Category: Look for the Helpers

New BBC shortform doc about the Great Green Wall

Watch it here.

The most sci-fi moonshot project going on right now isn’t the hyperloop—it’s the Great Green Wall. They are literally fighting a battle to hold back the desert with a gigantic created forest that cuts all the way across Africa. It’s like the Wall in Game of Thrones, but with heat and not cold. The African Union has been building it since 2005 (I don’t know how to get across how huge it is) and I love it and will always post news stories about it. Hats off to Senegal particularly.

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Feed Yourself; Feed Some Other People

Norma’s is one of my favorite restaurants of all time, anywhere in the world. So if you happen to be in North Oak Cliff, in Dallas, near the Bishop Arts area, stop in and get you some food—pies, veggies, coffee, chicken-fried fill-in-the-blank, it’s all good. You’ll be helping homeless kids (particularly on June 15), but the person you’ll really be doing a favor is yourself.

Eat at Norma’s, give a homeless kid a birthday party” (Rachel Stone, The Advocate)

Jean Carlin, M.D.

A few days ago, my husband’s great aunt died; she was the only of my in-laws who I called by a familial name (Aunt Jean instead of Jean) – as did the rest of *my* family. Ciro says she was difficult to get along with, but I guess I met her late enough in her life that it was less true (and I didn’t need to depend on her, so I could enjoy her company for what it was). She was incredibly kind to me, and I was in awe of her. The day we met, a large rare flower in her garden bloomed. I’ll miss her very much.

Ciro writes:

Two days ago, one of the pioneers of refugee and cross-cultural psychiatry, Dr. Jean Carlin, MD, PhD, died in her sleep at her home in Seal Beach, CA. She was 86 years old. She took with her a lifetime of experience and wisdom that inform our understanding of the human cost of war to this day, and during Vietnam in particular informed U.S. refugee policy. More than anything she felt called to her work because she saw clearly into the abyss and cared very deeply about people. She spent her life trying to help them.

I said she was 86 years old. She was born in 1930. That means she moved into her teen years during World War II, and that when she was entering medical school, it was in 1950s America. She was one of three women in her class. It was routine for students who weren’t making the cut to be informed via a terse postcard in their mailbox, with no explanation. She was a woman from a poor single-parent household, surrounded by privileged men, aware that she could be dismissed at any time for any reason, in an era when female doctors in America were so rare that people frequently thought she was joking.

She spent two tours in Vietnam at a village children’s hospital, treating victims of war and its attendant horror with inadequate supplies and no electricity (candles at the foot of the bed). Children burned, children maimed, children with cholera. Viet Cong attacks in the area were frequent. She recalled one night-time alert that came while she was trying to save the life of a dying baby girl. The attack forced her to carry the girl through a field of knee-deep mud and weeds in total darkness, compressing the tiny body rhythmically against her own chest to respirate her, until she could reach an emergency ward. The baby did survive, as did many others in her care.

She returned later to work in the refugee camps, and her time there lead to a senior consultancy on the relocation efforts of the U.S. government. I haven’t been able to find a complete count of citations of her work in research literature, but it’s over 100. I think about it a lot when I read about Syria, about profound trauma combining with dislocation and total loss of culture and identity, about it following the survivors through generations. It haunts me to see it so completely, as it must have haunted her.

After the war she moved into forensic psychiatry, working for courts and mental hospitals and social services, with survivors and casualties of a different kind. Budget cuts and political resistance meant this work was frequently unpaid, underpaid, or paid very late, but she continued to do it, for the same reason she went willingly into war zones.

She was also my great aunt, and she loved me like her own child, of which she had none, nor did she ever marry. The truth is she wasn’t easy to be around, and that made her perpetually lonely.

Which isn’t fair. It’s not fair that with a human compassion so fierce, with courage so great, with such a complete willingness to sacrifice, that she should ever have wanted for love of her own. I can’t get past how sad it makes me. I hope I was a comfort to her. I will miss her very much.

Reality Winner

The woman accused of leaking the NSA document is named Reality Winner. That’s her name. Her real, legal name. It’s not a handle. As far as I know, she was born with it. News organizations are trying to distract us by adding the middle name Leigh whenever they say it, but I’m going loud and proud: the woman who tipped off The Intercept about Russian vote tampering attempts is REALITY WINNER.


Sabitha says: I hope she’s okay but also I’m smiling every time I think about how Neal Stephenson must feel right now.

Pledge of Allegiance

I’ve been seeing a grumpy meme mocking “the far left” for their preoccupation with racism, as though it’s an insult invented by unpatriotic extremists to beat up Real Americans(TM). I seem to recall that every weekday for 13 years I was instructed to recite a loyalty pledge in which I promised, hand on my heart, to defend liberty and justice for all. All. Maybe you’re familiar with it.

These colors don’t run, y’all.


Gary says: That dog hunts! Always has!! What’s tough for some hunters is that they sometimes realize THEY are the hunted.

Jeff says: A mandatory loyalty pledge in any free society is odd, as is the entire notion of having to repeat any pledge daily, but the “liberty and justice for all” part is really good.

Gary: I don’t know that I would call it mandatory, although when children are required to recite the pledge, it might be called “brainwashing.” But to me, it is brainwashing in a good way! It’s only mandatory in the military, or of those who serve us in the government, as it should be.

Romie: I always thought it was kinda weird, and none of my schools bothered people who didn’t want to do it. I usually participated, although at different points I dropped out certain bits (because my allegiance isn’t actually to the flag; because I believe in a separation of church and state; because the nation was divisible [I felt at the time, but now I take the Unionist point of view that the Confederate secession was never legally legitimate]).

I have a lot of sympathy for people who find the pledge sinister or alienating. However, speaking only for myself, I enjoy rituals and mantras. There’s something interesting about returning to the same set of words over and over again and finding that I understand them differently. Particularly when they’re words I share with a lot of other people.

Sharon: Seconding the enjoyment of rituals. I worry sometimes my daughter doesn’t get enough of them. She, like me, is a creature who enjoys habit.

Kathy: Hate is never good.

Drawdown, by Paul Hawken

Interesting new book for solarpunk peeps and environmentalists which talks about carbon drawdown strategies (because 100% renewable energy, even if it could be achieved, would not pull out the stuff that’s already in the air)—Drawdown, by Paul Hawken. Haven’t read it yet, but here’s some of what came up in the Vox.com interview.

Top of the list for reducing emissions isn’t cars or planes or making things last—it’s disposing of refrigerators and air conditioners when they get too old. 90% of CFC and HCFC leakage happens when the coolant system is starting to conk out and die. No big loss to get rid of that machine, which was already breaking down. If we can convince people to do that instead of trying to stretch it out (maybe because of cost, maybe because of a laudable but in this case misplaced desire to conserve), and can dispose of it safely, that keeps 90-100 gigatons of CO2 equivalents out of the air between now and 2050.

A carbon capture strategy I hadn’t heard of before is Silvopasture, which is farming trees and grazing animals simultaneously. In other words, your pasture has trees on it (sylvan). This makes you more money if you want to sell the trees. It keeps your animals healthier (cows for instance like the shade) and your land healthier. And it sequesters carbon. If you’re writing optimistic SF, maybe include domesticated animal herds in managed forests. (There are other direct carbon capture mechanisms being explored, but the the only method that is currently reliable is photosynthesis.)

Finally, peace has a carbon dividend. Wars are terrible for the environment, and not just in a “they’re bombing the land to pieces” way. Sometimes cynical people think “well, at least this is decreasing population” and think they’re being analytical and brave to say something so horrible. But they’re wrong. Wars use a lot of energy. Wars destroy ecosystems. Wars grind through every resource you can think of, even to move the soldiers and fleeing people around. Peace is much better for preventing global warming.