Essential Reads

Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control
By Derrick Jensen and George Draffan
Chelsea Green, 2004, $18.00

After you read this chilling account of the invisible, science fiction-esque technology that surrounds us on a daily basis, the world will never seem the same. Derrick Jensen’s latest stab at what he perceives to be a civilization of systematic destruction explores the web of surveillance, cutting-edge nanotechnology, and other Orwellian methods of control utilized by big business, government, and the military. Throughout the book, Jensen revisits a blueprint designed by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a metaphor to describe our present predicament: the Panopticon, a cylindrical prison in which the central tower is always dark and the inmates’ cells are always illuminated. The effect of the Panopticon is that those all-seeing forces at the center are invisible while those on the outside are constantly exposed.

What will happen when Wal-Mart has a tiny radio frequency ID tag embedded in every product on its shelves for tracking purposes? What if one of these same miniaturized computers—comparable in size to a grain of sand—were stamped into every passport, bank note, or garment of clothing from Benetton? Or if rats’ movements could be controlled by keyboard strokes through chips implanted in their brains? These are only a few of the ongoing projects Jensen explores.

Want more? Pills are being formulated for US military soldiers that erase feelings of remorse, and nanotech advocates envision merging organic brains with non-biological intelligence. The book contrasts these so-called advances with the real state of things: the 90 percent of fish populations that have disappeared, the 214,000 acres of forest destroyed every day, and the brutal product testing inflicted upon chimps, rabbits, and rats.

Jensen counterposes his descriptions of a stark mechanical world with reminders of what is missing from a civilization not dominated by technology. “Last week I had one of the most exciting and wonderful mornings of my life,” he writes, and describes sitting by a pond watching a dragonfly emerge from its former skin over the course of two hours. Underlying the disheartening connections woven among corporations, government, religion, prison, and ecological destruction is a call to action: “All it will take for this rotten system to collapse is for enough of us to learn to say no.” —Rebecca Bowe

Diet for a Dead Planet
Christopher D. Cook
The New Press, 2004, $24.95

“Fatty foods. High cholesterol. Excessive salt and sugar. Shit-contaminated meat. Mercury and metals in fish. Fruits and vegetables tainted by toxic residues. What is an eater of food to do?” Searching for answers—and more importantly, causes—investigative journalist Christopher D. Cook wades through the myriad ways that agribusiness is destroying our health and our pocketbooks in this dense but readable book, aptly subtitled How the Food Industry is Killing Us.

Cook goes several steps past Fast Food Nation in this systematic look into supermarket politics and corporate policies of profit over health. He gives a comprehensive history of how post-WWII American agriculture and industrialization resulted in present-day ecological destruction: corporations selling products at the lowest cost have replaced independent farmers focused on providing quality meats and produce. Despite the growing popularity of organics and free-range livestock, Cook believes these markets cater only to a small niche and are still too expensive for the average household.

At end, this is a harrowing account of good food gone bad. Cook argues for aggressive federal policies to address food production, security, and consumption and promote a shift in priorities from profit to a more holistic approach. He gives a snapshot of the strategies of those resisting agribusiness and suggests community-level changes that would advance those strategies in a ripple-up effect. But the book, as evidenced by the title, couldn’t be called optimistic. Cook believes the organics movement is only just beginning to gain headway against agribusiness; consumer access remains a huge problem. Cook gives us the tools and the history, and he asks the right questions—in this super-sized world, can we inspire the commitment needed for change? —Mary Vance

IPM for Gardeners: A Guide to Integrated Pest Management
Raymond A. Cloyd, Philip L. Nixon, Nancy R. Pataky
Timber Press, 2004, $27.95

If your favorite foodie magazine is Cook’s Illustrated, you’ll appreciate Timber Press’ new book IPM for Gardeners: A Guide to Integrated Pest Management.

The textbookish prose contains embedded gems: “Pest management may have started with our prehistoric ancestors, removing lice and their eggs from one another’s scalps and driving off competing animals from a kill with a club.”

With useful illustrations of pest signs and disease symptoms, a decent glossary and directory of scientific names, and a list of recommended readings, this is a very basic book about how plants work and what they need; how typical diseases and pests work and what they need; and a grounding in exemplary control methods, how they work, and why they’re better than, say, repeated dusting with Dursban. You’ll want a companion reference or two, ideally one specific to your area and interests. —Ron Sullivan

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