Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Getting a Life ain't the Problem ... Having it, now there's the thing

No, I haven't actually been any place like this recently, alas ... but I have been too busy living my life to blog just for a bit.

The Tour de France was on, and, with my bones too exploded to fly to Europe any more, well, what's better than three weeks in France courtesy of the Versus Channel on television, and yes, well, I love the cycling race too. We would settle in to watch the DVR (well, I'm not getting up at 4:30 am, there are limits even to love), with our sandwich au jambon (French mustard, of course), and our Cafe au Lait (yes, I know, dead naff to drink this in the afternoon, but tough), some crudites, and have a lovely visit.

Then it was off to deal with bumper book sales, nearly a full-time job at the moment. Phew.

And a lot going on in the church I consult for.

Some time back my friend Biddies wrote about getting up in the morning and reading the news and how upsetting that can be.

Well, we never, never, ever do that. We awaken to silence, we meditate, we have a cup of tea, we stare for a while just in noticing mode, we do a little work, we listen to music. No news until at least mid-afternoon.

This is nothing compared to what I did the whole time my children were young. We'd go to our cottage on the lake (those were flusher times, then) for six weeks and the rule was simple. No television, no radio, (most UUs are with me up to this point), no newspapers, no magazines (some are fading, but a lot of UUs are still with me), and no books. (The last one loses just about every blessed and unblessed UU).

Our motto for our six weeks was -- "Something Is Happening, and We Are It!" A corrective against all those who currently clearly believe that what is reported on television is more real than their own lives, indeed, all those who clearly these days believe that if they aren't themselves on television, they aren't really alive.

And so I say unto you (as preachers like to do) Something Is Happening, and You Are It!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MySpace or Facebook, and who are we anyway?

So, the news is out. Social scientists have discovered that MySpace and Facebook in fact mirror class divisions in US society quite neatly. Well-to-do, stable American teens with "good prospects" wind up on Facebook, while poor, queer, marginal and non-white teens end up on MySpace. Even in the military "grunts" tend to be on MySpace and officers on Facebook - guess which one the military banned! For more, click on the word "news" and see fascinating quotes from Danah Boyd's paper.

Just an interesting little insight, you might think. But recent research by both the Sutton Trust in England and the London School of Economics reveals that out of all technologically and economically advanced countries Britain has the lowest rate of social mobility (no real surprise if you've lived there) - and the United States, yes, that's right, the "land of opportunity", has the second lowest rate of social mobility of all the countries studied. Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust writes: "In no other country were the prospects of those from non-privileged backgrounds more limited".

Reminds me of another study whose source alas I can no longer find, a few years ago, which discovered that while most American's believe social mobility exists as a possibility for them, more than 95% stay right exactly where their parents were.

These new researchers at the London School of Economics found two main reasons for this social stuck-ness. First, the increasing level of income inequality and second, education that disproportionately benefits the better-off.

Countries that do well in social mobility, Sweden and Canada for instance, have far lower income disparities between higher and lower earners. And the quality of education varies less according to parental income.

It's not just what on-line friendly web-site we use, after all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wisdom in Graffiti

If you Google "graffiti" for images, you'll mostly get a weird dichotomy of "graffiti art" and "methods for removing graffiti". We don't seem entirely in agreement on this subject, folks.

Some like the color and splash added to often bleak urban landscapes by colored spray paints artistically applied. Others feel it is the beginning of the end for their neighborhood. And all in all, both may be right. Though I do think locking up the spray paints at HomeBase and Lowe's etc., as we have around here, so even the lovely young woman wanting to remake a rescued table from the rubbish can't buy them, is overkill.

Yet there still can be much wisdom in unofficial messages. I love the creativity of the Moss Graffiti on this old wall - there are even instructions for growing your own moss message if you wish to.

And I love the chalked graffiti above: "Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest; Come taste the sweet berries of the earth; Come roll in riches all around you; And for once never wonder what they're worth!"

But most of all I love the graffiti on the wall above the bar in a British army mess in Iraq - a commentary on how we got them all into this mess:

Yee-Haw is not a foreign policy

Can I hear an Amen?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Law of Unintended Consequences

You've all heard about the law of unintended consequences, no doubt ... in Iraq (see above); in easy money (see above); in that bitter little motto "No good deed goes unpunished"; and so on.

If I had my life to live over again, I think I'd be a lawyer, cause I just love the crash between human reality and the attempts to make it fit rules.

Lately the case of the will of Tom Watson, Jr. of IBM fame and fortune has caught my eye, and my imagination. The massive fortune of Tom Watsons Sr. and Jr. passed to Jrs. widow upon his death, and upon her death was intended to be divided into trusts for their 18 grandchildren, as I understand it.

However, one of TW Jrs. daughters, OW, a lesbian, was partnered for years and that partner, had, she says, and I have no reason to doubt this, given up her own career in order to live in her partnership. But she then feared what might happen to her if OW were to be, say, killed in an accident.

And all these good people who have fought against gay marriage, or even civil partnerships for decades, centuries, then indirectly brought about what happened next.

There being no way to be civil partners, and certainly not married, at the time, OW did what many gay couples were doing at the time - she legally adopted her partner.

Trouble was, they broke up within a year. But upon the death of TW Jrs. widow, as the money was about to be divided among grand-children, this adopted "child" of OW said, hey, I'm a grandchild too!

It's all in the courts in two states, and still there, as far as I can find out. To further complicate matters, OW has now repartnered, and she and her new partner have adopted two little boys, who are counted among the grand-children.

Oh, man, there are enough unintended consequences in this story to make a lot of lawyers very rich, sadly. The people who ought to pay are, perhaps, those who have prevented the simple civil rights and acts available without a second thought to all the rest of us who happen to be wired differently.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr but how strange

Grrrrrrr. Among the dozen books sold today is a lovely book on Passive Solar home construction, I remember listing it well. Only one problem. Despite a gonzo filing system for the 1300 books we have listed, we can not find the d$%^ed thing.

I'm actually feeling physically sick.

All of which puts me in mind of this afternoon's watching of the Tour de France (we are wild cycling fans), and the amazing run of Australia's Michael Rogers, out in front, well away from the folks expected to be winning, making a stonking ride ... until ... a slide in a corner during the descent (these guys get up to 70 miles an hour), straight into the Armorall fence. He got up, continued, but there were too many injuries, there was too much pain, and he is out of the race. They use that terrible word "abandoned" when this happens.

How he wished the cameras were anywhere but there as his head slumped over his handlebars and his shoulders shook with his sobs.

Imagine, a whole year of 12 hour training days getting ready for this three week race and, one week into it, when you're leading, boom.

Frustration! As my English friends would say, I wouldn't like to be living in his head at the moment.

And here I am with my little frustration - well, it should be little, but it ain't. It will be something of a miracle if I have a hair left on my head by tomorrow morning.

Oh, you ask, but your title mentions "strange". Yea, cause I just think it's strange how minor frustrations can really get us riled up (well, me anyway) ... I tend to handle disasters somewhat better. Odd, that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

So here's the new quiz result:

You scored as Harry Potter, You can be a little reckless and hot-headed at times, but a more brave and courageous friend would be hard to find.

Harry Potter


Albus Dumbledore


Hermione Granger


Sirius Black


Remus Lupin


Ginny Weasley


Severus Snape


Ron Weasley


Draco Malfoy


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com

But what I want to know is how does Harry Potter feel being defined as "Love in the Time of Cholera"? (I refer you to my most recent post.) I love to take all these quizzes for interest sake, but even more, I love to see how impossible it is to line up all the results side by side and have anything that makes sense.

But now I suppose I'll have to read the last Harry Potter (I found the most recent two unfinishable, I confess) if only to find out if he sticks to bottled water - the advice from my last quiz.

Makes me think of the hoard of books recently dropped off for sale by a stranger. As my beloved shelved all these books once they were listed on-line, ploughing through all the self-help books, and meditation books, and books about various religious approaches, and more books on the soul, he remarked, "I do hope she's finally found it, whatever it was she needed so badly, and was looking for so hard."

And I hope none of us are looking for salvation in these quizzes! Sure is fun, though.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Well, this is what they say:

You're Love in the Time of Cholera!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Like Odysseus in a work of Homer, you demonstrate undying loyalty by sleeping with as many people as you possibly can. But in your heart you never give consent! This creates a strange quandary of what love really means to you. On the one hand, you've loved the same person your whole life, but on the other, your actions barely speak to this fact. Whatever you do, stick to bottled water. The other stuff could get you killed.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

As the British would say, chance would be a fine thing! I do stick to bottled water, though.

Or then again, as the British would say, pigs might fly!

Which reminds me of the splendid day, a couple of decades ago, when some rock band (Pink Floyd?) wanted a flying pig on their album cover. In those pre Photo-shop days, they had to arrange to actually have one in order to photograph it. So they had the parade folk create them a giant inflatable pig, filled it with helium, and strung it up between the towers of the largest power station in the world in its day, Battersea Power Station, on the south side of the Thames river in London. (see photo - taken on the second attempt to fly the pig)

Alas, before they could photo it properly, the tethers broke, and away it flew, straight up into the flight lanes leading to Heathrow Airport ... to the astonishment, consternation, and confusion of a number of experienced pilots, it has to be said.

Hope they were sticking to bottled water!

Tonight's blog is fully expressed in the pictures, to save time for those of you who read too much already.

If I'm going to blog, then surely I have a responsibility to have deep thoughts (see picture one).

But actually, since I finished the house-cleaning gig (well, one or two little bits to go, but truly just sorting out a few pairs of earrings for the church nearly new sale) I've just been doing a lot of staring - contemplating - noticing- breathing in - the exquisite desert around me (see picture two) - and its fabulous wild storms - and gorgeous blue and white skies - and the sweetness of the night as the flowers let all their scent go before tomorrow.

Rather like picture three, in fact, open mouth and all.

But then I remember that Rodin's original name for his first ever statue of what we now know as The Thinker was "Despair at the Gates of Hell". Sort of glad I'm not thinking too much right now, I guess. Sorry if you're disappointed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More on Sicko Two

And another thing ...

Just because Germany, France, Australia are countries, we tend to think the US, being a country, could do what they do. But they are all much much smaller, in population and geography, than the US. And size can complicate matters.

The population of France is 61m, or one-fifth the size of the US, of Germany 82.5m, just over a quarter the size of the US, of Australia 20.5m or one fifteenth that of the US.

In area, France is slightly less than twice the size of one state, Colorado. Germany is slightly smaller than the state of Montana.

When green Americans (among whom I count myself) blithely complain how we don't use public transport like the Europeans, I can hardly get them to understand the differences of scale and distance between people here as opposed to Europe.

I can not imagine these things would not also play in medical care and development. In Germany and France, for example, you need far fewer pieces of expensive equipment to serve the whole population ... in America with that few pieces of equipment some of the population could easily be 800 miles from the machine needed to treat them.

Or to put it another way, on our journey from New Mexico to northern California to see family, then on to Portland for GA, and straight home the shortest route to New Mexico again, we drove from London to Beirut, Lebanon and back again. See what I mean?

All that said, our system is certainly hundreds of per cent more brutal than it needs to be. But being hard-headedly realistic about the systems we admire even as we work to change things is still not a bad idea.

Yes, it's Sicko, but getting better may be no cinch...

I hold no brief for our current health system. Big pharma, big medicine, the profit motive, all well deserving of the many criticisms coming their way.

However, it is extremely naive to believe that nationalized medicine somehow means we have left individualism behind for dedication to community, and now share a commitment to take care of each other. Oh, it may have started that way, and many good people serving in the system still want it to be that way.

But faced by the proliferation of possible and exponentially expensive treatments, the motive of nationalized health services in many countries has become a dedication to care, strangely admixed with, and often trumped by, a governmental demand to cut costs.

It's not a profit motive, but the demand to cut costs can have strangely similar effects to those with which we are familiar in our profit-making system.

(Well, only partly profit-making after all. It is illegal for me to sell my kidney, though everyone else who handles it, from the doctors and nurses who take it out to the folks who carry it, and those who put it in someone else, will happily take their profit. Only I can not. Weird.)

The result for individuals of cost-cutting nationalized systems can be very similar to what we know. And even, perhaps, worse.

I know, I know, we want to keep the argument pure, and not, as someone said, "get bogged down in details of how other systems work", but the devil, as they say, is in those details.

If we still lived in England, my beloved husband would absolutely, certainly be blind, and probably be dead. He would be blind because NICE, the body who decides which drugs, already approved for use by the British equivalent of the FDA, can actually be used by anyone in the NHS. And none of the treatments which have saved my husband's sight are approved for use. It is considered that, since those who would have these treatments are elderly, and they are fairly expensive, it's a waste of money on those who will be dead soon anyway. So no go. There are thousands of people right now going blind in England and Wales for lack of the treatments my husband has been able to have here. And his heart condition was treated aggressively and he was home within 45 hours of diagnosis. This might have happened in Britain, too, though our good friend with a very similar diagnosis had to wait 6 months for treatment and only got it then because the fellow scheduled for that day had died.

Yes, our system needs to change, and yes, this is a religious issue - life and death, hey, isn't that our topic? - but please do not get too dewy eyed that a change will eliminate cost concerns. As I write, in England there is debate over the decision of several regional health authorities not only to have an automatic no resuscitation order on anyone 65 or older regardless of their health otherwise, but to prohibit surgery on all ages of smokers and the obese (as those groups have lower success rates) - again, ignoring the overall health of any individual concerned.

Heaven is harder to get to than one prayer.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

You Meet a Better Class of People ....

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo So I've been mouldering along cleaning out, hardly leaving the house in the 100 degree heat, except to sell a few books at the second hand store ...

Minding my own business, in other words, which is seductively satisfying.

The church I belong to (as opposed to the one I serve as a consultant some ways away) is having a celebratory pot luck picnic tomorrow - 200+ members - a real tribute to its current healing and empowering minister. But I won't be there. It's going to be 100 degrees again, folks, and I just can't imagine a) sitting on my mobility scooter sweating it out and b) eating ??? in that heat!

So I will miss seeing any other people, other than my beloved, again. How many days is that now? Three weeks? I have this suspicion I should feel worse about this than I do.

I must be spending too much time on-line, that's for sure. You know what they say, spend too much time on-line and real human beings become quite a problem to withstand. After all, you do meet a better class of people in fantasy, now don't you. Trouble is, they ain't real.

Damn. We'd go if it weren't gonna be so hot. But we can only take so much. See you in cooler times, world.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Oh, sisters ... Oh brothers ...

************** This morning, as I deal with my non-problem of cleaning out accumulated crud ... I am thinking of my sisters.

My over 160,000 American women sisters who have been deployed so far to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Compared with the 7,500 deployed to Vietnam.)

Research into post-traumatic stress disorder has generally be done on two distinct populations: civilian women who have been raped, and male combat veterans.

But since a 2003 report financed by the Department of Defense revealed nearly one-third of female veterans seeking health care through the VA said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service, 37% multiple times, 14% gang-raped, ::!!!:: it's likely we are currently generating a whole new group -- women who have experienced sexual assault and combat, many before they turn 25. Especially since a study after the Gulf War showed both sexual harassment and assault rise during wartime.

I think of the raped young mother of two, a crumbling wreck since her return, who did not report her rape ... "You don't expect anything to be done about it, so why even try." ... and all her sisters.

And the raped woman only six years short of receiving her military retirement benefits who bailed out after repeated incidents ... "That was my career, and they stole it from me. ... Why is the attitude always 'Just shut up and leave it alone?'"

The Department of Defense has made policy changes designed to address sexual harassment and assault. But of 3,038 investigations made in 2004 and 2005, only 329 resulted in the court martial of the predator. More than half were dismissed for lack of evidence.

The Iraq war has created tens of thousands of female war veterans. Female soldiers have flown fighter jets, commanded battalions, lost limbs, survived stints as PoWs, killed insurgents, and come home in coffins. And been raped. Many already experience the psychological fall-out. As of last April, the VA had diagnosed PTSD in 34,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. (A good-sized town, that is.) 3,800 of these veterans are women. Given that PTSD often takes years to surface, these numbers will grow ... to be joined by those from new deployments.

Who, and how, are we going to be there for these tragedies in the wreckage of this war?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Toss it, grind it, yuck

Nothing much to say -- spent the day cleaning out files, papers, c$%p, junk, desk office stuff stuff stuff. Threw out 7 pounds of "Sermon Ideas" ... good grief.

But loved putting a couple of beautiful stoles online for colleagues to have if they liked. Passing on the glory.

Pooped now -- off to a taped Jon Stewart, well, you have to, don't you. A glorious spa bath (ask me, if you wish, about the very very very reasonably priced, need no installation, fabulous small personal Spas from Dream Maker Spas) out on our patio under the stars, tonight in the very windy post thunderstorm glory. And then to bed. ZZZZ.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

iPhones and Mendel

So it seems that, no matter how wonderful the newest technologies are, enough to have people waiting outside all night in the rain for a phone they then can't hardly connect to the one provider they can use ...

there is still a time and a place for the old ways. Namely, in a world of laboratories fiddling with genetic material, a bunch out there in New Zealand has done something the old, Mendelian, way ... something that may within just a few years lighten the load on all non-vegans.

What the h#$% is she talking about now?

In a massive $130 million dollar project, involving the screening of the milk of literally millions of cows, scientists in New Zealand have discovered "Marge". Marge is a cow who, and I will call her who out of respect!, naturally makes milk which not only is naturally skimmed, but also high in omega-3 oils. What fat the milk has is almost entirely polyunsaturated. Not the saturated fat that makes whole milk dangerous for the heart and arteries. Butter from this cow has the added advantage of being spreadable straight from the fridge.

"Marge" has been bred, and her daughters do naturally produce the same milk. The scientists are hoping her sons will pass on the trait too - leading to herds of cattle producing healthier foods.

I don't want to get into the vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, omnivore argument here. I just want to say how delighted I was to discover this development which has ultimately respected normal processes, involved no genetic modification, and worked because of human ingenuity applied to good old fashioned boring, long-term, Mendelian development. Go New Zealand. Think I'll even cheer for you in the America's Cup tomorrow.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Now's a good time, gentle readers!

If you like books, you might want to check out my on-line shop this week -- see link at right -- one of the first things I've needed to do on getting home again is list some seven enormous boxes full of really great condition, mainly non-fiction, UU type books. They are moving fast, but there are some real gems. If you set the way it lists my 1100 plus books to list the most recently listed first, you'll get to see just the latest ones first.

Other than that, I've gone back to quilting -- but I'm most unusually hating it at the moment. Oh, I enjoy the process, but this Mystery Quilt we made in our quilting bee looks like being the ugliest daughter of a stitch I've ever seen. Sigh. I'll have to plough on and finish it, waste of fabric otherwise, but it's not my style. Watch for a picture of it in a few months, it just occurred to me, it might be soneone else's style!

And about to start our annual house clean-out -- years of moving every year while doing Interim Ministries got us trained. Go through everything you own once a year, and ditch, pitch, bitch. The house will feel so light when you have.

And for goodness sake throw out all those magazines you've been saving to read "one day". Do you think, even if you break both legs twice in a year, they'll have stopped publishing magazines?

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating