We interrupt the Life with Joseph series to bring you this very important post from the Occasional CEO:  Lowell on the Yangtze.

Whenever I read about the Industrial Revolution—or watch a movie like How Green Was My Valley, I can't help thinking that it could have been done better.  Couldn't we have had automation and factories without all that dislocation, degradation and filth?

Of course we could have.  Raping the landscape, tearing families apart, and keeping workers in virtual slavery are not essential to production—if businesses are willing to take a little less profit, and consumers to pay a little more for the product.  But that's not how it happened. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu, translated by Wen Huang (Pantheon, 2008)

With a title like The Corpse Walker, you might expect this to be a frightening book.  And you would be correct.  But there's not a zombie in sight.

We are so Euro-centric.  We repeatedly hold up Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany as the epitome of evil.  If pressed, we might acknowledge Joseph Stalin, but Russia is more distant, foreign, and unknown than Germany.  Compared with Mao Zedong's China, however ... well, you can read more about that in this article on democide.

The Lord of the Flies meets 1984.  Liao Yiwu's book is must reading for anyone who still hangs on to the idea that unfettered human nature is basically good, or that the acquisition of power is not one of the most deadly, corrupting circumstances ever. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Edit
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Although I've been a Democrat for every one of my 50 voting years, I've been accused of abandoning the party by voting more often for Republicans than Democrats in recent years.  I've never been a party-liner for any party, but I don't deny the truth of that accusation.  I will plead, however, that it was my party that abandonned me, taking oppositional positions on many of the most important issues, not the least of which is the right and responsibility of parents to direct the education of their own children.

Be that as it may, it gives me pleasure to announce that my hero-of-the-day is a Democrat, the Governor (redux) of California, Jerry Brown.  Why?  Because of what he wrote, refusing to sign into law a bill that would have criminalized, for everyone under 18, skiing or snowboarding without a helmet.  (H/T Free-Range Kids)

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.

I'm not sure which is my favorite line.  It's a tie among "I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children," "I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," and "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Well done, Governor Brown!  We may disagree on many points, but when you're right, you're right, and I'm happy to celebrate the victory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Edit
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altThe Raw Milk Revolution:  Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, by David E. Gumpert (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2009)

That the forward to The Raw Milk Revolution was written by Joel Salatin—whose Polyface Farms is the poster child for independent, sustainable farming—gives the reader a good idea of where the book ends up.  That's a lot more than the author knew when he began his investigation.  He was over 50 when he had his first glass of raw milk, and hadn't given milk of any form much thought for some 30 years.

But for a writer with interests in both small businesses and health, the growing demand for unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk—and the increasing governmental interference with the small dairy farms that are its only source—was a natural field to investigate.

I had my first glass of raw milk at lunch, with a homemade chocolate chip cookie....  Suddenly I was back in my childhood, with my all-time favorite snack.  The milk was as creamy and rich tasting as it looked, with a slight sweetness I didn't recall from my childhood milk. ... But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that overhanging the experience was an anxiety-laden question provoked by my American history classes highlighting the importance of pasteurization in saving lives:  Might this wonderful milk kill me?  I actually went to sleep wondering whether I'd wake up. ... Of course, there was no bad reaction of any sort, and I became a regular customer.

Gumpert is lucky.  The places one can legally purchase raw milk are few.  In Switzerland Janet lives an easy walk from a local dairy, where she can buy all she wants at a good price.  Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the U.S. where raw milk is legal, and Heather can get some for the cost of a long drive and a lot more money than the grocery store charges for their agri-business milk.  In Florida we can't buy it legally at any price, except as (very expensive) pet milk, "not for human consumption." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Edit
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I've broken fillings, chipped teeth, and done other costly damage while eating sandwiches, popcorn, grapes, yoghurt, soup, and other items that I reasonably expected to be bone-, stone-, pit- and kernel-free.  And yet it never once occurred to me that the suffering and expense should be blamed on someone, preferably someone other than me, and with deep pockets.  Accidents happen.  Life is not pain free, and I believe that when something bad happens it doesn't always need to be someone's fault.

Unlike Dennis Kucinich, eight-term Representative from Ohio, who is suing the House cafeteria for $150,000 in damages incurred three years ago when he bit into a sandwhich and had an unpleasant encounter with an olive pit.

What was Kucinich thinking?  Like a spoiled toddler or delinquent teen, does he believe negative publicity is better than none?  Could $150,000 possibly make up for being remembered as the politician who sued a sandwich-maker over an olive pit?  He should have learned a lesson from Stella Liebeck, whose name became synonymous with frivolous lawsuits after she filed suit against McDonald's over hot coffee.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Edit
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Perhaps the worker at Babies R Us had noticed me walking up and down the aisles, examining the toys, sighing, and putting them back.  Or perhaps she was just doing her job.  But when she asked, in a friendly manner, "Are you finding what you're looking for?" I hesitated, then replied, "No."

"What are you looking for?"

"A toy not made in China."


(Today's Mallard Fillmore comic strip.)

She was certain she could help me, but as she checked toy after toy her astonishment grew.  She discovered one item—alas, for a much older child than our six-month-old grandson—made in North America, and I pointed out the one toy I had found that was made in Thailand.*  Other than those two, everything was from China.  Every.  Single.  Toy.  Clothes are made all over the world, judging from my label-reading experience:  Honduras, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Domincan Republic....  But not toys.

I was not surprised, having been through this drill before, but the helpful salesperson was astonished, and even called a supervisor for help.  Perhaps that's one reason China has a virtual monopoly on children's toys, and agri-business rules our food supply:  we don't know where things come from.  I left empty-handed; our grandson will have to make do with something more creative.


*Alas, my sources in Thailand tell me that as far as the safety of children's toys goes, this is no more reassuring than "Made in China." But at least it broke the monotony.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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The more I learn about Julian Assange, the more I like Terry Jones.

They're both inconsiderate, irresponsible idiots in my book, though each started with good intentions and the belief that his actions were righteous and courageous.  But Jones had the grace to back off when he saw that his Koran-burning threat stunt was endangering innocent lives around the world.  Assange is using the threat of further, more dangerous WikiLeaks revelations to fend off prosecution on, among other things, rape charges.

There is a place for whistle-blowing, and shedding light in dark places sometimes requires great courage and controversial actions.  But if you want to be a hero rather than a two-bit blackmailer, it’s wise to break no more laws—civil and moral—than absolutely necessary.

One who lays his life on the line for the sake of others may be a hero, but the sacrifice of other people’s lives, even for a great cause, is a less clear path.  That’s why the right to make such decisions is generally given to regulated, designated authorities, like the military or police forces.  Being made up of human beings, they may make disastrous mistakes, and can be corrupted, but on the whole they are safer holders of that power than unregulated, untrained individuals and mobs.  There’s a good reason vigilante action is feared—and illegal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Edit
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On the day after Election Day* I felt some commentary to be necessary, so I struggled to find something about our political system that is better now than in the past.

I considered the 19th Amendment:  that’s a significant improvement.  But I’m not so old that I was ever disenfranchised because of my sex, so it doesn’t really count.

The 26th Amendment did make a difference in my life, but I have mixed feelings about that one, seeing as extending the voting age downward corresponded with an upward movement of the age of responsible maturity.

Much about our political system has taken a turn for the worse during my lifetime.  (I’m not saying it was always better—we’re not longer literally tar-and-feathering our opponents.)  But one positive change I am thankful for on this third day of November is openness(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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"Harm reduction," a new term to me, though not a new concept, is a controversial approach to social problems, in which illegal, immoral, or otherwise harmful behaviors are attacked, not at the root, but at the branches:  distributing condoms to slow the spread of AIDS, needle exchange programs for drug addicts, and legalized prostitution, for example.  It is palliative care: attempting to ameliorate the symptoms of an apparently incurable social disorder.

Whether you approve of the idea or think it only exacerbates the problem—like Needle Park in Zurich, one of Switzerland's early experiments, which succeeded in reducing AIDS infections and drug-related deaths, but attracted addicts and professional drug dealers from all over Europe—the following story is heartwarming.  It brings to mind Mother Teresa, who, if she couldn't cure the ills of the lowest and the poorest in Calcutta, at least gave them the touch of a loving hand, and a clean, safe, comfortable place in which to die.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:29 am | Edit
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altEverything I Want to Do Is Illegal:  War Stories from the Local Food Front. by Joel Salatin (Polyface Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 2007)

Until now, I've written more about Joel Salatin than I've read by him:  almost a year ago in Strange Bedfellows?  Not Really, and three months later in my review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Wanting to correct that sin of omission, I grabbed the only one of his books available in our local library:  Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.

On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system.  And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.  How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength.  The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe.  The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers.  When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol. — Joel Salatin

Salatin wants to opt out of a little more of the system than I do, but I hear his cry.  You could call him bitter, but if you consider the miracle that is Polyface Farms, you have to wonder why our government is working so hard to stamp out such elegant, inexpensive, healthy, delicious, and truly "green" (in a conservationist sense) endeavors. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 9:21 am | Edit
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I wasn't going to write about the two recent examples of September 11-related hysteria run amok, because (a) there has already been too much reaction, and (b) believe it or not, the fate of the world does not hinge on what I write on the Internet.  But in another context I was invited to share my opinion, and you know how I love to get double duty out of the effort it takes to write.

First, the "Ground Zero mosque" flap.  Whether a mosque, or Islamic center, or church, or store, or apartment building, or library, or strip club is built in New York City is none of my business.  Nor is it the business of 99% of the others who have weighed in on the issue, including President Obama, foreigners, and talk show hosts.  It is New York City's business, at whatever level zoning regulations are made. If the neighbors object to a proposed project, they have the right, and possibly the duty, to oppose it at zoning board hearings, to write letters to local papers, to make local speeches, to go from door to door with petitions.  My opinion is irrelevant, as is that of the President of the United States.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 8:52 am | Edit
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Today's Mallard Fillmore comic inspired this post, which Li'l Writer Guy had actually been working on in the background ever since a conversation we had about the subject last night.

Mind you, I don't know any of the details of how it will work, and am only commenting on the theory that children should be covered on their parents' health insurance until they are 26 years old. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 8:18 am | Edit
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The Obamas' Federal income tax return for 2009 is now media fodder.  (Another reason not to run for president.)  They made a lot of money, though it didn't come primarily from your pocket unless you bought one of his books.  But here's what I want to know:  Does our president support his words with his actions?

One of my complaints about politicians is their penchant for enhancing their reputation for generosity by being charitable with other people's money.   (See the Daley Ponderings discussion about Davy Crockett.)   Oddly enough, the more a politician is known for wanting to spend tax money on charitable causes, the less willing he seems to spend his own money in a similar fashion—a lesson not easily forgotten if one has lived in Massachusetts.  As I reported in How Much Should the Rich Pay in Taxes?,

  • In 2007, President George W. Bush and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $923,807...and donated $165,660 to charity—or 18 percent of their income.
  • Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, earned between $200,000 and $300,000 a year between 2000 and 2004, and they donated less than 1 percent to charity. When their income soared to $4.2 million in 2007, their charitable contributions went up to 5 percent.

Here's the question:  In 2009, were the Obamas as generous with their own money as they want to be with ours? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 16, 2010 at 8:23 am | Edit
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I try not to say too much about our current Federal administration, even though much of what they are doing scares me.  (Yes, this is restraint.  Believe me.)  So when they say something I actually like, it's fun to be able to acknowledge it.  (HT Margaret Gorodetzer via Facebook, and Joan Lowy/the Huffington Post.)

With the caveat that I haven't investigated the story at all, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is my current hero for his recognition that walking, biking, and public transit are important ways of getting from one place to another in daily life, not just recreation or the last refuge of losers who have lost their drivers' licenses   Talk is not action, but it's a beginning. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 7:55 am | Edit
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Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  by Greg Mortenson (Viking Penguin, New York, 2009)

I knew before finishing Three Cups of Tea that I wanted to read the sequel.  Stones into Schools is even more wonderful.  For one thing, Mortenson has found better help with the writing, so the story is crafted in a riveting, compelling fashion. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Edit
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