Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter in Arcata, CA? Of course--and casting spells
in the rest of the world, too.
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Among the first at Northtown Books in Arcata, at the
bewitching hour in the first few minutes of Saturday.
More photos at This North Coast Place.
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Harry Potter and the Global Village

It was what one participant called "a communal book experience" (in the best of the summary stories I saw, in the LA Times) and the village was global. It continues as readers dig into the latest and last of the saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It was a last chance to see the midnight parties that have greeted each new volume, even if in a small way, at Northtown Books here in Arcata, CA. (The pictures above are from that event, as well as more posted at another blog, This North Coast Place. When I first arrived at 11:30 or so, the line was composed mostly of college age and older--product of the late hour, I thought, but then realized that college students have grown up on Harry Potter books. But as midnight approached, more families with children arrived, as well as more students.

Many came in costume, of course, including a cross-dressing witch (it wouldn't be Arcata otherwise.) Those in the front of the line were reading by streetlight; some were gathered around a laptop, watching a Harry Potter movie. Down towards the back of the line, two twentysomethings went into the street with long sparklers of different colors to conduct a nicely choreographed wand battle. When the bookstore door opened and they filed into its dark confines, lit only by candles, I saw that some carried portable reading lights. After their trip to the cash register, a father and several children sat in and around the few chairs by the door--the children began reading, while dad plugged in his earphones to listen to the audiobook.

I also saw the movie from the fifth book this week, which seems like it will turn out to be a very good preparation for this book. But I can say no more. Margaret and I read these books aloud to each other, a chapter each in the evenings. This time we began by listening to the author, J.K. Rowling, read the first chapter--a streaming video from midnight in London which you can access for the next two weeks at the Bloomsbury Books site. Our own reading begins Sunday.

As for the temptation to check out the ending, I confess I read enough of the early reviews to figure I'm not going to be blindsided by anything utterly devastating, and in the process I saw that the book is getting high praise almost universally--so I'm content to let it roll. It may be a book about a mythical magical world, but it is itself literary magic, and global village magic--and when you see how it all came about for this magical creature named J. K. Rowling, you get the idea that the whole thing is magic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The World is As Sharp As the Edge of a Knife" by
Robert Davidson.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel."

Horace Walpole
Soul and the Future

Back in the 1970s, when projecting future possibilities was both more popular and more seriously studied and debated, part of the rubric was to talk of the future in terms of "scenarios" or stories. Because the future is by definition a fiction. Until it becomes the present.

Many of our stories about the future are of new situations that take hold of us, that are hard to change once they become real. Those futures tend to be very bad ones. We have so many stories about that kind of future partly because they're more dramatic than our weakly imagined utopias, and with better special effects. But also because these stories are meant to be cautionary tales. They say this is the future we might get if we don't do what we need to do right now to prevent it.

Another standard scenario, especially from those who favor a scientific approach, is the projection of what the future might be like "if present trends continue." If present trends of climate gas emissions continue, the future--as close as 2050, or perhaps closer--could well be dire indeed. This summer's heat waves (like last summer's, and the summers before that) and the persistent drought and resulting wildfires in the US West contribute to both awareness of the Climate Crisis and the fear of it, which can paradoxically also result in all kinds of denial, including the loud and conscious, and the silent and unconscious.

These are all as much emotional as rational responses, but in this case the connection between repeated hot or unusual and violent weather and the rapid trends of climate change are most likely correct. Already the droughts in some places in the US West are of eight year duration, and some fear they will only get worse. Australia has such severe droughts that in some areas urban water is rationed year round. Droughts and desertification in Africa and Asia, the disappearance of lakes and the drying up of rivers there and in South America are not much covered on the news, but they are happening, along with the decline of glaciers and high mountain snows, and the perils of the polar bear.

A climate modeling project that got little attention early this spring put these future changes in stark terms: A new climate modeling study forecasts the complete disappearance of several existing climates in tropical highlands and regions near the poles, while large swaths of the tropics and subtropics may develop new climates unlike any seen today.

What this means for the future is great change over a relatively short time, and it has all the potential for violent change. It could mean the fall of governments and the collapse of countries; it could very well mean warfare--including nuclear warfare--over resources, perhaps oil (which has to run out sometime, and many believe it will be soon), and especially fresh water.

What kind of future do I see? Looking a century or two ahead, I see planet Earth with far fewer human beings on it than today. That change could be violent, with much destruction and suffering, or it could be gradual and painless, but I believe it is inevitable. The worst case would be a planet with only a few pockets of humans living in primitive conditions, as James Lovelock foresees. That is, the end of civilization, or at least its interuption for a very long time. If this happens, all the hard and often bloody lessons our civilization has learned will be for nothing.

What will make the difference? The fate of humanity will depend on the soul of the future. For a long while, we have been drilled to believe that the human soul is corrupt, that we are far more likely to be evil and violent, or simply greedy and selfish, than not, either because we are fallen and sinful or for some other metaphysical reason, often based on religious doctrine. Or, especially for the past two centuries, because it's our biological nature, because (in the latest formulation) it's in our selfish genes.

It isn't hard to find evidence for this view of human nature. Violence, greed of huge proportions, without any sign of conscience, are on view every day on television and in newspapers and magazines, and now, on-line. Iago no longer must utter pernicious lies to but one Othello; he can go online and blog his shameless and ego-drenched lies to thousands, even millions.

Add to that the prevailing idiocy, the complacent noise, the evidence of an insane society, that is available on virtually every channel of the TV set at any given moment of any given day. Ignorance is endemic, and encouraged by our commercial culture, as well as by rabid fundamentalist dogmas and cults.

To some this is survival of the fittest. To many, to me, it is quietly but persistently shocking and frightening. No, it's not at all difficult to see humanity as dooming itself and life as we know it on this planet, through compulsive evil, selfishness, greed and willed ignorance, or just defensive denial and perhaps equally defensive stupidity.

But that's not all there is to humanity. Scholars and researchers in various fields are finding other elements to human beings--indeed, to other animals and perhaps other forms of life--that are just as real. We don't need psychologists or biologists to know this, though perhaps we do need dramatists and poets to remind us, and we apparently require scientists to allow us to believe what we know from real life experience: the existence of compassion, empathy, altruism; the need to help, to share; the survival value of honesty, cooperation, generosity, as well as of friendship, forgiveness and love. And the survival value of intelligence and imagination.

Our particular way of expressing all these aspects of our natures is what makes us human. Sometimes we are individuals who value freedom and personal expression, fairness and truth, just as some individuals are motivated by greed and selfishness. Sometimes we feel the need to place the needs of the group before the needs of the self, and to live a conviction that empathy is natural and the skills of peace define the human enterprise, just as some groups trample on those they categorize as the Other, for their own selfish ends.

To a large extent, which aspects are ascendant in the soul of the future will determine that future. But perhaps more importantly, what we choose to value and express in the present will determine the conditions of that future. We are living in the soft times, the times of a more general prosperity, of moderate climate, of technology before the energy that drives it that we've taken from the earth has been depleted. We see amazing possibilities from science and technologies, to extend and enhance life, to end a lot of suffering, to build on the cultures and combined learning of our Earth. But this all depends on maintaining civilization in a planetary ecosystem that can sustain us, which in effect means sustaining most if not all of the life around us, as well as the conditions, the environments, that sustain that life.

That's what's at stake. That's why we must create the soul of the future in ourselves now, to motivate our actions in the present. Unless we solve the terrible problems that face us, which all seem to coalesce in the Climate Crisis, we will allow some forms of those dire futures to become real.

We have no choice but to enact hope for the future now. Those of us who will not live to see 2050 or even 2025 have our responsibilities to that future, as well as those whose present--or whose children's present-- it will someday be. We must live and act as consciously, intelligently, compassionately as we can. And in all we do, we must take seriously the soul of the future, through what we chose to emphasize, to advocate, and to nourish, while always honoring our complexity--including the parts of our natures that may have served us well in different circumstances-- and the strategies humanity has been developing since its beginning for using our natures to come closer to the potential we have envisioned and yearned for, with our minds, our hearts and our imaginations.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Last Word on Live Earth

A version of my post below on the Live Earth concerts was courageously "rescued" on Daily Kos despite not a singe comment or rec, but did get some interesting comments on the European Tribune. I notice that this climate crisis "issue" still gets fairly relentless negativism wherever and whenever anything is said about it. But one borderline commenter at ET did lead me to look at the broader coverage of Live Earth, and I admit I was surprised by how negative it was. There was a fair amount of controversy (especially in England) within the entertainment community on the events' efficacy, and certainly in the press. But most of the negativism centered on the "hypocrisy" of the "carbon footprint" of the event and the participants.

Which is how I found this article published in that radical rag, TIME magazine, with this conclusion, which I endorse and therefore quote at length:

But would the Earth have been better off if we all stayed home and did nothing, literally? "That's a fair thought," Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson told TIME before his band's Tokyo show. "It's also a cynical one." He's right. It's time to get past the obsession over carbon footprint size and offsets, over who's an eco-hypocrite and who is truly green. We need to use energy far more wisely, both individually and internationally, but with hundreds of millions in the developing world getting richer and producing more carbon every day, the threat of climate change is far, far bigger than our personal conservation habits. It will require technological change and painful political choices such as carbon taxes, gas taxes and mandatory greenhouse gas emissions caps. That means, especially for the young, the un-rock star act of voting.
Live Earth's success will be measured not by the number of trees the initiative plants or the number of energy-efficient light-bulbs sold as a result, but by whether it motivates concertgoers to make climate-change their generation's political priority, and press their leaders to act on it.

Al Gore and company deserve credit for putting forth a 7-point pledge for concertgoers that includes a demand that countries join an international treaty mandating a 90% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That will only happen if voters reward politicians who fight to cut carbon gas emissions, and punish those who don't. "It's not what we do today that matters," says Live Earth Tokyo's Nakajima. "It's what we all do tomorrow, and all the next days after. That's how we'll know how successful Live Earth really is."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

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More from Moyers

Two more points from Bill Moyers Journal on Friday (not online yet--no mention of it even at the PBS site that I can find): One concerning Congress, one the media.

Bruce Fein made the point that Congress lacks a single person with in depth knowledge and commitment regarding the Constitution, a person who understands and can argue the constitutional necessity of impeaching Bush and Cheney. This is an amazing charge. There has always been at least one, and often lots more than one, member of the House and/or Senate who was a Constitutional scholar. That all 535 aren't is bad enough. That there isn't one would be a sure sign that this particular experiment in self-government is about over.

Both Fein and John Nichols, but particularly Nichols, made the less unusual point that the media has failed abysmally not only in reporting on Iraq and so on, but in raising the relevant Constitutional issues. Why isn't somebody asking at those White House press conferences, doesn't this (name your violation here) violate the Constitution?