"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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Insider's Guide to the UN (book review)

It really amazes me how few people seem to be interested in the UN, what it does, and what it can do. Sometimes the only people you hear talking about the UN are conspiracy theorists who don't appear to be in possession of a single fact about the organization. Of course, maybe that's just the impression given by the mass media, and, well, consider the source.

In honor of my sister Andrea's visit here (she worked for many years with the International Labour Organisation, or ILO, of the UN, as did our father when it first started, and as does Andrea's daughter Simrin now), I include this review I wrote upon the publication of an excellent work of popular journalism about the UN. When I hear people saying stupid things about the UN I like to recommend this book for basic information rather than trying to educate them myself. Saves a lot of time and aggravation and Fasulo already went to the trouble.


An Insider's Guide to the UN by Linda Fasulo (2002).

With fine journalistic clarity, the author leads readers through the complex organizational structure of the United Nations, shedding light on its mission, evolution, and controversies. The "insider" of the title is not just Fasulo, an experienced UN correspondent, but also a number of frequently quoted former UN diplomats and staffers, including David Malone, John Negroponte, and Mark Malloch Brown.

Primary documents include the Preamble, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ("which remains as fresh and radical now as when it was adopted in 1948"), and key articles of the UN Charter.

Fasulo shows that though it began as an organization to represent governments of countries, the UN is increasingly concerned with the welfare of individuals whatever their nationality. She discusses influential leaders such as Secretary General Kofi Annan and topics such as globalization, drug trafficking, terrorism, and the biosphere. Sidebars, charts, and well-placed, black-and-white photographs break up the text, inviting browsing and providing detailed information on topics such as the UN response to the September 11 attacks.

The chapter "Making a Career at the UN" is an interesting narrative from a career staffer about his early days, and "A Tour of UN Headquarters" would be useful to prospective visitors. This concise, highly readable volume is an invaluable and essential source of information for general readers, report writers, and Model UN delegates.

The book is now out in a second edition.

(reviewed originally for SLJ)

***************************
PS I like to revisit the Preamble from time to time, which is still an inspiring document. And a necessary one. A small footnote to its history: it was drafted by Archibald MacLeish, then the US Poet Laureate, a good liberal. After he had a serious draft worked up, he asked some friends, including my father, Selden, to look it over in case they could spot any problems. (When I thought to ask about this forty years later, Selden said he did have a couple of minor suggestions for Archie, but wouldn't tell me what they were, if indeed he remembered.)

Soon after "Archy" turned in his draft, and it became the UN Preamble, and at this time, just as I was being born, my father was beginning a new career as first press officer of the brand-new ILO (International Labour Organisation) of the brand-new UN in Paris. But soon after that, in one of corrupt FBI chief J Edgar Hoover's many political purges (in which Harry Truman invariably acquiesced) a large number of Americans were forced out of UN employment, including Selden. (Fasulo refers to this mass firing as one of the more shameful incidents in UN history - shameful that they went along with it, contrary to their own principles - but they were just starting then, and dependent on the US for funding at the time... funny to think of that now, when the US is hugely in arrears, having refused for decades to pay our full dues to the UN).

This little-known Post-WWII incident was an opening shot of the next phase of the now-nearly-century-long war of the FBI and right wing Americans against American progressives; it culminated in McCarthyism later, cloaked in "Cold War" propaganda and generally condoned by the American public and press. It still is.

***************************

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of Kennedy and Christmas in Karnataka, 1963

In view of the season I thought I'd add this thing I wrote a while back. It's about a time before any of us had the Internet, and experiencing another culture was a truly radical experience...

Until 1963, Christmas for me had always meant being with my parents, brothers and sisters, aunt, uncle, and grandmother in our Fair Oaks, California home. Lots of fun, but all very predictable. Then in 1963, when I was 16, my parents, two of my siblings, and I found ourselves living in a beautiful college town in Karnataka (then called Mysore), South India, and had to rethink the whole thing.

Our problem was that here, there seemed to be nonstop festivals year-round, while we white-bread Americans only had the Four Big Ones (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July). And because President Kennedy had been assassinated just a month earlier, we were still reeling from that shock. So we probably didn't have a Thanksgiving dinner that year (and there would have been no turkey, in any case).

Everyone old enough to remember the day Kennedy was shot can tell you where they were when they heard about it. As I remember it, on that day we heard of it first from Gopi, a very bright young boy who had befriended my younger brother and served as a very helpful informant and guide for us. As it happened, just a few days earlier he'd said to us "Kennedy died" and it threw us into confusion, but it turned out he was referring to Mrs. Kennedy's miscarriage. So when he came running in on the day Kennedy was shot to announce that Kennedy was killed, we thought he was talking about the lost baby again. It took a while to sort it out, but eventually we found a BBC channel on the short wave radio with a news report. So that's how we found out about it. We were in shock. Unlike most Americans who were united through the next few days through shared news broadcasts, our experience was very different.

For days after Kennedy died, lines of people waited patiently outside our house, coming in one at a time or in small groups to express their condolences to us. Several “functions” were held too, all well attended. At one, where it was my turn in the family to say a few words to the gathering, a local artist unveiled a beautiful portrait he'd painted of the young president. Seen through his Indian eyes, Kennedy was recognizable as himself, yet looked Indian too. My mother wrote a newspaper article about it for the San Francisco Chronicle (maybe her article, and the photo, are on the Internet somewhere now). As the sole Americans in the area, we were the go-to location, for people to say how much they loved Kennedy and his Peace Corps, and to tell America that they felt the loss too. People were amazingly generous, and made us feel at home with them at that sad time, even though we'd come from far away and would be gone again in a few months. We were still accepting occasional condolence visits even as Christmas approached.

With the assassination still such a recent memory, we weren't really thinking much about Christmas. Then we caught a rumor that our neighbors were eager to see our American way of celebrating the upcoming holiday. After all, we'd been there several months already, and observed their festivals, yet not a single American celebration had been seen. It was time we shared something with them. We looked around and realized it would be impossible to reproduce anything like our customary Christmas. In a town whose college was named for the sacred coconut tree, there were no suitable evergreen trees to use for a Christmas tree, no mistletoe, and of course we hadn't thought to bring Christmas decorations to India with us. We would have to improvise.

Luckily our neighbors didn't know what to expect in the way of a Christmas holday, so we didn't have to be perfect. (Not that we ever did - people were amazingly tolerant of our ignorance and gaffes throughout our stay.) We rooted around for anything red and green, and decorated the house with it. On the veranda, for visitors, we placed a table with a large potted plant and then we went to the market in search of possible ornaments and refreshments.

We found a number of small wooden toys, little birds and Hindu gods and goddesses and various shiny things, and figured out ways to hang them from our “tree.” Pretty soon our Christmas tree was looking nicely festive, though small and more than a bit strange to our eyes. The only other thing we could think of doing for our festival, besides offering sweets, was to sing carols, because people there loved music. So we practiced the carols we always sang, in hopes of showing off our harmonies.

Chennakeshava temple in Belur,
not far from where we lived
Then we ran into another snag. We heard that the local Christian community expected us to attend service. It was assumed by everyone there that we were Christians, but actually we weren't a religious family and we hadn't even thought of going to church in India; we were much more interested in seeing beautifully carved Hindu temples. But it was an unfortunate oversight, and it had been thoughtless of us.

My father sought out the town's Catholic priest and asked him if we could come to the Christmas Eve service. As I remember that, it was pretty much like a Catholic church service I'd seen once in California, except that it was spoken in Kannada -- or was it Kannada-inflected Latin? How would we know? (Happily, after that, the priest and my father developed a friendly relationship, conversing amiably about politics, social reform, and, probably, my father's atheistic convictions.)

On Christmas, we woke to the sight of a long line of well-wishers waiting outside our door. Some were friends, but we didn't recognize most of the others; they were just folks from the town, happily chatting and come to celebrate with us, as we'd celebrated their events in town and temples with them. We opened the door and it was as if the world had turned around. No longer condolence visitors, they now had happy faces, eagerly looking around and taking in the sights and exuding good cheer. We invited them all in and handed out a kind of punch, to those brave enough to try it, and candy and snacks from the market. And we sang our carols -- to their great amusement (our music obviously sounded as strange to them as theirs did to us).

Finally the crowd thinned out in the house and the veranda, and we no longer had a line of people waiting outside. We caught our breath, just the family together again. But as we put the house back to normal, we realized that our "Christmas tree" was nearly bare of  ornaments.


What could have happened? Our first reaction was dismay: after all, the "tree" was the closest thing we had to what was, to us, a "real" Christmas. Without that, we thought our celebration had been pretty pathetic and our visitors must have been disappointed. Our second reaction was to wonder what had become of the ornaments. My mother's friend explained that people knew Christmas was about giving gifts; visitors had accepted the ornaments as gifts, and taken them home. We were happy to hear that, since we hadn't thought of giving people presents --another oversight, but it had turned out all right.

And so a dreadful November morphed into a very different December. Crowds of mourners at our door became, overnight, crowds of happy celebrants. Our new community closed around us and smiled, carrying us with them to the next thing. That was their gift to us then: showing us that whatever dreadful thing might happen in November, the wheel of the year rolls on, and we must remember to celebrate, with joy, the next month's holiday.

*********************
Some notes: The illos here are all from Google image search.

 The temple is the Chennakeshava temple in Belur, not far from where we lived, and we visited it more than once. It's from the Hoysala period, and fabulously beautiful. Here are two of the sculptures up close; the whole temple is covered with these and many are still intact. Wiki says "The salabhanjika concept stems from ancient symbolism linking a chaste maiden with the sala tree or the asoka tree through the ritual called dohada, or the fertilisation of plants through contact with a young woman."
For more see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennakesava_Temple

The coconut plantation photo was taken from a train, maybe the train to Bangalore. Not sure where the others are from but I sure did love those picnics at a coconut plantations with our friends, and my mouth still waters at the memory of tender coconuts. Truly a sacred plant.

The Indian Christmas ornament is from  ultrabrown.com/posts/laras-theme

Thursday, December 17, 2009

(Updated) Time for a Break: Literature for the Fantasy-Prone, Part One (book reviews)

Looking over this thing I realize I'd been awfully grim lately. Not my fault, surely... I mean, Afghanistan War; Copenhagen Climate Talks; Still No Health Care; Rich Sociopaths on Looting Spree... no wonder. What else am I supposed to think about? Oh, yeah -

Hey, kids, it's Fantasy Time!

Why read fantasy? I suspect it's neurological; either you get it or you don't. If I could take a stab at explaining why I like it, good fantasy is a way to explore, through relatively coherent narratives, forms of experience that are otherwise inexplicable in logical terms. Well written and conceived fantasy literature makes somewhat concrete the illusory or internal or unprovable. It makes allegorical, and thus examinable, the inarticulable. Think Joseph Campbell and his "hero's journey." Or Jung, and his forays into forbidden territory; he provides much inspiration for fantasy writers. Or take Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy: there must be reasons why that was the most popular literary work of the twentieth century. Myth, spirituality, and fantasy are all part of the same psychological fractal, and a lot of humans find it deeply meaningful. It can be refreshing to a world-weary mind. And, not least, it's fun.

An old flame from my college days, as I was bemused to learn some decades later when he looked me up out of the blue, spent years of his professional career as a psychologist trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of "fantasy prone personalities" -- and thought of me as one of those (I'm still not clear exactly what he meant by the term, but it seemed to have something to do with my love in 1968 for Tom Bombadil, a character in Tolkein). Apparently I had been serving this guy (the psychologist, not Tom Bombadil, more's the pity), all unknowing, as some sort of muse, inspiring him to do scientific studies involving brain scans and fantasy prone volunteers instructed to visualize styrofoam cups on plastic tables in Psych Dept cubicles.

I'm sure that, seen from the right angle, this work was interesting.  Still, besides feeling somewhat vampired by this use of my psychic space while I was sleeping (or at least physically absent), I couldn't help wondering why, if he found a propensity toward fantasy so interesting, he didn't just read Tolkein. That's where the meaning is. I mean, he had spent years studying "the fantasy prone" but, when I asked him about it, said he'd never read Lord of the Rings, which is surely the iconic work of literature most universally shared  throughout that very subset of the population which he was studying; or, in other words, he'd never taken advantage of what seemed to me a much more obvious way to get inside his subjects' heads. That's how it struck me, at any rate. But then, I was an English major with an interest in anthropology, not an experimental psychologist. (Luckily, I escaped this encounter with the fellow with no worse injury to my head and heart than a mild concussion - purely accidental, but so wonderfully symbolic - and a healthy correction of memory.)

More recently, I read that some psychologists were beginning to acknowledge the existence of high-functioning female Aspies (girls with Asperger's Syndrome), and wondered if that fellow was now busy correlating his studies of fantasy-prone personalities with those recent descriptions of Aspie girls. Because with girl Aspies, a fascination with fantasy literature simply is a normal feature, revealed early in life, that reflects our atypical (or perhaps simply non-majority?) brains. At first I thought, if it takes a special kind of brain function to understand a fantasy-level kind of allegory, then, obviously, neurotypical people (NTs) will never get it. But then, Tolkein wouldn't be so widely loved if only an atypical brain could appreciate him. So clearly there's more to fantasy than what I see in it, or my erstwhile college friend either.

But I digress. Anyway, personally I can't read most of what's published as fantasy, but I'm always very happy to find another author besides Tolkein who can handle it at a level of literary excellence that makes it work for me. So far I've found only a few such writers. Here, in Part One of a projected roundup of my favorite fantasy authors, I'll introduce a fine series that I really enjoyed reading and reviewing as it came out, in 1998-99. I suspect it never found the following it merits. If you enjoy Tolkein (elves, above) or Marion Zimmer Bradley, or just have an interest in different versions of the Arthurian tales (the Matter of Britain) this set of books, collected as The Hallowed Isle, has to be among the very best. Diana L. Paxson reimagines the legend by telling it from the differing perspectives of  cultural groups that shared Britain's soil at that time and fought for control over its future.

Come to think of it, it's probably time for me to reread these - one nice thing about getting older is that you forget the details of the books you enjoyed in the past, and can do it all over again. Here are some of my SLJ recommendations. Books One and Two were later reissued as a single edition, and my review of Book One seems to have disappeared from the Web in the process, but if I come across it later, I'll edit it in here. (Update: Found it!) Then when Book Two came out, I didn't get it in time for a full review but did squeeze in a short mention. Here's that one, and the reviews I did of the third and fourth books (for SLJ).

The Hallowed Isle series by Diana L. Paxson --

Afghanistan revisited - again (updated)

Following my earlier comment on Afghanistan (http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2009/12/day-to-think-about-afghanistan-links.html ) Here's a further update (1/1/10): Tom Tomorrow on The Idea of Obama. Articulates a lot! http://www.credoaction.com/comics/?s=idea+of+Obama&x=31&y=15

100,000 of us have signed a petition to halt Obama's plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and it was just presented to Congress by Rep. Grayson. We are calling on our elected representatives to stop this madness by refusing to fund it. Watch this brief video of the petition being presented to Congress here: http://rethinkafghanistan.com/?utm_source=graysonread

I knew this would end up just like our misadventure in Viet Nam eventually, and now here we are, with Obama stepping into Lyndon Johnson's shoes. But it's not too late to change course, truly.

My Dec. 1 post on Afghanistan, below, represents my perspective on this war and I won't repeat myself here. But there's another recommendation I'd add to that - probably right next to the bit about Women for Afghan Women: check out the author Greg Mortenson at http://www.threecupsoftea.com/
His Three Cups of Tea (about how this mountain climber, just one guy on his own, stumbled into Afghanistan and learned how to really do business there, and how if we really want to change things for the better there, the key is education for women, which seems obvious to me and probably anybody reading this, but can't be repeated enough, apparently) has been a phenomenal word-of-mouth bestseller.  And his new book Stones into Schools looks to be just as enlightening. The current popularity of this author gives me hope.

On his Worksite blog Matt Witt reviews a book that fits here too; he writes:
A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya (Scribner). Joya is a young woman elected to Afghanistan's parliament in 2005 at the age of 27 and then suspended from her post because of her outspoken criticism of the regime. "We Afghans remain trapped between two enemies," she writes, "the Taliban on one side and U.S./NATO forces and their warlord hirelings on the other." The Karzai government, she says, is no better than the Taliban, and Afghans must be allowed to determine their own destiny. "I hope President Obama in particular will be made to understand that more troops, more bombs, and an expanded war will solve nothing," she concludes.

I've also edited a review of Half the Sky for our local newsletter and will put it here too, if I can get permission.

It's true, but seldom reported, that when 9/11 happened, research showed that the American people were primed for a new Marshall Plan sort of thing - we really wanted to help people in that part of the world and make friends with them. If we'd taken that course, no doubt we'd have made mistakes, but at least (if we'd had leaders with the character to bring out the best in us, which we might have had, if we'd gotten the president we'd chosen instead of a coup), we'd have done some good and wouldn't have done so much harm - especially considering the economic resources we've squandered instead, simply making warmongers richer.

There have been so many missed opportunities for this country during my lifetime. And it's not just the USA at fault. Honestly, I really feel that if the human race doesn't overcome and outgrow its habit of wars of agression very soon, and start investing, instead, in a better life for all, then we don't deserve to continue as a species. We have to outgrow the old evolutionary path, which puts sociopaths in charge of tribes (and now corporations and governments) and lead, instead, with our rational brains from now on, or we're sunk and we'd deserve to be an evolutionary dead end. We may already be, considering the powerful natural forces our irrational species has set in motion, that are leading to destabilization of the environment that supports our life here. Which leads us to.... Copenhagen: what on earth do they think they're doing there?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban: a video, a recollection, three singles and a trilogy (book reviews)

Update May 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8IBnfkcrsM






Update Dec. 30, 2011: coverage from Radio Ecoshock of Durban climate change conference:
"Diplomats from all over the world are returning home after a hard-won agreement in Durban, South Africa. They agreed to do nothing to save our climate from disaster." - Alex Smith http://www.ecoshock.info/2011/12/climate-down-in-durban.html
In another podcast, here's an interview about Durban, with Australian Senator Milne, on Dr. Helen Caldicott's fine show If You Love This Planethttp://ifyoulovethisplanet.org/?p=5371

Related posts labeled Climate Change.
see also Occupy
and Democracy in the cloud labels at bottom.
Follow the money, and the people, and they--and many other subjects--all take turns in a sad ballet of greed, exploitation, ignorance, spirituality and valor.

Update Jan. 10, 2011

And so on to Cancun, and more of the same. Between Copenhagan and Cancun, devastating floods in Pakistan (unprecedented, huge) and Australia (Queensland's worst disaster in history)... and how much more? And the diplomats are really helpless in the face of the real world powers (See Carbon War, reviewed below).

*******************

Update: Well, I'm trying not to be discouraged. Archbishop Tutu gave a wonderful speech, as did a lot of other people, covered on Free Speech TV but probably nowhere else. Many truths are being told, but apparently all out on the street, between arrests... who knows what's really going on inside. Carbon Club all over again? But something's different now; The People everywhere are more aware (well, the climate refugees could hardly help knowing what's going on) and demonstrating. Will push have to come to shove, to get anywhere?

****************
Watching the news on the climate change summit in Copenhagen, and seeing Al Gore talk about his new book on Free Speech TV (he's still optimistic that something can be done - says we have enough solutions to solve three climate crises, and all we need to do is manage one), and getting over a cold, I've been indulging in a stroll down memory lane. (Here's a link to where you can view Gore's talk - well worth a little time on a winter day: http://www.freespeech.org/video/keynote-al-gore-our-choice )
Seems like the destruction of my world (or at least of the part of it that I, as a puny human, can live in and relate to emotionally) has been an important component of my worldview all my life.

I read Our Plundered Planet by Fairfield Osborn on the recommendation of my conservation-savvy elders when I was a kid (just looked it up on Wikipedia and see it came out in 1948; isn't "Fairfield Osborn" a wonderfully midcentury name for a writer?), and that made a big impression on me, while in the background of my life, all around me, the beautiful orchards and grasslands of the world I knew and loved were torn up and burned and cleared so ticky tacky houses could be built, year after year.

At about that time, I decided that it was all over, and nothing that's happened since then has changed my mind. But some people don't know how to give up, and I guess that's what keeps me going. It's the "never give up, never surrender" spirit of the plucky souls of that stirring film classic, Galaxy Quest. That feckless crew made it through somehow, prevailing against a really seriously grooming-challenged alien race - so if real humans are anything like those fictional heroes, maybe we can get through this too. I just hope that if we do, we'll come out better at the other end.

For the latest news, I like New Scientist .

And I've been remembering some very good books about the current crisis. Maybe what they have in common is that they don't simply offer valuable info on the subject, they also entertain, with great writing and fascinating subject matter.

First there was Al Gore's brave Earth in the Balance, in which (among other things) he challenges established religion to think again about what the Bible means when it says to be "stewards" of our world, and do something about it. A nakedly sincere yet politically astute (even as it's risk-taking) position to take. Even though I don't buy the Bible as any kind of guide to behavior (except for a few bits here and there; you can probably guess which ones), I admire and respect Gore's interpretation of that part of it. He followed up later with his slide show and documentary An Inconvenient Truth of course and that created a movement that still goes on. For a constantly thwarted and undermined and betrayed leader, he still leads very well. Never give up, never surrender, eh? Here's the wikipedia for the book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_in_the_Balance 

This is what I wrote-- in (can you believe it's been this long and the world is still just beginning to address the issue?) 1992 -- for School Library Journal, recommending the book to teens and adults. Funny, those teens would be their thirties now. Maybe my review helped steer one or two of them toward work they're doing now; that was my hope at the time.

Too often, environmental challenges are presented in such a way that the more one learns, the more hopeless it all seems. Earth in the Balance does not shrink from the magnitude and painfulness of the conflicts teens will soon inherit, but it also gives encouragement, offering the possibility of resolution.

A passionate yet clearheaded exposition of a worldwide crisis is the starting point of this courageous book. Retracing his own journey, Gore leads readers toward a greater understanding of humanity, and toward thinking beyond currently perceived limitations. With often stunning insight, he looks at how "dysfunctional civilization," political realities, and religious traditions have helped to shape the current global ecological situation.

This breadth of perspective should speak to a diversity of readers, while the final section, outlining a plausible plan of action, can capture the imaginations of practical as well as idealistic readers. The book may seem daunting to some, but its three-part, fifteen-chapter structure, which allows readers to browse at will, should make it accessible enough to most readers.

******************************************
I remember when Gore went to the big global summit in Rio during the Reagan era -- taking it upon himself personally to represent the people of the US there because Reagan & Co were not doing it. Not the only time in Gore's career that the media said he was committing political suicide. At Rio, he was going there in defiance of those in power (and doing something portrayed by the media as "radical"). I remember thinking at the time that it was a tragedy that someone like Gore couldn't be in the White House instead of the likes of Reagan, and assuming that such a dream would never be possible in this benighted country.

Then I was over the moon when Gore was picked as a Vice Presidential candidate for the 1992 election and it occurred to me that he might actually be president, and in a position to do something, in eight more years. We all know how that turned out. So-called "greens" who never bothered to read Gore's book voted against him, making the election very close. (I know they meant well, but really! That smarmy, self-serving little... over Gore, who went to Rio and put his life on the line?) Still, more people than not did choose him as president...  but then in a bold and completely sociopathic (okay, so corporations are by nature sociopathic) move to preserve their oil empire, the Bush & Co international crime syndicate, together with a big group of quislings in the judiciary, news media, and politics (and enabled by a shocked, confused, and essentially just plain stupid electorate who didn't even know when they'd just been screwed) staged a coup to keep that from happening, and it was another eight years before we the people could regroup again.

So here we are at Copenhagen. Yet another chance for the world to agree on something. Meanwhile, Gore keeps busy! http://www.climateprotect.org/ 

********************************
For really great background on who that gang of pirates is, and what that coup was all about, Jeremy Leggett (click for interview) had an insider's seat at important events, and names names. He's especially credible as an advocate because he started out as a scientist working for the oil industry, and ended up working for Greenpeace. He's written more since The Carbon War (reviewed below) too. Here's his page in Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jeremy-K.-Leggett/e/B001ITYAJO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

In The Carbon War, he makes it very clear how we got into this mess and who's responsible and what their motives were.
The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era by Jeremy Leggett. (published in 2001 in the US; earlier in UK)
(my review for SLJ for Adult/High School readers): 

As a young geologist and as a professor at the Royal School of Mines in England, the author found the hunt for petroleum deposits "a great romance." But, like many scientists in the 1980s, he became convinced by growing evidence that global warming posed a serious danger. Conscience-stricken at the part he had played in bringing about this situation, he moved "from one of the most conservative universities in the world to one of the most radical environmental groups," and began a new career as scientific advisor to Greenpeace.

Participating in history-making conferences such as those in Rio and Kyoto, Leggett witnessed the key events and international politics at the end of the 20th century that kept the US on the oil track. In vivid detail, his account reveals the people and politics of what he calls the "Carbon Club"-the coalition of industrial and regional interests that sought to confuse the issue and, through various manipulations, derailed an effective movement to address the problem.

Leggett argues that only a rapid conversion to solar power can change the dangerous course energy production is following now, but is encouraged by recent signs of a growing understanding of the problem, and by developing cracks in the cohesiveness of the Carbon Club itself.

For most teens, this clearly written, fact-packed, and passionate book will be a demanding read, but it offers a wealth of information for those interested in understanding the workings of the real world, and its thorough index will make it an excellent resource for research on global warming and the history of the issue.
***************************
A minor note: in my haste to submit that review by the deadline I made one of my typically dyslexic mistakes: I'd transposed some letters and wrote "Tokyo" rather than "Kyoto". I knew the difference - I'd even been to both cities. Quickly I noticed and asked my review committee head to fix it. She said she did, but it still appeared wrong in the magazine. I asked if she could at least make sure the magazine got it right in the electronic version and she said she would, "but I wouldn't worry about it. Nobody will remember about the Kyoto conference - it was a long time ago." Last time I looked at an online source, it still hadn't been corrected. Not that it matters. Kyoto is so far behind what's really needed, sometimes I think we might was well forget it, at this point.

***************************
Finally, in my personal trilogy of nonfiction views of the subject, this one also made a big impression on me when it came out; here's my recommendation in SLJ for teens and adults:


This is an eye-opening examination of some of "the first whispers of the hurricane of future climate change which is now bearing down on us." 

In a series of vivid travel narratives, Lynas shows the human side of global warming, taking readers to Britain, North and South America, China, and the South Pacific. He introduces them to folks whose houses and roads are falling crazily through melting permafrost, who are going hungry because fishing lakes have disappeared, and who are becoming refugees because their grasslands have turned to desert.

In the Andes, he finds glaciers that entire cities depend on for their water supply rapidly disappearing. In the South Pacific, he finds an island paradise in the process of being lost as rising high tides render the nation increasingly uninhabitable. The author clearly explains why these are not isolated incidents, but interrelated parts of a worldwide set of phenomena that soon will affect us all.

As an Englishman, the author acknowledges American concerns but nails our wasteful lifestyle and our "confusion of politics and corporate self-interest." He urges that it's still possible to make a difference, and lists organizations and Web sites to contact, and suggests a number of things anyone can do to help.

***************************************
And the trilogy...
And now for a real treat, there's Kim Stanley Robinson's wonderful "Science in the Capital" trilogy. It's near-future science fiction, but if you aren't a science fiction reader don't dismiss it out of hand - it's not the rocket-ship type of thing, it's a near-future-thriller, fiction about science and scientists. Robinson has a wonderful way of getting inside his characters' heads and revels in the creativity of science and scientific collaboration. I love this stuff. The trilogy starts with Forty Signs of Rain. (Here's my review for SLJ, recommending the book to older teens and adults):

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (2004)
This is an elegantly crafted and beguiling novel set in the very near future. Anna Quibler is a technocrat at the National Science Foundation while her husband, Charlie, takes care of their toddler and telecommutes as a legislative consultant to a senator. Their family life is a delight to observe, as are the interactions of the scientists at the NSF and related organizations.

When a Buddhist delegation, whose country is being flooded because of climate change, opens an embassy near the NSF, the Quiblers befriend them and teach them to work the US system of politics and grants. The Buddhists, in turn, affect the scientists in delightful and unexpectedly significant ways. The characters all share information and theories, appreciating the threat that global warming poses, but they just can't seem to awaken a sense of urgency in the politicians who could do something about it. (Robinson's characterizations of politicians are barbed, and often hilarious.)

As the scientists focus on the minutiae of their lives, the specter of global warming looms over all, inexorably causing a change here, a change there, until all the imbalances combine to bring about a brilliantly visualized catastrophe that readers will not soon forget. Even as he outlines frighteningly plausible scenarios backed up by undeniable facts, the author charms with domesticity and humor.

This beautifully paced novel stands on its own, but it is the first of a trilogy. As readers wait impatiently for the next volume, they will probably find themselves paying closer attention to science, to politics, and to the weather.–
*****************************
The next entry in the trilogy is Fifty Degrees Below, and the saga concludes with Sixty Days and Counting. Each takes on a different manifestation of climate change and how we deal with it, told through the lives of these wonderful characters, in a (thinking person's) thriller format. I can't say enough about this author or this wonderful set of books. I am REALLY a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson!


*********************************
Update Oct. 2011: A Change of Climate, a new play, recently premiered at our local science museum. Take a look: http://fred.tonge.us/Fred.Tonge.US/Plays_files/ChangeOfClimate.pdf

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Great Bloggers: Margaret and Helen

This is a wonderful blog - Margaret and Helen: Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting
http://margaretandhelen.wordpress.com/about/

Margaret and Helen are in their eighties and have corresponded all their lives. They live in Texas and Maine. I think a grandson helped them set up the blog, and fields the bad apples for them. Helen does most of the writing; Margaret prefers the telephone; but you do get the sense of a conversation there. To give you the flavor of the thing, the latest posting, a critique of Sara Palin's new book, is titled "Going Rogue Without a Condom." Helen suffers from no illusions about the Palin family values. Wonderful! Before that is a Thanksgiving blog not to be missed, with instructions to family members. I can't wait to delve deeper into what promises to be a treasure trove. Sweet little old ladies? Banish the stereotype! If the title Vim and Vinegar weren't already taken (see below), I'd be calling them that! In the "about" section of the blog, Margaret says some people question whether they're "real" or a literary creation themselves. I say, who cares! They're great. (And living where I do, I could see some of my own neighbors writing a similar blog. Must get them started! When a smart person lives long enough, there's a lot to share!)

Finding Margaret and Helen is one of the many benefits I've enjoyed since starting this blog. I found it through another blog, Vim and Vinegar, which I happened upon because my friend Larry, who actually "follows" this one (the first real response I had to this - thanks Larry), also follows that one. V&V in turn came upon Margaret and Helen through another blog, and wrote about it in theirs. Wonders really multiply in this world! Thanks, V&V - and I haven't even commented on their blog yet, but I really like what they do too. And now I have to check out the other one... So many great people out there!

M&H and V&V are included in my list of favorite blogs, in the left-hand column of this thing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thank goodness Anil Dash has done this for us all

Check out this hilarious analysis by Anil Dash of the latest Britney Spears song. I only have the vaguest idea who she is and for years have been utterly sick of seeing headlines about her, but in a case like this, her work becomes worthy of a little attention! : go to the Dec. 8 2009 blog at:
http://dashes.com/anil/2009/12/fact-check-britney-spears-3.html

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Going to Mars - now's the time!

Humans To Mars.org
If you're like me, one major reason you voted for Obama was his modern, enlightened understanding of the value of scientific research and exploration. Now, if he throws away the initiative in space science, and especially Mars exploration, he's seriously falling down on the job in that department and needs to hear from us. There are several problems here, but basically the Augustine Commission did a really, really, bad job of evaluating the situation and making recommendations to Obama. And from what I've heard, his chief science advisor is a Club of Rome adherent, meaning that he's incapable of visionary planning.

I wrote a lot more here, but just cut it out because I'm either speaking to the converted or trying to talk someone without ears. What I know is this: when we look around at the big, glorious universe and dream just a little about the possibilities of what humans might do to justify their silly brains and knack for technology, I see that by trying new things we always (well, almost always - pretty good odds in these dangerous times!) end up better off, in ways we never imagine at the beginning of the quest. But you have to be able to  see why it's better to change, grow, and create new possibilities, than to stay the same, get worse, and fall apart.

If there is a better "stimulus to growth package" out there than a mission to get humans to Mars, I haven't heard of it. We could mount a Mars expedition now (and we do have the technology to do it) for one third of what we gave to AIG in just one afternoon last year. A tragedy. So if you're up to it, just click on the link, above, to sign, and tell Obama he has your support for a more positive approach to space program planning.

PS here's a really good long interview with Robert Zubrin that critiques the Augustine Commission work and recommendations (which are behind Obama's bad decision) and gives a good background on the economics and development options for Mars and space exploration.
http://archive.thespaceshow.com/shows/1252-BWB-2009-11-06.mp3 
Zubrin has a genius for making clear just how engineers make things work, and brings that perspective to the bureaucratically-structured Augustine Commission recommendations (which seem to come down to: keep funding jobs, spend more than you need to spend, to do pointless things, and above all don't try to actually go anywhere). If Obama follows the Augustine Commission's ass-backwards recommendations, "We are stepping to the sidelines of history" (Zubrin, in the interview). A pretty sorry ending to a glorious start, and surely one of the greatest missed opportunities in history. Just one more really big thing to add to a long list of really big things we'll be harshly judged for someday.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A day to think about Afghanistan: a memory of the place, a book review, and some links

What with the current runup to our president's dreaded annoucement of increased military involvement in Afghanistan, I thought I'd revisit a memoir I wrote a while back, about a day in my family's drive through the disputed territories in question, back in 1964. Here's the link to the posting. So much has changed, and so much has remained the same:
http://www.connectashland.com/profiles/blogs/a-memory-of-afghanistan-1964
BTW, I regret the bad graphics of the site - white text on black background - which make it difficult to read, especially a long piece like this. I might republish it here as a separate blog. Let me know what you think. (UPDATE: I've also copied and pasted that article into a separate post, here.)

If we really want to help out, how about the success story of the small but effective organization called Women for Afghan Women:
http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/
This is a wonderful group I read about in The Nation  maybe some years ago and have been following; they started out very small but have accomplished amazing things in a short time, and really give you a bang for your "charity" buck (actually, isn't helping others an enlightened form of self-interest-serving for anyone anywhere?). I certainly prefer this to bombing and economic sanctions. But then the big corporations can't make a profit from generosity. So it's up to us individuals.

Finally, here's a fabulous book I'd recommend to anyone. Below is a review adapted from what I published in SLJ. The book gives an idea, first, what it's like to grow up there, and second, to be an American knowing what he knows about both cultures, and third, an unusually accurate picture of what it was like to be young in the West Coast counterculture of the sixties and seventies. There are also subplots that are a perfect example of why truth can be even more amazing than fiction: first, his brother's different choice (going into fanatical Islam rather than mainstream America); and second, how the author found his wife (a Jewish American) and why this proved to be the perfect solution for him, in the context of his Afghan family background. If this latter sounds unlikely to you, then read the book and find out how it worked! Just a perfect human story. Since West of Kabul, which was written right after 9-11, Ansary has written another (Destiny Interrupted), which I'll probably read too, and I think also a compilation of writings by young Afghans.

West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story by Tamim Ansary. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/West-of-Kabul-East-of-New-York/Tamim-Ansary/e/9780312421519#TABS 
Adult/High School-This powerful, illuminating three-part memoir is a fast and enjoyable read, richly embedded with stimulating insights. In a friendly and often humorous style, Ansary charms readers with colorful stories of his life in Afghanistan and America, and shows what it is like to belong to two very different cultures. Ansary's mother was Finnish-American, a feminist, atheist, and teacher, while his father was an Afghan from a distinguished and talented family engaged in the country's first attempt at modernization.

In the first section, The Lost World," the author shares amusing and touching memories of a 1950s' boyhood in an typical Afghan extended family, or "clan," yet with unusual parents. After moving to America as a teenager and then completing college, he became a dedicated participant in the counterculture of the '60s and '70s, and rarely looked back. This section is very true to the times and Boomers will identify strongly with it, especially those of us who lived in the Bay Area then.

In the middle section, "Looking for Islam," Ansary describes a frustrating, harrowing, and often ludicrous trip through North Africa and Turkey in the late '70s where he met Muslim extremists, as he sought to understand his brother's choice to become a Muslim fundamentalist; he casts much-needed light on the "weird" and "scary" internal logic of their belief system. In counterpoint to the inhumanity of fanaticism, he tells a sweet love story: how he found, fell in love with, and married a Jewish woman. Just why this proved to be the perfect solution for him, given his cultural background, is a jewel of a human story the reader will savor.

Finally, in the section titled "Forgetting Afghanistan," Ansary shares with readers how he renegotiated his family relationships and found his balance as an adult-he remains somewhere between cultures but determines his own course. Teens should be fascinated by this unusual life story, learn much from it, and identify strongly with the author's identity quest, while adults with a wider experience of the world will find much food for thought here as well.

*************************************************************

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Logo by Naomi Klein (book review)

Well, here's a nice coincidence. I'd just found and posted some comments on William Gibson's fine science fiction novel Pattern Recognition (below), whose heroine suffers from a severe psychic allergy to corporate logos, and now I turn on C-Span TV and find an interview* with none other than Naomi Klein, the Nation columnist and author of No Logo, another book I reviewed for SLJ, when it came out. That was in 1999 or 2000; now it's being brought out again in a ten year anniversary edition, with a new intro by Klein.

On her website, Klein writes,
"In the last decade, No Logo has become a cultural manifesto for the critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. As the world faces a second economic depression, No Logo's analysis of our corporate and branded world is as timely and powerful as ever."

The title and concept have become a rallying cry for a lot of people and organizations. A quick search shows a number of videos, and apparently a documentary was also made though I haven't seen it.

Anyway, I strongly recommended the first edition when the book came out. (Note: the reference to "street demonstrations recently in the news," in the last sentence of the review, was to the WTO-Seattle events):

No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Name Bullies  by Naomi Klein (1999/2000):

In this examination of the style and substance of "branded life," a young Canadian journalist presents her thesis in a highly entertaining style. In chapters such as "Alt.everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool," Klein shows how advertising exploits teens (17 is the optimum age) and points out marketing tactics and trends.

As the advertising industry has evolved to become a major shaper of culture, a sea change in corporate culture has transformed companies from producers of products to purveyors of image and dreams. Brand names such as Gap, Nike, or Tommy Hilfiger have come to have "talismanic power" for many young people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. However, the author reveals the disturbing economic realities underlying the production of these magic products-often through the stories of the young people who work in the most appalling conditions to produce them.

The final chapters describe individual and community activities in the arts, politics, and courts in the pursuit of human rights and other values. For readers who want to know more about what lies behind street demonstrations recently in the news, or for those who are ready to rise above being manipulated, this title provides an excellent model of how to think critically about contemporary culture.

_______________
*The interview was annoying, at least for the first interminable section, because the interviewer harassed Klein about her family's political background (they were blacklisted in the fifties, like so many of our best citizens, and can boast of additional distinctions such as resisting the VietNam war, like so many of us), until she pointed out that this would perhaps be relevant if she were a memoirist but it had nothing to do with her writing career, which is journalistic, and that the interview was beginning to feel more like a HUAC interrogation than anything else (something I was thinking myself as I watched it; my family history is similar so I have reliable radar for spotting this nasty strain of human psychology and American culture).

After which he still persisted until he'd exhausted his supply of prepared slides of quotes about her parents and family, and then he asked her (in the most irritating tradition of journalists going after a story that isn't there, by phrasing it in every possible way he could think of) about her dual citizenship, as if that hid some deeply subversive "anti-American" secret (the simplicity of the situation failed to get through to him in his labored attempt to find complexity: anyone born of American parents anywhere in the world is American; anyone born on Canadian soil is Canadian; this kind of dual citizenship has been legally defined as such for a long time).

But anyway, notwithstanding all that, it's an interesting interview once he gives Klein a chance to talk. And C-Span is one of the few TV sources where you'd even get a chance to see someone like Naomi Klein speak in more than sound bites (and in those, on other networks she would usually be inaudible because some idiotic network commentator would be telling you what she was saying, only it wouldn't be anything like what she was actually saying, which you would only know if you had a chance to hear it, which they wouldn't give you). End of rant. I just have a thing about bad journalism, not to mention witch hunting.

Years of Rice and Salt (book review)

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)
If you're like me and constantly trying to make sense of history and human nature, here's a nifty allegorical (or perhaps literal) way to do that: karma and reincarnation in different times and cultures. I like Jo Walton's retrospective review quoted in Wikipedia: "It’s probably the book of his I’ve re-read most frequently, because I keep trying to decide what I think of it." I'm kind of the same way. It's a brain-full of book, but I basically loved it for its vast perspective and wisdom, and often over the years find myself reminded of it by this or that big issue or event. The following review is adapted from the short one I wrote for SLJ:

In this alternative version of the history of the modern world, the bubonic plague kills almost all of the Europeans in the fourteenth century, and the West never recovers. The major world powers thereafter are Islam and China, and the major religions are Islam (in various forms) and Buddhism. Many other peoples, including Hindus, Sikhs, Japanese, and Yingzhou (from the New World) also play significant parts.

Robinson's alternate history encompasses familiar parallels to our own: the discovery of the Americas, religious strife and cultural breakthroughs, political tyranny and devastating world war, scientific renaissance, technological wonders, and the pursuit of happiness. But as these developments are seen through the lens of different cultures, the reader is given a new perspective on what we take for granted about the world we think we know.

Though Robinson's alternate world is vast and complex, its history is experienced by readers on a human scale, through the colorful and vivid tales of individual people. In interlinked stories, through the centuries, they live and die in startlingly different ways, yet there is an underlying structure. And the characters remain familiar to the reader because they are the same group of souls, reincarnated in different places and times.

After death, and before rebirth, the characters meet in the Bardo, where they are judged (I had the hardest time with this part; I didn't quite "get" where the demons fit in with the otherwise very clearheaded view of reality, but maybe I'll catch what that's about in my next reading...), and then they are off on other adventures--again struggling to make progress in their "years of rice and salt" on Earth. This is an addictive, surprising, and suspenseful novel about characters and a world whose fate came to matter considerably to this reader.

************
As always -- one of many things I really love about this writer -- Robinson shows great empathy for humanity, yet clearly examines and articulates the chronic and often appalling mistakes our species is prone to make.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (book review)

Here's a book that has held up well. "Pattern recognition" was still a fresh concept for me to get my head around at the time this novel came out, but since then I've seen it pop up all over the place.

Meanwhile, I revisited the book via an audio version a year or so, and found that the novel is still a great science fiction read, suspenseful and challenging. I'd also reread some of Gibson's early novels in the meantime, and when I heard the audio of Pattern Recognition, was reminded of his references to characters in those earlier books.

What an interesting body of work Gibson's produced. The earlier books still feel fresh to me, even though you'd think they'd be dated (since the plots and mise en scene are all about the latest cyber technologies and trends, which are so quickly overtaken by new ones, in these times); but they still make good stories decades later, because the characters are great, the tales are well plotted, and what might seem dated now comes across, instead, as alternate and highly stylized worlds. And, well, some things are just universal.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (2005)

Cayce Pollard is a well-paid professional marketer. She and her friends-filmmakers, dealers in electronic esoterica, designers, and hackers-live on the cutting edge of a highly technological, "post-geographic" world, where the manipulation of cultural trends can bring great power.

When she is employed to discover the source of "the Footage," a mysterious film that has been appearing in bits and pieces on the Web and gathering a worldwide underground following, her survival is at stake. In her search for the auteur, she outwits corporate spies, terrorists, and mobsters in London, Tokyo, Moscow, and New York; struggles with ethical issues; and even delves into the mystery of her father's disappearance on September 11, 2001.

Some readers might feel that this novel demands too much of them-the prose is witty, each page challenges with provocative observations, and there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. But those who enjoyed Gibson's earlier work, or the writing of Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling, should relish this headlong race through an unsettling but recognizable world to a surprisingly humane conclusion.

(originally reviewed for SLJ)

**********************************************
PS here's a recent think piece on pattern recognition

***************************************

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Head Wraps and Good Hair (book review/movie review)

Recently saw Good Hair, Chris Rock's Michael Moore-style expose of the African-American hair culture, at a benefit screening for the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Highly recommend it. It raises so many questions and provides so much information on what were to (little old European-American) me little-known or even unknown areas of black culture that I won't even try to summarize it here. My only reservation is an unfair one - that I wish the filmmakers had delved into some issues they obviously chose not to, such as the environmental effects of all that poison; what's behind the lack of health regulation (racism, obviously); or the parallel between black women straightening their hair, and the obsession with body fat in the white female population (in other words, it's part of a universal feminist issue as well as the racial one it focuses on). But any movie that raises or inspires so many issues, and is entertaining and enlightening, is a must-see.

I really like the moral Chris Rock makes: he tells his daughters that it's what's inside their heads that really matters. The women in my group (all white, though of varying ethnicities) who saw it couldn't help drawing a parallel with ways in our own lives in which we were made to feel inadequate - and our eventual understanding that (to put it in my own terms; others not so radically feminist would probably put it differently, but make the same point) whether the issue was "good" hair, weight, breasts, legs, lips, nose, or any other outwardly observable aspect of our physical selves, it was really about the patriarchy brainwashing women into believing that no matter how we were made, we could not possibly measure up (to some impossible standard) - and encouraging us to put our energies into changing things about our image rather than into learning the truth of the world, loving each other, or changing the culture that oppresses us. Here's a link to the movie's site, with a trailer to view:
http://www.goodhairmovie.net/site/

The movie reminded me of a book I reviewed a while back about head wraps. It was written by a NYTimes fashion editor, and it too introduced me to something that was for me a totally new subject at the time. When I saw Good Hair, I wondered why (unless I missed something) Chris Rock made no mention of that fashion, since it is such a healthy, aesthetically pleasing, creative, self-expressive alternative to the awful industries of chemical straighteners (LYE????) and weaves using hair from women in India (given as sacrifices to temples)... I hope my review helped steer at least a few teenagers toward that better alternative. And that head wraps, which probably remained a largely urban fashion in the US, will make a big comeback here soon and liberate anyone who doesn't like her hair from a dependence on harmful chemicals. Here's the review, from SLJ:


Head Wraps: A Global Journey, by Georgia Scott (2003)
Adult/High School–When the author noticed "towering, exotic headwraps" worn by African-American women in New York, she began to conduct interviews with those who wore these "architectural creations" and found that they did so in celebration of their African heritage. Scott also spoke with West African immigrants who told her more about the origins and cultural significance of the garment. Further research made her aware that every continent has a rich and varied tradition of headwraps or scarves. Eventually, she went on to document current and historical styles worn by men and women. The resulting book is a whirlwind tour of 32 countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Scott sweeps readers along with her through setbacks, surprises, and serendipities in her journey off the beaten track. On any page, readers will find excellent color photos of Scott's many new friends in their headgear, or archival photos and artistic renderings. Illustrations and text mesh seamlessly to reveal an amazing variety of textiles and methods of tying. Scott touches on the history and cultural significance of each style, but in this broad survey and fast-paced travel narrative, understandably the focus is usually more aesthetic than analytical. Teens will be charmed by this visually stunning, ebullient book; the discussions sparked are likely to range well beyond matters of fashion.–Christine C. Menefee

Here's a good article and some more pictures from the book: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4125

Monday, November 23, 2009

Robert Zubrin: versatile, passionate, and fascinating writer on Mars and other compelling subjects (book reviews)

Update: check out the Great Space Debate - Moon, Mars or Beyond for a wide-ranging look at the challenges confronting space exploration now, by several top people in the field including Robert Zubrin. Took place March 15 2010.

************

I'll admit it - I'm a fan of Robert Zubrin. Founder of the Mars Society, passionate advocate for science and space exploration, he doesn't just do science and engineering, and he's not just a visionary when it comes to the future of the human race, he's also a gifted satirist, historian, and social critic - all this, and a novelist and playwright. And did I mention humor and wit? Oh, and he almost singlehandedly saved the Hubble Telescope from being scuttled, during W's tenure as usurper-in-chief. As Carl Sagan once said of Zubrin and his Mars advocacy, "Bob Zubrin really, nearly alone, changed our thinking on this issue." Enough gushing - can't help it! - so here are several of his titles, all fabulous:

Mars on Earth: The Adventures of Space Pioneers in the High Arctic by Robert Zubrin... this is my personal favorite Zubrin title. Nonfiction, true, incredible story! The suspense and excitement of fiction, the fascination of amazing true events. Here's my review from SLJ: - and the experiments still go on! Want to be a Mars explorer? You can do it now. Go to the Mars Society website and sign up. http://www.marssociety.org/portal Or just follow the blogs posted there by the people doing the work! It's amazing how easy it is to get caught up in a sense of exploration, reading the scientists' blogs. (Note: I did give a copy of this book to a friend who can't understand the value of the space program, no matter how many good reasons she hears, and she wasn't swayed by this book either - but I should think it would get the point across to most people who are smart enough to read it and process the information with an open mind, and who are susceptible, as most people are, to the allure of an inspiring story of people getting together to beat the odds.) But back to the book review...

Adult/High School-If the space program had not been aborted after the Moon landings, we could have gone to Mars as early as 1981. In this inspiring account of human ingenuity and determination, "children and grandchildren of Apollo" set out to put humans back on the path to space-not through political action, but by "[launching] a science project."

Zubrin shares the inside story of the formation of the Mars Society and the pursuit of its ambitious goal. His passion for the project creates a sense of immediacy and draws readers in as he relates how the group chose Earth locations to serve as Mars analogs, built habitats there, and carried out experiments that tested the performance of equipment and people in Mars-like conditions. These "sims" yielded many unexpected and often fascinating insights into mission technologies, exploration tactics, and "human-factors design," preparing the way for actual missions.

Zubrin explains the science and describes the people with humor and enthusiasm, revealing warts, setbacks, and successes. Diagrams and excellent color photographs help readers to visualize key individuals, equipment, and events. After the Arctic station was established, two more independently funded Mars analog stations were created, in the Utah desert and in Iceland, where volunteers continue to explore "Mars on Earth"; students can follow their adventures on the Web. Those still asking, "Isn't a Mars expedition too expensive/dangerous/irrelevant?" or "Why do we need to look for life/do this when we have problems at home/send people when we can send robots instead?" will find stimulating and compelling answers here.
***

Animal Talk (book review)

Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language by Tim Friend (review for School Library Journal)
Adult/High School–A science reporter shows how a "new generation of scientists" has been "contributing to an increasingly rich appreciation for the intelligence and emotions that lie behind… animal eyes." Though it seems obvious now that life-forms evolving together on the same planet could be expected to have much in common, Western culture has denied human kinship with animals. Friend outlines the origins and fallacies behind the old beliefs; he also draws a distinction between anthropomorphizing and figuring out what people have in common with other species.

A growing school of thought asserts that there is "one language with few words, and all species, including humans, continue to use it every day." Friend says that the sole topics of conversation, "regardless of race or species, [are] sex, real estate, who's boss, and what's for dinner." He illustrates his thesis with clear explanations of the science behind fascinating and far-ranging discoveries throughout the world and among many species. Much of the new knowledge has been made possible by new technology that allows us to detect, record, and analyze signals that were formerly beyond our perception, such as electrical signals or inaudible sounds.

The information is organized into chapters such as "The Chemistry of Love," "Songs and Shouts," and "Flash and Dance," and the pages containing unexpurgated information about randy dolphin behavior, same-sex relationships in many species, wild elephant parties, and human pheromones will appeal to teens.

(from SLJ review)

The WomanSpirit Index (updated 5/11 and 6/11)

Add caption
WomanSpirit Index: Your Comprehensive Guide to the Decade of Women's Spirituality. Index to the ten year run of WomanSpirit , 1974-1984 (1989)
 http://openlibrary.org/b/OL1599956M/WomanSpirit_index

This index was a project of mine. Most of what I know about collaborative work I learned from WomanSpirit Magazine, though I only came to realize that later in life. A vital cultural Happening, manifesting as a publication, WomanSpirit was published for ten years by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, along with a collective of women to make it all happen, out of Rootworks, women's land in Wolf Creek, Oregon. The whole story of this unusual magazine would justify an extended essay or book and someone ought to write it. Someone who was there.

Arriving in my mailbox (on the other side of the continent) quarterly, at equinoxes and solstices, WomanSpirit accompanied my inner and outer journey through several years of my life -- and I even got over my shyness enough to contribute a small article or two in the last issues. Jean, with the great generosity of spirit she's famous for, kept in touch with me over the years, as she did with many women who had expressed to her a special spiritual connection with WomanSpirit, and I finally did find my way to Rootworks to see the fabled place, and meet Jean in person. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The magazine WomanSpirit was a reflection of the women's community then inventing itself; inclusivity was one of the basic principles in the culture, with the result that famous names are found on its pages side by side with newcomers in an egalitarian mix reflecting the active re-creation of culture. It was an exciting time, and the best part is that it lives on. You won't find it recognized in the mainstream, but it's there in our culture if you know how to see it.

When Jean and Ruth decided ten years of coordinating, producing, and distributing a magazine had been enough, they gracefully brought the project to a close and when Jean suggested that someone might produce an index of the entire run, I volunteered. This was before the Internet as we know it now. So it was all done by mail -- snail mail. In the mid-eighties, few nontechnical types owned their own computers yet, and I had to drive across town to borrow a word processor when it was available. This and other things slowed progress on the Index and it took several years to finish the project. It felt like forever at the time, but I did it. (!) The work included coordinating a wonderful crew of volunteers from several parts of the country (by snail mail, remember) as well as doing a lot of indexing myself, and then reworking any indexing done by others so that it was all as consistent as I could make it.

One of the challenges in doing the index was keeping track of, and figuring out how to consolidate, the different names women made themselves known by at different points in the ten-year run. As I'd learned in other jobs tracking down the availability of work by women authors, even changing a single name to a married name creates an alias situation that can make a woman's identity invisible to scholars. On top of that, in women's culture, other new names come into being as vision quests provide them and life takes new turns. As an indexer I had an additional challenge here, too: in the spirit of the magazine, I had to follow certain conventions that reflected the values of the culture, such as indexing on first names rather than last (Tee Corinne, for example, will be found under "T", not "C").

Through correspondence Jean oversaw the whole project, wrote a beautiful introduction, and I added a Foreword. It had a small print run and is ephemeral, but the Index shows up from time to time in searches when copies become available, and Jean says she occasionally hears from scholars that they find it useful in researching women's history and the history of the feminist movement. Perhaps it's time to digitize it, if nobody has done that yet.

Linda Long, goddess bless her
The University of Oregon has now a special collection dedicated to lesbian history in Southern Oregon. Here's a great interview with the collection's Manuscripts Librarian, Linda Long. (originally from Lambda Book Report and on the Web at http://www.scribd.com/doc/30877835/A-Lesbian-Archivist-Discovers-a-Hidden-Literary-Treasure-in-Southern-Oregon )  In the interview she recognizes the importance of WomanSpirit: "It was the first feminist/lesbian periodical solely dedicated to the topic of feminism and spirituality, and it struck a chord with thousands of women across the country....[The publication] dovetailed nicely with the rise of the alternative feminist press network that flourished during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, so WomanSpirit was able to reach a large audience of women."

Another favorite publication - Heresies
I was a big fan of many of those publications; they probably saved my life. They showed me the way back to myself when I was a very lost and badly broken young person; taught me I could throw off destructive habits, grow in strength and health, be resilient, hope in the future, dream impossible but beautiful dreams, defend myself in street fighting, swim long distances, support myself financially, rediscover the strength of my own mind and judgment, and (in short) become who I really was. Feminist separatism, in the context of the women's spirituality movement, was the key to all this, in my inner journey.

I tried to buy all the feminist magazines, either by mail-order or at Mary Farmer's wonderful Lammas Women's Books and Music shop in Washington, DC, and I devoured and held onto most of the them, lugging them across the country with me to Oregon years later and eventually adding mine to the many that Rootworks donated to the University archives. I suspect most of these titles are very rare now; none could have had large publishing runs at the time. Many of the ones at Rootworks--some possibly the only remaining copies--were received as exchange copies by WomanSpirit and future scholars are fortunate that they were lovingly kept by Jean until this wonderful librarian, Linda Long, came along, to see their value.


Fortunately, this history--which belongs to and honors all women, not just lesbians; in those days, many of us who were woman-identified and separatist found a place in the culture--is now honored and preserved in the Special Collections and University Archives at the University. The collection also houses the Tee Corinne Papers.
(http://libweb.uoregon.edu/speccoll/mss/tee.html )

And here's something about Rootworks, the home of WomanSpirit, a place now becoming recognized for its historical significance. The land trust is still there, enjoying new life; the women's movement might seem to have skipped a generation of two, but younger woman are now rediscovering the roots of women's spirituality through sustainability and other Earth-centered justice movements. At least I think so, and I hope so.

Thanks to Jean Mountaingrove's pack rat inclinations, and the fact that there was room in The Barn (Natalie Barney) to store boxes of back issues indefinitely, original printings of back issues of WomanSpirit are once more available, while they last, and if you're interested in women's history and culture, this is an artifact worth holding in your hands and exploring anew. Looking at the magazine now, it's part time travel and part rediscovery -- and as inspiring and lovely (and loving) as ever.

Here's a gallery of the beautiful covers, and where you can still order back issues:


http://womanspirit.ws/images/Gallery/index.html 

Enjoy!


The Index itself is sold out now, but as I say, copies sometimes become available. And surely it's time to make it available again. Probably, some special collections own it. Certainly any special collection covering the subject of feminism, or spiritualty, ought to own it.

To bring this story up to date, Jean and WomanSpirit were always lodestars for me. For 25 years, living on the East Coast, I carried a little map to Rootworks in my car, just in case. WomanSpirit certainly helped determine my choice to move back West, to a location in Oregon nearby, after I retired. And in my new life here, I was able finally (25 years later) to meet many of the wonderful writers and artists who had contributed to the magazine, and still live in this part of the country, some on women's land trusts. At one gathering, a birthday party for Jean that happened soon after I moved here, I heard several other women express the same feeling, saying, "This is like meeting rock stars!"

Jean in 2009
The women who have been here since the 70s (some even longer) are amazing people -- with wonderful senses of humor -- and their writers group, which I am able to attend sometimes, is a high point in my life here and now, helping shape my life as a writer just as WomanSpirit helped me shape my character when I was beginning to become myself. Living the women's land trust life was not the path I followed, but it was always an ideal in my imagination , a meta-home, that (along with various imaginary friends such as Xena, the Warrior Princess) somehow helped me find my way in alien lands. For me, meeting these women now is like coming full circle. And they -- they ARE the circle.

********************************************************
PS: I finally made it to Rootworks: my camping spot, 2009
Perched on the edge of the known world - my camping spot at Rootworks, 2009