Archive for August, 2010


Anya Kamenetz: What’s Up With Twentysomethings? In a Word, Economics

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I can’t believe we’re going through this again.

In January 2005, Time magazine featured on its cover a photo of a young man in a shirt and dress slacks sitting in a sandbox. The headline: “They Just Won’t Grow Up.” The article featured the research of one Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, a developmental psychologist who coined the term “emerging adulthood” to explain these puzzling, infantilized adults.

The cover story of the New York Times Magazine this weekend, already situated snugly at the top of the Most-Emailed List, is a near-exact repeat of this story from 5 years ago, this time asking “What is it About Twenty-Somethings?” Again Arnett is the resident featured expert. The Times‘ only innovation, besides the slightly higher quality of the writing and the greater length, is tarting up the article with lots of sexy pictures of 20somethings (“I’m lying on my bed, all angsty! Look down my shirt!”) so readers can lust after them while simultaneously shaking their heads.

While they try on various social science hypotheses, the overall tone of both articles is condescending, puzzled, frustrated, mocking. Both take the point of view of the print magazines’ aging readership: your mom, who wants you to get a job and an apartment and get married and give her grandchildren.

However, as I argued at great length in my book Generation Debt in 2006, and in dozens of articles for the Village Voice, Yahoo!, the New York Times, and the Washington Post dating back to 2004, the overwhelming reasons for this so-called “delayed transition” are NOT personal or psychological but economic. College costs 1000% more money than it did 30 years ago, yet it’s required for most living-wage jobs. Young people work longer hours while they’re in school, so it takes them longer to finish. Rent is higher too, and the youth unemployment rate is the highest for any age group. Young people have unprecedented amounts of student loan and credit card debt that persist into their 30s. Getting married, let alone starting a family, is difficult, even inadvisable, when you’re not financially stable.

Even when we as a nation try to remedy Generation Debt’s problems, we do so in a way that extends financial dependency. For example, the recent health care bill included a provision that young adults must be included on their parents’ health care policies until the age of 26. Why not mandate instead that the part-time service employers that overwhelmingly rely on young workers provide access to health care coverage?

There is no mysterious collective 20something malaise. It’s like publishing an article titled, “What’s Up With Blacks?” (written, of course, by a white person).

The poor position of our nation’s future workforce is the outgrowth of decades of economic policy — the growth of consumer and national debt and the deterioration of the American job market, the protection of old-people programs like Social Security and Medicare and the faltering of opportunity-creating programs like education and health care for all. Maybe the Times should be talking to its own Paul Krugman, not a psychologist.

Or, if the Times editors wanted to emphasize the cultural and personal experience that emerges from this economic background, why not commission a young writer? Why is an article asking “What’s Up With Twentysomethings?” being written by a writer who is clearly at least in her 50s? I can think of half a dozen writers in their 20s who’d be great for the job. I’d have been happy to do it myself — I’ll be in my 20s for 3 more weeks.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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

Les Leopold: Five Washington Excuses for Ignoring the Jobs Crisis

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Slowly but surely we are moving in the right direction. We’re on the right track.” ~ Barack Obama, Aug. 18, 2010

President Obama’s pollyanish comments coupled with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ outburst against “the professional left” reveal just how out of touch the Obama Administration is with the tens of millions of everyday Americans who are engulfed by the jobs crisis. Obama and Gibbs are miffed at liberal pundits for complaining about the Administration’s concessions on everything from health care and financial reform to jobs creation. But Obama’s real problem isn’t Arianna Huffington or Paul Krugman. For now, liberals have no place else to go–and they’ll never cross over to the Republican Party.

Instead, the Administration should be very worried about the more than 29 million Americans who have lost their jobs or are forced into part-time work. Unemployment is stuck at 9.5 percent–and that’s just the narrowest measure of joblessness. The more accurate Bureau of Labor Statistics jobless rate (U6) is over 16.5 percent. (This includes people who have stopped looking for jobs and those working part-time involuntarily.) Five workers are competing for every job opening while the average length of unemployment is over 35 weeks. If it weren’t for unemployment insurance and food stamps, we’d have Depression era soup kitchen lines going round the block.

Since the 1930s struggling workers like these have flocked to the Democratic Party, which they viewed as the party of jobs. Now they’re not so sure, and the party risks losing its mass base

Our current unemployment trough, by far the longest and deepest since 1937, directly violates the social compact that glues together modern industrial societies — the tacit commitment that business and government will produce a full-employment economy. When that promise goes unmet for long periods, chaos ensues. It is not an accident that the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s corresponded with a prolonged period of high unemployment. Unfortunately, rearmament and war also are tools to put people back to work. Our political and business leaders are playing with fire by failing to seriously address the jobs crisis.

Wall Street gamblers tore an enormous hole in our economy, destroying 8 million jobs in a matter of months. Those jobs still haven’t come back and may never return. Therefore, it is the fundamental purpose of government to relentlessly attack the problem, just as we did during the Depression, with long-term funding to get people into decent, sustainable jobs. But instead of shouldering this responsibility, far too many politicians and public officials of both parties hide behind spurious arguments. Here are a few of the most outrageous:

  1. “The unemployed have only themselves to blame”: It’s remarkable how many politicians and pundits argue that joblessness is sky-high because unemployed people haven’t developed “the skills they need to compete successfully in the 21st century.” We expect that kind of twisted logic from anti-worker conservatives who think that unemployment insurance keeps workers from finding jobs (even if there are no jobs). But it’s downright pathetic when a Democratic administration sings from the same hymnal. Here’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the pulpit:

    “The share of workers who have been unemployed for six months or more is at its highest level since 1948, when the data was first recorded, and we must do more to ensure that they have the skills they need to re-enter the 21st-century economy.”

    Dear Tim: Now that your Wall Street buddies have wrecked the economy and you’ve bailed them out, there are no jobs–except maybe for derivatives traders. What skills enable people to find nonexistent jobs?

  2. “Unemployment is a lagging indicator — the jobs are coming“: The Obama Administration and Democratic Party leaders fall prey to their own version of trickle down economics when they argue that their mammoth Wall Street bailout and puny, short-lived stimulus program will bring back jobs for regular Americans (eventually).
    Money was no object when it came to bailing out every bank and investment house that could possibly be put on life support. By some estimates the financial sector got over10 trillion in bailouts. Economists Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm estimate that Goldman Sachs alone got60 billion in direct and indirect taxpayer largess. This huge cash infusion worked like a charm: Financial elites quickly got back to collecting fat bonuses and reopened their casinos, setting the stage for Financial Collapse 2. The Administration looked the other way.Then came a modest stimulus package designed to prime the pump with tax cuts, public works bills and programs to quickly push money into the economy. The Administration hoped that this primed pump — plus a resuscitated financial sector — would bring unemployment down below 8 percent by the mid-term elections.

    Unfortunately, that part of the plan didn’t work: The stimulus was far too small and diffuse to restore the millions of jobs that the financial gamblers had destroyed. We now need 22 million new jobs to get back to 5 percent unemployment. That’s a tall order — the equivalent of creating 640 Apple Computer companies, with 34,000 employees each.

  3. “We can’t afford a job creation program — it’ll increase the deficit”: It’s certainly true that the deficit is growing rapidly as a result of the Wall Street crash and bailouts. But if we want the deficit to shrink, we’ll have to put people back to work so that they start paying taxes again. We also need to place a significant windfall profits tax on the very financial elites who wrecked the economy. We wouldn’t have a deficit problem if our politicians had the will to truly tax the super-rich — those earning3 million or more a year. (More on this below.)
  4. “US workers are overpaid. Cut wages by about 20 percent and the jobs will come back”: Apparently many officials and business leaders actually believe this. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, for example, argues that during the Great Depression, workers’ refusal to take more wage cuts during a period of deflation kept employers from hiring, driving unemployment to new heights. So…now that Wall Street has run off with the taxpayers’ money, the taxpayers need to live with less so they can have jobs. (Never mind that we’ve already stumbled through decades of stagnant wages.) Wage cuts indeed are badly needed — on Wall Street.
  5. “Government interference is creating uncertainty in the private sector and keeping companies from creating new jobs”: The government haters, reinforced by the know-nothing Tea Partyites, really believe that if government would just leave private enterprise alone, it would generate jobs for all. Maybe these folks didn’t notice that the crash we just lived through happened precisely because the government let the free market run wild. It’s probably impossible to convince ideologues that the private sector can’t police itself or create millions of new jobs all on its own — even though we’ve known this for more than 80 years.
    The Republican Party, hiding behind this ideology, hopes to see the economy collapse again so it can reap the rewards in November. (Might the giant Wall Street firms quietly engage in a capital strike to retard economic growth and help anti-regulatory Republicans recapture Congress? No, they wouldn’t do that… Would they?) The Republicans are hoping that by the time they take power again, the economy will quickly right itself and they can take the credit. That and the Tooth Fairy will bring us new jobs. The Republicans are playing a very dangerous game that is likely to worsen an already severe jobs crisis and send our nation into uncharted and dangerous territory.

We can’t tackle the jobs crisis until we’re willing to tackle Wall Street. Both Democrats and Republicans have stood idly by as the wage gap has turned into a Grand Canyon of inequality. (In 1970, the top 100 CEOs made 45 times more than the average worker; in 2008, they made 1,081 times more. See The Looting of America) Almost no one in Washington has the nerve to challenge Wall Street’s socially useless and reckless financial games. They’re afraid to say that it’s wrong that the top 25 hedge fund managers made as much money during 2009 as 658,000 teachers — or that the top ten hedge fund managers “earn” $900,000 an hour. The money for job creation is right there, in the hands of the elites who profited so handsomely from the financial meltdown they helped create.

The American people are hungry for proposals to rectify this injustice. Why not turn Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains into programs that put our people back to work? Here’s a plan we’ll probably never hear from Democrats, Republicans or the Tea Party:

Place a windfall profits tax on the super-rich who profited from our bailouts to pay for the jobs that these gamblers destroyed.

Call it a windfall profits tax or a financial transaction fee. But really it’s reparations, long overdue. Tens of millions of Americans are suffering through no fault of their own. These working people didn’t buy houses they couldn’t afford. They didn’t gamble their life’s savings on derivatives and securitization.. They just went to work one day and were told their job was gone. They came home to find their neighborhood disintegrating as the housing bubble burst around them. All thanks to reckless financial games on Wall Street.

Unless the Obama Administration finally organizes a major assault on the jobs crisis, there will be no relief for Mr. Gibbs or his boss. Many angry Americans — liberals and conservatives — will turn against the party in power.

Too bad we no longer have a real Party of Jobs to support.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

REVIEW: Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Food Forestry For All – Permaculture Activist


By Peter Bane – August 2010

When Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier brought out Edible Forest Gardens in two volumes five years ago, I thought we had seen the last word on the subject for a decade if not a generation; at eight years in the writing and with over 1,000 pages, their work seemed encyclopedic. Dave, who was the senior writer and penned most of the text (while Eric compiled much of the tabular material on plants), is brilliant, and witty, and a spectacularly good teacher. The intellectual vistas EFG opened up were breathtaking.

Without vaulting over their accomplishment, Martin Crawford has managed quietly to walk up to the head of the line and stand abreast of his American colleagues with quite a different but utterly impressive book. If Dave and Eric had erected a magnificent pavilion on top of the hill with sweeping views of the ecological terrain of forest gardening, Martin has taken in those views appreciatively, and walked out the back door and down what will likely be the main garden path toward success and satisfaction for most people. If you follow in his steps, he’ll tell you every plant along the way, which ones are productive, which are fiddly, how to get them to grow, in what order to plant them, how much it will cost you, how much time it will take to establish, where to get the seed, what parts to eat, when to harvest, where you have choices, and how you will know that you’re over the hump.

Martin Crawford, working almost completely alone on a two-acre plot at Dartington Manor in southwest England and an eight-acre field site across the valley, has steadily, and with remarkable thoroughness for the past 20 years researched, planted, tended, harvested, and documented the temperate world’s foremost forest garden. Agroforestry News, which Martin has published quarterly since 1992 is just this summer completing its 18th volume (subscriptions available in North America from Permaculture Activist). He has carved out an indispensable and distinctive niche in the tiny field of permanent agriculture.

Creating a Forest Garden is long on detailed information (two-thirds of the book is plant profiles and commentary), thrifty in its use of text, pointedly practical in its recommendations. It is, for all of its four-pound heft and fill-your-lap spread, highly accessible.  You can open it up, find what you need, read the essentials, and have a pretty good summary understanding of almost any aspect of forest gardening in a very short time. You are left with the impression that forest gardening is as easy as Martin makes it look. Don’t be fooled, however. The gardening itself may be easy, but the work that went into making it successful, and making this book the valuable reference that it is, required long hours of research, reading, and testing ideas from the literature.

Martin, now in his 40s, came to horticulture from software engineering, and despite the seeming incongruity has been well-suited to the job he took on: he’s steady, patient, thorough, and oriented to results. He’s combed the literature on perennial plants from around the globe to identify and secure seed or stock of all those that might plausibly flourish in his zone 9 garden in a section of southern Britain swept by salty winds. Then he planted them and reported the results. The moderate climate there has been favorable to a huge number of species. And because many of them have only been available as seed, he’s learned to propagate them by running his own nursery.  The nursery and a seed catalog, along with workshops in recent years, plus the journal have provided his income. A small number of visionary patrons, plus the support of the Dartington Trust, which steward the thousand- year-old manor where he works, have made his job easier than it might have been, and we are in their debt as well as his.

The book is a pleasure to behold and to work with. It’s printed in large format with hard covers and color plates and color printing throughout The photos and the findings were all take a in Martin’s garden in Devon, which is the most astonishing aspect of the whole thing. You could say this is a digest of a 20-year research project into a holistic system of perennial food production, carried out by a working scientist and written for the lay gardener by a regular bloke himself. The order of subjects follows the order of establishment and understanding of the forest garden. There is a very short introduction to the theory of forest gardens as symbiotic ecosystems designed for maximum human benefit; and then a quite sober and practical examination of climate change and its likely trajectory (vineyards in England, drier summers). Then there’s a good discussion of the forest environment and soils, followed by a chapter on fertility. I loved the systematic and flexible listing of nitrogen sources: moderate croppers like juneberries, hawthorns, and elder need each year (per square meter of canopy) 0.2 square meter of companion nitrogen-fixing plant nearby (in full light), twice as much of that if the nitrogen-fixer is in half-light, four cut plants of comfrey applied as mulch, a kilo of fresh seaweed, three-tenths kilo of manure, four-tenths kilo of compost, or half a human bladder full of pee.  Any of those will do just fine. You see that kind of thinking throughout the book: fresh and friendly methods described with scientific care and precision-what we have long sought and what permaculture has needed to defend itself against unwarranted methodological attacks by reductionist science.

Creating a Forest Garden validates permaculture theory right and left; it has immense utility for and shows enormous influence from permaculture design training and practice, but Martin is very clear to state respectfully that what he does is not permaculture, but simply forest gardening. And it is true that he’s not attempting to integrate animals (other than wildlife and soil fauna) into his garden-no chickens or sheep foraging under the shrubs, no community currency although he certainly has access to the Totnes Pound), no passive solar homes, nor bicycle- powered seed grinders. Just plants, thank you…oh, and of course birds, bees, butterflies, and worms. It’s quite enough to have done that. Measuring even more complex systems adequately may be a task for which science is not yet prepared.

Chapter 7 describes methods for establishing a forest garden, including how to achieve good results without letting weeds take over the ground while you take several years to get going. Plant the canopy species first (the taller trees that will form the backbone of the forest garden), then mulch out grasses and weeds, and get your groundcovers in place. Then fill in shrubs, then perennial and biennial herbs. Work out from a controlled front; don’t bite off more than you can chew.  You can work with 4000 square feet (50′x 80′) or five acres. The scale of your plantings will change; small gardens will have more intensive understory usage while larger gardens may devote expansive areas of ground to plants that are not harvested like mint and other herbs for ecosystem support.

Much of the body of the text consists of page after page of plant profiles organized by size and ecosystem niche. Each gives a color photo, a brief description, and information about growth habit, climate tolerance, sun and shade preferences, performance, fertility requirements, size, soil conditions, uses, harvest and storage, cooking and processing, propagation, and maintenance. Each of the several main layers of the forest garden from canopy to ground cover is introduced before the plants which would occupy it. How and when do you establish the shrubs, what will they need, etc. Around the edges of this main material we get chapters on design, soil preparation, windbreaks, fungi (a kind of layer in themselves), clearings. pathways, maintenance, harvest and preservation. how  to do further work, and propagation. complete  with tables. The appendices are rich and offer tables of edible yields by month, bee forage plants, and lists of suppliers, publications, and useful organizations.

 Martin Crawford has produced a spectacularly useful guide to new horticultural and ecological terrain of great importance: tested theory and personal experience, practically organized, and attractively packaged. With a little care, the book might last as long as it takes you to see all the layers of your forest garden feeding you, say a decade or three. There should be no more excuses. Get it, and get going.

Creating a Forest Garden is available in our bookstore.

Paul Armentano of NORML: Prop 19 Continues to Lead in Latest Poll

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A majority of Californians continue to voice their support for Prop. 19 — which would eliminate penalties for the private possession and use of marijuana by adults, and allow local governments to regulate retail cannabis production and sales.

According to the most recent Survey USA poll (conducted August 9-11), 50 percent of likely voters in California say they are certain to vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 19 versus 40 percent who say that they will vote ‘no.’ These totals are the same as reported by Survey USA one month ago, and indicate that voters’ support is holding steady despite increased attacks and propaganda from our opponents. (NORML Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville has just posted an excellent rebuttal to many of our opponents’ more outrageous claims here.)

According to the latest polling data, voters age 35 to 49 are most likely to back Prop. 19, and African Americans and self-reported Democrats are more likely to support the measure as compared to other groups. (To read why self-proclaimed ‘conservative’ voters ought to vote yes on Prop. 19, please see my recent op/ed in the Orange County Register here.) On Friday, leaders from the Latino Voters League held a press conference in Los Angeles announcing their support for Prop. 19, joining the state NAACP which had previously announced their ‘unconditional support’ for the measure in June.

Predictably, many members of law enforcement continue to speak out against the measure. Yet, as you can see in my recent rebuttal to three Bay area police chiefs, their rhetoric rings hollow. In fact, even those in the media who oppose Prop. 19 are beginning to question the rhetoric and tactics of LEOs.

Fortunately, editors at several prominent California papers are giving ample editorial space to getting out the facts regarding Prop. 19. Recently, I’ve had op/eds published in the San Jose Mercury News (“Critics of Prop. 19 on marijuana rely on fear, not facts“), The Los Angeles Times (“Feinstein’s misguided opposition to marijuana legalization“), and The Ventura County Star (“Media’s coverage of report spurs reefer madness“) setting the record straight.

Bottom line: The status quo in California for non-medical patients is an abysmal failure. California lawmakers criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in 1913 yet right now in California, the federal government reports that one out of 10 people annually use marijuana and together consume about 1.2 million pounds of it. Self-evidently, cannabis is here to stay. Let’s address this reality and end the practice of arresting 70,000+ Californians each year for minor marijuana possession and/or cultivation charges, and lets stop ceding control of the commercial marijuana market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises and put it in the hands of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first, significant step in this direction.

Paul Armentano is the co-author of Marijuana is Safer, So Why are we Driving People to Drink, which broke a record for daily reads on Scribd on 4/20! Check it out and read the book for free!

New York Times: Joan Gussow’s Garden Teaches the Nutritionist Life Lessons

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

By Anne Raver

EARLY one morning a couple of weeks ago, I helped Joan Dye Gussow, 81, lug three bags of topsoil to the riverbank, before it became too hot and humid to work in her garden, which sweeps down from her house to the Hudson River.

It was hard to get a grip on the heavy plastic bag, but Ms. Gussow, a nutritionist and matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement, is amazingly sturdy for an octogenarian, and she marched me down the wide clover path toward the river.

“It likes being walked on,” she said of the white clover, as we trudged past her tomato cages full of ripening San Marzanos and Sungolds, self-seeded rainbow chard, sweet potatoes, newly planted peas, Malabar spinach and many other vegetables that make up Ms. Gussow’s year-round food supply.

More than 35 years before Fritz Haeg started his Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn project in 2005 — his effort to turn the country’s lawns into vegetable patches — Ms. Gussow and her husband, Alan, an artist, were already in that mode. They laid down trash, kitchen waste and weeds, covered with newspapers and salt hay (killing the grass and making compost at the same time) on the front lawn of their Victorian in Congers, N.Y. Their goal: to grow food for themselves and their two young sons, Adam and Seth.

They farmed that lawn for more than two decades before moving here, to do the same thing, in 1995.

Ms. Gussow had gone back to school in 1969 to earn a doctorate in nutrition at Columbia University, at a time when nutrition was all about vitamins and chemistry, not how food was grown and where it came from. She began connecting the dots between what Americans were eating and how that food — be it factory-farmed chicken or Twinkies — was produced.

She created a legendary course, Nutritional Ecology, which she still teaches today, with a former student, Toni Liquori, who as director of School Food Focus, a nationwide program, works with school districts to buy more healthful, locally grown food.

Because Ms. Gussow dared to talk about energy use, pollution, diabetes and obesity as the true costs of food, she was initially viewed as a maverick crank, but her connections inspired the work of people like Michael Pollan, whose book “In Defense of Food,” echoes many of her revelations.

“She has been a powerful influence on the food movement,” said Mr. Pollan, adding that he admires her “clarity of thinking” and her ability to cut through complex issues to the simple truth: “We all know nutrients are important,” he said. “But Joan says, ‘Eat food.’ That’s the kernel of ‘In Defense of Food.’ ”

Ms. Gussow’s thinking, like Mr. Pollan’s, has always been grounded in the garden.

That muggy morning, as temperatures headed for the high 90s, we dumped the bags of soil near the boardwalk, where, only a few feet away, mallards were paddling peacefully in the quiet water. It was hard to imagine that in March a storm had brought the river surging over the boardwalk, tearing up its boards and pilings, ripping raised beds out of the ground as it moved toward the house, burying the long narrow garden — 36 by 100 feet — under two feet of water.

You can read the story on Ms. Gussow’s Web site, joansgarden.org: “I found myself quite numb — not hysterical as I might have expected. I think it’s age,” she wrote, after sloshing about in her rubber boots the morning after. “There’s absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.”

The day of the storm, March 13, had been a momentous one: she had finished the revisions to her new book, “Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables,” published by Chelsea Green, and due out in November. And for the first time in her long writing life — she has written, co-written or edited five books — she was about to get an advance.

The morning after, finding herself blocked by the debris of what used to be raised beds and the boardwalk, she went inside to call Dave Avdoyan, the landscaper who had built the boxes for those beds, as well as a low stone wall on the north side of the garden, which in recent years had blocked river water rising in a storm. Now it, too, was submerged.

She figured her plants, including her beloved fruit trees and azaleas, were a total loss. But Mr. Avdoyan surveyed the wreckage, looked over the fence at the empty lot next door, which had better drainage and wasn’t as flooded, and proposed a radical solution: using the lot as a staging area and trucking in enough fill to raise her bathtub of a garden two feet.

Read the whole article, and see a slideshow of photos, over at NYTimes.com

Joan’s new book, Growing, Older, will be available this October in our bookstore.

Shannon Hayes: On Facing Judgment

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

I thought I was emotionally prepared to publish Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture this spring. For three years, I endured more insomnia than somnolence as I fretted over my choice of language and confronted myth after myth that bound Americans tightly to an unsustainable way of life. My husband Bob would duck into my office with a cup of coffee in the morning, and I’d stare at him wide-eyed, frightened by some of the ideas that were flowing through my fingertips and onto the computer screen. It was OK to try to live by them. It was another matter altogether to collect them on paper, put them out for the world to read, and accept that perfect strangers would be able to peer in on our own home life, free to judge our choices.

By the time the book came out, I felt ready to stand behind the concepts it promoted, no matter how outlandish they seemed to the broad American public. After researching so many households, I was ready to talk about the ideas.

It turns out I was not ready for the Internet.

The vast majority of my life is lived off-line; thus, I didn’t fully understand that the Internet had become a 21st century high-speed public pillory. I have been e-decried for being naive, dangerous, anti-God, anti-public education, anti-feminist; for my reproductive choices, my food choices, my health care choices, my housing choices, furniture choices, livelihood choices. I thought the electronic world would be about debate and discussion. It is often more about judgment.

Admittedly, I’m sensitive to judgment. Like many writers, I have an ego that bruises more easily than an overripe banana. I have, however, discovered the true beauty of an electronic pillory: I can just turn it off when I’ve had enough.

The garden has too many weeds, I didn’t make jelly yet, I’m so disorganized I can’t find a clean pair of socks. Radical Homemaker? Ha. Try radical slob. Or radical procrastinator.

Of course, then I have to face my own self-judgments. The garden has too many weeds, the blueberries seem sepulchral, my house is a mess, I’m behind on the new book, I haven’t inventoried my canning needs for the year, my fridge needs cleaning, I need more exercise, my bangs are too long, I’m not reading enough, I haven’t gone to visit my grandfather lately, I didn’t make jelly yet, I’m so disorganized I can’t find a clean pair of socks. Radical Homemaker? Ha. Try radical slob. Or radical procrastinator.

These past two weeks, I have an excuse. My daughters Saoirse and Ula are taking their annual swimming lessons at the town pool. Bob offers to take them, but each morning, I insist on doing it myself. In part, I am keeping away from the computer, offering myself a reprieve from cyber-judgment. The other reason is because I learn so much watching the girls in the pool.

This is the fourth year that Saoirse has taken these classes. In that time, we’ve graduated through only one swimming level. Swimming may not be her best subject, but she wants to learn. And that’s why I love to watch her. I don’t know if it is because she is not familiar with the protocols of formal schooling (she is homeschooled), or if it is just in her personality, but Saoirse seems completely oblivious to the idea of “keeping up with the class.”

Watching her, I can see she has a list of skills in her head that she wants to master. She stretches on her back and floats on the water until her face is completely immersed and she sinks to the bottom. Then she goes into a bob, and practices blowing bubbles from the floor of the pool. She comes up for air and talks to herself about what she needs to do differently, oblivious to the opinions of those around her, then tries again. She has not developed enough skills to go up another level. But she doesn’t care. She simply relishes the accomplishments that she is having on her own. She has mastered more swimming techniques this year than ever before, and she is truly (and justifiably) proud of herself.

I’m proud of her, too. I find myself inspired by her ability to tune out any judgment that may be swirling around her (She’s the tallest kid in the class! She’s talking to herself! Why doesn’t she stand still in line and wait like the other kids? How many more times is she going to repeat this class?). Instead, she tunes in to what her heart tells her she needs to do.

I resolve to release all the judgment from my mind, to go forward with a free heart, work toward what I feel is important, and disregard the rest.

I think about all the judgment I hear in my own head about my daily failings, or the judgments that I read online about my personal life and work. I resolve to release it all from my mind, to go forward with a free heart, work toward what I feel is important, and disregard the rest.

Saoirse’s assiduousness and dedication pay off.  Two days ago, her teacher noticed her off in her little world, blowing bubbles from the bottom of the pool. It was one of the skills the other kids needed to learn, so she called Saoirse in to the center of the group to demonstrate. I flushed with pride. However humble it may seem, it was still a moment of glory. I watched her smile privately when the teacher chose her, but she maintained her equanimity and concentration as she inhaled a giant gulp of air, stood up on her toes, then (without even holding her nose!), curled her long legs up under her and dropped to the floor of the pool as she blew a glorious stream of air to the surface for her classmates. Above the water, her teacher pointed to the bubbles haloing my daughter’s head and said, “See? That’s how it’s done.”

When she was out of air, Saoirse unwrapped her gloriously long legs and used them to propel herself in a single magnificent shot straight out of the water…

…And straight into the wall of the pool, which she hit with her mouth, slamming her brand new two front teeth (not all the way descended) right into her upper lip. My, how she did howl.

I can be such a clueless parent at moments like this. (Oops. There I go, judging myself again.) I gave her a wave to come join me outside the water, and assessed her lip. It wasn’t too bad. The brand new teeth held up to the accident, and there was only a small amount of blood. I tried to decide what to do. Do I tell her to be strong, toughen up, and re-join the class? Do I coddle her and let her quit for the day? She sniffled and tried to regain her composure, and I encouraged her to put some ice on it, then stay by the water and re-join her class when she was ready. I backed away from her, worried about being seen as an over-bearing parent. Her shoulders shrunk together as I moved back.  Her spine seemed to wither within her. I watched her for a few moments, then brought her a towel, wrapped her up, and led her to the shade of a nearby tree farther from the pool, where we could sit and watch together. Her little sobs continued, interrupted only by the occasional blurting of “Mommy! It HURTS!” I tried to explain that the wound wasn’t really bad, that it would feel better by the next day. I encouraged her to pay attention to the class so that she wouldn’t miss anything. Saoirse tried to calm herself again and focus, but the sobs sporadically flowed forth, regardless. “It HUURRRTTTSSS!” she wailed again.

To hell with swimming lessons. There was nothing more to be gained from this. I wrapped my arms around my little girl and ushered her off to the empty changing room to get her warm and dry. Sniffling, she pulled off her bathing suit and handed it to me, her skinny bare chest sunken in sadness. I toweled her off again, then folded my arms around her. “Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“Are you worried what the other kids think?”

“Oh Mommy!” She crumbled into my arms and began to bawl. “Yes!”

I enveloped around her, making myself as large as I possibly could, in an effort to shield my little girl from any and all judgment that could possibly plague her in her life. We just remained there, dripping water that pooled up around my pants, soaking me through until it looked as though I’d had an accident. I didn’t care. I waited until her breathing slowed before I spoke.

“Can I tell you something?”

“What?”

“I’m always worried what people think. And they don’t always think very nice things.”

“About YOU?”

“Sure. And you know what else? They get to write whatever they want. Up on the computer. Where anyone else can read it. It’s kind of like shouting it out in public.”

“Oh Mommy! That’s HORRIBLE!” And she threw her arms around my neck and resumed her crying, now, in part, for my benefit. Then she quieted a little and pulled away. “What do you do?”

“I do just like you. I get upset. Then I tell Daddy, or Grammie, or Pop Pop. They usually help me feel better. Or I cuddle with you and Ula.”

Slowly Saoirse released herself from my arms and began to pull on her clothes.

“So it hurts you, too?”

“Yup. Not for very long, though. Then I usually learn something from it, or I make a joke about it. Or tell a story about it. You will, too, about today.”

Dressed, she curled up in my arms once more, this time smiling just a little. I kissed the top of her head. “You know, I was really proud watching you today in the water.”

“Yeah, but then I felt really, really stupid.” She said the word with such emphasis, it practically took three-dimensional form as it pushed out of her bruised lips.

“It’ll pass,” I assured her, and we hugged some more.

Even my little girl, who seemed so liberated from judgment, was inflicting it on her own self. I thought about all those spiritual teachings I’ve read about, ways to release oneself from judgment. That’s a good idea, but hard as hell to do. I can certainly try. So can Saoirse. But it’ll probably happen again and again. And for that, I am thankful that we have each other, and Daddy, Ula, Grammie, and Pop Pop, and our friends. One of us is bound to hold the key that will unlock the other from the chains. Whatever bonds judgment can put on our souls, thankfully, unconditional love can usually break them.


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.This article was originally published by Yes! Magazine.

Updates from the Raw Milk Warfront, Plus a REAL Food-Safety Scare

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

David Gumpert, author of The Raw Milk Revolution, blogs regularly over at The Complete Patient.

In recent months he’s been following closely the uptick in raids on dairies selling raw milk. The strangeness of these raids is the aggressive quality they’ve taken. Imagine a peaceful, pastoral scene. Happy Jersey heifers grazing in a field, the farm stand waiting quietly for customers. And in storms a squad of police officers with heavy-duty guns drawn, as if the milk is going to put up a fight, or as if their violent weapons were aimed at the errant bacteria that might be lurking in the bulk tank, ready to harm unsuspecting members of the public.

This is ridiculous.

From Gumpert’s most recent post,

The key to countering the Massachusett’s Department of Agricultural Resources assault is not only united resistance, but keeping in mind the big picture. MDAR wants people to be confused about the regulations so that, depending on its mood and the political pressures of the time, it can interpret the regs as it wants. It’s important to remember that the campaign against raw milk has been going on for 100 years, and gradually the government has gotten its way.

So for a time, this state or that one may have a peaceful situation. Massachusetts had a peaceful situation since the early 1990s, when the current permitting system for raw dairies was instituted. But then, at the beginning of this year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, likely at the urging of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pressured the MDAR to crack down on raw milk distribution. Quick as a wink, MDAR went after four buying clubs. Emboldened by that success and dissension among raw milk proponents, MDAR moved on to the Ruthman herdshare last week.

The raw milk raids are no accident, or even a symptom of ignorance on the part of the government. They’re actually part of a stated federal policy goal to reduce the number of states that allow such products to be sold. This is NOT about protecting people from E. coli, this is about corporate control of food, and the end result is that our right to choose the foods we want is being stripped away.

Raw milk, like any food, can make people sick if it isn’t treated properly, but visit a small dairy that sells the stuff. Hang around for a milking and see the care that goes into sanitizing the stainless steel equipment. See the process involved in making sure nothing’s wrong with the cow’s udder or the milk. I imagine that you’d feel safe enough to drink the stuff. Go to a massive dairy where the cows never see a blade of grass, walk in their own manure all day, and suffer from mastitis (which leads to pus or somatic cells in the milk), and I imagine you wouldn’t feel the same way.

That milk should be boiled into sterility before being sold to unsuspecting consumers. The raw stuff is, more often than not, treated like the valuable food ingredient that it is.

Raw milk is not where the food safety battles need to be fought. Large producers are the real vectors for disease, and medicine-resistant strains of bacteria. Just this week millions of eggs were recalled because of a Salmonella outbreak. Think of the scale of that potential hazard! Think of all the kids eating scrambled eggs for breakfast. Millions of Salmonella eggs.

Small producers who care for the soil and the creatures they raise should not be forced to bear the burden of proof for the whole, unsustainable food industry.  Theirs may just be the only food safe enough to eat.

Gene Logsdon: Throwing Away Billions of Dollars In Pet Manure

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Not until I was well into writing my new book, Holy Shit: Managing Manure To Save Mankind, which is about  how to manage manure for soil enrichment, did I realize that cats, dogs and horses are a very significant source of valuable fertilizer that we are mostly throwing away. Or, as our friends’ cat, Django, indicates in the photo above, flushing it down the toilet. Until I got to know Django, my attention was focused on farm animal manure and human manure.  I was really surprised to find out how much feces, urine, and litter that pets were adding to our overflowing waste stream, let alone realize that cats were learning how to use the flush toilet.

Instead of wringing hands over the problems of livestock manure, the non-farm sector of society might first want to take a closer look at its own problem: manure from pet cats, dogs, and recreational horses— animals that have little or nothing to do with putting food on anyone’s table. According to recent statistics, there are 73 million pet cats in the United States in addition to an equal number of feral cats roaming the alleys and fields (and killing millions of songbirds). There are some 68 million pet dogs and of course millions of strays out there doing beneficial work like killing my sheep. In addition there are some 9.5 million horses and the number is rising.

The numbers I use in Holy Shit to calculate the amount of manure flowing from these pets can only be approximations but they are based on the best statistics I could find. A horse weighing a thousand pounds produces about 20 tons of manure a year including bedding. So unless I can’t multiply any more, 20 X 9.5 million equals 190,000,000 tons of road apples. Pet dogs and cats together produce per year another five million tons of manure.  All this waste is good, holy fertilizer. Dog and cat waste is particularly valuable because, compared to most manures, it is higher in phosphorus, the plant nutrient most difficult for organic farmers and gardeners to come by naturally.

Read the rest over at Gene’s blog, the Contrary Farmer, and learn more about the gold in them thar pooper scoopers…

Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind is available in our bookstore! 

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 2 – The Nitty-Gritty of the Shitty, here.

Bob Cavnar: After All This, Now They’re Worried About the BOP

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Things keep getting curiouser and curiouser with the Well That Won’t Die.  In his presser this morning, Adm. Allen announced that they are still trying to decide what to do about the relief well, the weak components on the old BOP, and how they’re going to approach the relief well, which is still just sitting there, a tantalizing 3 1/2 feet from the blowout wellbore.  Dithering seems a strong word, but one I’ll now use.  You’ll recall that right after BP started the surprise “well integrity test” back in July, they announced the surprise “static kill”, characterizing it as low pressure, low risk, and an effort to “stabilize” the well.  They pumped that procedure on August 3rd, and, declaring the well “static”, then pumped 500 barrels of cement announcing that the entire job went right down the casing and out into the formation.  That was 11 days ago.

Since, BP and Adm. Allen raised the ominous possibility that there was something mysterious going on in the annulus, the space between the production casing and the intermediate casing.  Adm. Allen has gone on and on about 1,000 barrels of oil in the annulus, “near ambient” pressure testing, rising pressure, falling pressure, holding pressure, and bleeding pressure, to the bewilderment of everyone, including me.  Kent Wells, the star of the BP “Technical” McBriefings, where no technical data is provided, and only few questions are taken (notice I didn’t say answered), has been AWOL since his last appearance six days ago.  The purpose of the “new ambient” pressure test is still unclear, but, after being hounded for over a week by the DailyKos Gulf Watchers, the Admiral compelled BP to release the BOP pressure readings, but BP left out basic information like starting point, whether the well is shut in at the surface or seafloor, the fluid in the riser, etc., so the data is pretty much useless, like most other information that’s been disclosed.

Today, the Admiral admitted that there were three components in the the BOP stack that are of concern; we know which ones those are, since we’ve been talking about them for over a month. The weak components are the flex joint, right on top of the old stack, the riser adapter, and what they call the transition spool are all rated below the other components in the stack, between 5,000 psi to 6,000 psi maximum working pressure.  In each of these procedures that BP has undertaken, the top kill, the well integrity test, the injectivity tests, and static kill, the pressures that BP announced actually exceeded the rated pressures of at least one of those components.  After performing all of these machinations, they are now suddenly concerned about pressure on the BOP, and are actually talking about changing out the entire stack before completing the bottom kill.  What?

All of this delay and dithering is confusing, at best.  Pulling the stack at this point is even more concerning, especially with drill pipe and God know what all inside, including the casing hanger.  Had they followed the original plan of set the capping stack, hooking up the risers that were supposed to be completed in mid-July, and producing the well to the surface while they were killing it from below, all of this new discussion would be moot.  This static kill, where they really have no idea where the cement and mud went, has only complicated matters, created more uncertainty, and absolutely more delay.  The Admiral is clearly weary with all of the questions, snapping at a reporter today who was asking for a timeline saying, “It will happen when I say it happens.  Seems to me that he was a little late to the “going over the rated pressures” party, and is not happy about it.

In the meantime, we’re watching the tropical weather news every day.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Disaster on the Horizon, the first book published on the Gulf oil disaster, will be available in mid-October.

New Book in Stock from Outer Rim Press: The Monkey Bible!

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The Monkey Bible is a multimedia work of Eco-fiction from Mark Laxer. Weaving threads of science and philosophy through the story of a boy’s coming of age, the book seeks to build bridges between the ever-warring factions of evolution and creationism. It is the story of Emmanuel, a young Christian man who suddenly has reason to suspect that his genetic make-up, and indeed the story of his creation, is not what he thought it was. Dismayed and alienated from the church he loves, Emmanuel journeys around the world in search of his genetic and spiritual origins, identity, and community.

While The Monkey Bible can be seen as the latest chapter in the larger-than-life debate between Darwinists and creationists, the novel is respectful of both sides, and strives to provide a gentle supportive bridge across which people who disagree can communicate.

Visit MonkeyBible.com for more information about the project, which includes music, iPhone apps, and live performances.

In this video, author Mark Laxer, explains why the book–and the whole project–is so important.


The Monkey Bible is now available in our bookstore.


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