia article on the poem has some interesting background detail. Here is the full text:

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ancient Rome rises again ... stay tuned for its fall

A team of scholars and computer experts has created a simulation of ancient Rome that will help give visitors a sense of the city's architecture and living arrangements circa 320 AD. The creators refer to the site as a form of virtual time travel, and it could easily set a precedent for recreations of other places and eras.

It's been said that "history is written by the victors," but maybe that old saw will have to be revised to "history is recreated by the computer geeks." It will be interesting to see what other projects flow from this. Will there be competing versions of the same virtual worlds told from different perspectives? Will the presenters try to slant the portrayals of the simulated places to promote a particular political or philosophical world? Time will tell ... and the nature of the technology ensures that the possibilities are endless.

Personally, I would find it much more interesting if such a simulation was presented as a MMORPG (massively mutiplayer online role playing game, for the non-geeks out there) such as Second Life, where people could attempt to live virtually in that time and place. Of course, if such a virtual society were allowed to develop on its own, we might see it diverge quite noticably from the actual history. Maybe someone will create virtual Barbarian hordes to precipitate the fall of Rome once again.

You can learn more about the project at the Rome Reborn 1.0 Website

Here is an excerpt from the AP story on the Washington Post website:

Ancient Rome Is Rebuilt Digitally
By ARIEL DAVID, The Associated Press

ROME -- Computer experts on Monday unveiled a digital reproduction of ancient Rome as it appeared at the peak of its power in A.D. 320 — what they called the largest and most complete simulation of a historic city ever created.

Visitors to virtual Rome will be able to do even more than ancient Romans did: They can crawl through the bowels of the Colosseum, filled with lion cages and primitive elevators, and fly up for a detailed look at bas-reliefs and inscriptions atop triumphal arches.

"This is the first step in the creation of a virtual time machine, which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome and many other great cities around the world," said Bernard Frischer of the University of Virginia, who led the project.

Read the full article

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sopranos Finale: We all got whacked

If you didn't see the Sopranos finale on HBO last night, do yourself a favor and bookmark this post until after you've seen it.

From talking with other fans, I know that many were disappointed with the surprisingly open-ended finish. After a suspenseful ride in the back seat of the mob franchise these past several years, never quite sure where we were being taken or how we'd make it through, I have to say that the ending struck me as quite fitting.

Just as Tony turned the tables on New York boss Phil Leotardo last night, emerging from another confrontation once again personally unscathed, so too did David Chase pull a reversal on us the viewers. Ultimately, we got whacked instead of the members of the nuclear (both in temprament and intimacy) family that we grew so "connected" to over the past seven seasons.

Life will go on in the Sopranos warped little corner of New Jersey, but we won't be a part of it. Tony will lie, cheat, steal, gamble and kill again — and he'll find a new therapist to con about his remorsefulness. Carmella will build a new spec house, and look the other way as her husband misbehaves. AJ and Meadow will pursue their own careers, all the while never straying too far from the "life" that is their thing (certanly no longer "costra nostra" for us viewers). Junior will waste away in the state hospital. Janice will find a new husband. Pauly will take over the dealings with the New York operation. Silvio may or may not pull through and rejoin the inner circle. But when Meadow opened the door to that diner, our time was up.

I have to tip my hat to the playful way Chase teased us throughout the suspenseful final scene. We looked over our collective shoulders at the shady characters coming and going through the diner, waiting to see who was going to give what we knew someone was going to get. Little did we know it was us our number that was up, and with the silence and sudden blackness that always falls upon the slain, our window into the the world of the Sopranos was abruptly shut.

Art for a change: contribute what you can

Yesterday I was commissioned to write a poem by Zephyr at the Climate of Our Future blog. She asked me to put pen to paper, which I hadn't done in a few years, and portray the urgency of our current environmental crisis. I was humbled to help out in such a great cause and, hack that I am, was able to craft something in pretty short order.

You can see the results, along with Zephyr's very generous intro here.

I'm a firm believer in the power of art to change the world. I certainly don't expect my piece to make much of an impact, but I'd like to see all the artists I know contribute something on this theme, no matter the scale or the media, which could make a surprising difference in transforming people's thinking.

(S)Mothered Earth
by Francis Scudellari

He, his appetites always indulging
Hording each crumb, grasping, clinging
Corpulent, expanding
Never quite full

She, her beauty spread thin, her bounty laid
Bare, unable to provide for
Children ever growing
Never feeding

He, unable , unwilling to act, sits
Listless aimless, averting his eyes
Denying, refusing
Never quite sure

She, her temper flaring, her mood changing
Violent, unstable, punishing
Children ever quiv'ring
Never moth'ring

Childless, she turns
Her back on, him, them, us
Receding, cold, distant, weathered
No longer owning, knowing, her late self

Alone, gazing
Out a glass, frosted o'er
Mirrored, reflecting, a face now
Withered, not his own. He knows: It's too late.

2007 Blues Fest: Parting Shots

The 24th annual Chicago Blues Festival wrapped up on Sunday, and I took a few pictures to commemorate the wonderful acts I witnessed. There was much more that I didn't witness, but you can't be everywhere at once, and it was the night of the Sopranos finale after all.

It started out at the Front Porch stage again for a sampling of Piedmont Blues from Cephas and Wiggins.

I managed to sneak over to the Juke Joint stage for a quick taste of Bobby Rush's solo performance.

Then it was back to stoop at the Front Porch where legendary blues harpist James Cotton was rocking the house.

My day ended at the Louisiana stage with the Delta blues sound of acoustic guitarist David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who has been spinning his magic since the time of Robert Johnson.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wildly Happy Wishes for Maurice Sendak's Birthday

Today marks the 79th birthday of Maurice Sendak, author of my favorite children's book Where the Wild Things Are. It was published in 1963, which synchronistically is the year of my own birth. I remember being captivated by the creatures in the book as I paged through it at an early age, not even bothering to read the text at first. I certainly identified with, and was quite envious of Max as he found himself in the midst of a scary but thrilling adventure among the big beasts of his imagination.

As an adult, I was able to see a performance in Chicago of the operatic version of the story, with a libretto by Sendak himself. It was a great pleasure to see the Wild Things step onto the stage in their full, bigger-than-life glory.

Packed away, I have a box of plastic Wild Things figurines awaiting a proper display case. That might be a good metaphor for where my life is at right now. I'm still looking for that scary but thrilling adventure, where I can travel off to the land of the Wild Things, prove my mettle among them, and return home to a delayed, but still-warm supper.

Pope bows down to Bush, and we all feel a little dirtier

Pope Benedict XVI continues to impress with his ability to stand up for the status quo, embrace the powerful, and dismiss the oppressed. He's certainly filling the shoes of St. Peter quite nobly (please insert sarcastic tone).

The Pope met with Emperor George W yesterday at the Vatican, and there was no need to flip a coin to see who would kiss the other's ring first. Benny already had his lips pursed.

Below is an excerpt from the Washington Post story on the meeting (and the link to the full text, as always). I picked three paragraphs that I found particularly insightful.

First, there's the narrowly focused bit about being concerned for Christians in Iraq. Granted he is a Christian leader, but shouldn't a truly religious man concern himself with the well-being of all people regardless of race or creed? Innocents are dying in Iraq and that should be the operative issue, no matter where they line up for services. I'm not a Biblical scholar by any means, but the Gospel stories I recall from my Catholic upbringing certainly depicted Jesus taking unto himself the poor, sick and downtrodden — and he didn't inquire as to their particular religious beliefs before helping them. Of course, there were no Christians then, per se.

Second, there is the exhibition of extreme bravery in making nice with a leader whose pursuit of war you've previously questioned. It points out the political nature of the Vatican — it's not just about faith and morality, and of course never has been. Does anyone really buy the "Just War" theory on Iraq anymore? Is the naked pursuit of geo-political advantage through open aggression something that Jesus blessed in his short time on earth? I guess I missed that sermon.

Finally, to top off my Sunday with a cherry, there is the wonderful juxtaposition of the Pope bowing down before the Emperor as the Bush administration is accused of overseeing human rights violations through rendition and torture. George did boast about the nickel he tossed in Africa's collection plate during the G8 summit. He forgot to bring up his sin of omission on climate change, however. The Pope may want to take confession after this particularly dirty little visit, or atleast undergo a thorough scrubbing — the body is much easier to clean than the soul. His opinions on doctrinal questions may be considered infallible, but he certainly errs in the company he chooses to keep.

Pope Tells Bush of His Concern About Safety of Iraq's Christians
By Michael A. Fletcher

President Bush met Saturday for the first time with Pope Benedict XVI, who the Vatican said expressed concern about "the worrying situation in Iraq," especially the deteriorating plight of Christians there. ...

The Vatican has been critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but both sides said they did not dwell on those differences Saturday. ...

Just before Bush arrived in Rome on Friday, a court in the northern Italian city of Milan opened the trial of 26 Americans who Italian prosecutors say are CIA operatives who kidnapped an Egyptian cleric in 2003 in Milan and sent him to Egypt. None of the Americans has come to Italy for the trial, which has become a point of friction between the United States and Italy.

Read the full article

2007 Blues Fest Photos

Here are a few shots from Friday's Chicago Blues Festival. Nothing spectacular, but it'll give you a good sense of the fun in the sun at Grant Park.

We started the day at the "Front Porch" stage, which is tucked away in a tree-lined clearing. We took in the sounds of the Lurrie Bell Blues Band as we tossed back a cold one (or two) and enjoyed the scenery.

Then it was off to the Petrillo Band Shell for the evening's main event: the 30th anniversary reunion of Billy Branch's Sons of Blues.

With the always impressive Chicago skyline looming to the north and west of the park, it's a spectacular venue to experience great live music.

A good time was definitely had by all.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Favorite Song of the Day: Trouble In Mind

Today I'm going to be stepping away from the computer for an extended period of time to enjoy a warm summer day on Chicago's lakefront listening to some wonderful free music. We're in the midst of the 24th annual Chicago Blues Festival, and it's an event that for me truly marks the start of the season. There's no better way to experience the city than to sit among the diverse crowds soaking in the sunshine and the music that's become one of Chicago's signature sounds.

Certain to be among the many standards played down in Grant Park will be the Big Bill Broonzy tune Trouble In Mind. It's a song that's appropriate to this moment on a few different levels. I've certainly got troubles personal, psychological, philosophical and political swirling around my gray matter — and I know that my thoughts will settle down into a sunny calm one day. The acoustic duo Cephas and Wiggins does a great version, and I'll be hoping to hear it from them on Sunday. As they play it, my mind will certainly feel far removed from the daily grind of life in the big city.

Here's one version of the song ... each take on it is a little different.

Trouble In Mind
by Bill Broonzy

Trouble in mind, I am blue,
But I won't be blue always
Well the sun's gonna shine in my back door some day

I'm gonna lay my head,
On that lonesome railroad line,
And let that 2:19 pacify my mind

I'm all alone at midnight,
And my lamp is turned down low
Never had so much trouble in my life before

I'm gonna lay my head,
On that lonesome railroad track
When I hear that whistle, Lord, I'm gonna pull it back

You've been a hardheaded mamma,
And you sure treat me unkind
I'll be your hardheaded daddy, I swear I'll make you lose your mind

Look here, sweet mamma,
See what you have done
Well, you made me love you, and now your regular man done come

Trouble in mind, I am blue,
Trouble on my, on my mind
When you hear me laughing, I'm laughing to keep from crying

Trouble in mind, I am blue,
But I won't be blue always
Well the sun's gonna shine in my back door some day

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Today in History: Happy Birthday Gwendolyn Brooks

Ninety years ago today, the much lauded and loved Chicago-based poet Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas. She is probably best known for her poem We Real Cool, and there's a wonderful audio clip available on the site (click here) of her describing the inspiration for the piece and the misguided controversy it caused.

It's a poem that still has resonance on the far Northside of Chicago where I live. The sight of groups of young men cutting school and thumbing their nose at authority is not uncommon here, and in other parts of the city. Unfortunately, the sense that they don't have much of a future in this society is also still pretty prevalent. It's certainly a failing that we as a city and a country need to do a better job addressing.

Here's the poem:

We Real Cool

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Martian Chronicles: A hole and a whole lot more

Scientists have made a discovery on Mars that may have implications on the search for life there. It also may prove to be a first step toward colonization, a possibility that has captivated science fiction writers going back to Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of a black spot that researchers think may be an entrance to a cave. Depending on how deep it goes, such a cavern could be an auspicious environment to harbor some form of life. It also might make an amenable place to set up camp for explorers.

Here's a bit of the story from, plus the link to the full text:

Deep Hole Found on Mars
By Leonard David

A very dark spot on Mars could be an entrance to a deep hole or cavern, according to scientists studying imagery taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The geological oddity measures some 330 feet (100 meters) across and is located on an otherwise bright dusty lava plain to the northeast of Arsia Mons, one of the four giant Tharsis volcanoes on the red planet.

The hole might be the sort of place that could support life or serve as a habitat for future astronauts, researchers speculated.

Read the full article
Beyond the hole, you can look at a whole series of amazingly detailed images taken by the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, which are now available on a web site hosted by the University of Arizona. Check them out here and you'll see why writers have fantasized about the mysteries lying within our red planetary neighbor.