Friday, August 28, 2015

The Monkey Wrench Gang, Doug Peacock, and me

The first reader to contribute an endorsement (a.k.a. "blurb") for my forthcoming novel, Consequence, was Scoop Nisker. Scoop was a radio news anchor on the Bay Area radio stations KSAN and KFOG as I was growing up, and often reported on the politiscape of Bay Area activism. The tag line with which he closed his reports became the title of his first book: If You Don't Like The News, Go Out and Make Some of Your Own. As an activist coming up in the 70s and 80s, that tag line became a kind of mantra to me.

Among other qualities ("exciting," "a great read"), Scoop found that Consequence was "reminiscent of The Monkey Wrench Gang," Edward Abbey's classic novel. Here's an excerpt from that book's description on Goodreads:
The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. [...] Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while.
I'll leave it to readers to decide how closely my novel echoes Abbey's. I will say, though, that Consequence isn't a comic novel, and its characters -- even the characters who monkeywrench -- are scaled much more closely to the sort of people you might know in real life than to George Washington Hayduke III, Abbey's grandiose, wildman protagonist. On the other hand, Scoop is on the mark: there's a prominent parallel-plot in Consequence that involves the kinds of things for which Hayduke is an iconic emblem: sabotaging diesel-burning forestry equipment, and ... how to say without revealing too much ... let's call them more ambitious acts of ecotage.

As it happens, Abbey's George Washington Hayduke III is based on a real-life person. And that real-life person is something of a wildman himself. His name is Doug Peacock, he's a writer and wilderness activist himself, and -- here's the twist -- he was a friend of my family during my teenage years.

Doug was a longtime friend of a fellow Ph.D. candidate in my dad's program at Stanford University in the early & mid-1970s, the late Jim Benson. Through Jim, Dad befriended Doug and contributed modestly to a film project Doug was working on then. Doug and Jim came by our house sometimes when Doug was in town, though mostly he was hanging out with grizzly bears in much wilder country than Palo Alto. This was maybe a year or two after The Monkey Wrench Gang was published.

In my family, Doug was famous for two things.

First, he had a rock-solid commitment to visiting grizzly country without carrying firearms to protect himself. It's their wilderness, not ours, he would insist, and he's still saying so (see Doug's Daily Beast post of this past Saturday, Do Killer Grizzlies Deserve Death?). Dad loved to repeat one of Doug's stories about getting treed by a grizzly, and being pretty far from certain whether he would live through the encounter. He nonetheless continued to visit the wilderness unarmed.

The second thing Doug was famous for in my family was spilling a glass of red wine on our best Danish modern couch (okay, it wasn't much, we got it secondhand, but it was the finest thing we had to sit on in our living room). What made that incident memorable was this: Doug (who was not the type to worry about social graces) got pretty flustered about making a mess of my mom's couch, but as he apologized profusely he also taught us an unexpected lesson: that pouring salt on the spill would leach the wine stain right out of her furniture. Mom was skeptical at first, but she let Doug talk her into dumping most of a container of Morton's finest over the spill. And it worked! Not a household hint you'd necessarily expect to learn from a wildman, but there you have it.

I was surprised at first to see Scoop Nisker compare Consequence to Edward Abbey's iconic environmentalist classic, but I have to admit there's a traceable line of influence. Go figure. Life hands you the strangest coincidences...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
It's a book! CONSEQUENCE coming in October ...
Allusion in fiction
Mental floss

Thanks to Erwin and Peggy Bauer for releasing their photo of a grizzly bear into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pope Francis' environmental encyclical in four core themes

There's plenty that has already been written and excerpted from Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si': On Care for our Common Home, in the ten weeks since it was published by the Vatican on 24 May. But I took my time reading through the full text (in English translation), and am only now ready to shine my own small light on this deep and comprehensive text by the spiritual leader of some 1.25 billion people. I'm not a Catholic or Christian myself, and disagree strongly with some of the Church's teachings, but Pope Francis got to the heart of several existential problems facing humankind, touching on fundamental themes that he argued and illustrated in ways that speak to audiences well beyond the bounds of Christendom.

It turns out that Bill McKibben too is only now weighing in on Laudato Si', in his piece The Pope and The Planet in the current, 13 Aug issue of the New York Review of Books [article is behind a pay wall]. As McKibben describes the encyclical:
Instead of a narrow and focused contribution to the climate debate, it turns out to be nothing less than a sweeping, radical, and highly persuasive critique of how we inhabit this planet--an ecological critique, yes, but also a moral, social, economic, and spiritual commentary.
I agree.

After reading it through I see the text (which I will no doubt re-read) emphasizing four core themes, though they don't encompass all of what Pope Francis has to say in Laudato Si':
  1. Humankind is a peer among living beings in the material world
  2. Shared responsibility is the ethos required to sustain our common home
  3. We can't rely merely on markets and engineering to resolve the present crises
  4. Synthesis -- not reductive analysis -- is the path to true understanding
To condense down the many of Pope Francis' 246 paragraphs I highlighted as I read Laudato Si' to produce something even vaguely blog-post size, I had no choice but to leave out richly-thought and clearly-articulated stretches of Pope Francis' prose. The 17 trimmed paragraphs below add up to a bit more than four percent of the full encyclical; I encourage everyone I'm capable of encouraging to read the entire document. It's 82 pages in PDF format. A full consideration of the breadth and complexity of the Pope's thinking is well worth the investment of time and attention.

In the excerpts below, the cited numerals [in square brackets] refer to the numbered paragraphs of Pope Francis' encyclical. I have omitted endnote references published in the original.

Humankind is a peer among living beings in the material world

The current pope took his name to align his papacy with St. Francis of Assisi, and is the first pope to have taken the name Francis. Early in his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis clearly draws the link between his theme and the beloved patron saint of animals and the environment:
Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. [...] His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. [...] If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. [11]
Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. [...] [42]
This is a key perspective, for Pope Francis and for all humanity: we are an integral part of Earth, and the purpose of its diverse beings, aspects, and materials is not to 'serve' humankind in any subsidiary way. We are co-equal, interdependent inhabitants -- not rulers or masters. Much follows from adoption of this considered, honest humility.

Shared responsibility is the ethos required to sustain our common home
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. [...] Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. [13]
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications [...]. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. [...] There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. [...] Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. [25]
[...] A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. [...] The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa [...]. [51]
It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. [...] [54]
The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. [...] Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction. [204]
Not everyone is called to engage directly in political life. Society is also enriched by a countless array of organizations which work to promote the common good and to defend the environment, whether natural or urban. Some, for example, show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve or beautify it as something belonging to everyone. Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges. [...] [232]
Environmental catastrophe will not be averted unless we each and all pull the weight we are capable of and responsible for pulling.

We can't rely merely on markets and engineering to resolve the present crises

That is to say, real solutions will necessarily be disruptive to how people in developed nations live.
[...] Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. [...] We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. [...] [34]
Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. [...] The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. [...] This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity. [93]
The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. [...] Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. [106]
[...] The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. [...] Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. [...] Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. [109]
[...] Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor. [190]

Synthesis -- not reductive analysis -- is the path to true understanding

This fundamental concept is not unrelated to the first theme I called out (Humankind is a peer among living beings in the material world). Pope Francis nailed it, particularly in his section titled The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm:
It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build. [107]
Although no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings, and in some regions their use has brought about economic growth which has helped to resolve problems, there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated. In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to “the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production”. [...] The expansion of these crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production and affecting regional economies, now and in the future. [...] [134]
[...] It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. [...] Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. [...] It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality. [138]
[...] By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour. Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market. [204]
* * *

To conclude with McKibben, again from The Pope and The Planet:
[...] at least since the Buddha, a line of spiritual leaders has offered a reasonably coherent and remarkably similar critique of who we are and how we live. The greatest of those critics was perhaps Jesus, but the line continues through Francis’s great namesake, and through Thoreau, and Gandhi, and many others. Mostly, of course, we’ve paid them devoted lip service and gone on living largely as before.
But lip service isn't going to work this time around, devoted or not. Rejecting leaders and pundits (McKibben names Thatcher, Reagan, and David Brooks) who "summon the worst in us and assume that will eventually solve our problems," McKibben rightly observes that:
Pope Francis, in a moment of great crisis, speaks instead to who we could be individually and more importantly as a species. As the data suggest, this may be the only option we have left.

Related posts from One Finger Typing:
Oil trains, coal trains: extractive economics vs. people and place
Asking the wrong questions about GMOs for disinformation and profit
The fossil fuel industry and the free sump that is our atmosphere: Zing!
Weather? Climate? Change?

Thanks to Agência Brasil, via Wikimedia, for the image of Pope Francis at Vargihna, Brazil.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's a book! CONSEQUENCE coming in October - Goodreads Giveaway starts today.

Have I mentioned I've been writing a novel?

(Oh. I have. Forty-seven times in five and a half years of One Finger Typing, if the Unix utilities trgrep, and wc are to be trusted.)

Well, then...

Ten weeks and counting 'til the official release date (29 September), I'm elated to announce that the finish line is visible at the end of the tunnel: my debut novel Consequence will be in readers' hands, Kindles, Nooks, iDevices, phones, and tablets by early October, in paperback and e-book editions.

If you read posts on One Finger Typing recently you may have already noticed the image of Consequence and link in the sidebar these past several weeks. But let's cut to the chase ... the capsule description from the book's back cover:
San Francisco activist Christopher Kalman has little to show for years spent organizing non-violent marches, speak-outs, blockades, and shutdowns for social and environmental justice. When a shadowy eco-saboteur proposes an attack on genetically engineered agriculture, Christopher is ripe to be drawn into a more dangerous game. His certainty that humankind stands on the brink of ecological ruin drives Christopher to reckless acts and rash alliances, pitting grave personal risk against conscientious passion.
Here's how early endorsers have responded to the novel (these also from the back-cover):
"I couldn’t put Consequence down! Masover ... asks thorny, essential questions about personal responsibility and the role of violence in movements for social change."
– Sam Green, Academy Award-nominated director of The Weather Underground
"Consequence is a great read, full of building tension and excitement ... Masover writes about conflicts central to the human situation."
– Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance and The Fifth Sacred Thing

Over the coming weeks I'll occasionally post book news here, but a more complete announcement stream will be posted to my Author Page on Facebook, which I invite you to "Like" if you want to keep an eye on notifications about the book's launch party, readings, interviews, book fair appearances, panels, and so forth.

(You can also subscribe to my mailing list to receive a modest number of notifications via e-mail.)

One more thing, hot off the press this morning:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Consequence by Steve Masover


by Steve Masover

Giveaway ends August 11, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

If you have an itch to read Consequence early, there's a giveaway for that. Beginning today you can sign-up for a chance to win an advance-reader copy (ARC) on Goodreads. All you have to do to enter is be (or become) a Goodreads reader -- it's free -- and click the Enter Giveaway link above (or on Goodreads' Consequence page) before the giveaway ends.

Whenever you read Consequence, I hope that you'll leave reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads to let other readers know what you think.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books
Dystopias in fiction
Allusion in fiction

Monday, July 13, 2015

Oil trains, coal trains: extractive economics vs. people and place

On Saturday -- on my way to a march protesting the transport of Bakken oil via "bomb train" through Richmond, California and other cities and towns -- and within lethal range of homes, schools, churches, shops, and workplaces -- a coal train was slowly rolling south (toward the Port of Oakland) as I stepped off the BART train. Its engine was too far ahead to see from the platform. After hauling my bike down the stairs, through the station, up some more stairs, and peddling to the corner of W. MacDonald and 16th, where I met and chatted with a friend, then finally headed west toward the march's starting point ... yep, that the train was still chugging past.

That was dispiriting.

On the other hand, the march that kicked off at Atchison Village, stopped at the entrance to Kinder Morgan's Richmond railyard, and wound up with a rally at Washington Park, was spirited and colorful. The photo below shows Forest Ethics organizer Ethan Buckner speaking to the crowd at Atchison Village.

Ethan spent the night in jail earlier in the week, arrested by the California Highway Patrol for hanging a banner off a railroad bridge in Benicia, part of a week of action aimed at stopping lethal transport of volatile crude (whose extraction via fracking from the Bakken formation dangerously exacerbates CO2 emissions that are changing Earth's climate, not to mention the earthquakes and fouled aquifers) along routes that endanger anyone and everything within a kilometer of the tracks (see the Canadian National Post timeline of the Lac-Megantic train disaster, in which a bomb-train killed 47 people).

Here's an excerpt from a call to participate in Saturday's march:
In Richmond, the fight against crude by rail is the latest example of the fossil fuel industry’s blatant disregard for the climate and the health and safety of communities of color. We know we don’t need this toxic and explosive extreme oil - already, our communities are building solutions for climate resilience and social justice. Together, we demand an end to extreme fossil fuels as we usher in a just transition to a clean, equitable, and thriving economy for all.

This summer, the fight against oil trains is heating up across the Bay Area, California, and North America. Richmond is on the front lines of two major oil train fights: first, environmental justice leaders have been fighting to shut down the illegal Kinder Morgan oil trains terminal, which was permitted behind the backs of the community. In addition, the proposed Phillips 66 oil trains terminal in San Luis Obispo County would bring an additional 2.5 million gallons of toxic, explosive tar sands oil daily through the city. Already, the climate justice movement in Richmond and beyond have been stepping up to fight both projects. Now is the time to turn up the heat.
So what about that coal train?

Well, I can't say for sure but I'm guessing it was headed for the Port of Oakland, where the city (both government and citizens) and real-estate developer Phil Tagami are in a nasty fight over whether the dirty coal is to be shipped through the port. A rally followed by a speakout at the Oakland City Council meeting next Tuesday, 21 July, will demand a coal-free Oakland.

The threat to people and planet posed by our deeply-embedded reliance on fossil fuels to power economies around the world isn't going to be neutralized easily. Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to climate change politics over the last fifty years knows that. Regular people need to engage en mass if we're going to successfully drive a wedge between politicians and the massive energy companies that grease their every lubricious surface.

Later this year, the United Nations Conference of Parties will have its 21st annual meeting, in Paris this time around (COP21 is one of the meeting's several appellations). Here in the Bay Area, organizing has begun for a mass action to demand "a global agreement to implement dramatic and rapid reduction in global warming pollution" (from the emergent coalition's Points of Unity statement, to be finalized later this week and published online soon). The coalition keeps tweaking its name, but this week it's the Northern California Climate Mobilization.

What's happening in your part of the world?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The lemming situation: things we've known for 50 years about environmentalism
Human are like rats and cockroaches: the coming feudalism
Unvarnished truth is hard to swallow

Monday, June 29, 2015

Egg whites to treat moderate burns? Do the intertubes really know better?

An odd thing happened on Facebook the other day.

S--, a former colleague, posted the unhappy news that she had "just burned the F*CK out of my left index finger" while making dinner. A bunch of her Facebook friends chimed in immediately with sympathy and suggestions, led by her mom ... who offered the sensible advice that she cool the injury immediately in ice water. I didn't see the post until nearly an hour later, but thought I'd suggest -- for next time -- a folk remedy my family learned from another when I was a wee lad: after a minor to moderate burn, crack an egg over the injured area to coat it in raw egg white (it's a better idea to cool the injury under cool running water, then crack the egg).

Apparently this was novel advice to S-- and those of her friends who were weighing in on the What Is To Be Done question raised by her not-uncommon kitchen mishap. She was certain that the burn was severe enough to blister, and it was still hurting an hour later, so -- better late than never -- she tried the egg treatment, and found that the pain went away. S-- wrote that she was "happily flabbergasted."

I was flabbergasted too. Not because the egg trick had worked, I was pretty certain it would -- but because the treatment seemed to be unknown to S-- and her circle. So I turned to the hive mind to find out whether Everybody Knew that raw egg white helps to treat moderate burns, or if I had been living in an alternate universe since the 1970s.

It seems that everybody knew I'd been living in an alternate universe.

From Snopes, my favorite repository of hoax-debunking wisdom:
Akin to another Internet-spread rumor regarding the treatment of burns (which involved placing the injured extremity into a bag of flour), this seemingly helpful heads up also began making the online rounds in March 2011. In a nutshell, don't do it, because the danger of introducing salmonella into an open wound should not be toyed with.

The Internet-spread egg white remedy is somewhat more reliable in its approach to treating minor burns at home in that it outright states one should first cool the injured area completely with cold water before applying anything to the wound, yet even in regard to that exhortation, it's a bit off the mark [...]

If egg white is at all effective in treating burns (and we're not at all convinced that it is, 100+ year medical references to the contrary), it's as an occlusive dressing that would keep contamination out of a raw wound, not as a magical curative of burned flesh. Its effect on the healing process wouldn't have anything to do with its collagen content or that it's a "placenta full of vitamins," but rather that it's a thickish liquid that would form a barrier. (In other words, motor oil — which has no collagen to it at all — would work equally as well.)

As to what to do with all this confusion, even when the burn is minor and the injury is fully cooled before anything else is done to it, there is a downside to coating such an injury with egg white. Raw eggs sometimes contain or have resident on their shells salmonella, a deadly bacteria. Introducing salmonella into an open wound would be a dangerous idea. Says a physician friend of ours, "Burn-injured, denuded skin is an excellent culture medium, and a contaminated egg white applied to his burn could readily cause severe damage or death to the patient."
Oh, c'mon, I thought. Really? Salmonella? Motor oil?

But then I turned to the Journal of Emergency Nursing, and read of a study published in March 2010, First-aid Home Treatment of Burns Among Children and Some Implications at Milas, Turkey submitted by Banu Karaoz, whose abstract reads as follows:
This descriptive study was conducted among 130 families in Milas, Turkey, who have children ages 0 to 14 years. Among the 130 families, a total of 53 children (40.8%) experienced a burn event. Twenty-seven subjects (51%) had treated the burn with inappropriate remedies including yogurt, toothpaste, tomato paste, ice, raw egg whites, or sliced potato. Of the 28 subjects (52.8%) who had applied cold water to the burn site, 21 patients (39.6%) applied only cold water and 7 patients (13.2%) used another substance along with cold water. In addition, 13 subjects (24.5%) applied ice directly on the skin at the time of the burn. Excluding the subjects who had treated their burns with only cold water or with only ice, raw egg whites were the most commonly used agent, both alone (n = 3) or accompanied by cold water or ice (n = 6) in a total of 11 subjects (21%) who applied eggs. Based on these observations, it is suggested that educational programs emphasizing first-aid application of only cold water to burn injuries would be helpful in reducing morbidity and mortality rates. A nationwide educational program is needed to ensure that young burn victims receive appropriate first aid and to reduce the use of inappropriate home remedies and burn morbidity.
Burn morbidity. That sounds pretty grim.

I learned about burns and egg whites on a family car-camping trip in the mid-seventies. It was a multi-family camping trip, including mine and that of a postdoc in the Stanford University lab where my father was earning a degree in medical microbiology. The postdoc -- now a decades-long family friend -- was from Japan, and he was already, by the time he came to Stanford, a medical doctor (and therefore, going back to the Snopes screed, a physician friend of ours). He went on to become a professor and internationally respected research scientist before retiring a few years ago. But it was his wife, E--, who taught us about burns and egg whites.

At the time of this camping trip my brother was eight or so years old, plus or minus, and while our families were preparing a meal he burned his hand on a hot pan, cast iron if memory serves. Shocked, hollering bloody murder, in the middle of nowhere and hours from the Stanford Medical Center, E-- lunged for the ice chest, found a raw egg, and -- you guessed it -- cracked it over my brother's throbbing hand, slathering his injury in albumen.

It worked. The pain subsided, my brother calmed down, then my parents calmed down, and eventually we ate.

I remembered this trick when I was working in a restaurant some fifteen years later. I don't recall what I was making, but it involved a 10" All-Clad skillet and a very hot oven. Short story, I was doing five or six things at once -- S.O.P. for an on-duty cook -- and managed to forget to wrap a towel around the skillet's handle when I grabbed it and pulled the pan from the oven.

Hot? Let me tell you ... the whole palm of my hand and the inside of all my fingers went instantly bright, angry red, and I hurt like I'd never imagined.

It was a kitchen, probably not fundamentally different from yours at home, so a sink, ice, and a big metal bowl were mere steps away. I ran water over my right hand before plunging it in ice water, then did my best to get on with pumping out my station's dishes, one-handed. After a few minutes, in a moment between plating antipasti, I cracked a couple of eggs over still throbbing hand, wrapped it in a clean towel, and finished my shift. Miraculously, the burn didn't blister and the pain had subsided altogether by the time the kitchen closed. I was back behind the stove the next night.

I posted a letter to Japan shortly afterward, thanking E-- for saving me from a second degree burn over a distance of 5,000 miles and a fair few years.

So what's a person to do when folk wisdom -- verified by repeated, first-person, empirical experience -- contradicts medical authority?

I'm not going to try to give a general answer to that question.

But in the case of egg whites and kitchen burns? I'm thinking that if "only one in every 10,000 to 30,000 supermarket eggs is typically infected with salmonella enteritidis" (without clear evidence that free range organic chickens lay fewer infected eggs, so don't get cocky, as it were, if your fridge is stocked with the good stuff) -- even so, it's got to be way safer than crossing the street to go with the egg white treatment, unless a burn injury involves broken skin.

But caveat lector: I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on the intertubes.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Amateur food porn from Austria and Italy
One hundred trillion bacteria: the microbiome within you and without you
Broken food chains
Eating insects

Thanks to Samuel M. Livingston for the photo of a cracked egg, via Flickr.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Foolish arguments for surveillance state aren't helping

It's hard to keep one's head from spinning right off one's neck trying to follow 'arguments' by which the surveillance state scrabbles to paint its interest in snooping as legitimate.

Here from Reuters today, in U.S. tech industry appeals to Obama to keep hands off encryption [emphasis added]:
Obama administration officials have pushed the [technology] companies to find ways to let law enforcement bypass encryption to investigate illegal activities including terrorism threats, but not weaken it in a way that would let criminals and computer hackers penetrate the security wall.

So far, however, the White House has not spelled out specific regulatory or legislative steps that it might seek to achieve that objective.

Last week White House press secretary Josh Earnest called this a "thorny policy challenge" that has Obama's attention.

While he recognized tech companies' efforts to protect Americans' civil liberties, Earnest, responding to a reporter's question, added that the companies "would not want to be in a position in which their technology is being deployed to aid and abet somebody who’s planning to carry out an act of violence."
Hmmm.... Will Mr. Earnest next deploy that argument against the developers, manufacturers, and distributors of ... wait for it ... handguns? What about pesticides, chain saws, high fructose corn syrup, automobiles, and alcohol? What about military weapons, from bayonets to nukes?

White House rhetorical fluff masquerading as argument fills the sails of libertarian me-firsters and paranoid Texas governors who cast sinister aspersions on the hostile intentions of the PotUS until they needs help bailing out the state after fierce rainstorms that have nothing to do with climate change, which just happens.

Why feed those trolls?

Obama administration officials are wrong to push for a technically and politically impossible 'good guys only' back door to the encryption technology that protects any and all online communication and commerce.

They should quit trying to justify their demand with dumb-as-rocks arguments.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Is data security worth it? Depends who's counting.
Surveillance and power through fiction and fact: Max Barry's "Lexicon"
Not your granddaddy's metadata: don't believe the PRISM anti-hype
Pimped by our own devices: electronica, the cloud, and privacy piracy

Thanks to WoodleyWonderWorks for the image of a door key via Flickr.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant

Peter Heller is the author of a finely crafted, deeply melancholy, but -- against type! -- hopeful post-apocalyptic novel The Dog Stars, published to wide and well-deserved acclaim in 2012. Heller was at Diesel Books in Oakland last month to read from the newly-released paperback of his second work of fiction, The Painter, where I met and spoke to him as his audience arrived.

Because he asked (another Diesel Books regular having already told him I am a writer), I described my forthcoming novel Consequence, and in the course of our conversation I categorized it as "pre-apocalyptic fiction." The concept seemed to intrigue Heller, and when I described my book's focus on a community of San Francisco activists organizing against the proliferation of genetically-engineered agriculture he told me about a book he recently blurbed: John Vaillant's The Jaguar's Children. I put it in my queue immediately.

The Jaguar's Children is told by Héctor María de la Soledad Lázaro González from the inside of a welded-shut water truck transporting Héctor; an old friend and agricultural scientist César, whom he has only recently found after a long separation; and a company of fellow border-crossers. Following a mechanical breakdown, their coyotes have abandoned the truck and its human prisoners to a slow, tortured descent toward death-by-dehydration in the Arizona desert. Héctor narrates his tale as a series of text and voice recordings queued up in a cell phone, in the hope that sufficient signal will be miraculously regained that he can transmit to an unknown, desperately hoped-for rescuer. Late in the novel we learn that the phone -- César's -- carries the last surviving copy of research that proves the biotech company SantaMaize has released a genetically modified variant of corn that will wipe out genetic diversity that indigenous farmers have depended on for thousands of years, and transform Mexico's self-sufficient communities into indentured servants of agribusiness ... which is why César and Héctor have fled Mexico in the first place, pursued by thuggish enforcers in the service of SantaMaize.

Vaillant's work is set in a pre-apocalyptic, present-day world: amid brutal genocide in Mexico and Central America, fueled by drug cartels and boughten police; among desperate rivers of immigrants to the United States, driven by otherwise inescapable violence and poverty into the predatory clutches of coyotes, who rob then abandon them to die in desert borderlands; and in the shadow of a corporate oligarchy hellbent on destroying indigenous people, culture, deeply-rooted agricultural practice, and land in order to accrue profit and power that dwarfs the crude ambitions of druglords.

Does any of that setting sound familiar? Maybe that’s because you've read about the fictional world of The Jaguar's Children in the reputable, non-fiction press. The chaos and savagery in which Vaillant has set his novel is happening. Today. Now.

That's the thing about "pre-apocalyptic fiction," as I conceive it. It isn't nearly so speculative as its darker, post-apocalyptic cousins. It takes place in a world that has already come into being, not a world that might come to pass. And its heroes are the women and men who are doing what they can to turn the apocalyptic tide.

At a demonstration in support of fossil fuels divestment yesterday on the UC Berkeley campus, I was talking to a fellow-activist and retired psychiatrist about current fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction. My own theory, I told him, is that novels of this sort function in the same way that dreams do: they permit people to grapple with issues, conflicts, and fears that are too overwhelming to confront in real or waking life.

Pre-apocalyptic fiction, on the other hand, like The Jaguar's Children and Consequence, portray real people overcoming fears from which one might naturally and normally hide, in order to confront forces that are -- in real life, today and now -- propelling humanity and all living beings toward an apocalyptic precipice.

Pre-apocalyptic fiction dramatizes the heroism that surrounds us -- in real life -- from Vandana Shiva's "fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops" described by Michael Specter in The New Yorker last year ("Seeds of Doubt," 25 Aug 2014); to the pacifist anti-nuclear heroines and heroes of the Plowshares movement, described in that same magazine by Eric Schlosser last month ("Break-In at Y-12," 9 March 2015).

As John Vaillant has proven in The Jaguar's Children, these dramas are the stuff that compelling fiction is made of.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Asking the wrong questions about GMOs for disinformation and profit
Teju Cole's Open City: protagonist as open book or guarded guide?
Surveillance and power through fiction and fact: Max Barry's "Lexicon"
Tinkering: on bookstore serendipity and novels that show what it is to be alive
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books