Book#8- Meatonomics, by David Robinson Simon

Right off the bat, I have to agree with the reviews that this is a book that EVERYONE- vegans, meat-eaters, and everyone in between- needs to read.  Meatonomics, by David Robinson Simon, is a very in-depth look at, particularly, the meat and dairy industries.  If you care about your health, your food, your money, or your conscience, it’s imperative that you get the facts.  And Simon’s book delivers just that.  Simon presents the economical side of the meat-eating debate, although he does touch on the areas of compassion, health, and the environment as well.  It’s impossible to talk about the meat and dairy industries by talking exclusively from one angle, because they’re all important and they’re all related.

Simon talks also of the egg industry, of fish-farming, and how “organic” or “humanely-raised” does not mean much at all.  And lest you think he’s just spewing hot air, this book has extensive and well-documented citations.

I knew of the basics of these animal industries, and of factory-farming in general, but it’s the level of detail that’s fascinating, and the staggering costs associated with each of these cruel industries.  For instance, take government subsidies; most of us know that these subsidies are the reason why a gallon of cow’s milk appears to be so much cheaper than the equivalent amount of plant-based milk.  But the extensiveness of these subsidies is shocking.  And why do these subsidies even exist?  Because the meat and dairy industries are so powerful and have lobbied Congress for funding, and they have corrupted both the FDA and the USDA.  (I first learned of the FDA/USDA corruption in Skinny Bitch, another fantastically-informative book and one that is referenced here).  As an example, why is the USDA in charge of setting nutrition guidelines?  It’s the Department of Agriculture- the intent was to focus on farmers, real farmers, not these crazy,greedy, factory-farmers.  Who, BTW, have sufficiently influenced the USDA that the agency doesn’t shy away from promoting meat and cow’s milk as part of a healthy diet.

There’s a lot of information in this book, to some of which non-vegans may take offense.  But read it, I urge you, if you care about your dollar.

There are many things I don’t understand about non-vegans, but especially why they say things like, “I don’t eat read meat anymore” or “I only eat fish”, as if they’ve somehow made an improvement????  Understand that fish-farming might just be the cruelest industry there is; it’s certainly up there with the chicken/egg industry.

When we talk about animal rights, I’ve had meat-eaters stupidly (but genuinely) ask me, “So they should be able to vote?”  There are far more basic rights that animals deserve than being able to cast a ballot.  (Though I suspect that, if they could vote, our world politics might finally be fixed.)  The concept of “animal rights” means a right to live, a right to spread one’s wings, to nurture one’s young, a right to swim long distances.  A right to be free from the bonds of slavery.

A fleeting palatial pleasure is not worth a lifetime of torture for anyone.  And if it’s human rights you care more about, know that working in a slaughterhouse is one of the most dangerous professions out there.  And that the slaughter industry has a history of taking in undocumented laborers abusing their rights.

So, when you support meat and dairy (and fish and eggs, etc.), it’s a lose-lose situation for both you and me.

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Book#7- Walden on Wheels, by Ken Ilgunas

Imagine being a 20-something, going to grad school, and living in a van for two years.  Imagine the mental fortitude such a feat must require.  That was the main story of this latest book I read, Walden on Wheels, by Ken Ilgunas.

walden

I had mixed feelings as I read this book. Ken Ilgunas wrote his memoir about graduating college with $32,000 of debt, and the struggles and sacrifices required to pay it all off.  When he began by talking about how he was just an ok student in high school, and thus he couldn’t get any scholarships to college, I thought, “Well yeah, if you’re a slacker, no one’s going to reward you.  It pays to work hard in high school.”  Like all high-schoolers, he was programmed to aim for the best college he could get into, regardless of barriers.  So for his first year, he attends the relatively expensive Alfred University. After realizing how much debt he’d incurred in just that one year, he transferred to the much cheaper University of Buffalo.

He graduates with a B.A. in History and English, and $32,000 of debt.  All I could think was, “If you’re going to go into such great debt, why not pick a major that might be, I don’t know, lucrative?”  Not surprisingly, he continues unhappily working at Home Depot, but all the while, he’s itching for something more.  He’s got a yearning desire to go to Alaska and be free and, amazingly enough, he lands a job in Coldfoot, Alaska.  Thus starts a new chapter of his life.

He’s making $8-9 an hour working at the one hotel in town, which is a heck of ways to travel for a minimum wage job. But since he doesn’t need to pay for room, board, gas, etc., he’s about to send a significant chunk of his paycheck (sometimes 100%!) to chip away at his school debt. And Ilgunas is determined to pay off that load as soon as possible; it’s like a beast on his back, a black raincloud about him.  It’s a reminder that he’s not free.  And, more than ever, he wants to be free.

He does other (what seem to me to be) crazy things: he hitchhikes home to see his parents, he works for a conservation corps (alongside a bunch of troubled teens) in Mississippi, meets a girl and hitchhikes home with her, and gets a job as a park ranger in Alaska. How much of that would I do? Nada.  Do I care that I’m just living a boring, fettered existence with a predictable routine?  Nope.

Even though I wouldn’t do the seemingly-crazy things that he’s done, I still have to admire his tenacity, his resolve to pay off this debt.  I’ve been fortunate enough to not amass any student debt, nor to have debt of any kind, but I know that many people who have debt have it for years—maybe even decades—and pay it off slowly.

Actually, now that I think about it, I remember once when I had some debt.  It was when I had to buy a car because I had a job that just could not be gotten to any other way. It was on the Quantico Marine Corps base, so driving was the only option.  So, I had to get a loan for that, and it was my first time borrowing money. So it took me a few months to realize that interest was accruing on this loan; once I did realize it, I began paying it off as fast as possible.  I paid off that $17K+ loan within a year, and it felt so good to be rid of that burden.  I imagine that’s how Ilgunas felt once he’d finally paid off the last of his debt.

He managed to then get into grad school—at Duke, no less!—and resolved that he was never, ever going into debt again. So he used what little savings he had to buy a van, since he’d done some reading and hatched the idea that he would live in a van for his first semester at Duke.  It’s fascinating to read his account of vandwelling, the official term for living in one’s vehicle.  Amazing that he did not get caught.  After his first semester, he decided he liked this way of life so much that he just kept on doing it for the remainder of his Duke career.

I wonder what he’s doing now. At the end of the book, he was going back to Alaska; maybe being a ranger at the Gates of the Arctic National Forest felt like his true calling.  Maybe he’s still there.

So I think this is a very interesting book to read to make us re-consider what we think is essential. Maybe you won’t immediately get rid of all your extraneous possessions and start living in a large vehicle—I know I won’t!—but this book is interesting precisely because the author has such admirable qualities.  That despite not having the most fortunate circumstances, he set goals for himself and made them happen.

My next book will be Meatonomics, by David Simon.  I’ve heard mention of that book several times, so it’s apt that I finally read it!

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One day the thought of non-human animals in the circus will be a distant memory

The best weekend is one that is spent doing meaningful things, and I can definitely say that about this past weekend.  The misery that is otherwise known as the Ringling Brothers circus came to town, and animal rights activists were there to fight against the pro-circus propaganda.

PETA organized ten demos at the Verizon Center in DC- two on each of Thursday and Friday, and three on each of Saturday and Sunday- to show and tell people that the circus isn’t the beautiful, wondrous, happy place they imagine it to be.  I was able to make it to four demos- one on each day- and I joined both PETA staff and several volunteers in holding posters and standing on the sidewalk.  The stereotypical image that people must conjure up is that we’re screaming at people going to the circus, saying nasty things to them, but nothing could be further from the truth.  We have posters that are centered on the abuse of elephants trained to perform in the circus, but we don’t show anything graphic, and we stand silently, though we may also engage in conversation with passersby if they have some questions.  And although the posters are about elephants, we want all animals out of the circus.  All animals are abused.

Anti-Ringling demo on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

Anti-Ringling demo on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

While I didn’t get to witness anything as dramatic as someone tearing up their circus tickets upon learning of this abuse, there were some great results to our being there.  Several people thanked us for being there.  Some started talking to the volunteers/staff and it was amazing to see their faces change from one of defensiveness and anger, to one of amazement and clarity. People were shocked to find out that they’ve been so deceived by the circus.  Even kids who walked by expressed their anti-circus sentiments, some of them very colorfully!

Anti-Ringling demo on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Anti-Ringling demo on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

In my opinion, just being there, just being a presence, makes a world of difference.  Because even those people who pretended not to see our posters, who tried to hide their guilty faces as they walked into the Verizon Center, we might have planted some seed in them.  If not a seed of compassion, then at least a seed of doubt.  And by first seeing our posters, and then seeing the circus acts, these people might start to question if they can really, truly justify the subjugation of animals for cheap entertainment.

Anti-Ringling demo on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

Anti-Ringling demo on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

Please visit circuses.com and An Apology to Elephants to get more information about the treatment of animals in circuses, including undercover video.  And please spread the word to everyone- we need to get animals out of entertainment NOW!

Anti-Ringling demo on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.

Anti-Ringling demo on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.

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Book #6- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

I just finished reading The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.  It’s a book I’ve read once before , but it’s so good that it deserves a re-reading.  Many people are probably familiar with this book, or have at least heard of it.  I think it may also be a movie, but I’m not sure about that.

kiterunner

Hosseni sets this story in modern-day Afghanistan; actually, the first portion is pre-Taliban and the second portion is post-Taliban takeover.  The story is about a boy, Amir, who narrates this tale of his growing up in Afghanistan having never known his mother, but living with his father, whom he refers to as Baba; his father’s servant, Ali; and Ali’s son, Hassan.  Amir’s relationship with his father is very fragile and, for Amir, hard to read.  He always craves his father’s loving gestures, but so rarely receives them, and Amir’s best guess for this coldness is because he- Amir- killed Baba’s wife.

The relationship between Amir and Hassan is one of inseparable friends, but they are of different classes, so Amir will never publicly acknowledge his friendship with Hassan.  Hassan and Ali are Hazaras, so they are seen as lower people in Afghanistan.  The first part of the story, Amir and Hassan’s childhood, is all leading up to an unfortunate event that happened one day, and that forever changed the lives of both these boys.

Without giving away the whole story, what happened on that unfortunate day is that some bullies assaulted Hassan.  Amir, in hiding, was watching them, yet did nothing to stop the bullies because of his own cowardice.  Amir’s cowardice led to a shameful assault on Hassan by these bullies, and changed the demeanors of these two boys.  Hassan, the ever loyal, ever faithful servant, still served Amir, but he was now sullen and withdrawn.  And Amir, wracked by immense guilt by his inaction, becomes angry, defensive, and turns on Hassan.

It’s easy to feel hatred for Amir, who has betrayed his loyal friend and irreparably broken a connection.  But it’s hard to imagine, not having grown up in Afghanistan or in that time period, what any of us would have done.  It’s some assurance to know that Amir is not a monster, for the guilt of that experience haunts him constantly.

The Taliban move in; Amir and his Baba escape to America; Amir grows in a man and gets married; Baba gets very sick and dies soon after Amir’s wedding.  Another turning point in the story comes when Amir is contacted by Baba’s old friend Rahim Khan about something that Amir must do “to make things right”.

It’s from here to the end of the story that Amir really grows.  He exhibits some of his selfishness from childhood, but then he also shows the caring side of himself when he knows that has another life in his hands.

There’s a lot of sadness in this book—it made me cry, not surprisingly—but the book has generally an uplifting tone.  I would say that if you have not yet read this book, or have not read it in the past couple years, put it on your must-read list now!

My next book is a somewhat-random pick from the library: Walden on Wheels, by Ken Ilgunas.  It should be interesting: it’s the true story about a guy who worked himself out of a mountain of student debt to become free.

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Race report: DC Rock & Roll Half Marathon

It’s getting hectic in here                                                          

It’s getting chaotic

I’m rockin’ and rollin’ 

No stoppin’

We goin’ ’til it’s over

-”Chaotic”, Britney Spears

Appropriate lyric, huh?

It’s certainly been a while since the last time I wrote a race report!  Well, hopefully from now on, there will be many, and they will be frequent, and they will be positive.

Today I ran the DC Rock & Rock Half Marathon.  Up until last night, or even this morning, I really didn’t know what to expect, if my body would hold up for me.  Two years ago, I ran the full marathon, and that’s the last time I’ve run 26.2 miles.  I’d normally run two marathons a year, but constant injuries have kept me a bit sidelined.  It’s been one thing after another, and I’m sure they’ve all been causally related.  The point of this wallowing is to say that I really hadn’t been able to train (in my better days, I would train for two weeks and be ready for a half), and the most I’d run recently has been ten miles, and that required some walking breaks.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect today, or if I would even finish.

But I’m happy that things went well today!  The weather was perfect for running; as expected, a little on the chilly side in the early morning.  I hadn’t paid too much attention to emails about the race course, but I had a general idea.  It’s nice that the only significant hill was at Mile 6, going from Rock Creek Parkway up to Calvert St.  Hehe, reminds me of those times when I’ve been running on the Rock Creek trail and I decide to challenge myself by going up that hill; I don’t think I ever make it without having to walk.  So I’m not ashamed to say that I made it about halfway up and then walked the rest of the hill.  Other than that, though, I ran the entire course.

And since I hadn’t been able to train much, due to the never-healing tibia and now some tightness near my Achilles tendon (opposite leg), I thought I’d have to end up doing a lot more of the run/walk/run cycle.  Glad that wasn’t the case.  But I was slow.  It’s like a part of me couldn’t go any faster, but part of me wouldn’t let myself go faster for fear of burning out.  I felt pretty comfortable through the whole race, though groups of people kept passing me by, which solidified my opinion that I was going slowly.  But that’s ok, because this was more just for me, to see if I can still do it.  It gives me hope that I can overcome these nagging injuries and become stronger.

The course itself was pretty nice, through several of the neighborhoods in NW and NE DC.  I find myself not paying too much attention to where exactly I am—except places like the Kennedy Center and the Arlington Memorial Bridge, because EVERY race passes those areas—but more just paying attention to me, who’s right around me, how I’m feeling, what’s bothering me.

So, it certainly wasn’t my best time in a half marathon (in fact, it may actually be my slowest time!), but I finished and I felt good, plus I was able to pick up my pace (or, at least, I perceived it be faster) for the last half-mile or so.  According to the race, I ran 13.1 miles.  According to my Garmin—yes, I’ve become one of those people—I ran 13.36 miles.  But I guess that makes sense, because races are measured using the shortest distance possible, and that means measuring right at the inside corners of turns.  Whereas I didn’t always make the sharpest turns- it’s pretty hard to do so when there are runners everywhere.

So now I get to wonder… what’s next?  Frederick Half Marathon?

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Book#5- The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama

“When I see Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity baying across the television screen, I find it hard to take them seriously; I assume they must be saying what they do primarily to boost book sales or ratings, although I do wonder who would want to spend their precious evenings with such sourpusses.”

Obama's Audacity of Hope

Just one of many great quotes from this book, which I am late to the game in reading.  I know that everyone on the news was talking about this book– and his other, Dreams from my Father—when Obama became President, maybe even while he was running for the position.  And I’d have to agree with everyone that Barack Obama is a very good writer.  He’s eloquent without being loquacious, persuasive without being arrogant, and of course, he’s both humble and self-deprecating.

In this book, he talks about his Senate race, and his experience as a Senator, and even about his pre-Senate life.  He talks about living in Indonesia, living in Hawaii, living in Chicago.  The individuals he’s met along the way, each with his or her own powerful, moving story.  He talks about the importance of affordable health care for everyone, of bipartisanship, of faith.

It’s interesting to read this book for the first time now, when Obama has already been President for five years.  He doesn’t give any mention of aspirations higher than the U.S. Senate, although I wonder…. was he already thinking about the Presidency?  I wonder this because the ideas he presents in this book as so grand, yet achievable, it seems that he’s painting a picture of the way America should be as it gets out the mess created by George Bush and his policies.

Reading The Audacity of Hope makes me glad that Obama is now our President.  Although I was a firm Hillary supporter during the Democratic primary of 2008, he ultimately got my vote in the presidential election.  I’m also looking forward to 2016, and hopefully Hillary Clinton will announce that she’s in the running.  Anyways… I think it’s obvious what my political colors are :)

Although I saw that I also have Dreams from my Father, I’m going to wait a bit before I read that, although I’ve been told by a coworker that it’s even better than his second book.  Wow, definitely excited to read that!  For now, I’ve picked up The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.  It’s a book I’ve read before, but long ago enough that I don’t remember every single detail.  I just remember that it was a really moving book.

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10 Heartfelt Sentiments for National Grammar Day

Hina:

Like I’ve said before, bad grammar is one of the worst sins imaginable.

Originally posted on The Snail on the Wall:

Today marks an important day for word users and language speakers everywhere. It’s National Grammar Day! There are all kinds of ways to celebrate this special occasion: Proofread an e-mail message before you hit “send.” Show some Facebook friends you care by correcting their grammatical mistakes in the comments section of their posts. Read a grammatical page-turner, like  Woe Is I or  Eats, Shoots & Leaves.  Try your hand at a quick Facebook editing contest hosted by Grammarly, called “Edit This.” Or, for goodness’ sake, just take care to craft a structurally sound sentence with all your commas and apostrophes in the right places.

In honor of the holiday, here are 10 heartfelt sentiments to send to someone you love. Enjoy!

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MjAxMy0wODlmMDQ4MjhkZDJmMmE0

MjAxMy0wYTUyZGQyMTFlMTVlMTA5

MjAxMy1mZmE5ODA2OTlkOGRiZGE2

Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: Punctuation is everything. 1. 'Woman, without her man, is nothing.' 2. 'Woman: without her, man is nothing.'MjAxMy1hNzVkYjUzYWVmYjNkNjMw_5196504e1dc4e

In honor of the day, tell us—which grammatical mistake makes your skin crawl?

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