Friday, January 31, 2014

Deceased--Gary Arlington

Gary Arlington
October 7th, 1938 to January 16th, 2014

"No Longer of This Planet: Gary Arlington (1938-2014)"


Patrick Rosenkranz

January 21st, 2014   


The “patron saint” of underground comix died last week at his home and by now has hopefully moved on to cartoon heaven. But he was always a procrastinator and might still be hanging out in funny book limbo.

Gary Arlington started what might have been the world’s first comic book shop in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1968. The San Francisco Comic Book Company began inauspiciously in a small storefront on 23rd Street, where he offered duplicate copies of his EC Comics collection for sale. By a twist of fate, the store became ground central for the explosion of underground comix that began that same year with the publication of Zap Comix #1 by an unknown artist named Robert Crumb. Arlington soon began to sell Zap along with his vintage comics and new Marvel and DC titles.

Cartoonist John Thompson soon discovered the store and brought Crumb and Rick Griffin and others around to meet Arlington. It was one of the first stops Gilbert Shelton made when he rolled into the Bay Area in a garishly painted ’56 Plymouth in 1968 with a load of freshly printed Feds ‘n’ Heads in his trunk. He traded a box of comics to Gary for a ’59 Chevrolet, which he later drove to New York and back, bringing Kim Deitch and Trina Robbins with him. Art Spiegelman’s first meeting with Bill Griffith, like many other cosmic comix liaisons, happened at Gary Arlington’s store. All the latest comix titles were there, along with fanzines, underground newspapers, and high walls covered in bagged EC and other vintage comics.

“It was a thrill when new books would come out all the time,”
recalled Gary Arlington in later years. “I was the first one selling them. Even Ron Turner came to me to buy them. I was the only ball game in the world. It was wonderful. I wish it could happen to everybody. When it was all happening, it was magical.  One artist would say to another, I need eight pages for something I’m working on, and it would happen.”

Don Donahue, who published the first issue of Zap, also began printing the small sized Snatch and Jiz comics that same year and brought some to Arlington to sell under the counter. “The first time I heard of Gary Arlington, he was this guy who used to call up Crumb once in a while, this crazy guy who owned this comic book store,” recalled Don Donahue. “Gary was this straight-looking guy who was about 30 years old. Whenever he came around, everybody used to hide the dope. But he was really into old-time comic books. He was starting to get into underground comic books too.”
One day Gary Arlington brought Rory Hayes by to meet Donahue. “Gary came around with this guy, this pale little kid. He was dressed in a black suit and overcoat.” Arlington discovered Hayes and had published his first comic work, Bogeyman Comics, in 1968. “He was a weird kid who came into the store,” said Arlington. “He brought in some of the comic books he had drawn, he and his brother in pencil. We just got together and drew this book with the Bogeyman telling these stories. I dreamed up the cover. A lot of people think it’s just a pile of garbage, but I think it’s one of the most unique things that’s ever been published.”

In 1970 Arlington published the anthology All Stars, with a beautiful Rick Griffin cover showing a desperate, strung-out addict, beset by smut, dope and instruments of violence, pleading for divine help. A hood, antlered figure, bearing a flail and the image of Jesus, enters the room, while the devil calls from below. He later published Griffin’s cryptic mystical masterpiece, Man From Utopia.

Arlington started a mail order business to sell underground comix across America and around the world, using the name Eric Fromm. “Before I opened the comic book store, I put out a retail mail-order list of straight comics,” said Arlington. “I picked the name Eric Fromm off of a pocket book cover, and I got a post office box and everything. I had absolutely no response at all from this list. I kept the post office box and I kept the name, but I never did sell straight comics through the mail.  I didn’t want the name Gary Arlington or the San Francisco Comic Book Company associated with selling dirty books through the mail because I didn’t want to get busted.” Kim Deitch drew a character who resembled chicken magnate Colonel Sanders to represent Eric Fromm in the catalogs.

When Ron Turner came around with the idea of starting a comic book called to promote ecology, Arlington introduced him to several cartoonists, starting with Greg Irons, who agreed to edit the first issue of Slow Death Funnies and draw the cover, which showed a voracious monster devouring it’s own planet. It was distributed on Earth Day, 1970 and was the first publication of many from Last Gasp Eco-Funnies.

Arlington also kept track of new talent whose work appeared in the comic fanzines, and especially liked Richard Corben, whose sexy, airbrushed sword-and-sorcery tales would soon startle and delight the underground audience. He asked Corben to submit some work to Skull. An animator living in Kansas City, Missouri, Corben had no previous contact with the underground, but he quickly embraced this new outlet for his fantasy tales of lush and lusty heroes and heroines. Arlington traded him some EC Comics for his first story, “Lame Lem’s Love,’ which appeared in Skull #2.

Gary Arlington had a hand in editing and promoting several more comics, but considered himself more of an idea man than a publisher. Fortunately he had lots of ideas. Most of them revolved around the love of his life, EC Comics. His vision of EC rising from the ashes like a cartoon phoenix was not the craziest of his ideas. In fact, it was a highly infectious concept, especially to the cartoonists who read ECs as kids and remembered when their favorite comic books had been sacrificed in the war on juvenile delinquency.

Arlington was the inspirational force behind Skull Comics, said Irons, who was introduced to old EC horror comics at the San Francisco Comic Book Company. “Gary had this great idea for a horror book and he had the title. He had this great piece of paper. It was the cover for the first Skull. It had ‘Skull’ written on the top in ballpoint pen and it had a little square where the picture was supposed to go. That was all. It was incredible, man. I instantly had this vision looking at this piece of paper of the first cover of the first Skull. So I rushed right home and drew it, and took it back to Gary Arlington, and he said, “Oh boy!’ Then I rushed home and did the story. I talked to some other people after I finished the story and asked them to do stuff.” Dave Sheridan, Fred Schrier, Jaxon, and Rory Hayes also contributed to this first issue.

Arlington proposed a new comic title to George Metzger and Rick Shubb, called Brain Fantasy. “He was going to publish it and do all that jazz and he wanted it right now,” said Metzger. “I got an idea and got Robert Inwood going, and we both sat down and did our stories in as short a space of time as possible.” When they brought the art to Arlington, he told them he didn’t have the money to publish it. “He didn’t have anything other than enthusiasm,” said Metzger. “He wanted it right away. It didn’t mean he could produce it right away, but he lusted after it.” Last Gasp published the first issue of Brain Fantasy in 1972.

Arlington published a series of single-page drawings called the Nickel Library, which included underground artwork, reprints of classic strips, and brand-new EC Comics covers. After his first few EC look-alikes came out, copyright holder William Gaines demanded that those drawings and printed pages be destroyed.

I last interviewed Arlington in 2010 when a rumor started on Facebook that he was already dead. “I don’t know where that came from, but it’s a stupid rumor,” he insisted. "It’s a waste of paper and a waste or print and a waste of time and a waste of energy, because that hasn’t happened yet and it’s not going to happen for a long time.”

I wanted to ask him about Don Donahue for an upcoming book on the Apex Novelty founder and counterculture archivist, but his memory was shot and his attention span was short. I called three times over several weeks but couldn’t get any useful details from him. He barely remembered me.

Life was never as exciting for him after the heyday of the underground but Arlington owned and operated the San Francisco Comic Book Company for almost four decades. Poor health forced him to hand over the running of the store to other people, and it finally closed down in 2007. Arlington had heart bypass surgery soon afterwards. When the ambulance took him home, he wouldn’t let the attendants in his apartment. In fact he wouldn’t let anyone into his place because it was such a mess. A few days later he had another heart attack and fell down and bent his leg at an unnatural angle. It was a week before anyone checked up on him and found him, almost dead, lying on a pile of pillows with comic books and newspapers stacked around him. While he was in the hospital Ron Turner organized a work party of people to go in and clean the place out. They salvaged his treasures – Carl Barks paintings, original EC pages, underground art – scattered among wall-to-wall boxes and heaps of newspapers and obscure publications permeated with cat urine and makeshift litter boxes.

“Wilson, Spain, Mavrides, my son Colin, Charlie Wylie, and three or four more did the cleanup that took forever,” said Turner. “We all got sick from the dust of decaying cats, feces, paper and mold, even when wearing masks.”

Arlington then moved to an assisted living apartment at 225 Berry Street near AT&T Park and used a wheelchair to get around. Last Gasp published a book of his paintings in 2011 called I Am Not of This Planet.

He died in his apartment on January 16th from complications of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and his crushed leg. He was 75.

"Gary Arlington, a Force in Underground Comic Books, Is Dead at 75"


William Yardlet

January 30th, 2014

The New York Times

Gary Arlington, who died this month at 75, did not open the San Francisco Comic Book Company because he wanted to create a place where the city’s underground comic artists could meet to mine one another’s unusual minds. He really just needed money, and he hoped to make some by selling thousands of comic books he had been hoarding in his parents’ basement since he was a little boy.

“I was virtually starving,” Mr. Arlington was quoted as saying in the 2002 book “Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution,” by Patrick Rosenkranz. “I made nothing. I was sleeping on somebody’s couch. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ ”

Soon after he opened the store in 1968, it became clear that Mr. Arlington had created much more than a curious retail operation. In walked Robert Crumb, whose influential Zap Comix was first published the year the store opened. There was Art Spiegelman, who would go on to win a special Pulitzer Prize for “Maus,” his graphic novel about his family and the Holocaust. There was Don Donahue, who printed Zap; Ron Turner, who founded the comics publisher Last Gasp; and so many others who shaped the beginning of underground comics (“comix” to their devotees, with the “x” sometimes signaling their rating).

At first they came to browse Mr. Arlington’s enormous collection, particularly the 1940s and ’50s horror and science fiction titles from EC Comics like “Tales From the Crypt,” which were his obsession. Soon they came just to see who else may have stopped in. Browsing turned into talking and creating and collaborating. Some would draw right there in the shop, with Mr. Arlington offering ideas and guidance and helping some artists find publishers.

For all its importance as a gathering place, the shop did not offer much room. Behind a storefront on 23rd Street in the Mission District, it occupied less than 200 square feet and was filled to the ceiling with comics, books, artwork and miscellany.

Many people say his store was the first they knew of, anywhere, that was devoted exclusively to selling comics. And while he might not have set out to cultivate a scene — “at first he was such a straight-looking, ordinary schlub,” Mr. Crumb said in a telephone interview on Wednesday — he loved watching it blossom.

“It was kind of a validation for his existence that I’m sure he never expected to get,” Mr. Crumb said.

To Mr. Spiegelman, Mr. Arlington “was definitely at the right place at the right time.”
“San Francisco in the ’70s was the Paris of the ’20s for the underground comix scene,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “I guess Gary’s shop was a very sleazy, hole-in-the-wall version of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon by default. Gary was hardly an obvious magnetic personality, but he was an obsessive and he really genuinely cared about this subculture.”
Gary Edson Arlington was born on Oct. 7, 1938, in San Jose, Calif. His parents, Alfred Arlington and the former Dorothy Hazen, moved to Hayward, where they ran a lumber company. After high school he enrolled at the College of San Mateo and received a two-year degree in 1959. He worked several jobs and spent two years in the Army before moving to San Francisco in the mid-1960s.

Betty Finnegan, his sister and only immediate survivor, said he died of heart failure on Jan. 16 in San Francisco. For the last several years he used a wheelchair as he dealt with health problems, she said.

Although he had been more of an idea person than an illustrator in the early years of underground comics, he drew frequently late in life, each day making a new, primitivist self-portrait. In 2011, Last Gasp published a collection of his drawings and excerpts from years of his diaries, titling it “I Am Not of This Planet: The Art of Gary Edson Arlington.”

If the San Francisco Comic Book Company felt like a glorified storage space, there was a reason. Mr. Arlington’s parents had died in the early 1960s, and he and his sisters eventually decided to sell their house across San Francisco Bay in Hayward.

“All the comic books were in the basement, and Gary needed a place to put them,” Ms. Finnegan, said. “So that’s when he opened the comic book store.”

In the early years, customers had to ask for some of the more provocative titles by name. Mr. Arlington stored them under the counter.

“It was a thrill when new books would come out all the time,” Mr. Arlington said in “Rebel Visions.” “I was the first one selling them. Even Ron Turner came to me to buy them. I was the only ballgame in the world. It was wonderful.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Deceased--John R. Huizenga

John R. Huizenga
April 21st, 1921 to January 25th, 2014

"John R. Huizenga, Physicist at Fore of Nuclear Era, Dies at 92"


William J. Broad

January 29th, 2014

The New York Times

John R. Huizenga, a physicist who helped build the world’s first atom bomb, solve dozens of atomic riddles and debunk claims that scientists in Utah had achieved nuclear fusion in a jar of water, died on Saturday in San Diego. He was 92.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

Dr. Huizenga (pronounced HIGHS-ing-a) was present at the main junctures of the early nuclear era and helped push back many frontiers of nuclear physics. He also took on diplomatic missions and prominent roles in settling scientific disputes.

Early on, Dr. Huizenga was part of the scientific team that discovered Elements 99 and 100 in the periodic table — known, respectively, as einsteinium, after Albert Einstein, and fermium, after Enrico Fermi, the Italian Nobel laureate who helped lead the atom bomb project at the University of Chicago.

After World War II, Dr. Huizenga attended famous lectures given in Chicago by Dr. Fermi and soon began a half-century of atomic sleuthing.

“John Huizenga conducted research at the forefront of nuclear physics and contributed a host of exceptional insights,” said Wolf-Udo Schröder, a professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Rochester and a protégé of Dr. Huizenga’s. The discoveries stimulated “vigorous research,” he added, and remain central to the field.

John Robert Huizenga was born in Fulton, Ill., on the Mississippi River, on April 21, 1921. His father was a farmer, and until high school John learned his lessons in a one-room schoolhouse.

He graduated in early 1944 from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where a teacher got him hooked on chemistry. He entered graduate school in physical chemistry at the University of Illinois and was soon drafted into the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb.

The recruiters, he recalled in a memoir for the American Institute of Physics, a federation of physical science societies, “convinced me of the importance” of using his scientific training “in an exciting and militarily important secret project.”

In Oak Ridge, Tenn., he supervised teams analyzing the purity of enriched uranium coming out of sprawling production lines. Robert S. Norris, a nuclear historian, said the purified uranium fueled the weapon that leveled Hiroshima in August 1945.

After the war, Dr. Huizenga received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and took a job in nuclear chemistry at the Argonne National Laboratory, which was then on the University of Chicago campus. It was there that he met Dr. Fermi. His research focused on uncovering the secrets of atomic interactions, especially with the subatomic particles known as neutrons.

His first big moment came soon after the government detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1952. The bomb vaporized an atoll. In sifting through the radioactive debris, Dr. Huizenga and his Argonne peers, as well as teams in Berkeley, Calif., and Los Alamos, N.M., found that two new elements — highly radioactive and unknown in nature — had formed when uranium atoms in the nuclear blast captured speeding neutrons.

The discoveries, of einsteinium and fermium, were initially kept secret for security reasons, then unveiled in 1955, not long after the scientists they had been named after had died.

In 1966, Dr. Huizenga received the government’s Lawrence Award for outstanding accomplishments in illuminating the intricacies of nuclear fission, the fracturing of atoms into pieces. That same year, he accompanied the first American scientific delegation to be sent to the Soviet Union.

He accepted a professorship at the University of Rochester in 1967 and stayed there for the rest of his career. His 1973 textbook, “Nuclear Fission,” written with Robert Vandenbosch, remains a standard in the field. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976.

Dr. Huizenga lectured in China after its opening to the West. After one visit, in 1979, the nation’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, sent his youngest son, Deng Zhifang, to study in Dr. Huizenga’s department at the University of Rochester.

In 1989, Dr. Huizenga was appointed co-chairman of a Department of Energy panel that investigated and debunked the highly publicized “cold fusion” claims of two University of Utah chemists, who said they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in a jar of water. If their claims had been true, the discovery would have flooded the world with energy cheap enough to supplant all rivals.

Dr. Huizenga lectured widely on the topic and in 1992 published “Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century.” On the claim’s 10th anniversary, in 1999, as true believers around the globe kept looking for glimmers of hope that cold fusion could be realized, he accused them of chasing a ghost.

“It’s as dead as ever,” Dr. Huizenga told The New York Times in an interview. “It’s quite unbelievable that the thing has gone on for 10 years.”

Dr. Huizenga’s wife of 54 years, Dolly, died in 1999. He is survived by four children, Linda, Jann, Robert and Joel; two sisters, Gertrude Drew and Kathryn Disselkoen; and three grandchildren.

Dr. Huizenga summarized his career in a memoir, “Five Decades of Research in Nuclear Science” (2009). The book provided much detail on the half-lives of radioactive elements, but it also provided evidence, he wrote in its concluding pages, of “a life well lived.”

Is "Cold Fusion" possible? poll

LENR or "Cold Fusion"--same charlatan

Cold's back!

Deceased--Martin Fleischmann

"Cold Fusion" is alive in Columbia, Missouri

Rusi Taleyarkhan--falsified research?

NASA to court over Martian doughnut-shaped rock

"Is NASA overlooking life on Mars? Court filing demands closer look"


Deborah Netburn

January 29th, 2014

Los Angeles Times

The saga of the jelly doughnut-shaped rock on Mars has taken a strange turn -- to a federal court.

On Monday, Rhawn Joseph, who describes himself as a neuroscientist and astrobiologist, filed court papers demanding that NASA do more to investigate the mysterious rock.

"NASA's rover team inexplicably failed to perform the basic demands of science, which is re-search, look again," he wrote in a petition for a writ of mandamus filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. "The refusal to release high resolution photos is inexplicable, recklessly negligent and bizarre."

He asks the judge to order NASA to closely photograph the rock from several angles, thoroughly examine it, and share that information with the public.

The rock is mysterious for a few reasons. It has a depressed, bright red center and a white exterior (hence the comparisons to a jelly doughnut). More important, scientists working with the Opportunity rover have acknowledged that its chemical composition is unlike anything else they have seen on Mars -- lots of sulfur, manganese, and magnesium.

But most puzzling is that it just showed up, seemingly out of nowhere. The rock appeared in an image taken 12 days after one made at the same location that did not show such a rock.

Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, said he doesn't think the rock's appearance is especially exotic. He and his team have theorized that it may have been dislodged when Opportunity made what he called a pirouette just up the hill from where the rock showed up.

"It drove in such a fashion that it would drag the right front wheel kind of chattering across the ground, and we think that in that process, it kind of tiddlywinked the rock out of the ground and moved it into a location where we can see it," he said at a news briefing last week.

But Rahwn Joseph has his own theories. In the court papers, he suggests that the rock may not be a rock at all, but rather a fungus-like organism. If so, that would mean Opportunity has discovered life on Mars.

In a Jan. 17 post on the website Cosmology: Journal for the Advancement of Theoretical Science, Joseph makes the case that the formation is "a fully grown bowl-shaped organism resembling Apothecia," which are "a mixture of fungus and cyanobacteria."

Joseph is the author of several books, including "Biological UFOs: Evidence for extraterrestrial extremophiles and life in space" (2012) and "Astrobiology: The Origin of Life and the Death of Darwinism" (2001). 

NASA officials have not yet responded to a request for comment about the court filing, but at the news conference last week, Squyres said the Opportunity team is continuing to investigate the rock.

"This is an ongoing story of discovery," he said.

A new type of glass...strong and flexible

"New Kind of Glass Will Bend but Does Not Break"


Kimberly Ruble

January 29th, 2014


Researchers have created a brand new type of extremely strong glass that bends but will not break. It was inspired by the mechanisms of natural structures like seashells. McGill University examiners were able to increase the sturdiness of glass. Now, if the glass is dropped, it will only bend and become slightly out of shape, stated a news release from the university.

Mollusk shells are made out of over 95 percent chalk. This makes them extremely brittle in their purest forms, explained Professor François Barthelat, but something like nacre or mother-of-pearl, which covers the inner side of shells, is made up of minuscule tablets, which are similar to very tiny Lego blocks. It is known to be very tough and strong, which is why scientists have been learning about its construction for nearly the past twenty-five years.

Researchers have long attempted to make nacre in the lab, but it has been something of a challenge. It was like trying to create a Lego wall with minute building tablets. This was not the easiest thing to do. So instead, Barthelat and his group decided to examine the interior weaker edges of nacre and then they used lasers to carve various networks of mini cracks in glass slides so they could make similar fragile boundaries. The results ended up being dramatic.

The research group was able to successfully amplify the durability of glass microscope slides over 200 times by constructing micro cracks through their various surfaces. The researchers were able to keep the cracks from spreading and growing larger by filling up the cracks with polyurethane. This ended up being only a precaution and was never a necessity, stated the news report.

Some of the benefits of the stronger glass could be that it is used in the building of eye glasses, bullet proof windows or maybe even put into the screens of smartphones. This glass will be extremely practical due to its extreme hardness, transparency, chemical resistance and its lasting durability. Everything about this new type of glass appears to be a benefit to society at large. It is also believed that this new kind of glass will be extremely economical, stated Barthelat.

The group thinks that such a technique could be on any size of glass, and they believe the process they did would be very simple to scale to any various glass sheets. What they believe is that now they can strengthen not only glass, but also numerous other materials, by using the micro crack configurations in order to guide any bigger cracks, and during the process grip energy from an impact, stated Barthelat. The team decided to work with glass because they wanted to toy with something that is considered one of the most brittle materials. However, they plan on continuing their work by testing polymers and ceramics in future. The researchers have created a brand new type of strong glass that bends but will not break.

Missed it...Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's birthday

Probably the most beloved child literature author was born on January 27th,1832. Adults enjoy his literature too.

Above is a snap of a stage production of Alice in Wonderland taken by Victorian society photographer Alexander Bassano in 1900 at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Use the blog's search engine for many more items on Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Deceased--Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger
May 3rd, 1919 to January 27th, 2014

"Pete Seeger dies aged 94"

Singer-songwriter inspired folk revival in the US and was blacklisted during McCarthy era for his leftwing views and lyrics

Alexandra Topping

January 28th, 2014

Tributes have poured in honouring American troubadour, folk music singer and activist Pete Seeger, who has died in New York aged 94. Musicians, fans, campaigners and activists paid tribute to the singer of Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Turn, Turn, Turn, honouring his dedication to fighting for environmental and anti-capitalist issues.

Tom Morello, former guitarist with political rock act Rage Against the Machine, said he was “absolutely the best that humans can aspire to be – a courageous, kind, fearless soul”. British Radio 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne posted a photograph on Instagram of Seeger toting his banjo, which was inscribed with the words: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” She wrote: “Still thinking abt Pete Seeger’s amazing century on earth. Loved & hated by precisely the right people. What a guy.”

Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died after spending six days in the New York Presbyterian Hospital. He passed away peacefully in his sleep at around 9.30pm surrounded by family members, he said, adding that right up to his death he was active and robust. “He was chopping wood 10 days ago,” he said.

Seeger was a key figure in the folk protest movement through the 1950s and 60s and protested against wars from Vietnam to Iraq; even in his 90s he could be seen marching with Occupy Wall Street protesters. “Be wary of great leaders,” he said two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”

And in November last year he wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting the release of Captain Peter Willcox and the Arctic 30.

With era-defining songs such as If I Had a Hammer and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, it seemed little exaggeration when fellow folk artist Arlo Guthrie said: “Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger.”

Folk star Cara Dillon described Seeger’s death as “the passing of a giant”, while Kathryn Williams said she was “so sorry” to hear of his death. Musician Neil Innes said: “We must never forget that he stood for all things Woody Guthrie.” Others simply tweeted quotes from Seeger himself, such as singer Eddi Reader who posted his words: “It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.”
The banjo player was known as an affable protester and remained a proud socialist and left-wing campaigner throughout his life. Once a card-carrying Communist, he came under fire in the McCarthy era of the 50s. Summoned to give evidence about his political leanings and contacts to the the House of Representatives' Un-American Activities committee in 1955, Seeger refused to testify. He denied his views made him disloyal to his country. Asked repeatedly if he had sung for Communists, he retorted: “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.”

This led, in 1957, to an indictment for contempt of Congress, a prison sentence (later overturned) and a travel ban. In America's cold war blacklisting and red-baiting years, Seeger was unable to perform in many venues, was excluded from college campuses and kept off television for many years. All the while, though, he kept writing and singing.

Seeger was born in New York City in 1919. He came from artistic stock – his mother, Constance, was a violinist and his father, Charles, a musicologist, who worked as a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression.

Seeger dropped out of Harvard and toured with Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, forming the group the Weavers in 1948. His work remained influential until his death - his 90th birthday tribute concert featured Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and country star Emmylou Harris.

In January 2009 he performed at a gala concert in Washington two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated and was due to receive an award that honours those who embody the spirit of his legendary folk contemporary Woody Guthrie during an event on 22 February at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York.

Last year, Seeger performed at Farm Aid 2013, the annual benefit for America's family farmers, alongside Willie Nelson and Neil Young.

"Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94"


Jon Pareles

January 28th, 2014

The New York Times

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y.

His death was confirmed by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said he died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.

Mr. Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” — which reached No. 1 — and “If I Had a Hammer,” which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Mr. Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew the songs on his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” from Mr. Seeger’s repertoire of traditional music about a turbulent American experience, and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Mr. Seeger at the Obama inaugural. At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday, Mr. Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”
Although he recorded more than 100 albums, Mr. Seeger distrusted commercialism and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. He invariably tried to use his celebrity to bring attention and contributions to the causes that moved him, or to the traditional songs he wanted to preserve.

Mr. Seeger saw himself as part of a continuing folk tradition, constantly recycling and revising music that had been honed by time.

During the McCarthy era Mr. Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. The pressure broke up the Weavers, and Mr. Seeger disappeared from television until the late 1960s. But he never stopped recording, performing and listening to songs from ordinary people. Through the decades, his songs have become part of America’s folklore.

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

Peter Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, to Charles Seeger, a musicologist, and Constance de Clyver Edson Seeger, a concert violinist. His parents later divorced.

He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, were collecting and transcribing rural American folk music, as were folklorists like John and Alan Lomax. He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina.

Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.”

Planning to be a journalist, Mr. Seeger attended Harvard, where he founded a radical newspaper and joined the Young Communist League. After two years, he dropped out and came to New York City, where Mr. Lomax introduced him to the blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Mr. Lomax also helped Mr. Seeger find a job cataloging and transcribing music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

Mr. Seeger met Mr. Guthrie, a songwriter who shared his love of vernacular music and agitprop ambitions, in 1940, when they performed at a benefit concert for migrant California workers. Traveling across the United States with Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Seeger picked up some of his style and repertory. He also hitchhiked and hopped freight trains by himself, trading and learning songs.

When he returned to New York later in 1940, Mr. Seeger made his first albums. He, Millard Lampell and Mr. Hays founded the Almanac Singers, who performed union songs and, until Germany invaded the Soviet Union, antiwar songs, following the Communist Party line. Mr. Guthrie soon joined the group.

During World War II the Almanac Singers’s repertory turned to patriotic, antifascist songs, bringing them a broad audience, including a prime-time national radio spot. But the group’s earlier antiwar songs, the target of an F.B.I. investigation, came to light, and the group’s career plummeted.

Before the group completely dissolved, however, Mr. Seeger was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a unit of performers. He married Toshi-Aline Ohta while on furlough in 1943.

When he returned from the war he founded People’s Songs Inc., which published political songs and presented concerts for several years before going bankrupt. He also started his nightclub career, performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Mr. Seeger and Paul Robeson toured with the campaign of Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party presidential candidate, in 1948.

Mr. Seeger invested $1,700 in 17 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon and began building a log cabin there in the late 1940s. In 1949, Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman started working together as the Weavers. They were signed to Decca Records by Gordon Jenkins, the company’s music director and an arranger for Frank Sinatra. With Mr. Jenkins’s elaborate orchestral arrangements, the group recorded a repertoire that stretched from “If I Had a Hammer” to a South African song, “Wimoweh” (the title was Mr. Seeger’s mishearing of “Mbube,” the name of a South African hit by Solomon Linda), to an Israeli soldiers’ song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” to a cleaned-up version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Onstage, they also sang more pointed topical songs.

In 1950 and 1951 the Weavers were national stars, with hit singles and engagements at major nightclubs. Their hits included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and Mr. Guthrie’s “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh),” and they sold an estimated four million singles and albums.

But “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet listing performers with suspected Communist ties, appeared in June 1950 and listed Mr. Seeger, although by then he had quit the Communist Party. He would later criticize himself for having not left the party sooner, though he continued to describe himself as a “communist with a small ‘c.’ ”

Despite the Weavers’ commercial success, by the summer of 1951 the “Red Channels” citation and leaks from F.B.I. files had led to the cancellation of television appearances. In 1951, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the Weavers for sedition. And in February 1952, a former member of People’s Songs testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that three of the four Weavers were members of the Communist Party.

As engagements dried up the Weavers disbanded, though they reunited periodically in the mid-1950s. After the group recorded an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Mr. Seeger left, citing his objection to promoting tobacco use.

Shut out of national exposure, Mr. Seeger returned primarily to solo concerts, touring college coffeehouses, churches, schools and summer camps, building an audience for folk music among young people. He started to write a long-running column for the folk-song magazine Sing Out! And he recorded prolifically for the independent Folkways label, singing everything from children’s songs to Spanish Civil War anthems.

In 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he testified, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

Mr. Seeger offered to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined.

Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”

By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.

Mr. Seeger was signed to a major label, Columbia Records, in 1961, but he remained unwelcome on network television. “Hootenanny,” an early-1960s show on ABC that capitalized on the folk revival, refused to book Mr. Seeger, causing other performers (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary) to boycott it. “Hootenanny” eventually offered to present Mr. Seeger if he would sign a loyalty oath. He refused.

He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963, and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.”

Like many of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from one of the workers, Lucille Simmons, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., which trained union organizers.

Ms. Horton taught it to Mr. Seeger, and her version of “We Will Overcome” was published in the People’s Songs newsletter. Mr. Seeger changed “We will” to “We shall” and added verses (“We’ll walk hand in hand”). He taught it to the singers Frank Hamilton, who would join the Weavers in 1962, and Guy Carawan, who became musical director at Highlander in the ‘50s. Mr. Carawan taught the song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding convention.

The song was copyrighted by Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Carawan and Ms. Horton. “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name,” Mr. Seeger wrote in his 1993 autobiography, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” All of the song’s royalties go to the “We Shall Overcome” Fund, administered by what is now the Highlander Research and Education Center, which provides grants to African-Americans organizing in the South.

Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with a loud electric blues band. Reports emerged that Mr. Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax, but witnesses including the producer George Wein and the festival’s production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.)

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

During the late 1960s Mr. Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop that was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education.

In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Mr. Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Mr. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Mr. Seeger toured regularly with Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son, and continued to lead singalongs and perform benefit concerts. Recognition and awards arrived. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and in 1993 he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. In 1994, President Bill Clinton handed him the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest arts honor, given by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba to receive the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.”

In 1996, Mr. Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Arlo Guthrie, who paid tribute at the ceremony, mentioned that the Weavers’ hit “Goodnight, Irene” reached No. 1, only to add, “I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him.” Mr. Seeger made no acceptance speech, but he did lead a singalong of “Goodnight, Irene,” flanked by Stevie Wonder, David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane.

Mr. Seeger won Grammy Awards for best traditional folk album in 1997, for the album “Pete,” and in 2009, for the album “At 89.” He also won a Grammy in the children’s music category in 2011 for “Tomorrow’s Children.”

Mr. Seeger kept performing into the 21st century, despite a flagging voice; audiences happily sang along more loudly. He celebrated his 90th birthday, on May 3, 2009, at a Madison Square Garden concert — a benefit for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater — with Mr. Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and dozens of other musicians paying tribute. In August he was back in Newport for the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival.

Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died in 2013, days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. Survivors include his son, Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; a half-sister, Peggy; and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural. His half-brother Mike Seeger, a folklorist and performer who founded the New Lost City Ramblers, died in 2009.

Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”


"Pete Seeger: 'Bruce Springsteen blew my cover'"

Pete Seeger has died aged 94. Here's one of our final interviews with the great folk singer, from 2007, in the wake of Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album


Edward Helmore

January 31st, 2007

The Guardian   

On the first Friday of the month, in fine weather and sometimes foul, you will find Pete Seeger, the folk-singing legend and pioneering environmentalist, in a small wooden clubhouse by the Hudson river, 70 miles north of Manhattan.

At 87, and only slightly stooped by age, he looks much as he did 40 years ago, when he was the voice of the left, and an inspiration to young folk singers like Bob Dylan. Here at his beloved Beacon Sloop Club, in jeans and with shirt sleeves rolled up, he is still the driving force for a weekly dinner that draws a few dozen similarly conscientious folk at the river's edge.

"The town gave us use of the building 45 years ago," recalls Seeger. "My wife suggested we call it a pot-luck dinner and we've been busy ever since."

Seeger has won many awards, including the National Medal for the Arts, but his main concern these days is teaching children about the natural life of the Hudson. Ecology is so much his passion that sometimes he likes to be called a river singer. Indeed, along with raising anti-war consciousness in the 1960s, he played a key role in the movement to clean up the Hudson, which forced General Electric to pay half a billion dollars for the removal of toxic substances.

"I still call myself a failed communist," says Seeger, preparing the club's stage for a late afternoon sing-song. And it's true that his most famous compositions, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (adapted from an old Russian song about Cossacks going off to war) and Turn, Turn, Turn (a big hit for the Byrds) don't sound as revolutionary as they did.

Seeger's banjo once sported the message: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" (an echo of the message on Woody Guthrie's guitar: "This machine kills fascists"). The anti-fascist, union anthems he sang with Guthrie and later with his own band, the Weavers, placed him at the forefront of the action. He was targeted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s (he was called before the McCarthy hearings after being warned that If I Had a Hammer would go down badly with the authorities, found guilty of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison). During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he led a crowd, with Martin Luther King, in a rendition of We Shall Overcome.

Nowadays, Seeger doesn't play before large audiences, partly because he fears his voice is no longer strong enough. But he'll spend hours in the club, mischievously giving out bumper stickers reading "Gravity - it's just a theory" and encouraging people to send them to anyone in Kansas, heartland of the anti-Darwinism, creationist movement. He'll sing along at the club and tell stories for hours - but his best story is his own.

Born in 1919, and immersed in music by his teacher parents, Seeger got his big break in 1940. His parents were helping famous folk team John and Alan Lomax to transcribe songs recorded in the south. Woody Guthrie was persuaded to come to Washington to record them and Seeger accompanied him in the studio. The results were eventually published as a book: Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. "I went out west with Woody," says Seeger. "He taught me how to sing in saloons, how to hitch-hike, how to ride freight trains. Then I went out on my own."

Guthrie, he says, taught him how to busk. "He'd say put the banjo on your back, go into a bar and buy a nickel beer and sip it as slow as you can. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, can you play that thing?' Don't be too eager, just say, 'Maybe, a little.' Keep on sipping beer. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, I've got a quarter for you if you pick us a tune.' Then you play your best song." With that advice, Seeger supported himself on his travels.

Last year, Bruce Springsteen - a friend since the 1990s - released an album of songs Seeger had performed over the years. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions put Seeger back in the spotlight. "I wish he hadn't used my name," says Seeger. "I've managed to survive all these years by keeping a low profile. Now my cover's blown. If I had known, I'd have asked him to mention my name somewhere inside."

While he likes Springsteen's renditions ("They're not my songs, they're old songs, I just happened to sing 'em,"), he says the renewed attention has added to the admin work that falls to his wife of more than 60 years, Toshi. "Most men chain their wives to a sink. Mine is chained to a table covered with correspondence. 'Oh, Mr Seeger, won't you listen to my record? Read my book, come over here and accept this award ...'" He refuses almost all such requests.

The business of the mighty river comes first nowadays. He's the enduring, seemingly ageless, folk-singing socialist-ecologist, and a fervent believer in thinking globally and acting locally. And down by the river, after the monthly pot-luck dinner, there's always time to take out the old five-string banjo and sing a song. "The real revolution will come when people realise the danger we're in," he offers in parting. "I'm not as optimistic as people think I am. I think we have a 50-50 chance of there being a human race in 100 years".

Pete Seeger [Wikipedia]

One of the most influential performers in country music history, Johnny Cash is featured with his wife June Carter in this rare early 1960s appearance which focuses on his country roots. Cash offers heartfelt performances of some his most famous songs, talks about his early years growing up in Arkansas and sheds light on the sources of his music.

1. Pete Seeger opening medley
2. Johnny Cash: I Am A Pilgrim
3. June Carter: Worried Man Blues
4. Johnny Cash: There's A Mother Always Waiting
5. Johnny Cash: Five Feet High and Rising
6. Johnny Cash: Pickin' time
7. Pete Seeger: Ki-Yo-Ti
8. Johnny Cash: As Long as the Grass Shall Grow
9. Pete Seeger: Little Birdie / Cripple Creek
10. June Carter: I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes 


Sunday, January 26, 2014


"The Great Stratification"


Jeffrey J. Williams

December 2nd, 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Imagine a diorama in an American Museum of Occupations showing the evolution of the professor. The exhibit starts in the early 1800s with an austere, black-suited man in a minister's collar, perhaps looking over the shoulder of a student at a rustic desk, with a Greek text open in front of him. In the next scene, from around 1900, he morphs into a pince-nez-wearing gentleman in starched collar and cravat, at a podium delivering a lecture. The professor of 1950 adopts the rumpled bearing of a tweed jacket, pointing with his pipe to a poem or a physics equation on a chalkboard. In the next frame, circa 1990, she wears jeans and is sitting in front of a computer screen.

How would the diorama represent the professor of 2020?

Some observers predict that she won't exist: In the memorable phrase of Frank Donoghue, a professor of English at Ohio State University, we are living in the age of "the last professors." Less apocalyptic commentators say the professor has experienced "deprofessionalization."

Both views try to capture the squeeze on professorial jobs, but they misrecognize fundamental aspects of the changes that have occurred. Rather than extinction, we have seen the steady expansion of academic labor over the past century, and rather than "deskilling," we are undergoing more rather than less professionalization. What has been going on is what sociologists call "differentiation" and "stratification."

We are in the era of the Great Stratification.

Given that there are more than 1.4 million college faculty members in the United States, it is clear that they are not disappearing. But the all-purpose professor has faded. We have tended to see the professor as a single figure, but he is now a multiple being, of many types, tasks, and positions. And instead of the traditional idea of a community of scholars, all roughly equivalent, we now have a distended pyramid, with a huge base of people whose primary job is teaching, often entry-level courses; a layer of specialists in particular fields and researchers who may hardly even teach above them; and a thin spire of administrators commanding the peak.

The diorama of the year 2020 might represent a group. Like a health-care advertisement featuring a team of smiling staff in scrubs, it might show one professor sporting a black turtleneck and a little gray, next to a Chuck Taylor-shod grad student to signify a little youth, an assistant director of the writing center on the side, ready to help, and a professor-administrator in a navy suit smiling behind them. It takes an academic program.

The spread of academic labor follows the trend of other professions. The idea of the professional usually evokes a generic image—the old-fashioned family doctor, for instance, who hung out his shingle—but now we have a much more variegated system of alpha and beta practitioners. And rather than the ideal of being independent and roughly equivalent to their peers, most professionals now work in hierarchical bureaucratic structures.

Along with the greater differentiation of tasks over the past 50 years, we have experienced a progressively steeper stratification of academic workers. Sometimes people complain about professionalization and blame it for problems in academe, but we should recall that the movement toward professionalization after World War II advanced almost all fields and reflected a more equitable society, certainly more than at any point in the past century. The academic profession was an open avenue to the middle class; now it seems more like a confusing intersection with expensive tolls, one lane leading to a rewarding career, another to uneven pavement, poor conditions, and dead ends. You're not sure which you're on until you've already gone down the road.

The 20th century was, among other things, the century of the professional. At its start, "professional, technical, and kindred" workers mustered roughly 4 percent of the work force. Through the 19th century, most Americans worked on farms, and the major labor category in government statistics, other than agriculture, was "maker."

That steadily changed through the 1900s, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 31 million Americans now work in "professional and related occupations," which account for 22 percent of those employed. That vies with "sales and office occupations," which enlist some 33 million, as the predominant category, and exceeds "service occupations" (roughly 25 million), "production, transportation, and material moving occupations" (16.5 million), and "management occupations" (15 million).

However, the numbers don't simply translate to expanding fleets of highly paid doctors, lawyers, and professors. The category includes those from professions with less status, such as registered nurses and schoolteachers, along with the alpha professions. (Nurse aides and dental assistants, however, are in the subsidiary category of "service occupations," and "professionals" like police and firefighters are counted in "protective services.") The professions have become more ordinary, not quite blue collar but not necessarily white collar, either.

The characteristic that links them is that they typically require a bachelor's degree and often a master's or higher, and typically a rigorous form of accreditation. (For instance, RNs require a degree from a nursing program as well as a license, and even humble schoolteachers are encouraged to get a master's within five years in many states.) A special body of knowledge, conferred in higher education and affirmed by a professional organization, still distinguishes professions from other occupations.

Medicine provides a good illustration of the changes since the 1970s, when academic jobs began their current phase of evolution. While physicians and surgeons have increased at a faster rate than that of the general population—from about 260,000 in 1960 to 691,000 in 2010—the greatest growth has been in beta healthcare professionals. Nurses have increased from 600,000 in 1960 to 2,737,000 in 2010, nearly a fivefold increase, about double the rate of doctors. In addition, new intermedial professions have developed, such as nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, which began as formal programs only in the late 60s. By around 2008 , they numbered about 128,000 and 84,000, respectively, and both are expected to double by 2025.

Think of it this way: When was the last time a doctor gave you a shot? (I can remember: It was in 1964, when I was 5 and had a bad case of poison ivy, and the doctor did not have a light touch.) Now nurses do that, and if you spend time in a hospital, you are as likely to see a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner as a doctor.

We tend to think of professions as continuous, but one of the lessons of from the Pulitzer-winning history The Social Transformation of American Medicine, by Paul Starr, a professor of sociology and public affairs, is how changeable the nature of doctoring has been. Another lesson is how medicine has become a managed profession, administered by hospitals and HMOs since the 1980s. That has resulted not in deprofessionalization, but in greater specialization. And while less autonomous, doctors still receive high salaries.

As higher ed has undergone some of the same changes as medicine, a complicated web of academic labor has developed. For the student, the result is similar to the patient seeking health care: When she enters college, she only occasionally encounters a full-fledged professor; she is more likely to see beta professionals—the adjunct comp teacher, the math TA, the graduate assistant in the writing center, the honors-program adviser, and the staff members who run the programs.

It is not that professors have disappeared. In fact, there are some half a million with full-time, tenure-stream jobs. Their jobs have changed, though, and in some respects they have paralleled physicians in becoming increasingly specialized, relieved from teaching to do research, or teaching only advanced courses, or administering, whether directing the writing program, founding the new center of interdisciplinary studies, or stepping out to become an assistant dean.

Still, it's important to remember that most professors do a good deal of teaching—particularly those at community colleges, four-year colleges, and master's institutions. We take research universities as the standard, but they are not really typical of most people's experience. Since the early 1800s, the American system has included a capacious range of institutions, although the aim in the postwar years was toward parity, state systems striving to be as good as the Ivies. Now there is greater disparity among institutions, further intensifying the disparity among professors.

Another dimension of academic labor has been the swelling numbers of administrators and other professionals, as the political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg details in The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011). Whereas there were about 250,000 administrators and professional staff members in 1975, about half the number of professors, by 2005 there were over 750,000, easily outnumbering tenure-stream professors.

The chief difference from medicine is the steep drop in pay, benefits, and job security for those who hold beta positions. Over the past 40 years, we have witnessed the rapid growth of contingent professors—part-time, adjunct, nonpermanent—who now account for three-quarters of college teachers. While health-care professionals in beta positions earn decent wages—nurses average about $65,000 a year, and nurse practitioners and physician's assistants over $90,000—and usually have secure jobs, the majority of college teachers hold part-time appointments, typically paid $2,000 to $3,000 per course, and have no job security.

The rise of contingent faculty is frequently explained with the knowing invocation of "supply and demand," but let's put that notion to rest once and for all. The demand for higher education has increased relatively steadily over the past century—from about 238,000 enrolled students in 1900 to 598,000 in 1920, 1.49 million in 1940, 4.1 million in 1960, 12.1 million in 1980, and over 20 million now—so there is a palpable need for college teachers. Just as there is a need for health-care workers.

I am not suggesting that health care has attained a utopian labor system—not to mention that, if we were to extend our examination to the full range of labor on campuses or in hospitals, we would also have to look at secretaries, housekeepers, grounds crews, and the many other workers who keep the institutions operating. But the example of nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician's assistants shows that it is possible to build a more rational and fair system of professional labor than we have. The market, after all, is not a natural force but a human arrangement, based on a social contract, protected and encouraged by law as well as regulated by it.

Rather than a horizontal community of scholars, or even a pyramid with reasonable steps of rank, the American university has adopted its own harsh class structure: the mass of the contingent (and other workers) struggling at the bottom, tenure-stream professors in the middle class speaking for the university's intellectual values and productions, and superstar faculty and administrators in the upper class setting its direction and taking the greatest rewards.

Graphically, it is not really a pyramid any longer, but a large, pancake-shaped bottom tier barely above level, a visible middle layer above it, and finally a barely visible aerie rising above them.

The shape of academic labor is profoundly unbalanced.

We might argue that stratification is a natural development of social systems as they become larger and more differentiated. But such severe economic stratification is another matter, and it arises from the agreements and contracts of people. For the resigned or cynical, it is perhaps no surprise that higher education is a fractal of the winner-take-all society, but how much disparity are we willing to accept?

And shouldn't those of us in a humanistic institution, presumably charged to inculcate humane values and preserve the best of our culture, support and enact fair labor practices, certainly above a living wage and with secure terms?

The comparison with medicine, however inexact, suggests a few ideas that we might be able to use. It is worth bearing in mind that health-care professionals maintain their employment conditions in part through their professional organization, and particularly for nurses, unionization. And each sector is organized according to its particular tasks and on its own terms.

One idea is to take the model of nurse practitioners and physician's assistants and formalize credentials for "teaching practitioners." There has been a good deal of discussion about reforming the Ph.D., particularly about shortening the time to degree. For instance, in a much-discussed essay, "How to Make a Ph.D. Matter," first published in The New York Times Magazine in 1996 and elaborated in his book The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (Norton, 2010), Harvard University's Louis Menand proposed that we consider shortening the Ph.D. to "a determinate length," like a law degree, which is customarily three years. His reasoning was that, if so many people were not getting full-time jobs and were taking nearly 10 years to finish, then we need a more pliable Ph.D. But perhaps we need other degrees besides the Ph.D.

In the residual model that we have, everyone works to attain the same all-purpose degree for very different jobs. We should consider if we would be better served to have an intermedial degree—more advanced than the M.A., which seems more a preparatory than terminal degree for academics, but less lengthy and more practical than the current Ph.D. In turn, the Ph.D. could be reserved for specialist positions, advanced researchers, or field experts.

There has also been repeated discussion about the lack of teacher training in Ph.D. programs. Just a few weeks ago, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, declared in The Chronicle, "The most glaring defect of our graduate programs, however, is how little they do to prepare their students to teach." Perhaps there might be a degree track that emphasizes new modes, techniques, and technologies of instruction.

Nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, who undergo two to three years of postgraduate training, can diagnose and prescribe for many conditions, as well as refer cases to physicians. We might imagine a system of teaching practitioners who design curriculum and have job security, rather than filling their jobs in the ad hoc way that we do now. It is not merely for their sake, but to stabilize the experience of college for most undergraduates, which in turn might help remedy attrition.

My belief is that we should have a horizontal model of academic work, one that both honors the tradition of a community of scholars and carries out the practices of unionism, seeking cooperative control of the workplace. But it seems as if the strongest move for "non-tenure-track faculty" is to develop their own recognized credential and job track. It would afford a species of professional control. Those of us who hold professorships should support this effort because the obvious exploitation of college teachers devalues our own jobs, as well as violates the spirit of the university.

The development of the "knowledge economy" has been touted as great progress—everyone will be an educated professional! You won't have to get your hands dirty, and you'll be highly paid! But that relies on the myth of the halcyon professional. Instead the knowledge economy has ushered in a deeply stratified society.

What good is knowledge if it brings us gross inequality and unfair terms for a majority of those who work, or with whom we work?

[Jeffrey J. Williams is a professor of English and literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University. He has recently inaugurated a new book series, co-edited with Chris Newfield, called Critical University Studies, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Redaction from Hawking

"Stephen Hawking says there is no such thing as black holes, Einstein spinning in his grave"

STEPHEN Hawking has rocked the world of physics by reversing his lifetime’s work to claim that black holes do NOT exist – insisting they’re more like 50 shades of grey.


Gareth Morgan

January 24th, 2014


The wheelchair-bound genius has posted a paper online that demolishes modern black hole theory. He says that the idea of an event horizon, from which light cannot escape, is flawed.

It is considered one of the pillars of physics that the incredible gravitational pull created by the collapse of a star will be so strong that nothing can break free...much of this is thanks to Hawking’s own work.

But Hawking smashes this idea by saying that rather than there being an inescapable event horizon, we should think of a far less total “apparent horizon”. And, at a stroke, he has contradicted Albert Einstein.

He sets out his argument in the paper, called Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting For Black Holes, which is likely to send his fellow scientists into a spin.

Hawking writes: “The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity.”

He suggests that light rays attempting to rush away from the black hole’s core will be held as though stuck on a treadmill and that they can slowly shrink by spewing out radiation.

Hawking told leading science magazine Nature: “There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory. [But quantum theory] enables energy and information to escape from a black hole”.

The professor’s grey hole theory would allow matter and energy to be held for a period of time before being released back into space.

The physicist admits that his idea requires a new theory that merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But he added: “The correct treatment remains a mystery.”

Hawking’s latest work was prompted by a talk he gave via Skype to a meeting at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California, in August 2013.

He is attempting to solve what is known as the black-hole firewall paradox, which has puzzled scientists for almost two years. It stems from a “thought experiment” where scientists tried to imagine what would happen to an astronaut unlucky enough to fall into a black hole.

Event horizons are mathematically simple consequences of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Black hole expert Don Page, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, admits: “The picture Hawking gives sounds reasonable.”

But theoretical physicist Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute is sceptical and insists: “In Einstein’s gravity, the black-hole horizon is not so different from any other part of space. We never see space-time fluctuate in our own neighbourhood: it is just too rare on large scales.”

Raphael Bousso, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and former student of Hawking's, admits many physicists will find Hawking’s work “abhorrent”.

He says: “The idea that there are no points from which you cannot escape a black hole is in some ways an even more radical and problematic suggestion than the existence of firewalls. But the fact that we’re still discussing such questions 40 years after Hawking’s first papers on black holes and information is testament to their enormous significance."

A fun story about a missing book

"Aggravated Bibliophilism"


Thomas E. Kennedy

January 23rd, 2014

The New Yorker

You look on the shelf where you keep your dictionaries for the royal-blue-spined glossary of literary terms because you want to see if it contains a simple, concise definition of “metaphor.” You are editing a paper in which the author explains how metaphor can make a complex subject like Einstein’s theory of relativity more easily understandable. But you are trying to decide whether the idea of metaphor is simple enough to be used in this way.

The book is not on the shelf where it belongs.

This annoys you. You remember that you had taken it out a few days before and placed it on the coffee table with various papers that you were considering—on either side of the orange bowl in the center—but there is neither book nor papers on the coffee table. Perhaps you moved the papers and the book yesterday, when an unexpected guest rang the bell and you hastily straightened up the living room. You attempt to retrace the steps you took when you did that, which you usually can do, but get no mental picture of the steps you went through.

Perhaps you put them on the small table that stands temporarily in front of the bookcase in your office. The papers are there, with some other papers that you had forgotten about, but no royal-blue glossary. The table is just large enough to accommodate four eight-by-eleven-inch stacks. Some of the papers are bulky, gathered with a bulldog clamp in the upper-left corner, so you go through each of the four stacks, lifting apart the clamped papers to see if the book has slipped between them, but there is no book.

You return to the shelf of dictionaries, where it should be, and run your finger along the twenty-something multicolored spines, but there is no royal-blue one. You feel along the back of the shelf to be certain that the book has not slipped behind the other books. It has not.

This is troubling. The glossary is a valued one, given to you by your son ten Christmases ago, when you were fifty-five. You use it often. In fact, you take it to every literary conference you attend, because you have trouble with theoretical terms. Terms that you once used without a thought have become more complex now that you think about them. You wonder if this is because your mind has developed more complex thought processes or whether it is because your brain is softening and is no longer capable of dealing nimbly with complex concepts. (What in the hell would your S.A.T.s be if you had to take them today?)

You return to the dictionary shelf and, very slowly, run a finger over the spines. The spine you are looking for is slender and royal blue. There is one blue spine, baby blue, but it is thicker than the glossary. You slip it out hopefully, despite the fact that you know it is not the book you are looking for, and, of course, it is not. You slide your hand behind the books once again and—more slowly than the first time, more thoroughly—check whether it has fallen behind. Of course, it has not.

Then you remember that, three days ago, you filled three large plastic garbage bags with books that you had decided you had no pressing use for anymore. The bags are in the kitchen, under the window, by the stairway to the attic where you will store them.

Now you wonder with alarm whether you somehow inadvertently mixed the glossary into the books in one of the bags. You are certain you have not, but you know that when the three large plastic sacks are moved up to the attic they will join the many piles of sacks and cartons in that dim, chill, musty-smelling room, will disappear among them, and, if you do not find the glossary elsewhere, the thought will haunt you that it is in the attic. The only way to be absolutely certain that your cherished glossary is not in one of the three sacks is to go through them now.

You step across the Persian carpet and into the kitchen and eye the sacks, feeling as though you are about to perform a hated, pointless exercise that will take at least fifteen or twenty minutes and will require stooping and bending, which will not be good for your back. You stare with animosity at the sacks, which are made of heavy-duty translucent plastic the color of the hateful moths that destroyed your expensive cashmere sweater and that you hung traps for in your closet.

You hate those moths, and you hate those sacks. You hate what you have become, hate the fact that you are incapable of throwing out books—just throwing them out, getting rid of them, giving them to the Goodwill.

Fuck them! “Fuck them!”

You become aware that you are cursing aloud to these three ugly, plastic, moth-colored sacks.

Inhaling slowly, deeply, you surrender to the fact that you must look through them now. You will yourself to do it, turning a defeat into power—this is an act of will, you are willing yourself to do something you do not want to do.

There are perhaps forty or fifty books in each sack. You lift each book out of the first sack and pile them on the kitchen counter, wondering once again how you can be so certain that you have no pressing need for these books, at least some of them, and you recognize the danger of performing this exercise, the possibility that you will take some of the books back into your office, your living room, your bedroom. But you steel yourself against that sentiment, that tendency. You decided once and for all, three days ago, after much indecision, that these books are not needed, and you cling to that decision.

When you have unloaded and repacked all of the books into the three plastic sacks, twenty-five minutes later, you have, of course, not found your cherished glossary and have succeeded in saving only a single book from the verdict of its attic doom. It is because of this book that it took you longer to unpack and repack the bags, because you fell victim to the urge to open the book and read an inscription in it. It is a dark-blue volume of Goethe’s “Faust,” published in 1882 by New York’s John W. Lovell Company, and is inscribed to your grandfather “lovingly” by a woman named Helen and dated “Christmas 1912.” Who was Helen? Your grandfather’s wife was named Isabel. You never knew your grandfather, who died long before you were born. You consider that Christmas, 2012, is approaching and that this book was given to your grandfather exactly a hundred Christmases ago by someone named Helen, who closed with the word “lovingly”—there are no survivors to ask who Helen was—revealing that she at least thought that your grandfather might like to read Goethe’s “Faust.” You never heard reference to your grandfather as a book lover, and only a book lover would read Goethe. Your own father certainly was a book lover. Perhaps he inherited that love of books from his own father and passed it on to you.

You wonder whether you actually love books or are merely addicted to them, obsessed by them. For fifty years, since you were fifteen years old and your father gave you the first novel you ever read—Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”—you have been hooked on collecting books. First collecting, then amassing, then obsession. Your life was decided by books. You became a writer, editor, translator, professor.

Why? Is that a good thing? Maybe it would be better if you were never given that book at such a susceptible age. But this is your life now, and it has been lived, most of it. No use turning back now. No sense turning back. No possibility. No time.

You do not remember what you were doing, return to the sofa where you were sitting, and notice the paper that you were editing about Einstein’s theory of relativity. You recall that you were wondering whether metaphor is a simple enough concept to simplify the understanding of relativity and that you were looking for the royal-blue glossary to ascertain whether it contained a simple, concise definition of “metaphor.”

You have not sat down yet on the red plush sofa. You stand gazing at the paper. It is draped over the sofa arm, and you feel depression hovering over and around, seeking to descend, to envelop you. You doubt your ability to withstand it, but you remember what a psychologist friend once told you about depression: “Don’t ever go down into that hole. It’s so easy to descend and so hard to get out.”

So you don’t sit, but do the only thing you can think of doing: you return to the dictionary shelf and slowly read the titles on the spines. And there is no royal-blue spine on which is written “Glossary of Literary Terms” by M. H. Abrams, but you do find a white spine bearing that title. You slide the book out and see that the cover is royal blue, the spine white.

You flip through it to “metaphor” and find several pages with several complex classifications of metaphor.

You do not know whether you are consoled.

Nothing is simple.