"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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Discovering the World (book reviews)

Here's a trio of books; they all look beautiful on a table, but they're great reading too. Maybe I'm celebrating voyaging into a new year, here at the end of an old one. I was happy to see that the first of these, Women of Discovery, has been generating some new buzz thanks to the Internet. I thought it was remarkable not just for its writing but in its design, which draws the reader into each story and time.

Women of Discovery: A Celebration of Intrepid Women Who Explored the World (2001)
by Milbry Polk and Mary Tiegreen. Introduction by Christine Amanpour.

"Celebration" is indeed the word for this exuberant assemblage of 84 amazing and outrageous individuals. Polk's vivid narratives capture the essence of each fascinating life and adventure, while Tiegreen's remarkable graphics create a sense of authenticity and immediacy, wrapping each account in a style that suits it perfectly. Readers feel they are witnesses to history thanks to well-chosen, first-person observations and ample visual contents such as contemporary maps, memorabilia, photos, and art.

The "women of discovery" include aristocrats and paupers, ancient Vikings and modern space scientists still in their prime. Some lives were more terrible than triumphant, but all "made comprehensible a part of the world that we didn't know, understand, or appreciate until they revealed it to us." The stories are loosely grouped into five freewheeling sections, each with a brief but thought-provoking introduction describing "Early Voyagers," "Intrepid Explorers," "Scientific Explorers," "Artist Explorers," and "Explorers on the Edge." Although a few of the names are well known (Maria Mitchell, Dian Fossey, Zora Neale Hurston), most will come as a complete surprise to readers, who will be wondering why they've never heard of these women before.

This beautiful book is a browser's dream, but it should be equally attractive to anyone looking for fascinating true stories, as well as for students who can use it as a rich source of interesting research subjects. The authors hope that this book will guide anyone "[setting] forth on his or her own voyage of discovery."
(adapted from my SLJ review)
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Pomegranate with blue morpho butterflies and Banded Sphinx Moth caterpillar
by Maria Sibylla Merian (from 2008 Getty exhibition)
This next book is a survey of global scientific expeditions over 300 years, and my favorite section is the one about the work of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), an amazing woman (check out that link - glad to see she's finally receiving some major recognition; maybe this book helped make that happen). Her art is remarkable, visionary, mind-blowing, yet scientifically accurate (she's said to have been the first to record whole life cycles of butterflies and she's also known for the quality of her botanical observtions). I've seen some of her art in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. , and these reproductions come very close. As with Women of Discovery, this book is a great read, and is still being discovered and read, thanks to word of mouth on the Internet:

Voyages of Discovery: Three Centuries of Natural History Exploration (1999) by Anthony Rice


This is a chronicle of major scientific expeditions in a time "when science and art worked in symbiosis." The text is generously illustrated with stunning reproductions, many published here for the first time, of the work of the natural-history artists--sometimes the scientists themselves--who documented the discoveries being made.

Beginning with Sir Hans Sloane's voyage to Jamaica in 1687 (which led eventually to the formation of the British Museum), succeeding chapters describe Dutch discoveries in Ceylon,* and offer extensive coverage of the remarkable independent voyage to Surinam by the artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian.

The 18th century benefited from the lifework of the American John Bartram and the Pacific voyages of James Cook with Sir Joseph Banks and other scientists. In the 19th century, Australia and Amazonia were charted, and Charles Darwin sailed on the Beagle; the book concludes with the Challenger Expedition of 1872-1876, which studied the ocean itself for the first time.

The very readable text should be interesting not just to general readers but also to students of the sciences, history, geography, and art. Perhaps the book's greatest contribution is to showcase the work of the artists who, usually under very difficult circumstances, so brilliantly served science and opened Western eyes to new worlds in their times. No format but the printed page (and printing of this quality) can represent the original work so well. Through these examples the author demonstrates, in dramatic fashion, the process and the necessity of accurate observation in science, and makes the case that photography (for all the advantages it confers in some respects) should not be allowed entirely to supplant the traditional method of direct observation and drawing by scientists themselves.
(adapted from my SLJ review)

*(Note: here's an interesting post about similar work by the Dutch in Cochin. The medicinal information is still in use: http://sandyi.blogspot.com/2012/02/dutch-treasure-trove.html )

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 I was particularly keen on recommending this third book to teen readers, as you might guess from my SLJ review below, but like the other books here it's great reading for anyone.

Travels with the Fossil Hunters (2000). Edited by Peter J. Whybrow, with Foreword by David Attenborough

Twelve essays by British paleontologists--each more colorful, humorous, or exciting than the one before. Their work draws these men and women to places such as India, China, Latvia, Yemen, the Sahara, and the Antarctic. They are shot at in Sierra Leone, undergo rabies treatments in Pakistan, and have their work interrupted by police when a recently buried body is dug up instead of a Neandertal in the caves of Gibraltar.

The essayists give enough details of their quests to explain their presence in these places and keep science buffs entertained, while communicating their fascination with their work. Readers see them camping in the wilderness, making friends with people from other cultures, undergoing the rigors of travel in remote areas, and dealing with emergencies of many kinds. Heightening the impact of the stories is an abundance of beautiful, colorful photos of the places, the people, and the fossils. This isn't a reference book; there is not even an index. But for students interested in pursuing any science that might require them to go into the field, it offers a glimpse of the real life they might encounter in such a profession (after all the study, and beyond the quests for grants).

For general readers as well as those who seek out books on dinosaurs and other life-forms from Earth's past, this entertaining volume reveals the human face behind the science, and shows a world still rich with promise.
 (adapted from my SLJ review)

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Here's a quartet of books on women adventurers. And then there are the Mars people... explorers too.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mary Shelley, Dr. Frankenstein, science and ethics revisited (book review)

Illustration by Theodor von Holst from the frontispiece of the 1831 edition
of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (Wikipedia)
Each year the column Dispatches From The Edge awards news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are 2010’s winners. These are the kind of stories that, if they aren't true, might as well be; people are that outrageous and just look at the mess the world is in. My favorite screwup in this particular collection (if favorite is the right word) is this one (to quote from the website):

The Mary Wollingstonecraft Shelly [sic] Award (the author of Frankenstein) goes to the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, and Cornell University for using Defense Department money to turn the beetle, Mecynorrhina torquata, into a cyborg. The beetle is fitted with an electronic backpack attached to the animal’s wing muscles, allowing scientists to control the beetle’s flight path.


The idea is to use the little beastie (actually, as beetles go, kind of a big beastie) to crawl or fly into areas where the “enemy” is. Once the “enemy” is identified, the military can target the area with bombs, rockets or artillery. This is a tad rough on the beetles.
According to researchers Michael Maharbiz and Hirotake Sato, the long-term goal is to “introduce synthetic interfaces and control loops” into other animals. “Working out the details in insects first will help us avoid mistakes and false starts in higher organisms, such as rats, mice, and ultimately people. And it allows us to postpone many of the deeper ethical questions about free will, among other things, that would become more pressing if this work took place on vertebrates.”
Geez, I wouldn't even do that to a franken-scientist, much less to a harmless, necessary beetle. Can you believe they said this ?! (it's definitely worth a double-take): 
“Working out the details in insects first ... allows us to postpone many of the deeper ethical questions ... that would become more pressing if this work took place on vertebrates.”
Wow. Out of the mouths of ethically-challenged scientists. In a way it's unfortunate that Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley [editors of Dispatches from the Edge, please take note; this name should be spelled correctly because it will long outlast you] should be perpetually associated with the ethical lapses of what people are calling Frankenscience; her own writing cautioned strongly against the very sort of horrors the prefix "Franken" now signals. She made the point about the doctor's mistake so well that it's still the iconic image for this kind of ethical lapse almost 200 years later; unfortunately, not enough people have grasped the point, yet.

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[Thanx and a tip o' the hat to Steve Bartholomew of Charged Barticle for alerting me to the Dispatches from the Edge story.]
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Richard Rothwell's portrait of Mary Shelley was shown at the Royal Academy in 1840, accompanied by lines from Percy Shelley's poem The Revolt of Islam calling her a "child of love and light". (Wikipedia)
Funnily enough this very morning I was going through some old papers and came across an op-ed piece I wrote for SLJ back in 1999, on the very subject of science and ethics. An editor had asked me to do an "Up for Discussion" column on books for teens that deal with questions of science and ethics after I wrote the following review of a 1998 biography of the writer we know as Mary Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)  (Wikipedia)

Before  I get to the review, though, I must digress a bit here to recognize that Mary Shelley's mother was the brilliant feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the revolutionary 1792 work Vindication of the Rights of Women. Mary Shelley's father was the philosopher William Godwin, who put his lofty intellectual ideals before any consideration of kindness or empathy. Or that's how he always strikes me, since one of his moral arguments, I seem to remember, is that if you have to choose between a Rembrandt or a cat (or was it an old lady?) to save in a fire, of course you must save the painting, because that (he held) was obviously the object of higher value. He wasn't, in short, a cuddly daddy and Mary Shelley never knew her mother, who died shortly after Mary's birth.

But back to the book review... Almost all of the books I reviewed in SLJ were of adult books that older teens who had grown beyond "YA" would like. On the other hand this biography was one of the few I reviewed that was intended for/marketed to younger readers (ages 8-12), but I think it would be of equal interest to adults. It certainly was to me. Mary Shelley's fascinating if disastrous life embodies a Romantic ideal that still plays an important part in our culture, inspiring women to take tremendous risks in the pursuit of what we most believe in. Often, at great personal cost.

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein's Creator (Barnard Biography Series) by Joan Kane Nichols

Teens should find the story of this romantic rebel who followed her ideals and dreams at an appalling personal cost to be compelling and surprisingly modern in many ways.

Shelley might at first seem an odd choice for an entry in a series devoted to "role models for young women today," since Nichols clearly outlines the rumors and scandals that have long surrounded the writer and her circle of literary friends who included Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. Yet she also shows the core of integrity and the basis of the ideals that underlay Mary Shelley's many dangerous choices, and reveals the strength of character that enabled her to spin literary gold from her life's darker side.

In showing the elements of Shelley's life that went into her unforgettable novel, elements of class and rebellion and art and poverty, Nichols paints a vivid picture of early 19th-century London and its people, and succeeds in bringing her subject to life for readers today.

Whether Shelley was (as the cover asserts) "the first science fiction writer" is debatable, but there is no question that Frankenstein has become our culture's quintessential morality tale about modern science. Countering common misconceptions often held by those who have never read the novel upon which so many subsequent works were based, Nichols argues convincingly that Shelley was not saying (as many now believe) that Frankenstein was wrong to have created his monster; rather, she was showing that the doctor's error was in not taking responsibility for it. This lesson is particularly timely as young adults enter a minefield of ethical dilemmas in science and technology.

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Here I must mention that a customer-reviewer on Amazon did what I had been tempted to do, but resisted, headlining his review "Author sparks life into long-dead writer." :-D

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So the SLJ editor suggested I might expand upon that last point -- that Shelley was saying that Dr. Frankenstein's real mistake was not in creating the monster, but in his not taking responsibility for it. If you read Frankenstein again (it's still a very compelling and highly readable yarn), you'll see this is true. (This project for SLJ also led to my collaborating with another librarian on a critical examination for SLJ of a rather large encyclopedia on science and ethics, for review as a reference book; can't remember if they used that, though.)

Anyway, I love being asked for my opinions on things I have absolutely no formal qualifications to have them on. Challenged to come up with some recommendations for teens, of books touching on matters of science and ethics, I was amazed at how little I found in the literature. And at how hard it was to steer clear of religion in this kind of discussion, because it seemed as if every definition and discussion of ethics ended up leading back to religion as the authority. (Similarly another book I reviewed, The Ethics of Star Trek, was really coming from a religious point of view - I touched on that one in an earlier post about books I reviewed while holding my nose.)

In the SLJ piece I steered clear of the religion/ethics problem as it wasn't in the purview of my assignment but here, finally, in my own blog, I can point it out; and just a decade later, questions of ethics ARE more often treated as a subject apart from traditional religious associations. Of course now it probably would be much easier to find leads on the subject, but the Internet wasn't the same, then, and for my recommendations I relied on my own reading, and on suggestions from fellow librarians, turned up through email queries.

Most of the books I ended up recommending in that piece were not actually written for younger readers, but they would appeal, I thought, to the right teens if they were steered to them. And of course they should still be of interest to their intended readership, adults. I'll add that article here later, if I can ever get my scanner working; when I looked it over, it still seemed timely. It appeared in the May 1999 issue of School Library Journal (SLJ), but I might have the only remaining copy.

corrected 12/31

Monday, December 20, 2010

Globish, Hinglish, and Love's Last Madness (book reviews)

I've just revised, expanded and updated an earlier post on this subject (see title) and you'll find it here.

That post refers to a new look for summer - and I see I have another new look now, for the winter season. And that I'm still struggling. On the blogging front, I've received my old (one year old) PC back now from HP, supposedly restored to its former level of functionality, and it's already acting up again, but maybe I'll get another good year out of it before it crashes again. I hope. I've missed being able to blog here. Have missed Blip.fm too. And all the rest.

cartoon found courtesy of cracked.com, a great zine
Wish I could afford/could have afforded a Mac in the first place a year ago, but I'm just another one of the downwardly mobile former middle class slammed by the end of life as we once knew it. I can forsee a time when I'll have to give up my computer altogether in order to put beans on the table. It was nice while it lasted...

Now to send out my handful of Xmas cards...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kathleen Hanna on the difference between zines and blogs (plus a note on Factsheet Five)

I was active in the zine culture in the Seventies (as a reader/supporter and sometimes a participant in several sorts of feminist, feminist science fiction, and media sci-fi zines), and again in the Eighties (Starman/scifi) and now I'm blogging (just for myself; any subject that interests me), so I appreciated this observation by Kathleen Hanna. As she says in this vid, print zines were very much of their time, and rooted there, whereas blogging loses that quality.



Yes, there was a creative, social and --frustrated archivist that I am, I'd have to add -- historical value in the very frantic and ephemeral nature of print zine writing and publishing. Still, as to blogging, I have to say it really is wonderful to be able to do all the stuff you can do online now -- link, add photos, illos and videos, change layout at will, and especially to go back and update and edit posts and other things later on - in short, to keep a topic of the present time, and not instantly out of date. It's no fun to be ephemeral when you've really worked on something. Blogging might be ephemeral too but it doesn't feel that way because you can refresh your work and make it new again at will--just as, here in this blog, I'm unearthing my old book reviews and making something new out of them, relevant to the present time. As a writer I love being in charge of my own publication this way - and I wouldn't go back to those days of laborious by-hand production, expensive distribution, and instant obsolescence for anything (emphasis all mine).

In the interview above (though not, I think, in this particular snippet) Hanna is talking about the feminist zines that nurtured her own work in the punk rock scene, and kept her going when people were dragging her off the stage--that was the Nineties--but there were all kinds of zines for decades; they were the social and political samizdat of the "free" world. Blogging has taken their place, and self-publishing has moved on to the variety of slick new publishing methods that the online world has made available to writers who can now work independently of mainstream publishing (which is dying a slow and painful death, I hope, by corporate strangulation).

I wonder where all those zines of past decades are now. Factsheet Five was an amazing mission, by one guy, Mike Gunderloy, to preserve that underground history of fanzine publishing, and he did a wonderfully inclusive job of reviewing and archiving any zines he received, without censorship or judgment. He gave me some very kind reviews for some of my zines, and it amazed me that he even looked at them, when he seemed to be getting them by the thousands. His archive of zines, which in my imagination must have taken up several warehouses by the time he was through with publishing, would be a treasure beyond anything in the Smithsonian, for social historians. To me he was a true hero. Does the archive still exist? Does anybody besides me know or even wonder where it is now? (Instant Wiki update! They're in the New York State Library in Albany. Whew!)

Naturally, I googled the question. I found a new electronic edition of Factsheet Five here but it doesn't say much about the original project. Note to self: investigate further! Its sister site is Alternative Press Review. It all sounds promising but I haven't taken the time really to check it out yet. I hope they're carrying on the good work - but seeing links online just isn't the same as holding that jam-packed, fascinating, soon-to-be superceded pulp-newsprint edition of the monthly Factsheet Five in my hands. Guess this makes me a fuddy-duddy.

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speaking of updating and linking, here's an earlier post having to do with ephemeral publications.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Life beyond earth... or at least not what we're used to (book reviews)

the life form in question
Update 6/2/11: radiation-eating bugs a mile underground, and possibilities of life on Mars.

original post:
NASA's much-hyped announcement today concerning having found an "alien" life form proved to be a bit of a disappointment, but at the same time NASA was making an important point. Sure, it's a fascinating discovery, and I wasn't really expecting ET (people are saying) but isn't this arsenic-based life form found here on Earth just another extremophile? Hasn't NASA heard of all the extreme forms of life that have been discovered in recent years, from sulfur-eating volcano dwellers to snottites? They all defy the old definitions of life. But this one is "peculiar" in yet another, important way:
"This organism has dual capability. It can grow with either phosphorous or arsenic. That makes it very peculiar, though it falls short of being some form of truly 'alien' life," commented Paul C. W. Davies of Arizona State University, a co-author of the report appearing in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.
That's right, they grew right here, so they can't be called alien... Well, probably. And the point a lot of people seem to be missing, in the failure of NASA to produce a flying saucer, is that this is yet another significant piece of evidence against all the old beliefs about life originating only here. For those who still believe that.

I think this photo is from the press conference in question...
My cousin Val (a Marsophile who keeps up on space science better than I, and alerted me to the upcoming NASA annoucement in the first place) reports on the press conference, and nails the importance of the NASA discovery:

"I was watching the news conference on the NASA channel yesterday and what I got from it was that every other life form on earth, including extremeophiles, have phosphate as a backbone in their DNA helix except this one, which is the only DNA ever found that has arsenic rather than phosphate as a backbone in the double helix.  One of those on the panel was the head of the Mars Science Laboratory project who was extremely excited about the discovery, saying that it will change the way everyone will look for alien life from now on, including the MSL. 
"I enjoyed watching the young woman who discovered it, as she was not only so intelligent but also very animated and personable.  One of the older experts on the panel was trying to pontificate that more time was needed to study, etc. and she crushed him (all the others on the panel agreed that the science was good and was proven - NASA wouldn't have presented it as it did if it wasn't). 
"I'm excited about the discovery because I think it will open up a LOT of closed minds (like the finding of water on the moon, which was thought impossible until they actually found it).  Open them to all sorts of life possibilities such as silicon-based.  Who knows what will be discovered if they if they don't shut their minds to what they're seeing!"
 Yes, if only people wouldn't shut their minds to what they're seeing - there is so much of the new to see in our time, it's probably one of the best things about being on the planet right now. In my darker moods I feel as if the more amazing new things we learn, the more some people (especially those caught up in the strange mental traps of the various "great" religions) work to deny it and go backward.

As for truly "alien" life - that is, life that isn't from around here? As a science fiction reader since childhood, I don't know when I first heard of Fred Hoyle's theory of Panspermia; seems as if it's always been with me. It's the idea that the "seeds" of life might have come from somewhere else (carried through space on comets or something), landed here (and elsewhere) like broadcast seeds looking for fertile ground, and then evolved into whatever works here.  (I know, but the term was coined a long time ago, when most [mostly male] S&SF writers didn't even envision women space travellers; today's SF writers, including many of the males, might be just as likely to have thought to call the  concept "panovula." It does work better with the concept of seeds.) So really, what we call life in its new, greatly expanded variety of definitions, could be anywhere - and appear in a great many different versions, depending on location, location, location. Which only makes for common sense to anyone even vaguely aware of  how many planets/possible scenarios there are, out there in space.

I'm kind of making this up since, as I say, the idea's been in the back of my head for a long time, as a plausible idea. And then there is the rock from Mars, with probably "life" in it, that we found here. And here, in a recent  news story, the idea of pansperm/ovula gets another boost, as a possible bringer of life to Earth: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/09/mystery-of-indias-red-rain-of-2001-points-to-extraterrestrial-origin.html

All of which reminded me of a couple of nonfiction books that I really enjoyed, when I read them to review for SLJ. They probably aren't too dated, and they were really fun to read. For anyone who went to school before, say, the 1990's, and hasn't kept up, they would be eye-openers even now...

Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life beyond Earth by Robert Shapiro (2000)
Recently, there have been several fine books reporting on the latest developments in the scientific quest to understand life. Here, Shapiro looks at the fascination these questions exert on the human imagination, and treats readers to many perspectives on life-its nature and origins, and the possibility of its existence on other worlds.

Through an entertaining exploration of ancient myths, the tabloid journalism of the 19th-century, and the pseudoscience of the 20th, and finally our own age's scientific explorations, he shows that dreams of life beyond Earth are as old as humanity itself and as new as today's headlines.

Shapiro recognizes not just the views of scientists, but also gives space and a fair (and thus inevitably rather crushing) hearing to the perspectives of religionists of various stripes (including, but not limited to, creationists). Through various devices, he makes vast concepts accessible; for instance, readers tour an imaginary museum of time and space, and sit in on a lively conversation that includes various scientists.

Arguing persuasively for support of future scientific efforts to look for life beyond our planet, the author evokes a sense of wonder worthy of science fiction. Though some readers might enjoy reading this book straight through, others will prefer to browse its colorfully titled sections. It is enlivened with good black-and-white and color illustrations drawn from biochemistry, space science, and fiction, and its extensive notes and index should make it useful for assignments.

Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock-Eating Cave Bugs, and Other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space (1999) by Michael Ray Taylor
Taylor first heard of "dark life" from scientists searching for it in the pristine environment of a newly discovered cave system. Nanobacteria had been unknown until very recently, when advances in electron microscopy finally revealed them to astonished human eyes. Now, many of the hidden places of the earth, previously thought to be "sterile," were seen to be teeming with strange and diverse creatures. Eventually Taylor crossed the line from journalist-observer to participant-advocate, when he joined the quest for these new "bugs" and the secrets they might reveal about the nature of life.

The story is compelling not just for the fascinating nature of the discoveries made, but also for the insider's view it offers of science as a working community. One likable young scientist, Anne Taunton, stands out among the many colorful players in this drama and makes the story particularly accessible to teens, as Taylor follows her career from high school graduation and on through college. As an undergraduate NASA intern, Taunton found herself at the center of the "Mars life" controversy. She gained new friends and mentors, faced strong personal and professional challenges with grace, and joined Taylor in making a significant discovery.

At heart, this book is a celebration of life--human, as well as theoretical.

Here's a NOVA program with author/explorer Michael Ray Tayor, about Lake Lechuguilla!

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As extromophiles go, you have to love snottites (above). For their name, if nothing else. (Didn't Charles Pellegrino discover and name them that?) There was a neat section on extremophiles living in caves, including snottites, in the BBC series Planet Earth, in the episodes on Caves. We just saw that recently here in our documentary series.

And here's a Nova episode to watch for, "A World Unseen," about extremophiles. This looks like a happy scientist -- Diane Northrup, who works with SLIME (Subsurface Life in Mineral Environments), a loose affiliation of cave scientists working on geomicrobiological interactions in caves.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Teachings of Rumi, Ethics for the New Millennium, and Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama (book and film reviews)

For some reason I'm thinking of books that came out at the turn of our current century, books that looked at pressing spiritual issues and dilemmas as seen at that time. It wasn't really that long ago, but events are moving fast. These two, that I reviewed in 1999, were ones I kept in my personal collection because I really loved them. I pulled them off the shelf and found they're as fresh now as then. Some spiritual issues, of course, are perennial - as are some of the techniques for addressing them.

The first review is my recommendation in the "Adult Books for Young Adults" column of SLJ, focusing on its appeal and usefulness for older teens reading at the adult level but of course the recommendation goes for adults as well.

The Teachings of Rumi by Andrew Harvey
A 13th-century Islamic mystic might seem an unlikely figure to be enjoying celebrity in the modern West, but Jelalludin Rumi has been receiving a good deal of attention lately. In his introduction, Harvey explains that "Rumi's work has an uncanny direct force of illumination; anyone approaching it with an open heart and mind, at whatever stage of his or her evolution, will derive from it inspiration, excitement, and help of the highest kind."

Working from original sources as well as a variety of translations, Harvey has gleaned from the vast body of Rumi's work an elegantly honed collection of poetry and prose, which he organizes into four sections ("The Call," "Be a Lover," "Ordeal," and "Union"). The result is a guide to the disciplines necessary to achieve, in a continuing process throughout life, an ever-evolving consciousness. As Harvey sees it, Rumi's path to ecstasy requires a "rigorous, even ferocious austerity" that can yield for the seeker a unique perspective on modern problems.

For teens venturing outside the lines of religious dogma, this book is a lucid and accessible introduction to Rumi's writings, while for those already somewhat familiar with Rumi through other sources, it offers a challenging method for deeper exploration.

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The second is by the Dalai Lama; this is my review for the same column and publication:

Ethics for the New Millennium (2000)
The Dalai Lama examines the world, its ills, and its coming changes in a disarmingly conversational style that engages readers. With a perspective that should appeal to teens weary of negativity, he offers an encouraging view of the future, arguing convincingly that we humans are better than we tend to believe.

Avoiding technical terms and dogma, he presents Buddhist values and ethics, chiefly the dynamic of compassion and a recognition of the "complex interlinking of relationships," in such a way that individuals from a variety of cultural or religious backgrounds can understand their application to modern dilemmas and personal choices. Chapters focus on concepts such as restraint, discernment, non-harming, and responsibility as they apply to far-ranging subjects including the environment, disarmament, religion, science, and education.

In a world in which many historical boundaries are becoming irrelevant, the Dalai Lama focuses upon the essential qualities of humanity that we all share and from which new forms of social organization can evolve. An important book for thoughtful teens to muse over now, and return to in the future.

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Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama (2006)

Which in turn led my thoughts to this documentary film. I first saw it at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and again when we screened it for neighbors here at Mountain Meadows as a year-end holiday program. It was very well liked by all.

It kind of fits in here because it, too, is about a fellow seeking a path for living in a very perplexing world.

Netflix has it, or you can buy the dvd from the website linked above.

Monday, November 8, 2010

OSF 2010 - a feast, a groaning board, a surfeit!

Wrapping up... Another season of OSF has ended but we're already looking forward to next year.
And here's the Oregonian's wrapup. Not bad!

I did want to say something here about the other 2010 plays that I saw, but haven't written about here yet, so here goes. (Earlier posts:
April May July September October - discussing Hamlet, She Loves Me, Well, Ruined, American Night, Hamlet again, and musical director Todd Barton.)

Anthony Heald as Shylock
Merchant of Venice: This production was probably the biggest story of the OSF year, really, fascinating to follow in the months before it premiered. That story revolved around the widespread animosity toward this "problem play" in recent times because of its tradition of antisemitism, in the character of Shylock, and how OSF handled that dilemma. Artistic Director Bill Rauch was determined to mount the play this year despite its problematic nature, because it was one of the original productions in OSF's first year (75 years ago). In the midst of  strong opposition to putting the play on, OSF led the community through a perfect thesis-antithesis-synthesis process resulting in the play as it was eventually produced.

Rauch and OSF brought the community together --OSF people, Jewish congregations and other community members and leaders -- in discussions and soul-searching (good article on this here) and ultimately worked through it all to reinvent the play for 2010, finding a way to present it stripped of the viciously anti-Jewish tropes that have traditionally attached themselves to it. In fact, one thing I learned from all this was that Shakespeare never wrote any of the stereotypical characteristics we're used to seeing in the Shylock character; they are simply traditional in performances. Shylock is just one of an ethnic variety of characters, all flawed in various ways. Anthony Heald -- who, a converted Jew himself, argued at first against the production, if I understood a comment by Rauch correctly -- was willingly cast as Shylock once the decision was made, and found in him a very believable, flawed human being - just like the others (including an African).


I felt that perhaps Shakespeare was antisemitic - or perhaps he was showing the ugliness of antisemitism; the production makes this difference of interpretation plausible. It shows that the author was equally unsympathetic to other ethnic groups in the story; nobody comes off well here. It's really a very dark play populated by sometimes loathsome characters, but the originality and clarity of this production lifted my mind. Venice itself emerged as the main character, a civilization diverse but divided, in which the only value was money, and in which all the other characters were caught up as reflections or refractions of that essential circumstance.


mixed-era costumes in Merchant were genius, placing the story squarely in Venice yet connecting it to modern times, as the story called for
And in bringing out so clearly Shakespeare's emphasis on commerce as the common element that brings the characters together, and the blade that destroys them, this production of the play emerged for me as a powerful satire of modern times, in our day of corporate potentates. I never expected to appreciate it so well.

Now for Throne of Blood and Pride and Prejudice: there's a range! I said a bit about both in my earlier post about composer Todd Barton.

Throne of Blood: this is based on the classic Kirosawa film that was based on Macbeth... and I must say I liked it much better than I've ever liked the original play, or the film. Macbeth has never been one I liked much (I confess I skipped the Macbeth plays that were mounted last year at OSF) nor am I a fan of Japanese film, really, and despite some film studies in college and several years of going to the AFI theatre in DC, I somehow managed to avoid seeing anything else by Kurasawa. That's how uncultured I am when it comes to Japanese film. In the end I went to see this play simply because everything else I'd seen this year was so good, and I kept hearing such good things about this one, that I felt I owed it to myself. I'm very glad I did.

Kevin Kenerly as the tortured Macbeth-Washizu
 
The wonderful Cristofer Jean as First Forest Spirit 
It was clear, fast-moving, and conveyed a powerful antiwar message. Together with Barton's original score, which glued the whole production together, it was multi-media, drawing on the cinematic origins, with a screen across the top of the stage that reflected changes in scene. This worked perfectly with the choreography as the play moved right along, in a spare but powerful Japanese style. The actors were all wonderful too. There was even some humor. At least interesting, at times very moving, and aways riveting, it was a visual feast and a fabulous, fascinating production all around. For more, here's a good article on the production.

Pride and Prejudice: Another adaptation, beautifully done. It was chosen from a huge variety of available adaptations of the classic novel, but apparently this one is unique in not trying to tell the story from Elizabeth's point of view. It becomes an ensemble piece and all the characters shine.  And that polished hardwood floor! And the chandelier! And the music and dancing! All around, a clever, witty, absolutely charming entertainer that any Jane Austen fan would have to like - and that anyone not familiar with Austen could also enjoy.

Twelfth Night: This was fun, as the play usually is. The twins were great. Here's a brief review from Seattle Times (highlighted below):
Shakespeare, meet Mozart. The two titans make beautiful music together in an inventive mounting of the romp by Darko Tresnjak, ex-head of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.
Tresnjak finds fertile parallels between the sexual politics and master-servant dynamics of Illyria, the isle where "Twelfth Night" takes place, and the realms where Mozart operas unfold.

With a marvelous topiary set by Seattle area native David Zinn, Linda Cho's decorous costumes, and live musicians echoing refrains from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute," this novel rendition of the familiar romp sparks and sparkles aplenty in its late 18th century setting.
The approach requires (and gets) spirited but nuanced acting from arresting Christopher Liam Moore, as a dark-tempered Malvolio, Michael Elich as the commedia-style jester Feste and others. But some, like Miriam A. Laube, who mugs it up as the lusty aristo Olivia, need reining in.
Oh, I don't know about that last comment, really. For me, Miriam Laube can do anything she wants and I'll love to watch her! If she wants to chew scenery she does it beautifully. Another treat was that one of the "live musicians" - strolling players onstage much of the time - was our own Ashland favorite, young violinist Aaron Moffatt, who was completely at home onstage in costume. Ashland might have world class theatre, but it's still a small town where you can watch talented children grow into extraordinary adults. May they save the world.


John Tufts and Kevin Kenerly in tragic balance
 And finally, one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare plays: Henry IV Part 1. This production did a wonderful job of clarifying the structure of the play, and also boosted the women's roles in a satisfying way, adding some lovely depth to the family relationships. I did feel they overdid the tavern scenes but the audience liked it. John Tufts as Prince Hal was sexy, intelligent and nuanced, and Kevin Kenerly as Hotspur was perfectly balanced against Hal in his impassioned, hotheaded, sincere, and equally sexy persona... both men are a treat to watch with or without their shirts on. The play was a total delight. I saw it twice and could have seen it more.

I don't understand why of all the plays this year, this one drew the smallest audiences. To me it was just as fine a production as any of the others, no less compelling, textually clear, or entertaining. Maybe the history plays are at the bottom of a popularity cycle at the moment? Personally, they're my favorite Shakespeares. In my fannish zeal for this one, it was fun to hang out in the members' lounge, where there are great background materials, and re-read the Holinshead Chronicles it was based on very closely. Shakespeare is like everything else - the more you learn about it, the more interesting it gets...

In the interest of completeness, I'll also mention the only play I didn't manage to see: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This was one of the plays that opened the season. It was an immediate word of mouth hit and quickly became a very hot ticket. But I'm just not that interested in Tennessee Williams. What I've seen I haven't liked and with so many other things to do here, it fell between the cracks. Here's a good review of that one.

Green Show stage, outdoors on the bricks, is a community tradition
OSF Extras! I thoroughly enjoyed a Noon Lecture about Pride and Prejudice given by Libby Appel, Artistic Director Emerita of OSF and director of this play. Dan Donohue gave a wonderfully entertaining lecture on his career and on playing Hamlet; oh, all the ones I saw were great, including talks by Richard Montoya and Bill Rauch. I also went to every Preface (one for each of the plays on the Elizabethan Stage), several Preface Pluses and several post-matinee discussions, other lectures, a backstage tour, and several Green Shows this year (a tremendous variety of arts) -- and intend to break my record next year; the Green Shows are always great fun.

Thinking of coming to Ashland next year? If you come to OSF, be sure to attend as many Noon events as you can - and also the Prefaces. These extra talks on the productions are always well worth hearing, even when you think you already know the play well. Part of the fun is seeing what OSF wants playgoers to take from the play and this production of it, and part of the fun is the audience at these events. And of course you must do the backstage tour, too. That will really make you appreciate what's going on here... And as many Green Shows as you can fit into your schedule. If you time it right, and if next year's OSF follows the same schedule, on some days you can start with a noon event, go on to a matinee, then hear a post-matinee discussion (Q&A between a passionate subset of the audience and a cast member, director or writer), then a preface, then a green show, and finally an evening play all in one day. Some of those events will be free, and others in the $5-7 range. The only really pricey tickets are the plays themselves, and those are bargains compared wtih big-city theatre.


So there it was. An incredible year, and now it's over. And an entirely new one coming up soon - in early 2011. All these plays running throughout the season in constantly rotating repertory. How do they do it? It's an amazing phenomenon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Diwali


Happy Diwali everyone. Light the lamps!



Obama is the first US president to recognize this worldwide holiday.

I still remember it this way... in two striking images.

Mysore Palace illuminated (image from Wikipedia)
 As it happened, Diwali began not long after we arrived in our new college town. Thus it was a rather overwhelming introduction to a new culture, as people were very generous in inviting us to celebrations; sensory overload, but highly enjoyable! 

At every Diwali event we attended, we were urged by our hosts to make the trip to Mysore City to see the Maharaja's palace "illuminated" and so we went - and it was indeed an unforgettable sight. I was delighted to find a photo of it in Wikipedia this year (above). 

Thus my memory of the holiday is curiously dual: on the one hand, the overwhelming magnificence of the Maharajah's Palace all outlined in electric lights - and on the other, the lovely, sweet sight of small, very humble clay lamps in every window of all the villages we passed along the way.

Years later, I still treasure my own small lamp. It's like this, but in black clay, from my other home, the one in South India. Happy Diwali this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Quiet Earth and Ever Since the World Ended (film reviews)

Really quick note... One only post in October? Well, I did feel like falling off the face of the earth for a while there, but modern medicine kept me planetbound. Then a long trajectory back; still, no energy for blogging in the past month. Maybe soon.

I did see a great film tonight (via Netflix): Ever Since the World Ended. Not for everybody, but I suspect anyone who can tolerate this blog would appreciate it. Great stuff! That's the review for this week. Until next time... Keep up the good fight!
PS here's my Netflix review: This isn't for everyone, but if you like documentaries, science and speculative fiction, indie films -- and if you aren't addicted to standard Hollywood fare -- you might well appreciate this one. I say science fiction not in reference to media sci-fi, but because it's evocative of classic literary post-apocalypse SF (especially the novel Earth Abides, which also took place in the Bay Area, after a plague). This is a faux documentary, roughly made as by amateur filmmakers, but there's nothing amateurish about the writing, concept, or acting. The characters are very believable and the story is intelligent, affecting, and thoughtful. (The extra footage is excellent too.) I was fascinated by it and, indie film festival goer that I am, found the ending sequence very believable and moving. But clearly, from some of the other reviews - not for everyone.


PPS here's my Netflix review of another post-Apocalypse science fictional movie I saw the same week, a New Zealand production that I'd somehow missed until now:

The Quiet Earth: A good story, very well told. Made in 1985 and because of old technology in the mise en scene, kind of a period piece now, but also of this time in its themes. It seems to have been reissued with the director's commentary more recently. That is really interesting, too, explaining with some humor how the special effects were created and getting into cultural and political issues underlying the story that non New Zealanders probably would not catch. Refreshing, original, and recommended.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"America's True National Theater" - Hamlet at the OSF

Regarding the title of this post, that was just too good a quote to pass up! I'm always ready for a  rave about this year's fabulous Hamlet:
America's true National Theater resides right now at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival under the leadership of Artistic Director Bill Rauch. Go now to see his extraordinary production of Hamlet. It’s as vivid, immediate, powerful, and emotional a production of Shakespeare as you are ever likely to experience—and it’s only running through October. - R. J. Cutler, of "The Buzz Board: Smart People Recommend" feature at Internet's The Daily Beast

This statement makes me very happy since I spent so many years a loyal follower of Arena Stage when I lived in DC and VA, and that has a special history and legacy too as American regional theatre. That's years ago though, and in fairness there's no comparison between the two theater companies. Arena put on several plays a year in succession; OSF runs even more plays in continual rotation! For me, theatre's happening right here now.

So this is national theater, he says. Whatever it is, every play is worth seeing, something special, to say the least, while this year's Hamlet is a Hamlet for a lifetime. It's that elusive "great theatre" that I've only experienced a few times in my life.

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Above, the stunning opening of the play. Staging! Below, Hamlet getting at the truth with Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern - wonderfully cast as girl buddies.

 OSF's  Hamlet: Last time I wrote about it I determined to see it again; now I've seen it again--and again, I'm so dazzled that it's hard to get the critical machinery cranked up even to explain why. So I think I'll try to get at least one more performance in and then maybe I'll be able to summon up the necessary distance to write about it critically. Sounds like a good reason to see it again, to me! Right now I'm too  much in love. Clue: Dan Donohue IS Hamlet. I'm now a confirmed fan of this extraordinary actor. I'd like to see another great OSF play this year, She Loves Me, again just to see his hilarious cameo as the waiter, but tickets are very hard to get. Deservedly so. Of course the production of Hamlet is far more than its lead actor and the rest of it is as good as he is. Shocking, contemporary, clear, with depths of wit that I've never seen before in a lifetime of Hamlets...

For example, here's a good blog post about the use of deaf actor Howie Seago (above, as the Ghost). I've seen him in a couple of plays this year and the way OSF does it, his deafness and sign language always make it seem as if that's exactly what Shakespeare had in mind. Everything in these OSF plays is clear and highly focused, bringing out the structures of the plays. As a bonus, the post referenced here also includes a vid of the Ghost scene from Kozintsev's "Soviet  Hamlet" - which was, up until this year, my favorite Hamlet ever.

I wonder if these stills really convey much about the production to someone who hasn't seen it yet. For me, of course, they have full fan value! Wish me luck in getting another ticket. So far I've seen it from far left, middle and from far left, front row; I've been trying to get a ticket from a different part of the theatre - but don't want to sit too far back. I did love seeing the faces up close, for this one. (Update - I did just snag two more, at member discount price, that look like very good seats, and neither where I've sat before!)

Ha - just saw this. I've heard legends of people seeing this production of Hamlet many times (a neighbor will have seen it five times; I just bought two more tickets and will see it four times). My physical therapist claims to know someone who's seen it something like 50 times. Left, From a Medford review: "Twelve-year-old Alex Ainsworth holds 97 ticket stubs from Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of “Hamlet,” which she’s accumulated this year alone in her trips to see the Bard’s play." She plans to see it 116 times by the time the run ends. I thought I was bad! I would be badder if I were richer. This is a girl after my own heart. I attended OSF at  her age and went on to be an English major and love the bard the rest of my life. The way she's going, she'll be the world's greatest authority on Hamlet at my age.


Dan Donohue, who has played many years at OSF, isn't being cast in one of next year's plays. I hope he doesn't stay away too long. What I wouldn't give to time-travel back to see him as Prince Hal here (and the full trilogy!) in the OSF of years past.

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[2011 UPDATE with good news! Blackstone Audio is producing an audio version of the play with the cast from the 2010 production.] Further update: you can hear a good portion from Act I online. It sold me and I picked up a copy the other day. It's too bad that they couldn't catch the wonderful scenes with Howie Seago as the Ghost, because it was sheer magic the way Hamlet's interpretation of the Ghost's signing the lines added a whole other dimension to the nature of the ghost and Hamlet's relationship to him. However the good news is that in the audio version, Anthony Heald plays the Ghost, and so it's apples and oranges, can't really compare the two, but they're all good!
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Friday, September 3, 2010

In honor of Labor Day: some novels, movies, and a song

For American Labor Day, here are some novels on American themes, showing people at work: journalist, farmer, academic, symbologist... symbologist? And where is the Labor Movement in this? Where indeed? After the book reviews stick around for the rally, and then bring the spirit back to your community!

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Siddons, Anne Rivers. Downtown (1994). This engaging novel captures the spirit of a pivotal and extraordinary moment.  In1966 the Civil Rights Movement has opened the door to change, and the very old-South city of Atlanta, Georgia is on the cusp of transformation into the nation’s poster child of a modern, racially integrated, economically vibrant South.

In this context, individuals--writers, lawyers, activists--are challenged as well, and their lives are transformed according to the choices they make. Some, just entering adulthood, must find their maturity in the midst of all this turmoil and promise (baby boomer readers who came of age at that time might remember what that was like) and the young journalists at Downtown, Atlanta’s “city magazine,” serve as the lens through which the reader views, and understands, the special Atlanta situation. The novel has two protagonists, really--Smokey, a newly-minted young writer, and the city itself.

So much has changed since then that it seems right, now, to revisit that time, and reconsider this view of the South in a more hopeful period of social and economic progress. It wasn’t really that long ago, but it feels like a long-gone era to me right now.

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Smiley, Jane. A Thousand Acres (1991). Though the time it covers is contemporaneous, more or less, with the time it was written, this reads like a historical novel as well, capturing the American Midwest in a similarly challenging period of transition. But here, the arc is from prosperity to devastation as traditional farming culture is overtaken by corporate agribusiness and individual farmers are lured into economic ruin by pressures to take out loans they ultimately cannot repay. (Those who've seen The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a fine documentary film, will be reminded of that farmer’s life, here.)

The title refers to the family patriarch’s dream of increasing his landholdings into what he envisions as a dynasty--an ambition defeated by his growing madness, by the uncooperative independence of his three daughters, and of course by an increasingly unstable economic climate. Though the parallels and references here to King Lear are obvious, I can't help feeling Lear aspect was overemphasized by critics. I read this as an “anti-Lear” in which the daughters are the main characters, and the story is not limited by the reference to Shakespeare; that is, you don't need to know anything about his Lear to read this as a complete work in itself. But certainly, Lear provides a dramatic context and much psychological and cultural resonance, as the author searches the soul of this country in the late twentieth century.

For me, in A Thousand Acres Smiley achieved that holy grail of American novelists, the Great American Novel. Beautifully written, with earthy humor, subtle insight into complex issues, and great empathy for its resilient characters, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992.

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Smiley, Jane. Moo (1995) Smiley is such a fine writer and all her books are so different from one another that she kind of amazes me. Moo takes as its starting point the classic “academic” or “campus” novel, a genre that’s usually too self-referential and claustrophobic for my taste--but here, Smiley takes a tired convention and expands it into something more universal and surprisingly original. In this story of a third-rate Midwestern university with origins as an agricultural college (hence its popular name, “Moo U”), she uses the campus as a microcosm of society and it’s a very dark comedy indeed -- delicious, satiric, witty, and far-reaching. “Moo U” provides a provocative education.


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Brown, Dan. The Lost Symbol (2009). In honor of Labor Day, we’ve looked so far at novels of journalism, farming and academics. But what would fiction be without an imaginary occupation? Enter Robert Langdon, a world famous Symbologist. This is a fun job that ought to exist but doesn’t, at least not in the way that Langdon works it, and through this device, Dan Brown clearly signals to the reader at the outset that his fiction should not be read as fact, even if some of it is true (and intentionally provocative).

The author of The DaVinci Code, and a slew of similar novels, found a mother lode of material for his fiction in the rich world of obscure scholarship and minor popular arcana that lurks just beyond the consensual reality of mainstream culture. Then, with the razzle-dazzle that has become his trademark, he mashes it all up, in rather sensationalistic style, into a genre of suspense novels set in famous places.

I include this story here because it takes place in Washington, DC, and anyone familiar with our nation’s capital can appreciate the puzzle box Brown makes out of that wonderfully quirky city: it's just made for chase scenes. Here, the heroes race (for hundreds of pages at breakneck speed) through DC’s unique landmarks and historical lore in search of the secret to enlightenment (or something--it scarcely matters what), in a comprehensive if questionable tour of the (not really) “hidden” history of the city and its founders’ (purported) real intentions. As I said, it’s not factual (indeed it's larded - I suspect intentionally - with anti-facts among the true ones) but it’s a fun trip and perhaps a good choice for the last of the summer reading.

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Actually, for Labor Day, I'm stumping my brain for novels I've really liked that deal with the actual labor movement. I can think of songs and movies and poems and art - but novels? Anybody?

Meanwhile, here's one of my all-time favorite lyricists, Malvina Reynolds, singing her classic "The Little Red Hen"... (with Pete Seeger and Ramblin' Jack Elliot enjoying the song):

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Redesigning "Copyright" to serve artists and public

"How bad is the current copyright system? Should we push for abolition, or just radical reform? Both..." (from Going on the Offensive). Our current copyright laws are rooted in a sixteenth century power struggle, and let's face it, some things have changed since then. Whatever opinion you might currently hold, and however fiercely some people fight to keep the status quo, the reality is that culture is moving beyond current law. One of my brothers just reminded me to take another look at what's happening over at the Sita Sings the Blues and Question Copyright pages. If you aren't familiar with these projects concerning copyright, they offer, in a highly engaging and entertaining style (see vid below for example), everything a thoughtful citizen needs to get properly oriented on this fascinating area of cultural activism and buzzing humanity at its best.

I thought I might just do a quick post on this now since I still can't type much (wait wait wait for results of MRI and finding out what the next step is) so meanwhile here are just a few things to check out:

Question Copyright dot org: A clearinghouse for new ideas about copyright. "Our mission: to highlight the economic, artistic, and social harm caused by distribution monopolies, and to demonstrate how freedom-based distribution is better for artists and audiences." Click here for FAQs.

Sita Distribution Project: "what happens when an award-winning filmmaker releases her film on the internet for free? Everybody wins."

The Book Liberator: An affordable way to create a digital archive (and share your own work as you choose; not for use with material others own, of course!).

Public Knowledge: In Washington, DC, this public interest group works to defend our rights in the emerging digital culture.

Paley's Minute Memes: here's my favorite, "All Creative Work is Derivative" (and at the Minute Memes link, there's some more information on how she made this video). Music by Todd Michaelson.


I've had these issues in mind since starting this blog; Nina Paley's Sitayama is thenamesake for the Sita of the "on the road with" reference in my banner. It was through my fascination with Nina Paley's project, and following her struggle to get her  movie made, and then my adoration of the movie itself, that I began to understand copyright issues better. I don't claim to be an expert, and never will be, but at least I know more now -- and know where to go for information. From what I can see, a great many otherwise well informed people still don't see the big picture - the one beyond the well-defined boundaries of the past (and of entrenched interests; we all know who writes history, right?). It's hard to do that with any issue until something jogs you and your perspective shifts, and Paley did that for me.

I've been adding links to this matter in the right hand side of this blog all along; look for the Sita Sings the Blues poster and the links below it. It's probably easy to overlook them there. Please take a look - lots more good stuff there!