Saturday, March 31, 2012

Love really does change everything

"You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams." ― Dr. Seuss

THIS MIGHT BE the most beautifully-written opinion piece I've ever read. Authored by Diane Ackerman, it appeared on the New York Times website March 24. I think you'll love it. It's why I married Paul.

Poet, essayist, and naturalist, Diane Ackerman is the author of two dozen highly acclaimed works of nonfiction and poetry, including A Natural History of the Senses and The Zookeeper’s Wife. She will write regular opinion pieces about the natural world, human endeavors and the intersection between the two.

The Brain on Love

A relatively new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.

As the most social apes, we inhabit a mirror-world in which every important relationship, whether with spouse, friend or child, shapes the brain, which in turn shapes our relationships. Daniel J. Siegel and Allan N. Schore, colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently discussed groundbreaking work in the field at a conference on the school’s campus. It’s not that caregiving changes genes; it influences how the genes express themselves as the child grows. Dr. Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, refers to the indelible sense of “feeling felt” that we learn as infants and seek in romantic love, a reciprocity that remodels the brain’s architecture and functions.

Does it also promote physical well-being? “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,” Dr. Siegel says, “point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.”

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

Just consider how much learning happens when you choose a mate. Along with thrilling dependency comes glimpsing the world through another’s eyes; forsaking some habits and adopting others (good or bad); tasting new ideas, rituals, foods or landscapes; a slew of added friends and family; a tapestry of physical intimacy and affection; and many other catalysts, including a tornadic blast of attraction and attachment hormones — all of which revamp the brain.

When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths. The brain knows who we are. The immune system knows who we’re not, and it stores pieces of invaders as memory aids. Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.

Love is the best school, but the tuition is high and the homework can be painful. As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected. That’s why being spurned by a lover hurts all over the body, but in no place you can point to. Or rather, you’d need to point to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the brain, the front of a collar wrapped around the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers zinging messages between the hemispheres that register both rejection and physical assault.

Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.

But a loving touch is enough to change everything. James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, conducted experiments in 2006 in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships. Tests registered their anxiety before, and pain level during, the shocks.

Then they were shocked again, this time holding their loving partner’s hand. The same level of electricity produced a significantly lower neural response throughout the brain. In troubled relationships, this protective effect didn’t occur. If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.

However, it’s not all sub rosa. One can decide to be a more attentive and compassionate partner, mindful of the other’s motives, hurts and longings. Breaking old habits isn’t easy, since habits are deeply ingrained neural shortcuts, a way of slurring over details without having to dwell on them. Couples often choose to rewire their brains on purpose, sometimes with a therapist’s help, to ease conflicts and strengthen their at-one-ness.

While they were both in the psychology department of Stony Brook University, Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly.

A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. Small wonder “Baby” is a favorite adult endearment. Not that romantic love is an exact copy of the infant bond. One needn’t consciously regard a lover as momlike to profit from the parallels. The body remembers, the brain recycles and restages.

So how does this play out beyond the lab? I saw the healing process up close after my 74-year-old husband, who is also a writer, suffered a left-hemisphere stroke that wiped out a lifetime of language. All he could utter was “mem.” Mourning the loss of our duet of decades, I began exploring new ways to communicate, through caring gestures, pantomime, facial expressions, humor, play, empathy and tons of affection — the brain’s epitome of a safe attachment. That, plus the admittedly eccentric home schooling I provided, and his diligent practice, helped rewire his brain to a startling degree, and in time we were able to talk again, he returned to writing books, and even his vision improved. The brain changes with experience throughout our lives; it’s in loving relationships of all sorts — partners, children, close friends — that brain and body really thrive.

During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.

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March madness

"She didn’t wake up and say make me look like this, make me 6-foot-8 and have the ability to dunk." — Kim Mulkey, head coach of Baylor women's basketball speaking about Brittney Griner

TOMORROW NIGHT, April 1, are the semi-finals for the NCAA Division I women's basketball championship. It's Baylor vs. Stanford and Notre Dame vs. Connecticut.

I don't care who wins the Baylor vs. Stanford matchup, although I probably lean towards Baylor just because that will make it the first team to win 40 games in a season. Other than that, I don't have a preference because both teams have women coaches — Kim Mulkey for Baylor and Tara VanDerveer for Stanford.

Notre Dame vs. Connecticut, though, I am 100% in favor of Notre Dame, coached by Muffet McGraw, over Connecticut, coached by Geno Auriemma. Geno is a him; enough said. I will be for men coaching women's basketball when I see women coaching men's teams. 

Paul got me a program at the regional finals so I could read about the teams, players and coaches. Sixty-four teams started out in the 2012 Division I tournament. Of those, 35 are coached by women, and 29 are coached by men. When I mentioned that to some women at dinner Tuesday night, they were pleasantly surprised to know there were that many women coaching. Me — I'm just mad there are still 29 men. 

My friend Susan said, "Yeah, but I like (Iowa State) coach Bill Fennelly." Not me. Just because he's coaching a team a few miles up the road doesn't make him any less a man coaching women. I'll root against him every time "his" team is playing against a woman-coached team. I'll root for ISU if and when the school manages to get a clue and hire a woman to coach the women's team — or when they hire a woman to coach the men — whichever comes first.

Hard liner? Damn right I am.

PS: Attached is a New York Times article by Jeré Longman about Coach Kim Mulkey. You'll like it.


The Fire and the Glow

DENVER — Before Baylor left Waco, Tex., for the women’s Final Four, Coach Kim Mulkey announced that she had Bell’s palsy, a treatable nerve disorder that causes weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles.

While her smile might droop, Mulkey told reporters Thursday, her case was not severe and “it’s not going to keep me from hollering.”

Fiery, candid, intensely driven, Mulkey is the only woman to win an N.C.A.A. basketball championship as a player, as an assistant and as a head coach. Baylor (38-0) faces Stanford in a semifinal Sunday, seeking to become the first N.C.A.A. team to win 40 games in a season.

A month shy of 50, and earning more than $1 million a year, Mulkey represents the sporting possibilities available to women since the passage 40 years ago of the gender-equity legislation known as Title IX: scholarships, championships, Olympic gold medals, financial security and the self-assurance to be forceful and brash and daring without being apologetic.

Baylor coach, Kim Mulkey. You go girl!!

In 2000-1, her first season at Baylor, Mulkey celebrated a last-second victory by running around the court, arms raised, as if she had won an Olympic sprint. By 2005, she had won an N.C.A.A. title. Unfailingly, her teams reflect her toughness by playing stifling defense and by embracing the pressure of expectation. No opponent has made half its shots in a game against Baylor in six years.

On the sideline, Mulkey conducts her team with an operatic sensibility and exacting demand. She insists that defenders yell “pick” because it is infinitesimally quicker to say than “screen.” She has been known to toss her jacket during games, to fling her watch to her spokeswoman seated at the scorer’s table. Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma jokes that Mulkey disagrees with every referee’s call, even those in her favor.

And her wardrobe can be as bold as her personality. Entire pages on fan message boards have been devoted to Mulkey’s sartorial choices. At their most adventuresome, the outfits have included sequined blouses, powder-blue suits, fuchsia leather jackets and red leather pants.

Mulkey wore pants with a snakeskin print for a game at UConn last season that on a less confident person might have suggested the wearer had been half-swallowed by an anaconda.

“She stepped into a world that heretofore was the domain of just men,” Auriemma said. “Men were allowed to act crazy on the sideline. Men were allowed to be cocky. Men were allowed to wear crazy outfits and be histrionic and do all the things that Kim does. It would be unladylike to do that. Well, those times have sailed on.

“Kim, in her own way, does represent that: ‘This is my game; I’m in complete control of my situation. This is who I am. This is how I was as a player. This is how I’m going to be as a coach,’ And I commend her for that. A lot of people might not agree with what she does, but her passion is undeniable.”

Away from the court, Mulkey dials back on the wardrobe and the fierceness. She is a devoted fan of country music, whose lyrics she tries to work into lessons for her team. “You can always count on her saying, ‘Do you know that country song?’ ” Brittney Griner, Baylor’s 6-foot-8 center, said, laughing. “No, Coach, we never know these country songs.”

On the bench, a chip seems to sit permanently on Mulkey’s shoulder, like an epaulet on one of her jackets, Auriemma suggested. He believes it comes from her days as a hard-nosed, pigtailed player. A 5-4 point guard, Mulkey arrived at Louisiana Tech in a Corvette as a freshman and won national championships in 1981 and 1982.

At Tech, a certain flamboyance was not only tolerated but cultivated. Sonja Hogg, then the team’s coach, dressed in suede and leather and became a legend for recruiting in a white fur coat and driving a white Cadillac.

In 1984, Mulkey won an Olympic gold medal, playing for the most insistent of coaches, Pat Summitt. She won another N.C.A.A. title in 1988 as an assistant at Louisiana Tech to Leon Barmore. He was so intense and uncompromising that he sometimes nearly passed out on the bench. Mulkey, too, coaches as if hot sauce runs through her blood.

“What helped her in terms of her confidence is, having played on the highest stage, she’s able to coach on the highest stage,” Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She brings a tremendous amount of knowledge to the game and a competitiveness that is not exceeded by anyone.”

The daughter of a Marine, Mulkey three years ago landed her greatest recruit, Griner, who is also the daughter of a Marine and is now considered the best player in women’s college basketball.

“She reminded me a lot of my dad — strict and fair,” said Griner, who is from Houston. “There are no favorites, there is no sugarcoating. She tells you how it is and doesn’t hide anything.”

Kenneth W. Starr, the Baylor president, said he learned at a 2010 tournament in the Bahamas that he had better board the team bus 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

“Mulkey Time, we called it,” Starr said. “They said, ‘Doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re late, you’ll have to take a cab.’ ”

Fittingly, Mulkey’s autobiography is titled “Won’t Back Down.” As a small-town girl in southeast Louisiana, she never missed a day of school from first grade through 12th, was named valedictorian of her high school class and won four state basketball championships.

At age 12, Mulkey entered a marathon roller-skating contest and skated for 23 hours 55 minutes, stopping only to say hello to her grandfather, who had come to check on her. Disqualified by the stoppage, she still finished fourth.

That same year, Mulkey was prevented from playing with boys in an all-star baseball tournament. Her father sought legal action to halt the tournament, but, in the end, Mulkey decided not to play because it would hurt her male teammates. She did play three seasons in her local Dixie Youth league, though, always the only girl.

“She wasn’t going to back down,” Griner said. “Boys, girls, whatever, she was going to compete.”

Mulkey readily admits to being motivated by slights, real and perceived. She felt betrayed in 2000 by Louisiana Tech, her alma mater, which wanted her as coach but would offer her only a four-year contract when she wanted five. A recent profile in The Dallas Morning News revealed that Mulkey had not spoken to her father in 25 years for reasons having to do with her parents’ divorce and her father’s no-show at her wedding.

A mother of two, also now divorced, Mulkey used a metaphor of disloyalty to explain last fall why she no longer planned for Baylor to schedule its rival Texas A&M now that the Aggies are leaving the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference.

“If a man wants to divorce me and says our relationship has no value to him and then he asks me if he can sleep with me,” Mulkey said, “the answer is no.”

During Sunday’s game against Stanford, Griner said she would look toward the bench at some point and would surely find her coach worked up to Category 5 intensity as a human hurricane.

“I love being able to see my coach fighting for me, fighting for the team,” Griner said. “Also, she dresses really nice. I like to look over there and see the outfits.”

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Lady Vols

"We've built this fan base not on scheduling patsies. We've built it on bringing in the top opponents throughout the country from a lot of conferences and our fans deserve that. We also think that to be the best you have to play the best." — Pat Summitt

FOR COMPLICATED reasons, we didn't end up getting to either of the two NCAA women's regional semi-final basketball games held in Des Moines on Saturday — which made me

doubly determined to see the final Monday night between Baylor University (Waco, TX) and the University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN).

And I did. We did, in fact, because Paul took the night off from his normal Monday night Des Moines Big Band gig so we could go together. It was really nice of him considering that the band had a visiting Russian pianist as a guest artist.

At the game in our Lady Vols shirts. I've got a pom pom
 from the pep rally and a sticker on my cheek. Despite having 
graduated from two universities, this was the first time I've 
worn any school's colors since I was in high school.

By accident we got to attend the Lady Vols' pep rally held across the street from our building at Legends just before the game. Paul saw the band get off the bus and ran upstairs to grab me so we could go. So fun!!!!

I was disappointed Tennessee lost, but thrilled nevertheless to see the legendary Pat Summitt in person, even if it was from the other side of the stadium.

New York Times photo from Saturday night. Left: Baylor coach 
Kim Mulkey. Right: The one and only Pat Summitt.

Pat was at the core of women's basketball for almost four decades. She was an All-American player at the University of Tennessee-Martin. In 1976 she was part of the USA basketball team that went to the Olympics and brought home silver medals, and in 1984 she coached the USA women to an Olympic gold medal.

She began her coaching career at Tennessee in 1974. According to an article in the Des Moines Register, her salary at the time was $250 a month, and for that she not only coached, but washed uniforms and drove the team bus.

Thirty-eight seasons later she has amassed a remarkable record — 1097 wins to 204 losses — for an average of .841. Her wins are the most for any four-year college or university men's or women's team coach. She's won eight NCAA championships, more than any other Division I women's basketball coach, is second only to UCLA's John Wooden among coaches of either men's or women's basketball, and with 18 NCAA final four appearances — she has the most of any Division I coach on either the men's side or the women's. 

I read a piece in The New York Times, and thought you might like it. Here's what writer Lynn Zinser had to say about the game we attended — and Pat Summit.

"The end of the Baylor-Tennessee game in the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament was hard for everyone, with the 400-pound elephant in attendance at Des Moines’s Wells Fargo Arena representing the scary question of what the loss meant for Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, whether it spelled the end of her legendary career and how big a toll her early-onset dementia would take on her in the coming years.

But the end of the Baylor-Tennessee game was also a tribute to Summitt, even in defeat. Because the sport she helped build — and make no mistake, she was the lead contractor, developer and someone who helped lay the bricks by hand — is now dominated by a team with such eye-popping talent and efficiency that Summitt would have marveled at what her work had produced, had it not just sent her team to a thudding defeat.

As John Adams writes in The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Baylor looked a lot like some of Summitt’s dominating Lady Vols teams over the years, except with a new level of talent that includes the transcendent Brittney Griner. Summitt’s current team, steered largely by her assistants now, couldn’t will themselves past Griner and into the Final Four and now leaves everyone to contemplate what’s next for Summitt. Whether or not this is the end of her coaching career, it’s still a good idea to stop and appreciate what she’s accomplished, Mechelle Voepel writes on 

As Eric Adelson writes on, she will be always be thought of as a winner, even in defeat. As for what’s next, Summitt isn’t yet saying and might not know, so there is only hope and sadness and another chance to appreciate."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ― Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World

IT'S EVERYWHERE. I've come face to face with some surprising exhibitions of it lately in my own circle of friends and acquaintances, and it's making me crazy. It's what pushed me over the edge a year ago to start writing this blog in the first place. 

One of my favorite quotes isn't by someone famous; it was uttered more than 20 years ago by an institutionalized schizophrenic. He said something close to this: "To see evil without speaking, is to participate in it." 

The internet is the great equalizer, giving ordinary people like me a means of "speaking." It's also become sort of a giant neighborhood watch group, making events like Trayvon Martin's murder less easily swept under the rug. (And could someone please fire Geraldo Rivera. Please!!!)

On the subject of race-based discrimination, February 20 I wrote about the three Oscar-nominated actresses from the movie The Help: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain

After I wrote it, I heard Viola being interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, and I've been thinking about things she talked about ever since: the racism she experienced growing up and the lack of roles for black women, especially for black women who are, as she described it, darker than the color of a paper grocery sack. 

In the 24 years since Viola graduated from college with a drama degree, the parts she's been given in movies have in themselves been bigoted — prostitute, drug addict, maid, nurse, social worker, unnamed "woman" — but never a beautiful, successful, leading lady role in a mainstream movie.

The gifted Viola Davis.

In her interview Viola said that she can only think of one woman who's had a role of that nature. She didn't say, but I'm guessing she was referring to Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Whitney Houston was a leading lady in Bodyguard, but Whitney (rest her soul) was lighter skinned and a pop star.

In the 2.20 post, I contrasted the career arcs of Viola and Octavia Spencer on the one hand and Jessica Chastain on the other, but I thought I'd done a poor job, so I wanted to improve upon it with a clearer time- and story-line; I think I have.

Here's the link to it. I'm hoping you'll take two minutes to read it. As bribery, I've put lots of pictures in, and although not much shorter, it's definitely better organized and, I hope, more readable.
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Saturday, March 24, 2012


"I want my kids to be respected. I tell them first to respect themselves, and once they've done that, never settle for less from anyone else." C. Vivian Stringer, head coach of women's basketball at Rutgers University and former head coach at the University of Iowa

PAUL AND I have tickets to the women's NCAA regional basketball tournament semi-final games today and the final on Monday. We're looking forward to having our minds relieved of the everyday stress of owning a small business by becoming completely engrossed in cheering on these talented athletes.

Speaking of basketball, the Iowa High School Girls State Basketball Tournament was held the week of February 27. This state is famous for it's girls basketball. I have a ritual around the girls state tournament. I don't get to do it every year, but when I can, I like to sneak out of work for a couple of hours, walk over to the arena and sit in the stands by myself and watch a game. It renews my faith in and hope for humanity to see all these young women playing their hearts out on behalf of their teams.

I love seeing young women taking charge of their own destinies and seizing the opportunity to be fierce — fierce, focused and so bonded to one another in a one-for-all, all-for-one uniquely girl kind of way. I'm not as keen on the boys' tournament; they get so many more opportunities and so much more encouragement to be strong and competitive. 

That's why I'm a huge fan of Federal Title IX, the anti-discrimination law guaranteeing equal access to athletics for women and girls in federally-funded educational institutions. 

I was teaching at Iowa State when Title IX was threatened with non-renewal more than 20 years ago. It made me mad, so I designed a poster on the issue, had it printed and posted copies around campus. As a result, I was invited to speak to a group at the Iowa Department of Transportation headquarters in Ames, and did it. I look back and think, "I was so not an expert on the subject!" Goes to show you where passion and defending the cubs will get you. (Uh oh. Did I just cop to be being Sarah Palin before Sarah Palin was Sarah Pailin?) 

The girls basketball finals and the Variety Club Telethon fell on the same weekend this year. Paul always plays in the house band for the telethon, but now, instead of being at Adventureland, it's held at HyVee Hall, across the street from Wells Fargo Arena where the tournament was taking place.

Telethon weekend is a marathon for him (18 hours of rehearsing and playing on Saturday and nine hours on Sunday), and he likes it if I stop by to see him during the onslaught. I decided to piggyback the two events; visit Paul and then walk across the street to the tournament.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. No really! And I don't mean the movie. 

Paul had already purchased a ticket for me for the 4-A championship game (schools are divided into divisions one 1 through 4 depending on the school's size, with 4-A being the largest-school division) so I walked into the venue anticipating no difficulty. 

Surprise. I didn't realize that if you buy a ticket for one game, you can stay for the next game, which meant in this case that all the attendees of the 3-A championship game which preceded the 4-A were staying to watch the 4-AAnkeny vs. Iowa City West game. Not only that, but the 4-A fans had come early in an effort to make sure they had seats to see their game, making the arena so full that you couldn't go in until someone came out, which no one was, except in the 'end zones' where nobody wanted to sit.

Finally, I gave up waiting to get into the Ankeny section, got out of line and started walking down the concourse headed for the end zones, when I paused to try to see how much farther around the bend I had to go. I looked up to discover that I was standing next to Senator Tom Harkin as he was trying to decide whether or not to buy a hot dog. (He voted no on that.)

I've known him for many years. He said, "Kelly Sargent, what are you doing here?" I said, "Trying to find a place to sit!" He said, "Well come sit with us. We've got front row seats."

So that's what I did. We sat in the first row on the floor directly behind the Iowa City West team. The Governor was sitting behind us, and Senator Grassley was on the other end of our row.

I was seated behind the Iowa City West team.

Here's my confession. I rooted for Iowa City West. I know! Not only do Paul and I live in Ankeny, but I grew up here, and I was an Ankeny High cheerleader. Again, I know! I started out pulling for both teams equally — how can you not root for all of these fine young women?! However:

First, Ankeny had about a gazillion fans. Seriously, their side was packed.

Second, West High School came out of the gate shooting cold which seemed to convince the Senator that Ankeny would win, and I just couldn't resist taking the opposing side.

Third, although they both were tall teams, Ankeny's was taller and Ankeny had a heavy-hitting, double-digit star in their favor. It should be obvious by now, that I'm pretty much always going root for the underdog in everything. 

Fourth, the Ankeny fans were booing — a lot actually. I really, really don't like booing.

Fifth, the Iowa City West student body boosters wore matching T-shirts, had well-organized, witty cheers, and by a high percentage, the rooting section consisted of boys. I loved seeing boys cheering for girls!

Sixth, you might assume the Iowa City West T-shirts would be your basic WHS school shirts, but they weren't. They said: LIVE LIKE LINE. Naturally I was curious as to what it meant. Turns out a WHS student named Caroline Found died; I don't know under what circumstances. Her nickname was Line — short for Caroline — and the game was dedicated to her. Cool, huh? The team members wore matching ribbons in their hair the same color as the shirts.

Note the linked arms and the hair ribbons.

It was really an exciting game! Ankeny tied it up at the buzzer during regulation time, and the game went into overtime. Iowa City West won.

I hung around a while after the teams left the court and the crowd emptied out, kind of savoring this quintessential Iowa experience. I was SO glad I did! Suddenly the PA system came on blasting a song, and the Iowa Ctiy West team ran back onto the court in the empty stadium and began dancing with utter abandon to Sweet Caroline honoring LineIt was a breathtaking moment, and I'm grateful to have seen it. Pretty awesome bunch of young women.

PS: A couple of weeks later, I was chatting with a fellow Rotarian who's from Ankeny, whom I'd happened to spot in the Ankeny throng at the game. I mentioned that I'd seen him in the crowd that night, and he said which great emotion, "Wasn't that devastating?!?!"

I admit that I had to restrain myself from saying, "Um, no," not because the team I pulled for won, but because both teams played their hearts out, and either one could have won and deserved to. 

I was for all the young women that night and every night, not just the ones in my town. There I go again believing that all girls can and should have the opportunity to be winners.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keep up the pressure

"The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might."
 — Mark Twain, Letter to San Francisco Alta California, published June 16, 1867

FOR THOSE FAMILIAR with this blog, you know I want Rush Limbaugh — or Slimebaugh as I choose to call him — to shut up and go away. 

The really disgusting things he said about Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, appear to be the straw that broke the camel's back. As a popular national blogger said in a recent post, "Enough is enough. He needs to know that he can't say every disgusting, bigoted and horrendous remark that comes into his disgusting, bigoted and horrendous head!" 

David Horsey for the LA Times.

As the result of public pressure, Limbaugh has lost upwards of 140 advertisers. However, many of those will only stop advertising for a period of two weeks, while they wait for this to blow over. I'd like it not to blow over. That's why it's important to collectively keep up the pressure on both Limbaugh's advertisers and Clear Channel Communications, the broadcast corporation that airs his show nationwide.

Below is the text of a letter I just sent via email to Clear Channel, and here is a live link to the email address for the public relations department: Feel free to copy from my letter if you want to. 

PS: Paul reminded me that if we send an actual on-paper letter to the station or network, the FCC requires that it remain on file to be taken into consideration when the station's broadcasting license comes up for renewal. The corporate CEO is Bob Pittman; John Hogan is he President and CEO of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment — the division radio falls under. Writing to either one is appropriate. The mailing address of Clear Channel Corporate is 200 East Basse Road, San Antonio, TX 78209.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to ask your network of stations to no longer carry Rush Limbaugh. 

Airing his program isn't a matter of free speech as Limbaugh's apologists claim. Our constitution does indeed protect his right to say almost whatever he wants as a private citizen, regardless of how vile. However, Clear Channel is not obligated to give him a forum through which to, literally, broadcast his noxious, hateful "speech." That's a choice on Clear Channel's part. 

It's time to stop pretending that continuing to air his show is about anything other than greed. Apparently Clear Channel will let Limbaugh say anything as long as it generates a profit — and justify doing so by saying "Hey, he's popular."

Slavery was also "popular" at one point in our country's history, and unfortunately racism, anti-semitism, gay-bashing and other forms of discrimination and hatred remain so with a certain portion of the population. Will you pander to anything "popular" to make a buck? It's a matter of decency and being an honorable "person" — in the insane definition by the Supreme Court.

I await your response and will post it on my blog and forward it to my Facebook friends and the 400+ in my e-newsletter group.

Sincerely yours,

Kelly Sargent

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

More about Williams Syndrome

"I am different, not less." ― Temple Grandin

I PASSED ON an article in October about a little-known genetic condition called Williams Syndrome. Researchers think that understanding it may hold the key to a better understanding of the autism spectrum.

Here's a follow up piece about it from yesterday written by Edward Lovett from ABC News. There's an interesting short video at the end.

Williams Syndrome Grows in Awareness, Research

“Williams Syndrome is a rare genetic condition — so rare, in fact, that few people have ever heard of it.”

So began an article from June 9, 2011, a day before “20/20″ ran a comprehensive story on Williams Syndrome. Now, partly because of these stories, awareness of the condition has increased dramatically, creating various benefits for those with Williams Syndrome as well as their families and doctors.

“Awareness has skyrocketed, for a relatively rare syndrome,” said Terry Monkaba, executive director of the Williams Syndrome Association (WSA). Affecting one in 7,500 newborns, Williams Syndrome (WS) causes a combination of ebullience, empathy, fearlessness, linguistic and musical talent, elfin features, heart conditions and bad teeth.

After the “20/20″ story last June, Williams Syndrome was in the top 10 Google trends for three straight days, Monkaba said. The website averaged more than 1,000 hits per day for a month after the broadcast, she added. On an average day before that, it would get 200.

In addition, WSA fundraising is up 35 percent over last year, Monkaba said. The scholarship budget for WSA summer camps has jumped to $135,000 from $35,000 two years ago. The number of camp weeks has grown from four to eight over that period.

With the network attention and awareness has come credibility. “To me, that’s the biggest piece,” said Monkaba.

“If we can say, ‘As recently seen on ’20/20,’ people tend to pay more attention,” Monkaba said. “Science editors have gotten more interested, so general media attention on WS went from slim to 25 touches.” Monkaba reckoned WSA had received nearly as much media attention in the past year as in the previous 29.

The most immediate impact has occurred in the medical community itself.

“It’s pieces like ’20/20′ ‘s that make all the difference,” Monkaba said. “Doctors see it, they go to the website, get interested.” Doctors’ and the public’s heightened awareness has caused more people to be diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, here and abroad, and at younger ages, she said.

In 1986, when Monkaba’s son with WS was a child, people with WS weren’t diagnosed until the age of 8. Now most kids with WS are diagnosed at around 4, she said.

Last fall the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded a $5.5 million grant to scientists from several institutions and disciplines to study Williams Syndrome to learn how genes govern behavior. The study could produce drugs and therapies for those with Williams Syndrome. It could also help those with more-common disorders like autism (which affects between one in 150 and one in 500 newborns) by illuminating how genetic differences affect behavior, Monkaba said.

“Our 15,000 kids may hold the key to helping millions with autism,” Monkaba said. “What a great legacy!”

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Number 8

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. — Graham Greene, English author, playwright and literary critic 

RECENTLY I MENTIONED that it's been a year since I wrote my first post, and I listed seven things that have occurred as a result. Here's the short version of the seven:

1) I discovered I like to write.
2) It's made me a clearer thinker.
3) I've learned a whole bunch of stuff because I have to look it up.
4) I'm a better, faster writer.
5) It's been personally validating.
6) It's helped people know me better.
7) If I'm lucky, I've made a small difference for someone somewhere.

Yesterday, I was reminded of an eighth consequence.

8) I feel a lot less crazy. I don't know if it has to do with growing up feeling so powerless, but ever since I was young, injustice and unfairness makes me crazy, and there's so much of it in the world that I end up feeling powerless and crazy most of the time. I don't feel that way anymore, because now I can write about bugs me. Who knows whether my little blog actually does any good  — probably not — but besides acting as a pressure-release valve for me, it helps me focus on what I can reasonably do. It's sort of become my this-matters list.

Speaking of things on my list, yesterday, I made the donation to Room to Read that I said I would. Took me four months to get it done, but I accomplished it because writing about it put in on my list. In case you don't remember what Room to Read is about, here's a link to that post.

And on the topic of giving people the opportunity to read, here's a great story about Todd Bol from Madison, Wisconsin who came up with a wonderful idea three years ago that has spread around the country. It's called Little Free Library. Take a look at this great little story as told on NBC News. (You may have to watch a 30-second commercial first, but it's worth the wait.)

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