Thursday, February 28, 2008

Will hike for mental health

Susan Smalley posted about the mental health benefits of reconnecting with nature on The Huffington Post today. According to her bio, Smalley is a "Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA who specializes in the genetics of psychiatric disorders, particularly those with onset in childhood or adolescence, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism."

She, and supporting research, posit that part of the increase in anxiety, depression and learning disorders in modern kids (and I would suggest adults, too) stems from a disconnection from nature, play and activities that involved creativity and intuition.

It does smack of woo-woo hippidom, but I can see the sense of it - or, at least, I can sense the sense of it... I have had many experiences lately where Rob has encouraged me to drop whatever it was that I was working on, which inevitably seemed urgently important at the time, and hit a hiking trail for an hour. And the second we're surrounded by trees, I feel calm.

I can't explain why and, frankly, I don't think the why is particularly important in this case. Maybe it's simply being disconnected from the world for a moment; maybe we're hardwired to respond to the sounds of the upper branches of trees creaking in the wind and birds calling to one another; maybe the pure oxygen that seeps from trees gets us high.

Of course, with hiking, there are the added benefits of whatever it is that exercise does to contribute to mental wellness. Again, I don't know what that is, but I know that when I get into the habit of exercising, I notice the change in my mood when I stop. (Rob notices the change, too, I assure you.) It's not like I'm doing anything ambitious, like running until I hit the endorphin rush - just hiking, sometimes somewhat briskly, but always with plenty of stops while Rob takes pictures or we just admire something out there - the turtles floating in the water or the curve of a particular tree.

Smalley suggests taking time to "Lie down on the ground and what the sky for a while," and I can't agree more. It's free, there are no nasty side effects (read: Prozac and a sadly decreased libido) and you don't have to reveal your inner soul to someone you're paying $125 an hour (though I am a huge advocate of doing so).

All in all, it's a big "why not?"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memory at 85

Because I married a man a bit older than me, and because he was the surprise child of a woman who initially thought the symptoms of her third pregnancy were signs of her impending "change," I have a mother-in-law who is 85. Since I've known her, she has gone from mildly forgetful to clearly living with dementia. I try to stay very silver-lining about it, which isn't terribly hard because Caroline remembers us and the rest of the family and she's still herself (unlike some with Alzheimer's who display entirely different personalities). And she's basically happy - she'd rather live in an apartment (though definitively none of her kids - something she decided when caring for her own mother with dementia), but says the assisted living facility where she lives is "good enough for now," with nice people and good food that she's eternally grateful to not have to cook.

Lately, though, we've noticed a drop in her memory. Though we like to think of memory loss (as she puts it) as a steady decline, there are actually dips and plateaus - occasionally, there are even rebounds, such as when Caroline became disoriented when she moved into assisted living but rebounded to basically where she was, memory-wise and functionally, before moving.

So, yesterday I took her to the doctor to get a referral to a neurologist. No harm checking it out, we figure. It's been three years since her last trip to the neurologist and there's no telling what kinds of treatment options have been put on the market since then. We are, after all, living in what some reckon to be the golden age of brain sciences.

Her primary care physician said, "So, how old are you?"

Ah, I see where this is going...

"And you think your memory is poorer than it should be for 85?"

Yup, we've landed... at a good point, no less. What do we expect from an 85 year old woman? I'll admit that I expect what I have with my own 87-year-old grandmother and 88-year-old step-grandfather who are both sharp as tacks, both of whom reside in independent living facilities. But perhaps I have it backwards? Perhaps Caroline's functioning should be what we expect in these years so far beyond the lifespan relatively recent history suggests we should have, while these two amazing paragons of health should be considered exceptions worthy of much celebration.

There's been an increasing amount of debate lately about our expectations of aging, particularly in America where we seem to believe aging is optional. Graceful aging is more often regarded as confusing - why would we accept gray hair and wrinkles when we have a host of professionals and products to remedy them?

At nearly 30, it's easy for me to enjoy my growing crop of gray hair and make predictions about how I will face aging once my brain and body start giving out on me. Really, really easy.

In the meantime, I'll take Caroline to the neurologist and hope that he has some fancy new prescription that will combat her dementia if even only a little. If nothing else, the effort will make her happy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jim Neal for Senate

I received an email from a guy at Jim Neal's campaign after I wrote about Kay Hagan recently. Apparently, they thought I could be nudged from "Like Hagan but can't find fault with Neal" to "Ohhh... decisions, decisions" or even "Hagan who?" with a short conversation.

They might just have been right.

I just got off the phone with Neal who was absolutely charming - the kind of person I feel like I've known forever after our 20 minute conversation. The thing with both Hagan and Neal is that they don't feel particularly shellacked, though I will say that Neal's complete lack of barriers or formality did make Hagan feel a little glossy in retrospect. I suppose that's to be expected, though - Hagan has been in politics for a long while while Neal hasn't held an office outside institutes of education. She's had more time to integrate the sheen of politics into her NC gal personality.

But that's the whole crux of their run-off, much like the Clinton/Obama debate nationally. Which is better: a newbie who hasn't been tainted by the political system, but perhaps will have more of a learning curve once in office, or a person with existing experience and relationships that might make the transition smoother, but who has had plenty of time to be twisted by an increasingly suspect system?

Going into my conversation with Neal, I had two questions top of mind: 1) How does he really differ from Hagan politically? 2) As a man who makes no bones about being gay, how does he intend to keep his sexuality a non-issue?

He had several examples at the ready on the Hagan question - areas in which their votes would have been different had they already been in U.S. Senate. Some differences according to Neal:
  1. Hagan would grant retroactive immunity to telecoms for their participation in warrantless wiretapping; he would not.
  2. Hagan said she would support SCHIP if it didn't interfere with the tobacco industry, but Neal says he would "take kids over smokers any day."
  3. Hagan wouldn't give an opinion about Mukasey being installed as Attorney General because she didn't have all the info the Senate had. Neal said he would not vote for anybody who had to parse words about whether waterboarding is okay. "I don't think that sends the appropriate message to the world."
As for his sexuality, Neal said, "It is what it is, and I am what I am. I'm not running from the fact that I'm gay nor do I believe that it would be an issue which would block or stand in the way of my being elected."

He rightly pointed out that anyone who wouldn't vote for him solely because of his sexuality likely wouldn't have voted for him anyway because of his stands on a variety of issues, particularly social issues. During a time in which barriers are being knocked down right and left in the presidential field, Neal believes people find his honesty refreshing.

It is a beautiful picture that shows a North Carolina in which an openly gay man could take over Jesse Helms' seat just six years after the master hate monger retired. Even more than my concern about whether enough North Carolinians will vote for a gay man, though, are my concerns that people who have no problem with his sexuality will choose to use their vote elsewhere in their search for the winning horse. That's not a problem with him - that's a problem with a political system that would be better served by allowing people to choose more than one candidate during an election - that way, we could vote for our favorite dark horse (like me and Mike Gravel in the presidential election) while also casting a vote for the person closest to our views but with the better chance of winning (Obama... then again, I do love Obama... almost as much as the surly Gravel.).

Am I a total Neal convert? I'm not sure yet. I completely agree with his stands on the issues above but there's more research to be done before the May 6 primary. I definitely want to have a beer with the guy, though... not that that's a reason to vote for a person... but perhaps this quote is:

"We've had enough of the politics of division," he said. "This is a year about changing the status quo." Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Homeless vets

This morning's Story Corps on NPR was told by George Hill, who was homeless for 12 years after leaving the Marines.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are roughly 200,000 homeless veterans any given night. They believe it is conservative to estimate that one out of three homeless men once served in the military.

Rob, who was in the Navy, says that the first thing they were told in boot camp was that their job was to die for their country. Period.

Now, clearly I am against the war and wish ever so much that big chunks of our military budget would be put into other things like, say, education and health care. But as a country who makes up the red portion of this pie:

shouldn't we have the budget to take care of the men and women who commit their lives to what they perceive to be our safety? Shouldn't they, of all people, be protected against homelessness by the government that sent them into the war zone in the first place, that asked them to put their lives in the hands of people in fancy suits living it up in DC?

My guess is that starting with quality mental health care throughout their service and after would be a great place to start in combating vet homelessness...

The introspection of mourning

I suppose death makes most of us a little thoughtful, and I have spent the last few weeks, as my ex's father battled cancer for a short while and then passed, thinking of the nearly four years that I was a part of their family. I was a problem relative, to say the least... Perceived as a bad influence on my ex (not the first time I had been accused of that but one of the few times I didn't think it was true), I defended myself through gruffness and sarcasm. I was young; they were protective. I suppose we were all doing what we had to do.

At the lunch, I stood for a while with my ex and the two friends we spent all of our time with, a couple we traveled with, rang in the New Year with, called whenever we happened to be heading out to dinner. It was a strange kind of deja vu, so familiar and yet so alien... one of those moments where it seemed like both yesterday and a lifetime since the four of us stood around together... comfortable but terribly, terribly uncomfortable at the same time.

After all, what is the role of an ex in that situation? I wanted to be useful and comforting but after more than six years apart, that's long since stopped being my job... that's not even within my skill set anymore. I barely had a grasp on how to do that when we were a couple...

The broken heart I sustained at the end of that relationship has long since flaked away, aided in large part by Rob whose very presence in my life has shown me that I was wrong to think major compromise - who I am, what I want from a partner, what I want from my life - is an integral part of a long-term relationship. In it's place, I'm glad to have an amazing marriage, and a friendship with my ex, fueled by the memory of the qualities I loved about her... her awkwardness and sincerity and basic goodness.

The funeral ended with the playing of Dream a Little Dream, which took on a whole new meaning in the Hanes Lineberry chapel:

Say "nighty night" and kiss me
just hold me tight and tell me
you'll miss me.
While I'm alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me.
Stars fading
but I linger on
still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger til dawn, dear

I don't have any real beliefs in heaven and hell, but I hope that his wife was right when she imagined him sailing to the shores of heaven, greeted by his and her parents who promptly poured him a Maker's Mark. Surely, they serve Maker's Mark in heaven? I'll add that I hope his heaven plays really good music, with a healthy dose of Jonny Lang on the juke box.

Nighty, night, George. You worked hard and played hard; you were funny and irreverent and a hell of a wheeler-and-dealer. You lived life fully and in the process touched the lives of a lot of people. You will truly be missed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Newspapers adjusting to new times

We are in the midst of a monumental clash: new media versus old. On the local level, this is playing out particularly in the struggle between traditional print news, our very own News & Record, and the proliferation of free, online news sources from blogs to the New York Times online. The question being asked across the board is: Will local daily newspapers remain relevant much longer?

Bill Snider*, who spent two decades as the editor of what was then the Greensboro Daily News, thinks the question is a little overblown. “I think newspapers will find their niche the way radio did after TV came in.”

Roch Smith, Jr., the developer and proprietor of, a site that aggregates local blogs, agrees. “Now more than ever, with everyone able to publish to the Web, the value that news organizations can bring is credibility.”

That is just about where the agreement ends. During my conversations with them last week, each offered different perspectives on how local dailies will remain strong in a landscape in which the traditional profit generators – advertising and print circulation – are fast dwindling.

“I know weekly newspapers do mighty well with a local emphasis,” Bill said, “but I think if people are going to depend on a daily newspaper, then it ought to cover national and international news, more than the local news.”

Alternately, Roch sees anything beyond local coverage as an unnecessary recycling of content to be found on any national news site. He instead sees the role of the local dailies as being a resource for connecting people. “I find myself most interested in starting with the human level, as I see the blogs defining it.” Accordingly, Roch begins his news surfing by reading Greensboro blogs then following their links to the News & Record Web site for the “hard news” of the matter.

Meanwhile, the News & Record finds itself stretching uncomfortably between these divergent populations. A recent Web site redesign and the addition of more than a dozen staff-written blogs, all linked to We101, were notable efforts to reach out to the dramatically increasing population of readers who approach news as Roch does.

But I tend to agree with Roch that rejiggering may, ultimately, be less effective than rethinking, particularly redefining the end-all, be-all of newspaper bottom-lines: circulation. Roch believes that dailies should “measure the circulation of the content rather than the circulation of the container.”

What he means is that while newspapers are still busily counting the number of print issues purchased, they could boost their readership by inviting people to circulate their content through new media tools, particularly widgets. For example, I have a widget on my blog that links to my GoodReads bookshelves. Anyone on my blog sees GoodReads branding, and anyone interested in what I’ve been reading can click through to their site, which may stir interest in starting their own GoodReads account. My blog provides a resource to readers and GoodReads gets free advertising. The News & Record could do the same by providing a widget that displays headlines, local sports scores or whatever they want. As Roch pointed out, widgets could even include third-party advertising, further boosting revenue.

As the News & Record squares off with this formidable challenge, its need to cut expenses means that this is my last regular column. I’m sad to go but honored to have had a nearly two-year dialogue with all of you. Thanks for reading – I hope you’ll continue to support our paper as it finds its footing in our new media world.

*Bill Snider, just for full-disclosure's sake, is a member of my extended family.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A&T SuperStudents

I've had the front section of the Saturday News & Record sitting on my desk the last few days, trying to decide what to do with the article about Damien Cash and Derrick Gardner, two A&T students who intervened when a woman was being attacked... news that inspiring deserves more than a wimpy blog post, but I can't really imagine a gesture I could make that would befit two young men taking personal responsibility in a time that seems increasingly me-first... no, I think we're often beyond me-first and well into me-only.

So, I'll stick with a truly sub-par "Bravo!!" and hope that the word of their selfless deed inspires other people to take a moment to look beyond the bubble of their own existence. Maybe Damien's mom could teach parenting classes - as she said, "I know I raised him the right way." Indeed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another of Olbermann's Bush smack-down

Olbermann may have an ego the size of Bush's war deficit, but he says what needs to be said with an appropriate amount of indignation... and, more importantly, logic:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

USA 193

Apparently the ill-fated spy satellite, USA 193, will be visible in Greensboro at moments throughout the weekend:

USA 193 - Visible Passes

Search period start: 00:00 Saturday, 16 February, 2008
Search period end: 00:00 Tuesday, 26 February, 2008
Observer's location: Greensboro, 36.0730°N, 79.7920°W
Local time zone: Eastern Standard Time (UTC - 5:00)
Orbit: 261 x 263 km, 58.5° (Epoch Feb 11)

Click on the date to get a star chart and other pass details.

DateMagStartsMax. altitudeEnds
16 Feb3.418:33:5510SSE18:35:2315ESE18:36:3312E
17 Feb2.518:27:2910S 18:29:2927SE 18:31:3010ENE
18 Feb1.518:21:0210SSW18:23:1455SE 18:25:2910NE
19 Feb1.618:14:2910SW 18:16:4368NW 18:18:5810NNE

Developed and maintained by Chris Peat, Heavens-Above GmbH
Please read the updated FAQ before sending e-mail.

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day!

Psst - this guy's Lego art is also pretty amazing:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guerrilla Poetry

I smiled at an older gentleman at the Harris Teeter on New Garden yesterday. (Other than when in truly dire moods, I try to smile at strangers - these days, it's damn near an act of rebellion.) He took my smile as an invitation and offered me a poem.

It's, obviously, an unusual offer and I honestly wasn't sure if he was going to recite one to me, or if the guy was a little loopy... I do have a string of quasi-homeless, slightly (sometimes very) wacky older man friends in my past - it seems that I'm like catnip to them... probably because I smile.

Anyway, the man handed me a short poem printed on a small piece of card stock, then fished out two more. "My wife prints these out for me so I can give them to people," he said. Apparently, he also writes songs and sings them acapella, then burns them onto disks to give to people, but he was out yesterday and hoped that we would run into one another again so he could share one of those.

And then we parted ways. We didn't even shake hands or introduce ourselves.

The poems could have been total crap - it wouldn't have changed the fact that the interaction made the day seem somehow magical. I love moments like that, stumbling across a lovely stranger who offers an unsolicited bit of kindness. Shortly before, a friend told me that she had been given a cup of coffee by a random stranger at a Starbucks, which had likewise made her day.

And I love that this man would share something as intimate as a poem with strangers. I can imagine that many people are put off by the whole thing and refuse the poem, but I hope that much more often, they not only accept the slip of paper but do so graciously and really take a moment to read his words.

But the poems, while perhaps not making this man contender for poet laureate of NC, are lovely and positive. My favorite of the three:

A Letter to my Life

Dear Life,

Be kind and comforting
when I mourn
Be happy and vibrant
when I celebrate
Be patient while
I choose my path

Be forgiving and
when I make mistakes
Be aware and supporting
when I choose wisely
Carry me softly on
your gentle breath so
I land upright and honest

True to myself and others
and to the memory of my ancestors

- Harry Nagel

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Counterproductive diet food?

I had heard before (though I can't now remember where) that some research suggested that artificial sweeteners are counterproductive in the quest to lose weight. A BBC article highlights a study that shows the same.

Granted, the study was performed on rats and not humans, but being my own lab rat of dietary methods, I will say that keeping weight off has involved almost no effort since Rob and I transitioned into a whole foods way of eating. When we were doing Weight Watchers, and were subscribing to the conventional wisdom of weight loss, we had to pay attention to every morsel that entered our mouths and experience those oh so un-American feelings of deprivation to shed pounds. It's counterintuitive but true that now that we eat an egg sandwich every morning (on whole wheat bread) and have banned all low-fat and artificially sweetened (except for the occasional diet soda) from our pantry (we are more flexible out and about), we're lighter than we've been before and we're really enjoying what and how we eat. Mind you, we did replace low-fat items with full-fat, particularly cheese and the swap from margarine to butter. Mmmm, butter!

As with this study, I do tend to think the magic lies in our bodies not being confused by the messages the food sends. While artificial and processed foods prime the body for a certain amount of caloric energy and certain kinds of nutrients that they don't deliver, our bodies know exactly what to do with whole, real foods - it's no mystery to our digestive systems how to break down beets, whole grains or even real cheeses (except, of course, for you unfortunate lactose-intolerant folks - so sorry!). Perhaps that is, in part, why we stay sated for so much longer and have cut back our snacking dramatically.

Now that I think about it, the whole foods "diet plan" isn't so mysterious after all...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Flight of the hamsters

Flight of the Hamsters is the game to play if you're in a bad mood - I have laughed so hard - wait till the little guys start making a descent from really hight up... - now, if someone could explain to me how to steer the hamster...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sit-ins roundtable

Again, seriously overdue on posting this, particularly since the roundtable happened last Friday, but I still wanted to share bits and pieces. Just as background, as you likely know, last Friday was the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the sit-in movement, when four A&T students, Ezell Blair, Jr., (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, sat down at the segregated Woolworth's counter in downtown Greensboro, reinvigorating the civil rights movement and, as the three surviving members said last Friday, putting a "down payment on our manhood."

Highlights from the roundtable included:
  • They consider themselves the A&T Four, not the Greensboro Four. Though the whole city claims them and their actions now, in 1960, A&T was really a separate and self-contained city.
  • Dr. Warmoth Thomas Gibbs, then the president of A&T, was asked to talk the Four out of the protest, to which he reportedly replied, "We don't teach our students what to think; we teach them how to think."
  • Lewis Brandon, who was an A&T student at the time, and the first winner of the Human Rights Medal in 2002, said, "Greensboro likes to think of itself as progressive, especially in race relations. But Greensboro has never made change without a struggle from the community."
  • When asked by a student how they feel about A&T now, McCain said, "I'm proud of the institution but I'm not satisfied that students are doing enough," he went on to say that he felt the same way when he was a student. (As a funny side note to that question, he made mention of his mother not abiding him wearing a hat inside the house and a student immediate removed his toboggan.)
  • McCain also advised, "Don't wait for the masses to act on your concerns because the masses didn't come February 1, 1960, and they're not coming February 1, 2008."
  • Perhaps most importantly, McCain also said that the reason people are born with the capacity to do more than survive is because it is our job to take care of the least among us, that we're supposed to leave the world a better place than we found it. Buying fancy cars and starting families is all well and good, he said, but it's not the point.
A final note: My friend, Diane, and I were among the five white people there, in a turn-out that I expected to be standing room only but was instead filled with empty seats. It made me wonder a couple of things:
  1. Though African Americans were, clearly, the leaders and motivators of the civil rights movement, have we forgotten that people of all ethnicities, including whites, played significant supporting roles? That issues that affect minorities are issues that we must all address to have the best possible America?
  2. Have we reached a place where we have made enough gains in minority rights that we have gotten lazy? I wonder this not just about issues related to people of color but also about feminism... We do not have true equality - we have earnings disparities, health care disparities, legal disparities - and yet not enough people turned out to hear the wisdom of living civil rights legends to fill a modestly-sized auditorium?

Kay Hagan for Senate

I'm a little behind the ball on posting, but better late than never...

I went to a fundraiser for Kay Hagan on Monday night. I've met Kay a time or two in the past - at a meeting of the (now defunct) local chapter of NAWBO when she was campaigning for her most recent term in the State Senate, and more recently, when I ran into her at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. She was in her Saturday morning sweats with her hair pulled back and I didn't recognize her, but she stopped me to comment on a recent column. Needless to say, I was flattered...

But that's not why I like Kay - I liked, and supported her, from that first NAWBO meeting where I got the distinct impression (that has remained in the years since, as I've watched her career) that she's not trying to pull anything over on anyone. Though I, like a lot of people, have an innate suspicion of anyone in politics, Kay has never struck me as trying to pass for anyone other than herself, and to be sincere when she says she cares much more about issues than partisan politics. That said, she does have a seriously liberal voting record (this is the General Assembly record, and this is the abbreviated yet much easier to read Project Smart Vote record), but I'm certainly not one to criticize a person for that...

At the fundraiser, I again felt like she wasn't trying to sell a line, that she's truly concerned with comprehensive education for all kids ("I want all kids to have the opportunities my kids had," she said - her kids attended Greensboro Day School), to support military with a particular emphasis on the mental health of those returning from action, and to build our state's reputation as a center for business, particularly nanotechnology.

Still, I have to confess that I have yet to find fault with Jim Neal, who is also making a run for Dole's seat. Of course, I've never met the guy and he doesn't have any sort of voting record for easy insight... but I have to give a lot of credit to a guy who is openly gay and doesn't make any bones about it either way - it is what it is. A person's sexuality should only be a matter for the individual and whoever they're romantically involved with. As long as an elected official handles their power responsibly and with the needs and wants of their constituents in the forefront, what do I care what gender of consenting adult they have under their sheets?

Ultimately, neither gender nor sexuality (nor, in the case of our presidential race, ethnicity) have anything to do with a person's ability to fill a public office they hope to hold. May the most suitable, dedicated person win.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Gun buyers should prove qualifications

By now, we've all read the statistics: 32 homicides in Greensboro last year, six of whom were teenagers. What wasn't widely publicized was that 25 of those killings, 78 percent, were gun-related deaths. Simmer down, NRA members: This isn't a column about banning guns, but it is one about being thoughtful about how we handle the awesome responsibilities of this right.

It's something I've thought about a lot over the years, particularly at the beginning of this decade when I spent a year's membership at Calibers Indoor Gun Range, creating ever-tighter patterns of .22-caliber holes in faceless paper targets.

It was a powerful feeling to use a weapon with such intensely destructive potential. Ultimately, it was knowing how easily the trigger slid under my grip that kept me from buying a gun.

You see, that's the problem with guns: They are so incredibly easy to use. It takes infinitely more know-how to operate a computer, with which the average non-hacker can hurt little more than people's feelings, than a firearm that can end a life with even the most careless of gestures.

I just can't help but wonder how many of those 25 dead would still be alive had their attacker not had such a convenient weapon. If those attackers had only their fists, or a knife, would they have followed through? It's gory but worth considering that a beating or stabbing requires time, effort and proximity. You can't beat someone from 400 feet away, but you can shoot someone from that distance, even with a wimpy .22 revolver. No, an attacker using fists or knives has to be within an intimate distance of the victim, close enough for a vivid experience of the effect of their actions.

Meanwhile, a person with a gun standing a football field away could barely see the entry wound, much less the precious blood seeping from it. Most importantly, I suspect it's a gracious few people who have the expertise to hit or stab someone once to kill them, leaving time for a change in heart, to stop the attack before it's too late.

Still, I'm not suggesting that guns be outlawed completely. Our civil rights seem to be an endangered species and I'm not interested in further abridgements. But I do think more processes should be implemented to ensure that only those who can handle the deadly power of firearms have access to them.

Right now, we have a waiting period to buy guns in stores but an unfortunate gun-show loophole. Why? Do we value commerce more than responsibility? Right now, anyone who wants to legally carry a concealed weapon must complete an educational course, but why not extend that to all gun ownership? People should be required to prove they can handle both the weapon itself and the responsibility therein before taking a firearm home. We rightly require as much before a person can drive a car.

And, by all means, let's hold gun owners responsible for anything that happens with their firearm, whether they are the ones who pull the trigger or not. Unless a gun is reported stolen, there's no excuse for not taking full responsibility for its whereabouts.

I realize that there will always be a black market for firearms and other contraband. But when lives are on the line, it is worthwhile to take a note from the Serenity Prayer and change that which we can. We can tackle the problems of illegal weapons once we start acting rationally and responsibly with legal ones.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 and Obama

I suppose this had the effect it was meant to, because I was truly moved by this... not that anyone has had to convince me to be an Obama backer...

I was also moved by's post - from the heart, and the perspective of a person who isn't a political junkie. This is an excerpt - go to for the whole shebang:

The outcome of the last 2 elections has saddened me...
on how unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful,
corrupt, and just simply, how wrong the world and "politics" are...

So this year i wanted to get involved and do all i could early...

And i found myself torn...
because this time it’s not that simple...
our choices aren’t as clear as the last elections ...
last time it was so obvious...
Bush and war
no Bush and no war...

But this time it’s not that simple...
and there are a lot of people that are torn just like i am...

So for awhile I put it off and i was going to wait until it was decided for me...

And then came New Hampshire...

And i was captivated...


I reflected on my life...
and the blessings I have...
and the people who fought for me to have these rights and blessings...

and I’m not talking about a "black thing"
I’m talking about a "human thing" me as a "person"
an American...

That speech made me think of Martin Luther King...
and Lincoln...
and all the others that have fought for what we have today...

what America is "supposed" to be...

and truth...

and thats not what we have today...
we think we are free...
but in reality terror and fear controls our decisions...

Kitchen tools: oil spray pump

I've been using an oil spray pump for a long while now - I switched from Pam to avoid both the waste of the empty cans and the many ingredients added to help it spray and keep it from spoiling. In my experience, though, pump sprays are notoriously mediocre, spraying in clumps rather than mists, and never for as long as I'd like between pumping. Still, small prices to pay for a reusable container that sprays nothing but the pure oil of my choice.

After five or six years, my last pump finally pumped its last. After a bit of looking around, I came across the Cuisipro Spray Pump at Extra Ingredient. At $14, it was more than I had paid for my last one, but after using it for the first time this morning, I think it was well worth the few extra dollars.

Amazingly enough, it does, in fact, mist, and has an easy pump action. It's a little thing, but in my experience, a few good, essential kitchen tools can be the difference between a pleasant cooking experience and a painful one. For a dramatic example, spend a week using a relatively dull utility knife before switching to a sharp chef's knife - you'll know exactly what I mean.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Stone Mountain State Park

Rob and I have always joked that we like nature... as long as we can see it through the windshield of our car. But his photography, and our desire to find exercise that doesn't feel like a torturous waste of time, has led us to fall in love with hiking in recent months. It doesn't hurt that there are a mass of trails within a five-mile radius of our house.

So, we jumped at the chance to hike in Stone Mountain State Park with our vastly more hiking-savvy friend, Courtney, this past weekend. We chose the longest loop on the map - at 4.5 miles, we thought even we could keep up, though the map did call it a strenuous trail. As it turned out, most of what made it strenuous were the dozens (upon dozens upon dozens) of stairs, many of which seemed to be newly installed, leading to and back down from the summit of the mountain, a relatively smooth rock face that seemed impossible for rock climbing though we saw nearly a dozen climbers making their way up.

We also saw deer - deer that had clearly lived their entire lives in a sanctuary where humans had shot them with nothing more than cameras. They looked up at us from where they grazed, completely unconcerned that we were a few short yards away.

In all, we think we ended up hiking around seven miles, once we had taken a couple of detours, including one to reach the top of the waterfall. We also spent plenty of time just enjoying the surroundings- jumping from rock to rock so Rob could take this picture:

and sitting at the pockmarked summit surrounded by shallow pools of rainwater. We left wondering when the three of us could make the time to rent a cabin there so we could spend a few days exploring the other trails and the vast untouched areas.

The first photo shows a technique Rob is playing with - I love the drama of it! I'll be sure to let you know if/when he posts most pictures from this hike on his blog, Life through the Rectangle.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The sound of the anti-war movement

Being somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from "Inter-what?" to "Coding guru," I've wanted to post a song here for a while but never quite figured out how. The song is "Too Many Puppies," off Primus's first album, Frizzle Fry, which, ironically (for reasons you're about to hear) was released in February 1990, several months before the start of the first Gulf War.

This is just a clip, but I hope it inspires you to download or otherwise seek out the entire song:


Too many puppies are being shot in the dark.
Too many puppies are trained not to bark.
At the sight of blood that must be spilled
so that we may maintain our oil fields.

Too many puppies(x2)
Too many puppies are taught to heel.
Too many puppies are trained to kill.

On the command of men wearing money belts
that buy mistresses sleek animal pelts.

Too many puppies.(x4)
Too many puppies with guns in their hands.
Too many puppies in foreign lands.

Are dressed up sharp in suits of green and
Placed upon the war machine.

Too many puppies are just like me.
Too many puppies are afraid to see.
The visions of the past brought to life again,
Too many puppies, too many dead men.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The funniest thing I've seen in a while

And truly off-color, as is Sarah Silverman's strong suit. Don't watch if you don't like naughty:

Rethinking productivity

2007 was my year of uber-productivity, with undue amounts of time spent thinking of how I could cram more work into each and every day. And while I made great progress in my personal and professional lives in '07, I also noticed some nasty side-effects, like having a harder time really enjoying downtime, because I was always nagged by the work I could have been doing.

So when Rob and I started our New Year planning on January 1, I added a goal of redefining productivity in the hopes of finding the balance between quantity of work and quality of life. Nevertheless, when Tuesday rolled around this week, all I wanted to do was get back in bed, maybe read a little, definitely get some more snooze time in... but having not yet achieved my redefinition goal, I instead forced myself to sit at my desk until 4:30, pecking away at work, most of which will likely end up in the sad "never to be completed" file on my C: drive. But, for the sake of consistency and discipline, it felt like the right thing to do.

Research conducted by Dr. Roy Baumeister, which I unfortunately didn't read until Wednesday, suggests otherwise. According to him, "self-control might depend on a limited resource — a resource that, like a muscle, depletes during repeated, continuous use."

Like muscles, he says, we can build out capacity for self-control through "regular exertions of self-control," such as getting up at the same time every morning or doing a given task everyday. But, just as even the American Gladiators reach fatigue eventually, self-control resources eventually wear out, requiring down-time: activities that require little focus in order to recharge the stores.

Also interesting is that Baumeister's research further suggests that neither the difficulty nor the importance of the self-control sucking task is relevant to how it depletes the stores - only that self-control is used, as evidenced by a study in which the depletion task was simply to eat only radishes from a plate that held both radishes and chocolate.

It seems that in this case, the adage holds true: slow and steady win the race. Regular exertions of self control coupled with an awareness of fatigue are our best bet for remaining as productive as possible without killing ourselves.