Friday, December 31, 2010

Blessings For The New Year

The check out line at the Whole Foods Market was long and slow moving.  Everyone seemed out of sorts as we grabbed last minute items for the end of the year holiday meal.  It didn't matter if we liked what we tossed into our shopping carts as long as it was something looking festive and appearing edible.
I stood in back of a mother and her two young children.  At their loudest possible volume the children sung a song in Hebrew.  It's a song of peace.
I've down loaded the Keroke version in case you are inspired to end the New Year with a sing along or in case you become so frustrated that you find yourselves needing to duplicate their behavior.  You see, while they sang this song of peace they pushed each other into shopping carts, tried to each choke the other with plastic bags, hit each other and at one point discovered an expandable shelf on the check out module and tried to convince the other to insert fingers in the opening so they could be removed.  One child wound up under the wheels of the cart while the other tried to push the cart over his or her sibling.  And their singing never stopped.  Meanwhile the mother applied lip gloss and seemed not the least bit concerned about which of her two children might survive the shopping trip.  I'm surprised more people didn't join in singing while trying to kill other shoppers.  Perhaps they just didn't know the song well enough.

Here's the song.



During the next year may we all enjoy peace at the top of our voices without trying to kill each other in the process.
























Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Please Don't Buy Me A Star

I beg of you.  Okay.  We've just limped through the major gift giving holidays and my birthday is months away so the likelihood of anyone giving me anything exists only in my imagination but just in case you do decide to surprise me with some sort of gift please don't make it my very own star.
Driving home this evening I heard advertised on the radio the invitation to give the perfect gift -- a star named after and belonging to the person of your choice.  No price was mentioned but I'm thinking that if you have to ask the price you already can't afford the star.
Here are my concerns and why I truly don't want anyone to give me a star.
First, is it really possible to sell something that you don't own?  Isn't that sort of behavior the stuff of which prison sentences are made?  Okay.  Perhaps it might be argued that no one owns the stars but does that uncertain area really make it all right to sell and give?
In the second place, if we can see a star isn't it already dead?  I don't know much about astronomy and perhaps some of our learned NASA/JPL readers can provide more information on this dead star visibility stuff but really, if I'm right, would it seriously be okay to give as a gift a dead star?  That would be kind of like giving someone the gift of your dead cat.  I mean, come on.  We've had two dead cats during the past several months and we didn't try to give either of them away as a gift.
Thirdly, is there anyone actually buying stars to either give as gifts or, against the wisdom of the radio ad, keep as personal possessions?  If there are then I fear the end of all rational though is upon us.
Oh, wait.  Rational thought already ended.
Whatever your opinion of this star buying thing, you won't catch me buying one.  I don't have any money left.  Several years ago I bought the  Brooklyn Bridge.  It was really expensive and I couldn't afford it but I've never regretted the purchase because as proof of ownership I got, in addition to the actual bridge, a t-shirt with a bridge photograph.
But stars?  Come on.  Really.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Not Too Healthy

The other day, I drove past Yum Yum Donuts on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, and saw a poster in their window advertising, "New! Whole Wheat Donuts!"

Now don't get me wrong. I am relatively careful about what I eat, and my Weight Watcher days taught me that every little bit helps, but this just makes no sense. When I want a doughnut, I want it to taste like a doughnut. And if I wanted to eat something healthy, a doughnut would not spring to mind. I'm all for innovation, but whole wheat doughnuts just seem plain wrong.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Glendale's One True Diner

The Toasted Bun has been around since 1963.  A few years ago it was nearly closed down because the kitchen didn't meet health standards.  Instead of hiding from the awful news, the owners invited the press in, invited television cameras in, and showed off the mistakes promising to fix everything and pass the next inspection with an A rating.  The place did just that.
Yesterday the Toasted Bun was featured in the Glendale News Press.

http://articles.glendalenewspress.com/2010-12-25/entertainment/tn-gnp-dine-20101225_1_comfort-food-diner-onions

Coming back from near shut down, the little diner has expanded its hours.  We can eat dinner there now.  Dinner at Glendale's one true diner.

And who knows.  Maybe if we eat there often enough we, too, can have our picture on that wall.  Something to dream about, at least.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How NOT To Make A Protein Drink

In theory it was a good idea to put all of my vitamins in the blender along with the protein powder, milk, frozen berries and flax seed.  The result might be a little crunchy but a whole lot easier to swallow than the individual pills.  In reality it would have been a great drink if only I hadn't dropped in the large Omega 3 fish oil capsule.
It all blended quite nicely and looked great.  The taste, however, was overpoweringly fishy.  It was kind of like drinking, well, a large glass of sardines.
This was definitely a breakfast that stayed with me all day.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Things That Make Me Wonder, Part B

On Friday night it started raining in Southern California. Today is Tuesday and it hasn't stopped yet. The rain is breaking all records for rainfall in December for this part of the world. On the news this morning, I heard that four hikers were stranded in Trabuco Canyon in Orange County. The Orange County Fire Department and other government agencies were trying to get them out. They had cell phone reception, but there was no visibility for the helicopters to drop down and find them. The reporter on the radio was questioning an Orange County Fire Department spokesperson. God bless him, he asked the question that was today's top item making me wonder: "The weather has been awful for three or four days now. Who goes hiking in a canyon in this kind of rain?" The reporter did not use the term "what kind of morons..." as I would have done, but I suppose that's why he's on the radio and I'm not. The Fire Department spokesperson was diplomatic. "Our job is just to get them out safely, " he said, "I'm not going to speculate on that". Well, I am. I am guessing that the Orange County Fire Department has more important things to do than drag out dimwits who think it's a good idea to go hiking in a once-every-ten-years deluge. I suppose my tax money and yours is paying for the helicopters to yank them out, and that they will be interviewed by newspapers when they are finally removed. And I don't doubt that, the next time there is a serious rain in Southern California, someone else will do something just as stupid.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Things That Make Me Wonder


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The Other Family Human bought a Hanukkah present for our household. It is an egg-poacher made to be used in the microwave. The other morning, she used it to fix us egg sandwiches on English muffins. Delicious.

After breakfast, I looked at the egg poacher to see if it was dishwasher safe. Obligingly, there were words printed on it which read, "freezer/dishwasher safe".

Well, I put it in the dishwasher, but since that moment, I have been occupied by wondering under what circumstances one would ever need to put an egg poacher in the freezer. Any ideas out there?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'll Send My Big Brother To Beat You Up


Honestly, I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of President Barack Obama. First the Republicans spend two years acting like toddlers in the "no" stage, and now the Democrats are whining that he's selling out. But yesterday, he held a press conference. Unannounced, he brought former President Bill Clinton with him to back him up on his tax-cut agreement with Republican legislators. After a few minutes, he said that he was keeping the First Lady waiting to attend a holiday party, and departed, leaving Clinton to talk to reporters from the podium designated for the President of the United States. Clinton stayed for half an hour. He probably loved being back there.

When I was seventeen years old I had my first job, as a summer camp counselor. My head counselor, Lois Alpert, told us that if we were having discipline problems with our campers, she would always back us up if we called her in. However, she warned us, every time we called her, we were undermining our own authority. I wish Lois were here to talk to President Obama. I think he needs to hear what she had to say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No More Dances For The Old Dame

Scraps (the cat) died this evening.  Her spirit still soared even though her body was ravaged by the hungry tumor.  We're comforted that she died on the anniversary of John Lennon's death.  Imagine!
It's a terrible responsibility to have to decide when to 'put down' a beloved pet.  The vet oncologist predicted that Scraps would be dead the first week of August.  Scraps had other plans.  We discussed markers with the vet:  if she no longer enjoyed being petted, if she could not longer eat, if she could no longer walk.  She achieved the third marker this morning.  And still she thought she could dance.  Again the vet was amazed and comforted Scraps by reminding her that cats don't like to be carried to their boxes.  Cats yearn for freedom and independence.  Scraps now has both.
I have nothing but amazement and admiration for Scraps who refused to acknowledge that lethal tumors were nothing more than petty inconveniences.
And now she can dance on all four legs with an eternity of endless opportunities.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

He Has A Plan To Feed The World

In his book 'The Vertical Farm:  Feeding the World in the 21st Century' Dr. Dickson Despommier presents the quite logical and simple solution:  We should turn sky scrapers into hydroponic gardens.
"Imagine," the inside jacket reads, "a world where every town has its own local food source grown in the safest way possible, where no drop of water or particle of light is wasted, and where a simple elevator ride can transport you to nature's grocery store -- imagine the world of the vertical farm.' 
It's an amazing approach to solving so many problems and it's hard to imagine why we can't do it.  I really suggest you read the book.  Maybe we can apply some of the ideas to our own lives.  Dr. Despommier isn't some whacked out nut case spouting off save the world nonsense.  He was a professor of microbiology and public health in environmental health sciences at Columbia University for thirty-eight years and has been asked by the governments of China, India, Mexico, Jordan, Brazil, Canada and Korea to work on their environmental problems.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm Poor So I Get To Be Obese

That's what she said as she explained that she had to buy the donuts because she lives on a fixed income.  I suggested that her statement lacked logic.  She then said that it was hard to be poor and thin because good food costs more than junk food.  Aside from the donuts factor she did, though, have a point.  Poverty and obesity seem strangely connected.  A dollar can buy a meal at a McDonald's or at a Jack In The Box.  A dollar could also buy dried beans but somehow a fat laden fast food burger seems more appealing than a bag of legumes.
Early in our conversation I felt a little irritated -- like she was giving herself permission to be over weight and to endanger her health.  Maybe it was the donuts thing.  Then I found myself agreeing with her.  It is hard to eat health inducing foods when the other choices seem so much more attractive and so much more possible.
For her, food might just mean all the good stuff she can't afford.
It's the meaning of the food we eat that has the power.  Our task is to dis-empower the fattening, health depriving foods and empower those that we can afford and that will help sustain us.  That's not an easy task.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Surely They Mean Well

The displays fascinate me.  Regardless of the Jewish holiday, the major supermarkets at least in my neck of the woods always put out the same stuff:  Shabbat candles.  Gefilte fish.  Matzo meal and crackers.  Chanukkah gelt.  Yahrzeit candles.  The assumption is, apparently, that all Jewish holidays involve the same acivities and foods.  This, however, is definitely a new take on the theme of acknowledging that Jewish holidays require special stuff.


Just for the sake of peace in the consumer world, I'm choosing to assume that the folks advertising ham for Chanukah meant well.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Does Food Mean To You?

He struggles with his weight.  Once he weighed over four hundred pounds.  Eventually he got down to two hundred.  Now he's inching up to around two hundred fifty pounds.  He feels like his life is out of control.  He feels depressed and then eats to help him feel less depressed but, because of what he chooses to eat, he winds up feeling more depressed.
I asked him what food means to him.  He was stumped.
So he's going to think about what meaning food has for him.  Maybe once he knows why he's eating he won't need to eat so much.
If we only ate for the sake of getting enough protein and fat and vegetables and fruits and all of that stuff no one would be overweight.  Instead, we eat for comfort or reward.  We eat because we're bored or because we're angry.  The reasons we eat give meaning to the foods we choose.
It's something to think about as we muddle through this eat until you're too full to move holiday season.  Sure, food should be enjoyed.  You get no argument from me on that one.  Come the first day of the new year and its multiple resolutions, though, we might consider resolving to figure out our very complicated relationship with food.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Comtemplating Miracles

It's only eight nights out of the year.  Doesn't seem like many nights in which to praise miracles but that's what Chanukkah is all about.  Okay.  So maybe the oil didn't burn for eight days.  Maybe that isn't the miracle.  It doesn't really matter.  Maybe the miracle was that religious freedom won.  That does matter.  And here's something else that matters.  For eight nights a year, when the nights are darkest, we have an obligation to consider - to contemplate - miracles and not just the miracles of long ago but our own daily miracles.  Try it.  Spend a little time each evening considering the miracles in your own life.  You've got them.  Now find them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Update On Scraps

Scraps went to her oncologist today.  The oncologist is our gal and she's Scraps' gal, too.  She's an amazing doctor.  Not Scraps, the oncologist.  In the first week of August, you may recall, she predicted that Scraps might last the week.  Imagine, then, her surprise to see Scraps today.  Perhaps it was more shock than surprise.
"You mean," she gasped, "that she still jumps up on the bed?"
We were surprised to hear ourselves say that yes, she still jumps up on the bed.
"You mean," she again gasped, "that she walks down the hall to the cat box?"
We began to wonder if we did, indeed, mean that but, of course, since she does walk down the hall we realized that we did mean it.
The veterinary oncologist is astonished.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.
She said a lot of other stuff, too, but all of it boiled down to the acknowledgment that Scraps, like her hero Mehitabel the Cat, wants to keep right on dancing.
Of course, we get it that Scraps is beginning to wrap things up.  Pretty soon -- probably very soon -- either she or we or the oncologist will call it quits and Scraps will journey in a different direction.
But, oh my, what a wonderful and amazing time she will have had of it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What To Do When You Can't See The Bumps

All was smooth and well yesterday on the Jet Blue flight from New York's JFK to our own little Burbank airport until about six thousand feet before landing.  The pilot came on and said there was nothing to be done about it.  We were in for a rough few minutes.  Apparently the Verdugo Mountains were doing their thing with the air currents.  Minutes after the pilot made his announcement the plane began demonstrating the many different positions it could be in at the same time.  It didn't seem that bad to me but the flight attendants also made announcements about how to keep from throwing up.  When the plane landed a few people applauded.  I'm not sure about the intended recipient of the applause.  Was it the pilot or God?  At any rate, here are the instructions from the flight attendants:  Don't look out the window.  Make sure the overhead vent is wide open and blowing on you.  Look straight ahead.  Keep an air sickness bag handy.  There's little chance for a metaphor there unless it's stay focused on the future.  Looking out the window only tells you where you've been or where you are right at that moment which, as everyone on the plane knew, was passing through some of life's rough, invisible bumps.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thankful Day

Happy Thanksgiving.  Even if you don't like turkey or can be with friends or family declaring a day to appreciate what we have is a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beware A DMV Bearing Gifts

Sometime in the middle of September I received in the mail a congratulatory notice from the California Department of Motor Vehicles informing me that I - because of some outstanding personal accomplishment - was eligible to renew my driver's license on line.  I went immediately to my computer to enjoy the reward only to discover that the DMV website was down.  One thing lead to another in my busy and amazingly productive life and I didn't get back to the website until the first week of October.  Not to worry, though, because my congratulatory and instructional letter informed me that I would have my new driver's license in the mail within five days of on line completion.  I was still two months away from an expired license.  This time I easily got on the web site, completed the application, gave a credit card number for the fee and began marking the five day waiting period off on my calendar.  The five days grew to almost the two months left of my license.  I tried calling the DMV but was put on hold where I stayed for well over thirty minutes.  I planned my next attempt at calling around my work schedule.  I set aside a block of time to do paperwork, used the speaker phone and, after going through a myriad of punch this number if you want that service selections was finally put on hold where I remained for well over an hour.  I've never gotten so much paperwork done at one time in my entire professional career.  Finally a human came on the line.  I was told that it actually takes about three months to renew on line but I would receive a temporary license if I wanted to do so within two weeks.  That was getting close to driving with an expired license time but I had no options left.  Yes, please, I begged for the temporary license and was assured that one would mosey down my way from Sacramento.  Two weeks to the day later, at the very moment my license was to expire, my new plastic sort of permanent license arrived in the mail.  Three days later I received my temporary license.  I'm thinking I should use the temporary one until it expires and then start using my more or less permanent one.  And I suppose just about anything is better than waiting at the DMV for several hours.  So all in all this renew on line thing worked out pretty well, I guess.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do You Remember Where You Were?

The pink pillbox hat would soon be covered with his blood and we would all of us know in a heartbeat that Camelot was closed and shuttered.  Nothing made sense that day.  My brother located me in the foreign language laboratory where I was pretending to care about learning to speak French.  I don't know how he found me.  I was unaware that he even knew my schedule.  But there he was standing in front of me.  Tears were rolling down his face and he was trying to speak. 
I took off my headphones just in time to hear him say, "He's dead."  Somehow I knew he wasn't talking about our father, who had years left to live, or about any other relative or even about some movie star we both admired.  I knew just from looking at him that, indeed, he was dead.  Nevertheless, I asked in true little sister fashion, "Who?"  "The President," he said.  "They shot him.  He's dead."  I got up and together we walked from the language laboratory and onto a campus where thousands of people - students and teachers and custodians and visitors - walked slowly from place to place weeping.  People gathered during those first few days not to talk but to just gather.  And wander pointlessly from place to place.  Theaters closed and the country knew coast to coast sadness.
That's where we were and I will never forget that day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just A Scraps Update

Perhaps by this time you've forgotten that Scraps the Dying Cat is still alive.  Well, she is.  Still alive.  She's not just hanging on, mind you.  She's eating and walking around and complaining when breakfast or dinner is late -- you know -- being a cat.
Yeah, she's still got that growing tumor which she apparently has decided to ignore.  Of course, she's not as lively as she once was but even without the tumor that might be that case.  Scraps is, after all, fifteen or sixteen years old.  A gal is bound to begin slowing down eventually.
At any rate, Scraps says she'll keep us posted.
She's given new meaning to staying in the moment and to not making assumptions about longevity.  Every night I say to her, "Goodnight.  Maybe I'll see you in the morning."
And every morning I'm surprised that I am, indeed, seeing her alive and, except for the fact that she's dying, well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Airport Security Solution Worth Considering

Every weekday morning I wake up to the Stephanie Miller talk radio show.  She's on here in LaLaLand from six until nine on 1150 AM.  When the show first started she had a hard time getting guests so one of her co-hosts Jim Ward simply did impersonations of guests they would have liked to have on the show.  Now the show has grown with guests galore.  Still people call in to offer their opinions on various world situations.  The other morning a caller presented his/her solution to the increased TSA activities at airports.  Everyone going through security has to enter a sealed capsule for a few seconds.  Any explosives on or in the person in the capsule will be detonated.  No explosives no explosion.  Yes explosives an explosion.  The caller also pointed out that no more would be airplane bombers would have to be arrested and put on trial.  The only inconvenience would be that the sealed capsules might have to be cleaned up every once in awhile.
Just something to think about while standing in the see through scanner or getting our business patted down or explored while trying to fly home for the holidays.

Birthday Rain

I woke up to a wonderful birthday gift -- rain.  For most of today it has rained.  And every drop that fell was just for me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

But This Is Different

The first publication of Steel Cut Press http://SteelCutPress.com is now available.  But This Is Different is a novel written by constant witsend blogger Mary Walker Baron.  Please visit the web site and, if the mood strikes you, buy the book.  You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Well This Is Terrifying

Sarah Palin has finally stated that she will run for president and that she can beat Obama.  My hair is standing on end and my blood is running cold.  What if she did not only run but win?  I find the whole thing to terrifying to contemplate and yet what if it's possible?  Every fiber in my body screams NO WAY but stupider things have happened especially lately.  This possibility must be considered and taken very seriously.  We've got a lot more to fear than fear itself here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sweetest Smell

I discovered today that the sweetest, most intoxicating smell imaginable is a book never before opened, freshly printed.  Today I opened the novel I wrote, But This Is Different, and breathed in intoxicating magic.
I'll tell you more about this book later.
For now, know that it exists cover to cover.
Wow!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let Us Remember Her

On this date thirty-two years ago Dr. Margaret Mead died.  In her life she changed the way we think about life and the way we live our lives.

Here, in tribute, are a few of her more famous quotes:

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. 

I learned the value of hard work by working hard. 

I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had. 

And the words that have most influenced me are those that appear above her picture on this page.  We can change the world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thank You William Saletan

This is part of a piece that appeared in Slate.com on Friday.  I hope more and more and more people in positions to be read and heard voice such opinions.

Pelosi's Triumph -- Democrats didn't lose the battle of 2010. They won it.

I'm not buying the autopsy or the obituary (voiced by the people who blame the Democrats). In the national exit poll, voters were split  on health care. Unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. Democrats lost a lot of seats that were never really theirs, and those who voted against the bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it.  But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election.
I realize that sounds crazy. We've become so obsessed with who wins or loses in politics that we've forgotten what the winning and losing are about. Partisans fixate on punishing their enemies in the next campaign. Reporters, in the name of objectivity, refuse to judge anything but the Election Day score card. Politicians rationalize their self-preservation by imagining themselves as dynasty builders. They think this is the big picture.
They're wrong. The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it. I've made  this argument before but David Frum, the former speechwriter to President Bush, has made it better. In March, when Democrats secured enough votes to pass the bill, he castigated fellow conservatives who looked forward to punishing Pelosi and President Obama "with a big win in the November 2010 elections." Frum observed:
Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now. … No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage?
Exactly. A party that loses a House seat can win it back two years later, as Republicans just proved. But a party that loses a legislative fight against a middle-class health care entitlement never restores the old order. Pretty soon, Republicans will be claiming the program as their own. Indeed, one of their favorite arguments against this year's health care bill was that it would cut funding for Medicare. Now they're pledging to rescind those cuts. In 30 years, they'll be accusing Democrats of defunding Obamacare.
Most bills aren't more important than elections. This one was.

The article continues but that's the heart of it.  Go to Slate.com to read the rest of it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We Won't Lose Nancy, At Least

I'm thrilled spitless, as my high school Spanish teacher said upon discovering that I had been chosen to be a foreign exchange student to Bogota, that Nancy Pelosi will remain in the House leadership and in fact will be the Minority Leader.  She crafted a brilliant plan so that none of the House Democrats wanting to be in leadership would lose.
No one loses.
Brilliant.
No longer two heart beats away from the presidency she at least can still help guide us through these incredibly troubled times.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Finally Finding Common Ground

All day every working day I sit with brave people who suffer from one form or another of severe mental illness.  For the past several weeks one particularly depressed woman and I have faced each other for an hour a week she letting go and giving up and I coaxing and cajoling her to hang on for just another week.
The other day I decided to stop coaxing and stop cajoling and instead just visit and hope that taking a break from the often intensity of individual therapy might do more for her spirit than all of my other best efforts.
For the first several minutes we sat in silence.  Finally I asked her if she liked to read.  I like to read so it seemed a reasonable question to ask someone else.
Her face lit up and she said that she like a good mystery.  I asked her if she had ever read any of the Alex Cross books by James Patterson.  I don't know why I chose that particular fictional detective/psychologist or that particular author.  I could have chosen the indefatigable Alex Delaware or even my own favorite Kay Scarpetta.  But without rhyme, reason, or even thought I chose Alex Cross.
Her face brightened.  Come to find out she had read all of the Alex Cross books and was eagerly awaiting the new one coming out in a couple of weeks.  She was able to tell me how Alex got the third child.  She frowned when I explained that I hadn't read the books in order nor had I read them all and so was confused on many details.  She even told me about Nana's health crisis which I hadn't known about but will doubtless discover when I pick up another of the series.
We spoke for all of the scheduled session, she doing most of the talking and smiling most of that time.
Books can change lives and give meaning to them.
My new best therapy tool -- books.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Honor the Warriors

And work toward the end of war.  All wars.  Forever.
Always Faithful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some People Just Don't Know How To Have Fun

The stranded Carnival cruise ship with over four thousand people on board is expected to slosh into San Diego sometime tomorrow.  People are trapped on board.  Even without the fire and the loss of engines, aren't passengers on a cruise ship kind of trapped anyway?  Suppose someone decides, under normal circumstances, that they want off.  What are the options?
Apparently since the engine room fire there has been no cell phone service.  Luckily, though, one member of one stranded family was able to constantly update her Facebook page.  The United States Navy has delivered and continues to deliver crab meat, croissants, pop tarts and Spam.   The trip is free to everyone on board.  They get their money back, they get to shut off their cell phones, and they get to eat junk food with no guilt because aside from the tons of other non perishable junk food already on board they can eat Navy junk food.  I wonder why no one is mentioning the gallons and gallons of booze for which cruise ships are famous.  Huh?  Come on.  Do we really think there has been one sober person on that ship since the engines quit running?  Would you be sober?
The Carnival Cruise Line people have got to be kicking themselves.  They could have charged double for this cruise instead of giving it away for free.  Junk food, no cell phones, and enough booze to float, well, a cruise ship.
This time next year the lines waiting to buy tickets for a planned adventure such as this will be around the dock and only the very rich will be able to afford the price of the tickets.
Mark my words.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thirty Four And A Half Million

That's right.  As of right now thirty four and a half million people in the country have no health insurance.  Where, you might ask, do they receive medical treatment then.  Good question.  They go to emergency rooms.  How, you might ask, do they pay for the medical services they receive at the emergency rooms.  Good question.  They don't.  Who, you might ask, does pay for their medical services, then.  Good question.  We do.  One way or another we, the tax payers, pay for the health care of the uninsured.  Surely it makes more sense to pay for this health care up front instead of through the back door of an emergency room.
So, as the new political leaderships seek to dismantle what pathetic progress was made toward universal health care, perhaps someone will be willing to point out that we already have universal health care just in a far more expensive, far more indirect manner than, oh, simply saying we're willing to provide this basic and fiscally responsible service.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Education

I got a pretty good education at the State University of New York at Albany, and I have fond memories of the old place, even though they are now trying to make it sound more elegant by calling it "the University at Albany". Therefore, I was stunned to see the following announcement on Facebook about a month ago:

This past Friday the University at Albany announced that it will be eliminating the French B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs as well as dismissing 7 professors of French, 3 professors of Russian, 2 professors in Italian, and one in Latin. This leaves Spanish as the sole Department in the "Department of Languages." In addition the theater and classics department will be phased out and eliminated by 2012.
Let me think this through, the way I was taught to think in my liberal arts and sciences college education. The Department of Languages will consist of one language. Why teach them; let's just all speak English. No classics. Who needs to know Latin, the basis for all Romance languages...oh, right, there aren't going to be any, except Spanish. Who needs to read those old Greeks who understood the human psyche so well that they are still relevant today. Well, you could always stage one of their plays. Oops, no you can't, no theater. Really, it's better that way; why put ideas into these kids' heads that they could make a living at acting? Pretty soon, a college degree will consist of exactly those courses that are necessary to get a job. And that will be called an education.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Looking Down On The Five

Not too long ago we bought a book called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles.  The within 60 miles refers to 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles.  One of the first things a person doubtless notices after the death of a beloved pet dog is a dramatic reduction in daily exercise.  Dogs are great for countless reasons but one not too obvious reason is that they like and need to take walks.
So book in hand we drove to Elysian Park this morning to hike the not quite two hour loop called the Wildflower Trail.
Elysian Park is the oldest park in Los Angeles and second in size to Griffith Park.  In 1950 the park grudgingly made room for Dodger Stadium.  The whole area is also known as Chavez Ravine.
The hardest part about this first of hopefully many hikes from our new book was finding the trail head.  We finally started, we later learned, toward the end of the trail.  That false start ended abruptly on what might have been Stadium Way.  We never quite figured that out.  So we back tracked and hiked the Wildflower Trail from end to beginning which we decided was one good way to find the trail head.
The hike was beautiful.  The trail was not crowded but not empty with hikers and their dogs and everyone seemed happy -- even the Standard Poodle who did look a bit out of place on a dirt trail instead of on Fifth Avenue.
On this hike we could look down on the Golden State Freeway (the I-Five), down on the buildings of downtown Los Angeles, and down on the buildings of Glendale.
There were no wild flowers but there were plenty of birds and sunshine.
The next time I'm stuck in traffic on the Five I will think of the day I looked down on the whole thing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

We're Slipping Away

Every so often the United Nations publishes its Quality of Life report listing the best and the worst places on the planet for, well obviously, quality of life.  This country hasn't been number one for awhile now.  Norway, according to the report, is the place to be.  So are Australia and New Zealand.  This country according to this report slipped down to number eleven for quality of life.  The main reason for the slip, according to the United Nations, was our loss of a middle class.
The other day I was talking to someone who suffers from a pretty severe mental illness.  She was pretty steamed about the elections.  She had voted and wasn't happy that the Republicans had reclaimed the House of Representatives.  She also worries that she will lose her Medicare benefits.  "You think I'm crazy now," she laughed.  "Wait until I can't see a psychiatrist of get medications,"
The day before she and I spoke she had called fifty Republicans -- leaders and every day people -- and expressed her fears about the economy and about health care and, yes, about the quality of her life and of the lives of her family and friends.  She told me that she intended to either call or email fifty people a day.  "We've got to make sure we are heard," she said.
I was impressed.  Am I going to make fifty calls a day to save or restore my quality of life?  Probably not.  I'll just watch it slip away.
I'm comforted to know that someone will be making those calls, though.  And who knows.  Maybe if I talk to enough people who society declares insane often enough I will have the courage and the conviction to start making calls myself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Arizona Did What?

Writers have an ethical obligation to the characters they create.  We don't kill them off just because we feel like it and we don't have them betray their own characters just because we want to change the story.
I feel strongly about this.  So imagine my confusion and my anger when the character of Arizona, of the television series Grey's Anatomy, just before boarding the plane to take her and Callie to Africa, told Callie to take a hike.  Okay, I get it that perhaps contract disputes made it necessary to get the character of Arizona out of the series or any other issue that might have made that necessary but come on.  At least be true to the character.  The character of Arizona would never, as created, done what whoever that was at the airport last night did to Callie.
Okay.  It's just a television program and television programs aren't noted for fine script work but give us a break.  At least give the plot time to not betray its own characters.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Lot Can Happen In A Week

And it has, indeed, been a long, sad, painful week.  I'm not talking about the Republican take over of the House of Representatives though that was certainly sad and painful.
A week ago today Barney Google The Dog died.
Slowly the pain of this huge loss is being accompanied by amazing and delightful memories.
He had his own toy box.  He used to take toys out, scatter them on the floor, and search until he found the exact toy he wanted.  Of course, he'd never return the other toys to the box.  That was our job and we delighted in performing those duties.  I mean, how many street dogs from Pomona, carted off by the Humane Society, and awaiting their own execution rescued just in time from a woman named Enid from the All Retriever Rescue Society wind up in the lap of luxury with their own toy box?  Not nearly enough, I'm thinking.  So we delighted in putting his toys back in his toy box.
He got a bed time snack every night at 9:30 -- four dog biscuits.  He loved his bed time snacks and, even without a watch, knew each night when it was snack time.  Without fail he made certain that we, also, knew that snack time had arrived.
And just days before he died, he almost caught that lizard!
Barney was an amazing dog.
We were lucky to have him in our lives.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Welcome Home, Jerry Brown

Okay.  So last night was pretty awful.  There were, though, bright spots.  Meg one hundred forty one million dollars of her own money lost.  Jerry Brown goes back to Sacramento and not a moment too soon.  Barbara Boxer goes back to Washington as does Adam Schiff.  I hope Nancy Pelosi stays on the job.  I don't even understand why there's talk that she won't.  So she won't be Speaker of the House for awhile but the country still needs her.
I think we're in for a scary time different from previous scary times.
At least the commercials are over.
It's been a tough summer and fall.
But last night wasn't as bad as it could have been and so there's still hope.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too Close To Call

Scraps The Dying Cat is in pizza induced euphoria while the rest of this household watches the returns waiting for the polls of our own state to close.
Too close to call.
But not too close to feel very frightened.
Pass the pizza, Scraps.
And pour yourself another glass of wine, too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tomorrow Is The Day

I will vote tomorrow and hope for the best.  These are scary times and I can barely stand hearing one more commercial full of slander and fiction on behalf of a right wing candidate.  This morning I drove to work listening only to the beating of my heart.  I couldn't even listen to NPR because someone was rambling on about how the Democrats will lose the House and the Senate and how Obama will be impeached and how this and how that.
At least by Wednesday this should all be over except, of course, for the states needing to hand count and hand recount challenged ballots.
Remember when character counted for something?  Remember when the truth was something more than a springboard for deceit?
I'm tired.
And I will vote tomorrow because my vote, at least in my dreams, still matters.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

Gone are the days when we could go grocery shopping without at some point in the adventure call someone to either report or ask something.
"I'm in the cereal aisle.  Did you want spoon size shredded wheat or the big biscuits?" because we seem incapable of making that decision without consultation.
"Yeah.  I'm here in the cereal aisle.  Where you at?" because we must keep family, friends, or complete strangers aware of our every movement and must, even if we don't care, know theirs.
Since we have lost the ability or the capacity to go to the grocery store without maintaining constant contact with at least one other person it seems only right that we should be unable to experience other, possibly more challenging, adventures without maintaining that same level of contact.
Thank God, then, that now when we climb Mt. Everest we will be able to make that call.
"Yeah.  I'm here on the North Face.  Where you at?" we can now ask.
"Yeah.  I don't know.  It's real windy here.  Do you think I should ask a Sherpa to zip my jacket?" we can now consult.
This just in via the LA News Monitor:  " ... no one would have imagined in their wildest of dreams even a few weeks back that the 3G mobile communications could be facilitated some place as isolated at the Mount Everest. That is precisely what has been achieved by Ncell. Ncell leads the scene in Nepal as far as mobile communications and internet facilities are concerned.
The company has set up a base station for 3G communications at the Mount Everest at 17,000 feet above the sea level. Aigars Benders who represents the company confirmed the same and said that the base was set up close to the village of Gorakshep."

 Of course climbing Mt. Everest has just become a much more dangerous activity because most of the climbers will either be talking or txting.  Soon, I suppose, the folks who govern such activities will have to ban the use of cell phones on Mt. Everest at least while actively climbing.
 And then what will those folk do for advice and adventure.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Great Dog Died Today

Barney Google The Dog, often known to readers of witsendmagazine as The Family Dog, died today.  He was nine years old.  He rose from a stray on the streets of Pomona, California, to a bi-coastal pooch who wore red boots while he danced in the Vermont snow and who touched the lives and the hearts of all who met him. 
He was a great guy.  His two vets wept today as did we.  He fought a brave fight against intestinal lymphoma.
Ultimately, just like his beloved tug of wars when we would finally admit that he was stronger than both of us and declare him the winner, Barney won and the cancer lost.  He died before cancer killed him.
As the nephew Ben said, "Barney was a great guy.  He made everyone's life better."
It's true.  Everyone who met him was better because of that meeting.
I know we were.  We miss him.
He was at his healthiest one hundred nineteen pounds of loving, dignified, goof ball.
And he loved us without judgment or condition.  As did we him.
Here's to you, Barney.
And here's to us and every pet owner who has the courage to give their hearts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Guess She Doesn't Want To Be Polite

Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown were asked if they wouldn't mind stopping their negative commercials.  Jerry Brown agreed to do so if Meg Whitman would also stop.  She would not, despite boos from the crowd, agree.  That ought to be worth at least a few votes for Jerry Brown, don't you think?
Back to my question of why are we so rude, I think this is a good example.  Civil discourse be damned.  Polite discourse be damned.  Meg Whitman wants to be governor and she will pay anything and do anything to achieve that goal except, of course, stop calling her opponent nasty names.
I know who I'll vote for on Tuesday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

This Time I'm Really Worried

Either this election is nastier with more at stake or I'm just base line worried but this election seems to have so much on the line.  No, I'm not talking about whether or not California will legalize raising and smoking weed.  I'm talking about the nut cases who are making serious bids for high office.  I've hired people in my time and it would never occur to me to hire someone with no experience and certainly not someone with no experience and who make up preposterous stories and presented them as fact.  I wouldn't hire that person even if other people believed the preposterous stories.  So here's what's terrifies me about this election.  Lies are flying all around and no one seems to care.  We've got serious candidates with no idea about the contents of the United States Constitution of the function of the United States Supreme Court.  And people are taking them seriously.  Frankly, John McCain should be, in my opinion, tried for treason.  He brought Sarah Palin to national attention and gave her the forum for her particular brand of lunacy and she seems to have started the snowball rolling right to this very moment.
Frankly, I'm afraid.
I intend to vote.
I hope you do, too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why Are We So Rude, He Asked

I thought it was a reasonable question from someone considered by most people to be completely insane.  Even insanity deserves to be treated politely.  I've been thinking about his question and I think I've got one answer.  We are so rude because that's how we hear right wing radio hosts talk, that how we hear cable news folk talk and, yes, that's how we hear nationally known political figures talk.  Civil discourse has apparently died a quiet and unnoticed death.
Like Lazarus, though, that death can be undone.  We just need to figure out how to do it.

Watching A City Wake Up

I'm not an early riser.  Once in awhile, though, I greet the dawn coming from the other direction -- night.  During those increasingly rare times when my night turns into my day, I love to watch my city wake up.  This morning, for example, I found myself driving through Glendale at a little after six.  The Borders bookstore at the corner of Broadway and Brand was closed, only dimly lit.  However, across the street on the North side of Brand, a men emptied a delivery truck while on the opposite side of the street a garbage truck was being loaded.  On a Sunday morning?  Go figure.
Soft clouds tinted not by a sunset but by a sunrise wrapped the early morning city in gentle promise.  The all night do-nut store proved its mettle.  The door was wide open.
Every city greets the day in its own special way.  Manhattan comes to life with shouts and honking horns and screaming sirens.  Its nights are much shorter than those of sleepy Glendale.  Despite the song, it does sleep otherwise I would never have helped it greet its day.  Even Las Vegas awakens.
Every city greets the day in its own special way.  This morning Glendale, California, promised a day of hope and by evening it had delivered on that promise.
Every city greets the day.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Beware The Repairman

Our next door neighbor was having trouble with his television reception so he called the cable company.  We knew this because, upon seeing neighbor and cable guy in front of our house, we naturally said, "What doing?"  Neighbor explained the problem and we naturally replied, "There goes our cable."
It is common wisdom and accepted truth that when a utility truck appears on any residential street to fix one problem several more problems will exist by the time the truck leaves.  Of course, those problems will not be noticed until the truck and its driver (the repair person) have turned the corner and disappeared from view.  All of this must happen either on a weekend, a major holiday or after regular business hours.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned on the television this evening and discovered that we still had reception.  And then imagine my complete lack of surprise when I tried to access the internet and discovered that our wireless internet service was not available.  This all made sense because our cable television and our internet service come through the same provider, Charter.
No problem, thought I and I called the service number on my last bill.  I was connected immediately to a friendly and totally computerized voice.  Clearly no Charter repair people have been near the Charter place because at least the computer that created the voice seemed to be working.  At any rate, the voice instructed me to say 'representative' if I wanted to speak to a human.  So I immediately said 'representative' to which the computerized voice replied 'Fine.  Now let's solve your internet problem.'  So much for speaking to a human.
As things worked out eventually, though.  Come to fine out the computer and the computerized voice knew a thing or two about how to fix our internet problem.  Forget that I spent at least ten minutes talking to a machine we now have internet.
Or at least we have internet until someone else on our street calls Charter for a repair.  The only mystery is whether we will lose our television reception or our internet service.  Aside from that, when we see a repair person there are no other surprises.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More What To Do With A Famous Hole In The Ground

Here's what I think will really happen.  The thirty-three rescued miners will become so exhausted from the constant media glorification that they will one quiet day when no one is looking lower themselves back down into the mine.
Of course that would start a whole new rescue operation and a whole new media frenzy.
One wife said that all her husband wanted to do was sit and feel sunshine.
Instead, apparently, he is being flown off to Graceland because he asked for Elvis music while trapped.
Or maybe I've just become a 'stick in the mud' or a 'stick in the hole' because I didn't have the good fortune to be trapped half a mile inside the earth stuck in a granite tomb hoping to see the light of day or even Graceland.
Some people have all the luck.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What To Do With A Famous Hole In The Ground

Now that the miners and the rescuers are all above earth and accounted for, Chile is left with a really famous, really deep, really big hole in the ground already equipped with a tiny, risky way to get in and out.  It seems a shame to just walk away from it so I've got some suggestions:
1.  Turn it into a prison.
2.  Turn it into a theme type, expensive, hotel.  Luggage would be limited, or course, to small carry on type items.
3.  Use it as the home base for a reality show involving people trapped underground who at first think they are going to die and then wait for a rescue.
4.  Bring back Fear Factor and film it exclusively down in that hole.
5.  Conduct guided tours through it much like Alcatraz Island.
Of course, one never knows, I suspect, when the Phoenix rescue capsule will give out and fall forever into the hole.  The risk will probably just make whatever the hole is used for all the more attractive.
Of course, things will have to move quickly on account of our limited attention spans which, now that the rescues are complete, have returned to no more than fifteen minutes on the same subject.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Earth Returned Its Hostages And We Cheered

Now all of the miners have emerged as have the six rescuers who went down into the depths to help the thirty-three emerge.
This has been a truly remarkable couple of months for Chile and for the world.  Aside from the fact that we need happy endings and proof that miracles still exist, we also needed to prove that we can pay attention to something for longer that our typical few minutes before going on to the next scintillation.
I'd say, then, that this whole thing has been a success all around.
Well done, world.
The last miner our of the depths was Luis Urzua, the shift supervisor at the San Jose mine.  He's credited with helping the miners endure the early days of their ordeal and for keeping spirits up during the weeks of the rescue.  When he finally came into day light, he hugged the president of Chile and then said: "We have done what the entire world was waiting for. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing."
Well done miners.
Now the world can exhale, finally.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Town Car


The Other Family Human and I both have old cars that need servicing often. Since we both need our cars for work, every few months we rent a car for a week to give us enough time to take care of both. We always ask for the cheapest car and usually get some little American subcompact.

Yesterday, though, the rental place was out of everything but an SUV and a Lincoln town car. A lot of customers had extended their rentals overnight. The agent told us that we could have either for the price of the subcompact. I chose the town car. I figured I could buy a chauffeur's cap and make a little extra money taking people to the airport.

Just getting it out of the Avis parking lot was a challenge. The car is highly automated, and makes a lot of decisions for its driver. My own car is a manual shift Saturn with manual doors and windows that crank up and down. I am used to being the one who decides, and I was not amused by its assumption of control. The agent had said that I could trade the car in for a smaller one on Monday morning, and I looked forward to doing just that.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to the supermarket. I opened the trunk to put my groceries in. I ave seen apartments in Manhattan which would fit in that trunk. I got in the driver's seat. Wow, this car is comfortable. Well, I'd enjoy it for the day.

Monday morning, I was called to an emergency before I had a chance to change cars. I was getting more and more attached to it. On my way to my next appointment, I had to pass the rental place, thought about stopping and making the switch, and passed it by.

Maybe I'll keep the town car all week. It's got power and now I've figured out how to be the boss of it. And I'm getting a lot more respect on the road than I would in either my little Saturn or in the subcompact rental.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Ten Ten

Or October 10, 2010, or even 10/10/10.  However you look at it, today's date is memorable and kind of neat not because of some mystical and powerful meaning given to it but because it won't happen again for a really long time.  And we've only got two more opportunities in this decade or such neat dates, 11/11/11 and 12/12/12.  Of course people who know computer talk are going to remain fond of 101010.
Things only have the meanings we give them.
Things - events - are important because we make them important.
I like today's date because it's different, its fun to look at and I held off writing some checks so I could date them 10/10/10.
Tomorrow's date will be special and neat also because with tomorrow will come another chance to see miracles and maybe even help make them happen.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, John

John Lennon would be 70 today. Hard to believe that on December 8, 1980, he died in front of The Dakota apartment building just across from the west side of Central Park.
And still we sing his songs and still we yearn for the day when peace can finally get a chance.



And, of course, another way to honor him is to keep imagining.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sinful Yoga

The leader of a Southern Baptist church, Albert Mohler, recently advised his 'flock' that yoga is un-Christian and should be avoided.  He claims that practicing yoga opens people up to a non-Christian lifestyle.  Apparently, according to Mohler, stretching and meditating leads people away from the path to ... whatever.  And possibly may even lead to opposite sex dancing which has to be the worst imaginable offense against all that is holy.
Yoga?  Stretching?  Meditating?
Frankly, I'm more than a little worried about where this country is headed.  What is scary is not that nut case Baptist ministers say things like that but that they get any attention to begin with.  For example, why is witsendmagazine devoting any space at all to carp like this?
Got me.
Except that this type of thought seems to take hold of people and then they run with it.
So this just in.
Stretch.  Meditate.  Practice yoga.  And even more important that all of that, think.  But then if you are reading this you probably already do think, stretch, meditate, and possibly even practice yoga.
Enjoy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Dog Eats Marshmallows

The Family Dog came home from the pet hospital with a diagnosis of intestinal lymphoma and a regimen of 18 pills a day to hold his digestive system together. The Family Dog doesn't like taking pills. A helpful soul at the veterinary oncologist's office suggested giving them to him in marshmallows. I was skeptical. We had never given him sweets and I wasn't sure he'd eat them. The first time I gave him one - without pills, just to see if he'd eat it - he took it into the living room, licked the sugar off it, and looked at it with bewilderment.

Fortunately, his number of daily pills has decreased considerably, but he has developed quite a taste for marshmallows. We were sneaky at first, with one of us distracting him while the other loaded the marshmallow with pills, but now he will stand there quite contentedly watching us stuff the pills in the marshmallow, and give them to him. We were running low, and the Other Family Human went to the store and bought two more bags, one of a well-known national brand and the other the store brand. "I didn't know which he'd like better" she said by way of explanation. Well, one is "America's Favorite Marshmallow" and the other proclaims that its product is "Light and Fluffy". I think we'll probably try both.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rain Gauge Outrage

I avidly follow the weather page of the Los Angeles Times. We get so little rainfall in this part of the world that each year, I cheer for each raindrop and always hope to beat the seasonal norm, a wimpy 15 inches or so per year.

It always seems to me, though, that the Times is shortchanging us. Therefore, the Other Family Human bought me a rain gauge so I can do my own measuring. Here's what I found. It has been raining for three days now. This morning's paper recorded .04 inches yesterday, and .06 the day before for an anemic total of .10 inches. My own rain gauge shows just under one inch of rain in that time, almost ten times as much. Where are they measuring; in the middle of the desert? L.A. Times, bring your fancy meteorological equipment up here and match it with my $6.99 rain gauge from OSH Hardware. Come on, I dare you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And Here's How

Asking a person if he/she is thinking of committing suicide is not going to push them toward death.  In fact, asking that question might open the door back toward life.
So -- if you know someone who appears depressed -- not just kind of down in the dumps -- but truly depressed, it's not only okay to -- it's important to -- ask about suicide.
For example -- I'm noting that you seem really depressed and I'm worried you might be thinking of killing yourself.  Do you want to talk?"
Kids have always been teased about anything other kids can grab hold of -- anything that makes the kid being teased different.  Things, though, seem to have gotten a bit more intense with the campus harassment of LGBT students.  Technology has made it easier to be vicious and even anonymously vicious.
All of which makes it more essential to talk to people who seem at risk -- and talk in any way possible -- in person even.
Suicide can be prevented and sometimes the most effective prevention methods is simply to ask the question.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Your Love Can Help Save Lives

In the past month five (that we know about) young men have killed themselves because of the harassment and bullying inflicted upon on them on school campuses.  The youngest of the five was thirteen.  Important to remember is that these young men did not kill themselves because they are gay but because of the way they were treated.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents regardless of sexual orientation.  Factor in feeling different and being teased and bullied because of that difference and the risk of suicide goes through the roof.  Lesbian/gay/bisexual//transgendered youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
The fact that children even think of killing themselves is terrifying.  The reality that they do, indeed, kill themselves is beyond devastating.  But that children take their own lives because of teasing and bulling should cause public outrage.
Suicide is preventable.  You can help.

Visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org and find out how you can save a life.

These are the names of the five young men who took their lives:


On September 9, Billy Lucas a 15-year old from Greensburg, Indiana, hanged himself after a constant barrage of bullying at school. Two weeks later,  Asher Brown 13, shot himself after coming out in his Houston suburb. On September 28, Seth Walsh died after spending a week on life support in Tehachapi, California. The 13-year-old hanged himself in his backyard after suffering relentless taunting and abuse at school. That same day, Tyler Clementi jumped to his death. And the very next day, Raymond Chase an openly gay 19-year-old at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, hanged himself in his dorm room.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Life Goes On Even When We Step Away From It Awhile

Between a trip east for an awe-inspiring family life cycle event and our home, which has turned into a veterinary clinic, I pretty much lost track of the Jewish holidays that dominated the month of September. I did not eat even one meal in a sukkah, and I failed to dance with joy on Simhat Torah. However, yesterday, as I was left a skilled nursing facility in Montrose, I walked out into a storm of thunder, lightning and rain. I realized that it was the day after we add the prayer, "Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall" to the daily central prayer of the Jewish service. I may not have kept track, but the world did. As MWB said two posts ago, life goes on even when we step away from it awhile. Next year, the holidays will still be here to observe. With God's grace, I will be, too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

News From Newark Liberty Airport

People, unless they are drunk, just don't seem to be having fun at the airport today.  It surely can't be the long lines to check baggage and then pass through security.  I mean, come on, I even found a baggage scale before check in to make sure I was under the fifty pound limit for which I still had to pay twenty dollars give or take a few just to get my bag on board.  And surely it can't be the food courts.  The woman in front of me bought the last cup of chicken noodle soup so I had to settle for minestrone which I might have chosen anyway and then the woman in front of me who bought the chicken soup I might have eaten asked for cheese to sprinkle on her soup.  I passed on the cheese and took the crackers instead.  And surely people can't be unhappy at this airport because sitting in the food court eating their lunches or breakfasts of dinners was a Continental cabin crew not, by the way making a good advertisement for the on board meals, complaining about the conditions at Continental saying things like, "I don't know anything.  No one ever tells us anything."  I'm hoping they weren't referring to essential flight information.  I began to worry that they were the passenger cabin for my flight to Los Angeles then discovered they were on their way to Israel.  As if that poor country doesn't have enough problems right now they are about to welcome a disgruntled cabin crew from Continental airlines.  And surely people can't be unhappy because every flight leaving Newark for anyplace north including Buffalo and all of Canada has been cancelled because of weather.  After all, those people get to spend a few days or at least tonight in this very terminal.
I don't know why people in airports seem so unhappy.  But so far not too many people are smiling.
I'll keep you posted.

Headed Home

Witsendmagazine took a ten day break to visit the East Coast and witness an amazing and powerful life cycle event.  Time to head home now, in the middle of the last of a tropical storm whose name I either never knew or forgot while listening to the rain slam into the side of the Jersey City apartment building where I've been staying for the past several days.
No Jet Blue this go round.  Just Continental from Newark home where life continues hanging in the balance with desperately ill cat and dog.
Hopefully they are also able to tast the delicious strawberries of their limited days and hopefully we will be able to enjoy their precious moments.
Isn't that what life is all about, anyway?
Life goes on even when we step away from it for awhile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monarch


This morning, the Other Family Human and I woke up after a rewarding but exhausting Yom Kippur in Ramona. We planned to pack up and roll out early, but we didn't even wake up early. We planned to eat on the road, but by the time we woke up our gracious hosts Diana and Scott had prepared a breakfast of French toast, veggie sausage and fresh-squeezed OJ. As we packed the car, Diana called us back to the fence at the back of their property to show us a vine filled with caterpillars and chrysalises and their final result, a host of Monarch butterflies flitting around the vine. For one day after the Days of Awe, it was pretty awesome.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On This Inward Turning Day

Sometimes just showing up is enough.
Yom Kippur.
A day of showing up -- wherever we are -- and turning inward if only for a moment.
Like the tides, life is a leaving and a returning -- always.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In The Moment With A Strawberry

A famous zen legend tells of a man running from a tiger that’s chasing him. He runs through the woods until he gets to the edge of a cliff. The tiger is still behind him, so he climbs down a vine. The tiger reaches the top of the cliff and paces back and forth, licking its chops. Midway down the cliff, hanging onto the vine, he sees another tiger below him, pacing back and forth, licking its chops. As he’s hanging there, two mice come out and start gnawing on the vine. He tries to shoo them away, but they won’t go. They just keep gnawing on the vine and he, hanging from it, watches as it begins to fray to pieces.
Just then he sees, growing out of the face of the cliff in front of him, a wild strawberry. He picks it and eats it. As the vine rips to pieces and he begins to fall to certain death he says, "What a delicious strawberry."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Loft Update

Scraps The Cat continues to live in the loft -- an elevated room we use as on office.  This evening dinner was late.  Generally a case study in sweet disposition, Scraps made it to the top of the stairs to complain about the poor service.  She didn't care that the Family Dog is ill and spending a night at the vet's.  So she ate her can of food and then enjoyed the chicken livers and rice we had for dinner.  Of course, later this evening she managed to eat her French Vanilla ice cream.  And then hopped up into my desk chair.  Scraps The Cat is writing the book on living every moment of life.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stuff About Sleep

I come from a long and dedicated line of insomniacs.  That doesn't mean I'm happy about not sleeping but it does keep me interested in the phenomenon of sleep.  So, here's this from Ted.com.  You'll either find it fascinating or it will put you to sleep.  Really,  It's a win/win video.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Having Dinner Out


This is not something that happens very often, but we do occasionally get mule deer in our neighborhood. As I was coming home from work tonight, I parked the car and looked at a family of them dining in the backyards of the houses across the way. Apparently, they are comfortable enough that they will stop eating long enough to pose for a picture. They said that they usually don't eat out during the week, but it was such a lovely evening they decided to splurge.

Monday, September 13, 2010

News From The Loft

Actually very little is new either from or in the loft, that part of our house called home by Scraps The Cat.  Her domain has gotten smaller and still she enjoys French Vanilla Ice Cream as a bed time snack, eats a small can of food for each meal, enjoys water, uses her box, complains if her snacks aren't on time -- you know.  The usual cat stuff.  The tumor is larger and still she walks about her domain.
It would be easy to start believing that this could go on forever.
It won't, of course.
Each night I say good night to Scraps with a loving head scratch and a 'maybe I'll see you in the morning' benediction.
I guess that's all any of us can hope for, really.
Scraps The Cat -- my teacher.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is A Feather Really Just A Feather?

Sometimes we look for signs from a source greater than we.  The only thing is, how do we know something is a sign and if we decide it is a sign how do we interpret its message.
The other day during my walk I saw a feather sticking up in the grass.
I took it as a sign that (1) Life is as unpredictable as a falling feather.  (2)  Everything is up from here on.  (3)  Sometimes when feathers fall they land in interesting positions.
We own the meanings of the events of our lives because we create them.
Here's what really amazed me about the feather:  I noticed it and stopped to admire it and photograph it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Going Too Far

Rabbi Leslie Bergson -- Rosh Hashanah Day -- Congregation Etz Chaim, Ramona

September 9, 2010

“Going Too Far”

When Fran first wrote to her parents from Israel that she was getting interested in her religion again, they were very happy. Fran had been brought up in a Conservative Jewish household and went to religious school, but lost interest during her college years. In her mid-twenties, she went on a Birthright Israel trip for post-college students and became involved with a group she met at the Western Wall. She extended her trip and spent a Shabbat with them, and then another. Her parents’ delight ended when she announced that she was going to stay and live with this community in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank territories. Her group believes in the imminent arrival of Messiah and is planning the building of the third Temple. They believe that the Dome of the Rock should be torn down and all Muslims and Christians expelled from Jerusalem. Fran—now known as Fruma—is married to another member of the group and they have four children. She has broken all ties with friends and family outside of her community. When her parents visited Israel she and her husband did agree to meet them for lunch but they left their children with friends lest they become soiled by their grandparents’ distortion of the absolute truth of Jewish law.

Art Reynolds’ father, driving while drunk, killed a man in another car. While serving a brief prison term, Art’s father became a born-again Christian and began taking his wife and children to a fundamentalist church, where the pastor railed against all sorts of sexual perversity, especially homosexuality. When Art, in his teens, became aware that he was gay he knew he would have to leave home. He went to college in Los Angeles, stayed there, and became a successful businessman. Every year he sends his parents a Christmas card, which they do not answer. I met Art when he asked to see a hospital chaplain to talk over his problem. Art is dying of liver cancer, and only one sister who is still in touch with him knows of his illness. They are trying to decide if there is any point in telling his parents. They are both fairly sure that to do so would just reinforce his father’s belief that God punishes homosexuality with an early death.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet”, says the book of Malachi”, and he will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents.” This statement typifies what religion should be and should do. However, the family stories I just shared with you are not uncommon. We want to think of religion as something that draws us together, something to share with those we love. The High Holy Days approach, we plan to see our loved ones, to share a holiday meal, to attend Rosh Hashanah services—and there we hear the story of the Akedah. God tells Abraham to offer his beloved son Isaac for a sacrifice and with no word of complaint whatsoever, Abraham prepares for the task. Who is this Abraham? The same Abraham who dared speak back to remind God that he did not yet have an heir to carry out God’s lofty promise that he would be the father of a great nation? Where is his protest now that that he is asked to take the lie of that heir? Is this the same Abraham who cajoled and bargained with God for the lives of ten purportedly righteous souls of Sodom, and who is now not willing to raise his voice to God to save the life of his own beloved son?

The traditional commentaries explain Abraham’s compliance as ultimate faith in the Almighty; the willingness to give up everything on earth, even that which he loved beyond his own life, for God. This is not to say that no one has had problems with this text. The Akedah is probably the most studied, analyzed and discussed section of the Torah. A midrash uses the words of Psalm 38:14 as an explanation, “But I am as a deaf person, I do not hear, and as a mute person who does not open my mouth.” It portrays Abraham confronted with God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham has a perfect retort, one that will silence even God. God has promised him, “In Isaac, seed will be called to you”, and Isaac is still childless. Out of his great faith, Abraham does not use his retort, but it is so difficult for him that he has to make himself “as if mute and deaf” to accomplish it. According to the midrash, because of this act Abraham merits rewards that no other human deserves. The story of the Akedah is regarded as a symbol of Jewish faithfulness, and the lessons that have been drawn from it throughout the ages are wide-ranging and diverse. But Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s request could also be seen as a frightening example of devotion to God gone out of control. For, in the name of devotion to God, a person can go so far as to destroy everything else and everyone else in his or her life.

Father Leo Booth, an Episcopalian priest, has written a book, When God Becomes A Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse. He defines religious addiction as “…using God, a church or a belief system as an escape from reality, in an attempt to find or elevate a sense of self-worth or well-being. It is using God or religion as a fix. It is the ultimate form of co-dependency…this is an unhealthy relationship with God. It is using God, religion or a belief system as a weapon against ourselves or others”. We have seen many tragic results of extremism in religion in recent years. In two days we will commemorate the ninth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. We remember how stunned we were, not only at the random viciousness of the death and destruction, but also to learn that there were people in the world who would willingly give their lives to kill thousands that they did not know in the name of God. Most of us in this country knew little of Islam and its many followers and manifestations, which run the gamut from moderate—even progressive—to horrifically extreme. Some of us tried to learn more. Others, driven by fear, hid behind their own religion and developed an ideology almost as frightening as that of the 9/11 terrorists. A church in Gainesville, Florida plans to honor the dead of 9/11 by holding a public burning of copies of the Koran on Saturday. They have decided that Islam is the devil, and that it it Christianity’s mission to wipe it, if not off the face of the earth, at least off the face of America. All over the country, most notably in New York, but as close as Temecula, there have been protests over the building of Islamic centers. Here’s the good news, though. In the story of the Akedah, an angel stayed Abraham’s hand. In our day and age, some of that task is being done by ordinary people. An L.A. Times editorial on August 4th describes a protest held at the proposed site of the Islamic center in Temecula. The protesters were outnumbered four-to-one by those who supported the right of Muslim Americans to build a house of worship. The editorial went on to quote President George W. Bush in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Regarding animosity toward Muslims, he said: "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind. And they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."

The great Torah commentator Rashi gives what I find to be the best explanation for Abraham. He explains the verse, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy, neither do anything to him” in this way: God says, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy” and Abraham, having already worked himself up to do the deed, is not relieved but disappointed that his great sacrifice will not be allowed. “Then I have come here for nothing”, he says, “at least let me inflict a wound on him and draw some blood”, so God continues, “neither do anything to him.” At this point, Abraham comes to what Father Booth would call a moment of clarity, and finally questions the sequence of events: “First You told me that Isaac would be my seed, and then you said, “Take now your son” and now You say “Do not lay your hand upon the boy?” And God replies, “I did not say to you sh’chateihu, slay him, rather ha’aleihu, bring him up. You brought him up the mountain, now bring him down again”. Ha’aleihu is commonly used to mean “sacrifice”, although its literal meaning is “bring up”. Rashi is pointing out that Abraham interpreted the word in that manner, understanding that his choice was either to take his son’s life or disobey God. Abraham nearly made the tragic mistake of not questioning, and almost lost that in life which was dearest to him. If we sacrifice our values because of an imperfect understanding of what God wants of us, we cannot count on an angel to stay our hands. Let us take the responsibility for interpreting Jewish law with the dual qualities of justice and mercy, using our God-given intelligence and compassion to apply it to our own times and circumstances, and not become so transfixed by the glow of God’s holy light that we cannot turn away from it to see what it is illuminating.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Skin Deep

Yesterday, the Other Family Human and I were at our occasional pulpit in Ramona, California, where most of our congregants are the kind of bucolic Jews who grow their own vegetables and raise their own chickens. Our generous hosts were in Hawaii, but let us stay at their house anyway. The note they left told us to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen. A big bowl of citrus fruit was on the kitchen table. As I looked at the fruit, I realized that it did not look like the fruit I see at supermarkets in suburban L.A. It was smaller and unevenly colored. If I saw it in a supermarket, I would say, "hmm, the fruit doesn't look too good today". However, knowing that it came from a tree not thirty feet away from the breakfast table where I sat, I unhesitatingly chose a grapefruit. It was delicious; far better than anything I could have found at Ralph's or Von's. How foolish have we become that we must have fruit that looks like a magazine ad, whether or not it tastes good? Reminder to self for new year - buy fruit at farmer's markets or ethnic markets, where the price is right and the fruit is good. Or take advantage of the generosity of our friends in Ramona.