Day 29 – Snow Day!

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

For all of my friends in the mid-Atlantic states today, take care and take cover.

The last time we had snow like this in the region was February 2010, given the hyperbolic name of Snowmagedon by the media. I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and remember the endless snow, blowing winds, and brave (stupid?) drivers navigating the blanket of white where roads used to be. The city was pretty much shut down for a week which gave me a LOT of time at home to myself. No distractions from friends to go out and spend money. Just me at home, the white stuff coming down outside, as if by machines that someone forgot to turn off.

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Snow days 2010

Continue reading “Day 29 – Snow Day!”

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Day 20 – What’s in a word?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

I am reminded every election year that words matter. Language is very powerful as a motivating force in political rhetoric. Coupled with the right personality and the right amount of charisma, words can lead a nation towards inspirational, lofty visions  (The Gettysburg Address, civil rights, the moon landing), but they can also manipulate fears and insecurities towards engaging in unspeakable actions (internment camps, death camps).

As I wrote in an earlier post, 1984, by George Orwell, is one of the books that most significantly shaped how I see the world around me – especially as it relates to that of political bodies and governments. Don’t get me wrong.  There is a lot of good done by governments for citizens, not the least of which includes programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the National Highway System, to name a few. But I have also seen innumerable instances where, both in my life time and in past decades, governments have acted in ways that are wholly self-serving, corrupt and dangerous.

So as we enter the last ten months of the 2016 elections, let us all keep in mind three key phrases from 1984 – three mantras, if you will –  that are used in the novel to control and paralyze people, and that have existing forms in modern U.S. political rhetoric.
Continue reading “Day 20 – What’s in a word?”

Day 16 – Three Essential Books to Achieving Happy Relationships

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

In my continuation of book-themed posts, here are three books (sometimes all you need is three) that get at the crux of our relations with other human beings.  Whether it be romantic or platonic, familial or collegial, these three books will give you valuable insight and understanding of yourself in the context of your relations with others. Continue reading “Day 16 – Three Essential Books to Achieving Happy Relationships”

Day 15 – Inspiration for Every Writer

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

In this my fifteenth post in the 30 for 30 challenge, I am officially halfway through, and I have to say, it has not been easy. If I was thinking more clearly when I set myself up for this, I probably wouldn’t have committed myself to writing 30 full-on blog posts in 30 days. I think 2 or 3 posts a week would have been a modest, but noble challenge.

Anyhow, here were are… fifteen days in, and fifteen days to go.

As a small ego/inspiration boost to all of us struggling writers, I wanted to share a few quotes from the great John Steinbeck on the subject of “sticking with it” – quoted from the daily journal he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath. The now publicized journal is called Working Days.

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In it, he shows how he was constantly plagued by doubt concerning his ability to write, and he kept a daily journal during the process of writing the book in order to remind himself why he simply must carry on, and press forward.  He also saw the journal as a form of accountability for himself:

In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. There is no possibility, in me at least, of saying, “I’ll do it if I feel like it.” One never feels like awaking day after day. In fact, given the smallest excuse, one will not work at all. The rest is nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can work that way, but I cannot. I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.

Continue reading “Day 15 – Inspiration for Every Writer”

Day 14 – Five Books that Will Make you an Informed Citizen

There are books that change our lives and our world views, and then there are books that are equally great, but in a different way. There are books that are almost like text books, but text books you actually want to read. Their information is not only valuable to a functioning society, but to the continuation and furthering of knowledge for every person. Our mainstream media is failing us today as the Fourth Estate, intended to inform the public and help make for an educated electorate.  A healthy democracy is not possible otherwise.

These five books make up where the media fails in this area: Continue reading “Day 14 – Five Books that Will Make you an Informed Citizen”

Day 13 – Five Books that Changed How I View the World

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

Anyone who is even a moderate reader has at least one book that they can point to and say, “That book changed my life.”, or, “That book completely changed the way I view the world.” These are the stories that stick with us; the universal messages that shape who we are as individuals and our world view.

Here are the books that had that impact on me: Continue reading “Day 13 – Five Books that Changed How I View the World”

Pop Culture Critique – Alex Ross reviews Adorno and Benjamin

“Technology conspires with populism to create an ideology vacant dictatorship of likes.”

If you read my blog regularly, you know I am an avid reader of The New Yorker.  There are many varying stories in any given issue of the magazine, and I usually read them all.  But, I am want to ever read something that compels me enough to write about it. Today, one of those articles did just that.

The article was a review written by my one of my favorite music and culture writers – Alex Ross.  The article is titled “The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture.”  I have linked to the article here, but chances are, readers won’t be able to access it unless one has an online New Yorker account.  That being said, I recommend getting one. 🙂

What intrigued from the beginning about this article was that it expounds upon a topic for which I devoted much of master’s thesis to – the influence and role of popular culture in our modern society, and how it has come to affect the consumption of culture and art from within a consumerist mindset, as opposed to experiencing it as a representation of our humanity through personal expression.

Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin
Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin

In the article, Ross discusses the lives and works of Benjamin and Adorno, as described in a new biography.  I expect that Ross is reviewing these men in conjunction with a new book on Wagner he is currently writing, but that is only a hunch.  Throughout, Ross compares and contrasts the similar, although at times contrasting views of the two gentleman, and concludes the article with his own poignant take on the state of affairs. Continue reading “Pop Culture Critique – Alex Ross reviews Adorno and Benjamin”

Escaping the industrial grip of the “Western Diet”

Over the Christmas holiday, I studiously devoted myself to completing Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”. Granted, I chose a rather odd time to attempt to educate myself on the array of problems with our “way of eating” – “Pass the gravy please!”, but I was up for the challenge nonetheless.  I had heard many good things about this book from friends, and wanted to complete it prior to the New Year, and with that the always busy work schedule, and same mindless eating habits that would surely follow.  I’m glad I pushed myself to finish it, because what I read really opened my eyes to the realities of industrial food production, and set me on the right course for making better food choices.

Mr. Pollan begins the book with a history lesson on how the U.S. government’s policy towards nutrition took shape by guiding the reader through an explanation of how the modern idea of “nutrition”, or at least how the policy makers and food companies define it, misses the point entirely when it comes to defining food.  Not only by missing the big picture of what food is beyond mere nutrients, but environmentally and culturally as well.  He concludes the book, thankfully, with a “DO” and “DON’T” chapter of ways to eat more healthy, with actual food, providing valuable resources to help one escape the confines of the grocery store, and thus the over-processed food-like poison that incorporates a large majority of what constitutes a Western Diet.food-cover

What I found most intriguing was learning how we came, as a country, to have the food policies we have; policies that, as one might infer from my introduction, have been lobbied to death by food companies and related industries in order to protect the profits of food corporations over the general health of Americans.  How else do Fritolay and Lucky Charms cereal receive a seal of approval from the FDA and American Heart Association???

Most amazingly, and quite frightening, Pollan details how a regulation that would have required food companies to label food an “imitation” if it was altered so much as one molecule from the original, natural food, was completely killed by food industry lobbyists.  That is why, as Pollan points out, we can now have “multi-grain white bread”, a paradoxical (mutli-grain white bread??), frankenstein concoction that contains so many ingredients, one begins to seriously forget how true food is actually made.  One of the ingredients in this multi-grain white bread is “dough conditioners”.  Seriously.  I went to the grocery store and looked at the label.  Go check.  It’s there.  Was this bread having a “salon day” before it hit the grocery shelves?  It’s high time for better regulation of food labeling in this country!!

A basic rule of thumb that Pollan gives is this: If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s probably not food.  Now of course bread is a food that has been around since the beginning of time, but bread with 35 ingredients, one of which is “dough conditioners”, certainly doesn’t pass the “great-grandmother” test.

Pollan provides some other useful rules when deciding what to eat:

  • Avoid foods that have ingredients you don’t recognize as food, or foods that have more than five ingredients all together.
  • If you must eat animals, eat less of them than plants
  • Drink 1-2 glasses of red wine per day, but always with a meal. (I’m particularly pleases with this one!)
  • Fat is not necessarily a bad thing
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils are not good.
  • High-fructose corn syrup is always a bad idea.
  • Plant a garden if possible, even if it’s just an individual herb and vegetable plant on your apartment’s balcony.  By doing this one becomes more connected with the source of food, which in turn gives one a new appreciation for what it means to grow food and eat it.
  • Avoid foods that make health claims.  Anything that says, “Now with more Vitamin XYZ” usually means that it a) doesn’t have sufficient nutrients on its own, and b) is overly processed.

What I like most about this book, is that it leaves the reader with the resources necessary to begin the process of divorcing oneself from the unhealthy industrial food marriage that so many Americans live with daily.  My two favorite resources being Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) which details how one can go about finding a local farm and purchasing a “share” to obtain weekly deliveries of organically grown vegetables, and Eatwild – a website dedicated to understanding the facts and myths surrounding the proper “pasturing” of animals, as well as links to local farms where you can buy truly grassfed, or “pastured” animal products.  I have already taken the first step in purchasing a half share of my own from a local farm in Phoenix called Farmyard.  For a nominal fee, I will now receive a weekly basket of seasonally fresh, organic vegetables and a dozen free-range, fully pastured chicken eggs.

I know some of you may be thinking, “Get off your high-horse you crunchy, pinko-commie hippie!  Things aren’t THAT bad with our food.”  Okay, there are probably not many of you saying that.  It’s likely that if you’ve read this far, you probably already agree with the general premise of this post.  In fact, I would guess that many Americans would agree with me.  Even my conservative father is starting to come around to the idea that food corporations are not altruistic in their capitalist nature!  Who doesn’t want to eat good, wholesome healthy food?!

The problem is that most Americans exist in a sea of misinformation.  Misinformation about the reality of the food, or food-like products they’re eating, and their effects on the human body.  Misinformation perpetrated by corporate food conglomerates (see: Monsanto).  Misinformation from government and the media who, being so reliant on corporate dollars for their existence, avoid or ignore reporting the TRUTH about the danger of so many corporate food products.  The main reason for all of this is that always persnickety, yet “necessary ?” evil,  of the advertising and/or campaign contribution dollar.

Our food problems, and stark reliance on a “Western Diet”, obviously run deep.  Sadly, the overarching, large-scale solutions needed to wholly reform our food culture are nowhere to be seen on the horizon of regulatory reform.  So long as the government heavily subsidizes industries like corn and soybeans, politicians depend on corporate food lobbyists for campaign donations, and the media rely heavily on corporate advertising dollars, a serious discussion about change will never occur, and therefore nothing will change. In short, don’t wait around for the government to fix these problems any time soon.

The solution lies within each individual; you and me, and the purchasing power we have.  That’s right, the only way to change this system is from the ground up, turning the food industry on it’s head by not taking part in it at all!  With every dollar you spend on “multi-grain white bread”, just because it’s cheap and easy, you support the profit-driven and unhealthy food industry. The answer is simple:  return to the basics of food, real food, locally grown and/or raised, and committing oneself to a diet based on what one can acquire via these sources.  It’s not always easy, and it’s not always the cheapest route.  But if you have the knowledge, and the means, then there is no excuse.  I’ve already personally taken the first step by purchasing a farm share.  You can too!

Happy New Year!