Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy birthday to Paul

"Love is much like a wild rose, beautiful and calm, but willing to draw blood in its defense." — Mark Overby

TODAY IS Paul's birthday. He received lots of happy birthday wishes from Facebook friends and relatives. One of them, our funny friend Jack Hillyard, told Paul that he thought it would be fitting for me to feed Paul grapes and fan him in honor of the day. I opted to let the ceiling fan provide the breeze, and the grapes in the fridge were too far gone.

However, I did make sure Paul got a new iPhone . . . on Friday so he'd have plenty of time to play with his new toy all weekend, and this morning I massaged the sore back and legs he acquired doing yard work the day before, made him gluten-free French toast and turkey bacon for breakfast, ironed three of his shirts, cut his hair, and ran him a bath. That's gotta count, I would think. I wasn't sure he'd still be in the mood for a big breakfast after all the popcorn, cake and ice cream we ate at Virginia's, last night, but he was.

I really don't always wear my pajamas. Just mostly.

Along with best birthday wishes, our friend Kit, sent Paul this picture of us she took at her house after we attended Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear in Washington DC last fall. It was Halloween, and she had friends over for a party; those without costume got to choose from her selection of wacky hats. I was way tired, so after a hot shower and a lie-down, I decided pajamas were my disguise for the evening. Bet you didn't even recognize me!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Five little girls are rescued

"It seemed that the brothel had purchased Raya just a week earlier, after her own brother-in-law tricked her and trafficked her. If the raid had been delayed by a few hours, she might have faced the first of many rapes." — Nicholas D. Kristof

IF YOU'VE READ Hey Look more than a few times, you may have noticed that at times I have included columns by New York Times op ed writer, Nicholas Kristof. I've become a fan because of his. 

In his most recent column, he wrote about participating in a raid to rescue five girls, the youngest of whom was five years old, from a brothel in IndiaThe first step in stopping human sex trafficking is shining a light on it, as horrific and ugly as it is. Here's Nicholas' story. I'm grateful to him for his courage and relentless advocacy of human rights.

Nicholas Kristof

Raiding a Brothel in India

By Nicholas D. Kristof
May 25, 2011

At the beginning, I knew only about a young teenage girl imprisoned on the third floor of a brothel in a red-light district here in Kolkata.

The pimps nicknamed her Chutki, or little girl. She had just been sold to the brothel-owner and seemed terrified.

Investigators with International Justice Mission, a Washington-based aid group that fights human trafficking, had spotted Chutki while prowling undercover looking for prostituted children. I.J.M. hoped to convince the Kolkata police to free the girl, but it would help to have more evidence that the girl was still imprisoned. So an I.J.M. official asked: Would I like to accompany him as he sneaked into the brothel to gather evidence?

India probably has more modern slaves than any country in the world. It has millions of women and girls in its brothels, often held captive for their first few years until they grow resigned to their fate. China surely has more prostitutes, but they are typically working voluntarily. India’s brothels are also unusually violent, with ferocious beatings common and pimps sometimes even killing girls who are uncooperative.

Unicef has estimated that worldwide 1.8 million children enter the sex trade each year. Too many are in the United States, which should prosecute pimps much more aggressively, but the worst abuses take place in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia.

Click here to read the entire New York Times article.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Backyard surprise

"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven." — Emily Dickinson

THIS WEEKEND I enjoyed hearing the birds while Paul and I were outside planted flowers. There were robins with their identifying "birdie, birdie, birdie" call, cardinals, wrens, mourning doves (which will probably all be dead soon due to Iowa's stupid new law allowing them to be hunted) and a pair of nesting crows, but I must say we weren't expecting mom and dad mallard duck on our back step yesterday morning. I hope they'll visit often.

When Paul and I were first dating, there happened to be a particularly loud bird chirping in the back yard. I said to Paul, "Guess what that bird is saying?" 

In an eye-rolling tone of voice that seemed to indicate he was expecting a drippy interpretation not unlike something Madeline Bassett  otherwise knows as The Bassett in the Jeeves and Wooster series written by PG Wodehouse — might have sighed to Bertie, Paul said, "What?" 

"Get the hell out of my tree!" 

He cracked up. Months later Paul told me that was one of the early-on moments when he knew I was the right one for him. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The owl and the pussycat

"The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat." — Edward Lear

PAUL FOUND this amazingly awesome video of Gebra the owl and Fum the cat who are playmates. I'm putting you at ease right now because when he showed it to me with no preparatory explanation, I was most alarmed that Fum was out to hurt Gebra, and I worried about what was trailing along with Gebra. I was afraid it was the result of an injury.

Not to worry. Gebra is tame and has a caretaker and handler, Fum won't hurt Gebra, and the thin leather strap, called a jess, is to allow Gebra to sit on a perch outside the aviary.

Out three cats had their own little outdoor adventures this past weekend while Paul and I planted flowers. They're allowed to go outside when we're outside, and surprisingly enough, they stick close — especially the two previously feral ones, Shye and Boy Boy, who spend much of their time sitting on the back step. Shiva, on the other hand, has to check out every bush, tree and flower on a rotational basis, but naturally
 all three help themselves to ample amounts of the catnip in our yard.

Shiva has become great friends with our next door neighbor, David, and runs to see him, talking the whole way, whenever she spots him. We have to keep a closer eye on her than the other two, but she's pretty well trained to come when we whistle.

Saturday, Shiva caught the baby bunny for the second time. She uses her soft mouth and doesn't appear to want to hurt him in any way. This time she brought baby bun in the house; we put him right back outside. Last year Shiva had a grown up bun she was pals with. She'd plunk down near the bunny and the two of them would just sit there together.

Boy Boy's prey was a large fly that had gotten in the house and was buzzing around the nightstand light in our bedroom. He reached up, snagged it with one paw, and promptly ate it. Eeww!! No kisses from you, Boy Boy.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Sigourney Weaver speaks . . . okay, she reads

"Secretly, I had always wanted to go to Vegas, and have my own really bad act!" — Sigourney Weaver

WELL, Sigourney, I think you accomplished your goal, albeit here in Des Moines, not Las Vegas.

Sigourney Weaver was the last of the Smart Talk speakers for this season, and I hate to say it, but she did a bad job. It was apparent that she'd written out her speech word for word, and her 'talk' was actually a read. For the first quarter of it or so when she spoke about more personal things like growing up, high school, college and how her life evolved and led to acting — she was more relaxed, and it was reasonably interesting. 

Goal met right here in Des Moines.

She said she grew up feeling different than everyone else, in no small measure because she actually was; she was almost as tall as she is now when she was eleven years old. Most teenagers tend toward the gangly and awkward, but because of her height, she was that in spades.

Her given name was actually Susan, but she didn't feel like a "Susan" so she changed it to Sigourney, a name she came across in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great GatsbyI can relate! I didn't feel like a "Kay", so in my late 20s I became a "Kelly." I'll tell that story another day; it's a pretty good one.

And I definitely get being spellbound by The Great Gatsby, at least the movie version. I had never been a Robert Redford fan, so I didn't see the movie when it was out in the theaters, but when it was on TV — what the heck, it wasn't going to cost me anything to watch.

The joke was on me. The combination of Bob's looks and the character he played was too much for me, and I fell right over the edge. I was 1000% smitten! The end of the movie proved too thrilling to bear, and I found myself in such a state of anxiety that I was compelled to turn it off because I couldn't stand to see Bob/Gatsby spurned or fail. But then I couldn't stand not knowing what was happening so I ran to the phone and 'phoned a friend' also watching the movie, who filled me in. He was still okay, so it was safe to turn it back on, but again I couldn't stand it and turned it off and so on and so on! 

Holy crap, you get my point, right?

I retained a major crush on Bob until the British version of Pride and Prejudice (the real version as far as I'm concerned, not your butchered, muddled up, out-of-sequence, lame American version) starring Colin Firth as the inimitable Mr. Darcy, at which point I threw over Bob and went full-tilt gaga over Colin — me and about a million other women!

Speaking of crushes, Mollie Cooney was the moderator for this particular Smart Talk presentation and admitted that her husband Kevin has confessed to her that Sigourney Weaver is the only woman in the world that Mollie would ever be in danger of losing him to. I can relate; as long as Colin Firth doesn't come calling, Paul is safe.

Oh yeah, uh huh.

Another interesting tidbit about Sigourney: after she graduated from Stanford University as an English major, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Drama where she was told by her teachers that she had no talent and would never make it as an actor. Ha! She showed them.

After that fairly brief part telling us about her life, Sigourney began speaking about the need to save the planet and how we can help do that. She told us she was glad to be speaking to women because women by nature are the care-takers, nurturers and conservers of resources. I wrote down this quote down from her on my program, "What's good for women is good for the planet."

I've heard respected international NGO workers say that if you improve the lives of women wherever they are, you improve the lives of children and families, as well as society in general. Sigourney also quoted Gloria Steinem's famous line, "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Once again, I can relate!! I feel constantly pissed off by the treatment of women around the world. (I had originally titled my post from Saturday, May 14 as "The state of being pissed off," but toned it down.)

During the first part, Sigourney had been trying to only glance at her script, but by this point she gave up altogether and just full out read, and the closer she got to the end, the faster and faster and faster she went. Maybe she just wanted out of there. I think she might have actually been taken aback a bit when she came out on stage by how large an audience she had. From her reaction, I don't think she was expecting quite that many people. The place was full to the rafters — at least as big a crowd, probably bigger actually, as any show on Broadway.

Note to Sigourney and anyone who makes an appearance in unfamiliar geography: if you plan to make reference to a town in the area, definitely check with a local to get the correct pronunciation. She mentioned some of the environmental projects taking place at Des Moines Area Community College in AahnKENey, and a great deal of tittering ensued.

I know Matty will be disappointed in my take on Sigourney's presentation because he's a big fan of hers, but probably glad to hear that it didn't lessen my respect for her because I don't conflate her presentation with her. It was obvious that she didn't want to waste the opportunity to make a difference in the world, took her participation seriously, worked hard on it and in fairness, she provided lots of good information. Unfortunately I believe many in the audience felt lectured at (although I didn't) and were offended, because when her speaking, er . . . reading was done and the audience question and answer segment was about to start, more than a few women got up and left. Quite a lot actually. I was embarrassed for Des Moines and for her.

In some ways it was a good lesson. Whenever I have a speaking gig, I'm always tempted to write everything down word for word, and Paul always tells me, "No no. Just write down a few key words."  I'm getting better at it, but I can remember plenty of times when I spent hours and hours of prep time in order to be ever so well-researched, each word carefully chosen, and then not had enough time to rehearse the delivery adequately to be able to just talk. There you go, one more way in which I can relate. Who knew we had SO much in common?! We must be twins. 

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still here

"Don't wake me for the end of the world unless it has very good special effects." — Roger Zelazny, American fantasy and science fiction writer

THE APPOINTED time for the rapture has come and gone, but I'm still here. How about you?

We heard that it was supposed to happen about 6:00 PM, but Paul said, "Six PM where? Here in the US where the predictor, Family Radio evangelist Howard Camping, lives? Would that be Eastern, Central, Mountain or Pacific time, standard or daylight savings? Or is it Middle Eastern time where the Bible was written? Now that the deadline has past, I guess we're safe. Whew!! 

There are lots more of these clever photos online if you look.

Paul and I put impatiens in the front bed today. We're into what we call extreme flower gardening. Translation: we plant a lot of them. I weed, he plants. We're behind compared to previous years, but we'll catch up I hope. More of it tomorrow. 

There's something truly wonderful about getting good and dirty and then taking a long, soaky (and soapy) bath. Makes a person appreciate what we take for granted all the time — the bliss of being able to get really clean whenever we feel like it — a luxury that millions and millions of people in the world don't have.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sigourney, Jeannette, Ann, Isabella and Della

"All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women." — Voltaire 

TONIGHT I'M attending the last Smart Talk presentation in Des Moines of the year; the speaker is Sigourney Weaver

The first program, in February, featured Jeannette Walls who's the author of The Glass Castle, which was a New York Times best-selling book for over three years. According to the program, the book is about "growing up in the desert and then in a West Virginia mining town with her three siblings and the brilliant, unorthodox, irresponsible parents who manage at once to neglect them, love them, and teach them to face their fears." 

Jeannette Walls

I'm embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her or her book. If I ever get back to reading actual books instead of the internet, I mean to read hers.

In March the second speaker in the series was Ann Compton. Here's what the promo said about her. "Ann Compton is now covering a seventh president for ABC News. She became the first female reporter for the White House, and traveled the world in the company of six presidents. She’s balanced her professional obligations with those of her own 'first' family and still says her most valued award was being named Mother of the Year in 1988."

Ann Compton

Many of women with whom I attend the Talks liked Ms. Compton's turn the best. Not me, although I'm beyond impressed that she traveled all over the world as a reporter and still managed, with the help of her doctor husband, to raise four children. 

She came across to me as too cautiously politic. I got the feeling that over time she crossed the line and became immoderately friendly with the 'powers that be' — especially the Bush family. That's one of the biggest no-fly-zones there is in journalism. As human beings it's not possible to ever be entirely objective, but it's definitely impossible if you're cosy with the very people you're supposed to be keeping an eye on. As a member of the fourth estate, failure to maintain appropriate boundaries, means compromising your duty as a 'watch dog of government'. 

I would have preferred her to have more reflective insights and frank observations to share with us about the strengths and weaknesses of the history-makers she's covered instead of telling stories about getting a congratulatory telephone call from President Bush when she had a baby. 

The next speaker was Isabella Rossellini in April. I had always thought of her primarily as an actress, but she had a bigger and longer career as a model. There were a lot of scrolling big-screen photos of her while she spoke, and I must say that back in the day she certainly did, as the phrase goes, give great face. She was quite candid which I found refreshing after Ann Compton.

Isabella Rossellini then

Isabella spoke about her parents a great deal, although more about her adored dad, director Roberto Rossellini, than her mom Ingrid Bergman. Isabella has written three books, the last one a tribute to her father. She also made a short film in honor of him that Madonna's ex-husband, Guy Richie, directed called My Dad is 100 Years Old in which Isabella plays almost every role. The part of her dad is played by — and I'm not making this up — an extreme close-up of a man's bare, fat belly jiggling up and down. I don't mean that you saw a man talking and when he did, his belly jiggled. It was just the belly talking by jiggling up and down. There's such a thing as being too 'creative.'

And now

Recently she wrote, hosted and acted in a series of two-minute films for the Sundance Channel called Green Porno about the sex lives of insects, fish and animals. She showed a couple of mini-movies during her presentation. They were pretty cool and definitely much better than the talking belly.

This past Monday night featured Della Reese. Originally we were supposed to have Gladys Knight, but she cancelled and Della took her place. I had already heard Gladys in person at a women's festival in Arkansas I attended on behalf of Helen's Pajama Party where I was about 20 feet away from her when she spoke and sang. 

Della Reese

Having not been a viewer of Touched by an Angel, the TV show Della starred in, I wasn't necessarily looking forward to hearing her, but I was most pleasantly surprised. In fact I believe I like her best of all the speakers so far. She was warm, down to earth, completely commanding and so funny. I loved hearing the story about her marriage because of parallels to my own. 

I'm off to hear Sigourney. I'll let you know how it is!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rape in South Africa and Congo

"Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused." Freda Adler, criminologist, educator, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University

IF YOU read the post called The Tipping Point from March 19 of this year, you might remember that I started this blog as the result of a chain reaction. I had been cranky ever since the November election when Iowans tossed out three judges who were part of the ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that found that allowing gay people to marry does not violate the Iowa constitution. 

In order to feel like I was doing something besides being mad, I made a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center which entitled me to listen to a live conversation via phone between SPLC president, Richard Cohen, and Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project as they spoke about the marked uptick of hate groups since Barack Obama was elected president. That people hate him because of his skin tone was the last straw. I started this blog.

We, Paul and I, called it Hey Look, Something Shiny because the idea was that I would write about whatever caught my attention. I've noticed that in the last two months I've written most often about what might be called women's issues, although I think of them as justice issues. How can I not write about topics that break my heart, not to mention really, really piss me off?

There was a May 11 AP article that appeared in the Des Moines Register the next day reporting a new study that estimates that 1,152 women are raped in the African country of Congo every day. That works out to be 48 per hour!

You might be wondering how any of us can have an impact so far away. I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that a basic thing we can do is learn about how things are for other women in the world. If we know the facts, we can speak knowledgeably, and we can hold people accountable.

Dr. Jim Blessman, director of Blessman Ministries spoke to my Rotary Club about the epidemic of children with AIDS in South Africa, the majority of whom contracted it prenatally from their infected mothers. Although I applaud his organization's work to feed and care for children, I was stunned when he said that the scourge is the result of promiscuity on the part of South African women.

While it's true that 60% of those with AIDS in South Africa are women, it's imperative to understand why.

AllAfrica.com writes, "In many societies, including those of the industrialized global North, women have historically been disempowered — whether by denying them voting rights until well into the 20th century or control over their bodies. African and Islamic societies are not unique in the restrictions they have placed on women, although they have been slower to change. Thus many women, married or unmarried, cannot insist that a man use a condom."

The South African website, Rape Survivor Journey, says, "a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read."

Mama Masika, who helped other women as a result
of being raped herself. From The Irish Times

That's because according to a recent study, approximately 1,300 women are raped in South Africa every day — one every 17 seconds. The study also found that one third of 4,000 women who were interviewed for it had been raped in the past year. Here's more from Rape Survivor Journey

"A survey conducted among 1,500 schoolchildren in the Soweto township, a quarter of all the boys interviewed said that 'jackrolling', a term for gang rape, was fun. More than 25% of South African men questioned in a survey admitted to raping someone; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, according to a new study conducted by the Medical Research Council."

"A 2010 study led by the government-funded Medical Research Foundation says that in Gauteng province, home to South Africa's most populous city of Johannesburg, more than 37 percent of men said they had raped a woman. Nearly 7 percent of the 487 men surveyed said they had participated in a gang rape."

"South Africa has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world with more than 67,000 cases of rape and sexual assaults against children reported in 2000. Welfare groups believe that the number of unreported incidents could be up to 10 times that number. A common myth holds that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS. Child abusers are often relatives of their victims — even their fathers and providers."

A man who has AIDS can infect as many women as he rapes or has sex with without a condom. Do the math.

Although I didn't know as much about rape in Africa as I do now, at least I knew enough to point out in the question and answer session following Dr. Blessman's talk that the incidence of rape is high in South Africa and that men in Africa (ditto the Middle East) generally think they can do what they will with a woman and refuse to wear condoms. 

In my mind, it's another case of blaming victims. Children born with AIDS are undoubtedly victims, but women who are raped and then contract AIDS are victimized three times — first by a rapist, second by AIDS, and a third time by being blamed for their illness. And what about married women whose husbands visit prostitutes because, whereas the culture demands that a wife be faithful, in the African culture a man can do what he wants?

Dr. Blessman went on to say that he felt divided about whether to urge condom use because he's afraid that it would encourage promiscuity. Apparently women's and children's lives are less important than his idea of what constitutes "morality."

Here's a link to Rape Survivor Journeyhttp://www.rape.co.za

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mmmm basil

"In many cultures it is common to use basil as a symbol for love, holiness, purity, and sanctity, among many others." — The Complete Guide to Basil

IF YOU'VE read Hey Look Something Shiny, you may recall that I mentioned how much I hate cilantro. Ptuey!! 

As much as I despise cilantro, I love basil. In fact in our house, the official name for it is mmmmbasil, because whenever I smell it, I can't help but say with a deep inhalation, "Mmmm, basil."

I'm curious as to whether the rest of the population subset who can't stand cilantro, adores basil as much as I do — like maybe it's a thing where if you hate cilantro, you really, really love basil.

Basil is a member of the mint family. Depending on whether you trust Ohio State University or Purdue, there are either more than 40 (or 50) different varieties of basil, but the one known and used most is Ocimum basilicum, otherwise called sweet basil. Basil is native to India and other tropical areas of Asia and has been cultivated for at least 5000 years. Ocimum is from the Greek verb that means "to be fragrant", and basilius is the Greek word for "king".

Basil is believed to have stomach-soothing, stomach-settling properties. Herbalists recommend it for indigestion, constipation and stomachache. It's also thought to have anti-inflamatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and well as being a natural mosquito repellant. No wonder it's called the "king of herbs." Mmmm, basil.

BTW, Paul cooked fresh asparagus in the wok last night in lemon olive oil, and it was so amazingly delicious. Lemon olive oil and basil olive oil are our new secret ingredients.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beyond Flowers by Nicholas Kristof

"The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." ― John Wooden

A BELATED happy Mother's Day to every mother everywhere. My own mother, Helen, died when she was 36 and I was six. Helen's Pajama Party is named in her honor.

It's easy to feel helpless in the face of so much injustice and suffering in the world. How can any one person make a difference? But individuals do all the time. See how one woman in Somaliland and a few people in Minnesota and Connecticut are saving women's lives half a world away.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tells the story.

Beyond Flowers for Mom

By Nicholas Kristof
May 4, 2011

In a few days Americans will celebrate Mother’s Day with roses, chocolates and fine dinners, inducing warm and fuzzy feelings all around. But, in addition, I’ll bet helping mothers less fortunate would also render any mom giddy.

That’s what some Americans have decided to do: commemorate motherhood by saving the lives of mothers halfway around the world — such as in this impoverished nook of Somaliland in the horn of Africa. Beyond celebrating moms with fleeting flowers, they are helping an extraordinary Somali woman, Edna Adan, run a maternity hospital here to make childbirth safer.

We in journalism often focus on villains, but Edna is one of my heroes. She’s a tireless 73-year-old whose passion is to save her countrywomen’s lives, get them access to family planning and end female genital mutilation.

Somaliland is a breakaway republic carved from Somalia but recognized by no outside country. It has only two OB-GYNs, and a woman here has perhaps a 1-in-10 lifetime risk of dying in childbirth. Just about the most dangerous thing a Somali woman can do is become pregnant, but Edna — with her American supporters — is changing that. They provide a lovely example of how Mother’s Day can be about something richer than the finest chocolate, and more lasting.

One of the first Somali women in this region to get a proper education and study in the West, Edna became a nurse-midwife and served in a senior post in the United Nations. For a time, she was foreign minister of Somaliland.

Read the whole story: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/opinion/05kristof.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=mothers%20day&st=cse

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