Friday, February 22, 2013


"How You Tried To Set Them Free"

Aaron Swartz was an internet leader and free-speech advocate. He helped organize the worldwide movement to keep the internet free from censorship and corporate control. After Aaron downloaded a large number of scholarly articles from the JSTOR website without JSTOR's permission, he was indicted for violating JSTOR's terms of service. Facing long years in prison, Aaron committed suicide last month, at the age of 26. At a recent memorial service for Aaron in Washington, DC, Congressman Alan Grayson was invited to speak. Here is what he said:
CONGRESSMAN GRAYSON: Aaron worked in my office as an intern. He had a quality that I found unnerving. He could come up with better things for him to do than I could come up with for him to do. Time and time again, I would give him something to do, and he'd say, "Is it okay if I also work on this other thing?" And "this other thing" turned out to be much more important than anything that I could come up with.
I learned to live with that. I learned to live with that shortcoming, which I took to be a shortcoming of my own, not one of his.
The other unnerving quality that I found in him was the fact that when he would conjure these assignments, they actually came to fruition — an unusual phenomenon here on Capitol Hill. [Laughter.] He'd give himself something to do, I would recognize that it was very worthwhile, I let him do it, and it got done! He was a remarkable human being.
Another thing that I found unnerving — but also very endearing — about Aaron was that Aaron wanted to rock the boat. Now, we all hear from a very, very young age, "Don't rock the boat." I would venture to say that of the 2000 languages spoken on this planet, probably every single one of them has an idiom in that language for that term: "Don't rock the boat." And yet Aaron wanted to rock the boat. Not just for the sake of boat-rocking, but for the sake of improving the lives of ordinary people. And that's a beautiful, a wonderful quality.
We're talking about somebody here who helped to create Reddit, an important world-wide service, at the age of nineteen. Honestly, somebody who probably could have spent the rest of his life in bed, ordering pizzas, and left it at that. And yet he didn't. He continued to strive to do good — good as he saw it. And that's a rare quality in people. Many of us, we just have to do our best to get through the day. That's the way it is. Many of us struggle to do just that. Very few of us actually can think big thoughts, and make them happen. But Aaron was one of those rare people.
And he was willing to take the heat for rocking the boat. Now, you know, sometimes when you rock the boat, the boat tries to rock you. That is exactly what he encountered, right up until the end.
And it's a sad thing, that that's the price you have to pay. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our property. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our freedom. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our families. And in Aaron's case, his life.
And yet, he was willing to face the facts, and to let that happen. To keep striving, to keep struggling, to keep trying to shake things up.
Aaron's life reminded me about a different life that came to the same end. It's the life of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician. He lived in England, and was born one hundred years ago. Alan Turing was the greatest mathematician of the 20th Century. He not only invented the Turing Machine, which is the basis for all modern computing, but Alan Turing also broke the Nazi codes during World War II, and allowed the English and the Americans to defeat the Nazis.
You would think that someone like that would be cherished. Someone like that who, if he had managed to have a full life, might have won one, or two, or even three, Nobel Prizes. But in fact he was vilified, because he was a homosexual, which, at that point in England, in those days, was illegal. And I'm sure that at that point in England, in those days, there were people who said, "Well, the law is the law. And if you disobey the law, then you should go to prison." Because of that, because his boyfriend turned him in, Alan Turing was convicted of perversity, and sentenced to prison.
Given the choice between spending hard time — years and years of his life — instead of doing the mathematics that he loved, or alternatively, to accept estrogen injections, well, Turing took the estrogen injection choice. And that broke not only his body, but his mind. He found that he could not do the thing he loved the most, mathematics, any longer. So after two years of this, Alan Turing committed suicide.
And who lost, out of that? Well, Alan Turing lost. But so did all of we. We lost as well. All of us who would have benefitted from that first, and second, and the third Nobel Prizes that Alan Turing had in him. And that Aaron Swartz had in him.
We're the ones who lose.
If we let our prejudices, our desires to restrain those with creativity — if we let that lead us to the point where that creativity is restrained, then going back all the way to the time of Socrates, what we engage in is human sacrifice. We sacrifice their lives, out of the misguided sense that we need to protect ourselves from them, when in fact it's the opposite.
Our lives have meaning, our lives have greater meaning, from the things that they create. So we're here today to remember Aaron — and also to try to learn from the experience. To understand that prosecution should not be persecution.
This morning I reached into the closet, randomly took out this tie [showing necktie], and wore it. And I have a sense that sometimes, things are connected in ways that are not exactly obvious. It happens that this tie is a painting of "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh, someone else whose life ended all too soon.
In a Don McLean song about Vincent Van Gogh, it ends this way: "They would not listen. They're not listening still. Perhaps they never will."
It's time to listen.


"And when no hope was left in sight,
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you."

-Don McLean, "Starry, Starry Night" (1971).

Monday, February 18, 2013


WELL, OK, NOT EXACTLY… but there were quite a few out there this morning in the sun, having breakfast. AT one point I counted 7 males on the feeders or waiting their turn in the Redbud, but could only get 6 in one shot. It seemed one was always in flight as I snapped the picture.  Now if you look real closely and count females, how many cardinals can you find?

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Sunday, February 17, 2013


DSC_2171It is a bitter cold day (for us – stop laughing, Philip!) with temps below freezing – except where the sun is warming things up a bit, and high winds. Our wind-chill is in the mid teens. Yesterday was a “winter-mix” day – rain, snow, sleet, sometimes all of them at the same time. I guess it was to chill my enthusiasm since I picked my first (and only) daffodil last week. Anyway, I thought I would share what remains of the mixture that is on the ground in contrast with the camellia beside the side driveway.

And I also managed to get 4 of the male cardinals together out front in one shot – but one of them took off just as I got close to the window. One is in shadow at the bottom of the picture. DSC_2174

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


AND THEY ARE EARLY! The robins are here… the new ones, not the ones that have been here all winter. How can I tell them apart? Well, for starters, when I went out to feed the cats, the world SOUNDED different. There was a different intensity to the birdly sounds – and an increase in the Robin sounds in particular. Then, while doing the breakfast dishes, I noticed the activity around the birdbath. The temperature was slowly moving up from freezing and the other birdbath had a ring of ice in it. This birdbath has a de-icer in it. See that shiny thing with a rock on it? See the white cord that comes back 40 feet to the house? All around the back yard were robins, bunches of robins, and they were thirsty. They took turns, one at a time while the others dug under the winter leaf debris to see what might be crawling out there. In the one shot, you can see the tall green stuff back behind St Francis… those are daffodils and they will be blooming in a couple of weeks. There are a few dozen buds on that bunch – King Alfred’s, the earliest yellows to bloom here. DSC_2164 DSC_2165

As I loaded the robins into the computer, I noticed a couple other recent shots I had not bothered with but from within the last week or so. I have been blessed with having a family of pileated woodpeckers live here, but it us hard to get a shot of them… they are so easily spooked. I include the badly out of focus shot just so you can see that red head and the size of the bird.  DSC_2160 DSC_2158

The activity had been at its usual high out front at the Red-bud Restaurant. I might mention my yard is on the annual Christmas Bird Count list of places to watch. Maybe because of the 18 feeders I usually keep going? I have 6 male cardinals (that I generally see together at one time at the feeders) but never seem to be able to get more than 3 in a picture frame at a time – and then the shot is pretty boring anyway – but I assume there are most likely 6 females, too. I know where a few of the nests are and am glad the cats don’t seem the least bit interested as their nests are pretty low to the ground, but in dense foliage. Anyway, I thought I would share this shot of a papa bird in our last snow. I know it is not a good shot.DSC_2163

Maybe it will be warm enough for me to go out and wash a couple windows today, ya think? I am not sure how many males you can find in this shot in the back yard…

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I have not bothered to take pictures of them, but I have also had several red-breasted nuthatches that have been running up and down the redbud all winter. They are friendly little fellows and not easily spooked by people, but the goldfinches fly as soon as I go out with my camera and scare everyone else up into the air also… and to be honest, it has been too cold to just stand out there with the camera and wait. And, well, you can see how dirty my windows are (Thanks Hurricane Sandy!) But, maybe now that is seems to be warming up I will give it another try. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed a bit of birdwatching with me and news that spring must not be too far away now that the robins are back.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


If you have ever been in my house, you probably noticed it is like a cross between a small library and a small museum, but with a couple of cats to remind you who really owns the place. Like most old folk’s houses, it is filled with STUFF – and like most people who have traveled a lot, there are stories behind all this stuff. In my old age, I have decided it is time to down-size. As I stand in my living room and look around, I try to figure out what I can eliminate – but I know I can’t get rid of this or that, so and so gave me that, my sister gave me this, Oh, that came from Turkey, I got this in Egypt… I am not one of those people who redecorates every few years. I redecorate when something finally falls apart, and even then it is done reluctantly. In 1976, I bought a kit from the drug store to make a little storage unit for my apartment at grad school. It cost $10. Over the years the press-board sagged, the masonite panel came loose, the doors would no longer slide as the time and weight of all my books I piled in and on it grew. Add a lamp, a few plants, some sculpture (a Turner bronze – heavy!) and, well, the last time I tried to move it to clean behind and under it… well… after all, it was 36 years old and has moved numerous times, what did I expect? So, I asked my dear friend Charlie, Rusty and Dusty’s daddy, to make me a new storage unit which morphed into a book case. I share this with you not as a form of bragging but mostly as a way of showing off Charlie’s work. I am still rearranging the books on it. Maybe they will get settled in in another year or so as I have decided only special books will go on these shelves. Oh well, we must entertain ourselves, right? Anyway, check out some of Charlie’s other cool stuff at this website.

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I was told to include the tiny Persian rug since this was titles treasures… for those of you who know Persian rugs, this one is signed. Check Charlie’s stuff out… amazing work!