Books

Book Review: The Myth of Human Supremacy

 

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From Max Wilbert

I’ve just finished reading Derrick Jensen’s new book The Myth of Human Supremacy (2016, 7 Stories Press).

In Derrick’s style, the book jumps from philosophy to neurobiology, from direct experience of relationship with non-humans to discussions of ethnocentrism. Although some have difficulty with this style, it’s elegant to me; in short strokes, he paints a picture larger than the sum of its parts.

Human supremacy is a fragile system. To be maintained, it must silence the near-daily experiences and messages from the more-than-human that demonstrate intelligence, morality, complexity, and other characteristics that, under western science, are reserved only for humans.

Even in someone like me, who was raised with anti-racist, feminist, anti-empire politics and brought up living alongside a wide variety of non-humans, human supremacy is ingrained. It’s built into the foundations of our culture.

I’ve often been told that one of the most important tasks for non-indigenous people is to decolonize our hearts and mind. This book contributes to that process by helping the reader understand and deconstruct human supremacy step-by-step.

The Blue State Model How the Democrats Created a “Liberalism of the Rich”

 

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From Thomas Frank
TomGram

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?(Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

Brenda Ueland: The Art of Listening…

 

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From Brenda Upland (1891 – 1985)
Author of If You Want To Write

It is through this creative process
that we at once love and are loved

I want to write about the great and powerful thing that listening is. And how we forget it. And how we don’t listen to our children, or those we love. And least of all – which is so important, too – to those we do not love. But we should. Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.

This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.

Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners; that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself.

When we listen to people there is an alternating current that recharges us so we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.

Book Review: The Untenability of Faitheism…

 

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From Steven Pinker
Cell.com

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His most recent book is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, Jerry Coyne, Viking Penguin, New York, 2015. ISBN: 0670026530.

Between 2005 and 2007, a quartet of bestsellers by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens launched the New Atheism. Emboldened by the growing success of science in explaining the world (including our own minds), inspired by new research on the sources of religious belief, and galvanized by the baleful influence of religion in world affairs (particularly 9/11 and its aftermath), these Four Horsemen of the New Atheism — as they came to be called — pressed the case that God does not exist and that many aspects of organized religion are pernicious.

Though in the ensuing decade a growing sliver of the population has become disenchanted with religion, the majority of Americans still believe in God. Indeed, even many intellectuals — including scientists — are not ready to let go of religion. Few sophisticated people, of course, profess a belief in the literal truth of the Bible or in a God who flouts the laws of physics. But whether it comes from a loyalty to family and tribe, a fear of alienating purse-string-holding politicians and foundations, or a reluctance to concede that nerdy scientists might be right about the most fundamental questions of existence, many intellectuals have proclaimed that the new atheists have gone too far and that key components of religion are worth salvaging.

The backlash against the New Atheists has given rise to a new consensus among faith-friendly intellectuals, and their counterattack is remarkably consistent across critics with little else in common. The new atheists are too shrill and militant, they say, and just as extreme as the fundamentalists they criticize. They are preaching to the choir, and only driving moderates into the arms of religion. People will never be disabused of their religious beliefs, and perhaps they should not be, because societies need unifying creeds to promote altruism and social cohesion. Anyway, most people treat religious doctrine allegorically rather than literally, and even if they do treat it literally, it’s not these folk beliefs that serious thinkers should engage with, but rather the sophisticated versions of religion worked out by erudite theologians.

Wendell Berry: Home Economics

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Excerpts from Home Economics (1987)

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

7 Reasons You Should Give ‘War and Peace’ A Chance…

t From HuffPost

Summer, for many of us, offers a few of those long, unbroken stretches of time that, unlike the rest of our hurried, fragmented lives, positively cry out for a great big, abiding read. So perhaps this is the moment finally to tackle War and Peace. Widely acknowledged as the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is also a perennial bestseller, with new editions appearing regularly, almost a century and a half after its first publication. Here are just a few of the reasons Tolstoy’s epic continues to entertain, enlighten, and inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds, and why you, too, may want to consider putting it at the top of your summer reading list:

1. It’s a mirror of our time. At its core War and Peace is a book about people trying to find their footing in a world being turned upside down by war, social and political change, and spiritual confusion. The existential angst of Tolstoy and his characters is entirely familiar to those of us living at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and his novel has important things to say to us in this moment. Over and over again the book shows how moments of crisis can either shut us down or open us up, helping us to tap into our deepest reservoirs of strength and creativity.

Greenwald Against the Establishment…


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From AntiWar.com

[Available locally from The Mendocino Book Company]

Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, is many things: an account of his relationship with Snowden, an indictment of political leaders who have used the pretext of “terrorism” to mask their unlimited power-lust, a technical analysis (complete with illustrations culled from the National Security Agency’s own secret archives) of America’s emerging police state. Most significant and enjoyable for me, however, it is a searing indictment of what “mainstream” journalists have become – servitors of a corrupt political class blinded by their own arrogance.

Children’s Book About the Virtues of Saying “I Don’t Know” is Free to Download…


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From The Friendly Atheist

Last year, Annaka Harris published a children’s book that was ideal for freethinking parents. It was called I Wonder and it was about a little girl who learned that it was perfectly fine to say “I don’t know” regarding the mysteries of the universe.

From now through Mother’s Day (May 11), you can download a PDF of the book for free. Get it while you can, even if you don’t have children, because it’s a fine example of Humanist values showcased in a very accessible format. We need more books like this….
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28 Books You Should Read If You Want To…


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From The Millions

Earlier this month Amazon released a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. It joins Esquire’s 80 Books Every Man Should Read, The Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read, Huffington Post’s more manageable 30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30, and The Guardian’s ambitious and inflexible 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.

These lists serve a purpose if you’re Jay Gatsby furnishing a library or if you’ve, say, just arrived from Mars and have no knowledge of Earth books. What they miss is that one of the greatest rewards of a reading life is discovery. In my 10 years working at bookstores, no one ever came in and asked me what they should read before their death — they would ask me what my favorite book was, or if there were any great new books no one was talking about, or they would just want me to leave them alone so they could explore on their own.

I discovered one of my favorite books because the author called our store and charmed the living daylights out of me. I found another in a box of old books that my Russian literature professor left outside his office to give away. So while I do think that you should read the canon if it interests you, I think it’s more important that you read the books that find their own way into your hands.

Why Read the Classics?


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From New York Review of Books

Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh

Let us begin with a few suggested definitions.

1) The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say: “I am rereading…” and never “I am reading….”

This at least happens among those who consider themselves “very well read.” It does not hold good for young people at the age when they first encounter the world, and the classics as a part of that world.

The reiterative prefix before the verb “read” may be a small hypocrisy on the part of people ashamed to admit they have not read a famous book. To reassure them, we need only observe that, however vast any person’s basic reading may be, there still remain an enormous number of fundamental works that he has not read.

Hands up, anyone who has read the whole of Herodotus and the whole of Thucydides! And Saint-Simon? And Cardinal de Retz?

Book Review: After Oil — SciFi Visions Of A Post-Petroleum World…


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“Science fiction is a metaphor, but it is not for predicting the future.” These are the words of science fiction visionary James Cameron, the filmmaker behind such classics as 
TerminatorTitanic and Avatar.* When Cameron made this statement, he was trying to combat one of the most widely held misconceptions about science fiction, which is that it seeks to foretell the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is wrongheaded to fault science fiction storytellers for wrong predictions or credit them for right ones, when most see themselves not as envisioning the future at all, but rather as weaving imaginative tales set in possible futures.

Certainly the authors featured in the short story collection After Oil: SF Visions Of A Post-Petroleum World would resist being pegged as future-seers. Their sole ambition is to spin entertaining yarns set in plausible versions of the near future. These futures aren’t consistent with one another, as they would be in a shared-world anthology, whose authors deliberately set their stories in a common setting. Instead, they comprise a series of unrelated, self-contained “what-ifs.” Their authors all responded to a call for short story submissions on the blog site of scholar and futurist John Michael Greer in the fall of 2011. Greer had resolved to secure a publishing contract for the first-ever anthology of post-oil-age fiction. In the weeks that followed, Greer received many excellent stories, landed a publishing contract

You Must Read Kevin Barry…


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From BILL MORRIS
The Millions

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When I wrote an over-the-moon review of Kevin Barry’s debut novel, City of Bohane, here last year, I thought I was letting readers in on a well-kept secret.  I thought wrong. The book got acres of good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic – along with a growing army of devoted readers – and it went on to win the IMPAC Dublin Award, one of the world’s richest literary prizes, besting such brand-name authors as Michel Houellebecq and Haruki Murakami.

Now Barry is back with a new collection of stories called Dark Lies the Island, his second. It shares the virtues that made Bohane such an astonishment – prose that rollicks and judders and constantly delights; a keen ear for the spoken language of Barry’s native western Ireland; and above all, at least in the very best stories, a way of lassoing moments of mystery that have the power to transform the lives of Barry’s characters, a motley Irish medley of disturbed young women, devious old spinsters, blocked poets, thugs, boozers, exiles, and tortured civil servants. There is rich music, high humor, and deep blackness on every page.

 
I believe this collection of 13 stories can be divided into two roughly equal halves. Half of them are not so much fully formed stories as sketches, riffs, slices of life. If this sets them in a minor key, they are nonetheless uniformly compelling. In “Across the Rooftops,” for instance, two young people fail to connect with a first kiss. End of story. In “Wistful England,” a lovelorn Irishman lives in misery in East London with a bunch of alcoholic ruffians until, one boozy night, his old lover reappears, then promptly vanishes. End of story. In “The Mainland Campaign,” an I.R.A. bomber plants a bomb in a guitar case in a London bookstall, then boards a bus with a blonde German girl. End of story.

Doesn’t sound like much, but there are fully lived lives in all of these sketches, and the writing is a seamless marvel.

Book Review: ‘This Town’ by Mark Leibovich…


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 This Town

From CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
NYT

Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies. And in case you are deluded enough as to think they care, you’ll learn that they already hate you. He quotes his former Washington Post colleague Henry ­Allen: ­“Washington feels like a conspiracy we’re all in together, and nobody else in America quite understands, even though they pay for it.”

Contrary to the subtitle, there are actually two funerals, which constitute the high — and low — points of the book:

There Will Always Be a Place for Great Bookstores…


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From PETER OSNOS
The Atlantic

The business of publishing and selling books will continue its radical change. But some things are eternal.

There have been many changes over the decades in the way books are sold. Today, we are clearly in the midst of a profound upheaval as the digital age shapes habits that will be an increasing part of the world of books for the foreseeable future. But whatever happens in the coming years, there will always be a place for incomparable booksellers of which Tattered Cover is the unquestioned model.

In the most basic sense, the purpose of our industry has remained the same for centuries: the telling of stories and the chronicling of events. Whether the medium was the symbols and images scrawled on the walls of caves, scrolls painstakingly drawn by hand, or the Gutenberg press which made books available

‘Bad Monkey’ is Vintage Hiaasen…


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From D. P. LYLE
New York Journal of Books

A quirky protagonist surrounded by even quirkier characters mired in oddball intrigue—all in South Florida, of course.

This story revolves around Florida Keys detective Andrew Yancy, newly busted to the role of restaurant inspector, aka “roach patrol,” for attacking one Dr. Clifford Witt, husband of a former Yancy lover, with a handheld Black & Decker vacuum cleaner—all videoed by cruise liner tourists with cell phones in hand.

Yancy embarks on several hit and miss attempts to get his badge back. No easy proposition. Particularly since his boss, Sheriff Sonny Summers, opinion is that Yancy was lucky they didn’t “charge you with sodomy.”

Best Of The Summer: 6 Books The Critics Adore…


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From NPR

[Available from Mendocino Book Company]

There is no one definition of a summer book. It can be a 1,000 page biography, a critically acclaimed literary novel, a memoir everyone is talking about. Or it might be your favorite guilty pleasure: romance, crime, science fiction. Whatever you choose it should be able to sweep you away to another world. Because there is nothing like getting totally lost in a book on summer day. Here are a few books that swept away some of our favorite critics.

Ron Charles, Washington Post Book Critic

Colum McCann’s Radical Empathy…



From JOEL LOVELL
New York Times Magazine

In Colum McCann’s apartment, on the ninth floor of an elegant building just off Central Park, there’s a room where he writes that looks as if it were airlifted in from the woods. It’s all rough-hewed floorboards and shelves made of unvarnished pine and two-by-fours and a long, thick cedar slab for a desk. At one end of that desk there’s a space that used to be a closet, but at McCann’s request, the friend who built the office took off the door and put a platform in there, and this is where McCann writes, “in the cupboard,” as he put it. “It concentrates my vision. No windows, two very tight walls.” He sits on a couple of cushions with his computer on his lap. On the wall beside him are dozens of messages scrawled by friends and kids and fellow writers and some by McCann himself: “What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us.” “Keep yourself away from answers, but alive in the middle of the question.” “Stay rotten.” “Hi, Dad, I love you.”

The medal McCann received for winning the National Book Award in 2009 dangles from one of the shelves. Around the office are scattered various vintage photographs related to the subjects of his books — one of a group of sandhogs standing in the massive mouth of a subway tunnel (“This Side of Brightness,” 1988), another of the World Trade Center looming through the clouds over Lower Manhattan (“Let the Great World Spin,” 2009) — and there’s also a beautiful framed shot of a pair of grime-encrusted shoes.

Five Science Fiction novels for people who hate SciFi…


From The Guardian

The genre’s denser stories can seem rebarbative to ‘general readers’, but these books tell immediately relevant, compelling tales…

Science fiction is all around us, from clandestine electronic surveillance to robots taking our jobs, from death-dealing drones in the skies of Pakistan right through to the second industrial revolution unleashed by 3D printing. It’s more than a century since writers began charting the technological dream of human civilisation we now live in, but some readers are still put off by a writer who reaches into the future, a novel with a spaceship on the cover.

Like any enduring cultural experiment, science fiction has evolved its own codes, its own logic. Some of the genre’s most intense and visionary work talks in a shared language of concepts that can be hard for the uninitiated to penetrate

The Fallacy of Human Freedom…


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From ROBERT W. MERRY
The National Interest
Thanks to Ron Epstein

JEAN-JACQUES Rousseau famously lamented, “Man is born to be free—and is everywhere in chains!” To which Alexander Herzen, a nineteenth-century Russian journalist and thinker, replied, in a dialogue he concocted between a believer in human freedom and a skeptic, “Fish are born to fly—but everywhere they swim!” In Herzen’s dialogue, the skeptic offers plenty of evidence for his theory that fish are born to fly: fish skeletons, after all, show extremities with the potential to develop into legs and wings; and there are of course so-called flying fish, which proves a capacity to fly in certain circumstances. Having presented his evidence, the skeptic asks the believer why he doesn’t demand from Rousseau a similar justification for his statement that man must be free, given that he seems to be always in chains. “Why,” he asks, “does everything else exist as it ought to exist, whereas with man, it is the opposite?”

This intriguing exchange was pulled from Herzen’s writings by John Gray, the acclaimed British philosopher and academic, in his latest book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. As the title suggests, Gray doesn’t hold with that dialogue’s earnest believer in freedom—though he has nothing against freedom. He casts his lot with the skeptic because he doesn’t believe freedom represents the culmination of mankind’s earthly journey.

My Secret to Reading a Lot of Books…


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From DAN SHIPPER
Lifehacker

My girlfriend says I have a thing for books. I probably spend more money on books than any other expense, aside from food. Walking into a bookstore with a good selection makes me want to rent a truck and haul their entire stock away to pile in my house so that I can read every single one of them.

If your goal is to read a lot–like mine is–there are a few obstacles to overcome:

  • Keeping track of the books you want to read
  • Refining the list down to ones you’re going to read in the near feature
  • Actually reading them
  • Retaining the important parts

Keeping Track of What You Want to Read

Nothing is worse than wanting to get a new book and facing the empty Amazon search bar, their shallow recommendations staring back at you, KNOWING that there’s something better out there for you, but not being able to remember the 10+ books that you really wanted to read but never wrote down.

I have a two pronged solution for this:

1. Evernote
2. Pinboard.in

I have one Evernote note (started in 2010) with almost every book that has caught my eye in the last three years. It’s pretty huge. Evernote is great for this purpose because it also has a mobile version, so wherever you are you can pull out your phone and type the book in for later.

Nuclear Roulette…


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From RON JACOBS
The Rag BLog

Despite spending several days in detention facilities in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of my opposition to nuclear power and its consequent dangers and debris, I honestly never thought nuclear power would be gone by 2013. The setup for the industry was just too sweet of a deal.

However, I did have hope that nuclear power’s reputation would be so tainted that no new plants would ever be considered. Unfortunately, even those hopes were for naught. To make matters even worse, nuclear power — perhaps the most wasteful and most dangerous form of power generation — is actually being touted as a “green” source of power.

This support is not just coming from the industry, either. One-time opponents like Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand and former Greenpeace president Patrick Moore are now on record as supporters of a power source and industry they used to oppose vehemently. When considering these retreats, the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” comes to mind.

25 Signs You’re Addicted To Books…


From Buzzfeed

The first step is admitting it. The second step is to keep right on reading. 1. When you were little, books were your best friends in the world.

2. When you’re reading a good book, you forget to eat or sleep.

When you're reading a good book, you forget to eat or sleep.

3. Your ups and downs are completely dictated by the book you’re reading.

Your ups and downs are completely dictated by the book you're reading.

More
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Working Class Literature…


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From LIBCOM.ORG

Libcom.org’s reading guide on literature with a focus on work and accurate representations of working class life, culture and resistance to power.

Charles Bukowski

Post Office – The job as a postal worker is a thankless one as Bukowski tries to keep his sanity delivering mail around Los Angeles.
Factotum – Bukowski recounts the conditions in 1944 having faced rejection from the draft, yo-yoing in and out of employment.
Ham on Rye – Semi-autobiographical ‘coming-of-age’ novel, telling the story of a young man growing up in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

Ben Hamper

Rivethead – Down and out memoirs of an assembly line worker for GM Motors over the 1980s. In amongst co-workers going postal in the local bar, drinking on the job and witnessing mental breakdowns, Hamper wrote the book during his shifts on the shop floor.

Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms – Anti-militarist novel set against the backdrop of the Italian campaign during World War One

Does reading make you smarter?


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From PATRICIA VIEIRA
Assistant Professor, Georgetown University
Aljazeera

Reading has myriad effects, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how it influences each person and harder still to translate this impact in terms of quantifiable gains

In a meeting at the university where I teach, a colleague bemoaned that, after years of research in Writing Studies, no one had yet found a sure path to turn students into good writers. It may not be a magic solution but the answer to the problem is out there: it is reading! The correlation between an avid reader and a proficient writer is well known to parents who encourage their children to read from early on and to schoolteachers who strive to instill in their students a love for literature. But if the reading-writing connection appears to be a truism, it is trickier to assess the broader impact of literature in our lives. Does literature make us good and, conversely, is it good for us?

Are we happier after finally finishing The Magic Mountain? Will all murderers repent once they read the uplifting ending of Crime and Punishment? Will we become smarter by going through the Collected Poems of TS Eliot?

Cooked Books…


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From THE GREENHORNS

A Natural History of Transformation

In Cooked (Available For Rent April 23 at Mulligan Books), Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth— to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. Both realms are transformed by cooking, and so, in the process, is the cook. Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us.

Book Review: ‘The God Argument – The Case Against Religion and for Humanism’ By A.C. Grayling…


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From ANDREW DOYLE
HuffPost

According to Catherine Pepinster, A.C. Grayling’s new book The God Argument is a “stern, unrelenting and unforgiving” attack on faith, a “vilification of theists” written in the style of “an angry Old Testament prophet.” Grayling, we are told, is guilty of “railing at religionists” such as the theist philosopher Alvin Plantinga, whose version of the ontological argument for the existence of God causes Grayling “to see red.”

At this point, those of us familiar with Grayling’s work might begin to smell a rat. Typically so measured in his tone and tolerant in his outlook, what could have happened to transform him into this pugnacious, fire-breathing polemicist?

Well, nothing. Because The God Argument is about as far removed in tone from Pepinster’s account than it is possible to imagine. It is, in fact, one of the most dispassionate overviews of the atheistic stance yet to appear. Pepinster is of course entitled to her opinion, but readers should be aware that her review is of a book that does not exist outside of her imagination.

In ‘Life After Life,’ Caught In The Dangerous Machinery of History…


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From MEG WOLITZER
NPR

[Available for rent $2 at Mulligan Books… DS]

Flannery O’Connor said short stories need to have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order. But what about novels? Kate Atkinson seems to believe there can be a beginning, a middle and an end, and then another beginning, plus several more middles … and why not have a beginning again?

What she’s done in her masterful new book, Life After Life, is prove that what makes a long piece of fiction succeed might have very little to do with the progression of its story, and more to do with something hard to define and even harder to produce: a fully-realized world. Atkinson not only invites readers in but also asks them to give up their preconceptions of what a novel should be, and instead accept what a novel can be.

When I started Life After Life, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. I was disoriented, and I thought maybe the problem was me

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


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

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

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

A letter to the “New” Atheists…


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

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

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

Book Excerpt: The problem of excessive scale…


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From DMITRY ORLOV
Club Orlov

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

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

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

Books: Pot Goes to Florida, and Vice Versa…


chCH

From JANET MASLIN
NYT

New Comic Novels From Dave Barry and Tim Dorsey

[More Carl Hiaasen below… DS]

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

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

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

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


From DAN FROOMKIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting Rebellion: Seed-saving as a subversive act…


From TWILIGHT GREENAWAY
Grist

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

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

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

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

Transition: Manifesto for a post-growth economy…


America the Possible

From YES!
Transition Voice

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

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

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

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

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

David Byrne on How Music and Creativity Work…


From MARIA POPOVA
Brainpickings

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

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

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

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

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

Art, Independence and Spirit – Van Gogh, Brenda Ueland


v

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

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

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

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

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy…



From DAVID STREITFELD
NYT

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

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

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

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


From MARIA POPOVA
BrainPickings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete article here
~~

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


From DAVID SWANSON
New. Clear. Vision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Twenty-First Century American Sacrifice Zone…


From TOMDISPATCH
Excerpt

[Available for rent at Mulligan Books… -DS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendell Berry: Letter to Wes Jackson…


From WENDELL BERRY
Home Economics (1982)

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

Dear Wes,

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

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

Ebooks vs. Paper Books…


From greengeekgirl
Insatiable Booksluts

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

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

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

See complete article here
~~

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


From MARIA POPOVA
Brain Pickings

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

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

Miller’s insights touch on modern concerns