Very sad to say goodbye to one of the greatest musicians in one of the greatest musical traditions. Tabu Ley Rochereau, 73, passed away November 30, 2013. Here’s some old footage of him with another of my favorites, his partner Mbilia Bel. (Via Africa is a Country)
It may be a little late in the season for this, but it’s not too soon for planning for next year. In either case you can use this short piece I did for Men’s Journal as a jumping off point for your next trip into the singing wilderness:
The Boundary Waters region in Minnesota is a 150-mile maze of connected lakes and rivers surrounded by thick pine and cedar forests and speckled with small, rocky islands. The area has some 1,200 miles of paddleable routes, making canoeing the most practical way to experience it all. By August, most of the visitors (and bugs) have gone – you’re more likely to see black bears and moose than like-minded paddlers – but you’ll still need to get a permit ahead of time. Also bring a tent and a cooler with food (and a clutch of beers). “It’s just you and nature,” says longtime local guide John Schiefelbein. “You own that lake at night.”
Start at Lake One, about 25 miles east of Ely, Minnesota, where you can rent a canoe, if you didn’t bring one yourself. Pass through Lakes Two, Three, and Four, and into the 3,000-acre Lake Insula. In this deep, clear lake (with 11-foot visibility), camp on one of the dozens of little wooded islands.
If you happen to be in southern Minnesota next week, I’ll be teaching about travel writing here: The Blue Earth River Writers are holding a Writers Workshop, Saturday, September 28th at Hope United Methodist Church, 12080 380th Ave, Blue Earth. Doors open at 8 am, with a meet and greet at 8:30 am and sessions starting at 9 am. Cost is $25, students through grade 12 are $15 and lunch is included in the price. For more information about the sessions or to register, stop by the Blue Earth Community Library, 124 West 7th St in Blue Earth or call Eva at 507-526-5012.
Beautiful video, via Boing Boing
“Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.”
It was, however, prepared and ready to be given, following close on the heels of Ronald Reagans “Evil Empire” speech, which raised the stakes in the Great Nuclear Game. The Queen’s speech went on:
“We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology.”
It’s a time and a feeling those of us who lived through it remember well, and one that I tried to channel in a story I did earlier this year for the Washington Post Magazine. It was the feeling that we were always 30 minutes from the end of everything. For many of us, that will always remain in the back of our minds. Whenever I’m at REI buying camping gear, I have two uses in mind: 1) Fun family camping! 2) Post-thermonuclear survival.
Today, we don’t think too much about that. A massive, two-sided nuclear strike seems to have receded from the realm of probability. If there is a nuclear strike, it will likely be a small dirty bomb in a big city like Mumbai or Bangkok, or a swift and devastating backlash by the U.S. against a rogue state.
Where will these missiles come from? Right here in the Midwest, where 450 ICBMs are scattered across the great plains. They sit quietly along dirt roads and in cornfields. You can park next to them and peer through the chain link fences at the 90-ton blast doors and the odd arrays of antennas protruding from the ground. I know this because I’ve done it.
Late in the summer of 2012, I drove through North Dakota researching the story I mentioned above. And like you, I assumed those weapons were in good hands. But since then, some alarming revelations have come out about the competence of the people with their fingers on the keys.
Earlier this year, a commander of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base based in Minot complained about “rot” in the force after the unit got a “D” rating on a launch simulator test, and 17 officers were relieved for “dereliction of duty.” Then in August, the 341st Missile Wing in Montana failed a safety and security test and the officer in charge off all 450 nuclear missiles was removed from command.
All of this follows on a 2008 report which found a “a dramatic and unacceptable decline” in the nuclear force, according to James Carroll, a columnist for the Boston Globe. “The land-based ICBMs,” he wrote in a column titled: US nuclear weapons poised for catastrophe, ”more than nuclear armed submarines or aircraft, have become the thread from which hangs the sword of accidental holocaust. Fail-safe “right procedures” are the only protection — yet current crews are proving incapable of following those procedures.”
For many people, these revelations were a reminder that these weapons exist at all, let alone that they sit right next to us. But there they are, and they won’t be going anywhere soon. So with that in mind, I’ll leave you with a list of books on both nuclear tourism, the legacy of the cold war, and on the nuclear arsenal that is still out there, waiting:
In the southeast corner of Minnesota is a small farm where my wife’s family lives. It’s beautiful country, with rolling hills and deep valleys. Behind their house, a bluff rises straight up, and when I was younger I used to climb it and sit on a rock with my journal and write.
It’s embarrassing to think about now, but at the time I had notions of becoming a latter-day Thoreau, giving voice to the land. I loved nature and I loved writing, and it seemed like a perfectly good idea to combine the two.
Really, though, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what it was I loved about nature, or even what exactly I meant by “nature.” Basically, what I now realize I meant was simply “being outside.” But back then it seemed like so much more, and I was sure that by writing about what went on in the woods, I could impart valuable lessons about life.
By and by, that period came to an end, helped along by some time spent in Africa where I saw that living close to nature actually meant chopping wood and hauling water, which (despite a passing interest in Zen) I wasn’t really up for. Nature, I came to see, didn’t much care whether we lived or died, and it was only our distance, our protection from it, that let it become something revered. If nature was beautiful and instructive, it was also heartless, terrifying, and cruel. It was so many things at once, and I came to feel that that’s where its true beauty lay.
Over the years, people have looked at the “vast wasteland” of television and seen the approaching end of western civilization. I try to take criticism of the medium with a grain of salt, but I recently came across some studies suggesting that it wasn’t only me who had changed.
Two researchers at the University of California, Yalda Uhls and Patricia Greenfield, devised a way to measure the values expressed in U.S. television shows. Their idea was not that TV is a corrupting influence or a source of moral instruction, but a mirror that reflects our society back to us.
Given how much the world has changed over the decades, you might not think that TV shows from the years 1967, 1977, 1987, and 1997 would have much in common. But they did. Taking the two most popular programs for tweens from each of those years, as well as from 2007, Uhls and Greenfield looked for 16 values demonstrated by the characters, such as benevolence, popularity, community feeling, financial success, tradition, and fame.
For the first four decades, the shows were fairly consistent: Community feeling was the top value for all of them except 1987, when it ranked second. Benevolence and tradition were consistently at the top. Meanwhile, fame ranked 15th in 1967, 1987, and 1997. (In 1977, it was 13th.)
Achievement and financial success hovered around the bottom half of the list; they were never dominant forces in the characters’ lives.
By 2007, however, community feeling had dropped to the 11th spot. Benevolence had fallen to 12th, and tradition to 15th. Financial success had jumped from 12th to 5th since 1997, achievement to 2nd, and fame to 1st.