March 31, 2013

Bernie, don’t betray us

[Letter to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, from Garret Keizer of Sutton, Vermont — Published in the Times Argus and the Rutland Herald, March 31, 2013. Removed by request of the author.]

... Bernie Sanders, ... de facto spokesperson for the opportunists of “green capitalism”.
[Garret Keizer previously wrote in Harper’s Magazine (June 2007) about this issue — click here.]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

March 28, 2013

Rump Steak

Advocacy group Rural Vermont is promoting its 2013 “Annual Celebration”:

“Philip Ackerman-Leist,” director of Green Mountain College’s Farm & Food Project ... will be the guest speaker. Ackerman-Leist will share his first-person account of the recent international controversy involving Green Mountain College’s pair of working oxen “Bill” and “Lou.” This moving and disturbing story illustrates the profound lack of understanding and connection between contemporary American society and the source of our food. ... Special guest Philip Phillip [sic] will offer his ideas on how we can work together to bridge this divide.
Rural Vermont is a fairly politically progressive organization unfortunately bound by a devotion to and reflexive defense of the exploitation of animals. Ackerman-Leist similarly is too gorged on the flesh of (and the profits from) his grass-fed heritage-breed cows to consider that he might be the one with a profound lack of understanding. What possible ideas could he offer to bridge the divide between those who think a team of oxen deserved retirement after 10 years of work and those who can only think about such animals as food?

It was precisely people who are connected with the sources of their food who were able to draw a line at killing Bill and Lou. Ackerman-Leist, who petulantly had Lou killed despite (or rather because of) the controversy, is like the slaughterhouse worker who recently posted a video of himself shooting a horse. There is nothing in his actions or words that suggests working together to bridge a divide. In fact, the bridge is already there, but he refuses to acknowledge it, stubbornly seething at the shoreline, still shouting impotent defiance after those who have left him behind.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

March 24, 2013

Life after Oil and Gas: Pity Earth’s Creatures

Today’s New York Times Sunday Review juxtaposed two pieces on its front page: Elisabeth Rosenthal’s puff piece (last gasp?) for large-scale renewable energy, “Life After Oil and Gas”, and Edward Hoagland’s lamentation about nature’s disappearance under the march of human civilization, “Pity Earth’s Creatures”.

Hoagland’s piece stands as the answer to Rosenthal’s.

Except for some comments by International Energy Agency economist Fatih Birol suggesting that conservation and efficiency are more practical and effective choices, Rosenthal hardly considers why we have an energy crisis, of consequences as much as supply. (She also ignores, of course, the fact that huge investments in wind and solar have never been documented to actually reduce the use of other fuels. And both Rosenthal and Birol ignore the fact that countries and states that produce a high percentage of their electricity from wind are actually on larger grids, which make the percentage very much less.)

Instead Rosenthal assumes that we can “easily” produce the power we need from wind, solar, and water, citing the latest work of Mark Jacobson, whose numbers should frighten rather than inspire:

For New York State alone: 4,020 onshore and 12,770 offshore 5-MW wind turbines, 387 100-MW concentrated solar plants, 828 50-MW PV solar plants, 5,000,000 5-kW home and 500,000 100-kW business rooftop PV solar systems, 36 100-MW geothermal plants, 1,910 0.75-MW wave systems, 2,600 1-MW tidal turbines, as well as 7 1,300-MW hydro plants (half of which already exists).

Except for the rooftop solar, where do these go? Where do all the new “smart-grid” power lines and substations go? Where do all the materials to build and maintain and replace all these things come from? And what if these projections fall short (as they most certainly would)?

Except for rare hydro sources like Niagara Falls (or geothermal sources like Iceland’s volcanoes), renewable energy sources are diffuse. Therefore they require sprawling facilities of huge devices to collect enough to meet even a fraction of our electricity needs, let alone all of our energy (i.e., including transportation, heating, and manufacturing).

Furthermore, wind and solar are intermittent: The wind isn’t always blowing, and the sun shines only during the day. On top of that, their energy is variable, wildly so, in the case of wind. That means they need 100% backup.

Jacobson’s vision has already been imagined by H.G. Wells. In his 1897 “A Story of the Days To Come”, he described “the Wind Vane and Waterfall Trust, the great company that owned every wind wheel and waterfall in the world, and which pumped all the water and supplied all the electric energy that people in these latter days required.”
Far away, spiked, jagged and indented by the wind vanes, the Surrey Hills rose blue and faint; to the north and nearer, the sharp contours of Highgate and Muswell Hill were similarly jagged. And all over the countryside, he knew, on every crest and hill, where once the hedges had interlaced, and cottages, churches, inns, and farmhouses had nestled among their trees, wind wheels similar to those he saw and bearing like vast advertisements, gaunt and distinctive symbols of the new age, cast their whirling shadows and stored incessantly the energy that flowed away incessantly through all the arteries of the city. ...

To the east and south the great circular shapes of complaining wind-wheels blotted out the heavens ...
Where is nature in all this? Where is the countryside? Jacobson’s vision would turn it all into a power plant for the cities, and mines and refineries for endlessly building that power plant. There would be no escape. No nature to marvel at and lose oneself in. No nature to be left alone to live its own lives. Only the vain hand of human expansion.

As Hoagland writes in the other piece, we have already lost so much, as 7 billion people (doubled since 1970, tripled since 1940) trample over and push aside the world of other lives. The dream of renewables, which are inherently inefficient, only expands that process. If we would decry what we have already done to the earth, we need to start doing with a lot less. But the reality of renewables is that their use not only allows but requires more use of fossil and nuclear fuels, more extraction of resources, more paving over paradise.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, ecoanarchism

March 20, 2013

Wind industry fears real scrutiny

To the Editor, Valley News:

What is the real threat of Vermont Senate Bill 30 (Dori Wolfe: “Don't Reject Wind Energy in Vermont,” letter, March 17)? Now stripped of the 3-year moratorium provision, it only requires the Section 248 permitting process to abide by rather than merely consider Act 250 criteria.

It is ironic that business people like Wolfe, while in one breath urging us to save the environment by buying their products and services, in the next express alarm that environmental scrutiny “would severely damage the wind industry.”

But on the latter point she is right: These projects, especially on otherwise fiercely protected ridgelines, are not green. The environmental (not to mention financial) costs far outweigh the necessarily minuscule benefit from a diffuse, intermittent, and highly variable source.

To avoid that conclusion, Wolfe raises the specter of oil and gasoline, which fuel our cars, heat our homes, and power our factories but provide almost none of our electricity. In fact, more wind requires building more natural gas– and even diesel-powered plants just for backup. She notes that housecats kill more birds, as if that absolves the additional deaths caused by wind turbines, and disregards wind energy’s unique toll on raptors (eagles, owls, and the like) and bats, the latter already decimated by white nose syndrome.

Wolfe also touts the latest poll showing continuing support for industrial wind energy (ignoring the broad dissatisfaction everywhere they are actually erected or even proposed). If industrial wind is as popular as the polls indicate, then the greater local involvement enabled by Act 250 would be a boon, not a threat.

But S.30 would make it harder for developers to divide communities and to pit town against town, because Act 250 puts the region’s interests before those of industry lobbyists in Montpelier.

If industrial-scale wind (and solar) are indeed beneficial to the environment and communities, locally as well as globally, then its marketers have nothing to fear from a more democratic and environmentally rigorous permitting process. If they do indeed have reason to fear, that’s precisely why we need to say yes to S.30.

Eric Rosenbloom

[Note:  The letter as reproduced here reflects minor editing by the author.]

[Click here to read about Jeff Wolfe's threats regarding S.30.]

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, Vermont

March 17, 2013

in the muddle is the sounddance

Why do European cars have twice the fuel efficiency as in the US?

Dear Senator/Representative:

I use the Mini Cooper Clubman (manual transmission) as a typical example here, and because the Clubman is a larger model. Compare these fuel efficiency figures:

US: 35 mpg hwy, 27 cty, 30 comb.

UK: 50 mpg hwy, 34 cty, 43 comb. (CO₂ emissions 129 g/km, 152 g/mi)
(converted from Imperial to US gallons)

UK: 65 mpg hwy, 53 cty, 60 comb. (CO₂ emissions 103 g/km, 138 g/mi)
(converted from Imperial to US gallons)

These new super-efficient diesel engines (and apparently the regular gas engines, too) are burdened in the U.S. with obsolete particulate emissions rules that severely reduce their efficiency.

Whereas their efficiency ensures very low emissions anyway.

Please do all you can to allow the new-generation diesel engines that Europeans enjoy into the US, without forcing them (or even regular gas engines) to lose their incredible efficiency.

Imagine cutting the greenhouse gas emissions from most of our cars by half!

[comment:  CO₂ emissions are not regulated in either the U.S. or the E.U., and particulate emission limits are similar (and similarly specified as g/mi or g/km), so it is even stranger that high-efficiency diesel-powered cars, common in Europe, are not available in the U.S. Or that those few diesels that are available in the U.S. (e.g., from Volkswagen) get much less mileage than comparable models in Europe.]

March 13, 2013

Time and the Ferret Fancier

Time, still a cross, an irreconcilable liability; the single healthy moment chased by a starvation future and devoured by a voracious past. Paul Noble said time was only the skin of space, a necessity relative to the mind of man. That hard word relative: the height of a tree relative to the depth of the root and the strength of the storm.

Time like an everflowing stream . . . that pessimistic hymn that always made him see vividly the Annam and hear the curlews mewling, the melancholy air the cry of doomed prisoners in the dark; one of Rainey’s favorites because it could be dropped a key and roared without strain.

But he kept on trying to agree his two times – he had to, to make-believe some semblance of normality. He swore in a new set of intentions every night.

Morning and evening, Rainey one end, Jill the other and every evening scrape scrape scrape – Jill harping on the taut netting-wire with a not unmusical minor sound, the pink eyes flashing when they caught a spark of light. He always intended to be early with her meal but, just like going to school, some small thing or another appeared to delay him.

And then the dull end of a melancholy day – a few hours in the house, the fire dying down, the smell of hot rubber when the bottles were filled, Agatha making her policeman rounds, Ellen taking out her hairpins and letting the still rich gray-black hair flow over her shoulders, transforming herself unwittingly into a young old witch, the dark eyes burning in the parchment-pale face, Conor yawning, winding the clock and examining the kindling for the morning, the refreshed clock dinging and danging out time – ding-dang, time-time. Wash hands, face, teeth, feet and take the miming candle and dance a horde of shadows up the stairs. Bed and an insurance man's spell of a prayer that was a rope down which he slid into timelessness, through all the gathering pageantry of dream.

—Anthony C. West, The Ferret Fancier (1963)

March 10, 2013

Annie Gower

By Eric Rosenbloom, copyright 2013

She bore me and she bears me still
    My mother Annie Gower.
She played with me and plays to kill
    My sister Annie Gower.
She took me in and takes it well
    My lover Annie Gower.
She made our bed and makes a meal
    My wife my Annie Gower.
She mourns me and each morn she will
    My widow Annie Gower.
She reads my words and red her quill
    My daughter Annie Gower.
I built a bower on the hill
    And wooed my Annie Gower.
And we embraced beneath the elm
    That grew for Annie Gower.
We sang my rise and when I fell
    And dreamed of Annie Gower.

March 9, 2013

Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism

B. R. Myers wrote in the March 2011 Atlantic:

We have all dined with him in restaurants: the host who insists on calling his special friend out of the kitchen for some awkward small talk. The publishing industry also wants us to meet a few chefs, only these are in no hurry to get back to work. Anthony Bourdain’s new book, his 10th, is Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In it he announces, in his trademark thuggish style, that “it is now time to make the idea of not cooking ‘un-cool’ — and, in the harshest possible way short of physical brutality, drive that message home.” Having finished the book, I think I’d rather have absorbed a few punches and had the rest of the evening to myself. No more readable for being an artsier affair is chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.
It’s quite something to go bare-handed up an animal’s ass … Its viscera came out with an easy tug; a small palmful of livery, bloody jewels that I tossed out into the yard.
Then there’s Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, which is the kind of thing that passes for spiritual uplift in this set. “What blessed entity invented sugar and cacao pods and vanilla beans or figured out that salt can preserve and brighten anything?” And I thought I knew where that sentence was going. The flyleaf calls Spoon Fed “a testament to the wisdom that can be found in the kitchen.” Agreed.

To put aside these books after a few chapters is to feel a sense of liberation; it’s like stepping from a crowded, fetid restaurant into silence and fresh air. But only when writing such things for their own kind do so-called foodies truly let down their guard, which makes for some engrossing passages here and there. For insight too. The deeper an outsider ventures into this stuff, the clearer a unique community comes into view. In values, sense of humor, even childhood experience, its members are as similar to each other as they are different from everyone else.

For one thing, these people really do live to eat. Vogue’s restaurant critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, says he “spends the afternoon — or a week of afternoons — planning the perfect dinner of barbecued ribs or braised foie gras.” Michael Pollan boasts in The New York Times of his latest “36-Hour Dinner Party.” Similar schedules and priorities can be inferred from the work of other writers. These include a sort of milk-toast priest, anthologized in Best Food Writing 2010, who expounds unironically on the “ritual” of making the perfect slice:
The things involved must be few, so that their meaning is not diffused, and they must somehow assume a perceptible weight. They attain this partly from the reassurance that comes of being “just so,” and partly by already possessing the solidity of the absolutely familiar.
And when foodies talk of flying to Paris to buy cheese, to Vietnam to sample pho? They’re not joking about that either. Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts — the real arts. When Marcel Proust’s name pops up, you know you’re just going to hear about that damned madeleine again.

It has always been crucial to the gourmet’s pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford. For hundreds of years this meant consuming enormous quantities of meat. That of animals that had been whipped to death was more highly valued for centuries, in the belief that pain and trauma enhanced taste. “A true gastronome,” according to a British dining manual of the time, “is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror.” But for the past several decades, factory farms have made meat ever cheaper and — as the excellent book The CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] Reader makes clear — the pain and trauma are thrown in for free. The contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms. He even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn’t really in it. Steingarten tells of watching four people hold down a struggling, groaning pig for a full 20 minutes as it bled to death for his dinner. He calls the animal “a filthy beast deserving its fate.”

Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as “gods,” to restaurants as “temples,” to biting into “heaven,” etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table depends on the quality of food served; if culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes downright holy — as we learned from Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner is described as feeling “like a ceremony … a secular seder.”

The moral logic in Pollan’s hugely successful book now informs all food writing: the refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans — from which it follows that to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself. This affectation of piety does not keep foodies from vaunting their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals — but only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction. This has much to do with the fact that the nation’s media tend to leave the national food discourse to the foodies in their ranks. To people like Pollan himself. And Severson, his very like-minded colleague at The New York Times. Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members? Or with a frequency and an extensiveness that bear so little relation to its size? (The “slow food” movement that we keep hearing about has fewer than 20,000 members nationwide.)

The same bias is apparent in writing that purports to be academic or at least serious. The book Gluttony (2003), one of a series on the seven deadly sins, was naturally assigned to a foodie writer, namely Francine Prose, who writes for the gourmet magazine Saveur. Not surprisingly, she regards gluttony primarily as a problem of overeating to the point of obesity; it is “the only sin … whose effects are visible, written on the body.” In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food — against foodie-ism, in other words — which we encounter as often among thin people as among fat ones. A disinterested writer would likely have done the subject more justice. Unfortunately, even the new sociological study Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape is the product of two self-proclaimed members of the tribe, Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, who pull their punches accordingly; the introduction is titled “Entering the Delicious World of Foodies.” In short, the 21st-century gourmet need fear little public contradiction when striking sanctimonious poses.

The same goes for restaurant owners like Alice Waters. A celebrated slow-food advocate and the founder of an exclusive eatery in Berkeley, she is one of the chefs profiled in Spoon Fed. “Her streamlined philosophy,” Severson tells us, is “that the most political act we can commit is to eat delicious food that is produced in a way that is sustainable, that doesn’t exploit workers and is eaten slowly and with reverence.” A vegetarian diet, in other words? Please. The reference is to Chez Panisse’s standard fare — Severson cites “grilled rack and loin of Magruder Ranch veal” as a typical offering — which is environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it. Whatever one may think of Anthony Bourdain’s moral sense, his BS detector seems to be working fine. In Medium Raw he congratulates Waters on having “made lust, greed, hunger, self-gratification and fetishism look good.” Not to everyone, perhaps, but okay.

The Roman historian Livy famously regarded the glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture in decline. I wonder what he would have thought of The New York Times’ efforts to admit “young idols with cleavers” into America’s pantheon of food-service heroes.
With their swinging scabbards, muscled forearms and constant proximity to flesh, butchers have the raw, emotional appeal of an indie band … “Think about it. What’s sexy?” said Tia Keenan, the fromager at Casellula Cheese and Wine Café and an unabashed butcher fan. “Dangerous is sometimes sexy, and they are generally big guys with knives who are covered in blood.”
That’s Severson again, by the way, and she records no word of dissent in regard to the cheese vendor’s ravings. We are to believe this is a real national trend here. In fact the public perception of butchers has not changed in the slightest, as can easily be confirmed by telling someone that he or she looks like one. “Blankly as a butcher stares,” Auden’s famous line about the moon, will need no explanatory footnote even a century from now.

But food writing has long specialized in the barefaced inversion of common sense, common language. Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for money. The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig — even getting in its face just before the shot — is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an article in Best Food Writing 2009) as “solemn” and “respectful” behavior. Pollan writes about going with a friend to watch a goat get killed. “Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.” It’s teachable fun for the whole foodie family. The full strangeness of this culture sinks in when one reads affectionate accounts (again in Best Food Writing 2009) of children clamoring to kill their own cow — or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: “YEEEEAAAAH!”

Here too, though, an at least half-serious moral logic is at work, backed up by the subculture’s distinct body of myth, which combines half-understood evolutionary theory with the biblical idea of man as born lord of the world. Anthropological research, I should perhaps point out, now indicates that Homo sapiens started out as a paltry prey animal. Clawless, fangless, and slight of build, he could at best look forward to furtive boltings of carrion until the day he became meat himself. It took humans quite a while to learn how to gang up for self-protection and food acquisition, the latter usually a hyena-style affair of separating infant or sick animals from their herds. The domestication of pigs, cows, chickens, etc. has been going on for only about 10,000 years — not nearly long enough to breed the instincts out of them. The hideous paraphernalia of subjugation pictured in The CAFO Reader? It’s not there for nothing.

Now for the foodie version. The human animal evolved “with eyes in the front of its head, long legs, fingernails, eyeteeth — so that it could better chase down slower, stupider creatures, kill them, and eat them” (Bourdain, Medium Raw). We have eaten them for so long that meat-eating has shaped our souls (Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma). And after so many millennia of domestication, food animals have become “evolutionarily hard-wired” to depend on us (chef-writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book). Every exercise of our hungry power is thus part of the Great Food Chain of Being, with which we must align our morals. Deep down — instinctively if not consciously — the “hardwired” pig understands all this, understands why he has suddenly been dragged before a leering crowd. Just don’t waste any of him afterward; that’s all he asks. Note that the foodies’ pride in eating “nose to tail” is no different from factory-farm boasts of “using everything but the oink.” As if such token frugality could make up for the caloric wastefulness and environmental damage that result from meat farming!

Naturally the food-obsessed profess as much respect for tradition as for evolution. Hamilton, in Blood, Bones and Butter, writes of her childhood dinners: “The meal was always organized correctly, traditionally, which I now appreciate.” Even relatively young traditions like the Thanksgiving turkey must be guarded zealously against efforts to change or opt out of them. Foreign traditions destigmatize every dish even for the American. In Best Food Writing 2010, one foie gras lover asks another whether he would eat tortured cat if there were sufficient Mongolian history behind the dish; the answer is yes.

So tradition is an absolute good? No. When it dictates abstention from a certain food, it is to be rejected. Francine Prose shows how it’s done in her prize-winning Saveur article, “Faith and Bacon.” I need hardly explain which of those two she cannot live without. Prose concedes that since pigs compete ravenously with humans for grain, her Jewish forefathers’ taboo against pork may well have derived from ecological reasons that are even more valid today. Yet she finds it unrealistic to hope that humans could ever suppress their “baser appetites … for the benefit of other humans, flora, and fauna.” She then drops the point entirely; foodies quickly lose interest in any kind of abstract discussion. The reader is left to infer that since baser appetites are going to rule anyway, we might as well give in to them.
But if, however unlikely it seems, I ever find myself making one of those late-life turns toward God, one thing I can promise you is that this God will be a deity who wants me to feel exactly the way I feel when the marbled slice of pork floats to the top of the bowl of ramen.
Yes, I feel equally sure that Prose’s God will be that kind of God. At least she maintains a civil tone when talking of kashrut. In “Killer Food,” another article in Best Food Writing 2010, Dana Goodyear tells how a restaurant served head cheese (meat jelly made from an animal’s head) to an unwitting Jew.
One woman, when [chef Jon] Shook finally had a chance to explain, spat it out on the table and said, “Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years.” Shook giggled, recollecting. “Not any more you ain’t!”
We are meant to chuckle too; the woman (who I am sure expressed herself in less profane terms) got what she deserved. Most of us consider it a virtue to maintain our principles in the face of social pressure, but in the involuted world of gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding “any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.” (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, “Taking your belief system on the road — or to other people’s houses — makes me angry.” The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with “spluttering indignation.”

That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host — and passersby to please a vendor — than vice versa. Is there any civilized value that foodies cannot turn on its head? But I assume Bourdain has no qualms about waving away a flower seller, just as Pollan probably sees nothing wrong with a Mormon’s refusal of a cup of coffee. Enjoinders to put the food provider’s feelings above all else are just part of the greater effort to sanctify food itself.

So secure is the gourmet community in its newfound reputation, so sure is it of its rightness, that it now proclaims the very qualities — greed, indifference to suffering, the prioritization of food above all — that earned it so much obloquy in the first place. Bourdain starts off his book by reveling in the illegality of a banquet at which he and some famous (unnamed) chefs dined on ortolan, endangered songbirds fattened up, as he unself-consciously tells us, in pitch-dark cages. After the meal, an “identical just-fucked look” graced each diner’s face. Eating equals sex, and in accordance with this self-flattery, gorging is presented in terms of athleticism and endurance. “You eat way past the point of hitting the wall. Or I do anyway.”

If nothing else, Bourdain at least gives the lie to the Pollan-Severson cant about foodie-ism being an integral part of the whole, truly sociable, human being. In Bourdain’s world, diners are as likely to sit solo or at a countertop while chewing their way through “a fucking Everest of shellfish.” Contributors to the Best Food Writing anthologies celebrate the same mindless, sweating gluttony. “You eat and eat and eat,” Todd Kliman writes, “long after you’re full. Being overstuffed, for the food lover, is not a moral problem.” But then, what is? In the same anthology, Michael Steinberger extols the pleasure of “joyfully gorging yourself … on a bird bearing the liver of another bird.” He also talks of “whimpering with ecstasy” in a French restaurant, then allowing the chef to hit on his wife, because “I was in too much of a stupor … [He] had just served me one of the finest dishes I’d ever eaten.” Hyperbole, the reader will have noticed, remains the central comic weapon in the food writer’s arsenal. It gets old fast. Nor is there much sign of wit in the table talk recorded. Aquinas said gluttony leads to “loutishness, uncleanness, talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of mind,” and if you don’t believe him, here’s Kliman again:
I watched tears streak down a friend’s face as he popped expertly cleavered bites of chicken into his mouth … He was red-eyed and breathing fast. “It hurts, it hurts, but it’s so good, but it hurts, and I can’t stop eating!” He slammed a fist down on the table. The beer in his glass sloshed over the sides. “Jesus Christ, I’ve got to stop!”
We have already seen that the foodie respects only those customs, traditions, beliefs, cultures — old and new, domestic and foreign — that call on him to eat more, not less. But the foodie is even more insatiable in regard to variety than quantity. Johnston and Baumann note that “eating unusual foods is part of what generates foodie status,” and indeed, there appears to be no greater point of pride in this set than to eat with the indiscriminate omnivorousness of a rat in a zoo dumpster. Jeffrey Steingarten called his first book The Man Who Ate Everything. Bourdain writes, with equal swagger, “I’ve eaten raw seal, guinea pig. I’ve eaten bat.” The book Foodies quotes a middle-aged software engineer who says, “Um, it’s not something I would be anxious to repeat but … it’s kind of weird and cool to say I’ve had goat testicles in rice wine.” The taste of these bizarre meals — as researchers of oral fixation will not be surprised to learn — is neither here nor there. Members of the Gastronauts, a foodie group in New York, stuff live, squirming octopuses and eels down their throats before posting the carny-esque footage online.

Such antics are encouraged in the media with reports of the exotic foods that can be had only overseas, beyond the reach of FDA inspectors, conservationists, and animal-rights activists. Not too long ago put out an article titled “Some Bravery as a Side Dish.” It listed “7 foods for the fearless stomach,” one of which was ortolan, the endangered songbirds fattened in dark boxes. The more lives sacrificed for a dinner, the more impressive the eater. Dana Goodyear: “Thirty duck hearts in curry … The ethos of this kind of cooking is undeniably macho.” Amorality as ethos, callousness as bravery, queenly self-absorption as machismo: no small perversion of language is needed to spin heroism out of an evening spent in a chair.

Of course, the bulk of foodie writing falls between the extremes of Pollanesque sanctimony and Bourdainian oafishness. The average article in a Best Food Writing anthology is a straightforward if very detailed discussion of some treat or another, usually interwoven with a chronicle of the writer’s quest to find or make it in perfect form. Seven pages on sardines. Eight pages on marshmallow fluff! The lack of drama and affect only makes the gloating obsessiveness even more striking. The following, from a man who travels the world sampling oysters, is typical.
Sitting at Bentley’s lustrous marble bar, I ordered three No. 1 and three No. 2 Strangford Loughs and a martini. I was promptly set up with a dark green and gold placemat, a napkin, silverware, a bread plate, an oyster plate, some fresh bread, a plate of deep yellow butter rounds, vinegar, red pepper, Tabasco sauce, and a saucer full of lemons wrapped in cheesecloth. Bentley’s is a very serious oyster bar. When the bartender asked me if I wanted olives or a twist, I asked him which garnish he liked better with oysters. He recommended both. I had never seen both garnishes served together, but … (Robb Walsh, “English Oyster Cult,” Best Food Writing 2009)
I used to reject that old countercultural argument, the one about the difference between a legitimate pursuit of pleasure and an addiction or pathology being primarily a question of social license. I don’t anymore. After a month among the bat eaters and milk-toast priests, I opened Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries (2008) and encountered a refreshingly sane-seeming young man, self-critical and with a dazzlingly wide range of interests. Unfortunately, the foodie fringe enjoys enough media access to make daily claims for its sophistication and virtue, for the suitability of its lifestyle as a model for the world. We should not let it get away with those claims. Whether gluttony is a deadly sin is of course for the religious to decide, and I hope they go easy on the foodies; they’re not all bad. They are certainly single-minded, however, and single-mindedness — even in less obviously selfish forms — is always a littleness of soul.

environment, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism

What Is Finnegans Wake?

Some thoughts for those about to enter the river of life or dig in the mudmound for the first or the five-hundredth time.

By Karl Reisman, author of “Darktongues”: Fulfulde and Hausa in Finnegans Wake and more.

Many people begin their journey carrying as baggage certain preconceptions: about books, about novels, about characters and even about plots and their roles in such novels or books. True, Finnegans Wake has characters and plots but to focus on them, while sometimes enlightening, is often to miss the larger stream in which they are involved.

Also. as the wisest readers have discovered, it is not possible to make a consistent story or cast of characters that carries you through your reading - although sometimes the story line is very clear.

So the first notion that has to be abandoned is that Finnegans Wake is about something.

It is not about Life, it is life.

As Samuel Beckett said in the short profound essay he wrote for Mr. Joyce: "His writing is not about something; it is that something itself."

Scientists dealing with difficult concepts sometimes build a kind of "model" of what they are contemplating. The model behaves in the way that their object of study behaves and by understanding the model they are able to understand things about the world they have made a model of. Niels Bohr's model of the structure of the atom was one such. As even earlier the model of the solar system which most of us have in our head.

In that sense we might, although it is limiting, say that Finnegans Wake is a "model" of Life. It behaves the way life behaves. Finnegans Wake, then, is not a book in the traditional sense. It is a living object.

Finnegans Wake has many identities - it is, for instance, a river. Joyce lets us know this in the first word, "riverrun".

One feature of the world Joyce has created is that it is built pervasively on ironies - what Giordano Bruno called "the coincidence of contraries". We can see this immediately in understanding life as a river. There is the river of Heraclitus, constantly changing so that one can never step into the same river twice. But there is also the river that endlessly repeats the same process of moisture from the clouds down the same path to the sea, that takes us "by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." Both are present and one in the structure of Finnegans Wake.

The book and its parts in many ways share features with stages in the life of human beings. At the end for instance as death approaches we come to see that much of what we have thought important in our lives is not so important, and life becomes much clearer and we see clearly the answers to questions we thought so difficult, so at this point the writing in Finnegans Wake becomes much clearer and simpler, until the final catastrophe of death itself on page 628.

The book is its own teacher. The keys to it have been given in the book.

"Lps. The keys to. Given!" (page 628.15)
As with rivers so with roads - or "ruads". And here the thing is that there are so many. There is no right road to the book. As it says on page 497: "from Rathgar, Rathanga, Rountown and Rush, from America Avenue and Asia Place and the Affrian Way and Europa Parade and besogar the wallies of Noo Soch Wilds and from Vico, Mespil Rock and Sorrento," ...

And so also it is a book of many languages all of which contribute to the multiple meanings of its sentences. When different languages come in contact they often break down the structure of language itself. One example that Joyce uses is the African based Creole languages of the West Indies and other plantation societies with African slaves. These languages often break words into syllables and play with the meanings that emerge - as Joyce himself does in Finnegans Wake. This book is "an earsighted view", you have to hear the sounds of the different languages as your are able, and at the same time see the words on the page, with their special and peculiar spellings. Each person brings different perceptions to this process.

Although as you become more and more familiar with the book you will find that you begin to speak its language.

For the language of Finnegans Wake is some of the most beautiful ever written, and it sounds in your head and becomes engraved in your memory, so that eventually it transforms from a written work into an oral one.

And of course Finnegans Wake is a book of the night and of the dark. Whether approached psychologically as John Bishop does in his remarkable Joyce's Book of the Dark, or mythologically or by any analysis of dreams and dreamers.

And then the remarkable mind of Joyce takes us far beyond all these.

Because it is such a living work, all reading of Finnegans Wake in which one finds pleasure, or enlightenment, or beauty or particularly laughter, is valuable reading whether by novice or longtime reader.

One consequence of what I am saying is that Finnegans Wake is not a "difficult" book. It may be unfamiliar at the start, but it speaks the language of us all.

So to answer the question in my title, Finnegans Wake is far more than a "book". It lives, it talks to us, it finds us new things. And we talk to it. And eventually it changes us and lives in us.

As I said the book is its own teacher, although one may be lead to discover many things through curiosity aroused by the book.

The only other "teachers" I would recommend to the beginner are Samuel Becket's little essay "Dante ... Bruno . Vico .. Joyce" from Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress and the remarkable and loving book by James Atherton, The Books at the Wake.

March 8, 2013

Ten Ways to Kill Big Wind

Mike Bond writes:

Despite many victories, communities around the world are still facing a plague of industrial wind projects that like hideous War of the Worlds steel monsters are destroying communities, mountains, and wildlands, slaughtering birds and bats, sickening people and driving them from their homes.

Even though these wind projects do not reduce greenhouse gases or fossil fuel use, they have dreadful environmental, social and economic impacts on whole regions. But they are a tool for energy companies and investment banks to make billions in taxpayer subsidies that get added to our national debt.

The good news is that communities worldwide are learning how to defeat these dreadful projects. More and more laws and moratoriums are being passed against them, while other projects are defeated on legal grounds or by overwhelming public opposition.

In Hawaii, an industrial wind project that would have constructed ninety 42-story turbine towers across seventeen square miles of Molokai has been defeated by a determined two-year effort of the island’s residents. In the process we learned many tactics, which I’ve tried to summarize below and are further described in Saving Paradise:
  1. Show wind projects for what they are: industrial. Not environmental, not green, not renewable, and cause no reductions in greenhouse gases or fossil fuel use, no long-term jobs and few short-term ones.

  2. Don’t be nice. These wind developers are your enemies: they want to destroy where you live, steal your money (property values), and are quite happy to literally drive you from your homes. They will lie, cheat, bribe, buy politicians, and do whatever else they can to win. They won’t be fair and you can’t trust them.

  3. Create a group and get your community behind you. Point out property value loss, human health issues, environmental destruction, tourism impacts, and all the other dreadful results of industrial wind. If you have a homeowners’ associations, make them aware of the danger so they can join the fight.

  4. Publicize your case. In the newspapers, TV and radio, on blogs and in nationwide petitions. Use good graphics. Go viral, worldwide. Develop a good professional website with lots of information and ways for viewers to participate. Community members should write op-eds and letters to the editor. A very powerful tool is frequent press releases that pass on news reports from National Wind Watch and other groups about the devastating impacts of industrial wind. These press releases should be sent to all relevant media outlets and local, state and national legislators.

  5. Do mailings to everyone. In Molokai we sent two mailings to all the island’s 2,700 addresses. The first mailer described the dangers of the project and included a survey with a stamped return envelope. We had a massive response, with 97% of responses against the project, and our group gained hundreds of new members. A year later we sent a second mailer with photo mockups showing how the turbines would tower over homes and landscapes. This mailer also included a bumper sticker which many residents then put on their cars.

  6. Be visible. Put up lots of signs, both homemade and professionally done. Put up billboards if you can. Professional signs show you mean business, and are taken more seriously.

  7. Find legislators who will help you. On the state level, Republicans are often more responsive and more concerned about the environment than traditionalist Democrats who have bought the idea that wind is environmental (or who are receiving contributions from wind companies).

  8. Litigate. Find every avenue to impair or slow the wind developers. Once the Washington industrial welfare subsidies are removed, industrial wind companies will vanish overnight.

  9. Get property value loss appraisals. Average losses of 40% or more are being reported; in Molokai, one of the reasons the landowner planning the project cancelled it was they estimated a 75% property value loss on their lands near the project. Publicize the loss of assessed value at county level, and how that will reduce tax revenues. In most cases, property value loss far exceeds any revenue the county might receive from the project.

  10. Civil disobedience. Politicians and energy companies are terrified of this. Don’t be afraid to go to jail to protect the land and homes you love. On Molokai we planned if necessary to start a hunger strike on the island, and there were people ready to starve to death to protect our island. The level of your commitment is equal to the level of your success.
—Posted on March 8, 2013, by Mike Bond,

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights

March 2, 2013

Coal has surged despite destroying environment for wind energy

Wind Wise Radio (,, has recently posted a few news items about the increase of coal use around the world, despite (or in part because of?) the huge expansion of industrial-scale wind energy.

China's Wind Farms Come With a Catch: Coal Plants

‘To safeguard against blackouts when conditions are too calm, officials have turned to coal-fired power as a backup. ... More coal is being burned in existing plants, and new thermal capacity is being built to cover this shortfall in renewable energy. ... Officials want enough new coal-fired capacity in reserve so that they can meet demand whenever the wind doesn't blow’

China consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined

‘Coal consumption in China grew more than 9% in 2011, continuing its upward trend for the 12th consecutive year, according to newly released international data. China's coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87% of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons (82%). China now accounts for 47% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.’

As China Burns More Coal, India Needs More

‘It has now been estimated by the International Energy Agency that India may be importing as much coal as China by 2017. ... India has large reserves of coal, however, its economy is growing at a rate where domestic production is unable to meet consumer demand. India currently relies on coal-fired power plants for the majority of its electricity production. However, strict environmental regulations make it difficult to increase the output of the power plants. Importing large amounts of coal is also not always an efficient alternative, as it is difficult to pass on the costs to consumers, many of whom live on less than two U.S. dollars a day. India is thus commonly faced with power outages due to the slow supply of coal. Cities are commonly plagued with blackouts that last for hours, especially during the summer months when air-conditioning is needed. In response, India now aims to build at least 16 more power plants, referred to as ultra-mega power projects.’

Most U.S. coal exports went to European and Asian markets in 2011

‘In 2011, total annual coal exports were up 31% compared to 2010, reaching 107 million short tons, due largely to rising exports to Europe and Asia. ... In general, coal use abroad continued to grow. ... Falling domestic coal consumption (down 4.6% in 2011) along with a slight increase in U.S. coal production (0.9%) freed up more coal to export. ... Rising spot natural gas prices in Europe, up about 35% in 2011, prompted European electricity generators to use more coal.’

Coal resurgence threatens climate change targets [U.K.]

‘Coal is enjoying a renaissance, with the highest consumption of the fuel since the late 1960s. ... The controversial use of shale gas in the US, where it now makes up a quarter of electricity generation, has brought down carbon emissions there – but the greenhouse gases have simply been exported elsewhere, meaning no net gain for the planet. As gas power has replaced coal in the US, the excess coal has pushed down prices on world markets, sparking a bonanza for the high-carbon fuel. Last year, coal had its best year in more than four decades. Its global share of primary energy consumption rose from about 25%, where it has been for years, to 30% – the highest level since 1969, long before governments made any efforts to tackle climate change. ... In the UK, between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, coal consumption rose by nearly a quarter. Europe overall has burned more coal in the past year than any time since it pledged steep emissions cuts, and China and India have also been burning more. Cheap coal, caused by weakening demand in the US where power stations have switched fuels to use gas, has been the biggest factor. ... Fracking has cut the US's greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since 1992, as power stations across the country have switched to gas from coal.’

Germany to Add Most Coal-Fired Plants in Two Decades, IWR Says

‘Germany will this year start up more coal-fired power stations than at any time in the past 20 years as the country advances a plan to exit nuclear energy by 2022.’

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism