Thursday, July 27, 2006

A comprehensive guide to everything Chico


Chico State University graduate Eric Norlie has had a varied career.

According to a press kit, "following college life, Eric remodeled the old downtown Masonic lodge into the Arroyo Room, managed the deactivated missile base north of Chico ... and scouted locations for the Butte County Film Commission. His connection to Chico also includes working in local news production for KNVR-24 and the Paradise Post newspaper." The 39-year-old Norlie is a "fourth generation Chico native. Eric's great grandparents worked at the Chico Hotel, Diamond Match Lumber and Richardson Springs Resort. His grandfather was a local building contractor and his parents own and operate Norfield Industries, a Chico manufacturing company."

Now he's published the essential guide to everything Chico. "The Chico User's Guide" ($24.95 in paperback from Cognitive Think Inc.) is available, he writes, at the Chico Museum, Lyon Books, Made in Chico, Tower Records, Bird in Hand, Tom Foolery, Zucchini & Vine, Magna Carta, the Associated Students bookstore, Vino100, Barnes & Noble and the new Scrubbs car wash on the Skyway, as well as at It's an extraordinary accomplishment.

A little more than 4 inches wide and 51}2 inches tall, and three quarters of an inch thick, its 356 pages contain more than 800 color photographs and an abundance of microscopic print. But the shiny pages (printed in environmentally friendly soy-based ink) are surprisingly readable. The book feels good in the hand.

"The Chico User's Guide" is divided into nine sections: Features (including Chico history, landmarks and Bidwell Park), Activities, Entertainment, Student Guide, At Your Service (transportation, emergency care, recycling, healthy living and party planning), Organizations, Traveling, Reference and Calendar. Dozens of subsections (and a handy subject index) keep the book organized.

There wasn't room for everything. Norlie writes me that he favored "locally-owned and operated businesses and organizations." Some pages (like those devoted to religious life) give only a sampling of the diversity in Chico.

There are two kinds of entries. "Contacts" (such as the Chico Outlaws) provide the address, phone number and Web site address and "events" (such as the Chico Science Fair), which include the recurring date if available. I was struck by a nice little innovation. If a Web address is too long, Norlie saves space by printing keywords instead, optimized for the Google search engine.

Delights abound. There are four pages with full-color thumbnails of Chico wildflowers. Four pages are devoted to science, pointing to Chico State's forensics lab, the Rice Experiment Station along Highway 162 and the Snow Goose Festival each January. Carolyn Spellman Shoemaker is spotlighted. A university alum, she was the co-discoverer of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994.

Another four pages detail Chico film history, listing some 21 pictures shot in and around Chico (including 1955's "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper and "Stolen Innocence," the 1995 made-for-TV flick starring Chico's own Amanda Detmer).

Two pages are devoted to the area book scene, with local bookstores, libraries and three local publishers listed (a separate section is devoted to locally published periodicals). The Buzz is recognized for its Thursday best-seller lists, though this column is not mentioned (maybe in the next edition?). More comprehensive is the guide to music, dancing and bars and nightclubs. A dozen pages list 40 local groups, karaoke venues and a place to learn belly dancing. There are many pages on sports and recreation, too.

Norlie has done an outstanding job putting Chico between covers. Here's to many future editions.

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, July 20, 2006

Cape Cod author bought himself a piece of the Sierra Nevada


Though Brent Harold lives "in Wellfleet, Mass., on outer Cape Cod," part of him, at least some small part, hearkens back now and again to Placer County and 20 acres of land "about 10 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe," part of Coldstream Valley, that he and nine friends bought in 1968. The 10 friends from Palo Alto met at a '60s "encounter group" and they decided that piece of Coldstream was going to become a communal heaven.

The story is light-heartedly and winsomely told in "Owning the Sierra Nevada: The Short History of a Long Infatuation" ($12.95 in paperback from Kinnacum Press, It's about the call of the land even though "of the 36 years of our ownership, my total time there amounts to between three and four months." The youthful idealism did not last long, but the friends never got around to selling the parcel. Harold lost track of some of the owners, but he and a few others over the years made pilgrimages to what they called The Land. In several easy-to-digest chapters the author recounts how his dream of someday setting up a "real life" in the woods was profoundly altered.

Harold had almost completed his doctorate in English at Stanford University when the group of friends decided to buy the property "merely to celebrate friendship." It was, he writes, "a typical moment in that utopian era." He dropped out of Stanford society, "dropped out of what was left of my youthful marriage" and "as a sort of emancipation proclamation I packed some books and writing paper in my VW bug and headed up to the Gold Lake-Sierra Buttes high country." His desires were kindled.

On another journey, this time to the Tuolumne Meadows, he writes, "What stands out when I think of that trip is the sexiness simply of being in the high Sierra: smooth, clean rock, pure water, eternal snow and the huge bowl of dark blue sky. ... That largely treeless, rockbound landscape was sexy in the sense of making one feel exposed -- to an intimate connection with the cosmos; or with something. ('Scuse me while I kiss the sky.)"

Much later he and his girlfriend Susan began visiting The Land. One time, in late spring, they had come back from a hike only to "find the stream risen from snowmelt during the warm day, and the corral of rocks in which we have left our cans of juice and beer ... threatened by the flooding. ... A few cans get loose in the current and we run downstream, with great hilarity, trying to head them off. ... We almost immediately began calling our frantic efforts the Wild Juice Chase. The story quickly in the telling becomes less that of high, feisty waters ... than How a Great Pun was Born." Bravo!

Harold had moved to the Cape Cod region to work. Susan was an Easterner, and eventually the two married, producing a son named Ben. Periodically they sojourned to The Land and Harold had thoughts of constructing a crude cabin, but it never came to pass. Life on The Land was in tents, one might say, and when adjacent landowners moved in with civilization and heavy equipment, something changed. He made his last visit in 2002 but keeps up with developments through e-mail with neighbors.

Ben is 17 now, and maybe one day he'll return to Coldstream and make that cabin a reality. Maybe.

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, July 13, 2006

Chico author recalls naval intelligence work during the Vietnam conflict


Douglass H. Hubbard Jr., born in 1945, joined the Naval Investigative Service Office in Washington, D.C. and became an agent. With dreams of catching spies, he volunteered for service in Vietnam. "I was 23," he writes. "The world was my apple." It was 1969; that year U.S. troop strength would peak at more than half a million. He chose Da Nang.

His story, and that of many of the two dozen Naval Intelligence civilian special agents who also served in Vietnam, is told in "Special Agent, Vietnam: A Naval Intelligence Memoir" ($26.95 in hardcover from Potomac Books). Hubbard stayed in Vietnam for three year-long tours, the most of any Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) agent.

Hubbard notes the passage of time has taken its toll on the agents who served there. Some have died, memories have clouded; he writes that "it fell to me, more than four decades after the first agent deployment (in 1962), to tell as much of that story as possible."

The Navy refused "to confirm or deny the existence of all the documents and photographs that we had written and submitted," so Hubbard has instead relied on interviews with surviving agents, his own memories and publicly available information. The book includes helpful maps, photographs of the agents and a glossary of seemingly numberless military acronyms. The result is a careful study of the role of NIS agents in South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Hubbard's language is measured, but there is passion behind the words.

He investigated allegations of drug use among troops, suicides, rape, mail fraud, smuggling, spying and the death of Australian entertainer Catherine Ann Warnes (whose stage name was Cathy Wayne) in 1969. She "had been shot while performing with her troupe at the staff and officers' club" at a base in Da Nang. (A Marine sergeant was eventually arrested.)

Then there was "fragging," the use of a fragmentation grenade to cause mayhem or settle personal scores. Hubbard writes that "the small M26 frag packed a huge wallop. Its high-explosive charge was wrapped by strands of serrated stainless-steel wire, fragments of which traveled at several thousand feet per second on detonation -- providing a kill radius of about 15 meters."

Some cases were motivated by racial tension, such as the one in 1970 involving Pvt. Ronald McDonald, USMC, who, Hubbard writes, "may well have been a product of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's social engineering plan to fill vacancies in the armed forces by lowering entry standards." McDonald managed to obtain a British 36 "Mills Bomb" fragmentation grenade to use against an officer he felt had insulted him. The grenade went off, the officer survived, but McDonald got 80 years. One of the agents who worked the case told Hubbard in an interview, "They led this guy away in handcuffs, but he was still giving the black power salute."

After his time in Vietnam, Hubbard left the NIS to explore business ventures. He returned to Vietnam in the late 1990s and found much of the destruction had disappeared. "A visitor to Vietnam who knew the country during the war will probably at some point ponder about what difference America's brave attempt to rescue South Vietnam made. As I stared out over the verdant rice paddies in the former demilitarized zone ... I was prompted to think that, despite a preponderance of altruism, we had mattered very little in the context of Vietnam's two millennia of history."

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, July 06, 2006

University of California press publicist is a Chico State University grad


Heather Vaughan is a mid-list publicist for the University of California Press (headquartered in Berkeley). When she told me she attended Chico State University, I had to find out more. What follows is an edited e-mail interview.

How long were you in Chico?

"I lived in Chico for five years (1995-2000), while attending CSU, Chico. I graduated in 2000 with a BA in English and minors in theater and biology. I spent most of my non-class time in the green room of the theater department."

Do you have a memorable personal story that exemplifies Chico to you?

"One of my English teachers, Lois Bueler (who retired this year), was an inspiration in a lot of ways. Lois ... had this amazing ability to inspire you to do your best." Through some challenging experiences that semester, Vaughn writes, her professor "made me realize that if I really wanted to do something, all I had to do was try as hard as I could, and I could find a way. Lois made me want to try harder, because she had been so dedicated to teaching despite the difficulties in her life."

Why did you leave Chico?

"I left Chico to look for a publishing job in the San Francisco Bay Area ... at a small business-book publisher. In 2004, I graduated with a master's in Visual Culture: Costume Studies from New York University. I moved back to the Bay Area in November 2005 ... and ended up back in publishing."

How did you get the job of "mid-list publicist"?

"I had seen the job posted on several publishing industry Web sites and knew I had the skills necessary to work in the field. I applied in February, went through the interview process, and was hired in early March. My interests (science, theater, art and fashion history, film) definitely helped me get this job (which involves publicizing books in a large variety of academic fields)."

What exactly IS a "mid-list publicist"?

"I handle the publicity for the scholarly/academic titles with print runs smaller than 2,000 copies. This is actually the majority of books that we publish. The topics include everything from science to music theory to anthropology. I also handle two smaller, trade series (the California Natural History Guide Series and The Huntington Library Series). There are four other publicists at the press who handle the remaining trade titles. For the most part, my job consists of getting the academic books reviewed in scholarly publications and print media. However, I do help set up radio interviews, bookstore events and lectures for the trade books I do handle."

Your "other job" is a "fashion and textile historian." What is that?

"Someone who explores history, culture and society through clothing and textiles created by various groups. My experience has been extremely varied, including work as a museum curator, researcher, lecturer, author and as a historical resource for other museums, auction houses and individuals. I am currently working on an article for a juried publication, Dress (a Costume Society of America publication) and on several chapters for an encyclopedia of fashion (1900-1920 and 1920-1939), to be published by Greenwood Press in 2007. I also hope to publish my master's thesis in book form. (It) examines the fashion design career of Natacha Rambova, the one-time wife of Rudolph Valentino."

I wish Vaughan the best and thank her for helping to keep books alive and for letting us glimpse a publicist's 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.