Sunday, July 31, 2011

Can They DO That?

Ever since the advent of the internet people have been sending around questionnaires that supposedly tell friends more about each other. They always seem to include a question about favorite smells. I'm a very sensual person-things I smell or hear can move me in ways that I can't always fully describe. There is a young woman I work with who wears a cologne that lifts my mood every time she walks in the door; there are many smells like that. My answer to that survey question is usually "summer fruit-peaches, watermelon," etc. Last week I walked into the great soul-crushing retailer of our time, and was in the produce section. I smelled that magnetic, sweet peach smell, and looked around to see huge bins of peaches and nectarines. I couldn't resist walking over, my head swimming with the thought of ripe peach juice running down my chin, as I slurped the just-soft enough, not too mushy fruit. I picked up several peaches, and then several nectarines. Every one was as hard as a rock-and none of them had that "peachy" smell. How is that possible? There are some room fragrance products that have come up with peach scents that are pretty on-target for replicas. Is it possible that a retailer could use those scented products to entice customers to buy their produce? Nah! Weeelllll?????

Speaking of enticing smells, popcorn. I love the smell of it at movies, or from a microwave. I recently met my sister for a movie date, and while waiting for the movie to start and munching on my popcorn, I got really angry at all the commercials we had to sit through to get to our movie. We put up with commercials on "commercial" television in order to pay for "free" programming. But we pay a pretty big amount for the privilege of seeing a movie-and we see it in theaters so that we don't have to put up with commercials. We are charged ginormous amounts for snacks at movies when we could have snacks at home and watch movies on cable, where the only commercials are for other programming on the cable channel, and we can fast forward through them. Are you listening theater chains? We don't have to spend our money on you. And if you keep behaving like commercial television, we may not.

Shouldn't your doctor already know what medicines you're taking?

Does it bother anyone that commercials for drugs called "proton pump inhibitors," designed to help with heartburn and acid reflux, talk about being able to eat your favorite things once you take their pills? If we didn't eat a greasy diet, such as the pepperoni pizza shown on one particular commercial, we might not have this problem to begin with.

When I was a kid we had "Stiller and Meara." Now we have Jerry Stiller playing character rolls on sitcoms, and Ben Stiller, their son making comedies. Whatever happened to Meara?

Speaking of politics...not that I was, hehehehe, I heard Mitch McConnell this morning on State of the Union with Candy Crowley, harping, once again, the republican lie that any tax increase of any kind on anyone is a can absolutely not be done with 9+ percent unemployment. He cited as proof that democrats, in a big win for the right last year, must have agreed because they voted to extend the Bush tax cuts. If he is using this fact to support his version of economic truth, why then didn't all the rich-I mean "job creators" instantly start hiring? Surely their certainty was enforced by that two year extension? Don't they keep saying that it's uncertainty about tax rates that is keeping them all from hiring or investing in the U.S. job market? Why didn't Gloria Borger, who sat in for Candy Crowley this morning, pursue that question even one more level?

If we call oil, farm, coal subsidies what they really are, would the right be willing to eliminate them? It is corporate welfare to give money to these gigantic agribusinesses, oil companies, et al, and they don't even need it. They are making obscene profits. How can anyone who supports a free-market economy be for this?

Yes, I mentioned farm subsidies. I realize that farmers are, no pun intended, sacred cows in our country-I see the family farmer that way too. But the family farm is a tiny percentage of farms in our country these days, and huge chemical agribusinesses such as Monsanto own many of the farms from which we get our food nowadays. They make plenty of money, and don't need our subsidies. The family farmer, who has picked an industry that can be a captive of nature, has crop insurance if there is a bad year. They don't need our subsidies either. I'm sorry. I do love this country, and I love farmers. I WAS AT THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF FARM AID FOR GOODNESS' SAKE!!! Please don't suggest I'm un-American for saying this out loud, but they don't. So, let companies stand or fall based on the market.

How can an avowed, proud tree-hugger feel this way? Weeelllllll-believe me, when it comes to corporate responsibility for environmental mistakes, if the free market made companies pay for their own mistakes, perhaps BP would not be making such large profits this year, because they would be paying to clean up the gulf and reimburse families they harmed with their carelessness. I learned this idea from Robert Kennedy, Jr. in his book, from 2005, Crimes Against Nature.  One cannot be more of a liberal tree-hugger than that. Even if the cost shut them down-that's the nature of the free market. If Superfund hadn't paid to clean up industrial waste for so many companies, perhaps they would be more careful about setting rivers on fire, or poisoning our water sources.

When my husband asked me this morning what I want for my birthday tomorrow, did he "get it" when I said, "Something romantic and from the heart?" Did he hope I would name something specific instead of letting him call on our 13 year relationship, almost 12 year marriage to give him an idea? Should he need to ask? Should I still be bothered that he had to?

Just asking.

Sometimes Evolution Happens Quickly

Sometimes Evolution Happens Quickly

I’ve been discussing evolution one way or another for over thirty years. Back then I believed that evolution was a satanic tool for dragging our faith away from God. Yes, I too have been a “Young-earth creationist.” I believed in something that was then called “Creation Science,” but now is dumbed-down to “Intelligent Design,” which basically states that life on earth is so complex that there HAD to be some kind of omniscient being involved in its development. Now, we could spend a lot of time asking why, if that is true, didn’t this being do a better job of designing things like weight-bearing joints, and why there are genetic diseases that kill babies, or (in my view, even worse) auto-immune illnesses in which a person’s own body attacks it, causing illness and death. Doesn’t seem very intelligent to me-but that is not the point today.

The definition of the word “evolution” is change over time, to put it quite simply. Humans have used it to create domestic plants and animals that work according to our desires for thousands of years. That is why water dogs have webbed feet, and Labrador retrievers have water resistant coats, but terriers (their names come from the Latin “terra,” or earth) don’t always care for the water. Now, some would say that this is a sign of “intelligent design,” since humans directed it. But, again, since this type of design has often led to unintended consequences, and harm to the breed or plant, I would say it calls into question, once again, the “intelligent” behind “intelligent design.” But the fact that change over time occurs is without question.
In 1994 Jonathan Weiner published a book called The Beak of the Finch, in which he told the story of two biologists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, who spent twenty-years demonstrating that evolution could occur in closed ecosystems within a few generations. They went to the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin, and observed that the shape of the beaks of birds changed in such a short amount of time based on the scarcity or abundance of particular food sources. These biologists basically put to rest the argument that is often used by creationists that “believing in evolution is also based on faith because none of us were there to see it happening.” We can see it happening right before our eyes. Just this week, in the New York Times “Science Times,” on July 25, an article by Carl Zimmer was published in which we wrote about four biologists who are among a growing group of scientists doing research on “urban evolution,” or showing how urban sprawl is forcing organisms, including rodents and other animals to adapt to  new environments right before our eyes. Other organisms that are evolving right before our eyes are bacteria and microbes, which have spent the last century developing resistance to our insecticides, antibiotics, and other environmental chemicals. There are now bacteria that invade our bodies, and we can’t fight them because they have evolved the ability to absorb our medicines and anti-bacterial wipes and washes. We are not keeping up with them by developing resistance to them because we are not allowing our immune systems to work at fighting them.

All of that being said, there are several states, mostly southern, mostly “red,” that are currently-STILL trying to get intelligent design printed in their science text books. My state, Texas, is one of them. This battle has been going on for nearly a century. The Scopes Monkey Trial, which was fictionalized and immortalized in the 1960 movie “Inherit the Wind.” The trial itself took place in 1925, and some people still will not let this go away, despite the fact that nearly every new discovery supports the fact that all life on earth shares a common ancestor…the basic fact that is at the center of the entirety of our biological lives. Part of this comes from a level of human arrogance, supported by some religious texts, which claim that man is a “higher” form of creation, and is “above” and has dominion over earth and all other life forms. I could go on and on about all the harm we’ve done to earth in the name of this belief, but I won’t. Hopefully any thinking people who might read this will figure out what I mean.

On December 20, 2005, U.S. District Judge John Jones struck a blow to those who wish to teach intelligent design as science. Suit was filed over a school district in Dover, Pennsylvania, where teachers were being forced to give a statement to classes before teaching evolution saying that there were alternative theories to evolution, and that evolution is not “proven” science. After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Jones decided that intelligent design is not science, and that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. But the battle goes on. The arguments on both sides of this trial were presented on PBS on November 13, 2007 in Nova, Intelligent Design on Trial.

But wait!!! Barbara Cargill, a (gasp!) biology teacher, and conservative head of the Texas State Board of Education agreed to compromise and not push to have intelligent design added to text books printed in Texas, and purchased by school boards of the entire country. According to reports in Austin news sources, Ms. Cargill gave up the fight because it “looked like they would lose,” and didn’t have enough votes to push their anti-evolution agenda. Well for once, I would love to see some other states follow Texas’ lead. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Where Do Idealists Get Jobs?

This is not a question regarding the current job market in the United States. There are several careers I can think of that require a certain idealism in order to choose them. Teaching, medicine (nursing in particular,) law enforcement, possibly political office. I know people in all of these careers, and after a certain number of years, each of them seem to lose at least some of the idealism, the desire to help others, that drew them to their career choices. There are others, myself included, who are generally idealistic, and try to always see the best in people, who just wind up having 'jobs' because there is no place for us to fit in with our idealistic natures.

In a conversation with a young friend, whose younger brother just graduated from high school, she told me that he is pursuing a degree in education, and that he hopes to teach in the inner city. He's done some volunteer work in that arena in Los Angeles, CA, and he absolutely loved it. I wonder where he will be twenty years from now, when he has seen just how many of those inner city children he will be able to 'save,' and how he will be the one blamed for their failures? The discussions being held in this country lately over what is wrong with our educational system, and why are children lag behind, is very telling. It seems that everyone, particularly legislators, want to blame teachers and teachers unions for our failures. Occasionally the home life, and participation of the parents is mentioned, but no one brings up the culture we live in. Who are the media heroes? Does our culture celebrate learning? Are the students who are motivated to learn encouraged and nurtured, or are they bullied by fellow students, and ignored by over-burdened teachers who must spend more time trying to keep peace from students with behavior or learning difficulties in their overcrowded classrooms? When they go home, are their heads filled with unchallenging programming on television and iPads? How any teacher can keep his or her ideals alive for an entire career would be beyond anyone's logic.

I'm close to some police officers and others who work for the police in civilian roles. It takes very little time for them to begin to see everyone they meet as suspicious. They spend their days immersed in the worst of what our society brings, and it colors their perceptions. Police officers take a pledge to "serve and protect," which takes a certain ideal of making a difference in society by removing crime so that the law abiding citizen can live freely. But their administrators are sometimes corrupt, they must become friendly and look the other way for some smaller crimes in order to get information on larger crimes, sometimes the people they've pledged to protect dislike them because THEY know someone who has been arrested, and on and on. Police officers traditionally hate the departments appointed to investigate crimes committed within their own ranks. Why? Because sometimes, after seeing how many criminals get away with it, and become rich doing it, and looking at how little they make for the amount of risk involved in their jobs, some policemen become corrupt, and rationalize doing so. Therefore they take the position that they should not be prosecuted if they 'take a little' off the top. How can one keep their idealism in such an unappreciated job. The corruption of the New York City police at the turn of the 20th century was a well known "wink, wink" fact. Police were typically paid for protection by organized criminals on a regular basis. But the city paid them almost nothing, and they were still expected, exactly as today, to put their lives on the line for the people. While police corruption can never be condoned, there were those who understood why police officers would be tempted to take bribes to supplement their paltry incomes.

One place one should be able to believe they can make a difference in the world around them is in politics. There was a time when I thought this would be my place to make a difference. But I have yet to see a single person in politics get elected and not soon be overcome by the amount of money it takes to win, which cannot come from "the people," because the people just don't have enough of it. Barak Obama probably came closer than anyone else during his 2008 election by taking so many very small donations from people online. But even he has taken money from corporations, and proven that the big donors, not the small ones, have more power over what is legislated. An example of this would be the deal he gave to the giant pharmaceutical companies before he even started negotiating his health care reform act. Politics is ugly-it always has been. I've seen some ads that were printed during campaigns in this country during the seventeenth century, and they were even worse than now in the names they called each other. At least now the mud is slung in real time-back then it took days for the ads to go out, and longer for them to be responded to, by which time the damage was often done. Newspapers were owned by business owners, not by idealistic journalists; they could say pretty much whatever they wanted without any challenge from other media sources, or "" So it isn't worse now with regard to mudslinging, but it is WAY worse with regard to the money involved. There will be no way to fix it as long as candidates have to raise more and more money to run for office, and as long as they owe favors to the ones who give them the big bucks.

Helping people by providing medical care ought to be a no-brainer. But after dealing with patients who are demanding when not really sick, patients who come to the doctor to feed addictions, insurance companies who stop real health care delivery, it is easy to see how the nurses and doctors in my orbit all over the country could develop a cynicism about the careers they chose in order to heal. Some of the stories I hear from friends who do home health care just rip at my gut. Some of the behavior of families I've seen who have very sick, disabled family members, does the same thing. I wonder sometimes when we stopped caring about our fellow man, and even more about our families.

In a previous blog I talked about how important a free press was to the learned gentlemen who wrote our constitution. But now the journalists are celebrities themselves,  and they party with the very government whose overreach the framers wanted them to protect us from. This is not true in every case-I have some journalistic heroes who put their lives in great danger to expose corruption at every level. But more and more, the people who report on the legislative class go to the same parties, travel in the same circles, and water down their stories and soft-ball questions to these people because they are 'buddies.' This makes idealism even harder because it diminishes the trust the people have in what they are hearing from the press. It also makes people who have, or might have, become journalists in order to expose corruption in our government, question that decision. I was in journalism school for a time, and when I saw the attitudes of some of the old-school newspaper men, I was disgusted. Even the word disgusted seems inadequate since one of those old newspapermen who had won a Pulitzer Prize for a series he wrote in the Washington Post, looked me in the eye and claimed that the fact that Sally Quinn and her husband, Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post, hosted some of the most famous parties in Washington, meant nothing when it came to reporting on these people. Really? Where were they before we invaded Iraq in 2003? Why did they wait nearly six years to expose the outing of Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband opposing the invasion? The New York Times complicity with the invasion of Iraq is well known, but other papers, if they were following the ideals that framed the beginnings of the American free press were being followed.

I suppose the last area in which idealists should be able to work would be the non-profit sector. I have worked in two non-profits in my life. One was a children's home, in which the administration was so corrupt and dishonest that I quickly felt my idealism drain from me every time I faced one of them. The other was a food bank, that was run by some very odd characters for whom their mission seemed almost secondary. There was one person there who reinforced my ideals, and stayed sold on the mission no matter what. But she was only 20% of the entire staff. I hope she is still there, doing good.

My problem is that I hurt when my ideals are violated. I believe in the interwovenness of every living creature. I still have a, perhaps jaded, view of the 1960s, and wish that the hippies who were preaching peace and tolerance and equality hadn't gone on to become investment bankers and right-wing conservatives. Someone I work with recently quoted the old joke to me, "If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are older, you have no brain." I told him I didn't find that at all funny, especially since my growth has been in the opposite direction. (...I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Bob Dylan.)  I still have hope that people can change, and begin to care about each other. I don't see it happening in my lifetime. There are too many people who think the old way is better because that's the way things have always been done. I would like to ask them about certain things that were done in the past-slavery, driving native Americans off their lands, or poisoning them with illness, conquering civilizations that were already advanced beyond the conquerors, etc. Should those things come back just because it is good to hold on to the way things were done in the past? I think not. But where can an idealist go to work, and have ideals intact upon retirement? 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Demagogue Is Not a Verb

This has been a busy summer in every area of interest to me. Politics, music, my family life, religion, food...all of these things leading to question after question. So, if anyone has answers, I'm open. If not, well, I'm used to it.

1. There are so many things we can hate politicians for, and what they are trying to do to our education system is one of them. But could we PLEASE get over the fact that governors and presidents and congress people send their children to private schools? Can you IMAGINE how disruptive it would be for the children of state or national leaders to be in public schools? Really, let this one go. Focus on the other crap they are doing to us daily.

2. I love dill pickles. Recently I had one of those giant ones you can buy at the convenience store in the single serving plastic wrap full of pickle juice. Also being a long-time label reader, I made the mistake of turning the package around and reading this one. Did you know it does not contain one shred of dill? It also says on the nutritional information that it contains NO FIBER! Are pickles not simply cucumbers "pickled in brine?" Since when do vegetables not contain fiber?

3. Why does anyone mow in the dead of summer? During a severe drought no less? It's hard work that often leads to health problems for the out-of-shape. The machines most people use contribute a great many nasty emissions, and watering the grass just to keep it green in summer uses a great deal of a precious resource that we will one day not have enough of that is usable for the consumption of our exploding population. So, if we get rain, be happy, your grass will be green. If we don't, you save the air, water, reduce medical costs-everybody wins!

4. When did small business owners become millionaires and billionaires? I keep hearing the republicans talk about increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires is raising taxes on "small businesses and job creators." What is the connection? The billionaires are the owners of really big businesses, and do not seem to be the target of any suggested new tax rates.

5. Speaking of the possibility of new tax rates; I think the top tax rate is either 35 or 39%. But you know what, it doesn't matter what the tax rate is if there are so many loopholes and the richest people and largest corporations pay none or very little.

6. This all brings up another question: The right keeps talking about how we have the "highest corporate tax rate in the world." So-which of these other countries would our republican brethren like to imitate? If the US is the best country ever made, and our people are the best and brightest, most fabulous people anywhere, which country would they like us to be like? Do they realize that most of those other countries also have completely different priorities for how their tax revenues are spent-some even including (HORRORS, GASP) health care for everyone? So-France? How about France? Italy? Germany? Pick one, Speaker Boehner. But remember, there is always a package that goes with such things, and if you don't like the package, don't try to imitate one little piece.

7. Do the anti-government right-wingers realize that people who hate the government and wish to dismantle it are called "anarchists?" Anarchists used to be considered left wing. Does anyone but me see the irony in that? Anarchy in the USA!! Brought to you by Sarah Palin.

8. Who are the people who have been unemployed for over two years? Are they from any particular sector of jobs? If it is the over-fifty crowd, infrastructure jobs might not really help. But we need to rebuild our infrastructure, no question. We need high-speed rail nationwide. We need to reorganize our cities to accommodate mass transit. But I am deeply concerned about the middle aged workers who have been unemployed for so long. Where can they go? I'm not sure that building highways and filling pot holes in roads are jobs that they can do.

9. What is the evolutionary purpose of women's attraction to shiny objects and adorning ourselves? It seems that every woman I know is drawn to jewelry and shoes. On the one hand, I can see that the adornment thing may be in order to attract a mate. But I don't know many men who say they ever notice a woman's shoes. But some women I know who never, ever wear makeup still love shoes. And if attracting a mate is the reason for attaching shiny objects to our ears, fingers, wrists and necks, why do middle-aged women still have this desire? We aren't looking for mates. We may just be hoping the ones we have don't last much longer. We can't reproduce anymore, so how does this characteristic help us pass on our genes?

10. Who is the governor of Alaska now?

11. When they were young, what did Pat Sajak and Vanna White want to be. Surely not the hosts of a stupid game show for the rest of their lives.

12. I watch Morning Joe most every morning. It is often just background noise while I get ready for work. But do the producers really think no one notices when they re-run first hour? They do it regularly, and I'm not sure why.

13. I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter series. I've read every book, and seen every movie. I've semi-followed the growing up of the three main stars. Last week I saw a story about Emma Watson, who has played Hermione since she was ten-years old. She came to the US to attend Brown University for a time, but it didn't work out. Anyway, the story last week said that Ms. Watson is going to study "abroad." At Cambridge. She's a Brit-how is Cambridge "abroad" for her?

14. Lastly for now, I have a question about the whole Rupert Murdoch British press tabloid scandal. The stories have to do with the management of these papers being invited to all the best parties, hobnobbing with politicians and the wealthy and famous. They then used these relationships to make big, splashy, ugly headlines. Well, hoodathunk? I've said for years that it makes me uncomfortable to see American journalists invited to these parties with the Washington elite-or any elite. But it continues. So why should anyone be surprised that the integrity of the press might be compromised by inside access?