Reading and language
Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress. Isocrates, 436-338 BCE
Some 2360 years ago, Chios, Cos, Rhodes, and Byzantium bolted from the Athenian Confederacy over abuses of central power by Athens. Isocrates wrote a long essay urging peaceful resolution of the conflict. It was surely not delivered orally for the reasons he mentions in the opening paragraphs:
“…you do not hear with equal favour the speakers who address you… while you give your attention to some, in the case of others you do not even suffer their voice to be heard. And it is not surprising that you do this ; for in the past you have formed the habit of driving all the orators from the platform except those who support your desire …you ( cause them to say) not what will be advantageous to the state, but what (pleases) you. …how can (we) wisely pass judgement on the past or take counsel for the future unless (we) examine and compare ( opposing ) arguments? …although this is a free government, there exists no ‘ freedom of speech ‘ except that which is enjoyed…by the most reckless… .
It sounds very 21st century USA, doesn’t it?
In the mid 15th century, thanks to the printing press, common people began to acquire printed material containing ideas or knowledge formerly limited to wealth, state and church’ which were joined at the hip. Later, In 1522, Luther published the bible in vulgar German, instead of Latin, making it widely accessible for the first time. Over the next hundred years wildcat or unschooled publishing exploded, causing rulers to fear a access to information- arguably knowledge- putting power in the hands of a gullible and ignorant public. In 1641 Britain–to protect the public (of course) !– made all printing illegal without prior official approval. Two years later a defiant John Milton published Aeropagitica, a title he adapted from Aeropagitcus, where Isocrates urged the revival of the Aereopagus, a court to control education of the young and public immorality.
Since the1990’s the internet has become exponentially available to an entire world. Authority is challenged or attacked by unschooled, unapproved wildcat non line e.publishing that is consumed by an awakened, restive national and transnational public. Free Speech is again so intolerable that Isocrates’ stale words echo down the hallways of time, and it seems clear that –again– civil dialogue and speech are true lies that recur throughout what we call history. While in the past, technology driven change required centuries to come to a boil, this pot took only a few decades to boil over.
I try to believe our little e.fire will cool down, that we will control the pot of the e.verse. Yet it seems even more techno-crises are almost upon us: artificial intelligence; bioengineering; bioprinting; robotic automation and their spawn; Mars; and driverless cars (though two story high trucks of open pit copper mines in Chile have not had drivers for many years.) I was once an arrogant little pilot, like so many physicians who fly and sometimes die. But long ago on a several week trip to Punta Arenas, on the straits of Magellan, I found that even a simple array of instruments was a better pilot than I. Therefore, thinking of the unknowable, which is now seems almost everything ahead, I know that–looking back– my greatest good fortune was to become a physician, not so much through merit as luck, and the influence of a friend. To study my physician predecessors and colleagues is to move outside my own limits. It reminds me of this from Empedocles:
The nature of god is a circle of which the center is everywhete and the circumferance is nowhere—!
and this from Mathew Arnold’s Dover Beach:
I say: Fear not! Life still
Leaves human effort scope.
But, since life teems with ill,
Nurse no extravagant hope:
Because thou must not dream, thou need’st not then despair
So today, wanting a dose of something other than alcohol, I pulled down Osler, but quickly put him back, in favor of pulling him up : such is the joy of a browser! Aequinimitas was his valedictory address, University of Pennsylvania, May 1889. He spoke of the physician’s need for equanimity:
“ clearness of judgment in moments of grave peril, immobility, impassiveness, or, to use an old and expressive word, phlegm.”
Phlegm! How choice a word for equanimity that is! He continues in that grandiloquent elite euro-greco-roman slang :
“in the Egyptian story…Typhon with his conspirators dealt with good Osiris; …they took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds; and, as Milton says, “from that time ever since, the sad friends of truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them; We have not yet found them all,”
And there it is again! The quote is from Milton’s ...Areopagitica!
The Areopagus as viewed from the Acropolis.
“The greatest Christian virtue is doing, the least is talking” John Wesley
I HAVE SELDOM BEEN so rewarded for being a Methodist as on my fourth trip to Colonet, Baja California to help build the 39th and 40th small houses there; and to interpret for a Lighting For Literacy (LFL) project, where middle school science teachers and students lighted up the lives and nights of eight families in Ejido Punta Colonet. The students had been enrolled in STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), inspired by their science teachers, to put together solar panel powered lighting systems and to actually go to install them.
About 1.5 billion people (20 percent of the world’s population) must resort to some sort of carbon based fuel for night lighting; it is unhealthy, contributes to the CO2 burden, and is a significant fire hazard around flimsy remote structures. Otherwise they have no light after the sun sets. The cats at Los Gatos Methodist Church and Rotary International (RI) know LFL well, having witnessed it’s lightening fast 60 day gestation and assisted its birth. The very first LFL solar lighting system installation was actually in Colonet, Baja California in 2013. It was developed one afternoon at a fast food restaurant by two members of the Methodist Church; one was Doug McNeal, also a Rotarian, who promoted support by the local Rotary. Already, affiliated programs reach more than eight continents, introducing STEM and LFL to more than 1,200 middle school teachers and their students who are at an age where inner places and lives can be lighted up in the process of lighting up remote places. Kevin Kinsella, who was also at Colonet this April, is an inspired and enlightening science teacher with LFL.
I felt enlightened, as well. The photographs below reveal the depth of our experience more clearly than words. They also speak of the nature and the power of Family; in this case, families who keep animals in, and desert varmints like coyotes out by fashioning close-spaced fences from brittle, dead stalks of cactus plants, wire and woven plastic waste; who carve out a place in the desert to imagine a house – a home – into existence, though often largely made of trash. That’s something only families like those pictured below, can do.
As to my own family, I would have never gone to Colonet without following my daughter, Amy, who coordinated the complex project involving two countries, more than 40 people, and the finances involved; or John my son in law; and my son, Fred, a builder who hauled his tools and powerplant 3,600 miles round trip; and Tom, another builder from the South Bay who brought tools and material to the sites; or Ivan a local builder; or Antonio, a local pastor; or the many other volunteers and donors, the glue that held it all together.
After each solar lighting installation, instructions are given. The switch is turned on by one of the children. The student who put together the unit signs it and makes the final point by giving each child a set of age appropriate Spanish books. We take a group photograph. Adios is then the only perfect single word speech.
These live links tell about LFL better than I:
The photographs below and speak more clearly than words, and may encourage the reader to consider the possibility of LFL:
First job of every morning putting together two units for two houses. I couldn’t see how it was done, but these people did. A cell phone charger pug is included.
The plastic bag holds mounting brackets and connectors. Note all the wires, and the name of the student on the lid.
The rechargeable battery goes in the box too. Simple, no? Yeah, Right!
Tom in a moment of silent, serious concentration. He is a monk in the skin of a grizzly.
Below is a wash-house. Behind is a fenced garden and unseen in the distance is a small mountain range where 10000 ft high peaks pull water from moist sea air in winter, providing water for this productive sun drenched agricultural region.
A fence perfectly representing the environment. The stakes are dried up spikes of cactus plants. They are strung along barb wire wrapped in salvaged black plastic bags.
Below are dried roots of the same cactus- Maguey- dug up from the sullen and reticent gravelly soil at considerable effort, to serve for cooking.
Alejandro cleaning the spines from Prickly Pear cactus leaves for very common vegetable dish, nopales, He gave us a one week old dried rattlesnake which he advised us to let dry more, then grind up, and use with any food…like re fried beans and ground rattlesnake. Cascabel con frijoles refritos.
I fell under the spell of this woman. She was a migrant farm worker from Chiapas, not speaking any Spanish; met and married. Their 15 year old son son works for a builder and did much of the construction; 15 years is adult at times. (During WWII my dad worked at a copper mine in Chihuahua. When I was 10 my he took me to El Paso and put me on a troop train with $5. I got to Northern CA with some help from the soldiers. Like children in Colonet, we were old when young then. From this distance that doesn’t seem a bad thing)
I can’t pronounce or recall her name but will never forget her. In this photo Antonio, the pastor of the Christian church in Colonet is helping her dig a footing for a table in her wash house.
Another home when the light was turned on in this dark windowless room. It is only the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb, but What a difference! I like this photo also for the high heeled shoes over the door. There were 3 pairs but i didn’t want to be too intrusive; however they appear in the last photo.
Little silent things like those shoes have much to tell if we listen.
After the lights are installed, instructions for their use given and the switch thrown turned by one of the children LFL makes the final point by giving each child a set of age appropriate books; we take a last group photograph; and Adios is the perfect one word speech.
Self Management of Early and Silent Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes
Colonet is an inland town of about 2500 in Baja California. I have gone there four times with my daughter Amy and the Los Gatos Methodist Church to build small houses. They have now built more than 40, generally during Easter vacations so school children can participate. There are two doctors offices and two pharmacies in the tiny town but it serves a wide local area; ‘universal care’ is available at a government clinic staffed – in a common South American way –by a recent medical school graduate who must pay back year for year of medical school by staffing several remote rural clinics; he is there only a few hours each week, so people line up at 4 AM for one of the few openings. Otherwise they must see a private doctor at about US$35 a visit. For those who have a job, the average daily income is about US $10 per day, but work is not available year round. The nearest hospital is 60 Km distant.
It may seem surprising, but the area is highly agriculturally productive. The largest tomato grower in the world is nearby. The Driscol strawberries we buy here are grown in the region. Why? It sits between the ocean and the Sierra de San Pedro mountain range that reaches up 10000 feet to suck in winter rain, allowing for irrigation like a tiny San Fernando Valley; water and sun and hard work make it productive. Migrant workers, often speaking no Spanish, invade for harvests. This year it rained a great deal and the area is lush with small blossoming plants and green with bushy growth.
The local Christian Church has been very helpful in building the small homes. They often help people to acquire a tiny plot of land, which is a required, as well as someone in the family with a job. The pastor’s wife has diabetes as does her mother and their four year old daughter; they assisted in preparing for a series of evening diabetes screening clinics during my week there. The disease is so common that among the first 20 people screened ( excluding the pastor’s family) 9 had diabetes or pre-diabetes. Below is the translation from Spanish of the written introduction and information that was given to people who attended the screenings. Of course, the problem is obvious: When you find a person with diabetes, under these circumstances what do you do? I believe self management is the only realistic, timely, and practical option. To make that sort of thing work, it is best for small groups of people with diabetes to work together over time to solve problems like Where to find medications and supplies most reasonably; How to measure and keep track of glucose levels; How to safely adjust medication in view of the results. The pastor has an internet connection. It is a long and twisted road, but one that otherwise most Colonet people with diabetes travel alone. What follows below is information provided at the screening clinics, addressing the screening process, the general nature of the disease, glucose self monitoring, and possibilities for self treatment. It is translated and redacted from a Spanish blog.
RAPID SCREENING FOR DIABETES AND PRE-DIABETES
Blood glucose is measured about two hours after a sugar or starch rich meal.
Diabetes Positive Screening test:
- Any blood glucose level above 200 mg/dL at any time, including the
- Challenge test: Blood glucose above 200 mg/dL 2 hours after a sweet or starchy meal
- After 10 hour fast: any blood sugar over 125 mg/dL
PreDiabetes Positive Screening test:
- after a 10 hour fast: blood sugar 100-125 mg/dL
- 2 hours after sweet or starchy meal blood sugar 140-199 mg/dL
Conversions between mmol/dL and mg/ dL here
Screening tests are highly suggestive but not diagnostic. When positive, reconfirm whenever possible, with a qualified laboratory and physician.
These screening tests are valid at all ages.
Diabetes has serious complications, all caused by elevated levels of blood Glucose (sugar). In early years the disease is silent. One feels fine while high glucose levels destroy the most delicate but critical circulation in the kidneys, retina of the eyes, feet, and elsewhere.Fortunately we live in a time when prevention of that damage can be effective, and simple. But only those who have or who discover their disease can successfully treat it; especially those with the most common kind: silent diabetes. To do that the disease must be revealed… diabetes diagnosed if present,. , and then controlled by:
- Using a personal glucose monitor to keep track of blood glucose levels
- Measuring and recording glucose levels
- Learning to manage the illness… i contend that is best done as a member of a small group who regularly share their experiences and information.
Some may wonder why it is essential or practical to self control and self manage this particular illness. Although it can best be done with the help of a physician, only the person who has this disease can do so. Physicians cannot hang around 24/7. The time a physician can actually help most is after the disease had done so much damage that a foot has to be cut off, or a kidney replaced: too late for prevention. A competent physician welcomes self management of early or silent disease. All this may seem complicated, but it becomes quite natural quickly when the diabetic can:
- measure, blood glucose, record the result, and then
- use the results to manage and control the disease
- share results and experience with others who have diabetes for: a) interpretation of results; b) finding sources for test strips, medications or professional advice;c) understand medications and ways to manage it. For example, glucose monitoring is crucial, but very expensive. However, an hour drive away is a large international chain store where costs for glucose monitoring supplies are: ( US$): Monitor $ 9.00; 100 test strips $17.88; one time cost of lancing device $5.84; 100 lancet needles, $1.84 Total $34.24 , adequate for about 6 months monitoring– $0.19/day! By comparison, costs where test strips alone are $ .50-.75 each, are many times that depending on how many strips are required.
The personal glucometer (glucose measuring device or meter) is inexpensive, accurate and lasts for years. One must learn to use it, use it regularly and record results and circumstances affecting each test. . At first it is advisable to measure glucose levels often in order to better understand the illness. Yet because test strip use can often gradually be reduced to as little as 5 or six times weekly, plus anytime a concern arises. For example, one might suspect, for whatever reason, a blood glucose is low, and eat “just in case.” That should not be done: measure, don’t guess!
The blood glucose monitoring record: ( for one month…the first of 30 spaces appear) below)
|Date mo/day||Time 24 hr||Level before meal||2 hours later||Useful details like: what was eaten, an unusual event like illness, or any other comment|
How food affects blood glucose:
Carbohydrates fats and proteins can all be converted to glucose…which is vital to the human body even if too much is harmful. Some carbohydrates convert to glucose very quickly and therefore are a problem for people with diabetes:
Fast: processed or refined bleached grains like white wheat flour, and white rice; processed fruit sugars (fructose) like corn sugar and beet or cane sugar; starchy vegetables like potatoes and some sweet fruits like peaches, apples, bananas, oranges.
Slow: beans, seeds like most nuts, peas, lentils, meat, fish, chicken, cream is less fast than milk because less lactose, milk sugar.
Take control of your diabetes when it is silent and serious irreversible complications are most easily prevented.
You are the only person who can control your disease!
Note 1) Insufficient insulin was discovered to be present in diabetes nearly 100 years ago. Insulin is made in the pancreas; in the most common sort, Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still can make some insulin, but not enough to meet the body needs; so glucose accumulates. The disease usually gets worse with time– especially if not controlled well. In type 1 diabetes almost no insulin is produced, and that is a different but related illness.
Note 2) Fasting blood sugar— after not eating for about 10 hours– can be deceptive in Type 2 diabetes because the pancreas has been resting (usually overnight) making enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal or nearly so.
Note 3) Hemoglobin A1C test: Red blood cells are not alive. They were grown in the bone marrow, and when growth is complete, they are delivered to the blood where they act as tiny carriers of Oxygen. That Oxygen is delivered to the tissues, and the empty red blood cells are sent back for more. They live about 90 days and are then discarded. But when they were being formed they took in the amount of glucose that was in the blood at that time. Therefore, the average glucose level in those red blood cells is a measure of the average blood glucose during the previous 90 days. Problem: both high blood sugars and low blood sugars can be seen in early type 2 diabetes because the pancreas can over react to high blood sugars and therefore over-produce while trying to catch up at night. So an average of high and low glucose can be deceptively normal. Conclusion: a challenge test, similar to the old glucose tolerance test, is superior to looking at averages or fasting blood glucose level. This screening test is significant because it offers a fast, and economical screening that can be done by anyone with a glucose meter.
Note 4) The personal glucose meter was pioneered by Richard K Bernstein, an engineer with severe diabetes working on a glucose monitor for physician offices. His diabetes became so advanced he began to control his own blood glucose very tightly and began to improve; then he did his own study among students, which suggested a personal glucose monitor was the key to diabetes control. What happened is classic:The study results were rejected by the academic medical profession. So he went to medical school and began to practice immediately as a diabetes specialist. His book –The Diabetes Solution- is largely viewable on line
Dr. Bernstein completely recovered on a very low carbohydrate high protein diet and tight glucose control; he suggests an average blood glucose of 81 mg/dL; he is alive, and lively, over 80 years old. He participates regularly in Teleseminar Webcasts. The March 29 2017 event can be seen here.
* A Modest Proposal is a 1729 satire by Jonathon Swift: ‘For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick’. He outrageously suggests newborns be harvested for food to reduce the numbers of poor and also feed the rest. Perhaps the only bearing of Swift’s satire to this little essay is the focus on the millions of poor we seem willing to sacrifice to diabetes, even though it’s cruel, and irrational. and avoidable.
By working together outside a system that tends to sacrifice the good to the perfect, and by self managing their own disease, people can at least greatly improve their lives and well being. Yet for our world’s millions of unsuspecting pre-diabetic and diabetic people, only those who discover their disease early and begin to self control it can easily limit its ravages. I believe that worldwide– and even in the USA– there are tens of millions who could benefit from a similar process until something more academically perfect comes along.
Even privileged, idealistic and committed people can become insensitive, intolerant, and dismissive, based on disagreement about dogma, about the meaning of ideas and words. Words are, after all, only symbols; like metaphors they represent things or ideas usually unseen. When we hear or read a word, we rewrite it in our own minds. We interpret and give it our own personal twist. When one half of our nation cannot stand to hear or see the other half, because of ideas or words, it would seem wise to ask ourselves Why do Words Hurt? Why are we so willing to wound one another? Or to put another way, Why so terribly thin skinned? Who ever said ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was from another era; like Swift.
It seems to me more appropriate to think about deeds rather than only words. So in Colonet this year, I wore a baseball cap with a silent modest proposal written on the face to imply that :
We are in this together. In this place, this nation, this world. We should try to ‘read’, or value one another for what we DO, not what we appear to BE: Not color of skin or political affiliation; or religion; or citizenship, or age, sexuality or gender— but rather, our behavior; our acts; and judge ourselves and others as reasonably as our acts allow.
My Kindle was lost somehow. Not thinking it stolen, but simply misplaced, I searched for a week. But found only that I was lost myself without it, and bought a Kindle Fire 7. It is a much superior edition than the old one, and with a wireless connection offers email, browsers, movies, on line series and much more. It has a decent battery and offers Amazon Prime movies and series. It uploaded all my old books, and I added a complete set of Harvard Classics as well as a complete set of Britannica Great Books…for $2.99 for each set. While I have both these 50 volume series in hard back, the kindle versions are portable and searchable. Instead of marking up the margins , flagging or dog-earing pages, I can highlight or save quotes.
The Harvard sets begin with John Woolman’s Journal. He was a Quaker who, after visiting Barbados (1671) became most known for his active opposition to slavery among his fellow Quakers. Woolman begins his journal with a short account of his youth, including an episode that is my own.
“I saw… a robin sitting on her nest, and as I came near she went off; but having young ones, she flew about…. I stood and threw stones at her, and one striking , her she fell down dead. …I ( became) seized with horror, at having in a sportive way, killed an innocent creature while she was careful for her young….. I climbed up the tree, took all the young birds, and killed them, supposing that better than to leave them to pine away an die so miserably.”
Why my own? In the way that itinerant children must adapt and integrate to survive, I always did so, as my father moved us each year to different mining towns. I had to focus on those little worlds, completely unaware of the rest. In Santo Domingo, Chihuahua, Mexico, when I was about ten, my friends and I used slingshots meticulously fashioned from a proper stick, an inner tube strip of rubber and a leather pouch. We shot at lizards with rare success, but always killed imagined enemy planes. It was during WWII, but so fresh was the painful loss of the northern third of Mexico to the USA, that; they were always Gringo planes. We shot at most anything alive, and at lifeless windows in an abandoned buildings. We rolled rocks into canyons, heedless of whatever was below. We shot at bats in limestone caves by the light of carbide miner’s lamps.
One morning walking to school I shot at a sparrow perched on a wire. It fell. A strawberry sized hemorrhage developed immediately aside it’s head . I can still see it quivering on the dry ground.
Yet I have never had a second thought about rational killing. When my grandmother asked me to ‘wring a hen” or take the .22 and shoot a dying old Tom cat I did so without qualm. The headless hen flapped around for a little, and soon became dinner. Old Tommie stopped suffering. Like the faithful border collies, cats were only farm instruments to help control varmints. They had names, but never were ‘family’, never in the farmhouse, ever. There was no wealthy Small Animal Vet, waiting in the wings, no Veterinary Small Animal Medical Drug and Devise cabal.
A couple of days ago I went to a friend’s cattle ranch, to watch their annual roundup of calves for branding, tagging, immunizing, worming, and dosing with antibiotics. The veterinary medical aspects of the roundup process are fascinating and most procedures familiar to physicians, including the thoughtless and dangerous industry driven excess use of drugs and antibiotics.
The procedures themselves are brutal to the innocent eye and ear: Frantic crying and bawling of frightened calves, roped, tied down. Burning hair and skin of the brand. Blood from ear markings and castration, the injection of vaccines. Adjacent, one hears the baleful angry calling of the calves’ mothers observing from a pen nearby. Frankly the castration reminds me of the way we once circumcised infant boys: restrain and proceed. But the mothers were not there.
Even so, a Round up is pageantry, and there is beautiful co dependent relationship between people, horses, and dogs. It seems surprising that small scale cattle ranching is so nearby, so extensive, so common, and so invisible. Many local horse /human skilled pairs at my friends small ranch roundup compete nationally; one is a current national champion, several are ranked or former champions in various aspects of their work and art. The cowboys, and girls, dressed up in their fine and fancy gear, working seamlessly with highly skilled horses, makes the word ‘awesome’ appropriate.
During the Fall or Spring, local ranchers go from one small ranch to another, in a spirit of camaraderie and community. Yet there is a subtle, subdued sense that they belong to a culture with no future; at least here where people seem to love to eat meat, but hate to see how it is made. California cattle ranchers seem to suspect that their way of life will be exported to some less chicken-hearted area; or be off shored. They fear of global warming may make us all heartless vegetarians, in a recent version, dating from at least as far back as 1962 when Rachael Carson , published her seminal work, Silent Spring. They expect there will be a CA ballot initiative soon called the Cattle Cruelty Act.
Even so, I regret the coming loss of cattle culture, despite the feeling it is rational and in many respects politically inevitable. Surely dressage, horse racing, polo and such will survive; but these are reserved for the wealthy and privileged, unlike the rough and raw culture of cattle ranching. How easily we are blinded by belief, by dogma. I’m reminded of of time I worked as physician on an expensive scientific expedition to Antarctica. It was on a refurbished icebreaker abandoned when the USSR collapsed. One day all 12 scientists and 20 pampered passengers watched Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. We seemed to believe it all, while simulataeously burning more fossil fuel on that one trip, producing more global warming gas in that week than 400,000 methane producing cattle could in a year. There is a story about Alaska: A pilot crashed and survived by eating a Bald Eagle. When rescued by the Forrest Service, he was arrested for killing a protected bird. In court he plead no lo contendere, guilty, then was let off, considering the circumstances. But the judge was curious and asked what Bald Eagle tasted like. The accused thought a moment, scratched his chin and said
“Well, judge, somewhere between a California condor and a spotted owl.”
As to Woolman’s lifetime long efforts and essays. or addresses to Friends on slavery, and abolition, they are well worth reading, and re reading. I have a much better understanding and admiration of Quaker thinking, and their situation among Northern colonies. Of course I never will shoot at a sparrow again. The experience was painful, and the bird was dry, tough, and tasteless, without enough meat to keep a bird alive; I doubt Woolman’s robin was any better.
With the Dec 7 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor, my father immediately volunteered with the Naval Sea Bees hoping to build airfields, and bases. Yet he was a geologist and mining engineer at a large remote Cascade range copper mine in Holden Washington. Since copper was essential to the war effort he was rejected by the Navy, and quickly transferred to the Santo Domingo copper mine in the Municipality of Aquiles Serdán, Chihuahua, Mexico, to help develop it and other nearby copper mines. He was 33 and I was 9. We lived in those particular parallel worlds of father and son. I understood nothing of the Great War or mining, but everything a boy can know about the demanding and transient childhood culture of boys in remote little mining towns. He understood blasting hard rock a mile or more underground, and analyzing diamond drill cores to make 3D maps of mineral deposits. I understood one had to carry a stick to make it to school unscathed until he could transform himself into a local peer.
In that March and April of 1942 of the log, we lived about three hundred miles to the West, of where John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, were in their own parallel world with a crew of three, aboard a boat on the Sea of Cortez. They were collecting littoral sea shore specimens at each low tide, and afterward sorting and preserving the specimens, and collaborating on a journal while joyfully consuming 2500 bottles of Corona beer. They knew not of the crush of day to day events of WWII, nor did their close Monterrey friends know of their days and nights on The Sea of Cortez… sea cucumbers, limpets, rays, swordfish, Gulf of California life forms including the local human inhabitants.
While my former Holden childhood friends shot down imagined Zeros, my new friends and I shot down Gringo warplanes. In the Cascades of Washington, WWII raged. In Chihuahua wounds from loss of the northern 1/3 of Mexico’s territory still wept. Each world was unaware of the other. That has generally been the way of humanity, at least until recent decades when people are progressively more heavily bombarded with the sounds and sights of suffering people in other contemporaneous worlds, thanks to technology. It remains to be seen if that assault of ugly information will lead to more mutual understanding, or will dull our sense of common humanity. So far the outcome is in great doubt, as if we are the generations of chaos suggested by Moisés Naím in The End of Power, another book review on this blog.
But The Log from the Sea of Cortez. ISBN978-0-14-019744-1 is the subject of this review. The cover names only John Steinbeck, and yet the content, and interplay of writing styles, clearly supports the two old friends claim that they both wrote it. They make that claim in a brief introduction as well as in the text; there is a rough map of the route; there is a Glossary of Terms- mostly devoted to taxonomy and ecology. But on first opening the book The Appendix drew my attention. It is a long eulogy to Ricketts written in Steinbeck’s, sharp, often moving and often humorous, unhurried rich prose on the life and death of his friend and co-author.
That long eulogy is in contrast to the many sections of the log with taxonomic names and descriptions, and pithy commentary about ecology, the nature of collecting specimens, the importance of life’s diverse forms; and life’s natural purpose – or better said- non purposeful, non teleological nature. There are many dense little essays on the ecology, the one-ness, of living and non living matter, and the interrelation of individual animals to the collection of all those individuals that make up and entirely different animal; there are crisp philosophical discussions on the nature and fate of life. The log is clearly a joint effort by two great writers who became one, in separate but contemporaneous world of the 1941 Sea of Cortez.
A brief introduction sets forth the authors’ vision: “We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world… Fifty miles away the Japanese shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops …destroying the ecological balance of the whole region. … Thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.” But the following 221 pages of log entries make clear the authors believe that both are true: none and all.
The pages are encrusted with zoological terms, sticking like limpets to the pages. There is a glossary of terms —from Aboral ( upper surface of a starfish brittle star, sea urchin.), Amphipod, (paired legs of beach hoppers, sand fleas, shrimp-like crustaceans..), Atokous ( sexually immature forms of certain polychaet worms) … to zooid (individual members of a colony or compound organism having a more or less independent life of its own.
The Log is chronological. It begins by detailing the process of finding a suitable boat, The Western Flyer–a 70-some foot long well maintained and well built trawler; finding and getting aboard scientific equipment and supplies, six weeks food stores, and introducing the reader to the characters crew, including an outboard engine that has its own troublesome personality. It becomes immediately evident these writer/explorers are not simply adventurers, but a team of zoologist ecologist and gifted writer.
By March 11, at page 25, after a days-long raucous celebration and farewell, they cast off. The log speaks of writers classically educated in history and literature and science, in the mold of lovers of knowledge: Philosophers. The Captain, Tony, is a solid sailor, a careful hard bitten technician. Tex is the engine man whose very bones are parts of a diesel engine; Tiny and Sparky are old friends, ‘bad boys’ become bad men, rough sailors, whose perceptions and salacious comments are–to everyone’s delight– in sharp contrast with those of the toney writers. Page 18 begins a seven point/paragraph introduction to the remaining crew member, an outboard engine called The Sea Cow, who always promises to propel their skiff, but always refuses, or quits when it causes the greatest problem. They row. Except for the captain and Sea Cow they all share a great affiliation with 2500 bottles of Corona beer.
This log is informative, entertaining, and thought provoking. The fame of the authors makes it especially notable and relevant to those familiar with the Monterrey area and history. It is doubly enjoyable to me because in the same days and nights described in the log, I lived nearby in my own very different parallel world, one that is in another sense the same world. Goodreads offers many quotes and have note-booked many of Steinbeck’s beautiful portraits of people, seascapes, places, children, towns, officials, and natives; and many pithy Ricketts short essays on the nature of nature, of ecology, of relationships among living beings. But if one doesn’t read both Steinbeck and Ricketts in their log habitat, they seem to me lifeless as a diaphanous pellucid sea creature in a specimen jar, where color and motion and even structure are lost. To enjoy that one must simply… Jump into the Log!
Si somos americanos*
By Rolando Alarcón
Si somos americanos,
somos hermanos señores,
tenemos las mismas flores,
tenemos las mismas manos.
Si somos americanos,
seremos buenos vecinos,
compartiremos el trigo,
seremos buenos hermanos.
resbalosa, huayno y son.
Si somos americanos,
seremos una canción.
Si somos americanos,
no miraremos fronteras,
cuidaremos las semillas,
tiraremos las banderas.
Si somos americanos,
seremos todos iguales,
el blanco, el mestizo, el indio
y el negro son como tales
* in Spanish, capitalization is often different than in English.
If We Are Americans
If we are Americans
We’re family my friends,
We’ve the same flowers,
and the same hands.
We dance the marinera,
resbalosa, huayano and son,
When we are Americans
We are a song.
If we are Americans
there are no borders
we care for seeds,
not a nation’s flags.
If we are Americans
we are all the same,
White, indigenous, mixed,
and black are one.
I have taken some little translation liberties like introducing gender neutrality because I feel these are essential and inevitable to t translation appropriate to the times. Just as when we read we interpret and and translate and recreate and modify word symbols in our mind. What, for example, is a cow? Whch one, what color, breed, something else entirely? The reader decides. Among the folk songs of the Americas there are many that express the feeling of discrimination and isolation from the dominant culture… like Angelitos Negros, where the poet asks why there are no black cherubs or angels.
Alarcón became a music teacher in the 70s, and was a communist, revolutionary, homosexual, and widely acclaimed poet folk singer associated with wold famous folk groups. His songs are often accompanied by altiplano flute and charango, a small guitar often built on an armadillo shell. The huayano is an altiplano ONE- two- three step dance. The son is a generic word for Mexican folk dance.
Chileans are notorious as poets, miners, and engineers who must build to withstand recurring earthquakes. The first American woman Nobel laureate was Gabriela Mistral Mistral lived in Valle del Elqui, a long remote Andes valley where the high air is so clear it has attracted the world’s biggest collection of international observatories. Neruda is another Nobel laureate poet. Rolando Alarcón was born in Sewell, Chile, an old High Andes company owned mining town, at El Teniente Mine; it is still the largest underground mine in the world ; It operates within one mountain on multiple levels; the rock crusher, mill, flotation process, kitchen and restaurant are interconnected by 2500 km of two lane highways in huge air washed tunnels, with traffic lights; miners enter and leave by train on the lower level.
The Americas are home to lots of deep or fascinating cultural stuff; like some of my mother in law’s Gajardo family that includes the first woman engineer in the Americas, Justicia Espada… Justice Sword — her parents refused to give their children family names. The link includes the names of her siblings. Perhaps those wierd names made them eccentric; see Gajardo’s Moon post on this blog.
I think this old song is timely because it enunciates some current attitudes of many pan-american and pan-african indigenous peoples; and those of many of the world’s transnational millennials, who want to live like one-world citizens. Further, perhaps there is some sort of connection between the sentiments expressed in the folk poem, and those of that stunning political pyromaniac, The Bern, and with those of Moisés Naím, in The End of Power) also reviewed on this blog. .