Evan P. Schneider's article on the life and work of Karel Capek.


February 26

Oh, man. You start to look around for more Newts covers, and before you
know it...

"Capek. Karel Capek. And I'll have that newt shaken, not stirred, please."

"Vee are going to sell zees novel as eef eet ees farce! Eet is a lee-zard burlesque!":

"But how, if they're anatomically correct salamanders, could they have possibly
built or carved or whatever the huge stone salamander? I mean--"
"You ask stupid questions. You always ask the stupidest questions. This is the 
cover we're going with. And you can clean out your desk."

"Leo Leonni? No. No, I've never heard of him. Why do you ask?"

"I luff zees book. Eet ees so romontique."
"We're talking about War With the Newts, right?"
"When zay crawl? Their long feen-gers? Coming closer? Oof! Shee-vares oaf
ecstasy! Romontique pol-pee-tations!"
"Wait. You haven't read it, right?"
"No. Oh, no."

But our favorite is probably:

"Is this seat taken?"
"Yes. Forever."

February 25

Penguin is coming out with a new edition of Karel Capek's War With the Newts this
year. The new cover looks like this:

As you can see, it's now a "Central European Classic." Karel, wherever he is, will 
certainly be gratified to hear that he is centrally European, as opposed to a fringe-
dweller. (Is there a line of Western or Eastern European Classics? We would like
to see the line of "Vaguely European Classics." That line is probably awesome!
But wait: Will the introduction of the Central European Division affect the
playoffs? Don't you dare change the playoffs, Penguin!) 

The previous Penguin edition carried this cover:

And here's an old edition of the novel with a cover we find charming, though we will 
admit that its connection to the novel is rather less clear:

And yet if you look below, to the recent Capek-inspired animation, there is
an uncanny resemblance to the above cover, no?

February 19

Found object. Information given: "An excerpt from Darkness' Seed, a motion
captured animated film inspired by Karl Kapek's 1936 novel 'War With the Newts.'"

February 9

Bodies of Water, who traded aphorisms with us in the last issue, has also
done a "Take Away Show." Theirs was directed by Nate Chan, and was
filmed in Los Angeles in 2007:

by lablogotheque

February 8

The source of another of the images in the story: Vincent Moon's film of Grizzly
Bear doing an a capella version of "The Knife":

February 5

Some of you have reported difficulty tracking down the videos that served as the
sources of the images in our story with filmmaker Vincent Moon. So yes, okay, there
are a lot of videos on Moon's site. He's a busy man. Here is the Beirut performance 
from Paris, 2007:

February 2

Images from the Portland, Oregon, Tweed Ride, January 31st.

January 27


Earlier this week, Debra Gwartney was nominated for a National Book Critics
Circle Award
for Autobiography. The nominees:

Diana Athill, Somewhere Towards the End (Norton)
Debra Gwartney, Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and 
Reclaimed Love (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Mary Karr, Lit (Harper)
Kati Marton, Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America (Simon & Schuster)
Edmund White, City Boy, Bloomsbury

In our current issue, Gwartney chats about photos, talismans, and the challenges
of writing memoir.

January 25

Propeller: Helping adults ride bicycles in tweed since 2010.

December 10

The music of Atlantic Line in the surfing documentary "Gum for My Boat":

November 30

A holiday shopping deal you can't beat: Atlantic Line, the Los Angeles band interviewed in our October issue, is still offering a free download of their first album, "Exit to Intro":

November 23

Another item on the thoughts and feelings of animals: Barbet Schroeder's 1978 documentary, "Koko: A Talking Gorilla." Go to the 6:00 mark to see Koko, a chimpanzee friend, and Penny Patterson enjoying a relaxing drive around the city.

November 16

When National Geographic ran the photograph below on their website a couple weeks ago, we thought immediately of Keri Thomas's article ("A World Outside Ours") in our October issue, in which she considered the difficulties--and possibilities--of understanding the thoughts and feelings of animals. With Monica Szczupider's photo of chimpanzees in mourning as our starting point, we asked Thomas (via email) a few more questions about humans, animals, and concepts of "nature."

chimpanzees mourn the death of a tribe member

Propeller: Given the stir Monica Szczupider’s photograph of grieving chimpanzees has caused recently, it seems the idea that "animals feel things" is somewhat startling (or at least surprising and newsworthy) to many people. What's your take on why a group of silent primates lined up over the death of one of their kin is, as National Geographic puts it, "resonating with people everywhere"?

Keri Thomas: I think the photo resonates because we see a correspondence with ourselves. I'm not sure it's surprising because of a realization that "animals feel things," but because they feel things that look so much like what we feel. It goes beyond sentience, beyond being able to register pleasure and pain. I mean, those chimps have an understanding of death, of total loss. They know that one of their members is gone forever. That, I think, is surprising for people, that level of understanding. But what's also really interesting about the responses to the photo is that people seem to be elated to find out that we aren't the only creatures to have these sorts of complicated, mysterious recognitions about ourselves. It might even come as a kind of awe-inspiring relief to realize that we're not alone among animals in what we know and how we know. 

Propeller: We've been wondering for a while now about National Parks--places of pristine enchantment sealed off and protected from the outside world so that we humans can have a chance to go visit and see what nature "is truly like" (not unlike zoos, we suppose). If, as you say in your article, animals occupy worlds of their own outside of ours, are there ways to make these worlds less distinct and mutually exclusive?

KT: I'm kind of an extremist on this topic, just to warn you. It's great that some folks had the foresight to protect beautiful ranges of land, but I find the National Park machine to be depressing. They're really anything but sealed off and protected--I went to Yellowstone last year and it was like Disneyland: lines of cars, shopping centers, parking lots. I agree with Edward Abbey: if you want to experience wilderness, don't bring your television and your toaster, you know? Don't set up a gift shop. National Parks make it possible for people to look at nature, but to not really have to deal with its wildness. And on the occasion that the wildness does perforate the bubble, we lock it up and move it somewhere else--presumably somewhere more wild. Like the notorious bears in Yosemite--that's some serious wild getting all up in our nature fairy tale. In a perfect world, I'd love to see those same areas (and more) protected much more stringently. I mean really sealed off and protected. People would only be allowed to explore Yellowstone, for instance, if they were willing and prepared to accept its dangers, its wildness. Leave the RV and the computer games at the gate, go in on foot, bike, or horse, pack out all your trash. I think that's one, albeit not very realistic, way of bringing animal and human worlds together in a more symbiotic way. Ironically, it would probably involve more sealing off, but at least what you would experience on the other side wouldn't be just a prettier version of the same sealed off world we live in daily.

Propeller: In addition to the kildeer, what other animals do you find yourself particularly affected by? What is it about them that moves you so?

KT: It's kind of strange to me that I even like birds as much as I do. It's not as if it's easy to make a sympathetic connection with them. They're elusive. And I'm not really moved by them emotionally. I just admire them--their ingenuity, their variety, their tenacity. I feel the same way about the whole animal kingdom, really. There are particular animals that kind of hold the mystery of consciousness on a grander, more obvious scale, like elephants, apes, and dolphins. And it's easier to feel emotional about those animals because the consciousness is writ large. But if you really start looking, there are indications of consciousness all over the animal kingdom: the capacity for memory; the ability to build tools; an understanding of death; use of language and communication; recognition of one's own kind; displays of affection or love. The list goes on.

Propeller: The PETA website states, "Some people go vegetarian after looking an animal in the eye and realizing that there's a 'who,' not a 'what,' looking back." What are your thoughts on vegetarianism and it's relation to animal compassion?

KT: I've been a vacillating vegetarian for many years, but I decided--recently and finally--that I'm not going to eat animals anymore. And one reason for me is something like empathy. When I was eating meat I'd either have to consciously not think of the thing on my plate as an animal or acknowledge it. But when I acknowledged it, I couldn't help but feel like I was violating a pact or acting in bad faith. I didn't have to eat the animal, biologically speaking. Plus, I know what bacon tastes like already; I'm happy to let that be just a memory! The other thing is that I feel connected to animals and I don't want to participate in their misery--and we know now that, at least in the U.S., the factory farming industry equals just total misery in every way for animals. I think the argument can be made for only eating meat if you know where it comes from, but the percentage of meat that comes from ethical farming practices is just infinitesimally small and really difficult to identify. So, there's a kind of empathy there, which I do think is helpful when talking about animals, because taking an empathetic stance can help remind you that you're not the only creature on the planet. Empathy helps me cultivate a more open mindset toward other organisms: we have things in common--not just the atmosphere, but feelings and thoughts. Of course, it would be nice if we didn't even have to discuss animals in the context of diet!

Propeller: Lastly, what's your take on Mary Oliver's poetic assertion that,"Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,/ are heading home again./ Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,/ the world offers itself to your imagination,/ calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —/ over and over announcing your place/in the family of things."? 

KT: Well, I think Mary Oliver is interested in the mystery of our connection to everything, and the connection of everything else to us. I think the poem also touches on a point that I made in the article, which is that animals--or, more broadly, "nature"--can stoke your imagination, in the sense that they can pull you out of the pocket of modern daily life, rearrange your thinking about not only yourself and where you belong, but about who they are, and their importance in the entire scheme of things. There's a case to be made for recognizing wildness everywhere, everyday. In some ways it's the opposite of what I said about National Parks--that the structures of modern life make it difficult, if not impossible, to contend with real wildness, that you have to step fully away from those mediating factors to find out what the wild is really like and, in that way, begin to really understand animals, other living things, and yourself. But Oliver seems to argue--and you see this over and over in her poetry--that the wild exists at your doorstep, you simply have to have the will and the imagination to see it. She's got a point.


November 9

In response to requests for more images of the Tour de Fat, please find below some additional photos of riders, the stage, and the "Death to the Circus Guy." (In the last case, please note how a small child's inexplicable inability to recognize the presence of a serious journalist ruined what would have been a perfectly good photo. C'mon, kids. We're trying to run a magazine here.) 

Tour de Fat ride

Tour de Fat stage 1

Tour de Fat stage 2

Death to the Circus


November 3

More material related to Benjamin Craig's "Photographer + Puppet = Film":  video of "Disfarmer," the theatrical production conceived and directed by Dan Hurlin. The video was taken by filmmaker David Soll.


October 30

In October's "Screen" department, Benjamin Craig wrote about David Soll's documentary film about puppets, which follows a puppet theater production of the life of photographer Mike Disfarmer. Below are some additional photos from Disfarmer's work in Heber Springs, Arkansas, between 1939 and 1946.

Disfarmer photo 7

Disfarmer photo 6

Disfarmer photo 3


October 21

In October's "Feast" department, Matthew Hein wrote about San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee. He and Casey Quinlan sent these additional items about coffeehouses in the city.