The Contrary Farmer

In a news story from a third world country recently, the reporter referred to farm chores, butchering and street cleaning as “dead end” work. The inference was that progress involved convincing young people to go to school and avoid low-paying manual labor. Never once did the report mention that a good way to turn dead end work into high end work is to raise the pay. 

Why is it that so often society puts down essential work like farming and food production as merely menial tasks that any dumb ass can do. If you teach young people that farming is dead end work, you are guaranteeing food shortages in the future. Or at least that would be the case except that enough people still know how to think for themselves and see opportunities in making successful careers out of seemingly menial work like farming, butchering and street cleaning.

There’s a guy in our town who shunned college, started out as a lowly paid street maintenance worker, and today runs a million dollar business in landscaping and related work. Among the people I know are farmers and butcher shop operators who make almost as much money as doctors do. If you want to talk more accurately about dead end work, how about spending fifty years in an office cubicle doing nothing more than channeling information streaming across your desk from one vice president to another.

Wendell Berry: Home Economics

Excerpts from Home Economics (1987)

The small family farm is one of the last places—where men and women (and girls and boys, too) can answer that call to be an artist, to learn to give love to the work of their hands. It is one of the last places where the maker—and some farmers still do talk about “making the crops”—is responsible, from start to finish, for the thing made. This certainly is a spiritual value, but it is not for that reason an impractical or uneconomic one. In fact, from the exercise of this responsibility, this giving of love to the work of the hands, the farmer, the farm, the consumer, and the nation all stand to gain in the most practical ways: They gain the means of life, the goodness of food, and the longevity and dependability of the sources of food, both natural and cultural. The proper answer to the spiritual calling becomes, in turn, the proper fulfillment of physical need…

Saul Alinsky: I’m Still Irreverent…


From Reveille For Radicals (1969)

Disillusionment’s child is irreverence, and irreverence became one of my major heritages from an angry, irreverent generation. In this way I have not changed. I am still irreverent. I still feel the same contempt for and still reject so-called objective decisions made without passion and anger. Objectivity, like the claim that one is nonpartisan or reasonable, is usually a defensive posture used by those who fear involvement in the passions, partisanships, conflicts, and changes that make up life; they fear life. An “objective” decision is generally lifeless. It is academic and the word “academic” is a synonym for irrelevant. All radicals acting for change must attack the sacred cows of the past and many of the present. These sacred cows are accepted as germinal truths and serve as the supporting rationale for the ways of the past. A scared human being gives birth to a sacred cow. Since the genesis and survival of sacred cows is rooted in fear and reverence, it follows that those who want change must be against sacred cows and not only innately irreverent but outwardly, purposefully irreverent in their actions. They must be iconoclastic bulldozers willing to be regarded as profane spoilers of the sacred myths.

More punk, less hell!


An extraordinary political experiment took place in Iceland: anarchists governed the capital city of Reykjavik for four years – and the amateurs achieved some astonishing successes.

From Ausland

When the ballots had been counted, the Prime Minister of Iceland declared the result a «shock».

The same sense of shock was felt by almost everyone. The old guard, because it had lost. And the new party, because it had won.

There had never been such a result – not in Iceland or anywhere else. Reykjavik had long been a bastion of the conservatives. That was now history. With 34.7% of the vote, the city had voted a new party into power: the anarcho-surrealists.

The leading candidate, Jón Gnarr, a comedian by profession, entered the riotous hall full of drunken anarchists looking rather circumspect. Almost shyly, he raised his fist and said: «Welcome to the revolution!» And: «Hurray for all kinds of things!»

Freethought: An Atheist’s Response to Common Christian Arguments…


From Ben Love

I have been an atheist for six months now. They’ve been an incredible six months, comprising both good and bad experiences. The bad experiences came from other people’s reactions to my new stance. The good experiences came from my own reactions to my new stance. (Thus, as it is most things in life, we must observe that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your choices as long as you know they are right.)

Not all of the reactions of have been ugly, though. Many people, even ones from a Christian background, have seemed honestly perplexed by my choice, as though to them atheism is not too far from insanity. Still others have expressed a genuine interest in knowing what made me choose this; even they themselves would never choose the same. What’s been the most interesting, however, is that people who have had no prior experience with either Christianity or atheism and who therefore stand in the middle ground of uninformed agnosticism (as opposed to informed agnosticism) suddenly discover, upon hearing of my views, that they do have an opinion on an issue that they previously felt indifferent to. For instance, I was talking to a distant family member about my atheism, and she suddenly decided after years of indifferent agnosticism that she was a hardcore theist, whereupon she began to debate me as though she’d been a passionate theist for decades. To me, this is an interesting look into the psyche of the human being. The fact of the matter is that we love to argue. All of us. Even those among us who say they don’t and who even think they don’t will still discover, when the issue is one that affects them in some particular way, that they’re much more confrontational than they previously thought. We’re all debaters when the right issue is at stake.

I therefore thought it would be interesting to write an article about some of the most common rebuttals I receive when people hear about my atheism. Perhaps, upon reading them, you can decide where you stand.

Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism…


The Contrary Minister (2002)

A friend has worked for Planned Parenthood for a good many years. She lives in a major American city. She called recently and asked me to tell my readers about Christian terrorism right here in the United States.

She said: “Do your readers have any idea what it is like to go to work day after day wondering if there is some Christian nut waiting with a bomb or gun for you?”

Listen to Jerry Falwell: “The idea that church and state should be separated was invented by the devil to keep Christians from running this country. I really believe that the pagans… and the abortionists… and the feminists… and the gays and lesbians… as well as the ACLU and the People For The American Way… all of them… should take the blame for God allowing this to happen. I point my finger in their face and say that to them.” (talking about the Trade Center bombing.)

My subject is Christian terrorism in America. Are you aware of how convicted bomber Mahmud Abouhalima, a Muslim, and Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, all sound exactly alike using the same kind of terrorist language?

Do you understand what my friend is talking about? What she fears daily, with Christian fanatics on the loose in our society? Forget about the Muslims for a day or two and become concerned and informed about the Christian terrorists in every state in America.

If an alarm is not going off in your head… you must be sound asleep or else living in a make believe world of fantasy.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Examines Islam in the 21st Century…

From Ayaan Hirsi Ali

An Interview with the Scholar, Activist, and Politician

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most renowned, and most controversial, religious commentators of our day. Her straightforward critiques of radical Islam have drawn admirers and detractors on both sides of the political spectrum, and she has become a hero to some and an enemy to others. She experienced the horrors of religious extremism growing up in Somalia, and she later moved to the Netherlands, where she rose to a seat in the Dutch parliament before immigrating to the U.S. In this year’s Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, she argues for a wholesale critical reexamination within Islam. She brings her life story and firebrand politics to the Granada Theatre this Saturday.

How has your year been so far?

In 2014, Brandeis [University] rescinded the invitation for an honorary degree, and soon after that, all these events started to unfold pretty quickly. We had the headlines around the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria and at just about the same time news of the woman in Sudan who was sentenced to death for being a Christian. Fast forward to ISIS and Charlie Hebdo, the attack on the schools in Pakistan, the shooting incidents in Canada and here in the U.S.… It’s as if before that, what I was saying to many people was hypothetical. It was as if there are some crazy people sometimes, and some of them do things that are bad, but there’s really nothing to worry about. What happened is people started piecing together all of these events and the motivations of people doing very nasty things, especially Boko Haram and the Islamic State, and all of a sudden what you have to say is it’s serious and it’s related to this religion.

Jesus is NOT the answer. Jesus is the problem…


From Bruce Gerencser

I don’t hate the flesh and blood Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Palestine, nor do I hate the Jesus found in the pages of the Bible. These Jesus’s are relics of the past. I’ll leave it to historians to argue and debate whether these Jesus’s were real or fiction. Over the centuries, Christians have created many Jesus’s in their own image.This is the essence of Christianity, an ever-evolving religion bearing little resemblance to what it was even a century ago.

The Jesus I hate is the modern, Western Jesus, the American Jesus, the Jesus who has been a part of my life for almost fifty-eight years. The Jesus’s of bygone eras have no power to harm me, but the modern Jesus, the Jesus of the about three hundred thousand Christian churches that populate every community in America, he has the power to affect my life, hurt my family, and destroy my country.  And I, with a vengeance, hate him.

Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible…

From Jerry Coyne

In his provocative new book, evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion — including faith, dogma, and revelation — leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.

Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution (and congressmen deny global warming), and warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise. Extending the bestselling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.



Under The Table Books

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Stephen Stills

I have my piano tuned once a year. I used to have the beauty tuned twice a year, but that was when a good tuning cost sixty dollars and I was making much more money than I make now. My last tuning cost one hundred and forty-five dollars, a ten-dollar increase over last year, which was a ten-dollar increase over the previous year. Barring a bank error in my favor, another increase in the tuning fee will force me to go to once every two years. Is my piano tuner being greedy? Not at all. He’s keeping pace with the real rate of inflation, not the fake one our government reports while they funnel trillions of dollars to the Wall Street criminals to keep the global Ponzi scheme going.

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” Stephen Stills

Today I went to the nursery to buy a few six-packs of vegetable starts. I bought a six-pack of petunias, a six-pack of basil, two lemon cucumber plants, a purple penstemon, a small pineapple sage plant, and a packet of arugula seeds. Total: 27.69. Are the folks at the nursery being greedy? Nope. They’re keeping pace with the rising cost of everything else.

Bernie Sanders’ Reddit Q&A show why he’s a progressive hero…


From VOX

The media isn’t taking Bernie Sanders seriously as a presidential candidate because he doesn’t seem to have a realistic path to winning the nomination. But he does have a large and highly engaged fan presence on the internet, and his Tuesday Q&A session on Reddit was full of moments that illustrate why his fans love him so much. He is an utterly self-confident, utterly fearless exponent of liberal and social democratic ideals in a country where such notions are rarely shouted from the rooftops.

He’s a politician who doesn’t care about hitting his next quarterly fundraising numbers or what he can round up 60 votes for in the Senate. He’s just here to speak the truth as he sees it. Here, excerpted from the Q&A, are 11 answers that exemplify why he’s such a hero to online progressives.

1) Delivering student debt relief

Afterburn by Richard Heinberg…

From Richard Heinberg

Introduction to AFTERBURN: Life Beyond Fossil Fuels

We live in a time of what might be called The Great Burning. However, we tend to ignore the tremendous inferno blazing around us. Most of the combustion occurs out of sight and out of mind, in hundreds of millions of automobile, truck, aircraft, and ship engines; in tens of thousands of coal or gas-fired power plants that provide the electricity that runs our computers, smart phones, refrigerators, air conditioners, and televisions; in furnaces that warm us in the winter; in factories that spew out products we are constantly urged to buy. Add all this burning together and it amounts to the energy equivalent of torching a quarter of the Amazon rainforest every year. In the United States, the energy from annual fossil fuel combustion roughly equates to the solar energy taken up by all biomass in the nation. It’s a conflagration unlike anything that has ever occurred before in Earth’s history, and it is the very basis of our modern existence.

The Era of Impact…


From John Michael Greer

Of all the wistful superstitions that cluster around the concept of the future in contemporary popular culture, the most enduring has to be the notion that somehow, sooner or later, something will happen to shake the majority out of its complacency and get it to take seriously the crisis of our age. Week after week, I field comments and emails that presuppose that belief. People want to know how soon I think the shock of awakening will finally hit, or wonder whether this or that event will do the trick, or simply insist that the moment has to come sooner or later.

To all such inquiries and expostulations I have no scrap of comfort to offer. Quite the contrary, what history shows is that a sudden awakening to the realities of a difficult situation is far and away the least likely result of what I’ve called the era of impact, the second of the five stages of collapse. (The first, for those who missed last week’s post, is the era of pretense; the remaining three, which will be covered in the coming weeks, are the eras of response, breakdown, and dissolution.)

America’s Views Align Surprisingly Well With Those of “Socialist” Bernie Sanders…

From Mother Jones

So what does that make us? 

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist, is an extremely long shot to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. Does that mean his views on key political issues are too radical for America’s voters? Not necessarily. Here’s how his policy positions actually fare in the polls:


Sanders: Describes himself as a democratic socialist.

His fellow Americans: While only 31 percent of Americans react positively to the word “socialism,” just 50 percent view “capitalism” in favorable terms, according to a recent Pew survey. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, nearly half had a positive view of “socialism,” while only 47 percent viewed “capitalism” favorably.


Sanders: Famously filibustered the 2010 extension of Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

His fellow Americans: In a February poll, 68 percent of likely voters said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes.


Sanders: Introduced the Responsible Estate Tax Act last year. If passed, it would raise top estate tax rates and expand the tax to include estates worth more than $3.5 million. (It currently only applies to those worth more than $5.4 million, which covers only 0.2 percent of American estates.)

His fellow Americans: Results vary, but Kevin Drum notes that the estate tax (conservatives call it the “death tax”) is generally unpopular.

GENE LOGSDON: Soil Science Spelled It Out A Whole Century Ago

The Contrary Farmer

An organic farm marketer brought me a strange book to read and I can’t get it out of my mind. It was written by Cyril Hopkins, an agronomist at the University of Illinois in 1911. Already a century ago, science had committed the wisdom of the ages about maintaining soil fertility (Hopkins quotes Cato, Varro and Virgil from ancient Rome) to the finely wrought analysis and statistics of science. Soil scientists knew very well how to practice sustainable farming a century ago but then as now many people, including some fellow scientists, paid little attention. The strangeness of the book comes from the author’s efforts to write “The Story of The Soil” in the form of a novel, embedding his treatise on soil science in a more or less fictional love story.  He had already written a factual book on how to restore and maintain fertility in America’s declining soils but, surprise, surprise, hardly anyone read it. I suppose he figured that maybe people would pay attention if a little sexual intrigue were woven into his pages of dry facts and figures about manure, lime, rock phosphate and clover rotations and what happens when you don’t do it correctly. I doubt his ploy worked except with those of us who think sustainable farming is a pretty sexy subject all by itself.

60 Minutes Report on Child Suicide Bombers…


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Just in case you needed to be a little more depressed today, here’s a recent 60 Minutes report on child suicide bombers: how they’re recruited and why they would ever do such a thing.

The most damning thing in the report may be that some of the kids are given no choice: Either they must agree to participate in a suicide bombing or they will be killed.

Their reward for doing this, of course, is eternal paradise as stated in the Qur’an…

Video here

The US Is Leading the World into a Whole New Kind of Disorder…


From Tariq Ali 

It’s a mixed and confused world. But its problems don’t change – they just take new forms. 

The twilight began in the early 1990s with the implosion of the former Soviet Union and the takeover of Russia, Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe by visionless former Communist Party bureaucrats, many of whom rapidly became billionaires. The oligarchs who bought up some of the most expensive property in the world, including in London, may once have been members of the Communist Party, but they were also opportunists with no commitment to anything other than power and lining their own pockets. The vacuum created by the collapse of the party system has been filled by different things in different parts of the world, among them religion – and not just Islam. The statistics on the growth of religion in the Western world are dramatic – just look at France. And we have also seen the rise of a global empire of unprecedented power. The United States is now unchallengeable militarily and it dominates global politics, even the politics of the countries it treats as its enemies.

Why Edward Abbey Still Matters…


aEd Abbey in Grand Gulch, Utah.

From EarthIsland

The author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang is branded a misanthrope and a hypocrite. The truth is more interesting.

There seems to be a good deal of interest in Edward Abbey these days. Two new books — All The Wild That Remains  by David Gessner and Finding Abbey by Sean Prentiss — explore the life and legacy of the writer and wilderness firebrand. Next month, they’ll be joined by Abbey in America, a multi-author collection of personal and scholarly reflections on Abbey’s continuing influence (full disclosure: I’m one of those doing the reflecting).

This little burst of attention to Abbey shouldn’t be that surprising. He’s been at the center of conversations (and more often than not, arguments) about wilderness preservation and environmental politics since the publication of his 1968 classic, Desert Solitaire, a captivating mix of nature writing, environmentalist polemics, and autobiographical musings. His raucous 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, about a group of environmental merry pranksters and saboteurs running wild in the American Southwest, would further cement Abbey’s reputation (for better or worse).

Given that Desert Solitaire is often mentioned in the same breath as Thoreau’s Walden and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, the renewed interest in the prickly avatar of the desert Southwest makes some sense. But, at the same time, the Abbey renaissance is fighting some newly powerful intellectual and political currents within American environmentalism.

Why Science and Religion Are Not Compatable…



Interviews with Lee Howard and Jim Houle just posted to Mendocino Talking…

 Lee Howard photoHoule Photo




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