A TRIPS waiver to stop COVID-19

As you may know, a major barrier delaying international distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is intellectual property restrictions. Biden could remove that barrier by supporting a TRIPS Waiver.

Such a move is supported by many organizations such as Oxfam, Medicins san Frontieres, and Human Rights Watch. Without it, the pandemic will continue, quite likely increasing, and new lethal variants are certain to arise.

A TRIPS waiver is important to save perhaps millions of lives worldwide, but also for bringing the pandemic under control in the US.

AI and Emerging Technologies for a Sustainable Future

Last week I gave a webinar through the Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (Nepal). It was at 6-7 pm NPT (7:15-8:15 am EST), Thursday, Feb 18. See details 

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.

Vladimir Horowitz, 1986 concert

Horowitz, 1986 concert in Moscow

Vladimir Horowitz, 1986 concert in Moscow

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.

Raquette River

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

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.

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.

Relics of the past

Relics of the past

Vanagain

Our new vanagain with the top up

Caravan Outfitters has created a great vehicle. It’s a Backroad conversion, based on the Mercedes Metris van.

One complication was that we needed to have it shipped across the country, but that all went smoothly.

We’re very pleased with the new purchase. We expect to make good use of it in these times, avoiding air travel and most stays in hotels.

You can see some photos of its arrival and early voyages here.

 

 

Olivia De Havilland, 1916-2020

Yesterday, we learned of the loss of a family friend: Olivia de Havilland died in Paris at the age of 104.

Meeting in Paris

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. 

Gathering at Olivia’s house in Paris

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.

Rhoda and Olivia, Paris, 2005

At the cocktail party they agreed that the shade of paint used on the recent high school renovation was far too garish.

Family connection

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 the lead in The Snake Pit (1948), one of the first films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness. In 2008, she was awarded the US National Medal of Arts.

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.

Wellfleet Road Race, covid-style

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.

Nature during Covid-19 times

[This post also appears on the Wellfleet Conservation Trust blog.]

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.

Education’s Ecosystems: Learning through Life

EE coverThis 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

Available from Rowman & Littlefield (as well as Amazon, etc.), April 1, 2020

ISBN-13: 978-1475851199

ISBN-10: 1475851197