July 17, 2011
Here’s an example of a link I just had to click on: Publishers Weekly’s list of the five most stolen books. In fact, except for two specific books on their list, the headline should read the five most stolen authors. The two books that make the top five are On the Road by Jack Kerouac and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. The other three are really categories of books: anything by William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and Martin Amis.
Honorable mentions went to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, anything by Don DeLillo, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, the works of Raymond Chandler and (obviously, redundantly) Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman.
Is there something about outsider or outlaw status that unites this list? But then what is Paul Auster doing on it? Author of the post Gabe Habash offers this analysis:
If there is one sociological conclusion we can draw from this list, it’s that the “type” of booklifter is likely young and male, and there’s probably a link between the draw of the content of these top books and the actual act of theft. In other words, someone who wants to commit a reckless act is most interested in reading about reckless acts.
July 7, 2011
OK, this is something that I have a very hard time dealing with. Last month, June 2011, there was a week-long food festival in Yulin, China for which over 15,000 dogs were slaughtered, sauteed and served.
I’m a dog person and, of course, I have an extreme emotional reaction to seeing dogs consumed as food.
As an omnivore, however, who just finished a dinner that included Baby Back Ribs it feels hypocritical to pass judgement. Intellectually, I find it hard to condemn. In our culture we see dogs as companions, not livestock. Dogs live in our homes with us, cattle do not. If you do any research at all into current “factory farming” techniques the treatment of pigs, cattle and chicken will likely turn your stomach.
Even if you’re a vegetarian dog owner, I think you will ultimately have to admit that the selection of what animals to eat is a cultural, not an ethical issue. For another point of view on this issue, you need to read the work of Peter Singer. He makes a very strong case that all meat consumption world-wide should be abolished.
Some research has shown that pigs have an intelligence that is almost the same as dogs, though they are not as trainable. When speaking about the emotional lives of animals, is it conceivable to you that pigs don’t experience fear as they approach the slaughter house? Yet very few of us think of this when we consume crunchy, delicious bacon.
I also believe there’s something here that relates to compassion fatigue. The image of one starving child is heart-wrecnching. The news that 40 people have been killed by a suicide bomber in the Middle East is just another depressing statistic. I think this is just part of how we are hard-wired, neurally.
Is it necessary to eat dog as a source of protein? Probably not. I’ve read that the world produces enough food globally to feed the planet, the problem is with distribution (and over consumption in the developed world).
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m against eating dogs for food. But I don’t think those who do are less evolved morally, or somehow deficient in compassion. Let me know your opinions/conclusions in the comments section.
– Canine images (top and bottom) from the UK’s Daily Mail.
July 5, 2011
Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay has produced an excellent, if somewhat controversial, look at the rise of conspiracy theory believers in America, Among the Truthers: A Journey through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground.
If you know someone who believes in any fringe doctrine, this is the book for you. Not because it delves deeply into debunking any particular conspiracy, but because it takes the overview, a sort of high altitude mapping of this territory and allows you to see how and why these ideas develop, and take hold.
Just like television was once touted as a medium to bring high culture and elevated debate into all the homes of the nation, the Internet was also given a lot of great advance press, using almost the same hopeful praise from 60 years ago that greeted the rise of a nation-wide forest of TV antennas.
But just like the multiplicity of cable channels on your television, the vast content of the web makes room for all sorts of disinformation and lies. And since the cost of a professional looking website is within the means of almost everyone with a computer, it can be almost impossible to distinguish between a site whose content is vetted and well-researched and one that is the product of a single author’s delusions.
Into this fragmentation of the country’s media diet all manner of strange beasts stalk.
Just as we now have to be our own health care advocates, we now have to be our own curators of reliable content, if we wish to remain grounded in reality.
I would give Kay’s book my highest recommendation, even though I quibble with some of those he puts on the fringe, like author Naomi Klein and historian Howard Zinn. Another wonderful part of Kay’s book are the compelling quotations that begin each chapter. Below are samples of two that I especially liked:
“The conspiracy community regularly seizes on one slip of the tongue, mis-understanding, or slight discrepancy to defeat 20 pieces of solid evidence; accepts one witness of theirs, even if he or she is a provable nut, as being far more credible that 10 normal witnesses on the other side; treats rumors, even questions, as the equivalent of proof; leaps from the most miniscule of discoveries to the grandest of conclusions; and insists, as the late lawyer Louis Nizer once observed, that the failure to explain everything perfectly negates all that is explained.”
–Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
“Nothing you learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this: That if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot. And that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.”
–Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of Britain 1957-1963, quoting his classics tutor at Oxford