Around the web
“What Is Man?”, published by Mark Twain in 1906, is a dialogue between a Young Man and an Old Man regarding the nature of man. The title refers to Psalm 8:4, which begins “what is man, that you are mindful of him…”.
It involves ideas of destiny and free will, as well as of psychological egoism. The Old Man asserts that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more, driven by the singular purpose to satisfy his own desires and achieve peace of mind. The Young Man objects, and asks him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.
The work appears to be a genuine and earnest debate of his opinions about human nature, rather than satirical. Twain held views similar to that of the Old Man prior to writing “What is Man?”. However, he seems to have varied in his opinions of human freedom.
It was published anonymously in 1906 and received such little attention Twain claimed to have regretted its publication. After his death in 1910, the New-York Tribune published a feature on it. Criticism at that time focused on its dark and antireligious nature.
Isaac Asimov apparently had in mind this story when he wrote “… That Thou Art Mindful of Him”, since Asimov’s title is from the same Bible verse, and two of Asimov’s robots debate the same subject.]
BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below.
The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke.
Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs.
They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations.
From George Monbiot
Crisis after crisis is being caused by a failed ideology. But it cannot be stopped without a coherent alternative.
It’s as if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?
Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007-8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
From Thom Hartmann
On Sunday, thousands of activists from around the country arrived right here in Washington, D.C. after a 10-day-long, 140 mile march from Philadelphia.
The marchers are part of a movement called Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening, and today they staged a sit-in at the Capitol Building. They plan on camping out there through the end of the week.
All of this is part of a massive, non-violent campaign to save our democracy from oligarchy.
Democracy Spring activists are calling on Congress to take action right now on a group of different bills that would take money out of politics once-and-for-all.
From John Michael Greer
[…] a few journalists have managed to get past the usual crass stereotypes, and talk about the actual reasons why so many voters have decided to back Donald Trump’s aspirations this year. I was startled to see a thoughtful article by Peggy Noonan along those lines in the Wall Street Journal, and even more astonished to see pieces making similar points in other media outlets—here’s an example,, and here’s another.
Mind you, none of the articles that I saw quite managed to grapple with the raw reality of the situation that’s driving so many wage-earning Americans to place their last remaining hopes for the future on Donald Trump. Even Noonan’s piece, though it’s better than most and makes an important point we’ll examine later, falls short. In her analysis, what’s wrong is that a privileged subset of Americans have been protected from the impacts of the last few decades of public policy, while the rest of us haven’t had that luxury. This is true, of course, but it considerably understates things. The class she’s talking about—the more affluent half or so of the salary class, to use the taxonomy I suggested in my post—hasn’t simply been protected from the troubles affecting other Americans. They’ve profited, directly and indirectly, from the policies that have plunged much of the wage class into impoverishment and misery, and their reliable response to any attempt to discuss that awkward detail shows tolerably clearly that a good many of them are well aware of it.
I’m thinking here, among many other examples along the same lines, of a revealing article earlier this year from a reporter who attended a feminist conference on sexism in the workplace. All the talk there was about how women in the salary class could improve their own prospects for promotion and the like. It so happened that the reporter’s sister works in a wage-class job, and she quite sensibly inquired whether the conference might spare a little time to discuss ways to improve prospects for women who don’t happen to belong to the salary class. Those of my readers who have seen discussions of this kind know exactly what happened next: a bit of visible discomfort, a few vaguely approving comments, and then a resumption of the previous subjects as though no one had made so embarrassing a suggestion.
Fukushima — Nuclear Engineer: Alarm bells are going off over Fukushima plume coming to US West Coast. We’ve contaminated the biggest source of water on planet, and there’s no way to stop it…
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen on Fukushima@5, Mar 7, 2016 (emphasis added): Massive amounts of radiation continue to enter Japan’s water and air, and the Pacific Ocean, daily… Due to its triple meltdowns and the unmitigable radioactive releases, Fukushima Daiichi will continue to bleed radiation into the Pacific Ocean for more than a century… There is no road map to follow with directions to stop the ongoing debacle…
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen on KPFA, Mar 30, 2016: [Univ. of California] Berkeley’s nuclear program has been in the forefront of the pro-nuclear propaganda for decades, and since Fukushima has been aggressively downplaying the significance of it. So, whatever comes out of Berkeley, I just attribute to a very pro-nuclear faculty… [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is] measuring 1,000 miles offshore [of the US West Coast] and… picking up 10 becquerels per cubic meter [Bq/m3]. At my point, that’s when my alarm bells go off is 10 [Bq/m3]… That plume is still coming, the Pacific is a huge place and to think that a disaster on the opposite side of the world can be detected and begin to contaminate California, I think that the monumental shattering conclusion [is] radiation knows no borders… So this ‘dilution is the solution to pollution’ is what I think Berkeley believes in. What you can be sure of is that somebody’s going to die from the radiation that’s in the Pacific, but you just won’t know who it is – and they’re counting on that. The nuclear establishment is saying, ‘Well, we can smear that out in a broader epidemiological study.’
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen on CCTV, Apr 5, 2016: We’re looking at newspaper coverage from the last couple of weeks and it’s clear that the plant continues to hemorrhage.
Fairewinds Japan Speaking Tour Series No. 1, Feb 12, 2016:
- Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen: [T]he Fukushima power plants… continues to bleed into the Pacific every day. But what no one is paying any attention to is that the entire mountain range that runs 100 miles up and down this coast is also contaminated. And as much radiation is pouring out… into the Pacific from the mountain range because it’s so contaminated, as from the Fukushima site… in fact, they’ve got an entire state pouring radiation into the Pacific. So what’s in the Pacific? Off of California, they’re finding radiation at what I would consider significant levels… in a cubic meter of ocean water, they’re finding 10 radioactive decays every second… So a cubic meter of water, if you’re in a dark room, would have 10 flashes of light every second, and that’s going to go on for 300 years. So we have contaminated the biggest source of water on the planet, and there’s no way to stop it.
- Maggie Gundersen, founder of Fairewinds: So are you saying that the contaminated water problem is hopeless? Is there nothing we can do to slow it down?
- Arnie Gundersen: It used to be that scientists believed dilution is the solution to pollution. But I think we’re finding with the biggest body of water on the planet, that you can’t dilute this stuff. And we’re going to begin to see this bio-accumulation, which is all the fish that are in the ocean are going to uptake the cesium and the strontium and become more and more and more radioactive…
The Art of Living: The Great Humanistic Philosopher Erich Fromm on Having vs. Being and How to Set Ourselves Free from the Chains of Our Culture…
“The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.”
A pioneer of what he called “radical-humanistic psychoanalysis,” the great German social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900–March 18, 1980) was one of the most luminous minds of the twentieth century and a fountain of salve for the most abiding struggles of being human.
In the mid-1970s, twenty years after his influential treatise on the art of loving and four decades after legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead turned to him for difficult advice, Fromm became interested in the most basic, most challenging art of human life — the art of being. At the height of a new era that had begun prioritizing products over people and consumption over creativity, Fromm penned a short, potent book titled To Have or To Be? — an inquiry into how the great promise of progress, seeded by the Industrial Revolution, failed us in our most elemental search for meaning and well-being. But the question proved far too complex to tackle in a single volume, so Fromm left out a significant portion of his manuscript.
Those pages, in many ways even richer and more insightful than the original book, were later published as The Art of Being (public library) — a sort of field guide, all the timelier today, to how we can shift from the having mode of existence, which is systematically syphoning our happiness, to a being mode.
Fromm frames the inquiry:
Organic farm, Alamar, Cuba. Melanie Lukesh Reed/Flickr
President Obama’s trip to Cuba last week accelerated the warming of U.S.-Cuban relations. Many people in both countries believe that normalizing relations will spur investment that can help Cuba develop its economy and improve life for its citizens.
But in agriculture, U.S. investment could cause harm instead.
For the past 35 years I have studied agroecology in most countries in Central and South America. Agroecology is an approach to farming that developed in the late 1970s in Latin America as a reaction against the top-down, technology-intensive and environmentally destructive strategy that characterizes modern industrial agriculture. It encourages local production by small-scale farmers, using sustainable strategies and combining Western knowledge with traditional expertise.
Cuba took this approach out of necessity when its economic partner, the Soviet bloc, dissolved in the early 1990s. As a result, Cuban farming has become a leading example of ecological agriculture.
But if relations with U.S. agribusiness companies are not managed carefully, Cuba could revert to an industrial approach that relies on mechanization, transgenic crops and agrochemicals, rolling back the revolutionary gains that its campesinos have achieved.
The shift to peasant agroecology
From The Guardian
In his new book, Deep South, Paul Theroux explores the depressed pockets of America that, he says, have incubated an anger and despair fueling Trump’s rise
Why is Donald Trump popular? Travelling around America’s south for his most recent book Deep South, the writer Paul Theroux got some ideas. “It’s the gun show guys,” he says, sitting in his Hawaii home. “Virtually everything Donald Trump says, you can find on a gun show bumper sticker. Anti-Obama stuff, anti-Muslim stuff, anti-Mexican stuff, anti-immigrant stuff.”
The 74-year-old warms to his theme. “Gun shows are about hating and distrusting the government … people who have been oppressed by a bad economy, by outsourcing. They have a lot of legitimate grievances and a lot of imagined grievances. There is this paranoid notion that Washington is trying to take their guns away, take their manhood away, take this symbol of independence away. They feel defeated. They hate the Republican party, too. They feel very isolated.”
Theroux reflects on Trumpmania dominating the Republican primaries and caucuses. “It’s a whole undercurrent of feeling that runs all the way through the United States. The mood I saw in southern gun shows seems to resonate even with educated, white-collar, Massachusetts Republican voters. Because Trump won my state of Massachusetts, he won a fairly sizable majority.”
The writer witnessed the striking economic and cultural impact of outsourcing in southern towns such as Alabama’s Greensboro and Allendale. He sharply evokes Flowers Lane’s hovels and trailers, writing: “The heat made it all the smellier, as of roasted flatulence. It was the smell of poverty, a stink that no one, not even someone in the submerged 20th, could get used to.”
Theroux emphasises that 20% of southerners, black and white, below the poverty line need help. “Manufacturing has been outsourced. Their jobs have been taken away, so there’s nothing for them to do. They sit crowded together in their shack and watch a jumbly picture on a TV set. It’s very distressing.
“You don’t see that in many other countries. The level of poverty, and the level of despair, too. Of people thinking, ‘Nothing’s ever going to happen to me. I will never go to college, I will never get healthcare’.”
From John Pilger
From Pol Pot to ISIS: The blood never dried
16 November 2015
In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies and everything that moves”. As Barack Obama wages his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Francois Hollande promises a “merciless” attack on the rubble of Syria, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
Christopher Hitchens investigates whether Mother Teresa of Calcutta deserves her saintly image. Probes her campaigns against contraception and abortion and her relationships with right-wing political leaders. Contributors include the cameraman who worked on the 1969 film `Mother Teresa of Calcutta’ which was presented by Malcolm Muggeridge, the journalist Mihir Bose, and former volunteer Mary Loudon.
From Popular Resistance
Sometimes, when in the midst of transformational change, it is difficult to recognize that it is happening.
We are in a transformational moment now. The new political culture that erupted with the occupy movement in 2011, but which has roots going back decades, and its evolution into activism on key fronts of struggle such as wages, racism, trade, militarism, capitalism and other issues, has grown to be so impactful that it is fracturing the two corporate political parties.
A lot of change is occurring on many fronts. That should encourage all of us to keep building the movement of movements so we can create the transformation we need.
Metaphor for Transformation: Dying of Nuclear & Carbon Energy, Rise of Solar
From The Guardian
A rise in atheist funerals shows that fewer of us need to rely on faith when confronted with mortality…
For centuries, the Christian church wrote the script for how westerners deal with death. There was the deathbed confession, the last rites, the pallbearers, the obligatory altar call, the burial ceremony, the stone, the angels-and-harps imagery. Yet that archaic and stereotypical vision of death, like a mossy and weather-worn statue, is crumbling – and in its place, something new and better has a chance to grow.
Traditional funerals and burials are declining in popularity (to the point where churches are bemoaning the trend), in favor of alternatives like green burial and cremation. Personalized humanist funerals and secular celebrants are becoming more common, echoing a trend that’s also occurring with weddings.
As younger generations turn away from religion, the US is slowly but surely becoming more secular. As mortician and “good death” advocate Caitlin Doughty writes in her book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, America is seeing a sea-change in traditions and rituals surrounding mortality.
Doughty and others see this shift not as something to be lamented, but to be embraced. Instead of following a script that’s been written for us, we can create our own customs and choose for ourselves how we want to be remembered. We can design funerals that emphasize the good we did, the moments that made our lives meaningful and the lessons we’d like to pass on.
Hand of the Almighty
Oh, sinner, do not stray
From the straight and narrow way
For the Lord is surely watching what you do
If you approach the Devil’s den
Turn round don’t enter in
Lest the hand of the almighty fall on you.
He’ll fuck you up (he’ll fuck you up)
Yes, God will fuck you up
If you dare to disobey his stern command.
He’ll fuck you up (he’ll fuck you up)
Don’t you know he’ll fuck you up
So you better do some prayin’ while you can.
Long ago a man named Lot
Had a wife he thought was hot
But she could not stop her black and sinful ways.
You know it was her own damn fault
When God turned that bitch to salt.
That’s the way he used to work back in those days:
He fucked ’em up (he fucked ’em up)
He really fucked ’em up
When the people went and turned their backs on him
He can fuck you up (he’ll fuck you up)
No shit he’ll fuck you up
Just like he fucked the people up back then.
I used to have a friend named Ray
Who walked that evil way
He cursed and drank and broke his neighbors fence
You know Ray was full aware
That some sheep were over there
And he knew them in the Biblical sense.
God fucked him up (he fucked him up)
He went and fucked Ray up
Went and paid him back for all his wicked sins.
He fucked him up (he fucked him up)
Fucked that boy completely up
Now he’s married to a Presbyterian.
From The Humanist
In his essay, “Humanist Literature in Perspective,”Dr. Arthur Dobrin, professor emeritus at Hofstra University and leader emeritus of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, writes,
‘Humanist literature’ is an ambiguous term. Does it refer to that which has been written by humanists about humanism; and what is literature? …It is my contention that without fiction and poetry, i.e., imaginative literature, a humanist is only half-literate.
Dobrin then contends that “humanists read mostly works in the social sciences, science, philosophy, politics, biography, and current events. Missing from this list is fiction and poetry.” He adds that literature is unique in that “it makes us feel what it means to be human, what one person experiences, what one person feels.”
When it comes to literature that explores the various dimensions of the humanist philosophy and way of life, humanists have much to choose from, including books written by Humanist of the Year recipients Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Joyce Carol Oates, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Alice Walker, along with works by prominent humanists Phillip Pullman and Salman Rushdie, and other authors published through the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Press.
Below, we suggest ten authors (in alphabetical order) to add to your reading list (if they’re not on it already) whose novels and collections of short stories carry humanistic themes.
From Valerie Tarico
“The Evangelical “brand” has gone from being an asset to a liability, and it is helpful to understand the transition in precisely those terms.”
Back before 9/11 indelibly linked Islam with terrorism, back before the top association to “Catholic priest” was “pedophile,” most Americans—even nonreligious Americans—thought of religion as benign. I’m not religious myself, people would say, but what’s the harm if it gives someone else a little comfort or pleasure.
Back then, people associated Christianity with kindness and said things like, “That’s not very Christian of him,” when a person acted stingy or mean; and nobody except Evangelical Christians knew the difference between Evangelicalism and more open, inquiring forms of Christianity.
Those days are over. Islam will be forever tainted by Islamist brutalities, by images of bombings, beheadings, and burkas. The collar and cassock will forever evoke the image of bishops turning their backs while priests rub themselves on altar boys. And thanks to the fact that American Evangelical leaders sold their congregations to the Republican Party in exchange for political power, Evangelical Christianity is now distinctive—and widely despised.
Another way to put this is that the Evangelical “brand” has gone from being an asset to a liability, and it is helpful to understand the transition in precisely those terms.
From Green World
We continue to hear the same old arguments over and over again–in comments in these pages, in blogs and newspaper op-eds, in press releases and out of the mouths of those utility execs trying to hold on to the 20th century model of electricity generation and distribution, and, most depressingly, in the U.S. Senate which passed by a resounding 87-4 vote legislation to encourage new nuclear power development.
The arguments go like this: Germany’s Energiewende energy transition is failing; renewables are fine, but they can’t provide baseload power and thus can’t reliably power a modern industrial society; renewables are still too expensive without subsidies; we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy to combat climate change; new generation reactors will be safer, cheaper and also effectively deal with radioactive waste, and so on.
Well, that last one is a whopper and has been promised since nuclear power first emerged–call us when one of these Generation IV reactors actually exists and is providing cheap, safe, waste-free, reliable electricity–but the reality is none of these arguments, though some on their surface may seem reasonable, hold water any longer.
The reality is that a nuclear-free, carbon-free electricity future need not be the future: it can be the present. A system powered 100% by renewables supported by a backbone of electricity storage, smart grid technology and management, energy efficiency, and 21st century technology is feasible now. If by some magic wand we could do away with the world’s entire electrical system and replace it overnight, that is what we would replace it with. It’s the only kind of system that would make sense.
From Bite Club
[Updated From Original]
Amy’s Menu and Sustainable Building In Rohnert Park On Their Website Here
[We’ve checked it out. Yum! -ds]
How long does it take to develop a veggie burger that could go toe-to-toe with In-N-Out? Roughly two years. Or, at least that’s how long the R&D team at Amy’s Kitchen has been working on the double-stack burger for their fast-food eatery.
“We’ve grilled enough burgers (in the R&D lab) to run the restaurant for a month and a half. Multiple times,” said head food developer Fred Scarpulla. Trial and error can be delicious, but not necessarily easy. Not to mention that everything on the menu comes in vegan and gluten-free versions. So that’s another whole set of recipe testing.
The menu includes not just the burgers, but meatless chili cheese fries, milkshakes, mac and cheese, personal pizzas, burritos, salads and natural sodas made with GMO-free, organic ingredients, many of which are sourced locally. More than rehashed versions of their frozen meals, these are dishes that have been entirely created for a fast-food experience.
“We make it all, and we make it from scratch, said Scarpulla. That also includes the potatoes, which are specially grown for the company. “We’ve tasted every kind of potato to find the perfect potato,” said co-owner Rachel Berliner.
“I’m super excited to pull up and just get this food to go,” said Rachel. “I’m that person.”
How many times have you asked yourself why someone can’t come up with a healthier version of fast food? Amy’s may have just cracked the code.
Expect to pay under $10 for a double cheeseburger, fries and a shake, and less than $5 for a burrito.
How does the food we eat affect us as people? Michael Pollan’s books—The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked, In Defense of Food, and others—consider the history and science behind the way we eat, and how our eating habits have changed over time. His books often lead us on a sort of journey: in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he spends a few weeks farming with Joel Salatin, then goes on to learn how to forage for mushrooms and hunt wild boar. His journeys are usually structured around a question about food and our relationship to it: why do we farm this way? Is eating meat ethical? Is there a right—or better—way to eat than our current one?
“Cooked,” a documentary just released on Netflix, takes Pollan’s book of the same name and gives it cinematic color and texture. It’s divided into four segments, each named after one of the four classical elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth (or, according to their primary subject matter: Meat, Soup, Bread, and Cheese). It’s a journey into our oldest traditions of cooking: from roasting meat on a spit, to preparing cheese in old wooden barrels, to making kimchi. Throughout, Pollan considers why cooking has developed in the way it has, and why the old traditions—baking bread from scratch, say, or fermenting our vegetables—are important and worth preserving. In this way, it’s a rather conservative piece.
“Cooked” crams a lot of material into four 50 to 58-minute segments. Parts feel a bit rushed. Additionally, crusader that he is, much of Pollan’s documentary levels a variety of attacks at big business and capitalism for all our current food woes; it’s the advertising industry, he believes, that have undermined our old traditions of cooking. And while there’s some truth to this, less considered are the ways in which the decline of private association and the family may have also affected our eating habits. After all, in a home where no one is ever at home, there isn’t really time to cultivate the cooking habits of yesteryear.
Pollan, in the documentary’s “Air” episode, targets food companies in the 1950s who convinced housewives they could do better buying canned goods and Wonder Bread than making meals from scratch. “The collapse of cooking can be interpreted as a byproduct of feminism, but it’s a lot more complicated and a lot more interesting than that,” Pollan said in an interview with Mother Jones. “Getting it right in the film took some time, but it was important to tell the story of the insinuation of industry into our kitchens, and show how the decline of cooking was a supply-driven phenomenon.”