Saturday, May 30, 2009

You too can be a Weather Witch

When my friend Jean told me she is a weather witch, I did not believe her. But when we went traveling in England, and she went to see a play while my husband and I explored the city on foot, we got drenched.  Afterwards, Jean explained that she could only hold the rain off long enough for her to get under cover. She told us the story of the time her mother accidentally caused a drought by holding the  rain off too long during a vacation.

I figured it was worth seeing if I could control the weather, too. I asked Jean her technique.  Jean checks the weather forecast. She looks at the radar map. She sees which way the wind is blowing. She plans her day and mentally slows the wind, or redirects it if she can, to allow time for the activities she wants out in the sunshine. Whenever she checks into a hotel room, she turns on the television and searches for the weather station so she can see the radar map. It doesn't take her long. Her wedding gift to my younger daughter was to hold off the rain until 4 PM so she could enjoy sunshine for her outdoor ceremony.

After that, I decided to see what I could do. I prefer a more impromptu approach to the weather. If I see the sky going grey, I mentally send a message to the sky to hold off until I'm under cover. If it's raining and my dog wants a walk, I ask the sky to give me a break. At yoga class last Thursday evening, I had only planned to hold off the rain until 8:30 PM, but one of  the students asked me to hold it off until 11 PM. I told him I'd try. And I actually held it off past midnight.

It seems that all it takes to become a weather witch is the decision to try to control the weather. It does not always work.  I suspect if many people are all trying to control the weather, that there's a tug of war in the skies. There's no way the weather can be individualized to give rain to one home and sun the neighbor's. I received an email from a correspondent in Los Angeles, saying he'd gathered more than 30 people at his home to send a message to the sky at the same time --in order to end a draught. It worked.

There's no risk, other than looking silly. So, don't tell anybody if you don't want their skeptical stares, their teasing, and finally, their shame-faced requests that you adjust the weather for them. You too can be a weather witch.  All you have to do is try. Your choice -- with or without the radar maps. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Listening to People on the Bus

When rain makes biking unsafe, I take the bus. The women seated across from me on the bus were full of emotion, chatting about the health problems of someone they seemed to both know. They were loud enough that I didn't have to be rude to listen in. Detail after detail. Concern after concern. These women knew so much about te disease that I imagined they had looked up the details on They had opinions about how the disease should be treated and how various other people should help out in this sad situation. But the more I listened, the more something wasn't right. Nobody tells that much about their lives -- even to their friends. These women couldn't be talking about someone they really knew. And then they blew their cover. This woman on whom they lavished their concern was a soap opera character.

There's something jarring about that -- we know more about fictional characters than about the people in our own lives. And we want it that way. We want our privacy. But we also want the level of concern that I heard in those women's voices. Is lack of privacy the necessary price for compassion?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Herbal Medicine

My neighbor, Marcy, had been bugging me to try herbal medicine. But I didn't see any reason to try it -- I never get sick and besides, don't prescription medicines work?  Then my month-old daughter got thrush.  "Try herbs," said Marcy. I took my daughter to an MD. He wrote out a prescription. I paid for the drugs and fed them to my daughter.  The thrush got worse, for several days in a row. I called the doc. He didn't call back. My husband looked up the drug we'd been prescribed in the Physician's Desk Reference Manual.  The PDR specifically said NOT to prescribe that drug for thrush.
I went to Marcy and borrowed her herb book. She had Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss. It recommended Golden Seal Root Powder to treat thrush. I bought $1 worth at the local herb store. After 1 treatment, I could see that the white fungus was retreating. After 3 days, there was no more thrush in my daughter's mouth.
It took a while for me to start to trust herbs -- I filled a few more prescriptions after that. Some worked. Some didn't. And then I bought an herb book.  The Herb Book by John Lust. That was about 40 years ago. Now, I try herbs first.  No need to wait until morning, get an appointment, go to a pharmacy, wait around to get a prescription filled. I have small jars with the most common herbs in the house now, and I know where to buy what I need. No prescription required. Herbs have become part of my life, like brushing my teeth, washing my hands, exercising.
So, I was taken by surprise at lunch yesterday when a friend told me that herbs are unreliable. You can't know from one plant to the next exactly what you are getting. So what? If one cup of tea doesn't do the job, I can always drink another cup.
Herbal teas are quick and easy to prepare.  A friend was complaining of bladder infection, so I made her a pot of peach leaf and cubeb berry tea. She drank the whole thing.  Then she commented, "I guess I was wrong. I don't have an infection after all."
I'm not advocating taking herbs if they might conflict a prescription medicine you are already taking.  But, if like me, you rarely get sick, aren't taking daily drugs, and want a quick treatment with a likely chance of success, herbs are worth trying. If they don't work, you can always call the doc. Mrs. Grieve's Modern Herbal is available free online:
It is searchable. If you want more in depth information, I recommend John Lust's The Herb Book. It has a good list of side-effects and counter-indications.  Herbs have been used for thousands of years. Many modern prescription medicines are based on them. And bottom line -- they work. My friend who thinks herbs don't work then asked me what to do when her hip arthritis hurts after a long walk.  I told her what I do. Add  1/2 teaspoon of turmeric to a small glass of orange juice. Whir in the blender and drink. Within an hour the pain is gone. And if you drink this concoction before your walk, you won't be in pain at the end of it.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

There Go I

I recently attended a Quaker meeting. After a period of silent meditation, people who feel so-moved rise and speak. Some of the speeches are spontaneous. Some are clearly prepared. One of the prepared speeches jarred me. The woman used her most-spiritual-sounding voice. I tend to tune people out when they use that voice. They have a better relationship with the Creator than I do. They appreciate their blessings more than I do. They are just plain all-around better people than I am. They want me to admire and emulate them and I want to be in a different room or even a different universe from them. And usually they have nothing new to say -- just a bunch of platitudes and generalities about goodness and love that bring out my feelings of not-belonging.

She droned on in that irritating voice, and my mind went into high-argument gear. She talked about how she had grown up hearing "there but for the grace of God, go I." Didn't we all? And what does that mean anyway? We see the news and we're supposed to feel lucky because we didn't get murdered. We didn't lose our home to an earthquake, flood, or fire. We're supposed to count our blessings, but every time I do that, I see the list of things I can lose. Any THING I can be grateful for is perishable. Everything on the planet is decaying and dying. Mountains are washing away to the sea. Our loved ones are mortal. That idea we are currently excited about might never catch hold. It's all in flux. And counting your blessings always seems like a trick to keep me seated on a merry-go-round with a faulty motor and an over-active ticket-taker.

The speaker's voice became even more sticky sweet. She recounted how a wise woman once told her to say instead: There go I. Kind of like John Donne. "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Been there. Heard that.

My mind stopped listening to her. It switched over to thinking about OTHER. I may not have lost my home to the recent disaster. But I have lost my home due to my father moving, or losing my job and having to sell the home I could no longer make payments on. I know what it is to lose a home. I may not have pulled the trigger in the latest murder. But I have wished people out of my life -- everybody from overbearing bosses and angry neighbors to a stranger at the grocery store who criticizes the contents of my cart. I may not have been the suicide bomber, but I have certainly been self-destructive and hurt other people in the process of destroying my dreams. There is no OTHER circumstance I can think of that has no equivalent in my own life.

This kind of thinking makes the world less scary. Been there. Done that. Survived!
There is nobody, no circumstance, no thought-system, that is truly OTHER. For me, this is the source of compassion.
And here I am doing what that speaker did -- trying to share the same idea -- the idea that I didn't want to hear. At least I'm typing and you can't object to my tone of voice. But even you find this message objectionable -- There Go I.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Watching my Thighs Shake During Yoga

By almost any standard, I'm in good shape. I swim 1/2 a mile 3 times a week. I bike 6 to 10 miles a day. I walk my dog at least a mile. Most days I do yoga or Pilates. And I do my physical therapy exercises which include sit-ups and side-planks. Plus, I have a chin-up bar across the door to my bathroom. I don't do chin-ups, but I do hang from it for at least 10 seconds every time I walk under it.  
But I can only stand still for a few minutes before the pain in my hips is intolerable. I can only sit for a few minutes unless I'm sitting on a stability disk that keeps me in motion. The most basic things hurt! 
Yoga is supposed to help  A woman in my yoga class tells the story that she was scheduled for hip replacement surgery but cancelled when yoga made her joints comfortable. I watch in awe as she sits crosslegged on the floor and leans forward to put the top of her head on the floor as well. Maybe someday, but for now, I'm working on beginner poses.
I have trouble with what should be a simple pose --Prasarita Padottanasana, wide-legged forward bend. I can't get my legs wide and when I bend forward as the pose requires, I see that my left kneecap won't stay raised and my left thigh quivers. It's almost a game -- come on kneecap - up you go.  And when I do manage, however briefly, to get that kneecap up, the quivering stops.  I know this is counter-intuitive. Quivering is supposed to indicate a tired muscle.  But this is a muscle that is out-of-control. When I briefly manage to get it to cooperate, my IT band (Iliotibial band, along the outside of the hip and thigh) starts to complain. According to Wikipedia, this is a common complaint of the elderly, particularly the elderly who bicycle. So, after yoga, I have to get out my foam roller and release my IT band.  I thought the point of exercise was so I could live the rest of my life my way. Now it seems that the only options are schedule more exercise or give up and sit in a chair on my stability disk. I doubt it would be safe to drive sitting on a stability disk, and besides where I live there is no place to park. So, next challenge -- get those left thigh muscles strong enough to keep my left knee up and my thigh still. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day Proposal

I was talking with a teacher friend about school holidays in general and Memorial Day in particular. She was pleased that Martin Luther King Day has become a day of community service. Memorial Day seems to be just another long weekend.  She suggested that Memorial Day become a day to teach about war. Every subject contributes to war.  Art like Picasso's Guernica and "I Want You" are an integral part of war. Music enters the controversy with songs as diverse as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Chemistry and Biology contribute to the weapons of war.  Plus there's the wonderful history of scientists in France and England freely visiting each other's labs while their countries were at war. Physical Education programs could set up an obstacle course and teach about rehabilitation from injuries common to war or a risky teenaged lifestyle. English classes can study the literature of war in different countries.  I'm particularly fond of the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjuna tells Krishna, "I don't want to go to war. I don't want to kill my cousins." And Krishna, ever the teacher, responds, "What? You think if you don't kill them today, they'll live forever?" Arjuna asks all the right questions, and afterwards, he starts the war anyway. History classes can teach the debates that took place before entering wars, the consequences of wars, the misunderstandings that have led to wars.  
War has been glorified and Memorial Day trivialized.  A day of teaching war might be the beginning of a world in which no longer learn war. 
To paraphrase one of the greatest achievements of peace: landing on the moon
One small day for the school year. One large day for the future.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Green Burial

Yesterday I attended the annual meeting of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Philadelphia where the speaker explained green burial. First, Bob Gasparro, FCAGP President, showed photos of a tour of one of Philadelphia's largest crematoria. The crematorium handles about 500 bodies every month, and runs up a gas bill of $20,000.  That's $40 per person. Quite a carbon footprint.  In contrast, green burial is being used to preserve and reclaim natural habitats.
The speaker, Donna Larsen,, showed photos of families painting cardboard boxes that served as both biodegradable burial container and a final good-bye card. Other families wrapped the deceased in a quilt and tied it with ribbons.  She said that the same baby boomers who reclaimed childbirth as a family event, are now reclaiming burial as a family event -- the photos showed children and grandchildren participating. 
Green burial markers are mostly unobtrusive -- a magnetic peg that can be kept track of with a GPS. Or a natural rock. Some Green Burial locations have a place for plaques. But the actual burial site looks natural. People can walk along paths in the woods right beside the burial grounds. Donna said her best memories of her father are all in the wilderness, so she wanted to be able to place him in wilderness.  Green Burial is now one more option, along with cremation, sky burial, and graveyards.
The cost of green burial is slightly higher than cremation, but it is your final purchase. You are no longer saving for your old age. And it is a lasting gift to the planet.  
I was all set on cremation until I attended this meeting.  Green Burial now has a lot more appeal, but I don't know where I'll be when I die. I might not be near a green burial location. Fortunately, tax breaks for land preservation mean that more and more green burial sites are becoming available. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Epithets and Profanity

I'm trying to learn Twitter. As a result, I got into a conversation with a young grad student in computer science who uses the word cop to mean police officer.  The word may have lost its epithet value over time.  When I was his age, only police officers and their families could use that word with impunity. I challenged him on it.  He insisted on his constitutional right to be offensive and he's not going to change how he talks to avoid upsetting crybabies.  His words.
I told him -- I'm all for breaking rules, but there needs to be an advantage to breaking them, or why bother? 
He said every one has the right to ignore or avoid him.
I asked him -- if the purpose is communication, what's the value in using words that will end that communication.  He responded that he doesn't use the N-word, but not to avoid upsetting people.
Why, then doesn't he use it?  He says that he personally finds the N-word offensive and he also avoids the F-word in polite conversation. 
I told him I don't personally find any of the societally agreed taboo words upsetting. They are just sounds that society has agreed to be upset by. There is nothing naturally upsetting about those sounds, and I do not agree to play that game. But I don't use them because I want to communicate.
I should have added -- I want to communicate in a public forum.  In private conversations, there are times when profanity seems to have a bonding effect. From what I've read, it's an important moment when father and son can swear together at the same sports team, and the father does not tell the son that swearing is wrong. Epithets about race, religion, gender, profession, physical attributes and national origin can also have a bonding effect, but it's not one I want to be part of.
Any use of language that increases a sense of Other and Separate has no possible redeeming value in human relations or communication. In my opinion, any use of profanity or epithets is using societally agreed sounds to avoid true communication. These words (if they deserve the name _words_) are just sounds that serve as shorthand for reasons to hate. We'd all be better off if those reasons were stated plainly so they could be looked at, examined, and rejected as unworthy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stairs at the Gym

There are two places at my gym  where people have conversations.  The dressing room and the stairs.  Dressing room conversations are about the new teachers, and social topics.  Stairs conversations are about exercise. My gym is on 3 floors of a downtown office building. The building also has a hotel, a food gallery, medical offices, business offices and a parking lot. There are elevators if you don't want to take the stairs. I figure -- it's a gym. I come here to exercise. Yes, I have stairs in my home, but why miss out on any opportunity to exercise.  I like to take stairs two-at-a-time and when I'm climbing 3 flights, I can get a good rhythm going. My Pilates class is 3 flights up from the changing room. On the stairs, I find that far more women than men like to take stairs two-at-a-time.  We do it for our arthritic hips, or because a physics teacher once said it was good leverage, or because it's a challenging exercise, or because we're climbing with somebody else who is doing it and we're giggling because the guys (even young ones) stare at us like we're crazy.  Several women tell me they've avoided hip replacement surgery that their doctors recommended. They don't just climb stairs -- they do yoga, Pilates, swimming, weight lifting, and stretching. Gray-haired grannies taking two steps at a time.  Seems like a good metaphor. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Do Crime Victims Want?

What’s worse than being mugged by three healthy gun-toting males while walking on your own block?  Dealing with the Philadelphia court system for 13 months afterwards.  I lost three days of work healing up from my injuries and 12 days of work attending hearings and trials most of which were totally wasted time sitting around the courtroom when there was never any chance of my case being heard that day.
My case was assigned to the wrong building, continued to the right building but my files left at the old building, postponed several times because the various defendants’ lawyers couldn’t make it, because one of the defendants didn’t show, because the judge didn’t show, because the DA’s office didn’t provide requested papers to the defense, and because my witness, who was sick of the whole procedure didn’t show.  And I had to go through this whole mess twice because one of my attackers was a juvenile.
I believe in trying to protect society from violent criminals.  That’s why I stuck the whole procedure out for over a year.  That’s why I spent my time trying to find appropriate programs for my attackers to help turn their lives around.  The town watch volunteers saw me being mugged and followed my attackers for 8 minutes while on the phone to 911 until the police caught all three of them.  Swift justice might have meant something to my muggers — particularly the juvenile.  But delays like this only teach criminals that Philadelphia isn’t serious about preventing muggings.
The juvenile had the thickest file of the three, and the real gun was found at the site where he was arrested (the other gun turned out to be plastic) .  He never attended the programs I found for him, didn’t bother to meet with his probation officer, and moved away from the address he gave the court.  This experience taught the juvenile that yes, in Philadelphia, you can get away with crime.  They take a long time to prosecute you and then they send you home to your mother who couldn’t supervise you in the first place or you wouldn’t have been out mugging people.  He at least shortened my ordeal by pleading guilty.  
Eventually the adults were found guilty and given what I consider a fair sentence including 1000 hours of community service.  But having seen the records of the adults, I’m convinced the juvenile is a greater danger to the community.   The biggest danger of all, though, is people like me who do not want to go through this kind of judicial ordeal in order to prosecute crime..
Hearings and trials must be speedy, not only to keep the streets safe (my muggers were free on bail during the 13 months of their legal proceedings), but to keep citizens willing to testify.                           
My suggestions for modernizing Philadelphia’s courts are as follows:
1) Night court for preliminary hearings.  Lawyers, like doctors, should be on call. The hearing should be held while everybody is there and has a fresh memory of the events.
2) The preliminary hearing for a case involving juveniles and adults should be the same hearing — the evidence is the same, the witnesses are the same and the need for a trial is the same.
3) The trial for a case involving juveniles and adults should be the same.  Sentencing can be different, but again, the evidence and witnesses are the same and the victims should not be required to attend double sets of hearings and trials just because of the ages of the criminals.  Also, in my case, had the trials been combined, it might have come out that the juvenile was training the adults, rather than the other way around.  
4) If a lawyer can’t attend a court date, s/he should send a replacement, just like a doctor.  The trial should be held within two weeks of the crime. No exceptions should be tolerated, or even possible, for missing lawyers, mis-assigned cases, lost paperwork, or missing judges.
5) Witnesses’ recovered  property should be photographed and returned to the owner immediately — not held as evidence.
6) Philadelphia should develop a reputation for prompt trials.  There were actually two witnesses to my mugging, but the other one refused to give his name to the police because he didn’t want to go through the ordeal he knew was coming.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Invented Bag Refunds

Everybody takes bag refunds at the grocery store for granted -- except customers at Trader Joe's who still don't get them. It's about time somebody recorded the history and origin of the green practice of grocery bag re-use.  In 1969, I was a member of the Berkeley Food Co-op, a small chain of grocery stores in the Berkeley CA region. The chain had recently expanded by buying a defunct small chain called Sam's.  That meant that this liberal organization now owned and operated co-op grocery stores in several conservative neighborhoods.  And as a result, several conservatives were elected to the board of directors.  Let me say up front, conservatives in a liberal organization can be a good influence. In particular, Ann was a clear thinker.  She noticed that grocery bags cost the store 3 cents, and the store just gave them away free to customers.  She suggested that members of the store could help the bottom line if they would re-use their bags. She wrote a long front-page article for the store's newsletter urging all members to bring their used bags or their cloth bags back to the store, for the good of the co-op.  I thought this was an odd mix of save-the-bottom line and socialist thinking.  I also thought about my own bottom line.  There were 3 of us living on about $300 a month and my family could use that 3 cents.
I wrote a letter to the co-op newsletter suggesting that customers who re-use bags should get a 3 cent rebate off their grocery bill.  Personal interest is good for the environment, and that is one of the co-op's goals, in addition to providing low-cost quality food.
The co-op did not implement my idea.  
But Safeway was always reading the co-op newsletter.  If the co-op put a product on sale,  so did Safeway. If the co-op got a store-label version of a product, so did Safeway.  Within a few months, Safeway was giving 3 cent refunds to customers who brought in their own grocery bags.  Safeway was selling cloth grocery bags. At one point, if a customer saved up $300 worth of grocery receipts, s/he could trade them for a cloth grocery bag.
Now most grocery stores will give customers a rebate for bringing their own bags. And the co-op  grocery stores of Berkeley are out of business.
Here's my next campaign -- bring your own plastic box to restaurants to package up your leftovers.  Those little boxes cost a dime.  Even if the restaurant doesn't give you the dime, you will be helping to save the environment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Having Fun with Phone Solicitors

"Good News," my caller said. "You've just won $200 worth of gasoline. Isn't that wonderful?"
"What am I going to do with it?" I asked. "I don't own a car."
Out of earshot of the phone, my husband suggested, "We could make molotov cocktails."
I hung up.
A caller offered me a discount on rug cleaning. "That's okay. My dog urinated on all my carpets, so we had them ripped up and now we have bare floors covered with incontinence pads that I wash in the washing machine."
A mysterious organization tried to sell me light bulbs made by handicapped people. "I have CFLs. I won't need new bulbs for years."  

I'm not inventing lines I hope my callers will find funny. My answers are all true.

My best comedy routine wasn't on the phone -- it was in an office where I repair the computers. An inventory representative came by and asked, "Where is the portable computer."
"It's in Germany," I replied.  "How did it get there?" he asked.  "It's portable,"I explained.

Almost as good as "Who's on First."  Except that the representative from inventory thought Portable was a brand name, rather than a descriptive term, and my answer made no sense to him.

These people are all just trying to do their jobs.  They need to get on to their next calls. I don't want to waste their time.  But I figure they've wasting my time, so I'm entitled to have a little fun with them. And besides, I don't even plan these things -- the truth just pops out of my mouth and I'm just as surprised by it as they are.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Pledge the Flag?

Would you begin public gatherings by reciting an old advertising jingle?
How about a poem written by a socialist Baptist minister?
Or maybe a poem edited by the United States Congress?

These ideas sound preposterous.  But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we say the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist Baptist minister who couldn’t support himself on donations to his church, so he took a job working for The Youth Companion Magazine. As part of his job, he wrote an ad to sell US Flags to school classrooms. 

As part of this flag selling campaign, Francis Bellamy lobbied President Benjamin Harrison to endorse the creation of Columbus Day in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas. When President Harrison endorsed Columbus Day, The Youth Companion published Bellamy’s patriotic poem.

It was a successful ad. It sold 25,000 flags and 475,000 copies of the magazine with the Pledge in it. The ad was only run one time. The Pledge was not one of those advertizing jingles that stick in people’s heads, like “Reach out and touch someone” or “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.” 

The Youth Companion never sold another flag. For the next five years, Columbus Day was celebrated without the Pledge. 

But in 1898, the US declared war on Spain.  People felt uneasy. The flag pin hadn’t become popular yet. Politicians wanted to do something to allay their fears that they might be palling around with terrorists. By 1905, 19 states had passed laws requiring school children to recite this poem as if it were a prophylactic against treason and attack from abroad. In some places the Pledge became coerced speech.  Children who did not say the pledge were shamed in front of their classmates, or expelled from the classroom.  All in the name of trying to UNITE the country.

The pledge has been amended three times.  Twice by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution. And once by the United States Congress. Bellamy’s original pledge was to “my flag.” This was first changed to Flag of the United States, and later to Flag of the United States of America. And in 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill adding the words “under God.”

Anyone who has ever had an argument at a family gathering knows that you can make people shut up or change the subject, but you can’t coerce agreement, and the more you try, the less peace you have in the family. Shaming or expelling someone because they refuse to recite an advertising jingle doesn’t help children feel secure and proud of their country. You remember how you felt when you saw a classmate shamed or punished. How you felt when it was you. 

The Founding Fathers knew better. They were not men frightened by disagreements or differences of opinion.

The Founding Fathers did NOT pledge the flag.  They would have been horrified to see us do it. They founded this country to free citizens from arbitrary ritual and ceremonial declarations of loyalty.

John Adams: Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.

Thomas Jefferson:  Patriotism is not a short frenzied burst of emotion, but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.
Benjamin Franklin: Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

James Madison: We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties.

Alexander Hamilton:  In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

In 1943 the Supreme Court declared that pledging the flag cannot be made compulsory.  As Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson said, “To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions.”

The Pledge does not protect our students from terrorism, or insure their patriotism.  It is not a vaccine. A terrorist could recite the pledge while trying to fit in with the group. The Pledge has no magical powers.

Patriotism is not like soap or cereal.  The true appeal of our freedoms cannot be put into a jingle.
Let’s return to the original vision of the Founding Fathers and let each person display patriotism in his or her own words and actions at times and places of his or her own choosing.

Feisty and Non-Complaint

A woman at my yoga class wore a bright red t-shirt proudly sporting the words Feisty and Non-Compliant. The shirt is a fund-raiser for a Michigan Disability Rights group. Everybody complimented her on the shirt. Most of us wished we were more non-compliant. I wish I deserved to wear a shirt like that. I ignore warning signs. I ignore my own boundaries. It's so easy to just do what is asked.  I loved the phrase, "Homey don't play that" after I learned that it meant, "I will not comply even with reasonable requests." But I continue to do things because it's supposedly normal.  Or, because I like and trust you.  I want to deserve to wear a shirt like that.

Here is my credo for the Feisty and Non-compliant. 
Tell me what you are planning. 
Tell me why. 
If it's not worth your time and attention to explain everything to me, I will not comply. 
And if I don't agree with your plans after you have explained them, I will not comply. 
I will only exercise my right to be feisty and non-compliant when I  think it serves my best interests.  I will not be arbitrarily obstructionist. But I will not comply just to avoid a fight or to get something done quickly.  
The purpose to being feisty and non-compliant is to make sure we do what is best for everyone. I expect you to hold me to the same standards. Please be feisty and non-compliant with me so I don't get you to do something you'd rather not do.  Only if we are feisty and non-compliant together can we get the results that are best for all of us. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What if the State Says You're Not Married?

A friend in France recently tried to update his passport.  The passport office asked for a certfication of his marriage which took place in Germany while he was on military duty. Germany has no record of his marriage license which was issued about 40 years and one child ago. My friend wrote me: Does this mean I'm not married?
His question was not meant in the legal sense. He was asking on the philosophical level -- what does it mean to be married?  Does _married_ mean you have a piece of paper on file with the government?  Is that it?
Some places have legal statutes that define common-law marriage, granting legal marital status to folks who live together without buying a marriage license. Does France? Does a common-law marriage qualify to update a passport? Does my friend have to buy a new marriage license in France?  Does he have to get all the blood tests? Exactly, what is marriage?
That's the question that keeps coming up.  What does it mean to be married?
My friend has shared his life with the woman he loves. He has raised a child with her. He and the woman he loves are now helping to raise their grandchildren, teaching them music, reading to them, taking them to parks. They have run and sold a business together. They have been through illness, fights, family problems, all the stuff that complicates life -- the stuff that makes marriage worthwhile.  But that is not what the passport office cares about. They want a piece of paper, that despite my friend's best efforts, does not exist.
Marriage, the stuff of romance, of practicality, of companionship and complexity, is not about humans, but about bureaucracy.  In my world, my friend is married because he wants to be. In France, his intent has no meaning at all. His marriage is just a piece of paper that does not exist. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Trying to Try a New Sex Position

Despite all my stretching, all my exercise, all my yoga, my thighs and hips often hurt when they accept my husband's weight.  When I saw the information on the web about Coital Alignment Technique, I thought I'd found an answer. CAT puts the man's weight on the woman's trunk -- not her thighs and hips. It's got all the good features of regular sex. Tummy to tummy, hugs, full body contact.  Not only did this appeal to my sensibilities, it seemed great for my arthritic hips. It also provides more vulva contact - no slamming, just lots of warm cuddly rubbing ending in release, or as they say on the website, "rock and roll."  "Can we try this?" I asked my husband.  "Okay," he said.  I ordered my first sex video. When it arrived, I put it into the DVD player, with trepidation. Was this going to be pornography? Organs going into organs?  Whew! No! The video is about as G-rated as two naked bodies having intercourse can be.  The anatomical detail stuff is done as cartoons.  Everything about CAT looked great! Comfortable. Stimulating. Prolonged cuddling. The only drawback is that it is impossible to kiss during intercourse.  I figured this was a small price to pay for comfort in my hips. Verbally, my husband agreed.  But in actual practice, he's used to what he's used to. And he is a great kisser. I tried what it said in the video. Put my hands on his buttocks and pull him towards me.  He's stronger than my arms, and he doesn't take hints. He's used to what he's used to. He likes what he likes.  Just like me. Clearly there's more to trying a new sex position than asking for what I want, getting a video, and getting agreement. And nothing in the video or on the website explains the marital politics.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Accurate Watch

I always set my watch 5 minutes fast, so I'll never be late. Then I lost my watch.  While looking for a new watch, I found one I liked online that sets itself from the nearest atomic clock. Not only is it accurate, it adjusts to the time zone automatically when I travel. It's waterproof. It is analog style. I think of time as round and I like seeing the hands, seeing when it's a quarter of, or a few minutes past the hour. Not some silly set of digits.  

When I teach chemistry, one of my early topics is the difference between precision and accuracy. On one quiz, I asked: "You measure the length of your nose. The readout is 3.12486 meters.  Is this answer precise?  Is this answer accurate?"  One of my students answered, "It's accurate if your name is Pinnochio."  That's a perfect answer -- it shows mastery of the concept, and a sense of humor.  Time is not prone to such deep understanding.

But my new, magical watch has one flaw.  I can't set it 5 minutes fast. NowI have to learn to be on time all over again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Caller ID vs ESP

It's all true. I'm cheap. I refuse to spend an extra $7 a month for Caller ID on my telephone. I even have the courtesy-habit of picking up the phone when it rings. I run in from the garden to greet callers, even tape-recorded voices. But when the phone company calls and asks why I don't buy extra services from them -- particularly Caller ID, I tell them I don't need it. I have ESP.
Last night, I was watching an episode of Utawarerumono (my latest favorite anime) on Netflix when the phone went on overdrive.  We're having an election and every judge has a recording requesting my vote. This is further complicated by the fact that state law forbids judges from mentioning anything they think might be an issue and their stand on that issue. So, they don't talk about death penalty, or homeless people who want to camp in court rooms at night, or the value of jail as a deterrent. They just say, "vote for me."  The frequency of calls was annoying.  Each episode of Utawarerumono is 22 or 23 minutes. It is nice to sit down and watch the whole thing. After the 3rd call, my husband said, "Let the answering machine get it."  But it felt like a relative.  It was -- my mother wanted me to find a book for her online. 
Even though we hung up on the recordings for judges, and finding a book online doesn't take long, it still took over half an hour to watch our 22 minute show.  I don't think it takes less time to let the phone ring 4 times and then go to the answering machine and delete the recorded call than it takes to answer it and hang up in the first place.  Caller ID would not have saved us any time, and the noise of the phone interrupted our show.  ESP meant my mother has her book. Why would I pay $7 a month to confirm my ESP?
Okay -- unsolicited plug to a service with which I do not have affiliate program.  If you want an out-of-print book, check at -- more than half the time, they can find it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Work of Finding Lost Pets

In my home, growing up, the only controversy about keeping pets was whether my parents would allow it. My mother had gone to a school where the entrance door was under a pigeon roost and she had a daily horror of being pooped on.  So she didn't want me to have a bird. My father disliked cats and dogs and rabbits and basically anything that might add significantly to the food bill. We got hamsters. They only live about 2 or 3 years, which is really horrible when you're expecting a long-term relationship.
Now, people say inane things like, "If you love something let it goIf it comes back to you it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was." Try telling that to any pet-owner whose pet has escaped! My pets are like my children. I do not believe they know how to fend for themselves, or cross streets without holding my hand (being on a leash). I don't believe they'll have enough to eat if I don't feed them.
PETA says, "This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. Their lives are restricted to human homes where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to."  
The same applies to having or adopting or fostering children.  This is what we humans do. We take care of our young and we don't do it differently based on species.
But there are differences.  If somebody finds your lost animal and takes it in, they don't regard it as kidnapping. They think the animal is now their pet to care for and to love. And most pets are okay with this.  I remember getting my dog Miniwiz back from a family with 6 children. He was sorry to leave them, and they were sorry to see him go. I was so relieved and happy to have him back. In retrospect, maybe I should have left him there.  A few months later, he ran away again and got hit by a car.
Now my neighbor's cat is missing. The cat was wild before she took her in. She kept that cat indoors for two years.  Then poof -- the cat sneaked out.  It's been 3 weeks.  The cat wore no tags -- she was an indoor cat. She probably has a new home now. But this is my neighbor's baby. My neighbor spends her nights putting up Missing Cat signs. She has put a hav-a-heart cat trap in her yard in case her baby comes home. Our society doesn't have a philosophy or a cultural tradition to deal with missing pets.  What is a reasonable time to look for a pet before you decide it has a new home and you can cherish the time you had with that animal, but that time is over? Are there grieving rituals to help the transition, like saying Kadish? Everything about keeping pets seems so impromptu -- how we get them, how we play with them, and how we lose them -- even if we have to make the decision to put them to sleep. It's all so informal. And so controversial. The only thing even PETA agrees on is that we love them and we cherish them and we are glad they are in our lives, even if only for a while.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting out of Handcuffs

For once, this blog is NOT about sex. This is a continuation of yesterday's blog about the lockpicking class I took. The teacher, Deviant Ollam, gave each student a universal key good to open handcuffs. He showed us a diagram of how the angled teeth of a handcuff ratchet onto each other in a one-way smooth action. And he showed us the double locking mechanism in the bottom of the cuff designed to slow down the unlocking process. Photos of these mechanisms are on his website: in the slides section. The universal key for handcuffs works by pushing the bottom ratchet out of the way. It looks like a very simple skeleton key with only one tooth.  You just have to turn the key about 1/8th turn to the right. If the double locking mechanism has been employed, then you have to turn the key first to the left to unlock the double-lock, and then to the right to move the ratchet.  The police don't want to have people in handcuffs any longer than necessary, so handcuffs have been designed for quick release. Deviant says you don't really need the official key.  A bent paperclip or hairpin will do the job.  He demonstrated that he can get out of handcuffs behind his back in seconds. Now that Obama is president, I expect my chances of random arrest for crime-think are now minimal. But if an oppressive administration should come to power, it's nice to know that keeping a hairpin in theh cuff of your shirt might help you escape. And to think, hairpins were going out of style.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Learning to Pick Locks

Probably, nobody wants the stuff I leave in my locker at the gym while I swim. My bike bag, my semi-dirty clothes, my pay-as-you-go cell phone, and maybe a yoga mat, and a few dollars, and my ID. But if they did, I now know that my Master combination lock is easy to pop.  Anybody with a soda or beer can can do it in seconds.  I did it myself as part of the class I took yesterday from Deviant Ollam. (He said this is his name in the lockpicking community, and he likes to keep things simple, so he uses this name everywhere. His mother was there at the class, and she didn't disagree.) Here's his website: .  If you look at the slide show, you'll find the instructions.  It's also not hard to pick a TSA lock like you probably have for your luggage, but it takes longer than popping open the typical gym locker lock.
House locks are easy to pick, too.
Deviant assured is that no police officer he has ever met anywhere in the world has ever dealt with a case of a burglar who picked a house lock.  Burglars prefer to break down doors, or break windows, or force their way in when you open your door.  And there are films you can put over the glass in your door to make it more difficult to break.
We have a saying in Philadelphia "Crime is limited only by the creativity of the criminals."
After this class, I know that my locks aren't safe, but it really doesn't matter. I guess that's reassuring.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Iyengar Yoga vs Gym Yoga

I continue to be astounded at the difference my body feels after an Iyengar Yoga class. When I took gym yoga, I felt like I'd stretched, and maybe toned a few muscles, but it was just exercise.
After an Iyengar class, I know my body better. I have a better sense of alignment, of what my muscles are doing and how I can use them more efficiently.
In my most recent class, we learned about the four corners of our feet. The ball of the foot, right below the big toe, the other ball right below the little toe, and both sides of the heel. Now, draw an X connecting the ball below the big toe to the opposite side of the heel, and the ball below the little toe to the opposite side of the heel.  Now, when you walk or stand or otherwise place your weight on your foot, try to press down evenly on that X on each foot. This will improve your balance.
While we take triangle pose, balancing on our feet, the teacher draws our attention to our hip sockets. Joint by joint, he talks us through adjustments. We can feel our balance improve, feel the femur slip more securely into the socket. When we wobble, he has us place an arm on a chair. I finally GET what yoga is about. It's not about looking like the pictures in the book. Very few people can do that. Yoga is about learning how your body works and how to make your body more stable and comfortable in all kinds of silly-looking positions, so you can live your life the way you want to. And as a bonus, my body feels deep down warmth after each class. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Doing Circus Bears With My Brother

That electric connection when gaze meets gaze and a deeper understanding connects -- that's family.  Oddly, it happened first in an unexpected place -- my physical therapist decided to show me how to balance on my knees on top of an exercise ball, like a circus bear. Yes! Yes! This is how physical therapy should be!
Almost instantly, PT guy looked around the room. Had the other therapists seen what he was doing?  In this most serious place -- quiet, almost like a library. The gaze happened -- if I had a nephew, he'd have taught me to do circus bears. 
The gaze, the reality of what he was doing -- nobody falls in PT --"You don't have to do that," he said.
"But I want to! This is fun!"  I didn't fall.
PT guy looked away and said, "That's how we get compliance."  He couldn't say speak such a betrayal to my face. We both knew -- we're exercise junkies.
When I visisted my brother at his home in CA, he had two exercise balls lying limply in the corner of a room.  I asked for the pump.  He didn't know where it was. So, I got a spoon, pried out the plugs, and inflated them by mouth.  I showed his wife some of the tricks I can do on an exercise ball, culminating with circus bears. She joined me in most of them, but not circus bears. My brother walked into the room -- he did a circus bear.  His physical trainer had taught him.  He even learned how to start a circus bear in the middle of the room.  PT guy taught me to start, balancing beside a couch.  My younger brother was one-up.  I can't allow that!  It only took a few minutes. We were both doing circus bears in the middle of the room. The gaze happened.  This is family.  We're circus bears!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Telling the Medical Profession How to do its Job

I'm feeling gloomy this morning. It's rainy. My hip hurts. And it occurs to me that in many ways I'm in worse shape now than before I went for microcurrent physical therapy.  I have paid in every possible way for my mistake in seeking this therapy: Pain, Time, Money, Emotional Freakouts, and a difficult vacation in which I was not able to do things I had looked forward to because, thanks to microcurrent therapy, my legs weren't as strong as they'd been when I signed up for the trip. Not strong enough to climb monuments or go for multi-mile hikes.

I've sent guidelines for the proper use of microcurrent therapy to both rehab doc and the company that trains therapists how to use the machine:

1) when you reach your goal, STOP
2) if you detect any decrease in strength, STOP

It seems to me that these guidelines should apply to any therapy. I don't think they are radical or extreme.

Rehab doc has not promised to apply my guidelines for future customers. He merely says he'll consider them. He hasn't apologized for all the problems the therapy has caused me.  I didn't even give him rule #3: Try LOW-Tech first when possible. Bolsters are the first thing to try when you want joint flexibility.  That's what I'm using now.

How much effort should I put into trying to prevent microcurrent from harming others? Do I just wait and hope it never does hurt anybody else? (Rehab doc claims I'm the only one.) Or do I hope that the next person it hurts is litigious? I don't want to waste my time going to court. Let somebody else do it?

The weakness from the microcurrent wound up causing a compression injury in my hip. Rehab doc wanted to inject me with steroids.  Hey, I learned my lesson -- why didn't he learn his? No way is anybody injecting addictive poisons into my system!

When I was able to relieve the compression injury with the rope wall at the yoga studio, I wrote and told both rehab doc and physical therapist.  Physical Therapist wrote back, "that's great!" Rehab doc didn't respond at all.

I don't want to dedicate my life to teaching the medical profession how to do its job.

The point of getting physical therapy was so I could get on with my life.  And that's what I want to do -- get on with my life. I don't want to change careers and become a medical watchdog.

I can hope that other people aren't as foolish as I was and will exercise more caution when they seek medical help. I can hope that maybe rehab doc will take my advice and just not bother to tell me. And I can hope that maybe this blog will help people take  charge of their medical care, and try low-tech first.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mental Looping

I used to think the three worst things on planet Earth were Space, Time and Gravity. Space is why my dog can run away, or why I can be stuck in traffic (on my bike), or why I can't be with the people I want to be with at any given moment. Time is why I can be late. Time is why things aren't done as soon as I think of them. Gravity is why I can't float in the air, or fly by thought alone. Gravity is why things fall and make messes for me to clean up. Gravity is probably my most common swear word, and most common explanation for why things aren't the way I want them to be.
But these  are just stories I tell myself.  I now think the real problem is mental looping.  By mental looping, I mean the act of telling myself stories over and over again with the accompanying emotional roller coaster. I said something I wish I could take back, or I failed to say something I wish I'd said (probably something I didn't even think of at the time - I'm not good at thinking on my feet - that's why I write -- I think on my fingers.)  So, my mind loops through the story again and again -- always with the same ending - always giving me the emotional upset that accompanied the story the first time.  Or my mind makes up future events and wastes my time on those emotional rollercoasters. Playing either the past or the future loops has no effect on changing the past or controlling the future. Another rotten feature of the future loops is that they are usually worst-possible-case scenarios.  e.g. last time I met with him/her things went badly, and I imagine another bad encounter, probably worse than before.
Mental looping is why space, time and gravity are problems.  If I didn't tell myself stories about unpleasant things that will happen because I'm not where I want to be, I'm late, or I broke something, then those events wouldn't upset me. In fact it's not the events, but the thoughts - the thoughts that keep looping -- the thoughts about the bad things that will happen, the good things I'll miss out on -- that do the real job of upsetting. 
And I have the power to hit the OFF switch. I can't turn off space or time or gravity. But I can stop the mental loops. I just have to figure out that I am looping and then make the choice (often a difficult choice if I'm imagining that this time the loop will end differently - it never does) to STOP the loop.
Those loops are sneaky. They try to start in different places, start with different emotions, suck me in with fantasies of fixing things. But they are just mental loops with no power. 
I have learned to stand on my head with my eyes closed. I have made myself write and finish several novels and screenplays. Learning to stop these loops is the hardest thing I have ever tried to master.  And the most important. I looped through the idea of writing this post for several days before doing it -- and I think that was good looping because it helped me shape these ideas into presentable form.  That's the trickiest part -- some loops are good -- the ones I need to stop are the ones that feel bad and I need to persist in the ones that create progress.   

Friday, May 1, 2009

Waterboarding and Neti Pots

Last night after my yoga class, one of the other students mentioned that a local man has offered to be waterboarded for charity -- at $1000 a minute.  And he's looking for other volunteers. After the initial shock wore off, I asked, "Does anybody know if waterboarding is very different from using a neti pot?"  At first the other students chuckled nervously.  But most of us use neti pots.  A neti pot is a small tea-pot shaped device that you fill with warm salt water and pour in one nostril and let it drain out the other.  It takes some getting used to.  I love mine -- it washes pollen out of my nose so I  don't have to sneeze and tear up with allergies. 
I don't usually do this -- you can check my blogs -- I rarely endorse anything.  My neti pot is made of stainless steel so I can take it with me anywhere and not worry about breaking it. Most of them are china or brittle plastic. I got it at  If you decide to try one, they will give your money back if you don't decide to keep it.  If you decide to buy one from them, please say that you were sent by -- this will get you a 5% discount, and it will give a commission to a friend of mine.  And if you know anybody who has tried both -- waterboarding and a neti pot, please comment on this blog.