12-29-10:Jeffrey Rossman 'The Mind-Body Mood Solution'
It's not possible to disentangle the complicated machineries of body and the mind. If something seems awry with one, then it is certain that the other is involved — usually to an unexpectedly large degree. But our treatment for that which ails us depends less on what is actually wrong than it does on whatever happens to be the latest discovery. A balanced approach is probably best, but it rarely gets a good book written about it.
Jeffrey Rossman's 'The Mind-Body Mood Solution: The Breakthrough Drug-Free Program for Lasting Relief from Depression' (Rodale / Macmillan ; December 21, 2010 ; $25.99) is the result of his work in psychosynthesis. It's a sensible, holistic approach that involves working with both body and mind. Rossman's book is easy to read and offers enough scientific backup to make it seem reasonable. It's a convergence of work from a wide variety of disciplines, from smart eating to compassion and resilience.
'The Mind-Body Mood Solution' will remind readers of writers as diverse as Michael Pollan and Karen Armstrong, but puts all of this together in a manner that makes it easy for the reader to pick the parts that seem most helpful and implement them immediately. The true value of this book is that it offers good advice for those who are not depressed; Rossman's overview is nothing less than a pragmatic guide to living well.
Rossman's introduction offers a roadmap of what is to come and his background in working with depression. He talks about the usefulness and overuse of medication, and includes a battery of easily-completed tests to help readers determine their state of mind.
From there, it's straight to the useful stuff. The first part of the book focuses on the body. In the section on diet, Rossman sets up a pattern that continues through the book. You'll read about what is most likely to be wrong with your diet, and how you can correct it. He'll include patient histories and cites enough science to ensure that he's not out in the weeds, but not so much as to bog down the reading. This pattern plays out throughout the rest of the book, but it's not repetitive. Each chapter builds on the last, and the connections, the psychosynthesis, create a bigger picture.
The body section includes diet, exercise, sleep, and sunlight, then concludes with breath. This last section is a nice demonstration of Rossman's clever construction, because it leads perfectly into portion of the book that works with mind and attitude. While there is the potential for a serious woo factor to creep in, Rossman keeps it at bay with science and logic. As well, he integrates it with the previous section on the body. Here, he begins with what he calls "maintaining presence," or what others call "mindfulness." From there, he proceeds to talk about overcoming avoidance, transforming judgment, forgiveness and gratitude, the need to act, and resilience. Throughout, he includes tests, questions and exercises for the reader; never so many as to interrupt the flow, but enough to get the reader involved.
'The Mind-Body Mood Solution' is engagingly well-written. Rossman manages to avoid smarminess and smugness. He lays out a series of useful observations and moves on to the next topic; at 256 pages, including an index, extensive references, self-tests and appendices, it's not a difficult read. And more importantly, Rossman manages to make his suggestions seem easy to implement. Of course, reading the book alone won't transform your mind. But if it inspires you to eat better, exercise a bit and offer gratitude for the good things in your life, then it well worth the money it costs to buy and the time it takes to read it. Transformation is an exercise left for the reader.
12-27-10:Erwin Chemerinsky Tracks 'The Conservative Assault on the Constitution'
Revolution takes many forms. When we hear the word spoken with regards to a government — our government, we might think that the United States itself was the result of violent, armed revolution, or that it survived one violent, armed revolution, or might yet succumb to some sort of violent, armed revolution. But revolt does not always require violence — at least not physical violence.
Rhetorical violence, however, is another matter, and Erwin Chemerinsky makes a great case for a rhetorical revolt from within in 'The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.' His premise is that starting in 1964, with the first, failed implementation of what came to be called "the Southern Strategy," ideological conservatives, most of them in the Republican Party, began an attack on the core principles of the Constitution of the United States of America, first and foremost by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. Cloaking themselves in the newspeak of "strict constructionalists," these justices asserted that they were adhering to principles that they were actually undermining to advance a conservative political agenda.
Chemerinsky knows his Supreme Court from the ground up. He begins his book with his experience defending Leandro Adrade, a nine-year Army veteran and father of three, who was convicted of stealing $153 worth of children's video tapes from Southern California K-Mart stores. Under California's three strikes law, Andrade received a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for fifty years — a sentence upheld by the Supreme Court, as Chemerinsky lost his case.
Having established his bona fides both as a lawyer and a passionate advocate (he does lots of work pro bono), Chemerinsky then works through a straightforward legal history that examines the Supreme Court, conservative ideology and executive powers. His facts are compelling and his arguments are strong. Better still, he's a lively writer who knows how to structure a book as well as a legal argument. The two may have some similarities, but they are not the same. 'The Conservative Assault on the Constitution' is a timely look at timeless problems.
Chemerinsky 's book looks at six major areas and examines the effect of the conservative ideology on each. Generally, though not always, this means a look at Supreme Court decisions, some of them cases in which he was personally involved. After his introduction, he looks at those cases involving the school system and segregation, as it is his contention this was the first wedge driven. When he examines what he calls "the Imperial Presidency," he goes beyond the Supreme Court to examine how conservative presidents have claimed powers not intended by the forefathers, who were very leery of power concentrated in the king. Efforts to dismantle the wall separating Church and State, reduce the rights of criminal defendants, eliminate individual freedoms and close the courts themselves follow. He concludes the book with a look at the sum total of what has happened and the possibility for reclaiming the Constitution.
Chemerinsky's book is a book of well-told stories of individuals put in conflict with the United States government. He creates some memorable portraits based on his own experiences, and tells his stories well. 'The Conservative Assault on the Constitution' is certainly a well-written legal history. Chemerinsky's legal and moral arguments are well-constructed. They're backed by his documented knowledge of the Constitution — he wrote the leading textbook on Constitutional law. His personal experiences arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court and his passion for some sort of abstract justice are demonstrated by his pro-bono work and his obvious sympathy with the underdogs and downtrodden that he has represented.
Clearly, Chemerinsky's arguments are not necessarily likely to sway those at whom he aims his barbs. But as a fairly typical lower-middle class American, I'd be curious to hear just what some of the specific justices he examines would say about his book. In any event, his deep knowledge and experience bring a perspective to this history that makes it compelling reading. If you care about justice, if you are interested in recent American legal history, if you are at all worried about what seems to be an unstoppable abrogation of our individual liberties, no matter what your political persuasion, then 'The Conservative Assault on the Constitution' is a engaging way to examine our past with an eye towards changing the future.
New to the Agony Column
12-09-13: Commentary : Jean Ferry and Edward Gauvin Hail 'The Conductor' : Swatches of Undone Reality