Sunday, November 19, 2017

"California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865

"Incomplete accounts," writes historian and retired Political Science professor Michele Shover,  "are a common problem in local history. For example, Butte County's violent clashes between settlers and Indians were treated as random 'one-off' events--intermittent atrocities sprinkled among accounts of Victorian-era 'happy talk.'" John Bidwell himself "suggested the effects of such events were peripheral distractions, not core experiences."

Over the last two decades Shover has worked with original sources in an attempt to tell a more nuanced story, analyzing "underlying causes, political issues, conflicts of interest, cultural assumptions. …" The result is a magisterial work of scholarship that is also immensely readable. "California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865" ($24.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) challenges assumptions and develops new historical understanding.

Meticulously detailed, with fifty pages of endnotes, the book's dozen chapters provide a riveting picture of the competing interests swirling around the community Bidwell founded. As Shover notes, "Politics was personal in nineteenth-century Chico, influencing social life and where residents spent their money." There are contemporary resonances everywhere.

Shover disputes what she calls Theodora Kroeber's "misanalysis of Maidu culture" and historical "distortions" all of which have implications for Kroeber's "Ishi In Two Worlds."

Shover also concludes that the Mountain Maidu raided the Mechoopdas working on Bidwell's ranch in the mid-1850s because they likely considered this "collusion."

Shover's research shows that many more Indians than the standard account of 32 died as they were resettled to Round Valley in 1863. "Primary documents disclose that close to 200 … died on the climb up the Coastal range mountain to the reservation." The record, she says, was "manipulated to shield the Army from its failure to deliver the Indians."

For the first time, Shover explains that these Indian deaths were not caused by the Army, but by "the most mortally dangerous type of malaria" that infected the group "while camped near Big Chico Creek in the summer of 1863."

The story Shover tells is one of violence since there were "no effective institutions in place that protected … against abuses." Her study, giving all sides their due, breaks new ground. It is indispensable.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck"

Retired teacher Cynthia Hutchinson lives with her husband in Bieber, about fifty-five miles north-northwest of Susanville. She has begun writing a series of children's books, filled with colorful sketches, aimed at the younger set.

The first is "Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck" ($16 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). The sixteen-page tale is followed by fourteen questions about events in the story ("What was the first thing he tried to do that the ladybug suggested?"; "What did Shane hope to try someday?").

It all begins "with this little shamrock named Shane who only had three leaves. And he thought to bring luck to anybody that he must be a four leaf clover. He decided to set out on a journey to see if anybody could help him find luck."

The plants and animals in the forest try to help, and near as they can figure Shane had to become more like them in order to find luck. That ladybug? Well, she said, "You don't need four leaves to bring luck to anyone. You just need to be able to fly like me to have luck. Why don't you climb up on that tree branch and try to fly?"

That doesn't quite work, and Shane hits the ground, only to hear laughter from a nearby rose bush. The rose advises Shane he doesn't have to fly to be lucky; he just has to look beautiful. But decorating himself with fallen rose petals doesn't make much difference. He's still Shane, the three-leaved shamrock, only now covered with rose petals.

A butterfly explains that Shane can grow another leaf if we wraps himself up in a leaf cocoon, but that doesn't work, and a daisy has him stand near her by a stream in a windstorm.

Nothing changes until he meets his four-leaf-clover friend Sissy, and though Shane doesn't grow another leaf he gains something more valuable: an understanding that even a four-leaf-clover can't actually bring luck to anyone. Instead, he learns, what counts is standing by one's friends, especially when they are in need.

As luck would have it, the next story may give Shane that opportunity.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon"

Paradise resident Maurice "Big Mo" Huffman is known in the music scene for his melding of blues, Southern rock and funk with his award-winning Big Mo And The Full Moon Band ( After he and his wife Robin moved to California in 1989 he began telling their son Miles a bedtime story featuring a ten-year-old orphan named Jake Foster and a talking mouse named Milton.

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon" ($11.95 in paperback from Page Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is the first in a planned series featuring the intrepid adventurers.

Jake's parents had drowned in a Caribbean storm. His only relative, aunt Hilde, died when he was five, and Jake wound up in a Colorado orphanage.

He "was a tough boy and knew that this was what life had dealt him, but even the toughest boy can face moments that are too hard and where he needs somebody. Jake was alone though, left with his dream of being high up in a hot-air balloon."

Word comes of a nearby hot-air balloon race, and Jake desperately wants to go, but an older bully and his minion at the orphanage get Jake into trouble. He's forced to make the biggest decision of his young life, disobeying those in charge and sneaking off to the races and right into the area where the balloons are set to lift off.

You just know something will happen and, sure enough, Jake finds himself aloft in one of the balloons where he meets Milton the talking mouse, a resident of the balloon basket. It's Milton's job to keep Jake safe, and, it turns out, that's a tall order.

Along the way, sailing over the world, the balloon is shot down by a group of very odd and friendly people on a floating mountain whose job it is to shoot holes in Swiss cheese but who aren't very accurate. Their balloon eventually repaired, Jake and Milton travel to the Caribbean, rescue a girl named Lilly, search for her scientist parents, and fight off a some bad guys.

The action-packed story ends with a few threads hanging, a big yellow bird, and a hint of the adventures to come.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Origin: A Novel"

According to the Bidwell Mansion Association's website, "In 1841 at the age of 22, John Bidwell became one of the first pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada to California." Bidwell knew the range because in 1776, the Franciscan missionary Pedro Font named it on a map. Font was born in Spain which has its own Sierra Nevada.

That is where "the former spiritual leader of the Palmarian Catholic Church" lives, according to El País. This "dubious offshoot" of the Roman Catholic Church venerates Francisco Franco and considers Adolph Hitler something of a saint. Wouldn't it be only natural for this ultra-conservative group to try to stop any science that questions faith?

My lame attempt at creepy connections is overshadowed by the master connectionist, Dan Brown. In "Origin" ($29.95 in hardcover from Doubleday; also for Amazon Kindle), Brown notes that all the facts are real. (After the depiction of the Palmarian Church, one of the characters says "you could look it up.") Finding stuff hidden in plain sight is a hallmark of Brown's work.

The thriller once again stars symbologist Robert Langdon and takes place mostly in Barcelona. I chose to listen to the seven-hour audio abridgement narrated by Paul Michael (who also reads the full novel, over eighteen hours' worth), a man of many voices.

Langdon is in Spain attending a mysterious presentation by the atheist billionaire and futurist Edmond Kirsch, his former student, at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Kirsch believes his work in computer modeling and Artificial Intelligence has finally answered the two most important questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going?

Before the big reveal Kirsch is assassinated by a Palmarian, and Langdon and the beautiful museum director, Ambra Vidal, fiancé of the soon-to-be King of Spain, flee for their lives. The entire book is a setup for the eventual revelation of Kirsch's recorded message, and the question is whether what he says puts a scientific arrow through the heart of religion. Spoiler alert: It doesn't; in fact, it's something like a TED Talk, though philosophically incoherent (as Brown seems to realize).

In the end, an interesting casing but not much meat. As for scariness, it's a hollow weenie.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"The Wealth Of A Nation"

Who is Nathan Englander?

He's an attorney in the California city of Bakerton three quarters of a century in our future. He "was a first rate Rush running guard at UCLA," referring to a game that replaced football, basketball, and most other sports, which required genetic advantages in the players.

Ordinary folks, though, with appropriate golf-like handicaps, could play the highly regulated Rush. As Nathan tells Emerson McKernan, Bakerton's acting Art Museum Director, "the game, like those that it replaced, is a thinly veiled substitute for the battlefield, and the more physical the game, the more obvious it is. That is what fans pay to see."

Chico writer T.B. O'Neill ( creates a chilling dystopian society uncomfortably similar to our own world in "The Wealth Of A Nation" ($15.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

Rush events are provided by the state for the entertainment of the Citizens, who not only don't work but are forbidden to work. The Workers (and the smaller group called Entrepreneurs) "produce what the nation needs." To keep Workers going, the state pushes the addictive drug Reassert ("the dopamine and serotonin inducer that keeps you level and ready for the day" as the ad says).

As Nathan was taught, "it had taken five generations … to build the wealth of the nation to such abundance, such surplus, that only a minority of the brightest and most capable were asked to work and care for the others. And as a result, there was no more incessant, unrelenting, demeaning competition that kept everyone striving for unaccomplished prosperity."

Nathan's "mother and father were Workers, but his grandparents Citizens." To protect each group from the other, Bakerton sports a giant Wall separating Workers from Citizens. Englander finds himself defending Ari Howard, a Citizen who "defaces" the Wall with his extraordinary graffiti art (his talent is vouched for by Emerson, herself a work of art, who becomes Nathan's love interest).

But there are violent economic and political forces that cannot abide the status quo, and not for noble reasons. The complex and immersive thriller showcases O'Neill's world-building talents and provides an unsettling answer to the question: "What is freedom worth?"

Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Mindful Vegan"

The heart of the book is as its subtitle indicates: "A 30-Day Plan For Finding Health, Balance, Peace, And Happiness." This is very different, Muelrath writes, than serial dieting. "Micromanaging and analyzing every bite and obsessing over body weight and size mask underlying stress, anxiety, and not-good-enough syndrome."

Those who endeavor to practice vegan living face their own ingrained habits (such as compulsive snacking) as well as pressures from family and the wider culture. These stressors often provoke unhealthy defensive reactions. Enter mindfulness, which "gets to the roots of your challenges around food--whether it's refurbishing old habits, employing self-regulation of emotions, or becoming more at ease and grounded in vegan living."

The key is that mindfulness "expands that moment between stimulus and reactivity. You gain new access to the choice of where to place your attention, rather than having your attention taken hostage by reactive thoughts and emotions. Once you open the door to the possibilities of choice, you can more freely choose your responses."

Muelrath notes that mindfulness (with roots in Vipassana or Insight Meditation) is non-sectarian. In the 30-day plan she introduces the awareness techniques gently (a one-minute meditation on the first day, two minutes on the second, and so on, with free audio versions on the book's website). The author also provides a dozen recipes (including "Berry Good Ice Cream") and additional resources.

Once a practice of meditation is established, Muelrath brings in the vegan perspective (emphasizing personal health and environmental care) and, in honest yet encouraging discussions, takes up "wandering minds," "moods and foods," "cravings," "addictions," and more.

With these new practices, one just might forget, as Muelrath did, about that chocolate stash in the cupboard. That, she says, is real freedom.

Lani Muelrath is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, November 3 on (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

"London Spirits: Short Stories"

Rob Burton, Professor of English at Chico State University, was born near London and grew up in England. In his latest book he revisits familiar haunts by means of unconventional narrators, women and men from the afterlife who played a part in London's history.

"London Spirits: Short Stories" ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is a series of fourteen enchanting tales (grouped into "Now," "Then," and "Now And Then") wherein sung and unsung voices are heard again.

In "Die Into Life," there is Fran in the present day who receives a call asking her to meet an old friend from her wild University of London days. "She put the phone down and looked around the kitchen at the symbols of a twenty-year marriage: pots hanging obediently on their hooks, cheery family snapshots on the refrigerator door, …." If she goes, will she return?

Yet even in the "now" there are words from the past that strike Fran deeply, and Burton's craft suggests that rather than history being a settled affair, it still has the power to surprise us, like art. "That's how art happens sometimes," a burping man named Puggy tells Mark in "The Knowledge. "You don't intend it to be a certain way but it assumes its own identity and takes its own course. It's quite magical, eh?"

In "The Purest Ecstasy," Virginia Woolf recalls "the daily practice of writing. Mysterious voices, bidden and unbidden, called to me." Sherlock Holmes solves "The Curious Case of Miss Irene Adler," and plumbers Phillip Clark and Tom Crapper, flushed with success, explain the "Westminster shudder" of the seventeenth-century.

The Celtic warrior-queen Boadicea speaks in the final story which gives its name to the book. She led a revolt against the Roman invaders in AD 60 or so for love of Londinium, and now her spirit says: "O fog-shrouded city, drizzle-dazzled town, metropolis of mud and thick materialism, what can I, your guiding spirit, say that has not already been said about these two thousand years of history? … What is the shape of your historical narrative?"

The funny-piercing answer throws a little shade on those who would forget what came before.