The short version: A great reference with a great title. The book itself is laid out in a logical manner, going in orders of magnitudes of carbon emis...moreThe short version: A great reference with a great title. The book itself is laid out in a logical manner, going in orders of magnitudes of carbon emissions equivalent (under 10 grams to 1 million tons and beyond). The author combines both top-down and bottom-up approaches in calculating his footprints, which is no easy task given the interconnectedness of everything we produce and consume nowadays.
Some interesting tidbits from the book:
-How bad really are bananas? They are a very low-carbon food: they are grown without greenhouses, shipped with minimal packaging via large cargo ships, the most efficient form of long-distance transportation. Keep eating them! -Bottled water has 1000x the carbon footprint as the stuff coming out of the faucet. Avoid anywhere you have decent tap water. -Plastic bags are nasty for a bunch of reasons, but are not a big carbon concern. -Meat (especially from ruminants like cows and sheep) and dairy have huge footprints due to the generation of methane.
The book isn’t perfect. On occasion, his methodology is hard to understand. References are provided in the back, but they are not always adequately explained. I’m still trying to figure out what a “climate-change related death” is and how it is calculated. In addition, the book is from the UK, so sometimes it’s a little difficult relating his experiences to the ones in North America, even though he converts everything to pounds and has included a lot of Canadian and American content.
But those are minor quibbles. The content is informative and presented in an appealing and accessible way. Above all, it is his approach and his writing that really sold me on the book. In the first few pages, the author stresses the need to look at the big picture, to pick the right battles for reducing carbon emissions, to not succumb to misdirection and obfuscation, and to hone in on areas of your personal life that work for you to produce the most bang for your buck.
He frankly admits to the fuzziness of the numbers and that there is a lot of room for improvement. But his real goal is to produce a resource with ballpark figures so that people can wrap their heads around this really complex issue. I found this aspect really refreshing as I went through the book; it’s evident that he is a subject matter expert and has poured a lot of energy into this, but he never comes across as being boisterous and authoritative. He even provides an email address for improvements and suggestions.
I don’t buy too many books nowadays, but I’m glad I got this one: it’s a keeper. It’s for anyone who thinks, to quote the author, “climate change is a big deal, it’s caused by humans, and we can do something about it”, and is interested in some carbon awareness. Highly recommended. (less)
Ehrenreich’s journey through Florida, Maine, and Minnesota provides a brief but powerful glimpse into the lives of millions of people living at or bel...moreEhrenreich’s journey through Florida, Maine, and Minnesota provides a brief but powerful glimpse into the lives of millions of people living at or below the poverty line. Ehrenreich outlined the rules that she had to follow in the beginning of the book: No resorting to her middle-upper class education or skills, accepting the highest paying job offered, and finding the lowest priced housing possible. A majority of her findings should not come as a surprise: low-wage jobs exact heavy physical and mental tolls, management abuse their position and power to control their subordinates, large corporations enjoy record profits on the shoulders of the working class, and acquiring even barely decent housing is no easy task. Coupled with low job security and the stress of living day to day without a medical safety net, it is a sobering reminder that day to day life for a huge portion of Americans was far from desirable even in times of peak economic prosperity (This book was published in 2001).
There were specific of this book that resonated with me. Reading through her adventures of waitressing in Florida, I totally get the horrors of being slammed with limited staff; the terror and the chaos associated with that situation still gives me nightmares. Her account of the franchise owner’s attitude towards his employees at the maid service in Maine reminded me of people I knew, franchise owners who cut hard working employees’ hours for being sick or being in car accidents, criticizing them for being lazy and telling them to just suck it up. (And they wonder why they can’t keep any staff!) The drive to accrue profit and the justification to wield power over others at the expense of human decency and compassion are both really evident here.
The writing is both snappy and descriptive - I really felt for the people who work alongside Ehrenreich. There are some sections that drag, especially her dealings at Walmart. Some people have also criticized Ehrenreich of being a tourist. There were several occasions where she needed help and resorted to her middle class life to make ends meet, but all in all I believed she did a good job in embracing the life of someone living from cheque to cheque. Of course, it is impossible to artificially replicate the stress of working two jobs because you have to, of having no prospects to look forward to, and the terror of having no support or buffer when times are tough.
Overall, the book really captured the psychology and mindset of the people that have lived below the poverty line all their lives. Thrift stores are not just a novelty destination, they are a necessity. Going to the doctor is just too expensive; just keep popping Tylenols and ibprofens to keep that pain under control. Sharing living accommodations in dilapidated houses or living out of motels are the norm; hopefully the car holds up and gas doesn’t get too expensive. There are no prospects, no hope on the horizon: just more burdens to shoulder as the body wears down and the mind dulls.
This book is highly recommended. I would actually like to see a revisit of the investigation in this book in 2011; I would imagine the dynamics are much different with both a soft job and housing market.(less)
The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television is an excellent companion for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into the myriad connections an...moreThe Wire: Urban Decay and American Television is an excellent companion for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into the myriad connections and themes of one of television’s most complicated shows. This collection of essays runs the full gamut of topics, from exploring the forces that shaped two of the main characters in Season Four in Ralph and Luara Bolf-Beliveau’s excellent “Posing Problems and Picking Fights: Critical Pedagogy and the Corner Boys” to examining homophobic attitudes of HBO forum posters towards the Wire’s arguably most popular character in Kathleen LeBesco’s “Gots to Get Got: Social Justice and Audience Response to Omar Little”.
Historical explorations of Baltimore, character studies, television narrative complexity - there’s a LOT of meat here. But then again, the show is so rich that I felt that there is absolutely no shortage of material and perspectives for another collection.
Because the collection covers such a broad spectrum of topics, its appeal may fluctuate from essay to essay. I would find myself immersed in one section (Jason Read’s Stringer Bell’s Lament: Violence and Legitimacy in Contemporary Capitalism), only to be completely disengaged and outright confused in another (Kevin McNeilly’s Dislocating America: Agnieszka Holland Directs “Moral Midgetry” did nothing for me because I’m unfamiliar with the process of directing). I expect this to be the case for most readers; thus it’s tough to throw out a solid recommendation for every Wire fan out there.
Still, I suspect that if you enjoyed the series enough to seek out additional analysis, there’s definitely something in here for you. Personally, this book has earned a place on my bookshelf, as the Wire has cemented its spot in my DVD collection as television’s most engaging and demanding show.
I checked this out based on a recommendation from my professor, a lifelong educator who’s deeply immersed in the field of leadership and organizationa...moreI checked this out based on a recommendation from my professor, a lifelong educator who’s deeply immersed in the field of leadership and organizational development. He stated, on no uncertain terms, that this was one of the best reads out there on talent development. Not just talent in one area, ALL talent.
The central premise, which is repeated for effect throughout the book, is that “skill is insulation that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.” That insulation is a substance we learned in high-school biology called myelin. Building myelin allows impulse circuits to fire more precisely, more quickly, and more consistently, all of which contribute to skill improvement. Practice and repetition are crucial to this increase in myelination activity. Instead of focusing on genetic and environmental factors, Coyle proposes that we think of skill development as a muscle and an exercise in building myelin. The book focuses on three crucial elements that allow people to develop their skills and become experts in a wide range of fields, from sports to music and art:
Deep Practice - Repetition is important, but Coyle explores what it means to practice effectively - through focusing both on the small details and the big picture, and by actively utilizing failure as an opportunity to improve. One of the best examples in the book is provided early on, dubbed the Girl Who Did a Month’s Worth of Practice in Six Minutes. Just like a baby taking its first steps and falling, skills are developed much more quickly through doing and failing, attending to mistakes, and trying again. A really good quote in this section from Samuel Beckett: “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”
Ignition - The fuel necessary for the repetition required for skill development. Coyle scours the world for examples of talent hotbeds and teases out some primal cues that stirs the fires necessary for the commitment necessary towards being world experts. One interesting finding is that effort-based language (eg. you are working hard) is more effective for igniting than intelligence based language (eg. you are really smart) because it speaks to the very core of the learning experience (by building myelin and improving circuits).
Master Coaching - The guidance necessary to cultivate world class talent. Coyle interviews various sports and talent coaches and learns that good coaches generally have a toolset of depth of knowledge, perceptiveness of personalities, directly instructive communication skills, and an innate sense of empathy for their students. Not surprisingly, these qualities of master coaching are also a result of years of practice and myelin building.
Overall, the book was a great, quick read. Coyle litters the book with interesting anecdotes while keeping the pacing lean and the content organized. That’s tough to do. I learned a few things that could be beneficial to my own personal development, which is always nice. Some of his findings and statements sound a little too definitive, but it does make for a persuasive piece of writing. If you’re looking for a detailed exploration of the connections between myelination and skill development, this is not the book for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.(less)
Usually books about leadership, teamwork, and organizational culture bore me to death, but this one is different; I finished it in around two hours, a...moreUsually books about leadership, teamwork, and organizational culture bore me to death, but this one is different; I finished it in around two hours, and it was an interesting read all the way through. As the description notes, Lencioni crafts a fictional but realistic story around a high-tech Silicon Valley startup in crisis: although they have better technology, expertise, and initial investments, in recent months they have been rapidly ceding their advantage to competitors. A new CEO renowned for her experience in building teams is brought in to shake things up; the story revolves around her dealings with the various personalities within the company and her attempts to steer the company around.
The five dysfunctions of a team outlined in this book are quite simple, and their results are also outlined:
1.) Absence of trust LEADS TO need for invulnerability 2.) Fear of conflict LEADS TO fear of conflict 3.) Lack of commitment LEADS TO ambiguity 4.) Avoidance of accountability LEADS TO low standards 5.) Inattention to results LEADS TO individual status and ego over the team
I’m not going to go into too much detail here; read the book. Many of us have seen and been part of touchy feely team-building exercises. Chances are they work for a little while, and then we settle back into our old habits. Lencioni even admits that "while there are certainly some benefits derived from rigorous and creative outdoor activities involving collective support and cooperation, those benefits do not always translate directly to the working world.”
But he contends that it is teamwork - not finance, not strategy, not technology - that is the ultimate competitive advantage, because it is at once so powerful and so rare. So it’s worthwhile to focus on building one properly if you have a group of highly skilled people who have to constantly work together. (This emphasis on teambuilding might not be relevant for short term “hot groups” that are just put together for short durations to get a task done and then disbanded afterwards).
This storytelling approach works wonders for material that might otherwise be too fluffy or abstract; I was under the impression that it was a bunch of short fictional examples to depict specific concepts, but I was pleasantly surprised at the long continuous tale. Its uninterrupted length gives the reader an opportunity to relate to the various characters within the story, and keeps him/her engaged throughout. Indeed, I immediately began to associate those fictional characters to past team members in the real world: the insufferable know-it-all, the socially inept and tactless, the genius introverts, the awesome dude that fills whatever role that needs doing to get the job done. They’re all here.
On a personal level, I also recognized my own personal dysfunctions in team situations, and will seek to work on them in the future. Two examples:
1.) On many teams, I just want to get my stuff done, without regard for the performance of the overall team. Putting the individual ego aside is tough to do without someone holding you accountable. 2.) I actively avoid interpersonal conflict, even when it would be prudent and constructive to engage in it. It’s a character flaw.
In summary, I highly recommend the book. It’s a super easy read, simple but engaging (a difficult thing to pull off), and very relevant if you spend any time slogging it out with a group of individuals instead of working as a team. I’m sure we’ve all been there.(less)
Four Fish provided a very good overview of the state of wild fisheries and fish farms through the eyes of someone who genuinely cares about fish and f...moreFour Fish provided a very good overview of the state of wild fisheries and fish farms through the eyes of someone who genuinely cares about fish and fishing. After reading Bottomfeeder, I was wary that it may cover a lot of similar terrain, but this actually provided an interesting and thought-provoking perspective about how people view fish. There were some really intriguing insights here. For example, salmon was perceived to be a luxury item, brought down to the masses. Cod was perceived to be a workman, an everyday staple, until one day, it wasn’t. Bluefin tuna was perceived to the pinnacle of evolution, and subduing it via modern fishing technology represented man’s triumph over nature.
The conclusions are excellent and well-thought out; Greenberg argued that we need both new management strategies for wild fisheries and new developments in fish farms if we are to continue to rely on fish as a source of protein. Within the realm of aquaculture, one of the most important arguments he made was that we need to devote our energies to raise fish species that are actually amenable to being farmed. Rationality dictates that farmed fish species should tolerate containment, net us surplus protein (we get more than we put in), are hardy, easy to maintain, and can breed freely without fuss.
The kicker is that all four main fish species in the book are actually terrible candidates for sustaining the world. Our fish preferences stem from culture and circumstance and are in reality terribly irrational. Salmon is just about the hardest, most annoying thing to farm; sea bass is no better. Bluefin tuna was considered not fit for cats to the Japanese a few generations ago; now they are almost extinct due to rabid and insatiable demand because it could be frozen at sea. Cod was the staple of nations not because of its taste or nutrition, but for its abundance, low cost, and extraordinary blandness. They have fared extremely poorly in a world of tremendous seafood demand, and farmed salmon and cod along with ranched bluefin are not solutions to anything.
Greenberg looks at more sensible alternatives that cater to our irrational tastes. Instead of cod, tra (the Vietnamese catfish) and tilapia provide the same white bland meat (there are concerns about how Asian fish farms raise them, unfortunately not covered in the book.) Instead of sea bass, farmed barramundi from Australia. Instead of bluefin tuna, he looks at farmed kahala from Hawaii. They are by no means the most sustainable choices, but they are far more sensible in terms of resource and energy use better than what they replace.
There are weaknesses in the earlier portions of the book. This is definitely a personal preference thing, but I found it difficult to relate to his personal history about why fishing meant a lot to him. The Sea Bass chapter also really laboured to draw me in as a reader; perhaps because the history of sea bass pales in comparison to epic and tragic histories of the salmon, cod, and tuna fisheries. But towards the end of the chapter, he really grabbed my attention again and kept it throughout the rest of the book.
Overall, similar to Bottomfeeder, I would recommend this book both for someone who’s just learning about the issues and for those who are already pretty knowledgeable about the plight of the oceans and are seeking to understand finned fish aquaculture. I really enjoyed its structured format, going from one main species of focus to another; that aspect made it easy to follow and ideal to quick pickup and read sessions. (less)
Brilliant Book. Davis seems to have been EVERYWHERE, but never loses that sense of awe and wonder that pushes the reader to genuinely think about huma...moreBrilliant Book. Davis seems to have been EVERYWHERE, but never loses that sense of awe and wonder that pushes the reader to genuinely think about human experiences beyond his/her own. He notes that cultures and languages are being lost at a rate greater than biodiversity loss, and the wonders of human achievements and resilience are being wiped out. Culture is a funny thing: It can unite societies, but it is immensely fragile. Thousands of years of adaptations, oral history and knowledge, can be be wiped out within a single generation of ignorance and neglect.
The book explored the various ways different cultures found their way in the world. Some examples: Aborigines practiced environmental stewardships for TENS of thousands of years, although they have no need for the concept of linear time. Polynesian navigators became human supercomputers in order to find specks of land across the vast Pacific Ocean without compasses, sextants, and GPS's. Nomadic tribes in Northern Kenya accrued huge herds of cattle as an adaptation to a land of recurring drought. These practices were all woven elaborately into the customs and traditions of each unique culture; it’s all very fascinating stuff.
In modern times, we have a tendency to dismiss these incredible and ingenious achievements that allowed indigenous people to survive and thrive. Sometimes it's unintentional; other times it's outright disturbing. Heyerdahl of the Kon-Tiki fame, ignited the public’s imagination with his voyage across the Pacific, but dismissed the reams of evidence that pointed to this great achievement was of Polynesian origins. An Australian politician in the 20th century declared that “there is no scientific evidence the the aboriginal is a human being at all”, a commonly held notion that led almost to the extinction of one of the oldest and continuous ways of life in the world. Development agencies, with the noble intentions of helping nomadic tribes settled, destroyed a culture that was developed around surviving drought.
All of these intriguing insights address the central question of the book: Why are cultures worth saving? I’ll leave with one of the most powerful passages of the book:
"Were I to distill a single message from these Massey Lectures, it would be that culture is not trivial. It is not decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers we chant. It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to make sense out of the infinite sensations of consciousness, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has either. Culture is a body of laws and traditions, a moral and ethical code that insultates a people from the barbaric heart that history suggests lies just beneath the surface of all human societies and indeed all humans. Culture alone allows us to reach, as Abraham Lincoln said, for the better angels of our nature. (p. 198)"
I highly recommend this book. As modern Western culture continues to grapple with issues of depression, meaning, and what it means to become an adult human being, I can't help but feel that there are things we can learn from other cultures that can help us live more resilient and enriching lives.(less)
Someone compared this to a seafood version of the Omnivore’s Dilemma. While I don’t think Grescoe is quite as philosophical and illuminating about his...moreSomeone compared this to a seafood version of the Omnivore’s Dilemma. While I don’t think Grescoe is quite as philosophical and illuminating about his adventures into seafood as Pollan was about his meals, there were still quite a few aspects of the book that were fascinating, even to the most seafood conscious of consumers. One of the things I liked was that he gave credit where credit is due, even if it IS McDonald’s sourcing sustainable shrimp, or his praise of the Japanese’s incredibly detailed seafood labeling system even as they continue to do retarded things like stockpiling whale meat with no demand.
While most of the information isn't super new to me, a few interesting nuggets stuck out in my mind. One was his conversation with Eric Ripert, who if you are remotely a foodie, you know this is a very thoughtful and brilliant chef who champions sustainability on a regular basis. But Grescoe finds that he serves monkfish at La Bernadin, which is a ghastly option (not just in appearance); trawls used to catch them literally destroy the ocean floor along with all sorts of bottom-dwelling species. Grescoe states that sourcing local yet overfished species is not enough; thousands of other restaurants without the ability to do things in a proper way will still follow the trends set by these top chefs. How the movers and shakers view seafood significantly influence trends for years to come. Grescoe summarizes the situation with a scathing indictment:
“The prestige of the world’s leading chefs legitimizes the pillage. It is not necessarily the fault of New York’s star seafood chefs. It is, however, their doing.”
Another point that was unequivocally hammered home was that Asian farmed shrimp are probably the most environmentally and socially destructive seafood out there. Gresoe went to India to look at farms there and paints a horrific picture, far worse than what my imagination can conjure up. Just a few of the details:
-The destruction of mangrove forests vital as fish nurseries and tsunami buffers for shrimp farm locations. -Monopolizing land and water resources that once went to local fishing and rice production. -Gobbling up two pounds of edible wild fish to produce one pound of shrimp -Minimal short term profit (after rising feed costs) and maximum local social, economic, and ecological damage to countless poor fishing villages. -Wanton dosing of piscicides, antibiotics, suspected neurotoxicants, bleaching powder, and caustic soda in the ponds and in the marketed products.
Gresoce writes that “food safety experts have discovered that some people who believe they have shellfish allergies are actually exhibiting reactions, like itching and swelling, to antibiotic residues in farmed species.” I know so many people that have developed new and recent seafood allergies. If even a few of them were associated with these practices...
Endless popcorn shrimp - no thanks, Red Lobster.
Grescoe writes: “The Cantonese of southern China joke about their voraciousness: they like to say if it has four legs, and isn’t a table, they’ll eat it.”
I'm Chinese, and I can vouch for the authenticity of that statement. Grescoe looked at the different seafood meals served at a fancy Shanghai restaurant through the concept of trophic levels. A good rule of thumb is that the lower you eat on the trophic level, the better for your health and for the environment. Eating jellyfish at a trophic level of 2 is more energy efficient than eating a napoleon wrasse at a 4 (roughly 100 times) and much less toxic, as toxins tend to bioaccumulate the higher up you go. The rule doesn’t always hold true though. Sea cucumbers (at a 2.3) are being overharvested badly. Frankly, I don’t understand why, they have no taste and the texture is like gummy shoe leather. One of those Chinese obsession with wealth and status that I wish the culture could move beyond.
Grescoe summarizes with a list of seafood choices: Avoid, Sometimes, and Always. The red list includes things like farmed Atlantic salmon, Bluefin tuna, atlantic cod (what’s left of it), and farmed shrimp from Asia. Good choices include farmed Arctic char (on land based systems), herring, sardines, farmed oysters and mussels, and jellyfish. Get used to eating the last, there's going to be more and more of it.
Personal note: For a more comprehensive list, go visit seachoice.org for their guide or their iphone app. I use it all the time.
Overall, this book is recommended both for someone who’s just learning about the issues and for those who are already pretty knowledgeable about the plight of the oceans and are looking for some interesting stories. The writing is not the greatest, but it does the job. I was encouraged to look for some local, in season Pacific sardines (Trophic level of 2.6) after this passage:
“As I pressed my fork on the firm fillets, fat-jeweled juices seeped from the skin, which was still iridescent where it had not been charred on the grill. The flesh was firm, salty, and white, and the flavour was pure protein, the healthiest kind you can eat: low in saturated fats, mercury, and dioxins, full of essential fatty acids.”