Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interesting findings in our world

These rock formations in Iceland are described in the travel section in the Seattle Times.

Another interesting story is about an ancient dug-out canoe found in the Black Sea and being studied in Bulgaria.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another reason to be a civil rights activist

Under the heading of "Huh, I didn't know that", there is a story on NPR about black Iraqis and the discrimination they face. Be sure to click through and read this and be encouraged to keep working toward human rights for all humans. If you can't spend time volunteering/working for human rights groups, send money to organizations involved in this good work. ACLU. Amnesty International. World Organization for Human Rights. Witness.

South Africa under review

In the 20 November 2008 issue of London Review of Books, R.W.Johnson reviews
Cyril Ramaphosa by Anthony Butler;
After the Party: A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC by Andrew Feinstein;
Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred by Mark Gevisser.
Johnson is an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. His new book, South Africa’s Brave New World, will be published by Penguin in the spring. His knowledge, experience, and insight into South Africa's past and present make the reviews as important as the books themselves.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farming in Sudan

A report on the BBC this morning about land in Sudan that is owned/leased by foreigners, in this case Arabs from the Middle East, raised some interesting issues. In 2004, the UN FAO recommended that global agribusinesses could farm in countries where land was underutilised as a way to feed the hungry in the nations of the businesses....think of this as the farm version of mining or any other resource exploitation/exploration. The foods grown do not remain in the countries where they are grown; workers are not usually from the the "host" country. This is not like coffee or banana plantations. The questions raised include: what are the food benefits to the host country, especially if they already have hunger and employment problems; is this ethical farming; are the farming practices environmentally beneficial to the host nation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shame, Shame on Mugabe

News reports on NPR and BBC today highlight the Shame of Southern Africa: Mugabe's indifference to the pain and suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, his infatuation with power, his ruination of the economy is seen in the hands and faces of the women and children. These photographs are of people finding crumbs of food lying in the dirt, digging undigested corn kernels out of cow dung and washing them before cooking. Has Mugabe no shame, no conscience?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Domestic Violence

The cartoonist Sandra Bell-Lundy has just finished a series on domestic abuse. You can see the whole series by going to this link at the Seattle Times or this link at King Features Syndicate website or at Between Friends Blog. If you know a friend who needs help, please be there for her and look up support services through your local United Way or other social service umbrella organisation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Odds & Ends

Wow , I scooped the NYT on the Obamaland story (see blog entry two days ago)!
Two recent issues of the London Review of Books (LRB) have excellent reads to look forward to devouring. In the 23 October 2008 issue, read David Bromwich's review of The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr. In the same issue, Neal Ascherson reviews Europe between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD1000 by Barry Cunliffe. And Glyn Maxwell's review of Aleksandar Hemon's new book The Lazarus Project sounds fabulous. In the 6 Novemeber 2006 issue, Colin Kidd reviews two volumes of J.G.A Pocock's Barbarism and Religion and his The Discovery of Islands. Winter's reading list has been set! Subscribing to the LRB for $34/year is well worth every penny...give yourself a wonderful gift.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Humans, & Our History, Never Cease To Be Interesting

While in Chicago, I was listening to WBEZ the NPR station and happened upon a program on the Black Jews of Chicago. It was so informative and enlightening and really makes one re-think, or think, about identity issues and the problems various people face in life.

The Seattle P-I today carries a New York Times article, on how the Chinese government has been trying to suppress DNA research into the genetic origins of ancient mummies, over 3500 years old, found in the Tarim Basin. Some of these people have red hair, other European features, and textiles from Eurasia to the west of China! This information is being used by the Uighurs to support their claims of autonomy from China (even though these mummies predate the Uighurs in this area) and undermines the Chinese meta narrative about homogeneity and the preeminent arrival of the Han people.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Here in Chicago, specifically in Hyde Park, there is the sense that everyone feels that they are the best friends of the Obama family. Everyone talks about their family and family concerns, the newspapers and local TV stations refer to him and the family as more than just local folks made good. Everyone knows where he lives, where he gets coffee, etc. This is understandable in a small town (like Crawford, for instance), but this is a city of 4 million people!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Three Things

Octavia Butler, (see photo right). The Obama campaign's use of the internet. NPR's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me". These three topics seem unconnected, but, for those with a futurist or, as Doris Lessing calls it, an outer space fiction bent, there are eerie dots to connect. Butler's Patternist series deals with a world where people are connected telepathically to their leader through a web or net-like (neurological) system. It is a highly sophisticated means of communication and control and future leaders need to be able to take over this web from the current leader. As the Obama campaign, and now, administration assesses the need to keep in touch with their constituents through various social networking media, and as more and more people interact through their headsets and receive information directly from their leader on the internet, there is an uncanny similarity to receiving communication from a leader telepathically. The NPR show comes in to play here because the guest today, Tom Brokaw, had a wonderful and humourous insight into the media during the campaign and added some levity to the dark side of information and communication technology.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When It's Raining In Seattle........

Once you've finished all the books mentioned in the post below while curled up in front of the fireplace, here are some more indoor/in town suggestions. The New York Times reports on the latest Google innovation that's even better than SimCity: Exploring Old Rome Without Air (or Time) Travel. If you've been to Rome or Orange, France, or even Pompeii and tried to imagine what these places actually looked like with the buildings filled in, this is the time-spender for you!

After that, if driving to Walla Walla, McMinville, or Napa is out of the question, check out your local urban winery. In Seattle, these can be found in the SoDo area with the featured winery in NYT being Fall Line Winery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Books to curl up with as the days grow dark earlier

Book prizes have been announced (see lists in the right hand column), holiday reads will be suggested, and gifts purchased. Here is my list of recently reviewed books to add to the stack already awaiting on the living room floor.
*A Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
*My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar
*The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
*Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Connected Stories by Daniyal Mueenuddin
*To Siberia by Per Petterson
*Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave by Leonard Todd
*Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo
*Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
*The Imposter by Damon Galgut
*An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
*The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
*The Wild Places by Robert McFarlane
*Origins by Amin Maalouf

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wine Touring in Walla Walla

The winemakers and their friends, families, and staff really want visitors to enjoy themselves. They are unfailingly enthusiastic and optimistic and love to tell you their stories.This year we visited Beresan, Buty, Cayuse Vineyards, Dunham Cellars, Flying Trout, Forgeron Cellars, Otis Kenyon, Sapolil, Spring Valley Vineyard, and SYZYGY. Beresan, Flying Trout, and Otis Kenyon were new to us. We enjoyed hearing how Ashley Trout makes her Malbecs in Argentina and Walla Walla. Debbie Waliser at Beresan was a delightful hostess and the views of and from the farmhouse were very special. Star winemaker Christophe Baron and manager Trevor Dorland are to be congratulated for making the Cayuse barrel tasting event a not-to-be-missed affair, not least because the wines are fabulous and people watching is a most engaging pastime. Dunham Cellars is located in a hanger out at the airport, yet walking into the building you feel as though you have slipped into a place very far away. Marie-Eve Gilla, the winemaker at Forgeron makes such elegant wines and Dave gave us a great tour of the facilities and furthered our understanding of the wine making process. And the folks who bring you Sapolil are definitely into making the most of life...not only are the wines delicious, but the music nights in the tasting room round out the Walla Walla experience. Winemaker Bill Schwerin had better watch out...daughter Abigail makes a fabulous Patina Syrah! Spring Valley Vineyard also has a great family story steeped in Walla Walla history and tasting their good wines while hearing these stories makes for a pleasant half hour. And last but not least, Zach Brettler at SYZYGY is a pleasure to talk with about wine and his wines are a pleasure to drink.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Walla Walla Weekend

Out in the middle of the semi-desert of Eastern Washington, lies the town of Walla Walla. The desert has been turned into wheat fields, vineyards, a town to service these agrarian activities and with it, an excellent liberal arts college, Whitman College, the great Walla Wall Community College, where future winemakers are trained, and a delightful community of superb restaurants, artists, and musicians.
For more information about the wonderful women winewakers of Walla Walla, see Sunday's Pacific Magazine.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The latest farms......

The word 'farms' used to conjure up images of wheatfields, chickens pecking in the backyard, cows browsing. Then we got tree farms, fish farms (still foodstuff or living things). In recent years, the newest crops are servers and wind farms. The photo on the right is a wind farm near Walla Walla....from a distance they look like the hills have buzz cuts!

The Long Sweep of History

The op-ed piece in the New York Times on Friday, 7 October by Orlando Patterson was moving, both emotionally and intellectually. It places the importance of Obama's win beyond the short-term thrill of the moment,and looks for its origin in the depth of thought and philosophy of the Founding Fathers. If this becomes accepted wisdom, it will further advance the foresight and brilliance of America's first revolutionaries and as importantly, work on the psyche of even the most recalcitrant racists.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Along the Columbia Gorge; finding a surprise in Walla Walla

Driving along the Columbia River on an autumn day is something else! The colours were magnificent; a few wisps of fog at first; the transition from lush conifers and deciduous trees to semi arid desert is startling and wondrous. The Multnomah Falls were flowing with rushed abandon. Closer to Walla Walla, the fog began to close in and provided a powerful feeling of unobtrusive protection.

Much like the Pigs on Parade in Seattle or Cows in Chicago, there are Walla Walla Sweets on parade in Walla Walla (see two of them above)....they are elegant and beautiful.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Big Story

The big story is not "just" that Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States of America. The bigger story is that the American People stepped up to the world's needs, the world's desire, America's survival. We, the People, booted out the worst administration in our history. We finally couldn't take it any more. Why it took the collective conscience so long, is beyond comprehension. The fact that we had such an incredible candidate is a bonus beyond belief.
Views from around the media: Nelson Mandela. Financial Times of London. From 'To The Point'...France, England, Pakistan, Israel.
From Salon: The new era of Obama Sherman Alexie, Joan Blades, Robert Dallek, Greil Marcus, Dan Savage and others weigh in on Obama's historic presidential win.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine proposal

If you have any interest in saving salmon runs and protecting a beautiful, fragile ecosystem (see the photograph), please check out this website and voice your concerns.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Horrors of Sex Trafficking

Maiti Nepal is two women rescuing girls from age 8 on up from brothels and sex trafficking in Nepal. The rescued girls make beaded bracelets to support themselves. Crooked Trails of Seattle held a fundraiser at the Eileen Fisher downtown Seattle store last week where the bracelets were sold. Follow these links and support the work these incredible women are doing to rescue girls from a terrible present to give them a future. Please do something.

The Importance of Voting

From today's Weekend America by Julia Alvarez:
"Every Election Day when I get to vote, I cry. I do. I see people I know and people I don't know, old people, young people, parking their cars to claim their one vote, people who disagree with me and people who agree with me. But mostly I see ghosts. People who made this happen for me.

You see, I'm remembering. I'm remembering people from the Dominican Republic, the country we fled in 1960. I am remembering those who could not leave the dictatorship, the tios and tias, uncles and aunts, who wanted me to have this day. Some were freedom fighters, who died trying to win this right for me. Some were just scared, everyday people who lived without ever having had this day for themselves. I owe them my thanks, and I thank them by voting. On this day I get to say what kind of a world I want! I know the price tag of being able to have this right.

When I hear people say they're not going to vote, that it won't make a difference, I think, give it to me! I'll recycle it! I know a bunch of people who can use it. I'll send it to Piti, a Haitian worker in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, who dreams of some day studying in this country; or to Mari, who takes care of my mami and papi back in their homeland and asks me to bring her to the United States every time I visit. Or I'll send it just down the road right here in Vermont to Felipe or Telma or Roberto, Mexican migrant workers who are helping our local Vermont farmers stay on their farms, workers whose own children were born here, children who will one day be able to say what kind of a world they want because their parents thought of them.

I want everyone who can vote to vote. And as they do, I want them to remember that someone back then thought of us. I want us to vote not just for ourselves but for the children of the future, American or not.

The first settlers of this continent believed: "The earth is not given to us by our parents; it is loaned to us by our children." I want us to think about that debt and vote for the candidate who best remembers that promise and that promissory note - what we owe the children of the future: a green, viable, livable earth; a human family at peace, solving our problems together.

Relatives and friends in the Dominican Republic died so I could have this day. Forty-eight years later, in Weybridge, Vermont, a citizen of a whole other country, I get to vote because they thought of me. Now it's my turn. I'll vote thinking of children whose names I don't know and whose nationalities don't matter, but who deserve a future we have to start paying back to them. Someday it will make a difference that we thought of them today."

Copyright 2008 Julia Alvarez.

Doing Something

Here is what a small group of dedicated people in Seattle with a good leader (Gail Savina), good ideas, & organization can do: "seventy 'official' volunteers from seven neighborhoods harvested fruit, & many brought relatives & friends to help. Another 80 people helped via one-time work parties. There were more than 160 different harvest 'events': volunteers went out to pick fruit more than 160 times--at private homes, public parks, schools and commercial properties. The final total is 14,000+ pounds (& still counting!) in seven neighborhoods plus another 4,000 lbs in West Seattle. Out of the 14,000 lbs, there was more than 8,000 lbs of apples and 3,000 lbs of plums.
The fruit was brought to more than 63 different places-- yes, 63! -- including food banks, meals programs, shelters, residential facilities, programs for children and youth, and senior programs. The recipient organizations were based in neighborhoods, not downtown." This is urban farming in action, meeting the needs of hungry families, helpful citizens, and caring neighbours. This can be replicated anywhere. To get more information, email this blog and your queries will be passed on.

Chroniclers of History

Another lion has departed. Es'kia Mphahlele died at the age of 88. A traveler on the long road with Nelson Mandela, he was the literary voice of the ANC. Read Down Second Avenue.

On the topic of good reads: Ferdnand Braudel's Structures of Everyday Life and The Wheels of Commerce are excellent historical overviews of the underpinnings of our economic, political, and public social lives today.

On the Importance of Speaking Out & Speaking Up

Irshad Manji. Bernard-Henri Lévy (see also previous posts). Studs Terkel. Studs Terkel died 0n 31 October 2008. He never stopped listening and talking and celebrating those who worked and those who spoke out against injustice, unfairness, and idiocy. Bernard-Henri Lévy reminds us to think secular inorder to protect our freedom: the dangers of co-mingling religion and politics result in fanaticism, fundamentalism, fascism, and totalitarianism. Tolerance is not a virtue......when we are tolerant we allow fanatics to practice their hatreds. Irshad Manji's op-ed piece in the NYT reminds us not only that small acts of kindness live long in the universe, but also that individuals who commit acts of atrocities (Idi Amin in this case) cast long shadows and must never be forgotten. All three of these people ask each of us to take a stand, large or small, against bigotry, hatred of the "other", and exceptionalism. Universalism is the only answer to the rise in jingoism and nationalism.