Clarity First Newsletter,
July 9, 2021

“Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.”  – Wendell Berry

Clarity First

A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

Yesterday Tropical Storm Elsa drifted into New England on its way to Nova Scotia and the sea. The deep, deep rain feels welcome and assuring.

I hope that you are dry and warm. Happy Friday.

How We Live, Urbanism

The lost cities of the ancient tropics have a lot to teach us about how to live alongside nature.

“Not only did societies such as the Classic Maya and the Khmer empire of Cambodia flourish, but pre-colonial tropical cities were actually some of the most extensive urban landscapes anywhere in the pre-industrial world – far outstripping ancient Rome, Constantinople/Istanbul and the ancient cities of China.

“Ancient tropical cities could be remarkably resilient, sometimes surviving many centuries longer than colonial- and industrial-period urban networks in similar environments. Although they could face immense obstacles, and often had to reinvent themselves to beat changing climates and their own exploitation of the surrounding landscape, they also developed completely new forms of what a city could be, and perhaps should be.”

Article: The Real Urban Jungle: How Ancient Societies Reimagined What Cities Could Be

Circular Economy, Regenerative Practice

Regenerative practice starts and continues with personal development.

“At the heart of regeneration is realignment with the developmental and evolutionary impulse that has not just sustained life as a planetary process for 3.8 billion years, but has revealed life itself as a regenerative community across scales generating and regenerating the abundance, diversity, and vitality of a magnificent variety of places, bioregions and the planet as a whole.

“Regenerative practice starts and continues with personal development. It is not a tool but a practice of conscious participation and co-creation. Living in right relationship and practicing the art of transformation, we are realigning with life itself. Working regeneratively is working in an evolutionary way. In a problem-solving and solution-scaling-oriented culture, it is revolutionary to invite a more humble approach by catalysing and revealing the potential of people as regenerative expressions of place.”

Article: Why Working Regeneratively Is (R)evolutionary

Futures Thinking

Humans haven’t yet learned to avoid catastrophes they know are coming.

“In 2014, A team of behavioral scientists from Harvard and Yale tried to save the future—with a little game theory.

“Here’s the game part: The researchers broke up a big group of volunteers into five teams they called “generations.” They gave the players designated the first generation 100 points, or “units,” and told them to take some for themselves, up to 20 units each, and then pass the remainder on to the next generation. If the overall pool had 50 units or more at the end of the round, the next generation would get a reset—100 units to start all over, a model of sustainability. If the pool had fewer than 50 units, the next generation got what it got.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good: Two-thirds of players were ‘cooperators,’ taking 10 units or fewer and ensuring the survival of the species. The bad: A minority of “defectors” always tanked the game. In 18 rounds of this Intergenerational Goods Game, just four had a first generation abstemious enough to give generation 2 a full reset to 100 units. Of those, only two reset for generation 3. Nobody made it to generation 4.

“In a game designed to test how people might plan ahead for a sustainable world, all it took to reliably bring about the apocalypse were a few selfish schmucks—which sounds pretty familiar, actually, but does seem like a ruefully ironic outcome for a paper called Cooperating With the Future.'”

Article: The Miami Building Collapse and Humanity’s Tragic Fight for the Future 

Creative Process

A great jazz musician’s composing process

Video: On the road with Duke Ellington

Mason Curry found a video of Duke Ellington talking about his composing process in an hourlong documentary recorded in 1967.  Duke’s description of how he comes up with musical ideas (often right before falling asleep) sent Curry “searching for more on Ellington’s composing habits—and I stumbled on a trove of terrific quotes in Harvey G. Cohen’s 2010 book Duke Ellington’s America.” In this article he plucks a few of these beautiful observations.

“My band is my instrument even more than the piano. Tell you about me and music—I’m something like a farmer. A farmer that grows things. He plants his seed and I plant mine. He has to wait until spring to see his come up, but I can see mine right after I plant it. That night. I don’t have to wait. That’s the payoff for me.”

“It’s this thing you keep chasing. This melody. You are always looking for it. Then a bit of it comes to you, you bite a piece, and it tastes sweet. Then you go back and reach for a bit more. It’s still ‘this melody,’ but it’s a different one now. If you’re lucky you get it again—a new one. This tree has got a lot of different fruit on it . . . A composition may make some money for me, but I don’t care about that. I just want to hear it.”

Article: Duke Ellington’s Hungry Ear

Visual Identity, Activism

After Gap released a shirt with the Lesbian Avenger’s 1990s logo, a controversy revealed complex questions about the visual language of activism.

The Lesbian Avengers at the First National Dyke March in Washington, DC in 1993. (photo by Carolina Kroon; © 1993 Carolina Kroon)

“Stories of commercial brands using artists’ work without their permission, and cashing in on the stolen designs, are unfortunately all too common. In May, when an image began circulating on Twitter of a new t-shirt sold by Gap that featured the logo of the Lesbian Avengers, a direct action group founded in 1992, many presumed the American retailer guilty of the exploitative practice, unscrupulously profiting from artists and the queer community.

“In reality, Gap had not only secured the permission of the artist, longtime Avengers collaborator Carrie Moyer, but also compensated her to reproduce the distinctive bomb graphic on the shirt, which also included a text about the group and the names of its founding activists. After running the project by three of the Lesbian Avengers’ six co-founders, Moyer sold the logo for $7,000 and donated the money to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York.

“But the three remaining founding members — Anne-Christine d’Adesky, Ana Maria Simo, and Sarah Schulman — say they were never consulted by the artist nor the company. They were shocked to discover the shirt advertised as part of the Gap Collective: Pride collection this spring, what they saw as an instance of ‘the commodification and co-optation’ of lesbian history.”

Article: Who Owns the Logo of the Lesbian Avengers, Decades Later?


The Art of Reading

“From reading deeply, you gain experience as well as knowledge: you gain from reading literary works in all their unique particularity. You live other lives, undergo other ways of being in the world that, while differing from your own, speak, nonetheless, to your condition and that of the people around you. In the process of reading literature, we therefore enrich our understanding of other people and of the world – and of ourselves. We become, in some sense, what we read.

“You might wonder how to increase your enjoyment of literary works, how you might amplify literature’s value, and savour more fully the pleasures of language and form, of idea and insight that works of literature offer. In the following villanelle, I suggest how you might begin.”

Article: How to Gain More From Your Reading

Street Art

This is brilliant typography. Bravo.

Link: Teach Peace


Article: Four-Day Week ‘An Overwhelming Success’ in Iceland.

Article: University of Cambridge Funds Vegan Spider Silk to Replace Single-Use Plastic Packaging.

Article: Research Suggests We’re All Getting Less Creative and Scientists Think They Know Why.


Official Trailer: SUMMER OF SOUL | Official Teaser
“The year 1969 was “pivotal,” says the Rev. Al Sharpton in Summer of Soul,” a documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival, a music extravaganza that took place over six weeks at the dawn of the Black Power Movement. ‘Where the Negro died and Black was born,’ he said.

Now in theaters and on Hulu, “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” is the directorial debut of Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, the drummer and co-leader of the Roots, a hip-hop group and the in-house band for ‘The Tonight Show.’

“The acclaimed film was compiled from 40 hours of live footage from the festival, as well as news accounts and recent interviews with concertgoers and performers, including Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples and Ray Barretto. They were all deeply impacted by a festival that took place in Mount Morris (now Marcus Garvey) Park from June 29 to Aug. 24, 1969.

“Conceived in 1967 by the promoter Tony Lawrence as a series of Sunday-afternoon concerts, the festival in total drew more than 300,000 people. It attracted the support of John V. Lindsay, New York’s Republican mayor (whose guest appearance onstage makes it into the film), as well as many of the famous Black performers and activists of the era, such as Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Sly and the Family Stone.

“Even though most of the festival was captured on film, only parts of it were aired on local television, and these concerts were soon upstaged by another festival that summer, two hours north of Harlem in Bethel, N.Y. — a festival best known as Woodstock.”

Article: With ‘Summer of Soul,’ Questlove Wants to Fill a Cultural Void

Image of the Week

“Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel were altering billboards with obscure images for the purpose of documenting their work with photos.  Often having no meaning at all, they were simply mocking advertising in general. Their work is often overlooked when crediting pioneers of ‘street art’, while their efforts were long before there was a label.

“‘Beginning in 1973 and up until 1989, we worked together on open ended, allusive designs for outdoor advertising billboards, under the name Clatworthy Colorvues. The billboards were exhibited mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we lived, but sometimes installed in other parts of the country, the result of workshops we led with graduate students, or exhibitions on appropriation and public art. With the billboard, we wanted to reach a larger and more varied public than would ever find its way into an art institution.'”

Article: Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel “Billboards”

What’s Clarity First?

If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by me, Mitch Anthony. I help people use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as a pedagogy and toolbox for transformation. Learn more.

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