Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Meaning of "Musable"

For more than 15 years I've been reviewing books each week for the Chico (California) Enterprise-Record. The Biblio File column, currently appearing each Thursday in the newspaper's Buzz tabloid insert, is one of the few places local authors can find some measure of recognition for their work.

This blog celebrates the authorial Muse and, in time, I hope it can be a gathering place where I can post previously published columns, add reviews published by others, and encourage authors, publishers, bookstore managers, and readers to come together in conversation.

Think of each posting as a "muse-able" — something the Muse is able to use to enrich (or antagonize) thoughtful readers.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy fulltime at Butte College, Oroville, CA and writes the weekly "Biblio File" book review column for the Chico Enterprise-Record Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Former Chicoan inspires U2's "Miss Sarajevo"


The irony of a beauty pageant in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s was not lost on Bono, whose guiding spirit plays a major role in the second part of Bill Carter's memoir, "Fools Rush In: A True Story of Love, War, and Redemption" ($14.95 in paperback from Wenner Books).

The U2 leader shepherded Carter's award-winning documentary "Miss Sarajevo" and contributed its theme song, where there's a reference to the winner "surreal in her crown." Luciano Pavarotti adds that though love is supposed to come to the "thirsty lands," "I cannot wait for love anymore."

Carter found himself part of The Serious Road Trip -- an oddball collection of Aussies and Brits and Irish and Americans driving trucks painted with cartoon characters, dedicated to delivering tons of food and other essentials to Sarajevo in the midst of war. In the first part of the book the reader is confronted with war in all its insanity, lots of alcohol, sex and drugs, the corrupt stupidity of Big Organizations (especially the United Nations) and sadness that approaches poetry.

A quarter million were killed in all of Bosnia; 1,600 children were killed in Sarajevo -- that city where Coats and Serbs and Muslims had lived peacefully side by side -- by artillery or snipers.

Yet "Fools Rush In" is not really about the ins and outs of the Bosnian War. Instead, it's a story of personal grief as it is mirrored, and transformed, by the surreal conditions in Sarajevo.

Years earlier Carter escaped an abusive father and traveled the world -- until he got a job in Alaska. "It was in Naknak that I fell in love with Corrina, a 19-year-old college student who sat in the back of the lunchroom eating green apples and reading."

Eventually they hook up, soulmates and move to Chico. Corrina is pregnant and Carter is away polishing cars for a commercial when she is involved in a traffic accident. She was never to leave the hospital.

"I walked a few miles until I reached the banks of the Big Chico Creek. It was dawn when I put my feet in the cold water and watched the sun rise. How did the sun possibly find the strength to rise that day, of all days? ... It wasn't until weeks later ... that I realized she had died on 19 June, exactly one year to the day from when we first met."

The pain is searing and he cannot seem to escape. "God. This is Bill here. So, now what? You give us life so we can love, then lose it and live with the pain? That's it?"

And yet he begins to realize something: "Grief produces an abundant energy that must find a way to burn itself up. ... The truth, which is rarely admitted in Western cultures, is that grief has a way of making you feel more alive." He is impelled to deliver humanitarian aid in Bosnia. "What is it about love, or the grief of losing love, that makes a person want to swallow the wide world whole?" He learns he must "build a new chamber inside my old self. One that doesn't replace the old love, but allows room for a new one." And the spirit of Corrina is finally at rest.

In the book's second part Carter explains his crazy notion of bringing the plight of Sarajevo live by satellite during U2's Zooropa concert tour and how Bono befriended him. A third, shorter part brings the war to an end and an epilogue notes that on "23 September 1997, nearly two years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement marking the end of the war in Bosnia, ... U2 finally played a concert in Sarajevo."

For all Carter's media attention (he's working on a screenplay of the book for a new Hollywood studio) "Fools Rush In" is about a love made expansive by grief, a profane chronicle tempered by the divine.

"And the dead? Don't worry about them, they are never far. They're always around to remind us of our ultimate fate. The trick, I had learned, was not holding on so tight to life that you became too scared to live. That was the same as living to die. No. The thing was to live like you had already died."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books (no manuscripts please), or to make comments, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Town buried under Shasta Lake remembered


"Shasta Lake," writes Chico resident Jane B. Schuldberg, "is made up of the flooded river valleys of three major Northern California rivers and their tributaries: the Pit, the McCloud, and the Sacramento. ... The flooding was caused ... by the building of the Shasta Dam. Hundreds of feet below the surface of the lake is a graveyard of ghost towns. There lie the remains of the old mining towns of Ydalpom (Copper City), Delamar, Winthrop ... and largest of all, Kennett."

When Schuldberg visited Shasta Dam's visitor center in 1989 she saw pictures of old Kennett. "Shocked by this brief look, memories came rushing back to me of tales my mother told when I was a child. My mother, Rubie (Radzinski) Blumenthal, had spent her teenage years in Kennett living with her great aunt and uncle, Rosa and Bernhard Golinsky, after her parents died." Schuldberg realized that the "Wild West" stories she heard growing up were from a real place, submerged under some 400 feet of water in 1944 with the completion of the dam. She set out to recover what she could of that past, combing through old newspapers, squinting at microfilm, interviewing family members.

The result is "Kennett: The Short, Colorful Life of a California Copper Town and Its Founding Family" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing out of Chico). The author will sign copies of her book Saturday at 3 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Chico. The public is invited.

The book includes more than 50 maps and black and white photographs, a reference list and an extensive index. The author's research sits lightly on the page; Schuldberg carefully sets the historical scene and then uses family stories and newspaper accounts to carry the narrative along. She does not gloss over what the "Euro American settlers" meant to the native Wintu. "In 1851," she writes, "a group of miners burned down a Wintu council meeting house and massacred about 300 people in the town of Old Shasta." By 1880 most of the Wintu were gone.

First called Backbone, named for the nearby creek, Kennett began to prosper in the late 19th century with the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad and the development of the town of Redding.

Charley Golinsky came to Kennett in 1884. He was "24 years old, good looking, short and wiry, and energetic." Convincing his Georgia family to follow him, Golinsky set up a general store and became the town's first postmaster. At about the same time a man named Charles Butters settled in Kennett with his wife and proceeded to buy up land. He was a mining engineer who wanted to build a utopia. What he did build was an ore processing plant. "This," says Schuldberg, "was the beginning of a rivalry with the Golinskys that lasted as long as the life of Kennett." In 1905, for example, townsfolk got into a heated debate over what to call the band -- Golinsky or Butters. Eventually it was called the Kennett Brass Band.

The author's mother arrived in 1899. Though she was romanced by a man named Royal N. Riblet, by 1905 he had left town and Rubie had left for Chicago (where she married the author's father in 1909). Just what happened in Kennett is still a mystery.

What was not a mystery was the importance of copper. The so-called "Copper Belt" around Kennett produced ores with 7 percent copper (compared with 1 percent of present-day ores). The Golinsky mine and the Mammoth Smelter helped make the area one of largest copper producers in the world. But the smelters took their toll, poisoning the air and worse. "Many men were maimed, burned or killed working in the open molten liquid vats, or near belts and cables. Men died from heat prostration."

There was a copper boom in World War I but then came the Depression. Kennett lost population, disincorporated in 1933, and by 1935 the first money was being appropriated for the construction of what was at first called Kennett Dam. Three years later "the U.S. government ordered the removal or destruction of all buildings left in Kennett." The town had faced numerous fires during its life but in the end it was buried by water. Gone are the tall stacks. All that remains of Kennett above the water line is Slaughter Island.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books (no manuscripts please), or to make comments, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Chico State marketing professor encourages customized Web sites for the global economy


Let's say your company has expanded beyond U.S. borders and now has locations around the world. Let's say the company has invested hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of dollars in setting up a Web site designed to attract customers. The home page is designed around the green in the firm's logo and looks pretty attractive with its angular design and pictures of men and women together enjoying the company's products. Your company has a winning Web site, right?

Well, probably not. Take color, for instance. For some in Malaysia green symbolizes "the jungle with its dangers and diseases." The company is a hit in Egypt, where green symbolizes fertility, but a flop in France, where it symbolizes criminality. There are lots of other problems, too, all detailed in a fascinating new book, "The Culturally Customized Web Site: Customizing Web Sites for the Global Marketplace" ($29.95 in paper from Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann). Co-authors Nitish Singh (Associate Professor of Marketing at Chico State University) and Arun Pereira (Associate Professor of Marketing, St. Louis University in Missouri) have also developed a Web site of their own: www.theculturallycustomizedwebsite.

Both Singh and Pereira have contributed extensively to academic and marketing journals, but their book is far from arcane; it's suitable not only as a classroom text and a guide for those managing commercial Web site development, but for the general reader as well. The authors present controversial claims with generosity and tact, and their survey of research in the field and the findings of their own original research with consumers, from Italy, India, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, all lend credence to their thesis.

Simply put, the authors believe that Web sites that are adapted to the particular perceptions, symbols and behavioral expectations of individual countries will be more successful in getting their message out or selling their wares than sites not so adapted.

Isn't this just obvious? Not really. Some companies maintain that the globalization of commerce leads to more and more cultural commonality; but Singh and Pereira point out that, on the contrary, "Web sites that are customized to specific countries enjoy strong advantages compared with those that are not." The trouble is that in 2004, when the book was written, the authors could find no Web sites that met their criteria of cultural customization. Coming closest are the "localized" and "highly localized" sites. For example, "provides country-specific Web pages along with translation into the relevant language"; goes beyond that with country-specific sites that include not just translations but careful attention to a country's "time, date, zip code, number formats" and the like.

At the other end of the spectrum, some companies, such as, examined in 2004, "offers one, standardized Web site in English for all of its customers" even though the company operates in more than 100 countries.

But with that approach cultural insensitivities can abound. The original Apple Macintosh "trash can" icon was confusing to those in England "because it was a cylindrical bin, shaped exactly like mail boxes in Britain." The swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol of good luck and well-being that is common in India. But outside of India it refers to genocidal Nazism. A one site fits all approach just won't work.

Or try this: "A group of senior citizens from the U.S. and India were asked to visualize the following statement: A lady dressed in white, in a place of worship.' A majority of the Americans visualized a bride at an altar. A majority of the Indians visualized a widow in prayer. In most Western countries, brides dress in white; in India and many parts of Asia, brides traditionally do not wear white, but widows do."

The authors admit that such cultural differences are being modified in the new economy, but they claim that countries still exhibit identifiable (though not stereotypical) differences in a complex mix of five cultural values: individualism/collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity/femininity and high/low context.

For example, "if high uncertainty avoidance value is combined with individualism (as in the case of Germany), it is reflected in a communication style that is structured, explicit and straightforward (low context), whereas if high uncertainty avoidance is combined with collectivism (as in Japan), it is reflected in a communication style that is rooted in tradition and relies on implicit rules and codes (high context)."

Web designers need to know this. And maybe so do we.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books (no manuscripts please), or to make comments, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Chico's DNA: A "Messiah" who wants to get into your genes


October 21, 2007. Chico's own DNA is running for president. As the Messiah. Sometime between now and then he will publish the best-selling "Messiah's Journal," establish with a ragtag group of ne'er-do-wells and the lovely 26-year-old Jessica, his girlfriend, and will set out to challenge "the entire process of religion and politics."

"I ran for Mayor four times in Chico, CA, and lost four times," he writes in "Memoirs of the Messiah: A 98% True Story" ($20 in paper from Lyon Books in Chico, Paradise Lost Specialty DVD Store and Duffy's Tavern). "This was before Messiah's Journal' came out and I wasn't talking publicly about being the Messiah. And while I was a four-time loser, I didn't fare so badly in the polls. In the last election I was only 2,000 votes shy of winning.

"I never spent a lot of money on campaigning. In that last election, for example, the winner spent $45,000 and I spent less than $200. Instead of throwing cash around, I organized outrageous publicity stunts. Once, I told the press naked people were going to storm a rally called Nudists for Nader I was coordinating. The story ran for three days." It's an easy jump for the local media monger to go national. DNA gives us a Messiah full of malarkey and self-doubt.

The character DNA in the story bears some considerable resemblance to the Chico man with the same name who performs portions of the book at various venues. Structured as a loose diary of the years 2007 and 2008, each chapter or "revelation" contains a mixture of Jack Kerouac wackiness, Russian-Jewish angst, juvenile humor, conspiracy theories, Oroville-bashing, Jesus-talk, cartoons by Matt Loomis, lots of references to sex, beer and Chico, and a generous piling-on of standard-issue expletives. This is high-octane borsht-belt shtick. Think Nathan Lane on acid.

The author DNA is intrigued by DNA (both the character and the genetic stuff). The Messiah's slogan is: "Most Messiahs want to get into your pockets. DNA is already in your genes." Toward the end of the chronicle, the Messiah turns thoughtful. "I've read editorials that analyze my personality, and the accepted' media spin is that DNA is a rebel. It is true that I don't like to be told what to do. I also dislike being put in situations where I feel comfortable. I attribute my perceived ornery spirit more to social anxiety than any deep-seated move to rebel. A the same time, who am I kidding? I love usurping power and messing with people's minds. At least I think I do."

Through a series of unfortunate circumstances ("The Government" is more insidious than even the Messiah thought), DNA finds himself on the lam in 2008. In the final chapter he grows even more thoughtful. No, he isn't Jesus, the Messiah keeps explaining. You don't have to be Jesus to be the Messiah. There's a different strand of DNA at work in the world. "By the time I was 30," DNA writes, "I had lost all my grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, my parents and my brother. And I don't mean I lost them,' lost, like, at the mall. I mean dead. I've thought that I have some sort of Messiah complex that is born out of the shock of so much loss in my life. ... And perhaps it's part of my delusion, but I know that the losses were God's way of tempering my soul."

So where's Jesus? "Here's what I've come up with. Just as the Christians adopted Judaism by reinterpreting the Old Testament to show it prophesized the coming of Jesus (much like Beatles fans look at the back of Abbey Road to prove that Paul is dead), I have adopted the New Testament to show how it prophesized DNA's coming. ... The standard twist on the subject, no pun intended, is that God made everything. So, therefore, God made DNA. DNA is the basic building block of all life, and contains the blueprint of all things from a cold sore to Demi Moore. God must be one amazing architect."

Earlier, Letterman had interviewed the Messiah. "In real life ... you know the difference, right, between your book and real life?'

"I answer honestly, Gets harder and harder every day."'


"Commercial break."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books (no manuscripts please), or to make comments, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.