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Getting Into the Weeds of the Marijuana Debate

First, sorry about that title; I couldn’t help myself. When I was in grad school, a sheltered 21-year-old living on her own in the Big City for the first time, I had a friend I’ll call Bo. An English major like me, Bo was a wildly creative character who scavenged through garbage cans and transformed odd stuff he’d found into some very interesting works of art. He was also eager to share some of the things he regarded as life’s gifts with his friends. And so one day he offered me—a non-smoker, rule-abider, and pretty fastidious sort—a dirty-looking piece of hemp. ....

The Constitution: Can It Help Us “Replace the Jeering With Productive Conversation”?

No matter what your politics, you may well be troubled, as I am, by the efforts on college campuses—as well as in many other arenas—to stifle dissent by preventing people with unpopular views from being invited to speak—or interrupting them so that they can’t be heard. Short of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, the First Amendment to the US Constitution should be a protected and revered part of all our public dialogue—from colleges to the White House. And it seems the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) college entrance exams, has decided to do something about that problem, reports Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. They determined to ensure that the next generation really learns what the Constitution is all about. 

Thoughts Engendered by Pajamas With Feet

NOTE: Gazing at a lovely picture of a friend’s daughter with her two kids--a newborn and a toddler--I found myself advising her, in full cliche: “Enjoy every minute of this time; it goes so fast!” That made me wistful about my own daughters’ younger years. Even though I realized then the flight of time, it still slipped past me far too quickly. So I dug out a poem I wrote decades ago, which was published in a local anthology. Here ’tis:

2020 Foresight: Looking Beyond Our Dysfunctional Government

For now, at least, 35 days after it was foisted upon us, what has been called “the Seinfeld shutdown—it’s about nothing”—is over. That would be amusing if it hadn’t wreaked such terrible damage on so many people. It will take a while to understand the larger impacts on our economy, national security, and more, but we’ll probably never know the devastation it caused some of the most vulnerable government workers and private contractors..................

OK. Now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system, I’d like to update an exploration of an issue I first raised in “Here’s Why I’ve No Intention of Discussing the Elephant in Our National Room”: What are we looking for in leadership in 2020? It’s going to be a wild ride out there as a multitude of Democrats seek the party’s nomination. 

I invite you to put on your citizen-pundit hats and tell me what you think. Feel free to name names: those you either like or don’t like at this point, but please tell me why....

But I’m equally interested in the issues you think are paramount and the qualities you’re looking for in a President—and whether you think that type of person/persons would be viable in the general election. In these hyper-partisan times, are you looking for someone who expresses commitment to reach across the aisle? How do you think such a person would fare in the primaries?

How Do You Train a Butterfly? The Same Way You Train an Orthopedic Surgeon!

Ken Ramirez, a world-renowned animal trainer, was offered quite the challenge. A botanical specialty group in the United Kingdom had built a large garden in the midst of some tall buildings in London—a garden that was home to thousands of butterflies of varying species, as well as many other types of flora and fauna. Its purpose: to show the “symbiotic relationship between plants and animals,” wrote Ramirez, describing the task ahead.

“The director of the project, Lucinda Bartholomew, had envisioned a fundraising gala presentation that would include an orchestra in the middle of the garden playing beautiful classical music while butterflies flew from one part of the garden to the other.”

They wouldn’t just fly willy-nilly, mind you. The idea was to design and implement a plan to train more than 10,000 butterflies to traverse the garden, on cue, in unison. Now if someone offered me an assignment that seemed like an impossibility, I’d think long and hard about it. But the fact that Ramirez hadn’t ever worked with butterflies before and knew little about their sensory mechanisms didn’t deter him at all. Ensured help from the group’s butterfly experts, he enthusiastically agreed. ”What a unique training opportunity!,” he wrote.

How Do We Talk About Race in America? A Serendipitous Part 3

I hadn't planned this additional post on race, but I came across what I feel is a wonderful piece of Op-Art on the topic in The New York Times. Some of you may recall it, but even if you do, I hope you'll use the link above to revisit it. It's worth several readings, I believe.

And it's followed by another serendipitous example that I find enriches the topic.

Writer and illustrator Henry James Garrett has created a wise and amusing morality tail/tale that's titled "The Kernel of Human (or Rodent) Kindness."

Zen and the Art of Vacuuming: A Near-Fable

An Introductory Note:

I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for quite a while, and I am quite serious about it; it’s had a beneficial effect on my life. But in my description of my blog, I speak of “seeking dialogue to inform, enlighten, and/or amuse you and me.” The emphasis here is on “amuse.” I realize things have been pretty heavy in Annie’s blog world, with focus on climate change, the political scene, and race relations, so I thought it was time to lighten up a bit in this holiday season.

What follows is a piece I wrote some years back, which was published in a now-defunct humor magazine. It still amuses me, and I hope it will elicit a smile from you as well. Perhaps it will also evoke feelings in concert with my desire to find common ground…

Navigating “The Wild West” Marketplace of Consumer Genetic Testing–and Other Needed Information About Our DNA

In an article in The New York Times Sunday Review, genetics counselor Laura Hercher described a man named Matthew Fender, who—after searching for heredity data through 23andMe—had placed his genetic test results into Promethease, a DNA search engine that probes such data for variants cited in the medical literature. 

Fender had sought to learn his risk for developing a pulmonary embolism, the condition that had killed his sister, a seemingly healthy young woman of 23. The report didn’t mention that, but it did provide the alarming news that he carried a mutation (PSEN1) strongly associated with early onset Alzheimer’s, as well as two copies of a gene variant (ApoE4) that indicates greatly increased chances of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s.

After getting no satisfactory guidance from his primary care doctor and other professionals, Fender checked out a competing genetics company, Ancestry DNA,  to see what his results there would say about the PSEN1 variant. They said nothing.
He then persuaded his doctor to order the test, which proved negative....

It’s worth noting that both companies claimed their tests were 99.9% accurate. Yet a 23andMe representative told Hercher that “a 99.9% accuracy can still mean errors.”

How Do We Talk About Race in America? Meet Doug Glanville (Part 2 of 2)

As soon as I determined to address this topic in my blog, I knew the person I should turn to for guidance. Doug Glanville, who’s been a friend of my daughter’s since childhood, is one of those all-around amazing people. It was evident when he was young:  academically gifted, terrifically athletic, warm, funny, and friendly, he was clearly destined to make his mark in the world.

And so he has. After graduating as an engineering student from the University of Pennsylvania, he had an illustrious nine-year career as a major league baseball player—a center fielder for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. From there he became a commentator for ESPN. He wrote a book, The Game From Where I Stand, contributes frequently to The New York Times, and has written for The Atlantic...

And yet…and yet. In the winter of 2014, shoveling the walk of his home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Tiffany, an attorney and Hartford Board of Education member, and their four children, Glanville was stunned to be approached by a police officer from the next town. 

How Do We Talk About Race in America? (Part 1 of 2)

“Being a human being is a really hard job.”

I heard this comment from the neurologist who treats me for migraines—a prominent researcher and a wonderful, compassionate man. He was quoting an observation that his mother often made when he was growing up.  “I didn’t realize how wise she was when I was young,” he told me, but over the years, his mother’s words have come to resonate. Fortunately for me and his other patients, they appear to form part of the empathy that makes him both an exceptional physician and a lovely person.

“Forget about race; it’s hard enough just to be a human being.” During the same week that my neurologist repeated his mother’s words, I heard a white comedian quoting Richard Pryor, the brilliant African-American comedian and social commentator who died in 2005.

At first I was struck by the similarity of the sentiments. But then I thought: Did Richard Pryor, who was a pioneer in speaking truth to audiences black and white about the burdens of racism, really say “forget about race”? So I did a little research.

OK. The Dems Won the House. Now What?

Well, there really was a blue wave—reportedly the greatest turnover since 1974—and a number of races remain too close to call or subject to a recount. These victories are especially impressive because of the gerrymandered districts and increased state restrictions that led to long lines at the very least and disenfranchisement of numbers of voters, mostly people of color. For a detailed look at what voters faced, read What It Takes to Win, published by the Brennan Center for Justice in October. 

As I stated in my last post, I view this not as a partisan issue—but as a critical win for our democracy. Unless/until the Republicans become better stewards of their Constitutional oaths, or are replaced by a new political force more willing to seek compromise for the good of the people, I hope Americans will continue to shun them in large numbers.

However, one of the consequences of this election was the defeat of some of the most moderate Republicans, increasing the likelihood that the party will become even more intransigent. 

And so, although I am grateful that the Democrats can put the brakes on many of President Trump’s chaotic and sometimes horrific actions, I see reason for concern that to accomplish anything on the substantive issues needed to show voters they are delivering and to hold their majority, the Democrats face an uphill battle. 

The Stakes Couldn’t Be Higher: Vote to Repudiate Violence and Find Common Ground

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I’ve been searching for common ground among us and/or stressing that we can be agreeable even when we disagree. I’ve also stated that I have strong opinions, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my concerns about climate change and gun safety, while generally avoiding the virulence of the political debates being played out in so many other arenas.
The thing is, I am perplexed that some of the most important issues we face are depicted as partisan, when, in fact, the majority of Americans agree about them...

RX for Schoolkids: Open Your Mouth and Say “Ommmmm…”

Decades ago, when Transcendental Meditation (TM) became a hot topic in the US, some New Jersey schools began a pilot program to introduce it to their students. An immediate furor arose from people objecting to what they saw as a religious incursion into the public schools. I wrote a letter to the editor of the newly introduced New Jersey Weekly section of The New York Times, which the Times ran as an Op-Ed titled “A Word in Favor of Meditation in the Schools.” (See my first post, Greetings.)...Here I shamelessly quote myself:

“If we can educate young people in relaxation techniques that will enable them to handle stress before they are exposed to the eventual stresses created by employment, marriage, child-rearing, and the like (in other words, everyday living), we may well be setting them on the way to longer, healthier, and happier lives.”

Unfortunately, all these years later, school children are being exposed to stressors that didn’t even exist then, and they are showing the impact in terms of anxiety, depression, and attempts at suicide. At the same time, mindfulness meditation and yoga have become all the rage among adults. So I decided to explore the extent to which mindfulness has been incorporated into public education, and how effective it’s been. The topic is vast, so I’m just scratching the surface here.

Why You and I Need to Care About Phytoplankton–and What We Can Do About Them

Despite my optimistic outlook, there’s one area where I need to search especially hard for positive signs: climate change. To me, it is the existential threat to our planet, and I am infuriated and frightened by those who willfully ignore the important lessons that scientists are teaching us.

Recently, I had an exceptional guide into the impact of climate change on phytoplankton, the tiny organisms at the very bottom of the food chain. And I’m now convinced that we really need to pay attention to the fate of these microorganisms—because our future is intertwined with theirs.

The Mindfulness Community Enters the Political Fray!

I’ve long been aware that the mindfulness community is devoted not only to helping individuals find inner peace, but also to creating a more peaceful world. But I was pleasantly surprised this week when I received the letter below from one of my favorite mindfulness guides, Tara Brach (whose letter was more nicely formatted than what you see here).

Brach describes her role, as part of a group of Buddhist mindfulness leaders, in an interdenominational effort, Faith in Action. Its vital mission is to get out the vote on Election Day, November 6, vastly expanding the electorate...
Please click on the links to see if there’s any action you’re able to take (in addition to voting on November 6, of course!) and share this information as widely as you can!

Practicing Optimism in a Crappy World

After my last couple of posts, several people said they appreciate my optimism—a trait that is clearly in short supply these days. As I don’t think I’m either ostrich or Pollyanna, and I’ve done plenty of ranting and yelling at the images on the TV news and on my often too-smart-by-half phone, I’ve been exploring the source of the hopefulness that I've been conveying to you. I think that the mindfulness meditation I’ve been practicing for more than a year now has finally reached fruition, and I'd like to share some of my discoveries and resources...
It’s been quite a journey for me to reach this point, and I’ll readily acknowledge there are times when reality’s bite makes me feel optimism is kind of nutty. But then I breathe, smile, and the shadow passes. We really don’t have to live in anger and fear.

Here’s Why I’ve No Intention of Discussing the Elephant in Our National Room

Despite my own strong political views, I have not, from the outset, intended this blog to be strictly political. So much stuff is readily available that I see no need to repeat what’s often appearing elsewhere—unless I (or we) can somehow come up with a different perspective.

And that’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me with now.

Mister Rogers: Where Are You When We Need You?

I see a direct line between two recent bits of news. Here’s the first: “America Really Is in the Midst of a Rising Anxiety Epidemic,” headlines a Science Alert published in May. Reporting on the findings of an American Psychiatric Association (APA) Public Opinion Poll, the author writes: “If you’re feeling stressed, uncertain about what the future holds, or even physically unsafe, try not to panic—you’re definitely not alone.” ...
And here’s the second: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the lovely, gentle film about Fred Rogers, a soft-spoken Presbyterian minister whose Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood series on PBS uplifted and reassured a generation of children and their parents, has raked in more than $20 million since its June 8 opening. That figure makes it the highest grossing biographical documentary—and one of the top 15 nonfiction films—of all time.

Backstage in My Blog World: An Explanation and an Apology

The title of this post might also be “Blogging While Aging Ain’t for Sissies!” It is directed at those of you who—with astonishing alacrity—sped to my site last evening immediately after receiving the WordPress email announcing the publication of “Should We Get Smarter With Our Smartphones?” and found…nothing—no content. I don’t know who you are, … Continue reading Backstage in My Blog World: An Explanation and an Apology

Should We Get Smarter With Our Smartphones?

My intention here is not to make everyone anxious; the data are not at all clear or persuasive that our ubiquitous cellphones are a health risk. And I'm aware that I'm simply touching the surface on a highly technical and controversial issue. But enough legitimate sources are urging us to take a thoughtful inventory of our cellphone use that I felt it was worth bringing this information to your attention.