Monthly Archives: November, 2010

On the Treadmill and Off the Grid

This is such a great idea I wonder when they’ll adapt it for home use…

The Green Microgym in Portland, Ore., has all the usual stuff you’d expect – sweaty people, thump-thumping music, sleek exercise equipment – but it has some extras as well. Everywhere you look, there are power cords. And these aren’t the typical kind that let you surf the Web while you slog away on a spin cycle or elliptical machine – although you can do that too. The gym uses specially configured exercise equipment that captures the energy you create while pedaling, converts it into electricity and channels it into the power outlets.

I was riding my bike to the gym where I have a membership. It’s not a bad ride or I wouldn’t do it. Now that it’s cold I’m keeping a gym bag in my car, since I’m often driving by there.

Exercise used to be integrated into daily life– walking to the bus stop, walking up stairs. If you think about the carbon impact of your daily life you are likely to find ways to save energy and burn calories. If, like me, you struggle to find motivation, this might just be enough to get you off the computer. Bye now, got to go to work.

Talking About Korea

Thanks to Fiore on Buzzflash who posted this essay by Mitchell Bard on Huffington Post on why Sarah Palin’s Korea flub matters.

That’s the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn’t covering. It’s not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.

Sarah Palin, with her reliance on spouting talking points, simplistic approach to issues and complete lack of experience beyond a half term as governor of a state the size of Columbus, Ohio, is not competent to be discussing North Korea. And shame on any media outlet that treats her opinions as if they’re worth anything.

The real damning Palin quote in the Beck interview is the one in which she worries if “the White House is gonna come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea’s gonna do.” Putting aside her usual butchering of the English language, she takes a complicated problem facing the United States (and the world) and reduces it to a talking-point political attack on the president.

Her comment reveals that she has no understanding that we are dealing with a North Korean leadership that may not be rational and may even be self-destructive. And one with the firepower to kill legions of South Korean civilians.

Korea’s dangerous dictatorship is a problem the Bush administration left unsolved for the next president. No one is proposing that we invade Korea, so how we ‘get tough’ will have to be worked out through alliances and diplomacy. Our allies in South Korea and Japan depend on wise policy from the US.

Obedient Firefighters

Our political discourse has become so predictably crazy that I expect to hear cries of ‘socialism’ following the President’s Thanksgiving address…

“This is not the hardest Thanksgiving America has ever faced. But as long as many members of our American family are hurting, we’ve got to look out for one another,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, released for Thanksgiving.

“we’ve got to look out for one another”—is this the American way? What is the spirit of our country? Is it grounded in the prestige and might of our corporations? Is it expressed in a concept of fairness that says you get what you pay for and you don’t argue with the boss? Two recent news stories show the difference…

from the Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — It was mid-May 1981, and for Lien Huong Nguyen and the 51 other Vietnamese “boat people” escaping communist Vietnam in a rickety fishing boat, the situation was looking hopeless.
They had been four days at sea attempting to reach freedom, but found themselves adrift in the South Pacific after their engine failed. They were without food and water, and the boat was leaking.
Their SOS signs and pleas for help failed to draw the attention of at least five passing ships.
It was then that Lien, who had carved out a life in Vietnam as dentist, began to wonder if she had made a terrible mistake trying to bring two of her three children, ages 5 and 6, on such a risky voyage.
“I looked at my children and saw they were so innocent. They didn’t know what freedom is, or what dictatorship is. And, I took them away from the house and put them into danger. I didn’t protect them. I felt so badly that night.”
Then she saw a light from a ship providing supplies for an Exxon oil rig. The ship, the 300-foot salvage vessel Rainbow, was skippered by Charles Romano Jr., of East Providence, an ex-Navy seal who had done three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Romano had received a memo from Exxon warning employees not to pick up any refugees. But deciding that those in the boat would perish if he failed to help them in the face of an impending storm, he ignored the memo.
The refugees were then transported from his vessel to a German drill ship that took them to a refugee camp in Indonesia.
Romano, who received five Purple Hearts during his three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Riverine squadron member and Navy seal, remarked Sunday: “It’s always nice to find something in your life that you did right for a change.”
But he added: “I’m sure what I did was normal … Everyone here would have done the same thing I did. There’s nothing special about it. I just happened to be there at the right time.”

Charles Romano recently met with the family he saved, who are now American citizens. His disobedience to the Exxon Corporation, I think, is the kind of America we want to be.

The following story of privatization and obedience was so disenheartening to me that I could not find words to comment on it. At the three health care Town Halls I attended, arguing with opponents of reform, I had more than one person tell me that the historical example of the private firefighters who would stand around laughing while your house burned was the individualistic America we want to return to. I’m appalled that a small town in Tennessee actually carried this out…

The mayor of South Fulton, Tenn., stands by his town’s policy that led firefighters to watch from the sidelines while a man’s county home burned to the ground because he hadn’t paid the $75 fire protection fee, WPSD reports. Gene Cranick, owner of the now-gutted house in Obion County, says he called 911 and offered to pay whatever it would take to get the firefighters to act, but they said they wouldn’t do anything, WPSD reports.They only responded when it looked as if the fire might spread to the house of a neighbor who had paid the fee.

There are many influential voices in American politics disparaging the government they are part of, glorifying the free market and the advancement of individualism. A belief in social responsibility and a basic human response of helping people in trouble is condemned as ‘socialism’. What are we becoming?
Was Charles Romano wrong for disobeying Exxon Corporation and saving a family from certain death? Five ships had passed the Nguyens without stopping. Were the firefighters right for standing idle while a neighbor’s house burned? Was their obedience something we admire? What is the spirit of our country?
“ But as long as many members of our American family are hurting, we’ve got to look out for one another,” Good words for Thanksgiving, a day of sharing and gratitude.

A Breach in the Wall

American Catholics are an unruly bunch. They do things like occupy churches that were supposed to be closed and sold, they pursue and investigate abusive priests, and generally act like the democratic process can be taken into church.

Early on, American Catholics in large numbers decided to make their own decisions about birth control. To become a parent is such a life-changing event that few couples are willing to ‘have as many children as God sends’ with no consideration for their capacity or desire to care for a large family. The Church’s permission to use periodic abstinence inspired research in the fine science of making it work, and theologians constructed beautiful explanations of why that form of contraception is moral but condoms are a sin. Catholics in the developed world had to make their peace with the contradictions between the Church’s teaching and the reality of their lives.

For the most part, they did. The crisis happens at the margins.

It happens when a rape victim seeks treatment at a Catholic hospital and is not offered emergency contraception. It happens when a nun is excommunicated for allowing an abortion to save a woman’s life. It happens in countries where the Church uses its political influence to limit women’s access to reproductive care, and where the status of women is low. It happens where a wife has no power to protect her own health when her husband is infected with HIV. It happens when the parish priest tells her that she must submit and trust God.

As of now, the Pope is not saying that a woman may require her husband to use a condom– that doing so is an act of responsibility and respect for her as a human being.

As of now, the Pope is exploring the ethics of harm reduction and human regard for oneself and one’s sexual partners using the example of a male prostitute who wants to protect himself and others. From the New York Times …

In the new book, “Light of the World,” to be published Tuesday, Benedict said condoms were not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS epidemic, adding that that “can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

But he added that “there may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”

AIDS activists were thrilled. “This is a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican,” the executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on H.I.V./AIDS, Michel Sidibé, said in a statement. “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behavior and the use of condoms have important roles in H.I.V. prevention.”

This is a breach in a wall of dogma, behind which is the suffering of the world’s poor– who bear the burden of HIV, maternal and child mortality, and disempowerment. If a teenage boy forced to sell his body has a right to use a condom, how can you say a married woman does not? How can you say she has no right to protect herself from a pregnancy that threatens her life, her health, her ability to support her children? This wall is going to crumble like the Berlin Wall, despite efforts to patch it up…

Richard Dujardin in the Providence Journal reports that the advocates and providers who work in HIV prevention are taking the Pope’s statements as supporting condom use for protection from a deadly disease. Local theologians are rushing to block the obvious conclusion– that couples may have a vital need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. They are also reminding us in the strongest terms that the Church considers birth control to be a sin and the Church uses its power to limit access to birth control and discourage people from using it.

Paul Gondreau, who teaches the theology of the body at Providence College, said that he sees it as ironic that Benedict’s comments were part of an attempt to defend remarks he made on a plane trip to Africa last year, in which he said use of condoms would not help the AIDS crisis there but make it worse.

Gondreau said that he saw nothing in the pope’s new remarks that would suggest that he or the Church would be ready to approve the use of condoms by a married couple if one of the partners has AIDS.

David O’Connell, president of Catholics for Life, said, as he sees Benedict’s remarks, his focus is not so much on not spreading AIDS, but on the prostitutes’ recognizing that the “person with whom he or she will be engaging in this intimate act is someone more than one who will give me money.”

“It speaks nothing about marriage or contraception but the beginning of caring for another human being.”

As for a married couple, one of whom has AIDS, O’Connell said he does not believe that the only choice facing such a couple is condoms or abstinence.

“As I understand it, God may still have a desire to create a new human being in a relationship blessed by God even if one may have a disease. I’m sure the church teaching will not change.”

Early in the AIDS epidemic, health care providers were debating the options for people infected with HIV who wanted to have children. These people were going to have children despite the risk, but were open to measures to decrease the chance of passing HIV to the baby. The prospects of a healthy birth are very good now, but only because of effective drugs and the strong advocacy of patients and providers, who gave urgent attention to this question. It doesn’t hurt to say a prayer, but lives are saved by the work of doctors, nurses and others in the material world who dedicate themselves to protect mothers and babies.

Katha Politt, at The Nation reminds us that conception and birth are never risk-free and can be catastrophic for some women– especially the poor women of the world…

It hasn’t mattered that a woman who got pregnant could be beaten or thrown out of her home, that she could lose her job, or that the sex might be rape by a partner or a stranger. Well, actually, in the 1960s, nuns in Congo were permitted to use birth control pills to protect themselves from impregnation by rapist soldiers. Ordinary women, even in wartime, are out of luck.

Nor has it mattered that a woman might be injured or die if she conceives. After all, like AIDS, pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous. In the developing world maternal mortality rates are themselves an epidemic: according to the World Health Organization, about 350,000 girls and women die in pregnancy or childbirth annually, and this does not take into account birth injuries like fistula or the long-term toll on the body of having many babies too close together. The church has been adamant that women have no right to protect themselves from conception except by periodic abstinence, which requires a cooperative partner and has a real-life failure rate of 25 percent.

At the margins, where the Church has more power and women have much less, the impact of the Pope’s words are strongest. And that is where the injustice of denying women the right to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy is most deeply felt. I don’t think the Church will be able to close this breach– too much pent-up force is behind it.

Theologians are constructing lovely circular arguments to explain why it’s in God’s will that children lose their mothers to AIDS and women and infants die for lack of the power to control conception– but the Pope said that people have a right to protect themselves and that doing so can be an act of respect for themselves and others. You can’t take that back.

MORE: The Pope, in his example of a male prostitute using condoms for disease prevention– to protect his own life and others until he is able to find a better life– is using a classic example of the harm reduction philosophy. More on that here…

Pope Considers Harm Reduction

Confusion or Camouflage?

I’m fascinated by politician-at-large Sarah Palin’s use of language. She is a brilliant communicator of indefensible ideas via wink and nod. She cultivates a vagueness that
passes as casual sincerity, but serves her with deniability.

Anyone can make a verbal slip, especially under pressure. But there’s more than that happening with her ‘North Korea’ gaffe.

Here’s the direct quote…

“We’re not having a lot of faith that the White House is going to come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea is going to do,” she said on the Fox News presenter’s nationally syndicated radio show.
“So this speaks to a bigger picture here that certainly scares me in terms of our national security policies.
“But obviously we gotta stand with our North Korean allies.”

Screen out for a moment her error in which Korea she was referring to. Consider that this is the former governor of Alaska and that she could have been our president– making foreign policy and defense decisions. Note that she doesn’t even say ‘I’. It’s some nebulous ‘We’. You and who else, Sarah?

She’s being interviewed on the radio by Glenn Beck, who’s doing everything short of giving her a foot massage. Does she dare to say what she would actually do, or what the president should do, in this crisis? No, she just says that the situation scares her.
Well yeah, it scares everyone. But if you aspire to lead and want to criticize the president you need to put out something specific. What comes next tells a lot about how she uses language to cover her lack of knowledge.

I mean, a reasonable response would have been for her to slap her forehead and say ‘Golly– of course, I meant to say ‘South Korea’, but she doesn’t. Because at that moment she can’t get her Koreas straight even with prompting, so she runs for cover…

When the host immediately corrected her Mrs Palin repeated: “Er yeah. And we’re also bound by prudence to stand with our South Korean allies, yes.”

‘We’re also’? This doesn’t make sense. We’re not supporting both Koreas now. We are facing a belligerent North Korea that has been trouble for more than two generations. There was this Korean War she might want to read up on.

She’s good with the dig and the implication, but when it comes to risking a real opinion and saying what she would do about this crisis, she runs for cover.

Again, anyone can make a verbal slip, but how she handled it speaks volumes.

Happy Thanksgiving

Mahaghosananda always said to practice Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. I have enough to be grateful for that it takes more than a day to contemplate my blessings.

Thanks to all who are working today, keeping it all going while the rest of us get a day off.

The Pro.Jo reports that the airport screening slowdown action is a bust.

At Green, where travelers were moving quickly through security at midmorning Wednesday, it was clear that almost everyone was opting instead to concentrate on getting home for the holiday weekend.

“I would say that ‘Opt-Out Day’ was a total bust here,” said Joseph Salter, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Rhode Island. “Our longest wait time today was about 5 minutes, and that was at 5:30 a.m.”

That was totally predictable. As an old lefty from way back, I could have told them that you can’t recruit people into a mass action if you ask them to stand out as individuals, face anger from everyone around them, and disrupt their own plans. Ill considered and way too costly. For most people the cost of a plane ticket and time out of work are a major sacrifice– they are very invested in getting through that line in time to catch their flight.

The scanner issue will have to be worked out elsewhere.

Safe travel everyone, or be happy at home. And thanks again to all you who are working today.

Security Level Plaid

I hardly ever fly, so I’m no expert, but the color code did nothing for me but make me paranoid. That is not the optimal state of mind for someone who needs to be vigilant for real threats. Will we be less safe without it?

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department is proposing to discontinue the color-coded terror alert system that became a symbol of the country’s post-9/11 jitters and the butt of late-night talk show jokes.

The 8-year-old system, with its rainbow of five colors – from green, signifying a low threat, to red, meaning severe – became a fixture in airports, in government buildings and on newscasts. Over the past four years, millions of travelers have begun and ended their trips to the sound of airport recordings warning that the threat level is orange.

Have any of you frequent fliers seen it not orange?

I saw on the net that John Boehner, who is orange, walked through security with no search at all.

I don’t think that the House Majority Leader is going to get physical when he has so many more subtle powers, but why not let the politicians see how the rest of us live? I’d make them take the bus. If they don’t have to follow the rules they set for everyone else, who knows where it will end? Security level plaid– who won the World Series in 2004? Is Boehner a German name?

Only 32 More Un-Shopping Days Left

14th Annual Buy Nothing Day
Winter Coat Exchange
Friday, November 26th, 2010 10:00am – 2:00pm
If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
If you need a coat, please pick one up.
State House lawn (directly across from Providence Place Mall)
• Greg Gerritt 331-0529, gerritt@mindspring.com
• Phil Edmonds 461-3683, philwhistle@gmail.com
* Rain/Snow site: Cathedral of Saint John, 271 N Main Street, Providence, RI
Other Coat Exchange Sites:

Blackstone Valley Visitors Center, 175 Main St. Pawtucket
• Arthur Pitt 724-8915, kingarthur02940@yahoo.com
Newport: St Paul's Church, 12 Marlborough Street
• Maggie Bulmer 849-3537
Wakefield: St. Francis Church, 114 High Street 10:00am – NOON
• Tom Abbott 364-0778
Woonsocket: St. Ann's Arts & Cultural Center, 84 Cumberland Street
• Wally Rathbun Stannartsctr@aol.com

My friend Phil sent this. He buys stuff, and I do too. In fact, the mob at the Mall is kind of reassuring after the desperation of the last few years. But I’m a procrastinator, so maybe I’ll celebrate the Three Kings and pick up some deals at the post-season sales.

They’re already playing Christmas music, it just makes me melancholy. I might observe the holiday with some of Fischel Brezler’s music, and see if Joyce wants to go carolling at the ACI. Whatever you do this season, be jolly. Don’t do any stuff you don’t want to do and don’t let your cat eat tinsel– it doesn’t digest.

Feeling Safe

They came first for the Muslim’s junk,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim.

You can see where this is going, but it’s still funny. Read the rest here.

I seldom fly, and I’ve never had any problems walking through the perfectly safe radiation of the body scanners, so I can’t get too terribly excited about this. Soon after 9/11, when the images of falling planes and burning towers were still fresh in our minds, the Bush adminstration passed over all kinds of proposed security measures at airports because it would cut into airline profits. I trust the market to thwart any practice that aggravates travelers enough to make them take the train instead.

But I’m wondering about another intrusion– a hand in my wallet.

Last year I went to cash a paycheck, drawn from Bank of America, at a branch of Bank of America. They wanted to charge me $7. They called it a ‘convenience fee’. No ‘my word is my bond’ here. No gratitude for the bailout. They didn’t want to be inconvenienced to honor their own check.

So I mentioned this to a co-worker last week and she said, ‘Did they want to fingerprint you?’ She said that they had required this of her husband. I said I’d show them a finger, but not for a print.

Is this really happening? Did any of you readers get hassled this way at the bank?

Some commenters here felt that it is lax to let citizens vote without ID. But I’m feeling like we are being led by convenience and nagging to ‘show our papers’ when dealing with corporations. I’m sick of being asked for my CVS card. Or my phone number or email. It’s none of Bob’s Store’s business where I live.

On the other hand I’ve started Facebooking, giving away all the details of my banal life. But there’s some things I’ll share with the world wide web that I should not have to discuss with my bank.

Live From the Liberty

So I’m waiting for the next visit and enjoying a sixty degree day and a cup of New Harvest at the Liberty Elm Diner. I love my job– the flexibility, the mobility. I could have sat at a bench putting earrings on cards for thirty years– this is much better.

Speaking of jobs, airport security seems like a stressy, entry level type occupation. I seldom fly, when I do I fly the red-eye, so I go through the lines half-asleep. The security people have always been pleasant and efficient. There are some horror stories in the press, and clearly some workers who need to be fired if not prosecuted. But it’s so unfair to the majority who are only doing their job.

Security agents, meanwhile, told an airline blogger how the pat-downs are destroying their morale.
“I want to tell these people that I feel disgusted feeling other peoples’ private parts,” one told Steven Frischling.
“I go home and cry,” said another. “I have been hardened by war, and in the past week I am slowly being broken down by the hateful comments.”

The press has been revved with this sexy new issue. Meanwhile, a majority polled wants to keep the scans and searchers. A majority of Americans never fly. It’s expensive. And expanding on the value of intrusive searches on someone else– NPR was debating whether searches should only be applied to funny-looking people. A commenter who said that profiling is un-American pointed out that clever terrorists could just send people who look regular.

Someone is calling for protests in the lines over the Thanksgiving holiday. I think that anyone who tries to protest now will be tackled by the anxious, tired people in line behind them.

Added to that, there are questions about the profits and cozy relationships between scanner manufacturers and Washington. Is any of this really making us safe?

Best wishes to all you travelers. Keep your eyes open and don’t take it out on the airport workers. They are scared too.

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