Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why It's Harder To Get From There To Here

On this day in 1963 the City of Los Angeles ended its red car line, a network of rail lines and electric streetcars connecting Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. I have lived in the Los Angeles area on an off since 1967. Practically every state wide election since my arrival has contained a bond issue related to public transportation. Today's Metro Green, Red, and Blue lines follow routes very similar to those once used by the Red Car lines. Some of those old tracks can still be seen along Santa Monica Boulevard.
Visitors to Griffith Park's Travel Town can sit in a Red Line Car and pretend they are going to the Pacific Ocean in what was once one of the finest public transportation systems in the country.
Stories float around of Los Angeles city officials selling out to General Motors. If that's true, what goes around apparently does come around.

Monday, March 30, 2009

All We Do Is A Creation

Ten months ago I began writing a novel.
Today the story and the characters live independent of my involvement. Not yet published, the book has captivated -- I am told -- its first readers.
“We were talking about that guy,” a friend said. “You know the one who said…”
“What exactly,” another friend asked, “was their relationship?”
“I felt so angry when she refused … “
Words on paper. Paint on canvas. Photographs. Melodies. Figures cast in bronze. Faces found in and chiseled out of stone.
Also – Kind words. Gentle touches. Loyal friendships. Devoted families. Steadfast partners.
We are all artists creating on a daily basis. We weave the fabrics of our lives. What we create defines us, leaves us, and becomes a part of something greater.
I feel privileged to live a creative life filled with family, friends, and – yes – words.
The Hebrew phrase עברא כדברא (avra kedavra) translates into something like – With words I create.
We are more familiar with its modern usage and pronunciation – Abracadabra – the magician’s spoken spell.
With words and actions we create lives and hope for happy endings.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bye bye, Bartons

Passover candy is one of my favorite things. That's why I was stunned by an article in the New York Jewish Week on Tuesday saying that there will be no Bartons chocolate this Passover. Bartons officials were unavailable for comment, not a good sign. And kosher distributors, who have long had their Passover orders in, are saying that they have nothing from Bartons.

While another business failure is nothing new these days, the passing of Bartons is worth noting. It was founded in 1938 by Stephen Klein, a Viennese chocolatier who came to New York at a very good time for a Viennese Jew to leave Europe. Presentation was key. Klein regarded his shops as boutiques, not stores. Each piece was wrapped in frills and ribbons, and the entire Bartons experience was about pleasure. Also, all of Bartons candy was kosher certified, so it became the gourmet chocolate of the Jewish world. Even the Easter bunnies and chocolate Santas it produced every year were kosher.

The company passed out of family control years ago, and it is now owned by another candy manufacturer. The logo is different and there are now both kosher and non-kosher Bartons lines. According to the Jewish Week article, not only is Bartons on the verge of bankruptcy, but so is its parent company.

To be honest, Bartons is not the candy closest to my heart. You could eat one of those almond kisses on first Seder night and not get all of it out of your teeth until the last day of the festival. But this Passover, I am living in a house that belonged to my Aunt Ruth until her death in the summer of 2007. Aunt Ruth, a great lover of sweets, always had a box of Bartons chocolates on her coffee table. Although I'm sorry she's gone, I'm glad she won't have to go through this Passover without her Bartons Assortment.

Turn Off The Lights While We Can Still Turn Them Back On

This year, Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.
One time zone at a time this planet will be, if everyone participates, dark for one hour. Some time zones have already participated in this global project designed to show awareness of climate change. Wherever we are, we are encouraged to -- at 8:30 PM our time -- shut off our lights for one hour.

This from earthhour.org --

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.
We all have a vote, and every single vote counts. Together we can take control of the future of our planet, for future generations.
VOTE EARTH by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How Golden Is Friendship, Anyway?

There is a whole new social etiquette about which I am unaware. Someone I never heard of asked to be my Face Book friend. I have questions. Does this guy know me? Does he know someone who knows me? If I ignore the request do I wound? If I outright decline the invitation, well...how rude is that? I mean, does anyone ever decline that kind of invitation?
Several days have gone by since the request. Perhaps he'll just forget about the whole thing. Either that or I will forget about it until, of course, it happens again.
Are friendships something we can just ignore or decline?
I fear I've entered a social arena in which I am unable to appropriately function.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rx Hope

Jacqueline Novogratz founded the Acumen Fund which is redefining the way problems of poverty are addressed throughout the world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Yesterday I had to go to Washington D.C. on business. I left New Jersey on an 8:27 a.m. train. I wore my winter coat, gloves, scarf and hat, all of which were needed on a chilly, windy morning.

As the train passed Baltimore, I started to notice that the incipient buds on trees were a bit further along than the ones I have been seeing at home. When I got into the cab at Union Station, my coat was open and my scarf and hat stayed in my briefcase. I saw that the magnolia trees and cherry blossoms are in flower.

Two hours later, I walked the five or six blocks from my first meeting to my second. After one block, I had to take off my coat and carry it over my arm. The soft breeze in no way resembled the chilly wind of the Newark morning and the warm sunshine was as foreign as it was welcome. During my walk, I figured it out. The federal government has co-opted spring! They got it, they are keeping it for themselves, and they are not going to let us have it!

Heed me on this, and do not listen to the crazy conspiracy theory that spring comes earlier to Washington because it is 225 miles south of New York.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Come On In ..The Weather's Fine

There is justice in the world. Near the cattle ranch of my youth the icy waters of Turkey Creek invited swimmers on hot summer days. On one such day my mother and I accepted the invitation. I dove in first. The water was so cold that for a long moment I couldn't breathe. At least that's the way I like to remember it because my mother dove in before I could warn her. Her stunned, my blood has frozen in its veins facial expression told me that I should have tried harder to catch my breath and warn her. When our hearts again started beating, we forced our hands and legs to crawl us up the bank and to the truck and towels. When we were able to speak, my mother's first words were understandably, "Why didn't you warn me?"
Through chattering teeth, I defended myself saying, "I didn't know."
I just returned from five days in New York and New Jersey.
"You don't need to bring a coat," the family humans said to me.
"The weather is beautiful," they said.
It snowed on Friday. This morning the temperature with wind chill factor was about fourteen degrees. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were either windy and cold or cold and windy.
Back in Turkey Creek I was in a bit of a better position to make cautionary statements. I was in the water.
East Coast weather can be sneaky and unpredictable.
No hard feelings. They truly didn't know.
Besides, I had it coming.

Monday, March 23, 2009

If It's Easy Does It Still Count?

The twenty-one days to forming a habit project is over. Green tea and flax seed didn't make it from project to habit. Maybe next project. However, walking at least twenty minutes a day has, I believe, become a habit.
It's easy to walk at least twenty minutes in New York City. Most of the time there is absolutely no choice. Today, however, I had a choice and I chose walking.
I got off the train at Penn Station with a destination of 56th and Lexington. There are all sorts of ways of getting there: trains, buses, cabs. I chose to walk.
It took 65 minutes to make the approximate two plus mile walk on account of traffic and other pedestrians and all. I did my best job of ignoring traffic signals and quickly walking around pedestrians. However, as five o'clock in the evening approached, the streets become congested with people. Nevertheless, I kept up a good pace. A couple of times I wondered if my decision to walk the distance had been wise but I just kept walking.
I had a choice.
I chose to get in my walk.
I think I'll find ways to do that at least most of the time from now on.
I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The House in Bloomfield

It was the first place I looked at when I got ready to move out of my temporary winter quarters here in West-of-Nowhere, New Jersey. As such, I wasn't sure if I loved it for itself or because it was only a half-hour commute from Manhattan. Only after seeing three other places--the first rundown, the second dark and gloomy and the third clean, white and utterly soulless--that I realized I had run into a gem. The Other Family Human fell in love with it, too. The final test came today when The Family Dog saw it. He made the big backyard his home at once. So, as of May 1, The Family Dog and I will be living on the second and third floors of a 1912 "red-door Victorian" in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The first floor is occupied by an actor who was on "Survivor". He tends the garden, takes out the trash and shovels the walk when it snows. The tenant of the basement is an opera singer who gives impromptu concerts on the enclosed porch. The landlady is a comedienne on maternity leave. The Other Family Human mentioned to the landlady that if anyone around was more laid-back, the house could be the setting for a sappy sit-com. "Get out your laptop", the landlady replied, "I need the income". I think this is going to be fun.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Family Dog Forgets Expensive Training

The family dog in most locations is trained to perfection. He obeys and enjoys a variety of commands. For example, when told to stay on place, he does. "Place" is a command used to create an imaginary fence to keep him out of harm's way when cooking is going on in the kitchen. He will not cross the invisible line except, of course, for the occasional paw stretched as far as possible into the forbidden area. He sits at curbs to look both ways before he hears the instruction allowing him to walk into the street. He always walks on the left side of whatever family human is sufficiently lucky to accompany him on his regular outings. He waits for a secret release word before leaving a place or a sit/stay command.
These obedience marvels did not come cheaply nor easily. The family dog attended both Uncle Matty's Boot Camp and Pacific Dog Training Academy. He successfully completed both courses of study not with honors but at least with pats on the head and proclamations of "Good dog. Good dog."
All of that goes down the drain, however, when the family dog visits his grand humans.
"Oh, let him come to the table," we hear.
"Oh, one more piece of challah won't hurt him," we hear.
Not only does the family dog not recognize any of the elsewhere so familiar commands, the family parents wouldn't let him obey them even if he tried.
On the other hand, I guess lucky is the pooch who has such indulging grand humans.
Come to think of it, the family humans are pretty lucky, too.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bear Down, Arizona

In about 30 minutes, the University of Arizona Wildcats will take on the University of Utah Utes in a first round game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There is some controversy over this -- not that they will play a basketball game but that the Wildcats should be playing it.

The Wildcats have gone through a season of great turmoil en route to their 25th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. First, their Hall of Fame coach, Lute Olson, resigned just before the start of the season because of health reasons. He had been out the entire season before because of divorce reasons.

Russ Pennell, an extremely likable guy, took over the job of leading the Wildcats as interim coach. There was never any question about the interim part. Once the season was over, the Wildcats would bring in some rainmaker of a coach like Rick Pitino or Mark Few who could bring in some major recruits in a hurry. In the meantime, no recruiting at all went on this season. except for a JV transfer that one of the assistant coaches landed.

It has been an extremely erratic season for the Wildcats. If basketball were played by three-man teams, they would have been great. They had 6-11 Jordan Hill at Center, 6-8 Chase Buddinger at forward, and 5-7 Nic Wise at point guard. Unfortunately, the teams they played generally showed up with at least five players, which put the Wildcats at a disadvantage.

They beat some big-time teams, like defending national champion Kansas, Pac-10 Champion Washington, and high ranking squads like Gonzaga and UCLA. But they lost to run-of-the-mill teams like UNLV, New Mexico, and Stanford. In fact,, they lost to just about anyone that they played on the road, away from McKale Center in Tucson.

Their record at the end of the season was a mediocre 19-13, 9-9 in the Pac-10. Selection Sunday last week was a time of great angst for the Wildcat faithful. Would the team extend its streak of consecutive appearances in the Big Dance -- the longest among current teams?

They did, as a 12th seed. They'll be playing the "Utes" -- which apparently is the name of the tribe of Indians that Utah is named for. Utah is a 6th seed. This is the kind of situation that the Wildcats used to fall to frequently, getting knocked out in the first round by a lower seed -- except, of course, for the four times they went to the Final Four and the time in 1997 when they won the whole thing.

As an alum of hated Arizona State University, I have been amused at times this season at the woeful state of the Wildcats. ASU now has beaten them five straight times, including three times this season.

But I'm glad for the sake of this team and their extremely nice coach that they made it one more time to the Big Dance. And I hope they dance for a long time, until they play ASU sometime down the road. Then all bets are off.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Where Pedestrians Rule

In 1950, Walt Disney produced a cartoon called Motor Mania starring the cartoon character Goofy. The cartoon is a take-off on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which Goofy plays Mr. Walker, a gentle and mannerly pedestrian, who, as soon as he gets in the driver's seat of his car, morphs into the seething, destructive, monstrous Mr. Wheeler.

While I found this caricature to be largely true when I lived in L.A., land of the freeway, the exact opposite occurs in Manhattan, where pedestrians rule the streets, and they do not rule benevolently. Let there be a one car-length gap in crosstown traffic flow, and pedestrians teem across the street against the light, forcing the next driver across to choose between waiting in the intersection or hitting a crowd of people crossing against the light. When a car is caught in a crosswalk, pedestrians swarm around it like ants on a cupcake, crossing both in front and in back of the vehicle. I am always expecting to see someone leap over its hood or trunk to save a step or two.

The evil pedestrian persona is not limited to people who actually live in Manhattan; the transformation occurs to every pedestrian who sets foot on the island. For example, the other day, my bus was coming north on Madison Avenue approaching 54th Street when we saw a car stuck in the intersection. "What do you bet he's from New Jersey?", the bus driver said and, sure enough, as we passed and looked at the license plate, indeed he was. A whole busful of people, who had all started the morning in New Jersey themselves and had passed into Manhattan no more than ten minutes earlier, sat and laughed at the hapless chump from the sticks. There ought to be a law. Actually, there is a law, but no one pays it any mind.

About My Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. It stretches over the East River to connect two islands -- Manhattan Island and Long Island with its cities of Brooklyn and Queens.
Construction began on January 3, 1870. Thirteen years later, on May 24, 1883, President Chester Arthur and New York Mayor Franklin Edson stepped onto the Bridge and began walking east. They were accompanied by cannon fire. Tall ships gathered in the East Bay. When they stepped into Brooklyn, fireworks greeted them. They had just crossed a river walking on -- at that time -- the longest suspension bridge in the world. On that first day almost two thousand vehicles drove across and over a hundred fifty thousand people walked across the only land passage between Manhattan and Long Island. The bridge costs $15.5 million to build. Approximately 27 people died during its construction.
One week after the opening, on May 30, 1883, someone cried, "The Bridge is falling." The resulting stampede killed twelve people and threw the Bridge's reputation into question. A year later P. T. Barnum's famous elephant Jumbo led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge. Barnum said the parade was to prove to people that the Bridge was safe. The publicity didn't hurt his circus, either.
The Bridge was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974 and in 1991 I bought it from a totally reputable person.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Instant Solutions

I just heard or at least just think I heard that someone with too much spare time has created a math formula with which people can quickly solve sudoku puzzles.
Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of working a puzzle?
Seems to me puzzles are meant to pass the time while challenging us to think. If I can plug in a formula and work the puzzle without...well...puzzle-ing over it....I may as well buy puzzle books in which the puzzles are already solved.
I guess I'm just an old fashioned process person.
Is the top of the mountain ever really as interesting as the climb?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Send Sara Home

It was a weird time. The Symbionese Liberation Army, a short lived and violent group, wanted to overthrow the government. The group kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst who later joined the SLA and served her own prison sentence. Make no mistake. This was a dangerous group of people. They were mostly white, middle class idealists who robbed and killed and planned to kill some more. In addition to the 1974 Hearst kidnapping, the group claimed responsibility for assassinating Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster and was involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police officers that killed five SLA members. I remember watching that shootout on television as it happened and for days after it happened.
Only one former member of the former Symbionese Liberation Army remains in prison. This morning just after midnight the next to the last incarcerated member left the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Sara Jane Olson, age 62, will serve her year long parole in Minnesota.
People here are furious because they think Olson should remain in California for the year of her parole. Members of the Los Angeles Police Department are especially furious.
"I think today is a slap in the face of California law enforcement and (other) law enforcement," Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber said in an interview broadcast throughout the day.
Sara Jane Olson, once known as Kathleen Soliah, apparently planned to blow up a police car and even placed a pipe bomb under the vehicle. So I suppose it's understandable that law enforcement still has feelings.
For twenty-four years Kathleen Soliah was a fugitive. Eventually she settled in Minnesota, changed her name to Sara Jane Olson, and became a soccer mom. She married Dr. Gerald "Fred" Peterson and gave birth to three daughters. She volunteered in social causes and acted in community theater. Her home was a frequent site of dinner parties.
Only when the television show "America's Most Wanted" devoted some air time to Kathleen Soliah did things fall to pieces. She was arrested in 1999 while driving her soccer mom, community volunteer mini van.
Sara Jane Olson has served her time. Other people once incarcerated in California serve their parole time in other states. This woman wants to go home and her family wants her home.
Here, then, is my question.
Why are people so angry that a convicted 'terrorist' will serve a one year probation out of state?
If she's that dangerous, wouldn't California be best served by sending her to Minnesota?
Those were strange times back then when a newspaper heiress robbed a bank.
Come to think of it, these are pretty strange times, too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Habit Project - Preliminary Pay Offs

Here we are sixteen days into my twenty-one day what does it take to turn an activity into a habit project. For the past sixteen days I have walked a minimum of twenty minutes a day. The fact that the twenty minutes went by faster with each passing day didn't seem too remarkable.
But wait!
I live at the top of a pretty steep hill. From bottom to top is probably six hundred yards of very impressive slant.
This evening I dropped my Jeep off with Boris for some brake inspection. You all remember Boris.
I refused his offer to drive me home.
So off I stated up the canyon to get to my canyon. Within a few steps, my cell phone rang. My telephone conversation lasted until I got to my front door. Neither conversation nor walking/climbing speed slowed.
Just before I ended the call I asked the person with whom I had been speaking if it sounded like I had just walked from Boris', up the canyon, and up the hill to the front door. The caller knows that walk well.
"No way," was the response.
No way, indeed.
I wasn't even out of breath.
Here's what I'm thinking. Twenty minutes a day may not sound like a very big deal. Those twenty minutes, though, add up to miles and miles.
Sixteen days doesn't sound like much, either.
Apparently little things can add up to really big deals.
Go for it!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tax Time

This was the weekend. The calendar cleared, I knew I could easily spend two almost full days preparing my tax records for the annual visit to the accountant.
Here it is a little after five on Sunday evening.
I have done everything imaginable around the house to avoid sitting at my desk and beginning this task. The appointment with the CPA is tomorrow. The eleventh hour is approaching.
I don't know why this year in particular I have so little enthusiasm for doing the civic duty about which I have absolutely no choice.
Could it be that we all have watched for nearly a decade our tax dollars be either spent foolishly or dangerously? Or is it because we witness people who have worked hard, paid their taxes on time, even managed to put aside enough to last a lifetime only to lose it all into the hands of crooks. Or perhaps we, too, have lost everything.
Better times are coming. I'm sure of that. In the meantime, I'm going to get to work on my taxes with or without enthusiasm.
Just as soon as I clean the garage, take out the trash, and resole my shoes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Saturday Adventure

The Express Over Night Get It There As Quickly As Possible envelope was scheduled to be left at my front door at 3:00 PM Friday. The sender requested that no signature be requested. The Post Office person in New York, so attentive to special instructions, even highlighted the statement that no signature was required, requested, expected, or even dreamed of in moments of uncontrollable giddiness.
Naturally, yesterday evening when I got home from work I expected to see that Express Mail envelope leaning against my front door. It seemed an expectation rooted in reality and possibility. The only thing, however, at my front door was a notice from the Post Office informing me that delivery of said Express Mail envelope for which no signature was required for delivery could not be delivered because I was not at home to sign for it. I could, however, either leave special instructions waiving the need for a signature or present myself in person at my local United Stated Post Office branch between the hours of such and such on days whatever through whenever and I could get the envelope.
This morning I arrived at said Post Office branch at 8:58. The sign on the door informed me that the Post Office would open at 9:00. At 9:15 a happy go lucky looking Post Office person opened the door. The woman who had been waiting in front of me pulled a deer in headlights routine and did not move for several long seconds. Come to think of it, she'd been waiting at the door when I arrived. I dared not speculate on how many minutes or hours or days she might have been waiting to get her no signature required package. Perhaps her DNA tests had not yet been delivered.
Eventually she took first tentative then stronger steps toward the desk.
When I finally stepped to the counter, I presented my sign here to get your whatever slip of paper and observed to the clerk that instructions had been clear that no signature was required so why was I standing here with this signature required slip of paper.
The Post Office person said, I swear she said, "Look. It says right here that no signature is required. I can't imagine why the carrier didn't just leave it at your door."
With that she disappeared into the bowels of the Post Office. When she returned she asked first for photo identification. After examining the minutiae of my drivers' license she produced several sheets of paper and requested my signature on each at the indicated line. When I asked why I had to sign now if I wasn't supposed to sign yesterday, she only stared at me in a sort of please don't make me break routine kind of look. After I had signed all of the papers she then pointed to an electronic signature pad and requested that I sign it and after that she requested that I enter my address on the electronic pad and only then did she give me the envelope.
The only thing that could have made this better would have been that-- after I had proved I was who I generally think myself to be and after I had signed just about every piece of paper in the Post Office -- the envelope had been addressed not to me but to someone named, possibly, Sven Jose Hildegaard in St. Paul. Or it had been a piece of junk mail. That would have been pretty good, too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Different Kind of Drumming

Last month California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency for the entire state. State officials predicted that as many as 95,000 agricultural jobs would go. Total economic losses could reach $3 billion. Up to a third of the 3 million acres normally irrigated with federally supplied water will be left fallow. Those of us not living in the parched San Joaquin valley are urged to plant drought resistant plants, take shorter showers, sweep our driveways instead of hosing them down, and take our cars to car washes because they use less water.
I don't know. Those are pretty onerous requests. To further threaten our self indulgent habits, we are told that if we don't dramatically decrease our water use, we face rationing.
Will any of us truly survive with shortened showers? This is looking like a pretty grim situation.
Meanwhile, the United Nations reports that by the year 2020 in Africa alone, 75 million to 250 million people may lack the water they need.
Unlike the energy crisis, for which alternatives to conventional fuels exist, there is "a continuously increasing demand for finite water resources, for which there are no substitutes," the report said.
The United Nations urges governments to find ways to finance the development of water treatment and delivery, particularly in developing nations, because in some areas water has been used or polluted "beyond the point of no return," the report said. "Coping with a future without reliable water resource systems is now a real prospect in parts of the world."
Imagine what life would be like here in Southern California without enough clean, drinkable water. Forget the shortened showers and the unwashed drive ways. Picture life here if we had to walk, for example, from downtown Glendale to the Rose Bowl to get a bucket of water which we would then have to carry home the best way we could because of course the automobile would be far too expensive for just a drive to the well or whatever rancid stuff we could gather from the Arroyo. By the time we would get home, far too much water would have splashed out of the bucket.
A company called Q Drum makes containers in which women and children in rural Africa can carry water home without spilling all of it or injuring their backs or just plain wearing themselves out.
The water container is a bagel shaped thing that can be pulled along with a rope. It makes life easier and water possible.
Our love of technology has helped us get into our current climate crisis. Our love of technology can also get us out of it.
Just something to think about during our shortened showers.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Don't Fight Over Me

In the paper the other day there was a story about Rita Pauker, the widow of Rabbi Norman Pauker. Rita has been desperately trying to get the Torahs back from the congregation they had been loaned to since her husband's death seven years ago. After Rabbi Pauker’s congregation closed in 1998, he entered into an agreement with Rabbi Ohana stating the conditions of the loan. Each Rabbi signed the agreement. Even though the Beit Din (Jewish court) ruled in favor of Rita, it wasn’t enough to get Rabbi Ohana, a former assistant to Rabbi Pauker, to hand them over. Not only does Rabbi Ohana not want to give the Torahs back, he claims that he never signed any such agreement suggesting the document is a fake. Rita was hoping to gift the Torahs to relatives in the Rabbinate and Rabbi Ohana is claiming that he is protecting the Torahs from being sold. He said that when a Torah is gifted it belongs not to one person but the entire congregation. I understand the logic but it seems kind of convenient. While Rabbi Ohana decided to appeal to a higher Jewish court in Jerusalem, Rita has gone the civil route and hired a lawyer.

Why is Rabbi Ohana, an unpaid leader of a tiny congregation in Los Angeles, fighting so hard to keep the Torahs? Without a Torah it would be just a bunch of people gathering. I get why he’s fighting so hard but perhaps he should consider giving back all but one (from the photo it looks like there are four). While I believe that a Torah is not a family heirloom, I hope there is some way Rita will find Shalom, whatever the outcome.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Business of Aging

I’m a sucker for most of the soothsayers on TV and the internet that promise amazing results to combat the effects of aging. If fact, I keep a box of enzymes pills I bought two years as a reminder of one of these false prophets. I happened to be up in the wee hours of the morning with a horrible stomachache when I heard a voice coming from my TV. It was speaking just to me.
“Are you up when everyone else is sleeping?” the voice said sweetly.
I looked around and in my misery, I said, ”Yes.”
“Do you have a stomachache and often suffer from eating the foods you enjoy?”
I looked at the well-dressed swarthy man and said,
“Yes Dr. Pinkus, yes!”
This Doctor promised if I bought a three-month supply of his product I would not only be cured of my stomach ailments but feel ten years younger. It sounded so good. Dr. Pinkus looked so trustworthy and I was so weak. I reached for the phone and was talked into a six-month supply because, after all, it was going to change my life. I anxiously waited for my magic pills to arrive. When they did I followed all the instructions and envisioned myself as one of those passionate people on the infomercial. I’d be happily smiling as a confirmed Dr. Pinkus groupie.
I felt pretty good for three days and then, on the fourth day, the bottom fell out. I was not cured. Thinking that maybe I had contracted a bug of some sort I tried the magic enzymes again. No luck. Another soothsayer.

Since hitting the big “50” I have been more conscious of things that slow me down. How does this translate in real terms, two years later? Well, ads for products that promise to slow the aging process that at one time caused me to laugh, now get my full attention. I try to look the other way and not read the unbelievable claims but I admit it, it’s hard.

Recently, I have been reading about the “French Paradox” and the benefits of red wine. Hey, I can do that. A glass of red wine is good for me? Count me in! Upon further reading, I learned that one needs to consume about 1200 glasses of wine to get the health benefits of the substance that is contained in the skin of the grape. To get it in concentrated form you have to buy a supply online in liquid or pill form. Here we go again.

The Habit Update

So here I am half way through the project of turning walking twenty minutes a day, using flax seed and drinking green tea into a habit.
I haven't missed a day's walking or using flax. I've missed drinking one cup of green tea.
I wouldn't say these things are habits yet. However, I am aware of them as daily routines.
The twenty minute walk happened one rainy evening in my living room. A walk is a walk is a walk.
Here is what I am noticing about all of this. Just being aware of health, life affirming routines and trying to incorporate them into daily activities makes a difference.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The True Story That Never Happened

Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the almost certainly fictitious events depicted in the biblical book of Esther. Persian monarchs did not pick their brides via beauty contest, although they might have been happier if they had. But even if the events never happened, there is eternal underlying truth to the Purim story. An evil, power hungry schemer influences a dopey king and a compliant populace by sowing seeds of hatred and fear. All too easily, they come to believe that a minority group in their midst is dangerous and must be eradicated. The two unlikely and unwilling heroes are ordinary people, one outside the power structure and the other inside, and it takes both of them, working together, to avoid catastrophe. I can think of at least ten current-day examples of this scenario. But in the book of Esther, the good guys win and the villain gets caught and punished. That, I suppose, is where the fiction kicks in.

But so what. This is a day of religiously encouraged excess. We are supposed to feast, drink, and give gifts of food to one another, and to the poor. Be happy and enjoy Purim.

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's All We Can Do

In 2004, Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai, an environmental and political activist, became the first black African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was awarded the prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
In 1977 Dr. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots, environmental, non-governmental organization, which has planted over 30 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion.
She is known as the "Tree Woman" or "The Tree Mother of Africa". Her activism is focused on both environmental and women's issues.
She tells this story.
A huge fire broke out in the forest. All of the creatures in the forest were frightened and understandably ran to safety. Except for the hummingbird, who decided to stay and put out the fire. It flew to the nearest river, picked up a few drops of water, flew back to the fire, and opened its beak to let the water fall onto the flames. Then it flew back to the river.
The other animals watched from their safe distances as the hummingbird made trip after trip after trip from the river to the fire.
Finally the lion spoke to the hummingbird, "The few drops of water you carry from the river to the fire aren't enough to matter. You can't put out the fire. It's too big and you are too little."
"Yeah," said the giraffe. "What do you think you are doing?"
The hummingbird paused in its flight from the fire to the river long enough to say, "I'm doing the best I can."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yet another mineshaft story

It's reassuring to know that in a world of chaos, some things remain the same. Stupidity, for instance.

An Associated Press story this morning reports the ordeal of Yuma man who fell into an abandoned mine shaft after stepping on a board covering the opening of the hole in the ground. How was he to know, after all, that the board would break, sending him plunging into the 115-foot-deep Betty Lee Mine east of Yuma?

Let's see, common sense?

Anyway, the man, identified as Paul Kautzman, only fell about 15 feet before landing on a support timber. He hung onto that for 2 1/2 hours until rescuers pulled him out of the shaft. He suffered only minor injuries, but was fined $75 for trespassing.

Seems like he got off lucky.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Apparently It Isn't The Thought

I'm with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Of course, you all know by now that President Obama's gift to Brown was a 25 DVD collection of classic American movies.
I'm assuming the collection came from Blockbuster. I mean, where else do those boxed sets come from?
The Prime Minister's gift to President Obama was an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet.
That's not the reason I'm on Brown's side. I wouldn't have wanted either gift.
I especially, though, would not have wanted the DVD collection. I don't like to be told what movies I should watch.
What the President should have given the Prime Minister was a Blockbuster gift certificate. Now, that would have been class. That gift would have said, "I trust your taste and your ability to make important choices."
Such messages to foreign leaders, I believe, will go a long way in repairing our trashed international relationships.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Picture This

Without invitation, an odd memory careened into my consciousness today. There was a store in the small Arizona town of my childhood called Johnson's something or other -- dry goods, clothing, shoes -- I don't remember. The store sold cowboy hats and shirts and boots and all sorts of other 'sundries'.
We didn't go into that store very often. I think the merchandise was probably too expensive or there had been some disagreement between grandparents years before -- doubtless small town nonsense that makes for good gossip.
Anyway, this store had a most amazing machine. You stood at the machine, put your feet into slots of some sort and through a viewer could see the bones of your feet. The reasoning behind this machine was that people about to purchase a pair of shoes lacked the ability to -- by virtue of are they too tight or too loose type of reasoning -- decide whether or not the shoes fit.
So Johnson's whatever had an X-ray machine.
Apparently these machines were quite the thing in the decades of the forties and the fifties. They were called fluoroscopes and provided real time moving images of skeletal structures and any other structure exposed to their X-rays.
The first shoe-fitting fluoroscope was built in Milwaukee in 1924 by a guy named Clarence Karrer. He was eventually asked by the Radiological Society of North America to stop selling the things because they lowered the dignity of the radiology profession. He kept right on selling.
Great ideas, however, spread like wildfire.
In England at about the same time Karrer came up with his fluoroscope, the Pedoscope was granted a patent. Despite understandably hard feelings between the Brits and the Milwaukee folk, the X-ray Shoe Fitter Corporation of Milwaukee Wisconsin, and the Pedoscope Company of St. Albans in England, became the two largest manufacturers of shoe fitting fluoroscopes in the world. In the early 1950’s, estimates placed the number of operating units in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada at about fifteen thousand.
Despite warnings from scientists who had begun to suspect that these devices were not the best things since sliced bread (see witsend archives for that article), shoe stores just kept on using them until employees started showing up with radiation burns sometimes sufficiently severe to require amputation. It's possible that years later those same employees also showed up with altered genetic structures. Who knows.
At any rate, those radiation burns were enough to convince people that the foot X-ray machines were unsafe. The determination of whether or not the shoes fit was put back into the hands of the people with the feet, assuming they had any left.
Meanwhile, back in the Johnson's whatever store of my childhood. Every time we went into the place, I just had to run over to that machine and stick my feet in it. Come on. I could see the bones of my toes right through my shoes -- also right through my skin and muscles and soft tissues. When I wiggled my toes I could see my bones move. Really. Could any child resist such an opportunity?
All day today -- since that memory arrived -- I've found every way possible to express profound thanks for whatever reason kept us from going into that store very often and for the fact that I couldn't stick my head into that machine.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Details at 10

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but ...

That sudden breeze that you felt Monday might have been the asteroid 2009DD45. Or “DD” for short. That’s DD, as in “Death and Destruction.”

DD, an oblong-shaped hunk of space rock measuring between 69 and 154 feet in diameter, came within about 50,000 miles of scoring a direct hit on this planet that we like to call home on Monday. That’s about the same size as the asteroid that exploded over Siberia in 1908, flattening 800 square miles of forest.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but ...

Help! An asteroid that size would have destroyed New York City or London. Sound the alarm! All hands to battle stations!

Oh, wait. I am being an alarmist. It did, after all, miss us by about one-fifth the distance to the moon. As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind.” God, do we need her now.

The network news and newspaper headlines don't give you much room for hope. GM officials now are saying they see no way to avoid bankruptcy. News analysts are wondering if we shouldn’t start substituting the “D” word for the “R” word.

In fact, a popular blog these days is “Depression Cooking With Clara” in which Clara Cannucciari shares the low-cost recipes she learned as a girl, growing up in the Great Depression in Chicago. The average cost of her dishes is under 50 cents a serving.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I’m going to check out Clara’s recipes. Oh, and do you happen to know where you can buy sackcloth?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yes We Can!

Whose Hands Hold Justice?

Tomorrow from 9:00 AM until noon, the California State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three cases (Strauss v. Horton, S168047; Tyler v. State of California, S168066; City and County of San Francisco v. Horton, S168078) challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a statewide ballot initiative passed by California voters in November, 2008.

In the cases before the court, the court has issued an order listing the following three issues to be briefed and argued:

(1) Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?

(2) Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?

(3) If Proposition 8 is not constitutional, what is its effect if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

The three cases before the court were filed directly in the California Supreme Court on November 5, 2008, the day following the voters' approval of Proposition 8 at the November 4 election.

California's Supreme Court Justices (Associate Justice Carlos R. Moreno, Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard, Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Associate Justice Ming W. Chin, Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter, and Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan) are in an unusual and precarious place. They are the folk who declared that denying same sex couples the right to marry deprived them of basic constitutional rights. This is the body that opened the flood gates of same sex marriages during which 18,000 couples legally married before voters closed those flood gates. These same people must now decide whether or not to keep their jobs by caving into the bullying of Prop 8 supporters or to risk losing their jobs and stand by their original decision. You see, the supporters of Prop 8 have stated that should the Supreme Court maintain their original decision that to deny same sex couples the right to marry is to deny them equal constitutional rights there will be immediate recall proceedings. California State Supreme Court Justices are elected. They are subject to the whim of popular opinion. If these justices cave in to the pressure of the Prop 8 supporters, California will become an even more scary place to live than it has become during its budgetary 'Perils of Pauline' soap opera because we will know for certain that the law of the land will be in the hands of thugs. That is truly terrifying. These men and women who wear the robes of justice must decide between career and constitution. Let us hope they have courage sufficient for the task so their choice can affirm equal rights for everyone.

Prayers on Wheels

My commute to work is long but easy. For over an hour, I sit on a comfortable bus with about fifty other people, all of whom are sleeping, reading newspapers or books, or playing with various MP3 players, iPods, iPhones and BlackBerries.

On one of my first days commuting, I observed a man across the aisle whom I recognized as a Sikh by his distinctive turban. He was reading from a small, ornately designed book with script that looked beautiful, but was unintelligible to me. It was easy to tell, though, that he was praying. I thought that looked like a good idea. I had a prayerbook in my briefcase, too, just about the size of his. I took it out and said my morning prayers. I imagine that the script in my prayerbook was just as unintelligible to him as his was to me.

I've been riding that bus for three months now, and I don't pray every morning (my Sikh neighbor does) but this morning, I did take out my prayerbook. When we got to the park-and-ride where the bus fills up, a woman sat in the seat beside me. After a few minutes, she took a small book out of her briefcase and started reading. The words in her little book were also in a script that I could not comprehend. We prayed silently beside one another for a while, then she put her little book away and took out a novel, and I put my little book away and took out my iPod. I've never sat beside her before, so I don't know if she prays regularly, or if she had been inspired by my prayerbook as I had been inspired by the Sikh one. This is a kind of interfaith prayer that I could really get to like.

The Habit -- Day Four

Yesterday proved that it's not always possible to get in a walk while at work. The day was long and challenging.
The twenty minute walk happened when I got home after I ate dinner. Without this 21 day challenge I doubt if I would have bothered.
And still I did it.
The flax seed and tea were easier.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Thing About Flax Seed

When I add flax seed to my diet, I feel like I'm doing myself a favor. Here's some stuff I've read about flax seed. I have to say that so you don't think I'm giving you medical advice.
Flax seed is reach in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid which appears to help reduce our chances of heart disease. Alpha-linolenic acid belongs to the omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax seed also contains lignans, antioxidants, which may help protect against certain cancers.
Several years ago I was encouraged to eat flax seed and cottage cheese.
Dr. Johanna Budwig, a German biochemist, published a book called "Flax Oil as a True Aid Against Arthritis, Heart Infarction, Cancer, and other Diseases". I imagine it's a real page turner. I've never read it because the person touting flax seed and cottage cheese told me all about the book.
Anyway, Dr. Budwig's research led her to the conclusion that 2 tablespoons of flax seed or flax seed oil mixed into 1/4 cup of cottage cheese would help reduce our chances of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
Why cottage cheese, you might ask. Apparently flax seed and flax seed oil becomes more effective when it's mixed with cottage cheese because the essential fats bind to the proteins and its easier for our bodies to absorb it. Don't ask me. I'm just the messenger.
Here's the thing, though.
When I do stuff like this I feel better. Maybe it's just because I know that I'm taking positive actions toward health.
Perhaps, then, the key is to choose a healthy activity and do it everyday, say for 21 days, to see if healthy activities become habits.
By the way, I'm getting the flax seed any way I can -- on cereal, in milk -- because of this 21 day thing I've got going.

To The East Coast Family Humans and Dog

This morning I noticed buds on the lilac bushes. Seasons surely move from west to east. Hang in there. Spring will get to you. It's just that we here in California get it first.
Please don't hold that against us. Our whole state is falling to pieces.
The lilac bushes, however, will soon bloom.

The Habit - Day Three

Day two took some planning. The flax seed went on the breakfast cereal. Done with that by 7:15 in the morning. When I got to work, instead of the usual cup of coffee, I made myself a cup of green tea. Done with that by 9:05 AM.
All of the weather people said it would rain on Monday. I worried that I wouldn't get in my walk so I did ten minutes around 10:30 and ten more around 12:30. Done with the whole thing.
I was wondering if these three simple things were so easy why was it that I hadn't been doing them?
For one thing, it's not that easy to close the office door behind me and say, "I'm taking a walk." That might be why I didn't do it much until this project. Now, though, I'm on a mission. I'm creating habits.
Two days down and nineteen to go.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The joys of retirement

Today, which would have been a workday before my retirement last Thursday, I went to the office where I used to work.

Nothing much had changed, except today I was there as a volunteer.

I wore shorts, a pullover shirt and sweat socks and jogging shoes. "So how is that different from what you usually wear?" one of my former coworkers asked when I pointed out my leisurely choice of clothing. One thing certainly hasn't changed -- I get no respect. Just call me the Rodney Dangerfield of grant writers.

Before my retirement, I would have been at work at about 8 a.m. Instead, this morning I took my dog, Molly for a nice walk instead. Molly was very happy about that. Because of the walk, I didn't get to the office until about 8:45 a.m. It felt great, being free from the shackles of a work schedule after all these years.

At the office, I got a cup of coffee, hooked myself up to my i-Pod and got to work on a particularly cumbersome grant proposal that's been bedeviling me for several days. I was disappointed to see that it hadn't been finished during the weekend after my retirement, but that would have been expecting too much. After all, who would have finished it?

I worked on the grant proposal, which closely resembles a federal tax return, until my usual quitting time at about 1 p.m. (I was on a 20-hour-week schedule before I retired). It still isn't finished, but it's as finished as I can make it. Someone else is going to have to fill in the rest of the blanks. So after turning it over to that unlucky person, I said so long to the office.

Someone asked me exactly what I had accomplished by retiring. Well, I don't have to show up at work in the morning unless I feel like it, I can wear shorts to work if I want, and when I'm ready to go home I can leave what I'm working on for somebody else to finish. I plan to be a good volunteer, but that doesn't mean I have to be there every day.

All in all, it seems like quite an improvement.

Habit Forming - Day Two

I gotta say that day one was a breeze. Sundays can be that way especially if there's nothing much to do except walk for twenty minutes, drink a cup of green tea, and figure out how to eat flax seed -- which, by the way, I mixed in some yogurt.
Tomorrow is a back to work Monday and it looks like it will be a really long day. Surely in that day I can find time for a cup of tea. The walk may take some more thought.
But this is what this project is all about -- figuring out how to make time in our already and increasingly over scheduled lives for ourselves.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Adventures with Coupons

MWB has challenged us to develop good habits, so I decided to start by shopping with supermarket coupons. Although I am not a spendthrift, I usually just go to the store and buy what I need. Yesterday, I watched my 90 year old dad and his home health aide going over the newspaper oohing and ahhing over the bargains and planning their purchases. I went home and did likewise. Eggland's Best Cage-Free Eggs! I need eggs. Eight O'Clock Coffee! I need coffee. Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair. Boy, do I need that. The Family Dog leaves so much fur around that I could make another dog out of it.

I remembered to bring the coupons with me to the store. First stop: housewares aisle. I seem to remember a time when Pledge was just furniture polish in a spray can, but now they have a whole section devoted to enough Pledge cleaning products to boggle the mind. No Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair, though. On to coffee. They had Eight O'Clock brand, all right, but all that was left was whole bean. I don't have a coffee grinder, and I think it would take too long to smash them up with a spoon. They do, though, have Eggland's Best Cage-Free Eggs, at $3.89 a dozen, and I have a 50 cent coupon. As I pick them up, I notice that Shop-Rite Cage-Free Eggs, which I usually buy, cost $3.29 a dozen. Even my inferior arithmetic talents inform me that I am about to use a coupon to pay a dime more for eggs than usual. Never mind. I brought my coupons, and I'm going to use them.

I also remembered to hand the coupons to the cashier, and watched as she applied them. Eggland's Best Cage-Free Eggs, one dollar off. Double coupons! I saved money! This is fun. I can't wait till next Sunday.

Walking It Off - Day One - The Habit

Today's the day.
I expanded the scope of my project a little bit by adding two fairly minor activities as part of the larger and primary goal of improving my over all health.
I plan to do each of these activities daily for the next 21 days.

1. Walk for 20 minutes.
2. Consume 1 teaspoon of ground flax seed.
3. Drink a cup of green tea.

The logic of walking twenty minutes a day probably needs no explanation. Indications are that both flax seed and green tea have a lot of positive health benefits to offer and I'll write more about these benefits as the days roll by.
Walking to the lunch room at work or to the mail box from my front door will not count toward my twenty minute goal. I can, however, break the twenty minutes down into two ten minute sections. I've loaded music for both time sets into my ipod. I have ground flax seed and green tea in my pantry. I'm ready.
These activities right now sound pretty simple.
I'll keep you posted.