We spend the hour with Michael Pollan, one of the country’s leading writers and thinkers on food and food policy. Pollan has written several best-selling books about food, including "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," and "In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto." In his latest book, "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation," Pollan argues that taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make our food system healthier and more sustainable. "There is a deliberate effort to undermine food culture to sell us processed food," Pollan says. "The family meal is a challenge if you’re General Mills or Kellogg or one of these companies, or McDonalds, because the family meal is usually one thing shared." Pollan also talks about the "slow food" movement. "Slow food is about food that is good, clean and fair. They’re concerned with social justice. They’re concerned with how the food is grown and how humane and chemical-free it is." He adds, "Slow food is about recovering that space around the family and keeping the influence of the food manufacturers outside of the house. … The family meal is very important. It’s the nursery of democracy."
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Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) is a essayist, novelist, blogger, and co-editor of BoingBoing, and he is exhausting. The man is a production machine, churning out excellent book after excellent book as if writing were a job instead of something to agonize and procrastinate over. As of this writing, his latest books are Homeland and Pirate Cinema, and, with Charlie Stross, he wrote Rapture of the Nerds. Cory has also long been an advocate for the personal ownership of culture, demanding corporations and governments keep their hands off what we make and their noses out of our individual use and modification of media and hardware. To that end, he has fought endless wars against restrictive legislation.
Websites we mention: Cory worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit that defends individual rights and freedoms. Cory was part of the Humble Ebook Bundle, which put together several science fiction and fantasy books into a single name-your-price bundle in which the buyer chose how much of their payment went to authors and how much to three charities. Amazon has a price-matching arrangement when authors pick a 70%-royalty arrangement that allows them to match the lowest ebook price anywhere on the Net for any book they sell for Kindle. BookScan tracks retail sales through integration with point-of-sale and online sales systems. My father and I run Books & Writers, a book-rank tracking service. Amazon has provided BookScan data to authors who register with them. At least one book distributor in 1996 was relying on IBM’s PROFS on a mainframe. Cory documented in painstaking detail how his With a Little Help story collection was funded and produced. Artist friends created a set of four covers for print editions so that one could choose among them. The book was designed by John D. Berry, a friend of mine and one of the world’s best typographers. (His wife is Eileen Gunn, a science-friend and incubator of science-fiction writers.) There’s a difference between the barter economy and the gift economy, and Cory explains the distinction. Andy Baio, who is part of the life’s blood of creativity on the Internet, released Kind of Bloop, a collection of 8-bit music, that had an homage of a famous Miles Davis photo as part of the cover. Despite it rather obviously being precisely within the reasonable confines of transformative work, it would have required exensive litigation. Andy settled to avoid destroying his family finances. The partly crowdfunded movie Stripped had a second round of money raising to cover the clearance rights for some of the copyrighted material the filmmakers wanted to include. Cory pointed out that the Stanford Center for Internet and Society can help a filmmaker who wants to assert fair-use rights over material obtain the errors and omissions insurance required to have a film shown in a theater and released in other ways. Ursula K. LeGuin likely wouldn’t have a found a publisher who would have been willing to let her quote from The Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends” today, a critical component of her The Lathe of Heaven. In fact, the 1980 PBS movie of the book couldn’t be re-released for many years because of both negotiating with the original cast and crew, and obtaining rights. The Beatles’ original version of the song was replaced with a cover in the re-release. (Cory notes that LeGuin doesn’t like fair use of her own work.) Aereo is a Barry Diller-controlled company that is selling access to tiny HDTV antennas over the Internet to skirt rules about re-broadcasting. It’s clever. So clever that a dissenting judge in an appeals panel was rather unhappy about it. Fox filed takedown notices under the DMCA for Cory’s book Homeland on various sites asserting it was the rightsholder, as opposed to being the rightsholder for its TV series Homeland. Jaron Lanier once told tales of virtual-reality goggles and the future. He now tells different stories. The Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) game may still be played. The Incomparable podcast did an episode on Infocom games. Sony once infected computers with a rootkit to manage copy protection for its music CDs. The software hid itself and degraded Windows, and it took a long while for Sony to tell the truth and make amends. Defibrillators can be easily hacked. The Analog Reconversion Discussion Group was formed to plug the “analog hole,” which was a way to copy digital playback through an analog output. Scott Turow wrote a spectacularly uninformed and self-serving Op-Ed in the New York Times that conflated a number of different factors, mostly specious and relatively absurd, about how authors were getting a squeeze on royalties. The issue at hand was the Supreme Court allowing the importation of foreign editions of books. Such editions may be sold cheaply abroad, but also are often made more cheaply and thus not as appealing to American buyers. Turow is head of the Author’s Guild, which purports to speak for all authors, but only a tiny number of writers belong relative to all published authors. (I used to.) The Registrar of Copyrights may approve temporary and limited exemptions to the DMCA, but these are reviewed every three years. RealDVD got pulled from the market by RealNetworks in order to avoid disturbing studio partners. Kaleidescape makes servers that let users rip CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray and then space shift them around a house. “No, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia, everyone in the universe has that.” Many people who are competent suffer from Imposter Syndrome. A comic came out after Cory and I spoke about the day jobs of poets.
Mark Lawson reviews Kim Cattrall in Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams and talks to artist Cornelia Parker, novelist Brian Aldiss & for Cultural Exchange, poet Gwyneth Lewis.
Food writer, food thinker Mark Bittman is one of the big voices relentlessly pushing, cajoling, inviting, instructing to change the way America eats. For our health, for the big world.
He’s done it himself. Vegan ‘til six is his new mantra. Basically, eat plants all day, enjoy what you like in the evening. Your heart and health will thank you, he says. And so will an environment not asked to carry the groaning load of the way we eat now.
He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s a good cook. He’s thinking about your plate and the planet.
Subjects Discussed: Predicting the future, whether 2013 is more of an apocalyptic year than 2012, killer bunnies, laughing rats, H.P. Lovecraft, the best zombie dramatizations, explanation in narrative, trusting the reader with interesting definitions of how the world works, the Greek tragedy of time travel, killing Hitler, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, criss-crossing timelines, Looper, finding spontaneity in a careful foundation, E.L. Doctorow’s description of writing, developing the close third person perspective, working against the sophisticated predator stereotype, the catharsis of hurting mean characters, T.C. Boyle, fictitious injuries, time periods that are defined by pop cultural references, Studs Terkel, Forrest Gump, women’s rights, McCarthyism, connections between American and South African history, spies and informants, surveillance society, Todd Akin, Candyman, Spencer Tracy explaining baseball to Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, interviewing real people, not understanding sports, the difficulty of forgiving people for political atrocities, Sarah Lotz, objecting to fictitious murders, living in Chicago, why the Midwest is an ideal setting for an American novel, the tendency to invoke Detroit with symbolism, parallels between Hillbrow and Detroit, Mark Binelli’s Detroit City is the Place to Be, Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy, the U.S. Radium Corporation’s exploitation of women, paying researchers, Radium Girls, quoting directly from a 1936 story in the Milwaukee Sentinel, Mad Dog Maddux, naming your company after an employer’s fictitious creation to secure a job, the annoyance of getting minor details right, John Banville, the invention/research spectrum, location scouting, women who are objectified by her scars, Murderball, the sex lives of the injured, characters defined by the interior, physical description, how visual photos serve as emotional reference, why fictitious sociopaths drink Canadian Club, Amity Gaige’s Schroeder, A Clockwork Oraange, Al Capone, Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and rabid eating.
We ask the award-winning SF writer Lauren Beukes why she’s added a twist of horror to her latest novel, The Shining Girls, while Joe Hill talks about following in the footsteps of his father, Stephen King.
All our digital devices are wired up now. Next in line is the world of things.
Door locks that recognize you and yield at your approach. Machines at the gym that know your Tuesday workout and go straight to it when you walk in. Anything, anywhere with embedded intelligence and connectivity, responding to you and to other things around you. A programmable world of objects, things.
It may sound like heaven. It may sound like hell. It’s happening.
Bill Wasik, senior editor of WIRED magazine. Author of this month’s cover feature: “Welcome to the Programmable World.” (@billwasik)
Jason Johnson, chairman of the Internet of Things Consortium. CEO of August. (@jcjohnson)
Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT. (@sturkle)
Noted author and futurist Vernor Vinge is surprisingly optimistic when it comes to the prospect of civilization collapsing.
“I think that [civilization] coming back would actually be a very big surprise,” he says in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The difference between us and us 10,000 years ago is … we know it can be done.”
Vinge has a proven track record of looking ahead. His 1981 novella True Names was one of the first science fiction stories to deal with virtual reality, and he also coined the phrase, “The Technological Singularity” to describe a future point at which technology creates intelligences beyond our comprehension. The term is now in wide use among futurists.
But could humanity really claw its way back after a complete collapse? Haven’t we plundered the planet’s resources in ways that would be impossible to repeat?
“I disagree with that,” says Vinge. “With one exception — fossil fuels. But the stuff that we mine otherwise? We have concentrated that. I imagine that ruins of cities are richer ore fields than most of the natural ore fields we have used historically.”
That’s not to say the collapse of civilization is no big deal. The human cost would be horrendous, and there would be no comeback at all if the crash leaves no survivors. A ravaged ecosphere could stymie any hope of rebuilding, as could a disaster that destroys even the ruins of cities.
“I am just as concerned about disasters as anyone,” says Vinge. “I have this region of the problem that I’m more optimistic about than some people, but overall, avoiding existential threats is at the top of my to-do list.”
In 1948, George Orwell looked ahead to 1984 and imagined a grim totalitarian world. In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke looked ahead to 2001 and imagined transcendent alien contact. Now, sci-fi novelist Kim Stanley Robinson is looking ahead 300 years in his new novel, 2312.
The best-selling author and futurist doesn’t mince words when it comes to his disdain for Star Wars’ wizened guru (or for George Lucas, creator of the "horrible little oven mitt"). Find out what he thinks about capitalism, autism, SETI’s brilliant but misguided search for extraterrestrial life and other hot topics in the latest edition of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
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