"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

Monday, March 29, 2010

Anthropologists look at YouTube

Just sharing. This is great! Meri Walker posted it in her blog. You're probably way ahead of me but in case, like me, you hadn't seen it before... enjoy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And while we're on the subject of politicians...

And one more thing to share, while we're on the subject of horrible politicians. Margaret and Helen  - here, it's Helen - have struck again with Helen's trademark wit, common sense and moral outrage. You go, girl! What the world needs is more eightysomethings like you! I'm working at getting there so I can be like you when I grow up.

Honestly, Margaret, if I hear one more old, white guy with an opinion about abortion, his skinny white ass is going to meet my rather large shoe. It’s a woman’s decision to make. Her body. Her choice. Period....

for the rest of this delicious telling-off, see "No more hoo-hoo-for-you-know-who" at

Yes we can (and The Singing Revolution)

I just had to share this. Michael Moore tweeted it and I hadn't seen it before. Have to agree, it's hilarious. Remember the great YouTube video "Yes We Can"? Here's a great mashup, the next version of it - looks like Republican's Last Stand to me! The (R) featured here is (unbelievable how low they've sunk, isn't it?) the top House Republican.  Pathetic. Shameful.  Then again, if you're demented enough I suppose you might think Boehner is the cool one here.

It's a well documented fact that reasonable, humane, relatively ethically motivated People (as in "We, the," like me and probably you) vastly outnumber these corrupt corporate enforcers (goons, let's be plain) called politicians, and their mobs of deluded, obsessed saps, wingnuts and other (let's face it) evolutionary dead ends that they fire up into misbehaving spectacles and then cynically represent through an equally corrupted media system as "public opinion."  (Is that demonizing? Maybe it's catching!)

So I mean, if we can just bring to our efforts at reform the same kind of gentle, loving, but determined persistence the singers act out in this video, surely we will get somewhere no matter how loudly the creeps try to shout us down... Of course, as we've so often seen, they can do (and too often, do do) far worse than shout at us. But still. Off soapbox. (Note: wish I could figure out how to make Blogger stop cutting these videos off on the right side, and just size them to fit - how does everybody else do it? - but this isn't too bad. For full sized originals go to YouTube at the links provided.)

The original, which should probably be watched once a day to combat burnout, was a college student production that won an Emmy!

For our next Video Viewpoints documentary screening here at Mountain Meadows this week I'm getting together with some neighbors and watching Capitalism: A Love Story, which I personally think is Michael Moore's greatest. Next week we'll be seeing The Singing Revolution, the wonderful story of how the Estonians used their tradition of choral singing to help bring down the Soviet Empire and free their nation even after decades of occupation. Wonder how they're doing now.



Sunday, March 21, 2010

Navroze mubarak! Happy Ostara! It's spring equinox!

I love the Internet. How else could I keep track of all my favorite holidays? My Google calendar tells me today is Navroz (Wikipedia link), the Zoroastrian New Year as celebrated in India. Salim Merchant also reminds me of it. He's a favorite Indian composer whose wanderings I've been fan-following on Twitter lately; he wishes his followers a "navroze mubarak" and a link to an UberTwitter photo, which turns out to be a screenshot of a GoogleMaps locator of Mumbai, where he lives, most famously known home of the extraordinary Parsi community which has so enriched Indian culture.

(My customary Disclaimer here: I am not an expert in any of this, just a fascinated individual able to connect with the world through the Internet.) In case you don't know, the Parsis are Zoroastrian Indians who migrated to the west coast of India in the tenth century (c.e.) to escape persecution by Muslims, who were then overrunning Iran with their new religion and their Arabic influences. (Iranis are the other Zoroastrian Indians.)

Here's a charming blog post I came across, titled "Being Bawa on Navroze at Udwada," by a Parsi about her Navroze family celebration and telling something about the traditions in a very colorful and interesting way. I loved it! I gather, from context, that bawa must mean getting up to the nines in holiday finery, and learned that Udwada, on the Gujarat coast, is the home of the essential historic temple that all Parsis long to visit in their lifetimes: "On New Year, the sleepy village awakens just that wee bit as visitors from Mumbai, Pune, Valsad, Surat, Lucknow and even Canada, Pakistan and Australia, throng to the most-sacred and oldest and perennially-burning fire in the world."  Go to the post for much more. There are some wonderful pictures too.

Of course, as a Northern California girl with a mostly Norwegian ethnic background, I didn't exactly grow up jumping over fires in the traditional Zoroastrian celebration, but I've felt a kind of affinity with the holiday ever since reading some books in recent years, Jumping Over Fire (reviewed here) and Searching for Hassan  (reviewed here). They're both set in Iran, and both include Norooz celebrations as the jumping-off point for the narratives.

Navroz (which is spelled any number of ways and is celebrated in many countries besides India and Iran, and not just by Zoroastrians anymore) happens on the vernal equinox, the secular spring. Most of us think of equinoxes as the two days in the year (spring and fall) when day and night are of equal length, and know this happens on account of the tilt of the earth's axis in relation to the sun, and that's good enough for most of us, but the Wikipedia entry (linked above) does delve into a lot of interesting technicalities, including the rather more specific point that the equinox is really the time on the calendar in which "two observers the same distance north and south of the equator will experience nights of the same length" and that the term for days of equal length is (for obvious reasons) equilux.  I have to put in a plug for that Wikipedia entry here - it also includes a great section on cultural aspects of the equinox.

So it's the spring equinox: happy Ostara, everyone, too! That's the original spring seasonal observance of my European ancestors, from which the Christians appropriated Easter. When the Christians conquered our land in the sixth century (c.e.) and imposed their religion on my ancestors (they called this often-violent process "conversion," I believe) they outlawed previous spiritual observances including Ostara (just as the extremist Muslims keep trying to do with Navroz; what is it about these Great Religions?), but, in their clever way, instead of stamping it out entirely, the Christians took it over and gave it a spin, by adding a couple of other calculations: so now Easter is based not just on the Equinox, but on the current full moon following the Equinox (oops, still too pagan - Moon Goddess and all that - better add another step) and then the day of the week after that (it must be on a Sunday). (Wait, Christians - don't you know Sunday is the day named after the SUN??? As in solar observations, such as Ostara?) And it's still named Easter, and just look up the derivation of that word.
Not sure what the moral of the story is, but people all over the world and through the ages keep celebrating the March Equinox as the universal Spring day. And as the true New Year. Certainly, as Wikipedia says, it's the "precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth." And the "Nov" sound in the various spellings of Novroze (Nowruz, Nooruz, Navroz, etc.) is the root for our English "new." So - mubarak, everyone! A good time to start over. Wishing peace to all!

Connecting, across the divide: Searching for Hassan by Terence Ward (book review)

On this year's Nowruz, the Persian New Year spelled so many different ways and celebrated for so many millenia (at least three), I remember a superb book about Iran by American writer Terence Ward. In case you don't make it to the bottom of this post, I'll cut straight to the chase (Moral of the story): As we start a new year - whatever it's called (Navroze, Ostara, or Easter), how about this: all we people, just people, find a way around religious zealots and corrupt politicians in all our countries, and forge a new way to make our politics reflect the human wisdom this story shows us?

(orthographic projection courtesy of Wikipedia)

For another shortcut, here's a brief video interview with Terence Ward from the Charlie Rose show.

As the author says in this wonderful interview from 2005, his is "a positive story, a story of reaching across the divide, of going far beyond politics and negativity on both sides and listening instead to the heart. It is simply saying that it is possible for people to connect."

When Searching for Hassan came out, and I reviewed it for SLJ, it blew me away. It's an amazing story, brilliantly told, and I think anyone would find it moving and wise. But the strength of my own emotional response might also have come, in part, from the fact that the author's family so reminded me of my own (mine was less brilliant and functional but still, I recognized kindred spirits in the Wards). The thing is, at the time of the childhood events that begin Ward's book, my parents, sister and I were driving our car across Iran (and every other country between South India and England) after our first year in India, and we probably narrowly missed encountering the Wards when we were in Tehran; they remind me of some other American and British families we met and connected with during our travels. And Ward so beautifully describes the landscape and conveys such an authentic sense of place that long-submerged memories of my own brief time there came back, more than thirty years later...

Anyway, here's my review, adapted somewhat from the SLJ original recommending it to adults and teens. I'm sure I recommended it for our Year's Best list, too. But the story is timeless, really.

Searching for Hassan: An American Family's Journey Home to Iran (2002)
(in later edition, re-subtitled A Journey to the Heart of Iran)

In a prologue set in Tehran in the 1960s, Ward relates how he and his brothers were initiated by the wise Hassan into the mysteries of the Zoroastrian fire festival of Navroz. But these boys, who so wholeheartedly absorbed their mentor's teachings, were not Iranians but Americans. Returning to the United States for the boys' college educations, their parents lost touch with Hassan. Iran went through an Islamic revolution, a devastating war with Iraq, and finally another reform movement. The boys grew up and their parents grew older. Yet they never stopped missing Hassan and his family.

Finally, in 1998, when Iran once more began to admit Westerners, the whole family - now four grown men and their rather elderly parents - went back to search for their old friends. The author's mother, Rose, was the genius behind the quest and that's a remarkable story in itself. Miraculously, armed with only a vague memory of a village name, a black and white photograph, and Rose's intuition and drive, they did find their old family friend (in a country full of Hassans, millions of them) - but this is just one aspect of the story.

Another aspect is the family narrative: the reader sees how each individual's strengths contribute to the success of their collective mission. And another: the journey itself is described to striking visual effect, conveying a passion for every experience. This book should give any reader a vivid sense of the place now called Iran.

And as the author reflects on the history, politics, and religion of the country, complex cultural issues become understandable in the light of real human lives. The spiritual lessons learned from Hassan, and new ones gained from new acquaintances met during their journey, carry the Wards forward as they learn to "look beyond the predicament of politics" to find the "timeless, immutable soul of Iran."

This is an illuminating and fascinating adventure, and as timeless in its way as the country it explores. I'd say if you only read one book about Iran, or if you really want to get a sense of the country, then forget the politics, set aside the newspaper, turn off the TV pundits, and read Searching for Hassan.

As long as we're on the subject, here are some other Iran-related posts: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2009/11/jumping-over-fire-book-review.html
(this outstanding novel of Iranian-American lives, Jumping over Fire, also roots its Iranian narrative in a childhood memory of Navroz!)

(concerns the plight and heroism of musicians under fundamentalist Islam, including the Iranian singers DJ Maryam and Googoosh, with links to some of their videos.)

And Baran is a wonderful feature film, by the Iranian director Majid Majidi, set in Tehran and the beautiful surrounding countryside. Netflix has it.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Introducing Mimi and Eunice

Nina Paley strikes again! Nobody can do it like Nina. (In the left-hand column, you'll find several links to Paley-related sites, including her brilliant animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues.) Here is a new comic strip, annotated with a wonderfully concise crash course on creative commons-copyright issues and how it all works (more about that to the left, too).Who are Mimi and Eunice? Paley writes, "As far as I can tell, Mimi & Eunice are two middle-aged children/baby psychos/heterosexual lesbians. That’s all I can surmise so far." Here are a couple of  my favorite strips. I hope there will be more than the few at the link, below.

Remind you of anybody you've seen steal an election in 2000 and 2004? Or probably some personal friends and family? But what really made that one work for me (without which it'd be just another funny one-liner) is the expression on the face of the one wearing the halo. LOL! And this next one reminds me rather too closely of an incident in my life earlier this week. I'm already laughing about it...


Women in Space pt. 2: Managing Martians (book review)

After writing part 1, I realized - How could I have forgotten to mention this wonderful book? I loved this nonfiction account, too. It's not about astronauts, it's about behind-the-scenes heroism. Remember the wonderful little Mars Rover named Sojourner Truth? (above, right) It's been eclipsed in the public memory by the later, larger, and very spectacular success of rovers Spirit and Opportunity - but it was the story of the doughty little Sojourner which made those larger projects possible. At the time, Mars missions had been failing, and "Sojourner" reopened people's eyes and hearts (and thus NASA funding) to the adventure of Mars exploration.

Behind this success was Donna Shirley, the engineer who ran the project - the first woman to run a major space mission! She brought to the challenge incredible creativity and leadership. This book tells the inside story of how things really worked at that time in the space program. I'll just share my SLJ book review for now, while I'm thinking of it, and maybe comment further later. I'm so fascinated with the scientists and engineers who work in this field - especially if they're women.

Managing Martians by Donna Shirley, with Danelle Morton (1997)

(Adult/High School) Morton traces the career of engineer Donna Shirley, the first woman to manage a major space mission. Shirley became fascinated with planetary exploration as a child; after 35 years in the field, she still retains her sense of wonder. Writing in a clear and breezy style, she describes her experience with a number of space-related projects.

The greatest part of the book is devoted to the cliff-hanging development of "Sojourner Truth," the Pathfinder Mission's highly successful Mars rover. The author paints a vivid picture of the corporate culture of space exploration, the creativity and excitement of this work, and the colorful individuals who bring about the success or failure of these endeavors.

Through wry anecdotes, the author shows how hostile the cultural environment of engineering and space science can be to women, and how she has used humor and ingenuity to deal with these challenges. Readers will see how space missions happen and what it's like to work on them. More generally, the book will convey to older teens a sense of the sorts of frustrations and rewards a professional is likely to encounter in any professional field.

PS 2014 Mars colony candidate comments on women vis a vis space program, and quotes Donna Shirley here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jan-millsapps-phd/mars-mission_b_5884978.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592
Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Cousin Val for the link

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Learn to love greens (and live green while you're at it)"

RQN - Here's some sensible advice about weight from an unexpected source. I thought it worth sharing. From Karan Johar's blog (he's one of the top Indian filmmakers, director of My Name is Khan, and a very interesting guy). I say he's an unexpected source of wisdom on the subject since I had been under the impression that he was one of the culprits behind Bollywood's sad current trend away from pleasingly plump to size zero actresses. Anyway, as someone who, like KJo, has been on both sides of the coin, weight-wise (though in my case the trajectory was backwards - he started out chubby, and grew up to be, well, as you see below, right; and my history has been more extreme than his, I suspect; I've been everything from malnourished - and not from dieting, either - to fat), this makes a lot of sense to me, at a time in my life when I'm more concerned with survival than appearance...  Click on the link above to read the whole post. My favorite part, though, is the conclusion:

"All this speculation on the body will always, eventually, affect the mind. Trying relentlessly to break down the fat can also break our spirits if we show up with dismal results. It can be a scary place, not knowing how to be happy with yourself, and to not love the way you look. I’ve been down that road and am not interested in going back. The deal I’ve struck with myself is to afford myself a balance of indulging in what feels good, and coupling it with what I know is good for me. It’s not rocket science, but it takes patience, and now, I have this to suggest; the greatest tip of them all is simply to learn your body. Know your body more than anyone else can claim to know. But most importantly, accept your body. Listen to what works for you, and then follow the basics. Drink more water than you think is physically possible. Learn to love greens (and live green while you’re at it.) Train your mind to train your body to do what it needs to survive, what you need to be sane and most importantly, surround yourself with people who are content in their skin, and in time, that glow on your skin will bounce right back."

Women in Space pt. 1: The Mercury 13 (book review)

At her 89th birthday celebration, my amazing friend Whitie told a story of the time she and her partner Louise were working on Jackie Cochran's ranch and Eisenhower paid a visit (Whitie tells this story elsewhere; I'm hoping she'll collect her stories in her own blog, as she is a fabulous journalist.) If you're not familiar with the name,  Jacqueline Cochran was a great aviator and, for a generation of women flyers, a mentor and inspiration. At right, a book about her, but this isn't the one I'm reviewing here; I just liked the image. Anyway, this reminded me of the great story of the secret "girl astronaut" program in which Cochran had played a part, though ultimately not so happy a part, unfortunately. After I got back home I looked the story up to refresh my memory, and found my old review...

A few years ago two books came out on the same subject, in one of those odd publishing coincidences. Luckily for me I got to review what most readers agree is the better of the two. This was an amazing story, a hidden part of our space program history, and a kind of microcosm of our society in which women were excluded from full participation. Yet even in this limited, clandestine form of participation in a sidelined government program, the presence of women led to huge advances in medicine, as it was the first time women's biology was really studied on its own merits rather than as an imperfect subset of male biology (a cultural bias still largely in place, as we "girl Aspies" know too well). And that was just one of the side effects of the sadly (and outrageously, and unjustifiably) curtailed project.

The story itself is fascinating, a reading adventure on a par, in my mind, with Robert Zubrin's fabulous nonfiction Mars on Earth. Truth really does trump fiction, when the story is well told. For more background, here's an NPR story you can listen to... A CBS news story from 2007 about a graduating class honoring the women... a website dedicated to the women (graphic patch at right - I love that) ...

Happening upon so many Internet references, I'm glad to see how the story continues to be told because it's one that really catches the imagination; it unveils something important that was for decades hidden in plain sight and provides the kinds of insights that throw everything we thought we knew into a new perspective.

The story's timeless and I'd recommend it to anyone, but especially to anyone who has forgotten, or doesn't know, what this country was like for women not so long ago. For women still living in places where they're as stifled as the Mercury 13, and those who want to help change their lot, it's a lesson in how much a society can gain by liberating women and adding their talents to the mix. For us, it's a reminder that we still aren't that far removed from the dark ages, and still have a very long way to go. And it's a good example, sadly, of how one woman can sabotage other women's progress in order to further her own agenda - something I'm sure happens among all oppressed groups.

In that larger context, it's the story of thirteen heroes in an epic struggle against overwhelming odds - and of a tiny minority of principled people who didn't have to champion them, but did, because it was the right thing to do both morally and scientifically. Though they were all silenced, they were triumphant in their time, and their story was too big to be hidden forever. Here's the brief review I wrote for SLJ at the time

 The Mercury 13: The True Story of 13 Women and the Dream of Space Flight (2003) by Martha Ackmann
Adult/High School-In the early days of the space race, women were barred from U.S. astronaut training, but some questioned the wisdom of this policy. At the Lovelace Foundation, in a secret "girl astronaut program," a select group of female pilots underwent the same comprehensive battery of psychological and physical tests required of male candidates.

Now known as the Mercury 13, these women had many aviation honors, interesting lives, and (as shown in several well-chosen black-and-white photographs) great charm. Most made crushing sacrifices to prove they had "the will, the ability and the courage" to fly in space but, despite their resounding success, received no recognition.

This account finds dramatic structure in the divergent personal and political paths of two of the century's greatest female pilots, Jerrie Cobb and Jackie Cochran. Cobb, the first to be chosen for testing, helped pick subsequent participants and ultimately became a champion of their cause in the political arena. The older and more influential Cochran had opened doors to female pilots in the past, but effectively opposed female participation in the space program. Once the battle was lost in Congress, it was another 40 years before a woman finally commanded a space flight.

Mercury 13 is both an outstanding work of research and an exceptionally readable and well-told story. Readers will gain new perspectives on space, medicine, women, and American culture, and will appreciate the magnitude of what was lost when the women were grounded.