I listened recently to Louise Fresco‘s TED talk contrasting artisanal bread and the culture that prizes it with its industrial counterpart (Wonder Bread) and arguing that something like sustainable Wonder Bread is essential to feeding the planet as its population grows to 9 billion. TED puts this talk in the “Unconventional Explanations” category, and the moniker certainly fits. There’s a lively series of comments about the talk on the TED site.
Thoughtful blog post by Tom Laskawy on Slate, arguing that despite the policy shifts signaled by the new administration and some changes in public opinion, industrial agriculture, with help from the farm lobby, is largely safe in the hands of Congress:
Big Food feels the ground shifting beneath it. So much so that its acting as if it could lose its grip on the American food system. But Big Food persists in battling the wrong target. While it is indeed locked in an existential struggle with an implacable foe, the government is not the enemy. The enemy is Mother Nature.
Mother Nature is represented by drought, industrial agriculture’s almost complete dependence on petroleum, flat crop yields (even in GMO crops).
Support your CSAs, folks, and plant bigger gardens!
Reading the BBC news site, I just learned that one of my favorite singers and greatest heroes, Pete Seeger, is celebrating his 90th birthday on May 3. The festivities include a concert at Madison Square Garden featuring Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and thirty other musicians paying tribute to him.
The article linked above, from the BBC website, is charming, interesting, and provocative … like Seeger himself.
“We cannot sustain the juggernaut of consumption that we have had here in the United States over the past decade….. Our houses are too big, our cars are too big, our debts are too big, our bellies are too big, and it’s time to go on a diet.”
“Sixty percent of discretionary income of people in North American is held in the hand of people who are 55 and over…. [Those of us of that age] could live the rest of our lives on fruit, vegetables, pasta, olive oil, wine, and yearly doses of socks and underwear.”
“Our basic marketing engines are in the hands of people who are thirty-something, and they like selling to themselves, and they like selling to a younger generation.”
“One of the fundamental issues that we’re trying to discover as consumers is that there are no acquisitions that are transformational. Acquiring that iPod or that tube of lipstick or that Maserati doesn’t change us into anyone other than what we were to start out with.”
Here’s Diana Butler Bass in her typical even-handed way offering a rebuttal of the “tea-party” tax protests of the last week:
When I handed [my tax payment check] to the clerk, she said, “I hate tax day.” I replied, “Not me. I don’t love parting with the money, but I kinda like it. That check is a bargain — roads, schools, medical care, social security, and the freedom of living in the greatest country in the world. It is patriotism by checkbook. Why should I hate it?” She replied, “Why, I’ve never heard anybody say that It isn’t such a bad deal when you put it that way.”
Comparing today’s tax protesters to those who resisted the establishment of the progressive income tax in 1913, Bass restates the arguments developed then by progressive Christians to show the positive social and spiritual benefits of taxation that would “increase the overall morality of society.”
Catherine Falsani, writing on the Sojourners Blog, reviews Whitefoot, a children’s story by Wendell Berry that she calls “a beautiful, subtle book,” surely in part because of Berry’s luminous writing, and also due to the illustrations by Davis Te Selle.
As compelling as the book seems, based on the review, I was equally taken by the Berry poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” with which she ends the review:
As I read and re-read Whitefoot, I was reminded of Berry’s famous poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.” In this moment when the foundations of our world economy are trembling (along with our souls), it bears repeating:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I spent Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday with seven other First-Congo folks on a mission trip to Cedar Rapid, Iowa, to help with recovery efforts from the mid-June 2008 flooding that affected the Cedar River and Iowa River basins in eastern Iowa. The highest previous recorded level of the Cedar River was 19.3 feet in 1993 — the 100-year flood level. This time, the crest reached 31.2 feet, making it not the flood of the century, but the flood of the millenium!
News of this disaster flashed briefly on our television screens last summer, but has long since faded from view. Meanwhile, the people of the Cedar Rapids area are still reeling from the blow and struggling to make a come-back.
The devastation was enormous. By one reckoning, it’s the fifth-worst natural disaster ever in the United States. The total cost to the region will be over $5 billion dollars. Nearly 5,300 homes and 700 businesses were destroyed in a community with population just over 125,000.
AmeriCorps/VISTA is playing an important role in organizing, training, and supporting many of the volunteers who are working on restoration efforts. In our experience, they deserve high marks for their enthusiasm, dedication, and effectiveness. Their website, VISTA Corridor Recovery, tells the story in detail. I have a few photos to share and stories to tell, and more will be forthcoming over the next few days. Take a few minutes to review the website.
Has humans’ esthetic sensibility played any role in their evolution? Is art “merely the by-product of an oversized brain,” as Stephen Jay Gould and others have held, so that it should be “excluded from the natural selection rulebook”? Or is it the case, as author Denis Dutton argues in The Art Instinct, that “aesthetics are linked at the profoundest level to our biological and cognitive prehistory, and that our ‘tastes’ emerged in the Pleistocene, and haven’t changed in essentials since then.”
Brian Morton’s short review of the book sets up this conflict of interpretations, but Morton spends most of his time sketching Dutton’s argument and supporting it. A quote:
Like our remotest ancestors, we take delight in virtuosity, we admire personal expression and novelty, we enjoy intellectual challenges that give pleasure in being mastered, and we benefit immeasurably from the sense of communion and intimacy these experiences bring us. This is art: then, now and always.
Hat tip to Arts and Letters Daily, where I found mention of the review.
“Good morning” [my usual greeting]
[Treble voice on the other end] “Good morning!”
[Me, recognizing the voice] “Hello, Reed. It’s good to talk with you.”
[He, equally thrilled] “Yes, it is.”
First incoming, self-initiated phone call from our older grandson. An experience to savor!
This is an excellent commentary from Thomas Friedman on the vain and vacuous consumptionism that has characterized the American economy increasingly during the past several decades. We’re talking about a vicious cycle that seems now to have brought our economy to its knees – to say nothing of the harm that it’s doing to our planet. There’s a theological point to be made about this, of course, but it’ll just have to wait. Crux of the critique:
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …
We can’t do this anymore.