The Mirage of Oil Crises

This Op-Ed piece by Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press about the realities of what a country such as Iran could actually do (or not) to the global energy market should they wake up feeling cranky. Once again, Iran does not pose nearly so significant a threat to our wellbeing as our own foolishness.

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Your God Demands Seeds

It’s no accident that the small handful of plants we’ve come to rely on are grains…these crops are exceptionally efficient at transforming sunlight, fertilizer, air, and water into macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These macronutrients in turn can be profitably converted into meat, dairy, and processed foods of every description. Also, the fact that they come in the form of durable seeds which can be stored for long periods of time means they can function as commodities as well as foods, making these crops particularly well adapted to the needs of industrial capitalism.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, p. 124.

The Ardent Flight of Apples

I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened – dawn and death and so on – as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not…You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 56.

Joan of Arc’s Startling Sanity

As I turn and tumble over the clever, wonderful, tiresome, and useless modern books, the title of one of them rivets my eye. It is called “Jeanne d’Arc,” by Anatole France.* I have only glanced at it, but a glance was enough to remind me of Renan’s “Vie de Jesus.”** It has the same strange method of the reverent sceptic. It discredits supernatural stories that have some foundation, simply by telling natural stories that have no foundation…

I do not mention either book in order to criticise it, but because the accidental combination of the names called up two startling images of sanity which blasted all the books before me. Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt.

Yet Joan, when I come to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret.

And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this differences, that she did not praise fighting, but fought…

She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 49-50.

A Refined Ignorance

Science doesn’t know nearly enough to compensate for everything that processing does to whole foods. We know how to break down a kernel of corn or grain of wheat into its chemical parts, but we have no idea how to put it back together again. Destroying complexity is a lot easier than creating it.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp.115-116.

Why is Corn Syrup a key ingredient in Everything?

Store food is food designed to be stored and transported over long distances, and the surest way to make food more stable and less vulnerable to pests is to remove the nutrients from it. In general, calories are much easier to transport – in the form of refined grain or sugar – than nutrients, which are liable to deteriorate or attract the attention of bacteria, insects, and rodents, all keenly interested in nutrients. (More so, apparently, than we are.) Price concluded that modern civilization had sacrificed much of the quality of its food in interests of quantity and shelf life…

Health depends heavily on knowing how to read these biological signals: This looks ripe; this smells spoiled; that’s one slick-looking cow. This is much easier to do when you have long experience of a food and much harder when a food has been expressly designed to deceive your senses with, say, artificial flavors and sweeteners. Foods that lie to our senses are one of the most challenging features of the Western diet.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp. 97, 104.