Saturday, March 22, 2008

Birds Need Ecologially Sound Gardening

Puzzled about how to shift our lifestyles (note the presumption of choice that we have in the early 21st century, versus the contingent reality of millenia of human life) from anti-life to pro-(no, not falling into that trap) environment?

I am burning with realizations that all around us we can make changes. The big question is how?

Here's a start for gardening: Douglas Tallamy has pushed the frontier by linking native plant species to the kinds of insects that survive on those plants to the birds and beasts that we love to watch.

You can read or order his book, but here's a clip from a radio interview that says it all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Finally, Anti War Demonstrations that Do The Job!

When I walked out of my office building this afternoon to get lunch, I landed right in the middle of this anti-war demonstration, coming straight down K Street, NW.

My heart leapt, I nearly cried with the joy of seeing kids taking up banners and placards -- and later on, their bodies -- to protest the obscene war we wage against . . . who knows anymore? McCain sure doesn't know, and he;s supposed to know. And Bush is so simple minded that we only know that it's against the bogeymen. I guess it's against terrorists, people who are so blown away by American blindness (as well as their own stunted sense of how to lead an effective life) that they strap bombs on themselves and detonate them in crowds of mothers and children and babies and fathers and lovers and shoppers. And kill a lot of people.

It was pouring rain, but that didn't dim the energy and dedication of these youngsters, who have got it right.

Later, when I ran into my friend and colleague, Amina Khan, and we plunged into the intersection of Connecticut and K Streets, the heart of Washington DC's most traffic'd zone, where the kids had chained themselves in a big circle and heavily drummed dance music (if you can call it music, it sounds more like the roars of motorcycle platoons to these ancient ears), we talked a bit with the cops lined up facing the demonstrators. One cop was taking it all seriously and screaming about the billions of dollars this whole thing was costing, forgetting, of course, the billion billions we are pumping into Iraq. Other cops said they were the friendly face of DC police, nice neighbors. The plan was to let the cold and the rain disperse the marchers, not attack, not try to break it all up.

One young woman -- who had a Masters in public policy but who thought she could change people more by teaching yoga and meditation at the Ronald Reagan Building with its banks of government offices -- who took refuge under Amina's umbrella, had her first demonstration against the Ku Klux Klan. Amina was demonstrating against aparthied. And I of course showed my age by recounting the demonstrations against the draft busses entering the Oakland Induction Center, against the Viet Nam war. So long ago.

The display of police power was chilling. They may have been jovial fellows, for the most part, but the massing of motorcycles and cop cars, all with lights flashing, enhanced by the rain on the pavement, was scary.

Why do we need to have so much firepower against our own children, who happen to disagree with some of their parents? Too much money into police power and not enough into education, health care, environmental protection. Where are this nation's priorities?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Third Phase of Our Lives

The most important thing is to try and enjoy life—because you never know when it will be gone. If you wake up in the morning and you have a choice between doing the laundry and taking a walk in the park, go for the walk. You’d hate to die and realize you had spent your last day doing the laundry!

—Christine Lee, 67

Wise Women -- a book of photographs by Joyce Tenneson -- is a celebration of the power and beauty of women in the third phase of their lives. These remarkable women from all walks of life were eager to show what it means to be an elder in this new millennium.

Wise Women was the best selling photography book of 2002.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eat Locally, Eat Sustainably, Where oh Where?

Switching from tobacco farming to organic farming, sounds great, down in Southwestern Virginia.

I feel like a little girl looking into the window of a fabulous store filled with dazzling delights. But, have a very hard time getting in.

Living in the Washington urbia of Alexandria Va (which when I lived in New York City I thought of as being virtually on the shores of the Mississippi), I would have to travel umpty ump miles to get to a "local" farm from which to buy fresh vegetables and grass grazed chicken or beef or pork.

Yes, we have our "oldest open market" in the country every Saturday, but many vegetables aren't organic and the meat is frozen solid. Wonderful in many ways, but where are the chickens running around? And the goats looking expectantly?

It's a quandary. Not totally hopeless, but when the tobacco fields of Fairfax County have not stopped at Go, but have gone directly to McMansion development, it's harder.

Perhaps the Washington Post should do a Weekend section on all of the organic farms within 60 miles of DC? Yes, they come to us but it would be great fun to go to them, and good for you too.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why Stanley Fish Writes Columns in the N Y Times

Stanley Fish wrote his column this morning to explain why he writes his invariably interesting and thought provoking columns. His core message was that he writes to look at an issue in a logical or analytical way, and not to put forward his opinions, or even any opinion at all.

Much of the column was devoted to foiling critics who accuse him of being pro this and anti that and excoriating him for being so obviously wrongheaded to try to look like he didn't have an opinion when in fact his agenda was as clear as a case of measles on a kid's face.

It is a thoughtful, taughtly and elegantly written column. I actually recommend it because it points to a more dispassionate way of at least starting down a path to looking at the building block that could form an opinion about something. And has had me thinking all day.

So, I also post my own comment to his column, from this morning. My contribution to trying to think clearly.

March 10th,
9:53 am

Leaping to judgment is something we humans invariably do before we actually think about something. It is a hard habit to observe in the doing, much less to curb it long enough to actually think logically and coherently about something in order to do a 360 degree look around before we leap.

My question is where in the scheme of things does Dr. Fish square his views with the biopsychologists’ discovery that the human brain functions more as a justifier than as a decisionmaker. That is, action precedes thought; thought describes what we just did, not the reverse, contrary to millenia of belief in our rationality (or attempts at it). In fact, I barely knew what I was going to write before I wrote it, or that I would feel compelled to write something at all.

Yes, mathematics is not an emotionally driven descriptive scheme; logic, presumably, is also not rooted in gut reactions. Perhaps logic, science, clear-eyed analysis are the evolutionary steps of mental evolution from a carbon dioxide to oxygen dominated world, the stromatolites of the human mind.

— Posted by Christina Forbes

Sunday, March 9, 2008

My religion is nature

Oliver Sacks, protean man that he is, had some gems in the Sunday New York Times. Actually, fossils, thoughts about fossils and other gem-like thoughts. This post is cribbed shamelessly from an interview by David Colman.

Sacks collects fossils, and he has a slice of fossilized stromatolite, one of earth's earliest life forms. It dates from the Archean era, more that 3 billion years ago. Long thought extinct, a colony was discovered still alive in Shark Bay in Western Australia.

Stromatolites are made up of large colonies of bacteria, blue-green algae and sedimentary deposits. Stromatolites are thought to have converted the abundant carbon dioxide of early earth's Archean-era atmosphere into oxygen. “Over the years, they made enough oxygen to make life possible for the rest of us,” he said. The stromatolite is the fossil in the middle.

“I am horrified by transience,” Sacks told Colman. “If you’re religious, you can believe in the eternal. For me, the next best thing is the enduring.”

Sacks said he came to the natural sciences as a refuge from a chaotic boyhood. He cherishes these sciences when their integrity is under attack by religious fundamentalists.

“My religion is nature,” he said. “That’s what arouses those feelings of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.”

Sacks also loves ferns and cycads, believing that plants that make a garish show of their sex organs — what we call flowers — are perhaps a bit vulgar. “I feel that flowers are Johnny-come-latelies,” he said, noting that ferns predated flowering plants by more than 200 million years.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Go Hillary Go: Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island!

Hillary drives the roller coaster. Go girl go!

I still like Barak a lot, but she's turned the tide on him. Which is strategically important, either way. He needs to be toughened up if he is to fight McCain, and she needs to be very tough to fight McCain. The Dems, as Karl Rove said and I have been thinking for weeks, will stay on page one with their titanic struggle between two of the most qualified and brilliant candidates we have seen in decades while McCain will fall to page 8. Not that everyone reads the newspapers, but it's as good a barometer as any on public attention. Just add up the numbers of voters who turn out for the Republican primaries versus the Democratic ones. Astounding difference in favor of the Dems two to one.

Keep the long term in mind. It's security and the economy. She has the right mantra now: national security and economic security. And she's turned the tide on "hope." "Let's turn hope into reality!"

How exciting!

Two Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

She is my favorite poet for the last several years. Here are two of them:

Instant Living

Instant living.
Unreahearsed performance
Untried-on body.
A thoughtless head.

I am ignorant of the role I perform
All I know is it's mine, can't be exchanged.

What the play is about
I must guess promptly on stage.

Poorly prepared for the honour of living
I find the imposed speed of action hard to bear.
I improvise though I loath improvising.
At each step I trip over my ignorance.
My way of life smacks of the provincial.
My instincts are amateurish.
The stage-fright that is my excuse only humiliates me more.
Mitigating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and gestures that cannot be retracted,
stars not counted to the end,
my character like a coat I button up running ---
this is the sorry outcome of such haste.

If only one could practice at least one Wednesday,
repeat a Thursday!
But now Friday's already approaching with a script I don't know.

Is this right? -- I ask
(in a rasping voice
since they don't even let me clear my throat in the wings.)

You're deluded if you think it's only a simple exam
set in a makeshift office. No.
I stand among the stage-sets and see they're solid.
I am struck by the precision of all the props.
The revolving stage's been turning for quite some time.
Even the furthest nebulae are switched on.
Oh, I have no doubt this is the opening night.
And whatever I'll do
will turn for ever into what I have done.

Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski from her collection, People on a Bridge.


Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word "woods."

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

trans.: Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

And, a link to her Nobel lecture.
Nobel for Literature, 1996.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What Jeanne Steig's Husband Saw

William Steig's drawings always seemed to plumb the depths of the soul. I kept this drawing for nearly five years. And now I have something I can do with it besides look at it every six months as it gained the dust and newspaper yellowing of age on my shelf. Never put away, always ready to be pulled down, in case I could share it with someone.

Jeanne Steig wrote then, right after his death, "Bill frequently drew men thinking. They were often leaning on rocks and their thoughts were somber thoughts. This drawing is a happy combination of rock and man, with a few leftover heads for good measure. Or are all three of them just rising up from the ground, over the horizon, already grim about what they might be letting themselves in for?"

Follow the link. She writes in as lovely a way as he drew. But the linked article doesn't have the drawing any more. It was sandwiched on the Op-Ed page, between Nicholas Kristof's "Secrets of the Scandal" about the Valerie Plame leak, on the left, and David Brooks, on the right, "Bigger than the Nobel" lamenting that Pope John Paul II would never receive a Nobel Peace Prize, even though Brooks quoted the Pope as saying, "the evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverizaion, of the fundamental uniqueness in each person."

I am still going to keep my yellowing copy of the page out at the ready, in case anyone might like to see it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Run Don't Walk to NYC Before March 16

We have only two chances to see the William Steig cartoons in full glory: until March 16 in New York at the Jewish Museum and then San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
After that, it's the book/catalog.

Here's why we should go.

Drawings courtesy New York Times, March 3, 2008