Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Book in Common" author to visit Chico State


Mark Salzman, author of "Lying Awake," one of my favorite recent novels, will speak at Laxson Auditorium on the Chico State University campus at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, will center around his work of non-fiction titled "True Notebooks" ($24 in hardcover from Knopf), selected as this year's "Book in Common" at the university.

A free ticket is required for admission and can be picked up at the University Box Office, located on the corner of Second and Normal streets.

According to a news release, "The Book in Common at Chico State is the book required to have been read by all entering freshman students. ... The common freshman reading is designed to engage each student in considering and thinking about cultural diversity, immigration, (and) social service institutions."

Salzman began teaching a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall in East Los Angeles after visiting a similar class there in the summer of 1997. At the time, Salzman writes, he was stuck in his writing of "Lying Awake." He wanted to include a juvenile delinquent in the story and hadn't a clue how to do it.

So a friend of his, Duane Noriyuki, a Los Angeles Times writer, invited Salzman to sit in on his course at Central, "in a unit reserved for HROs, or high-risk offenders -- they were, as one law enforcement official put it, 'the cream of the crud.' Most of the HROs at Central were charged with murder, rape or armed robbery, and were declared unfit to be tried as juveniles, meaning that their cases had been shifted to adult court. No Youth Author-ity camps or guaranteed release at age 25 for members of this group; if convicted, they received adult-length sentences and went straight to prison."

Salzman was reluctant to visit but then he met Sister Janet Harris. The nun "was nearly 70 years old but looked two or three decades younger. ... Sister Janet explained that she'd been Catholic chaplain at the hall for years, but the increasingly punitive trend in the juvenile justice system made her feel that ministry was not enough"; she helped form the new "Inside Out Writers" program which, said Sister Janet, gives "these young people a chance to express themselves, and feel that someone is listening."

Soon Salzman has started his own writing class in the K/L Wing. Meeting twice a week for an hour, at first the group is small: Kevin, Patrick, Jimmy and Francisco. Salzman would quietly suggest topics and the group would write for half an hour and then read their essays aloud. One student asks Salzman whether cuss words were OK in class; indeed they were, and "True Notebooks" pulls no punches in reconstructing the conversations in the class and presenting the students' actual writing. Over the months more boys arrived. Some left for prison, never to be seen again.

"My students were violent criminals," Salzman writes, "but I no longer thought of them as bad people. In fact, I felt almost no curiosity at all about what they had done to get arrested; all I cared about was what they wrote and what happened during our meetings. Was that healthy? Was it fair?" Much later he writes that "my primary goal with the boys at K/L had never been to save them or improve them or even to get them to take responsibility for their crimes. I was there because they responded to encouragement and they wrote honestly; surely that sort of interaction between teacher and student has value, even if it does not lead to success beyond the classroom."

The student writing is heartbreaking.

Verbally inarticulate, Dale wrote: "Deep down inside, this angry person awakens. Another day facing perpetual incarceration behind no mercy walls, as we are inmates."

Duc wrote: "Because of my friends, my parents are suffering. Because of my friends, I joined a gang. Because of my friends, I shot someone. Because of my friends, I was sentenced to 20 years. ... I write this poem to apologize to my parents. I write this poem to apologize to the victim. I write this poem to criticize my friends. I write this poem to ask for fairness." It was titled, "This is My Life."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Noted scholar of emotions to visit Chico State


Martha Nussbaum begins with her mother's death in 1992.

In Ireland to deliver a series of lectures on emotions, Nussbaum learned a routine operation her mother had undergone had had life-threatening complications. "This news," she writes in "Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions" ($27.99 in paper from Cambridge University Press), "felt like a nail suddenly driven into my stomach."

A transatlantic flight took her to Philadelphia, where hospital staff told her she had arrived 20 minutes too late. "In the weeks that followed," she says, "I had periods of agonized weeping; whole days of crushing fatigue; nightmares in which I felt altogether unprotected and alone. ... I felt, again, anger -- at the doctors for letting a routine operation lead to catastrophe, although I had no reason to suspect malpractice; at people who phoned on business as if everything were normal, even though I knew they had no way of knowing otherwise. ... Above all, I felt anger at myself for not being with her on account of my busy career. ..."

Is the intense emotion of grief merely something that comes over us, like a storm surge, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, only to diminish with the passing of time as the emotional waters drain from us? Or can emotions be in some sense "reasonable," are they in fact in some way connected with our very reasoning process itself?

Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, will discuss the nature of emotions, and specifically political emotions, in a free public lecture at Chico State University tonight at 7:30 at Ayers 106. The presentation, sponsored by the university's School of the Arts, is one in a series of lectures by distinguished presidential scholars. Nussbaum will speak on "Radical Evil in the Lockean State: The Neglect of Political Emotions" which will address, according to a news release, "possible solutions to the problem of intolerance, religious or otherwise, in democratic liberal societies."

Nussbaum will also appear at 9 p.m. Saturday in PAC 134 on campus, to give the keynote address for the Society for Women in Philosophy conference.

Nussbaum is the author of a dozen substantial books including "Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law" and "The Fragility of Goodness." When Simon Blackburn reviewed the book in The New Republic, he said Nussbaum "is among America's most prolific and prominent public intellectuals. ... She has worked extensively on education, on development in the Third World, on law, on homosexuality, and above all on the injustices of gender ... she is a dedicated opponent of all that is glitzy and trashy in modern culture."

Emotions are, says Nussbaum, distinct from appetites like hunger or thirst and from feelings of being down or being irritated, which she calls "objectless moods." Emotions, by contrast, do have objects -- her grief was about her mother, her anger about the doctors. But more than just "about" -- emotions express the way we see things and even involve beliefs about those objects, beliefs that characterize their objects with some kind of value or significance.

Nussbaum has taken lessons on emotions from Aristotle (who taught that emotions could be proper or fitting in a given situation) and, most notably, from the ancient Greek Stoics, who believed emotions did indeed express a kind of thinking but who then condemned all emotions as excessive. The author rejects the Stoic condemnation of emotions but keeps the idea that emotions do express value judgments. (I am angry at the various seemingly feeble early governmental responses to the poorest victims of Hurricane Katrina; my anger is a judgment that something is morally amiss.)

Throughout the book, the intellectual adversary is a philosophical tradition that characterizes emotions as purely irrational. Nussbaum is convinced emotions not only can be reasonable but can in fact be true or false. Societies can properly use education to train emotions since emotions are amenable to reason. She finds compassion a good thing (capable of extending beyond one's familiar circle), while disgust (at sexual or religious orientations not our own; or at criminal behavior) is not so helpful.

"Upheavals of Thought," though technical in places, offers a grand opportunity for the interested reader to see how the music of Mahler and the writing of Augustine, Proust, Joyce and Walt Whitman all illuminate Nusbaum's thesis. Though I have profound disagreements with some of what Nussbaum has to say, her book is indispensable in opening up emotions to thoughtful consideration.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Chico State historian on the Chiapas legacy


Stephen E. Lewis, a member of the Chico State University history faculty, will speak Friday afternoon about his new book on the Mexican state of Chiapas, beset by poverty and ethnic unrest and, since 1994 (when Mexico became part of the North American Free Trade Agreement) the Zapatista rebellion.

Lewis' talk is scheduled for 3 p.m. in Trinity Hall on the university campus.

Lewis' book is "The Ambivalent Revolution: Forging State and Nation in Chiapas, 1910-1945" ($24.95 in paperback from the University of New Mexico Press), and it attempts to answer a question few historians have explored: "Why did Mexico's most significant rebellion in decades take root and grow in indigenous Chiapas?" The answer, he affirms, lies in the little-explored history of Chiapas in postrevolutionary Mexico (from 1910 onward). Chiapan archives have been neglected, he writes, but once the story is pieced together what emerges is a vastly complex interaction between Chiapas and Mexico, and, within Chiapas, among the ladino (non-Indian) population and their attempts to exploit the highland Indians -- the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya.

In order to make sense of the story, Lewis focuses his research on the ever-changing role of "the federal government's most important state- and nation-building institution ... the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), created in 1921." As the author reports, "The SEP and its teachers tried to modernize and 'nationalize' Chiapas and introduce important federal reforms against a backdrop of grinding rural poverty, inadequate infrastructure, a fiercely independent rancher and planter class, and an ethnically diverse population that vacillated between indifference and open hostility."

Though at times influential, the SEP's "radical pedagogy" ultimately remained powerless to transform Chiapas into an extension of whatever Mexican government happened to be in place at the time. Advocates of centralized government, Mexican presidents tended to have little lasting influence there.

SEP-sponsored nationalism, Lewis writes, tried to use the Emiliano Zapata legacy to its own ends. He appeared in SEP texts in the 1930s "stripped of his drinking, his gambling, his womanizing" and was portrayed, as one historian put it, as "an immaculate symbol of the emancipation of the rural masses." Years later, however, the government itself would be challenged by those claiming loyalty to that very vision.

Lewis writes that "the SEP's nation-building campaign in the 1930s involved an ambitious, quixotic attempt to forge the hearts, minds and bodies of the new Mexican. It first attacked the foundations of Mexico's 'traditional' culture based on Catholicism and rural paternalism. In its place the SEP fought to create a modern, secular, sober culture that emphasized civil and national duty. Teachers and the school were to replace the priest and the church, and an interventionist federal government was to replace the patron (boss)." There were mixed results in Chiapas, though Lewis notes that this "cultural nationalism" did help those in rural areas imagine what it might be like to be part of the larger Mexican state.

Even the progressive Lazaro Cardenas, who instituted land reform in Chiapas in 1939 with the help of the federal teachers, who were engaged in agrarian reform and worker unionization, found that "the institutions of the Mexican revolution that preserved the social and political peace elsewhere in the country either did not have the opportunity to develop in Chiapas or were so thoroughly corrupted that they exacerbated problems instead of solving them. After 1940," Lewis writes, "the state that had been part of Guatemala until 1822 would follow a distinctly Central American pattern of political, economic, and social development, culminating in guerrilla insurgency."

The Zapatistas of the 1990s came about, Lewis concludes, because "the grievances that produced the insurrection" (especially issues of land control, not unique to Chiapas) could not be addressed by failing and corrupt local governmental institutions. "Schooling in the highlands remained ineffective and culturally insensitive"; settlers in other areas had none at all. But because the Mexican state had adopted "neoliberal economic policies" and abandoned "revolutionary nationalism," the rebels in Chiapas adopted the earlier socialist vision of the SEP schools and "not only upset the political order in Chiapas and Mexico and grabbed international headlines, but ... forced Mexican society to conceptualize a multiethnic nation."

But, Lewis adds, even the Zapatistas likely will be "unable to reverse centuries of marginalization, exploitation, institutionalized racism and scarcity in Chiapas."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Los Molinos resident remembers time of war in the Pacific theater


"Jones At War: A Sailor's Story, 1935-1956" is about a man who seemed, Forrest Gump-like, coincidentally to be at some of the most important crossroads in 20th-century history. These are the reminiscences of Los Molinos resident Roy Lee Jones, now 88, lovingly edited by Roy Helsing of Magalia, whose wife, Joy Harold Helsing, is one of the "Skyway poets."

In an e-mail, Joy writes that "When my husband met Jones he was fascinated by the tales he told, from pulling bodies and survivors from the water at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 to the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa to the A-bomb tests at Bikini Atoll to the Inchon invasion in the Korean War. Not wanting these stories to be lost, my Roy conducted a series of taped interviews with Roy Jones, edited them slightly, and added historical information and photographs to put the tales in context."

The book is published by Jones' wife, Patricia, through her own PWJ Publishing. The large-size paperback is available, for $12, plus $3 shipping and handling, from

According to an editor's note from Roy Helsing, Jones wrote a memoir in 1997, entitled "The First Eighty Years," in which his "all too brief descriptions of his experiences in the Navy in World War II just begged to be expanded because they were based on 'being there'."

Jones was born in 1917 in Clayville, Chesterfield County, Va., and joined the Navy in 1935. Helsing, in the foreword, writes that Jones "was the prototypical sailor -- farm bred and raised -- with no knowledge of the bounding main. He joined the Navy during the Great Depression and rose from the lowest rank to become an officer (Lt. Jg.)."

Jones writes that he led a strike in his junior year at high school. Rather than close the school so everyone could attend the track meet with the school's biggest rival, the superintendent that year allowed only participants to leave class. Jones was miffed and helped stage a student walkout for a couple of hours. When the superintendent asked strike leaders to come to his office for a little talk, only Jones showed. The superintendent "thanked me for being man enough to admit my mistake. No disciplinary action was taken against me. ... In 35 years of supervisory and management jobs I used the same principle. If an employee made a mistake, acknowledged and took responsibility for it, I never took any further action."

Graduation from high school in the Depression era left Jones with no job and no money and, since "student loans and free junior colleges had not been invented then," he signed up with the Navy. Assigned to the submarine tender Canopus, which patrolled near Guam and the Philippines, Jones includes a memento of his transformation from "crawling, sniveling Pollywog" to "Shellback" by virtue of crossing the equator. It was important to pay respects to King Neptune and, says Jones, while the initiation is not "brutal," it "may be boisterous."

The heart of Jones' reminiscence comes in 1941. After reenlisting in August of that year, in October he "boarded the USS Oklahoma, a battleship, for transportation to Submarine Squadron Four at Pearl Harbor for eventual assignment to submarine USS Cuttlefish, which was en route from Connecticut. We arrived at the submarine base at Pearl 31 October 1941. The Oklahoma went on to take its place on 'Battleship Row'."

As Jones recounts, "I had weekend leave Saturday and Sunday, 6 and 7 December. There was a radio ... and we heard that the Japanese were attacking and all hell had broken loose. It must have taken me 25 seconds to get into my clothes and start down to the bus stop." Driven to Pearl by a Japanese civilian worker, Jones "took a temporary job on a tugboat, picking up people from the water -- survivors and bodies. We went past the USS Oklahoma twice. She was sunk. They later raised her and tried to tow her to the States, but she was lost at sea. I had friends on the Oklahoma. Some made it. Some didn't. That's the way it was."

The book includes almost two dozen black-and-white photographs, some from Jones' personal collection, and is a fitting tribute to a member of the "greatest generation" who saw so much and did so much, all in a day's work.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Chico novelist -- Intrigue and terrorism in France and beyond


Retired Chico State University Professor Michael Ramon, writing under the name of "Robert Marlowe," has produced a fast-paced political thriller with the ungainly title of "On the Bumpy Road to Heaven With the Devil in Hot Pursuit: A Novel of Love, Persecution, Fanatics, Good Samaritans, and Hope" ($17.95 in paper from Infinity Publishing at

It's the love story of beautiful Princess Yasmine Omar, half French and half Arab, "the favorite granddaughter of the King of Omar," and Joshua Wiesel, the stepson "of the next Prime Minister of Israel." Joshua works as a translator for the Israeli secret service but meets Yasmine in the school they are attending in Paris and falls madly in love. Though the couple just wants to be left alone, their attraction for one another causes an international crisis.

Joshua and Yasmine come under the sway of Professor Leon Carnot, Yasmine's world-renowned philosophy instructor. Carnot preaches "peace, understanding, and tolerance" and he is portrayed in the novel as a modern-day Socrates, accused by his Jewish, Christian and Muslim students of being an atheist. His teachings are deeply influential in the couple's lives, holding the pair together as both Arab and Jewish interests offer huge rewards for the capture of Yasmine and Joshua, the latter (falsely) accused of killing several of Yasmine's guards and kidnaping the princess.

At one point, sipping hot chocolate, Joshua tells Yasmine that "they have no right to tell us whom to love or to marry. That's strictly between us and God. ... We pass through this life only once, and we should do it our way, not theirs. I'll fight them until we're happily married. That I promise you on what I hold most sacred." For Joshua, it's all about being "free to create your own future," as Carnot had taught.

Later, asked how he might "stop the hatred and carnage in Palestine" Joshua responds idealistically: "By making both sides realize that if things stay as they are, hatred will lead to more war, misery and suffering, and that will lead to more hatred. ... I'm just a young liberal Jew who's proud of his ancestry and heritage, but who doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past. I know what thousands of years of oppression and the Nazis did to my people, and I refuse to do the same to the Palestinians. I want to live and let live."

Perhaps the most dangerous opponent the couple faces is Karim Kassim, a billionaire Arab businessman who is really the director of the Paris-based cell of al-Qaida. Later in the story, Chief Inspector Picard muses with reporter Rick Sorel (who is contributing pieces on the couple to the Paris Gazette) about the terrorists. "They've been radicalized by a group of Islamic demagogues who want to gain political power by using them as cannon fodder," Picard says. "If they were educated, they would interpret true Islam as a religion of love, forgiveness, and compassion, but they aren't. ... They're ignorant, superstitious and easily deceived."

That provokes a response in Sorel: "You know, we have the same problem in Christian America. Millions of fundamentalists have been brainwashed by TV evangelists into believing that if they support the violent policies of Jewish warmongers, they'll bring about Armageddon, the second coming of Christ and the kingdom of God!"

Marlowe's writing style was distracting for me. Characters talk in cliches and seem to be either very good or very evil and, most disturbingly, are little affected by the carnage around them, escaping near death one moment and worried about lunch the next. It's the same feeling I used to get watching "Murder, She Wrote."

The plot itself is what kept me turning the pages, and it gets very complicated. Joshua and Yasmine are befriended by Sorel and Andree de la Roche, a female reporter also working for the Gazette; Moses Bloom, an arms dealer with a good-as-gold heart whom Joshua calls "uncle"; and quite a few other characters including detectives and editors. The bodies of their friends begin to pile up, and Rick and Andree are almost strangled to death ("this isn't a romance novel, you know," he says), but in some sense Carnot's philosophy triumphs in the end amid a wealth of political deal making. Better that, Marlowe might say, than shooting at each other.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.