Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Wai-aiting is the Hardest Part

So I'm glad it's over.  I'm also glad the answer is yes.  Now on to the longer- but much more active- wait.  Sitting on my hands and *just* waiting is a killer to me.  I don't handle it well.  Waiting while having things to do makes me much happier.  Now I have my things to do, and I'm elated.  Although I think it's safe to say that there are two people out there that are even more over the moon than I am.  And that's a good thing.  :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Human Touch

We're currently living in an amazingly connected world, thanks to 24-hour news channels, satellite TV/telephone, the internet, social networks, 3G notworks, cell phone and other innovations.  Because we are such a connected world, last week I was able to sit and watch live streaming broadcast of parts of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners, broadcast by a British television company.  Forget two places at once, I was (virtually) in three places at once.  More if you count the fact that I was on the Tor network while doing all this, so there were at least three other intermediary locations as well.  In many ways, we've condensed the globe down to the size of computer chip.

But more importantly- do you know all the neighbors on your street?  If you were out of flour, would you have to go to the store or could you ask a friend next door?  With internet bullying in the forefront the past couple of weeks, I think we really need to consider our reactions to the virtual world and the physical world.  I'm not knocking the virtual world- I think the interconnectedness is great.  We can experience other cultures, get our news from a variety of sources, learn about so much more than our own little block, but it's for sure not the end-all-be-all, and it's important to keep that in perspective.

As humans, we're social beings and wired with the need for interaction with others.  There's variation in how much interaction we need or want; ask an introvert and an extrovert how much time they like to be with people in a given day and you'll get vastly different responses.  But besides the variation in quantity, there's also variation in quality.  In person contact makes the biggest difference in our lives, with phone contact coming in close.  Written letters make a fair amount of difference in how connected we feel to people, although virtual communication over the internet registers as almost nothing positive psychologically.  Especially in times of stress, we need human contact.  We need to feel like we belong.  We need to feel like we have a place to turn.  We need a shoulder upon which to cry.  We don't get those things from the newer forms of communication.  Instead, most people tend to feel less connected.  There is no human touch like in a hand written letter, no quick response like a phone call, and definitely no physical connection or facial display of empathy.  When the chips are already proverbially down, that added draw on our emotional reserves can be tragic.

Additionally, the anonymity of the internet allows people to not have to face the consequences of their actions, so the norm of being civil gets broken down.  Unfortunately, it's harder to break down our need for empathy.  All in all, moving more and more of our communication into the virtual world leaves fewer of our social needs met.  At its worst, we end up with situations like some of the recent bullying and harassment cases, and as we've seen, potential to tragic deaths.  Figuring out how to navigate this brave new world is going to have more bumps along the road, but I'm hopeful that we'll manage to figure it out.

And yes, I get the irony of writing this all on a blog instead of calling to talk to someone about it.  :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hope, Disappointment, Despair, Outrage, and back to Hope

Admittedly, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, and I mostly voted against McCain in the general election, but a part of me longed for the hope and change that Barack Obama promised.  I had a young child, how could I not want things to be better for him than the way things were looking?  But it soon became apparent, and increasingly so, that change was not coming and hope might be futile as well.  Eighteen-plus months into his presidency and Guantanamo is still open, we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, wireless wiretapping has been expanded, torture methods are still on the books, DOMA stands solid, the wealth gap is increasing, average folk are hurting financially and unemployment is high.  We did get health care reform, but the health care reform we got still leaves lots of room for inflated costs, high insurance company profit margins, and exorbitant executive benefits packages.  Similarly with college loan reform and financial oversight and consumer protections.  It's been too little, too late and poorly executed.

I realize that Obama is not alone in the blame, our Congress has also done their part.  One party is obstructionist, and the other ineffectual.  Hell, I haven't even been horribly thrilled with the judiciary lately, except for in the case of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  On that issue, the presiding judge took the correct stance and even made sure her ruling had teeth.  DADT was declared unconstitutional and an injunction was declared, having the net effect of killing DADT, something that Obama has said he wants done.  Simple, right?  The judge took the decision out of the hands of the legislature and still got what Obama wanted.  Yeah!!! 

So why's the Department of Justice asking for a stay and considering an appeal of the judges decision?!  They claim they have to uphold the law, but DADT is already only sporadically enforced.  The judge's decision does leave the law on the books, but as an unconstitutional law, which would not be able to be enforced at all.  I'm not sure that there's a functional difference there?

All of this is to say that I'm really pissed off and fed up with the lies out of this administration.  Today I hit a brick wall.  I couldn't help but have a good long cry.  And then I hit the heavy bag for a while.  I hugged my baby little boy (he's five in just a couple of months!?) close and promised he'd have a better life if it took every once of fight I had in me until my last dying breath.  Now I'm sitting and watching Amandla while I write this, and I can't help but be inspired.  Individuals can make a difference.  We can change things for the better.  We can start a revolution.  We can love one another.  We can leave our corner of the world a little better than we found it.  That is all we can do, and it is all that we must do.  Let it begin with me. 

Now to complete my circuit back to some semblance of hopefulness, I'm going to have some spreadable chocolate.  It may or may not be spread on anything.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Resourceful

Lately, we've discovered duck eggs.  Never many at a time, just a few here and there mixed in with our meat CSA egg orders.  I love them!  Their wonderfully flavored, beautiful yolks, and slightly different qualities than regular chicken eggs.  In baked goods, they easily rise half again (or more) compared to chicken eggs.  They're also a bit bigger than our usual, but our usual eggs are only about a medium/large size according the standards.  Duck eggs are easily extra large.  Just cooking eggs bring a while new dimension of flavor to omelets and scrambled eggs (although I'll admit, fried chicken eggs are better than fried duck eggs).  They stand out front and center nicely. 

It doesn't seem like there should be much of a difference, comparing chicken and duck eggs, especially when talking about regular old domesticated things.  Farmers have most likely been selecting for similar traits in both birds- size and number of eggs, health as adults, low fragility of egg shells, etc.  But the end-products are worlds apart.  I would assume that it's the little details- little as in actual size.  I don't think there can be many "big" details in an egg of any size, except maybe ostrich eggs.  Differences in the presence or absence of chemicals, the proportions of the chemicals that are in the egg, that sort of thing.  Whatever the reason, I think I've found a new tool in my cookbook.

So what do duck eggs have to do with anything other than culinary matters?  Well, I at least think it serves as a great reminder that even given fairly similar products- even the same packaging- the source matters.  Whether that new T-shirt comes from a local thrift store, an organic manufacturer in the US, or a national brand made in China and sold in a big-box store, the source of two very comparable products can be night and day difference.  I've heard a lot of talk lately (like this story, on our local NPR last week) about fair trade, local, and organic products.  The discussion is typically framed as "Is it worth it?" or "Is it a good value?" or "Can you afford this?" and I get that those are important in our current economy.  But please understand, whoever might be reading this, that in times like this it's especially important to stand up for our principles.  In the case of fair trade, it's a human rights issue.  Why do US workers deserve to make a fair wage, if our brethren in China, Malaysia, or El Salvador don't?  Why do we deserve to feed our families more than workers in developing countries?  In the case of local products, why shouldn't we band together to keep more of our dollars in our community instead of in multi-nation profit margins?  Why shouldn't we help our neighbor keep their shop or farm going instead of keeping stocks high?  And in the case of organics, why shouldn't we reward companies with similar beliefs to ours?  Why shouldn't we support transparency instead of obfuscation? 

These things matter.  We matter.  ALL people matter.  And if we decide now that our pocket books are more important than helping our fellow humans, then we really don't deserve all the gains we've made thus far.  If we can't see the forest for the trees, we don't deserve any of the products from either.  It's when push comes to shove that our principles are tested, and it's then that it's most crucial that we stand up and be counted. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dough Party

It's Cookie Dough Fundraiser time at Kenny's school!  Buckets come in all sorts of flavors, and are $9 each or 3 for $25.  If you want to support the Kent State Child Development Center and get some tasty buckets of cookie dough- GO SOME WERE ELSE!  I can even give you the contact info for another parent that is selling the junk.  Kenny and I, however, will not be doing that.  Instead, we're having a dough party- our version of the Boston Tea Party. 

Don't get me wrong, I love his school.  If I didn't, I wouldn't be spending more on his early childhood education than I'll probably some day spend on his college education.  The fundraiser goes to a great cause, the Center Family Connection (our version of the PTA).  The CFC hosts Free Family Fun nights every semester, topical parent meetings to help educate parents, provides spectacular supplies for the students both indoors and outdoors, as well as functions in the community through the Haymaker Farmers' Market Kids at the Market and other venues.  I am 100% geeked about his school and what they do. 

Except this fundraiser.  I understand that it has a decent return on time/effort investment- 40% of all proceeds go to the school.  At the same time, we've hosted multiple events discussing the importance of childhood nutrition.  We have a school  vegetable garden.  The kids' snacks are healthful.  They have a strict snack policy for parties and events.  Then we sell this junk.  Great! 

If you would like to stand up with me and support Kenny's school while not teaching that hypocrisy is fine, then feel free to contact me.  Kenny and I will still be taking donations for his school, and if you want tasty treats as well, we'll happily bake a dozen cookies for you- to your specs.  Your flavor, your dietary restrictions, whatever.  Heck, I'll even bake cookies for some else if you want to gift them to some one or an organization.  Just help us raise money for Ken's school (specifically, the outdoor environmental education center that we're working on funding) while at the same time sending a message that kids deserve better.  Kids deserve authenticity.  Am I being a kill-joy?  Absolutely.  But I'm a principled kill-joy. 

"Be the change you wish to see in the [playground]."  Mahatma Ghandi

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Perspective

I got into a discussion recently with a friend of mine, and it eventually turned to surrogacy and his ambivalence toward it.  When I inquired, he said that his reservations were due to his respect for the environment and his concern about over-population.  As an ecologist, I can understand this point of view.  Mind you, this same person drives an SUV, has a huge house and regularly leaves appliances on instead of flipping a switch.  He also does some great things from an environmental perspective, but this is still a person who has a child and has a sizable ecological footprint.  Needless to say, my perception that he was calling me a hypocrite stung quite a bit. 

It stung for a reason- his explanation for his feelings were a canard, quite frankly.  Of course over-population is a problem, but so is over consumption by individuals, and he's guilty of his fair share of that.  But if we stick to over-population and surrogacy, we're left with possibly the smallest way to impact the natural increase of the human population that exists.  Surrogacy makes up less than 1% of live births in the US today.  Making surrogacy illegal or prohibitively restricted would cause a change in the birth rate by a pittance.  However, unplanned pregnancies in the US (which includes my friend's daughter and grandson, and my own son) account for approximately 50% of all live births in the US.  Changing that number would do far more good without the question the human rights and ethics entering the equation. 

It was a very difficult discussion, and neither of us felt totally comfortable afterward, but I think it was worth having.  We, as a species, are at a turning point right now, I feel.  We can either learn to get along and respect our differences as we go forward, or we can continue the old ways of discrimination and demonizing the other.  If we can set human rights as definitively a top priority, then we'll be doing much better than we are now, and there's a chance we can make it.  If we can't- if we decide that competition is still more important than co-operation- then we're done.  If we acquiesce our humanity, then we don't deserve to continue.  I feel myself turning more into a cynical nihilist in my old age.  I really dislike the people that promote this change in me. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Breaking Out

I have to share, even though it's a bit preliminary, because I am *really* excited about this little nugget.  This fall, I and a colleague will be putting together "Breaking Out Fair 2010".  The theme is breaking out of poverty, breaking out of stereotypes, breaking out of prejudice, breaking out of negativity, breaking out of your comfort zone.  The goal is to combine fundraising and goods raising efforts for two local shelters (an abused womens' shelter and a veterans' shelter) with an awareness raising campaign on KSU campus.  Get students engaged and assisting with the greater community, while highlighting some of the support structures available through the university and community. 

The fraternities/sororities and any other organizations will be helping to gather goods needed by both shelters in a competitive event.  Organizations and departments can participate by "locking up" someone, once the inmate raises the required bail, they get out; until then, they're stuck in one room with all the other inmates.  The fair will consist of various resources available and associated with the University- Habitat for Humanity, career services, writing/tutoring services, psychological clinic, health clinic, rec center, professional development, multi-cultural/LGBT/womens' organizations, and others.  I think it's going to be a great time, but I might be biased.  I'll update as we figure out the details.

So what about you?  What have you broken out of recently?  What or who helped you do that?  What are you trying to break out of?  What resources do you still need to help you break out?  I'd love to hear some other takes on this, and ideas that y'all may have.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hope

Humans have a vast array of emotions, not least among this palette is hope.  As a species, we can be optimistic to our own detriment.  At time, hope can cross over into delusion if that hope goes against every piece of data that we have available.  Often, hope can be the thing that keeps us trying over and over and over again for something that we deeply want.  Hope can lead to pain or fulfillment, depending on how grounded in reality that hope is.  Hope is what keeps us going through the darkest nights.  Giving someone a reason to hope is one of the greatest gifts that can be given.  This past weekend, we went to visit some dear friends, and I think we all came away full of hope.  I hadn't dared feel that for a while.  It's a good feeling, to have hope.  It definitely adds a certain sparkle to every day life.  You know who you are, and I thank you.

May all of you have hope.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years Out

Yesterday was the five year anniversary of hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, and of the levees breaking in New Orleans.  It's been called the worst engineering catastrophe in US history by some.  I was a fat, pregnant, recently graduated baccalaureate relaxing at the Studio in the Woods in Hocking Hills, Ohio.  My, how times change while staying the same.

Katrina wasn't a natural disaster, it was man-made.  The winds and rain that hit NOLA were only a category 3, and would not have been a problem for the infrastructure to protect the city had it been properly constructed and kept up.  What wrought huge amounts of damage was the failure of that infrastructure, and the systemic failure of the Army Corps of Engineers (among others) has been documented by Harry Shearer in a new documentary, The Big Uneasy.  The breaking of the levees in the ninth ward lead to horrendous devastation of property and the loss of many lives.  Many of the residents themselves compounded the problem by staying after a mandatory evacuation was issued earlier in the storm.  After the rupture, the ensuing rescue attempts were fraught with complications, lack of funds and man power, ill-planned, mishandled, poorly targeted and slow.  Even during the continued rebuilding, there have been serious issues with which to contend.  The entire fiasco has been heart-breaking and maddening.

Personally, I am now the mama to a crazy four and a half year old boy, in the midst of graduate studies and research, not quite as fat, and living in Gertrude-Hyacinth House; Kent, Ohio.  Socially, there are fewer differences.  NOLA always has and possibly always will be the best and worst of the US.  Unfortunately, in NOLA it seems the slowest things to come back, and those that get the least attention, are the best parts.  The music, the culture, the arts, and the historical context.  Maybe it's a correct analogy for our nation as well?  I wish I knew.

Speaking of the US for the rest of this, because the tragedy of NOLA was a tragedy for the whole country.  We still value lives of the well to do more than those of the lower class.  We still feel entitled to do as we please, and entitled to rescuing when things go wrong with our plans.  We still want cheap and easy instead of done right, more expensive and taking longer.  We still find it necessary to vilify the other.  We still see white and think "good" and see black and think "bad".  We still punish merciful acts.  We still hurt each other. 

I can't help but think of the song Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger.  The refrain begs the question "When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?"  On a positive note, our troops are finally out of Iraq and stationed in Kuwait.  We can have peace, if we want to.  Maybe we are starting to learn.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rights and Interests

Specifically here, I'm thinking of children' rights and interests, but also the broader sense of both.  We talk quite a bit about children' rights, although ironically the US is one of the few developed nations that has yet to sign the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child (but you can help change that here), and some groups have even started talking about the rights of the unborn lately.  I don't think that's a healthy place to go, personally, to consider the "rights" of the unborn, because they are dependent on another person at that point, so you'd have two competing sets of rights and you would essentially have to place a value on one over the other- and valuing people in a hierarchical way leads to bad things. 

We can however speak of the interests of children before they are born, in part because interests don't have the same moral imperative- generally speaking- as rights.  It is in the best interests of a child that they be taken care of by someone with whom they have a close relationship already and not to be sent to a stranger for eight hours a day, but a child simply has a right to be cared for by competent adult(s) who will not be negligent of the child while they are watching them, for one example.  Rights are inalienable, interests are not. 

Approximately half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned, so I'm willing to bet that in about half of all US pregnancies no one has considered the best interests of a child until the pregnancy is underway.  It's not a question tons of people think about before they have kids- "Is bringing a child into this situation in the child's best interest?"  Often, the question is framed from the parents' point of view- "Is now a good time to have a child?"  Maybe it's a subtle difference, but it is a difference, and there are definitely times when this distinction could lead to very different answers. 

Specifically, in the case of balancing time and money.  When one has the time for children, one may not have the money for children, and vice versa.  Children need both, and a lot of each.  As a society, we tend to say that the first scenario (time but not money) is a bad thing.  We talk about children having more children to more greatly benefit from social services, or that a financially strapped couple "should have waited" and so on.  The second case (money but not time), we tend to brush off as not a problem.  The parent will hire a nanny, take extended leave, whatever, but the presence of money makes the scenario perfectly alright.  As a society, we ignore the fact that both scenarios lead to stress.  Financial stress in the first case, but time stress in the second.  In either case, the child is being brought into the life of a parent or parents who are going to be under stress before the child is born.  Is that in the best interests of any child? 

And more importantly, is it in the best interests of our society to essentially value the lives and families of the rich more than the poor?  If children of lower class families are worthy of our scrutiny concerning whether or not their parents made the right choice, aren't the children of the upper class worthy of the same scrutiny?  Conversely, aren't both families equally worthy of us butting out of their parent's business so long as the children are happy, healthy and well-loved?  In the US, money most definitely buys added rights, it seems.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Generalizing Specifics

Earlier this week, I got into a rather heated argument with someone whom I had considered a friend.  We knew that we had very different religious views, mine being still in flux in the agnostic/atheist range, and hers being very much settled on fundamentalist Christian.  She believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible and the unchanging nature of faith.  I believe in correcting position as data indicates and in religious texts as wonderfully symbolic stories.  I trust Ocham's Razor, she trusts her prayers.  And in the end, she decided that I was anti-god and anti religion and called me thus.  I offer my deepest apologies for coming across this way if anyone else has taken that meaning- it is not my intent, and I will do my best to not be like that.

What she didn't realize is that I am not anti-god, I just don't agree with her view of god; I am not anti-religion, just anti-her-religion.  I am perfectly fine accepting all kinds of religious beliefs, until they affect more than the individual believer.  The whole idea of "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose".  Everyone has the right to their religious beliefs, until those beliefs start to affect others or until it leads to the denial of reality.  Then, you've hit some one in the nose instead of stopping your fist.

It's a common mistake for humans- generalizing in inappropriate circumstances.  Generalizing has it's usefulness.  Generalizing lets us have expectations, and gives us an advantage on knowing how to react in a situation.  If our ancestors recognized all large cat-like creatures as dangerous, we don't have to wait for the first person to be mauled before deciding that a new species of large cat should be feared and beginning to run away.  But generalizing our fellow humans, especially in today's globalized world where we interact with so many more people, can be even more dangerous than not generalizing large cats.  False generalities can lead to incorrect expectations, misinterpretations and wrong assumptions. All of this can lead to more difficulty than is necessary as well as strife, conflict and pain.

Dealing in facts instead of Truths tends to have this effect in most cases.  The important truths that Dwight and I are trying to teach Ken are Peace, Love, Honesty, Respect, Work, Humility and Community.  It's not an easy battle.  As a four year old, he grapples constantly with the idea of good and bad guys.  He wants to know along what lines he can divide the world into these simple binomials, when simple binomials are nearly existent in humans.  Even something as simple as sex isn't really neatly divided into male and female.  Humans are filled with continua.  For this reason, we're trying to stress to him that things people are not good or bad- god and bad are reserved for actions.  Everyone has good and bad things that they do, but that doesn't define them.  The same goes for things and ideas- they are not good or bad, they are tools that can be used for good or bad purposes.  It's pointless to be pro- or anti-any THING.  Things, people, ideas all exist, and can not be made to no longer exist, for their being here has changed the world in some way.  Instead, be pro- or anti-harmful actions.  Life is much more simple that way.  And most likely, the pain will be less.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Play the Changes

Tonight was the Yo-yo Ma/Silk Road Ensemble concert for Ken and I at Blossom Music Center.  It was kind of last minute-ish as I only really noticed anything about it this week.  We managed to get lawn tickets, and kids under twelve are free on the lawn for Blossom Festival shows, so it was a great cheap evening and come on- kids need to see great cellists, right? 

I'll admit it was about 180 degrees from what I had expected, but it was spectacular none the less.  Yo-yo Ma- my original reason for wanting to go- was there mainly as a concert master and for one encore piece only.  The show was very much about his Silk Road Ensemble, a group composed of a whole range of ethnicities, cultures, and musical traditions, all sharing the common thread of being somehow associated with the historic Silk Road.  Inspiration for their compositions range from traditional Chinese songs, to Persia, to gypsy to Greek influences.  Lots of traditional instruments like the khaen (or a relative), the gaita, the pipa and the tabla.  Really, it's fusion music to the Nth degree.

There's no hiding the fact that this summer has been difficult for Ken and I.  Two passionate individuals with a healthy dose of obstinance in each, and very different goals for their time together.  To say we butt heads periodically is the understatement of the year.  Lately, with my time even more limited due to teaching, it's been getting worse.  I approached tonight with at least a little trepidation, especially considering how the day started at home.  The start to the day include blatant disobedience and much intentional button-pushing.

Come 7:30 PM, we were settled on the lawn at Blossom and discussing the evenings events.  He had some time to unwind (read- go crazy) and the show started at eight.  As soon as the music started, it was like a switch was flipped.  He was listening intently, and asking questions (quietly, even!), staring in rapt attention at the performers.  He was describing what images the music brought to his mind, and the images tied in to the actual descriptions we had read, showing that he most likely paid attention to our conversation.  It was a magical and Earth-shaking night, and something of which I was in desperate need. 

I never imagined myself as a mother.  My image of motherhood had been so broken after dad died, I was positive that my being in that position as primary care-giver and nurturer would be a disaster.  Now I can't imagine life without the title of "mama" or "parent" being part of my experiences.  Being a parent is a beautiful, horrific, devastating, uplifting series of events.  It's the thrill of discovery and the joy of true love and the humility of an education all wrapped into one day, or even a few moments.  It's the only thing I can think of that is every bit as tortuous as it is ecstatic, with a fair share of flat out disgusting thrown in for good measure. 

That's why I do what I do.  Every person that desires it, deserves to have the experience of parenting.  And I, admittedly selfishly, enjoy being a part of that process.  I like helping others get to that point.  Surrogacy and egg donation are often described as "journeys" and they very much are just that.  Just as a shirpa guides travelers to go where they wish, surrogates and egg donors assist others attain what they want.  It's a struggle for all involved, their are extreme physical demands, and their may be bumps, and the outcome may be less than what was intended, but together all parties involved walk side by side and help each other navigate the path. 

That journey continues into parenthood, with the parent and child taking up the hiking staffs.  Ken has risen to the challenge of me, and I have risen to the challenges that are parenthood.  We have stooped down to pick each other up when we fell.  And together we continue- up and down, right and left, creating a dance that is every bit as creative and destructive and just as important as the dance of Shiva and Kali.  Together, we have grown a hundred feet taller than I ever thought either of us could be.  I would not be the person I am today without him, and he would not be the person he is without me- for better or for worse.  All I can do is fight the human parts of myself and try my best to ensure that there are more notches on the "better" side than the "worse" side of the equation.  All I can do is try my best to help him to be better than me, and to leave the world a little better than we found it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yes, I still exist; no, I'm not in London

If, we've emailed in the past, you may have received an unfortunate email from me recently.  This email stated that I was in London, England, had been mugged, and was receiving no assistance from the embassy or the police.  The simple reason I wasn't getting any help from anyone- I wasn't in London.  I was at home.  The person who sent the email was also not in London, but in Nigeria (not joking!).  My email account was hacked.  It's now back under control, albeit in much disarray.  The perpetrator not only sent out fraudulent emails, but ransacked my space by deleting all contacts, sent emails, my inbox, and all other emails in that account.  They also changed a bunch of security settings and forwarded my email address to lkregulla@yahoo.com (note the two "L"s).  I'm back in the process of restoring order to my cyber-world.

Proximally, no harm was done.  No one with whom I've had communication sent any sensitive information to the scam artist.  There was no rash of slander, libel, absurdity, or meanness.  I did, however, hear from many people with whom I don't have as much communication as I would like, through no fault of anyone's, just the byproduct of hectic lives.  That was the only upside of the whole thing- the outpouring of concern and reconnecting. 

Ultimately, the episode has severely shaken my faith in humanity.  I've heard of internet scam artists, I've been the recipient of fraudulent emails, but I've always viewed it with an air of humor.  Surely, no one believes these emails, right?  Everyone knows enough to be skeptical about requests for money or claims of international lottery winnings, right?  And the email addresses utilized for this end are dedicated emails without an honest, real person on the other side, right?  How wrong one can be. 

I had a strong password.  I used different passwords for different accounts.  I don't use public computers.  I thought I did everything right.  Again, how wrong one can be.  I'm thankful that there was no horrible, or even a bad outcome to this situation.  I'm hurt to be reminded that people do engage in malicious and fraudulent behavior.  I'm glad to know that if push came to shove, I have friends that would have my back.  And they can recognize me from some stranger- mainly due to having the "mouth of a poetic sailor", my good grammar, and my invulnerability.  I <3 my friends.

I mentioned earlier that the scam artist was most likely from Nigeria.  This assertion is based on their IP address, and I do realize that IP addresses can lie (not that I have any experience- cough- Doctor Who- cough).  But it seems ironic that this particular person originated from Nigeria, the stereotyped home of internet scams.  Nigeria also happens to have a history of violence and economic disparity possibly worse than our own economic divide.  There's arguably a reason people are desperate and resort to desperate measures there.  Is this what we want for more of the world?  Ethnic/sectarian divisiveness, economic and social oppression, and general melee to make individuals resort to tactics of last resort?  This is a globalized world, and national borders no longer contain criminals, violence, oppression and hopelessness.  National boundaries also cannot contain hope, justice, love, equality, freedom and tolerance.  Which world are you helping to create?  How are you helping to shape the future?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Really briefly

Another blogger is celebrating her 1000th post, over at Ni Hao Y'all and to celebrate she's giving one dollar for every comment to An Orphan's Wish.  Go help her spread some love to kids that really need it.  Thanks also to Rarejule at Mining with Rarejule for pointing out the comment-a-thon, she really is a rare jewel.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Perfection

In today's world, it's easy to get wrapped up in flaws and short-comings.  There is a huge selection of "self-help" books based on the premise that you should do better.  Diet industries point out our physical size and proportions.  Tutoring and test-preparation services point out our intellectual needs.  Seminars, retreats, and meetings exist to help us overcome our flaws. 

At the same time, we are shown by marketers an ever increasingly false depiction of humans.  Airbrushing, Photoshopping, extensive makeup, multiple "handlers" and specialized clothing (support garments, for one) give the impression of perfection when trying to sell us products.  The message is that "Perfect people buy this.  You can be one step closer to perfect if you do, too."  We are pressured to be our best and recognize all our faults- that's how producers make money.  Many entrepreneurs are billionaires because they could recognize a way to make money off of insecurity. 

Contrast this with the message of "Love is blind."  I'm not going to go into the religious aspects of it, because I think the phrase itself has come to mean something far bigger than just its spiritual ties.  I'm also not entirely sure that I agree with the statement.  I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments, but not the exact words.  Love between humans does see flaws, but loves them as part of you, or wants to help you overcome them, not that humans delude ourselves into thinking our beloved is faultless.  Real, true, deep love is about the person, and flaws are a part of people.  To love while not seeing flaws is to worship blindly, and in human relationships, that isn't a healthy thing.  That leads to some pretty big disappointments.  Love means loving the person, faults and all.

All that being said, I think everyone deserves one person in their life who equates them with perfection.  One person that idolizes you and worships you.  That person may come into your life and leave, or they may eventually come to love you as they discover the flaws, but to have that feeling that you have no flaws, you have no short-comings- that is something that everyone deserves at some point.  We all also deserve to learn from the pain that comes when we're found out to be mortals.  We only grow by challenging ourselves to do better and over coming obstacles.

Who is your perfect person, who idolized you, and how did those situations resolve?  For me, my father was my perfect person; I learned of his mortality through lyposarcoma. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jesus is Dead

No, not the be-sandalled prophet of 2000 years ago, the Touchdown Jesus of I-75 in Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.  Also known as King of Kings, Butter Jesus, Swamp Jesus and other names (he of many names, remember?).  One really can't make up this sort of hilarity, really.

The response has been varied, to say the least.  Everything from peals of laughter to cries that the end times are a'coming.  Bob and Tom even had someone write and sing a song for the occasion. 

Personally, I'm a bit saddened.  Not because of the loss of great art or anything of the sort, just because it's such an icon around my home.  Everyone knows it, even if they don't care one whit about the religion behind it.  It's a piece of shared history and culture, like a favored but bad hometown restaurant. 

At the same time that I feel loss at this natural disaster (or act of god, however you prefer to see it), I feel a bigger loss at the idea that it will be rebuilt.  This thing made of styrofoam and fiberglass was almost universally recognized as an oddity.  It was an oddity that, according to insurance replacement estimates, cost $300,000 to build.  Especially during this time of serious economic hardship, couldn't that 300K be spent on something more, well, Christian?  Food for the poor?  Help with daycare?  Homeless shelters?  Medical care for the uninsured?  Really, anything? 

Instead, the creators of Touchdown Jesus have decided that it's better to spend money building false idols than to actually help people that need it.  Nice.  Good work, once again, followers of the Nazarene.  Proselytizing and converting heathens really is just that important to you, eh?  More important than following those crazy commandment things or the golden rule, huh?  Here, let me help give you a pat on the back.  With a cat o'nine tails.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Inactive

I've been spending the past few days visiting with family on Ohio's north coast (yes, Ohio has coastline- it's Lake Erie).  My mother in law rents a cottage every year at a Chattaqua community in Ohio for her church's annual conference, and invites the family to come along.  It's kind of nice- I cook and clean and try to get something done, and we get a little family vacation thing. 

For those of you that don't know them, Chattaqua villages were planned as religious communities in the 19th century.  A place to learn about religion, study, pray, and have community.  Obviously, I'm not there for the religious aspect but there are always some interesting conversations to be had.  Dwight and I aren't opposed to religion, we just haven't found one that fits our family yet.  It's a little insight for us into current issues in the Christian church, or at least this denomination. 

One thing really struck me this year, about the conference and about the attendees.  That was the level of inactivity.  Resolutions were passed on important subjects like conservation, human trafficking, and fair trade.  Resolutions not to do anything, but to become more informed, or think about, or try.  All of these were non-binding resolutions. 

One conversation in particular struck me.  Apparently a teen asked of the fair trade resolution whether that meant he had to buy more expensive stuff if the cheaper stuff was made with child labor, or if he could still buy cheap.  To me, as an outsider, that seems like it would be the perfect time to point out that happiness is wanting what you have not having what you want, or that another person's right to earn a fair wage outweighed your right to lots of cheap stuff, or that simply child labor was wrong.  Apparently, as an outsider, I would be wrong on all of these counts, and instead the right thing to do is to point out that the resolution was non-binding and simply asked for information. 

To say I was disappointed would be a vast understatement.  What happened to being active in advancing morals and ethics?  What happened to encouraging people to strive for improving the community and helping those less fortunate?  What happened to walking the walk instead of just talking the talk?  What happened to bettering ones self?  This is the stuff I have a problem with- when religion is there to help people feel good about themselves for no good reason.  When religion is about personal wellness more than doing what's right for the broader community, it's time to rethink a few things. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Shhh..

The damn dam is gone!  Free range river, coming through.




You can almost hear the river restoration happening. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Boundaries

Boundaries, in general, are a good thing.  Biologically speaking, the boundary created by our skin keeps us from desiccating and the cell membrane helps to define the cell from the rest of the world.  Boundaries help to define, protect, and limit.  On the other side of the coin, boundaries can also keep unwanted materials in, reinforce unsubstantiated differences, and restrict.

Boundaries can also be restrictions and limits on behavior.  In this context as well, boundaries can be good or bad.  Boundaries help to define acceptable and unacceptable behavior, help ease communication by providing certain circumscriptions or limit definitions and ideas, and allow a measure of decency or prevent honest expression of thoughts and ideas.

As an adult, I both respect boundaries and challenge them- depending on which boundary is being discussed.  I think we tend to put up too many boundaries as a society, but they do serve a purpose and some boundaries make maintaining a society possible.  As the saying goes, "Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins."  Ignoring important boundaries could lead to a lot of noses out of joint, not to mention state sanctioned religion, hazardous materials going unchecked, exploitation, and abuse of power.  A stupid person blindly accepts all boundaries and an arrogant person ignores all boundaries.  I don't want to be either.

This makes parenting difficult.  How can I teach a four year old about boundaries by example?  I can't impose boundaries expecting Ken to obey them without question, but I can't teach him that all boundaries are pointless either.  There is no easy approach.  And unfortunately, he's caught on to my ambiguity around boundaries, and tries out this new knowledge by imposing his own boundaries and testing mine.  Which leads to some very long days recently.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again- I love my son, even if he is high maintenance.  I just have to remind myself that the traits he's exhibiting are traits that I admire in adults and they should be fostered.  Possibly the hardest thing about parenting that no one ever told me is the difficulty in reinforcing positive adult traits in a child.

"Patriotism is supporting your country always, and your government when it deserves support." ~Mark Twain.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grown in My Heart adoption carnival

This is for the Grown in my Heart adoption carnival going on in honor of Mother's day.

Family is family, however it's made.


Indulging in Anthropocentrism

My mood has a tendency to vacillate a lot lately.  Not anything unhealthy, it's just been an up-side-down, topsy-turvy past few weeks or so.  Part of the problem is that I pay too much attention to the news, part is that I worry too much about other people.  On my bad days, I can be totally OK with the idea of complete human annihilation.  Plague?  Fine.  Natural disaster?  Bring it.  Famine?  Great.  Whatever gets the human population back into check, even if that means our extinction.  The world would be better without us, and we can be such frakking jerks to each other and to nature that we really deserve whatever might befall our species.  I know, cheery, eh?

And then on the good days, I have a real passion for how exactly do we educate people and get them interested and involved in ecology/conservation/human rights/something other than their damned X-Box or Wii.  We have got to do better at being stewards of the planet and each other if we're going to survive, and we have got to survive.  Without killing everything else in the process.

The bad days are usually brought on by too much news, too much bad news, too many people being a-holes- especially all piled into a few hours.  Driving in Cleveland at rush hour can also do the trick.

Good days happen thanks to being a witness to random acts of kindness, a trip to the art museum, a great concert, or a beautiful piece of prose or poetry.  Journal articles qualify as prose in this case, and have absolutely made my day more than once.

We humans are capable of such great things- creative and destructive.  As a mom, I really feel this point loud and clear.  I have had the opportunity to create life, and that's an amazing thing.  At the same time, mothers can utterly destroy the life that they created by their action or inaction.  Don't get me wrong, fathers can do that as well, but well, it's mother's day, and there's a little more cultural pressure (not that this is a good or bad thing- it's just a thing) on moms that their kids turn out "right" or "good," so I'm focusing on moms for now.

It's not a responsibility to be taken lightly.  The same is true of any creative force.  Einstein vocally opposed the atomic bomb, made possible by his work on energy and matter (the famous E=MC2 equation) and Oppenheimer regretted his work on the Manhattan project after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying if he had known what it could have done, he never would have pursued the research.  There is a weight that goes along with everything we create- and that weight dictates that we do not create something for which we can not take responsibility in the future.  If we create something for which we have no desire to care or do our best in protecting, then we have no reason or right to create that thing.

Today was mostly a good day, and I'm happy to have created the people that I have, because right now, I think there is a bit of a bright light, and maybe we humans have enough potential for good to outweigh the bad, although I wonder how to encourage the good over the bad.  Maybe, if I work hard enough, I'll find the answer someday, and maybe in that search, I'll do a little good along the way.  Happy mothers day to all the nurturing women out there- no matter what you may have created- and thank you for helping create a slightly better world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So there.

My husband and I have been talking for a while about the economy, the Moynihan report, and implications for today.  It's my feeling that our current economy, and the disparity between expectations for males and females, among other things, has the potential to set up a situation similar to what is described by Moynihan.  Basically, he said that masculinity is defined in part by one's ability to provide- for one's self and one's family.  Take away that ability, and you take away a person's identity, leading to an abandoning of their role in society and in the family as well as a general decline in a person's sense of self worth.  This abandonment of social roles and inability to fulfill roles lead to the slew of social problems (single parenthood, violence, drug use, teen parents) seen in the African American community in the late twentieth century, according to Moynihan.  He posited that the solution was for African American to sign up for the military and serve in Vietnam in order to be able to provide for their family.  Robert F. Williams disagreed with this, and this difference of opinion, and the definition of masculinity upon which Moynihan and Williams both agreed is the major topic of Dwight's master's thesis.  My position is that what we are currently seeing in our society and economy is setting up white males for a similar removal of themselves from society and abandonment of their roles.

Imagine my surprise when Juan Williams was discussing this very thing on NPR today.  Audio will be available after 9AM.  I feel like one smart cookie.  Well, chopped liver with a side of smart cookie.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Belated Infertility Awareness Week

Last week was National Infertility Awareness Week, and my apologies for not getting around to this sooner, but it's the end of the term, so I'm going a bit crazy.  Well, crazier than usual.  As you might have noticed, I have a son.  I've also been a surrogate and egg donor.  So why do I care about infertility, as it's something that's obviously not been a personal struggle for me?  The short answer- because I see infertility (IF) as not just a medical problem, but a human rights problem.  The long answer is the rest of this post.

First off, even though IF often has a medical cause that is not the fault of the person suffering IF, it's also usually not covered by insurance in the US right now.  This causes a huge financial burden to those that face IF, one that is not their fault, and nothing they could have controlled, and because reproduction is not "necessary" for life, assisted reproductive technology (ART), in all its forms, is often seen as voluntary or as a matter of convenience, when it's truly far from either of those things.  This stigma trivializes a large portion of our population, as much as 1 in 6 people, and the suffering that they go through.  This status as "voluntary" also tends to lead to health care providers charging exorbitant fees. 

Along with the financial cost, IF incurs a huge emotional cost through stress, delayed hopes and dreams, invasive/dangerous/humiliating doctor's appointments and social stigma.  Those with IF are often subjected to the flippant "Why don't you just adopt?".  Those words may seem simple enough, but adoption is currently also stigmatized in our society, as witnessed by the acquittal of manslaughter charges of a man whose Russian son died under his car, and the lack of US outcry upon the return of Justin/Artyom Hansen alone to Russia.  Essentially, "Why don't you just adopt?" is asking "Why don't you just accept your second class status?"  We don't consider medical disabilities to mean that a person is a second class citizen, why should this medical condition be any different? 

This idea of adoption as an alternative also trivializes the costs associated with adoption.  Adoption incurs similar types of costs as IF, along with the judgment by third parties as to your fitness as a prospective parent (i.e. home visits and psychological screenings, which may also be associated with IF treatment).  This perspective is something completely absent from "natural" family creation.  In some extreme cases, the ability to adopt is limited by the evaluators' personal bias or systemic preferences, issues that work against non-traditional families including homosexual couples, single homo- or heterosexuals, mixed families and others. 

Finally, IF- while it does affect both men and women- is especially detrimental to women, as there is still a very strong social pressure that defines women as mothers.  This is the twenty first century, and both men and women should be free to choose to put their energies toward family, career, or both as they desire, however women are pressured to put their energy towards family more than are men.  Thus IF for men is less of a failure, as it doesn't affect their career (the traditional male role in industrialized societies) and the lack of a family is more often seen as a choice for men. 

The fact is that we need to accept all families as equal, however they came about, just as much as we need to accept all people as equal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gray Day

Not weather-wise; outside looks pretty beautiful right now.  Gray, as in that space that's not quite white, and not quite black.  That has tons of shades and variations that all go by the same name, but look completely different from each other.  That tends to get me into trouble because I play in the gray area far too much, and pretty much avoid black and white at all costs. 

Today's shade of gray lives between personal and social responsibility.  I was raised to believe in both, practice both, and recognize the benefits and downfalls of each.  Obviously, one can't lie around eating bon-bons all day and expect to have society give them everything.  As much as I would love to live that life some days, it's not going to happen.  At the other extreme, one can't be completely self-reliant either, or the world would be covered by roads marked "My road" and "Your road" and "His road" and "Her road", ad nauseum.  And vigilantes would roam free, parsing out what justice they saw fit.  Both aspects must occur together in order to have a functioning society.  Mind you, I'm not defining social responsibility as solely government, because I think that organizations and non-profits can also do some great work, and government shouldn't handle everything- there's a real value in communities helping other members of the community and more personal involvement in society.

My love of gray leads me to do some silly things at times, like hosting a purse party.  No, not Coach and Gucci- Haitian Creations.  Purses made by women in Haiti.  It's personal responsibility in that the women are learning valuable skills and a paycheck to help support their families (not to mention self-confidence and independence), and social responsibility in that it's an organization (Heartline Ministries) that is bringing people together to help others through donations, volunteers, and purchases that go to support education.  If you're familiar with the Women's Bean Project, it's a similar concept.  A friend of mine (Julie, of Mining with RareJule) hosted one a while back and turned me on to the project, because of the closeness in time with the Haiti earthquake and the program itself.  So I'm hosted a purse party this Mother's day evening.  I could claim it was intentional, the connection with women's rights and education with celebrating moms, but no- I just screwed up because I could have sworn Mother's day was later in May.  Oh, well, it works, right?  And I'm announcing the party today, the three month mark after the earthquake, which again I could claim as grand planning on my part, but again is just coincidence.  I didn't realize it was today until I was writing this post during World Have Your Say.  If nothing else, I'm lucky.

Stop on by the event page sometime soon, maybe pick up a gift for mom, if you're in the Kent area, stop by that night for some good food, and support Haiti's women.  I have instructions on how to order on the events page as well, or just email me- I'll ship anywhere.  Encourage social responsibility by supporting a great organization, and encourage personal responsibility by helping these women to support themselves.  Now that's a win-win.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good-ish news?

Today is a big day.  Today, the sentencing date has been set Mark Kellogg over 100 counts of criminal fraud in the case of the foreclosure crisis in Slavic village.  I haven't been able to find the results of his sentencing, but I'll be updating as soon as I do.  This is exciting because it's new.  Mark Kellogg, along with his co-defendant Beverly Cody and others, made fraudulent purchases and sales of 78 homes in Slavic village and defrauding people and companies of a total of $5.8 million dollars.  Mark Kellogg was the mortgage broker in this scam, and Beverly Cody acted as the buyer, and five other defendants- other phony buyers involved- plead guilty in November.  Kellogg plead guilty to all counts of money laundering and theft by deception and other charges, as did Cody. 

As far as anyone can tell, these are the first cases in which criminal fraud charges have been brought that include harm done to other home owners in Slavic village that were damaged because of the consequences of Kellogg, Cody, et al.s fraudulent activity.  Consequences that include nearly all of the homes in Slavic village currently being in foreclosure thanks in large part to sub-prime mortgages and under-water mortgage loans.  Kellogg is eligible for a maximum of 106 years in prison and $6.6 million in fines and restitution.  I'll be happy to see this man get put away.  He helped to orchestrate the devastation of a neighborhood.  The message that feeding off of others is morally abhorrent must be sent across the wires post haste, and loud and clear.  The message that dollars matter significantly less than people must be heard.  The message that predatory actions upon the least among us is not acceptable.  Excuse me, NOT acceptable.  I don't normally like to shout, but that one needs shouted.  It is my hope that this case is just the beginning of a deluge. 

On a tangential note, this same stand-up human being, Mark Kellogg, is also being charged with breaking and entering a home in order to steal the copper piping.  Yep, prize-winner, he.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Communities: Organically Growing

No, this post is actually not focusing on food, at least not in a central way.  I'm not really focusing on gardening, either.  I'm talking about "organic" in the sense of bottom-up instead of top-down processes.  I've briefly mentioned Kent Community Time Banks here once before, but this post is dedicated to KCTB. 

After World War II, the US experienced a surge of suburbanization and urban sprawl.  The "norm" went from small, walkable, urban communities with many row-houses and apartments to spread out, driving-distance, subdivisions with large lots within a few decades.  Public transit went from a necessity to a tax burden, cars moved from street-side to attached garages, walking went from the sidewalk to the treadmill and shopping moved from the corner store to the enclosed mall.  Cleveland, my paternal family's homeland, now covers twice as much land as it did fifty years ago, with roughly the same number of people.  That's a doubling of per-capita land usage. 

Later in the seventies, white flight reinforced distrust of neighbors and a disdain for urban "ghettos"; multiple family housing units were associated with poverty, the welfare state, and morally abject behavior.  These are, of course, broad generalizations, and there were exceptions, but they illustrate how society can change in a short amount of time.

Currently, there is a recognition that maybe our current model of living is not the best practice.  People are isolated from their community, neighbors don't know one another, families are widely dispersed and interaction takes place over a wire instead of a kaffee klatsch or hedge.  Not that this nostalgic scene was perfect either, as Stephanie Coontz's "The Way We Never Were" documents quite nicely.  Along with this recognition that progress isn't always the best thing is a movement of recreating communities in a new form.  The internet may be often blamed for its part in the destruction of geographically based communities, but it is now being repurposed as a tool in the community garden of these new communities. 

In a time when individuals and families may be transient to a community, and may not know who and what resources are available in a city, Time Banks provide a way to connect with others, with money not being an issue.  It serves as an equalizer, valuing the time of a doctor and a high school drop the same.  If you can walk a dog or provide a listening ear, you can be a part of the community, and obtain needed services like medical advice, tutoring or electrical work.  Everyone has something to offer.  The computer software and website provide a way to connect with someone offering a service you need and needing a service you can provide, but more importantly, they provide a way to start relationships, they provide a way to reintegrate marginalized citizens into the larger community, they provide a decentralized currency that is backed by something more substantial then bytes of data- a currency backed by other humans.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Meg!

1) At what age did you find yourself passionately drawn towards reptiles and amphibians? And what do you think triggered this?

The herp thing started in my undergrad years, summer of 2002 specifically, thanks to Eric Juterbock and Patrick Owen, both of Ohio State at the time, but Pat has since moved on to bigger and better things at University of Cincinnati.  Eric is worshiped by all Desmognathus fuscus (Northern Dusky Salamander) as a god, and he showed me the wonder of herps.  Pat induced my obsession with Lithobates clamitans (Green Frog, formerly Rana clamitans).  I'm 90% convinced the real way to tell Northern Duskies from Mountain Duskies (Desmognathus ochropheaus, a related species studied by Lowell Orr of Kent State University) is to ask them the simple question "Lowell Orr or Eric Juterbock?"  Keel or no keel be damned.

2) What made you decide to want to be a surrogate and a donor? Was this realization like a bolt of lightening, or more like a lingering, slow-developing idea?

It was slow, for sure.  My mom had talked about wanting to be a surrogate when I was a kid, because she enjoyed pregnancy so much, so the seed was planted at a young age.  She never did, because let's face it, when I was young the only option would have been traditional surrogacy, and while she loved being pregnant, I don't think she would have been able to give away a child genetically related to her.  I have no such attachment issues, as evidenced by having offered Ken to random strangers on more than one occasion (joking!), and ART has progressed enough that the genetic link is taken out of the surrogacy equation far more often than not, as was the case in my journey.  Before Ken, I pretty much hated kids.  They were annoying, loud, obnoxious, smelly, and too dependent for my liking.  The first few weeks he was around, I was still ambivalent about kids.  But we eventually worked things out, and he has since proven to me what amazing things kids can be, and what a life changing experience becoming a parent can be.  I think everyone that wants to be a parent should get the chance, regardless of their sexual orientation, but that's not the case with many adoption agencies today.  And because discrimination on the basis of an innate trait is wrong whether it benefits the majority or minority group, you can't say homosexuals can have surrogacy but heterosexuals have to adopt.  It's equal treatment or nothing.  I like to do what I can to help (something else that was ingrained in my head early on), so I became a surrogate.  Same with my donations (hair, milk and egg)- I wanted to help, but I didn't want to be pregnant right then because of my crazy schedule, so I did what I could.  Being a milk and hair donor were both also ways for me to get the closure I needed after the surrogacy.  

3) What are you thoughts on chemtrails? (Call me crazy. I don't mind. =) )

Crazy Meg, this is actually the first I've heard of chemtrails, so all I have to say about them is "Que es esso?"

Now let me know where to send chocolate.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My week thus far



Yep, that's about how I feel, pulled in a bunch of directions, all at once.  Do I feel elated for my younger-older brother in law's marriage, or do I feel horribly upset about the separation of a couple that have been closer to me at times than much of my own family?  Do I feel so stressed out that I may puke with all the writing stuff with deadlines this week, or do I feel ecstatic that there may be an end in sight?  Do I feel horribly anguished for the couple that now has a child with a disability, or do I feel blessed to have been a part of their becoming a family?  Do I feel stupendously proud of my little boy, who will most likely be starting kindergarten next fall, or like a failure because I'm so relieved to have less time with him after a week of spring break that left us both in tears?  The answer is a resounding YES! to all of the above.  Gah.  It's the start of my annual dying-time, and this year is not looking like it will be a smooth one.  It's been 15 years now, why does the saga seem to hit replay whenever I can handle it least?  June fourth can't come soon enough right now.  At least Black Out Stout is in season, although I may need some Absente soon if the emotional roller coaster continues to be this severe.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

There are no successful ecologists

Or rather, the typical measures of "success" in society or academia really aren't well suited to ecology.  Defining success by the number of papers authored, chapters written, grants won, citations, books edited or written- not so relevant to improving our environment.   Defining success by species named vastly favors ecologists that may have never even considered the term ecology, let alone called themselves such.  Certifications and degrees may be useful, but they simply mark one accomplishment.  Defining success by on-the-ground measures such as species saved, habitats restored, or hectares conserved may accurately measure the success of a person in ecology, but those successes usually can't be attributed to a single person.  Instead, it takes dozens if not hundreds of people including legislators, managers, lay activists, volunteers, land owners, non-profit workers, and more, so a single individual's contribution may be relatively small.  Describing a new ecological theory or building a comprehensive model of some system definitely can change the way the world thinks of ecology and how ecologists research, but it's a lofty goal that very few people- even those currently considered "successful ecologists"- ever attain. 

How do we measure the success of an ecologist then?  I propose that we define success in ecology by living the life we teach- living sustainably, and lowering our own ecological impact as best we can, and the number of people we encourage to live similarly.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the whole world to save our biome.  And thus, I tender my resignation from the pursuit of "success" in ecology.  The other goals I listed above are important also, but they don't define and aren't the primary factor in defining success in this academic discipline. 

Ecology is a process, and as such, one's success in ecology isn't an endpoint, but a process.  If you've written your theory and now do little else while living a comfortable life utilizing lots of resources, you're not a successful ecologist.  You may have once been, but you aren't any longer.  In this case I'd argue this person is a less successful ecologist than the child that helps pull garlic mustard all summer and participates in citizen scientist endeavors regularly.  Maybe the reason so many US citizens have disdain for ecologists is because we're too busy trying to measure our success in disingenuous ways.  Shall we change that?  Will you join me?

Friday, April 2, 2010

One year, one hundred minus one posts

I'm celebrating my blogiversary!  I did it.  I wasted a ton of time.  I wrote about stupid stuff.  I bored you to tears.  And yet, you're here.  Why???

Whatever the reason, I want to say thanks.  Thanks for being bored.  Thanks for commenting.  Thanks for letting me vent.  Thanks for being there.

And to say an appropriate thanks, I wanted to give you, dear reader, a small token of appreciation.  Leave a comment on this post, let me know you're there, and let me know what you'd like to see more in this space or what you'd like to know about me and the insanity I call my life.  On April 9, 2010, I'll pick a "winner", and they get a half pound of Malley's Gold Cup chocolates.  I promise to get to answer all the requests/questions that are left in the comments on this post within the next month, as well.  So everybody wins.  Shameless plug for feedback?  You bet.  Below the scrap of dignity I have left?  Apparently not.  But there's chocolate.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why I love amphibians, and hate the iPad

Obviously, I think amphibians are pretty frakkin' awesome.  If I didn't think thus, I wouldn't be doing the research I am.  What exactly do I find so cool about amphibians, you ask?  Well, quite a bit, really.  For one, the huge diversity of amphibians- morphology, ecology and behavior.  Tails, no tails; gastric brooding, dermal brooding, egg layers; vocalization for mating and social purposes; inhabiting rain forests, vernal pools, and deserts; the ability to distinguish kin, non-kin and other species, as well as recognize familiar and unfamiliar.  These little critters can do a lot. 

They also happen to be extremely basal vertebrates.  Some people might refer to them as "ancient", "lower", or "simple", while talking of mammals for instance as "advanced" or "higher" vertebrates.  This framing might work at a superficial level, but the connotations of these terms include a degree of judgment, that for some reason we mammals are better than our less derived vertebrate relatives.  It's not a coincidence, unfortunately.  Our western cultural history still bears the imprint of many centuries of Christian thought, and it was the teaching of the church for many of those years that there was a natural order, or hierarchy.  organisms were ordered from the lowliest of creatures to the most divine, and one of the early theories of evolution posited that evolution was this slow march replacing organisms with other organisms ever more closely resembling the Christian God.

We now know that that's not at all the case, but this idea that newer is better is pervasive.  In contrast, one could argue that the older less derived forms are actually better suited to competing for resources.  After all, if they weren't better, they wouldn't have exerted a competitive pressure that drove evolution of more complicated traits attempting to compete with older versions.  If amphibians had had no ability to compete with the supposedly vastly superior mammals that came later, then they would have ceased to exist long ago, to be replaced by these newer forms.  The identifying characteristics of the major groups of organisms can be thought of as the innovation(s) that allowed a group to successfully compete with the older, more tested organisms already in existence.

It's an important lesson, I think, that progress isn't better simply because it is new.  Technology for the sake of technology may be interesting from a theoretical approach, but practically speaking, unless it solves some problem or improves life, it's just someone's research.  Especially in our current ecological paradigm of a vast population growing even larger, and polluting in ever increasing quantities, I think it's important to consider practicality and functionality.  Technical obsolescence and style obsolescence may encourage the development and adoption of new technology, but is it always better technology?  The Apple iPad and its launch recently is what has made me consider this paradigm, because I have to ask, "What real purpose does this thing have?"  As far as I can tell, it does nothing new that can't be done using some other already-existing device.What does this product do other than pad Apple's coffers and our landfills?  I'm using this one example, but it's only one of many instances which I think maybe the older answer was just as good, and the newer version serves solely for profit and use of resources.  But then again, I'll also never give up my turntable.  Commence the cries of "Luddite!".

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More on boys

A while back, I wrote on gender equality in education from the mother-of-a-boy perspective, and today I wanted to continue in that vein of thought, but in regards to bodily integrity and medical autonomy.

For a while, female genital mutilation, or female circumcision gained a lot of attention as the human rights cause celebre.  Female circumcision has a number of variations, all including the removal of some part or all of the clitoral hood, and may also include removal of some part of the labia as well, and in extreme cases the suturing of the vaginal opening to a reduced size.  It is practiced mostly in African and Middle Eastern cultures, but also in parts of Asia and in immigrant communities in North America and Europe.  The reasoning for the outcry was that this was a cosmetic procedure with no medical benefit and the creation of medical risks, performed on an underage and often unwilling female in traditional societies.  There has since been some push-back, as women who chose to be circumcised have come forward asking that us nosy Westerners stay out of their cultural practices, and accusations of cultural imperialism.  It is important to note, however, that the acceptance of the practice and the reports of voluntary circumcision are by far the minority view in this matter.

Contrast this with the case of male circumcision: a practice that originated as a minority religious tradition, with questionable medical value, and also done on under age males, usually infants, but a practice that is unquestioned as "good" for the person to whom it is done.  Both circumcisions involve the removal of similar tissue- the foreskin removed by male circumcision is homologous to the clitoral hood removed in female circumcision, although it is common for female circumcision to go further that that, as I've stated.  Where the removal of tissue is concerned, the difference is mostly quantitative as opposed to qualitative, although the stitching of the vaginal opening is definitely a qualitative difference.  There have been some studies to show a decrease in the risk of AIDS and STD transmission with circumcision, but none of those studies to my knowledge have dealt with neonatal circumcision in Western societies, instead focusing on adult men in developing countries, so I question how well the results can be extrapolated from one paradigm to the other.

Essentially, my biggest problem is just what I stated at the beginning of this post- the issue of bodily autonomy.  Why is the usurpation of a male infant's bodily autonomy considered perfectly normal and natural and parents who choose not to do so are seen as "fringe" community members, while to do the same thing to a female is considered unthinkable and a human rights violation?  Granted, the bodily autonomy extends further than just this one example, and can favor either sex, but the stark differences in how the circumcision of males and females is treated really draws my ire.  Human rights are human rights, and if one sex has the right to choose whether or not they will have cosmetic surgery, then the other does as well, and no one else can take that right, least of all the parents.  We still have a long way to go on gender equality, I fear, and no one is a winner so long as there are losers in the world.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Responsibility and Right

Since the passage of the health care reform bill, I've heard lots of talk about personal freedoms and how they're being infringed, often with an admonishment that "This is America, you have to work for what you get!" which distinctly implies personal responsibility, in my opinion.  As the argument goes, the requirement to buy insurance or face financial consequences directly goes against one's personal freedom.  Most states also require the buying of auto insurance in order to legally drive, but no one claims that to be an abridging of personal freedom, at least no one that I know of in their right mind.  Left mind, maybe. 

This is an imperfect analogy, I realize, because driving a vehicle is not required to live.  It is, in itself, a right that is balanced with a responsibility, and that makes sense to most people in the US.  If you don't want to buy auto insurance, then don't drive.  Simple, in theory if not in practice in many parts of our country.  But I'm not writing this to discuss public transit, I'm writing about health care, so I digress.

What seems to be left out in the current discussion is the existence of EMTALA, the Emergency Medical Transportation and Active Labor Act.  This act requires a hospital to provide emergency and stabilizing care regardless of insurance or ability to pay.  If you present with an emergency situation, the hospital must stabilize you (and active labor is considered an emergency under this law) FIRST, then they can worry about how or if you are going to pay. 

What EMTALA does is give you the patient the right to prompt, life saving care, without the wait to check your financial or insurance status.  But this right is balanced by nothing on your part.  In my opinion, the health care reform law balances EMTALA by giving patients the responsibility to attempt to take care of themselves financially by having health insurance.  We do have the option of balancing the equation by taking away EMTALA, but I don't want to be the one to explain to a laboring woman or a man having a heart attack "Please wait here while we check if you have insurance or can otherwise pay for our services". 

Essentially, when faced with the choice between personal responsibility and social responsibility in the United States, we have chosen personal responsibility.  We provide *very* little social support system, on the basis of the Protestant Work Ethic where one works for what they have, and gets what they earn.  However, we require emergency medical care to be provided outside of this framework and without regard to payment ability.  If we put that responsibility onto hospitals, then we need to have patients bear some responsibility as well, and that responsibility on patients is health insurance.  No other profession is required to provide services in this manner. 

Aside from revoking EMTALA, the only other viable option we have is single-payer health care like most other developed nations.  Our choice really comes down to 1) do we want to be a civilized nation that values life, or 2) do we want everything including health care to be based upon the system of desert and assert ourselves finally and irrevocably as a country that values money.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Broader Reach

It has of late come to the forefront of my attention exactly how much our perception of one thing can influence our evaluation of something completely different.  I am as guilty of this as anyone, although I try my utmost to avoid this contamination of prejudice.  Kind of like an extended negative association.  Negative association is the psychological phenomenon that lead Watson to seriously damage little Albert by connecting in his mind negative consequences (in this case fear caused by a loud noise) with a benign object, in this case white fur.  The child was so traumatized that the child couldn't be approached by women in fur coats for years after the experiments, so the historical story goes.

Likewise, if you are highly opposed to supplements, then you may extrapolate that dislike to other things associated with supplements, even simply items in the same aisle of the grocer's as supplements- energy drinks, Ensure-like supplements, Emergen-C, air-sickness bands, or Ora-Gel for example.  There's nothing that inherently links these items other than there placement in a store, but that association with supplements creates a dislike towards the other items.  That's not to say there isn't a reason to dislike some of these things; supplements especially have questionable contents, little to no regulation and are far over-marketed.Our minds play funny tricks like that.  Similarly, a bad experience with Aunt Edna's* latest "low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber" recipe may be so bad as to turn a person off any food that claims to be "healthier" or "natural". 

The worst thing that I can think about in regards to this scenario is when the phenomenon leads to discrimination against a group of people.  This week, it appears that our Congress will debate and possibly vote upon the biggest health care reform legislation since the creation of Medicare/Medicaid.  This possibility has created serious tensions and much backlash, especially from those in the Tea Party movement.  Reports in my state's capitol of Columbus this week included the heckling and harassment of a peaceful pro-health care reform protester who happened to also have a disability.  The Tea Partiers went so far as to throw money at this man, and proclaim such things as "I'll decide when you get money" and "There's no handouts here- you have to work for what you get."  These were not illiterate high school drop outs, either, but instead well-dressed, professional looking individuals.  In our country's capitol, there were ethnic, racial, and sexual orientation slurs thrown about, and spittle hurled at some of our members of Congress.

What madness has possessed people to sink to such blatant straw-man attacks rather than discuss the merits and drawbacks of the legislation at hand?  It hurts to see humanity sink to this level.  It hurts more to see this happen in my own country, and my own time.  This is not the Spanish inquisition.  This is not Selma, Alabama in the 1960's.  This is not the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's.  This is 2010, in the United States- a country founded by rational thinkers of the Enlightenment period. 

*For the record, I have no Aunt Edna of which I know.  There might be a great-aunt with that name somewhere, but no aunt, so I'm not actually libeling anyone.  :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Answers

A family member recently expressed concern about answers- mostly dismay at those who act like they have all the answers.  This is a family member that very vocally proclaims that Christianity is the correct religion and that Jesus Christ is the only path to eternal salvation.  This is also a family member whom I love and admire, and one of the few on my mother's side that I've felt a real connection to ever since I was a child.  The woman I remember from my childhood was much more accepting, or maybe I was more naive; in either case, it has only been in my adulthood, and fairly recently at that, that she and I have discovered our distinct differences of opinion.  Needless to say, she and I have of late had a few words that were not necessarily heated, but not very warm either.  Her comment stung, because framed by discussions we had previously had and other circumstances, it felt like the comment was targeting me. 

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers.  If asked a question, I'll either tell you the answer (if I know it) or say I don't know.  I don't like pretending.  I like to find answers to questions that I don't yet know the answer.  I also know that many of the big questions may have answers that vary based on the person.  Given ethical, moral, or philosophical questions, two people with similar knowledge of the situation may very well come to drastically different conclusions based on individual histories and experiences.  And I'm OK with that.  I'm also OK with staunchly defending the answer at which I have arrived on those big questions when the answer is one that suits me and someone tries to sway me a different direction.  I have a right to my answer, provided it does not infringe on anyone else' rights, just like others have a right to their answers, again provided they don't infringe on another person's rights.  That's one answer that I don't think is open to interpretation- that individuals can disagree, and so long as no one is harmed or rights are abridged, the disagreement does not need to be changed.  These varying answers add spice and variety to life.  They make it more interesting.

So please, unless the question is a subjective one, let our answers differ and our lives go on.  Until someone is actually affected by the difference of opinion, there's no harm and no foul, but we've both been exposed to a different view point and had our horizons broadened.  I say this as much for my own benefit and reminder as for anyone else.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Coming to the Table

A friend and I recently attended a meeting of the Kent City Schools Wellness Advisory Board.  By recently, I mean about a month ago or more, but it's taken awhile for me to sort this out and, well, life got in the way.  We went to that meeting planning on talking about how we wanted to see better food in the schools.  we wanted food not to be used as an incentive.  We value children' health and want to see obesity rates lowered.  We're afraid of the corn-flavored sodium pellets that is "industrial sized" cans of corn.  We are acutely aware that ketchup does not actually count as a vegetable.  In short, we came to the table to share my concern about they were feeding children, mine and others and talk about how to improve food choices.

Imagine my surprise when the teachers and school employees that were in attendance started expressing their concern over what parents were feeding children.  The teachers were frustrated that they could only control what food and nutrition messages children received at school.  They were afraid that children would come to school, learn good nutrition, and then go home and be fed nothing but Doritos and soda by parents.  In short, they came to the table to talk about how best to educate children.

Both of these things- good options and good education- are necessary to beat something like the childhood obesity epidemic.  Both sides were right in our concerns.  However, little was done at that meeting and I have little hope for things to change in the near-term future.  Granted, this was more of an organizational meeting than a planning meeting, but even for what it was, there was little really accomplished.

Part of the lack of any movement on the subject is the lack of trust that both parties exhibited and felt, I think.  I realize Ken doesn't have the normal "kid" diet.  He doesn't get high fructose corn syrup or artificial food coloring if he's at home.  This helps his diet as well as my sanity- you don't want to know what his reaction is to Red #40, it's not pretty.  He also gets the vast majority of his grains as whole grains.  We eat mostly organic.  No store-bought canned veggies; just fresh when they're in season, frozen, and home-canned from fresh.  He's mostly vegetarian, although we have been letting him try meat at home  lately, where we know what the animals have been fed and how they have been treated.  I don't fit the school's idea of their student's parents lack of education.

The school where the meeting was held also wasn't what I had envisioned.  At the high school, there were things that I would almost consider eating.  They have a salad bar and a burrito bar.  They have real food, by US standards.  The school cafeteria that I remembered from my childhood was only a small portion of the options that were present.  This cafeteria more resembled a mall food court than the cafeteria in which I grew up.  It didn't fit my preconception of the food choices available.  It was also not what the lower grades' cafeterias looked like and those are closer to my view of a cafeteria, I was told by one of the teachers.

In retrospect, we all would have done better to leave our preconceptions at the door before coming to the table.  We would have done better not to have pre-judged the other side.  We would have done better to think outside of the "us" and "them" style of combative mentality.  We would have done better to trust each other until proven otherwise.  I think these are good lessons for accomplishing goals in many more areas of life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Plun Creek Park Revisited

It's been one winter and lots of work since I announced my excitement over the Plum Creek Park renovations, and I figured it's time to update.  I decided this because, well, we finally got out to the park the other day, and yowzers, have things changed there!  I know I didn't post "before" pictures, but I will be posting some "afters" marked up to point out the big changes.  We're really excited.  Plum Creek is a tributary of the Cuyahoga, which means Crooked River.  Plum Creek when we moved to Kent was less a crooked anything or a river, and more a stagnant, wide, shallow pond.  Capped by a crumbling dam near the bridge.  Not anymore!

Please excuse the crap photos- we didn't have time to go until right at sundown and it's my first shot at stitching photos to make a panorama.