Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Birmingham 1963: How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support", short illustrated book documents the controversy over using children as civil rights warriors

Author: Shelley Tougas

Title: “Birmingham 1963: How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support

Publication: 2011, Compass Books, North Mankato, MN, ISBN 978-0-7565-4446-1, 64 full-sized pages, paper, four chapters. The series is called "Captured History". 

Amazon link is here. Note that the author has a similar book, “Little Rock 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration”. 

In early 1963. Birmingham, Alabama may have been the most segregated significant city in the Nation.  Civil rights leaders came up with the idea of using children in the demonstrations to draw national attention.  In the Children’s Crusade, many teens and children were attacked with fire hoses, and a white but progressive-minded photographer Charles Moore took a picture of Carolyn Maull being hosed that would get printed nationally. 
The national attention in print media like Life Magazine compelled downtown business leaders to start some desegregation, but then the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists attacked, leading by reaction to race riots that destroyed 20 city blocks.  In September 1963, four of Carolyn’s friends would die in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. 

Critics claimed that “real men don’t put their kids into the front lines”.  But the use of young people, who were heavily recruited, even to the point of skipping school, did get a lot of media attention in this period more than thirty years before the Internet was available.

The book is sold in the gift shop at the National Archives in Washington DC.

I visited Huntsville (to the north of Birmingham) with my parents, seeing friends (one was a space engineer) in early July 1958.  But I have been in Birmingham only once, in April 1985 (after passing through Philadelphia MS, where three civil rights voting rights workers were murdered in 1964, and then Tuscaloosa, recently devastated by a tornado in 2011. I would revisit Huntsville (the space camp) in June 1989, and some of the eastern mountain areas again in 1994.
Wikipedia attribution link for downtown picture.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

NatGeo: "Beyond our Universe" offers plenty of maps of other planets and moons within our own solar system

National Geographic offers as “supermarket” book, “Beyond our Galaxy: Exploring the Vastness of Space”, apparently edited by Bridget A. English.  The book is in four chapters, “The Solar System”, “The Milky Way”, “The Universe”, “The Multiverse.”

The book has maps of Venus, the Moon, Mars, Europa, and Titan.  There are surface illustrations of photographs from Venus, Mars and a small photo from Titan.

The book explains how the liquid layers among the gas giants are different.  Uranus and Neptune have a layer of many gasses, which gradually turn into a foam and liquid at increasing depth.  Jupiter and Saturn have a layer of metallic hydrogen. 

One of the more interesting discussions concerns that of Dark Matter and Dark Energy (73% of everything).  Dark matter is affected only by gravity, and dark energy may be the “cost” associated with creating more space-time.  That leads to the idea that eventually dark energy may pull everything in the universe apart in a “big rip”. 

Michio Kaku explains some of the possibilities. 

The very last page gives an explanation of the “anthropic principle”.  

Update: July 4, 2014

The July 2014 issue starts with an article "Is Anybody Out There: Life Beyond Earth", by Michael D. Lemonick.  There's discussion of the Drake Equation and an artists' rendition of the surface of Europa.

The July 2013 issue had offered a "Field Trip to Mars" in pictures.  

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

NYTimes book critic notes the loss of the midlist author, the disappearance of gatekeepers, the prominence of self-publishing

Colin Robinson discusses the disappearance of the trade-supported mid-list author in his op-ed (“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader”) in the New York Times Sunday, p. 6 in the Review Section, link here. I called the writer a "critic" but I see that the Times notes he is a co-publisher of OR Books.  
He talks about the shrinking of traditional publishing, except at the top (with either best-selling novelists or ghost-written political celebrities), with the entire middle replaced by hundreds of thousands of self-published titles, facilitated by Amazon and e-book culture.
Robinson notes the loss of “gatekeepers”, which he says is not necessarily good.  It is the values of the gatekeepers that timed out.  Those could have changed. 

I do recall that the Authors Guild would not accept for members writers who could not get advances from traditional publishers.  It seems that the writer who does not live off his income from writing (as I don't) has become the enemy of the old publishing industry business model. Being "important" matters more than money -- particularly in alien civilizations. 

Donald Maass had noted the melting of the midlist in his 2001 book “Writing the Breakout Novel” and Scott Meredith had anticipated it in earlier versions of “Writing to Sell”.  

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Top Secret America" by Priest and Arkin seems timely now

Authors:  Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (Priest is an investigative reporter for the Washington Post)

Title:Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State

Publication: Boston: 2011, Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-18220-1, 326 pages, paper, with additional 26 page Introduction in roman numerals;  11 chapters, conclusion, indexed.
Amazon link
This book takes on timeliness now because of the Edward Snowden affair, but everything in the book predates his activities.  I picked it up on impulse from a stack at Kammerbooks near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.
The authors often write about their investigations of the spook world in the first person, and it is sometimes not clear which author’s journey is being followed.
The most important point made by the book is to trace the huge proliferation of government agencies and numerous for-profit contractors that have grown since 9/11, with whole office-park communities sometimes concentrated in some particular areas, as between Fort Meade, MD (home the NSA) and the Baltimore Beltway, in northern Virginia, California, some western states, and some military bases, especially Fort Bragg, NC.  There is a lot of redundancy of function and not as much sharing of information as was promised after 9/11, due to extreme compartmentalization of classified information.

The authors describe the way the CIA can target suspect civilians overseas with drones, and then goes into the specialized targeting operations of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command (in a chapter called “Dark Matter”), finally leading to a discussion of the elimination of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.  One of the authors, ironically, as on a trip to visit a civilian company, Tivera, near Pittsburgh, that helps private parties discover what tracking and spying is done on them.

The authors survey the entire security clearance world, with special attention to developments in lie detection technology, way beyond the polygraph and even the “no lie MRI”.  There is a laser devise which can transparently measure changes in the carotid artery during an interview.  I’ve always wondered, that if polygraphs are not acceptable in court or in most employment because of unreliability, then why are they OK in security clearance investigations? The authors discuss the strict policies on clearing employees with arrests that did not result in convictions, or with financial problems even if they have been resolved, including one particular employee who owned three rental houses and got into trouble when one tenant could not pay his rent.
The book does not discuss the controversy over sexual orientation and security clearances, which was an “old chestnut” (to borrow Dick Cheney’s term) from the days of the military gay ban.  President Clinton eliminated discrimination of homosexuals and transsexuals by Executive Order in 1995, and in early 1996 the CIA agreed not to fire or exclude gay employees. 
The book has some black and white pictures, including one of the 5-story National Countererrorism Center, in Tyson’s Corner, VA.   I would probably be able to get an external picture myself the next time I am in the area.  It isn’t clear if this agency stands alone under the president or is part of the CIA or NSA.  Apparently the NCC works on the targeting of overseas terrorists with drones, with the CIA or JSOC.  This activity clearly runs the risk of collateral damage on civilians (something exposed by Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and Bradley or "Chelsea" Manning). 
In 2008, there were at least two murders in Maryland of technicians working in the covert industry, Kanika Powell and Sean Green.   These are open cases and perhaps gone cold, inviting investigative journalism.  It is unclear whether either was work-related.   (Worthy of note: It's possible or at least credible that Jason Thomas Scott, convicted for a Maryland crime spree that amounts to domestic terrorism, or the psychopathic variety like Aurora or Boston, as described here, could be connected to either or both of these cases.)  These cases aren't addressed in the book.