read stories

A Second Helping Of That Bird Of Courage Please, Nom Nom Nom

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope you have a good one :). Here’s a funny story to think about as you’re noming on delicious turkey this year: Ben Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird for the US instead of the eagle.

He thought that eagles weren’t a good representation of America because he saw them as cowardly and easily driven away by other birds (unlike Americans who had fiercely driven out the British). Of eagles Franklin wrote:

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country.

…Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.

He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…

Turkeys, however, were a different story. Franklin thought they were freaking awesome and much more worthy of a comparison to the brave revolutionary Americans:

For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…

He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Hmm I’m thinking turkeys as the national bird would have conflicted a bit with the whole Thanksgiving thing, then again maybe we’d all have switched over to eating bald eagles every year by now lol.

read stories

How The Geisha With No Arms Became The Nun Who Painted Orchids

(via Aurelio Asiain)

Yone Ohishi was born during the 1800’s in Japan to a family that was quite poor. So when she showed a talent for classical dancing and was adopted into a dancing school it was looked upon as a blessing, there she would have the opportunity to get training in the arts and could eventually make a decent living as a geisha.


However, when she was seventeen years old things took a horrible turn at the dancing school when the man who owned the place went on a murderous rampage…with a katana sword.

He ran around killing geishas but for some reason didn’t kill her, instead just chopping off both her arms and moving on to the next victim.

Okay first off, holy crap amiright? Second, can you imagine what it was like for her to be just going about her business at the dancing school and then having the owner come in and chop off one of her arms, then another? Or maybe it was more involved than that I don’t know, but the fact is at some point she ended up lying there next to her bloody, severed arms. Damn.


Amazingly she kept on training to be a geisha, moving into a role as a comic storyteller and singer. She traveled with a theater group for a while under the name Tsumaikichi and one day had a life-changing insight while watching a canary in a cage.

She realized that birds use their beaks for all sorts of suprisingly intricate tasks and it inspired her to try painting by holding the brush in her mouth. With much intensive practice she became a famous painter and calligrapher.

Here’s an example of her work, painted late in life after she’d married, raised two children, divorced, and was living out the rest of her days as a very active Buddhist nun called Oishi Junkyo.

The painting is titled Spring Orchid and the inscription offers some advice for life: “One flower, one leaf” “Bloom as a youth, flourish as an adult, mature and wither naturally without regret.”

Wise words and what a life she led, truly remarkable!

read stories

RIP Ilya Zhitomirskiy

Last week I found out that one of the founders of a site I like to go to committed suicide. Like so many others out there I’m now left wondering why?

Ilya Zhitomirskiy of Diaspora (an open and user-owned social network) was found dead in his room at the San Francisco apartment he shared with some roommates. There were conflicting reports about the suicide note he left, but one of his roommates stated that it simply said:

“Thank you to everyone who was kind to me, this decision is purely my own.”

I can’t help but wonder if much of what put him in the mindset of ending his life was related to the extreme stresses of a project like Diaspora.

The Diaspora project looks to do nothing less than free modern social networking from being in the exclusive power of big corporations.

But like most projects with such an ambitious goal there were many incredibly difficult challenges to deal with, not the least of which was the media’s pigeonholing of Diaspora as a site that would either take down or replace Facebook in a short amount of time…or be a failure.

This set an unreachable bar in the public sphere for Diaspora because, well, 1) Facebook is a behemoth to say the least and 2) Diaspora wasn’t even trying to do that.

Though this kind of publicity helped Diaspora raise more funding than it probably would have otherwise I think it poisoned the process quite a bit. The world was now waiting for these four guys in their early twenties (who were setting out on their first venture no less) to take down Facebook, and fast.

It didn’t happen. And when Diaspora ran into other troubles I saw many people declaring them to be failures or questioning their motives. This must have been hard to hear for someone who’d put their soul into the project.

When I recently read that one of the co-founders was leaving the project due to that universal red flag “personal reasons” I thought to myself that things must have gotten really bad behind the scenes for the group. I had no idea that not much later I’d be reading about the suicide of one of them.

By all accounts Ilya Zhitomirskiy passionately cared about creating technology that would protect and empower people instead of mining them or limiting their rights to make money. And he was one of the rare few who not only cares about helping people but steps up to actually do things to help as many people as possible.

It’s a crushing blow when the world loses someone like this, RIP Ilya.