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More breadcrumbs! Pollan, Sen, Chinese fantasies, manga, anime, webcrap, games.

I still don't feel like properly reviewing Pollan's book but I'll drop a few more hints. After the cornfed horror story, and describing life on a modern feedlot, he moves to Big Organic, e.g. Whole Foods, and "we don't use pesticides but we still have monocrops of lettuce, cornfed cattle, and jampacked chickens". This part prompted public response by the head of Whole Foods, an exchange between him and Pollan, and last I saw Whole Foods moving toward stronger humane treatment standards. Anyway, back in the book, Pollan then stayed for a week or two at someone's hands-on integrated farm, where the cows eat grass, the mobile chicken pens clean up three days after the cows (the larvae in the cow dung would mature in four days), pigs turn over compost in search of fermented corn secreted in the piles, and woodchips help convert toxically concentrated rabbit urine into useful fertilizer. Pollan also helps with the chicken slaughter, wanting to get some experience.

The final section is him trying to gather and hunt all the ingredients of a meal, so he learns to shoot a feral pig in California, gathers some mushrooms, etc. The part here I remember most is from the hunting, where he embarrassedly says that hunter-porn seems more meaningful to him now, that the most similar experience he's had is being stoned: the intense focus, especially on movement, the telescoping of time passing, indifference to physical discomfort, the hunger afterwards. There's talk of the cannabinoid system, though I forget if it was data or speculation. A very meditative/spiritual experience. Since I can alter my state of mind through intense visual attention, even without the motivation of trying to kill a boar, I'm inclined to take him seriously.

I finished Sen's The Argumentative Indian, previously mentioned for leading me to Greco-Buddhism. He talks about Carvaka atheism, a long tradition of heterodoxy and tolerance in India, the more recent Hindu intolerance as represented by the Hindutva movement and BJP party, cross-fertilization between China and India, multi-religion councils gathered by the Buddhist Ashoka (300 BC) and Muslim Akbar (1600 AD, while Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake). He objects to the modern tradition of associating logic and rationality with the West and mystical spiritual wisdom with the East. The East was doing atheism and logic before the West, there's more atheism and agnosticism in Sanskit than in any other classical language, India's had religious tolerance a lot longer than the Christian West, just who invented our numerals and zero anyway?, heliocentric calculations in 499 AD, etc. He notes that it may be hard to run an empire if you view your subjects as your equals, so the colonial British put down mathematical and scientific achievements in India -- he notes 19th century James Mill, who wrote a history of India without knowing any Indian languages, and was proud of that fact -- and played up the exotic elements, and the post-colonial Indians have tried to take pride in the false dichotomy rather than refuting it. He notes both Buddhism and Communism have done good jobs with regard to basic literacy, unlike India.

I've read some Chinese-inspired fantasies: The Secrets of Jin-Shei by Alma Alexander, Bridge of Birds and sequel by Barry Hughart. A Victorian children's adventure novel written in 1947: 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois. Balloons and Krakatoa! Vinge's Rainbows End, extrapolating terrorism and wearable and ubiquitous computing a couple of decades ahead. Stross's Glasshouse which I read quickly but don't have much response to right now. The Death Note manga series. Much of the Chobits manga. Watched the Noein anime: yet another affecting SF drama with a "what?" ending. Good, though I wish one of these series would make ultimate sense. Watched part of the anime "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", which is just bizarre, but I think I like it.

And, on the web, getting into arguments on atheism, and Israel, and discovering people who don't believe in the germ theory of disease. A "Russell" made nice analogies: free market fundamentalists are like people who refuse to put a muffler on an engine, lest Holy Horsepower be adulterated, while socialists deny the Carnot heat cycle. Atlantis reading and discussion -- people trying to find real precursors vs. people saying it was pulled out of Plato's buttcave.

Helped lyceum move, or at least pack a truck; had a departure lunch for Caroline last week. Ars Magica started up again, it's going well, and I've been sending game writeups and character backgrounds. NOT THAT ANYONE ELSE HAS. Ahem. Played a new Cheapass game, the pirate treasure game, Captain Booty's Treasure or something, fun. Borrowed some random Asian music CDs from the library, don't know that any grabbed me yet. Loreena McKennit's Tree was good, though.

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