Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The peril to ourselves if we let extinctions happen

Cleaning up my desk just now, I found a 2012 Sierra magazine. You think that's old? I've found way older things in my work area. It seems I saved it due to one small article. And didn't know what to do with it, because, you know, it provides only one example of something I've been thinking about.

As we carry on toward greater global warming, and shrug at warnings that a lot of species are already going extinct, we occasionally hear of a huge reason not to shrug. Some species, and we don't even know yet which ones, have enormous medical uses for us humans.

We've seen it with species that we've abused, thinking they were of low value. The magazine points to the horseshoe crab.  It has BLUE blood. A blood that has special ability to clot quickly around bacterial contaminants. So now we've put protections in place on this declining creature. Maybe no longer will we casually grind it up into fertilizer, or use it for eel bait.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

News report about air conditioning

News report out of the Washington Post. Yet another way we divide ourselves--we can be either pro-air-conditioning and hear the hum, or anti and turn into non-moving slugs. But here's my thought.

While we in Northwest Washington are weather-fortunate, several young people have told me their homes uncomfortably warm in summer. I’m grateful for my tree-shaded house, while they have fully exposed apartments.

Wouldn’t it be great if developers, and the bankers who set profit standards for financing the building of apartments, were to make an allowance for the reasonable comfort of their tenants, without resorting to air conditioning? Room in a project for shade trees would be so helpful. Desiduous trees which would let in light in winter, and provide cooling shade in summer. Making space for trees may provide less profit, and more need for roof and gutter cleaning. So what? Getting satisfied tenants that stay longer, that's gotta be worth something, too.

Air conditioning is not the answer to a warming world.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Always thought so--Reading is good for us

"Reading books is tied to a longer life.”  So it was reported in the New York Times (Science section) last Tuesday, and I love it. The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, of 3,635 people over age 50 followed them for twelve years. And controlling for education, income, and other factors associated with longer lives, the study found that those who read more than 3 1/2 hours a week were 23% less likely to die in those twelve years. 

Cool! So, does that mean we writers can say, “Here, read my book and live longer!”   ?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Erma Bombeck was right

Humorist Erma Bombeck’s syndicated column in May of 1990 was “Older People Only Talk about Food.” The joke was older people, going somewhere remarkable like Yellowstone, only want to report on the food they ate on the trip. Main reason, she speculates, is that, “after a certain age, food is one of the few vices left that you can enjoy.”
    This gentle slam now has me in its sights. I’m one of them now, the older folk who talk talk talk about food, and not only at vacation locales. I’m like the army, which famously runs on what’s in the belly. I can’t seem to even do my shoulder therapy exercises without a food break. “I need a treat for  doing these awful reps!”
    Food is even what I recall about movies. Such as the diner scene in “My Cousin Vinnie” introducing our hero couple to grits. Of course life doesn’t revolve completely around food, and I try to maintain rich days of many interests. I watched the Democratic convention last night, and thrilled to important themes well beyond my stomach.
    But after it ended for the night, a movie came on that Bill stayed to see the start of, the Altman brilliance known as “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” Bill remarked that it never gets shown on TV. Then he came back upstairs and mentioned that it was not every day you hear the phrase “butternut muff diver.” Of course I laughed, but you know which memory of the movie cued up for me? Why, the food! Not every day you see people in the movies ordering food like this pair: two raw eggs and a whiskey for McCabe, and for Mrs. Miller, a meal for someone who hasn’t eaten in awhile, an astonishing list of about two days worth of dishes, ending with, after you were sure this thin person was through ordering, “and some stew and hot tea.”
    For me food isn’t only a fascination with flavors and treats. I just put a new finished batch of homemade kombucha into the fridge after five days on the counter lying under a slimy, ugly “mother.” I lovingly picked out the mother, looking like something the ocean washed up, and returned it to its jar until time for a new batch. I am acquiring a taste for this sweet-tart drink. But when I add the, let’s face it, vinegary amber liquid to a glass of water I’m hoping it is a health tonic. I want to be around for some time to come, to taste life’s sweetness. Which has more to do with the people I love than with sugar. Anyone want a kombucha mother? I have an extra.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Chew on That

Working the jaw is tied to memory and thought. So said a New York Times article reporting recent scientific research.

If that's the case, why do I get my best ideas while showering, or while driving, rather than when eating? Maybe I chew at more times than I know. One of Mom's aunts worked her jaw constantly, with a small smile. And then she would say something. And then return to silently working her jaw around. Mom spoke ill of this aunt, calling her the family conniver, the trouble-maker. I guess to create her schemes she had a lot of extra thinking to do.

I hope I'm not like her. Mom doesn't seem to think so, thank goodness,

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The young are alright with me

Today, stopped at a busy intersection, I had a front row seat to this scene: On the opposite side of the intersection from me, two young men pushed a stalled car around the corner, headed for the nearest driveway that would get it off this road that would soon be buzzing with traffic when the light changed. To the corner the slope had been slightly downhill, but after the corner, it was clearly getting tougher as the slope shifted uphill. I watched to see what would happen—my light was still red—and I must have blinked, because I missed where she came from, but a young woman who had not been anywhere on the scene came running up, smiling, and joined in to push without anyone missing a beat. Slowly they succeeded in getting the car, an indistinct model with faded paint, to the driveway of the shopping center. My light turned green and I followed and saw them push the car up the driveway and safely to rest. Then I was past and they were gone from my sight. Must have been one grateful driver in that car.

    Earlier, in the morning radio broadcast of Weekend Edition, indie-rock singer-songwriter
Mitski Miyawaki was interviewed. Should I confess at this point that I don’t have a high opinion of current music? What I’ve heard are tuneless wails inexplicably fascinating to young pedestrians. So much so, that, earbuds in, they stride through intersections without so much as a glance at traffic.

    But I was hooked upon hearing the description of Mitski’s music and stayed by the radio. Her  definition of happiness has been “skewed more towards ecstasy rather than contentment.” But clearly she is thinking and feeling deeply in her art. “I've been learning that I can use many different things to try to chase that feeling, but the most unhealthy thing is the chasing itself.” Sounds like wisdom to me. Not that I have anything against ecstatic moments and trying to make them last. She was asked about the track called “Happy.”  She said, “When I was writing this song, I just wanted none of it. I didn't want the happiness and I didn't want the sadness that comes after it. That's kind of what the song is about: not wanting to go up or down anymore.” She described the kind of happiness she feels now with her career, and it’s contentment. Not the end of the story, but she is clear-eyed, and is writing music that sounds like something very cool. And it has tunes!

    There is a koan that speaks of many eyes and hands and seems to be talking about great  compassion in the universe. I saw happiness today, easy fellow-feeling, and the gifts in musical arts. All in the young. And it makes me content.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Blow it up? Are you sure?

When I was a college freshman, and that’s going way back, WWU students elected a pig, yes, an oinker, as homecoming royalty. It was the 1960s. We were in the midst of a youth-led cultural revolution fueled by, among other things, Vietnam war protests, by the seeming blindness of “the establishment” to what we feared we were heading into on a number of fronts.

That was a “blow it up” moment; in that instance, blowing up the old beauty-popularity contests traditionally offered to us young people.  At first glance, it might seem to provide a parallel with the Trump and Sanders followers’ passions for upheaval.

But along the way, in the decades since in 1960s, cultural currents in the U. S. have reflected a complacency that has morphed into a blindness of its own, a blindness that believes that all of the good stuff of our society and country is safe from change, like it stands on its own steel and concrete foundation, and all we have to do is demand, from whichever leaders happen to be in office, selected revolutionary leaps forward. When we are not making demands, are we even voting, let alone organizing for change? I fear we have treated our citizenship as an antiquated sentiment, and have settled instead for being consumers and entertainment junkies.

Did the blow-it-up zeitgeist begin in the business world? We’ve all seen the new thing in business, “disruptive” change. If all the basics are assumed safe, including basic transaction trust, we can applaud those who can selectively take a company or product and blow it up. Or start a new thing, like bitcoins, and ride on our shared trust. It’s just the way the game is played now. Business as a game, right?

Who knew that a game approach to everything, business and life, would one day bite us? Evidently it is starting to. In a New York Times Saturday story, (page A11) one Bernie supporter was very insightful. He’s in the camp of “Bernie, Or else blow up the Democratic Party.” Victor Vizcarra of Los Angeles, is 48, is old enough to have some perspective. Yet he plans to vote for Trump if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, not because he agrees with Trump’s positions, but like a gambling man, and having watched “The Apprentice,” he feels a Trump presidency would be more exciting, a Clinton presidency more “boring.”

Now here’s where his insight really comes in. Mr. Vizcarra says, “A dark side of me want to see what happens if Trump is in. There is going to be some kind of change, and even it it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody to be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”

Tremendous insight. He’s not particularly proud of his insight. He’s not driven by desire to improve Flint’s water, or halt the ocean’s rise, nor does he even appear passionate about Bernie’s signature issue, reversing giant corporate power and rising economic inequality. But he clearly assumes that it’s all a show we can enjoy. That it doesn’t matter beyond the show. That, for instance, presidential appointees to the Supreme court don’t matter.

How many are like him, either openly, or fooling themselves that they have no role as citizens to set right what goes wrong in our messy society?—beyond blowing something up, that is. In a sense, he is right. If we sit back as consumers to a great big show, we’ll get drama, alright. But why would we want to gamble that the upheavel will be confined safely to our TVs and little back-lit screens?  Why would we want to assume that the consumer will control the outcome, rather than the already powerful?