Progressive Calendar 07.15.09
From: David Shove (shove001tc.umn.edu)
Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2009 02:56:42 -0700 (PDT)
           P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R   07.15.09

1. Tweetup/summit    7.15 6pm 7.16-17 9am

2. Eagan peace vigil 7.16 4:30pm
3. Northtown vigil   7.16 5pm
4. Consortium annual 7.16 5:30pm
5. Chili/Palestine   7.16 6:30pm
6. Amnesty Intl      7.16 7pm

7. Palestine vigil   7.17 4:15pm

8. Dave Lindorff  - The end of "nice" health care reform - and Obama
9. Paul Street    - Worker action in not-so "center-right" America
10. Dwight Garner - Cooking made us human
11. ed            - Hell's belles  (haiku)

--------1 of 11--------

From: Mark Ritchie <mark [at] markritchie2010.net>
Subject: Tweetup/summit 7.15 6pm 7.16-17 9am

[Tweetup???  yark]

July 15-17, 2009, are the dates, Minneapolis is the place!
National Civic Tweetup, where you can Tweet about efforts and priorities,
a great way to enter a conversation about civic engagement in America.
Never tweeted before? It only takes a minute to set up your Twitter
account . You can tweet using your computer or cell phone. Visit the Civic
Training site for an introduction to social media and sign up for ongoing
complimentary social media training and event updates, including the
Tweetup Poll.
Wednesday, July 15th, from 6-9 p.m.

Live: Minneapolis, MN Directions to the Minneapolis Hilton or Virtual:
Content available during & post events at the National Civic Summit
website

[Up yer tweetup, fella! Smile when ya say that, tweetup! -Message from
the United MotherTweeters Inc]]

Don't miss the National Civic Summit - a forum to help individuals and
organizations grow non-partisan civic imagination, skill, and impact. The
Summit will offer great content and speakers and will introduce the use
of new social media tools to advance our civic missions.

Activities include:
From gabeo [at] bitstream.net Tue Jul 14 23:31:51 2009
Date: Thu, 02 Jul 2009 22:12:53 -0500
From gabeo [at] bitstream.net Tue Jul 14 23:31:51 2009
Date: Thu, 02 Jul 2009 22:12:53 -0500
"All Things Civic" - a spectacular showcase of workshops and exhibits to
help civic-minded organizations grow access and impact. Leaders from
around the country will offer insights on compelling topics, best-in-class
tools and approaches. Free and open to the public.
Thursday, July 16th and Friday, July 17th, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Live: Minneapolis, MN Directions to the Minneapolis Hilton or Virtual:
Content available during & post events at the National Civic Summit
website

Free Registration: Register for The Connection

Presented by Citizens League and Target. Supported by General Mills, the
League of Women Voters Minnesota, Blue Earth Interactive, and CitiZing. We
hope that your schedule will allow you to participate in this exciting
opportunity to Learn - Connect - Engage! Prepared and paid for by Mark
Ritchie for Secretary of State www.MarkRitchie2010.org


--------2 of 11--------

From: Greg and Sue Skog <family4peace [at] msn.com>
Subject: Eagan peace vigil 7.16 4:30pm

PEACE VIGIL EVERY THURSDAY from 4:30-5:30pm on the Northwest corner of
Pilot Knob Road and Yankee Doodle Road in Eagan. We have signs and
candles. Say "NO to war!" The weekly vigil is sponsored by: Friends south
of the river speaking out against war.


--------3 of 11--------

From: EKalamboki [at] aol.com
Subject: Northtown vigil 7.16 5pm

NORTHTOWN Peace Vigil every Thursday 5-6pm, at the intersection of Co. Hwy
10 and University Ave NE (SE corner across from Denny's), in Blaine.

Communities situated near the Northtown Mall include: Blaine, Mounds View,
New Brighton, Roseville, Shoreview, Arden Hills, Spring Lake Park,
Fridley, and Coon Rapids.  We'll have extra signs.

For more information people can contact Evangelos Kalambokidis by phone or
email: (763)574-9615, ekalamboki [at] aol.com.


--------4 of 11--------

From: Bonnie Watkins <bonnie [at] mnwomen.org>
Subject: Consortium annual 7.16 5:30pm

Dear Friends of Minnesota Women & Girls,
Please come to the 29th annual meeting of the Minnesota Women's
Consortium!
Please RSVP TODAY...
CONSORTIUM ANNUAL MEETING 2009
Thursday, July 16
5:30 P.M. - 8:00 P.M.
Wilder Center,
Lexington Parkway, St. Paul

Just $35 includes
* Networking with Consortium board & staff & more than 20 member
organizations working to make women's dreams come true.
* Buffet supper by Maly's Asian Deli.
* Keynote by Suzanne Koepplinger, director of the Minnesota Indian
Women's Resource Center.
* Bonnie's 5 minute "State of the Consortium" speech, reviewing
Elder-Nomics, Latinas & more.
* Discuss & vote on board, budget, and bylaws.

Call Lorraine at 651/228-0338 TODAY with your reservation.


--------5 of 11--------

From: Meredith Aby <awcmere [at] gmail.com>
Subject: Chili/Palestine 7.16 6:30pm

Chili Feed - Feed Yourself and Fund the 2009 Palestine Delegation
Thursday, July 16th @ 6:30pm @ Walker Church basement @ 3104 16th Ave S.,
Minneapolis

Come eat some yummy chili and support the Anti-War Committee members going
to Palestine in August.  They will be meeting Palestinian activists who
can report on the conditions on the ground which will deepen our ability
to do solidarity.  Donations requested.  Organized by the Anti-War
Committee.


--------6 of 11--------

From: Gabe Ormsby <gabeo [at] bitstream.net>
Subject: Amnesty Intl 7.16 7pm

AIUSA Group 315 (Wayzata area) meets Thursday, July 16th, at 7:00 p.m. St.
Luke Presbyterian Church, 3121 Groveland School Road, Wayzata (near the
intersection of Rt. 101 and Minnetonka Blvd). For further information,
contact Richard Bopp at Richard_C_Bopp [at] NatureWorksLLC.com.


--------7 of 11--------

From: Eric Angell <eric-angell [at] riseup.net>
Subject: Palestine vigil 7.17 4:15pm

the weekly vigil for the liberation of Palestine continues at the
intersection of Snelling and Summit Aves in St. Paul.  the Friday demo
starts at 4:15 and ends around 5:30.  there are usually extra signs
available.

[Some people find ending at 5:29 fitting and proper. Others are as
committed to 5:30 on the nose, while yet others see 5:31 as "extra value".
They then commence hitting one another with signs (why there always have
to be extra ones). It is very entertaining to watch, so you might want to
wander by with friends around 5:25 or so, perhaps with folding chairs and
something to eat, so you can in comfort cheer on whichever group is
causing the most damage, whacking with the most verve. or calling out the
cleverest insults. There's a lesson in here somewhere, but fortunately
we can't find it. -ed]


--------8 of 11--------

Hello, Goodbye
The End of "Nice" Health Care Reform
By DAVE LINDORFF
CounterPunch
July 14, 2009

Of course I could be wrong. Congress could turn around and pass some
cockamamie scheme to kick the issue of health care reform down the road,
offering some kind of minimal insurance coverage to a few million more
people, and cracking down on this or that particularly egregious health
provider rip-off, and then staging a "mission accomplished" photo op.

But real health care reform of the kind that Democratic candidates were
promising during last year's presidential campaign is dead, killed by the
timidity of the promiser-in-chief, President Barack Obama (and by the
massive corruption of the Democrats in Congress, who have accepted the
tainted coin of the health care industry).

Obama could have come to the American people as a newly elected leader and
addressed us as adults, saying: "Look, we know what needs to be done.
Plenty of countries in Canada, Europe and elsewhere have figured it out
already. They set up the government as the single payer to health
providers.doctors and hospitals, etc..and the government bargains and sets
the prices those private providers of health care can charge.  Of course
that means you'll all pay higher taxes to finance such a plan, but the
record of all those countries shows that you'll be saving money over all,
because you won't be paying for health insurance, your employer won't be
paying for health insurance, you won't be paying co-pays and deductibles,
and you won't be getting gouged for drugs or hospital stays or doctors.
bills. You won't be paying state taxes for Medicaid either, nor will your
insurance and local property taxes have to subsidize the hospital care of
indigents. On balance, you'll all be saving money, and you'll never have
to worry about disease or injury bankrupting you. Nor will employers be
able to hold you hostage any longer. The reality is that the countries
that have a single-payer plan are spending half of what we spend per
capita for health care, they have no uninsured citizens, and their health
overall, as measured by such things as longevity, infant mortality, etc.,
is better than ours".

The president could have said all this and rallied the tens of millions of
Americans who desperately want a health care system modeled on the
single-payer idea to his side, forcing Congress to go along or pay the
price in 2010.

Instead, this president who, in years past as a senator, as a state
representative and as an activist had praised the idea of single-payer,
has taken to saying it's important do keep the private health insurance
industry in business. Instead of inviting Canadian administrators of that
country's successful system down to talk about how it works up there, he
barred even American advocates of single payer from speaking at his
talk-fests on health care reform at the White House. Instead of taking an
axe to the US Medical-Industrial Complex, he has pretended he could reform
the current profit-crazed system we have in the US without raising taxes.
Instead of pointing out that we already have a well-functioning
single-payer system for our elderly and disabled in the form of Medicare,
he has spent his time badmouthing the single-payer idea, even claiming
that it's not part of our "American" tradition. [What a son of a bitch!]

But let's note that Obama's sell-out on health care reform was aided and
abetted by [more SOBs] the progressives, the left groups and political
organizations and the unions that failed to hold him to his earlier
espousal of single-payer, that instead of calling him out on his cave-in,
bought into his initial compromise of a so-called "public option"
insurance alternative, and even into his subsequent backdown to an even
more watered-down version of possibly state-run or "cooperative" plans.

Now his political cowardice and mendacity have caught up with him. His
"plan," if it can even be called that, of mandating employer health
coverage and then adding a government-run alternative  "public option" to
existing private insurance, has understandably failed to excite the
public, while still arousing the passionate opposition of conservative
Republicans and conservative  members of his own party, and meanwhile does
nothing to limit soaring health costs, which already eat up a fifth of the
entire gross domestic product of the nation,  requires an increase in
taxes and reductions in Medicare,  will probably, if established, lead to
more companies actually dropping their current benefit programs in favor
of a cheaper, stripped-down government plan, and yet will still leave
millions of people unable to get access to timely, quality, affordable
medical care.

Furthermore, his apparent failure to deliver on this key initiative will
deal a body blow to his political clout on other initiatives, such as
tackling climate change and dealing with an acute economic crisis.

If I'm right that health reform is dead, so is Barack Obama's presidency.
[R.I.P "hope"]. President Bill Clinton's new administration foundered
early on following his shameless backdown on a pledge to guarantee the
right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. It never
recovered. President Obama's new administration is foundering on his
equally shameless backdown on a promise to establish a system of quality
affordable health care for all.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest
book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now
available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff [at] mindspring.com

[ASAP let us recover from Obama, his hope kool-aid, and sell-out
national Dems. We can move forward only if we leave them behind.]


--------9 of 11--------

Worker Action in Not-So "Center-Right" America:
Rock Island Reflections
By Paul Street
July 14, 2009
ZNet

I've never been comfortable with many pundits' tendency to describe the
United States as a "center-right nation."[1] This description is
appropriate when it comes to the United States' business class, its
dominant corporate media, its two reigning political parties (both firmly
dedicated to the combined and interrelated imperatives of empire,
inequality, and thought-control. Incorporated) and its political class
more broadly. "Center-right" may accurately reflect how many millions of
Americans identify themselves on the limited ideological menu offered to
them by MSNBC exit pollsters. But it doesn't fit very well with the
interesting facts that:

*Twice as many Americans back more government services and spending (even
if this means a tax increase) as the number who support fewer services and
reduced spending (National Elections Survey, 2004).

*64 percent of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care
for all U.S. citizens (CNN Opinion Research Poll, May 2007).

*69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal
government to provide health coverage to all U.S. citizens (Gallup Poll,
2006).

*80 percent of Americans support a government-mandated increase in the
minimum wage (Associated Press/AOL Poll, December 2006).

*71 percent of Americans think that taxes on corporations are too low (
Gallup Poll, April 2007).

*66 percent of Americans think taxes on upper-income people are too
low(Gallup Poll, April 2007).

*59 percent of Americans are favorable toward unions, with just 29 percent
unfavorable ( Gallup Poll, 2006).

*52 percent of Americans generally side with unions in labor disputes.
Just 34 percent side with management (Gallup Poll, 2006).

*A majority of American voters think that the United States' "most urgent
moral question" is either greed and materialism" (33 percent) or "poverty
and economic injustice" (31 percent). Just 16 percent identify abortion
and 12 percent pick gay marriage as the nation's "most urgent moral
question" (Zogby, 2004). Thus, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the
population think that injustice and inequality are the nation's leading
"moral issues."

*Just 15 percent of Americans think the U.S. should play "the leading role
in the world" (Gallup Poll. February 2007)- a remarkable rejection of U.S.
global hegemony and empire.

*Just 29 percent of Americans support the expansion of government spending
on "defense."  By contrast, 79 percent support increased spending on
health care, 69 percent support increased spending on education, and 69
percent support increased spending on Social Security (Chicago Council on
Foreign Relations [hereafter "CCFR"}, "Global Views,"2004).

*77 percent of Americans think the U.S. has the unilateral right to go to
war only if the U.S. has strong evidence it is in imminent danger of being
attacked (53 percent) or (24 percent)if the other country attacks first
(CCFR, 2004).

*Two thirds (66 percent) of Americans think the US should be more willing
to make international relations decisions within the UN even if this means
the U.S. will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its
first choice (CCFR, 2004).

*Fifty-nine percent of Americans favor dropping the veto power granted to
the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the
United States  (CCFR, 2004).

* Just barely more than half of all Americans (and only one third of all
Americans 18 to 29 years old) are sure that "capitalism is better than
socialism" when it comes to how organize economic life (Rasmussen Reports,
2009).[2]


At the same time, the description of the U.S. as "a center-right nation"
doesn't match numerous real-life experiences like my recent participation
in a union-led protest against Wells Fargo Bank (WF) last Thursday
afternoon in Rock Island, Illinois. Wells Fargo is the recipient of more
than $25 billion worth of federal money this year - part of the not-so
Temporary Assistance for Needy Banking and Insurance Parasites (TANBIP)
program that has recently expanded along with unemployment and poverty
rates (whose impact is worsened by a 1990s public family cash assistance
"reform"/elimination that leading Democrats including Barack Obama
champion as a great bipartisan policy success) across "America, best
democracy that money can buy."  WF is the bank that recently attempted to
eliminate 4000 U.S. jobs by trying to liquidate Hartmarx, the
Chicago-based clothing manufacturer that makes Barack Obama's suits.[3] WF
was pressured by labor and progressive politicians to save those jobs by
selling the company.

In Rock Island, Wells Fargo (WF) has recently pushed more than 100 workers
at Quad City Die Casting (QCDC) into a race to save their jobs, health
insurance, and pension benefits. Earlier this year, WF, flush with
government assistance, announced that it would be pulling financing from
QCDC, whose workers happen to be organized and represented by the
progressive United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE
Local 1174). The Quad Cities metropolitan area (consisting of Rock Island
and Moline, Illinois along with Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa) stand to
lose more than $ 6 million in wages and tax revenue.[4]

Adding insult to injury, WF has refused to guarantee the payment of
vacation pay and extra wages owed the workers under their legally binding
collective bargaining agreement.[5] August. According to QCDC managers, WF
approves all company expenditures only on a week-to-week basis.

The UE, many ZNet readers probably know, is the same union that boldly
occupied the North Side Chicago Republic Windows and Doors plant last
December.  That militant shop-floor action won a $1.75 million settlement
for workers from an employer who attempted to abscond without making
legally mandated severance, vacation, and back-wage payments and from that
employer's tight-fisted financier, the leading federal bailout recipient
Bank of America. The sit-down strike at Republic held national media
attention for at least two days, receiving (consistent with my suspicion
that the U.S. is NOT "a center-right nation") widespread popular support -
it even compelled the "business liberal" Barack Obama [6], then
president-elect, to voice support for the UE action - before it was
knocked off the news cycle by the Rod Blagojevich scandal.[7]

Last Thursday's action, coordinated by the UE, begin with a brief union
roadblock outside a WF branch office at 18th Avenue and 30th Street in
Rock Island. More than 120 racially and ethnically diverse pickets (union
members plus numerous community supporters) carried signs saying that WF
is "Roadblock to Recovery" and chanted "Banks Get Bailed Out, We Get Sold
Out."  Twelve workers were very quickly and gently arrested a short (two
minutes) and careful step into traffic.[8]

There was little animosity between the workers and the Rock Island police
during the action. The penalties for the arrested workers came to nothing
more than a $75 fine.  There were no misdemeanor charges. "It's the same
as a parking ticket," the leader officer in charge told me.  "Look," the
officer added, "we're union too."  His sympathies were clearly with the
workers - consistent with my sense that the U.S. populace is more
center-left than center-right. The officer looked on with a smile as the
arrested workers posed for a photograph holding up their little yellow
"traffic obstruction" citations.

"First time arrested?" I said to one of the UE road-blockers, a young
woman. "Yes," she said, "I'm glad we did it." It might seem small but her
action was a major step for a good cause in a young life fortunate to have
been touched by the special culture of solidarity that lay at the heart of
the best aspects of America's forgotten and often fiercely contested labor
history.

Automotive passers-by seemed highly sympathetic to the picket action.  I
heard and saw numerous motorists honk their horns and wave in approval.
There was no negative feedback at all, as far as I could make out. I was
unsurprised.  Rock Island is an old time working-class town with a strong
union and even distant Socialist history.  It has been severely abused by
the masters of capital for decades, especially since the onset of massive
de-industrialization in the mid 1970s.

A young Iowa City radical I ran into later muttered about the action being
"tepid" - you know, insufficiently radical and transgressive and the like.
But the young radical also admitted that it wasn't her position to tell
workers what to do. Quite right! Personally, I had the impression that UE
Local 1174 is playing the situation quite well.  Its workers are trying to
keep their heads above water and save whatever employment chances and
incomes as they can at present. It's a good move too stay on the right
side of the union brothers and sisters in the police force. According to a
union spokesperson I spoke with on the picket line, a Republic-style
occupation is not out of the question in the future.  Union and public
pressure has convinced TANBIP recipient Wells Fargo to keep the QCDC plant
open (to "fill orders") through late August.  If no buyer can be found to
keep 100 union jobs alive there, however, things could turn a bit nastier
and Republic-style tactics could come into play.  If so, it would be nice
for the police to permit a workplace occupation last as long as possible.
As my Iowa City comrades would surely agree, we need hundreds of
long-lived sit-down strikes across the country.[9]

I am told by a Quad Cities lefty that the local television news coverage
of the UE picket and roadblock was unsympathetic and otherwise
"terrible."[10] Well, sure: corporate media owners and managers are from
the same class as the owners and managers of Wells Fargo.  Their contempt
for ordinary working people and the cause of social justice is boundless
and thoroughly predictable.  Expecting them to accurately and fully report
current events in unbiased ways is like expecting General Motors' company
newspaper to accurately report on wage and shop-floor conditions and
environmental impacts in and around its (shrinking) network of automobile
plants. If dominant media is your concept of "the United States," then,
yes, we are most definitely a "center right nation." In the real-life
workplaces and communities of the country beneath and beyond the official
representations in legislatures and on the business-run airwaves, however,
things are rather different and more hopeful.

Paul Street, a onetime U.S. labor historian, is the author of many books,
articles, speeches, and chapters.  He can be reached at
paulstreet99 [at] yahoo.com

NOTES

1. For a useful discussion and citations, see Media Matters, "Research:
Conservatives Claim America is .Center-Right, But Political Scientists
Challenge Reliance on Voter Self-Identification," Media Matter for America
(November 10, 2008), read online at
http://mediamatters.org/research/200811100013

2. For more data and sources, see Katherine Adams and Charles Derber, The
New Feminized Majority (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), pp. 67-75; Paul
Street, "Americans' Progressive Opinion vs. .The Shadow Cast on Society by
Big Business,'" ZNet Sustainer Commentary (May 15, 2008), read at
http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/3491.

3. Ed Tibbets, "Dispute Escalates as Wells Fargo Rejects Bid for
Hartmarx," Quad City Times, May 29, 2009, read at
http://www.qctimes.com/news/local/article_feea6846-4cb3-11de-bbf7-001cc4c03286.html;
U.S. Congressman Phil Hare, "Hartmarx and Wells Fargo" (2009), read at
http://hare.house.gov/?sectionid=255&sectiontree=30,228,255.

4. Robert Ginsburg, Ph.D, "Economic Impact of Quad City Die Casting to the
Quad Cities Economy," Center for Work and Community Development (Chicago,
Illinois), June 15, 2009.

5. United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers,  Charge Against High
Ridge Partners, Successor/Assignee of Quad City Die Casting, U.S. National
Labor Relations Board  (July 7, 2009), detailing violations of National
Labor Relations Act Sections 7 and 8 (a)(1), (3) and (5).

6. For a compelling portrait of Obama as emblematic of, and captive to,
"business liberalism," see Kevin Baker, "Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and
the Brightest Blow it Again," Harper's Magazine (July 2009).

7. Paul Street, "Two Chicago Stories: Hope and Shame," ZNet Sustainer
Commentary (December 12, 2008), read online at
http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/3709.

8. Pam Cunningham, reporter, "QC Die Casting Workers Arrested as Planned,"
WQAD TV (July 9, 2009):
http://www.wqad.com/news/wqad-die-casting-arrest-070909,0,6663919.story

9. The Republic sit-down has yet to spark a wave of imitations but it is
interesting to note that Wells Fargo-financed  Hartmarx's Des Plaines
Illinois workers - enrolled in Workers United local - voted to authorize a
sit-down strike at their plant last May.  See WBBM-CBS 2 Chicago, "Workers
Approve Sit-In at Hartmarx Suit Factory" (May 11, 2009), read at
http://cbs2chicago.com/local/hartmarx.workers.sitin.2.1006811.html. The
threat of a Republic-style sit-own strike was certainly part of the
equation compelling Wells Fargo to relent on its original plan to shut
down the plant.

10. He may have seen the WQAD broadcast that is transcribed in
Cunningham/reporter, "QC Die Casting Workers" (see note 8, above). The
WQAD reporter seemed more than a little biased against the union in the
following commentary: "The union representative said it's about the
national economy because Wells Fargo got stimulus money. I asked what
about the Rock Island city tax payers and the money used to make these
arrests...Deb Johann a worker at QC Diecasting for 31 years says she
doesn't know what she will do if she loses her job. It's the only job she
has ever done. I asked her what would happen if this arrest was
unsuccessful and she still lost her job. Would an arrest be worth ruining
her currently spotless record? She said, .I never thought of it as that.
This just proves a point that the whole economy and the whole Quad Cities
knows what Wells Fargo is doing to a small business'...There were eight
Rock Island police officers assigned to the protest, and many were paid
overtime to be there."


--------10 of 11--------

Why Are Humans Different From All Other Apes? It's The
Cooking, Stupid
DWIGHT GARNER
New York Times
May 26, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/books/27garn.html?pagewanted=all

CATCHING FIRE
How Cooking Made Us Human
By Richard Wrangham
309 pages. Basic Books. $26.95

Human beings are not obviously equipped to be nature's gladiators. We have
no claws, no armor. That we eat meat seems surprising, because we are not
made for chewing it uncooked in the wild. Our jaws are weak; our teeth are
blunt; our mouths are small. That thing below our noses? It truly is a pie
hole.

To attend to these facts, for some people, is to plead for vegetarianism
or for a raw-food diet. We should forage and eat the way our long-ago
ancestors surely did. For Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological
anthropology at Harvard and the author of "Catching Fire," however, these
facts and others demonstrate something quite different. They help prove
that we are, as he vividly puts it, "the cooking apes, the creatures of
the flame."

The title of Mr. Wrangham's new book - "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us
Human" - sounds a bit touchy-feely. Perhaps, you think, he has written a
meditation on hearth and fellow feeling and s'mores. He has not. "Catching
Fire" is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that
presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution, one he calls
"the cooking hypothesis," one that Darwin (among others) simply missed.

Apes began to morph into humans, and the species Homo erectus emerged some
two million years ago, Mr. Wrangham argues, for one fundamental reason: We
learned to tame fire and heat our food.

"Cooked food does many familiar things," he observes. "It makes our food
safer, creates rich and delicious tastes and reduces spoilage. Heating can
allow us to open, cut or mash tough foods. But none of these advantages is
as important as a little-appreciated aspect: cooking increases the amount
of energy our bodies obtain from food."

He continues: "The extra energy gave the first cooks biological
advantages. They survived and reproduced better than before. Their genes
spread. Their bodies responded by biologically adapting to cooked food,
shaped by natural selection to take maximum advantage of the new diet.
There were changes in anatomy, physiology, ecology, life history,
psychology and society." Put simply, Mr. Wrangham writes that eating
cooked food - whether meat or plants or both - made digestion easier, and
thus our guts could grow smaller. The energy that we formerly spent on
digestion (and digestion requires far more energy than you might imagine)
was freed up, enabling our brains, which also consume enormous amounts of
energy, to grow larger. The warmth provided by fire enabled us to shed our
body hair, so we could run farther and hunt more without overheating.
Because we stopped eating on the spot as we foraged and instead gathered
around a fire, we had to learn to socialize, and our temperaments grew
calmer.

There were other benefits for humanity's ancestors. He writes: "The
protection fire provided at night enabled them to sleep on the ground and
lose their climbing ability, and females likely began cooking for males,
whose time was increasingly free to search for more meat and honey. While
other habilines" - tool-using prehumans - "elsewhere in Africa continued
for several hundred thousand years to eat their food raw, one lucky group
became Homo erectus - and humanity began."

You read all this and think: Is it really possible that this is an
original bit of news? Mr. Wrangham seems as surprised as we are. "What is
extraordinary about this simple claim," he writes, "is that it is new."

Mr. Wrangham arrives at his theory by first walking us through the work of
other anthropologists and naturalists, including Claude Lévi-Strauss and
Darwin, who did not pay much attention to cooking, assuming that humans
could have done pretty well without it.

He then delivers a thorough, delightfully brutal takedown of the raw-food
movement and its pieties. He cites studies showing that a strict raw-foods
diet cannot guarantee an adequate energy supply, and notes that, in one
survey, 50 percent of the women on such a diet stopped menstruating. There
is no way our human ancestors survived, much less reproduced, on it. He
seems pleased to be able to report that raw diets make you urinate too
often, and cause back and hip problems.

Even castaways, he writes, have needed to cook their food to survive: "I
have not been able to find any reports of people living long term on raw
wild food." Thor Heyerdahl, traveling by primitive raft across the
Pacific, took along a small stove and a cook. Alexander Selkirk, the model
for Robinson Crusoe, built fires and cooked on them.

Mr. Wrangham also dismisses, for complicated social and economic reasons,
the popular Man-the-Hunter hypothesis about evolution, which posits that
meat-eating alone was responsible. Meat eating "has had less impact on our
bodies than cooked food," he writes. "Even vegetarians thrive on cooked
diets. We are cooks more than carnivores."

Among the most provocative passages in "Catching Fire" are those that
probe the evolution of gender roles. Cooking made women more vulnerable,
Mr. Wrangham ruefully observes, to male authority.

"Relying on cooked food creates opportunities for cooperation, but just as
important, it exposes cooks to being exploited," he writes. "Cooking takes
time, so lone cooks cannot easily guard their wares from determined
thieves such as hungry males without their own food." Women needed male
protection.

Marriage, or what Mr. Wrangham calls "a primitive protection racket," was
a solution. Mr. Wrangham's nuanced ideas cannot be given their full due
here, but he is not happy to note that cooking "trapped women into a newly
subservient role enforced by male-dominated culture."

"Cooking," he writes, "created and perpetuated a novel system of male
cultural superiority. It is not a pretty picture." As a student, Mr.
Wrangham studied with the primatologist Jane Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania,
and he is the author, with Dale Peterson, of a previous book called
"Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence." In "Catching
Fire" he has delivered a rare thing: a slim book - the text itself is a
mere 207 pages - that contains serious science yet is related in direct,
no-nonsense prose. It is toothsome, skillfully prepared brain food.

"Zoologists often try to capture the essence of our species with such
phrases as the naked, bipedal or big- brained ape," Mr. Wrangham writes.
He adds, in a sentence that posits Mick Jagger as an anomaly and boils
down much of his impressive erudition: "They could equally well call us
the small-mouthed ape."


--------11 of 11--------

 Obama rots in
 hell. Obamanistas rot
 with him, full of hope.

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   - David Shove             shove001 [at] tc.umn.edu
   rhymes with clove         Progressive Calendar
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