Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Happy days for anti-Trumpers

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” — Donald Trump, presidential candidacy announcement speech, June 16, 2015

OH IT'S BEEN really fun, hasn't it, watching that "waste of protoplasm" (one friend's description of the entity otherwise known as The Donald) getting clobbered?!!

Soooo presidential.

Univision announced will not air the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. 

— A Trump-head piñata is being manufactured and sold in Mexico

NBC announced that it has also dumped Trump.  The network will no longer air the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and Trump will no longer appear on NBC show The Apprentice. More than 200,000 people signed a Change.org petition that said:

"Please cancel Miss USA, Miss Universe and the Apprentice. You are supporting a hateful and narcissistic individual without any kind of values, both personal and business wise. Not only that, but you are supporting a growing trend of bigotry and division in this country."

(A good reminder to all of us that petitions can make a difference.)

— All of the co-hosts for the upcoming Miss USA pageant have cancelled. Dancing with the Stars' Cheryl Burke, MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, Puerto Rican singer and actress Roselyn Sanchez, Chilean actor Cristian de la Fuente and Colombian reggaeton star J. Balvin have all pulled out of the July 12 pageant. 

Mexico announced today that it will not be sending a contestant to the Miss Universe pageant.

— I discovered today that there is a Facebook page called Donald Trump Is an Idiot. C'mon, there had to be, right?!

And what does The Donald do? Like always, he just doubled down. Below is some of the text from his interview with Jake Tapper on June 28, 2015.

Come on other Latin American countries — pull out of his stupid pageant!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

In praise of one

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.” — Mark Twain, The Lowest Animal

I HAVE at least two Facebook friends who think I'm too critical of religion (although I'm sure what they mean specifically is Christianity) and religious organizations (and by that they mean churches), and that I give short shrift to the good work they perform.

For starters, let me state the obvious — just in case it's not: I'm non-religious. I also openly acknowledge that I remain horrified by the atrocities, including mass murder, perpetrated past and present in the name of religion. 

And not to be overlooked are the less overt, but still ruinous ills such as poverty, disease, over-population that can be directly linked to various tenets of many religions. 

However, I distinguish between religion as an institution and individual people who are religious. Some of my best friends are among the faithful. 

I'm making a joke of that cliche, but I'm serious: I have life-long, intimate friends who are committed followers — and who, BTW, have always commended me on how respectful I am of their beliefs. (And beliefs they are, boys and girls; let me get that out right here and now.)

With all potent forces, and religious belief certainly is that, there is great power to help or harm, create or destroy, and although I have always been forthright in praising individuals for the good work they do, perhaps I could still be more generous.

Here's an article from The New York Times written by the illustrious Nicholas Kristof about someone who is the embodiment of virtuous devoutness.

‘He’s Jesus Christ’

By Nicholas Kristof
June 27, 2015

IN THE NUBA MOUNTAINS, Sudan — IF you subscribe to the caricature of devout religious believers as mostly sanctimonious hypocrites, the kind who rake in cash and care about human life only when it is unborn, come visit the doctor here.

Dr. Tom Catena, 51, a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, N.Y., is the only doctor at the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital nestled in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of Sudan. For that matter, he’s the only doctor permanently based in the Nuba Mountains for a population of more than half a million people.

Just about every day, the Sudanese government drops bombs or shells on civilians in the Nuba Mountains, part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat an armed rebellion here. The United States and other major powers have averted their eyes, so it is left to “Dr. Tom,” as he is universally known here, to pry out shrapnel from women’s flesh and amputate limbs of children, even as he also delivers babies and removes appendixes.

He does all this off the electrical grid, without running water, a telephone or so much as an X-ray machine — while under constant threat of bombing, for Sudan has dropped 11 bombs on his hospital grounds. The first time, Dr. Tom sheltered, terrified, in a newly dug pit for an outhouse, but the hospital is now surrounded by foxholes in which patients and the staff crouch when military aircraft approach.

“We’re in a place where the government is not trying to help us,” he says. “It’s trying to kill us.”

Given the shortage of resources, Dr. Tom relies disproportionately on makeshift treatments from decades ago.

“This is a Civil War-era treatment,” he said, pointing to a man with a broken leg, which he was treating with a method known as Buck’s traction, using a bag of sand as a weight.

“Sometimes these actually work,” Dr. Tom said. “You use what you have.”

Pope Francis seems to be revitalizing the Vatican and focusing on the needy, and I have a dream — O.K., an implausible one — that he’ll journey to this Catholic hospital in the Nuba Mountains as a way of galvanizing opposition to the evil of Sudan’s bombings.

One reason I’m so impressed by Dr. Tom is that most of the world, including world leaders and humanitarians, have pretty much abandoned the people of the Nuba Mountains. President Obama and other global leaders have been too silent about the reign of terror here, too reluctant to pressure Sudan to ease it.

That’s the context in which Dr. Tom stands out for his principled commitment. Dr. Tom has worked in the Nuba Mountains for eight years, living in the hospital and remaining on call 24/7 (the only exception: when he’s unconscious with malaria, once a year or so).

Dr. Tom acknowledges missing pretzels and ice cream, and, more seriously, a family. He parted from his serious girlfriend when he moved to Africa, and this is not the best place to date (although hospital staff members are plotting to introduce him to eligible Nuban women as a strategy to keep him from ever leaving).

For his risks and sacrifices, Dr. Tom earns $350 a month — with no retirement plan or regular health insurance. (For those who want to support his work, 

He is driven, he says, by his Catholic faith. “I’ve been given benefits from the day I was born,” he says. “A loving family. A great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help.”

There also are many, many secular aid workers doing heroic work. But the people I’ve encountered over the years in the most impossible places — like Nuba, where anyone reasonable has fled — are disproportionately unreasonable because of their faith.

I’ve often criticized the Vatican’s hostility to condoms, even as a tool to fight AIDS, and we shouldn’t tolerate religious bigotry against gays (which the latest Supreme Court ruling may chip away at). But we also shouldn’t tolerate another kind of narrow-mindedness, irreligious bigotry against people of faith. Diversity is a virtue, in faith as well as race.

Certainly the Nubans (who include Muslims and Christians alike) seem to revere Dr. Tom.

“People in the Nuba Mountains will never forget his name,” said Lt. Col. Aburass Albino Kuku of the rebel military force. “People are praying that he never dies.”

A Muslim paramount chief named Hussein Nalukuri Cuppi offered an even more unusual tribute.

“He’s Jesus Christ,” he said.

Er, pardon?

The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk — and that is what Dr. Tom does every day.

You needn’t be a conservative Catholic or evangelical Christian to celebrate that kind of selflessness. Just human.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Welcome to Canadia

"There's a BIG party for you in Toronto this week." — Steve Dangle Glynn

PAUL and I are doing the happy dance at our house in celebration of two Supreme Court rulings — one upholding ObamaCare and the other making gay marriage legal nationwide. 

But here is what is making me laugh so hard  — apparently Facebook is bubbling over with Americans who are outraged by both decisions and are threatening to move to Canada in retaliation. 

Joke's on them. 

Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for 10 years, and our northern neighbor has a single-payer health care system. Ahahahaha!! 

Below is a screen capture from the New York Daily News followed by more screen caps from Pink News, Europe's largest gay news service. Be sure and read the very last reply!!! It's priceless.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The most ridiculous man in America

“Donald Trump comes closer than anyone else to being the archetype of the species; crossing genres, he exemplifies all the ways an asshole can capture our attention.” ― Geoffrey Nunberg, Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years

THERE ARE no combination of words I know of to adequately describe how much I abhor Donald Trump. Is there a more absurdly-ridiculous buffoon anywhere? I think not.

(I am apologizing in advance for all the Trump caricatures, but I just can't decide which one I like the best, and with such a rich — but also really creepy — collection of ass[ets] from which to choose, why limit myself.)

Since doing him justice is beyond my power, I must rely on others:

First up, Jon Stewart's Daily Show from June 16, 2015.

Next from The Hollywood Reporter:

Donald Trump Campaign Offered Actors $50 to Cheer for Him at Presidential Announcement

by Aaron Couch and Emmet McDermott
June 17. 2015

Donald Trump's big presidential announcement Tuesday was made a little bigger with help from paid actors — at $50 a pop.

New York-based Extra Mile Casting sent an email last Friday to its client list of background actors, seeking extras to beef up attendance at Trump's event.

"We are looking to cast people for the event to wear t-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him in support of his announcement," reads the June 12 email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "We understand this is not a traditional 'background job,' but we believe acting comes in all forms and this is inclusive of that school of thought." 

The pay was listed as $50 for less than three hours of work. According to the email, Extra Mile was reaching out to potential extras in partnership with Gotham Government Relations and Communications, a New York-Based political consulting group that has worked with Trump in the past. Gotham GR had no comment.

This from Media Matters:

Trump Says "I Don't Send" Jobs "Overseas," But His Clothing Line Is Made In China

By Melody Johnson
June 6, 2011

On the June 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, real-estate mogul and Fox News contributor Donald Trump boasted: "I employ a number of people that happen to work in this country. I don't send it overseas." However, Trump's clothing line is made in China, Mexico and Bangladesh.

Then this from NBC News: (YAY Univision!!)

Univision Ends Miss Universe Business Deal Over Trump Mexico Comments
June 25, 2015

Univision announced it is ending its relationship with the Miss Universe organization, which is part owned by Donald Trump, following his remarks about Mexico sending its criminals and rapists to the U.S.

"At Univision, we see first-hand the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country. We will not be airing the Miss USA pageant on July 12th or working on any other projects tied to the Trump Organization," said Univision in a statement released Wednesday morning.

On Thursday afternoon Trump spoke live on Telemundo's "Al Rojo Vivo" with Jose Diaz-Balart, and said he was suing Univision for breaking their substantial, five-year contract. Trump also defended his comments, saying though he "loved the Mexican people" he thought Mexico was taking advantage of the U.S. in trade deals and by not securing the border. "Mexico laughs at the stupidity of our negotiators and our leaders," said Trump, adding that the border is open to terrorists and "not the people we want coming in."

The news surrounding Univision's deal is the latest in what has been a strong reaction from Mexican Americans, Mexico and other U.S. Latinos following Trump's statements about Mexico. On Tuesday night award-winning regaetton star J Balvin, who is Colombian, announced he would not perform at the Miss USA pageant because of Trump's involvement with the organization.

Last week the Mexican rock group Maná denounced Trump during a performance in Los Angeles.

"There is a character named Donald Trump, who made very violent declarations with great hatred of Mexicans and Latin Americans and called us rapists, criminals, drug traffickers. This is all trash," said Fher Olvera, group leader, in a press conference before their "Cama Incendiada" ("Burned Bed") tour at the Staples Center.

In Mexico, news that a craftsman made a Donald Trump piñata following his controversial comments made international headlines.

Trump made his remarks as he announced his bid to run for president. 

In their statement, Univision said that Univision News and the local news division "will continue to provide comprehensive coverage of all candidates, including Mr. Trump, to ensure our audience continues to have access to all points of view."

And last but not least, Trump's familiar and namesake from Discovery News:

Rare Caterpillar Resembles Donald Trump's Hair
By Jennifer Viegas
May 2, 2013 

A recently videotaped caterpillar bears an uncanny resemblance to bigwig Donald Trump‘s hair.

The insect, a rare yellow-colored caterpillar of the flannel moth, now has the nickname “Donald Trump Caterpillar.”

Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer and conservation biologist Phil Torres spotted the caterpillar in an Amazon rainforest, according to a Daily Mail report.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal story gets even weirder

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” — Mark Twain

By now you've all heard the strange story of Rachel Dolezal, the woman from Spokane who spent the last ten years claiming to be "black." Paul thinks she has some variation of Munchausen syndrome. I see extreme narcissism. 

The Daily Beast ran a fascinating piece about her which I've included as the bottom item. 

But first, here are two other interesting tidbits about Rachel.

Tidbit # 1 — An independent report was initiated as the result of complaints about Ms. Dolezal's conduct as a commissioner on the Office of Police Ombudsman before she was outed. 

Here are a couple of excerpts about that from June 17 NBC News piece written by Phil Helsel.

"Rachel Dolezal, 37, is accused in an independent report commissioned by the city of creating an intimidating workplace environment and with improperly revealing the names of people involved in police misconduct investigations during public meetings.

Dolezal's alleged misconduct stems from her time as a commissioner on Spokane's volunteer Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, which is tasked with civilian oversight of police conduct.

The investigation report released Wednesday was carried out by a law firm in response to complaints of harassment filed by a city employee back on April 16, before Dolezal made national headlines."

The report also found that Dolezal and another commissioner allegedly tried to manipulate meeting minutes; they are accused of trying to exceeded their authority; and the three commissioners allegedly created an "intimidating, hostile, and offensive" work environment."

Tidbit #2 — In 2002 Ms. Dolezal sued Howard University, a historically black college, for discriminating against her for being white! 

Here's an excerpt from a New York Magazine June 15, 2015 article written by Jessica Roy on that incident:

"In 2002, Dolezal — then known as Rachel Smith — graduated from the historically black college and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming "discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender" after she says she was denied a scholarship and a teaching assignment. She also said some of her artwork was removed while she was a student in order to "favor African-American students over" her. The suit was pending while Dolezal worked as the chair of Howard's Department of Arts. 

A year and a half later, the suit was dismissed, and the court found "no evidence that Dolezal was discriminated on the basis of race or other factors," according to the Smoking Gun. She was ordered to pay Howard nearly $3,000 for costs spent on the case."

Here's the Daily Beast article. 

The Psychology of an Ethnic Fraud: Behind Rachel Dolezal’s Invented Persecution

By Patrick Blanchfield
June 13, 2015

What went on in the mind Rachel Dolezal? A case from two decades ago with striking parallels could give us the answers, and tell us how she might react in the coming weeks.

What is wrong with Rachel Dolezal?

The President of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, WA, Dolezal has spent the past decade claiming to be a black woman, when in fact she is not. As details of her story trickle out, things only get more bizarre. Something very strange seems to be going on with Dolezal and her family. Her biological, white parents outed her in the first place. Meanwhile, she’s identified a third party (a black man) as her real father, and is alleged to have claimed one of her black adopted brothers is actually her son.

Dolezal has accused her parents of child abuse, and specifically of using a “baboon whip” to beat her and her siblings. Dolezal has described this whip, presumably a sjambok, as “pretty similar to what was used as whips during slavery,” and said that her parents “would punish us by skin complexion” by beating them with it.

In other words, Dolezal seems to be saying, not only is she black, but her family history and body itself bear the scars of the historical trauma of slavery.

Why would a person co-opt a position of marginalization and victimization in such a highly visible, risky, and outrageous way? What type of brokenness, misguidedness, illness, or malice inside a person would lead them them to do such a thing?

Her case suggests more than just a deep-seated problem, something more than just a highly narcissistic form of histrionic personal disorder, or an unhealthy need for obsession and approval.

Dolezal gives us stories replete with images of grotesque violence: beatings and whippings. Like slavery. Like torture. These are highly choreographed, ritualized sadomasochistic scenes, and to psychotherapists, they’re nothing new.

Therapists since Freud have listened to troubled patients tell stories, both plausible and more dubious, of such violence, and have regularly noticed that they are presented as stories of others being victimized when in fact it is the teller himself who is suffering from persecution that may be real or imagined or both.

And most people, rightly and compassionately, believe these stories. Until, it turns out, these stories are an emotional cover for something that could never be true.

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened—even at this scale, and even with the same profoundly unsettling accusations.

Exactly twenty years ago, readers across Europe were absorbed by a remarkable, increasingly rare literary event: the revelation of a previously unknown Holocaust memoir. Published in German in 1995 as Bruchstücke: Aus einer Kindheit 1939—1948, a slim, hard-hitting first-person account offered a new, horrifying perspective on the Holocaust—that of an extremely young child, a Latvian named Binjamin Wilkomirski. Wilkomirski’s story, told in surreal, dreamlike patches punctuated by moments of stupefying violence, was riveting. Wilkomirski’s first memory, he claimed, was of witnessing his father being beaten to death.

Traveling between the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek, he claimed to have seen babies gnawing off their own frozen fingers, SS guards mutilating the penises of young boys, and more.

The account was met with considerable acclaim. For The New York Times, Wilkomirski’s prose, even in translation, conveyed “a poet’s vision; a child’s state of grace.” Fragments won the U.S. National Jewish Book Award, while Wilkomirski received numerous personal honors.

The only problem with Wilkomirski’s testimony is that it was full of lies.

At first, the initial suspicions raised by a Swiss journalist only produced a pro-Wilkomirski backlash among literati, but, even in that pre-social media moment, the questions only multiplied. Wilkomirski’s story grew more terrible with each telling: when asked why he didn’t have a camp tattoo, for example, he responded that he didn’t have one because he had been subjected to horrific Nazi medical experiments. Ultimately, Wilkomirski’s agents commissioned a formal investigation by an independent historian. To their credit, they then made public his impeccably researched, brilliantly reflective report, which Schocken also published into English.

The results were unsparing. Wilkomirski was not Latvian, nor was he Jewish, nor had he ever been interned in a concentration camp. His name wasn’t even Binjamin Wilkomirski, it was Bruno Grosjeans. He had been born illegitimately to a Swiss Prostestant woman in 1941, lived for years in a Swiss orphanage, and was adopted by a wealthy family in Zurich, the Dössekkers. “Binjamin Wilkomirski” was an entirely fabricated identity, his story, pure fiction—and DNA tests confirmed it.

Yet through it all, “Wilkomirski” insisted on the truth of his account, on his Jewishness, and on the reality of the suffering he had experienced and witnessed. He continued to do so, no matter the PR damage his fraud caused the organizations that had affiliated with him (including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), no matter the pain he caused the members of an actual Latvian Jewish family to whom he had presented himself as a long-lost relative, and no matter how much his actions gave grist to the mill for anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers.

It is impossible to know exactly what Bruno Dössekker was thinking when he decided to become Binjamin Wilkomirski. Scholars and journalists are divided on whether or not his acts were those of a callous, profiteering sociopath, or if he actually believed he was who he claimed to be.

It is likewise impossible to know precisely what Rachel Dolezal, the white woman, was thinking when she decided to present herself as Rachel Dolezal, the black one. The easily falsified grandiosity of some her claims about her credentials certainly suggests that Dolezal either underestimates the ability of other people to do basic Googling, or else, which is more likely given her choice of a highly public profession and previous bids for media attention, that she is not well.

Reading between the lines of Bruno Dössekker’s actual biography, you can’t also help but notice several early traumas, from his abandonment by his mother to numerous, extremely plausible suggestions of abuse while in that orphanage. It’s here that Wilkomirski/aka Grosjean/aka Dössekker’s story and that of Dolezal converge—and where we can get a hint of what might have motivated both of them, if only in part.

Both figures present themselves as persecuted individuals, horribly victimized—and they co-opt the experiences of the victims of actual historical traumas to that end. Why? Because our compassionate and proper first impulse should be to believe them first and vet them later—as our own country’s history of moral panics over Satanic Ritual Abuse underscores, for better or for worse.

In fact, one of Wilkomirski’s biggest defenders, a woman who claimed to have met him in the camps, actually turned out to be a fake survivor of both the Holocaust and Satanic Ritual Abuse. But our titillation at these stories is revealing—because they also do something for the tellers of them.

One basic, compelling account of the origin of sadomasochism formulates it as a series displaced and appropriating identifications with both the victim and the perpetrator of violence.

For some folks, rapid toggling between power and victimhood can become a defining character feature, a basic way of exerting control over their sense of a stable self and life. Fixing the abuse you witness or suffer into a ritualized scene allows you some control over it, and maybe even the ability to gain some pleasure from it.

But of course that can also ultimately be just a way to identify with the aggressor, whose control you envy and seek to capture and reenact.

Narcissistic much?
And if there is any one thing that unites both Wilkomirski and Dolezal, it was their need to dress up in a position of victimhood while also displaying a degree of privilege and entitlement that only serves to further harm those who have actually suffered those wrongs.

Like Dössekker, Dolezal may well continue to tell her story, to elaborate on it, to insist on it. As more details emerge, our capacity for nuance will be taxed. Our ability to distinguish between individual pathologies and collective ones—already poor on a good day—may well disintegrate entirely.

We all have stories we tell ourselves about who we are, about where we came from, and about where we’re going. We’re also very invested in other people buying into those narratives, and therefore not thrusting us, powerless, into their own.

But here’s the thing: beyond that level of banal abstraction, our freedom to live out our stories as we see fit is not a universal entitlement. Some of us get to daydream on the way to work about who truly is our “deepest self.” Others have to be more worried about being twice more likely to be shot dead while unarmed if we get pulled over.

Dolezal may get to wear her blackness like an outfit she can take on and off—even if she never actually does discard it, even if she truly does believe that she is black. But actual black Americans will never get that option.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Let it go

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” — Henry Ward Beecher, American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker known for his support of the abolition of slavery

TAKE a moment and let it go. Okay, maybe that pun is a little too obvious. It's the name of a popular song from the animated movie Frozen

But do, take a moment and watch this adorable video of a sweet little dog whose favorite song is Let It Go

If you think he reacts to all music is such a marked manner, you can see that's not the case. He's curled up and unaware before his song comes on and goes back to a yawn and a nap when his song is turned off.

Really, you'll love it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Something to share with my village

“From long experience she knew that she wore her loneliness like armor. Very few people ever recognized it for what it was. To the casual observer it looked very much like arrogance. Sometimes it was.” ― Nevada Barr, Track of the Cat

ARE YOU familiar with the Anna Pigeon mystery series written by Nevada Barr? Not high art by any means, but they're great fun to read. 

Anna is a widowed park ranger who starts out working in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas and moves to various other National Parks around the country as the series continues. All I can say is, if you're ever in a National Park and see Ranger Pigeon . . . leave immediately. Something is about to go down.

I've read quite a few in the series. Paul has read them all. We have a whole shelfful, first to last. I'm never going to reread them, and neither will Paul, so here's what I'm thinking:

I'd like to share these books with whichever resident of my village would like to read them. (In case you don't know what I'm talking about, read the previous Hey Look post in which I wrote about my hand-picked Facebook village.) 

I'll send them in groups of four to the first person who lays claim. I'll even pay postage. There just a few conditions:

1) Don't put your hat in the ring unless you're actually going to read them.

2) The people in my village are of varying means. If you can afford to buy pretty much whatever you want, don't put your name in. Let someone for whom these books would be a treat have them instead.

3) Once you're through reading them, give them to someone else who too will actually read them. I'm a waste-not, want-not kind of a gal.

So how's that for a deal? A free book club. Message me or reply to this post in comments. The first deserving person gets the first four, and when you're done with the first four, I'll send you the next four. You'll be well entertained for a long time!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The best village on the planet

“In the great cities we see so little of the world, we drift into our minority. In the little towns and villages there are no minorities; people are not numerous enough. — W. B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore

I HAVE A theory about people and the phenomenon that is Facebook.

I’ll lay it out for you.

I don’t think humans are meant to live the way we do in such densely-populated areas, and I’m not talking about places like LA or New York City; I’m including anything above 1000 people and probably less.

As far as life on earth goes, humans are really new to the party. Primates diverged from other mammals around 85 million years ago. Anatomically modern humans evolved about 200,000 years ago, but the transition to "behavioral modernity" with the development of symbolic culture and language occurred just 50,000 years ago.

So primates = 85 million years. Modern humans = 50,000 years. We, as we know ourselves, have only been "us" for about six one-thousandths of 1 percent of primate existence, so let's be honest: we're not that far removed from our great ape relatives. They lived, and still do wherever we haven’t killed them off, in small troupes in balance with nature.

The irony of living as we do now is that it isolates us from both realms we instinctively need: human connection and connection to the natural world, and I think we crave both.

I've been writing in my last few posts about how starved my soul becomes for the non-human world. Perhaps you're fortunate enough to live in the country or at least next to a greenbelt or park. The rest of us have to drive or fly miles away to find unfettered nature. Most of the time the closest we get to wildlife is keeping a pet (which as my theory goes, helps explain the skyrocketing statistics of pet ownership) or maybe watching birds at a backyard feeder. That's a long way from being part and parcel of the natural world.

Then there's the human connection side of the equation. We used to live in small clusters, hamlets and villages where everyone knew everyone. Now you’re lucky if you know your neighbor much less have established a genuine friendship.

Along comes Facebook, and voila — a means to allow us to inhabit, if not a real, at least a virtual village.

I was kind of a late-adopter of Facebook. The first thing I learned as a neophyte with a tiny circle of "friends" is that Facebook can be used as a weapon to exclude or one-up, so I ditched it about as soon as I tried it.

Although I’d “gotten off” Facebook, the account was still open, and one day I accidentally came across a national pro-gun-regulation post. I started reading the comments, and I was riveted.

Holy moly! In the words of Patty Austin on an album we own, “Yes, my sisters and my brothers!” 

I was flabbergasted to discover that there are actually lots of people in the world who have a similar world view as mine, and I saw in Facebook the possibility of it serving as a link to a universe of like-minded individuals I feel akin (and kin) to.

With trepidation, I sent a friend request to a few whose comments I thought were well informed, passionate and articulate, messaging them to explain how I discovered them and why I’d chosen them. They took me on, and I was in with both feet.

I built my village from there by choosing people whose lives, commitments, accomplishments and life stories I admire. And you are a truly amazing bunch; you really are!!!

I'm not kidding even a little bit!

Paul tells me all the time what an incredible bunch of Facebook friends I have. Yes, I have built my village with care.

Let me tell you who my neighbors are: At least three doctors, three attorneys, a concert violinist, a concert pianist, a poet and four big-time photographers — and by that I mean, one who traveled the world on assignment and three whose work is incredible. 

Five or more of you are authors and have had books published. I have several editors, some of the written word, some of film. One just became an editor for National Geographic. At least two of you write for television or the movies. There are some supremely gifted artists — and cooks and horticulturists. One villager grows most of what he eats and makes his own medicinal ointments and remedies. One donated a kidney to a stranger.

I have a couple of scientists, lots of professional musicians, two courageous whistle-blowers and a museum curator in my village. There are more than a few veterans, hundreds of mothers and fathers and no small number of valiant survivors of cancer, injuries or crushing personal losses. Some village members are currently fighting for their lives against fatal illnesses or caring for someone who is. 

Almost to a person, all in my village are a big-time animal lovers. You're also passionate about justice, equality and human rights, and you're avid readers. That's what you have in common.

So here's to my glorious village. 

And one last little thing: I had a birthday in early May. I'm kind of bad at having my birthday; I'm always some degree of unhappy on it, from utterly miserable to moderately disappointed. I'll write about that some other time, but for now I just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to my village friends who wished me a happy birthday. Something close to 200 of you did, and I actually had a wonderful day.

Three weeks later about 150 of you turned right around and wished Paul a happy birthday because I asked if you would help make his day special; and you did.

You're the bomb.com. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kristof v. Huckabee

“If the Democrats want to insult women by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.” — Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential contender

OH good job, Mike, you sanctimonious wanker. (Sorry. I’m not feeling patient.) You’re also the one who stood by those professional Christians, the Duggars. You remember them — the family who had within its number a child molester, and then covered up his crimes. Check out Mr. Huckabee's Facebook post on the subject. 

Oh yeah, you’re someone who ought to lead our country — NOT.

I’ve been saving this Nicholas Kristof column from the New York Times for you for over six months. Unfortunately it’s timeless. 

Politicians, Teens and Birth Control

By Nicholas Kristof
November 12, 2014

Here’s a story of utter irresponsibility: About one-third of American girls become pregnant as teenagers.

But it’s not just a story of heedless girls and boys who don’t take precautions. This is also a tale of national irresponsibility and political irresponsibility — of us as a country failing our kids by refusing to invest in comprehensive sex education and birth control because we, too, don’t plan ahead.

I kind of understand how a teenage couple stuffed with hormones and enveloped in each other’s arms could get carried away. But I’m just bewildered that American politicians, stuffed with sanctimony and enveloped in self-righteousness, don’t adequately invest at home or abroad in birth-control programs that would save the government money, chip away at poverty, reduce abortions and empower young people.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem particularly interested in these investments. The inflation-adjusted sum spent on Title X family planning in the United States has fallen by two-thirds since 1980.

A few depressing facts:

•• American teenagers become pregnant at a rate of about one a minute.

•• Some 82 percent of births to teenagers in the U.S. are unplanned.

•• American and European teenagers seem to be sexually active at roughly similar rates, although Americans may start a bit earlier. But the American teenage birthrate is three times Spain’s rate, five times France’s, and 15 times Switzerland’s.

•• Young Americans show a lack of understanding of where babies come from. Among teenagers who unintentionally became pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most cited reason for not using contraception was “I didn’t think I could become pregnant.” And 18 percent of young men somehow believed that having sex standing up helps prevent pregnancy, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.


A teenager who has a baby often derails her own education and puts the child on a troubled trajectory as well. In Oklahoma last year, I met one family where the matriarch had a baby at 13, her daughter had a baby at 15, and that child, in turn, gave birth at 13. That’s how poverty replicates.

Medicaid spends an average of $12,770 for a birth. Yet we spend only $8 per teenage girl on programs to avoid pregnancy. In financial terms, that’s nuts. In human terms, it’s a tragedy.

Internationally, we and other donor countries also underinvest in family planning in poor countries. Globally, 220 million women don’t want to become pregnant but lack access to contraception.

Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution has written an important new book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage.” She notes that most young single moms in America don’t intend to become pregnant but drift into it fatalistically, partly because they rely solely on condoms or other less reliable forms of birth control.

Condoms are 82 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in any one year, according to the C.D.C. But that means that after four years of relying only on condoms, most women will have become pregnant at least once.

So Sawhill advocates a move to what she calls “childbearing by design, not by default.” That means providing long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs, to at-risk girls and young women who want them. LARCs are IUDs, or implants that can remain in place for years, and the failure rate is negligible.

“By turning drifters into planners, we would not only help those women achieve their own goals but also create much stronger starts for their children,” Sawhill writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently urged doctors to recommend LARCs for sexually active teenagers. One obstacle is the initial cost — $500 to $1,000 — so that many young people can’t afford them.

A study in St. Louis offered free birth control, including LARCs, to sexually active teenagers and found that pregnancy rates for them plunged by more than three-quarters. Abortions fell by a similar rate. That’s what we need nationwide.

The Affordable Care Act provides free access to all forms of contraception, which helps. But many pediatricians aren’t trained in inserting LARCs.

So we need more women’s health clinics, yet, instead, some are being closed as casualties of abortion wars. Moreover, states and schools should embrace comprehensive sex education, teaching contraception, the benefits of delaying sex and, also, the responsibility of boys.

A starting point for the United States should be to rebuild Title X spending on family planning. Surely we can afford to spend as much in this area as we did back in 1980.

So, of course, let’s ask teenagers to show responsibility toward sex. But let’s demand the same of our politicians.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New test reveals more about brain tumors

"These markers will potentially allow us to predict the course of gliomas more accurately, treat them more effectively and identify more clearly what causes them in the first place." — Margaret Wrensch, University of California San Francisco

WELL, this seems like a breakthrough! Scientists have devised a new way of classifying brain tumors to more accurately predict how serious one is. Here's an article about it from NBC News.

How Deadly is a Brain Tumor? Now the DNA Can Tell

By Maggie Fox
June 10, 2015

Researchers have come up with a new way of classifying brain tumors that can more accurately predict how serious one is, and that may lead to better drugs for treating them.

The new method looks at the specific DNA mutations that characterize a tumor — in this case a type of brain tumor called a glioma.

Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine show that it's way too general to just call a brain tumor by the type of tissue involved. As with other cancers, it's clear that it's not so much where the tumors first form that matters, but what kind of genetic mutation caused them to form.

"This molecular data helps us better classify glioma patients, so we can begin to understand who needs to be treated more aggressively and who might be able to avoid unnecessary therapies," said Dr. Daniel Lachance, a neuro-oncologist at the Mayo Clinic.

About 23,000 Americans develop a brain tumor each year — and 10,000 of those are gliomas — and about 14,000 die of them.

"This genome-wide analysis will be much more objective and likely will be practice-changing," said Dr. Andrew Sloan, director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "It can be easily implemented and will markedly improve diagnosis, patient care and treatment planning."

With gliomas, like other types of cancers, patients now get a diagnosis based on the type of brain cells affected — glial cells — and on how the tumor cells look to a pathologist under a microscope.

"We looked at the six most common forms of glioma and were able to deduce that these can be effectively grouped into three distinct molecular super clusters of lower-grade gliomas," said Dr. Roeland Verhaak of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

One type of glioma looks more like a far-deadlier type of brain tumor called a glioblastoma. Patients with this type of tumor lived only on average a little over a year, worse even than the average 1.7 years for a glioblastoma patient.

Patients with a second type of glioma lived about 6.3 years on average and those with a third type lived eight years after diagnosis on average.

"These markers will potentially allow us to predict the course of gliomas more accurately, treat them more effectively and identify more clearly what causes them in the first place," said Margaret Wrensch of the University of California San Francisco.

"The findings demonstrate that these three groups of low-grade gliomas can be identified objectively by three different markers," Sloan added.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Call of the wild — part two

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States

AFTER PAUL and I had been together for about two and a half years, married not quite a year, we drove home from work like any other day, except on this day I got out of the car, walked about four paces, stopped in my tracks and near tears blurted out, "If you don't take me to the Northwoods, I'll die."

If you read Call of the Wild from a couple of days ago, you might conclude these outbursts occur frequently. They don't.

But when they do, I suppose they are what you'd call dramatic.

What I said was how I felt — that if I had to make that rat-running-a-maze trip to and from work one more day without replenishment, my soul would turn to dust. And the only remedy was sky, trees, breeze, clouds, animals, natural flowing water.

Fortunately, Paul took me seriously.

There are a million wonderful places in the Northwoods, let's face it, but it was necessary to choose. As luck would have it, a customer of ours had just recently told me about a particular lake in northern Wisconsin that his family had been going to for years and years, and that was the place we picked: Dillman's Resort on White Sand Lake in Vilas County.

Going to a "resort" might not sound very back-to-naturish, but no worries. Vilas County abuts the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and is surrounded by the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians Lac du Flambeau Tribe's reservation which is in turn surrounded by the 664,822-acre Nicolet National Forest.

White Sand Lake is located in the Lac du Flambeau reservation.

If we harbored doubts about how woodsy our getaway would be, they were removed by the time we arrived. We went from a state highway, to a county highway, to a winding road, to a two-rut lane cutting deep into the woods. 

We were also making our trip the last two days of August carrying into the first few of September. Not exactly peak season. When we arrived, there was only one other guest, and he left. We had the entire place to ourselves; it was balm to my soul. 

Our cabin was on the water's edge surrounded by majestic pines. Every morning we'd walk out our door and find three or four bald eagles in the branches above us. Each day we paddled out into the lake in the canoe Dillman's had available for use. One afternoon we anchored under a tree and watched a mated pair of eagles flying back and forth to their nest feeding their two chicks. On the same paddle, a beaver took offense that we were on his lake and smacked his tail on the water as a warning, and we saw a black bear crossing the road on a driving explore we took. 

One night Paul went for a walk and came back to get me, exclaiming breathlessly, "You've gotta come with me!" The lake had misted over in fog rising from the water, and he'd found a dock that jutted out into the mist on the lake. We sat on the dock listening to the loons in the mist in the moonlight. 

We went back to White Sand Lake the next year and the next. Once year our Northwoods excursion coincided with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians' annual Bear River Pow Wow. I'd been to three pow wows before — in Idaho, Nebraska and Iowa; this one in Wisconsin was the most secluded I'd ever attended. We followed paper signs back, back, back into the woods, and entered another land and time. Paul had never before experienced a pow wow; he was spellbound. We felt privileged just to be present.