Monday, November 29, 2010

Ideas for Teaching World History

While walking, the morning after our Thanksgiving feast, my younger daughter’s husband came up with an idea for teaching world history.   Americans are taught US history year after year after year in school, but only one year, during high school, is devoted to studying world history. That academic course focuses on a few names and dates, mostly having to do with wars and who won them.

My son-in-law’s idea was that world history should be taught at least 3 full years.  Each year should be a different theme: commerce and inventions, philosophy and art, and war. Of course there would be overlaps.  Wars are waged because of commerce and philosophy. Inventions change the way war is waged. Art influences how people feel about war and commerce.  Still, the different emphases allow for greater depth of study. And repetition allows for greater learning.

People in every country want to study the history of their own country.  Local history is more interesting in the context of world history.  For example, the US lost the war of 1812, but England did not take the US back as a colony because they were too busy at war with France. In fact, one of the reasons France helped the US revolution was as a tactic to attack England. They had no idea they were sowing seeds of their own revolution. The world is full of complex events like this, and given the international nature of commerce, it would be helpful if we knew more about the world.

I’m reminded of a high school friend who passed the advanced placement test in English History because she loved reading British historical novels.  Stories are much easier to understand and remember than a dry assortment of names and dates.  Historical novels from around the world could be part of literature classes as well as history classes.

These are just ideas – a starting point for hoped-for change. Comments are welcome. Ideas are welcome.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watching MacBeth in Modern Dress

Shakespeare’s play, MacBeth, is not historically accurate:,_King_of_Scotland

MacBeth was a good king who ruled long and well.

That’s not relevant to watching the play – it’s just the sort of detail that adds to my enjoyment of the creativity that went into writing the drama.

Modern dress was not an interpretation that I expected.  Lady MacBeth’s speeches always seemed unnecessarily vague to me.  The portion she reads of her husband’s letter is wide open to interpretation.  Did he really say he had sworn to kill Duncan?  She clearly reads it that way, but the words aren’t there. Only later does she tell her husband that he had sworn to kill Duncan. I think in old-time dress I found such a statement credible because I didn’t see Lady MacBeth as a career woman. Rather I saw her as a traditional old-fashioned, if upper class wife.

I have lived through the assassination of President Kennedy, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, and even the assassinations of popular singers.  These crimes did not directly give the crowns to the assassins. MacBeth’s fictional stabbing Duncan seems more vicious than these very real murders. There’s something odd when we know more about fictional characters than we do about our leaders and entertainers.

This same director leant credibility to the witches by putting them on support wires so they could walk on walls and fly down from the 2nd story of the stage to magically appear in the MacBeth home.  Their agenda is never clear – what do they get out of their political maneuvering?

Still, they are magical creatures – maybe we aren’t supposed to understand them.  They seem to be tempters who like Captain Hook in the movie “Hook” said, “Lie? Me? Ha, ha, ha, ha… Never, the truth is far too much fun.”

But Lady MacBeth is supposed to be a human woman dealing with the stress of being married to a rising political star, in an era where being the king’s favorite can mean wealth and social advantage.

In old-time dress, I did not doubt her veracity.  I believed that she truly thought she was helping her husband, doing what he had asked, but balking at committing murder with her own hands. She was willing to take advantage of any benefits such a murder might accrue to her family, but that was the depth of her villainy.

This director put her in a slinky party dress, and suddenly she seemed powerful in her own right. The killings became her idea. MacBeth killed his benefactor and king just to please his wife. She didn’t go mad at the end – she was mad to begin with.

There are madder interpretations.  I absolutely love Thurber’s version:

But each director is entitled to retell the story. And each audience member is entitled to interpret that retelling.  So, I have to ask myself – Is it feminist to give the treacherous credit to Lady MacBeth?  Or is it anti-feminist? Or maybe we’ve gone beyond gender when Lady MacBeth says, “Unsex me here.”

The use of modern dress is a valid and valuable interpretation. Still, I find myself wondering why I did not mind seeing the men in suits, carrying brief cases, or seeing the soldiers in military fatigues. But that slinky purple party dress conveyed pure evil.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Smell Like my Grandmother

My grandmother smelled like wintergreen. She was the only person I knew who smelled like that.

I liked her, so I didn’t mind the smell. I asked her why she smelled like that. She showed me a roll of wintergreen lifesavers, and gave me one.  It tasted awful.  I ran to the kitchen and spit it out into the garbage.

If you had to eat that horrid candy to smell like wintergreen, I wasn’t going to do it!

I tried wintergreen toothpaste.  Same thing. I spat it out. I threw away the tube.  

I like mint in general. Peppermint, chocolate mint, bergamot mint, lemon mint.  But NOT wintergreen. There is no way I’m going to put that stuff in my mouth – ever again!

Now that I’m my grandmother’s age, I have arthritis, like she had.  I read up on the web, looking for ways to treat it that don’t involve taking drugs.  The topical solution (something you can rub on from the outside) that interested me was wintergreen cream.

I bought a tube.  It works. It reduces the pain.  And, finally, I get to smell like my grandmother.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Computer Blues

There was nothing wrong with my client’s computer. If she only wanted it for writing and book keeping, she would have been fine. But it was a 5 year old computer with only 514 meg of RAM, and a small hard drive. And she wanted to do email and browse the web. Her computer could do that without problems. So why did she call me?

Her computer had been updating antivirus definitions for days. And while it downloaded and installed these updates, the speed crawled. It took about 25 minutes for her web browser to load up on her screen. Her email took over 15 minutes to download, and it was just a few messages from friends – no graphics or fancy text.

In other words, thanks to the hackers of the world, her perfectly good computer needed more memory. The memory was busy installing antivirus updates and wasn’t available to do what she has a computer to do. Since the memory was limited, the computer was writing the needed files to disk. And since the hard drive was small, a process that should have taken a few minutes was taking days.

I called her computer’s manufacturer. They would sell us 2 gigabytes of RAM for her computer for $120. The salesrep admitted this was expensive, but he said it’s hard to get RAM for older computers. He offered to try to get us free shipping. I asked the price of a new computer. He said we could get a new computer with 2 gigabytes of RAM and a larger hard drive for $300. Her monitor was fine, so she didn’t need to buy another.

I know that 5 years is a typical lifetime for a hard drive. My client was going to need a new hard drive soon. That would cost her another $80. It didn’t make sense to me to have her pay $200 for parts to fix up a 5-year-old computer when she could buy a new, faster machine for $300. I would get my $60 labor fee either way, and she’s have a better computer.

We decided to get the new computer. The sales representative said we could get a cable to transfer the data from her old computer to the new one for an additional $24. That sounded reasonable. He said it could even copy her old email to the new computer. My client is not a fan of copying files to her flashdrive and then re-copying them to another computer. I charge extra if I have to do that. So, she bought the cable. That was where our troubles started.

The new computer arrived. I set it up and it worked beautifully. During set-up, it asked how we wanted to use the easy transfer program. I chose cable, since we had the cable. I tried to install the software on the disk that came with the cable on the old computer. The first thing I had to do was hook the monitor to the old computer, which meant crawling under the desk, which wasn’t easy because my client’s chair can’t be pushed back because her study floor is covered with piles of books and papers. Then I discovered that her computer could not read the program disk.

Not to worry. The new computer (monitor hooked up to it again) offered to write the easy transfer program to the flash drive. My client was worried that I’d have to erase her important files from the flash drive to make room, but the program fit just fine. Then I crawled under the desk again and rehooked the monitor to the old computer. I installed the software on the flash drive on the old computer. I told the old computer I was going to use a cable to transfer the data. The software said it was ready. It said to hook up the cable to both computers. I did so, Both computer popped up with messages that they detected new hardware. An easy transfer cable. The easy transfer software said it was searching for the cable. We waited. We waited. We waited. Then the easy transfer software said it could not find a serial cable. Well, of course not. We bought a USB cable. New computers don’t have serial ports. What was Microsoft thinking when they wrote Windows 7? Why would Window 7 software, which is written for a computer that has no serial port, be programmed to look for a serial cable?

I called the computer vendor. They wanted us to pay to talk to their 3rd party tech support department. To support a new product that came with a bad disk? That didn’t make sense. I asked if we could have a return merchandise authorization and if they would pay the return postage. They agreed to both, and sent an email with a postage paid label we printed out and stuck to the envelope that the cable and CD had come in.

One of the other options was transfer over a network. I told my client I’d bring the router and patch cables from my house and use them at her house the next day to transfer her data. “What’s data?” I’ll transfer your documents, spread sheets and emails from your old computer to your new computer tomorrow – with some tools I’ll bring from home.”

I set up her email account, installed a couple of browsers and the entire Open Office suite from At least I left her with a working computer. I even enlarged the typeface to 150% to make it easier for her to read, and downloaded the Windows 7 driver for her printer and installed that.

The next day I arrived with my router and 1 cable. I biked home, got the other cable, biked back again. I hooked everything up. I tried to run the easy transfer software that was already installed. But it was still looking for that serial cable. I crawled under the desk, rehooked the monitor to the old computer, reinstalled the software on the flash drive, got a secret code number so that the program would now work over the home network I had installed, rehooked the monitor to the new computer – it was still looking for that serial cable. I restarted the software several times and finally it agreed to look at the network. It asked for the secret code number. It found 4.1 gigabytes of files that it wanted to transfer. I didn’t trust it, so I stayed there during the entire transfer.

It did transfer all the documents and spread sheets. But none of the email. I hand transferred the contact list. I ran the easy transfer again, and specifically showed it which files I wanted – they are hiding under identities within a folder that has a weird long name of letters and numbers. Inbox.eml and its friends. The program agreed that I had found them. It let me checkmark them. We ran easy transfer again. The files I wanted did not transfer. I could easily copy them to the flash drive, but that would mean crawling under that desk again and I wasn’t up for it.

I’d already done my 40 minutes of Egoscue exercises, my 90 minute yoga class, and biked there twice and back once. I told my client I’d be back. I biked home.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Woman's Place is On Top -- Annapurna

Breaking Trail, A Climbing Life by Arlene Blum, isn’t just the story of a woman who led teams of women climbing the highest mountains in the world. It is the story of a woman who broke many trails, as a chemist, an environmental activist, and as a single woman, single mother.

Told in chapters that alternate her growing up in Chicago with her own single mom, and her grandparents, with chapters about learning to climb mountains and leading groups of women, this book also serves as a journey into Arlene Blum’s mind – whom does she love? And what does she love about them? As well as what she loves about climbing mountains.

Arlene Blum is a risk taker – she risked her life on expeditions where others died. She risked her loves and her security over and over in both her choice of lovers, and her choice of educational endeavors.

She also took a chance as a child learning the Hebrew prayers that only boys were allowed to say. The boys in her Hebrew class didn’t know them and her teacher refused to call on her. Then she came to Berkeley, she was thrilled to find a synagogue where women were allowed to say the prayers, too.

She takes responsibility for every choice and makes the best of the consequences, be it allowing the other women to vote on trekking decisions that she wanted to make differently, or changing careers when as a mom, she felt she could no longer risk her life in the mountains she loves.

She has a knack for organizing events she believes in. She raised the money for the first woman’s climb of Annapurna by selling t-shirts that read “A Woman’s Place is On Top – Annapurna.” She created an annual Himalayan culture day in Berkeley because she wanted to share the foods and culture she enjoyed during her treks there. She formed a tour agency to help other people see parts of the world that she enjoys, with her guidance. And she does the necessary political work to remove poisonous fire retardant from furniture manufacture and have them replaced with safer alternatives. She’s a chemist. She tests the chemicals to see which ones cause mutations.

She’s one of the rare people who can have a strong opinion and then when she finds evidence to the contrary, she’ll change her mind and publicly talk about her new views, and her reasons for them.

The book is a valuable insight into an exciting life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rapunzel, The Second

I’m slowly learning that when I do magic for my grandchildren, the props must be indestructible. Plus they must not have any tricky switches or secret compartments that will let my grandchildren figure out how the trick is done. Also, there must not be any slight of hand because they like to poke their hands into my pockets, hoping to discover how I did the magic.  This truly limits what I can do to science combined with story telling.   Here is my latest that I’ll be doing with them on Thanksgiving:

Rapunzel, the Second

You all know the story of the First Rapunzel.  How she got locked in a tower to keep her away from the world, and only her mother could visit her.  Her mother loved her, but she protected her way too much!

Most people who learn the story of the First Rapunzel feel sorry for her when she is locked in the tower. And they are happy when the prince rescues her.

But one little girl, named Maribel, wished she had been raised in a tower and rescued by a prince.  And when she had a little girl, she loved that baby very much, and wanted her to have the best life possible.  She thought that meant raising her daughter in a tower, keeping her away from the world, and when she was old enough, being rescued by a prince.  She named her baby daughter Rapunzel, the Second.

Maribel knew that the first Rapunzel escaped her tower by cutting off her long hair and climbing down from the window.  She didn’t want her daughter to read that story and escape too soon.  After all, she gave her daughter everything and that meant complete access to all the famous old books, that can be read for free on the Internet, and that included the original Rapunzel story.  So, Maribel cut her Rapunzel’s hair every month, and kept it very short and curly, which she thought looked cute.  And Maribel knew about stories in which people escape out windows by tying handkerchiefs together to make a long rope.  So, she read magic books at her library and learned how to make every knot Rapunzel, the 2nd tied come undone.

Demo Slydini Silks – handkerchiefs that won’t stay knotted.

She also knew about lockpicking websites, so she used more magic to create a door on the tower that would only unlock with a key held in the hand of someone who loved her.  If that person loved her, as much as her mother, then and only then, the key would turn in the lover’s hand, and the door would unlock.  Maribel kept her special key in a safe place, where only she knew where to find it.

What she didn’t think of was that the book, where she learned how to make the magic key was still in the library.  In fact, it was available free online, since it was a very old book and it was out of copyright.  Rapunzel knew about her mother’s magic key. And Rapunzel found the book with the magic spell.  She bookmarked it in her browser.  Then she tried to join chat groups, but her mother had activated parental controls on her computer.

Rapunzel, the Second, was never going to meet her handsome prince. Nobody was going to rescue her.  She looked out her window – nobody ever came to visit her but her mother, and sometimes the mail carrier who brought her new clothes, and materials for her science lessons. Then she had an idea – she could buy an old key from Ebay – she could work the magic spell. She could open the door to her tower from the inside.  She could free herself.  And she did!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money for Breast Cancer Research - Watch a YouTube Video

I just got this email.  It looks legit.  The video is good, too.

From: joaniboomer

  A  few weeks ago, 135 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders representing five decades  got together for a weekend to do a dance routine to benefit Susan G. Komen for  the Cure. We practiced for a month to do this and the video is finally  ready.
We had such a wonderful time  getting together and working at this. I haven't seen some of these women in 26  years! A few women from my squad and our choreographer all are breast cancer  survivors.

We need to reach a goal of 1  million views of this video and United Healthcare will donate $100,000 to  Susan G. Komen for the Cure, so please click often and spread the  link.   _____________

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's All Arbitrary

After the accident, which included a concussion, my husband and best friend were relieved that I had not had a personality change.  I was puzzled by their concern.  These are people who like me – wouldn’t they like me if my personality changed?

All my life, I’ve met people who want me to have a different personality.  It used to bother me. I didn’t have many friends, and if I could have popped personalities in and out like memory chips in a camera, I’d have done so.

As I got older, and made good friends, whom I liked for who they are and they liked me for who I am, I got used to the camaraderie.  And I forgot how unhappy I’d been as a child.

Recently, I had a time-warp conversation.  On the recommendation of my massage therapist, I went to her homeopath for help with healing my hip.  Homeopaths don’t heal hips. They don’t want to know the name of your injury or disease. The are only interested in the quality of the pain – is it burning or cutting or aching? They want to know your favorite activities, the accidents you’ve been in, favorite foods, dislikes, upsets – the kinds of things that friends learn about you over time – they want it all at once.

This homeopath told me I was a “pulsatilla.”  She asked me to look at the materia medica on the web about Pulsatilla, which is a wind flower.  I looked at several websites about pulsatilla females. They are blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, soft, plump, weepy, sociable, and like to sleep with lots of pillows.  I am none of the above.  They do like to be outside, which I also like. They also like to move, which I enjoy.  But my thought was that being outside and liking to move might be traits of other remedy plants, in addition to pulsatilla.

The homeopath was furious with me for questioning her choice of remedies.  She insisted I was looking for things that are different instead of things that are the same.  She does not like to be questioned. 

When I was younger, I’d have questioned whether questioning a health practitioner was a good idea – they are trained in a field about which I know little or nothing.  But that’s my personality – I question.  I agreed to take the pulsatilla  remedy.  The homeopath warned me that I might have a discharge and I was to call her immediately if I did.  She wasn’t going to tell me what kind of discharge. I asked if she wanted to know if I sweat a lot at the gym.  Yes, she did.  She warned me not to schedule anything important for the weekend because I might feel sick.

Over the next two days, I felt like I was getting a pimple, and I hunted for it, so I could pop it, but I couldn’t find it.  And I have not had those little grains in the corners of my eyes when I wake up, so I figured I was  making more tear fluid in my eyes, which is a kind of a discharge.  I called her. These didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I reminded her that I did not see myself as a match for pulsatilla.  She responded that I wouldn’t see myself as a match for anything.  I told her that I found Myers - Briggs test pretty accurate. She said she’d never heard of that and was not interested. She was also angry that I’d called at 7 in the morning.  She said to call immediately.  And to me 7 AM is not early. She wasn’t answering her phone, so I left a message. I don’t know why the hour matters if it’s just a message.

Homeopathy treats the whole person, not just an ailment. She needed to know my “whole person” in words she understands, and I need to report my sensations in her preferred vernacular. I agreed to this. She did not agree to communicate with me in words I understand.  I didn’t know I needed to ask for that. I have a huge vocabulary and I understand most of what I read or hear (or at least I think I do.)  Standardized tests rank me very high on reading comprehension.  

I looked up what she told me to research. She was refusing to look up something I recommended.  She demanded to know why I was still harping on my not thinking pulsatilla was right a match for me.  Because nothing happened. Because I’m not better. Because the more I read, the more traits I see that do not describe me.  Because my friend the massage therapist said that this woman’s remedy choice for her got rid of headaches that had plagued her for 3 years, but I’m still in pain. 

The more I explained, the angrier she got.  And I did not wish for a changeable personality module. Instead I saw clearly how arbitrary it all is – do I like pillows? Do I like outdoors? Do I ask questions?

The homeopath told me that the remedy I took will work in my system for 6 to 8 months.  Then she said she thought I should quit because she was angry.  I asked her how I can quit if the drug is going to work in my system for 6 to8 months.  She became furious that I called her remedy a drug. Homeopathic remedies are not “drugs.”

Okay, she’s got her own jargon.  I tried paraphrasing what I’d heard and every time I tried she only became angrier. I asked her to paraphrase and she refused.

My personality became the issue. She does not like my personality.  My husband and best friend do like it. And it’s totally arbitrary.  No wonder they were worried my personality might change. They might not like me if my personality were different.  We like to question, and play with words, and explore jargon, and do things outdoors together.

I wrote the homeopath releasing her from any obligation to care for me. Part of my personality is avoiding doing things that anger others. And my very presence angers her. 

I now  have a deeper and more profound appreciation for the friendships I enjoy and the arbitrariness of our personalities and preferences that make our friendships possible.