Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Memoriam Kathy Verlo 1938-2008


Friday, January 25, 2008

You make my day!

Chanpheng from Mekong River Tributaries just bestowed upon me a You Make My Day! award for my post Peace Art Project Cambodia. Thank you so much!

This is a cool way to show support for fellow bloggers. If you see a post or a picture that makes your day, let them know!

And check out Chanpheng's blog. She's an American living in Laos training medical staff to adequately deal with victims of unexploded ordnance and land mines. She has an insider's view of life in Southeast Asia, and gives an interesting and visually stunning account of it at Mekong River Tributaries.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

What book are you?

Wow. My friend, Sue, posted this challenge on her blog Close to the Sun. Go to the Blue Pyramid and take the book quiz. You need answer only six seemingly random questions and then you'll discover which book you are! Such fun!

I am Prufrock and Other Observations.

Eric is Watership Down.

You're Prufrock and Other Observations!

by T.S. Eliot

Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Economic Democracy Now!

Richard C. Cook has written an excellent synthesis of C. H. Douglas, Keynes and Galbraith in Global Research repudiating the orthodox economics used to legitimate the Federal Reserve under which the world’s capitalist economies are in reality enslaved. Here’s an excerpt:

“Overall, banks have served four main purposes—one legitimate, one dubious, one puzzling, and one deeply flawed.

1. Legitimate
“The first purpose—a legitimate one—is to facilitate commerce. It is often cheaper for a business to borrow capital from a bank than to stockpile cash itself. This was the purpose of the state banking system in the U.S. prior to the Civil War. The state-chartered banks existed to provide working capital for commercial transactions, such as stocking inventory, or for business expansion. Use of banking for these purposes was tied to specific commercial activities—the “real bills” doctrine. Of course credit used for this purpose has a cost which is factored into prices. When these loans are repaid, they are canceled at the bank which thus removes purchasing power from the economy. This is another area, besides retained corporate earnings, that contributes to the gap between prices and purchasing power identified by C.H. Douglas. But lending for commerce itself remains a legitimate activity.

2. Dubious
“The second use of banking—the dubious one—is for capital formation in the creation of new businesses, a function which overlaps with capital markets such as the stock exchanges. But this use very easily turns into lending for speculation by permitting investors to borrow money in order to buy stock on margin or to “leverage” investing by borrowing money in order to purchase whole companies. The costs of this borrowing also show up in consumer prices without introducing any new purchasing power into the system.

“This practice has mushroomed in recent decades starting with the buyout/merger/acquisition mania of the 1980s and has reached disastrous proportions through the creation and growth of equity and hedge funds. The use of bank borrowing for such speculative purposes is an obvious abuse that should not even be legal. It is actually a form of theft from the nation’s natural and normal store of credit that should be carefully administered by competent public authorities as a utility as critical to social health as the water supply.

3. Puzzling
“The third use of banking—the puzzling one—is for consumer credit. This includes borrowing for big purchases such as buying houses and automobiles, or small ones such as items bought with credit cards. Increasingly it includes purchasing even the necessities of life such groceries.

“Buying an object with a credit card often means that a person cannot afford to buy it at the present moment. So the person is gambling that he or she will be able to pay off this loan—including interest—at some point in the future. What is puzzling is that in the midst of what is claimed to be the most productive economy in the history of the world, why are most people so poor that they cannot buy what they need to live with the proceeds of their present earnings? This is the ultimate repudiation of Say’s Law and its derivatives—Libertarianism, supply-side economics, and the like.

4. Flawed
“The fourth use of banking—the one that is deeply flawed—is the financing of government inflation through purchase of public debt instruments which allow deficit financing of public activities, most particularly the waging of war. Banking for the purpose of financing war has a long pedigree, going back to the medieval times where kings were perpetually in hock to the money-lenders. Today we have the national debt, which has been used primarily for war, as well as for the Keynesian pump-priming described previously. A classic case of the use of banking for deficit financing of war is the borrowing by the federal government under the Bush/Cheney administration to raise the trillion dollars already spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's in a smile?

Remember the sense of relief you experienced when you learned that you weren't the only kid in braces who had to wear headgear at night? How that feeling of freakish un-belonging seemed to evaporate into the unexpectedly light and sunshiny air? Yes? Well, after reading about the recently released movie Teeth, that's pretty much how I'm feeling right now.

Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, learned of the age-old vagina dentata myth in a lit class taught by my very favorite cultural zeitgeist, Camille Paglia. Lichtenstein became obsessed with the notion and, over a series of years, wrote and rewrote his quirky tale. He finally made his directorial debut with Teeth at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Lead actress Jess Weixler won a Sundance Special Jury prize for her juicy and jaw-dropping performance. Ha. That fact, coupled with the knowledge that the movie escaped an NC-17 rating because studio executives felt that the movie had an important cautionary moral appropriate for teens, may be enough to lure me to Tinseltown this weekend.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Peace Art Project Cambodia

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their guns into iconic arts of peace. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
— Isaiah 2:4

Hallelujah: The power of music

Hallelujah was written by Leonard Cohen and first recorded on his 1984 album Various Positions. Since then the song has been recorded or sung by dozens of artists including Willie Nelson, k.d. Lang, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi and Bob Dylan to name a few. Bono even did a horrendous spoken version of it to honor American artist Jeff Buckley, a fan of the spoken word, shortly after his drowning death.

I've already posted Rufus Wainwright's beautiful rendition of Hallelujah from the Shrek soundtrack. But this version, sung by a regular-Joe Norwegian Idol winner and a couple friends, apparently on a coffee break, has got to be my favorite. Kurt Nilsen, a gap-toothed former plumber with a beautiful voice, was told by an Idol judge, "You sing like an angel, but you look like a Hobbit." Well, perhaps, a talented Hobbit about to go off into the Blue for a mad adventure.

These four Norwegian lads, casually called the New Guitar Buddies by the local press, embarked on what was to be a low key six-show gig, Their unexpected popularity led to an amended schedule, a 30-show tour for more than 100,000 concert goers. The Buddies then released a live album, not part of the original plan, which became the fastest-selling recording of all time in Norway.

What the hell is it about this song?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Polly put the kettle on

There is nothing more thrilling than being the wild one on the outer edge of the pack, seeing the horizon more clearly than those safely ensconced in the middle of the herd. It isn't easy being a lonely maverick, relying on animal instinct to find hidden dangers, while other more domesticated souls happily munch nuggets of truth dispensed by politicians and mainstream media. But someone has to lead the way.

I thought I'd found an opportunity to indulge my inner maverick. I had high hopes that the Three Cups of Tea avalanche was hiding lots of neocon propaganda, a pitiful campaign to convince those of us with bleeding hearts that, indeed, our government is engaged in noble warfare against terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the training ground for Islamic fundamentalists determined to wipe out Western culture. After all, who would know the terrorist's heart better than Greg Mortenson who has spent much of the past fifteen years in remote Himalayan villages developing relationships with local leaders and gaining an understanding of these tribal cultures?

Well, I'm disappointed to admit that, after finishing the book, I am smack in the middle of the Mortenson love fest. Other than forgetfulness, disorganization and a chronic lack of punctuality, I can find no fault with this man (I feel like Pontius Pilate). After the 9/11 attacks, the book gets a whole lot better. The writing, literally painful to read in the first half, begins to flow in such a way that you are not constantly mindful of the fact that you are reading.

Political intrigue, physical danger, unflinching bravery, and an uncanny ability to discern the good guys from the bad guys--always in pursuit of his mission of educating the rural poor--does make Mortenson seem larger than life. So much so that co-author David Oliver Relin stops mentioning his physical stature in every paragraph.

The complexity of tribal societies makes for interesting reading. Puppet governments in big cities have no standing in remote mountain villages. Tribal councils and religious leaders in Iran interpret and enforce the law. Mortenson makes an interesting distinction between warlords who take tariffs from opium smugglers to create private militias and commandhan who plow the profits into the people's welfare. One bad, the other good. He makes few moral judgments of the mountain people and their ways, poppy production included. He saves his scathing indictments for the US government and its minions, and seemingly refuses to cooperate or be used by them in any way.

I hope I can find a front row seat tonight and catch Mortenson's eye. I want to give him the oft-sought-but-ever-elusive Mango wink of approval. Some maverick, she.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Not my three cups of tea

I remember a time, not so long ago really, perhaps last month, when I was blissfully unaware of a wayward mountaineer named Greg Mortenson. After nearly reaching the summit of K2, and having lost his porter and his way on the descent, he limped, hungry and cold, into a tiny town in northeast Pakistan called Korphe. After several days spent recovering from his misadventure, Greg Mortenson stumbled from the village leader’s hut into the rarefied Himalayan air.

I am only halfway through the book Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time which attempts to tell of Mortenson’s journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan, and his quest to build schools for impoverished children. A brave and noble mission no doubt.

I must say, however, that the book is the most poorly written of any I’ve read since my Fabio days. I imagine Mortenson’s adventure was dangerous and thrilling, likely rivaling fellow climber Jon Krakauer’s Everest adventure. Krakauer’s tale was a positively riveting account of the experience, and Into Thin Air remains one of my all-time favorite adventure stories. Three Cups of Tea, on the other hand, well, sucks. I say this not to be unkind, but because I am wondering how on earth it ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.

Here is but a small sample of the creamy pablum co-author David Oliver Relin dishes out:

…Why couldn’t the flag of crescent and star lead these children such a small distance toward “progress and perfection”?

After the last note of the anthem had faded, the children sat in a neat circle and began copying their multiplication tables. Most scratched in the dirt with sticks they’d brought for that purpose. The more fortunate…had slate boards they wrote on with sticks dipped in a mixture of mud and water. “Can you imagine a fourth-grade class in America, alone, without a teacher, sitting there quietly and working on their lessons?” Mortenson asks. “I felt like my heart was being torn out. There was a fierceness in their desire to learn, despite how mightily everything was stacked against them….I knew I had to do something.”

That something became a big something, and Greg Mortenson will share his story at Shove Chapel on January 15.

In Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson, besides being of impressive stature, a point made on every page of the book, is portrayed as little more than a socially stunted somewhat incompetent drifter. So how did this guy, who couldn’t find a decent ghost writer, suddenly become a master of self-promotion? A book tour, magazine covers, even promotional materials sent home in my child’s school backpack. It’s pretty amazing.

I am, as I said, only halfway through the book but I’ve not read anything about Mortenson’s mission of peace. Korphe’s village leader confided to him that, although he ran his fingers reverently over its pages, he couldn’t actually read his treasured Koran, and did not wish the same terrible fate on his children. Mortenson’s mission appears one of education and literacy. I found a copy of the book with a previous title, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations…One School at a Time. Vanquishing terrorism and nation building are the pet projects of neocons, aren’t they? I guess peace is easier to market.

A final note. Greg Mortenson’s lecture at Shove Chapel is sponsored by the UCCS Center for Homeland Security. I really don’t get the connection. I feel like this guy is an unwitting pawn in some greater game. What that game is I don’t know. So I’ll finish the book, go to the lecture, and see if I can connect the dots.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A kernel of un-truth

If you've met me, even for five minutes, you know that I hate the US food industry with great gusto. Every single day, though I try very hard not to, I read something about the obesity epidemic and the alarming rates of depression, anxiety, ADHD, heart disease, diabetes, cancer. The list of woes goes on ad fricking infinitum.

Before I rip on the government, who should be watching over the food industry to ensure that our food supply is safe and nutritious, but most assuredly isn't, not only because they are fascist bastards who love corporate goodies, but also because they are fucking idiots who know absolutely nothing about health or nutrition....breathe.....before I rip on them, let me say that the joke known as the food pyramid has actually, finally, been revised a tiny bit in the right direction. Still, the pyramid only addresses the quantities of food that should be consumed and doesn't speak a word about nutrition, so it's still pretty worthless.

What do you think of when you hear the word enrich? Does it conjure up images of a living thing, mangled and dissected until nothing of value remains? Do you picture a skeletal carcass, picked clean by vultures and bleached in the desert sun until it is devoid of not only life, but color as well? If somehow it fell upon you to enrich the poor dead thing, what would you do? Dress it up in fancy clothes? A nice hat? Maybe even googly eyes?

Do you know why the food industy is so good as to enrich wheat flour, after they've milled it, discarded the nutritious parts, and bleached any remaining life out of it? And why they then throw worthless synthetic vitamins in the coffin? Guilt offerings perhaps. But more likely its because they have to for their bleached white flour to be considered, get this, FOOD.

I'll cut right to my point. A kernel of wheat, or a wheat berry, is a living thing, a seed. It consists of three separate parts: the bran, the germ and the inner core, the endosperm. A kernel of wheat contains over 30 different nutrients, dispersed throughout the component parts, and is the primary food source for most of the world. In the US, instead of acting as our nutritional savior, as the good Lord intended, most wheat isn't even food.

But I don't buy bleached flour! I buy stone ground whole wheat products!
Sorry to tell you but once a kernel of wheat has been milled, even if it is not subjected to the atrocities committed on its less fortunate counterparts, it is still nearly worthless, possessing only 10% of all vitamins, minerals and trace elements found in a wheat berry. As soon as wheat is ground it begins to oxidize. Within 24 hours, most nutrients have dissipated into the atmosphere, and spoilage sets in soon after. Freshly-milled, highly-nutritious whole wheat flour has almost NO shelf life. Which is why the food industry spends so much time and money on our eventual enrichment.

My poor kids have suffered for years under my ruthless hatred of American flour. They are the physically fit, calm and well-behaved little souls who forlornly peel their Clementines while cruel classmates taunt them with flour-y treats. They are the oddballs, the misfits, the outcasts. At least they used to be.

Now I buy hard red wheat kernels at Mountain Mamas for $.67/lb. I grind the flour in my handy Nutri-mill (For purposes of full disclosure, this runs about $250. I've had mine for 10 years, no trouble). Within minutes, I use the freshly-ground flour to make cinnamon rolls, muffins, cookies, waffles and other delicacies. My kids are popular again and, almost more importantly, stuffed full of 30 vital nutrients. They have good physical health and energy, good mental health, stable moods. It's a happy place, this home.

If you do one thing this year to improve your life, grind your own flour and learn to bake a few things. And never ever ever believe that the US food suppliers, or the US government, cares one iota about your health and well-being.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Epiphany

Don't expect to receive any chatty phone calls from your divorce attorney friends this week. Every year, during the first full week of January, divorce petitions are filed at a level nearly 50% higher than any other week.

The week of the Epiphany.

It seems that long-held resentment, simmering tensions, and excruciating days of holiday togetherness can unravel the threads holding a shaky marriage together. The sheer exhaustion that comes from seemingly endless holiday tasks, cooking and cleaning and shopping and baking and wrapping, can blunt well-honed coping skills. But the worst must be the grinning and greeting, the extended family and the mounds of baggage they bring, and the expectation that the wife perform for days on end wearing a tight bright holiday smile. It's enough to make an unhappily married woman resolve to make a change. 2008 is going to be a better year.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Walden Pond is goin' green

This year I've resolved to be a better Earth citizen. Last night I watched The Story of Stuff. It's a digital video making its way around the internet and it elucidates clearly the materials economy, from natural resource inputs to consumer consumption and, finally, to waste landfills and garbage incinerators. It is truly disheartening to see what we are doing to the planet. There is no question that things better change, and soon. The earth can't sustain our never-ending demands much longer.

Today I read that 13% of home energy bills go toward heating water. To make some headway on our resolution to be eco-conscientious, I presented a couple of options to my kids. We could commit to taking shorter and cooler showers. Or we could economize in the way my mother did while my dad was in Viet Nam and she was left home alone to care for 5 young children.

My daughter just came upstairs, post shower, with blue lips and goosebumps galore. I think I have my answer.


The power of imagination


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ancient Costa Rica for sale

The kids are still on Christmas break and are starting to show definite signs of cabin fever. To stave off a domestic implosion, we took a trip up to the Denver Art Museum yesterday. The DAM recently opened a spectacular addition designed by Daniel Libeskind, the architect whose design was chosen to rebuild the World Trade Center site. But I had an ulterior motive. I'd recently read about the DAMs 16,000-piece assemblage of pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art, including one of the world's largest collections of Costa Rican artifacts, nearly 2,000 items, donated to the museum by Denver businessman, Frederick Mayer, and his wife. I wanted to check it out.

My Eric and I are planning a visit Costa Rica. Although not much is known about pre-Columbian Costa Rica in comparison to the high cultures of Mexico and South America, recent excavations have uncovered numerous artifacts, including jade carvings. Jade is green and pretty and shiny, perfect for an art lover of my caliber, so I wanted to see it for myself. Call it a bit of research before hitting the craft markets in Sarchi!

Sure enough, we lost ourselves in a huge room filled with thousands of artifacts. Stone, ceramic, textiles, gold and, oh yes, jade. After an hour or so, we'd barely made a dent in the pre-Columbian collection. Vowing a subsequent visit to the Spanish Colonial galleries, we left to collect the kids before their art experience became Night-mare at the Museum.

As always, looking at ancient artifacts leads me into lofty reverie of past worlds and bare-chested warriors. But this time I couldn't help but wonder about Jan and Frederick Mayer as well. Certainly amazement and appreciation for their commitment to art and to philanthropy. But really, how on earth had one couple managed to collect this much art from a small Central American country? And why aren't many of the beautiful pieces residing in Costa Rica, teaching and providing inspiration to Costa Ricans? Especially because Costa Rican pre-Columbian history is not nearly as well-documented as that of its neighbors.

Costa Rica has taken significant measures to protect its natural environment from exploitation. Nearly 20% of the land is set aside for preserves, parks or refuges of some sort. But after my trip to the Denver Art Museum, I'm thinking that perhaps Costa Rica should endeavor to protect other national treasures, especially art created at the hands of largely unknown ancestors, from passionate and well-meaning American oilmen.

I will visit the museums in San Jose and let you know how they measure up against the breathtaking Denver Art Museum, with its encyclopedic collection of pre-Columbian Costa Rican artifacts--and hopefully return with a few shiny jade replicas of my own!


Thursday, January 3, 2008

A message from Michael Moore

In judging the crop of presidential candidates, who has time to visit every political blog and read the hundreds of analyses put forth daily by credible opinionators? I become overloaded in election years trying divine truth from political rhetoric. Thus, I welcome help, in the form of intelligent research and analysis, when making my decision.
Who better than consummate bullshit sniffer Michael Moore to do the legwork for lazy disinterested voters like me?
I have to admit, that for purely shallow reasons, I might take an interest in politics were he elected.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Lysol toilet bowl game

You probably know that I'm a big sports fan. I grew up watching football with my dad and cut my teeth on the traditions, the rivalries, the pageantry of college football. Some of my fondest memories are of college bowl games that were played during the holiday season. Bowl games presented matchups that were not seen in the regular season. From the weary television console came team histories, funny mascots, famous coaches, bright college colors, and excited pennant-waving crowds. It seemed to me that life came to a halt while the entire world focused on football for a few days.

The Tournament of Roses game, now known as the Rose Bowl, started in 1902. It was a classic East-West battle, and was the only bowl game held outside of the South until 1971. Paired with the beautiful early morning parade, it has been part of every New Year's Day that I can remember.

In 1933, the first Orange Bowl game was played. Its purpose was to draw attention to the unknown city of Miami and help build a tourism
industry. Next came the Sugar Bowl (1935, New Orleans), the Sun Bowl (1936, El Paso), the Cotton Bowl (1937, Dallas), and the Gator Bowl (1946, Jacksonville).

The associations behind these bowl games had altruistic beginnings. Most benefited charities, many which were recently formed to help people in the wake of the Great Depression. Today they still have 501(c)(3) status but their exempt purpose is fuzzier, bringing economic impact to a particular area. Most current bowls continue to donate a large portion of revenue to worthy causes. For example, the Gator Bowl gives 75% of game revenue to support educational pursuits in Jacksonville. Of course they do, and I'm sure the money is put to good use. But if hard truth be told, I'll bet that much of the money given to charity is a payout to preserve their nonprofit status, to keep the IRS at bay.

The late 1950s saw a proliferation of new bowl games hoping to make money from television coverage. The first bowl game to sell corporate naming rights was the US F&G Sugar Bowl in 1988. The move generated an adverse reaction from the public. No matter, it has now become commonplace. I personally loathe each and every corporation that co-opts tradition in the name of profit. Naming rights are even sold for half-time reports. The most memorable was an attempt to reach out to female viewers, the Stayfree Maxi-pad Half-time Report. At least that one made me laugh. I can't say the same for my dad who quickly left to stir the chili.

I suppose I should be more understanding. With competition from the new bandwagon bowl games, which offer team payouts in the millions, the old timers have to play by the same rules. After all, bowls can't make money if the teams don't show up. And the impoverished state-sponsored universities aren't willing to be pawns in someone else's money-maker.

As with so many of our cherished cultural traditions, all has been reduced to greed. Corporate greed, state-supported university greed, individual greed. Players in the past chose universities to which they had personal connection. Now players are recruited from all over the country for their athletic ability alone. Avoiding academic probation is the definition of educational success. Players don't matter, but they don't care. They'll pump up on steroids hoping to be noticed by NFL recruiters. Graduation rates don't matter to either side, unless the numbers drop so low that the NCAA takes notice. Then arrangements with willing professors are made. Anything to advance the team.

Money is the root of all evil. I don't think so. Money can do much good as the original intent of college bowl series illustrates. The Lockheed Martin Holy Bible actually says that the love of money is the root of all evil. The perversion of college bowls is but a small and insignificant example of what's become a global truth.

The names have been changed to expose the guilty:
Rose Bowl presented by Citi
FedEx Orange Bowl
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Brut Sun Bowl
AT & T Cotton Bowl
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Capital One Bowl (formerly the Citrus Bowl)