Books

Dr. Paul Lee: Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California…


“It has taken me over thirty years to write this book. It tells the story of my starting the first organic garden at a university in the country, with Alan Chadwick, in 1967, who E. F. Schumacher called the world’s greatest gardener. I recount the gardens Alan developed after UC Santa Cruz; Saratoga; the Zen Center Farm at Green Gulch; Round Valley in Covelo, California; and Carmel in the Valley in West Virginia.

“I develop the philosophical background of Alan’s work and practice: the biodynamic and French Intensive systems he amalgamated. Biodynamics was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early decades of the last century under the influence of Goethe who was Steiner’s great inspiration thanks to Goethe’s botanical studies. Goethe to Steiner to Chadwick represents the Vitalist tradition in defense of the integrity of organic nature as opposed to the Physicalist tradition of modern scientism reducing organic nature to matter.

“After we started the garden I had to find out why organic nature had been undermined by industrial society and why it had to be recovered and reaffirmed. Why did ‘organic’ have to become a buzz word? Why did industrialized and mechanized and commercialized food and flower production take over, supplanting natural and organic procedures? Why did they start calling factories plants? I tell you why. In my book!

A letter to the “New” Atheists…


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From SUSAN JACOBY
Excerpted from The Great Agnostic (2012)
[Available at Mulligan Books & Seeds]

There is no such thing as a new atheist. You know this of course, and are usually careful to give ample credit to your predecessors. They made you possible, by waging the battle for reason and freedom of conscience at considerable risk to their own lives and liberty — whether by speaking out against the received opinion of their times or by the scientific investigation that led to a natural rather than a supernatural explanation of how our entire universe, including human beings, came to be. The names of Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Voltaire, Paine, Humboldt, and, of course, Darwin are frequently on your lips and in your books, as well they should be. Upon the shoulders of these giants rest the efforts of all whose aim is to make gentle the life of this world rather than to seek paradise in some hidden world beyond nature. So why is Robert Green Ingersoll usually absent from your honor role?

I would not expect you to mention Ingersoll if you were promoting the idea that America is, after all, a Christian nation founded by Christians who intended to establish a christian government. But you are all dedicated to the advancement of the same secular values

Book Excerpt: The problem of excessive scale…


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From DMITRY ORLOV
Club Orlov

This is an excerpt from The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit coming in May.

In his excellent book The Breakdown of Nations the maverick economist Leopold Kohr makes several stunning yet, upon reflection, commonsense observations. He points out that small states have tended to be far more culturally productive than large states, that all states go to war but that big states have disproportionately bigger wars that kill many times more people, and that by far the most stable and advantageous form of political organization is a loose confederation of states, each so small that none can dominate the rest. Kohr arrives at his conclusions by a process of reasoning by homology (viz. analogy) by analyzing many of the problems of modernity as different manifestations of the same underlying problem: the problem of excessive scale.

Most people can relate to the concept of optimal scale on an intuitive, visceral level; we know when something is abnormally big or abnormally small, and we tend to dislike abnormality. The exceptions, be they midgets or giants, are considered freaks. In living things

Books: Pot Goes to Florida, and Vice Versa…


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From JANET MASLIN
NYT

New Comic Novels From Dave Barry and Tim Dorsey

[More Carl Hiaasen below... DS]

Dave Barry has written a comic novel that features lost luggage, beaches, hapless tourists from Michigan, exotic animal life, drugs, wild mix-ups, laughable oldsters and the trademarked zaniness of Florida. Not at all coincidentally Tim Dorsey’s new comic novel features these same ingredients, although Mr. Dorsey’s hapless tourists come from Wisconsin.

What is it about journalism in Florida that helped Mr. Barry (The Miami Herald), Carl Hiaasen (also The Herald) and Mr. Dorsey (The Tampa Tribune) segue into writing such funny fiction? And what is it that makes their material so similar? Even if you know exactly which of them wrote “Hurricane Punch,” “Tricky Business” and “Tourist Season” (Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Barry and Mr. Hiaasen), it’s hard to miss the overlaps in their humor. It’s also hard to complain about too much of a good thing.

Mr. Hiaasen, who still writes an opinion column, understandably delivers the most barbed, issue-oriented humor.

How the rich and greedy stole the American dream all for themselves…


From DAN FROOMKIN

Who stole the American Dream? The short answer to the question in the title of Hedrick Smith’s new book is: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wal-Mart.

But the longer answer is one heck of a story, told by one of the great journalists of our time.

In his sweeping, authoritative examination of the last four decades of the American economic experience, Smith describes the long, relentless decline of the middle class — a decline that was not by accident, but by design.

He dates it back to a private memo — in effect, a political call to arms — issued to the nation’s business leaders in 1971 by Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a corporate attorney soon to become a Supreme Court justice. From that point forward, Smith writes, corporate America threw off any sense of restraint or social obligation and instead unstintingly leveraged its money and political power to pursue its own interests.

The result was nothing less than a shift in gravity. Starting in the early 1970s, every major economic trend — increased productivity, globalization, tax law overhauls, and the phasing out of pensions in favor of 401(k)s — produced the same result: The benefits fell upward.

Smith, a 1970 Nieman Fellow, is at his very best as he examines, one by one, the key economic shifts of the last 40 years and shows that in each case the money flowed to the very richest Americans, particularly those on Wall Street, while impoverishing the middle class.

Nowhere was that more blatantly the case than in the housing sector. We are all well aware of how the bursting of the housing bubble has left many middle-class Americans without the nest egg they were counting on for their retirement.

Planting Rebellion: Seed-saving as a subversive act…


From TWILIGHT GREENAWAY
Grist

“In the course of getting a plate of food to our table, we’re paying a lot of attention to the farmer, the chef, the farmers market — all of that is as it should be, but we pay very little attention to the thing that starts it all, the seed.” That sentiment comes from Janisse Ray, farmer and author of the new book The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.

And it’s true; for many of us, seeds are a mysterious, invisible piece of the food puzzle. While we’re busy thinking about how to fix our food economies, seeds often slip through the cracks. And we’ve lost an almost unfathomable amount of genetic diversity as a result; depending on whom you ask, anywhere between 75 to 95 percent of our fruit and vegetable varieties have been lost for good. Highly functional, often bland, hybridized and genetically engineered varieties have taken over the commercial market — as opposed to the more delicate, complex heirloom varieties with stories and names attached, such as Dragon Tongue beans, Country Gentleman sweet corn, and May Queen lettuce — and Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta now own over half of the world’s seeds.

So, you might say Ray’s book has appeared just in time. In it, she makes a compelling argument for seed-saving as a subversive act that has the potential to undermine industrial agribusiness and takes readers to the farms and gardens of people around the country who are growing, collecting, and swapping seeds.

“Our grandparents and great-grandparents were caretakers of seeds. Now we rent them,” she told me in a recent interview. Eighty-eight percent of corn is genetically engineered, for instance, says Ray, and it has been engineered so that it’s impossible to save.

Transition: Manifesto for a post-growth economy…


America the Possible

From YES!
Transition Voice

Editor’s introduction: Gus Speth has been a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advisor to presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the head of the United Nations’ largest international assistance program, and Dean at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“Right at the time I should be settling into a rosy retirement,” Speth says, “I find I am instead quite alarmed about the appalling future we’re on track to leave our grandchildren.” His new book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, is about how transformative change can come to America, what life would be like in the attractive future that is still within our power to build, and what we need to do to realize it.

In this excerpt adapted from America the Possible, Speth takes on the tricky issue of post-growth prosperity. For more specific details about the policies under discussion here, check out the book.

We tend to see growth as an unalloyed good, but an expanding body of evidence is now telling us to think again. Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for most it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people, and creating more problems than it solves for those in affluent societies.

Americans are substituting growth and ever more consumption for doing the things that would truly make us and our country better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States rose sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction.

David Byrne on How Music and Creativity Work…


From MARIA POPOVA
Brainpickings

[How Music Works by David Byrne available at Mulligan Books. -DS]

“Presuming that there is such a thing as ‘progress’ when it comes to music is typical of the high self-regard of those who live in the present. It is a myth. Creativity doesn’t ‘improve.’”

Great times and tall deeds for David Byrne this week: First his fantastic collaborative album with St. Vincent (which made a cameo on Literary Jukebox), and now the release of How Music Works (public library) — a fascinating record of his lifetime of curiosity about and active immersion in music. But rather than an autobiographical work, a prescriptive guide to how to listen, or another neuropsychological account of music, what unfolds is a blend of social science, history, anthropology, and media theory, exploring how context shapes the experience and even the nature of music. Or, as Byrne puts it, “how music might be molded before it gets to us, what determines if it gets to us at all, and what factors external to the music itself can make it resonate for us. Is there a bar near the stage? Can you put it in your pocket? Do girls like it? Is it affordable?”

Among the book’s most fascinating insights is a counterintuitive model for how creativity works, from a chapter titled “Creation in Reverse” — a kind of reformulation of McLuhan’s famous aphorism “the medium is the message” into a somewhat less pedantic but no less purposeful “the medium shapes the message”:

I had an extremely slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually the opposite of conventional wisdom

Art, Independence and Spirit – Van Gogh, Brenda Ueland


From BRENDA UELAND
Excerpted from If You Want To Write (1939)
Still in print
[Repost]

If you read the letters of the painter Van Gogh you will see what his creative impulse was. It was just this: he loved something—the sky, say. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how beautiful the sky was. So he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it.

When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. He sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lampost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: “It is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.” And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.

When I read this letter of Van Gogh’s it comforted me very much

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy…



From DAVID STREITFELD
NYT

Todd Rutherford was 7 years old when he first understood the nature of supply and demand. He was with a bunch of other boys, one of whom showed off a copy of Playboy to giggles and intense interest. Todd bought the magazine for $5, tore out the racy pictures and resold them to his chums for a buck apiece. He made $20 before his father shut him down a few hours later.

A few years ago, Mr. Rutherford, then in his mid-30s, had another flash of illumination about how scarcity opens the door to opportunity.

He was part of the marketing department of a company that provided services to self-published writers — services that included persuading traditional media and blogs to review the books. It was uphill work. He could churn out press releases all day long, trying to be noticed, but there is only so much space for the umpteenth vampire novel or yet another self-improvement

What Happens While You Sleep and How It Affects Your Every Waking Moment…


From MARIA POPOVA
BrainPickings

“We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive.”

The Ancient Greeks believed that one fell asleep when the brain filled with blood and awakened once it drained back out. Nineteenth-century philosophers contended that sleep happened when the brain was emptied of ambitions and stimulating thoughts. “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made,” biologist Allan Rechtschaffen once remarked. Even today, sleep remains one of the most poorly understood human biological functions, despite some recent strides in understanding the “social jetlag” of our internal clocks and the relationship between dreaming and depression. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, journalist David K. Randall — who stumbled upon the idea after crashing violently into a wall while sleepwalking — explores “the largest overlooked part of your life and how it affects you even if you don’t have a sleep problem.” From gender differences to how come some people snore and others don’t to why we dream, he dives deep into this mysterious third of human existence to illuminate what happens when night falls and how it impacts every aspect of our days.

Most of us will spend a full third of our lives asleep, and yet we don’t have the faintest idea of what it does for our bodies and our brains. Research labs offer surprisingly few answers. Sleep is one of the dirty little secrets of science. My neurologist wasn’t kidding when he said there was a lot that we don’t know about sleep, starting with the most obvious question of all — why we, and every other animal, need to sleep in the first place.

But before we get too anthropocentrically arrogant in our assumptions, it turns out the quantitative requirement of sleep isn’t correlated with how high up the evolutionary chain an organism is:

Lions and gerbils sleep about thirteen hours a day. Tigers and squirrels nod off for about fifteen hours. At the other end of the spectrum, elephants typically sleep three and a half hours at a time, which seems lavish compared to the hour and a half of shut-eye that the average giraffe gets each night. […]

Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body’s sleep debt is wiped clean.

What, then, happens as we doze off, exactly? Like all science, our understanding of sleep seems to be a constant “revision in progress”:

Complete article here
~~

Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community and Bringing Decision-Making Back Home…


From DAVID SWANSON
New. Clear. Vision.

Susan Clark and Woden Teachout’s new book, Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green, available Oct. 10, 2012), offers the civil equivalent to slow food. The goal of both is not slowness for its own sake, but quality, health, sustainability, and the pursuit of happiness.

We all know that the federal government ignores us most of the time, state governments nod in our direction once in a blue moon, and local governments listen to us quite often. So, there is an argument to be made for moving decision-making powers to the local level and engaging there.

The focus of Clark and Teachout’s book is on how to engage with local democracy, and toward what ends. Adversarial campaigning may not work. What gets you on television at a Congressional “town hall” could just alienate your neighbors at a real town hall. A deeper understanding of democracy than just the desire for Washington, D.C., to follow majority opinion once in a while involves the realization that we are all better off if all of our viewpoints are considered. We all know that in small discussions the result can be greater than the sum of its parts. The same is true in local politics. New ideas can arise through exchange and disagreement; a synthesis that considers the needs of more than one group can be better for all, longer-lasting, and strengthened by the depth of its public support.

Seeking to engage with others and involve those who disagree with us looks like a disastrous approach to those who work on political advocacy at the national level (except Democrats, to whom it looks like a brilliant innovation guaranteed to work on the very next attempt). Treating national officials like friends will usually get you sold down the river. When we were occupying Washington, D.C., last fall and holding consensus-based eternal dialogues in the shadow of the Capitol, we were excellent and improving at the skill of deciding which building we would shut down tomorrow or who was going to help make dinner. But saying just a few words out loud, no matter how politely, in a “public” hearing on Capitol Hill would only serve to get us thrown in jail, and often did.

Worse, however, than trying to take slow democracy national may be trying to take national politics local. A town hall in a small town in Vermont can be ruined by following the proper conduct to get yourself on Fox News or CNN. Shouting and name calling don’t usually advance discussions outside of politics. Why should they be helpful within it? Slow Democracy looks at numerous examples from around the country and outside of it in which local governments are finding ways to more deeply involve residents in deliberations and even decision making. The results are not just decisions that carry broader support, but also in many respects better decisions.

Why can this be done locally and not on a larger scale? The right wing fears big government and the left big corporations, the two of which have merged. Both fears are very well placed.

A Twenty-First Century American Sacrifice Zone…


From TOMDISPATCH
Excerpt

[Available for rent at Mulligan Books... -DS]

The book itself is a unique all-American road trip, part riveting text by Hedges, part comics by Sacco.  It takes the reader through the most extreme “sacrifice zones” in a country that is slowly hollowing itself out.  In this excerpt, the two road warriors have made it to an area of West Virginia where coal mines, dangerous as they were, once supported town life, but more recently have either mechanized or closed down.  This particular community, Gary, West Virginia, writes Hedges, has “fallen into terminal decay.  There are today 861 people in Gary. There were 98,887 in McDowell County in 1950.  Today there are fewer than 23,000.  The countywide per capita average income is $12,585.  The median home value is $30,500.  Gary’s rutted streets are lined by empty clapboard houses with sagging roofs.”

Hedges himself has written a TomDispatch introduction to the excerpt, which follows…

A World of Hillbilly Heroin
The Hollowing Out of America, Up Close and Personal

During the two years Joe Sacco and I reported from the poorest pockets of the United States, areas that have been sacrificed before the altar of unfettered and unregulated capitalism, we found not only decayed and impoverished communities but shattered lives. There comes a moment when the pain and despair of constantly running into a huge wall, of realizing that there is no way out of poverty, crush human beings. Those who best managed to resist and bring some order to their lives almost always turned to religion and in that faith many found the power to resist and even rebel.

On the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota, where our book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt opens, and where the average male has a life expectancy of 48 years, the lowest in the western hemisphere outside of Haiti, those who endured the long night of oppression found solace in traditional sweat lodge rituals, the Lakota language and cosmology, and the powerful four-day Sun Dance which I attended, where dancers fast and make small flesh offerings.

In Camden, New Jersey, it was the power and cohesiveness of the African-American Church. 

Wendell Berry: Letter to Wes Jackson…


From WENDELL BERRY
Home Economics (1982)

[This evening, August 3rd, will be our second First Friday of Neighbors Reading at Mulligan Books downtown Ukiah, 6-7pm. We share favorite passages from favorite books around topics of community, transition, resilience, or anything else, as part of the second semester of Mendo Free Skool. We video the readings for Community TV and invite your participation. I will be reading from one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry... passages from an essay The Family Farm, from his book Home Economics. What follows is the opening essay from that book... -DS]

Dear Wes,

I want to try to complete the thought about “randomness” that I was working on when we talked the other day.

The Hans Jenny paragraph that started me off is the last one on page twenty-one of The Soil Resource:

Ebooks vs. Paper Books…


From greengeekgirl
Insatiable Booksluts

I have to admit that, when the Kindle first came out, I was one of those snooty assholes who did everything I could to antagonize the people I knew who owned them. (Me? Antagonize people? Surely not.) “I like books,” I sniffed, looking solidly down my nose. “I don’t want to read on a device. I want the feel of paper, blah blah blah.”

In my defense, the people I antagonized started scuffles just as often. “My Kindle is environmentally friendly. Look at those loads of paper you’re wasting! You’re helping deplete the ozone! And it’s so handy. I can take an entire library with me anywhere, blah blah blah.”

Several years passed, and I remained firmly in the treebook camp. Until I bought a Kindle. Stars help me, I love my Kindle. I love it so much. I even prefer to read on my Kindle; still, I do enjoy reading paper books, too. I got a really lovely copy of a book from Two Dollar Radio that’s deckle-edged and fairly swoon-worthy…

See complete article here
~~

Henry Miller on Reading, Influence, and What’s Wrong with Education…


From MARIA POPOVA
Brain Pickings

“Our whole theory of education is based on the absurd notion that we must learn to swim on land before tackling the water. It applies to the pursuit of the arts as well as to the pursuit of knowledge.”

 Henry Miller was a notoriously disciplined writer. It comes as no surprise, then — given the relationship between reading and writing, and the importance of learning the parallel skills of both — that he was also a voracious reader, unafraid to acknowledge the borrowing and repurposing of ideas. In The Books in My Life (public library; public domain), originally published in 1952, he offers a singular lens on his approach to reading, using that as a vehicle for a larger meditation on our culture’s relationship not just with books, but with knowledge itself.

Miller’s insights touch on modern concerns

How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb…


From A. J. JACOBS
NYT

My friend, the writer Andy Borowitz, sent me an e-mail that said: “I had the strangest experience today. I went into Barnes & Noble and saw a book that you didn’t blurb.”

I have a reputation.

I’ve blurbed so many books that they fill a bookcase in my apartment. The exact number? Hard to say, but certainly in the triple digits. I’ve given a workout to adverbs like “tremendously” and “incredibly,” and adjectives like “brilliant” and “fascinating.” I have blurbed memoirs, novels, comic books, children’s books and a half-dozen book proposals. I accidentally used the exact same blurb on two different books.

My blurbing problem got so bad that the New York Times book critic Dwight Garner tweeted, “Half the crap galleys

The Green Deserts of Western Civilization…


From MASANOBU FUKUOKA
Chelsea Green

[Available at Mulligan Books -DS]

The following commentary is adapted from the posthumously published Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka (Chelsea Green, 2012). Fukuoka was the author of the international bestseller One-Straw Revolution. He died in 2008. Given the recent news about the extended drought facing much of the United States, we thought our readers might want to read Mr. Fukuoka’s deep insight into how Western agricultural practices have helped to create vast deserts across the planet, while on the surface appearing very “green.” In fact, Mr. Fukuoka notes, below the grassy surface, soils are being depleted and drained — becoming deserts under our feet. As you read this, keep in mind that Sowing Seeds in the Desert first appeared in print – in Japanese – in the mid-1990s.

Although the surface of the ground in Europe and the United States appears to be covered with a lovely green, it is only the imitation green of a managed landscape. Beneath the surface, the soil is becoming depleted due to the mistaken agricultural practices of the last two thousand years.

Much of Africa is devoid of vegetation today, while just a few hundred years ago it was covered by deep forests. According to the Statistical Research Bureau in India, the vegetation there

Books Set In California and the Pacific Northwest…


From BOOK RIOT

From the Redwoods down to San Diego, California is an incredibly diverse state. Start at the coast to do some surfing, and then drive a couple of hours inland for a ski vacation. Don’t shave and live off the land up in Humbolt County before you cruise down the 5 towards the central coast for some wine tasting. Don’t forget to leave time to get stuck in a traffic jam in Los Angeles and max out your credit cards while running into a few celebrities (or getting trampled by paparazzi). Regardless of what you do, be sure to check out some of the books set in California…

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
The White Album by Joan Didion
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger

The region of the Pacific Northwest is not easy to define. Ask two people and you very well might get two answers. For the purpose of this bookish road trip (of the United States), I shaved it down to Washington and Oregon. Whether you’re a Portlandiafan, a Starbucks fanatic, or an REI frequent customer , we know good things come from the Pacific Northwest. In fact, what other region can boast such an eclectic range of achievement? With the ability to boast outdoor sports opportunities, foodie havens, and indie music’s birthplace; this gaming mecca is also home to some of the country’s Greenest cities. Check out some of the literature set in this vibrant corner of the country.

10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)…


From CHARLIE JANE ANDERS
io9

Science fiction and fantasy offer a rich legacy of great books — from Asimov to Pynchon, there are some fantastic, ambitious works of genre fiction out there. But they’re also daunting. So a lot of us just muddle through and pretend to have read these classics — which isn’t that hard, because they’re everywhere, and we’ve heard people talk about them so many times. We SF fans are good at pretending. But these books are classics for a reason — and they’re worth reading.

We asked some of our favorite writers, and they told us the 10 science fiction and fantasy books that everybody pretends to have read — and the reasons why you should read them for real. Here they are, in no particular order.

1) Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson’s 1999 novel features World War II code-breakers and 1997 geeks in a complex, interlocking storyline.

Doomsday Seed Banking…


20120628-215305.jpg

From JANISSE RAY
The Seed Underground:
A Growing Revolution to Save Food (2012)
Excerpt

When they want you to buy something, they will call you. When they want you to die for profit, they will let you know. So, friends, every day, do something that won’t compute. ~Wendell Berry

In 2008, Norway finished construction of a strange structure that reporters began to call the Doomsday Vault. Norwegians bored a tunnel into a solid-stone mountain in the permafrost on an island some seven hundred miles south of the North Pole and lined it with a meter’s width of reinforced concrete. They, essentially, built a structure to last forever. They built it to withstand just about anything.

Why would Norway and its global partners build such a thing? To answer this question, we have to imagine scenarios that might precipitate the need to replenish foodstuffs globally. Suppose genetic engineering goes wild. Suppose a comet hits the earth. Suppose climate change rearranges agriculture as we currently practice it. Suppose seas rise?

The global seed bank was built to withstand even climate change. The tunnel was positioned high on a mountainside, 430 feet above sea level—130 feet higher than seawater is expected to rise in global warming’s worst-case scenario, even if the polar icecaps melt. Tsunami waters won’t reach it.

Being alive is by far your greatest achievement…


 

From OLIVER BURKEMAN
The Guardian

For obvious reasons, it’s entirely appropriate that a book entitled The Underachiever’s Manifesto never really became a huge seller. Written by an American doctor named Ray Bennett – not the kind of doctor whom I’d necessarily want if I had a life-threatening illness – it vanished soon after its debut, in 2006. Now, though, its publishers have finally got it together to release it as an ebook in Britain, so you can download it. I mean, if you like. Don’t push yourself. After all, you’re already doing great. As Bennett himself points out, “Being alive is by far your greatest achievement.”

Subtitled The Guide To Accomplishing Little And Feeling Great, Bennett’s short treatise seems at first like another of those jokey-but-unfunny gift books they sold by the tills at Borders, back before Borders itself stopped achieving. But it soon becomes clear there’s more to it. “The achievement lobby is powerful,” he notes early on, “and underachievement is, surprisingly, not as easy as it should be. Our world is so full of unrelenting messages about being the best you can be that it may not even have occurred to you to try for anything less.” Yet “how many careers are coupled with disastrous marriages? How many talented, hard-working people smoke too much [and] exercise too little… How many fitness-crazed [people] tear up their knees running marathons?” Underachievement, the way Bennett uses the term, begins to seem less like an appealing option for the lazy-minded and more like a path to a superior kind of achievement.

Partly, that’s just because moderation’s often best. (Bennett’s “underachiever’s diet” involves avoiding bad fats and keeping treats occasional; his “underachiever’s workout” entails walking, doing something with your upper body and getting enough sleep.) But the deeper point is your life is an enormously complex web

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