Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reading Journal: The Cure Within

Most of this book is content to document the history of mind-body medicine without asking about efficacy. The story at the beginning and the list of "bodies behaving badly" at the end are interesting examples:
1. Children (even with their physical needs being met) can be physically stunted and developmentally retarded without love.
2. Mortality levels dip below expected levels for ethnic groups just before culturally significant days (Jews don't die the day before Passover).
3. The 200 women imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge who "cried until they could not see," seem to have been physically blinded by metaphor.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reading Journal: Life is a Miracle

This was a good book to follow the other recent reads. Toulmin says we don't want a science that is based on the expectation of universal truth (and subliminally on controlling the populace). The question then is, what tool do you use to reliably make difficult decisions? Capra proposes to give a new vision of science - it's built on multiple pillars on knowledge and it uses reduction sometimes but not all the time, and it looks for patterns - but I'm still not clear as to how that helps me in figuring out how to counsel a friend who is skeptical of vaccines. In this book, Wendell Berry does a nice job of honing in on how you figure out what to do in a world without certainty, on where reduction is useful and where it's destructive, and on how these big ideas apply to quotidian human decisions.
Before I get into that though, I'd like to pause to acknowledge the design of this book. It was such a pleasure to hold, so agreeable to observe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Avoid Manure Pit Explosions

This Thanksgiving pause for a moment to give thanks not just for the food but to the brave men and women who produced it. They risk life and limb to put that turkey or ham on your table. Case in point, the other day I got my regular Nutrient Management newsletter via email. (A couple of years ago I wrote a long story about the state of hog farming in America and I still get updates from the trade magazines). I don't always read these but this one was entitled, "Avoid Manure Pit Explosions." That seemed like a good idea. It begins:
Manure pit-related explosions or flash fires have occurred recently in both Minnesota and Iowa livestock buildings. Luckily, the explosions, to date, have mainly resulted in building damage, with few animal losses and no personal injuries or fatalities reported.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A couple other websites

...with similar sensibilities for future reference. Christina Seely's class at the CCA seems to be building a new sensibility simply be piecing together scraps from artists, thinkers, designers and engineers on the blog Metro Nature. The result is an aesthetic that is fascinated with nature and more than willing to dabble in awe, but not romantic - and at the same time relying on science without resorting to the rationalist tropes.

Then there's this travel blog, Uprooted, which I find interesting mostly because it's author describes herself as, "post-hippie: dedicated to sustaining and improving the condition of our planetary systems, but not particularly excited about drum circles." Which is a lot like what I'm trying to get at (I may be more extreme - the idea of drum circles just makes be feel sad and tired - with top notes of nausea). The question Uprooted seems to have at it's core is: How does this generation go out and make meaning of the world without ending up resorting to cheap, shallow meaning - something that turns out to be our own version of drum circles? Both the author (Jessica Reeder), and I come to this search by way of our childhood indoctrination: we were given clear evidence that the earth needed saving but no feasible methods for dong anything about it. Jessica is from "Nevada City, California where hugging trees was part of my classroom curriculum." So am I. We were in the same second-grade class.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading Journal: The Science of Leonardo

I was hoping this book (by Fritjof Capra who wrote The Tao of Physics) would describe a more humane form of science, one that does not forget richness and complexity as it travels down its reductive rabbit holes. Which seems to be what Capra is promising in the beginning: "What we need today is exactly the kind of thinking and science Leonardo da Vinci anticipated and outlined five hundred years ago, at the height of the Renaissance and the dawn of the modern scientific age." We do get some hints of what that would look like here and there. But mostly it's a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Which is interesting. It's a nice lens through which to learn Italian renaissance history. But I'm going to focus here on the details that offer a model for a more humane, open-minded science.
Still not sure exactly what that is but Leonardo has some idea about what it isn't:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The overtreatment of America

My latest piece. So far most of the health care debate has been over quantity: how much care delivered to how many people. It looks to me like quality may be more important. Also, if you are a man (or know one you like) this case study is going to be useful for you at some point. We all get prostate cancer eventually. Meet the characters after the jump...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reading journal: Cosmopolis

I read this book, by Stephen Toulmin, in search of direction for thinking about this whole man v. nature thing. I'm finding that it's the history that's most useful for me - as usual it's not enough to have the ideas, there has to be a story containing the ideas.
The story here starts with Henri IV of France, (Henry of Navarre) trying to make everyone just get along as religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants grew. At that time people thought in a way that is remarkably recognizable to people today: Henri talked about tolerance and pluralism, his compatriot Michel de Montaigne wrote in a style that still speaks to the modern ear. There's a reason for this Toulmin says: humanists like Montaigne were on to something that we are just now getting back to after 300 years of diversion. We were sidetracked when an assassin (Francois Ravaillac) dove