Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Assault on Reason
by Al Gore

A couple days ago, waiting to be seated for dinner, my wife and I were talking politics and I said, "You know who I hope Obama picks as his VP? Al Gore."

Why, you and she may ask...

Because I love Al Gore, in a he-was-the-best-president-this-country-never-had kind of way.

I mean, take The Assault on Reason, Gore's indictment of politicians having to spend more time searching for funding for 30 second TV campaign commercials than debating whether or not to go to war in Iraq, his full-on critique of the Bush administration, and his pronounced love for this country. The guy is a patriot, he is an American, the way it should be, not the way it's become.

It's sad when 10 years ago the country was crying for impeachment because Clinton lied about cheating on his wife (not that that's okay, I'm just saying) but no one even utters the word at Bush's outright lies about WMDs in Iraq. And that's just the beginning. The turn this country has taken in politics is beyond disappointing. Al Gore knows it, and he still has hope.

What's not to like?

Read this book. This is required reading if you are voting, whether you're Democrat, Republican, or neither, read it. Gore's views are bi-partisan, he's making a claim to both sides, and he gives both sides a chance. His book is enlightening and invigorating. It's books like this that make me hopeful that a democracy can be what it's meant to: not people agreeing but intelligently disagreeing, and openly debating about the best way to go. When Gore mentions, he mentions, it's Republican counterpart. He sees the need for diverse opinions in this country. It's just like farming, if there's only one crop, it's way more susceptible to pests and disease than if there are a variety of crops.

What Gore's against is the claim to faith and fear and things that make reason seem impossible. We need open debate, transparency in the government, and an electorate that doesn't take democracy for granted.

Al Gore was not picked as Obama's VP nor was he probably even considered, but he is still a very worthy American. I'm a fan, huge fan, and have the utmost respect for what he's trying to do. Now he just needs enough people to listen.

Chi Running
by Danny Dreyer

Sometimes I can get a bit obsessive. I recently got back into running, and as with any sport (especially running) there is a learning curve. My muscles ached, I got a minor case of shin splints, and even now my calf has some minor aches where it attaches to the achilles tendon after I run.

Naturally, I turned to books for the answer, and Chi Running was my first taste of that.

The idea: stand straight up, makes sure your posture is good, arms relaxed, tilt your hips back so that they are level and you're engaging your lower abdominal muscles. Now, when you run, tilt your whole body forward like a gas pedal, move your legs in circular, wheel-like motions, and relax. That's Chi Running.

On top of that, you're constantly checking in with your body, keeping your posture straight, and taking it as easy as you can. That's Chi Running. Dreyer claims it is a guaranteed injury-free way to run, and I can't knock him for it, the idea makes sense.

While the book was an interesting read, it interested me more in the mindful approach to running than did the form. I run fine, I just did too much too fast when I started and I need to ease up. Running is a high impact sport, you have to start small. Baby steps, or baby runs, right?

Still, if you're a runner or you're interested in the sport, I'd recommend this book. You'll get something out of it, whether it's form or mindfulness (body sensing) or both is up to you, but it's a worthwhile read nonetheless. I'm just curious how it stacks up against the other running books that my obsession has led me to. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"The Botany of Desire"
by Michael Pollan

Of the many people who write about food, I enjoy reading Michael Pollan the most. I'm biased though, because it was his Omnivore's Dilemma that got me all up in arms over food in the first place. And since that book has literally changed the way I think about food (hint, read it! read it!), naturally I was drawn to this one, which after my wife got it for me as a gift, I had absolutely no excuse to read.

Written years before his foray into how food gets from farm to plate, The Botany of Desire feels like the natural precursor to Omnivore's Dilemma. In it, you are introduced to Pollan's love of plants, gardening, and his witty and smart writing that keep you engulfed in what you are reading. Here, Pollan follows four plants, and makes the argument that they have shaped human culture just as much as we've shaped them, thus exploiting us humans (monkey sounds here) for their own selfish desires.

First there's the apple, whose five seeds in each core will grow trees with apples that taste nothing like their parent, found their way around the country in the form of Johnny Appleseed, who actually was a real person, and exploited the pre-industrial desire for sweetness through grafting, and became the successful snack of pre-sugar times. Pollan then delves into the lure of the beauty of the lily and its power to start a war over its cultivation. He writes about his own short experience growing marijuana and the intoxicating power of that plant, as well as its ability to overcome legal boundaries and still be the largest cash crop of the current market. And finally, he investigates the control of a crop like the potato, a crop that was so easy to grow it fed and wiped out a the Irish nation when it caught some deadly fungus. Pollan experiments with growing a genetically modified potato and, through that, explores an interesting avenue of developing bio-science that scares me to think what will be next.

Written with a love of plants beyond that of a simple passerby, one can tell that Pollan eats and breathes this stuff. He contemplates large amounts of his day to growing and thinking about food, which ultimately lends a biased argument to his claim that plants shape us as much as we shape them. I felt like a large amount of the book was a history lesson for each of the plants with the same conclusion: it was all the plant's doing.

I, on the other hand, don't think we're all that innocent. It's true that, above ourselves, there is a delicate game of survival of the fittest going on between plants satisfying our desires and moving on because of that and, over time, becoming a dominant species. But I'd be hard-pressed to be convinced that an apple hypnotized some pioneer into grafting hundreds of trees to meet its own selfish demands.

Still, Pollan's book is an excellent read, and it only gets better as the pages turn. It's kind of like good wine, that other plant that's rooted itself into nearly every culture on this planet, it gets better with age. I'm a huge fan of Pollan, if you can't tell, I gobbled this book up, and I'm hungry for more still. Reading Pollan is like dining at an organinc, local ingredients restaurant. If you haven't done it yet, you should. Just to try.