Rabbit Trail: July’s links worth a look.

There is a page on this blog dedicated to links I’ve found here and there which I think are worth sharing, but are not related to books, reading, and education. They are categorized by month and I update them as I run across them, adding to the list as I go.

As a general rule, I have no desire to use this blog as a discussion point for things that people tend to get overly animated about, but since I made the links a part of the blog, I decided that at the end of every month I’d open a reminder thread so that my readers know the links are there.

So consider this El’s PSA that there are a lot of interesting, informative, and educational items on the Links Worth a Look page.

The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark

joseph E Clark book

The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark: From Slavery to Town Father, by Olga Fenton Mitchell and Gloria Fenton Magbie. Published in 2003, 112 pages.

This is the biography of the man who founded the oldest incorporated black municipality in the United States of America. It is definitely a niche book and topic, one that interests me on a purely personal level. I almost declined to review it because I know there is no universal appeal attached to it. However, it matters to me, so I decided it was worth reviewing.

Joseph Clark was born into slavery in the year 1859. He was the son of slaves, but his father William was a man of keen sense with a deep desire to see his children be as successful as life would allow. So after the Civil War ended and his family was freed, he moved them to East Tennessee (a Union friendly southern area) and began working in earnest to see to it that his children were educated. Always a man of hard work and frugality, the authors of the book recount that 1870 census records list William Clark as a drayman with a net worth of $400, a financial feat rarely accomplished by the newly freed African descended slaves!

With this as his legacy, Joe Clark grew up and stepped into the part of his story that I was mostly already familiar with. The founding of Eatonville was a momentous and ground breaking event in the South. Joe Clark’s dream of a town founded, inhabited and most importantly governed by freed black men became a reality in 1887:

 

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Joseph Clark 4th from left. Photo Credit.

Covering every aspect of Joseph Clark’s life including the tragedies and hardships as well as his victories, The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark filled in some of the blanks of his history that I was unaware of. Knowing much of the information beforehand didn’t make the book any less enjoyable to me.

This was a good little book. It covered a lot of ground in a very succinct and matter of fact way. It eschewed political commentary and stuck to the facts, and was well done overall. I am glad I stumbled on it while doing some research in our local library branch.

5 out of 5 stars.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? the non-review

to read or not to read

While researching reviews of Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? I was struck with the realization that this is a good opportunity to discuss the things that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review certain books. Since I have decided not to read this one, it is the perfect conversational springboard.

Most of the books I read and review, I find one of three ways. I stumble upon them in the library, read a riveting analysis of said book, or as is often the case, am reminded that it was one I’d always intended to read but never got around to it. Classics most often fall into the last category.

When a book is generating a lot of buzz and I can’t find it at my local library, I embark on a research expedition. The regrettable experience of spending my beloved’s hard earned money on a book that is best fit for the trash heap is a hard learned lesson. As a result, I do my homework and often find that the homework provides plenty about what I am going to find in the book. This either saves both my time and money from being wasted, or heightens my anticipation of curling up with that book.

The former is what happened when I started poking around for some insight on Why Can’t We Be Friends? Most of the reviews were positive, but in ways that only served to solidify my initial skepticism. They were long, wieldy and confusing, explored the book in multiple parts, or otherwise worked to further entrench me into my position. Thankfully, I ran across an article at The Federalist which directed me toward the author’s previously published and readily available words on the subject.

In essence, Mrs. Byrd has written so many articles and blog posts laying out her case for why Christian men and women -regardless of marital status- should be able to have close, personal, even intimate friendships (“sacred siblings” she calls it), that reading her book would have been an exercise in redundancy. The book was an expansion of and explanation of ideas presented in those articles. As a result, I felt no need to purchase, read, or review the book.

This was a good reminder to me that while it is important and vital for any aspiring writer to write, write often, and generate exposure for her writing, it isn’t a good idea to base any potentially publishable work on a conglomeration of ideas that have already been shared and disseminated far and wide. Why should people buy a book that includes ideas and information that I have already shared repeatedly?

Another way I decide which books to read or not is on the basis of a recommendation or down vote from a trusted source.  By that I mean a source that I trust. There have been books I was considering then decided not to read because someone who knows me well gave me a full and complete idea of what it is, and why it’s not worth my time or attention.

Lastly, there are books I read but don’t review for myriad reasons. One of those reasons is because I didn’t finish it.  When a book is taking me an eternity to complete and I constantly find myself picking up other books to give me a break from that book, I conclude that it’s probably not a book for me. That could mean it’s a bad book worthy of a negative review, but if I didn’t finish it I never know if it finally came together in a satisfying way.  This potential for recovery and success is more likely in fiction than nonfiction of course, and is another reminder to me to keep thoughts and ideas cohesive when I write.

Another reason I may not review it is because the ideas are either so personal or so big that I feel it is best not to open a blog discussion about it. Rather, my time with that book is best spent by pondering its ideas privately or with those in my inner circle. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I’m sure there are as many times that I’ve skipped books I may have enjoyed as there are times I read books that felt like a waste of time. In either case, I try to be deliberate and informed before I read any book that I intend to review in this space. This process of mine is obviously far from scientific, but there is some level of method to the madness here.

How do you decide which books you will read?

 

Forbes pulls stupid article which suggested that Amazon could replace public libraries.

I never actually read the article in question, only learning of it as a result of the ever informed and prolific book blogging of Krysta @ Pages Unbound. She goes into detail why an Amazon bookstore could never replace a public library.

When the original Forbes link failed, I went looking for it and found out via Quartz that Forbes pulled it as a result of the outpouring of dissent from local libraries and the communities they serve.

On Saturday morning Forbes published an opinion piece by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas with the headline “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” It quickly received enthusiastic backlash from actual American libraries and their communities.

As of around 10am US eastern time this morning, the story had nearly 200,000 views, according to a counter on the page. As of 11am, though, the story’s URL has been down.

“Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Spirited dissent is no reason for a respected media outlet to pull its article, but in this case I think Forbes did the right thing. I was also slightly amused by the fact that, on the heels of the preceding post here on public shaming via Twitter, the misinformed economist in question got a mild dose of Twitter induced shaming. I do not have a Twitter account and thus was spared the temptation to pile on. Y’all know I love me a public library. That was a joke.  I was never, ever tempted to pile on.

Better informed -and apparently better educated- economists have already done an excellent job of teasing out how much the original economist, Panos Mourdoukoutas, overstated the financial impact libraries have on individual homeowners who pay taxes to keep libraries funded. Moreover, the idea that local residents could ever pry “unused” dollars away from the coffers of local municipalities is a joke worthy of a good belly laugh.

Most of the dissent was offered on behalf of the indigent who are largely dependent on public libraries for access to everything from books and summer lunch programs, to foreign language classes, to Internet service. These are indeed worthy programs, the loss of which would further devastate residents of communities which are already struggling.

However, for those not indigent nor particularly moved by whether or not the less fortunate have access to services and amenities the middle and wealthier classes take for granted, it is worth noting that far more than indigent, urban dwellers would miss out if libraries suddenly closed. We live in a middle class community of well-kept, appreciating homes, a well stocked pantry and decent enough schools. Nevertheless, we too, would miss out on a great deal if Mr. Mourdoukoutas’ ideas were taken to heart. Here are just a few (off the top of my head) programs and/or services our family has utilized courtesy of our public library:

  • Book clubs and summer reading programs
  • Story times (all five of our kids have participated in these programs from age 18 months -5 years old.
  • Science classes including everything from learning circuitry to seeing reptiles up close
  • Art classes
  • Typing class
  • Graphic cartooning class
  • Kid concerts and shows

Those are just the few I can think of for the few minutes I have to currently devote the mental energy. Our library also offers classes in arts and skilled crafts such as sewing, knitting, and crochet. Libraries are one of the few areas besides roads and first response services which I am proud and happy to have my tax dollars funding.

That the author of the original Forbes article was either unaware or discounted the value of the myriad services and programs offered by libraries illuminates yet another area of American life where values are diverging more and more. Mothers at home with young children, suburban families in general, and those without the means to simply whip out their laptop as I am currently doing could never make up the gap a loss of libraries would create at a mega bookstore.

And you don’t have to buy a cup of coffee to study at a public library.

 

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Published in 2015. 304 pages.

Before I get into the meat of this book, I decided to share one of my pet peeves to set the tone (consider yourselves warned):

I have an intense aversion to reading a news story on a “reputable” news site (NYT, FOX, NBC, etc.) and seeing random tweets from various Twitter users interspersed throughout the story. I’m perpetually confused as to why a “reputable” news outlet would lend gravitas to the rantings of random Internet commentators -fame does not impute authority, for the record-  as if their opinions have any bearing on the validity of the story being reported. This peeve is the context from which I began reading and begin reviewing So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

I consider Twitter a cesspool and enemy of critical thought, so it came as no surprise to me that Jon Ronson was able to compose a 300-page book comprised in large part of interviews with people whose lives have been tortured or careers torpedoed solely because a Twitter mob -or other Internet denizens- decided that one ill-advised stroke of their keyboards was worthy of public, worldwide, electronic excoriation.

Although Ronson begins with public shaming instigated online, he doesn’t stay parked there. There is a chapter on the history of public shaming during our colonial period which was quite informative. He also interviewed former judge turned Texas Congressman Ted Poe, known as the King of Shame for incorporating public shaming in his sentencing of young or first time offenders.

After interviewing both Poe and one of the men he had sentence to public shaming, Ronson came away with a different perspective than he started with regarding Congressman Poe’s use of public shaming in sentencing. Not only did Poe not regret his tactics, but the young man interviewed deeply appreciated the sentence he received. It was apparent that situations where a judge in a courtroom is looking into the eye of a guilty perpetrator who had his day in court is vastly different from an anonymous Twitter mob condemning and causing irreparable harm to a stranger based on personal offense without due process.

The book also delved into industries and areas of life which depend largely on the ability of those in it to turn off that mechanism: the ability to feel ashamed in the first place. He interviewed people in the porn industry or who were involved with various alternative sexual lifestyles. Within the latter group were stories of people who had taken their own lives when news of their deviant proclivities were made public and diverged greatly from their public personas of trust.

Whether it was classes devoted to helping patients overcome secret shame or figuring out how a fortunate few weathered their public shamings relatively unscathed, there are few stones if any that Ronson left unturned. The most potent parts of the book for me however, were those specifically related to public shaming via the Internet, because this particular mechanism of public shaming is more sinister, shameful, and shameless than most. The author points out that:

“A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

Social media as community is an unnatural way of living, and so its denizens behave in  unnatural ways and react to things unnaturally. How many of us would publicly crucify a long term friend or even a loosely held acquaintance on the strength of one tactless joke or political opinion we find disagreeable? We wouldn’t, but:

“…when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.”

Feeling shame as a result of a guilty finding in a court of law or having violated the trust of an actual community of people with whom you interact day to day may be painful, but it’s born of real expectations of behavior based on reasonable measures of real accountability. Shame induced via an anonymous or semi-anonymous individual or group of individuals to whom the “shamee” has no direct connection and therefore no reasonable expectation of accountability is able to occur when the one being shamed is effectively stripped of their humanity by those feeding their emptiness through seeking to destroy another’s livelihoods and relationships.

When based on one moment of bad virtual judgment, divorced from any knowledge of the shamee’s character, it’s tantamount to doing the one thing most people in our culture would view as the cardinal sin if such action were taken against them: passing sweeping judgement and heaping condemnation on someone as a result of one mistake. Those who are able to do this and sleep at night are able to do so by engaging in an astonishing exercise in cognitive dissonance, in Ronson’s opinion:

“I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt—before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise. In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.”

This is a book worth reading for anyone who spends any significant amount of time on social media. I don’t, but because I have online interaction with people I both agree and disagree with, it was good for me as well. It’s a good reminder to beware of attempts to shame anonymous individuals who are not accountable to me, my family or my church, even the most peripheral areas of my life.  That’s not what we are called to do. Live and let live is one of my life’s credos.

A few of the cases Ronson recounts are those you will easily recognize, but some aren’t. Reading about the horror and collateral damage others have suffered based on nothing more than a moment of bad judgment before pushing “post” (or even having a private joke overheard by an ill-humored SJW) is sobering reading. I used to not take the web all that seriously, but the need to exercise caution has never been more clear to me.  This one is worth a look.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: Many of the interviewees Ronson recounts use profanity in their conversations. There is also a chapter where he does research into the shamelessness of those who engage in the porn industry, so there is frank sex talk and recounting of some of the things he witnessed. None of it is offered in a titillating, gratuitous way, but it is included in the book in a matter of fact sort of way.

El’s rabbit trails: Kombucha science

I have a very engaging book review in draft. It may even get up later this evening. Meanwhile, it’s been some time since we’ve hopped off on a rabbit trail and my kids and husband produced an entertaining one for me this morning. I figured in the spirit of getting ready for back to school, we’d talk some kombucha science.

A little over a year and a half ago, a friend of mine brought me a SCOBY. I was just getting into the kombucha craze (you know how we chicks love a good bandwagon), so she figured I would enjoy brewing my own. And I did. At first.

However no one else in our house liked the stuff, and the sight of the SCOBY jar was, to quote my husband, “like a science experiment gone bad”. I kept brewing it and kept the SCOBY alive. I even gave one or two away to fellow bandwagon chicks so they could start brewing their own. We talked kombucha. We compared flavors. It was a kombucha paradise.

After a while, as I am prone to do, I grew weary of my growing SCOBY hotel, and my man was not under any circumstances going to allow his kitchen to be overrun with jars of multiple SCOBYs. It was more than enough asking him to look at one or two. Couple that with my tendency to be ever on the lookout for a new bandwagon, and it wasn’t long before my poor SCOBYs went longer and longer periods without fresh tea being added.

Somewhere along the way my man and our two youngest kids developed a taste for the stuff, and my neglected SCOBYs found a savior in my husband’s willingness to make new brews of different flavors. This morning he and the younglings got busy bottling up different flavors, cutting off layers of SCOBY for the fall planting soil, and having an all around good time making several bottles of the stuff:

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Individual flavors of kombucha on their second ferment.

Ever the teacher, it occurred to me that perhaps we should have an impromptu lesson on what a SCOBY is, fermentation, the meaning of symbiosis, and why things work together the way they do to produce the fizzy flavored teas that they enjoy so much.

“Way to suck the fun out, MOM!”

No, no one said that, but their faces said it all.

Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars