Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sci-fi book cover: "Star Ways"
(aka Kilts in Space?)

  • Title: Star Ways
  • Cover blurb: "Enjoyable from first to last. Fast-moving and convincing." — Astounding Science-Fiction
  • Author: Poul Anderson (1926-2001). One of the titans of the science-fiction genre. He was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to Danish parents. According to the Nebula Awards website, "Anderson is probably best known for adventure stories in which larger-than-life characters succeed gleefully or fail heroically. His characters were nonetheless thoughtful, often introspective, and well developed. His plot lines frequently involved the application of social and political issues in a speculative manner appropriate to the science fiction genre."
  • Cover artist: Ed Emshwiller, according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. (He's not credited in the book, but his nickname appears within the illustration.) Emshwiller's work was also featured in this 2014 post.
  • Publisher: Ace Books (D-568)
  • Cover price: 35 cents
  • Publication year: 1963 for this edition. Star Ways was first published in 1956 and has many editions.
  • Pages: 143
  • Format: Paperback
  • Dediction: "To the MFS — all of them"
  • First sentence: There is a planet beyond the edge of the known, and its name is Rendezvous.
  • Wouldn't having a name make it known? Hush up.
  • Last sentence: The sky darkened around them and the stars came forth.
  • What came fifth? Oh, a wise guy, eh?
  • Random sentence from the middle: His black eyebrows lifted courteously.
  • I got nothing. Me either.
  • Goodreads rating: 3.28 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2014, Ari wrote: "It was one of Anderson's first novels, and the style feels a bit more clipped and the characters a bit shallower than his later work. ... The economics in the novel make no sense. It's hard to imagine interstellar starships selling home made handicrafts."
  • Amazon rating: 2.4 stars (out of 5.0) Some of those low ratings appear to have been unfairly assigned due to the quality of the ebook edition the reader purchased.
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2017, Indiana Reviewer wrote: "The book displays an early version of Poul Anderson which includes some quite unrealistic SF elements. That an alien who evolved on another world could pass for a stunningly beautiful woman is unlikely to the extreme, and is a fatal and unrepairable flaw in this novel, for that is a central theme from beginning to end. If the reader can overlook that, the story is quite decent."
  • Reddit dunks on the cover: Some excerpts:
    • I dig the space kilt! Finally the fellas have to suffer with impractical spacewear!
    • It looks like Emsh took every prop he had in the room for that wardrobe idea.
    • I don't think plaid should be paired with... any of that.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Schoolchildren and the new coronavirus (COVID-19)

Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and commentator for the BBC, MSNBC, The New York Times and other outlets, tweeted out the above image today with the note: "While fighting #Coronavirus in Iran many schools are closed and children are stuck at home. This is competition that asks children to write creative stories on how to overcome the virus while they have time at home."

An Iranian woman named Faezeh also tweeted out the image with a note that Google says translates to: "Get to the kids, the bored kids, the kids who are bombarded with information, the kids who are scared, the kids who want to talk but no one listens to them ... This is one way to relieve stress and anxiety! We have to be careful."

It should go without saying, but kids are the same everywhere on Earth. They have dreams and fears. Questions and inquisitiveness. A great capacity for courage but also a underdeveloped ability to describe how they're really feeling inside. They are extremely perceptive and know when things are off-kilter or out of whack in the World of Adults. So we must understand that part of adult leadership1 in moments of crisis or anxiety involves making sure we're letting kids know what's going on, and not just setting them aside.

Along those lines, here's another excellent initiative. NPR's Malaka Gharib, the author of I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, put together a short comic to help teach schoolchildren about this developing news story. She writes: "Kids, this comic is for you. It's based on a radio story that NPR education reporter Cory Turner did. He asked some experts what kids might want to know about the new coronavirus discovered in China." Share it around, especially to teachers you might know. They can never have enough good resources. I think Stephen on Twitter spoke for many when he commended the comic and wrote: "Thank you for this. We’ve been walking the line of trying to make our daughters aware without making them panic."

Here are a few more resources on the same topic, from The Guardian, NBC News, and my employer, LNP|LancasterOnline.

1. Speaking of crisis leadership, Smithsonian Magazine published an insightful article in November 2017 headlined: "How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America." Author and activist Amy Siskind recently noted this specific passage: "The most important lesson from 1918 is to tell the truth. Though that idea is incorporated into every preparedness plan I know of, its actual implementation will depend on the character and leadership of the people in charge when a crisis erupts." That seems relevant at this moment in history.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Deploying playing cards to troops to raise cultural awareness

I intended to write this post about six weeks ago, but life comes at you fast. Especially here in 2020.

I've written about playing cards before. They're a ubiquitous subcategory of ephemera — everyone has a deck or three in the house. My great-grandfather had a deck personalized with his initials (which I should write about some day). Single cards might be tucked inside a book, as detailed in this 2012 post and this 2018 post. Some have amusing vintage designs, as I wrote about in 2013.

But some decks of playing cards have much more importance and historical weight. They can convey the values we wish to encourage and reflect.

I originally hoped to bring this up when it was more timely, at the start of the year, because the president of the United States, amid an inflamed moment in the United States' ongoing conflict with Iran, tweeted a seeming threat toward sites of cultural importance to the Iranian people.

The president reiterated his threat the next day, January 5, according to NPR, stating: "They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."

But it does work that way. That same NPR article notes this: "The targeting of cultural properties by the U.S. is indeed not allowed. The U.S. is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention, which requires 'refraining from any act of hostility' directed against cultural property."

And in recent years, the United States miltary has worked to reinforce the importance of leaving cultural sites in foreign countries alone — partly through the use of playing cards. And that brings us to today's ephemera.

In the summer of 2007, the U.S. Defense Department began issuing decks of playing cards to troops. "The cards are training aids designed to help the servicemembers understand the archaeological significance of their deployed locations," wrote Meghan Vittrup of American Forces Press Service.

According to the Fall 2010 "Product Catalog for Cultural Property Protection Planning and Training in the Department of Defense," there were three different decks of cultural awareness playing cards: a combined deck for Iraq and Afghanistan (that's the one I have and am featuring in these photos), one for Egypt, and one specifically for Afghanistan. The catalog indicates that the cards were printed by the U.S. Playing Card Company. Each suit has a theme. Diamonds focused on saving precious artifacts; clubs focused on raising awareness on heritage preservation issues; spades cautioned agianst digging and site destruction; and hearts focused on "winning hearts and minds."

A 2012 article by the German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) discussed how archaeologist Dr. Laurie Rush, the Cultural Resources Program Manager at Fort Drum, helped to create the 2007 playing card deck:
"Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US Marines set up a camp in the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, with Polish troops following months later. There, the troops inadvertently crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavement and used soil containing artifacts for sandbags.

"After learning of the damage, Rush volunteered her services. 'It immediately occurred to me that a better educated force would not have made those kinds of mistakes,' she said.

"In a creative effort to inform, Rush and her colleagues designed ordinary playing cards with a special purpose: Each card contains a fact about cultural heritage in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt.

"Deployed forces from the US and other countries can pass the idle hours playing poker and looking at photos of ancient minarets in Iraq, the Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan and inscribed bricks and tablets. They shuffle, deal and read the messages on the cards, which indicate, for example, that they should stop digging if they find ancient artifacts and turn to local elders for archeological information.

"'Without question, the five of hearts is my favorite,' said Rush, while flipping through the cards. 'The caption is "protecting archeologist sites helps preserve them for future generations." It's an image of a soldier holding hands with a tiny Iraqi child ... and it's clear this soldier and this child have a very positive relationship.'

"One sergeant told Rush that through these simple cards he was able to learn about Iraq's cultural heritage, a subject that he later used to forge stronger bonds with the locals. Rush's cards spurred another soldier to sound the alert that digging was taking place at a Mesopotamian city site east of Baghdad. The site was saved."

A 2014 article by Jennifer Dimas of Colorado State University noted that interest in the Heritage Resource Preservation playing cards was further spurred by the 2014 George Clooney film Monuments Men (even if the movie itself got middling reviews). "Written at the top of each card are the words 'ROE First,' which reminds the soldiers that the military's Rules of Engagement should precede all other considerations," Dimas wrote.

Indeed, the Rules of Engagement should supercede any unlawful orders, even from those in the highest levels of the military chain of command. The aforementioned NPR article notes that "the Department of Defense's Law of War manual mentions cultural property 625 times, repeatedly citing the Hague Convention" and that "the U.S. military educates its soldiers about their responsibilities not to target or destroy cultural property."

Asked about the president's threat in January to "HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD" against "Iranian culture" targets, it was heartening to see the response of the United States' top defense officials. Again according to NPR, Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that U.S. forces wouldn't carry out Trump's threat, saying, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict." And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We'll behave lawfully. We'll behave inside the system. We always have, and we always will."