Saturday, February 24, 2007

Noted author Francis Moore-Lappé coming to Laxson Auditorium Tuesday


Chico State University's "On the Creek" lecture series will feature the author of "Diet for a Small Planet," Frances Moore-Lappé, at Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The presentation is free but a ticket is required from the University Box Office, Second Street at Normal Avenue (898-6333).

Moore-Lappé will speak, courtesy of Chico Performances, on "Living Planet, Living Democracy: Lessons from the Citizens of the World," a subject she explores in one of her newest books, "Democracy's Edge: Choosing To Save Our Country By Bringing Democracy To Life" ($24.95 in hardcover from Jossey-Bass). This is the third book in a trilogy that includes "Hope's Edge," on which her daughter Anna collaborated, and "You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear," which was written with Jeffrey Perkins.

Though "Democracy's Edge" is a polemical work (there seem to be two kinds of Americans in the book: what Moore-Lappé calls the Far Right -- exemplified by the Bush Administration and its corporate cronies -- and everyone else), it is also intended to be a book of hope. There are stories of dozens if not hundreds of citizen groups that are making a real difference in politics, education, and workers' rights in accord with her definition of democracy.

"Living Democracy" involves "negotiating interests by relying on fair play, honest dialogue and mutual respect." It's "not just righting a particular injustice that limits people's freedom. It's changing how decisions are made." Humanity's task, says the author, "is to envision and create institutions, from our schools to our media to our businesses, that foster our democratic selves -- people able to feel and express empathy and to see through the walls of race, culture and religion that divide us, people who know how to exert power while maintaining relationship."

By contrast, what she calls "thin" democracy -- in which politicians proclaim "power to the people" but arrogate power to themselves instead -- perpetuates "four constricting measures" that limit the expansion of Living Democracy. These "misfits" include the assumption that two political parties are enough; that any real limits on campaign spending violate free speech; that "the free market brings us all prosperity"; and that "to keep generating wealth, corporations must consider only the financial bottom line." (While Moore-Lappé welcomes globalization "understood as ... communication and sharing across national borders," she rejects what she calls "global corporatism.")

"Democracy's Edge" is designed to counter each of those ingrained notions with success stories of people united by a common purpose changing how democracy is done. She spotlights the work of such organizations as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Industrial Areas Foundation (founded by "Saul Alinsky, the godfather of community organizing"). Hers is a leftist agenda, though she does not use that term, preferring instead to frame her proposals as "walking with bold humility" in reclaiming the kind of human relationships that Living Democracy ought to be about.

A chart at the end of the book invites readers to "consciously generate language that communicates what is emerging and what we want to bring into being." Her preferred term is "engaged citizen" rather than "activist." The seemingly neutral term "conventional farming" becomes "chemically dependent farming." "Liberal" becomes "progressive, democratic." She calls "pro-choice" the "pro-child movement including the right of every child to be wanted with opportunities for a full life." Finally, "taxes" are "membership dues for a strong, healthy society."

Moore-Lappé paints a provocative picture, worth the spirited public discussion it generates.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poet, essayist Gary Snyder to appear at Laxson Auditorium March 2 for free lecture


As part of Chico State University's On the Creek Lecture Series, which is dedicated to exploring sustainability issues, noted poet and essayist Gary Snyder will appear at Laxson Auditorium on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. The presentation is free.

Snyder has lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills since 1970. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975 for "Turtle Island," he has twice been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, in 1992 and 2005. He is a recipient of the Bollingen Poetry Prize, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2004 Japanese Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Grand Prize.

His latest book, "Back on the Fire" ($24 in hardcover from Shoemaker and Hoard), features recent essays, most previously published, that intermingle autobiography, reflections on the place of the writer in the modern world and a concern that those who have benefited from the natural world (all of us) become more thankful and "give something back."

Snyder sees the world through Daoist-Confucian-Mahayana Buddhist eyes and has little patience for those who romanticize nature with their "quasi-religious pantheistic landscape enthusiasms." In Snyder's "literature of the environment," "we will necessarily be exploring the dark side of nature -- nocturnal, parasitic energies of decomposition and their human parallels." He adds, in another essay: "Nature is not fuzzy and warm. Nature is vulnerable, but it is also tough, and it will inevitably be last up at bat."

Many of the essays deal with the forest, and fire, as a kind of symbol of changing public policy toward the wilderness. "Our wild forests have long had an elegant and self-sustaining nutrient and energy cycle, and staying within that should be a key measure of true sustainability." Periodic low-level fires are necessary for keeping the forest healthy; logging practices that remove the surviving trees after a major fire make it more difficult for the forest to sustain itself. Just as governments have to think in terms of thousands of years in dealing with nuclear waste, Snyder writes, we ought to be thinking of a "thousand year forest plan" as well. Ecology is about process, "a creation happening constantly in each moment. A close term in East Asian philosophy is the word Dao, the Way, dô in Japanese." As he writes in a poem, "--Nature not a book, but a performance, a / high old culture."

The art Snyder advocates "takes nothing from the world; it is a gift and an exchange. It leave the world nourished." "We study the great writings of the Asian past," he writes, "so that we might surpass them today. We hope to create a deeply grounded contemporary literature of nature that celebrates the wonder of our natural world, that draws on and makes beauty of the incredibly rich knowledge gained from science, and that confronts the terrible damage being done today in the name of progress and the world economy."

One November day, Snyder has cleared brush from around his house and sets fire to the pile. "Clouds darkening up from the West, a breeze, a Pacific storm headed this way. Let the flames finish their work -- a few more limb-ends and stubs around the edge to clean up, a few more dumb thoughts and failed ideas to discard -- I think -- this has gone on for many lives!

"How many times / have I thrown you / back on the fire."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, February 09, 2007

Retired Chico State professor explores the self's yearnings


Former Chico State University professor David Downes has achieved international renown as an expert on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now, in his retirement years, Downes has taken to writing novels, drawing on stories from his boyhood growing up in the Cripple Creek gold district in Colorado ("The Belle of Cripple Creek Gold") and his exploration of how self, belief and love are interconnected ("The Angel in Wax").

In his new story, "Sailing: Inside Passages -- The Mysteries of the Inner Sea" ($10 in paperback from Xlibris), Downes, writing as "David Anton," puts his characters aboard the cruise ship Europa for a tour of the western Mediterranean -- which becomes a tour of their inner lives.

Merlin Morgan is 55, a retired literature professor. Marina, his Mother (the story always capitalizes the word), is very rich indeed; widowed for a decade, she had never remarried and always worried she had made her son's life too easy. Merlin, looking at himself in the mirror, "saw an older man, cynical about life, who had taken a hard look at the ways of the world and his role in it and concluded there was far more evil than good in life, and thus happiness in each individual life was a gamble involving the luck of the draw in a losing game."

On board the ship, Merlin, Marina and Milli (Marina's close friend), find themselves sharing a meal with four other passengers, including Nolan Merrill, "a retired banker in his early 80s. He was a bit fragile physically, spoke in a soft voice. His attractive daughter, Zelda, Merlin guessed, was unmarried, dedicated to making her Father's last years secure and happy. He liked hearing her speak; she possessed a rich, deep, toned voice that was very pleasant to hear. The flamboyant Masons were a true match. Victor was a retired car salesman, somewhere in his sixties, and his wife Alta, in her late fifties, an inveterate bridge player."

Most of the action in the story is inner. The tablemates find themselves disembarking at various ports of call, to shop or sightsee, and the cruise itself is uneventful. But Merlin is struggling with a growing sense of emptiness and lack of companionship. At one point he has a long talk with Nolan who asks Merlin point blank: "Do you have any religion?" All Merlin can do is mutter that he was baptized Catholic and then he adds: "Religion never took with me. And I think my education gave me reasons not to have any beliefs." But then, speaking more frankly, he tells Nolan that "I think I am, in some way now, more open to some sort of spiritual experience. Now that I am moving into middle life, I feel the need to allow myself to consider fresh possibilities."

"Sailing" is about some of those fresh possibilities. Merlin realizes that his exploration of the ruins of Carthage on one of the stops is merely superficial, passionless. Nolan, on the other hand, sees beneath the surface. As Merlin tells Zelda: "Your Father really saw them for what they were -- dusty covers for a civilization that lay under them that was rich and powerful, interesting and consequential in history. He made me realize this."

And so Merlin's story unfolds as real love, which had passed him by in earlier years, finds true anchor. Anton has written a thoughtful and engaging tale in which a cynic finds the magic of hope.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, February 02, 2007

Chico writer explores national parks in books designed for pre-teens


Prolific children's book author Mike Graf, who teaches child development at Chico State University, is publishing a series of beautifully designed and illustrated stories about the national parks. The books are already winning awards.

The series is called "Adventures with the Parkers," and features the fictional family of Bob and Kristen Parker and their twins, fourth-grader Morgan and her brother James. The first is called "Bryce and Zion: Danger in the Narrows" and the second, "Grand Canyon: Tail of the Scorpion." Each is $9.95 in paperback from Fulcrum Publishing; forthcoming titles include "Yellowstone: Eye of the Grizzly" and "Yosemite: Harrowing Ascent of Half Dome," both scheduled for March release.

The first two "Adventures with the Parkers" books were recipients of the "Teachers' Choice Awards for the Family" for 2006; and "Scorpion" placed as a finalist in 2006 at in the children's book category as one of the best books for children in 2006.

According to Graf's Web site,, the author "has backpacked the world's national parks, interviewed storm-chasers and special-effects wizards, met the last surviving Angel Island immigrant, rafted through spectacular caves, researched wolf restoration, rock-climbed in Yosemite, explored ghost towns" and has had a stint as a local TV weatherman.

"Scorpion" contains dozens of full-color and black and white photographs, along with sketches by Marjorie Leggitt, illustrating some of the most important and interesting features of the Grand Canyon. Set in the context of a family outing to a national park, the stories include diary entries from James (who wants to be a reporter) and Morgan, with sidebars throughout that amplify some of the aspects of the story.

On the way to the park, for instance, the family listens to the "Grand Canyon Suite" by Ferde Grofé, and an insert tells readers about the Painted Desert, which "stretches from southeast of the Grand Canyon to near the New Mexico border. Minerals in the soil make it rainbow colored." There's also a box about Grofé himself, noting that the most famous part of his most famous suite "is the 'On the Trail' section, which has the clip-clop sound of hooves."

The Parker family arrives at the Grand Canyon Lodge (first opened in 1928 and rebuilt after a fire in 1932) and, after an abundance of sightseeing, Dad, Morgan and James are ready for a hike down the Canyon, while Mom stays topside to do some long-anticipated painting.
The reader is told that "hikers should not attempt to hike down to the river and back in one day. While hiking down may seem easy, hiking up can be extremely difficult. It is 7.1 miles and 4,650 feet of climbing from Phantom Ranch to the top of the South Kaibab Trail, with no water available along the way."

During their hike the Parkers befriend an older couple who have run out of water; Morgan starts reading "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" by Marguerite Henry, about a very special burro; the hikers use an ultraviolet light to see innumerable little scorpions pretty much camouflaged in normal light; and James becomes ill for a time in the high heat.

Along the way the reader is treated to magnificent full-color images of the ages-old Canyon and some of its denizens (including condors). The book is impressive in its simple, interesting storyline and pacing, and its selection of facts. It's an ideal gift for a pre-teen; just be prepared to change your summer vacation plans!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa