August’s Synchronized Chaos..Recognizing Our Treasures: What Is Truly Valuable?


Welcome to the August issue of Synchronized Chaos! Thanks to those who have followed this project for almost an entire year, and glad to see the newcomers, too.

This time around our contributors encourage us to re-think and re-appraise our values and our natural and material resources, to figure out and focus on what is most important. Some international thought-leaders, such as John Wood, author of How I Left Microsoft to Change the World, who is now building elementary schools internationally and bringing children books, see this worldwide economic crunch as a motivation to reorganize our activities and become more creative and efficient.

In a similar spirit, the managers and workers at Zocalo’s, Crosstown, and the Oakland It’s a Grind franchise coffeehouses discuss going back to the basics to make sure they’re as competent as possible at the few things which make their businesses the most money (usually the coffee.) Also, each manager articulated some fundamental human, as well as economic, values guiding his or her business: community-building, mentorship and a dedication to employees’ professional development, ecological sustainability, mutual respect among customers, employees, and management, facilitating participation in local decision-making.

Gaile Parkin’s novel Baking Cakes in Rwanda, reviewed this month, discusses similar kinds of business decisions, as well as the human factors involved with customer service and local entrepreneurship within a small community, for a bakery in Rwanda. While at first glance it seems that the issues Angel Tungaraza faces would be incredibly different from those of Northern California coffeehouse employees, the most striking aspect of the book was how ‘normal’ most people seemed in all of these various places, just trying to enjoy life, care for friends and family, express their creativity, and earn a living. Business owners in the West and elsewhere are all working to optimize profits while (sometimes at least) still honoring the human values behind their interactions.

San Francisco’s Pocket Opera Company embraces economizing and simplification as a guiding artistic principle, paring down full-scale opera productions as far as possible without sacrificing quality. For example, smaller groups of instrumentalists take the place of a full-size orchestra by staying close to the singers and taking advantage of theater acoustics, and managers multitask and take on performance and design roles whenever possible. Paring such a traditionally high-budget performance art down to the essentials while still appearing elegant to the audience becomes a challenge and a work of art in itself, as well as a method to make opera more accessible to newcomers to the art form.

Cynthia Lamanna’s short story “The Gift” evokes the days of past-century fairy tales and moral fables, and reminds readers of the gifts of faith and family. I observed that at least part of the forgotten gift could be the friendship between the sisters, overlooked as they both married and became busy with their own lives and families. Didacus Ramos, in his second installment of Stories Growing Up Portuguese, presents romance as a precious, forbidden ecstasy which his ‘impossibly posed’ characters can never enjoy as societal mores prevent her from leaving a loveless marriage. In “My Grandfather’s Carving,” the greatest treasure is painfully obvious and perpetually out of reach.

August’s nonfiction contributions explore how to maximize real-world ‘treasures’ which may seem out of reach – expensive resources scarce in our current world environmental and ecological condition. Lawyers and authors Orsi and Doskow posit property and resource sharing as a possible practical way to maintain some aspects of the physical lifestyle some of us were accustomed to before the economic slowdown and to allow more people to enjoy a higher standard of living. They advocate creative preservation and maximum utility for increasingly scarce resources, while ecology author and activist John Berger applies these principles at a macro-level in his new book Forests Forever, looking into the differential sustainability of various American and international forest conservation and lumber harvesting practices.

Some contributors choose to recognize treasure by simply celebrating life. Alexandra Marlin’s photographs convey a gentle human warmth, showing people laughing, embracing, running into each other with happy surprise, and involve a burgundy, purple and tan color scheme for coffeehouse scenes and headshots. Each photo communicates emotion, a short vignette and glimpse into the lives of the subjects. Reminiscent of this aesthetic sensibility is Patsy Ledbetter’s short tale of several friends’ vacation in New York City, a piece without ‘drama’ or gripping suspense or conflict, a simple reflection of the fun and excitement of traveling with one’s best friends.

Saying ‘life is beautiful’ is of course simplistic – yet, if we look, there is beauty to be found and remembered, and treasure to be preserved and celebrated.

Forests Forever: Sustainable Logging Approaches for Various Ecosystems



Through his new book Forests Forever, environmental activist and educator John Berger brings his contribution to discussions concerning world forest management. Broadly analyzing ecology, law, policy, and history as they relate to global forest ecosystems, Berger draws upon scientific information and cultural values to advocate certain kinds of sustainable logging practices.

Berger opposes clearcutting in the vast majority of cases because of the serious changes the practice brings about for an entire local ecosystem, and encourages selective logging, especially when designed to be as low-impact as possible by removing diseased or invasive trees, or trees next to the most vigorously growing ones to allow light to reach those with the greatest future growth potential. Throughout the book he analyzes various forest management and logging techniques in detail in terms of their environmental and economic impact, and goes through various (mostly American) leaders’ approaches to conservation issues.

This book, while serious in tone, is not entirely ‘doom and gloom’ – Berger praises certain decisions made by some logging firms, the Collins Company, for example, to harvest timber in a more sustainable way. Also, he looks into the Forest Stewardship Council’s approach to land management and discusses how some firms now choose to get wood from FSC-certified logging areas…along with mentioning wood substitutes, such as hemp and kenaf grass, which can also be made into soft paper. Finally, Forest Ethics’ Do Not Mail campaign allows people to request that junk mail not be sent to their homes, which actually saves the companies sending it money and time if recipients have no intention of ever responding to certain offers, as well as conserving paper.

Finally, Berger discusses ecosystem restoration efforts, and describes some efforts currently under way by groups such as the Oregon-based Lomakatsi Project. He outlines how and why he believes steps towards renewal, such as native tree planting, are still worthwhile.

John Berger’s book may be ordered online through his organization’s website,

You may also read about certain firms and organizations which Berger mentions in Forests Forever directly through their websites

Collins Companies:

Lomakatsi Restoration Project (locally based Oregon (United States) reforestation and ecosystem restoration group, with a statement of ecological findings and principles derived from their experiences):

Also, you may purchase and read reviews of Forests Forever on – May be more navigable than the Forests Forever main site.

Berger and Synchronized Chaos Magazine invite comments on and discussion of this book from everyone, including ecologists, biologists, and scientists, as well as timber industry people.

Utopian Communes Grow Up: Orsi and Doskow’s Sharing Solution

Shared property and housing bring to mind varied associations: memories of college dorms, hippie communes, cults, or shelters and poverty. A pair of northern California lawyers have just put together a new book which not only posits sharing as a positive ecological, money-saving and community-building example, but also details and works through many of the pragmatics involved with setting up such arrangements.

During their July presentation at A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair, the authors illustrated their big-picture idea by using Sharpies to draw on an easel a polluted planet Earth and a bankrupt society, and then a contrasting, happy, shared neighborhood with trees, chickens, fewer cars, and community garden and exercise space, and even a recording studio for enterprising musicians. The presentation began in a relaxed, Earth-friendly setting…but the actual book conveys much more realism and extensive practical detail. The Sharing Solution is just as much ‘let’s survive this economy without too much deprivation’ as ‘let’s save the planet and bring peace on earth!’

The authors suggest what can be shared: everything from babysitting and pet-care responsibilities to cars, household chores, major appliances and exercise equipment, garden space, boats, and living space. And how to locate people interested in sharing – one’s coworkers, neighbors, friends, even those on websites specifically designed for that purpose. The emphasis on starting right where you live with people you already know, as opposed to having to go out and locate members of a very different ‘Sharing Lifestyle’ community, was rather welcome. Also, anyone and everyone can probably share something…one does not have to be impoverished, a young cute hipster, a student, a Berkeley native, a hippie, or an environmental activist to share!

Rather than pretending we live in an utopia where problems will not arise, Doskow and Orsi advocate preventing squabbles before they start by discussing and agreeing to rules in advance. They suggest different kinds of disagreements that may come up among people sharing property, and encourage friends and neighbors to develop guidelines for how to handle these situations so people will know what to expect and what will be expected of them.

Even after the best possible planning, conflicts can still arise among ordinary, normally clear-headed and well-meaning people. Anticipating this, Orsi and Doskow have an entire chapter devoted to communication strategies for articulating needs, wishes, and concerns. What if you agree to carpool with a neighbor, but he’s chatty in the evenings when you prefer to listen to music or think? What if you and your best friend share fruit from each other’s trees, and your tree becomes diseased one year and you have less to share? What if you share the new lawnmower you just bought with the lady down the street, and she gives it back to you broken? None of these issues can necessarily be resolved easily, but effective, clear communication will not hurt in any case.

Orsi and Doskow bring their legal experience to bear on this book by presenting clear, formal agreements members of a sharing group or even simple neighbors and friends can sign. The book could be called, “Sharing for Dummies” – not in a perjorative sense, but to accentuate the emphasis on practical how-tos and everyday situations and advice.

The Sharing Solution is available from Nolo Press here: Perhaps order one for your office or home and share a copy!

My Grandfather’s Carving: Second Story from the Portuguese

My Grandfather’s Carving




Didacus Ramos


(best read with Coffee Liqueur—maybe straight scotch and Double Chocolate pound cake)


“Ill drive,” she said.  I got in on the passenger side.  “Push the seat back.  The boys sit in the back and I use that seat as my office.  Oh, sorry for the mess.”  She was embarrassed—but not enough to refuse me the ride.


“No problem.  I’ll put it in the back.”


“Where to?  Arby’s?”


“No.  This is for your birthday…Let’s go down to Subway.”  She smirks.  I know she’s impressed with my debonair style.


Subway shares a row of shops—Subway at one end, a rug shop, an office, a tanning salon and Ted’s Grill.  We park in the middle of the strip.  She crosses past me walking toward Subway.  I grab her hand and pull her in the opposite direction.  I could feel her hand shiver, her eyes dart around—who saw that?


Read the rest of the story here:


Didacus Ramos is a native of the blue-collar small-town of Hayward, California and has created a collection of stories loosely based on his own family, friends, and childhood. He may be reached by leaving a comment or dropping him a line here:

Taking the bitterness and making it sweet: Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali


“In the same way that a bucket of water reduces a cooking fire to ashes – a few splutters of shocked disbelief, a hiss of anger, and then a chill all the more penetrating for having abruptly supplanted intense heat – in just that way the photograph she now surveyed extinguished all her excitement.”

In Rwanda, a nation of tragedy, Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali begins not with drought, starvation, or genocide, but with the disappointment of a customer’s insistence on an ugly bland cake. The author reminds us right away that even in places which grab world media coverage, many people continue to live ordinary lives full of daily, but important concerns. To baker and entrepreneur Angel Tungaraza, confection design can convey one’s national pride, creativity, culture, relationship to others – and celebrates how life can and will return to normal.

Chapter names come from various social occasions for which people request cakes, giving the narrative structure and sweetening the bitter pain behind some of the customers’ stories. Angel creates a stylish dessert for a neighbor’s wedding, affirming the good that has come out of their relationship without glibly denying the sorrow both partners must face. Both have lost many family members to recent warfare, and the woman’s own mentally ill mother sits in jail accused of participating in genocide against the man’s tribe. The young man also got another woman pregnant during the war, and although he ultimately leaves her and decides to marry Angel’s friend, Angel and her neighbors are not without sympathy for the other mother and child. She colors the yin-yang symbol on top the cake with the traditional colors symbolizing sadness (red) and joy (green) in Rwanda, reflecting the desire for balance in a chaotic country and in people’s varied personal lives, along with the international influences she experiences living so close to many diplomats, researchers, and aid workers.

In the spirit of Chocolat and the Ladies’ Detective Agency, Angel’s bakery becomes a place where people work out creative solutions to their problems, subverting both Western and Rwandan cultural norms. An American woman nervously approaches Angel and shares how trapped she feels in her marriage, as her husband believes Africa to be full of dangerous warlords and tribespeople and will not allow her to leave their apartment alone. In reality, the husband’s cultural stereotypes are coupled with the fear that she will discover his affair with another female diplomat. Angel stays out of their marital troubles, but helps set the woman up as a teacher based out of their home. Another Westerner boasts of his theft from a sex worker too afraid to turn him in to the police, and she charges him more than necessary in order to return the money.

Parkin also challenges aspects of Rwandan culture through Angel’s witty observations and actions. Reflecting an emerging expansion in women’s life choices, she mentions to a proud father that his daughter who loves airplanes might grow up to become a pilot or mechanic, as well as a flight attendant. Also, she invites a physician and fakes an entire female circumcision ceremony, demonstrating that a girl can come of age perfectly well without mutilating surgery.

In this book, people are people, Western, Asian, or African…and everyone is capable of generosity and selfishness. Not all of those from developed countries are greedy imperialists, incompetent, or snobs. Angel even stands up for some young idealistic American volunteers who are overcharged on their electric bill by a Rwandan meter-reader who assumes wrongly that they are wealthy and will not miss the extra cash. Large organizations receive a healthy bit of skepticism – the IMF and World Bank workers get teased about their inefficiency and about how and why there seems to be no realistic way for Rwanda to ever pay its international debts. But ordinary people can prove quite decent and simply try to help those in need, bring peace to a troubled land, run their businesses and care for their families.

Born in Zambia, Gaile Parkin has spent many years in various parts of Rwanda as a HIV/AIDS educator, and many of the customers’ stories in the book come from those of people she knew while working in Africa. The book clearly promotes health, safety, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, and development – but the gentle humor and suspense keeps the piece going and prevents it from sounding like a social studies treatise. Sometimes the humor becomes too cute and characters’ bouts of self-reflection become too long, but usually the action resumes just at that point to stop the book from becoming too sweet. Also, Parkin clearly knows Rwandan cuisine – many readers will be left wishing to try a meal and polish it off with a generous slice of Angel’s cake!

Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Rwanda is available from Random House and – and Towne Center Books and many other independent booksellers around the world.

Femina Potens Gallery (San Francisco)’s call for 2010 submissions

2010 Visual Arts Exhibition season.


Femina Potens is a non-profit community art gallery and performance space dedicated to the advancement of women and transgendered artists located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro District.  We are looking for art works in all mediums painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture (although small sculptures and wall mounted sculpture is best due to space restriction), performance artists, video artists, installation and new media.

All submitted art works would be considered for group shows or window instilations. If your work doesn’t fit into one of these shows please still submit works as these are only suggestions, and are subject to change.

2010 Potential themes:

    * Some like it Hot! Artist’s relationship with fire arts.
    * Love and Lace. Pin- up inspired artworks.   
    * Foodies; An artistic exploration of Women’s relationship with food, and food          related artwork  
    * Found – Artwork on recycled and found items.   
    * The Power of One; art works exploring the importance and pleasure of masturbation for National Masturbation Month.   
    * National Queer Arts Festival; Our Queer History; Examining Queer Heroes through artistic expression   
    * Our Queer Bodies; where science meets art.
    * The White and Black Show; Artists investigation of binary systems and our many shades of grey
    * Breaking the Silence; Artists speaking up against sexual abuse.
    * Egoless- a group collaborative shows,that allows you to work in a group of artists to create work you all have a hand in (multi media show)

Femina Potens is also looking for works that relate to the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health of the queer community as well as site-specific installation artists that can create works for a commission around such subject matter for our window displays.

Submission deadlines are September 1st 2009. 
Please send all proposals to Femina Potens Visual Art Submissions Attn Michelle Rothman c/o Femina Potens 2199 Market Street SF CA 94114.

For more information, and the online application. Please visit here.

Please make sure the below materials are included in your proposal package:

    * A filled out artists application(downloaded from our web site)
    * A check made out to Femina Potens for$20.00 for our curatorial review fee. (Packages sent with out the $20.00 reviewfee will not be considered)
    * An introductory letter of interest,
    * Artist resume, bio, statement
    * 10 images of on cd and printed forreview by our curatorial staff




A New York Adventure – short fiction by Patsy Ledbetter

     Candace, Shelly and Tina stepped off the platform into the subway train.  They were thrilled to find seats available.  The New York Subway system was a maze of people, garbage and bumps. 
     The three friends were visiting Manhattan for the very first time and it was so exciting!  Shelly had been responsible for much of the planning of this trip.  Candace would go out and buy food each day and Tina concentrated on the shopping.  Just a few hours ago she was at Macy’s buying shoes.
     The threesome had been in New York three days so far and they had seen the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Today was reserved for a swim at Coney Island and a trip to Nathan’s World Famous Hotdogs.  It was a thirty minute subway ride.
     When they arrived, it was beautiful….warm with clear skies.  They headed off for the beach and soon met up with three young men from Scotland.  Candace and Shelly were twenty-five and Tina was 23.  They met Trevor, Fenton and Petar, also about the same age.  After about an hour on the beach, they took off for Nathan’s Hotdogs and it was  everything they hoped it would be.  The bacon cheese fries were delicious!  Shelly loved the fact that three men were devoted to making her day wonderful. 
The girls soon decided to head back to the hotel.  They would be seeing The Lion King tonight and wanted to catch a short nap beforehand.  They had five o’clock reservations at Patsy’s Restaurant on 46th and Broadway.  By the time they arrived at the restaurant in a taxi, they looked dazzling holding Coach purses and wearing Prada dresses.  Candace was wearing Prada cologne.  Shelly examined the menu carefully.  She decided on the chicken fettuccini, Candace ordered lasana and Tina chose chicken picatta.  They all chose strawberry margaritas. 
     Soon it was off to the Shubert Theater to see the Lion King.  Candace had a friend who was related to the man playing the leading role.  The show was awesome.  They all loved the music.  This had been a fabulous day!  Afterwards, the girls shared a piece of Lindy’s checkerboard cheesecake.  They flopped into bed exhausted and awoke to rapping on their door.  It was the young men from Scotland bringing them bagels and cream cheese with coffee on their way to La Guardia Airport.  The girls thought that was a very sweet gesture.  Candace offered up a quick prayer on their behalf. 
     Today would hold special memories as the girls had planned a carriage ride through Central Park with Tina’s aging Aunt Clareese who lived in a tiny flat close by.  They planned to meet her at noon by 59th and 7th Street.  Before the ride, they walked by Lavain Bakery and stopped for muffins and cookies.  By noon, they were waiting at the appointed spot to visit with Aunt Clareese.  In her younger years, she had danced on Broadway. 
     The foursome had a great visit and ride through the huge park.  They saw all the famous sights.  Afterward, Clareese suggested taking them to dinner at Joe’s, one of New York’s finest restaurants.  The spencer steaks, salad and desert were superb!  Back at the hotel, the girls shared the huge cookie they had bought earlier.  It was so delicious. 
     The next day was spent shopping on 5th Avenue and then off to be part of the Late Night Show TV Audience.  Shelly was horified to look in the mirror back at the hotel room and discover a dab of spinach between her teeth!  It had still been a wonderful day. 
Next day held a concert at Carnegie Hall and the day following, a show at Radio City Music HallOn Sunday, the girls visited the Brooklyn Tabernacle and heard the world famous choir.  The singing and preaching were wonderful.  Lunch was a mile high pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli
     On Monday, the girls flew back home.  The trip had been wonderful and now they could tell everyone they had been to New York City.

Patsy is also an accomplished classical musician who loves New York and high culture. She may be reached at