Friday, October 30, 2009

How Deep Does Ignorance Go?

After my divorce in 1995 I moved in with my parents. Though I was working, I was; left with some bills from the marriage, and a little extra money could come in handy. So Mom suggested that her neighbor across the street could use a little help watching his son in the afternoon. I told her I would talk to him about it, and I made an appointment to do that. In the middle of our conversation about what he needed for his son, seemingly out of nowhere, he made a disparaging remark about black people. I did not take the job, and have referred to that man as "The Grand Dragon" ever since. Yesterday afternoon I took my dog out for a short walk around our apartment complex. Usually I use her leash, but not always, this afternoon being one of the latter trips. The head of our maintenance department, a very pleasant fellow, saw us, and said that he knew I didn't let my dog run wild, and that I carry puppy-poopy-pouches,  but many don't, so the complex is planning to start reinforcing the rules about keeping dogs on leash, etc. Again, out of nowhere, came a completely bizarre negative remark about minorities. I was completely perplexed-on top of my moral offense at racial bigotry. I realize that racism is based on ignorance, but are the people who hold those ignorant views so out of touch that they really assume that all white people share their view, and therefore they can just casually drop these remarks? I don't get it. And I don't know how to respond.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Up With Earthworms?

We are having heavy rains today. I mean really heavy. So I just took my dog outside in the rain because she just couldn't wait anymore...this rain has been falling for hours and hours. Coming back in I saw a familiar site; hundreds of earthworms driven onto the sidewalk by all the water. That is my question...why do they do that? Don't they "understand" on some wormy level that they need to be in the dirt, so once they get out and see that they aren't in dirt anymore, why don't they just go back and go in a little deeper? When I can, I do pick up living ones from the sidewalk and put them back on the grass. They always seem to wriggle happily when I do that, so why do they put themselves in that position?

I'm just asking.

Notice Anything Familiar?

I said last year this would happen, and I was right. A little more than a year ago we were paying $4.50 for a gallon of fuel. Then, in large part because of the age old law of supply and demand. We couldn't afford to pay that, so we cut back. The price of oil fell. Now the rise is more subtle. But what I predicted then was that once the price dropped people would quicly become complacent and start driving again, and buying big fuel suckers. Sure enough, today oil topped $79. per barrel, and the cost of a gallon of gas has jumped about .20 in the last two weeks. It will shortly be $3.00 again, and if we don't wise up, it will keep going up. We don't need to do this to ourselves, and it gives away our power as consumers to allow oil companies, whose obscene profits are not being talked about right now because of all the chatter regarding banker bonuses. Ok-don't talk about it, but don't let it slip your mind either. Consumers have the power to see to it that we are able to continue to pay an affordable price for our petrol.

How Serious is This Really?

Ok. I'm human. Sometimes my body eliminates waste regularly, and sometimes it doesn't. I've never discussed this with a doctor. I never thought it was that big of a deal. So when I see commercials about people who can't play with their grandchildren or go swimming because they have "occasional irregularity" I am confused. Is it just for dramatic effect that these commercials make it sound like a crippling disease that leaves sufferers bedridden and sick? I don't know how serious this really is, so I hope the people who are suffering from this condition aren't offended by my ignorant notion that if we eat some veggies and yogurt it should help us feel better.

This is not a question...I'm upset!!!

I was at a class yesterday on how to punch up my resume. The group was small and personable, and we spent some time off topic, usually for jokes. But one of the things we got off task for was a discussion of whether or not to shake hands at the end of an interview. The consensus was no, unless the interviewer extended his hand first, do not offer yours because of the fear of flu. One gentleman had to leave before we were finished, and the teacher extended his hand. The man, who I must add looked remarkably like John Ritter, with perfect comic timing shrunk back in horror that the hand was extended. We all laughed.

Secretly though, I was really bothered by the whole notion that we can never touch each other because of fear of disease. Now, this is not a scientific statistic I'm sharing, but in my experience, the people I have known in my life who feared germs the most have been sick more often than "regular folks." But I've read scientific articles that the fear of germs has led to people being sicker because their immune systems are not faced with disease, and therefore they have no defenses when diseases strike. Our immune systems must be challenged in order to work. That's why injecting a small amount of disease can give us immunity to certain microbes. In my life, I have never had a flu shot, and have had the actual flu only one time. One time. I know people who get flu shots every year, and still sometimes get sick because the inoculation was not for the correct strain. We evolved immune systems that help us fight disease. According to the most basic evolutionary principle, the ones who are not protected have some other weakness that makes them more vulnerable to illness, and they get sick and do not survive. But I am not an epidemiologist, so I won't spend anymore time on the science of germ warfare.

The thing that bothered me about the whole conversation yesterday was the idea that we as humans should not touch each other. Women of my age (early 50s) and had or ever hoped to have children were taught that babies can literally die if they are not touched enough. We not only evolved immune systems, we survived as a species because of our sense of community. We need each other-and the simple act of shaking hands is the minimum demonstration of our attachment as a species. If we touch someone who has been exposed to a virus but isn't sick we might actually get a bit of immunization. (That's just an unprovable theory of mine.) But we connect with each other by touching. I like the comfort of the touch of a hand on my shoulder, a firm handshake, or having someone pat me on the back. It makes me feel less alone, and during the last couple of months my need for that has been powerfully illuminated.

In conlusion, as I said in the beginning, in my tiny piece of the world, anecdotally, the people I've known who fear germs the most get sick more often. Therefore, I believe that fear is a dangerous disease that leads to our bodies not being able to fight disease. Statistically, people die from the flu every year. Every year, 34,000 people die of the flu. But people with a healthy immune response are the ones who will survive. The only thing we have to fear is fear. So lets all come together for a big group hug.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Could Someone Explain This To Me?

Why is gravy considered a carb? It is made from some kind of fat, a little flour, but the main ingredient is milk. Why then shouldn't it be considered a protein, therefore healthy?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In Memoriam: February 26, 2009

Not long ago I commented to my sister that if there was one thing spiritual I could believe in, I would want it to be reincarnation. Wouldn't it be great do have "do-overs?" She replied, profoundly I thought, with the first law of thermodynamics: Matter cannot be created or destroyed. I was surprised, but this comforted me. We may not know exactly what happens when we die, but we do go on, albeit in another form.

I was also recently looking at a picture of my two beloved dogs, Maddie the labrador and Nestor the border collie who died in 2007, and it struck me how much Maddie had aged in the last two years. There was so much more white on her muzzle and tummy, and she was definitely slowing down and having a harder time recovering after a walk. I remembered the times that the three of us used to take walks in the woods down by the Sangamon River. I would let them off the leashes, and they would both run straight for the water. Nestor was a wader, so he wouldn't stay in the water long before he would come back to me and try to start a game of chase through the woods. Maddie loved swimming, and would stay in the water for a long time. Then she would get out and start on a solitary exploration, taking in every smell from every creature who had walked those woods before us. She would wander through the tall grass so that I would only be able to see the ridge of her back above it. She was untiring, and I would usually have to go track her down when it was time to go. She would resist, but she knew there were treats awaiting when we got home. Besides, riding in the car was another of her favorite things.

Lately those car rides seemed to be the only pleasure she had left. This past Saturday I got a bit of a shock when I stroked her back and could feel her spine. Her hip bones were becoming very visible as her appetite was declining recently. I'd had her at the vet a month or so ago, and he said she was anemic. He gave me some medicine, but said that labs her age often simply lost the ability to make red blood cells. He told me to let her eat anything at all she wanted-anyhing. I bought some liver and boiled it, then boiled rice in the same water. She loved it, but that didn't last long and her fatigue and lack of appetite came back. 

Last Sunday I took her on a walk down some local trails, and before we hit the two mile mark she was panting and several feet behind me. She had never been behind me before. When we got home she sprawled in the floor and slept the rest of the day. After that I tried for the next two days to get her to eat something...anything. Monday and Tuesday the only thing I could get her to eat was treats. She turned her nose up at bacon and extra sharp cheddar. Things I never knew a dog would ever refuse. I worried that I would come home from work and find her dead, but I didn't. But Wednesday when I got home she could barely lift her head, and all she would do is take small sips of water. I knew that it was time to let her go. I called the people I knew would understand how this moment feels, and we cried together. I took my pillow and blanket and got in the floor with her overnight. She could still occasionally manage a thump of her tail on the floor.

She could barely get into the car for that ride this morning, and didn't lift her head to smell the air. The vet said very little. He knew I knew it was time to let her go. It took only seconds for her to go to sleep. Now I am home. My husband is at work, and there is no one at my feet, looking longingly at me to request a pet. Her bowls have been picked up. The house feels very empty. But I am glad her suffering is over. I don't know if I waited longer than I should have, but whatever form her matter has now become, I hope it involves rivers and woods.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Who Was The First Guy...?

I won't say what I was doing, but the other day the question came to me, who was the guy (and what is the story!) who said, "Hey, instead of leaves and corncobs, why don't we chop down trees, mill the pulp into something we call "paper," and use that instead to clean ourselves after we eliminate our waste."

I see these kinds of questions up alot, but that one really makes me curious. I have an uncle who lives near a town called Ashdown, Arkansas, where there is a paper mill located. Ashdown is the worst smelling town I've ever driven through. Did that guy-whoever he was, have any idea what he was really doing? Or is toilet paper just one of those conveniences with terrible unintended consequences?

Monday, October 12, 2009

To draw out the Mama Bear, Threaten the Cub

No. I don't see myself as our president's mother; he is the first president who is younger than me (when did I get this old?) But there are only a few years between us. But the last Friday, when I saw the first headline that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I started looking for the byline of a parody website such as "The Onion." I had seen no announcement anywhere of this except one lone header; nothing on the New York Times, nothing on, etc., so I assumed it was a joke-much like the Superman/Messiah insults that were thrown at him during the campaign. But then more and more news sites started to report the story, and I couldn't help thinking, "Isn't this early?" I made that very comment on my Facebok page, and started a firestorm that last all day long, and left some of my good friends bruised, with hurt feelings because of the passion and anger the two sides of the discussion took.

Full disclosure; I voted for Obama, and I like him. I like the direction he wants to take our country in. If I didn't, I wouldn't have voted for him. I'm not a party loyalist, but I am fairly liberal. I also unabashedly love my country. I love that we have the freedom here to have opposing points of view, and not feel threatened b expressing these views. For that reason, I try to disagree in a civilized way-use my freedom with circumspection. If I attack my opponents into hiding, I could be attacked the same way next. I have a problem with people who surround themselves daily with onl people and news sources that agree with their point of view. I think that kind of thinking with blinders on makes the reaction to other views one of shock and anger; "What-some people really feel THAT way!?" Exposing ourselves regularly to opposing points of view can prevent that visceral reaction by allowing a realization of the existence of "those others" and buffering surprise that the world is not what we assume as we live in our shells. But again, I digress.

I disagree with the Nobel committee. I disagree with giving an 'aspirational' award. I know it isn't the first time, but I still disagree. However, the visceral reaction of those who want our president to fail, and have said so since before he took office, got my defenses up. I asked them, and still ask, how do they feel about the three American doctors who won for their research on aging? People still get old. There is no cure for Alezheimer's Disease. There is no cure for aging-so these researchers, for all their hard work and years of study-have they really done anything?

I have to say that every day last week, as the announcements of the prizes were made, I was proud every time I saw, "Three Americans Win ..." And it seems that every day another American was announced a winner for something. I've had two connections with universities that had Nobel Prize winners on their staffs, and this was a gift to the universities. Science students love the idea of learning from professors who have received great honors for their work. Donors and alumni love it too-it usually means monetary gifts for those schools, which lead to more scholarships and more modern laboratories. What is the downside? On top of that, there is the notion of "American Exceptionalism." What can support that argument better than Americans being recognized by foreign committees that look at contributions to these areas from people all over the world? I am proud of our chemists, medical doctors, physicists, economists, and, yes, our president for this recognition.

It may have been too early, but the award has been given. President Obama was humble, and amitted that he didn't deserve to be in the company of some of the others who have won the award. He will not keep the money, and I'm sure he is aware of all the criticism that his opponents have heaped on him because of this award. So, can we just say, "Hurrah for America," and forget about our liberal/conservative differences for awhile?

And if the Nobel committee is going to keep giving aspirational awards, I can only hope that our president earns the award by the time he leaves office, and that we actually, for once, enter an era of peace.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No Kidding?

I wonder if anyone besides me has wondered about the new Arby's roast beef commercials. They advertise combos for $5.01, and they say that the extra penny is for the meat. Does that mean that we have to pay FIVE DOLLARS for a bun, some kind of sauce, lettuce and tomatoes? No Kidding?

It is about choice, BUT...

My blog being called "The Questioners Blog," there is a question I have been asking for many years, and not one person has been willing or able to help me understand the answer: If homosexuality is a choice, who would choose it? Who would choose a life in which he/she will spend adolescence feeling outcast, a life in which one is ridiculed by some groups, feared by some groups, and condemned to both hell and misery by others? There is a "Christian Minister" who travels around the US with some people he calls his "followers," but I've read that they are really just a few people he's related to, holding protests at the funerals of our soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. This charlatan claims that our soldiers are dying because Americans are tolerant of homosexuality. There are people who believe it is ok to rant, discriminate in housing and jobs, wear clothing with anti-gay slurs, and the list goes on.

Some background; I planned growing up to be an actor, so I hung out with lots of "arty" types, of whom there were gays. I have also worked in some other businesses which traditionally have a large gay presence. Many of my coworkers became friends, though I myself am unrepentantly straight.

There was a young man with whom I worked at a bookstore in the mid-1990s, Patrick. Everyone knew that Patrick was gay, but he had not come out. Patrick was probably in his mid-20s. He finally did come out, and one evening we were talking about his decision to make it "official." I asked him when he realized that he was gay. He said he "knew" when he was seven years old, and had a crush on Leif Garrett, the pop star.

Now, being a southerner, I have lots of baptist friends, relatives and acquaintances. The are unapologetically anti-gay rights. One of them posted a rhyme the day of President Obama's speech to the Human Rights Commission that ended with a line about Obama says you can "ask and tell" and you won't go to hell.

I kept my visceral reaction to myself until I took out my laptop today, though it has been in my thoughts all day. On the one hand it is interesting that President Obama would be assigned the power and/or authority to decide who goes to hell. Especially since my friends on the right have lived the last nine months in terror that anything the president does will thrust our country on the path to certain destruction. Now he gets to make big decisions like heaven and hell? These same friends scorned the president's Nobel Peace Prize because they claimed he has done nothing. But those are questions for another day. The question for today is whether heaven and hell are even the issue in the United States of America, circa 2009, regarding the push for equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgender Americans. I think not. I think the question is much simpler. Were the framers of our Declaration of Independence telling the truth when they wrote that "All men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

in⋅al⋅ien⋅a⋅ble  /ɪnˈeɪlyənəbəl, -ˈeɪliə-/ –adjective not alienable; not transferable to another or capable of being repudiated: inalienable rights.

If the Declaration of Independence is a true document that is relevant to Americans today, then there should be no question about whether all American citizens should be given the same rights as everyone else. Questions of righteous reward or unholy retribution are not for us, and not for now. Most of the people I know who are so certain that allowing gays equal rights will destroy their worlds either do not know any gays, or are not in contact with any on a regular basis. They will likely never have to see any boys kissing, and will certainly not lose jobs to gays because the access to employment and housing becomes equal. In fact, I will bet the farm that there will be fewer boys kissing on TV news once the playing field is levelled and it is no longer news. As far as movies and television are concerned, I'm guessing none of these folks ever saw "The Crying Game," "Angels Among Us" or "The Birdcage."

So it's time to reframe this debate in an honest way, not with bitterness, but with our eyes open to the reality of what our Declaration of Independence should mean to every person born or naturalized into this wonderful country that we all love.