What I am reading

Dear Friends,

My book reading has become a smash-up of poetry, political nonfiction, historical fiction, and classics.

  • Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow by Jesse Stuart: Kentucky farmer turned nationally recognized poet, this book of sonnets from Stuart’s 55-acre farm in Eastern Kentucky is a treasure. See Jesse Stuart Foundation for more about the book and poet.
  • Voyager by Diana Gibaldon: Third in her Scotland-based fiction phenomenon (8 books in the Outlander series and over 35 million copies sold across the world), Gibaldon delivers her own brand of humor, nature-based description of unforgettable wildlands, ingenious plots, and ever more captivating love stories between its main characters — Jamie and Claire — I read at night for pure fun and joy.
  • Cold Warriors by Duncan White: I just started this book which I bought after listening to Duncan on C-Span Books TV. It tells the story of the Cold War through the lives of the writers who chronicled it in their fiction, poetry, and journalism. From Aldous Huxley to Boris Pasternak, the book is written deftly propelling me along like a novel of intrigue.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Written on bits and scraps of paper in a tiny script, inspired by the great barrens that swept across the sky outside her hometown, modified after her death by her sister Charlotte, and copiously interpreted, the book remains a wonder of the English language that still carries power after nearly 180 years. Skip the interpretations and just read for the sheer beauty of it.

Other books lying around started, put down for now, or waiting:

 

 

Climate Strike and UN Climate Summit

Beginning today, climate actions around the world are spearheading the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in New York. This summit is led by a special envoy from the UN to organize collective planning before the COP25 Summit in December of this year. This is our last best chance to get this right. The U.S. must be a part of this planning because we know how to do it.  We just lack the will. A fatal flaw perhaps. See links on this site to explore ways that we can act to join in the collective action.

 

National Security and Climate Change

Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter

~ Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I Scene 1.

Oh, that we would have one so great that he or she could untangle the Gordian knot of our current climate crisis. The Gordian knot refers to an intractable problem so complex it cannot be unraveled except by visionaries who identify the kingpin, which when pulled, would unravel the knot.
Increasing Risks to National Security
Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned intelligence analysts from the National Security Council, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the State Department  about factors increasing risks to the national security. Some scenarios were examined, each already unfolding:
  1. Food supply in fragile countries is drastically reduced with drought and flooding; terrorist groups swoop in to exploit their vulnerability. Where an unstable government exists, climate impacts tip families into poverty and exposure to violence. We see this at our own border with immigration from Central America and in numerous countries in Africa.
  2. Traditional fishing grounds are impacted when fish stocks migrate northward with one country losing and another benefitting – a perfect recipe for conflict.
  3. Water wars pit countries against each other especially when there is long-term animosity: Pakistan and India over the Indus River. [Northern California versus Southern California, and states in the Colorado River Pact including Native Tribes with water rights on their reservations.]
  4. Melting Arctic ice exposes U.S. allies to potential Russian threats; melting permafrost release long-dormant disease vectors for which humanity may not have immunity;
  5. Lack of easy access to the best data for risk assessment and planning from governmental agencies (NOAA for example) that keep large databases. Access is ad hoc, often who one knows, to gain access. [This reflects the disruption of many U.S. agencies including reduced staffing and new policies that have broken down interagency cooperative research.]

How these forces combine to increase risks to national security is our Gordian Knot. Follow the link to the video.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?461413-1/house-intelligence-hearing-national-security-implications-climate-change

 

The New Abnormal: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

As the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board
prepared for its first set of Doomsday Clock
discussions this fall, it began referring to the
current world security situation as a “new
abnormal.” This new abnormal is a pernicious
and dangerous departure from the time when
the United States sought a leadership role in
designing and supporting global agreements
that advanced a safer and healthier planet. The
new abnormal describes a moment in which
fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction,
undermining our very abilities to develop and
apply solutions to the big problems of our time.
The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats
and lulling citizens around the world into a
dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.

The Bulletin serves as an authoritative guide that confronts man-made threats to our existence by advancing actionable ideas for the planet and its people. Read the latest bulletin below.

2019-Clock-Statement-Press-Print-Version

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Online Home of Susan Feathers

With authors I value, like Barbara Kingsolver, the wait for a new work can often be lengthy. My wait was amply rewarded. In Unsheltered–2018 HarperCollins–she had created parallel narratives that articulate across two centuries in the American experience. Her device is a house and property shared by the characters in different centuries. The 21st Century Wilma and  19th Century Thatcher are adults navigating giant shifts in social paradigms. For Wilma and her family it is the economic collapse of the middle class and the dissolution of the ideals her generation pursued. Climate change knocks ominously at her door. For Thatcher it a pre-Darwin American culture in a panic to hold onto Christian perspectives by rejecting rational observation of how the world works (akin to today’s denial of science).

Wilma’s multigenerational family reflects at once a 1) disenfranchised, racist white America (grandfather); 2) boomer parents (Wilma and Iano); 3)…

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The Sonorous Clarinet

One of the greatest gifts of my father was that of a B flat clarinet when I was in third grade. Perhaps this is why I’ve remained partial to woodwinds in orchestral arrangements. When I was a young teen, I played this concerto in a competition in New York State while living in Plattsburg. This clarinetist, Sharon Kam, plays Mozart’s work for clarinet with tonal shades and a lively spirit that brings the work to life.

Learn the history of the clarinet here.

IPBES Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Summary PDF for Policy-Makers (and the public)

Biodiversity is a key driver of ecosystem health and resilience. The more variety of genes and groups of genes in a particular habitat (# and kinds of living plants and animals, invertebrates, etc) the greater is its resiliency to impacts such as climate change, and human development and habitation.

A good example can be seen in our coastal ecosystems where an abundance of grasses, landforms, certain trees, sea grasses and coral reefs, promote resiliency to storms, development, etc. Dense human habitation along coastal areas has polluted waters that kill sea grasses, result in erosion of beaches which once provided a barrier to incoming storms and sea level rise.

Read the report and chat with your local city council and with your representations. Send them this short summary report. summary_for_policymakers_ipbes_global_assessment

What makes us human?

Earlier I blogged a book review of E.O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. Now this extraordinary book is a documentary.

I strongly encourage you to watch it to gain a fuller understanding of what makes us human, and how that must be understood to make the complex decisions we now face. Simply, we need to know when instinctual inclinations are at work, and that they may or may not be what we need in the new technological complexities we face together today.

I originally posted this in 2015 after the publication of Wilson’s book.

Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall KimmererRobin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist who explains her knowledge of an indigenous worldview about plants with that of the western worldview. In that process, Kimmerer embeds whole Earth teaching along with botanical science. Here in this beautiful essay, ” Corn tastes better on the honor system” published in Emergence Magazine, is one of the author’s best teaching contrasting indigenous ways of knowing with western perspectives about the Earth. At this ragged time in American history, return to sanity. Listen.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

Revisiting Jack London

Jack London is one of my favorite American writers.

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”  ~ 
Jack London  (1876 – 1916)

Amazon has a two-part documentary of London’s life and work that is worth watching for insight into the personal and historical influences that shaped London’s development and ultimately, his contributions to literature. It is also a great teaching film for new writers.

Here is the link to the documentary.

Read Call of the Wild online. Serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.