We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the letters informing us that we've won amazing prizes in contests we didn't enter is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on etiquette at outdoor concerts.
Karyl writes via email: "Is it OK to ask incessant loud talkers to stop talking or to talk softly at an outside concert?"
I appreciate the assumption — implied in the wording of your question — that it's OK to politely ask people at indoor shows to pipe down when something's happening on stage. When everyone is confined to an indoor space, conversation in the crowd functions as noise's equivalent of secondhand smoke: The talker's need to be heard is greatly outweighed by everyone else's need to enjoy (and perform) music without disruption. Glad we're on the same page there.
There is nothing wrong with asking a peaceful but disruptive person to please be less disruptive, regardless of the setting. But at outdoor shows, the calculus is more complicated, especially depending on the amount of available space with which you have to work. Yes, a stranger's incessant yapping during a performance can be irksome. But there's also a greater range of options available to you as the aggrieved party, from nonviolent variations on "fight" (shushing, hard staring, issuing polite entreaties to speak more softly, exclaiming phrases the kids nowadays would abbreviate as "STFU") to non-literal variations on "flight" (stepping a few feet away from the conversational blast zone, moving to another area entirely).
Looking over the above menu, the choice that makes the most sense is going to vary wildly depending upon your own spot on the graph where the X axis is marked "tendency to argue" and the Y axis is marked "tendency to avoid conflict." As a relatively conflict-averse sort most of the time, especially where strangers are concerned, I'd be most likely to choose either "moving to another area" or the off-the-menu option of staying put, stewing miserably and composing a passive-aggressive tweet in my head for later.
As for what to say and how to say it, be polite and friendly, stick to "I" statements as much as possible ("I'm having trouble hearing the show..."), and try to be as brief and direct as possible. Speaking a few soft words in pursuit of quietude is no vice.
When 16,000 dead pigs floated down a river in Shanghai last year, it inspired a lot of questions about China's environmental conditions and a lot of disgust.
Now, those pigs have helped inspire an arresting exhibit at Shanghai's contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.
The solo show, called The Ninth Wave, opened this month and features the work of a top, Chinese contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang. His installations are grand, provocative and unsettling.
They're also popular, bringing in more visitors — over 20,000 so far — than any previous exhibit in the museum's brief history.
The signature work is a full-size fishing boat with a barnacle-encrusted hull that sits in the museum's cavernous atrium. Draped across the gunwales are animals from across the world: tigers, pandas, leopards, even an elephant. They all appear sick.
Some visitors immediately grasp the message.
"I feel Cai Guo-Qiang is trying to show that the survival of animals in the natural environment is like our own survival," says Rachel Wang, a Shanghai art teacher, who brought her 10-year-old son, Jerry, to see the exhibit. "When we run into difficult situations, we all become very helpless."
Another visitor, Chen Xiaomei, a retired manager at a big real estate development company here, is disturbed by what she sees.
"I felt in my heart that these animals are very pitiful," says Chen, 66, who wears pearls and a bright orange blouse. "They are about to die and they cling to Noah's Ark, trying to survive."
Inspired By A Russian Painting
Cai Guo-Qiang says the boat was inspired by a 19th-century Russian painting called The Ninth Wave, which depicts survivors of a shipwreck clinging to a drifting mast as waves crash in the background. Cai says when he was working on the boat, he also thought about last year's tide of dead pigs.
"My feeling was like everyone's," says Cai, who lives in New York and spoke by phone while visiting Beijing. "This was so unacceptable, so many dead pigs floating on the river. It's an outrageous thing."
The animals on the boat aren't real. Cai had a factory make them out of wool and Styrofoam.
He delivered the boat on a barge, which created a striking image as it sailed past Shanghai's gleaming financial district, home to some of the world's tallest buildings.
"Because Shanghai has the Huangpu River, I thought it called out for a boat," says Cai, 56. "In addition, the museum is beside the river, so if I use a boat like Noah's Ark to ship the animals, the feeling is very good. The message of the art work can reach the city and the masses."
The Power Station of Art opened in 2012 and is China's first state-run, contemporary art museum. It's housed inside a converted power plant, which has more than two-and-a-half football fields' worth of exhibition space and resembles London's Tate Modern.
The plant's former smokestack nearly rises to the height of the Washington Monument and has become something of a Shanghai landmark because after dark, it turns into a giant, light-up thermometer.
Some artists would struggle to fill the museum's huge galleries, but Cai operates on a scale that seems a good fit. One installation, called Silent Ink, features a waterfall of black ink plunging from the ceiling and splattering into a 5,300 gallon lake that's been carved out of the museum floor.
The lake is ringed by mounds of crushed concrete and rebar and looks like a scene from a Chinese landscape painting built with industrial waste. A sign warns that the ink's smell may become overpowering for visitors.
Among Cai's many works here, one stands out as overtly political. It's called Head On, and it features dozens of wolves leaping across a huge room and crashing into a glass wall. The work debuted in Berlin in 2006 and speaks to the dangers of ideology and pack mentality. Some visitors, though, see parallels in China's chaotic political history.
"Some may think this is about the Berlin Wall, but I think it's about problems in China," says Li Hongyu, 40, as he carries his young son in his arms. "It's a reflection of the Cultural Revolution."
The Cultural Revolution was a political nightmare that ran from 1966 to 1976. Whipped up by Mao and his supporters, children informed on their parents and students beat their teachers. An estimated 1 million people died.
Despite the show's tough themes, Li Xu, the museum's deputy director of planning, says the local government didn't object to the content.
"When I accompanied officials to see the exhibition, a lot of them liked it because Chinese public media can no longer avoid discussing environmental problems," says Li. "Look at many newspapers, many magazines, they all discuss pollution and how to control it."
Not everyone immediately grasps the artist's message, though. Back by the fishing boat, a pair of students pose for photos with the animals.
"They're cute!" says Sherry Wan, who's on a return visit from her studies in Canada. "Don't you think so?"
When it's suggested she look a bit closer, Wan's smile fades and she acknowledges that — upon reflection — the animals don't look so good after all.
By the age of 5, most of us know the work of Richard Scarry. He wrote and illustrated hundreds of books that introduced children to numbers, letters and What Do People Do All Day.
Through the fantastical and detailed world of Busytown, Scarry taught us what it means to have a job, why we should clean our dishes and how tomatoes at the grocery store are harvested.
Scarry died in 1994, but this month a new Scarry picture book is being published in the U.S. for the first time. Richard Scarry's Best Lowly Worm Book Ever! is part of a long season of re-releasing Scarry's classics to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his best-known book, Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever.
Scarry's son, Richard "Huck" Scarry Jr., is also an artist and illustrator. He tells NPR's Scott Simon that he found the manuscript for Best Lowly Worm Book Ever! in his father's Swiss chalet.
"I looked here and I looked there, and underneath my father's desk I indeed found a rather dusty gray portfolio," he says. "And in there, there were a lot of sketches on tracing paper. So it was basically all sketched out and the text had been written — it was done with my father's typewriter and taped down onto the pages. But he never got around to doing the final art and so that's what I did."
The younger Scarry spoke to Simon about his father's legacy.
On how Lowly Worm became a signature character in the elder Scarry's books
He came upon the idea of adding a little character that you'd have to find. And this worm didn't have any name at the time, but then he started getting fan letter from readers who are always looking for this worm and making drawings of the worm, because he's rather easy to draw. And so then my father had to give him a name. And what is a worm? He's lowly. ...
[Lowly Worm] is so optimistic and he can do everything. Just because he has this one foot, he can stretch and he can tie himself into knots and he's very bright and funny and he's just a wonderful character. I love working with him.
On how Lowly Worm is able to kick a ball with just one leg
I have a lot of editors who are also adults and they put too much thought into things. And you have to allow room for imagination and just let things be as they are. And kids understand that Lowly can kick a ball. They don't care that he can't back up and then run forward and kick it, but he kicks it.
On the elder Scarry's detail-rich style
He loved to put a lot of things on the pages so the children would have a lot to look at, and he also wanted the parents to have a good time. And there are little asides here and there, little wacky things that you just pick up on and find amusing somehow. ... Lowly, of course, just has his trunk and one little foot, and so he wears an underpant — he doesn't have underpants. So a child isn't going to get the joke, but an adult will find that amusing.
On playing in his father's studio as a child
I used to spend a lot of time in my father's studio. It was a magical place. It was on the top floor of our house and it was a great place to lie down on the floor with a big sheet of tracing paper, some pencils or magic markers, and draw away. And he would draw his books and I would draw cars and airplanes and soldiers or whatever else a little boy likes to draw.
On what kind of father the elder Scarry was
He was a fabulous father. I miss him. He died in 1994 and he spent a lot of time with me. And we went sailing or skiing. ... We had a coin collection also, and for $1 you could get a whole roll of 100 pennies and we would crack the roll open and spread it out on the table and we would constantly look to fill in the missing spaces in our collectors' book. We had a great time.
After 300 years in the United Kingdom, Scotland votes next month on whether to break the union, which raises many questions. One is particularly meaningful in the town of Helensburgh, in Western Scotland: What will happen to the U.K.'s nuclear weapons?
The Trident submarine program is based in Scotland, at Faslane naval base.
From a hill just outside Helensburgh, you can gaze down on the base: a beehive of boats and cars humming along the inlet called Gare Loch. More than 6,000 people work there, making it Scotland's largest military facility. The perimeter is surrounded by razor wire.
The Scottish National Party, which is leading the movement to leave the UK, has promised that an independent Scotland would be nuclear-free. England says it won't leave its nuclear arsenal in what would be a foreign country. So the fate of Faslane — and the community of Helensburgh — hangs largely on the Sept. 18 vote.
"It is a big factor," says Laura Edie, a nurse in town. "There's a lot of jobs that are connected to the community. My husband works for the base."
She's worried that her husband and his colleagues at the submarine base might lose their jobs if Scotland goes independent. But that's not enough to make her vote for unity.
"I'm voting 'yes.' So that's a contentious issue in the house," she says.
Is this a sign of hope, that "yes" voters can stay married to "no" voters? "Hopefully," she replies. "We'll see what happens."
People in town say everything seems to be in limbo. Stewart Noble has lived in Helensburgh for about 60 years. He's chairman of the local community heritage trust and treasurer of the town council. He says houses aren't selling like they used to. There was a rumor that naval officers were advised not to buy houses until after the referendum.
"This rumor is denied by the senior people at Faslane, but nevertheless," he says, "if that word is going round, whether it's true or not it may be causing house buyers to think."
Officials at Faslane declined a request to visit the naval base and interview a spokesman.
"We're really going into unknown territory here," says James DeWaal of the Chatham House Royal Institute for International Affairs in London. He says the logistics of moving Britain's nuclear weapons out of Scotland would be almost overwhelming.
"It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of money. It would be a big political issue as well," he says. "So it's not a simple thing. Building a new nuclear submarine facility in Britain would take a long time, and it would be very expensive."
The U.S. has expressed concern about the future of Faslane naval base. And it's all anyone is talking about in Helensburgh.
At Joe Callaghan's traditional family butcher shop on the main street, he sells haggis, black pudding, and other Scottish treats from behind the counter in a bloodstained apron. Callaghan prefers the status quo.
"I get back to, 'We've had peace for 300 years here. Why do we want to upset the apple cart?'"
One of his regular customers, Pat McGinley, walks into the store. "I would vote 'yes' for independence," he says.
Suddenly, butcher Joe comes out from behind the counter, one hand raised high above his head. He's menacing his friend with a meat cleaver, as both men laugh. In the other hand, he has a gift of raw haggis sausages. Carrots, and sticks, in the debate over Scottish independence.
The Westfield Valley Fair Mall in California is like any other mall except for one thing: half of the mall is in the city of San Jose and the other half is in the city of Santa Clara. The boundary line runs right through the mall.
For a long time, this didn't matter. But in 2012, one city — San Jose — raised its minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10 an hour. This change created two economic worlds within a single, large building. Employees doing more or less the same work, just steps away from each other, started making different wages.
On today's show: minimum wage stories from a single mall. What happens when some stores suddenly have to pay their workers more — and others are still paying less.