A Journal of the Irrepressible

Archive for November, 2007

“Locavore” Is Word of the Year

leave a comment

I just learned from World Wide Words that the New Oxford American Dictionary has chosen “locavore” as its word of the year. Locavores are folks who try to get their food from as close to home as possible. Michael Quinion, the author of the weekly e-newsletter, World Wide Words, to which I subscribe, cites the Oxford press release naming their choice:

the word was coined in 2005 by a group of four women in San Francisco; it notes that “The choice reflects an ongoing shift in environmental and ecological awareness over the last several years. Lexicographers at Oxford University Press have observed that this social transformation is having a noticeable effect on the English language.”

The word previously appeared in Puck in my review of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. You’ll find Quinion’s tracings of the word here.

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

November 17th, 2007 at 10:10 am

All Souls Dance

leave a comment

poem by Robin H. Pugh Yi

Ralphie and I bring flowers to ghosts
we conjure in graveyards.

He likes the ones with
famous dead people:

Didi Ramone and Carl Wilson,
Thomas Wolfe and Washington Irving.

I like little
anonymous ones-

behind country churches,
awkward grassy triangles next to strip malls,

on the edges of towns where Chinese food
is considered exotic,

borders of industrial tracts
strewn with litter.

We read each other the stories
told in names and dates

and a few words carved in stone.
We wonder how survivors

chose the words. And what they left out.
Ralphie sings until the ghosts dance.

I bring food.
On windy days, pinwheels.

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

November 15th, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Posted in contributors, poetry

Stand Tall for Phenols

leave a comment

I’ve suggested before that plants are the ultimate selfish genies. Or geniuses. Red queens in green drag. One day soon, I swear, I’m going to get around to explaining what I mean by that and once and for all answer the question, Who cultivates whom?

In the mean time, here’s a tantalizing tidbit that underscores just how dependent we are on plants. Norm Lewis is a scientist at Washington State University’s Institute for Biological Chemistry. Lewis’s work interests me because it’s straight up cool: I’ve learned from talking to scientists to never turn my back on a plant, much less an entire monocropping field of them.

PhenylalanineLewis and his crew of researchers, in the words of a Newswise press release,

has cloned six genes coding for different forms of the enzyme arogenate dehydratase (ADT), which converts a compound called arogenate into phenylalanine.

A description of phenylalanine’s fate underscores its central role in terrestrial plant life and the importance of the enzymatic reaction that produces it.

Phenylalanine is converted into phenolic compounds that are the building blocks of many of the plant world’s most distinctive and important substances, including the pigments in flower petals and chemicals that protect leaves, stems and bark from ultraviolet radiation. Perhaps the best-known end product of phenols is the one that allows trees to stand upright.

But, the release continues,

Phenylalanine is more than a precursor to other important compounds. Since it is an amino acid, it is used as a building block itself in the production of proteins. That happens in animals as well as in plants; humans and other mammals, however, can’t produce phenylalanine. We obtain it by breaking down proteins in the food we eat—either plant material, or the meat of animals that ate plants.

We’re getting close to the big-bang heartbeat of the living world here or, at least, to identifying a strand that weaves all life together.

Lewis said our reliance on plants to make phenylalanine means the reactions that produce it are as crucial to our survival as they are to that of plants.

“If these don’t exist, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

November 6th, 2007 at 10:37 pm

How Close Can We Get to the Neanderthals?

one comment

story by Robin H. Pugh Yi

“Sweetie, you can’t climb in there,” I call. I catch my three-year-old daughter by the waist just before she hoists herself over the low wall between us and the Smithsonian’s Neanderthal burial exhibit.
“Why?” Rachel’s favorite question.
“Honey, there are some very delicate and rare things in there. We need to leave them alone so everyone has a chance to see them.”
She accepts this.
“Mommy, how close can we get?” she asks, never taking her eyes off the Neanderthal child mannequin bent over the grave.
“This is close enough,” I whisper, sliding next to her on the wall.
A nine- or ten-year-old girl leans against the wall, declaring, “Freaky,” before moving on to the next display. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

November 4th, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Posted in contributors, memoir

Clothesline Revival

one comment

cover of Of My Native Land by Clothesline RevivalI’ve been listening to Clothesline Revival’s Of My Native Land for a couple of years now and I love it. Clothesline is Conrad Praetzel and Robert Powell, some fine guests and a bunch of public-domain field recordings by the legendary John Lomax and others. The field recorded vocal tracks are by Leadbelly and others.

Unlike, say, Moby’s effort to go old-timey,which comes off like, well, a house DJ trying to go old-timey, Praetzel and Powell are true musicians–they never push the originals places they don’t want to go. Praetzel is responsible for the beats and he’s correct to refer to himself and Powell as “neo-traditionalists.” Instead of fast-forwarding the country, roots and blues tracks into the future, the duo take downtempo electronica and psychedelia into the Wayback Machine. The result is lush, understated and emotionally intense. The intensity hits its highest peaks in “Turtle Dove,” with its gorgeous vocal by Wendy Allen, and the slide-guitar vs harmonica smackdown “Wade in the Water.” (If anybody can clue me in about where to get more Wendy Allen–much, much more–I’d be grateful.)

In short, Of My Native Land is highly recommended. Check out the samples, along with a couple full songs in mp3 format, on Praetzel’s site, Paleo Music.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

November 4th, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Posted in mp3, music