Todd Walton: Giants and Greece


“We don’t have to look far to see how pervasive suffering is in the world.” Joseph Goldstein

Matt Cain recently pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants while Greece is in the midst of a massive economic collapse. Gregor Blanco made one of the great catches in Giants history to preserve Cain’s perfecto while Spain is in economic freefall with over 25% unemployment and Spanish real estate prices falling falling falling. Cain gave his catcher Buster Posey much of the credit for the no-no while Syria is in the midst of a horribly bloody civil war with thousands of casualties, many of them women and children.

Cain’s perfect game is only the twenty-second perfect game in the 130-year history of baseball while the Japanese government has ordered the restarting of several of their dangerously unsafe nuclear power plants despite a vast majority of the Japanese people opposed to nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

And how about Melky Cabrera, the Melkman, leading the National League in hitting while the American economy is collapsing around our ears. True, Tim Lincecum is having an awful year so far

Time to start your Fall/Winter garden…


Sow in July: Beets, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Kale, Parsnips, Chard

Sow in August: Arrugula, Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Mustard, Onions, Spinach, Turnips

Sow in September: Fava Beans, Carrots, Peas, Radishes, Garlic


Doomsday Seed Banking…


The Seed Underground:
A Growing Revolution to Save Food (2012)

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.

Democrats go AWOL in class war…


Labor unions hoped to turn the Wisconsin recall election into a rallying cause for their ailing movement. But a Democratic president couldn’t be dragged off the sidelines for the fight.

Anti-Wall Street activists were itching to see JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon bashed like a piñata at a congressional hearing just two weeks after his firm blew $2 billion in risky speculation. But Democratic senators greeted him with flowers, not fury.

And, as President Barack Obama attempts to make Mitt Romney’s history as a wealthy buyout artist a centerpiece of his 2012 message, he is second-guessed and hushed by some of the leading voices in his own party.

What the hell ever happened to populism in the Democratic Party?

The recent convergence of setbacks on the left has activists and historians alike pondering anew how the modern Democratic Party has severed its connection to its own history — a tradition that many liberals wrongly imagined was about to spring back to life in the Obama years.

Populism — with its rowdy zeal to brawl against economic elites on behalf of the working classes — was for decades the party’s defining cause.

In language that highlights the tameness of contemporary class warfare, President Franklin D. Roosevelt railed against “economic royalists” and the “forces of organized greed,” and, of his business opponents, he gloated, “I welcome their hatred.”

Can We Get Along Without Authorities?

New. Clear. Vision.

Some years ago, I watched a screening of a film about Daniel Ellsberg and the release of the Pentagon Papers.  The film was shown in the U.S. Capitol, and Ellsberg was present, along with others, to discuss the movie and take questions afterwards.

I’ve just read Chris Hayes’ new book Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (Crown, 2012), and am reminded of the question that progressive blogger and then-Congressman Alan Grayson staffer Matt Stoller asked Ellsberg.

What, Stoller wanted to know, should one do when (following the 2003 invasion of Iraq) one has come to the realization that the New York Times cannot be trusted?

The first thing I thought to myself upon hearing this was, of course, “Holy f—, why would anyone have ever trusted the New York Times“?  In fact I had already asked a question about the distance we’d traveled from 1971, when the New York Times had worried about the potential shame of having failed to publish a story, to 2005 when the New York Times publicly explained that it had sat on a major story (about warrantless spying) out of fear of the shame of publishing it.

But the reality is that millions of people have trusted and do trust, in various ways and to various degrees, the New York Times and worse.  Ellsberg’s response to Stoller was that his was an extremely important question and one that he, Ellsberg, had never been asked before.

Have sledgehammer, will farm…


Not too long ago, we turned some of the most productive agricultural land in the world into suburbs. The business of building homes has slowed since the 2008 recession, but it continues to be true that no matter how well-suited a spot was to growing food, if a developer wants to make money, they’ll cover farmland with houses.

In the aftermath of the housing bubble, interesting signs have begun to suggest that the economics of dirt may be shifting. In fact it might one day be more valuable to grow food on a plot of land than to plop a house down on top of it. A few farmers recently made a killing buying back the farms they’d cashed out on. Meanwhile, the value of farmland in Iowa has increased by 33 percent, setting off speculation that farmland could be the next bubble. (It’s a bubble fueled by corn for ethanol and therefore food for cars instead of people, but still, it holds promise.) And then there is the matter of the failed shopping mall in Cleveland that began doing double-duty as a greenhouse.

All of this raises the question: What about those farms that have already been converted into subdivisions? Once someone has thoughtfully poured concrete over most of your neighborhood, should you try to un-concrete it and make it a farm again? Could the McMansions of Brentwood become fertile fields again?

Science says yes, absolutely. You wouldn’t want to tear up asphalt (it’s regrettably full of carcinogenic hydrocarbons), but concrete is a different story

The Twilight of David Brooks…


Via Crooked Timber, this deeply ironic column last week from David Brooks displays the singular lack of self-awareness for which Brooks has become legendary:

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

In his memoir, “At Ease,” Eisenhower delivered the following advice: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.” Ike slowly mastered the art of leadership by becoming a superb apprentice.

To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it. Those skills are required for good monument building, too.

Chris Hayes might have something to say about why we have lost faith in those institutional elites.

The fact that Brooks has been horribly, astonishingly, unequivocally and ludicrously wrong about

Bob Dylan Animated Video for New Kids Book – Forever Young


Tangled Up in Dylan: The twisted tale of AJ Weberman


If you appreciate whimsical documentaries about eccentric or marginal types—much of Louis Theroux’s work, the Wild Man Fischer doc dErailRoaDed and Keith Allen’s deliriously insane Little Lady Fauntleroy would fall into this category—or if you are a Bob Dylan completest, then you might be interested in Tangled Up in Dylan: The Ballad of AJ Weberman directed by James Bluemel and Oliver Ralfe.

AJ Weberman is infamous, if he is known at all, among Dylan aficionados for being the obsessed stalker who Bob Dylan physically assaulted in 1971 because he had been harassing his family. Weberman picked through their trash (he calls his stinky style of sleuthing the science of “Garbology”) and staged demonstrations (with the “Dylan Liberation Front,” the students of his “Dylanology” classes) outside of Dylan’s MacDougal Street brownstone, apparently with the aim of convincing Dylan to, uh, join the revolution, man… but having the result of really pissing him off.

Gene Logsdon: A Farmer Who Actually Farms…

The Contrary Farmer

Life is so much a matter of contrasts. Last week I wrote about a large scale farmer of several thousand acres who drives his computer 9 hours a day while his brother and hired help to the actual farming. In stark contrast, shortly after I talked to him, an old friend stopped by to tell me that, after nearly forty years, he was retiring from small scale dairying. He tried to be upbeat about it but I could tell that he was sad too. He will keep on farming his 200 acres and maybe raise a few steers. Old dairymen never die, they just quit milking cows.

I’ve bragged in my writing over the years about Steve and Pat Gamby way more than they wish I would. Against all economic expertise, they have made a success of small-scale commercial farming and of life. They are very devoted to each other. They’ve raised three children anyone would be proud of. One of them, Rebecca, just finishing up college, happens to be an outstanding athlete also. She was playing last week with the USA national women’s softball team that would be our USA Olympic team if women’s softball was still in the Olympics. She played with and against the best softball players in the U.S. (actually in the world) and did all right for herself.

Her father did all right for himself in sports too, having played professional baseball in the minor leagues before he decided he’d rather stay home and milk cows. That’s how I got to know him. When I found out there was a former minor league ballplayer in our neighborhood, I courted him shamelessly for our softball team. He decided to play, against his better judgment, I think

So now what do we do to defend life on Earth?

The Guardian

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all

Why Taxes Have To Be Raised On The Rich…



“I try to avoid giving advice to younger generations, because generations are so different from each other. Given the world has changed so much, the only universal advice to be given is, don’t give up. You’ll live through bad times, and you’ll feel that everything is lost. Many people become passive. But passivity usually leads to despair. I think it’s extremely important for young people growing up today to be active. Activity is something that leads to hope. Unless they’re active themselves, no one is going to hand them anything on a plate. That’s the lesson of the last few years with this new radicalization. Don’t give up. Have hope. Remain skeptical. Be critical of the system that dominates us all and sooner or later — if not in this generation, then in generations to come — things will change.”

Here’s the Future of America…

Resilient Communities

“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson. Fortunately, we have the capacity to prevent this outcome in our communities.

Writing from: Aspen, CO. I’m speaking/attending the National Geographic Environmental Conference (focus of the conference: adapting to climate change).

I had the good fortune of sitting on a conference panel with Mayor Fetterman of Braddock, PA.

He’s a great bear of a guy (he makes me, at 6′ 1″ and well built, look small in comparison), but despite his size, he looked like he was slowly being crushed by the weight of the world when he showed up at the panel.

His story explained why. He’s spent the last decade trying to save a storied American town, crushed by global economic and financial forces. Forces that gutted a prosperous steel town of 18,000 with some historical treasures (e.g. the first Carnegie Library) and a thriving retail sector.

When Fetterman arrived in Braddock, the town was already in shambles. The population had fallen to below 3,000 and gang crime was rampant. In fact, the landscape of the town was so bleak, the town was used as a setting for the darkest apocalypse movie I’ve ever seen, “The Road“

Undeterred, he set to work. He cleaned up the crime. Built a local organic farm inside a no-go zone, to produce food for a town without a supermarket. He also established a craftwork that produces high quality and inexpensive ($15) ceramic water filters.

Mendacious Mitt: Romney’s bid to become liar-in-chief…

The Guardian

Spin is normal in politics, but Romney is pioneering a cynical strategy of reducing fact and truth to pure partisanship. When challenged about an untruthful statement, Romney’s tactic is to deny he said it – lie trumping lie…

Four years ago, when I was writing about the 2008 presidential campaign, I wrote with dismay and surprise at the spate of falsehoods coming out of John McCain’s campaign for president. McCain had falsely accused his opponent Barack Obama of supporting “comprehensive sex education” for children, and of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class, while his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, took credit for opposing the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere”, which she had actually supported.

At the time, such false and misleading claims from a presidential candidate seemed shocking: they crossed an unstated line in American politics – going from the usual garden-variety campaign exaggeration to wilful lying.

Ah, those were the days … after watching Mitt Romney run for president the past few months, he makes John McCain look like George Washington (of “I Can’t Tell A Lie” fame).

Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it’s pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.

Is The City of Ukiah About To Be Outsourced and Privatized? Do you care?

[During City of Ukiah budget hearings words like “Matrix” and “Strategic Planning” are dominant themes in the budget vocabulary discussion. What’s missing is the City’s Personnel Laws for Civil Service employees. Workforce reduction or layoffs require bargaining. The first volley for privatization of city business is ON. You’re needed in City Hall on Tuesday at 1 pm. Read the article below about one town’s mastery of privatization. Not a town I would want to call home. ~Linda Sanders]

A Georgia Town Takes the People’s Business Private



Outsourcing City Hall

If your image of a city hall involves a venerable building, some Roman pillars and lots of public employees, the version offered by this Atlanta suburb of 94,000 residents is a bit of a shocker.

The entire operation is housed in a generic, one-story industrial park, along with a restaurant and a gym. And though the place has a large staff, none are on the public payroll. O.K., seven are, including the city manager. But unless you chance into one of them, the people you meet here work for private companies through a variety of contracts.

Applying for a business license? Speak to a woman with Severn Trent, a multinational company based in Coventry, England. Want to build a new deck on your house? Chat with an employee of Collaborative Consulting, based in Burlington, Mass. Need a word with people who oversee trash collection? That would be the URS Corporation, based in San Francisco.

More Ugly Privitizing…


Prisons, Privatization, Patronage

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.

First of all, about those halfway houses: In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of these facilities, and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as “representing the very best of the human spirit.” But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates.

It’s a terrible story. But, as I said, you really need to see it in the broader context of a nationwide drive on the part of America’s right to privatize government functions, very much including the operation of prisons. What’s behind this drive?

You might be tempted to say that it reflects conservative belief in the magic of the marketplace, in the superiority of free-market competition over government planning. And that’s certainly the way right-wing politicians like to frame the issue.

Todd Walton: Bird In Hand


“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.” D.H. Lawrence

Three days ago I was settling down on the living room sofa for a much-anticipated afternoon nap, when a bird smacked into one of the seven big windows that make our living room feel so light and airy. Alas, this sickening thud usually presages a dead bird or one so stunned that our cat, if he can get outside in time, makes short work of. And so it was with some trepidation that I got up to look out the various windows to see what I could see.

To my surprise and chagrin, the bird in question had not smacked the outside of a window, but had flown through our open sliding glass door and struck the inside of a pane; and there she was, a little gray sparrow with pretty white markings, standing stock still on a window sill.

“Hello beautiful,” I said to the bird, hoping to catch and release her without hurting her and without causing so much commotion that our cat would come running to capture this high protein snack.

But how could I catch the bird without scaring her into frantic flight? I picked up the big straw basket I use for shopping and thought I’d somehow put the basket over the bird and then… then what? Wouldn’t the bird just fly out from under the basket and zoom around the room and smack into another window and break her neck or bring our cat running or…

Yet even as I was entertaining such unpleasant scenarios, I got closer and closer to the bird until I was right beside her and she remained standing absolutely still. So I slowly reached out and gently encircled her body with my fingers, carefully gripped her just tightly enough

Transition: We’re optimistic in the face of tough times, but we are also real about the challenges…

Transition Culture

Not many of us have lived at a time where we have seen the creation of a new newspaper.  I remember the launch of the Independent, and also of the rather rubbish and not-that-much-of-a-shame-it-went-out-of-business Today newspaper, and I guess I have, now I think about it, also witnessed the emergence of the Sun on Sunday.  Hmmm… this is already making me a bit depressed now I think about it, so on to the good news.  We have the great honour, ladies and gentlemen, of being alive at this time and being able to witness the emergence of Transition Free Press, a new national newspaper dedicated to the emergent marvel that is Transition.  How exciting is that?!

Transition Free Press will be a quarterly, 16 page, full colour, tabloid size newspaper, and is the creation of its core team, some of whom may be familiar to regular Transition Culture readers.  It is edited by Charlotte Du Cann, designed by Trucie Mitchell and Mihnea Damian, the news editor is Alexis Rowell, food and wellbeing editor is Tamzin Pinkerton, the subeditor is Mark Watson, Production Manager is Mike Grenville (who began the enterprise) and Jay Tompt is Business Manager who will take it forward.  What a team.

Here’s how they introduce the paper:

“You could say this is the worst and the best of times to be publishing in print. Worst because we are in a recession, at the tail end of an industrialised civilisation, where “growth at all costs” has begun to play out its consequences. Best because there is a whole new narrative out there, the happening story of Transition you might not see covered by mainstream media. That’s the story we’re aiming to tell.

The Macroeconomics of Chinese Kleptocracy…


China is a kleptocracy of a scale never seen before in human history. This post aims to explain how  this wave of theft is financed, what makes it sustainable and what will make it fail. There are several China experts I have chatted with – and many of the ideas are not original. The synthesis however is mine. Some sources do not want to be quoted.

The macroeconomic effects of the Chinese kleptocracy and the massive fixed-currency crisis in Europe are the dominant macroeconomic drivers of the global economy. As I am trying a comprehensive explanation for much of the world’s economy in less that two thousand words I expect some kick-back.

China is a kleptocracy. Get used to it.

I start this analysis with China being a kleptocracy – a country ruled by thieves. That is a bold assertion – but I am going to have to assert it. People I know deep in the weeds (that is people who have to deal with the PRC and the children of the PRC elite) accept it. My personal experience is more limited but includes the following:

(a). The children and relatives of CPC Central Committee members are amongst the beneficiaries of the wave of stock fraud in the US,

(b). The response to the wave of stock fraud in the US and Hong Kong has not been to crack down on the perpetrators of the stock fraud (so to make markets work better). It has been to make Chinese statutory accounts less available to make it harder to detect stock fraud.

(c). When given direct evidence of fraudulent accounts in the US filed by a large company with CPC family members as beneficiaries or management a big 4 audit firm will (possibly at the risk to their global franchise)

Monsanto: A Modern Day Plague…

City Watch Los Angeles

Monsanto’s history is one steeped with controversial products, deadly consequences, massive cover ups, political slight of hand, and culminates as a modern day plague on humanity, a plague that is about to peak to biblical proportions. Created in 1901, the company started producing its first form of poison, the artificial sweetener saccharin. The rise in use of saccharin really began 70 years later. Monsanto had plenty of time for a realistic and long term study on the impact of saccharin on human health. Instead, Monsanto learned how to finagle political support and grow its empire despite the growing consensus that saccharin caused cancer.

No surprise then that the company continued on a path of controversy. Here’s a bullet point history.

  • Contributed to the research on uranium, for the Manhattan Project, during WWII.
  • Operated a nuclear facility for the U.S. government until the late 1980s.
  • Top manufacturer of synthetic fibers, plastics and polystyrene (EPA’s 5th ranked chemical production that generates the most hazardous waste).
  • A top 10 US chemical company.
  • Agriculture pesticides producer.
  • Herbicide producer – herbicides 2,4,5-T, Agent Orange, Lasso, and DDT.
  • Agent Orange (used in Vietnam), had the highest levels of dioxin and contaminated more than 3 million civilians and servicemen of which only partial compensation awarded.
  • Nearly 500,000 Vietnamese children were born deformed and never compensated.
  • Lasso was banned in USA, so weed killer “Roundup” is launched

Being alive is by far your greatest achievement…


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

Today’s Farmer: Nine Hours Daily On A Computer

The Contrary Farmer

I promised not to use his name because I wanted him to speak freely which is not easy to do these days when society is in such conflict. He is a fortyish farmer, articulate, engaging, a delight to talk to. He and his brother grow upwards of 5000 acres of corn and soybeans, much of it rented. The first time I met him, several years go, I remembered him saying that a farmer needed to spend two hours a day on the computer, hedging and marketing his grain. Talking to him a few days ago, I recalled his remark and he smiled. “Make that 8 to 9 hours today,” he said. That included time he spent marketing for other farmers who evidently recognized his skill in this regard.

I was aghast. Just think of that: a man who considers himself a farmer spends his working day almost entirely in electronic grain marketing. His brother “tends to the farm machinery.” They employ five people and “we pay them very well because it is really difficult to find people who have a real work ethic.” (None of the hired help has gone to college and it occurred to me that here was an opportunity to make a good living without spending a hundred thousand dollars to get a degree. Are there any guidance counselors pointing this out?)

Meeting this farmer again, I decided to take advantage of his experience to ask my favorite question these days.  “I keep sticking my neck out and saying there’s going to be crash in farm land prices. Is that the case in your opinion?”

“Not yet,” he said. “Unlike the crash in the 80s, much of the land expansion now is being done with cash, not borrowed money. If prices drop, most farmers are in a better position to ride it out.”

“But accountants who handle farm business tell me that while farmers are paying half or more down with cash

Brain Pickings…



Anne Lamott might be best known as a nonfiction writer, but Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life affirms her as a formidable modern philosopher as well. The 1994 classic is as much a practical guide to the writer’s life as it is a profound wisdom-trove on the life of the heart and mind, with insight on everything from overcoming self-doubt to navigating the osmotic balance of intuition and rationality.

On the itch of writing, Lamott banters:

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

And on the grit that commits mind to paper, she counsels:

You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”

On why we read and write:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Take Action! Mendo Free Skool Summer Solstice Celebration Tomorrow Thursday 6/21/12


What: Mendo Free Skool Summer Solstice Celebration
When: Thursday, June 21st, 6:00-9:30 p.m.
Where: Ukiah Trinity School, 555 Hazel Ave.

[I will be reviving Neighbors Reading, a monthly gathering at Mulligan Books on First Fridays where our local neighbors will be reading favorite passages from favorite books, eventually to be carried live on Community TV… -DS]

Mendo Free Skool celebrates the upcoming summer quarter of classes, our extremely successful inaugural quarter, *and* the Summer Solstice at this informational potluck!  We will eat, share inspiring stories about the first quarter of classes (, and play games/music. This will be your first chance to snag Summer Session calendars.

All the Summer Session teachers will be on hand. This is the perfect opportunity to meet them and talk shop about the classes they are offering.

Summer Session class topics to include: permaculture, Ukiah bird watching, Being Human, Empowered Budgeting, Neighbors Reading, bread-making, meditation, greywater installation, palmistry, applesauce canning, local food foraging/harvesting, Mendo Anarchist Study Group, compost tea making, flower essences, tai chi, kim chi, local history, Derrick Jensen Reading Group, kickball, improvisational dance, Ukiah Bike Tours, and many, many others!!!

We are seeking a handful of volunteers to help the potluck run smoothly. If you can help out for an hour or two, please drop us a line at

A cooperative approach to living and learning, Mendo Free Skool

Welcome back to the Dark Ages…

Common Dreams
Thanks to Linda Sanders

We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world.  We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.

Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment.

Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages.


Two main things distinguished the post Enlightenment world from the pre Enlightenment Dark Ages.

First, Francis Bacon’s Novo Organum Scientiarum (The New Instrument of Science) introduced a new way of understanding the world, in which empiricism, facts and … well … reality … defined what was real. It essentially outlined the scientific method:  observation and data collection, formulation of hypotheses, experiments designed to test hypotheses and elevation of these hypotheses to theories when data consistently supported them.  It was and is a system based on skepticism, and a relentless and methodical search for truth.

It brought us advances

How Progress Happens…

Democracy Partners

The Presidents we revere historically for making progressive change weren’t exactly eager to do so. Abraham Lincoln did not go into office wanting or intending to emancipate the slaves. Teddy Roosevelt was open to reform but did little to nothing about food safety until the pressure kept building from the muckrakers and the book “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. Woodrow Wilson did nothing to help women’s suffrage until women started chaining themselves to the White House gate and getting arrested. FDR had to be constantly pushed by the labor movement to help on their agenda. And Jack and Bobby Kennedy had no plans to make civil rights a central issue in their legacy until the civil rights movement forced them to act.

The thrilling announcement from the Obama administration that they are going to stop targeting DREAM Act-eligible young people for deportation is a reminder of what progress requires in America: first, a movement that never stops fighting for justice; and second, a President with progressives in his base who is open to change. Presidents rarely change important things unless an effective movement presses them to do it, and movements with a conservative President in office rarely win anything that matters because the conservative base wouldn’t let it happen.

This change in deportation policy happened because immigrants’ rights groups wouldn’t back down, kept banging away, and had the courage to confront a President who at times got very irritable under the pressure. It didn’t happen when Bush was in office even though Bush and Rove wanted desperately to resolve the immigration issue to give Republicans an opening

James Houle: The Case for Production of Asphalt at the Harris Quarry…

Redwood Valley

We are all tired of the seemingly endless revisions to the Planning Department Report, the tiresome repetition of fear-inspiring stories concerning the mixing of asphalt with aggregate at the quarry, the merging of trucks into the traffic flow, and the inevitable asphyxiation of the small community who live several miles south of the quarry that is predicted by “Keep The Code”, their noisemakers.

During the past four to five years while this controversy has been plodding along, here are the results:

  1. The Planning Department and their consultants have wasted several hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies, printing cost and staff salaries merely attempting to get this “Keep the Code” crowd to rest easy. It has not worked.

  2. The county cannot meet its needs for asphalt and particularly for rubberized asphalt, the new standard paving material, from within its own boundaries and must pay outside contractors to produce and truck it into our projects. We have lost considerable revenue and payed extra fees for this transport to no benefit.

  3. Asphalt only has a one to two hour holding time between mixing and application. There are no other suitable quarry sites on major thoroughfares within the county where this plant could be relocated.

  4. Mendocino County has lost out for the past ten years on State compensation for the use of rubberized asphalt as a means of disposing of worn out tires. This loss amounts to

The Occupy Caravan: Dispatch From Reno…


As the Occupy Caravan roars east, organizer and Occupied Wall Street Journal editor Michael Levitin will be filing dispatches from the road. First up: Reno.

Our caravan of three vehicles with nine riders pulled into Reno a little before six o’clock on Monday afternoon as the hot Sierra sun was still beating down on dozens of bathers out splashing around by the rocks in the Truckee River.

At the Strega Bar on Arlington Street, a potluck spread was laid out for our arrival: quiche, lasagna, salad, crumble pie, strawberries—and lots of ale. We dove into conversation with a lively mix folks from Occupy Reno, about 30 in all, then headed out to march through the warm, deserted evening streets of “The Biggest Little City in the World” bearing signs, flags, some livestream cams and a chorus of chants—our voices united across cities and states on this first leg of the Occupy Caravan, which had left downtown Oakland at midday heading east.

That evening we pitched tents and settled into the backyard of Cathy Blaine. Dressed in a long-sleeved cotton shirt with rolled-up jeans and leather sandals, Cathy sat on her patio deck describing what led her, a 53-year-old middle class mother of two, to join the Occupy Movement. She had quit work as a massage therapist, she said, to stay home and raise two children but was thrust back out into the workforce—this time as a dermatological assistant—when the housing market crashed and she and her husband, Steve, a realtor, found themselves inches away from bankruptcy and losing their home.

Ann Patchett: Why Independent bookstores matter…



Hazardous Games

The story-line behind the convulsions shaking the money centers of the world is such a hopeless labyrinth of mathematical metaphysics because abstraction unto infinity is the last refuge of those seeking to evade reality. This is why individual human beings faced with terrible choices go crazy, and it is true of societies and nations, too.
     Reality is so boringly concrete. The facts just sit there implacably like dull cement bollards in a roadway, waiting for impact with objects in motion. These facts are as follows:
     The world is dead broke. (By “world” I mean those places where the electricity is on more than it is off.) The world spent all of its future capital to stage an orgy of blow-out development and then the future arrived and there was no money to run everything.
     To make matters worse, there are massive interest payments due on all that money misspent. Nobody has the means to pay the interest. All the activity around this fact is an Olympiad of money games that amount to musical chairs and hot potato, signifying that 1) there is not enough to go around, and 2) somebody has to end up stuck with a problem.
     The orgy averred to above coincided with the last years of cheap and abundant energy supplies to run the development. That’s over and done with, too, despite the strenuous efforts of wishful thinkers, cornucopian propagandists, and corporate racketeers to pretend that technological magic can make up for dwindling cheap supplies.
     The net effect of all this is that advanced societies all over the planet have entered a comprehensive compressive contraction

Harris Quarry Expansion Board Of Supervisors Hearing Tuesday 6/19…

Denuded hills of Harris Quarry lie open to industrial pollution and erosion —  Black Bart Road at 101

Thanks to Janie Sheppard

Board of Supervisors Public Hearing  on the Keep the Code appeal of the Use Permit for the Harris Quarry Expansion Project is Tuesday, June 19th Board of Supervisors Chambers, 501 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, at 10am. 

Please sign our petition to the Supervisors:

Please join Keep the Code and the public for input as to why the Supervisors should appeal the Planning Commission’s Use Permit for the project, which would allow building of a 300-ton-per-hour continuous mix asphalt plant, and the extraction of up to 200,000 cubic yards of rock from the hillside quarry.

Please come be seen and/or heard at the Public Hearing!  And bring a friend!

What you say will become part of the record for this case, which is important!

If you’d like to speak, and would like us to provide you with something to say, please e-mail us at, so we can coordinate with you.

And share the petition with friends. We have a goal of 3,000 signatures, and if each one of you would sign and share it with at least 3 friends, we could make a big splash and meet our petition goal! Each petition signature drops a letter in the BOS e-mail.

Todd Walton: Homelessness


I am currently in the throes of rewriting a novel I first completed in 2003, rewrote entirely in 2006, and then did not touch for six years. I have only undertaken this kind of extended creative venture a few times in my life because most of my long dormant creations do not stand the test of time for me; so I have no interest in spending another thousand hours remaking them. Nor would I have had the opportunity to rewrite any of these long slumbering works had I been a more successful writer with publishers and producers clambering for my works as I completed them the first time. In any case, these books and plays and screenplays I remake multiple times over the course of many years are my favorite creations, regardless of their commercial fates.

This novel I am rewriting is a quasi-autobiographical tale about a middle-aged man who invites a homeless woman and her four-year-old son to live with him. His relationship with the boy is loving and parental, his relationship with the woman in no way sexual, though sexuality is one of the larger subjects of the novel. And though I am still keenly interested in the book’s exploration of sexuality, I am most interested (at the moment) in the subject of homelessness, for I was reminded when I read this manuscript that homelessness has played a central role

Dave Smith: Let Us Now Praise Creative Men…


We are blessed with many creative people around our corner of the world here in Mendoland…  artists and writers and actors and musicians seem to congregate in abundance around Mendocino and Northern California mainly because, I suppose, we live in beautiful surroundings.

I would like to stop just a minute and stand in awe of a particularly rare creative talent shared by two men in our midst that I find magical. That is the ability to pull out of thin air an imaginative piece of writing against deadline.

Todd Walton and Tom Hine create interesting, topical, opinionated columns in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and Ukiah Daily Journal respectively. This is not the common commenting on today’s news that you find everywhere. This is local, original, intelligent, emotional, engaging, tragic, quirky, funny, pissed off writing… done against deadline, week in, week out, year after year after year.

I, for one, with gratitude, am amazed.

Books: Fermentation IS Culture…


[An Excerpt from The Art of Fermentation, just out and available now at special discount from Mulligan Books & Seeds, a Chelsea Green bookshop partner… DS]

From Publisher Chelsea Green: Sandor Katz — the nation’s foremost fermentation expert — has written a bible-sized book about his craft. Beyond sauerkraut, bread, and beer, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World takes readers into the outer realms of the theory and practice behind this edgy, traditional approach to food preservation. What follows is an excerpt from Katz’ introduction, but it can also serve as a kind of manifesto Local Heroes Doing Good Work…


[Local Heroes: Michael Flynn, Megan Watson, Leo Buc, Paul West, Carrie Staller. -DS]

20-educators and performing artists from Common Vision will arrive at a school in vegetable-oil powered buses to deliver a program that includes

  • A 40-min Theater assembly that weaves colorful stories, larger than life puppets, a live band, and relevant, engaging environmental education
  • Planting 15-30 fruit trees in the schoolyard with the students.  Varieties are numerous and school-year fruiting
  • Dynamic 45-minute arts workshops that focus on articulating vision and goals through words,  visual arts, and the painting of orchard signs
  • Fruit tree care workshop for teachers, parents, community members, groundskeepers, and sometimes students.
  • Installation of drip irrigation for the orchard
  • A day that the teachers and students will never forget!


Common Vision implements innovative strategies in sustainability with diverse communities and schools throughout California.  Focusing on fruit trees, local agriculture, renewable energy, and community engagement Common Vision uses inspirational education to create a healthier and more just society.

How We Roll

Common Vision brings inspiring and relevant earth education to diverse communities to cultivate dynamic and experienced leaders in sustainability practice and education. With a fleet of vegetable-powered vehicles, a dedicated staff, and big vision, Common Vision’s mobile operation weaves a wide network in California as it creates and inspires collaborations amongst schools, farms, volunteers, mentors, nurseries, musicians, and native peoples.


Gina Covina: Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op Meet…

Big Pink Beauties remain mild and sweet

Laughing Frog Farm

[Fifty summer vegetable varieties are now being grown for seed by local co-op farmers and gardeners, for Mendo/Lake farmers and gardeners, and why you should care… -DS]

Last Saturday we hosted the first farm/garden tour for members of the new Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op – lots of gardening info shared and progress compared, followed by a totally delicious potluck lunch featuring plants from each of our gardens — fresh turnips, kale, and lettuces, last year’s dried tomatoes and peppers, plus rhubarb pie. We also taste-tested the radish varieties and some of the lettuces from our current trials. Among six radishes the winner by a slim margin was Pink Beauty. The lettuces were even harder to judge, being almost equally delicious, but Mayan Jaguar (bred by Wild Garden Seeds) and Marvel of Four Seasons (from seed selected and grown by Julianne Ash of Anacortes, Washington) edged out the others. The variety trials continue, as we wait to see who holds their flavor and refrains from bolting as the weather warms.

The seed growers co-op enters its first season with lots of yummy locally adapted vegetable crops planted in 18 different locations. Growers range from veteran seed-saving market gardeners to beginning seed-savers with backyard plots. There are even a few politically motivated gardening newbies. Yes – rescuing the genetic heritage of our food sources from the jaws of Monsanto, one heirloom variety at a time, and just in time. The geographical hub of this activity is Laytonville – ideally situated for seed-saving with widely scattered gardens tucked in the folds of forested hills. There are also participating growers in Willits, Redwood Valley, Ukiah, Hopland, and on the coast.

Fifty summer vegetable varieties are being grown for seed by co-op gardeners. Among them are two notable pole beans that have both been saved in Mendocino County for many years: Rattlesnake, in Laytonville, and what we can call

Dave Pollard: A Clear, Actionable Platform for Those Who Care About Earth’s Future

progress cartoonCartoon by Barry Deutsch of Alas, A Blog fame, in ZMag.

How To Save The World

Back in February, I wrote about the frustration of citizens being offered “stimulus” (to restore “growth”) and “austerity” (to reduce debt levels) as the only choices for an economic platform, and why both of these “options” will only accelerate the pace of collapse of our economy and our civilization culture. I concluded the post by proposing a 4-point alternative platform I call “Plan C”:

  1. End the wars: Immediately cease the imperialist and resource wars being waged by affluent nations against struggling nations all over the world, and the ideological and futile wars on “terror” and on drugs and “illegal” immigrants.
  2. End corporate subsidies: Eliminate all agricultural, energy, military and other corporate subsidies, and instead provide incentives for new small business creation and employment.
  3. Replace “free” trade with “fair” trade to reinvigorate domestic work and employment. Cancel globalist trade treaties like NAFTA and those of the WTO. This will provide an enormous boost to local economies, and save valuable energy used in long-distance transportation. And while we’re at it, forgive struggling nations’ debts: These nations will only be able to achieve self-sufficiency and democracy if we give them back the land and resources we’ve stolen from them, and let them make a fresh start.
  4. Radically simplify tax laws and really enforce them: Current tax codes in most countries are so complicated that the rich who can afford to pay for expensive tax evasion schemes end up paying less than the rest of us. A simple tax code that computes your year-end global net worth and the annual change in it, and taxes a certain portion of each, with no deductions or exemptions or loopholes, on a graduated scale, could generate vastly more tax revenue, more fairly, with much less effort by everyone, even if those with income

Gene Logsdon: Can Garden Farming Be Too Successful?


This is just mischievous philosophical musing. Don’t take me too seriously.  On the other hand…

One of my favorite  books is the classic “Farmers of Forty Centuries” by F.H. King, written in 1911. It details the way food was produced in much of Asia for something like four thousand years and still is in many places there. It was, according to King who traveled the area at that time, an amazing kind of small scale agriculture that, without chemical fertilizer or power machinery of any kind was producing more food per acre at the beginning of the 20th century than farming in America then or now. The way the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese returned all organic wastes, including human manure, to the soil was an absolutely triumphant model of sustainable farming. Some of the production figures from that time, over a century ago, seem almost unbelievable even today, and it all happened without Monsanto Claus if you can imagine that. Author King writes of farms in Japan which were producing food enough for 240 people, 24 donkeys, and 24 pigs per 40 acres, a size of farm that in the United States at that time would be regarded, he says, as too small to support a single family. Some 500,000,000 people (the present population of the U.S. of course is around 300,000,000) were being fed in the Far East upon the products of an area smaller than all the improved farm land of the United States in 1911. These garden farms hardly averaged one to two acres each. With a climate similar to our mid-south to lower corn belt area, these tiny farms sometimes grew three and even four crops per year on the same land. So precious were organic fertilizers that a private contractor paid the city of Shanghai $31,000, gold, for 78,000 tons of human waste which the contractor removed from residences and public places at his own cost— and felt privileged to be able to do so, says King because he was going to resell it to farmers.

To maintain ultra- high production, hundreds of miles of canals