Why men should read more fiction…

The Art of Manliness

[…] Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show that men might be short-shrifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library.  Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in awhile and pick up a copy of  Hemingway.

Why Men Should Read More Fiction

In the past decade, several cognitive scientists have turned their attention to how fiction affects our minds. Leading this research is cognitive psychologist and fiction writer, Dr. Keith Oatley. Dr. Oatley and other researchers from around the globe have discovered that fiction not only activates, but also improves the cognitive functions that allow us to thrive socially.

Dr. Oatley argues in his book Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction that fiction is primarily about “selves in a social world,” and that fiction’s main subject is “what people are up to with each other.” Just as your understanding of history and finance is improved by reading lots of books on those subjects, reading fiction improves your understanding of social relationships–your thinking about what other people are thinking. In fact, Dr. Oatley calls fiction a simulation for the social world that allows you to experience (at least vicariously) a variety of social circumstances with different kinds of people than you might encounter in your actual day-to-day life…

Unfortunately, men have gotten the short end of the evolutionary stick when it comes to our ability to socialize. Studies show that male brains are generally wired for dealing with stuff, while female brains are generally wired for dealing with people. This may explain why women often prefer fiction over non-fiction: their brains are already wired to want to read

The most successful, happiest people on the planet in twenty years will be living in resilient communities…

Resilient Communities

Last week, I did a short, but intense interview with the author Jon Evans for the popular technology e-zine TechCrunch. The section of the interview on the necessity of networked resilient communities is a great place to start today’s letter.

Networked resilient communities is the topic where I spend most of my time.

Why? There are two globally systemic threats we can’t solve. Finance and the environment. Both systems are deeply broken and they are going to do considerable damage to all of us over the next decades. The only way to get ready for that is to build networked resilient communities. Resilient Communities efficiently produce most (not all) of the food, energy, water, and products we use daily. These communities 1) reduce our vulnerabilities to the future’s inevitable disruptions (disruptions that will damage/impoverish those that don’t transition to local production), 2) reduce complexity to a human scale, and 3) improve the quality of our lives.

Since these communities network with the global system economically and socially, they don’t lose any of the complexity/value we enjoy in the current intellectual environment.  My bet, and it is the reason I started the resilient community newsletter, is that the most successful, happiest people on the planet in twenty years will be living in resilient communities.

That last phrase worth discussing today.  The statement that the most successful, happiest people on the planet will be living in resilient communities.

Resilience or BUST!

The problem in a nutshell…


A local progressive activist and friend pointed me to an amazing section from Thomas Frank’s recent book Pity the Billionaire. It’s a succinct description of Democratic ideological malaise, laid out in no-holds-barred prose for which Thomas Frank is so justifiably famous, and it tells the tale of what has happened to much of the institutional “left” as well as anything I’ve seen:

Terminal niceness…

The problem is larger than Obama; it is a consequence of grander changes in the party’s most-favored group of constituents. No one has described the new breed of Democrat better than … Barack Obama. “Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means – law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists,” reminisced the future president in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope:

As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. … They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital.

“I know that as a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met,” Obama confesses a few paragraphs later. So he has. And so has his party. Today’s Democrats have their eyes on people who believe, per Obama’s description, “in the free market” almost as piously as do Tea Partiers.

Class language, on the other hand, feels strange to the new Dems; off limits. Instead, the party’s guiding geniuses like to think of their organization

H.L. Menken was right…


“I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.” – H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken was a renowned newspaper columnist for the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. His biting sarcasm seems to fit perfectly in today’s world. His acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses are as true today as they were then. I believe the reason his words hit home is because he was writing during the last Unraveling and Crisis periods in America. The similarities cannot be denied.

There are no journalists of his stature working in the mainstream media today. His acerbic wit is nowhere to be found among the lightweight shills that parrot their corporate masters’ propaganda on a daily basis and unquestioningly report the fabrications spewed by our government. Mencken’s skepticism of all institutions is an unknown quality in the vapid world of present day journalism. The Roaring Twenties of decadence, financial crisis caused by loose Fed monetary policies, stock market crash, Depression, colossal government redistribution of wealth, and ultimately a World War, all occurred during his prime writing years.

I know people want to believe that the world only progresses, but they are wrong. The cycles of history reveal that people do not change, just the circumstances change. How Americans react to the undulations of history depends upon their age and generational position. We are currently in a Crisis period when practical, truth telling realists like Mencken are most useful and necessary. Mencken captured the essence of American politics and a disconnected populace 80 years ago. Even though many people today feel the average American is less intelligent, more materialistic, and less informed than ever before, it was just as true in 1930 based on Mencken’s assessment:

“The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men.

Community Funding, Not Crowd Funding…

Resilient Communities

[Crowdfunding is another scam to remove money from our own local communities with no localized oversight or involvement… simply grabbing the funds of the distant naive. We need to develop progressive, Mondragon-style democratically-controlled Credit Unions in our own local communities… -DS]

[…] The good news is that is now easier to raise money for small to medium sized projects than it was in the past.

Why is it easier?

Two recent developments:   Kickstarter and the JOBS Act.

  • Kickstarter is a Web site that makes it easier for people and companies to get funding for their projects.  Recently, the site gained critical mass and some projects, from a computer game to an iPhone accessory, raised millions of dollars in funding.
  • The JOBS Act is a new US law that makes it legal for small companies to “go public” without all of the pesky SEC and accounting paperwork that makes going public so tough and expensive.  So, it’s now possible for companies to sell shares of stock (equity) directly to the public in small amounts.

These developments are great news for those of us building resilient communities. Why? It opens up new options for getting resilient infrastructure built and resilient businesses launched.  Unfortunately, this new freedom will come at a cost.

Avoid Crowdfunding

The bad news is that this funding method is going to be terribly abused by the same broken financial system that gave us the financial meltdown of 2008. Here’s what I mean.

You can see the problem already in the term the press is using to describe this new funding activity.  They are calling it “crowdfunding.”  This name conjures up an image of a nameless faceless mob of people, ready to throw money

The Gates of Hell…

Transition Voice

In a letter to Ernest de Chabrol dated 9 June 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

Nearly two hundred years later, de Tocqueville has been vindicated not only as a superb social critic but also as a forecaster.

High anxiety

Knowing nothing about de Tocqueville, the ten-year-old son of a friend put his own spin on recent history: “Mom, I think people value Father Time more than they value Mother Earth.”

His words sting me like freezing rain, squeezing tears from the corners of my eyes. There’s nothing new there for me, except the perspective of youth: I often weep when I think about the hellishly overheated world we’re leaving him and his young friends. We’re destroying this world in large part because we care more about chasing fiat currency than we care about the living planet and its occupants.

Although it seems unlikely they met, de Tocqueville was writing during the time of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. As if he, too, could see the future, Kierkegaard was plagued with anxiety. However, Kierkegaard didn’t call anxiety a plague. As he pointed out, anxiety is fundamental to our sense of humanity.

Although I’m tempted to discard Kierkegaard’s every thought based simply on his ludicrous leap of faith, I can’t convince myself to disagree with him about anxiety. His writings about anxiety resonate with me as strongly as anything I’ve read by Lao Tzu, Arthur Schopenhauer, or Aldo Leopold.

It’s small wonder I’ve slept so poorly since August of 1979, when I reached a vague

GMOs and pesticides are in almost everything, including “natural” cereals…

Thanks to Ron Epstein

Three facts you need to know about GMOs before you read the explosive test results below

Before you view the Cornucopia’s test results below, there are three important things you need to know about GMOs:

#1) There is GE contamination in almost everything. Even “non-GMO” food products almost always contain trace levels of GMOs (often between .01% and 0.5%). A test for the mere presence of GMOs is not considered conclusive. What’s important is thelevelof GMOs in a particular food item. Some of the “natural” items tested by the Cornucopia Institute showed GMO contamination levels between 28 and 100 %, which means the key ingredients in those cereals are most definitely genetically engineered from the source (and it’s not just a chance contamination from some other nearby field).

#2) All GMO tests are merely a “snapshot” that can change over time. Foods that test free of GMOs today may contain higher levels tomorrow due to supply line errors, contamination, supply source changes, and so on. At the same time, foods that test at high levels of GMOs today may test at lower levels in the future or even for different batches from the same manufacturer. Sometimes manufacturers are lied to by their suppliers. Some manufacturers test for GMOs in every batch, but others take a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach where they don’t test because they’d rather not know.

#3) Products may be “enrolled” in the Non-GMO Project and still contain GMOs before they are “verified.” The Non-GMO Project has two designations for products. There are products which are “enrolled” which means they are “on the path” to becoming free of GMOs but may not have achieved it yet. Thus, it is true that products “enrolled” in the

Todd Walton: My Father


When my father died five years ago, my siblings and I did not hold a memorial service in his honor. We were each of us so wounded by our father’s incessant criticism and disapproval of us that his death unleashed our long suppressed anger toward him, and being so angry we could not see our way to put on a show of loving memories. But now I wish to speak of his goodness and the gifts he gave me. I wish to propitiate his ghost, something my father would have scoffed at, and to communicate my gratitude for his presence in my life.

When my sisters and brother and I were little kids, my father told us the most wonderful bedtime stories, and sometimes we would be the characters in those stories, which was especially thrilling to me. Imagine being a character in a story! My father would just make up the stories without the help of a book, and my brother and sisters and I marveled that he could do that. I am certain that my fascination with stories and story telling began with listening to my father invent those magical stories for us.

My father taught me how to plant trees when I was six-years-old, and we planted many trees together over the years—fruit trees, redwoods, birches, and pines. He would show me where to dig the hole, and I would dig as big and deep a hole as I could. Then he would deepen and widen the hole considerably; and I would admire how strong he was and how easily the ground yielded to him. Then we would refill the hole halfway with a mixture of peat moss and compost and soil. I remember we stirred this mixture in the hole with our bare hands, and then we would place the baby tree atop this mixture and fill in the hole. With the leftover soil, we would construct a circular basin around the tree and I would fetch the hose to fill this basin with water

Angry Breakfast Eggs…

Poor Man’s Feast

She has never slept, for as long as I can remember.

First, there was the hair, which, when I was very small, was very tall; these were the days of teasing, and to keep her updo in place, she climbed into bed every night next to my father with three feet of toilet paper wrapped around her head, a six inch tail of Charmin hanging off the pillow, blowing in the air-conditioned breeze like a Coppertone banner dragged behind a beach plane. She lay there stiffly all night, immobile and exhausted, and sat up the next morning, her hair perfect.

Eventually, it was just plain pique that kept her awake — the constant working of herself into a lather over imaginary transgressions, while my father and I and the world around her, ever the transgressors, slept soundly. When the black and white numbers on her bedside clock flipped over to 6:30 a.m. and the alarm went off, she swung her legs off the side of the bed and stood up, already furious and seething.

And then she made eggs.

A lot of eggs.

At first, when things were still good and happy, they were soft boiled, and sat in the broad end of our porcelain egg cups, their tips sliced away so that my father and I — perched side by side at the breakfast counter half an hour before he dropped me off at the school bus stop on his way to the subway — could dunk untoasted fingers of Pepperidge Farm Diet White into the runny yolk. As my parents’ marriage wore on and she grew angrier, the eggs were medium boiled, their firm yolks like thick golden velvet, with spots of remaining tenderness just barely discernible.

When I turned fourteen, my mother began hard boiling our eggs; she’d put them in a small pot filled with a shallow inch or two of water,

OccupySF Storms Wells Fargo Shareholders Meeting…

From OccupySF

On 24 April 2012, a broad coalition of clergy and labor groups joined with Occupy SF to cut short the Wells Fargo Bank annual shareholders meeting. While Wells executives illegally barred many shareholders from the meeting, several protesters made their way into the building’s lobby and helped block the way to the meeting.

Wells Fargo was forced to cut their meeting short and for the first time, took no questions.
Occupy, Unions, 99% Power Converge On GE Shareholders Meeting in Detroit

View from inside the GE shareholders meeting

Thousands of protesters have descended on the General Electric shareholders meeting in Detroit for the second day, including members of Occupy Detroit, unions, and activists from 99% Power, a new coalition of labor, immigrant, and community groups. On Tuesday, protestors successfully disrupted GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s speech to demand GE pay the over $26 billion in back taxes they owed. Today, as protesters massed outside, large numbers of shareholders sympathetic to Occupy chanted ¨pay your fair share¨ inside the meeting itself.  This upswing in action can mean only one thing: May Day is coming.

How to Power an Entire Neighborhood with Solar Energy…

Resilient Communities

How do you help a community transition from passive consumers of energy into active producers?

One way to accomplish this is to start a neighborhood solar co-op.

That’s just what the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington DC did. How did they do it?

  • A neighborhood couple did the all of the work required to successfully install solar panels on their home. Naturally, they wanted to share the benefits of that research with the community.  So, they formed a co-op and rallied the neighborhood (signs, fliers, etc.)
  • They then interacted with people in the neighborhood to understand what their objectives were and whether solar could help them. One good tip: they did a survey that got people to look at the kWh they use and think about potential savings.
  • The group grew to 350 families, the installs began, and the group was able to lobby the local government for an increase in incentives.  The success of this group spawned solar co-ops in eight other neighborhoods across the DC area.

So, why is a co-op necessary?

It’s simple.  The biggest stumbling block to purchasing a solar system is navigating the government incentives that make it affordable.  Here’s an example from the Washington DC area (incentives are all over the map):

  • A 3 kW solar panel system costs ~ $20,628 installed.
  • The DC incentive is – $6,426
  • The Federal Tax Credit is roughly – $6,188
  • The final step is forward sell your renewable energy credits for five years – $5,552

Gene Logsdon: It Pays To Stay Home

The Contrary Farmer

One of the unsung advantages of being in love with a garden or a farm is that the lover doesn’t mind staying home and by doing so, saving gobs of money. In fact most of us land lovers much prefer to stay home. A back forty even as small as an acre can be an exciting, fascinating adventure into the farthest reaches of the earth. The great entomologist, Jean Henri Fabre, spent much of his life making amazing discoveries about bugs on the few brushy acres behind his house and writing about them. With 30 acres, I never want for a changing world to travel through, a journey not far in miles but almost infinite in terms of material wonders and splendors deep down into the earth and high up into the ever-changing beauty of the sky.

Staying home has to be one of the most unpopular ideas in America where the whole culture embraces faraway travel as essential to happiness. Many of us don’t really have homes that can provide as much enjoyment as travel promises. Rather than spending our money to acquire such a property, we are taught to buy such enjoyment with far away travel. Perhaps what we need is proper publicity. To advertise traveling at home, a documentary could open with unbelievable close-ups of ants herding and milking aphids on an apple tree, a raccoon destroying a bluebird house, a hawk dive-bombing a mouse, a flint arrowhead sticking out of a creek-side cliff. Then a roll of drums and a voice sonorously introduces the docudrama:  “Today we are going where no explorer has gone before— YOUR BACK FORTY.”

Also, in earlier times, a home could not electronically provide all the connections with the outer world that now make travel almost obsolete. You can visit just about everything now in your living room.

Wendell Berry: It All Turns On Affection

Awards & Honors: 2012 Jefferson Lecturer

“Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever,” [Margaret] said. “This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest upon the earth.
E. M. Forster, Howards End (1910)1

One night in the winter of 1907, at what we have always called “the home place” in Henry County, Kentucky, my father, then six years old, sat with his older brother and listened as their parents spoke of the uses they would have for the money from their 1906 tobacco crop. The crop was to be sold at auction in Louisville on the next day. They would have been sitting in the light of a kerosene lamp, close to the stove, warming themselves before bedtime. They were not wealthy people. I believe that the debt on their farm was not fully paid, there would have been interest to pay, there would have been other debts. The depression of the 1890s would have left them burdened. Perhaps, after the income from the crop had paid their obligations, there would be some money that they could spend as they chose. At around two o’clock the next morning, my father was wakened by a horse’s shod hooves on the stones of the driveway. His father was leaving to catch the train to see the crop sold.

He came home that evening, as my father later would put it, “without a dime.” After the crop had paid its transportation to market and the commission on its sale, there was nothing left. Thus began my father’s lifelong advocacy, later my brother’s and my own, and now my daughter’s and my son’s, for small farmers and for land-conserving economies.


The economic hardship of my family and of many others, a century ago, was caused by

Toxic Cleaners Hall of Shame

Thanks to Ron Epstein

“Chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.”
“Will burn skin and eyes.”
“Will penetrate skin and attack underlying tissues and bone.”
“Suspected of damaging the unborn child.”

You’d expect to see these warnings on a barrel of hazardous waste. In fact, they’re in the fine print of labels of everyday household cleaners or on their websites and obscure technical disclosures.

In a ground-breaking initiative to uncover the truth about toxic chemicals in common household products, the Environmental Working Group has unearthed compelling evidence that hundreds of cleaners, even some of those hyped as “green” or “natural,” can inflict serious harm on unwary users. Many present severe risks to children who may ingest or spill them or breathe their fumes.


Cleaners labeled “safe,” “non-toxic” and “green” can contain hazardous ingredients. There should be a law against bogus claims, but there isn’t. Some companies are willing to bend the truth – because they can.

Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner

It’s labeled “non-toxic” and “biodegradable.” It contains:

  • 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent absorbed through the skin that damages red blood cells and irritates eyes;
  • A secret blend

Walmart goes down…


To all of you that worked relentlessly on stopping the expansion — especially Steve, Pinky, Jeffrey, Alan, Mary Anne, Ron, Annie, Peter, Linda S, Linda G, Maria and many others of you — Thank You Thank You Thank You!

[And thanks to the community-supported Ukiah Planning Commission majority vote… and to the community-supported Ukiah City Council, whose obvious majority vote against Walmart if they appealed was the reason they didn’t appeal. When small-town democracy works as it should, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. -DS]

How do they dance on the air like that?

From UDJ

By 5 p.m. Monday, neither Walmart nor anyone else filed an appeal of the Ukiah Planning Commission’s denial of a proposed expansion for its store on Airport Park Boulevard. “We have decided not to appeal the Ukiah Planning Commission’s decision to deny the site plan application for expansion of our Ukiah Walmart store,” wrote spokeswoman Delia Garcia via e-mail…. On April 11, the commission voted 4 to 1 to deny a 47,621-square-foot expansion of the store. The members said they did not believe the larger store would bring in a significant enough amount of new revenue, such as increased sales tax dollars, to justify the increased traffic dangers as well as potential store closures, job losses and increased demand on the Ukiah Police Department…

Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’

Polyface Farms

The recent editorial by James McWilliams, titled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book, and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response. But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate. For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Let’s go point by point. First, that grass-grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed ones. This is factually false. Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside. Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical. Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish. I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions. But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane. This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds: herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures.

Some Optimistic Visions of the World After the Oil Runs Out…

Optimistic Visions of the World After the Oil Runs Out

From IO9

[…] But what are the optimistic scenarios for a post-peak oil future? We went looking, and here’s what we found.

For starters, let’s get one thing out of the way. This article doesn’t include any science fiction stories where somebody discovers a miraculous new energy source (called Unobtanium, perhaps) that solves all our problems. That’s a huge genre, and a list of stories about a fictional energy source could be its own complete genre. We’re also not including any stories, like Star Trek or much of Doctor Who, in which the future is shown to be awesome but no mention is made of what happened after the oil ran out. (Plus on Star Trek, the near-term future is not awesome at all.)

Fictional Stories:

In the episode “Bendin’ in the Wind,” it’s mentioned that all the petroleum reserves ran out by 2038. Says Leela, “Gas was an environmental disaster, anyway. Now we use alternative fuels. [Like] whale oil.” So Fry has to run his Volkswagen Bus on a can of whale oil instead…

Optimistic Visions of the World After the Oil Runs Out

Retrieved from the Future by John Seymour
This book is set in the early decades of the 21st century. Although the world’s oil supply is in decline, the final straw comes when a jihad destroys all the Middle Eastern oil wells. The story focuses on a community in the United Kingdom that refuses to stay shut up in their homes while waiting for the military to bring them food. They farm, develop a new political system, fight off the army, and create a feudal society. The main body of the book is the story of how the world got to the epilogue, which is where the real hope for the future seems to be. The main characters describe how everyone is better off than before

The Future Is Unknown, But We Know the Unsustainable Will Implode…


[Smith advocates a non-violent revolution… DS]

There are no apolitical “personal choice” acts; there are only profoundly political acts of resistance or complicity.

I don’t how the future will unfold, not just because I’m an idiot but because it’s unknowable. Though we cannot know the future, we do know two very important things: 1) that which is unsustainable will implode, and 2) the present Status Quo is unsustainable.

That ultimately leaves us with a single question: what are we going to do about it? In my view, it’s not important that we agree on solutions–agreement would in fact be a catastrophe, for dissent and decentralization are the essential characteristics of any sustainable “solution.” What is important is that we realize the future boils down to a simple choice: do we passively comply with the Status Quo feudalism or do we resist? In my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation I summarize this thusly: There are no apolitical “personal choice” acts; there are only profoundly political acts of resistance or complicity.

The roots of this line of thinking go back to 1969 when at the age of 16 I discovered Jean-Paul Sartre’s What is Literature? (print). This book inspired my goal of becoming a writer, and it’s easy to understand why: Sartre’s central argument is that among the arts only prose has the power to change our lives. Amazon.com reviewer Riccardo Pelizzo summarized this concept brilliantly: “The function of a committed writer is to reveal the world so that every reader loses her innocence and assumes all her responsibilities in front of it.”

These excerpts give you a flavor of What Is Literature?:

“The function of a writer is to call a spade a spade. If words are sick

Transition: Ted Trainer and the Simpler Way…

Simplicity Institute

1. Introduction

For several decades Ted Trainer has been developing and refining an important theory of societal change, which he calls The Simpler Way (Trainer, 1985; Trainer, 1995; Trainer, 2010a). His essential premise is that overconsumption in the most developed regions of the world is the root cause of our global predicament, and upon this premise he argues that a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable and just world involves those who are overconsuming accepting far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. That is the radical implication of our global predicament which most people, including most environmentalists, seem unwilling to acknowledge or accept, but which Trainer does not shy away from and, indeed, which he follows through to its logical conclusion.

The Simpler Way is not about deprivation or sacrifice, however; it is about embracing what is sufficient to live well and creating social and economic systems on that basis. This essay presents an overview of Trainer’s position, drawing mainly on the most complete expression of it in his latest book, The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World (Trainer, 2010a), an analysis which is supplemented by some of his more recent essays (Trainer, 2010b; Trainer, 2011).

My review is designed in part to bring more attention to a theorist whose work has been greatly underappreciated, so the review is more expository than critical. But in places my analysis seeks to raise questions about Trainer’s position, and develop it where possible, in the hope of advancing the debate and deepening our understanding of the important issues under consideration. I begin by outlining the various elements of The Simpler Way and proceed to unpack them in more detail.

2. Outline of The Simpler Way

The premise of Trainer’s position, as noted, is that a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable and just world involves those who are overconsuming accepting far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. Given the extent of ecological overshoot (Global Footprint Network, 2012), Trainer argues that there is no way to sufficiently decouple current economic activity from ecological impact in the time available, which necessitates moving away from high impact, Western-style consumer lifestyles without delay.

Norman Solomon: All we really have left is faith in the potential of democracy…

From digby

Following up on David’s post… about the primaries, I thought I would ask you to watch this video by Norman Solomon, running for congress in California in the seat Lynn Woolsey vacated. If you want to know the theory that Blue America and other groups doing progressive electoral activism are working from, Norman spells it out better than anyone…

Glenn Greenwald had this to say about Norman:

The long-time anti-war activist, co-founder of the great media criticism group FAIR, and author of “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State” – a critique of America’s decades of militarism and the role which its media plays in perpetuating it — is about as close to a perfect Congressional candidate as it gets. He’s written 11 other books, including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”: the title speaks for itself. He’s running in the heavily Democratic California district being vacated by the retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey. A newly released poll from an independent Democratic pollster shows him with a serious chance to win (there is an open primary in June, and the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will then face each other in a November run-off).
In 2002 and 2003, Solomon led three trips to Iraq to try to avert the war (trips that included former and current members of Congress), and was one of the most widely featured media voices during that period opposing the attack on moral, legal and prudential grounds. Though he was an Obama delegate to the 2008 DNC convention, here’s what he told us about President Obama’s civil liberties record, including the Awlaki assassination and the President’s signing of the indefinite detention bill (NDAA):

The Koch Brothers are the Poster Boys for the 1%…


If the Koch brothers didn’t exist, the left would have to invent them. They’re the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.

But no need to invent – Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they’ve poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don’t oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can’t help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script,” and themselves as supplying “the themes and words for the scripts. Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett’s checking account, and you’re halfway there.

For years, the brothers shunned the spotlight. David Koch used to joke that the family business, the Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries – with annual profits estimated at $100 billion, it’s the second-biggest private firm in America – was “the largest company you’ve never heard of.” But when Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s “socialist” agenda: They were early backers, some say puppet masters, of the Tea Party movement, and when the tea-infused GOP retook the House

Argentina Claims National Oil Sovereignty — Why Not The U.S.?

Protestors in Buenos Aires’ sign: “We’re going for everything.”

[A nation’s resources are part of the commons and the income from them should all go to the nation’s citizens. U.S. oil should be nationalized, which would, among other things, help remove the Koch brothers and the other thieving, anti-democratic greedheads from buying off our political process. -DS]

[Kirchner] accused Repsol of provoking an energy crisis by exporting too much of Argentina’s oil and failing to invest locally even as it paid huge dividends abroad.

The business world is reacting with horror to news that Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has made a decision to take control of her nation’s oil resources, by taking a 51% controlling stake in the country’s largest oil company YPF. As she reasonably argues, these resources belong to the people of Argentina, and she defies the right of Spanish oil corporation Repsol to profit from the patrimony of her country.

This is another positive challenge to the neoliberal world order which we too often take for granted. YPF was a state-controlled company for 70 years, before Argentina was forced to sell it in the 1990s in order to pay off its foreign debts. Reclaiming it seems a natural part of the progression of the Latin American countries towards a new economic model that is neither capitalism nor communism but something new. While the new model will accept markets operating for the social benefit, it claims the need to exercise political control over key sectors, of which energy is surely the most significant.

From the perpsective of a bioregional economy, the desire that resources should belong to land, and that the people who live in that land should claim ownership of them seems natural. How else can people act in a responsible way towards their local environment? How else can we have a sense of economic, social and political justice?

The Argentinian move comes

Transition: Seed Swap Ukiah Farmers Market Today Saturday 4/21/12 9:30am

Seed Swap in the Ozarks

Seed Swap 
Saturday 4/21/12
9:30am – Noon

Ukiah Farmers Market
Alex Thomas Plaza/School Street

Bring seeds in labeled envelopes
Vegetables, natives, flowers, herbs

Leave seeds at Mulligan Books beforehand
if you cannot attend…

Transition Ukiah Valley is part of an
international localization movement
to build community resilience


Ukiah Daily Journal

Peggy Backup, Scott Miller and partner Trudy Morgan sit at the couple’s kitchen table, eating dried pears gleaned from a local orchard and sorting seeds into small, labeled paper envelopes.

The trio and other members of Transition Ukiah Valley are preparing for a seed exchange event taking place Saturday, April 21 at the Ukiah Farmers Market.

The Transition Ukiah Valley group began meeting in 2011. The group is part of a worldwide transition movement that started in the United Kingdom in 2005 to address issues they believe are impacting local communities as the effects of climate change, skyrocketing oil prices

Will Parrish: Albion! The History


In the introduction to his 1965 book The Making of the English Working Class, English social historian E.P. Thompson described his motivation as being to rescue “from the enormous condescension of posterity” the “lower orders” of people in 18th and 19th century Britain who resisted the brutal emergence of industrial society. In this famous phrase, Thompson was referring to the patronizing treatment oppressed groups of people receive from propagandists for the ruling class, whose main goal in writing history is inevitably to trumpet the virtues of the present order.

A group of Northern California historians, some of whom once studied under Thompson at Warwick University in the UK, set out eight years ago to recover, for the benefit of posterity, a non-patronizing history of Northern California’s communal movements. The culmination of that effort, which originated with a series of conferences at UC Berkeley and on the Mendocino Coast in 2004, is an excellent new book titled West of Eden: Communes and Utopias in Northern California, published last month by Oakland-based PM Press.

“Condescension?” It would be hard to think of a category of people who are more universally treated with disdain than the communards of the ’60s and ’70s. According to the dominant view, thousands of rural “hippies” fled to the country, selfishly seeking refuge from the roiling social conflicts of the time, having little contact with the outside world from that point on. These rustic enclaves were quickly overrun by deadbeats, loafers, and crazies, who bathed only infrequently and commonly became perma-fried on account of too many bad acid trips. Or, at best, the communes were naïve, destined to be short-lived experiments

Todd Walton: Big Data


“Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.” Albert Einstein

A wintry April day—rain, cold, our two woodstoves hard at work translating matter into energy so we may carry on in comfort. Yesterday we celebrated the idea of spring, if not the reality, with the delivery of four cords of firewood from Frank’s Firewood of Boonville, so now several days of stacking wood are upon us. I am graduating from my seventh Mendocino winter, and Frank’s fantastic firewood has kept me snug and warm through every one of them. Thank you, Frank!

Yesterday also brought an email from a friend with the subject heading Data Plague, with a link to an article from the New York Times about Big Data, a hot topic in the world of computer science and technology. Big Data is the incomprehensibly large amount of raw data piling up from all electronic activities that leave digital traces, including scientific research and social media. For instance, every minute of every day some forty-eight hours of video are uploaded to YouTube: the equivalent of eight years of content each day.

According to the Big Data article, many people in government and academia and private industry are interested in mining this rapidly growing data universe, and President Obama has earmarked 200 million dollars for his Big Data Research and Development Initiative. And just last month the National Science Foundation awarded 10 million dollars to Berkeley’s A.M.P. Expedition, which stands for “algorithms machines people,” a team of U.C. Berkeley professors and graduate students working to advance Big Data analysis.

Gene Logsdon: Gardening In The Nude (or New Use For Rhubarb)

The Contrary Farmer

One of the greatest mysteries of life for me is society’s ambivalence about the naked human body. People line up by the hundreds every day to get a look at Michelangelo’s anatomically-correct statue of David. But if a real live David were to stand naked beside that statue, the sex police would haul him away, even in Italy where nude statues are as common as pizza.

I once did a lot of “research” into the subject of outdoor nudity. Research for a writer means I “asked around.” What gives here, anyway?

You’d be amazed. Actually most of you would not be amazed because what I found out was that most people, given their druthers, would not wear clothes in their back yards or even front yards, if they could get away with it, at least not when the weather is nice. People I asked drew the line only at going beyond the home environment unclothed or where the environment inclined excessively to poison ivy and mosquitoes. One person put it this way: “If everyone took their clothes off while they mowed the lawn, in twenty minutes no one would take a second look. If the nude person was as ugly as I am, no one would take a first look.”

I have a hunch that there are plenty of backyard swimming pools whose waters reflect bare backsides more than they do swimsuits. For sure what passes for a swimsuit in many of them would make a typical thong look kind of klutzy. But people also expressed a yen, if they trusted that I was not going to name names, for gardening in the nude. In fact the practice has been sanctified into folk tradition, at least in the Ozarks. According to folklorist Vance Randolph, writing in the 1930s and 40s, the spring planting ritual in the hills involved a sort of celebratory session of love making

Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability…


What’s Missing From Walmart’s Global Responsibility Report

In response to Walmart’s release of its Global Responsibility Report, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have published the Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability. Since 2005, the country’s largest retailer has been making splashy announcements and issuing slick reports to highlight its environmental and social responsibility efforts. Food & Water Watch and ILSR contend that Walmart fails to live up to its promises and continues to ignore the fundamental problems with its business model that harm the environment, undermine healthy food choices, and exacerbate poverty.

“No amount of greenwash can conceal the fact that Walmart perpetuates an industrialized food system that diminishes our natural resources, causes excessive pollution, and forces smaller farmers and companies to get big or get out of business,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

“Once again, Walmart is using sustainability as a marketing tool to improve its public image and propel its growth —  even as it continues to pave over critical habitat, increase its greenhouse gas emissions, and flood the market with shoddy products that go from factory to landfill in record time,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at ILSR.

Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability is based on ILSR’s report Walmart’s Greenwash: How the company’s much-publicized sustainability campaign falls short, while its relentless growth devastates the environment and Food & Water Watch’s report Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System.

Download Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability.

Katniss Everdeen: Local(ist) Hero


On the Local Economy and The Hunger Games

The comments presented forthwith do not necessarily represent the opinions of the author, nor any reasonable human being. On the other hand, inspired by this meisterwerk (subtitle: “A Critique of Pure Treason”), this essay may be a product of a voice of some generation at some point whose collective tongue cannot be extracted from its collective cheek. The author also posts here with less silly (but still somewhat silly) thoughts.

The world of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games could be cited as the frightening result of Tocquevillian democratic despotism. The Capitol, bent only on rapid materialism and consumption, is lulled into abandoning their mores and is oblivious to questions of the morality of pitting 24 adolescents against each other in a fight to the death as long as they are entertained. Katniss and Peeta, the flawed heroes of our tale, are bent on bucking the system, refusing to be a “pawn in their Games” and eventually becoming the symbols of resistance for the impoverished Districts who have become artificially dependent on the Capitol’s kindness for their very existence. Besides their growing role as reluctant leaders in the resistance against the evil President Snow, Peeta and especially Katniss show fierce loyalty to their home, District 12. In this essay, I will examine how themes of localism pervade Collins’ kid lit series and the “total economy” of Panem is a means of destroying the local character of the Districts.

In the oft-cited Federalist No. 10, James Madison outlines the causes and discontents of faction in the newly forming union of the United States. A faction, Madison writes, is “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest

4 Things Grosser Than Pink Slime…

Mother Jones

The specter of “pink slime”—pureed, defatted, and ammonia-laced slaughterhouse scraps—has caused quite the uproar over the past six weeks. (The latest: Propublica has a great explainer on pink slime and other filler products.) The current fixation on pink slime may well lead to the demise of the product; already, supermarket and fast-food chains and school cafeterias are opting to stop adding the stuff into their burger mixes. The company’s maker, Beef Products International, has had to temporarily shut down three of its four plants in response to collapsing demand, which doesn’t augur well for the company’s long-term health.

But I’m wondering if focusing on the ew-gross aspects of “lean, finely textured beef” (as the industry calls it) doesn’t miss the bigger picture, which is that the meat industry’s very business model is deeply gross. Even if pink slime is purged from the face of the earth, the system that produces our meat and related products (eggs, milk) won’t be fundamentally changed. A while back, I identified something about meat production that’s “even grosser than pink slime”—proposed new rules that would privatize inspection at poultry slaughterhouses while dramatically speeding up kill lines. Here are four more.

1. “Rodents on egg conveyor belts.” Want to see for yourself what it is like inside a teeming livestock confinements—or at least read an account from a journalist who’s been inside one? Good luck. The meat industry strictly protects its facilities from public view. That’s why animal-welfare groups have taken to sneaking camera-toting undercover agents into facilities posing as employees. Over and over again, what they record is horrific. The latest: An undercover Humane Society of the United States investigation found stomach-turning conditions at a facility run by Pennsylvania egg giant Kreider Farms. Here are some highlights:

Underground Chickens…


Find out where to get information about everything you need to know to raise chickens on a small to medium scale…

1) Raising chickens is becoming more and more popular with small farmers, urban farmers, homesteaders, others. Many people are realizing that the difference between pasture raised chicken meat and eggs, and those from large confinement operations is similar to the difference between fresh seasonal heirloom tomatoes, and those picked green, ripened with ethanol, and shipped across the country.

Chickens can also be beneficial in diversified farming operations by helping to control pests, providing an alternative, year-round source of income, and producing high-nitrogen manure for fertilizer.

Interest in raising chickens has grown quickly in the last few years, accompanied by a resurgent interest in heritage breeds, pastured poultry, and on-farm processing…

  • Chickens 101 – offers basic information about raising chickens, starting with eggs, coop plans, chicken breeds, and more.
  • Chicken Breeds List doesn’t just list breeds, as their name might suggest. They also provide great information and articles on chicken care, breeding, and much more.
  • Raising Poultry – an information packed site that provides a broad range of information and resources regarding all aspects of raising poultry. A great place to start.
  • The Country Chicken – is about the care and raising of backyard chickens. There is information about chicken coops, daily care, pictures of breeds, and an excellent links page.

Green Smoothie Recipes – Top 5


Try the best green smoothie recipe ever! I drink about two full blender jars of these drinks a day. They are healthy, easy and quick to make and absolutely delicious.

Each green smoothie recipe below is chuck full of healthy minerals (e.g. calcium and iron), vitamins, co-factors, life force, fiber. And very important, they are alkalizing. Green smoothies are critical for health.

To make these recipes, all you need are the ingredients and a blender. A high speed blender such as Vitamix or Blendtec is best because they break the cell wall. This way you absorb the nutrients easily. But if you’re just starting a raw vegetable diet, any other blender will do too. My first year on raw food, I just used a hand blender (Cuisine art, 700 Watt).

All recipes serve about 2-3 people and can be kept for up to 12 hours as long as you add enough water (great when traveling).

Kale and Banana Smoothie


2 bananas
2 tablespoons hulled hemp seed
1 bag of frozen blue berries
2.5 cups pure water
1 teaspoon super foods of choice (optional)
5 leafs of kale


  1. Put all ingredients in a high speed blender.
  2. Add enough water so that all ingredients are covered.
  3. Blend well.
  4. You may want to add a little more water if you like your smoothie thinner.

This is a great way to add (wild edible greens) to your raw food diet. You won’t even notice it.

The Specter of Secularism: Lies and lunacy on the campaign trail…


We, the people, are united by our shared humanity and our common citizenship. We are divided by our divergent sectarian beliefs. In the past, these divisions led to oppression of those out of favor by those holding the positions of power. At times, persecution reached the point of cruelty and lethality. At other times, civil wars broke out as competing sets of true believers sought to gain or retain temporal power. Based on the sterling insight of what unites us and the shameful history of what divides us, the Founding and the Framing generation ordained and established a secular Republic.

Despite the contemporary rampant ignorance of people who should know better, secularism is not a religion; it is a philosophic perspective and a constitutional prescription. The Constitution of the United States neither enthrones nor endorses any variety of religious persuasion, any more than it anoints or approves any particular approach to economic activity.

While congregants of particular religious denominations have struggled since the start of the Republic to seize the reins of power, they have always done so without constitutional justification. America is neither a Christian nor a Capitalist nation. It is a Constitutional Republic in which all are free to follow their conscience in the practice of religion and to seek their fortune by all legal means. The only requirement consistent with the constitution is that each of us allows others the freedom to do the same.

Despite this historical background and continuing reality, Mitt Romney in his response to a question about the recent HHS contraceptive regulation requiring religiously affiliated organizations to provide coverage for all women employees, declared: “I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism.”

Rewilding Our Children

The Guardian

Hope for humanity lies in recognising their animal nature.

Three weeks old, warm and gently snoring on my shoulder as I write, you are closer to nature than you will ever be again. With your animal needs and animal cries, moved by a slow primordial spirit that will soon be submerged in the cacophony of thought and language, you belong, it seems to me, more to the biosphere than to the human sphere. Already it feels like years since I saw you, my second daughter, in the scan, your segmented skeleton revealed like an ancient beast uncovered by geologists, buried in the rock of ages. Already I have begun to entertain the hopes and fears to which every parent has succumbed, perhaps since the early hominids laid down the prints which show that the human spark had been struck.

Let me begin at the beginning, with the organisation to which you might owe your life. When I was born, almost 50 years ago, in the bitter winter of 1963, the National Health Service was just 15 years old. It must still have been hard for people to believe that – for the first time in the history of these islands – they could fall ill without risking financial ruin, that no one need die for want of funds. I see this system as the summit of civilisation, one of the wonders of the world.

Now it is so much a part of our lives that it is just as hard to believe that we might lose it. But I fear that, when you have reached my age, free, universal healthcare will be a distant fantasy, a mythologised arcadia as far removed from the experience of your children’s generation as the Blitz was from mine. One of the lessons you will learn, painfully and reluctantly, is that nothing of public value exists which has not been fought for.

David Sedaris on his reading habits…

From NYT

David Sedaris

I was a judge for this year’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, so until very recently I was reading essays written by clever high school students. Now I’ve started Shalom Auslander’s “Hope: A Tragedy.” His last book, “Foreskin’s Lament,” really made me laugh.

When and where do you like to read?

Throughout my 20s and early 30s — my two-books-per-week years — I did most of my reading at the International House of Pancakes. I haven’t been to one in ages, but at the time, if you went at an off-peak hour, they’d give you a gallon-sized pot of coffee and let you sit there as long as you liked. Now, though, with everyone hollering into their cellphones, it’s much harder to read in public, so I tend to do it at home, most often while reclining.

What was the last truly great book you read?

I’ve read a lot of books that I loved recently. “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” by a woman named Barbara Demick, was a real eye-opener. In terms of “great,” as in “This person seems to have reinvented the English language,” I’d say Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” What an exciting story collection it is, unlike anything I’ve ever come across.

Do you consider yourself a fiction or a nonfiction person? What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?

I like nonfiction books about people with wretched lives. The worse off the subjects, the more inclined I am to read about them… Complete article here

OWS: A Pamphleteer’s Occupation…


Who in their right mind would start a new small press at a time when the economy is so bad, e-books are rising, and book stores, libraries and perhaps the printed word itself are getting shoved down the same path as vinyl records and record stores?

Why bother to sink resources and turtle-pace time into producing, mailing, and shelving printed matter when we can now reach one another with speed and buzz, hummingbird-style?

Some people, like Rory O’Connor, use terms like “legacy media” to refer to old-school operations like newspapers. We have, indeed, entered an era where “friends and followers” are displacing corporations as producers of the news people give their attention to. But that does not displace printed matter as a whole. In fact, the Occupy movements are giving birth to a beautiful revival of print-based underground press activity. Tidal, a journal of Occupy theory, is one of a host of new Occupy-related print-based initiatives that is channeling the energy, ideas, art and aspirations that is making waves. The editors have two beautiful issues out to date, and give them away, thanks to donations of all types, including labor. I’ve seen people reading Tidal in the streets and in the courtroom. Just seeing it in people’s hands is uplifting to me. Print projects like Tidal, and there are many others, offer solidarity and intellectual self defense against corporate efforts to achieve cultural control.

Despite all the immediacy and connectivity offered by online communication, print still matters. Print is intimate. We can hold it in our hands, touch it, pass it to one another.

Transition: What is a carrot worth?

Town Farm in Northampton, Massachusetts
Excerpted from greenhornsThe Atlantic
Thanks to Janie Sheppard

Last week at market a customer complained about the price of our dill (two dollars for a not-huge bunch). He said the price was an outrage, but he was smiling, so I was too confused to ask why he was going ahead and buying the dill, or even how he’d arrived at his notion of its value.

This is not an unusual occurrence; every week at market we get at least one or two potential customers who shake their heads in dismay at a $2.75 head of lettuce or a $4.00 pint of strawberries. Sometimes I engage in conversation, sometimes I don’t. I try not to get defensive, and I frequently encourage a customer not to buy the product, offering suggestions of where to find cheaper food, either at the market or elsewhere. I do my best not to reveal that the value of our produce is a question that regularly fills me with a tremendous amount of anxiety.

What is a carrot worth? A bunch of kale? A handful of berries? Too often, I find myself on the tractor making quick calculations in my head. For a bed of carrots, there are the soil amendments, the cover crop last fall, the chicken manure, the organic fertilizer, the plowing, tilling, seeding, irrigating, thinning, weeding, harvesting, washing, bunching, packing, and selling. Plus the cost of the tractors, implements, and fuel. Plus the cost of childcare and preschool. Plus, somehow, all the time spent on the computer (where does that fit in)? And I haven’t even mentioned the cost of the land (hundreds of thousands of dollars, in our case). The sheer number of labor hours and material and property costs that went into helping this soil