John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of WrathOn my self-assigned course called “Books I Should Have Read Years Ago,” I recently finished Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’m not going to write about the characterizations or images or plot, because I think they’re all pretty straightforward and I think it’s easy enough that pretty much anyone could read it, so I think it’s justifiable how frequent it’s listed as required reading.

What interests me about The Grapes of Wrath is how hopeless the situation of the Joad family seems to them, and indeed how hopeless it becomes. I won’t spoil the ending image because it’s exceptionally powerful and I count myself fortunate that I managed to run in the circles I’ve run in without hearing the ending before I finished it myself. Suffice to say that the Joad family manages to steadily lose or have taken from them everything over the course of the novel, and find themselves destitute and helpless by the end.

The reason I find this interesting is that their helpless situation represents a low point in a string of highs and lows throughout history, and one that is more or less caused by the previous high. Farmers irresponsibly farmed wheat where it didn’t belong, resulting in loose soil that was picked up by the plains’ high winds and the Dust Bowl, which resulted in cataclysmic crop failure at the first major drought. Things were not helped by the Great Depression, and migrants from the Dust Bowl found little relief when the moved to California. Continue reading

GAO Report Treats Climate Change’s Symptoms

Mike Groll / AP file

A recent NBC News article concerns an NGO, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), warning the federal government of items presenting high risk. Among the top risks? Climate change, a major issue concerning us all on which the government has been noticeably quiet and evasive in recent months, despite numerous outreach and advocacy groups calling for more government action. I myself wrote a post in October about how discussion of the issue was being avoided at the 2012 presidential debates.

The GAO’s report apparently concerns the federal government’s responsibilities to react quickly and effectively to natural and environmental disasters like the recent hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and it is in relation to this that the report concerns climate change. According to the GAO, the federal government needs to be held more accountable for protecting its citizens from disasters, and it is because these disasters are caused by climate change that climate change is on their list. While it is true that climate change should certainly be on the GAO’s list, the primary incentive being disaster relief is, in my opinion, not nearly enough. It’s tantamount to treating a disease’s symptoms instead of the disease itself. Continue reading

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A History of Climate Change Questions at Presidential Debates

Photo credit: the Baltimore Sun

On Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw recently posed the question as to why presidential and vice presidential debates in the 2012 election have ducked the question of climate change and how they and their administrations would address it. In neither of the ensuing debates was a question about climate change asked, even during the town-hall debate where all questions were asked by ostensibly undecided voters.

According to an article on ThinkProgress.com, two-thirds of voters see evidence of climate change and thus see it as a viable issue for discussion between presidential candidates.

I’ve been working at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, an urban sustainability nonprofit in Chicago. Obviously, the lion’s share of CNT’s work is concerned, directly or indirectly, with climate change and so we have an interest in seeing the issue discussed by the potential leaders of our country. This post gives a history of the discussion of environmentalism and climate change at presidential debates in the last few elections. The point is not to make the case for any partisan groups, but to pose the question: why is such a fundamentally important issue being skirted now, when it’s more important than ever? Continue reading

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Explaining the Great Concavity/Great Convexity controversy in Infinite Jest

One of the very small details that has tripped me up on my rereading of Infinite Jest is the name controversy of the Great Concavity (as the U.S. calls it) or Great Convexity (as Canada calls it).  A wide set of motives are given for the events that lead up to the territory being ceded to Canada, but the gist of it is that territory in northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine was discovered in the late nineties to be heavily polluted and subsequently given to Canada. Continue reading

Haruki Murakami – 1Q84, volume III

The final character and concept chart for 1Q84 is below.  Most noticeable about this one is the addition of a new branch from the title—Ushikawa gets his own distinct branch as the third volume does not alternate between Aomame and Tengo, but cycles through Ushikawa, Aomame, and Tengo until the final chapter.

This addition is necessary in order to show the investigative aspect of the final events, but there are drawbacks.  With three separate narratives running, the narrator rather quickly loses track of their relation to each other as each character’s story is told, each episode confined to the pre-determined chapter length limit.  As a result, events are related out of order and, rather than giving the effect that this was intentional, it comes off as rather clumsy.  Instead of being Pulp Fiction or 21 Grams, it’s more like a child’s ghost story or a poorly-told joke. Continue reading

Haruki Murakami – 1Q84, volume II

The character and concept chart as revised for volume II is posted below.  In addition to the concepts outlined therein, I have two major points to discuss about this middle section.

The first involves something of a trope I’ve observed in a number of works of fiction, namely the idea that people choose to die as they grow old.  In 1Q84, the doctor caring for Tengo’s father speaks of growing old, past the age of 7o specifically, as a process of deciding when to stop living, and Tengo takes this assumption as granted.  I’ve seen this idea elsewhere, including in a rambling lecture for a completely useless Anthropology class.  (Don’t take that as a shot at Anthropology; this class was useless because the lecturer had evidently given up on being a professor and abruptly retired after two or three lectures, giving everyone unearned A’s.) Continue reading