13 June 2010


Last night I was enthralled by watching the tw0-hour PBS adaptation of Michael Pollan's eponymous book, The Botany of Desire. Pollan illuminates the symbiotic relationship between humans and four domesticated plants which mirror four types of human desires -- our desire for sweetness (the apple), for beauty (the tulip), for intoxication (marijuana), and for control (the potato). Click on the above image to enlarge. During our history with each plant, we have controlled plants through selective breeding and genetic engineering, and we have ourselves been manipulated by the plants' needs, serving their propogation and their spread as if we were human honeybees. The PBS program observes our symbiosis from the view points of both humans and plants, illustrating what we too often forget: that we are but a part of the intricate web of life.

Humans first discovered apples and tulips in central Asia, marijuana in India and China, and potatoes in the Peruvian Andes. Native cultures understood the benefit of allowing hundreds, even thousands of strains of each plant to flourish -- diversity provides resilience in the struggle for survival against herbivore insects, disease and adverse genetic mutations. Alas, European-derived societies have suppressed this diversity, preferring to breed just a few strains for specific traits, in mass quantities. This shift toward botanical monocultures has dire consequences when an insect or disease comes along which thrives on the single strain being grown. Witness the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Today's farmers rely heavily on pesticides and other chemicals to protect their monoculture crops, when the re-introduction of multiple strains, along with natural pest controls, would serve the same purpose. Man plans, nature laughs.

Here is a link to the PBS program's website, featuring bonus videos, interactive maps and timelines, and educational supplements. The program is available on DVD.

While on the subject on online resources, here are a few more, just for fun:

~~ Journey to the Stars DVD, a joint production of NASA and the American Museum of Natural History. If you are a teacher, or know a teacher, or have children in school, this is a wonderful introduction to the night sky and space exploration.

~~ The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a website where you can search for Vietnam War casualties by name, by city and state, or by military unit. Letters, poems and photos are posted for many of the service members listed.

~~ The Investigative Project on Terrorism, with news posts and analysis in an accessible format.

~~ 10 Essential Cheat Sheets to Download, to enhance the performance of an array of commonly-used computer programs (Google, Windows, Gmail, Firefox, Linux, etc.). A friend points out that access requires entering your email address, if that is a concern for you.

~~ Ink Pixie personalized tshirts and hats, fun themes you can add your name to.

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