Archive for May, 2008

Review: Marvin Zimmerman’s “The Ovum Factor” and Interview

I was invited to review this novel a few weeks ago by Mr. Zimmerman’s publicist, and since I like reading as much as I like butter, here we go!

The Ovum Factor is Mr. Zimmerman’s first novel, which he introduces as an “eco-thriller”, inspired by his interest in the climate change debate.  The protagonist David Rose is a young, handsome, wealthy investment banker/researcher-type person who finds himself dissatisfied with his life.  He feels he is meant for some great purpose, but he’s only done what his family wanted him to do: studied hard, went to a fancy expensive school, got a high-flying finance job.  All he wants now is to find personal fulfillment.  Fortunately, the Voice Of Destiny begins to scream into his ear in the first chapter.

David is assigned by his bank to review the investment potential of a scientific project that aims to inject fetuses with a serum that will grant them superhuman intelligence.  During his investigation, he meets a girl, is pursued by various unsavories, travels the Western Hemisphere, and develops a spine. 

Zimmerman’s done a good job creating a sprawling plot and bringing it all together, and he does have a flair for the dramatic.  The chapters are short and punchy, and typically end at the right moment to make you want to turn the page.  The writing itself is sodden with cliches, however, and not in the good, campy way.  Of the characters, only David comes across as a fully developed person; everyone else is just a prod or a foil for his actions.  And even David seems to make decisions based solely on a wish for Fate Fulfilled, or “Why not?” reasoning.  His penchant for doing what he is told by mysterious strangers and fortune cookies reveals him to be a certain sort of person, for sure, but a frustrating sort of person to identify with in a novel that purportedly tackles serious scientific challenges and moral issues.

Enough about the literary considerations, though.  What makes Mr. Zimmerman’s work an “eco-thriller”, you ask? 

Spoilers ahead, yo.

David’s boss is a part of a private, powerful organization of intellectuals called the Omega Sentinels, who project that the world will be destroyed in the next 100 years by the ravages of climate change.  David’s boss also thinks that humans are so shortsighted, selfish, and unintelligent that they will never be able to come up with a solution to the climate crisis.  A serum that will turn fetuses into creepy-smart babies and super-humanly intelligent adults is the human race’s only chance for survival.  Ah, but of course.

Zimmerman offers a darkly pessimistic view of the state of the world, and a profoundly unsatisfying view of the way to fix it.  Aside from the glaring ethical problems of injecting fetuses with completely new drugs then saddling them with the hope of the world when they pop out (Zimmerman does mention that these issues exist before he blithely dismisses them), the story gives no credit to concerned citizens, environmental activists, or any of the thousands of small and large solutions that people are working on every day to deal with climate change and to live more sustainably.  Sure, by focusing on a fringe scientific effort and imminent doom, you can come up with a more thrilling book, but Mr. Zimmerman doesn’t give his most sympathetic audience enough credit.  His outlook alienates the readers that are concerned about climate change and dealing with the problem themselves, and reinforces the belief in climate skeptics or deniers that the environmental problem is too huge to be solved by real people anyway, so why bother?  I’ll drive my SUV down the block to get me some of that baby serum, and we’ll be cool.

I know that “inspiration for enlightened and helpful discourse” is not the only goal of a novel, especially a thriller.  I’m sure plenty of people who read The Da Vinci Code weren’t looking for a debate on the “Role of Women in Christianity” or “Historical Narratives of the Catholic Church”.  So I can’t fault Mr. Zimmerman for choosing the particular story particulars he did, any further than he meant this as an op-ed.  And it’s a lot more thriller than op-ed. 

The publicist graciously offered to relay any questions I had to Mr. Zimmerman, so here’s the exchange:

Q: In the book, the point of view of the Omega Sentinels is that humanity is doomed by climate change, and incapable of saving itself without drastic scientific intervention.  Is that [your] point of view as well?  If it’s not, how [do you] think that we can fix this climate problem?
A: My point of view on whether humanity will survive climate change? That’s a hard one. Obviously, I’m pessimistic since I envisaged a scenario where dramatic measures must be taken to avert calamity.

My own hope is that we still have time to correct everything that has contributed to this problem. But the clock is running down and we have to act decisively and immediately. The reason I wrote The Ovum Factor and continue to write novels on this theme is because I feel people have to be sensitized to the scale of the threat. Only then will they adjust their lifestyles and stop contributing further to it

At the same time, I’m a great believer in human resilience and will. Once we find the will to act, I’m hopeful that we’ll find the solutions.

I’m not sure his book will have the galvanizing impact that he intends, simply because the solution he poses is so extreme, but I admire him for trying.  It’s not easy putting your thoughts out there to get kicked around, so more power to him.  I hope he keeps at it.

If you’d like to read any excerpts or more about the book and author, check out his website.  The real deal is for sale at Amazon and a bunch of other retailers.

For Your Listening Pleasure

Get your environment news on the radio! Just like me, and everybody else in 1947. Earthbeat Radio is a local radio show, syndicated nationally, broadcasting every Tuesday at 10am on WPFW 89.3FM. The show’s got a blog on each week’s topic, and they’ve posted links to their past shows so you can listen anytime, with Quicktime player or by getting their podcast. The hosts have been environmental activists for years, and both work with sustainability groups here in DC- one of them with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and one founded and directs the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network.  So yes, they’ve got plenty to talk about.

Some of their recent topics have been the meat world and the recent polar bear/DOI scuffle. I’ll link you to any cool ones I find when I dig around in the archives…which I will be doing this weekend.

Thanks for the link, S!

Time Makes Fools Of Us All

I promised you a review of The Ovum Factor last night, but life intervened. I’m sorry, and at least now it will be 24 hours more thoughtful?  Maybe.

Recipe: Potatoes and Peas in a Delicious Sauce

I am not a vegetarian.  I do not know anything about “vegetarian cooking”, except you can’t use meat.  But I’m trying to eat less flesh, and I’m trying to figure out how to make it simple, because I don’t like to spend time cooking even delicious, meaty foods.  So here are my more successful experiments at creating stupidly easy, tasty vegetarian dishes.

All the recipes in this series will be tested, however sloppily, in my own kitchen, and will require fairly easy-to-find ingredients, taste pretty good, scale easily, pack as lunches well, and reqire minimal effort to throw together.

Potatoes and Peas in a Delicious Sauce


2 medium potatoes

1 bag frozen peas (or unfrozen, whatever)

1 jar Korma Sauce (or other spicy sauce.  I got my Korma sauce from Whole Foods, but you may have a local Indian grocery or just another favorite spicyish, creamy sauce.  Try what you like, I’m no Food Fuehrer.)

Wash the potatoes and cut them into bite-size chunks.  Dump chunks into a frying pan.  Dump peas into the frying pan until the proportion of peas to potatoes look delicious to you.  If you’re using canned peas, drain them first.  Dump the sauce onto the veggies until all the veggies have sauce on them- mix while you’re dumping, so you don’t add too much.  Add some water to the pan- enough the cover the bottom, at least.  It should say to do this on the side of the Korma jar.  Turn on the heat to medium, and cover the pan.  Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft.  While it’s simmering, continue to stir the food so nothing sticks to the pan, and add water if it all boils away so none of the veggies burn.  If you can mush a potato chunk with your stirrer, it’s done.

You’ll have time to do some dishes or futz around while it’s simmering, also, which is good for me, since I like to read while I cook.  I’m not a good cook, did I mention?  And if you use frozen peas, the mix might need to sit for a day or so for the delicious sauce taste to blend with the peas.

Enjoy, and let me know what kind of spin you’d like to put on it.  A different sauce?  Different vegetables?  Let me know how to make it better.



Coming up on Virescent:  I’ve had some great articles rattling around in my head for a few days, so I need to tell you about them, before I tell them.  Mostly so I don’t forget what they are.

I’ve been invited to review an eco-thriller- tomorrow you’ll get to hear all about The Ovum Factor, by Marvin Zimmerman.

This weekend, I’m replacing my six-year-old desktop computer with a laptop- I hope.  Look for articles on eco-friendly technology, acquisition and disposal of (power use?  manufacturing?  chemicals?  oh my).

I’ll begin a series on “Cooking Vegetarian: For Non-Vegetarians Who Don’t Cook” tonight!

Wired Magazine’s cover article this month on how everything we know about environmentalism is wrong.  I think they’re wrong.  More in depth reasoning on that…later.

That’s right.  Stay on the edge of your seats.


Aren’t College Kids Supposed to Be Irresponsible?

Yesterday’s NYT featured a story on how college students are studying sustainability, and living it, too. At Oberlin College, some kids have put together a “green dorm”, where the lights are off as much as possible, nobody runs a tv (they all have computers anyway, so I doubt they lack for the wide world of entertainment), and quick showers are a competitive sport. I had a great time in my school’s Russian House, but the behaviors we reinforced in each other there were not precisely…sustainable.

So read it, and ask yourself how you’d do living with a bunch of sustainability freaks.  I’m a sustainability freak living with a bunch of non-freak types, and trust me, it’s not as funny as The Odd Couple might have you believe.  The article has some pretty good hints as to how tense the housemate relationship can get, even among people who share similar values, and tips on how to deal with that.

I would find the shower sprints at Oberlin a challenge.  I bide my time in showers, and it’s one of my least sustainable habits.  They have a great motivational tool, though:

Besides the hourglass timer — Mr. Brown pointed out that it was called a shower coach and cost $3 online — the shower’s energy-saving motivational accessories include a picture of former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina plastered to the ceiling.

That was Ms. Bob-Waksberg’s idea. No one wants to linger in the shower with someone staring down from the ceiling, she said.

“You could also look at it another way,” she said, “that John Edwards is encouraging me to take a shorter shower.”

Why Mr. Edwards? “He had the strongest global warming policies of any of the candidates,” Mr. Brown said.

I’ll let you know whose picture I hang on my shower ceiling- and if it works.


Saturday in the Garden

And by “in the garden”, I usually mean “with the dozen pots on my deck”. But this Saturday, that all changed. It took hours, 50 pounds of potting soil, and a vision. Here’s what it looked like last week:

garden before

And here she is now:

garden aftergarden after 2

I wish I had before and after pictures of the full deck, because the contrast is huge. The pictures I do have are here. I cleared a space for my house mate, too, since he’s been wanting to get a grill, and I’d like to do everything I can to support that endeavor. The grey rack works very nicely, too, so I think I’m going to get a second one for the plants on the blue table, and save even more space. Plus, I’m thinking I can set up the peas to grow along their legs.

I planted baby’s breath in the swan, and carrots in the tall long metal tub. The other 4 long tubs are all ready to be planted with anything. I haven’t decided what can go into them yet- I want salad greens, but I need something that will do well in heat, since it’s going to get hotter and hotter from now until August.

The past few weeks I’ve been coveting honeysuckle and rosebushes, since they’ve been smelling up Del Ray and Old Town with their niceness. The deck is probably not a great place to start roses, but maybe I could attach a honeysuckle to the wall and let it go wild? Will that destroy the wood, which is wobbly already anyway? And can I just grow honeysuckle from a cutting? And for a cutting, would “an overhanging bit I break off from the sidewalk of somebody else’s bush” work?

Long Weekend Thrifting

My Memorial Day holiday started early. I picked up a shelf to take my garden partially vertical, and stopped by the Unique Thrift Store on New Hampshire Ave. The haul was prodigious:

purple teeshirtturquoise dressflower blouseblue shirtpink jacketpr teeshirtpenguin pindino pinknot earringsbrass bowlgreen planterswan plantermetal planterdinosaur cufflinks

A purple tee shirt. A turquoise tunic that looks to be the upper half of an Indian outfit, and handmade. The picture doesn’t show it, but the material has a purple sheen, and it’s gorgeous. It feels like cotton. I’m going to insert some fabric into the slits at the side and make it a dress. A white blouse with blowsy green and blue roses that was designed for a person without hips, so alteration is needed. A navy blue blouse. A pink jacket that should do nicely if I have to hang out with any grandparents this summer. And a green tee shirt from Puerto Rico that I’m going to do something exciting to. Then the jewelry- a rhinestone penguin! And a dinosaur pin- no tag on that guy, since I’ve been wearing him since I left the store. I also picked up a little pair of earrings shaped like knots. To top off the frivolity, I got a little bronze bowl with a teal and red dyed pattern- you know, since all the other bowls I have aren’t cool enough for my rhinestone penguin. I very rarely pick up knick-knacks at thrift stores, but this one called to me. Oh, and I got three planter pots, since I’d planned a huge garden overhaul this weekend, and since I found one shaped like a swan. The long boxy one was a splurge- 12$! But perfect for carrots.

My favorite find was for my Gentleman Friend. It’s a pair of T Rex cuff links! Nothing says “I Love You” like roaring cuffs. All together, I spent $60.

More photos here.

Eco-City Update

I attended the Environmental Policy Commission’s monthly meeting Monday, and I need to tell you all about it. It was at 7:45 in City Hall, and it started early. Actually I think it started at 7:30, and I just can’t read. The purpose and membership of the EPC is here, by the way.

Business at the meeting, after a period of citizen comments and questions, was to review edits to the Charter derived from public comments at the Eco-City Summit. I was impressed by the professionalism of the EPC members- they’d done their homework, and spent plenty of time pre-editing, and discussed the changes thoughtfully. I was also pleased by their attention to grammatical structures- they’re thinking through every word in the document. Almost every recorded comment will be addressed, it seems, either by changes to the Principles themselves, or listed in a separate section with some indication of why the suggestion wasn’t taken.

The EPC also recognizes that participation in the Eco-City Charter to this point has been very limited to a specific group of (white, highly educated, and already active in local issues) Alexandrians, and they’re looking to take steps to fix that. I’m interested to see what they come up with, but they spent a good 5-10 minutes discussing plans for broadening public awareness and participation Monday.

One of the interesting points on the of commission members made is that, while the principles are very positive and “action” oriented, they don’t seem to address the concept of “sacrifice”. People are going to need to make lifestyle changes: consume differently, move around Alexandria differently. The principles don’t really make that clear. Maybe it will come later in the process, but I think the community at large will respond better to our Eco-City if we’re given an idea of personal challenges and changes it may entail, as well as the cool stuff we’ll get from it.

I didn’t stay til the end- it was past my bedtime- but the final draft of the principles will be presented in the open City Council meeting June 14th, which will be put up in a webcast if you can’t make it (dunno about real-time, though). That is another open meeting, and the EPC is open to comments up until then, too, so knock yourself out if you’ve got ideas.

Also, if you’re interested in Alexandria news updates on a bunch of topics (including a mailing list directly for environmental quality news), you can sign up for them here.

50 MPG, Ladeeez

If you are looking to attract yourself a wummun, GM posits that you should be driving a hybrid.  According to their polling data, 88% of women would, hypothetically, be more interested in a person with a snazzy, fuel-efficient car than a snazzy muscle car.  Not that those are mutually exclusive, but GM does like to present it that way.   Doesn’t sound like the most scientific survey, really, but I think for GM to arrive at that kind of consumer sentiment, it has to mean something.

I found the link via Autopia, the Wired car blog, in an article musing on how quickly gas prices are moving customers to more efficient cars, and how long it’s taking the car companies and government officials to wake up to that reality.  Hope they come-to soon, though, the US auto industry is doing badly enough as it is without misinterpreting demand.

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