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Archive for the ‘2011 Book Review’ Category

Today I finished reading “The Runner And The Path“, by Dean Ottati (2002).  This is another of the $2 books I’ve picked up at Half-Price Books on the outside rack.  I bought it on the strength of 1) it’s about running; 2) the author/runner lives locally (in Walnut Creek); and, 3) from the inside the cover notes the book came across as quasi-philosophical.  The book is all three and more. 
 

The author is an account manager (an “executive”) in a technology company.  Feeling a bit out of shape, he takes up running as a hobby and discovers that over time, it shows him an entirely new side of himself which he never made time to observe before.  The author learns (between running and talking with his running friends) to listen to his own heart.  Not the the physical heart beating away in his chest, but the heart beating away in his soul.
 

The book is a mild indictment of corporate America, because the author ultimately decides (after his review,) that he doesn’t always want to be fighting on the corporate ladder and that there is more to life than “just” more – more money, more authority, more stuff.  The author does admit he has been lucky and he’s fortunate enough to be in a position to back off of the rat race so his conclusions “ring” true, however, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for the non-executives (regular workers) or those who can’t step off the ladder.
 

Other than those minor comments, I found the book to be very enjoyable – like talking with a new acquaintance whom you discover you have a lot in common with.  The authors writing style, even when he lapses into philosophy, is conversational and therefore a quick read.  And he does have a way with words, which means you’ll be seeing quotes from this book from time to time.
 

All in all, I recommend the book for those who have never really looked up from their “path” to see where it is actually taking them.
 

Finally, I must admit I kept waiting for a reference to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“, but it never came.  An opportunity missed by the author…
 

 

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This morning I’ve added two new entries to my Poems page: Trees and Time Is…
“Trees” is, of course, a wonderful little poem – particularly for re-incarnated “Ents” (like me!).  I believe it was Robert Heinlein who said everyone should plant a tree at some point in their life.  I completely agree.  Planting trees is like having children.  It is a commitment to the future.  It is an expression of hope.  Time passing, seasons turning, growth rings and bark – just like life.
Have you hugged a tree lately?  As ridiculous as hugging trees may seem, it’s my experience that it’s very rare for someone to hug a tree and not leave it without a big smile on their face and usually a laugh (or chuckle) too.
Doesn’t everyone know the best cure for everything wrong with a person is hugs, smiles and laughter?  I think of them as living medicine.
“Time Is…” is actually a quote and not a poem.  But it has always had the “poem” feel to me.  I first read this quote when I was a youngster riding the San Francisco Muni bus to school.  They had a program to bring poetry and quotes to the masses.  I loved looking for the newest entry on each bus and occasionally you’d get on a bus which had multiple poems or all poems (instead of advertising)!  Then you had to move slowly down the length of the bus as you rode along to your destination.  If I ever had the money to do so, that’s one of the ways I’d pay-forward for the joy someone else gave me way back when.
Enjoy!
The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out  —  book review
Yesterday, I completed my fourth book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out” (1999©).  The book is a collection of short “works” (speeches, interviews, and writings) by Dr. Feynman and was edited by Jeffrey Robbins.  Some of the stories I’d already read in Feynman’s other books, but the writing is so clear and the thoughts so beautiful you’re not left feeling like you’ve paid for a new book and only got a re-hash.  Of course, there will be many quotes from this book appearing on this blog from time to time.  After all, I’m still working through the quotes from the other three books.
As usual (for this author), this book is book is both highly thought provoking and highly recommended.  I hate to admit it, but I’m really starting to feel compelled to buy and read some of his serious (non-story) books.  I feel as if I’ve met (and lost again) a long lost friend.  It’s a shame he’s passed away (back in 1988).
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Last Saturday I finished reading “The China Study“, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II (2006©).   Basically, the book is about using a plant-based diet to extend your life and improve / maintain your health.  The title comes from an extensive study of diet (what people normally eat as opposed to what people eat to lose weight) in the majority of rural counties in China which the author believes found a correlation between the amount of animal protein consumed and the level of several diseases (heart disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer).
The author acknowledges that correlation is not causation, but he proposes that based on the results of the study, we should forego the traditional “Western Diet” of meat, eggs, dairy and oils and return to a simpler diet consisting exclusively of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits and nuts) and preferably raw foods.
I got this book from my sister, who is currently a practicing vegetarian.  She loaned it to me because Hil and I were discussing the book “Eat To Live” with her.  (See my review here.)  Anyway, she said although she has not read “Eat To Live“, it sounds very much like a book she has read (“The China Study“).  So I appropriated it for the masses (or should I say massive – me).
I found the book fairly interesting (and quotable), but also a bit overbearing in parts.  The main problem with reading this kind of book is that if you’re already inclined to agree with the author, very little the author says will seem incorrect.  The three things I most agree with are 1.) excessive meat (beef, poultry, pork and fish) and dairy consumption can lead to poor health,  2) excessive reductionism in scientific research of complex systems can lead to faulty conclusions, and, 3) the government is not necessarily on the people’s side when it comes to nutrition and food.
The fundamental question is: “How much meat and dairy are too much?”  The author proposes any at all should be considered too much.  That’s a pretty tough standard.  At least in the “Eat To Live” book the author recognized almost nobody is going to go completely without meat.
Does the book, “prove” its claims.  No.  Does it make sense?  Yes, it feels intuitively correct (recognizing my personal bias going into the reading of the book).  Is the book worth reading?  I believe it is.  Will I ever stick to the recommendations?  Nope.  Not a chance…  I enjoy eating meat and will have it occasionally.  I will have it less frequently than before and when I do have meat in my meal, I will make an effort to eat less of it than I would before, but I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life with no meat whatsoever.
By the way, in my own personal struggle with weight and health – I do feel much better since moving to a “mostly” plant-based and “mostly” unprocessed foods diet.  I do seem to be losing weight slowly and I am still doing it while “mostly” not being hungry.  The down side is I can really feel the difference (mostly bloating) when I do indulge in meat, sugar or salt.  Still, while a “down side”, I’m not sure such cognitive recognition is a negative.  It’s kind of like my body saying, “See, this is the price you pay for eating that way…”  Only now, I can hear my body saying it much more clearly.
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Book Review:  “Everton Strange But Blue” (2010©)
Last Thursday I finished reading: “Everton Strange But Blue“, by Gavin Buckland (2010©).   The book was originally published in 2007, but it is updated yearly.  The author is what is affectionately known in England as a “stathead”.  That is, someone who loves (and does) keep track of the arcane knowledge of something – in this case, Everton Football Club, otherwise known as “the Blues”.  Fans of the team are also known as “Blues”.
First, a little background information.  Everton is one the oldest football (aka: soccer) clubs in England.  It is one of the two best clubs on Merseyside (aka: Liverpool), the other one being the Everton Reserves.  (Just kidding.  It’s and old joke, but it still works…)  The other, of course, being the Liverpool Football Club, otherwise known as “the Reds”.  (Manchester United fans might dispute this as their club is also know as the “Reds” and they are only a stones throw up the Mersey River.)
Anyway, getting back to the book, this was a going away present from a friend (a Blue) at the end of our trip to visit Hil’s family during this last summer.  Everyone knows I’m a avid reader, so I’m easy to get presents for.  Anyway (again), this book is a collection of short stories about interesting and unusual statistical facts about Everton F.C.  The book is well written with obvious enthusiasm by someone who clearly loves both the Blues and statistics.  There in lies my problems with the book.  “Footie” in England is not essentially a sporting event.  It is intertwined with the culture in a way that is not fully approachable for an outsider (like me) to appreciate.  The U.K. is a small enough country that you can actually attend many of the away games by car and until recently (the last 15-20 years) was reasonably enough priced that the average person could attend many home games.  The closest social / sporting equivalent in the U.S. would be the American football SuperBowl.  Even this isn’t the same, because it’s held on neutral ground, it’s only one game a year, and tickets are virtually unobtainable for the average person.  But we do hold SuperBowl parties which create the social / cultural equivalence (somewhat).
My point being, (you knew I’d get around to it eventually) while the book is full of wonderful trivia, which I normally love, I don’t have the lifelong fan experience to appreciate much of the nuances of trivial subtleties the author covers.  For example, games with four goalie changes, or games which are lost by multiple own-goals.  They are interesting occurrences, but I have not shared in the emotional depression of such a loss and so mean less to me (except as historical footnotes).  I remember being shocked by the murder of a South American player because he has scored an own goal in a World Cup match and his country was eliminated from the tournament.  The player was machine-gunned down at a restaurant after returning home.  Now THAT is a fan taking your sport a bit TOO seriously.
The second problem I had with the book – which is why it took me so long to complete – was there was no discernible theme.  By this I mean, there were no clear sections, “Here’s a few of our worst losses”; “Here’s a few of our greatest wins”; or even, the most simple – chronological – highs and lows from the earliest days to the present.  Having said this, I should say the 50 stories are chronological, it’s just that the stories don’t seem interesting that way.  Two or three goalie stories may be separated by 30 or 40 years, so by the time you get to the second or third story, I had lost track of the first.  This happened to me repeatedly while picking the book up and putting it down and I never got the feeling that reading the book straight through would have altered the perception.
The best thing about the book was (and is) the language.  “Scouse” is the local dialect of British English spoken on Merseyside.  For Brits, it’s an inflection or slurring or dropping of syllables and words.  For me, Scouse is poetry and imagery and humor.  It’s an imprecise description which means nothing and yet says everything.  One example: “the center-half finished the match courageously.”  What the heck does that mean?  Who was he (no name), what did he do (not stated), and most importantly what was courageous about it (undefined).  It says nothing, but it leaves it to your imagination to fill in the blanks.  In some ways, this is the greatest of storytelling.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend this to someone interested in enjoying the flavor of Scouse storytelling or to anyone who is a hardcore Blue stathead.  I would moderately recommend it to anyone who is a casual stathead or a Blue fan who wants to know more about the history of the club.  I’m not sure many others would find the book anything else but “quirky” and nerdy.
And by the way, thanks to my friend Dave, who gave me the book and who is one of those great Scouse storytellers, himself.  Over the years and during this latest trip, I’ve spent many hours enjoying Dave and my brother-in-law Robbie (another Blue) trading stories over a pint.  It’s a shame he doesn’t write his own book (or blog) on growing up in Liverpool, following Everton F.C. and working at Ford’s.  Now, that would be book worth reading!
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A couple of weeks ago, Hil and I were watching public television (KQED) and we saw one of their normal infomercials about dieting and getting in better health.  For some reason, the lecturer seemed to make sense to us and we discussed it and decided to buy his book (at a book store, not from KQED) and give it a try.  The next day, I went down to our local Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of the book.
Last night, I completed reading “Eat To Live“, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (2011©), originally published in 2003.  Basically, most of what we “know” about eating “right” is incorrect and based on the marketing of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) who’s main job (historically) has been to help market U.S. agriculture and not necessarily promote health by recommending food based on the science of nutrition.  Dr. Fuhrman tries to correct this food industry sponsored / government supported misinformation with this book.
According to most recent science in the field of nutrition, we are killing ourselves by consuming the food we enjoy instead of the food we need.  Now, the Doctor is not a fanatic about his suggested lifestyle (I hesitate to call it a diet) change, but he makes a pretty convincing argument for eating based on his plan.  His plan is to eat mostly uncooked vegetables and fruit with some nuts thrown in.  He considers “meat” to be any animal (or fish) flesh (beef, pork, fowl or fish) and you should eat no more than 10% of your caloric intake from meat. You can eat as much vegetables and fruit as you can hold and “around” a handful of nuts per day.  No meats, no eggs, no dairy, no oils.
If you follow the plan, he predicts you’ll drop about 15-20 lbs your first month, 10 lbs your second month and 5-8 lbs each month after that until you get to your natural body weight.  He predicts this will be 95 lbs for your first five feet of height and 4 lbs for every inch after that for women and 105 lbs for your first five feet of height and 5 lbs for every inch for men.  At 5’10”, I should weigh about 155 lbs!!  This seems quite light to me, but it is the weight I left Army basic training (back when I was 19 years old).  At 56 years old, I’m not sure I can ever see that size/weight again – or that I would want to.
I am currently about 327 lbs and considered morbidly obese.  About seven weeks ago, I started the P90X exercise program.  Although I’ve lost about two inches from my waist and legs, I had not lost ANY weight until I started Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. It’s been a little over two weeks and one day and I’m down about 8 lbs.  The cover of his book says to give him six weeks and he’ll help you lose 20 lbs, so I’m well on track.  If his long term estimate is correct, in one year, I’ll be 255 lbs, at two years about 200 lbs and about three years from now about 155-160 lbs.
My most successful dieting to date was with the Extreme Fat Smash Diet, which I was on about two years ago (October 2009) for two hard cycles (21 days each) and two moderate cycles (another 21 days each).  After that, it was kind of maintenance mode.  In total, I lost 45 lbs and was down to 292 lbs, but as soon as I went back to “normal” eating, the weight started coming back on.  This diet was extremely hard if followed strictly and although you got to eat frequently, you did not get to eat much.  The result was I was always starving except after the main meal of the day (lunch).  In the end, the Fat Smash Diet is not a lifestyle I choose to live by.  I don’t want to be constantly starving and thinking about my next bit of food.
The interesting thing we (Hil and I) discovered was how much (actually how little) we could get by on for dinner.  Basically, we could be quite full on a half cup of rice, a cup of beans and a cup of green vegetables.  This is essentially, the recommended “diet” of the “Eat To Live” program.  The exception being you are also supposed to have a large salad with your meal.
So far, (like I said one day over two weeks,) I can honestly say I haven’t been hungry once since starting the diet.  That’s not to say I couldn’t eat more if it was there.  Only, that I don’t feel particularly like I’m on a diet at all.  I’m not sure there is a better recommendation anyone can make about a diet.
Back to the book review…  The author is excited about his topic and the enthusiasm comes across in the writing.  The argument (that we are killing ourselves with what we eat) is well laid out and copiously documented in the book’s notes.
I have two real criticisms with the book.  The first is it’s the lack of menu dishes he offers in the book.  The Doctor has his own web site (www.drfuhrman.com), which he charges to subscribe to, so it’s not like he’s in it for charity (or just your health) which supposedly contains over 1,000 recipes.  Alternatively, you can get by with any number of vegan / vegetarian cookbooks – including Dr. Dean Ornish’s (which we’ve also tried and are pretty good).  There are also a host of free recipes on the web at various vegan sites.  I will admit the few Dr. Fuhrman does offer in his book are quite tasty.  We’ve tried many of them.  The second is many of the recipes require elaborate cooking / preparation.  They are NOT something you can throw together while at work (with no kitchen).
Aside from these very minor points this is a VERY informative book and should be read by EVERYONE who is interested in improving their overall health OR losing weight.  Highly recommended!!
I have added a new sub-Category to my blog for anyone wishing to follow my comments / progress on this topic.
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Book Review:
Yesterday, I finished reading: “American Fascists – The Christian Right And The War On America“, by Chris Hedges (2006©).  The book is a call to arms against the takeover of America by right-wing Christian religious fanatics who would seek to impose their religious views on all of America.
(Full disclosure – I am a “yellow-dog Democrat” and a practicing Roman Catholic.  I am a firm believer in God, but I am not one to impose my religious views on others.  I have examined other faiths and find them equally valid “intellectually” but – for me – not spiritually.  Therefore, I remain a practicing Catholic.  I am not a scientist – by training or trade – but I believe in the scientific method.  I do not find this makes me less of a Catholic or person of faith.)
The premise of the book is that there are those on the Christian Right who would destroy America in order to “save” America.  After fifty years of living experience and thirty plus years of hearing the Christian Right on both TV and radio, I would tend to agree with the premise.
America was founded on a belief of religious freedom as one of several core values.  Many of the founders were NOT Christians – although they appear to have been deists (believers in a “universal creator”).  They believed firmly in the separation of church and State and that no one faith should have a place of prominence in American politics or active support by the national government.  For example: George Washington attended a Christian church for many years without receiving communion.  When it was pointed out to him that this was disturbing to some members of his church who felt it might raise questions about his faith, Washington stopped attending church.  Thomas Jefferson “created” his own bible by removing all references to Christ’s miracles – which Jefferson believed to be pure fabrication.  Even those founding fathers who were Christian believed in the separation of church and state.  For an interesting handling of this, read my review of Moral Minority (or better yet, look the book up on line and buy a copy).
This is not deny an obvious truth that religious beliefs have had a profound and pervasive impact on American society and in American history (or world history for that matter).
The author goes down the standard list of liberal objections to the political involvement of the Christian Right – including: Creationism vs. Evolution, Right to Life vs. Right to Choose, and of course, sexual perversion and the threats against Christian marriage.  There is also repeated coverage of the obsession of the ministers of the Christian Right with accumulating wealth – mostly at the expense of their followers.
For the record:
I am not aware of a single shred of evidence that Creationism is fact or truthful.  There is not a single shred of evidence that Evolution is incorrect OR in opposition of Christian beliefs.  In fact, the Catholic Church accepts the theory of Evolution.  I believe there must be a balance between the rights of the unborn and the rights of the mother.  My faith tells me it should be absolute (for the unborn), but my heart says until such time as society is willing to accept and finance the mother and the child through to adulthood, society has no business dictating the mother what to do with her body.  The cycle of poverty is a prison for many women (married and otherwise) and their children.  I admit I am not Christian enough to support all my fellow countrymen in a purely socialist society.  Therefore, abortion for non-rape and non-incest pregnancies should remain a legal option.  I believe for cases of rape and incest, abortion is always an option.  I am opposed to late term abortions except when the pregnancy directly threatens the life of the mother.  By “late term” I mean post-viability.  This will be a moving target as our medical knowledge and skills increase, but fundamentally – life is precious, a gift from God and should be cherished and preserved.  Finally, I believe American politics needs to stay out of America’s bedrooms.  I have been happily married for over 25 years.  How some committed homosexual relationship – legally married or not affects me, is beyond my understanding.  It doesn’t affect me any more or less than a non-married but committed heterosexual relationship does.  What “matters” to me is love in their relationship, but even that does not “affect” me personally because it’s not my relationship.
Back to the book review:
Is it likely that America will turn into a fascist state?  Fundamentally, if you believe a fascist state is one in which the interests of corporations (not business) are promoted by the state to the exclusion of the individual worker, I would argue we are already in a fascist state.  Calvin Coolidge is frequently quoted as saying: “The business of America is business.”  Note – what he actually said was: “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.”  This is not the same thing if you are interested in the public’s rights versus the corporation’s rights.  At this point in history, I would argue in the interest of promoting the people’s interests in business, we have confused these interests with those of the corporations, and because of this, the government is the last defender of the people from those few (the 1% of) Americans who accrue over 20% of our annual national earnings and own over 30% of our national private wealth.  (For a discussion of these figures, please see a report from UC Santa Cruz: “Wealth, Income and Power“)
The author (Hedges) contends these “fascist” interests on the Right are the individuals supporting the conservative think-tanks, Christian universities and Conservative Christian (fundamentalist) churches and their political activity.  Again, I believe this is true.  The problem I have with the author is his flat statements we can no longer tolerate the intolerant within our society and that he offers no legal method for opposing them.  Other than making us aware of the problem – what do you propose to do about it?  Nothing is suggested by the author!
In Hedges defense, I will say, short of passing a Constitutional amendment specifically limiting the political powers of corporations (they are not people and should therefore have limited rights to free speech particularly regarding political support) and enforcing the current laws limiting political speech in churches, I am not sure there is anything which can be done.  A final note on the limits of speech in churches.  To my knowledge, it is not against the law to make political speeches or take political stances in church.  You simply surrender your tax free religious status by doing so.  This (religious tax status) is why the Conservative Right seeks to break down the wall between church and state.  Then they will be able to promote “conservative” (Christian) religious candidates without the loss of the church’s protected tax status.  The assumption is a Conservative religious person (someone on the Christian Right) is the same as someone on the conservative Right.  I would argue they are not – for a true Christian and a modern “corporate” conservative Right – we should always remember Jesus’ words: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
As for the “ministers” of the Christian Right getting rich off the fleecing of their flocks – it has long been true that no one ever lost money betting on the ignorance of the American public.
The book is interesting, but I did not find it an easy read – partly because it tends to be too strident and partly because it seems to cover a lot of different topics without offering resolution (as covered above).  I would recommend the book to all and highly recommend it to anyone seeking a better understanding of a moderate Christian’s view of the Christian / Conservative Right.  It certainly crystallized my understanding of both the Dominionists, the fundamentalists and the dangers of either of them increasing their political power in America.  In the end though, the book will not make any converts for either side – the gulf is too great!
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Yesterday, Hil and I took Mom up to visit with Rebecca in Sacramento.  Friday was Bec’s birthday and we wanted to spend some time with her.  We brought along a little cupcake for each of us and some candles for her to blow out.  After lunch we went out looking for a couch/love seat for Bec’s place.  We didn’t find anything she liked so we ended up sitting around her place and just chatting for a while before heading home.
Book Review:
Today I completed: “Words That Changed The World” by C. Edwin Vilade (2010©).   The book is a compilation of 25 of the greatest speeches of the last century and this past decade.  Many of them I’ve read before, but some I have not.   The power of the written (or spoken) word is incredible in its ability to stir one’s emotions and move one to act.  Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing about some of these speeches and including them (those not already present) on my Poems page.  Those already on the page will be revisited in my future posts and I’ll include the links to the original post.
If you also love the grandeur (both simple words and majestic imagery) of the English language, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.
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