Showing posts with label money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money. Show all posts

Saturday, April 27, 2013

FAT CHANCE by Robert H. Lustig and SALT SUGAR FAT by Michael Moss

If you eat food, here are two newish books you should know about.

You may already have met Robert H. Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (2012). Lustig is the UCSF professor whose surprisingly riveting 90-minute lecture, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," has already had nearly 3.5 million hits on YouTube. The thesis of his lecture: it's not dietary fat that's making Americans gain weight, it's sugar. And sugar is doing much worse things than increasing our clothing size. It's setting us up for a whole range of lethal diseases that are almost entirely avoidable.

In Fat Chance Lustig writes about sugar, going into much greater detail about what it does in and to our bodies. He also writes about how various foods cause physical addiction, how the food industry keeps us full of junk, how the government helps the food industry ruin our health, why people gain weight, why diets fail, how people can lose weight--he's all over the map. But if you're not enslaved to linear thinking, you may well enjoy this fascinating collection of data and explanations as well as Lustig's sassy attitude.

Don't be put off by the title, by the way. I think it and the cover illustration are both insulting and misleading, and the subtitle makes the book sound like either an extended scold or a dreary set of rules for would-be ascetics. No, no, no. Lustig goes to great lengths to avoid blaming or shaming people who wish they weighed less. His concern is with keeping people--both convex and concave--in good health, and he'd like all of us to join his battle against the Evil Food Empire that is doing us in.

Once you've read Fat Chance you'll be loaded for bear. Michael Moss to the rescue--he'll tell you where to aim your rifle.

In Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013), Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, tells what the food industry has been up to during the last couple of decades. Food executives, Moss says, are nervous: people are figuring out that convenience foods aren't good for them.

Stripped of nature's nutrients and loaded with fat, sugar, and salt, most of today's grocery-store items are engineered to provide the maximum taste thrill for the minimum price so food companies can make maximum profits and give Wall Street maximum satisfaction.

As engineered foods have gained popularly, however, their consumers have gained weight. At the same time, obesity-related diseases have added billions of dollars to health-care costs.
"Obesity is literally an epidemic in this country, and some people's ideas for addressing this public health issue could directly or indirectly affect the entire agriculture industry, from farm to consumer," a Philip Morris vice president, Jay Poole, warned an agricultural economics group.
Yes, that Philip Morris. The cigarette manufacturer, who once fought any publicity indicating that smoking might be bad for you, owned General Foods and Kraft in 1999 when Poole issued that warning, and they acquired Nabisco the next year. The food giants--including not only Philip Morris affiliates but also Kellogg's, Coke, Oscar Mayer, Cargill, Frito-Lay, and Dr. Pepper--had no intention of letting customers slip away to the produce aisle.

They would fight back with whatever weapons they could muster: the science of addiction, misleading labeling, false claims, selling to less regulated countries, advertising to children, relentless lobbying of legislators and government agencies.

I especially enjoyed Moss's repeated observation, after lunching with one food company executive after another, that the executive looked trim and healthy--and would not eat his company's products. You might not want to either after you've read this book.

Oh, and never fear--Salt Sugar Fat is not a downer (unless you read it while drinking Coke and eating Fritos). It reveals, but it doesn't preach. You'll enjoy the stories Moss tells. He hopes you will find it a useful tool for defending yourself when you walk through the grocery store doors.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HOW AN ECONOMY GROWS AND WHY IT CRASHES by Peter D. Schiff and Andrew Schiff

One of my fiscally conservative friends told me I should read this book if I wanted to know why Keynesian economics are a politican's best friend. I interpreted that to mean "why Keynesian economics suck." Oh no, I thought. Booooring. But then she added that the book was funny, and my heart leapt up. I like funny books, even if they're about economics.

Yes, How an Economy Grows is funny. Peter D. Schiff and his brother, Andrew J. (known mostly for his lament about how hard it is for a family to live in Brooklyn on $350,000 a year), explain free-market economics by means of an extended fairy tale enhanced with hilarious cartoon illustrations by Brendan Leach.

The story begins with three men, Able, Baker, and Charlie, who live alone on an island and stay alive on a diet of one fish per person per day. (If it occurs to you that the first man's name should be spelled "Abel," that could mean you're a proofreader, in which case this book will drive you nuts: it is littered with typos.) Many generations later, the island has a brisk fish-based economy, a strong manufacturing sector, and a booming trade with other islands. But then a monsoon hits, and the powers that be (especially Franky Deep) decide to issue Fish Reserve Notes to use in trade instead of actual fish, and Lindy B. funds the Great Society by issuing ever increasing numbers of Fish Reserve Notes (without keeping actual fish in reserve), and Slippery Dickson closes the bank's fish window to foreign depositors, and Roughy Redfin grossly outspends his revenues, and George W. Bass and Barry Ocuda bail out the banks--every one of these leaders egged on by villains such as Ally Greenfin and Ben Barnacle--until eventually the Sinopians, who by this time own most of Usonia, decide to cut bait and keep their fish for themselves.

On the positive side, the Schiffs managed to keep me awake while they explained their economic beliefs. I am impressed by the fact that Peter Schiff accurately predicted the recession of 2008 while many economists were still saying "Don't worry, be happy." As a parsimonious descendant of Puritans, I agree that savings are basic to economic health and that excess debt is perilous. Like the Schiffs, I think we're in trouble when the goods we consume are mostly produced elsewhere and our major export is dollars. I fear that the Schiffs may be right when they say (as David Stockman recently did in the New York Times) that we're in for a big crash in the near future.

But when I look at the kind of government the Schiffs would like to have, I see some really big theological problems. You don't have to be religious to see the problems, however: I suspect they are theological problems because they hurt people.

First, everything in this book's imagined universe is about money (well, fish), and how to get more of it. Oddly, the actual fish that sustain life in the early chapters become means of exchange and even storehouses of reserves in the later ones. Our daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13) transmutes into the rich fool's overstuffed granaries (Luke 12:13-21). People who are poor are barely mentioned in the Schiffs' tale: on their island, the poor do not exist. By contrast, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the duty to care for the poor is one of the major themes. "Blessed are you who are poor," said Jesus, "for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). "You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13).

Obviously the poor are not well served by an economy that crashes, and perhaps the Schiffs would argue that their principles would be better for the poor than is our present precarious situation. Perhaps so, but that brings me to the second theological problem: the system the Schiffs describe might have worked very well before Adam and Eve developed a taste for apples, but in a world where everyone is infected with a touch of greed (see concupiscence), the Schiffs' system  is as dangerous as any other system we might invent. They do a fine job of showing how the government can screw things up--and indeed it can--but they are silent about how businesses can do the same. In their story, "Franky Deep" established disastrous policies in response to a monsoon--a natural disaster. In the real world, the Great Depression happened after decades of industrial monopolies, inhumane labor practices, and wild stock-market speculation--all unrestrained by the government.

I have no illusions about government. On the depravity scale, big government may be just as depraved as big business (though it's getting hard to distinguish between the two, since one buys the other and then uses it to accomplish its purposes). Ideally the two would form some sort of reciprocal deterrence system, checking each other's excesses, though that's not easy to accomplish in our multinational economy. But I think I know enough about greed to suggest that if businesses were left entirely to their own devices, the world's economy would soon consist of an interlocking network of immensely powerful monopolies that would "grind the faces of the poor" to an extent undreamed of by the prophet Isaiah (3:15). Heck, it's happening already.

So what's the answer to our economic woes? Well, if we--as individuals and as a nation--could somehow manage to understand that we need to pay (now, not during the next administration) for what we want, we could probably come up with something, especially if what we want includes concrete ways to lift people out of poverty. And yes, there are politicians (like Bill Clinton) and CEOs (like Bill Gates) who are devoting a lot of time and money to meeting human need.

But most businesses turn a goodly percentage of their profits into marketing whose aim is to persuade us that we always need more now; and most politicians spend vast sums trying to persuade us that if we elect them, we can have something for nothing; and most self-help books tells us that we really need to take care of ourselves better... and the beat goes on, and will go on, until one day it turns into the loudest crash yet, followed by ominous silence.

The Schiffs' ideas will not stave off the evil day, because the Schiffs do not take human nature into account. Politicians who follow their libertarian approach most likely have something other than ideas to sell. As do the Schiffs, for that matter, and they make no secret of it. Peter Schiff owns the brokerage firm Euro Pacific Capital, "an SEC registered investment advisor and full service broker/dealer that seeks to help American investors prepare for a global economy that may no longer be dominated by the U.S. dollar." His brother Andrew--the financially struggling one--is its director of communications and marketing. Peter is also CEO of Euro Pacific Precious Metals: that is, he sells gold.

Their father, Irwin Schiff, whose ideas they develop in this book, is serving a 13-year prison term for tax evasion. His lawyer's contention that he "had been diagnosed with a chronic, severe delusional disorder relating to his beliefs about the federal income tax system" did not sway the judge.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Money, sex, and reproduction in a chick lit fantasy world

I'm not going to tell you the title of the book I just read, or the author's name. If I did, I'd be guilty of spoilers for what I'm about to say. I'll just mention that the novel has four main characters, all female:
Ya conniving 40-something woman with a murky past and an invented present
Ya 24-year-old trust-fund baby who is alarmed that the world does not revolve around her
Ya 24-year-old Ivy League grad who desperately wants to rescue her substance-abusing father
Ya 24-year-old mother of two with an underemployed husband

And I'll divulge that, to create a baby, one woman provides the egg, one the womb, one the money, and one the guardianship;

that the women tell their stories in interlaced chapters, all in the first person, all with pretty much the same voice;

that lots of brand names get mentioned, often in tones of awe;

that there's a fair amount of soft-core sex: straight, lesbian, married, unmarried, abusive, coital, oral;

and that as improbable as it may seem, by the end of the book everyone is financially solvent, loved, happy, and friends with one another.

I was disappointed: I hadn't intended to read a fairy tale.

The author could have done better. Has done better. And maybe will do better in the future, if she starts looking closely at what happens in the real world to people who are obsessed with money.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A TOAST TO BARGAIN WINES by George M. Taber

I like good wine. I don’t like spending money. A Toast to Bargain Wines had me at the title.

George M. Taber likes good wine and knows quite a lot about it. The author of several books about wine including Judgment of Paris and To Cork or Not To Cork, he also knows how to write about wine in a companionable, informative way. His message: there’s a lot of good wine out there for less than $10 a bottle. His attitude (quoting Thomas George Shaw, who wrote in 1863): “In wine-tasting and wine-talk there is an enormous amount of humbug.”

An investigative journalist with a wry sense of humor, Taber debunks wine tastings, wine critics, wine fads, and wine medals (which are worth a lot to wine sellers, but not so much to consumers). Here’s one of my favorite stories. It's about Robin Goldstein, “a leading advocate of inexpensive wines” and founder of Fearless Critic Media:
In 2008, [Goldstein] paid a $250 fee to enter a fictitious Italian restaurant in the Wine Spectator’s Awards of Excellence program for eateries with outstanding wine lists…. He named his fictitious Milan restaurant Osteria l’Intrepido, which translates loosely as Fearless Restaurant. The wine list he submitted with his application included a reserve list consisting largely of wines the publication had previously panned, giving them scores as low as an insulting 58 points. Goldstein says that once the magazine collected his $250, he did not receive any communication from Wine Spectator, until someone from New York City called and left a message on an answering machine asking if he wanted to take out an advertisement in a forthcoming issue that would report on Osteria l’Intrepido’s winning an Award of Excellence.
But Bargain Wines goes way beyond debunking. In three fascinating chapters, Taber profiles the people behind California’s Two Buck Chuck, Australia’s [yellow tail] winery, and China’s first steps into the worldwide wine market. [Did you know that the family who brought us the wallaby label hails from Sicily?]

The first half of this book is the reason I checked it out of my public library: it’s a quick and pleasant read. The second half is the reason I then bought my own copy. Taber provides a 128-page guide to bargain wines that, I suspect, is going to come in very handy.

First he lists readily obtainable bargain wines by varietal, suggesting ten for $10 or less and two “splurge” wines for under $25. I immediately looked up one of my favorites, Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, Monkey Bay made the list, along with a number of others I haven’t tried yet.

Then he lists bargain brands by country or region. OK, let’s check Washington/Oregon. Chateau Ste. Michelle! Columbia Crest! Pacific Rim! and seven others! Plenty of opportunity for further research there.

Finally, he gives us his ten favorite box wines. Yup, you read that right. In fact, he has a whole chapter on box wines (“Thinking Outside the Bottle”) that may revolutionize your dinner hour.

In case you're starting to feel overwhelmed by the dazzling variety of bargain wines (or if you're feeling slightly fearful that the taste mavens won't approve your choices), he even provides a handy quiz. Are you sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive, or tolerant? The answer, it turns out, is in your genes. And--good news!--there's a subsection of bargain wines to match your phenotype.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ALMOST AMISH by Nancy Sleeth

If I had seen just the title of Almost Amish, I probably wouldn't have been attracted to it: I'm not a fan of Amish fiction, and I've heard too much about Amish puppy mills.

If I'd also noticed the name of the author, however, I might have picked it up: several years ago I met the Sleeths at the home of mutual friends, and I greatly respect the choices they have made about a simpler, more hospitable lifestyle.

But it was Michelle Van Loon's review/interview in Christianity Today's women's blog that caught my attention and made me think, I need to read this book. From Van Loon's article:
When she was in her early 40s, Sleeth came to faith in Christ along with her husband Matthew, an emergency room physician, and their two preteen children. Energized by their faith, the deep concern about the state of the decaying world around them led the family to make significant lifestyle changes. They gave away half of their possessions and moved to a home the size of their old garage. They reduced their energy usage by two-thirds, discovering a deep sense of family unity and purpose in the process.
Sleeth isn't asking her readers to imitate her. As she tells Van Loon:
I’m not saying, “You need to cut back your energy use,” or, “You need to hang your clothes on the line,” or, “You need to stop watching television.” I simply want people to examine their lives. Learn to continually ask yourself two questions: Will this thing (this possession, decision, or action) bring me closer to God? Will it help me love my neighbor? We get in a blur and don’t always stop to ask those questions. What I am asking is to get people to stop and to live a conscious life.
Though of course Sleeth really is doing more than asking us to think. She hopes our self-examination will lead us to make at least a few changes in the way we live: get rid of clutter, for instance, or start living within our means; buy local, or spend more time with friends and family. And she offers practical suggestions to help us simplify our lives, including easy recipes for breads, soups, and salads.

You need to have an evangelical ear to appreciate Sleeth's book: it's full of Scripture and God talk. You also need to have a rosy view of Amish community life, which (as some of the comments following Van Loon's review point out) has a hidden and sometimes extremely dark side that Sleeth never acknowledges. And you'd better be able to tolerate Sleeth's mild adherence to gender roles.

That said, Almost Amish is an inspirational book, full of gentle wisdom. Oh, and Sleeth's challah recipe rocks. It's almost as good as my own, which you can read here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

NEVER SAY DIE by Susan Jacoby

"Susan Jacoby has long made it her project to uncover ill-formed, cynical 'junk thought' and administer a cold dose of reason and logic against it," wrote Ted C. Fishman in the New York Times ("It Gets Worse," 2/25/11). "But Jacoby is no Mr. Spock. Her rationalism is delivered in an angry barrage peppered with enthusiastically snide asides."

"In her book, Ms. Jacoby serves as a reality instructor. Bad news flows from her as profanity from a rap group," wrote Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal ("Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive," 1/29/11). "Imagine a modern-day Cassandra but one ticked to the max."

OK, Never Say Die isn't for everybody. Sheeesh, if neither the NYT nor the WSJ liked it, perhaps it isn't for anybody. But don't quit reading yet (I promise to keep this short). Though I agree with Messrs Fishman (aged 52 at time of writing) and Epstein (aged 74) about Ms. Jacoby's style (she is now 66), I still think she offers some insights that we neglect at our great peril (I'm 63):

1. When AARP magazine and self-help books dispense relentlessly upbeat advice and unfailingly inspirational stories, they focus almost entirely on the "young old" - people in good health in their 60s and 70s. Rarely do they look at the "old old" - people in failing health and/or over age 85, when fully 50% have Alzheimer's disease. Boomers who believe that the optimistic sources are giving an accurate picture of old age are in for a big shock.

2. To the extent that we live in a dream world in which old folks are happy and healthy until they suddenly, painlessly drop dead (while parachuting out of an airplane, perhaps, or in the midst of wild sex), we will not as a society provide for the real-life needs of real-life old people and their exhausted caregivers.

3. If we want to continue providing adequate health care for seniors, we're going to have to provide adequate health care for everyone else too. People will not vote to pay Grandma's medical bills if they can't pay their own.

Check out Susan Jacoby's short Newsweek column, "The Myth of Aging Gracefully" (1/30/11), for a preview of her position. Here's a sample paragraph from chapter 7 in Never Say Die, "Greedy Geezers and Other Half-truths":
The myth of young old age, which simultaneously overestimates the earning potential and underestimates the needs of the dependent old old, also poses a major impediment to any serious, reality-based discussion of social justice for both old and young. Healthy old old age is costly, and unhealthy old old age is even costlier. If, as a society, we see longevity as a good thing, then we're going to have to pay for it. But all we are hearing from public officials, now that the brief period when conservatives could use the health care debate to prey on the fears of the elderly has passed, is how to pay less to support longer lives. If there really were such a thing as a radically new brand of old age in which everyone can take care of himself or herself, there would be no reason to worry. Society would be off the hook. The boomers - healthy beneficiaries of this wonderful new old age - would surely be able to tote that barge and lift that bale until the very end.

Friday, July 8, 2011

CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER by Peggy Orenstein

My daughters still make fun of me for one of my motherly quirks:  in the 1970s, I would not let them have Barbie dolls. To compensate, I gave them dolls from The Sunshine Family - a gentle suburban hippie couple and their tiny daughter, Sweets.

The Sunshine Family was not materialistic like Barbie. You could buy accessories for them, but they were things any impoverished young family might need, including a set of grandparents. They cared about the environment. They did crafts. They farmed.

They did not take the world by storm.

Princesses, by contrast, are huge. Bigger than Barbie ever was, though the grande dame of sexy dolls has pretty much given up practicing medicine (106 hits for "doctor Barbie" at amazon.com) and jumped into the royal coach herself (1681 hits for "princess Barbie"). Go to Barbie's princess website (dazzlingly pink!), and you'll be greeted by a perky electronic voice: "Shop time! A girl's just gotta wear a tiara!" That's the essence of Peggy Orenstein's complaint in Cinderella Ate My Daughter - not that playing princess is bad, but that the way princess play is being marketed to young girls raises all kind of red - or at least pink - flags.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

INSIDE JOB (DVD)

“For decades, the American financial system was stable and safe. But then something changed. The financial industry turned its back on society, corrupted our political system, and plunged the world economy into crisis. At enormous cost, we’ve avoided disaster and are recovering.


"But the men and institutions that caused the crisis are still in power, and that needs to change. They will tell us that we need them, and that what they do is too complicated for us to understand. They will tell us it won’t happen again. They will spend billions fighting reform. It won’t be easy, but some things are worth fighting for.”
Those are narrator Matt Damon's closing words in Sony Classics' Academy Award winning Inside Job, a 2010 film about the worldwide financial meltdown that began in 2008.

Economics may be the dismal science, but this is not a gloomy movie. Infuriating, yes. Scary, for sure. But the fast-paced narration, ironically funny sound track, montage of damning interviews, and frequently interspersed factoids will keep your adrenaline flowing for all 108 minutes of it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

MADE IN DAGENHAM (DVD)

In 1968, 179 east London machinists walked off the job and changed history. The machinists weren't complaining about having to work long days in an airless room that quickly became unbearably hot. They objected to being classified as unskilled workers when  their work - making seat covers for Fords - required a great deal of skill. They also objected to being paid considerably less than fellow workers who were less skilled than they were. And they objected to, year after year, being patronized, lied to, and eventually ignored by union officials. The 179 machinists, of course, were women.


Made in Dagenham is funny, sassy, infuriating, and occasionally moving. Watch it for an evening's entertainment, or watch it to remember - or to learn - what life was like only 43 years ago.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MOVING MILLIONS by Jeffrey Kaye

Last August I reviewed Moving Millions for Christian Century magazine and wrote a brief note about the book here. My full review was published in their January 11, 2011, issue and is available to subscribers here. CC would like us all to subscribe, of course. In case you want to try before you buy, however, here's the review as I submitted it to them. Please do not repost it: CC holds the copyright. Good news: the friends I mention in the first paragraph have been told their green cards are on the way.

The Strangers Within Our Gates
Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration
by Jeffrey Kaye
Wiley, 310 pp., $27.95

When I hear the word immigration, I immediately think of friends, refugees from a war-torn country, who have spent more than 20 years and 30 thousand dollars trying to become legal U.S. residents, to no avail.

I then think of Arizona relatives, who—convinced that illegal immigration increases crime, taxes, and unemployment—strongly support their state’s recent efforts to ferret out undocumented immigrants and send them back home.

My refugee friends and Arizona relatives agree about one thing: America’s immigration system is broken. President Obama, whose “path to citizenship” plan would help my friends, has said so. So has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants to “secure the borders” Arizona-style, even if it would mean sending people like my friends back into danger.

Everyone knows that the United States needs to fix immigration. Nobody knows how to do it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WERE YOU BORN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT? by Thomas Geoghegan

Front
Back
Was I born on the wrong continent? Well, if you're talking bread, I'll definitely opt for the baguette. But Geoghegan (rhymes with "Reagan") says little about food, alas, in this comparison between American and Western European - mostly German - lifestyles. Instead, he looks at work, leisure, taxes, benefits, labor, management, social policy...

Don't let your eyes glaze over just yet. Geoghegan is a delightfully quirky writer who manages to convey a lot of information while making you think you're reading a chatty and often humorous travel book. Indeed, travel writing inspires him:
For years I read the front page [of the New York Times] about European unemployment, the collapse of social democracy, etc. But then I'd flip to the travel page and get the real news, the news that they don't dare put on page one, that every year in Europe, the whole place keeps getting nicer.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ZOO STORY by Thomas French

I like zoos. Good ones, anyway. When our children were very small, we lived near the San Diego Zoo and went there nearly every week. We now live within visiting distance of the Brookfield Zoo, where we used to take our grandchildren and where we once celebrated our anniversary, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, which we haven't visited in too long a time (anyone for a trip to the zoo this weekend?). Until I read Zoo Story, though, I hadn't really given much thought to what goes on behind the scenes.

Thomas French was a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times when he read Yann Martel's Life of Pi and decided he wanted to learn all about zoos.* That was in 2003, just as four elephants from Swaziland were about to take up residence at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Zoo Story begins with the arrival of the elephants, now the zoo's most physically powerful creatures, and continues with Herman the chimpanzee and Enshalla the Sumatran tiger, king and queen of their own domains. No matter how strong, dominant, or popular they may be, however, all the mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in the zoo are under the control of an even more powerful alpha male - Lex Salisbury, CEO, known to his employees as El Diablo Blanco.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MOVING MILLIONS by Jeffrey Kaye

If I hadn't just read Moving Millions, I might not have noticed how many of this morning's news stories relate to immigration.

Jeffrey Kaye, a freelance journalist and special correspondent for The PBS NewsHour, subtitled his book How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration. It's a book that goes way beyond what I'm used to reading in news stories or op-ed pieces about Arizona's new law. Kaye looks at immigration around the world, not just in America. He frequently puts today's stories in historical context. Most of all, he looks at business practices and government policies that either entice or drive people to leave their homes in search of a better life.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly

I am a Michael Connelly fan. So far I have read or listened to 18 of his 21 novels, and I've loved 17 of them (I wasn't as thrilled with Chasing the Dime, a stand-alone thriller whose protagonist is just too foolish to be believed - but I still read the whole thing). The Lincoln Lawyer, published in 2005, is one of the best.

Connelly's usual protagonist, Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, isn't in The Lincoln Lawyer, though if you paid attention while reading The Black Ice (1993), you'll quickly figure out that defense attorney Mickey Haller is Bosch's half-brother. While Bosch is an orphaned, street-smart, self-taught Vietnam vet whose work is almost a vocation, Haller is a well-educated, highly paid, very slick lawyer who plays the legal game for one reason - money.

The two men have a lot in common, though. Both are involved with criminals. Both are exceptionally clever at figuring out plots and launching counterplots. Both have a little trouble hanging on to female companions and wives, and both have small daughters. In a pinch - and pinches abound in these books - both men ignore the rules and fend for themselves, even if they have to bend the truth, professional standards, and the law to do so. And both are extremely skillful, or lucky, at avoiding death.

Friday, June 25, 2010

ANIMAL FACTORY by David Kirby

"The looming threat of industrial pig, dairy, and poultry farms to humans and the environment," says the subtitle.

Marketing copy like that makes a lot of us decide to read, say, a detective story instead. We are tired of hearing about what's wrong. We don't want to add to our guilt over what we eat. And besides, this book is 492 pages long. So why read it?

If you've already read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, and Nicolette Hahn Niman's Righteous Porkchop; and if you've watched King Corn and Food, Inc., you probably don't need to read Animal Factory, though you might be exactly the kind of reader the publisher had in mind: you are already worried about not only the cruelty but also the economic, ecological, and epidemiological dangers inherent in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

Friday, May 21, 2010

EAARTH by Bill McKibben

A couple of weeks ago I read Paul Greenberg's excellent review, "Hot Planet, Cold Facts," of Bill McKibben's newest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. I immediately put a hold on it at the public library. It arrived yesterday, and I read it after dinner last night. I'm not an especially fast reader, but this is an especially readable book. McKibben is more than a prophet of doom; he is also a clear and witty writer who often made me laugh out loud.

Yes, there are supposed to be two a's in Eaarth - McKibben's point is that over the last four decades, "the earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived." It is so different, in fact, that "it needs a new name." And we Eaarthlings are in such denial about the differences that we probably need a global AA-style intervention, though McKibben nowhere suggests that the double-A is a pun.

Monday, May 17, 2010

RIGHTEOUS PORKCHOP by Nicolette Hahn Niman

"Are you trying to convert us?" asked one of my daughters after reading my recent posts on vegetarianism. Not to vegetarianism, I emailed back - just to mindful eating.

I like Michael Pollan's creed : "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I also like Nicolette Hahn Niman's advice at the end of her 2009 book, Righteous Porkchop:
Do not thoughtlessly eat foods from animals. Know the source. Question the methods. There is great power in posing the following simple question to grocery stores, restaurants and farmers: “How was this raised?” Then shift your buying toward those meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products that come from animals raised in a way that you like.... It’s voting with your fork.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer

"On average," writes Jonathan Safran Foer, "Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 animals in a lifetime." Alas, most of these animals came from factory farms, now the source of "99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle.”

Is this a problem? Safran Foer, best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated  and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, thinks so. American factory farms, sometimes called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), have made meat readily available and cheaper than ever before or anywhere else. In his 2009 exposé, Eating Animals, Safran Foer argues that our cheap meat has come with huge hidden costs to public health and to the environment.

Here are 10 reasons you might not want to buy factory-farmed meat, poultry, or fish. The quotations are from Eating Animals:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

REDISCOVERING VALUES by Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis - founder of Sojourners magazine and current nemesis of Glenn Beck - would like to shift the nation's conversation from competing partisan ideologies to shared moral values. That's the theme of his newest book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street, published this January in response to the ongoing recession.

Without ever quoting Jesus' warning against the false god Mammon (Matthew 6:24) or St. Paul's observation that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), Wallis argues that the free market - which, he notes, has played a major role in alleviating worldwide poverty - has become a dangerous idol that is now turning on and devouring its worshipers. The market is good only when it is subordinated to a more fundamental value: commitment to the common good. "The goal is not to destroy the market," Wallis writes, "but to understand its proper place. It is not to get rid of commerce but to build it upon a foundation of values."

Monday, November 16, 2009

JUST FOOD by James E. McWilliams

I’m a cradle vegetarian. Didn’t have even a bite of meat—red or white, fish or fowl—until I was maybe eleven years old, and then I lost my dietary virginity to a hot dog. Go ahead and snicker.

I’m not a vegetarian anymore. I had some chicken when I was fourteen right after I dissected a frog in biology lab; I almost threw up. Tried lamb chops a couple of years later: gross. By my mid thirties, I was able to enjoy the occasional beef or chicken in restaurants, and a decade later I discovered how to broil salmon at home.

I’m sixty-one now, and I still can’t prepare a decent beef steak or roast. I’ve never roasted a whole chicken, and I don’t know how to bone a fish. Last Thanksgiving my turkey tasted fine, but our guests had to read instructions out of a cookbook while Mr Neff manfully carved it. He was pretty much raised vegetarian too. So it’s no wonder that he sent me a link to James E. McWilliams’s article “Bellying Up to Environmentalism” in today’s Washington Post.

McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, argues that what we eat--whether we are vegetarians or meat eaters--is more than just a personal choice: