Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Born to Run - Christopher McDougall

Starting with the basic question, "why does my foot hurt?" Christopher McDougall travels around the world and puts his own body on the line to discover the secret of the running people: that humans may be biologically born to run. Though such a claim may ring dubious to many of us - there are many well-respected thinkers and knowledgeable people who will claim that the human body is an imperfect machine never designed to take the stress and strain of running - McDougall marshals evidence that he argues is hidden in plain sight.

Taking a broad sweep of running nutrition, competitive history, technique and maybe even a few secrets along the way, Born to Run has already cast a broad shadow over the running community and continues to find its footing deeper in the popular consciousness. Reading a bit like a modern Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the work starts off with simple premises and comfortable realms of thought (issues like training techniques, human physiology and athletic shoe construction) and slowly develops a deeper thesis: that running has made us into the people we are, that modern man (and woman) has what it takes, is outfitted like no other species on this Earth, to run and that it was this unique ability that allowed us to compete and survive for millions of years. Finally, McDougall talks about the important effects of running for each person. Beyond health and fitness, he looks to the proof he sees in some of the greatest runners he has encountered and finds that, almost without fail, the best long-distance runners are those who participate out of the sheer joy of running, the extent to which it fulfills their humanity and binds them together.

Like many other works relying upon an intuitive connection with the reader, Born to Run succeeds or fails to the extent that we are able to identify with its premises. This is my second time reading the book and I feel as though I have found even more to mull over the second time. If nothing else I find it a work that energizes me to get out there and be one of the running people; that it continues to change the way I think about running and my own well-being is, I believe, testament enough as to whether McDougall's work is successful.

Friday, February 3, 2012

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse - Peter Matthiessen

Perhaps, the things that ought to change the most never do. Growing up the historical treatment of American Indians by settlers of the Americas and subsequently by the United States government is a topic more alluded to than it is fully addressed. Throughout the pervasive attitude is one of historical inquiry only. Certainly it is terrible that our forefathers subjected millions of people to targeted attacks, forced removals, massacres, not only of men, but of women and children, and did everything in their power to cheat Indians out of the lands occupied since time out of mind, but we could safely view such duplicity as days gone by, a past that the United States has done its best to forget.

Peter Matthiessen reminds us that everything old can be made new again. Indeed, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, gives scant attention to the saddening past of the United States relations with Indians and instead focuses more on what Matthiessen paints as an outrageous present. Though the book was first published in 1981 – after many years of legal wrangling – its story continues. Matthiessen’s primary focus is the murder of three men (two FBI agents and one Indian) during a shootout between FBI agents and an untold number of Indian men on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June of 1975. Though the FBI would do nothing to investigate the death of AIM activist Jim Stuntz, when two FBI agents are gunned down, particularly potentially in conjunction with a movement that the FBI views as a subversive, perhaps terrorist organization, we are treated to a story in which the Bureau will stop at nothing to get it’s man – guilty or not. The brunt of the government’s case was eventually to fall on Leonard Peltier – currently ineligible for parole until at least 2040. It was Peltier, the FBI would claim, that executed agents Williams and Coler at close range. Whether or not this is true may never be known, what Matthiessen does convincingly show is that, according to the letter of American justice, the manner in which Peltier was convicted hardly accords with even the barest essence of judicial fairness. Matthiessen recounts the perjuring of many witnesses, the shifting in evidence and what appears to be the blatant disregard of defense claims by judges. The list of obstacles placed before Peltier’s attorneys and supporters verges on the unbelievable, and surely Matthiessen engages in strategic remembering – he is unabashedly siding with the Indians. Yet the facts stand even today and ought to make all Americans wonder at the true motive of government.

Whatever happened outside of the Jumping Bull camp on Pine Ridge that day is saddening in the extreme, who is to blame remains elusive. What is known is the Leonard Peltier, in accordance with a long tradition of gross abuse of Indians by the United States government, remains there still. We cannot help but wonder to what extent justice is all of our concern.