Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As things close: ending a chapter and going to Berkeley

Chapter Three of my book is coming to a close. I’m resisting closing it. For now, it will be the end of my nuclear discussion. I like sticking to one thing, and I’ve been immersed in this nuke world for a while now. Little ole’ humanities gal me, I’m actually becoming a bit science-obsessed---at least in terms of how nuclear matters are interpreted in filmic contexts. I’m fascinated with Lise Meitner—the anti-semitism that forced her out of Germany during the holocaust and what she discovered about splitting the atom while walking in the snow. I am fascinated, also, by my best friend’s mother –Cecile De Witt- a physicist who was brought to the states by Oppenheimer after World War II. I will interview her for my book. Soon. In order to talk to Cecile, I feel as though I have to have a handle on what she does—math and science dunce that I am, I read Uranium Wars a while back, as well as some other histories of the making of the bomb, and I recently picked up a book called, How to teach Physics to Your Dog. This may help.

I’ll miss those black and white moments with bombs exploding on film, lone men and women walking down cardboard streets past cardboard buildings, shouting in post-apocalyptic hysterics, “anybody!” All those newspaper clippings: “Nuclear War Imminent!” "Atom Bomb" “Russians Invading!” “Doomsday!”

Funniest moment in a nuke film: in Panic in the Year Zero a family survives a nuclear attack on LA (they are outside of LA and en route to go camping when the nuclear bomb drops on the city). They travel back into the woods and camp out in a cave (a la lost in space), so they are not exposed to the radiation. Although the story takes place mostly outside in the supposed wilderness, the art design has that cheesy early 1960s TV set feeling. Of course this feeling of an “unnatural” nature contributes to the sense of remoteness from the dangers of real war and real nuclear radiation. In this film, staying away from LA for a period of time (within driving distance) proves safe enough. And, in the end, all survivors go back home without any repercussions.

There is an interesting sexual tension in the film with some deviant local boys who go after the teenage daughter in the family, as well as another young woman. The father and son play “he” men-carrying rifles, shooting at dangerous male predators, and hunting animals (the father has to teach his middle-class suburban son proper masculine behavior in order for the family to survive). In contrast, the weak women wash and cook and stay behind. They are prey to the oversexed local hoodlums. In one scene, the teenaged son goes hunting and, in a highly comedic moment (although it is not intended to be funny), the boy shoots a deer and carries his prey back to the father as evidence of his prowess. The teenager blithely tosses the “dead” deer on the ground near his dad, but when it lands, there is a light thud and the deer bounces! The young man's "catch" is obviously a large stuffed animal. The two “macho” men continue the scene as if nothing happened. In this film, nuclear war is just one more thing for middle class Americans to contend with-- like being shipwrecked on Gilligan's Island, or being lost in space. It is an adventure. It is fun. It is character building. It teaches little boys how to be men.

In closing this chapter, I am heading out to Berkeley, California, where I lived for many years as a child with my peacenik parents. I’m going to meet my mother’s friend Thalia Stern Broudy. Thalia was one of the key anti-nuclear mother activists with Women Strike For Peace in the 1950s and 1960s (along with my mother and Phyllis Resnick), who helped to halt above-ground nuclear testing in the US. I’m going to interview her for my book. A picture of my mother, Thalia and Phyllis Resnick sits before me as I write. They are my inspiration.

On this trip, I'll show my daughter around my favorite city. We'll walk through the Berkeley hills, Tilden Park, and ride the merryground where my father often took me as a child. I'm going to look for the old Peace Center, too.

When I return to New York, I'll be sure to go to the anti-nuclear weapon discussion at the Ethical Culture Society. This event features Daniel Ellsberg, who wrote the article I keep referring to, America is Asleep At the Wheel. He's a brilliant expert on nuclear weapons and the danger they pose to all life on earth.

Here is the information about this event:

A World Without Nuclear Weapons: Obama’s Vision, Our Mission.

The speakers for this event include Daniel Ellsberg, Doris Shaffer, and Jonathan Schell. Thursday, April 8, 2010, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street, NYC.

Be there or be square!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Distracted-Nukes and News

All these months later, I'm still watching nuclear bomb films and sorting through massive amounts of information on radiation, fall out, power plants, storage, history, and more. President Obama's nuclear reactor policy is frightening.  His approach to disarmament is good.  Leaking radioactive materials and the impossibility of finding a solution for radioactive waste is just.... baffling...scary...appalling.

I still have to wonder why three members of my own immediate family of five had cancer (two died, I'm still here), and why almost every person I know has either had it, or has a family member who has had it.  All of us have friends and family who have died from the disease, and too many died very young.  I'm very worried for my daughter and her  (future) children (she's only twelve now!).  I'm worried about all of you and your children.  If we don't do more to fight this environmental battle, future generations will be impacted even more than we have. Solutions don't exist yet for disposing with radioactive waste safely. Leaky nukes in Russia, here, and elsewere are really problematic and dangerous. The half life of plutionium and other man-made radioactive elements is beyond comprehension.  I'll talk about all of this in more depth in my forthcoming book.

A funny movie: Invasion USA (1951).  Wow.  If you want to see anti-USSR propaganda and a huge push for building up a nuclear arsenal, watch that one.  Actually not funny. That propaganda stuff worked wonders (and still does) and now we're dealing with the fall out (yes, pun intended).  Underground nuclear bomb testing only recently stopped in this country. Why were we so oblivious?  How could it have gone on for so many years?

Warren Hoskins is a great resource for nuclear material.  He sent me an interesting link:


This week there is a conference on nuclear issues in Washington, D.C. organized by Nuclear Weapons Alliance.  Their site contains a lot of information on current nuclear legislation and issues.

So Laura G. wants a definition of ecofeminism.  I'm going to post a full answer to this question soon--I have an excerpt from an article and this will be in the book as well.  I'll share this, but for now here is a short and over-simplified explanation: Ecofeminists argue that there are important connections between the oppression of nature and women.  Karen Warren calls these "twin oppressions" in her collection, Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, NatureWarren and other ecofeminists argue that within our western (patriarchal) culture, white males have been viewed (historically) as superior to all--women, people of color, and the natural world.  This patriarchal worldview situates and situated white males as possessing a "natural right" to justifiably control and dominate the world around them. Ecofeminists (this ecofeminist in particular) argue that in order for us to sustain our human existence on this planet, we must shift away from a masculinist 'power over the other' ideology, or we will destroy our earth as we know it. Carolyn Merchant, a key feminist environmental historian, suggests that human beings need to live in an equitable and balanced relationship with all living things in order to achieve a requisite ethic of care. Unless human beings come to a full recognition of the interrelationship and interconnectedness among all living things, we will continue to exploit, pollute and poison our earth and, ultimately, annihilate ourselves.  I recommend that anyone interested in this topic read Merchant's The Death of Nature.  She offers a deep and thorough history of the exploitation of nature and its connections to industrialism, science, women, indigenous people, and more.

The alarm clock is ringing!  Wake up!

My mind is swirling in red imagery---I'm writing about the powerful film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire.  It is a scorcher.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Twitter, You've Got Me Spinning

If you have been following my blog, you already know I'm writing a book on mothering and ecofeminism.  Much of the book focuses on nuclear bombs and mothers.

A week or so ago, my mind was filled with cinematic representations of nuclear annihilation.  Strange as it sounds, I was captivated with the topic and unable to think, write,  or talk about anything else.  I churned out a chapter in a short time, and was ready to move to the next.

And then it all stopped.  I found Twitter.

Last Sunday, I met with my friend Joel Rubinson, a high-end social network marketer.  We spoke about how topical my work is and how I should enter the internet social networking world to engage in the larger enviromental conversation.  He showed me how to create an account and taught me the basics of finding like-minded writers and activists.

That was just over a week ago.  Now I can't stop tweeting.  Within hours of setting up my account I had 18 followers (to date I have 137 or so).  By day two, a major book publisher became my "follower".  I was ecstatic.  I also had scores of new followers, and on the third day (I think it was the third day-it's all a blur),  Margaret Atwood posted The Nation article on the corruption of some major environmental organizations and I tweeted her back.  She didn't respond to my reply tweet, but merely reading her tweet made my heart race.  I quickly "retweeted" The Nation article from Atwood to Andrew Revkin.  Now I was really getting the hang of things--playing fast and loose by tweeting to the climate expert of Dot Earth at the NY Times.  I asked him what he thought of The Nation article.  He responded immediately and said that he was reading the article "today" and would consider it.  I was dizzy with the thrill of Revkin's tweet to me.  Then, I discovered that the "drgrist" who had been tweeting with me about writing a book on my first day on twitter, turned out to be the editor of and writer at GRIST.  I had never heard of GRIST before twitter (how many days had it been or is it now? I've lost track of time).  Grist, I discovered, is important in the environmental community and without twitter, who knew?  A new coup.  By day three I couldn't stop tweeting long enough to sleep, or eat, or get out of my chair. Messages appeared every few seconds and I didn't want to miss them.  New star authors.  New information.  New tweets and retweets and links and posts.  I was and am moving with high speed between twitter, facebook, blogs. magazines, and websites.  I've tweeted and searched and followed and posted, and I've been listed and retweeted and followed and posted in return.  I've made new friends on facebook whom I met on twitter and visa versa.  It never ends!

Then, I found myself blogging about climate change!  Was I out of my mind?  My book isn't on global warming!   It was and is time to stop and take stock of things.

The snow has melted outside and the sun is shining.

I haven't gotten out of my sweats for how many days?

I haven't cooked a decent meal for my kid and I keep showing up late to pick her up from her various activities.

My book?  What happened with my book?  I've lost track of all those nuclear bomb plots, and the stories of my mother activists....

Twitter, you've got me spinning, like a whirlpool it never ends....

It hasn't been all negative.  Not at all.  As the days go by and I get the hang of the twitter world, I find myself learning new and exciting things about and within the larger intellectual environmental community.  I continue to engage with and meet all sorts of fascinating people I would never have met otherwise.  Truly, online social networking is an extraordinary new tool.  Every day brings some important news, link, connection, understanding.

Yet.  I need to be wary.  The digital world can be incredibly consuming.  I need balance.  I can't make twitter the ruler of my life.  I need to take back control.

Back to writing my book and back to being a mom.

I need to follow the wise words of my twelve year old:

"Get off the computer,  Mom!  You're addicted!"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everything's Cool

The hysterically funny and brilliant film, Everything's Cool, shows how clever the anti-warming movement has been. They know full well that public interest and alarm dies as soon as you create doubt.  The film also shows the corruption behind the deniers.  They've undermined the science behind warming-- just enough for sleepy citizens to nod off, yet again.

Here's what I think we should tell those who question global warming (and the environmental crisis at large):  we must act "as if" global warming is real, because if we don't, the risks are too great.  Is global warming any less dangerous than the "red scare" in the fifties?  We built an entire nuclear war arsenal because of a "what if" fear.  Shouldn't we act preventatively to protect ourselves from the danger of global warming, then?  Isn't the possibility of warming enough to make it vital that we do all we can to save ourselves-because-"what if"?  Sandra Steingraber makes this point in terms of toxic pollution and the difficulty in pointing to "absolute" scientific links to cancer and other diseases.  We can't wait for absolute "proof"--the stakes are too high.

Anyway, will it really hurt us to breathe clean air, eat clean food, drink unpolluted water?  What is the harm in making our environmental future a safer and healthier one?  What is the risk there?

In other words, it will only benefit this great earth for us to reduce carbon emissions.  There is no downside to finding clean and sustainable sources of energy, to reducing consumption-- so what is the fuss all about?

I'm suggesting that the Green Movement counter the deniers not with "tit for tat" scientific assurances, but instead point out that unheeded pollution and exploitation of the earth's resources is deeply problematic in a broader sense.  We need to clean up our act anyway.

This all goes back to the profound crisis in our moral and ethical view of nature in Western culture.  Grist magazine suggests that we need to rethink our 'behavior.'  I agree, but a change in our behavior can only come about if we make deep cultural changes in the way we think about 'nature' and the human relationship to and with all living creatures.

I believe, along with historical critics like Carolyn Merchant, that our environmental moral ethic is vastly askew. Within our capitalist and patriarchal belief system,  nature and disadvantaged others are (and have been) treated and viewed as objects to be plundered, exploited and used for economic profit.  In our masculinist culture, domination, greed, and selfishness are accepted modes of operating. In our current way of thinking, individual satisfaction and gain come before the needs of the larger human and natural communities. We have no foresight.  We don't think before we act.  We care about no one but ourselves. Westward Ho!  This is where ecofeminist and Native American philosophies come in.  We need to shift our thinking away from valuing "right" and "might",  and "profit and personal gain at any cost." In other words, we need to shift our thinking away from self against other, to self with other.  Because, the fact is, we are interconnected.  If we exploit nature and wreak havoc through ecological devastation we, too, will be destroyed.  If we care for nature and others we, too, will be cared for.

If we shift our thinking and moral ethic to a valuing of the importance of community and care, the very mode of throwing stones at environmental causes such as global warming might come to an end. In a true ecological community--the deniers of climate change and enemies of the green movement would look like pathetic and insecure bullies on a school playground.  All their hateful slurs and slanders would lose their power.

Changing our cultural environmental ethic is requisite to achieving the goal of planetary balance and health.  We need to shift from greed and individuation, to care and interconnection.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My top envrironmental articles for this week of March 8, 2010

The Nation's attack on the corruption in the green movement is a must read.  This is a scary look at organizations like Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and others.  They appear to represent green causes, but have been corrupted by corporate interests.  Greenpeace, one of my favorite environmental organizations, is one of the good ones.   I'm waiting to see what Sierra Club has to say in their own defense.


An important discussion about why women are being left out of the climate debate is discussed in the  article posted below.  The exclusion of women from this aspect of environmentalism is telling and rarely  noted.  Thanks to Elizabeth Becker and Suzanne Ehler for opening up the discussion.  Why is there no female counterpart to Al Gore?  Why is global warming science male dominated?  Or is it?


Whatever happened to the Green Party?  It is time to revive it.  Green Tea anyone???

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This land is your land

It is not a dark day-- in fact, there is a little sun here and there. Many of my students are wise and courageous, Iris paints all day, a flock of girls lift into arabesque, Audra teaches her students about the land, Ryan digs in the organic garden, Eli fights to protect the migrant workers, Patti and Doug challenge the government to green our towns, Phyllis fights for the rights of the disabled, Eve speaks out against rape, Wangari and her many women plant millions of trees, Ritch teaches students about Latina writers, Winona fights for the rights of indigenous people, Petra helps found the German Green Party, Danielle covers the stories of the oppressed, Toni restores the voices of the slaves, Alice resurrects  Zora, Carol Elana sings Mozart,  Ellie clears a trail in the mountains, Avi chants why this night of all nights, Mia wears a wedding dress at her communion, and a line of Canadian geese cross a very busy road.

Yet here, in this land is our land, this land is your land, o song of songs, we find an irradiated nation, a toxic river, a contaminated landfill, a dead bird with plastic intestines, a child with leukemia.  We are in a fitful sleep. Millions suffer and die early deaths needlessly; many who live wear the chemo shroud, lose their breasts, and wombs and lungs and bones and other body parts for unnatural reasons. In Nevada, where most nuclear bomb tests take place, much of the land has been stolen from the Shoshone Native Americans and degraded with radiation poisoning.  The rocks are hot. The land is hot.  Maybe our brains are hot and that is why we love our credit cards and shopping malls and white teeth and cell phones so much.  While the above ground nuclear bomb tests stopped in this country in 1963, underground tests continued until very recently, and perhaps continue to this day.  How would we know?  This is a country of political, military, industrial, scientific secrets and lies.  Radiation and other toxic poisons are mostly invisible, and yet they penetrate and destroy and sicken all living things—surely and surely. Clouds of radiation cover this earth. Horses run in Nevada with their eyes burned out. When we think (if we think) about anti-nuke protestors or environmental activists they look like crazy extremists with bad fashion sense. We don't hear them. Books are obsolete. The apple store is the most important destination. We take nothing seriously except our new tits, defined muscles, flat abs, shiny cars, granite counters, ipones, texts, downloads.  Our girls are taught to think about how their jeans fit their asses, how their pretty flat faces and taut bodies define them, and how their vulvas should be symmetrical; and our boys are taught to wax their chests, pump their muscles and kill and destroy digital images. Boys are soldiers, and if they are not soldiers, they live in the margins. If they are 'real' soldiers, they are poisoned with chemicals and radiation from their own weapons, lied to and cast off by our military complex--left to die with no acknowledgment or support from this great nation. Girls are cartoons--already marginally airbrushed. There are no jobs because there is nothing left to do. Our children spend the day and night staring into rectangular gadgets and pressing single letters and numbers. Full words and sentences have vanished.  Logic is dead.  The library is dead. Analysis is dead. Compassion is dead. Respect is dead.  Civic duty is dead. As Jack says in the Ballad of Jack and Rose, pretty soon we gerbils will be reduced to only one thought, once a year-- “what will I get for Christmas?”  Dying children, brain damaged children, drugged children, and mutilated children are accepted as the norm. Cancer is the new cold. Chemo is cough medicine. Autism is an itch. The few who survive genetic and cellular destruction don’t believe they can or should make a difference. Nothing is wrong as long as the credit card bill is paid and we can fly to aruba or buy our next cell phone. We are divided and endlessly dividing, and in that moment of detonation the human race explodes, rises, and destroys all that was and will be. We don’t love anyone, so we can’t lose anyone.  The atom bomb.  The H-bomb.  Oppenheimer.  Hiroshima.  Bomb Tests.  Nuclear Waste.  Yucca Mountain.  Uranium. Chernobyl.  The Cold War.  Three Mile Island.  “Really? Why would you think about that?  It is so depressing.”  We have nothing to say, it has all been said, and our eyes, our horses’ eyes, have been burned from their sockets. We can’t think about that, we’re all too busy driving to the supermarket.

Sometimes when I sit with my daughter and knit, we are peaceful. When I braid her hair, kiss her freckled cheek, I feel an old sweet pull, a shift in my senses.  Oh I have skin.  Oh there is air.  When I turn off my computer and walk outside, an old voice calls.  Oh, the sun comes up, ever merry, every pretty each.  Doug plays his Scott Joplin on the piano and Betsy directs us in the play Everyman, and we ride in a blue bus to Atlanta, Alabama, Mississippi, Miami and North Carolina. We are the freedom riders. We risk our necks to save someone, to swim to Cuba, because we still feel enough to do something, or to want to do something. In that memory, in that awakening, I wear no shoes and hop from rock to rock in the South Toe River singing going down that road feeling bad, wake up, it is a Chelsea morning, good morning little school girl.

What will I do in my last few years on earth? 
Will I leave a valley of lilac trees and peonies? 
A pen? A poem?  A book? A picture?
Will I compose letters as beautifully etched as Rilke's or Jane Austen’s?
Will my toxic body biodegrade nicely or rain radioactive ash on someone else?
Will I stop talking so much to myself and, instead, call on the four winds
to warn all the pretty girls and boys to stop starving
themselves and eat of this delicious life?

We used to sing we shall overcome. 

I know it can happen again.