Archive for July, 2010


Anya Kamenetz: The Real Cost of College Textbooks

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

The high cost of textbooks isn’t a technological problem to be solved by digital distribution; it’s a business model problem. With students as a captive market, textbooks are the last big cash cow for conventional publishers. It’s no coincidence that Pearson, the largest educational publisher, is the largest English language publisher, period.

 

 

How to deal with “the Hummer of higher education.”

But textbooks, with or without the bundled DVDs, are what Judy Baker, of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, calls “The Hummer of higher education.”

Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic, rich-media learning environments instead using free and open source software tools?

You can find examples at Wikieducator or UMW Blogs.

Teaching without textbooks means teaching students to think critically, evaluate various sources of information, and draw their own conclusions — critical 21st century liberal arts skills. Good professors could put together stellar college courses from the material on Wikipedia and YouTube, but they don’t have to. Learners can draw on a growing trove of materials like TED Talks, the Internet Archive, Europeana, and of course those created expressly for education at the Open Courseware Consortium or the Open Learning Initiative. These are all high quality, of known provenance, and did I mention free?

Some professors are rushing to teach without textbooks, while others are less eager or simply like the convenience of a basic written guide to a topic. Luckily, there is a great transitional model: Flatworld Knowledge. Flatworld Knowledge commissions expert authors to produce textbooks that are free to read online and available in a variety of formats for costs that average just $18 per student per semester, 82 percent cheaper than traditional textbooks.

Most important, because they’re Creative Commons-licensed, educators and potentially students can customize the texts for each class in which they’re adopted–cutting, adding, or remixing material to use only what they need. Goodbye, Hummer — hello, hybrid Zipcar.

Anya Kamenetz is the author of DIY U, Edupunks Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, available in our bookstore.

August Crop: New and Upcoming Titles!

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Nine new books are coming out this month and the next!

We’ve got a fresh and fascinating crop of titles on the politics and practice of sustainable living–from composting manure in your own backyard to raising hell on the national political stage.

Check out new titles from agrarian superstars Gene Logsdon and Joel Salatin, Consumer Watchdog advocate Jamie Court, plus some great new resources for green builders. Add to that the story of the SEIU, the wonders and mysteries of mushrooms, tales of young food activists and some eco-fiction and it’s going to be a busy, delightful late summer. Enjoy!


Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon
In his insightful new book, Holy Shit, Managing Manure To Save Mankind, contrary farmer Gene Logsdon provides the inside story of manure—our greatest, yet most misunderstood, natural resource. He begins by lamenting a modern society that not only throws away both animal and human manure—worth billions of dollars in fertilizer value—but that spends a staggering amount of money to do so. This book is pure common-sense wisdom, mixed liberally with elegant poop-jokes.
The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell by Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog
Change is no simple matter in American politics—a fact that Americans have recently learned well. Elections rarely produce the change they promise. After the vote, power vacuums fill with familiar values, if not faces. Promises give way to fiscal realities, hope succumbs to pragmatism, and ambition concedes to inertia. The old tricks of interest groups—confuse, diffuse, scare—prevail over the better angels of American nature.But populist energy can get change-making and change-makers back on the right track.
Adobe Homes for all Climates by Lisa Morey Schroder and Vince Ogletree
The lay-up of adobe bricks is an easy, forgiving way to achieve a solid masonry-wall system. Contrary to stereotypes, adobe is perfectly adaptable for use in cold, wet climates as well as hot and dry ones, and for areas prone to earthquakes. With its efficient use of energy, natural resources for construction, and minimal effort for long-term maintenance, it’s clear that the humble adobe brick is an ideal option for constructing eco-friendly structures throughout the world.
Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares by Greg Marley
Throughout history, people have had a complex and confusing relationship with mushrooms. Are fungi food or medicine, beneficial decomposers or deadly “toadstools” ready to kill anyone foolhardy enough to eat them? In fact, there is truth in all these statements. In Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, author Greg Marley reveals some of the wonders and mysteries of mushrooms, and our conflicting human reactions to them.
Masonry Heaters by Ken Matesz
Masonry Heaters is a complete guide to designing and living with one of the oldest, and yet one of the newest, heating devices. A masonry heater’s design, placement in the home, and luxurious radiant heat redefine the hearth for the modern era, turning it into a piece of the sun right inside the home.
Growing Roots by Katherine Leiner
Published by Sunrise Lane Productions

Growing Roots, The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists is about a new revolution in food that involves young people who are living sustainable lives that revolve around healthy, natural food. The book introduces us to farmers and beekeepers, fishermen and chefs, food activists and cheesemongers, and many, many more.

Stronger Together by Don Stillman
Published by SEIU

Stronger Together: The Story of SEIU describes how the Service Employees International Union grew to 2.2 million members in an era when most unions suffered major declines.

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin
Available in September!
Published by Polyface, Inc.

Foodies and environmentally minded folks often struggle to understand and articulate the fundamental differences between the farming and food systems they endorse and those promoted by Monsanto and friends. With visceral stories and humor from Salatin’s half-century as a “lunatic” farmer, Salatin contrasts the differences on many levels: practical, spiritual, social, economic, ecological, political, and nutritional.

The Monkey Bible by Mark Laxer
Available in September!
Published by Outer Rim Press

The Monkey Bible is the story of Emmanuel, a young college-bound Christian man who suddenly has reason to suspect that his genetic make-up, and indeed the story of his creation, is not what he had thought it was. Dismayed and seemingly alienated from his church, Emmanuel journeys around the world in search of his genetic and spiritual origins, identity, and community.

Paul Armentano: House Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act

Friday, July 30th, 2010

This article was originally published on NORML.org

On Tuesday, Congressional Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 5143, the House version of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010.

NORML first blogged about this federal legislation back in November, and encouraged supporters to contact their members of Congress in favor of this much-needed reform. This week the House did their part. Now it is up to the Senate to do theirs.

Said the measure’s House sponsor, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA). “Today our prison population is expanding at an alarming rate, with costs to the taxpayers that are unsustainable. … (This) bill passed … will assess the current crisis, reverse these disturbing trends and help save taxpayer money.”

House Bill 5143 is a companion bill to S. 714, championed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA). Senate Bill 714 will establish a `National Criminal Justice Commission’ to hold public hearings and “undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, including Federal, State, local, and tribal governments’ criminal justice costs, practices, and policies. … The Commission shall make findings regarding such review and recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system.”

In January, members of the Senate Judiciary passed S. 714. The measure awaits action by the full Senate. Hopefully, this week’s House vote will spur the Senate into action.

It’s been many years since a federally appointed commission has taken an objective look at American criminal justice policies, and it’s been nearly 40 years since federal lawmakers have undertaken a critical examination of U.S. drug policy. Sen. Webb articulately explains why this examination is long overdue.

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. … The United States has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.

… Drug offenders, most of them passive users or minor dealers, are swamping our prisons. … Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. Additionally, nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity. … African-Americans — who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population population — accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

… It is incumbent on our national leadership to find a way to fix our prison system.”

NORML supporters can play a role in this ‘fix’ by contacting their U.S. Senators and urging them to support Senate Bill 714, The National Criminal Justice Commission Act.

Stella Otto’s Dream Garden

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Stella Otto is the author of two books, The Backyard Berry Book and The Backyard Orchardist. Recently, her own garden was featured on The Good Stuff Guide, with some dreamy, fog-banked, morning photos. Definitely good for some inspiration.

Stella has her own beautiful website: stellaotto.com where she shares tips for the home orchardist. She has recently been interviewed on LoveToKnow.com, and writes a column on gardening for MyNorth.com.

The Backyard Berry Book and The Backyard Orchardist are both available in our bookstore.

Front Porch Republic: Go Buy Bye Bye

Friday, July 30th, 2010

An enthusiastic review of Bill Kauffman’s latest book, Bye Bye, Miss American Empire from the Front Porch Republic:

Reader alert: FPR editor Bill Kauffman’s latest is now available. Titled Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map, it is vintage Kauffman. It also sports a splendid cover and carries a blurb from James Howard Kunstler. My blurb, had I been asked, would have been, “This is the book that will finally land Kauffman on the No-Fly List!” And with that, let me be the first to say hello to all the good folks at Homeland Security and the FBI who may be reading this. Glad to have you aboard.

In case the title isn’t sufficiently descriptive for you, the book is about America’s many secession movements — including movements to separate parts of states from other states, and movements to separate certain states from the Union. The individual portraits, the history lessons, the vocabulary enrichment — so many reasons to pick up the book. And you may be surprised at where Bill’s sympathies do and do not lie. In any case, the efforts he discusses are certainly worth trying to understand. They are full of people — honest-to-God patriots — worth taking seriously, and they make arguments worth considering.

We’ll have more coverage here at FPR as time marches on, including, I hope, an excerpt.

Thanks Jeremy!

Readers, if you feel called to follow Jeremy’s directive, click here to go buy Bye Bye, Miss American Empire in our bookstore!

Matthew Stein Interviewed by Visionary Culture Radio

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails, A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency
Visionary Culture Radio inspires through bringing leading edge artists, scientists, ecologists, authors, musicians, social architects and healers into deep, awesome conversation to help us bridge forward into a higher awareness and more awakened consciousness.

Listen to the interview here…

From the introduction:

Author Matthew Stein has written a power-packed manual for emergency preparedness and sustainability education ‘for the long emergency,’ with the wish that we never need to use it. Nevertheless it is important for us to be practical about how to address any emergency situation. Tyler Tolman of Conscious Lifestlyer will join us to discuss the mental numbing of our nation and how we can avoid mind control and misleading media. Check it out! Visionary Culture Radio with host Laura Fox examines the state of the worlds :: our inner world of personal growth, spirituality, and transformation, and our outer world of community, activation and living our highest destiny path. Featuring conscious, world-service oriented musicians, artists, scientists, leading edge social thinkers and social architects, visionaries,and people making a difference, Visionary Culture Radio is your portal to activating ‘possibilities’ into manifestation.

Matthew Stein’s website is WhenTechFails.com. His book is available in our bookstore.

Shannon Hayes: Leaving it Up to Them

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

This article was originally published by Yes! Magazine.

Shortly after her second birthday, we noticed that Ula (now three) was developing a wandering eye. She had difficulty seeing the pictures in her books, and flatly refused to eat with a fork. We took her to a developmental optometrist, and spent an hour in an examination. She needed glasses.Ula disagreed. The first pair, made extra-durable to survive a child’s play, had various pieces snapped off of them in less than a week. The second pair was thrown off during a hike up a dirt road. We went back and found they’d been crushed by a passing car. Subsequent pairs were snapped in half, had the ear pieces broken off, or the lenses removed. Ula then took to hiding her glasses. We found them in the perennial beds, in potted plants, tucked in my underwear drawer, dangling from a screw underneath a picnic table. Since we try not to be wasteful consumers, I’m too embarrassed to divulge the number of glasses we’ve lost or destroyed in a single year. Our optometrist has grown annoyed with us. He pronounced Ula the most non-compliant patient he’s had in a very long career working with children (We always knew she was destined to be exceptional).

I am often asked how I plan to keep my children on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t.

It isn’t as though Ula doesn’t need the glasses. With them, she can find food with her fork, enjoy detailed illustrations, put together puzzles, and investigate garden bugs. We have spent countless hours attempting to get her to wear them, trying everything from coercion to bribery. It doesn’t matter. I am convinced Ula came into our family with the singular purpose of teaching us the meaning of free will.

That lesson has gone a long way. Because our lifestyle is deeply variant from the mainstream, I am often asked about how it will affect my children as they enter adulthood, how I plan to keep them on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t. If I can’t make my kid wear her glasses, even when I know they are good for her, how the heck can I expect to control her choices in adulthood?

I received a beautiful letter from a veteran Radical Homemaker recently that really drives this point home. Marie (not her real name) and her husband both chose to forgo conventional careers, raising their daughters with no electrical appliances except a fridge, washing machine, lights and a radio. They’ve managed to raise their family on an almost non-existent income, making ends meet through part-time freelance work, skilled crafts, and music. Both daughters were homeschooled, and completed college through distance learning programs. Now ready to forge her own path in life, the eldest, Angelica (also not her real name) is armed with a boatload of resources. She is an accomplished musician, dancer, and craftsperson, and positively rich in her ability to live on very little. Then girl meets boy. And, much to her mother’s despair, discussions about big incomes, mortgages, and flat screen televisions ensue. The relationship progressed, and the young couple decided to move in together. Angelica began questioning the value of her unique lifestyle, and the young man urged her to “get a real job.”

balloons photo by Scarleth White
The Birthday Balloon
Somewhere in our consumer culture, we have confused material items with expressions of love: Shannon Hayes on taking back birthdays.

Fully aware that similar struggles might lie in my own children’s future, I hung on every word in Marie’s correspondence. I shared her angst in wondering what her daughter would do. One would think, from our level of concern, that Angelica was shooting heroine or breaking into houses. How funny, as Radical Homemaking parents, that the fears we hold for our children are that they should opt for the straight and narrow! But it is a genuine worry. We try to raise our children with the skills to require little from the Earth, to honor their hearts, relationships, and personal creativity. We hope that they will be able to move forward with freedom from our consumer culture, equipped with the resources to enjoy a lifestyle that honors social justice, family, community and the planet.

But as Ula has taught me, there is little we can do if our kids refuse our guidance, even if we think it is for the best. We must know in our hearts that we have lived our ideals, that we have demonstrated it is possible to live in a way that is true to our souls. The rest is up to them.

That seems to be working in Marie’s case. Just before moving in with her boyfriend, Angelica spent two weeks wrestling with his “get a real job” suggestion. Then she dumped him.

Now, if only I could get Ula to wear her glasses …


Shannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

Gene Logsdon: Happy Homestead Happenstances

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

How many slick tricks have you learned about farming and gardening more or less by accident? My favorite example happened because of laziness. I didn’t clean out the roof gutter on the barn for over a year. I have a longstanding prejudice against roof gutters anyway. Why not just let the water run off the roof onto a layer of gravel or stone along the wall? The gutters plug regularly and the water overflows anyway. This is especially true of my barn which sits in the woods. All sorts of tree leaves, twigs, and seeds end up in the gutter. Five tree leaves can plug a downspout no matter what kind of contraption you install to prevent it. And those screens that are supposed to keep debris out of the gutters become clogged and the water cascades right on over and down to the ground. That is, in any event, how I justify my laziness. Water running off the barn roof (as opposed to running off the house roof) is certainly not of any consequence as far as looks are concerned. In fact that water off the roof keeps the whole barnyard lawn nice and green all summer.

Now the plot thickens. more

Cheesemonger, A Life on the Wedge: An Excerpt

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Gordon Edgar’s memoir has been widely praised for its funny, passionate, unpretentious style. In it, the cheesemonger for the country’s largest worker owned cooperative, Rainbow Grocery, tells the story of his life in cheese. He tells how he first fell in love with an alpine cheese, talks about the origins of cheese, and shares plenty of anecdotes from his time at Rainbow. Plenty of oddball customers have graced the cheese counter over the years. As he puts it, this is a sort of law of nature, “Co-ops attract nuts like Taleggio attracts flies.”

Click here to read a preview of the book.

Remember to get a copy while it’s on sale. All our cheese books are 25% off until the end of July!

Bill Kauffman: The Loneliness of the Long Dissonant Reader

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

This article was originally published by The American Conservative.

In A Tragic Honesty, his biography of Richard Yates, Blake Bailey describes a scene sure to send a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God shiver down the spine of any writer who has ever approached a podium, book in hand, straining to hear the sound of one hand clapping:

That winter he was invited to give a reading at the University of Massachusetts (Boston), but not a single person showed up. He sat in the silent lecture hall while his two sponsors gazed at their watches; finally Yates suggested they adjourn to a bar. He didn’t seem particularly surprised.

Poor Yates. But then that’s what he gets for agreeing to do a reading. Authors with functioning a-hole detectors—admittedly, most need new batteries—understand that humiliation is a lurking presence at any public appearance, and when Kate Winslet finally wants to meet you, it’s long after you’re dead.

My Batavia homeboy John Gardner, no slouch himself in the adjourning to the bar department, told an interviewer, “In those days I would wear a crushed velvet robe—I’m shameless, right!—with a huge silver chain. I felt that every time I did a reading I was cheating the people because they came hoping for something very exciting. I wanted them to think that their $5 or $7 or whatever was worthwhile. So I wore this robe, so that when they went home, at least they could say, ‘I went to the most boring reading in history, but, boy, did that guy dress funny!’”

As luck would have it, my crushed velvet robe doesn’t fit me anymore, so I have no such sartorial fallback when I do a reading. If I’m desperate enough I wear the tie that helped me earn second place in a Marcello Mastroianni lookalike contest. (You can imagine what the other guys must have looked like.)

John Gardner had an ample hambone; like Allen Ginsberg omming and howling his way through an evening’s verse, he probably was incapable of boring an assembly, even one of Yatesian sparseness.

I’ve never quite addressed a vacant room—usually a few stragglers happen by, or if it’s a local talk at least my family fills in a row of seats—but I once was the only pair of ears at a reading by a fine poet. He was embarrassed, I was embarrassed, but he read a couple of poems with a winningly defiant abashment and then we had a good long chat that solidified a friendship. One sympathetic reader (or auditor) is all you really need.

Colleges and universities can guarantee any writer an audience, as long as a professor dangles the carrot of “extra credit” in front of enough grade-grubbing students. Other venues are dicier. Before I spoke at a political rally an incredulous member of the crowd, scanning the roster of speakers, asked the organizer, “You mean this guy’s gonna stand there and read a book?”

Well, uh, yeah, the organizer replied.

“You gotta be f***** kidding!”

Not even the crushed velvet robe could have saved me then.

There is a certain going-down-with-the-ship nobility in playing to an empty house, or lecturing to a listener-less lyceum. In the summer of 1979 I saw Gang of Four play in a Buffalo bar to an audience of eight people, one of whom kept drunkenly yelling “REO Speedwagon.” Talk about driving home the lyric “At home he feels like a tourist”! Yet the band thrashed about as if their lives were at stake that night. I don’t give a damn if Gang of Four were art-school Maoists; they exhibited the spirit of Joe DiMaggio’s explanation of why he hustled in what seemed to be a meaningless game: “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.”

And so here is where I offhandedly mention that I’m giving a mercifully brief talk—I won’t call it a “reading,” lest I invite the curse of Yates—on Thursday, July 29, at 7 p.m. at Lift Bridge Books in Brockport, New York, a great indie store located a stone’s throw from that first and most romantic infernal improvement, the Erie Canal. The subject is my latest, Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (how’s that for a wishful thinking title?), which is bound for glory or the remainder bin, you guess which. In deference to Gang of Four, I won’t fill your head with culture, and I won’t give myself an ulcer.

Bill Kauffman is the author of upcoming book Bye Bye, Miss American Empire, Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map.


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