August 24th, 2008

alan's beach photo

checking in -

Last night I was introduced to Pat Condell. He has a series of wonderfully irreverent videos on youtube. Check this out and if you like it keep clicking through more.

alan's beach photo

thoughts -

I am in the privileged position of needing to spend very little time in a car.  I can walk to satisfy most of my needs.  I didn't even know the price of gas had dropped because I so rarely fill up my tank, but yesterday I needed to go to the East Bay for three wonderful events, and so I was in my car.  I headed out early, traffic not too bad, and my son and I enjoyed breakfast in Rockridge.   People are eating out there to support the local businesses, because there have been robberies in the area at night where people come in with guns and rob the restaurant and take the money and jewelry of the customers.   It was daylight, of course, but I found myself wondering what country I live in.  I have been to Jakarta, not my favorite place and there is an uneasy edge to it.   Are we approaching that here?

Then, I went up to Jane's to see some wonderful footage shot by Lloyd of Lagunitas  Creek.  He proudly showed us his latest work.  In one section, there is a surprise.  A butterfly flies across the screen, or maybe it is a butterfly.  It looks like a fairy, a little white fluttering fairy.  As Lloyd says, it is magic.

It was time to go to Annemarie's 90th birthday party.   We got on the freeway, and needed to go through the merging of 24, 580 and 80, a nightmare, it seems, any time of day, but I was thinking how bad could it be on a Saturday at 2:00.   Well, sitting and watching the time pass by, 30 minutes to travel a very short way, with much more to go, I began to think I was crazy because I was so irritated and angry, angry that we are taking it.  Why are politicians not addressing the issue of the infrastructure of this country and why are we allowing it?  This freeway exchange is like this every day of the week, at almost all times of the day.  It is stopped, because it requires merging and merging and merging and merging.   Because I am in traffic rarely, I notice it.   I have been to Bangkok and simply walked, because there the traffic is often stopped.   I did not expect to see that here, but it seems it is happening here, and it happens slowly, so if you are in it every day, I suppose you get used to it because you have no  choice, but who is talking about how to correct these traffic problems?

I find it unfathomable.  I am also realized that I have felt depressed about politics since Edward's announcement of his affair.  I do not care about his sex life, but I do care that he continued running knowing it would be found out.  He not only stood up there lying, he accepted the money of hard-working people when he knew that money was just being thrown into the garbage because of his lies.  I don't get it.  I continue to overhear conversations where people say they gave money to his campaign.  I know people personally who gave money to his campaign.  They believed in him, and he threw it all away, and I suppose that is fine.  He is human and yet what does that mean and what does it excuse?

There is just enough light now to see the fog is tucked in close to my home right now, cozy.  I think it fits my mood as I try and adjust my thinking and my being to accepting the world as it is today.   I understand it is about acceptance, and yet how much do we accept?  How much change can we absorb?   We are accepting unfathomable amounts of change.  Most of us have a cell phone and a computer, perhaps even two computers.  We travel briskly here and there, and what are we thinking about all this time.  What am I thinking about?   What do I want to be thinking about?   Where is my guidance system, my inner star?

The word Source has been up for me lately.   How do I nourish my connection to Source, fill my tank there?

I head out for a walk now into the embrace of the fog.  I drink at the well of nature.  I feed there.

I realize though that I used to visit what were termed third world countries.  I am starting to feel like I live in one.

Book Cover

The speed of dark -

I watch this posted by Joan at Blindsight and my mood lifts. It is like my time spent with Zach where everything is viewed new and explored. Watch this and smile. Feel hope and not the phony kind that seems to be falling by the wayside in the political scene, but the hope that fuels us all.

alan's marigolds

Maureen Dowd!

Op-Ed Columnist

Too Much of a Bad Thing

Published: August 24, 2008


My mom did not approve of men who cheated on their wives. She called them “long-tailed rats.”

During the 2000 race, she listened to news reports about John McCain confessing to dalliances that caused his first marriage to fall apart after he came back from his stint as a P.O.W. in Vietnam.

I figured, given her stringent moral standards, that her great affection for McCain would be dimmed.

“So,” I asked her, “what do you think of that?”

“A man who lives in a box for five years can do whatever he wants,” she replied matter-of-factly.

I was startled, but it brought home to me what a powerful get-out-of-jail-free card McCain had earned by not getting out of jail free.

His brutal hiatus in the Hanoi Hilton is one of the most stirring narratives ever told on the presidential trail — a trail full of heroic war stories. It created an enormous credit line of good will with the American people. It also allowed McCain, the errant son of the admiral who was the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific during Vietnam — his jailers dubbed McCain the “Crown Prince” — to give himself some credit.

“He has been preoccupied with escaping the shadow of his father and establishing his own image and identity in the eyes of others,” read a psychiatric evaluation in his medical files. “He feels his experiences and performance as a P.O.W. have finally permitted this to happen.”

The ordeal also gave a more sympathetic cast to his carousing. As Robert Timberg wrote in “John McCain: An American Odyssey,” “What is true is that a number of P.O.W.’s, in those first few years after their release, often acted erratically, their lives pockmarked by drastic mood swings and uncharacteristic behavior before achieving a more mellow equilibrium.” Timberg said Hemingway’s line that people were stronger in the broken places was not always right.

So it’s hard to believe that John McCain is now in danger of exceeding his credit limit on the equivalent of an American Express black card. His campaign is cheapening his greatest strength — and making a mockery of his already dubious claim that he’s reticent to talk about his P.O.W. experience — by flashing the P.O.W. card to rebut any criticism, no matter how unrelated. The captivity is already amply displayed in posters and TV advertisements.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, the pastor who married Jenna Bush and who is part of a new Christian-based political action committee supporting Obama, recently criticized the joke McCain made at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally encouraging Cindy to enter the topless Miss Buffalo Chip contest. The McCain spokesman Brian Rogers brought out the bottomless excuse, responding with asperity that McCain’s character had been “tested and forged in ways few can fathom.”

When the Obama crowd was miffed to learn that McCain was in a motorcade rather than in a “cone of silence” while Obama was being questioned by Rick Warren, Nicolle Wallace of the McCain camp retorted, “The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous.”

When Obama chaffed McCain for forgetting how many houses he owns, Rogers huffed, “This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years — in prison.”

As Sam Stein notes in The Huffington Post: “The senator has even brought his military record into discussion of his music tastes. Explaining that his favorite song was ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba, he offered that his knowledge of music ‘stopped evolving when his plane intercepted a surface-to-air missile.’ ‘Dancing Queen,’ however, was produced in 1975, eight years after McCain’s plane was shot down.”

The Kerry Swift-boat attacks in 2004 struck down the off-limits signs that were traditionally on a candidate’s military service. Many Democrats are willing to repay the favor, and Republicans clearly no longer see war medals as sacrosanct.

In a radio interview last week, Representative Terry Everett, an Alabama Republican, let loose with a barrage at the Democrat John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who is the head of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, calling him “cut-and-run John Murtha” and an “idiot.”

“And don’t talk to me about him being an ex-marine,” Everett said. “Lord, that was 40 years ago. A lot of stuff can happen in 40 years.”

The real danger to the McCain crew in overusing the P.O.W. line so much that it’s a punch line is that it will give Obama an opening for critical questions:

While McCain’s experience was heroic, did it create a worldview incapable of anticipating the limits to U.S. military power in Iraq? Did he fail to absorb the lessons of Vietnam, so that he is doomed to always want to refight it? Did his captivity inform a search-and-destroy, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, “We are all Georgians,” mentality?



Book Cover

Frank Rich today -

This is a snippet from the Frank Rich column in the NY Times today.

What Obama also should have learned by now is that the press is not his friend. Of course, he gets more ink and airtime than McCain; he’s sexier news. But as George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs documented its study of six weeks of TV news reports this summer, Obama’s coverage was 28 percent positive, 72 percent negative. (For McCain, the split was 43/57.) Even McCain’s most blatant confusions, memory lapses and outright lies still barely cause a ripple, whether he’s railing against a piece of pork he in fact voted for, as he did at the Saddleback Church pseudodebate last weekend, or falsifying crucial details of his marital history in his memoirs, as The Los Angeles Times uncovered in court records last month.

Book Cover

Iran -

There is an article by Marguerite Del Giudice on Iran in the August, 2008 National Geographic.

The following is from the article.

"The legacy from antiquity that has always seemed to loom large in the national psyche is this: The concepts of freedom and human rights may not have originated with the classical Greeks but in Iran, as early as the 6th Century B.C. under Achaemenid emperor Cyrus the Great, who established the first Persian Empire, which would become the largest, most powerful kingdom on Earth. Among other things, Cyrus, reputedly a brave and humble guy, freed the enslaved Jews of Babylon in 539 B.C., sending them back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple with money he gave them, and established what has been called the world's first religiously and culturally tolerant empire.  Ultimately it comprised more than 23 different peoples who coexisted peacefully under a central government, originally based in Pasargadae - a kingdom that at its height, under Cyrus's successor, Darius, extended from the Mediterranean to the Indus River.

So Persia was arguably the world's first superpower."

"It was a stable superpower for more than a thousand years."

The author is informed that we outsides tend to judge Iran by the last thirty years, the Islamic revolution, and not by what came before.   Even now, 65 percent of the college students are girls.

The article goes on, and then, the author writes:

"In fact, the first thing people said when I asked what they wanted the world to know about them was, "We are not Arabs!" (followed closely by, "We are not terrorists!"). A certain Persian chauvinism creeps into the dialogue. Even though economically they're not performing as well as Arab states like Dubai and Qatar, they still feel exceptional. The Arabs who conquered Iran are commonly regarded as having been little more than Bedouin living in tents, with no culture of their own aside from what Iran gave them, and from the vehemence with which they are still railed against, you would think it happened not 14 centuries ago but last week."

And therein,  the reason we have wars.  14 centuries.   Forgiveness, working together and moving on,  anyone?

alan - morning glory center

Insanity -

I have lived in Mill Valley over thirty years.  When I came here "The Serial," by Cyra McFadden had just come out, and I thought I was moving to a place where the biggest stimulation was peacock feathers.   I learned that there are wonderful, caring, involved, loving people here, and yes, it is a mix, and we talk about the new people who come and the McMansions they build, and try to continue to integrate as we were integrated when we came. 

That said, I must say I read this article and think of the people in the world who do not have enough to eat, and I know there is a level of indulgence in this area that appalls, at times, and I know it's an article, focused on selling newspapers, and still one wonders what we are teaching our children.  

It doesn't sound like it is about health.  It sounds like it is about making money and creating future customers.   I spoke to a young woman at the Lancome make-up counter one day.  She was diligently informing me one must use all their expensive skin products, or just check yourself off the planet for negligence, and, she clearly was an ad for their products, and yet, she informed me she could not afford to buy organic foods for her child or herself.   Organic is too expensive and a luxury,  but overpriced make-up is a necessity.  How does that make sense?

Since this is MV, they are probably using organic foods in their spa treatments.  It's nuts.  Organic nuts, of course.

Girls learn about health, beauty at spa camp

Sunday, August 24, 2008

There's apparently no limit to how far a girl will go in pursuit of beauty, even if it means licking her own feet.

The cocoa-yogurt foot paste on Chloe Jacobs' toes wasn't meant to be ingested, but the all-natural pedicure treatment at Flying Beauticians spa in Mill Valley was, as owner Nona Daron had promised, made of foodstuffs found in an everyday kitchen and as safe to eat as to put on one's exterior.

It didn't hurt that Chloe, being all of 11, was inclined to be a little silly, especially after Daron had jokingly egged her on.

Oh, the things that happen at summer camp - and what a camp Daron ran for tweens this summer in Marin: a "spa campaign," or beauty school that sought to teach girls about health and beauty from the inside out.

While other children were finishing sessions at tennis camp, science camp or Bible camp, a handful of girls in the affluent Marin County enclave - the daughters of financiers, engineers, consultants and the like - were learning about the benefits of footbaths with warm water, lavender and sea salt; honey, sea salt and ground ginger foot scrub; and foot massages with olive oil and avocado paste. Manicures followed on Tuesday, lessons on sunscreen on Wednesday, yoga and meditation on Thursday, and more massage treatments - for anyone the girls wanted to bring in and practice their new skills on - on Friday.

It was the second session of its kind Daron offered this summer - five days of training from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., for $375 per person (lunch not included).

In addition to the pampering, there were hourlong morning hikes and other activities designed to help girls of an impressionable age learn that presenting a confident, attractive self to the world does not revolve entirely around slathering oneself with the latest expensive creams, lipsticks or perfumes.

Healthy and confident

"This camp is about simple things we can do to make ourselves feel good," Daron told six middle schoolers. "It's not about how you look on the outside, it's about the inside. If you're healthy and confident, your beauty will shine through."

Daron, whose mother was an aesthetician in Russia, owned her own spa in San Francisco for 15 years before setting up a second branch in Mill Valley three years ago. The summer camp, she said, is a way to give back to the community. The pricing offsets the closure of the spa to all other customers during the six-hour period.

To Daron's credit, she used only products found in a typical kitchen cupboard, rather than promoting brands sold in her store - with the exception of fingernail polish, "something I can't make myself." She also enlisted the help of Kim Juarez, owner of fitness center Team Lola, to lead girls on their morning hikes and talk about nutrition, and Michelle Lawton, of Stretch the Imagination, to teach yoga.

This was no group of newbies, but a sophisticated bunch of 10- to 13-year-olds. All had received manicures and pedicures before. When Daron brought up the subject of women subjecting themselves to severe discomfort for the sake of beauty, most had already heard about Chinese foot-binding practices. One even knew the various pressure points on the foot that promoted relief of spinal pain.

"How do you know that?" Daron asked.

"I've had reflexology," said May Congdon, 13, an eighth-grader at Marin Country Day School.

At times, the camp operated more like a daytime slumber party, with girls giggling at the prospect of mashing avocadoes and olive oil in a bowl with their feet to prepare a paste for massage.

"Please, don't tickle me!" squealed Chloe Jacobs, 11, a student at Mill Valley Middle School, as Darcy Groves, 11, rubbed a sea salt paste onto her feet.

"I'm exfoliating!" corrected Darcy, another Marin Country Day School student.

Getting the message

As a group, the girls acknowledged that they already are feeling the pressure to conform, both from cliques who ostracize them for no apparent reason and from the media's body image standards.

"I'm a twig," said Ryann Morris, 13, an eighth-grader at Marin Country Day School. "I've always been a twig. It's annoying. Nothing fits me."

But, they added, their mothers try to combat those negative messages with more positive ones, even if the old refrain "It's not what's on the outside, but what's on the inside" elicits groans.

That's not to say that the camp's messages didn't seep in, at least a little.

In June, Bailey and Jordan Chavez, students at Mill Valley Middle School, attended the first session, and they said they had learned much about nutrition and have changed their eating habits since.

"I eat a lot less junk food since then," Bailey, 11, said. "Our family has a sweet tooth. Of course, when you have a sweet tooth you love eating candy. It was hard for us, but we cut down on a lot of sweets, and on the amount we eat."

"I feel a lot better," Jordan, 13, said, "because I know I'm not having all those calories."

At 2 p.m. Monday, however, it was the second round of campers who were busy at work when spa regular Jayne Greenberg, an event planner in town, walked in to make an appointment for a brow waxing.

"Is this closed for a private party?" she inquired.

"No, it's spa camp," she was told.

"Spa camp? I've never heard of it before," she said. "Only in Mill Valley."

alan - joshua tree bloom

Connection -

Katie, who is having the bone marrow transplant,  posted today on her blog that she is now 99% donor.  I assume she means her bone marrow is now 99% the marrow of this other person.  I am with the miracle of that, all the science, research, and people to do this transplant, and ensure Katie now lives in health, helped by the body of this other person, an anonymous donor.

I am so struck by it, so awed.  

It is no wonder I sometimes feel discombobulated.  There is so much to absorb.

We live in a time of miracles.  A miracle is defined by A Course in Miracles as a change in perception.  Certainly, each day, technology is changing how we see, and we are learning new ways to share to live.  Miraculous and inspiring, I say.   Celebrate the miracle of love, care, connection, and life.

snow and ashes

Grace -

Paul Nicklen went underwater to photograph the deadly and predatory leopard seal.  even though a marine biologist  had been killed the year before by one while snorkeling. Somehow he gained trust in his ungainly underwater suit and one curious female leopard seal brought him penguins and even placed one on his head.    In Baja, whales are bringing their children to meet people.  Through curiosity satisfied and exchanged, we may find our way to peace.  Stephen Hawking thinks it is essential that humans survive, since we are very special and a great deal of time has gone into our "creation."  He thinks our survival demands our expansion into space.  Perhaps the creatures of the ocean can also teach. 

Deadly Beauty
By Kim Heacox
Photographs by Paul Nicklen
Big, fast, sleek, and lethal, leopard seals prowl for penguins along the edges of Antarctic ice.

Of all the seals in the world, only one, the leopard seal, has the reputation of a true hunter, a top predator. At up to 12 feet (four meters) long and more than a thousand pounds (450 kilograms), it moves with surprising agility and speed, often along the edges of ice floes, patrolling for penguins and other prey. "Sea-leopards," early explorers called them. A "fierce, handsome brute," wrote Frank Worsley, Sir Ernest Shackleton's skipper on the famous 1914 Endurance expedition. The name comes from the seal's patterned skin, which Worsley described as "a fawn coat spotted all over with brown markings."

Every austral summer, leopard seals wait in shallow water off major penguin breeding colonies to capture newly fledged birds going to sea for the first time. The seals' teeth tell the story: front canines and incisors designed to capture and shred their prey; back molars with sharp edges for grasping and cutting, but also with interlocking cusps to sift krill. The seals have a surprisingly diverse diet: krill, penguins, other seals, fish, and squid—anything they can get their canines on. The other seals on the menu are crabeater seal pups, or, off the island of South Georgia, Antarctic fur seal pups.

Leopard seals have been seen as far north as the coasts of Australia, South America, and South Africa. Their true home is circumpolar Antarctica, where they seem to fill more space than their actual size. Think of tigers in India, lions in Africa, grizzly bears in North America.

Göran Ehlmé, a Swedish cinematographer, has spent years in the water with leopard seals: "It's not strange that the seal has the reputation it has. The first time I saw one, I got scared. The big head. The large mouth. The sinister eyes. The icy water added to the fear. I had to rethink things through a bottle of whiskey and a long sleep."

Ehlmé had heard stories. He knew about a leopard seal attack on a member of Shackleton's crew, Thomas Orde-Lees, who was skiing across sea ice when a leopard seal emerged from between two floes and lunged after him in bold, snakelike movements. Orde-Lees managed to keep ahead, kicking and gliding, until the seal dived into an open lane of water and tracked him from below—following his shadow—to pop up ahead. Orde-Lees turned and yelled for help. The seal pursued until it was shot dead by Frank Wild, Shackleton's second-in-command.

The seal's reputation took another dark turn in July 2003 when Kirsty Brown, a 28-year-old marine biologist snorkeling off the Antarctic Peninsula, was grabbed, pulled down, and drowned. Her colleagues worked for an hour to revive her, but could not.

Leopard seals had punctured inflatable boats. They had now and then harassed people. But never before had they caused a documented human fatality.

"It makes a better story to tell about a ferocious animal than it does to tell about a curious one," says Ehlmé. "People tend to judge animals in frightening moments. But these seals, they are mostly curious. I tell other divers, 'If you get scared, just close your eyes. Then open them. The seal won't bite you, but it will be very close.' " (Antarctic research stations now advise anyone not studying leopard seals to postpone a dive, or to get out of the water, when they see one nearby.)

Photographer Paul Nicklen took Ehlmé's advice as he slipped into the cold sea of Antarctica and found an animal capable of ferocious acts and delicate gestures. Before his eyes a leopard seal—sometimes only inches away—would shred a penguin, or offer it to him whole.

As Shakespeare wrote in Othello, a reputation is "oft got without merit and lost without deserving." Perhaps it comes down to this: We cannot know a seal, or any wild animal, until we gently enter its home, where it keeps the truest part of itself. In so doing we learn more about ourselves, another top predator, forever curious.