Thursday, January 03, 2019

Review: Becoming

Becoming Becoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I add about this book?! There is an excellent recent review by Isabel Wilkerson in the New York Times There is also a slightly earlier interview with Michelle Obama herself, talking about her favourite reads and reading habits.

I have lived in the USA through the eight years discussed in her book, as well as the previous two iterations, but largely as an expat, and I can attest how different and how critical her husband's (and her as FLOTUS) tenure was to the history of this place. It was actually that period of time of some unusual change and hope for a more civilized society that finally propelled me to start taking part in civic life here. The ugly elections thereafter only make Michelle Obama's book and her motto of living in real world, while working for a better future so much more important - she comes back to it again and again, saying that this country is strange and unpredictable, many entrenched paradigms go back to far less enlightened times, and to turn this around, we need mainly two things, more active voters and more educated voters. She specifically addresses raising educated voters, especially female voters, practically from birth, and giving access to public life to citizens from all backgrounds. Everything she says throughout every chapter comes back to that point - it is not about her, as much as her carrying the torch for all women and the younger generations. While she is speaking about her path into civic life from the pages of the book, the reader learns quite a bit about the public sector, social services and issues of equality and access, as well as its history and trends.

Of course the book is peppered with entertaining details of her family life, humorous recounts of getting used to security detail and learning diplomatic code, and as the NYT reviewer has noted, is written in a lively suspenseful way that keeps us turning the pages for the next episode of the Obama courtship or campaign trail story. Through all of this, she does not attempt to compare her achievements with her husband's heavy load as POTUS, but gives voice and visibility to her initiatives, motivated exactly by considerations of making education and health important and accessible to younger generations in the hope they will help bring about lasting positive change. What was interesting to me is that she has stayed open and critical about other politicians on the Washington circuit, and does not pare down her remarks to be polite and obliging. Only once does she mention the current FLOTUS, and it is on the day they are observing, as is the requirement, the inauguration ceremony of 2017. She mentions her successor by name without even a tiny detail of any interaction with her, which makes us believe the traditional tour of the White House to show her the view of the rose garden from the dressing room may have never taken place....

I have only recently gotten to reading biographies, and as we all know, some of them are heavy stuff. It took me a couple months of fits and starts to finally finish a short book about a WWII double spy. This one by contrast reads like one big breath of fresh air. Michelle Obama names and thanks every person on her team for helping birth this book and make it a success. Politics or no politics, Michelle Obama is a gifted person and an outstanding human being, and this book should be recommended, read and passed along. Could not be happier to see it be the No 1 non-fiction book in the NYT charts.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Reflections on the season, finally living in the seasons. This is courtesy of one of my teachers, Diane Sherman, whose journaling courses I find tremendously inspiring.... “Whenever there is pain of any kind--the pain of aggression, grieving, loss, irritation, resentment, jealousy, indigestion, physical pain--if you really look into that, you can find out for yourself that behind the pain there is always something we are attached to. There is always something we're holding on to... ...After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you're there, at a point where you realize you actually have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften... It requires enormous patience even to be curious enough to look, to investigate. And then when you realize you have a choice, and that there’s actually something there that you’re attached to, it requires great patience to keep going into it. Because you will want to go into denial, to shut down. You’re going to say to yourself, "I don't want to see this." You'll be afraid, because even if you're starting to get close to it, the thought of letting go is usually very frightening. You may feel that you're going to die, or that something is going to die. And you will be right. If you let go, something will die. But it's something that needs to die and you will benefit greatly from its death. On the other hand, sometimes it's easy to let go. If you make this journey of looking to see if there's something you’re holding on to, often it's going to be just a little thing. Once when I was stuck with something huge, Trungpa Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, "It's too big; you can't let go of it yet, so practice with the little ones. Just start noticing all the little ways you hold when it’s actually pretty easy and just get the hang of letting go." (Pema Chodron)

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A happy new Year to all! As we trying to unravel the mystery of perfect health, one action that certainly would help in almost any case is adopting a good anti-inflammatory diet. Start the year right, and much health to you and yours!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Welcome to a new and highly anticipated blogger - Shannon's wonderful work with natural materials and textures never ceases to amaze. I hope you bookmark and follow Shannon Donovan, ceramic artist and dearest friend.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A link to my recent internet radio talk about Chinese Medicine - we discussed the basic diagnostic principles and tools of Chinese Medicine, the way various imbalances may lead to disease, and the way the patient and practitioner may form a partnership in working toward a better paradigm of health.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

And now... The much awaited River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

River of SmokeRiver of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent sequel - lots of it is still about language and communicating and error and chance. It reads like a big vortex of historical, as well as personal events, but I feel it is more controlled and metered in its impact than Sea of Poppies, which was like a whirlwind of color, language and passion colliding over 500 pages of text. In fact, much of the novel is comprised of correspondence - between the characters, the political figures, the merchants and the government, to the point that it almost forms a novel within a novel. That creates an interesting contrast to the narration of the events presented as unfolding "in real time", without taking away the build up of the tension to the end of the part of the trilogy. Finally, some of the narrative is told or summoned up in pictorial form, whether by the lay person or the trained professional. This is probably not the place to delve into communication theory, but like the historical novels of Umberto Eco, Ghosh's narratives are multilayered and semantically complex, especially if the reader is inclined to dwell on issues of meaning and their consequence.

Another huge area of interest for me in this book is the history of China (being involved in Chinese medical arts), and little that I formally know about China's history, the book brings it to the reader in a vivid and engaging form that makes for a fine introduction to further study.

I am truly looking forward to the final installment of the trilogy - it is definitely some of the best and most fascinating reading of he past 2 years.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Real Food: What to Eat and WhyReal Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many times, telling others that your current read is a book on diet and nutrition will only elicit a raised eyebrow or a jaw-breaking yawn. After all, everyone tells us what to eat, and what is not good for us. Yet, we all know that no matter how the dietary rules change, the prevalence, or as the common term goes, "epidemic", of obesity and systemic disease, never seems to budge even slightly. As we continue consuming our relatively healthy varied Mediterranean based diet, we occasionally wonder why...

This book was such an unexpected breath of fresh air that I spent weeks with it, highlighting, bookmarking and cross-referencing, while ignoring other exciting reads on my kindle and a stack of books on my desk. We all know that what we put in our bodies is important, but how often do we make the connections and finally see the big picture?Traditional food has gotten a lot of attention lately, but to actually come out and say that it's the fat and salt and the whole unprocessed content of it that make us feel healthy... Yet, it makes perfect sense. It is no wonder that patients do not thrive on hospital food, but the lucky ones to get the home-made stuff brought in by their families heal faster and fight off the ailments in no time. In Chinese medicine, my area of health care, cooking for the patient, or at least discussing cooking appropriate foods with the patient and family, is a requirement for successful treatment.

Nina Planck does it all: she takes every traditional food that has been vilified by the medical establishment for being a putative cause of every possible major health problem and rehabilitates it in the eye of the reader. While doing that, she also restores the rightful status of the farmer or artisan who produces it. And after that is done, she compares it to what it has been replaced with, often in the name of health, in the course of industrial food evolution in the latest century. This comparison inevitably makes one very sad - it turns out most food shoppers not know what real beef, chicken, egg, milk and cheese or for that matter, apple, corn or orange, taste like... Consequently, the nutrient benefits of these foods, however much touted, on the packaging and in the press, are completely unavailable to most of us.

Ms. Planck does not stop there - she shows exactly why the traditional, full-fat, cholesterol, salt, etc. foods are better for our health, and how all the nutrients work synergistically to protect us from disease, while the industrial improvements usually deplete these foods of their beneficial qualities and even lead to the development of many modern-age conditions. The book, not unlike writings on Chinese dietary therapy, makes a strong case for the omnivore diet, however, it does so without knocking down other ways to choose and combine foods, but rather through comparing potential benefits and hazards of both.

The chapters dedicated to the discussion of macro- and micronutrients contain references to some in-depth research; however, Nina Planck makes this research understandable and accessible to the reader by listing ways to obtain these nutrients from common foods, as well as by avoiding industrial food pitfalls. She also explains the politics behind the current dietary recommendations and demystifies the slow progress of popular nutritional wisdom, exemplified by the prevalence of fad diets and marketing tricks from mass manufacturers and fast food chains.

As if this was not enough praise for the book and the courageous author, who has single handedly taken on every single major food lobby in the name of Real Food, she goes on to provide a glossary, a research reference, a list of suppliers of organic sustainably produced food, and an extensive further reading list for those of us looking for answers to our modern ailments where it matters most - right in our own kitchens.

Nina Planck's book is highly recommended. Some recent research shows that close to 30% of people on this side of the pond do not know how to cook food... Part of it is undoubtedly due to the fact that proper real ingredients are unavailable to most of us, while the stuff commonly known as food, is not worth trying. Before that dying art completely disappears, leaving us sucking space meals out of the aluminium tube while dying of malnutrition and a host of other problems, let us try to reclaim what is ours - real nutrition, real nutrients and our health.... Educating ourselves about these elusive notions would make a nice first step.

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