Thursday, October 26, 2017

Narrating the Anthropocene: a panel - 19 Nov 2017 - Howard Zinn Book Fair

The fourth annual Howard Zinn Book Fair (HZBF) will converge around this year's theme -- The World We Want -- at City College of San Francisco's Mission Campus the Sunday before Thanksgiving, on 19 November 2017.

I've organized one of the book fair panels, titled "Narrating the Anthropocene" and I hope you can make it! We're on from 1:30 - 2:30 pm.

What's "the Anthropocene," you ask? It's a name proposed for the current geological epoch, signifying an era of Earth's evolution that is characterized by human impacts on the planet, including impacts driving climate change and the Sixth Extinction, changes in biogeography, accretion of the nuclear fallout and radionuclides produced by thermonuclear weapons tests, etc. The "Anthropocene" designation has been formally recommended to the International Geological Congress, but is already in widespread preliminary or informal use among scientists and environmentalists.

When the call went out from HZBF organizers for panel topics I began thinking about commonalities among the most powerful and gripping accounts of threats we and the co-inhabitants of our biosphere are facing in this third century since the Industrial Revolution began. Whether the accounts are fiction or nonfiction, books or articles, text-centric or illustrated (as in comic books and graphic novels), I would say the most moving and influential go well beyond aggregation of facts, figures, and statistical trends: they're centered and grounded in story.

Hence, "Narrating the Anthropocene."

Here's a description of the panel:
In reaching for the heart and the human in books that grapple with dire threats to our only biosphere, narrative -- the art of storytelling -- is a crucial tool for writers working in all genres. As our world spins further out of equilibrium than ever before in recorded history, writers of fact and fiction are calling all hands to overcome denial and paralysis, and to prepare humankind to survive the catastrophes we fail to avert. Join a panel of authors who are narrating the Anthropocene as journalists, novelists, comic book authors, and scientists as they explore the role storytelling plays in rousing humanity to engage with the crises of our current century.
"Narrating the Anthropocene" will include authors with backgrounds as journalists, scientists, and activists, whose work spans fiction, nonfiction, and comic book forms. Here's the lineup:
Liz Carlisle, geographer and lecturer in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences; and author of Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America, a work of narrative nonfiction that straddles the border between a case study in building sustainable food systems, and a heroic account of prairieland farmer Dave Oien struggling to sustainably farm his acreage in north-central Montana. 
Michael J. Fitzgerald, journalist and novelist, author of The Fracking War and Fracking Justice, in which a small town newspaper takes on a fossil fuel behemoth to protect land and communities in upstate New York. 
Steve Masover, novelist, activist, and author of Consequence, in which a San Francisco activist loses faith in the impact of non-violent protest and becomes entangled in an eco-saboteur’s desperate conspiracy. 
Jean Tepperman, Bay Area journalist, activist, and author of the comic Warning from my Future Self about building urban community to collectively cope with the effects of climate change.

It's been a delicious pleasure getting to know these authors and read their work as we prepare for next month's panel. I hope you'll have a chance to join us; to check out some of the other panels and panelists at this year's Howard Zinn Book Fair; and wander among the exhibitor tables where you'll find terrific books and opportunities to engage with the authors and publishers who brought them into being.

Again, "Narrating the Anthropocene" starts at 1:30 pm on 19 November, at the Mission Campus of City College of San Francisco (1125 Valencia St, between 22nd and 23rd, a few blocks from 24th Street BART - map). You can RSVP on Facebook if you like ... I hope to see you there in any case!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

City and sea: a couple of weekdays away in the Bay Area

I took a couple days off work this past week, and along with paying less attention (okay, not exactly zero) to incoming office e-mail, I stepped away -- okay, really, I backed up a little bit -- from the relentless news, analysis, prediction, and preparation related to the white supremacist and right-wing militias coming to my hometown next weekend.

The Sea

On Thursday I headed for the coast, to my favorite spots at Point Reyes National Seashore. I stopped for coffee in Fairfax, and to pick up a sandwich at the deli in Lagunitas, then ate lunch on McClure's Beach under the watchful eye of a disappointed seagull, who had to satisfy himself with a seagull's usual diet of limpets and mussels and crab.

As I ate, the tide hit its low-point for the day ... not remarkably low, but still:

 After a while I climbed back up to the parking lot, and from there to the Tomales Point Trail. The creek was going strong in the ravine alongside the trail, even in this dry mid-August, draining land soaked by hard rains through the past winter and spring:

The trail was lined with Oregon gumplant, a yellow flower in the daisy family (Grindelia stricta) that exudes a sticky white gluelike substance at the early stage of blooming. I've never seen such copious quantities of gum on the forming buds before, though I've been out to McClures Beach at this time of year more than a few times. Maybe it was, again, an effect of our very rainy winter and spring following years of drought.

Spikey thistles on the opposite side of the color wheel also grew like gangbusters beside the trail.

I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of a majestic red-tailed hawk flying over the old Pearce Point Ranch buildings down to the parking lot at McClures Beach, but a short way down the Tomales Point Trail a vulture riding the wind passed close and slow enough to catch on camera.

Right behind me at about this point: a birds-eye view of McClures Beach from the ridge.

I only hiked out as far as Windy Gap, about a mile down the trail. From the gap, there's a clear view into White Gulch and Tomales Bay beyond it. In the gulch there's a spring that often attracts herds of tule elk that live out on the point and throughout the park. Right around this time of year is the start of rutting season, so I knew there was a good chance of catching the bulls bugling at each other as they begin to form harems. I was in luck. A bull and about twenty females were gathered around the spring, and another bull stood looking down on the herd from high above. Even with the wind blowing in from the ocean, I could hear the bugling as I watched through binoculars.

The City

On Friday Matthew and I hopped on BART and spent the morning at Caffe Trieste in North Beach before heading over to SFMOMA to see the Munch exhibition, Between the Clock and the Bed, for a second time. There was just enough time for lunch in the 5th floor cafe before our timed slot to enter the Munch galleries on the floor below.

Munch was not a happy painter ... to put it mildly. But, sad and jarring as his subjects may be, the paintings are beautifully and emotionally evocative. And Sick Mood at Sunset: Despair, the second painting below, evoked the prior day's far-less despairing view over the Pacific (pictured above).

But then we came to the real surprises of the afternoon. The first time we'd come to see the Munch show, in early July with some of my oldest friends, the museum was still installing a show on the seventh floor, Soundtracks, was still being installed (it opened on 15 July, and runs through the end of the year). I was pretty skeptical ... and, indeed, there are a lot of pieces in the exhibition that are way too cerebral or clever or mechanical to interest me much. But there were also pieces that took my breath away.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's white porcelain bowls floating and tenderly colliding in a turquoise pool of gently circulating water, clinamen v.3, may be the most reverently peaceful installation I've ever seen in an art museum.

The video I took doesn't do it justice, but I'll include it nonetheless.

Then there was The Visitors (2012), a 64 minute video and audio installation on nine screens and many speakers, by Ragnar Kjartansson. Blew me away. Eight Icelandic musicians play and sing together from separate rooms of an old, sprawling upstate New York mansion (they are connected via earphones): spare orchestration, haunting harmonies, and mantra-like lyrics from a poem Feminine Ways by the artist's former partner, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. I didn't stay through the whole 64 minutes (Matthew didn't go into the sort of rapture I did -- perhaps in part because he had visited the piece before, when it was installed in 2015-16 at The Broad in Los Angeles), but I'll be returning to experience the piece from beginning to end at least once while it is on view at SFMOMA. Interestingly, I misheard some of the words in the plain, repeated lyrics -- words that evoke a lifetime's psychologically bottomless trajectory juxtaposed with the unreachable vastness of the physical universe. Finding the words of Gunnarsdóttir's poem from which the lyrics are drawn (thanks Google) only deepened my commitment to returning to experience The Visitors again. Here's a brief segment of the piece, in which the musicians are vocalizing the monastic melody:

The Visitors was still playing in my head this morning ... but SFMOMA had one more breathtaking gift for us before we headed home: a lush, newly-exhibited Anselm Kiefer piece at the entrance to the sixth floor galleries: Maria durch den Dornwald ging (When Mary Went through the Thorn Forest):

I'll be going back to SFMOMA to look at that again too...

A week from today the nation's political hurricane is expected to make landfall at Crissy Field, not far from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The next day: Berkeley, where I live and work and write. I hope the turmoil to which it aspires will be as overmatched by nonviolent local response as it was today in Boston.

In any case, I was grateful to gain some distance and perspective, in the city and beside the sea. I hope and trust it will inform a grounded passion I can bring to events next weekend.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Meet the Fishers
Point Reyes National Seashore at the start of the year
Never mind Election Day 2014, consider Fall in Northern California
A day at Bodega Head
From the Sierras to the sea: Escape from Election 2016

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday in the neighborhood

It's been a long while since I posted here ... too many distractions. But this morning, feeling kind of slow and walkabouty, I wandered east and north and west and south again, up to UC Berkeley's Campanile and back home. Here are some of the things I saw:


Related posts on One Finger Typing:
A day at Bodega Head
Post-convention blues (the sky, I'm sayin')
April showers brought May flowers
On the bright side: an iris in someone's front yard
Flowery front yards in Berkeley

Monday, February 13, 2017

Without Consent: Tar Sands "Valve Turners" visit UC Berkeley

I spent Friday evening on the UC Berkeley campus, in a lecture hall full of activists and community members gathered for dialog with the Tar Sands Pipeline Valve Turners: five brave activists who could have stepped out of Edward Abbey's fiction, or Sunil Yapa's, or Michael Ondaatje's, or my own novel, Consequence. But in real life, these monkey wrenchers collectively stopped the U.S.-bound flow of tar sands crude oil from the so-called "sacrifice zone" in Alberta, Canada (images), where it is extracted in a mode that decimates forests, wildlife, and human communities. They did so by turning off emergency shutoff valves along the pipeline route, in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington.

The Valve Turners shut down the flow of tar sands crude on 11 October 2016, in solidarity with a call by indigenous Water Protectors at Standing Rock for International Days of Prayer and Action from 8-11 October. Their action was not announced in advance, but it was performed publicly. In fact the Valve Turners arranged for videographers to record exactly what they did ... and livestreamed the shutdowns in the North Dakota and Montana. Then they waited for sheriffs to show up and arrest them.

All five Valve Turners -- Michael Foster, Leonard Higgens, Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and Ken Ward -- are facing felony charges. Filmmakers who recorded and livestreamed their action were also arrested and charged; some of those charges have since been dropped. Ken Ward's trial ended in a hung jury the week before last. Ward was not permitted by the trial judge to mount a "necessity defense" but some jurors figured out what had really happened based on the little context Ward was able to provide in his own testimony; and decided that reasoning, motive, and intention excused his burglary and sabotage charges. He will be retried.

Annette Klapstein, a Valve Turner who is also a member of Seattle's chapter of Raging Grannies, explained that it's not hard to shut down an oil pipeline. One can -- as she and her comrades did -- learn all about shutting down oil pipelines on YouTube. It took the group about five months and twelve or fourteen thousand dollars to prepare for and execute their action.

Why this action and not something else? Ken Ward told the crowd in 145 Dwinelle Hall that he was "searching for ways to be effective." That doesn't mean that any of the Valve Turners or their supporters believe that shutting down pipelines carrying the nastiest crude for a few hours or a day is the goal. In fact, as their decision to shut the pipelines down publicly and face legal consequences demonstrates, the opportunity to broadcast their message was the strategic goal of the Valve Turners' shutdown all along. And the core of that message isn't the looming threat of climate change: that information is out there, and anyone listening is aware of it. No, the core of the Valve Turners message is this, articulated in a crisp sound-byte by Emily Johnston:
"These companies cannot operate without consent."
Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver professor and co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict described what she calls the "3.5% Rule" at TEDxBoulder in 2013. Consider this excerpt:
Researchers used to say that no government could survive if five percent of its population mobilized against it. But our data reveal that the threshold is probably lower. In fact, no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that [...] 
The data are clear: When people rely on civil resistance, their size grows. And when large numbers of people withdraw their cooperation from an oppressive system, the odds are ever in their favor.
The secret sauce? Annette Klapstein gave it away on Friday evening:
"You just have to be absolutely relentless, that's how you get it done."
There's a lot to get done in the current era, in which authoritarian, oligarchic government is spreading like highly infectious disease. It can't be scoured away unless and until enough people resist, as the Valve Turners have shown is well within the realm of what's possible.

But you don't have to face felony charges to participate!

For example, have a look at Friday's Washington Post article, Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls -- particularly if  you live in or near a red state or congressional district. Yup. That could be you...

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and you can show the love you feel for fearless work that each of the Valve Turners has done on behalf of our common and humane future by helping to support their legal defense at

Whether or not you click the Donate link, consider inviting a few friends and neighbors over to work out how you will become a part of the 3.5%.

Thanks to TastyCakes and Jamitzky via Wikipedia Commons for the public domain image of Syncrude's base mine 25 miles north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
A half-dozen things to consider three weeks after electocalypse
Oakland coal ban: real politics amid the Drumpfoolery
Sticking your neck out
Pope Francis' environmental encyclical in four core themes