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More Praise for David Gilbert

More Praise for Love and Struggle and David Gilbert:

“David Gilbert’s story is a tale of consciousness, counterculture, and action during the generation of revolution, love, and hope. A tale of the best and worst of America, of struggle and love, and of hope and repression.”
—Zack de la Rocha, rapper, poet, activist, Rage Against the Machine vocalist

“Required reading for anyone interested in the history of radical movements in this country. An honest, vivid portrait of a life spent passionately fighting for justice. In telling his story, Gilbert also reveals the history of left struggles in the 1960s and ’70s, and imparts important lessons for today’s activists.
—Jordan Flaherty, author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six

“This story is from a true freedom fighter, a warrior against U.S. imperialism and for peace and justice.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–75

“When Malcolm X said John Brown was his standard for white activism, he could have easily meant David Gilbert. He is our generation’s John Brown. His support of Black liberation as a method of freeing the world is to be studied, appreciated, and applied.”
—Jared A. Ball, associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University, author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto

“David Gilbert’s memoir is a gift to the future. His story brings together three generations of social justice movements. The book is more than a fascinating history of an incredible life; it is an example of political praxis. Gilbert combines humor and humility, analysis and adventure, as he shows what it means to live one’s life in pursuit of freedom. Brimming with insight and optimism, Love and Struggle shows the way.”
—Dan Berger, author of Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity

“David Gilbert has written a rigorously honest, analytic memoir that grapples with the many dimensions of his history as a revolutionary anti-imperialist. Responding to a request from his son to write a book that reflects on his personal experiences, David is unafraid to examine his mistakes and shortcomings, especially regarding sexism and racism, while affirming the revolutionary principles that have guided him throughout his adult life. For thirty years, David has engaged in a dynamic conversation across the walls about radical history and the path forward. Love and Struggle is a compelling contribution to that critical dialogue.”
—Diana Block, activist, author of Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back

“After suffering thirty years of hard time in several of America’s most brutal dungeons, after enduring separation and isolation and loss, after braving a decades-long campaign of demonization and misinformation orchestrated from the pinnacles of power, David Gilbert speaks up with hope and a simple clarity that belies his circumstances. This is a unique and necessary voice forged in the growing American gulag, the underbelly of the ‘land of the free,’ offering a focused and unassailable critique as well as a vision of a world that could be but is not yet—a place of peace and love, joy and justice. Gilbert’s humanity, dignity, and integrity are entirely intact, his fierce intelligence full up, his sense of urgency unchanged. Anyone who wants to understand the sorry state we are in and hopes to participate in finding a more hopeful path forward should read this passionate and compelling book.
—Bill Ayers, author of Fugitive Days and Teaching Toward Freedom


The Return of Paul Goodman

by Scott McLemee
Inside Higher Ed
October 26, 2011

The title of Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (1960) has taken on a life of its own—mimicked or alluded to so often (e.g., Growing Up Amish, Growing Up Digital, and Growing Up Dead) that it seems familiar to people who not only haven't read the book, but have no idea there ever was one by that name. As for the subtitle, "Problems of Youth in Organized Society," it named one of the decisive questions of the decade that followed. One of the people interviewed in Jonathan Lee’s "Paul Goodman Changed My Life"—a documentary released by Zeitgeist Films and screening around the country over the next couple of months—recalls that for many years it was the one book found in every dormitory. Another says that you couldn't pick up a major magazine without finding Goodman mentioned, or as author of an article.

Within the limits of exaggeration-for-effect, that is actually a fair way to indicate how of a public presence the author had during the Kennedy administration, and he remained in great demand as a speaker, especially on campuses, for some while after that.

Goodman's political stance was unusual—“anarcho-pacifist communitarianism” about covers it—and certainly kept him on the sidelines during the 1950s. But his approach to social criticism was only occasionally that of declamatory denunciation. His approach, much of the time, was to make helpful suggestions toward the public good, in a spirit of responsible citizenship. Imagine the benefits of banning cars from Manhattan, for example, or ending the arms race immediately. Of course, trying to do most of the things he proposed would involve radical change, but so what? A famous piece of graffiti from the 1960s said "Be reasonable, demand the impossible." That might as well have been his slogan.

Goodman was anything but a one-book author, and social commentary was by no means his primary concern. The huge audiences he drew after Growing Up Absurd became a bestseller meant that publishers could not wait to re-issue his earlier work—his novels and poetry, his University of Chicago dissertation on neo-Aristotelian literary criticism, his volume of psychoanalytic reflections on Kafka, you name it.

Ditto for anything new he wrote. Between 1960 and his death in 1972, he published three or four books a year. He was easily one of the best-known and most-read figures in the country, and Paul Goodman Changed My Life is an excellent tribute to his memory and reminder of his influence. It should go a long way toward generating more interest in him than has been evident over the last two or three decades—when nobody, nobody at all, has been reading him.

An exaggeration for effect, of course. I've been reading him for most of that time, for one. Presumably a few other people have, as well. But still, close enough. Considering the scale of public response to Goodman’s work in final years of his life, the eclipse has been astonishing and all but total. The output of scholarly and critical literature on him has been thin in quantity—and, for the most part, quality. The most important exception is Here Now Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy by Taylor Stoehr, a professor emeritus  of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, who is Goodman's literary executor. It was published by Jossey-Bass in 1994, and is more far-ranging than the title may suggest. Before fame overtook him, Goodman was involved in a number of academic, psychoanalytic, artistic, and political circles, and Stoehr's monograph is the only attempt, so far, to chart some of his webs of influence and affiliation, at least to my knowledge.

And here is where Jonathan Lee’s documentary gives hope. It does an excellent job of evoking Goodman’s peripatetic and ramshackle career—the stints teaching at Chicago and Black Mountain College, the years as a lay psychotherapist, the role he played with the off-Broadway Living Theater group, both as playwright and house philosopher. The composer Ned Rorem recounts setting his friend’s poems to music. We get a glimpse of how contemporary students respond to one of Goodman’s essays in a class taught the by adjunct English instructor Zeke Finkelstein at the City College of New York. And, best of all, there are numerous clips of Goodman being interviewed or speaking.

While not charismatic, exactly, he is certainly fearless, an admirable quality in an intellectual and particularly valuable for its scarcity. The interview on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line in 1966 is a case in point. The documentary begins with Buckley introducing his guest as  “a pacifist, a bisexualist, a poverty cultist, an anarchist, and a few other distracting things.” Before responding to Buckley’s first question, Goodman objects to how he has been described. “I’m not a poverty cultist," he says. "I do think it's a sign of a good society that it is possible to live in decent poverty, especially if you so choose, that is, if you have more important things to do than to make money.” (He goes on to correct Buckley for misusing the word “axiomatic,” as the host concedes.) But what Goodman doesn’t respond to at all— noticeably enough—is the reference to his sexuality. He was candid about it to the point of losing at least a couple of teaching positions. It also got him beaten up.

Goodman could be prickly, egocentric, and not shy about communicating the assumption that he was a genius. Plus he made passes at everybody. He must have been difficult company at times. Some of this comes through in the documentary, and it serves as needed balance to any hagiographic impulse. On the other hand, there was never a valid criticism of Goodman that he hadn't made about himself in a poem or essay somewhere.

The film ends with a suggestion that Goodman's influence and example might revive. Fair enough: some of his work has been reprinted of late, and The Paul Goodman Reader, edited by Stoehr and published by PM Press, is a representative sampling of his work in several fields and genres.

But the possibility of a revival does not explain why his influence and example waned in the first place. During an e-mail discussion with Lee, I asked him why he thought Goodman's star had faded. One thing the director stressed is that Goodman “wasn't a specialist,and therefore did not become a star in any specific academic discipline. His brother Percival told me that if he had written only in one discipline, he would have become famous as an author in that discipline, say psychology, for example, and there would have been an academic constituency to carry him forward.”

At the same time Goodman’s work “is more intellectual, more rationalist, than say a Jack Kerouac, whose [On the Road] is in print. Paul Goodman challenges the reader to think, to act, and reading him is not a dumbed-down experience. I think that we've been continuing a dumbing-down of our public life—certainly what's available and popular in the mainstream media—and Goodman is too smart to satisfy the demand for easy, non-challenging material.”

Valid points, as far as they go, though they don’t exhaust the question. Not all of the failings are on the side of the public. The range of subjects in Goodman’s work is great, but so is the range of quality. You have to read a great deal of his work to see how parts of it hold together. He seems to have cobbled together a kind of intellectual framework from elements of Aristotle, Kant, Freud, Dewey, and Kropotkin— an interesting list, but a slightly odd one. And Susan Sontag’s description of Goodman’s prose is exactly right: “What he wrote was a nervy mixture of syntactical stiffness and verbal felicity; he was capable of writing sentences of a wonderful purity of style and vivacity of language, and also capable of writing so sloppily and clumsily that one imagined he must be doing it on purpose.” (Then again, only a mediocrity is always at his best.)

But there is a passage from the introduction to his book Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (Random House, 1962) in which Goodman explains himself as clearly anyone could want, and with a kind of eloquence.

“As my books and essays have appeared," Goodman wrote, "I have been been severely criticized as an ignorant man who spreads himself thin on a wide variety of subjects, on sociology and psychology, urbanism and technology, education, literature, esthetics, and ethics. It is true that I don't know much, but it is false that I write about many subjects. I have only one, the human beings I know in their man-made scene. I do not observe that people are in fact subdivided in ways to be conveniently treated by the ‘wide variety’ of separate disciplines. If you talk separately about their group behavior or their individual behavior, their environment or their characters, their practicality or their sensibility, you lose what you are talking about. We are often forced, for analytic purposes, to study a problem under various departments—since everybody can't discuss everything at once, but woe if one then plans for people in these various departments! One will never create a community, and will destroy such community as exists . . . I make the choice of what used to be called a Man of Letters, one who relies on the peculiar activity of authorship—a blending of memory, observation, criticism, reasoning, imagination, and reconstruction—in order to treat the objects in the world concretely and centrally.”

There are worse models of intellectual activity than this, and Jonathan Lee has done a useful thing by reminding us what it looked like in person.

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W. Va. mine wars book updated for Book Festival

by Paul J. Nyden
October 19, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —It's been more than 20 years since David Alan Corbin first published his history, The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology.

He's updated the book with a new chapter and a new introduction, and rebranded it Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars. PM Press will publish the new version next month.

"This book documents the history of the mine wars in West Virginia, the real history," Corbin said. "It lets the people involved speak for themselves, not just through historians.

Corbin will promote the book this weekend at the West Virginia Book Festival.

"Historians interpret history and distort history," he said. "This book gets the facts out as they were at the time. For years, the history of the Mine Wars was buried, kept out of the history books."

When he was working on his first book, 1981's Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922, Corbin visited "the counties where the mine wars took place.

"Many people never heard about them. Or they were taught to be ashamed of these events, rather than take pride in them. We got the real story out."

Both of Corbin's books focus on three major confrontations:

The historic Cabin Creek and Paint Creek strikes in 1912 and 1913, when many union miners and their families were evicted from their homes in eastern Kanawha County.

The Battle of Matewan, fought on May 19, 1920. Miners and local police officers, including, Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield, battled Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency guards that coal companies sent to Mingo County to evict pro-union miners from their homes at Stone Mountain Coal Camp.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, fought between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4, 1921. It was the largest armed confrontation in U.S. labor history, involving 15,000 miners who marched from Marmet down to Logan County. That confrontation ended when federal troops were dispatched to Blair Mountain.

Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals offers a host of articles and transcripts of testimony from people involved in those battles, including testimony Hatfield gave to the U.S. Senate and Senate testimony from the widows of Hatfield and his friend, Ed Chambers, after the two men were shot by Baldwin-Felts guards on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse.

The book also includes speeches by coalfield leaders, including Mother Jones and Frank Keeney. It includes testimony from people like Lee Calvin, a Baldwin-Felts guard during the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strikes.

"As a guard on the Bull Moose Special company train that went up the creeks, Lee Calvin was repulsed at what was being done to the miners," Corbin said. "He told a Senate Committee what happened . . .

"I am really glad they are getting this out again now. Hopefully, it will help make people more inspired to rally around saving Blair Mountain today."

There is an ongoing dispute over preserving Blair Mountain. Arch Coal and Massey Energy (since bought by Alpha Natural Resources) have expressed interest in expanding mountaintop removal operations onto Blair Mountain, on the Boone-Logan county line.

Labor activists and historians believe the site should be preserved. Corbin says Blair Mountain should become a "national park, like Bunker Hill [in Boston] or Manassas [in Virginia]."

Both sides have talked about reaching an agreement in the near future.

Corbin, who worked for many years in the U.S. Senate, including 18 years for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., now works for the president of the University of Maryland.

He's making final changes to "a semi-biography about Senator Byrd that will be coming out next year. It focuses mostly on Byrd's encounters with the presidents [with] which he served."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at or 304-348-5164.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the David Corbin's Page

Poetry as a Panacea in our Troubled World

by Manjula Kumar
The Huffington Post
November 3, 2011

All my personal and professional life I have made an effort to reach out to the Divine through the arts. While at school in a convent in India, it was comfortable and made complete sense to go to church and pray—"Lord make me an instrument of Thy Peace// Where there is hatred, let me sow love." At home there were numerous images of various Hindu Gods and the celebration of religious festivals was full of color and fun. I intimately mingled with my Muslim friends and became increasingly fascinated with their culture. Listening to the chanting in the morning from the Sikh gurudwara (place of worship) was part of my daily life. My Buddhist school friend opened another door to a world of simplicity, showing me another path of enlightenment. At that time, the religious practices of a Jain friend seemed hard to imbibe but certainly piqued my admiration. All these disparate threads of religious beliefs and cultural practices, unconsciously, played an important part in my development not only as a human being but in my eternal search for an ideal—a just and peaceful world.

Today, living in U.S.A., my adopted country, while my personal world is in unison, I am even more convinced of the need for interfaith understanding, as the external world seems to be tearing apart under the notions of religious strife and senseless violence.

We live in a multicultural society, ruled by technology, in which contact among different faiths is inevitable. As individuals we are constantly challenged to live in harmony with people from different faiths and backgrounds. The dilemma is how do we conceive of God today? How do we combine the practical everyday life with our own personal religious beliefs? I personally have found the answer in sharing multicultural expressions through the arts. Poetry especially, heals and compels us to study the human situation from various perspectives. Through the ages poets from different religious faiths have expressed their love for the Divine: 

In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. 
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
 In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church 
that dissolves, that dissolves in God.

Thus wrote Hazrat Rabia Basri in the eighth century, perhaps the first female Sufi saint who dedicated her life to exploring the true meaning of prayer and the doctrine of divine love. She followed the mystic path and was the first to practice the complete and selfless love for God. Her poetry rings true today with its pure and simple affirmation of divine love. The 13th century Persian poet Mewlana Jalal-ud-din Rumi, perhaps the best known Sufi poet in the West, expressed through his poetry a yearning for the Divine, a soul-searching for the Whole, the Complete. He proclaimed the Sufi path and in 2005 UNESCO proclaimed the Mevlevi Sema ceremony of Turkey as amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Amir Khusrau, the Indian mystic poet, composed his works in Persian and Hindavi. His poetry has rich examples of the religious, cultural and aesthetic values of 13th century India. Kabir in the 14th century, one of the saints of the Bhakti (devotion) and Sufi movement, inspired the great scholar, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. His work is based on simplicity, honesty and the inward worship of God. He criticized dogmas and creeds and preached the simple path to God. His dohas (couplets) and short stories are popular today and often quoted by young and old. His compositions figure in the Sikh scriptures—the Guru Nanak Granth Sahib:

Love the saints of every faith:

Put away thy pride.

Remember the essence of religion

Is meekness and sympathy

In the 16th century Meera Bai, a Hindu princess, spread the teaching—love of God alone is true and eternal all else is ephemeral. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, himself a practitioner of religious tolerance, knelt at her feet in respect and admiration. The poetry of Bulleh Shah, a Sufi poet in the 17th c. who wrote in Punjabi, is recited today and is an important part of the traditional repertoire of qawwali—a genre of music that represents the devotional music of the Sufis:

You have learnt so much

And read a thousand books

Have you ever read your Self?

You have gone to mosque and temple,

Have you ever visited your soul?

In our own times, the unpredictable technocrat, former CEO, Steve Jobs, philosophized towards the end of his life—"different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don't. It's the great mystery." Today I realize that my dream is also the American dream—a world of peace and harmony, of religious and cultural plurality—a dream we all need to protect and preserve.

Just this year, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, renowned scholar, playwright, diplomat, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University, Washington, D.C. published his latest book on poetry Suspended Somewhere Between. The Oscar-nominated actor/writer Daniel Futterman, in his Foreword, has called Dr. Ahmed "a national treasure." Walking in the footsteps of great Sufi poets Dr. Ahmed expresses "primal emotions that are universal." His poetry touches the heart and soul while reflecting on the past with memories of the partition of India. It speaks to the present generation and will live on for generations. The title is derived from the poem and reflects the challenges we face as individuals in balancing our desire for material prosperity and spiritual well-being.

A special event is planned at the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington, D.C. centered on the reading of Dr. Ahmed's works. There will be an informal intellectual exchange between the readers, the audience and the poet. This event is a perfect example of pluralistic America at its best. Mahatma Gandhi preached and practiced unity—You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. At this most appropriate venue, people from diverse backgrounds and faiths can collectively contribute towards a unified voice of the Universal Truth.
One of my favorite poems from the collection is:

The Path

I am on a journey

With others walking alongside

Some taking the help of imams and ayatollahs

Others the law of Moses or the love of Jesus

Yonder I see those who find the divine in the Ganges

Or on top of the Himalayas

They find the divine in the noble doings of Lord Ram

Yet others find other paths
I wish them all Godspeed

For all of them are part of the "nations and tribes"

That the Quran tells me I must love

So that I can love my God.

All these thinkers have a common thread—a nameless devotion to the Supreme, message of unity and belief in the equality among humankind. In our present world of political gymnastics, economic stress and brutal violence, poetry is the panacea!

The event at the Gandhi Center is just another step and we hope to continue this important dialogue on interfaith understanding and acceptance during the two-day symposium at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.: "Sufism at the Smithsonian: Searching the Divine through the Arts"—scheduled for Sept. 2012.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Akbar Ahmed's Author Page

Palo Alto family's experience depicted in children's book on gay marriage

by Aaron Kinney
San Jose Mercury News

When "Yes on 8" signs began popping up on lawns in their Palo Alto neighborhood in 2008, Kathy and Lee Merkle-Raymond found themselves on the front line of the battle over gay marriage in California.

The same-sex couple, who were campaigning against Proposition 8, had to explain to their two young daughters why some of their friends' parents didn't want them to be allowed to marry. Then, with their daughters' encouragement, the couple decided to tie the knot before the ban on same-sex marriage took effect.

Their story is now the basis for Operation Marriage, a new children's book that could make its way into classrooms and school libraries now that California passed a law ensuring that children learn about the contributions of gays and lesbians. Author Cynthia Chin-Lee debuted the book Wednesday at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park before an audience of local families, educators and faith leaders.

Chin-Lee, a publications manager for Oracle, has written several well-received children's books exploring cultural diversity in her spare time. With Operation Marriage, she has taken on the subject of gay rights, mixing in broader themes of tolerance and bullying.

"I see this not only as a gay marriage issue, but opening the conversation of how all families are different," Chin-Lee said Tuesday.

Operation Marriage tells the story of a brother and sister who are disparaged at school by a boy who insists their moms aren't really married. After their parents console them, trying to explain the difference between a commitment ceremony and a traditional marriage, the siblings scheme to persuade their mothers to get legally married.

The schoolyard confrontation is a product of Chin-Lee's imagination, though it's rooted in her own experience. She was bullied due to her ethnicity while growing up in Washington, D.C. Children of same-sex parents also are targets for bullies, who are ever on the lookout for children who are different. "One thing I feel passionate about is that kids should be able to grow up without being bullied for any reason," Chin-Lee said.

Ayden Casey-Demirtjis, 7, has been teased for having two mothers. The Mountain View third-grader, who attended Wednesday's reading with mother Shannon, said that some kids have asked whether his father is dead. "I don't even really have a dad," he'll reply. "Nobody's dead."

The owners of Reach and Teach, the San Mateo-based publisher of Operation Marriage, anticipates that a new state law written by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, could help them get the book into school libraries and lesson plans. The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in July, adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a list of underrepresented cultural and ethnic groups that need to be represented in school curriculums.

Reach and Teach is putting together an outline suggesting how the book could be taught. The publisher is also working with Our Family Coalition, a Bay Area LGBT group that holds regular forums on elementary education, including how to make curriculums more inclusive. A previous Reach and Teach book, "Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon," has earned a recommendation from an arm of the American Library Association that focuses on gay literature.

Craig Wiesner, co-owner of Reach and Teach, said having same-sex parents can create dilemmas for children right from the start of their education. He noted that a common task for children of kindergarten age is drawing a family portrait.

"For 2 million kids across the United States, that picture is going to include two parents of the same gender," Wiesner said.

Reach and Teach, along with Chin-Lee and illustrator Lea Lyon, aims to give schools materials to help children explore, and even celebrate, the differences between them.

The real-life story of the Merkle-Raymonds and the Proposition 8 campaign wound up with a happy end, although same-sex marriage is against the law in California. The Merkle-Raymonds reconciled with a family that had backed the gay marriage ban, and daughters Alex, 14, and Nikki, 11, came through the experience with their youthful optimism intact.

"I think the kids understand that there's an issue of justice and equity that in their lifetimes will change," Kathy Merkle-Raymond said. The girls' perspective is, "Our friends are going to marry whoever they want to marry, and no one's going to care."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357.

Buy book now | Back to Cynthia Chin-Lee's homepage

Why Vegetarianism Will Not Save the World

by Dr. Mercola
September 28, 2011

Many vegans and vegetarians choose not to eat meat and/or animal products because they believe it is the morally superior, environmentally friendly choice. But this theory is being put to the test by the book The Vegetarian Myth, written by ex-vegan Lierre Keith.

In it she argues that saving the planet and ending the suffering found in factory farms can not be achieved by refusing to eat animals, it can only be achieved by boycotting modern agricultural practices, which Keith calls "the most destructive thing that people have done to the planet."

Have Vegans and Vegetarians Been Led Astray?

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization released a report in 2006 titled Livestock's Role in Climate Change and Air Pollution. In it, they estimated that 18 percent of the world's man-made greenhouse-gas emissions are produced by livestock. This information was heralded by vegetarians and environmentalists alike as proof that eating meat was bad not only for you, but for the entire planet.

But, it's important to realize that this detrimental effect comes from modern farming practices, not from cows being raised naturally as they were designed to be. The differences between the two are so vast, you're really talking about two different animals, and two separate industries with entirely different farming practices and environmental impact.

Keith states: 'the first mistake is in assuming that factory farming—a practice that is barely fifty years old—is the only way to raise animals. Their [vegetarians'] calculations on energy used, calories consumed, humans unfed, are all based on the notion that animals eat grain.

You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which they were designed. Grain didn't exist until humans domesticated annual grasses, at most 12,000 years ago, while aurochs, the wild progenitors of the domestic cow, were around for two million years before that. For most of human history, browsers and grazers haven't been in competition with humans. They ate what we couldn't eat—cellulose—and turned it into what we could—protein and fat. Grain will dramatically increase the growth rate of beef cattle (there's a reason for the expression "cornfed") and the milk production of dairy cows. It will also kill them.

The delicate bacterial balance of a cow's rumen will go acid and turn septic. Chickens get fatty liver disease if fed grain exclusively, and they don't need any grain to survive. Sheep and goats, also ruminants, should really never touch the stuff."

The carbon footprint of conventional farming is mainly due to the unnatural feed that these animals are given, which requires lots of fossil fuels. Many don't think about this, but fossil fuels are used in everything from the fertilizers and pesticides that are sprayed onto the crop to the transportation of the feed.

Grass does not require fossil fuels to grow (rotating pastures does the job instead), and other health-harming practices, such as injecting the livestock with hormones and antibiotics, are also not allowed in organic farming. What it boils down to is this: it's easy to argue against factory-farms and other products of the corrupted agricultural system, but the argument becomes much more muddled, incorrect even, when you try to apply it to farming in the traditional sense of the word.

Is Modern Agriculture the Ultimate Animal Abuse?

There are those vegetarians and vegans who are morally opposed to killing animals for food, which appears to be one of the  more regularly used arguments for adopting this lifestyle. However, Keith makes an interesting point, which is that any food that is the product of modern-day farming—even a soy burger—is exacting a toll on life itself, including that of animals.

Keith writes: "Specifically, agriculture is biotic cleansing. It requires taking over entire living communities and clearing them away, then planting the land for just humans. All of that is a long way of saying "extinction." None of us can live without a place to live, without habitat. An activity that has destroyed 98 percent of most animals' habitat can hardly be claimed to be animal-friendly."

And as for the environment, modern-day agriculture—not just the factory farms but also the monocultures of genetically modified corn and soy—is one of the biggest enemies out there, pilfering the land and its resources. But we sit back and accept it because, after all, it's where we get our food. But there is nothing sustainable about vegetarian foods that come from this agricultural system.

As Keith expands: "You take a piece of land and you clear every living thing off it–and I mean down to the bacteria. That's what agriculture is . . Besides the mass extinction, it's inherently unsustainable. When you remove the perennial polyculture—the grassland or the forest—the soil is exposed and it dies. It turns to desert ultimately.

Northern Africa once fed the Roman Empire. Iraq was forests so thick that sunlight never touched the ground—no one in their right mind would call it the "Fertile Crescent" now. The dust storms in China are so bad that the soil is literally blowing across the Pacific Ocean and over the continent until it hits the Rocky Mountains, where it's causing asthma in children in Denver.

The planet has been skinned alive. And the only reason we have not hit complete collapse is because we've been eating fossil fuel since 1950. This is not a plan with a future . . . The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won't save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems."

What about the Health Effects? Is Being Vegan or Vegetarian Healthy?

Like many, I tried a mostly vegetarian diet in the mid-80's (based on the theories presented in Fit for Life) because I thought it would improve my health.

Unfortunately it didn't.

After a few weeks of eating fruit for breakfast, as the book advised, I was stunned to discover my fasting triglycerides had skyrocketed from below 100 to nearly 3,000! Clearly this diet was NOT right for me and was rapidly causing damage to my body. So, I had to reevaluate.

From a clinical standpoint, I believe virtually everyone benefits from some animal protein. This doesn't have to be meat, necessarily, as there are other healthy animal proteins like raw organic dairy and organic free-range eggs. The evidence suggests that raw organic milk is actually one of the healthiest options as it has the highest biologic value and utilization of any protein.

Many who hold strict vegetarian views still hold up The China Study as the authoritative "proof" that eating meat is harmful. In case you're not familiar with it, this book makes a radical case against eating animal protein at all, by linking it to all manner of ill health, including cancer.

However, it's important to realize two things:

    1. The China study was an observational study. Correlations deduced from an observational study do not—in fact, cannot—prove causation. All you can really do with data from an observational study is form a hypothesis, which must then be tested in randomized, controlled trials, to ferret out the truth about whether or not x actually causes y.

    2. In many cases, the data (presented in arduous detail in the book Diet, Life-Style and Mortality in China) do not show statistically significant correlations between animal protein consumption and disease such as cancer at all. On the contrary, it would seem that sugar and carbohydrates are correlated with cancer—not animal protein. In addition, the data indicate that fat is negatively correlated with cancer mortality, which again contradicts the claim that meat is harmful.

Another interesting take on whether or not people are meant to eat meat is the Paelo Diet, which is based upon scientific research examining the types and quantities of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. During the Paleolithic period, which spans to 12,000 years ago, people ate primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat, so the foundation of the Paleo Diet is lean meat, including ostrich and bison as well as organ meats, seafood, fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables—from as close to naturally raised sources as possible.

If you are sincerely objective and honest in seeking to understand what diet is best for you it will be important to trust your body to guide you. It is my recommendation to abandon any previously held convictions you might have about food and instead carefully listen to your body as you experiment with different food ratios and including or excluding animal foods.

If Modern-Day Agriculture Doesn't Work, What Does?

All of the "advances" that modern agriculture has given us have essentially created a food system that is completely unsustainable and dependent on monoculture, or growing very large fields of the same crop. The U.S. government has encouraged this system by subsidizing only certain crops like corn, wheat, rice and soy, while making it much less desirable for farmers to grow vegetables like broccoli or Swiss chard.
While monoculture is efficient and excellent for increasing production, it also depletes the soil and is extremely vulnerable to pests. The only way that monoculture can be successful, in fact, is with the application of large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The end result is cheap calories, and lots of them, but largely in the form of genetically modified corn and soy, and loaded with chemical residues. This, in turn, is fueling a growing number of health epidemics, from obesity and type 2 diabetes to cancer and heart disease. Quite simply, producing food on a massive scale at the lowest price possible has taken precedence over obeying natural laws.

So, in terms of sustainability and saving the world, the real "battle" that needs to be fought is not one of meat-eaters vs. vegetarians, it's one of agriculture as an industry vs. agriculture the way nature intended.

Please understand that industrial agriculture lobbyists wield incredible power in Congress; however they cannot dictate which food you choose to buy for your family. So please do your health and the environment a favor and support the small family farms in your area who are embracing the environment, not destroying it.

If you can, look for farms that use permaculture.

The word itself comes from "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture," and at its foundation is developing agricultural and other systems that are interconnected and dependent on one another. In other words, they mimic the natural ecologies found in nature. The focus is not on any one element of the system, rather the focus is on the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat —and how to use these relationships to create synergistic, self-supporting ecosystems.

On a small-scale version, if you compost your food waste and use it to fertilize your own vegetable patch, you are engaging in permaculture. On a wide scale, small farmers are increasingly allowing animals to live in their natural habitats, eating their natural diets, thereby raising healthier foods and dramatically reducing their footprint on the environment.

So, whenever possible, support your own health and the livelihood of the farmers out there who are trying to do things the right way. Here are two excellent resources you can use to find them:

    •    Local Harvest
    •    USDA listing of Farmers Markets

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When Miners March: A Review

when miners marchby Theresa L. Burriss

Appalachian Heritage
Summer 2011

The recording and telling of history have proven to be troublesome for the critically-minded as inconsistencies, innocent mistakes, and downright lies plague much of what readers are given as purported fact. Of course as many realize, the “winners” or those in power have traditionally written history and delivered it in a neat, seemingly indisputable package. Fortunately, honest historians do exist and attempt to convey more accurate pictures of historical events, often working from a grassroots or “in the trenches” perspective that provides room for the typically forgotten or intentionally overlooked players.

William C. Blizzard offers readers just such a retelling of history that gets at the truth of the labor struggles leading up to the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia. His work, When Miners March, first titled Struggle and Lose…Struggle and Win!, is well-researched and documented, offering court transcripts, newspaper articles, letters and written testimony from key players in the coalminers’ efforts to unionize West Virginia. The acquisition of the primary documents is due to William C. Blizzard’s familial association with the labor fight, namely his father Bill Blizzard’s role as a union organizer beginning as early as the Paint and Cabin Creek skirmishes in 1912-13.

Offering a comprehensive history of coal in West Virginia, Blizzard starts his work in 1817 with the discovery of coal in the Kanawha Valley and then methodically moves forward, documenting the trials and tribulations of the miners in a year-by-year timeline. He even offers an historical interlude with primary accounts of the Ludlow, Colorado, massacre, where women and children, in addition to miners, were killed indiscriminately. With Blizzard’s meticulous attention to detail, readers come to appreciate the decade’s long oppression exerted by the coal companies and understand how many local law enforcement agencies did the dirty bidding of those companies because they were paid handsomely to do so. Sheriff Don Chafin of Logan County is the most cited due to his ongoing ruthless oppression and often times outright murder of miners and their families. Even West Virginia’s governors were not above bribery and openly worked to suppress the miners through policy and legislation, both at the state and federal levels, more often than not resorting to lies about the miners and their tactics to justify such suppression.

In the telling Blizzard also disputes many formerly accepted “truths” about the labor movement. For example, several other historians have placed C. Frank Keeney, UMWA District 17 President, and Fred Mooney, District 17 Secretary-Treasurer, in the middle of the Battle of Blair Mountain, leading the charge instead of Bill Blizzard, Sr. As son William Blizzard documents, however, the two union leaders were far removed from the site because of fears that they would fall to the same fate as Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers, who’d been murdered in broad daylight by Baldwin-Felts “detectives” or gun thugs on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse. No one was ever brought to trial over these murders. William Petry, a UMWA organizer, explains, “Keeney and Mooney disappeared. Where they are I don’t know, but I’m assured they are safe from the hired gunmen at present” (308).

I must say that it helps to have a general understanding of the history of coal and labor in Appalachia before diving into this work. In fact, when teaching this work in college classes, I found my students responded to it much better after they read Denise Giardina’s historical fiction on the subject, Storming Heaven, and Diane Gilliam’s poetry companion, Kettle Bottom. The novel and poetry provided an entrée into the grittier details of When Miners March. My students noted that it’s easy to get lost in the dates and lose track of the names without having a previous understanding, and even so, they needed to process everything in class to fully grasp the import of Blizzard’s work. The history made a lasting impression on my students, however, when they visited many of the sites where the miners fought, set up tent colonies, and were buried. This experiential fieldtrip offered a holistic education for my students and I highly recommend it to fellow educators. Indeed, Blizzard’s work came to life as the students made connections between all those historical details and the tangible evidence before them.

For the scholar and labor historian, When Miners March provides incredible insight into one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s labor history. For anyone who participates in any kind of labor force, the work illustrates how much we owe to the coalminers of Appalachia who lived, and often times died, to secure basic freedoms and rights for all workers in the United States.

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Truths Among Us: Conversations on Building a New Culture

Truthby John Duerk
Political Media Review
October 21, 2011

Truths Among Us: Conversations on Building a New Culture, is an important collection of in-depth interviews that prolific author Derrick Jensen conducted with a handful of radical thinkers you should become more familiar with if you’re not already.  All of the “conversations” enlightened me and a number of them prompted me to reconsider what I know about some of the complex subjects that are discussed.

Undoubtedly, the issues and ideas examined within (and across) these interviews are vast.  They range from the effects of violence depicted on television (George Gerbner) and why young urban kids join gangs (Luis Rodriguez) to how we process traumatic experiences as part of the human condition (Judith Herman) and the consequences of objectifying women in pornography (Jane Caputi).  I also found myself fascinated by the interview with Paul Staments who explains the importance of fungi to our environment.

Jensen asks many thoughtful, pointed questions
some of which probe his interviewee’s about their own writing.  Yes, he has done his homework and this is evident throughout.  For example, Jensen pulls a direct quote from Luis Rodriguez’s autobiography to open that interview (77), and then asks a good follow-up question to further explore the marginalization that people have experienced in our society (78).  This kind of approach brings a certain focus by diving into some of the most pressing issues that are central to the reason why Jensen chose to speak with these individuals in the first place.

If I have any criticism, I would say that Jensen should have sought more of a balance between the number of men and women represented here.  I believe that sex and gender inform perspective because the world is socially constructed, and therefore incorporating additional female voices would have strengthened this work.

Also, I have mixed feelings about Jensen divulging his own personal views and stories.  While it is revealing to share details about your own life (such as when he mentions how he associated abuse with water skiing on page 134) and it might build rapport with someone, doing so shifts attention away from the person you’re speaking with.  Furthermore, it has the potential to disrupt the flow of the interview because you never know how someone will respond and you don’t want to influence what he or she has to say.

If there is any word that immediately comes to mind when reflecting on this book, it has to be “possibility” because the content of each interview reminds me that there are always people in the world who are thinking on levels that most others aren’t.  We can’t lose sight of that.  The mere discussion of these issues and ideas means there will always be the chance they can one day spread so as to help transform the way we live.  Yes, Derrick Jensen has accomplished his goal of piecing together some very provocative interviews that will stimulate thought the way I imagine he intended them to.

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Organizing Cools the Planet: A Review on Znet

by Brian Tokar
October 15, 2011

How do we develop a genuine movement for Climate Justice in the U.S.? Nearly everyone agrees that community-based environmental justice groups – mainly rooted in communities of color – should be in the lead, but this has presented a host of problems in practice. Environmental justice groups are chronically under-resourced, and activists of color can cite numerous experiences to explain their caution toward working in racially-mixed groups. There is wide agreement that more conventional climate activism is often politically shallow, and that a more systemic critique of the roots of the climate crisis is urgently needed. However, we have yet to see the kind of movement in the US that has united people around the world to raise radical, justice-centered demands to confront accelerating global climate disruptions.

Some of the most inspiring efforts to bridge the divides and develop models of real solidarity in climate justice organizing have emerged from a relatively loose alliance known as the Mobilization for Climate Justice West. In the lead-up to the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen, MCJ-West organized frequent mass actions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many were organized in partnership with the East Bay community of Richmond, the home of one of Chevron’s biggest oil refineries and a host of other toxic industrial facilities. Large, diverse actions at the gates of the Richmond refinery demonstrated region-wide support for local residents, and helped celebrate their recent court victory against Chevron’s plans to expand the facility.

Still, the steady outpouring of people into the streets of both Richmond and San Francisco left many organizers exhausted, and ultimately frayed the bonds of solidarity that had been so carefully nurtured. After Copenhagen, MCJ-West organizers pulled back, restructured their organization, and recommitted themselves to strengthening their working relationships with community-based environmental justice groups throughout the Bay Area. To outsiders, what was most apparent was that there were no longer such frequent mass actions against the corporations that profit from the climate crisis. Behind the scenes, however, there emerged one of the most original and inspired approaches to genuine alliance building—and sustaining activists for the long haul—that has been seen in more than a generation.

Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn-Russell’s new booklet, Organizing Cools the Planet, recounts those experiences, and offers some of the most engaged and original thinking about the dynamics of social movement organizing that we have seen in a long time. It urges all of us to reach beyond the limitations of often-insular activist networks and create genuinely collaborative relationships across barriers of age, race and class.

In an insightful, but also very accessible and conversational manner, the authors challenge our understanding of alliance-building, collaboration, and our accountability to the communities most affected by environmental problems. They urge us to act, not out of guilt or ideological fervor, but out of genuine solidarity and engaged relationships of trust, and offer numerous helpful tools to encourage our thinking and activist praxis toward that goal. In a short 60 pages, they describe their own experiences, and present a wealth of new organizing theory, much of it developed in collaboration with Bay Area groups such as Movement Generation and the Ruckus Society.

Organizing Cools the Planet urges us to take home some of the most practical, creative, and up-to-date lessons about the ongoing development of social movements, and helps us begin to feel just how these ideas can transform the ways we work and the way we live. The authors challenge and inspire us to be better people, confront our deepest challenges as activists, and also learn to take better care of ourselves. As people around the world are rising up against the elites that have sold out our future, it could not be more timely.

Brian Tokar is the director of the Vermont-based Institute for Social Ecology and the author of Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change (New Compass Press, distributed by AK Press, 2010). His other books include Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal, co-edited with Fred Magdoff (Monthly Review Press, 2010).

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                                                          Back to Joshua Kahn Russell's Author Page

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Lonely Hearts Killer
Author: Tomoyuki Hoshino
Publisher: PM Press/Found in Translation
ISBN: 978-1-60486-084-9
Published November 2009
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5
Page count: 232 Pages
Subjects: Fiction

What happens when a popular and young emperor suddenly dies, and the only person available to succeed him is his sister?  How can people in an island country survive as climate change and martial law are eroding more and more opportunities for local sustainability and mutual aid?  And what can be done to challenge the rise of a new authoritarian political leadership at a time when the general public is obsessed with fears related to personal and national “security”? These and other provocative questions provide the backdrop for this powerhouse novel about young adults embroiled in what appear to be more private matters – friendships, sex, a love suicide, and struggles to cope with grief and work.


“A major novel by Tomoyuki Hoshino, one of the most compelling and challenging writers in Japan today, Lonely Hearts Killer deftly weaves a path between geopolitical events and individual experience, forcing a personal confrontation with the political brutality of the postmodern era. Adrienne Hurley's brilliant translation captures the nuance and wit of Hoshino's exploration of depths that rise to the surface in the violent acts of contemporary youth.”
— Thomas LaMarre, William Dawson Professor of East Asian Studies, McGill University

“Since his debut, Hoshino has used as the core of his writing a unique sense of the unreality of things, allowing him to illuminate otherwise hidden realities within Japanese society. And as he continues to write from this tricky position, it goes without saying that he produces work upon work of extraordinary beauty and power.”
—Yuko Tsushima, Award-winning Japanese Novelist

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Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power
Author: Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Translated by Gregory Nipper
Publisher: PM Press
Published: July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-205-8
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 128
Dimensions: 5 by 8
Subjects: Fiction, Latin America

The euphoric idealism of grassroots reform and the tragic reality of revolutionary failure are at the center of this speculative novel that opens with a real historical event. On October 2, 1968, 10 days before the Summer Olympics in Mexico, the Mexican government responds to a student demonstration in Tlatelolco by firing into the crowd, killing more than 200 students and civilians and wounding hundreds more. The massacre of Tlatelolco was erased from the official record as easily as authorities washing the blood from the streets, and no one was ever held accountable.

It is two years later and Nestor, a journalist and participant in the fateful events, lies recovering in the hospital from a knife wound. His fevered imagination leads him in the collection of facts and memories of the movement and its assassination in the company of figures from his childhood. Nestor calls on the heroes of his youth--Sherlock Holmes, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and D'Artagnan among them--to join him in launching a new reform movement conceived by his intensely active imagination.


"Taibo's writing is witty, provocative, finely nuanced and well worth the challenge." --Publishers Weekly

“I am his number one fan…I can always lose myself in one of his novels because of their intelligence and humor. My secret wish is to become one of the characters in his fiction, all of them drawn from the wit and wisdom of popular imagination. Yet make no mistake, Paco Taibo—sociologist and historian—is recovering the political history of Mexico to offer a vital, compelling vision of our reality.” --Laura Esquivel, author of Like Water for Chocolate

“The real enchantment of Mr. Taibo’s storytelling lies in the wild and melancholy tangle of life he sees everywhere.” --New York Times Book Review

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We, the Children of Cats
Author: Tomoyuki Hoshino
Translated by: Brian Bergstrom & Lucy Fraser
Publisher: PM Press/Found in Translation
ISBN: 978-1-60486-591-2
Published August 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5
Page count: 320 Pages
Subjects: Fiction/Literary Collection


A man and woman find their genders and sexualities brought radically into question when their bodies sprout new parts, seemingly out of thin air…. A man travels from Japan to Latin America in search of revolutionary purpose and finds much more than he bargains for…. A journalist investigates a poisoning at an elementary school and gets lost in an underworld of buried crimes, secret societies, and haunted forests…. Two young killers, exiled from Japan, find a new beginning as resistance fighters in Peru….

These are but a few of the stories told in We, the Children of Cats, a new collection of provocative early works by Tomoyuki Hoshino, winner of the 2011 Kenzaburo Oe Award in Literature and author of the powerhouse novel Lonely Hearts Killer (PM Press, 2009). Drawing on sources as diverse as Borges, Nabokov, Garcia-Marquez, Kenji Nakagami and traditional Japanese folklore, Hoshino creates a challenging, slyly subversive literary world all his own. By turns teasing and terrifying, laconic and luminous, the stories in this anthology demonstrate Hoshino’s view of literature as “an art that wavers, like a heat shimmer, between joy at the prospect of becoming something else and despair at knowing that such a transformation is ultimately impossible…a novel’s words trace the pattern of scars left by the struggle between these two feelings.” Blending an uncompromising ethical vision with exuberant, free-wheeling imagery and bracing formal experimentation, the five short stories and three novellas included in We, the Children of Cats show the full range and force of Hoshino’s imagination; the anthology also includes an afterword by translator and editor Brian Bergstrom and a new preface by Hoshino himself.


“The loosely linked stories collected in We, the Children of Cats home in on everyday events of millennial Japan only to slowly pan out onto alternate realities—voyages, crimes of passion, cultural histories of treason, sudden quarrels and equally sudden truces. Bergstrom and Fraser’s translations brilliantly capture the emotional tones and shape-shifting nature of Hoshino's language. These stories explore the longing to be somewhere, sometime, or even someone else so strongly that reality itself is, before you know it, transfigured.” 
—Anne McKnight, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at UCLA, author of Nakagami, Japan: Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity

“I see [in Hoshino] an ability to truly think through fiction that recalls Kobo Abe.  This superlative ability makes even the most fantastical details and developments read as perfectly natural.” 
—Kenzaburō Oe, Nobel Prize winning author of Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids and Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness

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