Thursday, March 30, 2006

National Book Award winner Barry Lopez to speak at Chico State University tonight


Chico will be graced with a visit by nature writer Barry Lopez at 7:30 p.m. today at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium. Advance tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for students from the University Box Office, 898-6333. Sponsored by Chico Performances and the university's Office of the Provost, Lopez's appearance is part of the new "On the Creek" lecture series which, according to a news release, "will present authors and lectures whose focus promotes and explores environmental and sustainability issues that affect the world today."

One of the best nature writers in the country, Lopez has published the best-selling nonfiction work "Of Wolves and Men" and has also written "nine works of fiction and several collections of essays, and has been honored with a John Hay Medal, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Fellowship and by the American Academy of Arts and Letters." Not a bad résumé!

But perhaps the book that most captured public attention is his "Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire In a Northern Landscape" ($15 in paperback from Vintage), first published in 1986. A winner of the National Book Award, "Arctic Dreams" exemplifies Lopez's concern with the interaction of human culture and the land. His is not a simplistic vision; in the epilogue he contrasts his own heritage with that of the Eskimo (adopting the standard term for a number of distinct peoples):

"One of our long-lived cultural differences with the Eskimo has been over whether to accept the land as it is or to exert the will to change it into something else. The great task of life for the traditional Eskimo is still to achieve congruence with a reality that is already given. The given reality, the real landscape, is 'horror within magnificence, absurdity within intelligibility, suffering within joy,' in the words of Albert Schweitzer. We do not esteem as highly these lessons in paradox. We hold in higher regard the land's tractability, its alterability. We believe the conditions of the Earth can be changed to ensure human happiness, to provide jobs and to create material wealth and ease. Each culture, then, finds a different sort of apotheosis, of epiphany and comfort in the land."

He adds that "No culture has yet solved the dilemma (of) ... how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one's own culture but within oneself. ... There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions."

Lopez spent almost half a decade in the Arctic region researching his book, which includes chapters on musk oxen, polar bears, narwhals, the migration of birds and mammals, the history of human encounters with Arctic ice, the ever-changing Arctic landscape itself. "When you have walked for days under the enormous sky; when you have felt the remoteness of the world from the Thomsen river country of Banks Island; felt the unquenchable exuberance of sled dogs cracking off the frozen miles down a river valley; or been shown how some very small thing, like a Lapland longspur eating the lemming's bones for calcium, keeps the country alive, you begin to sense the timeless, unsummarized dimensions of a deeper landscape."

Later in the book Lopez writes the history of the European exploration of the "northern passage" and says that "They thought of the Arctic as fixed in time -- a primitive landscape, a painting, inhabited by an attenuated people." The reality is far otherwise.

People have had many (incompatible) dreams of what the Arctic might be, given their view of what it is and has been about. With a trained eye Lopez notes how industrialization is changing the face of the north but at the same time recognizes Eskimo hunting practices are not without violence. He is a careful and sensitive guide.

The book begins and ends with the author bowing to the natural world, giving it due regard. "This is a land," he writes, "where airplanes track icebergs the size of Cleveland and polar bears fly down out of the stars. It is a region, like the desert, rich with metaphor, with adumbration. In a simple bow from the waist before the nest of the horned lark, you are able to stake your life, again, in what you dream."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chico financial planner offers advice for bequeathing the family farm


Chico's Kevin Spafford is a certified financial planner who specializes in farm "succession planning" defined broadly as "what is best for the family-owned business."

He writes that "farming is the quintessential family business. No other business endeavor is as emotionally charged as the family farm." But deep feelings can often prevent owners from thinking clearly about "the inevitable transfer of ownership" that comes sooner or later.

To help farm owners make wise decisions about that transfer, Spafford has published "Legacy By Design: Succession Planning for Agribusiness Owners" ($29.95 in paperback from Marketplace Books). He will be speaking and signing copies at 6 p.m. Friday at Lyon Books in Chico. The public is invited.

The book presents all the steps necessary to develop what Spafford calls a "comprehensive succession plan." The creation of such a plan, he writes, "may require a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, including a financial planner, an attorney, an accountant and possibly a banker among others. It involves planning and advice for multiple generations of the family. It includes financial, estate, retirement and business planning," each of which is covered in a separate section. In addition, "Legacy By Design" includes a large appendix with checklists and charts, a comprehensive glossary and a bibliography.

While the sections on estate and retirement planning are pretty detailed, even there Spafford maintains a conversational tone and includes a variety of case studies that connect with the real world.

The chapters on business plans and succession were the most interesting to me.

A business plan helps spell out how that particular agribusiness fits into its environment and what its prospects for growth might be. The environment has changed. "In the agricultural world of yesterday," Spafford writes, "commodities ruled. Today, there has been a significant change. Consumers are now willing to pay extra for unique and specialized products. Customers are seeking individual relationships with suppliers and vendors as never before. They want safe, healthy, and convenient food sold through a personal relationship of trust." Think farmers markets.

Something else has changed. Time was when labor was viewed as a cost and farm machinery as an investment. But the author points out that "when you factor in the benefits of long-term employees dedicated to business success, it is difficult to imagine them as an expense. Labor must be regarded as an investment. Like other systems on the farm, a skilled labor force improves the bottom line."(He also notes that it's better to view farm equipment as an expense rather than an investment.)

Family farmers may have developed a knack for making money over the years so it's hard for them to understand why a business plan is so important. But "farmers' earnings are squeezed today as never before. You are asked to do more with less. Input costs increase as commodity prices decline. Foreign competition exerts pricing pressures on all commodities. There seems to be a never-ending string of bureaucratic challenges each grower must navigate before applying many of the fertilizer or herbicide inputs that make agricultural practices so prolific. Automation which promotes efficiency in agricultural practices also increases capital expenditure."

All of these things and more need addressing in a business plan, especially if the farm is to be turned over soon to the next generation. "The way it's always been done" won't work anymore.

Just who will take possession of the farm is another significant issue, and Spafford focuses on the inevitable family difficulties when some members wish to remain active in the business and others do not. Active members may be interested in long-term investment whereas "passive" members may want short-term return. Conflict and rivalry are inherent in the process of choosing a successor, and the author offers a way through by considering not equal distribution of assets but "equitable" distributions to various family members. Those not involved in the business may well settle for a lower cash sum when the transfer comes, leaving the farm intact to be run by active members. Spafford is good on helping family farmers take a more objective look at the talent available to them, encouraging them to look to trusted employees or outside managers if family members are unwilling or unable to continue the business.

"Legacy By Design" offers a sensible and careful approach to a complex and emotional "passing of the baton."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Training books deliver the goods


These days there are some pretty sophisticated software applications available for those who want to design printed materials or create or enhance Web sites.

As for the tools of the trade, Adobe's InDesign for page layout and Macromedia's Dreamweaver for Web site construction are second-to-none.

InDesign is part of a larger suite of related computer programs, called "Creative Suite 2," which includes Photoshop and Illustrator which are both used to manipulate and create graphical content.

Dreamweaver (now at version 8) is also part of a group of tools called "Studio 8" which includes Flash, the industry standard for the production of animation and video for the Internet. With the recent acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe, both sets of software programs are being offered in one package.

Graphics and design professionals use InDesign or Dreamweaver every day and so develop a hands-on familiarity with each program's "feature set." But amateurs like me need considerable hand-holding and that's where training manuals come in. I've been especially impressed by the H-O-T (Hands-On Training) series developed by and published by Peachpit Press out of Berkeley. Each volume includes a CD-ROM with training files and a couple dozen short movies that can be played on a computer and that illustrate especially complicated procedures shown in the step-by-step manuals. The authors voice their own movies and they are friendly and proficient.

Over the last number of months I've worked my way through "Adobe InDesign CS2 Hands-On Training" ($44.99 in paperback), by Brian Wood, and "Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 Hands-On Training" ($44.99 in paperback) by Daniel Short and Garo Green. (I love this stuff!)

I can attest that both are excellent guides. Two other guides are on hand which I can hardly wait to get to: "Flash Professional 8 Hands-On Training" by James Gonzalez ($44.99 in paperback) and "Macromedia Studio 8 Training from the Source" ($44.99 in paperback from Adobe Press/Peachpit, which also comes with a CD), by Shaowen Bardzell and Jeffrey Bardzell, with Bob Flynn.

The InDesign and Dreamweaver books, and the Flash guide as well, are reference works as well as training manuals. At various points throughout the chapters the authors present tables listing the various choices on a toolbar or in a submenu, such as paragraph formatting or rollover image options (used when the mouse pointer rests on a navigation graphic). Each of these guides begins with an overview of the program's interface and work area, but then focuses on various small projects that the reader completes in bite-sized sections. The InDesign book develops advertising brochures and postcards for the fictional "Tea Cloud" company; the Dreamweaver book extends the company to the Web with some 90 tutorials. (The Studio 8 book presents just two projects that cover hundreds of pages--the development of a static Web site for a fruit company and an interactive site on the poet Dante.)

The Hands-On Training books are a delight to the eye, with hundreds of full-color screen captures, sections of tips and tricks, and a style that keeps reminding the reader there are real people behind all those directions. "Congrats!" Brian Wood tells me at the end of chapter 12 in the InDesign book. "You have another chapter under your belt." (We all need encouragement.) The Dreamweaver book is especially well-designed; it's just elegant, with the muted color scheme of the practice Web site matching the book's own.

The emphasis in all of these manuals is learning by doing, as one might expect, but these guides also go beyond simple cookbook style ("select the object from page 1, copy the object, paste the object into page 2") to helping the reader see things a novice might overlook. In the Dreamweaver book, for example, one instruction is to click on a color you like to add a background color to a Web page. But then Short and Green add: "Look at the Code window. See how the XHTML is updated to reflect the changes you just made? This is a great way to learn XHTML. ... Go ahead and make some more changes to your page, but leave the Code window open so you can watch Dreamweaver 8 create all the XHTML." (XHTML is short for "Extensible Hyper Text Markup Language"; it's "the current standard for creating Web pages.")

In short, play around a little bit. I like that.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Childhood on the island of Murano -- A memoir of Italy has a Chico connection


Some 34 years after she came to America, Walnut Creek resident Lucia Barbini Falcone finds herself back in northeastern Italy for a vacation with her large family.

Her mother is in bed, frail, "not like the determined and energetic person she had been. No. All traces of Mama have disappeared. What lies in bed now is a scribble of the original. Not even an imitation of my mama, only a forgery." It is inevitable, perhaps, that memories flood in.

"I think of my heritage, of my childhood, of all of our relatives and friends who still live on the small island of Murano and in my mind I see a young girl walking over bridges with her siblings and friends, talking to relatives and passersby."

Murano, Falcone writes, is "a speck of land in the Venetian Lagoon adjacent to Venice. ... A place -- which at times seems to appear and disappear within the depth of its capricious tides -- not only linked by its bridges, but as well by the written and unwritten laws engraved within its social fabric."

Later, recounting a visit to Murano with a childhood friend, she would write of "a mystical world in which fantasy and reality fuse into one. I savor the beauty of it all, just like I savor the stories of my childhood veiled by time, that have become more magical with each passing year."

That world is evoked in "Over Bridges, Across Tables: Growing Up On the Island of Murano" ($16.95 in paperback from Trafford Publishing or from Falcone Books, P.O. Box 3463, Walnut Creek, 94598) in which the author becomes a character, Anna Marchini. "I've taken the liberty of rearranging names and certain events," she writes, "out of respect for my family and friends in Murano, but the essence of the stories is true."

Falcone is the sister-in-law of Joyce Anderson of Chico, who wrote me that "two of Lucia's three daughters attended and graduated from Chico State so Lucia has been a frequent visitor to Chico. ... Nicole, their eldest daughter, married a young man from Murano. ... Through the years Lucia's nieces, nephews and sisters have visited this area. They've been impressed by our big park and especially with the university campus, although during an August visit, one sister remarked that being in Chico was 'like living on the sun.' For generations Lucia's family have been glass makers, and it's interesting to know that in Murano, famous for its glass, they admire the works of our very own Orient and Flume. (The letters 'ch' are pronounced with a 'k' sound in Italian, so 'Chico' is mispronounced there as 'Kiko.')"

"Over Bridges" is full of dozens of vignettes of Murano life. The island is only 1,100 acres and now has a population of 7,000, but to young Anna it was an entire world. Born in 1949, Anna grew up with five siblings. Her mother, Teresa, had fallen in love with her husband, Nicolò ("Nico") when she was just 13. Anna thought it was not so strange, then, when she, age 12, fell in love with a young man named Davide. Mouths flapped, of course, but that was to be expected. "On the island, people took a fragment of your life and made it their own when there was not enough excitement in theirs."

Anna and her friend Tina "walked to forbidden corners of the island, even after Mama's friend, Signora Lena, told us that if we took one step past the lighthouse, or went to the cemetery after dark, people would put a tabarro over our heads and shoulders. When I asked Mama what her friend meant, she explained that a tabarro was a dark, imaginary mantle made up of people's gossips."

Tying all her memories together is the presence of Papa Nico, painter, incurable optimist, a man whose income from work at the mirror glass factory could hardly keep up with household needs. He joked with his children and his wife, he invited strangers home when there was little to eat (there were no second helpings), "he filled his and our lives with small pleasures. Via the everyday rituals, the celebrations, the small lessons of love, he passed on to us the true essence of life."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Skyway poet writes of 'dangerous places in our dangerous time'


Paradise writer and "Skyway poet" Sally Allen McNall won the State Street Press competition for her chapbook, "How To Behave At the Zoo and Other Lessons"; her book manuscript, "Rescue," received the Backwaters Press Prize.

Now, in a new chapbook, "Trying to Write a Poem Without the Word Blood In It" ($6 in paperback from PWJ Publishing, www.wellinghamjones. com), McNall harnesses poetic energy to cry out against the absurdities and injustices she sees all around. The poems do have a lot of blood in them--the bloodshed of war, the bloodshed of a poet whose only refuge seems to be in a dream "where no one hates you, there's no impossible job to attempt." True to the typo on the front cover, hers is a "work" of blood.

The first of the 18 poems here sets the tone. "Before This War Is Over" is not about our present conflicts (or is it?) but takes the reader back to the days of Vietnam. "The young mother knows what she / has just done" in hiding the news from her son. She "knows she'll deceive / her little boy as long as she can about how / blood pumps out, or blooms purple under / skin, and how perfect strangers will spit / on you." Why? "She wants her son to remember peace" but "this is hopeless. ... And rage / is splashing up and down / her skin like ten gallons of gasoline / and any grownup / could be the match."

The final poem, "Quill," reminds the reader how hard it is to forget.

We don't decide what to remember. The brain's master etchers
do their best work for the disaster, for war, rage, shame.
The rapist surges like a troll from under the bridge, grabs,
grapples. The girl can't forget a second of it for years.
No matter how safe we feel just before it happens, or how
we've drilled ourselves to be calm, the world takes us.

I don't believe in angels, but it amuses me to think each of us has
a recording angel, our personal chemist and electrician--impartial,
lacking fellow-feeling, dipping her quill in our rushing blood
or hacking, keystroke by keystroke into our hearts, tattoos and operas.
SAVE, she commands, SAVE, SAVE, and we are helpless,
we bear her art forward in us, into our darkness, into our light.

In the poem that gives the chapbook its title, the writer imagines watching a movie backwards and imagines blood returning into a person and the wound closing. And then she writes, "... I have lost a lot to this / century, I am exhausted, I would like it back, / scooped, sopped up, suctioned from wherever it is, / and siphoned back in me, for future use."

The poet had "A Welcome To the Real World" long years ago. "I was 17, it was still the '50s, / when one college teacher pried up one / little corner of what this country / officially believed-- believes-- / about itself. We were reading the / Communist Manifesto in order / to learn what was wrong with it. I don't / remember exactly what he said / that made me think he liked Marx. // I thought of him today, / while preparing the kitchen floor / for the new tiles. / The floor looked like the black / bed of a bad road leading out of some city where / everyone hates us-- with some reason-- / where it's not sensible for me to talk / alone or in company, in any dress."

The despair and anger in these poems is at times relieved by ironic whimsy, from the "recording angel" to the time when "The Last Secular Linguist Leaves Her Spiderhole" (what a title) who wonders, if "God be with you!" eventually became "good-bye," what "God bless you!" will become.

But even "Going To the Theatre" brings back crimson thoughts. "In Shakespeare's really bad play, the girl is raped, / her hands chopped off, her tongue cut out. ... / Today, around the world, long streets fill / with the spoken word peace. Once the lips / part from the initial sound, the tongue flattens, / pulls back, the lips stretch wide before / the final hiss, tongue pointed at teeth. Silent, / we leave the play, we dream real blood."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.