Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--And Why

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and WhyThe Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--And Why by Amanda Ripley. I read this right after our tsunami scare last month so it resonated a little differently with me than it might have had I read it at some other time.  The author mentions that the tsunami that killed 61 people in Hawaii in 1960 was generated by a huge earthquake off the coast of Chile (sound familiar?).  At the time, we had the technology in place to deal with such a threat-the warning sirens all sounded in plenty of time to take action.  Unfortunately, the general population was not sure what the sirens meant-was it a signal to stay alert for additional information, a warning to evacuate, or were they testing new equipment?  (This theme of government preparedness not meshing with public response is a common one throughout Ripley's book).  With that in mind, I was quite proud of how well Hawaii seemed to handle this last threat.  From our little corner of the world, everyone seemed pretty well-informed and ready to take action if needed.  Some people complained that the officials here made too big a deal out of something that turned out to be nothing, but I'll take that scenario over the alternative.  Also, this was a good test run to see if everything worked the way it should have so that we have a better idea what to do, or not do, next time.

So, that said, the title of this book pretty much sums it up-why are certain people better in disaster situations than others?  Ripley talks to survivors from several disasters, covering both well-known disasters, like the bombing of the twin towers and Hurricane Katrina, as well as some that many people probably don't know about or might not remember, like the 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire near Cincinnati or the frequent stampedes that occur during pilgrimages to Mecca.

Some survivors were saved by their own cool heads and decisive action, others were saved because of someone else's good instincts.  All the stories are interesting, but there was one that had me in tears throughout its entire telling.  The story of Roger Olian, the man who jumped into the Potomac River on January 13, 1982, to try to save the survivors of the Boeing 737 that had just crashed into the freezing waters, is amazing.  Between reading about Roger's reasons for jumping into the water and imagining what it must have been like for all the people involved, survivors and rescuers alike, it took me quite a while to get through this story because I kept having to stop to dry my eyes.

One thing that I walked away with after reading this is that, contrary to what you might think, people generally behave pretty well in a disaster.  Stampedes aside, people are generally calm and polite, sometimes to their own detriment.  Ripley explores these reactions and the psychology and biology behind them.  Do you know what causes panic?  I mean, specifically?  It's not just being scared or feeling like you are in danger.  According to a paper published by Enrico L. Quarantelli in 1954, "panic occurs if and only if three other conditions are present."

What?  You thought I was just going to tell you what they are?  If you want to know, read the book!  Haha!

Oh, okay, I'll give you one, but that's it!  Now, stop looking at me like that.  Okay, so, one condition that must be present in order for panic to set in:  A feeling that you might be trapped, not the knowledge that you are trapped, but that you might be trapped.  Interesting, huh?

Speaking of panic, I would like to pass along some of the best advice I have ever received.  If you ever are in a situation where you feel panic starting to set in, DON'T WASTE ANY ENERGY PANICKING.  Let me say that again.  Your mind will probably already be racing with what you might have to do to get out of your situation, and you may, indeed, have to exert a lot of energy to get out of whatever frightening situation you are in. So: DON'T WASTE ANY ENERGY PANICKING.  As you may have guessed, I was in a very near-panic state when this advice was dished out to me, and it was the best thing the person who was with me could have said.  So, this is also good advice to give to others.  Saying things like, "Don't panic," provides a perfect opportunity for the other person to justify his or her panic.  "WHAT DO YOU MEAN DON'T PANIC??  WE'RE OUT HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN, I CAN'T SWIM, I CAN'T SEE, AND I'M PROBABLY GOING TO DIIIIIIEEEE!  I THINK THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME TO PANIC!"  This is not the response you want.  I'm just sayin'.    

Anyway...this might sound like a potentially depressing read.  I know that as I was reading about a lot of these survivors, many of them heros, I knew that my instincts and theirs are not the same (in case you hadn't already gathered that from the paragraph above).  You may read with a sense of doom, thinking, Oh man, I'm screwed if I ever find myself in a disaster!; but the good news is that a lot of the things that make people respond well in disasters are things that you can change in yourself.  For example, you probably can't change the size of your hippocampus, which plays a large role in determining how likely you are to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); but you can have a plan in place for what to do in the event of a fire in your home or workplace and actually run drills until everyone involved is comfortable and knows what to do in that situation.  If you don't think that's a big deal, read about Rick Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, the largest tenant in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  There were 13 Morgan Stanley employees who didn't make it out of the building, but there were 2,687 who did.

One last thing, and I will let you go.  The book mentions the Carnegie Hero Fund, which was set up by Andrew Carnegie in 1904 to provide monetary assistance to civilian heros and their families.  Carnegie figured that if someone was injured or killed performing a heroic duty, their family shouldn't be put through financial hardships as a result.  There have been over 9,000 heros recognized since 1904, and you can perform a search if you want to look for heros in your neck of the woods or search for heroic acts in a certain year.  Of course, I scared myself silly reading about all the heroic water rescues that have been performed in Hawaii over the years!  You can also nominate a hero.          

Monday, March 29, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-A Wrinkle in Time/A Wind in the Door/A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I recently decided to revisit these books from my childhood.  I remember liking them but not loving them but thinking that as an adult I might appreciate them more, or at least differently.  What I discovered is that, as an adult, I liked them, but I didn't really love them.  Huh.  Seems I could have saved myself some time.

All three books involve the Murry family, mostly young Charles Wallace and his older sister Meg, the physics of space and time as well as fantastical creatures from all realms of the universe.

A Wrinkle in TimeI have the clearest memories of A Wrinkle in Time, the Newbery Award Winner of 1963-I must have read this a few times as a kid because while it's not one of my favorite books, I do remember quite a lot about it.  In short, Mr. Murry goes missing while doing some top secret work for the government involving tesseracts, or wrinkles in time.  His children, awkward, teenaged Meg and the brilliant five-year-old Charles Wallace, are swept through the universe in search of Mr. Murry, and they end up on a frighteningly perfect planet which is under the control of someone or something referred to simply as IT.  IT exerts a strange sort of mind control over the citizens of Camazotz-nobody has to think, they just have to do.  Not only do the Murry kids have to try to rescue their father, but they have to try to save themselves from falling under IT's terrible grip.

I read A Wrinkle in Time shortly after reading The Handmaid's Tale, and there was a striking similarity between both of the "perfect" worlds portrayed in these books.  In The Handmaid's Tale, Offred's Commander asks her what could be missing from this well-thought-out world of theirs, "You're an intelligent person, I like to hear what you think.  What did we overlook?  Love, I said."  Similarly, nobody is expected to think or feel on Camazotz, in fact these activities are highly discouraged.  Independent thinking leads to wrong decisions and mistakes which are BAD.  Ah, but if you're going to err, shouldn't it be for love?

A Wind in the DoorOkay, so I didn't love A Wrinkle in Time (speaking of love) but I enjoyed it enough to move on toA Wind in the Door.  Of the three books, I'd have to say that this one was my favorite.  The funny thing is, I couldn't have told you anything about this book; but as I read it, it was obvious that I had read it before, and the fact that I remembered almost nothing about it was shocking.  There are lots of things in here that I should have remembered because I know that, as a young girl, I would have been so smitten with the ideas.  There is this crazy dragon-like creature with lots of eyeballs and shimmery feathers; there's kything, which is sort of like telepathy only more...think telepathy meets Vulcan mind meld maybe?  There's becoming small enough to travel inside a human mitochondrion, but size doesn't really matter because it's all relative and humans are so freaking bound by it that we can't get past it. How was I not so obsessed with these ideas as a kid that I would remember everything about this book?

Also, there's a lot of talk about mitochondrial science and here I have to make a confession.  When I was in college, I took a vertebrate zoology course, and our final exam had an essay question on it that I thought I answered rather brilliantly.  I don't remember what the question was, but I remember coming up with this whole response about how mitochondria are parts of cells and our bodies much like we are part of the Earth or our galaxy and how all things are interrelated and size is all relative and stuff.  As it turns out, it appears that I may have lifted my entire answer from A Wind in the Door.  I never got my final exam back (long story), so I have no idea what my teacher thought of my answer-she may have loved it or she may have written me a stern lecture about plagiarism.  I have no idea.  So, Madeleine L'Engle, I'm sorry for using part of your book to pass my vertebrate zoology course.  I honestly had no idea that that's what I was doing.  I told you I didn't remember any of this book from when I was a kid!

Here, I have to make another comparison to The Handmaid's Tale.  In A Wind in the Door, there are these beings called Ecthroi, and their whole purpose in life is to destroy, to create nothingness.  At one point, an Ecthros bent on destruction tries to entice a human over to the dark side, as it were, with the following:  "Don't you understand that the Echthroi are your saviors?  When everything is nothing there will be no more war, no illness, no death.  There will be no more poverty, no more pain, no more slums, no more starvation--" (p. 187-188).  This reminded me of Aunt Lydia's pro-Gilead propaganda about freedom in The Handmaid's Tale.  There is "freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don't underrate it."  (p.24)   Again, the promise of an inability to make mistakes...sounds tempting, but I think I'd prefer my "freedom to".

A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANETA Swiftly Tilting Planet-I didn't remember reading this before, and as it turns out, I think that's because I hadn't.  I had all three of these books on my shelf as a child, but I guess I was never intrigued enough by the first two books to get on to the third.  Here, we are again faced with space and time but also with the consequences of single moments in time.  Charles Wallace is a teenager now and Meg is a married woman expecting her first child, and the world is on the brink of WWIII.  Charles Wallace is tasked with changing it.  How?  Through a series of leaps through time that I found confusing and difficult to follow.  I think if I had sat down and read this in one or two sittings or if I had taken notes or if I had not read to the point of drifting off on several occasions, I might have fared better, but I had a hard time with this one.

There are two more books in Madeleine L'Engle's Time series, but I'm not sure if I'll read them or not.  I didn't even realize there were two more until I looked at the back cover of my copy of A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  Has anyone else out there read all of them?  What do you think, is it worth continuing, given my feelings for the other three?  Also, my library copy of A Wrinkle in Time is a signed copy.  What do you think-is it worth keeping and just paying the library for a replacement copy?  The book is not in great shape-it's a well-worn 1978 version with all the accompanying library vandalism of stamped due dates, glued-on pockets, etc.

Other reviews and thoughts:

A Wrinkle in Time
Dolce Belleza
Sprite Writes
Stuff as Dreams are Made On (not a review exactly, but some thoughts on one of Chris's favorite books)
The Written Word hosted a read-a-long

A Wind in the Door
The Book Zombie

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Fyrefly's Blog

What is this "Wind Lines" of which you speak?

If you click on my profile, you might notice that I appear to have two blogs, this one and one called Wind Lines.  If you click over there, you may even notice some posts that look like they were posted by me.  This isn't exactly the case.

Wind Lines is a resource for the local paragliding community where you can find information about flying in Hawaii, whether you are a seasoned pilot or are looking for someone to take you on a tandem flight.  Pilots regularly post about their flying adventures, and they usually include photos.  These posts are great for visiting pilots who might be interested in coming to Hawaii to fly as well as for local pilots.  Not only do you get a feel for where to go to fly, but there is often something to learn from someone else's flying experience.  Even if you have no interest in paragliding, I would encourage you to click over and take a look at some of their photos-there have been some really amazing shots, stuff you don't normally see in your everyday "Come to Hawaii!" advertising.

So, how am I involved in this again?  Well, I'm not, but my husband is a new pilot, and he wanted to be able to contribute stories, and since I already have this whole blog thing set up, we figured he could just use my profile.  So, if you want to read about some of his adventures, you can go over to Wind Lines and look for postings that appear to be by me, Dreamybee, or you can also look for posts signed by Duck.  It's a good thing he's loving this flying thing because, believe me, he has taken a lot of ribbing for posting under the name Dreamybee!  Poor guy-maybe we'll get him his own blog set up one of these days...or not-that would take away from his flying time!

If you're looking for something to do on your next Hawaiian vacation, and you are looking for a new adventure or just want to see the island in a way that most people never do, I would definitely recommend contacting one of the tandem instructors to inquire about a flight.  I've gone on a short ride-conditions weren't quite right for a longer flight-and even though we weren't in the air for long, it was still really cool.  If you are thinking about becoming a pilot, are already a pilot, or know someone who is a pilot and wants to fly in Hawaii, direct them to Wind Lines-the folks here are all really friendly and very welcoming to visiting pilots.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-The Moon in the Water: Reflections on an Aging Parent

The Moon in the Water: Reflections on an Aging ParentThe Moon in the Water:  Reflections on an Aging Parent by Kathy J. Phillips-I've been having a hard time trying to figure out how to describe this book, so I think I will just let the book do it for me.

From the Preface:

These vignettes record the interactions, wary and warm, of an elderly father and a middle-aged daughter living in the same house after many years of independence.  Each vignette describes a painting of the Water-Moon Kuan Yin type in Buddhist art, then ventures into some trial facing the new housemates, then interweaves the painting and the life.

In Buddhism, Kuan Yin is a bodhisattva, or enlightened soul, who has incarnated many times and could graduate from the round of births and deaths but instead chooses to keep incarnating, to help others.

From the front flap:

From perplexed to poignant to funny, the vignettes record the working-class English of a fading but still wise dad, and they find other human versions of Kuan Yin in a doctor who will still make house calls or kind strangers in the street.

And, finally, from the book itself:

Then, as part of the ritual, when I ask him to hang the towel on its rack, which is taller than I am, he always chuckles at being able to help me.  In fact, I discovered recently that this goal is his whole reason for staying.  Tucking him in one night, I asked if he wanted to turn on his other side, to give a developing bedsore a rest.  No, he prefers to lie permanently on his deaf left ear, to leave his right ear listening, even while asleep:  "in case you call for help." (p.38)

I initially picked this up at the library thinking that it might be something to recommend to my aunt, who is doing a great deal of care-taking for my rapidly-aging grandparents.  As it turns out, I was able to take a little bit of Phillips' experience caring for her old-man father in his final days and relate it to my caring for my old-man basset in his final days, so it proved to be a bit of an unexpected source of comfort.

I really did enjoy this book.  I think part of it was because the author lives in Honolulu, so a lot of the things that she talked about were things that I could relate to.  It's always kind of fun to be able to say, "Hey, I've been there!" or to chuckle and think, That is soooo Hawaii! as you read another's story.  That said, although there are a lot of local references in here, I think this book is relatable on many levels; if you've ever had to deal with government bureaucracy, been without transportation, prayed for grace or even just had really great neighbors, you can probably find something in Phillips' stories that will make you go, "Ah...I've been there!"

On a separate note, while I was reading this, there was a bit of an uproar going on in the blogosphere over the cover of Magic Under Glass. I happened to read about it at in which a girl reads. Part of the discussion over there revolved around whether or not readers automatically imagine characters in a book as white if their race is not specified by the author.  My initial response was that, yeah, I probably do default characters to white, and I left a comment saying as much.  After that I returned to reading this book and, to quote my follow-up comment (is that the height of laziness??), "I realized that despite the author's name, and the fact that I've looked at her picture on the dust jacket a couple of times AND the fact that she had described her tall haole (white) father, I was still imagining both of them as Asian. I'm not sure if this is because they were in Hawaii (where I live) and people here are predominantly Asian or if it was because of the heavy references to Kuan Yin, an enlightened Buddhist soul[.]"

So, for me, subject matter and locale seem to play a large role in how I imagine characters in a book.  I've also discovered that speech influences my mental image.  Phillips' stories are lightly peppered  with a few local phrases and expressions which, for me, even after almost nine years here, still don't sound quite right coming from a white person, so when I hear certain words or phrases, I automatically picture someone Asian or Polynesian.

I bring this up only because I was kind of surprised by it myself.  I had been assuming that I am as guilty as the next person of automatically defaulting all of my literary characters to white even as I was in the middle of (incorrectly) defaulting my characters to Asian.  Do you have a default?  If so, what is it, and why?  
As always, if you have reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link to your review.  You can also leave your thoughts in the comments.

Bonus!  Turns out that the review of Magic Under Glass is up today at in which a girl reads.  Hmmmm...what does it all mean???

Monday, March 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-March 2010

Well, I seem to have a bunch of things that are about to bloom, but, relatively speaking, not a lot that actually is blooming.

My rose is about to bloom. I should have three new flowers any day now!

My spider lily is about to bloom. I should have bunches of new flowers any day now!

Ooh!  I found one that is just starting to bloom.  See how it has bunches of new flowers that will be bursting forth any day now?

Aside from that, I don't have much to show you that you haven't seen before.  Instead, I am going to enlist a little help from my local Safeway, where I picked up this bouquet a couple days ago.  Actually, they were two separate bouquets, but I thought all the oranges and corals of the "regular" bouquet would go nicely with the oranges in the tropical bouquet; and, I happen to think I was right!  I particularly love the fiery yellow/orange of the gerbera daisies.

I also like the little green pine-coney flower behind the daisy.  After doing a little research, I believe this might be Zingiber zerumbet or Pinecone Ginger-ha!  At least I know my descriptive skills are up to par.  This is also known as shampoo ginger because if you squeeze it, you get a milky substance out of it that you can use as shampoo.  (You might have seen "Awapuhi" on a shampoo bottle and wondered what it is.  Well, now you know!)  Maybe I'll try it next time I wash my hair and let you know how it goes.  That would mean taking it out of the bouquet maybe not!

What do you think?  Should I leave it in my arrangement or use it to wash my hair?

I didn't have too much going on in my yard today, but I bet if you go visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, you can find lots of other stuff  blooming on this March Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!