23 November 2009

Rosalind Franklin

You frequently state, and in your letter you imply, that I have developed a completely one-sided outlook and look at everything and think of everything in terms of science. Obviously my method of thought and reasoning is influenced by a scientific training--if that were not so my scientific training will have been a waste and a failure. But you look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience, and experiment. Your theories are those which you and many other people find easiest and pleasantest to believe, but so far as I can see, they have no foundation other than they lead to a pleasanter view of life (and an exaggerated idea of our own importance).

I agree that faith is essential to success in life (success of any sort) but I do not accept your definition of faith, i.e. belief in life after death. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining. Anyone able to believe in all that religion implies obviously must have such faith, but I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world.

It has just occurred to me that you may raise the question of a creator. A creator of what? ...I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals. Again, I see no reason why the belief that we are insignificant or fortuitous should lessen our faith--as I have defined it.

quoted in Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, pp.60-61

13 November 2009

Martin Newell

I was one of the inventors of the cassette underground. Being pretty much an average dumbshit Spinal Tap-type pop musician, which I was, I was interested in haircuts and girls and drugs and quite a lot of music really. I had no knowledge of politics. But I suddenly started reading anarchist tracts. I'd always been rebellious. But in this case I suppose I did have half a brain, and it started germinating about this time. I started reading. And I thought, hang on a minute. No one's so zealous as the recently converted. I became a fully-fledged agit-prop anarchist, let's buck the system, let's tear it all down, let's slash it up. I thought, the best thing is not to join in. You know that slogan that Lennon and all the others had about '70: "What if they had a war and nobody came?" Well, this was "what if they started a record company and nobody signed?"

So we said look, the equation is this: we want to make music, and there's people who want to listen to it. So how do we get our music out of our hearts, through our fingers, into people's ears without this plethora of basically parasites interfering with it? 'Cause there were parasites. And I thought, I know. As the technology improves--they'd just invented four-track portastudios--we could have the same facilities in theory as the Beatles had, in our living rooms, and we could send the stuff out. We could just mail it out to people. But Lol [Elliott, fellow member of Cleaners from Venus], who was well-staged in anarchism, said, "Look, do we have to take money for it? Can't we just do a direct swap--music for groceries?"

But I thought, there's perishables. Obviously, the thing has a self-limiting factor inasmuch as if you start sending melons or oranges and stuff. We're vegetarians, so there wouldn't be any rotting meat or anything being sent to us. But it would have to be dried goods. I think somebody did actually send us some tea bags. But that's as far as it got. Then we realized that we couldn't swap tea bags for stamps, so we couldn't mail the stuff out. So we had to modify it a bit. So in the end we just charged the lowest prices we could.

It began to get quite successful, so I got in an argument with a businessman one day, who said, "Martin, blah blah, this thing seems to be taking off for you. What happens if you become successful? You'll have to become a capitalist." So I said "No, it's not anti-capitalism. I'll reduce the prices." He said, "You can't do it." I said, "I can." He said, "What happens if it gets really really successful?" I said, "We'll give it away." He said, "What happens it gets really global? " I said, "We'll pay people to take it with the money we've made." And he got really angry, and I had to leave the pub before he hit me. People who are interested in money get very emotional about it. They don't like the idea of anyone giving it away. It contravenes some essential law in their heads.

Please read the complete Martin Newell interview with Richie Unterberger

Gram Parsons

The core of Gram's art was his courage in the face of emotional pain. While his life was consumed in fleeing or blunting that pain, his music addressed the most awful loss with singular clarity. For Gram, transcending pain meant staring it in the face, describing it in detail, owning the hurt without flinching.

David Meyer, Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music, p.444

Gram Parsons II

Years spent sifting through Gram Parsons' life, tracking the course of his years, listening to those who knew him, becoming ever more immersed in his music, make it clear to me that Gram's death offers not the slightest trace of romance. It was sordid.

Meyer, p.455

12 November 2009

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker's promising baseball career was pounded to dust not by ownership but by the white players themselves. In 1887, future Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson refused to allow his team to play against Newark unless Walker and George Stovey were benched. Anson's team issued the following letter:

"Dear Sir,
We the undersigned, do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the Negro catcher, the days you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of seventy-five determined men who have sworn to mob Walker, if he comes on the grounds in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so there will be no trouble, and if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much bloodshed, as you alone can prevent."

Billy Voltz refused to concede, and even sent Walker, who was scheduled to have an off day, to right field. Anson backed down and the game was played.

At a game in Syracuse, Walker took the day off and sat in the dugout in street clothes. The Toronto manager asked Walker to leave the stadium. Heated words were exchanged. According to one account, Walker was surrounded by fans and allegedly brandished a loaded revolver and threatened to put a hole in someone in the crowd. He was arrested but released, and the next day he was in Syracuse's lineup.

But Walker--even though he is now a baseball footnote and most fans think Jackie Robinson was the first African American player--didn't fade into obscurity. The son of an Ohio doctor, Walker went to Oberlin College, a school with roots in the abolitionist movement, and later went on to both run a hotel and become an inventor of early movie cameras. He was also a spokesperson for the idea that the only way blacks could escape white supremacy would be to secede from America. Walker called for a mass exodus to Liberia: the only solution to "the Negro problem or if you prefer, the white man's problem" is "the wholesale emigration of the Negro from America.... We do not believe in the wholesale deportation of the Negro at the present time....But the time is fast approaching when the Negroes at the very least must leave the Southern states." In Walker we see a precursor to the Garveyite movement of the 1920s. In other sections of Walker's work, he writes bracingly about everything from the effect of white dolls on young black girls to the inhumanity of lynchings. The sham of baseball's "level playing field" created a man with no illusions in the promise of America. His baseball experience produced enduring scars.

Dave Zirin, A People's History of Sports in the United States, pp.22-24


There are things human beings have known for most of our time on earth. For at least 500,000 years of human time we have known them; for about 5 billion years of earth time we have known them; for a good 13 billion years of galactic time we have known them--and, no doubt, longer than that. Set against this long galactic, terrestrial, and human time of knowing our oneness, the past four thousand years of patriarchy's institutional and doctrinal denial of our oneness, once we see it for what it was, will appear a mere aberration. Just a brief forgetting.

Monica Sjöö & Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p.424

09 November 2009

Abner Doubleday

It was thought for decades that baseball's creator was a prominent Union general named Abner Doubleday who in his pre-martial days was said to have invented the sport. But this was myth. Neither his personal effects (letters, notes) nor his 1893 obituary in the New York Times makes mention of baseball. The tale was born when Albert Spalding, of Spalding sporting goods, put together a panel to declare how the sport began. Spalding, a former pitcher, team owner, and antiunion zealot, trumpeted that the game's roots lay in Cooperstown, New York, a bucolic All-American postcard of a place. Doubleday, a veteran who graduated from West Point and fought Indians, Mexicans, and Confederates, seemed as good a choice as any to be the founder. The myth was powerful enough and repeated enough that Cooperstown is now the site of the baseball hall of fame. There is no evidence Doubleday ever even set foot in Cooperstown.

Dave Zirin, A People's History of Sports in the United States, pp. 15-16

Please see The Doubleday Myth to read about this story in more detail.

02 November 2009


You might not think there would be that many people in the world prepared to devote lifetimes to the study of something so inescapably low key, but in fact moss people number in the hundreds and they feel very strongly about their subject. "Oh, yes," Ellis told me, "the meetings can get very lively at times."

I asked him for an example of controversy.

"Well, here's one inflicted on us by one of your countrymen," he said, smiling lightly, and opened a hefty reference work containing illustrations of mosses whose most notable characteristic to the uninstructed eye was their uncanny similarity one to another. "That," he said, tapping a moss, "used to be one genus, Drepanocladus. Now it's been reorganized into three: Drepanocladus, Wamstorfia, and Hamatacoulis."

"And did that lead to blows?" I asked perhaps a touch hopefully.

"Well, it made sense. It made perfect sense. But it meant a lot of reordering of collections and it put all the books out of date for a time, so there was a bit of, you know, grumbling."

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p.353