Archive for October, 2010

Anya Kamenetz: DIY U, Educational Access, and The New Elitism

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I just returned from a swing around some more or less non-elite colleges in the Midwest where I faced a common objection to DIY U:

You talk about access. But the students being left out of the current system are the ones who need more one-on-one support, so how can online educational resources, even if they’re free, possibly help them?

To which my basic answer is: You got a better idea?

Either we use technology to bend the cost curve in higher education, or we resign ourselves to never having enough of it. For-profit colleges will continue, quite expensively, to take up the slack by targeting the students left out of the current system: working adults and the first in their families to go to college. I agree that it would be a good basic strategy to reallocate the $ saved through use of open educational resources toward one-on-one support and mentoring for the students who need it most.

An alternate phrasing of the access objection is to say that a DIY U future will automatically perpetuate the meritocracy, by giving even more advantages to the best students.

Are we really against having a true meritocracy, in the sense of a society that rewards excellence? Yes and no.

I think there’s a basic fundamental tension in American society between democracy and meritocracy. This tension was actually described quite well by Michael Young, who coined the term “meritocracy” in a satire written in Britain in the 1950s:

Young’s fictional narrator describes that on one hand, the “stolid mass” or majority is not the greatest contributor to society, but the “creative minority” or “restless elite”. Yet on the other hand…from such adherence to natural science and intelligence, arises arrogance and complacency.The casualties of this progress are described by the phrase “Every selection of one is a rejection of many”.

The major problems with meritocracy as it is currently practised in America, as I see them:

1) Since I don’t have as strong a faith as, say, Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, in the genetic component of socioeconomic advantage, I have to believe that the large racial and economic gaps that persist in our educational system are the result of systematic inequality, not differences in innate ability. Therefore it follows that a massive injustice is being perpetuated on thousands of children who get crappy instruction in crappy schools and never get a decent chance to go to college, even though if you had stuck them in a top-flight public school from 1st grade they’d definitely be Ivy League material.
But not enough is being done about this, and I think that’s partly because the New Elite have so much faith in the status quo that has put them on top.

2) The self-identified “elite” do tend to be hothouse flowers who look with disdain on the mainstream choices of their fellow Americans from fast food and evangelical religion to reality TV. Not only is this an annoying attitude when you’re on the receiving end (I know this because I’m from the South and people are always slagging on the South in front of me) it has fed the flowering of a defensive ignorance from folks who choose not to believe in, say, climate change because they hate Al Gore.

3) There’s a lack of robust diversity in the talents that we recognize, cultivate and reward as a society. Working with your hands, affinity for the natural world, a tendency to support and build community rather than strive after individual achievement are just three traits neglected by the self-identified educational “elite.”

Here’s how I believe a DIY U future can help:

1) I believe that there are super smart autodidacts out there stuck in crappy schools, or no schools at all, in the US and developing countries, for whom the provision of Ivy League quality courseware for free constitutes a bonanza of educational manna. Maybe there aren’t a billion William Kamkwambas out there. Say there are only a few dozen in each country, wouldn’t that make the money already invested in Open Educational Resources come out into a good investment?

2) Opening up the walls of the Ivy League & other elite colleges can demystify what goes on there and possibly even endear it to the public. There’s a big difference in the way people feel about their public library vs. how they feel about the campus library, or the college campus in general. On the other side of things, opening up the walls of elite universities could foster some much-needed humility and practicality for the self-identified elite. I know for me personally, when I have to go explain my Yale-bred thinking to the students and faculty at Kansas City Kansas Community College and Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock, Arkansas, it leads to much soul-searching and posts like this.

3) The open, decentralized, pursuit of knowledge can foster a greater diversity of topics and pursuits than that accommodated in even the most commodious course catalogue. Whenever and whereever education consists even partly of people getting together to learn whatever they want, we naturally see the proliferation of study of practical, hands-on skills like composting and bicycle repair and yoga and basic web design and guitar and Spanish. This is good because we may need these kinds of skills a lot more in the sustainable future that we’re hopefully evolving toward.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Anya Kamenetz is the author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.

Houston Chronicle FuelFix Q&A: Bob Cavnar dissects the Macondo disaster

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Bob Cavnar, whose brand new book is Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout, was interviewed for the Houston Chronicle’s FuelFix blog on Friday, October 22nd. Take a look!

by Tom Fowler

For an oil industry executive and former drilling supervisor, Bob Cavnar can be pretty tough on his colleagues.

In his new book about the Deepwater Horizon accident, Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout,” he lays blame for the tragedy at the feet of not just BP and Transocean, but an attitude of complacency that he says grips all of the industry.

He digs into the details of the accident and response, hits on the history of BP, deep-water drilling and government regulation. He names names, and few come out of his analysis looking good.

Known to many as the founder of local news and views blog site The Daily Hurricane, Cavnar just took over as CEO of Luca Technologies, a Golden, Colo.-based firm that is developing technology for enhanced oil and gas production.

Cavnar took a few minutes between the new job and starting his book promotion tour to talk to me. Below are some excerpts:

In a nutshell, why do you think the accident happened?

I believe this whole incident was preventable and was really the fault of human error. The people on the rig failed to listen to the well as it became more and more dangerous.

Obviously there were design flaws. BP will take issue and say the design was fine, but I believe the well design is flawed because it had one less downhole barrier.

I quote [former Boots & Coots well control expert] Larry Flak, who says the best way to control a deepwater blowout is to not have one, because they’re so hard to control once you get gas above the BOP.

I don’t think it was necessarily one person’s fault. It was like in airplane accident where it takes at least three things to go wrong for there to be an accident, except in this case there were a whole lot more.

You don’t lay all the blame on BP, though. You put in on the Transocean rig crew as well.

[The late Transocean rig worker] Jason Anderson was doing his best but he was put in an untenable position, trying to finish a well that was not safe.

Transocean bears the responsibility for modifications to the BOP [he details those shortcomings quite well]. But on the decision to use the nitrified cement, to not circulate the well completely bottoms-up and to displace the riser with seawater before the cement job was complete: That was BP’s decision.

So you don’t believe BP’s version of events from the Bly Report, that the blowout came through the center of the well and not the annulus?

It seems real tortured to me that it came down from a production zone, up through the cement, and through two float valves. The more natural path is up the back side.

Why do you think the people on board made so many mistakes?

They were anxious to get off the well and had to move on to plug another well. They were under pressure from Houston. They were trying to rationalize their decisions that way. That doesn’t acquit [BP company men Don] Vidrine or [Robert] Kaluza. They were 20-, 30-year guys too.

But because the company VIPs were on the rig they were distracted and you had a short change of tour [a new shift came on several hours earlier as part of change in schedule] just when they started the tests. So you had a new tool pusher, driller, assistant driller.

Money and cutting costs came into consideration with well design in Houston, but not necessarily with the guys on the rig. I think they were desperate to get off that well, and were more likely to shave corners to save times. Displacing the riser early was them trying to combine steps and I think it blinded them to what the well was telling them.

The book includes details about a number of other close calls in the offshore drilling business that I think many of us haven’t heard about before. Why did you include that?

We think we’re on top of all this stuff, but the margin of error is razor thin.

One of the things I write about is because we’ve been so successful and done such marvelous things offshore in extreme conditions, we tend to get over confident and complacent.

You have a chapter about what you call the BP-government merger. Explain that.

Sometime about August, Admiral Thad Allen was asked where the idea came from for the static kill and well integrity test, and he said something like he wasn’t sure, that they all worked to closely together it could have come up around the coffee pot.

So what I did was I backed up and started listening to the rhetoric from the administration in early May. The language from [Rep. Ed] Markey, [Sec. of the Interior Ken] Salazar and President Obama got sharper and sharper until June 16, when BP came to the White House and agreed to the $20 billion escrow fund.

Instantly the rhetoric changed and softened. There were a couple of times where there was clear disagreement over some issues, but it became very much one message, with BP stepping back to the background.

Do you think the government was colluding with BP to downplay the size of the spill early on with what are now clearly ridiculously low flow estimates?

I think the government was operating on very poor information. Just after the rig sank, BP told the Coast Guard the oil had stopped flowing, but at the very moment Admiral Landry was on TV saying that BP had ROVs on the bottom of the ocean trying desperately to get the BOP shut.

Do you think the government lied about how much oil was left in the Gulf once the well was shut in?

I think NOAA did obfuscate the information. They wanted that New York Times headline that said “most of the oil is gone” and they got it, although if you ready the report itself it didn’t really say that.

You’re an industry insider but you’re tough on the industry in the book. Was it the Deepwater Horizon incident that led to this view?

It was a couple of things over the years. I’ve been in the business for 30 years. Early on in my career I was injured in a pit fire. I’ve had crewmen injured or killed.

Also in my early days I watched oil and gas operators taking fresh water reservoirs and pumping them into waterfloods and open pits. So I started to get a view on how the industry should operate more responsibly. As I’ve risen in the ranks over the years I’ve tried to act on that.

The oil and gas industry is its own worst enemy. We tend to treat the public as ignorant and think PR and “public education” campaigns are sufficient, when in fact we have lobbyists full-time fighting everything that makes the industry safer or cleaner.

I don’t think the people in the industry are bad people, but we set up an environment of opposition. We need to turn down the volume a bit. It’s easy to see why people call us “Big Oil:” because we act like it.

Read the original article on the FuelFix blog.

Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon, available now.

All About Pumpkins

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Pumpkins are everywhere these days – piled high in wooden crates at the farmers market, painted on to shop windows, and sitting on your neighbor’s doorstep waiting to be carved for Halloween next week. There’s a lot more to these nutritious gourds than jack-0′-lanterns and pie, as seen in the following excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad.

(Cucurbita maxima, C. mixta, C. pepo)

Cucurbita is the old Latin name for gourd; mixta means “mixed,” and pepo comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning “sun-ripened” or “mellow.” The English name pumpkin derives from the Greek word, to which was later added the diminutive -kin ending.

General Information
The pumpkin, along with other squashes, is native to the Americas. The first Pilgrims barely survived their first winter in 1620 with the help of the lowly pumpkin; they knew sweet and fragrant melons but had never seen these hardy cousins, which the Indians grew as staples between corn and beans. Ranging in size from less than a pound to more than a hundred pounds (National Geographic World reported an 816-pound monster grown in Nova Scotia in 1990), the pumpkin also comes in a variety of colors ranging from white and peach to even blue and aqua. Deep orange is the color most familiar to Americans. European pumpkins mature sooner than their American counterparts and are generally pale yellow in color, with flesh that is less firm than the American variety; Russian pumpkins have white flesh and pale green skins. First cultivated by American Indians, who dried and made them into a type of flour, pumpkins are now most commonly used either for the traditional Halloween jack-o’-lantern or for pumpkin pie.

Buying Tips
Pumpkins of quality should be heavy for their size and free of blemishes, with a hard rind; the sugar pumpkin, which is quite small, is the variety generally considered best for cooking.

Culinary Uses
Nobody can argue the popularity of pumpkin pie . . . or pumpkin bread, pumpkin butter, pumpkin bars, and even pumpkin ice cream. To prepare a pumpkin, scrape out all the interior seeds and membrane, saving the seeds if you plan to eat them later. Peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Generally thought of only as a cooked vegetable, pumpkin can be eaten raw and is delicious when very finely grated and served in combination with grated carrots and beets as a base for salads. It can also be baked or boiled like other winter squash and used in soups, stews, and many baked goods (including corn bread) in addition to pies. In the Caribbean pumpkin is braised into spicy, fragrant stews with chilies, legumes, and sometimes meat. The French cook it into soup and serve it within its own tureenlike shell. The early male blossoms can be picked for salads, sautéing, or stuffing. The seeds are also edible and are discussed in the Nuts, Seeds, and Oils section.

Health Benefits
pH 4.90–5.50. Diuretic, laxative. Pumpkin is alkaline in reaction and raises the blood pressure, thus helping the blood to carry nourishment to various parts of the body. Cooked pumpkin destroys intestinal worms but not as effectively as pumpkin seeds. Cooking pumpkins converts them from a readily digested sugar to a starchy carbohydrate.

Lore and Legend:
The best of the pumpkin tales is one of Aesop’s fables, which tells of a man who lay beneath an oak tree, criticizing the Creator for hanging a tiny acorn on so huge a tree, but an enormous pumpkin on such a slender vine. Then, the story goes, an acorn fell and hit him on the nose. Jacko’-lanterns are an essential part of Halloween, the day before All Saints’ Day on November 1. Several Indian tribes carved the shells into ritual masks, a practice that continues, but shorn of its religious implications. Who Jack was is far from certain, but an Irish legend has it that there was a man named Jack who, forbidden to enter heaven because of his stinginess and barred from hell because of his practical jokes, was condemned to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day. The pumpkin was a symbol of fruitfulness, rebirth, and health in early China, where it is still called the Emperor of the Garden. In 1988 Leonard Stellpflug of Rush, New York, trucked a 6531/2-pound pumpkin to the annual World Pumpkin Confederation weigh-in in Collins, New York. It broke the old squash record by almost 50 pounds. When asked how he grew it, Stellpflug shrugged and said, “Well-rotted manure and twenty-two pounds of fertilizer per plant.”

Whole Foods Companion is available now.

An excerpt from Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic for National Depression Awareness Month

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

The following is excerpted from Bruce Levine’s Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy.

During her annual physical examination, a nurse friend of mine mentioned that she had been depressed. Her hurried physician tried his best to say something empathic: “So, who’s not depressed? If you work in health care, you’re depressed.”

Americans live in the age of industrialized medicine, and everyone—inside and outside of health care—is now in the same boat. Doctors are financially pressured to be speedy mechanics, and patients often receive assembly-line treatment, which can be a painful reminder of their assembly-line lives. While most Americans manage to go to work and pay their bills, more than a few struggle just to get out of bed, and growing numbers feel fragile, hollow, hopeless, and defeated.

In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “[W]e discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago . . . the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5. Essentially middle-aged housewives’ disorder. Now the average age is between fourteen and fifteen.”

Despite the unparalleled material wealth of the United States, we Americans—especially our young—are increasingly unhappy. What is happening in our society and culture? How is it that the more we have come to rely on mental health professionals, the higher the rates of depression? And are we in need of a different approach to overcoming despair?

During the course of our lives, it is the unusual person who does not have at least one period of deep despair. The majority of depressed people do not choose professional treatment but many do, and my intent is not to create discontent among patients satisfied with their mental health treatments. This book is for people who believe that any approach to depression that does not confront societal and cultural sources for despair becomes part of the problem rather than a sustainable solution. Standard mental health treatments routinely ignore the depressing effects of an extreme consumer culture, and for people who feel alienated from such a culture, it is my experience that conventional treatments can actually increase their sense of alienation and contribute to their despair. This book is also about providing hope and a practical path for people who have lost faith in psychiatric orthodoxy, often because it has failed them or their loved ones.

I am in my third decade of working with people who have not been helped by standard psychiatric treatments. I have found that while the majority of such “treatment resisters” do not identify with any political party, most share these political views: they are deeply pained by a society that focuses on increasing consumption rather than celebrating life; they believe that powerful corporations rather than individuals and communities dictate public policy; they suspect that many of those authorities and institutions—including those in mental health—that inform Americans have been corrupted and hijacked by corporations whose singular goal is increased profit; and they consider it common sense that an alternative approach that threatens the societal status quo will be ignored or derided by those who financially profit from the status quo.

I recall one such treatment resister, a middle-aged man who was dragged into family counseling by his wife because of their daughter’s self-destructive behaviors. On his own, he had valiantly struggled to overcome rage and despair that he attributed to job stress caused, he said, “by a new CEO whose only loyalty is to stock share value.” He made clear that he disliked manipulative managers and know-nothing mental health professionals as well as the term depression. He said, “I know what helplessness and hopelessness are, and I know what shutting down my pain is, but the diagnosis of depression is some damn shrink psychobabble.” He explained that the word depression didn’t do justice to his experience and only irritated him. In contrast, when I used the word hurting, it touched him deeply.

I have found that the words people use to describe their conditions lead them down certain paths. The term depression so pervades our culture that I cannot escape its use. However, when I am in emotional pain and without the energy to act constructively, I consider myself demoralized rather than depressed. Depression reminds me that I am depressing my pain and my being—this I need no reminder of. Demoralized reminds me that I am lacking morale, and morale is exactly the word I need to be reminded of when I am down in the dumps. It heightens my awareness to that which is energizing and inspiring. Morale is the emotional experience of cheerfulness, confidence, and zeal in the face of hardship. Without morale, difficult tasks seem impossible to accomplish; with morale, those same tasks can feel challenging and fun. When I think about morale, I am reminded that an individual can inspire a community, a community can energize an individual, and we can all remoralize one another.

Much of what I will spell out is increasingly neglected in the education of mental health professionals. Today I would give most professional training programs failing grades in the following areas necessary for revitalization:

• Regaining morale. The demoralized need people skilled at the craft of transforming immobilization to energy, and they need to learn the craft of self-energizing.
• Understanding depression. Depression is a “strategy” for shutting down pain, a strategy that can result in the depressing of one’s being and a vicious cycle of more pain and repeated depression.
• Healing the source of depression. The unhealed need helpers skilled at the craft of healing emotional wounds, and they need to learn the craft of self-healing.
• Distinguishing self-acceptance from self-absorption. While the self-absorption associated with extreme consumerist society is one source of depression, self-acceptance provides the security necessary for connecting with the whole of life, which is an antidote to depression.
• Teaching the essentials of relationships. Beyond simplistic communication skills, depressed people often need a deeper wisdom about friendship, intimacy, family, and community.
• Reforming society. Whether people are successful or not in shaping a less depressing world, they are often rewarded with community and vitality when they go beyond their private sphere.

Many people I have known who are diagnosed with depression are more gentle than the world around them. It saddens me when unhappy people who have become so despondent that they consider suicide view themselves as weak or sick. If death feels more attractive than life, it means nothing more than the fact that one’s present pain feels unbearable.

There is no more scary topic for mental health professionals than suicide. The book Suicide: The Forever Decision (1992) by psychologist Paul G. Quinnett is not only compassionate but candid about mental health professionals’ anxiety: “[M]ost of us do the conservative thing when we have an actively suicidal person on our hands; we lock him or her up. Whether this is always for ‘their own good’ or ‘our own good,’ I can’t say—maybe it is a bit of both.” In many nonconsumer cultures, a person seriously considering suicide would be watched by loved ones until the self-destructive impulses had passed; but in societies where moneymaking is prioritized over all else, hospital or prison staffs are employed to guard against a suicide attempt.

Books about depression often start off with a disclaimer such as this: “If you are considering suicide, immediately seek help from a mental health professional.” From my experience, it would be only with great sarcasm that suicidal people would respond: “Gee, what a valuable suggestion! Why didn’t I think of that?” I suppose instructing suicidal people to seek professional help makes the author appear responsible to those people not considering suicide. However, if suicidal, you usually know what you are supposed to do but are overwhelmed by pain. The last thing you need is another’s anxiety, and if you’re paying for it, it’s enough to make you even more hopeless and angry. When your pain feels unbearable, it is likely that you desire someone who can bear
your pain.

In the United States, if you are considering suicide, you are not alone. In 2000 it was estimated that every year, 750,000 people make a suicide attempt. That’s over two thousand every day who give suicide a try. The U.S. Surgeon General, focusing on mental health in 1999, reported that suicide was the eighth leading cause of death and the third leading cause of death for teenagers and that the rate of teen male suicide had tripled since the 1960s. While many Americans are reluctant to criticize our way of life, it is clear that Happy Meals are not quite doing the trick.

I have talked to many extremely demoralized adults and teenagers who have been diagnosed with depression. When we humans are seriously depressed, no matter what our age, we routinely become selfabsorbed. While depressed adults can pretend to care about another’s presence, depressed adolescents are usually more genuine, and their self-absorption is often straightforward. Adolescents’ blank faces and one-word replies make clear the futility of my probing. When I stop torturing them with questions, they usually stop torturing me with nothingness.

One day, instead of firing questions at a sixteen-year-old boy, I started to rant and rave about my views on society. He appeared relieved, as my pontifications meant less pressure on him to perform. He could remain silently self-absorbed in his own pain. I told him that I was ready to give a commencement speech at his high school. This got his attention. “Bruce, I don’t think the principal will allow it. You’d probably start off your speech with that Mark Twain quote you like. The one that goes ‘Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.’” I was pleased to discover that he had been listening to me. He agreed to hear my proposed commencement speech, and I began, “Parents, faculty, and students, there are two types of adults, and one day you students will become one type or the other. Type one, the vast majority of adults, spend all day thinking about two things: how to get other people’s money, and how to keep other people from getting their money. Type two, the other kind, are . . . homeless.” He laughed, and guessed that while most parents and teachers wouldn’t appreciate this speech, most of the kids would like it—they wouldn’t feel quite so badly about themselves for being scared of the world.

Before I met this young man, he had been treated by two other doctors with different antidepressants and his condition had worsened, the severity of his diagnosis deteriorating from “mild depressive disorder and doing poorly in school” to “major depression and suicidal ideations.” It was heartbreaking for his mother to listen to her intelligent son say that he felt like a failure. The first time we met, he told me, “I must be unfixable, one of those incurable cases. I mean I’ve talked to other doctors and have had all different kinds of medicine.” I told him that his conclusion of being incurable was only one possibility, but a more likely possibility was that none of those doctors took the time to get to know him, which could have made him even more depressed. He considered that for a few seconds, and agreed. He and his mother were convinced that medication had been a failure, and he wanted to stop taking his current antidepressant. I explained to them the dangers of abrupt withdrawal from antidepressants. Pharmaceutical companies once denied this withdrawal problem but today accept it and term it antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. To prevent potentially debilitating withdrawal symptoms, he cut back gradually.

Two months off his antidepressant, he was no longer demoralized, suicidal, or feeling like a failure. This is not to say he was walking around with a chronic grin. The opposite of depression is not so much happiness as vitality. He continued to dislike school and was distressed by his parents’ ugly divorce, but he came to believe that his pain made sense, and he was no longer immobilized by it. He got a good parttime job, passed his classes, and made mature career plans. I took the time to get to know him, and I’d like to believe that I helped him with what I will talk about in the following pages, but it would be hubris to say this for certain. Science cannot unravel whether I helped him, or whether he would have gotten his act together without me.

In reflecting on the empirical research on depression, on my work with depressed people, on the memoirs and essays of people who have experienced depression, and on my own personal experience with demoralization, immobilization, and despair, it is difficult to deny the power of faith and belief—what scientists term “expectations” and the “placebo effect.” In a 2004 study on the influence of patient expectations on the effectiveness of an experimental antidepressant, it was found that among depressed patients who expected that medication would be very effective, 90 percent had a positive response; while among those expecting medication to be somewhat effective, only 33 percent had a positive response. No depressed people were included in this study who expected the experimental drug to be ineffective, but such nonbelievers rarely tell me about having a positive response with antidepressants.

It has been my experience that to the extent that one has faith in the efficacy of any treatment or approach, one’s likelihood—at least temporarily—of overcoming depression increases. By contrast, an absence of faith in anything is associated with chronic depression. People can choose to have faith in religion, philosophy, art, dietary supplements, or exercise. I have seen many different belief systems work to reduce despair. However, I do not advocate that you believe in anything for the sake of belief. What we believe in matters a great deal. The beliefs we choose determine in no small way what kind of people we are, what kind of friends we have, and what kind of effect we have on society.

The faith encouraged by consumer culture is a faith in money, technology, and consumer products, and it is a faith that often has significant adverse side effects, including addiction and withdrawal. Americans who don’t share the faith of such a culture will likely feel alienated from society, and alienation—from either one’s humanity or one’s surroundings— is painful and can be a source of depression. I believe that many people feel alienated in consumer culture, and it is my hope that this book will help energize them to find others who share their beliefs and then together create community.

In the United States, mental health treatment is increasingly shaped by two powerful industries: giant pharmaceutical companies, often collectively referred to as Big Pharma (the industry’s trade association is Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA), and insurance companies (and their managed-care bureaucracies). It is in the best interest of Big Pharma if people are prescribed drugs, and it is in the best interest of insurance companies if treatment is extremely brief. In addition to encouraging doctors to prescribe drugs, insurance companies also pressure psychotherapists to focus narrowly on what is easiest to do in a few sessions. Commonly, this means teaching “rational thinking” and “social skills.” Ironically, these simplistic techniques require little in the way of a therapeutic relationship and can be learned through a book. Prior to the current era, psychotherapists were free to choose among many options. For example, one therapy—now threatened with extinction in the time-pressured world of managed care— consists of helping depressed people find meaning in their lives. Once, it was routinely accepted that meaninglessness was an important source of depression, but today, managed-care time restraints have resulted in denying and ignoring this reality.

Historically, the mental health profession has been a joke of sorts when it comes to morale boosting. Specifically, I recall the old joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must want to change.” Even before the time pressures of the managed-care era, many mental health professionals were quick to abdicate responsibility for patient immobilization. Today, most of them spend little time being frustrated. They simply write a prescription or refer to a drug prescriber. The new joke—not quite as funny—is, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must be medication compliant.” If you are immobilized and behaving self-destructively, I don’t assume that you are irresponsible or in need of medication. One strong possibility is that you are not around anyone—even if you are seeing a mental health professional—who has the capacity to energize you.

What about the craft of healing? Mental health professionals increasingly view themselves more as technicians who provide medications and skills rather than healers who care about wholeness. Despite that, relationships still do occur in psychotherapy, and occasionally, sometimes even accidentally, so does healing. However, in our timepressured era, even more prevalent than simplistic therapy is a procedure called medication management. A typical “med management” session consists of checking symptoms and updating prescriptions, and recipients tell me that they are usually in and out with a new prescription in ten or fifteen minutes. They also tell me that it’s common for med managements to be scheduled every two or three months, and that during these appointments, the doctor often needs to peek at their files to remember their names. In such assembly-line treatment, there is virtually no chance of a relationship forming, and gone is even the accidental possibility of healing through another’s humanity.

In the training of mental health professionals, the revitalizing component of reviving community is all too often neglected. There is no greater antidepressant than focusing beyond one’s private sphere to a societal concern. Whatever the scale, mental health professionals need to encourage community building of some kind. People who engage in life-affirming change have a greater chance to connect with likeminded others, and they are rewarded with greater vitality.

A major reason for writing this book is my conclusion that standard psychiatric treatments for depression are, for many people, unsustainable. The latest research shows that antidepressants often work no better than placebos or no treatment at all, can cause short-term and long-term adverse effects that may be as or more problematic than the original problem, can result in drug tolerance (an increasing need for higher dosage), and can promote dependency on pharmaceutical and insurance corporations. Moreover, antidepressants and other mental health industry treatments divert all of us from examining the unsustainable aspects of society that create the social conditions for depression. In this book, I am speaking to those who feel alienated from an increasingly extremist consumer culture and who are seeking genuine community. And I am speaking to those who have already rejected standard psychiatric theories and treatments of depression and are seeking alternative explanations and solutions.

The U.S. Surgeon General reported in 1999: “Nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental disorder do not seek treatment.” The reason for this, Americans often hear, is “the stigma of mental illness.” This is certainly the explanation provided by the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and other mental health institutions that are financially linked to pharmaceutical companies—collectively referred to in this book as “the mental health establishment.” However, a recent poll suggests that the reason for this disinclination toward psychiatric treatment, at least for some Americans, is simply a lack of confidence in psychiatrists. A December 2006 Gallup poll asked Americans about the “honesty and ethical standards” of different professions. The percentage of Americans reported to have a positive opinion of nurses was 84 percent, and for clergy it was 58 percent; but for psychiatrists it was only 38 percent—much lower than the 69 percent positive rating for other medical doctors.

While some of what I will say is not controversial, much will be cultural and professional heresy—but I believe it is necessary. How else can this epidemic of depression be turned around without letting go of cultural arrogance and professional pretensions?

Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic by Bruce Levine is available now.

Greenpeace blog highlights Disaster on the Horizon

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Mark Floegel featured this post about Bob Cavnar’s brand new release, Disaster on the Horizon, on Friday on the blog of Greenpeace USA.

I was in Venice, Louisiana in late April and early May of this year, waiting for the first oil from the blowout of BP’s Macondo well to come ashore. Journalists from across the globe, politicians, fishermen, government bureaucrats, environmentalists, BP reps all milled about in a chaotic scrum. No one had good information. It seemed that once a rumor had passed through the crowd twice, it became accepted as fact.

I wish I’d had Bob Cavnar’s phone number then.

Mr. Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon, published this month by Chelsea Green. A 30-year veteran of the oil industry, who’s lived the industry from the oil patch to the boardroom, Mr. Cavnar writes about the BP blowout, oil technology, oil politics and energy policy in clear-eyed prose intelligible to those who only consume, rather than produce, petroleum products.

Who’s to blame? Anyone as blunt as Mr. Cavnar was not going to get into the rooms where the decisions were made, but his eye for details outsiders would miss and what he gleans from public sources point in ominous directions, such as:

- Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon, disabled or disconnected many of the alarms and emergency shutoff switches on the rig. Had those devices remained untampered, they might have shut down the engine that exploded when it encountered gas from the well. Alarms might have saved the lives of some of the 11 crewmembers that died. (Ironically, Transocean executives were aboard the rig that night to celebrate seven years of safe operations.)

- The US Coast Guard, whose marine safety mission has been supplanted by drug interdiction and homeland security, no longer had authority to oversee firefighting operations on the burning rig. No fire marshal was appointed to oversee workboats that poured water into the upper decks of the Deepwater Horizon, flooding them and likely the cause of the rig’s sinking.

- The Bush/Cheney administration, which spent eight years undermining the nation’s regulatory system, putting industry hacks in charge of “monitoring” their own interests and spinning the revolving door between government and corporate America at record speeds.

- The Obama administration, which took the blame for many Bush administration sins, but for its own part was too eager for the crisis to be over and the oil magically “gone,” too willing to let itself be gulled by BP, letting the oil company withhold crucial information and manipulate the technical end of the response for its own interests.

- BP, which dodged and weaved from Day One, always more concerned with limiting corporate liability that with limiting the size of the spill, protecting the Gulf of Mexico environment or playing straight with the federal government and the public. Mr. Cavnar asks why the drilling of relief wells was inexplicably halted for two months, that the much lauded “static kill” probably did not kill the well and asserts BP managed to outfox the feds by getting the well closed without ever taking an accurate measurement of the flow of oil. Since fines are based on the number of barrels spilled, no measurement means BP lawyers will hold the high ground when the court battle begins. (As marine conservationist Rick Steiner might say, “Lawyers yet unborn will be litigating this case.”)

I don’t agree with everything Bob Cavnar writes. Let’s not get crazy; he’s an oilman and I work for Greenpeace. But if his kind of honesty were better represented in the oil industry, our nation would have had a sensible energy policy decades ago. He also doesn’t forget (as we should not) that 11 men lost their lives on April 20, sacrificed to greed and arrogance. Some of that came from their industry; some from us, with our desire for cheap fuel without wanting to think of the danger and consequences that come with it.

Read the original piece at

Bob Cavnar’s new book, Disaster on the Horizon, is available now.

Recipe for the Blood Moon: Lamb Chops with Meyer Lemon and Mint Gelée

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

The following is excerpted for the web from Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection by Jessica Prentice.

Once we accept that living takes life, we can begin doing vitally important work: ensuring that farm animals and wild animals have the opportunity to lead a good life and die a good death.

We need to approach the body of a slaughtered animal more holistically, ecologically, consciously, and spiritually. We have to witness the lives and the deaths of farm animals, and to be less squeamish about the truth of what happens to them.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to a local farm and kill a chicken myself. Then I scalded it and plucked it and gutted it. The next day I ate it. I learned a great deal by doing that, and it helped me to accept the mortality of the process. I will never look at a chicken the same way again, now that I know each step involved between a feathered clucking being running around the barnyard and the pink plucked headless body you see in the store. We are so divorced in this culture from all of these steps. This disconnection is a big part of what makes it seem possible to step outside the cycle of life and death and be free from the karma of killing for our food. But a life lived on the farm or in the forest will teach you otherwise.

On the Blood Moon, may we say a heartfelt prayer for all the animals that are being raised in inhumane conditions. May we give great thanks for the farmers and ranchers who treat their animals with respect and honor and who care deeply for their welfare. May we take the time to seek out sources of animal foods that are raised with respect for the environment, for our health, and for the well-being of the animals themselves. May there come a day when factory farms have been replaced with small-scale, integrated, holistic family farms where all living things are recognized as the gifts that they surely are. May there be a day when Americans have acquired the adult knowledge that all life is dependent upon all other life in an endless circle of giving and receiving, birth and death, growth and decay, rebirth and regeneration. May we find ourselves humble as we contemplate the miracle of life, and of the Life that transcends death. That would make our ancestors proud.

Lamb Chops with Meyer Lemon and Mint Gelée
Serves 4–6
Lamb and mint are a classic combination. You don’t have to use Meyer lemon for this, but it’s nice. You may need to adjust the amount of Sucanat for the degree of sweetness you want.

4 large sprigs of fresh spearmint, 5–6 inches long
1 organic Meyer (or other) lemon, washed
¾ cup filtered water
2 teaspoons Bernard Jensen’s gelatin (see page 315) or 1 teaspoon Knox gelatin
1 tablespoon Sucanat or Rapadura
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Pull the leaves off the sprigs of mint.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off two or three strips of the lemon peel about 2 inches long. Put the lemon peel and mint stems into a small pan.
3. Add the water to the pan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Remove the mint stems and lemon peel with a slotted spoon. Add the gelatin to the liquid and stir
to dissolve. Pour into a bowl.
5. Add the Sucanat and salt.
6. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the mixture. Allow the mixture to cool.
7. Mince the mint leaves. When the mixture is near room temperature, add the mint to the mixture and stir well.
8. Place the mixture in the fridge and allow it to chill until set—at least an hour.
9. Stir before serving so it is less like Jello and more like a gelée.

Lamb Chops
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon or so minced fresh rosemary
2–4 pounds bone-in lamb chops, figuring at least ½ pound per person, depending on appetites
1–2 tablespoons tallow or other fat

1.  Sprinkle salt, pepper, and minced rosemary over both sides of the lamb chops.
2. Heat the tallow or other fat in a castiron skillet over medium-high heat.
3. When the fat is hot, put the lamb chops in the pan in a single layer. Brown until dark brown, then turn over and brown on the other side. You can test the doneness of the chops by pressing with your finger. If they are soft, then they are rare; hard chops are more cooked. I like them rare. You can also cut into them with a sharp knife to see the color inside.
4. Serve the lamb chops with a large dollop of the mint gelée.

Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, is available now.

Even Fox News says “Stop the Insanity” on Marijuana

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

As November 2nd and California’s critical vote on Proposition 19 (which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana) draws nearer, folks from all over the political spectrum are speaking out in support of legalization. The following opinion piece from Dr. Dale Archer was posted on on October 20th. I wonder if he’d get along with Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert, authors of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?…

Alcohol vs. Pot — Stop the Insanity!
by Dr. Dale Archer

In another shocking statement from the schizophrenic Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder emphatically stated that it “strongly oppose[s]” a measure called the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act,” which, if passed, would legalize marijuana in the state of California. Thus, the debate rages on about what to do about this popular, yet still illegal drug.

The most popular Q and A on my website,, is this one: “My Husband Smokes Marijuana Everyday.” In it is a discussion of a wife’s problems dealing with her spouse’s hourly use of pot. Countless folks have commented, discussing similar issues.
The popularity of this topic leads to several observations: Can marijuana be addictive? Yes. Are there health problems associated with its use? Yes. Can it affect memory and brain function? Yes.

So…should it be legalized? Yes!

Every question about weed would be answered the same if I substituted ‘alcohol’ for marijuana. The bottom line is that both of these drugs are relatively harmless when used in moderation and each can cause huge medical/psychiatric problems when abused.

Wake up, America! Haven’t we learned our lesson with prohibition? From 1920-33, organized crime exploded overnight to take control of the alcohol trade. It’s estimated today that close to $50 billion dollars a year are spent on the ‘war on drugs’ and to what end? The violence along the Mexican border is at an all time high and our prison system is overcrowded with almost 1 in 4 inmates serving time for a single non-violent drug offense. That leaves virtually no money in the system to treat those with a true addiction problem as opposed to the majority of folks that practice occasional recreational use.
The answer is blindingly clear and steeped in common sense. Legalize pot, tax the heck out of it and use the proceeds to fund treatment programs for those that really need help. This will have the added benefit of freeing up law enforcement resources to deal with the pedophiles, rapists and violent repeat offenders that are being released daily from our jails due to overcrowding.

The time to stop the alcohol versus marijuana hypocrisy is now!

Dr. Dale Archer is a psychiatrist and frequent guest on’s “The Strategy Room.” For more, visit his Web site:

Read the original article at

Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? is available now. Check it out!

Read an excerpt from Disaster on the Horizon, now available!

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

We’re thrilled to announce that Bob Cavnar’s Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout, is now available.

Disaster on the Horizon is a behind-the-scenes investigative look at the worst oil well accident in US history, which led to the current environmental and economic catastrophe on the Gulf Coast. Cavnar uses his 30 years in the business to take readers inside the disaster, exposing the decisions leading up to the blowout and the immediate aftermath.

Read an excerpt from the preface to the book below.

Bob Cavnar’s Disaster on the Horizon is available now.

Food in Uncertain Times: How to Grow and Store the 5 Crops You Need to Survive

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

by Makenna Goodman
October 21, 2010

Having food resiliency is as much about learning how to store and use food properly as it is about growing it. The key is learning interdependence not independence.

In an age of erratic weather and instability, it’s increasingly important to develop a greater self-reliance when it comes to food. And because of this, more than ever before, farmers are developing new gardening techniques that help achieve a greater resilience. Longtime gardener and scientist Carol Deppe, in her new book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, offers a wealth of unique and expansive information for serious home gardeners and farmers who are seeking optimistic advice. Do you want to know more about the five crops you need to survive through the next thousand years? What about tips for drying summer squash, for your winter soups? Ever thought of keeping ducks on your land? Read on.

Makenna Goodman: Many gardeners (both beginners and more serious growers) come across obstacles they might not have planned for. In your new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, you talk about the need for real gardening techniques for both good times and bad. What is the first step toward achieving this kind of resilience?

Carol Deppe: The basic issues are getting more control over our food, getting lots higher quality and more delicious food, and enhancing the resilience of our food supply. There are three ways to do that. The first is through local buying patterns and trade. A second is through knowing how to store or process food that is available locally, whether we grow it ourselves or not. The third is gardening. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk as much about storing and using food as growing it. I love gardening, but not everyone is in a position to garden every year of their lives.

However the person who has learned to make spectacular applesauce or cider or apple butter or pies can often trade some of the processed products for all the apples needed. Buying local food supports local food resilience. A couple hundred pounds of gourmet-quality potatoes tucked away in the garage — potatoes that you have learned to store optimally — represent serious food security, whether you grew them or bought them from a local farmer right after the harvest. Our buying and trading patterns and our skill at storing and using food as well as gardening are all part of our food resilience. All can serve as the starting point to begin taking greater control over our food.

So the first thing I would say is, garden if you can and if you enjoy it. Whether you garden right now or not, though, learn more about how to store and use the food that is grown locally. Lots of times, it is storing and using that is more of the missing link than gardening. Most gardeners know how to grow field corn. But most don’t have the knowledge to turn corn into gourmet-quality fast-cooking polenta or savory corn gravy or even cornbread (without using wheat or other things they can’t grow), let alone fine-textured cakes. Most gardeners can grow potatoes. But most don’t know how to store their potatoes optimally. Most can grow blue potatoes. But most try to prepare their blue potatoes just like whites or reds. Few know how to turn a blue potato into spectacularly delicious food. In The Resilient Gardener, I spend as much time on how to store and use food as how to grow it.

We humans trade. We enjoy it, and it greases the social wheels. Sometimes we use intermediaries like money, sometimes not. Sometimes the trades are formal. Sometimes we call it gifts. I trade or sell or gift part of the best I have. Part of the best of others comes back to me. My friends, neighbors, and exchange networks are part of my resilience. I aim for greater self-reliance. I like to enjoy doing more for myself. And I love to garden, and to grow food. But I don’t aim at “independence.” Healthy humans are never independent. We are interdependent. What we want is to be self-reliant enough to hold up our end of honorable interdependence. Our skill at growing, storing, processing, using, or trading food can all be part of our contribution to honorable interdependence.

Neanderthal stone tools, interestingly, are all found within a few miles of where the rocks originated. And the tools didn’t change very much over time. But Homo sapiens that lived at the same time had tools made from rocks that were clearly traded over long distances. And H. sapiens tools changed and developed rapidly. We traded our ideas along with all our stuff. Any Neanderthal tribe that met a sapiens tribe was one tribe against an entire species. I’m a Homo sapiens, and I follow Homo sapien traditions. I aim for appropriate self-reliance, not for independence. Independence is for Neanderthals.

MG: It’s kind of a relief, actually, to think about gardening outside the realm of those perfect photos so prevalent in other gardening books. For people who have day jobs taking them away from their farms and gardens, resilient gardening might seem like a miracle. How would you compare resilient gardening to more traditional forms?

CD: Much of our garden writing is about the gardens of rich people who have employees to do the work. Even non-rich people with full-time jobs and no hired help are encouraged to take the gardens of rich people as the model. Beauty and showing off and ornamental plantings and huge high-maintenance inedible lawns have mattered more than food, for example. I’m not rich enough and haven’t the time or inclination for that sort of gardening. I delight in all the knowledge about plants, ecology, and gardening we have today. But I take peasants as my basic model. I aim to be a modern peasant. I focus primarily upon growing food, especially upon staple crops and crops of special nutritional value. And I want lots of delicious food for the least possible work.

In addition, in the real world, things are always going wrong. These can be private or personal, such as an injury or family emergency that removes your labor from the garden for a while. Or they can be financial. Loss of a job can mean you really need to know how to get most of your food from the garden, not just fruits and vegetables. I also look at things over a thousand years. Over that kind of period, humans experience mega-crises of various kinds.

On average, the Pacific Northwest experiences two or three mega-earthquakes per thousand years, for example, which would destroy our roads and bridges and cut us off for years. Many kinds of natural and societal disasters occur over such time frames. Gardeners who know how to grow food can be reservoirs of knowledge, skills, and seeds for their communities. For this, though, the gardeners need to know how to grow staple crops, that is, calories and protein, not just fruits and vegetables. In good times, gardeners don’t necessarily need to grow all their staple crops. But in good times, resilient gardeners learn to grow and use some of their staple crops so that they at least know how.

The resilient gardener knows we have our ups and downs, as individuals, families, societies, and as a species. The resilient garden is designed and managed so that when things go wrong, they have less impact. Most gardens are good-time gardens. They self-destruct rapidly if deprived of our labor. They depend upon constant imports of fertilizer and seeds. They need relatively stable weather. The resilient gardener has learned to operate with minimal external inputs, and in a world where climate is changing and weather is more erratic. The resilient gardener knows how to save seeds. The resilient garden is one that thrives and helps its people and their communities survive and thrive through everything that comes their way, from tomorrow through the next thousand years.

MG: In an era with unpredictable climate conditions — hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc — what, in your opinion, is the most widespread condition today’s gardeners face? Why do you think this is?

CD: The unpredictability itself is the greatest problem. This summer, for example, is the coldest summer I have ever experienced in Oregon in 30 years. By mid-August there had been only one week all summer that had any days above 90°. Many days in June and July didn’t even make it to 80°. Meanwhile, much of the East Coast had a record-breakingly hot summer.

For the last fifty years, the weather patterns have generally been unusually stable. Our modern gardening and agricultural practices actually depend upon that stability. Our farms and gardens have become good-time farms and gardens. They are likely to fail just when we need them most. We now need gardens and farms that survive and thrive in the face of greater unpredictability.

Wild erratic weather is typical of climate change, and is much more important to gardeners and farmers than a fraction of a degree’s change in average global climate. However, humanity has made it through the transition from relative stability to instability in climate before, for example, in our adjustment to the erratic weather of the Little Ice Age. There are agricultural patterns and methods we have developed in the past when we needed them that we can relearn and expand upon today.

MG: Gardening for resilience, as you discuss, also means choosing your crop varieties for optimum self-reliance and hardiness. What’s the most fantastic quality of each of the five crops you talk about in your book — potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs?

CD: Potatoes are a great source of both carbohydrates and protein. They have protein levels comparable to the most protein-rich grains by the time you adjust for water. They yield more carbohydrate per square foot than anything we can grow in temperate climates. They yield more protein per square foot than anything we can grow except beans. They have good levels of vitamin C and significant amounts of calcium and other minerals. They are the easiest of all staple crops to grow. They yield much more carbohydrate and protein than anything else per unit labor. Small grains take fine seed beds, meaning tillers, tractors, or draft animals.

Anyone with a shovel can grow potatoes. And potatoes can be grown on rough land, land just converted from lawn or pasture or patch of weeds. Grains usually require special grinding equipment. Anyone who can build a fire can cook potatoes. Potatoes grow well in places too cold or wet for grains. Potatoes are far more impervious to nasty weather than grains. Cool or cold or wet stormy weather that can harm, delay, or even destroy, corn, squash, and other summer crops are likely to make the potatoes grow more happily than ever. So growing both potatoes and other crops provides a balance that provides resilience. Potatoes yield well on limited fertility, too. And in most areas of the country, they can be grown unirrigated, even where all other summer crops require irrigation.

People these days tend to remember the Irish Potato Famine, when late blight destroyed the entire Irish potato crop. But we should also remember that the potato was one of the major saviors of Europeans during the Little Ice Age, a crop that was central to their adjustment to the erratic weather associated with climate change, a crop that yielded year in year out, decade in decade out before there were any problems. European populations suffered famines and disease epidemics because their grain crops couldn’t handle the colder, wetter, stormier, less predictable weather. After incorporating potatoes into their repertoire, European populations thrived and expanded, erratic weather, Little Ice Age, or no.

Potatoes are delicious. With all the varieties and flavors and cooking methods, we can eat potatoes every day and never get tired of them. Nate and I grow major amounts of potatoes. And with our sophisticated but low-tech storage methods, we have prime potatoes for eight or nine months of the year. Remembering the vulnerability of the potato to disease, though, unlike the Potato-Famine-era Irish, we grow many varieties, we have learned to save potato seed with near-certified-seed level of proficiency, and we use potatoes as only one among several staple crops.

Grains and beans are the ultimate survival crops because they are so long-storing. It is stored grains and beans we would need if a planet-wide disaster such as a comet strike or mega-volcano wiped out agriculture worldwide for an entire year or more. Grains are not as easy to grow as potatoes, though. We grow corn, the easiest of all grains to grow and process on a small scale. Corn is also, in areas where it grows well, by far the highest yielding of the grains. In addition, unlike the small grains, you can grow corn with nothing but a shovel or heavy hoe. You don’t need a finely tilled bed as is needed for the small grains. We grow special people-food grade gourmet-quality corn that is completely unlike anything you can buy commercially. Cornbread and polenta are our major carbohydrate staples during late spring and early summer after the potatoes and winter squash are gone, and they provide variety year round.

Most of our corn is very early varieties that dry down during August instead of needing to be irrigated heavily then. They can make a crop on no irrigation, and a good crop on just two or three irrigations. We also grow a little late flint corn. It has to be watered all August and finishes late, full into the rainy season. We grow our pole beans on the late corn most years. And the pole beans need irrigation all season anyway.

Grain legumes, that is, beans, peas, teparies, garbanzos, cowpeas, lentils, soybeans, and others, keep well and are prime for a little beyond a year. There are many species that are associated with specific regions or growing patterns. So we plant fava beans in fall and overwinter them, for example, garbs in early spring, and common beans and cowpeas and teparies in spring to grow during summer.

We prefer to plant one variety of each of five species rather than five varieties of one species. This helps give us disease resilience. We grow one pole bean (common bean), one fava, one garb, one tepary, and one cowpea. Each is selected for spectacular flavor as well as resilience for its particular growing niche. This gives us five different species, which greatly facilitates saving pure seed; so we never have to buy seed. In addition, with winter, spring, and summer growing niches, a severe weather event is likely to wipe out only some, not all our beans.

We grow a lot of squash. We grow lots of winter squash of gourmet varieties that make spectacular food, and we know how to harvest, cure, and store it optimally. ‘Sweet Meat-Oregon Homestead’ is the line we use for our main winter squash food supply. It gives us prime winter squash through March. We also grow lots of delicatas, especially ‘Sugar Loaf-Hessel’ and ‘Honeyboat’ for fall eating.

We grow lots of summer squash for both fresh eating and drying. The dried summer squash is one of our major long-storing staples. Dried sliced summer squash of the right varieties makes wonderful soups and stews and chips. I have had a soup made mostly from six-year-old dried summer squash that was as delicious as it was the year I dried it.

Many people cannot make long-chain omega-3 fatty acids of the sorts we need from plant omega-3s. Some people can do the conversion reactions. Others cannot. So some people can be vegetarians. Others cannot. I’m one of the people who needs to have my long-chain omega-3s provided to me by eating animal products. Commercial animal products don’t work. The omega-3s have been stripped out of them by the unnatural ways the animals are raised. I need grass-fed meat or milk, or cold-water wild fish, or free-range eggs. Of these, it’s the laying flock that is easiest to keep on a home scale. So to create a full diet, in addition to my garden, I need a home laying flock. So there is a chapter in The Resilient Gardener on keeping the home chicken or duck laying flock, integrating them with your gardening, and feeding them as much as possible on garden produce and home-grown feed.

MG: Talk more about slicing and drying your squash — which is a delicious idea. How did you decide to store your squash this way?

CD: I stole the basic idea from a peasant, naturally. In this case it was Buffalo Bird Woman, the Hidatsa Indian whose expert gardening is described in Gilbert Wilson’s book, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. We grow plenty of delicious gourmet-quality winter squash and use them as one of our main staples. But we also grow lots of zucchinis and other summer squash, eat them as summer squash, and slice and dry the oversized squash to produce an additional long-storing staple. For Buffalo Bird Woman, it was this sliced dried summer squash that was the main product of the squash patch, with fresh summer squash and mature winter squash being delicious but minor components. Buffalo Bird Woman had specially shaped knives, special squash sticks, and big drying racks — an elaborate sophisticated technology — all designed to produce huge amounts of dried summer squash as efficiently as possible.

I studied, tried, and created modern variants of Buffalo Bird Woman’s methods. Then I evaluated dozens of different modern summer squash varieties for flavor and usefulness as dry squash.

Most dried summer squash actually don’t taste like much. Some actually taste bad. However, some varieties have powerful, delicious, unique flavors when dried as summer squash slices, flavors so good that I would be happy to grow the squash just for drying. These varieties can be dried to be the basis for delicious soups and stews in winter. Different varieties give different flavors. In addition, some varieties make great dipping chips. Others make great sweet chips.

Delightfully, the fruits that are best for drying are bigger than those that are optimal for eating as summer squash. This means that with the right varieties, you can have all the stir-fried zucchini you want, and you can dry all those that escape you and get past the optimal stage for green eating. In this way, our summer squash patch produces both the fresh crop and an additional crop that is a long-storing staple. It also means that never again do we have to creep out in the dead of night to leave anonymous baskets of oversized zuchs on the doorsteps of our neighbors.

MG: Can you take us on a verbally illustrated tour of your garden? What does it look like? What do you have planted next to each other, and how do you space your rows?

CD: I’ve gardened in many ways in different years and eras, and I talk about them all in The Resilient Gardener. Sometimes I’ve had a few raised beds of tomatoes and greens in the back yard and a bigger patch of potatoes, corn, beans, and squash at the home of a friend. These days, my farm partner Nate and I garden on a couple of acres of good soil a few miles from home, a real luxury. Much of what is going on is determined by the fact that it is just our second season on that land.

About one acre is tilled. It’s divided into six sections. One section we’re turning into permanent garden beds to grow a big variety of garden crops, everything from amaranth greens and garlic to lettuce and strawberries. The rest is field crops that get rotated around each year. The field crops are all in rows spaced at 3′. (Or 7′ for the big squash.) The basic 3′ spacing is what is needed to get our rototiller between the rows, that is, when the rototiller works. Which it doesn’t always. The acre of crops is as much as we want to tend by hand when the rototiller is uncooperative. In addition, it’s as much as we want to water. This kind of spacing means we need to water the most water needy crops only once per week in August, the most water-short month, and less the rest of the time. And with this spacing, the potatoes don’t have to be watered at all. And everything could at least survive a good while if it didn’t get watered at all, even in August.

The permanent beds are 4′ across, the biggest we can reach across comfortably, with aisles between them that are alternating 3′ and 1′. That space is a compromise. Nate, being 32, can tend and harvest a garden by bending over or squatting. So if the garden was just his, he would space the beds with aisles 1′ wide. That way, he would have the most possible planting area for the total area that needs to be watered. And there would be as little aisle space that needs to be weeded as possible. I’m 64. My back and knees rebel against squatting or bending over for very long. I can hoe comfortably using the right kinds of tools that permit me to work standing upright with my back straight. I can also tend and harvest comfortably on my hands and knees, but that takes aisles 3′ across. If we split the difference, I wouldn’t be able to harvest from any of the rows. With alternating aisle widths, and Nate tending and harvesting preferentially from the narrow aisles, we can both tend and harvest. And we have lots more bed space than if we used 3′ aisles for everything.

We don’t put sides on our beds, incidentally. If we did that, we would have to tend all the space near the sides by hand, squatting or on hands and knees. With no sides on beds, the beds can mostly be tended by hoeing from a comfortable standing position, with a straight back. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk a good bit about the labor implications of various gardening styles and practices as well as what tools and methods to use if you have back problems. Most people garden in a way that strains or trashes their backs or knees. That is totally unnecessary if you match gardening styles and tools to your physical needs. When gardening bigger areas, this matching is especially important.

In our field, one major section is potatoes, about 23 varieties. Yellows, blues, reds, whites, bakers, boilers, early varieties, late varieties. The number of varieties gives us some resilience with respect to diseases as well as potatoes that are great for every possible cooking method, and that have many different flavors. We choose varieties based primarily upon spectacular flavor, but also upon storage ability and yield and disease resistance when grown under our conditions.

We grow our spuds organically, with no irrigation, and with only the modest levels of fertility of the sort that can be obtained simply by turning under a legume cover crop. Our spud patch should give us at least a thousand pounds of spuds, which will be prime eating quality through February, through April for certain varieties. Part of that long storage is appropriate choice of varieties. The rest of it is our method of storage, which is “sophisticated low tech.” We store the potatoes in our attached garage. That’s low tech. What is sophisticated is that we have figured out exactly what containers to use for optimum storage, and a maximum-minimum thermometer-hygrometer sits in the storage area. We occasionally open the garage door or the door to the house as needed in winter to control temperature or humidity.

Our potatoes don’t get irrigated. We grow them at 16″ in the rows instead of the 8 — 12″ so as to have one important staple crop that doesn’t require irrigation. That cuts down our water use and gardening labor. In addition, if the electricity failed and we couldn’t irrigate, our practice of growing potatoes without irrigation would really matter. Not irrigating also gives us especially clean, disease-free spuds. In addition, the flavors are much more intense than when the potatoes are irrigated. Water and fertility needs are very much affected by spacing. If we crowded the spuds more, we would need more fertile soil, probably imported fertilizer, and irrigation.

The tomatoes are at one end of the potato patch for purposes of rotation, since they are potato relatives. We water the tomato end.

About 1/6 of the garden is in legumes, but not in one section because we plant different species that are grown at different times of year, a common trick for spreading many kinds of risks and enhancing resilience. In addition, overwintering cool-season legumes don’t require watering. Staple crops that don’t require watering (or electricity) cuts the labor in good times and might be essential in bad times. So we plant ‘Iant’s Yellow’, in fall and overwinter them. Winter is our rainy season. ‘Iant’s Yellow’ is delicious as a dry bean (but not as a shelly). It usually overwinters well. It was an unusually cold winter, though. Most of our favas died out. These things happen. That’s why overwintered favas is just one of our beans and overwintering is just one of our patterns of growing beans.

We planted ‘Hannan Popbean’, a garbanzo, in early spring. It was unusually cool and wet, but they did fine. I’ve selected ‘Hannan’ to grow well when grown organically, to germinate cheerfully in cold mud, to be highly resistant to all the aphid-borne legume diseases that are rampant in the Willamette Valley, and to finish a crop in late July and without irrigation. We harvested the ‘Hannan’ yesterday. This year, there has been almost no summer heat, and everything is delayed. So the ‘Hannans’ took until mid-August. But they still did fine. The fact that they finish so early gives us resilience that we called upon this year.

Our vetch cover crop died out instead of growing last winter because of the unusual cold. So we’re short of fertility in the patch for summer-grown legumes. In addition, we didn’t get that area tilled during the short spring tilling window before an unusually wet spring ensued. (We got the ground tilled for the potatoes, garbs, and one corn planting, but didn’t have enough of a weather break for the rest.) So we got a late start planting the warm-season legumes. And it was already looking like a cool summer. This meant that any summer-grown beans might not mature until the rainy season. Common dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) tend to mold, rot, or split if they are asked to dry down in the rainy season. So we planted ‘Fast Lady Northern Southern Pea’ on all the land for summer grown legumes.

‘Fast Lady’, our Northern — and maritime-adapted cowpea, is very fine in texture and delicious, and like other cowpeas, doesn’t need to be soaked before cooking. Cowpeas are much better at making their own nitrogen than P. vulgaris dry beans, so our cowpea should be less affected by the fertility problem. Also, cowpeas are less harmed by getting rained upon when drying down than common beans. Cowpeas are also more drought resistant and better at scrounging water. That means we don’t have to water them as often as most summer grown beans. And we can eat the shoots, leaves, green pods, and shelly beans during the summer as well as harvest the dry seed. It adds flexibility when your main staple crops give you good summer green crops as well. And I’ve harvested ‘Fast Lady’ right in the middle of the rainy season before, and it was fine. The drying pods shed rain very nicely instead of absorbing it. In addition, being a cowpea, we can save pure seed from ‘Fast Lady’ even if we are growing pole beans, since the cowpea and common beans are different species. And ‘Fast Lady’ is by far the easiest to thresh of any bean I have ever grown.

We did an early planting of ‘Magic Manna’, the early corn that provides our parching corn, savory corn gravy, sweetbreads, some flavors of cornbread, and cakes. I’m talking about fine-grained cakes, such as angle food cake or sponge cakes. Real cakes. True flour corns can give you a flour almost as fine in texture as commercial wheat flour. ‘Magic Manna’ is a flour corn that gives us four different colors of ears, each with different flavors and cooking characteristics, all from one patch. Red and pink ears make great parching corn and sweetbreads. Pancake ivory and white ears make great pancakes, sweetbreads, and cakes. And brown ears make a delicious gravy as well as savory (non-sweet) cornbreads. ‘Magic Manna’ is very early. I bred it by selecting for flavor, and culinary characteristics from ‘Painted Mountain’. I designed the genetics so that one variety could produce corns with several flavors and culinary niches all from one patch. ‘Magic Manna’ should also be a great ornamental corn.

Then there is a much later planting of a late flint corn. Usually I grow pole beans on late corn, but we put the corn in too late for that this year.

We planted our early flint sister varieties ‘Cascade Creamcap’, ‘Cascade Ruby-Gold’, and ‘Cascade Maple-Gold Polenta’ on the farm of a cooperating grower. It pollinates at the same time as ‘Magic Manna’, so we don’t grow both on our land. The Cascade sister lines are so designed genetically that they can be planted in adjacent patches and still allow for saving seed. The Cascade planting will give us all our polenta, johnny cakes, and five different colors of ears for five more different flavors of cornbread, all from a single patch. Corn is my basic grain staple. I’m gluten intolerant. With these corns, I can make cornbread that holds together well enough to make sandwiches, and that requires only corn, water, eggs, butter or fat or oil of some sort, salt, baking powder, and water. I’ve bred these Cascade lines to be the ultimate survival corns as well as to be spectacularly delicious.

The squash patch provides winter squash, summer squash, and dry squash.

Then there is a huge patch of brassicas, mostly kale but also cabbage, broccoli, and others. We plant those mostly in late July and eat them all fall and winter and spring. Nate and I both love kale. Nate also makes lots of sauerkraut.

The backyard is now heavily shaded by trees on neighboring properties. I gardened there when I first moved into the house. At this point, we garden on our leased land, and the back yard is duck pasture. My flock of 35 laying ducks (Anconas) provides all the eggs we want as well as some to sell to cover the feed bills. They also provide all our breeding stock as well as generate ducklings for sale to others in the area. The Anconas eat commercial chow and forage in summer, but in fall, winter, and spring they eat mostly cull and small potatoes and winter squash, and such goodies as worms, sowbugs, and slugs. Ducks are a better choice for free-range layers in the maritime Northwest than chickens. In our climate, they are the ultimate ecologically well-adapted livestock. Compared with chickens, ducks lay better (especially in winter), are happy outdoors year round, can scrounge a much large portion of their feed, eat even big banana slugs, and are the best at yard and garden pest control. And they love our weather.

One of our friends is a melon grower. We trade potatoes for melons. We also sell potatoes to the duck egg customers. And starting in December this year, we plan to start selling seeds of some of the varieties I’ve been breeding for the last two decades. We forage wild cherries and serviceberries and sometimes hazelnuts. And we buy huge amounts blueberries from a blueberry farm down the street.

Ideally, we would like to have a small farm with some sheep and maybe water buffalo for milk, meat, and draft, and a full orchard, and of course, a pond for the ducks in addition to land for our garden and seed crops. But resilience is about just doing something now, making a start, doing what you can with what you have. And what we can do at the moment is lease some good gardening land that isn’t too far from our home, and grow lots of food, and breed new varieties selected specifically for flavor and resilience. And we can just play around and try things and have fun.

MG: For gardeners who are just starting out, do you think there’s something intimidating about the idea of the “perfect” garden?

CD: The issue of how to get a garden as perfect as possible — that isn’t my issue. My issue is, how can I get the highest yield of the most delicious food for the least possible time and effort? I’m lazy. I want to garden efficiently. Perfectionism really gets in the way of gardening efficiently. I don’t talk about very much about perfectionism. Instead, I talk about what I call “selective sloppiness.” I have spent a lot of time figuring out what I can get away with not doing. I even have a section in The Resilient Gardener that lists lots of things gardeners are frequently told to do that are unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Then, of those things that actually do matter, the question is, exactly how sloppy can I be about them and still get the results I want? What is the most appropriate level of sloppiness? What is, if you will, perfect sloppiness?

While I’m at it, I have to bring up that old adage that goes “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Nonsense! Most things worth doing are not worth doing well. They are only worth doing sloppily. And lots of what most of us spend much of our lives doing is not worth doing at all. Anything not worth doing at all is certainly not worth doing well.

Forget perfectionism! I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. The rest of our lives aren’t perfect. Why should our gardens be? Let’s make practical gardens, resilient gardens. And let’s manage our resilient gardens with cheerful, unapologetic selective sloppiness.

Read the original interview on Alternet.

Carol Deppe is the author of The Resilient Gardener, available now.

Excerpt from The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell featured on The Huffington Post

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Today’s Huffington Post featured the following excerpt from Jamie Court’s The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell.

Cancer Widow Challenges Insurer Over $450K Medical Bill

Never underestimate the power of one person’s story to change the world; indeed such stories may be the only thing that ever has. The sincere experiences of individuals who have suffered injustice are the best weapons against injustice. Winning campaigns are about the triumph of fundamental human truth, so real people with genuine stories are the best messengers of populist campaigns.

The language of the status quo is often statistical, actuarial, and data-based. This is not to say proponents of change don’t have science and statistics on their side. It’s just that opponents of change often base their objections on the hard, cold numbers that only accountants can muster and manipulate to show how they will bust budgets, bankrupt businesses, and break up families. My favorite example is tobacco companies’ argument against the Czech government’s smoking cessation plan. The industry’s actuarial study found that the country’s health care costs would skyrocket since people would live longer.

While it’s tempting to mix it up with scientists when you know you’re right, change-making campaigns typically mobilize the public and affect politics by sticking to the human case.

I saw the “people-first” principle work when one woman with a compelling story was able to fell a whole industry. It’s the case of “Dana vs. Goliath.”

With health insurance costs skyrocketing in 2006, insurers hatched a plan to remove themselves from the patients’-rights laws that were passed in forty-four states in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The industry explained that the insurance companies wanted to “reduce their costs of compliance” so insurance would be cheaper. It sounded simple enough to President Bush and Congress, who were about to enact the plan. Attorneys general, governors, and state insurance commissioners complained, but it looked like the industry had the votes.

Then Dana Christensen came to Capitol Hill with my colleagues Carmen Balber and Jerry Flanagan.

Christensen had been working with my consumer group to warn against the very type of “junk health insurance” policy that we feared would become the norm if state regulation were bypassed. She and her husband, Doug, had been technically insured, yet Dana was left with $450,000 in unpaid medical bills when her husband died of bone cancer.

The fine print in her insurance policy had no limit on “out-of-pocket cost.” So she had to pay most of the costs of his chemotherapy and cancer care. On his deathbed, Doug asked Dana to divorce him so she would not have to be liable for the medical bills. She refused. In the end, only because of a lawsuit under state law, which prevented fraudulent representations, was Dana able to recoup the cost of those bills from the insurer.

Dana flew into Washington on Monday, on the heels of a PBS NOW news story about her case that aired the previous Friday. She held a press conference with Senators Edward Kennedy and Richard Durbin, then lobbied other senators. The power of her story stopped the legislation dead in its tracks.

“What’s the point of paying for health insurance and then, when you need it, discovering the benefits you thought were promised and paid for just aren’t there?” Dana asked. “That’s what happened to my husband Doug and me.”

Human truth is very hard for a human being, even the most hardened Washington politician, to turn away from.

Read the original excerpt and see a photo slideshow on The Huffington Post.

Jamie Court’s new book, The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For, is now available.

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