Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella (if you're not too pissed)

It's pouring today. I needed a few things from the neighborhood grocery and besides I look for opportunities to wear my rubber rain boots, which I love. Flip decided to go with me (since I have such cool boots) and we headed out with umbrellas.

The store had its umbrella pail next to the door. "I'm not falling for that again," I commented. "The last time I did, someone stole my umbrella."

The manager happened to be walking by and said, "I remember that. It was returned the next day."

He went to his special hiding place and produced three umbrellas, a green one and two black ones, one of which was mine!

I couldn't believe it.

"I decided to leave the bucket out for a few more days in case it rained again," he said. "It was down in the bottom."

"It wasn't there when I left the store that night," I said.

"I know. I looked, too, after I heard what happened. They sneaked it in there after the rain stopped." He shook his head in disbelief.

I guess the person who stole it believes that she isn't really a thief because she brought it back. The fact that she deprived its owner of something when it was needed seems to carry no weight. I really don't understand such reasoning, but I'm happy to have my umbrella back. It's much nicer than the one I bought to replace it.

"We're coming up in the world," I told Flip. "We're a three-umbrella family now."

Monday, November 24, 2008

An apple a day can kill you

I bit into an organic Macintosh apple and immediately, a piece of peel got lodged in my throat, causing me to choke, wheeze and turn blue.

"Heimlich maneuver," I gasped to Flip and turned my back.

He put his arms around me and I tried to cough it up. It was clear he didn't know how to do one, so I quickly looked it up online. While choking. Luckily I can type fast. It could save my life someday, assuming I live through this one.

Step 1: The directions said to ask the choking person to stand if he or she is sitting. (Check.)

Step 2: Place yourself slightly behind the standing victim. (Check.)

Step 3: Reassure the victim that you know the Heimlich maneuver and are going to help. (We can skip this one. I know better but my options are limited.)

Step 4: Place your arms around the victim's waist. (No, not like that. You're saving my life -- it's different. Cough, cough.)

Step 5: Make a fist with one hand and place your thumb toward the victim, just above his or her belly button. (Didn't go so well. First I had to roll down my sweat pants to find my belly button, not the C-section indentation that resembles it. I kept trying to force his hand into a fist and he kept opening it.)

Step 6: Grab your fist with your other hand. (I grabbed his other hand and tried to grasp his fist with it. He resisted. In fact, he was beginning to get angry and told me to drink some water. That's his cure for everything. I was afraid it would lodge the apple peel further down my esophagus. Coughed some more, unproductively.)

Step 7: Deliver five upward squeeze-thrusts into the abdomen. (The angle was wrong. Flip is very tall. I am not. I wondered if these directions actually help anyone who really needs them.)

Step 8: Make each squeeze-thrust strong enough to dislodge a foreign body. (Right. We don't even dance well together. See above. I said, "Forget it" and tried to give myself a Heimlich Maneuver. It can't be done.)

At this point, I gave up and began looking for the bright light to go into, which seemed imminent.

There is more.

Step 9: Understand that your thrusts make the diaphragm move air out of the victim's lungs, creating a kind of artificial cough. (I'm still coughing. Nothing is being dislodged, though.)

Step 10: Keep a firm grip on the victim, since he or she can lose consciousness and fall to the ground if the Heimlich maneuver is not effective. (Get away from me, loser. I'm choking here.)

Step 11: Repeat the Heimlich maneuver until the foreign body is expelled. (Heimlich can kiss my ass. I should have used this time to make my Will instead.)

Checking further, there are instructions for doing it to yourself by leaning over a chair and driving your fist towards yourself with an upward thrust. This sounds a lot like Hara-kiri for Dummies. It didn't work either. Impressive bruises, though.

Flip suggested I make an appointment tomorrow to see the doctor. I'll get right on it.

The Least We Can Do

No matter how we feel about the war in Iraq, we should not forget the men and women who are serving there.

The Xerox Corporation has offered to print thank you cards and send them to American soldiers currently serving in Iraq.

All the cards were designed by American school children.

If you go to this web site, you can pick out a card and it will be sent overseas. You cannot choose who gets it, but it will go to a member of the armed services. You can either select a pre-written message or write your own.

It is free and only takes a second.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The TV Gods Are Messing With Me

Akkkkk!!! Cover my eyes! I can't stand her, yet I stare in fascination the way a mouse observes its feline assassin.

If one watches TV at all, it has become impossible to avoid commercials for "The Starter Wife," starring Debra Messing. They feature her mugging incessantly as it seems the woman is incapable of even drinking through a straw without putting her face into overdrive. She is like the old time silent movie heroines whose expressions had to be exaggerated because there was no soundtrack.

In one commercial, she says "Yeehaw" as the rest of the cast ogles her adoringly. I have lived in the South. You can't fool me. That is the most insincere "Yeehaw" I have ever heard.

I will never, ever watch the show because through endless commercials, I have already seen her entire repertoire of facial expressions and they make me want to smack her. Her Hamminess struts around acting larger than life while I cast about for things to throw at my TV screen.

I read the plot synopsis online. Her character has everything anyone could ever hope for, according to the writers: Marriage to a successful Hollywood producer, a fabulously decorated McMansion, rich friends, and best of all, whenever she enters a restaurant she gets the best table because she is the Wife Of someone powerful and famous.

Then he divorces her and none of her friends will speak to her, party invitations become non-existent and worst of all, she no longer gets the best tables because she is now (gasp) only a Starter Wife.

Oh, gawd.

Anything but that.

Speak of hell on earth.

That is so unbelievably sad.

The sub-plot may well be the shallowness of life in the movie world, but the message is probably lost as the lead character exercises every one of the 98 facial muscles which humans possess.

I am a live-and-let-live kind of person, so I really detest having something shoved down my throat. Yet every commercial break, there she is, sometimes twice, mugging and whining.

"You're ruining my life!" she wails in one of them while waving her arms ineffectually for extra drama.

Ms. Messing's features are most attractive in repose, but I suspect that she even makes faces in her sleep. If my mother were living, she would doubtless tell her, "Your face is going to freeze like that."

She is even more cloyingly adorable than Tina Fey's Sarah Palin.

They need to call a moratorium on Debra Messing. My critical mass has been reached. The whole gag-inducing cyclorama should be put out of my misery. Now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh, Come All Ye Spendful

I am already tired of Christmas. The commercialization of it has always offended me and it gets worse every year. This year, store decorations were up before Halloween, totally skipping Thanksgiving while going straight for the jugular, our wallets.

When I was young there was a rhythm to the year, bounded by holidays. Each one was given its due, and it was reliable. Even if one didn't especially enjoy a holiday itself, there was comfort in the orderliness of it.

Mercantile greed has done away with all special occasions that do not bear fruit which means that Christmas has taken on the enormous task of keeping the economy afloat while assuaging all the guilt we have accumulated during the year. Treat someone badly? No problem. Give a nice present and all will be forgiven.

Lest I be confused with Scrooge, let me say that I love giving presents to my near and dear. Where they are concerned, it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, although the receiving ain't half bad either.

But I prefer to give presents when the urge hits me, when I see something that screams the name of one of my loved ones. This joyful experience doesn't necessarily occur in the weeks immediately preceding December 25th, however. And watching people shop aggressively with grim determination is not conducive to spreading holiday cheer in my heart.

The custom of gift-giving originated with the Pagans thousands of years before Jesus was born. In fact, his inclusion in celebrations of the winter solstice, when the sun is farthest from the equator, did not occur until long after his death. Even his "birth date" was arbitrarily assigned by the pope in AD 320 because Mithraism, an early folk religion, marked the birth of Mithras, the Persian sun god, on December 25th. It was easier to convert people by keeping things as familiar as possible.

I am not a Christian, but I endorse the Christian plea to "Keep Christ in Christmas" because it is an anti-commerce sentiment. In this context, "Christ" should be loosely interpreted as giving meaningfully of ourselves to others, no matter what our religious beliefs or lack of them, because in caring service lies our true freedom. Helping or forgiving someone is a gift which costs nothing and which also brings the greatest return.

And then there is mistletoe, which the ancient Druids considered a divine plant, symbolizing love and peace. Kissing is pretty divine, too, so let's Keep the Kiss in Christmas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Save the Kiribatis

The President of the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati has outlined an unprecedented plan that would scatter his people throughout the nations of the world before rising sea levels submerge the islands they have called home for centuries.

Kiribati was first settled by early Austronesian-speaking peoples before the 1st century A.D. Fijians and Tongans arrived around the 14th century and merged with the older groups to form a unique Micronesian culture.

President Anote Tong said that the sea level rise over the next century predicted by scientists would submerge much of the land on which they live while salinization of ground water would make even more of it uninhabitable.

Kiribati is made up of 33 islands, mostly coral atolls, that straddle the equator in the vast South Pacific Ocean.

"Most islands are so narrow that if you stand on the ocean side and shout, people on the lagoon side will hear you," he said.

In 1995, Kiribati moved the international date line to the east so it would be the first country to welcome the dawn of the Third Millennium on Jan. 1, 2000. In 1999, the tiny nation gained UN membership.

Kiribati faces oblivion because of climate change. Tong's plan to relocate 100,000 people was born of his realization that the situation is urgent. Unusual natural events such as higher tides, coral bleaching and a recent 12-month drought have already been observed by residents of the island chain.

Although Kiribati is one of the world's lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, it will be one of the first areas to feel the effects of changes caused by industrialized nations. President Tong is frustrated that those nations are interested only in the economic impact of curbing global warming. If scientists are right, his country faces a humanitarian crisis and the world refuses to notice.

"While it may be a matter of economics for some of you, for us it's not economics; it's a matter of survival," he said.

Though it may be too late to head off the sea level rise that would spell disaster for Kiribati, Tong urged other nations to take preventive measures. Kiribati has created the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a California-sized ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs, underwater mountains and fish populations threatened by over-fishing and climate change. PIPA conserves one of the Earth's last intact oceanic ecosystems in a nearly uninhabited region of abundant marine and bird life.

"This is our contribution to humanity. We are waiting for a contribution from any country of a piece of land so we can move to it," Tong said.

He knows that this is unlikely to happen, and that anger won't help the situation. His plan provides for groups of Kiribati citizens, perhaps 1,000 per year, to receive job training and seek skilled jobs in other countries. They would form a dispersed resource that others could turn to as the environmental situation worsens at home. Job training is important because it would allow the dispersal to occur with as much dignity as possible so that his people will not become environmental refugees.

Implementation of his plan has already begun with small groups of nurses moving to Australia and New Zealand for further training.

"Hopefully, our people will spread out so that when the time comes they will assist with the integration of the rest of the people into their communities, and also make it easier on the host countries."

I think of the many people in our own country displaced by Hurricane Katrina who became environmental refugees in one day while the world refused to notice. And I think of President Tong and his people knowing that their beloved home for thousands of years will one day lie under the ocean, their culture extinct as they try to assimilate into the diaspora of nations.

It seems that we are constantly given opportunities to help each other and to heal the earth while we respond with indifference and weak economic excuses.

I know it's naive and unrealistic, but I don't believe that any society should advance at such enormous cost to others. The industrialization of one nation should not be allowed to spell doom for another. I fail to see why scientists cannot find ways to stem climate change. If we have the technology to bring about such drastic conditions, we possess the ability to reverse them.

As self-appointed stewards of the earth, we need to make a serious commitment to protect, nurture and repair it. Now. There is no more time to waste.

The waters are rising and we are our only life boat.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Reflections on the Voting Booth

I've been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. today. And his dream.

I was a Civil Rights worker in the 60's, going door-to-door in Harlem, NY, registering people to vote who had never voted before.

Many invited me into their homes. I remember one elderly woman named Addie whose tiny apartment was poor but immaculate. A vase of plastic flowers adorned the checkered red and white oilcloth-covered kitchen table where she gave me ginger snaps and tea. On her wall was a picture of President Kennedy, right next to Jesus.

Her voice was so soft that I had to lean in to hear her. She spoke with quiet passion of her slave ancestors who managed to keep hope alive under circumstances most of us cannot imagine. And she agreed to vote so that her children's children could have a better life.

I attended the March on Washington on August 26, 1963 with my two-month old daughter in my arms along with about 250,000 other people. It was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital.

1963 was a time of racial unrest and civil rights demonstrations. The police in Birmingham, Alabama, had turned attack dogs and fire hoses against protesters, many of whom were children. Dr. King was arrested and jailed during these protests and wrote his famous "Letter From Birmingham City Jail," which advocated civil disobedience against unjust laws.

A Civil Rights Act was stalled in Congress.

The purpose of the march was the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, elimination of racial segregation in public schools, protection for demonstrators against police brutality, a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2/hour minimum wage and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.

The heavy police presence turned out to be unnecessary as the march was noted for its civility and peacefulness.

Today, a part of Dr. King's dream which became the dream of so many of us over far too many years, will be fulfilled.

Even the weather cooperated in San Francisco as sunny blue skies replaced nearly a week of heavy rain. I realized that I was smiling the whole time I waited at my polling place.

I strongly support Barack Obama and believe he will win, but the democratic process is more important even than any individual candidate. I am mindful of the fact that in many countries, citizens do not have the right to determine their own government.

Obama's victory would represent for me as for many others the coming full circle of America, a black President in my lifetime which has included seeing black people denied their right to vote. His candidacy has already performed a feat even more remarkable than the first airplane, piloted by Chuck Yeager, to break the sound barrier, traveling faster than the speed of sound.

There is no barrier quite as hard to penetrate as bigotry.

Long ago, on that historic day in Washington DC, Dr. King concluded his electric speech with these words: "And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"

I hope and pray that today is that day.