Sunday, April 13, 2008

In memory of Erling

At five o'clock in the afternoon, the 25th of March, 2008, friends and family of Erling gathered at "el barranco de Viznar". After reading the poem "A las cinco de la tarde" by Federico García Lorca, his ashes were strewn. The park is in memory of Lorca and hundreds of other anti-fascists who were killed and buried near Viznar during the Spanish Civil War.
We made a little video av the gathering.


A las cinco de la tarde.
Eran las cinco en punto de la tarde.
Un niño trajo la blanca sábana
a las cinco de la tarde.
Una espuerta de cal ya prevenida
a las cinco de la tarde.
Lo demás era muerte y sólo muerte
a las cinco de la tarde.
El viento se llevó los algodones
a las cinco de la tarde.
Y el óxido sembró cristal y níquel
a las cinco de la tarde.
Ya luchan la paloma y el leopardo
a las cinco de la tarde.
Y un muslo con un asta desolada
a las cinco de la tarde.
Comenzaron los sones del bordón
a las cinco de la tarde.
Las campanas de arsénico y el humo
a las cinco de la tarde.
En las esquinas grupos de silencio
a las cinco de la tarde.
¡Y el toro, solo corazón arriba!
a las cinco de la tarde.
Cuando el sudor de nieve fue llegando
a las cinco de la tarde,
cuando la plaza se cubrió de yodo
a las cinco de la tarde,
la muerte puso huevos en la herida
a las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco en punto de la tarde.

Un ataúd con ruedas es la cama
a las cinco de la tarde.
Huesos y flautas suenan en su oído
a las cinco de la tarde.
El toro ya mugía por su frente
a las cinco de la tarde.
El cuarto se irisaba de agonía
a las cinco de la tarde.
A lo lejos ya viene la gangrena
a las cinco de la tarde.
Trompa de lirio por las verdes ingles
a las cinco de la tarde.
Las heridas quemaban como soles
a las cinco de la tarde,
y el gentío rompía las ventanas
a las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco de la tarde.

¡Ay qué terribles cinco de la tarde!
¡Eran las cinco en todos los relojes!
¡Eran las cinco en sombra de la tarde!

Federico García Lorca, 1935


At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brings the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A basket of lime stands ready
at five in the afternoon.
Beyond that, death and death alone
at five in the afternoon.
Cotton blowing in the wind
at five in the afternoon.
And rust seeding glass and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Dove and leopard locked in struggle
at five in the afternoon.
A thigh with a horn of desolation
at five in the afternoon.
The bass drone begins
at five in the afternoon
Arsenic bells and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
On street corners crowds of silence
at five in the afternoon.
Only the bull with lifted heart
at five in the afternoon.
When snow-cold sweat began to form
at five in the afternoon,
when iodine had overspread the ring
at five in the afternoon
death laid eggs in the wound
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
At exactly five in the afternoon.

His bed a coffin on wheels
at five in the afternoon.
Bones and flutes sound in his ear
at five in the afternoon.
The bull bellows in his face
at five in the afternoon.
The room iridescent with agony
at five in the afternoon.
Gangrene lurking in the distance
at five in the afternoon.
Lily-trumpet in the verdant groin
at five in the afternoon.
The wounds burning with the heat of suns
at five in the afternoon;
and the throng bursting through the windows
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.

Oh grusome five in the afternoon!
On every clock the stroke of five!
Five in the afternoon's shadow!

Federico García Lorca, 1935


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A belated tribute to a great woman - Edna Griffin

After being reminded recently of a person I had not thought of for many years - having left my home town of Des Moines Iowa almost 40 years ago - I submitted the following short article about her to Wikipedia.

Edna was active/proactive in many of the political issues that influenced my political/ideological development. And even, for a short period, seminar leader for the LRY-group I was active in at the Unitarian congregation in Des Moines.


Edna M. Griffin (1909-2000). For over fifty years a pioneer and champion of human rights, known to many as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa” Her court battle against the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines, Iowa in 1948 (State of Iowa v. Katz) was a watershed event in the civil rights movement.

Biographical note
Edna Griffin was born in 1909 in Kentucky, and raised in rural New Hampshire. She has said that she learned to read by reading The Crisis, the publication of the NAACP. According to Ms. Griffin, she never experienced discrimination in New Hampshire, although her family was the only African-American family in a four county area. Her family later moved to Massachusetts where she was first exposed to negative attitudes regarding race. She was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she received a degree in English. She married Stanley Griffin, a doctor, and settled in Des Moines Iowa in 1947. She had three children, Phyllis, Linda, and Stanley.

Civil rights activism
Ms Griffin has been known to many as the “Rosa Parks of Iowa.” However, seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person and touched off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Edna Griffin in Des Moines had paved the way.
Griffin moved to Des Moines with her family in 1947 where she tired of the open discrimination she experienced. Griffin made it her mission to end discrimination in Des Moines. On July 7, 1948, Edna Griffin, her daughter Phyllis, and two friends, were refused service at Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines because of the color of their skin.

State of Iowa v. Katz 1948-49
Griffin launched a campaign to force Katz to serve African Americans by picketing every Saturday in front of the establishment, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. The Polk County Attorney's Office eventually prosecuted the Katz manager under Iowa's only civil rights law, a criminal statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The manager was found guilty by a jury and fined $50. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1949.the case turned into the first successful enforcement of the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act.

One week before the Supreme Court ruling, civil rights attorneys Charles P. Howard and Henry T. McKnight, from the local NAACP Legal Redress Committee, negotiated an agreement which successfully ended Katz's discriminatory practices.

Lunch counters and restaurants in Des Moines finally began serving African Americans. This was almost twelve years before the sit-ins at the lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.

These events foreshadowed the modern civil rights movement. Through a combined strategy of direct action, non-violent protest, civil disobedience, and legal action, the movement brought an end to legal discrimination, and the resulted in policies and laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Edna Griffin, who opposed the discriminatory denial of service at Katz, led the way.

Continued activism
Griffin continued to be an active participant in the civil rights movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and a champion of human rights until her death in 2000. Griffin founded the Iowa chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality and organized Iowans for the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. At 75, she went to Nebraska and sat "in the middle of the highway to stop nuclear warheads from being shipped into the SAC Army base," as she put it.

In recognition of her work
Ms. Griffin has been honored with the YWCAs Mary Louise Smith Award; the Community Service Award from Blacks in Government(1993); Urban Dreams' Trailblazer Award (1998); and the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice] (1998) [1].In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of her successful desegregation efforts, the Flynn Building, which once housed Katz Drug Store, was renamed the Edna Griffin Building. The same year, Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels declared May 15 as Edna Griffin Day.In 2004, a Pedestrian bridge in downtown Des Moines was named after her.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Time Lines and the Lense of Time (1)

Time is funny stuff. Although I'm getting pretty old, I still remember a day in 1950, just before my fourth birthday, when I had, perhaps, my first life-defining intellectual breakthrough. It had to do with numbers and time.

At that impressionable age, I was teetering on the threshhold of understanding what numbers were for. I had learned to count: won, too, free, for, five - for the fingers on my one hand. Thith, theven, ate, mine, ten - for the other hand. And even though I didn't have enough fingers and toes to make it entirely relevant, I had faithfully practiced and learned the names of all the numbers right up to a hundred. To top that off I had learned the name of some numbers I couldn't even comprehend, like ninteen-fifty. I was a real intellectual giant ... almost as smart as the big kids (five-year-olds) who went to school ... and I wasn't even four, yet.

On the day in question, for reasons I'm sure I couldn't have understood at that age, as we were talking about years and birthdays, my dad (he was always trying to prod us kids into understanding difficult things), said:

«Next week you'll be four years old. This year is ninteen fifty ... in fifty years it will be the year two thousand .... » he followed this enigmatical statement with a poignant pause ... I just knew something significant would be coming after that pause.

My mind boggled and I tried to think about something else. I knew the number-word «thousand». It meant the same as «zillion» - a totally, incomprehensibly, huge number. Two of them was doubly, totally, incomprehensibly, huge. And to make things worse, it was fifty years into the distant future ... again, incomprehensible ... that's even longer than, than, than ... longer than 'til I am as old as Gail! (she was eight)

Four years I could do. I could count them up on the one hand and still have my thumb left over. And that gave the thumb a special meaning ... next year I would be five years old and then I could use it ... by then I would be all grown up and going to school.

But Dad wouldn't let it slide: giving the mentor scalpel in my brain a final twist, he finally said «HOW OLD WILL YOU BE IN FIFTY YEARS?» My nearly four-year-old mind blanched ...

Of course, Dad helped me muddle through to get the right answer: «fitfy, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, FIFTY-FOUR!» It wasn't hard, and I'm sure I was proud to have figured it out. I was, after all an intellectual giant ....

But for days and weeks afterwards my mind was in a bubbling turmoil. Not because of the 'fifty-plus-four-makes-fifty-four' thing, but because of the fifty-years thing and the year-two-thousand thing, and the age issue. It was gradually sinking in that Dad really believed that I, a little kid, someday in the future might really be fifty years old, or even worse fifty-four. And Dad knew everything there was to know about everything.

When you're little, you have a nice, neat age that you can count on one hand, or maybe - as in the case of my very old and very grown up sister – on two hands, but age was fathomable, countable, demonstratable. But FIFTY, it could just as well be a zillion years old ... do people really live that long?

During the next few days I persued the issues as best I could ... first, I asked Dad and Mom how old they were: thirty-five and thirty-six, they told me. Wow! that was old! But even then, not as o-o-o-old as fifty. In the next phase, I asked them how old Gramma and Grampa were - they were after all the oldest people I knew of. «Fifty-four and fifty-six», came the answer.

I was devastated.

What they were telling me was that I, a totally innocent kid, WOULD ONE DAY BE AS OLD AS GRAMMA AND GRAMPA. And when that came to pass ... it would be in the year TWO THOUSAND! For days and weeks and months I was in a deep intellectual crisis over this revellation. Age meant something different now, and year meant something different, and even my five fingers meant something different. The thumb i had been saving til next year was somehow diminished, too. The very firmament of my four-year-old intellectual world was crumbling under my feet.

Well ... time passed, as it always does, and long before I arrived at the mature age of five the crisis had passed.

But every instant of every day between that day in 1950 and the millenium, I knew for a fact that I would be fifty-four in the year 2000.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thunderbolt kids - Who the Hell is Bill Bryson?

A couple of months ago I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I say 'finally got around to' because as soon as it was published I intended to read it for two reasons: first, I have read some other of Bryson's books, and rather enjoyed them; and second BB and I grew up more or less in the same time and the same place, and I wanted to run his memories past my own.

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa wasn't in itself particularly breathtaking ... Iowa for most of the world is a long way from anywhere ... and Des Moines doesn't figure particularly high on any scale of newsworthyness.

In a sense neither was the post WWII era of the late 40's and 50's particularly breathtaking nor newsworthy. Coming in the wake of the war years, it didn't seem dramatic. Coming before the Swinging 60's it didn't seem colorful.

When I first came across a book by Bryson, I was interested to note that he, like me, grew up after the war in Des Moines, Iowa; and the he, like me, was an expatriot American living in Europe. How could it be that I never ran into BB during all those years? I knew everybody of interest in DM, didn't I? Was it all because BB grew up south of and I north of Grand Ave. (the great social devide in DM west)? But no, my peer-group and my family sphere came from all over town both north and south of Grand Ave, and East and West of the DM river.

In the wake of my Roosevelt High, class-of-'64 40th anniversary reunion [of course I didn't actually travel all the way from Oslo to the reunion] I exchanged some emails later with my old gang, and enquired about BB ('who the hell is this Bill Bryson, anyway?'). Rosy Ransom was the only one who responded, and she said: "You know ... he's Betty Bryson's little brother". But who the hell was Betty Bryson? All the girls in DM those days had alliterative double initials: RR (Rosy Ransom), KK (Katie Kasten), LL (Laura Lemon), LL (Linda Lee), MM (Marlys Meyers), BB (Betty Bjork), BB (Barbara Britton), BB (Betty Bryson). Still, no bells rang.

At sixty, I consider a 54-year old to be 'my age.' I was born in 1946 and BB in 1952, six years later. For a 16-year-old, no 10-year-old is a peer, nor vice versa. The chances of their paths ever consciously crossing are minimal, no matter how much they move around in the same space. If they keep moving in that space long enough (say, 44 years) the chances become much larger, because the peer potential increases in direct proportion to the ratio δ : α where δ = age difference and α = total age. [Thereby, the peer potential between a 10-yr-old and a 16-yr-old is about 4, while between a 54-yr-old and a 60-yr-old is about 20]

So just because BB and SM were born six years apart, and as adults didn't stay put in DM, there is virtually no way they could have known each other.

...Pity, I think I might have liked the guy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Real Human Energy Crisis

Yesterday evening I plowed through piles and piles of web pages on the subject of Zero-Point Energy. (Well, actually, only the first 200 or so of 25,000,000 hits on a Google search ). For a number of years now, Zero-point energy has tantalized me. Possibly it's because I have been a life-long addict of intelligent science fiction, and resolving the riddle of 'just what wave are all those light beams from the stars riding on through the vast limitlessness of the void, anyway?' is tantamount to explaining how a lowly human life form could possibly travel from star to star.

But Zero-point energy (ZPE) has sparked a number of closer-to-home brainchildren, too: ranging from visions of free access to unlimited, renewable, non-polluting energy at bargain basement prices; via cult-like claims of direct spiritual access to ZPE through chanelling and meditation; through to paranoid conspiracy theories involving UFOs, Roswell, Ari., Area 51, and alien ZPE technology being evilly sequestered by the military-industrial-complex ... just to mention a few.

Luckily, it isn't only the quacks, the hacks, the paranoids and the schysters that are working on ZPE. Some quite sober scientists, too, have been making steady progress at harnessing ZPE, and that gives me some hope.

For decades it has troubled me that with all our brainpower, science and technology - and living within an ecosystem just teeming with unharnessed energy - we cling so desperately to total economical dependecy on combusting fossile fuels -- As though we all are sleep-walking under a malevolent spell that collectively keeps us from grasping that viable alternatives are, in fact both possible, plausible and necessary.

Yes, we have been sleepwalking ... and no, there is no evil game-master ... the only place to put the blame is on ourselves ... as individuals, as nations, as societies, as cultures and as a species.

My contention is that there has been one, fundamental, all-prevading idea that keeps us in this global trance: Increasing wealth
All our vast science and technology has developed hand in hand with our increasing wealth. Our advances have been continuously motivated and stimulated by increasing our consumption of fossile energy and thereby improving our "standard of living" - read: increasing wealth. In our greedy little heads, the very thought that energy should and can be dirt cheap (there is just so much of it lying around, unused) is a threat [to increasing our wealth].

You can dig up fossiles, or uranium ore, or thorium ore, or build a hydroelectric dam ... and get very rich selling the energy they produce at a profit.

But how in the world can you sell something like ZPE that simply is everywhere? And who will get rich if it's gratis?... And that's what scares us more than all the doomsday predictions of ecological collapse, war, famine, pestilence and abrupt climate change put together.

The human energy crisis is and will remain a truly human crisis ... until we learn how to shake the monkey of individual and collective greed off our backs.


Bunking the environmental threat

Today is the 12th of April, 2007. There is nothing new in the world, yet everything at this very moment is brand spanking new.

I was looking at new stuff on You Tube the other day, and I chanced to see a vid dedicated to debunking the idea that humans are currently impacting the world's climate (now removed from You Tube due to terms of use violation). I was irritated. For the last fifty years, I have been a convinced and confirmed environmentalist.

1957 was the start of the IGY, the International Geophysical Year. My father was a Fullbright Scholar at the university in Wellington NZ in 1958, funded by IGY. The biologists, the botanists, the oceanographers, the meterologists, were already all talking about human impact on the climate in 1958. The freon scare, the CO2 - greenhouse scare, the gulfstream scare, were already firmly emplanted on the scientific agenda. That's fifty years ago. I just hate it when politicians claim that they never heard of the climate threat until recently.
On the one hand, it's never a surprise for anyone that no matter how important the issue, nor how convincing the evidence, there will always be a debunker out there that denies it. And some of the great heroes of history are debunkers. For some of these debunkers it's the evidence and the issue that's important, but for most of them it's simply the denial.

On the other hand, for the last fifty years I have been convinced that whenever an idea has become THE hegemonic consensus (eg: that leaded gasoline is necessary, that cholesterol is poison, that protecting the environment will cost us jobs, or that ... whatever ) its time to question it.

So I meet myself at the door ... the believer who after fighting an uphill battle for 50 years, discovers that the world seems finally to have started listening ... meets the skeptic who has always distrusted the consensus ... Whose judgement should i trust the more - myself ... or myself?