"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tending my garden now (Updated)

It's been great fun to do this blog. With the ability to include graphics and links, this kind of writing is so much more satisfying to do than the limited (and limiting) method that was stuck on paper and locked into time and space. Don't get me wrong - printing is still the best, most enduring technology. But it's been a liberating experience to write this way and I'm glad to have had the opportunity. Thank you, all you people who brought us Blogspot. And thank you, who read this.

Still, in the past year I've rarely added to this blog or updated it. Today, Planetbound looks like a series of snapshots of earlier, outgrown selves. As I enter into old age I'm still learning the world, and my perspective has changed. I'm smaller, now, and the world is bigger. The ongoing radiation disaster of Fukushima; the war being waged against our planet through fracking and so many other evil practices; the progress that's been made by corporations to turn social media culture (as well as the rest of Earth) into just another resource to exploit and ruin for their temporary profit... well, these and other concerns (you know the laundry list) have lately overwhelmed my previous interest in sharing my understanding of this or that little piece of the world. At least for now. I'm more interested today in tending my own garden, while I still have it.

Here in the Southern Oregon mountains we've had a long spell of glorious weather. After some colder nights and fall rains (but with frequent sun - it's like that here) fall colors are bursting out, migrating birds are stopping by, insects and frogs are seen and heard again, and my living room is awash in sunlight. In a breeze outside, the trees wave their branches and their leaves sparkle brilliantly. They literally sparkle, as if newly created. This isn't a visionary painting, it's just my neighborhood. It's a good day to be alive. They all are.

Update/Note (3/11/15) the summer before I wrote the post above, it was discovered more or less by accident that all the mysterious symptoms I'd been having for the past two years,which my doctor ignored, were caused by severe anemia and I was rushed to the hospital for transfusions ASAP. It had been going on and getting worse since well before the 2013 Ashland Independent Film Festival in April. That year was a dramatic change for me, in that I could barely walk from one theater to another, and I really struggled to write reviews. I only wrote one long one, and that was at the urging of a wonderful woman in my writing group.

Since the blood test revealed the biggest problem I've been getting better ever since, with herbal supplements and diet (I refused to let myself get sucked into the medical industrial complex and become yet another resource for them to mine.) You can see the progress of the anemia from looking at my blog entries - they slowed down, then stopped.  It wasn't "just aging" as my friends advised, and it wasn't just a need for more exercise, as my doctor said. Though I'll aver that I'm still getting old, and I still need more exercise. But I had a great year in the garden in 2014 and hope to have an even better one in 2015. And I am thinking about writing again.

Meanwhile, to the corporate employee engaged by the government to check in on my blog every week (who else would keep returning when there's never anything new in it?) - I say, get a life! To everyone else - watch Citizenfour!

Friday, July 19, 2013

my favorite news

A quick post about my currently favorite podcasters. If this kind of thing interests you and you aren't familiar with the ones listed here, give them a try. They're all good sources of news and various points of view that you just won't see in the usual sources. How often do you hear discussion in "the media" about Mondragon and other alternate economies; deep science of climate change; nature of consciousness; the coup that ate America; and just about everything else of real importance? Another reason I'm doing this post is that a lot of my news links in the sidebar have become broken and need to be fixed - when I can get to it - but these links are current. So - a shout-out for:

Radio Ecoshock - Not just the fine podcast, with its commentary and interviews, but the links! - the impassioned Alex Smith provides a great source of information on climate change and other realities, and pulls no punches. "Alarmist"? to some, maybe--but only if they haven't been paying attention, have been taken in by corporate propaganda, or are still in denial. Whether the topic is tipping points or things to live for, this is a blogger I always look forward to.

Background Briefing with Ian Masters - consistently interesting. Sometimes I find myself objecting to a narrow or misleading perspective while at other times, I'm shouting "YES!" ... Followed regularly, this can be valuable for the variety of current news topics covered, and to see what is being said about them by a wide range of professional types.

Legalise Freedom - Good collection of material on culture, from the UK. Topics ranging from the Dark Mountain Project to the history of remote viewing offer fascinating stuff, delivered with style.

illo for episode 63, Next U.S. Revolution
The Extraenvironmentalist - Anything goes, with this pair of young podcasters from northern Cascadia. Most recently (at left), coverage of alternative economic systems -- co-ops, Mondagon, what's happening in Cleveland. Great guests, real news, entertaining listening. With only very rare exceptions (in fact only one comes immediately to mind), they choose their guests well.

The Lifeboat Hour: If you saw the documentary film Collapse and found it impossible to look away, you'll be equally fascinated by Michael Ruppert's weekly broadcast from the Nightclub at the End of the World, and the news of where this fine now-retired journalist is this week, and where's he's going next week--as well, of course, as his informed and concerned take on what's behind the news. Bracing, courageous, loopy... I never miss it. (UPDATE: Mike Ruppert is no longer with us. The story and circumstances of his suicide have been sadly misunderstood by too many people but if you listened to his podcast for very long, you probably understood the roller coaster he was living. His podcast continues, at his request, under the leadership of Carolyn Baker.)

C-Realm: C stands for consciousness, and that's what's covered here, in what seems like every possible way. Fascinating stuff to delve into, from podcaster KMO.

Unwelcome Guests:  "Two hours of intelligent talk radio" hardly begins to describe this. Check out the topics.

For nuclear news: My most reliable news source has to be Fairewinds with Arne Gundersen (podcast and blog). That, and this: http://enenews.com/ which collects stories from all over, but rarely the corporate media. Also, I miss Dr. Helen Caldicott's podcasts, If You Love This Planet; she's no longer doing them but if you missed them, check out the archives linked above.

Archdruid Report: Not a podcast, but this is one blogger I never miss. Because I find it hard to read anything very long on the computer screen, I go to the trouble of transferring his posts to my Kindle to take my time over them. He handles very large context, weaving science, history, philosophy, and other usually fragmented disciplines with clarity in an unfolding examination of reality. Always fascinating. One great essay a week - plus chapters in an ongoing science fiction novel, too (Star's Reach).

Nature Bats Last: Another blogger I have a special regard for is Guy McPherson, who truly walks the walk and has gathered quite a following for his courageous personal integrity. He thinks we're in for NTE (near-term extinction) yet somehow I don't find that view depressing--maybe because he's not depressed. (Anyway, if the human race is ending, my only regret is that we didn't accomplish it sooner, before we took so many other, more harmless life forms down with us.) Some of the bloggers listed here are convinced we're in for it (NTE), while others, to various degrees, are not, and they've been getting pretty tetchy lately about the disagreement, some of them. Hope they make it up soon because really, they're all on the same side and what will be will be. Meanwhile, we do what we can... Theatre of life!

And this just in... In a comment, below, podcaster Alex Smith recommends The Truth about Markets a podcast from London. They "talk about big banks, large scale financial fraud, the way we are all taken in." I'll definitely be checking that out - can't get enough of the real financial story.

Well, that's it for now... there are several other podcasters and bloggers I've enjoyed as well, especially lately when I've been laid up, and had time to listen to so many of them, but these seem to be my current favorites.

What are you listening to?


UPDATE March 2015: forthcoming!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Occupied Cascadia


We all have our regional focus. Driving across the country on my way back west in about 2005, two things really made an impression on me that still stick:

1. Soon after I got to Oregon, someone from another country asked me what I thought about the US after just having driven across most of it. My answer was immediate: "It's too big." All the way across I'd kept thinking, this country is made up of several different countries, each a region that ought rightly to be organizing itself. No wonder nothing works. These regions are overwritten by a false political economy. How can it sustain itself?

2. In Nebraska, there was a rest stop where a great variety of native prairie plants had been established in an attempt to restore a part of the original ecosystem. It was overwhelming to breathe the air there. It was like being in heaven. I felt invigorated and twice the human I'd been before. This was our world, before the Europeans arrived. This was the great prairie as it was meant to be, as the Native Americans knew it, and it was medicine just to be there. This was the part of the planet my ancestors crossed in their covered wagons in the route I now repeated in my petroleum-powered haste. Did they have any idea how wonderful the world was then? Certainly, they chose to make this journey west, just as I did. In that park, I felt more connected with those ancestors than I've ever felt before or since, just from knowing they'd been here and breathed this same plant air.

Coming back to Cascadia (after an adulthood of wage slavery just to be free, for a while, in the region where I formed my first and deepest connections with Earth), it was wonderful to be here again. And this is where I am now:  occupying Cascadia. I truly love my home.

Cascadia Monthlyhttp://www.cascadianow.org/the-cascadia-monthly-july-edition-of-our-newsletter-released/

More related posts.... from this blog
and from another blog I wrote upon the request of another community for a while, before moving here where I can tend my own garden...

Add Occupied Cascadia to Brian Swimme's Powers of the Universe, Michael Ruppert's Collapse and Timothy S. Bennett's What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire...
http://cascadiamatters.org/2012/occupied-cascadia and you pretty much have it all.

Still, a little more from this blog... http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/p/resilience-food-open-source-technology.html

Monday, April 15, 2013

AIFF 2013: Sweet Dreams (film review)

"Suffering and survival: A decade of women in Africa" shouted a Guardian (UK) article headlined on the Internet today--adding, for the faint of heart, "warning: graphic content".

Well, make room for...

We're so used to horrific tales of women's suffering in "Africa" (so many countries, how can we group them all together really?) that it is almost confusing to encounter the first images of this new documentary set in Rwanda. There on the large screen, seemingly larger than life women in swirling, colorful African textiles danced and drummed, and their faces were infused with a joy that brought tears to my own. How beautiful! And how transcendent. How very real. 

These are women who survived the genocidal civil war of 17 years ago. When it ended, one of them started the drumming troupe. Traditionally women were not even allowed to come near to drums; it was a male domain, but the war broke a lot of traditions and apparently it also brought, in the shock of its wake, opportunities. In the Q&A following the screening, a woman in the audience asked the filmmaker (Bob Fruchtman, who co-produced and directed with Lisa Fruchtman) whether the women had encountered a backlash for breaking tradition; he said there had been some resistance but no, not really. They were taught in the beginning by one of the country's greatest male drummers, and then they surpassed him. (Later, when we see traditional male drummers in a joint performance with the women's group, it's clear that the women have developed their own distinctive style.)

The "sweet dreams" of the title refer to the idea of forming a co-op, consisting of members of the drumming group, to begin a money-making business-- Rwanda's first ice cream shop. With the assistance of two women who run an organic ice cream shop in New York City, and many others, they visit other co-ops -- honey, dairy -- and learn the basics of business. A modern soft-ice cream machine is donated by a group in South Africa, they fix up a building, choose co-op members, and (after some nail-biting glitches) open on time. Those are the bare bones of the news story. 

For me, three underlying elements of the narrative have me still thinking about the film a week later.

First, of course, are the women. They are beautiful, they are strong, they are charming, and they are full of joy in their new lives. Their war stories are of course terrible and terribly sad, but as the film takes place 17 years later and they have truly moved on to better lives, their histories are fascinating. One had been sent to another country when she was a young child--sold into servitude by her poverty-stricken parents. When Rwanda's war ended she returned as a young adult to find her mother widowed, and lives with her now. Another woman barely survived the massacre of her family as a small child by running into the jungle; she was briefly sheltered by strangers at the risk of their own lives, starved, and finally was found by a man (we might expect the worse, but no - he took her to an orphanage, where she grew up). Each woman has a different story, of course, and bit by bit they unfold, past and present intertwined  Wisely, the filmmakers chose not to include coverage of the Rwanda civil war (for anyone who does not remember it, I suppose) until well into the film, and it's not extensive. The real story here is the present.

The second theme that really intrigued me was the way Rwanda leaders established a template for dealing with the trauma of the past, and for moving beyond it. Every year the entire month of April (with the first week a complete holiday from work) is dedicated to remembrance, grieving, and building new ties between these people whose neighbors and family members were victims or perpetrators. During the course of the film the President invites the drummers to perform in one such ceremony in the national stadium, where we see that even now first aid, ambulances, and counselling are very much needed, as many of the attendees are overcome with emotion.

Immediately following the war, 100,000 "perpetrators" were identified; they remain imprisoned and are used as labor to rebuild the country. Two of them are the parents of one of the women in the co-op. Her fellow co-op members could have been their victims. In building the drumming troupe and now the ice cream shop, they are all moving beyond that past and finding new ways to live, with joy, in the present and future. It seems that the rest of the world could learn much from Rwanda and what it has learned about reconciliation. 

Co-op members at organizational meeting
The third theme that sticks with me-- but this one troubles me -- is the commercial venture of the ice cream shop itself, or rather, the way they go about it. The women are mentored in a hard-line western capitalistic model by -- I forget the details here, but she's an American woman who seems very inflexible. The Rwandan women eagerly absorb her lessons about business plans and so forth, but also, it appears, her top-down attitude. Later, when they must limit the number of co-op members to begin the business to those who can afford a hefty buy-in fee, and reject a number of women from the dance troupe who want to participate but cannot afford the fee, it's very sad. (In the post-screening Q&A a member of the audience asked the filmmaker about that, and he responded that as the events unfolded he was hoping the women would create some sort of "sweat equity" arrangement for the women who couldn't afford the buy-in fee, but the leaders chose to be "very hard-nosed" instead. Later, as the business prospered and more positions opened up, some did join though.) 

Dolley Madison stored her ice
beneath this "temple"
Another aspect of the business that troubled me was the complicated machine they used for making soft ice cream. Apparently this was the same sort of equipment used in New York and it was a donation. But to get this high-tech monster going seemed to require large amounts of fossil fuels and expertise. I couldn't help thinking back to my time working in the gardens of the historic James Madison estate, Montpelier, where they still spoke proudly of how Dolley Madison had introduced ice cream to local society. It was a huge hit. All they needed for Dolley's product was ice, which was collected in winter and stored underground, below a gazebo, all summer. That, and the same ingredients used in Rwanda. The manufacturing process was completely low-tech. The Rwandans didn't have easy access to ice, but I couldn't help thinking they could have started with a wind or solar power source for basic refrigeration to freeze water, and as for the rest, might been as happy with old-fashioned ice cream.

It also gave me pause to see how the women take readily to the tricks and deceptions of advertising. We laugh when they compete with, and out-do, each other in coming up with advertising slogans such as "it will make your children healthy," and we have to admire their creativity and sense of humor - but ... well, it's just a little creepy how easily they adopt this aspect of Western culture which has made uncritical nincompoops of most of the population here.

The crux of the matter is the co-op's desire for "modernization" and "development" (words used repeatedly by the Africans) in the context of their country's rise. Though they do have co-ops, basically they seem to be following a very recognizable Western model which incorporates the same values that colonized Africa and are currently making serfs of us all worldwide. I felt very sad that they are jumping onto the industrial-civilization-fossil fuel train just as it is heading toward a catastrophic (if possibly slow-motion) derailment.

But at the same time, they're living in the moment, as we all do, and they did create something wonderful. The first ice cream in Rwanda! Whatever rogue waves the future might bring, these women are likely to surf them with strength and joy. May we all do as well.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

AIFF 2013: the first four days

Apologies for the long hiatus recently. I've just gone through a rather thorough reordering of my life and now that I"m getting back to normal, I'm not sure what I"ll be doing with this blog, whether returning to it or starting something new. Anyway, here's just a brief report on what I have been lucky enough to see so far at this year's AIFF. I recommend all of them! Every one I've seen so far has had a Q&A with the filmmakers present at the screening. If you love films, the ashland independent film festival (they stubbornly refuse to capitalize their name for some reason) is The Best!

Sweet Dreams: fabulous, uplifting story of joy and recovery in Rwanda 17 years after the genocide. Wonderful women. Beautifully filmed documentary and beautifully told story. There is some footage of the genocide, but it's brief and only presents itself about 40% of the way into the narrative. (I guess they had to provide some information about it, for anyone who doesn't know about it, though that's hard to imagine.) The film is a very affirming look at people at their best, nationally and as individuals, acting with great resilience to overcome and get beyond an unbelievable national and personal trauma. Full of joy, this one is. (I wish the US would take a hint from this and deal with our own Civil War, past and present. The Middle East too.) Must-see!

Gideon's Army: the public defender's role in today's mandatory sentencing-prison industrial complex-student loan scandal-so-called US "Justice" system. Very moving - and a beautiful piece of investigative journalism. It was Gideon who, 50 years ago, won the Supreme Court case that ensured all accused a defense attorney. The mandate was, of course, never adequately funded, and that's just the beginning of what they have work with. Another must-see. The film will, I hope, help to redress a big part of the current injustice.

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings: Lovely documentary whose visual rhythms are perfectly matched with the virtuoso music of this ukelele superstar. Must-see! Fascinating, and ultimately very moving, This was paired with another great film, the inspiring and funny 16-minute Slomo.

Casting By: Another must-see, especially by any film buff. A rare glimpse into the history and workings of an important aspect of the collaborative film making process that has been steadfastly unrecognized by the industry and the Academy, clearly because it's been mostly a female-dominated profession.

From Nothing, Something: A Documentary on the Creative Process:  a very interesting and well-made film about creativity as experienced by innovators in several different arts. It was very well received by the audience and I'd say it's well worth seeing, but there were too many talking heads in this one for me; I'd have edited it down to an hour, myself. But others were more enthusiastic about it than I, so there you are. Maybe I was just a little too fatigued when I saw this one to give it my full attention. It was paired with a beautiful, witty short Scottish documentary, Perfect Fit, which alternated between the tough guys who make ballet shoes and the equally tough ballet dancers who wear them to create their ethereal effects.

Redwood Highway: This locally-produced feature film is the only non-documentary I'll be seeing at AIFF this year. It was very well received, which is not surprising since most of the sold-out Armory 550-member audience seemed to have played some part in it, if only to watch some of the filming. But I really did like it as a story of an elderly woman (Shirley Knight) who escapes the gilded cage of a resort-like 55+ community (beautifully filmed, by the way - Mountain Meadows really is that fine, though with a much livelier ambiance than what you see in the move; I know because I lived there several years myself before making my own recent radical change in situation)... who escapes a guilded cage to go on a vision quest of sorts. I'd recommend this to anyone, and the filmmakers expressed a determination to make more films for older actors on themes of interest to seniors. It's about time!

Filmmaker Talkbacks: I also enjoyed the three free Talkbacks (panel discussions): No Borders (though this one could have done with a better moderator, the filmmakers were great when they got a chance to say anything, especially on the topic that was supposed to be under discussion, filming in other cultures); Close up and Personal; and Transmedia 101: The Future of Storytelling. The Talkbacks are a great way to hear from filmmakers whose films you might be missing - and from those you have seen, or will see. And the Transmedia one was a fascinating introduction to a new project of AIFF, joining in some cutting-edge work around storytelling and new technologies.

I didn't see nearly as many titles this year. I skipped the first and last days (on the first day we did see My Fair Lady at Oregon Shakespeare Festival though). "You can't do it all" is a mantra well known to Ashanders. Here are some of the films I won't be seeing, but which I wish I were - either because I saw the filmmakers discuss their work during Talkbacks, or because I heard very good buzz about them from others at the festival. I'll be watching for them. (Several are already in some form of release, since AIFF occurs near the end of the annual film festival circuit; some have been bought by HBO or PBS and are scheduled to be shown there later in the year; but sadly, it's likely that others will be hard to find; Google their websites!):

Aqui y Alla (feature film)
The Moo Man (documentary)
The Forgotten Kingdom (feature film)
William and the Windmill (documentary)
Before the Spring After the Fall (documentary)
God Loves Uganda (documentary)
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself (documentary)
The World According to Dick Cheney (documentary)
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago (documentary)
Joe Papp in Five Acts

None of which is to say I wouldn't also be recommending every other choice of programming this year, if I'd been hearing about them too... Independent filmmakers are heroes, every one.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Idle No More a remarkable and necessary development

UPDATE 11/13:

Statement from Indigenous Leaders: Fukushima nuclear crisis “a threat to the future of humanity” — “We have reached the crossroads of life and the end of our existence”

see http://enenews.com/statement-indigenous-leaders-fukushima-nuclear-crisis-continues-threaten-future-all-life-will-avert-potentially-catastrophic-nuclear-disaster-coming-together

Wilma Pearl Mankiller, while in office

While I concentrate on an imminent change of residence, and don't write much here, the world is galloping on. In a 2010 post (click here to view it) I wrote about a personal hero, Wilma Mankiller, the feminist Cherokee chief whose book introduced several First Nation women fighting for the integrity of their land and their cultural values. They were not idle, but most of them were working in a kind of isolation, each in response to her local situation. Now that spirit is going international, and spreading like wildfire.

Something rather wonderful has been emerging in North America: the Idle No More movement out of Canada. This is a very effective grassroots response to the latest, even more horrifying assault on the integrity of the planet--the seizing of land (by the few who are powerful enough even to profit from the fruitless venture) for the extraction, processing, distribution and use of such dirty forms of "energy" that until very recently it never occurred to most of us that anyone would be insane enough to try to use them - tar sands mining, fracking, mountaintop blowing, and the rest of the huge, unthinkable monsters currently unleashed on the planet. In a larger sense, this movement is perhaps a last chance to prevent a disastrous tipping point from being reached in global climate change, as warned by mainstream leaders such as James Hansen and Bill McKibben, who call the implementation of the tar sands pipeline "essentially game over for the climate" -- and that's just about the pipeline part of the situation.

Writer John Michael Greer aptly characterizes the US's last-gasp attempts to keep its Empire going, in the face of the end of the cheap carbon fuel that has fueled it, and to which our interrelated systems are addicted, as "frantically going through the empties in the trash, looking for one that still has a few sips left in it." This is a good metaphor for the whole "developed" world's attempts to uphold its current systems through the extraction and use of these filthy fuels. It's trash (for that purpose), and it needs to stay in the ground where Gaia put it, rather than being transferred to the atmosphere. So far, those in power are concentrating on keeping the addiction going, while the rest of us are ready to break with the past and move on to a better way of living on the planet. When it comes down to it, this is perhaps humanity's greatest challenge-to-evolve yet. Perhaps we too are at a tipping-point, one that will result in the species' next big step in cultural evolution. It is the Anthropocene now. How will we behave on this newly shaped planet? This is Brian Swimme territory. Heady stuff.

If we people can evolve a culture that diverts the course of history from the so-far dominant behavior model that is leading us all (including too many other life forms in our DNA family) over a cliff it would be a triumph of sanity and justice not seen around here since the Europeans first came to North America. And in this long historical struggle for survival the First Nation peoples, as always, are on the front lines.

Getting top headlines in the Idle No More movement is Awattawapiskat Chief and justice activist Theresa Spence, now far into a hunger strike. The movement was sparked in Canada, at a November 2012 Ottawa teach-in by four women--Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon-- and the idea soon spread like wildfire across Canada, then to many states and cities in the US, and soon there were solidarity demonstrations in several countries in Europe--and Cairo, Egypt. Yes, we're all in this together. This new kind of rapid spread of a movement is reminiscent of the way Cairo and Occupy touched a vital chord among people, and happens thanks to what Howard Bloom calls "the global brain" of Internet culture.

Found this image a while back on a favorite Brit blog,
Ishminkan (thanks, Bassem) 
I've shared lots of links in this post. It's the Web at work, revealing the world so we can learn it better. It's all interrelated. And each of us matters. The fate of Ozymandias might be little potatoes compared to what we have on our plates now. I find this traditional Navajo chant helps when I'm feeling overwhelmed, so I share it here:

The world before me is restored in beauty
The world behind me is restored in beauty
The world below me is restored in beauty
The world above me is restored in beauty
All things around me are restored in beauty

My voice is restored in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

Or, if a flash mob is more your style, check them out! http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/video-1300-person-idle-no-more-flash-mob-seattle-146549

Thanks to Renee, for sparking this post, and to WG, for encouraging it. And to the First World women of Idle No More for sharing their energy, vision, and values with all the people of the world.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day (updated)

"(Image: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Ada Lovelace: "My brain is more than merely mortal"

New Scientist has just done a wonderful "interview" with computer foremother Ada Lovelace, drawn from her actual correspondence, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, Oct. 16. Seems clear to me that her special brain would be recognized as "Aspie" (Asperger's Syndrome) today. Though we might lack her degree of brilliance, many of us will relate to her description of thought process.

(Portrait, left, by Margaret Carpenter. Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first recognised algorithm. To mark Ada Lovelace Day on 16 October, which celebrates inspirational women in science, New Scientist has secured an exclusive interview.
See http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22385-ada-lovelace-my-brain-is-more-than-merely-mortal.html?cmpid=RSS|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news

Monday, September 17, 2012

Offside (film review)

Guarded by a reluctant soldier, girls
disguised as boys try to attend the
big game.

OffsideThis is a miracle of a film by Jafar Panahi, an Iranian director the whole world can love. Somehow I'd managed to miss it until now, but it was released by Sony Pictures Classics in 2006 in many countries. Sadly it was banned in Iran and so could not qualify for the Oscar competition, but (according to the Director's Interview on the DVD--be sure to see that too) Offside enjoyed wide and very popular distribution in Iran through pirated copies.

The story is simple, on the surface. It is 2006, in Iran, leading up to the soccer World Cup, and a very important match is taking place. Under the reigning theocracy, women are not allowed to attend sports events in stadiums along with men. But another kind of fanaticism, that of passionate sports fans, does not discriminate on the basis of sex. Several young women (some of them young teenagers, so I'll refer to them here as girls) just want to see a very important match which might qualify Iran to go on to the 2006 World Cup. Individually, determined to witness this important event, they attempt to disguise themselves as boys and slip in, but one by one they are caught and detained together in a sort of holding pen where they can hear the crowd but not see the game. They form a community of fans there, thwarted but not entirely prevented from being part of the communal event.

The soldiers guarding the young miscreants are equally unhappy with the situation, for various reasons having nothing to do with the law they must enforce. One wants to see the soccer match but can't because he's on duty; another is consumed by a concern about returning to his village so he can help his mother and take their cattle to the pasture. Meanwhile, other people impinge on the situation: A man wants to find his daughter, but recognizes her friend instead; boys disguise themselves as girls disguised as boys, in an attempt to meet the girls. One of the soldiers is able to follow the game by peering through bars, and gives the girls a blow-by-blow account of the action.

For those of us who don't know much about soccer (or football, as it's called in the rest of the world) the "offside" of the title refers to a rule which seems to have something to do with being in the game but not being able to take part, a very apt analogy to the girls' situation, if I'm reading that right. But you can enjoy this film even if you don't follow the sport (I don't) because it's about normal people just going about their lives, and has the aura of truth. In fact it takes place in "real time," in the same 90 minutes as the soccer match itself. And remarkably, much of it is based on, and actually filmed against the background of, real events. Bearing in mind the challenges the director faced during filming, the resulting seamless film demonstrates his genius in editing. It's not a documentary, but it feels real and intimate.

The spiritual center of oppression in the film, for me, found itself in a wonderfully bizarre scene in the men's rest room, which has all the frustration of an anxiety dream. Yielding to his innate humanity and allowing one of the girls a visit to the rest room, an inept young soldier must navigate the various outre characters he finds there in a futile attempt to guard his charge. One sympathizes with the soldier when the girl escapes his watch and actually gets to see some of the game. But ultimately she knows there is no freedom here. She returns to the holding pen in good conscience to describe part of the game to the other girls still detained, assigning them the parts of the players.

(Possible spoiler alert, this paragraph only:) Eventually, before the match ends, the prisoners are put into a bus, along with a young street boy who has been trying to smuggle firecrackers into the stadium. The intention is that all these lawbreakers will be turned over to the Vice Dept. and the soldiers can go back to their lives. But along the way girls, boys, and their soldiers all fuse with the larger crowds as Iran wins the match and the entire city erupts in egalitarian, joyful celebration. I hope that's not a spoiler, but it's no secret who won the match as this is based on real incidents.

As for the other details I've revealed, you really must see the film for its magnificent directing, acting, and writing--full of small and large ironies and playful references-- to catch the full magic. This movie must be experienced and my words can only be flat in comparison to the flow, charm, and endearing nature of the story it tells.

Offside is filled with humorous incidents and characters. Most delicious to me are conversations in which the girls challenge the logic of the law, and the soldiers attempt to explain it in standard terms that really have no bearing on the situation. In this frustrating situation the characters shine, each a unique gem of a human being with moments of revelation. No culture is one-size-fits-all, and there are always people who must be stifled as they struggle to fulfill their talent in a society that hems them in. Just as W. Bush claimed to get crazy messages from a god that did not represent most Americans' spirituality, Offside shows a country, or at least a situation, in which most modern Iranians, whether they're from village or city, are not represented by their government: They are living in a divided and surreal way under a fanatical religious regime which simply doesn't suit their characters or lives. Where Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (in its fine animated adaptation) focused so well on an educated, politically active stratum of Iranian society, this is a street's eye view of the masses in a moment of celebration that reminded me of the bonfire-jumping of Nowruz (behavior also banned in the present Islamic Republic, which I read about in this book, and this). Offside is, for me, an affirmation of the greater Iranian history and character that preceded, and surely must survive, current tyranny.

Offside can feel edgy, but only because of the context in which it was made: The viewer is aware that Iranian women have faced, and too often not survived, very terrible abuse while incarcerated. And while the film tells the story of a seemingly trivial pursuit--a soccer match--every situation carries larger echoes of the years of suppression since the Islamic revolution of 1979, when women, filmmakers, intellectuals, and musicians have not been allowed to practice their gifts and sometimes have been brutally treated.

Offside can also feel very sweet, because the people in it are just human beings you might find anywhere, and (as often happens in real life) they do not encounter a single sadist in the entire 90 minutes, they only find other people who are sympathetic. It's a fine bit of balancing between humanity's darker side (which is only hinted at here) and our finer qualities of humor, empathy, hope, and enthusiasm. It's a human comedy quite unlike anything else I've seen in movies.

End note: unfortunately, things are worse than ever right now for filmmakers in Iran and Syria, and this brilliant auteur is now under house arrest and prevented from making films. Here are some recent stories on the current status:

Earlier, I posted some information on other suppressed artists, here: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2010/01/forbidden-beats-of-freedom.html


Sunday, July 29, 2012

OSF 2012: Party People (play review)


[Christopher Livingston is Malik, the Panther cub]
Party People
In an engaging device sometimes seen at OSF, this play begins in a sneaky way as two young men wander around the stage setting up their gear. Then the cast gathers in a sort of Chorus and begins to speak or sing. Immediately, I begin to cry.... I was there. Back in a time in the past that is seldom, if ever, portrayed in a way that I experienced it myself: the crazy time of the Sixties and Seventies that left so many with lifetime recurrences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The struggle wasn't just about guns and who used
them, and those who participated weren't
all focused on violence; but neither does the play shy
away from telling unpleasant truths about gender conflict,
violence within and without, and betrayal.
No, I wasn't a Panther, but I knew what was going on and had my own different kinds of hardships during those years, as did my parents in those and earlier years. So I have to see this brilliant play and production as not just about Panthers and Lords, but as one facet of a much bigger, older story. One that the play correctly points out still goes on under the name of Homeland Security. Though this is early in OSF's ambitious "American Revolutions" play cycle, I wonder if any future play in the project will more truly speak of what revolution is.

The title seems to refer not just to the Party of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, but also to what is about to unfold: Malik and Jimmy (sons of a Panther and a Lord) are preparing for guests to arrive, and the space is an art installation. Their intention is not just to display photos and artifacts from the struggles of the Seventies, but, in an edgy spirit of contemporary art, to provoke their guests (whose lives the show exhibits) into unpredictable behaviors. So this is a complex setup: one evening, about history, yes, but for the characters, it's also a story about art, and a generational saga. It's one any child of activists can identify with. In this sense it reflects the change from one theory, and one expression, of revolution to another.

members of Universes 
The authenticity of the play comes from three years of interviews the authors (Universes) did with Black Panthers, Young Lords, and their grown children. But this isn't a documentary. It's theatre more akin to Shakespeare's histories than to the Living Newpaper of Federal Theatre Project days. If I have any criticism, it's that for the lazy viewer who isn't familiar with this time in American history, and what went down then (especially if they were alive then, but not aware of the truth behind the headlines they were fed at the time and the lies that have become the accepted version of events ever since) the story needs more clarity.

And also some editing might help tighten the focus. The element of the play where Malik and Jimmy seek to provoke their guests, and introduce strong elements of satire into the nostalgia, introduces a hostile clown and a game show that seem at first to ridicule the issues; I get the point, but for me there was a little too much of that. The guys want to provoke the participants, yes, but from my point of view they overdo it. From comments I overheard, some people were confused by those turns; probably, younger viewers would understand it better, as it has that mashup feel to it. Also, there were pop culture references older viewers might not catch, and because this confrontational style is a recent tactic of the younger generation in its street theater and demonstrations. (Though, actually, it has been around for a long time in one form or another - think of John and Yoko in Paris... or the Dadaists, come to think of it...)

Well, Shakespeare confuses me sometimes too, and there are excesses in his plays I don't relate to either, and that says more about me than it does about Shakespeare. They might be making further changes. This is a world premier, after all. The first performance I saw, a Preview, was basically a run-through (not quite the  "technical rehearsal" that OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch warned of  in some beginning comments, but there were some evident technical glitches), and the second time I saw it, only a week or two later, the play seemed to be altered in spots. I heard later that they'd cut one whole song, but I didn't miss it.

Liesl Tommy, Director
The power of the show comes from the sometimes astonishing poetry of the language (I can't wait to see the written script, as my way of thinking will always be text-based), the beauty of the music (many styles, reflecting characters and their historical periods and backgrounds), the skill of the performers (they are totally passionate), and the engagement of the audience (which, I'll admit, surprised me). And clearly this required an amazing director - Liesl Tommy (her production of Ruined, a while back, was equally intense and shattering).

With simultaneous multiple-screen projection and live performance, this is a multi-media musical revolutionary happening, and you just have to be there. I hope there will be many productions of this play in many places in the future, but they will have to incorporate different kinds and levels of technicality depending on the venue, budget, and changing times. The OSF's complicated simultaneous video presentation must call for some special equipment and skills, and the New Theater is rather unusual in its intimate mood and flexible seating. It would be interesting to see different interpretations of this play over time, and I hope there will be many.

I've seen Party People twice now, from different vantage points (I recommend seeing it at least twice, because it is so rich--once from the side, and once from the center, or close to it, of the "U" seating arrangement; the experience is very different in the intimate New Theatre). And if you don't already identify in some way with the politics of the Seventies, Panthers et al, I recommend you do a little homework; at least view the videos OSF offers, or see a Preface Plus. Then fasten your seatbelt and just experience the art of human revolution.

Update: nice article here - echoes many of my own experiences: http://www.osfashland.org/connect-with-us/explore-our-stories/2012/new-work/the-ripple-effect.aspx

Monday, July 2, 2012

OSF 2012: The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa (play review)


In this re-imagined version of one of Shakespeare's less stellar plays, Alison Carey has taken what I've always thought was a silly, barely defensible low comedy (which some believe was dashed off in a hurry) and translated it for early 21st Century audiences as a thoroughly contemporary and very funny light satire--all the while remaining wonderfully true to the original. Like the best sort of fan art (but at the level of world drama), it celebrates the original work with full understanding, even as it goes beyond it in a way that would delight the original author. As a period piece (that period) this play has never held any charm for me; but as a period piece (this period), at least in Carey's hands--and those of the company as well, of course, all of them brilliant--the play is funny, and surprisingly gentle. Out with the old that no longer works, and in with the new that does!

The incomparable David Kelley returns as Falstaff -in new clothes but knavish as ever
As you have probably read elsewhere (and if you have, you might want to skip this paragraph), Carey takes the awful Falstaff, a fallen knight out to resurrect his fortune by cheating local women, and makes him a Senator at the Iowa caucus. This opens the way for all kinds of satirical references to the knavery of our current political situation and the absurdity of many currently hot topics. Carey takes the marriage plot, in which Falstaff attempts to seduce married women, and recreates it in the context of gay marriage. And she takes the Elizabethan town of Windsor, England and turns it into Windsor, Iowa; in this wholesome and good-hearted context of the American "heartland," the fair-minded people go overboard in their embrace of same-sex marriage. The merry wives have their revenge, in a particularly Iowa State Fair way -- with environmental benefits. These alterations add a great deal to the original material, all of it utterly delightful, and the play is happy rather than cruel. I mean to say--cheerleaders! And they're really good, too.
Through a kind of theatrical alchemy, the earlier play is not changed but transmuted. The Elizabethan Stage sprouts rows of corn. The Shakespeare is still there: we see the over the top characters, verbal fireworks, and plot complications; the human foibles exposed and dissected even as moral standards of the time are given their required due; the mean tricks played by, and on, even meaner characters--and nothing is lost in this translation. As I said about Bill Rauch's brilliant "rock and roll" version of Midsummer Night's Dream the magical summer that one took Ashland by storm, I feel that Shakespeare would have loved seeing his play done this way. In fact he'd have been doing it himself if he lived now. I'm really quite certain of this. He would be reveling in the relative cultural freedom we have these days, and he would be pushing all the boundaries back even further. He would be offending and outraging people right and left. And his humor would be of our time, just as it was of his.
Slender-Shallow, a modern lesbian chainsaw sculptor
Probably to fully appreciate what Carey has done here it would help to be at least a little familiar with the original play, and from the comments I heard during Intermission and later at my hotel, many in the audience did not even take this first step. Yet even if you've never seen any Shakespeare before, this play surely must be very funny on its own terms; after all, Carey has all of Shakespeare's genius to play with. It would also help to be reasonably comfortable with gay marriage and know some lesbians, in order to appreciate the reversals of situations and values that Carey cannily exploits.

(For example, I overheard one woman who, in the context of saying she'd enjoyed the play, comment that some aspects of the production "didn't make any sense at all, like homosexual marriage in Iowa." She didn't know that Iowa has a strong civil rights record and passed the first gay marriage law and has upheld it ever since, even under Republicans [see, I did my homework]. Another theatergoer didn't see "why they had to add a German doctor - that's just too goofy" - clearly not knowing Shakespeare had written a French doctor.)  And then, judging by the fact that the play is considered "controversial' or off-putting by some people, clearly there are still plenty of people around who just aren't ready for a comedy that takes for granted the level of sophistication about gay culture present now in much of Middle America. Finally, as for those who say they have many gay friends but still consider this comedy "too much"--well, no comedy pleases all tastes. I'm glad they're all being pushed out of their comfort zone just a little [insert cartoon of me rubbing hands together in glee here].

As for myself, I loved almost everything about this play and so did most of the audience, most of the time, judging by the nonstop laughter, though a lot of people seemed to have mixed feelings ultimately and there wasn't quite the fervent kind of standing ovation most OSF productions enjoy. Well, that's their problem, and their loss, I guess. As OSF actor Jeremy Johnson said in a Park Talk on the same day that I saw the play, a production that offends nobody is boring; if some people leave at intermission, that means they're being challenged and OSF is doing its job. 

In short, if you want to see how Shakespearean comedy, in the right hands, can actually work, come to OSF this year. Bravo!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Literature for the Fantasy-Prone, part 3: an online course in "Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, our Modern World

What he said... As a follow up to my previous posts here and here on what I've called (with a reference to a topic in psychology) literature for the fantasy-prone... I couldn't say it better than this fellow, Eric S. Rabkin. I would have killed for a course like this when I was in college; instead my reading in this area at the time was all beyond the pale, academically. It included many of the books in this curriculum.

Though (if I might be permitted a personal digression) when I returned to a different university to finish my degree and do some graduate studies several years later, I was finally allowed, in an advance course in Twentieth Century Experimental Literature, to do a paper on Joanna Russ's The Female Man instead of the suggested authors. That reminded me of the  wonderful Peter Brunette, who also taught me so much about film when I was at GMU. Come to think of it, he encouraged me to to submit my criticism in his film course to JumpCut and some other publications of the day, but I couldn't see in myself what he saw in me. We remember the good professors. Well, here I am, still writing in my small way, anyway, even about film sometimes--and remembering the prof who helped shape my talent for understanding what I was seeing in a film. The final quote in the post linked above seems to speak directly to the course, below:
"There is a place for films that challenge preconceptions … for films that explore the meaning of being human in an important way." - Peter Brunette
Books, too. Anyway, I saw this course referenced on the SFF Audio blog. Go there for details of the course, or here. It can be taken online, and most of the materials are free ebooks! To see the video embedded below on YouTube, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgNrVnjvjKo

If you like this literature, see past posts I've tagged science fiction: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/science%20fiction
And fantasy: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/fantasy

And with reference to the book cover above, Left Hand of Darkness,  click the next link for an interesting online discussion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Updated review of OSF's M/M/C

RQN: After seeing OSF's wonderful Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella a second time I added quite a bit to my previous review. And then I added some tips to orient you if you're seeing it for the first time. See http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2012/04/osf-2012-medea-macbeth-cinderella-and.html for the post.