Category Archives: Art & Culture

R.I.P. Elmore “Dutch” Leonard

To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters. – Anthony Burgess


I met Elmore Leonard (11 October 1925 − 20 August 2013) around 1999 and, knowing I was going to meet him, pocketed a small paperback bibliography of his works for him to sign. When I pulled it out and asked him if he would autograph it he looked at the cover, frowned and quipped, “Am I getting royalties on this?” After both of us took a close inspection of the sixty page book we determined that, no, he was not. He signed it anyway. As a reward for bringing the unknown book to his attention he also signed and gave me a sheet of his 10 Rules of Writing that he later expanded and published in 2007.

Leonard’s humorously delivered money question never bothered me, unlike that of two other writers whose books I mildly collected. Not long after meeting Leonard I went to a reading and signing of Robert Parker’s and then one with, well, a living writer best unnamed. Parker was forthright in mentioning his writing as his means of income and urged us all to buy his books. The other gent was even more forward and candid on this issue saying he could use the money and stressing that we ought to purchase his books early and often. His prominent and repeated emphasis on this aspect of the evening left a distinctly distasteful memory. It was not that I believed all writers toiled at their craft for the exalted (or unsung) glory of presenting literature before the masses, it was, rather, my perception that these authors seemed to imply they were simply slinging words that we should consume so that they might go on living in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

Fair enough, I suppose, as some folks choose to make their living as bankers, some as cowboys and some as writers. Some because they feel drawn to the work and love it, others because it’s their day job and pays the bills. Years ago I read Anthony Burgess’ You’ve Had Your Time, the second volume of his autobiography. He wrote a lot about his writing from the pressures of (forever) needing money. He churned out book after book to keep his finances afloat, not always successfully. I used to look forward, myself, to royalty checks and a good one would elevate my day while a bad one was a cause for self-criticism: why didn’t I work harder, do more, etc.?

Nowadays, I just deposit the check and move on.

Fifty Shades of Grey Matter: A Novel Approach

From “Spotted Dick” to a Toasted One

Anyone familiar with the ‘cuisine’ of England has heard of the dried fruit and steamed suet pudding “Spotted Dick”. Well, London firefighters have found another, more interesting, variation.

In an Associated Press report from London this morning “firefighters say they have freed hundreds of people with body parts trapped in household objects in the last three years, including … 79 people trapped in handcuffs… speculat[ing] that the popularity of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey may account for a rise in handcuffs-related emergencies.”

“Since 2010, London firefighters have treated … nine with rings stuck on their penises, and one man with his penis stuck in a toaster.”

The AP article ends with the fire brigade’s advice, “to keep the keys nearby when using handcuffs.”

It is hard to argue with common sense advice in the face of really idiotic human behaviour. Clearly, the old saw, “Don’t believe everything you read,” ought to have been expanded to include, “Oh, and don’t try everything you read, either.”

Nature Red in Tooth & Claw

Two Square Miles of the New West

I live in the New West (as in the Longmire TV series ‘west’ that has been filming in the alfalfa field down the road.) Interestingly, no one seems to have relayed this news to Mother Nature. And, as such things go, it may not be all that important anyway. It is worth pointing out, though, for those who require up to the minute briefings, that no text message, not a peep nor tweet about this development was sent to the many new-ish transplants to the region. I’m not sure who is culpable. Nevertheless, the fact is (you heard it here), the New West is as bloody as the Old.

When the church belfry was re-done some time back they discovered tons of collars and tags with names like Muffy, Spot and Max. Needless to say, there were also significant deposits of scat, bones, hair and fur. The pair of Great Horned Owls that are resident hereabouts take no prisoners — or rather, they do, but none escape to bark and meow about it. Before the dead tree by the old acequia pond toppled in a wind storm, I could drive home at night with the sun roof open and see the huge female look down at me with eyes imperious. What other animal observes one with such a superior, disdainful attitude? Actually, I anthropomorphize by writing ‘disdainful’. It is more accurate to say that I was an insignificant speck mostly beneath her concern.

Coyotes abound and a friend told me about a fellow who, while walking his Westies unleashed, had one of his precious white pups snatched by Mr. Wily and carried off to a certain doom. No children’s story of a cute domesticated doggy being taken away and raised by wild coyotes here.

Last summer we watched a coyote in the arroyo valley behind the house entice three dogs in a game of cat and mouse. The dogs, a German Shepard mix and two nondescript but sizable hounds, would chase after the playful coyote. When they tired the coyote would stop, turn around and taunt the dogs with its yipping bark into further continuing the chase. What the dogs did not know, and we could see from our bird’s eye vantage, was the rest of the coyote pack waiting, out of site, along the arroyo. It was like a ring-side seat for a PBS Nature episode. Singly, most coyotes are no match for a large dog, but working as a team, like wolves, they are masters of the hunt. An Australian cattle dog belonging to the neighbor on the next parcel was lost to them last year and one of my workmen had his great Rottweiler destroyed by a pack. The poor beast had to be put down.

I have yet to view a cougar, sometimes called mountain lions, but they’re around. A few miles away, toward Los Alamos, a guy who keeps ducks and geese was awakened by the manic sounds of his birds and went to the fenced area where they spend the night. He was dismayed to see a cougar going back over the fence with one of his ducks in its mouth. A few nights later the ruckus started again and he dashed out to see a black bear scaling the same fence, but with a goose. Drought and habitat loss, they say. And so it goes.

I have not been privileged to see one of the bobcats that prowl round about either. Definitely my loss. When we moved into this house we decided to get satellite TV instead of just staring at a blank screen. One of the features of our Spanish southwestern architecture is the ramada, an open porch roofed by thin beams, essentially an arbor. We have a nice one at the north end by the kitchen. On the section nearest a vertical wall it was thickly covered with climbing silverthorn. The planting expanded everywhere, topping out at the second story. I vividly remember the afternoon I heard a scream from the installing technician. Hurrying outside I expected to find him writhing on the ground from a fall. Instead, he was quivering saying a bobcat had jumped out of the dense greenery, shot past, leaped off the ramada onto the grounds and sped off. It was very exciting but had the unfortunate effect of dislodging the cat forever. My wife said, with little sympathy for any party, “Too bad!”

Snakes, scorpions and tarantulas are part and parcel of rural New Mexico living. I have yet to see a scorpion on the property but red racers, bull snakes and prairie rattlers are par for the course. I’ve taken Dharma, our yellow lab, to snake avoidance training to, hopefully, dodge the bullet that has plagued a neighbor: dogs dying from rattlesnake bite. Because of the nosing behavior of dogs they are most always bitten in the face. Such a bite is invariably fatal if you are not around to rush the dog to a vet for anti-venom. Even so, an unfair number succumb. Better to train the dog to avoid rattlesnakes like the plague.

Ah… plague, the Black Death, yes, it still exists, surviving quite comfortably here in the Land of Enchantment. As does hantavirus. The bacterial vector for transmission in bubonic plague is primarily the flea. It is carried on rodents like our endearing, big-eared and -eyed woodrat, more commonly called the pack rat from its habit of squirrilling away the shiny trinkets and detritus of human civilization. (They seem inordinately fond of the wiring on expensive European automobiles, frequently causing thousands of dollars of damage.) One of my good friends, a sturdy, strapping guy, may hold the world record for plague survival. He lived a week, undiagnosed, before his illness was accurately identified. Most people die a ghastly death by day four if they remain untreated.

Hantavirus in its pulmonary form appears to be spreading out from our Four Corners region. When the infected urine or feces of the Deer Mouse dries, and is aerosolized, it becomes possible to inhale the virus unknowingly. The problem is that it presents as a classic case of the flu. When left untreated it can be fatal.

The small inhabitants of our world are as noteworthy as the large — if harder to find and follow. I have watched a lizard in the back yard attack and tussle with one of the large, native centipedes. Some of these crawlies get as big as a #2 pencil. It was a battle worthy of the cheesy, cinematic, fighting dinosaurs from one of my childhood favorites: The Lost World. It took an hour for the chameleon to down the whole wiggling mass with the yet-to-be-swallowed tail half of the whipping centipede rolling the little lizard this way and that for the first 10 minutes of the fight.

Tarantulas, given a bad rap by Hollywood, are spectacular, large spiders, harming no one. It is a real treat to see one lumber along, minding its own business, heading for its hole in the ground. I am told they make nice pets.

All is not the survival of the fittest, however. (I lie, because really it is, we just don’t see it.) The last couple years the kestrel population has grown from never seeing one to having several resident families. A peregrine pair has returned for the last few breeding seasons as well. I am waiting for one to dive on the non-native intruders nesting in the juniper near the koi pond: Eurasian Collared Doves. First arriving in the States in 1982 they have spread like wildfire over the lower 48, adapting particularly well to human-altered environments. Ours are in their second season of setting up housekeeping.

Is it little wonder that so many of my easily unnerved and queasy coastal, big-city friends marvel at the rough and tumble available simply by stepping out our door? The New West may now be loaded with Birkenstocks, vegans and anti-gun sentiment, but it rides alongside much Old West wildlife and the struggle for survival still.

Oh… I have to stop now. The grand yipping and howling of a nearby coyote pack bears closer investigation. Perhaps they have waylaid a jack rabbit for tonight’s appetizer. Gain and loss, joy-pain, win-lose: the motion of life & death goes on, with or without our noticing or a ‘by your leave’.

As for me, I try to be aware. A key: keep your eyes open. Alert ears help, too.

People mean different things by the word ‘Nature’: some personify Nature; for some, Nature is an impersonal symbol; for some, Nature is an active force; for others, Nature is passive being; for some, Nature means God; for others, not.  But whatever meaning we attach to the term, it is not true that Nature is cruel; and therefore it cannot be true that Nature sets a headline for man’s cruelty… . For nature does nothing idly, makes nothing bad or ugly….  — Arthur Aston Luce, Fishing and Thinking, London: Hodder and Stoughton; 1959.

Coda:      The investigation had to be cut short. Fierce, and uncomfortably close, lightning played in the sky. It might have been the 4th of July. Finally, about 10:00 p.m., after ninety minutes of light show, the sky broke open from the east and we had a real, honest-to-goodness monsoon. A downpour of biblical proportions. The first decent drenching in about a year. A year in which many of our 1200 trees have begun to die; about all the vegetation in the back forty bit the dust by early summer.

When the cold rain hit, mixed with a little hail, I felt like raising my arms skyward in Moses-like supplication, sinking to my knees, kissing the hard earth. If you don’t live in the drought-gripped southwest you might not understand. If you do, you’ll be nodding your head saying, “Amen.”

Greatest Hits & CTE

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Malcolm Gladwell continues to amaze and inspire. He spoke on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS this morning about why college football should be eliminated. (He was also a panelist, teamed with Buzz Bissinger, in a very good debate on the TV program Intelligence Squared. Gladwell and Bissinger are opposed by former footballers Tim Green and Jason Whitlock for ‘the motion’ “Ban College Football”.) The gist of the argument is that players are at risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain injury resembling Alzheimers but more aggressive in its display.

I have written a bit about CTE in relation to Ernest Hemingway in my forthcoming book on wine. One now has to wonder whether CTE affected people like Paul Robeson, an All-American at Rutgers who also played a couple seasons professionally with teams in Akron, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

There will come a time, no doubt, when we will take a closer look at those seeking public office who were formerly involved in contact sports like football, hockey and boxing. Did they suffer any head trauma or concussions while engaged in these activities? Even soccer may have its affected players what with head butts to the ball and collisions between players.

Shattered by Dick Francis

Encounters with the Famous: Authorship as Collaboration

In 2000 I went to hear the mystery author Richard Stanley “Dick” Francis (1920-2010) read a selection from his just released book, Shattered. All of us in attendance were fortunate in that he was accompanied by one of his sons, Felix, and his wife Mary Margaret.

Francis, born in Wales, was a one-time jockey, including for horses of the Royal Family. Like most jockeys who ride for any length of time (it’s the most dangerous sporting profession), he suffered through many accidents and so turned to covering the horse racing circuit for a newspaper. After completing his autobiography he became a professional writer and published a book every year between 1962 and 2000, the year we met him for the first time.

(Dick Francis’ whole life was wrapped up in horses. His first horse related injury came when a pony fell on him when he was 12 years old. He volunteered for the English calvary in WWII, but instead ended as a sky jockey piloting bombers and fighters. Mary became a pilot, as well.)

When we met in 2000 Dick Francis said he thought he might retire. There was an audible groan in the room. Fortunately, he did published five more books after Shattered, four of them with his son Felix. I was surprised – but not. It is difficult to retire from something you, if not exactly love, do not loathe. What no one foresaw was that Mary would die shortly thereafter. And she was essential in his work.

Mary Margaret Francis was as important in the writing of Dick Francis’ novels, a co-equal, if you will, as Mr. Francis himself:

“Mary and I worked as a team. … I have often said that I would have been happy to have both our names on the cover. Mary’s family always called me Richard due to having another Dick in the family. I am Richard, Mary was Mary, and Dick Francis was the two of us together.”*

So why was Mary important in his writing? Along with editing the manuscripts she did all of the research for those interesting jobs in the books. Shattered features a glass blower, Reflex features a photographer, Rat Race revolved around an air-taxi service, Straight has a jewelry business theme. Mary investigated all these fields in-depth to lend veracity to the books. (Elmore Leonard, for instance, uses the same technique but has an employee do the research for his dialects, vocations, etc.)

Unusual, for me, in thinking ahead, in 2000 I thought to take along a wood horse, cut out of a board with a jigsaw, to the book reading. I planned to insert it into the lintel of a built-in book case where my signed Francis titles were kept. (I have since moved and took the horse and its mate with me!)

Dick Francis signature on my wood horse
Dick Francis signature on my wood horse

When the reading ended and people lined up to get their books signed I began talking to Mary about the world of art glass. She said she had found the research fascinating. Suddenly it occurred to me to ask her if she would sign my copy of Shattered. She was, after all, an enormous part of this, and many other Francis titles. She reddened in the face and tittered like a young schoolgirl, saying no one had ever asked her to sign one of the books. She then wondered aloud if she really should as she was not the author. I pointed out that she was responsible for the verisimilitude in the work and so she agreed.

All we had at hand was one of the short, stubby pencils the bookstore used for people to write their names on a pre-made form so Dick Francis would not have to ask whose name to sign the books to. (A great system for the hard-of-hearing and for those with names that are difficult to spell!) We used this nubbin of a scribe and Mary, in a shaky hand, added her name after her husband’s. She then made a joke about this copy being worth more now that it had a unique combination of autographs. Six months later she had a heart attack and passed away.

I cherish my unique copy still.

* Swanson, Jean; Dean James (2003). “An Interview with Dick Francis”. The Dick Francis Companion. New York: Berkeley Prime Crime. pp. 1–10.

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

Malala Day at the United Nations

First Formal Public Remarks by the Pakistani Girl Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai gave a speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly yesterday morning. I would like to think of it as her western ‘coming out’ talk — hoping we will hear more from her in the future. (Although she is not a neophyte when it comes to presenting her views: she had a blog hosted by BBC Urdu when she was 11 years old, hand-writing her entries that were then transcribed and uploaded by a reporter.)

You may remember that she is the little Pakistani Pashtun girl shot (along with her friends) in the head and neck October 9, 2012 by the Taliban for saying that girls should have the right to go to school. As she stabilized, in critical condition, she was airlifted to England for rehab.

She is now 16 years old!

You can skip to time stamp 3:45 to get by the Introductions and Thank You comments.

The UN video

Clash of the A & A Titans

It was the Bezos of times, it was the …

Most folks involved in the retail and wholesale business of buying and selling books know of the head butting between Amazon and Apple in their e-book fight (via publishers as their proxy.) Could one ask for a more engaging contest?

In one corner stood a CEO whose mantra was ‘extract every last drop of financial value’, that is, always charge more for a non-open source product — customers should expect to pay extra for sleek design and better utility. In the other corner bounced a CEO whose shareholders steadfastly back him up on selling items below cost (to quote an old joke, perhaps they make it up on volume.) And the winner is……

The five publishers who were charged with colluding with Apple on e-book ‘price fixing’ settled with the U.S. Department of Justice some time ago. Apple, however, denied wrong-doing and said, “we’ll see you in court!” And so they have — and say they will again. Wednesday U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, Southern District of New York, ruled against Apple writing that they violated anti-trust law (Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C., 1 as well as various state’s laws) in a conspiracy with the five publishers. A trial for damages is now in the wings with Apple saying it will appeal the ruling.

Joining the feds in the June 3 − 20, 2013 bench trial (a non-jury proceeding) as plaintiffs were 33 U.S. states and territories. The five previously involved publishers were Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a Macmillan, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., and Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Aside from the non-disguised machinations between Apple and the publishers in working this collusion, the scheme failed from Steve Job’s hubris in thinking that readers would turn in droves toward his iBookstore and glitzy technology, all coming at an increased financial price for readers. And, indeed, prices for e-books did rise from an average of $9.99 to some as high as $14.99 — overnight. Why did Jobs believe he could succeed? He was using his music world revolution with iTunes as a model. Why did publishers join in? Because they were feeling the pressure from the 800 pound gorilla in the ring: Amazon.

Apple was attempting to institute a service where the publishers would set e-book prices (“agency pricing”) and their vendor, Apple, would take a 30% cut. In this scenario Apple would make money, always a Jobs requisite, but the publishers would actually make less money than they were making with their Amazon deal! (Amazon buys e-books wholesale from the publishers at, generally, $12 to $14 dollars and sells them at $9.99.)

How did this work and why were publishers willing to lose money they were currently earning per book? Let’s break it down.

Apple sells an e-book for $10. It keeps $3.00 and forwards $7 to the publisher (who, remember, has set the $10.00 retail price.) Amazon, using a “wholesale pricing” model, sells that same e-book for $10.00 and forwards, say, $12.00 to the publisher (who has set this as their wholesale price with the retailer selling the book for whatever price they wish.) In this real world scenario Apple has made $3.00 per book and Amazon, on that same book, has lost $2.00. Crazy, eh? Publishers made money on both sales, but more on the Amazon sale, $12 gross profit, than on the Apple sale, $7.00. Confused yet?

Publishers were willing to make less money in a deal with Apple to counter what they see as their ‘death by a thousand cuts’ from Amazon. Competition is at the heart of a healthy economic system. When it disappears quality, service, diversity — everything suffers. Although Amazon disavows the idea, everyone pretty much has figured out that the company would like to drive competition out of the arena. Imagine, as the physical book disappears one’s recourse is an e-book, sales of which have just surpassed the sales of (non-children’s) physical books for the first time. With its Kindle as king Amazon would be in a powerful position to dictate prices — and more. They already give away some public domain books for free and don’t charge for the bandwidth used by the Kindle service.

Kindle Direct is an Amazon program where authors can bypass the traditional publishers altogether. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that publishers recognize the writing on the wall: their futures are in a precarious position. Physical book publishing is an expensive operation what with paper, shipping, returns, etc. E-books are cheap by comparison. But you have to be around, in business and have a distribution network to take advantage of this new-ish technology. A buffer, that is, a competitor, who could go toe-to-toe with Amazon was a desirable thing. So desirable that publishers were willing to take a momentary loss of revenue to prop up Apple as that competitor.

See U.S. District Judge Denise Cote’s ruling here.

SIDE NOTE: Stephen King, one of the first authors to have his books come out in e-book form, is releasing his latest book, a sequel to The Shining, as a physical book only, to help a small publisher.

The Master-Slave Relationship: More Kinship Than Cruelty?

The Paula Deen Implosion

I have mostly ignored the Paula Deen implosion. But a friend recently sent an email asking if I had seen her appearance at NY City’s October 2012 Wine & Food Festival. While there she gave a videotaped interview with The New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief and, months before her recent trials and tribulations, it would not have been too difficult to see the mindset that would eventually get her into trouble.

Deen goes into some of her family history with a story of how her great-grandfather “was devastated” after the Civil War. He had lost his son and the war and “didn’t know how to deal with life, with no one to help operate his plantation. You know there was 30 something [35, actually] people on his books” [euphemism for “slaves owned] and then the next year zero. He committed suicide. She goes on to say, “I feel like the south is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives, they were like our family.”

(Presumably she was not thinking of dysfunctional families like the one in Cleveland where Ariel Castro is alleged to have kept three women and his child by one of them in captivity, often chained.)

The real highlight and moment of revelation that told me Cholesterol Queen* Deen is largely clueless, like many of her peers, was when she called one of her black employees Hollis Johnson, up to the stage. “He’s black as that board” she said, pointing to the stage backdrop, adding “Come out here Hollis, we can’t see you standing against that dark board!” The audience began to laugh and Hollis came up on stage as Deen talked about him, “This is my son by another father.” He bent over and gave her a peck on the cheek as he departed.

The whole scene was one of those encounters where you feel mightily embarrassed for all the people on stage. Deen, apparently, has no clue to how 21st century race relations ought to be conducted. It was similar to being at a dinner party where someone begins telling racial or ethnic jokes in a mixed-race crowd. It just isn’t done. Period.

See the lengthy New York Times event video here. Go to minute time stamp 40:09 for a look at her learning about her great, great-grandfather’s slave ownership. For her interaction with Hollis Johnson see time stamp 46:07 — 50:07.

*To be fair Paula Deen says she does not advocate eating, on a daily basis, the style of food she has become known for.

U.S. House Committee Hearings on Copyright Law

Where are the writers on the U.S. House of Reps hand-picked Copyright Principals Project?

On May 16th the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held their first hearing on reform of the 1976 U.S. copyright law. The 5-member panel known as the Copyright Principals Project were the only witnesses. The five members are lawyers, professors and a Microsoft entry, all important voices, of course, but I will be following to see if other speakers are scheduled in the coming months.


Hooray! The Tropenmuseum is Saved

Well, at least until 2017


A view of the central interior plaza of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


As the public face of the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures around the world, the Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) is one of Europe’s leading ethnographic museums. Established in 1864, it’s beautiful brick building dates from 1926 and sits alongside the spacious greenery of Oosterpark. Between its rich permanent collection, which reflects Dutch colonial history, and its vivid temporary exhibitions, visitors can glimpse the past, present and future of non-Western cultures around the globe. A visit to the Tropenmuseum is a journey through old Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America via art, household and religious objects, photographs, music, film and interactive displays. The museum is also renowned for its efforts in child-friendly exhibitions. Tropenmuseum Junior offers an educational, inspiring and entertaining program for kids (6 to 13 year olds), aimed at introducing them to different cultures.

The Tropenmuseum is one of the most fascinating anthropological museums in the world, but is in danger of being closed with its collections dispersed – or so I wrote to colleagues a few weeks ago as the museum and the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT Research Library) was slated for closure. Over half of the staff was beginning to lose their jobs and the research library was closing (it is filled with one-of-a-kind publications from around the world from as early as 1400 A.D.)

The Dutch government promised to consider extending funding for the museum and library for two years if folks could get 40,000 signatures (Dutch and/or Worldwide) signaling that there was interest in keeping the museum and library alive. After this period the Tropenmuseum would have to merge with two other institutions.

Now for the good news!

The petition has actually helped: on June 20 the relevant Dutch ministers, in debate with the House of Parliament agreed to a transitional arrangement to fund the museum until 2017. The plan requires the Tropenmuseum, in the coming years, to merge its 175,000 objects into the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and the small Afrikamuseum in Berg and Dal. The price to be paid by the museum is that it will be cut loose from the KIT archives & library and that the collections become the property of the state.

The bad news: Regrettably, those curators and others who recently were cut from the staff as a money saving measure will not be coming back, an example of “the wrong way to save money” by losing all their expertise. But perhaps the best to be expected in these times of universal budget cuts for cultural institutions.


The organization that spearheaded this massive outpouring for the museum is Note that their website is, of course, mostly in Dutch.

The museum itself has a searchable database in English at:

Many Thanks to all my friends who added their names to the petition!

I Wanna See That!

New York City PBS 13 Out-Realities “Real” TV

A great series of five advertising posters are appearing in the New York City Subway system during the month of June. Entertainment Weekly carried a quote from a press release by Jeff Anderson, Executive Creative Director at CHI & Partners NY (the ad agency that created the campaign), “It’s pretty scary when you look out there and see what’s on television these days… If New Yorkers want an inspiring and educational option, they need to get behind a network that we sometimes take for granted.”



Three of the five spoof TV show posters appearing in the NYC Subway system until June 30.