Influx by Daniel Suarez

I recently finished reading the novel Influx by one of my favorite "tech thriller" writers, Daniel Suarez - here's a quick review.

The basic premise of Influx is that humanity's scientific and tech geniuses have created many more technological break-throughs than most of the world knows about, and that a secret department of the U.S. government has taken extreme steps to hide those break-throughs in the name of protecting everyday people from their practical implications. The plot thickens when there's resistance to that department's methods, and I won't say much more about it to avoid spoiling what unfolds, but you can imagine the story-telling fun that can be had when futuristic-and-very-advanced human tech and mindsets meets present day human tech and mindsets.  And most of it is pretty dark stuff - no kibbitzing with humpback whale scenes here.

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Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth

The Vegetarian Myth coverLierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth is one of the most important books ever written about food and the sustainability of the human species. It is at once deeply personal, overwhelmingly provocative, and academically sound as it calls into question all of the stories we have ever been told about where food comes from, what kind of food we should eat (especially in the context of veganism and vegetarianism), and what impact our food choices make on our bodies and the world around us.  And that's just the core themes; Keith deftly weaves together food politics with economics, religion, culture, misogyny, masculinity, feminism, media issues, peak oil, liberalism vs radicalism, and so much more.

In short, if you think about what you eat, how it got to you, and the issues of nutrition, morality, politics and spirituality come with it, it is paramount that you encounter what The Vegetarian Myth has to offer.

My full review continues:

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Meat Twice a Week

Sesame BurgerTwo years ago about this time I blogged about my resolution to give up soft drinks, which I'm glad to say I've successfully continued for a second bonus year, despite it having no noticeable positive effect on my health while making me an outcast at all of those cola-centered social gatherings. And despite the bottles of Dr. Pepper that people sometimes leave sitting around me, sometimes even in my own fridge.  But I digress.

For now I'll skip over last year's resolution - which failed miserably - and bring you to my 2009 resolution, which is to eat less meat. Specifically, I'm trying to eat meat at no more than two meals per week. This is a revised plan of attack from past attempts to try an all-vegetarian diet, which I eventually decided wasn't tenable for me.

Without getting too far into the food ethics involved in meat-eating (which are nonetheless important and deserving of further treatment), I thought I'd note why I'm doing this, and how it's going so far: Continue reading Meat Twice a Week

On practicing what you preach

Preparing for High RopesIs it really important to practice what you preach?

Must we really become the change we wish to see in the world?

As I try to work in my life and community to create a peaceful and sustainable existence, these are questions that churn in my head daily.

On a personal level, I think a lot of us struggle with living out the values we hold - we have aspirations and ideals about ourselves and the world we live in that can seem hard to enact, even when the path might feel clear.

But when you start to talk about how the rest of the world could be - even should be - the conversation goes beyond issues of self-discipline, time management, or having sufficient support and encouragement. When we talk about sharing a message with others about how we want the world to be and perhaps suggest they change their behavior to get there, it becomes a question of whether there's a practical or ethical obligation to already first be living out that existence well as the messenger.

Some people say you have to transform your own life first before you can expect others to transform theirs at your suggestion. Do we?

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Using real names in online communities

E7EBC5781A8911DA.jpg I remember the first time I was logging onto a remote computer system (a BBS) and was asked to choose a handle - an alias for my online activities. There'd been plenty of times where a computer game or other piece of software had asked for one, but this was the first time when other people were going to know me by this name. Wow! I thought about it carefully...what nickname would be the best representation of my personality and my approach to life, while also exuding the appropriate amount of playfulness, mystery and anonymity? At the time, I chose something that might politely be called "lame."

Since then, I've used a few other handles that were more appropriate and cool (to me, anyway), but lately, I've decided that the handle that best represents of my personality online is the same one that represents it offline: my real name. And in most cases, I'm of the opinion that we should all use our real names when engaging in online discussion and community-building.

It's sometimes a suggestion that makes people uncomfortable, so I want to provide some additional reasoning to consider and discuss:
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Pal-Item forgets that framing trumps truth?

As the whole EDC mess swirls on and the gloves come off, the Palladium-Item, Richmond's local daily newspaper, has continued to insist that its role in fueling the fire of outrage over the EDC's affairs has just been about reporting the truth. It is with this sentiment that they've responded to public criticism of their aggressive coverage and editorializing, it is how they responded to concerns raised in an editorial board meeting I attended shortly after the initial series ran on their pages, and it is how managing editor Rich Jackson responds in an editorial column today. But Jackson and the rest of his staff surely know that the impact of their actions in this and every other matter they cover is not limited to the letter of the content they deliver; in a world of fast paced news delivery, short attention spans, and the need for sexy sound bites, the way the information is presented often has as much (if not more) impact than the "truth" that it might be trying to convey. In other words, the framing of an issue tends to trump the truth of an issue. This isn't their fault, but if credibility is important, it is their responsibility to acknowledge their role in that phenomenon.
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EDC airs out dirty laundry in Pal-Item

I was surprised to pull up today's Palladium-Item online and see four more articles about Don Holbrook and questions surrounding his role with the Wayne County Economic Development Corporation. Last Thursday's article, "EDC leader takes hits from all sides," already seemed unnecessarily harsh in that it publicly framed the EDC's current budget concerns around Don Holbrook's working relationship with the EDC board; the implication was almost that he'd been stealing cash from their bank account. And then today's articles, "Heat's on Holbrook,""'Character assassination' played part in the past,""Raising concerns may cost board member leadership post," and "What EDC members say" make it sound like the EDC is falling apart at the seams with political earthquakes and personal smears. What the heck is going on here?
Continue reading EDC airs out dirty laundry in Pal-Item

Pal-Item Misunderstands Nature of Protest

The Richmond Palladium-Item newspaper seems to have multiple personalities when it comes to characterizing the nature of civil protest. In Friday's editorial, they so nobly say "It's our right to stand up for our beliefs, tell our elected officials we disagree, share our viewpoints with neighbors, family and friends, strive for the betterment of our country as a whole. That right brings with it a responsibility to respect others' ideas, hear out their concerns and try at the very least to understand our differences." The article then proceeds to condemn any protest that violates the law, indicating there is some concept of "vital" and "proper" protest, of which illegal acts are not a part. I suppose, then, that they would have had to condemn the entire U.S. civil rights movement, the actions of fellow journalists who disobey the law to protect sources, and a slew of other "improper" protests throughout the history of our country. (Perhaps they misunderstand that sometimes acting improperly is, unfortunately, the only way to draw attention to a cause, for better or worse.) But surely, then, the above statement means they do support and respect legal and peaceful acts that share viewpoints, encourage dialogue about our beliefs, and work to change our communities for the better, right? Like a written petition, maybe? Apparently not - they would call such actions "misguided" and "desperate" and "an affront to civic fair play", and go on to equate those actions with physical assault.

Wow. If I understand their position correctly as derived from their various published statements, the only kind of disagreement that is proper or fair is no real disagreement at all. It's sad and scary that a local institution that is theoretically so much a part of facilitating free speech and dialogue about the community - even when it involves acts of protest - seems to so manifestly misunderstand those opportunities, and the vehicles available for engaging in them.

On the Nature of Civil Protest

I wrote this in reflection upon a conversation I had with a friend who was heading off for a weekend of protesting against the U.S. Government's "School of the Americas". There was the potential that my friend would be arrested, but there was also the general sense that it would be an exhausting and draining event. I asked her about why she was doing it, and a wonderful conversation ensued. These are some of the thoughts that remain. It's not done yet, thus the weak ending.

In every good conversation, the participants ideally exhibit a mutual desire to communicate their thoughts, share their ideas, and help the other participants to understand what they are trying to say. The conversation takes place because all of the participants recognize the significance and benefit of engaging in conversation with the other participants to communicate but also for the sake of conversation itself. The conversation is able to take place because all of the participants recognize that the other participants share the desire to engage in conversation.

In every good argument or debate, the participants ideally exhibit a mutual desire to convince the other participants that one view on a particular issue or series of issues is more appropriate, suitable, correct, or right than another view on the same issue or series of issues. The participants in an argument attempt to achieve this goal by explaining and detailing the point of view that they support in the context of opposing or refuting the points of view of the other participants, or sometimes affirming some parts and opposing other parts of a generally opposing point of view. Arguments and debates take place because participants recognize the opportunity to gain from discovering or acknowledging a particular point of view as more appropriate, suitable, correct, or right than another, whether it be the gain of personal knowledge, argumentative victory over another participant, or some other form of gain (not necessarily a positive gain).

Arguments are able to take place because participants recognize a need or desire to engage in the process of attempting to determine a more correct or appropriate point of view on a particular issue. This need or desire can arise from external pressures, personal passion about the issue or the argument itself (sometimes leading to physical combat), mechanical process, or any number of other sources. In all cases, participants recognize one or more of the other participants as being worthy of engaging in the argument or debate; they accept that the participants have a valid place in the process of argument, they recognize that the argument or debate has the potential to benefit themselves and possibly the other participants, and acknowledge respect (or present a façade of respect) that the other participants are suitably equipped to engage in the argument.

In every protest or act of civil disobedience, the participants making the protest or committing the act of civil disobedience exhibit a mutual desire to express an opinion about a particular issue or series of issues. The nature of protest and civil disobedience do not necessarily require that the parties holding, authorizing, enacting, or maintaining the views being protested against voluntarily participate in the event or even recognize the event as a valid "conversation" or "argument" as they were defined above. In this sense, it is not a conversation between two or more willing participants, but only an act of expression by participants representing only one point of view, directed at the parties holding, authorizing, enacting, or maintaining the opposing views.

This may be the case for several reasons. The opposing party may have refused the request of the participants to engage in a conversation or debate on a particular issue. The participants may have previously engaged in a conversation or argument that did not reach conclusion satisfactory to one or more of the participants. The protesters may desire to surprise or intimidate the opposing participants by initiating the protest or act of civil disobedience without advance notice. The protestors may not feel that they have available to them appropriate means by which to engage in a conversation or argument with the opposing parties, due to various power structures, logistical concerns such as time and place, or other factors.

By engaging in protest or acts of civil disobedience, these participants do, however, make the opposing parties a part of the conversation or argument, albeit unwillingly, in the following manner:

  1. The protesters imply a degree of responsibility for engaging in a conversation or acting lies with the opposing party;
  2. The protesters acknowledge that the opposing party is the most suited for taking on the role as an authoritative participant in a discussion on the issues in dispute;
  3. The protesters acknowledge the opposing party's authority or right or obligation to deal with the issues in dispute.

There are negative consequences associated with this approach to a conversation or argument. Because the opposing parties may not desire to be unwilling participants, they may react to the acts of protest or civil disobedience unfavorably. The structures (governmental, social, or otherwise) of the location in which the protest takes place may require or facilitate that the protesters` actions be halted or oppressed. Protesters or persons performing acts of civil disobedience may be subject to immediate consequences such as incarceration, injury, and death, or long-term consequences such as social displacement, internal conflict, or others.

In the sense that some participants are brought in unwillingly, protest or civil disobedience happens because the protestors recognize the potential for their actions to directly or indirectly impact the views and actions of the opposing parties. By participating in protest or civil disobedience, the participants exhibit a degree of respect for the opposing party to recognize, process, acknowledge, and act as a result of this impact. While the protesters may not necessarily place all responsibility for such processing and/or action with the opposing party, the notion of expectations between participants (be they willingly so or not) does arise.

Protest or civil disobedience are appropriate, then, when the potential for this impact on opposing parties outweighs the potential negative consequences of action. Protest or civil disobedience is successful when the opposing parties become willing participants in the conversation or argument about the issues at hand because they have recognized the nature or depth of the impact on them.