Archive for April, 2008

Exposed Monsanto is Satan: the great GM crops myth

April 26, 2008

Major new study shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

Professor Barney Gordon, of the university’s department of agronomy, said he started the research – reported in the journal Better Crops – because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had “noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions”. He added: “People were asking the question ‘how come I don’t get as high a yield as I used to?'”

He grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field. The modified crop produced only 70 bushels of grain per acre, compared with 77 bushels from the non-GM one.

The GM crop – engineered to resist Monsanto’s own weedkiller, Roundup – recovered only when he added extra manganese, leading to suggestions that the modification hindered the crop’s take-up of the essential element from the soil. Even with the addition it brought the GM soya’s yield to equal that of the conventional one, rather than surpassing it.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a “decrease” in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.

A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over. (See graphic above.)

Monsanto said yesterday that it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.

Critics doubt whether the company will achieve this, saying that it requires more complex modification. And Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington – and who was one of the first to predict the current food crisis – said that the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.

A former champion crop grower himself, he drew the comparison with human runners. Since Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile more than 50 years ago, the best time has improved only modestly . “Despite all the advances in training, no one contemplates a three-minute mile.”

Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: “The simple answer is no.”

Where’s George?

April 23, 2008

Harvey Wasserman

http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/7/2008/1648

So what ever happened to George W. Bush, the worst chief executive this nation has ever endured?

This is an election year. Aren’t we supposed to be evaluating the legacy of the previous administration?

In this case, we have a man whose approval ratings are subterranean. Who’s sunk us into an endless war based on impeachable lies. Who’s dragged our national honor into the toxic mud. Who’s brought us to the brink of depression. Who’s dropped the dollar into the toilet. Who wants more subsidies for terror-target nuke reactors and more tax breaks for CO2-spewing oil barons.

Who screams “Terror! Terror! Terror!” at every possible moment, but lets Osama bin Laden run free.

What would Limbaugh, O’Reilly and the rest of the corporate bloviators be screaming today if a Democrat had hosted the 9/11 attacks and then let their perpetrator roam the world without capture for more than six years?

The only thing the American people can say with pride about George W. Bush is that we never elected him president of the United States.

Is it a surprise that the corporate media has mostly removed this monster from public view? That instead it has Obama and Hillary yelling over such burning issues as flag pins, memory lapses, and the word “bitter”?

The GOP’s very own Nero is now rarely seen. And his puppeteer, Dick “Caligula” Cheney has become equally invisible. When last sighted, he was telling the world that the overwhelming anti-war sentiment of the majority of this once-proud democracy does not matter.

For the record: Nero was the deranged boy-emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. Caligula was the twisted, sadistic torturer-emperor who helped preside over the final demise of a once-great empire. (See the movie of the same name.)

While they should be the daily targets of the Clinton-Obama road show, the ghastly Bush-Cheney has become what Ross Perot said of the national deficit: the crazy aunt that’s stashed in the closet and nobody wants to talk about.

That John McCain will further their policies of endless war on Iraq, on the global environment, on working people and for shredding the Bill of Rights, is patently obvious.

How about Barack and Hillary sign a pact. They can snipe at each other all they want.

But they agree to start each public appearance by reminding everyone who’s in the White House and what he’s done to us all. No matter what moronic questions their debate “moderators” ask them, they can start by asking “Where’s George?”

And then they can say: “When George Bush first ran, you insisted he wasn’t stupid. If that’s true, given what he’s done to the country, what’s his excuse?”

Or is that too much “spin” for prime time?


Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at http://www.solartopia.org. He is senior editor of http://freepress.org, where this article first appeared.

110 best books: The perfect library

April 12, 2008

From classics and sci-fi to poetry, biographies and books that changed the world… we present the ultimate reading list. Illustrations by David Juniper

CLASSICS

The Illiad and The Odyssey
Homer

Pile of books

Set during the Trojan War, The Iliad combines battle scenes with a debate about heroism; Odysseus’ thwarted attempts to return to Ithaca when the war ends form The Odyssey. Its symbolic evocation of human life as an epic journey homewards has inspired everything from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother Where Art Thou?.

The Barchester Chronicles
Anthony Trollope

A story set in a fictional cathedral town about the squabbles and power struggles of the clergy? It doesn’t sound promising, but Trollope’s sparklingly satirical novels are among the best-loved books of all time.

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen

advertisement

Heroine meets hero and hates him. Is charmed by a cad. A family crisis – caused by the cad – is resolved by the hero. The heroine sees him for what he really is and realises (after visiting his enormous house) that she loves him. The plot has been endlessly borrowed, but few authors have written anything as witty or profound as Pride and Prejudice.

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Swift’s scathing satire shows humans at their worst: whether diminished (in Lilliput) or grossly magnified (in Brobdingnag). Our capacity for self-delusion – personified by the absurdly pompous Gulliver – makes this darkest of novels very funny.

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

Cruelty, hypocrisy, dashed hopes: Jane Eyre faces them all, yet her individuality triumphs. Her relationship with Rochester has such emotional power that it’s hard to believe these characters never lived.

War and Peace
Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s masterpiece is so enormous even the author said it couldn’t be described as a novel. But the characters of Andrei, Pierre and Natasha – and the tragic and unexpected way their lives intersect – grip you for all 1,400 pages.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens

David’s journey to adulthood is filled with difficult choices – and a huge cast of characters, from the treacherous Steerforth to the comical Mr Micawber.

Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray

‘”I’m no Angel,” answered Miss Rebecca. And to tell the truth, she was not.’ Whether we should judge the cunning, amoral Becky Sharp – or the hypocritical society she inhabits – is the question.

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s finely crafted novel tells the story of Emma, a bored provincial wife who comforts herself with shopping and affairs. It doesn’t end well.

Middlemarch
George Eliot

Dorothea wastes her youth on a creepy, elderly scholar. Lydgate marries the beautiful but self-absorbed Rosamund. George Eliot’s characters make terrible mistakes, but we never lose empathy with them.


POETRY

Sonnets
Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s sonnets contain some of poetry’s most iconic lines – and a mysterious insight into his personal life.

Divine Comedy
Dante

Dante Alighieri’s epic tale of one man’s journey into the afterlife is considered Italy’s finest literary export.

Canterbury Tales
Chaucer

These humorous tales about fictional pilgrims made an important contribution to English literature at a time when court poetry was written in either Anglo-Norman or Latin.

The Prelude
William Wordsworth

This posthumously published work is both an autobiographical journey and a fragment of history from the revolutionary and post-revolutionary years.

Odes
John Keats

Littered with sensuous descriptions of nature’s beauty, Keats’s odes also pose profound philosophical questions.

The Waste Land
T. S. Eliot

Eliot’s vision of dystopia became a literary landmark, and introduced new techniques to the modern poet. He remains one of the defining figures of 20th-century poetry.

Paradise Lost
John Milton

Since its publication in 1667, Milton’s 12-book English epic – in which he sets out to ‘justify the ways of God to men’ – has been considered a classic.

Songs of Innocence and Experience
William Blake

Blake’s short poems are simple in rhythm and rhyme, but sophisticated in meaning. Written during a time of political turmoil, they embody his radical sympathies and anti-dualist ideas.

Collected Poems
W. B. Yeats

Considered a driving force in the revival of Irish literature, Yeats fruitfully engages the topics of youth, love, nature, art and war.

Collected Poems
Ted Hughes

Although Hughes was a colossal presence among the English literary landscape – his work often draws upon the forbidding Yorkshire countryside of his youth – his personal life had a tendency to overshadow his talent.


LITERARY FICTION

The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

James’s mastery of psychology has never been more elegantly expressed nor more gripping than in his tale of Isabel Archer, a young American in search of her destiny, and Gilbert Osmond, the ultimate cold fish and one of literature’s most repellent villains.

A la recherche du temps perdu
Proust

A novel whose every sentence can be a struggle to finish may sound forbidding, but this masterpiece of modernity, taking us into every nook and cranny of the narrator’s fascinating mind, is worth all the effort.

Ulysses
James Joyce

Banned in Britain and America for its depiction of female masturbation, Joyce’s Ulysses takes its scatological stand at the pinnacle of modernist literature. Lyrical and witty, its stream-of-consciousness narration deters many, but makes enraptured enthusiasts of others.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

A sparse, masculine, world-weary meditation on death, ideology and the savagery of war in general, and the Spanish civil war in particular.

Sword of Honour trilogy
Evelyn Waugh

A poignant, ironic study of the disintegration of aristocratic values in the face of blank bureaucracy and Second World War butchery, Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender are Waugh’s crowning achievements.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Muriel Spark

Comic, satirical and ineffably odd, Spark’s fifth novel introduces Dougal Douglas, ghost-writer, researcher, mysterious figure of Satanic magnetism and mayhem, to the upper working-class/ lower middle-class milieu of Peckham.

Rabbit series
John Updike

We first meet Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom in Rabbit, Run, as a boorish, unhappy former basketball jock who runs from (and to) his pregnant wife. The novels that follow cover 30 years and make up the great study of American manhood.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez

The greatest moment in magical realist fiction, García Márquez’s passionate, humorous history of Macondo and its founding family, the Buendías, has the seductive power of myth.

Beloved
Toni Morrison

Morrison brought to life a version of the slave narrative that has become a classic. Her tour de force of guilt, abandonment and revenge plays out against the background of pre-emancipation American life.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

Roth’s brilliant, angry dissection of race, disgrace and hypocrisy in Clinton-Lewinsky era America brings to a close his grand and meticulous American trilogy (American Pastoral, I Married a Communist).


ROMANTIC FICTION

Rebecca cover
Rebecca: the narrator is haunted by the housekeeper’s worship of her predecessor

Rebecca
Daphne du Maurier

Cornish estate owner Maximilian de Winter’s second wife – also the nameless narrator – is haunted by the housekeeper’s oppressive worship of her predecessor, Rebecca. A masterful tale of suspense.

Le Morte D’Arthur
Thomas Malory

Malory’s yarn explores the possibility that chivalry is best revealed by a knight’s loyalty to his fellow knights, and not simply his devotion to a woman.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Choderlos de Laclos

Paris in the 18th century: the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont concoct a scheme of seduction to entrap members of the aristocracy. Their roguish machinations lead to their climactic undoing.

I, Claudius
Robert Graves

An invented autobiographical account of Claudius, the fourth emperor of ancient Rome. Graves draws upon the historical texts of Tacitus and Suetonius to write Claudius’s story after claiming a visitation from the ancient ruler in his dreams.

Alexander Trilogy
Mary Renault

Renault transports readers to Ancient Greece in a historical trilogy that presents the life and legacy of Alexander the Great in a humanising fictional portrait.

Master and Commander
Patrick O’Brian

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, O’Brian’s books journey the seas with Commander Aubrey and his crew aboard HMS Sophie. The novel follows Aubrey’s convincing and complex friendship with Maturin, the ship’s surgeon, as they fight enemies and storms.

Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett O’Hara manipulates her way through the American civil war. This selfish, but gutsy heroine idealises the unattainable Ashley before realising her love for her third husband, Rhett, who dismisses her with, ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’

Dr Zhivago
Boris Pasternak

Yuri Zhivago loves two women, his wife, Tonya, and the captivating Lara. Pasternak juxtaposes romance with the stark brutality of the Russian civil war in this extraordinary historical epic.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

Disgraced by an illegitimate child, Tess is tainted with shame and guilt, which destroys her marriage to Angel Clare. She emerges as a tragic heroine, incapable of escaping the hypocrisy of Victorian society.

The Plantagenet Saga
Jean Plaidy

A collection of novels inspired by the Plantagenet dynasty. Jean Plaidy is one of the many noms de plume of Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert, the celebrated historical fiction writer, who died in 1993.


CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Swallows and Amazons
Arthur Ransome

Four children sail to Wildcat Island, where they encounter a rival camping party then join forces to hunt treasure. Robinson Crusoe meets The Famous Five in a tale of sailing and ginger beer.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy discover the land of Narnia and the malevolent White Witch. The novel uses Christian iconography in Aslan’s dramatic sacrifice and resurrection. Edmund’s transition from self-interested schoolboy to heroic young man is also resonantly spiritual.

The Lord of the Rings
J.R. R. Tolkien

Frodo and friends journey to Mordor to destroy the ring, making the young Hobbit one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. More than 100million copies have been sold of the trilogy that brought fantasy to a mainstream literary audience.

His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman

Will is a boy from Oxford. Lyra is a girl from Oxford in a parallel world. Together they have an epic adventure spanning parallel universes. The trilogy has inspired criticism for being heretical – Pullman himself declared the books were about ‘killing God’.

Babar
Jean de Brunhoff

Babar brings clothes and cars (and Madame) from Paris to his African kingdom. With his family and the wise Cornelius by his side, Babar protects his land from the Rhino King Rataxes. The big, beautiful books are enriched by Brunhoff’s wonderful illustrations.

The Railway Children cover
The Railway Children: the children adapt to a poverty-stricken life helped by waving to trains

The Railway Children
E. Nesbit

Nesbit’s classic, made famous by the 1970 film, tells of how Bobby, Phyllis and Pete, missing their beloved father, adapt to a poverty-stricken life in the country, helped by Mr Perks, the Old Gentleman, and by waving to the train.

Winnie-the-Pooh
A.A. Milne

The Silly Old Bear, with his friends in Hundred Acre Wood, is more than a British institution. A.A. Milne created a life philosophy with the trials, triumphs and tiddley-poms of the honey-loving, always kind-hearted Pooh.

Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling

The boy wizard’s dealings with the forces of adolescence and evil have sold more than 350million books in 65 languages. The Harry Potter phenomenon has its detractors, but the success of special ‘grown-up’ covers, allowing commuters to read Rowling without shame, tells its own tale.

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame

Lonely and miserable trying to clean his hole, Mole ventures outside. He meets Ratty, Toad and Badger, and embarks on a new life defending Toad Hall from the weasels, protecting Toad from himself and messing about in boats.

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

The piratical coming of age of Jim Hawkins, who discovers a map of Treasure Island among an old sea captain’s possessions – and then follows it. Parrots, ‘pieces of eight’ and the lovable, but morally ambiguous Long John Silver.


SCI-FI

Frankenstein
Mary Shelley

The great genius of Shelley’s novel has often been overwhelmed by images of schlocky bolt-necked ‘Frankensteins’. Brought to life by Dr Victor Frankenstein, Shelley’s creature is part gothic monster, part Romantic hero.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Jules Verne

Among the deep-sea volcanoes, shoals of swirling fish, giant squid and sharks, Captain Nemo steers the Nautilus. Nemo is the renegade scientist par excellence, a man madly inventive in his quest for revenge.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells

A seminal work of dystopian fiction, Wells’s tale of the voyages of the Time Traveller in the distant future (AD802,701) is also a cracking adventure story.

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley

Ignorance is far from bliss in Huxley’s terrible vision of a future of rampant consumerism, worthless free love, routine drug use and cultural passivity.

1984 cover
1984: chilling, wry and romantic, Orwell’s novel is a passionate cry for freedom

1984
George Orwell

So persuasive and chilling was the world summoned up here that ‘Orwellian’ has entered the language as shorthand for government control. Chilling, wry and romantic, it is above all a passionate cry for freedom.

The Day of the Triffids
John Wyndham

Shifty Soviets and the clipped vernacular make this a Fifties horror story. But as humans cope with disasters (mass blinding by meteor shower; ruthless walking, flesh-eating plants) the tale becomes taut, terrifying, and far from ridiculous.

Foundation
Isaac Asimov

‘Great Galaxy!’ It is not for literary brilliance that one approaches the first in the Foundation series, but rather for the sweeping grandeur of Asimov’s epic universe-wide tale of the decline and fall of empires. Once you’ve finished this, 14 novels and countless more short stories await.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Arthur C. Clarke

The first in Clarke’s quartet was written as a novel and, in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, as a film script. As the Discovery One mission drifts towards Saturn, Clarke creates the embodiment of the perils of computer technology, HAL9000.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick

Dick’s masterpiece questions what it is that distinguishes us as human, as we follow Rick Deckard on his mission to ‘retire’ recalcitrant androids. Spawned Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Neuromancer
William Gibson

A violent slab of cyberpunk sci-fi, in which techie activities (artificial intelligence, hacking, virtual reality) are married with a grimy, anarchic, slangy sensibility, and a cast of hustlers, hackers and junkies trying to make sense of a world ruled by corporations.


CRIME

The Talented Mr Ripley
Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley is one of 20th-century literature’s most disturbingly fascinating characters: a suave, charming serial killer, who’s utterly amoral in his pursuit of la dolce vita.

The Maltese Falcon cover
The Maltese Falcon: a tale of greed and deceit, complete with flawed hero and femme fatale

The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett

A tale of greed and deceit that’s also the archetypal work of 20th-century detective fiction: complete with flawed hero (Sam Spade), femme fatale and a convoluted plot that unravels grippingly.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It’s one of literature’s most wonderful ironies that Conan Doyle himself became a spiritualist so soon after creating the most famously rational character in all literature.

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

His oeuvre may be small, but with the help of long-time protagonist PI Philip Marlowe – who appears here for the first time – Chandler helped define the genres of detective fiction and, later, film noir.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
John le Carré

Le Carré, master of the Cold War novel, follows British spymaster George Smiley as he tries to uncover a Moscow mole, and faces his KGB nemesis, Karla.

Red Dragon
Thomas Harris

Hannibal Lecter’s second literary appearance sees him called upon by old FBI chum (and near-victim) Will Graham, to help solve the case of the serially morbid ‘Tooth Fairy’.

Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie

From Istanbul to London, Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells rattle away to improbable effect as he untangles the mystery of the life and violent death of a sinister passenger.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s blackly ingenious tale of brutal murder in 19th-century Paris establishes C. Auguste Dupin, a man of ‘peculiar analytic ability’, as the model for pretty much every intellectual detective to come.

The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins

A sensational 19th-century epistolary tale of women in peril adds one of the most charismatic, refined and straightforwardly fat villains to the pantheon.

Killshot
Elmore Leonard

Leonard is known for his pithy dialogue and freaky characters. Here he manages to create a sweatily suspenseful thriller, with a married couple as the unexpected heroes.


BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

Das Kapital
Karl Marx

His thinking may not be as popular as it was in the Sixties and Seventies, but it’s as relevant. The cardinal critique of the capitalist system.

The Rights of Man
Tom Paine

Written during the heady days of the French Revolution, Paine’s pamphlet – by introducing the concept of human rights – remains one of modern democracy’s fundamental texts.

The Social Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

‘Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.’ How are we to reconcile our individual rights and freedoms with living in a society?

Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville

This treatise looked to the new country’s flourishing democracy in the early 19th century and the progressive model it offered ‘old’ Europe.

On War
Carl von Clausewitz

The first, and probably still foremost, treatise on the art of modern warfare. The Prussian general looked beyond the battlefield to war’s place in the broader political context.

The Prince cover
The Prince: the ultimate mandate for politicians who value power above justice

The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli

Written during his exile from the Florentine Republic, Machiavelli’s bible of realpolitik offers the ultimate mandate for those (still-too-many) politicians who value keeping power above dispensing justice.

Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes’s call for rule by an absolute sovereign may not sound too progressive, but it was based on the then-groundbreaking belief that all men are naturally equal.

On the Interpretation of Dreams
Sigmund Freud

Drawing on his own dreams, plus those of his patients, Freud asserted that dreams – by tapping into our unconscious – held the key to understanding what makes us tick.

On the Origin of Species
Charles Darwin

No other book has so transformed how we look at the natural world and mankind’s origins.

L’Encyclopédie
Diderot, et al

Subtitled ‘A Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts’, with contributions by Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot and others, the 35-volume encyclopedia was the ultimate document of Enlightenment thought.


BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR WORLD

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance cover
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: a feel-good memoir that became the biggest-selling philosophy book of all time

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig

Pirsig’s feel-good memoir about a father-son motorcycle trip across America became the biggest-selling philosophy book of all time.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Richard Bach

Bach’s fable about a dreamy seagull called Jonathan, who seeks to soar above the ideology of his flock, became a New Age classic, and is dedicated to the ‘real seagull in all of us’.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams

Originally broadcast on Radio 4, this quotable comedy about a hapless Englishman and his alien friend proved that sci-fi could be clever and funny.

The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell uses everything from teenage smoking to Sesame Street to show how one person’s small idea, or way of thinking, can spark a social epidemic.

The Beauty Myth
Naomi Wolf

Wolf, the controversial American feminist (and teenage victim of anorexia), argues that women’s insecurities stem from society’s demands on them either to be beautiful or face judgment.

How to Cook
Delia Smith

The cookery queen’s series is credited with teaching culinary delinquents how to prepare good wholesome food from scratch. Her latest book, How to Cheat at Cooking, does the opposite.

A Year in Provence
Peter Mayle

For those who’ve dreamt of leaving it all to live in the South of France, expat Peter Mayle’s diary offers a dose of reality, from unexpected snowfalls to an algae-coated swimming pool.

A Child Called ‘It’
Dave Pelzer

Pelzer’s graphic account of his abusive childhood topped the bestseller lists worldwide. Since then, he’s had to fight off accusations of embellishment and fantasy from family members.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Lynne Truss

In an attempt to stamp out poor punctuation, Truss compiled a lively and useful account for all those in doubt about how to use an apostrophe.

Schott’s Original Miscellany
Ben Schott

Dip into Schott’s compendium of trivia and impress your friends with such questions as, ‘Do you know who makes the Queen’s pork sausages?’ The answer: Musks of Newmarket.


HISTORY

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon

Compressing 13 turbulent centuries into one epic narrative, this is often labelled the first ‘modern’ history book. Gibbon fell back on sociology, rather than superstition, to explain Rome’s demise.

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Winston Churchill

Taking us from Caesar’s 55BC invasion to the Boer War’s end in 1902, Churchill’s four-volume saga makes the proud, but now-unfashionable, connection between speaking English and bearing ‘the torch of Freedom’.

A History of the Crusades
Steven Runciman

Still the landmark account of the Crusades, Byzantine scholar Runciman’s work broke with centuries of Western tradition, claiming the crusading invaders were guilty of a ‘long act of intolerance in the name of God’.

The Histories
Herodotus

Ostensibly about Greece’s defeat of the invading Persians in the 5th century BC, it blends fact, hearsay, legend and myth to tell tales of life in and around Ancient Greece.

The History of the Peloponnesian War
Thucydides

Famously fastidious over the reliability of his data and sources, Thucydides – with this detailed study of the 25-year struggle between Athens and Sparta – set the template for every historian after him.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom
T. E. Lawrence

Lawrence of Arabia’s fascinating, self-mythologising account of how he united a string of Arab tribes and successfully led them to rebellion against their Ottoman overlords.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Compiled at King Alfred’s behest in the AD890s, this is the earliest-known history of England written in old English. It’s also the oldest history of any European country in a vernacular language.

A People’s Tragedy
Orlando Figes

Figes charts the Russian Revolution in stark detail, telling the tale of ‘ordinary people’ and boldly concluding that they ‘weren’t the victims of the Revolution but protagonists in its tragedy’.

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Simon Schama

Before he was on television, Prof Schama offered 948 pages of proof that there was more to the French Revolution than fraternity, equality and eating cake.

The Origins of the Second World War
A.J.P. Taylor

Was Hitler all that bad? Wasn’t he just an opportunist who took advantage of Anglo-French dithering and appeasement? The label ‘iconoclastic’ applies to few historians so well as it does to Taylor.


LIVES

Confessions
St Augustine

In probably the first autobiography in Western literature, the Church Father recounts his life-journey from sinner to saint, from the boy who stole pears from a neighbour’s tree to the articulator of key Christian doctrines.

Lives of the Caesars
Suetonius

Charting the lives of Julius Caesar, Augustus and the 10 subsequent Roman emperors, with scandalous tales of imperial decadence, vice and lunacy.

Lives of the Artists
Vasari

The history of Italian Renaissance art, as told through the biographies of its heavyweight practitioners.

If This is a Man
Primo Levi

His background as an industrial chemist from Turin may not sound remarkable, but Levi’s poised account of his hell-on-earth experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz undoubtedly is.

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man
Siegfried Sassoon

He’s best known for his anti-war poems, but Sassoon was also once popular for his semi-autobiographical trilogy of novels, of which this was the first.

Eminent Victorians
Lytton Strachey

Strachey didn’t do hagiography. His unflattering biographical essays on major Victorian figures debunked the myth of Victorian pre-eminence.

A Life of Charlotte Brontë
Elizabeth Gaskell

A biography of the intriguing Jane Eyre author, by her friend and fellow-novelist, Gaskell. One of the definitive ‘tortured genius’ biographies.

Goodbye to All That
Robert Graves

A friend of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, Graves was another Englishman to write unsparingly about the horrors of trench warfare.

The Life of Dr Johnson
Boswell

He’s one of English literature’s all-time heavyweights, but most of what we know about Samuel Johnson, the man, comes from his friend Boswell’s hearty anecdotal biog.

Diaries

Paranoid shift

April 9, 2008

By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Contributing Writer

January 10, 2004—Just before his death, James Jesus Angleton, the legendary chief of counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency, was a bitter man. He felt betrayed by the people he had worked for all his life. In the end, he had come to realize that they were never really interested in American ideals of “freedom” and “democracy.” They really only wanted “absolute power.”

Angleton told author Joseph Trento that the reason he had gotten the counterintelligence job in the first place was by agreeing not to submit “sixty of Allen Dulles’ closest friends” to a polygraph test concerning their business deals with the Nazis. In his end-of-life despair, Angleton assumed that he would see all his old companions again “in hell.”

The transformation of James Jesus Angleton from an enthusiastic, Ivy League cold warrior, to a bitter old man, is an extreme example of a phenomenon I call a “paranoid shift.” I recognize the phenomenon, because something similar happened to me.

Although I don’t remember ever meeting James Jesus Angleton, I worked at the CIA myself as a low-level clerk as a teenager in the ’60s. This was at the same time I was beginning to question the government’s actions in Vietnam. In fact, my personal “paranoid shift” probably began with the disillusionment I felt when I realized that the story of American foreign policy was, at the very least, more complicated and darker than I had hitherto been led to believe.

But for most of the next 30 years, even though I was a radical, I nevertheless held faith in the basic integrity of a system where power ultimately resided in the people, and whereby if enough people got together and voted, real and fundamental change could happen.

What constitutes my personal paranoid shift is that I no longer believe this to be necessarily true.

In his book, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower,” William Blum warns of how the media will make anything that smacks of “conspiracy theory” an immediate “object of ridicule.” This prevents the media from ever having to investigate the many strange interconnections among the ruling class—for example, the relationship between the boards of directors of media giants, and the energy, banking and defense industries. These unmentionable topics are usually treated with what Blum calls “the media’s most effective tool—silence.” But in case somebody’s asking questions, all you have to do is say, “conspiracy theory,” and any allegation instantly becomes too frivolous to merit serious attention.

On the other hand, since my paranoid shift, whenever I hear the words “conspiracy theory” (which seems more often, lately) it usually means someone is getting too close to the truth.

Take September 11—which I identify as the date my paranoia actually shifted, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Unless I’m paranoid, it doesn’t make any sense at all that George W. Bush, commander-in-chief, sat in a second-grade classroom for 20 minutes after he was informed that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center, listening to children read a story about a goat. Nor does it make sense that the Number 2 man, Dick Cheney—even knowing that “the commander” was on a mission in Florida—nevertheless sat at his desk in the White House, watching TV, until the Secret Service dragged him out by the armpits.

Unless I’m paranoid, it makes no sense that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sat at his desk until Flight 77 hit the Pentagon—well over an hour after the military had learned about the multiple hijacking in progress. It also makes no sense that the brand-new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat in a Senate office for two hours while the 9/11 attacks took place, after leaving explicit instructions that he not be disturbed—which he wasn’t.

In other words, while the 9/11 attacks were occurring, the entire top of the chain of command of the most powerful military in the world sat at various desks, inert. Why weren’t they in the “Situation Room?” Don’t any of them ever watch “West Wing?”

In a sane world, this would be an object of major scandal. But here on this side of the paranoid shift, it’s business as usual.

Years, even decades before 9/11, plans had been drawn up for American forces to take control of the oil interests of the Middle East, for various imperialist reasons. And these plans were only contingent upon “a catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor,” to gain the majority support of the American public to set the plans into motion. When the opportunity presented itself, the guards looked the other way . . . and presto, the path to global domination was open.

Simple, as long as the media played along. And there is voluminous evidence that the media play along. Number one on Project Censored’s annual list of underreported stories in 2002 was the Project for a New American Century (now the infrastructure of the Bush Regime), whose report, published in 2000, contains the above “Pearl Harbor” quote.

Why is it so hard to believe serious people who have repeatedly warned us that powerful ruling elites are out to dominate “the masses?” Did we think Dwight Eisenhower was exaggerating when he warned of the extreme “danger” to democracy of “the military industrial complex?” Was Barry Goldwater just being a quaint old-fashioned John Bircher when he said that the Trilateral Commission was “David Rockefeller’s latest scheme to take over the world, by taking over the government of the United States?” Were Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt or Joseph Kennedy just being class traitors when they talked about a small group of wealthy elites who operate as a hidden government behind the government? Especially after he died so mysteriously, why shouldn’t we believe the late CIA Director William Colby, who bragged about how the CIA “owns everyone of any major significance in the major media?”

Why can’t we believe James Jesus Angleton—a man staring eternal judgment in the face—when he says that the founders of the Cold War national security state were only interested in “absolute power?” Especially when the descendant of a very good friend of Allen Dulles now holds power in the White House.

Prescott Bush, the late, aristocratic senator from Connecticut, and grandfather of George W Bush, was not only a good friend of Allen Dulles, CIA director, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and international business lawyer. He was also a client of Dulles’ law firm. As such, he was the beneficiary of Dulles’ miraculous ability to scrub the story of Bush’s treasonous investments in the Third Reich out of the news media, where it might have interfered with Bush’s political career . . . not to mention the presidential careers of his son and grandson.

Recently declassified US government documents, unearthed last October by investigative journalist John Buchanan at the New Hampshire Gazette, reveal that Prescott Bush’s involvement in financing and arming the Nazis was more extensive than previously known. Not only was Bush managing director of the Union Banking Corporation, the American branch of Hitler’s chief financier’s banking network; but among the other companies where Bush was a director—and which were seized by the American government in 1942, under the Trading With the Enemy Act—were a shipping line which imported German spies; an energy company that supplied the Luftwaffe with high-ethyl fuel; and a steel company that employed Jewish slave labor from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Like all the other Bush scandals that have been swept under the rug in the privatized censorship of the corporate media, these revelations have been largely ignored, with the exception of a single article in the Associated Press. And there are those, even on the left, who question the current relevance of this information.

But Prescott Bush’s dealings with the Nazis do more than illustrate a family pattern of genteel treason and war profiteering—from George Senior’s sale of TOW missiles to Iran at the same time he was selling biological and chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, to Junior’s zany misadventures in crony capitalism in present-day Iraq.

More disturbing by far are the many eerie parallels between Adolph Hitler and George W. Bush:

A conservative, authoritarian style, with public appearances in military uniform (which no previous American president has ever done while in office). Government by secrecy, propaganda and deception. Open assaults on labor unions and workers’ rights. Preemptive war and militant nationalism. Contempt for international law and treaties. Suspiciously convenient “terrorist” attacks, to justify a police state and the suspension of liberties. A carefully manufactured image of “The Leader,” who’s still just a “regular guy” and a “moderate.” “Freedom” as the rationale for every action. Fantasy economic growth, based on unprecedented budget deficits and massive military spending.

And a cold, pragmatic ideology of fascism—including the violent suppression of dissent and other human rights; the use of torture, assassination and concentration camps; and most important, Benito Mussolini’s preferred definition of “fascism” as “corporatism, because it binds together the interests of corporations and the state.”

By their fruits, you shall know them.

What perplexes me most is probably the same question that plagues most paranoiacs: why don’t other people see these connections?

Oh, sure, there may be millions of us, lurking at websites like Online Journal, From the Wilderness, Center for Cooperative Research, and the Center for Research on Globalization, checking out right-wing conspiracists and the galaxy of 9/11 sites, and reading columnists like Chris Floyd at the Moscow Times, and Maureen Farrell at Buzzflash. But we know we are only a furtive minority, the human remnant among the pod people in the live-action, 21st-century version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

And being paranoid, we have to figure out, with an answer that fits into our system, why more people don’t see the connections we do. Fortunately, there are a number of possible explanations.

First on the list would have to be what Marshal McLuhan called the “cave art of the electronic age:” advertising. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Karl Rove, gave credit for most of his ideas on how to manipulate mass opinion to American commercial advertising, and to the then-new science of “public relations.” But the public relations universe available to the corporate empire that rules the world today makes the Goebbels operation look primitive. The precision of communications technology and graphics; the century of research on human psychology and emotion; and the uniquely centralized control of triumphant post-Cold War monopoly capitalism, have combined to the point where “the manufacture of consent” can be set on automatic pilot.

A second major reason people won’t make the paranoid shift is that they are too fundamentally decent. They can’t believe that the elected leaders of our country, the people they’ve been taught through 12 years of public school to admire and trust, are capable of sending young American soldiers to their deaths and slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians, just to satisfy their greed—especially when they’re so rich in the first place. Besides, America is good, and the media are liberal and overly critical.

Third, people don’t want to look like fools. Being a “conspiracy theorist” is like being a creationist. The educated opinion of eminent experts on every TV and radio network is that any discussion of “oil” being a motivation for the US invasion of Iraq is just out of bounds, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a “conspiracy theorist.” We can trust the integrity of our ‘no-bid” contracting in Iraq, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a “conspiracy theorist.” Of course, people sometimes make mistakes, but our military and intelligence community did the best they could on and before September 11, and anybody who thinks otherwise is a “conspiracy theorist.”

Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin of JFK, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a “conspiracy theorist.”

Perhaps the biggest hidden reason people don’t make the paranoid shift is that knowledge brings responsibility. If we acknowledge that an inner circle of ruling elites controls the world’s most powerful military and intelligence system; controls the international banking system; controls the most effective and far-reaching propaganda network in history; controls all three branches of government in the world’s only superpower; and controls the technology that counts the people’s votes, we might be then forced to conclude that we don’t live in a particularly democratic system. And then voting and making contributions and trying to stay informed wouldn’t be enough. Because then the duty of citizenship would go beyond serving as a loyal opposition, to serving as a “loyal resistance”—like the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, except that in this case the resistance to fascism would be on the side of the national ideals, rather than the government; and a violent insurgency would not only play into the empire’s hands, it would be doomed from the start.

Forming a nonviolent resistance movement, on the other hand, might mean forsaking some middle class comfort, and it would doubtless require a lot of work. It would mean educating ourselves and others about the nature of the truly apocalyptic beast we face. It would mean organizing at the most basic neighborhood level, face to face. (We cannot put our trust in the empire’s technology.) It would mean reaching across turf lines and transcending single-issue politics, forming coalitions and sharing data and names and strategies, and applying energy at every level of government, local to global. It would also probably mean civil disobedience, at a time when the Bush regime is starting to classify that action as “terrorism.” In the end, it may mean organizing a progressive confederacy to govern ourselves, just as our revolutionary founders formed the Continental Congress. It would mean being wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.

It would be a lot of work. It would also require critical mass. A paradigm shift.

But as a paranoid, I’m ready to join the resistance. And the main reason is I no longer think that the “conspiracy” is much of a “theory.”

That the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was “probably” the result of “a conspiracy,” and that 70 percent of Americans agree with this conclusion, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That the Bay of Pigs fiasco, “Operation Zapata,” was organized by members of Skull and Bones, the ghoulish and powerful secret society at Yale University whose membership also included Prescott, George Herbert Walker and George W Bush; that two of the ships that carried the Cuban counterrevolutionaries to their appointment with absurdity were named the “Barbara” and the “Houston”—George HW Bush’s city of residence at the time—and that the oil company Bush owned, then operating in the Caribbean area, was named “Zapata,” is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That George Bush was the CIA director who kept the names of what were estimated to be hundreds of American journalists, considered to be CIA “assets,” from the Church Committee, the US Senate Intelligence Committe chaired by Senator Frank Church that investigated the CIA in the 1970s; that a 1971 University of Michigan study concluded that, in America, the more TV you watched, the less you knew; and that a recent survey by international scholars found that Americans were the most “ignorant” of world affairs out of all the populations they studied, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That the Council on Foreign Relations has a history of influence on official US government foreign policy; that the protection of US supplies of Middle East oil has been a central element of American foreign policy since the Second World War; and that global oil production has been in decline since its peak year, 2000, is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That, in the early 1970s, the newly-formed Trilateral Commission published a report which recommended that, in order for “globalization” to succeed, American manufacturing jobs had to be exported, and American wages had to decline, which is exactly what happened over the next three decades; and that, during that same period, the richest one percent of Americans doubled their share of the national wealth, is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That, beyond their quasi-public role as agents of the US Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Banks are profit-making corporations, whose beneficiaries include some of America’s wealthiest families; and that the United States has a virtual controlling interest in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, the three dominant global financial institutions, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That—whether it’s heroin from Southeast Asia in the ’60s and ’70s, or cocaine from Central America and heroin from Afghanistan in the ’80s, or cocaine from Colombia in the ’90s, or heroin from Afghanistan today—no major CIA covert operation has ever lacked a drug smuggling component, and that the CIA has hired Nazis, fascists, drug dealers, arms smugglers, mass murderers, perverts, sadists, terrorists and the Mafia, is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That the international oil industry is the dominant player in the global economy; that the Bush family has a decades-long business relationship with the Saudi royal family, Saudi oil money, and the family of Osama bin Laden; that, as president, both George Bushes have favored the interests of oil companies over the public interest; that both George Bushes have personally profited financially from Middle East oil; and that American oil companies doubled their records for quarterly profits in the months just preceding the invasion of Iraq, is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That the 2000 presidential election was deliberately stolen; that the pro-Bush/anti-Gore bias in the corporate media had spiked markedly in the last three weeks of the campaign; that corporate media were then virtually silent about the Florida recount; and that the Bush 2000 team had planned to challenge the legitimacy of the election if George W had won the popular, but lost the electoral vote—exactly what happened to Gore—is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was deceptively “cooked” by the Bush administration; that anybody paying attention to people like former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, knew before the invasion that the weapons were a hoax; and that American forces in Iraq today are applying the same brutal counterinsurgency tactics pioneered in Central America in the 1980s, under the direct supervision of then-Vice President George HW Bush, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” the Project for a New American Century’s 2000 report, and “The Grand Chessboard,” a book published a few years earlier by Trilateral Commission co-founder Zbigniew Brzezinski, both recommended a more robust and imperial US military presence in the oil basin of the Middle East and the Caspian region; and that both also suggested that American public support for this energy crusade would depend on public response to a new “Pearl Harbor,” is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That, in the 1960s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously approved a plan called “Operation Northwoods,” to stage terrorist attacks on American soil that could be used to justify an invasion of Cuba; and that there is currently an office in the Pentagon whose function is to instigate terrorist attacks that could be used to justify future strategically-desired military responses, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That neither the accusation by former British Environmental Minister Michael Meacham, Tony Blair’s longest-serving cabinet minister, that George W Bush allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen to justify an oil war in the Middle East; nor the RICO lawsuit filed by 9/11 widow Ellen Mariani against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Council on Foreign Relations (among others), on the grounds that they conspired to let the attacks happen to cash in on the ensuing war profiteering, has captured the slightest attention from American corporate media is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That the FBI has completely exonerated—though never identified—the speculators who purchased, a few days before the attacks (through a bank whose previous director is now the CIA executive director), an unusual number of “put” options, and who made millions betting that the stocks in American and United Airlines would crash, is not a “theory.” It’s fact.

That the US intelligence community received numerous warnings, from multiple sources, throughout the summer of 2001, that a major terrorist attack on American interests was imminent; that, according to the chair of the “independent” 9/11 commission, the attacks “could have and should have been prevented,” and according to a Senate Intelligence Committee member, “All the dots were connected;” that the White House has verified George W Bush’s personal knowledge, as of August 6, 2001, that these terrorist attacks might be domestic and might involve hijacked airliners; that, in the summer of 2001, at the insistence of the American Secret Service, anti-aircraft ordnance was installed around the city of Genoa, Italy, to defend against a possible terrorist suicide attack, by aircraft, against George W Bush, who was attending the economic summit there; and that George W Bush has nevertheless regaled audiences with his first thought upon seeing the “first” plane hit the World Trade Center, which was: “What a terrible pilot,” is not “theory.” It’s fact.

That, on the morning of September 11, 2001: standard procedures and policies at the nation’s air defense and aviation bureaucracies were ignored, and communications were delayed; the black boxes of the planes that hit the WTC were destroyed, but hijacker Mohammed Atta’s passport was found in pristine condition; high-ranking Pentagon officers had cancelled their commercial flight plans for that morning; George H.W. Bush was meeting in Washington with representatives of Osama bin Laden’s family, and other investors in the world’s largest private equity firm, the Carlyle Group; the CIA was conducting a previously-scheduled mock exercise of an airliner hitting the Pentagon; the chairs of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were having breakfast with the chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, who resigned a week later on suspicion of involvement in the 9/11 attacks; and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States sat in a second grade classroom for 20 minutes after hearing that a second plane had struck the towers, listening to children read a story about a goat, is not “theoretical.” These are facts.

That the Bush administration has desperately fought every attempt to independently investigate the events of 9/11, is not a “theory.”

Nor, finally, is it in any way a “theory” that the one, single name that can be directly linked to the Third Reich, the US military industrial complex, Skull and Bones, Eastern Establishment good ol’ boys, the Illuminati, Big Texas Oil, the Bay of Pigs, the Miami Cubans, the Mafia, the FBI, the JFK assassination, the New World Order, Watergate, the Republican National Committee, Eastern European fascists, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the United Nations, CIA headquarters, the October Surprise, the Iran/Contra scandal, Inslaw, the Christic Institute, Manuel Noriega, drug-running “freedom fighters” and death squads, Iraqgate, Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, the blood of innocents, the savings and loan crash, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the “Octopus,” the “Enterprise,” the Afghan mujaheddin, the War on Drugs, Mena (Arkansas), Whitewater, Sun Myung Moon, the Carlyle Group, Osama bin Laden and the Saudi royal family, David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, and the presidency and vice-presidency of the United States, is: George Herbert Walker Bush.

“Theory?” To the contrary.

It is a well-documented, tragic and—especially if you’re paranoid—terrifying fact.

Michael Hasty is a writer, activist, musician, carpenter and farmer. His award-winning column, “Thinking Locally,” appeared for seven years in the Hampshire Review, West Virginia’s oldest newspaper. His writing has also appeared in the Highlands Voice, the Washington Peace Letter, the Takoma Park Newsletter, the German magazine Generational Justice, and the Washington Post; and at the websites Common Dreams and Democrats.com. In January 1989, he was the media spokesperson for the counter-inaugural coalition at George Bush’s Counter-Inaugural Banquet, which fed hundreds of DC’s homeless in front of Union Station, where the official inaugural dinner was being held.

Permission to reprint is granted, provided it includes this autobiographical note, and credit for first publication to Online Journal.

Freedom, Liberty in an apple orchard

April 9, 2008

As we celebrate the birthdays of our two greatest presidents, it might be a good time to reflect upon the two words most closely associated with these two men: freedom and liberty.

We proclaim our freedom and liberty in song, speech and prayer. We cherish both. We even go to war to defend them and to bring them to others in distant lands.

But do we know what these two words mean? My 1969 “American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language” tells me that freedom is liberty and that liberty is freedom. That’s not much help. After giving up on Webster, I thought it might be useful to check in with our ancestors of 200 years ago. After all, they were here when the American notion of freedom and liberty was brand new.

I’ve been living in Palermo for the past 36 years. No one knows for sure how the town got its name. In earlier times, it was called Sheepscot Great Pond settlement. When the town was incorporated in 1804, a less cumbersome name was sought. The Sicilian name Palermo was the choice.

Palermo, however, does hold the distinction of being flanked by two towns with names of clear origin. To our north we have Freedom and to our east, Liberty.

We’ve all heard the chuckles about Maine town names: Moscow, China, Sweden, Paris and all the rest.

But Freedom and Liberty are different. Something about their story might help us to understand what these two powerful words meant to our forefathers.

After the revolution, thousands of folks came north to central Maine. They did so because decent land was unaffordable in southern New England.

Unlike those who sneak across the Mexican border today, and unlike thousands or millions of Americans who routinely move from town to town and state to state seeking work, these folks did not come to Maine looking for a job.

They wanted no money. They wanted no employment. They didn’t much care for towns or stores or roads or entertainment.

They wanted freedom and liberty.

To these early central Mainers, freedom and liberty meant taking full and complete responsibility for their own survival. They wanted to own a small piece of land upon which they could grow all their food, raise their stock, cut their wood and plant their apple orchards.

The land was rough and the first years in what would later become Palermo and Freedom and Liberty and dozens of other small inland towns was difficult. As they struggled to create their own livelihood from the land and as they struggled to establish ownership of their own property, they called themselves what else? Liberty men.

For the next 100 years, nearly everyone in these towns lived on farms. These were not like the farms of today. They were small, diversified and largely self-sufficient. For generations, everyone took care of themselves and their neighbors.

Cupboards and cellars were full of food they produced themselves. They traveled in vehicles they built, powered by horses and oxen they raised.

They did not have to go long distances to find work. They had no employers. They worked at home. They created their own entertainment. They lived with an independence few of us will ever experience.

This was true homeland security. This was their freedom and liberty.

These early Mainers did not eat chips and soda or even bananas and oranges. They ate apples and drank cider.

Every household had a small orchard providing fruit from July until June. Hundreds of varieties were grown.

Each town had its favorites. Some came on early like Red Astrichan or Yellow Transparent. These summer apples were set right outside the kitchen so you could keep an eye on them and grab them before they went by.

Some, such as Duchess and Baldwin, were all-purpose.

Others were especially coveted for a single use. Gravenstein and Wealthy were the best for pies. Snow and King were eaten out-of-hand. Tolman Sweet and Pound Sweet were used to make molasses back when sugar was too expensive or not available at all. These apples were first pressed to cider and then the cider was boiled down to molasses.

Northern Spys and Black Oxfords and Golden Russets were kept in the basement and eaten all winter.

Apples were fed to the cattle, the sheep, the hogs and the horses. They were pressed into cider and several cider barrels were stored in the basement of every home.

Apples were fried, baked, boiled, steamed and dried. Cider was turned into vinegar. Apple pies, apple honey, apple custard, apple snow, apple fritters, apple floats, puddings, dowdys, cakes, pickles, sauce and on and on and on.

We hear the politicians regularly jabber about freedom and liberty. Most of us, however, are utterly dependent on Hannafords or Shaws for our food. We depend on Chevy and Toyota for our transportation and the Middle East for the fuel that takes us everywhere we go. We depend on Netflix and ESPN for our entertainment. We depend on the Chinese for practically everything else.

The town of Freedom was incorporated in 1813; Liberty, in 1827. Both were named for the words their citizens revered. The shingled barns and the horses and ox carts and gardens are mostly gone now.

But the ancient apple trees that still dot the snowy central Maine landscape this Presidents Day remind us of what freedom and liberty might really mean.

John P. Bunker Jr. of Palermo is the author and illustrator of “Not Far from the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo, Maine 1804-2004.”