Casaubon's Book

A Year, Here.

It has been just about a year since I made my transition to Science Blogs, and other than the kerfuffle in July and the fact that they still don’t pay us particularly often, in general, I think this has been a successful move for me – particularly in my larger goal, which was to reach a readership that wouldn’t get this material otherwise. Science Blogs also drove me to write some good stuff, in response to critique or query or new readers – and that’s important to me. So a quick year in review – I thought for those who hadn’t seen them, I’d go back and pick my own favorite piece from each month, just in case you are looking for new stuff to read:

I’m very proud of last December’s “Fairness, Personal Action and Al Gore’s House” because I think it was a useful addition to my larger work in undermining the “personal action doesn’t count” narrative. I’ve been arguing this for many years in many ways, but this is just another nail in the coffin of the idea that it doesn’t matter how you live your life, that big “political action” is what really counts. In some ways, this piece of my work – the articulation of the history of the public/private distinction, and hopefully, its ultimate dismantling is the thing that I most care about.

January’s “Blood on Our Hands: Dealing Ethically with the Problems of Husbandry” got a lot of discussions going about our responsibilities when we eat, and it drew some interesting discussion with my colleagues. There is a very fragile and beginning awareness in the world that the lives that livestock lead have something to do with us – but the full implications of that are very new to most people.

I didn’t write most of the post that was my favorite from February – instead, I borrowed an article for Alternet. But the discussion that this essay on living in the US with food stamps as your only source of income (something 7 million Americans are forced into) had a fascinating discussion attached to it. I don’t always have time to comment a lot in the discussions after my posts, and I trust that my readers will make most of the salient points anyway, but I always read them, and this one “Life With Food Stamps as your Only Income” stayed with me a long, long time.

Chores are a dirty word in most houses – those things no one wants to do. The funny thing is that while the amount of time spent on chores expands when you have animals, so does the pleasure of doing them. It probably seems strange to people that I wrote:

On a farm, chores are something else – they are bookends to each day, a formal structure like the forms of a sonnet or musical scales that shape the day. They can be speeded up, slowed down, slightly elided and occasionally contracted out, but for the most part, they are there, implacable, eternal and oddly pleasurable.

It is occasionally hard to get going out to the barn, but I genuinely love doing chores – and the connection that it brings me to the many creatures in my life. In March in “On Chores” I found myself trying to explain the inexplicable – why one would want to go out on a cold morning and haul hay and water. But I do.

It isn’t just contrarianism that made me write my earth day posts. I definitely annoyed some people writing several posts about “Why I Hate Earth Day” and “Why I Hate Earth Day Redux: The Road to Hell in Baby Steps” - why was I hatin’ on something that was so full of good intentions – particularly on the 40th anniversary?

I really, really miss having Zuska as a co-blogger – I still read her over at Scientopia, but it isn’t quite the same. She pushed me to do a piece about what it is like to eat on food stamps that I think goes at least a little bit beyond the “hey, I’m the governor of some state and I don’t have to trade my food stamps for toilet paper or cook on an illegal hot plate in a motel room, so great, I can eat fine on food stamps” nonsense that we so often see. My May favorite is “Eating Poor” then – and I wish I still had Zuska here to push me harder!

Some of these are hard to sort out – I liked several things I wrote in one month. But my fave from June is easy – “Why Gay Marriage is Good for Everyone.” This is obviously an issue very near and dear to my house, since I have gay parents, but I don’t generally take on this subject directly. But this is a place where I think it is deeply relevant to the subjects of this blog.

Enter gay marriage. Gay people may choose each other from love, from the same emotions that motivate heterosexual couples, may live together from love, may care deeply about the religious institution of their marriage (and any discussion of religion and gay marriage cannot ignore the fact that many gay people were married, as my parents were, in their churches and synagogues and covens before they could marry in their states) but they have not had the luxury of pretending that the economic, family and legal ties of marriage are not central to the institution. No gay person can ever rest content that they will be permitted at a hospital bedside for their spouse without a big shiny pile of paperwork. No gay person can ever be a parent without worrying about who counts, and how the schools will treat them and their partner. No gay person can write their will or establish guardianship for their children without a worry. No child of gay parents gets to grow up without hearing some idiot say “she’s not your real mother” or “he’s not your real Dad.” No gay family can count on getting social security if a partner dies or health care from every employer, or coverage for the kids from the non-biological parent.

Gay people, once in love, have done society a signal service by simply placing a renewed emphasis on the legal, social and financial benefits of marriage – they have forced us to stop talking *only* about love, and start talking about money and benefits and rights and legal protections – and what those things are for, about the compelling interest society has (if, indeed, it has one – I think it does) in creating stable families and households.

I try and place my farm in the context of agriculture – historically, the world picture, American history. Of course, it is only a half-picture, but I do think it matters to see ourselves outside ourselves, at least as much as we can (and Greenpa’s suggestion that we start a “Journal of Agricultural Failures” may be my single favorite comment ever!) So July’s fave is “Putting Me in My Place.” It is one that has come back to me several times recently, particularly because I’m working on an essay expanding this idea – how the fact that women do most of the world’s farming means that we will never have a fully industrialized agriculture:

This is one of the reason the world’s farms, despite enormous effort to expand, consolidate and mechanize them, are mostly small, and probably always will be. Because the vast majority of agrarian women in the world, just like me, must do their farmwork with their babies on their heels and their children or grandchildren interrupting them to ask questions. To get bigger, a farm must be able to support two farmers – one to do the local work – to manage those animals kept close to the house, to tend those fields that can be handled with a hoe or a digging stick, to tend the household garden, and one to do the work with draft animals or tractors and other dangerous tools, further away from the home, while the home-farmer guards and watches the children.

In August the kidding was over, and there were really cute pictures of baby goats. How could “Final Goat Round-Up” not be my favorite?

Debates within the peak oil community get a lot of passions going, so it isn’t surprising that so much attention came to the arguments that Rob Hopkins and John Michael Greer were having, or that I felt the need to get add my two cents in “I Can Save the World Better than You Can, Nyah, Nyah!” Most of all, I really feel like the debates in the community get us closer to a useful picture of a future world than focusing on what we agree on.

In October, I really enjoyed sharing my blog with a number of fellow bloggers who did most of the work of transmitting what happened at the ASPO USA conference – in many ways, that was the best part of the whole month. I particularly liked John Bell’s insight into the breakout sessions that I missed due to various being-on-the-board things that kept me out of the actual sessions.

I’ve still got one more day to write something absolutely perfectly utterly brilliant for November (Sure, that’ll happen ;-)), but so far, my fave is my meditation on my brilliant colleague Mike the Mad Biologist’s outrage about deficit reductionism. I identify generally with the left, but here I find myself breaking with the American left, simply because I don’t believe we have the resource base to support the kind of economic growth that deficit spending depends heavily on – but neither do I buy the American conserative proposition that that means we have to screw over the poor and vulnerable. So my fave so far is “Not Deficit Reductionism, Misplaced Priorities.”

All in all, it has been an interesting year! More coming!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 ET
    November 29, 2010

    Have you ever addressed the issue of too many humans?
    If not, I’ll play Zuska and urge you to write about this topic.

  2. #2 darwinsdog
    November 29, 2010

    I enjoy reading your blog, Sharon, but I don’t much like Seed Media Group or the ScienceBlogs format. I feel that Seed has an agenda and is biased. To their credit, they do seem to allow individual bloggers a reasonable degree of autonomy and freedom of speech, but the people they invite to blog for them are, for the most part, those who they feel will more or less support their ideological program, or represent a token voice to the contrary for the sake of appearing more objective. With few exceptions – such as Darren Naish and yourself – I find that the bloggers support a pro-corporate, pro-governmental regulation, pro-academic elitist.. agenda, &/or are simply hateful. Pam Ronald is an example of the former and Zuska was an example of the latter. Sorry that you miss Zuska but I don’t. Her blog reeked of misandry.

    ..my larger work in undermining the “personal action doesn’t count” narrative.

    “Personal action” is the only thing that does count. This was one of the main points Thoreau endeavored to make, in his writing and by the personal example of his life. “Big political action” is meaningless. It will always serve the interests of politicians’ corporate overlords, against the good of the people. So look out for the well being of yourself and your immediate family, I say (and I believe Thoreau would agree) and if everyone does the same, the aggregate will take care of itself.

    Keep up the good work, Sharon. Your blend of goats & chickens with global food & energy issues, is an inspired mix. I’d prefer that you weren’t besmirched by association with Seed but that’s just my personal opinion.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 29, 2010

    Sharon, has it been a year? Well, I’m glad you’re here, glad you’ve stayed, and you have a great blog.

    Darwinsdog: I’d like to respond in part to your comment. As a mere blogger, I have very little to do with who the management decides to ask on board. You are probably right that there are biases, but I can’t confirm or deny. I do, frankly, think that those making the decisions as to whom to ask are not being as intentional as your comment suggests, for two reasons: 1) I don’t think they are thinking along philosophical lines at all. I see no evidence of that whatsoever, so if they are, they are an OOM more clever about it that I can detect and doing a great job hiding it; and 2) If there is a bias it might be towards one ultimate thing … marketing/readership and thus involving two or three things, such as published authors (Casaubon’s, eg.), or controversy (thus some of the harshness you detect) and so on.

    Regarding: “they do seem to allow individual bloggers a reasonable degree of autonomy and freedom of speech,”

    That is pretty much a mis statement. I could read that phrase and figure that “a reasonable degree” means “but there are limits.” The truth is that we have one rule: No profanities in the title of your post. That’s it. So your’s is an understatement.

    I’m not sure what you mean by not liking the “format” … since there are changes apparently being planned in format (or at least, what I think of as “format”) then this is a good time to be specific. Any suggestions you make in comments would likely be passed on to those in charge of that sort of thing. I’m not sure if we are on the same page with the word “format”..

    G

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    November 29, 2010

    As I understand it, even the obscenities in the post title rule has been violated without any interesting consequences now and again ;-). Seriously, Scienceblogs doesn’t put any restrictions on content, and they have been supportive, I gather, of writers who pushed limits – PZ Myers’s blog may not be my personal favorite, but when he did interesting things with a Catholic host that got him in a lot of trouble from a lot of directions, Seed never bowed. If I’m going to push limits in other ways, that’s the kind of place I want to work. There are simply a lot of other blog sites where I could not say some of the things I say.

    I agree with Greg that it isn’t as organized as you think it is – I do think there’s maybe some measure of tokenism – for example, I suspect one of the reasons I was selected is because I’m an overt theist and Seed wanted to counteract the impression it was an atheist-only site. But if Seed is using my theism, that’s fine with me – I’m using their atheist’s readership for my own evil purposes, and I’m cool with the deal ;-).

    ET, I’ve written a lot about population over the years, including a chapter in _Depletion and Abundance_. I will put it on the agenda for more material soon.

  5. #5 darwinsdog
    November 29, 2010

    If there is a bias it might be towards one ultimate thing … marketing/readership and thus involving.. controversy (thus some of the harshness you detect) and so on.

    Exactly.

    Seed Media Group is a limited liability company (LLC) and as such their “bias” or “ideological program” consists of one thing: generating revenue. When a conflict between doing, saying, sponsoring, promoting.. the “right thing” and generating revenue arises, as it always will, we don’t even have to wonder which way they will respond. They will necessarily respond so as to enhance their bottom line. Hence the mindless & annoying spam at the top & to the right. Hence Myers & Brayton, et al, for the sake of titillation of a bored consumership.

    It bugs me that someone such as Sharon, who has something important to say, should be used by an LLC for the sake of attracting a readership who will see & “hopefully” respond to the ads. Sharon may feel that it’s worth the price of such pimping in order for her message to reach a wider audience. I don’t agree. The example people set by their lives, by what they’re willing and unwilling to accommodate, speak louder than what they actually say. If it’s important to conserve resources it fails to convey that message by blogging in a forum designed for the purpose of marketing goods. Thinking people make this connection, and see the hypocrisy.

    PZ Myers.. did interesting things with a Catholic host that got him in a lot of trouble from a lot of directions, Seed never bowed.

    So what did he do, violate a cracker? Such theatrics may draw an audience that’s easily beguiled, and hence amenable to advertising, but isn’t what I’d consider very engaging content. It exemplifies what I object to about Seed’s marketing strategy, rather. Tacky. To be fair, I occasionally enjoy PZ’s posts about mollusks or developmental biology. Most of the time, however, I consider him nothing more than a marketing tool being used by a for profit LLC. I hate to see Sharon so used. Not even if she realizes that she’s being used, not even if she agrees to it for the sake of reaching a wider readership. Again: “The medium is the message.”

    I suspect one of the reasons I was selected is because I’m an overt theist and Seed wanted to counteract the impression it was an atheist-only site.

    Are you? I realize that you take your kids to synagogue & all, but are you actually a believer in or devotee of Yahweh/Jehova/God the Father? The Guy who ordered Joshua to commit genocide against the Canaanites/Palestinians? The Guy who’d have His followers kill gays by throwing rocks at them ’til they die? Didn’t think so. So you see, Seed only wanted a “safe” token? See how they operate? See how they use you?

    ..if Seed is using my theism, that’s fine with me – I’m using their atheist’s readership for my own evil purposes, and I’m cool with the deal ;-).

    I know. You’re a grown woman who thinks for herself. You’ve made your calculated decision to use this forum fully aware that you’re being used in return. I don’t like it, though, not so much because it degrades you somewhat, but because it taints your message – which I consider important – with hypocrisy. There are other fora less compromised you could disseminate your message from.

  6. #6 Sharon Astyk
    November 30, 2010

    DD, “Biblical Literalist” and “Theist” are not synonymous. I’m not the former, I am the latter.

    What fora would you suggest? The reality is that there are very few sites that would have as wide an audience that would offer as free an editorial policy. What alternative do you propose?

    Sharon

  7. #7 darwinsdog
    November 30, 2010

    DD, “Biblical Literalist” and “Theist” are not synonymous.

    I know. Sorry.

    What fora would you suggest? The reality is that there are very few sites that would have as wide an audience..

    Good question. It may be true that Seed offers the widest audience. I don’t really know. Back in the ’90s I would have recommended Yahoo Clubs, but I lost interest when the Clubs format was switched to Groups. I like The Chatelaine’s Keys format better than this. You could blog from there, perhaps. Perhaps you could use the same fora Greenpa or Crunchy Chicken uses. Maybe you could make use of Facebook’s Notes function. Many of these contain spam & are tainted by commercialism, though. My son has set up his own servers for projects he’s been involved with in the past, such as his iguana care website when he was a teen or his anti-Animas/La Plata Project site. These did not involve near the traffic this forum attracts, of course. Tell you what, I’ll ask him what he would suggest. He’s far more of a computer & internet nerd than I am. Btw, he became the father of an eight pound, 12.5 ounce baby boy on Nov. 22.

  8. #8 Jason
    November 30, 2010

    Among the impractical answers to evil corporatist Seed is, wait for it, dum-da-da-dum FACEBOOK. Wow. Darwinsdog never ceases to entertain.

  9. #9 darwinsdog
    November 30, 2010

    Among the impractical answers to evil corporatist Seed is.. FACEBOOK.

    Okay, Jason. So scratch that dumb idea. I was only trying to brainstorm alternatives and it did occur to me that some of those suggestions were as “tainted by commercialism” as Seed is. So either make a suggestion yourself or fuck off with your sarcasm.

  10. #10 Sharon Astyk
    November 30, 2010

    Mazel tov on the new grandson! How wonderful.

    The thing is, staying at my old site means that people have to know I’m there – or come up with the right google combination. The merits of being here are simply that it is a more public place – the atmosphere is nicer in my kitchen, but the wider message gets out further if I stand out on the street corner. If you come up with a better alternative, I’d consider it, but I don’t think there is a perfect compromise.

    Sharon

  11. #11 Jason
    December 1, 2010

    So either make a suggestion yourself or fuck off with your sarcasm.

    DD,
    I have no problem with her current location. As Sharon stated they have no (repeat, no) editorial input on what she writes. You may dislike the neighbors, but I- shocker- disagree with you and think many of the science bloggers are excellent.

    Apologies for the shadenfreude. I really do usually find your posts entertaining. Sometimes I worry about you a little but I do not mean you any ill will.

  12. #12 SheilaC
    December 7, 2010

    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for this yearly update! I missed the “Life with Food Stamps…” essay the first time around and I will have to read it later when I have more time. I have a personal interest in the topic because my family had to resort to food stamps several times when I was young. Thanks again for all of your insights in 2010 and I’m looking forward to reading your blog(s) in 2011!!

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.