Thursday, January 27, 2011

The People's History Is In Need of a New Author

It seems fitting to pay tribute to a man like Howard Zinn. If we want paradigm shifts in technology, energy, climate change, we need leaders.Obama didn't mention climate change or anything environmental in his State of the Union Speech. Shame on him. Why? Because he wants to sneak through in 2012? He is afraid to confront flat earth proponents? Tea baggers who are in bed with the Koch brothers? Who knows. Who knows.

Remembering Howard Zinn, Once Again
Henry A. Giroux Thursday 27 January 2011

Editor's Note: Today, on the one-year anniversary of the death of the late Dr. Howard Zinn, his voice is deeply missed. In his essay titled LaGuardia in the Jazz Age, Zinn profiles Fiorello LaGuardia, a politician who took his work as mayor of New York and as a member of the House of Representatives seriously, putting his life and his reputation on the line for those he was elected to represent.
Who is willing to stand up for unseen and unheard people? Who is willing to move beyond playing safe politics and trying to stay out of the cross-hairs of the plutocrats?

This personal remembrance of Professor Zinn from Truthout board member Henry A. Giroux was published in the wake of Zinn’s death last year. On a day like today, as the spirit of democratic protest spreads across the Middle East, Giroux’s depiction of Zinn’s continual call to action - “resist, organize and collectively struggle” - is especially deeply felt.
- Matt Renner/TO

Author's Note: We live in an age in which the self has become the center of politics and everyday life. The formative culture, public spheres and institutions capable of challenging this privative notion of survivalism and market-driven notion of barbarism are both under siege and rapidly vanishing. The public intellectual has been replaced by the anti-public intellectual, just as the university as a democratic public sphere is now colonized by corporate and national security interests. Social movements barely speak beyond a narrow identity politics, and the questions that connect agency to pedagogy and social change have been replaced by the search for consumers and clients.

In his work, Howard Zinn criticized all of these positions, while embodying a notion of agency that exhibited a fierce moral courage and a deep propensity for engaged social action. He never faltered in his attempts to connect scholarship with politics, and he never retreated into the dystopian world of indifference or cynicism. Howard has left us a legacy of work, activism and hope that even in the darkest times offers a new language for reclaiming the link between politics and democracy, agency and critical thinking, ethics and a space of social responsibility and hope. We at Truthout are committed to his legacy, vision and mode of engaged struggle, and we are thankful for the work he left us and the humble and courageous spirit he offered as a model for all of us.
- Henry Giroux

Howard Zinn, A Public Intellectual Who Mattered

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard's book, "Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal," published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard's working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard's fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my first glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber's attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard's pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn't interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train." He wrote:

"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard's salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard's wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over "Last Tango in Paris." I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, "O.K., you got a point," always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day - a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber's list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.

Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, "A People's History of the United States," but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit.

He wrote:

"Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider 'radical' are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass' speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: 'What do you regret?' He answered: 'I wasn't radical enough.'"

I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard's death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, "do more than mourn, organize." Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Note From the Author: The renown sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, in response to my tribute to Howard Zinn responded by sending a piece he wrote on the recent anniversary of Camus's death. Zygmunt stated that he saw a parallel and connection between the lives of these two important public intellectuals.

This story was originally published on January 28, 2010.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yes, It's the Sun, Stupid

How much more stupidity will the American so-called technology geniuses take from our faulty economic and government leaders? Solar panels, passive solar, advanced solar concentrators, and myriad of solar arrays may not be the silver bullet for energy independence and to move us all toward a post-carbon society, but it's pretty darn close to being a key solution to many of the world's energy and environmental problems.

Of course, we wonder when those corporations that generate more jobs overseas than here, and those that skedaddle out of here will be slapped hard penalty-wise. All of that innovation, education, R & D, community support just poof, immolated as they move to countries like China to set up shop? Executives from Massachusetts enjoying dim sum, bullet trains and luxuries the can only dream of in the USA?

Check out the Post Carbon Institute here:

Here's Alternet's news on Evergreen Solar ditching the USA and heading to China:

3rd Biggest Solar Panel Maker in the Country Closes US Operations, Hightails it to China

An article today on GOOD about the potential of renewable energy says, "every hour enough sunlight reaches the Earth's surface to meet the world's energy demands for a year." If only we could utilize such potential! Of course there are folks out there trying, but the solar business, it turns out, is still a tough business.

The New York Times reported today that Evergreen Solar, the third-largest manufacturer of solar panels in the U.S. is closing their American operations and hightailing it to China. Apparently, $43 million in assistance from Massachusetts taxpayers wasn't enough to keep Evergreen Solar's 800 jobs in the country. China, which just became the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines, is apparently able to give much more support for solar ventures than the U.S. government.

So much support that the Obama administration has been muttering that China is violating the free trade rules of the WTO with all their state subsidies for renewables. (A big meeting between Obama and President Hu Jintao will take place this week and may be hugely significant for the development of clean energy.)

The issue, according to the Times, has to do with prices for solar panels dropping, hugely.

"World prices have fallen as much as two-thirds in the last three years -- including a drop of 10 percent during last year's fourth quarter alone.

Chinese manufacturers, Mr. El-Hillow [Evergreen Solar's chief executive] said in the statement, have been able to push prices down sharply because they receive considerable help from the Chinese government and state-owned banks, and because manufacturing costs are generally lower in China."

Perhaps the U.S. government would like to rethink it's policy of subsidizing dirty energy like coal and oil and instead give a little love to the clean tech sector. Our environment could use the help and so could American workers.

Read the New York Times here:

It gets worse. While the USA is in this spasm of Republican and Tea Party gun love; while the Supreme Court's decision to allow trillions of corporate dollars injected into elections; while the liberal class tries to tweak the failures of neo-liberal policies; while 120 million Americans technically have pre-existing conditions that would either make them ineligible for corporate run health insurance, or at the least, cause their rates to sky-rocket -- while of that and more guts our national conversation -- we are defunding education, imploding K-12 learning, and facilitating the death of critical thinking in the USA.

Solar Panels? Wind turbines? Bullet trains? Sanity in helping Haiti rebuild? No way, Jose (oh yeah, ultra-Republicans can't even stomach a conservative like Jeb Bush reaching out to Latinos -- sorry --

Right-wing hate radio host Mark Levin blasted Bush for “race-baiting,” calling his remarks “divisive” and “destructive of conservatism.” Levin said, “I’m starting to think Jeb Bush isn’t that bright, to be honest with you.” Calling Bush someone who sounds like “a host on MSNBC,” Levin concluded:

I am sick and tired of politicians and ethnic front groups who do everything they can to divide us, to categorize us, and to undermine the entire notion of our founding. I cannot vote for Jeb Bush whenever he runs, because apparently, he has a comprehension problem when it comes to our founding, when it comes to the Declaration and the Constitution, and when it comes to basic — basic — understanding of the greatness of this nation.

Our entire solar technology is being gutted, as is our wind turbine aspirations:

New York Times -- Other solar panel manufacturers are also struggling in the United States. Solyndra, a Silicon Valley business, received a visit from President Obama in May and a $535 million federal loan guarantee, only to say in November that it was shutting one of its two American plants and would delay expansion of the other.

First Solar, an American company, is one of the world’s largest solar power vendors. But most of its products are made overseas.

Chinese solar panel manufacturers accounted for slightly over half the world’s production last year. Their share of the American market has grown nearly sixfold in the last two years, to 23 percent in 2010 and is still rising fast, according to GTM Research, a renewable energy market analysis firm in Cambridge, Mass.

In addition to solar energy, China just passed the United States as the world’s largest builder and installer of wind turbines.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saguaros and Ponderosas -- Returning to Tucson in the Shadow of Basalt

Saguaros and Ponderosas – (Part Two)
Refractions of two cities on the edge

By Paul K. Haeder
Treading Lightly perspective

Treed by a pack of javelina? Oh, around 18 of these desert peccaries getting the best of you while hunting white-tailed deer near Cochise’s “last stand?” Not many in Spokane have those memories under their belt. Stung, scratched, gouged, bitten and seared through by every type of scorpion (my favorite, the giant hairy), mammal (kit fox pup put a hole in my thumb once), plenty of snakes, like that 8-foot bull snake I kept as a pet, and the army of cacti and agave (Spanish dagger is one of the prettiest and nastiest in the waning light).

I’m thinking a lot about Spokane down here in coccidioidomycosis land (Valley fever) as I prepare to bid goodbye to my familial and formative years’ legacy in this town of odd characters and fantastical ecosystems revealed to me with a bit of salt and lime on the rim of a cracked glass listening to ranchero-Celtic fusion live music under a Georgia O’Keefe sky.

I watch bird-feeder fattened spiny swift lizards – probably 150 percent meatier than those not habituated by these Tucson retirees originally hailing from Iowa and kids from San Bernardino – scamper through the oil drippings in my mother’s garage – a huge box of shadow, sweltering, but cooler than the 109 degrees just outside.

Goat-eyed geckos do their anti-gravity boot walk through my mom’s old photographs of her early days in Powell River, BC. Most of the black and white images have been stripped of cellulose by termites.

Hope wafted up in all that heat a long time ago, but now, the entire thing is looking more of a mess than one could have predicted 30 years back ago after attending all those heady environmental-neighborhood-historic preservation-planning meetings attended by the likes of Leslie Silko and Father Greeley.

Here’s where we’ve progressed to in sunny Arizona -- the runways in Phoenix get hotter than hell and jets at Sky Harbor can’t take off. More than forty percent of all the electricity used in Scottsdale and Tucson goes for conditioning the air with refrigeration. Constant asthma alerts (Phoenix is number one in that category) and ominous code yellow health advisories to folk during Tucson’s Cairo-like inversions.
Over 355 sunny days in Tucson, little rainfall, yet the solar panels and xeriscaping yards are few and far between.

But it’s easy to get caught up in the predictions of collapse or all that stuff I’ve studied concerning total global human die-off. Or the proclivity to violence when things get tough in parts of the Sun Belt, the South.

I see in my mind’s eye the pattern of outflow in the Southwest when the water restrictions get severe, when the Tiger Woods-designed fairways wither, when the electricity costs $400 a month just to stay cool at 80 in the summer. Spokane would be well advised to prepare for a demographic shift and influx, including the resulting drains on our ecosystems, increases in housing costs, burdens on health care and social services, and just way too many people squeezing in a limiting geography.

Like Spokane, Tucson is more than a collection of zoning, population, ecological, and energy issues. Both are a state of mind, the landscape of the mind, really, where poets like Sherman Alexie or Barbara Kingsolver have etched the power of aboriginal narrative and the concussive forces of modernity clashing with the land deep into the granite of time even as they themselves have moved on and out.

Getting "high" with Edward Abbey – he was the main speaker in a writing workshop I took – or finding the bloated bodies of Salvadorans on the US-Mexico border near Naco while working the 80-hour a week reporter’s gig in Cochise County.

Now I’m in the drama of a forty-five-year old recovered Meth head as he sneezes so hard that his dentures end up between my feet on my first day teaching night school at Spokane Falls Community College.

Or the Cheyenne Indian healer, Gray Owl, married to a Nez Perce who shows me the way of the sweat lodge, power of sage smoke, and the good direction in earth walking right where Meriwether Lewis stared at the Clearwater.

Here is my place, hanging out with loggers who use horses rather than skidders to reduce the impact on micro-soil systems and the understory. Wind farmers from Florida working near Walla Walla showing me the durum wheat alongside the propellers of velocity. Testimonial after testimonial, and personal relationship juxtaposed against personal relationship, and here I am the pragmatist – “who’s seen it all” on many levels – and I find hope in Spokane when the owner of a landscaping company tells me how he “discourages, forcefully” homeowners from cutting down perfectly healthy Ponderosa pines.

Those are my relationships with land, people, story telling –in the Southwest and now the Inland Northwest. I packed the meat of narrative into my ribs, and the stories are still there in the gristle flagging my leg muscles as I launch through the heat of Turnbull and become a trespasser on some guy’s plot of land just south of Cheney where he keeps exotic animals for expensive hunting junkets (“canned hunting”).

I don’t see the Oryx, Thompson gazelles or felines legend has it are out there, but that same off-kilter and funky feeling runs through my bones as it did when I was a salty-browed tanned kid with aspirations of being the next Marlin Perkins while freaking out on my first hammerhead shark dive near Guaymas.

Southern Arizona gave me a lot – the gateway to Mexico and los dias de los muertos (day of the dead). Like Spokane, Tucson is a five-hour drive to the ocean: Sea of Cortes versus Pacific.

No one wants to imagine his hometown and stomping grounds suffering tremendously under the plague of environmental catastrophe, but the reality is most of the Southwest, places like Vegas and Phoenix, and Tucson, are at tipping points. Water is the next battleground royale. Clogged freeways. More and more federal money shunted away from the edge communities where poor people live in trailers and use Wal-Mart fans to cool down freezers full of frozen food.

In Spokane you have citizens packing into city and county meetings in a ritual to stave the rapine of neighborhoods through an endless subdivision hucksterism. Real grassroots efforts to plan for growth. People willing to roll up sleeves and beat pavement to recall a mayor. In our the City of Hoopfest.

Spokane – the people making it work, and those making no sense of what is right or at least what should be feasible for the place – is a launching pad for hope, maybe, or for building a new type of community. This place is chock full of character and characters.

It might be a city on the river, or at the edge of some political boundary separating Red State from Blue State, or it might be considered hokey when compared to hip and urbane Seattle. However, Spokane has all the forces in place to assist it in developing a truly practical and workable sustainable ethic.

There is an uncanny capacity here in Spokane for its people and those scattered in its hinterlands to understand relationships, and the disharmony of doing it too quickly, too shoddily and way too big.

Eastern Washington and Gonzaga and even Whitworth work on urban planning and reconnecting the disconnect in economically-struggling neighborhoods. Not just a handful of planners and developers and community activists see a need for community participation in ruddering Spokane’s and the region’s biological, hydrocarbon, and economic futures.

We have county extension agents who know about no-till farming and bio-diesel possibilities; master gardeners who dedicate themselves to helping people grasp the power of backyard veggie gardens; urban foresters who care about sustaining the roots of this region’s native and historic flora while still convincing naysayers that Ponderosa and Douglas fir were meant to be here. We have economists and politicians who jointly care about the Spokane River’s health, it’s impact in bringing a hardened thread to the community, and the vibrancy and spiritual undertow it carries with it for a future.

There is hope in the organic agriculture major just initiated by WSU. There is hope in the Community Building hosing sustainability forums and allowing voices other than corporate-shills to speak out to this city.

Even that plain-Jane neighbor down the road who composts, who knows about huckleberries and native tribes’ holy and caloric bounty from their seasonal forest plant harvests, heck, she carries with her a pregnant rectitude and certitude that young people will learn the right things about their place in life and their roles in healing their place.

There is hope in facing off the consequences of rising global temperatures, dwindling resources, and the calamitous energy-war policies taking center stage nationally and globally, yes, here in the Inland Northwest when we see efforts by WSU to conjure up a Peak Oil Conference or Spokane Falls Community College, Gonzaga and EWU bringing James Howard Kunstler to rock our boat a bit with his prognostications of a long, painful, sorrowful emergency.

The people here – those who have weathered several generations of memory and change and those who have moved here in the past 30 years – are willing to throw in and solve the very issues plaguing and pummeling Tucson, Albuquerque, El Paso, Denver, and Vegas.

A compelling measure of this region’s stick-to-it-ness and seriousness concerning building a tangible food security and sustainable communities comes in part next year, in April, when both EWU and University of Idaho host the Sixth Annual British-American-Canadian Conference on Rural Geography. A proposed book with 26 contributors, including yours truly, is being considered by EWU Press in conjunction with the international conference.

In its pages we see hope, tied to this region’s actual dynamism and one-of-a-kind evolution in the area of rural and urban landscape. A look at the Russian, Chinese, Hispanic, Huterite, and German immigration patterns and the Native Americans’ urban lives as well as their aboriginal importance are just one slice of the pie.

An understanding of wetlands, the geomorphology of cities, the impact of the railroad towns, the fragility of the shared aquifer, the intellectual legacy of the great flood, and even tidbits about the Olmstead Brothers, these are lasting Spokane legacies.

The strategists are here, and so are the communities, and the people who have a deeply seeded love of Spokane – both the Spokane of memory and that which might come out of long-range bioregional planning.

Yeah, I remember filling up my desert-scarring 400-cc Bultaco at a truck stop outside Tucson, in the southern reaches of the famed Saguaro National Monument, where those 300 and 500 year old cacti were the Tai Chi masters of sunset and sunrise.

Two orange juice tankers side-by-side were gobbling up diesel. I chatted with both drivers, and we all scratched our heads when the absurdity hit: Buck’s truck with 40,000 gallons of syrupy Florida OJ was headed for California. And Buell’s tanker filled with the same amount of syrupy Valencia, California, OJ was headed for Florida.

Here I am now, in Spokane, seeing that very same cross-continental citrus juice being consumed at an art opening. I’m thinking about how deeply Tucson, the Southwest, all of the underpinnings of what it is to be an Arizonan mean.
Then the shroud of equinoctial shadow overtakes me, and I’m here, at the glacial recesses of Sullivan Lake. At the apex of the trail out at Liberty Lake. Or at Deep Creek Canyon looking the Great Flood in the eye.

I might now walk in the dark like I did in the Sonora and see by feeling. Things familiar here take shape daily. Faces and hands of new friends are my guides in this walk-about.

The grace in this place’s people just might bring us through.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How Tucson Shapes the Frame for the United States -- a series looking back

Note: As part of an analysis of Spokane and environs reflecting a certain commonality in how the West – and the Southwest in particular – has “boomed” as a conflagration of settlements as diverse as Boulder, Santa Fe, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and so on – Treading Lightly series writer Paul K. Haeder will look at how sustainable and unsustainable practices are shaping what has been commonly called the American West -- “all that land west of the hundredth meridian and east of the Pacific shore." This appeared in the Pacific Northwest Weekly Inlanderfour years ago.

Part One – You Can’t Go Home Again (and just slough it all off)

Not Enough Monkey-wrenching – How John Wesley Powell predicted the floundering fools of the Air Conditioned WestBy Paul K. Haeder

The almost old adage, “you can’t go home again,” strikes me like a monsoonal flashflood as I fly into Phoenix to change planes to make my sand-jump into Tucson to fix and pack up my ailing mother’s townhouse.

Mine is beginning to become the classic American return home: a nighttime fall, fractured pelvis and wrist. Alone, a 78-year-old woman not ready to give up her sprawling home.

At 15,000 feet I look down at the orgasmic addiction to backyard pools, Sonora Desert-chomping sprawl, and black and silver arteries clogged with shiny new SUVs and cars. All those metastasizing stucco developments and gargantuan retail spaces pummeling in gory fashion the unique but dwindling ecosystem of a robust desert.

The idea of delusional planning (or lack thereof) bubbles up as I study the endless tendrils of Colorado River-sapping canals of the Central Arizona Project feeding non-native trees and shrubs and the obscene green turf of golf courses abutting each other in desert that sees less rain in a year than Seattle sees in a month.

Then the light bulb goes off: “Duh, this is a place whose environment is literally being altered by the ever-expanding service-economy families who organize themselves on the land with their car-trips and consumerism as their central ethos.”

I probably thought this thought in a bit more randy fashion, but it wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen this coming – I had been a journalist and activist since my first-year in college at the University of Arizona and later as a professional living throughout the Southwest.

But right then and there was this combination of space and time influencing me, and the altered five-year orbit away from here. Five years away from the influences of Mexico, Indians and Central America, to this new home in the Inland Northwest.

This hypersensitivity to seeing how the desert colonies are doomed in the Jared Diamond sense (his award-winning book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, comes to mind) was being generated in part by the past five years grappling with the profundity of our own issues of a stressed Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, the mainlining developers and politicos who see the infinite caravans of newcomers as all positive for Spokane, and the battle lines drawn between those who think endless growth and habitat destruction is a good urban and rural plan against those concerned citizens groups, academics and activists who would rather practice growth management and environmental stewardship in preparing for a more sustainable existence.

I begin to see the ghosts of Hopi and Navajo medicine men and Mexican peasants and laborers. And hear the screams of Spanish empire seekers and their cross-bearing leaders in their lust for silver, gold, slaves and converts. And remember the history courses detailing all the boom and bust mentality of the “new” Adam seeking revival and reclamation in the American West.

Here I am, landing in Phoenix readying myself for Tucson, my home town, seeing Joan Didion’s endlessly funny nose jobs driving Cadillac convertibles and listening to Sinatra on their way to one-arm bandits and poker tables. I’m dodging the battalions of RV-ers and boat-loving desert rats on their way to skin cancer-inducing weekends on artificial lakes, and I’m wondering: Nothing changes? It only gets worse?

I drift back to 1975 and the endless lines of mint condition pick-up trucks waiting to get into car wash bays, to now, at this present where endless lines of SUVs queue up at the grand openings of new Hooters of Krispy Kremes. In a millisecond I am between my world as a newspaperman in 1980 covering mind-numbing planning and zoning meetings in Bisbee and Wilcox, Arizona, and now in the present, reading the formerly enlightened Tucson morning newspaper with its lukewarm stories detailing today’s nasty land grabbers and cookie-cutter home builders whining to their paid-for county commissioners and city council members about water restrictions.

This journey back -- to a place where I started cutting my teeth on understanding the enormity of expanse and the power of desiccation and adaptive plants like 2,000-year-old ironwood and where I learned how to respect Mohave rattlers and scorpions -- also revives some of the endless sanity I keep reading inside the pages of writers who have known the West and the consequences of over-inhabiting it with the wrong people, wrong attitudes, and wrong lifestyles.

I winnow back to Wallace Stegner, and his constant drumbeat invoking the idea that the West – any place for that matter – is a place of diasporas and transplantations. Whether we are conceived and birthed in a place or if we stumble upon it, we need to make a deep connection to it as both a landscape and place of community, and it can be made a lasting place only through a “slow accrual, like a coral reef,” of meaningful and climate- and land-based decisions.

Thomas Wolfe’s character, George Webber, in that 1934 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, found it necessary to eradicate his roots in order for “a man to win his ultimate freedom and not be plunged back into savagery and perish utterly from earth.”

I’m not big on dappling off roots or ignoring heritage and origins and the nuances of how time lived and time remembered can shape one’s undreamed of future.

But the fact is that the entire project that is the American West is a glittering mess of botox narcissism and evangelical myopia, where the warnings about growing too big in all the wrong places -- and with too much dependence on water and consumerism -- have been scoffed at by citizens, lawmakers and corporations inhabiting such places as Scottsdale and Las Vegas, or Sun City, Arizona, and St. George, Utah.

Almost everything wrong with unchecked development or that arrogance against nature humanity has displayed over the course of civilization hits me in the face as the jet plows through the late-June inversion and supercharged air of the greater Phoenix metropolis.

The heat island effect of another 20 unnatural degrees, added to the thermometer caused by Phoenix’s affinity for endless pavement and concrete barriers, unfortunately is drawing a slew of heat-seeking retirees and budding families into the 125-degree motorway hell.

Habla Espanol: Getting it Built

The very idea that Spokane is part of the west and is enshrined in the Sunbelt mentality may seem like a stretch, but given our longitude and latitude, we are part of the chunk of real estate west of the 100th Meridian and east of the Pacific coastal zone that receives less than 20 inches of rainfall a year.

Billings, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, and Spokane have more in common with Tucson, Albuquerque, Denver, and El Paso than any town east of the Mississippi.

In many ways, Spokane is a microcosm of things about to become dislodged, broken, and auctioned off that are now challenging the very existence of the “west.” In Spokane, we have milder and milder winters and warmer nighttime temperatures, creating havoc with drainages and water in general, as well as with growing seasons and invasive species. Hell, we can simply study 90-year-old photos of Spokane in December and January and see the regular snowfalls of old were a lot deeper than what we have now.

We have water problems – depletion and pollution. We are part of the swath of geology that is affected by a decades-long Western drought. We have the tension of immigration – more Hispanics are in-migrating and setting down roots in Washington. Each month we have more and more residents from California – the epitome of the West of the Perception and the West of Reality – moving to the Inland Northwest, bringing with them money, xenophobia and out-of-whack consumer habits.

While the Sunbelt is a continuous escalator of older folk coming into it, the Inland Northwest’s demographics belie a similar pattern with additional close-to-retirement-age folk coming in and settling down. Healthcare and medical facilities are two huge challenges that have to be met here and throughout the west.

Near Nature, Near Perfect is a funny jingo Spokane hawks as pseudo pop philosophy; however, in towns throughout Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and California, the same sort of PR campaigns have unfolded. These, in turn, are pitting the needs of the Home Depot and Walmart loving suburban dweller against the very ecosystems that supposedly draw the transplants out here to begin with.

Tucson – where I went to high school and where the seeds of my life as a writer, journalist and activist were germinated -- is so much like Spokane in many ways. The Sonoran Desert and our dry Ponderosa forest have comparisons: both are lush and severely beautiful with little moisture for their respective ecosystems.

Like Spokane, Tucson has various university-based groups and neighborhood action committees fighting to stop the bulldozer and street-paver from fracturing yet more habitat that is home to both the big and small species. We have our moose and elk problem; Tucson has its coyote and cougar problem.

For both western cities, the issue centers around encroachment – more land is being developed for people with the bucks. What once was a sane greenbelt policy is disintegrating into a building frenzy up into the foothills of the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains.

Like a wildfire, droves of people enter natural areas and expect the wildness to be tame . . . or be gone altogether.

The dichotomies, inequities and ironies come flooding at me during as each day of my three weeks in Arizona unfolds. While I wait for my 78-year-old mother to go through rehab sessions at a well-apportioned and fancy medical complex – one that looks like a dude ranch or Santa Fe spa resort -- I hike the expanse of the gated skilled, semi-skilled and independent-living facilities that dot the canyons at the foot of the Catalinas.

I used to hike and camp here with my fellow biology students. Once wild and rough territory with black bears, javelina, rattlesnakes, kit foxes and an array of insects, reptiles and flora found only in this part of the world, the foothills are now overdeveloped with multi-million dollar homes set on 2- and 5-acre acre plots.

Four- and five-star restaurants abound. Jack Nicholas-designed golf courses spread out through gullies and arroyos. All of it is reached by high speed four- and six-lane roads.

These doctors and software developers are living their 4,000-square-foot dreams away from the valley where almost a million people make up the Tucson metroplex.
They wallow in their Taos-inspired architecture and drip irrigation systems for native drought-resistant plants.

Near the exercise pool at one of the dozens of retirement-slash-medical assisted facilities, where 20 gray-haired residents are learning aqua-aerobics and deep breathing exercises, I am standing at a table with a newspaper fluttering in the convection breeze -- the morning daily, The Arizona Daily Star.

Once a cool middle-sized newspaper, referred to in the old days by Barry Goldwater reactionaries as the Arizona Red Star, it’s a shade or two on the conservative side. Shades of our very own Spokesman Review.

I’m listening to the gray-haired seniors counting out pool exercises while reading copy in my old newspaper, the crux of which could have been torn from the pages of our Spokane daily:

 One neighborhood is fighting against Walmart while another is petitioning for a box store to be built (not Walmart) in their neighborhood for those low-wage jobs.

 People rail against Mexicans, not even acknowledging their region’s Mexican and Spanish roots.

 There’s copy about the racist border watchers – the Minutemen, some of whom are from Washington and Oregon – who “patrol” along the US-Mexico border.

 A story about water barrels for illegal crossers being turned into Swiss cheese with 30.30s.

 Complaints about unchecked growth, and then right underneath that letter to the editor, two harangues against “those environmentalists who want to take away our rights to trap vermin, to drive our four-wheel drives in useless desert and tell us what kind of plants we should have in our yards.”

 Historic preservationists fighting the City and progressive developers against constructing a seven-story new urbanism-styled multi-use building downtown (know as the Old Pueblo) because it doesn’t fit with the single-story adobe architecture of old (when Tucson had 5,000 residents).

Just like Spokane, Tucson and Phoenix have their battlefields strewn with the lost causes of controlling growth, designing new urban city cores, conserving water, and creating alternatives to the endless single-occupancy car trips made nine or ten times a day by each person.

Here I am reading these anti-immigrant stories from wire services and local reporters while listening to construction hammers, saws and cement mixers, all manned by workers from Jalisco, Oaxaca, and so on.

I listen to what some of those old ladies and men “working out” in the azure of the Olympic-sized pool have to say: “We need those nice Spanish girls to change our sheets, cook our food, and do their TLC magic on our aging bodies.”

I’m standing in an area that was once open, wild, and undeveloped; once full of mule deer, tortoises, raptors, Mexican free-tail bats, black racers and California king snakes. But, all I can see are sleek SUVs and low-slung faux adobe homes. Service workers tending to pools. Mexicans building walls and tending to landscaping.

I’m thinking about Spokane, its future, this entire Inland Northwest’s future as the price of crude ratchets up, as more dissatisfied Californians and Arizonans head north for affordable second homes and all these lakes.

Yeah, Tucson and Spokane, sister cities. It all makes sense to me right there at the edge of the egg-frying blacktop where lizards wait for catastrophe to bring them home again.

..............................................End of Part One...................................

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Arizona, Tea Bags, Gun-loving Governors -- Forget About Education, Sanity

Yeah, big ideas about writing a slew of blog posts on the tech convention in Las Vegas last week. Or the Goldman Sachs pimping by Facebook. Or how the US Justice Department is trying to go after Julian Assange and others tied to Wiki-leaks via their Tweets. Google and Facebook have also been hit with the same subpoena. That's for another day this week.

My Tucson, man, my Arizona. I cut my teeth there in high school, in college, in the desert, in the mountains, on the border, as a reporter in Southern Arizona. I was involved in environmental movements and the movement to stop the abuse of Latino/a's and immigrants from Central America. Tucson was where I learned Spanish, learned how to appreciate Mexican humor, learned how to cook Mexican food, and learned how to say things to Linda Ronstadt when I was a freshman in college at a party she was at. I got my diving training under my belt in Tucson, learned how to be a dive master, took classes down to Guaymas, San Carlos and Baja. I saw the writing on the wall, as many did -- way too many rednecks, way too many retrograde retirees, way too many retired mean and community-destroying military, both active duty and double-dipping; and way too many uneducated folk hating brown people. Arizona has had the fastest growth rate of any state years ago. Suburbs and cities popped up in places without water, roads, common sense planning. The building and construction industry cared less about the Sonoran desert, more about fast bucks. Water was wasted in Arizona. People were getting old. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were wiping butts in hospitals, serving food in restaurants, taking care of landscaping, doing the hammering and nailing, and they were getting educated and elected.

What happened in Tucson is tragic but expected. The 22-year-old who took his legally concealed weapon into Safeway is a product of our high schools, hate radio, the Becks and Palins of the conservative idiot talk circus. Thanks Fox and Tea Bags for the hate. Thanks Constitutionalists and Border Racist Minute (un)Men. Representatives Giffords and Raul Grijalva, two legislators from close-by districts, have been threatened, abused, cursed, and had their offices vandalized and windows shot out for several years. Not by this sad sack of a young life who extinguished people in a Safeway parking lot.

I'll be writing up a decent piece on the larger implications of what happened in Tucson, and how it plays out nationally. There are some pretty superficial treatments of the events I've read. The governor of that state should be in jail -- she has zero class to boot and listening to her is like being with some script writer for a movie on schizophrenia and dementia. So should the Maricopa County Sheriff. All the Tea Baggers in the state as well.

Here's a piece I did a few years ago, still in the chilling Bush Two years (not that Obama's term is warm and fuzzy, to be sure). I've got a two piece column on returning home to Tucson (you can't go home again, thank you very much, Thomas Wolffe) I will post soon.

The idea of a blog on sustainability is to keep up with the news about climate, science, technology, ecology, energy, the whole nine yards of food, water, space, livability, architecture, culture. Well, the Tea Baggers and retrogrades of this country, mostly Republicans, but many Democrats, calling for the murder of Wiki-Leaks Julian Assange, they just burn up the playing field, and that needs some addressing. Calling for the murder of teachers and nurses and union leaders and scientists --welcome to Fox TV and Republican training day. Well, some of us have had bulls eyes on our backs for years, and it's about time the careerists and the great scientists start stepping up to the plate.

No more book-writing geologists rolling their eyes when confronted with young geologists. Go after them. No more PhD's giggling at idiots who know nothing about climate change who say we're cooling and human activity can't alter the earth. Go after them. No more educated people giving the Terminator ex-Guv of California environmental awards for taking care of water [he's a river, fish and Indian Tribe killer in California --see a column coming up on the Jolly Green Giant and the lies of Governor Arnold and much of the green washing and eco -pornography of the corporate environmental groups.]

For now, here's a piece I did 5 years ago. It ties into the murder of people at a Safeway in Tucson where I used to catch horned toads and tortoises (they are almost ALL gone, thanks to building and roads and crap like that).

This Land is Their Land, and We Are the Illegal Aliens
by Paul K. Haeder
April 7, 2006

"We are all illegal aliens." It's a bumper sticker many of us on the front lines of the fight against the United States' government's assault on Central Americans plastered on our car bumpers down El Paso way.

That was in the 1980s.

You know, when Reagan was running amok ordering his captains Ollie North, McFarland, Casper Weinberger, the whole lot of them, to send bombs, CIA-torture manuals and US agents in order to aid terrorist contras and other despotic sorts in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in civil wars in Salvador and Guatemala and El Salvador.

We worked with women and children who had witnessed fathers, uncles and husbands eviscerated by US-backed military monsters. Victims of torture, in Texas illegally. You know, what those brave Smith and Wesson-brandishing, chaise lounge Minutemen of today would call aliens.

We worked with people in faith-based communities, mainstream churches, and non-profits throughout El Paso, Juarez and the general area known as La Frontera. Everyone I met working with in this refugee assistance stint had humanitarian blood coursing through their veins. We were proud of our law-breaking work -- we gave refuge to terrorized and sometimes half-dead civilians.

We were called lawbreakers by the Reaganites and the Minutemen of that time. Communists. Pinko-fags. Those were the good old days of low-tech surveillance and simple FBI lists.

But what we did was human and humane, in the tradition of that very universal (with roots in Quakerism) belief in bearing witness and acting upon that which has been judged as unjust and inhumane.

Of course, we were up against the laws of this land and coarse politically driven judges who denied victim after victim permanent or temporary status while seeking asylum in the US.

We have so many stories of people sent back who were at best imprisoned, and in the worse cases, mutilated, disappeared, and murdered.

Guatemalan and Salvadorans, that is. Your readers don�t want to hear the narratives and visualize the descriptions of photos of those victims of torture. Ghastly things happened to teachers, nuns, medical workers and farmers, more heinous than what we've heard happened in the cells of Abu Ghraib.

We were there to assist, but more importantly to bear witness to our country�s terror campaign. Some of us got so riled up that later in our lives -- me included -- we hoofed it to Central America. Kicked around. Wrote articles for the few newspapers in this country that even cared about poor, misbegotten, displaced people of Latin America.

But no matter how hard-nosed we became, or how much we could withstand the photographs of women's sliced backs and beheaded fetuses, we couldn't shake the images of the children of torture at this two-story refugee house, Annunciation House. It was full of scruffy looking East Coast volunteers who had hooked up with Ruben Garcia, the House's director, through Catholic services organizations. It was their stint with public service, their spiritual duty calling. Part of their degree plans. But most were converted and slammed hard by the violence their charges had suffered under.

Those PTSD-induced cartoons those children drew sucked the air out of even the hard-ass border patrol guys who used to "dump" the Central Americans at Ruben's door at all hours of the night. Who can believe it now, that once upon a time official INS and border patrol officers knowingly let their perps go -- knew that Ruben and his volunteers could salve emotional and physical wounds of these tortured crossers.

Their chance at freedom. Except for the piss-ant judges. And the memories of pregnant aunties being raped, their fetuses cut out alive, speared, and the laughing Reagan-loved military punks in the highlands and jungle.

Annunciation House was bulging at 100 people -- disheveled lives jammed in. Beans always cooking. Songs. Mattresses and piles of donated clothes. Guitars strumming. Gueros, the white ones, and the Chicanos would help with in-takes -- asylum transcripts, translation, dotting all the i's and t's. Help with getting jobs. Odd jobs in the community. Help with making sure the refugees didn't get caught again.

But it was always those by-the-letter-of-the-law jurists helping confound the torture. More than 70 percent of our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US were denied entry by some fat cat, cocaine-sniffing immigration judge who usually had a friend in the back pocket of some Bush or buddy of Bush somewhere.

Then it was trying to get the denied victims off to Canada without being caught. You remember, the Canada back then which used to open its borders to refugees.

The judges and politicians and Minutemen all professed, "Send them back. Those aliens broke our immigration laws."

But "we are all illegal aliens" as a rejoinder went much further than USA's mayhem in Mesoamerica. We worked in solidarity with the housekeepers, bricklayers, agricultural workers and so many other worthy Mexicans who worked their butts off in the US for little pay and much less respect.

These were workers who crossed the Rio Grande to find low-paying jobs with American families and businesses -- working for mayors, bigwigs, even on government contracts. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, elsewhere. With a wink and a smile by the American exploiters.

Mojado -- wetback. Squatter. Beaner. Illegal alien. These were the more tame epithets.

But let's not kid ourselves about the genesis of this new round of empowered Latinos fighting against racist laws put forward by the dispassionate conservatives running the ship of fools in DC.

This is not a country of legal immigrants. It's a country based on colonialists, undocumented white people who helped displace native tribes through broken laws and genocide.

It's a country based on illegal occupation of native lands and on Mexico's lands, pure and simple. Colonialists protected by Federal laws that deemed free white people as the only ones who had the right to be fully-fledged citizens.

Manifest destiny was a violent racist act to seize lands illegally. Everything this country's current anti-Mexican and pro-Apartheid border war proponents stand upon -- all that doctrine and those so-called laws -- is based on illegally seizing lands of Native tribes.

And worse -- laws that "removed" natives. Laws that starved natives. Laws that approved of eradicating native families, entire tribes.

The current massive turnout of students and workers alike in this country's major cities is a testament to these Americans' backbone to fight this new exclusionary law -- HR4377 -- a Washington, DC-inspired racist act that has its roots in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Many Americans do express a certain humanity and dignity for the people many deem aliens, but it's not awe-inspiring that some citizens of Denmark or Limerick, Ireland, obey the so-called immigration laws of this country during their initial years as landed immigrants.

Let's make no bones about the motives of Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of this racist House bill: He sees those brown-skinned south-of-the-border lettuce pickers, linen washers, house framers, and their US-borne children as, what? "Alien gang members terrorizing communities."

Anyone spouting that we are a nation of immigrants and laws has a disease, what George Orwell called the illness of doublethink.

And until those many white Americans stop spewing that this is their land, a land of their laws, and a land made for Christians, the racist Minutemen will ramp up their gun brandishing on the southern and northern borders. And racist politicians will continue to play on the fears of uniformed constituents and try and pass the 21st Century's racist exclusionary laws.

I wonder what these modern-day Nazis would say about those children's cartoons -- images of bodies floating in rivers. Blood-soaked church walls. Military men with their M-16s trained on men while others were in their rape hunch. Beautiful jungle birds flying in the sky next to US-paid-for helicopter gun ships spraying the corn fields below. Dead mommies cradling dead babies.

Yeah, I'm an illegal alien. We all are illegal aliens, under the laws of these creeps in high office. Humanity and caring and simple benedictions for suffering so much, those are alien traits only held by a minority in this country of exclusion. Yeah, those creeps on hate-radio and in the newspaper columns and on Capitol Hill, sure, they recognize all of us who see the lies and fight the injustice as aliens.

And the children whose post-traumatic cartoons brought tears to men and women who had been in Vietnam. Simple Crayola colorings brought tears to a county sheriff who had survived drug runners shooting up his town and unearthed bodies.

Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.

Paul Haeder worked in Central America and Mexico writing for newspapers during the 1980s and early 1990s. He's currently in Spokane, Washington, as an instructor of writing at Spokane Falls Community College and writes sustainability-energy-environmental pieces for the town's weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander. [Note -- The town's weekly put in a right-wing Republican ex-politician with zero writing background in my regular monthly or bi-monthly column. Editor's words -- "We have had a good run for many years with your environmental and liberal voice. It's time for a conservative voice in our weekly."]
Other Articles by Paul K. Haeder

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"It's the Poverty, the Food and our Education, Stupid." Don't Let them Convince You It's 'The Economy'

Photo of wind turbines --

By Andreas Johannsen. This photo was taken on August 5, 2007 in Refshalevej, Copenhagen, Hovedstaden, DK, using a Nikon D70.

One of these decades, students and parents and just old baby boomers will stand up and demand education become the center of the universe. How many shortages are we going to face in the coming decades, from social workers, psychologists, earth scientists, architects (not software architects, engineers, teachers, doctors? Because of the lazy, mean, greedy men (and women) who put wealth and class divide over everything else? We need public schools to function elegantly, greatly.

You have to hand it to the Space Shuttle program and now another Mars surface joke of a program to launch an SUV (figuratively, compared to the dune buggy Mars rover) on the red planet. Hmmm, cute but expensive and wasted technology, human lives, at the expense of earth scientists. [more on these stories in future blogs]

THINK farming, water, energy on earth. Political and corporate dictatorship. We need to launch great Apollo programs to fight poverty, disease, and ignorance. Here's an interesting galvanizing article coming from Brazil, a hot country on many levels. First the engineering shortage:

A new report, titled ‘Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development’, is the first international study of the field, with contributions from some 120 experts around the world. It highlights "the critical roles" of engineering in both international and local development.

"One of the reasons for the decline in engineering’s popularity among students is the perception that the subject is boring and hard work, jobs are badly paid considering the responsibilities involved, and engineering has a negative environmental impact, and may be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution," he said.

Educational programmes could instead focus on the uses of engineering in sustainable development, environmental protection and poverty reduction. Such a focus might attract more women and minorities, Marjoram said. There are few female students in engineering programmes at universities across the world. In the West, engineering classes are often more that 80 percent male, according to professionals in the field.

Ahh, now the good news from Brazil, with a new president, a true revolutionary:

Published on Sunday, January 2, 2011 by the McClatchy Newspapers
Dilma Roussef, Brazil's First Female President, Vows War on Poverty
by Diana Renee

BRASILIA, Brazil - Left-wing economist Dilma Rousseff, 63, was inaugurated Saturday as the first female president of Brazil, succeeding her popular mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil's new President Dilma Rousseff and her only daughter Paula Rousseff Araujo wave to supporters as they make their way to the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday Jan. 1, 2011. Rousseff, a former rebel who was imprisoned and tortured during the nation's 21-year military dictatorship, was sworn in as Brazil's first female president Saturday. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) In her inaugural address in the building that houses the lower house of the Brazilian Congress in the capital, Brasilia, Rousseff vowed that overcoming extreme poverty will be her top priority.

"My government's most obstinate fight will be to eradicate extreme poverty and to create opportunities for all," she said.

Her oath met with applause from 800 invited guests, including more than 20 foreign heads of state and government.

Lula left office with record popularity but could not stay on due to constitutional limits on consecutive presidential terms.

"A significant social mobility happened in President Lula's two mandates. But there is still poverty that shames our country and prevents our full affirmation as a developed people," she said.

In a 45-minute speech that was interrupted by applause on numerous occasions, Rousseff wept when she remembered her past as a member of a leftist guerrilla group and her dead comrades in the fight against the 1964-85 dictatorship in Brazil, during which she was herself imprisoned and suffered torture.

"I devoted all my life to Brazil's cause. I gave up my youth for the dream of a country that was fair and democratic. I withstood the most extreme adversities that were inflicted to all those of us who dared fight arbitrariness," she said.

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