Better Living Through Chemistry

“Probably, the most important industrial chemical process in the world concerns the production of ammonia from its elements, hydrogen and nitrogen.  its use as a fertilizer is absolutely necessary to feed a hungry world.  It is also an essential component of explosives.”

-Leo J. Malone, Theodore O. Dolter Basic Concepts of Chemistry, 9th ed. p. 214



Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom

Tom Waits is releasing a live set of performances culled from his Glitter and Doom Tour. You can pre-order the album on CD or vinyl LP, or get one of the pre-order packages that include, among other things, one of Waits’ “stain” T-shirts.

NPR is streaming one of the shows from this tour here, if you want a preview.

Hat Tip: Remy

We are Food Prudes

We Americans have always had a problem taking pleasure in eating. We certainly have gone to unusual lengths to avoid it…the sheer abundance of food in America has bred “a vague indifference to food, manifested in a tendency to eat and run, rather than to dine and savor.” To savor food, to conceive of a meal as an aesthetic experience, has been regarded as evidence of effeteness, a form of foreign foppery…To the Christian social reformers of the nineteenth century, “The naked act of eating was little more than unavoidable…and was not to be considered a pleasure except with great discretion.”…Kellogg himself was outspoken in his hostility to the pleasures of eating: “The decline of a nation commences when gourmandizing begins.”
If that is so, America had little reason to worry.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp. 56 – 57.

We Know by Blind Instinct

It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all…In so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved. And int eh act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 38-39.

In Which We are Sure that we are Simply and Solely a Chicken

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probably that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections…The madman is the one who has lost everything except his reason…He is in the clean and well-lit prison of one idea…

As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out.

The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic…If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that…The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. the mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid…Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility…

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 23-33

In Which We Desire Sidewalks in the New Heavens and New Earth

Moreover, we have every confidence that we will get them.

In Comment magazine’s June 2007 “Summer Reading” issue, a gentleman named Eric O. Jacobsen contributed a list of books on Christianity and Urbanism which you best pick up. I pass a few of them along with short excerpts from Mr. Jacobsen’s longer blurbs. Again, if you don’t subscribe to Comment, go sign up now.

Also, Jacobsen maintains a site called Sidewalks in the Kingdom: Resources for Christian New Urbanists which you should check out. I have added a permanent link on the sidebar under “Sidewalks”.

OK, the books:

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

I learned to love the city from Jacobs with her eyes to see “the ballet of street life” while trained experts could only comprehend the city as rationally organized blobs on a zoning map.

2. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Duany, Speck, and Zyberk.

These pioneers of the New Urbanist movement spent the last few decades leading a renegade group of architects and planners who in one way or another rejected the post-war suburban neighborhoods and urbanism…They possess the clarity of insight to ask whether the suburban experiment has delivered on its lofty promises, and whether its existence has really justified scrapping thousands of years of human wisdom embedded in traditional urban forms in favor of its seductive charms.

3. The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition by James Howard Kunstler.

Kunstler is both hilarious and spot-on accurate in his observations about contemporary North American Life…In The City in Mind, Kunstler…develops the notion that the ability to create quality urban environments is an important litmus test for any civilization. He does this with a series of eight case studies ranging from Atlanta, “this giant hairball of a thirteen-county demolition derby,” to Paris which embodies the difference between a “city worth caring about and one that is not.”

4. Great Streets by Allan B. Jacobs.

After about fifty years of slavishly accepting Le Corbusier’s rash dismissal of streets for anything but high-speed automobile traffic, we are once again recognizing that a requisite component for a truly great city is great streets. Some of the most significant public spaces ina city are to be found on its streets. Alan Jacobs’s treatment is a tribute to Great Streets, and a serious study of some of the best-loved streets in the world.

5. Global City Blues by Daniel Solomon

As a penitent formerly modernist architect, Daniel Solomon is the perfect guide to the waves of modernist hubris that nearly killed the city during the second half of the twentieth century…Most seasoned practitioners of the recent urban renaissance are self-avowed pragmatists and polemic apologists for the movement. Solomon may be more of a poet at heart and as such he may provide helpful inroads to the movement for a theological discussion of “creational norms.”

6. The Good City and the Good Life: Renewing the American Community by Daniel Kemmis.

Daniel Kemmis maintains that focusing our political attention exclusively on the national scene can only fall short of our expectations, and we will eventually become jaded. In the Good City and the Good Life, Kemmis recommends a return to the city as a context for human thriving and for rediscovering the dignity of political life.

7. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community by Ray Oldenburg.

The notion that we need a place to hang out that is not our workplace nor our home helps to explain the success of places like Starbucks and Barnes and Noble…Ray Oldenburg anticipated this phenomenon and coined the term “third place”…Oldenburg helps us place this phenomenon in a wider context and he helps us to better understand the significance of this rediscovered impulse to a sociability…We learn what is appropriate and inappropriate public behaviour by spending time in coffee shops and other public places where we receive instant feedback on our public behaviour.

8. Until Justice and Peace Embrace: the Kuyper Lectures for 1981 Delivered at the Free University of Amsterdam by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Wolterstorff understands that for most people, beauty in the city is found in the spaces between the buildings. From this perspective a beautiful city is a city in which the streets feel like outdoor hallways that invite us to explore.