Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Where Are All the Dead Animals?

"Dec 29, 10:19 AM (ET)

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan wildlife officials are stunned -- the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast, but they can't find any dead animals.

Giant waves washed floodwaters up to 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka's biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards.

"The strange thing is we haven't recorded any dead animals," H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the national Wildlife Department, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit," he added. "I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening."

At least 40 tourists, including nine Japanese, were drowned.

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, which sent waves up to 15 feet high crashing onto Sri Lanka's southern, eastern and northern seaboard, flooding whole towns and villages, destroying hotels and causing widespread destruction."


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Japan justice minister agrees to consider sending Fischer to Iceland

"TOKYO : Japanese Justice Minister Chieko Nohno agreed to consider fugitive US chess legend Bobby Fischer's plea to go to Iceland to avoid deportation and potential jail in the United States. "


Bobby Fischer in 1992

Essay on Dylan leads to Grammy nomination

"Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his album notes accompanying a live Bob Dylan two-compact disc set that was released last spring."

Friday, December 24, 2004

carnival of the cats

Reading the current issue of Time magazine, I learned (in their article about blogs), that there's been a Friday afternoon blogging tradition for some time....

"It started as an in-joke among feline-friendly bloggers: why not post pictures of their cats every Friday afternoon? Friday catblogging became a hit, and soon even NASA was playing along by posting pictures of the Cat's Eye nebula".

So, in keeping with that tradition, I present a couple of kitten photos from the deep, dark past. The first is of Guru, who was briefly mentioned in Heroes Still, for knocking over my meticulously assembled Saturn V rocket on the eve of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Guru was my companion during that long, hot summer (especially hot for me, as I was encased in a bodycast following knee surgery), excepting a two week period, when he climbed a tree next to our house and was too scared to come down.

The tree was close to 30 feet high, and my parents tried everything. My father ascended on the long house-painting ladder, dressed in trenchcoat, goggles, thick leather gloves and helmet (he was not an animal lover), but Guru responded my climbing even higher.

I had the idea of tape recording my voice, calling to him and cajoling him to come down. It apparently had an effect, as he made his greatest effort to descend, but he had never learned about backing down a tree, and his courage failed him. Finally, a wealthy friend of the family, who had a Siamese cat (who used to get up on his hind legs to turn the handle of a door to escape whatever room he'd been secured in), hired a professional animal rescuer from New York, and Guru was eventually retrieved by use of a cherry picker.






Guru was also famous for watching TV -- half-an-hour at a time on occasion -- while seated upon his special cushion. His favorite 'program' was to watch the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders (this was back in the day when it wasn't politically incorrect to show longer segments of them than of the Cowboys themselves).

Guru was my first cat (I had grown up with dogs), and I thought that one could rough-house with them in a similar manner. When I finally returned to school, my teacher asked me if I had a puma at home, as my hands were shredded with scratches.

The next photos are of Kubalai Khan as a kitten, perched upon his version of a throne. He was the first of a number of cats whom I named from the Mongol's family. We had a great relationship over the years, and he was a totally trusting cat. I'd flip him over onto his back, cradled in the crook of my arm, in order to administer serious stomach rubs. He'd often drift off to sleep during the process. Ah, if only I'd had his life!



Anyway, for the cat lovers amongst you, be sure to click on the title link to check out 'carnival of the cats'. Perhaps I'll continue the tradition next Friday, with a look at Subodai and Bortai, my brother and sister Siamese.

Happy Holidays to you all!

$4.15M Donated for Swiss Saint Bernards

"Swiss philanthropists are giving more than $4 million to keep the famed Saint Bernard rescue dogs working on the mountain pass that gave them their name, a key advocate said Friday.

Monks of the Congregation of Canons of the Great Saint Bernard have kept the dogs in their mountain monastery since about 1660. However, the monks said in October that maintaining the kennels had become too much of a financial burden.

Rudolf Thomann, president of the Swiss Saint Bernard Club, said two foundations were being created to care for the dogs and build a museum in their honor. The canines are credited with having saved some 2,000 travelers over the past 200 years."

I have two of these magnificent animals as next-door neighbors...Cheyenne and Dakota. They'll be thrilled to hear of this...as I imagine will the humans who live there also.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

THE BIONIC DOLPHIN

Tom "Doc" Rowe is working on the latest version of his submersible, 'Bionic Dolphin'. Although I've not seen the film, the prototype apparently appeared in an Austin Powers movie.



Here's a link to my own encounter with the non-bionic version.

Nakamura keeps winning

"In the War of the wunderkinds, the American prodigy came out on top. White Plains, N.Y., GM Hikaru Nakamura, fresh from his victory in the U.S. Chessmaster Championship the week before, defeated fellow teenager GM Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine in a six-game match in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Nakamura won four, drew one and lost only once for a decisive 41/2-11/2 triumph."

My original post about Nakamura is here.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Army Unveils New, Ultra-Real Simulation

Coming soon to a Nintendo near you!

MSNBC - Mars discoveries lead Science's Top 10 list

Science magazine's 'Top 10' list of science discoveries (Discover magazine has a 'Top 100' list) is lead my the unmistakable evidence that Mars once had flowing, liquid water on its surface.

First runner-up for the breakthrough of the year was the discovery of Homo Floresiensis, the 3-foot tall 'Hobbits' that I've discussed several times in the past (Discover has these as #3 and #30 respectively, with confirmed Global Warming and SpaceShipOne leading their list).

Hitler Was a Tax Dodger, Researcher Finds

You know, I think we were all willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this is just too much!

The Shroud's Second Image

Whatever the true origins of the Shroud of Turin, the continuing investigations into the mystery of its origin make for captivating reading. Click the title link for the full article.



"The Shroud of Turin was widely dismissed as a medieval forgery after radiocarbon tests in 1988 dated it to the 13th or 14th century. Now a growing body of evidence is calling for reassessment of the shroud, which is kept in Turin, Italy.

The latest item comes from the London-based Journal of Optics, published by the Institute of Physics. Two scientists from the University of Padua, Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, report in the journal's April edition the discovery of a heretofore-undetected reverse image on the shroud. They say the smaller, fainter image on the back of the cloth depicts just the face and hands. And it's a superficial image, adhering only to the outermost fibers, just like the image on the front. "It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti writes."

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images-Latest Images

This is a great site from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing the latest images from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The Huygens probe will detach in January in order to descend through the cloud-enshrouded atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan...long thought to be one of the most likely objects in the solar system to support the possibility of harboring life. What an exciting time for space exploration!

See my essay, posted on the left, entitled 'Heroes Still', mentioning the Apollo moon landings.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Iceland beckons chess legend Bobby Fischer

In a story somewhat related to the one below,

"Iceland says it will give a residence permit to chess legend Bobby Fischer, who is being held by Japanese immigration authorities as the United States tries to extradite him.

Fischer wrote to Icelandic Foreign Minister David Oddsson requesting asylum.

Fischer, who became an American hero for wresting the world chess crown from Soviet domination during the Cold War, has been held in Japan after trying in July to board a flight to the Philippines using an invalid passport."

Josh Waitzkin, Subject of "Searching For Bobby Fischer," wins World Championship in Martial Arts.

What a phenomenal accomplishment! To become so adept, so quickly, in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands, after beginning to study in 1998 -- after excelling in chess. I can't wait to read his second book, on "the learning process and performance psychology", to be published in 2006.

Bush Prepares for Possible GPS Shutdown

"WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush has ordered plans for temporarily disabling the U.S. network of global positioning satellites during a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the navigational technology, the White House said Wednesday."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Earth-Like Clouds and a New Type of Rock

From Space.com:

"NASA's Mars rovers have returned new evidence for past water, pictures of Earth-like clouds seen for the first time from the planet's surface, and a rock that doesn't look like anything scientists have ever seen."

Lonely whale's song remains a mystery

From NewScientist.com:

"A lone whale with a voice unlike any other has been wandering the Pacific for the past 12 years.

Marine biologist Mary Ann Daher of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, and her colleagues used signals recorded by the US navy’s submarine-tracking hydrophones to trace the movements of whales in the north Pacific.

The partially declassified records show that a lone whale singing at around 52 hertz has cruised the ocean every autumn and winter since 1992. Its calls do not match those of any known species, although they are clearly those of a baleen whale, a group that includes blue, fin and humpback whales.

Blue whales typically call at frequencies between 15 and 20 hertz. They use some higher frequencies, but not 52 hertz, Daher says. Fin whales make pulsed sounds at around 20 hertz, while humpbacks sing at much higher frequencies. The tracks of the lone whale do not match the migration patterns of any other species, either.

Over the years the calls have deepened slightly, perhaps because the whale has aged, but its voice is still recognisable. Daher doubts that the whale belongs to a new species, although no similar call has been found anywhere else, despite careful monitoring."

Truly unique pen rest

This is a pen rest that one of my customers made and sent to me. It's all metal, using primarily nails, nuts and bolts. It stands about 2-1/2" tall and is about the same dimension in width.

If you click on the title, it will take you to some additional photos on the His Nibs.com website.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Researchers take on imaginary playmates -- for real

A look at imaginary friends in childhood, and how they morph into other aspects of personality in adulthood (for instance, the fairly common experience of novelists whose characters seem to come alive and write their own story).

One of my first imaginary friends was a little white horse, who could become invisible, and fit in the palm of my hand. He was created *for* me by my older brother Bruce, who is a cartoonist.

Subsequently, I had a plethora of 'real imaginary fictional characters'! Growing up, I would often be accompanied by Napoleon Solo and Illia Kuryakin (both from 'The Man From Uncle'), John Drake (from 'Secret Agent'), John Steed and Emma Peel (from 'The Avengers'....I tried to keep Emma with me through adulthood), and even James Bond on occasion. I felt quite secure knowing that I was well protected by these friends, and could at any time disarm an errant nuclear device if required. Less frequently, I was sheparded by the Fantastic Four, Batman or my personal favorite, Spiderman (whatever became of him?).

These days I'm visited from time to time by 'Big Norman', AKA my 'Higher Self', who dispenses words of wisdom and calming insight, and is even more devilishly handsome and muscular than I am. But then, he's not imaginary.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Casper Star-Tribune: Scientist: Prairie dogs appear to have their own language

The latest addition to growing list of our fellow creatures that appear to share some level of language ability. Other notable identified species -- with greater or lesser degrees of confidence on our part -- include (this is far from an exhaustive list) those in the Cetacean family (whales, dolphins, porpoises -- see my essay 'Beam Me In, Scotty' on the bar to the left); the 'higher' primates, such as the Gorilla (most famously, Koko), Chimpanzee and Bonobo; Canines such as the wolf and domestic dog; various species of Parrot; and perhaps most interestingly, as they are invertebrates, Squid and Octopi, which seem to be able to communicate quite complex meaning through rapid color shifts in their skin!

"Scientist: Prairie dogs appear to have their own language
By TANIA SOUSSAN
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Prairie dogs, those little pups popping in and out of holes on vacant lots and rural rangeland, are talking up a storm.

They have different 'words' for tall human in yellow shirt, short human in green shirt, coyote, deer, red-tailed hawk and many other creatures.

They can even coin new terms for things they've never seen before, independently coming up with the same calls or words, according to Con Slobodchikoff, a Northern Arizona University biology professor and prairie dog linguist.

Prairie dogs of the Gunnison's species, which Slobodchikoff has studied, speak different dialects in Grants and Taos, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Monarch Pass, Colo., but they would likely understand one another, the professor says.

'So far, I think we are showing the most sophisticated communication system that anyone has shown in animals,' Slobodchikoff said.

Slobodchikoff has spent the last two decades studying prairie dogs and their calls, mostly in Arizona, but also in New Mexico and Colorado.

Prairie dog chatter is variously described by observers as a series of yips, high-pitched barks or eeks. And most scientists think prairie dogs simply make sounds that reflect their inner condition. That means all they're saying are things like 'ouch' or 'hungry' or 'eek.'

But Slobodchikoff believes prairie dogs are communicating detailed information to one another about what animals are showing up in their colonies, and maybe even gossiping.

Linguists have set five criteria that must be met for something to qualify as language: It must contain words with abstract meanings; possess syntax in which the order of words is part of their meaning; have the ability to coin new words; be composed of smaller elements; and use words separated in space and time from what they represent.

'I've been chipping away at all of these,' Slobodchikoff said.

He and his students have done work in the field and in a laboratory. With digital recorders, they record the calls prairie dogs make as they see different people, dogs of different sizes and with different coat colors, hawks, elk. They analyze the sounds using a computer that dissects the underlying structure and creates a sonogram, or visual representation of the sound. Computer analysis later identifies the similarities and differences.

The prairie dogs have calls for various predators but also for elk, deer, antelope and cows.

'It's as if they're trying to inform one another what's out there,' Slobodchikoff said.

So far, he has recorded at least 20 different 'words.'

Some of those words or calls were created by the prairie dogs when they saw something for the first time. Four prairie dogs in Slobodchikoff's lab were shown a great-horned owl and European ferret, two animals they had likely not seen before, if only because the owls are mostly nocturnal and this kind of ferret is foreign. The prairie dogs independently came up with the same new calls.

In the field, black plywood cutouts showing the silhouette of a coyote, a skunk and an oval shape were randomly run along a wire through the prairie dog colony.

'There are no black ovals running around out there and yet they all had the same word for black oval,' Slobodchikoff said.

He guesses the prairie dogs are genetically programmed with some vocabulary and the ability to describe things.

Computer analysis has been able to break down some prairie dog calls into different components, suggesting the critters have yet another element of a real language.

'We're chipping away with this at the idea that animals don't have language,' Slobodchikoff said."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hobbits? We've got a cave full

For further information on this, see my earlier posts:

Post 1
Post 2

By Deborah Smith, Science Editor, Fairfax Digital
December 6, 2004





"Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa has a strange tale to tell. Sitting in his bamboo and wooden home at the foot of an active volcano on the remote Indonesian island of Flores, he recalls how people from his village were able to capture a tiny woman with long, pendulous breasts three weeks ago.

'They said she was very little and very pretty,' he says, holding his hand at waist height. 'Some people saw her very close up.'

The villagers of Boawae believe the strange woman came down from a cave on the steaming mountain where short, hairy people they call Ebu Gogo lived long ago.

'Maybe some Ebu Gogo are still there,' the 70-year-old chief told the Herald through an interpreter in Boawae last week.

The locals' descriptions of Ebu Gogo as about a metre tall, with pot bellies and long arms match the features of a new species of human 'hobbits' whose bones were recently unearthed by Australian and Indonesian researchers in a different part of Flores in a cave known as Liang Bua.

The unexpected discovery of this tiny Homo floresiensis, who existed until at least 12,000 years ago at Liang Bua, before being apparently wiped out by a volcanic eruption, was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds in decades when it was announced in October.

The chief adds that the mysterious little woman in Boawae somehow 'escaped' her captors, and the local police said they knew nothing of her existence when he quizzed them.

The prospect that some hobbits still exist in pockets of thick, fertile jungle on Flores is extremely unlikely, says Douglas Hobbs, a member of the team that discovered Homo floresiensis. But it is possible they survived near Boawae until 300 or so years ago, when the chief's ancestors moved into the area, he says.

The detailed stories that the villagers tell about the legendary Ebu Gogo on the volcano have convinced the Australian and Indonesian team to search for bones of hobbits in this cave when they return to the rugged island next year, says Hobbs, an emeritus archaeologist with the University of New England, who discussed excavation plans with the chief last week.

Getting to the cave on the 2100-metre-high Ebulobo volcano, however, will be no simple matter for the team led by Professor Mike Morwood of UNE. The blood of a pig must first be spilt in this society where Catholic faith is melded with animist beliefs and ancestor worship.

The sacrifice and the feast will please the ancestors and bring many villagers together to talk about the cave, says the chief, whose picture of his grandfather, the king, in traditional head-dress, sits framed on the wall next to images of Jesus.
Grandfather of Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa of Boawae.


Grandfather of Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa of Boawae.

If the right rituals are followed, 'then we will be able to find the road to the hole again', he says.

A Dutch palaeontologist, Dr Gert van den Bergh, a member of the team, was first shown the cave at a distance more than a decade ago, after hearing folk tales of the Ebu Gogo, which means 'grandmother who eats everything'.

People living around the volcano told him a consistent story of the hairy creatures that devoured whatever they could grasp in their long fingers. The villagers tolerated the stealing of food until the Ebu Gogo began to snatch babies and eat them too. They then set upon the little people, forcing them out of the cave with bales of burning grass.

Van den Bergh dismissed the tales as akin to those of leprechauns and elves, until the hobbit bones were found.

While the search for more bones is being planned, a political furore has broken out after a leading Indonesian palaeoanthropologist - with no connection to the find - last week 'borrowed' all the delicate remains from six hobbits found at Liang Bua against the wishes of local and Australian team members. Professor Teuku Jacob, of Gadjah Mada University, who has challenged the view that Homo floresiensis is a new species, had previously taken the skull and bones of the most complete specimen, a 30-year-old female hobbit, from the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, where they had been kept.

Professor Morwood said it was wrong that the team who found the remains were unable to analyse them first. 'It is not good for the Indonesian researchers nor their institution.'

However, he said Professor Jacob had signed an agreement to return all the bones by January 1."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The New York Times > Science > Astronaut's Long Career Ends

"The New York Times
December 8, 2004
Astronaut's Long Career Ends
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HOUSTON, Dec. 7 (AP) - The longest serving astronaut in history, John W. Young, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

Mr. Young, who has spent 42 years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans to leave the agency on Dec. 31.

Mr. Young, who commanded the first shuttle mission and flew twice to the Moon, was the first person to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to pilot four different spacecraft. He flew in the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs.

'John's tenacity and dedication are matched only by his humility,' said Sean O'Keefe, the administrator of NASA. 'He's never sought fame and often goes out of his way to avoid the limelight.'

Mr. O'Keefe said Mr. Young's legacy would inspire space explorers for years to come.

Mr. Young, 74, joined NASA in 1962. His first mission was in 1965 as a pilot of the first manned flight of the Gemini program. He went on to command the Gemini 10 in 1966, followed by his orbit of the Moon in the Apollo command module in 1969.

Mr. Young went back to the Moon in 1972 in Apollo 16. He and his fellow astronaut, Charles M. Duke, collected more than 200 pounds of lunar samples.

'John has an incredible engineering mind, and he sets the gold standard when it comes to asking the really tough questions,' said William F. Readdy, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. In 1981, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia during the first space shuttle mission. In his final space mission, in 1983, he again commanded the Columbia.

Mr. Young was chief of the agency's astronaut office for more than a dozen years and was an assistant and associate director of the Johnson Space Center for eight years.

'John Young has no equal in his service to our country and to humanity's quest for space,' said Jefferson D. Howell Jr., director of the Johnson Space Center.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Lord, 'Dammit Jim'

A nice 'review' of William Shatner's continuing popularity -- almost 40 years after first playing Captain Kirk on 'Star Trek'.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Thai Military Drops Origami for Peace

This first caught my eye as I have a fairly intricate fold for the notes which I send to my customers through His Nibs.com. It enables me to enclose a business card while sealing the note with my 'His Nibs' signet ring.

This article tells the story of 120 million oragami cranes folded, and then dropped over violence-torn southern Thailand by more than 50 government warplanes. A unique approach to easing tensions.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Bob Dylan Says He's Not a Prophet




(AP Photo/CBS)

The Hit We Almost Missed

From the NY Times:

December 3, 2004
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
The Hit We Almost Missed
By SHAUN CONSIDINE

IT'S official, I guess. Forty years after he recorded it, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was just named the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, a tribute it had previously been given by New Musical Express, Britain's leading pop-music weekly. Quite an honor, considering that the single was almost never released.

"Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded on June 15, 1965, in Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue, then the New York headquarters of Columbia Records, where I worked as the coordinator of new releases, scheduling every step of a record's production. (On the top floor of the building, the modest studio had been used by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand.) When the edited tape was played a few days later for Mr. Dylan and his manager, the reaction was unanimous: it would be a hit and should be released immediately.

But before that could happen, the song had to be presented at Columbia's weekly singles meeting, and that's where the trouble began. Though just about everyone from the A & R (artists and repertoire) and promotion departments loved it, the sales and marketing people had a different opinion. And their opinion mattered, for sales and marketing was the engine behind the label's success.

Their objection to the song came on two levels. The unstated reason was that they just didn't like raucous rock 'n' roll. The sales and marketing people had made Columbia a winner by selling mainstream American music - pop, jazz, country, gospel, the best of Broadway and Hollywood. But rock? No way. It was this thinking that had led the label to turn down Elvis Presley in 1955 and the first American album by the Beatles in 1963.

Of course, none of this was raised at the meeting about "Like a Rolling Stone." What did come up was the length of the song. In 1965, three minutes was the average time for singles played on national radio. "Like a Rolling Stone" clocked in at one second under six minutes. The solution? Cut the baby in half, the wise Solomon of Sales decreed.

When presented with this edict, Bob Dylan refused, fully prepared to engage in yet another fight with the giant, wholesome label. (In 1963, Mr. Dylan had failed to persuade Columbia to release "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues.") Except there was no one to fight with. The big guys were engaged in a more important drama.

Columbia Records, which had always remained autonomous from its parent, CBS, was moving into the corporation's new building on Sixth Avenue (soon to be known as Black Rock), where our vice president of sales and marketing was taking over the A & R department, and soon, it was rumored, the second-in-command position, under our much beloved president, Goddard Lieberson. That vice president and his staff had never expressed any great fondness or attached any future importance to Mr. Dylan - who performed at one of their mammoth sales conventions but never "mingled." With all the distraction over the move to CBS headquarters and the intrigue of the executive power play, the matter of Mr. Dylan's epic rock song was quickly taken care of. A memo was sent out saying that the single was to be moved from an "immediate special" to an "unassigned release." Translated, it was in limbo, soon to be dropped, no doubt, into the dark graveyard of canceled releases.

After that, the tumult of the move to Black Rock filled our days. Decades of memorabilia from 799 had to be discarded because the welcoming notice from CBS clearly stated that clutter would not be allowed in the new building, a temple to spare modernism.

During my last trek through what remained of the A & R department, I was invited to sort through a stack of records and demos that were to be junked. Among them I discovered a gem: a studio-cut acetate of "Like a Rolling Stone." Carefully packing it into an empty LP jacket, I carried it home and that weekend played it more than once in my apartment. The effect was the same as it had been the first time I had experienced it. Exhilaration. Heart pounding. Body rolling - followed by neighbors banging on the walls in protest. Then, on Sunday evening, it came to me. I knew exactly where the song could be fully appreciated.

At the time, the hottest new disco in Manhattan was a place called Arthur, on East 54th Street. Sybil Burton, whose husband had run off with Elizabeth Taylor a few years before, was the creator of the uniquely egalitarian club, which was on the site of the old El Morocco. Some of Arthur's owners were famous - Mike Nichols, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein - and some weren't (me). When it opened in May, no one except the fabulous Sybil expected that Arthur would cause such a sensation, and that everyone would want to go there - including Bob Dylan. Late in June, dressed in wine-stained, beer-splattered Army-Navy store couture, he and his rowdy male friends had tried to get in. They were turned away.

His rejected single had better luck. Perhaps because I was a "club member," the D.J. was very polite when asked if he would kindly play the acetate during a free moment. Deliberately neglecting to mention the name of the singer, I did say that the song was rather long and that he should feel free to stop it if the dancers got bored or tired.

At around 11 p.m., after a break, he played the acetate. The effect was seismic. People jumped to their feet and took to the floor, dancing the entire six minutes. Those who were seated stopped talking and began to listen. "Who is it?" the D.J. yelled at one point, running toward me. "Bob Dylan!" I shouted back. The name spread through the room, which only encouraged the skeptics to insist that it be played again, straight through. Sometime past midnight, as the grooves on the temporary dub wore out, the needle began to skip.

But not before the song had been heard by two important guests. One was a D.J. at WABC, then the leading Top 40 radio station in Manhattan. The other was a music programmer at the equally powerful WMCA. The next morning both called Columbia Records and demanded to know where their copy of the new Bob Dylan record was. Staff meetings were hastily called. Goddard Lieberson, who had recently met with Mr. Dylan during his concert tour in England (only to be chastised backstage by Mr. Dylan's protective former girlfriend, Joan Baez, for allowing Columbia to "exploit and commercialize Bobby"), was brought into the dispute over the length of the song. Standards and rules were dandy, said "God," but they should never interfere with the evolution of an artist.

The release memo came shortly thereafter. On July 15, a month after it had been recorded, "Like a Rolling Stone" shipped to stores and D.J.'s. The latter were put on alert that this was a hot Columbia single, because it was pressed on red vinyl. On side one of the red promotional disc, the label read: "Like a Rolling Stone (Part 1). Timing 3:02." Side two said: "Part 2. Timing 3:02." The song had been cut down the middle. Sales and marketing had struck again.

But they didn't win. Some D.J.'s simply recorded both sides of the disc on tape and spliced the whole thing together and - voila! - came up with the complete song (with five seconds added).

The following week "Like a Rolling Stone," full version, entered the Billboard charts. By August it was in the Top Ten, rising to No. 2. Bob Dylan performed it live at the Newport Folk Festival (they booed the rock 'n' roll half of the show) and at a concert in Forest Hills, Queens (loud cheers).

The electronic folk-rock revolution spread quickly after that, and Bob Dylan began to dress accordingly - he was no longer the prince of folk, but a rock 'n' roll star. Arriving at Arthur with the model Sara Lownds (whom he would marry that November), the stylishly mod and extremely polite Bob Dylan was promptly admitted.

"Like a Rolling Stone" remained on the charts for three months, carrying Columbia into what was then called "the New Rock." (The music, not the building.) Our omnipotent vice president of sales, however, did not lead that transition. Instead, a lawyer with no A & R training and no claim to having "ears" was given the job of administrative vice president under Goddard. His first task was to renew Bob Dylan's contract with Columbia. The artist's demands exceeded those of the top Columbia stars, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand. His requests were met.

Shaun Considine is writing a book about New York and the creative revolutions of the mid-1960's.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

CBS News | Up Next: Bob Dylan | December 5, 2004

Bob Dylan appears for his first on-air interview in 19 years, this coming Sunday on 60 Minutes.




photo: CBS


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Returning to the 'scene of the crime'

"Twelve years ago Boris Spassky played a [chess] match against Bobby Fischer in Yugoslavia. That got Fischer into a lot of trouble, while for Spassky, a French citizen, there were no repercussions. Now the tenth world champion returned to Belgrade to open the Belgrade Chess Trophy. Quick interview..."


Gligoric, Spassky and Ananijev at the opening ceremony


(see my essay 'The Search Continues' at left, for more details)

Scientific maverick's theory on Earth's core up for a test / Controversial view sees vast uranium field that serves as natural reactor

I first read about this fascinating theory about two years ago in Discover magazine. Herndon's a very interesting character.