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Book Review: Meat is For Pussies

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On the spectrum of human diets, I’ve now spent more than half my life closer to the herbivore end than the carnivore end. When I first began my awakening, most vegans I knew were intellectual types. They were smart and compassionate, but they were not athletic.

Many of them were scholarly to the point of being boring. Their tactic for spreading the importance of a plant-based diet was to shove a 500-page scholarly text at others. While that technique worked on them, asking someone to read a lot will never be a good way to reach the common man.

With himself as but one example, John Joseph sets all this to right. Because of my previous experience with plant-power, I learned very little new facts from this book, and yet I still loved it. Finally, the benefits of a vegan diet have moved beyond the intellectual crowd. Now there’s room for a guy with a sense of humor, a guy who curses once in a while, a guy who likes loud music and athletics.

It is way past time for a book like this. The world needs someone to get in people’s faces and tell them the truth: that meat is not essential to exceptional health (Joseph is a tri-athlete) that mass animal-slaughter is devastating to our environment and barbarically cruel. For the message to really stick, the messenger has to be athletic, to cut off the most common avenue of denial: that a plant-based diet is unhealthy and produces only sickly nerdy types. In short, John Joseph for president!

Is this the most scientific book on being vegan? No. Is this the most articulate case for being compassionate to animals? No. Is this the most fact-filled assessment of factory farming’s environmental destruction? No. All that said, it was the most fun book on a plant-based diet I’ve ever read. It actually makes you want to be vegan by listing all the benefits (for yourself and the environment) as well as the athletic accomplishments of Joseph and his fellow travelers, who include active-duty Navy SEALs and MMA fighters.

Just like punk rock, Meat is for Pussies lacks finesse, but it has so much heart that it ends up being more powerful than more refined works.

I used to be shy about announcing my vegetarian leanings. No longer. Joseph has inspired me to be proud of this choice. So let me say, yes, I am a guy, I like heavy metal and sports. I am also compassionate toward the earth and all her creatures as best I can be.

If you don’t like any of that then you can go fuck yourself.

 

Book Review: Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet

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I’ve never been a big Star Trek fan. Star Wars was always my sci-fi preference, so I never knew too much about who George Takei was until recently, since it’s hard to visit any online media without stumbling across someone sharing one of the funny graphics or gently profound quotes. There’s no denying that George Takei is an omnipresent internet force.

That’s a fact he himself admits is surprising in this book, since the internet often seems to embody the douche-iest aspects of things new and young. If you don’t take time to appreciate the web’s power, you might think it’s all a waste, just a fad, or only encourages bad behavior. Takei proves that done right, social media can be an enjoyable experience.

This book is part autobiography (the details of the Takei family’s internment during WW2 are heart-breaking, as are his struggles as a gay man.) More than that, as other reviewers have said, this is a key guide for anyone who wants to be successful using the internet.

I’ve read a lot of stuff about SEO and SEM and blah blah blah OMG marketing advice that is so boring and gimmicky that I never want to go on the web again. George Takei keeps it simple. Success on the internet boils down to sincerity. Do you really want to communicate or sell something? Do you want to exchange a laugh for a follow or do you just want to make demands? Do you really want people’s opinions or are you asking just to create an illusion of engagement?

The principles of success in society are identical. Share, but not too much and not too often. If something is great, pass it along. Have confidence, have a sense of humor, and don’t take it all too seriously. Lastly, if you screw up, apologize and move on. There’s also plenty of advice for dealing with trolls as well, again most of which parallels advice in face-to-face society: ignore and avoid.

Want to get more from the internet? Read this.

Book Review: Your Country Is Just Not That Into You

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I jumped at the chance to read this book because I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Dore’s comedy. I first encountered him while watching The Young Turks online news show and though I like all the hosts, Jimmy is in the top tier. For those unfamiliar with him, I’d describe him as The Daily Show’s more opinionated, foul-mouthed cousin.

I’m always impressed how he can discuss super-serious issues while still being funny. It’s hard to be righteous and avoid being a douche, but somehow Jimmy does it. He’s always on the side of compassion and the little guy. He hates bullies, too. Obviously it helps me enjoy his jokes based on the fact that I agree with him 99% of the time.

That near full agreement may be why this book wasn’t as thrilling for me as I had hoped, simply because having enjoyed his podcast and Young Turks appearances, I always knew what angle he was going to take. He still managed to turn a phrase or insult a powerful scumbag so artistically that I did literally laugh out loud a few times.

I wonder if someone who doesn’t agree with Jimmy Dore’s political views would enjoy this. It’s hard for me to imagine that someone wouldn’t agree with him at least morally, because his stances often to me seem to be just common sense. Then again, doesn’t everyone think that?

There’s a routine he does on his podcast where a celebrity or politician (not the real person, but an impersonator) will call in and Jimmy will lampoon that person’s views simply by asking them questions. It’s a great bit, repeated in the the book that works much better live than in print.

Jimmy does hit out at Republicans and also Democrats, but the chapter on Republicans is nearly twice the size, which makes sense, because while Democrats suck, Republicans suck worse.

I wonder about this book’s broad appeal, but I hope it does well because Jimmy’s views and his comedy deserve to be heard more.

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts

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(WARNING: Minor Spoilers Follow!) The Girl With All the Gifts proves you can write a story about a subject that’s been beaten to death (in this case, zombies) but if you take a new angle and write crisply, the work can still be compellingly original.

Zombies are so cliché, it’s just a given they want to devour people and can be stopped by being shot in the head or decapitated. But how did they arrive at this state? I remember a scene in some forgotten movie, where human survivors captured a zombie and actually spoke to it, asking it questions, specifically, why it was trying to eat them. It was a refreshing change from the usual run-and-scream action. Finally, we were getting more depth, more explanation.

The Girl With All the Gifts delivers these explanations in such a methodical and compassionate manner, the world of this zombie apocalypse is far more rich than other dystopias overrun with the undead.

Eventually however, zombie tales all take the same arc: a diverse band of survivors battle their way through the zombie horde and roving bandit gangs on their way to what they believe is a safe haven.

The usual archetypes make an appearance: the soldier, the techie, the dreamer, the kid, the betrayer. As the story continues, one by one the party is reduced, some infected, some devoured, some kill themselves when they know they’re infected but before they turn, and some are killed because of the usual human cruelty and stupidity.

In the end, the team is destroyed or they escape and rebuild the world. Or a little of both.

The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t escape this framework, but it rises to the highest level because of the quality of its telling. Like Joseph Campbell noted in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the framework and archetypes may be familiar, but the details change. In the case of this book, the details make a very positive difference.

More than just a zombie book, this is a great story that reminded me of Robert Cormier’s classics like The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese: young protagonists caught up in situations more complex than they can understand and surrounded by adults who seek to exploit them. The Girl With All the Gifts is worth your time.

Book Review: Pilgrim’s Wilderness

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Another day in America, another self-proclaimed rugged individual turns out to be a charlatan. Pilgrim’s Wilderness tells the story of Papa Pilgrim as he leads his family into wilds of Alaska with the stated intent of being independent simple folk living off the land.

Unfortunately, the story follows a typical path. Pilgrim claimed to be ferociously independent, yet he collected public assistance money. He presented himself as self-made yet he came from a wealthy family. He claimed to be nobly religious, yet behind closed doors he was immoral and abusive. Pilgrim’s Wilderness lays out the details of a common framework all-too-familiar in American history: where the image of frontier self-reliance serves as a covering for substantial cruelty and oppression.

To be clear, I’m saying the events were clichéd, but the book is a great read. It’s a work of journalism told over many years and including local newspaper articles and interviews. It’s written no-nonsense, even when it gets personal for the author.

Papa Pilgrim left a path of destruction wherever he went, turning a calm frontier town into a battleground against the government, wrecking the fragile peace that the locals and federal government representatives (park rangers) had established.

The path that Pilgrim’s crusade took reminded me of the recent Cliven Bundy news story. At first, people flock to the so-called rebel’s side, because they too hate the government. Yet they eventually withdraw their support when it is revealed the one they’re supporting is a repulsive, hypocritical opportunist.

I know it’s in vogue to say the opposite, but the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. I know it’s fashionable to say government is bad, but government done right can (and does) improve all our lives.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness was a sad but interesting read. It would be a great book for reading groups, as it’s sure to inspire all kinds of discussion.