"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

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:

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.
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:
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:
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.