Tuesday, December 04, 2012

"The Trial of Fallen Angels" takes you - somewhere

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - The Trial of Fallen Angels by James Kimmel Jr. is a remarkable book from two directions. First, it is well-written and easy to read. Second, it is his first novel.

I have wailed in this space about first novels before - usually that they don't have the snap that later work does for most novelists. But Trial reads as quickly as a detective novel, though the plot will weigh heavy in most reader's hearts.

I mean really heavy.

The book is about dead people. Well, no, wait. Dead people isn't the right way to say it. Perhaps souls in transit would be better.

These souls are headed towards heaven, or somewhere else, and all are caught up in an ecclesiastical judicial system. No, there aren't practicing lawyers in heaven (we can hope). But then this book doesn't take place in heaven.

Trial is set in an otherworldly locale where things, as you might guess, are never exactly what they seem. And people's motives, sins, and intentions are never as simple as we still on earth would like them to be.

The Trial of Fallen Angels has plenty of twists and turns, too, making it close to a page turner.

Just don't read it right before you go sleep. The dreams I had for several nights running were pretty spooky.

No, make that really spooky.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Isaac Asimov's "Nemesis" warns of Earth's future

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - The late Isaac Asimov's classic science fiction thriller Nemesis is both uplifting and sad at the same time.

Isaac Asimov

The 1989 tome came out as most of the U.S. population had given up completely on space travel as something worth pursuing (and funding). That's the sad part. When the U.S. first went to the moon, the plans were for a manned-mission to Mars by 1985.

That never lifted off the ground.

But the uplifting part is about human nature and how in the end, humanity saves itself from cosmic disaster through clever thinking (with a little help from an alien intelligence). A relative handful of humans leave Earth in the book, trying to find a new world for everyone. That's all the plot you get from me.

I just finished reading Nemesis for the first time and like all good science fiction it holds the test of time.

Perhaps oddly, it talks about the need to save the people of Earth who are living on a planet stripped of natural resources and polluted beyond belief. Sound familiar? The Earth's population at the time of Asimov's Nemesis? About 8 billion. That's 1 billion more than live on Earth as I write this. And Earth's population went from 6 billion to 7 billion in just over 11 years.

Are we stripping the planet of natural resources and polluting it beyond belief.


If you are a science fiction buff, grab a copy at a used book store or get it through Kindle or the iBooks. No warp drives pushing space ships around in this book - they have better, more interesting stuff, though.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Climate change connects with the Zoo

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The hammering that New York, New Jersey and other eastern seaboard states just took from Hurricane Sandy might - might - be a wakeup for people about the reality of climate change.

My relatives in the Long Island-New Jersey area are all ok, but it was (and remains) a harrowing experience that will be talked about for years. As of this writing, most are without electricity and heat and repair efforts are slow at best, more likely glacial.

As Hurricane Sandy roared through the Finger Lakes - and it did roar through but doing relatively little damage - I was finishing a book called Zoo, James Patterson's (and Michael Ledwidge's) latest.

I have not been much of a Patterson fan in recent years, but this book should get more attention from people who are watching climate change, genetically modified food effects, and the destruction of the planet as we plunder it for oil, gas and minerals.

It's hard not to spoil the plot here. But I will say that the book describes how man's incessant desire for more industrial growth leads to a problem with animals. No, they don't get sick, exactly. But imagine your pet Chihuahua suddenly turning from a yipping little thing with a grapefruit I.Q. to a clever, conniving pooch with the attitude of the late Leona Helmsley.

Ouch. That really bites.

I had a biology teacher in high school who used to say that "Mother Nature always bats last."

Hurricane Sandy was a good demonstration of that. And Mother Nature still is at the plate.

A reading of Zoo is just as frightening.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Friend and colleague Nick Trujillo passes away

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I first saw this afternoon on Facebook that my friend and colleague Nick Trujillo had passed away.

Someone had posted a picture of him, saying he would be missed and for just a moment, I thought he had retired.

My conversations with Nick for the last few years - before I left California State University, Sacramento - were about retiring and all the things both of us wanted to do. He had created a musical alter-ego (Gory Bateson) and performed a lot of great music all over the world. We even chatted about doing a couple of duets, he (or rather Gory) on the guitar, me on the ukulele.

The problem with retiring was Nick still enjoyed teaching, a lot. And all the gas he had gotten over the years from department chairs and deans and administrators - right up to university president's office - never dented his optimism about students and how important they were.

And Jaysus he took a lot of shit. He asked questions, refused to accept bureaucratic bullshit answers and was fearless in taking on authority.

Nick was one of a few people in the Communication Studies Department who extended themselves to welcome those of us to who were refugees of the Journalism Department when it was forced to disband back in the 1990s. He and I had already collaborated on a couple of schemes aimed at getting students a better journalism and communications education.

For those not involved in higher education (at least this is true at California state colleges) a footnote might be needed here: University faculty want students to learn; administrators are mostly concerned with filling seats and collecting cash.

I won't rehash all the nonsense he put up with - he wouldn't want it, really. He thought the people that harassed him over petty matters were kind of like the dog crap you sometimes get on your shoe. It was the price of walking free, even if annoying.  And people like that, he and I agreed, are easy to scrape off.

That's a long way of saying Nick was a stand-up guy. 

When Nick's wife Leah became ill with cancer, I spent time with both of them and to this day remain in awe of how committed they were to each other. He stood by like the rock that he was until the moment Leah died.

We should all be so brave.

Adios Nick. Say hello to Leah for me. And please sing her lots of those silly songs you and Gory were making even more famous with your traveling road show. On quiet nights around the 5th Floor of Mendocino Hall at Sac State, I suspect caring people will be able to hear the tunes.

Here's a classic:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

'This Is How It Ends' - an Irish book, it is

DUBLIN, Ireland - This Is How It Ends is really about how it ends.

But the question is, from the first page, what the hell is it?

I won't spoil it.

Get it? It?

OK, let's just move on.

The book takes place in Ireland (not that hard to guess from the headline or the dateline on this review) and it involves an American with the unlikely name of Bruno and a Irish woman named Addie.

It unfolds page-by-page against the backdrop of the 2008 U.S. elections, an eerie coincidence as I read the book almost exactly four years from when the events in this piece of fiction took place. Spooky! And it isn't even Halloween. Yet.

It wasn't until I was done with the book - which I read in three days straight - that I found out that this is author Kathleen MacMahon's first novel. And she's a journalist.

Together those things normally for me would mean two strikes against This Is How It Ends. But in fact, it was (to comment in a  slightly British manner, not Irish) a smashing book.

Author Kathleen MacMahon
And it was smashing right up to the last word.

Good reading under any circumstances. And you will have to read it to see how it all ends.

Obama does get elected in the book, by the way, but you knew that already.

Local folks can pick it up at the Watkins Glen Public Library, but I see it's available just about from any bookseller/dealer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The real math on Big Bird and PBS

PHOENIX, Arizona - The only time Mitt Romney stepped in it last week in his debate with President Barack Obama was when he said he wanted to cut funding for PBS - and kill the iconic Big Bird in the process.

Pundits later said he planned that line about Big Bird.

Even Romney isn't that stupid. Really.

No, Romney's shot at PBS, Big Bird and Jim Lehrer (moderating the debate) was the only genuine moment of the debate for the Mittster who becomes more frightening every time I hear him speak.

He thinks that the nation is just another company he can takeover, strip of all its wealth and then dump - like he did so many companies through his firm, Bain Capital.

Perhaps the best retort to his nonsense is offered up by Sesame Street characters themselves, showing how his PBS tirade (he thinks we need to borrow money from China) is such crap.

The Count puts it all in perspective.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

'Drift' shows a troubled, too-expensive U.S. military

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Rachel Maddow's book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power makes for good, if chilling, reading.

This comprehsive study of the American military is also one of the most depressing books I have read in awhile.

Maddow traces the history of the U.S. military from the beginnings of the nation right up to today. And she does so with the same touches of snarky humor that are the hallmark of her television show on MSNBC, even when she exposes some horrific military problems and costs.

In describing the nuclear weapons the United States has lost over the years - yes, you read that correctly, lost - she offers the following:

"There obviously was not a nuclear blast in Spain in 1966, but these two nuclear bombs did explode. There were essentially massive dirty bombs. The conventional explosives that form part of the fuse in these nukes blew the bombs apart and scattered radioactive particles and bomb fragments all over Palomares, Spain. Whoopsie!" (page 228)

Whoopsie indeed. The U.S. continues to pay the people of Palomares for that whoopsie, by the way, sending everyone to Madrid for expensive health checkups to see what their radioactivity levels are. Oh, and a few years ago, $2 million of your tax dollars went for some soil cleanup so a condo project could be built where the soil was still radioactive.

Maddow's research seems very sound (her endnotes list sources). And much of what she writes about is drawn directly from various declassified public documents.

Two major things I can't get over.

First, she details how GOP icon and saint-in-waiting Ronald Reagan was a disaster when it came to military issues. And it is also clear his Alzheimer's was likely raging long before he left the White House.

Two, any of the much-wailed-about shortages of money citizens are getting pummeled with in this election - Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, education, health care, just to name a few - can be laid directly at the foot of the unbelievable amounts of money thrown at the U.S. military and legions of private contractors. She does a great job of documenting the money and that some military people are getting more money than they know how to spend.


By the way, this might keep you awake tonight: A good-sized portion of the killing being done in the name of the people of the United States of America, is being done by private companies. Drones dropping bombs on villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan are being flown by mercenaries in the employ of U.S. companies.

And those mercenaries are immune from the laws of the U.S. and the countries where they are dropping bombs. They have also been caught doing quite a few other, arguably criminal, things (human trafficking) that they get away with because of that immunity.

Read the book, it's all documented.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wambaugh is back with 'Harbor Nocturne'

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The harbor of San Pedro is familiar to me, as a sailor and Californian of many years.

But Joseph Wambaugh shows a seedy side to the area that I don't remember from my visits there, though I suspect through his former cop's eyes, it's accurate.

'Harbor Nocture' is a classic Wambaugh book, as good as much of his early work that had his books flying off the shelf. I admit to taking a hiatus from anything Wambaugh for the last few years. The books for a period lacked the snap of some earlier works.

Having just finished Harbor Nocture, I will have to get back to the library stacks and see when he re-emerged with his old voice.

I just may have missed some good books.

Harbor Nocture has some dark moments and some very funny moments. And it has one particularly tragic moment. For that, you will need to read it.

The plot revolves around crime, redemption, drugs and power, with the interplay of Italian and Croatian cultures. Do you need to know anymore?

For local folks, Harbor Nocturne is available on the shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The End of Country is near for Pennsylvania

VALOIS, New York, USA - Seamus McGraw's 2011 book The End of Country takes a very literary look at what has happened - and is happening - to Pennsylvania's rural countryside and towns as natural gas companies have taken over and begun their destructive 'hydrofracking' process.

I say literary, because in many parts, this tome reads as smoothly as a novel, even though like any novel dealing with uncomfortable material, it is hard read in spots.

What McGraw is able to do effectively in this book isn't just to show what greedy bastards (and liars, oh the lies) the people representing these environmental destruction teams are. He also shows how the many thousands of dollars dangled in front of very poor people changed the people themselves, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

And in the end, it's obvious that though some people are richer in dollars, the entire communities are much poorer for allowing this earth-destroying technology on their land.

McGraw's book is an important one, well worth reading. And if Hollywood has any cojones, it would make the basis for an excellent movie script. It's a real life thriller with all the elements of a good film: danger, big money, greed, tragedy and a small dose of triumph.

There's even the death of beloved dog - at the hands of the gas company doing drilling on the land of one of the main characters.

On the cover of the book, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote: "Deeply personal, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, The End of Country lays out the promise and the perils faced not just by the people of one small Pennsylvania town but by our whole nation."

Monday, August 06, 2012

Under the Surface: The ugliness of hydrofracking

WATKINS GLEN, New York - "Under The Surface: Fracking, Fortunes and the fate of Marcellus Shale" is an important book coming out at a critical time in New York.

Within weeks, it's possible the governor of New York will give the green light to limited hydrofracking for natural gas in a handful of Southern New York townships.

If he does, and the drilling starts, the state will be in for the same kind of environmental and health disaster that goes by the name Pennsylvania.

Journalist-Author Tom Wilber does a good job of walking through the history of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, telling the story in chronological style and sometimes in almost maddening detail.

But that same maddening detail also paints a complete picture, which most observers don't have and can't have because the incidents of toxic chemical spills, poisoned water wells, gas well blowouts - even deaths - are scattered about the state and rarely make huge headlines.

Yet when taken together, the indictment of the hydrofracking process - and the companies doing the work - is overwhelming.

Wilber's book makes it clear that hydrofracking for natural gas is not safe and probably cannot be done safely, not matter how loudly proponents shout.

Author Tom Wilber
One criticism of the book will likely be that Wilber lets the gas companies off the hook a little lightly in spots - a holdover from his days as an objective news reporter in New York State. His fairness doesn't obscure the incredible damage that has been done, however. It might give the book more credibility with people still on the fence about hydrofracking.

He clearly shows through interviews, data, and observation that property values have gone to near zero in many places, how greedy (and willing to lie) gas corporations seem to be and outlines the often bumbling efforts of Pennsylvania regulators and other key players to handle the all-too-slick, slick-water hydrofracking companies.

The most depresssing news in the book is that all the problems are getting even worse since the change of administrations in Pennsylvia.

"Under the Surface" was published in 2012 by the Cornell University Press.

It should be read soon, in case NY Governor Andrew Cuomo decides he needs gas company money for his planned 2016 campaign for President of the U.S.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Along The Way: a thought-provoking memoir

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Northern Spain - Father-son books litter the shelves of libraries and bookstores, some good, some, well, some best left on family coffee tables.

But Along The Way, The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez is a book worthy of any library or bookstore.

It's even worth buying to read if your local librarian can't afford it.

Along The Way spins off the movie made by Sheen and Estevez called The Way.

The movie is good. And now that I have read the book, I will probably watch it again, knowing more about the some of the background.

The book is not about the making of the movie solely, but about Martin Sheen - whose real name is Ramon Estevez - and his son's lives, both where they are intertwined and separately. Sheen's early life and choice of an acting career was very much at odds with that his father (a Galacian immigrant) and mother (an Irishwoman) would have chosen for him.

And while I have always thought of Estevez as the young guy from Repo Man, he's an accomplished director and as complex as his far-better-known father.

The book alternates chapters between the two men, with Sheen holding the advantage when it comes to philosophical comments, Estevez about the movie business.

Though it is uneven in spots, Along the Way is an excellent read - especially for fathers and sons.

Here's are two brief excerpts from Martin Sheen's final chapter:

"There is an old saying: If you arrive at the Kingdom alone, you must answer one question,
 'Where are the others?'
We are made so that we must travel alone, yet we cannot do so without community."

"The Irish tell a story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and asks to be let in.
'Of course,' Saint Peter says. 'Just show us your scars.'
'I have no scars,' the man replies,
'What a pity,' Saint Peter says. 'Was there nothing worth fighting for?'

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ohio train wreck should be an Inergy wakeup call

COLUMBUS, Ohio -A freight train run by the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailed today, resulting in a huge fire here.

It also forced the evacuation of the area.

Norfolk Southern, by the way, is the railroad that will be running propane tankers daily - read that again, running propane tankers daily - across the Watkins Glen State Park gorge and up to the Town of Reading if the Missouri-based Inergy Corporation gets state Department of Environmental Conservation approval for a massive salt-cavern propane storage facilty.

So much for their much-touted safety record...

Tonight at 7 p.m., there will be a meeting at Damiani Wine Cellars on Route 414 to discuss strategies for keeping that storage from being approved.

By stopping the storage it will also keep train wrecks like these from potentially killing our friends and neighbors.

Here's a link to the full story:

Stop the propane trains, please!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friend, firebrand Jeff Lustig dies at 69

VALOIS, New York, USA - Early in my teaching career at CSU, Sacramento, I made the acquaintance of a firebrand five years my senior, a fellow named Jeff Lustig.

He was running an outfit called the Center for California Studies and was tangling assholes with then-CSUS president Donald Gerth. Jeff was feisty but fair and didn't believe in the academic nice-talk that generally required deference to presidents and top administrators.

If something was wrong, Jeff jumped on it with both feet. And then he jumped on it again and again and again until it was made right, or his feet hurt so much he couldn't move.
Jeff Lustig

His feet hurt a lot, but he brought about many positive changes and was an astute scholar.

When he was forced out of the Center for California Studies, the California Faculty Association (a faculty union) was the big winner. He took over the local chapter of the union as president and tore into the central CSU administration so effectively that he helped win substantial salary increases and betterment of working conditions for all faculty.

The chancellor of the CSU was afraid of Jeff - high praise because Chancellor Charles Reed (who is finally retiring this year) stared down governors and legislators alike.

In our last joint effort, Jeff helped the faculty at CSU, Sacramento in an attempt to censure the president of the campus whose priorities were more in the direction of public relations (and promoting his image) than academics.

I was president of the faculty senate that year and every time I felt my knees buckling under the pressure of the tumult, Jeff offered words of encouragement to keep fighting for what was right.

He will be missed.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

'Three Months' a book of hearts and minds

VALOIS, New York, USA - I have been carrying around a book titled 'Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing' for weeks, reading it in fits and starts.

It's not that it is a difficult book to read, exactly. It's that it is about the death of woman from pancreatic cancer and how her husband and family took care of her during her final months. But beyond that, a former student was a consultant and eventually co-author for the project, and so I read the book with a different eye than most readers.

Both of these things made looking at this book harder than picking up some bestseller off the library shelf.

The pancreatic cancer side of the equation brought up some very unpleasant memories about the death of my mother from cancer many years ago.

But J. Dietrich Stroeh (whose wife Margaret died of pancreatic cancer) and my former student (Bill Meagher) got me laughing hard in a few spots - a definite plus in a book that could send you reaching for the scotch (Stoeh's alcohol of choice in parts of this memoir).

One medical episode recounted in 'Three Months' reminded me how my mother's doctor told me he was concerned about her sometimes having a Manhattan cocktail as early as 10 or 11 a.m. in the final months of her life. The same doctor - who knew she had at best months to live because of her  fast-moving cancer - said he didn't want to give her too much pain medicine.

"She might get addicted," he opined.

You can't make this stuff up. Honestly.

Bill Meagher
'Three Months' is a very sad story but one that offers good advice to anyone going through the sudden onset of cancer in a loved one.

And while that part was interesting - and a scenario I hope never face - it was equally interesting to try and tease out where my former student (and now amigo) had his voice come through.

It was hard. But even 25 years since looking at Bill from a university lectern, there were segments I thought that might be pure Bill Meagher.

If I were still a journalism professor, I would have Bill come into my classes and explain exactly what he went through to make this book happen. I bet that would be a story worth hearing.

'Three Months' is a slim volume - just over 100 pages and might even be available electronically via Kindle or iPad by now.

It's one more thing my friend, former student and ghost-writer-turned co-author said he had to do.

I am sure he's up to the task...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Environmental woes started 10,000 years ago

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The book Consulting the Genius of the Place came to me right off the Watkins Glen Public Library shelves a couple of weeks ago.

The writing is excellent, the topic compelling. I couldn't put it down.

The book is all about agriculture, sustainability and ecology and how by adopting an agricultural model for civilization - a model that eventually led to the industrial revolution and the petrochemical-industrial nightmare we live in now - the game was up before it started.

Agriculture is about 10,000 years old. The Earth (and the environment we live in), oh about 3 billion years give or take.

And look what we have done to the Earth in a blink of time's eye.

I didn't realize until I was well into the book that the author - Wes Jackson of the Land Institute - is the rock star of soil conservation and the leader of a movement to get us to stop continually #$^&#&ing up the planet.

He writes so smoothly and convincingly that you almost believe him when he says the planet can be saved as a habitat for humans. The book is peppered with data, good quotes and enough personal anecdotes to make it as good a read as many novels.
Wes Jackson

No, make that better than many novels.

One of his key themes is that agriculture, particularly as practiced in the western world with chemical fertilizers and machinery (all reliant on oil pulled from the ground), is destructive and not sustainable. In a way, he says, we have been spending our environmental bank account for 10,000 years, each generation faster and faster as we have more people, more demand more resources and more ways to pillage the environment.

(Can anyone spell hydrofracking?)

But the bill for all of this profligacy is coming due.

His solution - one the Land Institute is working on with others - is to create and/or find a perennial grain that can be harvested to replace the grains now seeded every year. It is that endless seeding, fertilizing, harvesting cycle in a mostly monoculture of plants that is so destructive, he says. And today's agriculture is way too tied in with oil and oil-related industries.

"By starting out where our split with nature began, we can build an agriculture more like the ecosystems that shaped us, thereby preserving ecological capital..." he wrote.

Amen to that.

Consulting the Genius of the Place is recommended reading, even if the closest you usually get to agriculture is the produce aisle at the grocery store.

Inergy preps U.S. Salt site for natural gas storage

TOWNSHIP OF READING, New York - The drill rigs can be seen from all the way across Seneca Lake. It's seems clear that Inergy Midstream - the Kansas City, Missouri mega-company that bought U.S. Salt - is most likely getting ready to store natural gas in the salt caverns below the lake - not just propane.

Right now Inergy is trying to get the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to approve a plan to store a massive amount of propane in nearby caverns as well as build a rail-car terminal and construct huge brine ponds. That project has been held up by persistent local protests over the inherent dangers posed by the storage. People also are concerned it will negatively affect the tourist and wine industries.

Inergy's Moler
But in various documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Inergy has also referenced that it plans on storing natural gas on the same site.

So much for assurances from Inergy Midstream's president, Bill Moler of Kansas City, that his company has nothing to do with hydrofracking for natural gas.

In the video below, Moler speaks at an April 2011, Inergy-orchestrated community meeting in Watkins Glen, trying to sell the audience on the propane storage project. But there's not a peep about natural gas being stored on site, too. In fact, Moler denies that Inergy has anything do to with hydrofracking for natural gas. Technically, that might be true. Inergy doesn't frack. But it will store the natural gas, some of which is likely destined to be shipped to overseas markets via LNG ocean-going tankers.

Below the video is photo taken of the U.S. Salt site, just north of Watkins Glen, where a drill rig is boring down into a salt cavern.

Not exactly pretty like a winery...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How desperate is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Political and informational emails flow into this computer like water into the Colorado. It's my own fault (or design, perhaps). I subscribe to various lists, like Michele Bachmann's, and then get a crapload of emails from other whackadoodles to whom she had lent (or sold) the contacts.

So today it was quite amusing to read a plea for support from Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) who is facing a recall.

He probably wasn't aware that I am a registered Democrat and one of the many people (many!) across the country who want to see his small-minded butt kicked out of office.

Here's part of the plea:

"This is it. The Wisconsin Recall election is less than four weeks away.
The liberal special interests and Washington insiders have sworn to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat me. I need your help right now to beat back this senseless Recall.
Will you stand with me today? "

 He neglects anywhere in the email to mention that his anti-union, billionaire patrona, Diane Hendricks is loading him with cash. She's featured in the amusing video at the bottom.

After acting more like a Soviet bureaucrat than a democratically elected governor, Walker's email plea seems to indicated he is surprised that people are trying to get him removed?


The only thing missing from the email was a way to email him back so he could receive a link to this blog.

But that's ok.

I am sure within the hour there will be a followup email with the plea for a specific dollar donation.

Those always have a way to respond.

While I while away the hours, conferrin' with the flowers in my garden waiting, I think I'll reread some of the stories that explain why now-Gov. Scott Walker needs to go back to being a county politician, or better yet, joining the Fox News talking heads. I am sooooo tired of the old ones.

Ohhhhh.... And check out the video. It's about Walker's divide-and-conquer strategy. Plus it has some great music.

Walker recall: Even Fox News knows
Mother Jones Take: Oh Mother!
Dems Finally weigh in: Fundraiser for Walker opponent

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The film 'Living Downstream's' message very clear

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The crowd at the tiny Glen Theater to watch the film Living Downstream and to hear Sandra Steingraber (on whose book the film is based) was mostly true believers who think our environment is being polluted by uncaring (and greedy) corporations, poisoning us in the process.

And sometimes that poisoning results in cancer from contact with weed killers, pesticides and whatever-the-hell the chemicals are in that toxic cocktail used in hydro-fracking for natural gas.

But any people on the edge about this heard a very compelling case that most people are looking in the wrong direction.

Wrong direction?

Most efforts when it comes to cancer are aimed at curing people who already are symptomatic. But Living Downstream says we need to look at how people are contracting cancers and try to stop things at that juncture, particularly when it comes to environmentally caused cancers.

The 55-minute film lays out the case using Dr. Steingraber's story of cancer as a template. And it contains some great punchlines.

My favorite comes from Steingraber's mother, who at one point says, "Don't let them bury you until you are dead."

Sandra Steingraber
Steingraber talks about how many in her family suffer - and have suffered - with cancers. She talks about how many doctors focus on genetic predispositions to cancer. If your mom died of cancer (mine did), well, the likelihood of you getting cancer is greatly increased.

In her case, when bladder cancer was diagnosed, she pointed out to her doctors that she was adopted.

Whoops. Nurse! Pass me a new theory, please.

But the townspeople where she grew up in Illinois have an astoundingly high rate of cancer. Coincidence? Hmm.. Perhaps it might have something to do with the factories spewing chemicals into the air and the vast stretches of farmland where a toxic stew of unpronounceable things are sprayed on crops, find their way into the water table and/or are served right with family meals. Or, I suppose, at a supermarket right where you shop.

(I'll be rolling up my car windows when I see anyone spraying fields, or one of those damn crop dusters comes swooping over. Oh, and probably hitting the organic food section more now, too.)

Steingraber is shown in the movie speaking to several groups - as she did last night following the film. And in most of the speeches, she says what we need to do is launch and environmental human rights movement.

With high-quality films like this one - and her two books, Living Downstream and Raising Elijah - it's  a movement that is already well underway.

Monday, April 30, 2012

'Living Downstream' a scary film worth watching

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The film Living Downstream, based on the award-winning book by the same name, will be the feature attraction at the Glen Theater here Tuesday night. And like a Hollywood movie premiere (even though the film was released in 2010) there will be food and wine provided by Red Newt Winery and Glenora cellars.

I might have to drag out the tuxedo for this event. 

The movie starts at 7 p.m. and is sponsored by Gas Free Seneca, Finger Lakes Bioneers, and the Sierra Club (Finger Lakes Chapter).
Sandra Steingraber

The film is the story of Sandra Steingraber, a cancer survivor who is "working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links."

It's an eloquent statement, according to every review I read.

And in the film, she makes a strong case that we all should become "cancer abolitionists."

Look for a full review here Wednesday.

In the meantime, here's the trailer for the film.

WARNING: Even the trailer can give you chills.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Wild Coast" takes readers back to Jonestown 1978

GUYANA, South America - Just the title, "Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge" is good enough to make most people want to reach to grab this book from the shelf. And so in the tiny Watkins Glen, New York library, I did just that last week, picking up this tome by John Gimlette, a veteran traveler and an author with plenty of wit.

"Wild Coast" was hard to get into at first.  Then suddenly interesting gave way to fascinating as he progresses across Guyana to Surinam to French Guiana, detailing out the rugged life there and revealing a history that alternately makes readers want to laugh or cry. He quotes from the works of Sir Walter Raleigh, looks at the history of slavery in the area and walks readers through the various revolutions, upheavals and events that shaped what's left for travelers to see in the 21st century.

The section on Jonestown - where the Oakland, Calif.-based Peoples' Temple mass suicide/massacre happened in November 1978 - was particularly compelling for me.

I lived in Northern California when that all took place and watched in horror from a distance.

And to this day, when people say that someone 'drank the Kool-aid' they mean someone has swallowed a line of dangerous bullshit. For the hundreds of people at the Peoples' Temple in the jungle, the Kool-aid drinks ended in their deaths.

The whole thing still makes me wince, though the author reveals some details about the event that I didn't know. Yes, you will have to read it yourself to see some of the nuance of what I think major media missed.

Gimlette's book is a first-person account as he travels by dugout canoe, on foot, by steamer, aboard a tugboat and sometimes in strange cars with even stranger people. Yet the character of the jungles and rivers of these nation-states rival the people he meets as he researches the book. It's hard to read parts of Wild Coast without breaking out in a sympathetic humidity-drenched sweat.

This is no armchair travelogue trying to convince you to take a vacation. Only the most neurotic of travelers would read any of this and think, 'Gee, let's pack and bag and head off to Surinam for the weekend.'
Terry Thomas

Still, a part of me read this book and wants to tour these great rivers, meet the people and see the historical sites he did - even if they are in tatters or barely there.

As I read about the caimans, the snakes, the oily water and piranha-like fish, I kept thinking of the late gapped-tooth British actor Terry Thomas, whose character in a film talked about traveling in Africa along 'the great gray-green greasy Zambezi.'

He would have been quite at home in a movie based on Wild Coast.

The great gray-green greasy Zambezi, indeed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A triple-bypass burger on the way to the hospital?

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Since December, my wife and I have made a decided attempt at cleaning up our diets.

We read Live Longer Now and The China Study, plus we started paying attention to a lot of other food and health-related data that we have been ignoring for years.

The result? Well, we feel better, still drink wine (any diet that cuts out vino is off my list) and have a very healthy (pun intended) suspicion of the industrial-food complex.

But there are some stories and things that are just so nuts, they defy credulity.
Triple by-pass burger
This particular hamburger is served at a restaurant at which the servers wear nurses uniforms, if you weigh more than 350 lbs. your food is free and the restaurants 600-pound spokesman died last year - at 29.

It is no wonder I struggle writing fiction. The truth is so weird, how can I make anything up?

Here is a link to the full story: Want some animal fat with that?

And here is more on the restaurant:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Inergy industrial expansion - not 'business as usual'

SENECA LAKE, New York, USA - A project to store propane (and eventually natural gas) in salt caverns alongside and below Seneca Lake is making an ugly industrial mess on the shore of the lake, just a few miles north of Watkins Glen in the Town of Reading.

The project is actively opposed by thousands of area people and businesses. An application is currently under consideration by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation.

While the application works it way through the system, however, Inergy (and its wholly owned subsidiary U.S. Salt) have been busy, carving up a huge swath of the Seneca Lake shoreline and creating an industrial mess that looks more like something from a Mad Max movie (Mad Max's World of Industry) than the sylvan shores people expect to see in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

The four aerial photos below show how far along the project is. The Inergy company has gone to great lengths claiming this is just business as usual, similar to earlier local efforts to store lesser amounts of propane in the salt caverns.

It is not. This is a huge expansion as the photos show.

And the Quantitative Risk Assessment done last fall - paid for by Inergy - is being kept under wraps by the company. Inquiring minds would like to know what that risk assessment says.

If the project is approved by the DEC and the Town of Reading, people of the area will have to worry about possible propane explosions, fires, heavy truck traffic, railroad tanker car accidents, brine pond spills into the lake, possible earthquakes and a host of other pollution problems still under study.

And the Inergy firm has made it clear in various SEC filings that if it all goes sideways (as in some of the scenarios listed) it might not have the resources to pay for the devastation, cleanup and the various legal claims that would be forthcoming.

Here's a link to Gas Free Seneca, the local group coordinating efforts to keep Inergy - a Kansas City, Missouri company - from being allowed to continue: Gas Free Seneca website

These photos of the site on the west side of Seneca Lake were all taken by Gas Free Seneca.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

We lost a good man, way too young

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Rex Babin, the editorial cartoonist extraordinaire of The Sacramento Bee died this past week. Stomach cancer the stories said.

He was only 49. Jaysus.

I was working at The Bee when Rex came to work in 1999, following in the shoes of cartoonist who had been there many years, Dennis Renault. It was clear from the beginning that Rex was going wear his own shoes, set his own pace, draw his own work, and make his own mark.

That he died so young - and left his wife and 10-year-old son behind - is beyond tragic.

Rex skewered the right and the left, though the right seemed a much easier target for him. He had a great sense of humor, much better than the handful of people who have posted negative comments on his obituary in The Bee.

Negative comments! Following the man's obituary.

What assholes. And what a great cartoon he would have drawn making fun of their cruelty.

The last time I saw Rex in the flesh was five years ago when I walked into an editorial board meeting at The Bee. I was going in as Faculty Senate Chair of CSU, Sacramento and thought I had been invited to offer some insight into the squabble between the faculty of the university and university president Alex Gonzalez over his taking money from the academic budget and putting it into public relations.

It was an ambush. For an hour, I debated with several ill-informed Bee staff members who had spent an hour earlier with the president himself, swallowing his version of events.

Rex stood against the wall where I could see him, looking somewhat embarrassed. And on several occasions, when one staff member kept asking particularly inane and inappropriate questions, he looked me in the eye and shook his head as if to say, 'Sorry buddy.'

While I worked at The Bee, editing the Forum section occasionally or filling in somewhere else, we crossed paths and chatted often. He flirted with the idea of becoming a university professor but was addicted to his near-daily editorial cartooning.

It's a good thing he was, because he was very good at it.

RIP Rex Babin. Those original signed cartoons you gave me - all CSU, Sacramento-related - are hanging in my office.

They still make me smile.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poisons in our food, poisons in bird feed, too?

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Having internet access gives you access to all those great emails from friends, emails from people to whom you own money and stories about horrors of every kind imaginable.

And so in this past week, just as I was getting over the 'pink slime' scandal, up pops one about the Scotts company (think, Miracle-Gro) deliberately putting pesticides in its bird seed.

And by doing so, the company was killing God knows how many sparrows, finches, robins and other birds in the process.

At my house in New York, it would also be killing legions of squirrels who use my bird feeders more often than drunks hit the ATMs on Saturday night.

Here a link to the story:

Sorry it isn't a hot link, but BlogPress hasn't gotten that far in its development.

That said, watch what you put out to feed those birdies. Some corporate type might not be as kind as you are.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad