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press secretary spills all

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 by kate

Scott McClellan's new memoir is causing quite a stir. The former White House press secretary criticizes the Bush administration in "WHAT HAPPENED Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," which Bush backers are calling the work of a "disgruntled" former employee.

Here's an excerpt from the book:
"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the President himself."
Sounds juicy.

bag ethics and urban eco-legends

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 by kate

Hey, Mr. Green” is chalk full of eco-friendly solutions for extreme environmentalists and green-dabblers. Mr. Green – a.k.a. Bob Schildgen from Sierra magazine – offers realistic, simple solutions to everyday environmental quandaries, hitting on subjects such as garbage disposal guilt, bag ethics and urban eco-legends.

Schildgen obviously spent an obscene amount of time researching topics, but shares this information in an entertaining way, translating Btus and CO2s into my kind of language – dollars and sense. (And if a certain subject peaks your interest, he includes great sites and books for further reference.)

If you want an excuse to buy a new fridge, read Mr. Green’s “At Home” section, where he explains “the average refrigerator today uses a third less energy than those of fifteen years ago.” And since about 80% of an old fridge is recyclable, don’t feel guilty about chucking it.

Mr. Green taps into the new plastic epidemic, with a “Decoding Plastics” section, and compares bacon and tofu to the paper or plastic predicament. (I’m not crazy, it really does make sense. Just read the book.)

Should you charge your phone in your car or house? Which is more environmentally friendly: a six-pack of canned beer or a six-pack of bottled beer? Is embalming environmentally hazardous? These are just a few of the questions Mr. Green answers. Did you know that we burn about 300 million gallons of gas in lawnmowers every year? As the price of gas keeps climbing, Schildgen’s suggestion of ripping out your lawn and planting herbs and flowers sounds pretty good. And, at the price of groceries today, an herb garden doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. Being eco-friendly can also save you some green!

If reading about food makes you hungry, you’ll also find recipes in here. Mr. Green offers tips on how to lighten your environmental footprint to varying degrees – from a soft saunter to a dainty tip-toe. So don’t be intimidated by the subject. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger or hemp-lover to buy this book.

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facing the fact that your food has a face

Monday, May 19, 2008 by kate

Burgers don’t grow on trees. (Immediately an image of a patty bush pops into my head.) It sounds silly, but I really don’t know how many people realize their food has a face. Or maybe people just don’t want to make the connection.

Catherine Friend’s Compassionate Carnivore” makes the connection in a way that is easy to digest because she fully admits she was once a naïve meat-eater, not questioning how her burgers grew:

“When it comes to my food, meat or otherwise, for most of my life I’ve been a baby bird, tossing my head back, opening wide, and letting corporate agriculture … feed me whatever they want. … It’s not okay anymore.” In an effort to enlighten herself about the meat industry, Friend has uncovered a world of callous factory farming that would make you lose your appetite – at least for a little while.

“Compassionate Carnivore” is a dense textbook with a human voice. In an interesting, conversational and empowering way, Friend gives you more than you can chew, but chops it up in bite-sized pieces and warns you not to try and eat everything at once. For people not interested in changing their diet, or giving up meat altogether, Friend supplies readers with simple solutions such as paying attention to where their meat comes from:

98% of the eggs we eat come from caged chickens. “They never see the sun, never chase grasshoppers, never take dust baths in loose soil…” And since these hens are always caged, they aren’t healthy, so they’re kept alive with antibiotics. Friend makes me want to spend the extra dollar on cage-free eggs.

90% of broilers – chickens bred to gain weight quickly – have leg problems, 26% have chronic pain and others have heart problems, according to a study Friend cites. These factory chickens are also fed arsenic to help them grow faster. I don’t know about you, but the idea of eating arsenic-laced chicken is not so appetizing to me.

95% of the pigs raised in this country are raised in long, hanger-type buildings from farrow to finish, or as the industry likes to say, ‘from squeal to meal.’” But confined hogs suffer chronic respiratory diseases, ulcers, foot and leg infections and skin mange.

Instead of encouraging this animal cruelty, replace factory meat with meat from animals raised humanely, Friend suggests. Look for local farmers markets at www.ams.usda.gov/FARMERSMARKETS or research community-supported agriculture (CSA) at http://www.localharvest.org/. By paying a membership fee, you receive a share of the farm’s harvest – its like a farm subscription, Friend says.

From taste to nutrition, how an animal is raised and fed has an effect on the end result. Grass-fed cows have less overall fat, and contain up to four times as much beta-carotene as factory cows. Grass-fed beef also has more omega-3s than chicken, according to Friend.

Unlike so many animal rights activists, this book doesn’t make you feel judged for your meat-loving ways. Instead, Friend encourages readers to continue to sit at the meat-eating table, and make a difference. “Carnivores speak most loudly not through their words, but by how they spend their food dollars. People who remain at the table and support sustainable, responsible, and humane agriculture by purchasing meat from these farmers are sending a message to those farmers: ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop.’”

Another easy change you can make it waste less meat. According to Friend, we’re throwing away 22.5 million pounds of meat a day. “Every day we are killing then completely throwing away 5,000 cattle, 36,000 hogs, and 2 million chickens.”

What makes this book work is Friend does not assume the role of the infallible narrator. She lumps herself in with the rest of us, thus making change seem doable.

And after reading this book, “you’ll be able to impress a room full of farmers with your knowledge of farming jargon, which I’m sure is everyone’s secret desire.”

not all librarians like to read

Thursday, May 8, 2008 by kate

If you have a strange craving for library history lessons, or you want to know when the first children’s book was published (“Little Pretty Pocket-Book,” by John Newbery in 1744) Scott Douglas’ “Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian,” is your best bet.

Unfortunately, I don’t really care about the literacy rate in Niger or Burkina Faso. (Frankly, I don’t even know where Burkina Faso is.) Maybe Douglas is just too clever for me. Or maybe he’s trying too hard to be clever (this is my guess).

“Quiet, Please” is a twenty-something librarian’s memoir set in Southern California. Douglas, the librarian, interrupts his own story with side notes and footnotes. Some tidbits are interesting, like Footnote # 13 in Chapter 355.0097, “Libraries do not usually waste the time to take someone to collections unless the fine is greater than $20.” Good to know, since I’m chronically a library delinquent who never returns books on time.

But his “For Shelving” segments added boring library facts that even librarians would snooze over. (John J. Beckley was the first librarian of the Library of Congress.) It seems as though Douglas wrote this book, then went back later and tried to make it more than just an interesting look at life in a library. Had he just stopped while he was ahead, Douglas would have had a pretty good book on his hands.

Douglas has a keen eye for observation, and he shares a witty analysis of coworkers who don't read and other crazy characters that frequent the library. At times his insightful honesty is refreshing, and at other times I want to slap him. (This must be a common reaction since several patrons in the book threaten to kill him.) In his effort to be completely honest, Douglas comes across as a jerk at times. Douglas on seniors: “As sad and cruel and insensitive as it was to say, they would be dead soon, anyway.”

“Quiet, Please” exposes a modern-day library where teens are tripping out, middle-aged mothers are addicted to computer games and paranoid patrons have conspiracy theories when they can’t print. Overall, it’s an interesting book once you skip over all the intellectual fluff.