Here’s a summary: Artificial intelligence has been imagined as powerful, intelligent, and autonomous (independent of human prejudices, power relations, etc.). While it is definitely powerful, it is neither intelligent nor autonomous. Benevolent use of AI calls for critical, socially engaged intelligence on the part of both technologists and ordinary citizens.
In 1986, Vladimir Horowitz, came out of depression and semi-retirement. He re-entered Moscow after 61 years to deliver one of the best piano concerts ever.
A PBS special includes much of the actual performance and fascinating background on the politics, his personal life, and the music. I enjoyed it on many levels.
My Dad would have loved it, too. He had died 17 years earlier, but he was a big fan of Horowitz’s, and of course Steinways, which he sold in his piano store. He also hated and feared the USSR. He would have totally understood the requirement to have Horowitz’s personal Steinway shipped to Moscow under Marine Corps guard.
I like the fact that Horowitz, especially this late Horowitz, chose mostly intermediate level pieces, especially the Chopin and the Mozart. I can at least play at many of them, but he shows how they can really be played. I’ve been working on the Schumann Träumerai (near the end) for 67 years. Listening to this concert just made it better.
Horowitz didn’t strive for virtuosity (the “pyrotechnics”) as many young, modern performers do. He lets the music speak. He makes more mistakes than most champion performers would do, but they’re totally immaterial. As some of the commentators point out, he never forces the notes.
The show is available through PBS online until February 20 (click on the image above). I hope you enjoy it.
These photos are from our trip taking Emily and Stephen to their homes in Minnesota and New York.
In these covid times, any travel is of course a luxury and a risk. However, we felt that van camping in remote areas was safer than travel by other means. We were uncomfortably close to bears and mosquitoes, but far from other people who might be infected by us or infect us. We essentially quarantined the whole way.
The photos below represent just the portion from our four-day expedition along the Raquette River and Stoney Creek in the Adirondacks. The first photo is the Cardinal Flower that punctuated our views along the streams and rivers.
Have you traveled there? It’s a wonderful natural resource, beautiful and diverse, larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Glacier National Parks combined. Or, put another way, it’s about the same size or larger than any New England state except Maine.
Here’s our base camp near where Stoney Creek enters the Raquette River.
Base camp along Stoney Creek
It was warm enough at times to swim, but often chilly. By early morning the air temperature would drop to near 40 °F.
We hired canoes from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters. We had all the needed equipment, but it would have complicated our travel considerably to transport it all for three weeks. They provided foam blocks, straps, and ropes to tie the canoes on to the roof tops of the Subaru and the Vanagain. Their guy even did the initial tie-downs. We then made use of their ropes for clotheslines and painters.
Once we were in the base camp we just turned the canoes over each night at out site. We used the paddles to make a hanging rack for the pfd’s and our hats.
The Raquette River is beautiful, with some majestic falls upstream a ways.
The photo below shows our brush with fame in 2005. It was a lovely Paris evening in her home near the Bois de Boulogne. There was too much champagne and the cocktail hour extended from 7-10.
The second photo is a closeup of Susan’s mother with Olivia. They had attended the same tiny grade school in Saratoga, CA; Rhoda was in the grade with Joan Fontaine, Olivia’s younger sister. But Olivia is the sister she maintained the most contact with.
At the cocktail party they agreed that the shade of paint used on the recent high school renovation was far too garish.
For our family, any movie starring Olivia De Havilland is special. In case you don’t know, we go way back.
In grammar school, Olivia was just a year ahead of Susan’s mother, Rhoda, who was in the same grade as Jane Eyre, aka Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine. They maintained a connection ever after.
On the other side, my mother felt a special connection to Olivia, because she had attended college in Milledgeville, Georgia, the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. The movie version (1939) featured Olivia as Melanie.
Both the book and the movie romanticize the antebellum South, the “Lost Cause,” and the horrors of slavery. Although Olivia was acclaimed for her role and made no protest at the time, I like to think that she would have later recognized and agreed with many of the current critiques of the movie.
Olivia’s son Benjamin was my age, and in graduate school at the University of Texas when I was. He was in Mathematics while I was in Computer Science. I don’t remember him, but it’s possible that we were in some classes together.
Benjamin died at age 42. Once Olivia realized that he and I had even a tenuous connection it seemed that she and I had suddenly become close friends.
Commitment to justice
Throughout her career, Olivia exemplified both excellent acting and a commitment to helping others. She sought roles that expanded artistic limits, but also promoted social good.
Although she was acclaimed for her role as Melanie, co-starring with Errol Flynn, and her Oscars for “To Each His Own” (1946) and “The Heiress” (1949), she was critical of the social impact of filmmaking in the Hollywood star system and sought to break out of the racism and sexism in both the industry and the movies themselves.
She was successful in a lawsuit to secure greater creative freedom for performers. This led to the De Havilland law, which imposes a seven-year limit on contracts for service.
Among Olivia’s many civic contributions in Paris were her devotion to the American Library and to Les Arts George V at the American Cathedral. Later, she gave us tickets to concerts there. I especially remember a Harold Arlen retrospective.
Olivia was a good and generous person, in addition to her notable talents as actor and entertainer. I’m glad that I got to know her at least a little.
Like other races, the Wellfleet Road Race is still happening, still raising money for a good cause. In this case, that cause is the Wellfleet Recreation Department summer program.
But it’s no longer a gathering of 300 or so people at Mayo Beach, and running for five miles, breathing hard at close quarters. Instead, participants register as usual, pick up a cool, new t-shirt, select a route for the required distance, run or walk, and record their times online.
Chances of winning go up since there are fewer participants. The race also has ample categories for gender, age, running versus walking, and Wellfleet residents. I’m fairly sure that I’m the only one in the male walker, Wellfleet resident, over 70 category, so I have a good shot at winning!
Today, our family entered this great race. I wanted to deduct some time for including Snake Creek Road in our route, since it’s become rough and overgrown.
In these locked-up times we miss large gatherings, concerts, dining out, and social visits. Many of us have lost jobs and contact with loved ones. It’s easy to assume that all our social interactions must be through Zoom, our meditations guided by YouTube, and our thinking trapped in endless narratives of the end-of-times.
However, the natural world remains to explore and enjoy. We can still watch the unceasing but ever-changing waves at the beach, walk through forests, listen to birds, check out the bees in the new bee house, and watch adorable rabbits eating our recently planted vegetables. With fewer cars and trucks travelling long distances the air is cleaner and living things are flourishing.
In his book, Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.” Rousseau’s walking was in the woods, not on a treadmill or in a shopping mall. His journeys remind us that our life cannot be separated from the natural world.
Walking in nature can be a social activity as well (six feet apart, of course). Informal connection can be deeper and more attuned to the needs we all feel in these times. We may still feel lost, but we have a chance to find both others and ourselves when we remember our role in nature.
The Trust asked supporters, trustees, and other lovers of nature what particular consolation from nature they are finding during these Covid times. You can see some of the responses in the June 2020 newsletter.
This book offers a new perspective on learning that is integrated and connected to lived experience. It presents a model for salient characteristics of both biological and pedagogical ecosystems, involving diversity, interaction, emergence, construction, and interpretation.
Examples from around the world show how learning can be made more whole and relevant. The book should be valuable to educators, parents, policy makers, and anyone interested in democratic education.
Foreword by John Pecore, University of West Florida
For the 17th year, Wellfleet hosted its State of the Harbor Conference. It was held at the Wellfleet Elementary School on a beautiful, sunny, fall day––Saturday, November 2, 2019.
Participants included ordinary citizens, fishermen, students from K-12 through graduate school, town officials, and staff of the Mass Audubon, the National Park Service, the Center for Coastal Studies, Wellfleet Conservation Trust, and other organizations. They came to report on what they are learning about the ecosystem of the harbor.
There was coffee, snacks, and ample time for informal discussions as well. Americorps workers focusing on the environment helped with the organization, logistics, and even serving Mac’s clam chowder for the lunch.
Q/A with Martha Craig and Kirk Bozma on Herring River restoration
On Sunday, there was a follow-up field trip to look at Wellfleet Harbor’s history and its “black mayonnaise”.
Interactions Within Ecosystems
As was the case in previous years, this was a learning event throughout.
Continuing what’s now a 17-year tradition, the conference showed the complex connections between humans and other living things including phytoplankton, striped bass, menhaden, horseshoe crabs, oysters, quahogs, seals, terrapins, molas (sunfish), phragmites, bacteria, protozoa, resident and migrating birds, as well as the land, sea, and air.
Presenters discussed ideas that went beyond the everyday understanding of harbor ecosystems. These ideas included bioturbation––the disturbance of soil, especially on the sea floor by organisms such as crabs and other invertebrates. There was talk of organism lipid levels as a measure of their nutrient value for predators. One poster emphasized the rise in Mola mola population attributable to increased numbers of jellyfish.
John Brault with Krill Carson’s poster on the Mola explosion
One presentation discussed a major meta-analysis of ocean phenology studies. This research looks at when significant events such as spawning, migration, or molting, occur in an organism’s life cycle. Those times are shifting as a result of global heating, changes in ocean currents and nutrient availability. In some cases there are critical mismatches between the cycle for a predator species and its prey, which has major consequences for both and for the larger ecosystem. A population may increase earlier than in the past, but its food source doesn’t necessarily match up with that.
Correlating sightings of right whales with copepod density
Most notably, the Conference considered the impact of these diverse aspects of nature on people and vice versa. In every presentation or poster, one could see major ways in which human activity affects other aspects of nature.
The Harbor Conference is a good example of how to improve what Doug Schuler calls civic intelligence, becoming more aware of the resources in our community, learning of its problems, finding ways to work together, and developing civic responsibility.
In any locality, civic intelligence is inseparable from the nature all around. But in Wellfleet this connection is more evident than in most. Every issue––transportation, affordable housing, employment, health care, fishing and shellfishing, waste management, history, and more––affects and is affected by our capacity to live sustainably. The harbor and the surrounding ocean, rivers, and uplands are deeply embedded with that.
There is a depressing theme through much of the Conference. The studies reported in detail on the many ways that humans damage the beautiful world we inhabit, through greenhouse gas emissions causing global heating and higher acidity, increased storm activity, and sea level rise. There is pollution of many kinds, black mayonnaise, and habitat destruction.
Mark Faherty offered a promising note for the horseshoe crab population. But even it has a downside: As the whelk population falls there will be less call on horseshoe crabs as bait, so that may help their recovery.
Nevertheless, it is inspiring to see the dedication of people trying to preserve what we can, and to learn so much about the ecology of the unique region of Wellfleet Harbor.
Maps for Learning
A striking feature of every presentation and poster was the use of maps. These included maps showing tidal flows, migration patterns, seasonal variations, sediment accumulation, human-made structures, and much more.
Maps of process and monitoring
If we extend the idea of maps to visual displays of information, then it evident that even more maps were used. These included flowcharts for processes such as the one for adaptive management shown above, organization charts, and timelines for events in temporal sequences.
1887 Map of Wellfleet
The maps are not only for communication of results. They are also a useful tool for the research itself. The most useful applications involved overlays of maps or comparisons of maps from different situations or times.
As an example, the population of horseshoe crabs could be compared with the management practices in a given area. Is the harvest restricted to avoiding the days around the new and full moon? Can they be harvested for medical purposes? For bait? The impact of different regulatory practices across time and place could easily be seen in graphical displays.
The Conference as a Site for Learning
You would find similar activities at many conferences. But the Harbor Conference stands out in terms of the cross-professional dialogue, the collaborative spirit among presenters and audience, and the ways that knowledge creation is so integrated with daily experience and action in the world.
This learning is not in a school or a university; there are no grades or certificates of completion. There are no “teachers” or “students” per se. However, by engaging with nature along with our fellow community members, conference attendees explore disciplines of history, statistics, politics, commerce, geology, biology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, and more.
Nature itself is the curriculum guide. It is also the ultimate examiner.
[Note: This text will be cross-posted on the Wellfleet Conservation Trust blog.]
Jane Addams’s Democracy and Social Ethics is a fascinating book. Although it was written in 1902, it has a surprising relevance for today.
A major contribution to philosophy, the book develops a theory of social ethics, which extends classical theories oriented toward individual virtues and actions. For social policy it offers ways to think about issues such as racism, immigration, economic injustice, democracy, and social improvement. The abstract ideas are linked to Addams’s own concrete work with Hull-House in Chicago.
Unfortunately, her work is not nearly as well known within the US as it should be. Speakers of languages other than English rarely encounter her work.
Bernard Jung and Céline Jung have gone a long way to remedy that situation, with a translation of Democracy and Social Ethics into French. It has just been issued by Editions Raison et Passions (Dijon, France) as Démocratie et éthique sociale. Céline and I added an introduction discussing the relevance of the book to France and French readers today.