Showing posts from 2008

Carl Sagan day 2008, and an update

Well, today is the 12th anniversary of Carl Sagan's passing, a date which was commemorated on this blog by blog-a-thons in 2006 and 2007 .  Ann Druyan and Nick Sagan have both already put up posts to mark the occasion, both pointing to a recent NASA video on the new Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellowship (also discussed in an ETFF interview with Ann Druyan broadcast last month to commemorate Carl's birthday). I'm sure that some of you are wondering why I haven't done a blog-a-thon this year, and why you haven't heard anything Sagan-related from me in a while.  Basically, what's up: no, I haven't fallen off the planet, and haven't abandoned Sagan-related stuff.  Basically, the blog-a-thon was originally intended to be a one-shot event, and only afterwards did I decide to try to repeat it a year later, and possibly annually.  And while there were some great posts in the 2007 blog-a-thon, I came to realize that doing an annual event wasn't the best way to

Beatrice Gross, RIP

I am saddened to find out that Beatrice Gross, an author/educator who, together with her husband Ronald Gross, co-edited several important anthologies on education, including Radical School Reform (1969) and The Children's Rights Movement: Overcoming the Oppression of Young People (1977), and were called "the Bonnie and Clyde of education" (Stan Isaacs), passed away last month, according to obituaries in Newsday and Great Neck Record . The contributors to Radical School Reform (see the full table of contents on WorldCat) are a virtual Who's Who of education reformers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Sylvia Ashton-Warner, George Dennison, Joseph Featherstone, Edgar Z. Friedenberg, Paul Goodman, James Herndon, John Holt, Herbert Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, George Leonard, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. The book was favorably reviewed twice in The New York Times , by John Leonard and Harold Taylor , and the paper's archives also include the Grosses' art

Ann Druyan special on Equal Time for Freethought

Today, to mark Carl Sagan's birthday (he would have been 74), the WBAI radio program Equal Time for Freethought broadcast a special interview with Sagan's widow and collaborator Ann Druyan (the half-hour interview was originally intended for a fund drive show in September, but not aired in its entirety until now). An audio permalink will be added to soon, but for now, it can be found at the WBAI archive here and also temporarily in WMA format here . The main news is NASA's establishment of a Sagan Fellowship to study exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System), but the conversation ranges from the profound (how to communicate the wonder of science) to the quirky (an extended discussion of what Sagan ate for breakfast). Check it out! Cross-posted to Celebrating Sagan .

Quote of the Day

Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm's 1969 essay "Reflections on Anarchism" (collected in 1973's Revolutionaries , currently in print in a 2001 edition by New Press ) is mostly a by-the-numbers Marxist, largely dismissive take on classical leftist anarchism (and needless to say more than a little befuddled at anarchism's revival at the time); he treats the movement as romantic and quixotic (quite literally , saying it's no coincidence that classical anarchism's last hurrah was in the land of Cervantes), and intellectually lightweight: saying that Kropotkin is the only "anarchist theorist who could be read with real interest by non-anarchists", due to his scientific work, as opposed to mere artists like Pissarro and Signac (and presumably the likes of Herbert Read, Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Wilde), and whose substantial ideas are redundant with those on other strands of the left. But at one point, the essay suddenly goes in an unexpected direction:

AOL Hometown shutting down, and taking a bit of bronze with it

Well, with the announcement that AOL's Hometown service is shutting down by October 31, one of the truly old school web hosting sites from the early days of the Web, up there with GeoCities and Tripod, and all of the websites hosted at URLs "", "" and "", will be going the way of Xoom into the land of dead bits. The shutdown is pretty abrupt; the formal announcement was only posted on September 30, and according to it, if webmasters don't back up their website files by the 31st, they'll simply be gone. All Hometown pages have one of two prominently placed banners atop the pages announcing the shutdown, one of which says "AOL Hometown is Closing its Doors. Find out how to BACK UP AND SAVE YOUR FILES before we say goodbye for good." and the other stating that "A Blogger is Always Prepared. DON'T GET LEFT BEHIND. Learn how to BACK UP & SAVE YOUR INFORMATION now." (desp

modern school reunion 2008

Today is the 99th anniversary of the death of anarchist, freethinker, and education pioneer Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, which sparked the international movement which was founded to carry on his ideas. Since I covered the basic background in my original Modern School post two years ago, I will link to that rather than repeating myself. Instead, I will concentrate on the 36th annual reunion of the Friends of the Modern School, held on September 20 at its usual location at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. As usual, it functioned as a social reunion for alumni (mostly of the Stelton school and colony which was near New Brunswick), but this time, the proceedings were enlivened by an unusually large group of interested outsiders. Author Perdita Buchan spoke about her book Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden (which has appeared previously on this blog ) which allots a chapter to eight utopian colonies in the Garden State, including one for Stelton. The Emma G

Nancy Wallace, RIP

I am saddened to find out , from Patrick Farenga on , of the passing of Nancy Wallace, a pioneering homeschooling parent and author going back to the very early days of the modern homeschooling movement. It seems just yesterday that I discovered in the NYPL stacks (largely due to its provocative title and its introduction by John Holt) Wallace's wonderful 1983 book Better Than School: One Family's Declaration of Independence , in which she recounted in a charming, readable manner her experiences homeschooling her children, Ishmael and Vita (at the time, 11 and 7 years old, as depicted on the cover ) in New Hampshire and Ithaca, NY, at a time when the homeschooling movement had yet to gather its current legal and organizational status. I can attest that, as Farenga puts it, her "prose was full of gentle insight". (I will definitely put up a review when I get the chance.) Farenga describes his and Holt's perspective on their longtime, mutually suppor

Bookchin and Bugs Bunny: found at last!

One of the more (in)famous examples of anarchist humor is the original pamphlet cover of Murray Bookchin's famous 1969 essay "Listen, Marxist!" , which criticized Marxist groups like Progressive Labor Party that were part of the sectarianism which was pulling apart SDS. The cover lampooned the propensity of Marxist books to put a succession of faces on the cover to correspond with their hyphenated ideologies by including the faces of Marx, Engels and Lenin — but then adding Bugs Bunny to the mix. This was mentioned in my original RIP for Bookchin posted here in 2006, and also by Jesse Walker and Eugene Plawiuk — and Todd Gitlin in The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage : SDS's 1969 convention, its last, met in the cavernous Chicago Coliseum, amid a veritable counterconvention of reporters (excluded), FBI agents (equipped with long lenses on the third floor of a vacant building across the street), and hundreds of police milling around, in and out of uniform, snap

A Betty Boop, er, cartoon

Today's New York Times weekly roundup of political cartoons includes this one by Rob Rogers which includes a reference to the Fleischer Boop-oop-a-doop girl as a representative starlet of her era. What's next, a cartoon about unions that refers to Disney's Alice Comedies?

Framing the sky

While leafing through George Lakoff's new book, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain , I was quite happily surprised to discover that an entire chapter was devoted to promoting Peter Barnes's idea of a "Sky Trust" as a means for fighting air pollution. So, what exactly is a Sky Trust? Peter Barnes (entrepreneur of Working Assets fame) has been promoting the idea of trusteeship as a way of managing common natural resources for quite a while now, including in his excellent 2006 book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons ( read it online right now!) It's hard to imagine dividing up an atmosphere into conventional units of private property, but by creating a private, non-for-profit trusteeship that "owns" the entire atmosphere over an area, giving everybody in the area a non-transferable share in ownership and charging those who pollute or damage the air (and redistributin

Carl Sagan in the zeitgeist

Jim Lippard recently devoted an excellent post to a thorough takedown of Zeitgeist: The Movie , a weird, conspiracy theory-centered movie that's been spreading virally online (it can be viewed on Google Video in its entirety) for the past year. This is pretty pitiful even by the very low standards of CT movies like Loose Change or America: Freedom to Fascism (both of which Zeitgeist borrows directly and heavily from); as Lippard puts it, Zeitgeist is a "piece of pernicious nonsense" which is "almost entirely garbage, dependent on crackpot sources". Plus, it's heavily dependent on video and audio footage "borrowed" from other sources, and crude and cheap motion graphics, to fill out its running time. But I find it interesting, almost despite myself, for two reasons: 1: It juxtaposes conventional CT subject matter in its last two-thirds (about 9/11 and the Federal Reserve) with a first third about the origins of Christianity, which echoes

Is this blog worth $50?

A couple of days ago, I received an email offering to buy my blog for $50. I turned down the offer, but I've got to say that amount is far more than I've ever made from my blog, and I wonder just how much I'd have to be offered to sell it. Throw in a few zeroes at the end, and who knows.... Anyway, I needed something to write about to get back in action after the longer-than-usual lull, and that might as well be it.

Time Warner's The Earth Day Special (1990)

Earth Day may be unrivaled among holidays in the nobility of its sentiment, but when it comes to pop culture, its impact is somewhat lacking. Even Arbor Day has an associated Charlie Brown special , but Earth Day? Well, maybe not quite. Back in 1990, the holiday took quite a bite out of pop culture in a celebrity-packed video tribute produced and presented by Time Warner. When I found an old VHS copy of the special, the back cover blurb made it an imperative to check out: A fun-packed salute that makes a world of difference. The biggest stars of the '90s take on the biggest story of the '90s in this informative blend of entertainment and cause. Rich in comedy, song and reports on the state of the planet, The Earth Day Special captures the excitement and commitment of Earth Day 1990 — and shares tips everyone can use to help solve the most urgent crisis the world faces today. Mother Earth (Bette Midler) is ailing and it's up to folks in Anytown USA to help her recover.

new Education Revolution blog

Well, my pal Jerry Mintz has finally created a brand-spanking-new blog for his organization, the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), to supplement AERO's website , his personal site , and his various email-based announcements and mailing lists. Mintz/AERO has done a dizzying array of education-related things over the years: penning the book No Homework and Recess All Day ; publishing Education Revolution magazine ; running an annual conference ; preserving Modern School history ... and simply doing a lot of the raw, exhausting work involved in keeping various education reformers in touch with each other, helping people start schools, helping schools improve themselves and become more "alternative", and the various other stuff involved in keeping an education reform movement alive and moving. So far, the blog has three posts: the first is a simple announcement post where he says, "I still barely understand what a blog is, but I’m about to find ou

new science fiction on Project Gutenberg: Frank Herbert's Operation Haystack

Yet another public domain science fiction short story whose eBook I helped produce makes its debut on Project Gutenberg . Originally from Astounding Science Fiction May 1959, with illustrations by H. R. van Dongen, joining Herbert's "Missing Link" , posted last October. Yes, that Frank Herbert, and yes, it's really public domain ... 'nuff said!

Cartoon Dump

As Beavis and Butt-Head would say, "Huh-huh, huh-huh, somebody keeps taking a dump in Manhattan." Cartoon Dump, that is — a twisted parody of childrens' shows of yesteryear combining live comedy and so-bad-they're-good old cartoons, created by animation historian Jerry Beck and Frank "TV's Frank on MST3K" Conniff (MST3K's Joel Hodgson has appeared in at least one CD installment in the past). CD had previously existed as a live show in L.A. and a set of online episodes, but on January 8 the show came to the East Coast for the first time; and there will be new shows on February 19 (this Tuesday) and March 11. The January show was really fun. The premise is much like the online version: Erica Doering plays the host, Compost Brite, of a warped cartoon "children's show". She's a perennially cheery and perky character with an optimistic outlook; as the old joke goes, if you gave her horse droppings as a gift, she'd say "Wow, a

Hey, I'm on the radio!

Last Thursday, the NPR show The Bryant Park Project did a nine minute segment on dorkbot-nyc 's meeting the previous day. Segment producer Ian Chillag interviewed me at the meeting, and a small snippet from me made it into the very end of the segment; I quote William Gibson's "The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." (which I misattribute to Bruce Sterling) as a way of explaining the way ideas show up at dorkbot before they percolate to the larger culture. The quote, and a mention of me, also made its way into the online summary of the segment. (When Rocketboom covered dorkbot in 2006, a small portion of my head could kinda-sorta be made out for a few frames of a crowd shot; not quite as good.) Also, the presenters and Douglas Repetto are also interviewed; and some of the theme songs also appear.

Contact on TCM's 31 Days of Oscar

On Sunday, February 24th, Turner Classic Movies will be airing Contact as part of this month's "31 Days of Oscar" , in which Academy Award-winning movies are showcased. Check out the TCM Movie Database entry for the film . Sean Axmaker provides an excellent overview of the film, from the production history to the issues and themes involved; Sagan is described as "one of the most effective spokesmen for the advancement of science and space exploration in the world", and the entry also includes a quote from Ann Druyan: "Carl's and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would be like," explains Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife and collaborator. "But it would also have the tension inherent between religion and science, which was an area of philosophical and intellectual interest that riveted both of us." Each night's worth of movies is organized by a specific decade (all the way from the 192

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors on DVD today

No, it's not a little-known spinoff of Cosmos based on Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's book of the same name , but a 1964 Soviet film by Sergei Parajanov that inspired the name of the Sagan/Druyan book! I know nothing else about the film (it's not even a documentary as one might think, but fiction), but it's Sagan-related enough to take note of here. Some quick links to stuff about the film: IMDB entry page New York Times DVD review Village Voice film review Time Out New York film review The L Magazine film review

Martin Luther King on Henry George

From the Georgist Progress Report website, here is an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.'s final book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community , in which King supports a guaranteed income rather than conventional welfare programs as the most direct means of dealing with poverty; he includes a quote from Henry George's Progress and Poverty : The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased. Aside from the question of work motivation, the point is that levels on inequality or equality income levels tra